TITLE: Axe 2: Walking The Razor's Edge M/K

AUTHOR: Tarlan DATE: 7th April 2000

E-MAIL ADDRESS: TarlanX@aol.com

DISTRIBUTION STATEMENT: RatB - Yes. Gossamer - yes. Archive/X - Yes. WWOMB - Yes.
Spooky site - Yes. Basement - Yes. Annex - Yes. Elsewhere please ask.

WEB SITE: <http://chaelyndra.com/nicklea/fiction> or on my page at RATB
<http://www.squidge.org/terma/tarlan/tarlan.htm>

SPOILER WARNING: Anything up to and including aspects of Biogenesis.

RATING: NC-17

CONTENT WARNING: m/m sex and some swearing. If this isn't your scene then don't
bother reading on - you know where the DELETE key is. You have been warned. By
the way, in my universe Mulder is not colour-blind in the slightest... I believe
he made that up! Also, this story diverges from the series after FTF so should be
considered AU from that point forward.

CLASSIFICATION: X SERIES: Sequel to 'Waiting For The Axe To Fall'.

COMMENTS: Thanks, as always, to Aqualegia for all the encouragement, advice and
beta reading... and for being such a good friend. Thanks also to Sue (aka Dr
Ruthless) who stepped into the breach and provided additional beta comments.
Also, thank you to Ayanna K, Erika and Rowanne who kindly offered to help. I may
call upon you next time <g> Any and all comments gratefully received - as long as
they're constructive.

PLEASE FEED ME!! Even a 'YEP, I READ IT' is gratefully received! Proves I didn't
release the story into a vacuum! Note: Flames will be circulated around and
posted to several lists so we can *all* have a good laugh at your expense... I
mean, why should I have all the fun!

SUMMARY: CSM's obsession leads Alex into mortal danger.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: The final m/m scene was greatly inspired by the beautiful artwork
of The Theban Band - 'Bath' in particular. Thank you Ned and Leny. You will find
their wonderful artwork on 'The Red and the Black' site (RatB). See url above.

DEDICATION: To Karen-Leigh... and Tiptoe the RAT (no matter what Ty says!) Thank
you for giving me the incentive to finish writing this sequel. I do hope you
think it was worth the wait and the effort!

*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*

Axe 2: Walking The Razor's Edge by Tarlan

*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*

There is so much a man can tell you So much he can say You remain my Power, my
Pleasure, my Pain To me you're like a growing addiction that I can't deny Won't
you tell me is that healthy, baby. "Kiss from a Rose" by Seal

********************

22:30 hours New York

The lights in the underground parking lot barely kept the shadows at bay but, at
this time of night, there was little reason to want light. Even the most
conscientious had long since left for their homes after a long day's work in the
City. This left the lot deserted except for one dark-coloured sedan. It was
parked in the middle of the row, opposite the bank of elevators which led from
the building above. The headlights were off and the engine silent except for an
occasional tick as warm metal gradually cooled. At first sight the car seemed
empty but the small red-light that flared sporadically attested to the presence
of at least one occupant.

The Cigarette-Smoking Man sat in the back seat and waited patiently, eyes
focussed on the elevator doors ahead. He lit another cigarette, his ever present
trademark and took a deep drag, filling his lungs with the carcinogenic yet, for
him, life enhancing nicotine and tar. He stifled the urge to cough although that
became more difficult with each passing week. Already he spent far too many
precious minutes hacking up his lungs in the mornings as he fumbled for that
first exquisite drag of the day.

Someone once told him he ought to quit - for the sake of his health - but he had
been a young man then and had not expected to live as long as he had. An
occupational hazard. His cruel, seamed mouth lifted sardonically in one corner.
He'd expected a bullet, a knife, something... anything... and had not been
disappointed except that he had survived; survived to fall victim to the
invisible killer that was eating his lungs: Cancer. Even the alien's could do
little for him despite their incredible powers.

An expression of regret crossed his face. He should have heeded that warning but
before he could sink deeper into those dark, self-pitying thoughts the elevator
door opened casting a dim light across the lot that almost reached the silent
car. A tall, thin figure approached cautiously, the man's head swivelling first
one way then the other as he checked out the lot for any sign of impending
danger. Once certain, he reached down and pulled open the car door. The Smoker
glanced sideways as a man in his mid forties flopped into the seat next to him,
light reflecting off the gold lucky charm hanging from a bracelet around his
thin, hairy wrist. He took another drag from the half-smoked cigarette, flicking
an imaginary piece of ash from the sleeve of his expensive suit while he waited
for the man to settle but his patience quickly wore thin when the man remained
silent beside him.

"Well?"

Dark eyes, gleaming in the dim interior, turned towards him and the Smoker could
easily read the barely restrained insanity firing within their depths. The reedy
voice seemed shrill and discordant, jarring the fuzzy atmosphere formed by the
soft glow of lights from the parking lot and from the comforting silence that had
descended during the short wait. A smile of animal pleasure was pasted to the
pock-marked face; an inner glee bubbling through the seemingly mundane words he
uttered.

"We located the laboratory."

"And?"

"He'd been there."

The Cigarette-Smoking Man leant forward and savagely ground out the remainder of
the Morley in the metal base of the ashtray. 'Been there' meant he was there no
longer. The gleeful smile dropped from the thin, weasel face and the man flicked
lank, greasy hair back from his forehead nervously as he registered the barely
concealed frustration and anger in the other. This was not the news his employer
wanted to hear. He continued a little more subdued.

"We interrogated a few of the remaining technicians. I think you'll be pleased to
know that he is both alive... and whole."

His employer looked up sharply, staring straight ahead through the windscreen
into the semi-darkness beyond. He reached inside his suit jacket and removed the
pack of Morley's, shook a fresh stick from the packet and placed it between his
seamed lips. Light flared within the car illuminating the Smoker, casting deep
shadows across his ageing flesh. A smile curved upwards with the first drag which
could easily be mistaken for the hedonistic pleasure of a nicotine hit. A single
thought churned around his mind.

//Alive and... whole.// "Excellent news. Have you a location?"

The man hesitated before deciding that his Boss would not be interested in the
pile of rubble that had been the secret laboratory of the recently deceased
Englishman. He wanted the location of a certain ex-Consortium Agent.

"No. No-one knew what happened to him after he was removed from the tank."

He laughed in uncertainty, the sort of giggling cackle that would not have been
out of place within an asylum, wondering if he should tell his Employer what they
*had* said and deciding it couldn't hurt and might even bring back a little
levity into that dour expression.

"They said 'Aliens took him'... whatever that's supposed to mean."

Silence descended. The Smoking Man smiled and gently stubbed out the cigarette
that had quickly burned down to the filter, aided by the long drags he had made
as he listened to his employee. He knew exactly what that meant and he knew *who*
they meant; The Rebel Aliens.

The weasel-faced man slipped back into his memory of the frightened laboratory
assistant and the pretty way she had begged as he sliced her flesh with a
scalpel. His smile grew as he relived the sight of those bright ribbons of red
flowing down her creamy skin, soaking into the dainty little bra and panties
before a flick of his wrist sliced them from her plump body. Oh, he had such fun
with her. Her soft, frightened whimpers still thrilled him....

"Is Agent Mulder still under surveillance?"

The man frowned, dragged out of his wonderful dream world back to the darkened
parking lot. Puzzlement showed plainly on his face as he struggled to understand
the significance behind the sudden change of topic.

"The First Elder withdrew surveillance several weeks ago. Without the Englishman
he's no longer considered the threat that..."

"Renew the surveillance."

The older man turned his head away and after a few minutes of silence the man
realised their meeting was over. He opened the door and started to clamber out
before a gravely voice arrested the motion.

"Good work, Mr Roberts."

The pock-marked man smiled at the unaccustomed praise, continued out of the car,
shutting the door gently but firmly behind him before walking off into the
deepening shadows. Moments later another shadow detached itself from behind a
nearby pillar and swiftly moved into the Driver's seat. The Driver looked up into
the rear-view mirror and caught sight of the feral smile that almost reached his
employer's rheumy blue eyes. He dropped his gaze before the internal shudder
manifested itself physically and busied himself with gunning the engine. The
sedan started smoothly, purring like a big, well-fed cat and the car pulled away
slowly, heading towards the exit. He offered no words in conversation, knowing
this man was too dangerous to engage even in small talk, awaiting instructions
instead.

The Cigarette-Smoking Man let his head fall back against the seat and closed his
eyes. Visions danced behind his eyelids... past, present and, with careful
planning, future. A young man with dark, mahogany hair and beautiful green eyes,
alive and whole, lying naked beneath him; impaled by him, crying out softly with
each powerful thrust of his hips, sinking into that sweet, firm flesh, kneading
those perfect white asscheeks.

A single word escaped from him on a quiet sigh of deep longing and intense
pleasure.

"Alex."

When the Rebel aliens had attacked BioTechnics he thought he had lost his Alex
forever. He, himself, had barely escaped with his life, eternally grateful for
the sense of self-preservation that had kept his driver and car close at hand.
They had pulled over not far from the entrance, just in time to see Dana Scully
supporting her partner out of the burning building and forcing him into their
car. Of Alex there had been no sign... and no attempt by either agent to return
for him. Fire engines had descended upon the scene, and he had waited the three
hours it took to douse the flames, watching for signs of any bodies being removed
from the burnt-out remains of the laboratory. But the paramedics had gone away
empty-handed leaving the Smoker with only two possibilities floating through his
head, either Alex was dead, incinerated beyond all recognition of being human...
or the Rebels had taken him.

Over two months had passed but now he had the answer.

"Alive and whole."

This was so much more than he ever expected. Seeing the physical perfection
destroyed had angered him greatly as he remembered the way those agile fingers
would caress his skin, bringing him to such exquisite heights of passion and
pain. He had vowed to take revenge on the Russian peasants who had mutilated his
'lover' but gained no satisfaction when he discovered the task had already been
performed by another. Comrade Arntzen had decided the presence of these one-armed
rebellious peasants was a security risk. He had set up a ten mile exclusion zone
killing everyone within its perimeter that could not be used for the tests.

The Smoker's thoughts travelled back to the younger man. He remembered the way
that pretty mouth with its deep cupid's bow would smile just before the lips
stretched wide to take inside his considerable erection; remembered the way the
forest-green eyes used to dance as he watched the control slip from his 'master'.
His expression hardened as he recalled the later years when those eyes would stay
closed; the sucking hard and ferocious as Alex tried to bring him off as quickly
as possible; the surreptitious wiping of swollen lips with the back of his hand
when kissed. He had lost his Alex somewhere along the way but that didn't mean
Alex had to stay lost. He grimaced as he took another drag from the ever present
cigarette. If Alex would not come back to him willingly then he would take him...
and there were plenty of drugs on the black market that would ensure he forgot
all about Fox William Mulder.

The Smoker opened his eyes and raised his head to stare straight forward through
the windshield. Thoughts of Alexei Krycek's delicious body had sent tingling
sensations thrumming through his ageing body and, with a feral grin, he
remembered the photo that had been handed to him earlier. He pulled a manila
folder from the door pocket, removed the photo and studied the face. It was
closer than some; the eyes were green although not the right shade; the hair dark
but without the hints of red. Not his Alex but... A plume of blue-tinged smoke
drifted from the back seat. He raised his voice, his soft yet gravely tone
seeming to float across with the smoke.

"Have you made the necessary arrangements?"

The Driver turned his head slightly to acknowledge his employer. "Yes, sir."

Another feral smile followed and the Driver grimaced. John Davis did not need
explicit instructions to determine where his employer wanted to go. Exiting the
underground parking lot, he turned the wheel to take the shortest route to the
nearby Interstate. Within minutes the sleek, black car was heading North towards
the small town of Barter's Grove where a young man waited in a seedy motel for a
patron who had promised twice the usual fee for his services.

********************

Three Days Later
2630 Hegal Place
Apartment 42 Alexandria

Mulder paused on the threshold to the bedroom and gazed in pure, unadulterated
pleasure at the beautiful sight laid out before him on the bed. Alex was lying on
his stomach, half-raised on his elbows with a book in his hands. Mulder couldn't
prevent his eyes from travelling along the length of that perfect, naked body.
The broad shoulders tapering down to a trim waist; honeyed skin paling to white
as his eyes fixed onto the exposed ass, with its soft round contours, then down
the long, firm legs covered in a light spattering of dark hair, eventually
resting on the soles of the high-arched feet. His eyes drifted back to his
favourite spot... those pale globes of firm, muscular flesh. His hands itched to
reach out and cup each one, pulling them apart to reveal the tightly puckered
muscle that was the gateway to his own private heaven on Earth. Gradually he
became aware of being watched and looked up to find a pair of teasing green eyes
glancing over his lover's shoulder.

Mulder couldn't stop the blush creeping up his face from reaching the tips of his
ears but Alex merely chuckled, a deep, sexy sound, pleased at the reaction his
body caused in his lover. Mulder cleared his throat.

"I spoke to Skinner today."

A slight dip of the head and rise of the eyebrows was the only response. A
beaming smile lit Mulder's often pensive features. Alex Krycek abandoned his book
and turned over, reaching for his lover's hand. He didn't really need to hear the
outcome of that talk. He already knew what Mulder intended to do that day. They
had talked about it long into the night. Obviously, from Mulder's expression, his
own positive stance on what would happen had borne out. Skinner had not accepted
Mulder's resignation but *had* accepted Mulder's lover, albeit reluctantly.

Mulder was mesmerised momentarily by the sight of his lover's semi-rigid shaft
arching gracefully across his thigh. He swallowed audibly, pulled out of his
frozen state by the heat flaring in those forest-green eyes. He reached the bed
in two strides and pulled Alex into a strong embrace, nuzzling the dark hair
before whispering into one slightly pointed ear.

"It's not all good news. We're on probation... both of us... and Skinner didn't
mention anything about taking you back into the Bureau."

"That's not up to him." Krycek pulled back and gazed into the large hazel eyes,
seeing his own reflection in the dilated pupil. "Anyway, it makes more sense for
me to remain on the outside as I expect the Rebels will want something in return
for their investment."

Alex flexed his left arm, a perfect match to the other, as a reminder to Fox
Mulder of what he had regained through his involvement with the Resistance. Even
now, Alex could barely believe what he saw when he gazed down, terrified this was
all a dream, that the tingling of nerve endings was just more of the phantom pain
that had plagued him since losing the limb. His attention focused onto his left
hand, fascination and awe vying for supremacy as he wiggled the fingers. He
looked up when the hand was captured and brought to soft lips, watching as each
finger in turn was taken into that luscious mouth and sucked. He licked suddenly
dry lips as energy danced from those stimulated finger tips through the length of
his arm and down into the pit of his stomach where it radiated outwards to set
his whole being aflame with desire.

Mulder frowned, releasing the fingers from his mouth but still clasping the hand.

"That reminds me. Scully says the bloodwork results are due back from the lab
today. She said she'd collect them and drop by on her way home..."

His words were halted when Alex, tiring of conversation, pulled Mulder down onto
the bed, tugging him on top of his naked body. Strong hands ranged along Mulder's
flanks then around his back as his mouth was drawn to the firm, willing lips
below him. A tongue, soft as velvet lapped against his full bottom lip sending a
frisson of delight through sensitive nerve endings and his mouth opened in
offering to the teasing, probing insistence. Moments later he found himself
crushed against the other's mouth as his own tongue battled furiously with the
invader, sucking, licking, pushing the other back and following its retreat into
another taste of heaven... the taste of Alex. The battle ended abruptly as Alex
submitted to his lover and Mulder flaunted his victory with strong strokes across
the palate, along the smooth ridge of teeth and into the softness of inner cheek
exploring the now familiar territory with the thoroughness of a perfectionist.

He felt a tug on his jacket and slowly they began a familiar dance as bodies
writhed and flexed until every article of clothing had slipped from Mulder's body
to lie pooled on the floor beside the bed. Alex smiled into the almost bruising
kiss that had remained unbroken throughout their dance. He raised both hands to
grasp either side of Mulder's face and gently pushed his lover away.

Fox Mulder stared down into eyes darkened in desire, his tongue teasing along his
own kiss-swollen lips, unconsciously mirroring the man beneath him. Coherent
thought returned and with it came the wonder of this moment. What had he done to
deserve this? What Gods had he so pleased that they saw fit to reward him with
this beautiful, sensuous creature?

Alex frowned slightly as Mulder's expression darkened in fear. He was acutely
aware of his lover's mood swings... the optimistic highs followed so closely by
the lows of near paranoia. One corner of his mouth rose. Mulder was a regular
roller-coaster of emotions, one moment impassioned by his quest for the truth,
the next despondent by the weight of past failures. He didn't need to be a
mind-reader to know what thoughts were racing through his lover's brain. He had
seen the selfless awe and wonder as he gazed down at his one-time enemy but
new-found love and knew the darkness was the flip-side... the fear of losing what
he had found. Alex Krycek took the one course of action that was guaranteed to
drive those thoughts away. He pulled the face back down to his own and possessed
the delectable mouth, hands flowing back through the thick chestnut hair, gliding
down the nape of Mulder's neck to slide across the strong shoulders, then down
further, until he was caressing the bulging biceps that supported the weight of
Mulder's body above him. In response, Mulder moaned softly into the demanding
mouth and felt his elbows give way until he was supported by his forearms either
side of the broad shoulders, his chest resting against the almost hairless skin
of his lover's torso. Long legs parted beneath him and Mulder felt his own slip
between them until he could feel the silken steel of his lover's erection sliding
against his own.

He moaned anew as Alex rocked his hips gently from side to side producing an
exquisite friction as his swollen shaft rubbed against the soft yet muscular
belly, trapped by his own weight. He lost himself in the sensation for several
minutes and then, before he could fall over the edge, pulled back until he was
kneeling between the wantonly spread thighs. As wonderful as this felt, Mulder
knew he wanted something far tighter, far more intimate. His gold flecked eyes
widened as a small tube was dangled before him and his smile grew into a stunning
grin as he allowed Alex to squeeze the cool gel onto his fingers. A single
thought broke through the haze of lust as he wondered how Alex could so easily
understand what he needed.

He gently prepared his lover, watching the green eyes glaze over as his fingers
plunged into the hot channel, stroking and rubbing the soft interior until he
felt the tight muscles relax. He pulled away once more and sat back on his heels,
waiting until Alex opened his eyes, needing to see the consent written across
that expressive face before he continued. His memory of abusing Alex, still too
close to the surface. Mulder smiled as the hungry eyes devoured his own,
kiss-softened lips quivering with expectation, then positioned himself at the
prepared entrance and thrust firmly but gently forward.

A sharp intake of breath was the only sound, the fluttering descent of those long
dark lashes, concealing the bright eyes, the only movement. Mulder held still and
waited until the curtain of lashes raised before pushing forward once more. Once
he was fully sheathed he paused again... this time to savour the tightness around
his swollen flesh and the warmth of the firm asscheeks against his thighs and
balls. Below him, Alex writhed, small pants of pleasure and need drifting up to
caress his ears and ignite his body. Too soon the need to seek completion pulled
him almost fully out of the delicious body before he plunged back into the
restrictive heat, his mind soaring as guttural moans of welcome possession
increased audibly.

Mulder pushed himself back up until his elbows locked and gazed down between
their bodies, his own excitement increasing as he watched his shaft drive deep
into the willing body. A hand snaked between them, grabbing Mulder's attention
and he became mesmerised by the fingers that wrapped around his lover's tumescent
flesh, gliding up and down the thick shaft until...

Mulder felt the beginning of his lover's orgasm as internal muscles clenched
tightly around him. He forced his eyes to remain open as Alex cried out softly,
watching the spurts of white semen splatter across the muscular abdomen and chest
before giving in to his own impending destruction and rebirth as he pumped
once... twice... three times into the beautiful sweat-sheened body.

He collapsed on top of his lover and revelled in the strong arms that enfolded
him. They remained that way for a few moments until it became obvious that his
weight was too uncomfortable for Alex to support. Mulder slipped to one side and
pulled Alex against him, covering the still gasping mouth with a slow,
affectionate kiss. He pulled back and grinned at the satiated expression on the
angelic face knowing his own mirrored that of his lover's.

"You're good for me."

Alex smiled then laid his head upon Mulder's shoulder and, with no more words
passing between them, they drifted into a deep, restful sleep.

********************

East 46th Street New York City

CBG Spender stubbed out one cigarette and, moments later, with the flick of his
thumb he lit another. He glanced around the conference table seemingly oblivious
to the baleful glares his actions evoked. The First Elder grimaced. He abhorred
the habit *and* the man but could not deny Spender's usefulness to the Project.

"I am told you have renewed surveillance on Agent Mulder."

"Yes. I have reason to believe he will be contacted by the rebel aliens."

"I see."

"If you wish me to remove..."

The First Elder's mouth tightened as the honeyed words flowed smoothly from
Spender's almost sneering mouth; the faked subservience grating on already
over-strung nerves.

"No... but I wish to be kept informed."

"Of course. Is that all?"

It was easy to see that there was no love lost between the two men but then,
Spender seemed to hold most of the powerful men present in barely held contempt,
his condescending attitude doing little to hide his disdain.

"Strughold has confirmed his requirements. You will arrange for more...
merchandise to be shipped. I expect you to take a personal interest in the latest
batch of acquisitions."

Spender nodded his head, lips pursed with a small show of distaste. He was
reluctant to leave the States knowing that Alex might be in hiding nearby. As to
reporting the results of any surveillance on Fox Mulder... well, he would ensure
a highly edited version reached the First Elder should his theory pan out. He did
not want anyone to interfere with his plans to regain Alexei Krycek. Spender
half-listened as the First Elder continued, the other half of his attention
caught in planning what he would do if he *should* locate Alex.

"In the meantime, to eliminate any possibility of Mr Mulder interfering with our
work I suggest you make arrangements for him and his partner to be permanently
reassigned away from the X-Files... and more amenable agents put in place."

"I have already set the wheels in motion."

"Excellent."

********************

2630 Hegal Place Apartment 42 Alexandria

A knock on the door brought both men out of a light sleep. Mulder glanced
blearily at the beside clock, his blue-gold eyes widening in shock.

"Jesus, Alex! Look at the time!"

He leapt out of bed, throwing sweats and a T-shirt at the recumbent man even as
he struggled into his own sweats.

"What the..." was all Mulder heard as Alex found himself muffled by the sweat
pants that landed on his face.

"Scully!"

"Oh shit!"

Alex clambered out from under the well mussed sheet, hair in disarray and started
pulling on the clothes. Beyond the bedroom door they heard the sound of the
apartment door opening as Scully let herself in.

"Mulder?"

Her soft, inquiring voice filtered along the short corridor. Krycek ran a hand
quickly through his short hair and turned to inspect his lover. He smiled at the
strands of hair that had taken a life of their own, reaching out as if trying to
escape from his head. Dunking his fingers in the glass of water by the bed, he
ran his fingers through Mulder's hair, taming the errant locks. A quick peck on
the cheek was his thanks as Mulder hurried out of the bedroom to meet Scully in
the lounge.

She smiled as she noticed his flushed face and flustered manner.

//I know what you've been doing...// the sing-song words floated into her head as
they had when she was a child taunting her elder siblings. Her smile raised a
notch when he ran his hand through the thick chestnut hair, undoing all of Alex's
work. Moments later Krycek entered the lounge looking equally dishevelled... and
bearing a mischievous grin.

"Before you say it... No, I hadn't forgotten you were coming over. I just forgot
the time."

"Got a little bit distracted, hmmm?"

The twinkle in her crystal blue eyes was at total odds with the seriousness of
her expression but she couldn't hold the 'severe' face for more than a few
seconds. Mulder blushed in embarrassment as her pretty mouth broke into an impish
grin. She turned her gaze, automatically, to take in Alex Krycek. Much of the bad
blood between them had faded away during those days in Florida. Still, she had
not completely resolved all her feelings towards him but had made the effort for
Mulder's sake. Seeing him now looking so young, innocent and carefree made her
smile. This was the Alexei Krycek that she *wanted* to know, not the duplicitous
rat that had entered their lives all those years ago. She had come to care for
*this* Alex Krycek.

The mood was broken as Mulder collapsed into his favourite spot on the old
leather couch.

"Coffee?"

Scully looked back at Krycek, almost off-hand in her reply.

"Yeah, sure."

She sank onto the easy chair opposite, engaging Mulder in small-talk until Alex
reappeared carrying three mugs. Once he settled himself on the couch next to her
partner she reached down and drew a folder from her briefcase. It was the report
from the laboratory.

"It's bad news, I'm afraid. The sample must have been contaminated as the blood
showed elements that couldn't possibly be present under normal circumstances."

"What sort of elements?"

"Oh, a higher percentage of copper than would be deemed safe in a human blood
sample... and strange aberrations of the DNA strands. I thought I could take
another sample, send it through the labs again."

"No."

Both Mulder and Scully looked to Alex in surprise, not understanding why he would
suddenly refuse to undergo the tests.

"I don't think it's necessary." He glanced from one to the other. "I mean... look
at me! I'm fine... just got one more hand than I had a few months ago."

Scully raised an eyebrow, her partner was more vocal in his opinion.

"Alex, that sample could be exactly what we need to *prove* there is
extra-terrestrial life not only 'out there' but walking around among us. *You*
might be the irrefutable proof the sceptics have demanded..."

Dana Scully watched as Alex averted his face from his lover's bright eyes,
seeming afraid of the obsessive light gleaming from them. She watched his lips
thin, realising how close Alex was to saying something he might later regret. She
interrupted Mulder before the explosion occurred.

"Mulder? Were the samples taken for Alex's benefit... or for yours?"

Mulder halted midstream, a stunned and wounded look crossing his face as he began
to deny putting his own search for the truth ahead of his lover's well-being. The
words tailed off as realisation came. Parading Alex Krycek around as a
human/alien hybrid might bolster his own ego, proving to the world that he *was*
right, that there *was* intelligent life out there but the effects on Alex would
be devastating and might even cost Alex his life.

"You're right. Perhaps it's for the best."

He glanced up and produced a small smile for the man seated by his side then
reached over and pulled Alex into his arms, hugging him tightly. After a moment's
hesitation, Alex hugged him back.

"Well, if that's everything then I'm off. I have a date with hot bath, a bottle
of tequila and a Hershey bar."

"Life in the fast lane, Scully."

As she walked to the door, trailed by her partner, Scully smiled secretly to
herself. What she hadn't mentioned was the Jackie Collins novel she had treated
herself to... and word on the grapevine was that it was raunchy in all the right
places.

********************

One Week Later
FBI Headquarters
Washington DC

Mulder could still not believe the way events had unfolded over the past week.
The day after speaking with Skinner he had found himself back in the AD's office
with Scully and what followed still filled him with both disgust and anger.

Skinner had seemed almost apologetic as he informed them of the decision to
remove them from the X-Files. Apparently, someone in the higher echelons of the
Bureau had decided that, following the Antarctic incident, Mulder was too
obsessed and therefore no longer subjective in his current work. He and Scully
were to be replaced by Special Agents Jeffrey Spender and Diana Fowley.

There were plenty of reasons why the news of his successors jarred. Despite the
fact that he and Diana had originally set up the X-Files together, Mulder was
less than willing to see her take them back. Her decision to take up another
assignment had followed hard on the footsteps of their ill-conceived marriage and
subsequent divorce. He knew that, at the time, she had not been happy with the
decision but it was that or carrying on as if nothing had happened between them;
pretending they had never shared anything more than an obsession with the
paranormal. He had been grateful then... now he was livid. As to Jeffrey
Spender...

The scene with AD Skinner replayed in his mind....

"That's a load of Bull and you know it. They thought they had destroyed my work
when they burnt the files. *You* know and *I* know that Spender is a Consortium
lackey... this is just another excuse to remove me from..."

"Agent Mulder, I am not here to argue with you. You and Agent Scully will report
to AD Kersh for reassignment at 11:00. Dismissed."

"Sir, isn't there..."

Skinner held up a hand as Dana Scully uttered her first words since entering his
office. She closed her mouth and watched as the hand travelled across the strong
face and over the balding head.

"You're good agents.... both of you... and I'm sorry this has happened but I have
no say in this matter. And neither do you. Dismissed."

Mulder had stormed out of the AD's office and, two hours later, he and Scully had
found themselves clearing their desks and moving into AD Kersh's realm.

