Lovers VI: Of now done darkness

"These men, and those who opposed them
And those whom they opposed
Accept the constitution of silence
And are folded in a single party.
Whatever we inherit from the fortunate
We have taken from the defeated" — T. S. Eliot, Little Gidding

"Lovers, like the dead
In their loves are equal;
Sophomores and peasants,
Poets and their critics
Are the same in bed." — Auden, Heavy Date

He looked at her bent head with the sensation of having expected a last step of a staircase where no step was to be found. After a moment, she straightened her neck and met his eyes squarely. "Skinner," he said tentatively. "Assistant Director Skinner? Our boss, Walter S. Skinner?"

"Don't pretend to be dense," she snapped.

"I'm not, I just — how long?" Then he added, unable to resist, "The relationship, I mean," and watched her visibly restrain herself from hitting him.

"Mulder, if you're going to be difficult about this—"

"Being difficult is part of my boyish charm." He braced his elbows on the tabletop again, avoiding a coffee spill, and thought out loud. "I didn't think Skinner was the type to get involved with a subordinate. I thought he had the rule book tattooed on the inside of his eyelids." On the heels of that, a faint flicker of unease, remembering Skinner hitting Krycek. "He'd be in trouble if it got out — you too, not the same kind of trouble, of course—"

"You're hardly the right person to talk about that."

"I know. I was just pointing it out." He looked at her, at the light in her eyes, at the tense set of her mouth, her shoulders drawn back and squared resolutely. She looked like a determined martyr waiting for someone to bring out the lions. "Scully, you don't look happy. Are you happy?"

"I'm fine," she said automatically.


"I think I'm happy," she offered more slowly, tilting her head to one side, appearing to think seriously about it for once. "Or I think I will be now that I'm not worried about how to tell you any longer."

"Which brings us back to the question of how long this has been going on," he said. "How long — has this been go-ing on, how—"

"Shut up." She shook her head, but started to smile. "You can't sing. A couple of months."

"That's very vague. You mean the exact date isn't engraved on your heart in letters of gold?" Then he took a sobering breath. "Sorry. I guess I'm still a bit surprised by all this." And he was also, though he wasn't going to tell her that, relieved that the conversation had strayed away from a detailed investigation of his own life. He felt wrung out, unable to take more emotional stress. "I want to know, though. I can't believe this has been going on for months right under my nose and I haven't noticed anything."

"I could say the same thing," Scully said with a pointedly raised eyebrow.

"Yeah, but there was less actually going on in my case," he said. Just a lot of wanting and not having, hurting and wishing, trying not to want, not to wish, not to hurt. "Unless you and Skinner have decided to keep it platonic for the sake of the Bureau."

"We should have," Scully said. She looked down at the table top, blushed faintly. Mulder tried valiantly not to picture her and Skinner in bed together. The more he tried not to think about it, the more lurid images his mind provided for him. He wondered if she thought about him and Krycek that way — if she visualized them together, if that made her blush. "As it is, I ought to request a transfer to a position where he is no longer my direct supervisor. Back to Quantico, for instance."

"Scully!" He leaned forward, willing her to look up at him. His heart started to beat faster. That bleak, duty-fraught statement alarmed him "Are you thinking seriously about this? Abandoning the X-Files division? Giving up your work? Our work?" Abandoning the X-Files for Skinner? he wanted to ask, but didn't.

"I don't want to," there was unhappiness in her voice again. "You know I don't want to. But the only alternative is to keep this quiet. Can I — do you think we can do that? Will you keep this to yourself?"

"Yes," he said without hesitation. "I don't think it will affect your work — either of you. I haven't noticed any difference in Skinner's attitude towards us lately, and if he didn't turn over-protective in the first flush of romantic passion he's hardly going to do it now. And I can't exactly see you manipulating him into anything, either." Then he started to smile. "Although if you could manage to get our budget doubled, I could finally buy that genuine antique Aztec crystal divining set I've always wanted — five crystals of different sizes, one turns red when you're in the presence of a deity, another glows green when there's an alien around, a third—"

"A third that plays the Macarena if you put it in a crop circle?"

"Oh, you get their catalogs too?"

She swatted his wrist, rather mildly. But when she spoke again, she was serious. "I don't like it. I don't like the silences and I don't like the lies." Looking up at him, her eyes were bright and a little sad. "But I think the work we do is important and no, I don't want to give it up. I'm not ready to go back to Quantico and teach, not when I can be out in the field and help people directly." Scully frowned. "Perhaps it's selfish of me. Perhaps I've simply become addicted to our high solve rate."

Mulder thought for a moment longer than usual before answering her. "I don't want you to leave, Scully. And that is purely selfish on my part. But if this really gets to be too much for you, I guess I'd..."

"You'd encourage me to put in for a transfer?" She sounded incredulous.

"No, I'd start on the heavy emotional blackmail and remind you that I couldn't survive without you. I need you to come rushing in to save my ass on a regular basis." He shifted, curving his spine slightly and then straightening his shoulders. All the bruised parts of his body were getting stiff. The walk around the block might have helped if he hadn't thrown himself into that wall. But that had been, in its own way, necessary. "I'm glad you finally told me."

"I thought you knew," Scully admitted, then smiled. "Well, not knew exactly, but I thought you'd sensed something. That that was why there was something different between us. That you were flirting with me again because you felt it was somehow safe."

"I was too busy keeping my own secrets to think about whether you had any." He shook his head slowly, thinking about how distracted he had been, and how distracted she had been. "That's what keeping secrets does to you. It makes you think people can read them in your eyes and in the way you move, that there's a sign pinned to your back that everyone can see. I thought things were different because of me, Scully. Because of what I've been thinking about."

"Krycek." The doubt was back in her voice. "Mulder, I don't want to judge you—" She glanced up, caught his eye on her, and had the grace to smile with equal parts guilt and humor. "All right, maybe I do want to judge you. But I can't pretend I think this is anything but strange, and a very bad idea for a lot of reasons."

"You think I don't know that?" he asked a little tiredly.

"No." Scully's voice was warm. "I also think you know I won't expose you in any way."

"Considering what I've got on you," he said, mostly joking.

Scully made a face. "It has nothing to do with that. I don't think of this as an escalating arms race of blackmail possibilities. But Mulder, I do think you should consider talking to someone. You're in a very irregular and very vulnerable position, and I don't think it's been good for you to keep all this locked inside."

"Silences and lies," he said. "You're right. I hate this, Scully. I really, really hate this." He didn't specify what 'this' was, nor did she ask. It was clear from how she put it that she thought he ought to talk it out, figure out why he had done it, realize it had been wrong and never do it again. A simple plan. He hadn't managed to convey the complexity of whatever was between him and Alex Krycek, and the impossibility of reducing it to a confession of temporary insanity. The word that he'd chosen made him smile. Perhaps Scully wanted to send him to a psychiatrist the way she would have sent someone else to church.

Scully checked her watch again. "We have to get back if we're going to pick up Krycek before driving over to Berkeley." She picked her coffee cup up and drank down the last of her chocolate mint coffee. Mulder felt his stomach protest on seeing it. "Do you really think Lewis and Grazzini will be there?"

"It's a long shot," he admitted, relieved to be back to talking business. It had been a harrowing hour. "I think it's fairly likely they've already left the area, but if they're still here, they might come. And even if they don't, I hope we can talk to some other people who might have a clue about where they've gone, starting with Angelica Roe."

"Let's go, then," she said.

Mulder led the way to the door and pushed it open. There was still rain hovering in the air, but only the occasional drop fell on them as they walked back up the street. It wasn't far, and in a few minutes they were inside again. Scully flipped her ID shut and put it back in her pocket, and brushed the raindrops out of her hair as they waited for the elevator. It seemed to Mulder that the temperature was still dropping.

Once they got up they went straight for Spelling's office and found Krycek and Reeves sharing the last of the chocolate chip cookies and discussing the Forty-Niners. There was no sign of Yun, and Mulder wondered if he'd even stuck around to take the statement, or left it to Reeves. "Are you finished here?" he asked, walking in and picking up the bag that had held the cookies. A few crumbs fell out into his palm. "I paid good money for these."

"Thanks," Reeves said disingenuously, then grinned. "Yeah, we're done."

Krycek got to his feet and brushed the cookie crumbs off his jeans. "Berkeley?" he asked. "I know where the Happy Clam is — that's where Blaine held his public meetings."

"I thought it might be," Mulder said, crumpling the paper bag in his hands and tossing it in a neat arc over Spelling's desk and into the wastebasket. "Let's go, then."

* * *

The café was already filling up with people. It was a small place, ten tables, forty chairs. Mulder thought Roe might have underestimated Blaine Hibbert's popularity; the bell on the door kept jangling, an uneven, unstructured lament. Together with Scully and Krycek he moved into a front corner, leaning against the wall, scanning the room and glancing out the window to watch the people passing in the street. It was hard to make out faces beneath the umbrellas; it had finally started raining in earnest. Scully settled in front of him, Krycek to his right.

The wall he leaned against was painted a warm yellow, and the chairs and tables were dark green. The colors and the soft lighting combined to create a soothing ambience. It was hard to make people's faces out clearly across the room. Krycek was nodding at some, smiling at others, but refusing waved invitations to come over and talk. Some of the people who recognized him gave him a second, puzzled look, as if trying to figure out what was wrong. It took Mulder a moment or two to get it — Krycek still wasn't wearing his prosthesis. Those men and women might not even have known that he was missing a limb.

The smell of coffee hung in the air, rich and tantalizing. Most of those who had come to honor Hibbert's memory had opted to drink lattes and eat cream-filled buns while they were doing it. Wet coats and open umbrellas provided a steamy, sauna-like atmosphere. There was a low murmur of talk, hushed in deference to the reason for this gathering, that died away altogether when Angelica Roe stepped up next to the counter and tapped a coffee mug with a spoon for silence.

"I guess you all know why we're here," she began haltingly. "It's because we miss Blaine." Roe was no public speaker, but emotion carried her words and made people listen to her as she talked about Hibbert's life and what she knew about his death. Mulder only half listened to what she said, tensing every time the café door opened again to admit late arrivals, of which there seemed to be a lot despite the fact that Roe was already running half an hour behind schedule.

In front of him, Scully stood still and silent. She had pulled her lightweight jacket off and held it folded over her arms; the loose green cotton sweater hid the gun tucked into the back of her jeans. Despite the casual clothes, she didn't look anything like the rest of the people in this place and neither, he suspected, did he. It was hard to hide that level of concentration, and Krycek, still and intent, his green eyes hard and thoughtful, wasn't providing much in the way of cover for them.

The door opened again with a bright jangle of sound and a larger group of people slipped inside, trying to be quiet. Roe faltered, then picked up and went on as the latecomers spread out, finding seats here and there at various tables. She had reached the topic of Hibbert's book, which she vowed to publish and which she predicted would turn out to be a real eye-opener for the American public. Mulder shook his head slightly, feeling curiously ashamed of the way he immediately doubted this. At least it wasn't a Scully kind of doubt. He thought it quite possible that Hibbert had had things to say that could be eye-opening; he just didn't think anyone would read the book.

Next to him, Krycek tensed up even further, then leaned closer, his breath warm against Mulder's skin. "There they are," he whispered, nodding towards a table at the center of the room. "Those two right there who just came in — woman in blue, man in a green coat."

Mulder spotted them as soon as he looked that way, while Krycek shifted forward to tell Scully. Frankie Lewis was short and slim, in her mid-thirties, pale and nervous-looking. The hair that peeked from beneath a scarf was almost strawberry blonde. Dario Grazzini was tall, not quite as darkly Italian as his name had suggested, his shoulders set with stiff unease. He wore a baseball cap that he didn't pull off as he slumped down in his chair.

"We'll try to talk to them as soon as the meeting is over," Mulder whispered to his companions. "Keep an eye on them, make sure they don't leave before us. Maybe we should move closer to the door."

Scully nodded, still with her back to them both, and transferred her weight with seeming casualness to the other leg preparatory to moving. Mulder pushed away from the wall, ready to follow her. Several of the recent arrivals were standing between them and the door, since all the tables had filled up by now. They would have to make their way past the other guests as quietly as they could.

