October 1999
kestrelsan@ispwest.com
Originally written for the TER/MA (now RatB) October challenge to write Mulder and Krycek into a familiar story/fairy tale. I chose Shakepeare's Twelfth Night.


What You Will

by Kest



God, what a shitty night.

For some unknown reason (at least unknown to him), he was sitting in this god-awful yuppie bar with Scully and Krycek. It was like meeting up with an ex when you were with a current lover, although Mulder couldn't decide who was who. Scully had looked just as uncomfortable as he for the first twenty minutes or so, but she was starting to loosen up a bit, probably because Krycek's nonstop chatter about inconsequentials was designed to put anyone at ease. It was hard to be tense and uncomfortable around such an overeager, by-the-book, scrubbed-face kid. He still couldn't believe this guy was his new 'partner.'

The bar had been Krycek's idea, too. Scully was up at HQ for the afternoon from Quantico, and he and Krycek had run into her when they were leaving for the day. She had agreed to go out with them when Krycek suggested it, although she had been a little startled by the invitation, and it was only because she had agreed that Mulder went along with the plan.

It would be nice to talk to her, too, if Krycek ever shut up....

He was stubbornly refusing to engage in the conversation, which seemed to revolve around the typical anecdotes about the academy and the "where did you go to school" bit. He knew he was being rude by the looks Scully kept flashing him (well, he knew he was being rude without the looks, but they served as an unwelcome reminder) but he was tired. And grumpy. And feeling like he was having to share, which he didn't like. Must have skipped that hour in kindergarten.

Eventually shame won out over pride (it almost always did) and he let himself be drawn into the conversation, which unfortunately didn't make it any more interesting. But Scully seemed more relaxed and even a little lighthearted, which pleased him. And after a couple of beers, even Krycek didn't seem so bad - just a little na´ve and enthusiastic, but he already knew that. He was almost surprised when he looked at his watch to see that more than an hour had passed.

At that gesture, it seemed that it was time to leave. Scully started gathering up her things - suit coat and purse (when did she start carrying a purse?) - and Krycek gallantly offered them a ride: Scully back to HQ and Mulder back to his apartment. Well, it was the least he could do.

Scully was dropped off, and she left with a cheerful wave and a slightly wobbly walk to her car. Mulder thought it was probably the heels more than the wine that she had consumed. They pulled out of the garage and Mulder relaxed back in the seat, hoping that Krycek wasn't going to get chatty again.

Actually, the man beside him looked a little tense, as if he had something on his mind. His fingertips tapped the steering wheel with no discernible rhythm - just an absent gesture. Mulder closed his eyes, praying to whoever that Krycek wasn't going to voice whatever he was thinking. He wasn't in the mood to listen to his new partner articulating any profound revelations that were no doubt incredibly significant to himself but not of much interest to Mulder.

"So, Mulder." So much for wishful thinking. "What's the story with you and Scully?"

Genuinely confused, Mulder just stared over at the man. "What do you mean?"

There was a little self-conscious half cough from the other man. "You know. Are you and Scully....together?"

'Together?' Who was this guy? Mulder looked over at the young agent, his still un-rhythmic beat on the wheel now a little nervous sounding. Krycek glanced over quickly and caught Mulder's upraised eyebrow and incredulous, sardonic grin. At least he had the decency to blush a little.

"My God, Krycek. What, are we in high school or something?"

The blush grew deeper, visible even in the unreliable light of street lamps and headlights that filtered through the windows. With a silent sigh of disgust, Mulder turned his attention back to the barely-lit road outside the windshield. Thankfully, his sharp response seemed to have squashed that particular line of conversation. Or maybe not. Krycek was still kind of....looking at him, without really looking over at him. It was unnerving. Mulder closed his eyes and tried to ignore the silent demand, but his nerves were stretched a little too tight and his empathic pick up from the other man was coming through loud and clear - annoyingly so.

He sighed, giving in. "No, we're not 'together.' Not in the way that you mean, anyway."

"Hmmm."

Mulder turned his head quickly at that, somewhat outraged by the man's speculative leer. What an arrogant asshole.

"Jesus Christ, Krycek. You can't be serious."

The younger man shrugged his shoulders a little, looking a little self-conscious. "What, you don't think she's hot?"

Mulder sat back in his seat, mulling that one over. Of course she was hot - she was strong, beautiful, and intelligent. Where was the question there? But he was surprised that he hadn't really thought about it before, had to think about it more intellectually and not with an immediate gut reaction. But that was natural; she was his partner - ex-partner - and best friend. It was....wrong....to think lustful thoughts about one's best friend. Or something like that. She was too good for him, anyway. And certainly too good for this geeky, arrogant jerk sitting next to him.

"Give it up now, Krycek. I don't think she even likes you that much."

The other man shrugged, as if that were irrelevant. "So, Mulder. You've never even thought about it?"

