torch 1997

Disclaimer: The characters of Fox Mulder, Dana Scully, Alex Krycek, Walter Skinner, the gentleman with the nicotine habit and the other gentleman with the Virginia horse farm belong to Chris Carter and 1013 Productions. The rest of 'em are mine. The town of Leyden Creek does not exist outside of my imagination; the state of Virginia definitely does. This is a work of speculative fiction and no copyright infringement is intended. Thanks to Misha for (more or less) instant feedback, Maria for beta reading, kindness, and encouragement, Susie for the IG, Claire for the kicks, Cindy for geographical expertise, and E for the Russian. Thanks also to Cody Nelson for letting me name a clinic in this story after a lab in her novel The best lies.

For those of you who are coming in late: this X-Files universe branches off after Terma and although time has passed since then, nothing in the series after Terma can be assumed to have happened/be about to happen in Ghosts. Unless I choose to make it so. :-) Oh, I've been told that I should warn people. This is not the end. There will be a part four. Comments are very welcome. Do not archive this story without permission.

Ghosts III: I know my dear love

"Pace non trovo, et non ò da far guerra;
e temo, et spero; et ardo, et son un ghiaccio;
et volo sopra 'l cielo, et giaccio in terra;
et nulla stringo, et tutto 'l mondo abbraccio.

Tal m'à in pregion, che non m'apre né serra,
né per suo mi riten né scioglie il laccio;
et non m'ancide Amore, et non mi sferra,
né mi vuol vivo, né mi trae d'impaccio.

Veggio senza occhi, et non ò lingua et grido;
et bramo di perir, et cheggio aita;
et ò in odio me stesso, et amo altrui." — Petrarch, most of sonnet no 134

"You're dangerous 'cause you're honest
You're dangerous, you don't know what you want" — U2, Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses

I'm about to fall asleep.

Which is strange, because if you'd asked me to make a list of what I'd do if Fox Mulder got in bed with me, sleep would have come in right at the very end, after all other possibilities had been thoroughly explored. But here he is, warm and awkward next to me, all elbows and tired annoyance, and I can't figure out why he's done this, and I should ask him what he's up to, or possibly try to jump his bones. But my eyes, sore with tears, close of their own accord, and I just lie there and feel him close to me, alive. How someone as haunted as he is can drive away my own demons is inexplicable, but I feel hopelessly comfortable, and comforted. Sleeping in his bed has nothing on this. I drift off.

We're both restless sleepers. I float in darkness, wake slightly whenever he moves, sink back into sleep again; I think he does the same. And still it's better than any deep slumber ever was. There are no bad dreams, and the waking and sleeping blend together into a peaceful whole.

I come more fully awake once, when he turns over and his back is pressed against my side, skin against skin. It's intoxicating. It's like a drug seeping in through my pores. The simile my mind uses makes me remember the alien, the silo, the locked room, and my throat starts to close up, but I snuggle up to him, his presence holding the memories at bay, the sweet smell of him killing the taste of remembered oil in my mouth.

I sink into the warmth of his nearness and let it soothe me. I wish I could lie like this forever; suddenly I don't want to sleep again, don't want to lose a moment of this fuzzy pleasure, this sharp bright pain. To have him so close, so close...

But I do sleep, and when I wake up fully again, it's morning, and he's not beside me any more. I turn my head and see that the other bed is empty, too. Before I can really start to wonder, I hear a quiet rustling sound and see him at the foot of the bed, pulling a sweatshirt over his head.

He catches my eye briefly. "I'm going running," he says. Bending down almost out of sight, he ties his shoelaces, then goes to the door, unlocks it, and disappears without looking back.

I roll over into the memory of his warmth and try to understand what has just happened. But my mind can't move past simple facts. He got into bed with me. We slept next to each other. He just left. I want him to come back.

After a few moments I sit up, leaning back against the headboard. After a few moments more I'm ready to bang my head against the wall to stop my thoughts from going around and around. When did I ever entirely understand him? I told him that I killed his father, and he gave me the most perfect night of my life. It feels as though my skin has been permanently imprinted with the tactile memory of his body. He's gone running. And for once, I could not read the expression on his face.

Reluctantly, I get out of bed. I look out of the window, but there's no trace of him in the street outside. As I strip off the sweatpants, I realize that I could do with a good long run too, a hard workout, something that would shock my body into wakefulness and let my thoughts rest. But I've no shoes for running, and have to settle for the few moves and stretches there's room for in here. At least I feel better once I'm through. Some people rely on coffee in the morning to get them going, but this is cheaper and works even when you've forgotten to buy groceries. I go into the bathroom and turn on the shower. For a moment I regret the short workout anyway, because I don't want to wash away the memory of his skin against mine.

But then I realize it will always be there.

Once I'm clean I apply myself to the usual problem of getting my back dry. But the more I try to concentrate on mundane details, the more difficult it gets. I look at myself in the partially steamed-up bathroom mirror. Is this who I am? I used to know myself. Now I'm not sure. I know what I want, and it hurts. I don't quite know who I am, and that hurts, too. So much easier to think that I can change nothing, to merely survive, from moment to moment. But my mind has always wanted to move past the obvious. And I have responsibilities that I cannot fulfill here.

It's certainly not the first time I've been caught up in events beyond my control. That seems to happen to me on a regular basis whenever I'm around Fox Mulder. It's as if his presence burns every trace of reason out of me. He works on me like a drug, changing the way I think. By rights I should hate it. He cuts through me like a knife. He—

I lean back against the wall, and close my eyes, and breathe.

When I walk out into the room again, I realize I have nothing clean to wear. Suddenly there's no stopping the smile that appears as I turn to the pile at the foot of Mulder's bed and start to dig through it. He's not going to like this. But I do, oh, I like it a lot, wearing his clothes. Boxer shorts, t-shirt, socks, shirt. It's shiveringly intimate.

Once I'm dressed, my hand automatically reaches for the leather jacket to slip over my shoulders. But then I pause, and look at it, and finally shrug. I get my wallet, put it in the back pocket of my jeans, and leave the room. As I walk downstairs the muscles in my back draw tight and I'm glad I had that little workout after all.

The diner is almost empty. Scully is sitting at the usual window table, absorbed in what looks like a medical journal, one hand wrapped around a cup of coffee. Even in the gray light of early morning her hair gleams, clean and red. I watch her for a few moments until she looks up and sees me. There is acknowledgement; not a smile, but I walk up to the table and sit down, and we exchange quiet good mornings.

I look out the window and see that it's raining. A moment later a plate is set down in front of me — a stack of pancakes. I look up and find Laura Ann smiling at me as she pushes the bottle of syrup closer. "I don't remember ordering," I say with a smile.

"Eat up," she says and walks away again.

Scully has put her reading material aside and sits there watching me. I try to ignore it for a while, busying myself with the food, but it's very hard to feel comfortable chewing when someone's looking at you. So I meet her eyes instead. "You think it was irresponsible of him to leave me alone?"

"Unexpected," she corrects. And I almost smile, because of the way she doesn't say that she's used to Mulder acting irresponsibly. The pancakes taste great. The bell on the door tinkles behind me and Scully looks over my shoulder, her eyes warming into amusement.

I turn around and there he is, soaking wet. Rain has plastered the clothes to his body and a puddle is forming around him on the floor. He nods in acknowledgement, not really looking at either one of us, and goes up the stairs. Returning my attention to the pancakes, I try to make my heartbeat slow down. I wish he wouldn't walk around looking as though he's escaped from someone's most secret fantasies.



The pancakes are still delicious. I eat in silence and when I look up after a little while, Scully is watching me. She tilts her head and pushes her hair back behind one ear and I'm caught by the graceful economy of her gestures. A woman who wastes nothing. She'll hate it if I anticipate her, but I don't want to wait. "Go ahead and ask," I say.

It's impossible to know if I've taken her aback or not. She keeps watching me for a few seconds longer and then she says, calmly, "What are you blackmailing Agent Mulder with?"

That wasn't what I was expecting. I chew, and swallow, and put the fork down. Then I look for a napkin but can't find one. Instead I meet her eyes, and it's like standing on the tracks watching a train come towards you at full speed. I consider lying to her. Then I reconsider. "I offered him help with a medical problem he's been trying to forget that he has."

"He's in perfect health," she says. "I don't know what you've said to him, but—"

"But he was infected with the black cancer in Tunguska," I say. Her eyes widen, and for a moment, she almost looks frail. And then the train is moving towards me again, faster. "It takes repeated exposure for it to kill. Unless the virus is triggered by something. Then it can be," I drop my eyes, "virtually instantaneous."

"The only way we've seen the virus leave the body of someone who has been infected is at the death of the victim." I can't tell how hard she's had to fight for that detachment. "You're saying there is another way?"

"Yes." At least I think so. I pick up the fork.

"We have no reason to trust you." The way she speaks for him in his absence reminds me again, as if I needed a reminder, of what the two of them are to each other. But I've always known that. Besides, she's right.

"No," I agree, "you haven't." Damn this language and its insufficiently expressive pronouns. I go back to eating, aware that she is still watching me. After a while I add, "Of course, I didn't know then that you and Mulder would be assigned to the case anyway. A waste of good blackmail material."

For a moment there I think I have her; I think she is actually going to laugh. And then I think she might be getting angry. But before she can say anything, her attention is caught again by something behind my back, and I turn to see Mulder coming back down the stairs again, dry and proper in one of his expensive, if slightly wrinkled, suits. Laura Ann intercepts him as he passes the kitchen door and puts a plate of pancakes into his free hand. He comes to sit next to Scully and slaps the file down on the table as he sets down the plate. "Scully, do you still have the phone numbers for the ladies from the Tupperware party?"

"Good morning, Mulder." She hands him the bottle of syrup and he's startled into giving her a warm, slightly guilty smile. "Yes, I do. But we already established yesterday that they had been treated by Dr. Davis in Charlottesville."

"I want to show them the photo," he says stubbornly. "I don't want anyone saying to me later that there could have been more than one Davis there. The photo from the driver's license," he adds before she can protest. "And there are some more questions I'd like to ask them, too."

Scully is already fishing for her cell phone. "All of them, or just the ones with the implants? I don't think the others know anything useful—"

At least one of them said good morning, I think, amused, and sit back to watch them work. Mulder takes three bites out of his pancakes and then pushes the plate aside to get more room as he flips the file open and starts to go through it again. I look out the window, to check out the street and to avoid seeing those damn photographs again. Across the street I can see Lou coming in to work, looking unusually neat and well dressed. I wonder if Scully is going to appreciate the effort. She's busy apologizing for having woken someone up.

I turn back to the table and find that Mulder has put his glasses on to read Larkin's report; his head is slightly tilted to one side as he picks up the papers. My breath catches. I clench my hand, nails driving into my palm. That's twice in one morning he's done this to me, etched the picture of himself cleanly and forever into my soul. I hope Scully can revive me if I go into cardiac arrest. He looks so, so— I want to touch him so badly I can barely stand it. And yet I did nothing when he slept next to me all night. I couldn't.

"Mind if I finish your pancakes?" He looks up and for a moment he seems to look right through me, as though I don't exist to him. Then he just nods and gestures absently at the plate, and goes back to reading. I can see Larkin's report getting stowed away in there somewhere, letter by letter down to every single typo. Eternal life in Fox Mulder's memory. He is beautiful like this, in a Bauhaus kind of way; there is something perversely utilitarian about him when all his talents are focused on a single goal.

And I suspect I'm going to find out the truth about my parents whether I want to or not. Suddenly I've lost my appetite. I came here looking for evidence of Peskow's complicity in their deaths; Mulder came here looking for ghosts. I don't want him to be the one who's right.

"They're meeting in half an hour," Scully says, and Mulder frowns slightly as his concentration is broken yet again. He gives her a questioning look. "The women you want to talk to, the two with the implants. They're going to do some work in a greenhouse belonging to one of them. We can talk to them both at the same time."

"All right." He nods and goes back to the report. Scully finishes her coffee even though it's got to be cold by now; I stay where I am, quite still, simply watching. Something has changed, between all of us. For a moment I am seized with a senseless panic, whirling as vertigo, and I close my hand tight as if trying to hold on to what is real. I feel cold without my jacket. I feel naked and exposed and I don't know what I'm doing here.

Scully gets Mulder to move so she can get out, and heads for the stairs. I hesitate for a moment and then I follow her, catching up before she's gone more than a few steps. She turns her head and looks at me in the gloom of the stairwell. "You thought I was going to ask about my sister, didn't you."

"Luis killed your sister." We continue walking; she stays a step or two ahead of me on the stairs. "You know that."

"Yes." Then she stops and turns around. "But it was a mistake, wasn't it? She wasn't supposed to get killed." With her on a higher step, we're practically face to face. I try to read her, but that's never been easy and the poor light makes it even worse. "He was there to kill me. Someone sent him. Was it you?"

So she doesn't know I was there. My mind is turning over alternatives like the spinning combinations on a slot machine. "No, it wasn't me."

"He said you were the one I wanted to talk to. He intimated that it had something to do with you." I could almost laugh at that statement, it's so Scully. If it had been Mulder, he would have drawn conclusions long ago and by now he'd be so certain it would almost amount to evidence. But she doesn't function like that.

"Luis Cardinale would say almost anything," I say, "if he thought it would lessen the trouble he was in."

"Cardinale didn't act on his own." She shifts a little and now I can see her face more clearly, and wish I couldn't. "He was a killer for hire. I want to know who was responsible."

We stare at each other for a moment that grows longer and longer, and it's as if the air presses more tightly around me, drawn close by the force of her presence. Then I shrug it off, and move. "I didn't give the order, Scully. I was an errand-boy in those days," I say and walk past her, and we go up the stairs in tense and uncomfortable silence.

Inside the room, I get my jacket straight away and slip it over my shoulders, then, out of habit, check my weapons. I have everything I need now. I could just leave. There's a window right there and one in the bathroom, and if I can't climb down a drainpipe using only one arm, I deserve to fall. I could go away and never return, leave this investigation, leave Scully's questions, leave Mulder and his sweetness and his anger behind.

I could, and if I do I'll never find out what happened; I'll always live with the torturing uncertainty Peskow intended for me. I can stay. It's my own choice. I'm not being constrained, I'm not handcuffed and helpless. I turn my head and look at the wall as if I could see through it, to where Scully is making her own preparations to face the day. There's a dull ache in a spot right between my shoulder blades. I didn't lie to her.

It's still raining outside and I can hear it clearly from where I stand, every drop an individual tap against the glass of the window which is then blunted into submission, flattened out of shape, losing separate identity and turning into a blur of sameness. Such a gray day. I slip the jacket off again and rummage through Mulder's possessions for a sweater, find one and put it on. With the jacket back on I'm a little less cold. I didn't lie to her, and I stayed well away from the truth.

Well, I told Mulder once that there is no truth.

Going down the stairs again I find him talking to Laura Ann. He looks up as I come closer and his eyebrows move — he's seen the sweater. It's not as if I have the time to go shopping. Or money, come to think of it. Laura Ann smiles at me, and I smile back. So much of life consists of these simple rituals, little interactions intended to reassure. And I know how to do it. Passing for normal.

Scully comes down too, and Mulder heads for the door as soon as he sees her. I follow, tagging behind like a child whose parents are taking him to an art museum instead of the movies. Mulder folds the collar of his trenchcoat up; Scully has an umbrella. I get wet. I hate cold rain on my scalp, cold rain sliding down my neck. We all get into the car and drive off.

The woman we're going to see lives east of town, off a dirt road so uneven she probably drives a Land Rover. Scully and Mulder talk quietly in the front seat in that professional shorthand of theirs, and I eavesdrop, of course, but there's nothing new there. When we reach the house, I'm expecting some ancient shambling structure with peeling paint, something to match the road, but it looks newly renovated and the white walls gleam through the rain. There's a garden to one side that's probably lovely in the summer, and a paved path leading around the house itself.

Scully gets her umbrella up so neatly again that not a drop of water gets in her hair. "She said they would be in the greenhouse, around this way." She takes the path around the house and Mulder's right with her. He walks through the rain as though it's not really there. I lag behind a little, watch the garden. The greenhouse is small. This is going to be crowded. Another drop of water slides down my neck and in underneath my collar, and I move faster to catch up and get inside.

It's warmer in there, and nearly all the glass panes are steamed up. A narrow strip of tramped earth divides the space lengthwise, muddied and damp near the entrance. I close the door behind me. One woman is standing on the path talking to Mulder and Scully, the other is crouched some distance away, digging with a small trowel. She wears rubber boots and blue coveralls, and beneath the coveralls I get a glimpse of a pink fluffy cardigan, the pastel of it somehow oddly matching the pale blue rinse in her hair. I can't help but smile.

"Ms. Williams, you went to Dr. Davis in Charlottesville for several years, didn't you?" I can't see his face, but I have a suspicion of which look he's using as I see the effect it has on Ms. Williams. Apparently Mulder wasn't listening when Scully said these women might be easily swayed by his personal charm into saying just about anything. Or maybe he was listening.

"Yes, I did." Ms. Williams is younger than her friend, with a round dimpled face, her comfortable curves squeezed into slightly too tight jeans and a knitted sweater with a flower pattern around collar and sleeves. "He was such a sweet man, and a very good doctor, not that I'm saying there's anything wrong with Dr. Skeat, but he just doesn't have the same way with patients. Then again, he's a small-town doctor, he doesn't have as many people to practice on..."

While I try to get my mind to cope with anyone calling my father a sweet man, Mulder moves on as soon as she pauses to draw breath. "I'd like you to take a look at this picture." He holds up the photocopy of the driver's license.

Ms. Williams takes it out of his hand to hold it the way you'd hold a week-old kitten, and looks at it closely. "He looks so serious!" She laughs. "Leah! Leah, come take a look at this, it's Dr. Davis!"

The other woman gets to her feet and comes up to us, still armed with her trowel. She peers at the picture and nods. "So it is." She turns the paper around in Ms. Wiliams' grip, leaving an earthy thumb print behind. "Not a very good picture, but it's certainly him."

Mulder nods; he was expecting the confirmation, but he's pleased with it all the same. Then his face turns serious again. "Did you have time to finish your treatments with Dr. Davis before he was killed?"

"Killed?" Ms. Williams gasps and almost drops the picture. "Dr. Davis was killed? What happened? Oh, that's terrible, and his poor wife must have been devastated! Leah, did you know?"

Leah shakes her head. Scully is watching both of them closely; now she takes the paper before it falls out of Ms. Williams' hand. "I certainly did not," Leah says. "What a tragedy for his family. When was this?"

"Ten years ago," Scully says calmly. "Both Dr. Davis and his wife died in a car accident. Weren't you still undergoing a course of treatments with him then, for sinus infections?"

"No, we finished the treatments with Dr. Skeat, after Dr. Davis gave up his practice," Leah says.

"He what?" I don't realize I've spoken out loud until they all turn their heads to look at me. Ms. Williams acknowledges me with a fluttery smile, but Scully looks stern. Well, it isn't her father they're talking about.

"It was such a shame," Ms. Williams said in her breathless way. "He was such a wonderful doctor, and he always knew what to do about my sick headaches. Of course he gave Dr. Skeat detailed instructions, but it just wasn't the same, somehow."

Mulder and Scully must have been as stunned as I was, even if they didn't show it as clearly. Now they snap back into action, asking for dates, digging for details. I stand back and watch Ms. Williams. She liked my father, trusted him, she still calls him a sweet man. And I wonder what, exactly, he did to her.

"Ten days," Mulder says, his voice tight with excitement, "only ten days later."

"He said he was going on vacation," Leah says. "To Florida."

"He did go," Scully says. "The accident took place as they were on their way back." Mulder turns his head and looks at me briefly, as if he wants to ask something, but not in front of these two women. I nod shortly. They did go to Florida. I got a postcard. "Did Dr. Davis give any reason for his retirement?"

"He said he felt he had been working too hard," Leah says, "and that there were other things in life that were important, too. He was very devoted to his family."

"Oh yes," Ms. Williams chimes in, "he had photos of them on the wall, he was so proud of them. I always thought he retired because he wanted to spend more time with them — and then he only got ten days—" Her chin quivers. I can't stand to watch it; I turn around and stare hard at a patch of freshly dug earth.

I don't remember any family photographs.

After a while I get the feeling that someone is watching me. I turn my head slowly and find that it's Scully who has stepped back a little from the group. It's a very thoughtful look she's giving me, and I try to raise my chin and meet it calmly, but I just can't. I stand where I am, my shoulders hunched.