"I know there are many of you who have good memories of Blaine," Angelica Roe was saying, "and I hope you want to share them with us all here and now. Just come forward and say whatever you want. We're all friends here."

With a whispered apology, Scully passed the first little knot of people, but then she was held up as a man started to get up from his place at a table in the back and maneuver his way between the chairs towards the counter where Roe was standing. Mulder, behind her, was stopped trying to pass the first group and had to edge back as they glared at him for blocking their view. The door to the café opened again, and a single figure slid inside, ducking immediately towards the other side of the room.

Peering between the heads of the other people, Mulder made out dark hair in a knot, and a pale, serious profile above a dark shirt.


There were two women between him and Scully, and he didn't want to raise his voice to get her attention, knowing that that would make McKee spot them. Turning to look momentarily over his shoulder, he caught Krycek's eyes and saw from the expression on the other man's face that he, too, had seen McKee. Krycek was frowning and his lips had thinned in anger and concentration. Something about that look made Mulder feel a little cold. Then he remembered that McKee had been shooting at Krycek, and he knew Krycek did not have a forgiving nature when it came to people who tried to kill him. He'd just have to try to keep Krycek away from the woman.

When he looked that way again, he saw that McKee was moving along the wall opposite them, sliding past chairs and standing people with greater ease. She kept her head down, but Mulder saw that her attention was focused on a spot in the center of the room — the table where Lewis and Grazzini were sitting. Surely she couldn't be intending to shoot them here and now. It would cause a panic, and it would be hard for her to get out again. But McKee was young and, it seemed, less than completely professional. He found his hand moving towards his gun.

"Blaine and I didn't always get along that well," the man who had gotten up said, then cleared his throat abruptly after that inauspicious beginning, and shuffled his feet. "I mean, we didn't always have the same opinion about things. But I respected him. He did good work, and — and we'll all miss him."

Mulder hoped that no one in this café would have to know what Blaine Hibbert had looked like when he died, or what his killer had said about him later. He felt ashamed suddenly to be there, part of this crowd, when it was his negligence that had gotten Hibbert killed. Clenching his free hand, he concentrated on what he was here to do.

Frankie Lewis was fidgeting in her seat, clearly uneasy. She looked down at her hands, inspected her bitten fingernails, looked up again and turned her head, seemingly about to whisper something to Grazzini. Then she froze, looking past him. Mulder followed the direction of her gaze, and swore under his breath. She'd seen McKee, and clearly recognized her.

Jumping to her feet, Lewis overturned her chair as she dragged Grazzini upright too and ran for the door. People cursed and cried out as they were pushed out of the way, and the speaker at the front of the room ground to a confused halt. "Scully, follow them!" Mulder called, pushing past the two women. He saw that McKee was already moving, too. She was closer to the door than they were. Before Scully could get there, McKee was slipping outside in Lewis and Grazzini's wake.

"She's out to get them," Krycek said tightly as they more or less elbowed their way out. Mulder pulled his gun out as soon as he made it to the doorway, and then they ran after Scully, who was already pounding down the street. The rain and darkness meant the sidewalk was relatively uncrowded, and up ahead he could see Lewis and Grazzini rounding a corner, McKee following them. He ran faster, and Krycek kept up with him, yelling, "McKee's got her gun out—"

There was a shot from up ahead, and he heard someone scream, but there was no room in his tightly focused vision for the confused and frightened bystanders. Scully was calling to McKee to drop her weapon. Then she put on a burst of speed, and slammed McKee into the wall by the corner with a full-body tackle any NHL player would have been proud of. Mulder lengthened his strides even more and reached the two grappling figures just as McKee raised her arm.

He wasn't sure if she meant to turn the gun and shoot Scully or hit her temple with the butt, but he grabbed McKee's wrist and slammed it back into the wall. The gun fell from suddenly nerveless fingers and clattered harmlessly on the sidewalk, and McKee said something muffled and painful, fighting his grip. Scully glanced quickly up at him, then freed one hand to get her handcuffs out.

They pinned the struggling woman between them and cuffed her securely. After a few moments McKee quieted down, and Mulder let go of her and looked around. Neither Krycek nor Lewis and Grazzini were in sight any longer. "Damn it!"

"Go after them," Scully said, in between sucking in deep breaths, her hand reassuringly steady as she kept her gun trained on McKee. "Go, Mulder!"

He ran on down the narrower, darker side street, trying to listen over the pounding of his heart, his feet, the rain, for anything that might give him a clue to where the three people he was chasing had gone. Rain got in his eyes. A couple of cars rolled past slowly down at the next intersection, and he could barely hear the engines. Mulder went on down to that corner and skidded to a halt, looking both ways. Nothing was moving under the streetlights.

Where would Lewis and Grazzini have run? There was nothing he could see that could give him a clue, except what looked like a car park down towards the left. They would probably have been trying to get to their car. He turned left and ran on. His suit pants were starting to cling to his calves where water had splashed up from the pavement.

The car park was deserted. He went across it diagonally, looked down the street beyond, and saw nothing. Mulder slowed down to a walk, and then came to a full stop. Lewis and Grazzini might have driven off, but he should have at least caught up with Krycek. They must have gone the other way. He turned around, brushing wet hair off his forehead with the hand that wasn't holding the gun.

Back up the street, jogging instead of running, he knew he'd lost his chance at the fleeing ex-Consortium scientists. They had to be far away by now, taking with them the mysterious implants and all their knowledge of that project, other projects they might have been involved in. He shouldn't have made the mistake of going so far into the café. He hadn't realized it would get that crowded, or that McKee would show up to complete her cleanup operation. That long talk with Scully had addled his brains.

When he came back to the intersection, he saw Krycek come walking down from the other direction. Mulder stopped and waited on the corner, looking up the block to where he'd left Scully and McKee to see that the local police had already arrived. Two cars at least were parked at the mouth of the narrow street, lights flashing. Someone must have called them from the café.

That reminded him of something and he fished out his cell phone and dialed rapidly, waiting impatiently through two rings before there was an answer. "Yeah?"

"Martin, we've got McKee." Mulder couldn't keep the satisfaction he felt from coloring his voice, but he did at least refrain from adding a 'so there.'

"You — fuck, Spooky, you serious?" The incredulity in Martin Yun's voice felt good, too. "Where did you find her?"

"Happy Clam Café. Told you it was a good idea to go to the memorial meeting for Hibbert." Saying 'I told you so' to Yun was almost as good as saying 'so there,' and he had to grin. There was no way Yun could manage to claim the credit for this one, and that would no doubt be a frustrating experience for poor Martin. Krycek came up next to him, looking rain-wet and collected, and stopped to wait. "The cops are here now. We'll bring her in, okay?"

"I'll see if I can wrestle Spelling away from the senator. Talk to you when you get here." Yun hung up abruptly, and Mulder slapped the phone antenna down with a pleased snap of the wrist. He looked at Krycek, inviting a report.

"They had a car up there," Krycek said, tilting his head back in the direction he'd come from. "Blue Ford Mustang, but I didn't make the license plate. The streetlight right there is broken."

"Yeah? Damn." Mulder stepped closer, reached around under Krycek's jacket and pulled his gun out. He closed his hand around the barrel. One side was faintly warm from Krycek's body but the other was as cool as the night air. "So they got away."

Krycek grinned at him, seemingly amused rather than offended. "Brilliant deductive work, Agent Mulder." He reached out to take the gun back; Mulder held it away from him. "Hey." Mild annoyance only in the smoky voice. "It's too late in life for a career change, and you'd make a lousy pickpocket anyway."

"I guess I would." He slid the hand holding the gun back in under Krycek's jacket, and reached around with his other arm as well, using both hands to carefully tuck the gun back in place. Krycek looked closely at him from under rain-matted eyelashes. His movements slowed down as his hands released the grip of the gun. It would be easy to pull Krycek against him now, to kiss his water-slicked lips and taste the cool rain and the underlying heat of the man.

"But you get my vote for the FBI's annual Mr. Wet Armani competition," Krycek added huskily. Without moving his feet, he shifted his body weight forward, bringing them even closer.

A car door slammed at the other end of the block, where Scully was waiting with the handcuffed McKee. Mulder's hands fell to his sides. It was the wrong time, the wrong place, and he would do well to remember that if he wanted to keep his job. He turned and started to walk up towards Scully. Krycek fell into step beside him. Glancing sideways, he saw that Krycek was smiling very softly to himself. It made him look younger, happier. The wrong face as well? No. Krycek had been right. It was too late, for both of them.

"I'll ask the police to look out for a blue Ford Mustang, but I don't know how much good it'll do us," he said. "Besides, they'll probably switch cars as soon as they can."

"I know you really wanted Lewis and Grazzini," Krycek said, sounding a little regretful. "But at least you've got McKee."

Mulder nodded. "If we can keep her alive, yeah." Another thought struck him. "How did you get that gun through security at the Federal building?"

That got him another smile, a gleam and flash of teeth in the dark street. "Didn't. I left it in the car." And this was the man who had ragged him about leaving the laptop. Mulder shook his head.

Coming up to the corner, they found McKee already in the back seat of a police car, cuffed and surly, her dark hair falling out of its neat bun to curl around her face. Scully was talking to one of the uniformed police officers, but half turned towards them as they came closer. "You lost them?"

"Yeah," Mulder confirmed regretfully. "I called Yun, told him we're bringing McKee in. He said he'd see if he could get hold of Spelling, too. Has she said anything?"

"Apart from laughing out loud when I read her her rights, no." Scully shook her head. She lowered her voice, "I think one of us had better ride with her in the police car."

"I think that's a good idea." Mulder flicked a glance at the policeman, who just looked mildly bewildered. Probably a good and honest man, but this wasn't a moment to take chances. "Your choice, Scully."

"You go with her," she said, so decisively she must have made her mind up even before she raised the topic. "I'll drive back with Krycek."

For a moment he envisioned Scully putting Krycek through the same third degree as she had done with him in the coffee house earlier tonight, and a small rippling shiver that had nothing to do with the rain slid down his spine. Then he thought, what the hell, and fished the car keys out of his pocket. "All right, I'll see you there."

Scully smiled quickly at him, then turned to Krycek. "Let's go."

Mulder turned his head in time to meet Krycek's eyes before the man walked away with Scully. The look that passed between them was as intimate as the kiss that hadn't happened down the block, and he had to tilt his head back and let the rain wash away the effects of it before he could talk to the policeman. Introducing himself and showing his credentials took only a few moments, and then he opened the door and swung himself into the back seat of the police car, next to McKee.

Seen up close, she seemed appallingly young. Mulder knew that she had to be around twenty-five, but hunched up in jeans and a drab grey jacket, with her smooth face scrubbed clear of any trace of makeup, she looked all of seventeen. McKee didn't turn her head as he sat down beside her and closed the car door again. She stared forward in silence, biting her lip; it appeared to be more of a habitual nervous tic than a response to the situation.

"We're taking you in," he said flatly, searching her face for reactions. "Spelling will be there, and he'll ask you why you did it. And Olsen will be there, and he'll ask you why you did it. What are you going to say to them?"

McKee didn't move to face him. Her face was closed, and if she felt any remorse at what she'd done, or any fear at the thought of facing her former boss and her former partner, it didn't show. The heavy solidity of her profile didn't crack. Mulder waited in silence while she lifted her cuffed hands to rearrange her hair, tucking the black strands up again in a semblance of neatness. He was just considering his next line of attack when she said, more flatly still, "Nothing."

"Nothing?" He leaned closer to her. "You don't feel you owe them something? They trusted you, Agent McKee. They liked you. They believed in you, and you turned out to be a traitor. Do you really have nothing to say to them?" The door on the driver's side opened and the policeman got in, tossing them both a look in the rear view mirror before starting the car. "Or are you just ashamed to look them in the eye?"

The car pulled out into the street and she turned her head away from him, watching the sidewalk, the people, the lit storefronts and coffee houses. Mulder was left with a view of the back of her neck and the collar of her jacket. He leaned back, making himself a bit more comfortable.

