Admission Part IV : Don't Let Me Dream
by Aries

See Disclaimer in Part I

Summary: N/C-17
The boy's separation affects each of them in very different ways. Loadsof angst. High schmoop warning.

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I can't remember why we fell apartIt's something that was so meant to beForeverwas the promise in our hearts Now more and more I wonder where you are DoI ever cross your mind, anytime?Do you ever wake up reaching out for me?DoI ever cross your mind, anytime?I miss you Anytime ~ Brian McKnight

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Thursday, 1:12 a.m.
Five months after Mulder's return
home from the hospital


"Mmmmmm."

Fox Mulder writhed on his bed as a soft warmth touched his chest.

It took him a moment to realize that it was a mouth, wandering across hisskin. He moaned again and brought both hands up, plunging into the familiarsilky hair with one and lovingly petting the smooth surface with the other.

"Alex."

Whispered. Moaned. Barely loud enough to be heard.

The mouth moved up the long column of his throat to this chin, staying awhile to nibble the slightly rough skin.

"Alex..."

Before he could voice his request, the mouth covered his in a mind-numbingkiss, that left him gasping for breath.

He opened his eyes and looked up into the deep green pools belonging tothe man whom his mind, heart and body craved day and night, for the lastfive months. He smiled.

"That's encouraging."

"What?"

"That smile."

"You're back, why wouldn't I smile?"

"I sort of thought you'd be so upset with me, you'd throw me out."

"I should have enough pride to do just that. But I can't. I've missedyou so much. Why have you stayed away so long?"

"Let's talk about it later, okay? Right now, I just want to touch you."

Mulder closed his eyes as knowing fingers skimmed over his lips. Traveledslowly over one cheekbone, then down. His neck arched as the fingers skittereddown and lingered on his bare chest, teasing the small nipples into tightspeaks. Mulder stifled a gasp.

"Don't do that, Fox. Let me hear it. I want to know how much you wantme."

Krycek lowered his head and bit down gently on one erect nipple, drawinga long whine from the man beneath him.

"That's it. Just let it out."

His mouth traced a staggered line down the length of Mulder's torso, pausingmomentarily to tease the hollow of his navel, then on downward, toward thatwhich was begging to be touched.

Mulder groaned deep in his throat as Krycek's mouth closed gingerly overthe blunt head of his cock. His tongue danced around it, sending bone-rattlingshudders through his body. His head lowered, taking the full length of theshaft into his mouth, but only momentarily. Slowly he rose, just barelyskimming the smooth skin along his tongue and the roof of his mouth.

"Alex...I...can't..cant'...don't tease...don't..please, not tonight."

"Shhh. It's okay, Fox. It's okay." He slid up, covering Mulder'sbody with his own. His rock-hard erection pressed urgently against it'stwin. "It's all right. Alex is going to take away all your suffering."He gazed down into the tortured hazel depths of Mulder's eyes. "Mybeautiful, beautiful lisa. How could I have stayed away from you for solong?

His hands slid under Mulder's knees. Lifted, until he had easy access, thenthrust gently into the tight warmth. Mulder cried out, joy and anticipationof long awaited satisfaction, flooding through his body. Gentle fingerswrapped around his cock, taking his euphoria to a higher level. Krycek'shand and hips worked together in perfect cadence, driving Mulder completelyand totally insane.

"Oh God, Alex. Oh God..."

"Are you almost there, Fox?"

"Yes...*yes*..oh, *please*..."

All at once, the driving heat was gone. Removed just before total release.Mulder arched and strained, almost in tears.

"No! Alex, please!"

"I'm sorry, Fox. I have to go."

"*Go*?"

"I *am* sorry..."

"Alex, don't leave me...Jesus, it hurts. It hurts." The tearsfell and he reached out, desperate to find what was not there.


He opened his eyes.

Another dream.

He rolled onto his side, rocking back and forth. Tears of frustration andpain saturated the pillow.


Friday, 8:45 a.m.

Scully looked up from her computer. "Morning, Mulder."

"Morning."

Late again.

It was the third time this week. She'd been trying so hard to keep thingsnormal, but concern was really starting to get the better of her.

She watched him closely, as he drifted past her desk and over to his, droppinginto the chair behind it.

"You look tired." *Again*.

No response.

"Mulder?"

"I didn't sleep very well last night." It came out a little sharperthan he'd intended.

"This is getting to be a habit with you."

Again, no reply.

"Have you had breakfast?"

"Yeah."

He was lying and she knew it.

"Mulder..." This wasn't going to go over very well. "Mulder,I don't think you should be in the field."

His head snapped up.

"I'm sorry, but..."

"I've only been *back* in the field for about a month and a half andnow you want to pull me out?"

"Maybe it was too soon. You don't seem much better now, than you were*then*. Look at yourself, Mulder. You eat barely enough to keep a bird alive.You've dropped almost twenty pounds and believe me, you didn't have it tospare..."

Mulder spun around in his chair and faced the wall. "Are you through?"

"No. You don't *sleep*. Your reflexes are dulled. It's dangerous toboth of us with you in the field."

He spun back. "Scully, I *can't* go back to desk duty. I was readyto lose my mind. Too much time. Too much thinking." He looked up ather, distress radiating from his expression. "I don't want to think,Scully. I don't want to..."

She moved across the room and sat at the edge of his desk, facing him. Shetook one of his hands in hers and squeezed gently. "I know. Mulder,I'm sorry. You'll never know how much. But Alex is gone. It's been *months*.If he wanted to see you, he would have come back by now."

"What if something's wrong? What if something's happened to him?"

"Do you get that feeling?"

Mulder shook his head slowly. "No."

"Me either. It pains me to say these things to you, but I really thinkthat he doesn't want to be found. I mean, we've searched far and long forhim, and *nothing*. You know from experience, that if there's one thingAlex Krycek knows how to do, it's disappear without a trace."

"That would mean that everything he told me was a lie."

"Not necessarily. I've told you this before Mulder, and I still thinkit's true. I think he believes that he's protecting you." Before hecould respond, she held up a hand and continued. "I know how you feelabout that, but you almost *died* not too long ago, and he was, at leastto some degree, responsible for that. Now, you're the psychologist on thisteam, how do *you* think he feels about that?"

"He'd be shouldering a lot of unnecessary blame."

"In order for you to tell him that Mulder, you have to find him. Aproven impossibility. Now for the sake of your health and your sanity, *please*try to forget about him."

A look of helplessness etched his features, as he looked up at her. Shehated it when he looked at her, like that.

"I don't know how."

"You've got to find a way. Your life and your career depend on it."

He knew she was right, but Jesus, it was so much easier said than done.Especially when he had such frequent nightly reminders. He hadn't told herabout the dreams or the unbearable ache he'd felt for hours, afterward.If he had, she'd have his ass hauled out of the field, for sure. And heneeded to work. It was all he had to keep him from going crazy.

"Okay listen," Scully's voice drew him out of his thoughts. "You'vegot another week. If I don't see some improvement in that time, I'm goingto Skinner, I don't care *how* pissed at me, you get."

Mulder inhaled deeply and nodded his agreement.


Friday, 9:46 p.m.

Alex Krycek was feeling no pain. He'd just tossed down his fifth scotchand was banging his glass on the bar, for a sixth.

"Hey, slow down, partner."

He turned his head and fixed a glassy green stare on the source of the voice.

"You're going to be one sick puppy in the morning, if you don't."

"Who are you, my father?"

"No, just a concerned bystander. I've seen you in here quite a fewtimes before. You always seem so sullen and lonely."

Krycek stared into his fresh drink.

"So...what'd he do to you?"

"What the fuck makes you think anyone did anything to me? And whatmakes you say, ëhe'?"

"Look around you. This place isn't exactly overflowing with mixed couples."

No response.

"You'll feel better if you talk about it."

Krycek shook his head. "The only thing he ever did was trust me."

"Ah. So it's guilt that's got you here. Guilt will chew you up andspit you out, my friend. Do yourself a favor. Talk to him. Sort it out,whatever it is."

"Can't."

"Sure, you can."

"There's no fix, quick or otherwise, for this."

The man eyed him intently. "Are you sure?"

Krycek grimaced and gulped down his drink. "Oh, yeah."

"Hmm. Well." He took a seat beside Krycek. "In that case,maybe you could do with a little comfort."

A warm hand crept across Krycek's back.

"And maybe you could get that hand off of me, before you lose it."

The man removed his hand and leaned back. "Why do you come here?"

Krycek raised his empty glass. "To drink myself senseless."

"You could go to any bar to do that. You *choose* to come here."

"So *what*?"

"You're looking for company. Someone to help you take your mind offof *him*."

Krycek made a harsh sound in the back of his throat. A pretty good imitationof a buzzer. "Wrong, Carnac. Leave me alone."

The man smiled. "You don't know what you're missing..."

Krycek's eyes lowered to the bar. "I know exactly what I'm missing.Go away."

The man got up and moved on to his next prospect.

Krycek spun on his stool and looked out into the heart of the crowd. Hefocused on a particularly handsome couple, sitting at a corner table. Onesmiled serenely, as the other nuzzled his ear and stroked his arm. Unbiddenimages sprung to mind.

Fox.

So beautiful, wrapped in pleasure. So trusting, accepting whatever Alexhad to give him. And giving back. Oh, he knew how to give back...

Krycek's head started to pound. Suddenly, he couldn't stand to be here.He pulled a neatly folded wad of cash from his pocket, paid his tab, andleft.

He knew that he was going out to get plastered tonight, and had decidedto walk. The cold mid- November air hit him in a blast, as he stepped outonto the pavement and made his way home. Damn, Washington was cold.


Saturday, 7:21 a.m.

Mulder sat alone, at his kitchen table, staring at the bagel in front ofhim.

//You gotta eat it. Scully wasn't kidding about having you pulled from thefield. Come on, you can do it. //

He picked up one of the split halves and brought it to his mouth. He hadto force himself to bite into it and chew. It tasted like cardboard.

//Just swallow it, would you?//

He managed to get three bites down that way, before he threw the rest ofit down onto the table. He closed his eyes and took several deep breaths,trying to calm the threatened violent reaction of his stomach.

//Okay, that's enough. A little a time, don't force it. Try again at lunchtime.//

He gathered up the remains of breakfast and dumped it into the trash. Hewalked back to the table and drew his fingers along the back of the chairthat Alex had claimed in the short time he was there. Mulder smiled sadly,remembering their first breakfast together. Things weren't exactly relaxedbetween them, but he wouldn't have traded that morning for anything in theworld.

The phone rang, just as he was working himself into a really good stateof depression.

"Morning," Scully's overly cheerful voice sang out over the line.

"Hi, Scully."

"How'd you sleep?"

"Okay."

Right. For all of an hour and a half.

"You dressed?"

"Yeah."

"Good. I'm coming over."

"What for?"

"I'm making you breakfast."

"Thanks Scully, but I already had breakfast."

"What did you eat?"

"A bagel."

"All of it?"

Hesitation. "Yeah."

"Mulder..."

"What?"

"How much did you eat?"

Heavy sigh. "Half."

She still wasn't quite sure that she believed him. Even so...

"Mulder, half a bagel just isn't going to get it."

Silence.

"Okay, I'll tell you what. I'll hang around here for a while, do somestuff, but I'm coming to make you lunch. Don't bother arguing, it'll doyou no good."

He *knew* that.

"Mulder? You there?"

"Yeah, I'm here. I guess I'll see you a little later."

He hung up and trudged into the living room.


8:24 a.m.

"Jesus."

Krycek blinked in the blinding sunlight, pouring through the window. Nota good thing, this morning. He got up to draw the blinds, and was knockedback into bed by a tidal wave of nausea.

"Shit..." He squeezed his eyes shut, clutching at his stomach."Breathe. Breathe."

He felt better for a few moments, but then it came back. Only three timesworse. And it brought company. His head spun and throbbed at the same time,making it impossible to walk to the bathroom. He virtually crawled, justmaking it to the edge of the toilet bowl, before everything he'd ever eatenin his life, came up. He wretched violently, all the while swearing thathe'd never drink like that again and knowing that once this was over, he'ddo exactly that.

Passing out in a drunken stupor, was the only way he'd ever gotten any sleep.The only time painful thoughts of the one he'd given up, had not torturedhim.

He'd managed to get himself cleaned up and crawled back to bed. The sunstill shone brightly through the open blinds, casting a cheery light overthe room. God, he hated the day time. Hated the night, too. Hell, he guessedhe'd just hated life in general. He'd check out in a heartbeat, if it werenot for one thing. His Fox was alive. And getting the occasional distantglimpse of him, dangerous though it was, was enough to keep him going. *HisFox*.

He really had to stop saying that.


12:10 p.m.

Scully stood at Mulder's door, holding two paper bags.

"Lunchtime."

Mulder stepped aside, allowing his partner to enter.

"I thought we should start out with something light. You've eaten solittle for so long, that I don't think your stomach could take anythingheavy. How about some soup?"

Well, soup didn't sound so bad. At least he didn't have to chew it.

"Okay."

He followed Scully into the kitchen and leaned up against the counter, whileshe went to work.

"Is it very cold out?" he asked, searching for something to say,to break the silence.

"Yeah. I think we're in for a brutal winter. All the more reason foryou to put that weight back on."

Mulder looked down at the floor in front of him.

Scully moved to the refrigerator, putting some things away and when sheturned back, her breath caught in her throat. She'd seen him all day, justabout every day, but the shock of taking a good look at him, never seemedto fade.

There was an anemic paleness to the skin, stretched over too prominent bones.The eyes that usually held a mischievous glint, had gone dull. Even hisnormally glossy golden brown hair had lost it's luster.

She wanted to damn Alex Krycek to eternal flaming hell, but she knew itwasn't right. This wasn't all his fault. He'd warned Mulder. They'd hadcountless arguments about it, Mulder had told her so, himself. But her partnerwas as stubborn as they came. And just as persuasive.

And magnetic. He attracted all sorts of people for all sorts of reasons.She could well understand why Krycek couldn't stay away from him. Exceptnow, he had. Now, when he really needed to be here.

"Mulder, why don't you sit down. You look like you're about ready to*fall* down."

"I'm okay."

"No." She came over and took him by the arm, leading him to aseat. "I want you to sit down. The soup will be ready in a couple ofminutes."

True to her word, Scully placed a small bowl in front of Mulder, just afew minutes later. She sat across from him and he almost opened his mouthto say something, but bit his tongue.

"What is it? You looked like you wanted to say something?"

He wanted to tell her that was Alex's chair she was sitting in and ask herto sit someplace else, but that was insane, even to him.

"No. I wasn't going to say anything."

Scully nodded. "Well, eat up."

The first spoonful went down relatively easily. Even the second and thirdweren't bad. It was that fourth one and those that followed, that gave himtrouble. He put the spoon down after the sixth, and covered his mouth, takingin deep breaths through his nose.

"Mulder? You okay?"

He shook his head and took his hand away from his mouth. "I don't feelso good, Scully."

"Damn. I know it may be hard, but try to keep it down. Here."She handed him a slice of dry bread. "Nibble on that. It should helpwith the nausea."

Mulder reached out a trembling hand and took the bread from her. A few biteslater, he dropped the slice onto the table.

"I think I should lie down."

"Okay. Some sleep right now, might be the best thing for you."

"No," he snapped. "No sleep. I just want to lie down."

Scully studied him closely. What the hell was it with him and sleep?

"Fine. No sleep." She went along with him, hoping that once hewas horizontal, he'd just drift off, anyway. "Come on, get into bed."

He let her guide him into his room and help him down on the bed. He leanedback against the pillows, eyes wide open.

"Don't fight it, Mulder. Just relax and let it happen. You'll feelso much better if you get some decent rest."

Mulder nodded and closed his eyes.

"That's better. If you need me, I'll be in the other room."

Scully left the bedroom, and closed the door only halfway, so she couldhear if Mulder called to her.

As soon as she was gone, his eyes snapped open.

No sleep.

But that was ridiculous. He *had* to sleep at some point. Maybe he shouldjust tell her what was wrong. Maybe she could help.

//How the hell do you tell her a thing like that?//

//She's doctor, stupid.//

//That's right, she is. And she's your partner. Not only will you be yankedout of the field, she'll probably make the very strong suggestion that yoube hospitalized.//

//Well, what the hell, she's probably close to doing that, anyway. If youdon't start putting some weight on soon...//

Mulder considered his options and decided against saying anything. It wasa risk he really didn't think he wanted to take.

Two hours and not a wink of sleep later, he entered the living room to findher still there.

//Did you think she wouldn't be?//

She looked up smiling, but the smile faded when she met his eyes. "Youhaven't slept at all, have you?"

"What makes you say that?"

"You don't look any better than you did two hours ago. In fact, you*may* look just a little bit worse."

"Scully, it's hard to sleep on command, you know?"

"How's your stomach?"

He shrugged. "I kept the food down."

"Want to try a little more?"

"Maybe later."

"Not too much later."

"Look Scully, you're wasting your whole Saturday babysitting me. I'ma big boy, perfectly capable of getting myself a bowl of soup."

"Normally, I'd agree with you. But I know, sure as I'm sitting here,that you won't do it." She rose from the sofa and came to stand infront of him. "Mulder. Can't you understand how important this is?How serious?"

"Do you think I *asked* for this?" Anger flared. "You thinkI *like* getting sick whenever I put food in my mouth? You think I *enjoy*twenty-three hour days?"

"Mulder, I didn't..."

"You think I get some kind of sick thrill out of ..." He censuredhimself and turned away.

"What? Sick thrill out of what?"

"Nothing. Go home, Scully. Leave me alone."

"I can't do that, Mulder. I'm not going to watch you die this slowdeath. I'm going to fight it, even if you *won't*."

She got no response.

"Is the memory of a man you'd only been involved with for a matterof weeks, worth all this, Mulder?"

"Don't talk about him like he's dead."

"For you, he may as well be!"

Mulder spun to face her.

"He's not coming back! Get that through your head! For whatever reasonshe's got, he's not coming back. I'm so sorry for you that it turned outthis way, but it *has*. Deal with it and move on!"

The hurt look he displayed, immediately made her regret her tirade.

"Mulder," she croaked, touching his arm. "If there was anything...anythingin the world that I could do to make this better for you, you know I would."

"You can do one thing for me, right now."

"Of course."

"Leave me."

Scully closed her eyes and sighed.

"I'll be all right. I just want to be alone."

"Do you promise to try and eat more, later?"

"Yeah."

"Okay, I'm going. I'll call you later."

"Right."

When he'd finally gotten her out the door, he returned to the living roomand switched on the television. He stared at the screen, not really seeinga thing. His thoughts were focused on the conversation he'd just had withhis partner.

She was right. He needed to pull himself together. He'd done all he couldto find Alex and so had she. He needed to stop mourning his loss and geton with his life, before he didn't have a life to get on *with*. And whoknew. Maybe if he was able to do that, the dreams would stop and so wouldthe unbearable agony they brought. He absently stoked the arm of the shirthe wore. Alex's. He should get rid of the clothes. Stuff them all back intothe bag and dump it into the incinerator. It'd be a start. He wrapped hisarms around himself and buried his face into the collar of the shirt.

Maybe tomorrow.


10:32 p.m.

No drinking tonight.

Krycek was still feeling pretty rough around the edges from last night'sbender. Besides, he was in no mood to fend off the usual half dozen or somen who would hit on him. So rather than hurt somebody, he decided to juststay home.

He stretched out along the sofa and turned the t.v. on, flipping quicklythrough the channels. Finally, he settled on a bad sci-fi movie. Involuntarily,his hand went to the object suspended from his neck by a silver chain. Helovingly fingered the key that Mulder had given him, so many months ago.So many times he had been sorely tempted to use it. Just walk in, in themiddle of the night and crawl into Mulder's bed. Wrap his arms around him.Kiss him senseless. Tell him how very much...

But even as possession of this key tempted him, it did just as much to stophim. It was representative of Mulder's trust in him. The same trust thathad gotten him shot.

Krycek's eyes dropped shut and let the pain wash over him. Through his ownfault, he'd come so close to losing the only thing that mattered to himin the world and the only thing he could think to do to make it even closeto right, was leave Mulder alone. Let him find his way back to his old life.It may not have been perfect, but at least he wouldn't have to live it,looking every day at the man who'd almost gotten him killed.

But even so. What if he *did* go to him? What if Fox welcomed him with openarms and wouldn't blame him at all? Maybe they could put it behind them.Maybe Fox could help him get over this crippling guilt and they could getback to where they were.

He tried to shake the thought away.

"Sadistic bastard. Why do you torture yourself night after fuckingnight?"

He closed his hand into a fist, gripping the key tightly and slid onto hisback. He stared up at the ceiling, trying to close his mind's eye to theimages that tumbled through it.

Two bodies. Bathed in sweat. Seemingly fused together. Muscle surroundingmuscle. Stroking and thrusting. Ebbing and flowing.

Krycek's hand dropped to the waistband of his jeans, unbuttoning and drawingthe zipper down. It slipped inside his underwear and began to gently caresshis rigid cock. His eyes closed.

Sounds. Feral. Demanding and pleading for no less than complete surrender.Agitated. Hungry. Reduced to soft purrs of contentment, once fulfillmentwas reached.

He frowned as those sounds were replaced with others.

A gun shot. The beep of a heart monitor. The hiss of a respirator.

Krycek gritted his teeth and jerked his hand away.

Dammit.

Happened almost every time, yet the thought never failed to bring tearsto his eyes.

//He's all right//, he'd tell himself. //He's alive. That's all that matters.//And it should have been. But every time he remembered that night in thehospital, how close he'd come to losing his Fox for all time, he couldn'tstand it. The memory was paralyzing. And no matter what he tried, he couldnot stop it from tormenting him. The liquor was only a temporary solution...andonly after he'd passed out.

He tucked one hand under his head and brought the other once again, to thekey that rested over his heart. His thumb stroked it slowly.

//What are you doing right now, Fox? Are you thinking of me? Do you missme? Or does the thought of me now repulse you? I actually hope that it does,because if you miss me a quarter as much as I miss you, you're sufferingsome unbearable hurt, and I don't want that for you. Please God, pleaselet Scully have lied to him.// His eyes welled up again. //Please let himhave forgotten about me.//


Sunday, 12:13 a.m.

"Fox."

"Hmm?"

"Are you awake?"

"Mmm hmm."

"No, you're not."

A warm tongue sliding along his jaw.

A long soft breath.

"Are you awake, yet?"

"Yes." Whispered.

"I don't think you are."

Gentle fingers curled around his cock.

"Well. I guess maybe I was wrong."

Softly moaned. "Told you....Alex?"

"Yes?"

"Don't leave me, this time."

No response.

"Please promise you won't leave me."

His body stiffened as his answer came by way of several long, leisurelystrokes along the length of his very erect cock.

"You're always ready for me, aren't you?"

"Mmmmm. Always. All I do is wait for you, Alex. But when you come tome, you never stay. I need you to stay. Please. Finish, this time. And stay.It's so lonely without you. I hurt so much when you leave. Please..."

His lover's mouth found his, drinking in the remainder of his words. Stoppingall thoughts but one. The hand continued working it's magic, bringing thatall too familiar mix of excitement and dread.

//He won't stop. Not this time...//

His head began to spin. His chest rose and fell in the struggle for air.Almost there. Just a little... His fingers gripped the strong shouldersabove him. His head rolled back and forth on the pillow. The room closedin around him and everything disappeared except for this beautiful man andthe shattering sensations he delivered.

//No. Oh Jesus. He not going to stop...//

"Oh, thank you." His breath came in short gasps. "Alex...thanky.........oh.....no....*no*!"

He awoke, twisted in the sheet and covered in perspiration. His heart feltas though it was going to pound out of his chest and his head throbbed inalmost identical rhythm. But neither compared to the searing pain he feltin his groin.

He ripped the sheet away, and roughly grasping his cock, tried to relievehimself. He groaned through clenched teeth as he pulled harder and faster.The groan turned into loud sobs when he realized yet again, that it woulddo no good. Exhausted and sore, he abandoned his efforts. He pulled oneof the pillows down between his legs and clasped the coolness of the cottonsheathed puff, tightly against his tortured cock. He wept silently in thedarkness.


