Exigency by Zoe Takashi & Louise Wu

Authors: Zoe Takashi & Louise Wu,  Email Us
Website: http://slashfactory.com/
Pairing: Skinner/Krycek
Special Warning: The amputation scene is vivid. Some readers may find it disturbing.
Regular Warning: Angst, violence, corpses... the usual for this series.
Spoilers: Canon through SR-819
Summary: Events in the lives of Skinner and Krycek between Ascension and SR-819. It will help if the reader has seen the episodes, as not all of them are spelled out.
Series: Exigency. This story is best read after Yield.
Beta Thanks: Loren Q, Alex, Kristen, Jennie, Ursula
Disclaimer: Skinner, Krycek, Mulder, Scully and other X-Files characters belong to Chris Carter and 1013 Productions. No infringement of rights is intended.
 

Exigency: Assault (Interludes)
(ek-'si-gen-see)
noun: urgent requirements, exacting want or pressing needs.

Starring:
Zoe Takashi as Alex Krycek.
Louise Wu as Walter S. Skinner.


New York, NY
October 1994
4:02 P.M.

I step into the dingy bar and pause, waiting for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. Crossing to a round table in the back, I pull out a chair and straddle it. "This is a dive compared to your other bars."

Morgan looks up from whatever he's reading. "Welcome back, kid. How was Alaska?"

Shrugging, I reply, "Cold. So, why is that nicotine addict sending me to work with you again?"

"I've sort of let on that I don't like you very much." He flashes me an evil grin.

"So this is more punishment? He seems to be missing the mark lately."

Morgan snorts. "I'd be happy to punish you."

I roll my eyes. "No thanks, Morgan."

He pushes back from the table. "Let's adjourn to my office and we'll go over your first assignment."


Arlington, VA
November 1994
Two Weeks Later
6:04 P.M.

My team of three follows me into the train car. The bodies aren't a surprise. We're here to clean up after some medical experiment.

I'm deleting computer files when someone behind me clears his throat. I turn to face one of the guys. He has an uncomfortable look on his face.

At my raised eyebrow, he mumbles, "Uh, a couple of 'em ain't dead yet."

I keep my expression blank but, in truth, this whole situation is bugging me. The stark reality of them experimenting on people bothers me... for some unknown reason. In response, I only shrug. "My orders say these subjects are comatose until death."

At his continued discomfiture, I sigh and move to check out the bodies.

I barely manage to contain my start of surprise when I see the second body. Well, hello Doctor Agent. So, this is where you went to.

I close my eyes for a second. This is not good.

**

Washington, D.C.
Two Days Later
9:17 A.M.

Not through any investigative brilliance on our part, we've come full circle on Scully's disappearance. She was found in a hospital, in a coma. There don't seem to be any answers about how she got there. Per her advance medical directives, the family is going to take her off the ventilator.

Not surprisingly, Alex Krycek is still unaccounted for. Besides the pending warrant, we're not even looking for him. I've accepted that he was dirty. Just another unsolved case. I look forward to this one getting dusty.

Sitting at my desk trying to face the day, I feel... useless. I can't do anything to help Scully. I can offer no explanations to her family, or her partner. I can't answer my own questions about her abduction and the disappearance of my former lover. For the amount of leadership I can offer on this matter, I might as well have stayed home today.

My eyes flick to my calendar. Kimberly has penciled in a change. Smith. Just what I need to make this day perfect.

Ten minutes later, a tap on the door alerts me to his arrival. "Come in."

"Good morning, Mr. Skinner." Not really.

The man has two facial expressions. Calm, which means in control of everything. Tense, which means out of control, but with a plan to get back in control if he can manipulate people of no consequence into doing his bidding.

People of no consequence... that would be me.

Today, he's tense. He needs something. And I, within the limits of trying to keep my job, will do everything in my power not to give it to him.

Another day, another game. Today, he has a hair up his butt about Mulder. He claims Mulder killed a man last night in the hospital laundry room. That Smith knows or cares about such a thing confirms my suspicion that he is responsible for Scully's abduction. Wish I had proof.

It's so obvious that Smith is up to no good. But no matter what I tell the Director about the cigarette-smoking son of a bitch, he tells me he's just following orders. I'll bet you could go all the way up the chain of command to god and not find one man willing to take responsibility for allowing the vulture access to our work.

He tosses a report onto my desk. "Read it. It's all there. If you're having trouble sitting on Mulder, Assistant Director Skinner, I'm sure you know we'd have no trouble."

Smith makes threats when he doesn't get his way, like a fourth grade bully. He's in this up to his eyeballs. And by logical extension, Krycek may be, too. Good god, the little bastard had me fooled.

My profession demands that I be able to judge criminal intent. Maybe it's a good thing I'm a desk man.

He puts a cigarette in his mouth and takes out his lighter.

"Uh-uh." I nod toward a sign on my desk. A present from Kimberly, it reads, 'Thank You For Not Smoking.'

Smith glares at me and makes a production of lighting his cigarette. After one puff, he stubs it out in the ashtray. He creeps out the back door before Mulder arrives.

I need information from the troublesome agent, but I'm going to try to be gentle. He has to be hurting. His partner is dying. Hell, I'm hurting.

I get right to the crux of the matter. "I called you right up here because of rumors about an incident at the hospital last night."

He replies glibly, "Is this about the tooth that was found in the cafeteria Jell-o?"

"The rumor has it that you were involved... in the laundry room?"

"No, sir." Mulder's only that terse and deferential when he's got something to hide. It's obvious he knows exactly what I'm talking about.

"A man was executed, Agent Mulder."

"I was with Scully."

I hate it when my agents lie to me. Not that I'm any paragon of honesty, but it just makes it so damned hard to do my job. Mulder's enough of a headache when he's telling me everything.

Prodding him, I add, "Traces of her blood were found at the scene."

"May I see the police report?" he asks, projecting innocent curiosity.

Dammit! "There is no police report of this incident, Agent Mulder, and there is no body. You know that."

"Since I am unfamiliar with any such incident, sir, no, how would I know that?"

"Knock it off!"

"How's it feel? Constant denial of everything, questions answered with a question," he says in an eerily flat tone.

"I want to know what happened, dammit."

"Him." Mulder's no longer able to conceal his anger. He rises and picks up the ashtray. The butt is still smoking. "That's what happened."

I wonder if Smith did that on purpose. I doubt he's ever careless. More likely he enjoys rubbing our noses in his ability to move freely in our offices and cases.

Mulder's eyes are filled with accusation. "Cancerman. He's responsible for what happened to Scully!"

"How do you know that?"

"It's a rumor," he replies smugly. "Who is he?"

"It's not-"

"Oh, you can have it all, you can have my badge, you can have the X-Files, just tell me where he is."

"And then what? He sleeps with the fishes? We're not the mafia, Agent Mulder. I know it's easy to forget, but we work for the Department of Justice."

"That's what I want."

"Agent Scully was a fine officer. More than that, I liked her. I respected her. We all know the field we play on, and we all know what can happen in the course of a game. If you were unprepared for all the potentials, then you shouldn't step on the field."

The anger in Mulder's face fades away, replaced by hurt and... uncertainty. "What if I... I knew the potential consequences but I never told her?"

"Then you're as much to blame for her condition as... 'the Cancerman.'"

As the door shuts behind him, I curse myself for kicking him like that.

I accomplished not one thing. Gained no facts about last night's incident. Sent Mulder away on a guilt binge. Probably pissed off Smith, too. But that's a bonus.

What if I told Mulder where to find him? He might kill the son of a bitch. No great loss there. But Mulder would end up in prison.

But I don't think he'd do it. Mulder wouldn't kill without immediate provocation. And Smith's too cool to give Mulder an opening to kill him and claim self defense. No, Mulder will just confront him, let off some steam, maybe rough up the old man a bit.

Damn, I'd like to do that to the fucker myself.

Mulder's got the brains to trick the man into revealing something, but he's too emotional to use them right now.

Seems like it wouldn't get worse than an assault charge for Mulder. And I don't think Smith would take a chance of letting any of this go to court, or even OPC.

I pick up the phone. Not wanting to be known as the source of this information, I request a favor from someone who owes me one. She'll get the address to Mulder.

But the next day I discover that I miscalculated. Whatever Smith had to say to Mulder, the result was Mulder's letter of resignation. Damn.

I can't let Mulder resign. It's the wrong choice for the Bureau. It's the wrong choice for Mulder. Without the structure the Bureau provides, I fear what he'd become with all this eating at him. And without Scully to provide checks and balances.

On a more visceral level, I don't want Smith to win.

Kimberly tells me Mulder's in his office. After canceling a meeting, I head to the basement.

He's packing.

I tear up his letter of resignation. "It's unacceptable."

Mulder keeps packing.

"Look, I know you feel responsible for Agent Scully, but I will not accept resignation and defeat as self-punishment."

"All the forensics, the field investigations, the eyewitness accounts... to still know nothing. To lose myself... and Scully. I hate what I've become."

I've been there, Mulder.

Removing my glasses, I pace a bit to order my thoughts. There must be something I can say. Maybe there is, but I don't like talking about 'Nam.

"When I was eighteen, I... I went to Vietnam. I wasn't drafted, Mulder, I enlisted in the Marine Corps the day of my eighteenth birthday. I did it on a blind faith. I did it because I believed it was the right thing to do. I don't know, maybe I still do. Three months into my tour, a ten-year-old North Vietnamese boy walked into camp covered with grenades and I, uh... I blew his head off from a distance of ten yards."

The ache of that pain is dulled by the years.

"I lost my faith. Not in my country or in myself, but in everything. There was just no point to anything anymore. One night on patrol, we were, uh, caught and everyone fell. I mean, everyone. I looked down at my body... from outside of it. I didn't recognize it at first. I watched the V.C. strip my uniform, take my weapon, and I remained, in this thick jungle, peaceful, unafraid, watching my dead friends. Watching myself. In the morning, the corpsmen arrived and put me in a bodybag until... I guess they found a pulse. I don't know. I woke in a Saigon hospital two weeks later.

"I'm afraid to look any further beyond that experience." I meet his eyes to make my point. "You? You are not. Your resignation is unacceptable."

That's the best shot I've got.

He speaks to my retreating back. "You."

I turn back toward him.

"You gave me Cancerman's location. You put your life in danger."

"Agent Mulder, every life, every day is in danger. That's just life."

Two days later, I still haven't received another resignation. I doubt it was my pep talk.

Scully woke up. She's going to be okay.

An unexpected piece of great news in the midst of this quagmire.

Especially great news for Mulder and the X-Files. I like to tell myself that Mulder believes I'm on his side. I wonder if it's true.

I'm filled with disbelief about the X-Files but, now that I've admitted my fear, maybe I can be a little more open.

Mulder's brave, smart and determined, where I am only determined. The Bureau needs him. And maybe he needs me a little, too. There's one reason to get out of bed in the morning.

And me, what do I need? I don't know, but maybe that's a good thing, because I doubt I will find it.

**

Martha's Vineyard, MA
April 1995
Five Months Later
1:02 A.M.

I pull the receiver out of my ear and pocket it. Bill Mulder's on his way into the bathroom so I duck into the corner of the shower. I feel a disquieting sense of relief that he chose to stop talking when he did, or I'd be preparing a bullet for Mulder, too.

Knowing I won't have long to wait, I retrieve my weapon. There's the sound of footsteps, then the door closes. I hear some muted sounds and quietly step out of the back corner. I raise the Glock.

His eyes meet mine in the mirror and it occurs to me that this is the first time I've been ordered to kill someone I know.

I pull the trigger.

Climbing out the bathroom window and running to my car, I'm again grateful I didn't have to shoot Mulder. Because I'm certain it would piss Walter off. Then I remind myself that Walter doesn't matter.

On the drive back, I fight an eight-month-old battle to not think about Walter Skinner.

Thirty minutes later, I walk into an apartment lit only by the flickering of a television. The place is basically a flop-house for transient Consortium lackeys. Like the man currently seated on the sofa eating a bag of potato chips.

Luis Cardinal. His sharp features are more prominent in the flickering blue light from the TV.

I can't stand this guy. I think Spender is looking for yet another way to punish me for fucking up my assignment with the FBI. He keeps searching because I don't react to any of his petty jabs. Alaska, while cold, was rather refreshingly dull. Farming me out to work for Morgan was not the penalty he thought it might be. And that glorified security guard duty was rather enlightening as I had plenty of opportunity to poke through Consortium files in the very areas I was charged to keep people out of.

When he brought me back to D.C., I assumed he'd found a way to explain my continued survival to the Consortium... considering who my parents were. But that took a back seat in my thoughts as I became acquainted with my newest punishment. Luis Cardinal may truly be the end of my patience.

He doesn't even look up as I walk into the kitchen, but his voice follows me. "Job done?"

I really wish he wouldn't talk to me. "Of course."

"Both of 'em?"

"No. Bill Mulder." I'm reaching into the refrigerator for a bottle of tea when I hear a noise behind me.

"Was sonny-boy there?"

Not turning around, I reply, "Yes."

"Why's he still alive?"

I turn to face the little weasel. He's standing closer than I expected. I hate that... he smells odd. Like he uses aftershave instead of soap, and just ate barbecue chips. "Because it wasn't necessary. He hadn't been told anything."

He sneers at me. "No loose ends, Krycek. Got it?" Ugh. And his breath is bad, too.

Stepping around him, I exit the kitchen and reply, "That might be good advice... coming from anyone else." I know he's thinking he'll go find Mulder and clean up my 'loose end,' then report to Spender for more brown-nosing. "Be sure you get permission from Spender before you go after Fox Mulder. You know how he vacillates on whether to protect or kill him. Wouldn't want to get on his bad side, now would you?"

I enter one of the three small bedrooms, certain Cardinal won't be going after Mulder tonight.

Staying fully dressed, I flop down on the too-short twin-size bed and contemplate what has become my life. Cardinal is the most impulsive thrill killer I've had the misfortune to work with.

I wonder how much longer this will go on. I have begun considering possible ways to get out of the Consortium. The more I've learned about what they do, the more I despise them. I've always been fuzzy about the boundary between right and wrong, but even I would put 'selling out the human race' in the 'wrong' column.

As Mulder has caused ongoing problems for the Consortium, and Spender in particular, I've felt a grudging respect for him. At least he's trying to protect our species.

Thinking about Mulder inevitably leads to thinking about Walter. And, as I often do at night, I allow myself to explore the memories I push away during the day.

The hilt of Walter's knife digs into my ribs, but I make no effort to move it.

I tuck my gun under my pillow, keeping my hand loosely around the grip, and remember the feel of his hands on my body, the touch of his lips, the feel of his cock stretching my ass. My dick starts to get hard.

With my free hand, I pull my erection out of my jeans and start jacking off. I keep my other hand around the gun, prepared to shoot Cardinal if he interrupts my Walter-musings.

If I want to keep the orgasm at bay, all I have to do is not think of Walter. But as soon as my mind touches on the sensory memories of him, I come.

Involuntarily, I bring my hand up and stroke the back of my neck. The spot where Walter bit me the last time we fucked. The mark was still faintly visible two weeks after I left. It wasn't long enough.

I can live with thinking of the sex, but as my lids start to feel heavy, I remember falling asleep in his arms.

Oh, fuck. Why do I do this to myself?

**

The Next Day
12:02 P.M.

The X-Files are hot again.

A couple days ago, Smith came to me seeking a digital tape. When I asked Mulder about it, he went crazy... and punched me in the face. I had to restrain him. And repair my glasses.

Christ, what is wrong with him?

Now I've learned that Mulder's father is dead. Shot to death. Mulder's a suspect, but I don't believe he shot his own father. But I can't ask him about it, because both Scully and Mulder are AWOL.

OPC is out for blood. The kind of people who volunteer to work OPC--like Mathis, who I managed to jettison from my staff a month ago--have far too little imagination to be supportive of the X-Files.

I'm trying hard to hang on to their jobs, but I need answers.

This tape seems to be the catalyst. A casual search of their office turns up the cartridge in its plastic case taped inside the top drawer of Mulder's desk. Odd that Smith didn't get here first. I guess he thinks I'm his errand boy.

Completely unsure what I'm going to do with the tape, I pocket it. Giving it to Smith isn't a priority. At least not until I know what's on it. Maybe something I can use to hang the bastard.

But the only lab tech I trust can't read the damned thing. Says it's ordinary text, but gibberish. He'll try to crack the code and make a copy of it.

Now where is Mulder? And what the hell are he and Scully up to?

My gut tells me there are reasons for their behavior. I'd like to trust them but they make it so fucking difficult.


Four Days Later
5:17 P.M.

Scully came back. She claims Mulder is dead, but she can't produce a body. Or even a reasonable explanation for what happened to him. She's still withholding information. Except she did tell me that someone drugged Mulder's water with a chemical that resembles LSD. That explains him attacking me.

Fuck, I can't believe Mulder's really dead. And his father. The damned DAT tape appears to be the reason.

Mulder was such an innocent. A brilliant, half-mad man capable of seeing and believing things the rest of us cannot. Naive and jaded at the same time. The sting of his loss hits me harder than I understand. More than the loss of an agent under my command, which is no small grief.

I admired his drive, even while being aggravated to near insanity by his numerous misdeeds.

OPC suspended Scully. She lied about Mulder having the tape. I didn't like taking her badge, but I warned her and she still lied.

I keep trying to figure out how I could have prevented Mulder's death. But all I can come up with is that he didn't trust me. Didn't feel he could come to me and explain. Scully shut me down, too.

Trust has to be earned.

Dammit, Mulder! I backed you up as often as I could.

Not good enough.

Despite suspension, Scully's still involved in this. Am I going to fail her, too?

The tape is the key.

My tech guy says he can't copy it... can't even make a hard copy. But he thinks the text is Navaho, which was used for codes during World War II.

Mulder died for that damned tape. Too bad no one can tell me what's on it.

Out of respect for the life of my tech, I retrieve the DAT. Watching for tails and making a few quick turns just to be sure, I drive to Mike's Gym and ask Mike to conceal it for me. He puts it in a baggie and stashes it in a bucket of detergent. In the storage room where I once fucked Alex Krycek.


Three Days Later
7:15 P.M.

Smith told me to execute a search warrant on Scully's apartment. He's demanding that I do everything in my power to find the digital tape. Holding out on him is a small satisfaction.

Scully visited my office to show me a newspaper clipping. A computer hacker's body was found, possibly the man who made the tape. She wants me to compare ballistics to try to prove the hacker was killed by the same man who killed Mulder's father. With Smith standing in my inner room--and likely bugging my office, as well--I could only brush her off. If it matters, we can check it later.

Smith is... panicky, I think. It's not much of a leap to conclude he's behind the deaths. Mulder. Mulder's father. And now this hacker.

And I, an assistant director with the FBI, sworn to uphold the laws of America, can't touch the man. He's got way too many friends for a man devoid of both charm and morality. Machiavelli himself has been outclassed.

If his interference were limited to access, I might be able to endure it. But our lives are at stake.

I have to make Scully explain it to me. If I can just talk to her somewhere private. Maybe we can leverage the tape to get Smith out of the homicidal zone.

I drive over to Scully's apartment and find her walking down the front walk.

She reluctantly gets into my car. There's an odd coldness in her expression that reminds me of the way an ex-con looks at a cop. Something is terribly wrong.

Scully has to talk to me. Whatever it takes, I have to persuade her.

She directs me to Mulder's apartment. As I step inside, I hear a familiar sound behind me. The cocking of a gun.

I don't know what I expected, but I never expected to end up on the other side of her gun.

"Don't turn around or I'll blow your head off!"

The trust problem is apparently much larger than I'd thought.

Certain the woman has the balls to shoot me if she deems it necessary, I take a calming breath and hope she's doing the same.

"Don't think I won't do it, you son of a bitch!"

"No, I believe you," I reply in my gentlest voice, holding out my hands so she can see them. "Just stay cool. I'm with you."

Christ, Smith's threats are bad enough. Now my own agent is holding me at gunpoint.

She has me sit on my hands on Mulder's sofa and demands to know who sent me.

Dammit, Agent! Your ass is already in a sling. Don't do this!

"No one sent me." Even if they had, that wouldn't justify holding me at gunpoint. So far, she has given me no opportunity to draw my SIG without getting my face blown off.

"You've got the rest of your life to give me answers."

Fuck. She wants answers?

Her partner is dead. Her finger's a few pounds of pressure away from life in prison. And she wants answers from me?

I don't know anything, Agent. And if I did, I wouldn't tell you like this.

She won't shoot me as I sit. No way.

Scully questions me. And gradually her questions fit a pattern. She thinks I'm with Smith. One of his cronies at the Bureau. "How high does it go, Skinner? Who's pulling the strings?"

You're dead wrong, Agent. You're pointing your weapon at your friend.

"You can kill me, Scully, but you'll only be doing their work for them. Forget about your job and family. You'll spend the rest of your life behind bars. There isn't a federal judge that they couldn't persuade."

"What's the alternative? Let you kill me now?"

She thinks I came here to kill her?

"I didn't come here to kill you. I came here to give you something."

Fuck. End it, Walt. Show her a little trust, she'll figure out whose side you're on.

"I've got the digital tape."

"You're lying."

"I've got it in my pocket. I took it out of Mulder's desk."

This is really simple, Scully. All you have to do is check my pocket. I'm on your side.

But she's distracted by a sound at the door. Someone's coming in.

If we've got company, I need to end this. Decision made, the movement is automatic. My gun is pointed at her.

Now, it's a standoff, Agent.

And trouble is coming in the door.

"Drop your weapon!" I rise to my feet. "Put it down, Scully!"

"No way," she replies unflinchingly.

"I said put it down!"

"I said no! You're setting me up!"

"I'm trying to help you."

"Then put your weapon down and sit down."

"Not a chance." This situation is too dangerous.

"You said you weren't here to kill me, Skinner, now prove it."

"I didn't come here to have a gun shoved in my face either."

"Damn it, Skinner!"

When the door crashes open, I have to assume it's a worse threat than Scully, so I point my weapon at the door.

"Drop your weapon!" It's Mulder, back from the dead. Pointing his gun at my head.

"Back off!" I bark, keeping my SIG trained on him.

"I said put it down!"

"What the hell is this? What are you pulling here?" I can't think fast enough to put the pieces together.

A glance to the side shows Scully's still got her weapon on me.

"You okay, Scully?" He doesn't look even a little dead.

"Yeah," she replies breathlessly.

Shit. Simple intimidation isn't going to work with these two.

"Get his gun," he orders Scully.

She's holds out her hand.

"Give her the gun. Give it to her!"

Obviously both of them think I'm working with Smith. Guns aren't going to solve this problem.

"All right." I point the SIG up, out of firing range, then pass it to her.

He lowers his weapon. "Now, I want an explanation."

Join the fucking party, Mulder.

Scully, still aiming her Bureau-issue at me, offers, "I was warned that somebody would kill me... someone I trusted."

Someone you trusted? Oh, so this is about trusting me. That's fucking precious.

Breathe, Walt. The tape will finish this.

"I'm going to reach into my coat pocket and end this charade." I catch Mulder's eye. "All right?"

He gives me a nod.

I retrieve the DAT from my coat pocket. "I assume you both know what this is? Now, I want an explanation."

"Your cigarette-smoking friend killed my father for that tape, and then he killed me."

"What are you talking about?"

"I was a dead man. Now, I'm back."

Based on that illuminating answer, I decide to cut to the chase. "What is on this tape?"

"Defense department files that weren't supposed to exist. The truth about our government's involvement in a global conspiracy of silence about the existence of extraterrestrial life."

Aliens? I doubt it, but I believe the part about defense department files. It fits with Smith. It might put him in prison. He'd kill for that.

Scully extends her hand. "Give me the tape."

"Uh-uh, this tape stays with me."

"Give her the tape," Mulder says in a low growl, as he aims his SIG at me, then cocks it.

"If what you say is true--the information on this tape is valuable enough to kill for--then it's the only leverage we've got to bring these men to justice."

Don't you get it?

What else can I say? "It's not going to do us any good if it falls back into their hands."

"Then you better make sure it doesn't," Mulder says menacingly. But he de-cocks the gun and lowers it. "Come on, Scully, let's go."

"Where?" she asks.

"There are truths out there that aren't on that tape."

I meet Scully's gaze.

Are we finished, Agent?

She gives me a look of profound mistrust, but she steps away, leaving my gun on a table. They left me the tape and my SIG. I guess that's the extent of their trust tonight.

I pocket the tape as they head out the door.

Jesus Christ, what a fucking mess.

