Ratings: Slash, m/m, motss content. Mulder/Krycek.
Spoilers: Through Redux II (and a fork from the myth arc after that).
Summary: Sometime after Redux II, Krycek returns to D.C., bringing Samantha with him. If you're looking for plot, this is as close as I've come.
Disclaimers: They ain't mine, though I'm not sure CC and 1013 would recognize them as theirs, either. Also, Mulder has been reading Keats.
Notes: This story was originally published in the zine Nothing to Hide (July 1998). Many thanks to GET-THE-BOYS-TOGETHER-PRESS for kindly granting permission to post it online.

Stumble
by Sitnah
 

Hunched in front of his monitor, Mulder barely noticed that the phone had rung until he heard Scully's voice responding, shifted into an impossibly low octave. A comfortable shudder ran along the back of his neck out of relief that for once that tone wasn't directed at him. But the next moment she was standing at his desk anyway. "It's for you, Mulder," she said, and his heart began to pound.

"Mulder," he said into the machine, and it spoke his name back to him hollowly:

"Mulder..."

And then a silence, so that he began to doubt whether he had really heard Krycek's voice or whether it was just one more waking dream. Scully was staring at him with set lips, and the cursor on his screen winked on and off and on again. Say something. Say anything. Talk.

"Where are you?" Mulder began waving frantically at Scully to start a trace. She moved away but returned relentlessly to his elbow as soon as she had set the process in motion.

"Here," Krycek said.

Mulder could not stop himself from looking over his shoulder. "Where?"

"In D.C. I need you to meet me, Mulder."

"Why would I do that?"

"Because Samantha's here with me."

"Put her on," Mulder replied unhesitatingly, in the calm of utter disbelief. But there was actually a pause, and a rustling sound, and a new voice on the other end of the line.

"Fox, please come. We've been traveling a long time."

"Sam?"

"Yes. Please, Fox."

He shook his head. "I thought you didn't want to see me."

Samantha paused. "I... No. I'm not really ready. But we're here now."

"Why?"

She sighed. "I can't explain it all on the phone. Just come."

"Yes," he said blankly. "Yes, all right. Where?"

"Hang on," she said, and Krycek's voice came back.

"Mulder?"

"Yes."

"Go home now, and stay there."

"Yes," Mulder said again. But the line was already dead.

As he hung up, the part of Mulder that wished for impossible things hoped against hope that Scully might not have recognized Krycek's voice. But even as the thought took shape, it fled under her stern gaze, and he forced himself to meet her eyes. "He's coming to my apartment."

"And?"

"He's bringing Samantha with him."

"A clone?"

"No, the woman from the diner. I --" He swallowed. "I think it's really her."

Scully paused over that for a moment, then brushed it aside. "When are they coming?"

"Today. Tonight. I don't know. I'm supposed to wait for him. Did we get the trace?"

Scully shook her head. She went back to her desk and began putting on her coat.

"What are you doing?"

"I'm coming with you."

Mulder lifted his hands to the level of his shoulders and then stopped them. "Yes," he said dully.

***

Mulder couldn't imagine how Scully could possibly sit still, let alone be paying attention to the television. He looked out the window at the street, and looked out the peephole at the hall, and dribbled his basketball with one hand and then with the other, and the only thing that gave her away was the fact that she didn't tell him to stop. The afternoon stretched out, and after a while the wan winter sunset seemed to confirm the length of their wait, even though it was really only a little past six when the knock came.

It caught Mulder at the window end of his circuit, so that he had to walk all the way back across the room to open the door. He didn't know until he saw the grim look on Krycek's face that he had expected to find mockery there. It took him a moment to get past that. Next he noticed how pale Krycek was, and then how pale Samantha was. Only then did he step back to let them in.

Samantha said, "I missed you," before she went to sit down, and Mulder tilted his head to the side in acknowledgment. Krycek lifted his eyes to meet Mulder's as he went by, but didn't say anything until he came far enough into the room to see Scully.

"It's quite a party, isn't it?"

Scully ignored that. "What brings you here, Krycek?"

"Is there anything to eat?"

"What?" Scully said.

"We need to eat. Is there anything?"

She narrowed her eyes before she answered. "I'll go see." She stood up and held out her hand to Samantha. "I'm Dana Scully, Mulder's partner."

Samantha said, "Hello, Dana," but her hand rested on Scully's for only a brief moment before she turned back to Mulder. "How are you, Fox?"

"Fine," Mulder said. He felt unsettled, the rage that usually filled him in Krycek's presence at once spurred and reined in by confusion. His glare targeted Krycek, who had sunk into the depths of the couch. "Now tell me what the hell is going on."

"After," Krycek said without moving.

"After what, damn it?"

"We haven't eaten in two days," Samantha put in gently. "Sit down. Please."

Mulder looked from one to the other, turned his back on both of them and looked out the window instead. It was almost worse to have them so close, with all the questions he had for each of them beating at his skin to get out, than not knowing where they were. It was worse, because he could reach out and knock Krycek silly if he felt like it, hold the man's head between his hands and crack the skull open to spill out all the information stored there; but if he did, he would never know a word more than he knew now. He spread the fingers of his right hand flat against his thigh to keep them from curling into a fist.

Scully came back with a box of crackers and two glasses of water, and Mulder turned around to watch Krycek and Samantha eat. "Not so fast, Sam," Krycek said. But the next moment Samantha was already dragging herself to her feet. Scully jumped up and took her by the elbow to pull her out of the room. Mulder glanced back at Krycek, who was still chewing methodically, before he followed.

In the bathroom Scully kneeled next to Samantha, holding her hair back. "She should be in a hospital," Scully said.

"No hospitals," Krycek called from the living room.

"I hate to say this," Mulder admitted, "but I don't like the idea of a hospital either. Anyone could get to her."

Scully shifted her grip and freed one hand to rub her forehead. "I know a place," she said finally. "A convent. They board convalescents sometimes."

"Where is it?"

"About an hour and a half from here." Scully pulled back to let Samantha get up and move to the sink. "I'll call and see if they have room." She went to the living room to dig her phone out of her coat pocket.

Mulder stretched a tentative hand out to his sister's shoulder. She turned and gave him a weak smile. "I'll be all right, Fox." He tried to smile back, but his eyes hurt.

When they returned to the living room, Scully was just hanging up. "We can bring Samantha there tonight," she said. "But they won't take him." She jerked her head in Krycek's direction.

Mulder's heart skipped a beat. "But he can't stay here," he said.