Monday, 9:07 a.m.

"Come in."

Scully walked into the A.D.'s office, followed by her partner. They tooktheir usual seats in front of his desk. His intense scrutiny went unnoticedby Mulder, who sat with his head down. Skinner looked to Scully.

"Is the report on the Thurston case finished?"

"N-no, sir. But it will be, by this afternoon."

Skinner glanced at Mulder, then back over to Scully. "I expect to haveit on my desk before lunch."

"Yes, sir. It will be."

"Agent Mulder."

Mulder raised his head.

Skinner's eyebrows drew down into a distinct frown. "Agent Mulder,are you all right?"

"Yes, sir. Just a little trouble sleeping."

The A.D. studied him for a moment and opted against any further discussion.

"Is that all, sir?"

"For now. Get going on that report."

Mulder nodded and rose from the chair. He headed without another word, towardthe door. Scully followed, only to be stopped by the baritone behind her.

"May I have a moment, Agent Scully?"

"Yes, sir. I'll catch up to you in a minute, Mulder."

He mouthed the word ëokay' and left the office.

Scully turned bright blue eyes to her superior. "What is it you wantedto talk to me about, sir?" As if she didn't know.

"Mulder. What's keeping him on his feet? He looks like hell."

"I know."

"I've been hoping to see some small improvement, but I don't. He'sbeen wounded before, Scully. I know that this is probably as close as he'sever come to death, but he just doesn't strike me as the type of personwho would let it do *this* to him. There's got to be something more. Somethingwe don't know about."

Scully shifted from one foot to the other. His eyes narrowed.

"What is it?"

She shook her head and opened and closed her mouth. Then, gathering herwits, she spoke.

"I don't know, sir. I-I'm doing all I can to help him. We had a talkthis weekend and I think I convinced him that he needed to seriously tryto pull himself together..."

"He didn't look very together this morning. I think I'm going to haveto pull him..."

"No, sir! Please. We talked about this, too. I told him that he hada week. If he couldn't show some signs of improvement, then I was goingto make the recommendation to you myself, that he be removed from the field."

Skinner considered her words.

"Not only that sir, but I will also make the recommendation that hebe hospitalized and undergoes whatever treatment necessary to aid in hisrecovery."

"He won't be happy about that."

"I know."

"All right, Scully. You've got a week."

"Thank you, sir. Anything more?"

"No...no, that'll be all for now. I want frequent updates on his progress."

"Yes, sir."

Scully walked out of the office on shaky legs.

//Shit.//

Though she *had* become quite proficient at covering Mulder's ass over theyears, she still couldn't abide the lying.

She steadied herself and headed for the elevator.


Mulder sat at his desk, resting his head against one hand, eyes closed.

"That's what you're supposed to be doing at home."

He opened his eyes and looked toward the door. "I wasn't sleeping."

"Okay, what *were* you doing?"

"Nothing."

"Mulder, you heard Skinner. We need to get that report finished andon his desk by lunch time."

"Uh huh."

"You don't seem to be keeping your end of the bargain we made thisweekend."

"I'm eating as much as I can Scully, honest."

"What about sleep?"

He looked down at the top of his desk and said nothing.

"Maybe a mild tranquilizer would help."

Mulder wasn't one much for taking medication, especially anything that madehim drowsy, but he was just desperate enough to agree.

"Maybe."

"But you've got to *eat*. You can't take them on an empty stomach.Okay?"

"Okay."

"Skinner wants an update."

"I figured he wanted to talk to you about something like that."

"Yeah."

He eyed her warily. "What did you tell him?"

"Only as much as he needs to know, of course."

His eyes once again dropped to his desk.

"I'm sorry, Scully."

"Don't be. Just get better."

"I'll try."

"Don't try. Do it."

Mulder gave her a tiny smile. "Yes, Ma'am."


6:31 p.m.

Mulder dropped his keys onto the coffee table and picked up the ringingphone.

"Hello?"

Silence.

His heart thudded. "Hello?"

"Mulder. Sorry, hang on a minute."

Frohike.

He released his breath. For a split second there, he thought it might havebeen...

"Okay, I'm back."

"What's up, Frohike?"

"We're comin to get ya."

"For?"

"Supper."

"Huh?"

"It's all-you-can-eat nachos night, down at Shooters. We'll pick youup."

//Scully.//

"Frohike, I appreciate the offer but I don't think..."

"Come on, man. Langly is buying."

He couldn't help smiling when he heard the surprised ëWhat?' in thebackground.

"Really, I don't think I can. That stuff'll sit like a rock in my stomach."

"Okay then, what do you feel like?"

"I just want to stay home."

"We'll bring something to you. What'll it be?"

God, there was no getting rid of him.

"Okay Frohike, okay. I don't know. Something light."

"Light. Hmm. We'll see what we can come up with. See you in a while."

"Right."

Mulder hung up and walked slowly into the bedroom to change.


8:13 p.m.

Langly looked over the tops of his glasses at Mulder's plate.

"Mulder, you're not eating."

"Yes, I am."

"You hardly made a dent."

Mulder stared down at his plate.

"Come on, buddy. You gotta eat. You're so skinny, I bet Byers here,could kick your ass."

Byers said nothing. He simply looked from Langly to Mulder, then returnedhis attention back to his meal.

"I just don't have an appetite, Langly. Everything tastes like wood."

"How would you know what wood tastes like? Been knawing on the doorframes, lately?"

Mulder smiled at Frohike's lame attempt at humor. "I'm sorry, guys.I know you went to a lot of trouble..."

"It's no trouble at all. Just *eat*, dammit!"

Mulder turned his attention back to his food and tried to provide the guyswith a good report to take back to Scully.

Over an hour later, Byers stood to leave.

"Come on, guys. It's after nine-thirty. Mulder's gotta get some sleep."

Frohike and Langly followed suit.

"You don't have to leave. I'm not going to bed any time soon."

"You should be," Langly scolded. "You don't get enough rest."

"Scully's been talking to you, hasn't she?"

"Yeah, but she doesn't need to. We're not blind, buddy. We can seethat something is really wrong and we want to help."

"I know you do." He patted Langly on the back and gave an appreciativenod to the other two. "But I'll be okay."

"Well, hurry up about it, would you?" Frohike interjected.

"I'll see what I can do."

Byers pushed his friends. "Come on, you guys."

Frohike and Langly trudged out into the hall. Byers stopped in front ofMulder. He tried to keep his eyes on the man before him, but they kept flickingaway.

"Take care, huh?"

Mulder studied him. Felt his apprehension. It had been this way with himfor months, now.

"Yeah, Byers. Thanks. Thanks again for dinner, guys."

"No problem," Langly held up a hand. "At least you ate something."

"Did you take notes? Scully will want to know exactly how much."

Frohike smirked and walked away, leading the rest. "Later, buddy."

"Later."

Mulder closed the door and began clearing the coffee table. When he wasthrough, he went to his coat and pulled out the bottle of tranquilizersthat Scully had gotten for him. He shook one into his hand and retreatedto the kitchen for a glass of water.

"Well," he said softly to himself, "here's hoping."He tossed the pill into his mouth and took a long swallow of water. He wentto the bedroom not long afterward and undressed. He laid back against thepillows and looked up at the ceiling.

"Okay, pill. Do your stuff."

Just when he was about the give up hope, his eyes began to feel heavy. Soonafterward, he was asleep.


10:17 p.m.

"What'll it be?"

"Corona."

Krycek reached for the bottle placed in front of him and looked around.Kind of dead, tonight. Too cold, he guessed. And it had started to snow.He hadn't planned on coming out either, but cabin fever was getting thebetter of him. All he could think about was being snug and warm in bed withFox, watching the downy flakes fall. He smiled sadly.

Hot chocolate and popcorn. Really bad movies. Making love in the flickeringlight of the t.v...

//You just can't stop, can you?//

He drank the beer down and banged his hand on the bar to get the bartender'sattention.

"Gimme another one...as a matter of fact, you know what? Why don'tyou just set me up with a few, that way I don't have to keep bothering you."

"You know," the bartender began, "you've been at this fora while. Now, I should just shut up and serve, because you're giving meyour money. But I hate to see somebody drinking their life away. You'regood looking. You're young. Booze'll make you old, real fast. And it won'tsolve any of your problems."

"Thank you," Krycek said softly. "Now if you're through withthe psychoanalysis, set me up."

The bartender shrugged and placed three bottles on the bar. "It's yourlife. Or lack thereof."

"Now, you got it."

Two hours later, he stepped outside and turned his face up into the snow.

//Hmm. Not too drunk. Good thing.//

He got into his car and pulled away from the curb. It wasn't until he hadbeen driving for about fifteen minutes, that he began to question himself.

//Where the hell are you going?//

//You know where.//

//No. Don't. You can't.//

//Sure you can. You're not going to go in, you're just going to sit outsidefor a while.//

//What the fuck for? It's not like you're going to see him pass in frontof the window or anything. it's late. He's got to be asleep by now.//

//I know. I just want to be near him. Just for a minute.//

He pulled up outside the building and cut the motor. For the longest timehe just sat there, staring up at the window belonging to apartment forty-two.


Tuesday,1:12 a.m.

Mulder's eyelids drifted upward. Searched the darkness. His gaze fell onthe clock.

"So much for tranquilizers."

He stared out at nothing for a moment, then continued his conversation withhimself. "Although, this is probably the longest period of uninterruptedsleep you've had in months. And at least there were no dreams. Okay, somaybe they *are* worth something."

//And maybe you shouldn't have done all that talking, because now you'rewide awake.//

He got out of bed and made his way through the dark and into the livingroom.

//Maybe some work will put you out.//


Krycek sat bolt upright as the light went on. The shadow in front of thewindow came into focus then blurred again, as a sudden film of moisturepricked at his eyes. He blinked rapidly, trying to clear his vision. Whenhe'd succeeded, he saw him. Sitting with his back to the curtainless window.He could see the glow of the computer as well.

//Working at this hour?//

He whispered up to the figure in the window. "It's late, baby. Youshould be asleep...and I shouldn't be here. What if you turn and look outthe window? You might see me. Then what?"

He sat for a while, contemplating that question.

What if he *did* see?

What if Mulder made it outside before he'd had a chance to leave? Maybethat little fantasy he'd had in the bar wasn't so far fetched.

"Stop it. Just fucking stop it. What the hell are you doing here? Gohome. Leave him alone. Let him have a chance."

Before he could change his mind again, he started the engine and pulledquickly away from the curb.


Mulder heard the faint rumble of a motor and spun in his chair, to lookout the window. By the time he got a good look, all that was left was freshtire tracks in the snow. He stared out at the street covered in white, unablefor God knew what reason, to tear his eyes away. He sat that way for a goodlong time, before finally rising from his seat. He shut the computer downand stretched out on the sofa. He fell asleep, sometime just before dawn.


9:19 a.m.

"Morning."

"Hi." Scully checked her watch. Before she could comment on thetime, he spoke up.

"I was asleep."

"You were?"

"Yeah. I took one of those pills last night and slept for a few hours,then woke up. I got up and did some work, then laid down on the couch andfell asleep at around five."

"Well, it wasn't much, but it's probably more sleep than you've gottenover the course of one night, for a long, long time."

Mulder nodded.

"Did you eat?"

"I didn't have breakfast. Just took a quick shower and got dressed.But I ate last night. The guys came over with some food...like you didn'tknow."

"Look, Mulder. I'm not going to deny that I've had a little talk withthe guys. I need as much help as I can get, keeping you in line."

"What do they know?"

"Same as Skinner. Well..."

"Well, what?"

"I never told you, but Byers was in your room, the night that Krycekcame. I sent him out for coffee, but he'd have to be deaf and blind notto know that something was up."

"That explains that."

"What?"

"He's been very quiet. Won't look me in the eye for long. He may notknow anything for sure, but he's had a number of months to think about whateverlittle he saw or heard. Maybe I should just tell them."

"What would be the point? I mean, he asked a couple of times at thebeginning, but I apologized and told him that I couldn't say. He let itdrop and never mentioned it again. Langly and Frohike don't seem as thoughthey know, do they?"

"No, Byers would never speculate. If he had facts, that might be adifferent story. He's obviously uncomfortable, Scully. Maybe I can alleviatesome of that discomfort."

"And maybe you'll make it worse. We have no way of knowing how Byersis going to react to something like that. He's kind of straight laced. It'sprobably better that he stay in his state of confusion."

Mulder shrugged. "Maybe."

"Well, let's forget about that, for now. Come on. Let's go get yousomething to eat."

Mulder quietly followed his partner out of the office.


The next few days brought a marked improvement in Mulder. He was sleepingat least five hours a night, thanks to the tranquilizers and he was eatinga little better. Scully was afraid to breathe a sigh of relief just yet,but for the first time in ages, she was hopeful that her partner would makea full recovery. He had a long road ahead of him, but at least he was trying.

Mulder sat at his desk, oblivious to the fact that Scully was watching him,smiling. He was staring at a coroner's report, but not reading. His mindwas a thousand miles away. He'd often lapse into fantasy while at his desk,but Scully never seemed to notice. Or if she did, she said nothing aboutit.

Today, he was sitting in a restaurant, having lunch with Scully. He lookedup just in time to see a tall, dark-haired man in a leather jacket, enterthe restroom. He excused himself and made his way to the room at the farend of the restaurant. He entered cautiously and caught sight of the man,alone, washing his hands. His head was down and his back was to him, butMulder would know him anywhere.

He said nothing, only stood at the door and waited until the man took noticeof him. Seconds later, he looked up into the mirror at his reflection andcaught sight of the man behind him. He spun on his heel and faced Mulder.

No words. Only heated stares.

Finally, Mulder broke the silence.

"Surprised to see me?"

"Y-yeah."

"No more surprised than I was to see you."

"Fox..."

Mulder took two steps toward him. "I don't want to hear it." Twomore steps. "I don't want to know." He closed the rest of thedistance between them. He touched the tip of his finger to Krycek's tremblingbottom lip. "I missed you. Now, if you didn't miss me, if none of whathappened between us meant anything to you, leave. Now. I won't stop you.But if it did..."

He paused, waiting for a reaction.

It came in a fierce grip at the back of his neck, pulling him forward.

Their lips met, tongues immediately seeking out the heat inside. Hands toreat clothing, grasping and pulling. Baring skin and flexing muscle.

"Fox...Fox..." Krycek tried to catch his breath so that he couldspeak. "The door..."

"I locked it when I came in," Mulder murmured against his mouth."Now if you don't have any more problems, I'm going to fuck you...."


"Mulder.."

"Huh? Oh. S-sorry. I guess I drifted away for a minute."

"No kidding. Where the hell did you go? You have such an odd expressionon your face."

//Guess she had to notice at some point.//

He opened his mouth to speak, but fell silent.

"Okay. Nevermind. I probably don't want to know, right?"

He gave no answer. He merely lowered his eyes.

She waved her hand in the air. "Let's get out of here early, what doyou say? It's Friday, there's nothing going on that can't wait for Monday.Let's just blow this place and go get something to eat.

Mulder tossed the file down onto his desk and smiled up at her. "Soundsgood."

"Really? Or are you just saying that to make me feel better, so I won'tworry all weekend?"

"No, I'm not just saying that. Let's go."


6:43 p.m.

Mulder was actually feeling a little hungry. He couldn't believe it. Whenthe server put his meal down in front of him, it looked appetizing. Wow.And it was good. Scully watched, pleased as he shoved the third forkfulinto his mouth.

"How's your stomach?"

"So far, so good."

She smiled. He was coming back.

//Thank you.//

"Hi baby, it's me..."

Mulder froze, fork poised in mid-air.

"Mulder? What is it? You look funny all of a sudden."

That voice. Low and masculine. Familiar. Right behind him.

//Don't be stupid. Scully can obviously see behind you and she's havingno reaction at all, so...//

Still, he had to look.

He turned his head slowly. There was indeed a man behind him. A stalky blondeat the next table, talking on his cell phone.

"Yeah, I'll be a little later than I expected..."

He did sound vaguely like Alex but not as much as he did a few seconds before.

"Mulder?"

Scully's voice turned him back around.

"What?"

"What do you mean, what? All the color has just drained out of yourface. What the hell just happened?"

Mulder shook his head. "Nothing."

"Don't hand me that. It's most definitely something. I want to knowwhat."

"It's just..." He fidgeted. "I just thought I heard..."

"What?"

"The guy behind me. With all the noise in here, he almost sounded like..."He put his fork down.

"Alex." Scully finished his thought.

He nodded.

Suddenly she was reminded that this *was* going to take as long as she originallythought. Longer, maybe.

"You're going to see and hear lots of men who might remind you of him.I know it's going to be hard, but you've got to learn to cope with it."

"Yeah, I know." He stared down at his quickly cooling food.

"Come on, finish eating."

He shrugged. "I'm not hungry, anymore."

//Shit, shit, shit.//

"Mulder, *please*. You were doing so well."

"I can't, Scully. I'm sorry."

She decided not to push. He'd probably have many of these ërelapses'and that was something that *she* was going to have to learn to cope with.

"I'm not feeling very well, Scully. I think I'm going to head home."

"I'll go with you."

"No. I'll be okay. I think I just want to go to bed."

"Well okay, but call me when you get home."

"I will."

Scully stopped him as he reached for his wallet.

"I got this, Mulder."

"You want to waste your hard earned money on a largely untouched meal?"

"Yep."

"You're too good to me."

"And don't you forget it."

They walked out to their cars, parked side by side. They stopped betweenthe two and Scully held her arms out to him. He leaned into them, wearily.

"You're making progress, Mulder. This is just a little setback. Don'tlet it get you down, okay?"

She felt his nod against her shoulder.

"Call me."

"I will."

"As soon as you get home, you hear me?"

"I hear you."

She kissed the side of his head and released him.

"Get some sleep."

Scully pulled out of the lot first, then Mulder. He tried to keep his mindoccupied on the drive home. Tried to think of everything and anything butAlex Krycek. But the harder he tried, the more he realized that he was fightingan uphill battle.

As soon as he reached his apartment, he picked up the phone and dialed Scully'snumber. She answered on the second ring.

"It's me."

"Just get in?"

"Yeah."

"You okay?"

"Yeah."

"All right, then. Are you going to bed, soon?"

Mulder checked his watch. "In a while. It's kind of early, still."

"Make sure that you do. I'll talk to you tomorrow."

"Goodnight, Scully."

He disconnected, then shrugged out of his coat and threw it across the backof a chair.

//Would it kill you to hang that up?//

Alex's voice.

He was the Felix to Mulder's Oscar, only not nearly so neurotic. And aboutthree hundred times sexier.

Mulder backed up two steps, and plucking the coat off the chair, went tothe closet and hung it up. In his mind, he could see Krycek standing therewith that smug expression on his face, applauding.

//Wise ass.//

He heaved a depressed sigh and crossed over to the sofa. He dropped downonto it and reached for the remote.

"Crap....crap.....garbage....crap...hmm."

He stopped on A Very Brady Thanksgiving and dropped the remote down besidehis thigh. Within minutes, he was soundly asleep.


Saturday, 12:12 a.m.

Krycek sat at the bar, leaning back against it. A half empty bottle of beerdangled from his hand. The place was jumping tonight. And why not, it wasFriday night. He glanced at his watch. Okay, it was Saturday morning. Whatever.

His eyes narrowed on the man who'd just walked through the door. Tall. Atleast as tall as he was. Lean. Brown hair....he turned quickly to face thebar. A vague resemblance. Nothing more.

He drained the bottle and signaled for another. Halfway through the newbottle, someone sat down beside him.

"Hi."

He turned in the direction of the voice.

The man he'd been looking at, earlier.

Much closer now, he studied the face. Plain, unreadable, medium green eyes.Not emotion-laden, changeable hazel. Flat brown hair. Short cut. Not longishand caressed with golden highlights. The nose. Too aristocratic. No sexymole. And his lips. This guy could never even *dream* of a mouth as lusciousas that of his Fox.

He turned away.

"A friend of mine told me that you were watching me when I came in."

"I'm a people watcher, so what?"

"So you're telling me that you weren't looking at me for any particularreason?"

Krycek took another swig of beer. "For a split second, you looked likesomeone I know."

"And now?"

He shook his head.

"I assume you're supposed to be meeting this someone, here?"

"No."

"Stood up?"

"Look. I'm sorry if you thought I was interested in you, but you'rewasting your time."

"Maybe I don't think so. I'm a pretty good reader of people's emotions..."

"Yeah, you and everyone else in this fucking place."

"Okay, let me tell you about yourself. Tell me how much I get right."

"This ought to be good for a laugh."

The man shrugged. "Well, if I can make you smile, then it'll be worthit." He cleared his throat. "You haven't always had an easy life.And it's made you hard and bitter. And vulnerable."

Krycek rolled his eyes.

"And in desperate need of love and acceptance."

"Wow. That's amazing. You should take your show on the road, you'dmake a fucking fortune."

The man held up a patient hand. "Hold on, you ain't seen nothin yet."

"Great."

"You thought you may finally have found what you've been looking for,but somehow you screwed it up. He won't see you. Won't speak to you. Youthink that you'd like to go to him. On your knees, if you have to and tellhim how sorry you are and that you'll never hurt him again. But pride stopsyou. And so you sit here, trying to drink the problem away."

Krycek's shoulders shook with silent laughter. "I knew it was justa matter of time before you blew it."

The man smiled. "So. I did get some of it right. I did see throughsome part of you."

"Stevie Wonder could see what you did. Go practice your mind readingbit on someone else."

"Don't want to. I like *you*. You know, you've got the thickest eyelashesI've ever seen. They're gorgeous. As is the rest of you. I bet you've gota knockout smile. Do you ever smile?"

"I lost the ability months ago."

"I could make you smile. How about giving me the chance to try?"

"No."

The man sighed. "I can also make you scream."

Krycek's head snapped around. "Confident fucker, aren't you?"

"Yeah."

"I admire that in a person. But like I said, I'm not interested. Takeoff."

The man smirked at him and slipped away without another word.


12:31 a.m.

Mulder opened his eyes and stared out into the pitch blackness. What wokehim up? He was just starting to dream. Alex had come to him again. Theirlips had just barely touched when a sound woke him. Banging. He listened.

There it was.

The damned hot water pipes.

"Jesus."

The sound had frightened him awake, but at least it stopped the dream beforeit reached the point where the pain began. He did feel a dull ache in hispants, but nothing in comparison to what he'd experienced on those nightswhen his dreams were allowed to run for their entire duration.

Still, it was enough to make him not want to go back to sleep. He felt forthe remote and sped through the channels. Nothing on.

He hauled himself off of the sofa and sat down at his desk. He flipped thecomputer on, then turned it off almost immediately.

"Okay. No t.v. No work. Definitely no sleep. What the hell am I goingto do?"

Without thinking much about it, he changed into jeans and a black sweater.He grabbed his keys and a jacket and headed out the door.


1:42 a.m.

Krycek stepped out into the cold night air. He looked around at the almostdeserted street and grimaced. This was his life. Cold. Desolate. Unbearablylonely.

He took a few steps forward and heard the voice behind him.

"Are you sure you wouldn't like some company?"

"How many different ways do I have to say it?"

"So you're just going to go back to your empty place and jerk off whileyou look at his picture?"

Krycek's eyes began to glitter with contained anger.

"I've got one last offer for you. Hear me out. If it doesn't grab you,I'll leave you alone. Deal?"

He gave no answer, which the man took as a positive response.

"You've got it bad for this guy. That, I'm sure of. You said that Iresembled him."

"At a *distance*."

"Whatever. The point is, there's a resemblance there...what's his name?"

"You wouldn't believe me if I told you...and I won't."

"In the dark, I could look more like him. You can call me by his name.Pretend till your heart's content. I won't mind."

Krycek cocked his head and stared in amazement.


1:39 a.m.

//What are you doing out here at this hour? You've been driving for howlong now? And do you feel any better? No. Go home, stupid.//

Mulder tightened his grip on the wheel, intending to make the first availableU-turn. Before he could, two figures caught his eye. Actually, there weretwo, but only one got his attention. Tall. Dark. Not extremely visible atthis distance, but there was something about the man. The way he stood...thetilt of his head.

