George Washington National Forest

Krycek stood at the door, staring out at the forest and the demon crouching on a branch ten feet up the nearest tree. He glared at it, wishing they could just shoot the damned thing, but knew that any attack on it right now would only provoke it into attempting to get at them all. Right now, it was patiently waiting for Mulder to turn up. Hence Mulder wasn't allowed near the door or the single window. If it saw him, all hell would break lose. It knew he was in the cabin, but somehow it had to see him before it snapped. That thought made Krycek grin. "We've got something in common," he told the creature. It sneered at the sound of his voice, but made no other move.

Mulder had dropped down on an old dusty couch and had closed his eyes for a bit, hoping he was safe, sensing somehow that he was.

Anna was sitting cross-legged on the floor, methodically taking a small stick apart, waiting and listening to the night.

Old Hannah was just sitting in her rocking chair, watching Krycek intently. "You must go and fetch her," she finally said after having been quiet for a long while.

Krycek turned around. "What?"

"The woman. His partner. You must go and fetch her. Bring her here. First when she arrives are we ready to deal with the Kandarian demon."

Mulder pulled his arm away from his face and opened his eyes. "She'll never go with him," he inserted.

Hannah frowned a little, then settled her eyes on Anna. "Then you must go," she said.

Anna shrugged. "Fine. I'll go," she replied and got up.

Krycek stepped in her way. "I don't want you to go out there. Who knows what that thing will do once you leave the shelter of this place?"

Mulder sat up, intrigued by this event taking place. It was the first time that he had ever heard Krycek express any kind of concern for another human being.

"Alex, relax. If it wanted us, it would have attacked a long time ago. It's just sitting up there," Anna replied, waving a hand toward the tree that currently housed the demon.

"Maybe so, but what if you're wrong? I don't want to lose you," he insisted.

Smiling softly up at him, she cupped a hand against his cheek. "You won't lose me, baby," she nearly whispered. "There is no chance in Hell that I'm going to let you get away from me again."

The vague shadow of a smile slipped over his lips and the feeling in his eyes was too obvious to miss. "Just be careful."

"Aren't I always?" she replied, kissed him briefly and strode out the door.

Mulder had watched the scene with growing surprise. Anna seemed to be the stronger of them although it might seem the other way around to an outsider. Frowning, he stared at Krycek, trying to make sense of this obvious relationship. He wasn't prepared for the truth about them, though. "This is a first," he said sarcastically. "I've never seen you raise a finger to help anybody before."

Krycek glowered at him. "What's it to you?" he replied, turning to watch Anna reach the car safely. The demon made no move to attack her, although it did keep an eye on what she was doing.

"Nothing much. I'm just wondering what a woman like her wants with a bastard like you," Mulder inserted almost casually.

Hannah shook her head. Mulder was constantly provoking Krycek, who in turn got angry but made no counter-attack.

"Well, if you must know," Krycek said, his tone of voice calm while he watched the jeep drive off, "she's my wife."

Mulder felt a lump in his throat and swallowed hard to remove it. It didn't quite work. "What?!"

Krycek finally turned around again to face him. "Anna is my wife. We've been married for a little over seven years. She sticks by me no matter what." There was a certain tone of triumph in his voice because he had managed to rattle the ever-cool Agent Mulder. There was a feeling of success to that.

Mulder just stared at him, open-mouthed, unable to comprehend that this man, whom he considered to be nothing more than the scum of the earth, was married. Married to a woman who seemed to have full use of her senses.

Hannah had listed to their exchange, wanting to tell them that there was so little time on Earth and why couldn't they just get along, when her keen eyes caught movement outside. Before she was able to voice a warning, though, the demon hammered through the open door and right into Krycek. The impact knocked him over and the demon, spitting like an angry cat, landed on top of him.

Mulder's reaction to that was pretty immediate. Although he couldn't care less about Krycek, the fact that the beast was inside was enough to get him going. Grabbing the nearest object, which happened to be the poker from the fireplace, he launched himself at his nemesis, wielding the poker like a sword. It struck the demon square in the face when it turned its head at the same moment he lashed out. The tip of the poker drew a deep, blood-less gash across its face, causing it to let go of Krycek and rise into the air of the rather low-ceilinged cabin. Mulder reeled back, trying to get out of its way, but there were fairly few places he could go. It took him a moment to realize that it wasn't attacking. Instead, it landed again, staring at him. The gash on its face was slowly closing up again, leaving behind no sign that it had ever been there.