"This might seem like a strange question," Mulder says, "but I want you to think carefully before you answer. Has either one of you at any time experienced something strange that you didn't know how to explain? Missing time? Vivid flashes of memory associated with unpleasant physical sensations? Nightmares that seem almost like reality?"

I wonder dully why he doesn't just come right out and say it: have you ever been abducted by aliens? Maybe this is his attempt not to lead them. Scully is still looking at me.

"Dr. Davis said it was a side effect of my migraines," Ms. Williams says uncertainly. I think she's torn between her loyalty to him — my father — and her wish to make Mulder happy by giving the right answer to his question. "I'd get these flashes of white light and then I'd wake up later. Sometimes much later. He said it was a common reaction."

Mulder just nods, but it's obvious that he doesn't exactly credit the migraine theory.

"I've never had a migraine in my life," Leah says resolutely. "It was — I was going through the change then, and—" She falters and stops, and looks at Ms. Williams. "Do you ever dream about that, a sensation of being completely immobilized and helpless, unable to stop them—"

Ms. Williams shudders and nods. Mulder is watching them both. He's doing it again, drawing the pain right out of them, getting ready to ask another question. He won't stop until he knows he's gotten every last detail out of them. And Scully...

Scully is still looking at me.

Her skin is like porcelain, she's so pale, and her eyes are faintly clouded. And I know she is remembering, too. And she's looking at me. There isn't enough air in here. I wrench my eyes away from hers and walk towards the door, staggering as though I'm drunk; I almost fall outside. The rain is heavier now, and it covers me like a cold blessing. I stand a few steps away from the greenhouse door with my eyes closed and feel the drops hit me, feel my boots sink into the mud.

I didn't like the way she was watching me when those women talked about my father. But it was better than what followed. I curse silently under my breath at my sudden inability to walk this minefield. Of course Scully has nasty abduction memories that she tries to repress. Of course she's going to look daggers at me, if I'm around. There is nothing unexpected in that.

It seems Mulder didn't even notice, with his whole attention focused on the two Tupperware ladies. I dig my hand into the pocket of my jacket and hunt around, hoping that there might be a piece of candy left. Water runs down my face. It doesn't matter. I already knew how Scully feels about me; the last person in the world likely to offer me a beer, remember? It's surprising how tolerant she's been, so far. After that first encounter she hasn't even threatened to handcuff me to anything.

And I want her to stop looking at me when people talk about my father. I want her to stop looking at me as though she understands something.

I walk down along the length of a flower bed, looking at the empty earth. A worm is crawling up into the rain. I wonder what Ms. Williams will plant here and if Leah will help her. I wonder what grew here last summer. My mother had a garden. She never wanted any help with it; it was hers alone, a private joy that she was never ready to share.

This time the cold rain sliding down inside my collar is almost a welcome visitor. When I turn around and make my way slowly back again, the greenhouse door opens and an umbrella emerges, followed by Scully. I stop abruptly. Then Mulder comes out too, and I get myself moving. I join them on the path and listen.

"They were both abducted, Scully, probably several times. The missing time, the dreams—"

"The symptoms are perfectly consistent with severe migraines," she says and the color has returned to her face now. "And cases of extreme hormonal reactions during menopause are not uncommon."

"How about cases of near-identical dreams?" He's half teasing, half deadly serious.

"Nightmares, Mulder. You ought to know that bad dreams often follow a pattern based on humanity's most basic fears, dreams of falling, of being chased, of being helpless." On reaching the car, she shifts the umbrella into her other hand and waits for him to unlock the doors. "There was nothing specific in the dreams they described."

"He was part of it." Maybe Mulder is so used to her denial that he argues around it as a matter of course. "Davis must have known the implants were there, he must have recognized the symptoms, and he lied to those women and strung them along. And then all of a sudden he decided to retire."

"Do you know why?" It's Scully asking me, and I refuse to look at her; I climb into the car and wait as they, too, get settled and close the doors, leaving the rain outside. "Do you have any idea why he—"

"I didn't even know he practiced medicine here, how the fuck should I know why he decided to stop!" My voice is harsh even to my own ears. This isn't a good day. They both turn around in the front seats and look at me. "I don't know. I know they went on vacation to Florida, I got a postcard from Boca Raton, okay?"

They look at each other quickly. And then I see what I should have seen at once. Damn. "That retirement home," Scully says.

"Switching one project for another?" Mulder turns back and starts the car. I stare out the window until Scully stops watching me. "I think we need to have a few words with Dr. Skeat. He doesn't seem to have much faith in his own ability."

"There is nothing strange in sending patients to a specialist," Scully says. She finally shifts around again and looks at Mulder instead. "A responsible physician knows when he has to admit he's out of his depth."

"Both those women seemed pretty healthy to me," Mulder says.

I decide that my voice can handle speaking again, so I ask, "What are you talking about? What specialist?"

It's Mulder who answers. "Both of them had been referred recently to a clinic in Charlottesville. They have appointments there next week."

"Just like Annie," I say, and his eyes meet mine in the rearview mirror for just an instant. And I remember what it was like to work with him, when suddenly nothing I said was too far-fetched and I was the one trying to provide a sensible counterpoint to his wild hunches — quite a twist after my days at Quantico. There were moments when my secret agenda didn't matter, and all that was important was the sheer pleasure of watching his mind make sense of the puzzle pieces we found. Purpose and intelligence joined in a perfect match. The only jarring note was my own inability to participate as much as I wanted to, young innocent that I was supposed to be.

"Annie Clough?" Now Scully sounds thoughtful, too. "She was going to the Charlottesville clinic?"

"According to Linda Pulaski, yes. We should confirm that with Dr. Skeat and her parents, though." Mulder's really going all the way on this, determined not to leave anything out. Skinner must have come down hard on his last report.

I lean back against the seat again and make another futile search through my pockets for something edible, anything at all. Did I really finish a whole bag of Hershey's kisses yesterday? Apparently I did. We drive on along rain-slick roads back into town. I feel I know this place inside and out now, every street, every road. Not like Mulder, who has the map inside his head; more as though it's made its way inside me by osmosis.

Dr. Skeat has his practice on Bromley Street, and it's within walking distance of the police station and the diner. The waiting room is neat, elegant, with inoffensive prints framed on the walls and pale yellow curtains. We're met by a woman who matches the room, stylishly understated and not a hair out of place. Her name is Louise Chen, and she looks utterly unimpressed by Mulder's FBI ID. "I will ask the doctor if he has the time to see you."

"I can see there's a real rush," Mulder says, nodding at the empty waiting room. "This is a Federal investigation, Ms. Chen."

She nods once and walks through a door at the far side of the room. For a moment we all stay still and silent. The rain has eased up a little and is only a quiet patter in the background. Then Scully says, "What if he leaves by a back door?"

"You're the one who's convinced he's just an honest, hard-working physician," Mulder reminds her. She gives him a mildly annoyed look. "We have no real reason to think that he's part of this."

"Except that he should have noticed the implants," she points out. I wonder if she isn't being a bit hard on Skeat; the implants are hard to detect, and he may not have had any reason to go over the women's necks thoroughly. From Scully's comments, I have the impression that you have to know what you're looking for. If Skeat never noticed the implants, it could just as well be a sign of his complete innocence.

Louise Chen returns, carrying a clipboard. "Dr. Skeat will see you now."

We file in through the door, Mulder walking ahead eagerly, Scully following at a more composed pace. I go last, as usual, and try to look like an observer. Federal observers don't slouch around wearing leather jackets and muddy boots. I didn't shave today, either. I can feel Louise Chen compare my appearance with that of Mulder and Scully, and it's obvious she doesn't approve.

The man who comes to shake hands with Mulder is short and broad-shouldered, with steel-gray hair and wire-frame glasses. "What can I do for you?" he asks, sounding perfectly relaxed.

"We're looking into the recent accidents here," Mulder says, managing to sound friendly and at the same time convey a bare minimum of information. "We need to ask you a couple of questions about some of your patients."

Dr. Skeat opens his mouth to say something, but Scully gets in first. "I know that you must be concerned about the issue of confidentiality. But I think you will find that our questions do not disturb that issue as much as you may think now."

He nods slowly. "Ask away, then," he says.

"Annie Clough, Nadine Williams and Leah Byrne have all been treated by you in the past." Not quite a question, but Skeat nods. "And you decided recently to refer them to a specialist clinic in Charlottesville."

Dr. Skeat looks amazed. "No, I didn't." He draws his glasses down and looks at Scully over the frames. "I haven't referred them anywhere. There's nothing wrong with them — was nothing wrong with Annie."

Mulder and Scully look at each other. I keep my eyes on Skeat, and I'm willing to bet that he's telling the truth. Mulder picks up the thread. "Both Ms. Williams and Ms. Byrne have been called to appointments purportedly arranged by you. Are you saying you had nothing to do with that?"

"That's exactly what I'm saying." Skeat frowns. "And I'd like to know who's been sending misleading information to my patients!"

"We'd all like to know that," Scully says. "So there is nothing wrong with Ms. Williams and Ms. Byrne, and there was nothing wrong with Annie Clough, that you are aware of? No unusual conditions?"

He raises an eyebrow in perfect Spock imitation. "No, nothing. All three of them had persistent sinus infections a number of years ago, but they responded very well to treatment, and I've barely seen them since then except at their annual check-ups."

Mulder steps in again smoothly. "Did you ever have any reason to examine the back of the neck of these three patients?"

Skeat is Spock. "No. Should I have? None of them ever complained about anything that—"

"Dr. Skeat," Scully cuts him off as politely as possible, "were you the one to examine Annie Clough after her disappearance?"

"Only cursorily," he says. "I participated in the search, of course, and when she was found I checked her for injuries and took care of her scratches, but then her parents took her to the family doctor in Charlottesville for a thorough check-up later."

"Dr. Davis," Mulder says. "Were you personally acquainted with him?" Skeat shakes his head. "Were there more patients here in Leyden Creek who started to come to you after Dr. Davis gave up his practice, more than just those three?"

"Not many," Skeat says. "Ms. Williams, Ms. Byrne, the Cloughs, Janine Kendrick and the Bettens." He pushes his glasses back up and gives Mulder and Scully a sharper look, probably in response to the way they turned to each other when he mentioned those names. "Can you tell me what this is all about?"

"It hasn't struck you as odd that it's those patients in particular who have been involved in the recent spate of car accidents?" Mulder asks.

Now Skeat bristles, there's no other word for it. "Agent Mulder, are you intimating that they all suffered from something I failed to diagnose, that caused them to crash their cars? That's ridiculous. All of them were perfectly healthy."

"That's not quite what Agent Mulder meant," Scully says, shooting Agent Mulder a look that says if he claims something different she'll kick him again. I had no idea she employed methods like that to keep him in line; wish I'd thought of that when we were partners, then maybe he'd have thought twice before trying to ditch me all the time. "But Nadine Williams, Leah Byrne, Janine Kendrick and Annie Clough at least all had a metal implant of unknown origin at the back of the neck. The effect of the implant is unknown." Mulder opens his mouth and closes it again. "Am I right in thinking that you missed those implants when you performed the autopsies on Janine Kendrick and Annie Clough?"

"Yes," Skeat says stiffly. "I wasn't looking for — implants. Good lord, it sounds like one of those ridiculous alien abduction theories."

"Those theories aren't as ridiculous as you might think," Mulder says, an edge to his voice. "Nadine Williams and Leah Byrne show several of the characteristic symptoms of abductees, and according to her girlfriend, Annie Clough claimed that she had been abducted, claimed it repeatedly before her family got her to keep quiet about it."

"Annie Clough was a fanciful six-year-old child!"

"Then how do you explain those implants?" Mulder isn't getting loud exactly, but he's getting way too intense. The look Scully shoots him is slightly worried. "Advanced technology, hidden in the victim's body — to what purpose? Show him, Scully." He turns to her.

She exhales slowly, but takes out the glass tube she showed me yesterday. "I found this while examining Janine Kendrick," she says. "It is identical in appearance to metal implants that have been found in a number of other women, and was found in almost the same spot on each woman's body."

Skeat looks at the tube, then takes it out of her hand and peers more closely at the little metal object inside. He shakes his head slowly. "All right, that is peculiar. I never saw it either when she was alive or when she was dead, and I don't know what it means. But I still think this talk of aliens is absurd. Was there anything else you wanted to ask me — something I can actually answer?"

"Have you ever heard of the Quaid-Markham clinic in Charlottesville?" Scully is holding a letter that either Ms. Williams or Leah Byrne must have given her.

"No." Skeat peers at the letterhead. "Never."

There's a moment of silence as we all adjust to the fact that this interview is nearly over. "Thank you for your help," Scully says eventually. Mulder keeps quiet and just shakes Skeat's hand. Maybe he's embarrassed about his outburst before. Maybe he's trying to keep from giving another lecture about abductions. You never know with him.

We all file out of Dr. Skeat's room in the same order we went in, Mulder, Scully, and me. Louise Chen is at her desk, working on the computer, but she gets up and escorts us to the door. Mulder gives her an absent-minded smile. He should have tried that instead of his ID before, it seems to work much better. As we leave she says "Goodbye," and it sounds almost friendly.

It's still raining. As Mulder unlocks the car door, his cell phone rings. We all crowd into the car as fast as is compatible with our respective ideas of dignity, which means that Scully misses the initial "Mulder. — Where?" There's a pause, and she settles in. We're both watching him. "Do you have any idea who it is? — I don't think you can discount—" Mulder looks frustrated. "We'll come and assist you. — Well, do you have any objection to our participation? — Detective Larkin, I was part of the VCU originally, and my partner—"

He bangs the phone against the steering wheel and the resultant blare from the horn startles us all. "I take it he hung up, "Scully says dryly. "Mulder, what's happening?"

"Larkin's got a lead on what happened at the barn last night. They've been going through the ruins all morning, looking for traces of explosives and anything the bomber might have left behind, with a team from Norfolk. They've found tracks, and now he's staging a goddamn manhunt through the woods. And he doesn't want us to join in."

"Well," Scully says, "it may not have anything to do with our case. We have other things to—"

"I found a lab up there, and then someone nearly blew us to pieces!" He's gorgeous when he's angry. "I'm going to go back and look for traces of that lab, Scully. Larkin's bound to screw it up. I'm going up there right now."

She raises an eyebrow, but then she says, "All right. We'll just have to think of a good way to split up. You can go check the barn, I can go to the clinic in Charlottesville, and Krycek can interview Annie Clough's parents about her medical history."

It works. He stares at her, flicks a quick glance at me, then looks back at Scully again. Then he draws a deep breath. "Shock tactics, Scully?" There's a small smile on her face. "You want to go to Charlottesville?"

She nods. "We need to investigate whether there really is a clinic, and if it is genuine or a front for other activities. And it would be an opportunity to visit UVa and check Dr. Davis' background more thoroughly, and try to find out more about where, when and how he practiced medicine." There's a barely perceptible pause before she adds, "And on whom."

"It could be risky, Scully," Mulder says. "If this Quaid-Markham place is a front, going in and asking the wrong questions could be dangerous. I'm not sure you should go alone."

"One of us needs to stay here," she says, "and you're the one who wants to look into what happened at the barn."

"And with her medical training, Scully has a better chance of figuring out what's going on at the clinic, if there is a clinic, as well as understanding what might be left of my father's research," I point out. They both turn around and look at me as though they'd forgotten I was there. Then Mulder slowly, grudgingly nods.

"All right," he says. "We'll do it that way. You go to Charlottesville and I'll look into things here."

"And I'll go talk to Mrs. Clough," I say casually.

He turns his head and looks at me. "We'll both do that," he says, "before we go out and join Larkin."

"You're just hoping it will stop raining," Scully says. I smile and Mulder tries to look offended. Then he puts his cell phone away and starts the car, and we go down the street and around the corner and stop outside the police station.

Scully takes the rental to drive up to Charlottesville, and the look on Lou's face as she leaves is heartbreaking. Almost everyone has been called in on Larkin's hunt for the mysterious bomber, and we end up borrowing Lou's own car, promising to treat it kindly. It's a Superman-blue truck that should have been serviced five hundred miles ago. We settle in and I start to pick through the tape collection as Mulder drives. Lou likes country music. I can't find anything I could bear to listen to until I discover Michelle Shocked's Texas Campfire Tapes at the bottom of the pile.

Then I settle back and watch the rain falling on the windshield.

* * *

At least with the music on, he didn't have to think of anything to say. Not that he had to talk to Krycek. But with the music playing, it wasn't even an issue. Mulder stared straight ahead, kept his eyes and his mind on the road. You had to be careful driving in the rain. Nothing was far from anything in Leyden Creek, and it only took them a song and a half to get back to the Cloughs' home. This time only the station wagon was parked in the drive, and he paused in the act of turning off the ignition, wondering about the Subaru yesterday.

He missed Scully already, missed her steady incorruptible presence. He needed her to keep him balanced, now more than ever, when he had a tight-rope to walk. But he couldn't tell her that without telling her about last night. Turning his head, he studied Alex Krycek's profile and tried not to think about why he felt a sudden urge to let it impact with the dashboard.

After a moment Krycek shifted and met Mulder's eyes. One corner of his mouth quirked up. "Mulder, do me a favor. Stop looking at me like you're about to say your name is Inigo Montoya."

He didn't know whether to laugh or break the man's nose. But wound through both impulses was the awareness of how Krycek had looked last night when he'd admitted to killing Mulder's father. And that made it impossible to do either. After a few moments he said, far more calmly than he would have believed of himself, "It's bad enough that you're blackmailing me, Krycek, do you have to steal my underwear as well?"

"Hygiene is my one redeeming feature," Krycek said, seemingly relieved that they weren't going to go into that subject right now. "Are we going in?"

"Yes." He opened the car door and stepped out into the rain again. It was such boring rain, heavy enough to be annoying but not heavy enough to be interesting. It found its way in everywhere. Scully had taken the umbrella with her to Charlottesville, even though she wouldn't get wet during the drive and it probably wasn't raining there. She was so selfish. Mulder found himself smiling faintly as he stepped up on the porch. Then he turned around and looked down the drive. No Subaru. No tricycle. Station wagon in the exact same place, as far as he could tell.

Mulder rang the bell and waited. And waited. Nothing happened and he touched the bell again. He was aware of Krycek standing behind him slightly to one side, the slight tension and awareness resonating between them, fuzzily, like a radio with bad reception. They hadn't worked together in a long time. They weren't working together now.

"The light's on in the kitchen," Krycek said in a low voice, not really pointing it out.

Mulder nodded, and bent momentarily to look closer at the door. "And the front door isn't locked." He rang the bell a third time. The aggressive tone filtered out to them through the door, a sound that demanded attention. Nothing happened. Mulder glanced over his shoulder at Krycek, who nodded. A voice inside him whispered that he shouldn't let this be so uncomplicated, that he had no right and no reason to count on Krycek.

But there wasn't time to consider that. He slowly turned the doorknob and opened the door. The house was silent and still; he saw nothing in the hall, except for the light spilling out from the kitchen. Mulder walked in quietly. Aware, yes, that was it. There was no thought in this state of mind, he just knew things: his own balance, the presence of Krycek at his back, the exact move that would be needed to draw his gun if necessary.

Then he heard a sound, the faint rasp and flare of a match being lit. They both moved at the same time, down the hall to the open kitchen door.

Mrs. Clough was leaning against the kitchen counter again, newly lit cigarette in hand, head tilted back, eyes closed. The cloud of gray smoke surrounding her couldn't hide the tracks of tears and mascara down her cheeks. She looked as though she'd aged ten years since the day before; her hair was uncombed, her clothes wrinkled.

Mulder cleared his throat, and she opened her eyes slowly and straightened marginally, enough to face him. "So it's you again," she said listlessly, lifted the cigarette to her mouth and left it hanging there. "Can't you take no for an answer?"

Mulder looked quickly around the kitchen and saw that the immaculate air of yesterday had vanished. Nothing looked quite as clean and tidy as it had. Krycek went past him, moving into the room like a shadow. Clearing his mind, refocusing on Mrs. Clough, Mulder said, "We're sorry to intrude, but you didn't answer the door, and we were worried that something might have happened."

She made a dry sound that might have been a laugh. "Really." Then she seemed to lose interest in him and started playing with her cigarette again. The room smelled as though she had been standing there smoking since dawn.

