"You have the coordinates?"
"Good. The building has one entrance, on the west side. There are biometric security checks at each wing, but you'll be in their system for a certain period of time to access the labs. Bring only one other person if you need to."
Scully slid her fingers along the edge of the envelope Marita had given her. "What kind of biometric measurements?"
"Vein patterns," Marita said. "Right hand and forearm."
"You have that kind of information?"
"Agent Scully, you and I have no more secrets to share with the state."
Scully ignored the bitter remark and opened the envelope. It contained an index card with a number printed on one side, a date and time on the other.
"That's the lab number, in the north wing. Agent Mulder will be there, but- I need to warn you. We aren't sure what condition he'll be in when you find him. He might be different."
"What do you mean?"
"I'm only here to relay information, Agent Scully. I don't know any more than what I've told you. But whatever they've done to him, anything is possible. You need to be understand that." Her neutral tone ended on a softer note. She turned around to leave when Scully said nothing and sat in the chair, still thumbing the stiff corners of the card.
"He sent you."
Marita stopped by the door. "Yes," she said carefully, as if she were about to give something away.
"So he's alive."
"He was a week ago," Marita said. "That might not be the case now."
"Do you know where he is?"
"Is there any way to reach him?"
Marita stared at Scully and didn't answer.
"You trust him." She said it like an accusation.
Something in Scully's throat burned at the idea. The answer was simple, but saying it aloud would somehow feel spurious, empty. She opted to stay silent. She didn't need to defend herself.
"Go find Agent Mulder," Marita said. "But be careful of Alex."
She woke up to ringing of the phone. It was a heavy, coarse sound, different from the one of her primary landline. It was the line she used to contact Krycek, when he was still here and Mulder was gone. There had been no need for it after awhile; she stopped using it when he had begun to show up regularly at her door. His number no longer worked after he had left, but she kept her line anyway. She wasn't sure exactly why.
The phone had rung before. The first time, she picked it up and held her breath, hoping Mulder was still asleep and too exhausted from his ordeal to have heard it. She waited for the sound of her name on the other end, but it never came. There was only a brief silence, then the even blare of the dial tone.
The subsequent phone calls came once a month, then tapered as the weather turned warm. Always in the evenings, never a word from the other end. She stopped picking up the phone after the second time. It was easier to lie in the dark and wait for the rings to stop.
She counted them off tonight. Seven. The silence that followed was always more unsettling than the ugly discord that precededed it.
She sat at the desk while Mulder was upstairs getting coffee. Daily routines were beginning to fall back into place. Whispers in the hallway had died down; only a few colleagues acknowledged Mulder's presence at all. He ignored their perfunctory nods like he ignored the gossip that ran wild upon his return.
He hadn't changed since coming back. At first she was vigilant, watching his mannerisms, turning the things he'd said over in her head. Looking for something that might reveal what she feared the most. But in the end she saw nothing that would be cause for alarm. He was himself. She wouldn't have known what to do if it hadn't turned out that way.
He didn't remember a thing. 'I was in the woods, and now I'm here,' he had said, while he lay in her bed and scratched at a scab on his collarbone.
She found him in Utah. It was an unmarked building, a glowing, white box in the middle of nowhere. Strangely enough, it was empty. Skinner came with her; they entered the unmanned labs and found him sleeping on a gurney. A little bruised and battered, but otherwise unharmed. She cried in the car while Skinner drove, Mulder's body curled up against hers as they sat in the backseat. She cried because he was here again and because she couldn't forget Marita's warning.
'How did you find me?' he asked once.
'The Gunmen,' she had said, without thinking. It was true; it was them who had cracked the encryption on the disc and retrieved the coordinates. Mulder merely nodded and sank his head back into the pillow, content with her answer. She did not tell him about Krycek. Any clues of his presence from his last visit were gone. Mulder never seemed to notice the smell of lacquer from the freshly sanded hardwood floor at the entrance to her apartment.
It had been six months since she last saw him. His absence felt strange, it was a perpetual dread that lingered in the back of her mind but never boiled over. It was just enough of a reminder that she had colluded with a man who had a hand in her illness and the death of her own sister. The fact that she felt any sympathy disturbed her.