Jesus, why had he let the man drive him home? They were at least another ten minutes away, too. "No. Never."

There was an incredulous half-laugh from the other seat. "C'mon, Mulder."

"Listen, Krycek, if this your idea of a male bonding session, I'm not interested." He cringed at how prim that had sounded. Shit, he had let the man get to him. Krycek knew it, too, by the look of the smirking grin on his face. The next few minutes passed in silence, and Mulder fervently hoped the subject was dropped.

They were pulling up to his apartment building when Krycek spoke again. "So...how about setting us up?"

Mulder waited until the car stopped - barely - before getting out. Poised between the inside of the car and the car door, he leaned forward until he could see the other man. The bastard had a silly grin on his face - half mocking, half hopeful. What a prick.

"Not a chance, buddy," he said, before shutting the door and heading for the front door of his place. He thought Krycek might have laughed before the shutting of the car door cut him off, but he wasn't sure.

God, what a shitty night.

*****

"C'mon, Mulder."

"No." He didn't even look up from the file he was reading. Well, not really reading, but it was something to look at while he whittled away the hours, wondering what the hell he was still doing with the bureau.

Krycek was getting up from the desk across from him, which made him glance up speculatively. Hmmm. It was lunchtime, and Krycek looked like he was heading out.

"Are you going to that place with the great Italian subs?"

Krycek looked down at him suspiciously, then grabbed his suit coat from the chair. "Maybe. Wanna come?"

"No," Mulder replied, barely repressing a smirk at the flash of annoyance on his partner's face. "But would you bring me back one?"

Krycek's eyes narrowed. "If you get me a date with Scully." He looked innocent and devious at the same time.

"No way, Krycek."

"No sub for you, then." He turned to leave.

Damn it, he was treating it like a game now, just because he knew it was bugging him. He was beginning to wonder if Krycek had any real interest in Scully at all. "Okay, then." He could have crowed at the look of surprise on Krycek's face. To his credit, the other man recovered quickly.

"Really?" He still sounded suspicious, though.

"Sure, whatever. I'll talk to her - you know, test the waters. See if she's interested." He made it sound like a very unlikely possibility. He couldn't tell if Krycek looked pleased or annoyed, but he relished it nonetheless.

"Just for a sub? Man, Mulder, you're easy."

"Nope, just hungry." He gave his best little-boy grin. "Don't forget the onions."

*****

It had been fun to mess around with Krycek like that, but now he was going to actually have to talk to Scully, if only to keep Krycek's whining and questions to a minimum level of irritation. He really did feel like he was back in high school, but at least back then everyone was doing it. What an asinine way to behave.

So he called Scully from work on Friday and casually asked her if she was free the next night. She seemed a little surprised when he suggested dinner, but he couldn't blame her for that. They had never spent much time together socially, and these days they hardly saw each other at all. But he left her wondering about his motives.

He checked the clock - four-eighteen. The bullpen had been practically empty for at least the last half-hour. No one was going to notice another stray FBI agent fleeing the coop, and he was pretty sure he'd pissed off everyone he was going to for now. Leaving work early was surely the least of his supposed sins. He almost made it to the elevators when an approaching Krycek cut him off.

"Where do you think you're going?" the agent asked.

He glared at the other man, but for some reason it didn't make him go away. "I'm going home, Krycek," he replied slowly, as if to a small child.

Krycek ignored his tone. "Sorry to ruin your plans," he said seriously, although Mulder was sure there was a healthy measure of gleeful satisfaction in the man's voice, "but we've got stakeout tonight. Just came down from Skinner's office."

Mulder closed his eyes, groaned. "You are kidding, right? What, are all the new agents on tour? Who did I piss off for this assignment?"

Krycek just grinned. "No one, amazingly enough. Freeman's wife is in the hospital having their kid. So they're scraping the bottom of the barrel - or at least whoever's still around. Looks like it's you and me."

Mulder looked at him speculatively. "How much for me to get out of this?"

"Gee, Mulder, and you've always been such a team player." Mulder ignored the jibe and Krycek continued. "Forget it. If I'm going to suffer for your past transgressions, I want you right there with me." He handed him the case file he had been holding lightly in his hand, and Mulder took it in his fingers like it was some unclassified species of rodent. "We've got the evening shift - meet me in the parking lot here at seven."

Mulder sighed as Krycek walked away. God, he hated surveillance. He paused by the elevator doors, trying to decide if he should just stay here and get some work done in the basement while no one was around, or go home and change. With a shrug, he opted for home. The stink of the bureau was getting stronger and stronger as the days went by, and he had the uncontrollable urge to wash himself clean of it.

********

He stared out over the empty road to the apartment building across from them, the aged red brick glowing orange from the street lights. He wondered why street lights were so boring - just the same color everywhere. Why not make them green, or blue, or red? Just to spice up the world a little bit. They could be in alternating colors - people could use them to send signals to one another. Hmmm...covert organizations using street lamps to send messages to hovering alien aircraft. He tilted his head, musing. Yeah, it could happen.

