Lovers III: In turns of tempest

"Alas, that they should wear our colors there,
The silken weavings of our afternoons,
And pick the strings of our insipid lutes!
Death is the mother of beauty, mystical,
Within whose burning bosom we devise
Our earthly mothers waiting, sleeplessly." — Stevens, Sunday Morning

"'Tis but the living who are dumb." — Byron, The Isles of Greece

"Johnny?" Mulder narrowed his eyes. "That's Flagstad?"

"Yeah." Krycek drew breath to say something more, but then his eyes moved past Mulder and he closed his mouth. Scully was back.

"They're on their way," she said, putting the phone away. When she looked at the bodies of the victims, her mouth tightened. "We have to do something to keep people away from here." The beach was relatively deserted at this hour, but there was the occasional early jogger, and sleepy-looking dog owner, moving down by the water.

Krycek shifted uneasily, and looked first at Mulder and then at Scully. "Look — when the cops get here? Now that you've made my face famous, they're going to be all over me like weirdos at a Star Trek convention. I'd appreciate it if we could come to some kind of agreement."

"Krycek, apart from being a crucial witness in the search for a serial killer, you're wanted in connection with several homicides. What kind of agreement did you have in mind?" Scully's voice was as cool as the ocean breeze. She seemed part of this place, at home here, though her hair and eyes provided its only colors.

"I want to help you catch Johnny." Krycek nodded briefly towards the bodies. It was hard to tell if the straightforward tone was meant to convince or not. "But I can be of a lot more use if I'm not locked up somewhere. So if you two take me into some kind of personal custody and, well, vouch for me—"

Scully did not look happy. She was watching Krycek steadily. Mulder remembered an offhand comment made months earlier, Krycek's seemingly casual statement that he'd rather die than go to prison. He knew that this was far more serious to Krycek than the man was letting on. There were several reasons why it wouldn't be safe to put Krycek in a cell somewhere, Mulder thought. But he couldn't break in on what was going on between Krycek and Scully, either — he wanted to wait and see where they were going.

"I'm not sure I want to be responsible for you," Scully said. It sounded cold, but she was talking to Krycek, discussing the issue — almost making a joke. Mulder felt amazed. It seemed they had reached some level of mutual understanding during the night, during his lost hours, and that neither of them was particularly happy with this.

"I didn't have to come to you, you know," Krycek said. He was having a hard time hiding his tension. "I'm here of my own free will, doesn't that count for something?"

"Why exactly are you here, Krycek?" Scully sounded like a prosecutor who was just about to get a damaging admission out of a witness. Mulder wondered what she was up to. Then he tilted his head as the rumble of car engines came to him through the morning air.

"Scully, someone's coming."

After a final searching look at Krycek, she turned and walked back up towards the road. Mulder turned to study the bodies again, taking in everything he could in this last moment of stillness; he knew that once the crime team descended on the scene, everything would be meticulously recorded down to the last detail, but the moment, the surroundings would be lost, the mood would be lost, this carefully arranged still life would change from a twisted man's work of art to an FBI paint-by-numbers picture.

Despite the amount of blood, and the untidy work the killer had made of the victims' faces, nothing here gave the impression of raging violence. It had all been carefully, thoughtfully, methodically done, in strict adherence to the killer's peculiar internal logic. Mulder thought about the workings of this man's mind, this man Krycek called Johnny. He thought about this man sending him a feather, and what it might mean.

"I came to save your life," Krycek said behind his back, distracting him with the quiet, unexpected words. "I received some information about what was happening."

"And why are you still here?" Mulder didn't turn his head. He stared down at the sand, and at the blood in the sand. "Why haven't you just run off again the way you always do?"

Krycek drew an audible, slightly shaky breath. "Like I said, someone's got to stop Johnny. And I think we have a better chance of doing it if we work together."

"We?" But before Mulder could go on, he heard voices. When he turned around he saw the team sprinting towards them across the sand, as if they were worried that the bodies might get up and leave without them. Some of them looked at him, barely acknowledging his presence, expecting him to get out of the way. That was all right; he knew they knew their job, and for once felt no need to try to do it for them. It wasn't as urgent any more; he had seen what he'd been meant to see. Now he needed to process it.

He walked down the slope of the beach, towards the water. The sun had come up while he was thinking of other things, and it had burned away the layer of grey that had covered the world. The sky arced high above him, blue as Scully's eyes; the sea glittered. Shell fragments crunched under his bare feet. When a large wave rolled up high enough to nip at his toes, he was shocked by how icily cold it was. He was tired, tired and thirsty, and his thoughts formed with the slow clarity of crystal.

"Spooky, get out of the water! What are you, stupid?" There was no mistaking Martin Yun's voice, or his usual charming delivery. Mulder turned slowly to find that Krycek was standing right behind him, just out of reach of the waves, and that Yun was striding towards them accompanied by Scully and two other agents. "And what the hell are you wearing?"

"Nice to see you could make it, Martin. You don't like my latest fashion statement?"

Yun dismissed his odd appearance with a shrug, and looked at Krycek. "Agent Scully told me you'd found him. I guess you've both earned your merit badges." Then he took a closer look and scowled in annoyance and surprise. "So I've had men searching the streets for this guy all night and no one thought to mention he's only got one goddamn arm?"

"It was an oversight on our part," Scully began in a voice devoid of apology, "but since the bartender didn't mention it, I think it is safe to assume that—"

"Didn't have time to put the other one on last night," Krycek drawled.

Yun tipped his head towards one of the other agents. "Get the cuffs on him — one cuff, anyway — get him in the car." The returning tension in Alex Krycek was like a shift in the weather.

"No." Mulder stepped out of the water; his feet were numb. He came up to stand next to Krycek, and stared flatly at Yun. "We don't have time for that, Martin. We need him. He stays with us. He's been with us for most of the night, he's not the killer. Scully, you planning on doing the autopsies?"

She glanced up towards the team that swarmed over the sand dune. Mulder looked that way too, and tried to see if the ME was there. "I'd like to at least participate, if Dr. Ince has no objections. But I also want to get you back to the hospital for a few more tests."

"I feel fine," he said, then as her eyes met and held his own, "and you should be in on the autopsies. There could be something new, some additional piece of evidence. We have to make every minute count now. He likes to plan ahead; he must have the next couple picked out already. Anything you discover could be crucial to the investigation."

Scully was about to say something, but Yun got in ahead of her. "Spooky, how did you know about this?" He flung a hand out, gesturing towards the bodies he hadn't yet seen. "And if you had it all figured out ahead of time, couldn't you have been here a bit earlier and caught the bastard at it?"

"Since Agent Mulder was unconscious in a hospital bed at the time the killings occurred, that would have been a bit difficult," Scully said with deceptive mildness. Mulder tried not to wince. The last thing he needed was for her to defend him to Yun. Then her eyes narrowed as she looked past Mulder off into the distance. "There's that jogger in orange again. He's been up and down the beach three times now, he was here when we got here. Maybe he saw something."

Yun lifted his head sharply, then nodded at the agent who was tagging along with him, and they both took off down the beach to intercept the man in orange. Mulder looked at Scully. "Flagstad does his work in the dark, before dawn. You really think that runner there saw the killer?"

"He might have," she retorted, but her eyes were gleaming. It seemed she wasn't above putting Martin Yun to a little extra work, either.

"Scully, they're moving the bodies now." She turned her head and watched, her eyes narrowing. "You can run tests on me later. You do the autopsies, I interrogate Krycek, and we can compare notes later while you poke around among my corpuscles, how's that?"

"You're supposed to go back to the hospital, Mulder, not interrogate anyone."

"He could come along. I'm sure Dr. White would love him if she ever got to meet him." Some fifty yards away, Yun had caught up with the jogger and was starting to lead him back towards the group. "Would you rather have Yun do it?"


"Shut up, Krycek, I wasn't asking you." Mulder fixed his eyes on Scully; she was looking at the hollow and the bodies with a certain restrained longing. "You know if anything happens someone will call you. And I feel all right now." Apart from the fact that his toes were about to fall off, but that had nothing to do with the black cancer, after all.

"You're in no state to drive, Mulder." But it was a weak protest.

"Scully, I'll be—"


"I can drive."

"You?" Scully turned her head to look at Krycek, who had relaxed again once Yun had left, and was chewing on something he'd dug out of his pocket as he watched them both.

"Wanna see my license?" he asked. Scully stared at him hard; he returned the look blandly. "How do you think I got here from Virginia?" Mulder glared at him, and found himself the recipient of a faint smile.

"All right," Scully said, snapping back into decisiveness. "Mulder, call me if you start feeling worse, or if you find out anything I need to know. Here — car keys." She dropped them into Krycek's outstretched hand, turned and started to walk up the beach, then came back again. "You'd better take your hotel room key, too," she said, handing it over to Mulder. "Go get some clothes, then you can give those back to Dr. White's intern."

Scully went towards the hollow in the dunes, narrowly avoiding being caught by Yun, who was returning with the jogger and the other agent, a young, dark-haired woman. The agent and the jogger continued past them, while Yun paused, looked disdainfully at Krycek, then managed a crooked half-smile for Mulder. "He might have seen something, says he saw someone hanging around here — we'll try to get him to come up with a good description before we show him the composite pic." Jerking his head towards Krycek, he asked, "You get anything out of this guy yet?" Only blood, Mulder thought. "How did you find him, anyway?"

"He found us," Mulder admitted. His face felt stiff with the necessity not to give anything away, and he saw from the look in Yun's eyes that it translated as hardness. Between that and the flat tone of his voice, he realized, he was as safe as he wanted to be.

"I guess you could use a soundproofed interrogation room," Yun said with another smile that could have stripped the paint off a car. "Make sure he tells everything he knows. Just get yourself some different clothes first, Spooky. You look like a mannequin out of a fucking Goodwill store window." Yun snorted, spat into the sand about three quarters of an inch from Krycek's left foot, and walked off.

Mulder looked out over the sea again, but he couldn't recapture the lost moment, the feeling of isolation and knowledge. He couldn't even clear his head enough to appreciate the view. His mind was busy sorting and filing, going through the facts, lining up questions. There was so much that needed to be thought of, and worked out. Two days. He had two days before this happened again. He couldn't allow anything he happened to feel to interfere with that, to take time from that. Couldn't stand here stupidly as the minutes slipped away, simply trying to wrap his thoughts around the fact that Alex Krycek was standing next to him.

"Linda sends her love."

Mulder hadn't been expecting the words, hadn't been expecting any words, and he was startled enough to turn and look at Krycek. "You kept in touch with her?"

Krycek smiled a little, a smile of pure affection. "Yeah."

"And you didn't even send me a postcard." Mulder meant to be flippant. In fact, he'd been aiming for flippancy with such easy confidence that he was stunned to hear, as the words came out, how badly he'd missed his mark. "I'm hurt, I really am," he rattled on, trying to cover it up, trying to sharpen his abused voice into sarcasm. "You missed Scully's birthday, too."

"I'd go out and buy her something now," Krycek said gravely, "but somebody took me into custody." Then his voice changed subtly. "And I would have sent you flowers, but I couldn't find any black ones."

"Let's go." Mulder started to walk up the beach. "You still need to work on that symbolism obsession," he tossed over his shoulder, and got a grin in return. It unsettled him further. Scully was busy, and didn't see him go. Yun was already talking to the hapless jogger, incapable of waiting any longer; he looked up long enough to nod briefly.

The car was where they'd left it, of course, and by some miracle had not been boxed in by all the other vehicles. He turned to Krycek and picked the car keys out of his hand quickly, opened the driver's door and stood for a moment trying to remember where he'd left the stupid slippers.

"Are you sure you ought to drive, Mulder? Scully said—"

"No," he said and got into the car anyway. A few moments later Krycek was sitting in the passenger seat, still eyeing him doubtfully. "But you're not going to do it." It felt weird to drive barefoot, and the ache in his left wrist flared up again, but he got the car backed out easily enough. Then he paused. "Tell me where the hotel is."

"I could drive, Mulder." Then Krycek caught Mulder's eyes, and his mouth tightened and relaxed again into an almost-smile. "Head for Union Square."

"All right." Mulder drove back up the Great Highway, hoping he remembered the best route. If he turned right before the park... or after the park? "See if you can find a bottle of water anywhere. Scully usually keeps one around."

Krycek rummaged around among the things on the floor and came up with a plastic bottle of water and the bag of peanut butter M&M's Mulder had bought the day before. "Can I have some of these?"

"Just give me that bottle."

