Mulder and Scully meet up with an old friend while investigating a missing persons case in Missouri.
The woman emerged from the elevator, the tap of her heels echoing oddly within the confines of the deserted hall. She made her way through it, somewhat resigned to the familiarity of its walls and passages. She halted in front of the door, sighed, and opened it.
The man within glanced up immediately, giving her a hopeful yet uncertain grin that she knew all too well. She paused in the doorway, feeling a strange compulsion to turn back the way she had come. She quelled the errant thought, but a small part of her mind pursued the thread ruthlessly: what would he do? Would he follow her? Likely not. He would let her go.
"Scully," he said, with a smile that he probably thought was charming; she had to admit that it usually was. "Take a look at this." He flipped a newspaper to the edge of the desk, where it lay there waiting for her perusal. She looked at it from across the room as if longing to keep some distance between her and the seemingly innoculous paper. But she closed the door behind her and moved forward to glance at it warily.
"Yeah," she said in a monotone. "So what?"
Mulder looked at her with some concern and removed his reading glasses, fiddling with the stems in a gesture of restless habit. "Is everything all right?"
She suppressed the automatic 'I'm fine,' knowing that her usual defense would hardly alleviate his concern. So she forced a reassuring smile. "I'm just a little tired." That's all it was - wasn't it?
Mulder studied her curiously a moment more, then seemed to accept her explanation - if out of expediency more than real belief. His previous enthusiasm re-emerged. "Looks like a case, don't you think?"
She looked at the newspaper again, searching for whatever had caught his interest this time. "Tourists Gone Missing in America's Heartland?" she asked after a moment. He beamed at her. "How is this a case for us, Mulder? It's a job for the local authorities, not the FBI."
Mulder tilted his head and began nodding and speaking at once, clearly anticipating her reaction. "But that's the kicker." He rummaged around the desk, knocking over a pencil holder and a box of paper clips in the process. As usual, he ignored the mess he left in his wake, and dragged three other cut-out newspaper clips from beneath the clutter. "Five other reported missing persons - all tourists. Across state lines," he added meaningfully.
"And more than that ." He trailed off, rummaging around his desk some more, pulling out a microfilm copy of another newspaper article. "This was in one of my files - another report of a missing person in the same immediate area." He handed it to her, and she glanced at the date: September 3, 1947.
She sighed, rubbed the back of her neck. She could feel a headache coming on - it was concentrated in her eyes, the back of her head. The source of the headache sat in oblivious hopefulness, still trying to charm her into enthusiasm.
"Fine," she replied. "But I don't see how this is an X-File."
Mulder acknowledged her protest with a defensive, downward flick of his eyes. "Maybe but I've got a feeling about this one. Don't tell me you've lost that lovin' feeling, Scully " he added in a low, mock-seductive voice.
"I got rid of it a long time ago," she retorted, but she smiled reluctantly to soften the jibe. "Okay, Mulder. So why do you want to investigate this case?"
A flash of a triumphant grin, then he picked up one of the fallen pencils in an absent gesture, twirling it idly through his fingers. "Maybe I just want to get out of town for the weekend; what do you say to that, Scully? You and me on a romantic getaway weekend?"
She allowed the corners of her lips to twitch upwards in what might have been a smile. "I'd say that my idea of a romantic getaway does not include you, or--" she glanced at the first newspaper article again, "Missouri."
Mulder tried to look hurt, but as usual he couldn't hold it for long. "C'mon, Scully. It's the heartland of America." He tapped the article with his pencil. "See, it says so right here."
"You haven't answered my question, Mulder. What about this case warrants our attention?"
Mulder's face smoothed out into more serious lines. "I don't know," he replied honestly. "It just seems strange: a total of seven missing persons, all in the same area, all visitors from somewhere else. Just in the last year. Pretty spooky, don't you think?"
"Always." She sighed. "Okay, so when do we need to go?"
Mulder fished around his desk some more - she looked away from the sight of the resulting chaos. With a little sound of victory, he unearthed two plane tickets. "We leave in two hours."
She caught his eye and raised an eyebrow; he had the grace to blush a little and break the contact first. "Why do you even bother asking me about these cases if you've already set everything up?"
"Scuully " he whined. Then he sighed when she didn't relent. "Okay, I'm sorry I didn't check with you first," he said with a touch of irritation. "I didn't think it would be a problem. But if you can't go--"
"No," she interrupted quickly. "I can go. Just let me go home first and pack a bag. I'll meet you at the airport." She turned and left him there, wondering as she always did how he looked at her while her back was turned. With speculation? Irritation? But she knew, really. He was no longer looking at her at all.
"Turn here," said the insistent, 'don't question me' voice next to her. She ignored it, stubbornly increasing the speed of the car until the barely-paved turnoff passed them by. Mulder watched it go, turned back to her in startled question. "Why didn't you turn?" he asked, his voice tinged with annoyance.
She ignored him again, as she had on the plane trip here, as she had when they argued about who was going to drive the rental car. She was the one who had stood in line for twenty-five minutes while he had disappeared in search of a soda and snack machine, so she had simply refused to give up the keys. Whatever black dog had rooted itself on her shoulder at the beginning of this day was flexing its claws quite fiercely.
Mulder sat back in his seat and sighed, as if telling her that he was willing to let her insubordination pass, for now. Her hands clenched convulsively on the steering wheel.