There's a bar a few blocks from Mulder's place. I stop in for a quick drink.

I know this tape is the key, but I don't know what to do with it. Mulder and Scully have, yet again, left me hanging out to dry without the information I need to do my job.

After downing the shot, I head back to Mike's Gym to conceal the tape again.

**

Georgetown, D.C.
8:17 P.M.

Spender is all in a twist about some tape Mulder got a hold of. I almost have to like Mulder just for the sheer amount of grief he brings to Spender's life. Of course, any grudging admiration is tempered whenever I move and feel pain from that little tussle outside his apartment building. And the only reason I even went there was because Cardinal was on the prowl and I wanted to ensure Mulder didn't get killed.

I still can't believe Scully shot her own partner. To protect me.

And now I may have to kill her. Spender ordered us to find out what she knows about the tape and see if it's in her possession. Unfortunately, 'us' includes Cardinal. My presence in people's lives isn't exactly a Hallmark card, but Luis is a visit from the Grim Reaper.

We search Scully's apartment and find no signs of the tape. Time for some questioning. I kill the lights and we position ourselves in shadow. As I hear one of Scully's lamps hit the floor, I roll my eyes and remind myself he's just a bumbling sadist with passable aim.

I would tell him to watch where he's going, but there's a sound at the door. Unexpectedly, a gunshot rips through the air. What the fuck?

Stepping forward, I see a small figure crumpled in the doorway. Oh, Christ. Thoughts of Walter are immediately in my head, but I shut down my brain. I can't go there.

I turn the body over. "Oh, no." I sigh. It's not, Scully. "Dammit." I'm torn between relief and exasperation.

"What's wrong?"

"Let's get out of here."

Once we're in the car, I turn to Cardinal. "It's kind of hard to question a corpse."

He shrugs. "Mr. Morley doesn't think she has the tape."

I have no idea why he chooses to call Spender by his brand of cigarettes. I guess it's a good thing he doesn't smoke Virginia Slims. Maybe Cardinal doesn't know his real name. "Well, shooting her is a sure way to make sure we don't know anything."

Cardinal glances over at me. "What you bitchin' about?"

God, I'd like to strangle the little prick. "Next time, could you make sure you have the right target before you fire?"

He frowns. "What?"

"You didn't shoot Dana Scully."

He looks surprised. "Well, who'd I get?"

I shake my head and turn away from him. Idiot.

**

Two Days Later
6:48 A.M.

Bodies are still falling over that damned tape. Scully's sister was shot and is in critical condition at D.C. General. Both Mulder and Scully would already be dead if the first attempts had been successful. I guess I'm lucky no one's come after me yet.

A very agitated Mulder calls me from West Virginia, demanding that I meet them.

They've dug themselves in so deep. Maybe they finally figured out they need my help. So I drive to Charlotte's Diner on Route 320A.

Mulder claims he was chased by a hit squad, driving CIA cars. Government cars all look alike to me. But still, it's government cars. If he's right, the only way out of this mess is to surrender the tape.

I offer to negotiate the hand-off.

He insists that they need the tape to explain their discovery of an elaborate filing system of medical records hidden in a mountain. A cataloging of the American people.

It's horrific in that Big Brother way that makes it believable. There must be at least a grain of truth in it, the way Smith is panicking.

I'm beyond curious what's on that DAT myself. That government men would kill for. But I don't see any way to save their lives and keep the damned tape.

Truth-seeker Mulder is ready to die for that tape, but Scully's life is at stake, too. And she's desperate to see her wounded sister.

Mulder leaves the decision in Scully's hands. She prudently decides the investigation is not worth dying for.

So we head back to D.C. I will negotiate for their lives and jobs. Smith is desperate. I think it will work. It'll be nice to have the upper hand with that fucker for a change.

For a pair who held me at gunpoint two days ago, Mulder and Scully are demonstrating a remarkable amount of trust in me. My head's still spinning from their rapidly changing loyalties. Either they're capricious with their confidences or they lost it in the heat of the moment. I decide to give them the benefit of the doubt.

When we get back, I leave a message for Smith. He'll have to agree to my terms. Our lives, and reinstatement of Mulder and Scully's Bureau positions, in exchange for the cursed tape.

So I've come to the point where I have to consult the biggest thug in our government for permission to live.

The fucker's been watching me, and now I'm watching him, too. For an opportunity to blast him off my map. Permanently.

**

Washington, D.C.
1:52 P.M.

Spender charges into the apartment looking more upset than I've ever seen him. He was pretty pissed about the shooting of Melissa Scully. Ranted for over an hour... and that was tame compared to how he looks now.

Cardinal rises from the sofa and waits expectantly. I lean back in the kitchen chair and watch the show.

Spender's too agitated to focus on smoking, just holds his cigarette. He turns to me. "Skinner has the tape."

Oh, Jesus. "You sure?"

Spender looks furious. "Yes. He thinks he can bargain with me." He shakes his hand at me. "Get that tape."

Before I can say a word, Cardinal steps forward. "Any restrictions?"

With an unholy glint in his eye, Spender replies, "No," and walks out.

Cardinal follows him out and, as soon as the door closes, I bury my head in my hands. This is my worst nightmare. Cardinal was just given permission to take Skinner out. God dammit, Walter. Why are you fucking with Spender?

Maybe--if I time it right--I can take Walter down, but not kill him. Hopefully Cardinal will leave it at that. If not, I'll just have to kill Cardinal.

Terminating Luis is high on my list of fun things to do, but if it comes to that, I'll be on the run. Perhaps not a bad thing. I don't want to think about why, but I know I can't let anyone kill Walter.

Cardinal returns looking inordinately pleased. Something else has transpired, but I don't really care what it is right now... I have bigger problems.

A few hours later, we get a call to wait for Skinner at D.C. General. Somehow Spender knows Skinner will be there checking on Melissa Scully.

We arrive at the hospital and quickly hook up with another of Spender's guys. When Skinner arrives, the other goon will try to lead him into the stairwell. Cardinal will position himself below and I will be above. I struggle to find the apathy I need to get through this.

**

As I promised Scully, I stop by Melissa's hospital room to give a message to their mother. She's there with an old man who's watching over Melissa. I say a few words of condolence to Mrs. Scully, words that come too easily after so many years at the Bureau.

I see a suited man walk past the door, looking in. It tweaks my radar.

The old man says, "That man you just saw, he's been very curious about this room."

I step into the hall. The suited man is gone.

Turning back to the old... Native American? "Who are you?" Navaho, I'll bet. Scully's translator.

"My name is Albert Hosteen. I was asked to come here." The gentleness in his voice encourages me to believe he's not one of them.

"All right, Albert. Do not leave this room. Do you understand?"

"Yes."

Stepping into the hall, I walk quickly in the direction of the suited man. I hear the sound of a door shutting. Opening it, I step into the stairwell. No sign of the man up or down the stairs. I run up to the next floor. Thinking to check that corridor, I reach for the doorknob.

The door comes at me hard, knocking me backward. As I struggle for balance, the suited man shoves a gun in my face. I've got to get it out of his hand before he can do anything with it.

His wrist turns easily in my grip. A couple of face jabs with my elbow stun him a little. I've got my fingers on the gun.

Suddenly, another man is behind me. With a garrote.

Fuck!

All my attention is focused on keeping that wire from cutting my throat. I manage to get my hand under the garrote.

A third man appears. My brain registers that it's Krycek.

Fuck no! Not him. Not now.

Focus, Walt!

It's just me and three men trying to kill me.

I take two blows to the face from... the third man. Then a gut wrencher to the abdomen. After he takes the tape from my coat pocket, I expect them to kill me.

But I don't want to die at his hand.

Another punch to my face isn't what I expected.

**

I watch Walter fall.

Just stay down, dammit.

I'm more numb than apathetic as we get in the car. After a few miles of silence, the mystery goon of Spender's--I still haven't gotten his name--pulls over at a convenience store.

I stare at my sore hand and rub my knuckles, unable to believe I attacked Walter. God, can this get any more fucked up?

Cardinal gets out of the car, stating he wants a beer. I have to ignore him because I'd really like to kill him with his own garrote.

A sense of wrongness penetrates my numb brain and I look around. Cardinal and the other lackey are watching me from the doorway of the store.

Spender's so hot for this tape and we're stopping for beverages? That seems... Then I notice the flashing 12:00 on the dashboard clock.

My brain and body go on autopilot as I struggle to get away. The blast of the exploding car tosses me to the ground like a twig. I must be more than a mile from the burning car before I begin to process what this all means. Spender tried to take me out and destroy the tape.

Some day I'm going to kill that fucking bastard.

But for now, it's time for me to get the hell out of Dodge.

In a taxi on the way to the airport, I contemplate the DAT tape. From what I could gather, the files are encrypted. Well, I've got time... and motivation.

**

Aching all over, I wake in a hospital room. Unsure why I'm here, until I remember the tape. I reach for my pocket, but I'm not even wearing my jacket. And then I remember the stairwell.

The suited man. The man with the garrote. And Alex Krycek.

My ex-lover. Who pounded the crap out of me. He sure has a fine way of saying 'happy to see you again.' I hope I have the opportunity to return the favor.

A nurse steps in to check on me. "Ah, you're awake Mr. Skinner."

I shrug. A hospital is a convenient place to get beat up, I suppose.

She fusses with a bandage on my cheek and the knifelike gash on my hand from the garrote. "We're taking you for a CT scan, but it looks like you're going to be just fine."

Yeah, yeah. I've been knocked unconscious before. I know the drill.

"Can you tell me what day it is?"

"Sunday."

"What's your full name?"

"Walter Sergei Skinner."

"And where are you?"

"D.C. General."

"Thank you." She smiles reassuringly and scurries out of the room.

Alone again, I review the encounter in the stairwell. I haven't seen Krycek in eight months. Since our last night at his place.

Don't think about it. Just don't.

His hair is longer... It got in his eyes when he was hitting me. I'm not sure I like it that way, but I didn't get a careful look.

It's... it doesn't matter. His beating me up is just a painful reminder that our affair is over and done with. Deceased. Or maybe dead on arrival.

Krycek doesn't mean anything to me any more. He was just... a mistake.

In the month after he disappeared, against all my efforts to stop it, I tried to make up stories to explain his absence as something else... anything else... besides just choosing between his criminal activities and me. I guess that game is over.

Looks like he still works for Smith.

Then it fully dawns on me about losing the tape. My barter for our lives. My only leverage against Smith. Fuck.

I'm lucky to be alive once they got their hands on the tape. Some weird sort of sentimentality on Alex's part?

So now what do I have to barter? Nothing. Not one damned thing.

I'll think of something. Bluff if I have to. Pretend I still have the tape. But if Krycek is working for Smith, he'll know I'm bluffing, because he'll already have the tape.

The tape's in Navaho. The Native American in Melissa Scully's room... I pick up the phone to begin sorting out this mess.

Another Krycek-centered disaster.

**

The airport. I'm almost gone. Out of this mess forever. An image of Walter in the stairwell flashes through my mind. Not. Now.

But I'm acutely aware of the knife at my waist... reminding me.

I pass a bank of phones and do battle with the desire to call Spender. It's a foolish impulse.

I place my hand on the receiver. Suddenly I feel as if he's been trying to beat me since the first moment he saw me. Why, I don't know. I guess it doesn't matter. He's not going to beat me. Not now. Not ever. I pick up the phone and dial. I won this time, you fucking bastard.

After I hang up, I start to move away, but an even stronger impulse draws me back to make another call. It takes me a few minutes to get connected to the right person.

A female voice answers, "Nurses' Station."

I clear my throat and say, "This is Agent Gjersee with the FBI. Assistant Director Skinner was admitted this afternoon. Can you give me an update on his condition?"

She pauses and I hear papers rustling. "Umm... he's down in radiology now."

"He's conscious?"

"Yes, but if you need more information, we'll need to get permission from him or a family member."

"Okay. I'll take care of that. Thanks for your help."

"Sure thing."

I hang up and stare into space for a long time. They announce my flight and I step away from the bank of phones.

On the plane, in desperation, I let my thoughts turn to Walter. Try to capture the familiar memories of his hands on my body... the sensation of his skin. But all I can feel is his flesh under my fists. I close my eyes, trying to block it out, but it just becomes more vivid. I groan, part of me wishing Spender's car bomb had been successful.

The flight attendant interrupts my morbid thoughts. "Can I get you something to drink, sir?" I stare at her for so long she repeats the question.

"Vodka." I predict they will run out before this trip is over.

**

The Next Day
2:09 A.M.

I wake with a start, in my own bed this time, gasping for air, recalling the dream...

Green eyes are fixed on me, glittering and intense. His lower lip is wet, his expression radiating lust. He's a beautiful animal... so passionate.

He sits back on his heels. One hand rests lightly on his thigh. He moves both hands to his chest, rubbing across his nipples repeatedly. His eyes are intently focused on my face.

Watching him perform for me... "Do it," I say softly.

Alex's hands move firmly across his taut abdomen before sliding between his thighs. When he spreads his knees it creates the illusion of him pushing his legs apart.

Eyes locked on me, one hand lightly caresses his balls. The other wanders back to his chest as he squeezes himself more firmly. He pinches one nipple as his hand closes around his erection. He begins to stroke himself slowly. His head drops back against the wall, eyes still focused in my direction, as he moans low in his throat.

So sexy.

His lower lip is between his teeth. He caresses his chest with the other hand, then moves his fingers to his lips, inserting two into his mouth. Sucking them in and out for a few seconds, he then trails the wet fingers back to his nipple as the rhythm of his stroking becomes erratic, and he gasps.

Hips thrusting into his hand, a groan comes from deep in his chest as his cock erupts over his fist. Those beautiful eyes reflexively close as tremors rack his body. He strokes his cock lightly as his orgasm recedes.

Finally, he's still, head resting against the wall, breathing hard.

I squat on the floor next to him, reaching for his right hand. I lift it to my face and suck one of his semen-wet fingers into my mouth.

His eyes fly open and he stops breathing. Then his breath escapes in a rush.

I push his hand to his own lips.

His eyes widen briefly, then his tongue slides out, running over the fingertips before sucking them into his mouth. At my urging, he slowly licks his fingers clean.

I rise and extend a hand to him.

All around us on the floor are bleeding bodies. One of them is mine...

Fuck.

The clock reads 2:18.

My cock is half hard. I can still feel the intense eroticism of the dream/memory. But my anger is gone and I'm forced to experience what lies beneath it. For the hundredth time in the past eight months, I shove away these scarier feelings. They don't matter any more.

What does?


Washington, D.C.
8:42 A.M.

In the morning, I arrive at my office. The knee I injured in Vietnam is stiff. I'm not looking forward to facing Smith.

I can negotiate with an empty hand, but Smith knows my hand is empty. Well, only if his goons were the ones who took the tape. I'll know for sure in a minute.

I push all doubt aside when he arrives at my office. I can't afford it right now. "I have the tape you've been looking for."

"Really?" he replies in a smarmy tone that tells me everything. Too bad I can't use that as evidence in a court of law.

"I'm prepared to hand it over, or destroy it, in exchange for Mulder and Scully's safety, and for their reinstatement here."

He turns petulant. "What did I tell you, Mister Skinner? I don't negotiate. Especially not with punks like you who think they can bluff me."

Total confidence, Walt. "Bluff you?"

"You haven't got any tape. You haven't got any deal. You can't play poker if you don't have any cards, Mister Skinner. You ever wonder what it would be like to, uh... die in a plane crash? Of botulism? Even a heart attack's not uncommon for a man your age. You think I'm bluffing?"

No, he's not bluffing. I know exactly what the man is made of.

He turns to walk away.

"I'm not finished yet."

Smith turns back, a condescending expression on his face.

I go to my back room and bring in Albert Hosteen.

Smith's face turns furious. "What is this?"

"This is where you pucker up and kiss my ass."

"Now, listen, you..."

"Now you listen to me, you son of a bitch! This man's name is Albert Hosteen. You should remember that. Because if Agents Mulder and Scully come down with so much as a case of the flu, Albert is prepared to recite chapter and verse, file for file, everything on your precious tape."

"It's a nice try, Skinner."

"I'm sure you're thinking Albert is an old man, and there are plenty of ways you might kill him, too. Which is why, in the ancient oral tradition of his people, he's told 20 other men the information on those files. So unless you kill every Navajo living in four states, that information is available with a simple phone call. Welcome to the wonderful world of high technology."

"You're bluffing."

"Am I?"

His expression is murderous.

You know I'm bluffing, but you can't take the chance, can you?

The fucker departs without further comment.

I thank Albert, and he leaves to find his way home. I've assigned a pair of agents to make sure he gets there safely.

In the silence of my office, I enjoy my righteous indignation. I've wanted to best that son of a bitch for a long time. Since... since... fuck.

Since he took my lover away from me.

Aw, hell. Damn them both.

Life goes on.

**

Hong Kong
October 1995
9:02 P.M.

Another day, another hangover. Loathing all of humanity, I let myself into Jeri's office at Kallenchuk Salvage Broker. I have some new information for her. Selling the secrets from the digital tape is certainly very lucrative.

I hear a sound at the door and step into shadow.

Someone enters with Jeri.

Mulder? Oh, Christ. He turns up like a bad penny.

Gun raised, I alert him to my presence.

After a brief exchange of insults, he taunts, "Why don't you take that gun and shoot yourself in your head like you shot my father?"

God, Mulder, get over it.

Jeri looks exasperated. "Great... High Noon in Hong Kong."

My patience snaps and I tell them both to shut up. Mulder has done me the favor of cuffing himself to Jeri, so I shove her into the corridor, slamming the door on the handcuffs so Mulder is confined.

Damn, that made my head hurt.

Jeri is muttering outside and Mulder sneers, "No way to treat your business partner, especially since she's been moving those secrets you've been selling so well."

Nothing escapes you, Mulder.

Before I can respond, there's the sound of gunshots in the hall and Mulder is suddenly pulled to the floor. Jeri must have been shot. Great. Time to get out of here. I move to the window, but look back at Mulder and say, "Looks like she's your partner now."

Well, that's another contact lost. I'll have to find someone else to broker my information... from somewhere else. I've outstayed my welcome in Hong Kong.

Life is more precarious now, so I resist the temptation to stop and get drunk. Benders have become a ritual for me. In between selling Consortium and State Department secrets, and working on decoding more of the tape, I'm usually bombed off my ass. Nothing else to do with my time and it keeps me from having to think.

The funds I'm amassing in various bank accounts could support me forever, but the money's not the point. I'm selling the secrets to get at Spender. To make his life miserable. A great Fuck You.

I'm sure he thought I could do nothing with the tape. A few careful contacts and some guidance and I started working on breaking the codes myself. And I thought learning Cantonese was hard.

After beating Skinner in the stairwell of the hospital, only one thing seemed real to me. Leaving after Scully's abduction was the worst mistake of my life. It wouldn't have mattered how he reacted, or how bad it got, or if they killed me, it couldn't be any worse than this.

But now it's time to go back. If Mulder's found his way to me, Spender can't be far behind. I return to my rooms to make arrangements to leave. I find two almost-naked Chinese boys lounging on my bed, idly touching each other. Christ, I forgot about these two. It's impossible to tell how old they are. Could be 20, maybe even 30. Picked 'em up last night... can't even remember their names. I vaguely recall telling them to wait for me and to stay naked. Well, that's what vodka for breakfast will do to you.

Amidst the sounds of much raucous protesting, I usher them both out and start getting things in order. I have a few errands to do before I leave tomorrow morning.

**

Washington, D.C.
7:12 A.M.

I toss the menu aside, unsure why I bother looking at it. I eat here often enough that I know it already. Jennie probably knows what I'm going to order before I order it. Blue plate, medium rare.

The D.C. police are giving up on Melissa Scully's murder investigation. I know it leads back to Smith somehow, so I can't afford to let the case drop. I'm pushing back hard. I'm reviewing the evidence myself. I want this one badly. For Scully, and for me. I want to see Smith behind bars instead of on the other side of my desk.

A part of Agent Scully's anger and distrust is directed at me. Again. Even though I'm on her side. Trust is earned. It's always earned. There's nothing else I can do but try to do what's right.

I'm worried about her. She's wound too tight and looking for blood. If she lets her feelings drive her, she'll only get hurt.

Some asshole is giving Jennie shit at the cash register. I rise to intercede and rapidly find myself on the floor, with a burning hole in my stomach.

Fuck.

The bastard shot me. I close my eyes and try to memorize his face, only vaguely aware of the paramedics' arrival.

A long blur later, Scully appears at the hospital. I try to tell her I've seen the shooter before. But hovering doctors and their drugs take me away.

**

Hong Kong
8:27 A.M.

After a restless night, I go to the airport, looking for the first flight out. I'm not exactly surprised when Mulder grabs me. I thought I'd evaded him, but you never know with Mulder. Christ, he's pissed about his father. I actually think he might kill me. Although, shooting a gun in Hong Kong might not be the smartest thing he could do.

Despite my attempt at death by alcohol poisoning, I do not want to die. So, I do the only thing I can. I offer him the tape.

Mulder is such a sucker for some 'truth.' I think truth is highly overrated. I thought I had no illusions, but I discovered a few as I worked on the information contained on that tape. Those illusions are gone now, too.

He sends me off to the bathroom to get cleaned up. Very generous of him.

I finish taking a piss and sense a presence next to me. I look down to see a woman's shoe. What the hell? Suddenly, there's a hand on the back of my neck, slamming me against the wall and pushing me up.

I struggle, but it's ineffectual. How can she be doing this? There's a sound like vomiting, but her grip doesn't relax. I feel something slithering up my neck and the pieces all click together.

Oh fucking hell. I read about the alien virus in those files. My mind is blanketed by terror and I can't get away...

**

North East Georgetown Medical Center
Washington, D.C.
The Next Day
10:14 A.M.

It's not until the next day that I'm alert enough to think about what happened. The Hispanic man was one of Krycek's cronies... the men who beat me up and stole the DAT tape. So Smith is trying to get me to back off the Melissa Scully case. Or just kill me. That means there's something to find. A loose end Smith is very worried about.

The Krycek connection pisses me off. Our affair happened. It ended. I don't want to have to think about it. Especially not like this.

Scully appears at the door. "Hi. How are you feeling?"

"Like someone's been inside my stomach redecorating. What have you turned up on the shooter?"

"We've determined that the man who shot you was the same man who shot my sister."

That's a lot more than I expected. "I bet you had to work to get that, huh?"

"Yes I did. You don't seem surprised."

I tell her about being threatened at the same restaurant where I was shot. And where I had seen the shooter before. With Krycek.

"He was working with Krycek?" she asks.

"They're the ones who stole the digital tape from me."

"Dammit! Krycek... Mulder had him."

Shit. Of course he's involved. I shove down a faint wave of regret.

This situation could blow up in Scully's face.

I caution her about her anger, but she shrugs me off.

"Scully," I call out with as much volume as I can muster. "If you can't keep your head... it's all right to step away."

"That's exactly what they want." Her cold, flat tone is final as she departs.

Who else is going to have to die before this debacle is over?

God damn you, Alex. And every one of your despicable associates.

A nurse gives me something and I manage to sleep.

In the afternoon, Agent Caleca informs me that Scully ordered my transfer to another hospital for security reasons. I wonder why Scully didn't discuss it with me, but it doesn't seem like a bad idea. Scully joins me in the ambulance for the ride. At a stoplight, the ambulance starts to rock. From someone's body weight.

Fuck, I'm unarmed and not very mobile. And where the hell is Caleca?

Scully exits the ambulance in pursuit. And returns fifteen minutes later to inform me that she captured Luis Cardinal, who she believes shot Melissa. At my insistence, she hauls the cuffed man to the ambulance door, so I can see his face. I identify him as the man who shot me.

We got him, dammit.

Now if we can just get him to give us Smith. My anger ebbs for a moment, as I find myself wondering who else he may give us.

Once I'm back at the hospital, Scully gives me a summary. They're looking for Krycek. Mulder thinks he's infected with an alien from the Piper Maru. It almost makes me laugh. There's only one thing I know about Krycek for certain: he's a lightning rod for trouble. If anyone can be infected by an oil alien, it would happen to him.

He's also elusive. Cardinal directs Mulder and Scully to a missile silo in North Dakota. They fail to find Krycek, finding Smith instead, who has them forcibly removed.

I'm almost relieved that they didn't bring back my ex-lover. I can't think what I'd say to him. After everything that's happened... Words would be inadequate.