He turned abruptly to the man in the passenger seat. "When are they relieving us again?"

Krycek sighed, didn't bother to look at Mulder. "It's been half and hour, Mulder. Are you going to ask me this every five minutes? Because if you are, this is going to be a really long night."

Mulder frowned, chewed his bottom lip, shifted back in the seat to stare out the windshield. This was so boring. He hated knowing that the next few hours in his life were going to be spent waiting for something that was never going to happen. He reached around for his bag of sunflower seeds, feeling under the car seat impatiently when he couldn't find them.

"I don't think so, Mulder." Krycek was slouching with his head against the rest, only nominally looking over at the apartment building.

Mulder stared at him, eyes narrowing. "You took them, didn't you," he accused.

A smile played at the corner of the other agent's lips, but he didn't turn his head. "I'm not going to be picking shells out of here for the next three weeks. You can have them back when we're done."

Mulder fumed, feeling like a sulky child. He wondered if a sunflower seed rescue operation was in order, and if such an operation would require extreme force. He thought it probably would, and figured that maiming his partner would be a justifiable necessity of such an operation. He worked the details out in his mind until he found he didn't really want the seeds anymore, then looked out of the window to brood some more.

He turned back at the sound of Krycek's light laughter. The other man was looking at him, bemused. "You are the most impatient man I know."

"I have a problem with boredom." He sighed, staring ahead at nothing, then turned back to Krycek. "How do you deal with it?" he asked, curious despite himself.

Krycek shrugged. "It's just something you do. You learn to deal with things you don't like - it's just life."

Mulder mulled over that interesting philosophy for about five seconds. "That's ridiculous," he said at last, his voice flat.

"Whatever." Krycek sighed. "Don't worry, you'll learn, Mulder."

Mulder turned his back to him. He wondered if anyone was ever going to come out of the apartment building, and knew that they wouldn't. "Who are we watching for, anyway?"

"Did you even read the background file?" Krycek's voice was slightly incredulous.

Mulder wondered how to respond to that. "Of course," he said sulkily. He ignored Krycek's knowing look and turned his attention back to the building across from them.

Another half-hour passed, and Mulder mentally congratulated himself for maintaining some semblance of sanity, or what he usually passed off as sanity. Idly, he turned to the man next to him, really looking at him for the first time that evening. Apparently Krycek had gone home as well before meeting up with Mulder, because he was dressed casually: jeans and a blue button-down shirt, white T-shirt showing through the collar. Either that or he kept a spare change of clothes at the bureau.

Krycek rolled his head over on the back of the seat, looked Mulder in the eye. "See anything you like?" he asked in a low, teasing voice.

Mulder felt himself jump in surprise, and felt a flash of irritation. But he met the man's eyes squarely. "You look like you just stepped out of the Gap." He delighted at Krycek's immediate scowl before he glanced away in mock disparagement.

"Fuck this," Mulder said suddenly. He pulled his cell phone out of his coat pocket and punched in the numbers impatiently, drilling his fingers on his thigh while the phone rang. "Robertson, where the hell are you?" he demanded when the other line connected. Krycek looked over at him curiously. "It's Mulder - Freeman's playing hooky....We were supposed to be relieved ten minutes ago....No, that's not what I was told. Anyway, we've got a situation here. Krycek's having some kind of weird fit - I need to get him to a hospital, or at least home." He glanced warily to his left - Krycek looked like he was either going to hit him or start laughing. "Jesus, Robertson, I don't know what his problem is. You know they coddle these young agents these days - they'll let anyone into the academy." Yep, Krycek was definitely going to hit him. He ducked reflexively, protecting the phone with his body. "But I've read about something like this - a case came up a couple of years ago, out in Albuquerque---yeah, okay." There was a pause. "So when can your men get here?....Okay, but we're leaving in ten minutes." He disconnected the call, the beep echoing strangely into the sudden silence.

"You're going to get us called up in front of Skinner," Krycek said at last.

Mulder smiled to himself, ignoring the man's warning. "That felt good," he said, slightly surprised that it did. He opened the car door, turned back to Krycek. "C'mon, we have to switch places. A man in your condition shouldn't be driving." Krycek glared at him but obeyed. Once in the driver's side, Mulder caressed the steering wheel possessively. He hated letting other people drive.

He turned to Krycek, deceptively casual. "So...you want to go get a beer?"

*********

Mulder looked around him contentedly, while Krycek eyed the inside of the bar with barely concealed disgust. Okay, so it wasn't exactly clean. And there was a distinct lack of men in suits, but that satisfied his mood perfectly. His new partner was just going to have to deal with it - just chalk it up to his life philosophy.