The water cleared his head and got rid of the last lingering taste of black oil in his mouth. With a bit of an effort and some unsolicited advice from Krycek he drove past the park and got onto Geary, and settled in for the long haul. They were in the middle of the morning rush now, and it was no use expecting to get anywhere fast. Mulder just hoped the SFPD wasn't being zealous this morning. He had no driver's license, he had no shoes, he didn't have his FBI ID and he was accompanied by a known felon who was probably, Mulder thought darkly, carrying an unlicensed weapon.

The felon in question cleared his throat. "Mulder, how come you're involved in this? On the face of it, it's not your typical X-file."

"Yun asked me to come in and help him out, and I asked Scully to come along and help me out. He thinks I owe him one because of Michelle," Mulder added absentmindedly as he slipped through an intersection just as the lights were changing. He might have to talk to Yun about that eventually.

"Michelle, that's his wife, right?"

The car swerved. Mulder turned his head and stared at Krycek, then quickly turned back to look at the street, not wanting to dent anyone's fender right now. He couldn't believe his ears. "His wife? He married Michelle? Michelle Sargent?"

"Five years ago, according to his personnel file. I take it this is news to you." The amusement in Krycek's voice was unbelievably annoying.

"Hell yes. I thought — I never—" Mulder shook his head. He needed some more water. He needed a couple of painkillers and some time to himself. "Don't tell me she's a housewife now."

"They've got two kids."

Mulder could fill in the blanks for himself. It would explain why he'd never heard anything of Michelle's further career, and what a waste, if it were true. He still had a hard time believing it. Maybe Krycek was making it up to tease him. "How the hell do you have access to Bureau files, anyway?"

"You don't really want to know, Mulder, trust me. Tell me what happened with you and Yun and this Michelle."

He scowled at a run-down Chrysler that was trying to switch lanes in front of him. "Nothing." Flicking a glance sideways, he saw Krycek raising an eyebrow in not-so-polite disbelief. "We all worked a case together once." He didn't really feel like talking about it; it had been stupid, and it had been a long time ago, and if Martin had actually married Michelle...

"Well, that doesn't— Mulder, watch out for that Volvo. I think a hospital bed is probably the right place for you." Krycek paused expectantly, then went on when Mulder didn't say anything, "You are going to the hospital later, right?"

"There are two sites I haven't seen yet," Mulder said. He was planning it all out in his head as he spoke. "We're going to look at those, and we're going to talk. The really important question here isn't why I'm involved in this case." He turned his head, caught Krycek's eyes and held them for as long as he dared. "The important question is, where the hell do you come into all this?"

Krycek looked away and tucked his chin down. "I used to work with Johnny," he said, "and I was trying to find him."

"So that's why you were seen with three of the victims before they died?" Mulder asked harshly.

"They knew him. I was trying to get some information on where he was hanging out, since he'd stopped attending the meetings. Then I heard that you were here and that they meant to stop you for good this time."

If anything, the traffic situation was getting crazier now, the farther downtown they got. Mulder had to focus on driving, much as he wanted to watch Krycek for any sign that the man was lying. "Why now? You just said it, this isn't an X-file." At least, he amended to himself, it probably wasn't an X-file. He still needed to find out just how Flagstad handled his victims. "What is it about this case? Am I getting too close to something?" If he was, he couldn't see it himself. Unless there really was something more to Flagstad's abduction obsession than he had been able to figure out yet—

"Johnny used to work for them, Mulder. They don't want you to find him. They're scared of what he might say, even though he's not exactly going to make an ideal source for you. No one's been able to track him down and eliminate him," Mulder's mind supplied the unspoken 'yet' in Krycek's brief pause, "so they targeted you instead because you were easier to find. And because..." Krycek hesitated, and tried to turn the hesitation into a yawn.

"Because of what?"

"There are some people who try to protect you, Mulder. And there are others who disapprove of that." He wasn't sure if it was an answer or if Krycek was taking off on a tangent. "I don't know everything about this. I don't even know very much about this. But I want to help you find Johnny."

"Your old friend Johnny." It was getting easier to talk now; the water had helped his throat, too.

"I didn't say he was a friend, I said I used to work with him. He wasn't exactly stable back then, either. I'm not really surprised this happened." Krycek drank some water too, and sat quietly for a while, brooding and staring out the side window, slumping gradually further and further down in his seat, only vouchsafing the occasional word about the next turn as they drew closer. Mulder concentrated on driving. One thing at a time.

He found a parking space close to the hotel and sat for a moment after he'd turned the engine off, flexing his toes. It felt as though the friction of the pedals against the soles of his feet had raised blisters. Apart from that, he did feel a lot better. Only a lingering whisper of headache, a slight burn when he breathed. His wrist hurt, but not so badly that he hadn't been able to hold the steering wheel. Yet if he could trust Scully, and he could trust Scully, he'd been close to dying less than twelve hours earlier. And Alex Krycek had, for some reason best known to himself, turned up out of nowhere and saved his life.

Well, fuck.

Mulder reached out and prodded Krycek, who was either asleep or in a coma. "Get out of the car. I'm not letting you stay down here."

Looking at him and blinking sleepily, Krycek collected himself enough to say, "I knew you couldn't survive for long without an Armani suit." He fumbled with the door handle and got out, stretching and rolling his head. Mulder got out as well and made a face as he put his bare feet down on the street. Locking the car, he set off for the hotel, watching the sidewalk for glass and chewing gum.

When they got inside the desk clerk looked up and smiled, putting her book aside. Her smile only faltered briefly as she got a good look at what he was wearing. "I'm glad to see you're feeling better, sir. I hope you'll be able to enjoy the rest of your vacation without any similar incidents."

Mulder thanked her and made his escape without saying anything specific about what had been wrong with him. As they got into the elevator, Krycek was chuckling to himself. "What?"

"Last time she saw you, you were hanging over my shoulder wrapped in a sheet and Scully was babbling about a medical emergency. She probably thinks the three of us were playing some pretty interesting games last night."

"Everyone knows the FBI's a kinky bunch." Mulder looked down at his feet. Sand-between-the-toes. When the elevator stopped and he got out, he left sandy fragments of footprints behind on the floor.

The room was a mess, but he thought that was due to his own untidiness and to their abrupt departure, rather than to anyone's having searched it. Mulder scowled at his own inability to remember anything about this place; it annoyed him that Krycek had had to lead him to the door.

He wandered around, locating his wallet, his phone, his gun, his other gun... if Scully had left all this behind, she must really have been worried about him. Suit. Clean underwear. He pulled the map out of his back pocket and dropped it absently on the floor. "Got any good games on that laptop?" Krycek asked around another yawn.

"No." Mulder straightened up, a t-shirt in one hand. "I'm going to take a shower." He thought about adding, don't go anywhere, but it seemed somehow pointless. Instead he went into the bathroom and carefully locked the door before stripping out of the borrowed clothes. In addition to being the wrong size, they hadn't been as clean as he could have wished. He turned on the hot water and stepped into the tub with a sigh of relief.

Remembering the elastic bandage around his wrist as it started to get wet, he peeled it off and leaned out past the shower curtain to throw it in the general direction of the sink. Soap and shampoo did wonders to restore him, and he spent a long time getting all the sand off himself. While he stood under the steady stream of water his mind replayed the scene at the beach that morning, the victims, the sunrise. There was no horror in it, nor anything that could be recognized as analysis just yet, simply a review of facts.

It would be useful to ask Krycek some more questions about Flagstad, to see if he could get some more details about the man's particular obsessions and habits. He should have done that in the car, Mulder admitted to himself. It was just difficult to stick to one line of questioning with Krycek; there was too much he wanted to know. Too much he wanted—

Alive, his mind whispered suddenly, insidiously. He's alive. Mulder closed his eyes and let the water run down his face. The abrupt constricting sensation in his chest wasn't entirely unexpected. His heart beat faster as feelings he couldn't suppress uncoiled in him, powerful and frightening. He had been in freefall for so long.

When he stepped out of the tub, the mirror was completely steamed up. He toweled his hair dry, combed it rather haphazardly, looked at the damp elastic bandage in the sink and decided against trying to put it back on again. Instead he pulled on boxers and t-shirt and went outside, bracing himself against the comparatively cool air in the room.

Krycek was lying on Mulder's bed, fast asleep. He'd pulled off the leather jacket and it lay in a heap on the floor; the plain black cotton sweater underneath was thin and worn, the collar fraying in places. Mulder walked over and looked down at him, at the nose with its childish tilt, the fine mouth relaxed to the point of slackness, the long dark lashes resting against pale skin. He lifted a hand tentatively, let it drop again. Krycek hadn't slept all night. It was still early. And if Krycek were awake there would have to be words, thoughts, something more than just the trembling of breath and blood in him.

After a few moments, Mulder went to the foot of the bed and picked up the blanket he'd kicked off last night. He pulled it up over the sleeping man, expecting Krycek to wake up at any moment. When that didn't happen, he paused. Turning around, he crossed the room slowly, and bolted the door. Then he went back to the bed, crawled in clumsily under the blanket and wrapped one arm around Krycek's waist.

Mulder closed his eyes and felt his breathing slow down. The warmth of another body against his own was soothing. It had been a long time since he'd been so close to anyone. And this, this was...


It had been so easy, and in the end, not easy enough. Too easy, to be close like this, to sleep in the same bed. Mulder felt the other man's ribcage rise and fall under the weight of his arm. He remembered the hot pressure of Alex's mouth, and the sour taste of vomit in his own. Too easy, the impossibility of it all. Too easy to let it tear him apart.

He shifted closer, tightening the grip of his arm. He was tired too, tired enough to sleep, but he didn't want to sleep. There was too much that needed to be thought about. And there was this... lying here. His face was resting against the back of Alex's neck. It seemed to him that his own heartbeat, clear and steady, was only an echo of Alex's, that their bodies stretched out together were one body, mirror-doubled but whole. His muscles liquefied into warm relaxation, while glass slivers rattled and stung inside his chest and belly. Half-finished thoughts raced each other in his mind even as the slow soothing honey of well-being drowned out reason.

Mulder stopped himself from pulling Alex even closer. He didn't want to wake the other man, or make his dreams uncomfortable. He didn't want to have to answer the question of what he thought he was doing. He wasn't thinking. The conviction that Alex would disappear if he let go of him was not thought, it was a sharp steel hook sunk deep in his gut, where neither logic nor emotion could touch it.

Opening his eyes again, tickling Alex's skin with his eyelashes, he took in the daylight, the curve of neck, the dark spill of hair. For a few moments longer he tried to make his world remain as small as that, but it kept opening up inexorably with reminder after reminder of wider vistas and inescapable responsibilities. This, whatever it was, pleasure or horror, was a personal indulgence he couldn't justify. Johnny fucking Flagstad had too many feathers left. He needed all of himself for this. He could let go. He could.

Mulder rolled off the bed slowly, landing on the floor. He brushed a hand over his face and head as if cutting himself off from what he had just been doing. Instead he crawled over to the laptop, plugged it in and booted it up. The sudden electric hum did not even make the man on the bed stir. Not that Mulder was paying attention. He called up his profile of Flagstad and sat staring at it for five minutes, gradually emptying his mind of other things. Then he began to type.

When the phone rang, he nearly jumped out of his skin. He'd been far away, deep inside another's convoluted thoughts. It was his cell phone, and he'd left it lying in the middle of the floor. "Yeah." If this was Scully wanting to find out how he was faring in the hospital, he suddenly realized, he was in serious trouble.

"Uh — Agent Mulder?" Not Scully, and he relaxed a little. "This is — oh shit—" There was a pause and a muffled thump. "Hello? Are you there? This is Blaine Hibbert and I, shit, the phone fell on the floor, can you still hear me? Look, I have a problem, I..."

Hibbert's voice grew fainter, and Mulder scowled at the phone. "Mr. Hibbert, what do you want?"

The returning voice was a little breathless. "Flagstad called. I mean, he called ten minutes ago, less maybe. He, uh, he wanted addresses for all the group members, said he wanted to send them all some newsletter he'd been working on? And I..." Hibbert swallowed audibly. "I got a bit frazzled, all right, I told him no, but I couldn't come up with a real good excuse."

"Do you have any idea where he was calling from? What did he say when you refused?"

"Sounded like a phone booth on a street somewhere, I could hear cars and people and things. He, uh, he said 'I see' and then he hung up."

Mulder sucked his next breath in between his teeth, and glanced back at the text on the computer screen as if something would appear there to help him. "Do you have the list of the members' addresses with you? You keep it at home?"


"Okay, I know where you live." It gave him some pleasure to hear Hibbert's paranoid squawk at that. "We'll get there as fast as we can. Try to think about who might be at risk of the people on that list, based on what you know about the victims." Even as he said it, Mulder knew that Hibbert wasn't going to be able to help there, but it couldn't hurt to ask.

