He was getting that tingly feeling, again.
Not the one that meant he had stepped on a thumbtack while blindly stumbling into his desk in the dark, nor the pins-and-needles effect of sleeping on his couch with an arm splayed at the wrong angle.
It wasn't even the one he especially enjoyed that meant in a few seconds whatever scene he was watching would meet his needs, and he could stop the DVD and go to bed.
No, this one was different.
He tossed his keys onto the table in his foyer, noticing for the first time that his sneakers were covered in the soot from his office. Mulder had fled from the charred, blackened remnants to retreat to the relative quiet of his apartment. He knew Scully was worried about him, but he had to do anything to get away from that place. In a daze, he hadn't remembered driving home after witnessing the still-smoldering destruction of his life's obsession. Obsession. Mulder had to laugh at that. It wasn't even a few months ago that he had completely doubted his entire mission. Aliens? No, it was a government conspiracy, of course. But then there was Scully, and the bridge, and so much evidence to the contrary, and...the kiss. Could one strangely emotional moment from the man he considered nothing more than a liar and a murderer open his eyes somehow? Months of doubt erased with one touch of the lips by that bastard Krycek? C'mon, Mulder, he thought to himself, your renewed vision couldn't have been the result of a kiss from an oddly affectionate, possibly homosexual, leather-clad, double agent.
Huh. He never thought that Alex might be gay. If he was, the kiss made sense, sort of. Sort of disturbing, but sort of flattering, too. Or perhaps it was Alex screwing with his head, knowing Mulder would be dwelling on the reasons behind the kiss, trying to work up a psychological profile. Maybe it was Alex's way of slowly driving Mulder crazy, making him wonder over and over about the unexpected tenderness. Alex could have easily shot him, bashed him over the head with the gun, or paid Mulder back for all the beatings, but instead he chose to make his point that way. Mulder realized then that if he hadn't turned his head at the last moment, Alex would have planted those round lips right on his mouth. What would have happened then? Why was this still eating at him? And why was he referring to Krycek as Alex?
Shaking his head at the thought, he made his way into the living room.
With Mulder's track record (and his abnormally high rent due to various violent occurrences in his apartment over the years) he had slowly honed his reflexes to sense more about his surroundings.
Sometimes he wished his reflexes were as good as his jump shot, but they had to count for something because he hadn't been killed yet. He chuckled, imagining what other FBI agent could consider it a good day when he didn't wind up dead.
But there was something not quite right. Something was...off.
Mulder stood there a moment, assessing the room. Did he feed the fish? Yeah, he did that this morning. Maybe he left the computer on? No, he pressed the space bar and the screen stayed blank. Damn his eidetic memory, anyway. About the only use for it now would be to vividly recall the sights and smells of his former office. He sighed, willing the vision away.
But there it was again -- the niggling feeling consumed him, tingled on the edge of his conscious mind and made the hairs on his arm stand up.
Drawing his gun now, he walked around the living room, checked under the couch, poked his head into the bedroom, searched the closets, under the bed, the spot behind his overflowing clothes hamper, and then walked back into the foyer when he saw it.
"Mulder," said Alex Krycek nonchalantly, mock-saluting with his prosthetic arm.
Mulder twitched for a moment, his finger jumping to the trigger of his Sig Sauer. He drew a bead in between those dark, green eyes as he walked closer to the kitchen, where Krycek sat with bags spread around him on the table. It smelled suspiciously like Chinese.
"Give me a good reason why I shouldn't be mopping up pieces of you right now, Krycek." Mulder spat the man's name like a bad taste from his tongue.
Krycek merely smiled at the handgun aimed at his head. "General Tso?"
"That's a good enough reason, I'd think," Krycek replied. "General Tso's chicken, your favorite, if I remember correctly. Sweet and sour chicken for me, but we can switch if you'd like."
Mulder edged closer, his weapon still focused on the man's skull. "What the fuck do you want?"
"I brought dinner," Krycek answered, shrugging.
"The last time you were here you held a gun to my head, and now you think I'm going to relax like we're old friends? Go to hell."
"It just sounded like you had a hard day," Krycek said wryly.
It took Mulder a moment to realize Krycek was talking about the fire. "What do you know about it?" he asked, his jaw clenching.
He could feel it happening, that humming in his head that began in Krycek's presence. He felt the muscles of his left hand tightening into a fist. His body felt hot, taut with tension.
"Nothing, Mulder, I just heard about it. News travels fast in our circles."
"You're a liar, Krycek."
"I had nothing to do with the damn fire, Mulder." Krycek reached into one of the plastic bags and grinned back at Mulder. "General Tso and his chicken, rice, eggrolls, and how about this..."
Krycek winked, giving Mulder an impish look and held up a bottle. "There's an iced tea in this bag. It could be love."
Mulder flashed to the teasing, private moment he and Scully had shared so long ago, and felt himself start to lose control. He charged forward at that, kicking the leg of the chair Krycek was sitting in, knocking it from under him and across the kitchen. The other man couldn't compensate for the sudden movement with only one arm, and crashed to the floor, his head slamming against the refrigerator door.