**

Black Crow, ND

All I can focus on is the pain in my throat as I vomit for what feels like an eternity. Something is pouring out of my eyes and ears. It hurts, but nothing like the constant retching. It seems to go on forever, until I find myself lying on my back, staring up into darkness, covered in a film of oil.

What happened? And where the hell am I? Too many questions for my brain to process and my body is so tired. I have no choice but to sleep.

I wake to find I'm still in the dark. Tentatively, I sit up and look around. I can see enough to tell I'm not on the floor. I look a little more and realize exactly what I'm sitting on.

No, no, no! I scramble away from it and move to the door. It's locked.

I turn around and plaster my back against the door, staring in horror at the alien ship. This can't be happening. I'm trapped in here with that thing. My skin is crawling and I feel like I can't get enough air.

I don't know how long the frozen horror lasts. I start moving before I even know why. I beat at the doors and claw at the walls, certain I can force my way out of here. Because the alternative is too gruesome to accept.

I scream until my voice is gone, and beat the walls until my hands are bloody. Dying seems insignificant compared to dying with that thing... dying next to that ship.

Eventually, my body gives out and I huddle near the door, pointlessly hoping it will miraculously open and take me away from this nightmare. In an almost unconscious habit, I finger the hilt of my knife. I'm surprised I still have it.

I'm exhausted but all I can do is stare at the alien ship. There's no doubt in my mind that Spender plans to leave me here. There's also no doubt in my mind that he knows I'm here. This has his sick touch all over it. Who else would know where the alien's ship was located?

He must be gleeful. A car bomb is trivial compared to slowly dying from terror.

**

Washington, D.C.
Two Days Later
10:46 A.M.

Able to walk, more or less, I spring myself from the hospital. I get a phone call that changes my mind about going home. Instead, I head to the Bureau and go to the basement looking for Scully. Cardinal is dead in a scene that suggests suicide.

Smith wins this round.

**

Black Crow, ND

I think I slept, but I can't really tell. It always looks the same in here. Every time I doze off, a throbbing in my battered hands brings me back to reality. The thing never does anything, and the numbing fear begins to dissipate, leaving a fatal sense of despondency in its wake.

I've known for a long time that I could die at any moment, but I never expected to have a lot of time to contemplate it... to contemplate my life. Preventing my own memories from torturing me seems like too much work, so I let my brain skitter around the past.

Memories flood my mind, painful in their acute clarity. I miss Miya. Every day it's a dull ache I just ignore or pretend doesn't exist. I miss her unwavering devotion and the way she looked at me. I miss them all and, not for the first time, I wish I'd died when they had.

Needing to pull away from the vivid images of my brothers and sisters, I think of Vlad and Tatiana. I remember a time when the hardest thing I could imagine was having to give one of them up. Because I didn't think they'd like that I was having sex with both of them.

But then I gave them both up... gave everyone up. A diet of no people.

Until Walter. No... that's not any better. Don't go there.

But I can't stop myself.

I miss him, too. The way he always tried to talk to me, the casual touches that took me a long time to see were not sexual--just affectionate. I miss the things I never understood... the way he never came over without bringing me something, the impulse to buy me a present, his protectiveness. And I miss sleeping with him... feeling comfortable in the presence of another human being, because I'm usually only comfortable when I'm alone. I touch the knife at my waist, knowing it's the closest I'll ever be to him.

God, I fucked up. I chose this, and I have to live with it, but I think I'll regret it every day for the rest of my life. Well, what's left of it.

Lying on my back, I stare into a void. Emotional exhaustion allows me what physical exhaustion didn't... sleep.

I wake occasionally, but know I'm just biding my time until I die. Sleep is less painful than thinking.

Then the room is filled with a bright light, followed by intense heat. I wonder if I'm hallucinating because the door is still closed. The heat becomes more extreme, and instinctively I scramble around trying to get away from it. The light keeps getting brighter, and it's so hot I feel like I will incinerate. Unable to escape, I huddle against the wall with my arms around my head.

There's noise. Too much noise. Even with my arms muffling the sound, the volume hurts. The vibrations rock my body.

It feels like it goes on forever until I feel consciousness begin to elude me.

When I open my eyes again, it's dark and cold, and I think I must have imagined the room turning into a noisy, bright inferno. Except my skin burns... like I spent days in the sun.

Every movement is painful, but I crawl away from my huddled position against the wall. Just please let me sleep until my body gives up.

The light wakes me, and I see blue. I'm lying on my back. When I look around, I notice the ship is gone. But how is that possible? The door is still closed. Then I realize the blue is the sky. The silo is open.

It takes my brain an inordinate amount of time to put the pieces together. Very considerate of the alien to leave the roof open. Too bad I can't get out the same way.

Looking to the left, my eyes track metal rungs leading to the top of the silo. I blink a few times and slowly become aware that I can get out.

It hardly seems worth the effort.

I lie on my back and stare at the sky until the sun gradually moves into view. When the sun is directly overhead and shining into the silo, the rays touching my skin feel like fire. I drag myself toward the wall hoping to escape the light, but it's everywhere.

Unconsciously, I've crawled to my escape route. I grab onto the bottom rung, hand throbbing, knowing I can choose to stay in here and die, or try to climb out. Then it occurs to me that Spender could come back and take that choice from me.

I refuse to let that bastard take any more of my choices. So I start to climb.

I feel like I'll never reach the top. It's too far. My hands ache with every movement and my body hurts so badly it feels disconnected. Time lapses and I don't remember how I got this far up. I briefly look down and know I could end this whole disaster if I let go and fall. But I don't have it in me to kill myself. So, I keep climbing, refusing to fall even when my body can't keep going.

How did I get out? The grass feels strange against my hands, the sun intensely unpleasant. I force myself to get up and walk, not knowing where I'm going. I'm out of there. Now I have to get away.

I feel like I'm on a pogo stick. Up and down. Up and down. I realize I'm falling and getting up. Walking, then falling, then getting up.

The concrete is much harder to fall on than the grass. Maybe I'll try harder to stay upright.

Then I'm on the ground and for a moment, I can't get up. I hear a car, then voices, but I can't make sense of it. Then there are people touching me... moving me. And I don't have the energy to fight them off.

I know they've moved me into a vehicle, and someone keeps trying to talk to me. I can only make sense of one word.

I grab at the person closest to me and say, "No hospital." I can barely hear my own voice.

She says something and it didn't sound like agreement.

So I repeat myself. "No hospital."

I try to focus on what she's saying. "You have to see a doctor."

My head hurts as I try to shake it. "No hospital. Kill me."

She frowns but pats my hand. "Okay. No hospital. Here, drink this."

Cool liquid touches my lips. I swallow the water too quickly and nearly choke. I've never been this thirsty before.

I next become aware of the vehicle stopping and hands on my body again. People moving me. A man's voice joins the woman's in a steady stream of nonsense I cannot understand.

Then the world feels a little better... I'm in a bed and my clothes are disappearing. I didn't realize how much they hurt until they were gone. Something cool is dabbing at my overheated skin.

I hear the woman murmuring, "It's strange... first and second degree burns everywhere."

Well, it was awfully hot in there. I could tell her, but I don't think she would understand. I don't understand.

Another voice joins the fray and the woman calls him 'doctor.'

I feel panic and try to move. "No hospital!"

The face of an older man swims into view. "No, son. No hospital. Around here we understand those kinds of things. Just sit tight... I have to start an IV. You're severely dehydrated. And this," he holds up a syringe, "should help you feel a little better."

A prick of a needle and a few minutes pass. Oh, yeah. That does feel better.

I wake to see a 40-something woman with black hair and brown eyes sitting by the bed. Even seated, she looks unusually tall... probably taller than me.

She leans forward when she sees I'm awake. "How you doin', Michael?"

"Michael?" My voice sounds hoarse and gravelly. There's something here I should remember.

She gives me a knowing smile. "The name on your license."

Shit.

"Don't worry about it. You're entitled to your secrets."

I should be more on the defensive, but I don't have the energy. "Who are you? How did I get..." I glance around the room. There's a very rustic feel to the decor. Wood paneling, hardwood floors, large hanging quilt monopolizing an entire wall.

"Name's Grace. We found you passed out by the road. You were in bad shape. Still are." She pauses. "And that's the rub, son. According to the doc, you need a couple weeks of TLC and bed rest, and I'm leaving in a couple days."

"There's no problem, Grace. I'll be out of your hair shortly." I try to push myself up and the room spins out of control. I collapse against the pillows gasping.

She looms over me, shaking her head. Yeah, she's really tall. Probably 6'3 or 6'4. And she looks... strong. "You're not going anywhere. Now be reasonable and call someone you trust. Someone you can stay with for a couple weeks."

I shake my head slightly. "There's no one."

Grace gives an exasperated grunt. "Don't con me, boy. There's someone. Now just do it."

She sets a phone next to me and I try to lift it. My hands are bandaged and I can't get a grip on it. She sits carefully on the bed and holds the phone to my ear. I manage to punch the buttons. Then I realize what I'm doing and stop dialing mid-way.

"Hang up."

She sets the phone down.

God, I was going to call Walter. The time in the silo has completely damaged my brain.

Grace raises an imperious eyebrow. I give her a placating gesture and she lifts the phone again. I punch in a different number. I put the call on a calling card so there will be no record of the number on her phone bill.

A woman answers the phone. "Hello?"

I want to hang up, but don't have control of the phone. "I'm calling..." My voice is a croak, so I clear my throat and try again. "I'm calling for Damien." Voice still raspy, but intelligible.

There's a hesitation. "May I tell him who's calling?"

I glance at Grace. Who cares if she knows my real first name. "Alex."

There's silence for almost too long, then a hesitant, "Okay, just a sec."

I hear her muffled voice, "Damien, call for you."

And even more muffled, "Who is it?"

"Alex."

His voice is faint, but I hear, "Thanks, Noreen. I'll take it in the den."

A few clicks, then Damien's voice is on the line. "Alex?"

"Yeah."

There's a pause. "Is this Alex Krycek?"

I close my eyes. I wish he wouldn't use my full name. "Yeah, Damien. It's me."

"God, you sound awful. What's wrong?"

"I was... it's hard to explain. But some people rescued me-"

"Rescued you?" His voice is sharp. "Are you okay?"

"Yes. No... not really. I need... help." This is impossible. And I'm so exhausted I don't know how I'll finish this phone call.

"I'm on my way. Tell me where you are."

"Where I am? Uh..." Grace holds up a piece of paper with directions. The woman's thought of everything and she's apparently not leaving until I do this. I give the directions to Damien.

"You're only a few hours away from me. I'll be there soon."

"Damien... don't talk to anyone before you talk to me. There are some things I need to explain, but it could be a problem if..." I trail off, not knowing how to say this in front of Grace. And she's looking at me curiously.

"I don't pretend to fully understand, Alex." He sounds hesitant. "But the last time I heard your name, FBI agents were looking for you."

Oh, shit. "Look, don't bother coming here. I'll take care-"

"Alex, shut up. I mentioned that because I understand that there's something going on... but I won't say anything to anyone. Okay? Now keep your ass there until I arrive."

Christ, everyone's getting bossy these days. Damien has no lying abilities, so I know he's sincere. "Okay."

Before Grace can pull the handset away from my ear, sleep claims me.

I wake to see Damien in the chair by the bed, his face tense. I vaguely remember pain medication a little while ago and Grace forcing me to drink what felt like a gallon of water.

When he realizes I'm awake, he rises and comes to sit on the bed. "God, Alex, what happened?"

"I can't explain yet. It's hard to pull my thoughts together."

His fingers hover over a small patch of blisters on the reddened skin of my exposed arm. "Grace said your entire body is burned like this." He frowns with concern.

This is so not my area... I have no idea how to do this.

"Are you going to be all right?"

"Yeah... I'll be fine."

Damien looks at me for a few seconds, then gives a half smile. "Such a gifted liar." Before I can respond, he continues, "I'm going to drive you home tomorrow." He looks at me intently. "And no arguing. You can boss me around, tell me off and do whatever when you're a little better."

I nod.

He frowns with concern at my acquiescence. Hell, it concerns me, too. Another situation I've never had to deal with before. I hate people taking care of me, but since I can barely move, I guess I'll live with it.

Damien glances away for a second, then looks back at me. "I'm glad you called me, Alex."

Not knowing what to say, I'm relieved when my eyelids become heavy. I feel his fingers in my hair as I succumb to sleep. I don't have the energy to stop him. He knows better than to do that.

Only Walter does that...


Minneapolis, MN
Five Days Later
11:57 A.M.

I think this may be the first time in my life that I've enjoyed a cool shower. The burns are almost healed, but hot water is still torture. My skin seems less sensitive in some ways and hyper-sensitive in others.

The tepid water seems to rinse away a little more of the silo. Every time I close my eyes, I feel myself puking up that slime... See that ship. I have to shut off my brain, don't want to think about it again.

I hear sounds from the bedroom. Probably Damien. He checks on me constantly. The first couple days, it was helpful. I was so tired, I could barely keep my eyes open for ten minutes. And there was pain and itching. As my skin healed, the itching was intense. I thought I would claw my skin off a couple times. But, now, his constant solicitousness is something I don't know how to deal with.

He finally pressed me for answers two days ago. I told him as much as I could, without really telling him anything. I had to let him know that allowing me to stay here is risky. He contemplated it only briefly and told me it was fine. Damien cannot lie.

Which only left the matter of his wife. Noreen.

She comes in occasionally. Made it clear she's less than thrilled about me, but supports Damien. Regardless, I need to get out of here soon.

Reluctantly, I turn off the taps and gingerly pat my skin dry. With a towel wrapped around my waist, I enter the bedroom. I'm surprised to find Noreen, rather than Damien.

She looks up from changing the sheets. "You seem more alert."

I nod.

After tugging the sheets into position, she sits in the chair by the bed. "Good, because I want to talk to you."

Shit. I perch on the edge of the bed and eye her warily, waiting for whatever she has to say.

Noreen contemplates me. She's about 5'7, stocky build, with amber-colored eyes. Her most striking feature is her extremely curly, fuzzy blond/brown hair, which sticks out about seven inches in every possibly direction. She looks at my hands. "They're looking better."

I glance at them. Still a little stiff and sore, but they're nearly healed. "Yeah. Uh, thanks."

She nods abruptly. "I don't want to see Damien hurt."

"Pardon?"

"Hurt. I don't want him hurt. We may not have a 'conventional' marriage, but I do love him. Very much. He's my best friend. And you seem like trouble."

I can't suppress a small smile. "There's no doubt about that."

She cocks her head to the side. "He's talked to me about you a few times. The ten months you two were together were... significant for him."

I have no idea how to respond, so I just look at her.

"I'd do whatever Damien asks. Including having you here and keeping it a secret. But, I wanted to tell you directly how I feel. Your relationship, or whatever you call it, may just be about sex for you, but it's more than that for him. Consider that before you let him talk you into anything."

The oddness of this situation doesn't escape me. "Are you asking me to not have sex with your husband?"

She looks faintly annoyed. "No. I'm asking you to not lead him on. Don't let him expect anything."

I feel my eyebrows climb up. "I never have."

Noreen looks away and mumbles to herself, "That's what I was afraid of." She looks back at me and tosses a plastic jar on the bed. "You should put that on your skin."

I nod, not having any idea what to say to the concerned wife of my gay former lover.

When she's gone, I reach for the jar, drop my towel and apply the white goo to my skin.

The door opens and Damien steps in. He stops in the doorway and stares. "You look..." he swallows, "better." He recovers and closes the door, crossing to me. "The redness is all gone and the blisters are almost healed." He touches my chest lightly. "Here, let me help."

I start to push him away--I don't need coddling--but then I cue into his body language and realize that's not what this is about. He's breathing faster as he reaches out to stroke my skin.

It's hard not to be turned on by Damien. He's still one of the prettiest men I've ever seen. Big, dark blue eyes, short blonde hair. I reach up to touch the back of his neck. He looks up at me, eyes defocused with desire, even as he continues to lightly run his hands over my body.

The attraction is strong. But I feel like I shouldn't let anything happen. I don't understand the feeling, so with a firm tug, I pull his mouth to mine.

Within a couple minutes, I have him pinned beneath me, still fully clothed. I'm half hard, but not certain I have the energy to finish what's been started. Damien wiggles a lot, halfheartedly struggling against my grip and pushing at my body weight. He always did like to be held down.

Holding his arms above his head, I pull my mouth away and take a deep breath.

Suddenly, he says, "You're going to leave soon... aren't you?" His body stills beneath mine.

"Yes. I have to."

"What happened to him?"

I feel myself frowning. "Him?"

Damien's gaze is intense. "Whoever was making you happy the last time I saw you."

I think to find a denial. Walter was not making me happy. But it feels pointless. "Nothing happened to him." At least, nothing I didn't do to him. "It just ended."

He turns his head to the side, looking at nothing. "The phone number you gave me back then... why was it disconnected?"

Ah ha. The one question he hasn't asked me. I release him and sit up. "I had to disconnect it. I had given the number to several people and it was not secure anymore."

Damien sits up, shaking his head. "I wish I understood your life better, Alex."

"I've told you what I can."

"I know. I'm not asking anything... just confused. And wishing you weren't going to disappear again."

I shrug.

He gives a frustrated sigh. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to blow the mood."

Again, I shrug. "You're entitled to your questions, Damien. I just cannot answer all of them."

He smiles at me. "See... when we were in college, you'd've had my butt out the door for asking questions like that."

I think about it for a second. "Different time."

His hand is on my arm. "Different person."

"I don't think so, Damien. Don't have any illusions about me. I'm as much of a bastard now as I was then."

He grins. "Okay, Alex." His expression turns tentative. "Umm... can we..."

My eyebrows climb. "What?"

He fidgets. "Well..."

"Damien, just say it."

"Before you vanish... can we try this again?"

I'm somewhat surprised. "It's not like you to be so tentative about sex. What's going on?"

He chews his lower lip. "Well, I... there's this one thing..."

"Christ, Damien. Just spit it out."

"There's something I always wanted to try with you, but I never got up the nerve to ask..."

Well, this just got more interesting. I gesture for him to continue.

His lower lip is going to be bloody if he doesn't stop gnawing on it. I reach out and extract it from the grip of his teeth.

With a sigh, he says, "I always wanted you... to... fist me."

I give a start of surprise. Not what I was expecting.

Damien fidgets. "Forget it."

I look at him intently. "That's what you want?" I briefly consider my hands. They're almost healed... with the help of a latex glove I shouldn't have any problems.

"Yeah. Have you done it before? I mean... to anyone?"

I nod.

He takes a breath. "I... I mean, you don't have to... of course you don't. I just thought I'd... god, this is mortifying. Just forget it."

Damien starts to jump off the bed, but I grab his wrist and pull him back down. I pull him close, until his ear is near my lips, then whisper, "Tomorrow."

He shivers. After clearing his throat, he asks, "Is there anything I need to do? I mean, should I give myself... an enema or anyth...?" His voice fades away.

I nearly laugh. I wonder what kind of sex partners he's had over the years that he's still so shy sometimes. I wrap a hand around his throat and keep my voice soft. "No. I'll give it to you." He tenses, but I notice he's gotten harder. "Bring everything to my room tomorrow evening."


The Next Day
8:11 P.M.

Damien is sprawled out on the bed, limbs glistening with sweat. We've already been going at it for more than an hour. He trembled like a nervous virgin when he walked in here earlier. I didn't think he would make it through the enema. He looked as if he'd expire from embarrassment... but his dick stayed rock hard throughout. A natural bottom who, from what I can gather, has been ignoring his instincts.

Distraction is an effective technique. I got him busy sucking me off, then fucked him. Damien may truly be the best piece of ass I've ever had.

No longer fidgeting and nervous, he's looking a little dazed and waiting for me. I set everything I need on the bed, then move between his legs. The only problem is, my energy is flagging. I know I can fist him, but I'm not sure if I can get it up again.

I play with his body until he's moaning and writhing on the bed, then have him lift his legs and pull both toward his chest. I begin with two fingers and take a long time preparing him. Easily to three, slowly to four.

He looks blissed out as I carefully stretch him with four fingers. While working my thumb in, my brain leaps somewhere unexpected. I see myself in Damien's place, with Walter between my legs, slowly working his hand in my ass.

As soon as the image flashes through my mind, I force it away. I'm used to this... thoughts of Walter coming up when I'm fucking someone. Sometimes it drives me crazy. In Hong Kong it drove me to drink. But I've never thought of this before.

I shake it off and focus on Damien. He's accepting five fingers, so I begin pressing my knuckles into his asshole. He tenses and moans. I pause and use my other hand to stroke his leg and pull on his cock a few times. When he relaxes, I push my hand in a little more, twisting slightly.

Damien groans and babbles nonsense words. I murmur to him, forcing him to focus on my voice as I continue to press into him. Long minutes later, I slip past the sphincter and feel his anus close around my wrist.

I keep my hand still to let Damien adjust. Thoughts of Walter intrude again. I wonder if it would turn him on to see me like this. Would this even be possible? Walter's hands are... big. Christ, what am I thinking? Walter and I are long finished and I wouldn't want to be fisted anyway.

But there was that time... in my apartment. I was kneeling over his lap and he finger-fucked me, and... Christ, Krycek, get a grip!

Forcing the thoughts away, I bring myself back to the present and slowly curl my fingers into a fist. I work Damien for a long time, keeping him at the brink of orgasm until he's begging to come, and I'm too tired to continue. Then I bring him off. I've never seen him come so hard or be so lost in the experience of sex.

He moans when I slowly pull out of his ass, but otherwise seems oblivious to anything. I clean up, then maneuver him under the covers--I can't very well call his wife and ask her to put him to bed. Sliding in next to him, I try to remember if Damien and I have ever slept together before and can't recall.

All in all, that went well. I only had to fend off thoughts of Walter seven times.


The Next Day
7:30 P.M.

"Damien, where are my clothes?"

He raises an eyebrow. "Your clothes were damaged. All I brought with me was your jacket, shoes and wallet."

"Damaged how?"

"Grace said the rubbing against your skin was painful, so they cut them off, rather than pull them off."

A feeling of deja vu sweeps over me and I mumble, "Why does this keep happening to me? Every time I stop paying attention, someone cuts my clothes into bits."

Damien is staring at me with an odd expression on his face. "Alex, are you okay?"

I close my eyes for a second and take a deep breath. "Fine. I need to make a phone call, and I can't go in pajamas."

He looks perplexed. "I'll bring you a phone."

Shaking my head, I reply, "No. Payphone."

"Okay. I'll find you something to wear and drive you to a payphone." He disappears, then returns with a pair of sweats and a T-shirt. "Sorry. There's no way you can wear my jeans."

I grab the clothes. "It's fine, let's just go."

To be safe, I have Damien drive us a town away. At the payphone, I punch in a cell phone number. The odds of this number being tapped are almost none, but you cannot be too careful.

He answers on the third ring. "Morgan."

"Morgan, it's Alex."

There's a hesitation. "Rumor on the street is that you're dead, kid."

"They're going to have to try a little harder than that."

He gives a snort of laughter. "No doubt. So, what can I do for you?"

"What's my situation if they discover I'm still breathing?"

"Hmm. Not good. There was a job offer with your name on it, but it was pulled. That's why we thought..."

"Yeah well, that's what they thought, too. But probably not for much longer."

"Well, I'd stay the hell away from here, kid. At least for a while."

"Thanks, Morgan. Just needed to understand the atmosphere."

"Alex..." Morgan trails off. He sounds tense.

"What?"

There's no response.

"Just spit it out, Morgan."

"Once you paid me to not watch you."

"Yes." I bought out a surveillance contract Spender had on me when I was still with the Bureau.

"As I recall there was a reason--a someone--why you didn't want to be watched."

Cautiously, I reply, "Yes."

"Well, I don't know if it matters anymore, but there was a hit ordered a couple weeks ago."

I can't even think. My mouth opens and nothing comes out. After a moment, I manage to say, "Is he..."

"No. Very nearly, though."

I close my eyes. He's not dead. "Was it you, or one of yours?" 'Cause if it was, I'm going to kill you.

"No, Alex. Cardinal."

That fucking bastard. He's a corpse. A corpse who's lucky he only has passable aim, or I'd peel his skin off with a dull blade before I slit his throat.

Morgan's voice interrupts my dark thoughts. "He's already dead, Alex. Took that contract myself."

I need to terminate this conversation. Now. "Thanks again, Morgan. I'll be in touch." Then I hang up the phone and stare at the phone-booth wall until I can find my apathy.

I look to my left and see Damien leaning against the car, patiently waiting for me. It hasn't escaped my notice that Damien will be happy for me to stay with him, but that's not a good idea. I need to get away.