"I have nothing to say until I've talked to my lawyer," she said finally, and sat staring straight ahead again as they drove out of Berkeley and towards the Bay Bridge. There was a scrape on the back of her right hand where Mulder had slammed her hand against the wall, but although the skin was abraded, she wasn't bleeding. Other than that small mark, she was remarkably neat, self-contained and closed off.

He sat watching her, studying her face intently, until he realized that he was searching for some sign of Krycek in her, as if the two of them were twins under the skin, soul-identical. It was the mystery that was the same: how someone so young, so clean, so bright, could have stepped voluntarily into the darkness. With Krycek, he had begun to come to some kind of understanding, however reluctant. But here was another, who seemed unconcerned at having sold herself. What was the driving force — simple or not-so-simple greed, misguided patriotism, stupidity? What was it that turned people away from the truth and made them conspire to cover it up?

The water of the Bay was all velvety darkness, with the city shining garish and warm on the other side. Mulder tapped his fingers against his knee, watched the view, watched McKee's profile. Scully and Krycek were somewhere along the same route, and he felt a moment's worry, again, at what she might be saying. At what Krycek might be saying.

"They'll try to have you killed, you know," he told McKee softly, sounding as friendly as he could. "You're a security risk now." She didn't answer. "Did you ever meet Luis Cardinale? Remember what happened to him?" Was that a muscle that jumped, fractionally, in McKee's jaw? "My partner caught him, but he was found dead in his cell before he could testify. An apparent suicide. That's what it will say on your death certificate too, Agent McKee. That you hung yourself with the sheets, or maybe your shoelaces." Flashing a quick glance at her hands, he saw that her fingers were clenching together a little more tightly. "You won't get any support from them. But if you talk to us, we'll help you."

She still refused to look at him, and he let the silence stretch between them for the rest of the drive, willing to give her time to think it over. If she decided to cooperate, if she gave him the name of whoever had given her her orders, then they would perhaps be getting somewhere. If she didn't cooperate, they would at least be no worse off than before.

Yun was waiting for them when they got out of the car, balancing on the balls of his feet, more tensely wound up than ever. He came forward, thanked the police officer, and shepherded Mulder and the cuffed McKee towards the elevator. Mulder looked around for Scully and Krycek, but didn't see them. It surprised him; Scully wasn't a slow driver, and the police car had taken it easy. On the way up, Yun regarded McKee with undisguised loathing, and Mulder couldn't blame him. "Olsen's waiting in the interrogation room," he said, ostensibly to Mulder, but with a sideways glance at McKee to see how she'd react. Her face stayed still and blank.

"Scully back yet?" he asked, tapping his fingers against the side of his leg.

"No." Yun punched the up button with unnecessary force. "But Spelling came back in from the Alstrom case, he's going to sit in on this, too, and I've called Reeves. All for you." He turned to speak directly into McKee's ear, viciously close. "I hope you appreciate it."

"I want my lawyer to be present," she said, turning her head so she was nose to nose with Yun. He bristled at her; Mulder wondered for a moment if he would actually bite her.

"Here in the elevator?" Yun pulled back, then turned his back on McKee and ignored her until the elevator doors opened again and let them out. He led the way towards the interrogation room Olsen had prepared, tossing over his shoulder, "All right, we'll call him for you."

"I'd prefer to call her myself," McKee stated firmly and turned right, into the nearest room with a phone. Mulder shrugged at Yun. She did have the right, and they would be here in the room with her. While he thought this, McKee had already picked up the phone with her cuffed hands and dialed rapidly. "This is Lucy McKee," she said to the voice at the other end. "I wish to speak to—" Her face changed. "What? — Nonsense. Tell her it's— What do you mean, you don't recognize that name?"

Looking at Yun again, Mulder found his own growing smile answered by one just as dry and twice as evil. "Having a little problem, Agent McKee?" Yun asked.

McKee turned her back on them and hunched over the phone. "This is ridiculous," she hissed, and Mulder couldn't tell whether it was to herself or to the person she was talking to. "I am a client of Ms. Costagavras's and I demand to speak to her immediately."

"Costagavras." Yun was taking notes. "If Costagavras is crooked, we're going to have an interesting time of it."

"I'm sure you will. But I bet McKee isn't in Costagavras's address book any more." Walking across the room, Mulder came to a halt right behind McKee's back and bent his head to speak directly into her ear. "Told you they wouldn't help you."

She twisted around to glare at him, and the phone went crashing to the floor. McKee dropped the receiver as well and stepped back, away from Mulder and away from the mess. Mulder crouched down, unconcerned, to put the receiver in its place and put the phone up on the desk again. He didn't have to look up to know that Yun was moving in on McKee instead. "Agent McKee, I'm sure I don't have to tell you that a lawyer will be appointed for you if—"

"There's been a mistake," she snapped. "I have a lawyer."

"Apparently not," Mulder said. He picked up the phone and hit redial, and got a busy signal. "Was that her home number or does she keep long business hours?" McKee's mouth closed into a thin line. "Face it, Lucy, you're in trouble. Do you want another lawyer or do you want to try to handle this on your own?"

McKee set her jaw and looked away from him. Mulder shrugged, and glanced at Yun. "I'll take her to the interrogation room," Yun said. "Olsen and Spelling and I will get things started, you come along when your partner gets here."

"All right. Want me to bring you some coffee?"

"Yeah, that would be good." McKee glared at them both, and they ignored her; Yun took her arm and brought her along with the air of a man carrying an awkward package. Mulder walked after them out of the room but turned back towards the elevators. After a few moments Yun came back and handed him a file. "Here's everything we've got on McKee. Read fast."

"Thanks," he muttered and flipped it open, scanning the pages.

He'd only made it halfway through when Scully and Krycek arrived. They'd stopped for gas on the way, and the right-hand pocket of Krycek's leather jacket had a suspicious bulge and crackle to it. Seeing Mulder's glance, Krycek grinned and offered him half a candy bar. "Empty calories?"

Mulder shook his head. "No thanks, I'm on a diet. It looks as though McKee's already been cut loose from the organization; her lawyer's not taking calls right now. Spelling, Yun and Olsen are in with her now but I don't know how far they'll get. Reeves is on his way, too."

"Has she said anything?" Scully asked.

"Not a word. But I think once she realizes they've dumped her and her life is in danger, she might be induced to talk."

"Better hope that happens before you lose her," Krycek said through a mouthful of chocolate. He slouched behind as Mulder led the way towards the interrogation room. Outside the door, they all paused.

"Scully, you go in. I promised to bring Yun coffee, I forgot." Mulder glanced at Krycek. "And I guess we'd better find an empty corner somewhere."

"Yeah, with a comfortable chair," Krycek said.

Eventually he left Krycek sitting in the small cubicle where he'd been working on the Flagstad profile a couple of days ago. Krycek put his feet up on the desk next to the mug of coffee he'd grabbed and pulled a paperback out of an inside pocket. He seemed strangely incurious about McKee and what she might say, but then again, Mulder thought as he wandered back to the interrogation room, he probably realized that there was no way anyone would allow him to sit in on this... and that Mulder and Scully would very likely tell him afterwards.

Inside the interrogation room everything was silent. McKee and Scully sat facing each other at the table, under the lamp, while the three men stood spread out, one against each blank wall, their faces obscured by shadows. Mulder wondered who was behind the mirror. He crossed over to Yun and handed him his coffee. After a few moments Scully said, "So it was your own decision to murder John Ellis."

McKee said nothing. She sat with both arms on the table, hands linked together, and looked for all the world as though she was praying. Mulder cleared his throat. "She confessed to the murder already?"

Scully didn't take her eyes off McKee as she replied, "Five people saw her shoot him, including myself. I think Agent McKee's intelligent enough to realize that claiming innocence at this point would be futile."

"Oh, I don't know. She's obviously not intelligent enough to realize that cooperation would be in her own best interests." Mulder leaned back against the wall next to Yun. He saw a look of annoyance cross McKee's face, but she didn't speak.

"Tell us why you killed John Ellis, Agent McKee." Scully's voice didn't change, it was calmly, unfailingly polite. Mulder watched her profile across the table from McKee's, and decided McKee would crack first. "And then tell us why you attempted to kill Mr. Grazzini and Ms. Lewis."

"This isn't going to look good on your record, McKee," Mulder remarked. "One murder, two attempted murders, resisting arrest... you'll be sent to bed without any supper. You might not even be allowed to stay in the FBI."

"I don't ever want to see her face again after this," Spelling growled from the other end of the room. "I don't want to hear her name."

"What a shame. And she was such a good young agent, too." Mulder pushed away from the wall and walked behind Scully, keeping his face out of the direct lamplight. He knew McKee was theoretically familiar with standard interrogation practices, but he doubted she'd ever been on the receiving end like this. Circling the table, he came to a halt behind her, and bent close and spoke to the back of her head. "No one's going to get you out of this one, Lucy. No one's coming to rescue you and you know it. You can go down alone, or you can make a deal."

Under the lamplight McKee's hair gleamed, dark and heavy; she bent her head a little forward, away from Mulder and his words. On the other side of the table Scully leaned forward too. "Ms. McKee. You were assisting with the Flagstad case for several days, along with your former partner Agent Olsen. Can you tell me at what point you decided to kill John Ellis, a.k.a. Flagstad?"

"It wasn't your decision, was it?" Mulder purred. "You were told to do it, and you did what you were told. And now you're sitting here facing a potential first degree murder charge and your lawyer's not returning your calls. Doesn't that tell you something about the people you chose to work for, Lucy?"

Scully, still not exchanging a single look with him, picked up, "It is understandable that you found Flagstad's crimes disturbing, but nothing in your actions suggests that you were acting on an impulse. The placement of the shots indicates careful aim and the cold-blooded intention to kill. You had a getaway car waiting."

"Talk to us, Lucy." Mulder stood behind her and saw her consciously pull back her shoulders, attempting not to cringe away from him. Leaning forward across the table would only bring her nearer to Scully. "Tell us who you're working for. Give us the names of the people who've cut you loose." She shifted in her chair. "They're not showing any sign of loyalty to you, Lucy."

"This is ridiculous," Yun said out of the darkest corner of the room, his voice dripping with scorn. "She probably doesn't know anything. She's not working for anyone. She went nuts, she killed Flagstad, she's going to do time for it, end of story." He cleared his throat and spat into his coffee mug; Mulder thought that might be overdoing it a bit. "Don't try to make this into something fancy."

Mulder, who had been leaning so closely over McKee that he was practically breathing into her ear, straightened up and took a step backwards. "Maybe you're right," he said, letting a trace of doubt creep in.

"Nonsense," Scully said. "The murder of Flagstad was clearly premeditated. I very much doubt that Ms. McKee can plead insanity, even temporary—"

"Oh, stop it," McKee snarled.

There was a moment's silence in the room, and then everyone's attention refocused on the young woman across the table from Scully. Her eyes had come alive, with a glitter that made her look hard and unpredictable. "Stop what?" Scully asked coolly. "Ms. McKee, as long as you refuse to cooperate with us, you have very little say in what goes on in this interrogation room."

McKee twisted around in her chair until she was facing Mulder. "You're the profiling genius. You tell me why I did it."

"Sure, I'll tell you," he said. She thought she had begun to fight back; she didn't realize that she was cracking already. "Because you're stupid, Lucy. Stupid and greedy. They offered you money and you took it. You sold your soul for a better car, and no matter what the commercials say, it's not worth it."

"And who pays for your suits?" she shot back. "It's not the FBI."

"My suits are not under investigation at the moment," he said and tried not to laugh, shit, it was the wrong moment to laugh but he couldn't stop it. A snorting sound came from the corner where Yun was propping up the wall. The corner of Scully's mouth twitched. "You don't know how many years of paper rounds it took to pay for this suit."

Scully looked at him over McKee's head. "Oh, and I always thought you were the man behind the original Get Rich Quick spam."

He grinned at her, then turned serious again. The mood in the room changed again, quickly and completely. Bending down towards McKee, close as a lover, he said, "The point is, Lucy, I haven't killed anyone for it."