"I think that turn would have taken us where we need to go," he said reproachfully.
She bit back her immediate response, counted to five. "You don't have any idea where we need to go, Mulder," she said, after deciding that her first response was still the right one. "We've been driving around here for hours, with no idea where we're going, and no idea what we're looking for. What you're looking for," she added meaningfully.
"We know that the people disappeared somewhere in this area," he argued. "If you would just unclench a little--"
"Don't," she warned fiercely. "Don't even try my patience today."
"Fine," he replied coldly, although there was a note of surprise in his voice at her vehemence. The car traveled in deceptive serenity down the stretch of road.
Mulder turned his head quickly, as if catching something out of the corner of his eye. "There's a town up here, three miles to the turn. Maybe we should stop and talk to some of the locals," he suggested cautiously.
She felt like saying 'no,' just to be perverse. But she was tired of driving, tired of sitting in the uncomfortably close confines of the car. "Okay," she said at last. "Anyway, I'm hungry."
They parked the car on the side of the main street, both getting out with rather bemused expressions on their faces. The buildings around them were a strange cacophony of architectural styles: a clapboard storefront standing next to an elegant Georgian house replete with willowy pillars, a stretch of unfinished wooden fronts reminiscent of a western ghost town. Mulder wondered briefly if a tumbleweed was going to be rolling along, soon.
"A movie studio?" Scully wondered.
Mulder looked around at the few people on the streets: their dress was as strangely bizarre and mixed as the buildings around them. A young man dressed in formal attire stopped a few feet away to check his watch from the end of a waist chain, while a pair of girls lingered in front of a store window, legs clad in silver stripes that tangled up to their waists.
"An elaborate costume party?" he wondered back.
Scully shrugged. She seemed a little more relaxed now that they were out of the car, for which Mulder was extremely grateful. He had no idea what bug had gotten up Scully's bonnet today, but their tense exchanges followed by even more tense silences was beginning to wear thin.
"Let's talk to the local police, first," he suggested. "Perhaps they've seen or had reports of the missing people." Scully looked at him skeptically, but didn't argue.
The 'sheriff's office' was part of the ghost town across the street. Somehow that didn't surprise him. He opened the dusty wooden door, halting almost immediately at the dim light within. Scully let out a whoosh of air behind him as she tried to avoid running into him. He was glad he couldn't see her face.
Two eyes glinted coolly across the room from him. When his own eyes had adjusted to the lack of adequate light, he saw that they were attached to a rather scruffy, middle-aged man, clothed in the garb a stereotypical nineteenth-century western sheriff complete with shiny star. His legs were sprawled carelessly on the old wooden table in front of him.
"Sheriff?" Mulder asked with a disbelieving grin.
The man looked him over warily, then grunted. "Who's asking?"
Scully managed to slide around his bulk blocking the door, shooting Mulder a cool glance that ineffectually hid the glare behind it. She pulled out her badge. "Sheriff " she paused, eyebrow raised in inquiry, then continued when a name wasn't provided. "I'm Agent Scully this is Agent Mulder." She identified him with a deliberately dismissive backward nod of her head, and Mulder suppressed a smile at her implied snub. "We're investigating the disappearances of several tourists, reported missing in this area. We would appreciate your cooperation in this investigation."
The professional monotony of her words earned her another grunt. The man looked from her, back to Mulder. "Don't know anything about any missing people," he muttered.
Mulder reached into his inner pocket to retrieve the newspaper clipping, stopping abruptly as the man in front of him swung his legs off the table and pulled out a gun that looked like it belonged in an antique shop. "Just keep it right there," he warned.
Vascillating between startled amusement and irritation, Mulder slowly brought his hand out, turning both hands palm out, his movement overly-deliberate. Who the hell was this yokel? "I just want to show you a picture of the missing people," he said with a generous measure of sarcasm in his voice. The man grunted again - his favorite form of communication, Mulder thought - and put the gun away. Mulder reached for the clipping again and walked over the table, placing the blurred photo of a man and woman in their early forties in front of the other man.
"Do you recognize them?" he asked. The sheriff screwed up his face as if in deep thought.
"Yeah," he said at last, pointing to the woman. "That's Miz Burkitt. She's got a place off Poplar. Don't know anything 'bout her being missing," he added suspiciously.
Mulder exchanged a surprised look with his partner, then Scully leaned forward to check the names of the couple on the clipping. Mulder already knew what it said: Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Dubrinsky.
Scully sighed heavily next to him, and for the first time since this trip began, Mulder was in complete agreement with the sentiment. His definition of normality was considerably more lenient than most people's, but he was willing to admit that this was stranger than their usual experiences.
Scully spoke up into the silence, and the man shifted his attention back to her, still suspicious. "Okay, Sheriff. We'd like to talk with Ms Burkitt. Could you direct us to Poplar Street?"
The sheriff looked surprised by the question. "Just follow Main." He gestured the direction vaguely. "Poplar's about a quarter-mile away. You'll find the Burkitt place just a few houses down."
Scully nodded and retrieved the newspaper clipping. "Thank you," she said in that cool, calm voice of hers that Mulder had always secretly envied, even when it annoyed him. He gave the sheriff a nod, which earned him another dubious look, then followed Scully out to the street again.
She turned to him, but didn't say anything, eyebrow raised just slightly.
"Okay, so that was a little weird," he admitted. "See, I told you there was an X-File here."
