Title: A River In a Dry Place, M/K, 1/1, PG - a Houseboat Variation
Summary: After it's all over, after the dust settles, Alex Krycek reappears out of the rain, bringing a few small, final mysteries with him.
Disclaimer: These characters belong to CC and 1013 Productions. No copyright infringement is intended and no profit is made from this work of speculative fiction.
Author's Note: This is for Te, who struggled mightily and produced a wonderful M/Sk, completely against the grain. This piece is my response to her accusation that I am incapable of writing an M/K in which Alex wins. I *had* to wipe everyone else out, though. That was the deal -blame Te!
Thanks: Many thanks to Dawn, the talented and grammatically well-hung; to Leila, the Wicked Witch of the West and a wonderful cheerleader, and Anne, the perpetually cheerful.
Archive: MKRA, Mona's page (Thanks Mona!)
Date: Wednesday, May 13, 1998 11:08 PM
Feedback: Please! to JiMPage363@aol.com
Other X-fic and Houseboat variations can be found at: http://www.geocities.com/Paris/Metro/4859/JiM.html


"A River in a Dry Place"
by JiM

And a man shall be as an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadows of a great rock in a weary land. (Isaiah 32:2)


The rain which had been whispering down all afternoon had gradually risen to a roar outside. It hammered down on the roof and decks of the houseboat and it churned up the surface of the river beyond the sheltering breakwater. Mulder put his book down on the arm of his chair and watched the angry steel-gray swells for a minute before getting up to put some more wood in the Franklin stove he sat beside. The kindling made a satisfying hissing noise as it caught in the embers; the flare of heat felt marvelous and Mulder realized that he must have been sitting there, growing colder and colder, without even noticing.

He carefully closed the door of the stove and straightened, wincing at the pull of old scars. The boat rocked gently on the swollen river and light glanced off the glass of a collection of framed pictures hung on the wall above the stove. Mulder let his eyes rest on the faces of his beloved dead and was almost surprised to feel something that was nearly warmth rather than the usual swift stab of pain.

The honored dead...his mother, smiling and silver-haired, leaning on an ebony cane in the sepia wasteland of a Massachusetts autumn; Walter Skinner, caught with half a grin on his dour face; Dana Scully, one skeptical eyebrow raised, quirked at the same angle as her perfect smile; others...his father, a cipher to him, even now; his disappeared sister, trusting arm forever wrapped around her big brother's waist; a childhood friend,who had reappeared just in time to be cut down in a war he could never name. All those who had fallen and left him behind, to stand alone on the empty field of victory.

Smiling gently at them, he turned away and went to get himself a cup of coffee. He limped a little, in wet weather, his only tangible souvenir of five years of struggle. Slouching back into his seat with a sigh, he bent down to rub the protesting muscles in his calf. The sound of the rain became fractionally louder behind him; the gust of cold, river-damp air that rolled past him told him that he wasn't mistaken and he straightened. He turned slowly to face his intruder.

A ghost stood before him, dripping on the carpet, one arm drawn protectively across his midriff.

Mulder blinked once and, when the apparition didn't disappear, said hoarsely, "Krycek, do you ever just knock?"

Alex Krycek, triple agent, former dead man, merely stared as if it had been Mulder who had appeared out of five year's worth of mist. Water slicked off his dark hair, ran down his face, dripped off his chin, soaked the floor beneath him. Those reed-green eyes stared at Mulder blankly, unwavering. "Look, Krycek, if you're just an acid flashback, I'm not really up for it this afternoon. If you really *are* here, say something and let's get the carnage rolling."

Krycek blinked quickly, seemed to shake himself awake, and said in a husky voice,

"Can I have a towel?"

Mulder, feeling strangely at peace in the lucid unreality of the moment, went and got him one. Handing it to him, he noticed that Krycek reached out with his right hand, keeping the plastic hand jammed in that oddly defensive position over his abdomen. Eyes still fixed on the incongruity, Mulder asked, "Are you hurt?", just as *something* writhed beneath the soaked leather jacket. He nearly screamed in shock. What in God's name had happened to Krycek? A hundred X-spawned possibilities flashed through his mind, each more horrible than the next.

Krycek, who had been wiping the rain from his face, looked at him in confusion. Then he realized where Mulder was staring; his eyes darkened and his expression became shuttered and unreadable.

"Krycek..."

