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IX. Red Sky in the Morning

Adversity draws men together and produces beauty and harmony in life’s relationships, just as the cold of winter produces ice-flowers on the window-panes, which vanish with the warmth.    --Søren Kierkegaard--

Old Calendar: June 29, 2011
New Calendar: Day 9, Year 3 A.E.

That sonofabitch greeted me smirking in Mulder’s office. All those clichés: shaking with anger, everything turning red—they’re all true. If I wasn’t so damn aware of a lingering, underlying weakness from exposure to the CWA, I don’t know what I would have done.

But—and this galls me to admit it—I’m glad I didn’t completely lose it. It’s not about me or him, after all…it’s about Mulder. Whatever is best for Mulder; that’s why I was there. That’s what it was about.

And I can’t do it all alone. But damn—it felt great grinding his face against the wall, my knee in his kidneys, my hands around his throat and balls. In my mind, I pulverized him to dog meat, blood and guts strewn from one end of the office to the other. All those years of anger came due in that moment.

What stopped me? I think, strangely enough, it was his lack of struggle. His submission was…odd. After a minute or two, it set off alarm bells inside my admittedly fogged brain, and I finally yanked his face around so that I could look directly into his lying green eyes.

I saw pain—I’d landed some damn good hits, I knew he was hurting. But it was the triumph edging around the pain that had me pausing to reconsider. That triumph—he wanted me to lose it, wanted me to beat him to a pulp. Nothing was guaranteed to act like a bucket of cold water more than that.

If he wanted something, there had to be a reason. And if that sonofabitch had a reason, it probably wasn’t something I wanted to participate in.

I’ve come to realize that anger is one thing guaranteed to sweep years from my mind. Anger, fresh and brilliant, makes everything seem crystal clear and timeless. As I looked at Krycek, it was as if the intervening years were nothing more than a day or two. Feelings and thoughts that I’d locked up behind my AD façade when he’d skipped out on the FBI—on us, on me—were just as immediate and strong as they’d been all that time ago.

And even more revealing and much more of a shock to me was the question that erupted from the depths, rising into my mouth without conscious thought. I snagged it, trapping it behind my teeth, only because of the surprise of it, because I couldn’t bear to let it out and hear his sneering answer. I suddenly felt too raw, too exposed, too…confused. I needed to think about everything; I’m not one for charging in without carefully considering all the ramifications of my actions.

Well, mostly. Hell, I’m human, too.

And intelligent. And right then, there were other important matters that needed to be dealt with. The rest could get stuck on that back burner. Yeah—the back of my stove’s getting pretty crowded. There’s one hell of a soup bubbling back there. It’ll just have to wait.

This thing with Mulder can’t.

I don’t know how long I held Krycek in my grip, shoved up against the wall, staring into those green eyes as I thought. I kept telling myself Mulder trusts him. Mulder works closely with him, and he sure as hell wouldn’t do that if there was anything inside of him that Mulder distrusted.

Or was it that Mulder figured, better the devil you know than one you don’t, and best to keep him where he can be watched closely?

Ah, hell, I really didn’t have a choice. I needed his help, and I was going to have to trust him. That had to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, admitting that to him. I was putting Mulder’s life in his hands, and I didn’t have a clue if it was wise.

I let go of him and backed off, at a loss how to go from the rage I’d been "expressing" and discussing serious business with him. He must have seen the confusion on my face, because he jumped right in, trying to goad me on again.

"What’s the matter, Skinner? Lost your taste for the rough stuff? Need me to strip to keep your enthusiasm from waning? Oh, don’t worry," he flung his arm wide, then patted down his prosthetic arm, "nothing up my sleeves. No little black box hidden away, waiting for your arrival."

Weariness swamped me suddenly, and I moved to sit down in one of Mulder’s expensive, upholstered chairs. Without looking at him, I gestured to the one next to me. "Sit down, Krycek." It took him a moment, but I was still surprised when he moved to do what I’d asked.

My head had started to ache, and I rubbed my fingers over the sore spots around my eyes. "I didn’t come here for this."

Krycek didn’t reply until I’d made eye contact with him again. His voice was even, devoid of the high drama played out moments before. "Of course not, Skinner. You didn’t even expect to see me here; you came for Mulder. Sorry to disappoint you, but today, it’s just us pathetic stand-ins."

I sat looking at him, his last words ringing in my ears. Something strangely vulnerable behind the slow burn moved through his eyes before he looked away and began fixing his disheveled clothes. The soft whisper of cotton sliding against cotton filled the silence as he tucked his shirt back in his pants and straightened his tie with practiced movements of his one, good hand.

Understanding burst through my head like an explosion.

How many years had it been? How long since I’d been with Krycek? Christ, I’ve been a fool. No, worse than a fool—I was a heartless bastard. Oh yeah, he was, too, among other things. I’m not discounting that. Never. But Jesus…all these years, and not once did the thought dawn on me. Until now. Not that I knew what to do with it now that I had it.

