Category: M/K slash AU

Rating: NC-17 for m/m sex, language

Spoilers: hmm. Tiny ones for practically every Krycek episode.

Disclaimers: oh, if only. I named the neighborhood stray "Ratboy,"though--he likes to grab you by the ankles and try to trip you down thestairs. That's as close as I get to owning 'em, and he *laughs* at the ideaof ownership.

Summary: Weirdness. Brr. Stuff. Yet another one where Ladonna, with no sleep,gets *WAY* funky.

Thanks: to everyone I forced at gunpoint to read this, and to the GreatOne, Rachel, who got right back in my face with that gun, forcing me topost. Ain't she cool?

*
Skin
by Ladonna King
lking@agora.rdrop.com
*

When Alex woke, he was cold. Burning cold. Something was wrong. Staringup into the darkness, he felt a familiar shudder wrack his body, sendinghim rolling reflexively to his feet, struggling out of his clothes. Hisfeet were seared by the icy hardwood floor, and the touch of his boxersand thin cotton tee was a roaring agony. He was so, so cold, and everythingelse was so *hot...* Trapping a helpless shriek behind his teeth, he clenchedhis fist, riding out the sickening waves of pain and cursing breathlesslyas his knees buckled under him.

He cried out as the fire spread, so cold, like razors flaying him open.No, no, no...it wasn't time for this. He should have years yet. He wasn'tready, it wasn't right, it wasn't *fair...*

As quickly as it had come, the cold left him, drained and shaking, his browpressed to the scarred wood. God. Drawing in a sobbing breath, he laid hispalm flat on the floor and pushed, heaving himself up by force of will.He wasn't ready. He wasn't safe. He had no sanctuary, no place to ride outthe storm. And if *they* found out...he was worse than dead. He had to getout of here. Somewhere safe. 'Think, Alex...'

The realization brought a bitter smile to his face. There was, after all,only one choice.

As ever, it seemed these days. He only hoped he didn't have cause to regretit.

***

It wasn't the first time Mulder had come home to find his apartment hadbeen entered while he was away. It wasn't even the first time he'd returnedto find them still there.

Hell, it wasn't even the first time *this* particular person had been waitingfor him. But it was definitely the first time Krycek had just been sittingthere, patiently, turned half-sideways on the far end of his couch, empty-handedand looking tired. Dark circles haunted those devilish green eyes, and therewas a tightness to Krycek's mouth that had nothing to do with his obviouslywell-fed condition. Business, apparently, was good.

He had his gun drawn in seconds, trained on Krycek's skull as he kickedthe door shut. "What's the matter," he growled through clenchedteeth, "can't you beat me with one hand anymore?"

"Mulder, if you shoot me without giving me the chance to explain, youare in for one hell of a surprise," Krycek sighed, slumping deeperinto the cushions. The only hand Mulder had to watch rested casually onthe man's knee, until it lifted slowly to drape along the back of the couch."I'm not armed. I left it all on your desk. A gesture of goodwill.But you can search me, if you like."

Scowling, Mulder risked a glance towards his desk, seeing a tidy pile ofweaponry there, the clips removed from all three guns. "What are youdoing here, Krycek?" he asked grudgingly, moving a little further intothe room without lowering his weapon.

Krycek gave him a strained little smile, shaking his head. "There'ssomething wrong with me, Mulder. Don't look so happy. It could be becauseof the alien, or it could be because of the vaccine, I don't know. But...youcould say it was killing me."

"What?" Mulder demanded, suddenly swamped by conflicting emotions.Shock. Fear, for both himself and Scully. A strange feeling of emptinesshe didn't care to examine too closely. But... "What do you mean, I*could* say it was killing you?"

"If..." Krycek swallowed, looking away, then forcing his eyesreluctantly back to Mulder's. "If I was human, I'd be dying."

Mulder just stared. If he was human. "Krycek, that's the biggest loadof bullshit I've ever heard," he snapped. "You expect me to believethat? What the hell do you think you're trying to pull, here?"

"You want my blood? You want tissue samples? Fine, go ahead. I shouldbe far enough along, it'll be real obvious. I can't explain it. I don'tknow *what* I am. I've never found another one like me. But I think you'reabout to get your proof, soon."

"What are you talking about?" This was rapidly becoming bizarre.And it really looked like Krycek *believed* the nonsense he was spouting.If...if it *was* nonsense. Stranger things had certainly happened to himlately...