//No. It can't be. He's got to be hundreds of miles away from here.//

He slowed the car as he approached and squinted out at the street lightflooded scene. His mouth went dry as he came nearer. His heart skipped countlessbeats. His voice came out in a strangled whisper.

"Alex."


1:43 a.m.

"Are you out of your fucking mind? Not even in your..."

"Alex?"

He stopped cold.

//Jesus.//

That soft monotone belonged to only one man. And he was standing only amatter of a couple of feet behind him. He was paralyzed. He couldn't move.He couldn't breathe. The man standing in front of him watched the scenewith silent interest.

"Alex?"

The second utterance of his name seemed to give him back his freedom ofmovement. He turned toward the sound and suddenly felt as though he hadbeen sucked into a vacuum.

The eyes he'd only just a while ago, been making comparisons to. Only notquite as he knew them. These eyes, surrounded by darkness, sat a littledeeper in a face that was more angular and paler than he remembered. Therewas a dull, haunted look to them, even through the glaze that brightenedthem.

Even still, through all of that, he knew that these were the eyes he loved.The eyes that he'd fantasized and dreamed of once again losing himself in.

That mouth. Not the usual healthy, rosy pink but otherwise, unchanged.

He was wearing a sweater and a bulky jacket, but even under all the trappings,Krycek could see that the man was slimmer. Almost gaunt. He swallowed, tryingto get past the dryness.

"Wh-what are you doing here, Fox?" he asked, barely above a whisper.

Mulder glanced from Krycek, to the man now behind him, back to Krycek. "I...Icouldn't s-sleep. I was just out for a...a drive. Alex, where have you been?"

No accusation in his tone. Only wonder and hurt. Krycek closed his eyesbriefly. When he reopened them, Mulder was still staring at him.

"When did you get back? Weren't you going to call or come by?"

He didn't tell him that he'd never left. He couldn't. Shit, he didn't know*what* to say.

"I looked for you after....after I left the hospital. I couldn't findyou anywhere..."

Krycek found his voice. "I'm sorry, Fox."

"Don't be sorry." he gave the third man another quick glance."Come home with me. We need to talk about what happened."

Krycek's head began to pound. Jesus Christ, he was inviting him to comeback. How was he going to resist *this*? He had to.

"I can't."

"It's all right, Alex. *I'm* all right. What happened was *not* yourfault."

"It was. You almost *died*. It was nobody else's fault *but* mine."

The man who watched them, folded his arms across his chest and drew hiseyebrows together. This just got more and more interesting.

"Did you think I would blame you?"

Krycek gave him a sad smile. "No. I knew you wouldn't." The smilefaded. "And that makes it that much worse, don't you see?"

"No." Mulder took a shaky step forward. "I don't see. I missyou, Alex. I'd rather be shot again than have gone through these last months."

"Don't say that, Fox. Please don't..."

He took another step and reached out a trembling hand. A tiny whimper escapedKrycek's lips as Mulder's fingertips just barely brushed his jaw.

"It's been so long," Mulder whispered. "Please." Hedrew a difficult breath. "We can fix this. Come home with me."

//Yes. I'll come home with you. We'll talk. Get it all straightened out.You'll make me see that everything can be all right. We'll make love untilthe sun comes up and then fall asleep in each other's arms. And when wewake up, everything will be as it should be...//

"I c...I can't."

"Yes you can. My car is right over there. Just walk to it and get in.And I'll take you home."

"No!"

Mulder flinched and dropped his hand.

//Oh, God forgive me.//

"I can't come home with you, Fox. I won't. If I could change what happened,I would in a heartbeat. But I can't. And now, nothing is the same. It can'tbe."

"Yes, it can.."

Christ, this was so hard. He hated himself for what he was about to do.

"No, it can't. You asked me where I'd been. I'll tell you......righthere. I've been right here, the whole time."

Mulder blinked. "What?"

"I've been here. In Washington. I knew it was the last place you wouldlook." He shrugged as nonchalantly as he could. "Hide in plainsight."

Mulder shook his head slowly. "The whole time?"

"The whole time."

"And you just stayed away?"

"Yeah. It was special, Fox. What we had. But that bullet put an endto it. I can't be in your life anymore. I have a new life, now." Heturned to glance at the man who was still watching with fascination. "Ihoped that you would get one, too."

"I don't believe you."

"You should."

Krycek forced himself to back up, moving to the third man's side. He forcedhis eyes to stay trained on Mulder. He motioned to the man with a flickof his head. "We were just leaving when you arrived."

//Holy Christ, what are you doing? What are you doing? //

//You're saving his life. Don't weaken.//

Mulder's eyes flicked quickly between both men. "No. Alex. You toldme...you said that I was..."

"I know what I said. And I meant it at the time. But things have changed.I'm sorry. I really am."

Mulder stood silently, not knowing what to do or say. The world had justcome crashing down on him. Every last little bit of hope he'd clung to,had been ripped from his grasp by the one who had, in such a short spanof time, gone from hated enemy to core of his existence. His eyes glistenedwith unshed tears.

Krycek's gaze dropped from his face. How could he have forgotten? With nothingmore than a glance, a facial expression, this man was able to irritate thehell out of him, fill him with joy, raging desire...or do what he was doingnow. Shatter his heart into a million pieces.

"Go home Fox," he rasped. "Forget you saw me."

//Don't look at him. If you look at him, you'll be all done.//

He willed himself to turn away. "Take care of yourself." And hebegan to walk in the other direction, praying that his legs would hold himup long enough to at least get him out of Mulder's line of sight.

Mulder stood motionless, watching. Making no attempt to stop the tears fromdropping onto the pavement.

Once he reached a safe spot, Krycek stopped, almost causing a back-end collisionwith the man who had followed him. He stumbled backward against the brickwall of a building and buried his face in trembling hands.

"You did the right thing, cutting him loose," the man said, touchinghis shoulder. "I'm sorry, I know he obviously means a lot to you, but...Ijust can't see it. I can't see you with that pathetic loser..."

Before he could utter his next word, he found himself pinned by the throatagainst the wall, gasping for breath.

"Don't." Each word came out in measured syllables. "You haveno *fucking* idea who he is."

He released the man, who brought his hand to his throat and moved a fewsteps away.

"So...so that whole ëwe were just leaving' thing was for his benefit,I guess."

"You guess right. Get the hell out of my sight."

The man shuffled away, having no desire to push any more of his luck thanhe already had.

Krycek leaned back against the wall and contemplated what he'd just done.

//Fox...God, why did he have to see me? How is what I've just done goingto affect him?//

He had to believe that it was for the best. A few days of brooding and Foxwould come to the conclusion that he was a lying dog, not worth losing anysleep over.

He moved cautiously back onto the street. A quick glance at the spot inwhich they'd been, told him that Mulder had gone. He just prayed that hehad gone *home*.


2:38 a.m.

Somehow, Mulder's car had found it's way back to his apartment. He parkedon the street and had only managed to make it up two of the outside steps,before sinking down onto the third. His hands clenched in his hair as hetried to absorb what had happened.

How could this be? He was so sure. Alex had done so much to prove to himthat he cared for him. When he looked into his eyes, all he could see wasthe deepest sincerity. How could it have been a lie? How could he standthere tonight and tell him that they were over? And then *leave*...withanother man?

He raised his head and stared blankly out into the empty street.


4:40 a.m.

Krycek shifted position on the mattress for the umpteenth time. It was useless.No matter which way he turned, he could not get comfortable. Every timehe closed his eyes, he could see Fox looking at him with those sunken, dulleyes. So hurt and confused.

His voice. Hoarse and crackling with barely restrained anguish.

//"...you said that I was..."//

The only one.

That's what he would have said if Alex had let him finish.

He gripped the key he still wore and his lower lip began to tremble.

"You are."

He rolled onto his side and cried himself to sleep.


7:02 a.m.

"Mulder? Mulder!" Scully approached the steps of Mulder's building."What the hell are you doing? I called the apartment *and * your cellphone, and no...oh my God." She touched his downturned face. "You're*freezing*. How long have you been out here?"

Mulder gave no answer. He only continued to stare at the ground.

She'd get answers later. Right now, she had to get him inside.

"Come on, Mulder. Up. You gotta help me." She tucked both handsunder one arm and pulled. "Stand *up*!"

Finally, she got him on his feet and managed to walk him to the elevator.She propped him up against the wall and held on to him until the doors openedon the fourth floor. She walked him slowly to his apartment and got himinside and over to the sofa.

"Mulder." She removed his jacket. "Mulder, I'll be rightback."

No response.

Scully disappeared into his bedroom and returned with a blanket. She wrappedit around him and took a seat by his side.

"Mulder? Please talk to me. What's wrong? How long were you outside?"

His eyes left the floor and focused on her, yet he remained silent.

"What is it, Mulder? Please tell me. I want to help you."

He moved his head slowly, from side to side.

"No? No, what?" She brought a hand up to his face. Still cold.She rubbed his arms briskly. "Tell me, Mulder."

He opened his mouth but no sound came out. Scully waited patiently.

"I saw..." his mouth began to form a word, but then it closed.

"What did you see?"

His eyes misted over and she started to get a bad feeling in the pit ofher stomach.

"Alex."

And there it was.

"Where?"

"Other...other side of...of town. Outside of a bar."

"When?"

"Last n-night." He amended his statement. "This morning."

"What were you doing on the other side of town, this morning?"

"Couldn't sleep. I went for a....um....a drive." The moisturepooled in his eyelids but did not fall.

"I assume it wasn't a good meeting."

"He's been in Washington all the...all the time. All the time."

"The entire five months?"

He nodded. "I asked him to come..." He took a ragged breath. "..homewith me. So w-we could straighten this out. He wouldn't. Said that it wastoo late." One tear fell. Two. "He was with a...a man. He leftwith him." He blinked, releasing a fresh stream of tears.

"Oh, my God. Mulder..."

What the hell to say? She put her arms around him and held tight, feelinghis body spasm as it fought to hold back the sobs. While she held him, hermind was reeling.

This couldn't be. Krycek wouldn't do this to him. If he had told her thisat any time *before* that night in the hospital, she'd have no trouble whatsoever,believing it. But not now. There had to be more to it. And she was goingto find out what it was.

Scully coaxed him into a reclining position and went into the kitchen tomake a phone call.


9:34 a.m.

Scully threw the door open and allowed the three men to enter.

"We got here as soon as we could, what's..."

Scully shushed Frohike and motioned the group into the kitchen.

"Guys, we uh....we have a situation, here."

"What kind of situation? Where's Mulder?"

"Asleep on the sofa." She took a deep breath and released it."I need your help. Mulder...needs your help."

"Sure." Langly stepped forward. "Anything we can do. Youguys know that. What's he need?"

"He's in bad shape."

"I thought he was doing a little better?"

"He was. But something happened very early this morning. SomethingI just don't think he's equipped to deal with. I found him sitting out onthe front steps this morning, half frozen."

Byers broke his silence. "What happened?"

"This is...this is very difficult. I never would take it upon myselfto tell you this, but Mulder is unable to, and you need to know...rightnow, if you're going to help."

Langly leaned back against the counter. "Tell us, then."

Scully raised a hand to her forehead. "Where the hell do I start?"

"Just start wherever you need to start, to make us understand. Andtell us what he needs. We'll do whatever. Get whatever."

"I'm depending on you to do that. If you can't..."

"We will. What is it that he needs?"

//Just spit it out.//

"Alex Krycek."

Three men stood in silence. Two of them, stunned.

Frohike was the first to speak. "Did you say..."

"Yes."

"Has he got some kind of miracle cure that you need to get your handson?"

"In a manner of speaking. He is the cure."

Langly shook his head. "Explain this, cause I just *know* I'm understandingit wrong."

"Guys, you're good friends. What I'm telling you is very sensitiveinformation. I can trust you..."

"Of course, you can."

Scully nodded and risked a glance at Byers. His eyes were cast downward.She turned back to the other two.

"Mulder and Krycek are....involved. Well, they *were*..."

"Involved?" Frohike whispered. "You mean, like..."

"Yes, I do."

"I can't believe it," Langly said, raising a hand to the backof his neck. "He's sleeping with that rat bastard?"

"I know it's a shock. But he's the same man you've always known. Andhe needs your help. The story is too long for me to go into right now, andthere's no time to lose. I need you to track Krycek down. He's somewherein Washington. Mulder saw him downtown last night outside of a bar. I knowit's going to be tough, but if anyone can find him, you guys can. Can Icount on you?"

All three men were silent for a moment, then Langly spoke up.

"I don't care who he sleeps with. Mulder is still a righteous dude.I'm in."

"Ditto for me," Frohike broke in.

Scully turned to Byers who was still looking at the floor.

"Byers?"

He met her eye.

"Are you okay with it? Will you help?"

"This is what was going on that night?"

"Yes."

"Well. It makes sense, now." He raised his chin. "I can'ttell you that Mulder's involvement with another man doesn't disturb me alittle. It does. But not so much that it blinds me to the fact that he'smy friend. And he needs my help. You can count me in."

"Thank you, Byers. Now. You've got all the information that I have,which isn't much. Oh. Except for this. Mulder said that Krycek was withanother man outside of that bar. I think that chances are great that itwas a gay bar. That should narrow the initial search area down a bit. Startthere, but comb this city, guys. The last time I saw him, he was drivinga small, black BMW. When you find him, call me. And don't let him out ofyour sight till I can get there. Now one of you should stay here with me,so if I have to leave, Mulder won't be alone.

"I'll stay," Langly volunteered. "And if it takes a while,we can always work in shifts."

Frohike moved to the kitchen door. "Sounds like a plan. Let's go. Time'sa wastin'."

Once Byers and Frohike were gone, Scully and Langly retreated to the livingroom. Langly stood over Mulder, studying him.

"Scully?"

"Hmm?"

"How long..uh...how long has he...been involved with Rat..uh...Krycek?"

"It started over six months ago. Believe me Langly, I was *not* happy.Not happy at all. I was positive that Mulder was on the fast track to destruction,being involved with this man. I was so sure that Krycek was lying. Thatthis was some kind of plot to either kill Mulder or bring him down onceand for all, and nothing could convince me otherwise. Until the night afterhe was shot. I waited here for Krycek. I knew he'd be coming. I'd come tokill him. But the way he reacted when he found out what happened, convincedme. I took him to the hospital, and if I'd had any residual doubt at all,they were removed in Mulder's hospital room."

"Hey, if that's good enough for you, it's good enough for me."

Scully lowered her head. "We're in a real spot though, now. So muchhas gone wrong. Krycek blames himself for Mulder's shooting and is completelyconvinced that Mulder would be better off without him. After Mulder regainedconsciousness, Krycek disappeared. I know his intentions are honorable,but it's not right. Mulder's been so depressed..."

"And that's why he's not sleeping or eating."

"Right. And now, he saw Krycek quite by accident last night, and whateverconversation they had, combined with the fact that Krycek was with anotherman, has just broken his heart. I don't know *how* long he sat out on thosesteps, this morning. My guess is at least a couple of hours."

"Wow. But...if they were as hot and heavy as you make it sound, whywas Krycek with another man?"

"That's one of the things I intend to find out. Until I speak to himmyself, I just have to assume that there is some sane, logical explanationfor it. At least, I hope there is."


1:12 p.m.

Mulder awoke with a start. He stared, wide-eyed around the room, as if hedidn't know where he was. His soft, frightened sounds drew Langly's attention.

"Hey buddy, easy. Scully!" he called in the direction of the kitchen.

She came quickly. "What?"

"He's awake."

She moved over to Mulder and touched his face. "And he's running atemp. Hey Mulder, how do you feel?"

"Scully."

"Yeah. You've been asleep for a while. How are you?"

He glanced around the room.

"You're home, Mulder. Just relax, I'm going to take your temperature."She disappeared into the bathroom, then reappeared with a thermometer. "Openup."

As Mulder lay quietly, Langly spoke to him. "You're going to be allright, buddy. Everything's going to be fine."

Mulder's glazed eyes fell away and dropped to a spot on the floor, in frontof the sofa.

Scully removed the thermometer and held it up.

"A hundred point two. Not real bad, but not real good. We need to getsome fluids into you, Mulder, before you dehydrate. Langly, he usually keepsstocked pretty well with Gatorade. Can you check on that, for me? And ifhe's got some, bring in a glass, okay?"

"Will do."

Minutes later, Langly was back with a large glass, filled with clear liquid.

"He's got three big bottles, that I can see."

"That ought to hold us for a while." She held the glass in frontof Mulder. "Here you go."

He looked away.

"Mulder. I'm not asking you. I'm telling you. Take this glass and drink.I know you must be pretty damned upset. God knows I would, if I were you.But you can't just shut down. Your fever will spike if we don't do somethingto keep it down. Now if Langly has to sit on you while I pour this downyour throat, that's what we're going to do. If you think I'm kidding, tryme."

Mulder pulled himself up into a sitting position and took the glass. Hetook a few sips, then made a sour face.

"What's wrong?"

"My stomach."

"It's upsetting your stomach?"

He nodded.

"Okay. I'm going to make you some toast. That should absorb the acidand then you'll be able to drink the Gatorade." Scully took the glassfrom him and set it on the coffee table. "Be right back."

By the time she returned, he was asleep.

"Sorry, Scully. I tried to keep him awake."

"It's okay, Langly. Sleep is one of the best things for him."She looked at her watch. "I wonder how Frohike and Byers are doing."


1:55 p.m.

Not especially well.

Byers peered into the window. "I don't know if it's open."

"Try the door. *There's* a good way to find out."

Byers shot him a look and reached for the knob. The door swung open andhe looked back at a smirking Frohike.

The two men entered and caught the attention of a man who was passing bya door, just beyond the bar. He sauntered back out.

"What can I do for you uh...gentlemen?"

Frohike pulled a photo that they'd copied from Krycek's old FBI file, fromhis jacket. "We're looking for someone." He handed the man thepicture. "Can you tell me if you've ever seen this guy?"

The bartender studied the picture with interest, then handed it back. "Evenif I have, what makes you think I'd tell you? I don't even know who youare."

"We're not cops or anything. He's a friend. And we're looking for himon behalf of another friend who's very sick. We need to find him and lethim know. He'd *want* to know."

The man studied them. "You know, for some reason I believe you. Ifyou find him, don't tell him that I said anything. He's been coming in herepretty regularly for the past few months. Comes in alone, leaves alone.Just drinks, in-between."

"Are you sure? Take another look." Frohike handed the pictureback. "You're sure that's him?"

"Yeah. Pretty damn sure. I mean, he doesn't look like this, now. Hairis a little shorter. He looks older...world weary, you know?"

"Yeah, we know."

"But even so, he's a damn good-lookin' guy. I'm sure it's him. Uh...thissick friend of yours. Are they a couple?"

"Not exactly."

"But they were, weren't they? I know he's in here pining for *someone*.He gets hit on regularly and always blows the guys off. Sometimes if they'reinsistent, he gets nasty. This sick friend must really be something special,because some of the fellas that try to talk to him, are Grade-A Prime, ifyou know what I mean."

Frohike chuckled nervously and Byers looked away.

"Uh, yeah. We know what you mean."

"Yeah. And he just tells em to get lost."

"Have you got any idea where he stays during the day/"

"Geez, sorry. I have no idea."

"Do you think any of your patrons would know?"

"I doubt it. Like I said, he pretty much keeps to himself. I was beginningto think that he didn't have a friend in the world, until you two showedup. All I can say is, hang around here tonight. He might come in."

"Thanks for your help," Byers nodded and motioned Frohike out.

"I hope you find him."

Once outside, Byers breathed a little easier.

"Wow, you're really uptight, aren't you?" Frohike observed.

"I'm fine."

"What the hell are you going to do if we have to infiltrate this place,tonight?"

"That's Langly's shift. Besides, do you really think that Krycek isgoing to come back to this place after seeing Mulder right outside here,last night?"

"No, probably not." He blew out a long breath and pulled out anintricately detailed map of the area. "Well, let's get started on theapartment buildings..."


6:23 p.m.

"Hello? Frohike. Any luck? None? Damn! Yeah? Well, that's something...heis? Uh huh. You must be exhausted, though.....yeah. Thank you."

"What's up?" Langly leaned in the doorway.

"Byers is on his way here to change shifts."

Langly nodded.

"They found the bar where Alex had been last night."

"Great!"

"But the bartender has no idea where he may live. They've checked outfour apartment buildings and haven't turned anything up."

"Crap."

Scully rubbed her temples. "I'm going to go check on him."

She moved into the living room, where Mulder was still lying on the sofa.His temperature had been fluctuating all day and she was scared as hellthat once night fell, it would spike. They'd managed to get him to drink,though not nearly enough, but could not make him eat a thing. Scully begged,pleaded...leveled every threat she could think of, including calling hismother, but he refused to eat even one bite. She had only one option left.One she was reluctant to choose. If there was no change by tomorrow night,she was hospitalizing him. She absolutely refused to sit by and watch himkill himself.

His eyes fluttered open and half-focused on her. She smiled wearily.

"Hey. How about having a little something to eat, now?"

He turned his head away.

"Mulder, please. For me."

He didn't move.

"Don't *do* this." She sniffed back a sudden rush of tears. "Mulder,if Alex doesn't want to be with you, then that's *his* loss. You can getpast this, but you've got to *try*. Come on, now." She picked the glassup and held it in front of him. "I'm begging you. Please."

He turned his head back and raised a hand to her face, brushing a tear away.

"Mulder..."

He reached for the glass she held, but she pulled it out of his grasp, afraidthey he would drop it.

"I'll help you."

She held the glass to his mouth while he drank, then settled his head backonto the arm of the sofa when he'd had enough. She brushed the hair awayfrom his face and kissed his warm forehead.

"Thank you."

A few moments later, he drifted off again.


Byers arrived and Langly took off to meet Frohike at the site that Byershad indicated.

He moved cautiously, quietly through the living room. Scully watched fromher seat, close to the sofa where Mulder slept.

"Byers."

"Hmm?"

"Thank you. I know that none of this sits well with you."

He shrugged. "I'm okay. It's just a bit of a shock, you know?"

"What did you think, that night in the hospital?"

"I didn't know what to think. I...I mean, there was this man who I'dnever met, but knew all about, through Mulder's not so flattering descriptionof him...in his room. By his bed. Looking at him like...like...and whenhe sat down and stroked his face...it couldn't be. I wouldn't even let myselfconsider the possibility. Mulder despised this guy."

"You know the saying."

"What saying?"

"It's a thin line between love and hate."

"Mulder's in *love* with him?"

"He's never actually said the words, but you don't think he's starvinghimself to death because he's *fond* of Krycek, do you?"

"I guess not. What about Krycek?"

"That, my friend, is the sixty-four thousand dollar question. He toldMulder that he loved him in the hospital before he left and yet he was leavinga bar with another man, last night....I can't wait to get my hands on him."

"Well, let's hope that you get the chance."


Sunday, 11:28 a.m.

"Hmm?"

Frohike looked up from his magazine at the sleeping man on the sofa. Thinkinghe'd heard nothing more than the sound one might make in his sleep, he turnedhis attention back to the article he'd been reading. A moment later, Muldershifted and made another sound. Soft. Drawn out. The languid manner in whichhe rubbed his head against the arm of the sofa, reminded Frohike of a cat,asking for it's master's attention.

His article long forgotten, he watched, fascinated as Mulder writhed andtwisted, all the while making these soft, sensuous moaning sounds.

"Damn. Why can't *I* ever have a dream like that?"

"Frohike?"

He turned quickly, dropping the magazine. "Huh?"

Scully approached from the direction of the kitchen. "Is he okay?"

Frohike raised his bushy eyebrows. "Yeah, I'd say he was pretty damnokay."

"What do you..."

Another moan drew her attention. She moved to the edge of the sofa and peereddown at her sleeping partner. She flushed a bit, watching the way his bodymoved and hearing the passionate gasps released from his parted lips.

"Yeah, I'd uh...I'd say that he was definitely having a better timethan we are."

A short while later, Mulder's face contorted and anguished groans replacedthe sounds of pleasure. Words began to form.

"Don't...please...Alex...oh God...hurts..." He rolled onto hisside, drawing his knees up to his stomach. "It hurts." He beganto cry. "Alex..."

