by Courtney Gray

[Story Headers]

     "And the days went by like paper in the wind;
      Everything changed, then changed again"
              ~Tom Petty

Krycek clutched at his arm and cried out as he ran. He could feel the blood seeping through his thick jacket where the shrapnel from the explosive had ripped through the sleeve. His boots crunched in the hard snow as he continued up the slope towards the protection of the trees. Breath frosting in the cold air, he fought to control the waves of pain. Blood trickled down the side of his face from the gash near his hairline, warm and sticky. He slipped and fell, scrambled back to his feet, weaving as his head spun. Turning, he grimaced at the trail of small, bright red dots on the snow. He was losing too much blood. He pressed his gloved hand against the wound, groaning as he quickened his pace.

The specially modified rifle he was carrying was heavy. He only had a little further to go. There shouldn't be more than one or two of the Drones left. He stumbled again, leaving a dark smear of blood in the snow, but finally he made it to the trees. He moved deeper into the grove.

"Son of a bitch," he muttered, as he struggled to lift the rifle strap over his head and shoulder. "Would have to be my fuckin' left arm. Shit." He slid down heavily against a tree trunk. A thin layer of white covered the ground. Here and there, the thick, gnarled roots of the trees poked out through the snow. The bare limbs above him made a rasping noise as the wind picked up.

He didn't know how much time he had left. His arm was throbbing; the blood stain on his jacket was getting larger. Snowflakes began to fall, fluttering and twisting with the wind. They blew against his face and his hair, but he didn't feel them.

He cried out as he shifted the heavy rifle onto his raised knees and peered through the infrared sight. "Gotta do this. Gotta finish this." He glanced up at the late afternoon sky. The weak winter light was filtered behind the veil of snowflakes that continued to fall.

He didn't have any medical supplies with him; the rifle had been enough to manage. Getting through the booby-trapped fields had been a nightmare. As it was, he'd been incredibly lucky. The alien sensor had picked out virtually all the hidden explosives. Except for the one that went off just as he was almost clear. Even though he'd been far enough away when it blew, the metal shards shot out everywhere.

"Incredibly lucky, yeah, that's me all right." He winced as he draped his injured arm over the top of the long rifle sight, hoping the slight elevation would slow the blood flow.

"I might die right here," he thought aloud. He smiled grimly, head tilting as he looked through the sight and moved the rifle slowly to sweep the likely area of attack. "At least, I did it," he whispered. "You bastards are through. No one left to lead you now. Nothing left but the cleanup."

His eye caught a flicker of movement through the sight and he heightened the focus. Taking careful aim as the figure darted between some trees and snow-covered rocks, he concentrated on keeping his hand from shaking. He squeezed the trigger and held it down. Several bullets hit the Drone in the upper chest, seemingly with little effect. The next several rounds tore through its neck, severing the head with a spray of green liquid. Krycek kept firing as the head exploded in a spray of flesh and more green goo. The body toppled into the snow and began to disintegrate almost immediately. He rested his cheek against the stock of the rifle, teeth gritted against the flair of pain in his arm and the pounding near his temple. He wiped at the blood and snow on his face. There was one more out there. If it was going to take its time and work its way around the trees to get at him from behind, then he was in deep shit because he didn't think he could stay conscious much longer.

The minutes ticked by. His vision was getting bleary. He glanced down at the snow and frowned at the growing patch of red. The blood was dripping from his arm. The rifle was so heavy. His knees gave way and it fell to one side of his legs with a klunk. He knew he had to pick it up, try and maneuver to see if he could spot the remaining Drone soldier, but he couldn't seem to move. The snow was falling steadily now. He couldn't seem to stop shivering. Everything was turning grey. It was cold, so cold.

"Don't say I never did anything for you, Mulder," he whispered. He felt himself sliding sideways, falling on the gun as the world went black.

He hadn't expected to wake up. He certainly hadn't expected to wake up back in the camp, lying in the Med Unit with Dana Scully standing over him with a scowl on her face. A glance at the small rectangular window behind her told him it was probably early morning. He wondered what day it was.

He watched her watching him for a minute and decided to keep his mouth shut.