It left me reeling, fumbling to put things back into perspective, a new perspective, fitting around new information. He was frowning, looking at me keenly, and I spoke to fill the silence…to cover up the self-recriminations I was doling out to myself in my head.

I told him no, I thought he was exactly the person I needed to talk to, and watched his eyes narrow with disbelief. But as I continued to speak, those green eyes widened with shock, then eventually narrowed again. The anger that darkened them this time was directed at someone other than me.

As he paced back and forth, that same restless energy I remembered from so long ago skittering through him, a variety of expressions passed over his face. I admit, I watched him like a hawk. He’d fooled me before—or…had he? Yeah, he had, no matter how I looked at it—so I don’t trust him—or my ability to read him—too well. But this time, I think I was seeing honest emotion. Honest reaction. Hell, I keep having to fall back on Mulder and his acceptance of Krycek. I’ve got to trust in that.

I’ve got to trust Krycek.

His gaze drew my attention away from my musings. Perched on the edge of Mulder’s desk, Krycek had been watching me wrestle with my distrust. A cynical twist marred the line of his mouth, and he got right to the heart of the matter. "You going to trust me, Skinner?"

I looked at this man—boy, I’d once called him—whose presence in my life had brought so many feelings: anger, fury, helplessness. I couldn’t help but remember the Krycek he’d given me all those years ago. That Krycek had roused many responses in me, lust only one of them. When he revealed his duplicity, fury had whited everything else out. Since then, the only things between us had been rooted in anger. They’d rooted deep.

And now I had to trust him. Not just with my life, with Mulder’s.

"Listen to both mai-be-he-ahgan, both of the Fox’s arms. Trust them but no others." The words of Grandfather Begay rang in my ears.

"Yeah, Krycek, I’m going to trust you." I stood and moved directly in front of him, trapping him against the desk. I could feel the heat of him through the fabric of our pants where my legs pressed against his. His eyes, still beautiful after all these years, were wary and not at peace. "I’m going to trust you because, and only because, it seems I have to. And Mulder must know something about you I don’t." I shrugged. "That’s the best I can do."

Something flared in his eyes, and immediately my body tightened as I responded in kind. Jesus, how in the hell are we going to work together when every time we breathe, we’re lighting up the room with our anger? I backed off and tried to start again.

I told him that I’d been out of the country for years, and didn’t have his current knowledge of things, the lay of the land. I *did* trust that; Krycek was always thorough in gathering information. I wanted to know what he thought, where the threat to Mulder might be hiding.

It was the right tact. A speculative look replaced the anger on his face, and he started to talk. He talked about quite a lot of things, and he impressed me with his knowledge, even awed me. I’ve seen Krycek as the enemy; he’s formidable. This time, I was glad his expertise lay on my side.

Krycek believed the threat to come from within our own government. Again. And after sitting here listening to him tick off item after item to support his theory, unfortunately, I believe him. I asked him what he thought we should do about it, and once again, I got a look that spoke volumes of his disbelief.

It wasn’t easy for me, either, extending that accord to him, the trust. But I had to. I have to. This old dog will learn new tricks. I have to. It’s not about just me.

I’ll remind myself of that as many times as it takes.

I’ll say one thing, I have no doubt that whatever Mulder has Krycek doing for the UNP, he earns his salary. The last time I could appreciate Krycek’s work, he was still a green-behind-the-ears agent. Or at least, that’s what he appeared to be. In the intervening years, there wasn’t much about him I appreciated.

But now, I saw a focused, intense man, fully capable of assuming the tasks before us. The plans he suggested were thorough and cautious. And I surprised the hell out of both of us when I sat there and told him to handle organizing everything else while I took charge of Mulder. Krycek’s mouth opened and closed a few times, and he abruptly wheeled around to the other side of Mulder’s desk and fiddled with some paper, taking notes.

Stalling while he got himself back in control, I think. For a second, he’d looked like I’d poleaxed him. Yeah, I know how he felt.

So that’s where it lies right now. Mulder and Scully are on their way back to the Corners by plane, not a whole lot we can do about security at this point. Although Krycek did radio out to the Air Force Lt. Colonel who pilots the plane the UNP uses and alerted him to the potential threat, telling him to use his discretion on which of his crew would need to be told…but that one objective was not to let the Chief know at this point. (Which meant, really, that the information would have to stay in the cockpit with the pilot and co-pilot, and not be given to anyone who circulated out in the cabin. Where Mulder was. Which was still not a positive way to keep Mulder from picking it up.)

That was another surprise we had…both of us agreed that we wanted Mulder right in front of us when he "heard" the news. Maybe it was old habit on my part, but Krycek agreed with me immediately, and he knows the Mulder of today a hell of a lot better than I do. Despite all the staid, responsible behavior, the heart of the man I once knew had to live on inside him somewhere—and that man had a bad habit of thinking himself invulnerable.

No one’s invulnerable. No one. I swear to God, I’m not losing another person. The people who are here are damn well going to stay here.

Dammit, I want a little peace in my life. I want—I want—

God help me, I want what Grandfather Walter promised me.

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