A Boy and His Rat - Part 13

by C. M. Decarnin

13.

The night smelled like candy.

It always gave him a headache.

Unseasonably warm darkness had already fallen by six o'clock, and Krycek was
just another layer of black in the shadows.  One cricket optimistically
posted his encrypted personal ad.

There were no lights in these fields, but that didn't mean he wouldn't show
up like a bug on a plate if they had detection systems.  He had long ago
worked out a route and acquired a device that would let him through them,
disguised, to electronic eyes, as a cow.  The real cows were out there, a
few head of beef cattle, unusual for this area, ostensible reason for the
broad uncultivated land.  There was nothing else but a prefab toolshed.

Krycek altered his electronic profile so that there would not appear to be a
Black Angus riding the elevator in the toolshed down thirty stories to the
engine rooms.  More like something in a tasteful gray.

The aliens were so advanced they didn't need to be around to run power and
lights.  They were so advanced they really hardly needed to exist at all,
and one of the things Krycek still didn't know about them was why they
bothered.

Sucking a caffeine lozenge to counteract the headache, he unpacked the
plastique from around his body and started setting charges, workmanlike,
sans psychotic signatures, each component, as always, the most common type
available.  He traced the initials "F.M." in the last wad, and kissed it.

When he left, the whole place smelled faintly like candy.

Next stop, the Hall of Records...

A few stories up, he accessed the archive he wanted, activated their
translator in English, and started searching.  None of the many names he
knew brought up any information on the Bic Flicker. Shit  The archive
was a treasure-trove... could he really destroy it without at least getting
the goods on the king of nicotine?

One thing he might find by starting at the other end.

He typed in "Teena Mulder", but there were only a few stark facts, with the
names of her children.

He entered the name "William Mulder".

Many screens.

He downloaded into his head as fast as he could read, but this wasn't what
--

Then it was there.

He stared blank-eyed.

No...

Mulder...

No...

And then there was nothing but pain, and he hardly noticed when it became
physical, and there were aliens, Grays, looking down at his fallen body, and
at the file that had killed him, dead, deader than anything could ever kill
him again.

Maybe it was that he couldn't stand any more not knowing.  Another infocache
Alex was going to go dipping in, and come up dripping with knowledge.  Maybe
it was that he still didn't trust him not to go and never return.  Maybe he
worried that Krycek was biting off more than he could chew this time.  Maybe
it was just that he couldn't stand, any more, to watch him walk away.

It certainly wasn't because he was jealous, that he wanted to see if Krycek
might be meeting another man.

He stuck the electronic tracker on Krycek's car under the guise of taking
out garbage too big for the chute.

He followed at a sedate and relaxed distance, entirely out of sight.

He watched through nightvision binoculars as Krycek entered the toolshed.
Well, he certainly couldn't follow him in there.

But as time passed he realized Krycek wasn't making some simple pickup.  No
light came from the shed, but Krycek didn't emerge.  What, did he sleep
here?  Itching curiosity finally propelled him to his feet and he skulked
close.  There was no sound.

He picked the lock.  Waited.  Waited.  Opened a crack in the door.

The toolshed was empty.

When he shut the door behind him a light came on.

O-kay...

There were mysterious tools and machine parts he decided were of agrarian
rather than alien origin.

He went where the prints of Alex's sneakers showed but he probably never
would have found anything if he hadn't tripped over a piece of a harrow and
fallen through a wall that wasn't there.

He freaked at not being able to see his legs.  Jerked, and they were there
with him.  In a very small room bathed in white illumination.  He discovered
the controls by means of random acts of senseless violence when he realized
he couldn't get back into the toolshed.

The elevator started to fall.

Fifteen stories below no one noticed his incursion amid the klaxons,
inaudible to human ears, that had sounded when a certain set of forbidden
files had been accessed in a non-authorized language; and dozens of gray
feet hastened through shafts and corridors, converging from all directions
on a single archive terminal.

Mulder was sweating.  Crawling memory clutched monsterhands at his shins,
puffed fang-breath over his neck.  He recognized this place.

Here were no frozen breeding niches of weird hybrids, but the dark
architecture dropped him straight into flashback hell.

He was in a ship.

Buried entirely, not in Antarctic ice but under innocent Virginia
countryside.  He was already not absolutely certain he could find his way
back to the elevator.  But it lured him on, the strangeness...  What was he
hoping to find?  A souvenir?  An explanation?

