RATING: Chapters 17 and 19 contain NC-17 sex scenes, fairly graphic. If your culture or your mother would object, please skip. Chapter 19 in particular might not be to everyone's taste - if you can't stand blood except in connection with violence, better skip this. The rest of the story is pretty straightforward X-Files standard.
KEYWORDS: Scully/Krycek, Romance, UST, RST, NC-17, Conspiracy
SUMMARY: Mulder has gone missing, and Scully and Krycek form an uneasy alliance with the purpose of locating him, since they both need him back. They are trapped and isolated in the wilderness by the Smoking Man, who as usual has his own agenda. Or rather, Diana Fowley's.
FEEDBACK: Yes, please! :) You can reach me at the address given on my main page http://home.swipnet.se/evas_fanfic
ARCHIVE: As stated on my page, my stories are usually free for all; just let me know where they go, and please keep my name and headers in.
SPOILERS: Loads of them. Everything up to and including the Biogenesis trilogy - but no further. Have to put in a breakpoint at some time.. There might be a foreshadowing of Closure but not enough to be called a spoiler.
COMMENTS: This is not a sequel to my story Samhain . I think I might still write a sequel to that some day, but the challenge I set myself here was to put together a believable SKipper story and still adhere strictly to canon. Therefore, Scully and Krycek have no past history when this story begins, other than what has been established in the series, up to and including Amor Fati.
The only deviation from canon background is in the timeline. I haven't seen all the non-mytharc eps of Season 7 yet, so if Mulder's and Scully's every move is accounted for between Amor Fati and Closure, then this is a slightly alternate timeline. Mulder has disappeared, at a time when he probably did not in the series. There are other minor discrepancies, but Diana is explained, and the CSM's health can be. It seems to have had its ups and downs. In here, he did not go into a steady decline immediately upon surgery.
Started on Wednesday, 2000-06-07, and due to an extremely hectic year 2000 not finished until now, in early 2001. Parts of this story were written at the height of a scorching Californian summer, which might to some extent explain my main choice of scenery..
J Edgar Hoover building, July 22nd
Scully walked briskly towards the elevator. Her visit to Skinner's office had proved largely a waste of time. He had given her absolutely nothing, although she was sure she had pressured him hard enough. She couldn't shake the feeling that he either knew where Mulder was, or had a fairly good idea. And yet he wouldn't tell her anything. It didn't use to be like that. He used to come around, after some cajoling on her part. Now he wouldn't. Yet this was the very reason she felt that her visit had not been a complete waste. At least she now knew that something had changed, and she didn't think it was anything she had done. Possibly something Mulder had done, but even so, Skinner would have told her where the man was. Back when the Assistant Director was also her ally, though he'd never admit it openly, for fear of who might listen.
The elevator door plinked open, and she stepped in. She was alone. Good. She had the time to breathe a small sigh of relief, then a man forced his way in past the closing doors. As soon as the elevator had left the floor, he slammed the emergency stop, and she recognized him.
"Krycek!" she spat, reaching wildly behind her for her gun. As she got it out and pointed it at him, she saw that he was holding up his hand to reassure her. She kept her gun trained on him just the same.
"I'm unarmed", he rasped. Scully remembered his voice well enough to know that it had always had a husky tone to it, but this time she unerringly diagnosed a traditional, old-fashioned sore throat. Then her gaze drifted to the left sleeve of his worn leather jacket, and her eyes widened. The sleeve was hanging empty by his side, and blood was dripping from it, slowly but persistently.
He made a face, presumably at his own choice of words. "Okay, understatement of the year. What I meant was, I don't even carry a switchblade at the moment. You can tuck that gun away."
"Alex Krycek weaponless?" she taunted him. "I'll believe that when pigs come flying through my window."
"They might yet", he muttered. "Come on now, what are you going to do - arrest me? You haven't got anything on me you can make stick, and you know it."
Scully hated to admit it, but he had a point. His crimes might be legion, but there was no convicting him as long as any remained of his powerful employers, and she knew of at least one who had not gone down in the fire - or up in smoke.. Reluctantly, she put her gun back in its holster. She hoped she wasn't doing it just so as not to seem stupid. False pride had killed agents before.
Krycek breathed out and leant heavily against the door for a moment.
Scully finally relaxed enough to switch on her doctor's mode rather than the Special Agent one. The man looked decidedly ill. It had been a while since she last saw him, but she didn't think he could have lost quite that much weight in any healthy fashion. Also, he was positively white-faced, and the black stubble certainly didn't do anything to mediate that impression. Funny, she had never even noticed a five o'clock shadow on him before, but now that she thought of it, with his colouring, he ought to have the problem.
And then there was that arm.. or rather, there obviously wasn't.
"What happened to you?" she asked, not really caring that it came out as an accusation.
"Rough voyage", he said. Damn, did it really show that bad? Then again, he reminded himself, she was a doctor.
She nodded toward his empty sleeve. "Sharks?"
He followed her gaze. "That? It's old. What, Mulder didn't tell you?"
She covered her surprise instantly. Her lips pursed. "You're not exactly topmost on our list of conversation topics, Krycek."
He nodded. "Nah, I guess not. It's just, he was with me when it happened. Well, almost. In fact, we had just - split up. Tunguska. A mob of local peasants decided they knew what was best for me." Suddenly, he banged his head against the elevator door in frustration - so hard that she was sure he must have added to his already deplorable condition. "I hate ignorance", he said, vehemently enough that she believed him. "Ignorance and superstition - they'll conquer this world eventually. Who knows, they might even beat the aliens to it.." His lips quirked a little. "That's something we have in common right there, Agent Scully. I take it you're not big on ignorance and superstition either."
"Why are you here, Krycek?" Scully asked frostily.
"I need to find Mulder."
She gave a curt laugh. "Don't we all?"
His eyes widened, and she noticed in idle surprise that they were not black or brown as she had always assumed, but rather a soft, dark green. Somewhat like the muddy water of a forest lake, she mused irrelevantly.
"Oh no, don't give me that", he said, shaking his head. "You must have a clue. Something he said or hinted, something he left behind, something only you would be able to interpret.."
"Zip", she said succinctly.
He eyed her for a moment, wondering how well he really knew this woman. It had to be, what - four years? More? - since he did surveillance jobs on her. Back in those days, she had looked like any up-and-coming agent, elegantly styled, yuppie fashions, the works. He had stopped watching when she contracted the cancer. Talked himself out of further assignments like that. True, it was her own fault for removing the chip, as the smoker had endlessly told him, as if it were in any way important. But Krycek had never liked the idea of slow death. Death should come clean, sudden and precise, the way he always dealt it himself.
But death had not claimed Scully after all, and now she herself seemed deadlier than he remembered, even from when he last met her, just before Tunguska. Maybe it was an effect of being on her own now, without Mulder, but somehow Krycek didn't think so. Even if there was something about those hard, turquoise eyes, that strictly practical hair cut, that he doubted Mulder even liked. Mulder might have endurance, but he was a lot softer than this.
Krycek was about to offer a calculating I don't believe you, but to his surprise, he found that he did. "Then he didn't leave of his own free will", he said instead.
"The thought has crossed my mind", she countered derisively. "What's the matter - your buddies, smoking and otherwise, don't tell you anything any more?"
"You're beginning to sound like Mulder", he said tiredly. His eyes drifted closed - but only for a moment. "I'm not so sure they're the ones who've got him."
She looked him over. He really was in bad shape. Sick as a cat, and unwashed. The latter disturbed her. He had a strong, natural scent the way some human males did, a function designed to attract, not repel, only now it was rather overbearing, at least in any civilized parts of the world. All the same, it was bothering her hormones which were far less civilized than she might have wished, and her conflicting emotions enraged her. But she'd be damned if she'd give in to childish anger, especially when she fully well knew it was based on confusion caused by a simple biochemical reaction and nothing else.
"You need medical attention", she informed him coolly.
"Care to do the honours, Dr Scully?" he taunted.
"You're not that sick", she clipped back.
"How do you know?"
"You're injured and exhausted, and you've probably been starving lately, but you're not diseased". In fact, if he had been, his scent would have been far less intriguing, but she was not about to tell him so. "What about that arm?" she asked hastily. "If it happened when you and Mulder were in Tunguska, how can it still be bleeding? And didn't those peasants know enough to cauterize it?"
He groaned. "They fired it at once, or I might have found someone to reattach it for me. Unless I bled to death first, which was a distinct possibility."
She noted that he knew exactly what had been done to him. Well, she hadn't exactly visualized Russian peasants as toting any large supply of anaesthetics around. Such things were probably black-market stuff, far beyond their economical reach.
"So how come it's bleeding now?"
"Just my luck. The prosthetic got torn off while I was escaping, and.."
Scully held up her hand. "Wait. How about you take this from the beginning?"
"No time. Someone is bound to make a fuss about the elevator being out of order."
"If they do, I'll deal with it. Now tell me."
"Tell me where Mulder is, I'll tell him."
"I said I don't know. But if I ever find out, I'll need to know what you want him for. Or I won't ever say another word to you, until he comes back of his own accord."
Krycek stared at her. "You'd tell me where to find him, if you knew?"
"If I can be sure you're not after him simply because you have a contract on him."
Krycek nodded. "All right then. You know about the vaccine for the alien infection? Or rather, the experiments aimed at inventing one?"
"I should. I was saved by a weak but functioning Russian vaccine, myself."
Krycek hadn't known that. "You were? Then you're in danger too."
Scully sighed. "When am I not? What is it this time? My immune system will suddenly up and eat me alive?"
Krycek almost smiled, but caught himself. "Further experiments. They want anyone who's ever been infected, and they're getting desperate."
Scully's eyebrow rose. "They?"
"You know who they are."
"We have every reason to believe a lot of them were just incinerated - possibly by alien rebels."
Krycek shifted slightly against the doors, hoping his makeshift bandage would prove enough to keep him from passing out. The wound had been slowly dripping since he left the ship, and he really had no way of knowing how much blood he had lost. Under the circumstances, he'd have to be careful.
"That was just the American phalanx", he rasped. "It wasn't a world wide operation, if that's what you think. Thankfully, there aren't that many alien rebels on Earth. As yet."
Scully's mind reeled a little at his casual dismissal of the American phalanx. She clamped firmly down on any misguided hints of patriotism. The Consortium was nothing to feel protective about. "Go on", she said.
"I knew the Syndicate wanted the vaccine badly - I had been trying to supply them myself." His lips quirked mirthlessly. "I may even have saved your life. If you're sure what you got was Russian, chances are it was from the batch I stole."
She gave him a look that told him clearly not to push that particular line of reasoning.
"Anyway", he resumed his tale, "in my own case, there's a slight twist. I was subjected to the Black Oil too, but it left on its own. The guy in charge of the Syndicate's vaccine research - a British surgeon, he's dead now - always believed my blood could be used as the base for a serum. After the rebel attacks, they're expecting colonist retaliation - with humanity caught in the middle. They left me alone before, concentrating on finding a vaccine, but now they've started looking for more. Now they want an antidote.
"There are only two other people still alive, who meet the same criteria that I do - a married couple by the name of Gauthier. He's French, she's from San Fran. I went looking for them, but they had disappeared. Nobody by that name had ever lived there - that sort of thing. Guess the Syndicate was behind that, or maybe the other colonist minions got to them first. Either way, it looked bad for me, so I ran. Got as far as Amsterdam, Netherlands. I was supposed to meet my contact there. I always had good connections to the Russian mob, most of them are old military."
He cast a quick glance around, mostly out of habit. He really had no reason to believe the FBI would bug its own elevators. Besides, he was too worn out to care. If he were caught now, he could always have Skinner pull him out later.
"Turned out, I had - for once - underestimated the Smoker. I never expected him to risk spreading the news about the aliens. But he had bought the people I was seeing. They took me to Bucharest, on the pretext of protecting me from the Syndicate. Instead, they handed me over to the Romanian branch."
He stopped, reluctant to go into detail about his imprisonment.
"Romania has a long tradition of vampirism", Scully prompted. "Or so Mulder tells me."
"No need to be sarcastic about it", Krycek said tiredly. "Traditional vampires have nothing on the Syndicate. They drew the stuff regularly for weeks, keeping me at the barest minimum level needed for survival. I was so weak, they didn't even have to chain me up. Then they got orders to take me to Russia, and - I managed to escape."
"Just like that? In your condition?"
He sighed. "If you must know, someone sprung me. A whole group, actually. We went by Kirgisia for some reason known only to the Syndicate, and we ran into The Union of Extemporate Cossacks." He made a face. "Upholding and practising the Cossack ideals or some such nonsense, much like SCA knights in a way. They don't traditionally belong in Kirgisia, but I understand they were run out of a lot of other places, notably the Ukraine. Anyway, they rescued me. I don't know who had been talking to them, I guess the Smoker's money ran out and some of my old friends got miffed."
Krycek made a renewed attempt to close his narrative, but Scully was looking far to intrigued - and amused. She probably didn't believe a word, and he could hardly blame her. All the same, her obvious interest was hard to resist. Must be her Irish roots, he mused. Always eager for a tall tale..
"One of the Cossacks grabbed my arms and yanked me on to his horse - of course he didn't know I was wearing a prosthesis.. Somehow I managed to hold on to the thing, but it had been torn loose, and I really didn't need to lose any more blood right then. When we made camp that night, they managed to reattach the fake arm - with leather straps of all things, but they couldn't fit the titanium screws again, as the bone had been damaged."
Scully shuddered involuntarily. To her resentment, she saw that he noted it. For future use? Well, if he was counting on her compassion to sway her in favour of anything he was up to, he was grossly miscalculating.
"Well, at least they fed me and let me rest as much as was possible on the run. Eventually, they dumped me on a tanker - as a stowaway, because they had no connections to the crew, or so they told me. They left me a four-day supply of food that I managed to stretch to last a week. After that, I tried stealing, and of course I was caught. I thought I'd had it, because it's common practice to simply pitch stowaways overboard, and we were nowhere near land. The Cossacks had given me a gun, but I was no match for a crew of twelve, I couldn't keep them all covered for hours, let alone for the rest of the voyage. So I was disarmed, and most of them were in favour of tossing me to the fish, but for some reason, the captain said no. I don't know if it was his own idea, or if someone had paid him alone without telling his crew or the Cossacks, but I wasn't about to question it. He asked if I was strong enough to work my passage, and considering the alternative, I said yes."
Scully looked pointedly at his dripping sleeve.
"The ship's doctor tried to make a better attachment", Krycek said in reply to her look. "But the wound was infected, and he had to open everything up again and clean it to make it heal properly. Meanwhile, I had to wear the straps, or I couldn't work. It wasn't an optimal combination. The straps would chafe, and I'd start bleeding again. Just as I left, I took the thing off and bandaged the stump. Guess I'll have to leave it off now, until I heal."
"You should see a doctor", Scully said. Then something occurred to her. "Or is that what you're doing now? Were you about to ask for my help? Because there is no one left for you to go to?"
His mouth quirked a little. "You'd be likely to poison me or something. There are places I can go. But first things first - I have to find Mulder."
"And you still haven't told me why."
"I was coming to that. The last I heard, the Smoker -"
"We know his name now, Krycek", Scully informed him. "CGB Spender."
"I doubt it. Nobody knows his real name, though he's been going by several, including that one. Anyway, I heard that Mulder got hold of some alien artifact that made him telepathic. Except it hit him fully grown, and he had never learned the first thing about blocking out the noise, so he went insane."
Scully closed her eyes momentarily. Then she nodded. "I wish we had made that connection earlier. He's better now though. Or he was, before he disappeared."
"What happened to the talent?" Krycek asked, and the green intensity of his eyes startled Scully. "Does he still have it - or some of it?"
"Is that what you came to find out?" she asked.
"Partly. I have reason to believe Mulder's still telepathic to some extent, and I need to know his range. It could be that it's abated, but it could also be that he has learned to control it. Like the aliens. Or like that brat - Gibson Praise. Like anyone who was born with it."
Scully knew she didn't want to hear this, let alone believe it. All the same..
"He always was intuitive.." she mused. "Are you saying he might have adapted, and he's just not telling anyone?" Not even me, she added in her thoughts, and the idea left her strangely empty inside.
Krycek waited, watching his words sink in.
"I suppose it's possible", Scully finally admitted. Then she flared. "So what's in it for you? Why do you need to know?"
"Because if Mulder is telepathic", Krycek said, "chances are that the Smoker is too. They say there was an operation.. he took something from Mulder, some of his DNA, and he had them put it in himself."
Scully actually staggered, and Krycek, for all that he was quite probably the weaker one at the moment, reached out and steadied her.
"It's only a Syndicate rumour", he said, almost as if to reassure her. "Only the Smoker and his closest associates know if there's any truth to it. But I can't afford to dismiss the possibility. I have to assume that 'worst case' is true. It's kept me alive so far."
"I take it you and the Smoker are not on speaking terms at the moment?" Scully asked, trying to get some of her composure back.
"He wants me dead", Krycek said simply. "He used to try to have me killed, any opportunity he got. What bothers me is that he's stopped trying lately. He was giving me assignments up to the point where I ran away. I think he has some plans for me, and considering what he had them do to me in Romania, I don't think I'd better let him find me. I need to find Mulder. I need - his help."
Scully nearly laughed out loud. "What makes you think Mulder will help you?"
"I could help him too. I'm an enemy of his enemy."
"For the time being", Scully said caustically.
Krycek nodded. "For the time being."
They both heard footsteps now, running, and voices shouting.
"I think the alarm is automatic", Scully said. "After fifteen minutes, it goes off even if nobody triggers it from inside the elevator."
Krycek was inclined to agree. "Standard security procedure. So, you're sure you don't know where he is? Not a clue?"
"Anybody in there?" The voice came strongly, enhanced by the elevator shaft, startling them both. Krycek motioned for Scully to answer.
"Yes!" she shouted back up. "This is Agent Scully."
"Are you alone, Agent? We need to know how many are trapped."
Krycek nodded vehemently.
"It's just me!" she shouted, watching him, wondering how he was going to get out of this one.
"Thanks", he whispered.
"I said I'd take care of it", she reminded him coolly. "How are you going to get past them?"
"Through the garage", he said. There was a thump outside, suggesting someone was applying tools to free the elevator. Krycek put his hand on the emergency brake. "Scream!" he said curtly, as he loosened it. To his surprise, she did, and quite convincingly too, just like someone who had just lost their balance through an unexpected movement of their surroundings.
"What d'you know", he muttered as the elevator descended, "Partners in crime.."
"Don't get your hopes up, Krycek", she clipped back. "Besides, there's still the blood. You've been dripping all over the place."
"Tell them you had a nosebleed or something. They have no reason to check the DNA, or even the blood type, unless you ask them to." She nodded, and he just had to ask, "Why are you helping me?"
"It's not you I'm helping", she stated calmly. "I just had the thought that with both of us looking for Mulder, there's a better chance of one of us finding him. Especially as we're not likely to look in the same places."
The elevator touched down on the garage level and came to a halt. "I don't think that's it at all", Krycek said. The doors opened, and he stepped out. He turned to flash her a grin just as the doors were closing. "I think you just like screaming."
Scully stood unmoving for a moment, trying to recall if she had ever seen him smile before. She did not think so, not like that anyway. Not that incongruous, toothy, sun-edge smile. She shook her head in amazement. If he could still smile like that, after all he had been through.. She was beginning to see why this particular sewer rat was not so easily exterminated. In fact, she had to admire his resilience, if nothing else about him. With a shrug, she pressed the button for the floor they had just left. She had a few colleagues and security people to reassure.
Krycek emerged into the sunlight, hoping to get a lift out of the area. The man who had taken him to within a block of the J Edgar Hoover building had kept staring at his passenger's dripping sleeve. Krycek had assured him he had every intention of getting to a hospital as soon as he could, he just had a few things to take care of first. This time, he really did need to seek out a doctor before he did anything else..
A wisp of smoke drifted over his shoulder. "Going somewhere, Alex?"
Krycek knew he ought to run. He'd know that well-modulated voice anywhere. Only the cold conviction that escape was no longer an option, made him pause and turn around.
"A wise decision, Alex", the smoking man said. "You look rather the worse for wear. I can help you. Care to join us?"
The woman who got out from behind the wheel of the black, nondescript car with diplomat's plates ought to have been dead. Unfortunately, she wasn't. Very much alive, Diana Fowley was smiling insincerely as she held open the back seat door. Krycek got in the car. There really wasn't much else to do.
Syndicate cell HQ, September 1st
The smoking man threw the letter down on the small, polished jacaranda table and gave his associate a questioning look. "Well? Have you read it?"
The hard-faced woman nodded. "I have. Most of it anyway. I must say Strughold's encoding staff is getting better and better. Wonder who did that."
"He does it himself", the smoker said. "Always has. He used to be an expert - in that as well as other things." He put out his cigarette in a gleaming ashtray of an indeterminate shape, made of some black, volcanic stone. "You got his meaning then?"
"Loud and clear. He wants Agent Scully away from Fox, and no screwing up this time. He seems convinced we have Fox. Do we?"
The elderly man succumbed to temptation and dug out his Morley packet again. "All in good time", he said. "Mulder isn't our problem right now. Scully is."
Diana sighed. "I have an idea, but I need you to tell me something first. Do you trust me?"
"Can I?" the other said, bringing his reliable lighter to his cigarette.
"Why don't you just read my mind and find out?" she challenged.
He did not answer that directly. "You want to know why I didn't have you killed, after you betrayed me?" he asked, exhaling. "Simple. The man I sent didn't do his job."
She smiled politely. "I see. Your assassin didn't fulfil his assignment, so you took me back." Better not dwell on that subject. "I didn't betray you", she said calmly. "It's just that - well, I suppose there's no point in trying to hide it now - I do love Fox. There was no conflict at all, as long I was sure you wanted him alive. But then, as I saw what you were planning, what you were doing to him, I began to have doubts. It appeared as if you only wanted him as DNA spare parts for yourself, that you would throw him away when you were through with him. And that's the one thing I couldn't let you do."
"I have no intention of killing Mulder", the smoking man said, exhaling an abortive ring. "He's my one hope of holding off the colonists, when the day comes", he added cryptically.
"I'm with you, as long as I know Fox is alive and likely to stay that way", she said.
He nodded. "That's what I - gleaned. So, there's still no conflict. What's this idea you have?"
"For getting Agent Scully off his back?"
The smoker nodded.
"Simple. Send in Alex. As soon as he's fully recovered. How is he doing, by the way?"
"Still convalescing. The reattachment of the prosthesis proved rather difficult, as there were new and deep cracks in the bone. But he's healing fast. We made a few improvements while we were at it. He should have better mobility now. Still can't take much weight on that arm though."
"What made you keep him?"
The smoker looked directly at her through the bluish wisps filling the air. She couldn't be sure, but she thought there was a smile playing around his wrinkled features. "I may still have use for him", he said lightly.
She nodded, accepting the warning. She knew as well as he did, what kind of work they were using Alex for. "That's not quite what I had in mind for Agent Scully", she said. "After all, we failed last time."
He should be able to read her plan right off her mind, but she wasn't sure how far his powers extended, and she thought it safer not to ask. Seeing that shadow of a smile again, she hastily went on,
"Strughold doesn't say he wants her dead. He just wants to pry them apart. Well, so do I. And I think there's a much better way. She's the only one - excepting possibly myself - that Fox has ever trusted. He doesn't trust his own mother, yet he trusts her. What if he gets a reason to doubt that trust, to question her loyalty? That ought to drive a wedge between them just as surely as death itself, and with the same finality. It's even better, because if we kill her, he'll try to avenge her death, and he'll do anything he can to hurt us. If she lets him down, there'll be no reason for revenge, and what's more, he'll be weakened, not strengthened. I think that's what Strughold wants, if he has given any thought at all to particulars."
The smoker nodded thoughtfully. "An interesting plan", he admitted. "But if we don't want Scully killed, why Alex?"
Diana smiled a little, folding her long hands and stretching them a little, palms outward, as she leant back in her chair. "He's an attractive man."
The smoking man did not drop his cigarette, but for an instant it wavered precariously between his lips. "Alex??"
She had the time to wonder why he had not seen that coming, before he had once more composed himself.
"You're suggesting Alex for a honey pot operation?" he mused, and she could have sworn he was chuckling secretly. He shook his head. "I'm afraid you don't know Agent Scully."
"Maybe not, but I know Fox", Diana said calmly. "I know what it takes for him to place his trust in someone. I know she'll prove a hard nut to crack. But I think Alex can do it. If you give them time. Time is essential, you must give them lots of it - and only each other to rely on."
This time, he actually did chuckle. "You've given this a lot of thought, haven't you? Well, why not? The time factor would keep Strughold off our backs for a while. He's quite content to work slowly, if the results justify it." The mirth died from his eyes as if it had never been. "Which means, we shall have to get results", he said in a voice so flat that only those who knew him well could have detected the threat. Diana knew him well enough. "Your idea has merit", he finally decided. "I'm willing to try it."
"Just one more thing then", Diana said. "Don't let Alex know what his assignment is. In fact, don't even let him know he's been given one."
The smoker gave her a surprised look, as he put out his cigarette. "Why?"
"Because I have the feeling he'll be more willing if he thinks it's his own idea", she said. "Also, it saves you the trouble of paying him for it."
Krycek watched the broken smoke rings rise toward the ceiling. To his knowledge, the smoker had always been smoking, and yet he had never mastered the art of blowing rings properly. Amazing.
The older man gave his visitor a slightly annoyed look, then turned his attention to putting out his cigarette. Without looking up from what he was doing, he said, "I have a mission for you, Alex."
Aside from: 'Drop dead, Alex'? Krycek thought, but he carefully avoided making the suggestion aloud.
The other leant back in his chair, and his creased face crinkled further. If Krycek hadn't known better, he could have sworn the man was smiling.
"There's no love lost between us", the smoker said lightly, confirming Krycek's thoughts. "But the fact that you're here alive, should have convinced you that I might have some use for you still."
"All right", Krycek said in a tone that advised the older man to cut the crap, "who is it this time?"
"It's not that kind of assignment", the other informed him casually. "We need you to find Mulder."
Krycek nearly laughed. "Yeah? You mean, you don't know where he is?"
"Regrettably, we don't", the man said, shaking out another cigarette and lighting it.
I don't believe you, Krycek thought. You've got him, you old fart - this is some sort of a game. Aloud, he said, "Why me?"
Again, he thought he could discern a smile on those wrinkled features. But the smoker was not looking at him as he said, "Simple. We have exhausted our resources. Right now, I have no one else to send. It has been suggested that you might have a few more sources to - research than we do." He took a draught on his cigarette, and as usual seemed to exhale more smoke than he had inhaled.
A fire-breathing old dragon, Krycek thought, and the old man's eyes widened in amused surprise.
"I suggest you seek out Agent Scully", the smoking man resumed. "She must have some idea where her partner is. She won't talk to me or Diana, but she might talk to you."
Krycek clamped down hard on the thought that he had already approached Scully in this matter, for his own ends. The old man had no need to know that. No need to know that his mission had already proved futile, before it was even assigned. Krycek had no way of knowing if he had managed to block the thought; he could only hope. "She isn't likely to talk to me either", he said. I helped getting her abducted, I betrayed her precious Mulder, I've been killing her contacts left, right and center, I was there when Luis lost his speed-riddled head and killed her sister, I..
"How much does she know of what you've done?" the smoking man asked easily.
He is telepathic, Krycek thought. He has to be. "Mulder always suspects me first", he said aloud. "Anything he's told her, she knows."
The smoker tipped off some ash, barely missing the ashtray and ignoring the resulting mess on the polished table. "Agent Scully has always impressed me as someone who craves proof." For once, he looked straight at his interlocutor. "Give it a shot, Alex", he said, obviously enjoying his choice of words. "It might be worth it."
Krycek knew he really had no choice. And things could have been worse. Much worse.. Besides, Scully had half promised she'd let him know if she learnt anything about Mulder's whereabouts. And he still had his own reasons for finding Mulder.. He took care not to dwell on that line of thought, though he suspected the old man already knew. Then something else occurred to him. "I might have to deal with Skinner too", he said. "Could I have the device back?"
The smoker put out his cigarette. "I'll see to it", he said.
J Edgar Hoover building, October 4th
"Really, we must stop meeting this way", Krycek said as he got into the elevator behind Scully. This time, he did not touch the emergency brake.
She gave him an icy glare in return for his feeble joke. "There's not much point", she said. "I still don't know where Mulder is." Her doctor's eyes looked him over for any traces of his ragged condition last summer. She did not find any. He was obviously back to normal, fit as ever and cocky as hell. She was beginning to understand Mulder's urges to slug this man whenever he laid eyes on him.
Krycek nodded. "Okay. But you'll be the first to know, won't you?"
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
Krycek blinked at the hostility in her voice. "Only that he'll contact you first, whenever he reappears."
"That's assuming he still can reappear."
So that was it. Time had passed, and she was beginning to fear the worst. She was definitely on edge.
"Don't give up, Scully" he said. "He's been gone before, remember? You've found him before, haven't you?"
"If I did, I had Skinner's help", she said. "And indirectly that of your associates. This time, I'm on my own."
The elevator hit the garage level, and the doors opened. Scully walked out without looking to see if Krycek was following. He was.
"Skinner won't help you?" he asked.
"Either he won't or he can't, but I don't think he knows where Mulder is, any more than I do. Skinner's like a caged tiger these days, pacing in circles with no way out. I don't know what's come over him."
Krycek carefully kept his face blank. "Maybe I could talk to him."
"You?" Scully challenged. "What dealings do you have with Skinner?"
Damn, she was quick. Krycek had learned long ago not to underestimate his enemies, but occasionally someone still got the better of him. "Nothing", he shrugged, but he could see that she did not believe him.
"You leave Skinner alone, do you hear?" Scully said, her voice low and menacing. "He's got enough problems, that much is evident."
"Nothing he doesn't deserve, I'm sure", Krycek said. After all, his soured relationship with the AD was hardly a secret.
But Scully flared. Apparently her personal loyalty to Skinner was stronger than met the eye. "What did he ever do to you?"
