New Beginnings, New Allies

by Nix
(crimsonquills AT gmail DOT com)


Author's Notes: This is my first slash ever, though not my first fan fiction. I desperately need feedback, but please be gentle! :-) Any and all comments are welcome. I also need a beta reader - this story has been edited only by me. If you're interested, let me know.

Finally, I want to explain that everything appearing between "//" marks is Mulder and only Mulder thinking. Enjoy!


Mulder stood in the charred husk of his office and felt as though the last thread tying him to his old life had been severed.

Scully, unable to move him from the room, had long since left him with his shock. She'd left in more ways than one, though she didn't know it yet. They'd been growing slowly apart in the past year, despite the deep trust and strong friendship that had evolved between them. Mulder's numbed mind skittered from thought to thought.

One or the other of them had always been certain in their beliefs. Instead of the conflict one might expect from that, it had bound them together, grounded them. Now, with both of the uncertain, Mulder found himself swinging from elated confirmation to depressive pessimism. It was destroying him. He desperately needed someone who understood the power games they were embroiled in to present him with a solid, confident opinion. Not so he could take it as his own, but so he could use it as an anchor to organise his own thoughts around. Scully couldn't be his anchor anymore, and without faith to hold them together the tension of the constant uncertainty and bizarre cases had virtually torn them apart.

Now, with the x-files destroyed, Mulder wasn't quite sure what to do next. For the time being, he's exhausted all leads on both the conspiracy and Gibson's kidnapping. There was no x-file to run off on, no new method for clarifying his memories of his childhood.

"Security around here is really terrible," a familiar voice broke into Mulder's thoughts. The agent instinctively reached for his gun, but he'd arrive in his sweats and wasn't wearing it.

Krycek stepped out of the shadows, keeping a wary eye on Mulder. He was unarmed, and this unexpected sign of trust from his enemy was the only thing that worked it's way through his shock numbed mind. //What the hell is going on with my life?// he thought. The agent's mind ran through several possible comments, including "You killed my father!" and "What the hell are you doing here, you rat bastard?". But both greetings abruptly sounded overused to Mulder, as he realised how often he'd used them both. Instead, he simply asked, "What do you want?" rather wearily.

If Krycek was surprised by Mulder's unsually civil greeting, he hid it well. "I want you to listen to me. You're obviously in no shape to do that now, so first you're going to come with me and get cleaned up."

Mulder regarded his enemy, unable to feel even the carefully cultivated hate he bore this man. Flashes of another conversation bubbles up in his memory...//"There is a war raging...pull your head out of the sand...go the way of the dinosaur...//

Silence reigned for a solid minute. Mulder blinked slowly, as if clearing his eyes of something - perhaps sand. //What the hell does it matter if I go with him now, anyway?// "Okay," he said.

***

Hot water sluiced over Mulder's body, dissolving the tension the night had brought on as if it were something soluble. //I'm in Krycek's apartment, showering,// he thought to himself incredulously, as his mind cleared, //what's wrong with this picture?// "Well, he seems to want to tell me something. I might as well listen," Mulder muttered to himself.

As he washed, Mulder found himself feeling strangely neutral towards Krycek. It was as if the destruction of the x-files had cleared his mind of all his former predjudices. He was seeing everything differently, including his former partner.

Stepping out of the shower, Mulder dressed in the clean sweats Krycek had left for him. He found the other man looking out the window as dawn broke. The early morning golden light softened the hard edge life had given Krycek's features, and a tiny honest smile crept onto his lips as he watched the birth of a new day. Mulder caught his breath - the man was beautiful. //Where the hell did that come from!?!//

Krycek must had heard the little sound, because his expression became abruptly guarded and he turned to face Mulder. For a fleeting moment the light reflected off of Krycek, giving him a surreal glow that fit right into Mulder's current state of mind. Then it was gone. "Why did we come here, instead of my apartment?" the agent asked, deciding he'd keep his questions neutral for the moment.

"Please tell me you're not still labouring under the delusion that your apartment is in any way safe or secure, Mulder," Krycek said, sounding exasperated. //No,// Mulder thought, //I always believed it was my office that was secure, safe. It was my haven, while my apartment was only somewhere to sleep. Now...// But he said nothing.

"I want you to give me your word on something," the younger man said.

"What?" Mulder asked cautiously.

"I want you to give me your word that you won't interrupt me when I speak. No questions, no accusations. And I want your word you won't lay a hand on me while we stand in this room. I'm sick and tired of being beaten by you."

Mulder hesitated.

"You won't get another word out of me if you don't give me your word," Krycek warned.

"Alright, you have my word. I won't interrupt, and I won't touch you," Mulder agreed, the intensity of his old, familiar search for the truth finally stirring life back into his brain. Krycek nodded sharply and closed the drapes over the window. He motioned for Mulder to take a chair and seated himself on the sofa.

"Your father was a major player in the Consortium for years. By no means did it start with him, or even with the smoking man, it's existed for years before they came on the scene. But during your father's life it grew in power, quickly gaining the resources to begin the projects the Consortium wanted to institute.