Krycek shrugged. "I probably could, actually," he said. "They won't want to draw any more attention to this place, not after X and the Ostelhoff business. They'll be trying to get me somewhere where they can make it look anonymous, like an accident."

Scully nodded. "How are you feeling, Samantha? Can you make the drive now?"

"I think so," Samantha said.

"But --" Mulder spluttered.

Scully looked at him. "Do you know any other reason he wouldn't be safe here?" she said evenly.

Mulder's hand went to his shoulder. "No," he said.

"Then let's go."

Just before he closed the door, Mulder looked up and found Krycek's eyes on him. He stared and stared into that green gaze. The time seemed to stretch out so long that he felt every moment Scully must be about to turn back and make another sarcastic remark. But when he finally tore himself away and closed the door, Scully and Samantha were only a few steps ahead of him down the hall. He tried the handle twice and then followed them.

***

Scully drove silently, concentrating on the road. Next to her Samantha sat almost equally still, staring out the window. Mulder thought the silence would drive him crazy. He opened and closed his mouth, trying to think how to begin. "How are you feeling?" he asked finally.

"I'm fine," Samantha answered. "There's really nothing the matter with me except we haven't had enough to eat since Alex ran out of money."

Mulder caught his breath. "How does Krycek come into this, Sam? What were you doing traveling with him?"

She paused a moment, remembering. "Alex came to me a few months ago and said I had to go away for a while. He said... he said that my father had been hurt, that he had disappeared, and that it was too dangerous for me to be where the others could find me. He sent Scott and the kids to Scott's folks, and then, well, we just started running."

"Sam --" Mulder couldn't think which question to ask first. "You believed all that?"

"Of course. Why would Alex lie to me?"

"You knew Krycek?"

"Yes, of course. He used to come around with my father. He hasn't come with him for the last few years, though."

Scully cut in for the first time, past Mulder's astonishment. "But Samantha, your father is dead."

Samantha's forehead wrinkled, then relaxed. "You mean Fox's father."

Scully threw a sharp glance back at Mulder, who could only shrug in response. She drew in a deep breath and let it out again. "And you've been with Krycek the whole time since you left?"

"Yes."

"Samantha, did Krycek ever --" Scully searched for a word. "-- mistreat you?"

"Oh, no," Samantha said. "Alex isn't like that."

"Where did he take you?"

"Here."

Mulder found his voice again. "Here? It took you all this time just to get here?"

"Well, we went all over the place so they couldn't trace us," Samantha said. "But Alex always said we were coming here. I didn't want to at first, but he said I should see you, Fox."

Mulder bit his lip.

Scully kept her tone steady. "Why didn't you want to see him?"

"Because..." Samantha turned around in her seat to face Mulder. "I'm sorry, Fox, I just... When I saw you before, you wanted so much from me -- answers I didn't have. You wanted me to see Mom, you wanted to know about, about that night, and then you were claiming my father had lied to me... I couldn't, I just wasn't..." She trailed off.

Scully glanced at her sharply and then turned her eyes back to the road. Mulder's mind had already leaped ahead. "Sam, who did Krycek think would come after you? Was it someone in the government?"

She shook her head dully, turning away again. "I don't know. He didn't tell me anything else about that."

"But did he know who was responsible for shooting --" Mulder stuck there and swallowed. Before he could make himself say "your father," Scully cut in again.

"Mulder, I don't think this is the time for this. Samantha needs to get her strength back before you put her through these kinds of questions."

"But --" Mulder stopped and squeezed his eyes and his mouth shut. Green pools rose up to meet him in the darkness. He opened his eyes again hastily and tried to concentrate on something else.

Samantha's hair hung loose and unkempt over her shoulders. Mulder remembered how she sometimes used to wear it in tight braids. Every separate strand had been combed into place. He tried to imagine how she would look in braids now. The hair was easy, but it was hard to keep her adult face in focus when he wasn't actually looking at it. He gave up and leaned his head back against the seat.

***

At the convent, Mulder felt the urge to linger, to hover and fuss over Samantha as she was settled in a cell. He checked the window and the door, tested the mattress, and asked how far away her nearest neighbors slept, whether they could hear her if she cried out. It was Scully, mindful of the lateness of the hour, who finally dragged him away.

Back in the car, though, Mulder found all his talkativeness draining away. Scully's mood had shifted as well. She seemed to be pushing the gas pedal harder and harder as they roared down the empty road. Mulder's muscles tensed against the forward motion, his toes digging into the mat.

"What are you going to do with Krycek?" Scully asked suddenly.

"I don't know."

"If we arrest him, if we put him in official custody, he'll be dead within twenty-four hours."

Mulder nodded.

"Skinner won't take him again after what happened on his balcony."

"Yeah."

"Mulder --" Scully looked over at him. "I think you have to keep him with you." She waited to see him nod before turning back. "But you have to be careful," she went on. "If you kill him, they will use that to bring you down. And if you listen to him too long, he will use that to bring you down. You need to stay in control."

Mulder didn't answer her immediately. He thought about the Queens raid and the trip to Tunguska, how he had swung between violent rage and impulsive trust without being able to find any level ground in between. He envied the sure footing Scully seemed to have. For his part, he always found himself swayed by Krycek's interventions, even after he thought he had seen through his ex-partner's schemes, even after he had sworn to himself not to let that charisma get to him ever again. "The amazing thing about Krycek," Mulder mused aloud, "is that in spite of all his claims of cynicism, jadedness, not believing in justice, he still gets angry when people do him wrong."

Scully was silent. Mulder pressed on, trying vainly to convince her. "When I -- or, say, after Cancerman turned on him, he had this outrage... You have to have a belief, a commitment to some kind of principle or loyalty, to be that angry."

"Or a strong tendency to deception and dissimulation. Which we know Krycek does."

"No, Scully, he's got passion. I'm sure of it."

"What he has is an agenda, Mulder!"

"-- that dovetails with ours. He said it himself in New York -- he wants these men exposed."

"No, Mulder, he just said he did to get us to do what he wanted. His actual goals were totally different. And did you notice how many people were ever actually exposed in that case?"

"That doesn't mean he's not fighting them now. Why else would he steal Samantha from under their noses?"

"I can think of a dozen reasons," Scully said.

Mulder closed his eyes for a moment and decided to give the argument up for the time being. "Maybe he'll be gone when we get back," he said quietly.

Scully shook her head. "Look," she said, "tomorrow we can, I don't know, talk to Skinner, or to the Gunmen if you want -- we'll figure something out. Just don't do anything stupid tonight."

Mulder tried to rally. "When have I ever done anything stupid?" he demanded.

