Notes: Set after the movies, and references episodes 8.15 Deadalive and 8.21 Existence
Summary: No longer in hiding but still determined to fight for the future, Mulder attends a society reception using an invite from a secret informant.
Mulder leaned against the far wall and surveyed the throng of party-goers. Black tuxedos with dress shirt, bow tie and brightly colored cummerbunds seemed to be the order of the day for the men. The women were a swirl of colors ranging from deepest black to purest white. Their designer dresses were elegant creations that draped to the floor. Gold and precious jewels adorned their necks, ears and, in some cases, even their hair.
From his vantage point he could see the whole of the State Room and his eyes lighted on one recognizable figure after another. US Senators rubbing shoulders with Russian diplomats, business magnates exchanging pleasantries with top level surgeons and scientists while waiters dressed in white jackets and dark pants eased their way through the groups with trays laden with champagne and hors d'oeuvre.
This wasn't the type of function he would normally find himself attending despite his privileged upbringing but his informant had provided an invitation and an accompanying note that stated, 'Be there'. So here he was but he was still no closer to understanding why unless his informant had wanted to see the level of interaction between the higher echelons of society.
He caught his reflection in a mirror and smiled wryly, thankful that he had not decided against wearing the tuxedo in favor of one of his Armani suits. He knew he looked good in a Tux and his attire made it far easier for him to blend in among the obscenely rich and powerful.
"Why, Mister Mulder. I had not expected to find you at such a prestigious gathering. Perhaps we ought to check with the hosts to see whether you are here legitimately."
Mulder pursed his lips, turning to face the owner of the voice. The last time he had seen this man—known only to him as Toothpick Man—he was one of the five judges presiding at Mulder's farce of a trial for supposedly killing Knowle Rohrer. Mulder smiled, inwardly wondering how many of the people in this room were still human for Gibson Praise had already warned him about this man. Toothpick's icy blue eyes glinted as the Russian Ambassador moved towards them, a smile stretching out the creases of his mouth, but the smile faltered as the Ambassador greeted Mulder with only the slightest trace of a Russian accent.
"Mr. Mulder. I am pleased you accepted our invitation. My apologies for not greeting you as you arrived. Please join me."
Mulder raised both eyebrows at the clone, enjoying the swiftly concealed irritation on the man's face, and allowed the Ambassador to steer him towards a small group that had arrived only moments before. The introductions were made swiftly and, once more, Mulder was glad he possessed an eidetic memory or he might have had a problem recalling all the names and faces. He murmured greetings in response and turned back in time to see a smile break out across the Ambassador's face. The smile was aimed at someone approaching from behind him and he was about to turn when the Ambassador called his greeting.
Alexei? Mulder's heart began to beat faster even though the only Alex he had known was long dead, executed by Skinner in a parking garage years earlier. Krycek was likely buried in an unmarked grave—or his body incinerated to destroy all evidence—as Skinner had never filed any paperwork and no one in the Bureau had ever asked for Mulder's statement regarding that night. If he had not seen it with his own eyes then he might never have believed it, and even now his heart refused to accept the truth, that Krycek was gone from this world.
At the time, the full impact of what he had lost had not struck him—not until much later after the dust had settled on that day. Until then he had not realized how much he enjoyed their encounters. Whenever he was lost, Krycek had found him and shown him the path. Often he had to decipher the riddles or read between the lines but until that fateful night, Krycek had always proved to be a confusing ally in Mulder's fight for the truth and the future. Mulder had loved Scully—still did—but she had never understood him or his passion despite all she had seen over the years. In time he came to understand that it was a defense mechanism—willing denial because the truth was too frightening to handle.
Krycek had never shied from the truth, not even when he was forced on the run—branded a killer—and lost his arm in Tunguska. He had pursued the truth with the same single-mindedness that complemented Mulder's own passion, filling in the voids with his cryptic clues, and giving Mulder the strength to go on. Even during his fake trial, his hallucinating mind had turned to Krycek for help.
Mulder closed his eyes and shivered as the well-remembered, silky voice drifted over his shoulder then mentally pulled himself together and turned, opening his mouth to speak, the name 'Krycek' on his tongue. His hazel eyes widened as he found himself barely 10 inches away from beautiful, wide-set, sea-green eyes. His heart skipped a beat, his stomach flipped and all his control crumbled away even though he knew this had to be a clone.
Krycek smiled, the corners of his eyes crinkling with pleasure, and Mulder only just managed to pull his thoughts back together in time to give a noncommittal response to a barely heard question from the Ambassador. He glanced back to find Krycek still staring at him and reached out to snag the man's arm.
"Come on. We need to talk."
Mulder led Krycek across the State Room towards a set of French windows that led out onto a balcony. By the time they reached the balustrade, Mulder had brought himself back under control and let go of Krycek's arm.