Krycek?

Krycek could be anywhere in this vastness.  There was no way to tell how far
he had descended, but he knew it was more than a story or two, and the polar
ship had been enormous.  It seemed like he had been down here for hours.
His watch said fifty minutes.  He should go back, report... but would anyone
believe him, without a tangible piece of evidence?  How long had they been
here?  What were they doing here?  And who, exactly, were "they"?  Rebels?
Shape-shifters?  Grays?

...saliva-covered fangs...

Mulder's shoulders shuddered.

He found himself in a lighter area, finally, pale, clinical-looking walls,
several open rooms but nothing in them that wasn't bolted down.  Which made
sense in a mobile fortress.  It reminded him of the co-worker's house where
he and Krycek had made love.  Maybe the suburbanites too were always ready
for flight...

And like that house it was vacant.  Abandoned?  Or were the aliens just away
for the weekend?

He heard a sound.

Flattened into an open doorway, he listened, gun in hand.

It had been... almost like a voice.

A moan, or a note of a song...

Nothing happened.

He slid back into the corridor and oozed toward the sound.

He passed several more empty rooms before he heard it again.  A slight cry
in a soft voice.  From a door further down.  No other sound, no movement or
voices.  He eased toward it, trying to keep his breathing inaudible.  He
stopped outside the door, breathed deep, and raised his gun in both hands.

Mulder rounded the doorframe, gun out and sweeping, nothing moved in the
room but then he saw Krycek.

Then he saw him breathe, and breathed himself.

Krycek was laid on a slab, naked except for the straps of his prosthetic,
not restrained but not moving except for his somewhat tortured breathing.
There were decorated pillars near where he lay, but nothing else.  Mulder
stepped closer, gun pointed up, eyes scanning; listening for any sound.

He saw Krycek was conscious, and the next moment the glazed eyes swerved,
and saw him.  Stricken, Krycek reared partway up and cried, "No!"  His eyes
were wide and full of fear.

"It's me!" Mulder hissed, glancing toward the door.  "Get up!  Come on,
let's get out of here!"

"You can't be here!" Krycek gasped, and let his shoulders fall back to the
slab.  "You have to go!"

Mulder focussed his full attention on Krycek, and saw that he was indeed
breathing unevenly, with pale, sweating skin.  He reached to touch him and
his hand sank into an aura of warmth around him.  But the skin itself was
clammy and cool.

"What have they done to you?"

Krycek seemed to have to gather his strength.  Finally he said carefully,
"Mulder.  You have to leave.  Right now.  The ship is going to blow.
There's a bomb."

Mulder looked at him blankly.  "Bomb?  How do you --"  And stopped himself
before he could finish that really stupid question.  "Okay -- come on then!"

"I can't.  What time is it?"

"Quarter past eleven.  What do you mean, you can't?  Do you need me to carry
you?"  He reached to do it.

"No!" Krycek cried.  "I can't!  Please!  Don't!  I --"  He looked down
toward his feet.  "I'm -- attached."

Mulder looked.  "What do you mean?"  But Krycek inched his thighs apart and
he saw -- something like a white pipe was raised slightly out of the slab,
ran up between his legs and -- disappeared into him.  Stunned, Mulder looked
back at Krycek's face, feeling himself go cold.  "What is that?  How far in
does it go?"

"I think it's sampling tissues.  It has -- branches.  I -- I can feel it.
It's still spreading.  You can't -- take it out.  Mulder..."  Krycek reached
slightly, and Mulder took his hand.  "The bomb will go off in forty minutes.
You have to be at least a hundred yards away by then.  You can't let them
find you here.  There's nothing you can do for me."

"I'm not leaving you here!"

Krycek gripped his hand and stared at him desperately.  "Don't let my life,
my -- my death, be a waste.  Please!  Let me at least know that you're still
out there, fighting, with the weapons I found for you."  He pulled Mulder's
fingers to his lips and kissed them.  His eyes winced closed in pain for a
moment.  They opened full of distress.  "I don't suppose your gun has a
silencer on it?"  Mulder shook his head.  "Never mind."  Krycek bit his lips
together and turned his head away.  Then his eyes and mouth flew open in a
stifled cry.  He panted, "Please, Mulder, please!  Just do this one thing
for me, in god's name!  Go!"