She raised her eyebrows at him and gunned the motor harder.

Mulder turned away and pictured his apartment lying peacefully in the dark, cleared of all the unwonted visitors it had held that day. But the image of his empty living room did not make him feel better.

***

"Wake up, Mulder," Scully said.

He opened his eyes in confusion. "What --?"

"You're home."

Then he recognized his building across the street and began pulling himself together. Scully watched silently until he was standing in the street.

"Mulder --" she said then, and he thought for a moment that she would launch into a renewed cycle of warnings. But all she said was, "Good night."

"Good night," he replied, and closed the car door. He waited for her to drive off and then crossed reluctantly to his front door. Walking down the hall, he listened to the muted sounds of his neighbors' televisions and was struck by a swift desire to be able to turn in at one of those innocent doorways, instead of having to go on to the man waiting for him. When he reached his own door no light showed under it. The key turned easily in the lock. He paused, looked up and down the hall, and took out his gun before knocking the door open with his knee.

The room was almost totally dark. Mulder strained his eyes at the blackness. He heard a rustling sound and swerved to face it. There was a click, and a lamp came on. Krycek sat up on the couch, rubbing his eyes. "Mulder?" he said sleepily. Then he froze. "Mulder, I swear --"

"Don't bother," Mulder said, letting his arms drop. He never did guess right with Krycek. He tossed his coat onto a chair and wandered vaguely towards the window, disoriented by the fact that he couldn't just drop onto the couch and flip on the TV. There was nothing outside but the empty circle under the streetlight. He turned back. Krycek was just watching him. Mulder noticed that Krycek was still wearing his jacket and gloves. "Are you cold?" he asked.

Krycek shook his head.

"Then take your jacket off," Mulder said. "You're not going anywhere."

"I'm fine."

"I said take it off!" Without really meaning to, without even thinking this issue was worth staking a power struggle on, Mulder found himself closing the space between them and shaking Krycek by the shoulders. Krycek looked up at him with narrowed eyes and a set jaw. "Damn it, Krycek!"

Then Krycek relaxed and unfolded himself from the couch, so smoothly that Mulder's hands were not dislodged from his shoulders. "If it really matters," he said in his lowest tone.

Mulder let go and took one step back. Krycek shrugged out of the jacket and peeled it slowly off his arms. And Mulder saw -- and couldn't believe he had missed it before, because he could have sworn he had kept his eyes on Krycek the whole time they had been in the same room -- saw the stiffness in the swing of Krycek's left arm, and then even before the glove came off he knew what was under it. He stepped forward and took the pale, heavy plastic in his hands to study it wonderingly. "They can do better than this here," he said. "They can do a lot better."

"I'm sure they can," Krycek said. "If you have the money. And the time."

Mulder looked up, thinking he would meet Krycek's eyes, but he found their gaze directed downward at his hands. He dropped the prosthesis hastily and clutched his fingers behind his back. "Yeah. Well." He backed away and nearly tripped over a pile of papers on the floor. "I didn't mean for that to happen," he blurted out.

"I know," Krycek said.

Mulder rubbed his hands unconsciously over each other. He grasped eagerly at the first change of topic that came to mind. "So -- did you get enough to eat?"

"For now." Krycek narrowed his eyes, watching him.

Mulder drifted around the other end of the room. He forced himself to turn away, but he could still hear Krycek breathing.

When he finally thought of a question, Mulder swung around sharply. "Is it true that all that's wrong with Samantha is malnutrition?"

Krycek screwed his face up into a frown. Mulder seized on the expression and drew in close to him again. "Tell me! What does she have? Is it Scully's cancer? Is she dying?"

"It's not the same as what Scully has," Krycek said slowly. "The cloning had different effects than the tests that were done on Scully."

"Like what?"

"Well... Samantha was still able to have children, for one thing."

"IS SHE SICK?"

Krycek glared. "Yes! She's sick. She was going to a doctor every month for treatments."

"And she hasn't been since you kidnapped her," Mulder extrapolated. "You bastard!" He lunged forward.

"Damn it, Mulder!" Krycek snapped, tucking his chin down as Mulder's hands came around his throat. "It's not that simple!"

"The hell it isn't!"

"If --" Krycek clutched at Mulder's wrists, trying to loosen his grip. "If I hadn't -- got her out of sight, she'd -- be dead already!"

"You expect me to believe that?" But Mulder let his fingers shift a little. Krycek's skin was surprisingly warm.

"Believe what you want." Krycek stilled under Mulder's hands as they relaxed.

"Tell me why you brought her here."

Krycek looked him straight in the eye and said seriously, "For you, Mulder."

Mulder let his breath out in a snort. Krycek's voice was too smooth; it had none of the hitch, the catch, the hesitation Mulder associated with honesty. "Come on," he insisted, giving Krycek another shake.

Krycek sighed. "I couldn't get to Samantha as long as the smoker was holding her. When he was hit, I saw my chance."

"But why this elaborate scheme? Why didn't you just let the others kill her? Or is anyone really after her at all?"

"No, they are. But she's no danger to him dead. Alive, she's a threat. Alive and talking to you, she's --" Krycek lifted his hand in a sweeping gesture.

Mulder finally let his hands drop. "So what you're saying is, you did it because you hate me less than you hate him."

Krycek's face took on a wry expression. "I don't hate you, Mulder."

"Well, you could have fooled me!" Mulder snapped.

Krycek's mouth tightened even further.

Mulder looked away. "How long can Samantha go without her treatments?" he demanded abruptly.

"I don't know."

"Do you know what they are?"

Krycek shook his head.

"A chip? Injections? Medication?"

"I don't think it's anything that conspicuous. She thinks she was just going for checkups."

Mulder dug the fingers of his right hand into his scalp. Suddenly he felt terribly tired, and he stumbled aside to sit down on the couch. Krycek sat down as well, watching Mulder closely.

Mulder lifted his head again. "What about you? Are you sick?"

Krycek shrugged.

"Krycek, tell me."

"Do I look sick?"

Mulder's eyes ran over the too-visible bones, the dead weight inside Krycek's left sleeve, the hollow eyes, and the stubble dark on the pale face. "You look fine," he said.

Krycek nodded. Mulder leaned forward and propped his face on his hands. Then he turned it to look at Krycek again without lifting his head. "You're shaking," he said.

Krycek was silent.

"You are sick," Mulder said.

"No."

