Caretaker

by Nix
(crimsonquills AT gmail DOT com)


Author's Notes: This story had been betaed by no one but me. I got impatient and just had to put it up! All mistakes are mine.


Mulder arrived in his apartment after midnight, not at all an unusual hour for him, and collasped bonelessly on his couch. It was only then that the package lying in the middle of the floor caught his attention. It was a nondescript manila envelope, and it's contents made it bulky. Mulder immediately rose from his place on the couch, wondering if a new informant had found him. //Strange,// he thought, //how they always find me, instead of me finding them.//

Tearing open the envelope, Mulder discovered a video tape inside. There was no explanatory note, no indication of what was on the tape. Shrugging, Mulder ejected his most recent...entertainment...from the VCR and inserted the tape. After a slight whirring sound, a grainy picture from what was, as far as Mulder could tell, cheap surveillance gear appeared on the TV screen. The picture showed the inside of some kind of prison cell and a single occupant. As bad as the quality was, Mulder didn't think he'd have recognised the prisoner if it wasn't for the missing left arm. "Krycek," Mulder whispered, a bit vicously.

For a moment the image was unchanged, until Mulder wondered if this was all there was on the tape. Then Krycek's head, formerly bowed, came up sharply. The FBI agent realised that there was no sound on the tape, and that Krycek had heard something.

Another figure presently entered the image. Mulder cursed the bad quality of the tape as he strained to make out the newcomer's features. When the man raised a cigarette to his mouth and took a long draw, the mystery was solved. Cancer Man was alive. Mulder didn't doubt it one bit.

Cancer Man and Krycek had a brief conversation before Krycek clearly, even through the bad qualtiy, spit at the Cancer Man's feet. A moment later two thugs entered the picture, grabbed Krycek and pulled him forcefully form the room.

At this point the tape flickered, clearly having been edited. Mulder assumed that whoever had left him the tape had cut out the time the cell was left empty. After a moment, the thugs reappeared on the TV screen, Krycek hanging limply between them. The thugs tossed him carelessly into the cell and Mulder winced in involuntary sympathy as Krycek landed hard on the concrete floor.

The former agent lay motionless on the floor of the concrete floor for a long time. Mulder slowly came to realise that Krycek was, in fact, unconscious. Not long after the FBI agent came to this understanding, Krycek stirred slowly. Eventually, he rose to his knees, wrapping one arm around his middle, and settled himself against the wall.

Leaning forward, Mulder struggled to make out more detail on the picture. Something about Krycek looked...wrong. After a long moment, Mulder had an epiphany. //He's been beaten. Badly.// The double agent's face was darkened with bruises on one side, his single arm appeared swollen and he clutched his middle in a way that made Mulder think a rib or two had been broken.

For one insane moment, Mulder felt a surge of something like jealousy. As if Krycek was his to beat up on, and no one else's. The agent swiftly dismissed the feeling, and blinked in surprise when the image in front of him abruptly cut. Fuzz filled the screen until Mulder reached out and hit the power button.

Mulder leaned back into his couch and wondered how the balance of power had changed that the Syndicate now felt they could "take care" of Krycek. Someone must have been protecting him, before. He knew too much for the Syndicate to let such a loose end go. Mulder's mind wandered from that thought to contemplating why he'd been given this information.

//Whatever their motives,// Mulder mused, //this is very useful information. Krycek knows a lot that I can use, if I can get a hold of him.// A little devil voice in the back of Mulder's head whispered, //How much does he know, now, that you don't? Why do you really want to help him?// Mulder ignored the little voice, ejecting the tape from the VCR.

As the machine spit the tape out, Mulder noticed a flash of white. The tape was labelled "Vancouver, Canada". "Well," Mulder said to himself. "How kind of someone, to provide a starting point." He picked up the phone and punched in Scully's phone number. "Scully, it's me. I've got something here you ought to see. Is it okay if I come over?"

***

"What is it, Mulder?" Scully asked, obviously having just thrown on clothing and rubbing the sleep out of her eyes.

Mulder ducked his head apologetically, but said, "The rat's back."

"Krycek? How do you know? Did he show up in your apartment again?" Scully asked, suddenly much more awake. Mulder had told her about Krycek's visit, months before, but he'd left out the kiss for reasons even he didn't really understand.

In answer to her questions, Mulder popped the video into her VCR and let Scully draw her own conclusions. "So?" she asked when the tape was done. "He's finally getting what he deserves."

"I think we should break him out, Scully." Mulder said.

"Why? Mulder, after everything he's done to me - to us - why should we do anything to help him?" Scully's voice was just a little sharp. Mulder thought he understood. Krycek had participated in her abduction and had stood by while her sister was murdered. She had every reason to hate him.