"I...I'm about to change. Shed this skin for a new one. It's...bad.There's no one to ask. I don't know what I should do, or what to be afraidof. I could unmake myself entirely, or cripple myself, and never know. Inever know what I'll be. Usually, I can blend in, but it gets harder everyyear. It's...I have no past, no history, no records--I'm nobody, and...there'snot many choices, not these days. I can't...I can't do the things you do,or..."

His breath had started to hitch convulsively in his chest, his fingers twitchingin sharp gestures he didn't seem able to control. With a kind of horrifiedfascination, Mulder watched Krycek's face tighten in acute misery, his bodytrembling helplessly. "I--shit--don't shoot," the other man gasped,and staggered to his feet, ripping clumsily at his clothing. Mulder's eyeswidened, but the desperate concentration on Krycek's face killed the wrycomment he almost uttered, leaving him staring uneasily. His first sightof the prosthesis, a deadweight hanging at the other man's side, was a shockeclipsed by the strangeness of the situation. When Krycek started to struggleout of his jeans, though, he took a step back.

"Krycek, what the fuck--"

"Oh, *God...*" Krycek's voice trailed off breathlessly as he doubledover in pain, collapsing on the floor. He was clawing at his skin, his clothing,ripping at the buckles of his fake arm, wordless mewls of agony escapingthrough clenched teeth. Helplessly drawn, Mulder crept cautiously closer,bending hesitantly down to lay the tips of his fingers on Krycek's bareshoulder.

The minute he touched Krycek's skin, they both cried out in pain, cringingviolently apart. Mulder thrust his fisted hand under his arm, staring inmute astonishment at the other man. Fever, he might have expected, but cold?Krycek's skin burned like an open flame, shiveringly icy, piercing straightto the bone. Faint shimmers of chilly fog steamed off his writhing form,and his skin was sheened by a thin, crackling lace of frost, shatteringand reforming with each convulsion.

Without warning, Krycek arched up off the floor, like a hooked fish, teethsnicking shut on a scream. The wave of freezing air that hissed by Mulder'slegs made him jump reflexively away, just as the frost radiated outwardfrom Krycek's body like ripples in a still pool, shimmering across the floor.When Krycek went limp just as suddenly, the tension draining out of himin a rush, Mulder could almost taste his own relief. He'd thought he likedwatching Krycek hurt, payment for all his duplicity, but this...

A puddle was forming beneath the man as the frost melted away, his raggedgasps evening out slowly. With an obvious effort, his eyes opened and rolledup to meet Mulder's, wavering drunkenly. "It's...over. For now. It...itgets...worse."

Christ. What the fuck had that *been?* Krycek claimed to be something otherthan human, and that, though it seemed to have no connection to the skinchange Krycek had mentioned, had not been anything he could easily explain.Perhaps Krycek *was* telling the truth, this time anyway... "Did Ihurt you?" he demanded. "When I touched you."

"Burned. I was so cold, it was like you were on fire... Are you goingto shoot me? It'll just...just speed things up. The head would be quickest."

Belatedly, Mulder holstered his gun, staring irresolutely down at his enemy.He made it sound like a mercy. God. "And you say you're going to change."

"*Yes,* Mulder," Krycek groaned softly.

"What happens?"

"I don't know," was the whispered response, as Alex's eyes closedtiredly. Lying there in a heap on Mulder's floor, the man looked more patheticallyvulnerable than he had any right to, and Mulder could feel his fury slippinggrudgingly away.

"What do you mean you don't know? You've done it before, right? Youmust have some idea."

Krycek's eyes slitted open, blazing coldly. "If I knew how it worked,I wouldn't be so fucking scared of it, dammit..."

And God help him, Krycek *did* look scared. Petrified, beneath the exhaustionand the bravado. Mulder wanted--*needed*--to gloat over this, to shrug itoff and throw Krycek out on his ear, or put his weird claim to the test,shoot the bastard in the head, and see just what came back. He wanted itso badly he could taste it.

But he knew he was going to go hungry.

"What do you want me to do?" he asked, sick frustration boilingin his gut. This wasn't the way it was supposed to be. He wasn't supposedto feel sorry for this bastard, a cold-blooded killer who'd done his bestto ruin Mulder's life, after he'd *trusted* the guy. And what in the nameof hell had possessed the man to come *here?*

"Nothing," Alex coughed. "There's nothing you *can* do. Just...giveme a safe place to stay, to wait it out. And then...I'll be gone. And you'llnever have to see me again. I can promise you that..."