A week had passed since then and the only work that appeared on their desks
seemed so inconsequential as to be laughable; checking references was the sort of
task reserved for junior agents, fresh out of Quantico. He had reconsidered
resigning but Alex was right. Someone was trying to force him out by demoralising
him. This knowledge merely served to fire him up; his stubborn, obsessive streak
standing him in good stead for once as he decided that, if the X-Files couldn't
come to him then he would go to them.

By day he was the pencil pushing bureaucrat as ordered, seeming to work late into
the evening but, as soon as the last person left he returned to his own agenda,
hacking into the FBI database looking for anomalies... and raiding Spender's
waste basket. It looked as though Spender shredded everything that came across
his desk.

Mulder frowned, aware that the true casualty of his latest plan had been his
lover. Although only a week had passed he could sense the restlessness in the
other. Until his reassignment they had filled the evenings with sex... fantastic
sex... but over this past week he had not returned until the early hours. Mulder
felt the smile that lifted his lips falter. Alex had waited up, choosing to sleep
during the day but the strain was starting to tell as they collapsed together on
the bed with Mulder too tired to raise an eyebrow let alone... He sniffed softly.
Such a turnaround. Two weeks ago Alex had been returned to him, miraculously
alive and whole but filled with a debilitating fatigue. During those first few
days it was Mulder who made most of the effort, teasing and caressing, bringing
Alex to the edge slowly and gently. He smiled in remembrance of those times when
Alex would pass out from the shock waves riding his body.

Since then the man had started to recover and it had not been unusual for Mulder
to return to his apartment to find his lover doing a series of strenuous sit-ups
and press-ups, rebuilding his strength. Over the passed few nights, however, he
had noticed the almost imperceptible twitch of the curtain as he made his way up
the front steps and into the tenement building. Usually, by the time he had
reached the apartment Alex had come away from the window having found some other
task to occupy him but the fact that he took such a risk in the first place was a
sure sign of his increasing restlessness.

Mulder glanced at the clock. It was time to start the last of his night duties.
He crept down to the basement office where he and Scully had so recently spent
most of their time when not on assignment. A quick check showed that no-one was
around and so he snuck in using a spare key he had cut several years ago, in case
of emergency, but had deliberately failed to hand over to Skinner. With deft
movements he emptied the trash can into one plastic bag and emptied another bag
of shredded paper into the trash bin in replacement. He didn't want to make the
Cleaner suspicious. A bang from along the corridor caught his attention. He
waited silently. Looked like the Cleaner was doing his rounds slightly earlier.

Mulder took a quick gaze through the single folder in the desk drawer, memorising
the details, flicked off the desk lamp and left the office. The clatter of the
trash cart proved he had cut it a little too fine but he sighed in relief as he
made the corner just before the Cleaner turned the far one.

Four hours later Mulder had pieced together most of the latest shredded document.
He grimaced. It was a report of strange lights over Barter's Grove. Nothing
special there. The small town was close to a military research station.

Mulder ran a hand through his short brown hair, sending strands spiking in all
directions. It was almost two a.m. Time to leave. He turned off the PC and hauled
on his jacket and coat.

When he finally pulled up outside the apartment he saw the curtain twitch and
grimaced once more. He was being so unfair on Alex but what choice *was* there?
As he moved into the quiet lounge he expected to find Alex curled up on the sofa
reading... or pottering around the kitchen making a sandwich but both rooms were
empty. Eventually he found Alex in the bedroom, standing in the dark, still
gazing almost longingly around the edge of the drawn curtains at the world
beyond. Mulder walked up behind him, wrapping one arm around his broad chest as
the other closed the curtain. He nuzzled the fine dark hairs at the nape of his
lover's neck and whispered a soft 'hi' into one elfin ear.

Pulling his lover away from the window, Mulder placed his finger across the
bow-shaped lips when it looked as though Alex was about to say something. With
deft fingers he stripped both of them and turned to study Alex. Only the barest
glimmer of light bled into the bedroom from the lounge but it was enough to throw
shadows across the well-formed chest, emphasising the strong pectorals, the peak
of an erect nipple and the ripple of muscle across his abdomen. Mulder gazed at
his own reflection in the dressing mirror. Many described it as athletic,
lithe... a runner's body with long thigh muscles and strong calves. Alex... well,
he was built more like a fighter; a boxer. So apt, really, considering their life
styles.

Strange. When he first entered the room he had all the intention of falling into
bed but not for sex, just to sleep. Seeing that lost and forlorn figure sent a
shard of ice ripping into his heart and he could think of only one way to bring
the warmth back.

Alex had remained motionless as if in shock when Mulder lay face down on the bed,
head pillowed on his arms, offering his body. The concern on his face proved he
had seen the fatigue that dulled the chameleon eyes and he was expecting nothing
more than to hold Mulder while he slept. Alex sank down on the bed, trailing one
hand along the soft, exposed skin and then sighed deeply, removing his hand.

"We have to talk."

Mulder mumbled a reply but knew Alex would not be satisfied until he heard
something more intelligible so he turned his head to look up into Alex's pensive
face.

"I know... but not tonight."

They held each other's eyes a moment longer before Alex nodded his assent.

"Okay. Not tonight... but soon." His voice becoming even softer, more husky.
"Cummon, you're tired. Let's just lie here. Sleep."

Mulder reached out and grabbed the hand that drew the bedsheet over his body.

"I *do* love you, Alex. You know that. You mean..."

Alex placed one finger over his trembling lips.

"I know."

Alex finished pulling the sheet over them and then snuggled down, pulling Mulder
into his arms. After a few minutes he heard the sound of Mulder's breathing
change, growing softer and deeper but, for him, sleep was elusive and, many hours
later, he was still staring up at the ceiling watching the light of a new day
creep across the room.

********************

The Next Morning
FBI Headquarters
Washington DC

AD Skinner dropped his briefcase onto his desk and sighed. He sniffed the air,
his nose wrinkling up in distaste and he turned on his heel. Holding the 'No
Smoking' sign up like a cross to a vampire, Skinner approached the seated man.

"I won't even bother asking how you got into my locked office uninvited but you
can at least show a little courtesy."

The Smoker merely smiled and took another long drag at the cigarette held
nonchalantly in his hand, blowing the smoke out in one long stream directed
towards the AD's face. With the other hand he flipped a folder to Skinner. The AD
caught it deftly and glanced at the cover. The name 'Barry, Duane' written in
bold type across the title. He recognised it as the report Mulder had written
following Duane Barry's suspicious death. The report in which the Special Agent
had made allegations against Alexei Krycek.

"It appears Mr Mulder has recently rescinded certain allegations made against
his... former partner, Agent Krycek. Any particular reason why he should do so at
this time?"

"How the hell would I know. The man's no longer under my control."

"Oh come now, Mr Skinner. I am not a fool and I did not take you for one either.
Where is Alexei Krycek?"

Skinner kept the small smile that threatened to break across his face from
showing. Despite his own personal dislike of Krycek... for obvious reasons; the
beating he had taken on the hospital stairwell being one of them, the thought of
holding out on CBG Spender was far more pleasurable than what he would gain in
handing over information on Krycek's whereabouts. He turned his deadpan
expression back on the Smoker, his voice low and gruff.

"I have no idea... and even if I did, what makes you think I would tell you?"

"Professional courtesy?"

This time the smile did make it's way onto Skinner's face as he tossed the 'No
Smoking' sign at the Smoker.

"Perhaps if I ever saw some then I might be willing to reciprocate. You found
your way in so I assume you know your way out."

The Smoker rose and moved to the door. He paused on the threshold.

"One day you'll need me..."

"When hell freezes over."

A malicious smile curled the corner of the Smoker's mouth. He nodded his head
once and left leaving Skinner alone with his thoughts, wondering if he should
mention this 'visitation' to Special Agent Mulder. With a shake of his head he
decided it would be better to forget the whole thing. He grimaced as a nasty
taste reached his mouth. The day had barely begun and already he had heartburn.

Skinner popped two tablets into his mouth and chewed thoughtfully as he pulled
the first of many reports open in front of him.

********************

A Few Hours Later
AD Kersh's Department
FBI Headquarters, Washington DC

Scully watched her partner from her desk. She knew what he was doing late at
night after everyone else had left but it did not sit well with her on more than
one front.

Firstly, she hated the subterfuge, her sense of duty vying uncomfortably with her
loyalty - and love - for her partner. They both knew what would happen to him if
he was caught and, although he would do his damndest to ensure she was not hit by
the fallout, she knew she would be 'tainted by association'. Normally this would
not bother her. She had made the decision to stick by her partner through thick
and thin and nothing, not even his relationship with Alex Krycek, could alter
that. However, a black mark on her FBI record would close many doors of
opportunity... and for what? Mulder had no proof that Spender and Fowley were
deliberately concealing evidence, just his intuition. In the past that would have
been enough but she wondered how much of this 'intuition' was actually fuelled by
baser emotions; jealousy, bitterness, anger.

Secondly, she was fully aware of the strain this was putting on Mulder. He was
more than just her partner... he was her best friend and she was appalled by the
way he had been treated. She could understand his anger and felt it almost as
keenly. Over the past few years she had devoted a lot of energy to the X-Files,
or rather, she had devoted the energy to Fox Mulder and his strange quests. She
knew her inability to accept much of what was thrust in front of her face was a
constant source of dismay to her partner but, equally, she knew how much he
relied upon her disbelief to keep him grounded. However, working with Fox Mulder
was a double-edged sword. It had provided her with some unique opportunities to
broaden her pathology skills but it had also brought her closer to death on more
than one occasion. Memories of Donald Pfaster and Duane Barry brought on a
shudder of remembered fear before being swiftly pushed back where they belonged.

Now, as she watched him scrub at tired eyes she felt more than just compassion
rise; she felt her own anger and with it, her determination to give him whatever
support he needed be it physical or psychological. With that thought in mind she
rose from her desk.

********************

Mulder rubbed his hands across eyes dulled by fatigue, gulping down black coffee
in the hope of pushing away the tiredness. He grimaced in distaste, suddenly
aware of the amount of time that had passed. The coffee was cold... stone cold.
He must have dozed off reading the latest boring report that had crossed his
desk. He flipped the report shut with a heavy sigh. Eventually he would get used
to the lack of sleep but, until then, he would have to take it easy. He didn't
want Kersh to order him out of the building... and he didn't want to face any
more disapproving looks from his partner.

Another cup of coffee was placed before him, the aroma curling up with the steam.
He inhaled appreciatively and swivelled in his seat. Ignoring the concern in the
bright blue eyes, he smiled his appreciation.

"You must be a mind-reader, Scully."

"And you should be more careful. They've been sniggering at you for the past ten
minutes. Fortunately they can't tell the difference between one of your
'introspections' and a man fast asleep at his desk so they gave you the benefit
of the doubt." Her eyes narrowed in thought and she added softly, "I think."

Mulder smiled wryly, well aware of the way he was viewed by many of the agents
present. He mumbled something under his breath and then found himself smiling at
the knowing look on her pretty face. Despite all they had been through, all their
differences, she still knew him better than anyone else on the planet. The only
exception being Alex.

He sighed. What was he going to do about Alex? He loved him... had been prepared
to give up everything to stay with his lover but they both knew time was running
out for the Human Race so their own personal choices would have to take a back
seat. Mulder realised that the time to talk about the future... their future...
had come. He couldn't expect Alex to wait around in his apartment, like a dutiful
spouse, and Alex would not expect him to give up his cause. Too much was at
stake. Tonight he would leave early and they would do what Alex had asked last
night; they would talk.

Decision made, Mulder turned his attention back to the hot coffee... and his
desk.

His in-tray was filled to the brim with the usual detritus of office paperwork;
forms for car rental, forms for expenses claims, briefing reports, social
reports. The list was endless and most were barely glanced at before being filed
away... in the circular waste basket by the side of his desk. An irritating
squeak heralded the arrival of yet another load of mail and Mulder sighed,
expecting more of the same boring paperwork to be offloaded. Around him the other
agents grimaced in annoyance. They had offered to bring in some grease to oil the
wheels of the cart but, despite the irritation, Mulder preferred to be forewarned
of someone coming up behind him.

When they had been sent back to the Bullpen, they had been forced to accept the
only available desks; desks that nobody else felt comfortable sitting in. He
realised pretty quickly how lucky he had been when the powers that be had given
him the basement office. It might not have been the most glamorous of
locations... and the view sucked but it had afforded him not just privacy but
also peace. Here, the inane chatter and the clatter of fingers on keyboards were
almost enough to drive him insane. Fortunately he did not need to 'think' about
the work he was given. However, sharing an office with umpteen other agents had
another down-side. Although having his back to the rest of the office gave him a
slight sense of privacy, it also meant that he couldn't see anyone approaching...
and there were a few items on his PC and on his desk that he would prefer not to
reveal to the others.

Another small sigh. Agent Sanders would be leaving next week to have a baby and,
as Senior Agent, he had already put in a claim for her desk once vacated. It
moved him a little further away from Scully but, with a little persuasion, he
hoped he might be able to convince Sander's ex-partner to swap desks with her.

The cart stopped by his side and Mulder watched the messenger reach for a stack
of papers, files and envelopes. Mulder eyed the latest additions to his in-tray
with disgust. Hauling them out and placing them in a pile in front of him, he
started separating the post; some were added to the pile on his desk, the rest
dropped the short distance into the trash bin. Automatic pilot was suddenly
disengaged as the removal of a staff memo revealed a small manila envelope.
Mulder's eyes narrowed in curiosity. He picked it up and turned it over in his
hands but, other than his name, there were no other markings or writing to
indicate an origin. With extreme care, he slit open the end and tipped the
contents onto the desk in front of him; a single piece of paper, with a name
written on it, fluttered to the desktop. A quick check revealed nothing left
behind in the envelope. With his curiosity level raised another notch, Mulder
read the name out, loudly enough to attract the attention of the agent seated
nearby.

"You say something?"

"No, just talking out loud."

As he turned back to the single sheet of paper held in his hand, a relieved look
on Markson's face was caught in his peripheral vision. He grimaced, his mouth a
tight line of annoyance. No-one spoke to him unless they had to and all seemed to
dread the occasions when 'Spooky Mulder' deigned to talk to them. His thoughts
drifted back to the two people who did not treat him like some Pariah; Alex and
Scully. A small smile lifted the sensuous lips at the incongruity of his
thoughts... and their names.

Dana was his best friend... and he called her Scully out of affection. Alex was
his lover and the love of his life yet he rarely ever thought of him as Krycek
anymore. He had used that name as a curse for a hated enemy and now only employed
it when he was annoyed or wanted Alex's full attention.

The smile broadened but the sound of feet shuffling behind him brought him back
from those distracting thoughts. He waited but the feet moved passed his desk
towards another and he turned his attention to the name on the piece of paper
held in his hand. With his eidetic memory he knew that it was not a name he had
come across before so he accessed the FBI database using the name in the search
parameters. A minute, that felt like ten, passed before the information began to
feed across the screen; Michael Anacek, age 31, dark hair, green eyes, height
1.8m, weight... Mulder frowned. The description fitted Alex. The rest of the
information detailed Anacek's criminal record; 23 arrests for prostitution
spanning 15 years; possession of narcotics leading to a short jail term. Passing
across this information, Mulder noticed a recent entry; a missing person report
entered the previous week. With some trepidation he clicked on the image button
and was strangely relieved to find a photo of a man who, despite bearing a
striking likeness to his Alex, was obviously not his lover. His fear of finding a
clone abated.

Mulder frowned again, pursing his lips in annoyance. Why would someone send him
this information? If they were hoping to drive a wedge between him and Alex then
they needed to do better than this but... another thought crossed his mind. The
man was a prostitute who had been reported missing well over a week ago; a
prostitute with a resemblance to his lover. What was the connection?

Surreptitiously, he checked around to ensure no-one was paying any attention to
him before pulling up the Missing Persons report. His eyes widened, mouth falling
open as a name jumped from the screen: Barter's Grove. His memory whizzed back to
the shredded paper he had pieced together last night and discarded so casually
afterwards.

"Mulder? What are you doing?"

Mulder looked up from his frantic search of his desk and the wastepaper basket
into Scully's concerned gaze noting the way her eyes flitted from side to side.
He glanced around to see several agents staring at him in morbid fascination,
only then becoming aware of the papers scattered over the floor in his search. He
opened his mouth to say something flippant when he saw *it*, the office light
glinting off the strips of tape used to reconstruct it. All thoughts of the
people around him vanished as he reached for the report.

"Eureka."

Mulder waved the sheet of paper in Scully's direction and then turned to glare at
a few of the spectators. None rose to the challenge, all preferring to back off
and leave 'Spooky' to his own devices; all *except* Dana Scully.

Scully cleared a space on the seemingly ransacked desk top and perched casually
on the edge.

"Care to tell me what this is all about?"

Mulder pointed to the screen. Scully twisted to view the data, unwilling to give
up her self-made *seat*. She skimmed the report on Michael Anacek, her brow
furrowing as she read the description and saw the photo.

"O-Kaayyy. So..." She halted as the repaired sheet was thrust into her tiny
hands. The rising of one well-sculptured eyebrow said 'I know where this came
from' and he had the good sense to looked chagrined but she read on anyway. "So
you think there's some connection?"

"Don't you? Here we have a missing person who just happens to have disappeared
the same night strange lights were seen over the town. This has all the hallmarks
of a classic UFO abduction..."

"Mulder, we're not on the X-Files anymore." She reached down and picked up the
small piece of paper with the name written on it, not recognising the writing.
"What's this?"

"Arrived in my in-tray this morning." Mulder stared deep into the blue eyes.
"Scully, someone sent me this name on purpose. Someone wants me to look into
this... but why? At first I thought it might be someone who knows about my
relationship with Alex; someone who wants to freak me out but the guy has only a
fleeting resemblance..." Mulder sighed. "...Okay, has quite a good resemblance
to..."

"They're so alike they could be brothers."

He paused as Scully's remark went careering through his head. He decided to flow
with the unbidden thought that flashed into his mind... just a hunch but... He
brought up the Missing Persons database and keyed in some relative details that
matched the description of his Alex; male, dark hair, green eyes etc then sat
back as the search engine trundled through the numerous files. He spent the
interminable wait picking up the wads of paper that had been discarded in all
directions during his search... and listening to Scully's fingernails click on
the surface of his desk, until a warble indicated that the search was complete.

Mulder leaned back in surprise at the list of 32 names that was presented to him.
He printed the names and then clicked on each in turn to bring up the details and
photos, with Scully watching over his shoulder. By the time they had worked their
way through all the names Mulder knew his hunch had paid off. Of the 32 names
there were seven men, including Michael Anacek, who bore a remarkable resemblance
to Alexei Krycek. Many were the kind of low-life that nobody really cared about;
prostitutes and drug addicts, the denizens of the red light districts and bars
that filled many of America's cities. Anonymous figures who were only missed by
their Pimps and Dealers for financial reasons and yet no-one seemed to have made
too much of a fuss when they disappeared. Mulder took the 'last seen' details of
these men and plotted them on a map. They were spread across the country from Los
Angeles to Chicago.

His first thought was that these unfortunate men had paid the price for having
such a close resemblance to his own lover. The Consortium had searched high and
low for Alexei Krycek following his theft of the MJ-12 tape. It still amazed him
that Alex had managed to evade their grasp for so long... unless someone had been
protecting him. His thoughts churned on. The latest missing person had
disappeared just over a week ago and if he had been mistaken for Alex Krycek then
it was a fair bet that the 'wrong people' knew Alex was back in the US. Sudden
concern for his lover showed plainly on his face. He printed off a copy of the
Missing Person report for each of the seven.

"I need to take this to Skinner. The latest victim disappeared over a week ago
and if we don't move soon then the trail will have gone cold. Besides, we'll need
to correlate these reports with UFO sightings."

"I'll go through the personal files and see if I can find any other connection...
apart from the obvious one that they all resemble Alex in some way."

Scully smiled at the grateful grin that lit up her partner's face. She watched as
he gathered all the data together and head out of the bullpen towards Skinner's
office with renewed purpose, the adrenaline kick of a new case putting the spring
back into his step.

********************

AD Skinner's Office
FBI Headquarters, Washington DC

"Sir, Special Agent Mulder would like to see you."

Skinner sighed. He was up to his neck in reports and knew he'd be taking at least
a third of them home with him tonight if he didn't manage to get a few
uninterrupted hours in the office. He rubbed a hand over his bald head. To be
honest, he missed Mulder's bizarre theories and reports. Despite the dubious
content they were a lot more interesting than the normal run-of-the-mill
surveillance reports that crossed his desk and had made life a little more
exciting. That thought startled him. At the time he had suffered a constant
headache trying to follow the convoluted scientific explanations that Dana Scully
had put forward against Mulder's outlandish theories while performing a ritual
danse macabre with the shadowy Morley Man. Yet now, he missed the challenge.
Until today, it had been far too quiet since Mulder had been reassigned to Kersh.
In fact, the number of X-File reports that had crossed his desk since Spender and
Fowley had taken over could be counted on the fingers of one hand... and none of
these had been followed up. He made a mental note to look into this.

"Send him in."

Mulder bounded into the office like a man on a crusade. Skinner knew that look
well and pointed to the seat opposite.

"What is it, Agent Mulder?"

"I have a list of names... all Missing Persons..."

Skinner held up a hand to halt the flow.

"If this is another 'Alien Abduction' theory then I have to remind you that you
are no longer assigned to the X-Files..."

Mulder paused, his teeth, momentarily, worrying his lower lip as he considered
his options before finally deciding to tell the truth.

"Okay, Sir. I *do* believe these men have been 'abducted' by aliens but, if you
let me show you some photos, you might understand why it's important I follow
this up."

Walter Skinner leant back in his chair, hands raised in an expansive gesture. His
eyes narrowed with each photo laid in front of him, his forehead creasing in
realisation. As the last photo was displayed, Skinner looked up into the serious
face opposite. He held up a hand as Mulder opened his mouth.

"You think they're all dead... killed because of their likeness to Krycek."

"Yes, Sir. All the disappearances have taken place over the past 5 years, since
he went on the run with the DAT tape. I know the Consortium is in collusion with
the Aliens. The Consortium may have mistaken these men for Alex."

Skinner grimaced. He really didn't know what to believe. There was no proof that
Aliens existed but he had the utmost respect for Mulder and knew something must
be going on otherwise why waste all the time, money and effort trying to
discredit the man albeit on a small scale. It occurred to him then that
discrediting Mulder on a global scale would have a detrimental effect, pouring
unwanted attention on those very theories they were trying to suppress. He
sighed. No matter what the truth of the matter, he had been ordered to have no
professional contact with Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully.

"Missing Persons is not your area of responsibility. Where did you get this
information?"

Mulder glanced up, his hazel eyes holding the dark ones of the AD in defiance.

"The name Michael Anacek was sent to me in an unmarked envelope. I put the rest
of it together by accessing the Missing Persons database." Mulder paused, pursing
his lips in mild agitation. "His disappearance was reported just over a week ago.
I'd like to check it out before the trail goes cold."

Skinner nodded his head. It was these intuitive leaps that made Mulder one of the
FBI's best agents - if not the most infuriating but now came the hard part.
Mulder and Scully had been reassigned to AD Kersh's Domestic Terrorism department
checking out requests for chemicals that could be used to make explosives.
Missing Persons and Homicide did not come under that remit.

"I appreciate you bringing this to my attention but I'll have to assign people
from this department to investigate. It's the best I can do."

Mulder pushed back the chair as he sprang to his feet. He leant forward on
Skinner's desk; the aggressiveness of his stance was not lost on the AD.

"With all due respect... *sir*, that's not good enough..."

"Agent Mulder. You are about to cross the line. I would think very carefully
before you utter another word."

They held each others eyes momentarily; unrelenting hardness in one set, anger in
the other until Mulder backed down, the sulleness of his expression a true
indicator that he had no intention of letting the subject drop.

Skinner flinched slightly as a coldness crept into the usually warm, hazel eyes.
He raised a hand to forestall Mulder's explosion.

"I'm sorry, Agent Mulder, but you no longer report to me, it's not within my
power to assign you to the case."

Mulder stared hard into the deep brown eyes as if trying to decipher some hidden
meaning in the dark depths but Skinner was giving nothing away. Recognising the
dismissal, Mulder turned away without another word.

Walter Skinner swallowed visibly. The whole thing had left a sour taste in his
mouth but he had his orders to make no special dispensations for his former
agents and approaching Kersh to reassign the pair, even temporarily, would be
tantamount to disobeying that order. However, he could ensure that this
connection between the missing men was investigated, recognising that it was fear
for his lover that had driven Mulder to his door. His meeting with 'Morley Man'
proved the Consortium knew Krycek had resurfaced in the US and he realised it
would only be a matter of time before they found him.

Skinner dropped his head into his hands, fingers massaging his temples where the
tell-tale signs of a massive headache were beginning to make themselves known.
Despite his own continuing anger at the ex-FBI Agent, Skinner felt he owed it to
Mulder to try and protect his lover. He looked up, pressed the intercom button
and spoke to his secretary.

"Kimberley. Please send for Agents Harris and Davidson."

********************

Mulder stormed back to his desk and dropped into his seat, cursing himself for
believing Skinner would help him. If he'd kept his mouth shut then he could have
done a little more investigating himself but he had put his faith in Skinner.

"Dammit."

He dropped his fist to the desk, wincing slightly at the pain that jarred along
his arm. The soft, familiar sound of his partner's voice floated over his
shoulder in inquiry and he swivelled in his chair to face Scully.

"I just blew it with Skinner. I thought I could trust the man but..." He slouched
over and put his forehead on the desk.

"What is it, Mulder?"

Dana Scully perched herself on the edge of his desk and waited, knowing Mulder
would tell her in his own time. She watched as he raised his head from the desk,
an embittered smile toying about his mouth. He stared at his own reflection in
the darkened computer screen for a moment and then turned anxious eyes to his
partner.

"Alex's life is in danger and there's not a damn thing I can do to about it. I
think that Cancer ridden bastard knows Alex is here... and now it's only a matter
of time..."

Mulder straightened up suddenly and grabbed his cellphone. How could he have been
so stupid? There had to be a good reason why this name should arrive on his desk
today. It was a warning. He punched the speed dial and mumbled to himself as the
answer phone message cut in. His listened impatiently to the sound of his own
voice.

"Pick up the phone, Alex. Cummon, take a chance and pick up the phone..." As the
brief answer-message ended Mulder spoke louder. "He knows you're here."

********************

The journey back to his apartment seemed to take forever and Mulder found himself
leaning on the horn on more than one occasion as he impatiently negotiated the
early evening commuter rush. Eventually he pulled up outside his apartment block
and jumped out of the car. Fingers fumbled with the key and he decided against
waiting for the ancient elevator and took the stairs three at a time. The hallway
leading to his door was empty and, as he walked along the narrow corridor he
could barely make out the sound of the other inhabitants except for the
occasional muted hum of a television set. He slid the key into the lock on his
door and turned it slowly, keeping his tall frame to the side just in case he had
unwelcome visitors though why he expected them today was pure paranoia. The
arrival of the plain manila envelope had given him the jitters - not for his own
sake but for his lover's.

The door swung open on newly greased hinges... one of the differences between him
and Alex. He preferred the grating sound that would pre-warn him of some
intrusion, Alex preferred the well-oiled silence so he could slip in and out of
the apartment unheard, thereby reducing the chances of him being seen. The
silence within the apartment was unnerving. Had Alex heeded his warning and gone
to ground... or was there a more sinister reason for the heaviness of the dead
air? He moved from room to room, watching for signs of an unwanted third party
and, simultaneously, dreading finding something or someone. He pushed open the
kitchen door, concerned that it was shut... something that neither of them ever
did, his breath hitching as the unmistakable smell of blood assailed his senses.

"Alex!"

He knew, the moment he stepped into the room, that a body had lain in the pool of
dark red, viscous liquid that was spread out across the kitchen floor and that
left too many thoughts crowding around his head. Whose body? Was it Alex or
someone injured or killed by Alex? Where was Alex? Did he escape? Was he now a
hostage... or was he dead, his body taken away by his murderers?

Mulder sank into the seat at the kitchen table and stared at the pool of blood.
Fear coiled heavily in his stomach. He should have contacted Alex earlier...
before going to Skinner.