As he hung up, he turned his head to find Krycek sitting cross-legged on the edge of the bed, yawning and rubbing his eyes with the heel of his hand. "Where are we going?"

"Berkeley." Mulder turned the computer off and got to his feet. The shirt he grabbed was a little crumpled, but he shook it out and started to put it on, refusing to feel self-conscious just because Krycek was watching him. "Flagstad wants the names and addresses of everyone in Hibbert's group. Hibbert refused, but I have a feeling Flagstad might try to get them anyway eventually. He's obviously focused on those people."

"He's not the type to take no for an answer," Krycek agreed. "Johnny was always very goal-oriented." Stretching, he started to pull his sweater over his head, revealing an equally worn t-shirt. "I'm leaving this here, unless you want to use the bloodstains as a Rorschach test?"

"You have to tell me more about Flagstad," Mulder said, buttoning his pants and reaching for his suit jacket. He ran a quick mental checklist: both guns, phone, car keys, ID. "Come on — we have to go look at those addresses. There's something in there that he wants. If we find out what it is—"

Krycek shrugged into his jacket and headed for the door. "We might figure out his next move. We might also run smack into him in Hibbert's living room. Aren't you going to call for backup?" He pushed the door open and held it while Mulder went outside, knotting his tie. "Come to think of it, aren't you supposed to be in the hospital?"

"I don't think Flagstad's going to..." Mulder left another sentence unfinished as his mind picked up speed and jumped ahead. "This is more important. Scully will understand. Come on, let's get going."

They got into the elevator and Krycek pushed the button. Mulder wondered what it had been like last night, when Krycek had carried him. What Scully had thought of it all. They were standing closer to each other than strangers would; Krycek looked at him seriously, face polite and uncommunicative, eyes all surface, a smooth polished green. That look: in Leyden Creek that look had made him want to break the man open so he could look inside. So he could understand. Now he found himself wondering if his own eyes said anything, anything at all.

When the doors opened onto the small lobby, Mulder walked out ahead of Krycek and nodded at the desk clerk without a word. The brief glimpse he caught of her face gave him the impression that she was pleased to see him dressed like a normal person again. Almost out the door, that thought made him stop and turn around, nearly bumping into Krycek. "Forget something?"

"Yes." He walked back inside. "There's a pair of jeans and a t-shirt in the bathroom of my room that should be delivered to Dr. White at Marshall Hale Hospital as soon as possible. Can you arrange that?" The young woman looked mildly bewildered. "Just add it to the bill," Mulder said and left.

Krycek was waiting by the car, looking uneasily up and down the street, squinting in the bright sunlight. He was wrapped in his leather jacket even though it was another hot day and most of the people who had a choice were in t-shirts or tank tops. When Mulder opened the car door a wave of confined heat rolled out to meet him. He was relieved to see that Krycek slipped the jacket off his shoulders as he settled into the passenger seat.

"Mulder, can we make a stop along the way, find a McDonald's or a Subway or something?"

"I should've known." There was a twinge in his wrist when he started driving, but it wasn't too bad; it had only been a mild sprain. There was also a rumble in his stomach, indicating that refueling might be in order for him, too. "Frohike thinks the fast food chains put addictive substances in their burgers. I should hand you over to him for tests."

"Why not," Krycek said philosophically. "I've never been a guinea pig."

"I guess it would be a move upwards career-wise, for you." Mulder bent down and snagged the water bottle from the floor next to Krycek's foot, and straightened up just in time to avoid crashing into the cars in the next lane. He flipped the top off with his thumb and drank. "And maybe there's a market for videotapes of you screaming when the withdrawal symptoms hit."

"I'll put you down for a signed copy. You should have let me drive."

It wasn't until they were on the Bay Bridge that Mulder had finished the water, put the bottle away, and asked Krycek, "What can you tell me about Flagstad?"

Krycek had been staring out the window, watching the Bay. Now he turned his head and Mulder saw that he was frowning and smiling at the same time. "About John Alexander Flagstad — I don't think that's his real name — not much. School of the Americas, friend of Cardinale's. He looks like a librarian and you don't want to take him on in a barroom brawl. Boring as hell, too." After this first flip assessment, Krycek twisted into a more comfortable position, and started thinking. Mulder could almost see the wheels turning as Krycek's eyelids dropped and his voice grew slower. "He has a military approach to things. He likes order and he likes orders. In his ideal world, life would come with an instruction manual. He wants rules and reasons for everything, and if there aren't any he'll make them up, and believe he got them from somewhere. He was hell to work with — he couldn't improvise. Every time things went wrong I had to try to convince him that I'd been given an emergency plan that he knew nothing about, just to get him to do what I told him."

That fit in very well with what Mulder had already conjectured. Dragging his mind firmly away from speculations on those missions, Mulder said, "So if we upset his plans in any way, he'll find it hard to readjust, and start making mistakes. If, for instance, we remove the address list he wants." He tapped the wheel. "If we start to close in on him, and he gets nervous... if you're right, he'd just see us as an obstacle to the completion of his current mission, so when we get the addresses from wherever Blaine Hibbert lives, we should—"

"I thought you knew where he lived?"

"What?" Mulder glanced sideways at Krycek. "I was assuming you knew. You were part of his group."

"Loosely speaking," Krycek said with a twist of laughter in his voice. "But yeah, I know where he lives."

"Good," Mulder said absently. He wished he'd brought the laptop along, to let Krycek take a look at the profile he'd written. "Anything else about Flagstad you can think of that might be relevant?"

"I didn't know him that well. He was difficult to get along with, opinionated and loud when he disagreed with you. And it was hard to guess what would set him off. For instance, he hated stories about abductions and aliens and what he called 'that tabloid trash.' Refused to discuss it. But he was really interested in things like hypnotism and crystals."

"He hated abduction stories?" Hated, or feared? Mulder filed that away to think about later. "Flagstad's from San Francisco originally, isn't he? Or at least he grew up here."

Krycek looked startled. "Yeah. I don't know where he was born, but he went to school here." Then Krycek smiled. "Tell me what else you've figured out about him."

"He's trying to protect the city," Mulder said as his fingers went on with their soft tap-dance along the steering wheel. "Using the victims, what he imagines he gets from the victims, to encapsulate San Francisco, set up a border as well as to send a message." He turned his head and looked at Krycek. "And he's not sending the message to us. Not the FBI or the people of the city. He's sending it to someone else."

"How do you figure that?"

"What he's doing is some kind of ritual, it's meant to do something, have a certain effect. On something or on someone. Maybe the message is for them — the ones he's looking for. I suspect from what you just said that this type of magical thinking evolved out of his obsession with rules, his conviction that anything can be done if you only know the right method of doing it. And that's what's behind his methodical approach. I don't think he'll start working faster to sustain the thrill. He's not a thrill killer, the deaths are a means to an end."

"But he has to be aware that he's being hunted," Krycek said. "That might make him pick up speed, change his timetable. He's not completely inflexible... he wasn't when I knew him," he corrected, "and I don't think he has any date obsession as such. The interval between the killings is probably what he estimated as sensible for the research and preparations he needed to do, but by now he has it all down pat, he knows what he's doing. There's a McDonald's."

Mulder hadn't even consciously noticed that they were off the bridge. He blinked at the familiar arches, then collected himself and changed lanes. His stomach, long inured to thinking of lukewarm burgers and limp fries as proper food, sat up and began to take notice. There was no car ahead of them in the drive-through lane and for a moment he wondered if it was closed; then he realized it probably had more to do with the hour. They had to wait for their orders, and the sleepy-looking girl in the window finally handed them their bags with the air of someone who wasn't going to do them that kind of favor again.

Used to driving with one hand and eating with the other, Mulder found it was a lot more complicated when you had a sprained wrist and were trying to follow the directions of a man speaking around a mouthful of french fries. FBI agents were expected to avoid walking around covered in Big Mac sauce, that kind of thing gave the Bureau a bad name. By the time they arrived at Blaine Hibbert's house, he'd managed to finish his fries, but his burger was a disgusting mess he wasn't even going to try to touch again. He looked at his own sticky fingers in disgust, and Krycek handed him a napkin. Mulder frowned, and was met with that closed-off, polite look again.

"Let's go in," he said roughly, remembering just what it felt like to want to slap Krycek into the middle of next week. Amazing that someone could be so sarcastic without saying a word. He got out of the car and refrained from slamming the door. Overreacting, he was overreacting again and he had to keep his mind on the case. Had to. Krycek's suggestion that Flagstad might pick up speed clashed with his own belief that it was the certain pace of ritual that mattered. Flagstad wasn't a thrill killer, looking for more more more, but he knew he was being hunted, had even acknowledged it by sending the feather, whatever the hell that meant. And Krycek had worked with Flagstad, known him — but that was in the past, and Krycek wasn't a profiler. The threads were pulling in different directions, and Mulder could feel his web of speculation begin to come apart.

Krycek got out too and stood on the sidewalk stretching in the sun, like a cat. He'd shrugged his leather jacket on again, and held his half-finished strawberry shake tilted at a casual angle. Mulder opened his mouth to say something, and shut it again. Krycek wasn't his partner. Krycek had abandoned Mulder and the FBI years ago. He wasn't required to adhere to Bureau standards of behavior.

"Blaine won't be happy to see me," Krycek said, sounding rather pleased about it. He walked up to the house and rang the doorbell: two short signals and one longer. They waited. Krycek finished his milkshake — he was the only person Mulder had ever come across who could get the last drops out of the cup silently. Nothing happened. Krycek rang the doorbell again, with more force. "He wouldn't have gone out, not when he was expecting you."

Mulder tried the door. It was unlocked, which didn't agree with anything he knew about Blaine Hibbert. He drew his gun, stepped to one side and softly pushed the door open.

The long hallway inside was dark and empty. Mulder went inside; Krycek was a shadow at his back. To the right was the kitchen, small and cluttered, the sink overflowing with dirty dishes. He continued along the hallway. "Mr. Hibbert?" The house sounded empty; his words fell into a hollow silence. "Blaine?" There was daylight at the far end of the passage, where it led into a larger room. Mulder picked up his pace and came out into what had to be Blaine Hibbert's work room.

It bore a strong resemblance to Carlos Gutierrez' ground-floor den, but was even more untidy. Papers and books littered the floor; the wind that came in through the door that opened onto the back yard turned page after page. The computer sitting on the desk in front of the windows hummed to itself. And Blaine Hibbert was slumped face down over the other half of the desk, blood wetting his lanky blond hair, smearing the notebook he'd been writing in, dripping down to soak into the blue carpet.

Papers crumpled under his feet as Mulder walked over to the desk and bent to get a closer look. Any hope that Hibbert was still alive vanished as he saw the exit wound the bullet had made, turning most of the man's forehead into a crater of blood, brain tissue and bone splinters. Mulder closed his eyes for a moment, pointlessly. The image was already fixed in his mind, taking its place with others, other faces staring at him in sightless reproach.

What he could make out of the writing on the spiral pad that was half visible under Hibbert's shoulder looked like a letter to his mother in Seattle, making no mention of anything more interesting than weather conditions and what Hibbert had had for dinner last night. The fliers and printouts that littered the floor seemed to have nothing in common; Mulder didn't know if that was where Hibbert normally kept them, or if Flagstad had created most of the disorder. But he was willing to bet that the address list was no longer in this room.

Krycek had disappeared out the open back door. Mulder followed and found himself in a small, sunny, badly-kept back yard. Two folded white plastic chairs leaned against the fence to the right, and the rolled-up hose next to them did not appear to have been used for several months, to judge both by how dirty it was, and how dry the ground was. An attempt to lay a stone path across what was intended to be a grass lawn had petered out after a yard and a half. Krycek was standing by the back fence, putting his gun away; Mulder decided to ignore that for the time being. He walked over to see what Krycek was looking at.

"He went out here," Krycek said, nodding at some crushed orange poppies, and then pointing out a narrow smear of blood on the peeling white paint of the fence. "We didn't miss him by much — I think he probably saw us through the kitchen window and ran back this way. He wouldn't have been so careless if he hadn't been in a hurry." Then he turned around to face Mulder. "Blaine's dead?"

"Yes." Mulder blinked and Blaine Hibbert's face appeared and disappeared on the inside of his eyelids. His jaw muscles tightened. "I should have told him to leave the house." He had completely misjudged Flagstad's priorities. To the sharp taste of guilt in his mouth was added another, no less bitter: that of uncertainty. The complex weave of fact and intuition that held his profile together was coming undone. "I made the wrong decision."

He had turned away, to face the house again. Behind that door, behind those windows, Blaine Hibbert lay dead. Mulder had found him annoying to the point of exasperation in life; now all he could think about was the terror that Flagstad's sudden appearance must have caused. Why hadn't he told Hibbert to leave? He had allowed the man to stay here, a sitting duck, completely incapable of defending himself against a psychotic professional killer.