"You're in big trouble, Krycek," she said.

He turned his head gingerly since a marching band seemed to be rehearsing behind his eyeballs, and gazed at his heavily bandaged left arm.

"No, you didn't lose it...again," she told him. "Which is fortunate since there are no Rebels left to grow one back for you...again." Her pauses were as pregnant as she was.

He swallowed and cleared his throat. "Shouldn't you be lying down or something?" he asked, mildly pleased that his voice was steady.

"Shouldn't you have followed orders and stayed in camp?" she countered tersely.

He met her hard blue stare with one of his own. "I took out the last Hive Master. They're done. It's over."

"You almost got yourself killed, you reckless bastard." Mulder's voice was fiery as he stormed into the room, flinging the door open. "And if they'd captured you, you would've joined all the other Drones in that Hive, right after you'd led them right to us."

"But I didn't," he replied coolly.

Mulder looked mad enough to bust a gut. A flicker of color caught Krycek's eye and he shifted slightly on the bed to see beyond the open door. It wasn't easy with one arm bandaged and immobile, and an IV line strapped to the other, but he had to see. Twinkling colored lights slanted upward at an angle at the end of the long hallway, in what was a corner of their largest meeting room. "Is that a Christmas tree?" he asked quietly.

"You are a fucking, arrogant asshole," said Mulder.

"Is that a Christmas tree?" he repeated.

Scully's faced softened slightly. "John found the decorations in one of the Free Towns when his squad went out for supplies. He brought them back. He said they saw quite a few houses with holiday decorations. Lots of merchants were opening up again. He said more people were coming back, too, since the attacks stopped. The squad found everything we needed in the first town. It was a very good sign."

Krycek looked at her. "I had to do it. There wasn't time to 'evaluate possible courses of action' and wait for Central."

"We weren't even sure the intel was correct, Krycek," snapped Mulder.

"Skinner's orders were very specific," added Scully. "He would give the go-ahead and assign the job to the appropriate fighter or team."

"Only one person could've gotten through; we only had one working sensor," he argued, grimacing as his head pounded.

Walter Skinner walked through the door and stopped at the foot of the bed. "That wasn't your decision to make."

Krycek looked at their Base Commander, sighed and closed his eyes. "Oh, goody, the gang's all here. No wait, is Doggett hanging around outside the door?"

"John is watching Will for me," replied Scully evenly.

"You're all giving me a headache. Can I have something for it, Scully?" He opened his eyes in time to see Mulder turn his back and stalk out of the room.

"I'll get you some pills." Scully headed for a small cabinet on the other side of the room. The little Med Unit held four beds, but the other three were empty, another good sign.

"When are you going to stop playing the lone wolf and realize that we have to work together here, Alex?" asked Skinner.

Oh god, he really didn't need a lecture. "Who says I'm playing? Look, we've been after this one for over a year. The intel felt right to me. We didn't have time to wait for confirmation from Central. We didn't have time to consider options. I went because I knew I could do it."

"Even if it killed you?" cut in Skinner.

Krycek considered the question for a moment. "The odds were better for me than for Mulder."


"You were going to give the assignment to him." Krycek made it a statement.

"What makes you say that?" Skinner looked at him curiously and folded his arms across his chest.

"Here, take these," Scully approached the bed with a plastic cup filled with water and two tablets in her hand.

He swallowed the pills and hoped they were fast-acting. "Thanks."

Scully nodded, her hands moving to rest on her large belly.

"You didn't answer my question," said Skinner.

"I overheard you. Mulder was telling you something about being able to go in without using the Alien sensor because of his psi ability. You said you understood his position and that you'd send him in."

Skinner exchanged a sidelong glance with Scully. "You were eavesdropping."

"I was walking by the meeting room and the door was ajar."

"And is that all you heard?"

"That's all I needed to hear."

Skinner ran a hand over his scalp. "You are as big a pain in the ass as Mulder."

Scully walked over to Skinner and put her hand on his arm. "Walter." Her blue eyes gazed up at him calmly.

Skinner nodded slightly and drew in a slow breath as he turned back to Krycek. "Well, if you'd bothered to eavesdrop a little longer, you would've realized that I had decided to give the assignment to you. Alone."