Krycek knew he ought to shut up, he wasn't here to alienate her. Unfortunately, he was getting angry too. "You mean, aside from slugging me in the gut, hard enough to make me cough up blood, and then chaining me to his balcony in the freezing cold, leaving me as a sitting duck for the next assassin who happened by? Why, nothing I guess.."
Scully took his sarcasm in her stride. "He chained you? What is this, some Russian melodrama?"
"Cuffed me, then. Same difference."
"When was this?"
"Just before Tunguska. Indirectly, it led to my arm being hacked off. If Skinner hadn't taken me prisoner.." Krycek made a face. "He was supposed to provide me with a safe house. Some safe house.."
They had arrived at Scully's car. She did not get in at once, but stood pondering his words for a moment. Could this be true? Mulder hadn't mentioned anything like this, but she had long known that he didn't always tell her everything. And try as she might, she wouldn't really put this kind of behaviour past Skinner. She knew the AD hated Krycek, and who could blame him? The ex-marine getting a little over-zealous, yes, she could well believe it.
"You don't forgive easily, do you, Krycek?" she said as she opened her car door.
"I don't forgive at all", he said, his voice nearing absolute zero. "And I don't forget."
Scully said nothing, because there was nothing to say. After she got in and was clicking her safety belt into place, Krycek bent down to speak to her through the still open door. "But I don't waste time on revenge when it's not practical. The cost is usually too high."
He straightened, and shut her door for her. Then he started walking towards one of the exits, a lonely figure, dressed in the same colour as his mood.
Scully never knew why she didn't just let him go. Maybe it was her persistent, rebellious streak. Or maybe she was just growing soft. Whatever the reason, she let her car glide up slowly, until she was alongside him. She rolled down the window. "Krycek!" she called, and he glanced at her but kept walking.
"You really need to find Mulder, right?" she said, and this time he stopped to listen, and she braked, engine still running. "Well, so do I. What do you say we collaborate? Instead of just keeping each other posted and hoping for the best?"
His jaw dropped momentarily. He had just been thinking over what to say to the smoking man - besides telling him that this approach certainly wouldn't help them locate Mulder. He sure hadn't expected Scully to offer an alliance, however temporary. Pulling himself together, he nodded curtly. "What did you have in mind?"
"You told me not to give up. Thanks, because I think I was beginning to. We should be searching actively, not just sit around waiting for news." She hesitated for the barest moment before adding, "You go and have that talk with Skinner. Maybe you're right, maybe he'll talk to you. He certainly isn't talking to me. Then meet me at the Hong Kong Paradise at six-thirty. Corner of 6th and Fuller. We've got to plan this."
"I'll be there", he said simply, too astonished to say anything else.
Her lips quirked a little. "Truce, Krycek? For this mission at least?"
He nodded. "Truce."
Then he turned on his heel and headed back towards the elevator.
Skinner looked up at the black-clad figure who had just invaded his office. "What d'you know, the rats coming out in broad daylight now?" he muttered between clenched teeth.
Krycek let the insult wash over him and pass on. He was used to those comments, they didn't matter. "Tell me where I can find Mulder", he said.
There was an unmistakable hint of glee behind Skinner's glasses. "What, your boss won't tell you?" he taunted.
Krycek secretly suspected he was fighting a losing battle here. He was almost sure himself that the Smoker had Mulder. Still, why leave any stone unturned? With a sigh, he whipped out a hand-held computer - his remote control for the nanites in Skinner's body. "You tell me", he said calmly.
Skinner eyed the device, steeling himself for what he saw coming. Then his gaze drifted to Krycek's face, and the hatred in the AD's eyes was almost palpable, almost thickening the dry office atmosphere. Krycek was suddenly glad he had the controlling device. It was slow death all over again, and he hated it, but he'd better not lose it. Given half a chance, Skinner would kill him with his bare hands and worry about the legal implications later.
"I've no idea where Mulder is", Skinner finally admitted. "And if I did, I sure wouldn't tell you." He knew it was a stupid thing to say under the circumstances, but he just couldn't help himself.
"Oh, I think you would", Krycek said, letting the stylus slide slowly towards the right end of the scale. His fake hand was holding the device steady enough that he could operate it with his real one. From a distance, the little computer looked much like any other variation on the Palm Pilot theme, at least as long as the antenna went unnoticed. But it had no writable screen, and its inner workings were to some extent - out of this world.
Skinner gasped, slumping forward over his desk. "Damn you, I said I don't know!" he forced out.
"I know what you said". Krycek adjusted the setting a little further, and soon Skinner groaned in agony, no longer able to speak. One more carefully calculated touch of the stylus, just enough to induce panic, to let the man realize that his condition was worsening and he could not even speak a lie to save his life. Then Krycek abruptly set the control back to zero. The tension gradually left Skinner's body, and he remained for a moment where he was, half lying across his desk like the proverbial puppet whose strings have been cut. He was breathing heavily, which spared Krycek the danger of moving close enough to check the man's pulse. The AD was useful. There'd be hell to pay if he was killed accidentally.
"You can quit playing the hero, Skinner", Krycek said. "It doesn't pay. Heroes don't last." With that, he tucked the device back inside his jacket and left. Skinner would know better than to try and stop him.
The Hong Kong Paradise, October 4th, 6:30 p m sharp
Scully hardly recognized him as he entered the restaurant. Sure, she had seen him in a suit and tie before, but that was a very long time ago. These days it seemed like another lifetime. 'Were we once so young?' she quoted to herself, her lips pursed in amusement. Krycek had seemed very green then, but now she doubted that he had been. His overly straight, right-side parting ought to have given her and Mulder a clue that he was faking it. Nobody looked so well-brushed in real life.
Now, he moved quickly through the room, his sharp eyes darting everywhere in search of her. For some reason she refrained from waving to get his attention. Those eyes would spot her sooner or later anyway, she was sure of that. He should have come in his usual pickpocket black, she mused. It would have gone better with the ubiquitous red of the walls and carpet, the tassels of the Chinese lamps. Yang red for happiness. The only shade of red she knew to be actually soothing, rather than just exhilarating.
He saw her and raised his chin a little in greeting. A perfunctory greeting, as if they were old acquaintances. Well, after all, they were, even though they had hardly met. He sat down opposite her, asking casually if she had ordered yet. She had not. She was about to say she had been waiting for him, but the words would not come out. It's never easy to deal normally with the enemy.
She had already made her decision - prawns with cashews - so she had plenty of time to observe him as he was perusing the menu. It seemed strange to watch him doing something so mundane, but of course, even sewer rats had to eat sometimes. She wondered why he had bothered to change. She had not; she was in her usual pants suit working clothes.
A waiter appeared silently, unobtrusively, to take their orders. Proud of his talents, the man insisted on memorizing their requests rather than writing them down.
"Want me to choose the wine?" Krycek asked, and the simple question angered her beyond proportion. Who the hell did he think he was? The sleek, presumptuous rat, acting as if this was in any way a normal business dinner.
"With you, I'd need vodka", she said coolly. "Jasmine tea will be fine, thanks", she added to the waiter who memorized the order with a light bow.
Krycek pushed his fork to the edge of the table, catching the waiter's eye. The waiter picked up the utensil with another bow, went away and returned after a moment with chop sticks. He set a pair for Scully too, but without touching her fork, leaving the choice up to her.
Krycek caught Scully's openly wondering look at his chop sticks and smiled a little. "Actually, it's easier", he answered her unspoken question. He eyed her - a little apprehensively, she thought. "You suggested a truce. Care to discuss the terms?"
"This mission only", she answered at once. "We both need to find Mulder, and that's all the truce applies to. We share any information we come across that might lead to his whereabouts, and if we find him, we both go. Neither tries to double-cross the other to get to him first", she warned.
Krycek nodded. "Fine with me." His green eyes searched her face. "You realize you have to trust me, if this is going to work?"
She made a face. She trusted him exactly as far as she could throw him, and given their respective sizes, that said it all. "I know. That's why I said this mission only. Let's not touch upon anything else you've been doing, or I just might have to kill you."
"What, you're not even curious?" he said recklessly.
She had to admit she was. "Just one thing. Were you in any way involved in my sister's murder?"
"You really want to know?"
She hesitated only briefly. Then she nodded. "I've always assumed Luis Cardinal shot her", she said. "That's what I was told. But lately, I've begun to wonder."
"He did", Krycek said. "Trigger-happy son of a bitch, too frazzled to wait until he could see who -" he broke off. This wasn't the best of occasions to remind her who had been the intended victim. "I was there", he said instead. "I was sent as his backup, to see that - the assignment got carried out, even if he screwed up. But he screwed up royally, and there was nothing for it but leave the weapon and run. I knew they were making a mistake sending him, but I guess they needed a hold on him. Still, they must have known he was on speed and paranoid as all hell. I should have gone alone. I wouldn't have made that kind of mistake." He looked straight into her eyes. Turquoise ice. Belatedly, he realized that something more was needed. "I'm sorry", he said, surprising her.
She resisted her urge to shoot him then and there, but she could see now that this truce would prove harder than anything she had ever done. "The assignment, as you call it, was to kill me", she said evenly. Too evenly. "Would you take such an assignment again?"
His eyes never left hers. "You know I would. Not by choice though, if that makes you feel better. But choice is a luxury I don't have. If they want you dead, I'll come after you. It's my life if I don't."
"Touching", she said, her lip quirking disdainfully. "So you live by killing others. Nothing but a predator."
He sighed. "If you'd rather call off this truce now, just tell me, okay? I'll be out of your life in a cold minute."
"Until they send you to kill me."
He nodded. "If they do."
Their food arrived, and she said, "At least you've been honest, which is actually more than I expected. Let me think it over while we eat, and I'll let you know whether the truce is on or not."
He accepted that, as calmly as he had told her he would kill her if so ordered. They both ate in silence, neither of them bothering with small talk. They weren't here to socialize.
After the meal, Scully leant back in her seat, watching him. "I still think two have a better chance of finding Mulder than one", she said. "Particularly as our connections are slightly different. But if we're really going to work together, I want you to answer two more questions, as honestly as you answered my first one."
He nodded. "As long as I know the answers."
"You do. First, I never saw a reliable profile on you - are you a psychopath?"
His eyes widened. Obviously, that wasn't what he had expected. "No", he said. "Just desperate. And pragmatic."
"Okay. Because if you have a mental defect, I can't take you on. The other question then: do you have a contract on me - or Mulder - at this time?"
He shook his head. "No, you're both quite safe. From me anyway. And for what it's worth, I don't know of any plans to kill either of you at the moment."
She waited a full minute, trying to come up with anything else she might have overlooked. Then she said. "Okay, Krycek. You're on. But only until we find Mulder."
"And if we never find him?" Krycek asked quietly.
She glared at him. "That's not an option."
He was silent for a while, then he said, "I think you may have to get used to the idea that he might not always be around."
"What do you mean?" she asked, instantly on edge.
"Fully developed telepathy is an alien trait. It might not be compatible with the human brain. I have reason to believe it's fatal, in the long run."
"Do you have any proof of that?"
"No. But they say Gibson is dying."
Scully felt an infinite sadness at the thought of the telepathic little boy, precocious because of his - affliction, and used by everyone. And what if Mulder.. "How - how long.."
Krycek found himself putting his hand over hers to reassure her. She withdrew hers immediately. "I don't know", he said, pretending not to have noticed her reaction to his touch. "Anyway, it's just a rumour. I haven't seen the kid. All I'm saying is, it doesn't hurt to be prepared."
She nodded, fighting to match his pragmatic outlook. She knew she might need it before all this was over. "All right, thanks for warning me. Did you talk with Skinner?"
"Yes. He doesn't know anything."
"Are you sure?"
She eyed him suspiciously. "I guess I don't want to know how you know."
"That's right", he said. "You don't."
Like hardened conspirators, they left separately. After Krycek had gone, Scully broke open her fortune cookie. The barely legible slip of paper read,
Keep your friends close to you, but your enemies closer. Be sure you can tell the one from the other.
Mulder was standing in a vast hangar, empty but for some hospital gurneys and some sinister-looking equipment hovering over them. Leather straps were hanging loosely from the gurneys. There was nobody on them.
For a long while, the only sound in the place was some kind of dripping in the distance, as from a leaky faucet. Then, there were footsteps. He felt the whiff of smoke already before the elderly man entered from one of the storage rooms off the main building. There was a bright, almost happy look about him, a near smile around the cigarette, a definite spring in his step.
"Is this where you took her, you cancerous bastard?" Mulder wanted to know.
The other took his cigarette from his lips momentarily, breathing out smoke unshaped. "Took whom, Agent Mulder? Your sister? No, she was never here. The clones have been helping out though, occasionally."
"Agent Scully, you murdering sonofabitch. Was this where you had her violated? Sterilized?"
The older man did not seem rattled by the accusations. "There was a preliminary examination, or so I'm told", he said indifferently. "It might have been done here. Why? Is this important to you?" The question floated lightly on the air, like the smoke that had expelled it.
Mulder clamped down on his temper. He had assaulted this man before, and so far he had never gained anything by it. "Why take all of her ova?" he asked quietly. "Why render her barren?"
The smoking man inhaled thoughtfully. "The process is not selective", he said. "No doubt it will be perfected in time."
Mulder closed his eyes briefly. He could not afford to lash out just yet. There was one more question he needed an answer to. "I seem to remember you saying you are my father. Are you?"
The thin lips smiled. The cigarette was carefully dropped to the floor and stepped on. "I am now. We share the same DNA, Mr Mulder."
Georgetown, October 9th
Five days into her uneasy alliance with a known felon, Scully found a message on her answering machine. A dark, somewhat husky male voice that she now realized she would have known anywhere. Odd, she had never thought before that she would recognize Krycek's voice quite that easily.
"Yukon", it said curtly. "Bring your warmest clothes and meet me at Harting airfield, strip 4, tomorrow, 5 a m." The closing click sounded sharply, as if he had thrown down the handset in haste. The background noise had suggested he was calling from a phone booth. She could not remember ever seeing him with a cell phone, not since he went rogue. She assumed that in his line of work, he sometimes had one. On the other hand, he travelled all over the globe; maybe it wasn't practical.
She debated with herself how much to tell Skinner. In the end, she simply called in sick, telling his secretary she had caught the flu and expected to be laid up for at least a week. As she hung up, she realized she had to admit it now, if only to herself; she didn't trust Skinner any more.
With a sigh, she started packing.
Harting airfield, October 10th
The wind swept icily over airstrip 4, hitting Scully in the face, as she stepped out of her car. As if the winter awaiting her in Yukon had decided to come and meet her already before she left. To dissuade her.. Except for a few sparse lights, it was pitch dark, and she stumbled over the raise of pavement, nearly taking a plunge on the hard concrete.
Somebody caught her - with considerable speed and strength at that, and she cried out in surprise.
"You okay?" Krycek asked.
"I'm fine. Get your hands - hand - off me", she spat. She had not known he was that strong, and it worried her. Oh, she knew he was tall and athletic, but at some time she had fallen into the habit of regarding him as a cripple. Only now it dawned on her that he might be even more of a threat than she had calculated with.
He let go at once, as if he had guessed her thoughts. "You're welcome", he said, sarcastically, but without any real resentment. "Where's your baggage?"
She got her single suitcase out of her car, and to her surprise, he took it for her. She noticed then that he was wearing a backpack, leaving his arm free for other things.
"The pilot is waiting", he said in explanation, as if he didn't want to be suspected of gratuitous chivalry.
She tied the hood of her parka firmly beneath her chin, and trudged after him against the wind, in the direction of the waiting plane. After a few steps, she began to walk directly behind him, using his larger bulk as a wind shield. It was the least he could do, she mused. Protecting her against the wind, at least he was of some use on this trip.
The pilot was a taciturn man who simply motioned them to their seats - apparently they were to take their pick among the twenty available. The plane was small and would not go above the cloud layer. They were in for a bumpy ride.
Despite the number of vacant seats, Scully had half expected Krycek to sit next to her, but he picked the seats across from her, on the opposite side of the narrow aisle. He lay down across them, stretching out his long legs as best he could. "Might as well sleep", he said. "It's going to be a long ride."
She wasn't prepared to let him off that easily. "Do you know how long it took me to find this place?" she asked. "Once I managed to find out it wasn't anywhere near DC.. you could have been a little more explicit on the phone!"
"I had to assume your phone was bugged", he said calmly. "I said as much as I had to. I knew you'd find it."
"What is it anyway - the field of a disused air base?"
"Something like that. I got a tip that Mulder had been seen in Yukon - my informant was 98 percent sure, he said. I called in a few favours and found a pilot to bribe, and here we are."
"You don't fly planes yourself? Or - not any more?" she suggested, looking pointedly at his fake arm.
"Not hay wagons", he said.
"These 20-seaters. It's what they call them. They're mainly for local runs, but they cover a little more distance than a helicopter."
She nodded, her eyes drifting closed. She was suddenly very tired. Nothing strange about that, she had been up at three. All the same..
She never finished the thought.
The sun was glaring into the cabin, when Scully woke up. She was aware that someone was shaking her, and dispelling the last remnants of sleep, she opened her eyes - and screamed. She was suspended in mid air; white light and tilting grounds all around her.
"You oké, miss?" said a man's voice, thick with an accent she could not place. Of course, the pilot. Wait a minute.. a different pilot. This wasn't the one she had seen last night - if indeed it was last night. How long had she..
"Sure she's okay", Krycek's voice said from somewhere on the other side of the pilot. "She just likes to scream."
Scully closed her eyes for a moment, determined to kill him personally, as soon as this blasted truce was over. Fortunately for him, she thought, she did remember their truce. The pilot though.. She opened her eyes again, peering cautiously at her surroundings. Of course. She was in a helicopter. That explained the view. Then again, she had started this trip in a 20-seat aero plane. There really wasn't any of course about it.
"What happened?" she asked. "When did we change from plane to helicopter?"
The pilot looked puzzled for a moment, and she had time to suspect he had a less than perfect grasp of English. Then he said, "You no change from plane to helicopter, miss. You change from helicopter to helicopter." He brightened. "Of course, you asleep then. You no remember."
"All right, what day is it?" Krycek rasped tiredly, and Scully marvelled that he sounded as far out of it as she felt. It had to be a trick though. She was being abducted again, and like a fool, she had walked right into it. How could she ever have trusted Krycek, even for a minute? She was certifiable. Still, what was he doing here? Didn't a spy and assassin have better things to do? Why hadn't he just sent her off like some parcel and moved on to other, more rewarding assignments?
"October 13th", the pilot said, nodding repeatedly for emphasis. "Almost eleven hundred hours." The military time format seemed to come natural to him.
Krycek groaned. "Three days! We could be anywhere. What the hell did they do to us?"
"Nothing!" the pilot assured him. "You sleep, that's all. I think, you tired. Long journey."
Krycek's right arm shot out and caught the pilot by the lapel. "Where are we?"
"Please sir", the pilot said, carefully detaching himself from Krycek's grip, "Must steer helicopter. This Yukon", he added civilly.
"The hell it is", Krycek said.
"So it's not", the pilot agreed pleasantly, as if humouring his troublesome passenger. "You tell me what it is."
"I don't know", Krycek admitted. "But I'll swear it isn't Yukon."
"Why not?" the pilot wanted to know.
"Because that's where we wanted to go", Krycek said simply. "Would've been no reason to put us out for three days to take us where we were headed anyway. The snow looks right, and the fir trees look right, but this is somewhere else. And something tells me we won't be provided with a compass, let alone a GPS device."
The pilot shrugged. "Can't help you, awfully sorry", he said cryptically. "Going to land now", he clarified, and the helicopter began its somewhat wobbly descent.
The elderly man flicked open his storm proof lighter and brought it to his cigarette. His coat and trousers were fluttering in the wind from the rotor blades, as the helicopter set down at a barely safe distance before him. He wasn't dressed for the climate, but then, he wasn't planning to stay long.
Two figures emerged from the helicopter and made their way towards him. Behind them, the machine took off immediately, revealing a camouflage-painted version of itself, standing some sixty yards behind.
"I should've known", Krycek said as he and Scully came within speaking distance. "So what do you hope to gain by this? I thought we had a deal."
Scully shot him an ice cold glare which did not pass unnoticed by the smoker. In fact, he seemed highly amused by it.
"That's your problem, Alex", he said. "Always assuming you have a deal."
Krycek glanced quickly around him and saw the army helicopter, its pilot in plain sight, a machine gun trained on him and Scully. It figured. This man never came unprotected. Krycek reached for his own gun. Gone, of course.
Scully saw what he was doing and felt for hers. Nobody had seen fit to trust her either.
The smoker held out his hand. "The device, Alex. If you please."
Krycek stared at him. He definitely hadn't wanted Scully to know about this. He pretended to search his pockets. "Your minions must've taken that too. Same one as took our guns, probably."
"Don't lie to me, Alex", the old man said, his voice light, but as cold as the snowy field around them.
With a sigh, Krycek handed over the remote control. He could feel Scully's eyes boring into him. "Guess it never occurred to you to make it easy on yourself", he muttered.
The smoker gave him a disdainful look. "I never trust my - minions as you call them - with more than they have a need to know."
"Then why not let me keep it?" Krycek asked. "Considering I already had it."
"You won't be needing it where you're going", the old man said, with an eerie finality. He tucked the small computer inside his coat, as if to emphasize his words.
"And where is that?" Krycek challenged, refusing to accept a death sentence from this man - or anyone else for that matter.
The smoker chuckled slightly. "Anywhere at all, Alex. Take your pick." For the first time, he looked briefly at Scully. "You're both free to go. Of course, you're kind of limited to walking distance." He looked at their booted feet. "Pity I didn't think to bring snowshoes.."
"You can't just leave us here!" Krycek roared.
Like only a confirmed crook can protest his just fate, Scully thought. Oddly, she wasn't afraid. There was something about this that didn't make sense. Why go to all this trouble just to leave them here? There had to be something they were expected to do, in this place at this time. The smoking man had use for them. Or he would simply have had them shot and taken that gadget, whatever it was.
"Which way do you recommend?" she asked the smoker. He had to give them a clue, send them off to where he wanted them.
His eyes lit up with - appreciation? "North-west", he said. "It's that way", he added, gesturing with his cigarette in the direction of the woods behind the helicopter. "Does either of you have an analog watch?"
Scully nodded. "I do. And I know how to use it."
The smoker actually smiled, his face creasing further in the process. "Good. I see I can depend on you then." He turned to Krycek who was still seething with outrage, while watching the interchange intently. "Take care of her", the smoking man said lightly. "You'd be lost without her." With that, he left them and made his way towards the waiting helicopter, a hunched-over figure, his coat fluttering in the wind from the starting rotor blades. An old man, unbeaten and undefeated, still battling the elements.
"So what was that all about?" Scully asked calmly. "Things didn't go as you planned?"
"You could say that again", Krycek sighed. "He sent me out to find Mulder. Don't know why, because if anyone knows where Mulder is, it's got to be that old fart. Anyway, I thought that's what I was doing, then he pulls this trick. Why give me an assignment he doesn't want carried out?"
"Did he tell you to involve me?" Scully wanted to know. Her voice had a dangerous quality to it.
"Yeah, but I already had. Last summer, in the elevator - I was telling you the truth, I swear. I need to find Mulder for myself. To defend myself against that fire-breathing Methuselah there. His assignment played right into my hands, I just went along with it."
"Hand", Scully reminded him unnecessarily.
"There's no need to be rude." He held up his left hand. "Besides, don't dismiss this gadget so fast; it's seen some improvements lately."
"Speaking of gadgets", she said, "what was that thing?"
"Don't be cute. The one Spender wanted."
He shook his head. "Sorry. Can't tell you."
"You mean you won't. Since you had it, you must know what it is."
"Okay, I won't. Satisfied?"
"No. I thought we had agreed to share information.."
"Information that has any bearing on our attempts to find Mulder, yes", he interrupted her. "This hasn't. So leave it alone, okay?"
"What is it, a state secret?"
"Something like that, yes."
"All of them. And then some. Now, will you drop it?"
She gave him a long look. "Can you say with absolute honesty that it has no bearing on - our case?"
He nodded. "None whatsoever."
"Okay", she said. "Then it'll have to wait - until our truce is over."
In the middle of Somewhere, October 13th
"You know, I could take that for you." Krycek gestured in the direction of Scully's suitcase. It had to be about the thirtieth time it dragged in the snow and she had to pull it up, carrying it uncomfortably with her arm half bent.
"Why should you?" she asked irritably.
"You've been cursing it under your breath for the last hour and a half. I could carry it normally. You'll contract tennis elbow."
"Yes, that's one thing you wouldn't have to risk", she said. She knew she was being childishly cruel. Besides, it wasn't even true, he did have one arm left. The endless trudging in heavy snow was getting to her. "I'm sorry", she said, but she could not find it in her to elaborate.
"It's okay", he said, to her surprise. "Finding someone to hurt is sometimes the difference between staying alive and - just giving up."
"Speaking from experience?"
He didn't answer that. There was no need to.
"I'll carry it", she said, ignoring the low points of their conversation. "It keeps me warm."
He nodded. She had a point there. They were both dressed for the climate, and there was no wind to speak of, so they would probably be all right until nightfall. Which wasn't all that far off at this time of year.. A thought occurred to him. "Are we still going in the same direction?"
Scully checked her watch. "As far as I can tell."
"Your makeshift compass seems to work okay?
She nodded. "The few times the sun comes out."
"Okay, then we're not in the Antarctic", he said, trying to make a joke out of it and falling short.
"Or else we're not headed northwest", Scully said.
Krycek looked doubtful. "Wherever we are, we're past the equinox. If it was the vernal equinox, we'd have more daylight left than we appear to." He looked at his own watch, berating himself for getting a digital one last time he lost one and had to replace it.
"We only have the pilot's word for the time of day", Scully reminded him. "Also, it would help to know if this place is still on daylight savings. So far, I've been assuming it is." She squinted up at the sky. It was once more a uniform, dim silver. "What'll we do when it gets dark? Hole up in the snow somewhere?"
"Yeah", he said curtly. He was getting hungry, and he suspected she was too. Though maybe it didn't take much fuel to keep that small frame going.
Abruptly, her leg vanished in the snow to above her knee, and she cried out, dropping her suitcase and falling across it.
"Don't thrash!" he warned. He was kneeling by her side in an instant, holding out his right hand to her. "Just keep still and hold on to me, I'll pull you out."
She did as she was told, and he pulled her to her feet. The suitcase was easier, as it was wide enough to have stayed afloat.
"Don't leave the trail", he said simply, as they started walking again.
"What trail?" she asked, shuffling her feet through the strength-sapping snow.
He stomped his foot briefly to show her. "This is a beaten track. Or at least, people have walked here before. Two, three days ago maybe." He nodded towards the place where Scully had fallen. "Out there, the snow is loose. If you sink, you're lost."
She gaped at him. "You mean, we really had no choice but to follow this - trail?"
"Not really. The smoker didn't bother to provide us with skis. Or snowshoes." He glanced at her briefly. "Doesn't hurt to know which direction we're going though."
Only slightly mollified, she glared at her watch. Compasswise, it was useless at the moment. The sun was firmly hidden.
That's when they both heard it. No bird, however exotic, could make a sound like that. No other forest-living animal either, for that matter. The closest analogy might have been a distant sawmill, but it wasn't that either.
Incredibly, it sounded like sixties disco music.
The small way station was sprawled over an area that was little more than a clearing in the forest. Three buildings: a main one that seemed to be partly store, judging by the somewhat larger windows on one corner, a garage, complete with a gas pump of a rather outdated design, and a windowless, barn-like construction that looked like it might be used for storage. The snow was well trodden around all three.
The music was coming from the main one, which seemed to have a back door ajar. The audible onslaught was now recognizable as I'm Gonna Knock on Your Door, performed by a very young Eddie Hodges.
Krycek glanced at Scully and shrugged. "Might as well take his advice."
"What?" she yelled back, over the tinny percussion.
Krycek just shook his head and made for the building.
Thankfully, the noise stopped just as they entered, after a perfunctory knock that nobody could possibly have heard, even though Krycek had used his left hand for better effect.
The room inside was hardly the last word on domestic comfort, but it looked cosy enough after their long walk through the snow. Just large enough to accommodate a kitchen area as well as a table and two chairs, the room also had a shallow alcove along one wall, with a neatly made bed in it. The kitchen area consisted of an old stove, a newer gas cooker, a small working space, and a sink, complete with water taps. Two of them, separate. Obviously there was - or had been - running hot water in this place.
At the table, two men looked up from their chess game, showing only marginal surprise at the sight of the two newcomers. "Well, what d'you know, getting quite a crowd in here today", one of them drawled in an amused, friendly manner. He was elderly but strongly built, as if he had spent all his life cutting timber in these woods. His drooping, grey moustache gave him a slightly dejected appearance, but he did not sound morose. He wore a hat even indoors, possibly to conceal a balding spot.
The other man was younger and bigger, with dusky blond hair. He was clean-shaven, and indeed there was something a little too clean about him generally. At first, Scully had an inexplicable notion that she had seen him before. Something in his movements, as he turned to face the door. Then she saw his face, and knew she had been mistaken. Perhaps it was just his type she recognized. It might be common enough.
Both men wore plaid shirts in roughly the same shade of red. Only the pattern varied slightly, wider and blacker lines on the older man's shirt. A well-worn down jacket was hanging over each of their chairs. Dark blue for the younger man, off-white for the older.
"You gonna stand in the door all day?" the older man said, his tone still amused, as if he relished their obvious surprise. "Come in, and get those parkas off you. There's beans on the stove. From the stock here, so I'm afraid that's all there is, the meat was spoiled. Freezer's been out again. Guess the power went in the latest blizzard. Happens all the time.."
Krycek didn't move. "What is this place?" he asked quietly. "And while we're at it - who are you?"
"Sorry", the older man said, "lonely life out here, makes one forget one's manners. He stood, extending a hand. "John Anderson", he introduced himself. He nodded carelessly in the direction of his companion. "The kid's Brian Lofberg."
The younger man stood too, nodding politely enough, if a bit sullenly. Obviously, he wasn't the gregarious type.
"Alex Krycek", Krycek said, pausing briefly but noticeably, before taking the older man's hand. He had said his name like a whip-crack. For a moment, Scully wished she could make hers sound as impressive. The moment passed, and she introduced herself civilly, surprised at the green glare Krycek gave her as she said her name.
