"There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable.
"There is another theory which states that this has already happened."
SUNDAY, MAY 19, 2002
There were always casualties, of course. Collateral damage. Every time he thought he was hardened to it, thought he couldn't be surprised or hurt anymore, he found himself waking up to that inescapable Truth all over again. Casualties. Chance occurrences, losses, destructions. Acts of stupidity and malice.
He'd watched the dead accumulate. Added a few to the roster himself. Listened to orders; followed some and not others. Tried, in his own way. Fought back, in his own way. Messed with their minds. But the Truth was that he'd been ambivalent about this game for a long time before he opted out. And even now, now that his part in the charade was supposed to be over, he still couldn't completely let go. Couldn't completely not care. And his ambivalence was going to get him killed for real next time, if he wasn't more careful.
The red haired woman in the bar tonight had shaken him. All he'd wanted was to escape his own thoughts, tonight, and then there she was. Like a ghost or premonition. There had just been that one moment, that shadowy half-moment when she'd laughed, tossed her head, and from an angle in the odd light she'd looked almost like ... he'd almost thought ... well, it didn't matter what he thought. He hadn't needed to hear her words to pick up on the good humored "bite me" tone in her voice, so obviously it wasn't Scully. It was only a trick of light. It couldn't possibly be Scully, anyway. Scully had been one of the first to go. Fallen by the wayside long since, and replaced with one of their "experiments", their walking monstrosities, who looked Human but couldn't die. Wouldn't die, but didn't really live. Like clones with reset buttons.
And it might have happened to him, too, if he hadn't taken drastic action.
Krycek sighed heavily, and rubbed his eyes.
The city seemed darker tonight. Colder, tonight. More alone, tonight.
He never gave a shit about Scully one way or the other back when she'd actually been herself, and now that she wasn't herself, and hadn't been herself for a long time, he cared even less. Casualties. Collateral damage. So what. So why did that one flash of Scully-the-way-she-used-to-be, that trick of the eye, hurt so much?
He was a fool, he thought, absently touching his shoulder right above the stump. A fool.
He walked long anonymous night streets, and passed by shoulders of people with no eyes, people who didn't see him at all. Didn't look twice. The kind of people who wouldn't register your presence unless you happened to be a face from TV, one of those visible icons, larger than life, who made up the surrogate- village of famous faces, the ones who made a hit-man's work so much easier because compared to them everyone else blurred out, indistinguishable. Faceless. Thank god he'd always been able to hide in shadows, or things would have gone worse for him. But sometimes he passed all the unseeing eyes, and sometimes someone would glance his way -- a hazel-eyed man -- and his heart would beat faster, and he'd hope. Hope for what?
Fuck it. Sentimental bullshit. Get you killed.
Or worse than killed.
That was one thing Krycek had learned: The closer you got to being seen, the more you were in danger. It was safer if they thought you were dead.
He hunched his shoulders, and started to walk. All he did at night, these nights, was walk.
Fuckin' cold night. He ducked into a dingy neighborhood hole-in- the-wall bar to get warm. The decrepit sign, partly unlit, said "illiway's" in bilious, dirty-green neon. The kind of place you hoped would have good pizza. Derelicts in the corners. Yep. Sure enough.
And then, as he checked out the room, his breath caught in his throat and he snapped to attention. Adrenaline rushed through his veins, and his hand went clammy.
Could that really be Mulder?
And was Mulder still who he was? Was he still Mulder?
Only one way to find out.
Krycek made a wide circle to come up on him from behind. "Buy you a beer, hot-stuff?" he growled when he was right beside Mulder's ear. To his immense satisfaction Mulder jumped, sputtering alcohol.
"Yeah, nice to see you, too. I'm doing just great, thank you for asking." He plopped down hard in the booth across from Mulder, his heart racing, scared to death Mulder was going to tell him to fuck off, or get out of his face, or start screaming again about that stupid, tiresome never-ending crap about his father. Shit. Or hit him. Well, that might not be so bad. There were worse things.
There were definitely worse things.
Studying the man across from him carefully, he held his breath and tried to look relaxed. Cocky. Like he maybe didn't have his heart on his sleeve this time, for once.
Mulder just stared.
"Anything good on tap?" Krycek asked, since he hadn't been bounced yet.
"Mac and Jack's," Mulder said blankly, still gaping.
"Jesus, man, get a grip." Trying his luck, Krycek snagged Mulder's beer, took a good pull, and made a face.
"With a shot of tequila."
"Ah-huh. Right. I'll have what he's drinking," Krycek said fliply, tipping his hand at a barmaid who was out of earshot anyway.
"I thought you were dead!"