"It happens, Mulder." There was nothing soft or commiserating in Krycek's voice. "It even happens to you. Being brilliant is not the same thing as being infallible, no matter how many miracles you've been required to perform for the FBI."

"Next you'll be telling me I'm allowed to make mistakes," Mulder snarled. "I'm sure Blaine Hibbert would love to hear that."

Krycek's hand clamped around his upper arm in a hard grip. "Don't go on a fucking guilt trip now, Mulder. Allowed to make mistakes? You're not trying to learn to play the piano."

"So what the hell are you saying?" Mulder tried to jerk his arm free of Krycek's grip and meet the man's eyes at the same time. He could feel rage building along his spine, up the back of his neck. "It is my fault, but I'm not supposed to feel guilty over it?"

"You can feel as guilty as you like in your spare time, Mulder, but you're in the middle of an investigation. Are you going to take time off to suffer? Or drop it all and let Yun take over?" Krycek's voice was relentlessly hard. "You made a mistake. Live with it, and decide what you're going to do next."

"Says who?" Mulder hissed. He couldn't believe Krycek was trying to give him some warped kind of psych counseling not ten yards away from where a man lay dead because of their mistakes — because of Mulder's mistakes. "An amoral killer who wouldn't know guilt if it kicked sand in his face. Your ideas of acceptable human behavior don't exactly match the rest of the world's."

"And you're normal?" Krycek jerked his arm, shook him, and he thought he heard his bones rattle. "Mulder, you screwed-up idiot, if you were half as sane as you think you are you wouldn't—" Abruptly, Krycek let go of him and stepped back.

Mulder looked at him through narrowed eyes. "I wouldn't what?" Krycek turned his head to one side. Mulder tensed, ready to lash out with words or fists. This wasn't Leyden Creek, and all previous agreements were null and void. "I wouldn't what?"

Two quick steps and Krycek was pressed against him, chest to chest, thigh to thigh. A hand caught his face, thumb rubbing across the stubble on his chin. "You wouldn't want me." The last word was spoken against his lips, just before the kiss burned into him, a perfect strike that took out all higher thought functions at once. It rocked him, pressure of lips and tongue obliterating sanity and self. When it was over, all he could do for a long moment was suck in air. His fury had dissipated, but not the slow darkness that fueled it.

"Damn you," the words were barely vocalized, a whisper of sadness, not anger. Mulder tightened his grip on the warm living body in his arms. Let go and he disappears. Blaine Hibbert had been killed. His profile was completely screwed up. Flagstad was too far ahead of him, and at the same time so tantalizingly close. His ability to concentrate had been shattered the moment he had seen Alex Krycek's face in that composite sketch. His ability to even think had vanished with the first touch. "Damn you, Alex." Let go and he disappears. Let go and—

Mulder dropped his arms and stepped back, wrenching himself free with more force than was necessary from the light touch on his jaw. He turned around and walked back into the house, fishing out his cell phone. The first call, to Martin Yun, was brief and to the point; when Yun started to swear at him for once again being just behind the killer, Mulder simply hung up. Then he took a deep breath and made the second call.


"Scully, it's me. Are you done with the autopsies yet?"

"No, Mulder, I'm not." The sharpness in her voice was affectionate; she was in a good mood. That would change once she got his news. "But so far I've seen nothing that indicates that the killer has changed any part of his MO. The wounds are virtually identical to those of the other victims, and I haven't found any significant trace evidence — nothing that can't be accounted for by the difference in location." He heard the snap of her latex gloves. "How are you? Has Dr. White had a chance to take a good look at you yet?"

"I'm not in the hospital, Scully." He heard her draw breath to speak and continued quickly, "Blaine Hibbert called and said Flagstad had contacted him about the addresses of the members of the abductee network that he runs — ran."

"Ran?" There was another latex snap. "Is Hibbert dead?"

"Flagstad killed him just before we got here. I haven't gone through all of Hibbert's papers yet, but I'm pretty sure Flagstad has those addresses now."

"If Hibbert knew that Flagstad was coming, why didn't he get out of the house?" Scully asked.

"Because I didn't tell him to," Mulder said blackly. "I didn't think Flagstad would go after what he wanted so fast." He turned to look at the sad slumped figure of Blaine Hibbert again. "Yun's on his way here. Do you want to come out too, or finish up what you're doing?" Krycek walked through his field of vision, crossing the room to one of the bookshelves and pulling something out. "You can probably catch a ride with Martin Yun if you hurry."

"I'll come out," she said. Mulder turned his head forty-five degrees so he could see Krycek on his knees on the floor, flipping through the Yellow Pages. "Is Krycek with you?"

"Yeah." The impulse towards protective levity took over, made him ask, "Why, do you want to talk to him?"


He held the phone away from himself and looked at it for a moment, wishing he could see her face, then brought it back to say, "All right. Hang on." Mulder walked slowly across the room and dropped down in a crouch across from Krycek, holding the phone out to him. "Scully."

Krycek looked as surprised as Mulder felt. He accepted the phone, and straightened up, rolling his shoulders back. "Yeah?" Mulder looked upside down at the page Krycek had been scanning. Pet shops. He shook his head. No, not pet shops, but... "I'll try, but — yes, all right. Which pocket does he keep the handcuffs in?" Mulder wondered whether he should react to that or not. He flipped the pages over with more force. "Thank you, Agent Scully."

Reaching out to get the phone back, Mulder decided he would wait for Krycek to tell him what that had been all about, but he couldn't interpret the look on Krycek's face. It irritated him. "You're wrong about the pet shops," he said.

"I thought it might be a place to start." Krycek was still holding the phone, and Mulder let his hand drop, feeling even more irritated. "I don't know where to look for someone who raises pigeons. There's probably a national organization, a pet store owner might—"

"Maybe he just buys the feathers at a party supply store," Mulder said, despite knowing that it wasn't true. "Retail. In a little plastic bag. Nice and clean." He got to his feet; so did Krycek. He took a couple of steps towards the desk; Krycek followed him. "Let me guess. Scully asked you to make sure I stay here until she arrives." Krycek nodded calmly.

Mulder turned away from that calm. He looked at Blaine Hibbert at the desk again. The whole room smelled of blood, and he'd barely noticed. Men looked so strange once they were dead; sad, unreal, twisted shapes. Perhaps it only seemed that way when you saw too many of them. He knew, theoretically, that the mind protected itself, reducing the dead body to an object; but that seemed a simplification of what was going on inside him.

He made himself think about it. This was Blaine Hibbert, and Mulder knew next to nothing about him; their lives had intersected for less than twenty-four hours, they had spoken to each other for less than forty minutes total, and now Mulder stood next to Hibbert's dead body, with the right to go through every detail of Hibbert's existence should he find it necessary. The progression of intimacy had been appallingly quick.

Once he had asked Krycek if the man knew how many he had killed over the years, and the answer had been no. Mulder didn't know if that was the truth or not. But he did know that he carried his own dead with him. The ones he had killed, for whatever reason. The ones who had died around him as he fought for the truth. And the ones who had died because of him, because he had not been able to protect them. It was easy for Krycek to tell him not to feel guilt — the man had no conscience, couldn't possibly have. Could not understand these things.

Mulder knew that he had to carry them with him. Every single one of them. If he didn't, he would forget what he was doing. If he didn't, he would have to deny what he was. It was all too easy to grow accustomed to that ultimate degree of violence, to distance oneself from death. But he would not do it. He refused even to put on his seat belt every time he was racing into another head-on collision with grim reality.

"Johnny's father raised carrier pigeons," Krycek said, dragging him out of his reverie.

Mulder touched the mouse and the screen saver's repetitive message vanished to be replaced by a familiar Netscape window: the MUFON page. He hesitated for a few moments, then checked the bookmarks and picked a search engine. "Then the dove feathers may have no significance beyond the strictly personal." The words tasted like bitter almonds on his tongue. "And we might be better off trying to follow Flagstad's physical trail rather than attempting to predict his next move."

It didn't surprise him to find that there was a national association for pigeon breeders; he would have been more surprised if there hadn't been one, or if they hadn't had a home page. Even the hardware store two blocks down from his apartment building had a home page. In fact, he thought darkly, it might be a good idea to look for Flagstad's home page. Hi and welcome to my little corner of cyberspace! My name is John Flagstad, and I work as a contract killer. Click here if you want to see my rates for murder and mayhem...

"Marin." Krycek was leaning over his shoulder, pointing at the screen's list of pigeon breeders. "It's the nearest place, and I doubt subterfuge was on his mind, much." There was a short pause, as Mulder tried to ignore the heat he could feel radiating from Krycek's body, the enforced intimacy of their positions. He could not straighten up now without bumping into the other man. "Mulder." He kept his eyes fixed on the screen. "I'm sorry."

"For what?" he asked harshly. "For trying to sell me on your personal just-forget-about-it philosophy? For conspiring with Scully behind my back? For trying to count my fillings with your tongue just now? For killing my father?" Mulder twisted his neck uncomfortably to look straight at Krycek. "Or are you sorry for me for being such an idiot that I can't even profile your old partner?"

Krycek was frowning; the odd little crease over the bridge of his nose was a welcome change from the smooth unreadable face he had presented so far. He met Mulder's gaze without hesitation, leaned closer. Tension sang between them. Then he straightened up and turned away. Mulder turned around too, and found himself looking at the back of Krycek's neck again. He waited.

When Krycek began to speak his voice was slow and serious, measured, as if he were reading from a script inside his head. "It was a new, experimental technology. Implants that could be used to control the bearer's behavior, that was the idea. Frankie Lewis volunteered to try them out, she'd helped design the chip, she and her husband, Dario Grazzini. Worked great at first, but then they didn't like the orders they were getting, and they weren't given a chance to take the implants out again."

"Where did they develop this? Whose orders?" Mulder stared harder at the back of Krycek's head, trying to bore his way inside. He had thought at first that Krycek was taking off on a completely unrelated tangent. But the word 'implants' had made him realize that that was not what was going on.

"Frankie and Dario somehow managed to break the control the implants had over them. They ran, and now they're walking around free with some very expensive high-tech equipment in their heads. And that's not popular with those who paid for it in the first place."

"And who did pay for it?" Questions were lining up in his throat, almost choking him with their desire to be asked. "You mean — the consortium. The smoking man. Is this—" He wanted to ask if this was linked to the alien experiments, but he wasn't sure even now how much Krycek knew, and how much he accepted of what he knew. In Leyden Creek, he had been remarkably resistant to that kind of suggestion.

Krycek shrugged. "Johnny was sent to track them down. Nobody knew he was on his own little head trip until it was too late. He'd been in and out of mental hospitals over the past year, but no one thought to check." The tone of voice left no doubt of what Krycek thought of such amateur behavior.

Closing his eyes for a moment, Mulder thought it over. It almost made sense. Almost. "So all the people Flagstad has killed so far are Lewis and Grazzini, in his mind," he said quietly, speaking mostly to himself. "Then when he finds that they are innocent, untainted, he leaves them as a message and a warning." But the words didn't ring completely true to him. It was obvious that Lewis and Grazzini were the key to the mystery, but he couldn't quite fit it together.

Krycek was walking across the room; he stopped by the bookcase, turned around and started to walk back again. "You can figure this out, Mulder, I know you can."

"You know I can? You know I can do the hard work for you?" The anger came back out of nowhere, swept throught his mind, picked up some of the puzzle pieces and put them into place. "You're looking for your old friend Flagstad. You couldn't find him and now you want me to find him for you." He spat the words out. "Was that why you saved my life? Sorry I'm not doing a better job of it so far."

Stopping in the middle of the room, Krycek looked at him from under lowered black eyebrows. "Yeah, I want you to find him. Damn it, Mulder, he's out there killing people, punching holes in their faces, cutting their throats! Doesn't that mean something to you? Johnny's turned into a classic serial killer, and he has to be stopped. You can't drop this just to spite me."

"I'm not going to clap my hands and do the happy dance either," Mulder grated out. "If you want to pull my strings you'd better try to be a bit more subtle about it." He turned around and stared blindly at the computer screen again, trying to get his breathing to slow down. He wanted to hit something, someone. There was no room for cool logic or deductive reasoning in his mind; he shoved them aside, as the blood pounded in his ears.

Damn Alex Krycek. Damn him.

There was movement behind him, but he refused to acknowledge it until a hand touched his shoulder; then he shrugged it off angrily. It did not return, but neither did Krycek move away. "We don't have to fight." Low and serious, Krycek's voice nevertheless made him think of phone sex, that throaty, sultry, promising note reaching places inside him he tried in vain to keep barricaded. "I'm trying to help you, Mulder. I'm trying to help you stay alive and I'm trying to help you catch Johnny. Why do you have such a problem with that?"

