Exigency by Zoe Takashi & Louise Wu

Authors: Zoe Takashi & Louise Wu,  Email Us
Pairing: Skinner/Krycek
Warning: Extreme Violence. Extreme Angst. Character death.
Special Warning: This book should not be read by anyone with suicidal tendencies. Both Zoe and Louise got depressed just editing the damned thing!
Spoilers: Season 8: Without.
Note: We begin to gradually diverge from canon in this book, but some canon continues into the next book.
Summary: Walter gets hurt. Alex gets hurt. Walter and Alex get REALLY BIG HURT.
Series: Exigency. This story is best read after Advance.
Beta Thanks: Helen, our ever-eager beta and chief cheerleader!
Disclaimer: Chris Carter and 1013 Productions own the X-Files series characters. The rest are ours. No revenue is collected. No infringement of rights is intended.


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

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


Part 1

Crystal City, VA
Monday, 22 May 2000
8:42 A.M.


I glance over at Marita. She's checking her hair in the mirrored wall of the elevator--she refused to be subjected to 17 flights of stairs.

She meets my eyes in the mirror. "Are you sure Mr. Skinner can be induced to help us?"

Getting Marita onboard was surprisingly easy. She's always been opposed to colonization. In addition, she's had no love for Spender since he left her in that research facility. Come to think of it, it's odd that she's been so angry with me. I didn't put her there.

I nod and calmly reply, "He will help us." It's getting harder for me to assume this role in regard to Walter.

The elevator chimes and we walk to his front door. I knock briskly and Marita whispers, "Why do you expect him to be home at this hour?"

Good question. "I phoned him earlier and told him to expect me."

"And he does what you say?"

I give her a cold look and reply, "Yes," just as the door opens.

Walter's wearing a cold look of his own. He stands at the door looking at us, not inviting us in but not trying to close the door.

I hate this.

I pull out the control pad, which Marita eyes with great curiosity.

"Yeah, we've been there already,," Walter says testily. "What do you want, Krycek?"

"We have some business to discuss, Mr. Skinner... some new orders for you." I put the control pad back in my jacket and take a couple steps forward. "I think we'll make ourselves at home."

He steps aside, grudgingly admitting us.

Once the door is closed, I introduce them. "Marita Covarrubias... with the U.N. Marita, Assistant Director Walter Skinner."

Walter glances at her, but says nothing.

Marita refrains from offering to shake Walter's hand, but says, "It's a pleasure, Mr. Skinner."

He gives her a grim look that clearly says, 'not really.'

I say, "Marita, have a seat. Can Mr. Skinner get you something to drink?"

Walter's jaw clenches and I imagine he's going to give me a hard time about using him as a waiter.

Marita looks at me, allowing her surprise to show, then shakes her head. She cautiously takes a seat and opens her mouth to say something, but I cut her off.

"If you'll excuse us, Marita, I need to persuade Mr. Skinner to assist us."

This time he glares at me. I don't like seeing him angry... it stings more than it should, but I'm glad he can still pull this off. I gesture for him to precede me upstairs.

Marita watches us leave with wide-eyed astonishment.

We head into the office and close the door. I lean against it and mutter, "It's getting harder to do this."

He nods. "Can I get you something to drink?"

I find myself smiling and have to bite back a laugh. "Sorry about that."

His face remains serious, but there's an unexpected glint of humor in his eyes.

I take a deep breath and get him caught up. "Marita's with us. She's not interested in seeing the conspiracy revived, but she's keeping up the pretense with Spender. It's impossible to know where her true loyalties lie, however."

Nodding, he replies, "I assume we can't trust her. I won't give her any information about anything unless you tell me to."

"Good. I told her you hadn't gone to work yet on my orders."

"Yeah. She seemed more than a little surprised to see me taking orders from you. I guess that speaks well for my reputation."

"Marita was aware of the SR-819 project, but was never in the loop on who was to be infected. Only Spender knows you were a target. Having seen the control panel, she'll probably guess, but I won't bring it up in front of her."