"What's going on, Alex?"
"What do you want to be going on?"
Mulder frowned as Krycek turned the question back on him, starting to wonder why he had missed this man so much.
"You sent me the invitation," Mulder emphasized.
Krycek grinned secretively, white teeth flashing, and eyes dancing with hidden pleasure. "Perhaps I have information. Or maybe I just wanted to see what you looked like in a tux." The grin faded at the stony expression on Mulder's face. "Be patient, Mulder." A hint of a secret smile returned.
Mulder hissed at him in annoyance. "If this is a new game of yours..."
Krycek snorted gently. "It's never been a game."
Krycek turned and leaned onto the stone parapet, gazing into the small well-maintained garden and, clone or no clone, Mulder could not resist standing a little closer, almost rubbing shoulders. He knew he should walk away but he needed to know the truth.
"You're a clone," he stated in monotone.
"No. He was."
Krycek tilted his face just enough so Mulder could see the glint in his eye and the soft smile. His left hand covered Mulder's, and Mulder knew it was flesh and blood rather than a prosthetic, belying Krycek's claim to be the real thing. The Krycek shot by Skinner had a prosthetic arm to replace the one amputated by the Russian peasants in the Tunguskan forest... unless that was also a lie. No longer certain what to believe, Mulder knew he had to let this play out.
"Alex. Why am I here?"
"Because it's time."
"Time for what?"
"Time to wake up to the truth, that you are about as human as the rest of the people in that room behind us."
Krycek smile was twisted in a parody of sadness and sympathy. "There was never a vaccine to restore your humanity after your... death. Just a ploy to keep the others focused elsewhere while the virus completed its work and made you one of us."
"We are not the enemy, Mulder. We never were. All things must change... evolve. Even humanity. We were just a leap in evolution rather than a slow slide over generations. An acceleration of what we were always meant to be. Our bodies are stronger... almost indestructible... but this..." he pointed to his temple. "This is the same. This is the real Alex Krycek in here."
"You're a liar and a murderer, Krycek. Why should I believe a word you say?"
"Then cut yourself. Prove me wrong."
Krycek offered him a pocket knife, head tilted in that familiar way that dared him to act. Mulder took the knife and opened it to reveal a sharp blade. Gritting his teeth, he ran it across his palm, wincing in pain as the blood welled up in the blade's wake. Just as he was about to sneer his contempt at Krycek, he saw the skin slowly knit until not even a scar remained. The world began to swirl around him and he was falling, only to feel strong arms wrap around him, holding him tight. He leaned into Krycek, feeling the heat from another living person seep into him. Warm breath tickled against his face and he turned his head, lips tingling when they brushed across Krycek's unexpectedly. His cheek began to tingle too, as if in memory of that almost forgotten kiss bestowed when his faith was at its lowest ebb.
When he pulled back, Krycek was watching him carefully, assessing his reaction. Plenty of flippant remarks came to mind but all Mulder could do was gaze back and forth between the inquisitive green eyes and the glistening bow-shaped lips. Unable to resist seeing if he could cause a reaction from Krycek, Mulder leaned in and kissed him full on those tempting lips, but he hadn't gambled on the strength of his own feelings reflecting back on him. It took a moment to notice that Krycek was breathing just as raggedly as him, with pupils dilated and lips parted as if awaiting another kiss.
Krycek cleared his throat. "We're still human in every way that matters," he stated softly.
"And does this matter?" Mulder indicated between the two of them.
Krycek blinked rapidly in a way that Mulder had always associated with untruths, but whatever Krycek was about to say—no doubt something either cryptic or annoying—it died before he could utter the lies. Instead Krycek cleared his throat again and looked away.
"Yes. It matters to me."
It was the perfect opportunity to hurt Krycek but Mulder had found little satisfaction in Krycek's pain the last time they played this game. In truth, he was sick of games; sick of hiding, of fighting... of losing people he cared about, and Krycek was one of those people, perhaps the hardest of all those losses to bear. The thought of losing him again struck at the very heart of him, far worse than watching Dana pack her suitcase and drive away.
"So where do we go from here?"
Startled, Krycek looked up, his head tilting while he studied Mulder's face intently, as if looking for some sign of deception. His frown smoothed away as he recognized the truth and acceptance in Mulder's words.
"To the future."
Mulder considered that for a moment, recalling the last few years in hiding and the long days and nights where all he could do was dwell on the past and try to hold on to the present. He had taken each day as it came, never truly planning beyond it but, for the first time in years, he could see the fog opening up and revealing possibilities for the future. Having Krycek—Alex—beside him on that journey forward was an incredible gift; one he could not refuse.
When Mulder leaned across and kissed him once more, this time he felt the lips curve beneath his, and when they finally parted, Mulder saw the first genuine smile lighting Alex's face.