"The amulet," Hannah said quietly. "It's protecting you. You must leave here. Now! Go up the mountain. Straight up. There is a cave. You can't miss it." She had pushed herself out of her chair to help Krycek back to his feet. He was bleeding from various cuts, but nothing bad enough to slow him down. "Go now. Both of you," she insisted. "The amulet only has so much power."

Mulder's gaze flicked between the demon and the old woman. "What about you? We can't just leave you here," he said, his expression strained as he slowly edged his way around the demon toward the door.

"Don't worry about me. I'll be fine," Hannah replied, smiling weakly. "Just go, boys. Now!"

Mulder had reached the open door but was reluctant to leave. The demon had turned in tact with his movements but without closing the distance and was still staring at the amulet around his neck. "I won't leave you here," Mulder said.

"You have to. I'm too old. I would only slow you down. Now go. Alexei, get him out of here. I'm counting on you," the old woman said, waving toward the door.

Krycek stared at her for a moment, knowing what her words meant. She wasn't coming with them, which meant she was preparing to die. Taking a second to digest that, he leaned in and kissed her cheek. Hannah impatiently waved him away, which he took as his cue to exit, grabbed Mulder and hauled him out the door. "Let's go," he hissed.

"We can't just leave her," Mulder repeated.

Krycek grabbed his collar with his right hand and shook him once, pushing him backward while he spoke. "Listen to me! And understand. We are leaving. Now! Or we'll both be minced meat in a second. She's stalling it. Don't you get it?" he snapped, appalled at how dense Mulder could be sometimes. "Move," he added and pushed Mulder ahead of him up the mountain. Before long, they were both sprinting through the forest, trying hard to ignore the sounds of utter mayhem drifting after them.

It tore at Mulder to know that they had left the old woman behind to die under the sharp claws of that abomination, but he also knew that both Hannah and Krycek were right. There was nothing they could do. So he ran, followed closely by Krycek, trying to ignore the pain he felt over this.

X X X

Scully's residence
3170 West 53 Road
Annapolis
Maryland

Scully jerked awake on her couch, blinking in confusion at her surroundings. Something had awoken her. Glancing at the door, she realized that Skinner might have arrived already. She pushed herself off the couch and rubbing the palm of her hand over her face, she staggered somewhat unsteadily toward the door and opened it. It had been the knock on the door that had roused her, but it wasn't Skinner.

"Hi, Ms. Scully," the woman standing on her doorstep said.

Scully raised an eyebrow. "Who are you?" she replied.

"My name is Anna. I've been asked to pick you up?"

"Ask by whom? Skinner?" Scully asked and stepped aside to let Anna in.

"No, by your partner. Fox Mulder," she replied.

Scully stopped short, staring at Anna. "Mulder? Where is he? Is he all right?" she blurted out.

"When I left him he was. We have to go to him now. Time is running out," Anna insisted, looking slightly nervous. "It's a long story. Could I tell you on the way?"

Scully glanced around, trying to get her mind to wake up properly so she could think again. "Uh... I can't leave here. I'm waiting for my supervisor to come and pick me up," she finally said, then shook her head to clear her mind.

Anna's expression tightened a little. "If we don't leave here now, your partner might be dead before we get there," she said, her tone of voice displaying her feelings more clearly than her expression, which was placid at best.

Scully swallowed. That woke her up for real. "Well... uh... let me just leave a note for him, then," she said, glancing around for pen and paper.

"For whom?"

Both women turned to the open door and Skinner standing there, his hands in the pockets of his coat. Scully breathed a sigh of relief. "This woman knows where Mulder is. We have to go with her right away," she explained.

Skinner briefly frowned, then nodded. "Take us to him," he insisted.

Anna nodded and ran back to the jeep, which was parked out front. Scully and Skinner took his car and followed her.

X X X

George Washington National Forest

The cave was easily found. Both men stumbled inside, out of breath. Krycek stopped a few feet inside while Mulder continued further into the cave and finally dropped down on the floor.

Fighting to regain control over his rather erratic breathing, Mulder looked over at Krycek. The cave was very dark, but he could just make out the other man. "So, it can't get in here, is that it?" he asked.

Krycek, who stood leaning against the cave wall, one hand on one knee, looked over at him, squinting in the darkness. "What?"

"It can't get in here. Isn't it that what she meant?" Mulder wanted to know, already a little irritated that he had to repeat himself.