"Oh sorry, I thought you folks was married", Anderson said.
Scully smiled at him. "No, we're just travelling together." She returned Krycek's glare, certain now that he had wanted her to pretend she was his wife. Lofberg seemed to note the exchange with some interest, and she realized Krycek's intention. Damn the murdering lowlife - what reason did he think he had to protect her?
Of course, she could have said she had kept her own name.. but that seemed exactly like the childish subterfuge it would be. Truth to tell, she wasn't even sure these men would have heard of such urban practices.
"As for your other question, Alex", Anderson said, innocently assuming anyone he met would be on a first name basis with him, "This is an old way station. It isn't used much these days, since the road was moved, but we locals still keep it stocked and functional - after a fashion. Weather still hits it badly from time to time, but we try. Wouldn't do to let it fall apart."
"Since the road was moved?" Scully asked. "What road is that?"
"Why, the old one to Vittangi of course."
"Vittangi?" Krycek reacted instantly, stressing the first syllable rather than the second, which the other man had favoured. "This isn't Yukon?"
Something passed over the old man's eyes. It was gone in an instant, but Scully could have sworn that he had not counted on his visitors to recognize the name. In all fairness, she wouldn't have.
Anderson chuckled. "Oh sure it's Yukon", he said calmly. "That's Vittangi, Alaska. On the other side of the mountain."
"Sure it is", Krycek said, his tone a hair's breadth from the irretrievably insulting.
The old man just grinned in reply. Scully had the impression he thought they all knew where they were and was just making some sort of inane joke.
"Now if you're planning to stay a while.." he began.
"Not if we can help it", Krycek shot back. "How did you get here?"
Scully wished he wouldn't antagonize the two men, but she had no way of telling him. Besides, she doubted he'd listen.
"Snowmobiles", Lofberg said, in a voice that sounded slightly gravelly - possibly from disuse. He said it as if it was self-evident. Then something seemed to dawn on him. "Sorry we can't take passengers."
Anderson nodded. "Afraid you'll have to wait until we can send a helicopter for you. Fire guard's got one. Got two actually. Can't be till tomorrow at the earliest though - hope you're not in a rush?"
"We are", Krycek said. "Just leave us your skis, we'll make it on our own."
Anderson shook his head. "Sorry son, can't do that."
Krycek gave him a pleading look that somehow came out commanding instead. "Come on, there are two of you. You can keep an eye on each other, you'll be all right."
Anderson shrugged. "Sorry. I'd help you if I could, but we didn't bring any skis. Didn't expect to meet anyone."
"I see", Krycek said, in a tone that indicated he saw more than the other might think. Scully shot him a puzzled glance.
"Well", Anderson said - a bit nervously, Scully thought - "Guess I'd better show you around. In case you'll have to stay for a while. We'll try to be back tomorrow - ain't that right, Brian?" he added unnecessarily, as if in sudden need of support, "But the weather is fickle in these parts. Might get held up.. Anyway, this place is well stocked, we try to keep it in order. Survivalist goods mostly, as you can imagine, no fresh stuff, and as I said, the freezer packed in again. But there's provisions to last for half a year at the least. Now, have a bite to eat and I'll take you around the place after.."
Fifty minutes later, they had made the tour of the storage building. It was as Anderson had said, dried and canned goods only, nothing fresh. A decent stock of vitamin pills though, to prevent deficit. Scully noted it without surprise. Obviously, travellers in these parts had to be prepared for anything.
"Toilet and shower's over there by the door to the common room", Anderson said, as they got back inside the main building. "Though if the water goes, you'll be better off with the outhouse. It's on the far end of the garage - big enough for natural recycling. Guess nobody wanted to get up here just to.." He glanced at Scully as if suddenly uncertain of how much detail to treat mixed company to. He coughed softly and changed the subject. "TV doesn't work. Hasn't for a long time. Wasn't prioritized, nobody stays very long here anyway, these days", he added, almost as if he wanted to reassure them. "What's worse, the radio's bust too. Not sure what happened, it worked last time we had our way past here.."
Scully thought his last sentence sounded oddly roundabout, but she assumed it was the local idiom. They were now approaching the old store that was still a part of the building.
"This works though", Lofberg said casually, walking over to an old jukebox. The machine was standing in an area which had undoubtedly been a café, between the store and the living quarters. He dropped a coin into the worn antique and made his selection. Wheels on Fire blared out of the tinny speakers. "You know Dylan wrote that?" he asked them. "There's a lot of Dylan on this thing.."
The back door was next to the machine, and Lofberg kicked away some snow that had held it open, and pulled it closed. Maybe he had left it ajar to air out the place, when he last used the machine. The café was already fairly chilled out, but the living room was still a bit stuffy.
"That's Julie Felix singing", Anderson informed them happily. "Not Julie Driscoll - Julie Felix! Half-Mexican girl - really great!" He eyed them thoughtfully. "Though I guess you won't have heard of her. You must have been just toddlers then.."
Krycek's eyes seemed close to shooting green sparks of impatience, but Scully was hard put not to laugh. For some reason, the image of Krycek as a toddler was outrageous.
"Store hasn't been used for years", Anderson said. "I'd advise you to keep the door closed, so you won't waste heat on it. With the freezer broken down, you might even use it as a cold storage, in case you find anything to hunt."
"'Xcept the only other bed is in there", Lofberg pointed out. "Along with some other pieces of furniture and an old bathtub. People stick anything they don't need in the store."
"Can't the bed be moved?" Scully asked.
"Sure", Lofberg shrugged. "It's under a pile of other rubbish, but it can be moved."
"You help the lady get it out, Brian" Anderson said. "Better get it right away, give it time to thaw out. It's probably frosted over."
"Don't bother", Krycek said. "She can have the one in there." He nodded casually in the direction of the main room. "I'll be fine on the floor."
Anderson pretended to be impressed. "Quite the gentleman."
Krycek looked genuinely surprised, as if that thought hadn't occurred to him at all. Scully suspected it hadn't. More likely, he was simply used to sleeping rough.
"Where's the power coming from?" he asked. "Is there a generator somewhere?"
"In the garage", Lofberg said. "Gas-driven. Pump still works, we try to keep it tanked. Mostly for snowmobiles and bikes; not many cars make it up here, even in summer."
"There's also a backup system", Anderson informed them. "Wind power." He pointed out the window. "See that mast over there, with the spinning blades on top? That's it. Yields a little extra, and it's good to have when the generator is down. They run the house between them most of the time. Of course, in an emergency, you might have to switch some gadgets over from the one to the other, you'd have to do that by hand, I'm afraid. Just switch the leads in here or the garage, that's all there's to it. Not that we're supposed to be getting any blizzards within the next two days.."
Lofberg squinted against the overcast sky outside. "We better be going, Jack", he said. "It's well past noon, it'll be dark in a few hours."
Anderson nodded. "I hear you, boy, I hear you.." he muttered as he made his way to the main room. He kept talking while gathering his thermos and a few other scattered belongings which he put in his backpack. "We'll talk to the fire guy", he said. "Send him back for you tomorrow or the day after, whenever we can get hold of him. You just stay put, you'll be all right. Got everything here.." He donned his jacket and shouldered his pack. "You comin', Brian?"
The young giant joined him wordlessly, jacket and backpack already in place.
Krycek's arm shot out and held him back. "Not so fast. I go with you." He nodded in Anderson's direction. "He stays here."
Lofberg looked down at him, inscrutably. He stood that way just long enough to drive home the idea that it might not be in anybody's best interest to anger him. Then he gently detached Krycek's hold on his sleeve. "Try to be reasonable", he said.
Anderson chuckled in an obvious attempt to alleviate the tension. "I wouldn't lend you my snowmobile anyway, Alex", he said. "I'd be doing you a bear service, as they say. The old thing kicks like a mule. Likely as not, Brian will have to tow me part of the way."
Krycek's eyes were promising mayhem, but if Lofberg noticed, he made no sign of it. "You're better off waiting for us here", he said calmly. "After all, you haven't got much of a choice, have you?"
Krycek of course had no weapon, but Scully had no doubt he would have attacked the bigger man anyway. Quickly, she stepped in and put her hand on his shoulder. That gesture had turned Mulder once, put him off his meaningless purpose. She could only hope it would work on Krycek.
Unexpectedly, it did. At least he paused long enough for the two locals to get out of the door. Then he spun around, and she caught the full force of his deep green glare. "Why did you stop me?" he snapped.
As if she could have. "I just thought we'd stand a better chance if we kept this civil", she said. "Why did you let me?"
"I thought you might have a reason", he said. "A better one than that", he added sarcastically. He went to the door, but he made no move to follow their recent hosts outside. Instead, he contented himself with watching them.
"You really don't trust anyone, do you?" Scully said, wondering if Mulder and Krycek had ever known how much they had in common. "Okay, so how about this: they are most likely armed, and we're not."
Krycek did not answer.
It looked indeed as if Anderson had some trouble getting his snowmobile to start, but after repeated efforts, it finally spluttered to life. Just as the two were mounted and ready to go, Anderson turned and shouted back, "Oh, there's an old rifle in the store as well. Not that I think you'll need it, not much to hunt around here. Wildlife keeps to itself, doesn't like the generator." With that he took off, and his companion followed suit. Clouds of snow whirled up, obscuring their tail lights. The snow had settled again long before the sound of the engines had died in the distance.
"Think they'll send help?" Scully asked. "After all, we didn't exactly antagonize them. Besides, people living in the wilderness usually help each other in an emergency."
"Yeah? I don't trust them." Krycek closed the door against the cold. He searched for a key to the simple lock and did not find any. There was a heavy bolt though, and he threw it one-handedly, with some effort and a curt, Russian curse.
"It's a way station", Scully said reasonably. "Open to all who happen by, but if anyone's here, they can bar the door, and the travellers may knock. You think those two will be doubling back to attack us or something?"
"Can't hurt to be careful", Krycek said. He dropped his parka on the single bed, and Scully noticed he was wearing his leather jacket underneath. Prepared for anything, not least the sub-zero weather. She took off her own parka and threw it casually over his. She had settled for a couple of layers of good, knitted sweaters. One of them was hand made, by an old aunt still living in Ireland.
"I'll go get that rifle", Krycek said, heading for the store area. "I just hope someone thought to leave some ammo."
He was gone for a while, and Scully could hear him rummage about, cursing to himself. She busied herself looking over the stove - it seemed to run on firewood and didn't appear to have been used in years. She supposed it had been left in as a backup, for the cooker as well as the electrical heating. The cooker took propane tubes, and she had seen a fair amount of those out in the storage building. Good, at least not everything was dependent on the generator and the wind power station. The place would be fire-prone though. She made a mental note to check the expiration date on the fire extinguishers as soon as possible.
Krycek came back in, closing the door behind him. It would have been better if the old café had been outside that door as well, Scully mused. But there was no door between the all-purpose room she was in, and the café. Whatever heat they managed to get going, it would warm the café as well. Perhaps the old jukebox didn't respond well to freezing. On the other hand, the back door had been left open when they came, and the machine seemed none the worse for wear after that. Oh well, when nobody was here, the heat was probably off anyway.
"Starting to relax around me, Krycek?" she taunted.
He gave her a questioning look, and she explained, "I don't think you make that much noise when searching someone's apartment."
He shrugged. "Found the rifle though." He held it up. "And eight rounds, that's all there is. Unless there's more out in the barn."
"Well, it should see us through the next couple of days till the helicopter shows up."
He stared at her for a while. Then he said, "There won't be a helicopter, Scully. Just get that into your pretty head, will you? We may be stuck here for a long time."
The prospect of spending an indefinite period of time cooped up with Krycek while Mulder might be in grave danger somewhere, angered her out of all proportion, and she flared, "You're a paranoid maniac, Krycek! What the hell do you base that on?"
For a moment, he was actually fascinated. She looked like she might bite. He couldn't recall ever having seen her like this. But he had to tell her.
"Nobody above the age of fifteen goes out on a snowmobile without packing skis, Scully."
"Why not?" She felt stupid for asking, but she wasn't that well versed in the rules of the wilderness. "They've got the snowmobiles."
"Yeah? And what happens when the engine gives out for some reason? You were caught in loose snow yourself back there."
Understanding finally dawned. "They can't just walk away from it."
He nodded. Suddenly his head dipped and turned quickly. He came up blinking as if he had been diving for a memory. She had the feeling it was not a happy one. "That's putting it mildly", he said. "A classmate of mine - 14 years and too young to drive, but who cared - took his brother's snowmobile out, just for a short ride, so he didn't bother to bring skis. He took the route he always took, over a big cliff. Only, this time it had been snowing quite heavily during the night, so he must have misjudged where the edge was. Fell right through an overhang of nothing but snow, and several feet deep into the same stuff below. Like the bottom of a well. They found him three months later. I'm not saying he'd have had a better chance with skis, but.."
Scully watched him, uncertain of whether to say she was sorry or not. She was tempted to ask him just where in the world he had gone to school, but this did not seem like the right moment.
Krycek shook himself - like a wet rat, she thought. "His engine had run dry", he said. "His brother swore it had been nearly full. That's something, anyway. Makes me think he wasn't conscious for long down there." He looked at her, almost apologetically. "I'm not big on enclosed spaces."
That was probably true, she thought. Something about a very abandoned missile silo.. As for their current situation however, she was not willing to give up hope so quickly. "Those two men - did you see their skis?"
He shook his head. "No, but that's not to say they didn't have them. I only saw one side of the snowmobiles before they got the engines started and the snow hid them."
"So either they were unusually careless, or they had skis, but they wouldn't lend them to us. That actually makes sense. If skis are as important as you say, they might not like the idea of going without, and since they were - are - going to send back help for us anyway, they felt we could wait."
Krycek wasn't convinced. "I take it you noticed they didn't tell us about the rifle until they were safely out of range - or would be before we could get the thing."
Scully chewed her lip. "They forgot?"
That earned her a look of pure, pine-green derision.
"Maybe they were right to wait", she said coldly. As he did not rise to her bait, she continued, "Would you really have shot them?"
He shrugged. "Better safe than sorry."
She flared. "Two quite possibly innocent men?"
"We could have used their snowmobiles."
She nearly struck him then, but thought it best not to attack him while he had the rifle. The rifle.. Cautiously, she edged toward a drawer where she had previously noticed a large kitchen knife. He followed her movements, but he said nothing, and as far as she could see, he didn't tense.
"So, is the truce still on?" she asked lightly.
"Why shouldn't it be? We haven't found Mulder yet."
"No, but the odds have changed, haven't they? We didn't count on being stranded in the wilderness - if indeed we are stranded. You've got that rifle, and you'd probably make it out of here faster without me."
He stared at her for a long moment, and for the life of her she could not make out what that look really was about. Then he said, "I never back out of a deal if I can help it."
Both her eyebrows rose. "You don't?"
"Luis Cardinal did", he said cruelly, as if deliberately reminding her. "In fact, all those who helped you and Mulder did. They're all dead now - except for Diana Fowley", he added as an afterthought.
"Don't they tell you anything any more? She was found murdered.." Scully's words trailed off. "That's true, you would know, wouldn't you?"
He nodded. "I had been given the order, but it was countermanded at the last moment. Guess the old man had a change of heart for once. Apparently they decided to spread the rumour anyway - or it was too late to stop it. As far as I know, she's alive and kicking."
Scully looked at him. "I know you said you never back out - but haven't you ever had the urge to make Spender - I mean, the smoker - your next victim?"
The long, thick lashes were lowered slightly, as if to hide the green fire behind them. "Constantly", Krycek said with more venom than she had expected, even from him. "But he's been in the game longer than I have. I'm not suicidal."
"What game? Conspiracies?"
"Assassinations. He was their number one hit man before I came along."
Syndicate cell cabin, October 13th
The door to the small surveillance room opened, and an old man entered. He stopped to light a new cigarette even before removing his coat. "How is it going?"
Diana looked up from the monitors and smiled benignly. "The quality is no better than can be expected, but so far, it's going great. Alex has just declared his loyalty for you. How was your flight?"
"Good. Good.. There's something to be said for a company jet after all. Even if I do prefer a trusty old army helicopter.."
Trailing smoke, he went to hang up his coat.
Just as he reached for her hand, the fire alarm sounded, and he crouched down, paralysed with fear. Gradually, the diner dissolved around him, and he found himself on a bed in a small room, the alarm clock blaring away at him from the bedside table. Mulder groaned and shut it off. The room looked like any number of motel rooms he had been in. Curtains matching the bedspread on which he was stretched out fully clothed, as if he had been taking a nap in broad daylight. Had he been drugged? If so, he had no memory of it. Nor of how he got here.
Someone moved just outside his field of vision, and he raised himself on his elbows to see who it was. She was still there, flowery-patterned print dress and all. Maybe he hadn't really woken up.
Her dark brown curls stirred slightly as she shook her head. "Not really, Fox - if I may call you that?"
"If you're not my sister, why would you want to use my first name?"
She looked infinitely sad. "Because I feel strangely close to you, even if I'm just a clone. They say it's the telepathic streak. It's latent, but some of her thoughts spill over to us."
The artificial Samantha nodded. "The original. Your sister. That's what I came to tell you about."
"Where is she?"
"She isn't here. But she's alive." The clone sat down on the bed and put her hands on his shoulders, imploringly. He resisted an involuntary flinch. After all, she seemed genuinely concerned about something. Maybe even about him.
"Please remember that, Fox. They'll try to make you believe she's dead, so you'll finally give up your search. They'll tell you she died within a few years after she was taken. They'll let you believe you found this 'truth' yourself. But it isn't the truth, Fox. Don't forget what we told you, back at the Women's Health Services Clinic, that the original still lived."
Mulder shook his head. "You gave me nothing conclusive. You said - under duress: We know where your sister is. Ask yourself, how else would we know so much about her? That's pretty evasive."
But she crept closer, staring deeply into his eyes as if she were trying to read his mind. Then she nodded, satisfied. "But the bounty hunter told you", she said. "He was not supposed to, but he did. That same year, in the Arctic, he said, She's alive."
"He was your enemy. Now you're suggesting I believe him?"
"What reason did he have to lie? All you wanted was confirmation. She's dead would have done just as well, but he said, she's alive."
"He might have had his own agenda. After all, he dragged me out in the cold where I could survive long enough to be found. He hinted that he had not wanted to kill me earlier. Guess he considered me an ace up his sleeve. Apparently, the colonists make lousy employers. Everybody tries to cheat them."
The copy of Samantha looked sadly at him. She looked suddenly very young. Younger than his sister would be now. Odd that he hadn't thought of that before. She'd have to be younger. Eight years at the very least, probably more.
"How can I convince you, Fox?" she asked helplessly. "The bounty hunter did not lie to you. She was alive in 1998, and she still is. Keep in mind what I've told you, about her thoughts spilling over. Do you think anyone could lie to us about her? She's alive, Fox. And she's as much our sister as she is yours!"
Forest way station, October 13th
Darkness had fallen fast. Outside the windows, the world was already pitch black, unless one stood close enough to look out at the snow, softly lit by a nearly full moon, all but faceless in its bright glare. Yet on the ground beneath, the light was milder than street lights. For some reason, it seemed to tint the snow green. A very light touch of green, almost too soft to be eerie.
Scully pushed her emptied soup bowl away. "That was good", she said, as if surprised by her observation. "Didn't know you could cook, Krycek." It was true that the stock for the soup had been some dried preserve, but he had added selected vegetables from a couple of different cans, and he had chosen well. A thought struck her, a memory of her father saying something about the only men who could truly be relied upon to fend for themselves.. "You been a sailor?"
"That too", he said curtly as he stood to gather up the dishes and put them in the sink. He turned on the tap and let them soak. Cold water, she noticed. Unless the taps were reversed, which was always a possibility.
"Then you can sew too?" she asked.
"Better than you anyway", he said. "And that's one-handed, in case you were wondering."
She frowned. "How do you know you're better than I?"
He gave her a quick smile. "Sorry, bad joke. I was thinking of your post-op sutures."
She nearly laughed but thought better of it. It wouldn't do to relax around him. "How many have you seen?" Then she relented a little. "Actually, you're right. I can't sew worth a damn."
An hour later, they had verified that the TV set was indeed broken beyond repair. It had power but the tube was shot, and nobody had seen fit to keep a spare around. The communications radio might be reparable with a little luck. All power lights came on, it only needed replacements for a few components, and they expected to find what they needed in the storage barn, come morning. At this hour, the few light bulbs out there were not enough for a serious search, but at least they now had some hope. As soon as they got the radio going, they'd be able to call for help. Anderson and Lofberg could keep their promise or not, as they damn well pleased.
When the world is a-coming down, you make the best of what's still around, the jukebox kept encouraging them. Krycek had found Sting's Turn on Your Radio, less as an incantation against their current communications problem, than because it was about as contemporary as the old machine would get. Pouring out into the empty café, the lyrics sounded decidedly doomsday-like. When the song finished, neither of the marooned allies felt like putting on another.
For want of anything better to do, they wound up over the same chessboard as Anderson and Lofberg had been using. Apparently, it was part of what little entertainment the house had to offer.
Fortunately, they were fairly evenly matched. Krycek was the better strategist, always viewing the long battle lines, never missing an opportunity. But Scully's analytical mind helped her anticipating most of his moves and countering them while she still could. At least she could anticipate him. She had played against Mulder a couple of times on long stakeouts or while waiting for a contact to show up, but he was too unpredictable. An intuitive player, he often won by surprise tactics. But he could never use the same method twice. After each new one, Scully would win until he thought of another. They might take turns winning, but she still wouldn't have said they were evenly matched.
She noticed that Krycek was mainly using his left hand, and after a while she had to comment.
"Quite deft with that thing, aren't you? No audible servos though."
"Oh, it's got a few servos", he said. "Now. It didn't use to. The hand was quite immobile to begin with." He flexed the fingers slightly. "I always could lift small things with it though. It just took more effort before. Still can't do any heavy lifting."
"May I?" She touched his artificial hand, raised it a little, examining it. It was about the right size and slenderness to match his real one, but it still didn't look quite right. From a certain angle, it was almost translucent.
"They made a good job on the colour", she said approvingly. "When you can't achieve a proper skin tone, it's always better to go a little heavy on the yellow side. In the old days, they used too much pink."
He shrugged, indicating that he couldn't care less, as long as the thing worked. The movement carried over to the hand Scully was holding. She gave him a puzzled look.
"How can you control it with your shoulder muscles only? I mean, the arm seems to flex at the joint; how do you do that?"
"Neural impulses", he said curtly. "It's connected to parts of my nervous system. The rest is shoulder muscles. Now, are you going to move or not?" He withdrew his hand, and the movement seemed almost natural. She frowned.
"That doesn't explain.." she began, then broke off. "Alien technology?" she wondered innocently.
He shrugged again. "In part. Biotechnology is what they do best." He looked up from the board, and his green eyes hit her full force. "You should know. You've been in the way of it."
Unable to take his stare in connection with that particular subject, she lowered her eyes - and saw her opportunity. "Check."
His mouth quirked a little. Finally. She had just made the move he had been waiting for. His bishop slid along half the board, coming to the assistance of his rooks. "And mate."
Scully avenged herself twice, but the next time he defeated her, she stood, abandoning the game. "It's getting late. I'd better see to the dishes. Don't get any chauvinist ideas", she answered his questioning look, "I just don't want you to accidentally short out that arm. We have work to do, come morning."
"The circuits are quite well insulated actually", he said as he started to put the chessmen back into their box.
Scully was tempted to say, Well, in that case, and leave him the dishes, but - it would have been petty.
The cold water worked, the hot was just a trickle, but she didn't need much anyway; there were only their two soup bowls, spoons and a pan to do. All she found by way of detergent was half a bottle that appeared to have been frozen. The label hinted at sixties design. Perhaps it had been fresh then. It still worked though. Dishwashing fluids would keep forever.
"Thought any more about sleeping arrangements?" she asked, uncorking the bottle with some effort. It hadn't been used in a while.
"You get the bed, I'll be on the floor like I said. Of course, if you could see your way to lend me a mattress.. looks like there might be at least four on there. Guess that's where all the bedclothes are stacked, there weren't any out in the store."
"You're going to sleep in here?"
He shoved the chess box aside and stood. "Scully, it's a damn fridge out there." He gestured towards the only inner door, the one separating the store from the rest of the house.
"All right, all right, I didn't mean the store. Out in the café will do fine."
"Okay - what about the shower?"
"What about it?"
"I doubt there's enough hot water for the two of us. Which do you prefer - night or morning? I'll take the other."
"Hmm, I could do with a shower now. You get yours in the morning."
Krycek curled up on a mattress he had dragged over to the jukebox, and pulled his leather jacket and parka over himself for cover. He had kept most of his clothes on for now, he'd shower and change in the morning. He rarely stripped for bed anymore, and never in unknown surroundings.
He heard faint sounds and low curses from the shower, where Scully was trying to lock the door, prior to undressing. There wasn't much room in there. He wondered idly how she was planning to keep her clothes or at least her bathrobe dry. Apparently, the door wouldn't lock. He heard her give up on it with a few well-chosen expletives most likely picked up on various naval bases during her formative years. He grinned a little. He had to admit he liked her better when she was not being ladylike.
It took him less than five minutes to drift asleep.
Her shriek rent the night, and he was on his feet before coming fully awake. He was over by the shower in a second, pulling the door open before he thought. He swore later it had not been intentional, but he caught a full and very rewarding glimpse of her petite but well-proportioned shape before she snatched a bath towel - her own, probably - from an old, three-legged stool that was crammed into the small space, and wrapped herself in a protective sheath of white terrycloth.
"What the hell is the matter?" he roared, annoyed at being abruptly roused and yet relieved that no catastrophe seemed imminent. As if that conflict wasn't confusing enough, she also looked rather cute in that white, fluffy towel, her hair partly wet and plastered to her cheek on one side. He tried not to think of how she had looked without that damn towel..
"There's no hot water", she accused. "None."
He almost laughed out loud. "That's all?"
She glared at him for a moment. "I thought the taps were reversed", she finally admitted - a bit sheepishly, he thought. "That is, I tried the hot one and nothing happened, so I tried the other one, and.."
"While standing right under it?" he asked, not quite able to keep the amusement out of his voice.
That earned him another turquoise glare. "Well, this is a rather confined space, in case you hadn't noticed."
It certainly was, she realized with some alarm. He was blocking the doorway, and with the shortage of space, he almost had her backed up against the wall. She felt suddenly very vulnerable, though she was determined not to show it. "Get out", she said. "I'll handle this."
"How? The hot pipe is probably frozen. You got a hair-dryer?"
"Yes, but I don't think it's safe to bring it in here. Besides, there's no outlet, which is probably a wise precaution. The wiring in this place.."
He shrugged. "It would take all night to thaw it out anyway, so you'd have to give up on taking a shower now. Boiling water would be better for thawing the pipe, but we'd have to heat it on the cooker, and there would have to be lots of it. Would still take time."
"Just get out", she said, snatching up a small wash-cloth from the same stool where she had kept the towel. "I'll manage."
Docilely, he returned to his mattress. He heard only a faint trickle of water now, as he tried to shut out the images of her applying that wash-cloth.
In the morning, he took his own shower. Cold.
After breakfast, the temporary allies went in search of spare parts for the radio. There weren't any. "It's probably broken down before", Scully said. "Someone forgot to replenish the supply last time."
"They also forgot to replenish the ammo", Krycek said evenly.
Scully put the lid back on a crate of canned food and straightened. "Look, I know you think this is a trap.."
"A prison anyway. The garage is full of fuel for the generator and the cooker. There's even a pile of firewood stacked against the wall of the store. I checked - that's what's under the tarp on the side without windows. Looks like a month's supply or thereabouts. This place is stocked with everything we might need for an extended stay. Even the fire extinguishers have been kept up to date. All we lack is communications, or any means of getting out of here. Unless your laptop happens to have some kind of a radio connection."
Scully shook her head. "Just a modem, I'm afraid. And there's no phone.."
He eyed her suspiciously. "I saw you with it this morning."
"I was just checking that it had made the journey here in one piece. If we're stuck here, I plan to use it standalone, for my field journals."
Krycek's penetrating gaze never wavered. "You're not exactly on an official assignment."
"I know, but depending on how long we're stuck here without any means of communication, I might have a lot of explaining to do when I get back. I'd feel better if I had some dated documentation to back up my story."
He was still glaring at her, so with a sigh she added, "Look, you can check for yourself that my laptop doesn't have any fancy communications device. My files are confidential, but you're quite welcome to look over the hardware."
"No, I believe you", he said abruptly, looking away from her.
"I should hope so", she said calmly. "We're allies, remember?" It was obvious now that trust didn't come any easier to Krycek than to Mulder. Somehow that thought saddened her, although she had no reason to expect differently.
"We're completely isolated then", he remarked, back to taking stock of their situation. "Well out of cell phone range of course, and no weapons to speak of. Other than that, we have all we could want."
"Look, what reason could those two men possibly have.." she broke off, eyeing him in silence for a moment. "You think they work for Spen- the Smoker."
"I'd be stupid to rule it out. After all, he sent us in this direction. Those two could have been planted to see that we got here. The way they kept the jukebox going just inside an open door, we'd have to be deaf to miss the place."
Much as she hated to admit it, his theory made sense. "Okay, let's assume you're right. What could the Smoker hope to gain by trapping us here?"
Krycek shrugged, his eyes nearly emerald with frustration. "I wish I knew. Keep us out of circulation for a while? Prevent us looking for Mulder?"
"You think he's got him?" Scully's voice was tense.
"Either that, or he wants to conduct his own search, unhampered by ours."
"Then why send you to do it in the first place, just as a ruse? He could have let us find Mulder, then moved in at his own leisure." She chewed her lower lip a little, thinking. "What I don't get is why he didn't simply have us killed, if he wanted us out of the way?"
Krycek shook his head. "I've been expecting his next attempt for years now. I can only assume he still has some use for me. For us, in this case. He's a hard man to second-guess, I'll give him that. These days, I rarely even try."
"So what do we do?" Scully asked. "How hard is it to make a pair of skis each?"
