Recognition by Brenda S. Antrim.

This is the fourth and final installment in the series featuring The Deal, Runes, and Identity. It's a wrap up of the events taking place in those stories, so I highly recommend reading them first, as it's not really meant to stand alone.

Rated PG-13 for violence, language and romance. Mush alert!! Mush alert!! Not a "relationship story" in the usual sense of the phrase, this is the story of the downfall of the Consortium and a Mulder/Krycek romance. I own none of the characters, but do sincerely thank Chris Carter, David Duchovny, Nick Lea and Gillian Anderson for creating such fascinating characters for us to play with. I promise to return them relatively undamaged, and if you sue me you'll have to pay off my student loans ('cause I sure can't). There are second season spoilers here, but my universe for this series begins directly after Cancerman tries to make Ratboy Flambe with the car bomb, so the Oily Alien and the silo are not in this reality. Enjoy.


********************************************************

It was an anniversary of sorts, he mused to himself as he gathered up the sheets of statistical data and fed them into the scanner, one at a time. One year to the day since he had first approached them about a truce, one year since he had kidnapped Fox Mulder and used him as a hostage of fortune to force Dana Scully and Director Skinner to stop hunting him long enough for him to kill the black lunged bastard who used to be his boss and was now trying to kill him.

The soft whir of the machinery clicked to a stop, and he quickly gathered up the sheets and set about wiping the hard drive. Hard luck on the office worker whose computer he was using at four in the morning, but Mulder needed these sheets and it was too dangerous to meet in person at the moment. Cancerman's thugs were closing in, had nearly gotten him two nights ago. Unfortunately, he hadn't quite regained all the memories he had lost a few months earlier when he'd had a close encounter with a wooden plank, but he was remembering more each day. And every new memory only scared him further into hiding.

If Mulder and Scully knew everything he had done, they never would have entered this partnership. And there was still more to uncover, he knew that. Part of him was so anxious to find out the truth he could taste it. The rest of him wanted to run away and not ever come back.

The only problem was when you ran away from yourself, you could never escape.

*****************************************************

Byers looked at the figures scrolling across the screen and his normally calm expression gave way to wide eyes and gaped mouth. Running his hand nervously over his neatly trimmed beard he called, "Frohicke! Langley! Come here!" He ignored the fact that his voice squeaked. This was worth it. His cohorts gathered behind him to peer over his shoulder, then shared glances. Langley nodded solemnly and Frohicke reached for the telephone. The lanky blond went through the standard ritual of flipping switches and punching buttons to defeat possible traces as the little man dialed a number from memory. Moments later, the signal connected.

"Mulder."

"We got it."

A click, a satisfied smile, and three indrawn breaths. Frohicke gently cradled the receiver and turned once more to study the screen. "It worked for Al Capone. No reason why it can't work for these creeps."

******************************************************

Scully looked up from the report she was typing as Mulder reached over her shoulder and hit the save button.

"What the-" A long forefinger touched her lips softly, then withdrew quickly. She narrowed her eyes at him and he straightened to reach for her coat.

"Let's go get some lunch, Scully."

She looked pointedly at her watch, then stared at him, hard. There was no trace of levity in his closed expression, but searching his darkened eyes she knew. No matter if it was only 10:28. It was lunch time. Without another word she powered down her computer and slipped her arms into the jacket. He flipped the light switch off behind them and without another word they headed for the elevator.

It was a brisk morning, unusually so for September, with a watery sun peeking through the dismal grey clouds. Scully squinted into the breeze and stuffed her hands deeply into her pockets, giving him the time he needed to formulate his thoughts. Mulder, for his part, shortened his stride to match his much shorter partner's, and sighed quietly.

"I think this time we got him."

She glanced sharply at him. "You've heard from Krycek?"

"Yeah." He swallowed and continued, not looking at her. It was still difficult to deal with what his former partner had done to him a year ago, and he'd not been able to bring himself to tell Scully. And once in awhile, when he was least expecting it, his eidetic memory would kick in and he would find himself in that bare room, awash with drugs, and overcome with sensations that still had the power to arouse him, and disgust him, and scare him half to death. Wrenching his thoughts back to the current situation, he clenched his fists in his coat pockets until the nails bit into his palms, and forced his voice to stay steady. "He somehow managed to upload financial statements from a network of legitimate and dummy companies that have been funding the Consortium for the last four decades. I don't know how the hell he managed it, but he hacked the internal files for several of the shadow corporations and created a series of links that go right back to the source. Pharmaceutical companies, defense contractors, medical supply companies, research labs, the whole thing. Sent them through to the Lone Gunmen, along with some of the pointers to the systems he hacked, and the guys took it from there. There is evidence of any number of kinds of financial crimes ranging from racketeering to tax evasion. And the links go even further, Scully. The evidence is there, the programs funded for human experimentation, the assassinations that were carried out ... they had a hell of a bookkeeping system, and Krycek hacked the whole damned thing. We have them. Cold."

She stopped and turned to look up at him, forcing him to stop as well. "So with this we can prove, what, Mulder? Are you saying that we can bring down the Cancerman for not paying his taxes?"

He grimaced in response, and shrugged ruefully. "It's a foot in the door, Scully. And by following the trail of money, we can gather all the loose ends together. It may be the best shot we get."

Scully took a deep breath and quirked a brow at him. "Then let's take it while we've got it." He grinned back down at her and turned on his heel, heading for the parking garage.

"Just call me Elliot Ness."

****************************************************

Three blocks from Lone Gunmen headquarters Mulder knew that something was radically wrong. The jolt and near sonic boom that shook the car was the first indication. The fire engines and paramedics units screaming past them to block their way were his second. The heavy black smoke drifting into the sky behind the wall of emergency vehicles was the next.

"Shit!!" He swerved the car toward the curb, parking it haphazardly as he reached into his inner coat pocket for his cell phone. Punching the third memory button, he cursed again as he got the recording informing him that they were unable to connect his call, please try again. As he thrust the phone back into his pocket and slammed from the car, Scully was already there, flashing her badge at the harried policeman guarding the line, pushing her way through to survey the damage. What she saw made her throat dry up.