Slowly, Mulder bent down again, and cautiously closed his hand around Krycek'selbow, hauling him to his feet. "Come on," he said tightly, hisface closed. For an instant, he stared down at the lump of plastic on thefloor, then wedged his shoulder under Krycek's good arm, leading him intothe bedroom. "Get some sleep. You look like shit. You need anything?"

"No," Krycek breathed, staggering a bit. "No, I'm...I'm okay.Just...thanks."

"Yeah. Whatever. You know we're going to have to talk? Or do I haveto cuff you to the bed?"

"Promises, promises," Krycek chuckled weakly. "Only if youwant to. I'll still be here. Nowhere to go. And I'll tell you whatever youwant to know."

Mulder's eyes narrowed, his lips tightening. "Yeah, but can I trustwhat you tell me?"

"Mulder...you're not getting it. Sometime in the next week, Alex Krycekwill cease to exist. I don't have anything to lose. So, yeah. You can trustme."

When that sunk in, Mulder almost dropped the other man in shock. "Wait.Just like that. After all this..."

"I told you," Alex shook his head as Mulder eased him down ontothe bed. "I don't have that many choices. It's hard to get reestablishedsometimes... I was...pretty young-looking. When I changed last time. Andit gets more and more difficult to...to play the game. I don't understandyou people," he mused aloud, dreamily, slurring his words just slightly."I try to be the face you want to see, but it doesn't always make sense.I never know if I'm doing it right. But I want to survive. I want...to befree..."

"Krycek," Mulder whispered.

"Do you know what it'd be like if they knew?" Krycek's exhaustedeyes blinked up at him, tinged with vague horror. "When I can't quite...die?"

"Go to sleep, Krycek. We'll talk in the morning," Mulder saidfirmly, slowly backing away. He didn't feel sorry for this...thing. Nota bit. No way. Even if he could, almost, understand the fear. And he hadso many questions he wanted to ask, not just about Krycek's employers, butabout Krycek himself, what he was, where he'd been, what he was doing *here*if he was what he claimed. Where had he come from, and where was he going?But Krycek's fear of being trapped, and studied, was as real as his terrorof the change itself, and Mulder found himself feeling irrationally guiltyfor his curiosity. "You're safe here," he heard himself promise,and Krycek smiled absently, still focused on his own private terror.

Wrenching himself around, Mulder left the room, closing the door behindhim. Christ. Oh Christ. Like he wasn't confused enough when it came to Krycek.It *did* give the man's frustratingly capricious actions new meaning, however...Like an actor that hadn't studied the role, ad libbing as he went, and prayingno one would notice. And, just maybe, it explained what he'd been doingin the Consortium in the first place. Perhaps he'd gone looking for an alias,and come out with a job, one he hadn't felt he could pass up. Where elsebut the street would take him in, and ask no questions? A man completelyuntraceable...he must have seemed like a dream come true.

But...a man? No. Nor even the boy he might have looked instead--and *that*might well have been a horror all its own. If he was telling the truth,Krycek wasn't a man, wasn't, perhaps, even a *he.* But Mulder couldn't quitethink of Krycek any other way. Even if, already, the mask of that personawas cracking, something different peeping out. Something unknown. Krycekwas still just...Krycek.

And yet... 'Sometime in the next week, Alex Krycek will cease to exist.'The words echoed over and over in his skull, strangely disturbing. Sometimes,it seemed like Krycek had always been there, as if he, far more than eventhat smoking bastard, had been Mulder's personal nemesis. Because Krycekhad gotten under his skin like no one else ever had. What would he do ifKrycek was really, truly gone? If he never again had occasion to glanceover his shoulder, into the shadows, where Krycek liked so much to appear?

'Or does he?' Mulder wondered, collapsing onto the couch, still warm whereKrycek had been sitting. Slowly, he leaned back like the other man had done,draping his arm over the back, staring off into space. 'What *does* he like?What did any of this mean to him? Did it mean a thing?'

And why did the possibility that it had not hurt so fiercely?