********************

Two Hours Earlier
2630 Hegal Place
Apartment 42
Alexandria

The sound of Mulder's answer machine kicking in had brought his head around. He
never picked up the phone, not wanting to advertise his presence but he always
listened in on the call just in case. He moved closer to the phone the moment he
recognised Mulder's voice, his hand hesitating as he reached for the handset. The
message was brief and to the point... and Krycek went instantly on his guard,
senses reaching out to encompass his surroundings. With silent, graceful
movements he gathered up a few necessary possessions, pulled on Mulder's leather
jacket and stepped into the kitchen. He took the spare gun from the drawer where
it had been left for safe-keeping.

Cradling the Glock 9mm with silencer in his hand, he sat at the small table in a
position that gave him a clear view of the only entrances yet afforded him some
protection. Mulder's message had insinuated that the Consortium knew he was back
in the States but whether or not they knew of his current location was another
matter entirely. So he sat silently, gun resting on the table, fingers curled
around the handle and trigger and waited for someone to show; hoping it would be
only Mulder who came through the doorway.

Time passed slowly until the quiet click of a door being opened and then closed
brought his head snapping up, his ears straining to hear soft footsteps. He
smiled malevolently. There were three sets of footsteps so, unless Mulder had
brought home some very quiet company, he knew to expect the worst.

The barrel of a gun came through the doorway first, the hand following was
definitely male and, to Alex, easily identifiable by the coarse dark hairs and
the single lucky charm hanging from the thick gold chain that dangled from the
wrist. He recognised Roberts, one of Cancer Man's goons; a nasty sadistic piece
of work who loved to torture his victims before carrying out a death sentence.
Alex gave the man no time to take a bead on his position and shot where he knew
the heart would be. The man tumbled forward into the kitchen, the single shot
finding its target.

Wasting no time in admiring his handiwork, he jumped up and climbed through the
kitchen window onto the fire escape. The street below was empty so he leapt down
the metal stairway using the hand bars to control his flight, reaching the final
landing in moments. Foregoing the retractable ladder, he leapt over the side,
dangling for a moment before allowing his body to drop the remaining distance to
the ground. He ran on, pausing at the entrance to the alley, head whipping around
the corner to check for any other goons but the clatter of feet from the fire
escape forced his hand and he stepped out of the alley, moving swiftly along the
street.

The sound of a car pulling up close behind him sent him running hard, angling
down another garbage strewn alleyway. He could hear the sound of pursuit as the
car knocked aside trash cans and cardboard boxes. Krycek cursed when he saw the
tall mesh fence ahead, shoved the Glock into his inside pocket and leapt, his
fingers grasping the wire. He scrambled up, thankful he had spent so much time
rebuilding the strength in both of his arms. Behind him he could hear the sound
of a car door opening and running feet. A hand grabbed at his ankle, scraping
against his booted foot and he kicked clear, making the top and swinging his body
over, hoping the pursuers were too involved in their attempt to grab him to have
weapons drawn. He dropped the 8 feet to the floor, landing awkwardly as a bullet
zinged passed his side sending a sharp, burning through his body. Ignoring the
pain, he gained his feet and ran. Behind him he could hear a deep male voice
cussing.

"Put those fucking guns away! He said 'alive', you fools."

The booming voice was still audible as Alex high-tailed it down the alleyway. He
heard the man order the others back to the car but knew at least one of CSM's
goons had breached the fence and was on his tail.

Racing around the corner he encountered his first piece of luck. The street was
crowded with people watching an altercation between the owners of two vehicles
that had collided. Krycek dove into the small crowd of about 20 people and
gradually made his way to the other side. Glancing back he could see Goon number
2 jumping up onto the base of a street lamp so he could see above the heads,
narrowed eyes searching the crowd for his prey. Krycek pulled a baseball cap out
of his pocket before slipping off his jacket, revealing a pale, green T-shirt,
hoping he may have altered his appearance enough to fool the other man but there
was something else he had been practising, something he had not yet shown
Mulder... and now seemed the appropriate time to use this new found skill. It
took a lot of concentration but, somehow, he managed to remould his features and
shape, changing the colour of his hair and compacting his body to a slightly
different configuration. CSM's man brushed right passed him, barely registering
the stout, auburn-haired man with the startling green eyes. The man slapped his
gun against his thigh and moved off, pushing his way through the crowd to a
waiting dark sedan.

Krycek concentrated hard on maintaining his disguise as he watched the occupants
exchange heated words before the other man clambered inside. A puff of blue smoke
curling out through the slightly opened window told it's own story. The sedan
took off slowly, the eyes of the three men inside glued to the outside scene,
still searching for sign of their prey. Once the car drifted out of sight Krycek
released the hold he had on his body and felt it ripple back into its true
configuration. Ignoring the confused expression on the man closest to him, he
headed back through the crowd the way he had come and ran quickly for the bus
just pulling up to a stop. It didn't matter where it was going as long as it took
him well away from the search area. He slumped into a seat by the exit, keeping
his head lowered and breathed a sigh of relief as the bus picked up speed.

********************

2630 Hegal Place
Apartment 42
Alexandria

Waiting.... how he hated waiting. He could be a patient man when necessary but
fear for Alex set him pacing through the apartment. Mulder threw himself onto the
ancient leather couch, his head bouncing back as it hit the upright. The sun had
begun to set behind the tall buildings opposite and Mulder watched the shadows
lengthen across the floor until the room was lit only by the light from the fish
tank.

Silence... the apartment seemed so silent to him now. He could still hear the
muted sounds of life beyond his four walls, the whispers of television sets, the
soft footfalls of people moving through the corridors but these were not the
sounds he had become accustomed to. He strained to hear the sound of Alex
pottering in the kitchen making coffee, the rustle of paper as Alex turned the
pages in a book, magazine or newspaper. That made him smile. He'd never thought
of Alex being a bookworm but the man seemed to soak up the written word and never
seemed more relaxed than when he had his nose deeply buried in a book. The latest
title lay discarded upon the low coffee table. Mulder reached for it, turning the
battered paperback over in his hands before placing it back onto the table. He
glanced towards the door... nothing... no-one.

Other remembered sounds filled his mind and he cocked his head as if the memory
alone could bring them back. He missed the soft grunting breaths as Alex pushed
himself to complete the punishing fitness regime... and the gentle humming that
seemed to follow Alex around the apartment. It was hard to believe a man who had
spent so many years on the run could make so much noise and, many a time, Mulder
had stood outside the bathroom door listening to the surprisingly good tenor
voice that floated above the spray of the shower while the vision of an angel in
Krycek's form danced through his mind.

Mulder flicked on the reading lamp and watched as the encroaching darkness was
pushed back into the corners of the room. In only a few short weeks Alex Krycek
had brought his own form of light into Mulder's life. He had quickly grown used
to the ready smile that greeted him each morning; the arms that reeled him in,
soothing away the tension of another wasted day; the soft lips that would claim
his own, sucking gently, tongue probing delicately... and those clever fingers...
ten clever fingers... that would ease the constricting tie and push the jacket
from his shoulders when he came home.

It was hard to believe the gentleness, the sensuality of the man when all he had
seen before was a hardened assassin. Hard to believe those pure notes that filled
the air in song could deepen to a husky, sexy voice full of lust and need. His
eidetic memory mapped the strong body; the wide shoulders, the smooth almost
hairless chest; the silky softness of inner thigh beneath his fingertips.

"Alex... where the hell are you?"

The darkness seemed to encroach once more, filling his mind as well as his sight
until....

A soft voice was crooning nearby and he could hear the rustle of paper, of pages
being turned in a book. Mulder smiled.

"Alex?"

He rolled over and sat up, glancing across to the easy chair where Alex liked to
sit with his legs tucked up beneath him. Sunlight streamed across the room,
reflecting off the radiant smile and dancing green eyes. He couldn't remember
crossing the room but didn't care. Everything he wanted was here. His fingers
carded through the long strands of mahogany, mesmerised by the red-gold
shimmering in the brightness. His fingers were captured and brought to a
kiss-ripened mouth. A glint of white between those pink lips held him motionless
as first one finger and then another was drawn into that velvet cavern. Soft
vibrations against the sensitive tips as Alex moaned in delight. His fingers were
released and a husky voice breathed his name over and over. Mulder closed his
eyes as licks of energy traversed the length of his body.

//I'm in heaven...//

The thought was reinforced by the soft notes of a harp...

His eyes opened suddenly and he gasped into a darkened room. A quick check on the
illuminated display of the VCR showed that several hours had passed; he had
fallen asleep on the couch. Mulder cocked his head to one side, trying to capture
any sense of what had awoken him and then it registered. He moved quickly to the
PC set up on his desk and checked. He had mail; the soft harp music announcing
the arrival of a single message.

Shaking off the remnants of his dream, Mulder opened the message... 'Dusk 'til
dawn'. He frowned at the cryptic words and then it clicked. Moments later he had
grabbed his coat, keys and gun and was striding to the door.

********************

Somewhere on the Waterfront
Washington DC

When Mulder was certain he had not been followed he turned towards a seamier part
of the city near the waterfront. Eventually he found himself standing beside a
small booth at the back of a seedy bar, his eyes raking the slightly bedraggled
figure of his lover. Mulder reached forward and grabbed the collar of the leather
jacket, pulling Krycek out of his seat. A sharp incline of his head towards the
back of the bar indicated his intent.

Alex followed him into the surprisingly clean washroom, his eyes widening in
surprise when Mulder turned suddenly and grabbed him once more; forcing him into
one of the private compartments. He was pushed onto the closed toilet seat as
Mulder twisted round to close the door and bolt it.

Mulder dropped to his knees in front of his lover, simultaneously parting the
muscular thighs so he could wrap his arms under the leather and around the strong
torso. He sighed against Krycek's chest, oblivious to the slight wince as he
listened to the steady beat of his lover's heart thrumming beneath him. Slowly,
he matched his own erratic breathing to the rise and fall of the chest. Fingers
dragged through his hair and he felt the whisper touch of a kiss on the top of
his head.

"I missed you too."

Krycek felt the chuckle that shook the body pressed against his own. Gradually,
Mulder pulled back, tilting his head so he could gaze into his love's
stormy-green eyes. Those eyes fluttered closed as Alex leaned forward taking his
mouth in a gentle kiss of reassurance. Mulder tightened his grip as Krycek moved
to pull away, the gentleness fading as all the fear of the last few hours
possessed him. He crushed his lips against their counterpart, forcing them to
open and welcome the blunt invader that licked and probed the heated interior. A
tremor reverberated through their joining as Alex moaned in desire.

Alex's eyes opened to slivers as a hand insinuated its way between their close
pressed bodies. He felt the fingers deftly pop the button and then slide down the
zip of his jeans. Mulder released his mouth, his hands urging the younger man to
wriggle slightly so he could free the burgeoning erection.

A wicked smile dashed across the agent's face, the tip of his tongue teasing
beneath the foreskin before he bent to deep-throat the rigid shaft. Above him he
heard Krycek gasp as Mulder took up a strong sucking rhythm. One hand on his hip
preventing him from bucking into the hot mouth. He threw back his head and bit
down hard into the side of his own hand to stop the whimpers turning into screams
as the intense pleasure peaked, short-circuiting his brain.

Mulder swallowed greedily, trying to capture every last drop of the bitter
ejaculate before he released the softening organ, his lust-filled gaze drinking
in the exposed column of throat. After an eternity had passed, Alex tipped his
head back down, eyes still tightly closed, breathing still heavy and erratic but
slowly coming back under control. When the heavy lids finally opened, there was
barely a glimmer of green around the dilated pupils and Mulder believed he had
never seen anything more beautiful than that sweat-sheened, satiated, angelic
face.

Gentle fingers caressed his cheek, stopping at the corner of his mouth to pick up
a spilt droplet. Mulder watched as Alex licked the droplet from his own finger.
He grinned up at the still stunned expression and rose to his feet. With quick
movements he dropped his pants. Alex leaned forward and pressed his mouth against
the cotton covered bulge, the pressure eliciting a stronger response as the
tumescent flesh grew harder still. Alex pulled down the briefs to release the
circumcised head, his tongue darting out to flick across the sensitive glans, his
teeth softly grazing the sensitive skin before he opened his mouth to take in the
engorged flesh.

Mulder sighed in frustration as the gentleness continued. He rocked his hips,
hoping to coax Alex into a stronger rhythm but the teasing went on. Ever so
gradually, a slow, burning sensation curled in his belly, slowly radiating
outwards. His limbs felt heavy, soft and languorous as the heat spread to the
very tips of his fingers and toes. When annihilation came he felt as if he had
been momentarily suspended in time and space before a wave of passion rolled over
him, crashing him back down to Earth in a torrent of ecstasy.

His knees buckled and he was grateful for the strong arms that supported him
until he could regain control. Alex stood up, closely pressed against him in the
restrictive compartment as they shared the taste of each other in a deep but
gentle kiss.

They froze at the sound of someone stumbling into the washroom, waited,
motionless as statues until the man finished relieving himself and stumbled back
out into the bar, both breathing a sigh of relief that the man had been too drunk
to notice two pairs of feet beneath the compartment door.

"We oughta go back out."

"Yeah."

Mulder unbolted the door and headed for the urinal. He followed Alex out a few
minutes later and slid into the seat opposite his lover. They stared at each
other for a moment, suddenly at a loss for words. Mulder cleared his throat.

"So. How did you know I'd remember this place?"

Krycek smiled. They had come here once while partners following up a lead on a
drugs case. He had relied on Mulder's eidetic memory to make the connection when
reading the cryptic email he had sent. Mulder frowned when he realised Alex was
not going to answer that particular question, instead, Alex hailed the barman.

"What happened, Alex?"

Krycek waited until they had a drink in front of them before he related what had
happened at the apartment after Mulder's warning. His eyes were guarded as he
mentioned killing one of the uninvited guests, watching the play of emotions
across the all too expressive face.

"Did you recognise any of them?"

Krycek exhaled sharply. "Of course. They were the Smoker's men. The one I killed
worked with me on a couple of assignments. Name of Roberts." He looked deeply
into the hazel eyes. "I don't regret killing him. He was a nasty piece of work.
Got better than he deserved... certainly better than he dished out."

Mulder looked away. It was one of the few things he had yet to reconcile with
Alexei Krycek. Alex had killed although, once more, it may have been in
self-defence. However, there was still one part of Krycek's story that did not
ring true.

"I don't understand how they could have walked right past you."

It was time to explain the extra gift the Englishman had bestowed upon him. He
gazed deep into the worried, quizzical eyes and took a deep breath.

"A new arm wasn't the only thing I got."

Krycek willed his features to change, the concentration needed making him miss
the incredulous look that spread across his lover's features. Alex looked back
from a new visage into the wide-eyed, astonished look, held the new configuration
for a moment longer and then let go until it was the dark-haired, angelic face
that Mulder knew so well staring back.

"Anything else you haven't told me?"

Krycek shook his head slowly. "Not that I know of." He took a sip of the cool
beer, licked his lips and replaced the glass on the table top. "Now it's your
turn. Why the warning?"

Mulder related the sequence of events that started with the arrival of the manila
envelope. He pulled copies of the seven Missing Persons reports from his coat
pocket and spread them out on the table. Picking up the first, he handed it to
Alex, waiting for a reaction.

A frown deepened the crease over the bridge of Krycek's nose as he stared at a
face so similar to his own.

"Scully did some digging... found some personal information on each of the
victims... and I got the Gunmen to correlate any unusual paranormal activity
occurring at the time of the disappearances."

The frown turned to puzzlement until Mulder held up the pieced together document
from Spender's trash bin and placed it alongside Michael Anacek's report.

"Colonists?"

"Who else. What I can't understand is why... and that's why I want you to lie
low. Skinner may have refused me official permission to investigate but he
doesn't control my own time. Scully's agreed to spend the weekend in Barter's
Grove."

"The woman needs a life of her own," Krycek muttered under his breath, eyes
downcast so he missed the beaming smile generated by his statement.

"Are you jealous?"

"No! No... envious. I would rather you were spending the weekend with me."

"I know. Me too."

Alex looked away in embarrassment. This was still all too new to him. He was
still expecting to wake up and find it was all just an elaborate dream... a
beautiful dream, admittedly, but still *just* a dream. He covered his
embarrassment by picking up one of the other reports.

"I'll take this one."

When Mulder made no sound, Alex glanced backup to find warring emotions flitting
across those expressive eyes. Mulder began to shake his head.

"No. It's too dangerous. What if this is a trap? A way of getting you out into
the open."

Green eyes softened as Mulder's concern for his well-being washed over him. It
had been a long time since someone cared enough to want him safe. Most of those
who had helped him over the years had not done it out of the kindness of their
hearts; they were fulfilling their own hidden agendas, expecting a return for the
favour.

"I can't just sit around twiddling my thumbs..." He smiled, his eyes darting down
to the new hand, "... no matter how enjoyable the sensation. I can help here,
Mulder. I can go places you can't; talk to people who would kill you before you
could ask the first question."

Mulder relented.

"Okay. But keep in touch... somehow."

"Perhaps that's what we need to talk about next."

They spent the remainder of time at the seedy bar setting up a communications
system that would enable Mulder to get messages to Alex and vice versa. It was
not perfect but it was the best they could do under the circumstances. The method
was not secure. Using the internet never was but a series of passwords would,
hopefully, ensure no-one could send a message that could lead either into a trap.

The parting was painful. Had it only been two weeks since Alex had become such a
major part of his life? It seemed as if they had spent years together and Mulder
knew he would miss those strong arms wrapped around him as they drifted into
sleep. He would miss the beautiful smile that greeted him first thing in the
morning.

With one last look Mulder climbed into the cab he had called from the bar.

********************

A large shadow detached itself from the darkened side of the building. He had
backed off when he saw Fox Mulder walking towards the exit having previously
maintained a good view of the interior through the grimy window. His square jaw
set into a close-mouthed smile as he watched the unsuspecting human climb into
the back of a cab and head off into the distance.

Following the son of William Mulder to this place had been so easy. Mulder had
taken no notice of the man who followed him to the bus-stop; had walked pass the
mature woman who had taken a seat two rows in front. He had barely even glanced
at the series of men and women who followed him from bus to subway to bus to taxi
as he took a circuitous route to this bar.

The Bounty Hunter was used to following a trail as convoluted as this one and Fox
Mulder had not disappointed him as he shadowed the human to this seamier part of
the city. He had gambled that the FBI agent would eventually lead him to his true
quarry. He had waited patiently outside the seedy bar watching the two figures
through the dirtied window pane, pleased that his gamble had paid off. The Smoker
wanted this other human, had already tried to retrieve him without success.

Want. A strange human word with various shades of meaning. Want. To wish to
acquire. Want... to desire sexually.

Yes. The Smoker desired this young human but it wasn't a healthy kind of 'want'.
Not that he cared. He had been given a task and, soon, he would fulfil it. The
Bounty Hunter felt a momentary stab of annoyance. He resented having to do these
pathetic little tasks for these pathetic little humans but his orders were quite
clear. His service was part of the 'deal' made between the Consortium and his own
people, the Colonists.

After the cab had disappeared from view he returned to his previous watching
place. He smiled when he saw the dark-haired human rise from his seat near the
back of the bar. Following Mulder had not been a challenge despite the Agent's
wariness but *this* human seemed to have an acute sixth sense. Somehow, he was
able to see through all the disguises. The Bounty Hunter wondered if this was a
throwback to the time when the human had been taken over by one of his immature
brethren or whether the years on the run had heightened his senses in the name of
self-preservation. Whichever, he knew he would have to be quick to capture the
human, using the element of surprise. He watched as Alexei Krycek shrugged on the
leather jacket and made his way towards the back of the bar. The Bounty Hunter
frowned. He had checked out the building and there was only one other exit but
the human was not moving towards it. His mouth quirked up in one corner as he
realised the human's destination. He waited, expecting to see Krycek walk back
out of the washroom anytime.

The sound of a motor bike engine being gunned brought another frown and he raced
around the side of the building in time to see the familiar figure speed off.
With an almost human sigh he turned back, spotting the partially opened window at
the back of the building. This time Krycek had gotten away but there would be
another time.

********************

Saturday Night
Barter's Grove

The multi-coloured lights and strobes brought back memories of Oxford where he
and some of the other undergraduates would charge into one of the small
discotheque-pubs every Saturday night, spending the evening doing the inane
things prevalent to most young males on the prowl. He had met Phoebe Green on one
of those outings; had fallen for her dark, patrician looks and her sharp
intellect, ignoring the advice of friends who said she was a class-A bitch. For
two years she had used and abused him until he finally decided to start defending
himself... then she had dropped him in favour of another 'sap'. It was years
later that he was able to take a step back and analyse their doomed relationship
and her need to control every situation. He grimaced. Shame he had not turned
that psychoanalyst 'shit' upon himself. Maybe then he might have avoided falling
into the clutches of yet another dark-haired, manipulating, class-A bitch; Diana
Fowley. His introspection ended with a sharp dig of an elbow into his side. He
looked down to find Scully glaring at him.

"Why are we here?"

Scully mouthed the words, not even attempting to shout above the sound of the
Juke box which was playing a recent Cher hit... very loudly.

"Because..."

Mulder gave up, forced to resort to sign language. He pointed across the interior
to an empty table at the far end of the bar. He and Scully gently pushed their
way across the dance floor through the sweaty, gyrating bodies. They flopped into
the chairs in relief. Back here it was a little quieter. They gave the waitress
their order and scanned the crowd until the drinks arrived.

Scully took a sip of her tequila sunrise as she waited to see what her partner
was going to do next. Mulder picked up his own drink and began to take a gulp of
the cold Bud; smacking his lips in appreciation.

"That hits the spot, Scully."

That well-sculptured eyebrow rose again in disdainful resignation. She rolled her
eyes away, wondering for the nth time why she was sitting in a noisy bar on a
Saturday night in a dead-end town while the rest of that raunchy Jackie Collins
novel was waiting for her at home.

"Hey, Scully. Was that a Jackie Collins novel in your bathroom?"

Her startled eyes turned back to him, suddenly pleased about the lack of decent
lighting which would conceal the blush that heated her cheeks.

//Damn!! How does he do that?//

She remembered him asking to use the bathroom when he picked her up early this
morning and knew his photographic memory had probably taken a snapshot of what he
seen... but how did he time it so well? How did he manage to pick the exact
thought from her brain?

"Deduction, Scully. You looked like you had something far better to do on a
Saturday night... and having a half-read novel by the bath tub after your
previous comment about going home for a bath and tequila..."

"Okay. Okay. I'll admit that I enjoy your company, Mulder, but there are times
and places. As I said before... Why are we here?"

Mulder gave her that all-knowing grin, gulped down the remainder of the beer and
beckoned to the waitress. When she arrived he held out a twenty dollar bill,
holding on tight as she tried to take it, bringing her head down close to his.

"I'm looking for Paul Bright."

The waitress straightened and then pointed to a flamboyant looking man dressed in
a red suede jacket, pale silk shirt and pale slacks.

"Keep the change."

She smiled her thanks for the huge tip and walked away. Mulder motioned for
Scully to stay seated as he unfolded his long frame from the chair and made his
way across the room to the Pimp.

"Hey, there! I'm looking for a man..."

The Pimp eyed Mulder, noting the expensive watch.

"Well, you've come to the right place. There's plenty around here to choose
from..."

"No. Not just any man. This one was about my height. Dark hair, green eyes. Went
by the name of Michael. He... provided a service last time I was in town. Thought
I'd look him up again."

The Pimp's expression went from suspicious to lewd as he took in the ring on
Mulder's left hand. He was well acquainted with married men who used business
trips to indulge in their passion for other men, leaving the little wife at home
and oblivious.

"So who's the broad?"

"Work colleague."

The man eyed Scully suspiciously but he smiled, acknowledging the boredom in her
expression. Only a work colleague would be brought to a dump like this... never a
wife.

"Well, I can't help you. Michael found himself a sugar daddy. Left me high and
dry - except for my other studs. Hey, Leon! Come on over and say hello to..."

Mulder held up a hand.

"No... I was kinda only interested in Michael. My type. You know what I mean?"

Mulder gave a sly wink and felt sickened by the man's counter expression of
camaraderie. Leon approached seductively. Mulder wanted to shrug off the arm that
draped around his waist but this Leon was quite a big guy... not someone to mess
with.

"Who was this 'sugar daddy'?"

"*You're* mighty interested in Michael... Are you a Cop?"

"No... it's just... Michael looks a lot like someone I knew... and..."

The man smirked.

"Substitute meat, hey! Well, have no idea who the man was. Older guy, greying.
Smoked a lot. Now, unless you're interested in finding another *substitute* soul
mate..." The man's eyes trailed over Mulder's athletic body lewdly. "... or
joining my stable?" The man leered. "Guy as good looking as you could make a lot
of money..."

"No. Thanks."

Mulder turned away and walked back passed the table, surreptitiously motioning
for Scully to follow. She grabbed his arm and steered him off in a more
circuitous route to the exit. They didn't stop moving until Mulder was safely
behind the wheel of his car with Dana beside him.

"We made it out of there in good time. I saw Agents Harris and Davidson from
Skinner's department on the far side of the bar."

Mulder pursed his lips feeling, suddenly, a little perturbed. He thought he had
made a grave mistake going to Skinner; thought the man would ignore his theory
connecting the seven missing men but, instead, Skinner had kept his word and
assigned some agents to the case.

"Did they see us?"

"No... I don't believe so. Anyway, what did you find out?"

"It appears Michael was last seen in the company of someone older, greyer... who
smoked a lot. Ring any bells, Scully?"

********************

Same Time
An Alleyway behind a bar
Detroit

Alex shoved the man up against the wall, forcing the gun under the ribs into the
soft abdomen as his forearm pressed hard against the man's windpipe.

"The only blow job you're gonna get is from this gun... when I blow you away. You
know, I don't care for your kind. You're trash... lower than trash. So... Are you
gonna tell me what I want to know? Or are you gonna die?"

The loan shark shook, terrified by the ferocity of the assault, by the feral
gleam in the narrowed green eyes.

"Yes... Okay, I'll talk. Please."

The man croaked pleadingly and then sagged when Krycek removed his arm but not
the gun.

"Davey owed some people some money. He liked to gamble; borrowed some off me to
pay his debts. Believe me, I'm not such an ogre... not like some of the big
boys."

"Stop snivelling."

"Yes. Sure. Okay. Last I saw of him he said he'd figured out a way to pay me
off."

"How?"

The man licked his lips and gave a pathetic leer.

"You know... by doing *that*. Personal services."

"Personal services to whom?"

"Look. I don't know any more. Jeez, it was years ago... Okay. Okay." The man
cried out as Krycek's dug the gun in hard. "I only saw the go-between; the
driver. A man who would be in his mid-thirties now; a blondie."

"What about the man he was chauffeuring?"

"I didn't see him. He kept to the shadows in the car. Chain smoker though."

Krycek released the man abruptly, pushing him aside.

"Get out of here."

He watched as the man scurried away down the alleyway, constantly looking back
over his shoulder as if certain a bullet would be winging its way the moment his
back was turned. When the man had disappeared around the corner, Alex took off in
the other direction, heading back to the nondescript hotel room. On the way he
saw something very, very useful.

Krycek was grateful for the rise in the internet café market. He slipped into a
seat near the back where he could keep an eye on all the patrons *and* on the
door. He logged on under a little known username; the one he had asked Mulder to
contact if anything happened. It took a few minutes but he spent the time sipping
the strong black coffee brought over by the young waitress. Eventually, he
located the message board. Krycek pursed his lips. Mulder wanted to meet; had
given a location. He checked his watch and calculated how long it would take him
to reach the rendezvous. There was still time but staying here any longer was not
a great idea. He had no idea if the Smoker knew of this particular internet ID
but was not willing to take the chance.

He took a last gulp of coffee, replaced the cup and slipped a few dollars under
the saucer. Moments later he was putting as much distance between himself and the
café as he could... just in case. He paid his hotel bill in cash, not wanting to
use any of his various credit cards in case they were being monitored.

Krycek shoved his meagre belongings under the pillion of the bike and set off
back towards DC. As he rode, he thought... and the more he thought, the more he
became convinced that there was more to these disappearances that met the eye. He
had a theory and Mulder was not gonna like it one bit.

