Chemical Agents II: Toxicosis

by Ratadder and Queen Mab


Toxicosis: a pathological condition caused by the action of a poison or toxin

Mulder pulled the strap of one suitcase over his shoulder, and hoisted another. Between the clothes they'd picked up for Scully, their own gear, and the medical supplies and groceries Scully had demanded, it looked like they could hide out for a year. Skinner came around from the trunk similarly loaded down. They went up the front steps, and Skinner dropped one bag, fumbling at the security pad until the light blinked green. Using the key Frohike had given them to unlock the door, they stumbled over the threshold. And froze in the darkened living room as Scully's panicked voice reached them.

"Alex, don't do this! Give me the gun!"

Skinner didn't even pause. He dropped everything and raced for the voice a split second before Mulder moved, both men drawing their guns as they cleared the door to the lit inner room.

Alex Krycek sprawled naked on a bed, with Scully straddling his hips, holding him down as she struggled for possession of the gun he held in a white-knuckled grip.

"Alex, don't! Just give me the gun! You don't-"

Over Scully's shoulder, Krycek caught sight of Mulder, and froze, a look of astonished joy breaking across his ravaged face. In that instant, Mulder was across the room, his arms around Scully's waist, lifting her off of Krycek. Skinner sprang on Krycek at the same moment, grabbing his arm, yanking him forward, and twisting his wrist until he yelped and the gun fell.

Lowering Scully to the floor, Mulder watched Skinner use his grip on Krycek's arm to slam him back down on the bed, shouting "You son of a bitch!" as his other fist drove into Krycek's exposed stomach.

Later, Mulder would reflect that Krycek's attempt to rise back off the bed was likely a reflexive effort to curl around and protect his gut. Presently, through the red haze over his vision, all he could comprehend was that the bastard wasn't down for the count yet. He was around Scully and backhanding that hated face before he even realized he was moving.

From the moment he first heard Scully's frantic voice pleading with Krycek to "stop", until the moment his hand impacted with Krycek's flesh, Mulder stopped actually thinking... moving instinctively to protect her and beat the crap out of him. But in that moment, as his knuckles scraped across Krycek's cheekbone painfully, a number of images he had unconsciously taken in registered one after another like a slide show on fast forward:

Scully's skirt had ridden up in the struggle, exposing just a flash of plain white briefs.

Considering he wore no underwear at all, Krycek was exposing a hell of a lot more.

Scully wasn't wearing any stockings and her legs were all scratched up.

Krycek's bruised lower legs looked like they'd been through a wringer washing machine.

Scully's face was registering "severely pissed", for some odd reason.

Krycek had, just for a moment, looked at Mulder like he was glad to see him... for some odd reason.

Scully had really nice legs, even if they were a little on the short side.

Krycek had a really nice cock, even if it was a little on the... scratch that thought.

Krycek had no left arm.

There was a sharp pain in his right shin...

The last was Scully kicking him. "Mulder, stop!"

"Hey! I'm on your side!" The momentary disorientation he felt didn't seem to be related to his aching shin-bone, but it wasn't bad enough to distract him as he watched her hand flash out in the other direction, catching Skinner's arm.

"Sir, don't hit him again!"

Skinner pulled his second blow before his fist could catch Krycek's jaw. He stepped back from the bed, breathing roughly, and obviously waiting for a good reason why he shouldn't pummel the lower life form. "Agent Scully?"

She ran her fingers through her hair, looking ready to tear it out in frustration. "Just STOP! Leave. Him. Alone. Both of you!"

"But Scully-"

"I know what it probably looked like," she cut in sharply, yanking her skirt back down with jerky, irritated movements. "But it's not. He wasn't trying to kill me. I was trying to keep him from killing himself."

Mulder exchanged a look with Skinner, then was instantly distracted by the rest of her sentence. Kill himself? Krycek? The ultimate survivor?

Krycek had curled up tightly on his side, clutching his bandaged left shoulder, rocking slightly. Scully leaned down and drew the blankets over the battered body, hiding the bruises and the horror of his missing arm. Mulder didn't know if he was disappointed or relieved.

"It's okay, Alex," she said gently, and Mulder blinked in surprise at her tone. "Mulder and Skinner are here. We'll keep watch. You need to relax and try to sleep."

He stared up at her, still working on regulating his breathing, but finally nodded.

"You understand? Alex? There's no one here but us." Scully spoke calmly and clearly while she studied his eyes, trying to gauge if he knew who she was. "You okay?" she finally asked.

Another nod and a grimace, that morphed into a pale imitation of his usual smirk. "No worries, Dana," he managed to slur, still struggling for breath. "That was just a typical hello from these two."

Giving him a look, Scully drew in a slow breath and stood, wondering at the relief coursing through her that he at least recognized her. ::Ignore it,:: her mind whispered. She bent fluidly and picked up the gun from the floor. "Get some rest."

As she turned away, she heard him croak, "Leave that."

She looked back at him, one eyebrow lifted, and shook her head firmly. "No. I don't think that's a good idea, Alex."

"Oh, no." He reached out and grabbed her arm, his eyes still too wide and a touch too wild. "You're not leaving me with no way-"

Mulder tensed at Krycek's action, but subsided with a glare at the "down boys" look Scully shot at both him and Skinner. He watched guardedly as Scully returned her attention - calmly - to the man on the bed and spoke in slow, measured cadence.

"I said no. Alex, you almost died just now because you were too confused to realize you were in no danger." She saw his gaze flicker between the two scowling men looming behind her. "No danger of getting retaken," she amended lamely. "Look, I promise you that I won't let anyone hurt you. Alright?"

"You can't keep them away if they really want me," he said harshly, fingers tightening on her arm. "I told you, I am not going back."

"I know." She sighed, understanding, but also knowing there was no way in hell she was going to leave him with a loaded gun. Her tired mind scrambled. "All right, how's this... I promise that if it looks like they're going to get to you, I'll put a bullet through your head myself." He blinked up at her, and she met his eyes squarely, unflinchingly.

"You're serious." His fingers loosened.

"You have my word."

Mulder watched something pass between the two of them as they stared at each other, some speaking look communicating something he and Skinner had no part in. He blinked in surprise as Krycek's long fingers released her arm and he subsided back to the bed.

"Okay then."

She smiled suddenly. "And if they get me first, Mulder will do it."

"I will?"

Mulder flinched at the icy blue glare he got, while Krycek choked on a laugh and muttered, "Oh, I'm sure he will."

Freed, Scully stepped back from the bed and thrust the gun at Skinner. "You know, you might make yourselves useful by making us some dinner, if you remembered to bring food," she snapped, then pushed between them and out the door.

Mulder exchanged a poleaxed look with Skinner, then glanced back at the bed. Krycek's eyes were closed, and he looked for all the world like he was asleep. Or passed out. Even his breathing had relaxed. Mulder didn't buy it for an instant. Anger hummed through every nerve and his fists curled. Another odd wave of disorientation swept over him, and he blinked, shaking his head and refocusing on Krycek. He opened his mouth to call the worm back to consciousness, but Skinner suddenly shook his head, and pointed to the door.

"Agent Mulder, we need more information," Skinner muttered in the clipped tones he used when turning down a case or a travel request. "We have two choices of how to get that information. Agent Scully... or him." He jerked a thumb at the still figure on the bed and raised his eyebrows meaningfully.

Mulder's lips tightened in annoyance, but he trooped out into the main room just in time to see the bathroom door shut forcefully. Seconds later he heard the bedroom door click shut behind him and the scrape of a chair as Skinner wedged it under the door handle. ::Good thinking,:: he realized, as he noticed the door only locked from the inside. Shaking out his sore hand, he headed for the bags on the floor, noticing that Scully must have ferreted out the one that contained her clothes already, as it had apparently followed her into the bathroom. Picking up a bag of groceries and heading for the kitchen, Mulder caught Skinner's eye. "Alex?"

Skinner shook his head. "Dana?" he returned in the same tone.

Mulder blew out an exasperated breath and dropped his bag on the table with a thunk that didn't bode well for whatever was packed on the bottom. "I don't like this. She said... on the phone she said he saved her life." He rubbed at his temple where a slight headache was starting up.

Skinner paused in the act of reaching into the cupboards. "He what?" When they'd spoken hurriedly on the Gunmen's phone, she'd only said that she and Krycek had broken out of a Consortium facility together. Saved her life?

"She didn't elaborate but... well, do you think..."

"Think what, Agent Mulder?" Skinner ground out, not wanting to think about any of the things that Mulder's words had just conjured up.

"Well, you know what they say about people in dangerous, stressful conditions. Particularly strange, life-threatening conditions."

"They see people turn into big black bugs?" The retort slipped out before Skinner could stop it.

Mulder stiffened against the table. "Low blow. Sir."

Skinner set down the can he held with a sharp clunk. ::Between the two of us we might as well have shopped at the dented can sale.:: But the last thing he felt like doing was coddling Mulder's jealousy right now. ::Especially not when you've got your own to deal with,:: taunted a mental voice that sounded alarmingly like Krycek at his smug best. Drawing in a slow, calming breath, he turned and met Mulder's reproachful stare. "I'm sorry. That was uncalled for."

Mulder let the memory of being strapped helplessly to the hospital bed eat at him for another few moments, then finally lifted his chin and shook it off. "I just mean I don't like what I just saw in there."

"Neither do I."

"So you did notice."

"It'd be hard not to. And I wasn't aware Krycek had... well, that Agent Scully thinks he saved her life." Skinner's brows drew together. "I don't much like that either," he muttered. "That slippery bastard doesn't do anything without a reason."

Mulder blinked. "That's exactly what I said."

Skinner sighed in irritation at Mulder's surprised look. "It's not exactly a personality observation requiring a psychology degree, Mulder. And I have been an FBI agent longer than you have."

Mulder blinked again, this time at the hostility hovering just below Skinner's words, then spun without a word and started unpacking his bag.

Skinner ducked his head at the sight of Mulder petulantly piling food on the table, rather than carrying it to the cupboards and actually putting it away. He rolled his eyes but tried again. "Look, I'm tired. Alright? Very. It's been a strange couple of days, this is a very odd situation and I'm no happier about it than you are." ::And the man lying in that room holds my life in the palm of his hand.:: Skinner's hand clenched on the can. ::And you're jealous. Jealousjealousjealous,:: added that needling voice again.

First Mulder, now... Krycek? God no. Scully couldn't... wouldn't. Not Dana Scully. Not his Dana Scully. Of course he knew exactly what stress and extreme danger did to people. Vietnam had taught him all about how life-threatening situations bred trust and... closeness. And what was all that first-name-basis and weird-lingering-looks thing about? And had Krycek actually saved her life? That was his job, dammit. Yet another instance where he'd failed to protect, failed to...

He swallowed hard and forced himself back on track. "But we don't need to take it out on each other, Mulder. That will only make everything worse. We need to talk to her, rationally and calmly, and find out what went on. Get the details, all the facts." ::And I need to beat that bastard bloody if he laid one finger anywhere on her.:: Aloud, he finished bluntly, "And I think the best way to make sure the conversation isn't rational or calm is to insinuate she and Krycek had some kind of... of... foxhole connection." He finally stacked the can in the cupboard, then busied himself filling the teapot on the stove and turning on the burner. Finally he walked over to pick up the haphazardly spread boxes and bread from the table.

After a long pause, Mulder finally muttered, "I'd like to at least get him cuffed to that bed."

Skinner nodded. "I'm with you. And I'd like him in a locked room."

"Maybe we can put a deadbolt on the outside of that door. The Gunmen won't mind, if we remove it when we leave."

"Good. And I've got leg irons in the car."

Mulder's head swiveled. "You do?"

Skinner met his look calmly. "I assumed we were coming here to deal with a recalcitrant, dangerous assassin, Agent Mulder. I wasn't about to trust to his supposed injuries to keep him in one place. I came prepared. All things considered, it looks like a good thing I brought the leg irons. I didn't know about the arm, didn't realize we'd need a body chain, so I only have standard handcuffs."

Mulder sat down heavily as Skinner's words brought back the image he'd unconsciously blocked out the minute he'd seen it. Now, with the reminder, it came back in vivid technicolor detail, causing a wave of nausea to roll up over him. That arm. Or rather, that lack of an arm. That stump... that incredible screaming gaping place where an arm was supposed to be, that truncated evidence of pain and horror. The scar tissue and the deformity that dragged the eye and repelled it at the same time.

"-ent Mulder?"

His head whipped up and he stared into Skinner's questioning gaze for long moments until he realized a response of some kind was likely called for. "Sorry," he managed. "I didn't know about the arm either. But I think... well, I can guess what may have happened." The words felt like glass in his throat.

Skinner started to reply, when the kitchen door swung open. Scully walked in, freshly scrubbed and toweling her hair. In jeans and a sweatshirt, she looked less tired somehow than she had fifteen minutes ago in the rumpled, bloodstained remains of her business suit.

Mulder swung in his chair and stared up at her as she crossed the room, tossing the towel to a counter top and finger-combing her mussed hair. Seeing her, alive and breathing and squeaky clean, was suddenly more than he could stand. All the tension of the past stretch of endless hours raced from him in a rush, carrying with it the odd sensations the bedroom scene had called up, obliterating his irrational irritation that she would believe Krycek had saved her life. In a move he didn't even remember making, he crossed the room and swept her into a tight embrace. Whether the shower and five minutes to herself had cooled her down, or the uncharacteristic show of emotion made an impact, she melted against him after only a momentary stiffening.

"I'm glad you're safe," he whispered simply into her hair, the familiar smell of clean Scully enveloping him.

"Me too," she mumbled into his shirt.

Skinner cleared his throat and shifted uncomfortably, before dropping the bread back to the table and making for the door. "I'll... uh, take care of what we talked about," he mumbled as he exited.

Scully pulled away from Mulder. "Sir, I-"

Mulder caught her arm before she could follow Skinner out of the kitchen. "Scully, wait. I need to know what's going on. We have got to talk. He's got to get the last of the stuff from the car. I know you must be exhausted but can you tell me what happened?"

Scully collapsed down at the table and nodded. "Should we wait for Skinner to come back?"

Mulder waved it off carelessly. Somewhere in his brain he recognized he was avoiding mentioning the leg irons to her, but he pushed the thought aside. "I'll fill him in on things if you want to talk now and maybe catch a nap. You look beat."

"You don't know the half of it, Mulder," she groaned, leaning her head on one hand. "God, it was just so damn good to get out of those clothes. Sorry for being so... so." She rubbed at her eyes. "It's been crazy. Absolutely crazy. So much has happened and that was such a mess with him going delirious again right when you guys got here and-"

"Again? He's been doing that a lot?"

"He's been in and out of it for most of the time I've been with him. He's in bad shape and I've been playing doctor and guard and father confessor all rolled into one and I'm sick of it. You two can take a turn at dealing with him. I need real sleep and I need it bad."

Mulder grinned. That was his Scully. Feeling inordinately better, he caught her hand in his and squeezed companionably. The door to the kitchen opened slowly and Skinner's head appeared around the edge. They both turned to him and Mulder wondered at the odd look on his boss' face.

"I thought maybe I should start dinner. If you two would rather talk in the other room..."

"Oh, that would be great," Scully sighed. "One more alien Gatorade and I was going to scream."

Mulder and Skinner both looked at her and she gave a tired snicker, covering her mouth with her free hand. "Forget it," she mumbled through her fingers. "Yes, dinner would be great. No, we don't need to talk out there. I was hoping you'd come back in so I'd only have to go through this once."

Skinner nodded and came the rest of the way into the room. "Are you sure you don't want to get some rest first? You look like you could use it."

Mulder's fingers tightened simultaneously on her hand. "Are you okay? Really?"

She met Skinner's concerned look and Mulder's lingering grin with a tired but genuine smile. "Really. I'm fine. As fine as I can be after wandering around in the Virginia woods for two hours in pumps and a skirt, in the middle of a January night, with a six-foot, delirious assassin hanging on my shoulder, worrying my ass off about you," she arched an eyebrow at Mulder. "And then going on the run with said assassin and covering half the thirteen original colonies in a hotwired car. I've been freezing, exhausted, hungry, frustrated and I've been taking care of someone I do not like and watching him suffer and feeling guilty when I think he deserves it and feeling guilty when I feel sorry for him. But yeah, basically, I'm fine."

"And that doesn't even cover the kidnapping," Mulder offered, deadpan.

Scully gave another hysterical giggle and pinched the bridge of her nose. "That's right. Kidnapped, drugged, left for a test subject, almost raped, shot at..."


"Relax, Mulder," she caught his arm as he started to rise, and glanced over at Skinner who had slammed a frozen lasagna down on the stove with enough force to crack the solid brick of noodles and sauce. "Krycek killed them." She watched Skinner until he turned back to the lasagna, flushing an odd shade of red.

Mulder opened his mouth, then closed it and shook his head. ::Wonderful. More of the Legendary Adventures of Krycek-ules. What'd he do, take a correspondence course in heroism?:: He felt a flash of guilt at his thoughts. The important thing was she was safe. He blanked his mind of other considerations and tried again. "What say we start at the beginning? Or would you really rather just get some rest first?"

Scully shook her head and went back to finger-combing her hair as wet locks fell forward into her eyes. "No, I want food. We can start at the beginning. I have had some sleep. I'm tired, but I'm wired. Anyway, I was grabbed from in front of my apartment building just as I got home from work by three guys in a van. They shot me up with something. I don't know what happened exactly, but next thing I woke up in a Consortium research facility, getting wheeled down the hall by none other than CGB Spender himself." Her voice wearing thin and dropping deeper as she went, Scully described the facility, Krycek coming for her, their escape, and the resulting head-long tumble that had brought them all to this place. She smiled her thanks when Skinner placed a mug of hot tea at her elbow, and tried to hold onto the thread of her story as Mulder leaped in at random with questions and muttered comments about Krycek. Skinner finally put an end to his interruptions with a sharp "Let her finish, Agent Mulder."