"A little less than a year before Samantha was taken, your father began to grow disillusioned with the Consortium. He began to see them for what they were, and tried to get out. His first attempt was also his last, and it cost him his daughter - your sister." More than once during this speech Mulder had to bite back questions, but he'd given his word, so he remained silent.

"A man was assigned to keep an eye on your father, to make sure he didn't step out line again. That was my father. I never really knew the man, didn't even see him until I was at Quantico. I had every kid's dream of the perfect, unwillingly absent father," here Krycek's voice grew bitter, "and then one day he showed up out of nowhere and told me he needed me.

"My own father recruited me for the Consortium, because I was in the perfect position to get close to you. You were just starting to become a threat, your work touching the Consortium's carefully constructed plans. I got a crash course on the rough side of life, but you were my first real assignment. I had to be green to convince you I was green, so they saved me for you. Belive it or not, Augustus Cole was the first person I ever killed." Here Mulder had to once again seal his lips against a disbelieving exclamation.

"I toughened up fast after that. You'd become too much of a problem to let alone, but the Consortium couldn't risk making a martyr of you. So they took Scully out of the picture, hoping that her disappearence would either burn you out or break you. My part in it? I could tell you I was only following orders - and I was - but that wouldn't make a difference to you. All I can say is that I've done things I regret, and so have you. Not that it makes a difference, but I didn't kill the tram operator. When I left him he was unconscious but alive.

"My failure to keep you isolated in the tram caused a lot of uncertainty about me within the Consortium. They needed me to prove myself, so they sent me to kill your father," Krycek paused, as if expecting Mulder to burst out with some comment, but the agent kept silent. "I waited for him in the bathroom, concealed in the shower. He stood with his back to me, his head down so he didn't see my reflection in the medecine cabinet mirror. I had nearly a minute to kill him, he fumbled with the pills so long." Krycek paused again, but this time he was lost in his own memories. He continued, more slowly, "When he looked up and saw me in the mirror, I heard a gun shot. The bullet came in the open window and stuck Bill Mulder in the back of the neck. They'd sent my father to make sure I carried out my mission, and when my chance passed he took action.

"I later had one more chance - kill Scully. When the time came, it was her sister that died, and I wasn't even the shooter. That was it for me. The Consortium tried to take me out with a car bomb, but I made it out in time.

"After that I was pretty much a free agent. There's a block of my memory missing around then, and my first memory after the gap is crouching on top of some kind of ship, pouring black oil from my ears, eyes, mouth and nose.

"Despite what you believe and what you've been told, I was trying to get you out of the gulag in Tunguska. But you couldn't trust me, didn't trust anyone, and you got us out in your own way. Too bad I had to lose an arm for it," this last said bitterly, but without any real accusation. As if the story had reminded him, Krycek shrugged out of his leather jacket and unfastened the straps of the prosthetic arm. He placed it carefully on the coffee table in front of him and used his good had to massage the stump a little. He couldn't conceal the wince of pain this caused, and Mulder found a little sympathy rising in himself. For once, he didn't crush it as he so often had before.

"By the time I visited you last in your apartment, I'd had enough of the lies and wanted to do somthing about the truth for once. I found, to my disappointment, that your faith had faltered. But you were the best I had, so I told you what I could, gave the you address and hoped to high heaven that the rest would take care of itself." Krycek finally stopped talking, and nodded to tell Mulder it was alright for him to comment now.

His question wasn't the one Krycek was expecting. "So what are you doing here now?"

Krycek hesitated, and Mulder could almost see him considering and discarding lies in the pause. yet when he answered, the unfamiliar look of insecurity on Krycek's face told Mulder he spoke the truth, for once. "You know that now that the x-files have been physically destroyed, they won't keep you in the basement. You're the best profiler they've got, and they'll put you right into Violent Crimes again. But I know you, Mulder, and I know that the x-files were only ever a way to make your search for the truth legitimate. Now that that's impossible, I know you still want to continue that search...and so do I."

"What are you getting at, Krycek?"

"The Consortium's reeled me back in, Mulder, but only because I let myself be caught. I'm in a position right now to find out a lot of secrets and get a lot of answers, if I'm careful. But I need someone else on my side. I need an anchor, someone I can trust with my back. I need a partner, Mulder. I need you."

Mulder's eyes widened in disbelief, then narrowed in anger, "You knew tonight would be the time to ask, didn't you?" His voice slowly grew in volume as a familiar anger took control of him, "You knew that losing the x-files would hit me hard, that I'd be more receptive" he spit the word, "to your little scheme-"

"For God's sake, Mulder, why can't you consider for one moment the view from where I stand!?!" Krycek yelled, leaping to his feet. His outburst was so far removed from his usual cold persona that he startled Mulder into silence. Krycek took full advantage of that. "You're sitting there convinced I'm trying to take advantage of you, unable to believe for a moment that my motives are my own and that they're good ones! Who's suffered more in the four years we've known each other? I know you've been hurt, Mulder. You lost your father and your sister, you nearly lost Scully. Well, hell! My father handed me over to a bunch of bastards that used me as long as they could and then tried to kill me! I lost my fucking arm! Every time I see you, you beat the crap out of me and it goes the same with nearly everyone else I know. I've been possessed by a goddamned alien and locked in a dark room with only the rats I could kill to eat for weeks. The career and the dream I started as a teenager are now forever out of my reach, and do you think I have any kind of personal life? Even before a bunch of damned Russian peasents mutilated me!"