After a few minutes, it's time to end our fake 'chat.' I touch Walter's arm briefly before opening the door.

Half an hour later, we're pulling into the Bureau parking garage. Since Marita's in the front seat, I watch carefully for any incipient signs of flirting.

Walter seems completely disinterested in her and anything she says. Good.

He doesn't sign us in, simply leads us to the X-Files office.

**

Being an A.D. has advantages. Like keys that get me around security checkpoints. I can't quite believe that I'm escorting Alex into the Bureau. Too bad I can't turn off all the security cameras.

When we get to the basement, I gesture to the hall outside Mulder and Scully's office. "Give me a moment. Wait here."

Alex nods and Marita steps closer to him, out of sight of the door. Inside, I find Mulder playing with his basketball.

"Agent Mulder." He has to be thinking I'm here to ream him out for hitting the bean counter.

Mulder replies glibly, "What's our punishment this time? Thumbscrews or 40 lashes? Come on in, Walter. Sit a spell. This could be the last time you take a trip down to these offices." He's in rebellious child mode today.

"You went to Oregon."

"Guilty as charged. And if they're coming down on you for that, then I'm sorry. I truly am."

Oh, please. That's the least of my problems. "Fortunately, they think that I make a contribution to the Bureau."

In a bitchy tone, he replies, "Oh well, yeah, stick to a budget they say your making a contribution, but push the limits of your profession, and they say you're out of control."

That's hard to argue. The real problem is simple, though. "You could bring home a flying saucer and have an alien shake hands with the President... what it comes down to Agent Mulder is... they don't like you."

"Well, we didn't bring home a flying saucer... or an alien."

No kidding. "Yeah... so I've been told."

Mulder nods dejectedly.

I step further into the office. Alex and Marita follow behind me. Mulder jumps up and surges toward Alex. I stand in between them and get a good grip on Mulder. "Agent Mulder! I think you should listen to him."

Fuming, Mulder stops resisting, but I keep my grip on him... just in case.

Alex steps closer. "You've got every reason to want to see me dead." Mulder lunges for him again, but I push him back. "But you've got to listen to me now," Alex continues.

Mulder jerks back away from me. I still keep myself positioned between them.

"You have the singular opportunity." There's something seductive about Alex's tone and I realize he is seducing. I'm getting a frightening glimpse of how he manipulates Mulder.

"Here or you want to step outside?" Mulder challenges.

"Agent Mulder," Maria interjects, "Cancerman is dying."

Mulder looks like he might actually listen to her. I decide to show him a little trust and step away, as Marita steps forward.

She continues, "His last wish is to rebuild his project, to have us revive the conspiracy. It all begins in Oregon."

"The ship that collided with that Navy plane," Alex adds. "It's in those woods."

"There's no ship in those woods," Mulder replies.

"Yeah, it's there. Cloaked in an energy field. While he mops up the evidence."

"Who?"

"The Alien Bounty Hunter. Billy Miles. Teresa Hoese, her husband. He's eliminating proof of all the tests. We're asking ourselves..." Alex's posture shifts subtly, a tad less defensive. "We're asking ourselves, 'Where are they?' They're right there. They're right under our noses. I'm giving you the chance to change that, to hold the proof."

I have to control my facial expression. Alex is reeling Mulder in like a 180-lb bass. He's distressingly good at it. Of course, dangle aliens and Mulder's easy to reel.

"Why me and why now?" Mulder demands suspiciously.

"I want to damn the soul of that cigarette-smoking son of a bitch." A little dramatic for Alex, I think, but he's just playing Mulder.

"Mulder?" Scully's voice, unusually tentative.

I glance back and find her gaping at us. I'm sure she has no idea what we're up to here... probably can't decide if it's for good or evil. Don't feel bad, Scully, I don't know either.

I don't want her asking the wrong questions, so I step forward and offer, "Agent Scully, Krycek and Ms. Cor-var-rubias are here about your recent investigation in Oregon. They think they found the spaceship."

Scully looks as skeptical as I feel. I also see that her law-enforcement hackles have risen. Sorry, but you won't be arresting my lover today, thank you very much.