"This whole town is an X-File," she replied, looking around.
He had to agree with that. He was picking up strange, jarring vibes from the people and things around him - as if everything was slightly skewed, slightly out of sync. He shook his head with a little twitch to rid himself of the sensation.
"Well, Scully," he drawled affectedly. "Let's find Poplar Street and see what ol' Miz Burkitt's been doing here all this time."
Poplar Street was a delightfully shady, leaf-strewn path winding its way aimlessly off of Main; Mulder distrusted it immediately. His suspicions were diverted briefly by a strange, black dome-like building on the corner of Main and Poplar. He halted, fascinated. It seemed to be made of some kind of stone, or even metal. There were no doors or windows that he could see. Scully finally noticed his absence and walked back to stand next to him.
"What do you think it is?" he asked her, an enrapt expression on his face.
His partner sighed, shrugged. "I don't care, Mulder," she said forcefully. "Let's just talk to Ms. Burkitt and get the hell out of this place."
Mulder was startled out of his preoccupation by Scully's uncharacteristic language, but on further reflection he found that he agreed with her. This town was giving him the creeps, and it took a lot to do that, these days.
They found the house - a small white clapboard with dark blue shutters and a wide front porch, the name "Burkitt" stenciled carefully in blue paint on the mailbox in front. Both agents paused before the porch steps, peculiarly reluctant to take the lead. Finally, Mulder stepped up to the porch and knocked decisively on the door after opening up the screen. He felt Scully move up behind him.
Some muffled steps, the twisting of the door handle. Then presumably Mrs. Burkitt was beaming at them from the doorway, her broad face friendly and curious. My God, Mulder thought inanely. She's wearing an apron. For some reason that really bothered him.
"Mrs. Burkitt?" he asked neutrally. It was undeniably the woman from the photo.
The woman's smile grew wider and she nodded. "That's me, honey." Mulder was caught in the sudden disorienting effect of the smile and was temporarily at a loss for words. Scully gave him an unreadable look and stepped in.
"Ms. Burkitt, we'd like to ask you a few questions." She pulled out her badge. "I'm Agent Scully and this is Agent Mulder. We're from the Federal Bureau of Investigation," she added.
The woman just nodded and didn't even glance at the badge in Scully's hand. "Sure thing, child. Just come on in." She opened the door and ushered them inside, oblivious to the rather reluctant compliance of the two agents.
Mulder looked around him cautiously, but it was a fairly ordinary interior. Despite the thin layer of dust over several of the objects and furniture, it looked to be a very lived-in kind of house. The woman gestured them into the living room and insisted that they sit. Both agents did so rather gingerly on the edge of the orange-print couch; there was a brief, uncomfortable silence.
"Mrs. Burkitt," Mulder finally said. "Is your husband at home, too?"
The woman looked at him with a blank expression, then laughed gaily. "Lord no, honey. I kicked that sorry man out of here years ago."
"Years?" Scully asked in polite disbelief. The other woman just nodded.
"He just couldn't stay out of my way. Fiddlin' with this, brooding over that - it was like to drive a good woman crazy."
"Ms. Burkitt," Mulder tried again. "How long have you lived here?"
He thought her smile couldn't get any wider or brighter, but was quickly proved wrong. "Why, I've been here all my life. Can't even imagine living anywhere else - why would I want to?"
Mulder could think of several reasons but could articulate none of them fully. "But you were married at one time to Joseph Dubrinsky?" he asked, not knowing what he expected her response would be.
She looked a little confused, the smile fading a little. "Well," she replied slowly. "I suppose so." Mulder waited for her to continue, then realized that she wasn't going to. He sat on her couch, starting several sentences in his head that never quite reached his tongue.
"Thank you, Ms. Burkitt," Scully spoke up gently from beside him. "You've been very helpful." She stood up. After a brief hesitation, Mulder mirrored her movement and they shuffled toward the door. Their hostess stood up rapidly, smile firmly back in place.
"Don't you mind. I'm very happy to help." She waved at them cheerfully as they strode almost in tandem out the door and down the porch steps.
They walked without speaking down the stone path leading from the porch, back the way they came until they reached the crossroads of Main. Then Scully looked over at him, a wary, quizzical expression on her face. "I think we need to find a place to eat," she said at last.
Mulder nodded, knowing that they needed to do a lot more than eat.
The café was pleasantly normal, just a few tables scattered around a hardwood floor, a large bay window illuminating the space with a cheery, orange glow. Still, Mulder was on edge, and by the look of Scully's inpenetrable, calm exterior, his partner was, too. They were silent as they perused the menu, avoiding each other's eyes.
The arrival of the waitress bringing drinks and taking their orders interrupted the silence briefly, but it quickly resumed once she had gone. Scully twirled the straw in her iced tea absently, brow creasing in a frown.
"Okay," she said at last. "Ms. Burkitt--Mrs. Dubrinsky, whatever--is obviously mentally disturbed in some way." She reached into her jacket pocket and unfolded the now slightly-wrinkled clipping. "It says here that she and her husband disappeared five days ago while traveling by car to Las Vegas. So either she's had some kind of memory lapse or she's mentally unstable."
"Or it isn't her," Mulder offered. "But if it isn't, it's a remarkably good likeness of Mrs. Dubrinsky."
"Maybe she's a clone," Scully wondered absently.