"Because he knows things, Scully. If the Syndicate thinks he's enough of a threat that they have to spend time neutralising him, then he's valuble to us." //Sure,// Mulder's devil voice sneered. //You keep thinking that.//

"Mulder," Scully went on, looking askance at her partner, "I'd expected you to be a little less ready to ride to the rescue here. I mean, the man killed your father!"

"I'm not so sure about that, Scully," Mulder heard himself saying. "I was on hallucinogens that night, and we never were able to match his gun - or any of the bullets from it - to the slugs we found." As he finished, Mulder realised what he was saying was true.

Scully looked intently at Mulder for a moment before giving in with a nod. "All right, then. If you think it's worth it. Do we have a starting point?"

"Actually, yes. The tape is labelled 'Vancouver, Canada'."

"Mulder! We don't have any jurisdiction in Canada," Scully protested.

"Has that ever stopped us before?" Mulder asked with a grin.

***

After the two agents had arrived in the Vancouver international airport, Mulder went right to work. Before they'd even booked themselves in at a hotel, he'd talked his way into the security chief's confidence. The two agents and the security chief scanned backwards through the surveillance tapes, finally spotting Krycek entering the baggage claim on a tape three days before. He didn't pick up any bags and was soon out of the picture.

Checking tapes from around the airport in approximately the same time frame, Mulder soon spotted Krycek at a bank of pay phones. Thanking the security chief, the agent noted the exact time of the call and left to find a hotel.

Scully dropped her suitcase on the floor next to her bed in her tiny hotel room and went to the door that led to Mulder's room. She knocked, and entered when Mulder's voice called out to her. Scully found her partner playing back the surveillance tape once again, staring intently at the screen.

"What, didn't you bring any of your own videos with you?" she asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Business before pleasure, Scully," Mulder responded. "I'm trying to see if there are any indications of exactly where this was filmed. Vancouver's a big enough city to make a search for one man in one room damn near impossible."

"Mulder," Scully said, sitting down beside him at the foot of his bed. "I still don't understand why finding Krycek is so important to you. For God's sake, we were at the airport for four hours before we even got a hotel room!"

"He know things," Mulder insisted stubbornly.

"What does he know that he didn't tell you?" Scully asked. "What can he tell us that we didn't find out in the arctic?"

"He was on the inside, Scully. He's got to know something! Besides, those bastards will do things to him that no one should have to suffer through." Mulder got up off the bed and punched the power button on the VCR.

"I can hardly believe my ears," Scully went on, incredulously. "Am I hearing sympathy for Alex Krycek from you, Fox Mulder?"

"What? Aren't I allowed to show some humanity to my enemies?"

"You'd surprise Krycek if you did," Scully commented heatedly. "What's changed that you're suddenly pitying Krycek instead of beating up on him?"

"Why are you doing this, Scully? Don't you trust me?" Mulder asked.

His partner sighed heavily. "Of course I trust you, Mulder. I just don't understand. You leave me in the dark so often, I hardly know what's motivating you these days."

"Maybe it is pity," Mulder said, sitting down beside her. "Maybe it's the truth. Maybe it's respect." //Maybe it's that kiss,// a little voice whispered to him. //Maybe it's what he said to you that night. Shocked the hell out of you when you got it translated, didn't it?//

"Whatever, Mulder," Scully said tiredly. "When you're ready to tell me, you will. In the meantime, I'm going to bed." Scully retreated to her own room, leaving Mulder with his thoughts.

To avoid too much thinking, he picked up the phone and dialed the operator. "Operator? This is FBI special agent Fox Mulder. I need the number dialed out from a pay phone a few days ago. Yes, I understand this is unusual, but I'm pursuing a known felon." He paused, then gave his badge number, "And if you feel you need further confirmation, Assistent Director Walter Skinner is my superior. The pay phone is located at the Vancouver International Airport, number 555-4060. I know. I know a lot of calls go out from pay phones. The exact time of the call was Thursday the 18th, 1:58 pm. Yes, I'll hold."

Mulder sat and listened to bad music for five minutes, until the operator got back with the number. "555-2131? All right. Thank you very much." He hung up the phone and debated dialing the new number immediately. Eventually, he decided it could wait until morning.