"It seems we've come at a bad time, but there are some additional questions we need to ask you," he said, hoping to catch her attention. One shoulder moved in a shrug, but he couldn't tell if it was acknowledgment or indifference. Mulder forged ahead stubbornly, "Your daughter had been referred to a specialist clinic in Charlottesville, hadn't she?"

Another shrug. "Yes."

"The Quaid-Markham clinic?" Mrs. Clough nodded. "Do you mind telling me why?"

"She was just going to take some tests to do with her asthma," the woman said. Her voice sounded distant, and she still looked away, eyes following the coils of cigarette smoke that wound through the air.

"I've just spoken to Dr. Skeat, and he says that he never referred Annie to that clinic," Mulder said. The smoke and the way she stood made it difficult for him to watch her face closely. "He claims she was perfectly healthy and had no reason to go to a specialist."

"There must be some kind of mistake, then." Mrs. Clough let her cigarette fall into the sink with an air of faint regret. Then she turned her head to look at Mulder. "Is this really important?" she asked. "Annie's dead. She won't be keeping any appointments at that clinic or any other."

"I'm sorry to have to drag you through this, Mrs. Clough. But it may have some bearing on why she died."

Anger flared up so suddenly he almost lifted an arm to shield himself from it, from her burning eyes and hissed words. "Linda Pulaski killed her! Linda Pulaski got behind the wheel of a car stinking drunk and she killed my Annie, that's what happened! That's what really happened!" She was leaning out towards him now, spitting the words at him, and he could smell nicotine and alcohol on her breath. Mulder didn't know what to say; he reached out instinctively and caught her arm, steadied her as she threatened to lose her balance.

Krycek spoke softly into the silence that followed. "Why have you taken down the picture?"

Turning his head, Mulder saw that the framed collage of photographs they had seen yesterday was indeed gone, a calendar of delicate floral prints hanging in its place. He met Krycek's eyes briefly. Then Mrs. Clough wrenched away from him, stepping back to lean against the counter as before. She pushed her hair back fiercely. "I didn't want to look at the photos of Annie," she said.

"Of course not," Mulder tried to keep his voice a soothing murmur. "But do you happen to remember any more about that man in one of the photographs—"

"No!" After a deep breath, she visibly calmed herself down. "I told you, he was no one important, just someone we ran into on the campus. I never even knew his name, and if I did I've forgotten, it's been years! Stop asking me about it!"

"Perhaps your husband remembers better than you do," Mulder suggested. When that brought no response he went on, "Is he at home now?"

"No." This was a clipped word of denial, and far more convincing. "He's not."

"Well, I need to talk to him. Can you tell me where I can find him?" At those words she pressed her lips together, then turned around rather abruptly to hunt for another cigarette. "Mrs. Clough?"

"I'd like you to leave now," she said, not turning around.

Krycek could move so damn quietly, Mulder doubted Mrs. Clough heard him as he walked right behind her, stopping at the sink and fishing something out of it. "You smoke Marlboros, don't you, Mrs. Clough?"

"Yes," she said, a little surprised, a little irritated. "I don't want any stupid menthol women's cigarettes."

"And your husband?"

"He doesn't sm—" Then she turned her head and looked at Krycek and at what Krycek was holding in his hand. "Morleys. He smokes Morleys."

"We'd like to see him and confirm that," Mulder said, trying to control the slight adrenaline rush. Mrs. Clough looked straight at him and he caught a glimpse of sheer terror in her eyes before the heavy lids dropped down. "I know you're under a lot of pressure," he said softly. "But we can protect you, Mrs. Clough," he ignored the expression on Krycek's face, "if you just tell us the truth."

"I've told you the truth," she said flatly, her eyes showing nothing at all now. "I'd like you to leave, Agent Mulder, and—" She looked at Krycek, who had never given his name. "I'll ask my husband to contact you when he gets home." Her knuckles were white as she gripped the countertop.

"Do you know where your husband is?"

"Get out. Now." It wasn't a statement that could be argued with. Krycek looked a question at him and Mulder nodded. They went out of the kitchen, and she didn't follow them, but the force of her will was just about pushing them out the door.

They stood for a moment on the porch. The rain was heavier now, a silver curtain shielding the town from view. Everything was unclear here. Mulder sighed and turned his collar up, stepping out into the downpour. It was as though the analytical part of his mind was operating quite separately from his personal thoughts, turning the facts over and fitting them together. Oh, some of these things might not have been called facts by anyone else, but he felt no reason to doubt the truth. Things were starting to come together, beginning to shape up into an understandable whole.

"Mulder, snap out of it and unlock the doors." Krycek had his shoulders hunched against the rain and glared greenly at him across the hood of the truck. It was tempting to just let him stand there, but Mulder became aware that the rain was seeping down his back, too.

"She's been threatened with something," he said as they got into the truck and closed the doors. "She's too scared to tell the truth. That smoking bastard got to her—"

"A long time ago," Krycek said. "But I think we just missed him here." There was something in Krycek's voice. Mulder looked at him. Relief. "Maybe the husband's hostage for her good behavior."

"Maybe." Mulder drummed his fingers against the steering wheel. "Maybe not." He looked at his watch. Scully wouldn't be in Charlottesville yet. "What's going to happen if he finds out you're here?"

"He knows I'm here," Krycek said so quietly Mulder barely heard it. "He knows. This clean-up, it's to prevent you from finding anything that makes sense; he knows you're here and what you're doing. And that means he knows I'm here, too."

Mulder started the truck and backed slowly out of the driveway. The right windshield wiper wasn't working as well as he could have wished; it dragged across the glass with a squeaking sound. Krycek wasn't looking as afraid of Cancerman as he had yesterday. There was something purposeful about him, the tension of action rather than nerves.

That was good. He couldn't have coped with Krycek in a blue funk. He hated it when the man cringed; there was something so damn undignified about it. And it didn't make sense. Krycek had killed an armed man while handcuffed to a balcony rail, so he was obviously capable of considerable mayhem even in tricky situations. There was no reason for him to look nervous when Mulder waved a fist or a gun at him. Although Mulder admitted that Cancerman was another story.

"Things are starting to make sense, anyway," Mulder said. The streets were almost empty as he drove through Leyden Creek. His thoughts were moving along two separate lines of reasoning almost simultaneously, one concerned with Krycek's contradictory behavior, and one presenting the deductions so far in a mostly logical progression. "Your father was involved in an unsavory project," he threw another sideways look at Krycek, "and then, for reasons best known to himself, he bailed out."

"How do you know the project wasn't just shut down?" Krycek asked, although the tone of his voice indicated that he thought he knew. Looked like they were about to play a game of I'm-smarter-than-you-are. Might turn out to be just as enjoyable as roughing Krycek up. "That it wasn't finished?"

"Because of the way he broke the news to those women," Mulder said immediately. "It would have been the easiest thing in the world to wrap up their supposed treatments and tell them they didn't need him any more, except that he'd told them they needed to come to him for months more. So he made up the story about retiring, and bolted."

"Down to Boca Raton." Krycek sat staring down at his hand, head bent, the outline of his skull easy to see through the short hair. "Landing in the middle of another project, and I don't see why he did that."

"Maybe he had no choice," Mulder said. "They'd have tried to make him change his mind, you know. Talked to him. Tried to make him see reason. And when that didn't work—"

"—they killed him," Krycek finished flatly. "Peskow killed him, Mulder. He as much as told me so." Then Krycek lifted his head and looked at Mulder. "But Peskow didn't work for them. Not exactly." The green eyes sparked again, an electric sizzle of thought. "But if he'd decided to tell the truth, they'd all want to kill him."

"I thought you said there was no truth," Mulder couldn't resist saying.

"There isn't," Krycek said, his voice low and vehement. "These people can alter reality, they can change the past, they can construct the future. And anyone who tries to go up against them usually doesn't find out until it's too late."

Mulder discovered that he was gripping the steering wheel as if his life depended on it. There was more than just conviction in Krycek's voice; there was grief, and there was knowledge. It was the voice of someone who's seen more than he ever wanted to, and wishes he could forget. "You're not going to stop me by saying that."

"I know."

They had left the town behind now and were driving along the long upslope that would take them to the curve, and the tree, and what was left of the barn. The windshield wipers were struggling; the rain just kept growing heavier. As they topped the rise, Mulder saw the cars, the people, even the small clouds of ash that rose as something was disturbed among the ruins only to be rained down quickly and thoroughly.

He had to get Krycek to talk soon, to tell him who 'they' were and exactly what 'they' were up to. It was clear that Krycek knew a lot more than he was admitting to as yet. Mulder wanted the secrets that were hiding behind the darkness in Krycek's eyes, wanted them so badly he could just about taste it. There had to be a good way to make Krycek talk.

Mulder turned off the road, following the tracks up to the barn. Lou's truck complained but kept going until he parked behind a police car. That had to be the team from Norfolk still going over the barn, and he needed to ask them about what was left of the lab. There was no sign of Larkin. Probably out crashing through the undergrowth and frightening the wildlife, not to mention the suspect; Mulder hoped he was wet and miserable.

He was about to open the door when Krycek said, "Mulder." Turning his head, he met an unreadable look. "Thanks." Mulder almost leaned back in the truck seat again, to ask what that was all about, to disturb Krycek's stillness, to get his nails under an edge somewhere and pull, yet again. "For last night."

And then Krycek was out of the truck and Mulder scowled, jerking the door open on his side and slamming it shut once he was out in the rain. Damn the man. Damn him.

The rain wouldn't help. Running this morning until his muscles burned and his lungs ached hadn't really helped either. He'd woken up to find himself in bed with Alex Krycek and without being able to provide any logical explanation why. Only that wasn't what the first moment had been like. He had woken up out of a restless, restful sleep with a vague emotional impression that he'd been angry when he fell asleep, and he wasn't any more, and he was warmer than he usually was, and there was bare skin touching his skin. And then he'd turned his head just a fraction, and seen Krycek there.

Mulder dug his hands into the pockets of his trenchcoat. He didn't know what the hell he'd been thinking last night. He hadn't been thinking. But he did know what he'd been thinking when he woke up this morning. It lay dormant under his skin, ready to be awakened again.

"Agent Mulder?" He recognized the policeman vaguely, but couldn't come up with a name. "Detective Larkin asked you to wait here for him... you and Agent Scully?"

"She had to go to Charlottesville. Where is Detective Larkin?" Mulder kept walking towards the remains of the barn and the policeman followed him. Krycek was already there, staring at the blackened ruins and then crouching down to examine something. The team going over the site gave him a look Mulder recognized as 'we're too busy to tell you to go away unless you actually touch something.'

"Detective Larkin is directing operations out in the woods." The policeman looked mildly puzzled at Mulder's satisfied grin. "I'm his liaison here."

"I see. Then why don't you fill me in on what's been happening? All I know is what Larkin told me, that he was out chasing the bomber. What makes him think the guy's still out there? It's been over twelve hours since the explosion took place. Whoever set it up could be on the other side of the world by now."

"The bomber tried to return here this morning." The man glanced over at where the field turned into forest. "Detective Larkin theorized that he might have left some damaging evidence behind that he wanted to remove."

"And has anyone found that evidence?"

"No, sir." Now the policeman eyed the team from Norfolk with less than complete respect. Mulder wondered if it had occurred to the man that Larkin could be wrong. Probably not. "But as soon as the man was spotted, Detective Larkin organized a search for him. He can't get away."

"He's been getting away quite successfully for almost three hours now," Mulder pointed out. "Mind if I ask, how does Larkin know it's the bomber he's chasing, anyway? Did this guy just pop out of the woods and yell 'I did it, I did it'?"

"No." No 'sir' this time. "He ran when he was spotted and he dropped some explosives as he ran. The same type of explosive that was used here, according to the experts."

"Oh." Mulder suddenly smiled. "Well, can't argue with that." He could, of course, but it was no use arguing with this man. He'd save it for Steve Larkin. "Did you get a good look at him?" The policeman shook his head. "Too bad. Thanks," he added almost as an afterthought, before walking over to the remains of the barn.

The team going over the site was led by a short, stocky blonde woman whose hair was pulled back into a tiny stub of a ponytail. She seemed to be everywhere at once, moving carefully so as not to disturb the evidence. Mulder wasn't surprised when she ended up in front of Krycek. Krycek looked up at her, then rocked back on his heels to get an easier view. "Did you find any sign that this end of the building might have been a laboratory?"

She raised an eyebrow at him. "Who are you and what are you doing poking around in the middle of my investigation?"

"He's with me," Mulder said, stepping forward and fishing out his ID to forestall the next question. "Fox Mulder, I'm with the FBI. Did you find anything? There were a lot of metal fixtures, it can't all be gone."

"Stainless steel," she told him. "But it's too early yet to tell what it was before it turned into modern sculpture. Keep your fingers out of there," she added to Krycek, who shot her a charming and untrustworthy smile and got to his feet, "there are lots of sharp edges, you might lose them if you're not careful — oh, I'm sorry." Her eyes flicked to his left side and away again.

Krycek shrugged. The charm was gone, turned off like a light. Mulder concentrated his attention on the woman. "Anything you find," he said, "any trace of that lab, I want you to tell me about it and document it very carefully." Her brows drew together. "I'm sure you'll do an excellent job, Detective—?"

"Anderson. Lieutenant Anderson. I'll tell you when I find something, Agent Mulder. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a job to do." She turned away, her eyes already on her co-workers. Mulder walked carefully along the side of the barn's foundations. The mud under his feet had been baked hard by the heat and now the persistent rain was beginning to soften the top layer yet again, making it slick and slippery.

"What do you think it's going to prove?" The question caught him off guard, and he turned around to find Krycek watching him. Mulder wished the man had at least shaved that morning. He looked scruffy and disreputable, more like a model for Leather Studs than a dependable FBI observer, which made it increasingly hard for Mulder to justify his presence in any convincing way. "So you find a few traces of a lab, so what? There's no way you can prove who used it and for what. Or that Annie Clough was ever in there."

"There might have been other evidence in there," Mulder said. "Something that showed what kind of experiments were being carried out."

"If there was, it's gone now," Krycek said, looking at the ruins. "That was the point, that was why this place had to blow. All that's left now is some melted hardware. Nothing specific."

"You sound as though you know what you're talking about." Mulder wasn't sure what to make of Krycek's calm certainty or of the distant look in his eyes as he watched the team carefully map out the ruined structures. It reminded him of something, but he couldn't put his finger on what.

"I'm a good guesser." Blinking as the rain got in his eyes, Krycek turned back to face Mulder again. "What do you want to do? Put on your red coat and join the hunt?"

"I never really took to fox-hunting," Mulder said dryly, then was disconcerted by Krycek's sudden chuckle. "Don't even think about making a joke, Krycek. I can't just walk out there and hope to run into Larkin. I need someone to tell me exactly where he went. And right now no one seems inclined to—" His cell phone rang and he broke off to take the call. "Mulder."

"Mulder, it's me." The sound of her voice was reassuringly familiar. "I'm at the Quaid-Markham clinic. Except that there is no clinic here, it's been closed."

"Does anyone know when it was closed?" He turned his back on the barn and looked out across the field as he spoke. "Can you get inside and see if there's anything that might have been left behind?"

"I am inside. The janitor let me in. There's nothing here, Mulder, the whole place is empty. There isn't a single piece of furniture left. Even the wall cabinets have been taken down. According to the janitor, the job was finished yesterday."

"Damn." Mulder wiped away the rain that was trickling down his forehead towards his eyes. Krycek stepped into his line of sight, also looking across the field, towards the woods.

"I have the name of the moving company. I'll get in touch with them and find out who hired them. But I don't know if I'll find anything. I can't think of any reason why anyone involved in this business would have used his or her real name."

"What happened to your sweet trusting nature, Scully?" he teased. Krycek shot him a look that seemed mostly amused. "Don't forget to check on Davis at UVa." At those words, Krycek's face closed up again. Mulder wondered idly what the elusive Dr. Davis had really been like. From the Tupperware ladies' description he'd seemed like the Tom Jones of medicine, whose female patients would have screamed and thrown their underwear at him if they'd dared, but Krycek's reactions indicated that the man had not been quite such a walking wonder at home.

"I'm going up there now," she said. "Mulder, what did the Cloughs say about their daughter?"

"Mr. Clough seems to have gone missing," Mulder said slowly. Beside him, Krycek tensed as if he'd heard something, and Mulder strained his hearing — was that a distant shout? A shot? "Mrs. Clough knows something, but it looks like she's been warned not to say anything. We found Morley butts in her sink." That was a shout, and now he saw faint glimpses of someone moving among the trees. "Scully, I have to go, it looks like Larkin's hunting party is coming back. I'll call you later."

He shoved the phone back in his pocket and started to run across the field, aiming to intercept whoever was following the tree line. Krycek came along, and Mulder thought about telling him to stay out of this, but then he decided not to waste his breath. He concentrated on tracking the progress of the unknown person hiding in the woods, suddenly becoming aware of what perfect targets they made out here in the open. The distant shouts were coming a lot closer. That had to be Larkin's efficient manhunt giving an expert performance. There was a dog barking, too. Two dogs. Oh, joy.

They were suddenly in among the trees, and slowed down. Mulder cursed under his breath as he realized he could no longer see the running man he'd been tracking, and the sound of the yells and barks made it difficult to listen for his presence. He was being just as stupid as Larkin. Damn.

Entering a tiny clearing, they both stopped and tried to get their bearings. Mulder had his gun out without being aware of having drawn it. When he took a step forward his foot came down on a branch that snapped with a gunshot-loud crack.

"Just stand still, Mulder," Krycek said quietly, behind him; Mulder thought of several things to say to that, but then he heard the rustling and the panicked footsteps coming closer. When he turned his head, he saw movement again, coming closer. This was the man they were chasing. Whether Larkin was chasing the right man remained to be seen, but it was no use taking chances.

Metal glinted dully in the gray light. Mulder drew a deep breath. "Federal agent! Drop your weapon!" At first nothing happened, then the man came closer to them and Mulder could get a good look at him. He was in his early forties, stockily built, and wearing good-quality clothes that seemed to have been through a lot lately. The rain had plastered his dark hair to his head, and he was wild-eyed, looking quite ready to use the knife he was holding in his right hand. "Drop it!"

The man's eyes shifted from Mulder to Krycek and then back again. Slowly he nodded, and let the knife fall. Mulder didn't allow himself to relax much. Something about the way the man looked bothered him. "I've dropped it," the man said, his voice a little too bright between the labored breaths.

"Walk that way," Mulder nodded. "Slowly. We're going out into the open. Come on." He gestured with his gun and the man moved docilely. The shouts and barks were quite close now. The man took two more steps and then suddenly threw himself sideways, attacking Krycek. Mulder had time to think that he couldn't shoot, and then the man was lying on the ground and Krycek was crouched over him, scowling.

Krycek looked up. "He had another knife. Didn't know how to use it, though." Mulder went closer and looked down, still holding his gun. "Don't worry, Mulder. I didn't kill him." As he got to his feet, Krycek's mouth twisted and he pressed a hand to one leg. The knife had cut cloth and flesh, and blood was slowly soaking the black denim. "You get to carry him out of here."

Mulder stared at the man on the ground a few moments longer. Then he glanced up at Krycek. "Why didn't you ever do that to me?"

"Why, did you want me to? I can't keep track of all your hidden desires, Mulder." Krycek turned around and limped off towards the open field. Mulder watched him go, not even bothering to scowl at Krycek's smart-ass remark. He thought of all the times he'd held Krycek at gunpoint, hit him, pushed him around. Krycek had never fought back very hard, not even when he'd had two arms to do it with. He remembered Krycek saying, You like me because you can hit me.

Then three policemen, two dogs and Steve Larkin came running, and Mulder turned to face them. The dogs were straining at their leashes wanting to get to the fallen man, and Larkin frowned as prettily as ever. "Agent Mulder, did you shoot him?"

"No. He's just unconscious." At least Mulder hoped he was just unconscious. He wasn't quite sure what Krycek had done to the man; whatever it was, it had been quick and effective. He took in Larkin's muddy, bedraggled appearance and felt a lot better. "Who is this man? Do you know who he is?"

"Yes, I know who he is," Larkin said. "That's Siward Clough." He stepped across the small clearing and knelt at the fallen man's side, giving him a brisk once-over and standing up again with the second knife in his hand. There was blood on the blade. "He cut you, Agent Mulder?"

"No. Not me."

The unconscious Clough was handcuffed and carried out of the wood and put into a police car. Mulder was torn between amazement at finding someone called Siward and wondering just when this Siward was going to wake up. Had it really been this man who had blown up the barn? Maybe he'd just become unsettled by his daughter's death. Maybe running amok in the woods was his way of trying to deal with grief; Mulder had seen stranger things.