Going on the run again is an option, but I need a break. A break from trying to stay alive. Without thinking too closely about the choice, I dial another number.

It takes a few minutes of re-direction and wrong numbers to finally get the right person on the phone. Even ever-patient Damien is looking a little antsy.

A familiar voice comes on the line. I had to be honest about who I was to get him. "Alex?"

"Yes, comrade." I do a rough calculation. It's morning in Russia.

"Our contacts in the States reported you dead."

Something is odd. "Really? What contacts would those be?"

He hesitates. "I've assumed Yuri's role in the Organization, Alex. I've been keeping tabs on you. You disappeared a few months ago, but the evidence of your existence was easy to find. We heard you'd been... infected. Then killed."

"Are you allied with my former employers?"

"No. Quite the opposite. But, I'm not prepared to reveal anything else."

"A wise choice." The more I hear, the more I think this is a good idea. The Organization is apparently involved in more than I suspected. And if they're working in opposition to the Consortium, that could be just where I want to be.

"Why did you call me, Alex?"

"You once said if I needed anything..."

"All you have to do is ask."

"I'm coming home."

There's a long pause. "You don't need to call in a favor for that, Alex. Call me when you arrive. But talk to me only. There are things you need to know." He gives me a phone number and I hang up.

Back in the car, I tell Damien I'll be leaving within two days.

He nods, but says nothing.

"Damien... thanks for this."

"I wish you'd count on me before you're at death's door, Alex."

"I'll keep that in mind." I tuck a piece of paper in his jeans pocket.

"What's that?"

"Phone number. I don't check it very often, but if it's important, you can call me."

He nods. "Is this going to get disconnected?"

"I don't know, Damien. If I think it's necessary, yes."

Silence reigns in the car for a long time. Damien finally says, "I know I said just once more, but... as long as you're still here..."

He doesn't finish the question. There's that feeling again. As if I shouldn't do it. Strange. "For as long as I'm here."

Damien relaxes. Noreen is going to gut me.


Moscow, Russia
Three Days Later
3:07 P.M.

I call Arntzen's number from the airport. "I'm here."

"Good. Don't make contact with anyone until we talk. Check into the Hotel National under the name Mikhail Platov. I'll find you as soon as I can."

"Done." I hang up and decide my next move. Arntzen is already acting like I work for him again. He's always been extremely arrogant. Just waiting at the hotel doesn't appeal, and it's not even prudent.

I catch a taxi and direct the driver to an innocuous building where I can obtain a few things. Starting with a weapon. I came here only once and it's unlikely I'll be recognized after so many years. My hand automatically goes to my waist, but my knife isn't there. I left it in a safe-deposit box in D.C. I remind myself this is a good thing... I need to forget the past.

A short time later, I emerge and find another taxi to take me to the hotel. They have a room reserved for me. Suspicions aroused, I insist they select a different room for me, then retire there to wait.

Unsure how long Arntzen will keep me waiting, I'm somewhat surprised when the front desk calls after only half an hour, stating I have a visitor. I give them permission to release my room number. Propping the door open a crack, I stand against the wall, gun ready.

A few minutes later, there's knock on the door and it's slowly pushed open. Arntzen appears, weapon first.

When he's fully in the room, he looks about, spotting me in the shadows. "Unusual greeting, Alex."

"Are you alone?"

"Yes."

"Close the door and lock it."

Keeping his gun up, he complies. "You plan to shoot me?"

I uncock my gun, engage the safety and slip it into the back of my jeans. Stepping out of the shadows, I approach him. He holsters his weapon under his jacket and pulls me into an embrace. A firm, dry kiss on each cheek and I am released.

Arntzen pulls back and assesses me. "You've changed, Alex. And you're certainly more cautious." He seats himself in one of two wingback chairs. "Why did you switch rooms?"

I settle in the other chair. "I avoid things that have been pre-selected for me." He's changed very little. Hasn't visibly aged in nearly ten years. But, the suit is a surprise.

"I understand your caution, but the other room has certain advantages."

"I'm sure. But I will be fine here."

He nods. "So, tell me about the last nine years."

You're not going to get it that easily, comrade. I lift my eyebrows and wait.

Eventually, he smiles. "Very well. I'll start. Before we go too far, I need to know how you came to work for the Consortium."

I didn't expect that question. "How could you not know?"

"As far as the Organization is concerned, you deserted."

Unable to prevent it, I gape at him in shock. "Yuri sent me to the States. Dr. Stanislofsky should be able to confirm that."

Arntzen cocks his head to the side. "Really? Why would he be able to confirm it?"

"Because he knew I was going."

"Why would he know something like that? Something Yuri took pains to keep secret?"

This is odd. I carefully consider the ramifications of telling Arntzen anything. With Yuri dead and out from under the Consortium, I can't see any harm in telling the truth. "Dr. Stanislofsky performed my circumcision. At the time, he mentioned it was necessary for my assignment in the States."

Arntzen winces. "Well, that could explain why the good doctor is no longer with us."

I close my eyes for a second, realizing how precarious my position here is. The only connections to my past and how I got on this road are both dead. Fucking lovely. Well, there is Spender, but I don't think he's going to rush to my defense.

Arntzen catches the drift of my thoughts. "Don't worry, Alex. I'm inclined to believe you. And even if I didn't, I owe you my life. I won't repay that by betraying your trust. Limited though it may be."

I nod. Not quite believing him.

He continues, "I understand you worked for Mr. Spender during your time with the Consortium."

"Yes."

"Had you met him, or any member of the Consortium, prior to being sent to the States?"

I look away, contemplating my answer. What can it hurt to tell him the truth? "Yes. I'd met Spender before."

"Where and when?"

"In Tunguska."

His icy blue eyes widen with surprise. "What?"

"The day I was recruited."

"Hell." Arntzen's eyes take on a far-away look as he contemplates something unpleasant. He murmurs, "If it's been going on that long, there are more collaborators than I thought." He snaps out of his musings and asks, "Did you have any direct contact with him in Russia after that date?"

I shake my head. "No. You ask a lot of questions for a man who offered to talk first."

He gives me a humorless grin. "Very well. The Organization has been aware of the colonization plans for as long as the Consortium. Our intention was to prevent colonization and find a vaccine for the alien virus. But some of our members have secretly aligned with the Consortium to aid the colonization. Yuri was the first we'd found, but he refused to name his collaborators... despite inducements prior to his death.

"And from what I gather, you were part of a deal between Yuri and Mr. Spender."

As if I didn't know that. I ask, "And you weren't aware of any of this prior to Yuri's death?"

"I found out about it as I made plans to kill him. The Organization is much like the Consortium... pieces operating entirely independently. And that brings up another question."

"Which is?"

"Why did you warn me?"

I shrug. "When I heard Yuri was setting you up, I just... couldn't let it happen."

He looks at me speculatively but fortunately is content to let it go.

Leaning forward, I prop my elbows on my knees. "What now?"

"I'd like you to work for me again."

"How will the Organization take that?"

"For now, it would have to be kept secret. I think it might be beneficial to have you back in the States. If that's the case, it's best no one know you work for me."

I consider for a moment, then reply, "Sending me back to the U.S. doesn't seem like a good idea."

"I agree we need to give things time to settle down. So, I have another assignment for you... if you're interested."

"And that would be?"

"I'll fill you in on the details later, but it would be in Ireland. Probably about six months. But while you're there, I'd like you to consider letting us run a few tests on you."

I shake my head, but ask, "Tests for what?"

"I'd like to see if you've been altered in any way by the alien infection."

"You're so certain I was infected?"

"I think my source on this is reliable. Is it not true?"

"I'm not submitting to tests, comrade." My tone is adamant.

"Okay, Alex. Just consider it. I'd also like to discuss the information you obtained from the digital tape."

I sigh. "Should I even bother asking how you know I had the tape?"

"We became aware of sensitive information suddenly in the wrong hands. We knew someone was selling secrets. Later, our sources told us you had stolen a tape containing the information. It was fairly easy to connect the dots."

"Allow me to clear up one small misconception. I was sent to retrieve the DAT tape. Spender attempted to destroy the tape by vaporizing it in a car bomb. With me in the vehicle."

He raises an eyebrow. "Now that I hadn't heard. So the tape was spoils of war? Whether I understand what you did or not is irrelevant. The Organization was just as underwhelmed as the Consortium when that information was leaked."

I cock my head to the side. "Am I being reprimanded?"

Arntzen laughs. "Hardly. I think you're to be congratulated. I'm impressed by your ability to survive, Alex. But, in the future, I expect you to consult with me before you release any more information. And I'd like you to review what you learned from that tape with me."

"I'll think about it."

He looks less than happy, but he nods. "I'd like to get you out of Russia as soon as possible, but we have a few more things to discuss. I'll be back tomorrow to review the assignment in Ireland, and you can decide if you're interested. But, whether you are or not, plan to leave within a couple of days. And I'd recommend you avoid being seen."

We discuss a few trivial things before he departs. I have to make sure Arntzen knows I'm not under his thumb. I'd rather be on the run than have to blindly take orders again.


The Next Day
9:04 P.M.

When Arntzen reappears at my room late in the evening, a tall, attractive blonde woman accompanies him. He introduces her as Marita Covarrubias. I wonder why she's here.

Arntzen pulls up an extra chair for Marita and we're all seated. "Marita works for the U.N. If you choose to take the assignment in Ireland, she may contact you from time to time with information."

I glance between the two, not entirely comfortable with the addition of another player in a situation I'm not familiar with. "What is the assignment?"

"We have a research facility outside of Dublin. Information is being leaked to the U.N. and unknown others. It's critical we stop this leak. That would be your primary focus. Secondary would be to set up better security measures. Last is to possibly look at some materials recently translated from French to ensure accuracy. Highly sensitive material, but probably nothing you haven't already heard.

"And, of course, if you should consent to some tests, that would be done at the facility."

Marita never takes her eyes off me as I think for a few minutes, then ask, "What kind of research is this facility engaged in?"

Arntzen cautiously replies, "Primarily DNA testing and modification. I'm not prepared to reveal their other charters unless you're onboard."

"How long?"

Arntzen shrugs. "I need you back in the States. This is just until things calm down enough to send you back. Three to six months."

I nod. "Okay. When do I go?"

Arntzen looks relieved. "Tomorrow. I'll arrange for quarters at the facility-"

I cut him off. "No. I'll stay in a hotel until I find something suitable."

He doesn't look happy, but nods.

I glance back at Marita. "So, why is she here?"

"You can speak to me directly, Alex." Her voice is seductive.

"The question wasn't directed at you, Marita."

Her eyebrows climb and she opens her mouth to reply, but Arntzen steps in. "I need to leave, but Marita will update you on the information leaked to her. But it's important you two never be seen together or admit to knowing one another."

She and I both nod.

Arntzen departs, leaving me alone with Marita. "So, what do you have to tell me?"

Marita smiles at me. "Why the rush? I haven't had dinner yet... we can order up something to eat, and get acquainted."

"Do we need to get acquainted?"

She rises and crosses to stand in front of me. "Well, it will certainly make our time together more interesting." With that, she leans down and presses her lips to mine.

I'm briefly startled. I wonder what her agenda is?

I pull her into my lap and start unbuttoning her blouse. I wonder how far she's willing to let this go.

I don't have to wonder for long. Marita takes over undressing both of us and, within a few minutes, we're on the bed.

She may be the most aggressive woman I've ever met, and my curiosity is more than a little piqued when she guides my hand to her throat, murmuring, "Try not to leave marks."

Quite an interesting diversion. She has to want something, but I'll figure it out later.

**

March 1996
Five Months Later

The doctors tell me Sharon's going to survive the car accident. Such a fucking relief.

Divorce papers in hand, I thought I couldn't hurt her anymore. But this time, my poor choice of sex partners nearly got her killed.

There's been too much shit between us. We still love each other. I'll sign the damned divorce papers once she's out of the hospital, but I'm not giving up on her. She tried to help during this mess. I owe her so much.

And I miss her friendship.

There's no one else I can talk to. It's ironic, since her chief complaint during our marriage was my inability to talk.

I'm sleeping better already. The old woman from my dreams hasn't returned since she told me--in Sharon's body--that they were going after the last witness.

I still can't really believe what happened. I'm not psychotic. What I saw seemed so real that I chose to act on it, saving the other prostitute's life.

Mulder's got every reason to hate me. I brushed him off. Refused to be his witness to the strange phenomenon. I don't understand the experience, but maybe I'm not as frightened as I once was. But I just can't document it for the X-Files. It's too personal. And I'm not sure I could ever convince anyone besides Mulder that it really happened.

Mulder deserves better than that. He never believed I killed the woman hired to pick me up, even when I wasn't sure.

A few days later, I drive Sharon home from the hospital. It's her place now... the house we bought together.

I get her settled in bed, make her a cup of tea and tell her all about what happened. From the prostitute in my bed, to the vision at the hospital. Everything I should have told Mulder.

Sharon gives me a lazy smile over her mug of tea. "So it happened to you but you still don't believe it?"

"I don't know... Visions? Something like that should happen to someone else, maybe someone special, but not me." I shrug. "Maybe it was just my lawman's intuition."

"Bullshit, Walter. If that's what it was, you'd know. You'd never suggest even the possibility that it was a vision of some kind unless it really was."

"How do I know? What's a vision anyway? You're not suggesting the old woman was god or something?"

"I can't explain it to you. Only you can determine the meaning of your experience."

"That's the problem. I can't."

"Well, maybe you don't have to. It's over. All you have to do is accept."

I grimace slightly. She says it like it's so easy. Maybe it would be for her. For Mulder. For me, it's... well, I can't accept what I don't understand. Can I?

At least I'm talking to Sharon. I hope it's enough to start rebuilding our friendship.

**

Dublin, Ireland
One Week Later
12:22 A.M.

I slowly set the phone in the cradle. I periodically touch bases with Morgan. I throw some money his way, and he keeps me up to date on the activities of the Consortium... and any involvement with the FBI.

This conversation was more startling than usual. Walter was accused of killing a hooker? It boggles the mind. Morgan said the mess was cleared up and charges dismissed, but I need to get more information. Smells like a plot to me, but Morgan wasn't aware of Consortium involvement.

Way too fucking weird. And why would Walter go to a hooker? I can't imagine he has a hard time getting laid. And why a woman? Maybe he's still trying to make his marriage work?

I wonder if he decided to stop fucking men. I feel oddly conflicted emotions. I never even thought about him having sex with someone else. And I... don't like it. But I also don't like the idea of him not having sex.

This is fucking insane. What a complete waste of thought. It doesn't matter what he does anymore.

I still can't envision him in bed with a hooker. Especially a dead one.

I'm startled out of my thoughts by a light tap on the door, and am more than a little surprised to see Marita through the peephole.

"Marita?"

She shrugs. "I know we're not to be seen together... I was careful."

"Why are you here?"

Marita crosses to me and wraps one arm around my waist, the other around my neck, pulling my head down for a kiss.

I break away with a mirthless laugh. "You needed to get laid?"

I start laughing in earnest when she pushes me down on the bed. She really is the most aggressive woman I've ever fucked.

An hour later, I rise from the bed and splash some water on my face, rinsing away sweat and lipstick. Marita is very energetic. And kinky.

Her voice drifts from the tangled bedding, "Where were you this weekend?"

I return to the bed and nudge her over a little. "Why do you think I was anywhere?"

She lifts her head from the pillow and stares at me. "Because I went to great effort to sneak over here at 3:00 A.M. on Saturday night and you weren't here. I tried calling on Sunday. You weren't here." She trails a long manicured nail down the center of my chest. "Where were you, Alex?"

"Getting laid, Marita." I give her a more than playful slap on her butt. "Not that it's any of your concern."

She wiggles appreciatively and flashes me a sultry grin. After a few more minutes, she rises from the bed and begins to dress. That's one thing I like about her... she never tries to stay.

As she's buttoning her blouse, she says, "Didn't take you long to find the informant."

"It wasn't really all that difficult. Had to be one of two people. From there it was just a matter of careful questioning."

She gives me a guarded look. "What happened to him?"

I shrug. "Arntzen sent someone for him. He'll have to answer to the Organization, then who knows?"

She looks troubled, but says nothing as she finishes dressing. After inspecting her neck in the mirror, she crosses to me and gives me a chaste kiss on the cheek.

I shake my head as she walks out the door. Strange woman. Wild in bed, needs to be choked to orgasm, then a sedate little kiss on her way out the door. She's so unlike Walter it makes me think of him more than usual. No doubt Marita believes my occasional rough handling is her inspiring me to lose control. In reality, it's the frustration of not being able to get Walter out of my mind.

Marita's question about my whereabouts this weekend bothers me. After all my weeks here, she turns up the one weekend I secretly slip away? Tells me she's keeping tabs on me. And someone, probably Arntzen, wouldn't send her to question me if they already knew where I had gone.

That thought is somewhat reassuring. I was certain I wasn't followed or traced, but I'll have to be more careful in the future.

Because there's no way I can tell them what I was actually doing this past weekend. Telling would defeat the whole point.

I was house hunting.

I rarely think of the incident at the silo, but when I can't beat the thoughts away, I know I never want that to feel that lost again. Never want to feel like I don't have somewhere to go.

After a stop-over in England to change identities, I went to Scotland. I made an offer on some property near the coast. William Scott Spencer was born. The identity and home are my refuge.


Elgin, Scotland
April 1996
One Month Later
3:52 P.M.

This feels surreal. I walk around the property, feeling relaxed for the first time in a long time. The air smells clean. If I had known how much I needed this, I would have done it years ago.

"Mr. Spencer?"

I turn to see a 50-something woman. She has brown eyes and salt-and-pepper hair, about 5'4" and a little plump.

"Yes?"

She extends her hand. "I'm Abigail Maitland. Your estate agent asked me to stop by to discuss the possibility of a housekeeper position."

I shake the proffered hand. "Oh, right. He misunderstood a bit. I travel extensively and am actually based in the States. California to be precise. I need someone to keep up with the place. I won't be spending much time here."

Mrs. Maitland smiles faintly, but there's a flash of disappointment in her eyes. "Well, thank you for your time. It doesn't sound like a fit."

Too bad. She seems fine to me... an easy-going manner I could handle being around occasionally. I nod and she begins to leave. On impulse, I ask, "Out of curiosity, why isn't it a fit?"

She turns back to me, her posture suddenly very stiff. "I was seeking a full-time, live-in position. It sounds like you need a care-taker for maybe a day a week."

My needs are flexible, but I'm not inclined to say anything yet. "Why full-time and live-in?"

"Mr. Spencer, it doesn't seem like you need that type of help." Her tone is stilted.

Now I'm very curious. And I like this woman. I wonder if we can work it out. "Mrs. Maitland, I'm not sure what my needs are. Why won't you answer the question?"

Her posture becomes even more erect and she replies, "My son and his wife died four years ago, leaving my grandson, Duncan, with my husband and me. My husband died two months ago. I need a full-time position and a place for my 11-year-old grandson and me to live."

Ah. "I think we can work this out."

She looks skeptical. "What do you mean?"

"There's a two-bedroom guest house behind the main house."

"I'm familiar with it."

"You and your grandson can live there, then you can look after the property while I'm away. We can agree on a salary and I'll give you access to an account to get whatever you need for the house."

Now she looks startled. "Why would you do that?"

I shrug. "I'm more concerned about my privacy than anything else, Mrs. Maitland." I pause and decide to throw her a curve-ball. Let's see if she'll really work out. "But, before we can agree, I should mention that some of my overnight guests are male."

Her eyes widen.

"One of the reasons why I guard my privacy and why I didn't initially seek a live-in housekeeper... don't want there to be any unnecessary tension. I come here to get away."

She considers for a moment. Then firmly replies, "Mr. Spencer, your personal life is your own. If you're sincere about the offer, I would be pleased to take you up on it. But you don't need to pay me a salary. You won't have enough work for me to do, even to compensate for the housing."

"As I mentioned, I'll set you up with a salary and access to a household account. We can work out the details later."

She opens her mouth to protest, but something in my expression changes her mind. "Please call me Abby."

I nod. "Okay, Abby. Call me Will."


Elgin, Scotland
One Week Later
12:27 P.M.

I hand Abby the keys to the house and my Range Rover. "Okay, anything else?"

She shakes her head. "No, Will. You've been more than thorough. Now get going before you miss your flight."

As I'm leaving, Abby's grandson, Duncan, waves goodbye to me.

Funny. They act like I'm completely normal.

I contemplate the last week on the way to the airport. I'm relieved I managed to get Abby to agree to stay. She's the most reliable person I've ever encountered. She frequently argued with me over the issue of money--felt like I was giving her charity. I just shrugged it off and told her she could spend the money or not, I didn't really care.

During the week, I set up a security system with the monitoring equipment in a room she doesn't have access to. I also locked away a stash of fake identities and weapons. Everything's in place. It doesn't seem like I'll get back here for a while, but it makes me feel saner knowing it will be here when I need it.


Dublin, Ireland
August 1996
Four Months Later
2:38 A.M.

The phone jars me awake. "Yeah."

"Alex, it's time for you to return to the States."

I rub my eyes and suppress a yawn. "When?"

"Tomorrow."

"What's the plan?"

"We haven't had success in ferreting out the people in the Organization who are selling out to the Consortium. But some biological toxins have disappeared from the lab. I believe they'll try to smuggle them to the Consortium."

"What do you want me to do?"

"Primarily, I need you available when the stuff arrives to recover or divert it. But I'd like you to also work on a backup plan."

"And that is?"

"Build a bomb."

Now that was unexpected. Must be some toxin. "Understood."

"Call me when you get to the States. I'll have more information then."

**

Washington, D.C.
September 1996
One Month Later
9:18 P.M.

I'm loading my weights for bench presses when a voice calls out, "Need a spot?"

Jason.

I give him a half smile and nod. It's a charade. At about 140 lbs and maybe 5'6", Jason looks silly spotting me. He's a nice kid, though.

He appears to be about 20 years old, but he's Asian, so I'd guess he's closer to 30. He's very slender but a little plump around the middle.

Post-dead-prostitute, my sex life has been with men. I don't have the patience required to bed a woman anyway. Men are easy.

Jason hovers over me during the set, eyes dancing over my chest. I'm not surprised when he says, "Forty minutes?"

"Sure."

I don't shower after my workout. That's his preference, and I've gotten used to it. We've got it down to a science. He waits in the parking lot, and I follow his car to his apartment. It's only a few blocks. He waits for me at his front door. He's already breathing heavily, his tongue swiping his lower lip. I'll bet the poor boy's mouth is watering.

As soon as the door's shut behind us, he turns to me, eyes blinking coyly. "Since the moment I saw you, I couldn't think of anything else but your fat cock in my throat."

"Get to work, boy."

His lips quirk into a smile. He's got round cheeks... all four of them. Sort of... cute.

Jason glides to his knees, rubbing his face across my hip, one hand sliding under my shorts. He mutters into my crotch. "You smell so raunchy."

It's a compliment.

"So sexy, so masculine," he goes on.

As he peels down my shorts, I pander to his fantasy. "You look pretty small, kid. Think you can take it all the way down?"

He looks up through his lashes in mock fear. "If I can't, you won't force me will you?"

I'm fighting a chuckle. He's so damned cute. "You'd better take it, boy." I allow my voice to sound harsh... threatening.

Jason gulps overtly. Then he laps at the tip of my dick. The kid is obsessed with my cock. The rest of me could probably acquire leprosy, and he wouldn't care.

When he sucks me into his mouth, he takes only about half of it, pretending that's all he can handle.

One of his hands drops to his own shorts, as he withdraws his own size-small cock. He won't let me touch it; he always jerks off while sucking me.

His mouth releases my cock. "I can't go any further. It's too big." He pleads with his eyes, his hand jerking frantically on his own hard-on.

I give him a surly glare. "You have to take it, boy."

"Please, I..." The pained expression on his face is my cue.

I take his head in my hands and shove my cock at him. His mouth falls open, as his eyes widen in fake terror.

A tight grip on his head, and I force myself into his throat. A muffled groan is torn from his chest.

He's a very good boy. He won't come until he brings me off.

Though his tongue works feverishly to stimulate me, I control the fuck. I come hard, shooting in his throat. He comes a few seconds later.

I tuck my cock back in my shorts. He rises to pull a towel out of a cabinet by the door. As he wipes himself off, I wonder how many other men he does like this. Not that it matters.

He stands, giving me a shy grin.

"Thank you, Jason."

"Thank you." He kisses my cheek.