Mulder struggled to her side and swept the scene with his eyes. It was chaos. Ash and crumbled pieces of wood and brick were scattered through the street, glass glittered over everything, and the survivors were huddled in small clumps, attended by hovering Emergency Medical Service personnel, wrapped in blankets, blood and tears and shock evident wherever they looked. The force of the bomb blast had been incredible. Coroners' wagons were also on scene, and Scully heard what sounded like a faint moan from her partner at the sight of so many body bags. Then he brushed past her and headed toward the fire chief directing his men. As soon as the man had finished barking orders into his walkie talkie, Mulder stepped forward.

"Sir, Special Agent Fox Mulder, FBI." He held out his badge, and the chief nodded wearily. "How ... what ..." He swallowed, and licked his lips. "What happened here?"

"It was a bomb, agent, what was your name, Mulder?" The chief was abrupt, his tone making it evident that any idiot could see what had happened. "Look, I have a hell of a job on my hands here. If you want to talk to me you'll have to wait until this calms down. Harrison! Get the fourth unit over to the west wall!" Shouting orders as he went, he turned his back on Mulder and hurried to direct the fire fighting efforts. As Mulder stood, staring with horror at the building that used to house the Lone Gunmen, a strong hand gripped his forearm.

"It wasn't your fault, Mulder."

He gritted his teeth and stared at the flames. "The hell it wasn't, Scully." They stood together, a dark spot of calm in the midst of a maelstrom of barely controlled activity, and watched the building burn. Neither was aware of how long they stood there before they became aware of a short, smoky-smelling figure at Mulder's right elbow.

"I knew they'd come after us one day but I didn't know they'd kill so many people to do it."

Mulder and Scully both whirled on the blanket draped man. "Frohicke!" yelled Mulder, and reached down to hug his friend exuberantly. A muffled whimper of pain caused him to loosen his hold immediately.

"Damn. I'm sorry. Are you okay? Are you hurt? What happened?" Mulder held the little man at arm's length, scanning him thoroughly and at the same time trying to look around for the others. "Byers? Langley? Did they make it out okay?"

Scully was quicker to react to the loss in the red-rimmed eyes. She placed a supporting hand on his back, patting gently, as he dropped his head. "I'm okay. Just caught my arm and cut it up a little. Got hit by some flying glass in the explosion. Byers, he's going to be all right I think. They took him off to the hospital. Took a beam across the ribs and broke his collarbone, I think, maybe his leg too, hard to tell." His voice was dropping with each word, and Mulder leaned close to hear him, clasping his shoulders strongly. "Langley ... he was in the front room by the hallway ... took the brunt of the blast ... he ... it ... destroyed ... he's dead, Mulder." The last words were just a whisper into Mulder's chest, as the agent wrapped his arms around the smaller man and held him up. Mulder looked over the balding head at his partner, her eyes reflecting his sorrow.

"I'm so sorry, Frohicke." He gently released his friend and stepped back slightly, keeping an eye out in case he needed to support him again. Taking in the generally haggard face and the slumping figure, he patted his shoulder and steered him toward the car. "C'mon, man, I'm taking you to the hospital."

Scully took one side, putting a strong arm around Frohicke's waist, and Mulder took the other. Supporting the wounded man to their car, they made the trip to the emergency room in silence.

**************************************************

It had been a hard month. He'd spent most of his free time, what little there was left over after dealing with two cases that he could have sworn Skinner gave them just to get him out of DC. Byers was mending, slowly, and Frohicke was better, although still much more quiet than usual. Neither blamed Mulder for the bombing, or for Langley's death. Confirmed paranoiacs that they were, and as involved as they were with uncovering governmental conspiracies, they admitted that Krycek's information might have been the motivating factor in the attack, but were adamant that it was by no means the only reason why they would be, and had been, targeted. Mulder tried to get assigned to the case and was forcefully informed that he was too personally involved. When nothing conclusive turned up at the crime scene, he wasn't the least surprised. And to make his frustration complete, every avenue he tried to use to contact Krycek was a complete washout. He was beginning to suspect that his reluctant ally had finally been stopped by their common enemy.

He was staring balefully at a slide from a twenty year old murder scene, wondering if it would be worth bringing up the possibility of malevolent spirits in the case, when his computer beeped. Email. Priority email, at that. He tossed the slide into the jumbled, open file on his desk and tapped the mouse, bringing up his new message. The from: field made him sit forward abruptly.

It was from SkippyRat. Routed through a bulletin board in Arizona, sent from a public library terminal somewhere in Wheaton.

"Scully, come look at this." She lifted her head at the urgency in his voice and saw him peering intently at his computer screen.

"What is it, Mulder?" She came around the side of the desk and scanned the screen. Chewing thoughtfully on her lip, she looked over at him. "Is this legitimate, do you think?"

"Yeah," he replied, distractedly. "Yeah, I recognize his writing style. And I've got to make this meeting. Do you know the layout at the campus?" Krycek had finally contacted him, and set up a meeting at a parking garage on the campus at George Mason University.

"Well enough. I'll stay back and watch your backs." He flashed her a gratified smile, and settled back into his paperwork. There was nothing to do now but wait. And make sure he had both his waist holster and his ankle holster ready to go.

***************************************************

There was no one around at eleven thirty on a Thursday night in the lowest level of the parking garage, and the silence and the shadows gave the place an unworldly appearance.

"Spooky," Mulder muttered to himself, and for once, didn't grin at his own joke. He was on edge, jumpier than he expected. Something was nibbling at the corners of his mind, telling him to be extra careful, extra alert. He respected his sixth sense. It had saved his life more than once.

A soft footfall in the darkness brought him around, and he watched silently as Alex Krycek stepped forward hesitantly. He stopped a few feet from Mulder and studied him as intently as he himself was being studied.

"Hi." He shifted from one foot to the other, clutching a thick manila envelope in one fist and shifting his eyes constantly around the perimeter. "I'm, uhm, I'm sorry about your friend, Mulder."