"Scully." Mulder caught his breath and looked at her with a slightly shocked smile. "Don't say things like that - you have no idea what it does to me."
His partner glared briefly at his rather smug leer and continued. "I think we need to look for her husband here. If she is mentally unstable, then who knows what she did to him?"
Mulder smiled at her with sudden empathy. "You got that vibe from her, too?" Then his expression turned thoughtful; he chewed unconsciously on his lower lip. "But what if it has nothing to do with her at all? What if it's this town luring people in here, somehow causing a type of amnesia so that they forget who they were and think they've always been here?"
Scully sighed, glanced out the window as if praying for patience. "Haven't you ever heard of Ockham's Razor?" she asked, turning back to him.
He scowled, opened his mouth to say something in automatic reaction, then quickly bit it back. "Why do you think your theory is any more simple than mine?" he demanded. "At least mine fits in with the evidence we've been able to gather so far."
Scully snorted. A most inelegant sound, he thought ungraciously. "What evidence?" she muttered.
"Well, we have Mrs. Burkitt's testimony," he flung back. "And we have our own eyes and ears. I'm still willing to trust my senses. And you have to admit that there's something not right about this place."
Scully was about to reply, but was cut off by the arrival of the waitress with their food. They ate half-heartedly, both picking absently at the sandwiches. Scully finally gave up after eating only half of hers and pushed the food away. She stirred her tea, tapping the top of the straw in an unconscious rhythm and studying the table in front of her. "Okay," she finally admitted. "I'll grant that there is something strange about this town. But I can't see what it has to do with our investigation. What we should be doing is tracking down the other missing tourists. Perhaps we should go back to the sheriff's office to see if he recognizes anyone from the other photos."
Mulder gave her a pained look, and she shrugged almost defensively. "It's not what I would prefer to do, either, but-"
"That son of a bitch." Mulder's flat words and tone interrupted her. Startled, she glanced up at her partner, who was now staring intently out of the window. She followed his gaze and caught her breath sharply at the sight of the man standing outside of the window, waving at them cheerfully.
Mulder stood up abruptly, almost knocking his chair backward to the floor. He was at the door before Scully even reacted; she swiftly pulled out her gun, keeping it lowered to her side, half-hidden in the folds of her black pants. She was outside in time to see Mulder on the sidewalk facing off with the other man, his fists clenched tightly at his sides.
"Krycek," Mulder said, his voice low with suppressed anger and disbelief.
"Hi, Mulder," replied the other man pleasantly. "I thought I recognized the two of you in there." He peered over Mulder's shoulder. "Hey, Scully."
"What do you want, Krycek?" she hissed, when Mulder appeared too enraged to speak.
Krycek looked surprised. "Just wanted to say 'hi'," he replied. "I haven't seen you two around for a while."
"Cut the crap, Krycek," Mulder retorted, finding his voice at last. "Why did you follow us here? Or are you here on other 'business'?" he added with a contemptuous sneer.
The other man seemed confused; he held up his hands defensively. "Wha-what are you talking about, Mulder?" he stuttered.
Mulder was about to reply, a reply that would likely have involved the use of his fists. Scully's suddenly thoughtful voice stopped him.
"How long have you been here?" she asked.
Krycek relaxed a bit, shoved his hands self-consciously in the pockets of his leather jacket. Suddenly, Mulder stepped forward and grabbed his left arm roughly. "Hey!" Krycek protested, ripping his arm from the other man's grasp and rubbing it protectively.
"This can't be Krycek," Mulder declared.
Scully, her thoughts catching up, nodded. "The arm."
The other man glared at them, his previously friendly demeanor now suspicious and a little hurt. Hurt? Mulder raised an eyebrow in surprise. "Of course I'm Alex Krycek," the man in front of them declared almost petulantly. "C'mon, guys. We've known each other for years." Mulder grunted, muttered something under his breath.
"How long have you lived in this town?" Scully repeated her earlier question in a remarkably calm voice.
Krycek laughed, a little nervously. "All my life, of course. What kind of a question is that? You know we've always lived here."
"We?" Mulder demanded, a shiver of apprehension tickling down his back.
"Well, yeah. We all grew up here."
Mulder looked over at Scully - she met his glance unwaveringly, but he thought she looked a little alarmed by Krycek's words and strange behavior. He wondered if his own expression revealed the same.
"Okay, Krycek," he said, trying to make his voice casual. "We grew up here what, did we go to high school together? Play on the football team? Maybe you and Scully here had a thing going on then, homecoming king and queen or something " He ignored the dark look Scully sent his way and continued to study Krycek. The other man's expression had turned a little vague.
"I I'm not sure," Krycek replied in obvious confusion. "But that sounds about right."
Mulder sighed. His own thoughts were beginning to blur a little - this inane conversation was a bit overwhelming. "Okay," he said, as if trying to regroup. The air outside was making him lethargic. "Let's go back inside. And you're coming with us." He looked at Krycek warningly.
Their retreat into the café was blocked by their waitress who had followed them out; she stood in the doorway glaring at the two agents with hands on hips. "You planning to pay for that food?" she drawled, looking a little miffed.
"Oh." Mulder blinked his eyes. "Of course." He pulled out his wallet and removed a twenty, giving it to the waitress with what he hoped was a charming smile. "Keep the change."
She just grunted and took the money, disappearing back inside.