He almost smiled. "Snowshoes would be easier. They'd hardly be recognizable as such, but they'd be usable. A few thin planks would do - there are plenty of crates here. There's one catch though; we have no idea how far we'd have to go to find any signs of civilization. What's worse, we don't even know the direction."
"It hasn't snowed since yesterday", Scully pointed out. "If we hurry, we could follow the tracks of the snowmobiles."
"Even if that only takes us to some clearing in the woods, some landing space for helicopters?"
"I'm willing to risk it."
Krycek nodded. "Glad to hear it. I'm not staying here any longer than I have to. With any luck, we'll at least find the snowmobiles."
By the time they had built the shoes, it was almost noon. Making snowshoes was not as easy as they could have hoped. They had no means of making them anywhere near the classical snowshoe shape; these would be as far from the brand designs as they could get. The bare necessities, no more. The things had to be sturdy enough, yet light, which meant they could not be quite compact, and yet they must not get snow-clogged easily. Scully couldn't help admiring Krycek's building techniques; there was a very strange flow to his movements as he kept changing hands more often than she herself had to. He used his artificial one to help with delicate work, but as soon as he had to put pressure on anything, he used his right hand only. Occasionally, he had to ask her to press down on a knot for him, or hold the boards in place while he tied them. He couldn't use force on anything and brace against it at the same time.
They ate a light meal before setting out, then packed their things quickly. Scully was also using a backpack now, a fairly small one she always brought along in her suitcase on assignments that might end up in the woods sooner or later. It was enough for a day trip, and whichever way their excursion turned out, it wouldn't amount to more than.. Her eyes widened, as she saw Krycek get out the two sleeping bags that were stacked among the mattresses in her bed and awkwardly start rolling them up. They looked practical enough, with a waterproof underside, and they even had Velcro straps attached, to facilitate packing them up. Krycek used his knee to hold the rolls down while tightening the straps, one at a time. He then tossed her one of the rolls.
"You expect to spend the night outdoors?" she asked. "Isn't it a little cold for that?"
"I expect nothing", he said. "I just like to be prepared."
It made sense. She nodded, and secured the roll to her backpack.
As they left the way station, Krycek glanced up at the sky, and Scully thought she could detect a hint of worry in that pine-green stare.
"Anything wrong?" she asked.
"We're running late. It'll be dark in a couple of hours."
"Krycek, we can't put it off. It might snow tonight, and we won't have a chance of finding those tracks again."
He shot another glance at the uniformly grey sky. "It might snow even sooner. That sky is bad news, and the temperature is dropping, I can feel it." He turned to look at her, intensely, as if willing her to understand. "If I say to turn back, we turn back. Got that?"
"As you wish", she agreed, a little too readily perhaps, but he seemed to accept it, and they set out.
Scully was getting increasingly fed up with his attitude, but she knew she couldn't afford to be annoyed. He probably did know a whole lot more about life in these climes than she did. Nevertheless, she had been in the Arctic a couple of times and the Antarctic once; he could at least have conferred with her before simply flinging decisions in her face. She wished her previous experiences of near-polar climes had left her more to draw on for situations like this. But the truth was, she had hardly been outdoors. Hell, in the Antarctic she had hardly even been conscious..
Almost an hour later, the snow set in. At first only a few flakes, then a steady but gentle fall, like a Christmas card, Scully thought. Mild and sweet against a background of dark pines and firs.
Krycek stopped. "That's it", he said. "Back to the station. We'll have to think of something else."
"You're kidding, right?" She couldn't quite keep the ice out of her voice. "This pretty little snowfall, and you tell me we have to give up? I mean, it's hardly a blizzard."
He nodded towards the trees. "How well can you see the pines over there?"
"They are a little misty, but I can see them."
"Could you find a special one?"
"Of course I could! What are you.."
"Don't be too sure. A light snowfall can be very deceptive. Besides, we're losing the tracks, and we're losing them fast."
"Then we shouldn't stand around here wasting time."
He sighed, as if not really believing he would have to spell it out to her. "Scully, the tracks will be gone in about fifteen minutes. That goes equally for the ones ahead and the ones behind. If we don't turn now, we won't be able to find our way back. Your watch won't be much help in this weather."
She glared at him for a moment. "Oh very well", she said, not even bothering to sound civil. They were not exactly equipped for running, but what if they were only a hundred metres or so from the end of the track? If he would only give her a few more minutes.. But he would not, she could see that. Yet for all her frustration, she might have taken his advice, had he not been so annoying. She knew that, all things being equal, she would probably have taken Mulder's, for all that Mulder probably knew less than Krycek about these things, and was far more reckless.
Krycek turned and looked back the way they had come. There were fewer trees in that direction, the world was predominantly white. He brought out a pair of sunglasses from somewhere and put them on. Scully nearly laughed.
"The complete Man in Black", she said. He had his parka on over his leather jacket, so the observation was less than correct, but there was just that something about his attitude..
The sunglasses turned her way, inscrutable.
"Not complete", he said. Then he started back, without looking at her again.
As soon as she was certain he would not look back, she set out along what she could still see of the tracks they had been following. Part of her told her she was being every bit as reckless as Mulder, but she rationalized it by telling herself that she was only going on for ten minutes more. Then, if everything looked the same, she would turn back. Truth to tell, she had been wondering for a while now, if Krycek might not have orders he had not told her about. What if this whole charade was only to make her believe they had done all they could, when they really had not? After all, she could still make out the tracks. She couldn't believe he would give up so easily, if this really was his only chance of getting out of their confinement. True, he guarded his life carefully, but he was not a coward. This behaviour simply did not add up.
The snow still fell gently, but it was becoming increasingly difficult to make out the tracks. Also, her head was beginning to hurt, and there were little red and green sparks in her field of vision, like miniscule, metallic confetti. The beginning of snow-blindness. Great. She hadn't thought it possible in the fading light, but white was still white, as long as everything else was darker. She wished she had brought out her sunglasses earlier, now she dared not use them, dusk was too near, and she had to be able to see her way back. She glanced at her watch. Twenty minutes since she parted from Krycek, and she had only intended to be out for ten more. Damnation, she had better turn after all. At least she had verified that she was nowhere near her destination. She turned, and looked into a white void. Or rather a grey one, as dusk was beginning to make headway. She could see her own tracks for a short distance, but even they were being blurred as she watched. There was no sign of the snowmobile tracks.
Swallowing her pride, she started calling his name. No answer. Well, if they had been moving in opposite directions for twenty minutes, they could be far apart by now.
Resolutely, she fought down her incipient panic. She could do this. After all, she had a pretty good idea which way they had come, all she had to do was walk in a straight line, or as near to it as she could. Her head still hurt, but sunglasses would not help now. Instead, she brought out a flashlight. At least she wouldn't be totally helpless, even when it got dark. It was awfully cold though. Maybe she should have stopped to eat, but she was feeling an increasing urge to hurry back. She could do this. She had to believe she could.
The snow was falling more densely now, and Krycek was beginning to doubt they would make it all the way back today. He turned to suggest to Scully that they make camp.
There was no one there. And all the tracks he could see were his own.
"Chort!" he exploded into the empty air. Empty of anything but snow. He tore off his sunglasses and shoved them back into his pocket. It wouldn't help him catch sight of her, but dusk was falling, and they were mostly in the way now. Belatedly, it occurred to him that calling Scully herself might be more rewarding than summoning the Devil just yet. He started yelling her name, kept it up until his voice cracked.
For a moment, he stood weighing his chances. She was gone. There was no chance he would find her in this weather. He should do what he always did, cut his losses and move on. Strangely, this did feel like a loss. A severe one. It came as a complete surprise. Even as they set out, he had not thought he cared either way whether she came along or not. He didn't feel in any way responsible; he had warned her. This was on her own head. All the same.. The memory of her in the shower crept up unbidden. Not, oddly enough, the one of her without a stitch on, but the way she had looked in that terrycloth, small, wet and vulnerable.
He knew she was still alive out there. She must have realized her predicament by now. Hell of a situation to be in. Anyway, there was nothing he could do, he'd have to give up on her. Leave her to fend for herself, or die. Anything else would be lunacy. He couldn't go looking for her now. He'd be risking his own life, and he wouldn't save hers. In all likelihood, he wouldn't find her. He had no tracks to follow, and the snow was coming down in bucketfuls now.
Still enumerating all the reasons against it, he started back the way he had come, the one they had originally set out on.
Darkness dropped fast and heavy, and it was still snowing. Krycek had a flashlight, but it shone only a few metres ahead, where the beam hit the snowfall like a solid wall. There was no chance of finding her now, as if there ever had been. He should have been furious with her, and he tried to be, but that strange sense of loss was too great. In fact, it was downright painful. She was so tiny, and yet so plucky. And for all her powers of rational reasoning, yet so stupid, he reminded himself. He amended that almost immediately, trying to remember how he himself had viewed snowfalls like this during his first year in Siberia. He supposed it wasn't immediately obvious how treacherous they could be. Not until you had experienced it for yourself. Then again.. he would have expected Mulder to pull something like this, but Scully? Well, they had been partners for a long time, something must have rubbed off.
He started looking for a place to spend the night, and he found a gigantic fir-tree, its branches heavy with snow. All around it were hulking junipers, like bears, or cave-men standing guard. Using one of his snowshoes as a shovel while kneeling on the other, he dug in under the big tree, taking care to strengthen the 'walls' of snow around it on all sides but the entrance. After he got in, he shored up the entrance from within. He left a small hole for ventilation under a branch, where it would not get snowed under. It wasn't enough to make a fire in such an enclosed space. He'd have to rely on his body heat. He sure could have used another body in here, though. He dismissed the thought immediately. By now, he'd have to think of her as dead. He'd have another look around in the morning, but he'd be a fool to get his hopes up.
He ate half a can of beans unheated, before crawling into his sleeping bag. As usual, it took him less than ten minutes to fall asleep.
Mulder was running, always running. Running through the woods, after something or away from someone. Maybe both. But what was it he sought, and from whom was he trying to escape? Sometimes he had a feeling they might be the same. Other times they were not, but he never got a good look of either. Just a presence in his future, and one in his past. But the one from his past was up ahead, and the one in his future had fallen behind. Exhausted, he stopped, bending nearly double to catch his breath.
A pair of polished shoes appeared in his field of vision, just under trouser legs adorned with a discreet, thin stripe. He straightened to look the man in the eye. Deep Throat, his first informant.
"Fool me twice, shame on me", Mulder said.
The older man gave his characteristic little laugh, hardly more than a snort. "You think you're being fooled, Mr Mulder?"
"Either that or you're a genuine hallucination. The last time I saw you, you were a figment of somebody's pipe dream. Possibly mine, but I can't rule out the possibility that you were planted. Either way, I'm not interested. Go away."
"You're not at all interested in what I have to say?"
"No, you're dead. Stop bothering me."
"Of course I'm sure. I should have known the last time I saw you, guess I was confused. I've remembered something since then."
"And what would that be?"
Mulder gave him a look somewhere between exasperation and compassion. "I saw you in the Spirit World, sir. I can't be talking with you now, unless we're both in the Spirit World. And somehow, I don't think that I am."
The other nodded. "I see. Well, I really only came to tell you one thing. But perhaps you already know?"
Mulder sighed. Apparently, this particular ghost wasn't easily laid. "All right, what is it?"
"Just this: The one who stays alive has met the one who cannot die. The survivor is now working with the immortal."
"What are you talking about?"
The older man shrugged. "Just thought you'd like to know."
In the woods, October 15th
Krycek woke up at first light - at the first light strong enough to penetrate the small ventilation hole and change the illumination of his quarters to any significant extent. He drew a handful of snow over his face by way of washing, then ate the other half of the bean can. He rolled up his sleeping bag and put it on top of his backpack. The entrance wall was thicker now than it had been, and it took him a while to dig his way out.
It was full daylight as he emerged, and his heart sank. Nights lasted many hours, this time of year. But the sun was out, and he made use of it to pick his direction. He knew he was probably off by a bit, but at least he had some idea where he was going. He needed to find her, even if she was dead. He didn't know why. Some time yesterday, he had ceased to try and make sense of his actions.
As fate's sly humour would have it, it was her red hair that led him to her. She was lying in the snow among the trees, a little off his path, and the hood of her parka had fallen back. She was almost snowed under, but the faint sunlight struck her hair, showing it up redder than anything had a right to be, in this world of white, black, dark green and more white.
He took the few steps necessary and crouched beside her. Her flashlight was next to her, glinting dimly, its batteries nearly depleted. Almost reverently, the hardened assassin pushed his recent ally's hair out of her face. One ear and the tip of her nose were white, but other than that, her colour looked healthy enough. Not that this was necessarily a reassuring sign, given the climatic powers of preservation. Using his teeth, Krycek pulled his right glove off and felt for her pulse. Faint, but it was there. He knew he wasn't feeling his own; his heart was beating so hard, he had difficulty breathing. Unconsciously, he passed his sleeve across his eyes in a quick wipe. Then he set about her rescue. Not for the first time, he cursed his disability as he rolled out her sleeping bag and put her inside it. He managed to tie her snowshoes underneath, thus turning the sleeping bag into a makeshift sled. It would take inhuman strength to drag it all the way back to the way station single-handedly, but right now he felt he had that strength. After all, he had no alternative.
Syndicate cell cabin, October 15th
"They've been out all night." Diana's voice held a slight edge of weariness and apprehension. "I saw them leave yesterday, and they're not back yet."
Her companion exhaled smoke so close to her face that she was hard put not to cough. To her surprise, she found that she was afraid to. "Think we lost them?" he asked lightly.
She did not trust herself to answer. She knew that if they had, nothing would save her this time. How could she have been so sure of her plan as to place herself in a remote cabin in the company of this man? She was already officially dead, there'd be no questions asked. As if there ever were.
He let her stew for a bit, then he said, "I shouldn't worry." He reached across the table to carefully put out his cigarette in the ashtray. "They'll be back. They can't escape, you know. There's nowhere to go."
She had to say it. "I wasn't thinking of escape."
He looked at her for longer than she liked, judging her. Belatedly, she realized what she had said. Protesting too much..
But he let it pass. "I have great confidence in Alex' talent for survival", he said, and she was almost certain there was a self-ironic smile lurking around his withered lips.
"And Agent Scully's?"
"He'll save her." A brief glitter in pale blue eyes. "Don't you have faith in your plan?"
In the woods, October 15th, 1:56 p m
The brief day was already dimming again, when Krycek realized that he must have passed the way station. He cursed himself for not having left a light on, but he had not really been planning on being back this way. For once however, he was in luck, or the next thing to it. The sun could be vaguely glimpsed through the thick layer of clouds. It was hanging low, and as weak as the moon in daytime, but it was just visible. Now if he could get Scully's analog watch quickly, before the faint wraith of a sun disappeared again..
That's when he saw it. She had lost her left glove, and her hand was trailing in the snow. He had no idea how long she had been like that, maybe ever since the outset of this miserable journey. By the look of it, it was already too late to save her hand. He might have to cut it off. Phantom pain slashed through him at the thought, and not just through the nerve endings of his arm. In a way, the thought was almost more unbearable than the idea of losing her altogether. He didn't want to take any more away from her than he already had. To make her like himself. She hadn't deserved that. Not to mention that she'd never believe he hadn't done it out of malice. He chuckled, but it came out oddly like a sob.
Another quick wipe across his eyes, and he was back in shape. Resolutely, he stripped off her watch and checked it against the bleak sun. He'd been right. He'd have to turn almost 180 degrees. He only hoped he had not overshot his destination by too much. Scully wouldn't last another night out in the cold. He tucked her bare hand inside her clothing, inside the sleeping bag, where it should have stayed in the first place. That would have to do. Once they got back to the station, he'd take care of all her frozen spots. Whatever it took..
He reached the way station before dark, but by then he was so exhausted he fell twice within the last 100 metres of the main building. The second time he nearly passed out. Fear galvanized him, and by sheer will power he somehow managed to half push, half drag Scully through the door, makeshift sled and all. He got her out of sleeping bag and parka, out of everything that had melting snow on it. The collar of her Irish sweater was soaked through, but her shirt was all right and he let her keep it. She was wearing the same kind of thermal trousers he was, so by right her legs should be safe, but he had to make sure. He removed her jeans along with the thermals and examined her carefully, cursing the bad light. As far as he could see, she hadn't frozen any other parts than the ones he already knew about.
He wrapped her in several blankets and put her to bed. Then he looked through the medicine cabinet. The aspirins were past their due date. He shrugged; they might be a little weak, but they wouldn't be harmful. The antibiotics were ok; good, he didn't need her to catch pneumonia on top of everything else. He wasn't going to give her anything right now though, better wait and see what she might need when she woke up. He noted the small supply of anaesthetics. If only there were some way around that part of it.. He knew he was being irresponsible. By right he should do it now, before she woke up. The sooner the better. But - she was a doctor, for crying out loud, shouldn't she be given a chance to diagnose herself? Yeah, and take him off the hook for doing it to her - was he really that pathetic? What did he care what she thought anyway? He was used to being blamed for just about everything from the Black Death to the Sixth Extinction, and most of the time he didn't even object. An overly impressive record came in handy sometimes.
He went in search of some liquor. Not for himself, because he feared it would put him to sleep in an instant, and he could not afford to sleep just yet. But Scully might need it when she woke up, especially if he had to.. There was a bottle of plain but pure vodka under the sink, about three quarters full. He smelled it cautiously, to verify that the bottle hadn't been reassigned to some other use. It smelled okay, very faintly sweet, nothing else.
He heated some water till it was warm but not hot. Then he sat down on Scully's bed and started washing her face and ear with it. He was careful not to rub the white spots, just warm them. She mumbled something and tried to turn away, but she did not wake up. That surprised him; he would have expected her to be out cold, but she behaved more as if she were sleeping. He was further surprised to notice that the frozen spots responded almost immediately, taking on some colour. Well, he certainly wasn't giving up without trying, so he took her left hand and submerged it in the warm water. She tried to withdraw it, and he had to hold it in place and hope that his artificial arm would be up to the task of supporting the bowl of water. He stared at her hand, willing it to improve, for all that he knew it was futile. Her left hand too.. If the worst came to the worst, they'd be oddly symmetric. A painful symmetry. Or more likely, a parallel..
It seemed like only minutes, and then her hand which had seemed completely dead, began to flush a little. At first he wasn't sure, then the change was becoming more and more apparent. If she had seen this herself, she might have called it a miracle, he thought. And maybe she'd be right. He sure as hell didn't have any explanation for it.
When her hand was back to near normal, he let her take it out. He put the bowl away, dried and massaged her hand and swathed it in a fresh towel to help it stay warm. It didn't look like this was needed, but he wasn't about to take any chances now. He felt as if he, rather than she, had had a very narrow escape.
Then she surprised him again. With her other hand she reached for his, for the artificial one which happened to be next to hers. Without thinking, he shifted so she could take his right one instead. Only later did he realize that he had not wanted to startle her.
October 17th, 6:22 p m
Scully awoke rested and generally at ease, as if her endorphins had been hard at work for some time. She glanced around her, convincing herself that she was in her bed at the way station. Somehow that did not surprise her, although she could not remember getting back here from their outing yesterday - or whenever that was. It was dark again, but the weather had obviously cleared, she could see a few stars outside the window above the table. There was something slightly unusual about them though.
Her mouth tasted faintly of alcohol, and she remembered half waking up in broad daylight and having something poured into her - probably vodka, or the taste would have been worse by now. Idly, she tried to remember how he had managed that.. could he really pour with his left hand? Maybe he could, but he hadn't. Now that she thought of it, the way they had been sitting, he must have supported her against his body and poured right-handed. A quick flash of another memory hinted that he had even managed to help her to the toilet on at least one occasion. She'd rather not dwell on that.. She was curious though. Why had he taken care of her?
Where was he, anyway? She couldn't hear him in the building. She sat up in bed and waited for the expected dizziness to pass. She had the feeling she had been asleep a long time; her blood pressure must have tried to go into hibernation. Oddly, she felt refreshed rather than weakened, so she got up, feeling no ill effects. She squeezed past the table to look out the window. The stars still seemed a little off, but nothing moved out there. The window could not be opened. It was screwed and taped shut, for insulation. By the look of the tapes, it had been like that for years.
She made a hasty visit to the toilet, then got back and threw her parka on over what little she wore - he must have undressed her, damn him. She didn't feel exactly comfortable about that, but he probably thought he had to. She couldn't really blame him, it was standard procedure. Always check for injuries. Not that she felt injured - exactly what shape had she been in? The last thing she remembered from the forest was being lost in it. She had no difficulty imagining what that might mean. Frostbite at the very least.. She felt her face and ears and was relieved to find everything there, no numb spots that would not respond to touch. No pain either.
She shoved her bare feet into her boots and went out. The air was icy cold around her legs, but she wasn't going to be outside for long. Just see if she could figure out where he had gone. The weather was very still now, there ought to be tracks.. The area immediately in front of the door was dark, just failing to be lit by any of the feeble cones of light falling from the windows.
For some reason she looked up at the stars - and forgot everything else. They were in colour! That must have been what she had glimpsed through the window, though it was much more obvious out here. She just stood there, staring, wondering if Mulder had ever seen this, and if so, whether it had rendered him slack-jawed for the next half-hour.
"Quite determined to catch your death, aren't you?"
The sharp, dark voice startled her; she had not heard him coming. "Just wondering if I was hallucinating", she said, pointing at the stars. "But they really are in colour, aren't they?"
He glanced up briefly. "Sure they are. We're a long way from any cities here, you can tell by the darkness of the sky all around. No spots of reflected light on the horizon. No artificial light to bleed the colour out of the stars."
"But I don't remember having seen this on our first night here."
"The moon has waned a bit since then. It usually steals the show when it's nearly full, it's so bright. I thought you'd have seen this in Alaska?"
"The weather was very bad. I wasn't out much, and when I was, the stars were not."
"What about the Antarctic?"
Scully shook her head wistfully. "The sky is so empty on that side. Nothing like this. Besides, I told you I was unconscious most of the time. When I finally got out, it was full daylight."
"Yeah well, you can usually tell the planets. Saturn is yellowish, Mars sort of pink, Jupiter is white, but it's an obvious disk, you can't miss it. Of the stars, you should be able to spot Betelgeuse."
"I already have", she smiled. "It's the bright red one there."
He nodded, although she wasn't looking at him. "At least we know we're still on Earth", he said dryly. "And definitely in the northern hemisphere. Now get in before you freeze your legs off - what are you doing out here anyway?"
She turned then, and saw that he was not wearing his parka, just the leather jacket. He couldn't have gone far then. "I was looking for you", she admitted.
He held up something for her scrutiny. A packet of some kind; she couldn't read the label in the dark. "I was just over to the barn. We were all out of coffee."
Once inside, she crawled back into bed for a moment, to warm her legs. Krycek was keeping busy at the cooker. It was impossible not to give in to the misleading atmosphere of peaceful domesticity, and Scully found herself drifting off again, although she was not really tired any more. She awoke to the sound of plates and spoons being set on the wooden table, and she got up, this time finding her jeans and slipping into them.
"Oatmeal?" she questioned as she sat down in front of the steaming plate. She tried to keep the disappointment out of her voice, but he picked up on it.
"I know you're probably ravenous, but it is quite filling, and at least it shouldn't harm you. I wasn't sure you could take a heavy meal just yet."
She looked up sharply. "How long was I out of it?"
"You were sort of in and out all night after I brought you back. Toward morning you seemed to - I don't know, enter into some healing trance or whatever. I couldn't wake you, but you weren't exactly in a coma either. You woke up twice, to go to the head, but I doubt you were really awake. Then you went right back under, and you slept through the rest of yesterday. I assume you slept through today as well, but I nodded off myself sometime in the night, and I only awoke a couple of hours ago, so I can't say for sure. Now eat."
He sat down opposite her and started in on his own portion. She had the impression he had lived off food like this often enough. Perhaps he even considered it luxury. She glanced down at her plate. It didn't look bad, and she was hungry. She took a spoonful and discovered that he had even scattered raisins in it. She reached for the jug in the middle of the table and was surprised to find milk in it. Then she realized. Dry milk of course. He had whipped up just enough for two portions, and she poured some of it over her oatmeal. It tasted slightly stale as she had expected, but it would do to counter the dryness. Then something occurred to her. "How long has this grain been stored? You sure there aren't any bugs in it?"
"If there are, just think of them as additional protein", he said curtly.
She had no impression that he was joking.
October 17th, 8:15 p m
Scully pondered her next move. It would appear that no matter what she did, she would have to sacrifice one of her bishops.
They had brought out the chess board again after washing up, and she was already wondering if this might become a habit. If they didn't get out of here any time soon, at least she would have improved her skills at the game. "Can I ask you something, Krycek?" she said, as if merely hoping to distract him from her current predicament.
He grunted acquiescence, and she continued,
"Why did you save me? I mean, I'm grateful and all that, but what were you thinking? I know we both agreed we'd stand a better chance of finding Mulder if we collaborated, but was it really worth all the trouble you must have gone to?"
"The word is cooperate, not collaborate", he said noncommittally.
"The hell it is. We're sworn enemies in a temporary alliance. Which makes it all the more impractical for you to waste time and effort instead of just letting me die when you had the chance."
"Your bishop is history. Move, and be done with it."
She did, with a sigh. His knight immediately moved in to take the unfortunate bishop's place, and things were beginning to look ominous.
"Don't tell me you saved my life just because you don't like to renege on a deal", she said.
He glared at her, but she was eyeing the board. After a while, she moved a pawn, as if trying to throw a belated wrench into his strategy.
"Maybe I just don't like giving up", he said, planting his queen firmly in front of her king. "Check - and mate."
Scully did not know when they had resigned themselves to spending the winter in this lonely place, but it seemed that they had. She had expected Krycek to be restless in confinement, but as far as she could tell, he was not. Instead, he seemed to be reserving his energy, generally poised for action in case a new opportunity would open up, but as long as it did not, he merely waited. His state of alert preparedness was affecting her too. Occasionally, she would worry about Mulder, but most of the time she accepted the fact that there was nothing she could do for him at the moment. She kept her field journals diligently, however. She found the habit oddly comforting. It was as if for that little while late at night when she sat down to write her journal, she still had some connection with her normal life. If what she and Mulder had, could ever be called a normal life.
One morning she was just entering the main building after a tour to the storage barn, when there was a desperate whirring from the living area, like a small engine running amok. It was soon followed by a strong smell of burning plastic. Scully rushed in just in time to see Krycek gingerly using his left hand to unplug her hair-dryer from a wall socket. He blew out the few open flames and straightened, giving her an accusing look.
"230 volts", he said. "You could have warned me."
Well, obviously he had survived. Scully turned her attention to the ruined hair-dryer. For some reason, there was something so pathetic about it, being held out like that, the pitiful casualty of incompatible technology. "Sorry", she said, sounding a little too amused to be quite convincing. "I had no idea.. I mean, all I've plugged in so far is the adapter for my laptop, but that of course is convertible. It takes whatever voltage it gets." She frowned. "I didn't notice anything funny about the outlet though.."
In answer, he bent over and plucked something from the wall socket. A plug converter. "Looks like you aren't the first", he said. "Someone had left this in, presumably for a laptop adapter or some such. It looked like it was part of the socket, so I didn't notice at first. Why the hell couldn't you have gotten yourself a convertible hair-dryer?"
"I never thought I'd need one. We don't travel much outside the US."
He gave her a long look. "No, you don't, do you?" He sighed. "Well, at least we know we're not still there. In case we were wondering. And I think we can safely assume we're not in Yukon. Maybe Anderson's mention of Vittangi was a genuine slip after all. Even if he didn't know how to pronounce it."
"There really is a place by that name? Where is it, and how come you know about it?"
"North of Sweden, and you don't want to know. It's inside the Arctic Circle and fairly close to the Finnish and Russian borders. It's a reasonably large community though; if it was anywhere near, we'd see it on the night sky. In fact, almost anything big enough to have street lights would show up on a clear night."
Scully nodded. "Guess we'll have to keep looking for clues. What were you doing with my hair-dryer, by the way? Or don't I want to know that either?"
Krycek gave the burnt item a disgusted look and threw it in the waste bin under the sink. "I managed to thaw out the hot water pipe in the shower - using boiled water - but now the one in here is frozen. They're running too close to the walls, and the walls are too thin, or the insulation layer is on the wrong side or the plumbing. Happens all the time at these latitudes. They've got miles and miles of forest, and they still can't build properly.."
"You know, they wouldn't have to use 230 volts", Scully mused. "This place has its own power system; it's self-sustained when it comes to electricity. It could have any kind of voltage."
"Maybe someone found it easier to shop for light bulbs if they stuck to the local norm", Krycek offered.
They did their best to fortify the place against the winter storms Krycek was certain would come. The buildings seemed strong enough to withstand rather extreme weather, but they brought in considerable supplies from the storage and stowed them in the café, so they would be well stocked in case they were snowed under. Krycek finally managed to thaw out the hot water pipe in the living area too, and they now took care not to let anything freeze. All taps were kept at a very slow trickle, just barely enough to keep the water in motion.
In the evenings, they played chess. Since these quiet games were their best opportunity to talk, they sometimes did not play very seriously any more, but they usually finished a game or two before going to bed. Krycek had stopped nagging Scully about keeping her mind on the board. Perhaps, she speculated, he stopped being afraid of her. The thought amused her, but somehow she wouldn't rule it out entirely. Perhaps he had been afraid of her. For what reason she could not imagine, except that he never was one to underestimate his enemies.
Did that mean he trusted her now? Not likely. Did she trust him? No further than their truce, and never when he was out of sight. But she had to admit she did not fear him. Had she ever? Oddly, she could not recall. She did not think so, but she knew she was feeling more relaxed now that he had saved her life. Also, she was growing accustomed to him. She knew she would have to watch out for that - all she now thought she knew about him could change in an instant. On her first day alone with him, she had contemplated how best to take him out if he became a threat. But there had been ample opportunity for him to take advantage of her since then, and he never had. Maybe there was something in Mulder's often voiced conviction that Krycek was gay. But - hadn't he had something going with Marita Covarrubias? Why bother with that relationship, if he really didn't go for women? If he was bi, the question remained, why hadn't he tried anything by now? It seemed they were here for a long time. Maybe he just didn't like redheads. She smiled briefly at her wandering thoughts. Most likely, attacking her wasn't in his plans. Somehow, she could believe it was as simple as that. Enough to rely on it. For now.