McKee turned back again, trying to ignore him, only to be faced by a Scully who was no longer smiling. "Ms. McKee, when did you decide to kill John Ellis?" Scully leaned forward over the table. "Or was it, in fact, not your decision at all?"

"This is just a waste of time," Spelling said, stepping out of his dark corner. "Agent Yun, come with me. There's no need for us to participate in this any longer." The two of them went towards the door. "McKee isn't going to tell us anything. She doesn't know anything. Yun's right — she killed Flagstad, she'll go to prison for it, end of story."

They walked out and the door closed behind them. The clear warm light of the lamp fell on McKee's face, not quite so blankly smooth any more. Mulder pulled out a chair and sat down at the table too, between Scully and McKee. "He's right, you know," he said in a conversational tone. "As things stand now, that's what will happen. You'll go to prison, if you live long enough."

McKee raised an eyebrow. "Are you threatening me, Agent Mulder?"

"Not at all." He smiled at her.

"A couple of years ago a man named Luis Cardinale was arrested for murder and attempted murder," Scully said. "But then, I assume you know all about what happened to him. He was found dead in his cell before he could betray his employers."

"And you know who his employers were. They weren't loyal to him," Mulder said, "and they won't be loyal to you. Costagavras has already dropped you. If you thought that was a betrayal, just wait till someone sneaks past security to silence you."

"You're saying the FBI's security measures are inefficient?" McKee tried to scoff.

"Not necessarily," Mulder said smoothly, "but you'll be out of our hands soon. If you persist in your silence, then there's nothing that warrants a Federal investigation, and no reason why you should be given extra protection. The FBI can keep you safe, Lucy, but only if you give us a good reason."

"If Ms. McKee acted on her own initiative," Scully pointed out, "then she has no reason to fear anything other than a long prison sentence."

As if on cue, the door opened and Gabriel Reeves walked in. He was chewing gum, his hair was ruffled, his shirt creased. He smiled at Mulder and Scully, his eyes passing over McKee as if she weren't even there. "You dragged me out of bed for this?"

"The night time is the right time," Mulder said, straight-faced.

McKee stirred in her chair, appearing suddenly restless. She glanced up at Mulder, then at Reeves, but turned to Scully to make her request. "I need to use the bathroom."

"I'll take you," Scully said mildly. "We don't want you to be uncomfortable, after all; we have a long night ahead of us."

Scully and McKee got to their feet and went out. With a resigned shrug, Mulder leaned against the table and wondered what might make McKee talk. Maybe all it would take was a little time, maybe she needed to think about what they'd told her before she decided it was true. He looked at Reeves. "Let me guess, Lewis and Grazzini haven't called the police to say someone shot at them."

Reeves shook his head. "I just talked to the guys over in Berkeley. Several people reported shots fired, but the intended victims seem to have made a clean getaway." Scratching his jaw, Reeves went on, "I thought this would be over when we caught Flagstad. Never thought that that would set off a whole new investigation."

The slightly disappointed look on Reeves's face was understandable, Mulder thought. There had been no sense of closure or accomplishment at finding Flagstad, not when it had resulted in the killer's death at the hands of an FBI agent. "We led her to him," Mulder said darkly. "If she hadn't managed to be in on the raid at the house, she would have gotten to him later." McKee had, in fact, done exactly what he had accused Krycek of doing. She had let Mulder and the FBI do the hard work for her. He felt his jaw tighten.

"You really think she's working for some covert organization?" Reeves asked. "It seems a bit far-fetched to me."

"Whereas the idea that she lost her head when she was confronted with Flagstad, and shot him on an impulse, makes perfect sense? McKee's partner says she's an extremely level-headed young woman. Her psych profile describes a stable, stress-resistant personality."

"If she's that stress-resistant, she might not tell us anything," Reeves said.

"Sooner or later her self-interest has to kick in," Mulder said, half trying to convince himself. McKee couldn't seriously be intending to die for the Consortium. Not if she was given a choice. Not now that she knew how little they cared for her. Not now that he finally had a chance to break through the wall of secrets. His eyes went to the door; he was waiting for Scully and McKee to come back. Another thirty seconds and he would start to worry. Consortium assassins could just as well be lurking in the ladies' bathroom of the Federal building as anywhere else.

"I was wondering," Reeves started to say, but then the door opened again.

The McKee who stepped inside was considerably more ruffled than the one who had stepped out. Her hair had fallen down, she had a smudge on one cheek and her hands were cuffed behind her again. Following her, Scully looked tidier and more collected, but the color in her cheeks and the set of her mouth spoke volumes. "Please sit down again, Ms. McKee," she said in the kind of voice that made obstructive chiefs of police whimper and recalcitrant witnesses quail.

Mulder straightened up again, stepping away from the table. "Tried to make a break for it, did you, Lucy?" He dropped his voice to a mockery of intimacy. "You must not have thought it through very well. You were told to remove Flagstad when he went rogue. How long do you think it would take for someone to be sent after you? Or were you planning to try to go back to them?"

"They would never believe that you hadn't talked to us," Scully said. Her tone had gone from cool to cold; she did not enjoy being assaulted in bathrooms, even though she'd obviously handled McKee without any real trouble. "You must know the nature and the degree of paranoia of the organization you were involved with, Ms. McKee; do you really believe you could survive either with them or away from them at this point?"

McKee twisted in her chair, tossing her head to get the hair out of her face. The calm surface had vanished. She must have been counting on her assault on Scully, and now she didn't know what to do. He'd better tell her. "Talk to us, Lucy. Give us a name, give us some facts to work with. If you do, things might improve for you. If you don't..."

"All right," she said, her voice so choked that he could barely make out the words at first, didn't dare to believe in them. McKee glared at Scully, then looked up at Mulder with an even more vicious look. "All right. I want the full witness protection program, round-the-clock guards, new identity, new face, everything. You promise me that, and I'll talk."

Mulder looked at McKee, at her pale angry face, her half-desperate, half-hating eyes, her tangled hair and snarling mouth, the hands that had shot Flagstad and the mind that had betrayed the FBI, and almost wanted to kiss her. He pulled a chair out from the table, turned it around and sat down, leaning his arms against the back. "We'll keep you safe, Lucy," he said. "My word on it. You tell us what we want to know, and we'll keep you safe."

It took a little more coaxing to actually get her to start talking; she was nervous and fretful now that her hard facade had shattered, she wanted water, she wanted to fix her hair, she practically wanted her hand held. Spelling, Yun and Olsen came back to sit in on the session, bringing coffee for everyone. McKee was uncuffed and sat hunched over in her chair, looking uncertainly at them all. "I was recruited at Quantico," she said. "This smoking guy came to see me..."

* * *

He leaned back against the wall, letting it bear the weight of his sleepless exhilaration. Five in the morning and his mind was shining with demented lucidity, thoughts like stars, like sunshine. Mulder rubbed his fingers along his eyebrows, then stroked them up across his temples through his hair, drawing his nails along the scalp. He had drunk so much bad coffee that he imagined he could feel it move in his belly and try to develop into an intelligent life form. That didn't matter.

We've got you, he thought with immense satisfaction. In his mind's eye he saw smoke drifting away on the wind, saw a cigarette being ground out for the last time. This was solid, it had to be. They had McKee, they had McKee's testimony. It was being entered into the computers right now, and it was in the memory of six people at least. Spelling, Yun, Scully, Reeves, Olsen, himself. And Scully was on the phone to Skinner, telling him that joy cometh in the morning.

Scully and Skinner. He shook his head slowly, letting a bemused smile curl his mouth upwards. He would have expected Scully, insofar as he had ever thought about it, to prefer a more normal, soft-edged, above all more verbal type of man. As to Skinner, it was impossible to imagine him having any kind of preference at all. Scully certainly didn't resemble Sharon, but then he guessed there was a point to that.

If Skinner loved Scully, it wasn't hard to see what had drawn him. If Skinner loved Scully... he'd better, Mulder thought, he'd better love her honestly and long, or he'd be having words with one of his special agents. Scully deserved the best, and if she wanted Skinner, then she deserved the best that Skinner had to give. Maybe he'd better have a little talk with the assistant director when he got back to DC. Oh, Scully would kill him if she ever got wind of it, but all the same...

The sound of footsteps coming along the corridor made him think about straightening up, but then he decided he wasn't up to it. He stayed slouched where he was as Gabriel Reeves walked into view, shirt sleeves rolled up, tie long since discarded, with that same end-of-a-long-night look on his face. Reeves came up to Mulder and stopped, and took a drink from the coffee mug in his hand before speaking.

"That went pretty well, I thought."

"Yeah." Mulder nodded his heartfelt agreement. "She gave us more than I thought she would. God, you have no idea how long I've waited for this." He couldn't stop the grin, or the twinge of fear that went with it — was it, would it be enough? Would it be taken from him again? It couldn't be, not now. Not when he was so close.

Reeves smiled. "Your partner said you'd been after these guys for years. Must feel good to finally have them where you want them." Stretching a little, Reeves looked at his coffee mug again, then made a grimace of faint disgust and put it on top of the nearest metal filing cabinet.

"You have no idea," Mulder repeated, more softly this time. He scrubbed his hair back again, felt a yawn come creeping. The cool wall against his back was making him stiff and he could feel every bruise now.

"So how much longer do you think you'll be in town?" Reeves asked. "Scully said you'll be pushing to take her to DC with you, but it'll take a while to wrap things up on the Flagstad case. I guess you won't be waiting here to take her back, but—"

"We might," Mulder interrupted him. "That could be sooner than you think. We're waiting on confirmation from AD Skinner before we set things in motion. We need to start working with her testimony now, before these people have a chance to go underground and vanish. If we get things worked out, she'll be routed via Quantico to a safe house somewhere during the investigation."

Reeves accepted the correction with a shrug. "And she goes free for the murder of Flagstad. Not that he wasn't walking garbage, but is what she's given you worth dropping a murder charge?"

"Yes." There was no hesitation in his answer. "These men have committed countless murders over the years, and believed themselves to be untouchable. This is our first chance, maybe our only chance to get something to stick to them."

"I see," Reeves said, although he probably didn't. "In either case, I guess you'll be out of here pretty soon. I just wanted to ask you if you thought you had time to go out for a drink before you leave."

Mulder raised his sleep-heavy lids, looked more closely at Reeves's face for what he thought might be there. It was nothing overt, but he could read voices, and body language, even when he was tired. Especially signals like this, he thought with a tiny thread of amusement; humans were probably hard-wired to recognize sexual invitations no matter what condition they were in. It surprised him a little. He'd sensed something at their first meeting — oh, all right, and at the second — but lately he'd thought that if Reeves wanted to ask anyone out for a drink, and more, it was Krycek.

Realizing that he was expected to come up with an answer, he dredged up a half-apologetic, half-exhausted smile. "Sorry, but I don't think so. I doubt I'll have time to do more than sleep for a while. If it turns out we're here for a couple of days more, Scully and I might give you a call."

Krycek came around the corner towards them. He moved easily enough, even at this late hour; long legs made walking look effortless. The persistent fringe of silky hair had fallen forward into his face again, and he tried to shake it back with a jerk of his head before speaking. "Mulder, are you ready to go? Scully's wrapping things up now, they've fixed a schedule for a constant guard on McKee until you can either take her to a safe house or take her out of here. And you look like you're about to fall asleep on your feet."

"Would make a change from the couch," he muttered, half to himself, and straightened up, pushing away from the wall's chilly support and wincing a little. Krycek was frowning at him again, and Mulder almost smiled. He turned towards Reeves instead. "Sorry," he offered again, and was surprised to see a wry smile on the detective's face.

"That's all right," Reeves said with a wave of his hand. "I see how it is. I probably won't see you again later today, so we'd better say our goodbyes now." He stretched out his hand. "It's been good to work with you, Agent Mulder. I'm sorry I doubted you the way I did when Yun brought you in." The quick handshake was completely professional, devoid of any suggestion. Reeves moved on. "And it's been — interesting — to meet you, Mr. Krycek. You've certainly been in a position many would envy you for during this investigation, but then I suspect you've worked hard for it."