He wasn't going to turn around. He wasn't. Paper crumpled between his fingers as he clenched his hands on whatever was at the top of the mess on Blaine Hibbert's desk. "What I have a problem with is being manipulated. What is it you want, Krycek?"

"I want us to find Johnny. That's all."

"We may have the same agenda for the moment, but you can't pretend we have the same goal. There is no us."

"No?" The voice was suddenly a lot closer. He could feel Krycek's breath against the back of his neck. Mulder tensed his shoulders. The heartbeats that echoed through him sped up. But he didn't expect the gentle sadness of the next words. "Maybe not to you, Mulder. Maybe not to you."

Something inside him snapped, or was released. Dropping the papers he held, he found himself relaxing, shifting backwards just enough that their bodies barely touched. "Why the focus on alien abductions?" he asked the air, keeping his mind on the case, if barely. "Is that just Flagstad's personal obsession? You said it was an issue for him. If Lewis and Grazzini developed this technology in some consortium-owned lab—"

"Not exactly," Krycek told him, wrapping his arm around Mulder's waist and pulling him closer. "I understand it was something of a joint effort." Mulder shook his head, in disbelief more than denial. Warmth shot through him. "And Frankie and Dario were starting to wonder just who was calling the shots, just where they were getting their orders." The words were spoken against the nape of his neck now. "Imagine waking up in the morning and not knowing if you woke up by yourself or through someone else's orders. Imagine hesitating in front of the fridge wondering if that sudden craving for milk and cereal is your own or not. That's what they're doing now. They ran, but they don't know if they're free."

Mulder shivered, and dropped his eyes. He saw the desk, the crumpled papers, and then he saw Blaine Hibbert's ruined face. The next shiver was very different from the first. Putting his own hand on Krycek's, he pulled the arm away and stepped sideways, out of his trapped position between Krycek and the desk. He went out through the back door again and tilted his face towards the clean sunlight, willing it to burn out the darkness and confusion in his mind. There was too much going on. Too much. He had to find Flagstad, had to stop Flagstad, before the man killed Lewis and Grazzini. And if he could find them...

He passed a hand over his face and rubbed at his temples. He still had a headache; nothing like yesterday's, but grating and persistent in its own small way. And his throat and the inside of his nose felt scraped and raw. It was very annoying. He wanted to be able to overlook personal discomforts, to concentrate on what was important, but there was too much that might be important. The single-minded focus he wanted to achieve eluded him.

There was no sound to warn him, but when he turned his head he saw, as he had known he would, Krycek standing next to him, eyes narrowed against the bright light. The sunshine picked out a few unexpected reddish highlights in his dark hair. "Who are you working for now?" Mulder asked. Krycek looked startled. "Last time I saw you, your former employer was trying to get you killed. Who are you working for now?"

"Myself," Krycek said with a tight smile. Then he shrugged and amended that to, "Mostly myself." The smile turned into a rueful grin. "I suppose I'm really working for you, now."

Mulder stared at the other man in disbelief. "And what happens when we find Flagstad?"

"Do I look like an oracle to you?" Krycek shrugged, flung his arm out with as much eloquence as he could muster. "As long as he's stopped, I don't particularly care how. Mulder, I know you see plots and conspiracies everywhere, and it's a good thing, it's kept you alive so far, but I don't have a hidden agenda here." The sunlight shot Krycek's eyes through with lucent green. "To coin a phrase, what you see is what you get. If you want it."

When he breathed deep, the scent here was the same as the one that had so delighted him when he'd stepped off the plane, the eucalyptus tang in the air, and the dusty sunny quality that could not be pinned down and named, but was uniquely of this place. Even knowing that the room on the other side of the wood chip-covered wall stank of blood could not entirely choke out his spontaneous need not only to breathe this air but to enjoy it. The small pleasure was controllable, a check against what rose up in him, wild and wordless and struggling, at Krycek's words.

What he finally said was, "I need to think." It could have meant any number of things, and it was certainly true, however it was interpreted. Krycek nodded, serious but somehow with a hint of a smile somewhere, and went across the yard to the spot where Flagstad had disappeared. After a few moments he vaulted easily, silently over the fence.

Mulder folded himself up to sit on the ground — hard-packed dirt, drying and cracked, barely enough to support the shrubs and the grass and the irrepressible California poppies. He leaned back against one of the plastic chairs and tried to relax his shoulders, his thoughts. Eventually he unfocused himself and waited to see what would float up to the top of his mind. Feathers, a soft rain of white feathers.

Lewis and Grazzini had chosen the right place to hide out, if they were as paranoid as Krycek had said, as close to flipping out completely as Krycek had hinted. No one in that particular community would think them strange for what they were doing. Mulder wondered if he could find them before Flagstad did. They wouldn't be inclined to trust him either, of course, but if they did, oh, if they did... his mind, as it sometimes did without warning, unrolled a perfect fantasy for him, of solid evidence at last and lab reports stamped with FBI seals and Senate hearings and Washington Post headlines, CNN interviews, shadow governments dragged into the light screaming and kicking, burned to ashes like vampires in a horror flick.

Then he had to laugh a little, painfully, bitterly.

First he had to find Flagstad. He had miscalculated once already, and Blaine Hibbert had paid the price for that miscalculation. Mulder broke off a dry grass stalk and twisted it around his fingers, watching the way it folded into crisp segments, large and small. He knew more now. More about how Flagstad's rigid mindset had produced a need for magical thinking and behavior, more about what Flagstad thought his acts would accomplish.

And he was becoming very certain that he did not want to run the risk that Flagstad might find Lewis and Grazzini before he did. Flagstad did not consider what he had done to the victims so far to be torture, only a necessary procedure; he had done everything he could to make it possible for his victims to rise again, innocent and reborn. And Mulder thought he could imagine what Flagstad would do to the ones who were, in his mind, tainted. The ones who had dared to run to his city and pollute it with their presence.

How many more victims? The pattern was becoming clear. It all depended on whether Flagstad intended Lewis and Grazzini to be the last couple, or not. Mulder thought he might. The new uncertainty he felt made him reluctant to say, even in the privacy of his own mind, that it was so — but he would have to say it out loud soon enough. He had to recapture that elusive feeling of understanding.

A distant thud had to be the front door to the house thrown open. Mulder stayed where he was, barely half his attention on monitoring the newcomers' progress through the house by footsteps and curses. It was Scully who first came out the back door and caught sight of him. "Mulder!" She walked over to him and crouched down quickly, and he looked up and smiled to ward off the question he knew would follow. "Are you all right?" she said anyway, because he was sitting on the ground staring at nothing when he should have been in the hospital resting like a good boy. "Where's Krycek?"

"He's around here somewhere." Mulder gestured vaguely.

"The autopsies showed nothing new," Scully said as she straightened up again and offered him a hand up that he didn't take. She raised an eyebrow at him as he got to his feet on his own. "It seems clear that he's using a blunt, slightly rusty metal implement on their faces — we found another small metal fragment in one of the wounds where it had grated against bone. I've sent it to be analysed, but since we know who we're looking for, I don't think tracing an object, whatever it is, that he's probably owned for years is going to help us find him."

Mulder nodded his agreement while he brushed dirt and grass from the seat of his pants. "Scully, I've got some more information, Krycek told me some things that—" He broke off as Martin Yun came out to join them. "Don't say it, Martin. I'm not any happier about being two steps behind this killer than you are, and you know it."

The scowl on Yun's face surpassed all his previous efforts. "Who was that kid?" He jerked his head towards the house. "Is the killer changing his MO now?"

"No." Mulder felt himself tense up; it was showtime. Again. "That's Blaine Hibbert, who ran a network for abductees. I interviewed him last night. He's the one who gave us Flagstad's name. This murder isn't part of the cycle, it was simple expediency. Flagstad wanted something and Hibbert had it."

"Yeah? What did he want?"

"An address list for the group."

"Shit." Yun cursed softly. He seemed to have lost his inhibitions around Scully, Mulder noticed with a certain amusement. "Where's that Vegas bandit of yours? I thought you were keeping him on a short leash."

Let go and he disappears... Mulder shook his head. "He's here somewhere, don't worry about it. Scully, did you take a look at the body? It looks straightforward enough. I think Hibbert was forced down in the chair with the gun to his head, and then Flagstad just pulled the trigger."

"Probably." She led the way back inside the house, tossing comments over her shoulder. "The splatter pattern indicates that he had his head turned towards the left; we've already established that Flagstad is right-handed. I doubt he left anything behind here either in the way of trace evidence, but..."

"Some of the blood got on him," Mulder said, "but he's probably washed it off by now. There's a smear on the fence at the back that might hold a fingerprint."

"I doubt we can ID him that way," Yun grouched.

"He might be on record under another name," Scully said, displacing a man who looked rather put out at it and bending close to inspect the entrance wound at the back of Hibbert's head. She was using what Mulder thought of as her teacher voice, the one that had made students at Quantico tremble. "Not necessarily his real name, but if we find an alternate identity for him, we might find another way to trace him." She straightened up again and looked at the computer screen. "Pigeons? Was Hibbert—?"

"No," Mulder stepped forward next to her. "We were doing a bit of research." The look she turned on him would have made the students at Quantico duck and run. "I didn't mess anything up, Scully. And I think we found the place where Flagstad gets his feathers."

She nodded, returning her attention to the information displayed on the screen. After a moment she said, "And I suppose you want to go there straight away."

"I'd like you to go there, Scully. It's not far, you can be up there in less than an hour — if the traffic isn't too bad," he amended. "Take Krycek with you, you seem to be getting along so well with him." Mulder dug into his pocket for the car keys. "Just let me get my cell phone back from him first."

Scully looked at him suspiciously, refusing to be sidetracked. "And what are you going to do, Mulder?"

"Sit down and think," he said. "I need to work with what we've got so far. I have a feeling I'm missing something, something that's right there in front of me." He'd dropped his voice to an intense whisper, unwilling to give Yun even this much. The need for silence and solitude burned in him.

"All right." On some issues she was willing to cooperate with his hunches, his instincts — the profiling of serial killers was one of them. Perhaps it was because she could not deny that whatever it was he did, it worked.

They had to move, as the team working the site started to snap photographs of the room. Moving back towards the hallway, Mulder looked over Yun's shoulder and saw the front door open. Krycek came inside and walked right up to them, flushed and a little breathless from running. "He had a car parked two blocks down," he said without preamble. "I found another blood smear on a lamp post, and a woman who saw a tall brown-haired man carrying a bundle of papers." He handed a note to Martin Yun, perfectly serious. "Ms. Emerson, at—"

"Mulder, get this goddamn Hardy boy away from me," Yun requested. Mulder couldn't really blame him; Yun wasn't used to criminals who pulled their own weight in an investigation.

Sorting themselves out was a complicated procedure that went far too slowly for Yun's taste, that much was clear. Mulder took the chance to pull Scully aside and fill her in on what Krycek had been telling him about the Consortium project and the two runaways Flagstad was presumably looking for. As he might have guessed, she was skeptical of the idea of behavior-controlling implants, but admitted that most of the information seemed to fit in with Flagstad's MO.

"Does Krycek have any idea of where these people are — if they're really hiding out in the Bay Area, if they're actually part of Hibbert's group?"

"You have all afternoon to ask him," Mulder said, feeling a little smug at the thought of Scully painstakingly trying to extract the information. "And to follow up on it if he tells you anything that looks promising." He rubbed the back of his hand against his forehead; he felt a little gritty still.

"Are you sure you're all right, Mulder?" Scully looked up at him with a mixture of concern and exasperation. "You never went to the hospital, did you."

"I'm okay. And I'll spend the rest of the day sitting down," he reminded her. She nodded grudgingly.

Eventually Scully and Krycek went out to the rental car and took off, and Mulder, phone back in his pocket where it belonged, waited for Yun to stop supervising the crime scene team, who didn't need it and tried not to show how much they resented it. Shaking his head slowly, Mulder wondered what had Yun so frazzled. It wasn't as if they hadn't made any progress on the case. They had a name, they had leads, they were going somewhere.

And three people were dead, unnecessarily, but that was Mulder's fault, not Yun's. His conclusions had come too slowly, and had been inaccurate to an almost criminal degree. He needed some time alone to think, to straighten everything out. He stood leaning in the doorway to Blaine Hibbert's house, watching the street and listening with half an ear to the fuss going on behind him, and wondered how Scully and Krycek would get along and what they'd find in Marin. Scully had looked so surprised when he'd asked her to go.