***

Something woke him in the dead of night, some subtle motion where none shouldbe, a whisper that reached into his dreams and shook him awake. Cautiously,he counted his heartbeats, listened to the faint hiss of his own breath,straining to pinpoint the wrongness he felt so strongly in the room.

A tiny sigh and the creak of a chair, and Mulder opened his eyes slowlyin the darkness, lit strangely by the lurid glare of the fish tank. Thedark shape sitting so calmly in the shadows could only be Krycek. Groaning,Mulder flopped over onto his back, throwing an arm across his eyes. "Doyou always sleep on the couch?" he heard the other man say.

"Do you always lurk around people's apartments?" he scowled. "It's..."The clock on the VCR flashed '12:00' when he looked, and and his alarm clockwas still on the floor where he'd knocked it this morning. Shit. "It'slate, dammit. What are you doing up?"

"I'm cold," Krycek sighed.

Mulder sat up at once, his bare feet hitting the floor with a muffled thump."It's happening again?" No time to rationalize his instant concern.

"No. Not yet. I'm always cold when I'm starting the change."

"You want extra blankets?" Krycek shook his head in the dark."Well, what then?"

There was a long silence from the shadows, until Mulder's uneasiness beganto mount. Did Krycek want...? Would he ask? Was this... "You'd tellme, wouldn't you?" Krycek's strained voice came out of the darkness,a flash of white hand in the tank's glow. "If I...if I lost myself?Or came back crippled? I...I'd want to know..."

What did he mean? He was already missing an arm, dammit... "I don'tunderstand."

"When I change, I think only my body changes. So far, *I've* stayedthe same--my thoughts, my memories, *me.* But I don't know what I'm doing.It just happens. And it's been so long, so many times, and I'm so...I justdon't know. I'm always afraid I'll mess up and come back an idiot, missingpieces of myself, and never know the difference. I mean, if I'm wrong, and*everything* changes..."

Mulder bit his lip, staring at the eerily-lit figure with a sympathy hedidn't want to feel. Bad enough to be alien, but to be *alone,* truly alone,and afraid of your own body... To wonder, every day, if you were truly theperson you had been the day before, or last week, or last year. "I'dtell you," he said quietly. "If I could tell. But you alreadysaid...it's all just an act for you. How would I know? How can I tell what'sreally you, and what's just a mask?"

"I--"

"Damn it, how--how can you have done this so coldly?" Mulder growled,surging to his feet, ignoring the irony of his accusation. "You comein, and you take *everything* from me, my father, my partner, my--you mademe *care* about you, you sonofabitch, and I *trusted* you, and even wheneveryone else...dammit, it was *you* I believed when I lost my faith, and...andyou didn't care at *all,* you bastard... God, you could at least have hatedme, you could have given me that..."

He was ranting, nearly yelling, but he didn't care. He felt like an idiot,like a bug under glass. After all the fury he'd spent on Krycek, all therage and despair and helpless, wordless longing, keeping him awake fromthe first hour he'd seen those brilliant green eyes looking at him withwhat he had sworn was worship... Only to find that he had been less thana job, less than an annoyance, or an enemy. He had been nothing. Nothingat all.

"It wasn't like that, Mulder," Krycek shook his head, and lookedaway. "Hating you would have been so much easier. I didn't want yourtrust. I--I didn't want that *job,* since the first time I saw you. God,and you were so smart, this genius profiler--I was so terrified of you atfirst. I thought you'd uncover me, not the job, but what I was, and...andput me in a cage somewhere, or, I dunno, tear me apart, and...and when Irealized you weren't like that, I thought...maybe you could *understand.*If I told you. And not...think I was a monster.

"But I knew what they wanted me to do. They didn't want you dead, theywanted you to trip yourself up, to make such a laughingstock of the X-Filesthat no one would dare take them seriously, not until it was too late. Iwas supposed to help. Gain your trust, and set you up for a spectacularfall. I left those butts in my car on purpose. It...it mattered more thatyou stop them. I couldn't have both. But I don't hate you, Mulder. I definitelydon't hate you."

For a long moment, Mulder stood frozen, disbelief warring with an irrationalhope, tinged with hurt. Krycek had thought *that* of him? That he couldbe so heartless, so inhuman... He'd wondered, had questions, yes, but hewould never have done anything *about* them. Surely Krycek had to have realizedthat. And then for the man to turn around and save Mulder from himself,and be alone again... Never mind what he had done after. That deliberateself-sabotage had not been the act of a creature that didn't care. "Whydid you come here?" he asked at last, wishing he could see the other'sface.