Reeves had walked away before Mulder had even finished his next stretch. It didn't do much to help his muscles unkink. He looked at Krycek with another half-smile. "You think it's enough, the safety measures we have for McKee? You think she'll live till tomorrow?" He didn't even want to ask about the next few days, the next few weeks, the time it would take to bring a case against any member or members of the consortium to trial.

Krycek shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe the best thing to do would be to bring her back and put her in the other bed in Scully's room, cuff her to the frame. Or we can just leave her here and hope for the best."

"Did you tell Scully that?"

"Yeah." He nodded. "Spelling was against it. And Olsen's determined to do everything he can, he feels so bad about having had McKee for a partner for months without noticing anything." Krycek looked down quickly, then up again at Mulder. "He's all set to feel guilty for years."

Mulder rubbed the heel of his hand over the bridge of his nose. "Are you trying to tell me I should have a little talk with him?"

"That's up to you," Krycek told him neutrally. "Come on now."

"Yeah, all right." He trailed along after Krycek, thinking about Agent Olsen's probable state of mind, and about safe houses in California and Virginia, and straight answers from a crooked woman, and the possibility of sleep. Strung out on caffeine and excitement, he was starting to feel like an attenuated replica of himself, or perhaps an artistic interpretation. A Giacometti Mulder.

Scully was still on the phone, but as they came up to her in the doorway of Yun's office, she hung up and looked at them both. "Skinner says he'll make arrangements for transporting McKee, and us, out of here in the afternoon or early evening."

Mulder blinked. "That was fast. The California judiciary system isn't going to be happy about letting her go."

"We'll have to send her back eventually," Scully said, "but he's sure enough that they'll let us have her that he's talking flight times. We'll be taking her ourselves. I don't know, maybe you're right," this to Krycek, "maybe it would be better if McKee came with us now instead of staying here."

"Do you know how many Federal agents there are here?" Yun half-shouted from inside the room. "If she's not safe here, she's not safe anywhere!"

"I think it'll be all right," Mulder said. He dropped his voice a little. "I think it's better for Olsen, too. Where is he?"

"Just down the hall," Scully nodded. "Let's go back to the hotel, then." She leaned into the room. "Agent Yun, we'll call you later today with information about how the prisoner is to be transported."

"Sure, fine, whatever." Yun's voice was a yawn carrying words.

"Just a minute," Mulder said, and wandered off down the hall in the direction Scully had indicated. He found Agent Olsen by the water cooler, staring rather morosely at a decidedly un-regulation calendar someone had hung up over it. A female moose wearing a colorful bikini and sunning herself on a Hawaiian beach stared back at him. Mulder grinned a little, and wondered how long it would be before Spelling discovered it and took it down. "Agent Olsen? I just wanted to have a word with you before I left."

Olsen turned to look at him. "I'll keep an eye on her," he said. "I swear I will. I don't know how she managed to fool me like that, but it won't happen again."

"It could have happened to anyone," Mulder said. "She appears to have been very careful." He was about to say, don't blame yourself, then stopped. The little speech he'd been contemplating suddenly felt pointless. Olsen would blame himself anyway. And Mulder couldn't tell him the story of Alex Krycek as some kind of comforting example, or to create any kind of fellow-feeling. There was no moral to that story — at least, none that could be applicable here. If, three years from now, Olsen found himself sleeping with his former partner and wondering what was happening to him, then perhaps they could talk.

"I just hope she's that careful with what she tells us," Olsen said, and Mulder could only agree.

He got himself a cup of water while he was standing there, and drank it as he walked back with Olsen to Yun's room. Olsen turned aside to begin his self-imposed watch, and Mulder stuck his head inside the room to say good night, or good morning, or something. Scully and Krycek had already moved on towards the elevators, but they'd wait for him one minute longer. Yun was leaning against his desk, ankles crossed, his hair sticking straight up. His usual vitality was damped down, hidden under a layer of five-in-the-morning weariness. He glanced up at Mulder. "Go away, Spooky. Go to bed."

"Sweet dreams to you, too," Mulder said lightly. "It's been interesting to work with you again, Martin."

"Is that what you call it?" Yun shot him a wry, tired grin. "Interesting. Yeah. It's been interesting. You know, I talked to Michelle a couple of hours ago, told her you were here." Mulder waited silently. "She says hi."

"That's all she says?"

"Nah. She said I should have invited you and your partner over one night. I guess it's too late now."

Mulder leaned against the doorjamb. "Amazing how time flies, isn't it?" he said with barely restrained sarcasm. "You should have tried that earlier — I could have told you it would be the only way you'd get to have dinner with Scully." Yun scowled at him. "Did you tell Michelle about that?"

"No." Yun's head fell forward and he rubbed at the back of his neck. "It's not easy," he said unexpectedly, voice husky under pressure. "It's not easy, to belong to someone. Sometimes I want to try to run away. Just so she can catch me again." Unsure of what to say, Mulder just stood where he was, watching Yun with the same concentration he would have used to read the body language of a suspect, or attempting to fathom the higher mysteries of the universe as conveyed through a Burger King commercial. "You know, when I had to explain to Michelle why you weren't interested, I told her you were queer."

"Just the first thing that popped into your mind, Martin?"

"I wanted to be sure. If I'd just said you didn't like the idea she might have decided she wanted to persuade you. And I wanted her." The ragged edge was back again, revealed by exhaustion. Mulder felt momentarily stunned by the depth of emotion behind those few words. "So are you?"

"What?" He tried to backtrack.

"Queer." Yun had lifted his head and was looking at him, eyes flat and tired. "You're not married yet, you're not sleeping with your partner, you read me fucking GLAAD lectures, Reeves wants to nail you." Then he rubbed the back of his neck again. "Course, you were screwing half the secretarial pool back when we were on the Kitty Killer case."

"Don't exaggerate, Martin. No more than a third at most..." He let his voice trail off, meeting Yun's eyes, wondering how serious the man was. "Maybe I was doing that because I was having doubts about my sexual identity," he offered, unable to keep from grinning.

Yun frowned, a small straight crease appearing between his eyebrows. "You want me to think that you're queer? Is that it?"

"Martin," Mulder said, feeling a sudden surge of unexpected affection, "I don't give a damn what you think." He pulled himself upright. "And now I'll go get some sleep."

He went off down the hall, weary down to the bone but still carried along by the wave of nervous exaltation that had swept him up when McKee had first agreed to testify. It was, as he had always known, not necessarily a wonderful world, but certainly a world full of wonders. Krycek and Scully were holding the elevator for him, leaning against its open doors like mismatched bookends. Looking at them both, Mulder felt his face turn helplessly to a smile. They all piled in, Scully hit the button for parking level, and down they went. It was cool down here, with the disheartening smell of concrete and exhaust fumes. Scully headed for the car, pulling the keys from her pocket.

"I'll drive," she said, then glanced up in surprise when Mulder didn't protest. He shrugged and went around to the passenger side. The back of his neck was so sore that he could barely turn his head. He might not be a traffic hazard but he was getting pretty damn close.

Krycek slipped into the back seat, and cursed softly as Scully backed out. "What?" Mulder asked, leaning his head against the headrest.

"I just put my foot in the remains of that Big Mac you never finished."

"Sorry," Mulder said lazily. He adjusted the seat belt and closed his eyes. For most of his adult life he had wished for the ability to sleep whenever he got the opportunity, instead of having to try to ambush Morpheus every night. Now he was tired enough to be absolutely certain that the moment he got into bed, he'd be unconscious. "Scully, did you tell Skinner about Lewis and Grazzini?"

"Yes. But he thought it was more important for us to concentrate on McKee and her testimony. We need to move fast."

"I know." He opened one eye, looked at the street ahead, thought about the future. "I was hoping he could assign someone else to look for them as part of the McKee case."

"You'd better talk to him yourself, Mulder," she said. He wondered if Scully would completely refuse to run interference between him and Skinner from now on, if she'd doubt his motives now that he knew of their relationship. That could get to be tiresome, but he supposed he could manage, as long as he didn't give in to impulse and wink at the AD next time he saw him. Maybe, Mulder thought to himself with a half-formed grin, she was just making up this affair to get him to do his share of putting in requests.

The car slowed down at a traffic light, then speeded up again. It wasn't far from the Federal building to Union Square, and the streets were as empty as they ever got. In a few more minutes, they were at Anson Place, stepping out into the damp night air. It had stopped raining, but the pavement was still wet. The click when Scully locked the car was the loudest sound in the street.

Inside the Green family hotel, one of the sisters was on desk clerk duty; she sat reading a book but put it down as soon as she heard them, and stood up to smile at them. "Good morning," she said brightly. "I hope the morning traffic doesn't wake you up later."

"I don't think so," Scully said with a tired smile.

They crowded into the small elevator. Mulder dug the key out of his pocket and stood turning it between his fingers, more than half of his mind still on McKee, presumably sleeping right now under Olsen's watchful eye. Was this what Christmas felt like to some people? No, probably not. This wasn't a gift, even though it was a surprise. He had worked for it, and now he wanted to hold on to it with both hands. If, despite Skinner's assurance, they weren't allowed to take McKee with them, he was going to find a way to stay here, stick to her like a burr all the way through the Flagstad trial. He wasn't going to lose her. He wasn't going to lose this possibility, this chance to make things come out right for once.

The hallway looked the same. He went towards his door and Krycek came with him. Scully paused with her key in the lock and looked over at them, opened her mouth to speak and closed it again. There was a carefully blank expression on her face. Mulder realized that it had only just occurred to her that he and Krycek were about to be alone in the same room again. He didn't laugh; it was too complicated an issue for him to laugh about. But he came close.

"Sleep well," he said instead.

"You too." She hesitated for another fraction of a second before continuing, "Skinner's calling me later today. I'll wake you and let you know what's happening."

"Good," he said and opened the door. Krycek went inside, and Mulder exchanged another long look with Scully before following him. He hung out the Do Not Disturb sign, pushed the door shut and bolted it. Turning around, he saw that the leather jacket was lying on the floor and Krycek had already vanished into the bathroom.

He went over to the window and looked out. There wasn't much to see, just darkness, and the last few drops of rain. Instead he leaned against the wall, and the image of McKee under heavy guard came back to him again. She would be safe like that. They had all agreed that she would be safe like that. So what was bothering him? Mulder picked idly at the cracking paint on the window frame, feeling the tiny flakes dig into his skin.

When Krycek came back out, he was still standing there, with paint chips under his nails. He turned around and studied the other man. Krycek was yawning, his hair an untidy, half-damp mess. The left sleeve of his sweater had worked free of the waistband of his jeans and hung limply at his side. "Your turn," Krycek said. "There's something wrong with the hot water. I hope they've fixed it by the time we have to get up."

Mulder nodded and crossed the room, walking slowly, feeling like someone's arthritic grandmother. Judging by the way Krycek watched him, that was what he looked like, too. He went into the bathroom and brushed his teeth in cold water, but drew the line at washing anything. He might not have done that even if there had been hot water — all he wanted was to take care of the absolute necessities and go to bed. Leaving the bathroom again to the sound of a flushing toilet, he found Krycek stripped to t-shirt and underwear, sitting on the edge of the bed they hadn't used last night. The overhead light was off, only the bedside lamps providing soft illumination.

It would have been possible, Mulder thought slowly, to have put Krycek under the same type of guard as McKee. If she was safe now, Krycek would have been as well. If she wasn't safe... no, he couldn't finish that thought. She had to be safe. And Krycek was here. He toed his shoes off, let the suit jacket slip from his shoulders to join Krycek's leather on the floor, and tugged at his tie with jerky, awkward motions. "You going to sleep there?" he asked.

"Depends," Krycek said, looking up at him thoughtfully.

"Don't forget to bring the pillow with you." Mulder sat down on the bed to pull his socks off. His back protested when he bent forward, and then protested some more when he sat up and pulled his arms back to get the shirt off.