Syndicate surveillance cabin, Hallowe'en
The smoker glanced thoughtfully at the screen. "Saving her life doesn't seem to have gained him anything."
"It hasn't changed anything for her", Diana said defensively. "She wasn't in control, it was his decision to save her. It may sound callous, but I think it will take a little more than that."
The smoker lit a new cigarette, possibly to conceal his surprise. "More than saving her life?"
"He's a killer. He was in on killing her sister. It will take a lot for her to get around that."
He gave her an ice-blue look. "Shouldn't you have thought of that before you suggested this course of action?" he asked lightly.
"I told you to give them time", Diana said, the barest hint of annoyance in her voice. "She'll come round. But it will take time."
"Too much time and they'll kill each other out of sheer boredom", the smoker said.
Diana smiled a little. "I don't think so. There's too much fire in them for that. In both of them. They'll take the other option first."
Forest way station, November 2nd, 8.09 p m
"..and mate", Scully said. "Or - no, sorry, not quite. Care to go on?"
Krycek gave the board a quick once-over. Then he toppled his king. "No, I fold."
"I thought you didn't like giving up." Childish under the circumstances, but it just slipped out.
He actually smiled a little. "I can always come back."
Outside, the temperature was dropping. They could feel it inside the house too. Scully took a sip of her tea - they usually kept a pot on hand during their evening game. She looked out the window. "Think it'll snow tonight?"
He nodded. "Probably." He gave her a searching look. "You know if we lose power, we're likely to lose the water too? I'm not sure where the pumps are, maybe up on the hillside somewhere, but I doubt they've got an independent power supply."
Scully pressed her lips together for a moment, thinking. "Even so, we should be all right, I think. We brought in enough propane bottles for the cooker, we could always melt some snow."
"True", he agreed. "I'm glad they dropped us here and not in the Tunisian desert or something." He glanced quickly out the window, then he stood. "Better start bringing in a few bucketfuls now, just to be on the safe side. It'll give us a head start on the melting. And while we're at it, let's get some of that firewood inside. We can store it in the café, there's still plenty of room."
Scully stood too. "What do you say we get the old bathtub from the store? We could fill that with snow, that way we'd have a considerable amount of water. I mean, a few buckets won't last long, the volume will decrease as the snow melts." A pause, then, "I could get the snow. I think we have two buckets in here. The ones out in the garage aren't any too clean."
"Good idea", he said. A moment of hesitation, barely noticeable, then, "Thanks."
She nodded. She had not mentioned the time factor, but they both knew the gales could be over them long before he had brought in any significant supply of snow by himself. One bucket at a time wouldn't cut it. Besides, someone would have to get the firewood.
For all their misgivings about the weather, when they got outside, the night was perfectly still, and but for the cold, there was no hint of snow in the air. Krycek looked up. "We're inside the Arctic Circle", he said. "Just as we thought. Now we know."
Scully looked up too, and reeled at what she saw. Directly overhead, the sky was aswirl with light. A gigantic golden eye seemed to be staring down at her from around the zenith, long streaks around it, tinted with green and red. It kept moving, changing, turning into a crown, a dragon..
Krycek let go his wood basket to reach out and steady her. Not that she was in danger of losing her balance exactly, but she had to admit to being a little awed. She leant on him without really noticing. "Isn't the aurora supposed to be gently undulating draperies on the horizon?" she asked. "That's the description I've heard anyway."
"That's farther south", he said. "Up here, it looks more like that."
He was still holding her, and she was still leaning on him, craning her neck to follow the spellbinding transformations overhead. Softly, tunelessly, he began to whistle.
She turned her head to stare at him, and he flashed her that sun-edge grin she had not seen since last summer. "Just something they tried to make me believe as a kid", he said. "I guess I knew already then it was an old wives' tale.."
Mulder looked warily at the alien bounty hunter. Hell, he didn't even know the man's - or being's - name. If indeed such as he had names. The shape shifter stared back, waiting. His currently rugged features seemed at ease, confident. As if he were quite at home in these woods. Or anywhere else on Earth, for that matter.
"You - or someone like you - once told me my sister was alive", Mulder said. "Was that true? Was she alive in 1998?"
"Only humans lie", the being said.
"Why is that?" Mulder asked, trying to determine whether the other was being disdainful or not.
"Because they still can."
Mulder made the connection with lightning speed. "You're all telepathic?"
"Not all. But too many to make lying safe."
Mulder nodded. "So she was alive in 1998. Is she alive now?"
"She is. She can be returned to you."
Mulder's jaw fell open. "She can?"
"Yes. But there is a price."
"You must give up your partner. Exchange her for your sister. You can't have them both."
"Why? A double anima is not allowed?"
Mulder's display of self-knowledge was lost on the alien. "It's the deal. You have to choose."
"No deal. I can't give you Scully. I won't."
The alien seemed genuinely puzzled. "Strange. They told me you were not close anymore."
Mulder let out an exasperated sigh. "She can take care of herself. It doesn't mean we.." He sighed again and started over. "I can't.. there are things I have to do. Things I don't want to expose Scully to."
"And that is your decision to make?"
"What's it to you? But yeah, I always thought it was. Look, I'm not free to.."
"Indulge yourself? Isn't that exactly what you have been doing?"
".. to devote myself", Mulder found himself saying.
The alien nodded, and began to change. His face became more sharp-featured, and he seemed to shrink a little, his build becoming less compact, almost elegant. Even his clothes changed, something Mulder would not have thought possible. He was now in evening dress, a cane in his hand, and a chapeau claque on his head.
"Know me like this", he said, "when we meet again next cycle."
He walked into the forest and was gone.
Forest way station, November 2nd, 9:43 p m
"There", Scully said, dumping a last bucket of snow on to the growing mound in the tub. "I think that'll last us a while."
Krycek merely nodded and went to hang up his parka. Scully took hers off as well and went to make more tea. When it was done, she brought the pot over to the table. She poured herself a cup, then decided it needed something more. She went to fetch the bottle of vodka and put that too on the table.
"Doctor's recommendation", she said, adding a few drops to her tea. "The temperature is still dropping." She shoved the bottle across to him, but he shook his head.
"Sorry, I rarely drink."
Her eyes went big and turquoise, as if he had said something completely outrageous.
"Can't afford to", he said.
"I thought they paid you quite well."
He shook his head, smiling bitterly. "The Smoker is quite a miser. The whole thing is run more on threats and blackmail than any real money. That's not what I meant though. The last time I relaxed in the field, it cost me an arm. If I had a drinking habit.. my aim would be a lot less accurate", he finished, though Scully was certain that was not what he had been about to say.
She wondered a little that he would associate a shot of vodka on a cold night with a full-blown drinking habit, but maybe it was true what they said about Russians. In fact, there was something of a coiled whip about him. As if he was always holding himself back, because if he ever let himself go, he would cause some kind of disaster. The trait seemed to apply to all aspects of him. She suddenly understood why he had taken so many beatings from Mulder. He must have been under orders not to kill Mulder. On the day that order was rescinded, Krycek would strike back. She wondered if Mulder knew. Maybe he did. Contrarily to Krycek, Mulder had his suicidal moments.
"And yet, in the Hong Kong Paradise you offered to choose the wine?" she said, in an effort to take the edge off the subject.
"I'm not a teetotaller", he amended. "You'd have gotten the lion share of the bottle though."
It figured that he'd remember. She had learnt by now that he rarely forgot anything. Probably couldn't afford that either.
"I can understand it if you don't drink on assignments", she said. "I guess I just thought things were quiet enough out here in the wilderness."
He shook his head. "There's a storm coming. I can feel it. In fact, we'd probably better stay up tonight." As if for emphasis, he started setting up the chess board again.
"Feeling defensive tonight?" she asked innocently. She nearly laughed at his questioning look. "You played black last time too."
He made a face and spun the board around, giving her the black side. So he could forget minor things, once in a while. She wondered if that should please or worry her.
She opened with her queen's pawn rather than her king's, signaling an open game. This time, there would be slaughter.
"If they don't pay you, what do you live off?" she asked.
He countered her move in silence, and they exchanged a quick sequence of measures and counter-measures. Finally, he said, "Others pay me. The Syndicate is not the only game in town - or on the planet. Besides, I steal from that fuming bastard when I can. Remember the tape Mulder got hold of? It lasted me a long time. Kept me independent for months."
"You didn't steal that from the Smoker", Scully said sternly, snatching one of his pawns off the board.
Krycek shrugged. "Whatever. He would have had it in the end. In fact, he did. Check."
Scully glared at the board. Now where the hell had that bishop come from..
Syndicate surveillance cabin, November 2nd, time zone unknown
"Well, that's good to know." Diana gave the screen an amused look. "Did you know Alex was stealing from you?"
"Of course", the smoker said indifferently. "I never said I trusted him. I just use him."
"You sure he isn't using you?"
The smoker didn't reply right away. Two thoughtful puffs later, Diana was almost certain he was considering the possibility.
"All his attempts so far have failed", he said at last, his voice as mellifluous and unconcerned as ever. "I trust he's learned his lesson. If not, I'll deal with the problem when it arises." He leaned back in his chair, blowing smoke towards the ceiling.
"Yes, we all know the price for betraying you", Diana said, a little sarcastically.
"Oh, Alex won't betray me", the smoker said. "He can't. You see, he works for me on an assignment basis, but I never had his loyalty. He doesn't give that to anyone. Keeps it strictly for himself." He stared vacantly through the smoke overhead. "Perhaps that is why I haven't killed him yet."
Forest way station, November 3rd, 1:30 a m
Scully had lost two games on end, but she felt strangely tranquil about it. There was something so peaceful, so ordinary about sitting up playing while waiting for a blizzard that might never come. After her second defeat she got up and stretched, then went over to the stove to heat some more water. While waiting for it to boil, she made a quick tour to the toilet and her gaze fell on the silent jukebox out in the café. Why not? As she returned to the main room, Janis Joplin's husky voice followed her:
Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose
Nothing ain't worth nothing, but it's free.
Feeling good was easy, when Bobby sang the blues,
Feeling good was good enough for me..
Krycek looked up at her, and for a moment she was afraid he would ask. But he said nothing, and she breathed a sigh of relief at not having to explain. She wasn't sure herself, why she had chosen that particular song.
He was setting up the board, but she remained standing for a while, looking thoughtfully at the chessmen. He noticed of course. Idly she wondered if Mulder would have.
"Not keen on losing another one?"
She managed a smile and sat down. "What makes you so sure you'd win again?"
He pushed back a little from the table and said, "We could just talk, you know. If you don't care to play."
She nodded. "What about?"
He shrugged. "Pick a topic."
She chose the one that had recently surfaced and subtly managed to destroy her mood. "I wonder what Mulder is doing right now."
It wasn't Krycek's favourite topic, but he accepted it.
"If he's doing anything. If he's capable of doing anything anymore."
She marvelled at his casual cruelty, yet wondered why it should come as a surprise. "What makes you say that?"
"I'm not saying he's dead", Krycek amended, "Not necessarily, that is. He could be captured or unconscious or both. But if he were quite free and healthy, wouldn't he have come looking for you by now? Wouldn't he have caused an uproar in seven states and fifteen counties, diverting most of the FBI to find you?"
Scully smiled, fondly but sadly. "Maybe he is looking. There's no real way of knowing, is there?"
"With the bond you two have, I wouldn't be surprised if you'd know anyway", Krycek said dryly. "Besides, if he's telepathic these days, the least he could do would be to try and contact you."
She sighed. "Maybe you overestimate 'the bond we have', Krycek."
"Come on, you're joined at the hip. Not to mention other places."
"If you're implying what I think you are, you're grossly misinformed. And here I thought you knew all there was to know about us. I heard you were in surveillance."
Krycek shook his head. "I haven't done any of that for years." Then her words registered. His eyes grew so wide and green that it gave him an almost innocent look. "Are you telling me you never slept with the guy? Come on, be serious. Everybody knows.." His voice trailed off as he began to reconsider his words.
"Everybody assumes", she corrected him. "I'm well aware of that. But everybody is wrong."
Krycek couldn't help himself. "But - but why the hell not??"
Scully couldn't hold back a brief smile at his almost naïve astonishment. But the smile died quickly. "It's not as simple as that. Mulder is a driven man, Krycek. I think I wanted him from the moment we first met, I know I tried my best to challenge him, to make him notice me. For years I wanted him, and I thought he wanted me too, that it was just a matter of time.."
She looked absently toward the darkened window. The night was opaque, devoid of stars.
"Then I - fell in love with him. It was so easy. He was so sensitive, so vulnerable, so considerate.."
"Mulder considerate??" Krycek couldn't help challenging.
Scully smiled a little. "Once upon a time, I thought he was. Perhaps it was a consideration born out of the famous Mulder guilt - guilt of Weltschmerz proportions - but I know it was there. Once, when he still had hope. Now I think that all he has left is desperation."
She sounded tranquil enough, but Krycek thought he could detect a trace of defeat, possibly even resentment. Or maybe he was imagining things.
"He was so protective in those days", she resumed, almost wistfully, and Krycek's eyes widened again, but he said nothing this time. He'd never have thought the self-assured Dana Scully could dream of male protection. Then again, maybe all women did. Once in a while.
She shook her head - he assumed at her younger self.
"I was even beginning to weigh my alternatives, what would I do about my career, could we go on as before, better not let Skinner find out.. that sort of thing. I honestly thought that Mulder loved me too - or wanted me at least, though I always had the feeling the two were the same with him, that those porno movies he'd always fall asleep to were just a front, a joke, or a mundane excuse to keep the TV going at night, in case the aliens would come.. I was sure he cared, I thought I could feel him holding back, refraining from touches, acknowledgments that might have led somewhere.. and I thought he was just being cautious and considerate. I tried to let him know it was all right, and well, of course he noticed. How could he not? But he never acknowledged my gestures, instead he avoided me on those occasions. I grew more uncertain, less and less explicit. Then I realized - or thought I realized. Mulder has his quest - for the truth, for his lost sister, for whatever he can be reasonably sure he'll never attain. Something happened to him the day she disappeared, whatever may or may not have happened in the objective world. He grew - if not insane, then at least obsessed. Now he can't live without his quest. The day it is resolved, is the day he dies. Inwardly, if nothing else. It prevents him from leading a normal life - or shields him from it."
"I thought he was the psychologist?" Krycek remarked softly.
Scully nodded. "As it turned out, I wasn't a very good one. This is what I thought, till a few months ago. I had built up all this romantic nonsense about him like some hero-worshipping school girl, and I was dead wrong. The minute Diana reappeared, he suddenly didn't have any problems with a normal life any more. Apparently, it's me he's having problems with. Or I with him. Used to, I mean. I don't know, it's as if when Diana showed up, he even lost some of his zeal for finding the truth. As if it didn't matter as much any more. As for me, I just - well, I'd had it. Nearly six years and then.. I had stood by him in so much for so long, no matter the cost, and now - I guess I just tired."
Krycek muttered something, and she had to ask what it was.
"Time is an ocean, but it ends at the shore. You may not see me tomorrow", he quoted. "Just something I heard on that jukebox. Another Dylan, I believe. So why are you still looking for him?"
Her eyes were large and turquoise, and not quite dry. "I have to. I think I always will, until he is safely out of my life."
"You want him out of your life?" Krycek sounded as if that could be arranged.
"I don't know what I want. But I know I'll lose him. Maybe he'll get abducted, I think in a way he always wanted that. And I - well, sometimes I think I'll join a convent."
"Precious little use for forensic pathologists in a convent", Krycek said, and she was surprised at how raspy he sounded.
"Forensic pathology is what I do, it's not who I am", she said.
He merely nodded. They sat in silence for a while, then she said, "You know what? I haven't told anyone about this before. Not even my mother. I couldn't. I think she's still hoping for 'Fox' as her son-in-law.."
Krycek looked up. "Then why tell me? I mean, I'm glad you did, don't get me wrong, but.."
There was a good deal of irony in her smile as she said, "It's not as if there was anyone else around."
Mulder looked around him. There was nothing much to be seen. A softly lit floor, whether metal or concrete he could not be sure. The walls appeared round, but it could be a trick of the light. They might not be where he thought they were but farther away, hidden among the shadows. A faint sound, like a dripping faucet - or footsteps. He waited, and just as he had decided on footsteps, someone walked out of the shadows. A sharp-featured man in evening dress, cane in hand, chapeau claque on head.
He tossed Mulder what looked like a pair of handcuffs, though there was no connecting chain between them. "Put them on."
"Why?" Mulder wanted to know.
"Come now, you can take them off at any time. But if you do, you'll never learn the truth. And I should have thought that is why we are here."
He spoke with a British accent, Mulder noted. Funny, he could not recall any such characteristics of the shape shifter's speech before. Maybe that shifted too.
"For me to learn the truth?" Mulder challenged.
"For us both to learn it. This interchange will be to our mutual benefit. If you cooperate."
More out of reckless curiosity than anything else, Mulder put on the strange-looking cuffs. He had to remove his jacket and roll up his sleeves to do it. As an afterthought, he discarded his tie as well and loosened the two top buttons of his shirt. Might as well get comfortable. He had a strong suspicion he would come to appreciate it before long.
"Let's begin with a simple question", the man said. "Who are you?"
"I should have thought it obvious. I'm your inquisitor. Now, who are you?"
"Fox Mulder", Mulder said. To his surprise, this rendered him a sharp pang, starting around his wrists and coursing quickly through his body. He staggered, but remained standing. Apparently, the cuffs were electric.
"As I said, you can take them off at any time", the other reminded him. "Now, try again. Who are you?"
Same result, perhaps a little more painful this time.
"I'm not asking your name. I know that already. Who are you?"
Forest way station, November 3rd, 4:13 a m
The winds had risen steadily through the night. Soon the windows were rattling with the sudden gusts, and the two exiles had been out twice to check on the roof. It seemed sturdily built, as by someone who knew what to expect.
"No hurricane shutters", Scully remarked as they stamped off snow on the porch, prior to getting back inside.
"No, and that worries me", Krycek said. "I hope they didn't rely on the pines for protection when they built this place - pines fall easily. Long roots, but they run wide rather than deep. Good thing there aren't any too close."
"How do you know all these things?" Scully asked. At his glance, she amended, "I see. I don't want to know, right?" She took another look at the front of the building. "Shutters or no, this place must have seen a few gales. It might be good for one or two more."
"Don't count on it. Storms are getting worse every year. All over the globe."
"I know. Mulder keeps telling me."
He shot her a quick look. "Yeah. But as far as I know, we can't blame that one on the aliens."
Scully gave him a quick, sideways glance, but there was no telling whether he was joking or not. She shivered involuntarily as the wind tore at her. Hastily she opened the door, almost tripping over the threshold in her yearning to be inside.
Toward morning, the blizzard started. The windows were quickly covered, and there was no way of knowing how the storm progressed. The whole house was rattling in the wind, but so far nothing seemed to have been shaken loose. The jukebox was ambling its way through one of the obscure Dylan songs that seemed to be the mainstay of its repertoire. The music wasn't any too cheering.
"We might as well get some sleep", Scully said soberly. "Whatever happens will happen whether we stay awake or not. There's no way we can check on any damage until this is over. And by then we might need our strength. To dig our way out, if nothing else."
"You go to sleep. I'll stay up and watch."
"You're far too edgy, Krycek. Anyone ever told you that?"
He spun around to look at her. But whatever he had been about to say, she felt certain he had thought better of it. "Frequently. Good thing I never believed him, I'd be dead by now." He turned back to the snow-covered window, as if willing it to clear. For a moment she had the idea that that green gaze would actually have the power to melt snow. She shook her head silently. She had to be more tired than she thought.
"The weather is not your enemy, Krycek. It doesn't know you're here, it doesn't know anything. And frankly, if it did, it probably couldn't care less. Get some sleep, at least you'll be fresh in a few hours. And that's your doctor speaking."
He actually grinned a little at that, and he turned away from the window. "My doctor? Don't think I ever had one. Not for years anyway."
She wished she had phrased that differently. Why the hell hadn't she just said, doctor's orders? "Look, before you get any funny ideas about huddling close to share warmth, I'll just have to tell you.."
She wished she hadn't said that either. His grin was teasing enough, but not in the way she had anticipated.
"No need", he said brightly. "We've still got electricity."
Right then, the room went pitch black.
In the end, Krycek did stay up, tending the stove. He made the most of the firewood they had brought in, keeping the stove at a slow glow rather than building a roaring fire time and time again. The heat would have to do. At least it was permeating the main room now, even if some of it was always leaking out into the café.
Krycek cursed himself for having relied on the wind power station to take over, in case the generator failed. In this weather, it had seemed like a good chance. Except that when the generator finally gave out, the wind mast was already clogged with snow and wouldn't move. In his less tired moments, Krycek knew that there would have been no way of knowing, and no way he could have done anything, had he known. He'd have to wait till the blizzard was over - whenever that would be. Chances were, this would keep up for a couple of days. He wondered idly if he'd be able to clear the snow off the porch one-handed. He could not ask Scully for help. He had always done his best to cover up his few vulnerabilities. He was not about to break he habit now.
It took a day and a night - during which they took turns at the stove, one sleeping while the other watched. But the second morning the gale had gone, leaving everything in silence so deep that it seemed as if nothing had ever happened here. That's how storms are, Scully thought. As if they weren't real. Fewer houses might be left standing, fewer people left alive, and yet, when all that fury is gone, there is no trace, no evidence whatsoever that anything really caused all this. As if it were all in our minds.
She nearly jumped out of her skin, as she felt Krycek's arm around her shoulders.
"Ready? Guess we'd better start digging."
His arm fell back casually, as if he had not really meant to touch her. He took a step past her and opened the door. His eyebrows rose slightly, and he did not frown. Good news then. Well, obviously the door was not as blocked as they had feared, or he couldn't have opened it so easily.
The roof over the porch had caved in on one side, but it had kept the door free. Further out was another matter. I would take some digging to find anything like a path again. Or rather, to build it anew.
"Breakfast first", Scully said. "Then I'll break out the shovels. I think I saw a couple in the store yesterday."
Something told her she'd have to do most of the shovelling.
Getting the generator up and running was another matter. For some reason it seemed to relish its idle state, as if it had not known rest for years - which was probably true. In the way of so much old and faithful machinery, it ran only until it was turned off. Once stopped, it stayed stopped. In the end, it seemed easier to start up the backup system. At least for now.
Krycek went out on his makeshift snowshoes, nearly losing his way twice on his way to the wind mast. Luckily, someone had had the foresight to paint it red. If it had been white as was customary farther south, he never would have found it. It was too narrow to be much of a landmark.
He started climbing it gingerly, hoping that it would not be rotten through. He had no fear of heights, but he knew that if he fell from somewhere near the top of it, he would plunge so deep in snow that Scully would never find him till spring. Provided she bothered to look at all..
Snow cascaded off the structure, landing on his face. He grimaced, trying to shake it off, but some of it still stuck to his eyelashes, restricting his vision.
Finally, he reached the blades. He had brought a rope, and he lashed himself to the mast as well as he could, enough to let him use both hands to wipe off snow. At least his artificial one was good for some things. Of course, he always kept his right one free anyway, for emergencies. Sometimes he still had nightmares about trying to save himself by catching on to something. Invariably, the wrong hand was the only one free, and the prosthetic would come off as he tried to hang his weight on it. He rarely remembered his dreams anymore, and given this recurring one, he thought it was just as well.
He cleaned off the blades one by one, meticulously. There was no wind now, he had to make certain they would turn when it rose again. He used his right hand to spin them tentatively. They turned, but not as easily as he had hoped. Something was slowing them down. A lead of some kind, a small, insulated wire. In fact, there were probably more than one, sheathed together. He followed them down, brushing off snow from the mast itself along the way. When he hit the ground, he was certain what those leads were. Ingenious really, who would look for them here? If it hadn't been for the blizzard, and the ancient generator giving out, he never would have climbed this thing. The leads looked new, or newly replaced. But why? He had to assume he was the target. If he was not, no harm in being over-cautious, but if he was, and he ignored it.. The question still remained though: why? If this was because of him, then he knew who was behind it. He frowned. Didn't they already know everything there was to know? What could they possibly hope to gain by..?
It hit him all at once; their reason, and the reason for that reason. Rage flamed cold in his eyes, and his face turned white with it. A month or so earlier, he might have laughed. In fact, it wasn't until now that he realized what futile hopes he had been harbouring, against all reason. Only now, when it was too late. They could have told him what his mission was, he probably would have accepted it then. Now, there was no way he'd play into their hands. And he knew just the way to let them know.
Even if he wasn't all too clear about his motives.
Scully looked up from a list of things to check for damage after the storm. She couldn't recall having seen Krycek in quite this mood before, even if she had always imagined him capable of great anger. Things must be really bad out there. She hoped he had not found the wind mast broken. She opened her mouth to ask, but he walked right past her, without stopping to take off his boots inside the door. He paced - or rather prowled - around the room, checking every nook and cranny. Now and then he nodded bitterly to himself, as if he had just been proven right about the wrong thing. First inside the main room, then the café, muttering to himself. Had he finally snapped? After all he had been through, she never would have expected him to lose his mind over a few weeks of isolation.
He came back in and held out his hand to her. "Come here."
She was about to object to being ordered about unless he explained himself, when he clarified, "Come and stand right here. A little to the right of the stove."
Curious now, she did as she was told.
He gathered her up in a one-armed bear hug that threatened to squeeze the breath out of her, and he kissed her roughly. The kiss was hard, but deep and insistent as if his life depended on it, or as if the world were coming apart around them. It went on for a while. Scully had the time to overcome her first shock, to almost respond in kind, then to remember who this was, to feel fear and anger, and finally to tear herself loose and scratch him hard across the cheek.
He stepped back and nodded - almost triumphantly, she thought. So it had been a test after all? But why now, after all this time?
"Krycek", she began, but he wasn't listening or even looking at her. Instead, he walked back out in the snow, and the door caught behind him, getting propped slightly ajar on a chunk of ice on the porch. It rather ruined his exit, and Scully smiled, feeling some of her anger vanish. She hated to admit it, but there was something almost endearing about a bumbling top op for the Consortium.
Moments later, Krycek was back up the wind mast, furiously disconnecting the leads. He had not been able to follow them all the way to the miniscule surveillance apparatus in the house, but he knew that had to be where they went, using the mast as an antenna. As he had noted before, ingenious really. The one place with a free view of the next mountain, and nobody would think to look twice at it. Except in case of really foul weather, and then only if the generator gave out too. Well, he had shown that old smoking voyeur what he could do with his secret plans. Maybe now that helicopter would finally be sent for them.. He gave his eyes a quick wipe, not even noticing, until his sleeve came away bloody. He stared at it for a confused moment, until he remembered that she had scratched him. He touched his glove to the spot, wondering how long the mark would keep.
Syndicate surveillance cabin, November 4th
"Is everything down?" The smoking man eyed the flickering, empty screens with some impatience. Damn nuisance. Who would have thought the generator and the auxiliary power source would give out at the same time? There should have been no reason for the two captives ever to go near the wind mast. Someone was guilty of sloppy thinking, and it wasn't himself. Once he found out who had planned the wiring he had ordered..
Diana shot him an apprehensive glance. "The IRC still works, but all sound is gone."
"LLC", the smoker corrected her. "It's low light, not infra red. It works even in daylight, as long as its LCD filter reacts as it should. Or so I'm told. Is that all we have?"
"Yes. It was never wired to the wind mast. John says it uses the antenna of the old TV set. Now that Alex knows, it might be just a matter of time before he finds those leads also."
The old man put out his cigarette, meticulously folding the butt in on itself. "That problem might well be academic. It's obvious that he's not going along with your little scheme. Perhaps we should have told him what was expected of him."
Your little scheme. Not our little scheme. Diana swallowed. "I said he'd prefer it to be his own idea", she said. "This is just a reaction. Give them time."
"He blew it deliberately, just to thwart us", the smoker mildly pointed out. "He's got Scully up in arms now."
"She'll be in his before long", Diana said, wishing she were as sure as she was trying to sound. "That defiant gesture of his was a mistake. It will work in our favour. It will wear on her resistance."
The smoker shook out a new cigarette and lit up. A long, thoughtful pull, Bogart style, squinting through the smoke. Then he said, "You don't know Dana Scully."
Diana stood her ground. "Men generally underestimate the impact of their touch", she said. She glanced toward the now empty screens. "Especially a touch like that..", she added almost wistfully.
The pale blue eyes widened momentarily behind her. Then the squint was back, the information filed. "Very well. We'll give them more time. But we'll have to send someone in for repairs. And I'm afraid whomever we send, will be expected.."
Forest way station, November 5th
Scully stood watching Krycek as he was working on the generator. Occasionally a tool would slip and fly off, and he would spit a brief curse in the first language that occurred to him, and go get the offending object. It was weird, but she dared not offer to help him. She had followed him out to be of assistance, and to learn something about maintenance of the generator, but as long as he ignored her, she could not bring herself to say anything. She wasn't afraid of him - at least she kept telling herself she was not - but his black mood seemed to demand some respect.
All the same, the silence was wearing on her. They had not spoken since he kissed her the day before, and to her surprise, she found that she missed him. Missed their chess games, their conversations. As she had pointed out earlier, it wasn't as if there was anyone else around.
A spanner flew out of his hand and landed neatly in the open toolbox.
"I'd say that means your work is finished for today", she said. "Why not let me take over for a while, and you make dinner? You're a better cook than I am."
Wordlessly, he picked up the spanner again and went back to worrying the generator.
"You're as bad as Mulder sometimes, you know that?"
That finally earned her an emerald glare.
"All right, so you won't talk about it. Fine. I'm not angry with you - I think. I had a look around, myself, and I found the cameras. So you pulled that idiotic stunt for the benefit of anyone who might be watching. Beats me why, but as long as it was nothing personal.. Still, as I have no way of knowing your plans anymore, I'll have to assume the worst." She crouched by the toolbox and started to rummage through it. "The knives are gone", she said evenly.
He looked genuinely puzzled. She could tell by the frown deepening horizontally across the bridge of his nose. "What?"