"No," Krycek replied. "That's not what she said. She just said to go here. I think I know why, too." Groping along the wall, he searched for something and found it. Moments later, he held a lit torch in one hand, which gave a sparse, yet warming light. Slowly following the walls, he lit more torches around the cave and ended up where he had started and replaced the torch in the holder imbedded in the wall. "There. Now at least we can see what the hell... " he began, his eyes drifting over the inside of the cave until they came to settle on Mulder and he stopped short.

Mulder stared back for a moment, then realized that Krycek wasn't looking at him. He was looking at the floor of the cave beneath him. Getting up, Mulder looked down and just saw a lot of carved lines on the floor. He figured he had to be where Krycek was standing to make sense of them.

"You're standing inside a pentagram," Krycek said, sparing him the trouble of walking over to him.

Mulder looked down at the floor for a moment longer. "I wonder if that is going to keep that thing off me," he mumbled. He had barely finished the sentence before the demon dove in through the opening, ramming Krycek and throwing him halfway through the cave. Instead of pursuing him, it veered off and raced toward Mulder, not giving a damn about the pentagram or the amulet around his neck. It slammed into him, knocking him off his feet and onto the ground, screeching hatefully. Mulder fought with it for a moment, trying desperately to keep its claws away from his face and chest, but somehow, the thing seemed stronger now. It jerked its arms back and forth, fighting to get them out of Mulder's grip. "Krycek," he yelled, aware that he couldn't deal with this thing on his own any more.

"Oh, now he needs me," Krycek growled, getting back to his feet. He felt dizzy from the fall, where he had hit his head. Taking a second to estimate the situation, he heaved a deep breath, then another, then launched himself at the demon. With his right hand he got a hold of one leathery wing, wincing at the feel of the texture between his fingers. Clenching his teeth, he got a good, solid hold of the material and pulled with all his might, ripping a big hole in its right wing. "And fuck you, too," he snapped at it when its head ripped around and he hammered his prosthetic arm against its face. He took a hold of another part of its wing and ripped another piece of it off. The demon suddenly lost interest in Mulder and was about to turn on Krycek when he did the only thing he could. He threw himself against it, wrapping his right arm around its neck. The beast obviously didn't have that much brains because it began thrashing around the cave, trying to throw him off rather than just rip his arm away from its throat. Krycek held on for as long as he could, attempting to do it as much harm as he could, then let himself drop and rolled away, giving Mulder a chance to throw a pretty big rock at it. That did little to slow it down, though. Getting back to his feet, Krycek stared at Mulder for a second. "A rock? That's all you can come up with?" he demanded. Wrapping his fingers around the necklace with the amulet, he pulled at it. "Give me that damned thing. You keep it busy and I put it around its neck."

Mulder stared at him for a moment, then jerked out of the way when the demon jumped at them. Due to the now severely lacerated wing it could no longer fly and had to attack its prey on foot. That made no difference to it, though. It screeched angrily when it missed them both. Mulder pulled the chain off and handed it to Krycek, virtually putting his life in the other man's hands. If Krycek decided to make a run for it, Mulder would die. Without a word, Mulder started moving away from him, distracting the demon to follow him and ignore Krycek.

The demon followed the event with little interest, then made a fall-out at Mulder. He threw himself out of the way, causing it to collide heavily with the wall. Screeching, it gave him no time for recovery and threw itself at him again. Mulder had hoped to keep it busy for a bit, but knew that was wishful thinking when its hand closed around his ankle, bringing him down. He quickly rolled over on his back and was once again lucky enough to catch its arms before it tore him to bits. He regretted not having the time to see where Krycek was, but he didn't have to worry about it.

Krycek edged around the two of them and jumped the demon from behind, landing on its back. "HOLD ONTO IT," he yelled, found a good position where he could steady himself by wrapping his legs around it and in a flurry of one beating wing and his attempts to avoid being hit by it, he somehow managed to edge the necklace over its head.

One of its arms slipped out of Mulder's grip and it grabbed the front of his t-shirt, tearing gashes in both that and his chest. But its movements were slowing down. The wings were beating slower and slower and the body became more rigid. Step by step, slowly at first then ever faster, it virtually froze in position. The claws of its right hand were wrapped around a handful of Mulder's t-shirt, its other arm still in his grip. The claws of its feet were still digging painfully into his thighs.