Mulder put his hands on Krycek's face and looked deep into his eyes.  "Go,
please," Krycek whispered.  Mulder leaned down and kissed his mouth, a
chaste kiss cold with terror.  He straightened.  Still looking into Krycek's
eyes.  Then he turned, and ran out of the room.
 

Alex lay shivering, in too much shock to benefit from his blanket of warm
air, alone in the white room.  He couldn't know, now, if Fox made it or not.
He would die not knowing.  A tiny voice said that he would never have left
Fox to die alone, but he crushed it.  Mulder had to survive.  It was just
that... it would be so much easier if he could know, know for certain that
Mulder would make it, would be out there doing his Mulder thing, until he
somehow made it possible for Earth to win against this horror.  This same
horror that he felt was sucking the life out of him like some terrifying
internal spider.  He shuddered.  He didn't want to die, but this waiting --
not knowing how much time had passed -- not knowing if it would be clean by
concussion, or agonizing by fire or -- it was torture to be this terrified,
with nothing he could do.  All his life he had been alone, against
impossible odds -- that too often had crushed and subordinated him to their
purposes and their viciousness -- why now did it seem so hard, to be alone
at the very end?  No, he would still be as frightened if he had a hundred
visitors to see him off.  Oh Fox.  Oh Fox I loved you.

He heard a sound and jumped.  It couldn't be forty minutes already, oh
please don't let it be time yet --

Footsteps.  Two sets.  They were coming -- to do something to him again.  It
would soon be over but oh god what a miserable death, twisting under their
manipulations like a worm.  Fox would fight and spit noble threats or find
some miraculous escape, but Krycek had no such charmed life and no strength
left even to imitate nobility with silence.  If they twisted him just one
wrench more, he would spill, if they hadn't left him alone he might already
have broken -- they could find the bomb, disarm it.  Don't think it, don't
even let it in, they could not be allowed to keep what they were taking from
him, he knew that now, and his dignity was the least of it.  And Fox --

Fox was looking down at him.  He almost screamed, his nerves were so frayed,
then he took in that the Gray beside him was shrinking under the threat of
Mulder's drawn gun.

No.  No no no no no -- everything he had suffered was nothing to the welling
hurt despair.  Oh Fox --

Mulder wasted no words.  He mimicked gripping the pipe between Krycek's legs
and made a gesture as if yanking it out.  Then he clamped both hands around
his gun and levelled it at the alien's head.

Only an alien retard would have failed to understand.  The Gray ran its long
fingers over the decorative surface of one of the pillars near the slab.
Krycek felt branched things within him retreat, faster than they had felt
their way through him.  It didn't hurt but the painkiller they'd been
feeding in was withdrawn with them and he began to feel the full brunt of
what he hadn't told Fox, the brightening agony of where they had carefully
broken his pelvis apart for the insertion.

He felt the thing leave him.

"Did they put an implant in you?" Mulder asked, not looking at him.

"Not yet."

"Can you get up?"

"No.  They -- broke some bones."

He saw Fox's face take on a terrible anxiety and knew what he was thinking:
he could not lift Krycek and keep the gun on the alien.

"Give it to me," he grated.  Fox passed him the gun and started around the
table to pick him up from the other side, then jumped as the automatic fired
once.  The Gray dropped.

Mulder was frozen with shock.

"He was dead anyway," Krycek gasped.  "If you took him out of here they
would have killed him, even if it meant taking you and a whole city block
with him, you know that.  They can't allow that kind of evidence to exist."

Mulder looked numbly at the body.  "How do you know it's a "he"?"

The pain was barreling back hard.  "Mulder..."

Mulder made to lift him and Krycek laid the warm gun on his bare belly in
case --

Pain shredded him, and he passed out.
 
 

He came back when Fox fell.  He felt the automatic under him and
instinctively pried it out and fired at the first thing that moved.

A Gray collapsed.  It had been coming toward them, he realized.  They were
outside, on grass.  He lay completely still, listening, wondering how many
bullets were left in the clip.  There must not be any detection systems this
far outside the ship after all, and no one must have noticed yet that he was
gone, or they would be out here searching.  At last he twisted to look at
Fox, and pain overwhelmed him.  When he could force himself to move again,
he touched Mulder's face and softly called his name with no response, but he
felt him breathing evenly.  He checked Mulder's watch.  Eleven-thirty.  They
were not far from the entrance to the ship, they had to move.