I keep an eye on Mulder. He's watching Alex and his body language suggests he's just waiting for an opening to start something. Alex is clearly aware of it, but he stays cool, feigning a casual posture, though there's no question in my mind he's ready to fight if he has to.

I decide to make it harder to brawl. "Mulder, sit down." I pull a chair out for Marita and take a seat on a file cabinet. Scully moves to her desk chair. When she sits, Mulder does, too.

Alex explains how to find the ship, not mentioning that he already knows where it is and can find it easily. It ultimately leads to the need for satellite data. I suggest calling in a Bureau data analyst, but Mulder wants his computer-geek friends to look at it. So he makes a phone call. And I call the analysis section to get the required satellite images. Seems like a lot of trouble for something Alex can find, but I guess that's the nature of the deception 'business.'

Now fully reeled-in, Mulder asks Alex a lot of questions. Alex answers a few, but largely evades them. After 20 minutes, Alex gets frustrated and snaps, "I'm not here to be interrogated!"

"Then what exactly are you here for, Krycek?" Mulder leaps to his feet. "Because every time we do this, you've got a hidden agenda. I want to know what it is before I get fucked by it."

Scully's gaze flicks to mine. I know, I tell her silently. He does have a hidden agenda. I give a slight shrug in return.

Nonchalantly, Alex leans back in his chair. "Just for the thrill of thwarting Spender's plans. Nothing sinister, Agent Mulder."

"I'm supposed to believe that? You're a fucking murderer, but now you only use your powers for good?"

"Mulder," I say in a cautionary tone. "You either want to follow up on his lead or you don't. Pick one and live with the consequences."

Alex visibly restrains himself from responding, then flashes me a quick look. I sense more than see a slight anxiety. He's under orders. So am I, but I'm not going to force Mulder to follow those orders. Consequences be damned.

When the lobby notifies Mulder that his friends have arrived, we agree to take the meeting to my office, which has more chairs. Mulder goes to the lobby and the rest of us to my office.

Kimberly frowns slightly at Alex, but I don't think she recognizes him.

Once we're all gathered around my conference table and the satellite data are delivered, Mulder's friends pour over the photos and make cryptic remarks about different types of satellites.

Scully, who has been relatively silent since this began, asks to speak with me for a moment. I cast a concerned eye on Mulder, hating the idea of leaving him with Alex. She gives me a reassuring nod.

I can guess what's on her mind, and I'm not looking forward to it. There's no real privacy to be had anywhere near my office, so I lead her to the Ops rooms. Both are occupied, but one has a small conference room attached, which we commandeer.

Shutting the door behind us, I turn to her and wait.

"Mulder is in obsession mode. He'll leave Krycek alone." She crosses her arms. Uh-oh. "I thought you said he was deceased."

"That's what I thought. Until Thursday night when he showed up at my apartment." I hope she believes me.

"So, he abandoned you... left you to suffer. And you're still trying to protect him?"

Sorry, Scully. I'm not telling you anything about where he's been. "I have information you don't. And does it really matter why I'm trying to protect him?"

"Yes," she hisses. "You are bringing him into our work. What could possibly induce you to extend that level of trust to a man who has done so much to you?"

I pinch the bridge of my nose. "Scully, let's put the personal issues aside. They're not... they don't matter." That didn't come out right. "I'm, uh, not asking anyone to trust Alex. I don't expect you or Mulder to do that. It's your choice if you want to act on the information or not. I'm not... misrepresenting anything."

She shakes her head. "Fine. We'll use his information, but I don't want him anywhere near any actual investigation."

I can't make that promise to her, because I don't know what else Alex or I will be asked to do. She seems to have forgotten my situation. "Agent Scully--Dana--this is about our lives. We're not working any other agenda. I know you don't trust him, but maybe," I hope, "you still trust me." My eyes are locked on hers, even though I'm afraid of what I'll see in them.