********************

Saturday Night
Barter's Grove

Agent Harris shoved his FBI ID card at the barman, motioning towards the similar
wallet being displayed by his partner, Davidson. The barman snarled in annoyance
and jerked an arm out towards the back of the bar where Paul Bright still held
court amongst a small group of people.

The man eyed the approaching agents suspiciously. He recognised 'law
enforcement'; prided himself on being able to smell a cop a mile away. He pushed
the pretty young man hanging onto his arm aside brusquely as FBI identities were
held in front of his face.

"And to what do I owe the pleasure..."

"Don't worry, sir. We're not here to arrest you. Agent Harris and myself are
investigating the disappearance of a Michael Anacek..."

"You and everyone else."

"I'm sorry, Sir? Have there been other enquiries?"

"Yeah... in fact you just missed someone asking the whereabouts of Mikey. You
know what, I'll tell you the same thing I told him. Mikey ran out on me. Got
himself a Sugar Daddy; Older guy, chain smoker from what I could see."

"What about the other guy?"

"What other guy?"

"The one who was just asking about..."

"Oh him. Look, he was just some out-of-towner looking for a rematch..."

"Humour me. Give me a description."

"Tall, good-looking white boy. Wouldn't expect him to have to pay for sex. He had
a broad with him. A lovely petite red-head. Looked pretty pissed off being
dragged to a dump like this."

Harris gave a nod to Davidson and the other agent went off, checking through the
bar for a couple who fitted that description.

"Could you identify this older man..."

"No. Only ever saw his hand and a brief flash when he lit up the next cigarette.
Now, unless you plan on charging me with something..."

Harris closed his notepad with a terse smile. He was surprised to have gained
this much information out of the man and decided not to push his luck any
further.

"Thank you, Sir. You've been very helpful."

He circled through the bar, meeting his fellow agent on the other side. A shake
of the head and the grim set mouth showed a lack of success. They checked with
the doorman, discovered a couple matching that description had left several
minutes earlier. Harris wrote down the details in his notebook and they headed
back to their car.

********************

Another Seedy Bar
Washington DC

Although he could see Mulder seated at a table near the back of the bar, Krycek
waited and watched from the shadows. He saw Mulder check his watch for the third
time, recognised the worry that tightened the full lips but some sixth sense was
screaming at him to stay back. He felt uneasy but, apart from a few well-soused
customers and the bar staff there was no-one else around. Years on the run had
taught him to take the tingle that raised the hairs on the back of his neck
seriously but, eventually, the need to gaze into those beautiful blue-gold eyes
overpowered his survival instincts. He sauntered forward and, with another
surreptitious look around the near-empty bar, he slid into the seat opposite his
lover.

"About time!" The relief on Mulder's face was just as evident in the soft voice.

"Miss me?"

"Always."

Krycek lowered his eyes away in embarrassment. He was not used to having people
admit they worried for him and he'd spent too many years making sure no-one got
close enough to care; pushing away anyone who tried. So how did Mulder manage to
squeeze passed the barriers he had erected? How had this man managed to succeed
where all the others had failed? And there *had* been others, enticed by a pretty
face and a good body. Krycek gave an inward sneer. Oh yes, he knew he was good
looking; had used it to his advantage many a time. Thoughts of Marita Covarrubias
crossed his mind as he remembered using sex as a means of gaining her
co-operation and assistance in escaping Russia with the boy. She had been good
between the sheets; a she-cat whose nails left scratch marks down his back... and
she had not been repelled by his prosthesis. If anything, he believed it might
have turned her on all the more; giving her the controlling edge in their
encounter.

//Bitch!//

"Alex?"

Krycek looked up into the worried face.

"It's okay. Just a trip down memory lane... and talking of trips, how did yours
turn out?"

Mulder eyed him suspiciously; recognising an attempt to move away from whatever
thoughts had occupied his lover's mind for that brief moment in time. The
temptation to dig in his heels and force Alex to expose those thoughts was
strong. He wanted to know everything about this man; every thought; every memory.
He wanted to soothe every hurt; laugh with him at every good time; give comfort
for every bad time. He wanted to possess this man, body and soul. Alex was like a
drug; a growing addiction and some of that obsession must have shown in his eyes
but, instead of being frightened, an equal measure of ferocity and obsession
darkened the green eyes. Eventually, Mulder broke the hold they had on each other
as he described his encounter with Paul Bright; Anacek's pimp.

"Older man, greying... heavy smoker. If I was a betting man then my money would
be placed on a certain cancerous bastard." Mulder sat back in his seat. "What did
you find out?"

"Same thing. Last seen with an older man... chain smoker."

"I don't understand it. All those men disappeared without a trace. Even Cancer
Man's goons couldn't have mistaken all of them for you..." Mulder paused as a
strange look came over his lover's face. "What is it?"

"It *is* me."

Krycek looked away at the puzzled expression. It was time to shake another
skeleton from his closet, to expose the theory that would make or break their
relationship.

"When I was first recruited, I was a little green. I had this idea that I was
going to save the world and I... I kinda idolised the man who recruited me."

Mulder noticed the blush that swept across the averted features, tingeing even
the tips of the slightly pointed ears but the thinned lips showed it was due to
more than just embarrassment... and then it hit. He remembered Alex telling him
that he had been recruited by the Smoking Man so...

"You had a crush on Cancer Man?"

The incredulous tone brought Krycek's head spinning back until their eyes met.
The chagrined expression told the rest of the story and Mulder felt his heart
stop cold.

"You slept with him?" No answer except a slight pursing of lips. "You fucked that
cancer-ridden bastard?"

Krycek's eyes slid away from the accusing glare, darting around to check no-one
had heard the slightly raised voice. His thoughts were a whirl. Should he tell
Mulder that it had been more than a one-night stand? That he had been at the
Smoking Man's beck and call for years before his assignment to *work* with FBI
Special Agent Fox William Mulder had opened his eyes to the truth. The look on
Fox Mulder's face told him that this was one subject that needed to be brought
out into the open or any future they might have together would be lost.

"I think this is one of those times when you need to stop and listen before
passing judgement."

He paused and sighed at the implacable posture Mulder had taken with arms folded,
lips a thin line and eyes glaring in anger. Was it even worth trying? Something
inside told him to start talking knowing that Mulder *would* hear even if he
wasn't prepared to deal with it right now.

"I was young... impressionable. I *believed* him. Believed in what he said we
were doing... that it was for our country." Krycek looked imploringly at the man
who meant more to him than life itself, pleading with Mulder to understand how
naive he had been. "It wasn't lust and it certainly wasn't love. I can't explain.
Hell, you're the psychologist." He paused but Mulder made no effort to relent.
"The first time... I let him seduce me. It was a power thing. This... this...
powerful man being at my mercy. Then, as time went by, it became a force of
habit, climbing into his bed whenever he commanded like a good little soldier,
afraid of the consequences if I said 'No'."

Krycek looked deep into the cold eyes, hoping to see some sign of a thaw.

"That night on Skyland Mountain, when Duane Barry handed Scully over to... them.
That's when the last embers of my innocence flickered and died. Watching you
climb out of the cable car, terrified you would fall. The next time he
*requested* my... personal services I said 'no'. After that events just seemed to
spiral out of control and I wasn't surprised when I found myself siting on top of
a car bomb."

Mulder unfolded his arms and placed his hands flat on the table. Now the initial
shock had worn off he could understand how someone... how Alex... could get
suckered into a relationship with that man but he wasn't ready to deal with it.
He needed time to think. He closed his eyes to shut out the pleading green eyes
but opened them again quickly. Mulder leant forward.

"Okay. This is something we're gonna have to talk about... another time... but
you still haven't explained why these look alikes have disappeared."

Krycek's eyes dropped to the table top, finding his hands far too interesting. He
licked suddenly dry lips and cleared his throat before looking back up. His voice
was so soft Mulder had to strain to hear the words above the sound of the juke
box.

"He wants me back."

"He... what?" His eyes opened wide in confusion, capturing his lover's. Krycek
swallowed hard, cleared his throat again and then repeated the words more firmly.

"He wants me back. He wants me to go back to him."

Mulder frowned, wondering how Alex could make such a connection, suddenly aware
that there was something else Alex had not told him. He was about to ask when
that final scene at BioTechnics with Cancer Man took on a whole new light....

@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@

"Oh, I think you know, Alex. Don't tell me you haven't told Mr Mulder about our
'relationship'"

"We have no relationship."

"Don't we?"

@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@

Mulder remembered being confused by the interplay between his new lover and his
old enemy. At the time he had wondered what game Cancer Man was playing, wondered
whether Alex was more than just a subordinate. The Consortium had seemed so...
incestuous. He had considered the possibility that Alex was related to the
Smoking Man, biologically, and had intended to ask later but events had spiralled
out of control. At the time he had tried to defuse the situation by addressing
the clones whose weapons were trained on him and Alex but it was Cancer Man who
had replied.....

@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@

"So which one of you is the real Martha Hudson?"

"Neither. She outlived her usefulness... just as you have outlived yours...
unless Alex can persuade me otherwise."

@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@

He closed his eyes, sick to the stomach as the thought of Alex in that bastard's
arms filled him with disgust. Disgust at Alex for ever having been so naive;
disgust at Cancer Man for taking advantage of an idealistic young man... and
disgust at himself for having something else in common with *that* man. As much
as he needed to deny it, they both wanted Alex Krycek and, if Alex was right,
then Cancer Man was involved in these disappearances... but would the older man
be willing to kill for what he wanted? A thought flashed through his head like
lightning, stunning him. Would *he* be willing to kill for Alex? The iciness that
stabbed at his heart at the start of this revelation thawed. Yes. He'd kill for
Alex; he would *die* for Alex.

With his mind no longer clouded by anger the answer to his original question
became apparent. These men *had* paid the price for looking like Alexei Krycek
but as substitutes rather than as the result of mistaken identity. Only one
question remained. Why did these men disappear? Perhaps they became the Smoker's
companion... until he grew bored with them or until he resented the fact that
they were not his Alex. Mulder had no illusion as to what had become of them once
the Smoker had grown tired of them. He was not the type of person to leave
himself open to personal attack or blackmail. It seemed Cancer Man might have a
lot more blood on his hands than Mulder had previously assumed but there was only
one way to find out. Somehow, he had to find enough evidence so he could confront
the man.

Another thought occurred. Michael Anacek disappeared just over a week ago; maybe
he was still alive. But where should they start looking for him? Only one man of
Mulder's acquaintance seemed to have an inside track on Cancer Man but Mulder was
still uncertain whether he could place his trust in AD Walter Skinner.

Mulder glanced at his watch. It was well after midnight and he was expected back
in the office in less than six hours. He reached out and placed his hand on top
of Alex's. His body burned at the sight of that angelic face but the image of
Cancer Man and Alex writhing together in sexual abandonment dampened the flame.

"I have to go. We *will* work it out, Alex. I'm positive. I just need time to
think things through." After taking a quick glance around the bar to ensure
no-one was watching, Mulder leant forward and placed a chaste kiss on the bowed
lips. "Sit tight for a couple of days while I figure things out. I'll be in
touch."

Mulder pulled on his coat and walked away, glancing back only once as he closed
the door behind him. Krycek sighed and took another sip from the glass placed in
front of him. He let his forehead drop onto his raised palms.

"At least he didn't shoot me on the spot."

His head came up fast as a bulky figure slid into the seat recently vacated by
Mulder. Green eyes widened as they took in the square-jawed features of the alien
morph. Trigger fast reactions took over as he swept the remainder of the beer
into the creature's face, using the momentary blindness to make his escape. The
morph came hurtling after him but Krycek grabbed one of the bar's customers and
threw the man into the alien's path, hearing the curses and thump of a heavy body
landing awkwardly behind him. His action bought him enough time to reach and
start the bike. Moments later he was racing away at top speed. As soon as he had
put some distance between them Alex pulled up. Abandoning the bike, he broke into
the nearest car, jimmied the starter and was moving off at the fastest possible
speed that would not draw unwelcome attention. Eventually, he turned onto the
interstate heading northwards towards New York where he would lie low for a few
days.

********************

The Bounty Hunter brushed dirt from his suit as he watched the red tail lights
receding for the second time but, this time, he had come prepared, not willing to
take any chances with this particular human. He climbed into the dark sedan and
activated the tracker. A small red blip highlighted Krycek's position through the
tracking bug placed under the pillion on the bike.

He frowned when he noticed the bike had remained stationary for several minutes.
Moments later he turned a corner and found the abandoned bike. A smile broke
across the normally bland face as the Hunter offered his silent respects to his
cunning prey. As he walked back to his car the morph decided it was time to
change the game plan. He had tried to keep clear of Fox Mulder, being under
orders not to kill the son of William Mulder but that did not mean he could not
hurt him a little.

********************

Monday Morning
FBI Headquarters, Washington DC

Mulder spent most of Monday morning expecting to be hauled into either Kersh or
Skinner's office; had spent the whole of the previous day preparing a speech just
for the occasion but, now, he was starting to relax.

//Relax? If I read any more of these reports I'll be so damn relaxed they'll have
to call the Paramedics to check I'm still breathing.//

He started to make a paper aeroplane out of one of the many staff circulars that
kept appearing on his desk having previously tossed the sheet aside in contempt.

"Scully? Do I look like the kind of guy who needs 'Assertiveness' training?"

Scully unfolded the paper airplane that landed on her desk and speed-read the
article. She raised both eyebrows, scrunched up the paper and dropped it into her
'dead' file. A small sign of activity brought her head back up and she began to
hum a few bars from her favourite sitcom 'Friends' as AD Kersh sauntered into the
bullpen. Mulder took notice of their prearranged signal. He piled a few files
over the top of the papers on his desk to hide the list of names and addresses
that he had printed out earlier and picked up one of those boring reports,
pretending that he had been engrossed in the latest acquisition request from some
Tennessee farmer. His eyes widened in pleasure as he read the address, hardly
believing his luck as his eidetic memory tagged the town name as being the same
as that of the first victim.

"Hey, Scully. Check it out." He passed over the file. "I think we should pay Mr
Markham a visit."

Scully frowned, wondering whether Mulder actually meant what he was saying - or
whether it was just a show for their new boss who had just come into earshot. She
handed back the file noncommittally.

"Something, Agents?"

Mulder looked up, almost in surprise as the smooth, chocolatey voice drifted over
his shoulder. He knew AD Kersh was in the room but he hadn't expected the man to
come so close. He certainly hadn't meant for his remark to be overheard. He
looked up into dark, uncompromising eyes.

"Uh... yes. Mr Markham has made several purchases over the past..." He flicked
through the report. "...seven months. More than I would deem necessary for the
size of the farm. It might be worth a visit."

Kersh took the file from Mulder and scanned the top sheet. His lips pursed and he
nodded his head slowly. It wasn't an exceptional amount but...

"Okay. Get onto it. I'll expect a full report this time tomorrow."

Mulder barely restrained himself from showing his surprise but, not being one to
look a gift-horse in the mouth, he picked up the phone and started placing some
calls.

********************

Markham Farm
Near Jackson, Tennessee

The slight breeze ruffled his hair as he stepped from the rental. Dana Scully
looked across at her partner noticing the way his eyes were drawn to the fields
of Timothy grass surrounding them. Thoughts of a similar field standing tall with
ripening corn filled her mind but the farmhouse behind them bore no resemblance
to the domed structures at the centre of that particular field. She pushed a
stray lock of auburn hair back behind her ear.

"Mulder?"

He turned to face her, gradually losing that faraway look as hazel eyes locked
with blue. The screech of a screen door opening caught their attention and they
made their way towards the large-framed man dressed in faded blue jeans, white
cotton T-shirt and red/brown checked shirt who stood waiting for them on the
porch.

"Can I help you folks?"

"FBI Special Agent Fox Mulder... and this is my partner, Agent Dana Scully."

They both flashed their ID's waiting until the man had taken a good look before
snapping the small leather wallets closed and restoring them to inside pockets.
The man looked from one agent to the other in surprise.

"What can I do for you?"

Mulder put on his official smile.

"Just routine..."

One hour and several cups of coffee later they had learnt all there was to know
about the usage the chemicals were being put to and yet Mulder felt strangely
disturbed about... something. Something was not quite right; some answers
delivered too smoothly as if quoted from a script.

"Do you keep bees?"

"Pardon?"

Scully turned surprise-widened eyes to her tall partner. Her own confusion
matching that of the farmer.

"Bees. I noticed the jars on the side." Mulder indicated the row of neatly
labelled jars filled with a golden syrup.

"Sure, but if your wondering about those killer bees then don't. They haven't
been spotted this way... and I keep a close check on my queens, make sure no
foreigners get into the hive."

Scully raised an eyebrow, understanding Mulder's line of questioning but amazed
that he thought this small farm in the middle of nowhere could be linked to the
Colonists. She knew the farmer was referring to the aggressive African strain
that was gradually making its way north from South America where an accident had
set them free but could not prevent a shiver as she remembered the bees in the
white dome flying up through from the floor in a dense swarm... and her dash to
reach safety. She also remembered that it was a bee sting that had introduced the
Colonist DNA into her system. The memories following that incident were decidedly
hazy but... she looked up at her partner's profile in tenderness... Mulder had
not deserted her.

"If that's everything..."

Another official smile raised the corners of Mulder's lips.

"Sure." He turned away, heading for the door and then turned. "By the way, Mr
Markham. Have you heard of a Martin Leighton?"

"The Leighton boy? Yes. That boy was bad news. Got mixed up with the wrong
people. There was talk of drugs... of other unsavoury things. Then the boy just
upped and disappeared."

"Were there any rumours about where he could have gone?"

The man's face froze; mouth thinned, eyes hardened.

"Jeff Leighton's a good friend of mine. His boy and mine used to play together.
What that boy did broke his mother's heart."

"He's still listed as missing."

The Farmer paused as if debating something. Mulder watched the small war being
played behind the man's sky-blue eyes. A decision was made, the features relaxing
and Mulder knew he was about to learn something new.

"The night he disappeared old Frank Burrows spotted a fancy motor at the Griffin
Motel down the roads away. Said he spotted the Leighton boy at the motel about
the same time. Both motor and boy were gone by morning. Some round these parts
say it was some rich man enticing the Leighton boy back to the city with him."

Mulder's breath came faster. There was no mention of a Frank Burrows in the
Missing Person report.

"I'd like to talk to this Frank Burrows..."

"Can't. He died a few days later in the dangdest accident. Fell under the wheels
of a combine. Chewed him up and spat him out."

Mulder nodded his head, eyes closing in frustration. If what he suspected was
true then it had been no accident. Cancer Man had tried to be as thorough as
ever, leaving no witnesses behind.

"Did he say anything else? Description of the car? The occupants?"

"He didn't see the man except from a distance. Older guy. Heavy smoker. That's
all."

Mulder's eyes narrowed slightly. He could tell from the way Markham's eyes
shifted that there was more.

"Sir, is there anything else you want to tell me?"

Markham opened his mouth then shut it quickly. He debated whether it would be
wise to mention the strange activity occurring barely ten miles north of the
farm; the unusual choice of Corn as a main crop; the black helicopters that
sometimes flew over the farmhouse in the middle of the night. The official stance
was it was some kind of research facility working on GM methods. Manipulating the
genetics of foodstuff seemed all the rage these days and he'd heard strange tales
of introducing fish DNA into tomatoes to preserve firmness. The Leighton boy had
disappeared a few months after the strangers started to appear at the local
motel. It was common knowledge that the owner of that fancy car had stayed at the
motel several times... and the Leighton boy had been there *every* time... but
no-one dared say that out loud. Even the Leighton's had become close-mouthed on
the subject after someone had approached the Bank regarding Leighton's sizeable
debt. Life around here was tough enough without having to worry about the Bank
foreclosing on you.

"Nope. There's nothing more I can tell you."

"Thank you, Mr Markham."

"Sure thing."

Mulder drove several miles before pulling off the road. Ahead of them was the
small town where Martin Leighton had gone to school, taken his first hit; where
he had probably found his first client to help pay for his drug habit. The small
motel where he had last been seen was several miles beyond. Mulder wondered
whether they had any vacancies this night.

********************

Griffin Motel
Near Jackson, Tennessee

For the second night Mulder found himself alone in bed and he hated it... and
then he hated himself for being so needful. How *had* Alexei Krycek become so
important to him so fast? It was not that long ago that he thought he hated the
man's guts... had sworn he would find something to ensure Krycek was put away for
life. During those long weeks when he had remained uncertain as to Alex's fate at
the hands of the Rebel Aliens he had spent many a night staring up at the ceiling
trying to pinpoint the exact moment when hate had turned to love only to realise
that it had *always* been love. He'd fallen for the geeky, green rookie with his
slicked back hair and cheap suits. He had basked in the adoration he had found in
those stormy-green eyes, letting down his guard in face of the innocence he
thought was in front of him and Krycek had seeped through his lowered defences
gradually entwining himself around his heart, invading his thoughts and his
dreams. It was the seeming betrayal that had smothered that fledgling love with
hate and it was the truth, finally offered... finally believed, that had banished
the hatred revealing the emotions buried so deeply, offering those emotions up to
the light. Yet still this did not explain the depth of emotion he felt for the
other man. It did not explain why he missed Alex with every fibre of his being.

His hand reached out to stroke the mattress beside him. Fingers met cold sheets
and he sighed as he visualised the strong, warm body that had lain beside him
these past few weeks. His photographic mind provided images; thick, sable hair
framing a face softened in sleep, sweet lips parted showing a hint of perfect,
white teeth... dark eyelashes flickering as the quicksilver mind was captured by
a dream. Sometimes he would lie there wondering where those dreams had taken his
lover, more so when those dreams turned to nightmares. On those occasions he
would pull Alex into his arms, stroking the fear-soaked skin, soothing his lover
with a litany of softly spoken words until Alex slept peacefully once more.

Eventually he slept but his own dreams mirrored the fears of his waking life.
Twisting, dark corridors... hazy shapes squirming inside long dead corpses...
bony, clawed fingers reaching out to grab at his clothes as he scrabbled past. He
was searching, frantically. Faces he knew floated out of the darkness and he
hesitated. Some were enemies, others friends but none were the face he was
seeking. He saw Scully, her eyes frozen open in disbelief and he paused, torn
between his love for her and his need to find another. A sensation brought his
head around and, for a moment he thought he could make out the fine-boned
features.

//Alex?... Alex?..// "Alex... Alex.... Alex!"

His voice became louder as the fear grew. He began to thrash as unseen hands
grabbed at him, smothering him and then...

"Ssshh... sshhh. It's okay. I'm here. I'm here."

Mulder's heavy eyelids opened. He blinked several times until he was certain the
face barely a few inches above his own was the face he needed to see.

"Alex?"

A glint of white teeth in the semi-darkness and the caress of warm fingers
carding through his sweat-soaked hair.

"That was a doozy of a nightmare, Mulder. Wanna tell me about it?"

Mulder ignored the husky voice whispering close by, concentrating instead upon
the warm breath upon his face. He sat up quickly, nearly head-butting Alex in his
haste, the sheet falling to his lap.

"What are you doing here?"

"I-I needed to see you."

"Alex, we agreed it wasn't safe for you. Meeting earlier was enough of a risk.
What if I'm being watched?"

The dark-haired, ex-assassin smiled, his eyes crinkling as he gazed at the
semi-nude man before him. His fingers reached out to brush lightly across one
exposed nipple, the smile broadening as a soft moan tumbled from Mulder's
succulent lips. He closed the distance between them, his own lips caressing
Mulder's, his tongue sneaking out to stripe across the warm flesh before
plundering the dark depths of Mulder's mouth. Mulder pulled back, surprised at
the almost feral assault.

"I missed you."

Widened hazel eyes began to soften and glow with pleasure as Mulder gazed upon
the man he could finally admit he loved beyond reason. He had spent most of the
previous night mulling over Alex's confession of his past indiscretions. At first
he had been angry, not wanting to admit to the jealousy that inflamed him as he
imagined his beautiful lover lying wantonly beneath his nemesis. Thoughts of
those nicotine-stained fingers caressing the silky skin; carding through the dark
strands of sable hair; stroking along the muscular torso sent his stomach
churning. With morbid fascination he had visualised those seamed lips wrapped
around his lover's engorged flesh; sucking and licking. The thought repelled him
even as the image of Alex writhing in passionate abandonment beneath Cancer Man
drew him back. Finally, after hours of inner turmoil, a moment of clarity came.
He realised that it didn't matter what Alex had done before... and with whom. All
of that was a past that could never be changed or even forgotten but it *was* the
past. It was the present and the future that truly mattered and as long as he
would be the only one from this time onwards, Mulder knew he could allow the past
to fade behind them.

Soft, nibbling kisses along his jaw line drew him back to the present... and to
the fingers that danced along his flesh, teasing his nipples and raising goose
bumps as they trailed across his rib cage and over the flat of his stomach. He
moaned in appreciation of the attention he was receiving from those expert
fingers and the hot mouth that nuzzled against his throat, allowing the other to
push him to the bed until his body was covered by hot naked flesh.

"So good. So beautiful." Alex whispered softly as his tongue rimmed the shell of
his lover's ear.

Mulder smiled to himself. It was so rare for Alex to feel safe and secure enough
to break the silence of the night but he loved it when Alex became verbal;
hearing that husky voice whispering sweet sentiments and endearments as they
slowly thrust against each other. He groaned as a welcome warmth radiated from
the pit of his belly, his semen spurting between their close-pressed abdomens as
the world seemed to fall from under his feet. A fresh flood of warmth across his
belly accompanied the loud gasp as Alex came against him.

Mulder allowed himself to drift away to the sultry tones floating in the air
around him; a heavy lassitude pulling at his limbs and senses.

"Mmmmhhh?"

"I said we need to make arrangements to meet up. I've got something for you but
it wasn't safe to bring it here."

Mulder opened one eye and fixed it on the beautiful green ones poised only inches
above his own. He smiled in complete satisfaction.

"Where d'you suggest?"

"You know where I am. Come to me there, tomorrow at 05:00."

"You mean today."

Mulder motioned towards the luminescent digital clock sitting alone on the
bedside cabinet. It was just a little after midnight. He frowned slightly when he
didn't get the expected response to his teasing.

"This is serious, Mulder. You *do* know where I am, don't you?"

"Yes... at that poor excuse for a bar on Fifth."

Alex pulled back slightly, suddenly lost in thought. He smiled... a strange smile
that reminded Mulder of the early years. It was the smirk he had detested from
the first time it had been aimed at him; the smirk he had taken great delight
over the years in trying to wipe off Krycek's face.

"Yes. The bar on Fifth with the pathetic neon sign of two males kissing."

"I do know the..." Mulder's peeved retort paused mid-sentence, his brows pulling
together in a frown of confusion and apprehension. Somewhere, at the back of his
mind, a warning flag was waving frantically.

"Alex?"

The face above him rippled, the body broadening in all directions until Mulder
found himself pinned beneath the muscular bulk of the alien Bounty Hunter.

"You've been very helpful... in more ways than one."

Mulder's hazel eyes widened in horror and he pushed ineffectively against the
greater mass. His last thought as a powerful fist smashed into the side of his
head was that he had betrayed Alex... in all ways.

********************

3 a.m.
Manhattan, New York City

The light from the neon sign flickered through the curtainless window,
illuminating the pale walls and ceiling in alternating crimson and azure. Alex
Krycek lay sprawled naked across the top of a small, lumpy bed staring up at the
light display upon the ceiling as his thoughts drifted back to his last meeting
with Mulder. It was a mistake telling him where he was staying but Mulder seemed
so desperate to know. Tomorrow he would move on. He should never have returned in
the first place but that would have seemed like a kind of betrayal... and he had
betrayed Mulder too many times already. He had sworn, on his mother's grave, that
he would never betray Fox again but it wasn't safe here anymore.

He thought about the old war films his father enjoyed watching. There was always
some comment about it being darkest just before dawn. Over the past few years he
had come to understand that it was more than just the eerie silence of pre-dawn;
there was a heaviness in the night air that pulled at your very soul.

A creak upon the floorboards outside his dingy room pulled him back and he
reached for the ever present Glock tucked under the pillow behind his head,
feeling reassured by the weight in his hand.

Nothing. No other sound reached him. Probably just the normal noises of a
building settling in the quietness; a noise that only seemed noticeable in the
dead of night. He sighed deeply and released his hold on the gun.

