NEW: "Guardian," by Sugar Rush, M/K, 1/8 Rating: NC-17 for m/m interaction, violence and rough language. Spoilers: Lots of stuff up through "Patient X/Red and the Black," goes *waayyyyy* AU after that.
Many thanks to Carol, Ria, Shael, Rowanne & Margaret for encouragement and fine beta, and to Don for not getting too mad at me for spending more time with my computer than him lately. :-) Originally published in the zine X-PLICIT FANTASIES 2, published by Maverick Press. (Thanks, JoAnn :-))
Winner of the 1998 Slash Talent in Fandom Award for Best Novella. Feedback may be addressed to: dnivling@redshift.com. Enjoy!!

"Guardian," by Sugar Rush

The night air tasted thick and musty and humid, like a wet bowl pressed over his face. His heart was pounding too, a hot, tight fist beating against his ribs; he'd barely been able to keep his voice steady over the phone with Scully a few seconds ago. Hanging up the receiver, Mulder let his eyes drift shut for the barest moment, dragging in another dense, labored breath, forcing his attention back to the situation at hand. This was no time to be losing it.

Darting out of the phone booth and across the rain-spattered street, he threw some money at the woman inside the theater's ticket booth and dashed inside. He'd just told Scully he was tracking a suspect, and he supposed that was true, up to a point. Alex Krycek was still wanted for any number of crimes, and Mulder could have sworn he'd seen an all-too-familiar flash of black leather sauntering in here not five minutes ago. The lobby was deserted, not counting the pimply kid behind the concession counter, but one of the auditorium doors banged shut, swinging and bumping on its hinges in time to the wheezy air-conditioning, beckoning him.

His eyes protested at the sudden change in light density, blinking, narrowing, finally making out a grand total of seven other people staring at the screen. He smelled stale popcorn and spilled Coke, and every step peeled his sneakers off the floor with a gluey squeak. He moved to a seat in the middle of the next-to-last row and scanned the backs of the rest of the audience's heads. Even in the bad light most of them looked way too old or blond or bald to be Krycek, and a couple of them were slumped so far down in their seats he couldn't tell what they looked like. Shit. He'd either have to wait until they got up or the movie ended.

He heard something move behind him and would've shot to his feet if there wasn't a hand already on his shoulder, pushing him back down in his seat, sliding to his throat, tightening there until he finally stopped resisting.

"What's the matter, Mulder, your VCR broken?" Krycek laughed, low and husky, lips scant millimeters from Mulder's earlobe, his other arm draped across the back of Mulder's seat. "I thought you preferred jacking off in the comfort of your own home."

The movie. Christ, the movie. Image and sound hit him all at once, tortured groans and grunts, naked, sweaty flesh slapping and straining. Naked, straining male flesh.

Mulder's eyes squeezed shut, blanking out the screen, another, more disconcerting image taking its place -- Krycek hovering over him, leaning in closer, stubbly, spice-scented skin making contact with his own, soft lips brushing his cheek--

He sucked in a few shallow breaths, forcing himself to think clearly. Krycek had a clear advantage here, and Mulder'd handed it to him -- the bastard could snap his neck with one wrist-flick and be miles away before the lights came back up. "If you're gonna kill me, don't keep me in suspense."

"If I wanted to do that, I've had plenty of opportunities. Like about a month ago, when I broke into your apartment. Remember?"

He bit down hard on his lower lip, tasting salty copper. "What do you want, Krycek?"

"Same thing you do."

"Look, if you dragged me in here to feed me another cock-and-bull alien invasion story, you can save your breath--"

A hand clamped over his mouth, warm, sweaty flesh half-suffocating him, fingernails gouging his cheek. "We both know why you're here," Krycek hissed. "You followed me in here. And if you want to know everything I know, you'll follow me out."

And then the hand at his throat was gone, and so was Krycek, nothing left of him but sticky footsteps and the dull bang of the auditorium door.

Mulder hesitated, then followed, all the way out of the theater, down one drizzly street, then another, barely keeping up with Krycek's brisk stride. Krycek finally slowed down, letting Mulder catch up as they reached a run-down two-story motel, then headed up the stairs. Krycek pulled out a key, opening the door to the next-to-last room on the top floor, waiting for Mulder to go in ahead of him.

It didn't look much more inviting on the inside. Four walls, a floor and a ceiling, painted what might have been white at one time, though now the color bordered on dingy beige. The only furniture consisted of a table with one chair, a chest of drawers with a battered black TV sitting on top, and a double bed that sagged in the middle.

"What, no 'Magic Fingers'?" he quipped.

Krycek didn't laugh, didn't do anything, just looked at him for a long moment, then stooped to grab a small black backpack from under the bed, unzipping it, pulling out a half-crumpled manila envelope. He turned and handed the envelope to Mulder, then shrugged off his leather jacket, tossing it onto the bed. He was wearing a long- sleeved vee-neck sweater underneath; his skin looked pale and papery in contrast to the dark blue wool. "You didn't believe what I told you before," he said, "maybe this'll convince you."

"What is it?"

"What's it look like?"

Mulder opened the envelope, pulling out a sheaf of paper, eyes narrowing when he saw the top sheet. He'd seen pages like this before, only not on paper, and not in English. What he was holding in his hand looked suspiciously like what he'd seen on that digital tape he'd had in his possession for a brief time two and a half years ago. Proof of everything, every filthy lie the government had perpetuated for the past fifty years. Final verification of the story Michael Kritschgau had told him, the truth behind Scully's abduction, and her cancer. She wanted to know now, finally wanted to face what had happened to her. Maybe if he saw it here, saw it all, black and white and concrete and irrefutable, he could let himself believe it again too.

The MJ-12 papers. Unencrypted, unedited hard copies. "Where did you get this?" Mulder demanded.

"That's not important."

"It is to me."

No answer other than a tiny smile.

"It's off the DAT tape, isn't it? I was right -- you broke the encryption and got it to print out."

"Does that look like new paper to you?"

He took another, closer look, noticing yellowed, curling edges, fading typewritten print. Jesus, could it really be an original copy? "How long have you had this?"

"Awhile."

"So why give it to me? And why now?"

"Guess I was just waiting for the right moment."

"Where's the rest of it?"

"Someplace safe." The corners of Krycek's mouth quirked up the tiniest bit, but still not quite enough to be called a smirk.

"How much?"

"What?"

"Cut the bullshit, Krycek. Get me the rest of this and I'll pay you as much as you want."

"What makes you think I'll take your money?"

Christ, he actually had the nerve to look offended. "You don't have the rest of it, do you? This was all just a ploy, another fucking carrot to dangle in front of my nose--"

"Oh, I've got the rest, Mulder. Shut up and listen to me and maybe you'll find out where it is."

Silence.

"I don't need your money, Mulder. My new boss pays me more than enough. I'm crashing here because it's a lot more low-profile than a suite at the Hilton."

"What, then?"

"What do I want?" Krycek echoed, leaning over to flick on the light on the bedside table, smiling now, really smiling, all the way up to the silvery glint in his eyes. "I want you, Mulder, right here in this bed. All night long."

The room tilted, swayed crazily, and would have faded to black if he hadn't swung one hand out at the last possible moment, catching hold of the table's edge, barely keeping his wobbly knees from buckling under him. He hadn't heard what he thought he'd just heard. He couldn't have. His world had gone insane upon occasion, but never that insane.

"Guess I should be flattered," Krycek said, smile widening, coming closer, "that the thought of fucking me makes you faint." One hand stretched out, touching Mulder's shoulder, trying to steady him--

But Mulder slapped it away on reflex--

And found himself flat on his back on the bed in his next breath, Krycek's arm pressed hard against his throat, cutting into him like a steel bar, leopard-spots dancing a deranged tango across his corneas. "Hit me again and I'll rip your fucking head off," Krycek hissed, right up in his face, close enough to taste his spittle, then suddenly he eased off, rolling away, slumping against the pillow, panting, red-faced. "Go on, get the hell out of here."

Mulder lurched off the bed, sucking in air, moving toward the door, his gaze sweeping the table, the papers he'd dropped there, hanging off one edge, spilling onto the floor. If he moved fast, he could grab most of them and be out the door before--

"Don't do it, Mulder," Krycek said, his tone cold and deadly and utterly devoid of tone, like a breath of air exhaled inside a tomb. "I'm warning you."

Mulder froze, fingertips scant millimeters away from the tabletop, from the first page of the document Krycek had shown him, an instant pervasive chill shooting like mercury through his bones. Krycek had never lifted a finger against him, not even when Mulder'd almost pounded him into the ground, or smashed him against that bank of payphones in Hong Kong. Either his prior passivity had all been an act, and he'd finally grown tired of playing the whipping boy, or there was something else going on here, something Mulder had yet to puzzle out. But with his head still ringing from Krycek's near- strangulation, now wasn't the greatest time to be running down the various possibilities.

"What're you afraid of, Mulder?" Krycek said softly, breathily, sliding off the edge of the bed and just standing there, left hand tucked in his jeans pocket, not moving, not coming closer. "One night here with me and you can finally have your precious proof. A few hours in exchange for everything you've ever wanted to know. I don't think that's such a bad deal."

Mulder's eyes drifted shut, and for a moment the throbbing behind his eyes subsided. Proof. Everything he'd ever wanted to know. Everything he'd ever wanted...

Jesus. What the hell did Krycek know, or care, about what he wanted? How could he know? Intuition, instinct? Some kind of uncanny mutual radar that never failed to suck them both back into each other's orbit? Years passed, continents separated them, yet they always seemed to find each other. Like a magnet finding steel...

He couldn't walk out of here. He willed himself to turn around, willed his legs to move, but somehow the command refused to leave his brain. Krycek knew what he wanted, what they both wanted. Why fight it any longer? Like Krycek said, it was just a few hours out of his life. Just a fuck. It was nothing to him, meant nothing. In a couple days the whole experience would fade, if not from memory, at least into insignificance, like every other sexual encounter he'd had in the last decade. Why should this be any different?

"The papers...are they someplace nearby? Someplace you can take me first thing in the morning?"

"Y-yeah," Krycek replied, mouth dropping open, clearly stunned. There was a slow, steady pulse beating in his throat, right where the collar of his sweater kissed white skin. "They're five, ten minutes away, tops. So does this mean..?"

Mulder stripped off his damp jacket, throwing it on the chair, moving toward Krycek, toward the bed, his stomach and his gut and every other muscle in his body pulling taut at the same time. "I swear, Krycek, if you're lying to me..."

"I'm not. I promise you I'm not."

No more promises. No more empty words. Dragging his sweater up over his head, he let it fall to the floor, dropping his gaze to the ugly
green flowered comforter on the bed, concentrating on that as he stripped all the way down to his boxers, pulled the covers back and slid between the sheets, facing away from Krycek, toward the wall, waiting, eyes screwed shut, pulse singing in his ears, for the other man to join him.

But he didn't. The next sound Mulder heard was the bathroom door swinging shut, then water running in the sink followed by a few scattered grunts and thumps. A couple minutes later Krycek emerged, footsteps whispering across the carpet, and the light on the bedside table flicked off. Mulder sucked in a tiny, infinitely grateful breath, shivering.

Krycek slid over to rest behind him, rolling them both over to lie on their left sides. He was naked except for his sweater and already half-erect, the tip of his cock brushing the small of Mulder's back. Calloused fingertips swept a few strands of hair from the nape of Mulder's neck, tracing his shoulder blade, swirling delicate, barely- felt patterns on his skin, heat welling in its path. Mulder turned his face into the pillow, gasping, biting white cotton.

He hadn't expected this. He'd expected Krycek to climb on top of him and ream his ass until he screamed and begged for mercy. He'd expected roughness, brutality, payback for all the times he'd beaten Krycek bloody; not this. Not tenderness, not seduction...

Krycek's hand slid lower, around Mulder's waist, over his hip, hot, moist palmflesh caressing his belly, drifting lower, grasping his rising cock--

And Mulder jolted, jerking away, half-sobbing, heart hammering so fucking hard he could hear it inside his head--

"C'mon, relax," Krycek whispered, mouth close to his ear, hand on his arm, stroking, calming. "This is no fun for me if it's no fun for you."

He laughed, but it came out flat, half-strangled.

"I'm not a fucking rapist, Mulder. If you really don't want to--"

"Just do it and get it over with."

He thought that that would be it, that Krycek would give up and get up and let him leave, but long moments passed, and neither of them moved.

"Let it happen," Krycek murmured, kissing Mulder's ear, his neck. "Let it go. Whatever happens here tonight is just that, just for tonight. Deal?"

He nodded, burying his face in the pillow again, Krycek's hand resuming its thorough, inexorable Braille-reading of his body, roughened fingerpads following his vertebrae all the way down, dipping inside Mulder's boxers, teasing, sliding between his buttocks. He could feel his own cock poking his thigh, aching, throbbing like a broken tooth, Krycek's touch spreading heat all over, seeping into his flesh, his brain, leaving him scorched, flayed, whole layers of him peeling away like onionskin. This wasn't happening, not to him, not here, not now. He had to keep his eyes shut, stay quiet, immobile. As long as he didn't look, didn't move, didn't make a sound, didn't react, it wasn't happening, wasn't real.

Krycek's fingers probed deeper, rubbing lightly at his anus, easing him open, one finger sliding in up to the first knuckle, then stopping, pulling away, rolling to the side of the bed for a second, fumbling with something on the bedside table then coming back, hooking his thumb in the waistband of Mulder's boxers, sliding them down his hips, down and off. Fingers touched him again, cool, slippery, gliding inside him with ease now, opening, stretching him. Whimpering, he bit down on the pillow.

Krycek rolled away again, and there was the unmistakable crackle and tear of foil and he was back, pressing up against Mulder's back, one leg wrapping around Mulder's hip, drawing him closer, stroking his arm again, softly kissing the nape of his neck, warm, humid breath dusting his skin, blotting out all other sensation. Gentle fingers spread him open, held him in place while Krycek positioned himself and gave a tiny push, just enough for the tip of his cock to gain entry. Mulder gripped the edge of the bed and held on, dimly aware of hot moisture trickling down his face, every muscle rigid, waiting for the worst.

But nothing happened -- nothing but Krycek remaining perfectly still, hand resting, trembling on Mulder's hip, breath rapid, jerky, barely in control, yet not moving, not giving in to the urge to push forward. "I'm not gonna hurt you, Mulder. Let yourself go. Let me in."