He found he could briefly prop himself on his prosthetic forearm, long
enough to put his hand against the ground and heave his body along a few
inches.  He passed Mulder, and then reached back, got his arm across
Mulder's chest, and pulled.  He found a position in which he could get
enough leverage to move the unconscious body.  He might be able to make five
feet a minute.  His naked side would be scraped to shit but slid better than
clothes might have in the damp night grass and leaves; pain would have to be
what he swam in, ignored since he had no control over it.  A useful trick
from childhood.  He was alive and Mulder was alive, unthinkable to let that
perfect state be undone by passivity.

Five feet a minute would not be enough to assure their survival.

He started crawling.

Scully's flashlight beam caught a movement of something pale.

"We don't know that he was inside when it went up," Skinner had said on the
drive to the site of the midnight explosion.  HAZMAT had reported there was
no radioactivity.  Scully and Skinner glanced at each other.  Wondering who
had advised that particular check.

The fire had died to a volcanic glow, snapping and sparking and still
roaring up occasionally from a huge pit stories deep.  The darkness smelled
smoky and chemical as Scully had joined a line of mixed personnel sweeping
one of the surrounding fields.  No one had offered her a body to examine.
So far, they said, there weren't any.

Now she veered off in the direction of the white flash of motion.  It was
still, now, but she could see paleness near some kind of shrubbery and
mechanical forms, where the field petered into a few trees near the road.
An abandoned car, a tangle of rusted machinery.  The pale thing made no
attempt to flee, but as she got closer it resolved into a naked human form;
she could see it huddled over another body, as if trying to hide it.  Then
she saw the naked one had a gun raised in his hand, an FBI SIG Sauer.  She
twitched the light higher.

"Krycek!" she exclaimed, and saw the gun waver down and fall.  "FBI, drop
your weapon!" she commanded tardily.  The other body -- under his arm,
partly shielded from view by his naked torso -- it wore clothes, a dark gray
suit --  "Throw the gun here!"  Krycek weakly obeyed and the gun thudded in
the grass between them.  She approached cautiously.  He had dropped his head
onto the other body's shoulder, so her view of its face was obscured.  The
body hadn't moved.

"Move away!  On your face, hands behind your head!" she ordered.  Krycek
just raised his eyes to her.

"I can't," he said, and only then did she notice the twisted whiteness of
his lips, and the exhausted eyes.  The strap across his back, she realized,
was for a prosthetic arm, not a shoulder holster.  She moved around them and
shone the light into the other face.

"Mulder."  She was on her knees, vaguely knowing she had yelled for the
medics and pushed Krycek off him.  He was breathing, unconscious -- no sign
of skull trauma she could locate, no blood --  "What's wrong with him?" she
demanded of Krycek, who lay on his back panting shallowly.  "What happened?"

"I don't know," she heard the strained whisper as she continued her
fruitless examination.  "I think they hit him with some kind of -- taser, or
drug or something."

"How long has he been unconscious?"

"Since eleven-thirty."  An ambulance pulled up on the nearby road, and she
let the paramedics take over.  They were straightening Krycek's limbs
carefully when he said, "Take him first," and Scully hurriedly ordered it,
telling them what little she knew.  They covered Krycek with thin ambulance
blankets and carried Mulder slowly away over the rough ground.  Others had
clustered around the ambulance to meet them.  She saw Skinner against the
lights, and decided to guard Krycek.  She didn't want him rescued, killed,
or abducted before she could question him.  She shone her light around
before the area became any more trampled.  There were scorches where flaming
debris had landed, and she found a drag path of crushed-down grass and
leaves leading back toward the explosion site.  She turned and looked at
Krycek.

"What did you do to him?" she asked, and was pleased at the control she was
able to exercise over her voice.  But Krycek glanced at the gun in her hand
and quickly back at her face.  "You son of a bitch!  He dragged you out of
that place!  Then you knocked him unconscious!"  She sucked in breath and
realized she was looming above him, bent over and yelling.

When he saw she wasn't going to shoot him, he looked away and sighed.  "God
I love the FBI," he muttered.

She suddenly realized it was after one in the morning of a very long, hard
day, that Mulder was alive with good vitals and no apparent wounds.  She
sank down on a stack of old tires and sat staring unseeingly, till she
registered that he had turned his head and was looking toward the ambulance.
"Why haven't they gone yet?" he asked.