He headed over to Krycek, who was leaning against the truck. "How long till he wakes up?" Krycek shrugged. "I'll take you to Skeat first. You can walk to the police station from there when he's finished with you."

"Let's just follow that car to the station," Krycek said. "He should have recovered by the time they get there."

"You need to see a doctor, Krycek." Mulder nodded towards the cut on Krycek's leg. "I don't know if you need stitches or if it can be taped up, but in either case that knife was probably filthy. You're going to Skeat."

"Mulder." Krycek gave him a tired look. "I have no insurance and I have no money. It's just a scratch. Tunguska didn't kill me, this won't either." The casual tone was belied by a deepening darkness in his eyes. "I can clean it out in the bathroom at the police station."

"Get in the car," Mulder said, walking around to the left side of the truck and opening the door. He realized as he was about to get in that the rain had almost stopped. Finally. This was the kind of day that made him want to find the light switch. The gray sky gave the whole world an oddly closed-in look, as if heaven was the lid on a cage they could none of them escape from. He tilted his head back and looked for a break in the cloud cover, but didn't see one.

He got into the car and leaned across to unlock the door on the other side. Krycek climbed in and sat there looking unconcerned as Mulder started the car. He found himself wishing that Scully was there. It would have been fun to see her descend on Krycek with her medicine kit in hand. He turned the truck around carefully; the tires spun in the mud at one point, but then the downslope helped them get free and they got back down the hill and out on the road.

As he drove, he fished out his cell phone with one hand and dialed a number he could have recited in his sleep. She answered almost immediately. "Scully."

"Larkin caught himself a bomber, Scully. Or thinks he did." Only a few drops of rain fell now, and he turned the windshield wipers off, then had to turn them on again when those few drops turned out to be too much after all. "Annie Clough's father."

"Her father?" Cool surprise, very Scully. "That sounds strange. Do you think he did it?"

"I don't know." Mulder slowed down at an intersection. The police car that was transporting Siward Clough had already left them far behind, but since he wasn't going to the police station straight away, it didn't matter. "I'm not sure what his motive would be. If he knew his daughter was part of these experiments, wouldn't he have wanted to expose them instead?"

"Mulder, you have no proof that there were any experiments carried out in that barn," Scully said.

"He wouldn't be the first man to sell out a child to a project," Krycek remarked, not looking at Mulder. "At least they got to keep their daughter at home most of the time."

"Shut up," Mulder said between clenched teeth. Then he drew a deep breath. "Scully, are you still there? That wasn't meant for you, I was trying to silence the peanut gallery. Have you found anything new?"

"Not yet. The moving company was contacted by a woman who called herself Jane Smith. They've been paid; the money was transferred directly into the company account and they couldn't trace it. No one ever met Ms. Smith." There was the sound of a car door opening and closing. "I'm at UVa now, Mulder. I'll call you when I find out more."

Mulder put his phone away and looked at Krycek, who was leaning back, his lips pressed together. Much as he wanted to take his anger out on the man, he had to admit that Krycek might be right. The Cloughs knew something at least, or that cigarette-smoking son of a bitch wouldn't have gone to the trouble of scaring them into silence.

"Hey." Krycek pointed at the police station. "You're going past it." Then he raised his eyebrows. "Fuck, Mulder, you're taking me to the doctor, aren't you. Do I have to put it in words of one syllable for you? It's no use. I can't pay."

"I'll put it on my expense sheet." Mulder turned the corner and slowed down, looking for a parking spot as close as possible. He was lucky enough to find a large one. Lou's truck required ample space. "Your leg's still bleeding. Stop acting stoic and clenching your jaw, it makes you look like Skinner."

Krycek burst out laughing. It was a clear, honest sound, and Mulder was almost startled by it; he'd rarely seen Krycek look so unguarded. Shaking his head, Krycek opened the truck door and got out. Mulder got out as well, checking the sky once he was outside. If anything, it was getting darker. Krycek was still grinning as they went inside.

Louise Chen was behind her desk, entering something into the computer. The waiting room was empty, and although she tried to give the impression that Dr. Skeat was terribly busy, Mulder thought the practice might not be doing too well. Maybe the people in Leyden Creek were just too healthy. Krycek's lack of medical insurance brought a sniff from Louise Chen, and Mulder produced a credit card. It felt more than a little strange suddenly, but he couldn't drag around an Alex Krycek who was both unshaven and bleeding. That would be taking the scruffy look too far.

When Krycek was ushered in to see Skeat, Mulder sat down on one of the chairs in the waiting room and tried to marshal his thoughts and review the case so far. Ghosts and car accidents. That first mystery had almost vanished behind the second one as the lab in the barn and the stories of abductions had distracted him. He leaned back and stretched out his legs comfortably; Louise Chen shot him a disapproving look. At least she hadn't been flirting with Krycek, although she had watched the way he moved in those tight jeans.

Krycek believed that a man called Peskow had killed his parents. He'd looked almost sick as he spoke of it. He'd sounded as though this Peskow was someone he knew. But why had his parents returned to haunt the site of their death now, ten years later? Mulder couldn't doubt, despite Scully's and Krycek's protests, that that was what had happened. Linda Pulaski had identified Andrew Davis as one of the ghostly figures she'd seen on the night of the accident. She hadn't been drunk, and she wasn't a hysterical teenager.

With a start, he realized that he had forgotten to ask Leah Byrnes and Nadine Williams about the ghosts. Both he and Scully had been so taken aback by what the women had to say about Dr. Davis that they'd failed to remember the real purpose of their visit. Mulder shook his head slowly. But if the Tupperware ladies had identified their ghostly vision as Davis, wouldn't they have mentioned that? They had been genuinely surprised when told that Davis was dead.

Mulder dug into his pocket again, trying to find the note Scully had written for him last night. Well, it wasn't a note so much as a crumpled paper napkin that was starting to fray at the edges, but it had the names and phone numbers of the Tupperware ladies. He dialed Nadine Williams' number, and waited. And waited. Just when he'd decided that they were probably still in the greenhouse and he might as well hang up, he heard a click and a breathless "Hello?"

"Ms. Williams? This is Special Agent Fox Mulder. I'd like to ask you some additional questions, if that's all right with you."

"I — oh. Yes. Yes, of course." She sounded a little breathless still. "Leah, put it down over there. — I'm sorry, Agent Mulder. What did you want to ask me about?"

"About the car accident." He waited a moment, but she made no protest, so he went on. "Agent Scully told me that you had seen something at the site of the accident — some kind of ghost or apparition?"

Nadine Williams was silent for so long that he wondered if she'd hung up. Just as he was about to ask if she was still there, she said, "Well, Agent Mulder, I really don't know what it was. I saw something."

"Can you describe it to me?" Mulder realized that most people would probably hesitate to tell an FBI agent that they'd seen a ghost, particularly if they had had a few days to convince themselves that they hadn't. But Ms. Williams had confirmed to Scully that she'd seen something out of the ordinary that night.

"It looked like someone standing up by the tree," she said hesitantly. "I just caught a glimpse, really. I'm not even sure if I thought I saw two figures or just one. It was right before we went into the ditch, and then I didn't have time to look again."

"Did this figure, or these figures, seem familiar in any way?"

"No. No, I don't think so. It was more of an impression than anything else, something glimpsed out of the corner of my eye. I'm sorry, Agent Mulder. I'm not sure what I saw; Leah didn't see anything."

"But the driver did, didn't she? Mrs—" He consulted the napkin. "—Capozzola?"

"I think so. We haven't really had the time to compare our impressions." Ms. Williams sounded rather more collected over the phone than she had done when they had been face to face, in her greenhouse. "I think — I thought what I saw was a man. But that's really all I can say."

"Thank you, Ms. Williams, you've been very helpful. I'm sorry to have disturbed you." Mulder sat staring at the phone for a while, until he became aware that Louise Chen was watching him. He looked up and met her eyes. "Don't worry, you didn't overhear any state secrets."

The secretary neither smiled nor looked offended. She straightened the pile of papers in front of her with quick, efficient movements. Then she surprised him by actually speaking to him. "I didn't know the FBI was concerned with ghosts."

"The FBI has wide-ranging interests," he told her. "You'd be surprised. Why, have you seen any ghosts lately?" Louise Chen answered that with a raised eyebrow and a single shake of the head. Mulder gave in to a sudden impulse. "Ms. Chen, tell me something. That man who's in with Dr. Skeat right now — do you think he's attractive?"

Louise Chen looked genuinely taken aback. Then she smiled. It transformed her face, from severe to stunning. "Yes," she said, considering it, "yes, he is. Although he isn't really my type."

Mulder allowed his smile to become flirtatious. "And just what is your type, Ms. Chen?"

"My husband," she said, but traces of the smile lingered in her eyes. Then the door to the waiting room opened and her face turned carefully blank again as she returned to her paperwork. Krycek walked back in. A white bandage showed through the rip in his jeans.

"Nine stitches," he said, sounding cheerful. "I told you it was just a scratch. Can I borrow a pair of jeans?"

Mulder shook his head, but in resignation, not denial. If his aim was to keep Krycek reasonably presentable, those ripped and blood-stained black jeans had to go. He didn't want to try to explain why he was accompanied by someone who looked like a war refugee. "If you take good care of them. I didn't pack for two. And hurry up, I want to hear what—"

Mulder broke off, realizing he was about to talk about the investigation in front of Louise Chen. Only now did he remember that he had meant to go to the police station as soon as he'd dropped Krycek off here. He had to get over there and hear what Siward Clough had to say about his reasons for running around the woods carrying explosives.

"All right." Krycek made for the exit, tossing Louise Chen one of those Charm Level 10 smiles on the way. She preserved her composure, but only barely. The damn rat bastard should come with a warning label attached. Mulder sighed, and followed him.

As he was on his way out the door, he heard Louise Chen say something in a low voice. It sounded suspiciously like, "Wide-ranging interests?"

The sky still hung low over the town, gun-metal gray, and nothing cast a shadow. Krycek moved easily, without favoring his injured leg, so Mulder was inclined to believe him when he said it was just a scratch after all. Only a few drops of rain hit them as they went to the truck and got inside. Up the street, around the corner, this was starting to feel drearily familiar. He parked by the police station and turned to Krycek.

"Scully wouldn't like this, but..." Mulder had to admit he didn't really like it either. All the same, he'd be damned if he went with Krycek to watch the man change his jeans. He was an FBI agent, not a baby-sitter, no matter what Scully said. Digging the keys to the room out of his pocket, he handed them to Krycek. "Go over there, find something you can wear, then come back here. I have a feeling Larkin's going to want some kind of statement from you about Clough."

"Tell him you took Clough down with a Vulcan nerve pinch." Krycek opened the truck door and slipped out. He walked across the street, and Mulder watched him until he went in through the diner door. Not that that made any real difference, Mulder knew that much. Simplest thing in the world to walk out through the back door, to walk out later. He was counting on Krycek's interest in the case to keep him here, and perhaps he was making a mistake.

He got out of the truck himself and went into the police station, where he was met by Lou, who directed him to the same room where he'd talked to Linda Pulaski the day before. Mulder slipped inside quietly and stood by the door, studying the scene. Siward Clough was sitting on a chair with his elbows on his knees, shoulders slumped, cuffed hands hanging down, the sturdy policeman Mulder had talked to before standing behind him. Larkin sat facing him, grim-faced.

Clough slowly looked up. "I'm not saying anything until my lawyer gets here." He met Larkin's eyes for a moment, then let his head fall forward again. "Nothing."

"Damn it, Siward." Despite the words, Mulder had never heard Larkin sound so gentle. The detective leaned forward towards his prisoner and spoke with great intensity. "Why did you do it?"

The question hung in the air for a moment. Mulder shook his head, edging towards the door; he'd come back when Clough had his lawyer and things could get moving again. But just as he closed his hand around the door knob, Siward Clough looked up again. Tears were running down his face. "Annie always hated that place," he said.

* * *

When I enter the diner the smell of food wraps around me, warm and gentle, and I realize I'm hungry again. Susie the waitress is serving lunch to a group of men who look as though they're in the middle of a business deal. The place is starting to fill up already. I head up the stairs and quickly unlock the door to the room. Looking around, I see that everything is as we left it. If anyone's been here to search the place, they've been very discreet about it. I have to consider the possibility, though. He knows they're here. He knows I'm here. I'm still alive, and I plan to stay that way.

Instinctively, my hand moves towards my gun to make sure it's still there. I wonder how Mulder would have reacted if I'd shot Clough. Then I ponder the fact that I'm on my way over to the police station to talk to Steve Larkin. If he gets suspicious, if he starts checking up on me... Reluctantly, I decide that I can't go in there with my gun. It's too much of a risk. My mind is spinning tales of witness protection programs and false ID's, but it won't work if I'm carrying a gun I have no permit for.

I put those thoughts aside for the moment and take my jeans off. They're ruined, which is a shame because they were my favorite pair. I need to get some money. I have to buy a few things, and what I have right now will get me a cup of coffee, if I'm lucky. Mulder paid for the nine stitches in my left leg. Kind of him, but I don't suppose it means he's buying me a new wardrobe as well. I start to go through the pile of clothes and find only one pair of jeans, which makes the choice easy. They're a bit tight, but I'm not about to run around town in sweatpants, and I think he'd shoot me if I pinched one of his suits.

About to leave the room again, I pause with my hand on the door knob. Everything I'm wearing now is his except for the boots and the jacket. It feels strange. It feels as though I'm wearing him; it feels like having his arms wrapped around me. Suddenly it hurts, because it's not true, because the only cause at work here is necessity. I'm wearing his clothes, but it means nothing.

I go downstairs and find myself moving more slowly than usual, not wanting to face him with that thought in mind. I should be curious about Clough, about Mulder's conclusions, about whatever Scully has discovered up in Charlottesville, but my feet won't speed up. Dawdling by the noticeboard, I read about a new knitwear store in someone's garage, a yard sale several Sundays ago. The door opens.


It's Linda Pulaski, wearing a blue and green checked flannel shirt over a white dress with a lace collar. I don't know if it's a fashion statement of some kind, or if she just didn't care what she put on when she got up this morning. The orange half of her hair lights up this dull gray day. She's watching me with a half-wary, half-friendly expression. "Don't worry," I say. "I'm not going to ask you why you're not in school."

"I wanted to talk to someone." She's chewed her lips raw at some point between yesterday afternoon and now. Her eyes are clear, though. "I... I could buy you lunch."

I look out the window at the police station. He's expecting me. He — the thought strikes me with enough force to almost knock me off my feet — he trusts me not to disappear. But I'm not going to disappear now. Linda looks at me. I nod, then smile conspiratorially at her. "Let's make the FBI pay. Come on."

We go to sit down at the same window table Scully, Mulder and I have more or less staked a claim to, and she props her chin on her hands and doesn't look at me, looks out the window for a while. Susie the waitress comes up to take our orders and I wish it was Laura Ann instead. I order the soup of the day, and Linda, after a moment's hesitation, asks for fries, onion rings, and a chocolate shake. I'm starting to think we're twin souls, and I tell Susie I want onion rings too. She's shaking her head as she walks away.

"My mom would have a fit," Linda says. There's nothing defiant about the statement, it's just a simple fact. "She's always going on about my diet. Alex?" Her voice changes. "Have you found out anything yet? About the—" She doesn't want to say the words. "I heard the old Mitchell barn burned down last night. Do you know anything about that?"

"We were there," I say. I remember Mulder pushing me inside, the dark enclosed space, the sound of the door slamming shut. My heart starts to speed up. It was bad. At least Mulder and Scully were there with me, but that hadn't stopped the walls from starting to close in on me, hadn't kept me from remembering taste and smell and sound and...

"Alex." Linda's hand on mine brings me back to reality. "Alex, are you all right?"

"Yeah," I say after a moment. "Sorry. Just some bad memories." I shrug, turn my hand over and hold hers gently.

"I'm sorry too." I look at her in surprise. "I mean. I like being with you, because then I don't feel so alone. And if that means you feel like I do, if that means it makes me feel better that you don't feel good, then I'm sorry about that."

It's a bit convoluted, but I understand exactly what she means, and I squeeze her hand. "It's all right. It makes me feel better, too," I tell her, and then Susie comes back with the food.

The soup is close to being stew, thick with cream and potatoes and clams and big, tender chunks of fish. The smell of the onion rings makes my stomach growl. I don't remember ordering anything to drink, but Susie sets down a Coke in front of me; she refuses to catch my smile as she leaves, though.

"I've been thinking," Linda says and reaches for the ketchup. "I'm not sure any more that I'm going to apply to UVa. I always meant to go there with Annie, you know? I don't know how it would feel if I had to be there alone."

"Go somewhere else," I say seriously. "Don't spend years in a place where you're going to see her face every time you turn around. UVa's good, but there are other places."

She pauses, about to replace the ketchup and grab the salt. "You went there?"

I make a non-committal sound and apply myself to my soup. The things I learned when I went to college weren't taught by UVa professors. They have no bearing on Linda's future. At least I hope not. After a while I put my spoon down to reach out and steal a sip of her milkshake, and she grins at me. "You know I'm not really supposed to tell you anything about the case," I say.

"I know." She shrugs. "I think I just wanted to be with you. If that's all right."

"Give me some more of that milkshake."

We sit and talk about nothing much, nothing in particular, while I finish the soup and she picks at her fries. She likes Melissa Etheridge and I don't; I like the Indigo Girls and she doesn't. We even discuss the weather. I describe Louise Chen to her and she laughs. "Yeah, she's just like that, nothing makes her twitch. I bet if a rat ran across the floor she'd ask it if it had an appointment." I have to laugh, too. I wish Mulder could hear her. "Alex?" I've been called Alex more often during this lunch than I have in the past two years. "Why doesn't Agent Mulder like you?"

Sure, I'll answer that. I'll even give a summary of the theory of relativity as an encore. Then I meet her eyes. "He's got good reasons not to," I say.

Linda smiles blithely. "He's probably just jealous 'cause you're cuter than he is."

"You've got to be kidding," I say before I can stop myself. Briefly I wonder what the hell happened to my professional attitude. I used to be able to think before I spoke. Taking a quick breath, I go on, "Trust me, that's not it. He's wanted to put warfarin in my birthday cake for a long time now. You're better off not knowing the details."

"All right," she says equably, nibbling at an onion ring. "But I still think you're cuter. — I really want to get out of this town."

"You will," I tell her, "you will." And I know she will, and I hope she'll find something good when she does. I remember being that age, wanting something I couldn't put into words, wanting change, wanting the future and my own place in it. I remember what happened then.

When I've finished my soup, Susie comes to take the bowl away; Linda holds on protectively to her plate of fries, although they're mostly cold by now. I tell Susie to add it all to the bill for the rooms, and she nods and walks away. She won't quite meet my eye any more. "She doesn't want to like you either," Linda comments.

"She doesn't go for cripples." I watch Susie disappear into the kitchen. She probably didn't mean any harm. It just wasn't what she'd been expecting. I could have told her I never expected to end up this way either. A sharp pain shoots along my arm, my missing arm, and my mouth twists.

Linda gets up and walks around the table, sitting down next to me instead. She scoots closer. "I'm sorry." Somehow she wriggles in under my right arm, and leans her head on my shoulder. "I think I'm like that with Annie, you know? Like part of me is missing."

"I know," I say, and lean my cheek against the top of her head. The other customers are all trying very hard not to stare at us. "You realize the whole town is going to be talking about this?"

"Yeah, fuck 'em," she says, and we sit like that for a while.

The door has opened and closed any number of times since we sat down here and only a small part of my mind is paying attention to it. But when I hear someone walking towards our table I look up quickly. It's Mulder, and he's not happy. Well, he's missed lunch. "You were supposed to be over there," he says, gesturing towards the police station. "Half an hour ago."

"I got hungry," I tell him truthfully.

"I invited him to lunch," Linda says with her head still on my shoulder. "I'm sorry." She doesn't mention the fact that it is probably Mulder who's going to have to pay for it. Bright girl.

"Lunch," Mulder says, and gives us both a disgusted look. Then he sits down across from us. The look intensifies as he almost puts his elbow on the plate of left-over fries. "Well, I hope you've finished, because you need to be at the police station making a statement."

I should have left it to Mulder to catch the fugitive. Getting too involved was stupid; now I have to make up a story for Larkin. I think about what pieces of ID I have on me and wonder again whether Larkin will bother to do a thorough background check. Linda hospitably pushes the onion rings towards Mulder. "Are you hungry too?"