"What the hell? Mulder." She shook him gently. "Come on,Mulder. It's Scully. Wake up. It's okay, wake up."

"Mulder blinked sluggishly at first, then squeezed his eyes shut andmoaned.

"What is it, Mulder? Are you in pain?"

He drew his knees up tighter and buried his face between the back and seatcushions of the sofa.

"Let me help you, Mulder. Where does it hurt?"

"I'm okay," he whispered, attempting to breathe normally.

Scully laid a hand on his shoulder. "No, you're not. You're in pain.Why won't you tell me where it is?"

"Don't touch me. Please, Scully. Just leave me alone. I'll be okayif you just leave me alone."

"Mulder, how can I do that when there's obviously something physicallywrong with you?"

He forced himself to turn onto his back and look up at her. The pain hadn'tgone. Hadn't even lessened, but he had to convince her that it had.

"I'm fine, now. Whatever it was, is gone."

She eyed him suspiciously. "It'll only end up hurting you in the endif you're lying to me, Mulder."

"I'm not lying."

She stared intently, trying to get some sort of clue as to what he was feeling,but his expression was unreadable.

"Okay. Since you're awake, do you think you could eat a little toastfor me?"

Just the thought of it, turned his stomach.

"I'll try."

Scully patted his hand and smiled before she set off for the kitchen.

As soon as she was out of sight, Mulder turned back onto his side and curledinto a tight ball.

"You're still hurting, aren't you?"

Frohike's voice startled him, but he didn't move.

"Frohike..."

"Why did you lie, just now? What is it that you can't tell her?"

"Nothing."

"Don't give me that. It isn't nothing. We're here to help you, buddy.But we can't, if you don't talk to us."

"Nobody can help me."

"Listen, Mulder. I know."

"Know what?"

Before Frohike could tell him, Scully re-entered the room with a singleslice of dry toast.

"Let's see how much of this you can get down, okay?"

Mulder struggled into a sitting position. He grimaced as his head startedto swim, compounding his misery. He managed to get down half of the slice,before he gave up.

"No more." He took deep breaths to quell the violent reactionof his stomach.

Scully took the toast from him. "Okay. Just try to keep that down.Relax. Breathe....that's it." She reached over to brush the hair awayfrom his face and frowned. "Feels like your temp may have gone up again."She reached for the thermometer and popped it into his mouth. A minute later,she pulled it out and frowned again. "A hundred and one. You need morefluids, Mulder. A lot more. Will you try to drink?"

Mulder nodded.

A few sips of Gatorade. Harmless enough.

A few sips more. Scully should have quit while she was ahead.

Frohike ran for a basin as Mulder started to heave. Whatever little therewas in his stomach came up, now leaving it completely empty.

Frohike cleaned up the floor, while Scully pressed a cool, damp cloth toMulder's face.

"What are we going to do?" Frohike asked, when he was throughcleaning up.

"The fever has got to run it's course. All we can do is what we'vebeen doing. Fever reducers, liquids..."

"But what good are they if he doesn't keep em down?"

"We just have to keep trying."

Scully looked down at her deathly pale partner, who had again, lapsed intounconsciousness. "Krycek is the key to this. We've *got* to find him."


7:23 p.m.

Byers rubbed his eyes.

"We've been at this for how long, now?"

"I don't know," Frohike answered. "Since yesterday, sometime.How many apartment buildings have we got left?"

"Four."

"Where's the next one?"

"Uh....four blocks south." He pointed to the left. "Thatway."

"I know which way south is, thank you very much."

"All right, no need to get snippy."

"I'm not getting snippy, I just know which way south is."

"Yeah, but it's the way you said it...." he began to mimic Frohike'svoice. "I know which way..."

"Hey, I don't make fun of you, and believe me, there's plenty..."

"Shut up." Byers hit him in the chest and pointed. "Look."

"Look at what?"

"That car. At the stop light. Didn't Scully say that Krycek was drivinga small black car?"

"Yeah." Frohike squinted. "Hard to see inside, but that couldbe him."

"Follow him, but don't get too close."

"You don't need to tell me." He threw the car into drive. "Iknow how to do surveillance."

"You screw this up, and you're going to know how to do *traction*.Miss Scully'll break every bone in your weaselly little body."

"Oooh, I just had this really hot thought of her wrestling me to thefloor..."

"Come on, he's on the move."

They followed at a discreet distance until the car stopped at one of theapartment buildings that they had yet to check out. The door opened anda tall, dark figure unfolded itself from the small compartment.

"It's him!" Frohike fumbled for the cell phone.

"He's going inside. What's the address on this place?" Byers lookedaround at the surface of the building. "I can't find a number! Wait!There it is."

"Scully? We got him. He's at..."

"Fifteen thirty-two...where the hell are we? Barnes! Fifteen thirty-two,Barnes."

Frohike repeated the information. "Fifteen thirty-two, Barnes."

"Got it," Scully said. "Stay put and keep in touch with meon my cell phone if he moves again. I'm on my way."

She grabbed her purse and whirled to face Langly who standing just a fewfeet behind her.

"Take his temperature every half-hour or so and call me if there'sa problem."

"No problem. Don't worry, I got in under..."

Before he could finish, she was out the door.


8:28 p.m.

"Think she's going to be able to get him to go with her?" Byersasked, not taking his eyes off the front door of the building.

"If she's got to do it at gunpoint," Frohike answered confidently.

A knock at the driver's side window startled them both. Frohike rolled thewindow down.

"You got here fast."

Scully pointed across the street. "He's in there?"

"Yeah."

"Okay. Great job guys, thanks. Just sit out here in case I miss himon the way in or something. Once I've got him, I'll call you. Then you cango back to Mulder's."

"Will do. Good luck."

"Thanks."

Scully squared her shoulders and stalked into the building.

Once inside, she glanced around, praying for an office or building manager'sapartment. Luck was with her. Two doors down and to the right, was the super'sapartment. She hurried over to the door and rapped on the burnished oak.

"Yeah?"

"FBI, sir. Please open the door."

She heard the click of a lock being undone and the door swung open to reveala smallish man, in his mid to late sixties. She flashed her badge and I.D.

"Special Agent Dana Scully, sir. I need your help in finding someonewhom I believe may reside in this building."

"Oh. Sure. Uh...who?"

She held Krycek's picture up to his face. "This man."

He peered at the photo for a moment, then nodded. "Is he in trouble,Miss?"

"No, sir. But it *is* crucial that I find him."

"Twenty-three."

"Excuse me?"

"Apartment twenty-three. That's Mr. Kaswell. Umm, Arnold is his firstname."

Scully raised one eyebrow. "Uhhhhh-huh. Thank you for your cooperation,sir."

"You're very welcome."

Scully exited the apartment and made a dash for the elevator. The doorsopened immediately and she jumped in, punching button number two. Secondsafter the elevator began it's ascent, it stopped at the second floor. Thedoors swished open and Scully came face to face with none other than theobject of her search.

Green eyes widened in shock.

"Scully."

She eyed the large shoulder bag that he had slung over his shoulder. "Goingsomewhere, Mr. Kaswell?"

"What are you doing here? How did you find me?"

"That's not important. I need you to come with me. Now."

Panic seized him. "What's wrong? Is he all right?"

"Do you care?"

"What kind of question is that?"

"A legitimate one, given the circumstances."

"Jesus Christ, of *course* I care! Now what's wrong?"

"What *isn't* wrong? What the *hell* are you doing? Wait. You knowwhat? Don't answer that. You can answer it later..along with a bunch ofother questions. Let me just give a brief run down, okay?"

Krycek waited impatiently.

"Since your disappearance over five months ago, Mulder has just aboutgiven up all interest in his work. He sleeps very little, eats even lessand as a result, has lost close to twenty pounds. After your accidentalmeeting the other night, he spent God knows how many hours, sitting outsideof his apartment building in the freezing cold, and now he's sick. He'srunning a temp, and any tiny little bit that I get him to eat or drink,is now coming right back up." She pinched her fingers together. "I'mjust this close to sticking him in the hospital."

Krycek tilted his head back and closed his eyes, in response. Scully continued.

"Now, I've been going on the assumption that you've pulled this stupiddisappearing act out of some misguided sense of responsibility and guilt.Is that true?"

"I thought that you didn't have time for questions?"

"Did you go home with that man?"

"How did..."

"Mulder told me what happened...before he completely fell apart."

"I never went home with that man...or *anyone*. I just made it seemlike that was what I was going to do."

"*Why*?"

"He asked me to come home with him, Scully. I was ready to crumble.And I couldn't. I couldn't let it start all over again."

"So, you had to be cruel to be kind."

"Something like that."

"You screwed up big time, Krycek. Listen, forget about what you *think*is best for him...do you want to be with him?"

Krycek lowered his gaze to the floor.

"Simple yes or no, Alex."

"Yes." Softly. Definitely.

"Then come with me. The guys and I are doing all we can but it's notenough. You're the one who's got to fix this."

Krycek nodded.

"*And*," she warned, "if you're in this, you're in it tostay. You ready to do that?"

"What makes you think he'll even want me there after what I did tohim?"

"I know my partner, Alex. And I'm telling you, he needs you. Now areyou coming?"

Krycek hitched his bag a little higher. "Let's go."


8:47 p.m.

"Hey." Frohike sat up straight. "Look who's coming out."

The men in the car watched as the diminutive redhead exited the buildingfollowed by the tall, dark-haired man. She headed across the street whilehe jumped into his car, just outside the doors. He pulled away first, tiresscreeching on the pavement.

Scully waved at Frohike and Byers as she got into her car and attemptedto catch up to the black BMW.

"That was fast, Byers said, as he watched Scully's car disappear.

"Yeah. Now let's hope that he's able to do what Scully thinks he can."

Frohike started the car and followed the other two.


9:28 p.m.

Krycek pulled into the parking garage and was already out of the car bythe time Scully pulled up. Silently, they walked to the elevator that carriedthem to the fourth floor.

Scully unlocked the door and Krycek entered first, striding into the livingroom and over to the sofa where Mulder slept.

Langly rose from his seat and sidled over to Scully.

"Did you have any trouble getting him here?" he whispered.

She shook her head wordlessly, watching Krycek sink to his knees besidethe sofa.

Krycek covered his eyes with one hand, then slid it down his face and away.He spoke softly to Mulder.

"It seems that no matter what I do, I end up hurting you."

He leaned over and pressed his lips to the pale forehead. He pulled away,frowned, then brought his hand to Mulder's face. "He's hot."

"I told you, he'd been running a temp. Langly, when was the last timeyou checked him?"

"Not more than twenty minutes ago. It was a hundred point six."

Krycek shook his head. "No. Not any more, it isn't. He's burning up."

Scully was at his side instantly, pressing her own lips to Mulder's face."You're right." She snatched the thermometer up and inserted itbetween Mulder's lips. The second the thermometer beeped, she pulled itaway and read aloud. "A hundred and four. Damn! We need to cool himoff, *now*."

Frohike and Byers came through the door and were greeted by three grim faces.

Scully placed a hand on Krycek's shoulder. "Can you carry him?"

He began to shed his jacket. "Yeah."

"We have to get him into the shower. Get off as much of his clothesas you can. I'll go run the water."

Krycek began to unbutton Mulder's shirt with shaking fingers. As he movedto the fourth button, Mulder moaned softly and opened his eyes halfway.

"Alex..."

"Yeah." He tried to smile reassuringly. "It's me. What areyou doing, Fox? You're scaring the hell out of us."

Mulder raised a hand to his face. "You undressing me?"

"I'm trying."

He smiled weakly. "Hurry up."

"I'm moving as fast as I can."

Mulder rubbed his thumb against Krycek's lower lip. "I need you, Alex."

Krycek grasped his hand and kissed it before placing it down on the cushion."Behave yourself, now."

Mulder grumbled his protest but lay passively as Krycek stripped his shirtfrom his body.

Krycek's eyes filled with tears as he got his first really good look atexactly how much weight Mulder had dropped.

Pallid skin stretched over all too visible ribs. Muscular definition, allbut gone.

Krycek pushed aside the wave of anguish that threatened to overtake him,and focused on the task at hand. He worked one arm around Mulder's backand the other under his knees and began to lift. Byers quickly stepped forward.

"I'll help you..."

"No," Krycek snapped, rising to his feet and hoisting Mulder securelyagainst his chest. "I got him."

He moved, too easily bearing the weight of the man in his arms, into thebathroom where Scully was waiting.

"No time to worry about his pants. Just get him in there."

Krycek set Mulder down on his feet and quickly stepped into the tub withhim. He hugged Mulder to him, holding him up.

Mulder began to struggle as the cold water seared his overheated skin, butKrycek restrained him gently, all the while talking softly to him.

"It's all right. Just relax. I've got you..."

Mulder shivered against Krycek. "Cold," he whimpered into hisshoulder.

"I know. I know it's cold. But we have to get your fever down. Justa little while longer, okay? Just hold on to me."

Mulder clutched at the back of Krycek's soaked shirt and buried his facein the side of his neck.

Scully reached into the shower and stroked Mulder's hair. "You're goingto be fine, Mulder." She looked to Krycek. The water ran in rivuletsdown his face, camouflaging the tears. The only clue that he was crying,was in the redness of his eyes.

"Alex, are you getting tired? Can you hold him up a little while longer?"

"I got him."

"You must be freezing."

"Don't worry about me." He closed his eyes and turned his faceinto Mulder's dripping hair.

Scully turned to grab a bunch of towels and threw them at Frohike, who stoodjust inside the doorway, along with his two cohorts.

"Go lay these out on the bed."

Frohike disappeared into the hall.

"Anything we can do?" Langly asked.

"Not right now. Just stand by, okay?"

Langly nodded and motioned Byers out of the room.

"Okay, Alex. I think that's long enough."

Scully reached into the shower and turned the water off.

Still holding Mulder's limp form, Krycek stepped out of the tub, then liftedhim into his arms and carried him to the bedroom. He placed Mulder downupon the layers of towels and wrapped his upper body in them.

Quickly and efficiently, he peeled away the water-logged jeans and underwear,then covered him with more towels. As soon as that was done, Scully pushedhim away.

"Go get out of those wet things. It looks like we've got a river runningthrough the middle of the room."

Reluctantly, Krycek moved away from the bed and toward the door. He caughtLangly's eye on the way out.

"My keys are in my jacket. Would you take them and go down to my carand get the bag on the front seat?"

"Yeah. Sure."

Langly hurried from the room. Minutes later, he was back, carrying the leatherbag. He knocked softly on the bathroom door.

"Yeah?"

"Here's your stuff."

Krycek opened the door halfway and took the bag. Without a word, he closedthe door and Langly rejoined the others in Mulder's bedroom.

Within seconds, Krycek was back, dressed in a fresh pair of jeans and acornflower blue shirt. His towel dried hair still gleamed with dampness.As he passed the group assembled near the wall, he mumbled a thank you toLangly, then seated himself at the edge of the bed. He touched the backof his hand to Mulder's heavily stubbled cheek.

"Is it just wishful thinking or does he feel a little bit cooler?"

"Yeah," Scully answered. "That shower took his temperaturedown to a hundred and one."

"But it could shoot back up, right?"

"It could." She turned to Frohike. "Would you please fillthe tub? This way, if he spikes again, we won't lose any time."

"Will do."

Krycek leaned in and planted a tender kiss on Mulder's still flushed lips.

"He doesn't look quite as uncomfortable as he did before."

"Well, let's make him a little *more* comfortable by getting thesedamp towels off of him." She looked into the rather embarrassed facesof Langly and Byers. "Would you two give us a hand, here?"

Scully and Krycek worked together with the two men and got Mulder out ofthe towels and under a light sheet. Scully smoothed the sheet across hischest and straightened her back.

"All we can do now is let him sleep and keep a check on his temp. Whydon't we go into the living room and let him rest?"

"You guys go ahead," Krycek said. "I want to stay with hima little while longer."

Scully gave him half of a smile. "Okay. Come on, guys." She herdedLangly and Byers out of the room and closed the door.

Krycek stretched out on his side and propped his head up in his hand. Withthe other, he combed Mulder's still damp hair back off of his face.

"Well, I really fucked *this* up, didn't I? I'm sorry Fox, I didn'tknow. I....I didn't know that this is what I was doing to you. I never wouldhave dreamed...I could never...well...nevermind. I'm sure we'll talk aboutall of this, later. I'm going to join Scully and your friends in the livingroom. Sleep well." He kissed the tip of Mulder's nose and started toslide off the bed. He stopped suddenly and leaned back over Mulder. "Bythe way...you've got some really odd friends."

One more kiss and he left the room.


10:22 p.m.

"You guys have been such a huge help. Thank you." Scully broughtthe back of her hand up to her mouth and stifled a yawn. "I don't knowwhat I would've done without you."

"Hey, anytime Scully, you know that." Langly said. "Mulder'sour bud."

"Your opinion of him hasn't changed?"

Krycek heard the question as he entered the room. He stood silently at adistance, waiting for the answer. Frohike provided it, cutting Langly off.

"Definitely not. I *do* question his choice of a partner, but..."

"Yeah," Langly agreed. "I mean, could he have picked a biggerrat?"

"Guys, I don't..."

"Probably not."

Four heads snapped around and met the bloodshot eyes of the man in the doorway.He said nothing more, only lowered his head and walked toward the kitchen.

Frohike adjusted his glasses nervously. "We're all marked men, *now*.We'll all probably be killed in our sleep..."

"Frohike...he's not going to kill you." Scully looked toward theswinging door. "Just believe me when I tell you that there's a lotmore to Alex Krycek than meets the eye...come on, now. You guys go homeand get some rest. I'll call you tomorrow and let you know how Mulder is."

"You're going to stay here? Alone with..." Byers lowered his voiceto a whisper and pointed toward the door. "him?"

"I'll be fine. Krycek is no threat to any of us. Come on, you saw whathe was like tonight. Byers, you saw him in the hospital."

Byers nodded. "Yeah. Yeah, I did."

"Okay, then. Let's go. Get some sleep."

"What about you?" Frohike asked. "You've probably had lesssleep than all of us."

"I plan on sacking out on the couch, very soon." I'm going tocheck Mulder one more time, then off to sleep I go."

"Okay, don't forget to call us first thing in the morning."

"I'll do that. I promise." She walked the men to the door. "Goodnightguys, and thanks again."

As soon as the Gunmen were gone, Scully took a deep breath and headed tothe kitchen.


Krycek sat at the table, staring down as his fingers, folded loosely together.

"It's going to take them a while to get used to you."

He shrugged. "My reputation is my own creation. To expect instant acceptance...oracceptance at *all*, would be stupid."

"Hey, you won *me* over. Those three will be a snap. Treat em to somePhilly cheese steaks, and they'll follow you around like puppies."

"Thanks for the tip."

"Sure. I need some coffee."

"What you *need*, is some rest."

"Yeah, but I need some coffee first. It won't keep me up, caffeinenever did bother me." She reached up into a cabinet and pulled downthe can of coffee. "Want some?"

"No thanks. Don't drink the stuff."

Scully raised an eyebrow. "Wow. Good for you." She changed thesubject quickly, taking Krycek by surprise. "Why did you stay in Washington?Did you think that you'd *never* run into Mulder...or me?"

He sighed softly. "I don't know. I guess I figured that if I was carefulenough...hey I went five months without anyone knowing where I was..."

She repeated her first question. "Why did you stay? It would have beena lot easier if you were hundreds of miles away, don't you think?"

"Yeah, I know. I just..I couldn't. Everytime I even thought about beingmore than a few miles away from him, I'd break out into a cold sweat."

"But you were just torturing yourself, being so close to him."

"It'd be worse torture if I couldn't sneak a look at him every nowand again. I was here just a few nights ago. Sitting in my car right outsidehis window."

"How did you keep yourself from coming up?"

"I just kept reminding myself how badly I'd screwed up his life already,and I refused to make it any worse."

"Because you love him?"

Krycek tried to mask his surprise at the sound of hearing it on someoneelse's lips.

"Did you forget that I was in Mulder's hospital room with you, thatnight?"

Krycek gave no answer.

"You really meant it, didn't you?"

"Yeah. I still do. Does that bother you?"

"No. I'm glad, actually. He needs someone to love him...someone whowon't *leave* him. Where were you going tonight with that big bag?"

"After the other night, I decided it was time to go. Whatever amountof suffering I'd do from being far away from him would be nothing in comparisonto the pain I saw in *him*."

"And so you were just going to go...and leave him all alone with thismisery."

"He'd have you."

"Yes, he would. But I'm not enough. Alex, Mulder has had so much lossand disappointment in his life. For years now, he's been doing a balancingact on the edge of an abyss. He lost his sister, his father...his motheris so distant, it's almost like *she's* dead...he thought he'd lost *me*once, and came close to it a second time. His search for an answer to allof this just takes him around in circles. He was a disaster just waitingto happen. Then this relationship with you happened and even through *my*disgust with the whole thing, he was happy. When you vanished from his life,it pushed him over the edge."

Krycek rested his face in his palms.

"I'm not trying to upset you Alex, I'm just telling it the way it is.The responsibility for the damage that's been done to Mulder these pastfive months belongs to you. And only you can make the repairs."

"You don't think it's too late?"

"That's up to Mulder of course, but once you explain everything tohim, I'm hoping it'll be all right."

"He was pretty uh...affectionate...with me in the living room, beforeI got him into the shower, but I don't know how much of that might havebeen from the fever."

"Delirium is not umcommon in a person with a fever that high. He maynot recall any of what happened during this time. Or...he may remember allof it. Hard to say. We'll just have to wait it out."

Scully turned to pour her coffee, then joined Krycek at the table.

"So what have you been doing all this time?"

"Nothing much. Brooding, mostly. Trying to learn to live with unimaginablepain. I'd go out and get hammered a few times a week to try and dull it.It doesn't work as well as you might think."

"You have an apartment. And boozing it up isn't a poor man's sport.What are you doing for money?"

Krycek laughed softly. Bitterly. "Are you kidding? Money is the leastof my worries. My services, when I was providing them, didn't come cheap.Plus when my grandmother died, she left me a pretty hefty piece of change."

"Sounds like you're set."

"I am," he said flatly. "But it doesn't mean a damn thingif..."

The words died in his throat as a sharp cry reached his ears. He was outof the room in an instant, followed closely by Scully.

They found Mulder twisting in agony, crying out broken, scattered phrases.

"Don't....finish......I can't......please, Alex....hurts.....don'tgo..."

Krycek fell onto the bed beside him, grasping Mulder's hands and bringingthem to his lips.

"Fox...open your eyes. Come on baby, wake up. You're dreaming. It'sjust a dream..."

He turned his head to find Scully. "He's burning up, again."

"Let's get him into the tub."

As Krycek was removing the sheet, Mulder's eyes snapped open. He recoiledfrom Krycek's touch as if he'd been burned. His eyes were wide and frightened.

"Don't touch me."

"Fox...it's me. It's Alex." He reached out, only to have Muldershrink back against the headboard of the bed.

"No! Don't! You never stay...you leave, and it hurts." His eyesfilled with tears as he drew his knees up to his chest. "It hurts somuch..."

Completely misunderstanding, Krycek tried to comfort him. "I'm notgoing anywhere this time, Fox. I promise. I won't leave you. Please believeme."

"No. I believe you and you lie. Again and again and again..."

"Jesus Christ, what have I done to you?" Krycek whispered, chokingon his words.

"Mulder?" Scully leaned over him. "Mulder, can you hear me?"

He couldn't. His eyes were closing again, his frantic words reduced to asoft whimpering sound.

"He's losing consciousness again. Let's get him into the tub, now."

Krycek didn't hear her. He was too lost in his own tortured thoughts.

"Alex! Come on, now. We can figure this out later. Right now, I needyour strength. And so does Mulder."

Krycek took a few deep breaths and pulled himself together enough to getMulder into the tub. As he lifted him from the bed, he couldn't help butnotice the very *noticeable* erection. In another time and another place,Krycek would have loved to take care of that for him, but this was neither.Telling himself that the cool water would do the job, he placed Mulder inthe tub. There was another brief struggle, but it was easily put down.