"Me? Dead? Oh, please. Be serious. I just got tired of being jerked around, that's all. The way I see it, following orders is hazardous to your health."
"Well, I guess that depends which side you're on," said Mulder.
"Which side *are* you on, anyway?"
Krycek shrugged. "My own side. I'm on the side of Alex Krycek, didn't you notice?"
They met each other's eyes, long and steady. Almost companionable. Then Mulder blew it. "You tryin' to tell me you're not the old man's lap-dog anymore?"
Good news: It was really Mulder. Bad news: He was still a prick. Instantly swelling with anger, Krycek was half-up from his seat before he knew he was moving. "I was never his lap-dog," he gritted through his teeth.
But Mulder, weirdly, was making soothing motions in the air with his hands and his eyes were wide, so Krycek cautiously eased back down. Seemingly more curious than hostile, Mulder was watching him intensely as if trying to make up his mind. "Come on, admit it," he said quietly. "For a long time you were on whatever side of whatever game he asked you to be on, right?" He kept his voice polite and level, like he really wanted to know.
Krycek winced, deflated, and slumped back into his seat. "You don't get it," he said. "He promised me-- He promised -- things." He felt sick when he said it, with an ache that was almost too much to bear -- in his gut, in his phantom arm, and in his heart. He looked across at Mulder -- handsome, unbeaten, whole, radiant with integrity, with pride and conviction shining in his eyes -- as across a gulf between alternate universes. Looking at Mulder, he felt sick. How could he have ever dared to hope, ever been so *stupid* as to believe that one day, maybe, if he played along... "You can't understand," he said again. "It wasn't supposed to be like this. It was supposed to come right in the end."
Mulder nodded slowly. "That was what he told me, too," he said.
"But you never believed him."
"Never? I wish I could say never. Not for a long time, anyway. Not since..." Mulder shut up and grabbed for his drink.
But it was easy to fill in the blank: 'Not since they got to Scully.' It was written all over his face. Not in any obvious, surface way, not anything fresh, but just an old residue sunk in deeply to the crevasses, and the shadows in his eyes. Something he'd learned to live with.
"Not since you found out what they could do to you if you..." horrified to find himself thinking out loud, Krycek bit back his words mid-thought. "Not since you found out the Truth," he finished lamely.
"'The Truth'?" Mulder's voice was acid. "There is no Truth, remember? They make it up as they go along. Cheers." He raised his glass to Krycek, and drank deep.
"You don't really believe that," said Krycek softly. It wasn't a question.
"No, I don't. You're quite right, I don't."
"See, Mulder, where you always made your mistake was in thinking it mattered a rat's ass which side you were on. They were never going to let you win anyway." He took his turn at a swig of Mulder's beer and tequila.
"Is that the point? To 'win'? Gee, and here I always thought it was about finding the Truth, and speaking the Truth out loud whether *they* liked hearing it or not!"
"You're a dreamer."
"I'm a realist. The Truth is *still* out there, goddamn it. And this game was never about 'winning.' If that's all you think it is, Krycek, then--"
"Hey, hey, easy. You're getting me wrong, here. *Believe* me I know it's not about winning. It's more than that."
Mulder relaxed marginally. "Yeah, well, you opted out."
"And you didn't. And I respect that, Mulder. I really do. Course, I don't suppose you were laying awake nights worrying about being set up as a *quadruple* agent, and losing your *other* arm, but then--"
"I had other things to worry about."
"I suppose you did."
Mulder gestured for the attention of the server, a scrawny dishwater blond who happened to be nearby. Krycek noted with some amusement that her T-shirt was printed with a cartoon of Samantha Stevens winking pertly from atop her broomstick as she flew across the 'Bewitched' skyline under the starry slogan, 'It takes one to know one.' He snickered, trying to make it sound like he was clearing his throat.
"Another one, please," Mulder told the waitress politely. "And, uh, one for my ... friend."
"You buying me a drink, Mulder?"
"I, uh, yeah, I'm buying you a drink. You wanna make something of it?"
"May-be." He smiled a slow smile.
"Never mind. Stupid question." And then incredibly, unbelievably, Mulder smiled back.
"So," Krycek said.
"Who would've thought it'd end like this? Just you and me and beer at the end of the day."
"And tequila," said Mulder.
"And tequila. Always a good choice for apocalypse, don't you think?" He stole another sip.
"Apocalypse?" Mulder said. "Is that what you think this is?"
"Isn't it? It's Sunday night, the one we've been waiting for. You know, wreckage and revelations? Signs and visions?"
"I thought 'god' rested on Sundays." Mulder rubbed his temple, tiredly. "In any case, I don't know about you, but tomorrow's another work day for me."