Mulder looked around him, feeling a little disoriented from the exchange. Krycek was still in front of him, studying both of them curiously. Scully was beside him, but her attention now appeared to be caught on the storefronts flanking Main street on either side of the café.
"Actually, I think I'm going to do a little shopping," she said suddenly, her voice thoughtful and a little distant.
Mulder glanced at her sharply and was about to reply. Then he couldn't remember what he'd been about to say. There was a reason why Scully wasn't supposed to leave, but he couldn't remember what it was. "Okay," he said slowly, still confused.
Scully was already walking away from them. "I'll meet up with the two of you later," she called over her shoulder.
Mulder was left staring at her back, then he turned to the other man, who was shifting from leg to leg a bit restlessly. He rubbed at his eyes in slow, rotating movements, trying to shake the strange dreaminess that seemed to be creeping over him. He lowered his hands and opened his eyes again, found himself studying the man in front of him curiously. Krycek was in his traditional thug uniform of jeans, white T-shirt, and black leather jacket. Krycek stared back at Mulder, eyebrow raised in question.
"Um," Mulder said intelligently.
"A Godzilla movie is playing at the Druid theater down the street," Krycek said helpfully. Mulder's expression brightened considerably.
"One of the originals?"
Krycek nodded and grinned conspiratorily. "Yep. Wanna go?"
Mulder dusted his hands against the sides of coat, then clasped them together with sudden glee. "Hell, yes." And then he wondered why he felt a sudden flash of guilt, as if there was something he was supposed to be doing. Oh well, he finally decided. It couldn't have been anything that important.
The darkened theater enveloped him like a womb; he sank back into the seat, reveling in its velvety softness. Krycek had bought popcorn at some point; he poached from the other man's bucket with unapologetic fingers, delighting in the slickness of butter left behind on fingertips as he popped the yellow puffs in his mouth. Several pieces bounced out of his hand and down the front of his shirt, leaving greasy stains; he absently brushed them off onto the floor.
His eyes were glued to the screen in front of him as he shrieked suddenly at the sequence of images, delighting in the wreak of havoc left in Godzilla's wake. Krycek looked over at him and giggled at his response, punched him lightly on the arm. Mulder ignored the punch and instead found himself shifting closer to the other man, snuggling unself-consciously against the cool leather as they laughed and yelled in periodic spurts throughout the rest of the movie.
They left the theater giggling. Mulder was feeling wonderfully lightheaded, euphoric. Their legs and feet took them purposelessly down the main strip; at some point they had grasped hands, swinging their joined hands lightly as they walked.
Krycek stopped suddenly, jerking Mulder off-balance. "Let's go in there," he suggested, tilting his head to indicate the door they were now standing in front of.
Mulder peered at the darkened window, the flashing neon lights. "Okay," he agreed heartily. He thought he would agree to just about anything right now.
They entered the bar, still holding hands. A few patrons spared them looks of bemused indulgence, then left them alone. Krycek disengaged his hand as they reached the bar, knocking on the surface with impatient knuckles to catch the bartender's attention. Mulder looked around him curiously. It was a seedy sort of place, smoke-filled and dim. In other words, perfect. There was a pool table in the corner with a couple of bulky-looking men surrounding it possessively, pool sticks held in nonchalant grips.
Krycek tapped his shoulder, handed him a bottle of beer. Mulder tipped it to his lips, almost smacking them at the welcome rush of bitter liquid. "Ah," he pronounced with a grin for Krycek, who nodded in agreement. "Let's play pool," he said suddenly, making his way through the crowd to the back of the room.
Krycek followed him with slow, cat-like strides, almost bumping into the other man as Mulder stopped suddenly a few feet from the pool table. "Hey," Mulder said. "I know her."
One of the brawny men had stepped away from their line of sight, revealing the back of a petite red-head leaning over the table, stick poised in steady concentration. Mulder's eyebrows shot up at the sight of the tight leather mini skirt barely covering her ass, knee-high black boots, and the little red cotton top cut off well above her midriff. He strode up behind her and tapped her on the shoulder.
"God damn it," said the red-head, turning to him with angry blue eyes. "You just fucked up my shot, buddy." Then her eyes brightened in recognition and she lowered her stick. "Hi, Mulder."
"Hey, Scully," he replied inanely. Krycek came up behind them, eyed Scully appreciatively. She looked him up and down, pushed her shoulders back to reveal a remarkable amount of cleavage.
"Hey there, honey," she drawled. Mulder frowned at her, then at Krycek who was grinning just a little too much. He took Krycek's hand possessively. Scully saw the gesture and sighed. "So, you boys up for a game?"
"Don't do it," warned a voice to his left, one of the brawny men who had been hovering around the table. "She wiped us clean."
Scully smirked at the wary glance Mulder and Krycek exchanged. "All right, then. Let's find a place to sit take a load off, boys." She moved off without looking to see if they followed, but of course they did. She commandeered a table from its current, now rapidly evacuating, occupants, and sat down with a little huff, crossing her right leg over her knee and swinging it restlessly. The two men settled in across from her.
"Have you been playing pool all evening?" Mulder asked curiously.
Scully shrugged, then grabbed the arm of a passing waiter, gesturing for him to get her a beer. "Not one of those pansy-ass fruit beers, either," she warned him. Then she turned back to Mulder. "Off and on," she said vaguely. "So what are you guys doing here?"