"You're black and blue," Krycek commented. Mulder stood up reluctantly to take his pants and boxers off, stepped out of them where they lay in a puddle on the floor, and pulled the bedcovers free. He got into bed with a small sigh and sank back into a cotton embrace.

"I know," he said, feeling it every time he moved, deciding not to move any more. "Come on."

Krycek turned off the bedside lamp nearest to him and stood up, slowly pulling his t-shirt over his head. The scars were in shadow and his profile, outlined by the remaining light, was peaceful as he bent to get the pillow. He came across the short distance between the beds and peeled off his briefs before slipping under the covers, lying close to Mulder but not trying to hold him. After a moment, he reached to turn out the second lamp, too. The room was plunged in soothing darkness. "Do you really think you'll be comfortable with me here?" he asked.

One more time, then, Mulder thought, rolling slowly onto his side, and then falling forward to drape his bruised self over Alex Krycek, curling his free arm around the man's ribcage, tucking his unshaven chin into the hollow above the collarbone. He breathed out, settling down, thinking he was never going to move again. "Yes," he said, eyes already closed. "Now shut up and go to sleep." The last thing he heard was a faint breath of laughter.

~~ He was falling through an infinity of stars, stars small and perfect as snowflakes, catching in his hair and on his skin, a sting neither hot nor cold. When he tried to clutch at them they disappeared, but when he opened his hands and let himself fall they came to him, gilding him with their light. It was beautiful, and he was completely unprepared when the fall suddenly ended and he landed hard. ~~

Very hard, because he ached all over. Mulder scraped out a muffled noise of complaint. He cracked one eye open and saw sunlight, streaming in through the uncovered windows. One day he'd remember to pull the blinds down. The covers had slipped down to his waist, but he was warm, wrapped around Alex in a sunny room. He wondered what time it was, and whether it was any use trying to go back to sleep again.

Alex's hand came up to stroke his hair, fingers combing through to his scalp, scratching it gently. He sighed. It felt good; it almost made up for the way Alex's ribs were digging into some of his more tender bruises. Stretching a little, carefully, Mulder decided to be awake. He wriggled one foot, then the other. The post-case tristesse that usually gripped him on mornings like this was conspicuously absent. Then again, things weren't finished by any means; the Flagstad case might be over, more or less, but the business with McKee was very much a current issue.

Trying to shift his head, he froze and hissed with discomfort. His neck and shoulders had stiffened even more overnight and the position he was lying in evidently hadn't helped. The hand in his hair slipped down to rub gently at the sore muscles. Mulder tried to relax into the touch for a while; then he reluctantly pulled himself free to lie on his back, supporting his head on a pillow rather than Alex Krycek's shoulder.

"Try a hot shower," Alex suggested sleepily, rolling onto his side, bringing their bodies into close contact again. "That usually helps when you're feeling sore."

"In a while." He closed his eyes again, not to go back to sleep, although his body suggested it. Probably not to go back to sleep. "I'm not getting up yet." Then he felt himself start to smile as he realized what it was that pressed against the back of the hand that was trapped between his and Alex's bodies. Mulder turned his hand carefully and closed it around Alex's cock, half-hard and thickening rapidly against his palm. He tightened his hand repeatedly in gentle squeezes, and rubbed his thumb in a small circle at the base.

Alex pushed into his grip with a small, pleased sound. "Maybe it's better if you stay in bed," he agreed. The smell of his arousal rose up from under the covers, warm and suggestive. After a few moments his hand rose and started to drift over Mulder's chest, fingertips dipping down with care between the bruises, teasing the nipples with touches that were half imagination. Mulder sighed and stroked his fingers along Alex's cock, then slid them down to curve around the hot trembling sac.

"Yeah," he said lazily, "I might just sleep for another hour." He turned his head to look at Alex with a half-apologetic grin. "You know, this might be a bad idea. I can't move much."

"So don't move." Alex leaned forward and breathed a kiss into the hollow of Mulder's throat, then started to work his way down, mouth and lips drifting lightly across Mulder's shoulders and chest like fog rolling in across the Bay, and just as inescapable and all-enveloping. Every part of him strained towards those delicate, not-quite-erotic touches, desperate not to miss any sensation. He felt warmth flood through his body, pooling in his stomach, his groin. When a fingertip flicked his nipple more firmly, he almost jumped. "Sorry," Alex said, looking up with a perfectly straight face from licking a line along the lower edge of Mulder's rib cage.

Mulder considered telling Alex he was a cock tease but then decided that he felt too good and Alex undoubtedly knew it anyway. He closed his eyes as Alex pushed the covers down to nibble on his hipbone. He missed the hot living warmth of Alex's cock in his hand. It was brushing against the outside of his knee now, and bumping the kneecap. Alex licked along the crease at the top of his thigh, blew a teasing tickling breath into his pubic hair.

The sun and the covers would have kept him warm; Alex was setting him on fire. Mulder sucked in a long breath as Alex began to tongue the base of his cock, rubbing it wetly, working his way around before painting a broad stroke all the way to the head. He tried to lie still, to slide gently through the sensation and let it carry him along, but his body worked, wanting to struggle into and out of pleasure. His joints were coming undone, the features of his face shifting into cubistic disarray, his thoughts shredding, cut-up fragments, unfashionable poetry. It felt strange to be wanted so cleanly, so absolutely.

"Come up here," he mumbled, lips thickened with lust and unwilling to talk. He brushed Alex's shoulder, his side, tried to reach. Faced with this generous hunger, Mulder found himself compelled to respond in kind; he could not be still.

Alex lifted his head. "What?" he asked, distracted.

"Turn around," Mulder said a little more clearly, "I want to suck — oh Jesus," as Alex dipped down again to flicker tiny bolts of wet lightning over the head of his cock. For a moment he was convinced the top of his head had blown off and he would spend the rest of his life with his thoughts on display for all the world to see.

"I'm not sure I can keep my balance like that," Alex said thoughtfully, curling up and bracing himself on his arm. Mulder lifted his head to look at Alex, at the beautiful mutilated reality of him, and there was a sudden stabbing sensation deep in his chest and he dropped his head back down, thinking he shouldn't have done that. But he couldn't stop now. "But I can try."

They both moved slowly, Mulder slipping down in the bed as Alex swung around to hang over him, knees resting solidly in the mattress by Mulder's shoulders, arm planted to one side of Mulder's hip. Mulder realized it couldn't be quite comfortable, but he was pleased, reaching up carefully to stroke and knead at the strong thighs before catching Alex's cock and rubbing it between his fingers, momentarily fascinated by the way the head was emerging from the foreskin, like a monk baldly pulling back the hood of his habit. Then he pushed the pillow into shape under his head with one hand and drew the tip down to his mouth with the other. He remembered this taste, pleasantly sharp, warmly human, clearly Alex. It tasted like his skin only more so. He wanted more of it. He wanted more of all this, the touch, the warmth, the passion.

Alex made a sound of approval that created an exquisite humming buzz around Mulder's own sensitive spots and then went on to lick him thoroughly, with a lightness and delicacy of touch that promised endless pleasure without release. Mulder closed his eyes in dizzy frustration. Working his hips wouldn't help. Alex's mouth moved down one side of his cock and up the other, seemingly drawing all his nerve endings with it. Mulder sucked harder, in pleading encouragement, and felt the hot hard flesh in his mouth jump, felt the ripple continue through Alex's body, but the gentle touch that tormented him never faltered.

Without being consciously aware of it he had tilted his head farther and farther back, trying to take Alex in deeper, and now his neck was complaining. The ache brought him back a little to himself and allowed him to breathe. Mulder let the shaft slip from his mouth and tongued his way down the underside, with particular attention paid to the spot beneath the crown. His fingers read the response in the tremors that shot through Alex's legs, his back. Mulder moved on to breathe on the tightening balls, flick them with his tongue. He had to pause to suck in air when Alex's soft nibbles grew momentarily firmer, pushed him higher. It was getting hard to focus his mind, except on what was important. Alex.

Alex's legs trembled again when Mulder urged them farther apart. He licked along the perineum, his pace as leisurely and unhurried as the movements of Alex's tongue on him. Soft smooth skin. Alex was breathing hard. Alex was already moving when Mulder's hands came to shift him, a little forward, a little down. Mulder stroked his tongue across puckered skin, tight ring of muscle. He thumbed the rounded buttocks apart and his tongue returned in quick flickering movements, little lashes of pleasure.

"Ohjesuschrist," Alex said grittily, speaking into the hard curving flesh of Mulder's erection. Then he moaned, a sound as soft as his skin, as delicate as the fine-tuned response of his nerves. Mulder licked at him, sucked at him, thrust with his tongue against the body's resistance. He had known Alex would like this, he remembered Alex coming hard with a finger pushing into him. And his vampire mouth wanted to learn every secret part of Alex and feed off the pleasure it created. "Jesus God, lisitsa..."

He hadn't know how hungry he was for that shaking voice until he heard it. Mulder shivered, working his tongue around quivering muscle. The wet tip of Alex's cock was dragging over his chest, leaving a sticky trail of arousal. When it nudged across his nipple a jolt shot down into his groin. His cock jumped and Alex kissed it. Alex was trembling; what had been mildly uncomfortable at the start had to be almost painful now. "Don't fall on me," Mulder said, his voice a little slurred, and then he bit the round curve of Alex's ass for emphasis.

The answer was shaky laughter and another smothered moan. But it was clear that Alex was holding himself up with an effort, panting harshly into the skin of Mulder's lower belly, his back a taut and awkward bow. After a few more moments he moved away, withdrawing clumsily and reluctantly to fall to his side next to Mulder. When he turned again he slid down onto the floor and Mulder turned his head, confused, reaching out to pull Alex up again. His skin was screaming to be touched.

"Wait," Alex said from the floor, digging into the pile of clothing until he found his leather jacket. After a few moments of going through the pockets he came back up on the bed and knelt by Mulder's side, holding a small tube. His fingers hid the brand name, but Mulder's IQ hadn't dropped so many points that he couldn't figure out what it was and what they needed it for. He felt himself grow impossibly harder, his skin singed with the heat of sudden expectation. "You don't have to move," Alex said huskily, unscrewing the cap with a deft one-handed grip.

Mulder caught the thick gel on his fingers as it pushed out of the tube. He could feel the ache and burn of desire in the strangest places, along the soles of his feet, at the back of his neck, in the crook of his elbow. Alex was sitting back on his heels, knees wide apart, and Mulder reached between his legs and stroked, probed, all the while watching Alex's face. When his middle finger worked past the tightness and slid inside, Alex tipped his head back a fraction and his mouth opened to suck in air.

In a sympathetic response, Mulder felt his mouth open, too, and he licked his lips, tasting Alex. He wanted to tell Alex that he was beautiful. Instead he slid another finger in through the clench of muscle and flexed both in a scissoring motion, a careful stretch. The weight of Alex's balls danced against the inside of his arm. "More lube," he said, reaching up for it, and Alex squeezed it out over his fingers and then he was pushing inside again, feeling the amazing heat, seeing Alex flush slowly.

He was so concentrated on Alex's face, Alex's response, that he didn't even notice what Alex was doing with his hand until there was a hot slick grip around his cock and he arched into it, pure unthinking reflex. "That's enough," Alex said and rose up on his knees, and Mulder let his fingers slip out and just watched breathlessly as Alex moved over him again, straddled him, met his eyes for a second in a short jarring kiss. God, he was so hard, and Alex held him steady, slowly lowering himself. Mulder fought to lie still and let Alex set the pace. He wanted to thrust up hard, bury himself in the tight heat, in Alex, oh God, Alex.

Drawing in a deep breath, he closed his eyes and concentrated on not coming. Not yet, he prayed incoherently, feeling Alex's weight settle down across his hips, feeling himself enclosed by firm muscle and slick tissue, oh please, not yet. He pulled his legs up and his pelvis tilted and he was deeper still. His hands lifted and stroked up along taut thighs, towards the center of things, fingers dipping in to feel them joined: the clenching ring of muscle held open by his own flesh. Breath hissed in, an almost-groan. "Look at me," Alex said, "look at me."