It looks as though he's about to say no just to be contrary. Then he picks one up and eats it. Susie comes back to the table; she has no trouble meeting his eyes and asking him what he wants. He orders a sandwich, and then looks as if he regrets it as she walks away. "K- Alex, give me the keys. I need to get a few things. Don't eat my food while I'm gone."

"Would I do a thing like that?" I hand him the keys and he gets up and walks away, up the stairs. I watch him until he's out of sight. Linda turns her head on my shoulder, watching him as well, and then she's looking up at me. Her eyes are half laughing, half serious, and I sigh to myself. "What."

"He doesn't like you, but he's sharing a room with you."

"Department cutbacks," I say. It's an automatic response, while inside I admit to myself that she's reduced the whole problem to the simplest terms possible. He doesn't like me, but he's sharing a room with me. He doesn't like me, but... but he slept next to me.

I've tried not to think too much about that. It's too strange, and I don't want to face the explanation. I've even avoided thinking about what I did, what I didn't do. There was a time when I thought that his nearness was the beginning and end of my desire, when I dreamed that touch would be an answer and a solution. This morning, the realization that I had not even tried to seduce him during the night showed me the true extent of my own madness.

And it would only have destroyed the moment, after all. I'd rather have that gift, what he did for me out of the goodness of his twisted and confused heart. Charity is one thing, but he'd never have consented to a pity fuck and I wouldn't want one. I wouldn't want him to do that. Closing my eyes, I let myself remember briefly. Closeness. Warmth. It's enough, it will have to be enough.

"Alex?" Linda touches a finger to my cheek. "What did he do, how did he hurt you that much, Alex?"

I shake my head and look at her. "You've got it wrong, sweetheart. I'm the one who hurt him. I told you you're better off not knowing." Susie brings Mulder's sandwich and looks disappointed that he isn't there. I think about reaching out and stealing a slice of something just for the hell of it, but I don't want to let go of Linda. For once I'm no more than mildly frustrated at this, just one of the stupid little choices I have to make all the time.

When Mulder comes back he looks suspiciously at the sandwich before sliding into his seat. Then he looks suspiciously at Linda and me instead. "Ms. Pulaski." She makes a horrible face. "Linda, I know you have an interest in how this investigation goes, but there's no need to try to wring new facts out of him." He nods at me. "When there is any new information about this case, we'll tell you."

Surprised, she slips forward to prop her elbows on the table as she watches Mulder intently. "New information?" The slight sharpness of sarcasm is back in her voice again. "You think you're going to solve it?" Then she leans back just as abruptly. "Don't tell me. I guess I was stupid for thinking you believed me in the first place."

Mulder is just biting into his sandwich, and he looks frustrated as he has to chew and swallow before he can reply. "I believe you," he says as soon as he can. "What makes you think I don't?"

"If you believe me, what's to solve about the case? I saw ghosts, they scared me, I went off the road, Annie's dead. You can't prosecute ghosts. Hell, you can't even get anyone else to believe that story. Is that why? Are you looking for a nice solution that you can actually write down without, without having people laugh in your face?" Her self-possession is starting to give way, finally, the sentences starting to break up under the pressure of her emotions.

I touch her hand. "You're doing the agent an injustice, sweetheart. Mulder's a knight in shining armor crusading for the truth, and he'll believe six impossible things before breakfast. He's probably the only man in the Bureau who'll put that kind of thing in a report and expect people to buy it."

"Thanks for your testimony. I'll remember not to call you if I ever need a character witness." The look could burn my skin like acid. "Linda, I said I believed you and I mean it. I do. But I think there's more to this. There's a reason why those ghosts appeared at all, and there's a reason why they appeared to the people they did. It's not going to change anything that's happened, and it won't bring Annie back, but if I can find the whole truth maybe we can stop it from happening to anyone else."

She looks at him. She's judging him. No one can judge another as sharply as teenagers and the recently bereaved. I find myself wondering what she sees when she looks at him. But then, she apparently likes me. It doesn't quite make me want to laugh. "Okay," she says when that silent inspection is over. "Just promise that you'll tell me when you know."

Mulder nods. "I will," he says, and then he picks up his sandwich again and applies himself to eating.

Linda rests against my side for a while. She's quiet; I suppose she's thinking about things, and I tilt my head back, my cheek against her hair, and watch Mulder discreetly through my lashes. Most people hate it when you stare at them while they're eating. I'm not sure he notices. He's thinking, too. Suddenly I really want to know what happened when Clough was questioned, what the man might have said. I'm not sure it has any bearing on the car accidents, and even less on how my parents died, but I'm caught up in the mystery of it. Maybe Mulder's attitude is catching; he's one of those people who just don't know when to stop asking why.

"I guess I'd better go." Linda sits up straight again. She shifts towards the end of the bench, then stops and turns around and looks at me. After a moment of hesitation she grins, and leans in and kisses my cheek. "I'll see you later." Then she's up and away, moving like a teenager, lithe and graceless.

I look at Mulder. "What did Clough say? Have you heard from Scully again?"

Slowly, he puts down the remains of his sandwich and faces me. "She trusts you, Krycek." I know he's not talking about Scully. "And she wouldn't trust you if she knew what I know about you. So don't give me any reason to tell her."

"Fuck you," I say, without any heat. Then I smile. "Besides, that's a lousy threat. If I do something that shows I'm not trustworthy, you're going to tell her I'm not trustworthy? I'm so scared. Why don't you just say you'll beat me up if I hurt her?"

"All right. I'll beat you up if you hurt her." Then an odd expression appears and disappears on his face, too fast for me to read. I don't tell him that this is a lousy threat, too. Because the point isn't that he couldn't beat me up; the point is that I would let him do it.

And besides... he's threatened me with exposure. He's threatened to tell a young girl the truth about me and what a spawn of evil I am. He believes I care, that I still have the moral standards to be ashamed at revelation. Only Mulder, I think, only Mulder would believe that someone like me would be bothered by what a seventeen-year-old girl might think of him. My chest tightens, and the pain feels wonderful.

After a while I say, "I like her." And then, "Have you heard from Scully again?"

"Not yet," he says. "Krycek. Do you remember anything about what your father did, anything that seems inconsistent when you think back, in retrospect? Anything your parents said that might have referred to his work as a doctor?"

"No." The answer is more of a reflex than anything else. "I've told you that I don't remember much. I never knew that he practiced medicine on anyone but me. Tell me about Scully and Clough," I insist. "Don't try to sidetrack me. It's a bit late to decide to keep me in the dark, Mulder."

"You seem more interested in Linda Pulaski than in the case anyway. I don't have an obligation to tell you anything." He picks apart the remains of his sandwich, eats the last slice of turkey but leaves the bread. "We brought you along because you might be useful, that's all. You can't sit there making demands as though I'm a private detective you've hired. You're lucky we didn't leave you in Skinner's tender care." Although his voice stays low and even, it takes on that peculiar roughness I recognize from other times, other angers.

"Threats don't become you."

"Watch where you throw those stones, Krycek. Who's blackmailing whom at this table?"

"If that's the way you want to play it," I say in resignation. "Tell me about Scully and Clough, or I'll make sure that something triggers the black cancer virus."

He leans back, turns his head and looks out the window. "You could have just said please. Clough's admitted to blowing up the barn, but he won't say where he got the explosives. All he says is that he did it because Annie always hated that place." His eyes are sad. "She must have told them so often when she was a child how horrible it had been and they never listened. Her father never understood until after she died."

"He's lost it, hasn't he." I watch Mulder, his profile, the line of his jaw, his neck. And I think. "Or he's just pretending to, to hide his real agenda. My guess is someone made him do it, and we both know who was blackmailing the Cloughs. It's all part of the cover-up, Mulder, it has to be."

"You don't believe his grief for his daughter is genuine?" For one absurd moment I think I can't bear the faint reproach in his voice. And that's when I start to wonder, really start to wonder what he's doing to me.

"Sure I believe it. I also believe he and his wife are scared shitless of a certain chain-smoking gentleman, because anyone with two brain cells to rub together would be, present company apparently excepted. People rarely have just one motive for their actions."

He gives me a reassuringly cynical look. "Well, you should know." And then, grudgingly, "I think you're right." I look outside quickly to see if the sky is falling. But it's just the rain. "We're never going to get it out of him, though, and it looks like his wife would rather see him go to jail than tell the truth, too."

"Did you ask him what kind of cigarettes he smokes?" I ask with a half-smile, and the faint amusement is reflected back at me. It must have come as quite a shock to the man to find that he's suddenly become a Morley smoker. But it doesn't prove anything.

Mulder nods. "I know. If I tell Larkin that I know Clough was being blackmailed because we found Morleys in the sink..." He pauses. "I could tell Skinner, though. He would believe me."

"Probably." Skinner may have a problem with a lot of Mulder's reports, and he wouldn't like the ghosts, but he'd be able to read those implications as clearly as Mulder himself. More clearly, perhaps, I think, but don't say it. "But you still wouldn't be able to do anything."

"Damn it." It's spoken very quietly. Then he looks straight at me, traps me with his eyes. "Krycek. Do you know his name?"

I would laugh if he didn't hold me like that, suspended in space. "No," I say. "I've heard lots of names for him. And I know every one of them was false." Then I sigh to myself as he tries to control his disappointment. This is what he wants from me. Information. I know, even though he hasn't said it in so many words; I know because that's what he always wants. Another fragment, a piece of the puzzle, something that will add up to the truth written on the mountains. Me, I'll settle for smaller things. "What do you think Clough and the barn have to do with what happened to my parents?"

If he's thrown by the change of subject, he doesn't show it. He leans back; for some reason he seems to think best when he's sprawling, arms and legs everywhere. "Someone had decided to start the experiments again," he says with lazy certainty. "They were all being called to this clinic, even Dan Bettens. I checked with his wife. And the lab in the barn looked brand new. They were being set up for the next round." I look at him, strangely unwilling to hear what he's going to say next. "And I think your parents were trying to get in touch with the subjects of the experiment. That they were trying to do something to stop it from happening again."

Now I'm staring at him. He should be used to that, should be used to people giving him the 'when did you last take your medication' look when he starts to theorize, but he looks oddly bothered by it. Well, I'm bothered too. "You really think my parents are ghosts." I try the idea out as you might try a sweater, hold it up to see if it goes with my eyes. "You really think they're out there."

"Yes." He's got a napkin in his hands now, and his strong fingers are slowly tearing off one strip after another. I don't think he's aware of doing it. "I think they were the ones who warned you to get out of the barn last night."

"Mulder." I close my eyes. "You're getting too weird for me." When I look at him again he's still sitting there shredding the napkin. Then he slowly starts to smile. "What?"

"It's nice to hear that you're not totally blasé, Krycek." He leans forward, elbows on the table, eyes so intense I think my heart might stop beating. The napkin pieces fall from his hands. "It's the only explanation that makes sense. Your parents were killed because your father called a halt to the project he was involved in. Ten years later someone intends to start it up again, and your parents return to try to stop it."

"By scaring people to death? This is what you call an explanation that makes sense?" I shake my head. "And where have they been all this time, in the big ghost storage closet in the sky?"

He opens his mouth to argue, and his cell phone rings. "Mulder. — So what did you find?" He's silent for a long time, looking out the window. I can hear the sound of Scully's voice, but not what she's saying. "Biology. Not genetics. — Yes, but is there any evidence that he specifically— I see. I don't know, I'll ask him. You lived in one of the Pavilions?" I nod. "Yeah, they did. In the basement? I'll ask — oh, all right." He hands me the phone.

I look at it, then take it. "Hey, Scully. Lou misses you."

"Too bad." If I knew her as well as Mulder does I'd know if she's really smiling right now or if it's just my imagination. "Krycek, the couple living here now moved in a month after your parents' accident. One of the basement rooms had been completely cleaned out, everything removed and torn down." Scully clears her throat. "Who did that? What was in that room?"

"Mostly book-shelves," I tell her. "That was my father's private study, that was where he did most of his work. He had books, a desk, a computer, nothing special. A few white mice from time to time, for research purposes."

"Oh." The disappointment in her voice almost makes me smile.

"If there was anything sinister down there, I never saw it." But there's a lot I never knew about my parents, I know that, and I know that she knows it, too. She doesn't mention it. And she doesn't ask again who had the room cleaned out. "What else have you found?"

"Almost nothing." But she says it in a way that makes me understand there's more to that than what the words mean. And she goes on, "So much seems to be missing, a lot of your father's papers, some of the records. The institution secretary is almost frantic. No one can remember when anyone looked at the material last, either." Scully sniffs her disapproval.

"You mean his research is gone?" I feel curiously hollow. That was what my father was, what I always thought he lived for, what defined him. To have it gone now seems to negate that part of his life that I always thought was the most real.

"A lot of it." The almost-kindness of her words nearly makes me shy away from the phone. She must have heard my feelings. "I haven't been able to discover when the Quaid-Markham clinic was established or if your father ever had any contact with it. Do you know—"

"No." Then I make myself say, "I didn't live with my parents all the time. I could have missed a lot of things." I just don't like thinking about it, much. About how they lied to me. No, that's not it. They didn't lie. They just didn't tell me.

I think about my father's silence, his few mentions of earlier colleagues that he'd liked, had been friends with. I think about meeting those colleagues later, after his death. I was a good friend of your father's. For a moment I think I can smell cigarette smoke. You're a promising young man. And all the secrets started there, what I kept from him, what he kept from me, what we kept from the world.

"Krycek?" Scully's voice drags me back to the present. "I'm coming back to Leyden Creek once I've talked to a few other people here. I'm not getting anywhere with the clinic, and I can pursue inquiries with the moving company on the phone. They shipped everything in the clinic to a storage facility in Manassas, except for a few boxes that were taken by a man who called himself Nathaniel Wilde."

"That's not his real name," I tell her. "I think you've met him a couple of times. He has a horse farm outside Charlottesville. The place where Dr. Charne-Sayre was killed."

There's a moment of absolute silence both from Scully and from Mulder, and then at exactly the same moment they say, "How do you know that?" I tense up. Mulder's quicker off the mark, probably because he can see my face. "The man who killed her. The one who killed the people at the rest home, the one who..."

"The man in Alberta, the one with the Russian accent," Scully says, her voice projecting icy cold even through the static-laden reception of the cell phone. "Did you have anything to do with that?"

And Mulder, even though he probably can't hear what Scully is saying, is right there; they're a team like no other. "Was it the man who told you about your parents, the one you think killed them? Peskow?"

I look at the phone and then I look at Mulder. "The man who took those boxes has a farm outside Charlottesville," I repeat to Scully. "It doesn't have a phone, but I can give you directions. Drive towards Crozet, look for a white fence with yellow trim and turn right at the-"

Mulder takes the phone away from me. "I'll call you back," he says to Scully, and hangs up. Then he leans forward across the table. His eyes have gone dark. "What the hell do you think you're doing, trying to send her out there without any backup? That man is dangerous—"

"You think I don't know that?" I shake my head. "Mulder, I shouldn't have to point this out to you. Scully is an extremely capable FBI agent. She's intelligent, she's resourceful, and if we're constructing a worst case scenario here, she's armed and she's a good shot. And I don't think Wilde is there, anyway. Besides, he likes her." Mulder give me an incredulous look. "Never mind how I know that. She's there, she wants to look into it, and she's just as capable as you are of doing it, so why do you want to stop her? If you were up there you'd already be halfway out to the farm."

He holds up a hand, acknowledging the hit. Then he leans forward across the table and drops his voice, making me strain to hear him. "Krycek. The man who came over from Russia — it was Peskow, wasn't it?" I nod, thinking I used to admire those bizarre leaps of logic and the way they nearly always landed him in the right place. "He destroyed the rock sample. He killed everyone who had been involved in the project, everyone who had come into contact with the rock. Except for us, except for me and Scully. Why?"

I take a deep breath. "You could ask the same question about a lot of other close calls the two of you have had. You have some protection in certain circles. There are people who believe that you can be useful." The palm of my hand feels clammy. I concentrate on driving that sensation away.

But he's leaning even closer now. His eyes won't let me go. "Who gave Peskow his orders?" he asks softly. I stare at him, hypnotized. "Who, Krycek?"

With a suppressed gasp I wrench myself away from whatever it is he's doing to me. I lean back on the bench and turn my head, scanning the rest of the room out of habit. "This isn't why we're here, Mulder. It has nothing to do with why we're here."

"Yes, it does," he instantly contradicts me. "It's because of Peskow that you're here. You told us he said something to you that made you think he was involved in your parents' death. Who was Peskow? Who did he take his orders from? What happened to him?"

And suddenly I'm sick of holding it inside. "He was a former KGB assassin. And he took his orders from lots of people. Me, for one. He's dead now, I told you."

"How did he die?"

I smile crookedly at him. "Haven't you guessed that too, Mulder? I killed him." Then I shake my head. "Don't ask me why. If I told you why, you'd misunderstand."

His next question is something I wasn't expecting at all. "How many people have you killed, Krycek?"

"I don't know. You think I keep count, that I put notches in my gun? Do you?" I pause. "I could probably work it out if I thought about it. But I don't."

"That's a great way of coping with life. Is that what you do to get around all the crimes you commit, the lives you take, the suffering you cause?" He burns so brightly. "You just don't think about it?"

"That's right," I tell him, lifting my chin. "I don't." And I meet his eyes. I won't make excuses for who I am, or for how I came to be this way. He despises me, but I won't let him make me despise myself, I won't. Damn the man. He tears me apart. "Now I think I have business over at the police station."

I get up and walk towards the door. As I leave the diner, I'm aware that he's following me, and he catches up halfway across the street. The air is pressing down on us both, and the sky has darkened even more. He walks quietly half a step behind me and then he says, "What name are you going to give Larkin?" It's not an insult, although it could have been, it's a question.

I get my wallet out and take a look at the choices I have. "David Carstairs, I think. He doesn't have any parking tickets." I run my hand over my hair and brush away the raindrops. "You were going to call Scully back."

"She's probably on her way out to that farm," he says.

"Probably," I agree. Then I look at him sideways. "You realize that I'm going to go in there now and lie to the police." Mulder nods. "Doesn't that bother you?" He nods again. "So why aren't you lecturing me?"

"Would it help?" We're at the steps of the police station now, and stop for a moment. "You caught Clough," he says, "and he could've killed you. You weren't supposed to get mixed up with the official side of things down here. And..." Is that a ghost of a smile? "I'd rather not go on record as being here with Alex Krycek."

"Mulder," I tell him, "he could never have killed me." I grin at him and we walk inside.

The chaos is worse than ever; having caught a suspect in the Case of the Blown-Up Barn may have heightened morale around here, but it's also lowered efficiency, which wasn't their strong side to start with. Lou comes towards us in the corridor, looking depressed. "Detective Larkin wants to see you." I resign myself to my fate and walk towards the door Lou is indicating. Behind my back I hear the forlorn question, "Where is Agent Scully?"

Fortunately for me, Larkin is in a hurry to get back to Clough. He lectures me about my irresponsible behavior in disappearing like that until I feel like Mulder listening to Skinner, and then he turns me over to a young and eager policeman who doesn't question my ID, doesn't question my story, just writes down what I tell him and actually gives me little admiring glances. That strikes me as funny, and I have to consciously stop myself from laughing. Oh yes, I caught and disarmed the suspect, didn't I? Am I a hero now?

I'm starting to feel quite at home in the Leyden Creek police station with its badly painted walls, its high noise level and the smell of bad coffee that permeates every room. It brings back nostalgic memories of FBI work, going from case to weird case with Fox Mulder, keeping my tie straight and remembering to say 'sir' at appropriate intervals. When I've signed my statement, I wander around trying to look as though I belong there. Of course Lou comes and finds me.

"Agent Mulder and Detective Larkin are in there." It's the same room; I start to wonder if they only have one interrogation room here. Wouldn't really surprise me. "I — there's something I want to ask you. Are you a — good friend — of Agent Scully's?"

"Not exactly," I say, honest and morally upright citizen that I am. "I'm better acquainted with Agent Mulder." Lou's eyes widen, and I understand what the question really meant. I have to smile, and can't resist adding, "I'm not sharing Agent Scully's room."

Mulder's reputation will never be the same again in this town. Lou relaxes a little now that it's obvious I'm no competition, and is about to ask me something else when the door to the interrogation room opens and Mulder looks out. Catching sight of me, he waves at me to come over, so I do. "What took you so long, couldn't you remember how to spell your name?"