Mulder straddled him, pushing the tip of his weapon's muzzle into Krycek's throat.
"I take it you w-wanted root b-beer instead?" Krycek rasped.
"Fucking bastard," Mulder hissed. "You've got 10 seconds to tell me what you want or I'm going to fulfill a fantasy."
"Into blood sports, now, Mulder?"
The irritatingly calm sound of Krycek's voice was unnerving Mulder, switching on something inside that had been building into a white-hot rage. Mulder backhanded Krycek across the mouth with the butt of his weapon in response and grabbed his throat, slamming his head sharply against the fridge door.
Krycek yelped almost like a wounded dog, which made Mulder lash out again. He could feel himself becoming unhinged at the man who could always spark the dark, vile sliver of Mulder's personality that made him resort to violence whenever Krycek was around. To Mulder it was like battering a part of himself, as if having the power to physically dominate Krycek could drive that warped aspect of violence from his soul. Something surged within him; why was it always like this? Why was it the man he despised was the person who made him feel? The anger, humiliation, and self-loathing...he could see everything he hated about himself in Krycek's eyes. There but for the grace of God -- or Scully -- go I?
He wasn't aware of what his hands or fists were doing, or of the strangled gasping and whimpering coming from the man on the floor beneath him. His mind was raging: my father, Scully, my sister, my work, my quest, my life...you, you, you, your fault, your presence, your eyes that look at me and can see what I'm capable of, your treachery, lies, deceit, I trusted you, you murderer, why don't you fight back, why do you always let me do this to you, why, why, why, why did you have to be so tender, why did you make me doubt myself, why did you have to do that to me, why didn't you shoot me, why did you have to show me that side of yourself, why did you kiss me...
Eventually, through his rage-induced haze he caught a glimpse of Krycek's eyes, searching his own, and brimming with tears.
Mulder stopped, momentarily taken aback at the pained look the other man shared with him.
Mulder realized he was standing, his white-knuckled hands wrapped in the leather of Krycek's jacket lapels. Krycek's prosthesis had been dislodged from his arm during the confrontation and was lying, lifeless, on the floor near his feet.
Mulder released Krycek and scrambled back, tripping over the upended chair. He stumbled and fell hard against the cabinet door beneath his kitchen sink, directly opposite Krycek, and dropped his head into his hands.
Panting loudly, Krycek lifted a trembling hand to his face, intent on wiping away the blood from his nose and split lip. With the back of his sleeve he tried to hide the evidence of his tears.
"Did that make you feel like a big man, Mulder?" Krycek whispered harshly.
Mulder glanced up at Krycek's face, dark eyes boring into his own, and suddenly felt like he was going to be sick. "I...no, I...I don't know why I did that."
"No? Does it give you some kind of perverse pleasure when you hit me?" Krycek motioned over to where his arm lay. "Or does it make you feel good to take advantage of the fact I have only one arm to defend myself?"
"It only takes one hand to hold a gun, Krycek."
"Mulder, you son of a bitch, I'm not even carrying a weapon," Krycek spat back, shifting uncomfortably. He ran his tongue over his lip and drew in a shuddery breath. "That wasn't what this was *about*."
Mulder looked at him angrily. "Why do you always do that? Why must you constantly bait me instead of just answering my questions?"
"And why are you so quick to use your fists when you don't get what you want? Do you deal with Scully like that, too?"
"Don't. Don't even bring her into this," Mulder answered, his voice reaching a dangerous low timbre. He turned quickly to retrieve his Sig that had somehow slid across the kitchen floor during his assault on Krycek. Looking at it, he found it strange that he was more concentrated on pummeling the man who was now dripping blood all over himself, rather than simply ending this ongoing nightmare between he and Krycek with a well-placed bullet. He could hear Krycek's voice back in Hong Kong. Do it. Get it over with. Finish it. Why not, he wondered. Because I'm not a killer, Mulder answered himself. I'm not a killer, but for some reason I can't comprehend why I'm like a psychopath when he's around.
Krycek caught him staring and eyed the gun. "Unfortunately, despite your violent tendencies, Mulder, you're no murderer."
"You would know, Alex," he answered, as if Krycek could hear his thoughts. Still toying with the gun, he raised it again, pointing toward Krycek's left kneecap. "But I can still hurt you. Now tell me what you want."
Krycek laughed at that, a mean, harsh sound, and said, "Hurt me, Mulder? No shit." He drew his thumb across a nostril, trying unsuccessfully to stem the blood seeping from his nose. "I brought you dinner."
"Asshole. Don't try to convince me you broke into my apartment to bring me *dinner*."
Krycek made a futile attempt at dignity by trying to reach for his prosthesis, but it was out of his grasp. He sighed and licked his lip again.
"It was a peace offering. I wanted to talk."
"What, instead of sneaking up from behind me and slamming my head into the desk you decided to buy me an eggroll?" Mulder's tone proved that his patience was beginning to wear thin.