They sat quietly on the edge of the porcelain, bathing the parts of Mulderthat the water didn't touch. Krycek dipped the wash cloth into the coolwater and brought it to his face, stroking gently.

Scully broke the silence about ten minutes later.

"He's feeling cooler. Another ten minutes or so and we can get himout."

Krycek nodded his acknowledgment but never spoke a word.

Fifteen minutes later, Scully let the water drain from the tub and Kryceklifted Mulder out and onto the waiting towels.

//What the...//

The cool bath did nothing to diminish his state of arousal. He looked toScully. She was apparently too intent on drying Mulder's face and chestto even notice.

Without a word, Krycek dried his lower half and got him back into bed.

"It's pretty late, Scully," Krycek finally spoke. "Why don'tyou grab a blanket and take the couch?"

"What about you?"

Krycek motioned to the chair with a toss of his head.

"Not very comfortable."

"I've done it before. It won't kill me. I'll keep a check on his tempand I'll call if I need you."

"Okay." She touched his arm. "Alex, he was delirious. Hehad no idea what he was saying."

"Even if he didn't...it doesn't make it any less true. Go get somesleep."

Scully exited the room, leaving him alone with only the darkness and thesound of Mulder's now steady breathing to keep him company.

He walked over to the bed and leaned over Mulder, brushing his lips acrossthe roughened cheek, then slouched into the chair, just a few feet away.


Monday, 7:01 a.m.

"Morning."

Scully looked up from her coffee.

"Good morning. I looked in on you about half an hour ago and you wereboth still out. Mulder feels pretty cool."

"I know. He stayed pretty stable all night. You think maybe the feverhas broken?"

"It's a good sign that it's stayed down for so many hours. Did yousleep much? How's your back?"

"I fell asleep sometime around dawn, I guess. The back is a littlestiff, but not bad." He thought to tell her about last night. How closehe'd come to getting her off the couch and coming in to take a look at Mulder.He'd checked on him every half hour since the bath and it had taken a littleover two hours for his erection to diminish. But since it did go down, hedecided to let it go.

He jerked a thumb in the direction of the bathroom. "I'm going to gotake a warm shower...work out the kinks."

"Okay. I'll keep an eye on him."

Krycek turned back toward the hall and entered the bathroom. He turned theshower on, stripped and stepped under the warm spray. Oh, that felt good.He adjusted the shower head so that the water came down in a pulsing rhythm.He turned his back to it, letting the wet heat massage the back of his neckand shoulders. It felt so good. Almost good enough to let him forget...justfor a few moments, the hell that was of his own making. He could almostforget the shooting and the long, lonely months that came after. Could almostforget that through his own stupidity, he'd turned the magnificent, beautifulman that he adored, into a pale, tormented shell. Almost.

He gritted his teeth and steeled himself against the sudden, crippling rushof emotion.

//Stop it. You can't fall apart. You have to deal with this. No matter whatyou have to do or how long it takes, you've got to fix it.//


Scully tip-toed into Mulder's bedroom and pressed her hand lightly to theside of his neck. Still cool. Excellent.

She looked to his face and was startled to find a pair of hazel eyes staringup at her.

"Hey! Mulder? Are you with me? How do you feel?"

"Like I've been run over by a semi."

"No doubt. Open up." She popped the thermometer into his mouthand smiled down at him as she stroked his hair. He removed the small plasticdevice as soon as it beeped and read. A smile spread across her face.

"Ninety-nine point three. Very good."

"Have I had a fever?"

"Are you kidding? You've been out of it for two days...you don't remember?"

"No..."

"What's the last thing you recall?"

Mulder thought a minute. Scully saw his eyes go glassy and she knew exactlywhat he was remembering.

"Okay..okay, forget about that. You don't remember anything at all,after that?"

Mulder shook his inclined head slowly, from side to side.

"Mulder..."

"I feel dry."

"I'll bet you do. How bout I go make you some weak tea? Let's see ifthat stays in you, before we try anything else?"

"Okay."

Scully had a thought and smiled.

"What?"

"Mmm, nothing. Don't try to get up. I'm going to go get that tea."

She smiled another secretive smile and left the room.

Mulder closed his eyes and went back to very early Saturday morning.

Alex...after all those months, mere inches from him...so close....with thatman...walking away from him.

He inhaled deeply, trying to cut off the pain that stabbed at him, but tono avail. Mulder picked up the pillow beside him and hugged it to his chest.His thumb stroked the soft surface and he remembered.

//You used to love being in my arms, Alex. You said you loved to feel myheart beating beneath your cheek... to feel my arms wrapped around you.Don't you remember? Why can't you remember? Do you let him hold you allnight like I did? Do you ever think of me? Or does it not matter to you?//


7:38 a.m.

The bathroom door opened and Scully grabbed Krycek by the arm and led himquickly away and into the kitchen.

"What are you doing?"

"I didn't want you to go straight into the bedroom."

"Why not?"

"He's awake and his temp is almost normal."

Krycek breathed a sigh of relief.

"Listen, he doesn't remember a thing after seeing you the other morning.Everything he's done and said since then, has been under the influence ofthe fever."

"So...he has no idea that I'm here."

"Right." She smiled at him and handed him a steaming mug. "Whydon't you take this in to him?"

"Scully, I don't know if that's such a good idea. I don't want to upsethim. Maybe you should tell him that I'm here and let him decide if he wantsto see me or not."

"And if he says no? Does that mean that you're out of here? We agreedthat you were here to stay."

Krycek lowered his head. "I...I just don't know if it's a good ideato surprise him like this."

"Okay, okay. I'll prepare him. But I'm not telling him you're here.He *may* refuse to see you. At least, this way he'll have *seen* you. Andhis heart will react before his head...I hope. Now, come on."


Mulder looked toward the door as Scully entered, still smiling.

"I'm back."

He hugged the pillow tighter against himself. "What happened to thetea?"

"It's here. I got you your own personal waiter to serve it."

"What are you talking about?"

Scully moved a few steps farther into the room and looked toward the door.She motioned with her hand.

Mulder's heart stopped, then began to pound double time as Alex Krycek walkedin, carrying an orange mug. He sat stone still. Only his eyes followed Krycek'smovements as he advanced toward the bed.

Krycek put the mug down on the nightstand and stood over Mulder, staringintently into the shimmering hazel depths of his eyes. He swallowed downthe sudden dryness and managed to speak.

"How do you feel?"

Mulder continued to stare up at him, shocked at his presence.

Krycek squatted by the bed so that they were more on a level.

"Fox, talk to me."

"Why....why are you here?"

"Because it's where I belong."

Mulder looked to Scully. "You found him?"

"Yeah."

"Why?" It was more an accusation than a question.

"You were very sick, Mulder..I thought he should know."

"And so, what?" He turned his attention back to Krycek. "Youcame to cleanse yourself of any guilt in case I died?"

His words were like a knife through Krycek's heart. He lowered his headand shook it. "No." He looked back up at Mulder. "That isn'tit at all..."

"How did you find him, Scully?"

"The Gunmen tracked him down for me." She came over to the bedand sat beside Mulder. "Do me a favor, okay?" She gently prieda hand away from the pillow he still held. "Talk to him. Or if youdon't want to, let *him* do the talking. There are some things that youreally need to know." She kissed the hand and replaced it. "RememberMulder, he's here because *I* brought him here. And you know that I would*never* do anything to hurt you."

Scully rose to her feet and left without another word.

Silence descended on the room and remained for what seemed like ages, beforeKrycek got to his feet and pulled the chair up alongside the bed. He satheavily and massaged his forehead with the knuckles of his right hand. Muldersat quietly, chin resting on the pillow in front of him.

"Fox. I'm...I can't even begin to tell you how sorry I am. I swearto God, all I wanted to do was protect you. That night in the hospital...whenScully took me to see you...till that night, I'd never felt pain like thatin my life. The thing that I'd feared would happen, *did* and it was myfault. You almost died, do you understand that? And it was *my fault*. Ivowed that I would *never* hurt you again, and look what happened. I couldn'ttake it. And I couldn't risk doing any more damage. So after I made surethat you were going to be okay, I broke communication with Scully. It killedme to stay away from you, but I'd convinced myself that I had to, if youwere ever going to have any kind of life."

"Yeah well, thanks. I appreciate it. You've said what you came to say.Now shouldn't you be getting back to your boyfriend? I'm sure he's verylonely without you."

Krycek tented his hands over his mouth and took a deep breath. He let itout slowly, before speaking.

"Fox, listen to me. There is *no one* else. That man you saw me withthe other night was just some guy who was trying to hit on me. He followedme out of the bar and I was in the middle of telling him to get lost, whenyou showed up."

Mulder still would not meet his eye. "*Really*."

"Yes, really. I was shocked as hell to see you. When you asked me tocome home with you, I wanted nothing more than to do just that. And I knewthat unless I did something drastic, I *would* end up back here with you."

"And you couldn't have *that*."

"This wasn't about me. It was all about you. What was right for you."

"And just like you'd always done, you took it upon yourself to makethe decision that you weren't it."

"I guess....I made a bad decision, Fox. A really bad one. But I didit with only the best intentions. If I had known..."

"What?" Mulder faced him. "If you had known, what? If youhad known what an asshole I was going to make of myself, you wouldn't haveleft? You would have left your boyfriend holding his dick and come homewith me? *What*?"

Faster than Mulder could draw his next breath, Krycek was out of the chairand looming over him, grasping his shoulders.

"He was *nothing* to me! I didn't even *know* him! I never slept withhim, or *anyone* else! I never *could*! Dammit, Fox!" His eyes burnedinto Mulder's. "Ask me."

Mulder knew what he wanted. And he'd be damned if he was going to give itto him. He turned his face away and fell silent. His eyes closed and hisjaw clenched as he felt the back of Krycek's hand graze his cheek.

"Lisa..."

The caress burned his skin and sent a sudden charge of electricity throughouthis body. Christ, it'd been so long...

Mulder flinched and pulled away, still silent.

Krycek let his hand drop and backed away. "Okay. I know you're upset.I'd have to be crazy to think you wouldn't be. I'll back off. But you hearme, Fox. I'm not leaving. I'm going to get through to you. However longit takes."

He moved toward the door, then stopped for a moment. "Try to drinksome of that tea." He opened the door and quietly slipped out.


"You don't look so good," Scully observed, seeing Krycek enterthe kitchen and drop down into a chair."I knew he wouldn't fall intomy arms and shower me with kisses." He leaned forward, almost loweringhis head between his knees. "He's so hurt, Scully. The wounds are sodeep, I don't know if they'll ever heal completely."

"It'll take some time, but I know you can do it. He just can't thinkrationally right now, but he'll come around. He'd never admit it, but Iknow he's in there right now, regretting whatever he said to you and I'llbet that if you went back in there and pushed the issue, you'd be able tobreak through his defenses."

Krycek shook his head. "I don't want to do that. He's got to come backbecause he wants to, not because I pushed him into it."

"Well. I'll leave the details up to you. Did he drink any of that tea?"

"Not while I was there. I suggested that he do that, of course I probablyshouldn't have. He may not touch it now, just to spite me."

"I'd better go and make sure that he drinks some of it. I'll be backin a while...and while I'm gone, go have some breakfast. You look like youcould use a little energy boost."

"Yeah. I'll do that." He looked toward the bedroom. "Goodluck."


8:11 a.m.

"Hey, Mulder." Scully moved cautiously into the room. "Howdo you feel?"

Mulder's eyes shifted to her. "I know you thought that you were helping,Scully..."

"And I still do. I don't know exactly what was said between you two,but Mulder, no matter how upset you are right now, you cannot deny the factthat you want him here. I watched you mope around for months, missing thisman. And when I found you on your front steps early Saturday morning, youwere devastated. Well now, he's *here*. Don't shut him out."

"Since when did you become such a big Alex Krycek fan? You *hated*him. It drove you crazy that I was with him."

"I know. But I'm smart enough to admit when I'm wrong. I've told youthis before, Mulder. I was wrong. *Dead* wrong. He may not have gone aboutit the way he should have, but his heart was in the right place."

Mulder turned his face.

"Did he tell you anything about what happened on Saturday night?

"No."

"Well, allow me. Your fever spiked. It was *high*. He was the one whodiscovered it, right after I brought him here. He picked you up off thecouch and carried you into the bathroom, where, fully dressed, he got intothe shower with you and literally held you up under a cold spray to getyour fever down. Oh, and did I mention that he was crying the whole time?"

Mulder closed his eyes. He didn't want to hear this...

"Then a little later, your fever went up again. You were having sometype of nightmare...fever induced, I assume. You woke up, but not really.He tried to get you off the bed and into the tub, but you didn't want himto touch you. It was almost as if you were afraid of him or something."

Mulder frowned. "Did I say anything?"

"Mostly fragments, here and there. Something about him never staying.And that it hurt. You kept saying that it hurt. You uh...you lapsed intounconsciousness again and he picked you up and put you in the tub. He knewthat you were delirious, but it really bothered him. You don't rememberwhat the dream was about, do you?"

"No."

"It almost sounds like the same dream you had earlier on Saturday.It seemed to start out as something almost of an erotic nature, but thenyou started to get very agitated. You mentioned his name. Again, you keptsaying that it hurt...none of this sounds familiar?"

"No," he whispered hoarsely.

She wasn't sure that she believed him.

"Anyway, we got your fever down and while I slept on the couch, hesat up all night in that chair over there, keeping a check on your temperature.He didn't fall asleep till morning. He cares, Mulder. He cares a hell ofa lot." That was about as close to the truth as she could get, withoutspilling the beans. That was Krycek's news to tell, if he ever thought heshould. "So, if that makes me a member of the Alex Krycek fan club,then so be it...so...you gonna drink this tea, or what?"


8:57 a.m.

Scully entered the kitchen to find Krycek picking a corn muffin apart.

"What did that muffin ever do to you?"

"Huh?"

"You're mangling that thing."

He looked down at the mess on his plate. "Oh. I guess so. How is he?"

She made a show of pouring the little bit of tea left in the cup, out intothe sink. "It took a while, but he got most of it down. If it staysdown, maybe we can try a little toast, later. He seemed to be drifting offagain when I left."

"Good."

"I'd better go call Frohike and the guys. I promised them I would.Then, I'd better call Skinner."

"What are you going to tell him?"

"The only thing I *can* tell him. Mulder is sick, and I don't wantto leave him alone today. He knows Mulder hasn't been well. I won't havea problem with him."

Scully left the room and Krycek got up and dumped the remains of his cornmuffin in the trash, then proceeded to clean the kitchen.


1:12 p.m.

"Lunch time."

Mulder turned in the direction of the soft, masculine voice. Krycek enteredthe room, carrying a tray, on top of which was another cup of tea and asingle slice of dry toast. He flipped onto his side and faced the window.

"Scully stepped out for a bit, while you were asleep. Sorry, you'restuck with me."

No response.

"If I leave you alone, will you please eat this?"

Still, no answer.

"How about I feed it to you?"

Mulder rolled onto his back and glared at Krycek. He pulled himself up andsnatched the toast off the plate. Half an hour later, three quarters ofthe toast and all of the tea was gone.

Krycek pushed away from the wall, where he had been standing the entiretime.

"Had enough?"

Mulder looked up at him out of the corner of his eye. When he realized thatKrycek was looking right back at him, he quickly averted his gaze.

A soft sigh could be heard as Krycek picked the tray up and left the room.

So, he was still here. Mulder had wondered if he was. Was terrified thathe wasn't.

//If you're so afraid of him leaving, stupid, why don't you just talk tohim? Two little words...one, even. A thank you would've been enough.//


4:41 p.m.

Mulder stood in the doorway, freshly showered and shaved. Scully and Kryceklooked up from the television, both feeling the presence at the same time.Scully stood up.

"Hey! Do you really feel up to walking around?"

"Can't stay in there any longer." He moved into the room, teeteringa bit as he started out, but soon regained his balance.

Krycek watched him warily from the chair, but restrained himself from movingto help.

Scully watched, smiling as he took a seat on the sofa.

"Feel up to company? I talked to the guys a little while ago, and theysaid that they were coming over to see you. That okay?"

Mulder shrugged. "Sure. I guess."

"Hungry?"

"No."

"That was a stupid question. Okay, you don't have to eat now, but youare going to try a little soup later, you got me?"

"Yeah."

"I'm going to get you a little Gatorade right now, though. Will youtry to drink it?"

Mulder nodded.

"Thank you." She glanced from Mulder to Krycek, then back again."I'll be right back."

Not a word was spoken between them in the brief time that Scully was gone.Only the ring of the buzzer broke the silence.

Mulder started to get up, but was stopped by a short, "No." Hecut his eyes up at Krycek, who was already half-way to the door. He droppedback onto the cushion and rested his head against his hand.

"Hey, Mulder!" Frohike called, inching cautiously past Krycek."You're up!"

"Yeah, I'm up."

"You're lucid!"

"All right Frohike, all right."

"The question is," Langly added, "are you eating?"

"I had a little toast earlier."

"Well, that's a start. You'll be back to your old self in no time."

Mulder looked past Langly and Frohike to Byers. "Hey, Byers."

"Hey, Mulder. Glad you're feeling better."

"Thanks."

Krycek drifted into the kitchen, just as Scully was coming out.

"Where are you going?"

"Nowhere." He tossed his head in the direction of the living room."I'm just giving them a little privacy."

"You don't have to do that."

"Yeah...I do."

"So what are you going to do, just sit in here?"

"Why not?"

"Because it's ridiculous, that's why not. Tell you what. I was goingto run out to the store for a few things. You want to go, instead?"

"Yeah. Good idea. I could use a little air."

Scully handed him a list that she had started, then walked him to the door.As he put on his jacket, he caught Mulder watching him from the sofa. Hesaid nothing, merely broke eye contact and slipped out the open door.

Scully handed Mulder the glass and took a seat at the opposite end of thesofa. She waited. Nothing. She knew that Mulder was dying to ask where Krycekhad gone, but the stubborn bastard refused. She knew him. She knew thatthis is what he was like, but trying to imagine dealing with it in the confinesof a relationship such as his and Krycek's, she didn't know how she'd beable to stand it.

//Gotta give the man some more credit...//

Frohike's voice intruded on her thoughts.

"So Mulder...you and Krycek don't exactly look like the happy couple."

Mulder stared wide-eyed.

Byers delivered a hard backhand to his shoulder.

"Oww! What was *that* for?"

"What kind of thing is that to say?"

"What do you mean..."

"You don't just come out and say a thing like that..."

Scully buried her face in her hands.

"You guys know?"

"Yeah," Frohike answered. "Scully told us..."

"I had to, Mulder. I needed them to help me find him and they neededto understand the importance of it."

"Yeah Mulder," Langly spoke up. "Don't worry about it man,we're cool with it."

"Absolutely. Can I ask you a question, though?"

"Yeah, I guess."

Frohike pulled his glasses down to the tip of his nose and peered over them."*Krycek*?"

Byers threw up his hands and slouched against the back of his chair.

"Yeah," Langly broke in. "You *hated* this guy. And fromwhat we could see this morning, you're not exactly thrilled with him, *now*."

"Guys..." Scully used her most beseeching voice.

"Come on Scully, it's a fair question. Mulder knows that we need anexplanation for everything..."

Mulder lowered his gaze to the patch of floor in front of his feet.

"We just want to know how it started. It's obvious that there's somethingserious here. Krycek showed us that in the last day but...how? *Why*?

"I wouldn't even know how to begin to explain it to you guys. Can'tyou just accept it for what it is? Was..."

Langly raised an eyebrow. "You guys done?"

No answer.

Scully clapped her hands together. "Okay fellas, Q&A time is over.Let's move on the something else.


Mulder sat quietly while Frohike and Langly rattled on about everythingunder the sun, for more than half an hour. Scully watched him closely, knowingthat he was not there. He was a million miles away...or at least as faras Krycek was.

His head snapped around at the sound of the clicking lock and as much ashe tried to hide it, a flood of relief washed over his features as Krycekslipped quietly into the room. From his hand, dangled three plastic bags,filled with groceries. Their eyes met briefly, then Krycek disappeared intothe kitchen with the bags. Scully excused herself and left the room.

"He okay?" Krycek asked from the refrigerator, sensing that Scullyhad entered the kitchen.

"Temp is still down. He finished what I gave him to drink. I thinkI'll heat some soup up for him, now."

He turned to face her. "I'll do that. You go back out and join them."

"You sure?"

"Yeah. Go on. I'll take care of it."

"Okay."

Scully rejoined the group and found Mulder in the same position she'd lefthim in. She motioned to Byers, who moved with her to a far corner of theroom.

"Byers, do you think that you could maybe, ease the fellas out of heresoon? Mulder looks like he's fading fast."

"I know. And those two aren't helping with those questions."

Scully smiled. "It's just their nature. Mulder understands."

Byers glanced toward the kitchen door. "There is a problem, though?"

Scully sighed. "It would seem. Mulder didn't react to Krycek's presencethe way I thought he would. Krycek tried to explain everything to him, butit would appear that Mulder just isn't having it. Not right now, anyway.It'll take a little longer than expected, be he'll come around. Krycek meanstoo much to him. He won't throw it away."

"Well...let me go see what I can do about dragging Heckyl and Jeckylout of here."

Ten minutes later, Krycek entered the room, carrying a small bowl of soupand a cup of tea on a tray. He set the items down on the coffee table infront of Mulder and backed away.

"Try to eat some of that, okay?"

Mulder looked up in time to see him walking back toward the kitchen. Hiseyes fell away from the swinging door and came back to the food before him.

"Okay guys, time to go." Byers slapped his knee and got quicklyto his feet. "Let's let Mulder eat in peace."

The other two rose and moved toward the door.

"Take care, Mulder. Try to eat, huh?" Langly waved as he pickedhis jacket up and opened the door.

"Thanks for coming, guys."

When they were gone, Scully sat beside him and held the bowl.

"Okay..."

"You don't have to feed me, Scully."

"I'm just holding the bowl for you."

"Makes me feel like an invalid."

"Mulder, you're weak. You can just about stand up without holding onto something. You're lucky we let you take a shower by yourself."

Mulder scowled and looked away.

"Come on now..." Scully motioned to the bowl with her head.

Mulder took the spoon and began to eat slowly.

"Good?"

He shrugged.

"How's it going down?"

"Okay."

He glanced toward the kitchen door.

"Something you want?"

"N-no."

"You sure?"

"Yeah."

Damn, he was stubborn.

Mulder got about halfway through the soup, then gave up.

"No more, Scully. My stomach is starting to get upset."

"Okay, no sense in forcing it. You did pretty well." She ruffledhis hair. "I'm proud of ya. I'll just go get rid of this. Try to drinksome of that tea."

Once he was alone, Mulder allowed his thoughts to take over.

//Why the hell are you treating him this way? He told you and so did Scully.You know what happened. You know why he stayed away and you know why he'sback. And you believe him when he told you that there hasn't been anyoneelse...so what's the damn problem? Why can't you...//

The kitchen door swung open and Scully walked out, followed by Krycek. Themoment Mulder looked at him, the wall was back up.

"Well Mulder," Scully began. "You've done well all day. Yourfever has broken and you've managed to keep down whatever you've eaten.So, I'm going home tonight, to get some *real* sleep. If anything shouldcome up, Alex will call me."

Mulder eyes skittered away. "I don't need *anyone* to babysit me."

Krycek sat down and crossed his legs. "I'm sorry you feel that waybut I'm not leaving."

Mulder drummed his fingers on the arm of the sofa. "I'm tired. I'mgoing to bed."

He got up a little too fast and pitched forward. Though Scully was closer,Krycek was there first, catching Mulder in his arms.

Mulder pushed against his chest, prompting Krycek to let go immediately,holding his hands up, almost parallel to his shoulders.

Scully laid a hand on the small of Mulder's back.

"Are you okay?"

"Fine. I just got a little dizzy."

"Come on, let's get you into bed."

She spoke over her shoulder to Krycek who was standing quietly with hishead down. "I'll be back in a minute."

She got Mulder settled into bed, then sat on the edge.

"What are you so afraid of?"

"What are you talking about?"

"Something's got you terrified. Has it got anything to do with thosedreams that you keep telling me you don't remember?"

No answer.