He didn't answer. He couldn't.

"If it hurts I'll stop, okay?"

He nodded.

It happened so gradually he wasn't even sure he felt it, a slow, swaying movement in Krycek's hips that somehow brought their bodies closer, sweet pressure building inside him as the swaying turned to rocking, Krycek's arm wrapping all the way around him, pulling him in, thrusting home at the precise same moment. Pressure and sweaty moist heat and the pulse screaming in his head, that was all he felt. No pain.

No pain.

Krycek flexed his hips again, starting to move, slowly at first, picking up speed and momentum, gasping, groaning in Mulder's ear, thrusting deep, cock raking over Mulder's prostate, quicksilver jolts racing, lodging like an ice pick at the back of Mulder's brain, jetting straight down to his own cock, slickened fingers finding him, grasping him, stroking, milking, squeezing--

And he moved, pushing backward frantically, mindlessly, meeting Krycek's downstroke, red and white and black and every other color in the rainbow exploding behind his eyes, only dimly aware of Krycek's cries, Krycek's teeth scraping his shoulder--

Shoving a handful of pillow into his mouth, his own screams back down his throat.

Krycek rolled off him, lying there beside him until he'd caught his breath, then got up, padding into the bathroom. Mulder heard the toilet flush, water running in the sink and then he was back, sliding onto the bed again, hand rubbing Mulder's shoulder. "You okay?"

He didn't nod, didn't move, didn't say anything.

Soft, moist lips dusted his throat, the hand on his shoulder giving a light squeeze. "Get some sleep."

He stared at the wall, green and red and yellow patterns playing on it, reflecting light from the motel sign outside. His chest hurt, a burning, tight knot furling and unfurling inside it. He closed his eyes, and tried very hard to think of nothing.

X X X

you say you don't want it again and again but you don't
don't really mean it
-- "Spark," Tori Amos

X X X

I got up, went over to sit in the chair by the door as soon as he fell asleep. It took him a long time. I caught a glimpse of the sky outside; it was already turning grey.

I don't sleep much at night anymore anyway. My arm aches; it always does when I've had the prosthesis off for awhile. Sometimes if I close my eyes and really concentrate, I can fool myself into feeling my fingers again. But then the moment passes, and I know it's not real.

Last night wasn't real either. I told him we'd pretend it never happened. Christ, the bargains we make, the lies we tell ourselves just to keep from spending another night alone.

I almost regretted doing it now, using the papers to coerce him into bed. But he'd never have believed me if I'd just handed them over to him without demanding something in return. I wanted to climb back in that bed, under those warm covers with him, wanted to fuck him again, but I didn't, and won't, not when he could barely stomach me touching him the first time. It'd be dawn soon, in an hour, maybe less. Too much light in the room. He didn't know about my arm, about the prosthesis, and he never would; I didn't want or need his pity. After I gave him the papers there was no reason we ever had to see each other again anyway.

No reason. No reason and no sense. That just about summed up last night in a nutshell.

It wasn't what I was sent for, what I'd been ordered to do -- watch him, protect him, keep him safe. He'd never believe it if I told him, though. And I needed him to believe me.

He awoke with a jolt and a cry, flailing around a little on the unfamiliar bed, breathless, blinking into the half-darkness. I threw him his clothes and headed for the bathroom. I didn't want him to see my left sleeve swinging loose.

He didn't say a word, didn't even look at me as we walked down the street to the bus station, didn't react at all when I opened the locker, handed him the fat manila envelope inside. He didn't say anything until I turned around, started walking away.

"How do I get back in touch with you?"

I almost didn't turn around. Almost. "Why would you want to do that?"

My meaning wasn't lost on him. His skin went chalky, big purplish circles under his eyes standing out like fresh bruises. "I...might need to."

Jesus, Christ Jesus. I hadn't expected anything like this. My throat was full of razor blades. I couldn't get my tongue to work.

And all he did was stare at me, waiting for me to say something, do something.

"I-I've got your cell phone number," I croaked. "I'll get in touch with you."

"When?"

Another word. Another nail in my fucking coffin. "Tomorrow?"

He nodded, shakily, slowly, then turned and left.

He didn't even ask where I got the number.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

"I need you to look at something."

Scully glanced up from the week's backlog of paperwork piled on her desk, stifling a sigh. Mulder'd been restless, climbing the walls all morning, not even pretending to get any work done. Obviously something was on his mind, something he'd been waiting to talk to her about; he'd called her a couple of times during the past few days she'd spent at home, taking some time off recovering from the emotional wringer their last case had put her through, and though she'd sensed there was something bothering him, he hadn't said a word about it. Part of her had been grateful that he'd respected her private time for once. Another part braced for a shock. "What is it?"

He bit his lip, then grabbed her coat off the coat-tree and tossed it to her. "Go home and wait for me," he said, heading for the door. "It's not something we should discuss here."

He arrived at her apartment ten minutes after she did. He'd changed into a t-shirt and jeans, but he didn't look any more at ease. He was carrying a large manila envelope under one arm. She handed him a cup of coffee and they sat down at the kitchen table together. He slid the envelope across to her. "This is what you wanted me to look at?" she asked.

He nodded, sipping at his coffee. For the first time she noticed how terrible he looked -- face white as the coffee mug he was holding, eyes red-rimmed, gritty. Haunted.

She opened the envelope, pulled out the thick sheaf of papers inside. "You want me to read *all* of this?"

Another nod.

"It might take awhile."

"I'll wait."

"Mulder, you're exhausted. Go home and I'll call you when I--"

"No," he cut in. "I'd rather stay here if...if that's okay with you."

Goddamn him. Whenever his voice snagged like that, whenever he got that don't-hurt-me look in his eyes, she couldn't bring herself to tell him no. He knew it, too. "All right," she replied, "but I want you on the couch. If you're going to stay, you might as well get some rest."

He got up and let her steer him toward the living room, bundle him up on the couch with the afghan over him. By the time she got back to the kitchen she could hear him snoring softly.

She only skimmed the huge pile of papers, and that took her nearly three hours. When she was done she sat there staring at the last sheet for a long time, then got up and went over to the couch, kneeling beside it, gently shaking Mulder's shoulder. He woke instantly, sitting up, gesturing for her to sit down next to him. "You read it?" he asked.

She nodded. "Not thoroughly, but well enough to understand why you wanted me to."

"They're the original MJ papers, Scully. I'm sure of it."

"I figured out that part. Where did you get them?"

A sharp, painful breath, like he'd just been kicked in the gut. "Krycek."

"Where did he get them?"

"I don't know. He wouldn't tell me."

"And you believe they're authentic?"

"That's what I'd hoped you could tell me. You saw the unencrypted version, I didn't."

"Mulder, I saw a few pages of Albert Hosteen's translation, not the original documents themselves."

"I know, but from what you saw of that, does this look like it could be the real thing?"

"Yes, it does," she replied slowly, "but that doesn't mean it is."

He got up, snagging his jacket off a nearby chair, riffling in one of the inside pockets, pulling out a plain white letter-sized envelope, handing it to her. "I found this tucked in between a couple pages. I think...the papers must've been my father's copy."

She turned the envelope over in her hand. Blue ink, unmistakably feminine handwriting, fading postmark. Sent to Mulder's father, to a familiar address in Rhode Island. Mulder's family's summer house. Her fingertip toyed with the tucked-in flap, curious, but not wanting to overstep her boundaries.

"Go ahead, read it," he said.

Heat flushed her cheeks as she started reading, forcing her to skim the first few paragraphs. There was little doubt as to the nature of the relationship between Mulder's father and the woman who had penned this letter; its tone was private, deeply personal, intimacy emanating off the two single-sided pages in waves. She felt like an interloper just for holding it in her hand, but she kept on reading until the end, stopping dead at the last paragraph, reading it again, spidery blue ink searing its image into her brain:

'...I miss work, and you, of course, but my days here are busy and full. There's so much to do, getting the house in order, gardening; the afternoon sun is lovely for that. The locals are friendly and pleasant, but fortunately they keep their distance and seem to accept my apparent widowhood without question. Evenings I spend taking long walks, sitting out by the pond relaxing, looking over the reports you send me, working downstairs. Some nights the baby's kicking keeps me awake, and I lie in bed thinking, remembering our weekends together. I know it's difficult for you to get away, and of course discretion is paramount, especially now, but I hope you'll be able to be with me when the time comes, as before.

All my love,
Eve.'

She folded the letter and put it back in the envelope, laying it gingerly on the coffee table, resting her chin on her clasped hands. "Mulder...I don't know what to say. I'm sorry you had to find out this way."

"He had an affair, Scully. My father had an affair with this woman, and he got her pregnant and sent her away somewhere to have the baby in secret. That much is pretty damned obvious."

"Mulder..."

"All this time, I've been wondering if the man who raised me was really my father..." He sank back down on the couch, rubbing a hand over his face. "Wrong fucking question."

"You can't be sure of that, not from just a few lines on a page--"

"Look at the date on the letter, Scully. September 13, 1965. Samantha was born November 21st. This woman, this Eve is her birth mother, she has to be. And quite possibly mine, too."

"Mulder, stop it, stop it right now. This is all pure conjecture. You can't throw everything you've ever believed about yourself out the window, not based on such flimsy evidence."

"'I hope you'll be able to be with me when the time comes, as before,'" he repeated. "What else do you think that could mean?"

Oh, God. Lost children, stolen years, paths not taken. Just what she needed to be dealing with right now. Licking her lips, she waited for a reply to come to her. "Well, before you go jumping to any more conclusions, ask yourself this: Krycek gave you these papers, and this letter. Why? What could he hope to gain?"

"I don't know. I've been asking myself that for the past week. I think...this time maybe he just wants to help me."

"He's lied to you before. What makes this time so different?"

He didn't say anything else, just got up, pulling on his jacket, heading for the door.

"Where are you going?" she asked, jumping up, following him.

"To Greenwich. I need to see my mother."

"Mulder, no. Listen to me, you can't confront her about this, not yet--"

"I have to know, Scully. I have to know for sure, and she's the only one who can tell me..."

Dear God, she couldn't stand seeing him like this, frantic, desperate, at the ragged edge of tears. It tore at her heart. "Maybe not," she said softly, one hand on his arm, rubbing, soothing. "Let's do a little investigating, find out who this Eve really is, or was. There's a return address on the envelope; give me a chance to run it down. Let's get the facts straight first, before you start questioning anybody else, okay?"

He weighed that for a second, then nodded numbly. "'Kay," he murmured.

"Go home and get some rest. I'll put in some computer time this afternoon, let you know what I come up with."

She watched him trudge back out to his car like a sleepwalker, wishing now that she'd offered to let him sack out on her couch again. She didn't call him back, though. She needed the time alone, to do her digging.

And to thaw the ice that had seeped into her bones the moment he'd spoken Krycek's name.

X X X

I didn't call him the next day, or the day after that. Or the day after that. My thumb lingered on the speed dial about a dozen times, but I didn't do it, didn't press it. I had my orders, and I was damn well sticking to them.

//Give him the papers, then fade into the background. Observe, but initiate no further contact.//

//Look, but don't touch.//

I could see him, but he couldn't see me. I saw the light on in his apartment, saw him flicking channels on the TV, pacing the floor. I wondered what he'd do if he knew I'd been parked right across the street, watching him for the past week. Maybe he already knew. Maybe he was waiting for me to come to him.

Never happen. I've had my moment of madness, gotten it out of my system. It's over, done with, in the past. I've got a job to do now, and I can't do it with my cock up his ass.

Protector. Guardian. Unseen bodyguard. Interesting addition to the laundry list -- FBI agent, wetboy, Russian agent, double agent, traitor to two countries. Even with my new employer's patronage, I was so far out in the cold Greenland looked like the fucking temperate zone. One screw-up and he'd disavow, leave my ass swinging in the breeze.

But I won't screw up, not this time. I could sit here for hours thinking about the other night, closing my eyes, letting the memory pitch and roll against the blackness inside my head, tasting his skin, sinking into him again, hot like August, tight as a new pair of jeans, but it's all just idle wishes, firing synapses, another waking dream...

A dream that tripled my pulse and left me with a boner hard enough to carve my name on the fucking windshield.

The apartment light flickered, went out. I sat up, alert now, watching. No more time for dreams. Not now, not tonight. Not ever.

X X X

She took Mulder out to lunch the next day to give him the results of her research. He was still wary of discussing it at the office, and besides, he looked like he could use a decent meal; his clothes were starting to hang on him. They went for Chinese and he picked listlessly at his Mongolian beef, eyelids drooping, stifling a string of yawns.

"Guess you didn't get much sleep last night," she observed.

He shrugged, then nodded at the file at her elbow. "What've you got?"

She handed him the file, waited for him to open it to the top page. "She wasn't hard to find. Evelyn Howard Whitcomb, M.D., Ph.D. She taught genetics at Georgetown University School of Medicine for over thirty years, consulted on a wide variety of projects for the U.N. and Department of Health. Your father probably met her in the course of his work for the State Department. There's a photograph just under the top page," she added, biting her lip at his stricken expression, knowing what must be going through his mind, the same thing that had gone through hers when she'd first glanced at Evelyn Whitcomb's photo. Dark hair, hazel eyes, Mulder's beautiful, sensual mouth. A picture worth a thousand PCR tests.

He laid the file next to his plate, fingertips lingering at one edge. "Where is she now?"

"She retired from teaching about five years ago and moved to the country, back to the same house she was living in when...when she wrote that letter to your father."

"And?"

Now for the hard part. "And she passed away last year. Cause of death was listed as ovarian cancer. There's a copy of her death certificate in the file. I'm sorry, Mulder," she added softly, cringing inside at the fresh stab of pain welling behind his eyes. "I wish I had better news for you."

"It's not your fault, Scully."

"I know, but..."

"Guess this is something that just wasn't meant to be," he said with a fleeting, rueful quirk of his lips. "I never got any concrete answers before. I don't know why I thought this time would be any different."

"Well, you could still talk to your mother. She may not know anything, but it's worth a try, as long as you approach her in the right way."

He shook his head. "I can't. She's still mad at me from last time. Besides, even if she does know something, she'd never tell me."