"Just stopped in," Krycek spoke up, playing idly with the label on his beer. "How many games have you played?"
Scully cocked her head. "Five or six," she said slowly, as if trying to remember. She reached down into the crevice of her blouse and both men followed the movement of her hand in automatic response. She spared them a smirk, then pulled out a wad of twenties. "This'll keep momma in heels for a long time to come," she observed with a smile, caressing the bills with the tips of her fingers.
Krycek laughed lightly, dipping his eyelashes flirtatiously. "So what's your technique?"
She tried to explain it to him, during which explanation Mulder grew increasingly restless and a little bored. Krycek seemed fascinated by the discussion, however. So Mulder recaptured his hand to catch his attention, bringing their clasped grip up to the table and grinned at him rather foolishly. Krycek looked over at him out of the corner of his eye, mouth curving into a secret smile. Scully just grunted.
"Musn't ignore him," she advised Krycek, who nodded in assent.
"What?" asked Mulder suspiciously, looking back and forth between the two of them.
Scully smiled breezily at him. "We know how much you hate being ignored." She and Krycek shared a knowing look and a laugh while Mulder scowled at them fiercely.
"That's not true," he protested.
Krycek just laughed harder. "Always has to be the center of attention, doesn't he," he said to Scully in the tones of a conspirator. "Can't let the poor fox sulk all by himself."
Mulder shook his hand from Krycek's and sat back in his chair with an expression he knew was sulky, the knowledge of which just making him more angry. "Why are you two ganging up on me?" he asked petulantly. He gestured toward Krycek. "He's the professional assasin."
Krycek and Scully looked at Mulder in shocked wonderment. Then they both began to laugh again, even harder than before.
"Mulder," Scully managed to choke out as she doubled over the table giggling. She stopped herself with an effort and took a deep breath. "Krycek? A professional assasin?" She reached out suddenly to pinch Krycek's arm fiercely. He yelped, batted her hand away in irritation. "See, Mulder?" she said triumphantly. "Krycek's just a baby, really."
"Hey," Krycek protested as Mulder smirked, pleased that Scully's taunting had redirected its focus away from him.
"Yeah, I guess so," he agreed with a silly grin, letting himself cuddle up against Krycek's leather-clad shoulder again. With an indulgent smile, the other man brought his arm around Mulder, pulling him in closer. "Hm," he murmured, stretching the sound out until it was almost a purr. Krycek brushed his lips across the top of his head.
Scully looked back and forth between them, her face reflecting equal measures of gentleness and exasperation. Then her features shifted back with an almost audible snap. "Well, boys, I think it's time for you two to turn in. And it's time for me to find a little action." She nodded her head in the direction of the bar, where a tall, very well-built man in jeans and a blue T-shirt had been eyeing her since they'd sat down. She looked the man up and down coyly: nice arms, nice chest. Her eyes drifted a little lower .
"Okay," Mulder replied dreamily. He let Krycek pull him up from the table, snuggled in closer. "Bye Scully," he called back as the two made their way through the crowded bar.
Scully gave them a smile and a wave, then directed her attention back to the man at the bar. She stood up, sauntered over with a little hitch and twist of her hips. "Hey there, big boy," she murmured in a low, seductive voice. The man - quite attractive, really - looked her over appreciatively, leaned over the bar to buy her a drink without taking his eyes from hers. She nestled up closer, molding the front of her body to his. "So what've you got for me tonight?"
Mulder found himself in a motel room, clutching the man beside him. He couldn't really recall how they'd gotten there - their trip from the bar seemed a blur of sounds and images, and he'd only had one beer. But he found that he didn't really care how they'd gotten there.
He pulled at Krycek's jacket. "I think we need to do some undressin' here," he murmured suggestively, yanking the jacket off. Krycek helped him, started working on the buttons of Mulder's shirt.
"I had no idea you were so sexy," he told Mulder frankly, finally giving up on the buttons and yanking the shirt opened. Buttons flew across the room like random gunfire. Mulder stifled a giggle as Krycek captured his mouth in a deep, hungry kiss.
"Oh my god," Mulder whispered as they broke away. He tried to breathe. Krycek looked to be in similar straits - his eyes had gone dark and smoky during the kiss, and Mulder found that he couldn't break away from the hypnotic gaze of the other man. Krycek caressed his side with a slightly shaking palm, and Mulder arched into the warmth, closing his eyes and tilting his head back.
"Alex " he murmured in near-frantic arousal. Krycek laughed lightly, then pulled Mulder's gun from his holster. Mulder opened his eyes a fraction as he felt the movement, studied Krycek from the slits of his eyelids. "Didn't know I had that," he drawled.
Krycek just smiled and rubbed the barrel of the gun against Mulder's bared chest, moving lower, lower, until Mulder bucked up against the cold metal that seemed to burn against his flesh through the gabardine cloth of his pants. He cried out involuntarily, willing himself not to come as Krycek caressed him lazily with the gun.
"I'm gonna make you scream, Mulder," Krycek whispered. The other man whimpered. Krycek tossed the gun on the chair across from the bed, then yanked at Mulder's waistband with impatient fingers. Then pants and boxers were slipping down with near-painful friction, and he was free. Mulder struggled to gulp down air, his throat suddenly constricted.
