His blood was smeared across the refrigerator door.
Mulder sat on the kitchen floor, looking at all that remained of his confrontation with Alex Krycek.
Like a crimson rainbow, Mulder thought, studying it. Blood. Always blood. In Mulder's mind, he often saw it surrounding Alex: Red. Rage. Anger. Blood. Death. He recalled the violent scene in the Hong Kong airport, Alex pushed against the pay phones, eyes teary, nose bloodied. He saw Alex prone against the hood of a car, choking, Mulder's gun on him, gash on his mouth bleeding. And Mulder remembered cradling his own father's head, his clothes becoming drenched in the warm color of an early evening sunset.
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, clearing his head of the memory. When he did, his senses brought him back to the present, his nostrils filling with the lingering smells of a Chinese dinner for two growing cold on the kitchen table.
It felt like he had been sitting here for days, unsure of just what he needed to be doing. His life was collapsing around him. First the X- Files were taken away from him, then his life's work had been reduced to embers, and now Alex Krycek hoped Mulder would kill him.
Shit, I could use a drink, he thought.
His gun was lying beside him on the floor, and Krycek's prosthetic arm, its plastic fingers turned upward, lay next to it. Mulder ran a hand through his hair and sighed. For a former profiler, he thought, you sure are stumbling in the dark when it comes to Alex Krycek.
Did he hate him? Mulder pondered that for a moment, his eyes glancing back and forth between the lifeless appendage on the floor and the red swath Krycek had left behind. He could hate what he did to his father, for his betrayal of their FBI partnership, for having a tenuous connection to Scully's disappearance, but Mulder realized he didn't hate Krycek.
He couldn't, not after what happened here in his kitchen.
It was an act of desperation from a man in obvious emotional pain. Mulder recognized it when Krycek stared into his eyes -- the haggard, drawn sight of him, looking haunted and defeated. Mulder thought back and cringed at his behavior. Krycek knew he would easily lash out in anger; he expected it and had hoped to drive Mulder to kill him just from his mere presence in the apartment.
But why not just kill himself if he wanted to die? Because he knew how easy it was to get a rise out of me instead, thought Mulder. The notion bothered him and made him angry -- hell, Krycek knew Mulder better than he knew himself sometimes. Krycek could push the right buttons, say the wrong things, and Mulder would react like a trained attack dog.
But Alex admitted Mulder wasn't a killer, yet he came to see him anyway. It was as if...Krycek needed something from him. Perhaps it was his warped way of asking for help.
Mulder guessed Krycek didn't have friends or anyone close he could talk to. He imagined that in Alex's line of work, human contact was kept to a minimum unless absolutely necessary. To Mulder it seemed like a punishment to go through life without being able to touch another person. That was probably why he routinely touched Scully. His hand nestled comfortably in the small of Scully's back, or her light, familiar nudges were his intimate tethers to the world around him.
Mulder wondered if the kiss -- or the caress of Alex's fingers against his cheek just an hour ago -- were related to the desperate need to reach out to someone. With everything Krycek had experienced, was Mulder the person who fulfilled Alex's basic human desire for touch? Was he the one who grounded Krycek to his humanity? The thought made Mulder feel even guiltier. In his own -- albeit misguided -- way, Krycek was relying on the only person on Earth with whom he shared a connection.
Mulder couldn't have known that of course, but a surge of anger welled up inside him when he thought about how quick he was to resort to violence. He wasn't a violent man. Was he? Mulder glanced at the red path of Krycek's blood again. He must have slammed the other man's head against the fridge hard enough to make him bleed. God, he felt like the abuser who smacked his kid around because he knew the child wouldn't fight back. Mulder hated that side of himself, the way he automatically responded with his hands when Krycek baited him.
But fortunately, thought Mulder, Krycek didn't ultimately get what he wanted.
If in fact Alex was in over his head, if he really was so deep within the belly of the beast that he'd rather die -- that didn't sound like the Krycek Mulder had come to know.