"For the same reason you let me stay," Krycek shrugged. "Ihope it wasn't pity."

Mulder didn't reply. Slowly, he walked over to where Krycek sat, turningthe lowered face towards him with a firm, gentle grip. It was hard to readKrycek's expression by such a hazy, underwater glare, but he thought maybe,just maybe, Krycek meant what he said. Enough for one night.

'God, I wanted you,' Mulder mused silently. 'I want you now. And I wantto make you want me back, I want you to need me like your next breath. Ifyou walk away from me this time, I want it to draw blood, damn you.'

Krycek's skin was freezing. "You're cold," Mulder said at last,cupping the man's cheek in his palm. "Why don't we get you warmed up?"

"I'd like that," Krycek said with a small smile, and let Mulderpull him up out of the chair, tugging him back into the bedroom.

God. Months spent with Krycek, and Mulder too afraid to make a move. Notthat, at the end, he hadn't trusted Krycek. It was himself he hadn't trusted.To not lose his head, and become a fool, and turn his shy, geeky new partnerinto the kind of target he had kept Scully from being, as much as possible,from the start. And then *that* had blown up in his face, and he'd knownhe couldn't dare. That he had to keep everyone as far from himself as possible,for their own safety.

And he'd thought *himself* alone.

It was nearly pitch-black in his bedroom, the curtains drawn, the only lightthe eerie glow creeping in from the living room. He couldn't really seeKrycek, but touch was nearly enough. Slowly, his fingers realized Krycekhad changed his clothes, out of his damp jeans into a pair of sweatpantsand a tee he must have found on Mulder's floor. Part of him hesitated. Krycekwas trembling, shivering just slightly under his hand. Maybe he should justcrawl in with him, and keep Alex warm through the night.

Then Alex's hand touched his chest, stroking tentatively, up to his shoulderand down his arm to his wrist, smoothing the soft flesh there with two fingers.Mulder let his eyes slip closed, and when he opened them, he smiled intothe darkness. Reaching out, he slipped his hands under Krycek's borrowedshirt, pulling it up as his touch skated higher, over the strong planesof his back, tugging it over his bowed head.

All his. That was the only thing he could think of, with a fierce pleasurehe didn't care to dwell on. He finished stripping them both quickly, andwalked Krycek backwards to the bed, the two of them crawling hurriedly underthe covers and rolling to face each other. Alex lay on his left side, thestump of his arm hidden from touch. The prosthesis was still in the livingroom, resting neatly by his piled weaponry on Mulder's desk, though it hadbeen hard, very hard, to touch the thing. Proof positive of a pain unimaginable.His fault? Alex's? Fate? It was far too easy to take the blame on himself.

He let his hand slip around the back of Alex's neck, combing through theshort, dark hair as he leaned closer and brushed his lips against Krycek's,just off-center. He almost wanted to turn on the light, but that might makethings *too* real, too immediate, for both of them. And he didn't want tosee Krycek's eyes if this was all a game.

Alex's lips were soft, moving sweetly over his own, without the fierce crushhe'd come to expect from his few, brief male lovers. As if passion had tobe proven to be real, every kiss a desperate attack. Alex's tongue lickedcaressingly at Mulder's lips, easing gently into his mouth, tasting himwith the same slow, sensuous touch. Mulder was only dimly aware of the handslipping down his back, cupping the curve of his ass and teasing the ticklishskin over his hip, a single thumb stroking sharp bone. He was too engrossedin the taste of the other man, the feel of silken skin under his own palm,losing its chill rapidly.

And Krycek felt wonderful. Mulder teased nipples already hard, revelingin the quiet moans echoing between them, while Alex jumped with helplessneed. Mulder could feel the powerful flex of muscle beneath his hand, Alex'sstreamlined body infinitely responsive, with one knee already hooked behindMulder's thigh. And when Mulder's fingers skated down, to encircle fleshfeverish-hot by comparison, Alex arched up into him, crying out into Mulder'smouth. Like satin. He really did feel like satin, sun-warmed and slippery-smooth,pulsing impatiently against Mulder's hand. With a final kiss, Mulder liftedhis head, wishing again he could see Alex clearly.

"Alex?" he murmured. "How do you...?"