She looked at him as if for the first time, and her medical instincts
swelled to the fore.  He looked bad.  "Where are you injured?" she asked
automatically.

"You should go with him."  He turned his eyes to her.  "They're after him."

"Last I heard they were after you too, Krycek."

"Him they want dead.  Me they want alive."

"Who's "they"?"

His eyes glanced toward the ground at her feet.  "You got any Demerol in
that bag?"

She shook her head.  "I'm a pathologist.  The paramedics will have
something.  Do you have any head injuries?"

"No.  Fractured pelvis."

Scully winced.

"This adrenaline is definitely wearing off here," and she could hear pain in
his voice and his breathing.  She knew she shouldn't care, but pain was one
of the reasons she had gone into pathology, where all her patients'
suffering was a thing of the past.  Surprisingly, then, he answered her
question.  "You're right, they're different "they"s.  Most of the human
theys want Mulder dead.  He's gotten beyond tolerating."

"And which "they" wants you alive?"

He looked toward the ambulance again, and all the pain showed.  He said,
"You can have him for now.  But I want him back."  His eyes closed.  Scully
felt the shock all through her, at what he was admitting.  In a delayed
reaction she stood up and waved her flashlight, shouting at the paramedics,
wondering what the hell was holding up the second ambulance.  She saw
Skinner bending over the gurney -- did that mean Mulder was conscious and
talking?  It would explain why they were still here.  She saw Skinner look
in her direction, and head toward her.

He reached her faster than the paramedics had with their cumbersome
equipment.  "Sir, I think one of us should stay with Agent Mulder.  I
believe his life is in danger."

Skinner looked down at Krycek.  "You go.  He's awake and insisting on
knowing that the prisoner is secured."

Scully threw Krycek a look too, having a feeling that that hadn't been
Mulder's exact phrasing.  "Sir, he, uh, has serious injuries."

"I'll try to restrain myself, Agent Scully."

"Yes, sir."  And she thought it the wisest move to do as she was told.  She
sent a paramedic with pain meds back to Krycek, and knelt down by Mulder.

"Krycek --" he said as soon as he saw her.

"He's okay," she replied quickly, and he lay back with a breath of relief,
his eyes closing.

"God," he said, one hand rubbing his face.  "They said the ship exploded."

"Ship?"

"Yeah."  He smiled faintly up at her.  "It's a real ship, Scully, they're
going to have one hell of a time explaining away all the technology."

"I don't know, Mulder -- it's been over an hour and it's still burning
pretty hot.  I'm not sure there'll be much left."

At last the ambulance seemed ready to lock and load, so she didn't have to
answer the dismay in his eyes.
 
 

Krycek felt a sense of foreboding as Scully walked away and Skinner turned
toward him.  The Assistant Director squatted by him, eyes hard behind his
glasses.

"What the hell kind of scam are you running here, Krycek?"

Scream now and bring Scully back?

"The other two guys wanted to kill you," he blurted, between almost
chattering teeth.  He was suddenly really cold.  "In the stairwell.  I had
to make sure you stayed down or you were a dead man."

"Why?"  Skinner looked utterly unmoved.

"Murder an A.D.?  Just... stupid..."  Skinner would know that was true, no
conspiracy needed that kind of flak.

"I want to know what you're doing now, Krycek.  What kind of head-trip
you're running on my agent."

"What do you mean?" he stalled.

The paramedic arrived and shot him up with something that started to
obliterate a lot of pain.  "There'll be an ambulance here for you soon," she
assured him, and left.  Krycek was grateful but wished he could think of a
way to get her to stay.  He couldn't think of much of anything, it seemed.

"Agent Mulder is abnormally concerned for your welfare," Skinner bit out.

"I'm his source."  It was the best he could do.

"Abnormally concerned, Krycek."  Skinner was seriously in his face.  "Like
he cares."

Krycek smiled.

It was a mistake, but he couldn't stop himself.  He looked toward the
ambulance and saw they were finally loading and closing the doors.

He looked back at Skinner and the smile wiped itself off his face.  He
hadn't felt in so much danger in -- over an hour, at least.  Skinner glanced
down his body, taking in that underneath the thin flannel blankets he was
naked.