Mulder would have liked to go along himself, to see what could be discovered through that route. But he had to work on his profile. By himself. Or at least well away from Alex Krycek. Not that Krycek's input hadn't been useful.

"You ready to go, Spooky?"

It was obviously an unnecessary question, but Mulder refrained from snapping out an annoyed answer. The tension between him and Martin Yun ran high enough as it was. He just shrugged, and moved out onto the sidewalk. It was hot. He'd already taken his suit jacket off and carried it over one shoulder, hiding the gun holster. Yun's car was parked across the street, in front of a fire hydrant that Mulder had to maneuver around in order to get into the passenger seat. He really wanted something to drink, but a sideways look at Yun's tight mouth told him that it wasn't the right moment to make frivolous requests. On the other hand...

"I need a Coke," he said. "Stop down at the corner there, I'll run in and get a few things."

Surprisingly enough, the expression on Yun's face lightened. "All right." They rolled down the street slowly, pulled over again. "Get me one too. And a couple of—"

"Dove bars," Mulder filled in, getting out and fishing around for his wallet. He added a few items from the chocolate food group for himself, too; what Scully didn't see him eat wouldn't hurt him. When he got back again, something like harmony was achieved as they both headed for the bliss of a sugar high. Yun's driving grew more mellow under the influence, and Mulder felt unexpectedly relaxed. Not until they were on the bridge did he say, "I need you to stop by Union Square. I want to pick my laptop up from the hotel room, then you can find me a quiet corner somewhere."

Yun nodded. He finished his Coke and dumped the can on the floor. "So, Spooky, that guy Krycek was your partner for a while?" Mulder nodded, surprised at the question before he realized Yun was just leading into something. "I noticed you couldn't wait to send him off with Scully just now. So you didn't know all that time you were working with a goddamn cocksucker."

It was half statement, half question. Mulder leaned back in his seat and considered the other agent. He thought about, and rejected, half a dozen replies before settling on a mild, "I forgot to hand out the sexual preferences questionnaire that day."

"He was probably checking out your ass the whole time."

"That's what you used to say about the secretarial pool," Mulder said, remembering back to those days. "Of course, when it was the secretarial pool you were jealous, and when it was Michelle—"

Yun turned his head to glare. "What about Michelle?"

Mulder met that look, held it. "How are the kids, Martin?"

"Fuck." Yun slammed his hand against the steering wheel and wrenched his attention back to what he was doing. He didn't speak another word as he crossed Mission and Market and negotiated his way around Union Square. Mulder didn't say anything either. He got out of the car and walked up to the hotel. The laptop was right where he'd left it on the floor of his room, and on his way out he checked with the desk clerk that the clothes had been delivered to the hospital. Yawning, she said that yes sir, they had, and she was about to go off shift and crash. Mulder smiled and returned to the car. Yun drove on in silence. Not until they were in the underground parking garage and the engine was turned off, leaving only the heavy rattle of large fans, did Yun turn his head to look at Mulder again. "Doesn't it bother you?"

"About Michelle?" Mulder drawled, as obnoxiously as he could. "No, Martin, I can't say that it bothers me exactly."

Yun's jaw clenched. "Having that queer around. Come on, Mulder. Isn't that why you sent him off with Scully?"

"No." Mulder started to open the car door, then turned back. "You were an uptight son of a bitch when I first met you, Martin. What I don't understand is how you can still be an uptight son of a bitch after five years with Michelle Sargent. I'm here to help you with a case, not to get you past your hangups, but I can tell you this, Alex Krycek was a good agent. That was all I cared about when he was my partner. Now he's a crucial witness, and that's—"

Mulder couldn't make himself say that that was all he cared about now. He got out and slammed the door on whatever comment Yun had been about to make. It would be pointless to ask Yun to find him a place to work. Mulder went to the elevators, not surprised to find that Martin Yun stayed in the car rather than join him. There was still unfocused anger prickling between his shoulder blades — anger liberally laced with shame. Going up, he mocked himself ruthlessly for his lack of courage.

The first person he met when he came out into the corridor was Spelling, who greeted him with a scowl and a resigned, "So I hear you found us another dead body."

"Yes, sir." Mulder fell into step beside Spelling; he didn't know where the man was going, but he wasn't going to be standing by the elevators when Martin Yun came along. "This death isn't part of the pattern, though. It's a one-off — a poor guy who just happened to be in the way."

Spelling shot him a heavy look from under tufty grey eyebrows. "And can you guarantee that there won't be any more poor guys who just happen to be in the killer's way in the future, Agent Mulder?"

"I can't guarantee anything. Sir." Mulder glanced sideways and found that Spelling was looking mildly expectant rather than angry. Defused, surprised, he went on in a softer voice, "But if you give me an empty room and a few hours to myself I'll see what I can come up with."

"I hope it's something good," Spelling said, but Mulder didn't feel the same kind of pressure coming from him as from Martin Yun. Spelling had been around a lot longer, and his career didn't hang on this one case. Or maybe it was just that Spelling expected less from Mulder. There was a thought to deflate his ego. Martin Yun's faith in him might be exasperating, but it was also, in its own way, flattering.

Spelling handed him over to a junior agent who in her turn parked him in a glorified broom closet that held a desk, a tiny window and a non-functional desk light, shot him a bright smile, and vanished. Mulder looked around, put his laptop on the desk, closed the door, and sprawled into the chair. After a couple of minutes he discovered that the air conditioning wasn't working, and got up again to open the window. It creaked down a couple of reluctant inches, and let in a blast of warm city air spiced with exhaust fumes. Mulder dropped his suit jacket across the back of the chair, rolled up his shirt sleeves, loosened his tie, and sat down to work.

It was easier when you started from the beginning. Johnny Flagstad's father had been in the army once. Then he'd turned a hobby into a profession and raised carrier pigeons, swift bright-eyed messengers, racing through the skies fast as thought, fast as lightning. They always knew where they were and where they were going. The boy had stood on the ground and watched them, marvelled at the way they could find their way, while his father told him that they navigated by landmarks, by magnetic fields, by reading the stars. The boy never knew what to believe. It was hard to find your way through the stars. At night when the pale ones took him away, he was always afraid he would never come back, that he would be lost. When his father sold the birds and the family moved out to California, Flagstad made the trip with feathers clutched in one hand. His mother beat him for that.

He grew up in San Francisco and came to love this neat grid of a city almost entirely surrounded by water. But he didn't want to sail, he wanted to fly. Wanted to be a fighter pilot. He'd ruined his eyes reading under the bedcovers, all his father's books. In San Francisco, the pale ones did not touch him any more. He was protected. It was safe, and although he never stopped missing the birds, he accepted this place as his true home. The place where he belonged.

What about his mother, Mulder wondered, what had she been like, what had she said? She had been the one who beat him; his father shouldn't be bothered with minor disciplinary problems. Family life was nothing but rules of conduct, the necessity of maintaining order. And the relentless logic of it. Study hard and you will get an A, clean your room and you will get supper. There was never any doubt that consequence followed action. That was what he had been taught. When Johnny could not be a pilot after all, even though he'd worked for it, the foundations of the universe began to tremble.

Mulder stopped typing for a moment; he'd wrapped his ideas up in neat, professional language, backed them up with pieces of evidence to such an extent that at some points he honestly could not tell if he'd deduced as much from the beginning, or if he'd reasoned backwards from what Krycek had told him. It didn't matter to him right then. He could feel the truth of it now, and it was as reassuring as it was disturbing.

Getting up, he walked over to the window and looked outside. Nothing he could see hinted that the city was haunted by a madman, a killer. The houses looked the same and the people looked the same, the bustling life and energy out there were ordinary and predictable. Almost all the victims had been born outside San Francisco, in several cases out of state entirely. He wondered if Gutierrez and Penttiniemi had been a last-minute substitution for some other pair. A short fair woman, a tall dark man. The perfect romance novel couple. They should have called Flagstad the Harlequin killer.

He propped his arms against the window's edge and leaned out as far as he could. There was a ledge down there, if it turned out he was locked in here and had to escape somehow. He could get over to the fire escape, it wasn't far — ten yards, maybe—

Mulder shook his head, pulled himself back inside the small room and went to the desk. The laptop hummed expectantly at him. He sat down, flexed his fingers like a concert pianist, and went back to writing.

Several hours later, he looked at what he had accomplished, shook his head again, and sighed. It was too long. It was too complex. He was writing the story of John Alexander Flagstad's life, not profiling him. For a moment he was tempted to delete it all and start over, but common sense intervened. Mulder scrolled back to the top and started to read. Childhood, teens, failed college studies due to concentration problems, some mental imbalance. His parents had died then, or at least his mother. Leaving San Francisco, convinced that the flashes of childhood memories were nothing but nonsense. Nightmares, dark dreams of pale figures with large eyes.

There were several years unaccounted for, years when Flagstad would have drifted. Mulder thought he'd probably worked as a security guard, practiced some form of martial arts, probably competed, at least on a state level. They might find records of that, but it wasn't important except as a confirmation. Guns, too. All the trappings.

Why glasses and not contact lenses? Did he only wear the glasses when he was being 'civilian', trying to look harmless? On an impulse, Mulder scooted around in the chair and dug into the pockets of his suit jacket. He got out his own glasses, put them on and tried to see his own reflection first on the computer screen, and then in the window. With. Without. The glasses would remind Flagstad of his initial failure, his inability to achieve his real ambition; but they might also serve as a disguise of what the man thought of as his real self, the inner fighter pilot, the one who knew how to make everything come out right by following the correct procedures. Mulder turned back to his laptop, skipping ahead to the interesting bits.

When Flagstad returned to the US in the company of Luis Cardinale, he would have been a trained killer, a controlled, self-contained man whose mind had buried childhood memories of abductions so far down that they were nothing but distant nightmares, if that. His interest in controlling his surroundings would have begun to extend into a desire to control the people around him, hence the interest in hypnotism and mind control. His weaknesses would have made him a perfect subject for the consortium's manipulations, and he would have been intensely loyal.

Mulder frowned at the screen, wondering how much to put in, wondering what Scully-the-sensible would say. Then he shrugged, and went on. He could get her input later. Johnny Flagstad's successes at various missions would have brought him closer to the heart of the organization, would have involved him in more sensitive operations.

He'd have to check with Krycek, of course, but Mulder was willing to bet that Flagstad had been one of the men involved in the attempted retrieval of the DAT tape. And somewhere during that little jaunt, memories and reality would have intersected, and Flagstad's controlled facade would have begun to crack. The nightmares would have grown worse and more vivid. Flagstad had tried to deal with the problem on his own, to keep his employers from finding out about it.

Instead, he had ended up in a mental hospital, maybe several times, as Krycek had said. Obviously Flagstad had recovered enough to be at his employers' disposal eventually — only to be given this mission, that of tracking down two people who had voluntarily put the implants into their own bodies, experimenting of their own free will with Flagstad's childhood terror. And then they had fled to the city that Flagstad thought of as his, his sanctuary, his refuge, his sacred place where evil could not touch him.

Mulder stretched, rolled his shoulders and then his neck. His muscles ached, and he wanted coffee. Venturing out of his isolation cell to wander the corridors, he found not only coffee but a vending machine that provided him with a couple of greasy, plastic-wrapped, God-knew-how-old pastries. Despite the usual rush all around, a lot of which had to be attributed to the search for Flagstad, no one came to ask him how he was doing. Mulder wondered about that: it seemed like an extension of the strange way Yun and Spelling were treating him.

His position in the investigation was unusual to say the least, he had to admit that. He was here at Yun's request, and Spelling had not only agreed to but encouraged his presence. At the same time, there was no real sense of cooperation. There wasn't one investigation going on here, but two. Sipping at his coffee as he went back to his room, Mulder had to admit that that was as much his and Scully's fault as Yun's and Spelling's. Yun and Spelling might be reluctant to make full use of him, but Mulder was equally reluctant to take them completely into his confidence. Particularly now that Alex Krycek had appeared, complicating everything to the nth degree.

Mulder kicked the door shut behind him, put the coffee and pastries down on the desk and sat again, stretching his legs out. He looked sideways at the screen. It was all there. Now he needed to produce an edited version in the right language, for Spelling and Yun to play with. No. Now he needed to think about what Johnny Flagstad would do next. That was the whole point of this little exercise, wasn't it? Not to write the man's biography but to deduce his thought patterns, apply a behavioral model to his actions. Mulder felt unpleasantly conscious that he was delving a little too deeply into Flagstad, into Flagstad's life. He lifted his hands, dropped them. Once he'd stopped typing, he'd become aware of how much his sprained left wrist hurt.

The cell phone rang and he got it out, grabbing the coffee mug with the other hand. "Mulder."