I turn my head and wink at Lou over my shoulder, and the last thing I see is a surprisingly wicked grin before Mulder pulls me inside and closes the door behind me. Larkin is talking to Clough. The man to the right of Clough, gray to the point of invisibility, must be his lawyer; he keeps shaking his head and saying things in a low voice. Clough just sits there staring at his feet.

"What's happened?" I whisper to Mulder, but he shushes me and turns to watch the show.

"Siward, be realistic. You were caught with the explosives on you. You ran from the police. Tell the truth and we can finally get somewhere, damn it." If Larkin was ever going by the book during this interrogation, he's stopped now. I'm guessing Siward Clough was another steady member of the poker gang.

The lawyer makes distressed lawyer sounds and murmurs something into Clough's ear. Then he straightens up and says, "My client will not be trapped into saying anything."

"Your client's not saying anything, period." Larkin glares. He's good at that. "Come on—"

"Mr. Clough." Mulder's voice is far softer than Larkin's, but he manages to cut the detective off before he can launch into whatever tirade he's planning. "Mr. Clough, did you do this for your daughter's sake?"

Slowly, Siward Clough looks up. His eyes find Mulder. He looks dazed and tired, but not much the worse for wear; I'm pleased. Everyone has fallen silent, even Larkin. At last he says, "Yes. Annie..." The roughness of grief invades his voice and he clears his throat to make it go away. "Annie always hated that place. Always. She... she had bad dreams about it."

"Did you believe in Annie's stories?" Mulder asks. Once again he's perfectly focused, ignoring everyone else in the room. "Did you believe what she was saying about the time she disappeared when she was a child?"

"She was so frightened. Even when we got her back she was so frightened, she woke up screaming." Clough isn't seeing Mulder any more. His eyes are staring into the past. I watch him closely, but I can't tell if this is genuine or if he's acting a part, pretending to be unhinged by grief. "And she said it all started there."

"So you wanted to destroy the things that had frightened her?" Mulder says softly. Clough nods. "Was that the only reason, Mr. Clough? Or did someone else ask you to do it?"

Clough jerks abruptly upright. "No!" he says. He shakes his head fervently. "No."

"Where did you get the explosives, Mr. Clough? You can't get Semtex at the grocery store." There is no answer. Clough looks at his lawyer, who has pursed his mouth into a thin gray line but now opens it again to whisper some more good advice, probably consisting of 'shut up' in legalese. "Someone gave it to you, he gave it to you, didn't he?"

"Agent Mulder!" The lawyer has a fine, carrying courtroom voice for such a spiderweb-thin wisp of a man. Mulder doesn't exactly look chastised, but right then Clough gets clumsily to his feet and takes two steps towards Mulder, and the whole room leaps into action. Larkin grabs for Clough's arm and misses, the lawyer steps back prudently, the young policeman gets hold of Clough's coat.

And I'm in front of Mulder without any clear recollection of how I got there. In fact, I'm nose to nose with Clough, and for the first time he looks straight at me. He blinks and then recognition is there. "I'm going to kill you," he says conversationally before swinging at me with both cuffed hands.

I have no problem deflecting the blow, and then the young policeman gets a better hold on Clough and drags him aside. "Take him back to the cell," Larkin growls and opens the door. Clough is led outside and the lawyer follows, looking agitated in a quiet kind of way, like tissue paper rustling. Larkin turns to me. "You seem to have made quite an impression."

It takes me a few moments to realize that this is a joke. What do you know. Catch a criminal for Larkin and he becomes downright friendly. I'd've thought he would resent the hell out of me for it. "Easily offended, isn't he? I didn't hit him that hard," I say.

"I'm just glad I didn't have to shoot him." That explains it, I think. "I've known Siward Clough a long time and I never thought he'd do anything like this." Larkin turns to look at Mulder. "When you said before that someone had given Siward the explosives, who did you have in mind?"

I also turn to look at Mulder expectantly, to see how he'll wriggle out of this one. But he doesn't even fidget as he says, "Something Mrs. Clough said suggested to me that Siward Clough might be in contact with a criminal organization operating out of DC, but as yet I have no real evidence."

He's good when he wants to be.

Larkin shakes his head. "Siward's never been involved in anything shady in his life. You must have misunderstood Janet."

"That's possible," Mulder admits. "She was very upset. Has anyone contacted her and told her that her husband has been found?" It feels strange to watch him stand there and — not lie exactly, but modify the truth. He never used to do that. It's the sensible thing to do in this situation, but it bothers me a little. If I can't count on Mulder to be obstreperously honest, what can I count on?

"Yes, I had Lou call her," Larkin says. Poor Lou. Larkin draws a breath, lets it out, tries another one and asks, "Are you going to pursue it? The possible connection between Siward Clough and this criminal organization?"

"I thought I'd look into it," Mulder says. He tilts his head back. "It may be important to the case. I believe Clough was encouraged to destroy the barn in order to destroy evidence of a criminal conspiracy. It's very likely that someone took advantage of his grief and confusion and put ideas into his head."

"I suppose — but—" Larkin's caught, and he knows it; he was the one who asked Mulder to look into it, he can't back out now. Mulder's playing mind games with him. I can't stop myself from smiling and shivering at the same time. Oh, he really is good. A wire-thin loop of want uncoils in my belly, a feeling so primal my fingers are flexing without any conscious thought on my part, ready to just reach out and take. And then the thought that his damn jeans really are too tight for me saves me from making a fool of myself.

"I need to call my partner," Mulder says and heads for the door. "Come on, Carstairs."

* * *

That small victory over Larkin had put him in a considerably better mood. So had the slightly startled look on Krycek's face when Mulder had addressed him as Carstairs. He walked out of the police station and looked up: no more rain yet, but those clouds were definitely thinking about it. Mulder got his phone out and called Scully as Krycek came to stand next to him. He was surprised when she didn't answer after the first signal, concerned when she didn't answer after the second. It wasn't until after the fifth signal had left him chewing his lip that he heard a slightly breathless, "Scully."

"Are you all right?" So much for not being over-protective.

"I'm fine, Mulder." A short burst of static drowned out her next words. "—in my whole life. He treated me like a schoolgirl!"

"Who?" There was another burst of static. "Who did, Scully? I can't quite hear you. Did you go out to the farm?"

"Yes, I did, but it was a waste of time. I talked to that man — the one we thought was behind Victor Klemper's death. His manners certainly haven't improved. He laughed at me, Mulder, he was arrogant and condescending and he told me absolutely nothing." Then he heard anger yield to humor in her voice as she went on, "I suppose I shouldn't be surprised."

"You must have been a cute Catholic schoolgirl," he told her. "Did you tell him you knew he uses the alias Nathaniel Wilde, ask him about the boxes he'd taken from the clinic?"

"No, Mulder, we just discussed the weather." Scully sighed. "He wanted to know, in the discreetest and most polite way imaginable, who might have given me that information, and of course I couldn't tell him."

"So you found nothing? Nothing useful at all?"

"Well, the horses were pretty." Mulder laughed and caught the edge of a look from Krycek. "It's obvious he's in on it, but he wasn't bothered at all by my asking him about it. He told me it was a pointless investigation. Then he quoted T. S. Eliot and asked me to leave."


"Something about ash on an old man's sleeve. Mulder!" Scully suddenly sounded more cheerful. "Do you think he may have meant it as an indirect confirmation that the smoking man is involved?"

"We already knew that," Mulder felt compelled to point out. "'Ash on an old man's sleeve is all the ash the burnt roses leave.' Maybe he just wanted to impress you with his knowledge of literature. Krycek said he likes you." Scully made a sound of disgust. "Are you coming back here?"

"I want to try to talk to the Davis's old neighbors again before I leave. The couple living next to them have been there for fifteen years, according to campus records, but they were out when I called on them. I should be back in Leyden Creek around seven."

"Drive carefully, Scully," he told her, and heard a snort as she hung up. Mulder thought she was probably right in her interpretation of what 'Wilde' had said, but he didn't see how it helped them. Clough wasn't saying anything, Mrs. Clough had probably cleaned the Morley butts out of her sink by now, not that those proved anything, and he'd lost the lab, the lab had been blown up, damn it...

"I told you she'd be all right," Krycek said. Mulder felt a sudden urge to stick his tongue out at his smug ex-partner.

At least there hadn't been any more accidents recently. Was that because they were looking into the case, or was it sheer coincidence? Mulder stuck his hand in his pocket and checked that he still had the keys to Lou's truck. "I think we should go out to the site again." He turned the keys over between his fingers. "Anderson may have found something."

A battered Volvo station wagon rounded the corner and came to a screeching halt by the curb. Janet Clough jumped out and slammed the door. She stalked towards the door of the police station and paused only long enough to drop her cigarette and grind it out against the pavement before going inside. Krycek, who had been following her with his eyes, turned back to Mulder. "Larkin's going to lock her up for drunk driving."

"Come on." Mulder went to unlock the truck.

They were quiet during the drive. Krycek was starting to look tired. It wasn't much, just a few shadows around the eyes, a tighter look around the mouth; Mulder guessed the local anesthetic was wearing off and his leg was starting to hurt him. If asked about it, Krycek would no doubt repeat that it was just a scratch. Well, if he wanted to sit there and make a martyr of himself, fine.

Mulder didn't drive up to the barn. He stopped the car down by the tree instead. Now that Janine Kendrick's car had been towed away, he could see the deep gouges in the tree trunk; he was starting to wonder if the tree would survive this latest assault. A few drops of rain dotted the windshield, and he paused with his hand on the door handle.

"Anderson's still up there," Krycek said, nodding. "I think we're about to have a thunderstorm." He opened the door on his side and got out, so Mulder did as well. "What do you think she'll be able to dig out of the rubble, anyway? A box of spare implants? An alien fetus in a jar? Signed statements from five generals and the whole consortium that they're in on it?" His tone was gentle, mocking. "You're such an optimist, Mulder."

"I don't think anyone's ever called me that before." He walked towards the tree. "But I guess it's better than being a cynical, two-timing rat bastard." Mulder ran his hand over the bark. "I should have brought an ouija board after all—" His phone rang. "Mulder."

"Clough's escaped." It was Larkin, terse and tense. "Janet brought him a gun, he shot and killed one of my best men, and Lou took a bullet in the arm. We're putting out an APB now. I don't know where he thinks he's going, but he might head back to the barn."

Mulder leaned against the tree and felt his heart start to beat faster. "We're here already. I'll go up and warn the others. Do you know if—"

"I don't have time to talk. Call if you find any trace of him." And Larkin hung up. At least this time he was trusting Mulder to do his part, and not attempting to keep him out of the hunt. Maybe he'd finally come to his senses. Maybe he'd given up on trying to protect Clough now that Clough had turned violent.

"Damn." Mulder looked up and found Krycek watching him. "Clough's on the run, armed and dangerous, according to Larkin. He's already killed one man."

The transition was instantaneous; in one heartbeat the man gathered himself up into perfect concentration, all traces of pain and tiredness gone. It was the same look Krycek had worn as they'd gone into the woods after Clough earlier. Mulder couldn't help but wonder if this was something Krycek had always been able to do, something he'd just hidden at first. He remembered the innocent-looking young man who'd turned queasy at an autopsy and frantic over the shooting of Augustus Cole. And he looked at the cool, collected, deadly creature standing in front of him. Could they both be real? True?

He'd liked that first Krycek. Had trusted him ever so slightly, as far as his nature would allow him to trust in anyone besides Scully; far enough that the betrayal hurt more than he would ever have imagined. And in this man he didn't know, he saw echoes of that one. That was what got him so confused, what had him reacting to Krycek on so many different levels at once.

It felt strange to watch Krycek now, standing there dressed in Mulder's own clothes, a dark mirror image. More than just strange, unsettling. He found himself wanting to reach out and touch, to make sure the man he was seeing was actually there. A raindrop fell on his face, then another one. The air felt charged.

Then Krycek looked abruptly to one side, his eyes scanning the area by the stone wall as if he thought he could pick secrets out of the air. Mulder shook himself and turned to climb the wall and go up to the remains of the barn; Anderson and her crew needed to be told as soon as possible, in case Clough intended to return again. The distant sound of a car engine that he'd been hearing for a while drew closer and he turned his head to look, then overbalanced and almost fell as one of the loose stones moved under his foot. There was an almost familiar squeal of brakes as Mulder struggled to recover his balance. He turned around, but not quite fast enough.

Siward Clough was aiming a gun at them across the hood of the station wagon. He looked possessed, manic. A quick sideways glance showed Mulder that Krycek was unnaturally still, a coiled spring ready to be released into mayhem. Mulder looked back at Clough, who said, shakily, "Don't move." The hand that held the gun didn't shake at all, though.

The man walked around the car and came towards them. They were close enough together that he could keep both of them covered, and Mulder suppressed his curses and raised his voice to say, as he was trained to say, "Put the gun down." Clough kept coming. "Put the gun down and let's talk about this. I know you're upset about what's happened to your daughter, but—"

"I'm going to kill you," Clough said. He wasn't answering Mulder, he was looking at Krycek. "I'm going to... not because he said so. Because I want to. You hurt me," there was a sudden petulance to the man's voice. "And you're no use to anyone."

"Siward." Mulder hoped the use of the man's first name would remind him of Larkin and normalcy. His mind had gone into overdrive, trying to sort through all the possible meanings of what Clough was saying. Clough had orders to kill Krycek? "No one's going to kill anyone. I want you to tell me about Annie and the barn."

For a moment he thought it had worked, as Clough's eyes shifted to him and something sparked in there. But then the man turned all his attention back on Krycek again. Mulder looked at Alex and saw that his face had changed completely; all outward focus was gone, and he seemed unnaturally concentrated on nothing, his eyes blank. "No," he said softly, taking half a step backwards, and then another one.

Clough followed and Mulder tensed up, ready to jump the man as soon as he went past. A sudden gust of wind rattled the branches of the walnut tree. The dark clouds drew lower. "Going to kill you, going to kill you," Clough chanted and moved closer still, taking aim at Krycek's head.

And then the sky split apart as white lightning crackled across it from one edge of the world to the other. Thunder rolled, instant and deafening, and the rain began to fall.

He'd been all but blinded by that flash of light, and the wind drove hard rain into his face, but he'd pulled out his gun. Mulder blinked the water out of his eyes. Clough was still standing in the same place, but his face was twisted with horror and the arm that held the gun was starting to drop. Between Clough and Krycek stood... oh, God.

Two people, a man and a woman. Mulder recognized them at once. The man's right leg was broken, femur making its jagged way out through the flesh, and his chest had caved in; the blood that glistened there looked as fresh as if the wounds had been inflicted only moments ago. Most of the woman's face was gone, and blood and brain tissue clotted her hair. She raised her clean, undamaged, almost transparent hands towards Siward Clough, and he screamed, a shrill panicked scream, and turned and tried to run.

They were on him in a moment, and Mulder couldn't tell if their grasping hands took him or passed right through him, but he stumbled and fell, gibbering with fear, trying to crawl towards the car as they flowed over and around him. Half-seen fingers curled like claws. A thin line of blood appeared along Clough's back, and then another. Pain joined fear in his voice as he rolled back and forth on the ground, attempting to get away.

Then a harsh cry cut through the storm. Mulder didn't understand the words, but he knew the voice well. Krycek was looking at the ghosts, his face pleading, his hand reaching out. They faltered, and then gathered themselves together and moved almost like people, standing up and turning towards him. His next words were softer, the syllables running together like the rain.

Mulder held his breath. Slowly, the ghosts abandoned the fallen man and went towards Krycek, who turned pale but stood his ground. Mulder didn't know where to look or what to do, but a whimper reminded him of his duty, and he got out his handcuffs and went towards Clough, crouching down and cuffing the man's hands securely behind his back. The marks on his back looked like deep nail scratches. Mulder touched his finger to one of them and Clough spasmed against the ground, whispering "nononononononono" deep in his throat, sounding as though his mouth was full of mud. A harsh stench rose from him, fear, sweat and urine, only slightly diluted by the rain.

Mulder judged it safe to leave the fallen man where he was. Clough wasn't in any condition to move right now. He straightened up against the flattening force of the heavy rain and turned around. Krycek was still standing in the same place, facing the broken and bleeding specters of his parents. His face had been a blank mask, but now it cracked, ripped open by emotion like lightning had ripped the sky apart before.

And the ghosts, as if in response to that, changed too. It was hard for Mulder to make out in the driving rain, in the poor light, but the two hazy figures grew more solid, clear and different, death and injuries smoothed away until he saw them as they must have been once, a stocky man with pronounced cheekbones and a square jaw, a dark-haired woman with Krycek's beautiful eyes. Krycek's control broke completely at the sight and he reached his hand out towards them, saying something Mulder couldn't make out.

The next flash of lightning and roll of thunder split reality apart, and when it had passed, the ghosts were gone. Krycek stood staring blindly, his eyes filling with despair, and then he fell to his knees and let his head fall forward. Mulder took one step towards him, another. His feet slipped on the rain-slick ground. Krycek tilted his head back and yelled something in Russian at the sky, and Mulder knelt by him in the mud and put a hand on his shoulder. Krycek turned towards him. His eyes were all darkness, and his mouth twisted up in an effort to hold back the tears.

Mulder shook his head. He was still stunned by what he had seen. Slowly, carefully, he put his arms around Krycek and pulled him in close. After a few moments of stiff resistance, Krycek slumped against his shoulder, quivered, and started to cry. He shook, all of him, shoulders and back heaving under Mulder's touch. The deep sobs racked his whole body, and Mulder had to hold him tight so they wouldn't both fall over. He could feel Krycek's tears against his neck, hot amidst all the cold rain.

Krycek's hand clutched at Mulder's shoulder; then his fingers took a death-grip on a fold of his trench coat. Mulder ran a hand along Krycek's back, up the back of his neck, cradled the head that leaned against him. The short wet hair was soft against the palm of his hand. He stroked it over and over. The rain fell all around them, and it was like being cut off from the rest of the world. Mulder barely noticed the cold as wet mud soaked through his suit pants and rain made its way inside the collar of his trench coat.

Ghosts, he thought.

After a while Krycek's sobs slowed down and grew less intense. He relaxed and breathed more normally, but stayed resting against Mulder's shoulder. Mulder meant to shift away and ask Krycek if he was all right, but his hands didn't want to let go. The curve of his fingers fit so naturally around the back of Krycek's neck. And he was shaken himself, not the way Krycek was, but still... the sight of those two spectral figures had filled him with terrified delight. He had been right, and he was exhilarated to have that confirmed, but Mulder could understand the impact it would have had on Krycek, who had tried so hard to deny the possibility.

"It was them," Krycek said against his throat. "It was... They would have killed for me. But they stopped when I asked them to."

Mulder tried to read the nuances in Krycek's voice. Without thinking about it he leaned his cheek against the top of Krycek's head, shifted his grip around the man's shoulders into something more comfortable. "They're your parents," he said. "They wanted to save you."

It was Krycek who moved, putting space between them. Kneeling in the mud, he looked almost otherworldly, his eyes still seeing something that wasn't there. Then slowly his gaze focused on Mulder. "They never spoke to me," he said. "I'd thought if they knew everything that's happened since — since they— That they might not want to. That they'd hate me for trying to forget them." His voice dropped until it almost blended with the sound of the falling rain. "Do you think they knew?"

"I don't know." Mulder felt something twist inside. He'd done it again. Despite everything he knew about Alex Krycek, he'd reached out and tried to soothe the hurt away. It was as if he really believed the man's true nature could be changed by the laying on of hands, as if he thought his own touch would drive out the wickedness and corruption and leave Krycek... leave him... leave him what? Clean? Innocent? Reborn?

Leave him naked, free of all the things he'd done, so that the darkness between them would be nothing more than a wisp of smoke that could be blown away by a breath. So that there would be no more barriers between them.

"They're not coming back again." Krycek spoke with complete certainty.

But it wasn't going to happen. Nothing could change the past.

"Agent Mulder!" Mulder looked up and saw Anderson come running down the slope, with parts of her own crew and the Leyden Creek police force in hot pursuit. She reached the stone wall and vaulted over it lightly just as Mulder stood up. "What's happened?"

"Siward Clough — the bomber — broke out of jail. He came here and threatened to kill—" Mulder had to think for a moment. "—Carstairs." Krycek sat back on his heels and watched them. He was a wet, muddy mess, but nowhere near as bad as Clough, who still lay in a heap, whimpering to himself.