Finally winding down, Scully came to the piece de resistance. "Look, you know how heavily I've been stressing that the Consortium wants him back, that we need to be so careful that they can't find us? You know this research I've described? Remember Jeremiah Smith?" She took a deep breath and dropped the bomb. "Well, Krycek's a success. He's literally healing himself. And let me tell you, from what I've seen, I doubt very much the Consortium is going to give him up without a fight." She looked from Mulder to Skinner and back again. "You see now what I meant about him trying to kill himself? He knows, Mulder. He knows they need him back, and they'll stop at nothing. He's not only walking proof, he's also pretty damn special to them right now. From what I understand, everyone else in the trials died, after limited success. But it's working even better with him. Broken legs, a bullet wound, even his scar tissue on his stump is changing. I don't know what that means, exactly, but I do know that something is going on with that man's body. And I was in that facility. I heard what they were doing to him. Believe me when I say I understand his vow to never go back. I wouldn't wish that end on anybody, not even him." She shuddered at the memory of screams, the haunted look in his eyes, and took a long drink.

"And now we've got him, I want to keep him this time, dammit. We've always known he's key. Getting at what he's got in that labyrinthian head of his has always been invaluable. Now his body could be just as important. And at the moment, we've got him over a barrel. He needs us. They're going to be coming after him no-holds-barred, he's in no condition to run, no condition to protect himself from them, and he needs a doctor. He's dead scared. The experiments have been apparently successful but who knows what this stuff is capable of. He doesn't know what's going on in his body, he doesn't know if he's dying. I don't know if he's dying. These side effects are intense and I don't know what I can give him safely for medication... and..." She broke off, momentarily overwhelmed by everything that was happening so fast.

She paused and took a moment to collect her thoughts again, then continued in a calmer voice. "He offered me a trade. I help him out, help get him somewhere safe - get him to you, Mulder - and see what I can do for him. Physically, medically. And he'll let me get what I need from him, in the way of studying what they've done to him. He's basically giving himself to us as a lab rat, on the theory that at least we'll be kinder to the rat. He is proof, Mulder, real proof! And he offered more information. And I have cartridges, disks," she almost grinned at the way Mulder leaned forward, practically salivating across the table. "On our way out of the facility, Krycek downloaded a bunch of data and research from their mainframe, and grabbed some of their disks. He didn't have time to be choosy, but there's got to be information there we can use. And yes," she answered as she saw Mulder's lips start to form a question, "I have them all. I made sure they were in my possession during one of his delirious spells."

"So anyway, that's why I requested the safe house, why I was so insistent on extreme precautions. I knew the minute they realized he was gone, they'd be out in full force. Especially with me gone with him. Not only do we have to keep him out of their hands, but we also have to keep ourselves off the radar screen until we can figure this out, Mulder. I was taken specifically for these tests, and they took me first so that you'd come running right to them. You were next, that was very clear to both Krycek and me. And that's why I say, whatever else he's done, I'll thank Alex Krycek for getting me out of there, and for helping me get word to you in time." ::Even if I do have some rather sickening suspicions about his real motivations for doing it.::

The tense moment of quiet snapped with Skinner's rough voice as he dropped into a chair at the table with them. "Okay, I'll say it first, if no one else is going to. How do we know this isn't one giant set up. By Krycek. Or by Spender, with Krycek's help."

Scully started nodding before the words were out of his mouth. "Absolutely. I had the same thought, repeatedly. My own answer for myself, and the only one I can give you, is that I do believe he was seriously injured, repeatedly, in that facility. I believe he's been tortured, and infected with something that is giving him some pretty extraordinary recovery powers. I believe he remains very ill - the sweating, the shakes, the pupils, the delirium - it's all involuntary. The delirium could possibly be faked, but from what I've seen, my medical opinion is that it's the real thing. He also keeps trying to slap up a front, keeps trying to act like he's more together than he is. Quite frankly, if he were faking I'd expect him to be doing the opposite, playing up his weaknesses, trying to look helpless, act even sicker." She took a deep breath and held up her thumb and first finger a centimeter apart. "And lastly, I do believe he's about this close to breaking."

"Lovely. Perhaps I can give him the final push," Mulder muttered, slumping back in his chair and forcing his hands through his hair. Scully flashed him an exasperated look softened by a small smile, and drained her mug. Gnawing on his lower lip, he leaned forward again, resting his elbows on the table. "You say he's a success. But what we know about their experiments, whatever this alien healing supposedly is, has only come from hearsay, yes? What you heard from Spender, and then from Krycek?"

"Well, I've overheard or been told most of it, yes. But I've had first hand experience with Krycek."

"You heard him screaming but you didn't see him getting his legs broken?"

"I thought the same thing. I didn't see it so maybe it didn't happen. But I truly don't believe he's faking the way he's been hobbling around. There have been these flashes, when it's obvious he's forgotten how bad the legs are, and he starts to just get up and go and he almost collapses."

"But, Scully, how the hell could he have had his legs broken, and be walking around at all by nightfall of the same day, to say nothing of walking through the woods and making this grand escape."

"I know. I know it doesn't make any medical sense. I'd like to get some x-rays of his legs, but it's possible we won't even find evidence of the breaks, given what he said about the scar on his leg disappearing. I want to try anyway, but-"

"But you hadn't seen that scar before either. So you have no way of knowing if it actually disappeared."

"No. That's correct," Scully nodded.

"The bullet wound, the scar tissue on his stump... you were in the middle of a dangerous escape from what amounts to Dr. Frank-n-Furter's vaults. Don't you think it's possible the bullet wound was less serious than you first thought, in the rush, with the adrenaline? That the stump, when you first saw it, was such a shock that when you looked again, with the suggestion of healing already in your head, that it may have looked less shocking, enough so it may have looked like it had changed somewhat?"

Scully huffed out a frustrated breath. "Mulder, I know what I saw! I'm a doctor! First off, I've checked that bullet wound more than once since it happened not even 24 hours ago, and it's changed every single time I've looked at it! At first I thought I'd underestimated the initial seriousness myself, but I know what I saw. Second, I got a damn good look at that stump and it is changing. I've seen a lot in my life. I'm not some novice to be freaked out by an amputation. It was a butcher job, granted, but I'm a professional. And I am telling you the scar tissue looks different now."

Mulder sat back and shook his head skeptically. "I don't know, Scully. I don't see any evidence, any proof, that anything is out of the ordinary here. A more reasonable explanation could be they really did give Krycek something, something that would mimic these symptoms he's displaying and make it look like he was really sick. We only have what Krycek - a gifted liar - has told us, and what you think you saw."

"Think, nothing!" Scully exploded. "I was the one bandaging-" She broke off suddenly, a suspicious look crossing her face. She narrowed her eyes at Mulder, watching his lips start to twitch. "You bastard," she grumbled, her lips pulling into an unwilling smile.

Mulder glanced to Skinner, who sat looking like he really wanted to roll his eyes. "You know she's got to be tired if she fell for that," he grinned.

Scully shook her head and scooped up her teabag, balling it into the napkin it rested on and flinging it across the table at Mulder.

He ducked with a chuckle. "Sorry, I couldn't resist. Kind of sucks to see something unbelievable and have no proof. But seriously, from your medical opinion, he's really sick, and he's healing wounds? Isn't that sort of contradictory?" he mused. "Why is he so sick..."

"I know. I thought that myself. It's apparently all caused from the actual... uh... whatever it is they gave him. Injuries are healing, even old injuries, but certainly not without pain and not without side-effects."

"Like an antibiotic killing an infection but making you sick in the process," Skinner offered. "Or chemotherapy."

Scully nodded. "Exactly."

"Which makes sense if it's alien in origin," Mulder continued, staring at the ceiling. "You think it is alien in origin?"

"He thinks it is," Scully corrected automatically. Her mind slid through all she'd seen, from bubbling green blood, to coming to on the snowy ground in the cold of Antarctica. Ships in Africa. Mulder doubling over in pain because of a strange artifact. Emily. Shape-shifting men coming to her door with Mulder's face. Sitting on Weber's couch remembering her own experiences with the ship, watching Cassandra floating into the air amidst the swirling ash of burning bodies. From the bloody noses of her first hints of her cancer, to the total regression once that chip was placed back in her neck. She desperately wanted to turn her back on all of it, deny it and explain it, rationalize and compartmentalize. She sighed and rubbed the bridge of her nose. "I... I don't know."

Mulder met her tired eyes and his obstinate expression softened. "Right." He smiled. "Of course."

She didn't like the fond look of condescension on his face, and it occurred to her instantly how to wipe it off. "He said it was likely something they'd come up with from the alien rebel he sent you to find," she added icily, giving him an accusatory look.

He blinked. Whoops. "Ah, he mentioned that was him?"

"He mentioned."

"Alien rebel?" Skinner shook his head.

"Long story," Mulder mumbled.

"One you ought to tell sometime," Scully added darkly. Too tired to harass him anymore, she bit back a yawn and promised herself she'd pursue his omission on his source of information tomorrow. "Anyway, to get back to the original topic, because I should get some sleep eventually - there is one other thing that convinced me Krycek was telling the truth for once." She paused and looked down at the table, then faced both expectant faces resolutely. "He saved my life. He got me out of there, and even if he just did that so he'd have a doctor along for the ride, he also took a bullet for me. That shoulder wound? He got that diving in front of me, putting me out of the way. He didn't have to." She held up a hand to forestall both men as they both moved to speak. "I'm not nominating him for sainthood. I'm just telling you what happened. It's not exactly easy for me either, believe me."

Mulder shook his head sharply, trying to dislodge the memory of the 'Alex/Dana' interactions from the bedroom. "I know, Scully. And don't get me wrong. I'm definitely thankful you're all right. I just don't trust him at all. When he does something like this, I start thinking it's all the more reason to be concerned, you know? Don't turn your back on him, even for a-"

A muffled scream cut through the cabin. Mulder broke off his cautionary spiel and leaped from the table, heading for the center bedroom with Scully and Skinner hot on his heels. A muffled thumping and another hoarse scream chased a chill down Mulder's spine and he yanked out his gun and kicked the chair out from under the door. Ignoring Scully's yelp of "who put that there" he flung open the door and skidded to a halt beside the bed, searching the room for anything out of the ordinary, but finding only Krycek, struggling madly with the bedclothes.

Scully raced right by Mulder to lean over the bed, catching Krycek's face in her hands and calling his name loudly. "ALEX! Snap out of it! You're dreaming!"

"Nooooo," he moaned, his voice a broken whine. His arm twisted in the quilt further as he struggled. Gasping for breath he waved his constricted hand abortively toward the base of the bed, stuttering something Scully couldn't even follow.

Glancing down to where the sheet and quilt bunched up in a tangle around his legs, Scully blinked in surprise at the heavy leg irons cuffed around his ankles. "Shit! Get those off him!" She slapped him lightly on the cheek. "Alex, it's me, it's Scully. It's Dana, Alex, come on, come out of it. You're okay, you're not there, you're here with me, you're not with them." She gripped his face harder and tried to penetrate the senseless panic in his eyes. "Unlock him now!" she hollered over her shoulder. "DO IT!"

Skinner finally broke out of his stunned daze, and dug the keys out of his pocket. Mulder jumped to help him hold the weakly struggling legs long enough for Skinner to get the ankle shackles unlocked. They both backed up a step as soon as the cuffs fell free.

Scully freed Krycek's arm from the blankets and lifted his hand in front of his face, forcing him to look at it. "You're not tied, Alex," she shouted. "Look, concentrate!" She guided him into a sitting position as his body jerked, and pointed to his ankles. "You're okay, you're not tied down! Breathe for me, Alex. Breathe." Rubbing his back, she tried to gentle her voice. "Look at your ankles, Alex. You're not tied."

Mulder stood stupidly by the bed, gun dangling forgotten in his hand, watching Krycek fight for air and stammer nonsensical sounds, body racked with shudders. He'd never seen Krycek like this, and for the first time it honestly hit him that Scully was right, Krycek wasn't faking. Any of it. He swallowed hard as he stared at the quaking figure, his eyes traveling almost against his will to the exposed stump. It shook along with the rest of him, and Mulder swallowed back a wave of nausea. He desperately wanted to look away but his eyes felt riveted to the ugly mess. How had Krycek stood it? What if the same had happened to him?

"T-tt-ied..." Krycek's croak brought Mulder out of his fog, and he redirected his attention to the man's face. The pitiful, pleading look was as out of place as the trembling in the hand that was suddenly gripping Scully. "Felt it... I w-w-was t-t-tied... was there, know I w-w-as..."

"No, Alex," Scully soothed, still rubbing his back and shoulder. "You're here with me and Mulder. You're fine. Move your legs. See? You're okay."

Krycek studied his legs as if he'd never seen them, then slowly drew them up. Without the weight of the cuffs, the limbs moved easily and his breathing started to slow. His body relaxed muscle by muscle.

Scully nodded encouragingly. "There you go. See? You're fine, you're not in that place, there's no one from that place here. Look up, look around... it's just you and me, and Mulder's here and so is Skinner, and there's no-"

"Skinner!" Krycek suddenly spat, moving away from the figure at the foot of the bed, trying to crawl back up the mattress, even as he left the tangled bedclothes behind. He gripped Scully tighter and pulled her with him, shrinking against her.

"He didn't mean to, Alex, he just didn't know," Scully began, misreading the reaction, assuming Krycek had realized Skinner was responsible for the shackles and chain.

"Not safe," Krycek hissed, glaring daggers at Skinner.

"Yes, you are. Listen to me, Alex. Remember my promise."

"NO!" Krycek shook his head in frustration and tried again. "He's not safe." His eyes skated to Mulder and back again to Skinner, and he pressed closer to Scully.

Scully huffed out an exasperated sigh. "Not this again..."

"They weren't with us, don't trust them. He might have already seen him," Krycek hissed at her, voice still on the edge of panicky.

Mulder decided that watching a naked Alex Krycek burrowing into Scully's side and clinging to her like a limpet definitely gave his life an even more Twilight-Zoneish air than usual. Worse, watching her hand stroke rhythmically over his naked back gave him an uncomfortable tingle. Rationally he realized he'd be less uncomfortable if he could figure out which was causing the tingle - thinking of Scully's hands on his naked skin or thinking of his own hands on Krycek's naked skin. Rationality never was his strong suit, though, and the confusion just brought his anger surging back. "Of course we're safe, Krycek. You wanted to get to us, remember?" he snapped.

Krycek glanced at him briefly, but again his cloudy eyes swung right back to Skinner. "Have you seen him?" he growled. "He has the little black box. I know you'll do anything for the person with the box. Have you talked to him?"

Skinner's eyes narrowed as he comprehended Krycek's words, and put together all the pieces. ::The box. Of course.:: "HE has the box? Is that why second-hand smoke is bad for my health?" Skinner leaned over the end of the bed when Krycek didn't speak. "Answer me, you little bastard, or you'll wish you had!"

"WHOA!" Scully slashed her hand down between the two men glowering at each other. "Can we take it down a notch? Box? What's this box? And Alex, if you're awake and okay now, will you let go of me?"

Krycek blinked again, a wide-eyed owlish expression that made Mulder's stomach do a backflip for reasons he really didn't want to examine. Glancing up at Scully, Krycek appeared to come a little more awake and aware even as he watched. As his disorientation receded, Krycek flushed darkly and released her. Moving back a few inches and reaching for the quilt simultaneously, he drew it up around him right up to his chin. "Sorry," he muttered.

"It's alright," Scully muttered back, looking equally uncomfortable, Mulder noted. Her pale cheeks went as pink as Krycek's, and Mulder felt that strange unease uncurl in his stomach again, to join his lingering nausea and returning headache. A strange thrum hovered just on the edge of his consciousness when he stared at Krycek. He tried to shift his gaze to Scully, but found his eyes wandering back to the pale, gaunt face above the patchwork spread. Sense was slowly returning to the stormy green eyes, and absently he noticed the bruise beginning to discolor Krycek's cheek.

"Have you seen Spender?" Krycek asked, not looking away from Skinner.

"No," Skinner responded, his voice still dangerously low. "You warned me not to. So he has the box?"

"How do I know you haven't seen him?" Krycek asked petulantly, still looking a bit confused, as if his brain wouldn't respond quick enough for his liking. "How do I know you haven't already called him to tell him where we are?"

"Skinner wouldn't do that, Alex," Scully stated calmly. "Come on, shake off the dream and calm down. You're okay and nobody's coming after you."

Mulder noted the continued use of the first name, and didn't bother to try to control the irritation it stirred. Clearing his throat, he stepped closer to the bed. "What are you trying to pull now, Krycek? Skinner wouldn't hand us over to Spender and we know that."

Krycek's lip curled. "How nice. Isn't misplaced trust a wonderful thing, Skinner?"

Skinner glared at Krycek murderously, then glanced away, at the floor, the wall, anywhere but at his agents. Remembering the videotape changing hands, he tried to remind himself of all he'd done to make up for it when Mulder had ended up in the hospital. He sighed and hung his head lower.

"Alright, I want answers and I want them now," Scully demanded. "What's the black box? What are you two talking about? We know this has something to do with the infection in your blood, sir. And Mulder already told me Krycek was behind that." She waved a hand dismissively. "We'd both already figured that much out. And you," she wheeled on Alex, "don't forget you promised help for that little problem. I want to know exactly what you've got that will help."

Skinner opened his mouth but found no words, stunned by the realization that not only did Scully know all the connections, she was still looking to help him. Even with the edge of doubt coloring her eyes.

"Oh, I'll help him, alright," Krycek rasped. "Just as soon as I'm sure he hasn't sold me out already."