"Mulder, it's me. Krycek was right, this is where Flagstad bought his feathers. He used a different name, but the description was clear enough. And Mulder — he used a credit card." There was barely suppressed excitement in Scully's voice. "I've called in the number, they're running a check now."

"If we're lucky he's used it to pay for his room," Mulder mused. He thought about pointing out that he was the one who'd found that address, not Krycek. "Or bought groceries, something stupid like that, a new shirt, whatever. If he doesn't think we have any chance of tracing that identity, there's no reason he won't have used that card for all his transactions. What name is he going by now?"

"Jack Colquitt. According to Krycek, it's a cover identity that gets passed around — hold on a minute—" He waited, straining to hear the conversation on the other end but unable to make out more than just the sound of Scully's brisk comments and Krycek's husky voice replying. Mulder got up and started to walk around the desk. He wondered if Flagstad would keep to his timetable, or if the man was feeling rattled enough by the attention the case had gotten to try to speed things up. Krycek's voice disappeared with the sound of a door closing. "Mulder, are you still there?"

"Yeah. I was just thinking, if I'm right, Flagstad doesn't care about the media, or the FBI, as such. He won't have tried to get involved in the investigation, he doesn't watch the news to see what they're saying about him. There's no stress factor of that kind, so he probably won't change his pattern because of anything we do—"

"But he does care about the FBI," Scully said. "Or he wouldn't have sent that feather."

"No, but I think that's more personal." Mulder leaned against the desk, braced himself with his left hand, and jerked upright again as pain shot through his wrist. "Considering who his employers are, Flagstad has to know who we are. It could be a taunt, an insult."

"I suppose so," Scully said reluctantly. "So you think he'll try to make his next kill on schedule, the night after tomorrow. That means we have roughly thirty-six hours to find him, or at least to identify his intended victims." She sighed, a barely audible sigh. "We've called in the credit card number, all we can do is wait for a trace." Mulder didn't feel up to sorting through who was who in those 'we's. "As to the possible victims, was anything retrieved from Blaine Hibbert's apartment that might be useful?"

"I don't know," Mulder admitted. "I'll, uh, go talk to Martin again, see if I can get anything out of him."

"Did you have a fight with him?" Scully sounded resigned.

"Scully, I'm shocked. Do you really think I'm unprofessional enough to have a fight with a colleague that I'm working with on a sensitive case? We just had a small disagreement, that's all."

He could hear her smile. "I see. We — hold on—" There was more background noise as the door opened again and she conferred briefly with Krycek. "We're coming back into the city now. We'll stop by and pick you up for," there was another short pause, "either a very late lunch or a very early dinner." She dropped her voice. "And Mulder, I want to talk to you privately later."

"All right," he said, too surprised to do anything but agree. When he'd started to think of questions, she had already hung up. It couldn't be something that was critical to the case, she would have told him that straight away — unless she thought that Krycek was involved, and was trying to keep the information from him? Then Mulder shook his head. If Scully thought Krycek were involved, Krycek would be behind bars by now.

Maybe, he speculated, it had something to do with the personal matter she had been reluctant to talk to him about earlier. But why would that suddenly be so important? She had given every sign, yesterday — had it really only been yesterday? — of wanting to drop the topic, preferably forever. He put the phone away, finished his coffee, saved the Flagstad file to a disk that went into his pocket and shut the laptop down, putting all the things under his personal, immediate control in order. Then he shrugged on his suit jacket, picked up the laptop and headed out to find Martin Yun.

As luck would have it, Yun was exactly where he should be. He sat leaning back in his chair, feet on his desk perilously close to a full mug of coffee, glaring up at the ceiling. Mulder pushed a pile of papers aside, noting as he did so that Yun had not grown any neater in the intervening years, and perched on the edge of the desk. "Martin."

Yun rolled his head and yawned in a demonstrative fashion before giving Mulder a black look. "If you've come to apologize—"

"Don't worry about that, Martin," Mulder growled. "It'll be a cold day in hell and you know it. All I want to know is how the case is going. What did the team find? Did Hibbert keep a backup of the address list on his computer? Or a hard copy that Flagstad missed?"

"If he did, we haven't found it." Yun re-crossed his legs at the ankles. "But we did find Hibbert's personal address book, with all of three addresses in it. His mother, his old scout group leader, and one Angelica Roe, who according to her helped Hibbert run his group. She's with Agent Sedley now, making a list and evaluating the group members according to your criteria for possible victims."

"Martin," Mulder smiled evilly, "I could kiss you."

"Not unless you brush your teeth first, Spooky." Yun held out a hand for his coffee mug, a low-level peace overture that Mulder responded to before he even knew he was doing it. "Thanks. We've also ID'd the victims from this morning, Louise Hofmayer and Victor Thomas Laforge."

The names Krycek had already given them. Mulder nodded, unsurprised. "And they were members of Hibbert's group?"

"Some group, anyway," Yun said. That also fit with what Krycek had said. "So what've you got? Anything?"

"Scully's found the place where Flagstad got the feathers. He used a credit card—"

"Idiot," Yun broke in, pleased. "I knew he'd screw up sooner or later. She have that fag ex-partner of yours with her?" Then he looked up and met Mulder's eyes. "So why the hell do you care so much? That guy screwed you over, screwed the whole FBI over. I could think of worse things to call him."

Mulder sighed. "Do you remember when we were in that bar in Tulsa and the waitress spilled a drink on you and you refused to give her a tip? She blew up and called you a slant-eyed yellow-skinned flat-nosed tight-fisted bastard."

Yun chuckled. "Yeah. She yelled at me for five minutes, then you yelled at her for at least fifteen, over half of which you spent quoting the Constitution, Tom Paine, and Martin Luther King. Finished up by saying that—" He broke off and looked at Mulder.

"That you were a tight-fisted bastard," Mulder said.

They looked at each other under the harsh glare of the fluorescent light; no late afternoon sunshine spilled in here, the window faced north. Yun looked tired, his tie was as crooked as Mulder's own, and there were lines around his eyes that hadn't been there seven years ago. Mulder let his eyes drop to Yun's hands. No, he wasn't wearing a wedding ring, nor was there a pale untanned circle to hint that one had been worn at some point. As he watched, the hand around the coffee mug flexed slowly, clenched, relaxed.

Mulder waited a few moments longer, then stood and stretched, grabbed the laptop and headed for the door. At least he could count on Yun to tell him if anything came up in the list Angelica Roe was putting together, no matter how things stood between them personally. Yun wanted to solve the case too badly to let a small thing like a disagreement with a fellow agent get in his way.

It wasn't until his hand was on the doorknob that Yun said something. "Spooky." Mulder stopped, but didn't turn around. "About Michelle..." For the first time since they'd met again, there was something tentative in Yun's voice, something raw and insecure and vulnerable. Mulder closed his eyes. He didn't need this; he didn't want this.

"I don't care," he said. "I hope you're happy. I don't see any reason why you shouldn't be happy."

"Yeah. No. But I'd appreciate it if you didn't tell—"

"Fuck it, Martin!" He did turn now, caught up in exasperated anger. "I told you, I don't care. I don't blackmail anyone, not even you. And I don't make judgment calls on other people's private lives." Mulder watched Yun's eyes; saw, to his amazement, that the words actually hit home. "Think about it for ten seconds," he suggested. "That might be all it takes."

He opened the door and went outside, walking rapidly down the corridor. The physical reactions to anger were there, heartbeat and breathing quickened, but not too much. He was used to frustration. Mulder pulled his cell phone out and willed Scully to tell him that she was waiting outside now. Food would be a good idea, and getting out of here would also be a good idea. He thought he had already gotten all the "Spooky Mulder? You've come to look at our homegrown San Francisco aliens?" comments he was going to get, the first time he'd been up here, but he wasn't in a mood to test his luck.

Nor did he particularly want to talk to Spelling again, so when he saw the SAC approaching he dodged back into his assigned little cubicle, only to realize he'd gotten himself trapped. This was, Mulder thought to himself, the moment when he stripped to his SuperAgent tights and tried out that ledge escape he'd been planning before.

But Spelling, when he entered, was in a quiet, contemplative, friendly mood. "I understand your partner made some useful discoveries today. Between that credit card number, and the work Agent Sedley is putting in on tracing the other members of Hibbert's, ah, abductee network," give the man some credit, only one eyebrow twitch, "I believe we have a good chance of finding the killer. Yes." Spelling nodded to himself. He peered at Mulder from under his bushy eyebrows. "Yun told me you'd been in the hospital again — with that head injury from the day before yesterday? You should probably get some rest."

"I'm fine, sir," Mulder said instantly. "It was just a check-up."

"You've been working on the profile? Can you think of any other angle we should try?"

Looking past Spelling into the misty landscape of conjecture where Johnny Flagstad currently lived, Mulder said, "I believe Flagstad took his name from his mother's side of the family. If you can find out whether anyone by that name who's lived in San Francisco had a relative called John Alexander — I realize it's a long shot, but—"

Spelling was already nodding. "I'll put someone on that, or do you want to— No. You go get something to eat." The SAC actually smiled at him. "We'll call you or Agent Scully if there are any developments."

His phone chose that moment to ring, and he answered it gratefully. "Mulder."

"Are you ready to go?"

"I'll be down in a minute." He turned back to Spelling. "My partner's waiting for me, sir." Spelling walked with him out into the corridor and towards the elevators. Mulder started to get the uncomfortable feeling that he was being herded. He thought about digging his heels in just for the hell of it, but he was hungry and he wasn't sure what he might be able to accomplish by staying, beyond annoying Spelling, that was. The SAC stayed by his side until he stepped into the elevator; the last thing Mulder saw before the doors closed was Spelling's benevolent smile.

Maybe, he reflected to himself during the ride down from the thirteenth floor, he was just additionally paranoid from having worked under Skinner for so long. The idea of Skinner smiling at him and telling him to go eat dinner left him chuckling as he got out.

Scully was waiting right outside the doors. It seemed that she and Krycek had also stopped by the hotel at some point; she was wearing fresh clothes, and she'd done something to her hair. But Mulder also saw the dark circles under her eyes; she hadn't gotten much sleep during the past night. Maybe they could make this an early night, unless something turned up. Remembering his thoughts on first coming to San Francisco, that Scully could spend most of her time resting and shopping, Mulder had to shake his head. She raised one eyebrow at him, but he just shook his head again and went with her to the car.

Krycek occupied the passenger seat, so Mulder climbed in the back, feeling rather put out. He put the laptop down on the floor and leaned forward between the seats. "Where are we going?"

"Gabriel Reeves recommended a place in North Beach," Scully said, consulting a note and then putting it back in her pocket.

"You mean real food?" Mulder smiled at her in the rearview mirror. His stomach gave a discreet growl around the remnants of the vending machine danishes. He subsided into his seat as they took off, and listened to Scully and Krycek argue politely about the best route to where they were going. They must have been doing this a lot during the afternoon, otherwise they wouldn't have sounded so comfortable about it. "When did you talk to Reeves about restaurants?" he interjected into a pause in the discussion.

"He called me to ask why the APB on Krycek had been cancelled. Seems Yun never told him." Scully was leaning forward as she spoke, reading street signs. She flicked a quick sideways glance at Krycek. "I think we may have ruined your reputation in your favorite bar forever."

Krycek shrugged, but didn't say anything. The conversation died out, and by the time Scully had found the restaurant and a nearby parking spot, the silence between the three of them had grown curiously tense. Mulder decided to ignore it. He wanted food. He wanted to sit down and forget about John Flagstad for a while. They went inside and were shown to a table. Looking around at the clichéd Italian restaurant interior, Mulder wondered about Reeves's taste. At least the red and white table cloth was clean, and there wasn't too much accumulated dust on the Chianti bottles or the picture frames.

Before the waiter could leave, Mulder ordered garlic bread and beer; then he looked at Scully and requested mineral water as well. The waiter suggested wine. Mulder repeated his order for beer. A softly chuckling Krycek placated everyone involved by mentioning Anchor Steam. Settling back into his chair, Mulder shook his head. "I hate places where the waiters tell you what to order."

"There's a Burger King three blocks down," Scully informed him coldly. "You can just start walking—"

"I don't want to go to Burger King. I just want to gripe and grouse for a while." Mulder made a face. "Scully, I just spent five hours trying to get inside Flagstad's head, and I feel like my brain needs a shower. I'm not in a mood to be ordered around by waiters."

She looked at him for a while, and the chill was replaced by simple thoughtfulness. "Maybe you should have a double order of garlic bread," she said finally.

"I don't know about that, but I'm pretty sure I'll have another beer."

There was only one menu, and it was in Italian. Before Mulder could start to complain about that, though, Krycek took it away from him and started to translate. When the waiter returned with the beer, water and garlic bread, he looked surprised but not displeased to find them ready to order. Mulder pounced on the garlic bread as soon as he could; he probably would have wolfed it down regardless of how it tasted, but had to admit that it was really good.