The sharp crack of splintering wood stopped his heart momentarily but before he
could strengthen his grip around the handle and swing the barrel around, a large,
dark shape had sprung forward, landing on him, forcing the air from his lungs.
Strong, thick fingers prised the gun from his hand and he heard the sound of
metal thumping against the wall beneath the window as the gun was hurled aside.

For a moment the only sound was the harsh panting as Krycek struggled to regain
his breath but by the time he had managed to drag some air into his lungs, the
bulky frame had pinned him down completely. The Bounty Hunter's eyes closed, an
unfamiliar smile curling his lips as the heady scent of this human filled his
senses. His triumphant voice whispered seductively into Krycek's ear.

"Tonight I discovered Human pleasure."

He traced a path down the side of Krycek's face with his tongue, lapping at the
corner of the tight-lipped mouth. Beneath him, Alex began to thrash, hoping to
lever off the more massive body but to no avail. The Bounty Hunter laughed
quietly, feeling his human form respond to the stimulating gyrations of the body
beneath him. He felt his human sex organ lengthen and harden, relishing briefly
the discomfort of close-fitting pants before thinking away the clumsy garments to
leave his bare flesh rubbing against his captive. Sensitive nerve endings flared
in response to the feel of his heated skin sliding over the warm body. He pulled
Krycek's arms together above the dark head until he could hold both wrists within
one large hand, freeing the other to explore the muscular contours of a human
whose body was prized by two other males; one old, one young. He moved one
massive thigh, forcing it between the young human's legs, pushing the human's
thighs apart until he could settle groin to groin. His hand swept down the length
of Krycek's body from shoulder to mid-thigh before sweeping up the inner thigh.
Fingers trailed through the outer edge of the patch of crisp dark curls. He
lowered his head to plunder the beautiful mouth, hissing in annoyance as Krycek
turned his head away.

A large hand came up, grasping Alex by the chin, forcing his head back and
holding him in place as a mouth, almost drooling with lust-borne saliva, clamped
over his own. A thick tongue forced its way between his closed lips, pushing
against his tightly clenched teeth. The hand on his chin tightened until he was
forced to open his jaw, allowing the invader to fill his mouth. Alex gagged as
the tongue forced its way to the back of his throat, the hand on his jaw
preventing him from biting down hard on that unwanted organ. The 'kiss' ended
abruptly.

"Yes. So sweet. So beautiful."

With horror, Alex felt his legs being prised further apart; the bulk of the alien
settling between them. He renewed his efforts to free himself as his hands were
released, battering the large frame with his fists as his legs were pushed back,
exposing him to the Bounty Hunter.

"No. No."

"Yes. So very beautiful."

Alex prepared himself for the worst, knowing he could not prevent what was about
to happen. He frowned as something small pushed inside him then gasped as the
'something' gradually expanded, stretching the small muscle slowly until he felt
his innards would explode from the pressure of the huge bulk filling him.

The Bounty Hunter began to rock slowly, savouring each sensation as sensitive
nerve endings rubbed against the walls of the hot, tight channel. The sensations
grew stronger, harder... more intense than he had experienced with Mulder and he
screamed out as they overtook him, igniting his whole body and mind. He collapsed
upon the still resisting body, feeling his weight crush Krycek into the overly
soft mattress. Feeble struggling alerted him to the predicament of the smaller
human and he pushed off to the side. A flicker of energy passed from his hand
into his captive and he felt Krycek's body go limp. He climbed off the bed and
reconfigured human clothing around his massive frame. With more gentleness than
seemed appropriate, he leant down to stroke the pretty face.

"Yes. So very, very beautiful. If my orders were otherwise..."

With only a flicker of remorse, the Bounty Hunter wrapped Alex in the coverlet
and carried him out of the room to a waiting car.

********************

8 a.m.
Griffin Motel
Near Jackson, Tennessee

Mulder moaned as a cool flannel was placed over his forehead. His eyes opened
slowly, trying to make sense of the blurred figure above him. The flame of light
catching in the red hair stirred a memory.

"Scully?" He croaked, eyes widening as he cleared his throat to try again.

"What happened, Mulder?"

Mulder pushed her away gently as he slowly raised himself to a sitting position.
He swung his legs over the side of the bed, hands clamped either side of his
throbbing skull.

"I was hoping you could tell me."

"I knocked at your door fifteen minutes ago. Didn't get an answer so I came in
and found you unconscious on the bed. It looks like someone hit you."

"It *feels* like it." Mulder groaned anew and then the memories came crashing
back. "Alex!" He tried to stand and fell back to the bed. Scully was by his side
in an instant, holding onto his elbow to steady him.

"Whoa. Take it easy, Mulder. You've taken quite a blow to the head." She stepped
in front of him and examined his eyes with a small torch from her medical bag.
"Slight difference in dilation. You've got a light concussion..."

"Scully, I told him where to find Alex. I thought he *was* Alex."

Bewilderment shone in the cerulean blue eyes and Mulder could tell by her
expression that she was consigning his ranting to the result of a head injury.

"The Bounty Hunter. He was here in Alex's form. Tricked me into giving up Alex's
location. We've gotta get to New York. Gotta warn Alex."

Dana Scully took a step back as she put all the facts together. The telltale
signs of sex filled the room; the musky smell, the mussed up sheets and sticky
patches on both them and Mulder's lower body. The Bounty Hunter had taken more
than information from Fox Mulder and she realised the fallout from this would not
hit until later... and when it did she would have her hands full dealing with a
guilt-ridden partner. She took a deep breath. The Bounty Hunter had several hours
head start and she wondered whether she ought to mention this now or let Mulder
rush to New York in the belief that he would be in time to save Alex. Her hands
trembled as she took another deep breath, reaching out to bring Mulder's
attention back on herself.

"We won't get there in time."

Mulder glared at her, his mouth opening to deny her softly spoken words but he
turned away without a sound, his eyes closing in dismay. She was right. He could
only hope Alex had been on his guard, that he managed to evade the relentless
pursuit until Mulder could bring him, somehow, to safety. With jerky movements he
started to pull on his clothes.

"We'd best head back..."

"You'd better shower first, Mulder."

Fox Mulder glanced down at the sticky semen coating his lower body.

"Oh God. What have I done?"

Dana bowed her head, It seemed like later had become now.

********************

9 a.m.
Washington DC

The Bounty Hunter entered the darkened hotel room, ignoring all of its occupants,
and placed the large bundle he carried effortlessly over his shoulder onto the
bed. Spender took one final drag of his cigarette and then ground it out in the
nearby ashtray before slowly standing and moving to the other side. He reached
out and pulled back the fraying coverlet to reveal a shock of dark hair. Pausing,
he looked up into the Bounty Hunter's impassive features and smiled before
returning his attention to the coverlet. Another small tug revealed the face that
invaded almost every waking thought and most of his dreams; the sleep-softened
features as beautiful as he remembered. He trailed one nicotine-stained finger
along the darkly stubbled jaw.

"How long will he remain unconscious?"

"Until I awaken him."

"Excellent. Davis, make the arrangements." Spender looked back up at the alien
morph. "I assume you will be accompanying us."

"Yes."

********************

11 a.m
New York

They had been very lucky to find seats on an early internal flight to JFK but the
trip to New York passed by in a strained silence despite Scully's best attempts
to draw Mulder into a conversation. Even after they landed, her taciturn partner
had rebuffed every effort choosing instead to concentrate on the road ahead as if
he could will the other vehicles out of the way so they could make better time.
His frustration was worsened by the fact that Scully refused to allow him to
drive in his current condition. With every slow vehicle in their path, every
traffic snarl up and every set of traffic lights set to red she could see his
knuckles whitening as he gripped the dashboard. Eventually they reached their
destination. Mulder was out of the car and taking the front steps leading up into
the seedy bar hotel before Scully could bring the car to a halt. She placed the
vehicle in park and flew after him.

When she caught up with him she found him standing just inside the room, the lack
of expression on his face it's own testament to what he had found. Scully brushed
passed him. On first impression the room just seemed empty but then she noticed
all the little things that spoke of a former occupant and she knew Alex had been
taken from there during the night by force while Mulder lay unconscious. Her
analytical mind summed up all the salient details in moments; the Glock lying
abandoned on the floor by the window, a chunk of plaster and torn wallpaper
showing where it had impacted with the wall. Clothes lay neatly folded on a
chair; dark jeans, dark T-shirt, dark leather jacket... so common, so nondescript
unless you knew the man who wore them like a uniform. The top cover was missing
but signs of a struggle were evident in the remaining sheets that lay in complete
disarray.

"He's gone. He took him."

Mulder reached out and gathered up the T-shirt, holding it tight against his
face, inhaling the unique scent of Alex still clinging to the recently worn
material.

"We'll find him, Mulder."

Fox Mulder turned to his partner and she took a backward step when she met eyes
filled with an unhealthy cold rage. In all her years as his partner she thought
she had seen every emotion cross his face; anger, fear, frustration,
determination, happiness... love... but never had she witnessed this. The very
air around her seemed to have dropped several degrees and she was thankful this
emotion was not directed towards her.

"I know who has him. All we have to do is find that cancerous bastard... and I
know just where to start."

Scully nodded, suddenly feeling very afraid for AD Walter Skinner even though she
knew the man was on the level... and more importantly, on their side. Whatever
happened she knew she needed to stay with Mulder, to try and anchor him...
contain his anger... while they began the search.

"We should collect Alex's things together; take them with us. He won't be coming
back here."

Scully nodded and reached out for the remaining clothes and the leather jacket
while Mulder checked out the cupboards and cleared the bathroom of the few
possessions lying there. He bundled everything into the small holdall he had
found in the top drawer of the bureau and then headed for the door with Scully
right behind him. He stopped, suddenly, on the threshold, hardly noticing when
Scully bumped into him. She watched as he turned back, walking straight to the
bed; her eyes misting as his fingers brushed over the sheet where Krycek must
have lain.

Mulder sank to his knees and reached under the bed, dragging out a pair of shoes.
The heat of his anger drained away when he realised they were his own favourite
pair of Doc Marten's. His eyes crinkling momentarily with a smile before the full
force of his loss hit him. He barely held back a sob, his eyes damp with unshed
tears as he gazed back at his diminutive partner, suddenly feeling like he owed
her some explanation.

"He always leaves his shoes under the bed... force of habit, I suppose, from the
years on the run."

 

Scully nodded.

"Come on, Mulder. We'd best head back to DC. Start the search from there."

********************

11 a.m.
Washington DC

The tremor of distaste flowing through him was not an unusual occurrence but the
reason for it was. The alien morph watched as the young, dark-haired human was
placed carefully into a coffin-sized crate, soft padding supporting the
unconscious frame, and the lid then firmly sealed. The crate was carried out of
the hotel and to a waiting van under the watchful gaze of those rheumy blue eyes,
smoke from the ever-present cigarette curling away in the slight breeze. His
thoughts turned to the beings around him.

Normally, humans repulsed him, all humans, and yet there was something about the
young male and, to a much lesser degree, his chosen partner that had attracted
him; something that had inflamed his mind and body; a sense of... otherness.

He cocked his head to one side as he considered this 'otherness'. It was a scent.
The scent of his own race upon them. He knew Mulder had been subjected to the DNA
tests from a young age and could understand *this* allurement although he had
always been careful not to get too close, not wanting to taint himself by
association. He felt this allurement for all of the specimens of those tests but
there was something different about this other human... an almost compulsive
attraction to Alexei Krycek. At first he wondered whether it was subliminal
residue from when Krycek had been taken over by one of his brethren... and then
everything fell into place.

Spender had been marvelling at the 'completeness' of the young human; his
yellowed-fingers trailing down the baby-soft skin from biceps to wrist before
raising the hand to his lips. No explanation had been given as to how Krycek had
come to have his left arm severed from his body and the Bounty Hunter had no
interest in knowing. However, the Morph knew this world did not yet possess the
technology to grow back a limb to the level of perfection obtained... but his own
people did.

He considered this as he sat in the back of the limo for the short journey to
Dulles where a Consortium owned Lear jet waited, primed ready for take-off as
soon as it's passengers... and important cargo, were loaded. The human seated by
his side made no attempt at conversation and he offered none in return. His
thoughts turned to his travelling companion. Everything about this human repulsed
him; the smell of the toxic drug he inhaled, the scent of his humanity and the
treacherous nature hidden behind those cold eyes.

As he ascended the steep stairs leading into the aircraft the Morph saw,
momentarily, the crate being loaded into the far end. A ripple of satisfaction
flowed through him, causing even more bemusement. Why should he care that the
young male was being placed in the main body of the craft rather than the cargo
hold? But he *did* care. He took his seat on the primitive craft, his thoughts
still swirling around.

After take-off the Bounty Hunter left his seat and made his way to the back of
the aircraft. He watched as the lid was removed from the crate and the
unconscious body lifted from its prison. The scent was there; a strong
intoxicating scent. The pheromone filling the re-circulated air. Yes. Now he
understood. The male was no longer fully human; he was a hybrid. The Morph knew
the Consortium scientists had been working on producing a viable hybrid, the
completion of that task necessary before Colonisation could begin. As he drew
closer, he quickly realised that Alex Krycek was not the answer. He was still too
human. The blood running through his veins was red, not green and yet he felt
more kinship for *this* hybrid than for any of the subjects currently being
experimented upon. It did not take much more reasoning to understand how and,
more importantly, why Krycek had been changed. The deceased Englishman had chosen
Alexei Krycek as his protégé but what good was an one-armed apprentice who
carried Colonist implants.

A quick wave of a device taken surreptitiously from his pouch proved his
assertions were correct. The young male had no implants although he would have
been 'tagged' by his 'brother' while in the Silo... but Krycek did have altered
DNA, presumably to counteract the destruction trigger which occurred on removal
of the implants.

He watched as the dark-haired male that he had taken such pleasure in was washed
before being placed back into the man-sized container. His thoughts once again
dwelling on the perfection of the ivory skin, the softness of the shapely mouth
with its deep Cupid's bow. His body remembered the overwhelming sensations as he
thrust into the hot, tight channel, holding the thrashing body effortlessly
beneath him. He thought of the other male that he had seduced to obtain the
location of Alex Krycek. The feel of wanton abandonment as the other rubbed
against him, not realising the deception until far too late. How much more
pleasurable would it have been if Alexei Krycek had come to him as willingly.

A puzzled expression crossed his face momentarily before the lines smoothed out
to leave the usual impassivity. No matter what he thought or felt, these two were
still human... and humans were good only for slave labour and gestating his
brethren. He turned away, moving back to his seat, viciously trying to subdue his
body's reaction to the strong pheromones that assailed his senses.

At the far end of the plane a man flicked a glance between the Consortium leader
and the alien morph. Silently, he made a decision that might cost him his life.
He flicked open an ultra-modern device and sent a message... nothing too obvious
but enough to give Mulder the lead he needed to begin his search for his missing
lover.

********************

6 hours later
2630 Hegal Place
Apartment 42
Alexandria

When he reached his apartment Mulder's first action was to switch on his PC. He
quickly entered his email account and scanned through the many messages hoping
that, somehow, Alex had managed to escape and had tried to contact him. For once
he resented the number of messages from the various UFO and paranormal lists he
belonged to. Their presence made it all the harder to spot anything of far
greater importance and, worst still, one of those hundreds of emails might
actually contain the message he was looking for. He scanned quickly through the
incoming mail taking note of the senders, looking for anything unusual. One
sender stood out amongst the rest, something about the name firing the synapses
in his brain. He opened it and found a single line; a set of four numbers.

********************

Lone Gunmen's Headquarters
Washington DC

Sometime later Mulder stood with Scully by his side in the cramped office of the
Lone Gunmen. The three computer... and conspiracy theory experts passed the
printout from one to the other, each offering up ideas.

"A set of co-ordinates." Langly began to type frantically, his nimble fingers
dancing over the keyboard like a prima donna, graceful and precise as he hacked
into an overhead satellite.

"No... there are not enough digits in each set... this is something else... a
code. Lets try replacing the numbers with an alphabetic sequence of characters.
I've got several algorithmic programs designed to..."

Frohike snatched the paper and turned a contemptuous look upon his fellow Gunmen,
often amazed that they would look for complicated answers when it was really so
simple.

"It's an IP address... Internet Protocol Address to the uninitiated. It's the
designation for a website..."

Mulder frowned and took a step forward.

"On the Web?"

"Not necessarily, a lot of company's have their own nets... but that's where we
should look first."

The group gathered around Frohike as he input the co-ordinates to the unknown
website.

"If this turns out to be 'Paranormals are Us' I'm gonna spam them."

As one, the others turned on hearing the venom in Mulder's voice, knowing he was
not kidding and knowing why it was so important to him that this was a lead to
the man he loved.

"Believe me, Mulder, if it is then I'll spam them myself." They watched as a site
began to load. He was tapping furiously on the keyboard, composing weird
sequences of keys. "This site is secured tighter than my spinster aunt's chastity
belt.... Aaahhh... Well, what have we here."

"It's a database... looks like an inventory of some sort. See... there are sets
of dates probably orders taken, orders filled. There's a report feature..."

Byers leaned across, tapping the screen. Langly supplanted Frohike as soon as it
became obvious what they were looking at but Frohike made no comment. They each
knew where their strengths and weaknesses lay... and Langly's strength lay here.
The report scrolled across the screen but Mulder had a sudden insight into what
they were looking at.

"These are not customers; they're merchandise." He quickly scrawled a couple of
names onto a piece of paper and handed it to Langly. "Check for these."

Only one name came up; Martin Leighton. Two dates were attached to the name. Two
dates that were six days apart. Working on a hunch Mulder wrote down another
name. Langly looked up in surprise, glancing across at the diminutive redhead
before starting the search on the new name; Dana K Scully. When an entry appeared
on the screen everyone except Mulder was stunned.

"What would I be doing in this database."

"Look at the date, Scully."

She leaned over Langly's shoulder and peered at the single date entry. Her
audible gasp was the result of memories crashing through her. Once again she was
in the corridor outside Mulder's apartment, still reeling from the stressful
flight from the bees and through the strange cornfield; remembering the
thunderous sound of the black helicopters overhead. They had held each others
eyes in relief that they were still alive and Mulder had taken her in his arms,
moving to place a soft kiss upon her lips. That's when she had felt the bee sting
her. Anaphylactic shock came quickly... and so did the paramedic unit. Too
quickly... but they had both been too busy fighting for her life to notice. Yes.
She remembered that date.

"That's the day you were infected by the retrovirus through the mutant bee
sting."

Mulder's eyes narrowed as his attention focussed on the code placed by Scully's
name. At first he had thought the field contained a key index but his eidetic
memory gave him another description. It was the position on the Antarctic
mothership where he had found Scully.

"Go back to Leighton's entry." Mulder pursed his lips as he read the details and
then started scrawling several more names on a sheet of paper. "Try these names."

"What is it, Mulder?"

He turned his head to meet his partner's inquiring blue eyes.

"All the missing men, bar one, are on this database. All have two dates against
them... six days apart..."

"Except for me."

"It's the gestation period. The Englishman said I had 96 hours in which to find
you or it would be too late to save you. My bet is, after 96 hours the parasite
they placed in you, or that the retrovirus developed into, would have grown large
enough to start eating its host from the inside out. The second date is probably
the date the parasite hatched from its host."

"And I thought our theories were way outta left field..."

Mulder ignored Frohike, his mind churning through all the information he had been
given over the past few months and then it struck; the reason why Michael
Anacek's name was missing from the database. The Antarctic mothership had left
*before* his disappearance.

"That's it. That's what the sender is trying to tell me. There's another
mothership. Langly, search for a second database."

Several minutes later they were staring at the name Michael Anacek on the screen.
A single date had been placed by his name.

"Damn."

Mulder's soft exclamation seemed loud in the silent room. He knew that it was too
late to save Michael Anacek. Another twenty minutes of searching gave Mulder what
he wanted; the location of the second mothership.

********************

Consortium Research Station
Sahara Desert, Tunisia

The tall, green and yellow stems of ripening corn looked distinctly out of place
amid the undulating sand dunes of the Sahara Desert. Conrad Strughold watched
impatiently as CGB Spender stepped out of the newly arrived transport helicopter,
hunched over slightly as he half-walked, half-ran towards him. He pulled a cloth
over his face to shield it from the stinging sand driven into the air by the
downdraft from the helicopter's double set of rotating blades. Once cleared the
helicopter took off, its desert-camouflaged shape quickly disappearing into the
distance leaving the man-made oasis in an eerie silence.

Strughold watched with curiosity as one of the off-loaded man-sized crates was
taken towards the administration area instead of into the mothership. He waited
until Spender had paused beside him before indicating towards the anomaly.

"Personal business."

"As long as your personal business does not affect our work..."

Strughold trailed off pointedly, reminding Spender of the previous occasion when
he had brought Dana Scully to the Antarctic ship. That event had ended in
near-catastrophe as the alien ship was forced to flee Earth to ensure the safety
of the new Colonists recently hatched from their hosts. He did not wish to see a
repetition of that event here at the second 'nest'. It had taken a lot of
persuasion to convince the Colonists that neither they nor the Plan had been
compromised.

"In that case I will leave you to attend to your... personal business. Do not
forget to check in with Dr Marron. Your pheromone patch must be applied."

Spender shook a cigarette out of the packet and placed it between his seamed
lips. He cocked his head slightly as he flicked the lighter, inhaling deeply as
the flame caught the tip, taking a moment to stare out across the vast desert and
then he turned and walked away from Strughold towards the administration
building. His eyes narrowed as one of his people came running towards him.

"Sir! Security has been compromised on the mainframe. Someone is hacking into the
databases."

"How?" Anger heated the cold eyes. "The information is supposed to have the
highest security possible. The Firewall was developed by the best communications
experts."

"I don't understand... they could only get in if they had the exact address.
There *is* no other way without the correct codes..."

"Then we have a traitor in our midst."

"Not necessarily... anyone could write a program to make up and connect to IP..."

"If anyone could do it then why wasn't this considered in the security
arrangements?"

"We needed global access... the chances of this happening were..." The man broke
off, held the mobile to his ear and listened to another report. "They've located
the hacker and are moving in as we speak."

Spender glared at the man. There was nothing more they could do but this was the
second time their computer systems had been compromised. The Thinker, the man who
had hacked into the Consortium files, had been killed for his actions but the
loss and the subsequent messy recovery of the MJ-12 tape had almost cost Spender
his prestigious position in the Consortium, and it had almost cost him his life.

"Keep me informed."

The man nodded and moved away briskly leaving Spender to brood darkly on this
latest turn of events.

********************

Lone Gunmen Headquarters
Washington DC

The flashing red light caught their attention.

"Uh oh... trouble."

Mulder intense gaze stabbed into Langly, waiting for the scruffy man to confirm
what he already knew. Their hack into the database had been noticed and the
owners of that information had, somehow, tracked them down. If Langly's chagrined
expression was not enough then the frantic actions of the other two gunmen was
the final confirmation.

"Let's make like sheep... get the flock outta here."

"How?"

"Just follow us, G-man... and lady." Frohike turned to the others. "Escape plan
Delta-2."

Frohike stood on a chair and pressed the exposed left nipple on the full-size
framed poster of Barbarella. The entire poster, frame and all, swung away from
the wall on hidden hinges to reveal a slightly smaller hatch with an even smaller
hole placed centrally. Mulder watched as first Byers and then Langly hauled
themselves into the hatchway dragging various technical paraphernalia with them.

"Your turn, Mulder. I'll follow behind Miss Scully."

Scully gave the little man a glare, noting the lecherous gleam in his eye. She
pushed Mulder aside and clambered up.

"In your dreams, Frohike", floated softly behind her.

"Is that a date?" Frohike mumbled hopefully but Scully disdained to answer.

Once inside the small tunnel, Mulder twisted his upper body so he could glance
back and realised the purpose of the hole in the inner doorway. Frohike pulled
the hatch shut and, extending his hand through the hole, reached out to grip a
small handle carefully positioned on the back of the Barbarella poster. A soft
snick as the frame settled tightly back in place would leave no trace of their
escape route. Mulder turned back and began to crawl along the narrow vent,
quickly catching up with Scully and realising, from that interesting view of her
pert bottom, the reason why Frohike had wanted to be behind her. He sniggered to
himself as he remembered Frohike's disgruntled expression. A fantasy gripped him
momentarily, the thought of crawling through this vent behind the delectable,
muscular ass of his lover lifted more than his spirits and then plunged him
deeper into despair when he remembered his loss. He *had* to find Alex.

********************

One day later
Consortium Research Station
Sahara Desert, Tunisia

The heavy damask filtered the worst of the glare from the overhead sun reflecting
off the pale yellow sand. A modern air-conditioning unit struggled against the
ferocity of the midday heat but did little to lower the temperature beyond the
barely tolerable. Spender sighed in relief nonetheless, the room was a good 15
degrees lower than the temperature outside.

Davis checked the bonds holding the unconscious man to the bed, testing each in
turn before nodding his satisfaction to his employer. A glance towards the door
was his command to leave so Davis headed out, closing the door behind him.

Spender moved towards the bed and glanced down at the familiar naked body
stretched out upon it; a body he had spent many a night fantasising about. He sat
down beside the unconscious younger man and reached out to trail his fingers
along the smooth flesh, his memory racing back through the years to the younger
versions of them both.

Alexei Krycek had seemed to be one of those lucky finds; a brilliant, strongly
patriotic boy full of life and enthusiasm... determined that he would be the one
to change the world. The intensity of his beliefs had made him easy prey and the
fact that he was also very beautiful made him a temptation that could not be
ignored. Spender sighed as he remembered those early years when he had used the
boy's exuberance to entice him into his bed. It was never love... unless love
could be defined as the insatiable need to slake his lust within that beautiful
frame. No... it was obsession, addiction. The heat in those piercing green eyes
would stoke the inferno; the total abandonment as Alex submitted to his caresses
would fire his soul.

He brushed an errant lock of sable hair from the tall forehead. Those eyes were
closed, the heavy curtain of black lashes concealing their jewel-like brilliance.

Obsession.

He should have known he could not keep an intelligent creature like Krycek
tethered to him by lust alone. The boy had come to him to glory in Spender's
god-like power over the lives of millions and when he had started to reveal
himself, piece by piece, as just another human pushing to stay not just alive but
on top in the face of the imminent annihilation of the Human race he had seen
Alex gradually turn from him in revulsion. Where Alex had hung on every
utterance, suddenly he was questioning. The small inconsistencies becoming
glaring holes in the fabric of lies he had woven around the youth. Teaming Alex
up with Fox Mulder had been a make-or-break decision. Either Alex would do the
Consortium's bidding or he would be drawn into Mulder's search for the truth. His
eyebrows drew together as a thought occurred to him. Who was it who said
hindsight is always 20-20? With hindsight he understand why the Englishman had
insisted that Alex was the right person for the job. That well-manicured man had
seen what he had refused to see, that Alex was a patriot first and foremost...
that he would divert all of that energy, all of that aggression into saving
Humanity. It was obvious now who had protected Alex through those years of exile.
How many times had he come close to capturing his former lover only to find Alex
had been forewarned... and had escaped?

Spender remembered the one time Alex had come to him. He sneered... but then, it
wasn't really Alex, it was the Oilien that had taken over his body that had
brought Alex to his door. He shuddered, being so close to that delicious body and
yet Alex may well have been on another planet. He couldn't touch him. All he
could do was take the Oilien to his ship as requested and then leave Alex to die.
The sound of Alex's screams as he walked away leaving the boy in his dark crypt
haunted him for months. He knew that by the time it was safe to return, Alex
would be long dead... and so he stayed away, trying to regain the lost lover
through many a lookalike but they never fired his soul and he tired of them
quickly; their bodies ending up as hosts to the Colonists.

His fingers caressed the soft lips; lips that had blazed a path across his own
skin; lips that had wrapped around his engorged flesh bringing him to mindless
ecstasy. Spender smiled. He would know that ecstasy again whether Alex was
willing or not.

A slight click as the door opened drew his attention to the Bounty Hunter.
Spender stood up and moved aside as the alien morph approached the bed. The big
hands reached down and a soft glow haloed the body momentarily. Keeping his newly
found desire firmly under control, the alien morph gave Spender one last
dispassionate glance and then left the room.

