A Touch of Humanity

by Courtney Gray

[Story Headers]

They were all tired. Too many battles, too many close calls, too many casualties. The war raged on, yet at last, the tide was turning. Now, most of them knew, not just hoped, that the Aliens and their Collaborators could be beaten.

Mulder looked at the faces of the people scattered around the room. The underground compound was large and as secure as any that existed. They were even able to house families here. This was Resistance headquarters for the moment. And, for the moment, there was a break between raids and offensives. Only one team was still out. The rest of them had time to relax, time to get enough sleep and a few decent meals.

On one side of the Central Room, a couple of teenagers were drawing on the concrete wall, bold strokes of bright colored chalk forming what looked like an exploding rainbow. Mulder liked it. At one of the long wooden tables, half a dozen fighters were noisily playing five-card stud. In a corner, a small group of children sat on rubber mats covered by a faded Persian rug and played with an old board game. Their parents looked on from a nearby table.

Most of the people called a greeting or smiled at him as he passed. He was their poster boy: Fox Mulder, the Paul Revere of their time. He had warned them of the coming invasion, had shown them how they could fight. They rallied around him and hung on his every persuasive word. Yet, early on, Mulder knew he couldn't lead them. Didn't have the discipline or liking for it. He'd given them the Truth, but he didn't want to be responsible for them.

Walter Skinner was their Operations Chief, the man in charge. He was experienced and knowledgeable and brought a meticulous sense of organization to the job. He led by example; he earned and kept the confidence of every Resistance fighter with each passing day, month, and year, through the setbacks as well as the victories. Much to his own surprise, Skinner had almost grown comfortable in the job. Mulder couldn't have imagined himself carrying it off half as well.

Knowing that Scully would be waiting for word, Mulder quickened his pace and headed for one of the tunnels that led to the sleeping quarters and their Medical Unit.

Halfway there, he saw her coming his way. "Hey, Scully, how's it hanging?"

She raised an eyebrow at him. "You're as eloquent as ever, Mulder. Actually, I'm happy to report that I'm down to two occupied beds: one mild concussion with minor burns and one broken femur. Both doing well. This is the best it's been since, well, since it started." She gave him a smile that went right up to her blue eyes.

"I heard from Walter. They're on their way back," he told her. Before she could ask, he added. "He's fine. They took out both labs. No problems. He sounded very excited about it."

Her face relaxed back into her smile. "Good. It's always nerve-wracking when he's out there with Krycek."

Krycek. Mulder determined not to think about him as he nodded at Scully's comment and marveled, once again, at the fact that somehow, in the course of this War to End All Wars, his former partner and his former boss had fallen in love. The War had turned their world upside down and changed them all in the process, but some changes were better than others. Skinner and Scully were good for each other.

"It's looking better now, isn't it, Mulder? Maybe we'll have some breathing room now," she said, leading them back towards the Central Room.

"Yeah, that little light's finally getting brighter at the end of the tunnel. We'll find what we need to beat them. We're gonna make it," he said, realizing that he meant every word. He could feel the truth of it right down to his bones.

A few hours later, Mulder watched as Skinner and Krycek sat in Debrief along with the four other unit leaders and Scully, a series of maps rolled out on the table. Scully stood behind Walter, one hand on his shoulder. Krycek sat in a chair tipped back against the wall, away from the others. There were dark circles under his eyes and a scrape along the right side of his jaw. At one point, he shrugged his shoulders back and stretched his neck as if his muscles were tight.

Mulder's gaze drifted back to him from time to time as Skinner reported on the lab raids and the information they'd gathered. The security had been particularly heavy on the second lab, and he had wanted to turn back; the possibility of capture seemed imminent. But Krycek had refused to go, insisted on trying another way to breach the system.

Scully frowned, pinning Krycek with a stare as Skinner spoke, her hand tightening on his shoulder. Skinner covered it with his for a moment. "I'm glad he insisted. Otherwise, we wouldn't have this." And then Skinner calmly told them that they had what they needed for victory: the formula for the airborne virus. He reached into his jacket and carefully drew out a thin rectangular metal case and a memory stick. "Sample of the virus and the formula." His brown eyes looked over at Krycek, a hint of a smile on his face. "Damn fine job, Krycek. Thanks for being a pathologically stubborn bastard," he said.

Krycek merely nodded. Then everyone else seemed to start talking at once, every unit leader bombarding Skinner with questions, hunching over and gathering close. There were a few quick, grateful nods in Krycek's direction.