In the dark, stretched out in his boxers but nowhere near sleep, Mulder's thoughts were free. //Why do I want to help Krycek?// he asked himself, prompted by Scully's questioning. //He called me his friend. My God, with friends like me, what kind of enemies does he have? Why did he keep coming back to help me when all he got from it was trouble?//

Mulder turned about restlessly. //And why did I keep trusting the information he gave me? Tovarish. Friend. He was right about the colonisation, was he telling the truth about the rest? Have I any good reason he'd lie to me? Christ,// Mulder thought, tossing, //has he lied to me once since he disappered the first time? I don't think he has.//

//How ironic, that one of the few people I can trust with the truth is one of my enemies. Enemy? He's been helping me for years now... Have I been judging him by one betrayal? There was Scully's sister, but he didn't kill her - Luis Cardinal did. My father, but I wasn't lying when I told Scully I was no longer sure of that.// Mulder frowned into the blackness of the night. //There's nothing else, beyond that first, painful betrayal.//

//Painful? Why should it hurt? Oh, hell. I don't know where my head is going tonight.// Mulder punched his pillow and resolutely settled down to sleep. //No more thinking.//

***

In the morning Mulder called Scully into his room so that she could hear his end of the phone call he was about to make. When she'd settled herself, he picked up the receiver and dialed the number the operator had given him the night before.

\\Richard Thorne Plastic Surgeons, Carol speaking. How can I help you?\\ the person on the other end of the phone answered brightly.

"Hello, this is Fox Mulder," Mulder began, "I need to confirm some information for a friend of mine. He's extremely busy right now, but it's important he get this. His name is Nicholas Kendall," Mulder continued, giving the alias Krycek had used to book his flight.

\\I'm sorry, Mr.Mulder, but Mr.Kendall has asked that his records be kept confidential.\\

"I was under the impression there was some way a trusted friend could gain access to such records," Mulder asked leadingly. Scully raised an eyebrow at the phrase 'trusted friend'. Mulder only shrugged.

\\Well, we do allow for such circumstances,\\ Carol admitted hesitently. \\Did Mr.Kendall give you his password?\\

"Of course," Mulder said. "Just a moment while I find it." He covered the reciver, "Password?" he asked Scully in a whisper. She shrugged helplessly. "I know it's around here somewhere," he said into the phone as he racked his brain.

Then, inspiration struck. "Right! I've got it," he told Carol. Scully looked puzzled. "Nick's password is 'tovarish'."

\\Would you spell that, please?\\ Carol asked.

Mulder bit his lip, wondering what the phonetic spelling of the Russian word would be. Hesitently, he said, "T-O-V-A-R-I-S-H," and waited.

After a moment, Carol was back. \\That's right, Mr.Mulder. What do you need to know?\\

Sighing his relief, Mulder went on. "I'd like to confirm the date of the procedure." Scully looked questioningly at Mulder, so he wrote 'plastic surgery' on a scrap of paper and handed it to her.

\\Very well,\\ there was a moment with only the sound of tapping keys. \\According to this, Mr.Kendall is scheduled to have the work on his arm done on the 25th.\\

"Thank you," Mulder said. Then, almost as an afterthought, "Carol? I'm very worried about Nick. He's nervouse about the operation, to the point I think he might back out of it..." he allowed himself to trail off.

\\Oh, Mr.Mulder, you can't let him do that!\\ Carol exclaimed. \\What's left of his arm is a real mess. God only knows who amputated it. Mr.Kendall needs this procedure to clean out the bone fragments and to create a proper stump. Frankly, the doctor was amazed that he was able to wear a prosthetic at all. It must have been extraordinarily painful.\\

"Well, I'll see if I can reassure him about it," Mulder replied. "Thank you. You've been a great help. Just one more thing, if you don't mind."

\\Certainly, sir,\\ Carol responded, all caution having disappeared when Mulder produced Krycek's password.

"I just recently got into town, and Nick forgot to tell me where he was staying. Do you have a local address for him?"

\\Absolutely, Mr.Mulder. Mr.Kendall is staying at a Travelodge Inn,\\ she quickly gave him the address and phone number. Mulder thanked her again and held up the address for Scully to read.

"Time to go," Scully said as he hung up the phone.

"I'll fill you in on the way," Mulder agreed as he rose and grabbed the keys.

***

Krycek's room at the Travelodge Inn hadn't been searched, but there were signs of a struggle. Mulder found three shell casings, but no sign of a gun. Blood spotted the floor, and there was a blood smeared dent in the wall that Mulder guessed would fit Krycek's face perfectly.

"It looks like Krycek was the only thing here they wanted," Scully commented.

"Looks that way," Mulder agreed. They went and questioned the man at the desk. Fortunately, he'd also been working two days before, when Krycek returned to the room he'd rented the day before that. Upon further questioning, Scully managed to get him to remember that two men had entered the room on the same day. It turned out that they'd left only a few minutes later with a bag of what the young man thought had been laundry.

"Do you have any idea where they went after they left here?" Mulder asked intently.

"I guess back to work," the young man said with a shrug. "Their van had a logo on it for some kind of storage place. A big lock, I think."

"Thank you," Scully said, ending the conversation. She and Mulder returned to the car, where they sat for a moment without moving.

"So what do we do now?" Mulder asked, obviously frustrated. "We know why he's here, but we still don't know where he is. There must be hundreds of storage facilities in Vancouver!"