"Maybe I didn't want to deal with the violence between us anymore, did you think of that? Maybe I just hoped I could cut through some of the bullshit and have a fucking normal conversation." Krycek looked at the empty left sleeve of his jacket before turning back to Mulder. "Maybe I'm tired of dealing with all the pain."
"Boo hoo, Krycek. My heart fucking weeps for you," Mulder hissed angrily. "You're in pain, huh? Tell that to my father!"
Krycek winced and drew his amputated arm closer to his body. "I was following orders."
"That's what the Nazis said too, Alex."
"I know," he sighed, looking up at Mulder through veiled eyes. "You may not believe it, Mulder, but I'm convinced of divine retribution, of someone or something ultimately more mysterious than the horrors that have been falling from the stars lately. I know I have to pay for what I've done, and I don't think it's going to be in this life." Krycek sniffed, and exhaled deeply. "That's why I came to talk to you."
The sound of Krycek's voice gave Mulder pause. "What do you mean?"
Krycek stared down at his feet. "Things have been spiraling out of control," he said quietly. "I don't know, it's just...I'm tired. If I could get out of it, I would. Live a normal life, or try to, as much as a hunted man could, for the time I had left."
"Get away from the Syndicate, you mean."
"I cast the die a long time ago, Mulder," Krycek said as he looked up. "I've rolled hard eights, and now it's catching up with me. It would have been easier to leave years ago, but I was useful to them and I got greedy. Now..." He shook his head. "It's falling apart, and I wish I didn't have to be around to see it happen."
"And my life's work was just burned up in a fire," Mulder said, offhandedly. "I don't have a very clear vision of what's going to happen, either."
"But that's the problem, Mulder," Krycek said. "I already know the future."
Krycek sounded tired -- his voice kept dropping to that intense whisper Mulder would always remember from the night of the kiss. Mulder also noticed that Krycek looked as though he hadn't slept in some time.
"Then tell me what I have to do to stop it," Mulder said.
"I don't think you can," Krycek admitted.
"So, what, you're just giving up?" Mulder scoffed, an incredulous sound coming from his throat. "There's no way you can take advantage of the situation and sell secrets or double-cross someone who trusted you?" He was being flippant; he couldn't help it.
Krycek answered that with a frown. "I guess I've moved up the ranks. The more I found out the harder it was to stay just a Syndicate lackey, and I suppose now I have to pay for my upwardly mobile career."
Krycek laughed, and shook his head.
"From an FBI junior agent with a desire for some power to being so close to the enemy I can't even see my own hand in front of my face."
Mulder sobered when he saw Krycek's face, those green eyes admitting just how far he had fallen in the years since they started working together. He could have been a great agent. Insightful, intelligent, articulate...willing to work hard to prove himself. And above all that, Mulder genuinely liked him. After all he had been through with the closing of the X-Files and Scully's disappearance, trusting another agent had been difficult. It made his betrayal that much harder, and painful. It surprised Mulder how much it hurt.
"Was it worth it, Alex?"
"If I were talking to you from some mountaintop resort, I would have said yes, Mulder. But I never thought my life...I never thought events would turn out this way. It's hard to admit..."
"That you're in over your head," Mulder finished.
Krycek took a breath, his voice hitching in his throat when he answered.
To Mulder it was revelatory. He came to the realization that the man he had always considered as a heartless, cruel, and manipulative killer was merely human. Above that, he was genuinely scared. Yet he had come to Mulder to talk. Mulder wondered why, after their past history, Krycek would break in to his apartment and not expect Mulder to...
"You wanted me to kill you." Mulder said, finally understanding. "Is that why you were goading me? Why you aren't carrying a weapon?"
"Surprised my last meal would be sweet and sour chicken?" He sighed. "But I should have known you wouldn't be able to do it. I'm the killer, Mulder, not you." Krycek punctuated his last sentence by kicking the prosthesis across the room.
"But you let me hurt you like that, without...without fighting back." Mulder swallowed and shook his head. "I don't understand this, Alex. I've never understood."
Krycek got to his knees, grunting from pain as he rose to his feet, and moved over to the kitchen sink. Grabbing a dishtowel, he wiped away the last of the blood smearing his face and neck. He then tossed the towel into the sink and looked down into Mulder's eyes.
"For everything that has happened between us -- the betrayal, the pain, the violence -- know that you've always had my admiration. I watched as you always fought for what you believed was right, never letting them discourage your pursuit of the truth, or corrupt your ideals. It takes a strong soul to face the obstacles you have and keep driving forward, Mulder. I never had that kind of strength. But the one thing I could always count on, as strange as it may seem, was you. "
Krycek reached down to place his hand on top of Mulder's head, and gently rubbed his hair.
"You were my constant."
Krycek smiled gently, the grin echoing in his eyes. He drew his hand from Mulder's head, and paused, as if considering something. Then he slowly trailed his fingers down Mulder's cheek.
After a moment in which neither man spoke, Krycek turned and left the kitchen.
Mulder remained on the floor -- his kitchen filled with the smells of Alex's untouched dinner -- and listened as the last sound he heard was the apartment door closing with a soft, audible click.