Mulder stretched out one hand to feel Krycek's forehead and then let it slide down along the side of his face to his neck. "Shh," he said inanely, "shh, shh, it's all right." Freed of thought, his movements became light and easy. He pulled in close and pressed a kiss on Krycek's cheek, and then another on his lips. Krycek kissed him back hungrily. Mulder brought his other arm up around Krycek's back and leaned deeper into the warm well of Krycek's mouth. Krycek's tongue slid in under Mulder's own, and Mulder gasped a bit. He felt dizzy, and then he realized that that wasn't just from the kissing but also because he was pushing forward so hard that they were about to slide off the edge of the couch.

He pulled back, swung his legs up and settled himself more solidly in one corner. Krycek followed, leaning over Mulder's left shoulder to kiss his neck and running his hand over Mulder's chest. Mulder slid one hand down to Krycek's waist. "Tell me again how you saved Samantha for me," he said, tilting his head sideways down toward Krycek's.

"Of course, I did it for you. How else could I bribe you to see me?" Krycek licked Mulder's ear a few times and then moved back around to nuzzle at his collarbone.

Mulder put his hands over Krycek's temples and pulled him back up for another kiss. He spread his legs a little more so he could wrap them over Krycek's and held him as tightly as he could, ignoring the resistance of the plastic in the crook of his arm. He wanted to engulf Krycek, swallow that whole hard body into his own and grow double together to a giant's size. Krycek shifted once or twice and then fell still in his grip. "Mm," he breathed. "Oh, Mulder."

Mulder began kissing slowly whatever he could reach: Krycek's hair, then his forehead, then his eyelids, which had fallen closed. Then he opened his mouth and ran his tongue over the bridge of Krycek's nose. "Alex," he whispered.

"Mm," Krycek said faintly.

Mulder drew back his head to look down, suddenly suspicious. Krycek's body weighed heavier and heavier against him. Mulder relaxed his arms. Krycek didn't move. A deep sigh pushed itself through Mulder's lungs. "Aah, Krycek," he said softly, aloud. He thought briefly about rolling out from under and going into the shower to reach for his own hardened cock. But instead of loosening, his arms tightened their hold, and he leaned his head back against the arm of the couch and lay still.

***

The phone was ringing. Mulder stretched his left arm out as far as he could to reach the phone on the table without getting up. "Yeah," he said hoarsely.

"Mulder?"

"Scully," he replied. He tried to move his left leg and found it all over pins and needles.

"Mulder, are you both still alive over there?"

He twitched his ankle and glanced at the gentle rise and fall of Krycek's breathing. "More or less."

Scully sighed audibly. "Did you do something stupid?"

"No," he said smoothly.

"Then what's going on?"

"What makes you think something is going on?"

"Well, when you didn't show up for work, I thought --"

"Oh, shit!" Mulder said. He strained to read the clock on the VCR: nine thirty. "I'm sorry, Scully, I just overslept."

"You overslept? With Krycek in your apartment?"

Mulder ignored that. "I'm on my way, Scully." He hung up.

Krycek had opened his eyes and was looking at him blankly. "Get off me," Mulder said, and his tone was not quite as light as he had meant it to be.

Krycek pulled back and settled himself into a sitting position on the other end of the couch. Mulder got up and made his way unevenly to the shower, trying to shake the blood back into his leg. He felt as if it had all flowed into his morning hardon instead. He hesitated for a moment with his hand on the faucet. Then he gave in, turned on the warm water, and took his cock into his hands. He found himself shying away from the thought of Krycek sitting in his living room, calling up instead the old familiar image of his partner as a young man, smiling and reaching out his hand. It hardly took any time at all.

When Mulder came back into the living room, tugging at the sleeves of his suit jacket, Krycek was standing next to the window looking cautiously out.

"Is there anyone there?" Mulder asked.

"No."

Mulder thought for a moment that Krycek might say something else, but nothing came. "Look," he said himself after a moment, "make yourself at home. Eat anything you can find. I'll go to the store tonight."

"What are you going to do today?"

"I'm going to try to learn something about Samantha's treatments."

"See if you can find out anything that might tell us where the smoker is."

"Krycek, he's dead."

Krycek shook his head. "He's hiding somewhere. If you start making noises about Samantha, he might come out."

"Okay. All right. I'll try." Mulder turned toward the door. He looked back over his shoulder one more time before going out, but Krycek's face was unreadable. Mulder tried the handle three times before leaving.

***

When Mulder burst into the basement office, Scully was on the phone, wearing her grimmest expression. "Yes," she said. "Of course. No, I see. Thank you."

"What was that all about?" Mulder asked, spreading out the folders he had brought with him on his desk.

"A missing persons case," Scully said. Mulder raised his eyebrows. "Sit down, Mulder." He sank into his chair, watching her set face. "The case concerns the disappearance of an entire family. Two children, their father, and the grandparents." Mulder opened his mouth, but Scully pushed on. "Their neighbors were worried by their sudden disappearance, but the authorities were inclined to believe that they had simply gone to join the mother, who was reported to have left for a vacation several weeks earlier."

"Why --" Mulder's throat seemed to have gone completely dry. "Why are we hearing about this now?"

Scully pressed her lips together. "The bodies of the three adults were discovered last week in a motel in Hialeah, Florida. Autopsies confirmed that they died of smallpox."

"But why call us?" Mulder insisted. His whole mind had shrunk to the need to establish that one point.

Scully shrugged helplessly. "Apparently a local UFO group is convinced that this was an abduction. They've been hounding the agent in charge of the case so much that she finally decided to ask for your expert advice."

"That's bullshit," Mulder said. "They know. They know exactly what they're doing. They waited till Sam got here and now they're --" He choked on the rest. "Who's the agent who called us?"

Scully shook her head. "Agent Albert. She's not important. The suggestion to call you got passed down to her from somewhere higher up."

Mulder leaned his elbows on his desk and pushed his fingers into his temples as hard as he could.

After a moment, Scully said gently, "Did you find out anything from Krycek?"

"Um," Mulder said. "Yeah. Mm." He tried to drag his mind back to the previous night. "He said... he said that Samantha is sick from the aftereffects of the cloning. She's been having treatments once a month, but she doesn't know that that's what they were, and he doesn't know what they consisted of. I was going to try to find out, today."

"Did he say anything about what his interest is in all this?"

Mulder didn't hesitate for a moment over which answer to repeat to Scully. "What I expected. Revenge against Cancerman."

"Do you think he's working with them again?"

"With them?" Mulder opened his eyes wide. "Scully, they tried to kill him, they locked him in that silo and left him for dead. Do you honestly think he would come back to work for them?"