This is when I leave but, impulsively, I kiss the top of his head first.

He's a sweet kid, really.

As I walk back to my car, I remember what this encounter wasn't. Alex.

I still jerk off to memories of him... and a few invented fantasies involving Alex. Not all of them nice.

Jason is simple and uncomplicated. No real conversation. No attachments. No surprises. No needs that cannot be fulfilled. I've never been more than five feet inside his apartment.

It'll do.

**

Terma, ND
November 1996
Two Months Later
9:18 P.M.

I slip away from the psycho radicals I've been shacked up with for the last six weeks. Arntzen's specifications for a bomb were unusual. It was his idea to hook up with the militia members and stage this as a political thing. It tickled my funny bone to tell them my name was Arntzen.

After driving to town, I find a payphone and call the real Arntzen to review the status of the project.

There's a break in the conversation and I know there's something he hasn't told me.

Eventually, he asks, "If this gets to the States, are you going to be able to recover it?"

What an absurd question. "I don't know. Depends upon how it comes in, and if we're certain where and when."

"What if it comes in diplomatically?"

"Are you serious?"

"Yes. I have reason to believe members of the government have been influenced."

I sigh. "Then we have a problem."

"What about Agent Mulder?"

I consider it. "Well, he's tenacious enough... tends to get results. Even if he pisses off half the population in the process. Certainly unpredictable."

After another long pause, Arntzen asks, "Can you position him as a backup plan without really getting him involved?"

The last thing I want to do. "Yeah. But, we need to hope it's not necessary. Mulder is useful as a diversion, but will be an obstacle if the goal is recovery."

"Understood. Try to increase the number of times you check in. The situation is becoming unstable."

"I'll try... not easy with these nut jobs you sent me to live with."

He chuckles and disconnects.


Queens, NY
November 1996
Two Weeks Later
10:02 P.M.

Arntzen sounds terse when he answers the phone, "Alex?"

"Yeah. What's our situation?"

"The package is on its way under a diplomatic cover. Unavoidable."

I close my eyes and sigh.

Arntzen gives me the details on the package's arrival, then says, "We need to use Mulder."

"Okay. I've been prepping him. I'll drop a tip to our location and get myself arrested. We sacrifice one of the bombs, but the back-up plan is still in place. But you are aware that Mulder's involvement is not a guarantee. I think he'll manage to intercept your little package, but then he'll have it. Which is an invitation for the Consortium."

"I understand, Alex. I'm working on what to do about all the loose ends. I'd like you to get Mulder to Russia."

"WHAT?"

"It's the ideal way to get him out of the way while we clean up and it will give me an opportunity to meet him."

"You want to meet him? Have you gone insane?"

He laughs. "No. Just curious. He may have useful information."

I shake my head in exasperation. "Whatever. Is there going to be a problem with me being back in Russia?"

"Possibly. If you run into any trouble, just wield my name. I'll tell the Organization something if there's an issue."

I have a premonition of disaster.


Queens, NY
Two Days Later
3:07 A.M.

Right on time, Mulder raided our little bomb party, but one of my fellow 'patriots' is driving away. Not in the plan. I shoot him and quickly find myself face to face with Fox Mulder.

The rifle butt to the stomach wasn't exactly a surprise. But it still fucking hurts.

I give Mulder a patriotic song and dance he doesn't even begin to buy, but I manage to manipulate him where it counts. We spend a long boring morning, at the New York field office, while Mulder and Scully tie up the reports and arrests, leaving me cuffed to a chair. I give them some information about another bomb, so they can send the NY agents to investigate. Arntzen's bomb is finished and out of the picture now.

Shortly after lunch, I persuade Mulder that we need to intercept something headed to the States for the Consortium. We spend the afternoon driving to Washington's Dulles airport. For the most part, Mulder and Scully ignore me.

Walking through the terminal, I spot the courier. Scully chases him, but he evades her. Mulder handcuffs me to a railing and takes off. A few minutes later, they both return with the recovered diplomatic pouch. But they look less than happy. Confused, I look down into the bag.

A rock.

Well, shit. Arntzen lied... It's not a toxin. It doesn't take much thinking to figure out what is in the rock. My skin crawls. I wish it were better contained. I pretend I don't know what it is.

Mulder takes Scully back to the Bureau, leaving me cuffed in the car while they talk. Then Scully takes off with the rock. Mulder stops for dinner, returning to the car with Chinese take-out. I contemplate what he hands me. It's probably no accident that he selected something I don't like.

Then Mulder mumbles, "Okay, Krycek. We'll stick you somewhere for the night and see what you come up with for us tomorrow."

I ignore him as he drives.

He pulls up in front of what appears to be a high-rise apartment building. I would ask where we're going if I wasn't already certain he wouldn't answer.

Mulder intimidates an old lady into letting us into the keycarded main door.

This doesn't seem like a likely location for an FBI safe house. We take the elevator up to floor 17. Mulder grabs my cuffed hands and pulls me along with him. As if I'd go anywhere.

He bangs on one of the doors. After a few moments, he knocks again.

**

I toss my book on the bedside table and switch off the light. Lying for a moment, thinking of nothing really, I listen to the sounds. The hum of my clock. The dim street noise far below me. I can feel my heart beating, but I can't hear it. For an insane moment, I fear not hearing it means it's not really beating.

A loud thunking from downstairs intrudes on my morbid thoughts. Someone's at the damned door.

Grimacing at no one, I rise and tug on my pants. What now?

I tread down the stairs, fastening my fly.

**

"Who is it?" Skinner's muffled voice makes my blood run cold.

Oh, fuck.

I take an instinctive step backward. Mulder grabs my arm and pushes me against the wall, replying, "I need to speak with you, sir."

This is not good.

**

Fuck. Mulder unerringly brings headaches. Reluctantly, I open the door. "What do you want, Agent Mulder?"

"I need your authorization to provide a safe house."

"A safe house for whom?"

**

You're not going to like the answer, Walter. Mulder reaches out, grabs my collar and yanks me into the doorway.

Oh, great.

**

Shit. It's Alex.

Krycek.

A face I wanted to see even less than Mulder's. Looking like a redneck in a grimy ball cap.

Mulder's yammering on about something, "...extreme-right militia that could save the lives of innocent Americans."

Krycek glances at me, chagrined.

You son of a bitch. Our last encounter is permanently burned into my brain.

**

God, Walter, couldn't you have put a shirt on? His expression is frozen. I guess he didn't expect to find me at his door. Surprise, surprise.

The expression cracks and there's a hint of something... unpleasant. Skinner replies, "He'll be safe here."

Something about his words chills me and I am... skeptical.

Mulder pushes me inside, and I hear the door shut. I glance around, my mind whirling. I wasn't prepared to have to be close to Skinner.

**

Krycek's eyes flick around the room. He seems innocently unaware of my intentions. I slam a punch into his gut.

A tiny part of me wanted to pull that punch, but I force the feeling away. Things have changed irrevocably. If not by his desertion and criminal behavior, then by his failure to pull his own punches in the hospital stairwell.

"Relatively safe." I grab him by the collar and lift. "We're not even yet, boy. That's a start."

A not-so-tiny part of me wants to wring his neck.

I turn to Mulder. "Give me the keys."

**

I gasp, trying to get air into my lungs as Walter gives me a push. "C'mon."

Then he drags me across the room, and I find myself falling onto cold concrete. We're on the balcony. He hauls me forward, pulling me up and slamming my back against the railing. My right wrist is cuffed above my head. It dawns on me that he plans to leave me out here.

Don't do this to me, Walter. "You can't... you can't leave me out here. I'm going to freeze to death!" I pull at the handcuffs.

**

I'm just waiting for the little fucker to complain about any of it. Do you dare, you son of a bitch? He looks pissed and scared. I squat next to him and meet his eyes. See? I don't give a fuck, Alex. Do I detect the slightest hint of hurt that I'm treating him like a dog?

"Just think warm thoughts."

I don't even look back as I return to my apartment to deal with Mulder.

**

Warm thoughts? Like what else you're going to do to get even? Futilely, I yank at the handcuffs. I'm not going anywhere until someone releases me. This was not part of the plan.

My body is shaking. Not from cold... from rage. What a fucking perfect safe house, Mulder. I think of all the times I remembered and fantasized about having Walter's hands on me... wanting to feel them again.

Be careful what you wish for.

I guess Walter's a little pissed about that episode in the stairwell... or is it my departure? I have to assume it's the stairwell. I'm still pissed about that myself. There's no way I'll ever be able to make him understand what I did. And I will not explain why.

A twisted part of me is glad he's angry enough to hurt me. Because if he's that mad it means he... nothing. Not a god damned thing.

The minutes tick by slowly... as they only can when you are acutely aware of the passage of time. I occasionally hear the muted sounds of voices. Mulder must be trying to explain. Ironic that... him trying to explain something he has no comprehension of.

It's fucking cold out here, and I hate being cold. I put my hat back on. Not that it will help much, but it's better than nothing. I guess if Skinner were feeling really sadistic he'd have taken my jacket. I'll have to be certain not to plant that idea in his head.

**

After Mulder's gone, I'm still tense. Still feeling like I want to break something. I'd thought venting my anger would help... but it still nags at me.

A dim part of my brain remembers protecting Alex.

There's a bottle of Scotch in the kitchen. I pour myself a triple and try to wash away the ugly feelings. After pouring the second triple, it occurs to me that my 'guest' might need water. I suppose it's my duty to see that he doesn't die of thirst.

I grab a bottle of water from the pantry, but stand in the kitchen holding it and drinking my Scotch for a long time before I head to the balcony. I can't stop the feeling of dread.

**

Skinner returns. Still barefoot and bare-chested. Great. Go put your fucking clothes on... so it's easier for me to forget.

The cold has made my nipples painfully hard and they're covered by two layers of clothes. Skinner's look like they could cut glass. Catch a clue and put your shirt on.

He's watching me like I'm a contagious specimen. I'm surprised when he steps forward and hands me a bottle of water. He has a glass of amber liquid in the other hand. Scotch, no doubt.

An idiotic part of me wants to refuse the water, but I'm already thirsty. I hesitantly take it and just hold it next to me, feeling like I'm closing in on myself.

**

Duty assuaged, I should turn and go. Maybe I'm a masochist. Backing off a few feet, I lean against the railing and sip my Scotch. The whiskey burns and my bad right knee aches in the cold, moist air.

I need an explanation. What was the meaning of... of all of it? But I hesitate to ask, not certain I want the answers, so I just stare at him.

His face is studiously flat.

What's going on in that brain of yours, Alex?

He presents an air of not caring. Not caring about anything. But he's not as indifferent as he appears. I'm sure of it. But I don't have any idea what's really under that façade. I thought I knew once, but I was wrong. Almost dead wrong.

**

I want to look anywhere but at his eyes. My gaze flicks to his feet. I remember sucking Walt's toes. I close my eyes briefly. This is hell.

I look back at him, and find him simply watching me. Am I supposed to say something?

Skinner just keeps staring at me. I've always felt like he could really see me... and I don't want him to do that now. I thought I'd been through every kind of uncomfortable situation, but this is horrendous.

I wish I could get my hands on Mulder for leaving me here.

I become aware that I'm very subtly moving a few inches away from him. I still and close my eyes, dropping my head against the cold metal bars. Anything would be better than this thick silence. "What do you want?" My voice is barely above a whisper, but I know he hears it. I can't bring myself to look at him.

**

The sound of his husky whisper goes straight to my crotch. Fuck! I hate that he still gets to me. There's some kind of chemistry between my body and his. It should go away, now that I know what he is, but it doesn't. It hangs on... a disturbing reminder of things that are no longer real.

What do I want? I shrug, not knowing the answer.

He can't even look at me. That's right somehow. He shouldn't be able to do what he's done and look me in the eye.

Explain yourself, you son of a bitch! Say something... anything that would make sense of all this.

But even if he did, it would probably be lies... and I can't trust myself to distinguish the lies from the truth. Not with him.

**

The silence goes on interminably. But he doesn't leave. Even though he's barefoot, I'm sure I could tell if he walked away. Maybe he's waiting for me to look at him. Wants me to see the recrimination and hate in his eyes.

You couldn't pick a better punishment.

I open my eyes and meet his stare.

**

His eyes open and he gazes at me, his face braced for... for what? What does he expect? That I'll tell him off?

I'd dearly love to. I wish I could rail at him, bark out a few choice words about his career choices, immoral acts and deceptions. But all it would do is expose me... and the fact that I had feelings. Feelings that were hurt.

Go ahead and read it in my face, you bastard. But I'm not going to admit it. Never. Ever. You don't deserve to hear it.

**

And then I see it. I hurt him. "I..." The apology is almost out of my mouth, but I stop it. I didn't want to hurt him, but it's done.

I also see how much he wants to hurt me. "Do it... if it'll help." I manage to make my voice sound relatively firm. Although, it's hard to put much enthusiasm behind asking him to hurt me. But maybe it's the only thing that will help either of us.

**

His words ought to be too ambiguous to understand, but I know what he's offering. He's consenting to my revenge. 'We're not even yet, boy.' And if pounding the crap out of him would help, I think I'd do it.

But it won't, so I do the only thing I can.

Sucking down the last of my Scotch, I toss him one last look. He's turned his head the other direction, his jaw clenched.

Damn you. Goddamn you.

**

I knew, just by his body language, that he was going to walk away. I stare at nothing, listening to him leave. Perversely, I wanted him to care enough to hit me.

**

I step back into the apartment.

Returning my glass to the kitchen, I notice my heart is pounding. I think I can almost hear it.

**

I don't look back until I'm sure he's gone. I try not to think and brace the bottle of water between my knees so I can twist off the cap.

I wish he'd spoken... just once. I wanted to hear his voice.

The lights in the apartment blink out and everything is silent. Except my mind.

I try not to think about Walter. About his silence. About what's lost.

Every minute I'm cuffed to the balcony railing reinforces the end in a way separation couldn't. Eventually, I manage to sleep.


The Next Day
10:35 A.M.

Sounds inside the apartment wake me. Through the sheer curtains, I see Skinner moving around, dressed in a suit. He steps in and out of view several times, never looking in my direction. Then he grabs a bottle of water and hesitates. I know he's coming out here. I guess this is the humanitarian in him. Too bad those sentiments don't include not cuffing people outside in winter.

I turn my head away when he starts walking toward the balcony door. Last night was more than enough. There are a couple of sounds near me, then the door closes. I look over and see a bottle of water.

Time passes and I drink a little, then let myself go back to sleep, wondering how long they'll leave me here.

Sounds wake me again. Fuck. The courier from last night has broken into Skinner's apartment. Eventually, he'll see me out here and then I'm dead.

Fucking lovely.

I frantically try to figure a way out of this. I can't let him see me. Quietly, I stand and consider what to do. The only place to hide is... off the balcony. Shit.

Goddamn you, Skinner.

I get my body over the rail and can barely hold on, taking too much of my weight on my cuffed hand.

It seems to take an eternity before I hear the intruder come out. Once he's close enough, it's painfully easy to send him plunging to his death.

It takes way too long to get my body back over the railing. My wrist is agony. And my mind is focused on the fact that Skinner left me out here to get killed. I guess the gloves are off.

Mulder's reappearance isn't exactly a surprise. Although his bizarre comment about my haircut is a little hypocritical considering the mess on his head.

We slip out of Skinner's building without being questioned, then stop for lunch. I'm fucking starving. And yet again, Mulder manages to remember something else I don't like.

Mulder spends the day making calls and trying to track down the diplomatic pouch. It leads him to New York.

**

9:52 P.M.

Loosening my tie, I sink into the sofa, too weary to change out of my suit. The bottle of Scotch eyes me mockingly from the coffee table. Not again. I had too much last night.

If I'd known today was going to be like this, I'd've reserved my binge. Between the D.C. Police, Smith, Mulder, and a summons from the Senate, I think I needed it more today.

I lied to the police about the man seen dangling from my balcony.

Smith is on my case about some diplomatic pouch. 'Wars have broken out over far less, Mr. Skinner.' Yeah, whatever. If it has your attention, it's bound to be bad.

Yet again, Mulder seems to be at the nexus of the chaos. I've never had another agent whose work attracts so much negative attention. Which means there's probably something real lurking in his case. Which means I should let him keep at it.

And now I'm going to have to speak to a Senate sub-committee on a lovely assortment of things I can't explain. Somehow I doubt they will respond favorably to my repertoire of shrugs, mumbles and I-don't-know-I'll-get-back-to-yous.

You'd think Alex could stay out of trouble handcuffed to my balcony. But no, he had to leave a corpse on the ground under my apartment.

I wonder where Mulder took him. And what new catastrophe will arise as a result.

Fuck, he's like the headache that won't go away. It seems as if I've taken an entire bottle of metaphoric Tylenol trying to get rid of the fallout associated with our brief affair.

After our meaningful dialogue on the balcony last night, perhaps it is finished. There's nothing to say. Krycek is a criminal. Just one of the obnoxiously colorful personalities associated with the X-Files. Just like Smith, he only matters when he's in my face.

And now he's not. I glance out at the balcony to reassure myself. I'm alone, and this one man just doesn't matter anymore.

Yeah, but it's still hard to jack off without thinking about him.

Fuck.

So what? Jerk off fantasies aren't important.

"Finished," I say out loud to the empty room, hoping it's true. And then I silently wish the man away from me... forever.

**

New York, NY
12:36 A.M.

I've never been to the building Mulder pulls up in front of, but I recognize the address. He's visiting Marita. Guess Arntzen will get his wish after all. No doubt he already has her prepped to persuade Mulder to take an impromptu vacation.

And knowing Marita, she'll keep him pleasantly occupied for a while so I can get some sleep that isn't tainted by freezing winds.

I wake as he opens the car door. Almost three hours have passed. He doesn't look like a man who just got laid. Too bad, Mulder. She could teach you a thing or two.

We head for the airport, and the last thing I expect is for him to leave me in the fucking car while he takes off for Russia.

You fucking prick.

I start yelling. In Russian. You need me, Mulder. The panic in my voice penetrates my consciousness and I realize I'm afraid he might actually leave me here. In this fucking car, to freeze to death.

I breathe again when he realizes I could be useful to him. What choices. Possibly run into a member of the Organization or die of dehydration in Mulder's car.

Inside the terminal, he pulls out two tickets. He was jerking my chain, fucking son of a bitch.


Tunguska, Russia
Three Days Later
12:46 P.M.

After telling me a bunch of stuff I already know, but have to appear to be interested in, Mulder wiggles under the fence of the last place in the world I want to be. I know I need to follow, but I really don't want to. Reluctantly, I go after him.

Leave it to Mulder to zero right in on this place.

Of course, they catch us. It's inevitable.

I don't know where Mulder is, but they drag me off to an interrogation room. Before things get out of hand, I demand to see the supervisor. The guard backhands me. I take a deep breath and try to get my temper under control. Then, I tell him Arntzen will be displeased by his treatment of me.

He blanches and accuses me of lying. I'd forgotten how Arntzen is viewed as almost a mythical bogey-man. The guard runs off and the senior guard appears, looking less than thrilled, and explains that the supervisor is not present.

"Get Arntzen on the phone."

He shakes his head. "I, I can't do that."

I growl, "Do it."

He gestures for the junior guard to bring me along and guides us to one of the offices with a phone. He asks my name and I refuse. Reluctantly, he dials a number and asks to be connected with Arntzen regarding a prisoner. It takes him forever to talk his way to a connection with Arntzen. I could give him Arntzen's cell phone number, but he wouldn't believe he actually has him on the phone.

I can tell when Arntzen is on the line because the guard turns whiter than a sheet, then he extends the phone to me. I give him a bland expression and jiggle my cuffed hands behind my back. Stepping close, he holds the receiver to my ear.

"Yeah."

"Alex, why did you go to the gulag?"

I revert to English. "I warned you about Mulder. Unpredictable. He zoned right in on this place."

There's a long silence, then Arntzen laughs. "So, what do you want to do?"

I snap, "Well, I don't want to take up residence here."

Trying to contain his mirth, he replies, "Understood. Do you want me to order you and Mulder transported up here?"

I consider the ramifications for a minute. "Do you plan to detain him once he arrives in Moscow?"

"No. I'm too closely connected to the government to detain him. But I think I can persuade him to stay in Russia for a little while."

"I doubt it. I know the way he thinks... he'll be suspicious. And he'll contact Scully, then all bets are off. So, you're not ready to let him go?"

"No. Still trying to recover the merchandise."

"Shit. Well, then it's best to leave him here. You can come here when you're ready and 'rescue' him."

"What do you want to do, Alex? Are you comfortable trying to maintain your cover for a little while? Mulder knows of your involvement with the Consortium, but it would be best if he doesn't know about your connection to us."

"Understood. Have them put us in the same cell."

There's a long pause. "Okay, but I'll tell the guard a limited version of the truth. A word and they'll let you out."

"Fine." I keep my tone bland.

"Alex, I know this is diff-"

"It's fine." I jerk my head away from the phone.

The guard raises it to his ear and listens for a long time. When the call is disconnected, he solicitously gestures for me to precede him out of the room.

On the way to the prisoner cells, I have to remind him to treat me like a prisoner. He reluctantly twists my arm behind my back and opens the door, throwing me into the cell.

Once inside, the space is too damned confining. My chest feels constricted, making it easy for me to put up the pretense I need to. In Russian, I yell after the guards and mutter that we need to get out of here, then add something about torture.

Mulder asks, "How do you know?"

"They were questioning me." I move close to Mulder. "Trying to get me to confess."

"To what?"

"To being a spy."

Mulder slams me against the wall, his arm across my throat and yells, "What did you tell them?"

I gasp out, "That we were stupid Americans lost in the woods." I've already spent entirely too much time with Mulder and I refuse to put up with his shit along with everything else.

We glare at each other, and I issue a warning. "Mulder, you're going to need me in here." I push him away from me. "Don't touch me again."

He backs down and turns away from me.

It gets harder to converse normally with Mulder. Well, normally for us, which is terse with lots of veiled insults. It's too damned difficult for me to focus my thoughts in a space this small. And the smell of this place... I'm constantly battling memories, things I never wanted to think of again.

I sleep restlessly. Mulder seems convinced by my agitation. Good.

Breakfast is delivered. I intentionally forgot how little they feed the prisoners here. Then Mulder shows me the bug.

Christ. I throw the food away and the guard charges in, yelling about me throwing the food. Before I can think, I start arguing with him.

I will not do this. And there's no fucking reason to.

The guard puts up a pretense of treating me like a prisoner, but I change my tone and demand to see his superior. He immediately backs down.

I'm taken to a short bald man with glasses. He's introduced as Leonid Umansky. Definitely not here during my time in the gulag.

"Please have a seat, Comrade Krycek."

I nod and sit, gesturing for the guard to depart.

The man raises an eyebrow at my dismissal of his man, but says nothing. "Comrade Arntzen said you were staying in the cell with the American in an attempt to obtain information. Was your mission successful?"

I match his raised eyebrow and reply, "I'm sure you know I cannot discuss the details of my mission."

He nods. "I understand. Since you are no longer questioning him, I assume you will not be concerned if we run a few tests on him?"

Shit. I don't want alert the Organization to Mulder's presence by arousing the suspicions of the gulag commander. Best to just treat Mulder like another prisoner. "He cannot be killed or permanently harmed."

Umansky makes a placating gesture. "I assure you he will be fine."

I shrug. "If Arntzen or I cannot question him later, we'll be very unhappy."

"We'll take good care of him." He pushes back from his desk. "Now, comrade, I'll show you to your room and perhaps have a meal sent up?"

I nod, accepting his offer, not allowing my relief to show on my face. I just want to get the fuck away from here, but a normal room and food are probably next best.

He shows me to my room. "Perhaps I can take you on a tour around the facility tomorrow."

I accept, anxious to get him away from me.

I sit at the end of the bed and drop my head in my hands. What a fuck-up. When I left Damien's, coming back to Russia seemed like a good idea. Now it feels like the worst mistake of my life. Well, maybe second worse. Walter Skinner being at the top of the list.

As I flop onto my back, I wonder what the mistake was... getting involved with him, or leaving him. Unconsciously, I rub my right wrist. The bruising caused by dangling from the balcony is still visible.

Thanks, Walter. Considering the last few days, I decide the mistake was getting involved with you at all.

My brain goes over that night on the balcony in minute detail, then the following morning. Skinner and Mulder left me out there to be killed. The unnamed anxiety I had about leaving Mulder in this prison begins to dissipate.

There's a knock on the door. Food. And clothes.

Much better.