"What?" Krycek tried to prop himself up, groaned as pain shot through his arm and slumped back against the pillows.

Scully came around and checked his wound. "Don't try that again. You have most of my supply of sutures in that arm along with half of our Type O reserves."

"What do you mean, you gave the assignment to me? I heard what you said," continued Krycek.

"You heard me agreeing to let Mulder back you up. He wouldn't stop badgering me, kept giving me one argument after another. He didn't want you going in alone, said you'd be killed or, at best, captured. He was sure of it; he sensed it, he said. I swear, Mulder can drive anyone crazy when he sets his mind on something. I was going to let you know the next morning, once we got the confirmation on the intel. I hadn't expected you to sneak out of camp that night."

Krycek was stunned. He looked from Skinner to Scully and back again. "I...I don't understand. Why would Mulder want to back me up?"

The former A.D. rolled his eyes. "Have you wondered why you're still alive, Alex?"

Frowning, Krycek tried to think past the slowly fading marching band in his head. "I...I don't...I assumed you sent a squad after me. The tracker chip in the rifle would've led them to me."

Scully patted his thigh. "No. It was Mulder."

"We didn't realize you weren't in the camp until morning," said Skinner. "Mulder knew where you'd gone when he checked and found the rifle and the sensor were missing. Sending a squad after you into that area without sensors would have put you all at risk. But the only way I could've stopped Mulder from going after you at that point was by chaining him to a wall.

"You are both piss-poor at taking orders. You are just damned lucky it all turned out like it did." He gave a long-suffering sigh. He looked down at the floor then back up at Krycek. "Understand, I don't like how you went about it, but I'll admit you handled yourself well out there. What you did has made a big difference for us."

Krycek swallowed, his gaze flicking back to the twinkling colored lights at the end of the hallway. "There were two Drones that I couldn't take down. They followed me. I got one, but I...I passed out. The other one. What happened?"

"Mulder took him out. He said he barely got there in time."

Krycek closed his eyes. "It doesn't make any sense," he muttered. "Why would he...why?"

"That's it," he heard Skinner say. "I'm not going to be the one to explain it to him. I've got some real work to do. Central contacted me a few minutes ago. They're going in to destroy the last Hive. They don't expect much resistance, but they want all camps to stand by."

He opened his eyes to Skinner shaking his head. "At least I won't have to worry about you sneaking out in the dead of night for the next few days." He gave Scully a brief smile. "Why don't you try and enlighten your patient here, Dana. And then get off your feet and get some rest."

"I thought you wanted them to work it out for themselves," replied Scully with a smile of her own.

"At the rate they're going, they'll both be old and gray and still running around in circles." With that, Skinner shook his head again and headed out the door.

"What the hell is he talking about?" asked Krycek. His headache was ebbing, but he was feeling more uncomfortable by the second.

A small, cool hand gently touched the bandage that covered his temple before settling over his forehead. "You're warmer than you should be. I think you might be running a fever." She turned and fished out a thermometer from the table beside the bed and stuck it into his mouth before giving him some more water. After a glance at her watch, she removed the thermometer and checked the reading. "Your temperature is a little high. I'm going to increase the antibiotics in your drip. I want you to try and get some more sleep."

He sipped the water through a straw as he watched her. "I'm not sleepy. What was Skinner talking about?" he asked again after she'd finished fussing with his IV and set the cup aside.

Her head tilting, she gazed at him with a speculative air for a moment before pulling one of the two plastic chairs in the room over to his bed and settling herself into it with a sigh.

She folded her hands over her belly. "How do you feel about Mulder?"

He stared at her, a frown growing over his face. "What?"

"It's a simple question, Krycek. How do you feel about Fox Mulder?"

"I...I don't know." He tried to shrug and regretted it immediately as pain flared through his arm.

"Stay still. Just answer the question."

He puffed out a breath and eyed the ceiling. "He's immature, self-involved, supercilious, and occasionally, annoyingly brilliant."

He couldn't see her eyebrow rising or her smirk. "Well, I can't give you a big argument against that description, but it still doesn't tell me how you feel about him."