"We go to lunch," Scully said practically. "And the we start visiting those hundreds of facilities."

***

"They've had him for five days now, Scully. He could be dead. How can we just keep wandering the waterfront?" Mulder asked. They'd been investigating possible storage companies for three days, with no luck.

"Personally, Mulder, I don't care if Krycek's rotting right now. But I trust your judgement, so here I am. And our luck may be changing. Look." Scully pointed to the logo on the door of the latest warehouse. It was a large, simple padlock. Up closer, the agents found that the warehouse was closed due to bankruptcy.

"This is it, Scully. I can feel it," Mulder said, leaning down to pick up a length of metal. Scully nodded and armed herself. The lock on the door was new, but the ring holding it to the door was rusty. It soon broke off with a clang that made Mulder wince. He set down the metal rod and drew his gun.

For the first few steps, the hallway that the door opened into was empty. Then, out of one of the doors to the storage units stepped a man. Mulder reversed his gun and used the butt of it to knock the man unconscious before he could raise the alarm.

Unfortunately, the second man saw his comrade go down and managed to yell once before Mulder whacked him, too. Urgent now, Mulder stepped into the room they'd come out of and found Krycek crumpled on the floor, unconscious. Mulder holstered his gun and carefully scooped Krycek up even as more thugs came running down the hall.

There was a gunshot, and Mulder turned to see that Scully had shot one of the men. "Come on, Mulder! Before the rest get here. I'll cover you." Mulder nodded briskly and dashed out into the hallway, gunfire sounding behind him as Scully covered their retreat.

Mulder climbed as quickly as he could into the back seat of their rental care, Krycek clutched to his chest. Scully fired off one more shot before sliding into the driver's seat and taking off. "Where are we going, Mulder?" Scully asked over her shoulder. There was no sound of pursuit behind them, presumably because she'd shot out the tires on the only other car.

"The plastic surgeon," Mulder answered. "Wasn't Krycek's appointment for today? They might as well do a little more work than the arm."

"What do you mean?" Scully asked as she directed the car to the office they'd visited the day before. "What's wrong with him?"

"I'd guess three broken ribs, a concussion, a fractured leg, some internal bleeding and a hell of a lot of bruises."

"Jesus," Scully breathed. "If we'd been a day or two later, he'd be dead right now. He'll be dead anyway if they can't fix him up."

Mulder ignored the flash of panic he felt at Scully's words, but he held Alex, sprawled bonelessly in his lap, a little tighter. Krycek moaned in pain, but didn't wake. Glancing in the rearview mirror, Scully saw Mulder stroke Krycek's hair soothingly, appearently unaware of his actions.

They pulled up in front of Richard Thorne Plastic Surgeons twenty minutes later. The receptionist jumped up in surprise when she said the two armed agents and the bloodied man Mulder was carrying. "Sir!" she said, alarmed. "You have to get him to the emergency room!"

"It's an hour away and he hasn't got that kind of time," Mulder insisted. "Besides, he's a patient here." Without any further talk, Mulder pushed past the woman and strode down the hall. He found the doctor prepping for for a patient, presumably Krycek.

"This is Nicholas Kendall," Mulder told the doctor. "And he's going to need a little more work than the arm." The agent set Krycek down on the table.

"I don't do that kind of work!" the doctor protested.

Angry, Mulder pulled his gun and aimed it at the doctor. "Don't tell me you can't help him. You're a god damned surgeon!"

"All right, all right! But you're damned lucky I did a residency in the ER," the surgeon muttered as he went to work.

***

Hours later, Scully woke Mulder from a sound sleep. When Mulder had insisted that 'Mr.Kendall' couldn't safely stay in the clinic, Doctor Thorne had volunteered his home as a safe house. Mulder had agreed gratefully. He now rose from his place beside the bed that Krycek lay in and followed Scully out of the room.

Doctor Thorne waited for them in the den. "Mr.Mulder, Ms.Scully," he said with a nod. "We need to talk about Nicholas' condition."

"How soon can he be moved?" Mulder asked, getting right to the point.

"He can't be," Thorne said bluntly. "We shouldn't have moved him as much as it took to get him here. I only agreed because it seemed urgent that we do so. However, Mr.Kendall will need at least a week to recover from his injuries."

"Mulder," Scully protested, "we can't stay here that long. Skinner doesn't know we've even left DC..."

"He knows by now," Mulder corrected calmly. Doctor Thorne followed this exchange with interest. Feeling he deserved an explanation, Mulder directed his attention to the Doctor. "Ms.Scully and I are FBI agents, Doctor. This man is an informant who we located via an anonymous tip. Unfortunately, we had to act quickly, and left our boss out of the loop."