They sat at the bar and ordered, Mulder sparing a look of contempt for Krycek's beer order. Settling onto a stool, he found himself studying the other man curiously out of the corner of his eye. Krycek was obviously uncomfortable, but was trying to cover it up by leaning back against the bar, legs sprawled out from the stool in affected nonchalance. A couple of colorfully-decorated pool players had eyed them stonily when they first walked in, but had since returned to their game.

The beers came, and Mulder sipped his appreciatively. "So Krycek," he said over his pint. "Why aren't you pumping me for Scully details?"

The other agent just looked at him coolly, then returned his gaze to the back of the bar. "Something tells me it wouldn't do any good."

Mulder considered that, nodded. "True," he admitted. He took another sip, decided to push the other man a little. "So what makes you think you're man enough for our little red-headed spitfire?"

He expected a sharp retort, but Krycek just grinned, an unreadable expression on his face. Then he turned on the stool and leaned in close, until his face was only a couple of inches from Mulder's. "I don't know, Mulder..." he said in a low, mocking voice. "What do you think?"

Mulder swallowed reflexively, cursed himself for the reaction. He forced himself to meet Krycek's eyes steadily. "I think she'd have your balls in a sling after five minutes...if that."

Krycek laughed - low, almost seductive. He shifted back in his seat. "Maybe." His eyes never left Mulder's.

Mulder caught his breath, found that he could actually breathe again before he had really been aware that he couldn't. Suddenly, it was if everything had shifted - the bar looked different, the noises around him were skewed and distant. There was an unfamiliar twist and burn in his gut; or at least it hadn't been familiar in a long, long time.

Shit. When had this happened? Apparently, he was now lusting after his new partner, who was lusting after his old partner. He wondered who Scully was lusting after. She probably had some secret man stashed away in a cabin in the hills. The thought made him grin.

Krycek noticed the grin, raised his eyebrow in question. Mulder turned away and reached for his beer, trying to hide the new tension in his body - he felt like it was radiating off of him, rebounding around the bar, screaming his growing arousal to the patrons around him. He tried to suppress it - the last thing he wanted was for Krycek to get the upper hand in any situation.

He managed to recapture his voice. "I'll still talk to her for you, though," he offered, ignoring Krycek's look of surprise. It would be an easier, and much safer, route to go. His life was complicated enough.

"You don't have to," Krycek replied cautiously.

"No, no, I want to," Mulder protested, recovering his more familiar, mocking tone. "I think you guys'd be really cute together." He smirked as Krycek glared at him.

"Fuck off, Mulder."

Mulder swallowed an immediate reply, thankful that he still had control over his tongue, if not his body. He finished his beer in somewhat hurried gulps. "We should get going," he said, knowing that he was being a coward. He smiled lightly. "You're supposed to be convulsing in a hospital somewhere." Krycek just grunted and finished off his beer.

The ride back to the Hoover parking lot was silent, neither man offering any relief from it. Mulder closed his eyes thankfully when they pulled up next to his car, putting his hand to the door handle, impatient to get away from Krycek's suddenly overwhelming presence.

"Mulder."

The agent's voice stopped him, and his heart pounded loudly in his chest; he wasn't sure he wanted to hear what the other man was going to say.

"Don't forget to talk to Scully." Krycek's voice was light, teasing.

He just nodded and got out of the car. Once in the relative safety of his own car, Mulder closed his eyes and covered his face with his hand, rubbing at his eyes with thumb and index finger. He felt no real obligation to play matchmaker, but it would have been petty to refuse the man, now.

But it was worse than that...attraction to someone like Krycek was just more grief he didn't need. He still wasn't sure if he even liked the man very much. God, he hated this sort of vulnerability. But it was okay, he could handle it.

Shit, shit, shit.

********

Scully drained the pasta absently, dumping it back into the pan and stirring in some of the sauce bubbling on the other burner. Mulder was in the other room, probably pacing in that can't-sit-still way of his and messing up her stuff.

//What are you doing, Dana? The man asks you to dinner and you offer to cook. What, did you just want to show him your hidden Betty Crocker side? That you're not just Ms. FBI ice queen with a loaded gun and sweet aim? How obvious can you get?//

She almost thought about dumping the pasta and calling for take out. She could always tell Mulder she had burned dinner. But then again, even Mulder probably couldn't burn pasta.

And he'd actually brought a bottle of wine with him....fairly decent wine, too. What was going on here?

She rescued the garlic bread - which very well could burn - from the oven. Dumping it on a cutting board, she plunked it down on the table outside the kitchen, wondering why she was being so abrupt. Mulder looked up from whatever he was doing (//I don't want to know//) and smiled faintly. Scully tried not to stare at him suspiciously, but he did look so....strange. Kind of nervous, and a little too attentive earlier when he had first arrived, even giving her a little half-hug and touching her hand in greeting. //Don't think, Dana, just bring out the food.//

Dinner was a little tense. They chatted casually, but Mulder clearly had something on his mind and Scully was a little afraid to pull it out of him. She had a suspicion, and part of her wanted to deny it, push it away, so the fragile stability of her world wouldn't have to change any more, at least not in this way. But another part - a larger part, she admitted - was ready for this. She had wondered about this more than a few times. Now Mulder was clearly wrestling with something in that strange little brain of his, and combined with a dinner invitation, wine, and increased attentiveness....what else could it be?