"I do trust you." She pauses before adding, "But not when it comes to him. I haven't forgotten the position you're in... that you're being forced. And you tell me he is, too. But I also know you lost interest in 'fighting for your life' when he ran off. I'm sorry, sir, but I question your judgment with regard to Krycek. I think he's using you. I'd like to prevent that from hurting you, but it's your choice. Him hurting the X-Files is my choice. And I don't want him involved."

He's not using me. He never was... even years ago... the first time he left, when I concluded he'd been using me, he hadn't been. I trust Alex. Scully doesn't. Fine.

I would never ask Scully or Mulder to trust Alex. It didn't come easily to me, and I know him better than anyone else. "I can't make promises to you about what will or won't happen because I don't know. I don't know what else to say to you." I hold up my hands, gesturing futilely.

She nods thoughtfully, then turns toward the door. Looking back at me, she says, "I hope--for your sake--that you're right about him."

"Scully, you've had every reason to distrust me, to share our secrets, to give up on me and the research, to tell me to go to hell, and you keep standing in my corner." In our corner. "And I keep trying to find new ways to express my gratitude and it's never enough. I... I'm sorry for all the problems. You don't deserve it. You don't deserve any of it."

"I just... I need to know that you're on our side. The problems," she waves them away, "are just... life."

Fuck, I am on her side. Aren't I? If I'm not sure, what's she supposed to think? "I'll do whatever I can for you and Mulder. I wish it were more."

"It's enough." She nods toward the door. "Let's go back and make sure the Gunmen aren't encouraging Mulder's obsessiveness... too much."

When we get back to my office, Alex is still in one piece. He rolls his eyes. I guess it's been... tedious? A half hour later, I know for a fact. But, at last, Mulder's three friends agree on the approximate location of the ship. Alex seems to support their theory, and he's supposed to know, so I guess that's it.

Mulder takes Scully out into the hall.

I stare at the wall. They're going off to find this ship. Since I don't expect them to tow one home, I have to wonder what I do expect.

I still can't quite believe what Alex told me yesterday. He sensed the ship. He doesn't seem delusional. I believe he believes, but I don't know how to translate what he's told me into something I can believe.

Mulder comes into my office and tells me that Scully wants to speak to me again. I find her in the hall. "Do we need to find a room?"

She shakes her head. "They're taking former abductees in Oregon, so Mulder doesn't want me to go. But I can't send him up there alone. I want you to go with him."

I owe this woman my life, and more. I guess I'm going to Oregon. "Yes ma'am."

Scully gives me a faint smile. "Thank you."

Back in my office, I say to Mulder, "Looks like I'm going spaceship-hunting with you."

Alex's expression tightens and his eyes widen. In an instant, he's controlled it and his face goes blank. Looks like my lover isn't happy about this development.

Mulder turns to me and deadpans, "Scully seems to think I need a babysitter."

You do, Mulder. Trust me, you do.

After escorting Krycek and Marita to the front door of the building, I head to the garage to get my car. Kimberly's handling the travel plans. I need to pack a bag.

At home, I change into casual clothes and pack a few things. I don't really know how to pack for spaceship-hunting, but Mulder said something about hiking.

As I zip up my suitcase, I hear Alex at the door. Moving to the hallway, I see him taking the stairs two at a time, with a very aggressive expression on his face.

He screeches to a halt when he sees me. "You are not going to Oregon."

"There's no choice. Scully can't go. You know why."

"Then let him go alone."

"I think that's unwise."

"Walter... don't go up there."

I rest a hand on his shoulder. "What's bothering you?"

"I know you don't believe it, but you heard what we talked about. There's a bounty hunter running around up there killing and collecting people. Just... don't go. Please."

"You're worried about my safety?"

He gives me a rather frustrated isn't-it-obvious look. "Yes."

"If it was safe for you to go alone on Friday, it's safe for me to go with Mulder. I'm a trained agent, Alex." Alien bounty hunters? Yeah, I heard it, but it does not compute.

Alex rubs his forehead. "I know you can take care of yourself. But Mulder and I know how to kill these things. You don't."