Spender listened as Krycek groaned softly, the dark lashes flickering as he
slowly surfaced from the unnatural sleep. With a sudden irrational concern for
the boy's dignity, he flicked a light covering over the lower half of the naked
form.

********************

The long, gruelling flight to Tunisia went by so slowly that Mulder felt he was
going insane. He had tried to sleep... desperate to recuperate his strength after
that blow to the head and the traumatic escape from the Lone Gunmen's
headquarters. Beside him, Dana Scully lay back as if she had not a care in the
world. Her eyes were hidden behind the complimentary night shades, her breathing
slow and easy. He spent a moment staring at her tiny hands, momentarily awed that
such a small frame could house such inner strength... and she *was* his tower of
strength. She had held him together when Alex was taken from BioTechnics by the
Rebel Aliens and she was still by his side now as they raced across half the
world hoping those four numbers were leading them to where Cancer Man had taken
Alex.

He closed his eyes and dwelt on their recent escape. The vent behind the
Barbarella poster had led to a Janitor's closet further along the hallway. Unlike
most closets this one had an inbuilt laundry chute from the days when the
apartments had been a high class hotel. Mulder had smiled, realising why he had
always liked the Gunmen's home. He had spent so many of the last few years on the
road as part of his job that it had reminded him of all the hotel rooms he had
stayed in. In counterpoint, his own apartment had only felt like a real home over
the past few weeks... because Alex was there.

The laundry chute had been a tight fit for his bulkier frame and he was grateful
he had kept himself in trim over the years. The exhilarating slide had led down
to the basement room adjoining an underground parking lot. Within minutes they
were on the road heading in three different directions with instructions on where
and when to meet. Several hours later, grouped around one of the largest pizzas
Scully had ever seen, they had finished pouring over all the data and were making
their plans. Later that same evening, he and Scully had caught the Tunisian
flight with only minutes to spare.

The in-flight movie claimed his attention for a while; some lightweight comedy
but his interest faded quickly. To pass the time his mind made a mental checklist
of events garnered from the many other international flights he had taken. Only
one more hour and the flight attendants would serve another bland meal... then
there would be the obligatory attempt to sell duty free goods and then they would
be completing landing cards, sorting out passports.

He sighed and closed his eyes, hoping this time he might be successful and fall
into a restorative sleep but Alex waited for him behind his eyelids, his
pleasure-sated face demanding one more caress... one more kiss. With nothing
better to occupy his mind and a determination not to dwell on what might be
happening to his lover at this very moment, Mulder kept his eyes closed and
allowed the memories to flow through him......

Pale morning light had illuminated the motel room. The heat of another body
alongside his own had drawn him from a dreamless sleep and for a while the
perfection of the face tucked against his shoulder held its own dreamlike
quality. His fantasies surrounding this particular man had become a nightly
occurrence from very early on, gradually invading his daytime dreams but on that
morning the fantasy had returned more vivid, more alluring than ever before. His
sleep-softened mind had focused on the glints of red shining in the short,
mahogany hair before his eyes had moved to travel over that oh so familiar face.
Fingers had replaced his dreamy gaze, trailing along the stubbled jaw... and they
had kissed....

Mulder smiled as the memory of their first kiss stole through his nerve endings,
igniting a slow-burning fire, his lips tingling in remembrance of the soft ones
he had captured and held. His smile faded and he pinched the bridge of his nose
to stop the tears prickling at the back of his eyes. They had been given so
little time together, just a few short weeks; time he had spent chasing the
elusive truth, digging through shredded reports, when he should have been at home
loving Alex, creating a huge store of memories to live on should the worst
happen... should he never find Alex.

Common sense told him that he could not have done anything to prevent what
happened... except steal Alex away to some remote place where they could hide
away together forever. Cancer Man had wanted Alex... had *taken* Alex using the
insidious Bounty Hunter as his tool. That thought prompted another that he did
not want to dwell on. Strange how, with hindsight, it was so obvious that it was
not his Alex who came to him that night but his mind had explained away all the
inconsistencies; the ferocity of that first kiss on the fear of losing each
other, the uncharacteristic murmuring of endearments on a need to reassure that
they were both together again. Only the return of that hated smirk had broken the
spell, revealing the full deception too late to prevent this disaster.

Another thought tore at him. How was he going to explain all this to Alex? How
could he look him in the eye and say... 'I thought it was you?' He *should* have
known from the very first touch that it was not his lover. He should have seen
the differences between...

"It's not your fault, Mulder. He's a master of disguise."

He twisted his neck round so fast he heard it crack. Next to him, Dana Scully was
removing the nightshades and turning serious cerulean blue eyes in his direction.
She flicked a strand of red hair back from her face with those incredibly
delicate fingers.

"How did you know...?"

"What you were thinking? Easy one, Mulder. You're obsessed with taking the blame
for everything that goes wrong... or not quite right. Think this through
logically. You've just woken up. The room's quite dark. A familiar shape and
voice above you... Alex's shape. Alex's voice. Before you have time to question
why he's put himself at risk to come to you, you've got this warm, familiar body
in your arms. By the time the lethargy of sleep and sex have started to wane...
it's too late. You've said too much."

"That's uncanny, Scully. You weren't hiding in the closet were you?"

Scully smiled; a bittersweet smile considering the circumstances. There was a
time when she thought their partnership would deepen into something far more
personal but she had given up on that fantasy, content, now, to be the best of
friends, although the thought of being in that closet had come to her several
times over the past few weeks. There was something strangely alluring about these
two men... together. She wasn't quite sure what it was. Perhaps it was the love
that shone from two different sets of eyes whenever they stared at each other;
perhaps it was the way their bodies performed that subliminal mating dance
whenever they were in close proximity. Whatever the case, it *was* potent and
alluring. Her mind snapped back to the joking response. Mulder often used smart
replies to cover up his emotions.

"It doesn't take much intelligence to figure it out. Surveying the scene of a...
crime... is what we do for a living."

Mulder thought back to the motel room. Yes. It was pretty obvious and he was
suddenly ashamed that he had not expected her to notice. Did he really think so
little of her?

"If that expression of remorse is aimed at me then forget it. You were the
Psychologist, Mulder. Denial can be a strong emotion." She touched his arm
gently, bringing his tear glistened eyes to hers. "Alex *will* understand."

"Have I told you recently how much I value you?"

"Don't go all mushy on me, Mulder. I hate mush."

The crackling of the flight intercom drew their attention as the Captain
announced some turbulence up ahead. Scully faced back front and began to fasten
her seat belt, her thoughts tumbling from her pretty lips.

"I hope the Gunmen have made all the necessary arrangements. We've got a lot of
distance to cover. Those co-ordinates are way down south, into the Sahara."

"Hope you packed your sandals, Scully."

"There's one more thing I've got to say to you, Mulder. If you start doing
Lawrence of Arabia impressions... I am going to shoot you."

********************

Consortium Research Station
Sahara Desert, Tunisia

The Alien Morph looked at his human disguise in a full length mirror. He had
chosen this particular form decades ago having been drawn to its broad shoulders,
massive chest and strong, square jaw... so different from his own natural form.
It was an imposing figure that sent humans scurrying out of his path. He raised
the corners of the mouth, watching with interest how the action brought life to
the normally expressionless features. The smile turned into a sneer of contempt.
More than five decades had passed and yet this was the first time he had truly
interacted with Humans. With two humans to be exact.

His thoughts returned to one other of his own species who had lost objectivity
and consorted with the livestock. Baseball. His colleague had become impassioned
by a stupid human game... hitting a ball with a stick. He had not understood why
execution was more preferable than returning to the people... to the Agenda. He
could not fathom the depth of passion that had consumed his shipmate... until
now.

"But they are livestock. Their only use to provide suitable hosts for gestating
the remainder of my shipmates..." ...bringing them out of their centuries long
sleep.

Centuries. That was how long it had taken to cross the vast expanses of space and
return to reclaim the world that had given birth to their race. Finding it
inhabited by a new dominant species was a... shock. One that was quickly hushed
up so nothing bled back to the Council. If it should then there would be an
outcry and their plans to re-colonise the World would lie in tatters.

The Bounty Hunter thought about the Rebels. He wondered if any of the human's
realised that these were not, as they thought, another alien race but members of
the Colonists who had revolted against what they were about to do. They wanted
the Humans to be left alone; wanted to study them, nurture them, watch them grow
as a species until they were ready to join the Great Council. Over the years he
had kept his distance even though he had been forced to walk among the denizens
of this planet. He paused on that thought. The humans were *not* denizens of the
planet; they were not foreigners enjoying the benefits of this World. They were
the Earth's children, just as his people were. He quashed the insurrection within
his mind before it could take a hold. He was a Soldier not a Worker or a
Scientist. He could not afford to have doubts about his place in the scheme of
things... could he?

"So very beautiful..."

The young human was so beautiful. Strange how he had never noticed beauty in
these creatures until now and yet, as his mind catalogued the physical attributes
of the species he began to recognise all the details that made this particular
human more captivating than most. It was not just the intoxicating scent,
although the Morph had to admit that was a major part of his attraction, it was
the softness of his ivory skin, the brilliance of his forest-green eyes... the
inviting shape of those pink, bowed lips.

"Beauty is transient."

The ravages of time would strip that perfect form of those features but did he
not read somewhere that Beauty comes from within? He had to admit that it was
more than just the pretty face that called to him. The other, the one who sucked
his life away on that toxic, aromatic drug called nicotine. By definition, he had
been handsome when first they met but the coldness inside, the willingness to
betray his own people... even his own flesh and blood had made him a creature
worthy only of his contempt. The one redeeming moment, when he had requested help
to save the life of a dying female; the mother of Fox Mulder. In contrast, both
Alexei Krycek and Fox Mulder had an inner brilliance that radiated outwards from
the depths of their being.

All three of these humans were fighting for what they believed in... the right to
exist but, whereas it was Spender's personal existence that fuelled his
determination, for Krycek and Mulder the continued existence of Humanity was
their goal. Self-serving and self-sacrificing. That was the true difference...
and the source of beauty within.

An inner calling put a halt to his introspection. He allowed the human image to
fall from his frame leaving behind the Grey alien, his true form, and he swiftly
moved out of his chambers towards the main control of the ship. For once, as he
travelled the darkened corridors, his eyes fell with pity upon the human hosts,
many of whom were still barely alive. He knew their gutted bodies would be
removed from the gestation chambers and placed into the recycling unit once his
brethren had clawed their way out of the empty shell. Nothing went to waste.

But what of their small lives? This concept of a spirit and soul? Were not these
wasted?

He viciously pushed these thoughts aside as he reached the main control room
where several of the Grey scientists and Leader-Soldiers were arguing details of
the Plan.

********************

Krycek groaned softly. Despite the heavy damask, the light from the overhead sun
stabbed into his eyes as soon as he tried to open them. He scrunched them closed
then opened them a mere sliver. Someone was sitting beside him on the... his
fingers pushed against the soft surface and then fluttered across crisp sheets. A
bed. He'd already figured out that he was secured, wrist and ankle, to each end
and was relieved that he had been given a little play, enough that he was not
tied spread-eagled, affording him some small amount of dignity. The light
covering that lay from waist to knees gave him a little more.

Gradually, the figure sitting beside him gained greater substance and a sneer
crossed the still dazed features on recognition. If his brain had been a little
less muzzy then he would have recognised this man from the cloying scent of
cigarette smoke that clung to his clothing and, worst still, to his breath. He
wondered if the man had ever realised that was why he had rarely kissed him
during those early years.

"I should..." Krycek cleared his throat and tried again. "I should have known it
would be you."

Yellow-stained fingertips reached out to touch his face and Alex jerked his head
away, trying to avoid contact. A vice-like grip on his face turned him back.

"There was a time when you..."

"Yeah... and there was a time I believed in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy."

The pale blue eyes hardened. A knock on the door brought a welcome reprieve.
Spender's face distorted in anger, a look Alex had seen a hundred times. Whoever
had intruded had better have a good excuse.

"Who is it?"

"Davis. Strughold has requested your presence. We've had a report back on the
security breach."

Spender glanced back down at his restrained captive. As always, business had to
come before pleasure but... He leant forward and pressed his mouth against the
luscious pink, bowed lips. Alex struggled and, once released he spat into
Spender's face. Spender smiled, using a handkerchief to wipe the spittle from his
cheek. He stood, taking his time to light another cigarette, his eyes mapping the
long legs and exposed chest before reaching the eyes; aflame with anger.

"Perhaps it's time you grew up a little more, Alex. I seem to recall giving you
an ultimatum... return to me or watch your..." His face creased up in distaste
"... lover... die."

The green eyes narrowed to slits as Alex recalled the one-sided conversation he
had held with this man only a few short months ago. If the rebel Aliens had not
decided to make an entrance into BioTechnics when they did then Alex would have
been forced to make his decision at that time. Instead, the decision had merely
been delayed. He had no doubt that Spender could arrange for a fatal accident to
befall Fox Mulder if he refused Spender's demands but he was also unconvinced
that this accident would not occur anyway. The man could not be trusted even if
there was a shadow of possibility that Mulder was, in fact, Spender's biological
son. Cancer Man had already proved he would sell his own family down the river to
save his own skin. Cassandra Spender, and the decades of tests she had suffered,
was ample proof of that.

"We'll carry on with this 'discussion' later."

Alex watched as the man left the room without a backward glance. He tugged at the
ropes to no avail and cried out angrily in frustration.

********************

Tunis airport
Tunisia

They moved swiftly through the airport entry system with only the smallest delay
as their bags were searched by the Tunisian Customs authority. Eventually they
made their way to the car rental desk.

"Is there a car rented in the name of Hale?"

"Yes. We have an international request for a 'George Hale'."

Mulder reached into his wallet and pulled out the fake driver's ID and passport,
silently thanking the Gunmen for getting the transport sorted out for them.
Within a few more minutes he had completed all the paperwork and was striding out
to the collection zone with Dana Scully by his side. As they left the cool
confines of the airport concourse Mulder felt the heat begin to rise. He mumbled
softly when the heat smacked into them as the door opened.

"I hope this car has air conditioning."

By the time they reached the car they were covered in sweat.

"I don't sweat, Mulder. I perspire."

"If we don't get out of this heat, I'll *expire*."

********************

FBI Headquarters
Washington DC

Skinner sighed as he read the report from Agents Harris and Davidson. His men had
spent the entire weekend in Barters Grove trying to follow-up on the
disappearance of Michael Anacek and had little to show for their effort judging
by the fact that this report was so thin. He paused at the description of a man
and his female companion who had also been looking for the missing man; his mouth
tightening into a thin line of disapproval.

//A tall, good-looking man and his petite red-haired partner... ring any bells,
Walter?//

Still fuming, Skinner reached forward and buzzed his secretary.

"Kimberley. Get me Agents Mulder and Scully... now."

While he waited for the errant agents to be hauled in front of him, Skinner read
the rest of the report. With such a sketchy description it should not have been
possible to identify any of the people mentioned and, if he had not been handed
the case by Fox Mulder then he might of overlooked the obvious suspect; the
Smoker. Eventually, his patience ran out and he buzzed his secretary once again.

"I'm sorry, Sir. It appears Agents Mulder and Scully are unavailable. I get the
impression they've gone missing."

"Get me Kersh, please."

After a short conversation, Walter Skinner replaced the phone in its cradle and
rubbed both hands over his head, sensing the beginning of one of those special
headaches that only Mulder and Scully could produce. He pushed away from the
desk, stood and went to retrieve his coat. On the way through his secretary's
office, Skinner spoke quickly.

"Cancel all my afternoon calls and meetings. I'll reschedule them later... and
ask Agents Harris and Davidson to meet me outside Agent Mulder's apartment. The
address is on file."

"Yes, Sir. Sir? Will you be returning later?"

"No. Tomorrow."

********************

Lone Gunmen
Headquarters
Washington DC

John Byers turned his head back. Through one swollen eye he could just make out
the bound forms of his fellow gunmen. They had been foolish to return so soon;
should have been a little more paranoid. The men who had captured them had been
lying in wait; watching for any suspicious movement around the apartment. He
watched one of the men wipe away the droplets of sweat beading on the man's
forehead. This man had worked all of them over pretty good. Byers felt the
trickle of blood running through the hairs of his beard from the split in his
lip. So far none of them had given too much away, concentrating on telling a
highly edited version of the truth... the version that left out the fact that
there had been two more members of their little hacking party.

"Once more. Where did you get the address?"

The sound of metal hitting living flesh was only partially dampened by the low
groan as Frohike's head snapped sideways from the blow. The assailant eased his
fingers within the knuckle-dusters and reached out to grab Frohike by the hair in
preparation for the next blow. Byers felt tears prickle at the back of his eyes;
his friend was barely conscious and he wondered how many more blows any of them
could take. A glance sideways showed that Langly was still out cold and Byers
felt those tears spill over as he took in the mottled black and blue bruising on
pale skin turned grey.

"*Where* did you get the address?"

The same question had been repeated over and over. At first none of them had made
any form of answer but gradually the truth was trickling from their mouths.

Melvin Frohike coughed hard, splaying blood over his once clean white shirt. His
mouth felt like it was on fire; the nerves in his teeth screaming at the abuse.
His eyes slid over to capture the black and purple-rimmed blues of his fellow
gunman. Byers could see the defeat written in Frohike's eyes and knew he had to
act now or all the punishment they had withstood would have been for nothing.

"Don't hurt him anymore. It was me. *I* got the address."

The thugs let go of Frohike and turned towards the slightly built bearded man.
The coldness in their eyes brought renewed fear and he swallowed noisily. It was
hard to believe that less than Forty-eight hours ago they had been sitting in
front of their beloved computers hacking away to merry hell with hardly a care in
the world. Earlier, while the Goons had been occupied with Langly, Byers had
calculated the time differentials and decided Mulder and Scully would have
reached the mothership's co-ordinates by now. All he had to do was buy them a
little more time... enough time for Mulder to search the ship for Alex.

"It's a program. I created it. It-it manufactures possible IP addresses...
and-and then tries to connect up. If," he cleared his throat, "if the address
points to... to a server then it stores the details. We..." Byers head indicated
the other two Gunmen, "we check out those addresses manually to see if there's
anything interesting..."

He trailed off as the man approached him, reaching out a hand to lightly slap his
cheek in an almost friendly gesture.

"There. That wasn't so bad now, was it?"

It took a painful amount of control to keep the relief from showing in his eyes.
The man believed him. He *really* believed him. Byers felt his face go slack with
realisation as the man withdrew a handgun and carefully began to screw a silencer
to the end of the barrel. He swallowed and pulled a wan smile to his lips. It
appeared he had believed him all too well. The smile deepened. It seemed they had
bought Mulder time... with their lives.

********************

Consortium Research Station
Sahara Desert, Tunisia

Alex Krycek looked, to all intents and purposes, like a recalcitrant child being
admonished by a parent. He glowered at the man standing opposite, wrinkling his
nose up in distaste as the smell of cigarette smoke drifted across the room. At
least he had, finally, been allowed the dignity of T-shirt and shorts.

"I'm awaiting your answer, Alex... and don't bother with the 'I'm a one-man man'
routine. When my Hunter picked you up you had an ass-full of semen."

Alex paled. Until that moment he had believed the rape was just a new variant on
the nightmares that had plagued him since his possession by the Oilien. In those
dreams the alien would seep into every orifice, slither into his mind... raping
his thoughts along with his body. He thought this new nightmare had been
triggered by the Bounty Hunter's presence, the terror of being powerless
translating as the alien morph possessing him as assuredly as its Oilien brother.
When he had awoken from this nightmare there had been no traces of damage; no
burn of a used... or abused anus.

"Who was it, Alex? Some low-life you picked up on a street corner for a quick
fuck?"

The words were spoken calmly, almost nonchalantly but appearances were deceptive.
Inside, Spender was a boiling cauldron of jealousy, its blackness reaching out in
dark waves to foul the air around them. This jealousy was the reason he knew
Mulder would never be allowed to survive. Spender didn't like to share. He'd
taken Alex's virginity and believed that meant he owned the younger man forever.

"Your Bounty Hunter."

Spender smiled, malignantly.

"You'll have to do better than that."

Their eyes held for a moment but Alex knew Spender would never believe the Alien
morph was capable of sexual contact with a human. After five decades watching the
morph eye humans with contempt, avoiding even the slightest brush of body against
body, the Smoker had determined that the Greys were either asexual or viewed
Humans with repugnance. He was not about to believe that the Morph could want to
possess a human sexually, and certainly not on the word of someone like Alexei
Krycek; a double-crossing, two-timing, assassin-rat-bastard. Spender wanted to
believe that Krycek had picked up some two-bit rent boy; wanted to believe that
the relationship forged with Fox Mulder meant little to either man despite all
evidence to the contrary because, if that *was* the case then his chances of
keeping Alex in his bed were so much greater.

"Well. No matter. From now on you will learn to be exclusive... to me."

"Dream on."

The snarled reply brought another small smile. Spender never realised before how
enjoyable this could be. The thought of taking such an unwilling partner; of
slaking his lust in the tight heat of that rebellious body, gave him a deeply
erotic thrill. He could feel his own flesh harden in anticipation.

"But first I have a small... administration task to perform."

Spender ground out the cigarette stub in a conveniently placed ashtray and then
reached over to pick up a Tranquilliser gun that had been placed on the small
table by the door. He checked to ensure it was loaded before priming the trigger.

"The dart in this gun contains the retrovirus; the accelerated version. Once
released into the blood stream the virus will mutate. The gestation period is
twelve hours. By the end of the seventh hour the host cannot be saved.... even
with the vaccine." Spender glanced around the room. "It appears we have a traitor
in our midst. Someone who has been providing information to the wrong people."

Spender aimed the gun at one of the men standing near the window. The man's eyes
widened in terror, his mouth opening and closing like a fish out of water as he
tried to form words. The eyes closed as Spender's finger tightened on the trigger
but opened moments later when no stinging sensation accompanied the 'phut' to
find all eyes focussed elsewhere.

John Davis looked down at the dart protruding from his shoulder in horror. Within
moments he felt a wave of nausea overcome him and he fell to his knees, his
vision starting to blur as the virus invaded his blood stream.

"I should have suspected earlier that Mr Leighton was more than just a passing
fancy. Perhaps now you may provide the same service to our Colonists allies as
he. Take him to the ship."

John Davis barely put up a struggle as strong arms grabbed him and dragged him
from the room. He knew he had taken a big gamble when he sent the IP address to
Fox Mulder for very few of Spender's people were privy to that information... but
he could not bear the thought of Spender having this original Krycek when *he*
had loved and lost the substitute, Martin Leighton.

With ever dimming thoughts he remembered the cold shock when Spender casually
discarded Martin, infecting his beautiful young body with the retrovirus and
sending him to the Antarctic mothership. Once the shock wore off, the hatred
began. Years of planning had finally come to fruition although he had seen
several more Krycek substitutes suffer his own lover's fate before the time was
right. He had been determined that CBG Spender would never have the opportunity
to indulge in his true obsession... Alexei Krycek. Killing Krycek would have been
one option but a far sweeter revenge had presented itself when he discovered the
love between Krycek and Fox Mulder. How much greater the revenge to watch Spender
seething in frustration and jealousy as the man he desired so obsessively slept
in another's arms. Unfortunately he had not bargained on Spender using the Bounty
Hunter to locate and capture the rebellious Russian thereby requiring desperate
measures on his part if he was to fulfil his vendetta.

As the virus took a firmer grip, Davis' last thought was a plea, to any deity,
that Mulder had worked out the message and was on his way to snatch Krycek from
Spender's grasp.

********************

Alex Krycek stared in horror as the man was dragged away between two burly guards
but his eyes narrowed as he realised the odds were now in his favour. Only two of
Spender's goons remained and both were now preoccupied. A plan quickly formed to
give him an even greater edge. Concentrating hard, he allowed his thoughts to
direct the cells in his body, feeling the skin on his face ripple as a new
configuration took shape. The guards took a step back in shock, their guns almost
forgotten. In one swift movement he leapt sideways, catching one guard under the
chin with his fist... the impact only bruising the man's windpipe. As the other
swung his gun to bear, Krycek turned and thrust out his arms, the heel of one
hand forcing the nasal bone to splinter and stab upwards into the man's brain;
killing him instantly. He spun back around to tackle the other man, wanting to
disable him more permanently but found the dart gun trained upon him.

"NO!!"

The sting of the dart brought an ominous silence. With a sideways glance Krycek
caught the horror-filled expression on Spender's face; the outstretched arm as
the Consortium leader tried but failed to knock the tranquilliser gun aside. The
gun was clattering to the floor from numbed fingers even as Krycek fell to his
knees. As his vision began to blur he saw Spender turn to the other man in anger.
The sound of a bullet leaving the barrel and smashing into solid flesh echoed
through Krycek's last thoughts as blood splattered from the shattered chest of
his assailant.

********************

Overlooking the Consortium Research Station
Sahara Desert, Tunisia

Mulder wiped the sweat from his forehead with the back of his sleeve. The heat
radiating up from the pale yellow sand was almost unbearable. Beyond the edge of
the sand dune where they hid, the heat seemed to rise in shimmering columns
making the oasis of greenery seem like a mirage.

Scully grabbed the binoculars and took another look, her lips pressed into a grim
line of remembrance. It was the same set up as the one in the States; a wide
expanse of green, probably ripening corn surrounding the white domes which, more
than likely, housed more of the mutant bees. She gave a small gasp as a man was
dragged from one of the domes between two burly guards. For a moment it had
looked like Alex Krycek but a closer scrutiny revealed it to be a stranger of
similar age and build. The baseball hat was displaced, suddenly, as she watched,
falling to the ground and revealing sun-bleached, blonde hair, thereby confirming
her observation.

Mulder chose that moment to snatch back the binoculars and Scully cursed her
decision to conserve finances in buying a single pair. Looking back it was a
ludicrous decision. They had spent a small fortune on one-way tickets to Tunisia;
bought clothes at the airport; hired a car; chartered a small plane and then
hired the use of horses and a Tuareg guide for the last leg of the journey to
this distant and remote site. The guide had decided to wait below keeping the
horses in the shade while Mulder and Scully climbed the forty foot high dune.
When Mulder ducked his head suddenly Scully reacted as quickly.

"What is it?"

"Thought I saw..."

He shook his head once before slipping down from the rim of the dune. Turning
onto his back he placed his arm across tired eyes to block out the glare from the
overhead sun. He felt the shifting of the soft sand; a trickle flowing passed his
face before the feel of another human body came to a halt beside him.

"It's okay, Mulder. If he's here then we'll find him and we'll get him out... but
not yet. The sun will set in about five hours. We ought to wait until dark."
Scully mopped her forehead with a perspiration-soaked handkerchief, grimacing at
the lack of relief it brought. "But *now* we need to get into some shade."

Without further ado she half-walked, half-slid down the remainder of the soft,
shifting sand to the base of the dune where the Guide waited patiently for their
return. After a moment's hesitation Mulder followed completely unaware of the
events surrounding Alex that were being played out in the dome at that very
moment.

********************

The sable hair was as silky as he remembered it to be. The soft strands flowing
through his fingers as he lovingly stroked his former lover. The pads of his
nicotine-stained fingers felt the roughness of new stubble on the face. There was
nothing he could do to save Alex. There was no Russian vaccine here at the
Research Station... and no likelihood of any arriving within the next seven
hours. Spender gazed at the unconscious man whose head lay supported in his lap,
looking for all the world like the proverbial Sleeping Beauty. In a moment of
insanity he wondered whether he could awaken him with a kiss. He bent his head
and touched the inviting pink lips with his own but those intelligent, green eyes
remained resolutely closed.

A soft click claimed his attention and he glanced up on hearing the door open to
find Conrad Strughold standing on the threshold. With one last affectionate
caress, Spender carefully placed the head on the ground and pushed himself to his
feet. For the first time his gaze took in the macabre sight around him; blood
splattered everything; walls, floor... himself... damning evidence of a high
velocity projectile hitting human flesh at almost point blank range.

"I need to get cleaned up."

"I'll have the body removed to the ship while..."

"No. I'll make the necessary arrangements when I'm ready."

"The gestation period is only..."

"I am fully aware of the gestation period, Dr Strughold. I will make the
arrangements... and I will accompany the body to the ship."