December 1996
The Next Day
8:28 A.M.

It feels better to be outdoors, but I still desperately need to get away from this place. I see Umansky across the yard on a platform and cross to him.

He greets me warmly. "Comrade Arntzen will be visiting the gulag tomorrow to take custody of the American. We are very pleased to have Arntzen take an interest in our facility."

Good. This is almost over. The loose ends must be taken care of. I keep my expression flat. "Excellent."

"Would you care for the tour now?"

I paste a pleasant smile on my face. "That would be fine."

The next thing I know, Mulder is crashing into me and we're falling. Before I can recover my breath, he's punching me and the world becomes black.

I come to, shaking my head. I'm in the back of a moving truck. I struggle to my knees and see Mulder behind the wheel.

Goddammit, Mulder. You royal pain in the ass. Everything would have been fine if you'd stayed put, but you're going to get us killed in a run-away vehicle. I manage to hold on, but I need to get off this fucking truck.

When I'm certain Mulder isn't paying attention, I jump off the back.

After jarring my left shoulder on impact with the dirt road, I clamber to my feet and run into the woods. Going back to the gulag could be... complicated. The Organization has probably been notified of this morning's events. I need to hike to the main road and find a way to the nearest city.

I walk for a while, then encounter a group of raggedy-looking peasants. It couldn't get any worse. Even when I was here, the local population was very hostile to the gulag. I can only assume the situation has become worse.

I manage to convince them that I'm an American and they agree to protect me. And now that I've accepted their protection, I'll have to persuade them to take me to the nearest town, so I can call Arntzen.

It's impossible not to notice that they're all missing their left arms. What the fuck is going on around here? That's not something done at the gulag, is it? Christ, if it is, they'll kill me if they find out who I really am.

They take me to their camp, provide dinner and bitter tea. A young man, almost a boy, offers me a blanket and a place to sleep. I realize I am quite tired and gratefully lie down. My limbs seem oddly heavy.

A sound wakes me. Bodies are moving around me. I can't process it fast enough... my brain feels so sluggish. Suddenly, what feels like dozens of hands seize me, pinning me to the ground. The rush of adrenaline overwhelms my strange lassitude and I struggle to get away. But it's too late. I can't move. There's a heavy weight on my legs and there are so many hands...

Someone hovers over me... something burning in his hand. My brain can only process denial. This isn't happening. Until he's on me. Then pain. Intense pain in the middle of my upper arm. The forest reverberates with the sound of screams. I cannot connect the sound with the pain until my voice gives out. The screams were mine. And the now hoarse, nearly silent, screams allow me to focus more on the pain.

I can't make sense of what's happening until I feel and hear the snap of bone. They're cutting off my arm. My mind cries the denial my voice can't.

The agonizing pain stops, leaving a sharp throbbing in its wake. Then I'm released. I can barely focus. This cannot be real.

I lie still, my eyes tracking the movements of people. I don't understand anything until someone tries to remove my arm. No, they can't do that. I need it.

With a hoarse yell, I lunge for the thief, wrenching my arm away from him. Several people advance on me and I curl myself around my arm. More hands on me, but I stay wrapped around the limb. I hear murmuring, then the hands leave.

The world is a haze of pain. I focus by keeping my hand curled around my wrist, not quite sure why my wrist is so cold. Why does my arm hurt so badly?

Morning comes and the sun seems like a penalty. Someone talks to me, but I ignore them. They try to touch me and I jerk away. I make my way to my feet and the world spins. My hand is around my wrist, but something is wrong. I look down. My arm should not be on the ground.

I try to shake off the confusion and begin walking. I have to find Walter. How did we get separated? The voices fade off into the distance. I realize I'm alone. I must be lost. My left side feels cold. Where is the wind coming from? An inspection reveals the sleeve of my jacket seems to be gone. Odd... makes things rather drafty.

I find myself on my knees. My right knee is resting on something. I look and can't make sense of what I'm seeing. I seem to be kneeling on my forearm. That cannot be right. Shouldn't that hurt? I try to move to the left and feel myself fall. Excruciating pain rips through my body as I land on my left side.

Gasping for air, I pull the now-freed arm up and rest my head on it.

I'm so tired, Walter. Where are you? I got lost... please don't leave me here.

Grayish flesh captures my attention. I look at it for a long time.

Walter, they did something to my arm... help me fix it.

Something seems wrong about the thought, but I'm too tired to figure it out.

A familiar voice rouses me. "Alex?" There's a hand on me, turning me onto my back. "Oh, god..."

Whoever it is doesn't sound happy. I curl my fingers around the cold flesh.

The voice continues as hands begin to move me. "I'm so sorry, Alex. Christ... here, help me with him, he's feverish. And take... that."

Something tugs at the arm. I yank it to my chest. "No! Mine. Have to keep it... Walter will help me." The voice didn't sound like mine. It was like a croak, but I know I spoke.

"Okay, Alex... you can keep it. But I'm going to get you inside."

I feel myself being lifted, but I can't focus my vision. Something about going inside bothers me. "Not inside." Another strange croaking sound.

"Alex, I have to get you help."

I try to concentrate. "No prison."

"I promise I won't take you there."

"Walter..." My voice is so raspy I can barely croak the name.

My body is set on something softer, hands touching me, removing my jacket, then the voice again, "Who do you want, Alex. I don't know that name."

"Walter."

"Okay. I'll figure it out. But let me help you now."

I feel a tug on the arm again. "NO!" My throat hurts as I try to yell.

A hand in my hair. Don't do that... you're not Walt.

"I'm not taking it, okay. You keep a grip on the wrist, I'm just going to wrap it in something."

"Cold."

"I know you're cold. Just a minute." A blanket is tucked around me. "Okay, let's go."

It's a puzzle. I want to figure out what's happening, but sleep is so appealing, and I need to find Walter.


Moscow, Russia
The Next Day
4:30 P.M.

I wake to find Arntzen sitting by my bed. He's staring off into space. I glance around, trying to figure out where I am. And what happened.

"Wha..." My throat hurts and my voice sounds incredibly hoarse.

His icy blue gaze lands on me. He looks pained. Strange, I've never seen that expression. "Welcome back."

"What's going on? Where am I?" Something is prodding my brain, but I ignore it for now.

Arntzen slowly says, "We're in Moscow. We sedated you yesterday morning while treating your injuries, then transported you here for surgery. I'm not sure what happened to your voice."

I stare at him, then the pieces all snap into place. It wasn't a dream. I run my hand over my left shoulder, then down.

"Get out." My voice is shaky.

"Alex-"

"LEAVE!" I'm nearly hyperventilating.

Arntzen shakes his head. "I can't do that." But he walks to the door.

I just need to be alone while I make sense of what happened.

Arntzen returns with a doctor holding a hypodermic.

"NO!" I try to move, but there's nowhere to go and I'm sluggish.

Arntzen holds me down on the bed as the doctor sticks the needle in my right... only arm. Then, I'm released.

Within a few seconds, I feel fuzzy-headed and my vision is getting blurry.

Arntzen touches my head and I turn away. "Don't."

"Alex, I couldn't figure out who Walter was."

It doesn't make sense. My sluggish brain tries to catch up. "What?"

Arntzen touches my hair again. He's never touched me this much before and he picks the one touch I can't stand. "You were asking for him. I assume it's someone in the States. Do you want me to make a phone call?"

I asked for Walter? "No. I must have been insane. He wants me dead... just forget it." I can't fight the medication anymore.

That hand in my hair again. I could scream. "Rest, Alex."

Die sounds better.


Elgin, Scotland
One Week Later
4:42 P.M.

I pull the rental SUV up in front of my house. I snuck away last night and made a very round-about path to England to pick up my Will Spencer identity. I've been putting on a front for days. A front of getting back in the game. Arntzen watched me almost constantly. Showing him a weakness was not an option. He was entirely too inclined to intervene with drugs when he thought I wasn't stable.

He eventually sent me off to meet with Pescow and I took the opportunity to get away.

After retrieving the single bag from the back, I walk toward the house. I'm wearing the prosthesis the doctor in Moscow gave me and it's painful. It's a useless hunk of plastic, but no one notices anything unusual about me, unless they're looking carefully or I make some reflexive attempt to use my arm.

I approach my door, groping in my pocket for my keys. Abby rounds the corner at that moment.

"Will! You're back. I thought we'd hear from you before you arrived." She sounds pleased.

Keeping my expression neutral, I reply, "It was unexpected." I see her grandson, Duncan, in the distance, walking toward us.

I close my eyes, not wanting to deal with this now. "Abby, can you step inside for a moment, I need to go over something with you."

She nods and follows me in. Duncan approaches the door, but I shake my head. Abby murmurs something to him, then closes the door.

"Is everything okay, Will? You look like you've been ill."

"In a manner of speaking." I shrug awkwardly out of my jacket.

Abby is looking at my hand with a puzzled expression, then her eyes widen with horror. I close mine for a second.

"Abby, I had an accident recently and lost my arm. I'm home to recuperate and... whatever."

Her voice is a whisper, "Are you all right, son?"

Son? Alex... boy... kid... son... something must be offensive about my real name. "Yes. But this is where my privacy concerns come in. I need some time to... well, I just-"

She cuts me off. "I understand. You don't have to say anything else. I'll come over during the day to make your meals and tidy up. We can work out whatever other assistance you need as we go."

I feel myself frowning. "I don't need you to take care of me."

She gives me an imperious look and replies, "You damn well do, but that's not the point. It's my job. You've been paying me to do the work, now let me actually do it. And I'll accept no arguments."

I sense that, shy of firing her, she's going to win this one. "Okay. Uh, your grandson-"

"Isn't a problem. I'll tell Duncan you're home recuperating from an illness. He doesn't come in here and you'll be resting for a few days. We'll figure the rest out later. Now come on upstairs, time to rest. You look beat."

"Abby, I can take care of myself."

She gives me a push toward the stairs. "That's not the point. The point is you don't need to. Now get upstairs and relax. I'll be right up to put some sheets on the bed and then I'll run to the market and get something for lunch."

Abby follows me into the room with a pile of black bedding and towels. I glance around while she makes the bed... looks like she's been busy. There are more furnishings, curtains. Looks like someone actually lives here. We discussed it all before I left the last time.

When she's finished, she bluntly asks, "Do you need assistance with anything?"

"Uh, no. I'm fine."

She nods. "Don't hesitate to ask, son. I've seen it all." Then she departs.

I close my eyes and sigh, then strip down, remove the prosthetic and get into bed. I'm not used to my body yet. I have a hard time keeping my balance when the prosthesis is off, but it's extremely uncomfortable after only a short period of time. I've already had it on today for what feels like an eternity, and I certainly cannot sleep with it.

Sleep comes easily and I'm grateful. Until the nightmare wakes me. I lie in bed, sweating and trying to push the dream away. I've never had nightmares before. If I were dreaming of the amputation, I could understand it. But I'm not.

I dream of burning children.

Needing water, I struggle out of the tangle of sheets and immediately fall on the floor. Fuck. This happens every time I don't carefully get my balance first. I rise to my feet, compensating for the lack of weight on my left side.

Emerging from the bathroom, I stare at the grotesque piece of plastic, trying to decide if I want to put it on. I have an appointment in Sweden in a week to see what can be done to make this mess more... functional. But I need a week to rest first.

The door suddenly opens and Abby gives a startled yelp, then turns around. I guess she wasn't expecting to find me naked in the middle of the room. I retrieve the black robe she hung up for me. Of course, I have no way to tie it, so I hold it closed.

I suppose I could point out that knocking is useful, but I think she figured it out. "You can turn around, Abby."

She turns, looking a little flustered. "I brought you some lunch."

"Thanks." I need to nip this in the bud. "I'll eat downstairs in the future."

She sets the tray of food on the chest at the foot of the bed. "You really have a problem being taken care of, don't you?"

"I don't need it."

She looks disbelieving, but doesn't argue about it. "Well, I can tell you this... you still have a fine physique."

I gape at her and she grins, then walks out the door.


January 1997
Four Weeks Later
1:02 P.M.

Abby appears in the bedroom doorway with a bottle in her hand. "How's the new arm?"

Concentrating on the finger movement, I don't look up as I reply, "Still trying to make it work correctly."

She steps near me, and I look up. "I saw your instructions from the doctor."

I raise an eyebrow. "Your point?"

Abby frowns. "You're not following those instructions."

"Abby, don't meddle," I snap. Of course, she's getting used to meddling. I should have stopped her four weeks ago.

Her expression is set. "Take the prosthetic off. I'm going to massage your shoulder and upper arm, then you're getting an ice-pack."

I've completely had it. Standing, I snarl at her, "Stop taking care of me!"

She gets right up next to me, craning her head back and returns the snarl. "Sit down and be quiet."

Sighing with defeat, I sit down. "Don't I intimidate you at all?" I pull off my shirt and carefully remove the new prosthesis.

Pouring some oil into her hand, she shrugs, "I'm sure you could if I didn't know how sweet you are."

"Are you insane? I'm not..." I can't even string coherent thoughts together. She's a complete loon. I have a crazy woman living in my house.

Abby pats my cheek, then rubs my shoulder. It hurts, but in a good way. The muscles are so knotted.

The doctor in Sweden performed another small surgery to make me able to wear a more functional prosthetic. I spent nearly three weeks there. Mostly physical therapy. Way too many people touching me, so I wasn't inclined to heed their advice about massaging the muscles.

As Abby works out the kinks, I think refusing massage may have been an error in judgment.

A few minutes into the rub down, I murmur, "Abby, I want my jeans back."

She sighs, still rubbing as she replies, "Come on, Will. Won't you give the new ones a try?"

"No. I've never worn jeans with a zipper and I don't see a reason to start now. So take those back to wherever they came from, and return my button-flys."

"But, Will, you have such a hard time-"

"Abby..." I let my tone convey that this is not up for discussion. I haven't said a word about the sudden addition of zippered boots, or her modifying my robe so I can close it one-handed, but I draw the line at my fucking jeans. I'll either learn how to button them one-handed or stay home naked.

She gives a dramatic, long-suffering sigh. "I'll bring back your bloody jeans."

"Oh, and you can burn that copy of 'Life After Amputation' that somehow appeared on my nightstand."

"Fine!" Despite the annoyance in her tone, her hands are gentle.


Moscow, Russia
June 1997
Five Months Later
12:42 P.M.

The guard at the entrance to the facility takes my name and calls Arntzen. The conversation is brief, then I'm quickly given access. The door to Arntzen's office opens before I even knock.

"Where the hell have you been?"

I think there was a time when his angry presence would have affected me, but now... nothing. I step around him to take a seat, not bothering with a response. I rest the plastic hand on my leg. Just when I was getting used to the new prosthetic, I decided it was time to leave. I left the functional arm in Scotland and resumed use of the unwieldy plastic.

The door slams shut and Arntzen stalks around to his desk. His normally impassive face is flushed and he looks like he's about to yell again. Then he seems to deflate and sinks down in his chair with a sigh. "Where did you go, Alex?"

I shrug. "Doesn't matter."

He looks at me pensively. "Are you staying?"

"Yes."


Vladivostok, Russia
October 1997
Four Months Later
10:07 P.M.

I let myself into my apartment and wearily collapse on the sofa. I've been working for the Organization for a little over four months. It's entirely too much like working for the Consortium, but at least their core goal is to prevent colonization.

I'm too tired to fuck tonight, so I reach for the phone and cancel my evening engagement.

Arntzen was here today, checking out what I've done with the Organization's operations in Vladivostok. He also had some news. Interesting news.

Spender is dead.

I hated him.

I should be happy.

I can barely manage apathy.

I don't remember what it's like to feel.


Moscow, Russia
March 1998
Five Months Later
2:12 A.M.

The call comes in the middle of the night. Groggily, I reach for the phone. "Yeah."

"We have a crisis." Arntzen sounds more upset than I've ever heard him. "I've already sent a car for you."

I rise and fumble around the hotel room, tugging on my clothes. Arntzen had me transferred back to Moscow two months ago. He's been mildly peeved at my refusal to stay in any of his facilities. I'm only half dressed when I hear the knock on the door. Let whomever it is wait.

Eventually, I join the guy in the hall and he drives me to the facility. Arntzen is agitatedly pacing his office when I arrive.

"What's going on?"

"A problem in Kazakhstan."

"What kind of problem?"

"Possibly alien involvement. But we don't really know. I've already had word that the U.N. has sent a team. So you may run into problems."

"Will Marita be there?"

He nods. "Probably."

I rise and head for the door. "I'll call you from the site."

"Krycek, we need witnesses. We need to know what happened up there. Take whatever you find back to the Tunguska gulag."

Why Tunguska? I look back. He looks too worried... there's something he's not telling me. Turning away, I leave the room.


Kazakhstan
7:16 A.M.

I survey the site, it's a mess. Burned bodies everywhere. Burned in a way I've never seen before. My eyes alight on a small charred lump. Obviously a young child.

Something in me snaps. Dreams of burning children. I squat down and find myself touching the scorched, ashy form. I let the numbness wash over me... or I'll go insane.

I rise at the distant sound of vehicles and motion my team to find cover. And we find a lone survivor. How unfortunate.

I approach the boy. "What is your name?"

"Dmitri." He looks scared.

"You saw what happened here?"

"Yes."

I switch to English and murmur, "Too bad for you." Because you're going to Tunguska, and I think hell must be centered under that place.

After confronting Marita, I leave with Dmitri, dispersing most of the team back to Moscow. I try to get information from the boy during the ride, but he's frightened and doesn't want to talk.

We arrive at the gulag late in the evening. I have Dmitri--the only surviving witness--confined to a cell while I phone Arntzen.

"Arntzen."

"You care to tell me what's really going on here?"

He's quiet for a minute. "What did you find?"

"A lot of severely burned bodies. And, you were correct, Marita made an appearance."

"Any survivors?"

"One."

"Did he see what happened?"

"Yes, but he's too scared to talk."

"You have to make him talk, Alex."

"Why? When you already know what this is."

He sighs before speaking. "It's an alien rebel faction, Alex. They could be vital to defeating the colonization plans."

"What needs to be done?" Arntzen and I have discussed the colonization at length, and one thing we agree on is that it must be stopped.

"We need a renegade, Alex. The Organization isn't behind aligning with any alien faction, so I cannot be openly involved. But we need to prove to the alien resistance that we have something to offer."

"Such as?"

"A vaccine. I need you to steal it from the gulag, and try to get your hands on whatever the Americans have developed."

I consider for a moment. "What good is a vaccine without proof?"

"You'll have to take the proof as well. You need to infect someone and take them with you."

I feel my skin crawl. Oh, fuck me.

"Alex, if you do this, you'll be on your own."

"When have I ever not been?" My voice is cold.

"This is worth it, Alex. You'll deliver the vaccines, and the proof, to them. I'll let you know where and when."

"Okay, tell me what I have to do."

Arntzen tells me about facial mutilations to prevent the oil from being transferred to another person. I turn off any thoughts or feelings as he gives me instructions. "Kill the witness, Alex. Close the loop on the information. Then, do what you have to, and get out of there quickly."

I hang up before he can say anything else or give more orders.

After issuing instructions to prepare the test for the boy, I move off to question him. Arntzen's instructions were to kill him, but I have to take someone with me. It might as well be him. Who knows... maybe he'll survive this after all.

At the cell, I send the guard away. It's amazing how people do what you say when you act like you're in charge.

The kid looks to be about 16 or 17. A stray in a Tunguska gulag. How... familiar.

He doesn't want to talk to me, but relents after a few hard blows to the face. He almost babbles the information. There's a sound at the door as the doctor and guard enter.

I give the order. "The boy has told me what I need to know. You may begin."

The doctor looks horrified. "But he is just a boy. We do our experiments only on the criminal."

He cannot be serious. Must be new. They do the experiment on whomever they choose. I found out last year that they did the experiment on Mulder. Poor bastard. "Do you argue with me?"

"I have orders."

"And now you have new orders."

The doctor approaches the boy and I deal with the guard, bribing him to go away and forget this.

I lock the doctor in the room. Normally, the vaccine is administered prior to the test. But not today.

After gathering the vaccine, I instruct the doctor to secure Dmitri for the test.

He looks horrified. "I haven't administered the vaccine."

I pull my gun. "Do it. Or die."

Reluctantly, he gets Dmitri on the table and secures him. After he is infected with the oil, I join them in the cell and instruct the doctor on the modifications that need to be made. He refuses. I backhand him, then hold the gun to his head while he stitches the boy's eyes closed.

Moving away, I lean against the wall, pointing the gun at him while he works. When he's finished, he must be killed. A gunshot would draw the guards, so I hang him, then leave with the merchandise.


Uroff-koltoff Star of Russia
Leaving Vladivostok
The Next Day
6:02 A.M.

None of the crew will venture to the portion of the ship where Dmitri is kept. I've made sure of that. But, I still need to go down and check on him.

I take a bucket of water and enter the room. "I've brought you water."

The boy doesn't respond.

"Can you hear me?"

Still no response.

"If you can hear me, I need you to nod your head." I think I'm talking to the alien, not the kid.

He nods slowly.

I move closer and squat down next to him, running the wet cloth over his forehead.

When I was infected, I had no recollection of anything, but Dmitri has been infected with a different type of oil. I wonder if he's still aware. The documents I've read suggest that he's not, and I find myself hoping that it's true.

After a few minutes, I lean against the wall and watch him. I feel a strange disquiet that's been with me since this began, but I don't know what it means... or what to do about it.

My own brother, Dmitri, flashes through my mind. And his twin, Viktor. Then all my siblings in rapid succession. I close my eyes and blank out the memories. Christ, what's wrong with me? I never think about them... there's never any point to it.

I feel agitated, but there's no way to work off my frustration here. Rising, I settle for pacing around the ship until I'm tired enough to rest.


Uroff-koltoff Star of Russia
New York harbor
Three Days Later
9:34 A.M.

I'm mildly surprised when the Brit answers the phone. Haven't they put him out to pasture yet? He confirms they're working on a vaccine, but says it's ineffective. I offer him the kid in exchange for whatever they've got. I'm lying, because I have no intention of handing the kid over. Dmitri is going to the alien rebels.

I move back to my cabin to make some phone calls. Nothing from Arntzen yet. I can't contact him directly until I have everything set.


The Next Day
10:17 P.M.

A couple hours after dinner, I go down to check on Dmitri again. When I turn to leave, I'm confronted by Marita. I could laugh. Arntzen has to have told her what ship I was on.

She gives me a cold look. "You think you can pull this off, don't you?"

And apparently, Arntzen followed through and told her I'm AWOL. All the tension of the last few days becomes directed at Marita. I back her up against the wall and kiss her. I need to get her upstairs... it'll be nice to get my hand around someone's throat.

In my cabin, while pulling off her clothes, I ask, "How'd you find me, Marita?"

She tugs my shirt over my head and arches a brow. "I have my sources, Alex."

I push her back on the bed. "You going to cause any problems for me?"

Marita pulls me down, murmuring, "I want to help you, Alex."

Like hell... but right now I really don't care.

A long while later, lying in bed, I watch her dress, then she looks in the grimy mirror... checking her neck. She gives me a kiss on the cheek and departs. I've almost missed this little ritual.

After dressing, I go down to check on the boy. He's gone.

That fucking bitch played me.

There's a sound from behind me and I spin around. The Brit. With a gun. Everything just went to hell. And here I thought hell was in Tunguska.


Two Days Later
8:33 P.M.

Left handcuffed to die. Again. I don't like repeating themes. But the Brit returns. He was pissed at me. I wonder what went so wrong that he would come back here. He tells me the ship is heading back to Vladivostok tomorrow. That actually is cause for concern. The Organization thinks I'm a renegade, and Arntzen cannot bail me out without revealing his involvement.

The Brit gives me some water. The taste is horrible and I spit the last of it out, then look at him and ask, "Do you have the boy?"

"No. Ms. Covarrubias took him. Your alliance with her was as misguided as ours, but it appears she was unaware of the consequences of her deception. You were clever. Infect the boy to ensure infection of anyone who tried to learn what he knows, who would cheat you."

Interesting how he misunderstands my motives for infecting the boy. Not that I plan to clear up his misconception. I wonder if he'll actually pursue the rebel alliance. "Then where's the boy?"

"Dead. Victim of another mysterious holocaust. Unable now to tell what he knew or saw."

A memory of charred bodies flashes through my head. But there's a deal to be made. I have to get out of this without going back to Russia.

Unfortunately, he wants the vaccine to save that bitch. Give him the vaccine and I live. But so does she. Well, that could be remedied at a later date.