Mulder gladly turned Clough over to the police; he wouldn't have wanted to drive the man back to the police station in Lou's truck, and he didn't think Lou would have wanted him to do it, either. It would have taken a long time to get the smell out. Besides, Clough's incoherent mutters wore on his nerves. He wondered how Larkin was going to react. The Siward Clough who had played poker with the gang might never be back.

He still felt a little shaky himself. The ghosts of Andrew and Margaret Davis, or whatever their names had really been, had been terrifying. But it was more than that. Even ten years after their death, they had been ready to defend their son. Mulder didn't know why that should move him so; he'd attributed far more complex reasoning to them when he'd thought about the case. It was just the way they had been there for Krycek, the way they had listened to him, the way they had shown him their true selves before departing, and the way Krycek had wept over it.

With Clough gone again, he turned to Anderson. "What have you found?"

She gave him a resigned smile. "You never give up, do you? There isn't much to find. The explosion was quite controlled, but the subsequent fire was extremely hot; he must have provided some kind of fuel, although I'm not sure we'll ever find any traces of it."

"And the lab?" Anderson raised an eyebrow. "There was a lab there. I saw it."

"Well, as of now, the only place that lab exists is in your memory, Agent Mulder. We may be able to reconstruct it to the point where we can see where some of the fixtures were, the sinks and so on, but that's all."

Mulder didn't like her dismissive tone. "If you keep looking—"

"We're not going to keep looking." She looked at him, and softened her voice a little. "We don't work for free, Agent Mulder, and we don't work without a good reason. We've got Clough, we know how he did it, and no one died in there. Case solved. We have no reason to look for anything else. If there was a lab in there, it'll show up on the insurance claims."

He shook his head in angry resignation. That might be all he was going to get, but he didn't have to like it. He thought about going up there himself, sifting through the ruins, but he was honest enough to admit that it wouldn't help. He didn't have the training to draw the correct conclusions from what he might find.

"Mulder." Krycek got to his feet, rubbing at his leg. Mulder hoped the stitches hadn't torn. "The lab is gone. They all wanted the lab gone." Looking at Krycek, Mulder realized that Krycek hadn't wanted him to find the remains of the lab, either. Krycek was quite relieved that it was gone, was probably relieved that Scully hadn't found much in her investigations.

"I'll see you down at the station, Agent Mulder," Anderson said and walked off back up the hill again. Mulder watched her go. He felt strangely bereft.

"Just let it drop," Krycek said. "You have Clough, he might tell you something useful."

"Something that doesn't compromise your parents?" Mulder asked.

Krycek flushed a little but he met the look steadily enough. "It's going to be your father one day. How will you feel about exposing him?"

It seemed incredible that only moments ago he'd held this man close, had felt something for him that was almost tenderness. Mulder turned around and walked towards the truck. But as he strode along, feet sliding in the mud, the question wouldn't leave his mind. He hated to think about it, but he knew that Krycek was right. He couldn't decide if Krycek got under his skin more when he lied or when he was being honest.

Opening the door on the driver's side, Mulder paused for a moment, realizing that they were going to get the seats wet. But there was nothing to be done about that. The pounding rain had soaked him through and through yet again. He got into the truck anyway, and waited for Krycek.

When the other man was sitting beside him and had closed the door, Mulder put the key in the ignition but didn't turn it. He stared out through the windshield, watching the walnut tree and the ground just beyond it, by the stone wall. He had seen his father once, after his death — after both their deaths, he thought with a strange little smile. There had been something that he could, perhaps, call forgiveness. If he ever got all the evidence, would he be able to expose his father to the world as one of the betrayers of humankind?

"I don't know," he said with a tired sigh. "I just don't know. I'm sorry."

Krycek's cold hand touched his own, briefly. "It's all right." And then with a trace of life and humor, "Now drive before we catch pneumonia. You realize we're going to run out of dry clothes pretty soon?"

"I'll get Larkin to lend you something. You look about the same size."

Mulder got the truck back on the road. The thunderstorm had abated; the rain still fell heavily but no longer obliterated everything farther away than two feet, and the distant rumbles he could hear seemed to be growing more distant still. Krycek turned on the radio and tried to find a channel that didn't play country music. As he drove, Mulder turned things over in his mind and decided he'd think about them later.

When he pulled up in front of the diner all he wanted was to get inside and put on something dry and clean, maybe even take a hot shower first. But Larkin was standing outside the police station, waving at them. Mulder sighed. Krycek shot him a wry look. "I don't think we can pretend we didn't see him."

They got out reluctantly and walked across the street. Larkin was subdued. The man he'd lost was the enthusiastic young one. Lou was all right, though, just a flesh wound. Mulder could see that Krycek was planning to get Scully over there with flowers and grapes. He shook his head quietly. Then he promised Larkin a full report later, because right now he wanted to go change his clothes.

"Of course you do," Larkin rumbled. "Can you just tell me briefly what happened? Siward had to be sedated. He was..." A corner of Larkin's mouth twisted in disgust. "What did you do to him?"

"We didn't do anything," Mulder said. It didn't seem to bother Larkin to stand here in the street, out in the rain, and he was past worrying about it himself; he was soaked to the skin again. But he knew if he started to talk to Larkin about ghosts, he'd be here for hours, and he really didn't want that. "Are you keeping him here? When will you interrogate him again?"

"Not until tomorrow." Larkin scratched at the back of his neck. "It'll take him a while to come 'round again. Agent Mulder? Thank you. And you." He nodded at Krycek. "I'm real glad this didn't turn into a bloodbath. Bad enough as it is." Then he turned around and walked back into the police station again.

"Let's get inside," Krycek muttered and headed for the diner. Mulder followed him, thinking about clothes. He stepped inside the comforting warmth with a frown. Wet jeans with mud on, or damp torn jeans with blood on. Not much of a choice. Unless...

Mulder stopped on his way to the stairs and went to knock on the kitchen door instead. Laura Ann looked out and broke into a smile. "What can I do for you, sweetie?"

Those words and the maternal tone of voice from a woman who had to be ten years his junior startled him, but only a little. "I need to buy some clothes," he said.

Her smile grew impossibly wider as she looked him up and down. "I can see why," she said, "but I'm sorry to have to tell you, Armani doesn't have an outlet in Leyden Creek."

"It's not for myself, it's for him," Mulder said, jerking his head back to indicate Krycek. "A Goodwill store will do."

Laura Ann chuckled. "Well, there's a mall forty-five minutes that way," she pointed, "or there's an army surplus store around the corner on Grant."

Krycek had come closer, no doubt drawn by the smell of baked ham that was escaping from the kitchen. Mulder grinned evilly at him. "I'm not going to waste an hour and a half on keeping him fashionable," he told Laura Ann. "Come on, Alex, let's get you some cammo pants, it'll be just like old times."

Rolling his eyes, Krycek accepted the piece of biscuit with ham on that Laura Ann held out to him, and went with Mulder out into the rain again. They walked along Main Street, shoulders hunched against the downpour, and Mulder realized he'd been wrong; he could get just a little bit wetter, and it was going to happen on this walk. Water ran down his spine; when he turned his head he saw water dripping from the tip of Krycek's nose. It would have to stop sooner or later. There couldn't be this much water up in the sky.

They turned the corner onto Grant, and now the wind blew the rain straight into their faces again. Mulder wondered if his cell phone was going to survive this. Or his gun. Or his shoes. If he'd known about the mud and the rain he would have worn hiking boots.

The army surplus store was easy to find, and they more or less fell inside, dripping all over the floor. The man behind the counter put his paper aside, stood up and looked skeptically at them. When Mulder came forward behind Krycek, the skepticism changed to outright surprise. Mulder decided to ignore it. "Right," he told Krycek, "get yourself a pair of pants or two and a couple of sweaters and hurry up. And whatever else you need."

"You mean I have to stop wearing your underwear?" Payback, Mulder thought, payback for the cammo pants comment. Krycek gave him an angelic smile and went off to browse through the racks. Mulder looked at the man behind the counter, who had given up on surprise and moved on to amazement faintly tinged with outrage. He sighed; there was really no explanation possible. 'It's not what you think; he's a double agent who forgot to pack when he left Russia.' Nah.

As he tried to find a place to stand where he wouldn't drip on the merchandise, his cell phone rang, and he managed to extricate it from a rather soggy pocket. "Mulder," he said, and wondered if he could electrocute himself here if he wasn't careful.

"Agent Mulder." Skinner's voice seemed to embody everything he was so forcefully that it conjured up a perfect image here inside the dimly lit store; Mulder could see the slight frown as thought his boss were standing in front of him. He sighed, and smiled. "Kim got a call from the motel where you and Agent Scully were supposed to stay. The FBI is going to have to pick up the bill. Do you have a good reason why I shouldn't deduct it from your salary?"

"Why don't you ever threaten Scully like that?" Mulder asked, but he didn't really expect to get an answer. With a wary glance at the store owner, he walked off into a distant corner and hoped the clothes all around would muffle the sound of his conversation. "Sir, there have been a few unexpected developments." He dropped his voice even more. "The smoker is here, at least he was here yesterday. There's more to this case than what we were told from the beginning."

"I have received — suggestions — that you should drop the case entirely," Skinner said. "It would seem that the ghost story was a smoke-screen."

"Was that a joke?" Mulder watched as Krycek reached up to pull something down off a high shelf. "No, sir. The ghosts are — were — real." He went on before Skinner could say anything, "But that's only a small part of it. I found a laboratory in a supposedly abandoned barn, but it's been blown up and the specialist crew is reluctant to do a full-scale investigation. Sir, do you think you could—"

"Quite a few strings have been pulled already, Agent Mulder." Skinner's words were heavy and so were the pauses between them. "There isn't much I can do."

"Are you under pressure to get us off this case?" The density of Skinner's silence increased. "Don't let them do it. Don't let them do that to you, sir, you have to see—"

"Mulder, I am not letting anyone else dictate my course of action. But in return, I expect you to report back to me regularly. I have to make a decision at some point, and it is in your best interests to keep me fully informed of the situation. Is that understood?"

"Yes, sir." Hell, he'd call Skinner every hour if that was what it took. Just as long as he got another shot at unraveling the mystery of Leyden Creek, Mulder thought as Skinner hung up and he put his phone back in his pocket. Then he walked over to the counter just as Krycek came up and dumped an armful of black clothing there. "Is this all?"


Mulder picked through it — black pants, black sweaters, black socks, black briefs. He glanced at Krycek. "Did you never get past symbolism in your art history class? Get some white t-shirts." Krycek only looked amused as he turned away. "Do you need shoes?" Mulder asked the back of Krycek's neck, and got a shake of the head in return. "Good."

His wallet was getting a little damp as well. He got his credit card out, even though the grand total was low enough that he could have paid cash. The store owner put everything into double plastic bags so it would withstand the rain and sent them off, if not with a friendly smile, at least with a reasonably civil good-bye.

Krycek looked so pleased with himself as they went back to the diner that Mulder was tempted to trip him up and send him sprawling into a puddle. But he backed away, if a little reluctantly, from the childishness of that thought and let his mind turn over questions of laboratories and mad bombers instead. He wondered how long it would take for Clough to recover fully and what the man would say when he did. If he could get Clough to confirm that the smoker had ordered him to kill Krycek—

Then he scowled. That would also mean that he himself had to explain why he had been running around the woods with a man who should have been locked up at the first opportunity. But it would be worth it if he could finally nail that chain-smoking old sinner to something. His pessimistic side told him Clough was not going to be the most reliable of witnesses. But it was a possibility.

Mulder lengthened his steps and reached the door of the diner ahead of Krycek. He wasn't going to let Krycek beat him to that hot shower. When they got inside, the kitchen door opened and Laura Ann looked out. Mulder just nodded at her and headed up the stairs, but Krycek went that way, presumably hoping for more food in response to his lost puppy routine. Or maybe he was going to show her his new underwear.

Once he got inside the room Mulder started to strip off his wet clothes, draping them heedlessly over chairs and table. His skin felt cold and clammy, and he went into the bathroom as fast as he could, shut the door, and turned on the hot water with a sigh of relief. Standing under the warm spray, he tilted his head back and started to relax.

Scully should be getting back soon. She might have some additional information about the clinic, something that would tie Wilde and perhaps even the smoking man to this project. Some clue to what Andrew Davis had really used his research for, Mulder thought hopefully, and reached for the soap.

It was good to get warm again and wash the mud off. He'd scraped his right knee on something, and the scratch on his calf from last night had healed enough to start itching. Mulder ran a soapy hand over chest, shoulder and arm, and then paused. He looked at his hands, both hands.

Slowly, he brushed the right hand over the left, feeling every finger, the fleshy pad below the thumb, traced the lines of his palm with a nail. He encircled his left wrist with his right hand and felt the pulse beat there, then stroked along the inside of his arm up to the soft fold of the elbow. Flexing the joint, he felt muscles moving under skin. The upper arm, lean but functional. Shoulder and shoulder joint, and the ease with which everything moved together.

Then he broke off his explorations rather more suddenly than he'd started them, and went back to cleaning himself up. He'd been lucky, and he knew it. The truck driver had offered to cut his arm off, and he'd said no as fast as he could; then the man had asked Mulder to help cut off his arm. Without the truck he was a good candidate for the tests. Mulder found himself shivering under the hot water. He'd tried to persuade the man that there were other choices. And he'd realized that he was the one who'd condemned the man to this, that it was because of him that the driver saw amputation or the gulag as his only alternatives.

"I'm sorry," he said, standing there half a world away, speaking to uncaring white tiles. "It's my fault. I'm sorry." Mulder wondered if the driver had followed his advice, taken his wife and child and left. He suspected that it might not have happened. Those woods were all the man knew, his only home, bleak and terrible as it was.

Thoroughly depressed now, Mulder rinsed himself off, turned off the water and stepped outside, grabbing for a towel. He got his hair mostly dry and brushed it into some semblance of order, wrapped the towel around his hips and went out into the room. Krycek was standing by the window. Mulder cleared his throat and Krycek turned around. Their eyes met and then shied away quite quickly, and Mulder wondered where the hell he had any dry clothes.

"About time. I thought I was going to see a giant raisin come out of there." Flippant as the words were, though, there was no real sparkle in Krycek's eyes. His face was closed off again and he didn't meet Mulder's look as he crossed the room and went into the bathroom.

"I think I used up all the towels." But the only reply Mulder got to that was the sound of the bathroom door being closed firmly. He shrugged, and started to take inventory of the clothes he had left. Yesterday's suit had a tear across one calf. Today's suit was wet, muddy, and locked in the bathroom with Alex Krycek. The jeans were also wet, muddy, and locked in the bathroom with Krycek, and Krycek's jeans were ripped and bloody and, well, Krycek's. Maybe he should have bought himself some clothes as well.

Mulder scowled and then went over to the window and dug into the bags they'd brought back from the army surplus. The pants weren't a perfect fit by any means, but they would do, and he did still have a sweater that the roving clothes menace, Alex Krycek, hadn't managed to soak, rip, get muddy, or bleed on. If Krycek needed anything else, one more thing, he was going to have to borrow from Scully. That should be quite a sight.

He got dressed and gathered his things together: the file, his notes, a couple of books on ghost manifestations that he'd thrown into the bag on the off chance that he might actually get five free minutes during this case to do a little background research. Mulder looked at the spines of the books. Perhaps research wasn't quite the right word. The works on debunking fake psychic phenomena were standard fare for him, but why on earth did he have a book called A Ghost in the Closet?

Krycek still hadn't come out of the bathroom; Mulder could hear the sound of water running. Again, he wondered what it would be like to do everything with one hand. No wonder Krycek was taking his time in there. Mulder picked everything up and went out of the room. He made his way down the stairs and found that the table he wanted was free. It always was.

Settling down, he signaled to Susie to bring him coffee. It was really time for dinner, but it would be better to wait for Scully. He wasn't particularly hungry yet. Krycek could probably eat two dinners without any ill effect. Where did he put it all, anyway? He couldn't be bulimic. If the man had rushed off to the bathroom to throw up after every meal, Mulder rather thought he would have noticed.

He started to flip through his notes, and soon he was absorbed in them, scrawling comments on top of comments, outlining possibilities that seemed less weird the more he thought about them. Mulder barely noticed the coffee mug that appeared at his elbow. When Krycek sat down across the table from him, he looked up and nodded absently, then went back to his work. The soft sound of the rain falling outside and the voices of the other guests in the diner blended together into a pleasant background buzz.

Gradually he became aware of a more distracting noise. He looked up and saw that Krycek was reading A Ghost in the Closet, and laughing. No, not even laughing, giggling. What kind of behavior was that for a killer, a criminal with few manners and even fewer morals? Given a choice, Mulder would prefer not to think about Krycek's sense of humor, or the way he looked when he smiled. He'd rather not contemplate the reality of him, all the layers upon layers that made up the personality of Alex Krycek. Or whatever his name was.

Mulder forced his errant attention back to the matter at hand, but he couldn't quite return to his previous state of concentration. Part of it was habit, he thought. He was used to having someone there to whom he could speak his thoughts more or less as they arose, and without Scully there to bounce ideas off, well, Krycek was the remaining alternative. He couldn't do it, though. He was uneasily aware that he had gone too far today already. Krycek had a way of doing more than was expected of him, a way of making himself useful until you came to depend on him. And then, Mulder reminded himself, he turned on you.

It was almost dark outside now. Mulder wasn't sure how much of that was the hour and how much was the weather. Not even the thunderstorm had cleared the sky, although the air had felt lighter afterwards. He hoped Scully was careful driving back. She hadn't called before she left. Maybe he should give her a call just to check... then he shook his head. Much as he hated to admit it, Krycek was right: Scully was perfectly capable of taking care of herself.

On the heels of that thought, the door to the diner swung open and Scully herself stepped inside, folding her umbrella up and shaking it carefully outside before closing the door behind her. She turned around, caught sight of them and smiled. As she walked towards the table she was intercepted by Susie, and Mulder wasn't surprised when Scully brought the waitress along to the table. "Have you two had dinner yet?"

"No, we thought we'd wait for you," Mulder said. Krycek peered up over the edge of the book and smiled, then scooted towards the window to make room for Scully, who took her coat off before sitting down. Mulder turned to Susie. "What would you recommend?"

"The ham's good," she offered, and then listed a few other things, some of which had never appeared on the menu. They all ended up ordering the ham, even Scully. Mulder pushed his notes together and put them to one side, then looked at Scully expectantly.

She had turned her head to watch Krycek. One eyebrow twitched at his choice of literature, but then her eyes grew more serious for a moment. Mulder was about to ask her to talk about what she had discovered since they'd last spoken, when she turned back towards him again. "I didn't find very much more," she said, a tone of apology in her voice. "I got nowhere with the moving company; when I called again I was put through to a different person, who said there was nothing more they could tell me. None of Dr. Davis's colleagues knew anything about any private research he might have done outside of what he published and what the university knew about; no one could give me names of people he might have worked with."

"Did you track down any old grad students?" Krycek asked, putting the book aside. "Some of them must have stayed on at UVa even after my father died and finished their theses under some other professor. There was one woman, I think her name was Janson..."

"She went to teach somewhere in Oregon," Scully said and lifted one shoulder in a tiny shrug. "That's all I found out, except—" She broke off as Susie brought the food, cast a doubting look at the large slices of ham, then smiled. "What has been happening here while I've been gone? What did Clough say?"

The retelling of the afternoon's events took up most of the meal, even though Mulder left out a few details, such as Krycek crying on his shoulder in the rain. He really wanted to discuss Skinner's phone call with Scully, but he wasn't sure how much he could say with Krycek there. Then he realized he'd already talked over most of the aspects of the case with Krycek during the day. It had seemed natural at the time; now that Scully was back, it started to feel strange.

"Clough's been locked up again," he finished, "and Larkin says the doctor thinks he'll be coherent enough to talk to tomorrow morning. So what do you think, Scully?"

She carefully speared a piece of broccoli, chewed, and swallowed before looking up at him. "You saw the ghosts." A quick sideways glance at Krycek, and then she was looking at Mulder again. "Mulder, are you sure? You say the light was bad, and with the thunder and lightning—"

"They were there," Krycek said flatly. "I saw them. They listened to me."

Scully's features softened a little, and Mulder felt a thin shadow of worry fall across him. That look never boded well. "Krycek," she said and he knew that tone of voice, too, that careful delivery, "I know you must have wanted to see them again, wanted to think that they would protect you. It might be easy for you to imagine their presence there. To imagine them doing for you what you would have wanted them to do, to make it easier for you to forgive them."