"Mulder..." She couldn't believe she was hearing him right. This wasn't like him, giving up without a fight, without even suggesting further investigation. His blank, defeated expression sent her heart plummeting. "Is there something else, something you're not telling me? You've been stressed and strung out like this ever since Krycek--"

"Krycek? What's he got to do with it?"

"Everything. He started all this when he gave you that envelope, and I'm sure he knew damn well what was inside, and how it would affect you. You can't trust him, Mulder. He's not your friend, no matter what he says."

He rubbed a hand over his face, his eyes.

"You haven't seen him again, have you?"

"No! Why the fuck would I want to do that?"

"Mulder, it's just a question--"

"Look, I haven't seen him, and I'm not going to, okay?"

Silence.

"We should get back to the office," she said finally, signalling for the check.

They hardly spoke during the brief drive back to the Hoover Building. Mulder grabbed some files off his desk and darted out the door, mumbling something about trying to get some extra sleep, barely acknowledging her good-bye.

He'd left the envelope with the MJ papers on the edge of his desk. She snagged it, stuffing it into her briefcase along with the file she'd gathered on Evelyn Whitcomb, grabbing her coat, flicking off the lights.

She'd do her own investigating, dig deeper. Something was niggling at the back of her brain, something she was sure she'd seen on her initial skimming of the papers. There was some connection between them and Eve Whitcomb's letter, some reason why they'd ended up in the same envelope, there had to be.

And she'd go over those damn papers line by line until she found it.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

//He was strapped down to a table couldn't move couldn't get loose--//

//Everything looked hazy clouded over they'd shot him full of something something that was making him sleepy but he didn't want to sleep had to stay awake didn't want them operating on him wasn't anything wrong with him--//

//Call my doctor...call Dr. Scully...call her...//

//Eyes closed then opened he was someplace different now not the operating room another room hospital room and she was standing there not Scully tall blonde smiling down at him--//

//You were doing something very dangerous Fox something very very foolish.//

//Smiling white teeth red lips tall blonde smiling--//

//The good news is they were able to save the right one.//

//Pulling the covers back no arm no left arm just empty air a sewn- up stump--//

Mulder's eyes snapped open, breath burning, trapped in his lungs, hissing out in a rush. Sitting up abruptly, he grabbed the TV remote, flicking it off, anything to help blot out the pounding between his ears.

And at the door. "Mulder, it's me," came Scully's voice. "You home?"

He knew if he didn't answer she'd use her key, and in another minute or so she did, letting herself in, tossing her coat and briefcase on the kitchen table. "Did I wake you?"

He stole a glance at his watch. A little after ten. "S'okay, don't worry about it. What's up?"

"I went over the papers again. There's something I need to show you." Pulling the manila envelope out of her case, she came over to sit next to him. "The last hundred or so pages of the document appears to be a series of master lists, inventories, manifests of some kind. And I think..." She drew in a breath, reaching inside the envelope, tugging out a few pages. "I think I know what they were trying to keep track of." She let her finger skim down one page, then handed it to him. "Look there, towards the bottom of the page. My name, and Penny Northern's, and Betsy Hagopian's. The women I met in Allentown. They're here, Mulder, every single one of their names is here."

He looked, blinking, swallowing hard. Jesus. Jesus fucking Christ. "So this is a listing of all the women who had implants like yours? The ones who died of cancer?"

"Yes and no," she said, taking the pages back, flipping them around, pulling another page out. "This is part of the same list. Look at the date."

He looked. 1960. "Scully, I don't--"

"Look again, about halfway down the page."

He knew what he'd see before he saw it, but that didn't stop his gut from clenching. Evelyn Whitcomb's name, stark black ink popping right off the page.

"I went into the office tonight, found the computer disk with that directory you downloaded from that fertility clinic in Pennsylvania last year," she said. "Every name on that list is also listed here. Donors of genetic material. The records go all the way back to 1952."

There was a cold fist around his throat, squeezing, making him work for air. "Sh-she was abducted, like you? Like the rest of these women?"

"That's what it looks like, but..."

"But what?"

"It doesn't fit, doesn't make sense. If I had the whole document I might be able to piece it all together, but--"

"What d'you mean, if you had the whole document?"

"There's about fifty pages missing from the middle, before the lists start."

He closed his eyes and saw red, blood red. Krycek's blood. "Fucking bastard!" Jumping up, snatching the envelope off the table, he flung it against the far wall, papers flying everywhere, floating to the floor. "I should've known he'd screw me over. Christ, he'll probably want me to blow him for the rest of it!"

Scully stared at him, pale, realization dawning behind blue eyes. "Mulder..."

No, God, not this, not now. He could face anything, even fucking Krycek again, as long as he didn't have to tell her about it. "D-don't go there, Scully. Believe me, you don't want to."

"I have to," she said, taking his arm, pulling him back down on the couch with her. "What happened? You can tell me."

No way out. He looked down, concentrating on a corner of the coffee table, dragging in air. "The papers, that letter...they weren't free. Krycek wanted something in return for them. Me."

He sensed her stiffening, her sharp intake of breath. "He raped you?"

"I don't know what you'd call it. I didn't want to, but...I-I didn't turn
him down either. Obviously."

"Did he hurt you?"

"No. That was the worst part, I think. He was gentle. He wanted me to enjoy it."

"Mulder." She clasped his hand, finally making him look at her. "I think the best thing for both of us is to just let this drop. I'll take the papers into the office tomorrow and shred them."

"No."

"Yes. Mulder, listen to me. Without the rest of that document there's nothing we can prove. And I'm not letting you put yourself through another meeting with Krycek to get it, if he even has it. Let it go. None of this is worth it."

//Let it go...//

The words rewound in his mind, replaying in Krycek's voice, husky, breathless with arousal. Heat flooded his face at the memory.

Her gentle tug on his arm brought him back to reality. "Do you want me to stay?"

"No, that's...I'll be all right."

"You sure?"

He nodded.

"You should take a few days off. You're exhausted."

He thought about it, nodded again. She was right. He might as well take the time off now; they didn't have any pressing cases at the moment. "I'll give Skinner a call tomorrow morning, tell him I'll be back in on Monday."

"Good," she said with a tiny smile, giving his hand a squeeze, getting up. "I'll call you in the morning, okay?"

"'Kay."

He stretched out on the couch again after she left, staring at the ceiling, finally flicking the TV back on. His eyes felt like a pair of scorched holes in his head, but he didn't want to fall asleep. He didn't want to stay awake either, not with thoughts of Krycek winding through his brain. He flicked at the remote, stopping finally on some late-night talk show, turning the volume up higher. Maybe if he got lucky it would lull him into a nice mindless stupor.

X X X

He didn't leave the apartment for work the next morning. I was starting to get worried but then I saw him moving in front of the window sometime around noon; he must've taken the day off, slept in. When Mulder crashed, he crashed hard.

He finally came out about an hour later, dressed in grey sweats, breaking into a run, heading away from me, down the opposite side of the street. I slid down in my seat, waiting for him to disappear around the corner.

Shit. I hadn't anticipated this. No way would he miss noticing me if I tried following him on foot. He did about five miles if he was sticking to the same route as when we were partners; I'd run it with him a couple of times. If I remembered right, there was a thick copse of trees up ahead at the exit from the park, thick enough for me to leave the car there unnoticed, at least for a few minutes, and wait for him.

The trees were still there. I parked the car under them and got out, standing behind another tree, close enough to get a good view of the jogging path.

Twenty minutes, thirty. Forty. No Mulder. I hummed, did deep-knee bends, anything to stave off the crawly sensation at the back of my neck. He'd changed his route, that had to be it. Nothing to do but drive back to his apartment, reclaim my parking place across the street, wait for him to come back.

But I didn't. My legs carried me across the grass, into the park, down the jogging path. Not too many people around for a weekday afternoon; even the birds were subdued. Too calm, too quiet. Too damn quiet.

Then I heard it, a startled cry gutting the silence -- strangled, cut off in midstream, coming from right up ahead, a ravine just off the jogging path. A man's voice. Mulder's voice.

I ran, slamming into the fucking fence cordoning the ravine off from the rest of the park, almost cracking my ribs, getting there just in time to see Mulder tumble to the ground and lie there, bleeding, barely moving--

And a man looming over him, tall, hulking, wild-eyed, holding something in his right hand, something sharp and shiny, getting ready to stab him--

The fence latch gave. I lurched through, pulling my gun, squeezing off a shot--

Hitting the guy square in the shoulder, knocking him back a little but otherwise hardly fazing him. He kept on coming, raising the knife, poised to strike--

Except it wasn't a knife.

I shot him again, and again, right in the chest, and he went down, writhing there on the ground, blood bubbling from the holes in him, scrabbling for his weapon.

I walked up and shot him through the forehead. He stopped moving.

His weapon rolled over next to the toe of my boot. I picked it up, stared at it. A steel spike, four inches long; I touched a button and it retracted. I stuck it in my pocket and went over to Mulder, kneeling next to him. His eyes opened, glassy and unfocused, hazel irises swallowed up in black.

"Think you can get up?" I was fucked if he couldn't; no way could I carry him back to the car, not with only one working arm. My gun's silencer had bought us some time, but only a little. Somebody else was sure to have heard him crying out.

He gave me a shaky nod, and I dragged him to his feet with one hand, holding him up until we reached the fence. There was a drainage tunnel just off the path leading back into the trees; from there it was an easy, and completely concealed, walk to the car. He made it there on automatic pilot with me shoring him up, steering him along, both of us barely staying upright. I opened the passenger's side door, helped him in; he slumped back in the seat, eyelids drooping, mumbling nonsense. He hadn't said a single coherent thing yet, and that worried me. I wasn't even sure he recognized me.

I looked him over quickly, running my hand over his arms and legs, yanking up his sweatshirt, checking for broken bones, but luckily there didn't seem to be any. The palms of his hands were scraped, though, and he'd probably be bruised from neck to knee by tomorrow morning. A hard knot on the back of his head still oozed blood; he had a concussion, that much was plain. How serious it was, I couldn't tell. He needed a doctor. He needed Scully.

But I couldn't take him anywhere near her, not after what'd just happened; it's what they'd be waiting for. I had to get him away from here, away from D.C., out of the fucking country, though that wasn't possible, not yet. I couldn't risk crossing the border into Canada now, not with him in this condition.

I got on the freeway and drove. The road signs pointed north. I'd figure out where we were going when we got there.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

The neighborhood was dark, quiet; most of the houses had their shades drawn. Quonochontaug, Rhode Island on a weeknight in late spring. Street after street of summer houses, deserted for a few more precious weeks, a perfect place to crash in secret for a couple days. Maybe they'd come looking for us, maybe not; sometimes the most obvious hiding place was also the safest. Either way, I'd deal with it.

I got the key off Mulder's keyring; he was still woozy, zoned out, didn't even feel me rummaging around in his pocket. I'd leave him in the car, go in and check the place out before I brought him inside. The front door stuck at first, then opened, a close, musty smell hitting me in the face. I crossed the darkened living room to the double doors on the opposite side, opened them, letting in fresh air. I went into the kitchen next, flipping a light switch; nothing. I found a flashlight and candles in a drawer, took the flashlight with me and headed upstairs.

There were two bedrooms, small but cozy-looking, one of them converted into an office, with a dusty oakwood desk, walls lined with bookshelves and filing cabinets. All the furniture was draped in plastic, the bed stripped, linenless. I pulled the plastic off it, found sheets and blankets in one of the hallway closets and threw them on, straightening them as best I could, fingertips lingering on soft, clean blue cotton, testing the mattress. It'd been a long time since I'd slept in a comfortable bed.

Somehow I got him out of the car, got him upstairs and into bed, stripping him down to his underwear. His eyes fluttered open when I sponged off the gashes on his hands and the back of his head, smearing them with some Neosporin I'd found in the bathroom, but aside from that, he showed no reaction, no recognition of me or his surroundings. Not good.

I went out in the hallway, pulled out my cell phone, dialed a number, breath catching in my throat, waiting for it to connect.

"Hello?" came Scully's voice.

I didn't say anything. My mouth went dry and for a split-second I debated hanging up. This was stupid, even more boneheaded than bringing Mulder here. What the fuck was I thinking?

"Mulder, is that you? Are you all right?"

"I'm not Mulder," I said.

"Krycek?"

"Yeah."

"Where's Mulder?"

"There's been an accident. He's hurt."

"Where are you?"

"I can't tell you that."

"Then why are you calling me?"

"I need your help. He got whacked on the back of the head pretty bad. The wound doesn't look all that serious, but he's still out of it. I need
to know what to do."

She drew a deep, ragged breath. I could sense about a dozen questions she wanted to ask, but luckily for both of us, she restrained herself. "He's completely non-responsive?"

"Well, no, but...he's not talking. His eyes open, but they don't focus on
anything."

"Pupils dilated?"

"Dinner-plate size."

"Krycek, you have to tell me where you are. I need to examine him."

"No," I rasped. "No way. You'll lead them right to us."

"*Them*?"

"Look, I don't have time to explain now. I need you to tell me what to do for him."

She paused. "Let him sleep through the night, but wake him every two or three hours. If you can't wake him, if he shows any sign of convulsions or coma, you have to get him to a hospital. All right?"

"All right," I said, and hung up.

I went down to the kitchen, scrounged around for something to eat, found nothing but a couple boxes of moldy cereal and some Campbell's soup long past its expiration date. I was hungry enough to take a chance on food poisoning, but with the electricity off it was a moot point. Swinging the flashlight around, I spied another door leading off the kitchen; it stuck on its hinges, but a couple good shoves opened it.

It was a pantry -- a good, old-fashioned pantry, most of its shelves bare, dust motes swirling everywhere. There were a couple Mason jars on one shelf, though, filled with what looked like homemade canned pears. God knew how long they'd been there, but maybe they hadn't gone bad yet; I shook one jar up a little, and the liquid inside looked clear. I took it out into the kitchen, opened it up, scooping out the wax sealant with my penknife, lifting the jar up to sniff its contents; no telltale rotten smell. Spearing a pear-half, I took a bite. It tasted sweet and tart and mouth-watering, just like Mulder. My stomach rumbled and I took another bite, then another, finally finishing the whole jar. My eyelids drooped, exhaustion warring with my last feeble hunger pangs; exhaustion won. Grabbing some candles and a book of matches, I went upstairs.