This last exclamation seemed to undo the thread of control Krycek had been clinging to. He picked up the prosthetic arm and threw it violently halfway across the room. Then, to Mulder's intense surprise, the other man practically crumpled to the floor, covering his face with his one hand as sobs racked his body. "I knew you'd lost the x-files last night," he gasped out, "but I didn't come to hurt you. I came to give you a chance to keep looking for the truth."

Mulder's anger, more habit than true reaction, had evaporated halfway through his enemy's outburst. After the way he'd been feeling and all that he'd heard, the agent abruptly felt ashamed. A tiny corner of his mind rebelled at the emotion, remembering all that had passed between these two men. But mostly, Mulder wanted to go and wrap his arms around Krycek and hold him as he cried.

So he did.

The younger man turned into the circle of Mulder's arms, who was sitting on the floor beside him, and cried into his shirt. Krycek's one good hand clutched spasmically at the sweat shirt, and Mulder could hear him coughing, trying to choke back the sobs. That suspicious little corner of the FBI agent's mind wondered if this was all an act...//This isn't faked,// the greater portion thought, //this is the first real emotion the man has ever displayed. This is hearfelt. It must have been tearing him up inside.//

Mulder rubbed Krycek's back a bit and said, softly, "Let it out. You need to." The choking sound stopped, replaced by a silent pouring of tears that was occasionally puncuated by a shiver.

Finally, finally, the tears stopped. Krycek sat up and wiped his eyes, not meeting Mulder's gaze. For his part, Mulder watched Krycek with a newfound respect. He'd experienced so much pain, and the kind of lonliness that even Mulder could only imagine, yet still he survived. //He still pushes forward, in the very same quest that shaped my life. How could I not see that? How did I not see how he'd suffered? I remember thinking he was so green, and then that he was so cynical. I'm supposed to be the FBI's best profiler. How did I not see that he was green, and that the reality of the conspiracy had turned him against them?//

As Mulder thought, and watched, Krycek had walked slowly across the room to retrieve his arm. He moved stiffly at first, as if the emotional storm he'd weathered had aged him physically. But as his muscles loosened again, his usual stealthy grace returned. Krycek inspected the arm carefully, using it as an excuse to regain his control. Finding it undamaged, he set it gently down on the coffee table once again. Mulder's mind, on the roll, asked another question, //How did I not notice the way he moves?//

When he spoke, Mulder was half afraid that that last question would fall from his lips involuntairly. But it didn't. Instead, he found himself apologising.

"What for?" Krycek asked.

"For beating up on you. For taking my anger and my frustration out on you because you were there to be touched and nothing else was. I can't help all the rest, but I can tell you I'm sorry. And I am." He'd moved from the floor back to the sofa, and now looked down on his clasped hands.

Krycek reached out, touched those hands. "I forgive you."

"Why?" Mulder asked, looking up at Krycek, who still stood. "Why, after all I've done? Why trust me to watch your back, to be your partner?"

"Because I knew that, if I could convince you your answers lay along the same path I travelled, if I could get you to listen, your passion for the truth would make you my most valuble and trustworthy ally. Even though you hate me."

"I don't hate you, Alex," Mulder said. Krycek started at the use of his first name, and then again at what Mulder had said. "When the x-files burned, I felt as if my slate had been wiped clean. Before, I'd made myself feel a hate that wasn't really mine. The anger was mine, but not the hate. I needed it, when my faith faltered and it seemed the truth was forever beyond my reach. I may not have my faith, but by God if you'll offer me the truth I'll take it and leave the hate behind."

"Then you'll work with me? Be my partner?" Krycek asked, carefully, sitting next to the agent.

"I'd have to leave Scully behind, wouldn't I?" Krycek nodded. "And the FBI?"

"Eventually. Soon."

Mulder thought for a moment, then shook his head and, with the faint beginnings of a grin, said, "Without the x-files, there's really nothing else to leave, is there? What a sad picture that paints of my life." Krycek smiled with him, an honest smile like the one Mulder had seen as dawn broke. He liked it. "Alright. I'll do it."

"You're sure?" Krycek asked, abruptly looking concerned. "You're sure you can leave those things?"

"I know what the FBI will do to me in VC. After 5 years in the x-files, 'Spooky' Mulder," he grimaced, "has no reputation. They'll separate me from Scully, my only ally, and leave me among agents that only mock me. But they know I'm good, so they'd hand me the toughest and the shittiest cases and wait for me to burn out. No thank you," he shook his head, "that won't be my life."

"And Scully?"