"What's with the girly girl questions, huh? What's any of this got to do with what Skinner was babbling about?"

"Oh, for gods' sake. Walter's right; you are a pain in the ass." She stared at him silently for a few seconds. "Mulder is in love with you, you idiot."

His head turned so fast, it was a good thing he was lying down because the room spun. He blinked, ignored the throb at his temple and squinted until Scully's face came into focus. "What did you say?"

"Mulder is in love with you."

He barked out a laugh, but her somber expression never wavered. He waited for the punch line but she just kept looking at him. "Are you crazy?" he asked finally.

"He's been in love with you for quite some time now."

"Mulder hates my guts."

Scully arched an eyebrow. "Well, you know that old chestnut about a thin line between love and hate. Mulder seems to have stumbled over it. Oh, I'm sure he wishes he still hated you, but, well, c'est la vie."

His mouth hung open.

"Do you think he would've gone after you, risked his life, if he hated you? Does that make any sense to you?"

"Did you hear what he said to me just now? He figured I'd be stupid enough to be caught and then, of course, I'd tell them the location of the camp and any other damn thing they'd want to know."

"Ah. So, Mulder took off after you without a sensor, relying on his psi ability to hopefully get him through an Alien minefield, not knowing what might be waiting for him even if he did manage to get through, to what, show you up?" Her tone dripped with sarcasm.

Krycek felt strangely light-headed. "He, uh, called me a fucking asshole." His gaze returned to what he could see of the sparkling, colored lights on the tree at the end of the hall. "Is it Christmas today?"

Scully cast her eyes upward in a 'heaven help me' expression. "No, tonight is Christmas Eve."

"Can I get out of here and get back to my room?"

"Perhaps in a few hours. You may be a fast healer but you're not invincible. I want to make sure you've beaten any infection. You'll also have to wear a sling for several days." She rose laboriously from the chair, glanced at the lights on the tree, then back at Krycek. "I know how Mulder feels about you because he told me."

Krycek slowly turned his head towards her, green eyes showing his skepticism.

"He was drunk at the time, of course. Remember the raid on the first Hive we found? You put your gas mask on him to get him out. You barely made it back to our lines before you passed out. I swear, Krycek, you have more lives than a pampered cat." She checked his IV line again. "You were in Medical and Mulder came to my old room, plastered. He'd stolen Walter's single malt." She grinned at the memory. "He'll never do that again, I can promise you. Anyway, he sat on the edge of my bed and moaned and wailed about loving you and hating that he loved you and wondering what he was going to do. Then he passed out."

A funny, oddly warm feeling curled through Krycek's insides. He wasn't sure he liked it. "I...he's kept it a helluva good secret then."

"Given that around 90% of all communication is non-verbal, I'd say 'no,' he hasn't been very good at keeping it a secret. Neither have you."

He gave her the best scowl he could muster. "What? I...I don't feel...anything for Mulder."

"Look, this war has changed all of us. A few years ago, I would have been appalled at the mere notion of a relationship between the two of you, but I've seen how you've both changed. Your behavior, your actions, shout it out, even if neither of you wants to say the words. Nothing is like it used to be...Alex. For some of us, that means facing some new truths about who we are and what we really want."

"I don't...want...Mulder."

Drumming her fingers on her belly, she lowered her head and whispered conspiratorially. "I suspect that's a load of bullshit but maybe that's what you want to believe." She straightened up, eyebrows rising as she patted her stomach. "Baby's moving. She's probably sick of all your bullshit, too. You think about what I just told you. And think about how you really feel about Mulder. It's time to face it. Because, Alex, it looks like you've helped us win our world back and that means you'll have to build a life for yourself in it. What kind of a life is it going to be? Now, I have to go pee and lie down for a bit. John's probably running out of ideas on how to keep Will occupied so I better check on them, too. I'll see you later." As she left, she made sure the door remained propped open.