Mulder was lying on his stomach, pillow tucked lengthwise under his head and chest, snoring softly. There was a chair on the other side of the room, a big overstuffed chair with a hassock and a small table next to it, and I sank down in it, every muscle in my body screaming now that I'd finally given them a chance to unclench. There was an ashtray on the table; I lit one of the candles and set it there.

He moaned, turning over in his sleep, snuggling into the mattress. It was so damned tempting, the thought of crawling into that bed, lying there next to him under those warm covers, but I didn't do it. Too dangerous, even considering his battered state, and how wiped I was. I'd stay awake, though. I had to.

X X X

Mulder's skull rang like a struck bell, aching and clanging. Pale fingers of grey morning light shining through the window seared his eyeballs, making him turn away, flip over on the mattress--

Mattress. Bed. He was lying in a bed, not on the couch in his apartment. A bed in a strangely familiar room--

With Krycek sitting slumped in a chair right next to him, sound asleep.

Another fucking nightmare. Maybe if he blinked hard, he'd be back home on the couch watching Letterman...

No such luck. He tried it again. And again. Ghostly white flashes danced across the insides of his eyelids, but his surroundings -- and Krycek -- remained the same.

The sheets under him felt warm, soft, cottony. He reached up, fingertips brushing the wall, hard knotted pinewood, not smooth plaster. Not home. Not his apartment. The Rhode Island summer house. He'd almost shot Scully here a few months ago.

He tried sitting up, swinging his legs over the side of the bed, but fresh pain sliced through his brain like a straight razor and he flopped back on his pillow, groaning.

Krycek stirred, jerked awake, breathless, eyes darting around the room, letting out a slow hiss of breath when his gaze finally lit on Mulder. "God, for a minute there I thought...um, how're you feeling?"

"Like Godzilla just kicked my ass. What the hell happened?"

"You were out running, got mugged in the park."

"So what'd you do, pull the guy off me?"

"Yeah," he replied, looking down, "something like that."

"Gee, lucky for me you just happened to be around."

His head snapped back up. "Look, Mulder, I--"

"You've been following me."

For a second it looked like he was going to deny it, but obviously he'd figured out there was no point. He shrugged.

"How long?" Mulder persisted.

"Ever since the, um...night at the motel."

Jesus. One fuck, and Krycek was fixating on him like some pimply lovesick teenager. Or maybe more like a stalker. Mulder shivered inwardly. "Couldn't stay away, huh? Why didn't you just come up and ring my doorbell? Would've been a lot simpler than kidnapping me."

"For Chrissakes, Mulder, I didn't kidnap you. You were in trouble, and I--"

"So if I wanted to walk out of here right now, you'd let me?"

Krycek's jaw worked, green eyes closing momentarily. "Go ahead."

He made himself sit up again, gritting his teeth against the agony singing in his head, battered, bruised muscles chiming in their own off-key protest, accidentally biting his tongue when his feet made contact with the icy hardwood floor. Five wobbly steps got him to the bedroom door -- just before he realized he was naked except for his boxers. He turned around as gingerly as he could, but it still made him dizzy enough to have to grab the doorjamb to stay standing. Shit. He wasn't going anywhere like this.

Krycek knew it too; he could see the smug triumph in the other man's tiny smile as he hobbled back to the bed, sinking down on it with a pitifully grateful sigh, one arm flung over his eyes, blotting out the light.

"Hey, that was pretty good for a first try," Krycek chuckled. "Guess you're gonna live."

"Fuck you."

"Later on I'm taking a ride into town to pick up some food and stuff. Anything you want?"

"How about some rat poison?"

Silence, then the soft rustle of Krycek getting up. "Go back to sleep," he said softly. "I'll be downstairs if you need me."

Mulder waited until he was sure he was alone, then turned over, tugging the covers up to his chin, pounding the pillow, wishing it was Krycek's face. Once he felt better, he intended to make that wish a reality.

X X X

I drove into town a couple hours later, stopping at a little Mom-and-Dad grocery store. With no way to cook, my food choices were limited -- fresh fruit and veggies, canned soda, bottled water. On a whim I bought an ice chest and a couple bags of ice, then went over to the deli section and got a small jar of mayonnaise, a loaf of French bread and some sliced roast beef and cheese, enough for today and tomorrow; I figured the ice could keep it cold and fresh for that long. Salad and sandwiches would have to hold us till we got back on the road again.

There was a K-Mart off the highway, and I stopped there too, picking up a couple pairs of jeans, some plain white t-shirts and a package of briefs. Mulder's sweats were all torn and blood-stained, and I was starting to need a change of clothes myself. Showering was going to be a real thrill with no hot water.

I brought the groceries in and unpacked them, then went upstairs to check Mulder. He was still asleep, lying on his side, mouth open slightly; he looked sweet, innocent, like a little kid conked out on the rug in front of the TV. His sleeping so much still concerned me, but after what he'd been through I supposed it was normal. He'd seemed alert enough earlier, and oriented to time and place; that much, I knew, was important. I'd woken him easily a couple times during the night, and he seemed to be sleeping soundly now, not sluggish or comatose. I thought about calling Scully again, and just as quickly dismissed the idea. The one call I'd already made had been risky enough.

I felt a twinge of guilt for lying to him about what happened in the park, but only a twinge. He didn't need to know about that now. Maybe he never would. I could've kicked myself for falling asleep, though. Stupid, fucking stupid. Somebody could've crept up the stairs and popped us both. I'd sack out on the couch for few hours this afternoon, have a couple caffeine-laced sodas, anything to help keep my eyes open tonight.

I reached out, stroking his shoulder, skin soft and smooth under my fingertips; stirring, he shifted, resettling into the mattress. Throwing a new pair of jeans and a t-shirt and pair of briefs on the chair for Mulder, I grabbed the same for myself and went into the bathroom. I found washcloths and towels and soap in the cabinet under the sink and started to strip. For some reason a cold shower suddenly seemed like a very good idea.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Mulder reached for his watch on the bedside table, one eye opening a crack. Ten after three. Christ, he'd slept the day away.

And apparently he'd needed it. Most of his headache seemed to be gone, though lightning bolts still ricocheted through his brain whenever he turned his head. His hands smarted, and there was a lump on the back of his head the size of a peach pit that he couldn't help touching. Nothing that wouldn't be better in a few days, though. He'd been lucky. Damned lucky.

He sat up slowly, then stood up, holding onto the edge of the bedside table. There were clothes on the chair beside the bed, new clothes; he looked them over for a few seconds, then shrugged and put them on, even the briefs. The jeans were a little loose and way too long; he bent over and rolled up the cuffs, blood singing an operatic aria between his ears when he straightened up. All of a sudden he really, really had to pee.

The bathroom was empty, and he lurched inside, yanking down his zipper, pissing so long he thought the toilet might overflow. He stole a glance in the mirror, wincing at the sight of himself -- bleary eyes, two days' growth of beard, hair sticking up in haphazard tufts. There was soap, shaving cream and a razor laid out on the vanity; he hesitated all of five seconds before reaching for them, doing a quick shave and wash-up, raking his fingers through his hair when he was done. He'd shower later on; right now his stomach was demanding its fair share of attention.

The house was silent except for the creaky sounds of his footsteps coming down the stairs, and when he got to the living room he saw why -- Krycek was curled up asleep on the couch with one of his mother's old quilts pulled up to his chin. Mulder couldn't help chortling. Trapped in Rhode Island with Krycek playing nursemaid- cum-watchdog. Christ, it was almost as weird as a David Lynch movie.

There was an ice chest on the kitchen floor near the back door, filled with fruit and vegetables and lunchmeat. He took out an apple and a banana and the package of lunchmeat and jar of mayonnaise right next to it, spying a loaf of bread on the kitchen counter. Snagging it -- along with a plate and knife from the cupboard -- he sat down at the table and started making himself a sandwich. He wolfed down half of it in three bites.

He was almost done eating when he heard movement in the living room, and Krycek appeared in the kitchen doorway, rubbing at his eyes with one hand. He was still wearing his long-sleeved sweater, which Mulder couldn't understand, not when it was warm enough to have all the downstairs windows open. "You look better," he said, sitting down across from Mulder. "Hope you feel better."

Mulder shrugged. "Thanks for, um...everything," he said, nodding at the food in front of him, fingering his new t-shirt.

"No problem. I have to eat too."

Silence.

"Think you'll be feeling well enough to leave tomorrow?" Krycek asked.

"I was planning on it."

"Good. We should get an early start. The border's not too far, but--"

"What d'you mean, *we*? I'm not going anywhere with you."

"Mulder, listen to me..."

"Fuck that. I've listened to you all I'm going to. All I get from you are
lies anyway," he snapped, getting up, dumping his dishes in the sink, turning on the water to rinse them off. "I'll walk into town tomorrow and call Scully to come get me. You can go wherever the hell you want."

"Mulder, you can't leave here. Not without me."

"Why? Didn't you just tell me this morning I was free to go?"

Krycek swallowed hard, expression tight, grim, eyes downcast. "Sit down. There's something I need to show you."

He didn't know why he sat back down again, but he did. Krycek fumbled in his right-hand pocket, pulling out a shiny silver cylinder. A very familiar-looking shiny silver cylinder. He touched a button, and the spike shot out.

"I didn't tell you the whole truth about what happened in the park yesterday. The guy who attacked you wasn't trying to mug you, he was trying to stab you. With this."

Cold closed over him, encircling his heart, flash-freezing his brain. David Lynch? More like a Salvador Dali painting, everything melting around him. Nothing as it appeared. "Wh-why?"

"There's been a rumor floating around in...um, certain circles of the resistance that you'd been replaced by a shape-shifter, or were about to be. The man I work for sent me to find out if the change had taken place yet, and, if not, to watch over you, make sure it didn't happen." He paused. "Apparently that guy in the park thought it already had."

"Y-you mean you...the motel and...that was all just a test to see if I was..."

"It was one sure way of finding out. A shape-shifter would never have...I mean, if he wanted the papers all he would've had to do was smash me up against the wall and take them."

The papers. Finally something concrete, something he could wrap his mind around. "Yeah, and then he probably would've come back to fucking kill you after he'd found out you'd shorted him."

"What're you talking about?"

"Fifty missing pages. What's the matter, didn't you think I'd notice?"

"Mulder, I swear to you, I didn't take anything out of that envelope, other than those pages I showed you at the motel, and then I resealed it. I mean, you saw--"

"Save it. I'm tired of your fucking lies," he said, getting up again, heading into the living room, up the stairs, stopping outside the room his father had used as a study. He went in, locking the door behind him, dropping into the chair at his father's desk.

Circles within circles. His head throbbed, whirled in pain and confusion. He didn't believe Krycek, not for a minute, even if most of his lies did contain a small kernel of truth. Scully was right; he couldn't trust him. He'd use any means necessary to gain the upper hand, mess with Mulder's body and head at the same time, just like that night at the motel. That shape-shifter story was obviously just more of his bullshit, it had to be. Even if for the sake of argument he still believed in shape-shifting aliens, what the hell would they want with the MJ documents? Wouldn't they already have first-hand knowledge of everything in them?

He opened one of the desk drawers, seeing thick files, reading the labels. He remembered his father coming here for the weekends by himself, ostensibly to get caught up on work; these files looked like old correspondence, various declassified documents. The files were packed in too tight to get them out easily, so he yanked the drawer forward as far as it would go, and saw what was mashing the files together. An old shoebox wedged behind the last file folder. He pulled it out, opened it. It was filled with letters, plain white envelopes, spidery blue ink. Eve Whitcomb's handwriting.

Oh, God. Oh, Jesus. He reached for the first letter at the front of the box, opening the envelope, sliding out three crisp white sheets. It was dated January, 1958. He unfolded it, and started reading.

X X X

He didn't come out of his father's office all day. Around six o'clock I went up and banged on the door, but he ignored me. I could hear sounds inside, him moving around, opening and closing drawers and closet doors, but he wouldn't respond to me, wouldn't let me in. Finally I gave up, went back downstairs. He had to come out eventually, either to eat or use the john.

I fell asleep on the couch again. I don't know how long I was out, but I woke up to the sound of a loud crash, then another. It took me a minute before I realized it was coming from upstairs.

This time I didn't bother asking his permission to come in. The lock was so old and rusty it gave immediately, door smashing back against the wall behind it. The room was a sea of papers strewn everywhere, boxes too, spilling their contents all over the desk, onto the floor. I heard Mulder before I saw him, whimpering, crying, huddled in the middle of the floor, arms clutched around his knees, rocking back and forth.

I dropped to my knees next to him, started rubbing his arms, his shoulders, anything to help bring him out of this, but he didn't look at me, didn't even act like he knew I was there. "C'mon, Mulder," I whispered into his ear, "I know you're in there. Talk to me."

"Lies...lies, all these fucking lies," he murmured, thready, ragged, his voice all but gone. "There's nothing...nothing..."

"What lies? Tell me."

"I..." A fresh sob tore through him, hunching him over so far I could barely hold onto him. We sat there together for a long time until his crying subsided; I moved back a little, stroking his shoulder, calming him. "Everything," he said finally, steadier now, more coherent, "everything I've ever believed...all lies. All bullshit."

"You found something in here, didn't you? Something in your father's papers?"

He nodded.

"Show me."

He got to his knees, rummaging around on the desk, grabbing a handful of papers, thrusting them at me. There was light coming in through the window, thin white moonlight, but not enough to be able to read anything. "C'mon," I said, getting up, waiting for him to do the same, "I need some light."

Candles and matches were right where I'd left them, on the bedside table in Mulder's room. I lit one, sinking down in the chair, holding it up to the papers Mulder had given me. The top sheet was a birth certificate, dated November 21, 1965, for a baby girl, no name given. Mother's name was listed as Evelyn Howard Whitcomb, father unknown. Mulder was sitting on the edge of the bed, and I looked at him, shrugging. "I don't get it."

"That's my sister's birth certificate. Her real one."

"What?"

"Keep going."

I scanned the next few pages quickly; it didn't take long to hit the highlights. Adoption papers for the private adoption of a baby girl born November 21, 1965, signed by Evelyn Howard Whitcomb--

And William and Christina Mulder.

"Jesus," I breathed.

"There are letters in there, boxes of them," Mulder said, "going all the way back to the late fifties. He kept them all."

"Letters from who? This woman, this Evelyn Whitcomb?"