"Thanks." Krycek looked like hell, Mulder thought grimly. His eyes were shadowed and sunken, he hadn't shaved in days, and from the looks of it hadn't had a bath in nearly as long. "What's going on here, Krycek?" He kept his voice low, uncomfortable in the echoing emptiness of the garage.

The other man gestured jerkily with the hand holding the envelope. "Made a hard copy of the information I sent to your buddies. It hasn't been safe for me to try to get it to you until now."

"They getting close?" Mulder stepped next to Krycek, holding out a hand for the envelope.

"Too fucking close, man." He looked nervously over his shoulder. "Nearly caught me a couple days before I sent this out, then again two weeks ago. But I managed to lose them then, and haven't seen them since, so I wanted to get this to you while the heat was off."

Mulder placed the envelope securely inside his jacket. "Thank you."

"Don't thank me, Mulder," Krycek snapped softly. "Just *get* the sonuvabitch. Soon as you can. I can't keep this up for much longer."

Mulder raised one hand in an abortive movement to touch Krycek's shoulder, but dropped it before contact could be made. "You look like it's getting to you." The younger man gave him a disbelieving look, then a rueful half smile.

"You could say tha-" Before he could finish the sentence, they heard the muffled crack of a silenced gun. Krycek instinctively threw himself forward, knocking Mulder off his feet, and they went down in a heap. Scully's sharp "Freeze! FBI!!" was followed almost immediately by an exchange of gunfire, the spitting thwacks of the silenced gun overpowered by the loud cracks of Scully's return fire. Mulder scrambled for his gun, then gasped as the first wave of pain swept through his side. Krycek groaned, and shifted slightly, but remained sprawled protectively over the top of him. Scuffling sounds of running feet signaled the end of the battle, and Mulder was relieved to hear the soft slap of his partner's shoes as she ran to kneel beside them.

"Scully, you okay?" His voice was strained from the combination of Krycek's dead weight atop him and the fire spreading through his ribcage.

"I'm fine, Mulder. But I'm not so sure about Krycek." She carefully lifted the solid body away from him and rolled the limp form gently to his side, supporting his head. "Looks like he took another crack to the skull when he did his bodyguard dive onto you." She examined the bleeding gash on Krycek's forehead critically. "How about you?" She looked over at her partner, his lack of movement registering with her. "Damn!" She laid Krycek's head down gently on the cold concrete and moved closer to Mulder, hands roving competently over his torso, looking for the source of the blood staining his shirt. "You were hit."

He tried not to take a deep breath, knowing by the grating in his side that at least one rib was broken. "Good thing he took me down," he gasped. "Otherwise it wouldn't be my ribcage feeling like this."

"No," she agreed, bunching the material of his shirt into her fist and laying it firmly against the shallow crease in his side. "It'd be ..." she paused and took a deep breath. "It would have taken you in the heart, Mulder." As she felt in her jacket for her cell phone to call an ambulance, a shaking hand closed over her fingers. She looked down at her partner.

"No hospital, Scully." She glared at him with exasperation. "For either of us." He gestured with his head at Krycek, just beginning to stir. "I might get lucky, although from the looks of it tonight, they're not as interested as they used to be in keeping me alive. But Alex would be dead before morning."

She stared from one to the other, tightening her lips as the truth of his words sunk in. "Okay. Looks like it's back to my place again." She sighed, and reached to help him shakily to his feet. "It's a good thing I keep up to date on medical techniques, Mulder. For a forensics specialist I spend a lot of time patching up live people." He snorted slightly with laughter and ducked his head to slide into the car seat.

"Hey, what about Krycek?" He couldn't believe he'd almost forgotten him. She pointed back over her shoulder with her chin at the dark clad figure pulling himself unsteadily to a seated position.

"He's relatively mobile. We'll manage." He settled into the cushions and watched her walk back over to the other man.

Alex was barely aware of the warm figure crouching down beside him. His head felt as though it was exploding, flashes of yellow and red and pure white going off behind his eyes. He raised his hands to cradle his skull, completely certain that at any moment it was going to fall off his shoulders.

"Krycek?" A firm voice, feminine, strong, familiar. Scully? He wasn't aware he'd spoken aloud until she replied. "Right here. Can you move? We need to get out of here."

It came back in a rush -- the exchange, the shots, the fall. "Mulder?" An edge of panic to his voice.

"He's in the car already. Come on, now." A strong arm curved around his back, a shoulder edging into his side, and he concentrated as well as possible through the fierce pain in his head on lifting himself upright. As they shuffled to the car, his vision cleared and the pain began to subside. Leaning against the side of the car as she opened the rear door for him, he lifted a hand to the source of the pain, and stared at the bright blood dripping down his face and into his right eye. "Head wounds always bleed a lot, Krycek," she reassured him with brisk sympathy as he crawled into the car. "It's a good spot to hit if you have to," she continued after seating herself at the steering wheel. "The front of the skull is relatively strong, much better than the temple or base of the skull. You'll end up with a dent in your head and a mild concussion, but at least it's probably not a fracture like last time."

"Thank god for small favors," he muttered to himself, trying to stem the blood flow. A sudden thought caused him to lift his head and peer sharply at Scully. "We're not going to a hospital, are we?"

She grinned slightly and looked calmly at him in the rearview mirror. "You sound just like Mulder. No, Krycek, we're not going to the hospital."

He released a relieved sigh and sank back into the cushion. It had been one hell of a night, and from the looks of it the party was just getting started.

**************************************************

Four stitches and several quarts of salt water later, Krycek finally felt relatively human again. Scully had propped him up on the couch with a towel and an ice bag, instructed him to stay still and apply pressure, and set about caring for her partner. Krycek had followed almost all of her orders, but he'd not been able to stay in the living room and miss all the action in the bedroom. Wandering unsteadily in after her, he made himself as inconspicuous as possible in the corner armchair and watched Doctor Scully work her magic on Mulder.