Surrendering the vaccine is the only chance I've got. If I die in this tanker, or get sent back to Russia, the mission is shot anyway.

You take advantage of the opportunities that come your way. He makes it clear that I work for him now. He instructs me to keep a low profile, hands me a cell phone and tells me to make myself available.

Back in the loving arms of the Consortium. I guess I can die happy.


New York, NY
Three Days Later
4:17 P.M.

Surprisingly, the Brit comes to my hotel room, rather than calling. While appearing outwardly calm, he's obviously upset that the Consortium doesn't want to pursue an alliance with the alien rebels.

I'm a little bewildered by this turn of events, but preventing colonization is high on my list. The Brit seems an unlikely ally in this, but it's likely my best option. Maybe only option. I set off for D.C. to leak some information to Agent Mulder.


Alexandria, VA
9:22 P.M.

I wait for Mulder in the shadows of his apartment. I left a little note to catch his attention. Tired of his smacking me around, I planned ahead to prevent it. There's a sound at the door and Mulder enters. When he leans down to pick up the note, I run him forward, getting him on the ground with his own gun in his face.

After exchanging insults, I tell him about the invasion plans.

He laughs. "I thought you were serious."

So, when did Mulder stop believing? "Kazakhstan, Skyland Mountain, the site in Pennsylvania. They're all alien lighthouses where the colonization will begin, but where now, a battle's being waged. A struggle for heaven and earth. Where there is one law: fight or die. And one rule: resist or serve." And I have no intention of serving.

"Serve who?"

"No, not who." I pause for a second. "What."

"Krycek, you're a murderer, a liar and a coward. Just because you stick a gun in my chest, I'm supposed to believe you're my friend?"

Hell, no. Mulder and I will never be friends. But apparently, we've become allies. "Get up."

I pull back and Mulder sits up, glaring at me.

"I was sent by a man ... a man who knows, as I do, that resistance is in our grasp, and in yours. The mass incinerations were strikes by an alien rebellion to upset plans for occupation. Now, one of these rebels is being held captive. And if he dies, so does the resistance."

Strange how this is all working out. My only enjoyment in this mission-turned-disaster is inflicting myself on Mulder. The man who least wants to see me. Well, could be that Skinner is actually at the top of that list.

I lean over and kiss my new associate on the cheek, then uncock the gun and hand it to him.

As I leave, I murmur in Russian, "Good luck to you, comrade."


Quebec, Canada
May 1998
Two Months Later
6:39 A.M.

Of all the goddamned things to get stuck doing. I wouldn't have enjoyed jumping out of an airplane when I had two arms.

We make it to ground, detach our parachutes and head toward the reported location of Spender's cabin.

The Brit, who finally told me his name was Witherspoon, has basically been using me as a chauffeur the last couple months. Nothing but errands, and he keeps me completely in the dark. When I finally get some real work to do, it comes with the horrible news that Spender is still alive. And it's my unlucky task to retrieve him.

I think Witherspoon only sent me to yank Spender's chain. Spender will have to think I'm here to kill him.

When we reach the cabin, it's apparent Spender is on to us by the bullet that takes my comrade out. I follow bloody footsteps, eventually able to sight Spender.

He freezes and I pull off my Ski mask.

Spender yells at me, "Go on! Take your shot, Alex!"

God, I'd love to. He really believes I'm here to kill him. I can see it on his face. I'm so tempted to just shoot the son of a bitch and tell the elders that he wasn't alive.

I pause, letting him think he's about to die, then end his misery--albeit, not in the way I would like. "I was... sent to bring you back."

Now, I have Spender as a traveling companion. Oh joy.


New York, NY
The Next Day
8:57 P.M.

I deliver Spender to the Elders. They're quite anxious to take him back. Witherspoon mentions something about a problem with a boy. What boy? They brought Spender back from the dead for a kid?

And the Consortium falls all over itself because it needs someone to do their dirty work. It's not that no one else could do the work, just that no one else has Spender's passion for it. He really believes all his babble about saving the human race, when he's really just selling it to whomever offers him a better golden parachute.

The meeting is adjourned with Spender's promise to deal with the boy. And I am once again back driving for Witherspoon.

Once we're on the road, I ask, "What's so important about this kid?"

Imperiously, he replies, "Details you need not concern yourself with."

I grit my teeth. The only reason I even stick around is because I know Witherspoon is trying to align with the mysterious alien rebellion.


New York, NY
Three Days Later
11:17 A.M.

We arrive at Spender's designated pickup location to get the kid everyone has been in a twist over. Witherspoon gets out of the car and talks with Spender and the boy. Christ, the kid looks young. Looks can be deceiving, but he appears to be about ten. How could this pint-sized future computer programmer be a threat to the Consortium?

Witherspoon ushers him into the back of the car, then gets in. I now focus only on Spender as he walks away.

"I got a nice, straight shot." And I would love to run him down.

"No. He's useful. And you may need him in the future."

I sincerely hope not.

So I can't kill him...? He doesn't know that. I hit the accelerator and drive dangerously close to him as we speed past.

After a few moments, I ask, "Where are we taking the boy?"

Witherspoon has that expression that means he's not going to answer, then he looks in the back seat at the kid and gives a resigned sigh. "He's going to the facility in Rhode Island. First, I need to be dropped at our offices."

He doesn't elaborate. I give him a sideways glance. "What do you want done with junior in the interim?"

After a pause, he replies, "Take him to my home. Feed him, but don't lose track of him. I'll join you later."

Great. I'm babysitting again. Well, this one will probably be less troublesome than Mulder.

Witherspoon is distracted, and the midget is silent. A few minutes later, I drop him off and take the kid to the old man's Manhattan penthouse.

I park the car in a loading zone. Before we get out, I look back at the kid. "Are you going to cooperate?" Have to get a feel for how much effort this is going to be.

He nods sullenly, gazing at me assessingly, with an intelligence that belies his age. Suddenly, he reminds me of Ivan. I blink twice shaking off the image of my brother. Where the hell did that come from? I force my mind to blank and get out of the car.

I hold the door open for the kid and gesture for him to walk in front of me into the building. I tell the doorman someone will be down for the car.

I pass the security card across the elevator sensor and we're taken to the penthouse. The only person in the apartment is Witherspoon's valet, Rogers. I toss him the keys to the car. "It's in the loading zone."

His expression is tight, but he exits. What's next? Oh... food. Shit. Maybe I'll get lucky and he won't be hungry. The kid's glancing around, looking vaguely disappointed.

I shrug out of my jacket and ask, "You hungry?"

"Starving," he replies blandly.

Perfect. "Okay, kid. Kitchen." I wave him in the direction of the commercial-sized kitchen. Lucky me, more space to get lost in.

The boy takes a seat at the kitchen table, and looks up at me expectantly.

I scan the kitchen. It's huge. I'll never find anything. I cannot even tell where the goddamned refrigerator is because it's disguised as a cabinet.

I shake my head and turn back to the kid. "What's your name?"

"Gibson. What's yours?"

"Alex," I murmur absently. "So, where do you think the refrigerator is?"

Without hesitation, he turns and points toward a cabinet by a door. After a couple seconds, I figure out how to open the mystery door and it is indeed a refrigerator. Capers, caviar, a large slab of mystery meat, vegetables, some neatly-labeled gourmet dishes I don't recognize.

I roll my eyes and look back at Gibson. "What do you eat?" I can't believe I'm doing this.

Gibson gives me an innocent look. "Cheeseburgers."

Something about his expression is... off. It reminds me of... Kseniya. When she'd promise to eat, while tucking her peas in her pocket. I groan internally. There's a reason I avoid children.

They're just short needy people.

While opening cabinets and drawers, I reply, "I don't see any cheeseburgers, junior." Actually, all I see are silverware and dishes.

Ugh. Good god, how many dishes does one man need? Oh look, the nut cabinet. Every fucking nut known to man. "Almonds or pecans?"

"I'm allergic to nuts."

Of course you are. And here I was hoping to be saved by a jar of peanut butter. After several minutes. I give up and sit at the table. I gesture toward the kitchen. "Help yourself. But stay away from the knives, or I'll shoot you."

He regards me calmly and replies, "No you won't."

Cocky little shit.

He goes to the refrigerator and inspects the roast. After carefully sniffing it, he delivers it to the table and places it front of me. He returns with a knife, which he hands me. "Cut it in slices for sandwiches. Do you want one?"

I feel my eyebrows climbing. I guess I'd forgotten what kids are like.

Shrugging, I reply, "Sure. Think you can expediently find a large fork?"

He gets the correct drawer on the first try, returning with a strange looking two-pronged fork. I stab it into the meat and brace it with my prosthetic hand, then begin slicing. Gibson watches me intently. When he's confident it's not going to be an interesting sight, he goes to a large box by the toaster and comes back with bread.

It seems pointless to explain my dislike of bread, so I'll just eat the meat out of the middle. It's kind of surreal to have a kid making me lunch. Whatever... I've seen stranger shit.

Gibson brings several glass jars to the table. Each item is carefully sniffed before he mixes them in a small dish. Catsup, mayonnaise and a jar of something green and mushy. He spread the resulting pink substance on the slices of bread and piles on the meat.

I haven't seen anything this odd since the first time I saw an alien dissolve. He can't really mean to eat that.

He puts the sandwiches on paper towels and passes me mine. "There are tomatoes in the vegetable bin if you want them."

I shake my head. Maybe the kid's an alien.

He gives me a wry glance, as he bites into his sandwich. "Pork roast," he says with his mouth full.

Strange little pipsqueak.

His lip curls in a brief grimace.

Maybe he doesn't like his own sandwich. I open mine and start eating the meat. The pink goo with the green chunks is pretty gross.

"It's just thousand island dressing. Better with real mayonnaise, but this gourmet crap is okay."

I frown slightly. I know I didn't make any unusual expression when I tasted it.

His face turns suspiciously innocent again. "What happened to your arm?"

That was direct. The Tunguska debacle isn't something I'd tell this kid. After a beat, I reply, "Someone cut it off." My voice is beyond bland. I grab another piece of meat, dabbing the goo off on a napkin.

Gibson looks frightened for a moment. Maybe he's freaked out by missing limbs? I shrug and take another bite of meat. "What's wrong, kid?"

"Nothing," he replies, wiping a spot of the pink sauce off his finger and onto the table. "How come you're so useless in the kitchen?"

"Because I was busy learning how to use my gun."

There's a faint look of disbelief. Like he knows I lied. It's trivial, but the look unnerves me. Spender always tries to look like he can see through what I'm saying, but never succeeds. The only person who ever really saw through me was... Walter.

I try to blank my mind, reminding myself not to go there. After a few seconds, I grit my teeth. I've managed to not think of him since... Russia. And now, because of this fucking babysitting, I get reminded of how much Walter... Skinner hates me.

I take another bite of meat, hoping Witherspoon will get his ass back here so I can end this day, be alone and remember how to forget.

"I'm not a baby," he says around the last mouthful of his sandwich. "If you're afraid of kitchens, how do you eat? Do you have an S.O. to cook for you?"

Something is off-kilter about this conversation. "I'm not afraid of kitchens. I eat take-out. And what's an 'S.O.?'"

"You are afraid... of what it makes you remember. Isn't take-out expensive? An 'S.O.' is a significant other... of either gender." Without waiting for my reaction, he stands and returns to the refrigerator.

I stare at his back, trying to pick up the pieces of this non-conversation, and figure out what the hell is going on. What it makes me remember? Is this kid on dope? And that 'either gender' remark strikes me as... peculiar.

This is insane. I realize I'm holding myself very rigidly. I literally shake it off and relax against the chair. "I'm not concerned with the expense of take-out food. As for my 'S.O.' why don't you tell me?" Let the kid spin his wheels for a few minutes. And I'm going to ignore that kitchen remark.

He returns to the table with some kind of tart. "You're gay. Rich people never have cookies, but this looks edible." He breaks the tart in two, passing half to me.

I take it almost absentmindedly, more focused on what a strange little human this kid is. "I'm relieved the menu meets with your approval." I frown. "So, I'm gay, huh? Is that a guess, or is your ten-year-old gaydar overdeveloped?"

Gibson silently mouths the word 'gaydar.' "I'm twelve. Twelve and a half. You lost someone you really cared about... a man."

I feel a serious twinge of unease, but roll my eyes and sigh. "I thought American kids were into cartoons, not soap operas."

"You'd be surprised what ordinary people think about."

I have no doubt about that. People surprise me all the time. Especially with their morality babble. Ignoring my growing, and inexplicable, unease, I contemplate my lunch companion. I think he fancies a future career on the psychic friends network. "I'm sure ordinary people think about all manner of heinous things. It must be shocking. So, where'd I 'lose' this mystery man? Shopping mall? Theater? Is he permanently misplaced?" I take a bite of the fruit tart.

"Davidson enjoys looking at your backside. The other man... you ran away from him."

Well, now I know the kid is out to lunch. Ran away? I sigh. "Uh-huh. Who is Davidson?"

"Witherspoon's an affectation. His real name is Davidson."

I feel myself smiling. I bite back a laugh. "You're kind of amusing, junior. You're telling me the old guy likes looking at my butt?"

"Yeah, but he thinks Fowley is pretty, too."

I nod sagely. "A pretty deplorable lack of taste all the way around. I mean, no cookies."

He gives me a genuine kid smile. "Poor people have better food. You like kids... it would bother you if they told you to hurt me."

I stare at him for a second, feeling less amused. "Nothing bothers me." I lean forward and look at him intently. Something is... definitely off. "So how do you know all these things, kid?" A wild imagination for starters, but I'm curious what he thinks he's up to.

"Didn't they tell you? I read minds," he glances around the room, "when there's no television."

My lips twitch into a smile. "Of course. I must have missed the briefing. So, mind-reader, are all minds the same?" The kid is weird, but he's not boring. A real novelty these days.

"Nope. Yours is quite different."

I press my lips together, trying not to laugh. "Oh really? How so?"

"You do the same things the others do... hurting people, but for different reasons."

"Different reasons? Uh, like 'Buddha made me do it?'" I wonder again why the Consortium wants this kid. He seems harmless enough. I brush the thoughts away.

Gibson snickers. "'Buddha made me do it?' Is that like, 'the dog ate my homework?'"

Do people really say their dog ate their homework? How peculiar. I thought American humans ate strange stuff. "Uh, yeah, something like that."

"Sometimes you don't even know when you're doing something wrong. But sometimes you do."

Wrong? "You know something, kid. I have no idea what you're talking about." Something about what he said niggles at me. I've never been clear on the moral concepts of right and wrong, but sometimes... I feel uneasy, I guess. Like when I hit Walter. It hated it... couldn't stop thinking about it... Is that what the kid's talking about?

Wait. What the fuck am I thinking? Of course that's not what the kid is talking about. He's not talking about anything. I cock my head to the side. He nearly got me on that one. I wonder where the kid learned to fuck with people's heads like this. It's almost a useful skill.

I watch him for a second. Might as well just end this silliness. "Okay, Gibson, this, uh, significant other of mine. I'm thinking about one of the last things he said."

Bad choice, Krycek. I used to replay it over and over to myself... right after I left. 'I want to be here... whenever you need me, Alex.'

"He wanted to be with you." Gibson swallows the last of the tart. "Maybe he could explain right and wrong to you. You could be a better person if you knew." He licks his fingers. "Is there a TV in another room?"

My mind grapples for a second. Fucking lucky guess. People want to be with each other... I think. Whatever. I stand and walk toward the door. "There's one in the study. Come on."

He settles on the floor in front of the TV and channel surfs for a minute, deciding on some nature program about lizards. I lounge on the couch, glad the conversation is over.

Witherspoon shows up nearly two hours later. I expected to drive Gibson to Rhode Island, but he's brought two other men with him to take the kid.

"Do I have another assignment?"

He gives a short nod. "In a manner of speaking. We'll be taking a trip. We have an alliance to make."

I give a start of surprise. That was abrupt. "That is good news. When do we leave?"

"Tonight."

Witherspoon moves away to make a call. One of the thugs appears, leading Gibson toward the bathroom. Gibson's eyes flick to Witherspoon and he abruptly stops near me. "Don't trust Davidson. He's-" The thug backs up and tersely gestures for Gibson to get moving.

I frown as he departs, wondering what that was about. He's a nice kid, despite being a bit weird. I find myself hoping they don't hurt him.

A few minutes later, the goons and Gibson leave. Gibson flashes me a concerned look before he goes.

After a few moments of silence, I say idly, "So the kid's psychic?"

Witherspoon's lips twist into a humorless attempt at a smile. "Picking your brain was he? Yes, quite the most impressive specimen we've ever seen."

I'm still for a moment, feeling numb. Retreating to the bathroom, I lean against the door as it all sinks in. Oh, fuck me.


Geneva, Switzerland
The Next Day
2:30 P.M.

Gibson's last words stay with me throughout the trip. 'Don't trust Davidson.' I never trust anyone, but his words coupled with the oddity of this trip are making me a little paranoid. It's extremely unusual for Witherspoon--or Davidson--to have me accompany him on a trip. I know this has something to do with his tenuous secret alliance with the Resistance. I tried asking questions, but his imperious stare never wavered and he never offered an answer.

I'm consoled by the fact that if he wanted me dead, he could have killed me without a trip to Switzerland.

We're met at the airport by a burly security-looking type. This is starting to make me a little more nervous. He drives us to a facility on the outskirts of Geneva. I take in the buildings, the security people... Either the Resistance has been here for longer than we thought, or they move fucking fast.

Another security guard meets us at the door, and we're ushered into an office with a large desk and three chairs.

The burly guy hovers near the door and I feel the hair on the back of my neck stand up. We wait in complete silence, then a very short, round man appears. He makes himself comfortable behind the desk and engages Witherspoon in a discussion about their alliance. Introductions were not made. Feeling uncomfortable, I sit still and listen. This man is clearly NOT an alien rebel, so they apparently already have a strong alliance with someone.

Eventually, the small man turns his gaze to me.

"This the one?"

Witherspoon nods.

'The one' what? My survival instincts scream at me. I rise to my feet. I need to get out of here.

The door opens and a familiar figure steps in. Part of me is instantly relieved, but another part is worried about something else entirely. Why is he here?

Arntzen crosses to shake hands with the Brit. Suddenly everything becomes clear. Arntzen and Witherspoon are working together. Arntzen's the one who told Witherspoon where to find me.

I find my voice. "Yuri and Spender. You and Witherspoon. Pardon me, Davidson." The Brit looks like he's sucking on a lemon.

I feel like I've been played from day one. But have I been betrayed? And what do they want from me?

Arntzen looks at me. "I'd hoped to bring you back into the Organization, but you were too unpredictable. And it's clear the Consortium has never been able to control you. But they can." He nods at the small man, who makes a gesture to the big guy by the door.

I start backing up, not seeing an obvious way out of this, but determined to cause as much trouble as possible.

Two more huge men--probably security--move into the room.

As the three large guards advance on me, I know I have no chance. But I'm not going down without a fight.

Entirely too quickly, they have me pinned to the floor. Although, I think I broke one jaw and someone may never walk quite right again.

A meaty fist is raised to smash my face, when Arntzen's voice rings out, "No!"

I struggle against the restraining hands, feeling a sense of panic. I manage to snap out, "Don't do me any fucking favors, you son of a bitch."

Arntzen himself leans down to jab a needle into my arm. "I'm sorry, Alex. It was this or kill you."

My mind is already fuzzy. What exactly is this? I wonder, but can't find the will to ask.

The world is spinning as I'm hauled up off the floor.

"I don't want him killed." Arntzen's voice sounds like it's coming from far away.

"We'll see what we can do."

Then everything goes black.


October 1998
Five Months Later
3:15 P.M.

One of the researches enters my cell. The room is about the size of a prison cell, but more like a hospital room in appearance. Of course, they could probably leave the door unlocked and I wouldn't go anywhere. They've put a substantial incentive in my blood to cooperate.

The man in the white lab coat checks my eyes and looks at me carefully. Normally, I wouldn't passively let them touch me, but I'm so tired I can barely move.

"How long have you been feeling like this?"

I shrug.

"Answer!"

"A day or so," I sluggishly reply.

He pulls my hand out from under the blanket and looks at it, frowning. I glance down and notice the beginnings of distended veins. I feel myself shake. In part from cold and in part from real terror.

I thought the tests were over. They certainly proved to me that the nanocytes are an effective control device. I quickly learned I'd do anything they asked if they'd just stop the pain. Well, anything except submit to the tests passively. Something in me cannot just lie down and allow them to experiment on me. I'd try, but always wound up fighting and being strapped down.

He releases my hand and inspects the rest of my body. It seems unusually cold when he removes the blankets. I haven't had clothes since they threw me in here.

The researcher looks worried and murmurs, "We need to go to the lab. Can you walk?"

I shake my head. "Don't want to... said no more tests."

"We're not running a test, Mr. Krycek. Something is wrong and I need you in the lab. You know how it will hurt if the guards have to restrain you when the nanos are active, so I'd suggest you come along without any trouble."

My mind screams at another lie. The nanos aren't supposed to be active anymore. They said they were done. I struggle to my feet. Normally, I can balance fine without the prosthetic, but I'm so tired it's harder than usual. They took the prosthesis the first day... a possible weapon, they said. Probably right. I would have gladly smashed in a few heads.

Once I'm on my feet, my head starts to throb and it's difficult to see. I reach for the blanket, but the man pulls it away.

He's going to have me walk to the lab naked. I've never suffered from an excess of modesty, but I'm fucking cold. And, in truth, something about running around naked without my prosthetic bothers me.

Sighing, I take a couple steps, then feel my knees collapse. The last thing I'm aware of is him yelling for help.

I wake in agonizing pain. Groaning, I try to move and discover I'm not tied down this time. I lift my hand. The veins are clearly distended.

Dr. Carmon's face swims into view. "We're not running a test. Something has gone wrong with the experiment."

I close my eyes and try to block out the pain. The doctor is probably lying. They're just looking for a way to kill me. I think Arntzen's order was the only thing preventing them from letting me die like the others. I watched them experiment on almost a dozen men, testing to see how long it took the nanocytes to kill. There are only a couple of us left alive.

I feel the prick of a needle in my arm. A few minutes later, the world becomes fuzzy. Pain killers. How unusually considerate. I wonder what the hell is going on.

I have no idea how much time passes before I hear a conversation near me, between two men. My brain is too fuzzy to put a name to the voices.

"It's happening faster in the other one."

"We're working on a fix."

"Get it ready soon."

"Soon will lead to mistakes. We have new features ready to go, and I think we've fixed the self-destruction problem, but there's-"

"Christ! Just get it done."

"But they can be reprogrammed. That's too big a loophole."

"Do it. We're about to run up against the deadline to infect Mr. Skinner. I don't want to have to explain this setback to them."

"Fine. I can't get it done in time to save the kid, but maybe in time to save Krycek."

"I don't give a fuck about Krycek. Just meet the deadline to infect Skinner."

"I thought Arntzen wanted-"

"Comrade Arntzen is not as vital to our plans as he seems to think. Just get the work done."

I try to make sense of what I heard. The only thing that stuck out was Skinner's name. What does he have to do with this?

There's another needle prick in my arm and the world gets hazy again.

I wake in pain to the sound of screaming. I look to my left and see a 20-something Caucasian male writhing on a table near me. Five minutes later he's dead. The last minute almost looked like some kind of hemorrhagic fever. He just started bleeding through his skin.

Closing my eyes, I try to block out the sight of the kid dying, knowing that's what I have coming. I wish closing my eyes blocked out the pain. From the snippets of conversation I've picked up over hours--or days--of excruciating pain, whatever went wrong in the experiment happened much quicker in him.

The medication comes again and I sleep.

When I next wake, my skin is burning. Dr. Carmon is sitting near the table, watching me. I'm strapped down again. I tug at the restraints and whisper, "Why?"

"New nano-machines. No more pain meds." He looks down at a chart and makes some notes.


November 1998
One Month Later
11:00 A.M.

The short round man, who I now know as Mr. Henderson, passes me a file. "Your first objective is to get back in touch with Mr. Spender."

I gape at him. "You cannot be serious."

"Quite. We need you on the inside for an upcoming... plan. You'll be given more information as occasion warrants."

"Why Spender? Why not Witherspoon?"

"Mr. Witherspoon met with an unfortunate accident. The Consortium had him killed after they became aware of him working with us."

Witherspoon was better than Spender, but I'm certainly not sorry to see him gone. The bastard sent me here. "Any reason why Spender would be willing to let me back in? He's tried to kill me more than once."