True, he hadn't really gotten that close to him in the short month they worked together as partners, but Mulder recognized in the man the will to endure. Krycek had gone up against the highest-ranking members of the Syndicate to sell information from the MJ files. He had been infected with the Black Oil and felt it squirming through his soul. He somehow survived the terrors of the missile silo -- and Mulder knew he had lied regarding his rescue -- because despite what Krycek said, his eyes told the truth about how absolutely terrified he was. Alex even willingly traveled halfway around the world with Mulder without knowing the reason why they were headed to Tunguska. Mulder couldn't understand why Krycek had ever trusted him.
Mulder's eyes caught the sight of the lifeless prosthesis again. Krycek paid for his double-cross in the gulag ten times over, but it was in a way that Mulder never could have imagined. He felt guilty knowing that the man who sat next to him on the plane and softly, almost reverently, told him about the village in Russia where his parents met had suffered so horribly. It wasn't vindication for Krycek's previous actions; Mulder wouldn't wish that kind of treatment on anyone. He couldn't. Mulder wasn't that kind of man.
Perhaps that was why Krycek's visit disturbed him once he found out the real reason he was there. Alex Krycek was a fighter, a man who more than once faced death and overcame it. Mulder had to be honest -- Krycek had helped him in the past. The receipts for the truck full of explosives in Queens, the late night visit revealing the secret at Wiekamp Air Force base...for some reason beyond explanation, Krycek seemed to understand what Mulder was trying to accomplish.
Alex believed in me, he thought to himself.
Other than Scully, who was the one person in the entire world he could trust but usually balked at his theories, there was Alex. He was the only one who grasped the importance of Mulder's quest, who could reach him and make him realize that he needed to get his head out of his ass and get back to work. Krycek risked his life by giving Mulder his gun back that night...the night he took a chance on human nature and truly kissed Mulder awake. The man who had been through so much yet knew he had to put his life in Mulder's hands to get him to that Air Force base. The man who haunted his thoughts, who caused him doubt, who was steadfast, persistent, and unyielding.
And Mulder sure as hell wasn't going to let him die.
The small, tastefully decorated space was far from what Mulder expected a suicidal, leather-clad, double-agent's apartment to look like.
He didn't have much furniture, but the loveseat, sofa, and high-backed chair were all leather. The floors were hardwood, polished to a high gloss, with rich patterned throw rugs scattered throughout. Metal bookshelves held a few curios, but not many books. A modern wooden desk, painted black, rested next to a small window that looked out into a parking lot. It reminded Mulder of a department store display, because it barely looked lived in. He had an intriguing need to see the bedroom as well; it was the first thing he checked out after picking the lock on the apartment door. It too was neat, orderly, with a relatively small bed and a plain white down comforter. Mulder noticed there was no TV in the apartment, nor was there a computer. The kitchen was small yet tidy, and Mulder didn't bother looking at the bathroom.
He was sitting there wondering how Krycek functioned without a television when he heard a key in the door.
The apartment was dark, and once the other man entered his living space and clicked on the hall light to see Mulder sitting there, a gun suddenly appeared in Krycek's hand. He was much faster than Mulder had anticipated.
Krycek was panting audibly, his weapon shaking as he trained it on Mulder.
"Krycek," Mulder said, sitting up in his chair and interlacing his fingers in front of him on the table.
"Mul..." Krycek shook his head, exhaling loudly. "What the hell..."
"You seem a little jumpy there, Alex."
"I thought it was...I didn't expect it to be you, Mulder."
Krycek narrowed his eyes and steadied his hand. "Shut up," he said harshly.
"Easy, Alex," Mulder said, holding up his hands. "I came to talk."
"At least I bring dinner when I break into someone's apartment to talk."
Mulder smiled slightly at that. "You can thank Lee Fong's Chinese Kitchen for getting me here today. Sans the sweet and sour chicken, however."
At Krycek's confused look, Mulder slowly reached into his jacket pocket and retrieved a slip of paper. "You paid with a credit card, Krycek. Sloppy."
Krycek shrugged, saying nothing.
"It's unlike you, Alex."
"Since when do you fucking care, Mulder?" Krycek growled angrily, waving his gun.
"Hey, hey, I'm unarmed. Well, *technically*..."
Mulder reached down into a duffle bag at his feet, and Krycek immediately tensed. Mulder looked up at him, his one hand raised, and tossed Krycek's prosthesis onto the table in front of him.