"I don't know," she said. "What do you think the odds are of someone being willing to overlook that kind of offense in order to work toward what they perceive as a common goal?"

Mulder looked up sharply. All the compassion was gone from Scully's gaze.

"Krycek also said that he thinks Cancerman is still alive," Mulder said. His own words sounded terribly distinct in his ears. "That we might be able to flush him out of hiding by letting it be known that Samantha is here."

"That would explain why they'd be willing to let you see her," Scully said. "If he's alive and turned against them, he's certainly a much bigger threat than she is. They might risk bringing her out into the open as bait."

"No," Mulder said. "Krycek's grudge against Cancerman is personal."

"I'm not saying that's not a factor," Scully said.

"Look," Mulder said loudly. "Look -- before we can decide anything else, we have to know if Samantha is still safe."

"You're right," Scully said. She picked up her phone and dialed. "Hello, Sister? This is Dana Scully..."

Mulder turned away and stared at his computer screen. He didn't have a single email message waiting, and that simple silence felt inexplicably ominous. When he heard Scully hang up, he wheeled back around to face her.

"Well --" Scully said.

"What," Mulder said, too exasperated to make it a question.

"No one has bothered her," Scully said. "But she took a turn for the worse during the night. She's running a fever, and she's slightly delirious."

"We have to go," Mulder said. He began scrambling to gather up his folders with shaky hands.

"I'll meet you there." Scully draped her coat over her arm and left, her heels clicking smoothly across the floor.

Mulder pushed the papers into a pile and pulled his coat over his shoulders. The door was almost shut when he changed his mind and went back to his desk. He dialed his own number rapidly, counting off the number of rings he had to wait until his machine picked up. But before they were through, the receiver was lifted.

"What's going on?" Krycek asked.

"You idiot! What the hell are you doing answering the phone?"

"What does it matter? You know I'm here."

"But what if --" Mulder stopped and took a deep breath. Krycek's light tone jarred on his nerves.

"What were you going to tell me?"

"I -- what?"

"You were going to leave me a message," Krycek said.

"Yeah," Mulder said. "Look, I'm -- I'm going to be home late tonight."

Krycek laughed. "Is that all?"

"Yes," Mulder said, but even he could hear how unconvincing it sounded. He used to be good at lying to Krycek.

"Are you going to see Samantha?"

There was no point in denying it. "Yeah."

"Have you found anything out yet?"

"Mm. Some. I'll tell you about it tonight."

"Okay," Krycek said tolerantly.

Mulder hung up.

***

Samantha's forehead was slightly damp and her eyes were closed. "Alex," she muttered. "Alex, I'm thirsty."

"How long has she been like this?" Mulder asked the nun.

"Since mid-morning."

"Has she been able to eat anything?" Scully asked.

"She had some soup before she went to sleep last night, and we've been trying to give her fluids all day, but it's hard to get her to swallow."

Just then Samantha opened her eyes. Her gaze swept over Mulder and settled on Scully, who was standing to the left of the bed. "Dana," Samantha said clearly. "Where's Alex?"

"He's safe," Scully said. Samantha's eyes fell shut again.

"We thought perhaps," the nurse said, "if we could get this friend of hers to come see her, it might calm her."

Mulder tried to picture Krycek swinging his fine ass through the convent doors. "No," he said. The nun turned to look at him, and for a dizzying moment he thought every kiss from every boyfriend he'd ever had must be branded across his mouth.

"I'm afraid I have to agree with Mulder," Scully said smoothly. "I don't think that would be a good idea."

"Then we must do without," the woman replied.

Mulder drew Scully away towards the door, feeling his FBI face settle into place again. "Is this from missing her treatments? Or is it just weakness?"

"I can't tell," she admitted. "I don't think it's that serious yet, though. If she can take in enough fluids, her body should be able to fight off the infection that's most likely the immediate cause of the fever."

"That's good news."

"Yes. But someone should stay with her, and because of the rules here it can't be you."

"Will --" Mulder tried to begin, but Scully did not let him finish.

"That means it has to be me. And that means you have to go back and watch Krycek."

"Scully --"

"Mulder, I don't want you to think I'm being unfair to him. If he truly isn't involved in what happened to Samantha's family, then he'll need your protection, just as much as he needs watching if he is involved. Whatever the case, he's our best source of information now, and we can't afford to lose sight of him."

"Yes, but --"

She raised her voice slightly to drown him out. "BUT you have to be very careful while you're with him. Don't tell him anything we've learned. Don't believe what he says."

"Scully --"

"Mulder, don't trust him!"

"SCULLY!" Everyone jumped at the sound of Mulder's voice, which did not help soothe his anger. "I can handle Krycek," he said coldly. "Call me if there's any change in Samantha's condition. Anything at all." He turned on his heel and walked out without waiting for an answer.

***

Krycek was watching a talk show with the sound turned down and all the blinds closed. He turned and flicked the TV off when Mulder came in. "Hey," he said. "You call this late?"

"Change of plans," Mulder said. He pulled off his coat and came around to sit on the arm of a chair.

"So... what did you find out this morning? Anything on the smoker?"

"No," Mulder said. "Samantha's family is missing." He tugged one shoe off and then the other.

"Damn," Krycek said.

"You're not surprised," Mulder said, shedding his jacket.

"I was hoping that wouldn't happen."

"But you knew it might." Mulder loosened his tie and pulled it over his head.

Krycek frowned. "I couldn't possibly bring them all. I knew she was the key, and I thought they might not bother with the others. It was a risk I had to take."

"A risk you had to take?" Mulder paused in unbuttoning his shirt to look at Krycek.

Krycek shrugged. "They would have been in the same danger if I had never gone near them."

"That's not true," Mulder said. He dropped the shirt on the chair and walked over in three strides to stand in front of Krycek. "You led them to her," he said. "You showed them where she was, and now three people are dead."

Krycek rose to his feet. "That's bullshit, Mulder! Everyone knew where she was."

Mulder stared at him. Krycek's face presented an impenetrable surface, polished clean of yesterday's humanizing grubbiness. His jaws were smooth and even his hair was sleeked back out of his eyes. "Shut up," Mulder said.

"How did they die?" Krycek asked. His fingers went to Mulder's waist to tug the T-shirt free.

"Shut up," Mulder repeated. He slapped Krycek's hand away and slid the T-shirt over his head himself.

"Where are the others?" Krycek said in Mulder's ear, rubbing a finger along a stretch of bared skin.