He nodded, looking away. "Apparently she was my father's mistress for over twelve years."

My mind spun, trying to absorb it all. Christ, no wonder Mulder was so upset. What kind of heartless bastard would bring his out-of- wedlock child home for his wife to raise? "Did your mother know?"

"She did toward the end. I remember...I've had dreams about my parents arguing the night my sister disappeared. None of it made sense until...there's several letters where she says she regrets giving my sister up for adoption, claims she signed the adoption papers under duress. She threatened to take my parents to court to get my sister back. She must've known she had my father over a barrel; a scandal like that would've ruined his career."

"So you think he decided to give her back voluntarily?"

"I don't know what to think anymore." He slumped forward, chin resting on his fists, nodding at the pile of papers in my lap. "There's a photograph in there somewhere. Take a look at it."

I found it near the bottom, an old faded black-and-white snapshot. Six people, one of them a woman, Mulder's father standing behind her, hand on her shoulder, her hand clasped over his. My current boss was in the picture too, standing on the other side of Mulder's father. So was my former boss, lit cigarette in his hand. The other men I didn't recognize.

"She was part of the Project," Mulder said softly. "She worked with them, trying to perfect the hybridization process, combining human and alien DNA."

"You got all that from love letters she wrote your father?"

"She was a geneticist. Her name was on a manifest of donors of genetic material in those fucking papers you gave me. It all fits. Thirty years ago they didn't have the technology to gestate a fetus outside the human body. Who better to give birth to the new master race than someone already on the inside?"

I didn't say anything right away, just sat there staring at the papers still sitting in my lap, amber candlelight flickering. "You didn't believe me before," I murmured, "what I told you before, about the resistance, the invasion. D'you believe me now?"

He nodded. "I'd be pretty damned foolish not to, I guess, especially since I seem to be number one on their hit list. At least now I know the reason why."

"Mulder, I already told you why--"

"Stop lying to me. We both know that shapeshifter story's a load of shit."

I had another reply, another glib half-truth all ready to go, but the words got stuck somewhere between my throat and my tongue. I couldn't look at him.

"They want to kill me because I'm the same as my sister. That's the real reason that guy was trying to stab me with the spike, isn't it?"

"Mulder..."

"Isn't it?"

"Look, I've told you all I know," I said, getting up, moving toward the door. "If you don't want to believe me, that's your fucking privilege."

"Come back here, you son-of-a-bitch, you're not running away from me," Mulder ground out, right behind me, grabbing my arm--

My left arm.

I didn't want to turn around, didn't want to see the look on his face, but I knew I had to. His mouth hung open slightly, eyes finally meeting mine. I didn't see any pity there, though, just realization slowly dawning. He gave the prosthesis an experimental squeeze, as if to confirm what he'd already figured out. "Tunguska?" he asked.

I licked my lips, looking away. "Let me go, Mulder."

"Tell me what happened. And don't lie to me this time."

"I, um...got lost in the woods after I fell off that truck you were driving. There were some men living out there...I told them I'd just escaped from the prison camp. They said they'd protect me. This is how they protected me."

"No arm, no test." Off my look, he added, "somebody tried to do the same thing to me."

I nodded, pulling away, trying to make him let go. His grip loosened a little, thumb softly rubbing my sweater.

"I want to see it," he said.

The floor dropped out from under me; if he hadn't been holding on, I probably would've fallen on my face. "No more lies, Alex," he whispered, pushing me back, shoving me against the wall, his mouth coming down hard on mine, tongue pushing inside, sweeping past my teeth, swift, brutal, breath-stealing. He tasted hot and salty and bitter, deep and intimate as tears, heady quicksilver wine shooting straight to my groin. My tongue touched his, caressing, entwining, and he pulled away; I heard a tiny moan of protest, and wasn't sure if it came from him or me.

"Show me," he said, mouth still close to mine, close enough to taste his breath, close enough to nip at that luscious lower lip--

He pulled back from that too, finally letting go of me, standing there staring at me, chest heaving, eyes pinning me down like a pair of hazel searchlights. It was only fair, I supposed. He'd already given me his pain; the only way to make things even between us again was to give him mine.

I didn't look at him again until I'd dragged the sweater over my head, unfastened the straps around my shoulder holding the prosthesis on, slid it off, let it drop to the floor. There was a sock over the stump to keep it from chafing inside the prosthesis; I peeled that away too.

He looked at it for the longest time, swallowing hard, raising his hand as if to touch it, waiting for me to nod before he actually did. His fingers stroked lightly, gently; I had to grit my teeth. "Does it hurt?"

"Only the part that isn't there."

"Does it, um...tingle or anything when I--"

"It's fucking scar tissue, Mulder. It doesn't feel much of anything."

"Alex..."

"Why're you so interested all of a sudden anyway? This morning you wanted to feed me rat poison."

He fell back a step, then two, plopping down on the edge of the bed, giving me that look, that same look I remembered from the time after Scully had disappeared. Lost, desperate. Agonized. "I...a couple months ago, I started having dreams about my arm being amputated. My left arm." Pausing, he rubbed a hand over his face, through his hair. "Guess I should call this one in to the Psychic Friends Network."

I came closer, standing right there in front of him until he finally glanced up. "Show me," I said.

"What?"

"Show me what I showed you," I repeated, leaning down, tugging his shirt from the waistband of his jeans. He took the hint and pulled it the rest of the way off, falling back as I hit the mattress next to him, rolling halfway on top of him, biting, teasing his lips open, plunging my tongue inside. He wriggled a little then relaxed into it, letting go, letting my hand wander all over him, taking care not to press too hard on his still-tender, bruised flesh, tweaking, palming rosy-brown nipples to pebbled stiffness, travelling down his belly's sloped plane, cupping the rising bulge in his jeans. When he started grinding his hips against me I moved off, rolling onto my left side, rolling him along with me until we lay face to face. "You, um...sure you want to do this?"

He weighed that for a moment, hazel fading to soft green in muted candlelight. I could tell he knew exactly what I meant -- no coercion this time, no blackmail, emotional or otherwise. No more lies. If he really didn't want this to happen, neither did I. "No," he replied, "but I'm pretty damn sure if I let you go sleep on that couch again tonight, I'll be kicking myself for it tomorrow."

I grinned, letting my hand drift back up, fingers entwining with his, lifting his hand to my mouth, pressing a soft kiss to his palm, working my way higher, to his wrist, the sweet inner curve of his elbow, then higher, stopping just below his shoulder. "Is this where they did it?"

"Huh?"

"In your dream. Is this where they cut it off?"

He blinked in startlement, licking his lips. "Y-yeah. They ended up cutting both of them off, actually."

"Then I guess I'll have to kiss them both better," I murmured, drawing an imaginary line across his skin with one fingertip, touching my lips to it, following the line all the way around his arm, lifting it up so I could get the underside. Mulder shivered, shuddered, pushing and straining against me, whimpering. He felt so damn hard I was surprised he hadn't already busted through his zipper. I rolled him over on his back, turning my attention to his other arm, ignoring his protests.

I got my payback a few seconds later, though, feeling his fingers fumbling with my fly, yanking down the zipper, reaching inside. I almost came on contact. "So much for foreplay," I muttered, ripping his fly open, swiveling my hips, both of us moaning as our cocks touched, slid together, trailing sticky pre-come across both our bellies. He wrapped his arm around my back and pulled me up higher, mouths meeting, devouring. That lower lip of his was a meal in itself.

It didn't take long, not with both of us blindly thrusting, writhing, plowing each other's bellies, mouths wet and open. I came first, sweetness clenched through gritted teeth, gasping, reaching down to grasp his cock, slicking him with my own come, stroking and squeezing until he spurted all over my fingers, head flung back in a soundless scream.

I got up once I'd caught my breath, went into the bathroom for a washcloth, wetting it with cool water. He looked up at me in utter silence as I cleaned first him, then myself off, pulling the covers up over us. I lay on my back, not sure if he wanted any further contact. Finally he rolled over next to me, turning me onto my side, wrapping his arms around me, chin hooked over my shoulder. In a few minutes he was snoring softly into my ear.

I was just starting to drift off myself when I heard a faint chirrup coming from downstairs. My cell phone. I remembered leaving it in my jacket. Two rings, three, four. By the time it stopped I'd already decided not to answer it.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Mulder woke slowly, golden morning light and the soft patter of shower-water filtering in through his hazy senses. He rolled over, hand flung out, running his palm over warm sheets, inhaling a lungful of soft, spicy scent. Krycek's scent. He wondered how long Krycek had been up; apparently not all that long, though it seemed he'd been so wiped he hadn't heard a thing.

He wondered about a lot of things, including his own sanity. He couldn't call what'd happened last night rape, not by any stretch of the imagination. Not when he'd made the first move.

He'd kissed Krycek. Jesus. Shoved him right up against the wall and kissed him full on the lips. He'd tasted hot and wet and deep as a boiling ocean and Mulder'd been more than willing to fall in and let himself drown. Kissing him was a lot more dangerous than fucking him; it stripped away all illusion of lack of consent. He couldn't chalk this one up to blackmail.

And he couldn't trust himself either; last night had proved that beyond a doubt. If he stayed in this bed, waiting for Krycek to come out of that bathroom, he wouldn't be responsible for his actions. He had to get out of here. Now.

He found his clothes strewn over the bed and floor and pulled them on. His shoes were lying in a corner; he scooped them up, padding downstairs as quietly as he could, sitting on one arm of the couch to put them on. There was a soft, rhythmic beeping coming from somewhere; it took him a second to pinpoint the source as Krycek's jacket, hanging off the back of one of the kitchen chairs. His cell phone.

A message on his cell phone, Mulder saw, pulling it out of the jacket's inside pocket. He hesitated an instant, then pressed the playback button. "Mulder has been missing since yesterday," came a voice. A damn familiar voice. Its crisp, clipped coldness made Mulder's toes curl. "And so have you, Mr. Krycek. I hope for your sake that he is alive and well, because we need him, and quickly; it is imperative that the plan we discussed when last we spoke be implemented. Bring him to us immediately."

*Click.*

"What the hell're you doing with my phone?"

Krycek's sharp tone set Mulder's blood simmering, but he clamped down his anger, turning around slowly, holding the phone out to Krycek. He'd thrown on his jeans and sweater, obviously in a hurry; Mulder couldn't help noticing his left sleeve hanging loose. "Your boss left you a message. I'm sure you've got a pretty good idea what it's about."

Krycek went two shades paler. "Mulder...look, I can explain--"

"Explain what? That you set all this up? I'll bet you paid that guy to attack me just so you could play the big hero and rescue my ass and finally get me to trust you again. Jesus. Jesus Christ..." he breathed, pushing past Krycek, back into the living room, dropping onto the couch. "I told you everything. I told you fucking *everything*..."

The room was still for a long, endless moment, until he heard Krycek's footsteps rustling on the carpet, felt a hand sliding onto his shoulder. "C'mon, Mulder, you know you don't believe that," he said, so soft and breathy Mulder had to strain to hear. "Just give me a chance here, and I promise you I'll--"

"I've given you all the chances I'm going to," Mulder rasped, jerking away. "I'd smash your face in, but I don't beat up on gimps."

"Since when?"

That did it. Grabbing Krycek by the neck of his shirt, he flung him flat on his back on the couch, one hand at Krycek's throat, the other fumbling for Krycek's gun, flicking off the safety, shoving the muzzle under Krycek's chin. "You want this? You want me to put one right between your eyes, right into that twisted brain of yours? Give me a reason, you son-of-a-bitch, just one word, and I swear I'll--"

"*Do it.*"

Finger poised on the trigger, he stared down at the man under him, right into Krycek's face. Green eyes locked on his, meeting his gaze straight on, with no trace of fear. Calm, unwavering, accepting. Resigned.

"What're you waiting for?" Krycek half-whispered, half-mouthed. It could've been a taunt, but it wasn't; it was simply a question. "Do it. Shoot me. Put an end to it."

But he couldn't. He wanted to squeeze the trigger, wanted it so badly, but his brain refused to issue the command. Letting Krycek up, Mulder fell back against the couch cushions, one arm flung over his eyes, Krycek's gun tumbling to his lap. He could hear Krycek sitting up, breathing hard, but for some reason he didn't get up off the couch, didn't even reach for the gun.

"You'd be dead by now if not for me, Mulder," he choked out, voice ragged, thready, all but gone. "They wanted to kill you in Tunguska, but I convinced them not to."

"So you let them infect me with that black oil instead? Thanks a lot."

"Believe me, that was far preferable to what they were going to do to you."

"Yeah, well, I guess you'd know," he muttered, sitting up, rubbing at his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose. He'd almost done it, almost killed Krycek. Almost killed a man in cold blood. "Better call your boss back," he added acidly. "He must be wearing a trench in his carpet by now."

The phone had tumbled to the floor next to the couch; Krycek picked it up and hit the retrieve-message button, listening, tossing it on the table when he was done, his expression tight, eyes icy-grey.

"So where're we going?" Mulder prompted.

"Nowhere," Krycek replied flatly. "I'm not doing it. I'm not delivering you to them."

"Delivering me for what? What the hell do they want?"

"I can't explain now. We have to get out of here," he said, jumping up from the couch--

But Mulder followed, seizing his arm, yanking him back. "I'm not going anywhere until you tell me what's going on. And I want the truth this time."

"Look, I'll tell you once we get on the road, all right? They could be on their way--"

"Now, Alex."

Falling back a step, dropping onto the edge of the couch, Krycek stared at the floor, rubbing at his mouth, obviously trying to find a place to begin. "I, um...before I left Russia, I stole a vial of their vaccine, the one they'd formulated to combat infection by the black oil. But when I got to New York, my...the man I work for now blackmailed me into turning it over to him. Apparently it works, but they've already had to use most of it. And the only way for them to make more is the same way the Russians did it -- by inoculating and infecting and reinfecting their test subjects over and over, then using the antibodies in their blood to make a serum for a new batch of vaccine."

"So they want me to donate a pint for the cause?"

"Jesus, Mulder, use your fucking brain. Why the hell d'you think they were testing that stuff in a prison camp? There wasn't a man in that place that lasted more than a few weeks after they started infecting them with that shit."

The words hung in the air between them, lingering, clinging like black smoke. It sounded like the truth. It felt like the truth. Turning away, sitting down on the stairs, Mulder let his eyes drift closed, memory spinning back to a freezing, filthy cell in Siberia, and the man in the cell next to him...