"There were two all-purpose woodcutter's knives here. They're gone."
His brow cleared. "I've got them. What do you want them for?"
"I'd appreciate it if you let me have one. It would make me feel less vulnerable."
He shrugged, let go of the spanner and unhitched one of the knives from his belt. "Sorry", he said casually, handing it to her. Then, just as she was about to take it, he held back. "Wait a minute - you think you're in danger from me?"
She snatched the knife from him and hitched it to her own belt. "Don't get cute, Krycek. You're a professional killer. If you're not talking to me, I have to assume you want to keep me out of your plans. I can think of one very good reason you might want to do that."
He sighed. "Scully, we've been through this before. I said I won't go back on our deal. If you want to break our alliance, fine, just let me know, but I won't be the one to do it."
"Then why the knives? You haven't been carrying them before."
"I disabled the monitors. They're bound to send someone to check up on the malfunction."
Understanding dawned on her - but not yet relief. "Are you sure you got them all?"
"Pretty sure. Don't fret about it - we couldn't have used them to get help anyway. The Syndicate people are the only ones who'll ever see the footage."
"Aren't we doing their work for them by not talking to each other?"
He ran his artificial hand through his hair, inadvertently disarranging it even further. "Okay, maybe you're right. It's just that - they tricked me again, and I hate it."
"Don't you mean, they tricked us?"
But he shook his head. "Not this time."
She touched him lightly on his good arm. "Go in and make dinner. I'll finish up here. And after we've eaten, we'll set up the board. I feel like retaliating."
Krycek was using the stove to cook, since they had to keep it going anyway, for the heat. He had switched over two small radiators to the wind-powered system, but he had not wanted to lay the big one on it as well. There was no real need, as long as they kept the stove running.
It was dark outside by now, and the overhead lamps did not provide much light. He wondered idly how long it could possibly take Scully to pack up the tools and get her ass back in from the garage.
Suddenly, the lights in the café came on, and the jukebox started up like a chain saw taking off from an airstrip. Dylan's raspy voice filled the house:
...a heart attack machine
is strapped across his shoulders, and then the kerosene
is brought down from the castle, by insurance men who go
check to see that nobody's escapin' to
Scully came back in, stamping off snow. "Hey", she said brightly, "I got the generator back up. How are you doing in here?"
"Speaking of heart attack", Krycek muttered. "You could have warned me, you know."
She glanced toward the café, and the situation dawned on her. She started giggling. She knew she probably shouldn't, but she just couldn't help herself. "Sorry", she managed to get out between the attacks, "I didn't realize the jukebox was on the generator.."
He tried to glare at her, but somehow it wouldn't quite work. It was too good to see her so cheerful, even if it was at his expense. "Glad I could make you happy", he said, and to his amazement he found it was true. He gave in, flashing her a wide smile.
For some reason, that sobered her. She gave him a long look that he couldn't quite interpret, then she went to hang up her parka.
They had set up the board, but Scully was less intent on retaliation than she had pretended in the garage earlier. After all, there were still issues to be cleared up.
"So why did you do it?" she asked.
"What, disconnect the cameras? Don't you think those things went out of fashion in 1984?" His tone was light, and she suspected he knew precisely what she was referring to.
"Then why give them a show?"
"I felt I owed them one."
"It never occurred to you that I might take that as a threat?" She cursed herself for her unwillingness to mention the word rape. It wasn't as if she could give him any ideas he hadn't already had, if that was what was on his mind.
"Not at the moment, no", he admitted. A brief pause, then, "Scully, are you afraid of me?"
She wanted to say of course not, but she knew exactly how that would sound. She wished there were any way of escaping that pine-green scrutiny. In the end, she didn't find anything to say.
"I won't harm you as long as we're allies, I thought I had made that clear. If it makes you feel any better, I won't even break truce first, no matter what. You tell me when it's over, until then I'll assume it's on. Okay? And even when it is over, I promise you that I won't hurt you unless I'm under orders. Will that do?"
She shook her head slowly. "You've been known to lie, Krycek."
"I have?" He sounded genuinely surprised. Apparently he was a better actor that she had given him credit for. "When?"
"Well, for one thing, Mulder told me you claimed not to have killed his father."
"I didn't. Whiskey killed him. The old man was already dead, his liver was gone, you should have seen his eyes. Whites all yellow."
"But you pulled the trigger?"
"Okay, so I bent the truth a little."
Scully nodded. "That's what Mulder thought. Do you know he actually believed you? He knew you were the shooter, but he felt you were trying to tell him something. That Mulder Sr really wasn't his father for instance. Then, when Spender told him he was.."
"The Smoker is dreaming", Krycek cut her off. "As far as I know, the older Mulder was the father of the younger. The Smoker has this thing about a dynasty, though. For some reason, he's always wanted Mulder for a son, beats me why. Maybe because he could have been, I don't know. But nobody has measured up to Mulder in the old man's eyes, not even the son he actually had." And certainly not me, he nearly added but didn't. Some of his ambitions were better left unvoiced, even now.
"Poor man", Scully said absently, and was rewarded by a glare of green surprise. She shook her head. She wasn't actually feeling sorry for the man who had made a hell out of hers and Mulder's lives, was she? "Back to the matter at hand", she said resolutely. "Let's say I believe you're not 'bending the truth' at the moment. You won't kill me, and you won't rape me." She knew as she said it that she had actually come to believe him. For now.
He stared at her. "Is that what you..?"
"Never mind", she cut him off. "Why would they keep us under surveillance, do you have any idea? The obvious reason would be to see that we don't escape, but there seems to be little danger of that. Certainly not enough to warrant all the trouble and technology."
He didn't answer.
"So that's it, is it?" Scully probed. "That's what you don't want to talk about? Which means you know. Look Krycek, we're in this together, whether we like it or not. I'm under surveillance too. I have a right to know."
He looked away, out the window. No stars out.
"And what the hell did you mean, they had tricked you and not me?" Scully persisted.
Absently, he moved a knight. The move was legal and even strategic, but he did not seem aware of it. "Okay. The Smoker told me he wanted me to find Mulder and to get you to help me. He was lying through his teeth as usual, that much is blatantly obvious. But he had another mission for me, only he didn't bother to tell me." He hesitated, then sighed and gave up. "He wants me to make out with you."
Scully's eyes grew wide and incredulous. "What? Or more precisely, why??"
Krycek shrugged. "Don't know. But from the surveillance apparatus, I'd say some kind of blackmail."
"What, I quit the FBI or he proves to Skinner that I've been fraternizing with the enemy? Wouldn't it be easier to just threaten to kill me?" The amusement went out of her eyes, to be slowly replaced with pure ice. "This isn't about me at all, is it? It's about Mulder. It's him he's after. And apparently he's jumped to the same conclusion as everybody else."
"Maybe", Krycek said. "Maybe not. Does it really matter?"
"Probably not", Scully admitted. "Assuming Spender was right. Apparently, he still doesn't know Mulder. Mulder would never doubt me."
Krycek looked up from the board, his eyes hitting her full force. "Are you sure about that?"
"Positive", she said, with more confidence than she felt. Mulder did have his insecure moments.
"Good. Then all we have to do is wait for that puffing bastard to realize that's how things are."
"Why the sarcasm? You have no faith in your employer? Speaking of that, why didn't he tell you what he wanted? Wouldn't it have helped if you knew?"
"It sure would. In that case I might actually have gone along with it."
She eyed him frostily. "Don't worry, I wouldn't. Besides, isn't that what you were doing, just before you shut down the cameras?"
He shook his head. "I was trying to get you angry. And to show them that that's what I was doing. Ruining the whole idea." He grinned suddenly, touching the mark on his cheek. "Looks like I succeeded too."
"You'd better see to that so it doesn't get infected", she said matter-of-factly. "But if that's what you thought you were doing, why not tell me?"
"Because I.." There was no way of putting this civilly. "I was afraid if I told you what his plans were, you might - get used to the idea."
She stared at him for a moment. Then, "Don't flatter yourself, Krycek."
Like a whiplash. Okay, he probably had it coming. But somehow he wished she hadn't put it quite like that.
Forest way station, November 5th, 10:58 p m
Scully won two games, then Krycek one. Domestic calm seemed restored for the moment. In fact, Scully thought, it was as if they had been sitting here for years, never doing anything with their spare time except playing chess in the evening. She wondered if she was beginning to come to terms with her captivity, even to like it - or aspects of it anyway.
"You know you look quite at ease here, Krycek", she said. "Did you grow up in a place like this? Or is it just that 'anywhere you hang your hat is your home'?"
"No", he said, his eyes still on the board. "Anywhere I know the dangers." His head lifted suddenly. "Snowmobiles", he said curtly. "They're here."
He was on his feet in a second, flinging her her parka and throwing on his own. She had no time to see how he managed that, but it was as she had always suspected; in an emergency, his disability didn't count. He was every bit as deadly as he'd always been, or the Consortium would not have kept him on. He snatched the rifle from its corner and checked it briefly. He had done maintenance on it that morning.
"Krycek!" she said, "They might be perfectly innocent people! Distant neighbours or something!"
He looked at her as if to say, Yeah, you go ahead and believe that.Then, surprisingly, he held out the rifle to her. "How good is your aim?"
"With that? It's not exactly a Sig."
"That's why I asked. I know you're good with a Sig."
True, she had once saved his life with one.
She shook her head. "No, you keep it. I'll make do with a knife. Or preferably, without."
The trees lit up with an eerie sheen which could have been the sun rising, had it not been in a totally different direction from where he had last seen a sunrise. Mulder started running towards the forest and the light, momentarily forgetful of any dangers of radiation.
At the edge of the forest, he paused to catch his breath. And that's when he saw her. She was walking in his direction, cautiously and yet purposefully, he thought. She wasn't looking at him, but he knew she had seen that he was there.
She stopped in front of him, a few steps away, as if she were less certain than he. She was looking at him askance, her face turned half away from him. As if she were shy. For the life of him, he could not remember whether she used to be shy as a child. He did not think so, but it bothered him that he could not remember. Her dark brown hair was as thick as ever, and loosely braided. Some wisps of it had escaped confinement and were now gently stirred by the wind. She looked very pale, almost death-like.
Slowly, she turned her head to face him. He gasped as the right side of her face came into view. It was covered by some sort of prosthetic appliance, making her look half like a robot. He wondered what horrible disfigurement could have merited such treatment.
"Did they do that to you?" he asked, trying to keep the trembling out of his voice. She did not need a horrified reaction from her own brother. "Was it part of the tests?"
"No tests", she said. "Enhancement. It works."
"But they did it to you?"
She seemed puzzled. "Who are they?"
"The men in favour of colonization? Or the alien colonists themselves?"
Her voice drained of all emotion, she told him.
"Colonization is irrelevant. The colonists have been assimilated."
He woke up sweating.
Forest way station, November 5th, 11:21 p m
Scully never knew whether the two men had planned to keep up their deception or not. The moment the snowmobiles came into view, Krycek fired. A warning shot, she noticed, over their heads. It surprised her; she knew he only had eight rounds in all. And if the intruders were the same men they had met earlier, chances were that they knew too. Then it dawned on her. Krycek felt he had a round or two to waste. He knew he wouldn't miss except intentionally. Scully shook her head in frustration. That kind of cockiness might be the end of him yet.
"Get off those snowmobiles", she heard him shout over the engines. Damn him, was he really trying to hijack those things alone against two? The answering shot was hardly unexpected.
She had no time to worry; Krycek's next shot fell instantly, and it was no longer a warning. She could not see much in the dark, but from the way the headlight of one of the snowmobiles wobbled and then seemed to lead the vehicle on an erratic course ending in a slow, persistent spin, she knew its rider was no longer any concern. Well, at least there was something she could do. She made a beeline for the circling light, hoping to shut down the engine and retrieve the snowmobile.
The machine was gliding toward her, and she poised herself to intercept it. It wouldn't be hard, it was coming in slowly, almost dignified in its independence. Just as she prepared to spring for it, she was knocked brusquely aside, landing in the snow while the vehicle passed her yet again.
She recognized the man who had hit her. Lofberg. Then Anderson was probably the one killed by Krycek. She felt a pang at that; the old man had seemed kind of nice. He was working for the Consortium, she reminded herself, but somehow it wasn't quite enough to colour her memory of him. Krycek could probably claim self-defence, but she knew he had provoked the situation. She hoped she would never come to understand that aspect of him. The ease with which he killed even when there was no need.
Lofberg wasn't looking at her. He was standing as she had been, intent on catching the errant snowmobile on its way back along its wide circle. She wondered what had happened to his own vehicle. Why had he abandoned it? Wasn't this the less functional one? Most likely, he was just determined not to leave it for them to make use of. Whatever his plans, she felt she had better try and thwart them. He was strongly built and she knew her chances were infinitesimal, but maybe she could at least distract him..
She leapt up and threw herself at him, her knife drawn - as a threat, nothing more. He caught her by the throat of her parka, holding her aloft as if to throw her off.
"Let her go." The cold, raspy voice came disembodied straight out of the dark, surprising them both. But only for a moment. Then the approaching light fell on Krycek's face, and Scully shuddered. He was looking positively wild, teeth bared as if he would bite, green eyes cutting her assailant like lasers. The rifle was in his hand; she wondered briefly if he could use it one-handed, or if his artificial arm was strong enough to assist his aim.
Lofberg's face began to shift. As if he were grimacing, or had developed a strange form of tic. Then it changed further. Scully felt a chill along her back. She had seen this man - this being - before. Desperately, she tried to yell at Krycek not to shoot, but the shape shifter's iron grip prevented her, turning her warning into a mere croak.
"As you wish", the being answered Krycek's challenge. Indifferently, he threw her away as if she had been a rag doll. She hit the ground several feet from him, but the snow and her thick clothing shielded her nicely from the impact, and she was not hurt.
Right then she heard the first shot. She looked up to see Krycek still with his rifle low, hanging over his right arm. Then the next shot fell, and she realized he was shooting from the hip, not even raising the rifle. Well, at that distance he could hardly miss..
The first glimpse of acid green emerged through the alien's clothes, and she ran. Just far enough to put some distance between herself and the toxic fumes, after all she was outdoors, the vapours should dissipate before they could travel very far. She seemed to remember that they were heavy, they would drift low, especially in this cold. She stood, the better to avoid them.
The circling snowmobile had finally toppled against a drift, its engine still roaring in frustration. Its headlight illuminated the scene caught directly in its beam.
Krycek hadn't run. He had thrown down the rifle and was wiping his eyes furiously, but he still stood. Surely he must know the alien's blood was deadly to humans? Scully would have expected him to be writhing on the ground by now. Instead, she saw him draw his knife and more or less blindly attack the shape shifter, vaguely aiming for the neck.
Apparently, the alien was as puzzled as she was. For a moment, he simply looked at Krycek, frowning slightly at the red scratch marks on his cheek. Then Krycek's vicious attack seemed to bring the alien back to his senses. He shrugged, and Scully saw something gleaming in his hand.
"Alex!" she called out, and Krycek reacted to the warning instinctively, even though he could hardly have seen the weapon. He twisted and ducked, just enough for the point to miss his neck and plunge deeply into his left shoulder.
The alien quickly withdrew his weapon and ran, making no renewed attempt. In a moment he had retrieved the fallen snowmobile and made off with it. It cost him no effort at all to get it upright. In fact, he looked strong enough to handle two of them. Perhaps that was what he had been planning all along; ride one and tow the other.
Scully ran over to where she had last seen Krycek. He was lying on the ground, and she nearly tripped over him. She cursed under her breath, she could not see well enough to determine how badly hurt he was. The toxic vapours seemed to have dissipated though; at least she felt no immediate effect. She tore off her glove and felt for his pulse. Okay, it was there. He groaned slightly, and she wondered if he might be capable of walking back to the house on his own. Probably not, the retrovirus must be getting to him. His blood should be clogging up already. Maybe she'd better keep him out in the cold to slow the effect. Then again, she had no means to cure anything like that here. He was done for, whatever she did. She might as well accept it.
"Alex.." she said, running her bare hand through his hair.
He coughed a little, then, to her surprise, he spoke. "That's Aleksei Nikolayitch to you. You can't go directly from familia to imya, you know.."
She had no idea what he was talking about, but it didn't sound as if he were dying quite yet. Very well then, she'd have to get him inside, so she could at least see what his condition was. She shook him gently, but he seemed to have passed out. Okay, she'd have to drag him. It would be slow, but they were fairly close to the station. Resolutely, she put her shoulder under his right arm, reached around him as well as she could, and started pulling.
By the time she got him indoors she was exhausted, and she never knew where she got the strength to tip him on to her bed. It meant she would be the one to sleep rough for a while, but her medical training wouldn't let her tend him on the unswept floor, as long as it could be avoided. Besides, chances were he would not last long..
Wishing she could go to sleep right now, she started her examination. After all, she had to know. First his face.. she frowned. There was some redness around his closed lashes, but nothing like the acid burns she had seen on some other victims of similar exposure. Gently, she raised one eyelid to check, but there was no obvious damage. Odd. She thought about taking a blood sample, but she had no means of analysing it. Well, if his red corpuscles were multiplying, there was nothing she could do for him anyway. Should she try to reconnect one of the cameras, to let the Smoker know? As if he would help. Most likely, he'd simply write Alex off as expendable. Besides, once his alien minion made his report, the old man would know anyway. She did not have to inform him.
She had got Krycek's parka and jacket off by now - she feared the process had been hard on his stab wound, but she wasn't strong enough to be gentle. She started in on his shirt. It was dark - whether navy or black she couldn't tell in the bad light - and she had no way of detecting any blood stains on it. Because of the climate, she had half expected him to wear an undershirt, but apparently all the layers he needed were worn outside the shirt. Well, it made things a little easier. Gently, she bared his chest and was surprised to find it entirely smooth. With his colouring and going by his eye-brows and forearm, she would have expected at least some hair. The absence of it made him seem strangely vulnerable.
She pushed the shirt off his left shoulder and saw the wound. Not good; it looked decidedly infected. So soon? What the hell had been on the shape shifter's blade? Maybe he didn't clean it between victims.. Well, all she could do for now was wash the wound, but at least she'd do that much. She got Krycek out of his shirt with some effort and went for disinfectant and bandages.
She wasn't sure the injury was responding to her ministrations, but she felt better now that she was doing something about it. After putting on the bandages, she sat watching over him for a while. The fake arm looked detachable, but she wasn't sure how to go about it. The juncture was inelegant; clearly marked due to deviating colour and visible technology. The prosthetic might well be uncomfortable if left on for long periods of time, but she really couldn't tell, better leave it alone for now. She could always keep an eye out for skin irritations around the juncture. She smiled a little sadly. He was very slightly asymmetric; the muscles in his left side and shoulder less well defined than the ones on his right. She wondered how much effort and persistence it had taken to keep them as tuned as they actually were. How did he do it - special workout tools or odd, acrobatic movements? More to the point, why? Was it really necessary to the kind of life he led, or was it just vanity? Vanity was the last thing she would have expected from Krycek. Probably one of the many luxuries he could not afford.
She considered the antibiotics in the medical cabinet, but they were pills. He was deeply unconscious, there was no way she could make him swallow anything. In the end she just covered him up so he'd stay warm. She dragged in his mattress from the café, partly because it was warmer in the main living quarters, but mainly to be close to her patient in case there was any change during the night. Then she collapsed on her makeshift bedding and slept till noon the next day.
Syndicate surveillance cabin, November 6th, 4:14 a m
"Well", Diana said, "It looks as if we can finally close up shop."
Thin veils of smoke were idly seeking their way to the ceiling behind her. "What makes you say that?"
She gestured toward the single, still functioning screen. The one connected to the LLC, showing Krycek unconscious on the bed in the main room. The camera was functioning well in the low light, the picture coming through clear and almost sharp. "He's dying, isn't that obvious?"
The smoker smiled. There was even an unmistakable glitter in his eyes. "Now who's giving up too soon? But that's right, you never saw the reports from Romania, did you?"
"I didn't know we were doing any work in Romania. I suppose that means I had no need to know."
He leant over her shoulder to watch the screen. His cigarette was wafting smoke in her face. "He's sleeping", he said. "Some kind of healing trance, I imagine. It might take a while, but he'll pull through. Alex is quite strong, you know", he remarked, his tone only half implying that he had had cause to regret that fact. He straightened, took a long pull on his cigarette and added thoughtfully, "Of course, there could have been rat poison on the blade.."
Diana craned her neck to stare up at him. "Rat poison?"
"Figure of speech."
Forest way station, November 6th, noon
Scully awoke in broad daylight - as broad as it ever got this time of year. Her dreams had been strange and confused, involving aliens and Mulder and a freight train, shaped like a Morley cigarette. Good thing she didn't remember any more than that. She checked briefly on Krycek and changed his bandage, but there was no improvement. The wound did not look any worse though, even if it was still infected. It worried her that he was still in a coma. It made it fairly impossible to get any nourishment into him; needless to say, there was no IV equipment around. Also, brain damage was a distinct possibility if he kept this up.
She made breakfast for herself and ate it, staring at him the while. The silence was harder to bear than she would have thought. Having him there, but not present.. Suddenly she couldn't stand it any longer. She needed some air. She wouldn't be gone long.
There had been no snow since yesterday, and what traces remained were still visible. The tracks from Anderson's snowmobile ran on for a while, then they were suddenly doubled. As she had half surmised, the shape shifter must have taken both vehicles. Well, he looked capable. There were stains in the snow, some red, some a faded green. No body. Maybe Anderson hadn't been killed after all. She sighed. No use deceiving herself. Alex wouldn't have missed, even in the dark. The alien must have taken the body. Probably loaded it on to the spare snowmobile and taken that in tow somehow. Idly, she wondered why. It wasn't as if a dead body could be used as evidence, except possibly against Alex. Maybe the creature simply wasn't brought up to leave a mess.
Tiredly, she returned to the station. Her patient was lying as before, but just as she pulled the door closed, she thought he stirred a little. She walked over to him, pulled off her glove and put her hand on his forehead. He was flaming hot. Damn. She warmed her hand a little and tried again, but he was still hot, his face so flushed she could not make out the red marks around his eyes. She checked on the wound again. It was changing, and she could not even tell if it was for better or for worse. It looked darker than before, almost black around the edges. She thought about antibiotics again, and even aspirins, but the problem remained, she could not get him to swallow anything, and there was nothing injectable in the cabinet. Finally, she picked up the two buckets and went back out.
She kept him packed in snow all through the day. It soaked the bed, but right now she couldn't care less. Once the snow came into contact with him, it melted quickly, and she had to bring in more. But it seemed to work. As far as she could tell, his temperature was no longer rising. She didn't think it was subsiding, but at least it wasn't rising. There was a thermometer in the cabinet, but it was an old mercury model, and the liquid metal bar was split in two, with one elongated drop stuck firmly off scale. She doubted the thing had been functional since the fifties. Toward evening, she changed the bedclothes as best she could, mainly by removing the wettest layers of mattresses and sleeping bags and leaving the dryer ones in. She did it by rolling the things in and out under him, hospital style. No need to break her back trying to lift him. As far as she could tell, the snow was all that had wet the bed. It worried her, but after all, he had had no liquid going in. And that in itself was yet another cause for worry..
She slumped beside him, her face in her hands. How could she ever have hoped to deal with something like this alone, and with only the barest bones of a first aid kit? After a while she lifted her head. "Damn you", she said succinctly, staring out into the darkening room, pretending some camera was still back on and that she was looking straight into it. "I'm paying you a compliment, do you hear? Damn you to hell.."
He was still burning up as she went to bed, but if she did not get any sleep, she wouldn't be any help to him in the morning. Provided she was still needed then. She slept fitfully though, waking up every other hour or so, to check on him. There never was any change. She could only hope that was good news.
Toward morning, he stirred. She was at his side in an instant, but the movement was not repeated. The room was dark, with the sole exception of a small lamp she had left on in a corner. She squeezed his real hand hard and remained like that for a while, sitting on the edge of the bed, hoping. A Sarah MacLachlan tune started coursing through her head, nothing she had heard on the jukebox, it was too recent:
Now you're sleeping peaceful, I lie awake and pray
(that) you'll be strong tomorrow, and we'll see another day..
Had she really come to believe her survival depended on Krycek? She didn't know. She hadn't prayed for him yet though. Maybe she should. She had always hated to lose a patient. Maybe that was part of the reason she had come to concentrate on the ones already lost..
She slipped down from the bed to kneel on the cold floor beside it. But she did not fold her hands. One of them was still holding Krycek's, and somehow she could not bear to let go. After all, that was what all her prayers were about now. Not letting go.
An hour later, she awoke with a start and realized she had better go back to her mattress. It was too cold, kneeling on the floor. Gently, she detached her hand. He caught it again immediately, and she stared at him in shock. His eyes were open, almost black in the faint light. "N'e pokeen' m'enya", he whispered, and though she could not understand the words, she thought he looked frightened.
With a sigh, she slipped back into her former position, leaning her head on the bed. Her hand was caught firmly in his.
Mulder was on his knees, shaking.
Images flicked on around the room. Screens hidden in shadows. One showed Mulder as a boy, watching his sister vanishing into the night. Another showed him by a hospital bed, his face in his hands. On the bed was a well wrapped, almost swept Scully on life support. Yet others showed him crying over a mysteriously drowned Lucy Householder, over a flannel heart, over his comatose mother, his recently murdered father.
"Well?" said the man who had styled himself inquisitor. His voice was suddenly sharp. "Are you the boy who mislaid his sister? The man who abandoned his partner once too many? Who ruined many lives in order to save a pathetic few? Who let his parents down and went in pursuit of his obsession?" The voice grew more highly strung by the moment, and the acoustics of the room complimented it.
Mulder groaned, burying his face in his still cuffed hands. The inquisitor barked a short laugh.
"I see you plead guilty. Mea maxima culpa. But are you really all these men? What if you are none of them? What if you can stand up on your own two feet, even take a few steps forward?"
Mulder remained where he was, softly sobbing.
"Who do you think wants your guilt?" the inquisitor roared at him with sudden vehemence. "Not I. I'd rather have your responsibility. Oh, but that's true, guilt absolves you of responsibility, doesn't it? How convenient. Feeling bad and getting a pat on the head by your mother, your god? And then you won't have to stand up and say, I did this, and I meant it!"
Mulder finally looked up at his tormentor. "You think I meant to do that?" He gestured toward the screens.
"Weren't you seeking the truth? Well then, what matter a few lives along the way? Nothing can be allowed to stand in the way of a truth-seeker. A chosen one.."
"You're twisting it all around.."
The inquisitor beamed at him. "No, in fact I'm trying to unravel it. But you've made that next to impossible."
"Look, if this is about my hidden motives.."
That earned him a quick burst of electricity. "I care little whether your motives are hidden or not. As long as they are known to you."
Mulder's shirt had come undone somewhere in the course of his lengthy interrogation, exposing damp curls on his chest. Forlornly, he used a shirttail to wipe his face. Whether of sweat or tears he could no longer tell. "What do you want?" he asked. It came out more like a plea than an actual question.
The damned cuffs started burning him again. Soon he was writhing on the floor, screaming in agony.
"Never ask me that", the being told him curtly. The pain stopped.
Intrigued against his will, indeed against his survival instinct, Mulder asked, "Why not?"
"Because I ask the questions", the man said, and Mulder could have sworn he was hiding something.
The images changed, most of them darkening into nothing, leaving only one. Scully dying of cancer, Mulder on his knees by her bed, agonizing. Apparently this wasn't going to get any easier.
"Are you crying over her?" the inquisitor wanted to know. "Or over yourself?"
"How am I supposed to know that?" Mulder taunted him. "You keep telling me I don't know who I am." He braced himself for another jolt, but it did not come. For a moment, he thought the inquisitor was actually smiling. Then he heard the cold voice and knew he had been mistaken.
"I tell you nothing. I ask you. Who are you? Evading the question won't bring any answers, neither to me nor to you. Over whom were you crying?"
Mulder found himself faced with the scene in the hospital room. He did not want to look at it, but somehow he had to. Deep down he knew the answer. But he had been playing his cards close to his chest all his life, he could not throw away all caution now, especially in front of this man, this - torturer. And yet - he could not lie either. The time for lies was past.
"Over her", he said truthfully. "She means a great deal to me."
The inquisitor nodded. "Would you die for her?"
"Am I being asked to die?"
The pain lashed through him, but only briefly.
"I told you not to evade the questions. It's tedious and time consuming. Would you die for her?"
"'Yes'. Yes, of course you would. You'd die for anyone, without thinking twice. Is guilt so hard to bear? You might not believe me, but responsibility is actually much lighter. However, it has a certain disadvantage. It doesn't often lead to splendid martyrdom."
"You're a very small man", Mulder tried.
The inquisitor took that in his stride. "Yes, I've been called that before." He looked down at the kneeling Mulder. "And yet here I stand, taller than you."
Mulder was about to ask, what do you want from me? but thought better of it. Instead, he just shrugged. "I told you the truth."
The inquisitor looked bored. "Yes, I believe you did. Pity. For a while there, I thought I glimpsed something, but - no. Well, under the circumstances, I can hardly blame her. Can you?"
The image changed again - into one that had almost the same composition as its predecessor. But this time the woman was the one kneeling in apparent despair beside the bed, and the man was on it. Scully and - Krycek.
Mulder erupted to his feet and stood for a moment, swaying. "Dammit, why are you doing this? What do you get out of it, you sick sonofabitch? I told you already - I love her! I love her, what more do you need to know?"
The inquisitor shook his head sadly. "No, I don't think you do. In fact, I think you love only yourself."
"I told you the truth!"
"Yes, your truth. But frankly, I don't think you'd recognize the truth if it hit you over the head."
Mulder locked eyes with him. They stood like that for a while, neither of them wavering. Finally Mulder said, "You're wrong about me. Dead wrong."
The being bowed slightly, accepting the challenge. "Then prove it to me", he said airily. "There will be no time limit, other than your allotted life span. Prove it to me before you die, that's all I ask."
Mulder nodded, keeping his temper in check. "Where can I find you?"
"You don't need to find me. I'll find you. Oh by the way - when you do prove yourself to me, please do so without unnecessary theatricals.."