"Whatever you want," Alex sighed, running the tip of one fingerunerringly down Mulder's cock in the dark, still thrusting his hips slowlyagainst Mulder's hand. "Please."

Mulder released him, smiling at the frustrated groan that escaped the otherman, and slipped his hand over Alex's hip, stroking his ass. Krycek wrappedhis leg tighter around Mulder, pulling him closer. Oh yes. Most definitely.Rolling away a bit, Mulder turned half-over, reaching for the night standto fumble in the drawer. His fingers closed on what he sought with the familiarityof habit, though not with frequent company. When he rolled back, he caughtAlex's mouth again, quickly, before uncapping the tube.

Alex shifted closer as Mulder eased the first finger inside him, humminga contented little sound deep in his chest while his hand roamed Mulder'sbody, his head burrowing under the agent's chin. Soft, wet kisses patteredacross Mulder's chest as Alex nuzzled against him, curving his spine ina boneless feline curl. Mulder added another finger, and Alex surged backinto his touch, rocking languidly as he began to stroke Mulder's cock atthe same pace. God. The world narrowed to his body and Alex's, the shiftand thrust like moving underwater, lazy and desperately sweet.

When he rolled Alex over on his back, insinuating himself between legs thatdragged him insistently close, he hesitated for a moment, almost desperateto see Alex's face, to know... "Mulder," Alex murmured fingersbrushing across the agent's chest. "Please. I want you in me..."

Hard to argue with the need in that voice. And he didn't want to argue,even if that voice was a liar. Slowly, he eased into Alex's tight heat,biting his lip, praying for control. The skin Mulder caressed was stillslightly cool, but Alex was so hot inside, so incredibly welcoming... Hestill wanted to ruin Alex for anyone else, wanted to *possess* him, bodyand soul. "Like this?" he murmured down on the other man, eyesclosing on his own intense pleasure. God, Alex felt so damn good... "Doyou like this?"

"Yes," Alex hissed, thrusting up into him, fingers digging intoMulder's hip and urging him to move faster, harder.

"Can you feel this like I do, how perfectly I fit inside you?"

"God, yes."

Their sleepy, relaxed pace was gone, need driving them ruthlessly. It wasall Mulder could do not to slam into Krycek as hard as he could, fuck themboth insensible, and ignore everything else. Alex's breathless cries turnedto deep moans when Mulder took hold of his cock, achingly hard in his slickhand. "Can you feel what I feel?" he whispered into the darkness,staring down as if he could pierce the gloom surrounding them. "WhatI *feel?* Can you?"

"I--Mulder, I--" But then Alex was coming hard in Mulder's hand,his words lost in a choked-off scream, and Mulder followed right behind.Collapsing onto his elbows over Alex's limp body, he rested his brow againstthe man's damp shoulder, panting hard. "Mulder," Alex sighed,and touched his hair, stroked his sweat-slicked back. Something bitter roseup in Mulder's throat then, his gut twisting helplessly, but when he triedto rise, pull out and pull away, Alex's hand held him there. "Yes.I can."

Mulder's eyes closed, his head dropping back down, infinitely heavy. Burrowinginto Alex's skin, warm again at last, he lifted the rest of himself awayand shifted over to curl beside his lover, dragging Alex painfully close."Mulder?" Alex whispered, uncertainly, but not fighting him. God,when had he ever, really...

"I don't know which is worse," Mulder growled at last. "Nothaving you, or losing you. Can't things ever be easy with you?"

"I would have come back," Alex murmured hesitantly. "After.When they couldn't track me. I would have come back and explained things.Made amends. Even if you didn't believe me."

"After you changed?"

"Yes."

"What...what are you going to do?" Mulder asked quietly. "You'llhave to start over again. Where will you go?" Alex didn't answer. "Krycek..."

"I don't know," Alex admitted miserably. "But I won't workfor them again. I couldn't even if I wanted to, and I don't. Don't wantto. Not ever again."

"All right," Mulder sighed, kissing the still-damp throat. "MaybeI can help."

But rather than thank him, Alex turned still beside him, and stayed silentfor a long, long time.

***

"Alex?" Mulder called as soon as the door was shut. The apartmentseemed so empty... "Are you awake? I've got dinner."