"Mulder, get real. Unmarked helicopters? Big boom-boom? No more puppet-master pulling our strings? Aren't you going to at least take a couple days off and celebrate?"
"I've still got work to do, Krycek." Mulder looked at him from the corner of his eye. "I'm not sure what worries me more, the idea of you with your strings pulled, or you on the loose."
"Aww, baby! Talk dirty to me!"
"Be worried, Mulder. It was damned inconvenient being dead."
"You got that right."
"I've got some lost time to make up for."
"That makes two of us," Mulder agreed.
"OK, so that's how *I* survived it. I played dead. What did you do, make a deal with the devil?"
"The devil? He wasn't the devil. The devil is a man with a plan. He was only delusional."
"Half-cocked," Krycek agreed.
"I wouldn't know."
"I don't want to talk about it." And he didn't. He really, really didn't. But Mulder was looking at him with those deep soulful, irresistible eyes. Eyes full of sympathy for the world, eyes that used to make him shake with resentment, ache with jealousy, hunger for just one glance... He sighed. "When you're negotiating over things like self-determination, free will and body parts, sometimes you have to ... do things ... you know?"
Mulder shrugged, pursed his lips, shook his head.
"I guess you wouldn't." Bitterness edged back into his voice. "You always keep your hands clean."
Mulder just snorted. For a while no one said anything. The barmaid put fresh drinks in front of them, and they drank. From two separate glasses.
"How'd you pull it off, Krycek? I mean, I was *there* remember?"
Dismissively he shrugged. "Skinner still has his good days. How'd *you* pull it off? You suck at playing dead, by the way, anyone ever tell you that? I couldn't believe anyone actually bought that lame-ass 'I'm dead, woe is me' crap you pulled. The whole underworld was laughing its collective head off for months. You didn't even stop the rent on your apartment. Jesus!"
"The devil is in the details." Mulder lifted his beer and settled deeper into his seat. "Why stop the rent? I've got fish, you know. Anyway, our self-proclaimed 'Command Control' was getting so sloppy, towards the end -- guy didn't have a clue anymore, and wasn't in the market -- but he still kept trying to get me in line." Disgustedly, Mulder shook his head. "He just didn't know when to quit."
"IQ of a toaster."
"Yeah, well. Let's just say we didn't see eye to eye. Eventually the need to mess with his head outweighed the millstone of humiliation."
Krycek grinned. "I like the way your mind works."
"So do I, and I wanted to keep it that way."
"So you told him ... what exactly?"
"Whatever I thought I could get him to swallow. The more I flipped the shit, the happier he was. Saved us both time. We started kind of getting into a routine with it, oh, three, four years back. At first it was just throw-away stuff, you know, a bit here a bit there, an aside, a few gags, but then as time went on, every now and then when I was bored I'd feed him a whole complicated story. Some of them were good, too."
Thoughtfully Krycek nodded. "Sounds like a plan. So where'd it fuck up?"
"I got tired of him taking all the credit. Tired of being half- strangled by tentacled sea-monsters with nothing better than a *cat* to guide me, tired of having my jaw wired shut and bugs vacuumed out of my lungs. *Tired.* There just came a point when enough was enough already. It's not like I don't have real work to do, you know. The X-files are not a joke."
On the other side of the room someone stuck some money in a jukebox, and Elvis started singing "Suspicious Minds." Something registered in Mulder's eyes, but he kept talking.
"So then one day the old man just called me on the job once too often, and I just said to him, hey, Daddy-O, can't chit-chat right now, I'm being abducted by aliens."
"And he *bought* it!" The realization hit, and Krycek started to grin.
"Yeah. Simple as that. All he was worried about was what to do with Scully while I was gone. I said, hell, you can think of something. And he said he was up for that. But then the thing is he kept calling me anyway to check up on how the abduction was going. The guy just couldn't catch a clue with both hands. I finally said, look, I'm being tortured, OK? Can we talk about this later? Now I'm *dead,* *OK?* I'm buried. Yeah, I'm in a coffin. OK, yeah, right, I know, I answered my cell. I admit that's kind of weird for a dead guy. Well, yeah, I'm buried, but I was never embalmed because ... uh, well, you figure it out, but anyway I wasn't, and so I'm kind of just rotting down here shooting the shit with you because I have nothing better to do in my whole miserable failure of a non-life."
"And he bought *that?*" Krycek gasped, holding back silent laughter.
"I'm telling you, he ate it up!"