"And why would you help him," Mulder asked sarcastically. "Out of the goodness of your heart?"

Krycek sneered. "Right, Mulder. I'll help him to make sure he can't be used against me."

Skinner nodded slowly. "How did Spender get the box, Krycek? What did he offer you?"

Krycek snorted, and huddled under the blankets, leaning back against the pillows, obviously more coherent with each passing minute and just as obviously feeling the disadvantages of his position as the fog slid away. "Nothing," he grumbled, the suspicion of a pout hovering over his lips. "You were mine and I wanted to keep you. I keep that damn palm pilot with me all the time just so there's no question of anybody else using it. Unfortunately, that's exactly what went wrong."

Scully realized the implications immediately. "Spender. When he got you-"

"Exactly." Krycek sighed and sat up a little straighter, tightening the blanket around himself. "Can we do this out in the living room or something? I'm sick of beds, I'm not going back to sleep and I don't need the three of you looming over me."

Mulder started to tell Krycek he was in no position to argue, when another wave of disorientation swept through him. ::Shit. What is this-:: Almost the minute he had the thought, he recognized the feeling - a much milder version of the strange reaction he had to the artifact from the ship. He blinked and swayed.


Focusing with an effort on Scully, Mulder wondered why she was much closer than she had been the second before. He realized in the next instant that she was supporting him with a tight grip on his arm. He stepped back. "I'm fine," he offered by rote, and even as he said it, he confirmed it for himself. He could stand. His head still thrummed a bit, but it didn't even begin to compare with his initial reaction to the artifact. He turned back to the bed, and caught the look of open concern radiating from a suddenly attentive Krycek, before the other man shuttered his expression. The disorientation intensified for a moment, then Mulder shook his head and turned to the door. "Maybe we should go out to the living room. I think I'd like to sit down."

Scully paused briefly, caught between following Mulder or helping Krycek out of bed, then winced. Without a word she turned her back on the bed and went after Mulder, angry with herself for the lapse. "Are you alright?" she asked worriedly as she caught up with him in the living room. Skinner walked behind her and dropped onto the couch. She took Mulder's arm and guided him to the other end of the couch.

"Yeah, I really am fine. I was just sort of dizzy." He didn't offer the information that he recognized the sensation. Adding the artifact to the conversation now would just get them sidetracked. He tugged on his hand ineffectually when she reached to feel for his pulse, but she just gave him a hard look and tightened her grip.

From the other end of the sofa, Skinner determinedly looked across the room at a hideous painting of dogs playing computerized poker.

"I haven't been getting much sleep," Mulder offered. "Things have been pretty tense."

Scully scanned his as she timed his pulse. "We all need some rest. When's the last time you ate?" She looked up as Krycek appeared in the bedroom doorway, pausing to lean against the frame before limping across the floor at a snail's pace. He moved like an old man with arthritis, but even so she noted he was trying harder than ever to look unaffected. The quilt draped over his shoulders and dragged on the floor behind him like a poor man's answer to a king's robes.

The three sat in silence and waited for him to make it to the nearest chair, and lower himself into it. He took his time arranging the quilt around him, but the sweat on his forehead and upper lip and the catch in his breathing broadcast that the pause was more to gather himself than anything else.

Mulder broke first. "So you had the machine that was controlling the nanotechnology in Skinner's blood, but now Spender has it."

"Yes." Krycek leaned his head against the chair back and let his eyes roam all three of them. He finally looked fully alert and coherent. "He came after me. I... well, let's just say it was definitely an unexpected move and leave it at that. They stuck me with something. Something that worked really fast."

Scully nodded. "Sounds like what they stuck me with."

Krycek exchanged a look with her, and again Mulder had the feeling they were speaking without speaking, remembering shared experience. He didn't like the sense of anyone else having that depth of connection with Scully. He started to interrupt the look when Krycek continued. "I saw him - Spender - right before I went out. When I woke up I was in a lab. I didn't have any of my own clothes or weapons. And the palm pilot was obviously gone too. I had to assume he had it. I was right. He asked me about it, showed it to me when he came to see me, wanted to know what it was."

"He didn't already know?" Skinner scoffed. "You weren't doing it on his orders?"

Krycek grinned nastily. "I told you, you were mine, Walter. I did what I did for my own reasons. Not for him." The vehemence on the last word scalded his listeners' ears. "I don't work for him. I just look like I do."

"Who do you work for?" Mulder couldn't resist tossing in, not expecting a response. He gave Krycek a mild look when those green eyes swung to focus on him.

"Myself," Krycek answered shortly. "You could say I'm freelancing. Freelancing undercover." He smirked, then sighed. "At least I was. Anyway, your answer is no, Skinner. Spender never knew about the nanocytes. He knew generally about the project they were being developed under, but it wasn't his personal purview. He'd have been even more pissed at me if he knew how much I'd gotten my fingers into that little Consortium pie." Another nasty smile flickered across his face.

"So that's why you were so concerned about Skinner coming to pick us up," Scully cut in. "Because Spender had the controller."

Krycek raised an eyebrow. "I've had lots of opportunity to see how malleable the honorable AD is when you hold his life in your hand. Spender is now that hand. He had to know you and I got out together when he found out we were both gone, and it's obvious we'd go to Mulder." Krycek turned and stared grimly at Skinner. "If you were old CGB, what would you do?"

"I'd threaten Skinner with the nanotechnology, and try to force him to tell me where his agents were hiding," Scully sighed.

"Exactly. And even better if said agents were trusting the good AD to help them out. Trusting him enough to bring him right to the hideout." Krycek continued to look only at Skinner. "He's got you, and you know from personal experience that he won't hesitate to jerk the leash. I didn't tell him anything about the nanos, but it won't take him long to figure out what he's got, find out what it means. I'm sure he has already. Your name comes up on the display when the palm pilot is turned on."

"Terrific," Skinner snapped, running a hand over his head. "Then why hasn't he struck already? How long has he had this thing?"

Krycek narrowed his eyes. "How long depends on how long they had me. What's today?"

"January 26th."

Krycek noticeably started when he heard the date, then nodded, swallowing hard. "He's had it for three weeks," he finally stated. "If he hasn't tried using it before now, I'd assume it's because he hasn't had a reason big enough to risk it given he doesn't know exactly what it will do. And if what you say is true, and you honestly haven't seen him since yesterday, then I'd guess you haven't felt any effects because of proximity."

"Of course," Mulder murmured. "The hospital. You had to be in the hospital to make it work. Why would you risk being so close if you could control him remotely."

Krycek finally looked away from Skinner, with a small, hard smile. "Maybe I just wanted to see you, Mulder. After all, you're so warm and welcoming. So, you recognized me at the hospital? And here I tried so hard."

Mulder shrugged. "It was that run." Almost immediately he wished he hadn't spoken. It had been the run that had started him thinking, and the later pictures had confirmed his suspicions, but he really didn't need Scully and Skinner wondering about how much attention he paid to the way Krycek ran.

Krycek sighed again. "That damn memory of yours is going to get you in trouble one of these days, Spooky. Anyway, Old Smokey hasn't been by to see you, Skinner? And I'm supposed to believe this, why?"

"Because even though I'd turn you over to him in a New York minute, you miserable excuse for a human being, I wouldn't endanger my agents," Skinner shot back. "I know he had Scully; that's enough for me. I'm inclined to believe her when she says he's after Mulder too. Don't judge other people by your own sewer standards."

Krycek's eyes flashed, but his cold smile got wider. "Well, you can't blame me for wondering, all things considered." He snorted. "And Mulder's never in as much danger as me where Old Smokey is concerned."

Scully cut in abruptly. "So are we settled on this now Alex? Spender hasn't gotten to Skinner and you can stop obsessing about it."

Krycek glanced back and forth between Mulder and Scully. "Your faith in the old boy is touching."

Mulder calmly stared Krycek down. "Now, how about getting rid of the damn nano things? Let's get real here, Krycek. We don't have a lot of reasons to trust you, and you'll forgive my suspicion but it's occurred to all of us you could be setting us up here."

Krycek blinked, and started laughing. The other three exchanged wary looks as the bundled man shook with helpless, increasingly hysterical, laughter. "Snap out of it, Krycek," Skinner snapped. "Give us one good reason to think you aren't setting us up. It's not like it hasn't happened before."

Krycek's hand crept out of his blanket to rub at his eyes. Still giggling, he shook his head at them. "Yeah, that's it. I did all this to myself just to get holed up in the woods with you three. Sure, that makes sense. Have you been drinking tap water again, Mulder?" He glanced at Scully. "Do you think I'm setting you guys up?"

She sighed, cast a quick, almost-guilty glance at Mulder and shrugged. "Well... no. Not really. It certainly occurred to me, but I've seen enough at this point to think you're being straight with us. Or as straight as you can be." She ignored his sudden grin, not caring to entertain suspicions of why her choice of words amused him. She was a little surprised to hear Mulder choke, but she ignored that as well, in favor of giving Krycek a hard stare. "I do think you were a prisoner in that lab, just like I was. But they haven't seen what I've seen, and I'm as interested as they are in this 'help' you promised to Skinner over the phone. I've seen what's in his blood. I want it out, as quickly as possible, no matter who is holding the on-switch."

Krycek watched her thoughtfully for a moment, then turned to Skinner, tilting his head forward to study the man through his lashes. "Well, much as I hate to give up an advantage like this, right now you're like a time-bomb with my name on it. With Spender holding the switch, you're more dangerous to me with the damn stuff in you. So, tell you all what. I'll make good my word, and as a gesture of good faith, I'll provide the honorable AD with the neutralizer." He paused for a long minute, then widened his eyes and smiled innocently. "However, I have a few conditions."

Every eye in the room except his own rolled heavenward.

"How fucking stupid do you think we are," Mulder choked out angrily. "Good faith? CONDITIONS?! You've got a lot of balls, Krycek!" Blanking out the unfortunately eidetic mental image that immediately accompanied his figure of speech, Mulder plowed on, hoping the others would attribute his sudden flush to anger. "You just said it's in your interest to get those things out of him before Spender can use him to try to track you down. You need to give him the neutralizer. Why should we offer you anything in exchange for something you have to do anyway?"

Paradoxically, Mulder's anger seemed to calm Krycek further. Even looking as haggard as he did, even speaking in the raspy tones required by his brutalized vocal chords, his words were chill and controlled. Gone was the quaking wreck who had clung to Scully not even half an hour ago. If it wasn't so fundamentally scary, Mulder would have found the transition impressive. "I don't have to do anything, Agent Mulder. I have the neutralizer, you don't. Obviously, it's not on me." He nodded down at his only covering. "I'm a little without secret pockets at the moment. So I have to tell you where it is. And how to get to it. And how to use it. And I have a lot of motivation for wanting to keep the honorable AD under my control. I could just stipulate Skinner doesn't leave this cabin until I do. That would keep him out of Spender's reach as effectively as giving him the neutralizer. Or I could just kill him. No more weak link there, eh? You want him safe? You make me happy. Clear?"

Mulder started to spring off the couch, but Scully's hand of steel on his arm stopped him. "What are you asking for," she said softly. Mulder gave her a mortally offended look, but she shook her head at him sharply.

"Scully!" he interrupted, well and truly tired of the weird dynamic between Alex and his partner.

"Excuse us for a minute," Scully said calmly, not even looking at Mulder as she hauled him up off the couch and walked away to the kitchen, dragging him along. Skinner started to rise and follow, then paused, realizing this would leave Krycek sitting alone in the living room, unguarded.

Krycek grinned up at him. "Go ahead, Skinner. Why not. I'm not going anywhere." He waggled his eyebrows. Skinner glared at him and sank back down.

Scully stuck her head out of the kitchen. "Sir? Could you come here please?"

"I don't know if that's wise, Agent Scully," he responded, eyes never leaving Krycek.

"He's afraid I'll head off into the wilderness of god-knows-where with just my quilt for company," Krycek cracked.

Scully gave him a tired glare, and turned back to Skinner. "Relax, sir. Trust me, he won't get far. The alarm system on the door will let us know if he sets a foot outside, we've got the guns, and we can all move faster than he can right now."

Skinner paused another moment, then got up and strode to the kitchen. He studiously ignored Krycek's voice behind him calling "better watch out, Skinner, I'm about to climb out through the closest window, and use this quilt to rappel up onto the roof where I'll stand there naked until I can flag down the closest black helicopter".

Without a pause, Scully and Mulder started talking up and over each other, and his betrayal wasn't even on the agenda.

"Scully, how can you bargain with that scum after what he just said?? He's nothing but a-"

"Mulder, listen to me," Scully spoke in a harsh whisper. "I know what I'm talking about here and I need you to calm down. Remember I said he was scared? I meant it. He's got a good front up, but he is petrified. With good reason. Don't forget that when you walked in the door, he was ready to kill himself. He's that desperate. He's sinking fast and trying like hell to fight for higher ground again, but we're in the boat and holding all the life preservers. Getting you angry and out of control puts him in control. You reach out to hit him with the oar, and the next thing you know he's got hold of it and is pulling you under. You don't function well angry, Mulder, you never have. You make mistakes. You let him get to you."

She took a deep breath and turned to Skinner. "And with all due respect, the same goes for you, sir. I know this is much more awkward and personal for you. But he's bluffing, and if you both calmed down you'd know it. We have the upper hand. He won't kill you. He needs to bargain with us and he needs to get the nanocytes out of you. But the quickest way to get the neutralizer from him is not to antagonize him or give in to his goading. If we play this right, we can get a hell of a lot more than just the neutralizer out of him. Play it wrong, and he'll have us all thinking we've won a major victory just by getting him to hand over something he plans to give us anyway."

Skinner groaned and removed his glasses, rubbing at his eyes. "She's right, Mulder. He's always doing this to both of us. Keeping us reacting, keeping us from thinking."

"I'm not saying we have to give him everything he asks for. I'm certainly not saying we bargain with control over Skinner's life. That's not negotiable." Scully shot Skinner a reassuring look. "What I'm saying is let's listen to what he wants, figure out what he needs, and make him work for it. Make him work for us."

Mulder huffed out a sigh. "Well... hell. Yeah. I guess I see what you mean."

"He wants our protection, Mulder. He needs it. He's just offering us the deal he intimated to me earlier. I don't necessarily think it's a bad deal, but don't give him any more ammunition to work with, okay?"

Mulder nodded slowly. "Alright, I understand. I'll keep a lid on it. Just... Scully, you don't owe him this, you know?"

She turned sharply, her eyes widening. "Excuse me?"

"Hey, you know me, you just proved that. And I know you," Mulder responded simply. "I know the logical way you think. You believe he's come to your aid, and my aid, and from what you've said it looks like that may be true, though I'll still reserve judgement. I just think possibly somewhere in that logical, rational head of yours that weighs and measures things out, you're thinking you owe him for that. But you don't. He owes us that. After everything he's done, he owes us that and more." He bit down on his tongue to keep from adding anything about the odd way she was interacting with Krycek, remembering Skinner's earlier warning.

Scully blinked. Had she been thinking that? Always more practiced than Mulder at facing unexpected truths about herself, she considered it for a minute. "I... alright, Mulder. Fair enough. I think I'm well aware that Krycek has multiple motives for everything he does, and that I'm not the one on the debtor side of this particular ledger. But a reminder is always a good thing where he's concerned. So, do we go deal with this?"

Skinner nodded. "Might as well. You need to get to bed."

She laughed shortly as she turned to the refrigerator. "By the time I do, I won't be able to sleep," she tossed off as she rooted in the freezer and came up with a bag of frozen peas. Closing the door, she pushed between them and back into the living room. Skinner and Mulder exchanged a long look, then followed.

They found Krycek unmoved, with his head resting on the chair back, eyes closed. His face was tight, and from the moving lumpiness of the quilt, Mulder guessed he either had a ferret under there with him, or he was rubbing at his left shoulder and stump. As their footsteps signaled their return, the hand under the quilt stilled instantly and his eyes flickered open. The pained look fell away to be replaced by mock regret. "I got out, ran down to the road in my bare feet, and tried to wave down a passing motorist to hijack, but no one seemed to want to pick up a one-armed naked man. What's the world coming to?"

"Can the comedy, Krycek," Mulder snapped, irrationally annoyed that Scully was right, that he was in more pain than he was letting on. It gave credence to her theory that Krycek was telling the truth, which only incensed him further. His mind immediately spun in two separate directions from there. Half of him wondered why he seemed to want Krycek to be lying to them, and the other half kicked himself for wasting time on annoyance when he should be appreciating the strategic advantages to knowing Krycek was in bad shape.

Vulnerability could be pressured. Known vulnerabilities could be sought and picked away at until they led to bigger and bigger cracks. He smiled slowly, released his annoyance with an exhale. He purposely dragged out the pause, holding his silence until Krycek's eyes narrowed suspiciously, then finally he spoke genially. "So. Let's talk conditions. What exactly is it you want?"

I can't believe it. They're really going to bargain with me? He is really going to bargain with me? I wish I'd been a party to the little convention in the kitchen. Either Scully has a tighter grip on Mulder's balls than I ever gave either of them credit for, or she said something that made the kind of sense even he can't ignore. And Mulder can ignore a lot of common sense. It's one of the things I lov-

Cut that thought off at the knees. Jesus. I'm in worse shape than I thought. Now is most definitely not the time. I start to rub at my stump again reflexively as the dull ache flares, then remember that I'm trying to be a tough guy here. I sit up straighter, pull the quilt tighter around me, and try to ignore Mulder's fucking glow.

I swear, sitting in a room with him is like sitting too close to a live fireplace. Crackling, sizzling, sparking... painful heat and dancing light. Hypnotic. Throwing everything else in the room into relief and shadows.

Yeah, my defenses are definitely at low ebb, here. I can't believe I even thought something so stupid. Good analogy though, even if he'd hate it. He's definitely right up there with live flames in terms of danger.