The pain was dulled to a background roar as he leaned his head back against the cushion and kept one eye on the proceedings. Scully worked quickly, carefully, but with an underlying tenderness that caused as little pain as possible to her wounded friend. Stripping Mulder efficiently, she washed away the dried blood and bandaged the shallow furrow the bullet had created, then bound his ribs tightly and covered him to the waist with the sheet, pausing only long enough to slip off his shoes and belt. Turning to see Krycek curled up in her armchair, she shrugged and pulled him firmly to his feet, leading him into the bathroom and settling him on the floor. Cushioning his neck with a rolled up towel, she pulled a plastic basin from under the sink, added salt, filled it with warm water and began to wash the gravel and dirt from the abrasion on his forehead. As the warm water flowed through his hair he felt himself begin to relax. She maintained her silence, concentrating on the task at hand, and he let his mind wander.

Something about the blood. The blood and Mulder with his shirt off. Creamy skin and blood. What the *hell* was the connection? There was something teasing at the back of his memory, something only glimpsed in dreams since he had fractured his skull and lost his memory. Something very, very important, that would go a long way toward explaining why he kept trying to protect Mulder, why he threw himself over him like a sheet of mortal armor instead of hiding as soon as he heard the gunshot. What the hell was he forgetting--

"This is going to sting, Krycek." He glanced up at determined blue eyes, then focused on the threaded needle she held. Great. Just what he needed. He closed his eyes and tried not to wince.

She was not surprised by his stoicism, but still a little impressed. Trying to distract him from the lack of anesthesia, she asked quietly, "Why did you do that? Why did you knock him out of the way? You saved his life, you know. And not for the first time."

"I don't know," he answered quickly, without thinking. "I just ... I had to."

She tied off the last knot and patted away the few drops of blood. Examining them critically, she nodded once. "That should heal well." Refocusing on his eyes, she started to reiterate her question. The genuine confusion she saw there stopped her words before they formed.

"If I ever figure it out you'll be the first to know," he joked weakly. She cocked her head to one side.

"No. I think he will." Putting an end to the conversation by the simple expedient of pulling him to his feet, she guided him back to the couch and settled him in the corner. He watched her walk back into the bedroom and closed his eyes. He was more tired than he could remember being in a long time, and that was really tired, since he'd been running for so damned long he felt like his whole life was spent looking over his shoulder.

Scully wandered out from the bedroom, having changed into sweats and slippers, and made her way to the couch to see if Krycek wanted anything to eat. Hearing a soft snore issuing from the still figure, she stopped at the corner of the room and studied him. Asleep, he lost the dangerous edge he held when alert. Long lashes shadowed pale cheeks, and his relaxed features gave him the deceptive innocence of a child. She could almost forget what this man was responsible for. Almost, but not quite. Settling into the wingchair she propped her feet on the ottoman and let her tiredness overtake her. It had been a hell of a night.

*******************************************************

Assistant Director Skinner looked at the vacation slip in his hands and glanced up at the determinedly blank face of his Agent. "This is rather sudden, wouldn't you say, Scully?"

"It seems like a good time, Sir. Agent Mulder is still recovering from the loss of his friend in the bombing, we've solved two cases in three weeks, nothing pressing is on the calendar, and quite frankly, Sir, we could both use a little time off."

He looked intently at her face, noting the lines of stress around her eyes and the marks of fatigue around her mouth. She did look like she needed a vacation. Mulder hadn't even made it in to work. He made a snap decision. "Enjoy your vacation, Agent Scully. Tell Mulder the same." She rose to leave, and his voice halted her at the door. "And, Scully ..."

She looked over questioningly at his pause. "Sir?"

"Call me if you need anything."

She stared at him for a heartbeat, then smiled slightly. "I'll do that, Sir."

He watched the door close silently behind her and stared at the wood for a very long time.

**************************************************

The apartment was unusually silent. Mulder rested fitfully on the couch, Scully was off stocking up the larder for a combination recuperation period and planning/brainstorming session. And Krycek was thinking. Remembering.

He sprawled in the wingchair, relaxed for the first time in months. He had slept for nearly sixteen hours, taken a hot bath, eaten a huge lunch. For once, he was able to concentrate on something besides survival. And what he was thinking was freaking him out completely.

Snatches of conversations from meetings long buried. Instructions, following the line of his own desires a little too closely. Knowledge in the hands and the arsenals of the wrong people. Doing the worst possible things for the best possible reasons.

Other sensations under his fingertips, against his skin. Tactile memories of intimacy taken under false pretenses, needed any way he could get it. A kiss stolen from unconscious lips, pleasure taken by force when he didn't even know why he wanted it. He took each memory out and examined it, studying it minutely, puzzling through motivation and outcome and need and desire. They were as clear as fine Austrian crystal, sharp as broken glass under his feet. Shattering his reality like a prism and reflecting it back to him on all sides.

Mulder stirred, muttering something under his breath, too soft to make out. Krycek studied the lines of worry and tension in his face that didn't ever completely smooth out, even in sleep. His gaze drifted lower, over the line of muscle clearly defined where the thin tee shirt was pulled against his chest, down along the bulky outline of bandages from his most recent brush with death, settling finally on the relaxed hand laying along the curve of his thigh. He drew a sudden, sharp breath, knowing now why that breath hurt so much. Understanding why he had to protect Mulder, orders or not. Recognizing, finally, what his superiors had known and traded on for almost three years.

"What's wrong?"

The soft question jerked his eyes up to meet half opened, sleepy hazel eyes peering at him intently. He opened his mouth to answer, and realized for the first time that he was crying. It shocked him into complete immobility. He could not remember the last time he had actually cried.

Mulder sat up, slowly, wincing with the pain in his side. "What happened? Is it Scully?" Panic made the words curl up by the end of the sentence. Krycek licked his lips, and tried again to say something.

"No." Well, good, that was a start. It was more a croak than a word, but at least it was understandable.

"Then what is it?" There was a hint of impatience in his voice now, as he settled gingerly into the side cushion on the couch.