Strughold seethed but bit back any retort. Despite his own delusions of grandeur
he knew Spender was higher in the echelons of the Consortium, answerable only to
the First Leader now the Englishman was dead. He watched as the Smoker walked
away without a backward glance, totally assured that his order would be acted
upon.

********************

With five hours to go until sunset, every minute seemed to drag. The Tuareg had
led them some distance away from the Research Station to another far smaller
oasis. They spent part of the time listening to the Tuareg curse the Scientists
who had taken such a vital link in the chain of water holes. It was by far the
largest in the area and one where his own family group would bivouac before
making the difficult journey further south as they followed the ancient trade
routes. He complained that no-one had offered any compensation for his loss and
mentioned that 'they', Mulder and Scully, were lucky to find anyone willing to
bring them here as whole family groups had disappeared without a trace since the
infidels had arrived with their modern domes, strange plants and buzzing insects.

With still two more hours to go until sunset the Tuareg finally lapsed into
silence, conserving his energy for the work ahead. Scully reached out and grasped
the water bottle, took a deep swallow and passed the bottle to Mulder. She
watched him carefully as he took a few quick gulps of pure water before replacing
the cap. The makeshift tent kept the worst of the direct heat at bay and as
Mulder turned Raybans-covered eyes to her, she wished they did not need
protective eyewear as she had learnt to read so much of this man through his
expressive eyes.

//Chameleon eyes.//

Scully smiled. That's what Melissa used to call hazel-eyed people. Her sister had
always been so flowery with words... so poetic. Dana remembered the conversation
as if it were only yesterday. Melissa had been describing the auras surrounding
people; how they glowed with different colours equating to the different emotions
but mentioned that long before she learnt how to detect these auras she would try
to read the emotions through the eyes. 'Windows to the soul', she called them.
Melissa had laughed saying how much easier it was to read 'chameleon' eyes; how
they changed from blue to green to gold to brown with every passing thought.
'What about blue eyes?' she had asked. Melissa had only smiled and mentioned how,
in some cultures, blue eyes denoted a person without a soul... but as these were
mainly brown-eyed people it was probably just a form of racism... a dislike of
anything different from the norm.

Scully felt a deep ache in her heart as she thought of her sister. For all their
differences they had loved each other. Differences. Yes, there *were* vast
differences between them. Melissa was the poet; the mystic, dabbling in all kinds
of holistic arts from crystal-gazing to homeopathy with a passion as great as the
one Dana extended towards her own version of the Sciences. Yet despite these
differences they had been so similar; so strong in their own beliefs. Tears
prickled at the back of her eyes as she realised she still had a long way to go
before she could truly forgive Alex for the part he played in her sister's death.
Oh yes. She had accepted his explanation; knew he was not the one who had pulled
the trigger but he *had* been there. Surely he could have done something,
*anything*, to stop Cardinal. After all, their orders had not been to kill, only
to recover the tape. She sighed, realising that she was being unfair. How many
times had she been in a similar position; powerless to stop the runaway train of
events? How many more times would she blindly follow Fox Mulder into the mouth of
hell, relying on him to ensure she escaped unscathed both physically and
mentally? Even now, as she sat in this inhospitable place, waiting for the sun to
start its descent, she knew she was walking the razor's edge, knowing the
smallest step to either side would plunge her into the abyss.

"Scully?"

"Hmmm?"

"I shouldn't have dragged you into this."

She smiled enigmatically. Her 'Mona Lisa' smile as he had once called it. No. He
shouldn't have dragged her halfway around the world to this oven but if he had
insisted on leaving her behind then she would have found some way to follow
anyway. She had made her choice a long time ago; he walked the razor's edge also
and she had put her life in his hands when she had decided to follow on behind
him. She was about to remind him of this when he spoke first.

"I know... you'd have come anyway. Forget I said anything and get some rest."

She wrapped her tiny fingers around his and squeezed once, tightly, before
letting go and sinking back into her own thoughts.

********************

Mulder gradually lost himself in his own memories as they waited for the sun to
set.

The memory of laughing, green eyes danced behind his closed lids and Mulder
wondered anew how this man had become so important to him in such a short space
of time. They had started off as colleagues; his photographic memory recalling
the first time they met when the rookie, fresh from Quantico, had thrust forward
his hand in introduction only to be ignored.

Mulder cursed aloud bringing a soft questioning murmur from Scully who was dozing
beside him.

Why had he never noticed how beautiful Alex was on that very first day they met?
Had he been too busy looking at the gelled-back hair and cheap suit? Had he been
too caught up in his own pettiness and prejudices to take a proper look at the
wet-behind-the-ears agent, let alone extend even a modicum of civility to the
younger man? How had he missed those eyes; so alive, so... green. And that
megawatt smile. Mulder burned that first image into his brain so he could study
every line, every contour over and over again. After a while he allowed the
memories to flow forward. He saw once more the fear-widened eyes as Alex focussed
on Augustus Cole, noted the trembling of the hand holding the gun before the
finger began to tighten on the trigger. Belief that Cole was about to shoot his
'partner' was written across the young, expressive face. Mulder flinched,
suddenly, realising that Alex had revealed more than just fear that day.

"How long have you loved me, Alex?"

"Mulder?"

Dana Scully sat upright as the faintest whisper drifted into her hearing. She
looked across at her long-time partner with a frown before checking her watch.
There was still about half an hour until they could decamp and return to the
Research station.

"Are you okay?"

"Do you remember what I said to you that night you came by the apartment and
found me sitting alone in the dark?"

Dana pursed her lips for a moment as she tried to remember one particular
incident among many.

"Uhmm... something about inextricable relationships and curve-balls."

"I was just wondering what would have happened if I had never found those
cigarette butts in his car. Where would we be right now? I-I think he was in love
with me from the beginning. Would he have confessed... defected to my side? Would
he still be that seemingly innocent, idealistic man I first met or would the
years of subterfuge have taken their toll leaving him bitter and twisted?"

"Melissa believed that we each have a path to follow and no matter what route you
take when the path forks... eventually you reach the same place."

"So much for freedom of choice. If your fate's already decided before you even
take the first step on the road then what is the point?"

"Something to do with the person you are when you reach the end of the journey...
Demon or Saint."

There was silence for several minutes while Mulder mulled over this last point.
Demon or Saint. Until recently he would have pegged Alex for the former and yet
there was no way anyone would ever consider Krycek a saint. A smile played about
the sensuous lips at that thought. No... Alex fell somewhere in between; he was
beauty *and* beast, exuding a heady mixture of danger and vulnerability. He was
sex personified with the face of sweet innocence, like an angel that had fallen
from grace. The Alex that Mulder had fallen in love with was a mass of
contradictions formed by the various paths his life had taken either voluntarily
or by coercion.

What is it he had said to Scully that day? 'destiny, fate, how to throw a curve
ball... the inextricable relationships in our lives that are neither accidental,
nor somehow in our control, either'.

At the time he believed he had been talking about himself but now, on reflection,
he wondered whether those thoughts had more to do with the man that seemed to
turn his life upside down with every encounter.

Strange how perceptions could be altered by a single word or an emotion... or by
a kiss.

********************

Consortium Research Station
Sahara Desert, Tunisia

Long dark corridors radiated out from the centre of the ship. Normally Spender
would barely glance at the bodies embedded into the walls of the corridor through
which he travelled. He had passed along similar corridors many times and he was
used to seeing the white squirming mass of the alien foetuses within the hollowed
out abdomens of their long dead human hosts. The batch of aliens in this corridor
would hatch within a few more hours and be led away to the central chamber for
the final stages of their metamorphosis from Oilien to Grey. He paused suddenly,
his eyes meeting the unseeing ones of the dead woman within one of the capsules.
A flutter of movement drew his attention to the alien foetus and he found himself
shrinking back in disgust. It was a sight he thought he had become accustomed
to... until now. For the first time it struck him that these *were* humans being
used and thrown aside so callously. He looked ahead and the blood in his veins
seemed to pool momentarily as he watched Alex Krycek's unconscious body being
lifted and carefully placed into one of the few vacant holes. After securing him
upright they attached a tube to the one that had already been inserted down his
throat. This would provide additional nutrients to the alien foetus; not that it
was at all necessary, for the alien could synthesize enough nutrients from
absorbing the human's internal organs but it had become standard practice as the
tube also ensured the human host received enough oxygen to keep the body alive
and, hence, fresher for much longer.

The door was sealed shut as Spender approached. He watched as an alien type of
amniotic fluid was pumped into the capsule, the level gradually rising until Alex
was completely submerged.

Five hours had passed since Alex had been infected with the retrovirus. Already
Spender could see signs of the growing foetus; a ripple of movement beneath the
soft skin. Within another two hours the alien parasite would start breaking down
the human tissue to give it the nutrients it needed to grow. Spender had spent
these last five hours trying to find some way of halting the process. He should
have ensured there were cryogenic facilities here at the very least. That might
have bought Alex a little more time, given him the chance to bring in the
vaccine. As it was, the nearest supply of the alien vaccine was too far away even
with the contacts he had within the various airforces of the countries involved.
With only a few hours remaining Spender had to submit to Strughold's demand that
Alex be placed inside the mothership in preparation for the inevitable.

Spender gave a deep sigh of loss and regret as he stared at the face that had
haunted him for so many years. In repose the tension of the last few days had
lifted away leaving behind the beautiful young man he remembered from that first
encounter. An ache started somewhere deep in his chest and he reached out to
touch the clear surface that separated him from his obsession.

As the pain of loss receded, anger took its place. This was Mulder's fault. It
was Mulder who had turned his precious Alex; captivating him body and soul. If
not for Mulder then Alex might still be alive and warm in *his* bed instead of
buried alive in this nightmare place.

An idea broke into his dark thoughts; the Bounty Hunter. The alien morph had the
ability to treat the injured. Would he save Alex? Spender decided it was worth a
shot. All he had to do was find something he could use to buy Krycek's life back.
With this plan in mind he gave Alex one final gaze and then turned, renewed
determination evident in every step he took.

He was intercepted before he could reach the Administration complex by the
Communications Manager.

"Sir. We have ascertained that the 'hackers' used an automated program to locate
the server. Our people are awaiting your decision. Shall we eliminate them?"

With great difficulty Spender forced his thoughts away from Alex and to the
hackers. He paused for a moment remembering The Thinker. The man had been a
computer genius and had managed not only to locate one of the Consortium's main
databases but to hack his way through the high-level security net in order to
extract many gigabytes of data. Killing The Thinker had seemed the right decision
at the time but, in hindsight, the Consortium could have made excellent use of
such a genius. A security system designed and tested by one of the best hackers
in the World might have prevented this latest breach in their security. Decision
made he turned to his subordinate.

"Have them taken to our installation in Baltimore. We might be able to make good
use of their skills."

As he watched the man move off to carry out his orders Spender's thoughts
returned to the Thinker and his part in driving the final wedge between him and
Alex. Only the Englishman had been against the First Elder's decision, leaving
him no choice but to follow orders and have both Alex and the MJ-12 tape
destroyed. Strange how he had managed to take that phone call with barely a
flicker of emotion and yet, hearing Alex's voice after presuming him dead had
been one of the happiest moments of his life. Cardinal had admitted to the failed
attempt a little while later but he had felt too elated knowing Alex had survived
to do more than verbally berate the man. A shame, really, as it had merely
postponed the inevitable. Cardinal had been a loose cannon; all attitude and no
brain. Only later had Spender discovered it was Cardinal's trigger-happy
disposition that had sealed Melissa Scully's fate and led to an Assistant
Director of the FBI being gut-shot in front of a witness. When the First Elder
had issued his orders to eliminate the maverick, Alexei Krycek, he had made a
serious error of mistaken identity... or had he?

With the bitterness of loss lying heavy within him, Spender began to turn his
incisive mind towards those who had spent the past few years treating him with
contempt. Had the decision to eliminate Alex been politically driven? Had the
First Elder deliberately ordered Krycek's execution so he could replace Spender's
protégé with his own man?

Once this thought revealed itself, Spender could not shake it off. He dropped his
cigarette and ground it out, angrily, with the heel of his shoe as he started to
make new plans.

********************

2630 Hegal Place
Apartment 42 Alexandria

Skinner paused in front of the blank PC, reached over and switched it on. After
several attempts he gave up trying to figure out the password. He tried all the
obvious ones including 'Samantha' and 'Ratboy' but to no avail. It was then that
he noticed the blinking red light on the answer phone. Skinner pressed the
correct sequence of buttons for a playback on all the messages; half-listening as
he continued searching through the papers strewn across the untidy desk. He
frowned as a man's voice started talking about birds in flight... one eyebrow
rising at the thought of Mulder being interested in ornithology and then, as his
finger hovered over the forward button, something caught his attention. He
replayed the message listening carefully not to the words but to the voice behind
them.

Storming out of the apartment, Skinner barrelled into his two agents.

"Harris, Davidson. Follow me."

The agents gave each other a quick 'what the hell' look and scurried back to
their car, tagging on behind the green Volvo that AD Skinner was driving. They
followed Skinner down under a tall apartment block that used to be a hotel back
in its heyday; parking side-by-side.

Skinner started walking towards the elevator but paused, suddenly, as the doors
opened.

"FBI, put your hands where I can see them!"

Instead of doing so, three men charged out of the elevator with all guns blazing.
Bullets ricocheted off the tarmac, punched through thin car metal and smashed
through windscreens as Skinner, Harris and Davidson returned fire. A screech of
tires brought them spinning around in time to see a black sedan accelerate,
heading towards the elevators. The car stopped and the three men bundled into the
car. Skinner raced after it on foot, firing shots that sparked off the trunk. The
gun arm dropped to his side as the car raced out of the exit but instead of
running to his car, the AD jogged towards the elevator, yelling orders over his
shoulder as he went.

"Call the paramedics."

He crouched down beside the elevator.

"You look a mess, Frohike. Paramedics are on their way... now, where are Mulder
and Scully?"

Frohike looked up through blackened, swollen eyes and decided he would trust this
man. He gave the AD a shortened version of what had happened; of Krycek's
disappearance and Mulder's frantic search for his lover. Frohike fell silent as
he watched Skinner straighten, a strange expression of resignation on the man's
face.

Skinner made way for the Paramedics and moved back towards his car. It seemed
Mulder and Scully had taken their own path to Alex Krycek and realised, where
they had gone, there was nothing he could do to either help them or protect them.

********************

Same Time
Consortium Research Station
Sahara Desert, Tunisia

Mulder gritted his teeth as he watched CBG Spender grinding a cigarette butt into
the ground as if it was some enemy that he wanted to crush beneath his feet.
Until recently he truly believed he hated this man but now realised that what he
had felt previously was a pale imitation of the raw emotion that flooded through
his brain as he thought of this man touching his lover.

Dana Scully reached out and gripped his forearm, trying to stem the rising tide
of anger that emanated from her partner in dark waves of pure rage. His eyes,
when they turned towards her, were almost black with emotion. She glanced,
pointedly, upwards... towards the gradually darkening sky. The last rays of a
dying day filtered across the sky turning the white domes of the research station
blood red. Already the tiny points of starlight were forming in the east.

They would wait another half an hour and then go in.

********************

"No."

Spender had made one last offer... obviously his best offer but the alien Morph
was unrelenting. If the Consortium leader had told him when it had happened then
he might have acted. In the very early stages it would have been possible to
transfer the foetus to a new host. Now it was far too late. No matter what
inducement; no matter how much he was attracted to the green-eyed hybrid, he
could not willingly destroy a developing pure-blood to save the half-human.

The Bounty Hunter watched the light die in this Human's eyes and felt a momentary
stab of pain too. When first asked to capture Alexei Krycek for this man he had
felt so vastly superior, feeling contemptuous of the way Spender obsessed over
the human. After five decades he had never expected to find himself caught up in
that same insanity and yet...

The Bounty Hunter pulled his thoughts up short. Memory of that incredible tight
heat surrounding him and the intoxicating scent of the other burst into his mind,
inflaming his human form. If truth be known he *would* willingly kill the
pure-blood to save the hybrid... for himself... but that action would seal his
own fate. It did not matter that the developing pure-blood was of little use
until it had been given the mental engrams of one of the hibernating Colonists.
It was still one of his own people and killing him would make him no better than
the Rebels who constantly hammered at their defences, destroying their
installations and shredding their plans for colonisation.

Time was no longer on his people's side. Questions were starting to be raised in
the Great Council. Unknowingly, the Humans were gathering extra-terrestrial
allies. If his people did not act soon then they would lose everything.

//Five decades. I have not questioned any action in five decades. I have not had
one single moment of remorse, or admiration, or respect... or love for any human
in five decades... until now.//

The Morph paused. Was the change truly as sudden as it seemed? He forced himself
to look deeper and realised his attitude to the humans had been changing slowly
over these decades. Baseball. That pathetic excuse for a game. Hitting a ball
with a bat. That had been the catalyst. His desire to understand what could be so
wonderful about a human game that one of his brethren would choose to die rather
than give it up.

Obsession. Obsession with Baseball. Obsession with Alexei Krycek.

And what of Fox William Mulder? He could argue all he wanted that he had orders
to keep the son alive; he could argue that seducing Mulder had been the most
expedient method of gaining the location of Alexei Krycek but the truth of the
matter was that he had been captivated by Fox Mulder; had made every effort to
ensure his continued existence; had enjoyed caressing that body, bringing it to
total abandonment with his touch. The climax that ripped through him had been
mind-numbing, almost enough to make him forget what he had gone there for. And it
was that lethal combination of physical desire and the memory of the pleasure
such desire could evoke within him that had overpowered him when he touched
Alexei. Renewed thoughts of this human inflamed him further; a growing addiction
that he could not deny but he knew he *must* resist at all cost.

The Bounty Hunter watched Spender turn away, shoulders hunched in defeat. Years
of showing no emotion had ensured that no sign of his inner turmoil had been
apparent but the Morph knew he would spend many a sleepless night thinking about
this decision to do nothing.

********************

As the last rays of the day bled away the desert was plunged into near darkness.
Starlight and a crescent moon cast a little light, enough to guide their
footsteps as they breached the top of the dune and slid slowly down towards the
edge of the field. Despite their insistence that he stay with the horses, the
Tuareg followed on behind as they ran into the safety of the tall corn. Their
small column of three pushed through the thick stalks as they made a beeline
towards the largest of the domes; it's illuminated interior shining through the
white material lending it an otherwordly appearance.

They traversed the short distance between the edge of the field and the entrance
to the dome as fast as possible and sank into the deepening shadows. Nothing
stirred. Mulder insisted the others waited outside while he checked out the
interior. He didn't want a repeat of their last foray into one of the domes. He
returned within a few minutes, shaking his head. This was the dome housing the
bees. The layout was identical to the one in the States. Slowly and cautiously
they stole towards the next dome. As they approached the door opened and a tall
figure emerged. They waited, breath held. The sound of metal against metal was
followed by a small flame; the resulting light illuminating the face that Mulder
hated beyond all reason. Cancer Man.

With a swiftness of decision Mulder leapt the few feet separating him from his
nemesis and grabbed the man around the throat. The cigarette and steel-case
lighter dropped to the sandy floor.

"Don't say a word 'cos' I'd just as soon kill you as look at you."

A small smile crossed the lined face as Spender ignored Mulder's threat. Some
additional information received barely an hour ago had warned him that Fox Mulder
might be on his way and the source of that information would give him some
leverage over the recalcitrant young man. He decided to play his cards close to
his chest and wait for the right opening before disclosing his hand.

"Mr Mulder. No doubt the beautiful Miss Scully is close by."

"Shut the fuck up. Now move."

Mulder made sure Spender could feel the barrel of his gun by pressing it, hard,
against the man's spine. He forced Spender into the shadows where Scully and the
Tuareg waited. Once out of sight he turned Spender to face him.

"Where is he?"

"I assume you are referring to Alex Krycek."

"You know damn well... where is he?"

Spender gazed into eyes barely visible in the darkness surrounding them and yet
he could feel the full force of Mulder's passion as if those eyes were boring
into his very soul. He felt a momentary kindred with this man; both of them
obsessed with the same dark-haired Russian, both willing to stop at nothing to
have that man by their side. The moment passed as another darker emotion flowed
into the wily old brain; hatred. He hated Fox Mulder. He hated the fact that Alex
had chosen his *son* over *him* and he realised, suddenly, that the greatest pain
he could inflict on this man was the truth.

"Alex is dead."

Mulder froze, his heart stopping as the words sank in. They say, when you die
your whole life passes before you. Those words had the same effect but it was the
memories of his lover that flowed through him. He saw again the outstretched
hand, his eyes travelling along the proffered arm to the beautiful face with it's
wide-spaced, forest-green eyes. The years rolled by; images crashing through him.
The feel of that warm body pressed up against the telephone bank at the Hong Kong
airport; the fear and anger barely held in check in that Tunguskan cell; the soft
haze of love and regret that permeated the air of his apartment as those perfect
lips seared his cheek with a single kiss, robbing him of all his new-found
certainty and plunging him back into the fight for the future. More images danced
through his head; the way Alex's face softened in sleep; the way his eyes glazed
over with desire and need as Mulder's fingers stroked deep inside... but it
wasn't just sex. The sound of laughter as they traded stories; the soft tenor
drifting from the shower... the companionable silence that followed those moments
of passion when he would hold Alex in his arms and cover his face with soft
kisses. All these memories crowded into his head until they were wiped away by
the single thought... Alex is dead.

"I don't believe you." The soft voice grew harsher and louder. "I don't believe
you, you lying piece of cancerous shit. Where is he? Where's Alex?"

Fear replaced the cruelty in those pale blue eyes as Mulder's hands tightened
around his throat. He grabbed hold of the wrists but couldn't break the strong
grip of the enraged man. As dark spots began to float behind his eyes, his mind
screamed out to him to play his winning hand... but another part screamed that
without a voice he had no chance. Desperately he tried to speak. He could hear
Dana Scully trying to reason with Mulder; could see her tiny fingers trying to
prise Mulder's hands away... and then, suddenly, he was free. He fell to the
floor, gasping through a bruised larynx as Scully cradled Mulder in her arms.
Before he could try to make his feet a large frame planted itself in front of
him.

"Where is Krycek?"

The flash of moonlight glinting off the curved edge of dagger caught his
attention and Spender knew his winning hand would mean nothing to this man. The
dark, menacing features of the Tuareg drew closer, the intent easily readable in
the dark eyes.

"He's..." Spender coughed as he struggled to get the words out. "He's... inside
the... mothership."

He felt himself being lifted by the lapels of his khaki suit and came face to
face with Fox Mulder once more.

"It was... an accident. The virus..."

"How long?" Mulder began to shake the older man. "How long?"

"Too long! It's been too long... no vaccine. There was no vaccine."

Murderous fury filled Mulder's face but before he could act the dark-skinned Arab
pushed him aside.

"You will take us to him. Now."

Mulder paused, momentarily stunned by the authority and the intensity behind
their Guide's voice, so far in contrast to the complaining man that had led them
across the desert. He took a step forward, reaching out towards the Tuareg.

"Hamed?"

Mulder flinched when the small hand of his partner gripped his arm, pulling him
back, suddenly aware that there was a lot more to their Guide than they realised.
They watched as the Tuareg pushed Spender ahead of him, the two figures being
quickly swallowed by the darkness. Mulder turned questioningly towards his
partner and then they followed in the Tuareg's footsteps.

Descending into the ship Mulder lived again the frantic journey across the ice
fields of the Antarctic and the climb through one of the vents into the alien
craft as he raced against time to save Scully. On that occasion he had not taken
in much of what he had seen, replaying the images in his mind once the danger had
passed. His nightmares had been fueled by those darkened corridors and by the
fear that drove him; fear for Scully, fear for Alex. He pushed the fear aside and
concentrated on the task at hand. Ahead of him he could see the massive frame of
the Tuareg and a glimpse of Spender walking before him.

********************

Spender did not hesitate as he turned down one of the long dark passages. He
walked softly, with a straight back as if unafraid of the unknown man at his back
holding the wicked dagger. Behind him he could hear three sets of footsteps
echoing along the corridor. The heavy ones of the Tuareg and the lighter step of
Dana Scully were far more noticeable but he found himself concentrating on that
third set. Fox *William* Mulder. That had been the hardest blow, when *his* son
had been gifted with her husband's given name. Until then he had almost believed
she would leave Bill Mulder; start a new life with *him* but she had wanted
stability for *their* son. Could she not see that he had always cared for her,
perhaps even loved her in his own way? He had wanted her in his life. Not the
same way he wanted Alex but then, Alex was special; Alex was as addictive as the
nicotine he craved; perhaps even more so but now... now, he had lost it all. His
fury rose as the footsteps of the catalyst to his loss drifted around him. He had
lost Tina *because* of his son and then he had lost Alex *to* his son.

Of all the regrets that came to him during his darkest hours, letting the
Colonists take Samantha instead of Fox had become the greatest. Abducting
Samantha had been a punishment to Bill Mulder, a way to keep the man in line when
it seemed he was about to betray them all. Instead, Bill Mulder had paid twice;
losing his daughter and then being forced to offer up another family member for
the hybrid experiments but, unlike Cassandra who had offered herself to save her
child, Jeffrey, Bill Mulder had given them *his* son.

Had the man known, from the earliest days, that Fox was not his own flesh and
blood? Had this been his own form of revenge on the man who had tried to take his
wife? At the time he had been angry but now...? Now, he wished Fox Mulder had
never been born.

His thoughts returned to his beloved Alex. He had asked Alex to return to him
willingly or see Fox Mulder die but Alex could never come to him willingly now;
Alex was dead. He sneered. Perhaps it was time to make good on that promise and
see Fox William Mulder die.

********************

Dana Scully glanced from side to side in horror and then set her eyes forward,
hoping to close off the images that assailed her. Half-forgotten memories flooded
into Scully as she recalled the disorientation of her awakening; the scrabbling
of sharp talons against the capsule doors where fully gestated aliens started to
claw their way out of their human wombs; the bony, inhuman fingers that caught at
their clothes as she was half-carried through the nightmare scene of dead, dying
and decomposing bodies hanging in their icy tombs while their parasitic
destroyers squirmed inside. She had consigned those images to the strange
workings of a mind under extreme stress; had fallen back into unconsciousness
before the ship Mulder had described became visible. Now, as she walked along
behind their guide she knew the nightmare had been the truth. With her hand
clamped across her mouth in horror she tried not to let her eyes dart to either
side, afraid to meet the eyes of someone still living... still aware, even though
she had known nothing about it herself. Her heart cried out to these unfortunate
men and women but she could do nothing to save them. Nothing.

It took over ten minutes to traverse the maze of corridors but eventually Spender
halted in front of one of the capsules. He had not faltered one step of the way,
the journey taken with Alex having been seared into his mind. The Tuareg brought
the handle of the dagger down on the back of Spender's head, sending the man
crashing to the floor unconscious. He rubbed his hand across the iced-up front
and nodded his head, mouth set in a grim line. Mulder pushed passed and found
himself staring into his lover's face. His fingers grazed the surface in front of
Alex and then, without forewarning, he smashed his hand through the casing,
ignoring the cascade of fluid that soaked him through. Mulder reached in and
pulled the sagging naked body into his arms, falling to the ground still clasping
the unconscious man, his eyes closing as he nuzzled the stubble-roughened cheek
against his own.

The Tuareg reached inside his heavy cloak, pulling out a hypodermic needle filled
with a pale liquid. He knelt down beside Mulder.

"It may not be too late."

He plunged the needle into the cold, wet flesh of Krycek's left shoulder, pushing
down the plunger to inject the contents and then rose back to his feet. With one
swift movement he shrugged out of the cloak and draped it over Krycek's naked
form and then he reached down, attempting to pull the man from Mulder's grasp but
found the Agent unwilling to let go.

"We must get out of here. Some of these creatures are ready to hatch. We cannot
afford to be cornered in here. They will tear us to shreds."

"Who are you?"

The Tuareg's honey-coloured eyes stared deep into Mulder's before offering his
arm once more.

"A friend. A dead friend if we do not move now."

Mulder nodded and allowed the bigger man to lift Krycek before regaining his own
feet. Once standing he reached across possessively and relieved the Tuareg of his
burden. Alex was *his*. He hefted Krycek over his shoulder and gave one sharp nod
to indicate his readiness. They began the journey back to the entrance as the
sound of cracking capsules filled the air behind them.