Well, it was Mulder, so it could be a lot of things. But she had a feeling, and although she would never admit it to her ex-partner, she followed her intuition much more than he thought she did.

Finally, dinner was over and they retired to the couch, refilled wine glasses in hand. There was an uncomfortable silence, both of them overly-focused on drinking the wine and not looking at each other.

"So, Scully," Mulder broke in, deceptively casual. "How's your social life, lately?"

She gave him an equally casual look. "You know, the usual."

He smirked. "That bad, huh?"

She glared at him, a little pissed off. She could gripe about her lack of a love life, but it was out of line for him to point it out. "Thanks, Mulder."

He raised his hand in mock defense. "I didn't mean it like that." His face turned a little more serious. "I just know...it's hard in our line of work...meeting people, all that jazz."

He was beginning to sound a little nervous as well as serious. He couldn't even look at her, instead looking at her walls as if memorizing the pictures hanging there.

"Yeah, Mulder, I know," she said quietly. She wasn't going to push this, not yet.

Finally, he spoke again. "It's hard for anyone else to come into it, our own little worlds. Like it's an intrusion...." He trailed off, and cleared his throat. "But...."

She cut him off. "Look, Mulder, I think I know where this is headed."

He looked confused, then annoyed and suspicious, then sort of resigned. "You do?"

"Yeah, I do," she said quietly. She put her wine glass down on the coffee table, feeling decisive and scared stiff at the same time. //What the hell.// She moved closer to him on the couch, which seemed to surprise him. At least he didn't retreat from her.

"Mulder...." She began, then stopped, searching his eyes. He still looked surprised, and a little wary. Maybe he just hadn't expected her to make the first move.

"Yeah?" he whispered, or at least it seemed like a whisper. His lips hardly moved.

"I...." She leaned over suddenly, closed her eyes, and kissed him.

He tasted wonderful, sweet and bitter from the wine they had been drinking, slightly tangy from the pasta sauce. And that other bit, the indescribable taste of Mulder....

His lips were stiff first from surprise, then softened into the kiss, moving gently over hers, exquisitely gentle for several very slow seconds. Then he pulled back sharply with a muffled gasp that sounded like a protest. Scully jerked back, too, feeling her face flush and hating herself for that weakness. His eyes were wild looking: confused, a little aroused, regretful.

Regretful.

//Dana, you are such a fool....// Her face burning, she got her legs to work and pushed away from the couch, heading blindly toward the kitchen. Luckily, she managed to avoid knocking a shin against the coffee table.

"Scully..." His voice stopped her shamed and angry retreat, but she couldn't turn around, couldn't face him.

"Oh, God." That mournful tone, strangely muffled, did make her turn around. He was hunched over his knees, head buried in his arms. She quelled her immediate nurturing reaction. She wouldn't go to him, not this time. Finally, he raised his head and looked at her.

"Scully, I'm sorry. I did this...badly." She kept her gaze stony, allowing him to explain himself but refusing to take such a sorry-ass excuse.

"I...." He took a deep breath. "This is so silly, but...." He didn't continue, just kept looking at her with an embarrassed look on his face.

"What's silly?" she asked, biting out the words and wishing she could take them back. She really didn't want to know. Well, she did want to know, but only in that perverse part of her that allowed her take this kind of pain, to absorb it from others and repress it in herself.

"I came over here because....Krycek wanted me to set the two of you up. You know, like a...date." His voice was sort of squeaky now, as if wanted to get the words out as quickly as possible and hope to God no one noticed that it was he who spoke them.

"Krycek," she repeated inanely. His words hadn't really sunk in.

"Yeah."

"Mulder, you came over here with wine, behaving like this, talking to me like that...." She knew she wasn't making sense, but she couldn't get the words out, couldn't articulate what she had been picking up from him all evening. Wrongly, as it turned out. How could she have trusted her judgment on this? //One night of Mulder out of character and you forget about all the other times, when it seems so obvious he's not interested....// She was feeling pretty bitter.

"I think you should leave." Her voice was hard. Hell, he didn't deserve anything else from her at this moment.

"Yeah, I guess I should." He got up shakily, patting his pockets from nervous habit, checking his keys and wallet. He didn't look at her as he left the room, opened the door to her apartment and closed it gently behind him.

Scully stood there, rooted to the spot, unable to take her eyes from the couch where he had been sitting. Her eyelids were feeling scratchy, her vision blurring. //Damn it. Damn him.//

Slowly she made her way to the door, twisting the dead bolt shut, wishing the quiet click of the lock didn't make her feel so suddenly empty and alone.