"Nothing." He couldn't tell him this. He was having a hard time telling himself this. Krycek scrubbed briskly at the moisture on his cheeks and cleared his throat. "Scully'll be back soon. We have to figure out what the hell we're gonna do next."

"Yeah," Mulder agreed readily enough, still studying the other man suspiciously. They were both a little relieved to hear the key in the door.

Scully felt the tension as soon as she stepped in the room. Krycek rose to help her without a word, and when Mulder tried to follow suit she ordered him firmly back down on the couch. The pain medication she had slipped into his tea earlier was making him drowsy again, and he slid awkwardly back down into a prone position and let sleep claim him.

Her kitchen was relatively small, and she wasn't used to working with another person in it. The third time they bumped together in the cramped space she shooed him over to the table. Putting the last of the vegetables in the crisper, she put her mug of cold tea in the microwave and turned to lean against the counter, studying him. He sat, shoulders slumped, fingers laced together on the tabletop, studying his thumbnail as if it was the most fascinating thing in the universe.

"Okay, give," she broke the silence abruptly, keeping her voice soft enough to not disturb the man sleeping in the other room. "What happened?"

"Nothing." He wouldn't look at her. She stared for a long moment at the man she was so used to hating, and found herself feeling unaccountably protective. The thought took her aback. Swallowing the unaccustomed emotion, she tried again, more forcefully.

"The hell it is." Her unusual obscenity surprised him, and he raised his gaze to meet hers. The unexpected misery in the dark green depths made her catch her breath, and she continued, more gently than she would have expected. "We're in the final round here, Krycek. If there's something eating at you, it's safer for all of us if it's out in the open." He seemed to consider her words seriously, then gave her a bitter smile. She ignored the ping of the microwave and came over to the table to sit beside him. "Talk to me, Alex."

He drew a deep breath, then stared off into the middle distance, looking at something she couldn't see. "I finally figured it out, Scully."

When he didn't seem eager to continue, she prompted him softly. "Figured what out? Did you remember something? Is that it?" Damn, she wished Mulder was in here. He was the psychologist. Not her specialty. Dead people didn't talk much.

"Remember? Sorta. More like ... recognized. I finally figured out why I have to protect him, help him. Part of it's to save my ass, I know, and for the longest time I thought that was it." He stopped suddenly and pinned her with a hard stare. "I s'pose he told you what I did to him ... with him, when I had him hostage." She looked at him wide-eyed, not moving, allowing him to draw his own conclusions. He drew the wrong one. "Of course he did, he tells you everything. Did he tell you why? It wasn't rape, Scully, not really." He was so deeply into his memories, staring at his clenched hands, that he missed her jolt at his words. Rape? He *raped* Mulder? "It was more than that. He was ... he enjoyed it, too, I know it was the drugs, but he wanted it too. Not the way I wanted it, though, needed it. Fuck!" He opened his hands and dropped his forehead into his palms, shoulders shaking with the force of his confession. "They knew! They *knew* I was in love with him and they *used* that, they used *me*, and I didn't even know why!" His voice had dropped to a low hiss by the end, and she bent near to him to make out what he was saying. She was shocked to see tears forcing themselves painfully from the corners of his tightly closed eyes. Taking a deep, calming breath, she laid a tentative hand on his back. The muscles were iron hard, trembling slightly. Unconsciously rubbing small circles between his shoulder blades, she exercised all the control she could muster to keep her voice steady.

"Does he know?" Utterly calm. God. How did she manage that? All that doctor's training coming to the fore.

"No. How could he?" A slight noise that might have been a laugh from between the long fingers. "I didn't 'know' myself until just a little while ago."

"Keep it that way, then, at least for now." He raised his head and looked searchingly at her. "We have to move, now, while we can. Last night proved that Mulder is no longer safe. Whatever, or whoever, was protecting him no longer is. If we don't take down the Consortium now we are all dead. And he's distracted enough already. Don't hit him with this yet. Wait until the dust has settled. Then, when he, and you, can take the time to figure out what is going on between the two of you, *then* bring it up. Until then, use it to your advantage." The look changed to one of pure skepticism. "You want to protect him. You've proven that. Now do it. And use that, uhm, your love," she just about coughed. It was such a strange conversation, she couldn't quite believe it was occurring. "Use your love to take down those who are threatening him."

He nodded, biting his lip and considering her advice. A sound from the front room broke the tension in the atmosphere, and he looked over her shoulder with something like fear in his face. She turned swiftly, but seeing Mulder just sitting up on the couch, turned back to Krycek. Placing one hand firmly over his, she asserted, "I'm not going to say a word. It's between the two of you. But not now. Later." He nodded agreement and she rose to hurry into the other room. Krycek stared after her, his expression gradually hardening as his attention turned from his newly discovered emotions to the task facing them.

Time to take down the Cancerman. Hard. Permanently.

*************************************************

It took most of the night and one hell of a lot of favors, and the end result was both rougher and less certain than they would have hoped, but at least it was a workable plan. Scully took one set of incriminating paperwork to FBI headquarters, to bring Skinner into the loop. Krycek and Mulder headed for Bethesda, making a flank attack and using the devil's own allies against him. While Skinner was presenting an exceptionally strong case to the head of the investigatory branch of the Internal Revenue Service and the team of lawyers from the Security Exchange Commission, Mulder was heading into a meeting with his only somewhat reliable ally within the shadow government. Krycek stayed well out of detection range, watching the proceedings, gun in hand. He didn't like to be too far away, because if Mulder needed backup, he was it. When he saw who Mulder's 'source' was he barely managed to keep the curse behind his teeth.

"What do you have for me, Mulder? I don't appreciate being summoned like this. Especially in broad daylight."

"Something came up," Mulder replied to the dark skinned man glaring suspiciously at him from the end of the bench. "Something big." He removed the copy of the evidence from his coat and handed it to his contact. "We finally found a way to stop the Cancerman, and I think he knows it." Sharp dark eyes narrowed at the agent's words. "Someone tried to kill me last night. So whoever was protecting me, if anyone was, has changed his mind. We're moving on this, now. By the time this hits the papers, which it will with this afternoon's Wall Street Journal, Cancerman and his cronies will find themselves ass deep in alligators."