"Okay, *now* I'm unarmed."
Krycek glared at him, anger radiating off his body in waves Mulder could almost feel. "You're fucking hilarious."
"Aren't you going to put it on?" Mulder asked.
"In front of you?" Krycek turned, looking away. "You'd probably enjoy watching me, you bastard."
The way in which Krycek's voice lowered when he said that made Mulder question if he'd made the right choice in coming here. Mulder's sarcastic tone didn't help matters, he realized. It was just something that turned on inside him; he was like an arrogant child acting up whenever he had to actually talk to Krycek rather than hit him.
"What do you mean?" Mulder asked in a soft voice, hoping he could defuse whatever was building within Krycek.
"Because I'm still in pain," he admitted through gritted teeth, turning back to Mulder. "It hurts every time it touches me."
Krycek moved forward slightly, giving Mulder a good look at what his fists had done earlier that night. Alex was bruised beneath one eye, his cheek puffy and discolored. His bottom lip was a dark red and painfully swollen on the left side. There was still blood caked around one nostril.
"Alex, if it hurts that much you..."
"You never answered my question," Krycek barked, cutting him off. "Why do you care? And since when are we on a first-name basis, *Fox*?"
Mulder met Krycek's eyes at that question.
"Since the man with whom I'm on a first-name basis asked me to kill him, *Alex*."
Krycek cocked his head and then grinned, giving Mulder a cold, disturbing look that made the other man shift under his gaze.
"Change your mind?"
They stood there for a few moments, simply staring at each other, until Krycek slowly walked up to the table and placed his gun on it. He slid it over to Mulder and sat down across from him.
This definitely wasn't going according to plan. A sudden fear built up within Mulder and he wondered if Krycek was going to do it anyway, with Mulder sitting right there watching. He swallowed and tried to calm himself, hoping he could talk his way around this, and kept on eye on Alex's hand in case he went for the gun.
"Not in the head, Fox," Krycek said, his voice hitching slightly. "There are papers in my desk, my mother's address in Russia. I don't want Mama...I don't want her seeing me like that, okay? Not in the head. I know I can trust you with that."
The muted glow of the hallway light was reflecting on his face, highlighting those green eyes that were now intense with emotion. Mulder could only stare at his former partner, taken aback at the absolute hopelessness and desperation in Alex's eyes.
"I know you trust me," Mulder said gently. "Never quite understood it."
Krycek sighed and looked down at his weapon lying between them.
"You were all I had," he admitted.
"Despite everything I did to you?" Mulder asked, his voice rising.
"I deserved it," Krycek answered simply, his eyes still focused on the gun.
No, no, no. This wasn't how it was supposed to be. He didn't deserve Mulder's violence -- it wasn't right, no matter what he had done, especially when he never even lifted a hand to defend himself. No one deserved that.
"But...you never even fought back."
"Got used to your hands on me," he whispered, his eyes fixed.
"Alex, you know I can't do this."
"Thought I was going to die that night," Krycek said, ignoring him. "Christ, who could have imagined an alien war? I hoped I would get through to you, but I wasn't sure..."
"Wasn't sure if I'd ever see you again...the kiss...I needed...didn't know how to say goodbye..."
"And then tonight, I hoped to make it easy on myself by getting you to end things. To make all of it just...stop. But you won't even blemish your moral, upstanding character to pull the trigger on someone who actually deserves to die! God, my life is never simple when it comes to you, Mulder. You make me feel so...I don't *know* how I feel when I'm around you. How do you always do this to me?"
"Alex!!" Mulder's hands came up on either side of Krycek's head and he cupped his face, forcing Alex to look at him.
"I *am* going to help you," Mulder told him quietly. "But I don't want you dead."
Krycek stared back at him, his dark eyes slowly focusing on Mulder in confusion.
"You can't give up now, Alex. You've been through too much, and I know you're stronger than this. We still have a lot of work ahead of us if we're going to try and stop what's coming."
Krycek began shaking his head, but Mulder continued, his hands still on Alex's cheeks.