Focus, Alex. Focus. I look at Skinner. Always a good way to reground myself. His glowering makes me grin. Makes it easier to ignore the ache in my shoulder and the ache in my stump and the aches in my legs and the ache in my throat and the ache in my cheek where Mulder hit me and the ache in my gut where Skinner hit me. And the one behind my eyes and pounding in my temples too. "What do I want. Well now. Let's see."

"First thing, you need to provide us with the neutralizer," Scully broke in flatly. "None of this halfway 'Skinner stays in the cabin' bullshit."

I turn to her. She's safe too. Anything to avoid staring right into the flames. I spend a minute pondering her vehemence about Skinner again, because it's a good distraction. Another fun 'are they or aren't they?' She's so tiny. He's so big. It makes an interesting mental picture. Then I spend another moment pondering the frozen peas in her hand.

"Hungry?" I finally ask.

She glances at her hand and makes an exasperated sound, as if she'd forgotten she held them. She tosses the bag to me, and I catch it reflexively, my quilt gaping as my hand shoots out from the folds. I stare at the Jolly Green Giant and for some reason think of Sprout from the commercials. My tired and alien-chemical-steeped brain makes the supremely illogical leap to my initial incarnation at the Bureau, trailing worshipfully after Mulder like Sprout after the Giant. I blink and shake my head sharply, wondering if I'm losing it again so soon after my last little bout of delirium. Christ, I hope not.

But Jesus. Sprout?

I look up to find Scully staring at me with an odd look on her face. "For your cheek?" She waves a hand toward my face impatiently. Mulder shoots her a look that would have set me off laughing again if my bruised stomach didn't still hurt from my last giggle-fest. I just hadn't been able to help it. Mulder and Skinner thinking I'd arranged to get holed up with them in the woods was just too damn much.

I smile at Scully, a much nicer expression than I'd given Skinner. She's really starting to grow on me, in a way. I suppose it's Helsinki syndrome. I pause to hold the peas to my cheek, breathing out a soft sigh of relief as the cold dulls at least that pulse of pain. I direct my words to her, even though Mulder asked me the question. Besides, she technically asked first. "Alright, so I give you the neutralizer and tell you how to use it. In return, I want full protection, as much as you can provide. No arrests, no custody, no charges pressed even if you could trump up cause, not even the whisper of a breath of a hint of a report on any of this getting anywhere close to the FBI. That place is so riddled with plants it might as well be called the Hoover Greenhouse.

"And not just protection from the 'law'. Protection from Old Smokey and his pals. Not that you all can be that much help against him, but as much as possible." I glance around the room. "This is good. I assume from what you said this isn't FBI issue? Didn't think so. You're too smart for that. So we stay here and you all make keeping me out of their hands your top priority until I'm back in shape to defend myself. You, personally, take care of me medically. Figure out if we can- ...what we can do about what they've put in me. Figure out what the hell is going on with my body. We've got those cartridges... use 'em. When I'm better, I walk. Free and clear." ::If I get better,:: a little voice insists on chittering in my internal ear. I ignore it with the ease of long practice. "And once I'm on the outside again, maybe we can play a little 'you scratch mine, I'll scratch yours'. That's the deal. Take it or leave it."

I take a deep breath as I feel a slow tingle start at my feet and run straight up through my body. I'd have thought I just wasn't doing a good enough job of ignoring Mulder, but I know from recent experience I'm probably starting to slip again. I quell the shudder in my muscles with an effort. I have to hang on and at least finish out this bargaining session. How the hell would it look for me to fall off into a gibbering delirium now? So much for tough. I'd probably start babbling about little green men of the vegetable variety rather than the extraterrestrial.

"So, let me get this straight," Scully drawls, and suddenly I don't like her quite as well as I did five minutes ago. "We guard you while you heal, help you heal, harbor you from the law, put ourselves on the line both personally and professionally. We try to figure out what they shot you up with, try to figure out if there's anything we can do about it, spend time and energy and money and resources on you. Then we just let you walk away afterward."

"Right." I lift my chin and try to square my shoulders, until I realize there's no help for looking intimidating when I'm wrapped up in a fucking granny quilt with a bag of frozen peas pressed to my face.

"I don't think so," Mulder says mildly.

I respond to the voice instinctively, before I remember I'm trying not to look at him. Once there, my eyes are hooked. There he is. Safe. Mulder. He lounges on the couch, legs sprawled, head tilted back, chewing absently on his lower lip. Wow, he looks good in green. And jeans. When he sits and his thighs part like that and-

I fight the sudden urge to drop the frozen peas down the front of the quilt to my lap, where they could be of more immediate assistance. Nah. In my condition I'm hardly going to have to worry about getting a hard-on now.

Am I?

I feel a steady warmth flare through me, that for the first time in days doesn't feel like an alien-induced fever. It's just so nice to see him safe and sitting there, insulting me. After I don't even know how many hours of wondering if Spender was shipping him up to Dr. Kessin, it's such a relief to... oh shit. What did he say? I don't think so? I don't think so?

"What the hell does that mean," I snap. "You don't think so? You want the neutralizer or not?"

"We want the neutralizer," Scully nods. "But we want a few other things as well. A few things you promised me earlier."

I jerk my eyes away from Mulder thankfully, and glare at Scully. Promised? What did I promise her? And how do I find out without making it clear I've forgotten? Think, Alex. Think. I may be missing a fair amount of The Great Escape, but I remember pieces of it.


I stare hard at her and draw in a slow breath through my nose. "Well, I've just said you can use all that information I got. I just assumed you were going to keep it. And you get to play doctor with me. Doesn't that fulfill the rest of the promise? That you get your proof?" I try to figure out if letting them keep the proof will cause me any unforeseen problems in the future. Should I arrange for it to disappear just to be safe?

Should I perhaps cross that bridge when I know if I have a future to worry about?

Fuck, my life is such a mess. And things were looking so good a couple weeks ago.

"Not all of the promise," Scully says casually, inspecting her nails.

There's more?

"I seem to recall you saying something about more information. And you're asking for a lot here, Krycek. The medical help alone is intense. We all know the dangers inherent in 'protecting' you. You're also asking for complete immunity from prosecution and for us to just let you walk. That's way off the boards, and you know it."

I give her a nasty smile. "What? Old Skinner's life not worth quite that much to you?"

She doesn't even hesitate, doesn't respond to the goad. She's too damn cool for her own good. "Of course it's worth it. That and more. But Alex, there's a piece to this you don't seem to have quite grasped. You don't have the upper hand here. We do."


Of course I'd fucking grasped it, you bitch. I clutch my peas and glare at her. She smiles that madonna look she's so good at, the one that makes her look like she should spend her life in front of a camera, not behind a gun. "I have the neutralizer," I try again, aiming for steely.

"But not the black box. You can offer the cure, but you can't threaten the punishment anymore. Skinner's doing okay without the cure at the moment. He knows who does have the controls. Maybe he'd be okay with staying here until we can take out Spender, figure out a way to get the controls back. And Krycek, think about it. Look at yourself." Her voice gets that icy edge that I remember clearly from our walk in the woods. "You need us a lot more than we need you right now. We're willing to help you, but you need to cooperate with us. You're in no shape to argue, and, as I believe I may have mentioned, we've got the guns here."

As if on cue, Mulder extends his leg and pulls up his cuff, displaying his ankle holster, Skinner opens his jacket and flashes his shoulder holster, and Scully digs a hand up under the back of her sweatshirt and produces the gun I took off the guard. I wonder caustically if they rehearsed that little can-can, or if it was improvisational. I glare into the three smug faces and mutter, "Yeah? Well... I have frozen peas. You don't want to know what I'm capable of with frozen peas."

Scully's choked off laugh and Mulder's responding look at her is almost payment enough for the fact that I am in a really bad scene here. Almost. Damn, but I am not at my best. I just want to crawl into a hole somewhere and lick my wounds. Or maybe just die. A Mexican standoffs with three of my most passionate enemies, one of whom makes me crazy even in the best of times, takes way more energy than I have. My reserves were long gone ages ago, I can barely think straight, let alone logic up a way out of this mess, and I can tell things are really bad because... because I just threatened them with frozen vegetables? No... try again, Alex. Because I almost don't care. And no matter how many warning bells that sets off in my head - and believe me it's sounding like a five-alarm fire combined with a thirteen-car pileup in there - I can't seem to make myself care.

Back up against a wall, completely surrounded, and all exits blocked. Stare into the face of fate, Alex. It has a name and that name is FBI Assistant Director Walter S. Skinner. And you don't care. What a fucking travesty.

I let my head fall back against the chair and gently ease the peas back up against my cheek. My brain isn't offering any insight on how to talk my way around Scully's trump. In fact, the old brain seems to have holed up and decided to just shut down, like the rest of me wants to do. It occurs to me in a casual, distant sort of way, that I feel like I'm drunk on some really good tequila.

So, why aren't I more concerned?

The truth of the matter strikes me with the force of a Skinner-punch. On some level, I trust the Three Stooges. Or at least I guess I trust Scully to keep Curly and Mo here in line. After the horror of the last never-ending weeks, a safe-house in the woods with everyone's favorite fibbies looks like a fucking vacation. I giggle and am somewhat alarmed at the high-pitched, uncontrolled sound of it loose in the room. Somewhat alarmed. Not overly.

Fuck, no wonder I can't make myself care. Given my life lately, I'm safe, relatively speaking. And so is Mulder. Which has the added effect of reducing my already compromised constitution to the approximate consistency of a bowl of Raman Noodles.

I really hate my reaction to him sometimes.

But in a way, this highly inconvenient shut-down makes perfect sense. My body and my brain are telling me the danger's over, and they've decided they've put up with my unreasonable demands long enough. I'm out of pain, sort of. No more Dr. Kessin. No more Johnny and Bert and the rest of the brute squad and their petty cruelties. No more Spender and his mental games. I'm possibly dying, but hey... technically we die a little bit each day, right? No more endless torture, no more shots of god-knows-what, no more puking up clinic-food in the dead of the night during one of my little fits and almost choking on it. No more laying there in my own stinking vomit and a puddle of sweat, feeling the restraints tighten like disembodied hands on my limbs, holding me down no matter how much I struggle. Feeling my chest constrict, panic set in, my eyes staring up into the total blackness of my dark little cell, trying not to scream, trying not to cry, trying not to crack... until the next bout of delirium pulls me back under.

All things considered, paradise. Maybe I'll just stay in this cabin. Retire. Garden. Grow peas. I start giggling madly again. And all I have to do is talk about my old bosses? Cooool. It isn't like there's a chance in hell I could re-infiltrate the Consortium now is there? Someone else's turn to worry about the fate of the world. Time to retire my jersey. Batter up! "So okay... cooperation. How do you spell cooperation, Agents?"

I watch Mulder and Scully exchange a look that clearly wonders exactly when I'd gone round the bend. I contemplate asking for a couple pencils to stick up my nose, and a pair of boxer shorts to put on my head. I figure Mulder at least might appreciate the reference... given the way the remote is practically glued to his hand most nights, he's probably seen enough public television to have caught a bit of British comedy. I'll start practicing my "wibbles".

"Alex? You doing alright?" Scully's voice creeps into my awareness. I can almost fool myself into hearing a touch of concern lingering there. A rush of warmth that brings back the feeling of her rubbing my back soothingly is enough to call me in from the fringe my mind has wandered out to. I still can't seem to dredge up a lot of concern for my current straits, and that still bothers me mildly, but I pull myself together enough to nod at her, wincing when my cheek protests. The pain helps even more, and I give her a half-shrug and a smile.

"Well as can be expected. C'mon. Out with it. Counter-demand. Whatever."

Again a look flashes between the two of them, and I almost roll my eyes. Please, enough with the reminders that you two 'speak your own language'.

"Pretty straightforward, actually," she finally says cautiously. "The neutralizer is the first priority. I help you medically and in return keep any and all data and proof about what they've done to you, their experiments. We get you back on your feet, and while we're doing that, we keep you safe. In return, you talk. Give us everything you've got."

"I don't have as much as I once had," I mumble tiredly, all impulse toward amusement now gone.

"But you've still got a lot. We're talking straight answers here."

"Or as straight as I can be," I crack sarcastically. Her mouth tilts briefly, acknowledging her words.

"We do have our reasons to doubt whatever you say, Krycek. I'm not going to apologize for that. Any proof of what you're telling us could only help."

"That's what I mean. I don't have the access to all the 'proof' I might have had a few weeks ago. I can tell you lots, but you guys aren't going to believe a word I say."

"Try us," Mulder suddenly interjects dryly.

I let my eyes fall on him again. With a helpless sigh I give the half-shrug again. "Okay. Just let's not do the 'you're such a lying bastard' to every sentence I say, okay? It gets old fast."

"And another thing, Kryeck," Scully adds softly. "You are in custody. Our custody."

That wakes me up the way nothing else could. I've been waiting for something like that. My eyes flicker closed for a moment against my will, and I fight to keep all expression off my face. "I'm more use to you loose if I get past this stuff inside me," I croak.

Mulder and Skinner snort in tandem, but Scully just watches me silently.

"I meant it about the mutually beneficial arrangement," I try again. "We're on the same side anyway, we just work in... slightly different ways." Okay okay. Exactly opposite ways. I can't see any positives to pointing that out.

"We'll see," Scully finally says, and nothing about her is soft in that moment. "You get us the neutralizer. So far we're off to a good start, and that would be an even better one. Cooperate with us, and we'll see where cooperation gets us. You need us, and you want to stay on our good side."

"Doesn't my getting you out of there count for anything?" I ask sullenly. I shift my eyes to Mulder. "Warning you?"

Mulder starts to open his mouth, but Scully answers. Maybe they took a vote in the kitchen and elected her mouthpiece. Damn. She doesn't rattle like the other two. "Yes. It does. It gets you here, in this safe house, with our protection, and our help, while you heal. That's not nothing, Alex."

I curl back into the chair even further. No, it definitely isn't nothing. Safe. Safe for the time being. They might hate me, but they won't torture me. Hopefully. If I can keep from being left alone with Skinner. Or Mulder. Well, they won't kill me. They want what's in me. So I'm out of the Consortium reach for at least as long as it takes to heal up.

If I heal up.

I'll deal with anything else after that. How can I do anything else.

I stare at the floor when I speak, and my voice sounds dead even to my own ears. "There's one piece that isn't negotiable. Until that neutralizer is here with us, Skinner doesn't leave this cabin. We'll need to find some way of getting it out of my hiding place, and brought here. I obviously can't go, and neither you nor Mulder can go, and he cannot leave this cabin. That's final." I finally raise my eyes.

Scully releases a long sigh and looks at Mulder. He shrugs languidly. "Gunmen," he says, as if this solves everything. "We need to be in touch anyway." Scully smiles while I try not to react visibly. Gunmen? Where? What the fuck is he talking about?

"Can you call them now?" Skinner asks, breaking his self-imposed silence and rising from the couch restlessly. Without a word, Mulder pulls out his cell and starts dialing. Such touching devotion. And Skinner wonders why I can't stand him.

"I'm not giving anyone the information over the phone," I say flatly. "Only in person. I need to talk to the person doing the fetching, alone." Mulder shoots me an annoyed look, but I don't even blink.

"I don't like involving civilians anymore than we already have," Skinner starts, but Mulder shakes his head at him as the phone rings through.

"Don't worry about it, they don't really consider themselves civilians," he answers, "And they're already involved."

"Whoever this is, can they get here without being followed?" I ask.

Scully and Mulder exchange an amused look and then Mulder is speaking into the phone. "Hey Frohike..."

Scully turns to Skinner and I as Mulder stands up and walks a few steps away. "They're worse than he is. Believe me, they can get here without being followed. They own this place, and my bet is they've never come here using the same route twice."

With the additional clues, my head finally makes the connection. Gunmen. The Lone Gunmen. Okay. Geekier than Mulder and twice as paranoid. I can deal with that. If Mulder trusts them, that says a lot. And if my limited information is correct, they'll also be easy to intimidate, which is what I need most, besides discretion.

"Don't forget to ask them about portable x-ray," Scully tosses over her shoulder, and Mulder lifts a hand in acknowledgement without turning around. She redirects herself to me and raises an eyebrow. "I have real supplies now, by the way. I want to take another look at that shoulder."

"Not right now," I say automatically. "It's doing fine."

"I want to do a real full examination, Krycek. Draw blood, take samples, start-"

"Okay, okay," I cut her off and put on my best wan look. It isn't hard. At the moment all I have to do is let my guard slip a little. "Just... later, alright? Please?" The please seems to get her. Besides, I know she's tired, too. She softens almost imperceptibly, and nods.

"First thing tomorrow."

"It's a date," I answer, just as Mulder comes back to the couch, closing his phone. If looks could kill, even my newfound healing potential couldn't have saved me. Yeah Mulder, Scully and I are going out for a little dinner and dancing later. If it didn't make me so goddamned pissed that he's so jealous over her, I'd enjoy baiting him more.

"And?" Scully asks.

"They'll be here as soon as they can. They're taking a circuitous route."

Skinner comes back from where he's wandered to stare out the window. "Do you really think-"

"Yes," Mulder interrupts firmly, giving Skinner one of those warm, understanding looks he can occasionally pull off. I bite back a sigh. He never looks at me that way. "Don't give it a second thought, sir." He spends a few more minutes reassuring Skinner that the Gunmen are trustworthy, competent, and brilliant. Since I'd already come to that conclusion, I tune him out and just watch him.

Skinner's abrasive voice breaks into my pleasant diversion. "-do anything until they get here. I'm hungry, that lasagna is probably beyond dead by now, and you need some rest, Agent Scully. We could all use some rest."

Mulder and Scully nod and stand as well. She takes a step toward me, then stops. "You hungry?" she asks, eyeing me with her Doctor look.