"Fuck," he keened with a barely-repressed scream as Krycek knelt before him and took him in his mouth. Mulder grasped the head in front of him roughly, holding him there, pushing into him fiercely with unrhythmic motions of his hips. He let his hands slide through the kneeling man's hair, caressing the dark silk, kneading the skin underneath. Krycek kept him there on the brink, letting up on the suction when Mulder seemed about to come, resuming with brutal force as Mulder groaned at the pain and pleasure of it.
Finally, Mulder pulled the head away, forced it up. "Enough," he whispered hoarsely. Krycek nodded and stood up gracefully, pulling Mulder in for another kiss. Mulder thought his heart would shatter at the feel of the other man's mouth. He forced his hands and fingers to move as he quickly divested Krycek of his clothing. Then he stood back a step when the other man was fully naked, drinking in the sight of him.
"You are so fucking beautiful," he whispered, his words spoken with a hint of surprise overshadowed by lust. "Why haven't we done this before?" he asked, truly curious.
Krycek cocked his head thoughtfully. "I don't know," he replied honestly. Then he grinned: a feral, cat's grin. "But we're sure as hell gonna do something now." He pulled Mulder over to the bed.
"Oh, yes," Mulder agreed breathlessly, letting himself fall bonelessly to the mattress, curling up immediately against the other man as if he couldn't bear to be parted from the heat of his body. He reached down between them, grasped Krycek's cock in a seeking hand. Krycek hissed at the contact, bared his throat. Mulder immediately zeroed in on the tempting flesh presented to him, licking with little flicks of his tongue, sucking then biting playfully at the flesh, while stroking Krycek's cock with a fierce, massaging motion of his hand. He moved his hand from Krycek, and the other man groaned until Mulder moved closer, melding their bodies together until they stroked each other with frantic, erratic twists and jerks of their hips.
Mulder grasped the other man's hair in his hands, forced Krycek to look at him fully as they ground against one another. His eyes were gleaming pools of black light boring into his own, and Mulder had the heart-stopping desire to hold him there, keep them both in this moment out of time and space; he fought desperately to suspend himself on the edge of it, halt the inevitable creep.
Then Krycek was coming with harsh, guttural cries, and his eyes closed, shutting Mulder out. Mulder couldn't stop himself: he was shattered by his own orgasm and felt himself fall helplessly into the sensations ripping through his body in tight convulsions. He grasped at the fading moment futilely; but it slid through his fingers like the drip and shift of sand. A cry of sudden grief, then he plummeted into darkness.
The woman came into awareness, wincing at the pain in the back of her neck, the small of her back. She stretched to relieve the cramping of her body, letting her consciousness unfold slowly as the images around her took on some semblance of meaning.
She stared out of the windshield at the empty stretch of road, wondering.
After a prolonged moment of disorientation, she let her eyes slide over the interior of the car, gradually recognizing the bland, grey velvet of the rental. The passenger seat was empty. She ran a hand through tangled hair, trying to remember. She looked down at herself, noticing with some surprise that she was dressed in the black pantsuit she had been wearing when the trip began.
A noise from the back of the car stopped her heart for a split-second, and she crushed the sudden fear ruthlessly as she had trained herself to do. She forced herself to look in the rearview mirror.
Two dark-clothed men were lying there, curled up against each other in an intimate but surely uncomfortable position given the relatively small space of the car. They seemed to be sleeping; one was even snoring a little. Then the shock of recognition bolted through her as one of them turned his head in sleep and it was Mulder.
"Oh my God," she said in reflexive shock, her voice ringing out oddly into the silence of the car. Eyes blinked open, and Mulder stared at her through the rearview mirror, rubbing his eyes in sleepy confusion.
"Wha--" he murmured, sitting up. His movement revealed the face of the other man, whose eyelids twitched in emerging wakefulness.
"Oh my God," she said again. Her mouth dropped in horror. Mulder looked at her in startlement, then followed her gaze.
"Oh, fuck," he whispered, disbelieving. There was a moment of shocked silence, during which Krycek groaned sleepily and pulled himself upright. He looked back and forth between the two agents, blinking fiercely. Then his jaw dropped.
"What the hell?" he sputtered, searching his jacket frantically for a weapon. Mulder slapped his hands away, then looked for himself with shaking, reluctant hands.
"He's clean," he told Scully dully. Then he let himself out of the back of the car, got in the front passenger seat. Krycek made no move to escape, just stared at the other two in dawning horror as memory filtered relentlessly through the haze in his brain. The two agents looked away from him quickly, Scully actually blushing, and Mulder tightening his lips tightly as memory hit them, too.
"Just drive, Scully," Mulder asked quietly. She nodded and started the car, pulling it around in a nifty u-turn, all of the car's occupants ignoring the squeal of rubber that accompanied the maneuver. Mulder stared out of the window, trying to bring some semblance of order to his thoughts.
"Wait," he said suddenly, causing Scully and Krycek to look at him questioningly. "We should go back to see if the town is actually there."
Scully and Krycek exchanged a look of shared horror and exasperation through the rearview mirror. "Just keep your foot on the gas pedal, Scully," Krycek said in a low voice.
"Damn straight I will," she replied.
Scully pulled up into a motel parking lot. The afternoon light had already faded into evening, so neither man protested her action. She left them in the car as she went to check in.
Mulder sat stonily in the front seat, refusing to look back at Krycek. The other man was just staring out of the back window over the barely-lit parking lot, seemingly oblivious to Mulder's pointed disregard. Both men uttered a little sigh of relief when Scully returned.