"No, listen to me. It's not hopeless. We just keep fighting. I lost my entire life's work today. Things I've collected, gathered, and researched for years were gone in a heartbeat. But life isn't like that, Alex. You don't just give up when you hit a brick wall, or when your entire reason for being turns to ashes in an instant. You keep hoping, and believing, and trusting until you can make some sense out of this situation we're faced with. You've helped me in the past and you put your trust in me, so maybe you can do that again. I can try and help you now if you let me."
"You're a warrior, Alex. You have this...ceaseless desire to survive no matter what, and that I can respect. I've been thinking about this a lot and about what you've done in the past, and frankly if I were in your place I'd probably be reduced to the same actions. What we've been through is crazy, and fucked up, and I still have a lot of anger, but I *can't* hate you. It's more complicated than that. Am I getting through here?"
Krycek nodded, brows creased. "Yeah, you're a fucking psycho, Mulder."
"So they told me not too long ago while I was strapped to a hospital bed."
At Krycek's questioning look, Mulder shook his head.
"Not important. Listen to me..."
Mulder still had his hands on Alex, and the other man nodded his attention.
"I don't...I don't want you dead, okay?" Mulder sighed, struggling to put his thoughts into words. "It's hard to explain, and perplexing, but I don't want you to die."
Mulder looked down at Krycek's split lip, and some impulse made him rake his thumb over the swollen area of Alex's mouth when he withdrew his hands from Krycek's face.
Krycek watched as Mulder brought his hands back down to the table and slowly slid the gun out of Alex's reach.
Alex exhaled a sharp, shuddering breath and simply stared at Mulder. After what felt like forever, he finally spoke. "I don't know what to say."
"Promise me to put those dark thoughts out of your head."
"Promise me you won't give up on everything we've been through."
"Promise I won't find chunks of you scattered across your IKEA catalogue-decorated apartment."
Krycek's mouth quirked into a grin. "I promise. And it's Swedish functional because I move so often. Which...looks like I'll be doing again since you found me so easily."
"I told you, sloppy."
"Yeah, well, last meal and all that," Krycek admitted. He sighed. "But I don't know what I'm going to do about tonight..."
"Do what about tonight?"
"They've been hunting me for weeks. That's who I thought you were when I walked in here tonight, Mulder."
"The Syndicate wants you dead?"
"My position is considered fairly secure among certain members of the group," Krycek said. "But power is always shifting, and the others...don't particularly care whether or not I stay on the payroll. In light of recent developments regarding one specific member, I have to be extremely careful."
"You're as paranoid as I am," Mulder commented.
"I have to be. I'm constantly watching my back, looking over my shoulder..." He ran his hand through his hair and winced slightly. "I'm just exhausted from being on edge all the time, Mulder."
Mulder noticed Krycek's discomfort and stared down at his hands. "Still hurting?" he asked quietly.
"Aren't I always when it comes to you?"
Mulder felt Krycek's eyes on him and looked up. "Then allow me to do something about it."
"What can you possibly do?" Krycek asked.
"Let me stay the night."
Alex's brows wrinkled in confusion for a moment as he stared back at Mulder, his expression trying to mask the hope radiating from his eyes. "*What*?" he whispered.
"I'll keep watch, and you can get some sleep. Then tomorrow you can pack up."
Krycek shook his head and laughed softly. "Never simple," he said under his breath.
"Nothing...I don't know, Mulder..."
"Or maybe it's that." Krycek gestured to where his gun lay on the table. "Don't trust me?"
"After everything that's happened tonight? I think it would be better if I stayed. At least you'd be able to sleep. And I'd be able to sleep tomorrow knowing you kept your promise."
The other man considered it, looking between Mulder and the gun, and then nodded. "I've never broken a promise, Mulder," Krycek said, getting up.
Mulder remained seated at the kitchen table, his position allowing him a clear view of the apartment, its contents, and the front door. Sliding Alex's gun a little closer to his hand, he listened to the water run in the bathroom, and then slunk down a bit to get comfortable when Alex padded over to his bedroom.
From the bedroom door, Krycek's voice got his attention.
"What made you decide I was worth saving?"
Mulder let the question hang, thinking for a moment, and then he turned to meet Alex's eyes. He smiled gently when he answered.
"You are my constant."