//The first time is bad, very bad. It becomes easier each time -- until it kills you.//

"Why d'you care?"

Krycek's head snapped up. "What?"

"You let the Russians use me for a fucking guinea pig, so what difference does it make if your boss and his cronies do it too? I don't understand why you don't just hand me over to them. I don't understand why you haven't done it already."

Krycek's mouth worked, but before he could get any words out, his cell phone chirped. Mulder thought he almost looked relieved. Snagging it off the table, he hit the answer button. "Krycek." A pause. "I-I got the message, I was just about to call you back. Yes, he's here with me...um, just a second." He held out the phone to Mulder. "He wants to talk to you."

Mulder took it gingerly, handling it like a fresh egg, careful not to touch it anywhere Krycek had. "Count Dracula, I presume?"

"Mr. Mulder. May I assume from your flippant tone that Mr. Krycek has explained what we require of you?"

"You may assume."

"Good. When may we expect you, then?"

He let out a hollow chortle. "Go fuck yourself."

"Somehow I thought that would be your response. One moment, please. There's someone else here who would like to speak with you." There was a tiny rustling sound, and then, "Mulder, it's me. Are you all right?"

Scully's voice, evenly-pitched, rock-steady, frightened as hell. Scully. He should've known they'd take her, use her to get to him. "I- I'm all right, I'm fine. Jesus, are you okay?"

"Yes. Mulder, listen to me, don't do it, don't give them what they want--"

The phone whined, rattling slightly as it was wrenched from her hand. "You have until the end of today to present yourself to us, Mr. Mulder. Otherwise I'm afraid we will have no other choice but to infect Ms. Scully."

"If you touch her, if you do anything to her, I swear I'll reach down your throat and rip out that iceblock you call a heart, you slimy son- of-a--"

"Central Park, the south entrance. There will be an operative posted there until midnight. Mr. Krycek knows the way. I look forward to seeing you." The line clicked off.

Mulder shot up from his seat on the stairs, poised to crack Krycek across the jaw, but the expression on the other man's face sucked all the piss out of his fury. Krycek looked as sick as he felt, mouth trembling, dead white at the edges, skin papery, almost translucent. "Th-they must've been monitoring her phone calls," he murmured, hand at his left shoulder, absently rubbing, massaging. "They probably thought she knew where we were."

"You called her?"

"Mulder, you weren't coming to, I-I thought you were fucking dying on me or going into a coma or something. I didn't know what else to do."

A dozen other questions whirled, fighting for dominance in Mulder's jumbled brain, but he shunted them aside. No time. They had to get in the car, get to New York.

They. Him and Krycek. He was starting to think of the two of them as the two of them. Christ on a crutch. "Let's go," he said, heading for the door, flipping the safety back on on Krycek's gun, tucking it in the waistband of his jeans.

"Wait. I have to, um...get something first." Krycek charged up the stairs two at a time before Mulder could protest, reappearing in a few minutes, left sleeve no longer empty. His prosthesis. Mulder'd almost made him leave without it. Now he wished he had; leaving Krycek minus the use of even an artificial limb would have given Mulder a definite edge, both physical and psychological. Right now he had a feeling he was going to need every advantage he could get.

X X X

It was dusk by the time we reached New York, rush-hour traffic slowing our progress to a crawl once we hit the city limits. We dumped the car somewhere in Brooklyn and took the subway into Manhattan. Mulder didn't bother sitting down even when a seat finally opened up, just held onto the railings the whole way in, staring out the window, one foot beating a tattoo on the floor. He hadn't spoken more than twenty words to me since we left Rhode Island. I think part of me was glad.

We met our contact at the south end of the park; he took us to a car, a sleek black Mercedes, took my gun away from Mulder, handed us both blindfolds. Mulder smirked but put his on without comment, sliding into the back seat, as close to the far door as he could get. I climbed in after him.

Ten, maybe fifteen minutes later we stopped, engine grinding to a halt, rough hands grabbing us, pulling us from the car, through a door, shoving us up a flight of stairs, into a room. A dark room, I saw once the blindfold came off, its only illumination pale grey streaks pouring through the blinds from the streetlamps outside. I barely had to blink for my eyes to readjust.

"Mr. Mulder," came a voice from the far corner, "I take it you've decided to cooperate with us."

"Show me Scully and we'll talk about it."

"Of course." A single bulb flicked on, dim light stabbing my brain like an icepick, revealing two figures, both sitting in wing-chairs near the window -- my boss, cool, unruffled in his usual dark suit, and Scully, looking tired and worried and disheveled, but otherwise okay. I couldn't help noticing her relaxing a little when she saw Mulder. She looked at me like I was a bug she wanted to squash. "I'll inform our associates that we're ready to begin at once."

"There're a few things I want to get straight first," Mulder said.

That struck the old man speechless, but only momentarily. "By all means."

"Why me?"

"I beg your pardon?"

"You said on the phone that you'd infect Scully if I didn't show. Obviously that means you could use anybody. Why does it have to be me?"

"You've already been infected once, and cured. Our experts feel that your chances of recovery are far greater than for someone who's never been infected--"

"Like you care about that. Cut the bullshit. I want the real reason."

He smiled, slow and icy and thin, like a python sizing up its prey. "You're quite...special to us, Mr. Mulder. Surely by now you must have figured out why."

I could see Mulder's knees begin to tremble, see the tension tightening in his back, his shoulders. Jesus. Not this, not now. It was all I could do to keep from flinging myself at the old man, lunging for his fucking throat. Mulder's mouth worked, finally choking out, "S-so it's true? Is that what you're telling me?"

"We suspect your...enhanced genetic background may lend you a certain degree of natural immunity, and that, in turn, will increase the potency of our vaccine. Of course, we have no way of knowing that for a certainty until the procedure is underway."

"You don't know anything for a certainty," I spat. All eyes flicked in my direction. "You've already used most of the Russian vaccine on Covarrubias, and she's still in a coma. How can you be sure you've got enough left to cure Mulder?"

"That is a chance we will simply have to take," he replied crisply. "Are you willing, Mr. Mulder?"

Mulder nodded slowly, almost drunkenly. "Let's get it over with."

"Mulder, you don't have to do this," Scully interjected, trying to get up, but the man who'd driven us here seized her arm, shoving her back down. "Let them infect me. I'm smaller, I weigh a lot less than you, they won't need as much of the vaccine to cure me--"

"Mr. Mulder has already volunteered," the old man cut in, rising, "but I thank you for doing the same, Ms. Scully. No doubt we will take you up on your offer when the time comes to put our new batch of vaccine to the test. Bring her," he added, nodding at his operative, who reached for Scully, dragging her from her chair--

"Let her go, or no deal," Mulder barked. The look the old man shot him dropped the room temperature by about ten degrees, though Mulder seemed oblivious. "In fact, now that I think about it, I've got a few demands I want met before we go any further with this."

"Such as?"

"I want Scully supervising this little experiment, with no interference from you."

"Out of the question."

"If you think I'm letting your quacks stick needles in me, think again. Either she's in charge, or you're gonna have to kill me to get a drop of my blood." He paused, waiting for some reaction. Finally the old man nodded, albeit grudgingly. "And you can find somebody else to test your vaccine on. I want her released once this is over."

"Agreed. What else?"

"The fifty missing pages from the MJ papers, and an explanation for everything in them. Everything you know."

The old man considered that for a moment. "I suppose that is only fair. Assuming, of course, that you survive the procedure."

Mulder nodded. I was glad he was facing away from me, glad he couldn't see the sick misery sweeping over me, pooling in my gut. I should never have brought him here. I should've knocked him out, locked him in the car trunk, driven him over the border into Canada. Even having him hate me was better than watching him die. Anything was better than that.

"We have secured a special facility for this experiment; it will take us a little time to get there. Perhaps even enough time for Ms. Scully to begin reviewing the case notes from the Russian clinical trials," the old man said, picking up a thick folder off a nearby table, handing it to Scully. Off my look, he added pointedly, "our Russian friends can be quite cooperative, given the proper persuasion."

She flipped it open, turning one page, then another, thumbing through it to the end. "It's all in Russian."

"Well, then," he drawled, "I suppose Mr. Krycek will have to come along to translate for you, won't he?"

------------------------------------------------------------------------

We drove to a private airstrip about an hour outside the city, Mulder, Scully and I locked in the spacious back seat of my boss's Mercedes, all the windows tinted black, impossible to see through. They hustled us out of the car and into a helicopter, Mulder sitting in the middle, leaning in close to Scully, the two of them whispering, murmuring back and forth, ignoring me. I finally slumped down against the seat and pretended to be asleep.

Apparently I must've dozed off for real, though, because the next thing I was aware of was Mulder shaking my shoulder. Night air flooded in through the chopper's open door, brisk and cool and fresh, and I climbed out to meet it.

We'd landed not far from a house, a house somewhere out in the country. Small, one-storied, sturdy wood and brick, painted yellow with neat white trim. Looked like there'd been a flourishing garden out front at one time, but all that remained now was brown grass, a dying hedge and a few withered rose bushes. There were no other houses in sight -- no other buildings, for that matter. The sky glowed a familiar deep midnight blue, the way it gets when there are no city lights around, this time edged with a faint ribbon of dawn- tinged grey. I wondered if there were any towns within walking distance. Probably not; my boss wasn't stupid enough to leave something like that to chance. If there really was a nowhere, we were out in the middle of it.

At least this place had electricity. There was a good-sized living room and kitchen, and down the hallway two bedrooms, both clean, sparsely furnished. A bed, a bureau, a closet, a door leading to the bathroom. No books, no pictures on the walls, not even a dog-eared snapshot stuck in the corner of the bureau mirror. No trace of whoever had lived here before.

"This way," my boss said sharply, signalling for me to follow him and Scully and Mulder down the hallway, opening a door leading downstairs, down into the basement. Stark white walls nearly blinded me, lined with stainless steel cabinets, counters and tabletops, a desk with a laptop computer in the right far corner, a hospital bed to the left, complete with snowy sheets, a dark blue blanket--

And four-point restraints.

"I believe you'll find everything you require," the old man said, "all the equipment is state-of-the-art. You've been granted twenty-four hour access to our medical database and archives, as well as direct- line e-mail. Which is the sole method of outside communication available to you, by the way," he added. "The only line coming into this house is modem-dedicated, and Mr. Krycek's cell phone will not function so far away from a PCS network. We already have this entire area secured with roadblocks and helicopter patrols, so please do not think to try escaping on foot. Within reason, I am willing to give you all the privacy you need, but I need results, and quickly."

"How quickly?" Scully asked.

"I have every hope that you will deliver me a new batch of vaccine within the week."

Her gaze flicked Mulder, and momentarily to me, but she said nothing. She didn't have to; her eyes said it all. She was scared to fucking death, and not for herself. I knew exactly how she felt.

"Good luck to you," my boss said, heading for the stairs. A few seconds later I heard the hallway door snick shut.

Mulder just stood there, staring at the bed, fingering one of the wrist restraints. Scully went over to him, rubbing his shoulder. "Go on upstairs," she said, "get some rest. We can start in the morning."

"But...what about--"

"We have some work to do first," she replied, glancing at me.

"'Kay," he said softly, moving past me, up the stairs like he was in a trance, eyes glassy, barely looking at anything. Scully pulled out the folder of Russian clinical notes as soon as the upstairs door swung closed. Time to get to work.

We sat down together at the desk, sorting through the notes, studiously avoiding eye contact, finally letting ourselves relax a little; we were stuck with each other, so we might as well make the best of it. I started reading the notes aloud to her, letting her transcribe the pages she needed into the laptop until the spiky Cyrillic typeface started to blur in front of my eyes, and I had to stop. "S'okay, just give me a minute," I said, blinking, rubbing at my eyelids.

"I think we've done enough for tonight."

"You sure? I mean, you said you wanted to start in the morning--"

"And we will. I'm fairly certain I can piece together the procedure from what we've already translated."

"All right, well...I guess I'll try and get some sleep, then," I murmured, starting to get up--

But Scully's hand on my arm stopped me. My left arm. Her fingers brushed the exact same spot Mulder'd touched the night before. I could feel blood rushing into my face, tried to swallow around something that had just lodged in my throat. I tried to look at her, tried to tug my arm away, but I couldn't.

"It's okay, Alex," she said softly. "Mulder told me."

I swore under my breath. There was nothing I wanted more than to be up those stairs, out of this fucking room, but my feet wouldn't move.

"He told me about what happened in the park too," she continued, standing up, finally letting me go. I swayed, shuddered a little, grabbing hold of the table's edge. "He said you saved his life."

"I just did what I'm paid to do, that's all."

I could tell she didn't buy that excuse, but at the moment I didn't give a damn. God, I couldn't believe it, the way she was looking at me, half-wary, half-compassionate. I wanted to kill that compassion. I didn't need it, or want it, anymore than I needed or wanted it from Mulder. And I sure as hell didn't deserve it.

"I was there, you know," I murmured, "in your apartment. The night your sister was shot."

I'd expected that to shock her, and it did, but she recovered quickly. "Did you pull the trigger?"

"No, but I might as well have. And I would have, if I'd seen her coming through that door first."

"But I was the one you were sent to kill," she said tightly, blue eyes flashing ice. "Just another job to do, right?"

I shrugged.

"Are you ever sorry?"

Every day. Every fucking night. But I couldn't say it. Couldn't let myself say it. "Only that I made a mistake."

I didn't bother waiting for her reply, just turned and headed up the stairs, down the hallway, soft snoring making me halt outside the first bedroom door. I looked inside, saw Mulder lying there, rolled onto his right side, facing me. He'd kicked the blanket off, so I pulled it up over him again, then just stood there, watching the slow rise and fall of his chest, the almost imperceptible movement of his lips as he breathed. The bed was big enough for both of us, but I didn't move, didn't try climbing in next to him. Scully would probably be coming upstairs any minute.

He'd told her about my arm, and about the park. I wondered how much more he'd told her. Or how much more she'd figured out from what he hadn't told her.

Somehow I made it to the living room, flopping down on the couch, closing my eyes. My shoulder was starting to ache like crazy, but I didn't have the energy to stand up again and get undressed, take off the prosthesis. I doubted I'd be getting much sleep anyway.