Mulder opened his eyes and stared into glowing green. He tilted his hips again, slightly, a small, pushy experiment. Alex pressed back against him, then lifted himself, slid up, down, his eyes as much as his weight pinning Mulder to the bed. Every movement drove a stab of pleasure up along Mulder's spine. And the eyes, the face, were so open. He could see every reaction. Alex wanted him to see it. That thought took him perilously close again and he dug his fingers into Alex's legs in a silent whimper.

If any part of him was hurting right now, he didn't know it. Alex moved over him in a slow excruciating rhythm, yes, crucifying him, nailing him to the bed with every relentless breathtaking buttery slick thrust and grind of his hips. Mulder drew his breath in on a gasp of laughter at the illogic of the thought and reached with both hands to hold Alex's cock in a tight grip. His fingers were still slippery with lubricant and he matched Alex's own pace; seeing the twisting pleasure in Alex's face, he groaned and then bit his lip. The walls were thin.

Inside, he thought, the word shaping itself with such force in his head that he could feel his lips moving. Inside and it was hot and sweet and Alex was open to him, full of honest desire. His skin tingled, his teeth were softening in his mouth, his toes curled and every hair on his body was a fine-drawn wire of hot gold. Alex was breathing in irregular gasps, grinding down as Mulder arched up, his hand wrapped around the back of Mulder's thigh for support, the spot that had itched so badly yesterday.

"Lisitsa," Alex said, desperately, and Mulder felt the tremors in him, felt legs tighten around his hips, the leap of flesh against his stroking hands. He moved without thought, thrusting, twisting, impossibly deeper, and Alex cried out, a raw, dry scream. Mulder felt the hot gush of semen over his fingers, over his belly, his chest, and he was caught in the clench of muscular contractions that wrung his own orgasm out of him like the juice spilling from a crushed fruit.

The world went dim. His legs slid down to lie flat again, and Alex fell forward over him, glueing them together with sweat and come, and panted into his neck. Mulder sighed, flattened under Alex's almost completely limp body, and decided he probably didn't need to breathe anyway. He was distantly aware that everyone on this floor of the hotel must have heard Alex, but he couldn't make himself care. There was no room for a petty concern like that, not after this clear, clean, annihilating ecstasy.

Eventually Alex moved again, separating them, and slid mostly off him with a murmured wordless apology. Mulder turned his head searchingly and they kissed for the first time since they'd woken up. It was a long, leisurely kiss, a drink of water after hard work. Mulder stretched as well as he could, feeling considerably more comfortable in his body now. Eventually he broke his mouth away from Alex's to say, "Much better than a hot shower."

"You can have the shower too," Alex said with a soft chuckle. "It wasn't an either-or deal. In fact," he trailed a fingertip through the slippery mess on Mulder's belly, "I think a shower is mandatory at this point."

"Mm," Mulder said, wrapping an arm around Alex's back. He didn't want to get up yet. He had no idea what time it was, and he remembered Scully saying that she was going to wake him up as soon as she heard from Skinner again, but it was good to lie like this, to be languid and lazy and close. He felt like a harp after a struck chord, still ringing with the echoes of those harmonies. That he could resonate so deeply to Alex's touch was both disturbing and inexpressibly wonderful. "You all right?"

"Don't be an idiot." But Alex came closer, pressing himself carefully against Mulder's side. His lips traced a rambling path along Mulder's shoulder. He was more of a cuddly creature than Mulder would have expected, in the aftermath of orgasm.

"How old are you?" he asked out of the blue.


"I wondered how old you are," he repeated, brushing his fingertips against the short hair at the nape of Alex's neck. "According to your FBI records, you should be twenty-nine now. Are you?"

"No." Alex pressed closer and kissed him again. It was a fairly distracting kiss, even for someone who had just come so hard he thought he needed to tighten his joints with a screwdriver before he'd be able to walk, a kiss that could have been the closing argument in any discussion. Mulder was surprised when Alex volunteered a little later, "Thirty-two. They shaved off a few years to make me look young and harmless."

"Harmless," Mulder said reflectively. He remembered the Alex of those days, seemingly a little too young to be where he was, but bright enough to make it appear just possible. Good-looking beneath his awkward disguise of hair gel and polyester, a gem asking to be taken out of its tasteless setting, a temptation waiting for someone to happen to. "What did you do during those years, Alex? The years that aren't in your records?"

Alex drew back to look at him, his eyes once more a smooth unreadable emerald. "I grew bonsai and meditated on the nature of the universe, Mulder. And now I'm going to the bathroom."

It was no use trying to hold him. They came apart with a sticky sound and Alex sat up on the edge of the bed, scratching the back of his neck idly before getting up to walk across the room. When the bathroom door closed behind him, Mulder rolled over into the broad stripe of sunlight and sighed. It seemed the rain had passed and the heat was back. No one had called to say that McKee was dead, so he was going to assume that she was alive. And with McKee's help, he was going to get that smoking son of a bitch, and hopefully some of the others as well.

All in all, it was the best morning he'd had in years. The tiny shivers of unease he felt were just part of the price he was paying for it.

After a couple of minutes he slowly struggled into a sitting position and bent down to sort out their clothes, pushing leather and denim one way and fine wool the other. At the bottom of the pile he found, unexpectedly, the TV remote. He scooted down to the foot of the bed, turned the set on and flipped through the channels. On a local news channel he found Yun and the Bureau spokesman he recognized from earlier broadcasts, who had to be Josh Simon. Turning up the volume, he discovered it was the taped footage from yesterday about Flagstad's death. Yun looked more comfortable with the cameras than Simon did.

Mulder wondered whether Yun would ever get in touch with him again. He wasn't sure whether the conversation last night — this morning? — had left them completely alienated, or perversely closer. Martin Yun was a difficult man to like, probably even more difficult to love. He hoped Michelle was managing. At least he trusted that he and Yun were both agreed that the debt, if there had been a debt, was paid in full. The bathroom door opened and he tried to turn his head, swore, and twisted his whole body around instead.

"Hot water's not back yet," Alex told him. Walking over to the bed, sitting down beside him, kissing the point of his shoulder, Alex Krycek looked as casual as any lover greeting another, except that there was a shading of darkness in his eyes that spoke of concerns beyond the here and now. Everything was beyond the here and now, Mulder thought. This, seemingly so real and simple and present, was the dream. His feeling of unease grew. He couldn't hold on to the moment; in his mind, the future had already arrived.

"Look at Yun," Mulder said to distract himself, nodding carefully towards the TV screen. "His fifteen minutes. The man who hates PR, making sure the camera gets his good side."

"You think he has a good side?" A fleeting smile passed across Alex's face and was gone again. "Mulder—" He paused. "Would you hit me if I called you Fox?"

"No." No, and no, and no. Not ever again. "But don't."

"All right. Lisitsa." He started to stand up and Alex helped him with a friendly push. It wasn't that bad, really; he felt creaky and stiff, but the only thing that gave him more than a moment's pause was his neck and shoulders. That would pass. He'd felt worse after sleeping at his desk for a couple of nights running.

Mulder went to the bathroom and washed gingerly in cold water, cursing now and then to keep himself going. He was starting to feel unsettled, not knowing what would happen next. If they were going to be stuck in San Francisco for another couple of days, what would they do? The tourist existence he'd originally envisioned for Scully came to mind and he chuckled a little, reaching out for a towel to dry himself. He could just see the three of them taking the ferry to Alcatraz.

Then for a moment he could see just that, the blue water of the Bay, sunshine shooting sparks off Scully's hair, Krycek laughing at something.

He wanted to go back to DC with McKee. The longer they had to wait to put the investigation in motion, the greater the risk that those secretive sons of bitches would vanish before he could get at them. McKee had given them more than he had expected, considering her lowly status in the organization, and he knew that once he started digging he could find more. He would have the Bureau's full resources on his side this time. Or as much of the Bureau as wasn't corrupt.

Coming out of the bathroom again, he found Alex already dressed in jeans and one of Mulder's t-shirts, sitting on the bed, wiggling his toes. It was an unlikely and endearing sight, and Mulder grinned as he went to look for clean underwear. "Morning exercises?"

"I already got my workout this morning," Alex told him. That phone sex voice again. He wondered if Krycek was aware of it, if he used it deliberately. When he turned around again Alex was putting his socks on with an air of great concentration. "Mulder, remember I told you that there are some people who want to keep you alive, and some who don't?"

He didn't blink at the change of topic. "Yes."

"You should keep that in mind while you look into what McKee has been telling you," Alex said seriously, looking up to meet his eyes. "I know you're feeling like a kid on Christmas morning, but you have to understand that you've got the tiger by the tail." Then he laughed. "Clichés aside, Mulder, just make an effort this time and think before you act. This is going to be more dangerous than anything you've ever done before. Believe me."

Mulder tugged his shirt on and stepped back across the space between the beds to sit down next to Krycek again, his fingers busy with the buttons. "You're not trying to talk me out of this investigation, are you?"

"As if I could," Alex said with a crooked grin. "No. I just want you to — be careful, okay?" He looked as though he was about to add something, when there was a brisk knock on the connecting door.

"It's Scully," she said from the other side. "Are you decent?"

Mulder got to his feet again, picking his pants up and stepping into them. "Just a minute," he raised his voice to answer. Krycek was dressed, of course, and Scully had certainly seen her partner in less clothing than he was wearing now, but he wanted to spare her the embarrassment of walking in on another scene of obvious intimacy. Besides, the room reeked of sex.

"Come in here when you're ready. They stopped serving breakfast hours ago, so I bought us a few things."

"Donuts?" he said hopefully, but she didn't answer. Mulder hurried into the rest of his clothes. Putting on his tie was the most uncomfortable part. When he turned he saw that Krycek had got his shoes on and was holding his jacket in his hand, looking at it. "I don't think you need to wear that to eat breakfast."

The other man shrugged wordlessly and came closer to him, step by slow step, until they were standing chest to chest. Mulder looked into Alex's eyes, to see if he could see beneath the surface. He wasn't sure, and he lifted his hand and brushed his fingers over the nearest stubbled cheek, feeling the rasp against his skin as though it were the only really certain thing in the universe. Alex leaned closer and caught his mouth with soft lips, kissed him gently but thoroughly. It was soft but intoxicating, overwhelmingly intimate.

Breakfast was waiting. Scully was waiting. After a while Mulder pulled back, reluctantly, and they both went towards the connecting door. Scully's room was neat and tidy; the beds were made, and the window was open to let in fresh, sunny air. On the dresser she'd put some small bottles of fruit juice, a bag of apples, styrofoam cups full of coffee — and a carton of donuts. Mulder smiled. The breakfast of compromise. Alex opened the carton and picked out a chocolate-glazed donut.

"I've heard from Skinner," Scully said. She was standing by the window, sipping juice straight from the plastic bottle; her voice was cool, clipped, but Mulder thought it was due more to self-consciousness than anything else. "He's made arrangements for us to fly out of here with McKee later this afternoon." She looked at her watch. "We should probably leave as soon as you've eaten."

"I need to pack," Mulder said, twisting the cap off a juice bottle with a nervous turn of the wrist. He glanced at Alex, away again. "So he's authorized this investigation?"

"Yes." Scully took a couple of steps towards him. She'd packed her bag already and it sat waiting at the foot of the bed. "He's going to assign a couple of other agents to work with us. McKee will stay at Quantico overnight and then she's going to a safe house in—" Scully broke off, looking at Krycek.

"Better not tell me," Krycek agreed, and bit into his donut, looking unconcerned. "Make sure those other agents are people you can trust."

Mulder drank the juice down, all of it in one long swallow, and set the bottle aside again. They'd be leaving soon, then. He looked at the donuts and felt his stomach lurch uncertainly. "Are we picking McKee up?"

"Spelling is responsible for transporting her to the airport," Scully said, "but I think it would be best if we drove there with them. We'll be met at Dulles, of course." She dug an apple out of the bag but didn't bite into it. She seemed to be waiting for some response from him, but he wasn't sure what.