******

How had things gotten so fucked up?

Mulder had a raging headache coming into work that morning. It had started Saturday night and hadn't let up since. What was he thinking? He couldn't forget the look on Scully's face, the absolute pain and shame in her eyes she tried so desperately to hide behind that steely mask of hers. How could he have done that to her? Sometimes he just knew that all of those things that were said about him were dead-on true. What an ass.

He rubbed futilely at the bridge of his nose, trying to ease the pounding in his head. It only increased when he caught a glimpse of Krycek heading his way, once again cocky and uptight, making him look ridiculous when combined with that suit.

This, he did not need.

He had wanted to call Scully desperately, from the moment he got home Saturday night and all day yesterday. But what could he say to her? How could he make this right? He wondered if he even could. So he had sat and brooded in his apartment, the phone mocking his weaknesses, his inability to set his screw-ups right.

And he had wanted to call Krycek, too. And not to ream him out for putting him in such an awkward position with Scully. He had known it was a stupid thing to do, but he had forged ahead anyway. Much as he would have liked to, he really couldn't blame Krycek for this fiasco. No, he had wanted to call him for a different reason. And he really didn't want to think about that right now.

"Hey, Mulder."

God, that voice. When had everything changed? When had this man turned from such an annoying prick to...something else?

"Hey," he muttered back, not raising his eyes.

"What, rough night last night?" came the light, slightly teasing voice again.

Mulder just glared at him, trying to summon up some anger at this man. It was easier that way.

Krycek just laughed and raised his hands to his face, palms out. "Sorry I asked." He sat down on the edge of the desk, studying Mulder curiously. "So, have you talked with Scully?"

The pain in his head increased, and Mulder could have sworn that wasn't possible. It was getting a lot easier to build up that anger, though.

"Not now, Krycek," he growled. His partner didn't say anything, just continued looking him from his perch on the desk. Mulder let his eyes meet Krycek's, which were unreadable.

"I'm sorry, Krycek," he amended. "I'm just...a little jumpy today. Anyway, it's a no-go. Sorry about that, buddy." He tried to keep his tone neutral, with a hint of feigned regret for his partner's disappointment.

Krycek didn't look particularly disappointed, though. "It's okay, Mulder." His face was still unreadable.

"So, anyway...." Mulder found he didn't really have anything else to say, so he just let his voice trail off. He was suddenly tired, and couldn't believe he had the rest of the day ahead of him. He had to get this thing with Scully resolved soon, and it was looking like an impossible mission at this point. As for Krycek...well, he just really didn't want to go there right now.

His partner still seemed unperturbed. "There's a game on tonight. Want to come over?"

Mulder couldn't help but wince, and hoped it hadn't been obvious. "Not tonight, sorry," he said, trying to keep his voice casual. The man was still looking at him - and not in that goofy, arrogant way he was used to. Krycek seemed sort of subdued, concerned almost. It was much harder to take.

"Maybe another time," Mulder added, out of an odd sense of guilt.

"Sure," his partner replied, his voice once more bouncing with the energy of the young. Mulder thought it sounded rather forced, though. He slid from the desk and started walking the other way. "Coffee?" he called over his shoulder cheerfully, the mask back in place.

"Yeah, sure," Mulder muttered. He rubbed at his forehead, trying not to stare at his partner's retreating form. Closing his eyes he wished the whole day away, this whole place away.

How could things have gotten so fucked up?

*****

It was Wednesday night before he finally picked up the phone and called Scully. Closing his eyes briefly and willing his voice to be calm, he dialed the number.

"Scully."

She sounded tired.

"Hey, it's me," he managed to force out.

There was a distinct pause, and Mulder tried not to imagine her expression. "Hey."

"Um, Scully...." Where was his ready wit now? Why did it always desert him when it was truly something important? He should be able to turn this whole thing into a joke, set her at ease, rather than just stare dumbly out into the space of his apartment wondering what the hell he was going to say.

"Look, Mulder, I don't think I want to talk about this right now."

Mulder winced. "Okay," he said, resigned.

She seemed to be waiting for something else. Then, with a barely-heard sigh, she said, "Bye, Mulder."

"Wait - Scully - "

She hadn't hung up the phone yet. Mulder could almost hear her expectant silence.

"Can I call you this weekend?" He hoped his voice didn't sound too pleading.

There was another pause, a longer one. "Yeah," she replied, and hung up the phone.

Mulder waited until the phone began beeping angrily at him, then switched it off, placing it back on the receiver. Well, it was a start, anyway. Not much of one, but he was in no position to be picky.

He flopped down on the couch, closing his eyes. When the phone rang, he almost let the machine pick up. But it might be Scully, calling back.

"Mulder."

"Hey Mulder, it's me." Not Scully, then. Krycek.