"You should've told him--" he wavered, "--told him--" Searching for inspiration, Krycek's eyes skipped around the room and came to rest on their mousy little server. A nasty idea took shape. "You should have told him you were taking a new job at an advertising agency, and--"
Mulder was ahead of him. "God no!" He looked really stricken. "You trying to marry me off to *Samantha Stevens?!*"
"Yeah, you're right," Krycek conceded with a sly smile. "I guess in your case that'd be out of the frying pan into the fire, wouldn't it? But as ball-busters go, but you gotta admit that was one sexy witch."
"*Sexy?*" Mulder's eyes bugged, and he made a show of dropping his jaw. Then, nodding thoughtfully, he sat back in his seat. "OK," he agreed. "I can see it. There are possibilities."
"*Hell* yes! She'd've been a blast in the sack!"
Mulder tipped his head, and regarded him quizzically. "You have a very strange mind, you know that, Krycek?"
"Why do you think we click?"
"Click? Are we clicking?"
"Cha-cha-cha." Krycek made castanet gestures, and winked.
"Come on, Mulder, where's your sense of humor? Here you had this golden opportunity to jerk the old man's chain, you could've told him you were going to go live in sin with Samantha Stevens--"
"--in the Brady Bunch house--" Mulder put in--
"Yeah! That's it! That's so perfect! The Brady Bunch house!"
They were both shaking with stifled, uncomfortable laughter that wouldn't quite break free.
"No! No! Wait! I've got it!" Krycek choked, brushing away a tear. "You should've told him Elvis came and resurrected you--"
"Yeah! And we were jamming blues on the Mothership!"
All at once the agony of laughter cracked open, and they were bent double with it. Laughing so hard they were crying. Both of them. "Would he have bought it?" Krycek could barely get the words out between gasps.
"He'd have bought it!" Mulder slapped the table. "Hell, we could've done a musical!"
"You and Elvis, singing duets!"
"Hey, even the old man himself wouldn't 'dis' *The King!*"
They were both howling, and *damn* it felt good! The little witch barmaid was eyeing them distastefully, and the bartender was sliding glances across the room like she thought it might be time to cut them off. Krycek didn't care.
But the magic moment broke, and they looked at each other warily again from the corners of their eyes. Only, the questions in their eyes were a little different, now.
After a while Mulder went on with his story, and his mirth faded.
"Well, anyhow," he said heavily, "so then last year I finally just faced up to the fact that I was never gonna get to the Truth as long as he was in the way. So I gave up, tossed my cell in the Potomac, and told him I was on the run and I'd call him from a pay phone when I got the chance. Then I didn't call." Mulder shrugged. "He tracked me down eventually, of course, and by that time he was desperate. I barely recognized him. He was a changed man. He said he wanted to end it, but he didn't know how. He kept saying, 'It's gotta be *deep,* the end has gotta be *deep,* you've gotta help me make it *deep.*'"
Mulder raised his brows at the barmaid, smiled sweetly, and tapped his empty beer mug. "Two more?"
She hesitated, frowning. Unfazed, Mulder went right on looking innocent until the 'Bewitched' girl, with a sigh, acquiesced.
Mulder gave Krycek a cool 'thumb's up' behind her back.
"Does the old man know 'deep' from flimflam?" Krycek asked.
"You mean Truth from fiction? Hell no. I suggested a summit meeting with the aliens, but he wouldn't go for it. I asked to expose the Consortium. No go. I begged for just one little UFO. Nada. '*Deeper,*' he kept saying, 'this is the end of the whole shebang, the whole ball of wax, the whole house of cards, and it's gotta be *deeper.*' Finally I said, well, why don't you just explain the mytharc?"
"Yeah *right.*" Krycek snorted rudely. "Like *that* was ever gonna happen."
"Seemed like an obvious choice to *me.* But we went around in circles for *hours,* *days,* with him hounding me, not letting me sleep, it was torture. It took me a long time to figure out what he wanted to hear, because he wasn't being very articulate. Lot's of 'you know's' and deep sighs, and garbled anecdotes about past glory and the ocean. But at the end I finally understood that the only thing he was going to go for, the only thing other than the ocean that he could comprehend as 'deep' was, well..."
"Let me guess," Krycek said. "That Jesus stuff, right? Christ on a cross!"
"Bloody damned right. How'd you know?"
"A deal he tried to cut me, once," said Krycek, seeing Mulder's eyebrows start to climb. "Hey, you're not the only one he tried it on."
"Listen," Krycek said, "I don't think he really wanted it known, but even back when he was, well, back in the days when I almost -- admired -- him, even then he kind of had this *thing* about, you know, 'sin' ... bullshit like that."
"He really had that whole god-daddy thing goin' on, didn't he?" Mulder's remarked dryly.