Mulder's expression softened. "Scully. She's my best friend and I trust her more than anyone else. It never mattered that she didn't believe, becasue she listened just the same. She let me follow up my most fantastic suspicions, and when they fit the evidence she backed my up on them even when her scientific nature rebelled." Mulder paused thoughtfully, and Krycek wondered if Mulder would change his mind after all. "But I need to continue looking for the truth, and I won't drag her into the places I'll - we'll - have to go to find it. It was always her loyalty to me and never her own desire that had her smack in the middle of a dangerous conspiracy. She deserves better, now," he hesitated, as if unsure he ought to voice his next comment. "Besides, I need an anchor and she can't be it anymore."

"Okay, you're in," Krycek said, a hint of relief sneaking into his voice.

"I've just got one question," Mulder added.

"Shoot."

"Not this time," Mulder grinned mischevously. "You said I'd eventually leave the FBI. What did you mean by that?"

The expressionless mask Krycek usually wore dropped into place, and Mulder realised for the first time that it was a defensive reflex. //Never give away your true feelings and opinions, because chances are they'll get you killed or lose you and ally. My first lesson...// Krycek's answer interrupted his thoughts.

"I know this is going to be hard, but you and I are going to need you as an inside man for a couple of weeks," he said. Mulder's expression stilled nearly as much as Krycek's had, waiting. The other man continued, "We need them to think you're sticking with the FBI until we can find a good cover for you to back me from. We need the time to plan and organise. And we need the information you'll be able to collect in those last weeks."

"I'm going to have to lie to Skinner, and to Scully, aren't I? And what information can I find now that I couldn't in five years previous?" Mulder couldn't smooth out the wrinkle of disapproval in his brow. Lying to the people he trusted went against his devotion to the truth. Oh, he'd held back a few things, but he'd never lied to them...

Krycek nodded, concealing any other emotion. "I'm sorry, Mulder, but if you tell them we'll both be in a lot of trouble. Me, for vengence. You, for your own good. As for the information, you'll be able to collect a lot more, knowing you won't be there to face the consequences." The soon to be ex-agent nodded reluctantly at the necessity of lying, but agreed readily to stealing what information he could. He was characteristically unconcerned with breaking into federal buildings.

"I should go back to my apartment before they get suspicious," Mulder said. //Strange how "they" suddenly applies to both the FBI and the Consortium,// he thought.

"Yeah. Mulder?"

"Yes, Krycek?" he responded, turning.

"Do me a favour."

"What?"

Krycek smiled, but his narrowed eyes showed his seriousness, "Don't mention this meeting or what we discussed in any way, shape, or form in your apartment. There're more bugs in that place than in the rain forest. And don get rid of them - that would only tell them there's something important going on."

Mulder nodded, "How will I contact you again?"

"I'll contact you," Krycek responded. "You're watched. I'll know when and where is safe."

"Paranoia reaches a whole new level," Mulder said dryly.

"You better believe it." Krycek rose from the sofa and reattached the prosthetic arm. Without another word, even of goodbye, he strode out the door of the apartment. Mulder shook his head as he realised he had never been in Krycek's apartment - only an empty one convinient for their meeting.

Checking his watch, Mulder found remembered seeing the dawn and realised that it was already 7:00am. He was expected at work in a little over an hour, and he was across town from his apartment and the change of clothes he needed. //I guess they'll expect me to look a little worn - they think I lost the point of my life last night.//

Just the same, he left the apartment at a good clip and was home just in time to change and leave for the office again. On the way to work a thought struck his, as if for the first time. //I'm going to have to lie to Scully. Soon. In less than 10 minutes. My God. What if she sees right through me?// His fingers tightened on the wheel with nervous tension. //Time to practice what Alex does so well. Protecting myself by hiding my opinions. Who would've thought I'd find myself working to emulate my enemy? And since when do I think of him as Alex?//

For once Mulder found his lack of popularily in the FBI useful. There were no condolences offtered, so he didn't have to speak to anyone. Didn't have to lie. //Then again, maybe it would be easier to work up to the big lie with a few little ones.// He stopped when he reached the elevators, abruptly realising he didn't know where he was supposed to be. With a shrug, he headed to Skinner's office to ask.

Halfway there, Scully intercepted him. "Mulder."

He turned, "What's up?" He was surprised his voice didn't squeak around the lump in his throat.

"Are you all right?" Scully asked, concerned.

"Yeah, fine."

"Right," she responded skeptically. "You've been reassigned to Violent Crimes. There's a desk for you up there."

"And you?" Mulder found himself hoping he wouldn't have to lie after all.

"Back to Quantico," she paused. "Where were you last night, Mulder? I called when I thought you'd be home and again early in the morning, but you weren't there." //No such luck - I have to lie after all.//

"I went out for a drink with an old friend who showed up unexpectedly. We talked things over." He fought to keep back a sigh of relief that he'd gotten the words out.

"Oh," Scully said, still looking doubtful. "Well, you don't seem as upset as I expected, that's all." She checked her watch, "I have to be at Quantico in half an hour. I'd better go. Call me, Mulder," she called as her path turned away from his.