"For what?" Mr. X asked dryly. "Insider trading?" He removed the sheets from the envelope and began to scan them.

"Not quite. But close. Besides the issue of tax evasion," he ignored X's look of disbelief "there's enough evidence of manipulating the world stock exchanges to put him and his friends behind bars for a very long time." The other man's face tightened as he took in the incriminating figures, dates, names, traces tying the upper echelon of the Consortium to financial crimes they hadn't considered important enough to conceal. On their own, they weren't. Put together to form a coherent whole, they were a net made of steel.

"I don't believe this," he breathed. Looking up at Mulder's determined face, he took a deep breath.

"It worked for the gangbusters in the thirties, and it will work for us now."

"Why are you telling me?" Did Mulder know his own name was in these papers?

"Back up. I don't trust him. He's got money, and he's got contacts. I need you to take me to him. I'm going to arrest the bastard myself."

"You are out of your mind." Complete conviction in the cold voice.

"Maybe. But the only thing he has is his power. Take that away from him, and I just might have the leverage I need to get him to answer my questions." The older man snorted his lack of faith in this outcome, and Mulder's voice hardened. "It's a moot point. This is what we have, and this is what we'll have to use. Time's run out. For all of us." They stared at one another for what felt like an eternity before Mr. X looked away.

"All right."

"My car." A quick scowl from his contact. He didn't like it. Mulder didn't budge. The other man gave one short, sharp nod, and they rose from the bench and headed for the parking lot. As they settled in the front seat of the blue Taurus, the rear passenger seat door opened quickly and a dark figure slid into the seat. His gun was drawn and behind Mr. X's ear before the older man could pull away.

"Back off, Krycek, he's a ... well, maybe not a friend, but not an enemy." Mulder's voice was harsh. Krycek couldn't see the gun that X had aimed at his side.

"Hello, Jonathon." Neither gun wavered.

"Hello, Alexei."

"Well, isn't this nice. No need to waste time with introductions, I see." Mulder sat with both hands on the wheel, very nearly holding his breath.

"You know who this guy is, Mulder?" Krycek asked coldly.

"A contact," Mulder replied shortly. "He's going to lead us to the Cancerman."

"He's gonna lead us to our graves if we trust him."

"Who the fuck said I trust him?" Mulder's voice was tight with strain. "I don't trust anybody! But he's the closest we have to a pointer, and he has a gun pointed at me, and if you have a better idea I'd sure as hell like to hear it!" Krycek's response wasn't reassuring. He cocked the trigger. Mulder shut his eyes. It was all going to hell and there wasn't a damned thing he could do about it.

"Lower the gun, Jonathon. You know me. Pretty well, really. You know to save myself I'll sacrifice anyone. And I can pull this trigger before you can swing that gun this way. So unless you want your brains all over the fucking windshield, put down the gun."

Mulder forced his eyes open in time to see the dark man lower his weapon. He reached out, rather shakily, and took it from his hand. X was looking straight ahead, ignoring the gun muzzle a whisper from his ear.

"Drive north to Addison street and take a left."

There was more going on here than he was being told, Mulder knew, but that was certainly not unusual. He'd have the whole story from Krycek when this was over. One way or the other.

Forty minutes later they pulled up in front of a nondescript brownstone in a quiet residential district of Arlington. Carefully approaching from the side, they made an odd procession, but there was no one out in the midmorning street to notice. As they entered the side door with Mr. X's key, Krycek began to get itchy. It was going too easily.

X took the lead, followed by Mulder, with Krycek picking up the end, doing his best to look every direction at once. X paused outside an oak paneled door, then gestured mockingly at the handle, indicating that Mulder should precede him. The agent looked from his contact to the door, held his handgun ready, and kicked the door in with one sudden blow. He came around the corner with all due speed, X right behind him, prodded along by Krycek. What he saw made him curse viciously. Someone had obviously been there before him.

Four older men lay in grotesque parody of a board meeting. A desiccated stick of a man was at the head of the table, a trail of blood leading from his nostrils and mouth to cover his chin. There was a neat hole in the center of his forehead, and the back of his skull was missing. A corpulent man in a white linen suit sprawled at his left hand. His expression was impossible to read due to the exit wound from a high caliber weapon that had taken away two thirds of his face. To the right hand of the table, the well dressed man who had so often questioned the Cancerman's dealings with the Consortium slumped in his chair, the usually immaculate shirt front shredded by multiple bullet wounds. He had a vaguely startled look on his face. And at the end of the table, crumpled over it, fallen where he had apparently been standing, the Cancerman lay across the fine grained wood, arms outflung as if in supplication, fingers splayed against the darkness of the blood that had flowed from the explosion of his chest cavity. The smell of blood and fecal matter was heavy in the chamber.

"Oh, shit." Mulder's voice was a mere whisper. He dropped his arms and looked in complete astonishment at the tableau, trying hard not to vomit at the stench. As he tried to take it in, he heard Krycek scream, "No!" and turned in time to see his erstwhile contact swing his gun up. Krycek flung himself between the two men, bringing his own weapon up and firing as he went. Three slugs took X high in the chest and shoulder, twisting him around and throwing him up against the wall. Krycek rocked back from the force of the shot he took to the abdomen, crumpling over and dropping his gun. Mulder caught him as he fell, wincing and spitting out a sharp curse as the strain ground his broken ribs together. He lowered Krycek as gently as he could to the ground, and hurried to check X's condition. He knew by the blank look in the glassy eyes that it was too late, but he checked for a pulse anyway. In the distance he heard the sound of sirens pulling closer. Stepping away from X, he gathered up Krycek's gun and stuck it in his waistband, then bent over the softly moaning man.

"Krycek. C'mon, man, we have to get out of here. Can you move?" He gritted his teeth against the pain in his side and pulled Alex upright. The dark head fell back against his shoulder, but Krycek clutched his stomach and staggered to his feet. Together they managed to get back down the side exit and away from the building before the first of the police stormed up the front steps.