"By-the-Book big time," Krycek agreed. "As long as it was *his* book. He was very literal-minded."
"Yeah, and after all who needs continuity when you've got big hair and the wrath of 'god' on your side?"
"Exactly." Krycek raised a toast. "Rules, regimen, and one right answer! Even if it's wrong."
Mulder was starting to smile again. "Hellfire and damnation!" He clinked his glass against Krycek's.
"Gimme that old time religion!" Krycek grinned.
"Yep." Mulder grinned back. "It's good enough for him!"
They both drank, eyeing each other over their beer mugs.
"You should have told him you were being abducted by angels," Krycek said, putting his mug on the table. "And you'd flutter down to earth again when you were damn good and ready."
Mulder sighed. "He wanted to end it; I wanted it over. It mostly came down to negotiating terms. He, uh," Mulder's voice dropped lower, and he looked down into the dregs of his beer. "He had this thing about how he wanted me and Scully together at the end. Something about 'numbers.' He wouldn't budge."
"Shit, man. I'm sorry."
"Well, yeah. Anyway. Finally I was like, dude, dig it! Me and the pod-Scully are in bed, I have this religious conversion you're so hot for, I'll say anything you want me to say, I'll even say I'm a failure if that's what it takes to get you to just leave me the fuck alone for a while."
Mulder's voice had gone like broken glass, and it hurt to listen. He wanted to reach out his one good hand and put it on Mulder's hand, but he didn't dare. He just listened. And drank.
"I could tell he wanted it bad, he was practically salivating, but even at that late stage he had just enough sense left to realize that maybe it, like, wasn't going to be very believable."
"That never slowed him down before," Krycek pointed out.
Another shrug. "He promised me if I'd do this one last thing for him, it would be over for real and he'd never bother me again. But he didn't know how to pull it off. He wanted *me* to figure out how to make it believable. So I ... told him."
Mulder raised his eyes from his beer. Haunted eyes. "I told him how to sell it. Simple hypnotic suggestion. Oldest carnival trick in the book. You lead the subject by a process of emotionally charged images and associations, a sort of misdirection that gets past their rational defenses. Then, when they're open and ready for it, you slip in whatever content you want. Stuff they never would've bought if they were thinking clearly. It's a sugar-coated pill. Simple."
"Mulder!" Krycek's mouth fell open. "That's unethical!"
"Your point being?"
Krycek grinned so hard he didn't know if he'd be able to stop. "My *man!*" he crowed, and thrust up his hand for a high-five.
With quiet humor in his eyes, Mulder reached up and slapped his palm. A quick smile flashed and faded. "Well, it may be True that there are many universes," he said, "but we still have to live in this one. When it came right down to it, it was him or me." His lips curved wryly. "And knowledge is power."
So much lost time, Krycek thought dazedly. He had a panicky lump in his throat and it hit him he might be in love, but staring into Mulder's eyes his spirits lifted. Mulder was still smiling. At *him.* Smiling at Alex Krycek. "We'd've made a good team, you know that?" he said very fast, hoping he wasn't blushing.
"Think so, huh?"
At a complete loss for words, Krycek found himself unconsciously echoing Elvis. "We can't go on together with suspicious minds." The words blurted out, and he felt like a fool.
"Well, we're out of the trap." Mulder's eyes started to sparkle. He jerked his head towards the door. "Come on. Let's walk."
They paid up, and cut out.
As they stepped out of "illiway's" together into the bracing, sweet night, where fidgety wind combed through the glittering stars that spangled the face of the sky, and the city lights glimmered more temptingly than they had a couple of drinks ago, Vishnu, the sleeping god who dreams the universe, smiled and shifted in his dream, tickling Brahma in his lotus, and Krycek very unexpectedly got the rushing, world-without-end sensation of fresh, unhoped for possibilities unfurling at his feet.
Taking a chance, he clapped his hand onto Mulder's shoulder, and, after a half-beat pause, he was gratified to feel the weight of Mulder's hand on his own neck.
Arm in arm they walked together out into the night, completely free agents for the first time in years. Ever.
"Don't tell me you're seriously going to work tomorrow?"
"Tomorrow's Monday," Mulder said. "Of course I'm going to work. The world wasn't saved tonight."
"Or lost," Krycek reminded him.
"I have a hot tip from a high level government insider, that could really..."
They walked, and talked, and Krycek didn't care very much where they went, or what Mulder said...
So long as it was really Mulder, and so long as Mulder kept talking...
//**Just keep talking to me, Mulder.**//
End Note: Lyrics
We're caught in a trap
So, if an old friend I know
Oh let our love survive