"Just don't say anything, Mulder." The cold tone sliced across the narrow living area of the boat, forbidding anything remotely like pity. Krycek's pale fingers reached up; the rasp of the zipper was loud in the small space as something squirmed obscenely against the prosthesis Krycek had clamped against his side. Mulder steeled himself to stare down whatever truth was about to be revealed.

Small blue eyes blinked and flickered within the dark cavern of Krycek's jacket. A shadowy body wriggled and was pushed aside by another set of blue eyes. Comprehension flooded through Mulder and he fumbled to his chair, then sat down heavily, shock stealing away his breath.

"I need some help here, Mulder."

Krycek was standing over him, cold rainwater dripping off his hair and splashing onto Mulder's slack hands. Then his former partner was laying the towel across the former FBI agent's lap and reaching into the dark confines of his clothing. Swiftly, he drew out one squirming bundle after another. Mulder could only stare in horrified fascination as his lap was filled with three shivering kittens.

"They're cold, Mulder, and soaked. We need to get them dry and warm soon," Krycek said and began stripping off his own soaked top clothing. "Towels through there?" the one-time assassin asked, then disappeared in the direction Mulder had come from with the first towel.

At the first plaintive mewl, Mulder began absently toweling the wet black fur beneath his hands. This was obviously not a dream. He knew himself well enough to know that there was no way that even *his* tortured subconscious could come up with a scenario this bizarre. What a great way to test for reality - if it's too weird to be imagined, it must be your life, Mulder. He snorted at himself and started gently scrubbing at another waterlogged kitten, this one a handsome, if dirty, cinnamon stripe.

Of course Alex Krycek had appeared out of the teeth of a hurricane, and dumped soaked kittens in his lap, before stripping and disappearing, only to reappear...Mulder caught his breath.

Krycek had stepped back into the room wearing a pair of sweatpants that Mulder had left slung over the tiny bathroom door after his run yesterday. His former partner had obviously explored some more and discovered his clean clothes pile as well. He had appropriated a forest green Henley that hugged his broad chest, emphasizing both the tapered beauty of his muscles and the straps and buckles of his artificial limb. The suspiciously neat hair told Mulder that Krycek had also used his comb.

Shock was giving way to irritation and other emotions less familiar. "Krycek...what the hell is this? Why are you here?" Mulder asked as Krycek settled himself in the other armchair, then mechanically handed over one of the kittens.

The other man held the squirming body up and considered it dispassionately before putting it in his lap and chafing its fur with the towel he'd brought back slung around his neck. After a moment, he said,

"I don't have a clue, Mulder."

"At least tell me where the damned kittens came from," Mulder demanded. Krycek's expression had turned sulky and defensive and he refused to look at his former partner. Finally, he said,

"I found them in a dumpster out by the airport. Someone had shoved them in a bag and pitched them in there."

Mulder blinked at the mental image he had of Alex Krycek, hired killer, rummaging in a dumpster to rescue three abandoned kittens. His mind, usually so adept at seizing on and accepting the least probable scenario, felt like it was stuttering in shock. He took refuge in words.

"So why bring them to me?"

Krycek shrugged, staring down at his kitten. "Couldn't think of anywhere else to go."

The two men listened to the wind howl around the boat; the stove's chimney pipe clanged and rattled as a stray gust caught it. The three kittens had warmed up enough to begin a string of tiny mewling complaints; the two in Mulder's lap had begun making shaky crawling forays searching for the warm nipple they knew must be there. Wincing at the jab of tiny claws on his thigh, Krycek said,

"They're hungry. Have you got any...?" then he stopped, blinking as if unsure of what he had meant to say.

Peering at Krycek over his reading glasses, Mulder said,

"I don't actually keep fresh cat milk around, Krycek. It's only a galley kitchen."

His unwelcome guest kept staring at him and Mulder was shocked to speechlessness when he finally understood the expression on Krycek's face. Something he had never seen, not in all their battles, their dirty little skirmishes, their private vendettas.

Entreaty.

Swallowing against a sudden thickness in his throat, Mulder got up. He carefully placed his two balls of fur in Krycek's lap and stepped into the galley for the cordless phone. After a brief and humorous conversation with an ex-girlfriend, he began rummaging around his tiny kitchen cabinets, muttering absently. He gave a crow of triumph and held his prize aloft - a can of turkey and rice cat food. Then he noticed Krycek leaning in the doorway, the three kittens balanced precariously on the forearm of his prosthesis. He was trying to prevent disaster with his good hand and Mulder's lips twitched as he watched the dark nemesis of his nightmares juggling kittens. Finally taking pity on the man, Mulder pulled down a birch salad bowl and put it on the counter.