Krycek slid off it, staring at it with true disbelief. "Jesus," he breathed, staring at it for a moment. It had turned to stone. It took him a second to get moving again and his next attempt was to push it off Mulder. That earned him a painful cry from the FBI Agent. "Shit, it's really wedged in there," he commented surly. "How the hell do I get it off you?"

"Come up with something," Mulder hissed through clenched teeth. "I don't care what. Just get it off me."

X X X

Anna had spent a few minutes staring at the remains of the cabin with unshed tears in her eyes. Hannah was as dead as she could be, ripped to pieces in a rushed, brutal fashion. The cabin had collapsed and there was no sign of Mulder and Krycek anywhere.

"Where is he?" Scully demanded, pale with fear for her partner's life.

Skinner glanced around, trying to look at anything but the corpse lying in the rubble of the cabin.

"Up the hill," Anna finally said. "There's a cave. That's where the last stand will take place," she added and started to walk upwards.

Scully glanced around, saw something she thought she might use and followed Anna after picking up the hefty-looking axe. Skinner noted the fact that she picked it up, but was beyond asking any questions in this bizarre case. He had asked her what was going on while they had been on the road and she had told him. Not believing it, he had refrained from asking any further questions. Now he just followed these two women up through the forest, not knowing what lay ahead of them.

X X X

Krycek inspected the demon for a while, trying to figure out how to get it off Mulder without ripping him to pieces. "If only I had something to demolish it with," he mumbled. "Damn, Mulder. I can't get this thing off you without hurting you further," he finally confessed.

"It's heavy like hell. If I let go of its arm now, it'll squash me," Mulder hissed, looking strained beyond his capacity. "Just get it the hell off me."

"Krycek, get out of the way," a voice said behind him. He barely managed to avoid the now axe-wielding Scully. It took her about one minute to more or less disassemble the statue of the demon enough to free Mulder from its weight.

Anna was by Krycek's side in a second. "Oh God. Look at you," she said, looking concerned.

"I'm all right. I think Mulder got the worst of it," he replied, glancing back at Mulder, who was still lying on the ground. "What about Hannah?" he added, not sure he wanted to know.

Anna's face contorted. "She's gone, Alex."

He stared at her for a moment, then nodded. "I know," he whispered, letting his head drop.

Anna wrapped her arms around him, hugging him.

"Don't move. Let me have a look at this first," Scully said, holding Mulder down with one hand while she inspected the cuts and gashes. When his right hand closed around her wrist, she turned her head to look down at him. "You'll live. You'll hurt for a bit, but you'll live," she told him with a smile.

"Thanks," he commented dryly and sat up carefully. With a big hole in his t-shirt where Scully had been forced to rip the fabric to get the demon's hand off him, four deep gashes on his chest, ten puncture-wounds on his thighs and various cuts and bruises, he looked worse for the wear.

Scully glanced over her shoulder at Skinner, who stood a few steps inside the mouth of the cave and looked around with a frown on his face. "What the hell is this place?" he wanted to know.

First then did Scully pay attention to their surroundings. Apart from the pentagram carved into the stone of the floor, there were the torches all the way around and at the very end of the cave a gallery of six stone-demons. All of them as ugly as the one who had frozen while trying to kill Mulder. She rocked back on her heels, staring at them for a long moment. Then she rose again with the axe in one hand. "Pardon me for stepping over any lines," she said and stepped over Mulder toward the collection of fright-figures. "But I can't think of any good reason for leaving these six unharmed." With that, she started to methodically demolish the six other demons, making certain that none of these were ever brought back to life. First when they were nothing but rubble on the ground did she stop.

Skinner had watched the whole scene with a frown, but had made no move to interfere in any way. What the hell was going on here he didn't know. And he wasn't certain he wanted to know. Instead, he walked over to Mulder and helped him back to his feet. "I think you may need some sick leave, Agent Mulder," he said.

Mulder looked at him for a moment, an unhappy look on his face. "Please, sir. No more forced leaves. Things always go wrong when you send me home," he replied.

Skinner stared at him for a moment, then pursed his lips to disguise the smile that was about to break out. "All right then. Get this taken care off. I expect both of you in my office first thing Monday morning." Then he turned around to face Krycek, who in turn took a hesitant step backward. In some small fashion, it pleased Skinner to see that he had finally learned some respect. "As it seems that you have saved Agent Mulder's life, I'm going to forget that I saw you," he said curtly.