"Will do," he called after her. //Maybe this won't be as hard as I thought it would be...//

That night found Mulder in his apartment, an envelope of photocopies of top secret documents under one arm. He had decided not to look at them, or even to open the envelope, in his apartment. After all, the bugs could have visual. Stealing them had been surprisingly easy; of course, Mulder never had had much respect for government secrets.

The attitude in VC had been just what Mulder expected, disdain. Every agent there turned their nose up at him, or struck with snide comments. He either responded in kind or let the insults slide, and was amazed by his own tolerance. Mulder sat on the couch with the TV on in front of him, but he found his thoughts drifting to Krycek. His enemy had suddenly become his ally, and Mulder found that Krycek was not as evil as he'd thought. //Was he ever evil? People don't just switch personalities all of a sudden, but I'd bet my career - have bet my career - that he was being honest this morning. Was it only this morning? I felt like I was seeing so clearly...I guess it was my vision before our conversation that was clouded.//

Mulder took another sip of the beer he was holding, staring vacantly at the TV as if watching it. Ever the psychoanalyist, he found himself attempting to dissect his own feelings toward Krycek. //I thought I hated him, but I can feel that what I told him was true. It was never my hate. So is this sudden...respect...what I have always felt?// He shook his head, //No, but I was almost fond of him when I thought he was just a green agent. Wait, when he was a green agent - just not the kind of agent I was thinking of. Anyways, the hero worship was certainely nice, for a change...Wonder if that was genuine?// He finished the beer and, realising it was dinner time, warmed up a little leftover Chinese take out and grabbed another beer.

Returning to the couch, he loosed his thoughts again. Now, they were not so much formed thoughts as they were emotions and sensations recollected from that morning. The pleasure he'd felt at seeing that honest smile on Krycek's lips, his shock at Alex's outburst, the way the other man walked, the warmth he'd felt radiating from him as the sat together on the sofa...

The phone rang.

"Mulder."

"Mulder, it's me."

He smiled, "Hi, Scully. What's up?"

"You said you'd call. When you didn't, I thought I'd see if you were home."

"Well, you know me, Scully. If I call before 11:00 either it's a case or there's something seriously wrong with me."

"I'd think there would be something seriously wrong, Mulder. The x-files are gone, we've been reassigned. I expected more of a reaction." She sounded concerned.

On his part, Mulder felt a spike of fear. //Don't give it away, not this early!// "I guess I'm still in shock. My mind was pretty paralysed last night," he said, trying not to speak too quickly. "I didn't sleep at all after the call, and the drinks I had with my friend probably didn't help."

"Well, you know you can talk to me when you need to..."

"Of course," he said, the lie slipping out despite the guilt he felt building.

Over the next week Mulder used the same story on Skinner, and sneaked out two more envelopes of photocopies. Scully, however, would not be put off. He eventually gave in and told her what he'd been feeling immediately after the x-files' destruction. But he drew it out over the week, and left out how he'd rediscovered his search. Mulder also didn't speak of the fact that, since he'd agreed to become Krycek's partner, he'd felt more alive than he had in years. He was active in his search, getting things done, even if he was only setting up for the investigation. The hate that he'd been nursing had also been eating away at him, but now it had been flushed away and replaced with hope and even a surprising, almost involuntary trust. //I feel like it was always instinct to trust Alex, and suppressing that instinct was causing a conflict in me. Now, I feel more at peace than I ever expected to. Not entirely, but more.// In his mind, he now always referred to Krycek as Alex. "Krycek" was too deeply connected with the evil man his mind had assumed Alex to be for Mulder to call his new partner by that name. He never mention any of this to Scully.

She noticed anyway.

"Mulder, are you seeing someone?" she asked one evening, over the phone.

"No," he responded, surprised. "Why do you ask?"

"It's just that you seem more at peace with yourself than ever before. The only think I could think of was that you'd found someone to truly be with you, so that you aren't so achingly lonely. Although I tried, I could never relieve that loneliness much..." she trailed off.

"You did, Scully, more than you know. You're my best friend, and you were my only ally."

"Have you given up of the truth, then?"

"No, but I don't need the x-files to search for it. I'll find another way."

The conversation carried on for a couple more hours, until finally Scully grew tired and went to bed. Mulder got the feeling he hadn't entirely convinced her he was okay, but she accepted his story. It just made him feel guiltier.

Guilt was abruptly forgotten when a single scrap of paper slid under his door. Mulder picked it up, finding only an address and a time, for later the next day. He recognised Krycek's style and carefully memorised the few lines before buring the paper carefully. The agent found a warm feeling spreading from his stomach down his limbs and was surprised to realise he was looking forward to seeing his new ally. Then he remembered what Scully had asked him, and wondered...

It was just his luck that VC dumped a particularly bad case on him the next day. It was a serial killer, going after children and taking prizes much like Roche had done. Mulder found himself forced to crawl into the mind of a very, very twisted man with a strong personality. By the time the agent dragged himself to Krycek's meeting place, an obscure little motel in back of nowhere, he was dead tired and a hair away from and identity crisis.

When he dragged himself into the room they were to meet in, Krycek was already there. "Hey, Mulder. You look like hell," Alex greeted him.