Mulder felt almost light-headed. There should be fireworks and champagne corks popping and marching bands. They'd done it! They had the weapon they'd been searching for; the weapon Mulder knew existed, locked away in one particular lab site. Of course, they'd had to locate and raid thirty-four other labs before they found it. Many lives had been lost with the effort, but now at least they hadn't been lost in vain. They had the weapon Scully and her science team had been readying their scattered labs to use for over three years. It was in their hands. Victory in a six-inch metal case. They were going to take their world back. Some of the others were patting each other on the back now. Skinner was out of his chair, Scully wrapped in his arms. They were laughing.

At long last, there was a reason for rejoicing.

Suddenly, Mulder was grabbed and lifted off the ground in a bear hug by one of the unit leaders. It took him by surprise, but he managed to grin at the man's sheer joy. Mulder wasn't used to people casually touching him. A moment later, another unit leader was flinging her arms around his neck, kissing him on the cheek. And that's when it hit him. He looked across the room, but Krycek was gone. Only his empty chair remained propped against the wall, apart from all the others.


The end of the war came less than a month later. It seemed to unfold so easily that Mulder felt it was almost anti-climatic. The formula was created without a hitch and dispersal of the airborne virus was quick and relatively simple. Within 48 hours of deployment, the reports started coming in. The aliens were dying en masse, leaving nothing but rapidly evaporating pools of green blood. The hybrids were dying, too, though far more painfully.

The Resistance forces were relieved and elated. All that remained was the roundup of the few remaining human collaborators and that was proceeding smoothly. Within their underground headquarters, a sense of jubilation had taken hold, even as plans were implemented to get systems and infrastructures back in place on the surface and all underground bunkers slowly evacuated.

At headquarters, Skinner ordered all extra food rations to be distributed, including the special stores of tinned cakes and bars of chocolate. It was a time for celebration. Most of the people were gathered in the Central Room and Mess, sharing food and laughter and plans for a new future. A couple of the explosives experts had enthusiastically rigged up some fireworks for later. After sundown, everyone could go up to the cleared area on the surface and enjoy the display.

They were going to celebrate Earth's Independence Day.

Mulder sat on the bed in his quarters. He was one of the few people in the compound with a room of his own, cramped though it was. He stared up at the ragged, yellowed poster on the back of his door. I Want to Believe. One of the fighters had scrounged it on the way back from a raid and given it to him almost four years ago. The fighter had died a few days later, ripped to shreds in front of Mulder's eyes as their unit scrambled to escape from an ambush. The message didn't mean quite the same thing to him anymore. He would leave it behind when they all returned to the surface in the next few days.

Alex Krycek was on Mulder's mind. That had been happening more and more often over the past few months as victory became more of a possibility and he had had to face the fact that they might all actually survive. And that he would have to rebuild his life.

He thought back to the day, just over a year ago when Alex Krycek came back into his life. Mulder hadn't laid eyes on Krycek for several years before that, not since Krycek had ambushed him late one night in his apartment with news of the imminent Alien invasion. That had been their last and strangest encounter in a history of intense and bewildering encounters. And then Krycek seemed to disappear, only to reappear at one of their primary base camps, looking lean and dangerous. As audacious as ever, he demanded to join their ranks, presenting them with vital information on the Alien security screens and the Syndicate labs. That's when the tide began to turn in their favor.

The sound of loud voices and laughter drifted passed Mulder's room, jarring him back to the present. He got up and opened the door, looking out at the little group walking down the tunnel towards the Central Room, joking and jostling each other, several with arms thrown around each other's shoulders.

The lights were dimmed along the tunnel. Mulder closed his door behind him and started to walk away from the common areas. He glanced at the shadows that gathered around the edges of the doorways that he passed. Saw his own shadow as he walked.

He realized it had taken him too many years to make this particular journey. He'd started it seemingly in another lifetime, when a young FBI rookie named Alex Krycek had come into the bullpen and held out his hand to him. Their lives had intersected like heavy chains ever since, painfully twisting together and flinging apart. Their relationship, such as it was, was built upon incomprehensible bits and pieces of truth and lies and feelings that never came together in any kind of understandable way. Yet despite the betrayals and hatred, an unshakeable, visceral attraction remained. Mulder had had plenty of time to reflect on it. He'd had no choice once the world had changed on them. He'd seen more death and been a part of more destruction than he'd ever dreamed possible. In the process, he'd learned a lot about himself. Too much of it was not pleasant, but it had given him an insight into his former nemesis that he would never have gained otherwise.