Mulder turned back to Scully, "You go back to DC, explain our situation to AD Skinner. But don't tell him where Krycek is. The fewer people who know, the better."

"I take it you're staying here," Scully commented.

"Someone has to take care of him," Mulder chucked his chin in Krycek's general direction. "I don't expect the Doctor to do so. He has other commitments, it's enough that he lets us use his house. That leaves me."

"Right," Scully said, aquiescing tolerantly.

"Mr.Mulder," Thorne began thoughtfully, "if this man is in danger, his enemies will no doubt look here. He was listed as one of my patients, after all."

"Where else can we hide him?" Mulder asked.

"I've a house on the market in West Vancouver," Thorne answered. "There's been very little interest in the last few months. I'll let my real estate agent know not to bring any buyers by for a couple of weeks. You can stay there."

"Will it be all right to move him that much?" Scully asked.

"It's not a good idea, but it's unavoidable. It's a short trip, it shouldn't do much damage," Thorne said reluctantly. Scully nodded briskly and, gathering what little she'd brought with her, took the car and headed to the airport.

Mulder and the doctor carefully moved Krycek and his IV into the doctor's car. They made the short trip to the doctor's house with Mulder in the back seat, cradling Krycek's head. When they arrived at the house, the FBI agent carried his charge up the stairs and got him settled in the master bed with Thorne's help.

While Mulder made a run to the local supermarket, Doctor Thorne kept an eye on Krycek and made the necessary call to his real estate agent. They had a couple of hours for Thorne to direct Mulder in changing Krycek's bandages and IV before the doctor had to leave in time to get home before his wife.

After the doctor had left, Mulder showered quickly and heated up a microwave dinner. He took his food up to Krycek's room and ate off a folding table. When he'd finished, the agent changed Krycek's bandages carefully and settled in to sleep in his chair for the night.

A long while later, Mulder woke with a crick in his neck. Wincing, he rolled his head to loosen up the muscles. It was then that he noticed that Krycek was awake, and watching him. "Welcome back to the land of the living, Krycek," Mulder said.

When Krycek tried to speak, he found his mouth was too dry. Mulder quickly went and got a glass of water. He had to hold the glass up for Krycek to drink, who grimaced at the indignity of it. "How did I get here?" he asked, when he could speak.

"Someone sent me a video tape of you," Mulder answered. "Scully and I came looking, but when we found you you were pretty messed up. So we took you to your plastic surgeon and patched you up. Now, you're healing."

"What, you want me healthy before you inflict your own damage?" Krycek demanded sarcastically.

"No," Mulder snapped back. "I want you alive to talk to me."

"Didn't know you were that lonely," Krycek shot back, and virtually collapsed down into the pillows. Mulder could see the short exchange had exhaused the former agent.

"I'll be back," Mulder said abruptly. He went down the stairs to the kitchen, where he carefully followed the instructions on a package of broth and managed to make an edible bowl. By the time he got it upstairs, Krycek had lapsed back into sleep. Mulder sighed and took the bowl of broth back downstairs, putting it on an element on low heat to keep it warm.

Krycek next woke while Mulder was changing his bandages. This time, he kept silent until the agent had finished. Then Mulder helped him to drink a little more water. Before Krycek could ask any questions, Mulder went and got the broth - still good - and brought it back upstairs.

Both men were silent for a few minutes. Krycek attempted to sit up enough to sip the broth, but found himself too weak. So Mulder climbed onto the bed next to him and manuvered his patient so that Krycek's head rested against his shoulder, Mulder's chest to his back. The FBI agent found he had to put an arm around Krycek's waist to get the spoon to his mouth, so they got nearly the entire bowl into Krycek that way.

"Why are you doing this?" Alex asked as Mulder set the bowl aside.

"Because you know things," Mulder answered.

"Try again," Krycek chuckled bitterly. "I don't know enough for my life to be worth anything."

"Because you're on the inside. You can help me," Mulder went on.

"Wrong there, too, and you know it. My protector is dead."

"Because I don't understand you," Mulder said so quietly Krycek almost didn't hear him. Before Krycek could make any kind of response, Mulder had disentangled himself from his patient and the moment of peace was broken.

Sleep came swiftly to Krycek after that, for his injuries still made great demands on his body. Mulder returned to his chair by Krycek's bedside and he, too, found what sleep he could.

Later that night, Krycek woke to see Mulder sprawled uncomfortably in a chair next to the bed. He watched the agent for a long moment. He'd never seen Mulder in repose before, not even when they'd been partners. The intensity that was characterisitic of a wakeful Mulder was smoothed out of his face in sleep. He looked much younger.

Despite the pain that he could feel lurking behind the painkillers, Krycek savoured this moment of peace in Mulder's company. //You're dangerous, Fox,// Alex thought, allowing himself the luxury of Mulder's first name in his thoughts. //So driven, so passionate. So desperate to hold onto your allies that you dare not risk alienating them by showing them your heart.// Alex sighed a thousand and one regrets as he slipped into sleep.