"Nah. I've got my peas," I answer, shifting the bag in my hand. "I'm all set." Her lips twitch and again she turns a laugh into a cough. I don't know why it tickles me so much, but I love that I'm making her laugh. Granted, it's likely just because she's stressed and overtired, but still. I shoot a look at Mulder and am doubly gratified at the annoyed look on his pouty face.

Skinner suddenly looms at the side of my chair. "So you're not hungry. I'd be more comfortable if you were where we could see you." I let my eyes travel scornfully up over him. He gives me an extremely not-nice smile. "Unless you'd rather we recuffed you," he offers.

I stiffen. "Where the fuck do you expect me to go," I snap, hating the strident note crawling into my voice at the very thought of the leg irons. The feeling as I'd come awake had been so much like the dream, so much like the reality...

"Look, let's just get the lasagna and bring it in here," Scully interrupts shortly. Skinner nods readily enough, but I can just see his seething disappointment at not being able to restrain me. I seethe right back at him over my melting peas until he follows the dynamic duo into the kitchen.

Alone at last. For two minutes at least. I lay my head back and gave in to the grimace of pain and a soft moan. I lower the still somewhat chilled bag and slide it inside the quilt cocoon, pressing it experimentally against my throbbing stump. I hiss at the searing contact, and it doesn't do a damn thing for that pain. With another moan I shift it back up to my cheek and tilt my head to the side to brace the bag between my cheek and shoulder. Warming my hand up briefly, I slide it back under the blanket and start gently massaging the stump, trying to ignore the feel of the scar tissue against my fingers.

And go back to thinking about Mulder.

Scully searched for a potholder, then gave in and dragged the lasagna out with a towel. Mulder joined her in staring down at the crusted-over dinner. Exchanging a shrug, they started getting plates and silverware ready.

Skinner sighed when he joined them and noticed the blackened top. "Sorry about that."

"Hey, we all knew when it went in," Scully flashed him a smile over her shoulder as she sawed their dinner into smaller pieces. "I'm hungry enough to not really care."

"You can redeem yourself on breakfast," Mulder offered innocently.

Skinner snorted. "Right." He glanced over his shoulder and lowered his voice. "Ah, I know you all have faith in these alarm systems, but I really don't like the idea of free-range Krycek just wandering around in here."

"I know, it's strange to have him in custody and not cuffed, but you saw that reaction," Scully argued. "They had him strapped down while they tortured him. I get the impression they left him restrained most of the time."

Mulder felt his stomach flip, and it had nothing to do with the seriously unappetizing hunk of burnt lasagna Scully thrust at him.

"I could have told you that would happen if one of you had said something about putting leg irons on him," she continued crossly, missing the guilty look that flashed between the two men. "And the chair under the door... we can't do that either. I promised him if he stayed in the inner bedroom, we wouldn't lock him in."

"But Scully-"

"You didn't see his reaction to the bedroom earlier," her voice dropped even lower. "He almost had a panic attack when he saw how small and closed in it is. He's definitely claustrophobic, and he's not in any shape to be controlling a major phobia. The claustrophobia was definitely tapped by whatever happened at the lab, and the restraints made it worse. That bedroom is the easiest place to keep him contained, so he's got to be there. But we can't chain him down or lock him in. We'd be no better than a new set of torturers, given the condition he's in. Medically, I can't allow it."

Mulder grimaced. "That only leaves constant personal guard." He busied himself filling glasses at the table, hoping his relief wasn't evident in his voice. After what he'd seen in the bedroom, and his new confidence in at least this part of Krycek's story, he found he wasn't eager to put a cuff on the man himself. ::Besides, brings back a few too many memories,:: a sadistic little voice in his head insisted. Even his sore knuckles reminded him uncomfortably of the last time Krycek had been cuffed in his custody. Either way, with Scully arguing against it, he didn't have to.

"Well, there are three of us," Scully responded, dishing out a fourth serving and picking it up along with her own plate. "We can rotate. Grab my drink, will you, Mulder. And from what I've seen of this place," she added as she headed for the door, "that may solve the sleeping arrangement problem."

"Problem?" Skinner asked, following her out and holding the door for Mulder.

"Two rooms, four people," she tossed over her shoulder as she brought the extra dish to Krycek and placed it on his knees.

"I'm really not hungry."

"You should at least try to eat."

"Two rooms?" Skinner glanced around the small house and counted quickly. Living room, kitchen, bathroom, some sort of small room that could best be described as a TV room Skinner guessed, considering the video tapes lining the walls, and one... two... two bedrooms. Lovely.

"I can bunk with you, Scully," Mulder offered with a wide grin. "I don't mind, really."

Scully rolled her eyes as she dropped onto the floor and rested her plate on the coffee table. "Right. As if. The couch looks like it pulls out. And I bet there's a couch in the TV room back there."

"Aw. And here I even brought you some of that green mask you like to put on before bed."

Scully paused in the middle of scraping black cheese off her pasta, and shot him a hard look. "Mulder." She started to attack the heavy noodles, then paused again. "Did you really?"

"Sure did. Avocado, right?" He looked up just in time to catch a cold glance from Skinner and a blistering look from Krycek, before both men redirected their attention studiously to their plates. Blinking, he puzzled it over. Skinner was easy enough. The FBI frowned on fraternization. What was up with Krycek? Unless... He narrowed his eyes at the other man, remembering yet again that husky voice rasping "Dana". The glare had certainly held the heat of jealousy. ::Green-eyed monster,:: quipped Mulder's mind, and he almost laughed.

Watching Krycek didn't make him feel much like laughing, however. Mulder forced himself to eat, but continued to study the other man covertly even when he knew it was ruining his appetite. Hell and back, no way around it. Krycek sat staring at his plate, apparently unaware of the scrutiny. Without a distracting, smart-ass comment on those lips, his condition looked even worse. Silent and withdrawn, pale and haggard, he was a ghost of the man Mulder kept in his head. Shoving aside the returning thrum at the edges of his mind, Mulder realized absently that he hadn't seen Krycek like this since he'd cornered him in Hong Kong. And even then, the man had just been worn-down and on edge. Now he looked well past the edge - dangling over the edge and barely hanging on by his fingernails. The thick quilt hid his body and made it easy to overlook the arm. The lack of an arm. But Mulder's mind filled in the details.

If it were actually changing, he'd need to get a good look at the stump, fast. And pictures. A camera. Of course. When the Gunmen went for the neutralizer, he'd have them get a camera and plenty of film. A camera that would mark time and date. The guys were already working on a portable x-ray machine, though they probably wouldn't have it with them. Too bad they had to bring everything to Krycek, as opposed to taking him to a hospital. But they had some lab equipment for Scully, and then if he got a camera and started photographic documentation...

"What?" snapped Krycek suddenly, and Mulder realized belatedly that as his brain had spun away, Krycek had become aware of his attention. "Take a picture, Mulder. It'll last longer."

Mulder closed his mouth at the convergence of Krycek's words and his thoughts. Fighting a smile, he shrugged, covering his embarrassment at being caught staring. "Yeah, in this case I guess the picture has a real chance of lasting longer than the real thing, eh Krycek?"

The impossibly wide eyes widened further, and the drawn face froze. Internally, Mulder winced at his own callousness, even as Krycek's face shuttered. Guilt rose up and he swallowed hard, then instantly wanted to kick himself for letting his sympathies get played by Krycek of all people. Looking for a quick subject change, he reached and suddenly realized he was getting an intense impression of hunger from Krycek. "You're staring at that food like it's about to eat you. Eat something already."

"No," Krycek looked away.

"You really need to try to eat, Alex. It's not bad, really. Especially if you turn it over and eat it from the bottom," Scully offered.

"I'm not hungry," he said sullenly.

"Yes, you are," Mulder murmured, feeling the room tilt oddly for a moment. "You're starved." He blinked and when the room came back into focus, Krycek's expression scared him. But even as he felt his muscles shiver involuntarily, he knew it was true. He didn't know how he knew exactly, but Krycek wanted the lasagna. Badly.

"Thank you for that fascinating insight, Agent Mulder," Krycek rasped coldly.

Mulder ignored the odd looks he got from Scully and Skinner. If he didn't acknowledge them, he didn't have to explain. Instead, while Scully continued to badger Krycek about the importance of eating to regain his strength, he tried to figure out exactly how he'd done whatever the hell he'd just done. It hadn't worked this way with the aural dissonance he'd experienced before. That had been like a cacophony... so many voices in his head, and no control. This seemed to come and go in waves, and it was so much milder. And so focused. He wondered suddenly if he could find out why Krycek wasn't eating. Still, to replicate the results, he needed to figure out what he'd done in the first place.

Then, looking over at Krycek, he realized Scully had bullied him into eating, and suddenly he didn't need to exercise his whatever-it-was. It became obvious immediately what had caused Krycek's hesitation. The arm. First, he spent long minutes retucking the quilt around himself so that he remained as covered as he could while still freeing his arm. Then, balancing the plate precariously on his knees, he fought with the tough, overcooked pasta that the other three were all using knives to subdue. The quilt gaped as he managed to hack the lasagna up with his fork as best he could, then speared random pieces, studiously ignoring the three agents who were all trying to look everywhere but at him.

The gnawing feeling of guilt and sympathy, coupled with anger that he was feeling anything like guilt and sympathy, all combined to kill Mulder's appetite, and he excused himself to start the clean up process. In the kitchen, he leaned against the sink and stared unseeing at his dirty dishes, trying to figure out what he was feeling and why. ::I didn't push him out of that truck. And it's his own damn fault he ended up in Russia anyway. Sure, I dragged him there, but it was all a set-up. He wanted me to take him. He's the one that was hanging out with the guards. He's the one who sold me out all over again. So what if I made it out whole. What goes around, comes around.:: He tried to focus instead on the puzzle of how he suddenly seemed to be picking things out of Krycek's head.

Twenty some odd years of practice made for very perfect, though, and the Mulderguilt crawled through him like an old, codependent friend. Familiar, comforting, unavoidable. He didn't want to give a damn that Krycek lost his arm. That he was maimed. That he had been brutally disfigured. The hand on his left shoulder made him leap and yelp.

"Hey, you okay?" Scully stepped back in surprise at his reaction.

"Oh... sorry. I was... lost in thought."

"I can see that."

"It was Tunguska, wasn't it? It had to be."

"He... yes. He said as much. He was a little surprised you hadn't mentioned it to me."

"I didn't know."

"I guessed maybe."

"Where are his clothes?"

Scully blinked at the nonsequiter. "Unless I miss my guess, balled up behind the bathroom door. At least that's where they were when I took my shower. He didn't have any of his own, he stole the orderly's. Did you bring him anything? I doubt he's going to want to put them back on."

"Damn. No. Well, he can wear something of mine or Skinner's. I feel like it's my fault."

Scully shook her head. "That you didn't bring him clothes?"

"That he lost his arm."

"Mulder... that's just silly. You didn't hack it off."

He winced at her choice of words. "I know."

The stood in silence for a moment, but when Scully opened her mouth to continue explaining logically why he shouldn't feel the way he did, he cut her off. "It's late, we're all tired. You really need rest. I'll clean up in here, and I'll take first rotation on Krycek-duty. You know me and sleep have only a nodding acquaintance."

Scully stayed silent for another long pause, then nodded. "We'll talk about this later, okay?"

"Okay," Mulder nodded agreeably, already planning how to avoid the conversation. He couldn't imagine why he'd even said as much as he had.

Scully seemed satisfied though, giving him a small smile and then glancing around. "You know, I've been meaning to ask you. What the hell is this place? What do the Gunmen have this for? They don't strike me as the hunting types."

Mulder laughed at the thought of the three in hunter orange, with rifles. "No, you've got that right. This is the top-secret retreat in case of government meltdown, military coup, or threatened arrest for hacking."

"You're not serious."

"Couldn't be more. You know they make me look like the most trusting soul this side of the River Styx." Mulder waved his arms, encompassing the remote location and the cabin. "They take precautions. If they ever need to fall off the face of the earth for a while, they want to be ready. I believe they call it "going to ground". They have an occasional friend in their hacker underworld that needs to get lost for a little while. This is the place."

"Unbelievable. But Mulder, this can't be cheap!"

He arched an eyebrow at her. "They consider this a completely necessary investment. Besides, you've seen how Frohike and Langly dress. What else do they have to spend their money on?" Pleased to see Krycek wasn't the only one who could get a laugh out of her, the giggle also reminded Mulder how tired she was. She never laughed this much. "Go to bed, Scully. I'm fine, really."

"Goodnight, Mulder."

"Sure you don't want to share that room?"

"Goodnight, Mulder."

"Night, Scully."

As she left the kitchen, he heard Skinner's voice, then the door was swinging again and his boss entered with the rest of the dishes. "Scully's going to bed."

"Yes. I'll take care of these, sir. I'll do first watch. Why don't you get some rest yourself."

"I'm not sure I'm going to be able to."

"Give it a shot. That couch does pull out. Frohike told me. Go for it."

Skinner left the dishes and headed back to the living room. At the door he paused. "Agent Mulder-"


"Is it just me, or is Agent Scully... rather too jovial?"

Mulder grinned. "She's very overtired, sir."

Skinner nodded. "Ah. I thought maybe. I've just never really heard her giggle like that."

"I know. I was starting to think they'd eaten a few mushrooms out in the woods."

Skinner snorted. "Don't even joke about that. So... anyway... you don't think... I mean, what we were talking about earlier-"

Mulder didn't know what he thought. He did know he was sick of thinking about it tonight. "I think you were right," he temporized. "We're all overtired."

Skinner nodded. "You'll be okay? I still don't like him uncuffed."

"He's going back in that bedroom. I'll be fine."

"Wake me if you get tired."

"Will do."

"I probably won't be sleeping anyway."

"For what it's worth, I think Scully is right. I don't think he's faking. And I don't think he's going anywhere."

Skinner nodded again, slowly. "Maybe so, Agent Mulder. But let's all just stay on our toes." Without waiting for a response, he pushed through the door and was gone.

Still in no hurry to leave the kitchen, Mulder stood involuntarily contemplating Krycek's toes. He'd gotten a good look at them while helping Skinner get the leg irons off. Which meant he was now capable of picturing them in minute detail. Long elegant feet. Bony, unlike the rest of him.

Fabulous... yet another piece of Alex Krycek's body locked in his brain. With a groan Mulder turned back to face the sink. Damn Skinner's stupid turn of a phrase, anyway. Krycek's toes could go to hell. And take the rest of the body with them.

Krycek still sat in the chair, wrapped in his quilt, when Skinner returned to the living room to make up his bed. Krycek's eyes stayed tightly closed, his mouth compressed, body tense. Skinner paused, shooting a deadly look at his nemesis, then began tossing cushions off of the couch.

"You're going to be good and miserable for about twenty-four hours," Krycek said softly.

"Excuse me?" Skinner grunted, as he unfolded the sofa bed.

"When you take the stuff that shuts down the nanocytes. Your whole system will go into rejection mode. You'll feel like you have bad food poisoning. At least that's what I read in the lab reports." Krycek shifted uncomfortably in his chair and his eyes slowly blinked open. "Just thought you'd want to know before hand."

"Your consideration is greatly appreciated." Skinner was rather proud of his dry, unconcerned tones.

"Yeah, well-" Whatever smart remark Krycek was about to make got cut off with a sharp hiss. Skinner turned in time to catch a grimace of pain before Krycek masked it with an annoying smirk. "Anything's better than asking how high when the old boy says jump, eh?"

"You'd know more about that than I would." Skinner finished unfolding the blankets and moved to stand over Krycek, his glasses reflecting the lamplight and obscuring his eyes.

Krycek snorted. "Don't kid me, Walter. You've jumped for the old bastard plenty of times. Why do you think I wanted you on a leash?"

Skinner hardened his expression to its most menacing, the same look that made seasoned senior agents quiver and uncooperative suspects confess. "And just when did you slip your leash, boy?"

"Maybe some day I'll tell you the whole story, sir. But right now..."

Between one word and the next, the smart-mouthed brat disappeared, the mask crumbling. Krycek closed his eyes, his tongue swept over his lips, and Skinner realized the man was shivering badly. Looking down at him, Skinner knew that Scully was right - he was desperately ill, and just as desperately trying to hide it.

::Let's see how you like being vulnerable. Let's see how you like being at the mercy of your enemies.:: Uncharitable, but Skinner simply didn't feel up to trying to fight back the anger roiling in his gut, to say nothing of the satisfaction that hovered at the sight of Krycek in less than total control. Before Krycek could regroup enough to finish speaking, Mulder's voice interrupted them.

"Okay, Krycek, time for beddy-byes." Mulder wandered out of the kitchen, stretching his arms over his head, flexing his shoulder and back muscles. "Back in your hidey-hole."

The reaction to the words was immediate and unmistakable. Skinner blinked and watched Krycek fight to look unaffected. Considering the recent turn of his thoughts, Skinner was surprised to find he didn't particularly enjoy watching panic wash over the strung out, beaten man. He wondered dolefully if Mulder was dealing with similar confusion, or if his hatred for Krycek was somehow less complex, less fraught with the tension of basic humanity. Mulder could be something of a purist when he wanted to be, and he'd always seemed pretty... uncomplicated when it came to rage at Krycek. Skinner remembered only too well the last time they had custody of this man. His own behavior still haunted him, and he'd had even less reason back then.

Still, the memory couldn't completely keep him from the calm, detached observation that this Krycek would be a lot easier to pressure for information.

Damn... I have got to get better control. I know they saw that shudder. I can't quite control the panic at the thought of going back into that prison cell they laughingly call a bedroom. And I know this couple of "trained observers" saw my reaction. I look from one of my uncertain allies to the other, and see no sympathy, not that I expected any. No triumph either, though. No knowing smiles of derision. They must really be tired. The bald mountain crosses his arms over his chest, sending Me Alpha Male signals that must reach Mars, but doesn't make any cracks. Small favors... about now I'll take what I can get.