I'm a little bit peeved. He goes off to Resistance torture centers, fucking Tunisia, but he doesn't want me to go on a simple mission with Mulder. There's either a spaceship there or there isn't. "Mulder's going with me. If any aliens come after us, I'll let him deal with them."

He sighs. "You're going no matter what I say, aren't you?"

"I'm sorry, Alex." I squeeze his shoulder. "I don't want you to worry. I know what that's like. I just..." don't believe in aliens.

He steps close to me and reaches up to touch the base of my neck. "Right here. Bullet... knife... whatever. But it's the only spot that will kill them."

Alien Killing 101. Okaaaay. "I'll remember that," I reply, trying to sound sincere. Wrapping my arms around his waist, I hold him for a moment.


Bellefleur, Oregon
8:05 P.M.


I park the car where Mulder advises. It looks like... nowhere. We get out of the car. What the hell are we going to find? "This is starting to feel like the snipe hunt I was afraid of."

Mulder retrieves a backpack from the trunk and starts marching off into the woods. "There's no such thing as a snipe, sir."

My point entirely. "Hey, you know, my ass is on the line here, too, Agent Mulder."

"I know that," he replies sincerely. Maybe he does.

The location Mulder identifies is only a few minutes' hike from the road. You'd think aliens would put their spacecraft somewhere more secluded.

Mulder spreads out an array of lasers that he got from the Gunmen.

"How's it supposed to work?"

"Not exactly sure, sir. But, uh..." He checks a reading on his handheld data device. "... budgetarily, I'd say we're looking pretty good."

Terrific. The sun's gone down and the lasers cast red lines out into the darkness. Per Mulder's instructions, I connect another laser.

After placing the last one, I glance up, but don't see Mulder. "Agent Mulder?!" Scully's going to kill me if I let him ditch me.

Shit. I can't see him anywhere. Mulder, do you have to always be such a pain in the ass?

"Mulder! Mulder!" He was standing here a minute ago. I move to the last place I saw him, but I see nothing. Then the laser light stops, abruptly. "Mulder?"

I can't see anything at all. An extremely bright light is shining overhead. What the fuck? Then it's angled away from me. Oh, Jesus. Fucking. Christ.

It's a triangular-shaped aircraft. Not in the least like any spy plane I've ever heard of.

"Mulder..."

I think it took Mulder.

I watch helplessly as it disappears into the night sky, knowing that everything in an already way too complicated life has changed forever.

**

Washington, D.C.
11:48 P.M.


I give up trying to read, instead pacing around Marita's hotel room. Marita and I have managed to keep the overt hostility out of our relationship since I talked with her this morning, but I doubt we're ever going to get along well again. It seems so long ago since she and I 'really' got along. Another life.

Walter and Mulder should have been in Oregon some time ago. I wonder what's happening. Did they find the ship? More importantly, is Walter okay?

We heard that Scully collapsed at the Bureau and was rushed to the hospital. Fucking great. Walter will be so pleased.

The ringing of the phone startles me out of my reverie. Marita answers and listens intently for several moments, then her expression subtly shifts. Marita is always cool, so I know something has gone wrong. Oh no. Please let Walter be okay.

The seconds creep by and I'm nearly jumping out of my skin by the time she hangs up. I barely manage to keep up my façade.

She looks at me. "They found the ship, Alex. But Agent Mulder has been abducted."

I try to keep my tone casual. "And A.D. Skinner?"

"He's the one who called it in."

I can't think. Nothing comes out of my mouth. All I can do is feel relieved. He's okay.

Then it hits me. Mulder. Oh, shit.

Walter is going to be upset. Massively upset.

Damn you, Mulder. Why couldn't you stay out of trouble for once?

Marita's looking at me curiously. I force myself to engage. "What about the ship?" I already know the answer. It was so close to being repaired on Friday.

"We lost the ship. It took off."

Oh, lord. I wonder if Walter saw that? "I assume Spender already knows?"

"Yes. It was his contact on the phone."

Spender. The bastard. He's the cause of this mess. I look at Marita intently. "We can't let him keep doing this, Marita. You don't have to like me... or even work with me, but we have to end this."