Krycek had slept so much the last few days, as if going into hibernation,or as if his chilling body was a chrysalis of ice rather than silk. Theyboth knew the change was coming soon; Mulder had caught him more than oncestaring out the windows from across the room, careful never to appear there,but unable to keep his eyes from the whitening fall sky. As if he dreamedof flying away.

But Alex would spend hours and hours a day going over everything he knewwith Mulder, providing a knowledgeable sounding-board for what he didn't.Holding nothing back. Sometimes it kept Mulder awake at night, the thingshe learned, the things he could guess--and Alex didn't spare himself, either.God, the things he'd done.

And worse, the things that had been done to him. If this was what Alex hadcome to expect from life, Mulder didn't want to know anything that had comebefore. He might never sleep again.

"Alex?" he called out again, dropping the bags of take-out onhis desk. At least Alex had finally cleared his weapons, and his arm, offof it. There was barely room for his papers as it was. Still. He was startingto feel uneasy. Wandering into the bedroom, he found Alex curled unconsciousin a spreading puddle of melting ice, some of it still flaking from white,white skin. "Alex!"

Rushing to Krycek's side, he struggled to lift the other man back onto thebed, shucking him out of his wet clothing once he had him up on the mattress.By the time he could dash into the bathroom and back with towels, Alex'seyes were flickering slowly open, color returning grudgingly to his cheeks."Mulder?" he rasped, blinking hard. Tiny droplets beaded his longlashes, dropping to his cheeks like tears. "What...?"

"It's okay, Alex. You had another one of your...cold snaps," hetried to joke. "Do you remember it?"

"Yeah," Alex breathed. "God. It's...close. I hope I don'tscare you..."

"Why?" Mulder found a smile. "Is there a chance you couldturn into a three-headed dog or something?"

"Not today," Alex chuckled weakly. "No, I...it's just goingto be strange, if you're here to see it. I don't know...what it looks like.But it...people...I don't know. I don't..."

"Don't ask me to leave," Mulder warned steadily, "becauseI won't."

"You...you might not like it," Alex shook his head, but Muldercould tell he didn't really want Mulder to go. That he was afraid to bealone.

"It's okay. I'll deal with it. You don't scare me Alex. Look, I gotdinner. From that Mongolian place you told me about. Are you hungry?"

"Not right now," Alex sighed. "I will be. After. And thenI'll want to sleep, for about another week. I...if that's a problem..."

"No," Mulder said quickly. God, so soon? It had only been fivedays, and the time had just flown by, and soon Alex would as well, leavinghim for good. Christ. He wished so badly he could make him stay... "Doyou want anything?"

"Maybe...tea?" Alex found a smile.

"Coming right up."

He helped Alex sit up in bed, still naked under the covers, with a moundof pillows at his back. There wasn't any sense in getting him dressed again.He'd only wind up trapped in them when his body temperature plummeted, everythingso much warmer than he was, it was like being surrounded by flame. Muldercouldn't stand to see him like that, while he was helpless to do anythingbut watch. Once, he could almost have enjoyed it, but now...

All of it, all the lies and the killing, it was like it had happened tosomeone else, in a dream. And in so many ways, Alex was just so *alien.*He just didn't feel things the same way the rest of the world did; sometimes,Mulder felt like he was trying to put a wolf on trial for following itsinstinct to survive.

But there was never any question that what a wolf *did* feel, it felt unconditionally.

"So, Alex," he asked as Krycek sipped cautiously at his tea. "Afteryou change--you're sure you won't look the same?"

"I never have," Alex shrugged. "Why?"

"Well, I was thinking that...if no one would think you were...you..."he shrugged, feeling his face grow tight and hot. God, he couldn't do this.Begging on his knees for Alex to stay.

"Well, we know you got all the bugs out of here," Alex laughedquietly, "or they would have killed us both days ago." So true.Alex had done the first sweep, before Mulder got home that day last week,and they had kept it up religiously since then. Fortunately for them both.

"Yeah. I...I thought you could..."

He never got a chance to finish his offer. Alex's entire body jerked suddenly,a frigid light blazing up in his eyes, as the cup in his hands and its contentsfroze solid, rimed with ice. "Oh, Jesu..." His breathy groan dissolvedinto a choked scream, and he began to thrash blindly under the blankets,the mug falling to shatter on the floor beside them.