Knowing I can't put it off, I suck in a deep breath, clutch my quilt around me, and stand. I can do this, walking is something I've done many times. So why is it so fucking hard to coordinate these simple movements. Mulder is one step behind me the whole way as I limp along, taking his role as jailer seriously. And with no little enjoyment, I'm sure. I hate showing this much weakness in front of him, but I don't have a choice. My legs aren't listening to my brain. I'm beginning to think my entire body has disconnected from my conscious control.

He shuts the door behind us, and I can't still a tiny shudder that races down my spine, affirming my belief about my body. But the minute that door shuts, the walls start moving. Inward.

I make it to the bed and manage to sit down, but I can't make myself lie down. I don't want to sleep. I don't want to be in this room. I don't want to close my eyes because I need to see if the walls keep moving. I don't want to dream and I'm not tired.

Well, no, I am tired. I'm tired straight through to my bones. But there's something else... something restless woven all through me that won't let me be still. I could close my eyes but I can't relax. My muscles want to move even though moving hurts. Already I'm twitching just sitting here. Unable to stop, I'm suddenly on my feet again in spite of the discomfort, and moving, moving. I fall into the rhythm of pacing unconsciously, knowing he's watching me but unable to stop.

Now I know how obsessive-compulsives feel.

He wanders to the bedside chair and drops into it. "Not tired?"

"Shut up."

"Well, if you're not going to sleep, we should talk."

I want to scream. Hide under the bed. I've talked enough for one night, and I'm smart enough to know that this weird buzzy feeling means I'm probably slipping again. Anymore conversation would be a bad idea. "Talk?"

"You've promised us a lot of information. I'd like to start collecting."

Oh, that. Well, hell. That's better than talking about his father, at least. Okay, I can do this. Talk. Maybe it'll keep the walls still. "Sure, Mulder. Collect away." I count out ten steps exactly, trying to make them all the exact same length. Walking is getting easier the longer I do it. Maybe the pain is just getting easier to ignore.

"The Consortium never struck me as a particularly forgiving bunch of gentlemen. How did you even end up back with them after Russia, and everything you pulled? How'd you get back in?"

I turn a tight half-circle and pace back the same ten steps. "The old man bought me back in. He had more than enough information to use as currency. You could say I now know where the bodies are buried." I rub at my stump absently. The exhaustion is tugging at me, but lying down is so out of the question. If I have to lay there and twitch with him sitting beside the bed, I'll go stark raving mad. I concentrate somewhat desperately on my thoughts, trying to ignore the restless buzzing under my skin. Maybe talking to him isn't such a bad idea. Distraction, distraction. "But I gotta say, if they risked this... what I know can't be too important to them anymore."

"I don't know about that," Mulder drawls from his damnably comfortable sprawl in the chair. "They probably just didn't expect to lose you. They figured they'd experiment on you until you were dead."

I shoot him a heated look. "Thanks. But yeah, that sounds about right. I'm still a little surprised they risked this, though. It makes me think more than ever that Spender was working alone. It makes sense. Most of the really big players got toasted at that little hangar barbecue we were all invited to, with guest of honor Cassie."

Mulder sits straight up at that, looking at least marginally less relaxed, which satisfies an ornery itch somewhere inside me. If I can't be comfortable, why should he? "Cassandra Spender? Is this... you were there?"

"No, I wasn't there," I spit back. "I'm alive aren't I? You think I've survived this long by going along with stupid ideas like that one?"

Mulder rolls his eyes. "Of course not, o wise one. You just end up being experimented on in Consortium labs."

Touch. I glare at him and pace forward the requisite ten steps, then spin and head back.

"So how do you know what happened if you weren't there."

I ignore him. Something in me longs to just tell him all about the rebels and my dealings with them, but something smarter keeps a tighter hold of my reins. Just a wild guess, but Mulder is most likely not going to find collaborating with the rebels any more palatable than collaborating with the oil. And in a way he'd be right. They're not nice guys... any of them. The fact that I blithely sent almost the entire upper echelon of the U.S. Consortium to a certain fiery death at that hangar may or may not sit well with Mulder, but this nasty habit the rebels have of torching innocent abductees will most definitely not go down great.

"Will you stop walking circles and answer me," he snaps.

I suck in a breath through my nose and spin to face him. "I don't know what happened. I know what you know." There, close enough.

"Oh I don't know why I bother. Talking with you is like talking with one of those little pull-the-string toys that makes animal noises. Round and round goes the arrow and you never know what you're going to hear, except you know it's going to be one of twelve prerecorded standard bleats."

"Yeah, well, I don't know why you bother talking to me either," I growl. "So how about you go leave me alone?" Believe me, I'd prefer it. I'm in no condition to deal with Mulder, and I know it. The way I'm feeling, I'm beginning to think even Skinner would be preferable to him. At least with Skinner there's only so much that can potentially slip out if I lose control of my tongue. But even as I stare at him, he sits back in the chair and resettles himself. I curse mentally and go back to pacing. I've lost count of which step I was on so I make up a new route of thirteen steps.

"Why did the old man take you on in the first place? I assume we're talking about the same old man. The distinguished gentleman? British?"

I nod shortly. "The dead one. Flambe'd."

Mulder sighs. "Yeah, that's the one." I glance over at him. He has an oddly saddened look on his face, and for a moment I'm struck by the sense of loss I usually ignore when thinking of my old patron. It rocks me badly enough that I stop pacing, and Mulder focuses on me. I don't know what's showing on my face, but it's enough to get him sitting forward again.

"What was he to you?"

I look away and stare at the wall. "Just a... patron," I finally manage dully, pleased that my voice doesn't crack. "Just the latest in a long line of leash-holders," I mumble. So what if he'd turned the leash into a fine silver jess that he slipped on and off tenderly, at will, while he taught me how to really hunt. So what if he left me flying free more often than he dragged me back. So what if he seemed to actually trust me, take me on as a protg... see something in me. Who knew what.

So what. He was still just one more in a long line of powerful men in a position to use me. More gently than some, but use me still.

And he's still fucking dead.

I stand in this too-warm closet of a bedroom, hugging myself with my one good arm, trying not to shake, hating that old bastard. Hating him not for using me, not for any of the more irksome jobs or training methods. Not for treating me like a child at times. No. Hating him for being dead. Hating him for dying. For leaving.

I close my eyes and swallow hard, letting a welcome wash of anger ride through me. It never fails. Everything hits at once. Everything kicks you when you're down. It's like a hill of glare ice. Once you start tumbling, forget it. You might just as well sit down and slide. Weakness is like that. It crawls in and infects you and grows like cancer. Once your defenses are down even a little, anything can get through and then everything gets through. If I don't start recovering from some of this physical shit, I'm going to be bawling at Mormon commercials on the fucking TV.

Or getting down on my knees and begging Fox Mulder for his forgiveness.

"Leash-holder, eh? So what did he have on you?"

I force my feet to start moving again as that flat voice insinuates itself up under my quilt and teases my spine between my shoulder blades. "He caught me at a bad moment," I mumble. "I'd just been left high and dry by... an associate." I spit the last word like it tastes bad. It does. So did she. When I think of that bitch...


Oh what the hell. Pop a few more of the boy's bubbles. I almost grin as I enunciate clearly, "Marita Covvarubias."


"The one and only."

"She was working with you?"

"In a manner of speaking. We had similar goals for a short time. A very short time."

"Last time I saw her... she was in the test runs."

"Yep. Last time I saw her, too," I agree cheerfully. Now that's a thought to cheer me on a sucky day like this. I remember her cowering behind Little Spender, knowing there was no way I was helping her out of there. And as far as I know, she'd been snapped up by Big Spender's men again, and put back into testing. "I think she ended up in the same trials as me. This latest stuff, under Kessin's charge."


"My doctor." I burst out with a harsh laugh at that. "My Nazi I should say. My own personal Nazi at the facility."

He mumbles something, and I think I hear 'you should talk'. I give him a disgusted look. Yeah, yeah Mulder, sure. I know. Think whatever you want about me. You're going to anyway.

"So the old man took you on after Marita screwed you over?"

"Yep. He caught me in reduced circumstances. I had something he wanted. He made me an offer I couldn't refuse."

"The vaccine."

I smile humorlessly at him. Ah, for that brief moment I'd actually thought I was on top. "Smart boy. Yes. The Russian vaccine. I got it out of Russia." I carefully block my mind of what else I brought out of Russia, but the voices in my head won't shut up. The creeping weakness again. Shit. The last thing I need to think about is that kid...

Suddenly Mulder distracts me from my unwelcome thoughts, as he bends forward, gripping his head, making an odd noise.

"Mulder?" I step toward him, concerned, shoving all my own baggage back into my mental foot locker. "Mulder, what's wrong? Do you need Scully?"

He raises his head slowly and gives me a wide-eyed stare that I really don't like. "No," he manages hoarsely. "I'm okay now." He still looks at me really strangely, like he's trying to see something behind my eyes, but whatever it was I get the impression he isn't seeing it.

"What the hell's wrong with you?" I snap, hating the way my heart is pounding. It settles as he recovers, but the reaction itself is damn annoying.

"Headache," he waves one hand dismissively. "Where were we? Oh, the vaccine. You got the vaccine? The old man, he got it from you?"

"That's right." I nod and let an evil smile curl across my face. "And yes, that makes three times I've saved Scully's life, if you're counting. And that's just recently." I leap back out of his reach as he jumps out of the chair, clucking my tongue. "And not one thank you from you. Honestly. You'd think my efforts weren't appreciated."

Glaring at me, he looks for all the world like he's counting to ten, then he drops into the chair again. I wonder if I'm trying to bait him into hitting me. You'd think the current pain would be enough, that I wouldn't need more. But pain from Mulder is always special. For a brief moment I remember the feel of his fists, and something in my chest tightens, longing for that sense of release I find in those moments and no other.

"Thank you."

What? Say what? "What?"

He clears his throat and mumbles again. "Thank you."

Okay, that was unexpected. His sullen expression is cracking into a smirk, and I realize I must look completely poleaxed. Blinking, I close my mouth. "Uh... you're welcome." I shift, turn, and start pacing again. My palms itch. Palms, plural. I hate phantom sensation.

"Although I have to wonder."

Oh great. Here it comes. "Wonder what?" I say tiredly when he doesn't appear to be about to finish his sentence anytime in the current century.

"You rescuing Scully from a Consortium lab is just... well, let's just say it doesn't fit the working profile of Alex Krycek, hmmm?"

I snort. "You've got a working profile on me? This I'd love to see."

Ignoring me, he continues thoughtfully. "It just seems a little too neat, somehow. I know Scully believes you were really hurt, and I trust her medical judgement. But it all makes me wonder. I mean you. You break Scully out of a Consortium facility, and end up in our hands. Willingly in our hands. All hurt and pathetic-looking to bring in the sympathy vote. Forgive me for thinking set-up, but maybe this is just ringing too many militia receipts and Tunguska bells for me."

I'm trembling. I can't stop. Because we all know how well Tunguska worked out for me, don't we? Pure rage is welling up from the soles of my feet. His casual little commentary, his snide tone, the absolute absurdity of the concept... everything. My mouth opens and before I can stop it, the words pour out. "Yeah Mulder, right. I fucking planned this. I worked it all out in advance, planned it really carefully, and this is my vacation. Didn't you know? The Consortium has great vacation benefits. They'll do whatever it takes to send their hard working operatives on choice holidays. Me? I chose to get fucking stranded in the fucking wilds of some fucking state I don't even know which one, with the three fucking people voted Most Likely To Want To See Alex Krycek Die A Slow Painful Death. I almost chose spending a week cleaning out Spender's ashtrays with my tongue, but I thought it over, and said no, to be really fun, it's gotta involve getting shot, and Fox Mulder. First, I had to get kidnapped and experimented on, but hey, when you work for the old boys, that's hardly a chore, now is it? It took work, it took careful timing, but I knew if I played it right, I could get shut up in some technogeeks' cabin, getting stuck on Scully's little glass slides, and having to put the fuck up with you. FUCKING JOY!" I know my voice is spiraling up hysterically, but at the moment I don't really care. One more suspicious glare from him and I'm going to put him through the nearest window. Oh, excuse me, I have no windows. God knows I might try to escape from this cozy little heaven I've apparently tricked them into creating for me.

Mulder's exasperated huff tells me he thinks I'm being a drama queen, and he cuts off my ravings with a sharp wave of his hand. "Alright, fine. Let's just say for argument's sake that I believe you. You're not setting us up. What about you?"

Okay, what did I miss? "What about me?" I hate the way my voice squeaks hoarsely, but apparently my vocal chords still aren't up to heavy yelling. Mulder just looks at me shrewdly.

"Are you so sure you're not being set up? That escape... you'd been there how long? In that facility? And suddenly, Scully comes in, you both overhear they're after me, and bingo, you get a chance to escape. Convenient? Coincidence? And did your escape go a little too easily? Are you so sure they didn't let you escape?"

Jesus. I must really be foggy. It didn't even occur to me. I take two steps backward and practically fall onto the edge of the bed. Shit. I'd only killed three people to get us out of there. Well, five, if you count the orderlies. Hell and damnation. Had they let us out? It was fucking convenient... they hadn't strapped me down, then the security disturbance keeping the halls mostly clear. But why? What for?

A deadly thought strikes me. What if they knew I'd go straight to him? What if they wanted me to go straight to him? Shit! I could be contagious or something... maybe they infected me with something and I could be giving it to him right now, putting his life in danger...

"Krycek? What the- Are you okay? You look like death warmed over all of a sudden." He rises from his chair and moves toward me, lifting his hand as if to touch my forehead, and I vault backward without even thinking.

"Don't touch me!"

He freezes, looking at me like I've lost whatever questionable sense he'd credited me with. I scramble back up the bed and tumble off the other side, hitting the floor with a painful thump. I poke my head back up over the side of the bed to insure he stays on his side while I try to work this out in my head.

"Are you going wiggy on us again?" Mulder complains, scowling at me. "If you're going to get delirious you could warn me, you know." He edges around the bed as he speaks, and I realize too late that he is trying to distract me.

"Mulder, I mean it. Stay back. Look... uh... send Scully in here. I have to talk to Scully," I insist desperately. "No! Wait. Oh shit." Not Scully. He'll take me apart piece by piece if I give her anything. But she's been around me and touching me so much, if there's anything to expose her to, it's already happened. I stop shaking my head and start nodding frantically. "No... make that yes. Scully. Send me Scully. You go out of the room. Now." I swallow hard and flatten myself against the wall as he keeps approaching. "Do it! Don't come any closer!"

"Krycek, come on. Relax. I'm not going to-"

Something snaps. I'm just not used to worrying about other people. I can't take the pressure. So fucking sue me. "Just GO! Get out of this room! NOW!" My voice breaks on the final word and I think he must decide I've really gone round the bend, because he finally starts backing up, both hands extended, real concern in his eyes.

"Okay, just calm down. I'm going." He backs to the door, still staring at me like he expects me to spontaneously combust. He slips through into the other room and I can hear him calling for Scully. I get myself back on the bed and try to slow down my breathing. Don't panic, don't panic. He's not necessarily right just because he is 90% of the time. Don't jump to conclusions. Think.

Unfortunately all my mind can focus on is an image of Spender himself, sitting in some out of the way office at that hellhole, chuckling over a video screen, watching Scully and me hobbling down the hallways thinking we're getting away. It would be just like him. Just his kind of scene. I'm starting to hyperventilate by the time the door slams open and Scully bursts into the room at a run, in blue pajamas, her hair mussed.

"Alex?" Her face is all crinkled up, and if I didn't know better I'd swear she's actually worried about me. Probably worried about her chance at all this supernatural science I represent. Her tired eyes blaze over me, but I can see Mulder hovering at the door.

"Mulder, stay out there. Scully, shut the door." To her credit, she does it without question, even though I can see Mulder has his gun drawn. I knew he really thought I'd flipped. Oh well. Like his opinion of me can get any worse.

"Alex, Mulder said something's wrong. What is it?"

She speaks slowly and carefully, and I almost laugh in her face. Then I feel bad because after all, she's the one that's putting up with my ravings the most. And obviously she'd been asleep and she really needs some rest, but here she is standing in front of me all woken up and tense again. "I'm okay. I'm not delirious and I'm not going nuts. We just need to talk."

She studies me as she walks closer, and then, with a shrug, sits down next to me. "You couldn't have decided we needed to talk before I went to sleep? And you couldn't have just asked him to come find me? You had to kick him out like that? Did he... do something?"

"I just needed to get him out of the room. Listen, Scully, he said something that sort of freaked me out. What if we are being set up? Me included. What if they let us escape, and I'm infected with something, and they knew I'd go to him and that's what they want me to do? I know it might be too late, he might already be infected, but I figured it was better to get him out of the room, and you'd already have been exposed anyway. Can you find out?"

Her eyes go wide. She starts to shake her head, but then I watch her consider the idea and come to the same conclusion I had - that it would be just like Spender. "Okay, let's think about this rationally for a minute." She starts ticking off the points of our flight, from the perspective of an "arranged" escape. Even as she speaks I start to calm, until finally she winds up with the sharp shake of her head she initially aborted.

"No, Alex, this doesn't make sense. I mean I suppose it's possible, but highly improbable. Let's look at the facts. I can't believe they wanted you to escape, given the way you're really healing things. Granted, you could be infected with something else, but I believe you're too important to just be used as a vector. They can't have known you and I would team up to get out of there. And think about it..."

She pauses suddenly, and looks decidedly uncomfortable. "WHAT?" I practically shout.