He watched her leave with a mixture of relief and irritation. At least his headache was gone. He focused on the IV bag, watching the drip-drip of the fluid. Then he turned his head and carefully examined his bandaged arm. He wiggled his fingers, gradually tried to lift his elbow, wincing when it began to throb, and lowered it again. He turned his attention to the ceiling, counting all the tiles and then all the stains and scratches. Eventually, his eyes were drawn back to the twinkling tree lights and he felt a pinch of gratitude to Scully for leaving the door open so he could see it.

He wasn't sure why the sight fascinated him so. He tried to remember the last time he'd seen an actual Christmas tree. He recalled the beautifully elegant trees in the storefronts along the Champs Elyses in Paris and in the Town Square in Prague. He remembered staring at the majestic tree in Rockefeller Center on one very cold and dismal night in New York City. Most of all, he recalled a small scraggly tree with a few colored lights and simple, childish ornaments made from colored paper that stood in the window of a small tenement apartment. His last Christmas at home. His last Christmas tree.

There was something about the sight of the lights on a holiday tree that made him ache inside. It was an ache borne from loss and yearning, and from a need he couldn't even explain.

He hadn't expected to see another one, and certainly not in this camp of weary soldiers and homeless families. As nothing else, it told him they had won. There was time now for celebration. For normalcy. It also reminded him that soon he would be an outsider, again.

The green, gold, blue, and red lights twinkled like little jewels and reflected their colors off the thin silver garlands and baubles that decorated the fir. From what he could see, it looked like a good-sized tree, thick and tall and full. He could only see part of one side and couldn't see the top.

He shut his eyes and heard Scully's voice in his head. Remembered what he'd been trying to block out of his mind.

"Mulder is in love with you."

Damn. Damn it. What was he supposed to do about that? Assuming it was true. Yet, he couldn't imagine any reason why Scully would lie to him about something like that.

Mulder. In love. With...him. The irony of it brought a tiny smile to his lips. Scully had been right; he did feel something for Mulder. He just didn't know what it was anymore. Years ago, his emotions for the man had been so deep, so intense, they had nearly torn him apart. He could admit it now, if only to himself. He had wanted Mulder. Wanted him in every possible way, but they'd been on different sides then, with very different goals. Krycek had done what he'd had to do, and much of it required a decided lack of conscience and a determined amount of will. He didn't regret very much of it. His only true regret had been Mulder.

The War had changed it all once again. Scully was right about that, too. It had thrust Mulder back into his life and placed them both on the same side. To survive Mulder's hostility, his hatred, Krycek had had no choice but to build a wall around his feelings for the man, and to strengthen it with each passing day, month, year. Methodically, he'd choked off every vulnerable emotion, every tender feeling, and every helpless desire behind a granite wall of indifference. Until, one day, all the feeling was gone. Or so he told himself.

Could it all change yet again? Did he...could he...want Mulder now? He opened his eyes and seriously considered whether or not he even wanted to find out.

By the time Scully was willing to let him leave the infirmary and go back to his own room, it was almost evening. She'd removed the IV and checked him over again, then brought him a meal tray with fresh vegetables and even some real milk and butter.

The word about his 'unauthorized' trip out of the base had spread quickly and he was a little surprised when several of the other fighters dropped by the Med Unit to see him. He hadn't made any effort to strike up friendships in the camp, so he was genuinely moved by their obvious concern and unexpected gratitude. It made him realize that maybe he wasn't such an outsider after all.

At the same time, Krycek was relieved that Mulder seemed to be avoiding him. He didn't think his current, stormy state of mind was up to confronting the man just yet.

Scully was adjusting his sling and haranguing him about taking it easy when Skinner came into the room.

"Central just reported that the last Hive has been destroyed. It was a rapid strike. Without the Hive Master, the place was in chaos. There was only minimal resistance. I thought you should know," he said.

"Is it over then?" asked Scully as she stepped back to let Krycek get up from the bed. "Is the War over?"

Skinner gave her a big smile, his eyes filled with warmth. "For all intents and purposes, yes, Dana, it's over. We have our world again."

Krycek watched as Scully returned his smile with a radiant one of her own. He wondered if Skinner was the baby's father. From what he could gather, most of the camp thought it was Doggett. From the light in Scully's blue eyes, he figured she had found exactly what she wanted, so he guessed it really didn't matter.