"Faster. We must go faster."

Scully drew her handgun and raced along behind Mulder while the Tuareg brought up
the rear, grateful for Mulder's infallible sense of direction as he retraced
their steps through the twisting maze of dark corridors. There was no time to
dwell on the human death and alien life that lay within a hands reach on either
side of them as they raced around curves, stepped across intersections and
scrabbled up the rising path that led towards the surface. Something scraped
against her leg and she gasped in terror but kept on moving, focusing all her
thoughts on the danger surrounding them, her gun raised, safety catch off...
ready to fire.

A new threat made itself known even as they tried to escape the alien one behind
them. Ahead they could hear the sound of human voices; Cancer Man's goons. As
they turned the final corner, they came face to face with several armed men. They
quickly dived for cover as bullets ricocheted around them. Scully laid down a
pattern of return fire, gradually forcing the goons into cover, leaving the exit
clear. Despite this, there was no way they would be able to reach it through the
crossfire. They needed more firepower especially as Mulder was disadvantaged
being weighed down by Krycek's still unmoving body.

Mulder carefully propped his lover against the alien control station and took a
quick look to ascertain their position. He ducked back quickly as several bullets
sparked near to where his head had been moments before. They were pinned down. He
chewed on his full bottom lip, working his way through all their options. A soft
moan beneath him brought his attention swinging back. He carefully cradled
Krycek's chin in the palm of his hand and spoke softly but hesitantly.

"Alex?"

Mulder felt his heart leap into his throat as another soft moan was accompanied
by the fluttering of those long dark lashes against the damp cheeks.

Alex Krycek opened his eyes to the most beautiful sight he could ever imagine.
Mulder's brilliant smile lit up his face and Alex found himself struggling to
overcome the lassitude that filled his entire being so he could return that grin.
Soft, warm lips brushed against his own cold mouth; strong arms enfolded him,
crushing him against the strong chest. He sighed as he listened to the comforting
sound of a familiar strong heart beating beneath his ear. His senses filled
themselves with the sight, sound, smell and touch of Fox Mulder and he fought
against the debilitating weariness to return that embrace.

Mulder raised his head as the eerie scrabbling noise behind them grew louder. The
alien hatchlings were getting closer and he knew they would have to risk the
bullets or fall prey to the ferocious new life-forms. He glanced across at the
Tuareg.

"Please tell me you have another surprise for us."

The Tuareg grinned, his white teeth almost the only part of him visible, as he
reached under his tunic and pulled out a snub-nosed machine gun. Mulder grinned
in response. The small but powerful Uzi might be enough to buy them time to reach
the entrance. He spoke softly to Alex, pulling the man's arm about his shoulder
and shifting to take the weight of the still unsteady body before nodding his
readiness.

The Uzi spat out bullets rapidly, laying down a covering fire as all four of them
hastened towards the entrance. Scully shot off round after round as she ran, her
bullets sparking off the tops of the computer stations behind which their
attackers lay waiting for their own opportunity to return fire. With more luck
than anything they made it outside. Mulder ducked sideways as Scully turned her
gun to the men waiting to ambush them. Her quick reload earned her an approving
smile from her partner but that grin faltered as she cried out in pain. The
bullet sliced across her thigh. She gritted her teeth against the pain and
carried on.

Above them, the sound of helicopters filled the air. Two black shapes approached
rapidly, made visible only by the strong searchlights that played across the
ground from a source way above Mulder's head.

Mulder remembered the previous chase through the cornfield in the dead of night,
even now he was unsure how they had managed to elude their pursuers but he knew,
instinctively, that their chances of doing the same again were negligible. Even
if they managed to hide in the depths of the tall corn eventually they would need
to come out and Spender's men would be waiting for them. That left only one
option. Somehow they had to force one of the helicopters to land. It was their
only way out... and there was only one way to achieve it.

Mulder stepped forward into the searchlight and dropped his gun, raising his
hands high above his head, leaving Alex on the ground just outside the circle of
light.

"What are you doing?"

A hiss of disbelief from his left brought his head around slightly.

"Getting us a lift home."

The Tuareg pursed his lips as he recognised the game plan. Scully stepped into
the overlapping circle of lights and they stood calmly, side-by-side, as one of
the helicopters drifted down towards them, waiting quietly for it to settle...
and for the occupants to jump out. Three black-clothed figures headed towards
them. Mulder waited until they were close enough and then yelled.

"Now!"

The Tuareg took out two of the figures as he raced towards the helicopter, the
gun aimed at the pilot leaving the man no option but to wait... or die. Dana
snatched up her gun at Mulder's shout, her aim true as a bullet smashed into the
remaining goon, throwing him backwards. Mulder hauled Krycek to his feet and,
half-carrying, half-dragging he pulled him towards the helicopter. Bullets cut up
the ground beneath their feet, sending plumes of silky sand into the air. With
Scully safely onboard and covering the pilot, the Tuareg turned his attention
back to the Agent and the man they had come to rescue. Mulder reached the
helicopter and pushed Alex into the Arab's waiting arms, watching as his lover
was dragged into the relative safety of the cockpit. As he started to climb in he
felt an incredible pain as a bullet smashed into his back, throwing him forward
into the Tuareg's arms.

The Arab pulled him in, lifting his gun to fire back at Mulder's attacker only to
see the man burst into flames. Figures of large men appeared out of the darkness,
illuminated by the fires that burned as one after another, the Consortium goons
were incinerated by the new threat. He gasped as one of the newcomers glanced
towards the helicopter. He... *it* had no face. Fear filled him, driving the
breath out of his lungs. As one of the creatures turned towards them, the Arab
found his voice, ordering the helicopter to lift off. The pilot needed no
persuasion and he watched as the ground receded, the helicopter banking sharply
to avoid the fingers of flames that reached out to grab it before heading out
across the desert.

Mulder gasped, hardly able to catch his breath. Blood frothed at his mouth from
where the bullet had punched its way through his left lung; the blossoming of red
against the paleness of his T-shirt marking the exit wound through his chest. He
coughed like a drowning man, desperate to clear the fluid filling his lung and
cried out as urgent hands ripped open the T-shirt. Mulder felt the darkness
closing in as Dana Scully gave frantic orders but he knew he was dying. His
vision began to narrow; the sounds around him fading away as if he had moved a
great distance. His limbs felt heavy... and cold. A single tear welled in his
eye. He didn't want to die. He had so much to live for... someone to live for...

//Oh God! Alex!//

He could hear Scully in the distance, her voice rough with pain.

"I can't stop the bleeding. We've gotta get to a hospital *now*."

Rough hands grabbed at him. He could barely feel the pressure of a mouth against
his cheek, his forehead... his mouth. Barely registered the arms that crushed him
into a powerful embrace but, inside, he wept for the pain in that roughened
voice. Alex. His Alex. Crying for him.

A strange peace swept over him. He had felt this same lassitude before; had
dreamt he was visited by his 'father' but this time there was no-one there to
tell him to fight and despite his desire to stay he knew he had to go. A wail
followed him down towards the light that he remembered being told about by people
who had near-death experiences and, in that light, he thought he could see the
figure of a young girl beckoning towards him. A familiar figure. He smiled.
Samantha.

Scully wrapped her arms about the wailing man as Mulder's head flopped backwards,
eyes unseeing in death. She tried to pull him away,

"Alex. Alex, I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry."

She heard the tone of Krycek's cry change. Heard the wail of grief turn to
disbelief and then to anger. A dark determination edging the half-whispered words
spoken so close to her ear.

"No. I won't let you go."

Her tears streamed down her face making it impossible to see clearly but suddenly
there was a light in the cockpit; a soft glow growing between the two lovers. She
dropped her arms from where they were wrapped about the dark-haired man.

The Tuareg had shrunk back away from the bloody corpse and the man whose arms
were wrapped around it. Pain twisted Krycek's face as the light grew stronger.

"By Allah!!"

The body in Krycek's arms jolted, the mouth falling open as Mulder gasped in
another breath... then all was dark and just the booming noise of the helicopter
blades rotating filled the cockpit as Krycek collapsed across his lover.

********************

Pristine white walls reflected the warm midday sun. The scent of freshly cut
flowers filled the air. A humming of a bee mingled with the soft beep of some
electrical monitor but, if he concentrated harder, he could hear bird song in the
background. Fox Mulder opened his eyes slowly.

//Am I dead?//

He'd never really believed in the 'angels with feathery wings' kind of afterlife
but the face looking down into his own was the most beautiful he had ever seen.
The sun picked up red highlights in the locks of sable hair that cascaded over
the tall forehead. Dark eyebrows swept outwards, framing wide-spaced eyes lined
with a thick fringe of dark lashes. The pink mouth was perfectly sculptured;
fleshy lower lip, deeply bowed upper. The bow shallowed as the mouth widened in a
beautific smile, showing a glint of white teeth. Mulder's eyes watched as the
sea-green irises were consumed by the gold-ringed blackness of dilating pupils,
momentarily mesmerised by his own reflection. He smiled at the creases that
appeared at the outer edges and across the bridge of the pert nose, adding a new
dimension of devilry to the dark looks.

//A fallen angel.//

"How're you feeling?"

"I.."

Mulder looked stunned as his voice came out all croaky. The face above him
frowned anew and disappeared from view. He was about to mourn its loss when he
felt himself lifted and the tip of a straw placed between his dry lips.

"Here. Drink this." The cool water slid down his throat and he sighed in
appreciation. The husky voice continued. "Now try again."

"Who are you? I feel I should know you."

The soft smile on the man's lips faltered momentarily. The short term loss of
memory was to be expected... or so they said. Krycek hoped it really was short
term. They had shared so much in such a short time that it would be almost
unbearable if those memories were lost forever.

"You do know me. You *will* remember me. It just might take a little time."

Mulder paused as image after image of this beautiful face tumbled through his
mind; young and eager, hard and unrelenting, teasing, angry, incredulous,
fear-stricken... soft with love then alive with passion. Each picture seemed to
tell a small story that gradually grew until one final image settled. Still
beautiful and yet this face was streaked in tears. It was the face in the
darkness he had imprinted on his mind before turning towards the bright light...
and Samantha. It was the face of the man he had so desperately wanted to live
for.

"Alex?"

A brilliant smile lit up the pale features and moments later he found himself
wrapped in strong arms.

"Ahemm."

They broke apart at the soft feminine voice that drifted across the room. Dana
Scully stood on the threshold, one finely sculptured eyebrow raised
questioningly.

"I take it you remember who you are... and what happened."

It was not a question but it made Mulder stop to think. Puzzlement crept across
his face. Yes, he knew who he was; knew who Alex and Scully were but...

"I was shot." His incredulous tone raised his voice by an octave. "I was shot. I
can remember being shot but..."

Mulder looked down at his pyjama-clad body expecting to see signs of massive
injury. He flexed his arms; pulled his shoulder blades together and grimaced at
the twinges that radiated out through his chest. He could feel the pull of a
small bandage either side of his body but surely there must have been a lot more
damage from the bullet that had entered his back and exploded out of his chest.

"I must have dreamed..."

"No. It wasn't a dream. I don't know how but..." Scully frowned. "Perhaps it
wasn't as bad as it looked... there was a lot of blood and it was dark..." She
trailed off.

Scully had still not come to terms with what had happened in that helicopter. All
she knew was that her friend and partner had seemed to die, his chest shattered
by the impact of a high calibre bullet. She'd torn apart his T-shirt, had seen
the hole... but, maybe it was stress-induced fear that had made it seem worse
than it was. Maybe the noise and vibration of the helicopter, and that same fear,
had muted his beating heart. The alternative was something out of a fantasy tale
and yet, try as she might, she could not deny what she had seen with her own
eyes. The glow emanating from Alex Krycek had lit up the dark interior. She had
seen that glow spread out within Mulder's body; had heard him gasp as his heart
began to beat again, kick-starting the rest of his system.

Alex Krycek had his own memories of that terrifying time. The pain of unbearable
loss suddenly replaced by physical pain as a tingling in his fingertips heralded
the ignition of every nerve ending in his body. Some small part of his mind had
been able to stand back and examine his actions in a strangely detached manner as
the rest of his mind co-ordinated an attack on the damaged tissue in Mulder's
body. He could still visualise the miraculous way the torn muscle, bone and flesh
began to knit together even as his own body screamed in agony. When he had awoken
it was to discover they were no longer in the helicopter... were no longer even
in Tunisia. Instead he was lying in a clean bed with fresh sheets barely three
feet away from the man who had come to mean more to him than any being in the
entire universe. A man he had believed was dead.

Krycek pursed his lips. Neither the doctor nor the nurses would answer his
questions, except for general ones about both his condition and Mulder's. Now Fox
was awake he knew it was time to demand answers. He opened his mouth to say as
much to Mulder and Scully when there was a knock at the door.

Krycek's jaw dropped as a thin, elderly man, immaculately dressed, sauntered into
the room. His bearing showing him to be a man of good breeding, well-mannered but
hard. A man used to giving orders; a man used to having those orders followed
meticulously with no questions asked.

Beside him, Krycek saw Mulder sit up straighter, the same surprised expression
clearly written across his face even as he fought the twinge of pain that flared
in his chest. For Dana Scully there was only confusion.

"I thought Mulder said you were dead."

The man smiled, his eyes twinkling.

"It does seem to be a day for people returning from the dead."

Mulder swallowed, sudden realisation that he *had* died flooding him but,
somehow, he had been yanked back from that precipice. He opened his mouth to
speak but was silenced by an upraised finger.

"You have questions and I have answers but here is not the place. My driver is
waiting downstairs. If you would care to follow me."

"I don't know..."

A hand on his arm stopped the rant before it could begin. Mulder glanced up into
Alexei's bright eyes, swallowed the retort that had sprung to his lips and nodded
his acceptance. Within a few minutes they had exchanged their pyjamas for jeans
and T-shirts; clothes that were conveniently brought in by one of the nursing
staff moments after the Englishman's entrance. Mulder vehemently refused the
offer of a wheelchair and pushed aside the porter so he could follow the old man
through the bright, sunlit corridors on his own two feet. Despite his momentary
rebellion he was not foolish enough to refuse the surreptitious, well-placed
hands beneath his elbows as both Alex and Scully supported him down a flight of
stairs to the car.

After a short drive they arrived at a small airstrip where an executive
helicopter stood waiting on the tarmac. They followed the Englishman onboard,
took their indicated seats without comment and sat in silence as the craft lifted
off. Twenty minutes later the craft settled on the helipad within the grounds of
a large estate. The Englishman led them across a narrow causeway into the
chateau. He turned to his 'guests' once they had entered the reception hall.

"I trust you can contain yourselves for a little while longer. Dinner is at
18:00. We will retire to the library afterwards where I will attempt to answer
all your questions. Monsieur Verdault will show you to your rooms."

As they turned to follow the stern butler, Alex and Mulder felt a strong grip on
their forearms.

"I trust I have not been too forward in providing you with joint accommodation."

Dana Scully felt her unease slip away as a bubble of laughter welled up,
threatening to spill. Both Mulder and Krycek sported identical flushed faces as
the meaning behind the Englishman's words became clear. For someone supposedly
dead he seemed to be very well-informed... either that or he was a great judge of
character.

********************

With almost two hours until dinner Dana Scully paused on the threshold of the
room she had been assigned and told Mulder her intention to take a long, hot
bath. He smiled knowingly. He'd figured out a long time ago that this was the way
she dealt with her problems, relaxing in a hot tub, allowing the thoughts to flow
with the water until they settled into place. Remembrance of the occasional
balled-up sweet wrapper found tucked into a corner of the bathroom at her
apartment sprung to mind and he wondered whether she would be making a call to
the kitchen for some 'luxury' items delivered to help her relax.

"Have fun." He gave her a teasing grin. "I've been told Swiss chocolate is one of
the best."

She raised an eyebrow and then gave him a knowing smile back before closing the
door. Her sideways glance at Alex making it all too clear what kind of fun she
presumed Mulder would be indulging in behind *his* closed door. She just hoped
they were 'accommodated' a lot further along the hallway... or that the walls
were relatively thick otherwise there was no way she'd be able to relax; not with
the sound of passionate love-making drifting across her hearing.

The three men moved onward passed several doors before Verdault halted outside
another solid oak door. He turned the handle and then pushed the door open. As
with Scully, Verdault made no effort to cross the threshold with them. He had
already given them instructions on how to request any assistance. Mulder watched
the man walk back down the hallway before closing the door. He turned and gazed
at Alex.

With a sigh, Krycek flopped down onto the oversize bed, arms spread wide above
his head, eyes closed. He smiled as the mattress dipped with the weight of
another body; the smile turning to a grin as that body straddled his slim hips. A
hand caressed his cheek and he turned his face to nuzzle into the palm.

"Alex?"

Eyes, dilated almost to black, opened at the seriousness in the soft voice.
Krycek blinked with the strong sunlight that bled through the light netting
covering the window. Above him he could see Mulder's grave expression. He watched
as Mulder chewed thoughtfully, worrying the fleshy bottom lip between straight
white teeth.

"I'm sorry."

The hard lump that formed in his throat was hard to swallow.

"No. It's O..."

"No, it's not okay, Alex. I was an ass. I nearly threw away something beautiful
because I couldn't leave the past where it belonged. Nearly losing you..." His
voice caught and he cleared his throat before continuing. "Nearly losing you made
me realise how stupid I was." He gazed deep into the stormy green eyes. "I *am*
sorry, Alex. Please forgive me."

Alex reached up with both hands and pulled Mulder down towards him. His lips
kissed the tip of Mulder's nose.. a benediction of sorts.

Mulder's head dropped until their temples touched, he turned his face slightly to
press a small kiss against the warm cheek in remembrance of the kiss that had
been the catalyst in their new relationship. Softly spoken words were breathed
into his ear.

"But there's more."

Mulder pulled back, a guilty look spread across his face.

"Never knew you were psychic."

Alex smiled grimly. "I'm not... but I can tell when something's wrong."

Mulder pushed himself off his lover and sat on the edge of the bed, his mind
churning as he tried to find the right way to tell Alex about... The truth. Alex
deserved the whole truth.

"Did you ever wonder how the morph managed to find you?" Mulder watched as a
crease appeared across the bridge of the pert nose; the eyes narrowing to green
slivers. "I told him."

"You what?"

Krycek sat up in shock.

"I told him where to find you."

Confusion was replaced by a hurt expression as sudden feelings of betrayal surged
within him.

"Why? Because of my past with the Smoker?"

"No! No. I..." Mulder sighed in exasperation. This wasn't going well but then he
hadn't expected Alex to just smile brightly and say 'it's okay'. "He came to me
at the Motel... pretending to be you. We... we... I thought it was you, Alex. I
should have known but I was so relieved to see you that I... Alex, I'm sorry. I
thought it was you."

Silence descended while Alex sought to make sense of the strange confession. His
frown deepening as he watched the averted face.

//Why won't he look at me?//

All expression drained from Krycek's face along with all his blood. Ashen-face he
pulled Mulder around and *knew*. It took a few more moments before it had all
sunk in but the guilt apparent on Mulder's face was enough to convince him. With
ease he pieced together what had happened that night, suddenly making sense of
those cryptic words uttered by the Alien as he was pinned beneath the creature's
bulk. The Morph had deceived Mulder; had 'discovered human pleasure' with Mulder
and then tricked him into giving up Krycek's location.

Alex closed his eyes to hide his own sorrow. He didn't hold Mulder to blame for
what happened... *couldn't* hold him to blame. He had seen how realistic the
morph's disguises could be; had been around the taciturn alien enough times for
the creature to pick up some of his habits; to copy his voice and pattern of
speech.

He reached out and stroked a single finger down the slightly stubbled cheek,
waiting for eyes, full of misery, to meet his own.

"I understand. Believe me. I *do* understand. And I don't hold you responsible
for what happened..." //then or later// his mind added. Krycek bit his lower lip
as he considered what to say about his capture. Should he tell Mulder what that
bastard did to him? He *needed* to tell him. He did not want to add any more
skeletons to the ones already hiding in his closet and yet Mulder wasn't ready to
hear this. It was too much at once, for Krycek knew Mulder was already drowning
in a pool of guilt and revealing this now would be like throwing a cement block
for him to cling to instead of a life ring. So he bit his tongue and put the
memories of his own rape aside.

He laid a soft kiss on Mulder's cheek then enfolded the man in his arms. Together
they lay back on the bed, both lost in their own worlds as the memories of the
past few days drifted by. Eventually they must have slept waking a few hours
later when Dana Scully knocked on the door to call them to dinner.

A frantic rush as two men tried to use the bathroom at the same time brought a
smile to both faces as they tried to do the same things in the same order.

"You take the shower while I shave... and then we swap."

Krycek kissed the stubbled cheek and jumped into the shower, glaring back
playfully at the swat Mulder gave to his bare ass. When they came out of the
bathroom they found clothes laid out on the bed. At first it wasn't obvious whose
were whose as they were the same height and not too dissimilar a build but then
they spotted the embroidered initials on the silk pocket handkerchiefs.

Mulder turned away from the full size dress mirror to ask Alex what he thought
but the words caught in his throat. Gone was the street-wise punk. The man who
stood before him in the black tuxedo was a vision to behold. The tailored jacket
emphasising the broad shoulders and slim waist; the green of the silk
handkerchief enhancing the brilliance of those beautiful eyes. Mulder cleared his
throat.

"Not too shabby, Krycek."

"You too."

Another thump on the door brought them back.

"Hey, cummon you two. I'm starving."

"Scully."

"Best not keep a hungry woman waiting."

********************

Dinner was a civilised affair and, after all that had happened, neither Mulder
nor Scully were surprised to see their Tuareg guide seated at the table dressed
resplendently in a tuxedo.

"I believe you have met Mr Nouira"

"How did...?"

The Englishman interrupted, one bony finger raised to admonish his guest.

"Mr Mulder. We agreed to leave all the questions until after dinner."

Mulder subsided reluctantly. A sideways glance at both his partner and his lover
showed similar expressions on their faces. Krycek hid his half-smile before the
Englishman noticed; he had been here before, metaphorically speaking. Having
experienced several shared meals with the Englishman he had come to realise that
this was more than just force of habit. In such a precarious business it paid to
keep Consortium business away from the dinner table where the uninformed might
overhear. Better to be accustomed to dealing with this business in the privacy of
the Library where only those invited could listen in.

The meal was excellent, more so considering the last few days but ended none too
soon for Fox Mulder. By the time the last empty dish was removed he was fidgeting
like a small child and their host eventually decided to take pity on him.

 

"Shall we adjourn to the Library."

With a half-smile he pushed back his chair, stood then turned and walked towards
the French doors expecting his guests to follow. With a 'come on' expression
aimed at both Scully and Krycek, Mulder shot out of his chair, his long legs
helping him to catch up with the Englishman quickly but he remained silent until
the doors of the Library had closed behind them. Seated comfortably with a brandy
snifter in one hand, Mulder held his lover's gaze for a moment while the elderly
man lit a cigar.

"You may begin, Mr Mulder."

"O...kay. First. What is *his* role in all this?"

The hand holding the brandy glass waved towards their one-time guide.

The Englishman gave a small smile. He had anticipated this being the first
question even though there were far more important issues to be discussed. It was
this insight into people's character's that had made him such a powerful leader.
He knew Mulder would be annoyed about Nouira; knew the FBI agent would have taken
this subterfuge personally as if the deception was intended just for him alone
but then, Mulder had been deceived on so many levels, so many times; given false
trails to follow... false partners to rely on.

He glanced across at the young Russian American that he had taken under his wing.
He couldn't take the blame... or the praise for that mistake for it was his long
time associate Spender who had recruited, trained and assigned the idealistic
young man albeit with a gentle push from him. What he *could* do was take the
credit for recognising the promise shown... and for capitalising on the
attraction between his Alex and Fox Mulder. As part of a team they would be
formidable. Alex would keep Mulder focussed on the fight and Mulder would give
Alex the psychological support he needed; an ally, a friend... a lover.

Of course he could not overlook the importance of Dana Scully. She was a
grounding influence against Mulder's proclivity to look for the esoteric rather
than the simplest explanation in *every* case and she would be the anchor
required to keep Krycek from becoming another Spender. Alex was his protégé; the
man who would inherit the leadership of the Human Resistance. No-one else had
displayed that unique mix of determination and intelligence needed to organise
Earth defences against the invading Colonists but 'power' could be a corrupting
influence. Krycek would be walking a razor's edge. On one side lay the darkness
of megalomania; ruthlessness, self-glorification. On the other side lay despair,
fear for life and limb. With Mulder and Scully walking the razor's edge with him
there was less chance that he might topple and that could only benefit the fight
for the future.

He realised, suddenly, that Mulder was still awaiting an answer to his question.

"As you so rightly surmised, Mr Nouira is not a Guide for hire. We had narrowed
down the possible location of the second mothership to a desert region." He
halted abruptly, his eyes stabbing Mulder's like lasers. "Of course you *did*
realise that only Spender and Strughold were informed of its location."

Mulder sneered.

"You don't expect me to believe you didn't..."

"Oh but I do, Mr Mulder. The First Elder felt the less people who knew, the
better the security and that applied even to the rest of the Consortium
leadership. If I may continue..."

Mulder nodded his consent begrudgingly.

"Mr Nouira has been stationed outside the Tunisian international airport for the
past two months waiting for something or someone who might lead us to the
mothership... but, perhaps I ought to let Mr Nouira continue."

The dark-skinned Arab smiled, pleased to have the opportunity to explain. He
studied Mulder for a moment before continuing.

"I recognised you. Realised there could be little reason for you to be in Tunisia
unless you had information to follow-up on a paranormal... or extra-terrestrial
nature. I followed you to the Sahara then paid off the other Guides and offered
my services."

Scully leant forward, her cerulean blue eyes narrowed to slivers; her pert lips
pulled into a questioning pout.

"You had a vial of the vaccine on you."

Brilliant white teeth shone up against his rich coffee-coloured flesh.

"Of course. A precautionary measure should one of our operatives be infected by
the retrovirus. I was vaccinated before taking up the assignment. I believe you
were given the same vaccine onboard the Antarctic mothership."

"If Krycek is one of your men then why wasn't he vaccinated?"

"Aahh. Perhaps I had better explain that anomaly." All eyes turned back to the
elderly Englishman. "Mr Krycek was vaccinated some time ago but has recently
undergone a... physical change that has destroyed his immunity to the retrovirus.
I decided it was in his best interest if we delayed re-vaccinating him on the
grounds that we had no idea how his altered DNA would react. We were in the
process of testing his blood work when our laboratory was destroyed. Mr Nouira
took a gamble when he injected Mr Krycek with the vaccine but, under the
circumstances, a necessary gamble."

Alex sat forward, licking his suddenly dry lips.

"I think this is where I come in with *my* questions."

The old man smiled benevolently at the young man who would eventually replace
him. He felt a paternal warmth rising within that should have been there whenever
he gazed upon his own natural children. For a brief moment he understood
Spender's disappointment with his acknowledged son, Jeffrey... and his pride in
Fox Mulder; the unacknowledged one. For him, Alex Krycek had become a surrogate
son; an heir to his 'empire'. Of course he would bequeath all the legally
registered wealth to his natural children but Alex Krycek would inherit a
considerable amount more. All of the hidden resources and wealth of the Human
Resistance would be at his disposal for the fight to save Humanity.

"My dear boy, I believe you already know most of the answers. I can only offer my
apologies for not suspecting that you carried implants. But then, if I *had*
known I would have never chosen you as my successor. That would have been a
monumental loss. However, your exposure to the Rebels was most fortuitous. Apart
from the obvious physical change..." He motioned towards Krycek's left arm. "...I
expect you have discovered several new abilities. Mr Mulder's continued
well-being is testament to one of those..."

"Jeremiah Smith."

"Aaah. Of course. I had forgotten your involvement with our first alien ally. I
believe Mr Smith demonstrated his healing abilities quite publicly... and his
morphing abilities too if memory serves me correct. However, Alex is not a pure
blood. I believe you will find he has similar abilities but to a far lesser
degree."

"You said 'several new abilities'. I can think of only two but... *several*
implies more than two."

"How astute, Alex. Yes, there is one other ability that has yet to be triggered.
Mr Mulder has come across it already."