"I'll break you in two," Skinner said slowly.

"I'm not going to hurt him."

"No," Skinner said.  "You're not.  You're not going to see him again, you're
not going to communicate with him again.  From this moment you are out of
his life, Krycek, and where you're going you'll be lucky if you even see a
cockroach that wasn't born inside."

Krycek licked the inside of his lower lip.  He held Skinner's eyes, rapt.
The power in him!  Power to be grasped, turned...

"I'm giving him everything he ever wanted," he said.  "Take that away and
see what hurt really means."

Skinner reached for him but he had no clothing to grab onto and the big
powerful hands closed in frustration.  The fists lay on his collarbones.

Krycek breathed harder.  "Take me away and he will never trust you again.
Never.  You'll destroy him.  For nothing!"

"You're the slime under his shoes, Krycek.  You're garbage.  He'll get over
it."  The big hands relaxed open, lying loosely around his throat.  Krycek's
heart pounded, he felt his control slipping into panic.  He clamped down on
the fear.

"He doesn't get over things.  Don't you at least know that by now?"

"He knows what you are, Krycek.  He won't be surprised when I tell him how
you betrayed him."  Unnoticed by either of them, the second ambulance had at
last arrived, and the paramedics were near.  Skinner stood up.

"This man is a federal prisoner.  He'll be going to a different location."
 

The hospital sucked Mulder into its routine of tests and ejected him back at
Scully with no one much the wiser.  Except that he seemed to be undamaged.
They let him put his clothes back on.  There was no one else in the room
when Scully entered.

"Where's Krycek?" he asked immediately.

"I don't know.  I haven't seen him."

He froze, looking up from tying his shoes.

"They may have taken him to another hospital."

"No.  No!"

"Mulder, calm down!  That's the way ambulance systems work.  They triage
patients to different emergency rooms according to the type and severity of
injury and the hospital's capacity."  Her voice gentled.  "Skinner is with
him.  He'll be safe."

Mulder stared at her, then flushed hot red.  "You know," he said in a
startled, strangled gasp.

"Know what?"  But she felt her cheeks reddening too.

He looked at her levelly, assessingly, and finally spoke in words that
marched as if to their deaths, "You know that Krycek is my lover."

Scully closed her eyes.  Until he said it, some level of her really hadn't
believed it.

"Mulder, why?  Why him?"

Mulder closed his eyes.  "I don't know."

Scully studied his face.  All she could see was a greater than usual pain
and confusion.  "What -- attracts you, in him?"

He jerked half away, moaning "Oh god" involuntarily.

"You can say anything to me, Mulder.  I need to know what's happening."

Mulder scrubbed his face with his hands.  "I don't know."  He half-smiled
sideways at her.  "He thinks I beat him up once too often and got a taste
for it."  His forehead drooped into his palms.  "Maybe he's right."  He
sighed, "God," and fell silent.

Scully said, "I knew some of this.  Someone sent me a tape.  You and Krycek.
On the phone."

"Oh no."  He swivelled away.  He seemed to shrink smaller inside his suit,
with a new and more personal embarrassment.

"I erased the tape.  But thinking back I could see he was being very
charming with you.  Childlike.  Aggressive.  Intimate."

"God.  I'm sorry.  You shouldn't have had to --"

"Mulder, I'm a doctor.  I heard all the naughty words my first year in med
school.  By the time I was an intern I even knew what they meant."

Despite himself, Mulder smiled.  He took a deep shaking breath.  "The sex
is... unbelievable.  Half the time I don't know if I'm going to fuck him or
kill him.  I never even had that kind of fantasy.  Maybe I never let
myself.  When he touches me it's like I have to -- do something violent."
He said tiredly, "Do you think...  Is it the ultimate garden path?  Is he
taking me for my last dime?"

He didn't look up at her but she could hear the fear.

"You're asking me?  I'm the one who led you off your real path, Mulder.
He's the one who put you back on it."

"I never told you -- that night...  It was the first time he kissed me.  On
the cheek.  And called me "Comrade".  Judas Krycek.  Agenda Boy.  I never
told anybody about that kiss, because when he did it... I wanted to believe.
I wanted it to mean more than being appointed Hero.  I wanted him to be
coming on to me.  So I could... jump his bones, beat the crap out of him, I
didn't even know.  He gave me back my gun.  And looked at me for a minute.
And walked out.  And I just sat there.  Waiting for the snow to come and
cover me up."