"Hey, Alex," he managed, forgetting in his exhaustion to call Krycek by his last name, "I feel like hell." Mulder then collapsed onto the double bed, long limbs sprawled every which way. "How much longer do I have to do this? If VC is trying to burn me out, it's working..."

Krycek helped Mulder struggle out of his trenchcoat, discovering the envelopes of documents in the process. He placed them, unopened, on the table in one corner of the room and returned to Mulder, who had shed his suit jacket and loosened his tie. He sat up slowly, his shoulders hunched with tension.

A powerful wish for Alex to rub some of that tension away struck Mulder, so that when strong fingers dug into the tight muscles it was all he could do to bite back a gasp of pleasure. He couldn't supress a little groan of relief as that single hand smoothed out the knots in his neck and shoulders, and found himself leaning into the touch.

"Tell me about it," Krycek said quietly, "the case." Mulder needed desperately to talk, so he poured it all out, how every victim reminded him of Samantha, how he'd crept so far into the killer's psyche that he'd dreamt the murders in vivid detail, how he'd found himself picking targets out of the people around him and how no one in all of VC had noticed or cared...

Mulder found he'd curled around himself protectively, and had leaned back against Krycek's chest until the other man had put his arm around the agent, just holding him now. As Mulder wound down, he breathed in deeply and discovered he liked how Alex smelled; he realised that the heat he felt wasn't just Krycek's body heat, it was his own arousal; and he finally admitted to himself that he didn't want to move, he wanted to be right where he was.

"Let's go out for dinner," Krycek said.

"Dinner?" Mulder was somewhat bemused.

"Yeah. Food. To eat," Krycek grinned.

"Should we be seen together yet?"

"No, but don't worry. Just for tonight I've got that covered."

"Okay."

There was a tiny, hole-in-the-all Thai restaurant not far from the motel. Mulder had argued for Chinese, but had reluctantly agreed when Alex pointed out that they'd be eating a lot of Chinese take out in the future. The two of them ordered three dishes, taking what they wanted from each plate. They talked little more than small talk over dinner, a change from the emotionally charged conversations they'd always shared before. Mulder found he was enjoying himself, laughing and cracking jokes. They returned to the motel relaxed and comfortable in each other's presence. Though it was only 10:00pm, Mulder lay down on the bed to rest his feet and promptly fell asleep.

The next thing the agent knew, he was awake and screaming, his hoarse throat testifying to other screams. Krycek was holding as best he could with one arm, the prosthetic lying in the middle of the floor where he'd carelessly dropped it in his rush to wake Mulder from his nightmare. The agent put his arms around, Krycek, breathing deeply and slowly coming out of his panic enough to enjoy the sensation of being held. //Hold me...// Mulder didn't realise he'd spoken aloud until Alex said, "We can't stay here, Mulder. It's too dangerous."

Mulder looked up as Krycek looked down, blue eyes meeting deep green. They were so close Mulder could feel Krycek's warm breath, could count the thick sweeping lashes on his lids... An urge seized him, and before he could restrain himself, Mulder had closed the little distance between them. His lips brushed Krycek's, a bare hint of what he'd wanted. Wanted since even before he'd pulled his head out of the sand and seen things clearly for the first time.

"Are you sure?" Alex whispered.

//I've always been sure,// Mulder thought. //I've wanted this for so long, and hated myself for it because I believed this longing to be a betrayal of the cause I pursued and the people I dragged along. I touched you because I could, and hit you because it was the only way I thought was forgivable. To find, now, that it was the only unforgiveable way, and then to be forgiven...//

All he said was, "Yes...I'm sure."

Once again, their lips came together. This kiss deeper, more intimate, growing quickly more passionate. Hands glided lightly over clothes, stripping away the barriers. Finally, it was skin against skin...except the white cotton t-shirt Krycek had hesitated at, afraid to reveal the stump of his left arm.

Mulder slid his hands up Krycek's stomach and chest, the shirt collecting at his bent wrists, his fingernails raking softly over the thinly veiled steel of Alex's muscles. He pulled the bunched up shirt over Krycek's right arm, over his head and slowly down and off his left arm. Krycek was tense with worry at Mulder's reaction. The FBI agent kissed the younger man tenderly on the lips, then once on the collar bone, the shoulder, and finally he placed a kiss on the truncated end of the left arm. Krycek met Mulder's eyes and saw no disgust there, no rejection. He melted with the relief, which soon gave way to a more passionate emotion.

The next moring, Mulder swam slowly up to consciouness. The first thing he was aware of was the unfamiliar but very pleasent sensation of being held. Krycek's single arm was wrapped around his waist, his back to Krycek's chest, their legs tangled together. Mulder realised that, for the first time, he'd slept through the night without a nightmare or even a startled awakening. A smile spread over his lips as he remembered the night before.

"Fox," a voice whispered in his ear. Mulder opened his mouth to object to the name, //Wait...I don't want to call him Krycek, because of the past, and I don't really want him to call me Mulder//, so he acknowledged the name. "As happy as last night has made me, it was dangerous," Krycek continued.

"I know," Mulder replied. He turned his head a little and kissed Krycek good morning. "You're happy?" he asked.