Mulder retained enough sense to jerk the covers back to the foot of thebed, backing away slowly as Alex convulsed, teeth grinding together in asoundless snarl. Alex's nails were raking his pale skin, raising pure whitewelts in their wake. Mulder wanted to grab Alex's wrist to keep him fromhurting himself, but his one experience with touching Krycek in this conditionhad taught him better than that. He could only hurt them both.

The ice frosting Alex's skin grew thicker, and cracked into razored shards,tearing into him as he struggled helplessly on the bed. Mulder's heart stoppedwhen he saw the first cuts form, but where there should have been blood,there was...nothing. And then Alex himself shattered, his bloodless skinevaporating in a sudden burst of blinding light. In that instant, Alex'strue self was laid bare before him, and Mulder stared blindly into the heartof the phoenix.

It was like standing on the edge of a precipice, staring down into the infinite,white fire gliding in a slow maelstrom, howlingly quiet and ponderous. Allof Alex was fire, and the fire was ice, cold-steam billowing like smokefrom the snowy conflagration. There was form to him, and shape, and a dartingconfusion that might have been mistaken for wings, radiating from a twistingvisual cacophony. Hints of the familiar fluctuated at dead center, of hawk,dragon, serpent, salamander--and nothing, no landmark feature Mulder couldlatch onto, so primal and strange he knew he would never be able to describewhat he saw, if he tried forever. If this was what Alex truly was...thenGod, he didn't belong here, not even the ghost of him.

Nothing so pure should be forced to degrade itself so utterly.

His face burned with the cold Alex radiated, tears frozen on his cheeksas he blinked furiously against the glare, determined to watch it out tothe end. With a final, inhuman cry, like the voice of the wind over knives,there was a condensing, a flex of strange muscles, and Alex's body pulledin on itself, the fire sinking into his bones. And he was wrapped in a newskin, new flesh, a new face lying as if dead on the pillows.

This Alex had the same dark hair, and the same hint of emerald peered throughhalf-open eyes, but there the similarities ended. Where the man before hadhad the face of a demented angel, this one had the face of a saint. Evenhis body was different, lacking the lean, lupine power of the other. Hewas built along finer lines, more slender, graceful, though still strong-looking,tough. Not a wolf this time. A feline. Or...or a fox. Beautiful. And--God--whole.

Whole. The left arm was flung out beside him, long fingers slightly curled,relaxed. Perfectly formed.

"Alex?" he whispered hoarsely, daring to take a cautious stepforward. "Alex, are you okay?"

The brilliant green eyes flickered completely open at the sound of his voice,focusing on him wearily. "Mulder?" Alex asked hesitantly, as ifafraid of being contradicted.

"Yeah," he grinned.

"Good. I...God...I'm so tired... Do you...?"

"It's okay, Alex. You're going to be fine. Just--let me change thesheets, okay? You're going to catch cold if you lie in all that." Hopefully,the melting ice Alex lay in hadn't soaked the mattress yet. The couch wasn'tgoing to be very comfortable for two...

"Warm," Alex sighed, letting Mulder haul him to his feet, hangingas limp as a week-old kitten in his arms. "I feel warm again. You'renot...?"

"No. I told you, it's okay. Everything's fine. Just relax, and rest.Are you hungry?" he asked, steering him into the living room.

"Ravenous."

"All right. I'll reheat dinner. And in a couple of days, when you'refeeling better, I can have a talk with some folks, get you some ID. Whatare we going to call you, anyway?"

"'We?'" Alex stared up at him as Mulder lowered him gently tothe couch, grabbing a blanket to wrap around him.

"Yeah. If you're going to stay here. I--I'd like it if you did. Ifyou want."

He couldn't believe he'd just asked that. Laid everything on the line, forsomeone--something--he couldn't even begin to comprehend. His job. His partnership.His future.

His heart.

But Alex stared up at him in mute astonishment, turning slowly to wary joy."Stay with you. Until...?"

"No until. Until you leave. And I don't want you to leave. Life wouldbe...boring...without you. Will you stay?"

There was no hesitation, no question in Alex's still-familiar eyes. "Yes,"he breathed, a true smile spreading slowly across his drawn, flushed features,and pulled Mulder down for a kiss.

***
end
***

Notes: for anyone who hasn't guessed, the change at the end was somethingI had been going to stick in "Phoenix in the Snow" as one of Mulder'sdreams, until I decided it was just too damn long for no real purpose. SoI decided to elaborate on it a bit...