Clearing her throat, she averts her eyes. "Well, think about it. Would the Consortium have reason to... um... know that you would go directly to Mulder? How many people actually know how you... ah... feel?"

I freeze. Okay, I suppose I was kidding myself thinking she wouldn't figure it out. But... shit. Fucking bloody hell. How I feel? A horrible heat comes up in my cheeks and I know I'm turning bright red. Then the meaning behind her words sinks in, and the answer is no. Granted, I'm positive my ex-boss who blew himself up had figured out how I felt about Mulder, but I truly believe the rest of the old boys, Spender included, were clueless. Spender especially. He's always been too damn blind when it comes to Mulder. What Scully is saying makes sense. Much more sense than Mulder's half-assed paranoid guessing. She's right. They've got no way of knowing I'd go to Mulder. Hell, they'd think I'd go in the opposite direction if it looked like they were going to pick him up too. We escaped, we weren't 'let go'. I'm not infected with anything except the damn alien gunk we know about, and I'm not giving him anything.

An intense wave of relief almost knocks me flat on the bed. I sag, catching myself on my arm and nodding. "You're right. Oh fuck. Yes. You're right. Okay. I'm okay now." I take a slow breath and let it out, turning to face her with a relieved smile... that melts off my face the minute I meet her eyes.

"You were really scared, weren't you?" she asks placidly, her eyes boring into mine. And my incredibly slow brain finally catches up, and starts screaming that if she hadn't known before, she sure as hell knows now. The way I'd kicked Mulder out of the room, the way I'd screamed for her... how much more obvious does it get? I feel the tide of heat wash up over my face again and desperately want to sink into the mattress.

After a few moments I have to concede the damn mattress isn't going to cooperate in swallowing me down, so I go for nonchalant, totally ignoring the blush scalding my cheeks. "You know, it wasn't that you were expendable or anything. I just figured you had already definitely been exposed, if I was carrying something. I figured we should... you know... limit the spread. By getting the two of us in here." I stop, before I can start babbling pathetically.

She tilts her head and blinks, slowly. I start fidgeting, and am about to give in to the babbling anyway, when she finally speaks. "Right." She stands. "Well, if that's all settled, I'm going back to bed." She pauses and looks down at me again, as if there's something just burning to get off the end of her sharp little tongue. Then she shakes her head and leaves.

I collapse backwards on the bed, groaning in embarrassment. What the hell is wrong with me?? Five fucking minutes of rational thought could have prevented that entire thing. If I hadn't flown off the handle, if I'd taken time to piece it out, I'd have known. If I hadn't let Mulder get me riled in the first place.

I snort. Yeah right. And while I'm at it, why don't I just keep myself from eating, sleeping and breathing.

I crawl head first under the blankets and curl up in a ball. If I can't dissolve into the mattress, I'll do the next best thing.

When Scully exited Krycek's room, Mulder stopped pacing and stuffed his gun back in its holster. "Okay, so what was all that about?" He spoke softly in an effort to not disturb Skinner, though he had no idea if his boss was actually asleep already, or just pretending he was to avoid conversation with an agitated Mulder.

Scully looked up at him, and Mulder bit off whatever he was about to say. She had the weirdest look on her face. "What?" he asked worriedly.

"Hmmm? Oh. You scared him."

"I scared him?" Mulder grinned in disbelief. "Come again, Scully?"

She finally focused on him, and her eyes narrowed. "What exactly did you say to him anyway?"

He shrugged. "I just wondered if it was possible we were all being set up. You know... if the Consortium let you guys get out, if they let him out specifically, setting us all up for something else."

"That doesn't make any sense, Mulder. There are way too many variables. And he's too important to them as he is for them to let him out, even if they did plan on scooping him right back up. He's always been too much of a wild card for them to take a chance like that."

Shrugging again, he let his grin take on a touch of embarrassment. "I know. I was just trying to wind him up."

Her eyebrows arched. "Well, it worked."

"So what was all that about?"

"He believed you. You got him thinking. He thought maybe we had been let out for some bigger scheme that hadn't even occurred to him."

"But what was all that 'get out of the room, Mulder'? Why did he need you? I thought he was really freaking."

Scully paused, her lips pursed, one foot tapping an uneasy rhythm on the floor. "He was really freaking." She bit her lip, then seemed to come to a decision and continued. "He got it in his head that maybe they knew he'd go to you. Maybe they infected him with something knowing he'd bring it to you."

Mulder felt his face go slack with surprise. Scully's gaze pinned him where he stood. "He thought-"

"He thought he might be contagious to you. He figured I'd already been exposed." Scully let the words dangle in mid-air for a long moment before delivering the killing blow. "He wanted to get you out of the room in case he was doing you harm. You know, get the infected people away from the uninfected," she added casually. She gave him a final meaningful look, then turned and headed back to her room without another word.

Mulder stood in shocked silence. He knew the final words for what they were. A polite way of brushing over this, and allowing them to talk about it without talking about what was really going on.

Except... what exactly was really going on?

He stared at the closed door for long moments before pushing himself into action, and letting himself back into the bedroom.

I hear the door open and close, and soft footfalls bring him closer to the bed. I know it's him. I can smell him. Maybe if I pretend to be asleep he'll just go along with it. I really am damn tired... tired of running, tired of being tough, tired of mentally dog-paddling to stay afloat, tired of hurting. I stay curled up on my right side, burrowing into the quilt, shutting out Mulder and the tiny room and the dark and everything else and trying to retreat into a sleep I don't really want. The ever-present pain keeps me tied to my body.

All is silent behind me; he must have sat down again. I breathe steady and even, hoping he'll just assume I'm asleep. The deep breathing starts to tug me down and against my will the charade becomes reality. I drift into a tangled web of dream-threads that I can almost tell aren't real but they keep catching me up and surprising me and getting more real than the bed and the too-close walls. The quilt around me is no protection as Spender wafts toward me in a halo of smoke, a red-hot butcher knife in each hand, telling me not to worry, everything would grow back. Even as I try to scream the red of the knives melts and suddenly Melissa Scully stands, looking at me, trickles of red blood seeping through her red hair and down her face, just looking at me. And I look away, look down and my quilt is gone, everything is gone, and Melissa is Mulder, kissing me so gently, his hands caressing me, soothing me, slamming into me, leaving technicolor bruises. I fall to my knees and the bruises ache but my chest aches worse and then it's the familiar one, the worst of all, the one where I dream that it was all a dream, that night in Tunguska, where I dream that I wake up and my arm is fine, it never happened. And then I dream that I really wake up and it did happen. And when I really wake up I never know which is real and which was a dream, until I actually touch my left arm...

I shiver and come to just enough to know I'm dreaming and dozing and then it's off again and everything hazes and through it all runs a bright fire-red thread of pain, so much like the slicing-burning pain when they cut off my arm, only worse because I don't know why I'm hurting this bad. I move, trying to jar myself out of this sickening web my subconscious is spinning. I know this cycle, playing out on a continuous reel like a dime movie. I curl up even tighter, and as my mind clears a bit I try to think of something pleasant. I'm warm, I'm not tied down, I had a hot dinner. Okay, it was burned frozen lasagna, but that's an improvement over the food I got in Spender's tender loving care. Scully will look after me. She might hate me, but she's decent and she's got enough integrity to choke a horse. She promised she'd take care of me. Promised...

But there's Spender again, with the knives. I twist in panic, and try to find a dark, safe place to hide...

Scully sighed and stretched under the blankets. The stiffness was easing after the hot shower, and she felt herself relaxing again. She'd just nodded off when Mulder had woken her. She hoped it hadn't been enough to keep her awake now... if it was he'd pay.

It felt so wonderful to be clean, to be wearing fresh pajamas - her favorite blue satin pajamas, Mulder had remembered. To be safe, to be in an anonymous cabin where even the FBI didn't know to look. To be alone in a comfortable bed with the door closed on the three men who were making her life complicated and frustrating.

She was ready to knock their heads together. Knock some sense into them. Mulder and Skinner were a potentially volatile combination at the best of times. Alex Krycek was just a catalyst for trouble. She could smell the simmering testosterone, ready to boil over and scald all of them.

Grinning at the mixed metaphor, she let her eyes drift closed. Tomorrow they would put plans in motion. Get the cure for the nanocytes. Get the Gunmen to start analyzing the data on those cartridges. The cartridges. Had to be important stuff there. And she would give Krycek a thorough examination. Had to give Krycek... tests. And stuff. Samples. Take samples, analyze. Put her off tonight but tomorrow, tomorrow she...

She ran down endless corridors which all looked alike, except they twisted in odd ways, up and around and narrowed and cork-screwed and ended in stairways that took her to blank walls. She had to get somewhere, she had to tell Mulder something very important, but she couldn't find the way out. Her breath came faster and faster as she ran, but like a mouse in a maze, every wall turned smooth and endless. She spun in a circle and ran back the way she came, and nothing but empty reaches of hallways, stairwells, rocking like the hallways on the Queen Anne...

And Skinner was there. He was always just out of reach, in the next hallway, the next level of stairs, the wrong side of a window and always looking in the wrong direction. She pounded on a wall in frustration as his voice calling to her reached her ears faintly. He was trying to get to her, to help her, but they couldn't find a way to reach each other...

Skinner listened to Mulder re-enter Krycek's designated bedroom. Once the door clicked shut, he gave up the pretense of sleep and rolled over onto his back. He felt a bit guilty that Mulder had woken up Scully, but he just hadn't felt up to getting involved with another tussle over their prisoner. It had sounded like Krycek was asking for Scully anyway.

Walter lay on his back, hands folded across his stomach, and wondered why he couldn't maintain a more smug, triumphant feeling. The enemy who had tormented him, who had killed him and brought him painfully back to life, had been declawed and was at their mercy. Krycek had no power over him now.

Spender did. That was a nasty complication. But if all went well, he'd have the cure for his bugs and be free of both of the sons of bitches.

If all went well.

If Krycek lived long enough to give them the location of the cure.

After what he'd seen earlier, he wondered absently if he shouldn't beat it out of the man now, while he was still breathing. And he still wondered why the sight of a pain-wracked Alex Krycek wasn't the unadulterated delight it should have been.

The bastard deserved every bit of his suffering. Of course he did. He'd made his bed, and now he got to lie on the red-hot coals. Poetic justice, as it were. And how often did you see any of that in the FBI, in the world at large.

But Skinner found himself uncomfortably remembering another Alex Krycek, the one who had appeared in his office way back when, in an awful suit and a shiny new haircut, looking about sixteen, eager to begin his first big assignment as Agent Mulder's partner. How much of that Krycek had been a disguise, and how much was real? The best disguises were always part truth. Or maybe he just wanted to think so, so he could avoid asking the real question... had he really been duped so badly? How could he have not known? Exactly when had the corruption begun, and could he have done anything to prevent it?

Had he failed yet another agent?

How much of the darkness in Krycek's soul had come from his own heart, and how much had come from a black-lunged monster who defiled everything he touched? He'd had enough experience now to assume the worst about Krycek, but in the back of his mind the niggling thought wouldn't disappear. Skinner knew all too well how Spender worked, setting his little traps so stealthily that you were snared before you saw the danger. Oh yes, Skinner had jumped for Spender and asked how high.

How much cleaner was his soul than Alex Krycek's?

::I'm not a murderer. Not like he is.:: Wars long over were a different story. A different set of ghosts. Not to be confused with doublecrossing assassins who lied and pretended to be people they weren't and got paid to wreck destruction wherever they went. And yet... how different... to define the enemy and take out the target. It was all in how you defined the enemy, really.

Thinking back over his dealings with the man, Skinner wondered absently how Krycek saw him, what he thought of him. Just another lackey for Spender? A joke? A hidebound bureaucrat with no guts? An easy mark? Had he laughed behind Skinner's back, at the AD's pitiful attempts to retain some honor, some sense of what was right in the strange tug-of-war his life had become? Back in the beginning, had Krycek known of his supervisor's own edgy involvement with Spender? Had he thought Skinner one of the same set? Had Krycek gone over willingly, or had he edged over the line like Skinner himself had, until he lost his way back. And would it have been different, if Krycek could have come to him? And why was he even thinking any of this about a man who obviously reveled in being an amoral asshole...

And why in hell did he always let Krycek get him so knotted up. What was it about the man.

Skinner groaned and tried to relax the tension in his neck and shoulders. If things went according to plan, he and Krycek were going to have to find some way to work together. Trust was out of the question. So was forgiveness, probably. Where did that leave them? He sighed. All he knew for sure was that thinking about Krycek left him sleepless, and he needed rest.

If he turned his head, he could see the door to the bedroom where Agent Scully slept. A sense of relief flooded through him. Safe. She was safe. Now that was a topic to put him in a more relaxed frame of mind. He let his thoughts drift, recalling fondly the sight of her in her blue satin pajamas with the baggy pants and oversized, shirt-like top, her hair pulled back in a ponytail, her face scrubbed of make-up, all giving her the look of a teen-ager at a slumber party. Dana Scully somehow combined wisdom with a purity that took his breath away. It wasn't that she was virginal, but she had a deep integrity he could always count on to shine like a guiding star when he was lost. People like Krycek had situational ethics, changing to suit the convenience of the moment. Scully might compromise her ethics, but only after much soul-searching and she always paid the price in full. And she'd paid so heavily already...

Skinner stared around at the bleak, muddy place, ankle deep and seeping into his shoes. Where? Gray sky and flat dun landscape, and he looked at himself and his clothes were the same gravel-gray, splattered with mud, soaked through to the knee and beyond. He staggered and caught movement above his outstretched arms and focused upward. His arms reached desperately... she was just above him. Soft blue satin, soft red hair, soft pale skin... she actually floated in the air, just like she talked about on that regression tape. Her hands moved, beckoning... she wanted him to come to her. Speaking too, but her lips moved silently. The only sound was the slurping sucking of the bog at his feet. All he had to do to touch her was rise up, it would be so easy, it wasn't far. But he kept staggering, the mud kept sucking. And whenever he lifted himself above the muck, Alex Krycek rose like the Swamp Thing from the comics of his youth, dripping and thick with mud, covered... reached out and grabbed him, dragging him back down again...

Mulder pulled the armchair closer to the bed and kicked off his shoes, propping his feet up on the edge of the mattress. The chair was comfortable enough and Mulder shifted around, settling in for the night, letting the pretense that the man in the bed was actually asleep stand. After the confusion of what appeared to be Krycek's inexplicable attempt to keep him from possibly being 'infected', he just didn't have it in him to rouse the man into another go around. He just wanted to zone a little. He vaguely figured that with his feet on the bed so near Krycek's butt, he'd feel any movements, even if he dozed off. For a brief, uncharitable moment he hoped his socks smelled bad.

He leaned back, hands behind his head, and studied the lump in the bed. Krycek still hid under his quilt, his back to Mulder, his breathing slow and steady. A little too measured. Sighing to himself he puzzled over the man's weird display. It had almost seemed like he was... concerned. Like the last thing he'd want to do would be infect Mulder with some unknown agent the Consortium had cooked up. Odd behavior to say the least.

He supposed, if you looked at it from the right angle, Krycek could be concerned about infecting his "helpers" with something. After all, they could conceivably be his last chance, given his condition. Scully certainly appeared correct... from what he'd seen so far, he'd bet his gun Krycek was truly sick. And didn't want them to know how weak he really was, although that plan was going right down the drain.

Made sense. He wouldn't show weakness in front of Krycek, if he could help it.

So that made some form of sense. Krycek would want them to stay healthy, and able to help and protect him. That had to be it. He tilted his head to one side and cracked his neck, trying to ignore the teasing memory of a heated kiss and grope in a basement office. A soft brush of lips against his cheek in a dark apartment. No doubt he just wanted to protect his investment by keeping them healthy. Had to be it. Didn't it?

What was the bastard up to this time?

He really had rescued Scully. He'd even blocked a bullet meant for her with his own body. Yeah, well, that must have been an accident. Maybe his balance was off because of the missing arm. Mulder winced at the reminder. The raw looking stump he'd seen earlier made his stomach ache, especially since he had come so close to having a matching one. And Scully said it looked better than it had.

Better, worse - did it matter how pretty it was? The cruel truncation was an insult to that... that body. That delect-... Mulder started to repress the line of thought, then sighed, shifting uncomfortably. Too late. He'd already been thinking about the kiss. The kisses. And everyone else was asleep... it sounded like even Krycek's act had fallen into the real thing. No one could see him looking. He might as well be honest with himself if no one else. His mind played out every flash of naked skin he'd seen since arriving at the cabin. Even with the bruises, the scars, Krycek was still... still Krycek. Still desirable, damn him. Correction. It wasn't just that he was desirable. Hell, lots of people were desirable, and didn't have this effect on him.

Krycek, of all people, still made him ache.

That face, with the dark circles under his eyes and too-prominent cheekbones, should have looked dissipated, worn out. Somehow, he looked more beautiful than ever, in some dramatic, tragic way. His tortured look even captured some of that odd bonyness of years ago, reminding Mulder strangely of Agent Krycek, of Alex. Not as smooth and soft, certainly, as he'd been that day in Mulder's office, sitting on the desk, letting Mulder ravish his mouth. Rubbing up against him. Agreeing to meet Mulder at his apartment later that night...

The chair wasn't so comfortable any more. It was too hot in this little room, no air. Mulder shifted again, tugging at his pants, surprised that he even had the energy left to get an erection after everything that had gone on. But really... was it actually that surprising? He winced. As long as he was being honest with himself, why not go all the way and admit he had just been waiting for this inconvenient reaction to hit. And wondering why it was taking so long. After all, he'd had the same exact damn reaction every time he'd seen Krycek since his betrayal. And had dealt with it the same way.

This time he didn't think he'd get away with beating the crap out of Alex.