"He seems to have told you the truth that night, about the alien rebel being
held at Wiekamp."

"The ironic thing is... if he's lying to me now... I don't want to know.  I
just want to live out my life under the illusion that... that he..."

"That he loves you," Scully said.  He raised his head at the dispassionate
sympathy in her voice.

"Or at least thinks I'm hot."

Scully smiled.  Mulder's self-deprecation was back on-line.  He would
survive.

"You think aliens made me a leather queen, Scully?"

"It's the only explanation that fits the facts," she assured him.  He looked
up with a startled laugh and a glow of love for her in his eyes that brought
a reflexive smile to her lips.

"I love you," he said unnecessarily.

"But do you think I'm hot?"

He laughed, but blushed so red that she had mercy on him, and perhaps
herself, and redirected.  "You've trusted your instincts for a long time.
Obviously you think there's something there that you need."

"He knows everything, and he's not afraid of it.  He's afraid of them, but
he's not afraid of knowing they exist, he walks in their world, Scully."

Scully raised a perfectly pencilled eyebrow.  "And this turns you on?"

"There -- are a lot of things he's not afraid of."

Scully's steady eyes met his.  Betrayal.  Intrigue.  Assassination.  For a
start, she was thinking.

Mulder's eyelids crinkled with distress.  "I know...  What the hell am I
doing...  But I would follow him into hell..."

He would.  He had followed her there, and brought her out again.  She knew
his tenacity, and the power love had over him.

She looked at his bowed head.  Those shoulders that had taken on the weight
of the world and never looked as burdened as they did now.  Betray him in
this, you Russian -- hussy -- and he won't have to hunt you down.  I'll find
you and kill you myself.
 
 

They called around to area hospitals but could find no trace of Krycek.
With every negative Mulder's temporary calm wore away, and the silence of
his cell phone and Scully's as dawn lightened over the Atlantic seeped fear
into his body.  Her insistence that he go home and sleep went unheeded.  He
made her tell him everything she had seen.  How Skinner had received the
call about Mulder's car being found near the fiery site.  When she recounted
her conclusion about the drag path and their escape from the explosion, he
shook his head.

"No.  He's the one who dragged me out.  I couldn't move.  There was an
alien outside the ship, some kind of hand-weapon..."

"That's impossible, Mulder.  Krycek's pelvis was broken, he couldn't have
done it."

Mulder swallowed, suddenly beset by heartache.  "I wasn't unconscious,
Scully.  I just couldn't move, couldn't open my eyes.  It was like my will
totally evaporated or was cut off from my body.  But I remember.  He dragged
me, a foot at a time, over and over for what seemed like hours.  Finally I
guess I really did pass out.  I don't remember the ship exploding.  Then
Skinner was there --"  He stopped, overcome with anxiety.  He had to move,
had to find them.

He could see Scully was the one who really was exhausted.  He hated any sign
of physical debility in her, dark-circled eyes and pale cheeks reminded him
too forcefully of Scully in her hospital bed, day after day carried further
away from him, slowly being abducted by death.

He talked her into dropping him off at work before she went home to sleep.

His heart in his mouth, he walked into Skinner's outer office.  Kim was
already there.  "Agent Mulder," she greeted him.  "He said to go right in."

A far cry from her usual futile "You can't go in there!"  Mulder opened the
door and Skinner, at his desk, looked up.  The eyes behind the glasses were
concerned.

"Agent Mulder, I'm afraid I have bad news."  Mulder noticed Skinner held
himself poised, in his chair, as if ready to leap in any direction.  "The
ambulance carrying Krycek disappeared.  I got separated from it in traffic.
It never showed up.  The crew reported in later, the ambulance had been
hijacked."  He was scrutinizing Mulder.  "Evidence suggests Krycek knew and
cooperated with the hijackers.  I'm sorry.  Little as I trusted him, I agree
he was an important source."

Mulder stood numbly.  "Yes, sir," he answered.  Seared by Skinner's past
tense.  Was that deliberate?  Or unconscious?  He prayed for the former.
Carefully, he let some of his distress show.  "I --"  Abruptly he collapsed
down into one of Skinner's interview chairs.  "He's -- gone?"

"I'm sorry, Agent Mulder."