Look who's talking, Mulder thought. Clear case of projection if I ever saw one.
"..There is a fine line between vulnerability and narcissism", the being concluded.
The cuffs opened and fell to the floor. Somehow the inquisitor gathered them up without moving. Mulder could see them vanish into his pocket. Maybe this was not the bounty hunter in disguise after all.
"Who are you?" he asked, quietly.
The inquisitor smiled. "I'll give you exactly what you have given me. The name is Sebastian."
And with that, he was gone.
Forest way station, November 16th
Krycek was still weak, but definitely on the mend. He hadn't slipped back into his coma, even if he hadn't exactly been fully conscious either. His temperature was almost back to normal, and there were no traces of red around his eyes. Even the wound looked better, though it seemed likely to leave a black scar for some reason.
On his first lucid day he was sitting up in bed, eating soup from a bowl Scully was holding for him. She eyed him critically. He still wasn't strong enough, she could see that he was trembling with the effort of staying upright, even if he was doing his damnedest not to let on. Eventually she sighed and moved to readopt the method she had been using this past week, propping him against her while she fed him.
But he shook his head. "No, it's okay. Just help me stay up, will you? I can do the rest."
She did as she was asked, placed herself close to him, still holding the bowl while he ate. Neither of them mentioned it, but she was pretty sure he could have supported himself if his other arm had been any good.
"How long was I out of it?" he asked.
"Ten days. Today's the 16th."
He ate in silence for a while, then, "You've been doing this all along?"
"Doing what, feeding you? Well, as soon as I could get anything down your throat without choking you.."
"Dressed like that?" he wondered a little too innocently.
She looked down at her shirt. It was oversized, one she used only for a nightgown. The buttons didn't start until way below her neck. Also, at the moment it was all she was wearing.
She sighed, torn between exasperation and relief that he was well enough to be exasperating. "Krycek, you're too sick to care."
He grinned at that, but he did not push the issue. After a while he asked, "Why did you take care of me?"
"I'm a doctor, remember?" The words sounded cold even to herself, but he seemed to accept them. There was something tragic about the way he had to look a gift horse in the mouth. Always double-check on a favour, before he could even thank anyone for saving his life. If anything good came to him with no strings attached, he would probably always mistrust it.
He finished his soup, and she set the bowl aside on the floor. She'd pick it up later. It was hard to leave his warmth for the icy room. She had kept the radiators low for a while now, so as not to aggravate his fever.
He passed his hand over his face briefly. The scratch marks were almost gone by now.
"Did you shave me too?"
Of course he would notice.
"Once or twice. Didn't think it would make that much difference, it was sort of a losing battle. But I guess you'd be more overgrown if I hadn't."
"Could you do it again? Please? This is kind of itchy."
Her eyes challenged him. "You trust me?"
"We have a truce, remember? Besides, it wouldn't make much sense for you to save my life only to take it. And, you've already wielded that razor twice and I'm still alive." His tone was bantering, stating the obvious, but she had no doubt the reminder was in earnest.
"Aren't you well enough to do it yourself now?"
He grimaced. "Still a bit shaky. As you said, you're a doctor. Your hand would be steady with a knife."
She nodded and slipped out of bed to get his razor. It was the old-fashioned kind and too sharp to be safe. She had no doubt it had seen other uses at times than it was designed for, but right now she did not feel like asking. She used no soap so as not to make a mess, but he did not complain.
"Where did you learn?" he asked once.
"I grew up with a father and two brothers. I used to watch them. The procedure seemed simple enough. Of course, a little knowledge of anatomy comes in handy."
After she was done, she got up to put away the razor, then she finally picked up the bowl and spoon too and placed them in the sink, splashing water on them. All the while, she felt his eyes in the back. He had lain back down, but he was still watching her.
She turned. "What?"
"Nothing. But I still haven't thanked you for saving my life."
He smiled a little. "Did I talk in my sleep?"
"I don't think you were spilling any state secrets. If so, I couldn't understand them anyway."
"I was speaking Russian?"
She came back to stand by his bed, looking almost kindly at him. "I think so. I didn't get the words, but the meaning was pretty clear. I think you were asking me not to leave you." She sat down, taking his hand. "I thought I'd lost you", she said. "In fact, I still don't know why I didn't."
His eyes were very green in the greyish daylight. Carefully, she leaned over him to give him a kiss on the forehead, the kind of sisterly caress she had sometimes treated Mulder to. But Krycek quickly detached his hand from hers, got his arm around her and pulled her down on him. Her lips were firmly against his before she knew it, and he seemed intent on keeping them there. She opened her mouth to protest, and his tongue darted in like a viper, taking every advantage of the opportunity.
When he finally let her breathe, she disentangled herself as fast as she could and got up - on somewhat shaky legs. She didn't trust herself to speak even to yell at him.
But this time, she hadn't scratched him.
Syndicate surveillance cabin, November 16th
"See? It won't be long now." Diana leaned back in her chair, looking pleased. "Sure you won't send another repair team?"
The smoker dug through his pockets, came up with a somewhat shapeless Morley packet. "Not yet. I'd rather let them think we've forgotten all about them. Besides, the next time they're looking for things to disable, they might find the LLC. I'd like to keep that. It's been quite useful, wouldn't you say?"
"But we have no sound."
He brought a lighter to the tip of his cigarette, applying the flame slowly and carefully. "You'll have to do without."
Diana looked up hastily. "Me? Where are you going?"
"You have no need to know. Be glad you don't." Answering the question she had not yet asked, he added, "I'm leaving today. With luck, I'll be back in the spring. Maybe sooner."
For a moment, she watched the smoke floating about the small room. It would be nice to be rid of that for a few months. "I'm to keep up the surveillance here?"
He smiled thinly. "You have proved yourself eminently suited."
For some reason, that incensed her. Mainly because of his tone. Why did he always sound as if he were insinuating something? "You're missing the best part, you know."
"I'll catch it later." He paused, as if something had just occurred to him. "You sound very sure."
She nodded toward the screen. "After going through so much for someone, it's hard to keep convincing yourself you don't care."
Forest way station, November 21st
"I must say I never thought I'd see you on your feet again." Scully pushed a pawn across the midline of the board, hoping to sneak it past Krycek's knight.
"Likewise, back when you were out of it." He snatched her pawn and she sighed in frustration. "Check. I didn't think you'd make it without pieces missing. Hell of a recovery."
"As was yours. Any theories on that?" She moved her king. There wasn't anything else left to do.
He hesitated for a moment, then he said, "Guess you're entitled to them. Besides, I already told you I'm immune to the Black Oil."
"Is there a connection?"
"I think so. I think I may be immune to other alien substances as well."
She looked up from the board. "That why the shape shifter's blood didn't kill you?"
He moved his knight again, without checking her this time. "What blood?"
"That green acid that flows out of them whenever they sustain puncture wounds. That isn't their blood?"
He shook his head. "No, it's a defence mechanism, like skunks or porcupines have. They start oozing it to disable any attacker who might do them actual harm."
"And it isn't harmful to them?"
Again, he hesitated. "I'm not sure I should tell you this, but then you might need to know some day. It can't harm them as long as it doesn't get into their bloodstream. The only way for it to do that is.. you know about the special weapon against them?"
"Of course. That's what he used on you."
Krycek closed his eyes briefly. "Damn, that's true. It must have been coated.."
"Something like that. Anyway, that green stuff is generated by a gland at the back of the neck. What's the matter?"
Scully shook her head. A painful memory had just surfaced unbidden. A small girl, with what looked like a fistula at the back of her neck. Oozing green acid.. "Nothing. Would this be true of any alien-human hybrid?"
"As far as I know. Probably some of the other crossbreeds too. The only way to kill them is by stabbing them in the neck, and it takes precision, because the weapon must penetrate the gland as well as the major vein that runs just past it. That will pollute their entire circulatory system with the acid, which will then dissolve them."
Scully shuddered. "I've seen the effect." So that was what had happened to the young woman Mulder had for a time thought was his sister. "Cold seems to slow it down."
Krycek nodded. "Yeah, I've heard that."
"So this is why that weapon is the only thing that can kill them?"
"It isn't. In theory, you can kill them with anything that's long, sharp and precise enough. All it takes is for it to penetrate both the gland and the vein. A bullet could do it, but you'd have to be really lucky. The switchspike is specially designed. All you have to do is aim it right."
He shrugged. "What would you call it? Looks like a switchblade, only it isn't."
"Why poison it?"
"It isn't necessary, so it's not always done. But the Syndicate developed a substance - quite by accident, a byproduct of their hybrid research - that will speed up the contamination process considerably. You'd still have to get your aim right, but if you do, death is instantaneous. The sheath can hold the substance, coating the blade automatically as it's triggered." He caught her look. "The wonder of science. Anyway, my guess is that because I'm immune to the Black Oil, the green acid doesn't have much effect on me either, it's almost as if I were one of the aliens."
Scully's eyes grew wide and turquoise. "That's what he thought! The shape shifter! When his acid didn't seem to have any effect on you, he thought maybe you were a hybrid too - a clone possibly - so he used the blade on you instead!"
Krycek looked doubtful. "He'd have aimed for my neck, not my shoulder."
"He did, but he missed. Don't you remember?"
"Vaguely. Some miss.." Krycek tried to move his shoulder, and for a moment, there was no mistaking the pain in his eyes. "Damn, I need those shoulder muscles. I'm pretty useless this way."
"You'll heal. It looks clean enough now. Kind of black around the edges though."
"You can't see antibodies with the naked eye."
He glared at her. "The effect of them." He shook his head slightly. "Damn, he was nearly right. The poison wouldn't have harmed a normal human. But because I had had the Black Oil in me.. Guess it would have been the end of anyone who was merely inoculated. But because it left me of its own accord, I carry the natural antibodies. So I pulled through. With some effort and your help." He grinned briefly. "Mulder won't thank you for that."
She looked down at the board without seeing it. "I couldn't let you die."
"No? Why not?"
"The Hippocratic oath", she said curtly.
"You're an agent with the FBI."
"It wasn't a defence situation." Idly, she moved a bishop.
"You can't do that. You're in check."
She glared briefly at him and changed her move, pushing a pawn forward instead. She hated to admit it, but he unnerved her. What the hell did he have to keep kissing her for? Granted, he had only done it twice, and he had explained both incidents. The first time had been to annoy their watchers, the other he was just 'thanking her properly' as he put it. She didn't believe it for a minute. There had been too much hunger in that kiss. He might not have gone without for as long as she had, but she had no doubt he was often starved enough to pounce on any opportunity. Maybe she should have scratched him the second time too.
"The alien seemed confused by your scratch marks", she said. "As if he expected them to be green."
"More likely, he didn't expect them at all", Krycek said. "They're fast healers. Like you."
"I'm not a hybrid."
"Never said you were. Check."
She blinked at the board. Then she folded her king. "Guess my heart isn't in it today."
"Something bothering you?" He didn't sound overly concerned. In fact, she was pretty sure he knew.
She stood. "No, just tired." She went to get a glass of water.
But he rose too, and he was beside her in an instant, putting his arm around her. She froze, calculating her chances. His shoulder was still bad, and he couldn't have regained his full strength yet. Maybe there was still a chance she could get out of this. "What do you want, Krycek?"
"No. The question is, what do you want, Dana?"
"Don't call me Dana."
"Fine. Just thought that was your name. But, seeing as how we'll have a hard time avoiding each other, maybe we should decide where we stand. The cameras are gone, there'll be no play for the gallery."
"Get your hand off me."
He did, even taking a step backward to give her space.
"..so I can think", she found herself saying. "You're not well enough, Krycek."
"But I'll get there. And then what? They haven't been back. What if they won't be? We might be stuck here for months yet."
He could be right. It wasn't as if she hadn't considered it, lately. Who'd know if she were - sleeping with the enemy for a time? It certainly wasn't any business of Mulder's. It wouldn't bring her any closer to Krycek than she already was. And there was no way it could affect her loyalties.
"Just give me time, okay? I need to think this through."
If that surprised him, he covered it well. "You already have, and apparently it didn't help. But maybe you need time to feel it through."
"This isn't about feelings. It's about not getting on each other's nerves. As I said, I need time to think. And you need time to get well. Let's not bring it up again for a couple of weeks, okay?"
He nodded. "Fine with me." He gave her a long, green look. "It means a lot to me that you're even considering it. Thanks."
Somehow, that did nothing to ease her mind. "Then what if I say no?"
He caught on immediately. "Keep the vodka away from me, and you'll be safe enough."
That wasn't the answer she had been looking for. But, it would have to do.
Scully was cutting Krycek's hair. She tried to do a decent job, even though he had said he didn't care as long as she kept it out of his face. Her own had grown too, a bit longer than she liked to keep it these days, but she didn't trust him with the scissors. He might have many unforeseen talents, but somehow she strongly doubted his skills as a barber. She wasn't that good herself, but she had agreed when he asked her. If she were to be completely honest with herself, she liked being close to him as long as it was safe.
When she was done, she gave him an approving look, pretending to admire her handiwork.
"Much as I hate to admit it, you are an attractive man, Krycek."
"I am?" His surprise seemed genuine, and she wondered how that could be. How could he meet those green, long-lashed eyes in the mirror every morning and not realize their impact?
"Well, in that case.." He spun around without getting up from the chair, caught her around the waist and pulled her on to his lap quickly enough to send the scissors flying through the room only to land with a clang in the sink.
Scully was about to protest his reckless behaviour, but his mouth was already on hers, continuing the voracious exploration she had had a taste of twice before. She pushed against his chest, while fully realizing the futility of her gesture. He was not holding back any more, and there was no way now she'd get out of this.
Just as she thought he hadn't even noticed her resistance, he drew back his head, a clear thread of saliva still connecting their mouths. "What?" he asked in a voice so husky it didn't quite carry. "Having second thoughts?"
She shook her head. "No, I just needed to breathe."
He chuckled slightly, an odd, sobbing sound, and hugged her close. For a moment, she was actually glad he only had one arm. She might have feared for her spine otherwise. "Krycek, there's no rush this time", she complained. "Are you always this desperate?"
"Sorry", he said, but he didn't look it. It was only the fourth time she had seen that sunny smile, and she was already becoming addicted to it. "Guess I just couldn't believe my luck."
"Luck has nothing to do with it", she said firmly, almost primly. "This is a well-considered decision. A few days early, but still."
He laughed, surprising her because she had never heard him do that before. In fact, she could have sworn he didn't know how. He stood up from the chair, and for a moment he was carrying her in one arm, holding her against him with her feet dangling off the floor. Then he set her down and began awkwardly to remove his clothes.
She realized that undressing each other might not be entirely practical under the circumstances, so she got out of her own clothes without ceremony, leaving them on the floor as some sort of protest against her official self, which had always been very neat.
Krycek was taking longer to get out of his jeans, and she noticed that he was staring at her. She thought it odd; after all, he had seen her before. Most of her, anyway. The stark, green hunger in his eyes frightened her a little. She was going into this willingly, but was it really possible to go through with it unscathed?
"If I changed my mind now, would you accept that?" she asked. She had no doubt it was the wrong thing to say, but she just had to know.
"Are you?" he asked gravelly, his eyes almost frightened.
"Am I what? Changing my mind? No, but I think I need to know if I still can."
"I don't know", he said with chilling honesty. "It might be too late." Suddenly it dawned on him what she was asking. She needed to feel safe. "I won't hurt you though", he said. "Well, not willingly anyway."
She could have done without the amendment, but for some reason his honesty always got to her. There was something so touching about it, in someone like him.
He was out of his jeans now, standing in his shirt and underwear only. She found she could not take her eyes off his long, powerful legs; his inner thigh muscles were particularly intriguing, she thought. And those graceful feet - if anyone had told her what beautiful feet Krycek had, would she have believed them? Pity men didn't go barefoot more often. Of course, the climate..
Cautiously, she approached him. She held up a hand to ward off any sudden attacks and managed to get close enough to start unbuttoning his shirt. She had no doubt he had learned to do it single-handedly, but she supposed it might take him a while. The shirt was dark green - she could not recall having seen him in any light colours lately. She undid the last buttons, taking a good look at him. On an impulse, she leant her head against his smooth chest, then gave it a long lick from his waistband to the hollow of his throat. She had to strain a little to reach all the way, but she managed, just barely. He groaned most satisfactorily. She sidestepped quickly as he reached for her, then she started to take off his shirt. His hand caught hers, and he shook his head. "Please don't."
It amazed her that he would ask, not just order her off. At the same time, she was a little disappointed. "Krycek, I don't mind."
"Look, I've seen it before."
"I know you have. Just humour me, okay?"
She nodded. "All right, you can keep it on. But I must say I never expected you to have a vanity problem."
"Maybe I have a problem with pity."
"You shouldn't. Pity can often be the start of something - quite fascinating."
He flashed her a quick grin, but this time it didn't reach his eyes. As if to dismiss his worries, he caught her to him again and kissed her, slow and lingering for a change. She noticed that he was taking care to hold her so that her naked breasts lay flush against his skin, and she was doing everything to help, relishing the sensation as much as he did. She basked in his body heat, absorbing it into her own skin. His scent aroused her; to some extent it always had, ever since she noticed it that first day in the elevator. She had not been conscious of it before, but quite possibly it was the main reason she could be around him for so long, yet never fear him. She could not fear someone she - wanted.
Finally, he got out of his underwear, and she was wondering if maybe she should have second thoughts after all. He was only at half mast at the moment, probably due to the sudden chill, but even so.. She was seriously wondering if she'd really be able to accommodate him at his - peak. Still, he had said he wouldn't hurt her. Willingly.
He half shoved her towards the bed, and she lay down, grabbing hold of the blankets and pulling them up, since breaking contact with his skin made her feel cold again. He gave her a quick peck on the cheek. "Be right back."
She heard him turn on the water in the shower, and lay wondering briefly what he was up to. Then she realized. He was not circumcised, so he was washing first. Somehow, she had never expected that kind of consideration from him, especially after his desperation earlier. It gave her something else to think about though. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all. Obviously, he was not planning on any kind of protection. Maybe he didn't even have any. She knew she had not; the last ones she had been carrying around had dried up and she had thrown them out just before leaving for Harting airfield in October.
He came back and got into bed with her, pulling the blankets around them both. The bed creaked considerably, and for a moment she wondered if it would hold. She could feel his long member against her thigh, and she thought she had better bring up the matter now, before it was too late - in case it wasn't already.
"You didn't give any thought to - protection? I'm all out."
He was lying half on top of her, supporting himself on his good arm. His green stare seemed amused rather than disenchanted, which was a relief. "Dana, I hate to remind you, but you don't need any protection. You can't get pregnant."
The cold statement angered and saddened her. He was at fault for all the calamities that had befallen her these past six years, and he dismissed them so lightly. What had she been thinking, getting this close to him? "Don't call me Dana", she said curtly. "This isn't that kind of relationship."
He nodded, accepting her condition without rancour. Maybe she was being too harsh after all. His life had been ruined too, and he dismissed his own misfortunes just as readily as hers. Didn't that account for something? "I only meant", she clarified, "I don't know where you've been."
He just looked at her. "Scully, I'm not suicidal."
She glared back. "Okay, but you don't know where I've been."
He actually smiled at that, and she felt ready to hit him. "But I do, Scully. You haven't been anywhere lately, you told me so yourself."
"I did not! All I said was, I hadn't been with.." For some reason, it was impossible to bring up Mulder's name right now.
Krycek shifted a little, to support his chin on his hand, while still propping most of his weight on his elbow. The movement brought the tip of his member in direct contact with her clitoris, and she wondered if he had planned it. Probably.
"And that was the only thing I didn't know. I told you it came as a surprise. The rest - well, your life is on file, Scully. All I had to do was look it up."
She supposed that indicated some interest on his part, but she resented it all the same. He picked that moment to shift again, and this time there was no doubt about what he was trying to do. "Stop it", she said.
He leant a little heavier on her, impeding her breathing slightly. "Scully, I'm not going to stop now."
She stared into his eyes, belligerently she hoped, but she knew he could read her arousal there too, plain as day. He certainly didn't seem in any way discouraged. This close, she noticed two fine scars on his face, two almost invisible white lines. One ran along the right side of his nose, marring it just enough to make it more interesting. The other ran slantwise across his lips, as if to draw her attention to their admittedly intriguing shape.
She took the opportunity to cease fire. Gently, she traced the scars with her finger, and he kissed her fingertip as it passed across his lower lip. "How did you get those?"
"Someone you know", he said. "Don't ask."
"Mulder?" Suddenly she could speak the name with no ill effects. "What did he do to you?"
Krycek looked away briefly, she couldn't tell if he was embarrassed or not. "He hit me with a telephone handset. I told you not to ask."
She couldn't help it, she started to giggle. "I'm sorry", she gasped in-between her small outbursts of mirth, not sounding for one minute as if she meant it.
"You'll be damned sorry if you don't stop that", he threatened, but he was smiling, and she did not feel in the least intimidated.
Until she felt his fingers on the very tip of her right nipple - lightly, electrifying. She tensed, momentarily cold with fear.
"Don't worry", he whispered, "I do have control of it. I told you I wouldn't hurt you." His mechanical hand continued its light caress, and she shivered. "I didn't think you'd notice. Sorry." But he still did not remove his hand.
Of course she had noticed. Since he only had his artificial hand free, and he was touching her on the right side, she'd be hard put not to notice. Other than that, she had to admit it was highly pleasurable. He was quite skilled with that thing - perhaps he really did have control of it. Then again..
"Why?" she asked. "I mean - you can't feel what you're doing, can you?"
He smiled, a little sadly, she thought. "No, but you can."
From the pressure on her nether regions, it seemed that the idea was getting to him, whether he could feel what his fingers were up to or not. He lowered his head then, putting his lips to her other nipple, just lightly at first, then taking more of her breast into his mouth, sucking hard. She groaned and dug her fingers into his hair, not knowing whether to try and pull him away or to hold him closer. His left hand was cupping her right breast now, but gentler than his mouth; his control still held.
Gradually, he began to move down on her, kissing her belly lightly on the way. She realized what he was about to do, and she got a firm grip on his hair - wishing she had not cut it so recently. He stopped, looking up at her.
"Don't serve me, Krycek", she said succinctly. "I want no debts between us." She saw the quick spark of green anger, and amended, "Besides, you're leaving me out in the cold. It's lonely up here."
As he moved back up to lie alongside her, she quickly shifted to be on top. She wasn't being entirely unselfish; this way he'd have two hands for her. From the way he was using his right one now, she gathered that he had indeed missed the touch before. His left one stayed on her, but it wasn't doing much at the moment. His right touched both her breasts alternately, now and then pinching her nipples lightly, just enough to tease her, not to numb. Once, he flicked his fingers against her erect nipple, and she nearly yelped, not because it hurt, but because the sensation was so unexpected - and hard to define. She liked it, but she was not quite ready to ask him to do it again.
She straddled him, a little higher than he might have wanted, where she could just feel his tip poking at her tail bone. Then she bent down to brush his lips lightly with hers. He tried to hold on to her, to deepen the kiss, but she dodged his hand and repeated the touch, just softly, teasing the sensitive skin. She had the impression his kisses were always voracious, demanding, taking as much as he could before it was gone, and she was determined to teach him something else. She flicked her tongue briefly across his lips, then moved down to his left nipple, bothering it with her teeth.
Apparently, he was not in the mood for lessons. Suddenly she was underneath again, this time pinned under his body, as he needed his right hand for other things. He was pressing down hard above her groin, just short of the bone. She moaned. Maybe he was right, maybe this was not the time for playing around. It had been a long time - for her certainly, and she suspected it was the same for him. He slipped a finger inside her, checking, finding her G-spot and rubbing it. She roared at him and tried to squirm off, she tried to tell him she wouldn't be able to go on if he kept that up, but she wasn't any too coherent and she doubted he got the message. He entered her properly then, filling her all the way, even pushing against her cervix, causing her exquisite pain, indistinguishable from the pleasure she was also feeling.
He wedged his hand in between them, trying to get at her clitoris, but she shook her head. "No!" she gasped, "Don't rush it, and don't distract me!"
He pulled his hand back out, taking some of his weight on it, and she breathed more easily. She was now quite certain that his prosthetic arm could not support his weight. He would have to either lean on his live one, or crush her under him. Not very practical.
"Let me up", she said. "You don't have to hold me down, I won't run."
He stilled his movements and looked down at her, as if only half believing. Then he nodded and rolled them both around, getting back under her, while still keeping her thoroughly impaled. No playing around. He wasn't about to let go now, not even for a minute.
He was so deep inside her it almost hurt her to move, but it was a kind of pain she didn't know how she could have lived without for so long. A life-giving pain. Unknowingly, he aggravated it by holding her down, his right hand pressing down hard on her buttocks. She stifled a scream as she came, biting his shoulder to keep quiet. Not the injured one fortunately. He gasped all the same, but made no further sound. Used to quiet lovemaking while on the run, no doubt. A cold streak of jealousy passed through her at the thought, totally unexpected. He widened inside her, an involuntary warning of his climax, and for a moment she feared he would rupture her. Then he came, and she forgot everything as he filled her, in complete and trusting abandon.
She slumped on top of him, feeling his heart racing. "See?" she mumbled. "I don't like to scream.."
He chuckled a little and held her close. This wouldn't do. She'd just rest a while, then she'd go up and wash..
Hours later, she woke. He had shifted on to his side and they were no longer connected, but he was holding her tightly, and he was fast asleep. There was no way she could get up now without waking him. She could still feel his heart, a strong, steady rhythm. The room was dark now, with only the moonlight spilling in. Not yet a full moon, only just enough light to see his face, completely peaceful for once, his long, thick lashes shadowing his cheek bones. She marvelled at his complete trust in her. She wouldn't have expected him ever to sleep with more than one eye at a time, yet he seemed perfectly at ease now, after giving all of himself, recklessly. Making the most of the opportunity. As if, existing so constantly on the brink of death, he knew how to live whenever he had the chance. She could understand that. This, she did not quite know how to handle. Dammit, why did he have to be suddenly so trusting, so vulnerable? The wary assassin suddenly leaving himself wide open, just because she.. Belatedly, she realized that all her calculations had been wrong. It wasn't possible to come out of this unscathed. Or with her loyalties untouched. One thing she knew for sure. None of this would ever be entered into her journals.
In the morning, she surreptitiously checked herself for blood. She was relieved to find none. Okay, so she was unharmed. Physically anyway.
She hadn't meant for him to notice, didn't even think he was awake, but he was, and he did.
"Come on, I wasn't that rough on you, was I?"
"No, I - well, yes, actually."
He reached for her, and against her better judgment, she curled right back up inside the warmth of his embrace. She even pushed his shirt aside so she could rest her head on his bare chest. His scent was always distracting, and right now it was downright irresistible.
"I'm sorry", he said. "I didn't mean to hurt you. I hope you can believe that."
"Don't worry", she said. "I loved every minute of it." She sensed rather than heard his light chuckle, and she hated herself for what she had to say next. "We can't ever do this again though."
He drew back a little, looking sharply at her. "What's wrong?"
She could not meet those eyes right now. There was no way she could tell him the truth. Then in the end, she found she could not lie to him either. Not after all that trust.
"I was mistaken. I thought this wouldn't affect my loyalties."
She had hoped he would hear ..to the FBI, but he heard her right.
"To Mulder." He said it bitterly, and it was not a question.
She nodded, still without looking at him. "But it will", she said. "Or rather, it could."
"Then why not let it?" he exploded, and she had a feeling he would have hit something if she hadn't been in the way. "What hold does that guy have over you? Nothing quite sound anyway. What does he do to you that I don't? Don't I treat you badly enough? I'm sorry I haven't managed to ditch you yet, but if that's what it takes.."
"Alex", she said.
That stopped him short. "Okay, okay, never argue in bed. I guess I hear what you're saying. It's just a bit hard to live with, you know? You're saying you could have feelings for me, and just because of your damn principles I have to stand back for him - and the guy doesn't even bother to touch you!"
Finally, she looked into his eyes. "I see I made another serious mistake", she said. "I never stopped to think that you might care. I'm sorry. I never meant to hurt you. In fact, I didn't believe I could."
He stroked her hair gently. With his fake hand, because it was the one free at the moment. "I'll live", he said with a sigh. "I always do. If you say it was a mistake, then it was a mistake. But - if we're not to have this kind of relationship, can't you at least keep calling me Alex?"
"I haven't called you Alex."
"Yes you have. You do it when you don't think I can hear you. Or when you don't think, period."
She tried to remember. Truth to tell, he could be right. "I think I may have yelled it when the shape shifter attacked you. Because I remember you saying something - it was partly in Russian, but I gathered you didn't want me to call you by your first name."
He hugged her briefly. "I was just kidding. Stupid joke. In the old days, there were three levels of intimacy. Guess there still are, but people don't pay much attention to those things anymore. If you didn't know a person at all, you'd call them by their last name - familia. Your neighbours and other acquaintances, you'd address using imya and otchestvo - first name and patronymic. Imya alone was reserved for those closest to you - well, and kids of course. Never mind all that - feel free to call me Alyosha, if you like."
"I did read The Karamazov Brothers in my misguided youth", she said. "'Alyosha' sounds a little too saintly for you. I'll settle for 'Alex'."
"The Brothers Karamazov, I think", he said. "Brat'ya Karamazovy at any rate. Okay, 'Alex' will do fine." His eyes glittered briefly. "Of course, you realize that entitles me to call you Dana? Danushka? Even 'Danochka'?"
"Even? What's the difference?"
"Thanks, I'm not that little."
Glittering green mischief. "Oh yes, you are. What, nobody ever told you that?"
She swatted him - and was instantly afraid he would take it amiss. Or rather, that he would not take it amiss. Damn, but it was easy to relax around him. Literally.. Best not think of that right now. "'Dana' will be fine, thank you." She hoped that was true.
He swallowed slightly, suddenly serious. "I think you'd better get out of this bed now, Dana. In fact.. don't touch me for a few days, okay?"
It could have been an insult, but he was practically pleading. She nodded and got hastily out of his arms, making a beeline for the shower. How the hell had she ever imagined she'd be able to see this through..
The only seasonal music on the jukebox was a much worn rendition of Jingle Bells. After listening to it twice, Scully declared the ancient machine off limits for the holiday.