"Yes, I am," he paused, "for the first time, really..."

"Good. That you're happy, that is. Because I am too." Mulder said.

With those spoken words, and an unspoken understanding, they reluctantly unwound themselves from each other and began dressing. "What time is it?" Mulder asked suddenly.

Krycek glanced at the digital clock on the bedside table, "9:48," he said. "Why?"

Mulder's expression had acquired a panicked over tone when he heard the time. "I was supposed to meet Scully this morning," he explained. "She's been noticing little things that are different about me and it's worrying her." Mulder stopped dressing abruplty, his shirt half buttoned up.

"What is it?" Krycek asked.

"I can't see her wearing clothes that have obviously been worn before," he said, "but I haven't got a change and it'll take too long to go home..."

"Relax," Alex said, and produced a t-shirt and jeans from a bag that Mulder hadn't noticed the night before. "We're about the same size."

Mulder shot his lover a grateful glance and pulled on the clothes. "Anyway, she's been worried, and I told her last saturday that I'd sit down and talk to her this saturday. Today, at 9:30."

"Wouldn't she have called you?"

"I turned off my cell phone," the agent said, finding his suit jacket on the floor and withdrawing said phone. The moment he turned it on, it rang. "Mulder," he answered.

"Mulder, it's me. Where are you? We were supposed to meet this morning," Scully said, concerned and more than a little upset.

"I know, Scully. I'm sorry. VC dumped a really bad case on me yesterday, just like Roche. I got home kind of late and over slept." Mulder was dressed now, ready to go, but he waited.

"Where are you now, Mulder? You're on your cell."

"I'm on my way," he answered. "I gotta go, Scully. I'll see you in a couple of minutes," he hung up the phone abruptly, as usual.

Mulder went to the door, leaving Krycek sitting on the bed. He put his hand on the door knob, then hesitated and turned, walking back to Alex. "It really hurts to lie to her, doesn't it?" Krycek asked. Mulder only nodded. "It won't be for much longer, I promise. I've almost got everything set up."

"I don't want to leave like this," Mulder said softly. "It doesn't feel right to just run out."

"It's okay, as long as you come back."

Mulder knew Krycek meant back to him, whenever they could next meet. Still, it felt as though parting like this was breaking some kind of new bond, still fragile. //I don't want to lose this,// he thought. //The truth, that's what we're searching for, isn't it? So tell him a truth...// Mulder leaned down, kissed Alex on the lips, placed his cheek against his lover's and whispered into his ear, "I love you."

Krycek allowed him to pull back a little, then placed a hand on the back of Mulder's neck and drew him in for another kiss. "I love you, too," Alex breathed against his lips. Then the hand released him, and Mulder knew it would be all right to leave. Harder, but all right. He slowly stepped away form Alex and left the room, his reluctance evident his every line of his body.

In the car Mulder found he had to speed to make it to the park bench where he'd meet Scully in the same time it would've taken him from his apartment, even though the motel had been closer. By the time he reached their meeting place, he'd accepted the necessity of leaving Alex and was replaying moments from their night together in his head.

"I thought you had a hard case yesterday," Scully said by way of greeting, looking confused.

"Hmmm? I did, why?" Mulder responded.

"You're in pretty high spirits this morning, that's all."

"Maybe being worn out was good for me," he shrugged, wincing internally at the lie, "because I slept the night through." //At least that's the truth.//

"Mulder, you've been acting very strange lately..."

"Define strange, Scully. According to every last man in VC, 'Spooky' Mulder is the definition of strange."

"But I know you, and your own personal brand of strange," Scully responded, smiling a little despite herself. Then she turned serious again, "Is that what it is? The hostility in VC?"

"That's part of it. But really, it's nothing new. Mainstream agents have always scorned me and my work..."

"Except you weren't right in the middle of the "mainstream", Mulder, dealing with the hostility day in and day out. And you had an ally in me right there with you. Something's wrong, Mulder, I can tell, and I wish you'd tell me what it is."

//You're going to have to tell her something Mulder. Just don't give it away... As much as I hate getting backed into a corner like this, part of me is relieved I have to tell her the truth. I just hope it doesn't give Alex and I away, and get all three of us killed.// "Scully, nothing is wrong. In fact, right now I feel like there's more right in my life than there ever has been before. Please trust me on this. You'll understand, soon. I promise."

Scully looked doubtful, but she let it slide. //For now,//Mulder thought, //soon she's going to want the whole truth, not just my reassurences. Hurry up, Alex, or I'm going to have to give something away.//

A little over a week later, Mulder came home to his apartment and was stopped just inside the door by Krycek, who put a finger to his lips to indicate Mulder should be silent. The room what pitch black, and Alex shook his head when Mulder reached for the light. The younger man put his lips directly to Mulder's ear and whispered so quietly that his lover had to strain to catch the words, "We leave tonight. I've packed everything you'll need," he handed a bag to Mulder, "you should change."