X X X

Mulder opened his eyes, rolling onto his back, stealing a glance at his watch. Four-ten a.m. At least he'd managed to sleep most of the night, and without any bad dreams for a change. Without any dreams. He hadn't dreamed at all since the attack, he realized. Maybe he should arrange to get a concussion more often.

He let one hand drift over to the other side of the bed, palm skimming the flat, vacant blanket. No Krycek. Christ, one night sleeping in the same bed with the guy and he was already too damn comfortable with the idea, already disappointed to find him gone.

Moonlight splashed the ceiling, eerie blue-white bathing the room, deepening its shadows, highlighting the empty space beside him. After awhile he slid over, turning to face the wall, yanking the covers over his head, squeezing his eyes shut, willing himself back to sleep. He almost wished he'd have a nightmare.

X X X

"You ready?" Scully asked.

Mulder nodded, stretching out on the hospital bed, waiting silently as Scully and I fastened, tightened the restraints at his ankles and wrists. Part of me rebelled at having to do this, but Scully'd insisted on it, for Mulder's protection. Much as I hated to admit it, she was right; I'd seen enough of the Russian experiments to know Mulder was going to kick up a storm once the procedure began.

She gave his hand a reassuring squeeze, then moved to one of the cabinets, gingerly drawing out a long, shiny chrome cylinder, carefully puncturing the seal on one end with the tip of a scalpel, letting some of its contents drain into another container, quickly resealing the cylinder, returning it to the cabinet.

"The infection process will probably take a little longer than last time," she said, coming back over to the bed, "but hopefully not much longer. By tomorrow morning your part in this should be over."

Mulder nodded, giving her a tiny smile. "Let's do it."

She tipped the container carefully, pouring the oil onto his face until every last drop dripped out, grimacing a little as she did so. The stuff just sat there at first, a dark, gluey puddle spreading over Mulder's nose and mouth, finally oozing, sinking, disappearing through his nostrils, burrowing under his skin--

And he started thrashing, bucking and kicking, pulling so hard at his restraints I had to lean over, hold him down with my body--

And just as suddenly he stopped, going completely limp, motionless, like a kid's toy whose batteries had run down.

Scully grabbed an instrument off a nearby tray-table, flicking on the tiny light on one end of it, lifting Mulder's eyelid. Inky black swirls swam, danced, spreading across his eyeball, obscuring the deep hazel iris underneath, curling, wispy as smoke--

Changing color. Not black, not anymore, it was fading, turning to dark brown, muddy-colored now, auburn, red, scarlet red--

Blood red.

"What the hell's happening?" I choked.

"I don't know, maybe I gave him too much--"

"You gave him what the notes said to give him, right?"

She barely had a chance to nod before he started flailing again, convulsing, nearly ripping one wrist free, keening, moaning low in his throat like some dying animal, both of us trying to hold him down--

"Give him the vaccine!" I screamed.

"It's too soon, the infection hasn't had a chance to--"

"Give him the fucking vaccine! Now!"

I held him down flat until she came back with a full syringe, shooting the excess air out of the needle, held him still until she found a vein in the crook of his elbow, injecting the vaccine. He relaxed the second she withdrew the needle, head lolling to one side, breath hissing out in a rush, otherwise utterly still.

Scully waited a few seconds, biting her lip, then checked under his eyelids again. No inky black swirls. No brown or red either; in fact, both eyes looked completely clear.

"He's not waking up," I said.

"Give it time, Alex. He's just been through one hell of a trauma."

"Give him the rest of the vaccine."

"There isn't any more."

"*What?*"

"The vial your...employer gave me only had about 10 cc's in it. I used it all."

There was a stool by the bed; I dropped down on it, staring at the floor, staring at Mulder. He still wasn't moving, wasn't opening his eyes. "I've never seen anything like this happen before. There's something wrong with that oil, something different about it."

"It may have mutated," she replied quietly. "It's an alien organism, we know next to nothing about it, about its properties, or its lifecycle. And Mulder's been infected by it before. That could be a factor. A big one, in fact."

"You mean, it somehow...changed, altered itself, found a different way to infect him this time?"

She nodded.

"He knew. That fucking bastard knew this would happen, and he let us...sent us here to...Jesus. Jesus Christ..."

"Well, be that as it may, all we can do now is wait."

So we waited, Scully sitting at the desk, transcribing her notes. I stayed at Mulder's bedside, one eye on him, the other on the various monitors Scully had set up. All respiration, heartrate and brainwave activity appeared normal, or so she said. Apparently he'd wake up when he was damn good and ready.

Scully's tapping on her computer keys slowed, stopped. I glanced over, saw her sitting there, chin propped on one fist, eyelids drooping. "Hey."

Her head snapped up. "Oh...um, sorry."

"Why don't you go upstairs, get some rest?"

"I can't, I need to finish this--"

"Do it in the morning. The computer's not going anywhere."

She hesitated, gaze flicking to the monitors.

"I'll come get you if there's any change, I promise."

"All right," she said, giving me a tiny, weary smile, heading for the stairs.

Five hours, six, seven, and nothing. Mulder lay there, breathing slow and shallow, monitors keeping up their steady, rhythmic beeping. My legs were getting cramped, so I got up, wandering around, opening various drawers. Cotton balls, gauze bandages, tongue depressors. Surgical instruments.

I picked up a scalpel, held it in my hand, testing its edge with my thumb; the barest touch sliced through my top layer of skin, drawing blood, a single drop, one red, perfect pearl. I stared at it, the blood, the gleaming surgical steel cradled in my hand. Which would be better, I wondered -- stabbing it straight through my heart, or slicing open my throat? My gaze flicked to the bed, to the lone, still figure lying there, then back to the scalpel. Which would be the quickest way, the most painless?

I'd set all this in motion, started it all that night in the motel. Hell,
I'd started it way before that -- three years ago, back when I'd accepted my assignment as Mulder's partner. I'd betrayed him, and Scully, with my lies. Everything that was happening now had flowed downstream from that, from my deceit, my betrayal.

I'd thought about ending it before, eating a bullet, doing the world a favor. On those wet, freezing nights sleeping in doorways in Hong Kong, the prospect had almost seemed tempting. Almost. I'd always told myself that things would get better, that all I had to do was hang on, just one more day, one more week. I told myself as long as Mulder was alive and breathing, as long as there was a chance I'd see him again, that was reason enough to keep going. If he died now, though, if he woke up crippled or brain-damaged, it was on me. All on me...

A loud groan and rustle of movement from the other side of the room made me jump, scalpel slipping along the inside of my palm, slicing it open so swiftly and cleanly I saw the blood welling along the line of the cut before I felt it. Grabbing a handful of gauze, I wrapped it hastily around my hand, shunting the pain aside, moving to the bed. Mulder's eyes fluttered, drifted open, blinking, slowly focusing, mouth moving soundlessly. I poured him a little water from a pitcher Scully'd left on the tray table, held it for him while he drank. "You okay?" I asked.

"Y-Yeah, uh...wh-what the hell happened?"

"You gave me and Scully the mother of all scares, that's what happened. D'you remember any of it?"

"J-Just Scully pouring that oil on me. After that it all, um...sorta fades to black." He grinned feebly, lopsidedly, reaching for more water. "Christ, tastes like I just swallowed about five pounds of dirt..."

He was okay. Thank God, he was going to be okay. "Take it easy, all right? I'm gonna go get Scully, and then we can--"

But he grabbed hold of my hand when I tried to move away, reopening the cut, fresh pain squeezing a gasp out of me. "You're bleeding."

"Yeah, I cut myself up good just now."

"Let me see."

"Mulder, don't, you're gonna pull all the gauze off--" But he'd already done it, bloody strips falling to the floor, fingertips grazing my palm, softly tracing the cut, making me grit my teeth against the stinging--

Then the stinging stopped. It didn't go numb, it just stopped hurting. Looked like it'd stopped bleeding, too. I tugged a tissue from the box on the table, wiping away the blood smeared all over my palm. I couldn't find the cut anywhere.

"What's the matter?" Mulder asked.

"Y-you touched me, and...it's gone. The cut's gone."

"Maybe you just nicked it."

"Mulder, it stung like fucking hell. Believe me, I wasn't imagining it." Our fingers collided again, touching, entwining. "Um...let me go get Scully, okay?"

She didn't believe me when I told her, that much was plain, but I couldn't have cared less. She poked and prodded Mulder for what seemed like hours, drawing a few blood samples, finally pronouncing him well enough to go upstairs. He was still pretty weak, though, so I had to help him, letting him lean on me all the way down the hall to the bedroom. But when I tugged his t-shirt over his head, I got another shock. Only yesterday his abdomen had been covered in purplish-yellow bruises from the attack in the park; now there wasn't a mark on him. The knot on the back of his head had disappeared too.

Weirdness. I was just wiped, that was it, just seeing what I wanted to see. I needed sleep, and badly, or tomorrow Mulder'd be carrying me upstairs.

"Where're you going?" he asked, head lifting from his pillow.

"To bed."

"Out there?"

"It's where I slept last night. The couch is pretty comfortable."

"Don't go."

I told myself not to come back in the room, sit down on the edge of the bed. I didn't listen. "Scully'll be coming back up pretty soon. What's she gonna think, seeing us cuddling in bed together?"

"She already knows. I, um...told her most of it on our way here."

Well, that answered that question. I guess I was relieved he told me, though I didn't know how the hell I'd ever get up the nerve to look Scully in the eye again. "You sure you want me to stay?"

"Yeah, I am," he replied, sitting up. "I could've died today, Alex. Hell, I
would've died that day in the park if you hadn't been there. And I know this is probably one of the dumbest things I've ever done in my life, but it's what I want. I'm through lying to myself."

"And I thought I was the liar," I said, grinning, getting up, shutting the door, stripping off my clothes and the prosthesis as quickly as I could, sliding under the warm, crisp sheets, spooning, settling against each other, the way we both liked it. We exchanged soft, wet kisses, gentle caresses, too exhausted for anything else, finally drifting off together, smiling, content. If this was what telling the truth brought me, I could definitely get used to it.

X X X

I woke up ravenous. Mulder was still asleep, so I got up as quietly as I could, pulling on my jeans and sweater. I didn't bother strapping on the prosthesis; no point in that anymore, I figured, now that Scully knew. The damn thing got in my way more often than not anyway.

The kitchen was well stocked. I found eggs and sliced sourdough bread and a carton of orange juice in the fridge, French-roast coffee in a nearby cupboard, a coffeemaker on the counter, and set to work making myself breakfast. I smiled when I saw the jar of dark honey on the kitchen table; I always preferred honey to sugar for sweetening my morning coffee.

I was just shoveling my last forkful of scrambled eggs into my mouth when I heard soft footsteps padding down the hallway and Scully appeared. She looked preoccupied, even upset, forehead crinkled with apparent concern. "Is Mulder..?"

"He's still in bed," I said, getting up to put my dishes in the sink. "What's up?"

"C'mon downstairs. There's something I need to talk to you about."

She didn't say anything more until we reached the basement, and even then I had to prompt her again. "I've been analyzing Mulder's blood samples from yesterday, and the results have been a bit...unusual."

"Unusual, how?"

"Well, at first I thought there must be something wrong with the sample, that it had somehow become contaminated, so I looked at another sample, and another one after that. My findings were the same on all three."

"So what did you find?"

"Something I've never seen before. Alex, his entire blood chemistry has been altered. There are hemofactors in those samples that I can't begin to identify; I doubt even a qualified hematologist could. I'm not even sure I can make a vaccine serum from it, at least...not one that would be effective on humans."

It took me a minute to wrap my brain around what she was saying, but when I did, something she'd said the previous day began to make sense. Too damn much sense. "So you were right -- the oil did mutate. And when it infected Mulder--"

"It's changed him. Though how and to what extent, I'm not entirely sure yet." Sinking down in her chair, she studied her computer screen for a moment, licking her lips. "Alex, we can't give those blood samples to your employer, you realize that. If we do, they'll lock him up someplace and never let him go. They'll run tests on him until he's dead, just like those Russian prisoners."

"Then we won't give him the samples."

"We have to give him something, he's expecting--"

"Destroy Mulder's samples and replace them with mine. Mulder and I have the same blood type, and I...I was infected with the black oil a little over two years ago. You should be able to make a serum from my blood with no problem."

She stared at me, absorbing what I'd said, finally nodding. "All right. Come over here so I can draw the samples. "

Her hand shook a little while she was preparing the syringe, but luckily she seemed to get her equilibrium back before she stuck me with it. "I don't know what I'm going to tell him," she murmured, withdrawing the needle, folding my elbow up over the puncture. "After everything he's been through in the past few days, hearing something like this...I don't know. It might push him right over the edge."

"Then don't tell him."

"Alex, I'm not keeping this from him. He has every right to know."

"Look, he doesn't need to know right now, does he?" I leaned in closer, dropping my tone to a near-whisper. "All I'm saying is let's give him a little time to recover before we hit him with another shock. 'Kay?"

She took a moment, considering, finally nodding. "Okay. I guess I'd better get to work on these new samples."

I was nearly at the top of the stairs when I heard a tiny click, and realized it was the hallway door. My hand closed over the knob, twisting, pulling it open--

And there was Mulder, leaning against the wall, waiting for me. "You two have a nice chat?"

"How long have you been here?"

"Long enough, you fucking liar," he rasped, grabbing the door, flinging it shut. I barely had a chance to step out of the way. "Last night, that night in Rhode Island, that was just you playing me again, wasn't it? Everything you do, everything you say's a lie, and now you've got her lying for you too. What'd you do, threaten her mother? Why the hell not -- you already offed her sister, right?"

"Mulder, I swear it's not what you think--"

"Shut up!" he screamed, seizing me by the throat, slamming my head against the wall. "Shut your goddamned fucking lying mouth, or I'll shut it for you!"

"Mulder, stop it! Let him go, you'll kill him!" Scully's shouting somehow filtered through the haze swamping my air-starved brain, red and black and purple and every other color of the rainbow clashing between my ears, another, smaller pair of hands on me now, tearing Mulder's hands away. Plaster slid, skidded across my back, burning like rope, and the floor rushed up to meet me.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

His hands hurt. His head hurt. He hurt all over, but the worst of it was inside, churning and tearing. He took his mug of coffee, lifting it to his lips with both hands, getting up from the kitchen table, going over to the couch, where Scully knelt, examining Krycek. "Is he gonna be okay?" Mulder asked softly.