When Mulder woke, once again stiff from sleeping in the chair, Krycek was still asleep. The agent took a moment to study the other man. In repose his face lost some of the hard edges life had given him. Some, but not all. It was as if even slumber couldn't give him peace. Krycek's hair was short and spiky, his face rough with a couple days of stubble. Mulder noticed for the first time the incredibly long eyelashes and remembered the jade coloured eyes...

//I don't hate you,// he thought, with more than a little surprise. //I gave you my trust, and you hurt me. It's been so long since anyone could hurt me like that, because I wouldn't let them get close enough. So I hurt you back. But I never took my trust back. God help me, but it was there, between us, every time you came back.// Hesitently, Mulder reached out and brushed his fingers through Krycek's hair. He stirred, but did not wake. //I can't hate you, Alex. We're too close for that.//

Krycek's face, formerly relaxed, tightened suddenly. Mulder froze, afraid his gentle caress had been discovered. An agonised cry escaped Krycek's lips, and his entire body tensed in the grips of a nightmare. Mulder, all too familiar with nightmares, lauched himself from his chair. He shook his patient as gently as he could, but could not wake Krycek, who began thrashing.

Afraid he'd tear his stiches, Mulder gathered Krycek into his arms and held him. Krycek, still sunk in his dream, struggled. Mulder began speaking, soothingly. "Shh. It's only a nightmare, Krycek. Wake up. C'mon wake up." No response. Mulder swallowed past a lump in his throat and whispered, "I'm here, tovarish."

Krycek came awake with a gasp, as if cold water had been thrown in his face. He leaned into Mulder's embrace, wrapping his one arm around the agent and shuddering as he came fully awake. Neither man spoke as they held each other for a few long minutes, each comfortable in the other's arms.

The moment shattered when Mulder heard the front door opening, and Scully's voice calling out. Self-consciously, the agent moved away from Krycek and went downstairs to talk to his partner.

For his part, Krycek watched Mulder leave thoughtfully. He'd heard the quiet statment that had broken him out of his nightmare. He wondered if Mulder knew what it meant, if his heart was behind the word. //Mulder's encounter with the Syndicate a couple of months ago opened his eyes to a lot of things. Maybe he's...reevaluating things. I hope so,// Krycek closed his eyes and leaned back into the bed. //I'm so tired of running. So tired of being alone.//

Downstairs, Mulder greeted Scully at the door and wondered, "What are you doing here?"

"What, you're not glad to see me? Skinner gave us a couple of 'personal' days when he heard of our situation. Believe it or not, Mulder, you are currently on vacation." Scully smiled at him.

"Our patient is awake," Mulder informed her.

"Are you?" Scully asked.

"What do you mean?" her partner asked.

"Mulder, go have a shower and something to eat. Have you slept in those clothes?"

"Once or twice," he shrugged, then caught her expression. "All right, all right. I'll shower and eat. Mom," he grinned at little at her glare and headed up to the bathroom.

While Mulder was making himself presentable, Scully climbed the stairs and went to see Krycek. He was still awake, and watched Scully warily. She ignored the chair and stood over him, enjoying being able to look down at him. "I don't know why Mulder thinks it's so important to keep you alive," she said bluntly, "but I trust his judgment. I just hope that you have something that's worth his time."

"Will that be all, Agent Scully?" Krycek asked coolly, carefully folding his good arm behind his head.

If looks could kill, Scully's would have slaughtered Krycek. "No, Krycek, that's not all. I swear to God, if you hurt him..."

"You mean, more than you have?" Krycek asked, heatedly.

Scully's face blazed anger, "What the hell are you talking about?" she spat.

"For years, you critised and ridiculed his beliefs. In his time of crisis, when the beliefs he'd based his whole life of were crumbling beneath him, you told him you couldn't follow him!" Krycek accused. "Before the arctic, you would've left him if that damned bee hadn't intervened. He's your partner, Scully. Don't you know what that means?"

Scully responded bitingly, to cover her own pain at his words, "Oh, and you valued his partnership? You did so well by him, Krycek. Betraying his trust-"

"You don't have to remind me!" Krycek interrupted, his expression hard.

"My God," Scully said, her face lightening with realisation. "You're jealous of me, aren't you?"

Krycek was rescued from and further conversation when the shower shut off and Mulder left the bathroom. Scully gave him one last, long look before leaving the room.

It was already early afternoon, so Scully went downstairs and helped Mulder make something resembling lunch. When they'd finished eating, Scully watched thoughtfully as Mulder made something for Krycek more substantial than broth and took it upstairs to him.