When she was alone Scully resigned herself to worrying; she wondered where he was and if he had died. The Mulder in her brain said that he was laughing at her, at her naivete as she went on with her life, each day bringing her closer and closer to a bitter revelation of his betrayal. It was better not to think of it.
Her fingers were curled lightly, elbows on the edge of the table with her forehead resting on the heels of her hands. She jumped a little when he whispered her name. He wasn't dead. He wasn't laughing.
She froze in her chair, unsure of what to do. He stood at the doorway, clutching the front of his jacket as he stared at her.
"You're alive." It was the only thing she could think of to say.
"I've been hiding," he conceded. "You found him."
"It was Marita," she said.
He nodded his understanding.
He ducked a little and looked away. "I- It was me. You're safe. No one else knows." He paused. "Why," he asked, "did you stop answering?
She sighed. "Why are you here, Krycek?"
She saw him shift his posture and lean against the file cabinet by the door. His shoulders were hunched inward, the prosthetic appeared unusually prominent as it hung straight and stiff in front of him. His stance reminded her of his last visit, when he propped himself up against her doorframe as he bled on the threshold and told her he had to get away because they'd found him out. It hurt to know that she couldn't help despite his frenzied refusals as he shoved the disc in her hands. It hurt to know that she wanted to help him at all.
He was reaching into his jacket. Her hand found its way to her weapon before she had time to think. Would he start laughing now, sneering at her stupidity, her loyalty to Mulder? They were back to the beginning - him sitting atop a stool as she stood with a finger on the trigger, her hip pressed against the edge of Langly's desk. Marita's words were suddenly fresh in her ears.
The moment came and went. A package. That's all it was. He slid it out from under his jacket and placed it on top of the file cabinet. An unknown thing wrapped loosely in brown paper, tied with twine, slightly bulky but without hard edges.
"What is it?"
"Something of yours."
Damn him, he never explains anything. Scully got up from the chair and approached the door. As she reached an arm out Krycek stepped back, giving her access to the parcel. Instead, her arm extended evenly and she hooked her fingertips around the edge of his hand. He breathed out sharply and she felt him roll his palm around to grasp her curved fingers. Silence. She accepted the soft squeezes as restitution for this awkwardness.
"I was worried about you," he murmured, looking down at her.
She let his words sting as she stared into his chest. If that were the truth, then she was afraid that it might cut her up more than if he had admitted betrayal.
"Where have you been?"
He shrugged. "All over. But they're still looking for me."
"Then you shouldn't be here."
"I know," he said. "I just wanted to see you."
She sensed a slow unease set in when his hand stilled.
"Did something happen?"
"No," he said and looked at the floor. Then quietly, "But I think they're getting closer. I lost a few contacts. Most of my safehouses are compromised."
The hair on top of her head ruffled when he sighed.
She closed her eyes, suddenly contrite. He sounded so defeated, so resigned that she didn't know what to say. She released his hand and wrapped her arms around his waist to pull him closer, to give him at least a bit of comfort. Through the thin fabric of his t-shirt she could feel the snaking lines and furrows that he had refused to let her see.
"Where will you go?" she asked.
He hugged her tighter but didn't answer.
"Let me bring you in."
"You know I can't do that."
"I can help you."
"No," he said. "You can't."
It was the truth. There was nothing else for her to do but stand there and hold onto him.
"I'm sorry," she said after awhile. "Mulder will be here soon."
He nodded and turned to step out of her embrace, but she clung to his sleeve.
"I'll still be here, Krycek."
She met his gaze when he stopped and looked at her.
"Scully," he said and she let him draw her in. He was soft and warm against her skin, the kiss he pressed to her forehead was clean and guileless to her conscience.
"Scully." He whispered her name into her hair - a thank you, a goodbye. His hand slipped away from her back and she let him go.
She watched him disappear down the hallway, then grabbed the package and stuffed it between the file folders inside her satchel. She would open it later.
The streets were wet. How different it was now compared to six months ago, when the air was dry and the wind made your eyes water. The bag was heavy on her shoulder as she walked up to her aparment building. Her eyes searched the shaded corners alongside the entryway. She found nothing. There was only the weeping stone facade, an empty vestibule that opened like a glowing mouth.