Mulder went and had a shower, like he usually did, and came out of the bathroom dressed in jeans and a black t-shirt. He turned on the TV, as if he were settling down to sleep, and pulled on a black leather jacket as he left. He closed the door with a slight click he judged would be covered by the noise from the TV.

A few steps down the hall, Krycek spoke. "I couldn't disable the bugs in your apartment without giving us away, but I've taken care of your tail for the day. We've got from now until dawn to disappear."

"Alex."

"Yes, Fox."

"I have to tell Scully."

"We can't just show up at her apartment and confess everthing," Alex said regretfully.

"I know, and I don't intend to. I'd like to write her letter. She's my best friend, and she's been worried about me. I kept telling her she'd understand soon. After all she's been through, she deserves that much from me."

Krycek's expression softened, "All right. But write fast. Remember I told you I'd found my way back into the Consortium? Well, the Well Manicured Man - that's the Consortium member who met Scully - he's kind of taken me as his protege. I have a certain degree of autonomy, but I have to report to him tomorrow moring."

Their conversation had carried on as they walked down the hall and got into Krycek's car, but now Mulder looked up. "Does he know about me?"

"No. No one does. But I think if ever did find out, he'd be on our side. There's been a rift in the Consortium, and he knows he needs allies." Mulder accepted this and, pulling a pen and paper out of the glove box in the car, began writing his letter to Scully. As they pulled away, he never even looked back at the building and the career that had been his life for so long.

***

The phone rang. "Scully," she answered it.

"Agent, Scully, it's AD Skinner."

"Yes, sir?"

"Have you spoken to Agent Mulder recently?"

"Mulder? I talked to him late yesterday, sir. Why?"

"Agent Mulder never showed up for work today. I sent someone to his apartment, and they found the TV on and several changes of clothing missing. No one's heard from him since yesterday. Has Agent Mulder been acting strange lately? Have you noticed anything unusual."

"Actually, yes sir. I was worried about him. I asked him what was wrong, but he kept putting me off and telling me as little as possible. I think he even lied to me a couple of times. He just kept saying I'd understand eventually. Can I do anything?"

"I'd like you to go home and see if there's any sign Agent Mulder tried to contact you. Then report directly to me."

"Yes, sir."

Half an hour later, Scully walked into AD Skinner's office with a large envelope in one hand. "I found this at my apartment, sir." He nodded for her to open it. The first thing to fall out was a note addressed to Skinner.

He read it aloud, " 'AD Skinner, for reasons I prefer to keep to myself, I hereby resign from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Spooky Mulder's going to get a life. Fox Mulder.' " Scully tipped the envelope and Mulder's FBI badge slid out onto the desk.

Scully and Skinner's eyes met slowly, realising the reality of Mulder's resignation. Scully reached into the envelope and drew out the remaining couple of pages. They were addressed to her.

***

Dear Dana,

You're my best friend, and I trust you with my life and with my truth. So I felt you deserved that truth from me. You've been worried, and I kept telling you that you'd understand soon. This is my explanation, please understand that these words are for you and you alone.

The night the x-files burned, Krycek came to see me. I was in shock, and so I listened. And the more I listened, the more I believed what he was telling me. He denied none of what he'd done, but he explained. He didn't ask for forgiveness. He told me he'd found his way into the Consortium again, that he was working against them from the inside. He told me he needed someone to watch his back, to be his partner. He needed me.

I can only pray you'll understand, but I agreed. The intensity of the emotions that have battered at me over the years were eating away at me. I was being destroyed, from the inside out. I always instinctively wanted to trust Alex, and that instinct created a conflict within me. Finally, I realised that I should have trusted him. He offered me the truth I thought I'd lost forever, and, rather than let VC destroy me, I took it.

Alex isn't the man we thought he was. He's searching for the same truth I am, I can see that now. I'm his connection, his anchor and his partner - and he's mine.

I've another confession to make. You remember that day when I was late meeting you? You wondered why I seemed so happy when I'd just come off of such a hard case. The night before, I met Alex. The case really got to me, and I was on the edge. Alex listened, and held me. And we made love.

I love him, and he loves me.

Please realise that for the first time in my life, I'm happy. I haven't found the truth, but for the first time I'm moving towards it instead of sideways. All the conflict that was tearing me apart is quiet, and I'm at peace. I have a partner in my search, now. I know you were my partner, but it was always much more my quest than it was yours.

I doubt we'll meet each other again, but know that I'll contact you if I can. Be happy for me, Scully. I'm forever grateful for all you've done for me. You'll always have a place in my thoughts and in my heart.

Fox Mulder

***

Scully sat in silent shock.

"Agent Scully? Where's Agent Mulder?" Skinner asked. Scully fingered the pages of the letter, but she had no need to read it again. "Scully, where's Mulder?" the AD asked insistently.

"He didn't say," she said, softly.

"What did he say?"

"That he's happy. That he's with Krycek, and he's happy."

Skinner looked confused, "Krycek?"

"Actually, Mulder refers to him as Alex," Scully answered. She almost admitted what Mulder had told her, then remembered his plea for her to keep his words to herself. "The only other thing I can say, sir, is that I wish him well. He deserves what happiness he can get. Whoever he's with."