//I wish I knew what is going through Mulder's head right now,// Scully mused. //So much about him has changed in the last few months. The faith he lost is back, his spirit as intense as ever, but he reacts to everything a little differently than I expect him to. As if his quest is no longer so very personal.//

//But it's his reaction to Krycek that confuses me the most. I get the feeling that the arctic has very little to do with Mulder and Alex Krycek. Mulder's own thoughts, I think, are responsible for that change.// Scully sighed and wished for the thousandth time that Mulder had told her everything that had happened the last time Krycek had visited him. Surely that night was at the root of all Mulder's thoughts about Krycek...

Picking up the suitcase she'd brought with her, Scully made her way upstairs. She paused at the door to Alex's room, arrested by the scene within.

Mulder was sitting on the edge of the bed, the bowl of soup in one hand, a piece of bread on one knee. Krycek had propped himself up with his single arm and was carefully eating what Mulder was feeding him. It was a strangly intimate scene, and Scully felt almost guilty for observing it. Neither man spotted her before she moved on to her own room.

Nearly an hour later, Scully heard Mulder take Krycek's dishes down to the kitchen. Not long after that, he came into her room. "Scully? Can we talk, downstairs?"

"Yeah, sure, Mulder," his partner agreed, hoping some light would be shed on Mulder's state of mind. The two of them descended the stairs and entered a small reading room on the first floor. Mulder shut the door behind them and sat, a troubled expression on his face.

"I'm confused, Scully," he said eventually, and the simple admission touched Dana to the core. "I don't think Krycek is our enemy. I came here to help him mostly, I think, because I felt it was something I should do. I'm going on instinct here, Scully."

"I know you think I can help you," Scully said gently, "but I can't. You're the one with the instincts, the leaps of intuition. There's nothing logical about this entire situation. I don't even know why we're here."

"Tovarish," Mulder whispered to himself, and touched his cheek lightly.

"What does that mean?" Scully asked, puzzled. "It was Krycek's password, right?"

"It's Russian," Mulder explained. "It means 'friend'."

"Where'd that come from?" Scully pushed on. Mulder didn't answer her, so she resigned herself to being in the dark a little longer.

That night Scully woke when Mulder left the room beside hers. She crept quietly to her door and opened it soundlessly. With the door open, she could hear Krycek crying out in his sleep. Mulder, always the insomniac, had been awake and Scully saw him slip into Krycek's room.

The panicked murmers stilled soon thereafter, and Scully let her curiosity draw her to his doorway. She peeked into the room, careful to remain unseen herself.

Mulder had climed onto the bed beside Krycek and lay not quit flat against a couple of pillows. Krycek rested with his back against Mulder's rest, the agent's arms wrapped around the other man's waist, and Krycek's single arm covered one of Mulder's. Amazingly, even though Mulder had been wide awake a moment before and Krycek had been in the throes of a nightmare, both men were sound asleep.

The next morning, while Mulder went for a morning run, Scully once again entered Krycek's room with the intention of getting a few questions answered.

"What happened the last time you went to Mulder's aparment?" was her first.

"What did Mulder tell you?" the former agent asked calmly.

"He said that you threw him on the floor, threatened him with a gun and spouted some nonsense about an alien war before leaving." Scully revealed reluctantly.

Krycek cocked his head as if debating whether or not to add to Scully's statement. "Between the alien war and me leaving, there was a little more," he conceeded. "I kissed him. On the cheek. And I said," here he spouted a phrase of Russian unfamiliar to Scully except the last word - 'tovarish'.

It took her a moment to get over the revelation that Krycek had kissed Mulder - and that Mulder had appearently let him - but Scully managed to get out her next question. "What does that mean? Mulder said 'tovarish' means friend."

"He looked it up?" Krycek asked, seeming genuinely surprised. "It means 'Good luck to you, my friend.'"

"Why are you telling me this?" Scully asked, suddenly wary of Krycek's motives.

"Because you're his partner," he answered, "because you need to know what's going through his head if you're going to by any use to him at all."

"Why should you care how Mulder and I work together?" Scully demanded, suspicions rising.

"Listen, Agent Scully," Krycek responded. "You don't know me half as well as you think you do. Believe it or not, Mulder's work is important to me. I've worked as hard as you, and I've lost as much as you. Just because I'm coming at the mystery from a different angle doesn't mean I'm on the wrong side. Learn who your allies are, Agent Scully. You're going to need every one of them." Krycek turned his face away from Scully, clearly feeling the conversation was over.

Scully, however, felt differently.

"I know who my allies are, Krycek, and you're sure as hell not one of them! You may be messing with Mulder's head, but you're not going to mess with mine!" Scully stormed from the room, slamming the door behind her, and went downstairs to wait for Mulder. They definitely needed to talk.