Henderson smiles grimly. "You're going to offer him something he cannot refuse."

When he doesn't elaborate, I ask, "And that is?"

"Nano technology."

"Myself?" Oh, please no.

After an uncomfortable pause, he says, "No. You're not to let Mr. Spender know you have nano-technology onboard. You will use the technology as your price of admission into the Consortium. But you will drive our agenda. You must at all times appear to be against any form of alliance. The Resistance will never trust these men, so an alliance with them is futile."

"What's the plan for the Consortium?"

"They all must die. You'll be informed as to what needs to be done when the time is right."

"So, what agenda am I supposed to be driving?"

"We want a few people targeted to receive the nanos. We want Mr. Spender to order it. You'll have to hint and suggest. The first few targets are outlined in that file."

I flip open the file and scan through a couple pages, finally coming to a short list of names. I stop breathing when I see 'Walter Skinner' at the top. Closing the file slowly, I search for numbness. Looking up, I ask, "When do I leave?"

"Within two days. Review the file and we'll meet again."

"That it?"

"For now. Are you going to be able to complete this assignment?"

"Of course." I slip the file under my prosthetic arm and rise.

Henderson leans back in his chair. "Keeping you alive may turn out to be useful."

I leave his office without commenting.

Back in my new room, I quickly read through the demonstration they have planned. Slamming the file closed, I pace.

The room is small, but infinitely preferable to my cell-like space in the medical research wing. I was so relieved when the experiment ended, I would have joined a monastery if they'd asked me to.

I strip and climb into the shower, adjusting the temperature to hot. They want me to kill Walter Skinner. Albeit, briefly.

I pass my face under the water and tell myself it doesn't matter. He already hates me and wants me dead. Might as well give him a good reason.

As the hot water causes my skin to flush, I once again notice the changes in my body. The new nanocytes have made so many subtle changes. Hard to believe something has been created that can heal the body. They cannot create new cells, but they can repair damaged cells. The minor skin changes from the burns in the silo have disappeared. Most of my smaller scars are nearly invisible and the scarring on my stump is slowly softening and improving.

Of course, I'm also intimately familiar with the other features of this invention. I wanted to die many times during the experiments. Being an errand boy seems a worthwhile way to spend my time compared to sessions in the lab.

Deliberately not thinking of what I'm going to have to do, I think of how good it will feel to get out of this facility.


New York, NY
January 1999
Two Months Later
8:01 A.M.

I step into Spender's office, immediately assaulted by the smell of cigarette smoke. He's on the phone, so I hang my overcoat and sit in a chair across from him to wait. Working for him the last several months has been a quiet nightmare. I hate him more with every day that passes.

When I first came back, he wanted me dead, but he was easily seduced by the nano-technology. I only release a piece of it to him at a time--enough to keep his research going--but he'll never receive the whole. He'll never know about the healing functions... that would be entirely too useful.

The healing functionality is as necessary to me as breathing. And I hate being dependent on this technology. I discovered a new problem with the nanos while in New Mexico last week. I got in a fight and had a strange episode afterward. The Resistance believes the fight caused the healing function to be overtaxed. Guess I'll have to avoid being injured in the future.

But that's not as difficult as it once was. I wear suits now, traveling around to take care of Consortium business. And hating life.

Spender sets down the phone receiver, stubs out his cigarette and lights another. "Welcome back, Alex."

I nod.

"How was New Mexico?"

I toss a folder onto the desk with my report on the facility in New Mexico. "Everything is going as planned."

Spender inhales deeply. "Senate Resolution 819 is almost through the approval process. We're ready to move to the next phase."

I suddenly feel cold. "Have you decided on the first target?" When we last discussed this, I voted against using Skinner, knowing it would have the opposite effect. For a moment, I wished my vote actually mattered.

"Yes. We'll use Mr. Skinner. He's involved in the review to approve SR-819. This could be a useful incentive."

I nod, but my mind is already going somewhere else. We talk for another hour and I leave to head back to my hotel.

Lying on the bed, I stare at the ceiling. When I turn to look at the clock, four hours have passed. Where did the time go?

I rise and begin to make preparations.


South Street Gym
Washington, D.C.
The Next Day
5:17 P.M.

I pay cash for use of the gym and head downstairs to the boxing area. My information says that Skinner still uses Mike's gym for regular workouts but comes here to box every Wednesday evening. He'll be here tomorrow night. And it's likely he'll use the water cooler near the boxing ring.

The gym is quite busy and no one pays attention to me. The false beard itches and the long strands of wig hair keep getting in my face. Using a four-inch needle, I inject the next three waiting bottles with the nanos encoded for Skinner.

Suddenly, I'm back at my hotel in the shower. I know I must have walked here, but I don't even remember it. I remember staring at the contaminated bottles of water, turning to leave and then I blanked out.

I rest my head against the chilled tile.

I hate this.


The Next Day
7:58 P.M.

I sit on a bench near the ring and watch Skinner prepare to box. I feel confident he won't recognize me in this disguise.

I pull out the control pad and turn it to a low setting. I'll know soon if he's had any of the water. The nanos will rapidly begin to replicate, building to near-lethal levels within a few hours... should I turn them up that high that quickly.

And I would like to. Get this over with. Soon. But my instructions are to make the progression to death last two days.

Someone steps on my foot and apologizes. I glance up. The guy is huge. It should have hurt, but I feel nothing.

My gaze turns back to Skinner. His opponent lands a punch and he collapses. My muscles twitch. Skinner doesn't get back up.

Not conclusive evidence. Guess I'm following him to the hospital.


Washington, D.C.
St. Catherine's Hospital
9:28 P.M.

Skinner's long period of unconsciousness leads me to believe the infection was successful. I got a glimpse of his chart while he was out. They mentioned a large bruise and ordered x-rays. More evidence.

I take a seat in the hallway and write out the electronic message to be sent to Skinner's cell phone. I don't see any reason why we cannot make our point in one day, so I diverge from my orders.

**

9:33 P.M.

I went boxing after work today, but woke up at St. Catherine's Hospital. I must have gotten tagged. The doc tells me I'm fine, but I don't feel quite right. I wish I could remember more clearly what happened at the gym.

As I'm getting dressed, my cell phone rings. "Yeah, Skinner." No one answers. "Hello."

"Walter... Skinner..." It's a synthesized voice.

"Who is this?"

"Have you heard... the news? It's... in... you."

"What is this?"

"You... have... 24 hours... to go."

"What is this? What do you want?" There's no one on the line... just the damned computer voice.

"You are... already dead."

I've been threatened before. It doesn't mean anything.

After taking a cab back to the South Street Gym, I pick up my car. I head home, but my vision is off. The world goes dark around me and things seem oddly far away. I pull over to the side of the road and wait for my vision to clear. As soon as it does, I get back on the road, only to have it happen again.

I rest in my car for five minutes. I'm only a block from the Bureau, so the next time I can see, I pull into the Hoover garage and make my way to my office. I'll just lie down for an hour or so until I feel better. The lights in the garage are painfully bright. I squint my way to the elevator.

I don't switch on the lights when I get to my outer office. My headache is getting worse and the bruise on the side of my chest feels like it's burning. Fuck. I've been knocked out dozens of times, but I never felt like this. Maybe I'm sick?

Mulder appears at the door. "What is it, Agent Mulder?"

"I just, uh... I thought I'd poke my head in and say hey."

"Hey." Christ, Mulder, get a life. I lie back on Kimberly's couch.

"What, are you sleeping one off?"

"No, I was having trouble seeing. It's nothing. I just didn't think I should drive."

Predictably, Mulder is not easily dismissed. He phones Scully, then presses me for more information. His pestering could be a new secret weapon if I could figure out how to harness it for good instead of evil. Too weary to fight, I give in and tell him about the phone call.

When Scully arrives, she seems to think someone poisoned me. "Did the doctor take your blood?"

"Yes. And it checked out." I wish they'd just leave me alone. There's nothing wrong with me.

"Well, if you were poisoned, it could have been overlooked," insists Dr. Scully.

"Well, if it did, why call and tell me at the hospital?"

Mulder offers, "To scare you. See what you'd do. Who you'd turn to."

"Oh." No wonder he's stuck to me like a leech. I glare at him. "This is about you."

"Or about the X-Files."

I struggle to sit up so I can confront him. "You are so paranoid, Mulder. You're not even on the X-Files anymore." Didn't I come up here to rest?

Scully takes his side. "I know. But you are. You still supervise them."

Mulder interrogates me about my very routine day. "This morning, you woke up..."

I'm not in the mood and I don't see what this is going to accomplish. "I woke up," I repeat petulantly.

"Alone?"

Oh, thanks for the reminder, Mulder. "Yes. Alone." No dead prostitutes in my bed this time.

Mulder grills me like a suspect, but the only thing I can come up with is some man who asked me the time. He grabbed my right wrist.

Scully and Mulder hover around me as we walk to Security. We find the man on the entrance videos. And, unbelievably, Scully knows who he is. Dr. Kenneth Orgel. An advisor to a Senate subcommittee on ethics and new technology. Who signed in to see me.

"Why would he be coming to see you?" asks Scully.

"I'd like to ask him that myself."

She replies, "Sir, if this man poisoned you, you should be off your feet and under a doctor's care."

"If this man poisoned me I'm going to put a gun to his head, find out why and ask him how he's going to make me well."

I'm out the door before Mulder catches up.


Chevy Chase, MD
11:32 P.M.

We drive to Orgel's house in Chevy Chase. I remind myself to be a polite agent. We don't know what Orgel has to do with this.

He answers the door, but denies knowing me. He shuts the door in our faces. I have a really bad feeling about this. Am I going to die from this whatever the hell it is? Without having the slightest idea why?

It's just field work, Walt. Concentrate on the work.

Following Mulder's cue, I head to the back of the house as he pounds on the door.

A gunshot is fired from inside. I crash through the back door. A dark-featured man is holding Orgel at gunpoint.

Aiming my weapon at Orgel's captor, I bark out, "Federal agent!"

Something slams into the back of my skull, and I'm on the floor. I can't do anything as the men pass by. Then Mulder approaches me at a crouch. At my urging, he keeps chase on the men with Orgel.

Additional shots are fired, but I can't help Mulder if I can't stand up.

My head is throbbing mercilessly. Weirdly, my neck feels like it's burning. It's excruciating to the touch.

I want nothing more than to be home in bed, but there's definitely something wrong with me. Something worse than getting my head bashed twice in one night. I've got to keep it together long enough to figure this out.

Stay focused, Walt.

I rise to my feet, squint at the blurry room and regulate my breathing until Mulder returns with one of the men. The captured man mutters in a foreign language. Middle Eastern, I think. It's amazing how few people speak English in the presence of law enforcement officers.

Reaching inside his coat, I find a passport. The fucker's got diplomatic papers. I've been down this route before... you never get any information out of these guys, but there's hell to pay with the State Department. I memorize his name and title. Alexander Lazreg. Cultural attaché with the Tunisian embassy. I make Mulder let him go.

Leaving Mulder to deal with the D.C. Police, I take the car to follow the Tunisian, who finds a car a few blocks away.

My vision is erratic. I feel like my blood is going to explode out of my veins. I shouldn't be driving, but if I want to be alive this time tomorrow, it seems like the best plan.

**

I followed Skinner and Mulder to Orgel's house. Fucking idiot Orgel. I knew they'd figure out who he was. What the hell was he thinking going to see Skinner this morning? He became an unexpected test subject because of his sudden moral dilemma over approving SR-819.

Mulder and Skinner split up after Spender's guys grab Orgel. I stay with Skinner who follows one of the Tunisian operatives. Spender moved the nano research to Tunisia, and has been using Tunisian personnel to minimize the number of people with knowledge of this technology.

Following Skinner following the Tunisian is extremely boring. As is watching Skinner watch the other guy eat pancakes. I could almost believe I was just doing surveillance.

**

I track him to an all night diner in a seedy part of D.C. He makes a phone call and then stops for breakfast. Dammit. Watching him eat isn't helping me, but I don't know what else to do right now.

My condition, whatever the fuck it is, is getting worse. Just sitting in my car is tiring. And waiting for the fucker to pay for his pancakes is like waiting on death row after your last meal.

At last the diplomat-cum-thug exits the diner and gets back into his car. I follow him to Embassy Row and enter the parking garage a minute after he does. My neck feels like it's burning up.

The windshield shatters--a shot fired--splattering me with glass. Gun instantly in my fingers, I slump down and play dead. When footsteps get closer, I sit up and fire off two rapid shots. Exiting the vehicle, I make pursuit but the garage is dark and I've lost his direction.

Shit, I can hardly see. If he's still on his feet, he's going to pick me off. What's the rush? I'm going to die tomorrow anyway.

The screech of tires draws my attention. A car whips through the garage. I jump out of the way and turn. The car hits the Tunisian at a good speed. I stumble and land on a parked car. A piercing alarm goes off and I'm certain the sound will detonate whatever is pounding in my veins. I should get up, but I'm not sure I can.

Fuck, I'm going to die right here. And not even know why.

I'm vaguely aware of someone lifting me. Through distorted flashes of vision I see hints of faces. My mouth opens trying to speak. I need to tell them... what?

**

D.C. General
The Next Day
6:22 A.M.

I had already hit the Tunisian before I was even aware of depressing the accelerator, then I followed the ambulance to the hospital.

Feeling numb and empty, I hover in the corridors of the hospital. I'm aware of Scully arriving around 6:45. When she emerges from the operating room with Skinner, I overhear that she saved him from having his arms amputated. That was not part of the plan.

A few minutes later, I realize I'm using the wall for support and I feel nauseated.

**

White walls... and another face. Scully. "... moving you to another room."

I'm not dead yet, but I'm definitely dying. "Who did this to me?"

Scully's voice... "... figure out right now... care of you... everything we can."

There's something in my head that will help. Images, but I can't make them come clear. "I don't know. I can't remember."

Fuck, this is not how I planned to die.

When I become aware again, I'm in another room. My vision is better. My body feels worse... the pain is extreme. Like an all body headache with a burn.

I can't have much time left.

My life... what a waste. So many things I tried to do but never accomplished. What a fucking waste. I've always played the middle... constant compromise... never really standing up for anything.

At this moment, just before my death, my choices all seem wrong. I pull at the memories of my life trying to find something to justify a little self respect, but it feels like I've always let everyone down.

**

9:32 A.M.

Mulder arrives at the hospital. I stand around the corner from them and can make out about 50 percent of what they're saying. Goddamned Mulder has already connected this to SR-819. I wonder if he got that information from the Senator.

Time for another phone call. I begin writing the message into the control pad. A moment later, Mulder appears, looking around the hallways. Shit.

I turn to leave and he comes after me. I'm able to lose him in the parking garage, but that was too fucking close.

In the car, I place a call to Spender to let him know the status. We disagree about how to handle Senator Matheson. I think we should go ahead and infect him, but Spender thinks the threat of infection is enough for now. How unusual for Spender to be on the more conservative side of any action.

But an object lesson is in order, and Spender wants Orgel terminated. I leave to take care of both.


Baltimore, Maryland
2:07 P.M.

I watch Senator Matheson trying to untie Orgel. I turn the nanos to their highest setting and watch Orgel die. The senator is shaking and backing away from the table. I think we've made our point.

Outside, one of Spender's men is waiting for me. I instruct him to remove Orgel's body. I head back to D.C.

**

D.C. General
5:32 P.M.

Scully returns. There's some procedure she wants to try. The details don't matter. I'll consent to anything she believes might help.

"I'm in your hands," I whisper in a hoarse voice. I have to trust her. I should have trusted both of them so much more than I ever did. Maybe I can at least tell her I'm sorry. "I think I owe you an apology, Scully. You and Mulder."

"Sir?"

"I've been lying here thinking. Your quest... it should have been mine."

"What do you mean?"

"If I die now, I die in vain. I have nothing to show for myself... my life."

"Sir, you know that's not true." It's a kind thing to say.

"It is. I can see now that... I always played it safe. I wouldn't take sides. Wouldn't let you and Mulder... pull me in."

"You've been our ally more times than I can say."

Stop being kind, dammit. "Not the kind of ally that I could have been." Suddenly, I see the images in my head again. The Bureau. The gym. The hospital. "I remember now."

"What?"

"I can't see his face. He has a beard." She can find him. I might not die.

"Try."

"He was at the gym. At the hospital. He killed that man. He was at the FBI when Orgel approached me." The long dark hair... a shadow of a face... a familiar face. Fuck, if I can name him...

"He was following you?"

"The tape... he's on the surveillance tape."

I don't have much time. If Mulder and Scully don't solve this, I'm a goner. Drifting in and out, the pictures in my head keep disturbing me. There's something I need to understand.

**

9:27 P.M.

I stand outside the trauma room where they're working on Skinner. I don't even remember walking here. I know I'm functioning, but it's almost without conscious thought.

There's a part of my brain I cannot shut down. It's so noisy... images, voices, strange feelings. I ignore it. Disconnect from it. It doesn't matter.

I should finish this and go. I move closer to the window. I want him to see me. Hate me, Skinner, just don't feel nothing.

I turn the setting all the way up.

**

It's too late. I'm dying. I don't see my body from above like before. The pain is so bad, I'm just... tired. It doesn't even hurt anymore...

Sharon, Dad, Anna. Did I remember to tell them I loved them? A catalogue full of regret whizzes through my brain. People I failed or let down. The man I cared about who failed me. Mistakes. Compromises.

I tried. I fucking tried.

Doctors all around me. I need to tell them... manage to rasp out a name. The name of a beautiful man who slipped through my fingers... Once warm in my arms, he turned out to be only a mirage.

His name... My last words?

The mirage seems as real as anything else.

I close my eyes, trying to feel his hand on my face.

Suddenly, I'm choking and gasping for air. There's a sheet over my face.

I must be dying. Didn't I die already?

The doctors are fussing with me again. Won't they ever leave me alone?

Something compels me to look at the window of the room. The bearded man is watching me. Oh, god, I know that face.

Is it all right to cry now?

**

11:07 P.M.

I slip on to a barstool and order a couple shots of tequila. As I down the second shot, a large hand claps on my shoulder. I turn and look up at Morgan.

"How you doing, kid? Haven't seen you in a long time." He actually looks pleased to see me.

I gesture for more tequila. "I need to get drunk, Morgan." I'm too acutely aware of the knife at my waist, which I picked up before coming here.

Morgan waves away the bartender. "I have some better stuff in my office." He tugs me off the barstool. "And we can catch up."

I don't feel capable of resisting anything right now. "I'll get drunk with you, Morgan, but if you make another pass at me, I'll figure out a way to beat your ass." I don't care if he is a foot taller and about 190 pounds heavier.

Morgan laughs and closes his office door. He pulls a bottle of Patron off the shelf and pours me a shot. "So you want to tell me why you're looking to get drunk?"

"Isn't this a bar?"

"Yeah, but I've never seen you drink."

"Just pour."

12:38 A.M.

The room is out of focus as I down another shot.

Morgan's voice seems to come from far away. "You had enough yet?"

I think he's matched me shot for shot, but he doesn't look drunk. I certainly feel drunk. "No. Still conscious," I mumble.

He pours me another shot, then says, "What's got you in a twist, Alex?"

I look at him, trying to focus. "Killed someone."

"Uh, what's new about that?"

I slump down in my chair again. "Didn't wanna..."

There's silence forever. Or maybe only a couple seconds. "I'm sure you've had to kill someone you didn't want to before." He's kind of... quiet.

I murmur, "Not someone I love." I stare at the ceiling.


The Next Day
9:12 A.M.

An insistent bladder wakes me abruptly. I'm dimly aware of another body in the bed, but focus on getting to the bathroom. My head is killing me.

When I return to the room, Morgan turns over and looks at me. I stare at him in shock. "What the fuck am I doing here?" Then I grab my head. Ow.

Morgan grumbles, "You passed out. I didn't know what else to do with you."

Well, I'm fully dressed, so I know we didn't fuck. Ugh, there are reasons I don't drink. Unable to stop myself, I lie back down.

After several minutes of silence, I ask, "What happened last night?"

"We didn't fuck, if that's what you mean."

I turn my head to glare at him. I doubt it was very successful. "It was more of a rhetorical question. I don't remember much after about the thirteenth shot of tequila."

"Yeah, you seemed pretty upset last night."

I put my arm over my eyes. "Had a bad day."

"Uh-huh. Said you had to kill someone you didn't want to."

I look at him again. "You're kidding."

"Nope."

"Did I say who?" Another reason not to drink. I hope I wasn't babbling.

"No."

After a long pause, Morgan asks, "So, kid, where the fuck is your arm?"

Oh, that.

**

Washington D.C.
Two Days Later
3:33 P.M.

In spite of my rapid recovery, my regular physician insists that I take a few weeks off. That's just what I don't want, so I go to work a few days later. I snarl at Kimberly's predictable attempts to send me home, but the Director intervenes, forcing me to go home.

I don't want to have to think about this.

Although I don't understand the medicine or the biophysics, it's appallingly clear what's been done to me and why. I'm on a choke chain. And if I don't do what he tells me to, he's going to issue a correction. This little incident was just a demonstration of how far he can take it. Not merely torture. He can take me to death and back. At his whim.

Playing god with my life. As if every past insult and attack were inadequate punishment for... for what? What did I ever do to him to merit this heinous crime? I'm sure I made mistakes but this is... violence a twenty-year Bureau man couldn't have conceived of during the worst acid flashback.

What does he want? What persons or ethics will I be asked to betray? And how far am I willing to go to keep myself alive?

Some questions I have answers to. I'd take his life in an instant to save mine. I hope to have the opportunity. If he's expecting me to hesitate, it will be a fatal mistake.

Both the hospitals I visited during the incident want more samples of my blood and consent to research it. I decline.

Brushing off Mulder and Scully is going to be more unpleasant. Especially after I gave Scully that fucking apology speech in the hospital. I meant it, too. But I didn't foresee the trap I find myself in.


Washington, D.C.
Three Weeks Later
8:00 A.M.

I still haven't heard from the man who took my control away.

I had Kimberly schedule Mulder and Scully immediately, so I can get it over with. Scully's going to think I'm such a hypocrite. 'Your quest should have been mine... Not the kind of ally that I could have been...'

It can't be helped. I don't need these two overly-effective investigators in the middle of whatever is going on between me and the twisted criminal who's pulling my strings.

When Mulder and Scully enter the office, they both give me hearty smiles appreciating my apparent fitness. Kind words are spoken, which I tune out.

Mulder says, "The man who poisoned you was at the FBI that day. Scully was able to pull these off the security video tapes." He passes me two photos, which I pretend to look at. "Hopefully, it might jog your memory. Maybe you can identify this man."

"No, I'm sorry." I pass the photos back across the desk.

Scully looks appalled.

"SR-819 was withdrawn by committee late last night," Mulder adds, "Without explanation."

"Good. So this man failed then." Come on, let it go, Mulder. You know I'm stonewalling you. Let it go.

Am I surprised when he doesn't? "If that was his true motive. If he wanted to poison you, to
prevent you from investigating SR-819, why call you to tell you that? This man worked for the government that was to receive this technology. He drove one of their cars and he killed one of his own to save you."

"So you still think this is about you? About the X-Files?"

"Yes. Yes, I do. And I have an idea who may be behind all this. But I'd need your authority to continue the investigation."

Any subtlety I might offer would just drag this out. "I have neither the authority nor the will to allow your continued inquiry into this matter. You'll perform your duties as directed by A.D. Kersh and only A.D. Kersh."

"Sir?" asks Scully, her expression a mixture of shock and dismay.

"This matter's closed, Agents. Am I clear?"

I don't look at their faces anymore. Don't even want to see what I know must be there.

At the end of the day, I make my way through the parking garage. I unlock my car with the remote. When I reach for the ignition, I realize I'm not alone in the car.

I'm almost glad he's finally come forward. I need to finish this. One way or another. I need to know what he wants, then I have choices to make.

I sit calmly in the driver's seat. "I've been expecting you to show up."

He replies, "You know I can push the button any time."

"What do you want from me? What's this about, Krycek?"

"All in good time." He exits the car without another word.

Ah, fuck. He's playing with me.

Who is this sadistic man? No one I ever knew.

Every minute of every day he's controlling me. Having given no orders to his technologically-induced slave, he still controls me. My life is no longer my own.

I will never understand him. Choices of mine and his have brought me here, but I don't know how or why. He, who once brought me pleasure, now brings me anguish. It seems as if whatever began four years ago will never be finished.

I start my engine and head home.

**
END
9 June 2002

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