*************************************************

The six o'clock news was fascinating. The multiple murders, and the complicated web of international intrigue that surrounded them, artfully leaked by the remaining Lone Gunmen, ensured that the remnants of the Consortium would be running for a very long time. Mulder would have been jubilant, if he wasn't huddled in an uncomfortable plastic chair staring at the still form of Alex Krycek. He'd undergone five hours of surgery to remove the fragments of the bullet from his abdominal cavity and repair the damage they had done. Scully knew the surgeons well, and vouched for their trustworthiness. Mulder was still relieved when Krycek made it through alive. He knew he was paranoid, but he just didn't have good luck with hospitals. And he was half afraid if he stopped his vigilance someone would sneak in and inject poison in Krycek's IV, or spirit him away and give him to aliens, or blow his head off ...

The door swung quietly open and he looked up to see Scully staring thoughtfully down at him.

"How are you doing, Mulder?" The concern in her voice brought the trace of a smile to his face.

"Fine," he returned, adhering to their established routine. She returned the smile briefly, then picked up the chart at the side of the door and studied it. "How's it look?" He couldn't help but think it had to be bad. Krycek looked almost fragile, a strange state for him.

"Pretty good, actually. The soft tissue damage was relatively easy to repair, no major damage was done to the organs, and the blood loss was within acceptable limits." Mulder thought of the blood splashed liberally on the car seat and restrained a shudder. "His main problem is that his general physical condition is run down, his resistance is low, and he's exhausted. He doesn't have much to fight back with at the moment. Once he wakes up and his condition stabilizes, he'll be free to go." In exchange for the help he had given them, not least of which was the incriminating documents that brought the Consortium to its knees, Mulder had convinced Skinner not to bring charges against Krycek.

"Go where, though?" Mulder asked softly.

Scully sighed. "Well, he could come to my place, I suppose. After all, with everything that's gone on there I might as well turn it into a convalescent hospital. Make it official." She smiled grimly at him, and he shook his head.

"Will he need a doctor's care?" She stared at him for a moment.

"No, just someone to make sure he doesn't overdo it. Doesn't push himself too soon, too fast."

Mulder stared at Krycek, sleeping peacefully, whuffing gently with the aid of the oxygen cannula. Scully watched him for a moment, then pushed a straight backed chair over next to him and settled into it.

"Mulder?" Her voice was hesitant. She wasn't sure she wanted to bring this up.

"It's the weirdest thing," he said, equally softly, as if he hadn't heard her. "You go through so much thinking you hate someone. Really hate them, you know? Want to kill him. Then you finally get a chance to think about it, and you know what? You realize you owe him. And it's a weird feeling." He pulled his eyes away from the bed and stared at her. "You know why he's here, Scully? He saved my life. *Again.* It's become a habit with him. Over the past year he has saved my life three times."

"How do you feel about that?" She was on rocky ground here, and she knew it.

"I ... don't know." He laughed, a short, painful sound, and laced his fingers together, looping them around his knee and staring at his knuckles. "That's the hardest part. I should hate him, you know? He ... he hurt me." He took a very deep breath and let it out slowly. "When he kidnapped me, he shot me up with something." He ignored her soft "I remember, Mulder," concentrating on getting it all out. "It was supposed to make me easier to handle, but it had side effects. He ... noticed, and took advantage of the fact. And I ... I remember it." He closed his eyes, unwilling or unable to face her while he told her the rest of it. "I can't forget it. I tried. And over the months, through the Markham case and the time he spent with me regaining his memory and these recent weeks he's been helping us, it's getting so confusing. Because I know I should hate him." His eyes flew open and he stared at her, pleading for help with this one, because it had him in knots that he didn't know how to untie. "But how can I hate him when he keeps getting hurt protecting me? And how can I hate him when I want him so much?"

She held his gaze with hers, and gave him an answer he didn't expect to hear. "There is an old saying that hate is the mirror face of love, Mulder. In a lot of ways, Krycek is the dark reflection of you. And he has proven himself willing to literally die for you. That's a strong tie. Right now, he's hurt, and you're tired and confused. Why don't you give it some time. Let him get stronger. Let the dust settle." Where have I said this before? she thought with some amusement. "Then talk to him. Ask him how he feels. Maybe by then you'll have a better grip on how you feel." She watched his eyes widen, staring fixedly at her. "What?"

"Oh, I dunno, I guess I was just expecting you to say something else."

"Like what?"

"Shoot the bastard and check yourself into the psych ward." His dry comment surprised a gurgle of laughter from her.

"No, Mulder. I think ... I think this is something you need to explore. Or else you're always going to wonder." Reaching over to pat his shoulder, she smiled when he reached up and caught her hand. Squeezing it gently, she withdrew and walked quietly from the room. Mulder settled back into the chair and resumed his watch.

Pausing as the door swung shut behind her, Scully raised her eyes to meet the stoic face of her superior, standing across the hallway next to the window, his arms crossed over his chest. Moving to his side, she tilted her head to better see his expression. His face was still, but his eyes betrayed his concern.

"Is he going to be okay, Agent Scully?"

"He came through the surger-"

"I meant Mulder," he interrupted softly. She nibbled at her lower lip and gave the question the consideration it deserved.

"I think so, Sir. It's been a hard week." He smiled slightly at her understatement, and changed the subject, as satisfied by her reassurance as he could be.

"Would you care for a cup of coffee?" He watched her eyes widen as she weighed the many possible shadings behind the simple invitation, and was warmed by her calm acceptance of all of them.

"I'd like that very much, Sir."

*************************************************

The next three weeks were some of the strangest Mulder had ever lived through. He worked short shifts, taking paperwork home with him to sift through it for information that might lead him to the whereabouts of his sister. Raiding the Consortium headquarters had unearthed a motherlode of information, and he was looking forward to taking it apart, sifting it for clues. Scully had been spending a lot of time with Director Skinner, and he found himself wondering at her unusually serene good humor. With a stern self admonition to not go there, he buried himself in the paperwork.