Mulder let his head fall forward into his hands.  After a moment, he looked
up.  "The ship.  Sir, that building that exploded is an alien ship --"

Skinner's expression changed, to a different kind of painful regret.  "The
site has been burning for hours, Mulder.  They say there must be some kind
of fuel --  They don't think there will be much left."

"Debris -- from the explosion.  It must have been thrown everywhere."

"Yes," Skinner assented, "that's a possibility," but glanced down at a pen
he was holding between his hands, and Mulder had a clear vision of cordon
tape and black sedans.

He stood up rockily.

"You look like you could use some rest, Agent Mulder.  Go home.  Go to bed."

Mulder hesitated.  His shoulders drooped.  "Yes, sir."  He plodded to the
door.

"Mulder.  Your car was found.  It's down in the car pool.  It's been gone
over, just in case."

"Thank you, sir."

Mulder retrieved his car, drove a few miles and pulled in at a gas station
with a couple of pay phones, scanning the area before he got out.  No cars
pulled up anywhere in sight.

On the first phone he dialled a number, spoke the word "Jasper", and hung
up.

Just on the off-chance that any part of what Skinner had told him was the
truth.

He moved to the other phone and dialled another number.

"Yo," Langly answered.

"I need your help.  All of you, full-time for as long as it takes, top
priority, expenses on me.  I need you to locate someone who's being held
incommunicado, probably in a federal facility, probably under a false
identity.  Taken last night from the site of that explosion in McLean."

"Sex, rank, and serial number?"

"It's Alex Krycek."

Langly didn't say anything for a long time.  "Look, uh..."

Mulder read the thought.  "I'm not going to kill him, I need him.  He's my
source."

"Wo!"  He could practically see the visions of sugarplums dancing in
Langly's head.

"Merry Christmas," he said, and hung up.
 
 
 

Three weeks later he hunched over a screen in the Lone Gunmen's lair,
following the trail of evidence they had downloaded.  "This is the most
likely one, here.  Times match up.  Convicted under a third-strike child
molestation law, of an especially mondo grisly assault.  Sentenced to life,
PC'd as soon as he arrived.  We found the record of his trial, here..."
Mulder glanced at Langly, hearing another shoe hovering.  Langly turned from
the keyboard.  "What we didn't find was a single, solitary news item about
this heinous crime, the criminal's capture, the trial or the conviction."
He blinked.  "Until this morning."  He turned back to the keyboard and
called up archives of the big city paper nearest the locale of the crime.
The stories were there.  Not front page but there.  "We emailed a friend and
the stories are indeed filed neatly in the paper's morgue."

"So maybe you just missed them before?"

Frohike smiled predatorily.  "They were filed," he said.  "But they weren't
in the paper copies of the edition they store.  And they weren't in the
microfiche version at the library here."

Mulder's heart beat heavily, slowly.

"Fingerprints?" he asked.

"Not on-line," Byers answered regretfully.

Well, they'd be crazy to file his real prints anyway.

Mulder stared at the screen, which Langly had switched back to the prison
information.  It was a notorious donjon-keep, high-tech, brutally
escape-proof.

"How do we get him out?"

The three telegraphed looks over and around him.  No one answered.

He looked up and intercepted the jungle drums.

Byers gave a last flicker at the other two.  Then he said slowly, "We had a
feeling that might be your next question."

Frohike said, "We know a guy."

Langly elaborated, "Who knows a guy."

They stalled out.  More flicks passed among them.

"You're worried about committing a federal crime."

They stared back like three species of owl.

"It doesn't occur to you you already did that by hacking into several
federal databases."

Langly snorted.  "If they really didn't want people to read that stuff, they
wouldn't put it up on networks hooked to modems."  Frohike sneered; Byers
smiled condescendingly.

Mulder nodded.  "I see."

Byers cleared his throat.  "Actually, we wondered if Dana would be joining
us."

"In skintight black poaching duds," Frohike clarified.

Mulder smiled.  "Scully doesn't know about this.  I want to keep it that
way."

Flick.  Flick.  Flick.

"So... this is like the most illegal thing you've ever done and if any of us
are caught or killed you'll disavow all knowledge of our actions?" Langly
hazarded, bright-eyed.

Mulder sighed, hearing the theme music.  "Basically," he said.  "Yes."

End of Part 13, A Boy and His Rat

Feedback? houseofslack@hos.slashcity.com