A few times she had come home late from work, and he would be out in the cold, lingering in the shadows by the main entrance. Maybe he didn't want to wait for her in the hallway and risk looking like a creep to her neighbors.
'Hey,' he'd say and she would let him follow her in.
In the warmth of her apartment the color would return to his skin, the tip of his nose and ears would be slightly tinged with pink. The hard mask he wore would slip away into something milder and strangely brittle. She wondered at first if he did this delibrately, but she came to understand that this was not the case. It was Alex Krycek sitting on her couch. This was who he is in private.
On one occasion she had considered dialing Skinner while Krycek sat in the living room. Her cell phone was on the counter, if she went into the kitchen he wouldn't have been able to see her make the call. She watched him while he looked at the floor and sniffled.
"Catch a cold?" she had asked absently, wondering how she would talk to Skinner even as Krycek sat within earshot.
"No," he said. "It's just the winter air. I like the cold."
Even though they were several feet apart, she felt him shrink away from her when he finished speaking. He did that sometimes.
She was still looking in the direction of the kitchen when he said her name.
"What do you know about Eastern religions?"
"Not a lot. Why?"
"Someone told me a story once," he said, quietly.
She watched the ridge of his throat rise and fall when he swallowed.
"It was a creation story," he said, "about how the Universe was formed from a net of jewels. They say that when we look at a single jewel, we see all the other jewels reflected on its surface. We live like this, he told me."
His voice dropped and he fell silent. His were lips parted, but he closed them, abruptly ending the narrative. He sighed and lowered his chin.
"It's the way it is," he said.
She stared at him, all plans to call Skinner had suddenly been forgotten.
"What do you think?" he had asked her. His eyes sought hers, vehement and oddly tenacious. He had given her this look before. It was after the raid in Queens; he had been sitting on the oil drums, dirt marking his cheeks, wrists twisting restlessly in handcuffs. He spoke of her sister. She had wanted to hit him, then. He was always flippant with Mulder but so serious with her.
She didn't remember how she answered him that night in her apartment. Perhaps she didn't say anything at all.
The only thing she could recall was the way he dipped his head and turned away, an image of the severe veins that clung to the skin of his neck.
"Never mind, dumb story."
She tracked down the obscure tale some time after Mulder came back. It was a Hindu myth, referenced in a philosophy book she borrowed from the library. She read the passage several times, but his meaning still eluded her. She had almost forgotten about it until one night, when his words surfaced through the heavy stillness as she lay in bed next to Mulder. It was only then that she realized that he was trying to convey his guilt.
Scully turned the key to to her door and entered, promptly dumping the satchel on the couch. After dinner, she thought, or she might lose her appetite.
It was getting late; she had already showered and was ready for bed. She turned the lights off but sat on the couch, not wanting to sleep. Her living room was warm even though the window was open. She hugged her knees and shuddered - sometimes she could still see Krycek shivering at the door.
Scully sat for a long while in the dark before reaching over to pull the package out from her bag. It gave way under her fingers and she had to grasp it tightly to keep it from slipping. The neat bow made of twine unraveled easily, and she parted the folds of brown paper. She felt a stab of guilt as she opened the package. Here she was, accepting something from a man who had nothing left to give.
She knew what it was before she saw it. Her hand slipped under the paper and she felt the stiff fabric on her fingertips.
'Charles,' it read, in heavy red embroidery thread against faded green canvas. Just below the inside of the collar. Her brother's jacket. It seemed that Krycek had washed out the blood, but in the dark it was hard to tell.
She ran a thumb over the worn markings, tracing each letter. It bore his name, but the jacket didn't really belong to Charlie. She had given it to Krycek; it was his when she wrapped it tightly around his shoulders. She wanted him to have it. Perhaps he had misunderstood.
Scully left the jacket on the couch and padded to her bedroom.
"For you," he had said. "Something of yours."
Her head was pressed against the pillow, an arm tucked underneath for support.
Maybe it was her who had misunderstood. But then, he never explains anything. Scully blinked in the dark and wondered where he was and if he was dead. She shut her eyes.