"I need to pack," Mulder said again. He picked up a donut and a cup of coffee and went back through the connecting door. The room still looked like a disaster area. It still smelled of sex. He set the cup and donut down on the bedside table and went to retrieve his bag from the corner by the TV. Putting it down on the bed they had slept in, he started to pick up the things he'd flung here and there over the few days he'd been staying here. Clothes, maps, the laptop, computer disks, books... no, wait, that map was Krycek's. And so was the soft washed-out black sweater with the bloodstains.

Mulder paused with the cotton sweater in his hands, taken by surprise by the impulse to stuff it into his bag along with his own things. He had enough of Krycek's tattered wardrobe in his apartment already, he didn't need to add to it, and Krycek probably wouldn't appreciate having his few items of clothing stolen. Through the open connecting door he heard Scully talking, heard Krycek's deeper voice husk out a reply. Skinner must have been pulling a lot of strings this morning to get things moving so quickly. Skinner must really be convinced that they could get that smoking old bastard and his cronies through McKee's cooperation.


Going into the bathroom, he collected toothbrush and shaving gear and other odds and ends, stuffing them in no particular order into the ugly toilet case his mother had given him for Christmas six years ago. He came out again weighing it in his hand, scanning the room for other possessions.

Back to DC, back to another investigation. The most important investigation of all. Mulder found himself shivering slightly. He was so prepared for this to turn into a disaster, he felt as though someone had pulled the floor out from under his feet already. It was too much trouble to fold his shirts properly and he just shoved them into the bag; it didn't matter, it wasn't as if he was going to wash and iron them himself anyway. His running shoes went on top of everything else. Closing the bag, he looked at his hand luggage, the laptop in its carrying case, a copy of the Bay Guardian. As if he'd be able to read during the flight, watching McKee.

He was ready to go, he supposed. His stomach protested at the thought of eating anything, and he ignored the donut on the bedside table. There was something else he had to settle before he could leave, though, and he didn't know how. He went back to the connecting door and leaned against the doorjamb, looking into the room. Scully sat on the edge of one of the beds, the untouched apple still in her hand. One of the cups of coffee that had stood on the dresser was missing. So was Alex Krycek.

For one moment he felt surprise, and then surprise at his own surprise.

Scully looked up at him, then got to her feet. "Are you ready?" she asked.

"You let him go," he said, not a question. And he'd been wondering how to say goodbye.

"I — yes." She tucked her hair back behind her ear and turned more fully towards him. "I know Skinner won't understand, he was furious that we couldn't manage to bring Krycek in from Leyden Creek." Yes, Mulder remembered that very clearly. "But he's been helpful to us here, he saved your life. And we've got McKee. And besides—"

"Besides, you don't want him around me any more." He watched her flush faintly. Yes, she must have heard them before. He didn't care. Maybe she believed it was sick and twisted, maybe he believed on some level that it was sick and twisted, but it had been good all the same. His mind brushed against the word 'beautiful,' veered away again. "So do you still think I need therapy, Scully?"

She sighed. "No, I think I need therapy. I just let a criminal walk out that door without trying to stop him. And no," her eyes cut to his face, flashes of blue steel, "it wasn't just because he's been sleeping with my partner, either."

"You like him," he said.

"We have to go now, Mulder." Scully picked up her bag and went towards the door without meeting his eyes or trying to answer his question. "Are you ready?"

"Yeah," he said and went back into his room again. He picked up the bag, put it down, unzipped it, managed to squeeze Alex's sweater and the well-worn map down into the free space, and shut the bag again. Hefting it in one hand, he looked at the bed, at the sheets stained with lubricant and drying semen, and felt again that tightening of his shoulders, that clenching of his jaw, the need to lash out at something or someone. Krycek had left him without saying goodbye yet again. Let go and he disappears. Fuck him.

Only he'd already done that, hadn't he. Mulder turned around with the bag in one hand and the laptop in its carrying case in the other, walked to the door, unbolted it, opened it and stepped into the corridor. Scully was waiting by the elevator and he went to join her; they rode down in silence and handed their keys in to the cheerful desk clerk, who told them she would miss them, and sounded quite sincere about it. In fact, Mulder thought, she probably was. They must have been the most entertaining guests the hotel had had in a long time.

Scully had already settled the matter of their bill. She led the way out into the street and over to the car, unlocked it and put her bag in the back seat. Then she paused, and looked at Mulder. "Do you want to drive?"

He nodded and took the keys from her hand after putting his own things next to hers. Getting in, starting the car, he concentrated on remembering the route to the Federal building. Scully had brought the box of donuts and now she balanced it on the dash as she put her seat belt on. He drove slowly out into the early-afternoon weekday traffic, and carefully kept his attention away from the sidewalks, tried not to look for a dark-haired man in a leather jacket.

By the time they got to the Federal building his stomach was churning. He volunteered to stay in the car while Scully went inside. Mulder looked at the donuts and then looked away; he could smell them from where he sat. It was ridiculous. He'd seen bodies in every stage of decay and decomposition, he'd gone directly from autopsy scenes to cafeterias, discussed serial killers over dinner. Death didn't mess with his digestion. Alex Krycek did.

Damn you, Alex, he thought, but there was nothing pure about his anger any more. He ran a hand over his face, through his hair, scrubbed at himself, but all the detritus of the past four days still clung to him.

After a while Scully came back out again, talking to Yun. They were followed by a small group of people, dark suits clustered around a shorter, skirted figure. Mulder got out of the car to watch as McKee was safely stowed away in the back seat of a white sedan, with an agent on each side — one of them was Sedley. McKee looked different today, in a skirt and jacket and with a scarf tied over her hair. The sullen profile that showed under the bright silk was the same, though.

Scully shook hands with Yun rather formally and headed back to the car. Yun didn't come over, but he caught Mulder's eye and nodded at him before turning back into the Federal building. Getting back into the car, Mulder rolled his shoulders before fastening the seat belt, and looked at Scully. "Did you bring any more of those juice bottles?"

"I've got one here," she said, bending forward to dig into the bag at her feet. "Do you want painkillers with that?"

"Not this time." The white car pulled out and he followed it. This way, at least they wouldn't get lost going back to the airport. Mulder accepted the juice bottle she handed him and drank slowly as they drove out of San Francisco. It wasn't until they had left the city that he glanced over at Scully again. "Is Skinner happy with this? Is he going to give us all the resources we need to pull this off?"

It came out sounding a little rougher and more doubting than he had intended. Scully pursed her lips at his tone of voice before answering. "Yes. I believe—" She broke off.


"I think he's going to work with us himself on this." When he didn't answer, she went on, "We don't quite know who we can trust, Mulder, and the fewer people we have to bring into this the better."

That was only too true. "Maybe we can drag Pendrell out of the lab for this one," Mulder suggested. "He's done more than his share of research for us and he's reliable. Not a field agent, of course, and there might be a little too much tension in the group with both him and Skinner there, but..."

The look he shot her now was impossible to misunderstand and he wasn't really surprised when she started to look angry. "Mulder, what is wrong with you? You've been given testimony that might take down the Consortium, and you sound as though you're wearing shoes that are three sizes too small. If you can't deal with my relationship with Walter, can't you at least say so instead of insinuating—"

"I wasn't insinuating anything. Pendrell has had a crush on you since the first time you stuck your little red head into his lab. And I don't have a problem with your relationship with Skinner, okay?" His voice was rising in anger. "It's none of my goddamn business unless it interferes with your work."

"Well, you have a problem with something."

"Oh, I know, Scully, I know. Friends have suggested that I seek professional help for it." Then he almost bit his tongue off. She bent forward, concerned; she was about to say something, and he wasn't sure he wanted to hear it. "I think it's a good idea for us to work with Skinner," he said in a deliberately neutral tone. "We can trust him, and his presence makes it clear that the Bureau is taking this seriously."

Scully nodded. She leaned back in her seat again and looked out the window on her side, while Mulder concentrated on keeping an even distance from the car ahead. Although it was a sunny day, it wasn't as hot as it had been when they came here, even now that they were out of the city. Cooler winds had started to blow, dropping the temperature. Mulder vaguely remembered someone on the TV that morning either predicting or just hoping for more rain.

The drive seemed shorter now that they were going back. Approaching the airport, the cars separated as Mulder headed for the rental agency. Scully had made arrangements with the agents transporting McKee. When they got back from returning the car, McKee was waiting, cuffed to Sedley, in a small room normally used by airport security. Not only did she have that colorful scarf on her head, she was wearing rather a lot of makeup. Mulder wasn't sure if it was intended as a half-hearted disguise, or if he was simply seeing the private Lucy McKee. If he was, someone should tell her that color lipstick didn't suit her.

Scully exchanged greetings with Sedley and the other agent, and in a few moments McKee was handcuffed to her wrist instead. Sedley offered to wait with them, but Scully turned the offer down with no more than a cursory glance at Mulder. He wasn't about to argue. He kept his eyes on McKee, half expecting her to disappear into thin air, but she just glowered back at him. Confession and the promise of protection had done nothing to improve her attitude.

Before leaving, Sedley shook hands with both of them as the other agent, whose name Mulder didn't know, hovered in the background. "It was an experience to work with you," she said. "You're both very good." Her smile as she left was warm and genuine.

The small room had no windows. The hum of air conditioning filled it from white wall to white wall, and the linoleum floor was scuffed and dirty. Mulder prowled from corner to corner, diagonally. He was aware that Scully was watching him almost as concentratedly as he was watching McKee. The awareness did nothing for his restlessness. He felt hollow, and wanted fiercely to be back in familiar environments and in the middle of the investigation already. He needed to work — to work hard — to throw himself into it.

Glancing at his watch, he wondered how soon they would be allowed to board. He could start up the laptop once they got on the plane, work out a plan of action based on McKee's testimony. Or maybe just play endless games of Tetris from one end of the country to the other. The tension in his neck and shoulders as he turned around made him regret that he'd turned down Scully's offer of painkillers, but he'd been eating Tylenol like candy lately. The pain would pass. The pain would have to pass.

"She's right," Scully said. The sound of her voice was unexpected and he stopped pacing the room, turned towards her. "You did a very good job on the Flagstad profile, Mulder. Don't lose sight of that while you think about what we're going to do next."

Mulder shrugged. "It's good that we found him," he said, but his voice was flat. He had no emotion left over right now for the man who had intended to hack his face up and kill him, who had intended to do the same thing to Scully. The man who was now lying on a slab somewhere with a bullet in his brain and another in his chest. It was past. When he blinked, he saw again the stencilled flower garland and the dust motes floating in the air, heard Krycek's tense arguments.

"Mulder." Scully took a step towards him, then paused as she realized that to come closer, she would have to drag McKee along. She sighed, and then ignored the woman cuffed to her wrist as if McKee weren't there. Coming up to him, she put a hand on his arm. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine," he said. "Apart from having been concussed, injected with an unknown substance, subjected to a test run of a particularly nasty illness, hypnotized, and beaten up by a psychotic killer, I've had a wonderful time." When he blinked this time, he saw Krycek, flushed and panting, all barriers down, driving them both towards ecstasy.

She looked down, then up again, and seemed to reach a decision. "He asked me to tell you he'd be in touch." No need to explain who 'he' was. There was a troubled look in her eyes, but she didn't say anything else; no suggestions of what he ought to do before that happened, or when that happened. Instead she wrapped her free arm around him and hugged him awkwardly, and after a moment he hugged her back, looking away from the puzzled and irritated McKee. When Scully let go of him, her troubled look was warmer and more concerned. "Mulder, how do you feel?"

"Strange," he said, tugging at his tie and undoing the topmost button of his shirt. "I feel strange."

The door opened, and a member of the airport security staff nodded at them. It was time for them to board the plane. Mulder picked up the laptop, and Scully made sure that McKee had her coat, and then they walked out. Nothing happened as they were escorted to the gate and went down the narrow carpeted corridor that would take them to the plane. As they reached the end and saw the flight attendant waiting at the open door, fresh air came streaming towards them and there was a glimpse of sunlight, of sky.

Mulder breathed deeply. Plane fuel and dust. But he thought he could feel, all the same, a hint of eucalyptus.

* * *

art || the x‑files || e‑mail