"Shut up," Mulder said very softly. He grabbed Krycek's hand and moved it out to the side to hang in empty air. When he was satisfied that Krycek wasn't going to try to reach for him again, he let go and dropped his hands to unbuckle his belt and unzip his pants, leaning back so that he could push everything down past his hips and step clear. Then he put his hands on Krycek's shoulders and shoved downward.

Krycek dropped easily to his knees, but he glanced upwards, trying to see Mulder's face. Mulder arched his hips to bump his cock against Krycek's cheek. "Suck me," he said.

To Mulder, it seemed to take an eternity for Krycek's eyelashes to sweep downwards as he registered the command and focused on the reddened cock in front of him. Then Krycek opened his mouth and took it in. Mulder let his eyes close in desperate relief at the force with which Krycek attacked him. But after the first moment, the regularity began to lull his thoughts into relaxation, so that he gasped a little when Krycek suddenly began to move his tongue. He stopped wondering then whether he was doing the right thing.

Mulder wasn't aware that his legs were trembling until he felt Krycek's hand pushing at his left hip, urging him to turn around. He gave in to the pressure until he felt the couch against the back of his calves and fell into the cushions, careless of how he dragged Krycek with him. Luckily for Mulder, Krycek had let Mulder's cock slip out of his mouth before his teeth closed. He settled himself between Mulder's knees and began again, licking up and down the length of his penis with unabated force.

Mulder forced his eyes open and tried to get a clear look at his partner. It's him, he told himself, it's really him, it's Alex Krycek down there blowing me. But neither the dark head working at him nor the strengthening need to come seemed to have anything to do with his fantasies. He tried to patch in the one that seemed like the closest match, in which Krycek came to the side of the pool in one of his terrible suits and summoned Mulder out of the water, beginning to mouth him before Mulder could even take off his swimsuit. But the jerking of his hips disrupted the sequence of his thoughts, and the image wouldn't stay.

From far away the sound of the telephone drifted up towards Mulder. With difficulty he identified the intermittent ringing as the reason Krycek had stopped sucking and was sitting back on his heels.

"Don't even think about it," Mulder said. Krycek gave a toss of his chin and leaned back in. That proud gesture soothed Mulder more than any caress. He began to feel fiercely happy and thrust back even harder against Krycek's mouth. And then suddenly it was enough, and he came, in two or three quick lunges that felt perfect, like a victory, like the only truth.

Krycek had made an effort to swallow, but he still had to wipe trails of come from his chin. Mulder spread his arms out along the back of the couch to enjoy watching Krycek's quiet movements and downturned eyes. His satisfaction dissipated quickly, however, when he saw the glint of humor in the quirk of Krycek's mouth.

"What's so funny?" Mulder demanded.

"Oh, that old joke," Krycek said. "You know: 'How many calories...'"

Mulder drew his breath in with a hiss. "I forgot to buy food," he said. The reminder that he had an obligation towards Krycek irritated him so much that the sentence came out as an accusation.

Krycek shrugged.

"I'll order a pizza," Mulder said harshly. "Where's my phone?"

Krycek got up and found it for him.

"An hour," Mulder said to preserve his anger as he hung up. "What the hell takes so long? It doesn't take an hour to make a pizza." He stood up to put the phone back on a side table.

"Whatever will we do until then?" Krycek said, deadpan.

Mulder turned over his shoulder to give him an icy look. "Watch your mouth."

Krycek lunged for him and lost his balance, knocking them both to the ground. His weight lay heavily against Mulder's back, trying to pin him down, but Mulder was struggling in earnest, and he had health on his side. He pulled one knee up and pushed off with his toes, flipping Krycek easily onto his back. When Mulder tried to get to his feet, however, Krycek hooked one ankle around Mulder's legs and dragged him back down. Mulder pushed and scrabbled and shoved until he freed himself to sit up straddling Krycek's legs. Krycek grinned up at him.

"Come on, Mulder," he said breathlessly. "Do it!"

Mulder opened his mouth, but the words I can't wouldn't come out. Though he could feel the distant ache of returning desire, his penis remained stubbornly limp. He ran through about three seconds of the fantasy about Krycek in the booth at the shooting range, but it was no use. His eyes refocused to find Krycek watching him.

For a moment Mulder just felt blank. He sat still while Krycek reached up and took his hand. When Krycek's lips touched his fingers, however, Mulder's hand flew away almost of its own accord, to return with a stinging slap to Krycek's cheek. "Don't," Mulder said angrily.

The gesture did give him new impetus, though. He scrambled unsteadily off of Krycek's legs so that he could yank the sweatpants down over his hips. Mulder was suddenly in too much of a rush to want to worry about getting them all the way off, but Krycek kicked his feet free of the cloth and then turned on his side, propping himself on his elbow.

"Don't say it," Mulder said quickly. Krycek raised an eyebrow but said nothing. Mulder got a very rapid and very clear mental image of the tube of lubricant lying in his bedroom, but he couldn't be bothered to go and fetch it. He ran the fingers of his right hand down Krycek's cock instead and picked up as much fluid as he could from the tip, registering but paying no other attention to Krycek's quick intake of breath. Then he shoved at Krycek's hip to turn him face down.

If Scully had been there at that moment, Mulder would have retracted his earlier comment. The really, truly amazing thing about Krycek was that nothing, from too much hair gel to too little food, could make him lose his looks. Even after weeks on the run, the man was still beautiful. A joy forever, Mulder thought, his upper lip curling into a private sneer. At least, unlike the last man he had brought back to his apartment, Krycek wasn't insisting on having the lights off.

Mulder rubbed his fingers only briefly down Krycek's ass before slipping one in, trying to make the most out of his limited lubrication. Krycek began letting moans slide through his lips, though true to Mulder's last command, he didn't verbalize. Mulder considered going to turn on the television to mask the sounds, but then he couldn't be bothered to do that either. Instead he added another finger, letting his left hand play over Krycek's flesh.

When Mulder felt Krycek's first shudder, a stab of excitement struck him too, quivering between his lungs. At the same moment he felt the muscles of his right arm protest against the awkwardness of the angle. He nudged at Krycek with one knee to make him turn a little upwards and crouched down in front of him, letting his right arm drape over Krycek's thigh. Almost as an afterthought, he reached for Krycek's cock with his other hand.

I could do whatever I wanted to him, Mulder told himself. He would do whatever I wanted. But he wasn't entirely sure this was true. It was easier to fall back on a simpler mantra: It's him, it's Krycek, it's him, Alex Krycek... He leaned his face low over the white skin of Krycek's side without touching it.