Adjusting the big flannel shirt over his sling, Krycek padded towards the door. "Will you be disbanding the camp soon?"

"There's no rush. It'll take time for people to decide on what they want to do, where they want to go. It'll take awhile," replied Skinner. "I've heard from some of the families that they want to stay right here, build a town. It's an ambitious idea, but it's a good location, plenty of resources, and we have the power grid already in place."

Krycek grinned. "You aiming to be Mayor Skinner one day?"

Skinner laughed, the sound a mellifluous baritone. "I'm just going to make sure we have a great holiday party tomorrow. Why don't you get some rest so you won't have any excuse not to join in?"

Krycek lowered his gaze to the floor. "I don't know."

"No excuses, Alex. Not this time."

Looking up, he saw they were both smiling at him. He couldn't help but smile back. "Okay."

To his amazement, several more of the camp residents stopped by his room to see how he was. They were all excited about the prospect of putting the War behind them and starting a new life. When more than a few enthusiastically asked him if he would be staying on to help build the town, he was even more taken aback. "I'll think about it," he finally answered.

In fact, Krycek thought about a lot of things that night as he lay on his bed and stared out at the landscape beyond his small window. It wasn't snowing but the hills and trees were decked in white and almost seemed to glisten in the light of the near full moon. The sky was a velvety indigo with a smattering of stars. It looked...peaceful.

His arm ached but only a little. All the other bruises, cuts and scrapes were too inconsequential to bother him. He gave up on trying to sleep and got out of bed. He still wore the thick sweat socks and pants that Scully had helped him put on when he left her Med Unit. The extra large flannel shirt hung off of him but it draped comfortably over his sling. He tried to fold the cuff of his sleeve back up over his right hand without much success and let it dangle down near his fingertips.

It was well past midnight when he left his room. He walked away from the sleeping quarters and slowly padded down the corridor. He turned down another corridor until he spotted the twinkling colors. They had left the tree lights on. In the dimness, the colorful lights seemed to sparkle even more brightly. Smiling, he headed towards them. When he reached the big meeting room, he stood directly in front of the tree. Carefully, his eyes took in each bough, every ornament, every shiny garland, every light from bottom to top. The silver star at the very top was a filigree of intertwined strands that glittered in the glow of the lights. The crisp pine smell of the tree filled his nostrils.

He stared at it for a long time, remembering the past and considering the future. The sound of familiar footsteps made him frown.

"Shouldn't you be in Medical?" he heard Mulder ask as he walked up to stand next to the tree, a few feet away from him.

Krycek kept his eyes on the twinkling lights. "Scully let me out hours ago. I'm fine. Just have to use the sling on my arm for a while."

"Oh. Uh, well, good."

The two men continued to stand silently before the tree. Finally, Krycek turned his head and found that Mulder was staring right at him. The colored lights washed over his hair and skin, and made him appear a little...unreal, as if he were made out of glass. When he looked into the hazel eyes, it was like looking into an old mirror. The emotions were clear and raw.

Krycek turned his face away. He drew in a breath. "Thanks for coming after me, Mulder. Thanks for...saving my life. I'm sorry..." His voice trailed away. He meant to say he was sorry that he put Mulder in danger, but he suddenly knew that he was sorry for far more than that.

Another awkward moment passed. "It's all right. I apologize for screaming at you like a maniac. I was just...upset. I don't know how--"

"It's okay," cut in Krycek. Slowly, he faced Mulder again. The few feet between may as well have been a mile.

"Alex, do you want me to leave you alone?" asked Mulder softly.

Krycek watched the emotions playing across those changeable eyes, sensing more than just the present moment in his question. He saw Mulder's pride, but beyond that, he saw his passionate longing and need laid bare. Mulder would accept whatever answer he gave and would not ask again.

Cautiously, Krycek shook his head. "No," he answered.

And somewhere inside him, he felt a wall begin to crumble.



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Title:  Changes
Author:  Courtney Gray   [email/website]
Details:  Standalone  |  PG-13  |  28k  |  12/24/06
Pairings:  Mulder/Krycek
Category:  UST, AU (Alternate Universe), Holiday Fic
Summary:  The only constant is change.

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