"Here. Put them in there."

Krycek stared for a moment, then grabbed the only clean dishtowel and made a nest for his charges before placing them carefully inside. The three huddled against one another, exhausted and shaking, still mewling piteously. Mulder pulled out a blender and began measuring milk and cat food into it, murmuring the recipe his veterinarian friend had given him.

"How come you have cat food?"

Mulder actually looked embarrassed. "I ...uh, used to feed this old stray." He went back to fiddling with the appliance. The whine of the blender frightened the kittens and Mulder was bemused to see Krycek absently soothing them with one long finger. Then he realized that Krycek was shivering as well. "There's coffee," he said suddenly, pointing with his chin. The other man nodded and took down a mug from the hooks above his head. He sipped as he watched Mulder microwave the unappetizing slop from the blender.

"What is that stuff?"

"The very finest in kitten milk replacer. Kerry said that you could buy cans of it at the pet store, but there's no way in hell we're going out in that," he nodded, indicating the storm outside. "She said this recipe is just as good."

The microwave beeped and Mulder checked his concoction. Krycek came to peer over his shoulder and grimaced at the veal-gray liquid that dripped off Mulder's finger. The smell was less than appetizing, but the starving kittens seemed to find it irresistible.

Without realizing how they had gotten there, the two men found themselves back beside the stove, dipping forefingers in the improvised pabulum and pushing fingertips of nourishment into tiny mouths. Remembering what Kerry had told him, Mulder showed Krycek how to hold flailing claws out of the way of tender eyes.

Twilight gloom had clamped down on the houseboat, cutting them off from every reality but the river beyond, before their tiny charges had all collapsed into a pile of full-bellied purrs. Mulder put the last kitten back in the salad bowl and placed it on the carpet before the stove. He thought it would be warm enough there and the houseboat had been well weatherproofed - there were no stray drafts to trouble them.

His eyes caught on the pale flash of Alex Krycek's bare feet as he straightened. The unexpected nakedness troubled him in some way, as if he only now understood how defenseless the other man truly was. When he raised his gaze to Krycek's and saw the expression in them, he realized that he was right. Hazel eyes locked with jade green and Mulder began to understand who it was who sat before him now.

Krycek was a man with nothing left. Nothing to hold, nothing to believe in, nothing to know, nothing to hide. No one to care if he lived or died. Nothing.

Struggling for something to say, only inaninity came to his defense.

"Do you realize that we've been together for an entire hour and neither one of us has thrown a single punch?"

Or maybe not so inane. Always between them had been suspicion and violence, betrayal and a kind of blood lust. The magma of violent emotions had made it impossible for them to ever meet on common ground. Until now. Now, Mulder looked at Krycek, liar, murderer, betrayer, foot soldier for a cause Mulder barely understood even now, and all he saw was a man. A cold, tired man.

Where was the rush of hatred, the siren call to brutality, the rage and betrayal that he had always felt at the mere mention of the man's name? Where had it all gone? Perhaps it was fled to the same place where the searing pain of loss had gone. What was there now to take its place?

Krycek hadn't moved, hadn't lowered his eyes, hadn't even blinked when Mulder spoke. He suddenly shivered violently and Mulder realized that his guest was far too pale and that there were dark rings beneath his eyes. If he didn't know better, he'd say that Krycek was in shock.

He got up suddenly, causing the other man to start and flinch away. Holding up his empty hands to show his peaceful intention, Mulder crossed the room to twitch a cotton afghan off the padded bench that ran below the windows of the living room area. Limping back, mind intentionally blank, Mulder shook out the folds of material and tucked it around the shivering man. Ignoring Krycek's wondering stare, he knelt down and fed more wood into the stove, after carefully shifting the bowl of kittens. Struggling back to his feet, Mulder looked down at Krycek's shuttered face.

Then he went to heat some soup.

He came back into the living room carrying two mugs of soup and a box of crackers. Krycek was asleep in the chair, head thrown back as if offering his throat to the wolf. Curiously unsurprised, Mulder put Krycek's soup on the top of the stove beside him and sat down to eat his own dinner.