"I think it does. And it involves Krycek. You're scared to death thathe's going to leave again, yet you seem to be doing everything to drivehim away. I don't get it. Can you explain it to me?"

For a moment, it looked as though he might open up to her, but as fast asthat happened, he shut down again.

"I can't."

"You can't or you won't?"

"What's the difference?"

"I don't have to explain it to you. Okay, I won't push you. But whenhe's gone, for *good* this time, you'll have no one to blame but yourself.Goodnight, Mulder."

And with that, she left the room.


8:17 p.m.

Blackness descended on the room like a shroud. Mulder stared into it, expectingto see nothing, really. Thinking. Just thinking. And wondering.

He looked toward the door.

He knew Alex was out there. It was too early for him to be asleep, althoughhe might be, seeing as he didn't get a whole heck of a lot of rest, lastnight.

Last night.

He couldn't remember a damn thing about last night. He only knew as muchas Scully told him. And she did make a point of letting him know that allduring his critical period, Alex never left his side.

He smiled wearily.

Even now. Even though he was behaving like a petulant child, Alex was here.Mulder never would have pegged him for a patient man. He wondered how muchlonger. How much farther the patience would stretch.

He fell asleep contemplating that question.


Tuesday, 6:11 a.m.

A hand came out of nowhere and gently took the loaf of bread away from Mulder.

"Sit down. I'll do that."

//Where the hell did he come from?//

Alex had been sound asleep on the sofa when Mulder drifted quietly intothe kitchen...or so he thought.

He gave up without an argument and sank down onto a chair, sulking. Krycekwatched him, fighting not to go over to him and lay a long, hungry kisson those deliciously pouty lips.

"Are you hungry?"

Mulder propped an elbow up on the table and rested his head against hishand. He gave no answer. He wouldn't even look at him.

Krycek ignored the slight and went on talking. "You must be, if youwere actually going to make your own breakfast. That's good. It's a goodsign. So I'll tell you what." He lifted the tea kettle, making surethat there was enough water in it, then turned the flame on. "I'lltoast two slices, and if you can't eat it all, we'll just throw the restout."

More silence.

"I'll just take that as a yes." He grabbed the thermometer offthe counter and approached Mulder. "Open up." He slipped it underMulder's tongue and waited. A minute later, he removed it and nodded ashe read. "Normal. Excellent." He turned away and went about gettingbreakfast. Ten minutes later, it was ready. He set the tea and toast downin front of Mulder.

"If your stomach starts to get upset, just stop, okay? We'll try againa little later."

He was surprised when Mulder actually opened his mouth to speak.

"You must have something better to do than hang around here playingmother hen. Why don't you go do it?"

Krycek pulled a chair out and sat down. His eyes focused intently on Mulder's.

"As a matter of fact, I don't."

"*Find* something."

"No."

Well, this was going great.

Mulder fell back into his brooding silence, choosing to ignore the foodin front of him.

Krycek read the paper as he ate his own breakfast, all the while stealingglances at Mulder and his untouched toast.

Finally, he folded the paper and leaned a bit over the table. He spoke softlyand plainly.

"If you're pissed at me Fox, I understand. If you want to give me thesilent treatment, okay. If you want to say things to try to hurt or angerme, take your best shot. But...I will *not* screw around with you when itcomes to eating or anything else that you're supposed to do regarding yourhealth. Now, I'm going to dump this cold tea and make you another cup. ThenI'm going to throw this cold toast away and get you two more slices. Andyou're going to eat as much as you can, if I have to sit on your chest andfeed it to you."

Mulder's jaw clenched.

"Don't think I'll do it? Try me. The shape you're in, I won't get muchof a fight at all."

He was right. And that knowledge aggravated the hell out of Mulder.

"What's it going to be?"

"God, I hate you."

Mulder's statement lacked the conviction it needed to have the desired effect.Krycek knew that he'd only said it out of frustration. He smiled and clearedthe table.

As he poured a fresh cup of tea, the phone rang. He lifted it from the counterby it's antenna and handed it to Mulder, who snatched it from his loosegrip.

"Hello? Hi, Scully. Yeah. Pretty good...not yet. I'm going to...huh?What for? I told you...fine. Hold on." He tossed the phone onto thetable. "She wants to talk to you."

Krycek placed the steaming cup in front of Mulder and picked up the phone.He cradled it between his ear and shoulder as he removed two slices of breadfrom the wrapper.

"Hi. Yeah, I checked on him a few times during the night...seemed tosleep pretty well. His temp is normal this morning....well, we had a bitof a problem with that, but I think we've come to an understanding, now..."

Mulder seethed, listening to his partner having a friendly conversationwith his...his...what *was* he, now? Whatever the hell he was, it tickedhim off that they were getting along so well.

He laughed bitterly to himself.

//This is pretty damn funny. You spent weeks trying to convince her thatAlex was worth her trust and now that they're chatting on the phone likeold friends, you can't stand it. //

He hadn't realized that Alex had hung up until the plate came down on thetable in front of him.

"Here you go."

Mulder looked down at the toast, then over at Alex, who had again takenhis seat.

"I don't need you to watch me."

"Can't I sit down if I want to?"

"Sure you can. There are plenty of places to sit in the living room...oryour own apartment."

"Actually, I don't have all that much furniture."

Mulder picked up a slice of toast and bit into it. He chewed slowly andswallowed. A sip of tea, then another bite.

"Thank you."

"Don't. I'm eating because I have to. Not to please *you*."

"You know, at this point I really don't care *why* you're doing it,so long as you *are*."

Mulder grimaced and clamped his teeth down on the toast, tearing off anothersmall bite. When he had finished the first slice, Krycek smiled.

"Still feel okay?"

"No."

"What's wrong?"

Mulder picked up the second slice, then dropped it back onto the plate.His jaw clenched and unclenched. "This."

Krycek cocked his head.

Mulder waved his hand back and forth between them. "This! This, this....sweetlittle domestic scene going on here. Like nothing ever happened. You *left*me. The last time I saw you, it was here...right here in this kitchen. Yougave me ëone for the road', remember? I left for work, and the nextthing I know, I'm waking up in a hospital bed almost a week later and you'renowhere to be found. No note. No phone call. Nothing."

"Fox...I was there at the hospital. I told you that. *Scully* toldyou that. I never broke contact with her until I knew that you were goingto be all right."

"And that makes it all okay?" His voice became louder. "Ineeded you *after* the hospital! I don't care about your *motives*. I don'twant to hear about how you stayed away from me for my own good! It doesn'tmean *shit* when I spent every fucking night *awake*, wondering what thehell happened. Wondering why you didn't come back." He gritted histeeth. "*Needing* to feel you..." He quickly bit off his words.

"Needing to feel me, *what*?" Krycek railed back. "Tell me,Fox. What did you need?"

Mulder looked away.

"Okay fine. You don't want to tell me, don't. I'll tell you what *I*needed."

"I don't want to hear what you needed."

"No? Why not? Afraid?"

"Just not interested."

"Of course you are. Because you and I need the same things. Only you'retoo stubborn to admit it."

"Rot in hell."

"Been there. Done that. Want to hear about it?"

"Nope."

"I'll tell you anyway. I thought I'd been to hell before. Dozens oftimes." He shook his head. "I didn't know what hell was, untilthe night I found out you'd been shot. When I went to the hospital and sawyou lying there so still, with that..." A shiny glaze coated his eyes."..tube down your throat and all those machines and..." He swallowed,trying to force down the lump that had formed in his throat. "I heldyour hand. Kept praying that I could feel your fingers close around mine.That you would open your eyes and look at me. And let me know that you weregoing to be all right. Instead I had to leave you like that. Unconscious.On life support. That's the last image of you that I took with me. And Isaw it every - fucking - night." He bowed his head in an effort tocompose himself.

Mulder studied him silently. He gripped the edge of the table to keep himselffrom reaching out and stroking the dark hair. Before he lost the battle,Krycek raised his head.

"It killed me to stay away from you this long, Fox. I wish you couldbelieve that."

Mulder's eyes grew dull and distant, his mind blurring fact with dream,temporarily unable to distinguish between the two.

"I believed *everything* you told me. Every time. The lies just rolledoff your tongue, right down my throat. And I swallowed them all and beggedfor more. And when you had me just the way you liked me, you took it allaway..."

Krycek listened, utter confusion etching his features.

"Did you enjoy it? Have a good time, watching me suffer and squirm?"

"What are you talking about? Fox, I don't..."

Before he could finish, Mulder shoved away from the table and fled the kitchen.The slam of the bedroom door heralded a long silence that would last therest of the day.


1:17 p.m.

Krycek picked up the ringing phone. He'd waited three rings, wondering whetheror not he should answer. It was obvious that Mulder wasn't going to. Finally,he threw caution to the wind.

"Hello?"

"...Alex?"

Scully.

"Yeah."

"Didn't expect you to answer."

"I wasn't sure that I should, but I figured it would be you."

"Is Mulder asleep?"

"I don't know."

"What do you mean?"

"He closed himself in his room this morning and hasn't come out."

"Now what?"

"He's got me pretty confused, Scully. We sort of went at it again afterI talked to you and he started saying things that I really couldn't understand.He shut himself in his bedroom and I haven't seen him since."

"Oh, for the love of...did he eat anything?"

"He had one slice of toast and a little tea. I'm about to see how muchworse I can make things. I was about to take him some lunch when you called."

"Good luck. I'll come by after work, okay?"

"Yeah. See you then."

Krycek disconnected and picked up the tray, containing a bowl of soup, somecrackers and a glass of juice. Balancing the tray in one hand, he turnedthe knob.

Locked.

He sighed heavily.


Mulder heard the faint creak of the door and closed his eyes. He re-openedthem and turned in the direction of the dark figure that had just entered.Krycek stood there holding a tray. There was a bit of a smug look on hisface.

"I can pick the lock on your front door in ten seconds flat, what makesyou think I couldn't get in *here*?"

Not waiting for an answer, he placed the tray down on the nightstand.

"Don't worry, I'm not going to stand here and watch you. Just, please...youknow how important this is. Eat."

Mulder slouched against the pillow and looked away.

Krycek walked over to the other side of the bed and, resting his hands oneither side of Mulder's too-slim hips, leaned in so that their faces wereonly inches apart.

"You will *not* starve yourself to death. I won't let you."

"You're in no position to let me..."

A shiny object swung free from the confines of Krycek's button-down shirt,catching Mulder's attention. His gaze went from the key to the green eyesstaring directly into his face. He reached out and touched the key withtentative fingers.

Krycek remained motionless, watching. Wondering what was going on behindthe turbulent sea of green and gold. He saw that right pupil dilate to near-blacknessand knew that it wouldn't be anything good.

Mulder regarded the key he now cradled in his palm. Memories flooded hisconsciousness. The day he'd given Alex this key, he'd gone to work, hismind and body pleasantly satisfied. And even though Scully's attitude hadpissed him off royally, all he had to do was think of Alex and he'd beginto smile.

He'd really let go that day, daring to allow himself to consider a lifeoutside of mutant killer siblings and hundred year old liver eating freaks.He began to imagine a life with a certain gorgeous, emerald-eyed Russiantriple-agent. A situation, that when he thought about it, was even morebizarre than the mutants and the freaks. Yet, the thought pleased him. Intruth, it did more than please him. It downright thrilled him.

His thoughts rolled back to the present and he once again focused on theunblinking eyes in front of him.

His hand closed around the key.

Krycek flinched as the chain snapped and for the first time in over fivemonths, left his body.

Mulder saw the man in front of him, wither right before his eyes.

Krycek's gaze dropped from Mulder's face, down to the mattress and the brokenchain, now clenched tightly in his right hand. He fought to control theslight quivering of his lower lip as he slowly straightened his back. Forlong seconds he stood silently, staring at the floor. When at last he spoke,it was in a low, broken voice.

"Umm....S..Scully'll be here after sh..she gets out of work. I'll uh...I'llleave, then."

Mulder remained motionless until he heard the door close softly. Once ithad, he raised his hand and let the key swing freely. He watched, transfixedby the rhythmic motion. Even when he became blinded by tears, he continuedto stare.


6:12 p.m.

"What the hell is wrong with you?"

"Nothing."

"Oh, please." Scully took her coat off and entered the apartment.She draped the coat across the arm of the sofa and turned to face him. "Youlook like you just lost your best friend. What gives?" She looked around."Don't tell me he's still pouting in his bedroom."

Krycek moved away. "He's been in there since I talked to you."

"Did he eat his lunch?"

"Don't know."

"What do you mean, you don't know? Didn't you check?"

"No."

"Why the hell not?"

"He doesn't want me anywhere near him. In fact, now that you're here,I'm going to go."

Scully raised an eyebrow. "Go? Go where?"

"Back to my apartment...for now."

"Wait a minute, hold on. I want to know what happened, and I want toknow, *now*."

Krycek shook his head sadly. "I thought I could do this, Scully. Idid. But he fights me at every turn. He doesn't *want* me here. It's over.Done."

"No, it's *not*. Listen to me. Something is going on inside that headof his. It's making him crazy. And for whatever reason, he's not tellingus about it. All we need to do is find out what it is, then we can helphim."

"How can we do that? Maybe sooner or later, *you'll* be able to getsomewhere with him, but he barely talks to me and when he does, he's alwayshostile. I know I brought this all down on myself but..."

"He doesn't mean it. I *know* he doesn't."

"I wish I could believe that."

"*Believe* it. I'll stake my life on it. Don't go, Alex. You'll besorry for the rest of your life if you do. And so will he."

Krycek sighed softly. "I must be crazy to even consider this..."

Scully smiled at him. "People do a lot of crazy things in the nameof love...I'll go see if I can get anywhere with him. Don't you *move*,you understand me?"

Krycek walked over to the sofa and tucked himself into a corner.

Satisfied, Scully stalked toward the bedroom.

Night had already begun to fall, casting long shadows across the floor andup the walls. Scully peered into the gathering darkness, in the directionof Mulder's bed. He was sitting, back against the headboard, indicatingthat he was awake. She turned on the small bedside lamp. Mulder blinkedand squinted in the sudden rush of light.

"What did you do to him?"

"What?"

"You heard me, Mulder. *What* did you do to him? He's out there, readyto *leave*."

"Ready? You mean he hasn't gone, yet?"

"I'm hoping I talked him out of it. I think what he does hinges onhow our talk in here, goes."

"There's nothing to talk about."

"You know, *I'm* getting tired of this cat and mouse game, I can onlyimagine how *Alex* feels."

"Why do you give a shit about how *Alex* feels?"

"Because he deserves better than this, Mulder! You're treating himlike dirt, and he *does not deserve it*! Don't you ever wonder why I showno concern about finding the person who shot you? Why I don't seem to beafraid of them coming back to finish the job?"

Mulder's brow creased. "I don't know. I never thought about it, I guess.I've kind of been wrapped up in other things, you know?"

"I don't worry about the shooter, because I don't *have* to. Alex tookcare of it."

Understanding dawned on Mulder. "He killed the shooter?"

"Yes."

"He knew who did it?"

"He found *out* who did it, and he took care of him. I wanted to gowith him...for backup, but he wouldn't let me. He didn't want me there incase something went wrong and so many things could have. Mulder, he riskedhis life to insure that whoever shot you, didn't get a second chance....areyou reading me? Do you understand what I'm saying to you?"

He thought he did but gave no response.

"Whatever it is that's bothering you Mulder, I wish you'd tell us.If you don't want to tell *me*, then tell Alex. He wants so much to helpyou. Let him. Get through this and get on with your life. *Please*."

The pensive expression gave Scully hope that he was considering her words.She decided to leave well enough alone.

"I uh..." she looked into the bowl that sat untouched on the trayby the bed. "I see you didn't have lunch."

"I wasn't hungry."

"Mulder..."

"I know, I know," he said softly.

"Can I get you something?"

"Yeah, I guess."

"Okay. Be back in a few."


Krycek's eyes followed Scully out of the hall and into the living room.She stopped a couple of feet in front of him.

"I think I may have given him some food for thought."

"You just saying that to get me to stay?"

"No. But I *will* remind you that before I brought you here, I askedyou if you were ready to stick it out."

"And I don't recall giving you a yes or no answer."

"You came with me. I just assumed..."

"You should never assume anything. You know that, Agent Scully."

"Krycek..."

"I won't go," he said, cutting her off. "I'll stay one morenight. But if something doesn't give by tomorrow..."

"What?"

He closed his eyes. "I don't know."

"Listen, I'm going to go get him something to eat. He didn't touchhis lunch."

"Surprise, surprise."

Scully rolled her eyes and headed into the kitchen.


7:02 p.m.

"More soup?"

"What are you complaining about? It's not like you've actually been*eating* it."

"Yeah, but..."

"Mulder, you've got to eat lightly for a little while. Your stomachisn't used to anything heavy." She smiled. "Are you in the moodfor something different?"

He shrugged. "Not really. I'm just not in the mood for *soup*."

"Sorry, pal."

"Yeah, you look it."

To Scully's relief, Mulder finished three-quarters of the soup and ate onceslice of bread. He even drained the glass of Gatorade.

"Thank you. You have no idea how good it was to see you eat. How doyou feel?"

"A little queasy, but not bad."

"Okay well, that's a start."

"Scully?"

"Yeah?"

"Is he still here?" he asked in a small voice.

"Yeah. For tonight, anyway. I'd think long and hard about what it isyou want, Mulder. You can't drag him through hell forever."

Mulder stared down at his hands, folded in his lap.

Scully rubbed her forehead. "Look, I gotta get going...oh, by the way.You're on convalescent leave until further notice."

"How'd you managed that?"

"I'm your partner and I'm about as close to your primary physicianas you can get. It wasn't hard to convince Skinner that you needed a goodlong rest. He's *seen* you, remember?"

Mulder nodded. "Thank you, Scully."

"You know how you can thank me? Get your act together. That'll be thanksenough."

Mulder reached out for her hand and brought it to his lips.

"Good night, Mulder. See you tomorrow."

Scully reclaimed her hand and left the room.

Mulder sat quietly for a moment, then pulled the nightstand drawer open.He reached in and pulled the silver chain and key out. He dropped the keyinto his left hand and let the chain pool around it, then closed his handinto a fist and brought it to his mouth. He closed his eyes and startedto think.


Wednesday, 1:39 a.m.

Krycek shifted position on the sofa. The movement of his own body and asudden feeling that he was not alone, brought him to consciousness. He blinkedsluggishly and turned his head. The light from the street filtered in throughthe partially open blinds, outlining the tall figure standing by his head.

Once his eyes were able to focus in the sparse light, he saw Mulder, a sheethaphazardly wrapped around himself, hair tousled, that mouth...so full andsoft...

Mulder stared down at the man who was just coming fully awake. He'd beenstanding there for a while, watching Krycek sleep, completely overwhelmedby the innocent beauty of his face. Hating himself for the grief he'd causedhim earlier. Now his eyes were open, a silent question shimmering in theirdepths.

Mulder was frozen. He didn't know what to do or to say. What if Alex didn'taccept his apology? What if he'd hurt him too deeply? What if...

Krycek pulled himself up a bit and watched Mulder warily. There was sucha sadness in his eyes. He hated that his Fox felt like this...*his* Fox.

//Are you back on that?//

Mulder hesitantly reached out and touched his fingertips to the dark hair.Fraction by tiny fraction, his hand moved downward over the curve of hischeek.

Krycek shuddered as he inhaled and exhaled slowly. His eyes remained gluedon Mulder's face. This wasn't really happening. It was a dream. Had to be.He was going to wake up any second now and be sick when he did...

Without realizing that he had, Krycek slid back against the back cushionof the sofa, making room. Mulder hesitated, then sat cautiously.

Still not a word between them.

Mulder pulled the falling sheet up tighter around his bare chest and lookednervously away. His eyes drifted closed as he felt the gentle touch of ahand on his jaw. The hand turned his face a few inches to the right, thenstopped. No words were spoken but he heard the silent request. He openedhis eyes.

Krycek stroked his face tenderly. Waited patiently.

Mulder pivoted, swinging his legs onto the sofa. He started to lower historso onto the cushion beside Krycek, but the other man's arms came aroundhim before he could, and pulled him down onto his chest. Mulder wrappedone arm around Krycek's waist and tucked his head under his chin, lettingout a long stuttering sigh.

Krycek hugged his Fox to him tightly with his right arm, while his lefthand busied itself in his hair, combing and petting.

The action soothed Mulder. So much so, that before he could find the wordsto express his feelings, he was asleep. Krycek listened to the deep, steadyrhythm of his respiration and smiled. He kissed the top of Mulder's headand let himself drift back into sleep.


8:06 a.m.

The soft click of heels on the hardwood floor, opened Krycek's eyes. Beforehe could move, Scully appeared in his line of sight. The concerned lookon her face, dissolved into one of relief, then of surprise as she viewedthe two men, lying together on the sofa. She whispered as softly as shecould.

"What's going on?"

Krycek held his hand lightly over the exposed ear of the man who still sleptpeacefully in his arms.

"Tell you later," he whispered back.

"I called. The machine didn't pick up. The phone rang and rang. Noanswer. I was worried to death."

"I don't know what happened with the machine, but I think the phonemight be in his bedroom. I guess I didn't hear it."

Scully blew out a long breath. "I gotta get to work. Talk to you later.I'm dying to hear *this*." She smiled at him and walked toward thedoor. Before she exited, she turned once more and looked toward the sofa.Krycek had already forgotten about her. All his attention was focused onthe sheet-wrapped figure in his arms.

"Thank you," she mouthed to the ceiling and closed the door behindher.


9:11 a.m.

Mulder moaned softly. As he awoke, the feel of a body beneath him, startledhim. He relaxed almost immediately as the arms around him tightened reassuringlyand soft kisses were pressed into his hair. He lifted his head and lookedinto the eyes of the man he thought he'd never be this close to, again.The eyes looked back, saying more to Mulder than he was able to comprehendat once.

"You must have been pretty uncomfortable."

Krycek shook his head. "Best night's sleep I've had in months."

Mulder again lowered his head to Krycek's chest. "Me too," heanswered honestly.

No dreams, last night. Maybe they were just a result of their separationand now, would not trouble him further.

"Alex, I'm sorry..."

"Shhh." Krycek gave him a gentle squeeze. "We can talk aboutall of that later. Let me just hold you for a little while longer."

Mulder had no problem with that. He fell silent, letting himself be lulledby the strong, steady beat of the heart beneath his ear.

They lay that way, for neither of them knew how long. Finally, Mulder pulledhimself from Krycek's protective embrace and sat up.

"I'm hungry."

"Really?"

Mulder nodded. "Well. You know...I'm not *starving*, but I do feela little hungry."

Krycek pulled himself up behind Mulder and wrapped an arm around his chest."I'll make you anything you want to eat. Name it."

"I have this craving for scrambled eggs."

"You got it." Krycek kissed the side of his neck. "Why don'tyou relax for a few minutes. I'm going to go grab a shower, so I can getstarted on breakfast."

"Okay."

Krycek slid around Mulder and headed toward the hall. He paused in the doorwayand looked over his shoulder. Mulder gave him a soft, heartmelting smilethat sent him grinning madly, into the bathroom.

Krycek turned the shower on and stripped off his t-shirt and underwear.He stepped under the warm spray and squeezed a generous amount of bathwashonto the sponge. As he washed, his mind wandered, wondering what it wasthat prompted Mulder to do such a drastic about-face, last night. He supposedhe'd find out later. Right now, the important thing was that he had hisFox back.


9:41 a.m.

Mulder opened his eyes to find Krycek crouched beside him, watching himsilently. He curled himself tighter, into the tangle of pale-blue sheetand burrowed deeper into the pillow that had been Krycek's, as the otherman reached out and stoked his hair. One sleepy hazel eye - the only onevisible, blinked up at him.

"Still tired?" Krycek asked.

"I'm getting up," Mulder mumbled into the pillow.

"No, no. Go back to sleep. I'll make breakfast whenever you're ready."

Mulder turned onto his back and stretched. "No, I'm gonna get up. Don'twant to get into the habit of sleeping late."

"Yeah, I understand but it's been months since you've had a decentnight's sleep. Plus, you've been sick. You need the rest."