"I got us two rooms," she said as she settled back into the driver's seat. She handed Mulder one of the keys, then turned in the seat to face Krycek, her face unreadable. "I didn't know if you'd be staying."
Krycek raised his eyebrow sardonically. "That depends am I under some kind of custody?"
Scully shifted her head to Mulder, who was already looking at her. They exchanged a brief, silent communication. Then Scully turned back to Krycek while Mulder redirected his gaze out the window.
"I don't think so," she said. "But why don't you stay and get something to eat with us." Both men looked at her as if she had suddenly gone insane, Mulder scowling darkly. But she persisted. "I think we need to talk about what just happened, and the more insight we have into this experience the more we'll be able to understand it." Mulder snorted his disbelief at that ever happening, but she ignored him.
"Okay," Krycek agreed at last. "But then I have to take off."
They found the tiny diner attached to the motel and settled into a booth, Mulder on one side, Scully and Krycek on the other. With sudden thought, Mulder reached out and grabbed Krycek's left arm - the hard plastic of the prostheses met his fingers. Krycek pulled it away roughly. "Interesting," Mulder mused. Krycek just glared at him.
They ordered, then sat in uncomfortable silence for a few moments. Scully glanced over at Mulder: he was clearly unwilling to talk about what had just happened to them, which was rather uncharacteristic of him. She cleared her throat, immediately catching the attention of the other two.
"Okay. We were obviously exposed to some kind of hallucinogenic substance, possibly transmitted through the food that we consumed. We should go to a hospital, have some blood work done."
Mulder was shaking his head. "I don't think they'd find anything. Our behavior was certainly transformed, but I don't think it had anything to do with an external substance. I think it was the town itself." He paused. "But I think you're right about the food," he added as Scully seemed about to interrupt, although his partner didn't look particularly mollified. "There are stories from numerous cultures warning against the consumption of food or drink in such places that exist outside of our so-called 'normal' spheres of time and space."
Scully sighed and exchanged a semi-tolerant look of exasperation with Krycek; Mulder intercepted the look with a scowl. "Hear me out. You saw the people there, the buildings: that town was some kind of crossroads in time. I still think it lured its victims there, and then influenced their behavior in such a way " he drifted off, cleared his throat, "in a way that they never would have acted before, a way completely out of character."
"Or perhaps it just allowed them to do what they'd always wanted to do," Krycek put in slyly.
Scully blushed a deep, hot red and Mulder looked away from both of them quickly. "Whatever," he muttered, unwilling to belabor the point. "In any case, what it created was a kind of mini-universe, a bubble in time and space in which all it needed was the people, the characters, to bring the universe to life." He was warming up to his theory and so ignored Krycek's skeptical frown and Scully's look of indulgent tolerance. "Time, space, and consciousness," he mused. "If it was able to bring us in there at all, to change our behavior and even our memories in such a drastic way, then that town had some kind of consciousness of its own. Maybe it just wanted its own little community."
Scully sighed. "Maybe, Mulder," she humored him. "But I think you're overcomplicating the issue. And if you're right, then how were we allowed to leave? Or did we escape somehow?"
Mulder bit his lip, noticed Krycek's sudden, intense attention on his mouth out of the corner of his eye and felt his cheeks burn. He kept his gaze focused on Scully. "I think " he began, then his mouth twitched in a slow, rueful smile. "I think maybe it just didn't want us in there anymore."
The three exchanged a look. "I guess we were too crazy for it," Krycek commented lightly. Eyes locked then glanced away.
"Yeah," Mulder said at last in a low voice, roughened by what was very close to laughter. "I guess so."
Scully waved goodnight from outside the diner; she hadn't been able to get adjoining rooms, and hers was on the other side of the motel. Mulder watched her go, feeling bereft and vulnerable by her absence. The presence of the man next to him wasn't helping.
Krycek cleared his throat. "Well I guess I'll be going."
Mulder nodded absently, then raised a hand to stop the man. "Wait - what were you doing there, anyway? How did you get trapped?" he asked curiously.
Krycek's lips twitched in a little half-smile. "I could tell you, but then you'd have to do something about it. But I really had no idea the two of you would be there," he added somewhat defensively.
But Mulder wasn't really paying attention to Krycek's predictable slithering-out of the question. His eyes had gone closed, expressionless, and he looked over at Krycek with a deceptively steady gaze. "It's late. Why don't you stay the night," he suggested, trying to keep his voice casual. "You can leave tomorrow morning."
Krycek lifted his eyebrow, studied the other man carefully. "So I was right," he said smugly, mouth curving in a smile.
Mulder glared at him and thought about wiping that smile off his face with his fist. But he resisted the urge, letting the clenched hand relax. "Maybe you were," he admitted with forced levity. "But the offer still stands."
Krycek looked away from him, his eyes drifting over the motel parking lot. Mulder felt a strange, hollow pit in his gut when he thought the other man was going to refuse.
"Okay," Krycek said at last. He turned back to Mulder, gave him a little smile. "But don't expect to get much sleep."
Mulder felt a rush of relief, tried to hide it by turning his back to the man beside him. "I wasn't," he replied over his shoulder as he headed in the direction of his room. He held his breath as he walked, willing himself not to turn around.
Then he heard the gentle fall of soft footsteps behind him, and he couldn't quite suppress the wide, foolish grin that spread out over his face.