"What do you need, Krycek?" Mulder knew he was being brusque, but he didn't really feel like talking to the other agent.

"I'm in your area...want some company?"

"How do you know where I live?" Mulder let a generous note of suspicion enter his voice.

Krycek just laughed. "I'll bring beer."

"Not that crap you drank at the bar," Mulder said automatically. Then he sighed. "Krycek, I'm not really up for company right now."

There was a pause on the other end of the line. "Look Mulder, I know something's wrong with you and Scully, and I feel sort of responsible. I just wanted to apologize."

"It's not necessary, Krycek."

"Still...listen, I'll be over in a few."

Shit. The man had already hung up. Contemplating some serious damage to the phone, Mulder instead decided to let it live. For now. He looked around his apartment - not too messy, certainly nothing to be ashamed about. Not that he really cared about Krycek's opinion right now, or so he told himself. Flipping on the TV, he waited for the other man to get there.

When Krycek did arrive, Mulder felt that tightening in his gut that had been plaguing him all week. Plain black T-shirt tucked into faded jeans, hair mercifully un-gelled and hanging rakishly over one side of his forehead. Shit.

Silent, Mulder ushered him into his apartment. "Do you have a bottle opener?" Krycek held up the paper bag he was carrying in explanation, and grinned at the look on Mulder's face. "Import all the way, Mulder."

"In the kitchen." Mulder watched as the other man quickly sussed out the location of the kitchen and disappeared. He returned to the couch, flipping absently through the channels and wondering about his new willingness to submit to this situation, to let Krycek take control of it. It certainly wasn't the way they handled things on the job, but maybe that was why he was allowing it to happen here. Or maybe he was just too damned tired.

The other man returned and handed Mulder a beer. He held his own bottle in his other hand, taking a long swig and glancing around the apartment.

"Do you always keep it so dark in here?"

Mulder snorted. "Yeah. Keeps the shadows away."

Krycek looked over at him with a raised eyebrow, as if to say 'freak'. Or at least that's what Mulder imagined him to be thinking. He didn't seem inclined to join Mulder on the couch, instead wandering purposelessly around the living room, picking up the occasional book, making faces at his magazine collection, not looking at Mulder. Mulder felt a flash of irritation at the man's nosiness. At least he stayed away from the desk.

"Mulder, I think this one's dead." Krycek was over by the fishtank.

"It's just resting." Mulder replied, not even looking over to check.

"No, it's really dead. Come here and see."

Sighing, Mulder scooted to the other end of the couch and leaned over its arm. Krycek moved to the side to let him look. The fish did look a little....tired. It wasn't quite floating at the top, but it was getting close. And he didn't think fish slept on their sides like that. If fish slept at all. Funny that he didn't really know.

"Hmmm. You may be right."

Krycek flashed him a victorious grin. "Even if it is in the context of dead fish, it's good to hear you say that."

"I don't always think you're wrong," Mulder replied, a little defensive.

"Mulder, you think everyone is wrong."

Irritated, Mulder moved back to far end of the couch and turned his attention to the TV, which was just a jumble of flashing images and muted sound right now. "That's not true."

Krycek sighed. "Whatever." He sat on other end of the couch. "Listen, I'm sorry about whatever happened between you and Scully. It's obvious you two aren't on speaking terms."

"Like I said before, apologies aren't necessary. It doesn't have anything to do with you." Mulder was still irritated, so he took a long swallow from the beer mug. Not bad. For a brief second it lightened his mood.

"It's just that....it's been a while since I was attracted to a woman."

Mulder looked over at him sharply. Had there been a slight emphasis on the word 'woman,' or was that his imagination? Krycek wasn't looking at him, though, just staring blindly at the TV.

"But it's no big deal. I'm just sorry it got you into trouble with her." Krycek smiled at him, attempting to regain some lightness to the situation.

Unwillingly, Mulder felt himself softening just a little. The other man's unguarded and slightly bittersweet smile wasn't helping. "We'll be fine. And it's nothing...personal, just Scully. I warned you she probably wouldn't be interested."

"Yeah. Anyway, it doesn't matter. It was really only because....I just wasn't sure about you." His voice was impossibly casual, light...he looked at Mulder, searching for some kind of response. While Mulder frantically tried to reboot his brain, Krycek leaned forward and lightly touched his fingertips to the back of his neck.

Mulder froze. Suddenly the couch felt a lot smaller and it seemed like Krycek was almost on top of him, his eyes boring into his own. Bright, clear green, like glass. Then he could smell it, the other man's slight arousal and the overwhelming presence of him. He felt trapped.

Roughly, he pushed Krycek's hand away. "Don't." He broke from the other man's gaze, but didn't get up from the couch. Krycek leaned back a little bit, giving him some relief from the intensity of his closeness.

"Why not? Mulder, I'm not blind. I thought you were going to attack me in the middle of the bar the other night."