Mulder smiled up at him. "I'll take a nap later...if you take one withme."

Krycek squinted down at him. "Why don't I think that's such a goodidea?"

"I don't know...why?"

"I know that look."

"What look?"

"*That* look."

Mulder feigned complete innocence. "I have no idea what you're talkingabout."

"Mmm hmm. Okay."

Mulder pulled himself upright. "I'm going to get in the shower."He placed a hand on Krycek's shoulder for balance and rose to his feet.

Krycek watched him leave the room, dragging the sheet behind him. When Mulderwas out of sight, he went off to start breakfast.


10:29 a.m.

"Almost ready," Krycek informed Mulder as he arrived in the kitchen."Sit down, I'll get you some juice."

"I can get it," Mulder protested, moving toward the refrigerator.

Krycek turned to look at him. He was wearing a pair of faded Levi's thatat one time may have hugged that deliciously rounded backside to fittedperfection, but now hung loosely about his hips and legs. The cream coloredthermal-ribbed shirt also just hung from his body. His damp hair dangledin front of sunken eyes as he peered into the fridge. This new, albeit temporarywaifish quality to him, tugged hard at Krycek's heart, bringing to the surfaceall manner of protective instincts.

Mulder grabbed the carton of orange juice and shut the door. He turned tofind Krycek watching him. His lips turned up in a half smile and in thatsplit second, all Krycek's protective tendencies flew out the window.

That mouth.

As tempting as it ever was. Always, in all it's pouty magnificence, asking...beggingto be kissed.

Krycek drew a deep breath and picked up Mulder's plate. He spooned an adequateamount of eggs into it, got some for himself, then set both plates on thetable. Mulder poured two glasses of orange juice then joined Krycek, whowas just seating himself.

"Thanks." Krycek took the offered glass, taking a small sip beforeputting it down.

They ate in companionable silence. Krycek tried to be inconspicuous in hisobservation of Mulder, stealing glances at his plate through the dark sweepof his lashes. When at last Mulder slid the plate away, he looked up.

"Done?"

"Yeah. It was good, but I'm full."

"You don't feel sick or anything?"

"Not yet..."

"Good." He inspected Mulder's leavings. "Actually, you didpretty well. I'd say you ate the equivalent of roughly an egg and a half."He rose and began to clear the table. "You going to finish that?"He nodded toward the orange juice.

Mulder reached for it. "Yeah, I'll drink a little more."

He sat quietly sipping his juice as he watched Krycek move about, rinsingand stacking dishes and utensils into the dishwasher.

"Thank you, Alex."

Krycek closed the door and turned the appliance on before he answered. "Forwhat?" Making you breakfast?" He grinned. "It was only eggs..."

"Yeah, for breakfast, but...just, thank you in general. For everything.For taking care of me. For staying when you had every reason in the worldto leave..."

Krycek approached and came to stand behind Mulder. He wrapped his arms lightlyaround the slim shoulders and leaned in close to his ear.

"My one reason for staying far outweighed the reasons for leaving."

"One reason?"

"Mmm hmm."

"What reason is that?"

Krycek hugged him gently and kissed the corner of his mouth.

"You."

Mulder lowered his head and closed his eyes.

"Fox, look at me."

It never even occurred to Mulder to disobey the soft command. He turnedhis head to the right and met Krycek's warm gaze.

"You had every right to be upset with me. I went about this *all* wrong.But I had it in my head that I had to save you from the mistake of a relationshipwith me. The other night...I know what I did hurt you, but I really thoughtthat I was sparing you a much bigger hurt sometime in the future...maybenext time, it'd be something worse than being shot. It tore my heart outto do what I did to you, but I swear on my grandmother's soul, I thoughtit was best for you."

Mulder's head slowly dropped forward until it leaned against Krycek's. "Notbeing with you could never be best for me."

Krycek cupped his cheek with one hand and swept his thumb back and forthacross it. "I know. I'm sorry, I found that out the hard way. I messedup big time. Do you forgive me?"

"If you can forgive *me* for treating you like shit."

"You had every right."

Mulder shook his head. "Scully told me. She tried to explain, but I'vegot such a goddamn one track mind sometimes, I couldn't see beyond my feelings.You know I prayed, and I'm not really the praying type. I kept hoping thatyou were just laying low and that you'd come back. I kept hoping right upuntil the night you told me that you had a life without me and walked awaywith that guy."

"Fox, I told you..."

"I know. I believe you. But that night I could only believe what Isaw and heard. I didn't want to believe it, but when you walked away fromme, you left me no choice. And I felt another piece of me die..."

"Come with me." Krycek took Mulder by the hand and led him intothe living room. They sat together on the sofa, Krycek with one leg bent,facing Mulder. He covered the two hands resting together in the other man'slap, while rubbing a denim-clad knee with the other.

"*Another* piece of you...what do you mean?"

Mulder stared down at the hand resting over his. "It seems that everyonewho means anything to me sooner or later, in one way or another, leavesme. Samantha, my father...even my mother."

"Scully is still here."

"Yeah. By some miracle. But I almost lost her, twice. And each timeit took something out of me." He smiled wearily. "I didn't thinkI had anything left for anyone else, least of all, you. Imagine my surprise."

Krycek's hand left Mulder's knee and came up under his chin, tilting hishead up. "Tell me what to do."

"What do you mean?"

"I want to see these eyes sparkle again." Krycek brushed his lipsagainst his cheek. "I want to hear all those wise-ass remarks and threatsof bodily harm..."

Mulder couldn't help smiling at that.

"I want to know what I have to do to make that happen."

Mulder blinked slowly. "I don't...I..I mean...I feel a lot better thanI did last night..."

"I'm glad but there's still something." He searched Mulder's eyes."I can see it. What is it? Can you tell me?"

Mulder cut his eyes away.

"Talk to me, Fox."

"There's nothing to talk *about*. Other than what we've already discussed."

Krycek decided not to push the issue. His emotional state was still toofragile. "Okay. But you know that if there ever *is* anything you wantto talk about, you can come to me and I'll help you work through it...allright?"

His request garnered no response.

"Hey..."

"Yeah." Mulder managed a weak smile. "All right."

Krycek wound his arms around Mulder and pulled him to his chest. Mulderdropped his head to the shoulder in front of him and closed his eyes. Krycekheld him that way, his hand sweeping up and down the length of his back,until he felt Mulder's body begin to relax.

"Are you falling asleep?"

"No," came a mumbled reply.

"Yes, you are." Gently, Krycek pushed him away from his chestand laid him down across the sofa. "Stay put. I'm going to finish cleaningup in the kitchen." He kissed the tip of Mulder's nose and left theroom. When he'd returned some twenty minutes later, Mulder was out. Krycekcarefully brushed a few strands of hair away from his face, then took aseat across from the sofa and picked up the newspaper.


1:39 p.m.

"Hey, Mulder!" Scully smiled brightly as she came into the room."How are ya today?"

"Better Scully, thanks. You on lunch?"

"Yeah. How'd you do with breakfast?"

"Pretty good."

She raised a skeptical eyebrow.

"I'm telling you." Mulder looked past her. "Alex..."

Scully spun to face the man who had silently entered the room and was nowstanding behind her.

Krycek nodded. "He did. He ate almost two eggs and drank about threequarters of a glass of orange juice."

"Well! I'm sorry Mulder, I guess you *did* do well. What about lunch?"

Krycek broke in. "He had a late breakfast. I was going to get him lunchin about an hour."

"You know what, though? I'm kind of thirsty." Mulder looked upat Krycek. "Alex, would you mind getting me something to drink?"

"No, of course not." He grinned. "This is the first timeyou've actually *asked* for something. I'll be right back."

The second Krycek was gone from the room, Mulder got to his feet and starteddigging into the front pocket of his jeans.

"Here."

He handed Scully a silver chain.

"For me? Mulder, you shouldn't have..."

"It's Alex's."

She feigned disappointment. "Oh."

"I need you to take it to a jeweler and get it fixed, okay?"

Scully placed the chain into a small compartment of her purse. "Yeah.Sure." She smirked. "Why are we being so sneaky?"

"I broke it..."

"And you're trying to get it fixed before he notices?"

"He knows I broke it."

"So why all the secrecy?"

"It's a long story, okay? Can you please just get it fixed?"

"Yeah. When do you need it?"

"As soon as possible."

"I'll see what I can do."

"Thanks." Mulder sank back onto the sofa.

"So," she smirked, "I see things are looking pretty okaybetween you two."

Mulder nodded and smiled softly. "Thanks for kicking me in the ass,Scully."

"Hey, it benefitted me as well as you. I don't think I could standto go through another *day* with you so miserable."

Mulder said nothing. He only lowered his gaze to the floor.

"Look, I gotta run. I'll call you later to let you know how I madeout."

Krycek came in just then, carrying a glass of Gatorade. He handed it toMulder and combed his fingers through the golden brown hair a few timesbefore settling into his chair. He looked from Scully to Mulder now silent,and raised his eyebrows. "Did I interrupt something? Should I go backinto the kitchen for a while?"

"No!" His answer came in stereo.

"No uh..." Scully looked to Mulder. "We were just discussingwork...you know. Uh..I gotta get going. Mulder, I'll see you later maybe,okay?"

"Okay, Scully. Thanks for coming over."

Krycek got up to accompany Scully to the door.

Once there, she turned to him and whispered, "So what went on herethis morning?"

"I think it started last night. To try to make a long story short,the morning he was shot, he had given me a key to the apartment. Afterward,I wore it around my neck on a chain. He saw it yesterday for the first timesince he gave it to me, and snapped the chain off my neck. I don't knowif he sat up all night regretting it or what, but very early this morning,I woke up and found him standing next to the couch, staring at me. It tookhim a while, but he finally sat down, then laid down with me and we fellasleep."

"Ahhh. Okay.."

"What?"

"Oh. Nothing. Just...well, I really gotta go. I'll see you later."

Mild confusion wrinkled Krycek's brow. "Yeah. Okay, later."

He closed the door and returned to Mulder.

"You were talking about me."

"No, we were discussing the care of fine washables..."

Mulder twisted his lower lip and chewed the inside corner.

//Jesus, I wish you wouldn't do that.//

"Of course we were talking about you. Want me to repeat it back toyou word for word?"

"No."

"You sure? If I don't tell you now, I won't remember it all, later..."

Mulder lowered his gaze. "Nevermind."

Krycek approached and leaned over Mulder, planting his hands against thesofa, on either side of his head. He whispered softly. "You're so damnpretty when you sulk like that."

Mulder looked up through the veil of his lashes. "Oh yeah?"

"Mmm hmm."

//Go ahead. You know you want to. You've been dying to kiss him.//

//You *have* kissed him.//

//Not on the lips...while he was conscious...come on, you're so close. Youwant to. *He* wants you to. Look at him. He hasn't moved. He's just barelybreathing. Waiting. I bet if you put your hand on his chest, you'd feelhis heart pounding. Damn sure *yours* is. Do it.//

//Don't. You know it won't stop there. You've been over five months withouthim. It won't stop at a kiss. It can't. And he's still weak.//

Krycek backed off reluctantly, leaving Mulder struggling to conceal hisdisappointment.

"Hey," he said, cheerfully. "Want some lunch now?"

"Not hungry."

//Shit.//

"Not at all?"

Mulder shook his head.

"Okay well, I'll let you get away with it for a little while longer,but you *are* going to have some lunch. We're not going to undo the goodwe did this morning."

When he received no response, he reached out and lightly tapped the undersideof Mulder's chin. "Okay?"

The small action seemed to snap Mulder out of the mood he had fallen into.He gave Krycek a tiny smile. "Yeah." He stood and walked overto his desk, pulling out the chair. "Maybe I'll get a little work done."

"I thought you were on leave?"

"That just prevents me from going into the office. It doesn't say thatI can't do any work at home."

Krycek smiled to himself. He was taking an interest in work. Good sign...unlesshe was only looking for a way to avoid thinking about what almost just happened.The smile faded and he dropped onto the sofa and picked up the remote.

The rest of the day passed uneventfully. Mulder ate lunch with a minimumof fuss then napped off and on until late afternoon. When the doorbell rangat six-thirty, Krycek was in the kitchen, preparing a light supper.

"I got it," Mulder called from the living room as he moved tothe door. He smiled down at the petite redhead who stood in the hall. "Hey."

Scully nodded her hello and entered. She looked around the apartment andquickly reached into her purse. She pulled out a small yellow envelope andhanded it to Mulder.

"They were able to fix it?"

"Yeah. I batted my eyelashes at the jeweler and gave him a sob story.He had it done by the time I got out of work."

"Thanks Scully, I owe you."

"Yeah. Thirty-eight fifty-two, to be exact."

Mulder stuffed the small envelope into his front pocket and pulled his walletout of the back. He took out two twenties and handed them to her. "Keepthe change. Buy yourself a nice sweater or something."

She snatched the bills from him. "You're just too good to me, Mulder."

He smirked at her. "I know."

Scully looked around again. "Smells like he's in the kitchen."

"Yeah. Want to stay?"

"I'd love to, but I gotta run. I'm meeting my mother for dinner. Bythe way, she says hello and if she hears that you've stopped eating again,she's coming over here."

Mulder laughed. An actual amused chuckle. "Tell her I said hi back,and that I promise to eat."

"Will do." She turned around and almost collided with Krycek."Oh!"

"Sorry. Didn't mean to scare you."

She twisted her neck to look in Mulder's direction. "You really shouldput a bell on him or something."

Krycek ignored the teasing comment. "Wanna stay for supper?"

"Thanks, but I can't. I just stopped by on my way home, to see howMulder was doing."

"Well, he had a late lunch. Didn't do quite as well as breakfast, butat least he ate. Supper is almost ready." He directed his next remarkto Mulder. "And you're starving, aren't you?"

"Oh, yeah. Ravenous."

Scully issued a small grunt. "Just see that you eat."

"Yeah, yeah."

Mulder saw Scully to the door and went into the kitchen, to where Krycekhad returned.

"Ready to eat?"

"Yeah, I guess."

He sat at the table and let Alex serve him.

"Thought we'd try a little chicken...something with a little more substance.If it bothers you, let me know."

Mulder got through most of the meal before he quit.

Satisfied, Krycek cleared the table and herded Mulder into the living room.He sat him on the sofa and handed him the remote.

"Here you go. Relax and I'll be in soon."

"All I *do* is relax. Why can't I help you clean the kitchen or something?"

"Because I *said* you can't." He dropped a kiss on the top ofMulder's head and left the room putting an abrupt end to further argument.

When he had gone, Mulder pulled the envelope from his pocket and shook thecontents out into his hand. He reached into the other pocket and producedthe key, then slipped the end of the chain through the hole and securedthe clasp. He smiled as he slipped it back into his front pocket.


9:02 p.m.

The television droned on as Krycek stared sightlessly at the screen. Hismind was wandering. Thinking ahead to bedtime. They hadn't discussed it,but since Mulder had come to lay with him on the couch this morning, he'dassumed that they wouldn't be sleeping apart, tonight. And that posed abit of a problem. Mulder wanted him. That was no vain assumption on hispart, it was a fact. This morning, when they were so close to each other....hiseyes, the set of his mouth, the tone of his voice, told Krycek that it wasso.

And Krycek wanted *him*. Every night for over five months, his body criedout for this man. *Begged* him to come to this apartment and use the damnkey. And every night he denied the desperate pleas. If he laid down nextto his Fox tonight, he didn't know how he was going to be able to refusehis body any longer.

//You can't. He needs time to recover...//

//There you go again. Deciding what *you* think is best for him. Why don'tyou let *him* decide?//

//Okay, maybe. But don't push it. Let him make the...//

Krycek's thoughts were interrupted by something coming down over his head.His eyes focused on the small silver object that dangled in front of hisface, just before it came to rest against the front of his shirt. His fingerstraced the line of the silver chain, once again hanging securely aroundhis neck, and came to rest on the key that was suspended from it.

After taking a moment to compose his thoughts, he twisted in the chair toface Mulder, who was still standing behind him. He opened his mouth to speak,but no sound would come from it. Mulder moved to the front of the chairand kneeled before him. His hand swept slowly, up and down Krycek's thigh.

"I'm sorry, Alex. I know I hurt you. I don't ever want to see the lookthat I saw on your face last night, again." His hand left Krycek'sleg and lifted the key away from his chest. "Will you take this backand maybe find a way to forgive me for being such a jerk?"

Krycek leaned forward and stroked Mulder's cheek. "You're not a jerk."His voice came out in a croak. "And yes, I'll take it back." Heremoved his hand from Mulder's face and covered the hand that still heldthe key. "How'd you fix the chain?"

Mulder's eyes never left his face. "I gave it to Scully this afternoon.She took it to a jeweler and had it fixed for me."

"That's why she was here tonight?"

"Yeah."

"Sneak."

They fell silent, searching each other's eyes. Trying to gain some insightinto each other's thoughts. Seeing one thing in common...very clearly.

"Fox."

"Hmm?"

Krycek paused, debating with himself then made the decision.

"Ask me."

Mulder had no need to ask what it was Krycek wanted. He'd asked him oncethe other night, but Mulder had refused. Not tonight. He asked the questionsoftly.

"Who do you belong to?"

"You."

Mulder leaned forward, so slowly as to be almost unnoticeable. Drawn bythe magnetic warmth of his lover's eyes. He vaguely wondered if this iswhat it felt like to drown. He'd heard stories from near-drowning victimsabout an enveloping sense of peace just before the moment of unconsciousness.That's what it felt like now. He was surrounded by a tranquil sea of greenand sinking deeper by the second.

It was an exquisite death. One he had no desire to be rescued from, butthe feel of Alex's lips just barely touching his then moving away, forcedthe breath back into his lungs. His hands moved of their own accord, threadingthrough the dark hair and coming to rest at the back of Krycek's head. Thefingers of one hand tenderly massaged the back of his neck. He leaned inthe fraction that it took for him to sweep his mouth across Krycek's chin.

Krycek gritted his teeth as he felt the slightest hint of a moist tonguein that brief caress. He moaned softly.

Mulder's mouth traveled upward and fastened on his. Gently at first, teasingand stroking. Then with increased pressure, drinking in his lover's whimpersof long denied pleasure.

Krycek's fingers tangled in Mulder's hair and he deepened the kiss, plunginghis tongue into the soft heat of his mouth. Mulder's tongue met his, immediatelyengaging in a slow, sensuous dance of seduction.

Somewhere in the back of Krycek's mind, a small voice reminded him thatthis was *not* the same strong, healthy man that he'd made love with somany months ago. He couldn't possibly throw him down on the floor and dothe things that his body was screaming for him to do. They needed to talk,first. Fox needed to understand...

He pulled away. "Fox..." he tried to catch his breath. "Wait...holdon..."

Mulder swung his head from side to side. "No, Alex. No more waiting.I can't wait..."

"Just listen to me for a minute, okay? I just want to tell you thatI think we should slow it down. Take it easy. You're still in a pretty weakenedstate. I don't want to put any strain on you."

Mulder wound his arm around Krycek's neck and gave him an impish smile."I trust you to be gentle with me..."

A clipped laugh escaped Krycek's throat. "That's what I'm worried about,baby. I don't know if I can. My self-restraint is hanging on by a very thinthread right now and I'm afraid if you kiss me one more time like you justdid, I'll be all done."

"You think so?" Mulder moved in again. "Well, let's see..."

Krycek gripped his shoulders and held him off. "I'm serious, Fox."

Mulder's expression changed immediately. "Okay," he said softly."We'll hold off till I get a little stronger."

"Fox..."

"I wouldn't want to drop dead from over-exertion, leaving you to explainto Scully how it happened..."

"Come on, Fox..."

"No, it's okay. I'm okay. I understand your concern."

Krycek eyed him doubtfully. "Really?"

"Yeah." He got to his feet. "I'm kind of tired, anyway. Ithink I'll go to bed. You coming or are you going to stay up for a while?"

"You want to sleep with me?"

"Of course I do." He forced a smile. "I promise I'll be agood boy and not attack you in your sleep."

Krycek shut the t.v. off and rose from his chair. He took Mulder's handand raised it to his lips. "Let's go to bed."


9:56 p.m.

"I can't remember the last time I was in bed this early," Kryceksaid, as Mulder slipped under the blanket and snuggled close. He restedhis cheek on the golden brown head and closed his eyes. "Feels so good."

"What does?"

Krycek wrapped Mulder in his arms. "This. You'll never know how muchI missed it."

"I know," Mulder corrected him. "I missed it too."

"So many nights I lay awake thinking about this. You. Wondering ifyou were thinking about me too. Funny how quickly you can get used to something.I never slept with anyone. I mean, you know, spent the *night* with someone.I always left. Or *they* left, depending on where we were. I always sleptalone and liked it that way. Now, I hate it. I want to wake up every morningnext to you. I feel so...Fox?"

Mulder's soft snores reached his ears and brought a smile to his face. Krycekkissed the top of his head and hugged him close.

"Spokoynoy nochi, krasivy lisa."


Thursday, 2:22 a.m.

"Don't go!"

Krycek's eyes snapped open.

"Alex, please!"

He grasped Mulder's shoulder and shook him gently. "Fox, wake up."

"No...don't! Please...it hurts...oh God, it hurts..."

"Come on baby, wake up. I'm here. I'm right here. Tell me what's hurtingyou."

Mulder's eyes opened and he began to whimper. He rolled away from Krycekand onto his side, curling himself up into a tight ball.

"Fox, you're scaring me. Tell me what's wrong." He put a handon Mulder's arm and withdrew it immediately when a sharp hiss escaped theprone man's lips. "What is it? Tell me where it hurts so I can helpyou."

"You don't want to help me," Mulder cried into the pillow. "Youonly want to torture me..."

"What?" He couldn't possibly be awake. "Baby, I would *never*..."

"You always leave." He turned his face, wet with tears, to Krycek.Accusation glittered in his eyes. "You take me right to the edge, thenyou *leave*!"

Krycek struggled to understand. "Fox, I'm sorry, I don't...tell me..."All of a sudden, he got it. He looked down at Mulder, who was still curledinto a fetal position, one hand pressed tightly to his crotch. "Hey."Hey touched Mulder's shoulder and was quickly rebuffed. He tried again."Fox..." He tucked an arm around Mulder's chest and pulled himback against his body. "Listen to me. You've been dreaming. Do youhear me? It's a dream. It's not really me. I would never leave you likethis..." He gently pried Mulder's hand away. There was an enormousbulge at the front of his shorts. Same as the other night. "Lisa..."

"Leave me alone," Mulder rasped.

"I'm sorry, baby. I'm sorry." He stroked Mulder's taut face. "Letme help you."

"No..."

"Yes." His hand slipped down to Mulder's chest and swept slowlythrough the golden brown smattering of hair that covered it. He nuzzledhis ear and kissed a moist trail along the quivering jaw.

Mulder gripped the pillow under his head and gritted his teeth.

"Relax, baby. It's all right." Krycek turned Mulder's head andbrushed his lips with his own. "I'll take care of you..." He threadeda hand through his hair and kissed him deeply, eliciting a long, anguishedmoan from the man beneath him. "Just let me love you..."

Mulder turned onto his back and wound his arms around Krycek's shoulders,digging his fingers into the tight muscle. "Don't leave me this time,Alex. Please don't."

The small, child-like plea brought tears to Krycek's eyes. "I promiseyou, I won't leave. I'm going to make everything better. Just relax andtrust me."

His mouth covered Mulder's, swallowing the hoarse cries for fulfillment.He draped a leg across Mulder's hips and pressed his rock-solid erectionagainst him.

Mulder gasped into Krycek's mouth and turned back onto his side, pushingback with his hips, rocking against him. "Please.....please....."

"Okay. Shhh. Take it easy." Krycek slipped Mulder's shorts off,then removed his own. He reached behind him and pulled the nightstand draweropen. Quickly, he coated two fingers with lube, and stroked them down thecleft of Mulder's ass, then worked them in and touched them to the tightopening. Mulder's body jerked and he groaned into the pillow. "Easy,baby." Slowly, his fingers pressed forward, stopping often and twistinga little to ease his entry.

An eternity later, he'd managed to get both fingers all the way in. Mulderlay against him, panting heavily. "Alex....please..."