He and Krycek were both shadows. They were both attached yet separated from those around them. Mulder's quest had set him apart early on in his life and even later, with Scully at his side, he always felt... misunderstood. She cared for him, loved him like a brother, but she never truly understood him. Even now.

Krycek walked his path alone. Killer and hero both, he was a forbidding enigma, shrouded in a mysterious past. He reached out to no one, and no one reached out to him. Literally. He was untouchable in every sense.

They were both misfits. Mulder was simply a more acceptable sort, regarded by others as a brilliant, and probably crazy, eccentric whereas Krycek had an aura of something sinister, the image of a man who arrogantly played with danger and death. Neither perception was completely true. It takes one to know one, thought Mulder ruefully.

Mulder stopped in front of Krycek's door and reached for the handle. It turned easily in his hand as he knew it would. There would have been no point in locking it. Krycek, like Mulder, had a room to himself, but only because no one wanted to share one with him. And nobody ever, ever visited Krycek's room.

He was sitting at the small desk, taking apart and cleaning one of his guns. A heavily modified Uzi lay to one side, along with another small automatic. The smell of gun oil hung in the air. Several large boxes of magnetite bullets lay on a shelf above the desk. They wouldn't need those anymore. Above them were three flat screen monitors showing views of the quiet surface from several angles. Krycek, like Skinner and a couple of the other senior fighters, had monitors and audio inputs in their quarters to observe the perimeter at all times.

"What do you want, Mulder?" Krycek asked, glancing at Mulder out of the corner of his eye.

Mulder closed the door and turned the lock. The soft click had Krycek rising from his chair in surprise.

"Take it easy," said Mulder with a gesture of his hand. Mulder shrugged a shoulder and clicked the lock off again. "Sorry, just wanted to keep this private, but I guess we don't have to worry about unexpected visitors...other than me."

Green eyes glanced around the room before settling on him with a suspicious stare.

Mulder knew he was taking a chance, maybe a terrible chance, but his instincts told him that this was something he had to do. Krycek needed this. And, Mulder silently acknowledged, so did he. "You scored the big goal, Alex, with that lab hit." He noticed the other man blink at his first name. "Aliens - 0, Humans - 1 planet. There's a big party going on in the common areas. Pretty soon you'll be able to hear it even from here." He smiled and took a few slow steps towards Krycek. "Why aren't you celebrating with everyone else?" he asked, even though he already knew the answer.

"Not interested. Besides, I have to clean my guns. War or no war, I always keep my guns in working order."

It was a typical Krycek answer, designed to keep everyone at a distance. Teeth scraping against his bottom lip, Mulder pretended to accept the reply. They were only about two feet apart. Krycek's quarters were even smaller than his, barely enough room for a small bed, desk and a chair. A duffle bag was neatly propped in a corner on the other side of the bed and contained all of Krycek's clothes and personal items. Nothing hung on the walls except for the small monitors. The room was as antiseptic as Krycek's life seemed to be.

"What do you want?" asked Krycek, his voice a blend of curiosity and wariness.

"Sit on the bed, Alex," Mulder told him.

"What for?"

Mulder drew in a long, measured breath as he tore down the last mental wall between them. "Because there's something I need to do and it'd be easier if you were sitting down."

It was as if there were sparks in the air, heat and fire vibrating around them. Mulder could almost hear Krycek's heart beating. It had always been like this between them, he realized. The attraction never lessened; never wavered. It hummed through their blood, their flesh. Their bodies knew, even if their minds refused to see it. It was time to untangle the emotions, time to strip away the layers of anger and denial and make sense of what they really felt for each other. The world was getting a second chance. Mulder decided that he and Krycek deserved one, too. If, that is, they managed to get through the next few minutes.

"Please, Alex, just sit down." Mulder pointedly looked down at his own thin t-shirt and jeans. "Hey, you're the one with the artillery here."

Krycek frowned, his eyes never leaving Mulder's. Then he took the few steps backward and sat down on the edge of the bed, green eyes still gazing up at Mulder.

The memory of Krycek sitting in the Debrief Room, apart from all the others, brought up more images from the weeks and months gone by, ever since the man's arrival. Krycek had always been on the periphery, watching the others, watching the families together, and the children being cuddled and cradled. Watching friends giving each other a helping hand or a comforting hug, watching lovers kiss and embrace. He'd set himself apart. He didn't seem to care. But Mulder could see it, could call back every instance from his memory because he, in turn, had been watching Krycek. He hadn't been able to help himself if the man had been anywhere in his vicinity. So he had watched Krycek watching the others, and had seen the desperately human hunger in those clear green eyes.