He listened to the raging of the wind as it clawed at mooring lines and electrical cables up and down the dock. Rain slashed down and the river surged up and Mulder sat between the two and watched his dearest enemy sleep. It had been at least a day since Krycek had shaven; his jaw was dark and rough. His now-dry hair was overgrown, longer than Mulder had ever seen it. A dark lock fell over the pale forehead and Mulder's fingers itched to stroke it back into place. There were deep lines etched beside the full mouth and around the eyes that sleep couldn't fully erase. Once, Mulder had thought that Krycek looked like a fallen angel. Now he looked like an angel that had been cast out of hell, as well. There were new scars, too. One above the right eye, giving the eyebrow a permanently rakish tilt. A long tear, roughly healed, in the tender flesh under the point of his jaw. A knife cut across the back of his remaining hand.

Krycek began to shift in his seat, muttering low. The guttural words made no sense to Mulder as he strained to catch them, until he realized that they must be Russian. The fingers of his right hand flexed once before he came awake with a shout.

His eyes were wide with fear and he stared uncomprehendingly at Mulder, fingers scrabbling wildly under his arm for the weapon and holster that were no longer there. The afghan was crumpled at his feet.

"Hey. It's OK," Mulder said soothingly and was relieved to watch sense trickle back into Krycek's wide green gaze.

"Mulder - why am I here?"

Ah - there was that familiar, half-missed feeling of surreality again. He smiled gently. "I don't have a clue, Krycek."

He held out the cup of cooled soup. Krycek took it mechanically and began to eat. Mulder found himself strangely content to watch the man eat. It was as if he had welcomed a wild thing into his home and he had calmed it enough to eat from his hand. He snorted at the idea of Alex Krycek ever being anything even remotely tame.

"What?" Krycek asked.

"Why did you come here, Krycek?" Mulder heard himself ask. Krycek ran a tired hand through his hair. "I'm not sure, Mulder. I think I came to bury the past."

After a moment of silence, broken only by the moaning of the wind, Mulder said,

"Why not? We've buried just about everyone else."

"Who...?"

"Don't tell me you didn't know, Krycek!" The sudden burst of rage was as familiar as it was hateful.

"Scully. Skinner. My mother. Byers. Langley. My sister. Spender. My father...others." Mulder told his rosary of sorrow in a flat voice forced out from between clenched teeth. "Don't tell me you didn't know."

But the shocked green eyes were telling him exactly that.

"Scully? Skinner? They're dead, too?"

Mulder nodded, and found his fists clenched. The demon sleeping in his soul had reawakened and he wanted, very badly for a moment, to hammer out the shadows of his griefs on the other man's body.

But he was surprised and a little grateful to find that these emotions, too, had become blunted, their edges no longer able to stamp him out in their own brutal patterns.

"*They're* all dead, too, you know," Krycek said conversationally. At Mulder's confused look, he said, "The Consortium. All those old gray men. And the others -- in Norway and Russia and Saudi Arabia...all gone."

"Yeah? How many are notches on your gun barrel, Krycek?"

Krycek's lips thinned in a feral grin. "Just one, Mulder, just one. I thought of you as I pulled the trigger. I know you wanted him, but I got to him first...

"So there's no one left anymore. No one to hate, no one to blame. No one left who knows what really happened."

"Except for us," Mulder said quietly.

Krycek smiled coldly, the blankness in his eyes chilling. "What's left of us," he said and shrugged his mutilated arm.

"The last two pawns on the board?" Mulder's voice mocked him.

"I'm not playing any more, Mulder. You do whatever you have to do, finish it however you have to. I just want it...finished."

Without warning, Krycek's hand flashed to the small of his back. His gun was in his hand and pointed at Mulder before the other man had drawn his next breath.

Everything stopped - the wind, the rain, the fire in the stove between them. Now that it had finally come, Mulder found himself unafraid. Rather, there was a sense of expectation, and for the first time, a bit of hope. He, too, would leave the field now and rejoin his friends, his loves, his comrades. He was almost grateful to Krycek for making it possible. Almost.

Then the assassin opened his hand, and let the gun spin downward, to hang from his trigger finger like some strange Christmas ornament. He offered it to Mulder, on the flat of his hand, an ice-fey grin lighting his face, its edges sharpening when Mulder slowly took the weapon. He knelt on the floor before his last enemy.