Krycek bent his fingers and fluttered them, drawing a strangled scream fromMulder's throat. "Oh God, Alex....I can't wait, I can't...."

"All right," Krycek cooed. He gently withdrew his fingers andagain reached for the lube. "No more waiting..." He applied agenerous amount to his own erect cock and said a small prayer, asking forthe strength to maintain his composure. He hugged Mulder to him and enteredslowly.

"Mmmmmmmmph.....uuuhhhhhhhhh, *Jesus*.....Alex......oh God, Alex......"

Krycek closed his fingers around Mulder's cock and began to stroke in timeto the movement of his hips. Long and slow and completely shattering. Mulderwrithed in his arms.

"This is what you needed, baby?" Krycek breathed in his ear. "Isthis what you want?"

"*Yes*. Please don't stop...don't leave me...."

"I'm not going anywhere. I *promise* you, I'm going to give you whatyou need and all the hurt will go away."

Krycek increased the pace of his movements by a fraction, taking care tomaintain the gentle rhythm he'd established. It proved to be no easy task.When his lover's muscles tightened around him, it just about put him overthe edge.

He had to hold on. He had to...but Christ, he was so tight and so beautifuland he'd missed him so much...

Mulder threw his head back against Krycek's shoulder and emitted a longharsh groan, snapping him back into reality. Without realizing he'd doneit, he'd increased the speed and strength of his thrusts, more than he'dintended, driving Mulder to complete insanity.

Krycek tightened his arm around Mulder's chest to calm his thrashing. "Easy..."

Mulder pleaded, choking on his words. "Please, Alex...harder...."

Krycek buried his face in the perspiration dampened hair. "Fox..."

Mulder squeezed his hand around the one on his cock and forced it to movefaster. "*Do* it!"

And he did.

Krycek gritted his teeth and drove relentlessly into his lover, drawingan anguished whimper from him with each thrust. Two hands, one over theother, pumped the swollen cock in perfect rhythm.

"Fox," Krycek panted, "I...I'm...mmmh...." Shockwaveafter violent shockwave tore through his body, completely obliterating allthoughts and words. For that moment, Alex Krycek's world was ablaze witha bright, blinding light. It consumed him, allowing him to see nothing.Hear nothing. Feel only the clutching heat of the muscles around him andthe fury of his long awaited release.

As the tremors subsided and the light behind his closed eyelids faded toa dull reddish haze, he became vaguely aware that something was not right.That sound....*crying*. He struggled to pull himself out of the fog he wasin, and confront the sound. When his eyes finally began to open, a disturbingimage took shape.

Fox, rolled partially onto his stomach, sobbing. Krycek didn't have a clearline on him, but could see enough to know that his hand was still wrappedaround his cock and from his frenzied movements, it appeared as though hehad yet to climax. Krycek pulled himself up, balancing his weight on onearm. He reached over to Mulder and attempted to pull him onto his back.

"Fox? What's wrong?"

Mulder didn't hear him. He continued to pull roughly at his cock, makingsoft, guttural noises as he did.

"Baby..." Krycek moved over him, trying to still his hand. "Comeon, now. Stop that..."

He couldn't stop. He was so close... He tightened his grip and jerked brutally.

"Fox! Stop!" Krycek began to pry at his hand. "You're goingto hurt yourself..."

"I can't," he cried. "I can't..."

Krycek managed to take hold of both Mulder's wrists and hold them togetherin one hand, just below his chest. "Okay, easy, now..."

Mulder looked up at him with an expression that brought tears to his eyes."Help me, Alex."

Krycek pulled him into his arms and rocked him back and forth. "Ofcourse I'll help you, baby. Just relax, okay?" He reached over andgrabbed the lube, squeezing some of it into his palm. Gently, he graspedMulder's still rigid cock and began to stroke it.

Mulder buried his face in Krycek's chest, whimpering frantically.

"Easy, lisa. Let it come."

Close to fifteen minutes later, he knew it wasn't going to happen.

//What the fuck is going on, here?//

Krycek removed his hand and hugged the trembling, exhausted man to him."Hold on, baby." He lowered Mulder to the mattress and slid downwarduntil his lips brushed the still solid erection. His mouth closed over thehead and Mulder groaned, clenching his hands in his determined lover's darkhair.

Krycek's tongue flicked over the tip then swept over the surface, stoppingto tease the small opening.

Mulder bucked under him, thrusting into his mouth. His hips fell back ontothe bed and he rose again, in a desperate search for release.

Krycek grasped Mulder's hips and held him almost immobile as he slowly descended,surrounding his tormented cock with wet heat. His throat opened and swallowedit to the base. He sucked gently, stroking his tongue back and forth alongthe large vein on the underside.

Mulder stiffened under him, curling his fingers tighter around the locksof hair he still held on to. Krycek was sure that his scalp was going tobe sore in the morning, but that was the least of his worries, right now.His one and only concern was to relieve the unbearable ache that his Foxwas suffering.

Ten minutes went by.

Krycek began to wonder if this might not be such a good idea. Mulder writhedin frustration. His agitation only seemed to be growing.

Fifteen minutes.

Krycek's jaw was beginning to ache, and Mulder still didn't seem any closerthan he was before.

Twenty minutes.

He couldn't continue. This wasn't working. He was tired. Mulder was overwrought.It was time to quit.

He pulled away and slid up alongside the exhausted man, taking him againinto his arms.

"I'm sorry, Fox. I'm...I don't know what to do. I don't..." Krycekclosed his eyes and tightened his arms around his ailing lover. A few tearsescaped his closed lids and fell into the brown silk beneath his cheek.

Mulder trembled in his arms, still wracked with pain but far too drainedto struggle any more. Krycek caressed his cheek. He sniffed once and clearedhis throat.

"I'm going to go call Scully..."

Mulder's hand closed weakly around his wrist. "No," he said justabove a whisper.

"Baby, you're in pain and I don't know what to do..."

"It'll go..." he drew a deep breath and released it. "..away.Don't call her."

"There is a *problem* here," he argued, "we can't just ignoreit."

"Please, Alex. I'll be okay." He snuggled against Krycek's chest."Please."

"Okay," Krycek relented and lay back against the pillows, pullingMulder with him. He drew a hand up and down the pale skin of his back, strokingand massaging. "Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths and try torelax."

They lay together quietly. The only sign of movement from Mulder was theintermittent twitch of his body. Krycek continued to caress his back, droppingan occasional kiss into his hair. Just when he thought Mulder might be fallingasleep, a muffled voice drifted up to his ear.

"I'm sorry, Alex."

A fresh surge of tears stung Krycek's eyes. Mulder was apologizing to *him*.He couldn't take this. He knew that for Mulder's sake, he had to hold ittogether, but inwardly, he was screaming.

//This is *your* fault, you goddamn fuck. *You* did this to him...all ofit. And *he's* apologizing to *you*. How fucked up is that?//

"Don't you apologize to me. What is there for you to be sorry for?"

"For being so screwed up. You shouldn't have to...to deal with this..."

Krycek slipped his hand under Mulder's chin and lifted. He looked into thehalf-closed eyes. Funny, right now they were almost as green as his own.God, they were such beautiful eyes...

"Listen to me. I'm the cause of all of this. *I* am. If you're screwedup, it's *my* fault. *I'm* the one who's sorry, do you understand?"

"I was screwed up long before I even met you, Alex."

"That may be so, but I just compounded the problem, didn't I? And Iswear, I never meant to. All I ever wanted was to love you."

Mulder blinked slowly, trying to absorb what he'd just heard. "What...whatdid you say?"

Krycek stroked the underside of his chin. "This wasn't exactly theway I wanted to tell you...I love you, Fox. That's why knowing that I'vedone *this* to you, hurts so goddamn much."

Mulder forgot his subsiding pain and concentrated on the words he'd madeAlex say a second time.

He loved him.

He released a long sigh and wrapped his arm around Krycek's waist. He loweredhis head to his chest and nuzzled the sprinkling of dark hair.

It was good enough response for Krycek. More, he thought, than he deserved.


4:31 a.m.

"Hello?"

"Scully, I'm sorry to be calling now..."

Scully shook off the last vestiges of sleep. "Krycek?" She squintedat the clock and sat up quickly. "What's wrong? Is he sick?"

"No...Scully, he didn't want me to call you but..." The treblerose in his voice. "I waited for him to fall asleep before I calledyou. Something is wrong."

"What? He sounded terrible. "Alex, what's wrong?"

"He asked me not to call you. He didn't want me to, but..."

"Alex?....Alex!" Scully threw blanket off. "I'll be there,soon."

Not waiting for an answer, she hung up and jumped out of bed.


5:20 a.m.

Krycek opened the door before Scully had a chance to knock. She blew pasthim and didn't stop until she reached the living room.

"Now, what the hell is going on?"

Krycek held two fingers up to his lips, instructing her to keep her voicedown. "He's sleeping. Scully, if he knew I had you over here at thishour of the morning, he'd have a fit."

"He'll get over it. Now what's happening?"

"I know...I know what those dreams are all about."

"He finally told you?"

"No. I figured it out. He had another one tonight." He explainedthe nature of Mulder's nightmares to her, then paused. He began to pacein a short line, raking his fingers restlessly through his hair. "Thatdream was uh...kinda personal enough, but the rest of this is...well, I'lljust skip to the part you need to hear."

Scully sat and listened quietly.

"The erections that he experiences after these dreams won't go away.He can't *make* them go away. He never said anything about it to eitherof us, because he thought it was just a manifestation of his anxiety overour separation. We went to bed together tonight, but we went to *sleep*.We agreed...sort of, that he was still too weak for anything else. But hehad the dream again. And when I woke him up, he was so upset and frustrated.And he was in pain, Scully. It *hurts* him." He clenched his handsin his hair and continued to pace. "He needed me. He needed....andI gave it to him." He shook his head. "I *thought* I did. WhenI...recovered, I realized I hadn't. He was trying to relieve himself, butI had to stop him. He would have hurt himself if I hadn't."

Scully sat stone-still. Only her eyes moved, following Krycek's back andforth movement.

"He begged me to help him." His voice started to crack. "Itried. For over half an hour, I tried. He couldn't...he couldn't...all Icould do was try and make him comfortable. He finally fell asleep just alittle while before I called you. I don't know what to do for him, Scully."His shoulders slumped and began to shake. Scully sat, quietly sympatheticwhile he cried. A few minutes later, he composed himself and leaned againstMulder's desk, staring into space.

Scully tented her hands over her mouth. "Did the erection go down?"

He sniffed and swiped at his eyes with the back of his hand. "Slowly.Took about two hours." He looked toward the hall. "I want to gocheck on him."

Scully followed him to the bedroom where they found Mulder on his side,still soundly asleep. Krycek adjusted the blanket and pressed a soft kissto his temple. Scully watched him for a few seconds, then preceded Krycekout of the room..

"He seems to be resting well."

Krycek nodded then looked away. "I've caused him so much harm, Scully."

"It's going to take a while Alex, but he'll be all right. You're thebest medicine for him. You know, you should appreciate the hell out of that,coming from me."

He gave her a sad smile. "I do. But how can I be the cause *and* thecure?"

"You are. Just hang in there. The damage isn't irreparable. All youhave to..."

Scully's speech was interrupted by a soft, husky voice coming from the hall.

"Alex?"

Krycek looked up. "He was just sound asleep." He bolted into thehall, where he found Mulder only half-awake, wandering out of the bedroom.Krycek clasped his arms around him.

"Where are you going?"

"Why did you leave me? I woke up and you weren't there..."

"I didn't leave you, Fox. I was in the other room. Come on back tobed. You're exhausted."

Mulder let himself be led back to the bedroom. Krycek eased him down ontothe bed and his hands clutched the front of the younger man's t-shirt, pullinghim down.

"Please stay with me."

"Baby, I'm only in the next room..."
"No. Don't leave me."

"Okay." Krycek stretched out alongside him. "I won't go anywhere.But I want you to close your eyes and go back to sleep."

Mulder cuddled up against Krycek's heat and did close his eyes as he wasasked.

Scully, who had been standing just outside the door, peeked in. Krycek hadn'tyet noticed she was there. He lay propped against the pillows, petting thegolden-brown head nestled against his chest. Sensing another presence, heopened his eyes and looked toward the door. She sent him a reassuring smileand wiggled her fingers at him, then disappeared from sight. He just aboutheard the front door open and close. He turned his attention back to Mulder,who had once again relaxed and would soon be asleep. He closed his eyesand let the weariness take him over.

Just as he was almost gone, Mulder's groggy voice brought him back.

"Alex?"

"Hmm?"

"I love you, too."

So much for sleep.


9:19 a.m.

Mulder opened his eyes to find his lover propped up on one elbow, staringdown at him.

"How do you feel?"

His gaze fell away from Krycek's face. "Okay."

Krycek bent and kissed the corner of his mouth. "I was so worried lastnight. How many times has that happened?"

Mulder shrugged. "Lost count."

"And it always takes hours for it to stop?"

He nodded.

"Moy lisa, you've been dealing with that kind pain for all these months?"

No reply.

"No wonder you're so worn out. We have to do something. I can't letyou continue to suffer like that."

"I thought that since you were back, the dreams would stop." Hetried to smile. "Maybe it was just a little remnant."

"And maybe it wasn't. You scared the hell out of me, Fox. I've neverfelt that powerless in all my life. This is *my* mess and I can't even cleanit up...I called Scully this morning after you fell asleep."

"You didn't."

"I did. I know you didn't want me to, but you need help and I'll dowhatever I have to do to see that you get it." He looked directly intoMulder's mortified gaze. "There are a lot of things that I've had toapologize for, but not this."

Mulder turned his face. "You told her?"

"Yes. She's a doctor, Fox. And she's your best friend. There's nothingto be embarrassed about."

"Was that what you were doing this morning in the living room? Wereyou on the phone with her?"

"Actually, she was here. I called her and she came over."

Mulder closed his eyes and frowned.

Krycek stroked the creases between his eyes. "Please understand. Ilove you and I don't want you to hurt anymore."

Mulder opened his eyes. This was the third time he'd heard Alex's admissionand still, it sent a little shiver through him.

"Will you please just talk to her? Maybe she can give us a clue."He brushed his mouth across Mulder's cheekbone. "Please?"

"All right, fine. I'll talk to her."

"Thank you." Krycek rested his forehead against Mulder's. "Areyou upset with me?"

"I guess not."

".....Still love me?"

Mulder blinked up at him. His mind raced, trying to remember when he'd toldAlex that he loved him...if ever.

"You told me that this morning," Krycek said, tapping into histhoughts. "After I got you back to bed. You don't remember, do you?"

"No."

"You want to take it back?"

Mulder drew a hand down his face and throat, letting it rest against thesteady thud in his chest.

"No."

Krycek tucked an arm around Mulder's waist and lowered his head to his shoulder.

Mulder's arms slid around his back, and held him tightly. He whispered tohim, his voice tickling the sensitive inner ear.

"I love you, Alex. And I'm wide awake this time."

Krycek raised his head and their eyes locked for long seconds. Then slowly,his head descended again and he touched his lips to the slightly pale butcompletely, irresistibly luscious mouth of the man beneath him. The softmoan brought him back to his senses. He pulled abruptly away, licking hislips nervously.

"Sorry. Bad idea."

Mulder didn't fight him. He knew it wasn't such a good idea. "Yeah."He glanced over at the alarm clock. "Way past time to get up, anyway."

Krycek dropped a quick kiss on his eyebrow and backed off of the bed. "Relaxfor a few more minutes. I'm going to get into the shower."

Mulder lay back against the pillows and plunged the fingers of one handinto his hair.

Alex was right. He couldn't go on this way. *They* couldn't. Okay, so theyloved each other. That'd been established. As thrilled as he was about that,it wouldn't do for him to merely say the words. He needed more. And so didAlex. He'd talk to Scully and do anything she suggested. For both theirsakes.


5:12 p.m.

"Left work kind of early, didn't you?"

Scully entered the room and sat across from Mulder, who was folded intoa corner of the sofa.

"Yeah. Skinner won't notice."

"Sure he will. He'll just act as though he didn't."

She smiled. "I know. He looks in the other direction an awful lot forus."

"Maybe we should do something to show our appreciation. How ëbouta fruit basket?"

Scully rolled her eyes.

"Alex told me that he called you this morning."

//Chalk another one up for Krycek.//

"Yeah?"

"He also told me that you were here."

"Yes, I was. He was so upset, I couldn't understand what it was hewas trying to tell me, so I hung up on him and came over."

Mulder nodded silently.

"Mulder, why didn't you tell me what was going on?"

"Just never found the right time and place, I guess."

"Mulder..."

"I mean *really*, Scully. How was I supposed to bring that up? ëYeah,and so I think the killer had some repressed sexual issues...oh, and bythe way, did I mention that I'm having a wee bit of trouble with prolongederections?'"

Scully rubbed her forehead. "I could smack you, Mulder."

He shrank farther into the sofa and said nothing.

Before Scully could say anything else, Krycek entered from the hall.

"Hi, Scully." He looked from her to Mulder then walked directlyover to the sofa and sat beside him. "What's up?"

"Nothing."

Krycek tapped the underside of Mulder's chin with a crooked finger. "You'renot pouting for *nothing*. What is it?"

Scully answered for him. "He's being a pain in the ass."

Krycek grinned. "It's part of his charm."

"I'm glad *you* think so..."

"Well....look...I'm going to the store. We need a few things. Anythingin particular you want, lisa?"

Mulder shrugged. "Ice cream?"

Krycek raised his eyebrows in Scully's direction. "Yeah?"

"Yeah. I feel like ice cream."

"What flavor?"

"Walnut fudge."

"You got it. Scully?"

"Huh?"

"Want anything?"

"No...thanks."

"Okay well, I'll be back soon." He got up and leaned over Mulder,speaking softly. "Remember you promised to talk to her."

"I know," came the equally soft reply.

"I'll be back." He planted a gentle kiss on the full lips andexited the apartment.

Irritated as she was at the moment, Scully had to smile, noting the softnessin her partner's demeanor as he interacted with Alex.

"Okay Scully," Mulder sighed and turned to her once Krycek wasgone. "Let's talk."

Twenty minutes and a handful of pauses later, he stopped talking and bowedhis head.

"I really wish you had told me this earlier, Mulder. Alex said youwere in quite a lot of pain."

"But it goes away..."

"After two or three hours. Mulder, that's not normal. Now, it may welljust be anxiety, in which case the problem should correct itself. And sinceit did begin soon after Alex disappeared, I tend to believe that that'swhat it is. But if it doesn't stop, you're going to need to seek medicalhelp. Mulder, are you listening to me?"

"Yeah. Why?"

"You just seem a little distant."

"No, I'm here." He glanced toward the door, then back to the patchof floor in front of him. "How long do you think I should give it?"

"That's more or less up to you, but I wouldn't let it go too long."

Mulder nodded. "Okay. We'll just wait then and see what happens."


5:55 p.m.

Scully sat talking to Mulder about nothing in particular and glancing periodicallyat his leg which had begun a rhythmic bounce.

"What is it, Mulder?"

"Hmm? Nothing, I was just wondering where Alex was."

"The store. Did you forget so soon?"

"No...but he said he only had to pick up a few things. The closeststore is only five minutes away."

"Quit worrying, Mulder. I'm sure he's fine. He's a big boy, you know."

Mulder folded his hands in his lap. "I know. I just thought he wastaking kind of long, that's all."


6:18 p.m.

Mulder had left the sofa and was now sitting in his desk chair, by the window.

"You're not real good company, you know?"

No answer. He continued to stare out into the darkening street.

Scully checked her watch and heaved an impatient sigh.

//Hurry the hell up, would you Krycek? He's going to start climbing thewalls any second now.//


6:43 p.m.

Scully's head snapped around as she heard the faint click of the knob. Sheflew to the door and met Krycek there, dragging him into the kitchen. Muldercontinued to stare out the window. So deeply inside of himself was he, thathe never even heard the door.

"Where have you been?"

Krycek raised his eyebrows and held up three plastic bags. "Where didI tell you I was going?"

"All this time? Mulder's practically catatonic out there!"

Krycek glanced toward the door. "Why?"

"Because you've been gone so long. I know his mind...most of the time,and he's thinking you've taken off on him."

"Why in God's name would he think that?"

"He's *out* there, Alex. His mind isn't working right. You know what,the more I think about it, the more I think his fear of you deserting himis at the crux of this problem. He can't relax. He's wound up tighter thana spring. Your body will do all kinds of weird things to you when it's overwrought."

"He doesn't have to be afraid of me leaving him."

"*You* know that. *I* know that. Mulder *doesn't* know that. And thefact that you've taken over an hour to go to a store five minutes away,doesn't really help matters."

"I went to *four* stores."

"What the heck for?"

Krycek reached into the bag and pulled out a carton of walnut fudge. "Youknow how hard it was to find this stuff?"

Scully inclined her head and smiled. "Get out there and tell him that,would you? Before we have to fit him for a straightjacket?"


The object coming down in front of Mulder's face, startled him. As his eyesfocused, he realized that it was a spoon. Heaped with walnut fudge ice cream.He swung the chair around and came face to face with the one he'd been waitingfor. Krycek smiled at him.

"*Four* stores. You couldn't have asked for vanilla?"

Relief glazed Mulder's eyes.

"You going to eat this or are you going to wait till it melts all overyour desk?"

Mulder opened his mouth and allowed Krycek to feed him.

He withdrew the spoon and leaned in close.

"Good?"

Mulder nodded.

Krycek slipped a hand into his hair and pulled him forward for a brief kiss.

"I'll go see about your dinner. Then you can have some more."

That said, he turned and headed into the kitchen.

"Is he okay, now?" Scully asked when he came back through thedoor.

"I think so."

"What'd he say?"

"Nothing."

"Nothing at all?"

"No."

"But..."

"He didn't have to. I could see it all in his face."

She raised her eyebrows and shrugged. "Okay...look, I've been thinking.Maybe he should get away."

Krycek cocked his head.

She amended her statement. "The two of you, I mean. Alone. He can'trelax here. Maybe if you took him someplace warm. Quiet."

Krycek's head bobbed from side to side. "Maybe...think he'd go forit?"

"Why not? He can't go to work. Why hang around here when he can recuperatesomeplace tropical?"

Krycek smiled at the thought. "Okay, you don't have to sell *me*."

"Good. Now we just gotta sell Mulder."


7:32 p.m.

After dinner was over, Scully stood to clear the table.

"Now if *I* could just find a man who cooks..."

Mulder looked to Krycek, pointing at Scully. "How come it's okay for*her* to clean up?"

"She's not sick...and besides....I want to talk to you about something."

Mulder turned again to Scully, who shooed him away from the table, evenas Krycek pulled him up by his arm and led him into the living room.

Once they were seated, Krycek enfolded Mulder's hands in his own and kissedthe exposed knuckles. "Scully had an idea. And I agree with it."

Mulder gave him a suspicious look. "What?"

"We should get away from here. You and me. Go someplace warm. Reallyout of the way. Someplace where all you have to do is concentrate on gettingbetter."

"For how long?"

"However long it takes. You're on indefinite convalescent leave. Skinnerwon't have any problems with it."

Mulder sat quietly, thinking. Krycek caressed his jaw. "What do youthink? Would you like to go away with me?"

"Where?"

"I'll take you anywhere you want to go. Name the place. The fartheraway from here, the better." His knuckles stroked back and forth. "Hmm?"

Mulder thought for a moment, then gave his answer.

"Yeah."

"Yeah?"

He nodded. "Yeah."

"Great. Now as soon as you pick a place, I'll make all the arrangements."

Mulder smiled. "Look at you, you're all excited."

"Damn right. We're going to be all alone. Just you and me. Where nobodyknows us. No problems, no anxiety."

Mulder's smile faded. "Hope you're not disappointed."

"Listen, Fox. That isn't what this trip is about. It's about you relaxingand getting well. You understand?"

Mulder pressed his lips together and nodded.

Krycek held his arms out and he leaned into them gratefully.

"Everything is going to be fine, baby." Krycek plunged a handinto his hair and massaged gently. "Just fine." He pulled backslightly and grinned. "Now how about some ice cream?"




End Part IV









































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