Working from home also gave him time to baby-sit Krycek. Not that either man would call it that. Alex needed someplace to recuperate, and Mulder could get away from the office more easily than Scully. It worked out surprisingly well, and they soon settled into a comfortable routine. Mulder found the whole situation bizarre in the extreme. Krycek was the perfect house guest. He didn't say much. He didn't make much of a mess, not that it would be obvious in Mulder's apartment if he did. Krycek slept on the bed, Mulder slept on the couch, and for three solid weeks the depth of the conversation never went any further than the Redskins and the weather.

He thought he was going insane.

Krycek didn't seem to have any problem with it at all.

Late one Friday evening, after Scully had helped them finish off the last of the pizza and a couple not bad bottles of red wine and made her tired way home, Mulder sprawled on the couch, remote in hand. Krycek sat on the floor and leaned against the front of the cushions, watching the flickering channels without comment. He had healed well, and knew it wouldn't be long before he'd have to be on his way. His eyes dropped to the frayed carpet, knowing that the dust Scully had mentioned was as settled as it was going to get, knowing that he had to make a choice. He either brought it all up and risked having Mulder kick his ass out on the street, or he buried it for good and did his best to forget the emotion it had taken him so long to recognize. The thought of the missed chances made his throat tighten. Before he could clear it enough to start a sentence, he was startled to feel fingertips brushing through the thick hair behind his left ear.

"Your hair's gettin' long." Mulder's voice was slightly slurred with the wine, and sounded distracted. Krycek swallowed dryly and followed his lead, wondering where it would take them.

"Yeah. Need a haircut."

"I kinda like it long. It's curly." He found himself leaning into that hand, the light feathering touch slowly resolving into a caress. He turned his head carefully so as not to dislodge those questing fingers, until he could look up into heavy lidded hazel eyes. What he saw there made him go very still.

Heat. Liquid heat, shimmering, turning the hazel to golden green. He caught his breath. The hand ceased its exploration and curved around the back of his head, holding him steady as Mulder leaned slowly down toward him. His eyes dropped to that mouth, the full lower lip glistening slightly, and his own lips parted in stunned anticipation. This simply could not be happening.

But it did.

It was softer, sweeter than he thought it would be, and his eyes closed of their own volition, his entire concentration centered on the mouth gently devouring his own. He tasted wine, and spices, and something distinctly Mulder. The other man deepened the kiss, and Krycek gave himself up to it completely. When they finally broke apart, they were both gasping for breath. And Mulder was looking at him as if he was one of his Reticulans.

"Hey," he managed, "Don't look at me like that. You started it!"

Mulder's mouth twitched, but he controlled the smile before it could take hold. "I don't know about that." He fingered a set of thin scars encircling his wrist, a physical reminder of what Krycek had done to him over a year before. Alex swallowed heavily, following the movement with his eyes. "Why'd ya do it, Krycek? I wasn't going anywhere, not with that shit you shot me up with."

Alex's hand moved to join Mulder's, tracing the raised line, not daring to look up. "I need to tell you something."

"You were high too and didn't know what you were doing?"

It worked. Krycek looked up from the warm skin under his fingers to glare at Mulder. "Funny. No. I didn't mean to ... It wasn't part of the plan ... Damnit, I didn't do it all just so we could have sex." He ignored Mulder's challenging look and forged on. "You really were bait, in order to make a deal and get Scully and Skinner and you off my ass long enough to deal with the Cancerman. The rest ... Do you know why they assigned me to be your partner after the X Files were closed down?"

The question and apparent change of subject threw Mulder for a moment before he could reply. "Uhm, so you could spy on me and sabotage my work?"

"So I could protect you."

"Right." A pause, then, derisively, "Bullshit."

"No," he returned forcefully. "Not bullshit. What I told you, about admiring you, studying your work, that was all true. And they knew that. They used it. That's why they picked me. They knew I could keep you alive and still keep you from the truth. I asked the Cancerman one time why we didn't just kill you." Mulder raised an eyebrow, interested in hearing his Nemesis' reply. "He said he didn't want to make a martyr of you. I couldn't believe how relieved I was to hear that. I didn't want to hurt you. And over time, as things got completely out of control and I realized just how fucking deep I was in it, I started screwing up. They were making me hurt you and I was no damned good at that. I wanted ... I needed to protect you, and I never stopped running long enough to ask myself why." He stopped to catch his breath after the rush of words.

"So, now that you've stopped running -- Why?" Mulder's voice sounded loud in the small room.

"Because they knew something I didn't recognize myself." God, this was hard.

"What?" Mulder sounded slightly out of breath himself.

Krycek clenched his fists until his knuckles turned white. "I love you." Well. That was that. He waited for some sign of reaction, braced to defend himself when Mulder swung at him.

Nothing.

He risked a glance sideways.

Mulder looked like he'd been poleaxed. Krycek licked his lips nervously and rushed to fill the silence.

"I know you hate me. Shit, how could you not? I mean, makes perfect sense to me, I do all these godawful things and get you in all this trouble and chain you up an-" Long fingers pressed against his lips, stemming the flow of words.

"I haven't the faintest idea what I feel for you, Krycek." Mulder took in the wide, dark eyes and the nervous expression on the younger man's face. "But I do know one thing. It's not hatred." If possible, the eyes got wider. "Don't have much of a clue what it is and it probably should be hate, but it isn't." He sighed, trailing his fingertips down the soft lips and square jaw. "But stick around. We'll figure it out. Somehow. And sometime." His hand dropped and he settled back into the cushions, staring sightlessly at the images moving across the television screen. "Not tonight."

Krycek relaxed against the front of the couch, chewing over what had just happened. Mulder hadn't punched him, or shot him, or thrown him out. He'd told the truth, and Mulder hadn't hated him for it. He had time. A warm feeling settled in the pit of his stomach and he analyzed it for some time before he recognized it. For the first time in a very, very long time, he had hope. He had no idea what the future would hold, but at least now he knew there would be one.

******************************finis*********************