"Finish it, Mulder. Let it be over."

The gun felt good in his hand, silk-smooth and warm from Krycek's body. A good weight, well-balanced. This was a precision tool, designed to deliver death with the deft touch of a craftsman. It *was* time to end this. Mulder let the hammer carefully slide back home, flicked the safety back on and placed the gun on the floor beside his chair.

"It's over, Krycek. Finished. We're finished," he said softly.

Then his hands were dragging Alex Krycek to him, unable to bear the fracturing of the ice in the other man's eyes.

Krycek made no sound as he knelt, sobbing, with his head in Mulder's lap. For a long time, Mulder just held him, silent tears running down his own face, bent low over the other man. Krycek's hand was twisted in Mulder's flannel shirt, a desperate anchor in an unsuspected storm.

Then Mulder calmed enough to begin stroking Krycek's hair, soothing and petting him as he might gentle a spooked animal. He skimmed over the quivering muscles of his back, rubbing lightly at his neck and shoulders, muttering meaningless words of comfort. After a time, the sobbing vibrations slowed, then disappeared. Krycek raised his face.

Mulder took that face in his hands and examined it critically. Alex looked terrible. His eyes were swollen and red, face paler than before, nose running. He sniffed loudly.

"Shh, you'll wake the kittens," Mulder admonished with a watery smile of his own. A sound like water spurting through a rusted pipe came up from Krycek -after a moment, Mulder identified it as the honest sound of amusement. A snort, a chuckle, Mulder couldn't tell. His own smile widened and unfettered impulse made him lean forward and kiss Krycek's forehead. The other man blinked.

"You need some sleep, Krycek. When was the last time you actually slept?"

"You mean with both eyes closed? Not since I was 14." The grin he gave was a little more convincing than his last try, but not much.

"Sleep now. I'll keep watch."

Mulder struggled to his feet, gritting his teeth when abused muscles and scar tissue reminded him that he was no longer as limber as he used to be. He tugged on Krycek's hand to get him to stand. Then he steered the other man into his tiny bedroom and pushed him gently toward the bed that took up most of the space.

Krycek hesitated.

"Mulder - you don't have to do this. I can sleep in a chair. Besides, I slept on the plane from Sydney."

Mulder just pointed sternly at the bed. With uncharacteristic meekness, Krycek slid under the maroon quilt, feeling the softness and warmth leech the last of his overtaxed strength from him. "Mulder - there's no one after me. I promise. No need to keep watch."

The former FBI agent stared at him for an endless moment, then he nodded and began stripping off his clothes. When he was down to his underwear, he lifted the quilt and waited for Krycek's sluggish mind to catch up. When the other man slid over, Mulder climbed in beside him. Then he began yanking on Krycek's shirt. *His* shirt, he reminded himself and felt a ridiculously pleased expression trying to sneak onto his face.

"Come on, Krycek. You can't sleep in all those straps and buckles."

"Yes, I can, Mulder. I do it all the time." Krycek's protest was weak and Mulder had no trouble stripping the green shirt away from the pale skin and over the dark head, muffling any more complaints.

The prosthetic arm was functionally ugly plastic and steel; fortunately, the buckles were not difficult and Krycek was motionless, face turned away from the proceedings. Mulder slid the appliance away and laid it on the floor beside the bed. Mulder allowed himself a moment to study the mutilated limb, saddened but unfazed. Like Mulder, Krycek had his scars and bore them without complaint. He promised himself a more leisurely and thorough inspection of the whole form later, then began tugging the covers up over both of them. "Lie down."

"Are you always this bossy?" Krycek complained as he slid down and felt the warmth of flannel sheets caressing him. His head seemed heavier than he remembered, suddenly.

"Nah - just with stray cats and assassins."

"Which am I?" Krycek asked drowsily, eyes already closing.

"Damned if I can tell any more, Alex."

Then Mulder was tugging on him, shifting and manhandling him until Alex lay close beside him, dark head pillowed on Mulder's shoulder. Alex gave a long sigh of contentment and exhaustion bound up together as he felt Mulder's hand lightly stroking his hair.

Mulder felt the warm wash of Alex's breath against his throat and his body gave an anticipatory shiver. Lecturing himself sternly, he drew the exhausted man even closer. There would be time for that later. There would be time for everything else between them, later.

Beneath them, around them, the storm raged and the river seethed. The two men, the last refugees, slept.