"Look, Krycek...." Mulder sighed. "This just isn't going to happen." He got up from the couch, heading for the refuge of the kitchen. Once there, he leaned over the sink, taking deep breaths and willing his stomach to calm down, to let the tightness over his chest ease. He hadn't been prepared for this. First Scully, now Krycek. But you want Krycek, he told himself. Or at least you did. His body's reactions mocked him.

He heard a sound behind him and whirled around as Krycek entered the room. The other man didn't come any closer, though, just leaned against the door frame, studying Mulder with closed, dark eyes.

"I won't push you, Mulder," he said at last. "But don't you think you're being a little childish here?"

Mulder heard himself laugh, a harsh, dark laugh that had nothing to do with amusement. "Oh, that's rich, coming from you."

"Maybe," came the quiet response. "But at least I know what I want and I'm willing to pursue it. You don't really know what you want, do you? You just guess half the time, following half-ass hunches without really thinking about them, because you don't want to think about them, about what would happen if you're wrong. So you second guess yourself, not really trusting your own judgment but putting on a show for the rest of the world. Mulder, you are so full of shit."

Mulder blinked in shock. Then he realized that the other man was no longer standing there in the doorway.

He felt his legs move without his will, and let them lead him to the other room, where Krycek was just opening up the door to the hallway. Without a muttered growl, he ripped the door from the other man's hands and slammed it shut, pushing Krycek back against it in almost the same movement, his left arm up against his throat, holding the man there.

"Don't even fucking think you know me, Krycek," his voice was harsh and barely controlled.

"But I do, Mulder. I do know you."

For a moment his rage engulfed him, made him see red and white spots where Krycek's face was supposed to be. Then as suddenly as it took him it abandoned him, leaving him empty. Mulder felt his arm against Krycek's throat grow slack and then drop to his side, his weight rocking back on his heels. He closed his eyes, willing the other man to be gone but wanting him desperately to still be there when he opened them again.

He was. Unmoving, studying Mulder with half-lidded eyes, his mouth straight and serious. "Don't think so much, Mulder," he whispered. Then he leaned down and kissed him.

Mulder remained passive for a split second, letting the other man's lips explore his own in a peculiar combination of gentleness and strength. Then the wave of desire overtook him, shooting through his arms and legs and tightening even more in his chest, so that he almost broke the contact of the kiss in order to breathe. Instead he leaned forward into it, his hand reaching back behind to the nape of Krycek's neck to pull him in closer. The soft hair that brushed over the back of his hand teased him, increased his urgency as he let his mouth be devoured.

Breaking the kiss at last, both of them breathing hard, he burrowed his face in the crook of Krycek's neck, breathing in deep the scent of him. Arms moved around him, pressing lightly against his back, but not constricting. Krycek was right - he didn't want to think, just wanted to stay there, rest there a while.

"Mulder." The quiet chuckle made him lift his head. Krycek was looking at him with a mixture of desire and a little exasperation. "You really are a piece of work."

"So they tell me," Mulder replied, in as droll a tone as he could muster at the moment. Then he pulled Krycek's shirt from his jeans, running the palm of his hand underneath and slowly up his bare chest, feeling the silky crinkle of hairs against his palm with fascinated satisfaction. The other man stifled a small gasp and briefly closed his eyes.

"So, Mulder," he said, his voice an uneven whisper. "Why is Scully pissed at you, anyway?"

"Don't ask," Mulder muttered. He was busy following the path of his hand with his lips.

Krycek just chuckled. "Guess we need to find her your twin," he said.

Mulder pulled back and looked up, his face flushed from desire and a tinge of embarrassment. "Yeah," he muttered. "Something like that." He resumed his exploration, pushing Krycek's shirt up to his throat and nipping gently at his right nipple with his lips. He could feel the other man's moan through his lips, a deep growling that set his own nerves shaking. He felt a hand against the nape of his neck, caressing the short hairs there, pulling him closer.

"Though, if you have a twin out there, Mulder, I think I want first dibs." Mulder bit him, a little teasing nip with his teeth. "Ow. Okay then, Scully can have your twin." Mulder pulled the T-shirt over his head, tracing the line of his neck with his lips and then meeting Krycek's own lips in another breathless kiss.

"Nah, she deserves better," he said, when they broke away. Krycek just looked at him with eyes dark with arousal, still caressing the back of his neck. He could understand his confusion - his own thinking processes were considerably skewed. "You know---Scully."

"Oh. Maybe Skinner?" Krycek started unbuttoning Mulder's shirt, pausing to do some exploration of his own. Then he noticed Mulder just standing there, staring thoughtfully out into the space behind Krycek's right ear.

"Muull-der...." He groaned to get the other man's attention, yanking a little on Mulder's chest hairs. Mulder turned back to him, smiling a little.

"Yeah, okay. Sorry."

Don't think so much, Mulder.