***

Mulder arrived back at the house and found Scully waiting for him in the living room. "What's up?" he asked her, wiping the sweat from his forehead with the hem of his shirt.

"Mulder, what the hell is going on?" Scully asked him, barely concealing her anger.

"What are you talking about," Mulder asked, genuinely mystified.

"Krycek told me what happened the night he came to your apartment," Scully continued. "Why did't you tell me, Mulder? Why did I have to find out from him?"

"Because I wasn't sure how you'd react," Mulder explained. "Everything was hanging together by a thread then. I was afraid if I told you, I'd lose you. I needed you too much to risk that."

"Mulder," Scully said, a little less angry now, "I told you months ago that my place was with you now. But even with that vote of confidence, even with that assurance, you couldn't tell me."

"Was it something you really needed to know?" Mulder asked, his own anger rising.

"Yes, it's something I needed to know!" Scully insisted. "We risked our lives to save Krycek! For the past few days you've been happily playing nursemaid to one of your worst enemies! I don't know what's going on here, Mulder, and you won't tell me! And to top off the whole ridiculous situation, last night I watched you get up to wake Krycek from a nightmare and end up spending the entire night in his arms!"

"Jesus, Scully, you almost sound jealous," Mulder said incredulously.

"I'm not jealous, Mulder, I'm confused. I just want to know what's going on with you-"

"Get out of my head, Scully!" Mulder yelled. "Quit trying to understand me! You've never understood, Scully, never. You try so hard to figure me out, but you can't! I didn't tell you that Krycek kissed me because it was personal, it was mine."

"That still doesn't explain why we're here, Mulder," Scully stated insistently.

"Do you really want to know, Scully? Are you sure?" Mulder asked heatedly.

"Mulder, quit playing around!" Scully demanded. "Just spit it out!"

"Fine! We're here because I think I'm in love with him!" After this declaration Mulder spun, hearing a creak behind him, to see Krycek standing weakly on the stairs. "Oh, shit," Mulder breathed, and fled up the stairs, past Krycek and into his room.

Scully stared at Krycek in shock, hardly able to absorb Mulder's words. Abruptly, anger flushed her features. Lightning fast, she drew her gun and trained it on Krycek, rock steady. "By God, Krycek, you've screwed us over so badly I don't know why you're still breathing," she said. "If it wasn't for you, I would never have been abducted, I would never have lost the ability to have children, I'd never have lost Emily!"

"I did what I had to do, Scully!" Krycek yelled back. "I had to survive! Don't judge what you don't understand!"

"If it wasn't for you, Mulder wouldn't have lost his father!" Scully continued, ignoring Krycek's words.

"I didn't kill Bill Mulder! I've never denied anything else that I've done, but I didn't kill Mulder's father," Krycek stopped and breathed deeply for a moment, steadying himself on the banner.

"I don't care! You deserve to die, and I hope to God Mulder understands that I have to do this!" Scully cocked the gun, the sound ringing out in the sudden silence.

Then, an identical click sounded.

"Mulder?" Scully asked, confusion pushing aside the anger. Mulder stood one step behind Krycek, his own gun in his hand...aimed at his partner. "Mulder, what do think you're doing? I'm your partner, this is Krycek."

"I can't let you do this, Scully," Mulder said shakily. "I can't let you kill the man I love."

In front of Mulder, Krycek drew a deep, steadying breath. Gathering his strength, he turned, grabbed Mulder by the back of the neck, and drew him down for a deep, passionate kiss. Mulder's gun dropped from his hand, and the agent wrapped one arm around the other man, steadying himself on the wall with the other, and returned the kiss wholeheartedly.

Stunned, Scully lowered her gun in a bit of a daze. She watched as her partner and her worst enemy broke the kiss, both breathing hard and staring at each other in wonder. "Mulder, what the hell are doing?" Scully asked once again.

Then Krycek's strength seemed to drain out of him, and he went limp. Mulder caught him as he began to fall and, turning his back on Scully, helped Krycek up to his room. As Mulder settled the other man in his bed, Krycek looked up and him and said, very quietly, "I love you, Mulder." Mulder smiled and kissed Krycek tenderly on the lips before leaving to deal with Scully.

He descended the the stairs and walked up close to Scully. "We need to talk," he said as gently as he could.

"Mulder," she said, "I don't understand. What you said to me, in the hallway, before I got stung... I thought that meant something." There were tears in her eyes, on the brink of being shed, as she looked up at Mulder.

He had opened his mouth to respond when he heard Krycek calling his name weakly. Mulder looked up the stairs, then back at Scully. She looked him in the eye and demanded, "Choose."

Mulder placed a palm on each of Scully's cheeks and kissed her softly on the forehead. "I'm sorry," he whispered. Then he turned and took the stairs two at a time to return to Krycek.

--End--