"What the hell are you talking about?" But there was no real outrage in Krycek's voice, much less any bravado, and his shoulders were hunched in a way that Mulder had come to recognize. He knew a blow was about to fall.

"I talked to your old neighbors," Scully said. "The Donner-Bogdanovs? They didn't know very much about your father's research, but they told me a little about your family life. I understood from them that you — didn't get along very well with your parents."

Krycek put his fork down and pushed his plate aside. He half turned where he sat, to face Scully. "I bet they didn't put it that way," he said. "She was always nosy. She doesn't know what it was really like. She has no idea."

"What she described seemed very clear to me," Scully said and her voice was still gentle. "Krycek, you may need to forgive your parents for what they did to you, but I'm not sure that imagining their ghosts is the best way to do it."

Mulder would have objected that the ghosts had been real, that he had seen them, but he couldn't break in on what was going on between Krycek and Scully, he could only watch and listen. Krycek shook his head. "Don't psychologize me," he said. "You don't know me just because you know this. And don't think this is an explanation. If every kid who was treated weirdly by his parents thought he saw their ghosts when he grew up, the X-files would have an archive as big as the Library of Congress. Drop it, Scully. It's not important."

Her eyes said she didn't believe him. "Krycek, it's a more likely explanation than—"

Mulder gathered his wits together. "Scully, I saw those ghosts too. And whatever reason you have for Krycek seeing them, it doesn't apply to me. And Clough saw them. Clough saw something that scared him so badly he needed to be sedated."

"Clough was extremely unstable even before he broke out of jail," Scully said. Then she turned back to Krycek. "And it is important. It's a common reaction among children who are abused by their parents to make light of it, to pretend it's normal and reassure themselves that their parents love them in spite of or even because of the way they treat them. But you're an adult now, you can call things by their right names—"

"Shut up," Krycek said. He glared at her, trapped by her presence. "You don't know what it was like. You don't know what went on. You don't know me. Let me out."

Scully only hesitated for a moment before slipping out of her seat to let Krycek past. He strode away from the table and walked out of the diner, out into the rain. Mulder watched him go before returning his attention to Scully, who looked troubled. "Where do you think he's going? Perhaps I shouldn't have mentioned that, but Mulder—"

"He'll be back," Mulder said with more assurance than he really felt. He pushed his own plate aside too, and put his elbows on the table. "Scully, what did those neighbors tell you?"

Her look of distress intensified. "I'm not sure I should tell you. It has no bearing on our case, except as a psychological reason that Alex Krycek might have imagined seeing his parents again, and I know you don't subscribe to that theory anyway."

"I want to know, Scully."

So she told him, showing her distaste for Mrs. Donner-Bogdanov, who had drawn her own conclusions from what she saw and heard — cold words, too many bruises and injuries on a boy who was too good an athlete to be that clumsy. The way Andrew and Margaret Davis had ignored their son, and the way he had adored them. The cutting remarks, and young Alex's all too adult behavior. They had hurt him, and he had shielded them. "What she described was a classic case of child abuse, Mulder," Scully finished. "I never thought I'd say this, but I feel sorry for him."

"He wouldn't thank you for it," Mulder said.

"No," Scully sighed. "It must be hard to let go of whatever fiction the mind makes up to protect itself, hard to face the truth. But it has to be done, Mulder, sooner or later. You can't bury things forever."

"You don't need to tell me this," he said. "I'm the one with the degree in psychology, remember?" And it was so easy to say that to her when he knew that he had things buried deep inside, too, that he would do anything to keep hidden. Mulder felt uncomfortable suddenly; he should be used to seeing people's lives turned inside out before his eyes, with all the petty and unpleasant revelations that frequently entailed, but knowing this about Krycek gave him a strange feeling of intimacy that he would rather not have had. And all the same, he'd insisted on being told.

"I remember," Scully said with a trace of a smile and they let the subject drop. Susie came to clear the plates away, Mulder ordered a piece of apple pie for dessert, and the rain kept falling outside. Krycek hadn't been wearing his jacket. He must be soaked already. Again.

"Skinner called," he said, digging into the pie. "He's under pressure to get us off the case. That means there has to be something here, Scully, there's something we can find if we only try hard enough. If we can tie the smoking man to Clough's attempt on Krycek's life, or link Wilde to the clinic..."

"We don't even know that there was anything strange going on at that clinic," Scully said. "We might be able to charge Davis with malpractice, if he weren't dead, but that's about it."

"Damn it," Mulder said without any real heat, and leaned back against the padded backrest. He tapped his spoon against the edge of the plate. "We've got to figure it out, Scully."

* * *

I'm cold. I'm cold and I feel ridiculous, walking the streets of a small town in the rain. The pavement is uneven under my feet; no one ever walks anywhere here, and the roots of the trees planted along one side of the street have warped the paving stones and caused the asphalt to buckle up in unmoving waves. Puddles have formed in every slight depression and expanded into ponds over grates clogged with leaves and earth and pieces of newspaper. My boots are actually damp inside, and I think the leather will crack once they dry again.

There is no one else outdoors tonight. I've seen two cars pass me, crawling through the rain with the windshield wipers beating frantically and futilely. All the windows are lit up. I look inside as I pass the houses, study the kitchens, the glimpses of living rooms, mostly seeing nothing but curtains and walls. It all looks very cosy. Everyone is home, everyone is sensible enough to come in out of the rain. Everyone except me.

I walk on, but I know I can't keep walking forever. Leyden Creek is tiny, and I'm not going to leave the town on foot. I only went outside to give myself time to think, a chance to cool down. But I can't really think, and so I just keep going.

Scully was wrong. Well, not entirely wrong, but not entirely right. I don't imagine I will ever have either the opportunity or the powers of persuasion to make her change her mind, though. And she's told Mulder, and he's going to believe her. I want to curse and break windows. Instead I walk faster, splashing through the puddles I can't be bothered to avoid any longer. It doesn't matter. Obviously higher powers have decided that I will be wet and miserable while I'm here, so I may as well save my efforts for more important things.

But she's wrong. It wasn't like that.

I've walked almost a full circle around the town. No one has followed me. I wondered, after Clough's words this afternoon, if my former boss would send another killer after me, perhaps one at least marginally more competent, but it doesn't look as though he has, not yet. And perhaps that wasn't the reason he sent Clough after me, either. I hate to think that he'd insult me like that after everything we've shared.

When I round the next corner, not bothering to avoid the water that pours from the corner of the roof where the gutter is overflowing, I'm on Main Street again and I can see the police station and the diner, the twin hubs around which my time here in Leyden Creek revolves. So I'm going back, then. Well, I can't stay out on the streets all night without appearing to be even more stupid than I've already shown myself to be.

I stroll along more slowly now. The rain has slowed into a gentle shower, and when I look at the sky I can see the heavy cloud cover breaking up; a clean white moon shines behind those dark shadows, and then it vanishes again. Things look quiet inside the police station, from what I can see, and I cross the street, pausing outside the diner. It's almost empty. Susie is sitting on a chair in the corner, filing her nails. The kitchen door stands ajar, but I can't see in through it. And Mulder sits at the table by the window, alone.

The bell tinkles softly as I open the door; Susie looks up and raises an eyebrow at my appearance. I go inside and brush my hand over my hair to stop the rain-water from running into my eyes. When I cross the room to where Mulder is sitting, he looks up from his books and papers. He's wearing his glasses again. Damn. I don't know what it is about that, but it makes me feel as though I've accidentally swallowed an ice cube, a bright chill sliding through me.

Since the seats are vinyl, I sit down across the table from him. My boots squelch when I move my feet. I'm still cold, but not terribly so. He's watching me, quietly and thoughtfully. For once, it isn't all that difficult to meet his eyes. "Where's Scully?" I ask.

"She went to give back Lou's truck keys." He seems perfectly serious, and then I see the faint spark of laughter. I grin. "Well, she's the one with the umbrella. Besides, I told her she could offer professional help to change the dressing on the wound or something."

"You sent Scully to play doctor with Lou." I shake my head in laughing admiration. "Nice work, Agent Mulder." Susie appears out of nowhere and puts a mug of coffee down next to me. "Thank you," I say, a little surprised.

"Laura Ann said you should have it." She vanishes again, and I wrap my hand around the mug and feel my fingers slowly start to warm up. I'm really wet; the sweater hangs heavy on me and my brand new pants have ridden up uncomfortably. When I sip at the coffee, the chill inside is replaced by warmth.

I look at Mulder again. He takes the glasses off, and I feel a small pang of regret, but I can hardly ask him to put them back on again. Instead I say, quietly, "Scully was wrong." He tilts his head to one side, says nothing. "About my parents. About what went on."

Now he looks uneasy. "Krycek, it doesn't really matter—"

"No." I take another sip of coffee. "No, I don't suppose it matters to you. Or to her." I think about Mrs. Donner-Bogdanov, who was convinced that I was a battered child but never spoke either to my parents or to the police. Only now, years later, does she feel free to share her nasty insinuations with a perfect stranger. What a model of virtue and righteousness. We should all have such wonderful neighbors.

Mulder sighs. "All right." I raise an eyebrow at him. "What was it, then? What was she wrong about?"

"They never beat me." Looking out the window, out into the darkness, I can look back easily and consider it all, maybe not dispassionately, but with more insight than I could have achieved then. "I suppose you could say they were distant, and perhaps they were rarely kind. But they never meant to hurt me."

"Only to toughen you up a little? That's a very common," he pauses to search for the right word, "misconception. An unwillingness to believe that what your parents are doing is wrong translates into a belief that it is all for your own good, or that you deserve it."

"It was necessary," I correct him softly.

"And the bruises and cuts, were they necessary, too? According to Mrs. Donner-Bogdanov, you were always walking around with a black eye, a bandage. She told Scully it got better as you grew older. Can you really claim they didn't beat you?" He could have said it harshly but he doesn't, he's quite quiet about it, as if trying to appeal to reason rather than anger me.

"Mulder." I have to smile. "That was just part of the training. It wasn't because of anything I did and it wasn't to punish me. It was because they wanted me to be able to take care of myself when I grew up."

He drops his head into his hands and runs his fingers through his hair before looking up again. "Jesus, Krycek." I drink some more coffee. Mulder opens his mouth, closes it again, shakes his head. Finally he says, "I used to wonder, you know. I used to wonder about what made you what you are. Who you are."

Now it's my turn to shake my head. "No, Mulder, think again. You're going to believe that this is a solution, you're going to think that this explains me, and it doesn't. Don't sit there looking like someone handed you a puzzle piece you actually know what to do with."

At that, he suddenly and unexpectedly laughs. "But I don't," he says. "I have no idea what to do with you." He takes the mug out of my hand and sips at my coffee. "Just don't sit there trying to pretend that you grew up in a normal home."

"Mulder, the closest you've been to a normal, happy home life is watching Leave it to Beaver. It's no wonder your ideas are a little warped. Easy on the value judgments, now." He puts the mug down. "I was given extensive files on you, you know."

He looks about to flare up. But then he leans back, away from me, and I can read a little tiredness in him, something yielding a little. "Fuck." I didn't want to hurt him. I didn't. But I have. And I know exactly how and with what.

I have to say it, it can't be that hard. "I'm sorry." His eyes meet mine. "Really. But it's all part of how things are done. I think your father was trying to do for you what my father was trying to do for me. It can't be easy, when you think you're building a certain future for your children and then you realize things are going wrong and you want nothing to do with what's going to happen."

"So you take it out on your kids?" he says harshly. But the anger isn't directed at me, and I'm relieved. I look down at the table to see that my sleeve has left a puddle next to the coffee mug. He looks too. "Krycek, you need—" Mulder sighs, and from somewhere he dredges up a smile. Heat races along my skin. "You need to get out of those wet clothes."

And then we're laughing. It's been a long day. I reclaim my coffee and finish it, and get to my feet still smiling. "You've got the keys?"

"I'll come up with you." He looks at his watch. "I don't know how long Scully's going to be out, but if she finds me here waiting for her, she might hurt me." We say good night to Susie, and Laura Ann, who's come out of the kitchen to smile at us. I wonder if she ever sleeps, if she works twenty-four hours a day. Going up the stairs, I become conscious again of wet clothes, wet boots, a slight chill. I stop once we're upstairs and let Mulder walk past me to unlock the door.

Inside, I gather up sweatpants and toothbrush and head straight for the bathroom. It feels good to strip out of what I'm wearing, and I find a not-too-damp towel and rub myself with it, to get a little dryer and to speed up my circulation. For once, I'm glad I had my hair cut so short; it dries quickly. Running my hand over it again, I suddenly flash on the memory of kneeling there in the mud, with his fingers curved around the back of my head.

There is a certain gentleness in him that comes out at the strangest times. And I could have stayed like that forever, in that single moment when I wasn't an enemy. Now I pull on the sweatpants and hang my clothes up haphazardly, hoping they'll dry along with everything else that's spread out in here and out in the room. As I brush my teeth I look at myself in the mirror. I end up in the damnedest places, don't I.

When I come back out again, he's trying to put his things in order. He looks up as I sit down on my bed, seems about to say something, then gets up and goes into the bathroom in his turn. The whole scene is so incongruously domestic that I want to laugh, but instead I pull the covers over my legs and sit leaning against the headboard. He's turned the overhead light off, and only the bedside lamp is casting a soft glow, yellow like the lamp shade.

I'm not really sleepy. It's quite early. And I can't stop thinking about where I am and who I'm with. I left Russia for this, I crossed the wrong borders and double-crossed the wrong people, I've given away my whereabouts to a man who wants my liver on toast just so I can have Fox Mulder scowl at me and dissect my psyche and not even say thank you when I catch his damn criminals for him. And it's worth it.

That's the strange part, the part I can't even explain to myself, that I don't regret any part of this insanity, not even when it hurts. So I am laughing after all when he comes back out, and he looks at me, but I'm not about to offer an explanation. He pauses for a moment, then turns the bedside lamp off. It gets quite dark; there isn't much light coming from outside. I wonder if he knows how closely I'm watching him as he takes his clothes off.

Probably not, I decide as he stumbles against the bed, stubs his toes and swears. Sweater and pants end up in a heap on the floor, and I hold my breath. He stands where he is for a few moments, and I can savor it, the way his body looks wreathed in shadows, the rangy elegance that makes my bones ache with longing. I watch silently, taking in every line, until the length of time that's passed starts to make me uneasy.

So I ask, "What's wrong?" and he turns towards me. I can't quite see his eyes, so I watch his mouth, and the way he keeps shifting his balance. It's all I can do to keep from reaching out towards him. And then he takes half a step closer. My heart is in my throat. Slowly, very, very slowly, I move to one side of the bed, and he takes another step, and then he's there next to me, stealing the pillow again. I don't mind. Oh God, I don't mind at all.

He draws in a deep breath and lets it out; he's lying on his back, head slightly tilted my way though he's not looking at me. "I don't want to dream tonight," he says quietly, and closes his eyes.

I lie where I am and watch him. It takes a long time before his face smooths out into sleep, but I don't care. I could watch him for hours. When I'm sure he's sleeping, I carefully move a little closer. Only a little. He might wake up if I crowd him. I just want to feel the warmth coming off him, to have the lightest brush of his skin against mine again. Addictive.

Then I pillow my head on my arm and close my eyes. I concentrate on the way he smells, making it part of me, turning it into something I can never forget. He breathes in an even, soothing rhythm. I've killed men in their sleep. It's just another state of vulnerability. I want to draw the covers around him to make sure he's not cold. I want to hold him.

The darkness in the room grows deeper, and I slide into it.

* * *

Surfacing gradually from a confusing jumble of images, I become aware that I'm pressed very close to a warm body, that my arm is under me and tingling with pins and needles, that my legs are tangled up with, oh God, Fox Mulder's. Sleeping, I've done what my waking mind wanted, but refrained from. Maybe I can move away before he wakes up and kills me. But not yet, oh, not quite yet; I can't give this up, let go, abandon the surprising heaven I've woken into.

Then he moves, and I realize he's coming awake already. But he doesn't try to strangle me. He turns a little more towards me and opens his eyes, blinking his way out of sleep. When he lifts his hand, I'm prepared for anything except what he does: he reaches up and touches my shoulder. What's left of my shoulder. His fingers trace the scars slowly, and my muscles draw together so tightly they're hurting.

"Stop," I try to say and it only comes out as a whisper. "Don't, I don't want you to—"

When he speaks his voice is still hazy with sleep. "Why don't you wear a prosthesis?" His fingers curve around the place where my arm should be. I want him to touch me, but I don't want him to touch me there, it's not—

"The one I got wasn't very good. And it wasn't me. I couldn't see it as part of me." I didn't want to think that it would have to be part of me. Not even to pass for normal, to blend in better, could I accept that thing was to become a necessity for me. That I would need something alien in order to become complete.

His thumb rubs over my skin. Then he loosens his grip and I relax a little, only to tense up again when I realize his hand hasn't left me, it's hovering there and now it strokes up over my shoulder, moving slowly towards my neck. Maybe he's going to strangle me after all. Maybe I'm going to die right now, just from that gentle touch.

It takes an immense effort for me to turn my head and look straight at him, meet his eyes. His hand curves around the back of my neck again, as it did earlier today. I can't remember how to breathe. His shadowed eyes are too deep for me to read, and what little I can see, I don't dare to believe in. He pulls me closer, and I move the way he wants me to, how can I do anything else, until my head is resting on his shoulder. He's holding me, his arm warm and heavy on my back.

"I'm sorry it happened to you," he says. The words are muffled, because his mouth is against my hair. It's all I can do to register what is happening, there's no way I can think about it; that might make it all stop. I shift carefully towards him, a little closer still. My heart is beating hard and every breath is an effort. A feather-light touch against my temple almost makes me cry out. His lips, oh God, his lips are moving across my face, a butterfly fluttering touch. I'm breathing fire. I'm burning up.

When his mouth touches mine I think for a moment that I have to be imagining it. There is still something of hesitation in him, a slowness that keeps him there, gentle silky brushes of lips against lips and then more determination, more pressure, and I open my mouth to his, still half afraid that he'll break away. His fingers shift their grip; he tilts my head more towards him and his tongue licks at me, slides past my teeth, and the fire is everywhere and I can think of nothing but kissing him.

It's real. The taste of him, the way we press against each other. I'm so aware of him, I feel as though I could count every cell in his body. And the kiss, this kiss... our tongues wrestle, and then I suck at his lower lip, bite it carefully. I kiss him like I'm starving for it, because I am, like it's the only thing keeping me alive, because it is. I kiss him the way I've wanted to kiss him since the first time I laid eyes on him. When we finally break apart, I'm panting for air. But so is he.

Our eyes meet, we have no choice. He's flushed and gorgeous, irresistible, and I want to pounce. I want him. I've never wanted anything as badly as I want him. He can't turn his head to look away, so he drops his eyelids for a moment, draws a breath, before saying, "Look, Krycek, I—" Then he runs out of words.

"It's all right, lisitsa," I say with more gentleness than I thought I could manage right now, "you don't have to know what you're thinking."

That brings a spark of humor to his eyes. "I don't even know what I'm doing." And he closes the distance between us again for a kiss that scorches my soul and leaves me shaking. He's going to kill me. This is definitely going to kill me. And oh, how I want him to do it. Want this sweet fiery death he's offering me. His hand strokes the back of my neck. "Alex," he says into my mouth, "Alex," and it just about makes me come.

I'm kissing my way along his jaw when the delicate bubble of heat and darkness enclosing us is shattered by the sound of his cell phone ringing. He jerks away from me, swearing, stumbles out of bed and bangs his foot against something again before he finds the phone. I lie still where I am and try to catch my breath and get my mind back online. My skin hurts where it isn't touching his any more. I want to throw the phone out the window, pull him back down here with me and taste him everywhere, make him scream with pleasure.

But it's not going to happen.

"Mulder. — What! When?" He bends down and starts to fumble around for his clothes. "Yes. Yes, we'll be right there. Sure." The phone gets tossed aside onto the unused bed and he straightens up, pants in hand, and looks back at me. "Get up."

I'm not sure I can stand up. My knees feel like jelly. But I know I have to, so I manage to get myself upright just as he turns on the bedside lamp. "What's happened?"

He buttons the pants and reaches for a sweater. He's all business now, and I try to quiet the frantic beating of my heart and get the blood back to my brain. The next words out of his mouth help.

"Janet Clough's been murdered."

* * *

Ghosts IV: But I don't know who I'll marry

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