"I think so," she replied tightly, pulling a blanket over her patient, standing up. "He got hit pretty hard, but luckily he seems to have a thick skull."

"Well, at least we've got one thing in common."

"Sit down, Mulder. We need to talk."

"Scully, I don't--"

"I do. Obviously you walked in on the tail-end of my conversation with Alex. Under the circumstances, I might as well fill you in on the rest of it now."

So he sat, and he listened. Pretty soon the words all started running together, but he kept listening, kept looking at her, watching her lips move, anything to stay grounded in reality. Finally she stopped, sipping at cold coffee, staring down at the tabletop. "Mulder, they must've had some idea how exposure to that mutated oil would affect you, change you. I'm sure that was the real reason for them wanting to reinfect you."

"Maybe, maybe not. Maybe it didn't really change me at all."

"What do you mean?"

"Maybe all it did was activate dormant genes, latent abilities programmed into me from the time of my conception."

"Mulder, you have no solid proof of that, and I refuse--"

"Then how d'you explain yesterday, that cut on Krycek's hand? One second he's bleeding all over the place, and then I barely touch him and the cut's gone. How does that happen?"

For some reason she went still, pale, leaning her chin against steepled fingers. "He cut himself with a scalpel, did he tell you that?"

"No. Why should he?"

"Mulder, I wish you could've seen him...I mean, after the procedure, when you lapsed into unconsciousness, he never left your bedside, not for a second. He looked so...miserable, so lost and haunted. He cares for you, Mulder," she said softly. "And as much as he denies it, I believe he honestly regrets what's happened in the past."

"Yeah, well, I'll believe it when I hear it from him."

"How's he supposed to tell you anything when you're bashing his head against the wall?"

"I can't believe you're *defending* him--"

"And I can't believe you could be so blind to what's right in front of you. You'd better be damn glad you didn't die, Mulder, otherwise I'd probably have two corpses on my hands this morning!"

She couldn't have said what he thought he'd heard her say. She just couldn't. "Y-You're joking, right? He wasn't gonna kill himself, not over me..."

"You need to talk to him, Mulder. You need to sit down and get things straight between you. And this time try not to beat him unconscious, okay?" Rising, she took her coffee mug to the sink, then came back, giving his shoulder a gentle pat. "I'll be downstairs if you need me."

He sat at the table for a long time, finally getting up, moving aimlessly to the sink, stopping at the kitchen window. There was a field behind the house, green, overgrown, and what looked like a small pond in the distance. He hadn't been outside since the night they arrived at the house; maybe a little fresh air would help ease the pounding behind his eyes, clear out his brain. Any excuse not to be here when Krycek finally woke up.

X X X

The kitchen door hung open a sliver, that much I saw as soon as I came to, sunlight streaming through it and the living room window blinds, making my brain wail. There was nobody else in the room, nobody in the bedrooms either, so I followed my instincts outside.

He was there, right up ahead of me, sitting on the grass in front of this tiny pond, skipping rocks across the water. I should have turned around, gone back in the house, but I didn't. He must've heard me coming up behind him, because I saw his shoulder muscles bunch, tighten.

"Scully, she, um...told me what you two were talking about this morning," he said finally, pitching another rock. "I guess I owe you an apology."

"Yeah, well, don't strain yourself."

"I was out of line, Alex, way out of line, and I'm sorry. What else can I say?"

I came forward a couple of steps and he scooted over on the grass, clearing a space for me. I sat down, cool dew slicking my palm, soaking through the seat of my jeans. The air tasted good, fresh and clean and mossy. "Apology accepted."

"I wouldn't have, you know," he murmured, staring out across the pond, still not looking at me. "Accepted it, I mean. Guess that's the difference between me and you and Scully. You two...you'll forgive me anything. I can't figure out why."

"Maybe it's because she loves you."

"What's your excuse?"

"Maybe I don't have one."

"Alex..."

"I'm gonna tell you something, Mulder. And I want you to listen without interrupting me, okay? Because if you do, I'm never gonna finish." I sucked in a breath, waiting for him to nod, give me a signal to go on. "The night your father died, I...the man I was working for at the time sent me to his house, to search the place for your father's copy of the MJ papers. He was supposed to have destroyed them, but my boss suspected he'd held onto them for leverage, insurance against any possible accidents, if you know what I mean. I broke in, waited in one of the back bedrooms for your dad to either leave or go to bed so I could finally have a chance to look around, but then you showed up. I got scared, hid in the bathroom. I heard the two of you talking, and I knew he was getting ready to tell you everything, and if he'd done that...I-I would've had to kill you both. That wasn't a possibility I was prepared to face. So when he came into the bathroom, I did it. I shot him. Killed him. And I would again, if it's what I had to do to keep you safe."

"Y-You honestly expect me to believe you killed him to protect me?"

"That's the truth, I swear. All of it."

"No, not all of it," he said slowly. "Tell me the rest, Alex. I want to hear you say it."

"I told you, there isn't anymore."

"The fuck there isn't. Say it!"

I could hear the blood roaring in my ears, my whole head spinning, pounding, ready to explode; I couldn't sit here listening to this anymore. I tried getting up, pushing off the ground with one hand, scrambling halfway to my feet--

Slipping, falling, landing flat on my back in the moist grass, Mulder looming over me, straddling me, face right above mine, close enough to feel his breath on my skin, hot and rapid. "Goddamn you, Alex, say it! I'm not letting you up until you do."

"Wh-What d'you want from me, Mulder? You w-want my heart?" I was sobbing now, gasping, sucking hard for breath, black blotches dancing in front of my eyes. "Go ahead, kill me, rip it out of me, I don't need it anymore--"

"*Say* it!"

"I'm in *love* with you, okay? You satisfied now?"

Silence. No more words, no more sound, all of it drowned in the liquid rush inside my head. There was nothing left of me, nothing worth saving anyway, just a broken, vacant husk, everything crushed, demolished by the force of the words I'd just spoken. No more lies, no more secrets. Not even to myself.

The weight on top of me lifted, rolled away, finally letting me breathe again. I sat up, dragging in air, stealing a glance at Mulder. He looked like he'd just hit a concrete wall at fifty miles an hour. "C'mon, Mulder," I murmured, "stop acting so shocked. It's not like you weren't expecting it."

He didn't answer right away, just kept staring into the distance, starting to chuckle softly. "It's just that...first I find out I may not even be human anymore, that maybe I was never entirely human to begin with, and now this. The rest of the day's gotta go downhill from here."

I laughed. I had to. It was either that or strangle him.

"I want you to do something for me, Alex."

"What?"

"Stand up," he said, doing so himself, holding his hand out to me. "Now take off your sweater." I did it without hesitation, though not without shooting him a quizzical look. "I need to know for sure, Alex. I need to know what I am."

All of a sudden it dawned on me what he meant to do. "Mulder, you don't have to..."

"Yeah, I do," he said softly, reaching out, fingertips gently touching, stroking my stump--

Flesh and skin stretching, elongating, changing shape and texture as he moved his hand downward, scar tissue fading, disappearing, flowing into the shape of a new elbow, a new wrist, fine, nearly invisible golden hair springing in his touch's wake, fingers forming now, separating, stretching, flexing--

With no pain, no more aching, just a slow, almost imperceptible tingle singing along fresh new nerve endings, sizzling all the way up into my brain. All I could do was stare, turning my hand over and over again, running my other hand over it from wrist to shoulder, inspecting every millimeter of baby-white skin. Any second I expected it to shrivel up and fall off, or else I'd wake up. It was a dream. It had to be. Even my headache was gone.

Mulder resumed his seat on the grass, arms hugging bent knees, sitting there silently, watching the water. I slid to my knees beside him. I didn't say anything, though. I couldn't. Maybe there was nothing to say -- nothing that was adequate, anyway. How do you thank someone for giving back a piece of your life?

We reached for each other at the exact same time, me rolling on top of him, pushing him down in the grass, lips meeting, opening, devouring. He tasted like sunshine and fresh spring water and sweet as country air and all I wanted to do was lie here kissing him forever, tongues entwining, running my fingers through his soft hair. It didn't take long, though, for our cocks to develop their own agenda.

I forced myself to stop, pulling away, tugging at Mulder's shirt, yanking it up over his head, pressing my mouth to his chest, smooth ivory silk brushing my cheek, spinning my mind to oblivion. I slid downward, down to his navel, swirling my tongue there, rimming the tiny puckered indentation until Mulder started to squirm, buck against me and I stopped, staring up at him for a second, as long as it took unsteady new fingers to fumble with the fly of his jeans, easing down the zipper, hot, ready flesh springing into my palm. A tiny drop of pre-come had pooled there at the tip of his cock and I lapped at it, salty musk exploding onto my tongue. I wanted more, and I wanted it now.

I let my tongue trace the rim of Mulder's cockhead, tickling the underside, grinning as he writhed, digging his fingers in the grass, tangling in my hair, pushing my head down until he hit the back of my throat. I started moving then, wrapping my tongue up and down the entire length of his cock, bobbing my head up and down, sucking, swallowing him--

And suddenly he grabbed my hand, my left hand, pulling it up to meet his mouth, licking my fingers one by one, biting, nipping the pad of my thumb, raw sensation flooding me like water from a ruptured dam, making me roll my hips against him, hump his leg like a horny dog, suck him harder--

And he sucked me harder, pulling one finger, two, three into his mouth, rolling them with his tongue, teeth dragging on tender, brand-new flesh--

And that was all it took. Fireworks exploded inside my head, my cock twitching, spurting in my pants, Mulder's cock doing the same in my mouth, hot sweet cream jetting over my tongue, down my throat. Even honeyed coffee couldn't compare.

I don't know how long we lay there together, bathed by the sun, my head resting on his belly, pressing soft kisses to moist, naked skin. Finally Mulder propped himself up on one elbow, looking down at me, tousling my hair. "You realize this is never going to work."

My heart lurched at that, but I tamped it down. No way was I giving him up, not now. "It was working pretty damn well a few minutes ago."

"C'mon, you know our families would never approve. I mean, yours're from Russia and mine are from New England and, what, Mars? Zeta Reticuli? The Andromeda galaxy? How're we gonna raise the kids?"

That sent me tumbling back into his arms, laughing, kissing him. Finally we fell quiet again, staring out at the water. "What makes you think I care who your parents are, anyway?" I asked softly. "You don't know anything about mine, and as far as I can tell, that's not such a big deal."

"This is different, Alex, way different..."

"Not to me it isn't."

He obviously couldn't think of any way to answer that, so he took my hand, my left hand, carrying it to his lips, pressing a kiss to my palm, closing my fingers around it.

"Let's go back inside," I said, getting up, pulling on my sweater. "Scully's probably wondering what the hell happened to us."

X X X

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
-- Four Quartets, "Little Gidding," T.S. Eliot

The papers lay all over the table, hanging off the edges. Fifty missing pages and two more plain white envelopes addressed in delicate blue ink. My boss was guilty of a lot of things, but reneging on his bargains wasn't one of them. He'd even returned my gun to me, which I definitely hadn't expected.

Scully was sitting at the kitchen table with Mulder, talking softly, nursing a last mug of coffee. They got up as the whirr of the helicopter drew near, moving to the door, out into the front yard, watching, waiting for it to land. I followed, keeping a discreet distance. This was their moment, not mine.

Mulder'd begged her to stay, to go on with us, but she'd politely yet firmly refused. She had a family, a life to go back to, and she'd been away from both long enough. She'd promised to come visit soon, though, once we'd had a chance to settle in. I was actually looking forward to it.

My gaze swept the driveway, the shiny blue Mercedes sedan sitting there, all gassed up and ready to go tomorrow morning, courtesy of my boss. He'd secured us safe passage over the border to Canada too, and a promise of protection along the way. Full and final payment for services rendered. As far as I was concerned, Alex Krycek, Consortium agent, was now officially retired.

Scully'd handed over the blood samples and vaccine serum to him a few days ago. If he suspected the blood wasn't Mulder's, he wasn't saying anything -- not to us, and certainly not to his Consortium cronies. He had what he needed, ostensibly what he'd sent us here for. Apparently that was enough, at least for the time being.

The chopper landed a few hundred feet away, wind from its propellors whipping at our hair, engine drowning out all other sound. Scully leaned in close, whispering something into Mulder's ear, wrapping her arms around his waist, Mulder doing the same to her, holding on, gently kissing her on the forehead, finally letting her pull away. She smiled up at him, then at me.

I smiled back, waving, surprised when she came over to me, standing on tiptoe, brushing a kiss across my cheek, giving my arm a quick squeeze. "Take care of him, Alex."

"I will."

She walked across the grass, over to the chopper, climbing in, the chopper rising, hovering, flying away. We stood out on the grass until it disappeared completely, nothing but blue sky left, blue cloudless sky, just like that day at the pond.

We went back inside. I started cleaning up the kitchen, washing the breakfast dishes while Mulder sat back down on the couch, fingering the papers, the envelopes, looking a few pages over again, falling silent. I came over to him when I was done, kneeling beside the couch, touching his shoulder. "What's wrong?"

"This was her house."

"Whose house?"

"Evelyn Whitcomb's. The house number on the mailbox outside is the same number from the return address on these letters she wrote my father."

"You sure?"

"Yeah," he said, getting up, wandering into the bedroom, staring down at the bed, the same bed we'd been sharing for the past week. "She lived here while she was pregnant. This might have been her bed. Maybe I was even born in this bed."

Giving his hand a tug, I coaxed him down on the mattress, stretching out next to him, letting him wrap himself around me, head cradled on my chest. "She loved your father, Mulder, loved him a lot. Those letters you showed me last night made it pretty plain," I said. "And if that's family tradition, I'm not at all averse to carrying it on."

"Say it, Alex," he murmured thickly, snuggling closer. "I want to hear you say it again."

I hesitated, teasing him, making him wait. He'd never said it to me, not in so many words at least, but I didn't mind. He felt it, or he wouldn't have healed me, wouldn't have made love with me that morning down by the pond, and in this bed every night since then. Maybe one day he'd say the words. Right now, though, he needed them more than I did. "Love you," I whispered, softly kissing his earlobe.

"No lie?"

I grinned. "No lie."


-- THE END --

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