Hating him, wanting him... the man was frustration personified. The strength of the hate always came back to that first betrayal. It amazed Mulder sometimes how fresh the old bitterness was whenever he thought about it. And the pure want hovering just under his skin always made it worse. If anything, he hated Krycek even more for making him want him.

The tension in his groin, the heaviness in his balls, turned up the flame under the simmering emotions just like always. Trying to tame the warmth spreading through his crotch, Mulder closed his eyes and recited The Litany. Krycek was responsible for everything wrong in his life. He had helped them take Scully, killed Mulder's father, had something to do with Melissa's death, sold government secrets that should have been Mulder's to expose, infected Skinner with deadly cyberbugs, conspired against him in his Quest for the Truth. Hell, Krycek was probably responsible for the war in Bosnia, global warming, and the Knicks losing in the playoffs.

The Litany didn't work. It never did. Grinding his teeth, he opened his eyes again and stared balefully at the humped up quilt. ::Why you.:: No matter how many times he lectured himself off about Krycek's reprehensibility, it never quelled the stand-up-and-salute reaction of his body. And being self-aware enough to know that the reprehensibility added a savory edge to the saluting really didn't help.

Rubbing his eyes, Mulder yawned and tried to get comfortable again, his mind casually sorting and scanning The Litany as it always did in Krycek's presence. ::You killed my father, you son of a bitch. You're the root of all evil.:: That thought stopped even him. It flowed so well, had a lovely ring to it, but... His mouth twisted in a wry smile as he stared at the dark head. A bit much, even for Krycek?

Okay, so maybe he had made Krycek his personal Boogie Man, the Evil Thing that Bumped People Off in the Night. If he thought about it long enough, he knew his hatred of the man bordered on obsessive. And he knew all the bubbling rage wasn't just a convenient direction for unwanted arousal. But dammit, he was sick and tired of feeling powerless against Spender and his nebulous Consortium, against shadowy aliens he could never catch up with. Krycek at least was tangible. Mulder sighed. When it came down to it, Krycek put a face on the monster. It was so much more... personal with Krycek. Krycek could be hit, punished, made to suffer for all of Mulder's more faceless enemies.


Closing his eyes on a surge of chair-tilting dizziness, Mulder felt that odd disorientation again. Stronger now, somehow more focused. Rather like when he'd zoned in on Krycek's hunger. In fact, focused on... Krycek. He inhaled slowly, deeply, sinking into the feeling, wondering where it would go. Scully was close by, and a yell would bring her running if need be...


Krycek moaned softly in his sleep. Mulder tried to relax, to open himself to whatever odd new trick his mind was playing. Curiosity swept through him. He was here, in his body, and yet somewhere else at the same time. Somewhere strange, hostile, looming dark figures, flickering fire...


Red and hot and sharp. Hands holding him down, pressing him into cold, rocky earth. And painpainPAIN. Panic trying to rise, screams clawing his throat. No, this couldn't be happening, it was a dream, it couldn't be real. No matter how it felt. Breath caught and hurt in his throat. But it wasn't real... No one was holding a red-hot knife against his flesh, cauterizing severed arteries. That was not his arm, held up by the wrist, blood spattering onto the ground. He would wake up soon, wake up, and it would all be a dream. It never happened... never happened...

Hands... hands, more hands... hands holding him... hands on his shoulders... gentle hands, soothing away his distress. Hands sliding down his back, drawing him forward against a solid, warm chest. More warmth, on his mouth now, another mouth sucking at his. A mouth so sweet, so wanted, lips so full. A tongue flicking in and out, teasing. So warm, so gentle... it felt good to relax against this strong body, this man, heat melting the chill of terror. A husky voice whispering his name. Saying 'Alex, Alex' over and over in that sweet monotone as those lips brushed his cheeks, his nose, his eyelashes. Those careful arms loosening, the warm body moving back, not far, just far enough... so he can see that face... face...

His own face...

Smile... sweet, adoring... morphing, twisting... the soft expression sliding to a sneer. The gentle hands curling, becoming fists, bruising instead of caressing. Thudding into him, over and over, and nothing could make him lift a hand to stop them. He deserved it. And worse than the fists, so much worse, the contempt burning in that face, in those hazel eyes...


It was like a weight dragging him into despair, claws snagged into him, shredding his will, sapping his strength, pulling him into a cold hell he would never escape. Fear choked him... fear of death, of insanity. Anger seethed like a living thing, eating and gnawing... anger at those who'd taken away his choices, manipulated his needs and desires, driven him to this dark place. Acid anger at himself, at his own culpability, his weakness, short-sightedness, stupidity. All underscored with the driving pulse of sick heartache, knowing he'd never see what he needed to see in Mulder's eyes...

Mulder shuddered and jerked, forcefully yanking himself free of it, whatever "it" was. He jumped up out of the chair and practically leaped across the room, swinging the door open and leaning in the doorway, breathing harshly, shaking in reaction to the bottomless plunge into someone else's emotions. He could vaguely see Skinner on the sofabed, snoring softly. Pulling in air, eyes wild in the dark, he focused on the mundane sight to bring himself down, bring himself back.

What in hell had he just done? Of all the places he didn't want to be, somewhere in Krycek's black hole of a mind was right at the top of the list. His breath rasped harshly in his chest, his shoulder still tingling, his stomach aching, adrenaline coursing his body. His body? Or Krycek's?


The man was in agony. Physically, emotionally. Hanging on to sanity by his fingernails.

Breathe. Slowly. In. Pause. Out. Pause. Again.

It was a dream. It was someone else's dream. Alex Krycek's dream. None of it was re-

But that wasn't going to work. Mulder could tell already that there was no way his mind was going to buy that line.

Krycek... and him... what the...

His mind refused to accept it and veered sharply left. Krycek was thinking about him way too much. ::And let's just leave it at that.::

But that ache. That pure, burning loss... all directed at him.

Gripping the doorjamb, Mulder leaned his forehead against the cool wood and let his mind kick in and take care of him. The mind that had kept him sane through all that had happened to him over the course of his more-eventful-than-average life. Perspective. He needed perspective. ::Okay, go mind. Get a little perspective.::

Well, at least he wasn't the only one thinking about that old kiss.

Not exactly the perspective he wanted.

Lifting his head, he let it bounce off the doorjamb and winced. As his heartbeat slowed and the roaring of blood in his head finally faded, Mulder tuned in to the whimpers behind him, and the faint squeaking of bedsprings as Krycek partially uncurled onto his back, head moving restlessly from side to side. Murmuring something... frantic...

"Mulder!" That was clear enough. Mulder moved silently to the side of the bed, looking down at Krycek. Panting in jerky, shallow breaths, his eyes wide open, staring at nothing, he didn't seem aware that Mulder was there. Whispering "oh god," as he felt for his left shoulder, hand sliding down to grope the roughness of scar tissue, the empty space. With a low, sobbing groan, Krycek curled up again, pulling the quilt tight around his shoulders, burrowing his head into the pillows.

Mulder stopped his hand just before it touched Krycek's left shoulder, drawing it back slowly to fall at his side. He dropped back into the armchair, at a loss. Was the man even awake? He listened to Krycek's rough breathing, heard the persistent wet catch. Was he crying? Not that he'd exactly blame the guy, after taking a little round trip tour of his subconscious.

Mulder blinked, as his thoughts slowly settled and realization sunk in. Whatever this was, he really had gotten a trip into Alex Krycek's head. He had the ability to actually see behind those lying eyes. And if earlier in the evening was anything to go by, Krycek was none the wiser. Krycek was vulnerable, and more than just physically. Mulder suddenly had an advantage in the ongoing battle between them. Krycek... had some sort of fixation on him. Obviously, was attracted to him. Apparently that hadn't been an act all those years ago. Mulder viciously stomped down the flash of relief and pleasure accompanying that thought. Nothing but a... strategic advantage. That was all. Nothing else.

Combing through the vivid impressions from the man's dreams, Mulder knew he should be enjoying this. Finally, to be handed some measure of power over the nemesis who haunted him, who slipped in and out of his life, wrecking havoc and fading back into the shadows. The decidedly smoky shadows. He should be planning how to exploit the weaknesses, exploit his own abilities and dig for information, find more chinks in the armor, more places to stick the knife and twist.

So why, instead, did he just want to crawl onto the bed, hold the ravaged body close in his arms and whisper soothing words?

::Natural human reaction to all that pain, dammit. It doesn't mean anything.::

Caught between the twin urgings to comfort and destroy, one as strong as the other, Mulder denied both and spent the rest of the endless night watching and listening as Krycek fought his terror and pain alone. Feeling curiously empty, paralyzed, stuck, he couldn't make himself act even to so much as smooth the blanket for Krycek.

Finally, near dawn, he fell into exhausted, restless sleep.

Skinner awoke to pale dawn light glowing through the curtains and the sound of birds greeting the new day. He supposed he should be enjoying that. But his mouth tasted like the birds had been nesting in it, and all too soon he remembered what this day would bring. Or what he hoped it would bring. If Krycek was playing them false, he prayed for a chance to strangle the son of a bitch before he died.

At the moment he was still alive, Mulder hadn't wakened him to take over guard duty, and Scully's door was still closed, so he had to assume Krycek hadn't run amok during the night. On the way to the bathroom, he peered into the inner room. Krycek was a quilt-covered lump in the bed, his dark hair the only thing visible. Mulder sprawled in the armchair, snoring blissfully.

So much for guarding their prisoner. Skinner glared in irritation. So the man was sick, it didn't mean they could suddenly just lie down on the job. He was in their custody, for Christ's sake, they weren't just on sickroom watch in case he needed a drink of water.

He stood, debating whether it was worth waking Mulder for a dressing down for dereliction of duty. With a snort, he left Mulder sleeping and headed for the bathroom. As he quickly showered and shaved, he entertained himself by mentally replaying past scenes of trying to introduce his agent to the concepts of 'responsibility to his superiors' and 'following orders'. One of the more fruitless pursuits of his career.

Dressing in the quiet stillness of the cabin he found himself wondering how long it had been since he'd been on a vacation to a place like this. He counted back in his mind, and recalled fishing trips from years back, but nothing recent. The Gunmen had a nice place here. And somehow he would be willing to bet the beauty of the great outdoors was rather lost on them. Still grinning at the thought of the three of them in a fishing boat, he wandered into the kitchen. Having set up the coffeepot the night before, he switched it on and began heating water for oatmeal. Lost in thought, he was still mixing his cereal when Scully wandered sleepily into the kitchen.

"Good morning, sir." She brushed her hair back and stifled a yawn.

The huskiness of her morning voice stirred something in him. Keeping his face carefully bland, he lifted his head. "Good morning. Coffee's ready."

"Bless you."

She sat on a stool at the end of the counter, watching him eat and sipping her coffee.

Clearing his throat, he met her gaze. "Would you like some eggs, Agent Scully? Toast? Can I get you anything?"

"Oh no, I'll get it." She stood to put a slice of whole wheat bread in the toaster.

Skinner surreptitiously watched her moving. When she turned back to him, he offered quickly, "There's orange marmalade and strawberry preserves. Or, if you'd prefer, there are Pop Tarts."

"Pop Tarts? You're kidding." She looked from him to his oatmeal, as if something didn't add up.

He smiled. "No joke. Mulder insisted."

"Ah." She seemed to think that explained it, and went to the refrigerator to dig out the marmalade.

"Mulder and Krycek seem to have gotten through the night without killing each other. I looked in on them earlier. They were both asleep."

She nodded as she plucked her toast from the toaster. "They still were a few minutes ago. I'm glad. Krycek was exhausted. I'm hoping some real sleep will help keep him coherent. I just wish I knew more about what's happening to him, so that I could give him something to make him more comfortable. But I have no way of gauging what might cause an adverse reaction. I really want to thoroughly examine him and start taking samples as soon as possible."

Skinner cleared his throat again and pushed his oatmeal around in the bowl. "You seem to have gotten to know Krycek fairly well while you were together," he finally offered, trying for no inflection at all.

"I wouldn't say that. I don't really know anymore about him than we ever did, but I have had an excellent chance to observe his reactions under stress, in some pretty odd circumstances. You know, the kind where the 'real you' comes out? He's an interesting personality. He was often obviously afraid, but, except when he was out of control because of his illness, he showed a great deal of... well, courage under fire, shall we say."

Skinner didn't know if he should be relieved at her clinical, uninvolved tone of voice or not. She spoke about the man as if he was a psychological study, not someone she cared about. Except that she really did seem to have found something there to admire. And the calm indifference could be an attempt to conceal her true feelings from someone who would not sympathize with them.

"So, what is your opinion as to his trustworthiness? Can we trust him? Can I trust him? I am planning to put my life in his hands."

Scully looked at him with those calm blue eyes. "Well, I think we've been right in judging that he will act in his own best interests, and I think it is in his best interests right now for you to be freed of the nanocyte infection. Ergo, we can trust him in this specific set of circumstances. Besides, I don't believe you have much choice, to be honest. If Spender really does have that controlling device..."

He nodded as her voice fell away. No doubt about that. "I think you're right. Krycek told me what to expect when I take this neutralizer." At the lift of her eyebrow he continued. "He said I'd be pretty sick, almost like I had severe food poisoning or something, for about twenty four hours. Something about my system going into rejection mode."

"Sounds like I'll have another patient to look after. Let's hope Mulder manages to stay healthy for a while."

"No getting knocked on the head for a few days?"

"Think he can manage that? Although if he keeps tormenting Krycek like he's been doing, I may hit him with something myself." Her mouth twisted in a wry smile.

::Significant?:: Skinner wondered. Scully was joking, of course, but even to jokingly threaten violence to Mulder in defense of Krycek... He sighed. Jealousy was such an odd thing. Not that he had any right to be jealous. Dana Scully was a free woman. If she wanted to take up with a lying, traitorous, murdering rat-bastard... well, he had no claim on her, and couldn't really say anything except to suggest a modicum of professional concern. But the very thought of her with Krycek... granted, he was younger than Skinner, much better looking, he had hair. They'd look great together, all contrasting coloring and elegant prettiness. He could picture them embracing, her head tilted back as Krycek's lips crushed hers...


"Hmmm...?" Skinner blinked, and looked over at Scully.

"You were off somewhere, and I don't think it was a nice place," Scully offered in a concerned voice.

"I... was thinking about this 'cure'. Maybe I shouldn't be eating... given the supposed effects." He dropped his half-finished bowl into the sink. His mental images of Scully with Alex Krycek had killed his appetite anyway.

Mulder rubbed his eyes and tried to focus. It must be morning, since sunlight made a patch on the floor through the open doorway. He stretched, wincing at the stiffness in his neck. He could smell coffee and toast. His stomach growled and a thought struck - there were Pop Tarts in that kitchen. He sat up straighter. Skinner seemed to find that amusingly juvenile, but he couldn't care less. He liked Pop Tarts. Yawning, he ran his hands through his hair and heaved himself to his feet, intent on the bathroom.

A soft moan from the bed stopped him, and as he turned it was followed by another, louder and longer. Krycek shifted under his quilt, slowly uncurling until he lay flat, his right arm across his chest, clutching at his left shoulder. His eyes flickered open, but this time he looked right at Mulder, who could clearly read the pain and fear in his eyes. Stepping back to the bedside, Mulder touched his forehead automatically. His skin was hot and damp. Staring at that confused, wounded expression, Mulder found he couldn't just say nothing.

"Do you... want some water?"

The dry lips parted. "Mulder, I..." Suddenly he twisted sharply, his back arching, gurgling as he tried to stop a scream. As he moved, the quilt slid down, revealing his upper body. Mulder's gaze shifted immediately, helplessly, to that left shoulder...

Scully poured herself and Skinner more coffee, answering his odd questions with some bemusement. "Well, I don't know that I ever exactly hated Krycek, sir. I've been extremely angry. Disgusted at times. I've always wanted to get some answers from him, and I've certainly been incredibly frustrated by his actions. But it's always been much more... personal for Mulder, I think. For me, Krycek has always been more of a symbol of the general culture of lawlessness this shadow government fosters. One of the best examples of how unaccountable they all are for their actions." She paused, and her lips quirked in a half smile. "Of course when I first met him I was jealous of him, illogical as that might be."

"Jealous? Why?" Skinner frowned.

"Because he was working with Mulder." She shrugged as if that should be obvious. "On an X File no less. And apparently offering an openness I never did. He seemed to be fitting right in. Mulder and I had just been split up and removed from the X Files. I was very unhappy about that, and I resented the way it was done. I don't blame you, sir. I know now that you were being coerced from higher up."

"By our friend with the nicotine habit, yes," Skinner nodded. "That bastard has a lot to answer for."

"Seems Krycek agrees with us on that." Scully sighed. "We have that much in common. Did you know that Spender tried to have Krycek assassinated, more than once?"

"I heard about the car bomb. That was right after our encounter in the hospital, so I can't say I was too broken up about his near incineration."

"Then there was-"

The strangled scream shattered their quiet conversation. Skinner's chair crashed backwards as he jumped to his feet. Scully chased after him and they had both cleared the kitchen doorway when they heard Mulder's frantic voice.

"Scully! Get in here, now!"

As they burst into the inner bedroom, they found Mulder leaning over the bed, pinning Krycek's right forearm, holding off the curling, grasping hand that looked as if it was trying to reach and rend something. Mulder's other hand gripped Krycek's neck and shoulder just at the base of his throat, holding him flat on the bed. Mulder looked up at Scully and Skinner, eyes wide with excitement and something else. "Look at this!" He jerked his chin toward the ruined upper arm.

Which had changed.

The burned scar tissue looked fresh and regenerated, smooth and filled out. The flesh at the very end of the stump was still raw, but oddly bloodless. And protruding from the end was a two-inch length of clean, new bone.

End of Chemical Agents Part Two

If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to Ratadder and Queen Mab