Mulder's concentration was broken when Krycek's body began jerking against him. He looked up, trying to see Krycek's expression, but he couldn't get a good view of Krycek's face, and then out of nowhere he was seized with a panic -- suddenly he desperately needed to make Krycek stop moving, get a fix on him, pin him down. Mulder wrenched his hands free and threw himself forwards onto Krycek's chest. One of his legs got trapped between Krycek's, and his half-hardened cock pressed into Krycek's stomach, and Krycek's arm came up around his back. But he didn't mind any of that as long as he could use his weight to hold Krycek down to the ground.

Krycek's breathing gradually returned to normal, but Mulder's stayed shallow and ragged for a long time.

***

The doorbell rang.

"Fuck off," Mulder snapped, without moving.

"It's probably the pizza," Krycek said.

Mulder took a deep breath and untangled himself from Krycek's limbs. He grabbed the sweatpants from the floor and went to answer the door.

Scully's mouth dropped open when she saw him.

Mulder glanced back over his shoulder to see if there was any chance of a plausible denial, but even if there had been nothing else, the room smelled irrefutably of sex. "I suppose you'll be wanting an explanation," he said finally.

"No," she said. Her voice had gone all soft and fragile; the hard edge of determination that had pushed her tones low over the last few days was entirely crumbled away. "No, I think I understand. I'm beginning to understand."

"No, you don't," Mulder said. He took a step towards her but she stepped back.

"I came to tell you that Samantha is better," she said slowly, and only then did Mulder notice Samantha herself waiting behind Scully in the hall. "We were worried when you didn't answer the phone. I'm taking her back to my place now. You come over when you're ready to talk."

"Scully --" Mulder said, but she was backing away and taking Samantha's hand to go. He shut the door and walked unsteadily back into the middle of the room. "Damn."

"She'll get past it, Mulder," Krycek said. Mulder didn't answer. "Hey," Krycek said. "Hey, c'mere."

Mulder sank to his knees next to the couch and buried his face in the cushions. "What's going to happen?" he said. "What's going to happen?"

Krycek squatted down by his side. His hand settled slowly on the pillow next to Mulder's head. "The fucking world will keep on turning," he said. "That's what'll happen."

The fingers of Mulder's right hand tightened into a fist.

After a while, Mulder lifted his head. Krycek turned around to sit down, leaning against the couch. "What am I going to tell her?" Mulder said.

Krycek's voice took on a sharper edge. "Tell her whatever you want, Mulder. Tell her the truth. You need Special Agent Scully to sign off on your dick?"

"Fuck you," Mulder said. He scrubbed his palms over his face. "I should have stuck to the original plan. Then I wouldn't have to listen to this bullshit."

"Which plan was that?" Krycek said glibly.

Mulder glanced up at him, but Krycek's face showed nothing but humor. Uncertain of his footing, Mulder decided to retreat to familiar ground. "We were aiming at getting a reaction from Cancerman."

Krycek took a deep breath and rubbed his chin. "One of two things can happen," he said slowly. "Either he'll come to you, or he'll go to them. It depends who he thinks has more to offer."

Mulder frowned. "He'll never believe we can keep Samantha safe for him. Especially not when they have her children."

Krycek made a little resigned motion with his head.

Mulder tried to think what he should do next. He wanted to lean back against Krycek's shoulder. He wanted to wrap his arms around Krycek's neck and bury his face in the soft skin under the ear. He stood up and tried to roll his shoulders back. "I --" He cleared his throat. "I have to go talk to Scully."

Krycek didn't answer. Mulder hesitated. After a moment he began to look around for his clothes, but then thought better of it and headed for the bathroom instead.

When Mulder came back after his shower, Krycek was dressed, too. For a moment Mulder thought Krycek meant to come with him, and he said, "I have to talk to her by myself." But Krycek nodded matter-of-factly and stayed leaning against the side of the couch while Mulder gathered up his coat and his keys.

Then, just as Mulder was turning towards the door, Krycek stepped forward and began kissing him, not urgently but deeply, over and over again, until Mulder was floating among the ice floes. He felt so numb that he couldn't even tell anymore which one of them recaptured the other's lips whenever they paused for breath. Mulder's hands were cold, and his feet were cold, and his mouth was very wet.

After he felt Krycek let him go, Mulder opened his eyes. Krycek lifted his chin a little. Mulder opened his mouth too, but he couldn't think of anything to say. So he turned and left.

He had had a vague plan of figuring out what to say to Scully during the drive, but he found that the subject slipped away from his mind, his attention catching instead at the road, the stoplights, the people crossing the street. When he got to Scully's building he saw that her living room window was dark. He knew, though, that she would still be up. Then he thought he would sit in the car a minute and plan how to begin. But he couldn't sit still. He got out, locked the door, and trudged up her steps.

It took Scully a long time to answer his knock, and when she finally appeared, she stood in the doorway for another moment looking at him before stepping aside to let him in. He tried to see her expression, but no lamps were on and her face was shaded.

"Scully, are you all right?" he said, as she led him to the dining room.

"I'm fine, Mulder."

He couldn't help but wonder whether she hadn't put a little too much emphasis on the I. "What about Samantha? How is she doing?"

"She's okay. She became more lucid in the early afternoon, and she was able to keep some soup down. She's in there sleeping now."

Mulder wanted to ask more questions about Samantha, especially why Scully had brought her back with her, but just then Scully turned around and the light fell on her face. He sat down clumsily and held his tongue.

She wasn't crying, but she looked as if she might, her brows furrowed and the corners of her mouth stretched down. "How long, Mulder? How long has this been going on?"

"Tonight," he said. "Tonight, for the first time."

But she was shaking her head. "No, you always... ever since you met him, you've always... Mulder, how could you?"

Without any notice, without so much as a blink or a swallow, Mulder's mind cleared of everything but the need to defend Krycek against this bitterness. "Is it so terrible, Scully?" he said.

"Terrible?" She turned her empty palms up. "Mulder... all the times they tried to trip you up, you never let any obstacle slow you down even, let alone stop you. And now --"

"What, now?"

"Now -- they've gotten around you, they've gotten to you. If you give in to them in this, how can you hold them off anywhere else?"

"It's not about 'them'," Mulder said. "It's Krycek."

"It's Krycek," Scully said.

"Scully, I'm not -- I don't -- I'm not condoning what he did to you and your sister," Mulder said with difficulty.

"And your father," Scully put in.

Mulder winced. "But can't you accept that he's a person beyond that? That there's more to who he is than just the things he's done?"

She shook her head. "Not while he's still doing them!"

Mulder leaned his face on his hands.