Scully watched him and smiled. "It's good to see that you have your appetite back," she said. "You wouldn't even touch food yesterday."

"Have some too," he said, pushing the plate at her. "You'll regret it if you don't, we'll be breathing garlic in your face for hours. This way you can get even."

By the time the bread was gone, Mulder and Krycek had both finished their beers as well. Mulder was feeling less grouchy, and the arrival of his second beer and a large plate of tagliatelle verde con vongole did much to improve his view of the world in general and this restaurant in particular.

Scully eyed her plate suspiciously. "You didn't tell me that it was a cream sauce." Krycek just grinned at her, and eventually she accepted that it wouldn't kill her, and started eating.

They didn't talk much during the meal. Mulder didn't want to deal with the by now oddly familiar conflict of having to decide how much to tell Krycek about the case. Admittedly Krycek was already in the middle of the case, and knew as much as anyone else about it, but Mulder was well aware that it definitely wasn't standard operating procedure to sit in a restaurant with a known felon — that phrase again — and discuss an ongoing murder investigation with him.

And never mind that they'd done it before. That time, the circumstances had been different; the ghosts of Krycek's parents were laid to rest now. This case wasn't as rawly personal, Krycek didn't have that wounded look any more. Still, Mulder doubted that the effects of a childhood like that would have been undone by whatever peace Krycek had found in Leyden Creek. If there was one thing he knew, it was that things weren't that easy.

He concentrated on his food. Scully and Krycek didn't seem to feel any impulse towards small talk either. The waiter brought them more beer without being asked, but Mulder couldn't bring himself to complain about it. He wanted more beer, and more food, and some quiet time away from Yun and Spelling. In fact, he was toying with the idea of getting drunk, but knew he wouldn't. He hadn't gone beyond taking the edges off his sobriety for years. The usual reason he gave himself was that you never knew when weirdness would strike, in his line of work, and he wanted to be in control of his own actions when it did. Or as much in control as the weirdness in question would let him be.

Eventually he sat back in his chair, replete, almost completely content, and looked at the two others. Krycek was winding spaghetti strands around his fork with neat turns of the wrist, his face expressing nothing beyond mild pleasure. Scully had given up on the cream sauce, but she'd finished most of it. Now she looked back at Mulder, a message in her eyes. She wanted to talk to him. Fine. What were they supposed to do, cuff Krycek to the table and go for a walk? He smiled back at her with unhelpful friendliness.

It was Krycek who broke the silence, putting his fork down with a deliberate clatter and leaning forward to get their attention. "So what are you going to do with me now?" he asked.

"What do you mean?" Scully sounded as though that very question hadn't been at the top of her mind just moments ago. "Technically, your status is unorthodox at the moment, but if you think we'll let you disappear before this investigation is over, you're wrong. I wouldn't hesitate to lock you in a cell myself if I thought that was the best way to keep you here."

"No, I don't think you'll let me disappear." Krycek was wearily amused. "So what are you going to do with me? Let me go back to my apartment overnight?" Then one of his eyebrows twitched. "That's probably not a good idea, unless you want to get rid of me permanently. Any other suggestions?"

Mulder leaned back in his chair. He ignored the glass and sat drinking Anchor Steam out of the bottle, watching the two of them. They were both so collected, so cool and aware of what they did and said. The verbal sparring between them sounded like a game to Krycek, an interesting intellectual exercise to Scully. With the taste of beer in his mouth, he could almost hear a sports commentator trying to pick out the finer points for him.

"Perhaps the best thing to do would be to put you in a cell overnight," Scully suggested.

"And find me dead in the morning?"

She acknowledged that by flicking the hair out of her eyes. "Maybe there's a free room at our hotel."

"I don't have any money." Krycek smiled innocently. "And I'd rather not use my credit cards."

"The FBI might pay," Mulder interjected. "Witness protection, and all that."

"That's what you put on your expense claim last time," Scully said. Recalling some of Skinner's more pungent comments, Mulder tried to nod but was afraid it came out as more of a wince. "It won't wash a second time. The idea that we can keep a witness safer than an entire FBI office or police station can is not a popular one, Mulder." The words 'even if it might be true' remained unspoken — and understood.

"Lock me in the bathroom?" Krycek suggested. It wasn't possible that a mere couple of bottles of Anchor Steam could have brought this out in him, but his eyes were bright with barely-suppressed laughter.

"There are two beds in my room," Mulder said, reluctantly. Scully looked at him; he looked back at her, inviting comment. "In yours too?"

The waiter came back, saving him from whatever she had been about to say. Krycek got to his feet and asked for directions to the men's room. When he had left, and the waiter had removed the plates and himself, Scully propped her elbows on the table and regarded Mulder with a silent, steady look that would have unnerved him completely if it hadn't been for the mellowing effects of beer and pasta. "Mulder. We have to talk."

"You're pregnant?"

"Mulder. Be serious. There is," her eyes were so steady that she had to be concentrating to prevent some other expression from breaking through, "there's something about Alex Krycek that I don't think you have considered."

"I don't think so," he said with grim humor.

She clearly didn't believe him, and went on, "I know you said before that you're aware he's gay. But there's more to it than— Last night, when you were ill and he came to help you, I couldn't help noticing that—"

"Noticing what, Scully?" The lost hours in his mind suddenly seemed like a terrifying black gap where anything might have happened. Where he might have said or done things that could have unexpected repercussions.

"That — the way he held you, and the way he talked to you indicated that he might have an — a more personal interest in you." Scully dropped her eyes for a moment, then looked up again. "Normally, I wouldn't mention something like this, Mulder. It has no bearing on the case, and Krycek's private life is his business. But since his position in this investigation is rather unusual, and since you just offered to share your hotel room with him..."

"You think he might try to ravish me in the middle of the night?"

Scully sighed. She might be uncomfortable, but she was stubborn. Mulder wanted desperately to ask her what had happened and what Krycek might have said, but he felt that if he did she would be able to look straight through him and into his mind. So he waited for her to go on, and she said, "No. I'm merely telling you that you might want to take those facts into consideration." Then a corner of her mouth twitched. "If he does try it, you can always bang on the wall and I'll come in and rescue you."

"Thank you," he said gravely. "Do you want dessert?"

"God, no." It was almost a groan. "I haven't eaten such an obscene amount of food in months."

"I could go for some tiramisu," he said to tease her. Then, checking to see that Krycek wasn't back yet, deciding to risk her uncanny ability to read his mind, drawing a deep nervous breath, "Scully, you know I don't remember anything from last night. What was it that made you think Krycek was taking a personal interest in me?"

She shrugged, but it was clearly not because she didn't know. "When we were driving to the hospital, he was holding you and talking to you the whole time. I don't know what he said, and I think most of it was in Russian, but there was something about the way he looked and the way he sounded—" Scully glanced away for a moment. Then she tucked her hair back behind one ear and met his eyes again, her own a little troubled. "Mulder, I don't know if I should have told you this."

"I was there for it," he pointed out a little grouchily, seeing the shape of her Scully-scruples clearly. Concentrating on the irritation made it easier for him to hide everything else he was feeling. "It's just sheer chance that I don't remember. He can't have known for certain that I wouldn't."

"I suppose not." The restaurant wasn't very full, and they both looked up every time they heard the sound of someone approaching their table, but Krycek wasn't coming back yet. "But how do you feel about him now? Would you be more comfortable if we got a separate room for him?"

"Probably," he admitted, with more irony than she knew, "but Skinner would be livid, and my personal funds are a bit stretched right now." He didn't want to go into the issue of how he felt about Krycek.

"We might be able to get around Skinner."

"You might be able to get around Skinner," he corrected her, "but after the way he looked at me last time we met I think I'll save up any remaining credit I have with him until I really need it." It was more than half a joke, and he wasn't sure why Scully was frowning at him that way. Mulder knew that he could easily charge it to the FBI now and worry about it later; knew that if he talked fast enough, he could justify it.

But he wasn't going to do that. Nor was he going to think too closely about his motives, not right this minute. The waiter was hovering in the distance again and Mulder waved him closer, uncertain whether he wanted to order another beer, or some dessert; uncertain also whether he could handle more food. Or more alcohol. Krycek came back, sat down, and promptly ordered the chocolate ice cream, made on the premises. Mulder settled for tiramisu and sobriety. Scully just shook her head. When their desserts arrived, though, she eyed Krycek's ice cream with enough interest that Mulder ordered it for her, too.

"No, Mulder," she said, half laughing, but when it was brought to her, she picked up the spoon. The last tightness in her face eased away as she tasted it. "Reeves did say that the desserts were outstanding."

Mulder leaned over the table and scooped up some of Scully's ice cream with his own spoon. It was dark and rich with flavor, the heavy chocolate subtly contrasted with a touch of orange. "That's pretty good, Scully, want to swap?"

"No." She rapped his knuckles. "You made your choice, Mulder. Get your spoon out of my dessert."

"I bet that would make a great country and western song title."

There were no more attempts to return to serious subjects. Mulder ate half his tiramisu and then decided he couldn't manage another bite. Scully ate half her ice cream and put her spoon down. He looked at her plate, then glanced up at her. She looked back at him sternly. The staring contest could have gone on indefinitely if Krycek hadn't started laughing. He was already making inroads on Scully's ice cream, having finished his own. She looked at him instead, and shook her head. "Where do you put it all?"

"A bank account in Zurich." Their spoons clashed. "Eat your tiramisu, Mulder. You could have ordered ice cream, you know."

"Yeah, but— Scully, what are you doing with my dessert?"

"I just wanted to try it," she said, swallowing quickly. "It's kind of heavy, isn't it?"

When the waiter came back this time he smiled at them as if at a group of unruly children, and served them coffee they hadn't ordered — double espressos all round, Mulder noticed, wondering if it would be enough to counter the food-induced coma that was creeping up on him — and something mysterious in three small glasses. Krycek picked his glass up, sniffed it, and grinned. "Ramazzotti. I think they like us."

Mulder, tasting the amaro, wasn't so sure. But he drank it anyway. Scully tasted hers and then left it to Krycek; he seemed to be the only one who truly appreciated it.

Eventually they had finished everything there was to finish. Mulder and Scully argued desultorily about who was going to pay for it all, and once that was settled, they all looked at each other, hoping someone else would be the first to get up. It had been a long, slow meal, but it was still relatively early in the evening. Mulder didn't want to suggest any course of action. Conscience nagged at him to call in and hear if anything had happened, but he knew Yun would have contacted them if there had been any developments. Krycek was toying idly with his napkin. It was Scully who got to her feet and by sheer force of will dragged them with her.

They got into the car and drove along Columbus, turning right onto Powell to get straight back to the hotel. Mulder had ended up in the passenger seat this time, and he turned around to look at Krycek. "Is the laptop still on the floor back there?"

There was a scuffle, and the tap of fingers against hard plastic. "Yeah. Mulder, you shouldn't leave stuff like this in the car. Your insurance company would—" Krycek broke off and smothered a yawn. "Actually I guess your insurance company is used to you by now."

"It's not my laptop, it's the FBI's," Mulder said, not wanting to get into a discussion of his insurance company — he was not their favorite customer, that much was certain, although considering the premiums they had him paying, he ought to be. "Scully, can I borrow that Stephen Jay Gould collection you didn't have time to read on the plane?"


He let the edge of a whine creep into his voice. "Why not?"

"Because I didn't have time to read it on the plane." Her nostrils flared and whitened as she tried not to become infected by Krycek's yawns. "Curling up with a book is exactly what I had in mind for myself for the rest of the evening." She flicked him an amused look. "I'm sure you can find a bookstore that's open late somewhere around Union Square."

Back at the Anson Place hotel, they were met by a desk clerk who had to be the first one's sister. Mulder decided that he was too tired to go out, whether to look for a bookstore or for anything else. But the caffeine that sang along his nerves was enough to keep him awake for a good long time, even if it didn't stop him from yawning. Going up in the elevator he caught a glimpse of himself in the small, dark mirror. He looked sleepy and rumpled and stupidly dazed, especially contrasted with Scully's bright, compact neatness.

"You wanna come in and watch TV?" he asked her as they got out.

"No." She shook her head, kindly but firmly, and the look she shot him was quietly amused. So she thought that he was uncomfortable about being left alone with Krycek. The awareness that he was uncomfortable about being left alone with Krycek suddenly struck him as more funny than anything else. It was what he had maneuvered towards; it was his own damn fault. "See you tomorrow, Mulder, unless anything happens."

The door shut behind her with a determined click.

* * *

Lovers IV: Sheer and clear

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