She wasn't any too clear about why she wanted to celebrate Christmas. Mulder might have blamed her Catholic upbringing, but she felt as if that had little or nothing to do with it. Krycek hadn't reacted to the date at all, it was just another day to him, until she pointed it out and suggested they commemorate it in some way.
Commemorate.. that was it. She must have had some inkling that sooner or later, this strange captivity would have to end. If Mulder wasn't looking for her, wouldn't Skinner be hard at it by now? She had called in sick for a week - by now she had been gone for close to three months. Mulder must think her abducted again, if he knew. If he hadn't been abducted himself. And Skinner.. but maybe he was content to believe anything the Smoker might tell him, these days. Somehow she found that hard to believe. The ex-marine was protective of those assigned to him. He would insist on making pickup.
Whatever happened, she could not really see herself sitting across a table from Krycek at this time next year. Or any other time, once they were out of here. Against her better judgment, she found that she wanted to remember this Christmas. There never would be another like it.
She gave the table a critical look. Not much as Christmas dinners went, just more dried rations, but they had both done their creative best, and even though Japanese noodle soup might not be a traditional starter, it smelled good. They even had whole candles. Most of the time, they would use a few of the many stumps lying about in decayed cardboard boxes in the store, but for today, the candles were fresh.
They sat down, and Krycek lit the candles. "Guess we'll have to do without the wine", he said. "It probably wouldn't have stored well in the cold anyway."
Scully gave him a long look. "With you, I'll settle for vodka."
His head dipped quickly, with a brief, snorting laugh. "That's not what you said last time."
"I must have lowered my standards since then." But she was smiling as she said it.
He looked up, and green met turquoise. Their smiles gradually died, as they looked at each other for a long time. Too long. Abruptly, Scully rose and went over to the cupboard under the sink, where the vodka had stood untouched for all these weeks. She held up the bottle. "Think this will be safe?"
As always, he caught her meaning at once. "There isn't enough of it to make it unsafe."
"Good. Then let's celebrate."
Later, they helped each other clear the table. They left the dishes to soak in the sink; washing up could wait. After all, this was supposed to be a holiday. Once, Scully touched Krycek in passing, letting her hand slide gently over his chest, then down and along his waist. She did it without thought, because it was so good to be near him, to feel his scent, the heat of his body..
She caught herself and gave him a half terrified look. "Sorry, I - I wasn't thinking." Damn. She had held back for twelve days now, why would she suddenly.. it had to be the vodka. Not that she had had any amount to speak of but then, she didn't weigh much.
He shook his head. "This isn't going to work, is it?"
She took a step backward, holding up her hands. "I said I'm sorry. I won't do it again. Promise."
"You really think you can stick to that? Maybe you should ask yourself what you want. What you need, anyway."
She backed off a little further, keeping a wary eye on him the while.
He sighed. "Don't worry, I won't. Just please stop being afraid of me!"
He walked off into the café and started fiddling with the jukebox, defying her veto. For a moment she almost expected Jingle Bells to start up again. But no, it was something else, something quieter. As Krycek came back in, she could finally make out the calm, resigned voice - and the words:
We weren't lovers like that, and besides, it would still be all right.
"I didn't know you liked Leonard Cohen", she said.
"McCabe and Mrs Miller. Thought it kind of appropriate." He went over to the window and looked out. "Same climate anyway.." He turned to her, his face unreadable. The assassin's face. The thief's, the spy's. The one he wore with others, not her. "Care for a game of chess?"
"What do you really want, Dana?"
She knew he wasn't talking about her current strategy. "I told you."
"Tell me again."
She sighed. "It's not a question of want."
"What then? Duty? Don't give me that, he never did anything to deserve your sacrifices."
She didn't answer.
He moved his queen into enemy territory. "It's up to you, you know. Just say the word."
"And do what? Run away with you?" She countered his move, putting a pawn in the queen's way.
He glanced around their currently idyllic prison. "It's a beginning."
She shook her head, smiling a little. "You know what I meant. And you know I can't. I wouldn't be me if I did."
"We might be here a long time yet." He frowned at the board for a moment, then disentangled a black bishop from behind its lines and sent it out in the field. "You're still in love with him."
She puzzled briefly over that. Then, "Strange to say, I don't even think I am. I just can't betray him. And it feels too much like betrayal to fall - to have an affair with his greatest enemy."
Krycek took the compliment in his stride. If indeed it was one. "Okay, you don't love him, but he has you mesmerized."
"Mesmerized?" She raised a disbelieving eyebrow. Her practised test of Mulder's wilder theories.
"Yeah, you're under his spell." The self-assured spy was gone now, replaced with a young, Russian boy with forest-green eyes. There were hints of fairy tales in those eyes - and some vodka. He reached out for her hand but held back at the last instant. "But don't worry, kn'zhná. One day, I'll come and free you."
"'Princess'." He looked slightly embarrassed.
"You'd be my knight on a black horse?" Drawing him out, the way she always did Mulder.
"Why not?" His knight appeared from nowhere in front of her queen, threatening her king. "Check.."
The room seemed smaller and - undulating. It was the best way to describe it. Occasionally, colours would ripple through the walls. White, green, pastel purple.. The floor kept murmuring under his feet. He tried to think of it as engine sounds below the deck of a vessel, possibly a space-going one. But truth to tell, it felt more like deep breathing, or snoring..
The two beings in front of him didn't look like any aliens he'd ever met. One of them stood taller than Mulder, but it seemed to be wearing some kind of suit, and there was no telling if it would be as impressive without it. The suit consisted mainly of floor length robes with a high construct across the being's shoulders - if indeed it had any shoulders. The construct was highly ornamental, but Mulder assumed it contained the equivalent of a personal air supply. The 'helmet' had features but none that made any sense to Mulder.
By contrast, the other alien did not appear to be wearing anything at all. Indeed, half the time Mulder wondered if it was even there. Perhaps it was a projection. It was as if it could not be seen when looked at directly. From the corner of his eye, Mulder would sometimes glimpse a giant spider, sometimes an oversized insect, vaguely mantis-like. Other times it didn't look like anything he could readily define.
"This one does not have full telepathy", the suited one said. "Latent at best."
Both sentences were introduced by a lengthy sound reminiscent of whirring clockwork, as if the being had to work its way up towards emitting the words.
The other had no such trouble. "Then he can develop it." The voice was surprisingly sweet, almost endearing. Or perhaps just insinuating.
The whirring started up again. When it was finished, the first one said, "No."
Lots of trouble for so little, Mulder thought.
"You have been conducting experiments", said the one who wasn't quite there. "Performing research."
The covered one wound itself up to a, "What if we have?"
"It will not be allowed."
"You are onboard my ship." The last sounded like a threat. The wind-up period was shorter this time.
"Then let us ask him", said the other. "Or are you afraid?"
The challenge made no sense at all to Mulder. He supposed it did to the aliens.
The suited one turned its helmet in his direction. In the most prominent part of the 'face' was a sphinctering aperture, surrounding a bright yellow 'eye' like that of some fifties radio set, except for the colour. The whirring went on for a while, then, "Who are you?" the being asked.
Mulder groaned. "Don't start with me. I've already answered that - to the best of my knowledge", he amended rapidly.
The helmet was lowered slightly. Then it turned to the other being, and the clockwork started its noisy buildup. "He doesn't know."
The other took a step toward Mulder. At least he thought it was one step, but it might have been several. Come to think of it, he couldn't even tell how many legs the thing had. But he had a vague impression of two of them being used almost as hands, to emphasize its speech with delicate gestures.
"What do you want?" it asked.
"The truth", Mulder said before he thought.
The being nodded. At least it dipped what had to be its head. It was in roughly the right place for a head. "That can be arranged. My truth or this one's?" It indicated the other alien with a slight tilt of the same head-like appendage.
"The objective truth", Mulder said. "The whole truth."
The being slumped a little, as if dejected. "There is no such thing in the Universe."
The other started whirring again as if in protest, but no words came of it.
"Then at least let me see my sister!" Mulder implored the ethereal alien.
It nodded, with more confidence this time, he thought.
"That can be arranged."
Forest way station, January 15th
The two helicopters circled purposely like buzzards, but they made no move to land. Their engines rent the white silence, usually only disturbed by woodland birds.
"Army?" Scully asked, shading her eyes with her hand. She could not make out any colours, but she thought the shape looked familiar.
"Probably", Krycek said, copying her gesture. "These are unmarked, though."
"Or his enemies."
The helicopters veered off into the distance. If they had found what they were looking for, obviously nobody was going to do anything about it.
Scully and Krycek went back into the house. Krycek went directly to get the old rifle from its corner. He checked it. Four rounds left, as expected. Well, he didn't think Scully would have taken it on a hunting trip without telling him.
"Always expecting the worst?"
There was no reproach in her tone, she knew he was. And that he might well be right.
"They could have dropped someone, further off."
"To kill us?"
He nodded, and it occurred to her that he had probably been on missions like that himself. Somehow she hadn't thought of him as a parachutist, but of course he would do whatever it took.
"There's dissent within the Syndicate, worldwide. I've played the different factions against each other sometimes. Someone might want to remove all traces of the Smoker's schemes."
"Are you saying those helicopters might be foreign? Violating whose ever airspace this is?"
He smiled slightly. "No problem. The helicopters are already in place; they come in on an undetectable craft. Then they're just painted black and kept on standby."
"An undetectable craft? You mean - a UFO?"
"Once you have the technology, why not use it?" He made for the door, taking the rifle with him.
"I won't argue", she said, accepting the possiblity for now. "Just - be careful, okay?"
The look he gave her was a warmer green than she had seen in a while. Apparently, she could still say the right thing sometimes.
Three days later, they were prepared to accept that nobody had been sent to kill them - or to rescue them, for that matter. The choppers hadn't landed, and no new ones had come.
"Just reconnoîtering then", Scully said.
"It would seem so."
"Maybe the fire brigade flies unmarked helicopters."
That earned her a derisive glare - but he looked at least partly amused.
"We should consider another possibility", she said, reluctantly. This was heavier to bring up than she had thought.
He glanced quickly at her, wordlessly indicating that he was listening.
"These are the first helicopters we've seen since we got here. If they were simply reconnoîtering, then for whom? The Smoking Man? A quick check on us before they come back to get us out of here? They can't very well keep us here for years. Well, maybe you but not me. No place on Earth is that remote."
"You'd be surprised", he muttered, but he didn't really argue her point. "So what you're saying, we'd better pack our things?"
She shook her head. "Maybe not quite yet, but we need to decide what to do about our truce. In case we get separated before we can come to an agreement."
A swift, green gleam. "Well, that would be too bad, wouldn't it? Because it's over when you say so, remember? And if you don't say so, then it's still on."
She seethed. For some reason, he always managed to rub her the wrong way these days. "Exactly. That's why I think we'd better have a contingency plan."
"Look, why not leave the truce on? I sure as hell don't want to kill you, I hope you don't want to kill me. You've saved my ass from a raving mad Mulder twice already, all you'd have to do would be to keep that up."
"I wasn't saving you, I was saving him. From himself."
Krycek made a dismissive gesture - with his left hand, she noticed in some surprise. "Whatever. You still saved my life. You could even explain to Skinner or any of your other employers with the same keen sense of self-aggrandizement, you could tell them we have this agreement and it's personal. They'd accept that, and if the worst came to the worst, they'd send someone else."
"Would your employers do the same?"
"Uh - no. But I could always cheat them, I've done it before."
"You once said you would kill me if so ordered."
He nodded briefly, as if to dismiss that on the grounds of logical arguments. But somehow they died on his lips, and the look he gave her was almost frightened.
"Dana - I don't think I could do it." He smiled a little, shakily. "Guess I'd have to cheat them."
Scully had almost a week to think about it. Then there was a renewed flyby, camouflage-painted helicopters this time, but still unmarked. Two of them, as before. Neither of them landed. Towards evening, a lone, black one came in low over the area, made a wide turn and was gone. The visits seemed to lend the matter some urgency. She would have to reach a decision soon.
Keeping the truce would mean that she tied herself down unnecessarily, even to the point where she might not always be able to help Mulder. And Mulder needed to rely on her. On the other hand, she was her own person. Krycek was right; her superiors would in all likelihood respect a personal ceasefire. They didn't usually demand that you broke your promises, even to criminals. It would undermine their credibility in the long run; they'd never be able to strike another deal with a snitch. He was right about one other thing: she had saved him from Mulder twice. The first time, she had to shoot Mulder to do it, and it had still worked out in the end, he still trusted her. If she told him about her personal armistice right away, as soon as she found him, he would accept it. He'd rant and rave, but in the end, he would accept it.
That night, as they were setting up the board, she said, "Okay, Alex. The truce stays on unless I say otherwise. Which means that if I never get a chance to call it off, then it's still on."
"Even if I have good reason to think you'd have wanted to call it off?"
She nodded. "I can't have you second-guessing me, then I'd never know myself whether it was on or off."
Krycek was playing white. He chose to open conservatively, with the king's pawn. "Good, that leaves us only one other matter to settle."
She eyed him warily. "And that would be?" She countered his move with her own king's pawn.
"Dana, they're likely to pick us up any day now. They wouldn't have flown over several times if they weren't planning something. We could be out of here tomorrow. Or we could be dead, but either way - what do you say, just one more time for old times' sake? It isn't as if it could change anything now." A bishop's pawn came to the assistance of the first one.
She couldn't help smiling. "You never give up, do you?"
She mirrored his move. "You may be right, it wouldn't change anything. But, it would hardly make things easier." She looked into his eyes and forgot the rest of her rationalizations. "Anyway, I can't, I'm sorry. I'm at the peak of my period."
Unexpectedly, a white knight leapt from behind its lines, upsetting the ordered strategy already on the board. "I know", he said huskily.
Her eyes grew wide. "How.." Better not ask. Perhaps his sense of smell was inhumanly keen, perhaps he had just become sensitive to her pheromones. If indeed humans emitted pheromones; science was still out on that one, and she wasn't sure she was ready to believe it. Damn him anyway, there always was something not quite civilized about him.
"You're not in pain or anything?"
"No, that's over for this time. But.."
"Then it should be okay."
"Alex, I'd bleed all over the bed." Dammit, why was she even having this conversation? Moreover, why did she have to bleed when she could never again have an ovulation? Why hadn't they taken that away as well? Probably wouldn't mess with her hormones. It would have been better if they had.
"The sight of blood doesn't bother me."
Stating the obvious. As if she needed a reminder. Desperately, she hung on to the practical aspect.
"It would make a terrible mess. We'd never get it out of the mattress, I think the one on top is horsehair."
He was unimpressed. "So what? Leave something for them to wonder about. They'd never be sure what happened here. Of course there's always the floor, but I'd rather not subject you to that. The draft is terrible."
She got up, the game forgotten. "Alex, I.."
He leant forward, snatched her hand in his own right one, and pulled her to him. He hadn't really been planning it, but she lost her balance and landed on his lap. "Dana, please. Just this once - it'll never happen again." He moved his hand quickly, covering her breast, feeling it carefully. The nipple was hard and swollen under her T-shirt. If she was wearing a bra, it had to be a very thin one. He pinched her lightly, tentatively. "Still tender?"
She groaned. "Yes, but don't stop. It's okay as long as you avoid light friction."
He pulled a little, and she squirmed, trying to bite his neck. He met her halfway, capturing her mouth with his, forcing her lips apart to accommodate his tongue. For all he knew, Mulder, aliens or the government would claim her tomorrow, but for tonight - she was his.
He took care not to be too gentle with her breasts this time, as a light touch seemed to hurt her aching nipples worse than a firm pull. On the other hand, the semi-rough treatment seemed likely to send her over the edge in no time, and he didn't want that.
She had been right though, the mattress was already soaked. As before, he had kept his shirt on, though more for lack of time than to keep the prosthetic juncture out of sight. The shirt was hanging loose, unbuttoned, dragging in her blood.
He inserted three fingers of his right hand, feeling inside her, trying to locate her G-spot. It was a little harder to find in the general flow than it had been last time, but he did. He rubbed it gently, and she writhed, her hands coming up to grasp his erect member, trying to pull him closer. He shook his head. Not yet.
He switched hands, getting some of his artificial fingers inside her. He regretted the loss of sensation, but his left hand would be able to keep this up without cramping. With his right, he carefully pressed her labia aside, baring her clitoris. It was already glistening with her blood, the barest touch now would probably.. He clenched his teeth hard. She was still touching him, now concentrating on the tip, or rather on the rim around it. The sight of her combined with her ministrations to make life exquisitely unbearable for him, and he wondered how the hell he was going to last long enough to make the most of this, their last encounter.
If she noticed which hand he was using for what, she didn't seem to care. Her eyes were closed now, and she was mewling helplessly as he slowly withdrew his left hand, letting the fingers glide over her still exposed clitoris. He leaned over her, taking a nipple in his mouth, sucking on it, then the other. He loved the colour of her nipples, rosy like on a blonde. It was true what they said; you never knew what to expect from a redhead.
He didn't want to get any more blood on her than was unavoidable, he was not a blood fetishist. This joining was important to him in a very different way, almost as a sacrament. Maybe that didn't make him any saner than if he had really been a fetishist, but he couldn't help it, it was how he viewed it. He could only hope it would mean something to her too, something special.
She groaned, almost pleading, and he did not know whether she wanted him to stop or go on, but there was no way he could hold back now. He plunged into her, full length, and he knew it was too fast and maybe too hard, but her blood would work fine as lubrication, she wouldn't get hurt. He felt her inside beginning to convulse, and her spasms pulled him right over the edge, in a state of mindless dissolution.
And she screamed. This time she screamed as he filled her, and the sound was highpitched like that of a queen cat, but not as wordless. This time, she screamed his name.
He managed to get underneath her without breaking contact. He would have stayed on top, but she felt so soft and fragile under him; he didn't want to crush her. Her blood was drying on his hands. He wondered briefly if he would ever get it out of the joints of his prosthetic fingers. She was resting peacefuly on him, her head on his chest. He blew gently on her hair.
"According to some cultures, we're family now", he said.
"What?" She remained where she was, too comfortable to raise her head.
"Intercourse with a menstruating woman is regarded like the mingling of blood. The exchange of fluids turns the couple into blood brothers - or rather, blood siblings."
"What cultures?" she murmured against his chest.
"Can't remember. Probably some obscure tribes of New Guinea. Those people have lots of interesting ideas."
"I'm not New Guinean."
"Look upon it as an exchange of DNA."
"A localized blend possibly, not an exchange. Unless you managed to sneak it into my bloodstream, which I doubt. You're not built like a syringe."
He laughed at that, nearly dropping out of her. Then, slowly he said, "Neither are you. And yet I think you've punctured my heart."
"Please don't go all Russian on me, Alex." Her voice was muffled against his chest; he couldn't quite tell the tone of it.
"Just thought I'd give you fair warning. You won't get rid of me now - little sister."
"What's that in Russian?"
He gave her a surprised glance - but she still wasn't looking up. "S'estr'onka - why?"
"I just like to be able tell when you're calling me names."
Forest way station, February 12th
The snowmobile was coming closer. They had heard it for a while now, ever approaching, though maybe not in a straight line. Coming in broad daylight it probably posed no threat, but it did not hurt to be careful. Krycek was waiting with the rifle; Scully had both knives. Not much as weaponry went, but at least she could be moral support.
Finally, the vehicle lunged into view over a large snowdrift, and they could see its rider. He was wearing fatigues, but he did not appear to be armed. He held up one hand as he approached, needing the other to steer. Krycek kept his rifle trained on him. "That's far enough!" he called as the snowmobile was within fifteen feet of them.
The rider nodded, throttled the engine and stepped off. With both hands raised, he approached them carefully. "I have a message for you!" he shouted through the sudden silence.
"Okay, give it here", Krycek said.
The other shook his head. "It's not in writing. I was sent to tell you this: Mulder has been found."
"Alive?" Scully called out.
The soldier looked puzzled. "As far as I know. Shouldn't he be? Anyway, there's no longer any need for you two to remain here. Can you find your way to the dropoff?"
"What dropoff?" Krycek asked. He hadn't lowered his rifle.
"The place where you set down as you came here?"
"I guess so", Krycek said. "But we're not going anywhere."
Scully shot him a quick glance but said nothing.
"Any pickup will have to be made here", Krycek insisted.
The soldier shrugged. "Suit yourselves. Not much of a landing area, but we can always try. Long as you keep your front yard clear."
Scully closed her suitcase. Packing her things had been quick. "Why not the dropoff area?" she asked.
Krycek had needed even less time. His backpack was tied and sealed. "Anything to throw a wrench into their plans. If they want us trudging through the wilderness again, I don't. Besides, it could always be a trap."
"I can think of better traps." She looked at the bed. "We should have burned that mattress. It's still lying around in the store, isn't it?"
"Yeah, I've half a mind to bring it in before we leave - anything to confuse them."
"They'll know. After all, nobody's dead."
He grinned briefly, then he reached for her hand. "It was great though, Dana. Sure you don't want a final..?"
"Okay okay. But I didn't know they'd give us almost three weeks."
"Alex, it's got to stop somewhere. Let the last time be the last time." Because I don't think I could take another, she thought. I'm enough of a wreck as it is.
"The sensible Dr Scully", Krycek said. "But how deep does that sense run - little sister?"
The epithet made her flush hot and cold. How could she ever hear that now, without thinking of him? She hoped fervently that Mulder would have resolved his own sister issue. He might find his partner prone to sudden fadeouts otherwise. Mulder.. there was no easy way to deal with this.
"Mulder will know something happened", she said with absolute certainty. "What the hell can I tell him?"
Krycek gave her his best sun-edge smile. "You could always tell him I make you scream."
In the morning, a small, white helicopter set down gingerly less than fifteen feet from their porch. Its rotors whirled up some of the snow on the roof, causing a miniature avalanche.
The craft was only half as big as its predecessors, looking more like somebody's private toy than anything belonging to the military - or the Syndicate. Maybe it was the best they could do, given the constrained landing field.
Krycek and Scully grabbed their baggage and got out, bent double against the wind of the rotors. The pilot was waiting for them outside his machine. The vessel might look like a rich man's indulgence, but the pilot was in fatigues and carrying a machine gun.
"Just her." He pointed to Scully.
Krycek flared. "What're you talking about? There's room enough for the three of us!"
"Just her. Orders. They'll send someone for you later."
"Alex, it's probably for the best", Scully reminded him. "We don't know where they're taking us. They can't exactly drop me on the doorstep of the J Edgar building with you in tow."
"Judging by how long it took us to get here, that flimsy thing won't make it to Washington. Not DC anyway."
"Well, so what if they're taking me to wherever Mulder is?" When he did not answer, she kept walking toward the helicopter.
Krycek didn't like the look of things, but he had to concede her point. If they had wanted her dead, they could have arranged it without wasting fuel. Much as he hated to admit it, it seemed far more likely that she was going back to her world - and he to his. Unless the Smoker simply wanted her out of the way, so there'd be no witnesses later, when he got rid of an agent who had outlived his usefulness? Krycek sighed. Fine, he could deal with that. It wouldn't be the first time. Sometimes it amazed him that the old man never learned.
She stopped immediately. Somehow, he had rather suspected she would. He walked up to her, touched her face gently with his gloved hand.
"Stay out of the convent, Dana. When all this is over, I'll come for you."
She raised an eyebrow. "I must say I don't find that thought very reassuring."
He wanted to kiss her, deeply, wildly, long enough to make her forget there ever was a lunatic named Mulder in the world. But the pilot was watching them. Looking bored, but still watching.
Habit took over. Krycek stepped back two paces, his face suddenly inscrutable.
"Maybe you shouldn't."
The smoking man entered the old way station. The fumes of his cigarette were adding to the already stale atmosphere of the place. He had a look around the main living area much like an honoured guest being shown into an unfamiliar room. He was smiling, as if he liked what he saw - or if his plans had all worked out lately.
His gaze fell on the topmost mattress of the bed, and just for a moment, his smile faded. Then it was back, wider than before, but still without showing teeth.
Dana was right, Krycek thought. He knows. He wasn't any too sure why he had brought the thing back in. It seemed like a childish gesture now. It wouldn't confuse anyone.
"Cosy little place you've got here", the smoker said, conversationally.
Krycek sighed. "Look, if you've come to pick me up, then let's go. If you've come for something else, then do something about it already."
The smoker went over to the stove, opened its fuel compartment and flicked the last of his cigarette into it. "There's no hurry. But then, you always were the impatient type, weren't you, Alex?"
Krycek glanced toward the stove. Why the consideration? Was the old man really concerned about the fire hazard, or didn't he want to leave his usual signature where it could be easily found? "All right", he said, "what's your game this time?"
The old man actually chuckled. "Game? Why would I be playing with you? Do you see me as the proverbial cat, Alex?" He did not bother to elaborate. "As you've no doubt noticed, I have a helicopter waiting. It would be hard to miss, wouldn't you say? But, don't you think you owe me a report before we leave?"
Krycek stared at him. "What report? You sent me to find Mulder, then you trapped me here until you could find him yourself. Some report. Short story syndrome."
The older man smiled. Forcing a new cigarette out of a tormented packet of Morleys, he said, "I'm disappointed in you, Alex. You're jumping to conclusions. Who said I found Mulder?"
"You sent a message that he had been found. When you use the passive form, it usually means you're involved."
The lighter flared briefly. "Not this time, I'm afraid. Some environmentalists came across him running aimlessly through the woods, yelling, Who are you? and What do you want?"
Krycek snorted derisively. "So he's finally snapped."
The transition from amusement to dead earnest was instantaneous. The pale blue eyes speared the assassin. "I wouldn't be so sure. After all, there is precedent for this kind of behaviour. In Agent Mulder."
Krycek turned his back on the old man, recklessly. "Yeah, yeah I know. He can lose all his marbles and cause you no end of trouble, but he can do nothing wrong." He spun around, suddenly sick of pretense. "He'll never follow your lead - or anyone else's for that matter. I'll have your operation yet, old man. You know it. It's only a matter of time; you can't live forever."
The smoker flicked ash on the floor. Once more amused, but not impressed. "Indeed? And when you have - my operation, as you so quaintly put it, what will you do with it?"
For a moment, Krycek was on the brink of telling him. What you should have done in the first place, you plotting old - chort. I'll use it to fight the colonists. He held back just in time - or at least he hoped he had. The words had been virtually on his tongue. What if the old devil really was telepathic?
"You can't win, Alex", the smoker said. As if to emphasize his words, he walked over to the table where the chess board was still set up, game unfinished. He made three moves on one side, two on the other, and left the white king checkmate. "You don't take the long view."
Krycek snorted at the theatricals. "Okay, so I don't. It would still be nice to be out of here."
The smoker went past him without comment, into the old café. Presently, Bob Dylan's world-weary voice launched into one of the poet's more pensive numbers:
I-I-I once loved a girl, her skin it was bronzed..
The older man came back into the main room, "I understand you disabled the cameras, Alex." He pulled on his cigarette. "Did you know you missed one?" His tone was light, on the point of indifference.
Krycek closed his eyes briefly. "Where?"
"That question is rather academic now, don't you think?"
The smoker went over to the stove. Opening the wood compartment once more, he let his second cigarette join the first. Only half smoked. "You still haven't given me your report."
"If you really had a camera left all this while, then you know all there is to know." And more than you ever had a need to know, you decrepit bastard.
The smoker smiled blandly at him. "Think Mulder would be interested in the footage?"
He was rewarded by a look of pure, emerald fury. "Look, if you do anything to harm her -"
The other beamed as if he had been looking forward to precisely this reaction. "She'll come to no harm. I have great plans for her."
From the café, the haunting tune persisted:
And so it did happen, like it could have been foreseen,
the timeless explosion of fantasy's dream..
"If Mulder ever finds out, he'll kill her", Krycek said.
The smoker smiled thinly. "I see you don't know Fox Mulder, Alex." He went over to the window and looked out. The helicopter was sitting where he had left it, its pilot waiting patiently. "I shouldn't worry", he said dryly. "Agent Scully will live a long time. A very long time.."
Krycek sat down on the bed, disregarding the soiled mattress. It was dry now anyway.
The old man brought out his dented packet of Morleys, looked into it and changed his mind. Letting it slide back into his pocket, he said, "I came to warn you, Alex."
The jukebox was still at it:
'All is gone, all is gone, admit it, take flight' - I gagged in contradiction, tears blinding my sight..
Krycek wished the damn thing would shut up. "Warn me of what?"
..I ran into the night, leaving all of love's ashes behind me.
"Don't do anything that might interfere with your work." The tone was clipped, almost inflectionless. "You're useful only so long as you keep a cool head." A faint smile, then, "Besides, you'd have Mulder to contend with."
"I've no idea what you're talking about."
The smoker beamed at him. "Then all is well. Shall we go?"
"About time." Impatiently, Krycek snatched up his backpack and shouldered his way out the door ahead of his visitor. Behind him, the jukebox was finally closing its narrative:
I think of her often and hope whoever she's met
will be fully aware of how precious she is.
The smoking man paused in the doorway to let the last harmonica notes ring out into the fading day. "Ballad in Plain D", he said pleasantly. "Great piece, wouldn't you say? A little before your time of course, but - quite evocative."
He let the door fall shut. "Quite evocative.." he muttered.
Pulling his coat around him, he hurried after his wayward agent.
When she finally found him, it was quite undramatic. She came walking out of the woods as he had so often dreamed, and there wasn't even a bright light behind her. Just his long lost sister in a print dress and sandals, despite the season. She looked a little pale, but it was definitely her this time. He had never been so sure of anything. No matter how this turned out, it had to be the end of the road.
She stopped in front of him, a few steps away, as if she were less certain than he. He understood, and felt sorry for her. She must be feeling the same doubts he had harboured for so long. She needed time. So he waited, drinking in the sight of her. Her dark brown hair was as thick as ever, and loosely braided. Some wisps of it had escaped confinement and were now gently stirred by the wind.
They stood for a while like that, looking at each other. Then her mind was made up.
"Fox", she said, and the short word had a ring of finality to it, as if she too had reached the end of the line.
He swallowed, choking on her name. "I thought you were dead", he said when he found his voice.
She looked him up and down.
"And I thought you'd be taller."
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