Scully braced her hands against the table. "Mulder, as your friend I can only give you advice. But as your partner, I am telling you, Krycek is trouble. In every investigation he undermines your objectivity and he draws you into danger. And all the evidence suggests that he's once again connected to, if not entirely governed by, the consortium."

"I can't believe that," Mulder said in a low voice, though he had been thinking nothing else for the last six hours.

"That is why you shouldn't deal with him."

Mulder exhaled noisily. "What do you suggest instead?"

She grimaced. "That may be taken out of our hands."

"What do you mean?"

"They called my cell phone asking for you. I tried to get them to talk to me, but they insisted on you. So I told them you'd be here soon."

Mulder took out his phone and checked it, but the batteries were still live. "I don't get it. Why involve you?"

"They slipped up," Scully said, and her mouth turned down again. "I beat them to the punch."

Mulder closed his eyes. Scully didn't say anything else. After a minute he looked up again, unclenched his fingers, and laid his phone down in front of him. Scully pushed a box of Saran wrap aside to make room on the table for hers as well. They sat in silence, not looking at each other.

He couldn't have said how long it was before Scully's phone rang. She pushed it across the table to him.

"Mulder," he said.

"Agent Mulder." The voice was slow, heavy. "You have a visitor."

Mulder hesitated.

"We would like her to come visit us."

"What makes you think she'll have anything to do with you?" Mulder snapped.

"She belongs to us," the other said humorlessly. "But that's not why she will come. Tell her that her father is asking for her."

"Not her children?" Mulder said bitterly, wishing things weren't turning out just as Krycek had said.

"Tell her to come to his warehouse. She knows where it is. Tell her to be there in an hour."

"No," Mulder said. "I won't allow it."

"Agent Mulder, if you have her best interests at heart, you will see that she is there." The man hung up.

Mulder lowered his hand but kept a tight grip on the phone. "Bastards," he said.

Scully raised her eyebrows without alacrity.

"They want me to bring her to them."

"In exchange for?"

"Nothing!" Mulder yelled. "Absolutely nothing!"

Scully looked at him coldly, pursing her lips. After a deliberate pause, she said, "You should go tell her."

"Tell me what?" Samantha asked from the doorway.

"Sam, what are you doing up?" Scully said.

"I heard Fox shout," Samantha said. "What's going on?"

Mulder buried his face in his hands.

"We've had a message that purports to be from your father," Scully said. "His former associates say that he wants to see you. They're asking Mulder to bring you in to his warehouse."

"The same ones who killed Scott?" Samantha asked, with a curiously blank face.

"We have no way of knowing that," Scully said. "But most probably, yes."

"How much time do we have till they're expecting me?" Samantha said.

"An hour," Mulder answered, lifting his head.

"One hour! That means we have to leave right now."

"Yes," Mulder said, "but where can I take you?"

"Oh, I know the way," she said. "I've met him there before."

Mulder froze.

"Let me go and get dressed," Samantha went on. "I'll be ready in a minute." She left the kitchen.

Mulder turned to Scully openmouthed. "She's planning to go!" he said.

"Yes," Scully said. "That's what she wants."

"No! I can't let her go back to them!"

"You can't stop her." Scully's voice was louder again, but still delicate, defeated. "You can't have it both ways, Mulder. She loves her father, and she's choosing to go to him."

"No!"

Scully's eyes narrowed and her nostrils flared. "If nothing else, Mulder, remember she needs her treatments. You want to keep her here to die?"

He closed his eyes.

Scully got up and went into the bedroom to check on Samantha. Though Mulder thought he should have been able to hear their voices, if not make out the words, nothing reached him but a long silence. Finally Samantha emerged, dressed in street clothes. Scully followed, hanging back as they moved towards the door.

Mulder felt like he ought to say something before they left, but he knew he would produce nothing but protests, so he kept his mouth shut.

Samantha said, "Thank you, Dana."

In Scully's voice there was the first hint of returning steel. "Goodbye, Sam."

Samantha went out ahead of Mulder. He turned back once more but wasn't quick enough to catch Scully's eye before she closed the door.

For more than half the drive, the silence in the car was broken only by Samantha's low-voiced directions. Mulder's thoughts were whirling and again he couldn't fix them on anything but the road. On one of the longer freeway stretches, however, Samantha began clearing her throat. Mulder turned to look at her.

"Fox," Samantha said, "I know Dana must have a reason for not liking Alex, but I just want you to know that personally I'm glad you're together. I know you mean a lot to him."

Mulder nearly laughed out loud. It was easier to listen to Scully's most weighted disapproval than to this naive sympathy. "How do you know?" he asked, with a surreal feeling of returning to the teenager he had never been. "Did he talk about me?"

"It's more the way he didn't talk about you," Samantha said. "What happened to make things so hard for you two?"

She looked very opaque, a stranger sitting next to him. His mind balked at trying to formulate an answer that would make sense to her. "Stay," he said finally, "and I'll explain it all to you."

"You know I can't."

All Mulder's yearning for his long-lost sister swept over him again. He gave her a pleading look.

"He's my father, Fox. I have to go to him." She looked down and swallowed. "They've shown they mean business. I can't let them take anyone else."

"I can't believe he's really your father," Mulder blurted out.

"Who else would take such good care of me?"

Mulder was silenced. He drove on, paying attention to the turns in a mechanical way, so that he could have found his way back to the warehouse later if he hadn't been convinced that after tonight there would never be anything there for him to see.

Samantha had him pull up across the street from an unassuming metal door. "I guess this is it," she said, looking at him worriedly. "Take care of yourself, Fox."

He nodded, and then she leaned over and wrapped her arms around his neck. He found himself stiffening against the hug, afraid of dislodging the memory of Krycek pressed against him. "I'll come back," she said in his ear. "I promise."

"Goodbye, Sam," he said. She let go of him and got out of the car in one fluid movement, closing the door gently and checking both ways before crossing the street. When she was standing on the building's concrete step she turned back and waved at Mulder. He made himself lift his hand in response. Then she knocked, and the door swung back just enough to let her slip inside.

Mulder had half-expected to see someone peering out to check on him, but the door remained solidly shut. He sighed and started the engine again.

It seemed to him that he did not pass a single other car the entire way home.

His hallway was equally empty. Mulder unlocked and opened his door. The apartment was even colder than usual. He saw that one window was open, presumably to air the room out. In fact, the whole place had a tidy, anonymous look that made him feel as if he had never been there before.

He went and closed the window and then sat down on the couch without taking his coat off. The remote came easily to his hand. But he forgot to turn the television on.