Such a simple thing, a human touch. But what was life without it? Mulder saw their very first meeting again in his mind, saw Alex Krycek with his hand held out to him. And Mulder refusing to take it. Had he set the stage for everything that followed with that one gesture of rejection? Up until that last meeting before the War began, when Krycek had left him in the dark with a gun and the compelling press of soft lips on his cheek, there had been nothing but physical violence between them. And now, here they were, years later. Scarred by the past, scarred by the War, facing each other and an unknown future.

It was going to be different this time.

Mulder walked up to the bed, moved between Krycek's legs, looked down into his puzzled face. "This doesn't have to leave this room if that's the way you want it, Alex. It doesn't have to go any further than the next few minutes. I just want you to know that I need this as much as you do." He put a hand gently around a tense shoulder while he began stroking the dark hair with the other. Lightly, steadily, his fingers carded through the silky thick strands. He could feel the resistance in Krycek, his body coiled like a spring, as if he was expecting a blow. Mulder just kept on touching, one hand rubbing at the tight muscles of Krycek's shoulder. Slowly, he put his cheek against Krycek's hair. The seconds ticked by until he heard a hitching breath, felt a tremor run through the body in his arms. He just kept holding on. Kept touching, the closeness a healing balm to his spirit, filling cold and empty places inside him.

Mulder hadn't expected to be so overcome by it, a lump forming in his throat. "Alex, Alex," he murmured, his arms now circling Krycek's shoulders. His lips pressed against the dark hair, forming into a kiss.

Krycek's arm moved hesitantly at first, but finally it encircled his waist as his face settled against Mulder's chest. His body trembled, but his hold tightened, pulling Mulder in as close as possible, his thighs squeezing against Mulder's legs, as if he could envelope him completely.

It felt good. Right. Mulder felt more fully...human than he could ever remember. He wanted to keep the feeling, wanted to keep Alex in his arms for as long as he would let him.

Mulder rubbed his hands gently over the wide shoulders, sensing warmth and strength beneath his fingers as the tremors slowly subsided. Their breathing was uneven, affected by the emotional weight of the moment. Something was struggling to life between them, a fragile foundation for whatever might follow.

It was the soft popping sounds that eventually made them move apart. Krycek started, head jerking towards the monitors.

"It's okay, it's the fireworks," explained Mulder. "Dawson and Kwan decided to put together a show for the kids tonight."

On the monitors, streaks of color shot up into the night sky, descending in glittering rainbow streamers, one after the other. Faint sounds of clapping and shouts of pleasure rose up from the group of people gathered at the edge of the clearing. The camera angle on one of the monitors tracked over the crowd. Mulder spotted Skinner and Scully, hands clasped, looking up at the sky. Several of the adults stood with their children perched on their shoulders, small faces laughing as they watched the bursts of iridescent lights above them. The seasoned fighters, expressions filled with as much excitement as the children, still had their rifles strapped over their shoulders. Old habits died hard. It seemed like a long time since they were all able to look up at the sky without fear.

"It's really our world again."

There was rough emotion in Krycek's husky voice, head tilted and eyes focused on the monitors as if he couldn't quite believe it.

Mulder looked down at the arm that still encircled his waist. "Yes, Alex, our world." Green eyes turned back to him and Krycek got up slowly. The sound of fireworks continued in the background.

"I don't know if I can do this. I don't know how..." Krycek faltered.

Mulder was as uncertain as the man before him, an old litany of perfectly sound reasons why he shouldn't be here with Krycek running through his mind. He put his arms around Alex's shoulders and pulled him close again. Suddenly, all the reasons faded away. Shifting so Alex could see his face, he smiled. "It's a new world for me, too. I think it's worth taking the chance. I figure if we can free the Earth from alien invasion against all odds, we're already on a pretty good winning streak. What do you say, Alex?"

Krycek glanced over at the monitor as the last round of fireworks blossomed in radiant colors against the darkness. When he looked back at Mulder, he was smiling, too.


     You and me we were the pretenders
     We let it all slip away
     In the end what you don't surrender
     Well the world just strips away...

     Do you think what I'm asking's too much
     I just want to feel you in my arms
     Share a little of that human touch
     Feel a little of that human touch
     Give me a little of that human touch

     --Bruce Springsteen 

-THE END-
8


 

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Title:  A Touch of Humanity
Author:  Courtney Gray   [email/website]
Details:  Standalone  |  PG  |  21k  |  07/05/06
Pairings:  Mulder/Krycek
Category:  Relationship, Pre-slash
Summary:  Mulder acknowledges a primal need.


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