Krycek merely stared at him for a moment, then nodded once, his right arm around his wife's shoulders. Looking over at Mulder, he gave him a crooked grin. "Don't call me next time you run into something like this, Mulder."

Mulder returned the grin for a second. "Don't worry. I won't. I don't trust you any further than I can throw you," he replied. "But thanks anyway."

"You're welcome," Krycek conceded. "Let's get out of here," he added to Anna.

Anna smiled. "Take care, you guys." With those words, they left the cave, Krycek limping a little.

Mulder stood there, feeling that the world had suddenly become a very unsteady place, considering the way the cave was swaying beneath his feet. "Ooh," he mumbled, grabbing his spinning head with an unsteady hand.

Skinner grabbed a hold of him before he could topple over. Draping his right arm over his shoulder, Skinner supported him as Scully rushed over to his side. She gave Mulder a brief examination, then glanced up at their boss. "He's going into shock again. And I think he has a concussion, too. We should get him to the hospital."

Skinner nodded. "Good idea. And would you please see to it that he stays at home for the rest of this week? I know it's only Wednesday, but still."

Not wanting to make any commitments yet, she grabbed Mulder's other arm, draped it over her shoulders and helped Skinner get Mulder out of the cave.

They had to more or less drag Mulder back to Skinner's car. After depositing him on the back seat, Skinner opened the passenger side door for Scully. "I want your promise that you'll keep him away from the office until Monday," he pressed her.

Scully smiled weakly, tired to the bone all of a sudden. She figured that her actions in the cave might have something to do with it. "All right. I'll do my best, sir," she replied and climbed into the car.

"That's all I ask," Skinner said and pulled out his cell phone to call in the death of the old woman. He hoped that this would be the last of this case. With that unspoken wish on his lips, he got into the car and drove them out of there.

X X X

May 24
North-West Georgetown

Mulder woke up with a start and immediately winced at the pounding headache which blurred his vision. Raising both hands to cover his face, he sighed. The antiseptic smell and the muffled sounds from beyond the door immediately told him that he was in the hospital.

"Hi there."

At the sound of Scully's voice, he let his hands drop away and blinked sluggishly at her, not quite able to focus yet.

"How are you feeling?"

"Apart from a killer headache and the need for stronger glasses, I'm still alive," he mumbled, becoming increasingly aware of how dry his mouth was. "Is there any water in this joint or do I have to die of thirst?" he added, attempting a smile which cracked his lower lip.

"Easy now," Scully said, a smile in her voice. She pushed an hand under his head and helped him raise it while she held a glass with ice-water to his lips. "Sip it. You've been out for a nearly two days."

After drinking enough of the water to sustain him for a bit, he closed his eyes and let his head sink back down on the pillow, Scully's cool hand on his cheek. With a slight effort, he placed his hand over hers, holding it in place. "Are we home free?" he wanted to know and opened his eyes again.

"Yes, we are. Skinner has closed the case. Officially, it's unsolved." Well knowing how he would react to that bit of news, she brushed a wayward strand of hair away from his brow with her other hand. "I don't think they would ever official accept our explanation anyway."

Blinking, he finally managed to get his focus back as he stared up at her. "Our... explanation?" he asked her.

"Yes, Mulder. Our explanation. I finished the report. Although I can't verify the nature of this thing and hence can't call it a demon, I did state in my report that this was an other-worldly entity, which defies explanation."

Grinning, he flinched at the roaring headache. "That's cute," he mumbled. "Other-worldly entity which defies explanation. That description fits just about every case we've had," he added, closing his eyes again.

"Yes. I actually thought about that when I wrote the report. It even made Skinner smile," she said. "I think he got the point. Although he didn't, at any point, see the demon flapping around, he seems more inclined to believe us than I thought he would be."

Mulder took her hand in his and gave it a light squeeze. "I appreciate your help, Scully," he told her, briefly opening his eyes to look at her again. "I'm just so damned tired right now. Let's talk about this some more when I feel a little better, okay."

Smiling, she leaned over him and planted a kiss on his brow. "You got it, G-Man. Get some rest now. You've got a concussion, in case you hadn't noticed."

He merely smiled, too tired to comment on that, and drifted off.

Scully folded her arms over her chest and watched him for a moment, then turned her head and looked out the window. The sun was going down out there, an orange orb hovering just over the horizon. Somehow, she would never be able to view a sunset with the same admiration again. Because it was after that the sun set that all the evil things in the world really showed their faces.

THE END