Marita smoothes her hair, picks up her bag and gestures me toward the door. "Let's go, Alex."

Fifteen minutes later, we pull up in front of the Watergate Apartments. My anger at Spender has been building since we left the hotel. The fucking bastard just plays with people... with all of us.

Marita raps on the door and Greta admits us. Spender is staring out the window, looking unhappy.

In a morbid tone, he says, "We've failed, then. Perhaps you never meant to succeed. Anyway... the hour is at hand, I presume."

You presume correctly, you fucking prick. Nine months in a Tunisian prison. Nine months away from Walter. Nine months he suffered thinking I was dead. I couldn't kill you enough times to make up for what you've done.

I grab the wheelchair and push him toward the door.

Greta snaps, "What are you doing?"

Marita restrains Greta.

The truth is so simple. "Sending the devil back to hell."

I wheel him to the top of the stairs. I should just break his neck... but something in me can't. I try not to analyze it. It doesn't matter. I wouldn't want to touch him anyway.

Spender offers a last piece of his own twisted wisdom as he says, "As you do to Mulder, and to me, you do to all of mankind, Alex."

Bullshit, old man.

I give the final push.

Moments later, Marita and I head down the stairs and step over his broken body. I know by the turn of his neck that he's dead. I realize that with his death, a part of my life is over. A part I never asked for. Something shifts inside me... like a change in orientation. It's as if I'm moving in Walter's direction for the first time... the direction of the life I chose.

We're a half a flight down when Marita stops. "I have to be sure, Alex."

She turns back and kneels next to Spender's body, feeling his neck. I glance up. Greta is watching us fearfully. No, you're not next. Once I would have killed you without thinking, but I have to be able to look Walter in the eyes tonight.

Marita rises to her feet, looking more relaxed than I've ever seen her. "He's dead. He's finally dead." What else has he done to you, Marita? I decide I don't want to know.

**

Bellefleur, Oregon
11:48 P.M.


I got ten men with high-power flashlights from the local Bureau office. They wanted to wait until morning, but I couldn't.

We walk the woods most of the night, but there's no sign of Mulder. I've personally walked and rewalked the entire area where he might have gone in a few short minutes, but there's nothing besides some scorched grass.

I keep telling myself I don't believe in aliens, but I have no conviction anymore. That was not a spy plane. And if it wasn't...

Christ, that means Mulder's been chasing real aliens all these years. And Alex. I'm the one who's been delusional. Everything I know has just been turned on its ear.

And now Mulder... Fuck, I can't begin to imagine what's happening to him if he's on that ship. Whatever it is, it can't be good. Can it? I truly have no idea. Mulder's been trying to tell me all these years, and I've only been listening with half an ear.

Giving up the search to the local agents, I sit on a rock and try not to cry. Mulder I'm so fucking sorry.

Alex was right, I wasn't prepared for this. I didn't even do anything to try to protect him. Now I finally know it's real and I can't do anything.

I kick the rock with the heel of my boot. It's as useful an action as any other I've taken tonight.

The local SAC approaches. "Sir, I don't think there's anything to be found tonight. We can have a fresh crew out in the morning. Maybe in the daylight-"

"Keep looking," I reply in a command voice. And I rise to do the same.


Tuesday, 23 May 2000
6:30 A.M.


In the morning, it's all too clear. There's a very large wedge-shaped impression in the dirt and grass 20 feet from where Mulder disappeared, with a circular scorched pattern in the middle. I feel like it's deliberately taunting me, because it looks exactly like a fucking crop circle.

I haven't slept in over 24 hours, so one of the local agents drives me to the Bureau office, where I fill out a pointless missing persons order. It's all I fucking know how to do. I am so out of my league, and kicking myself for not having listened more carefully to Mulder and Scully. And Alex.

I try to call Scully but get an out-of-service message on her cell and an answering machine at her home. Out of irresistible curiosity, I dial Mulder's cell and get the same message. He's way out of service. And it's my fault.

I should have asked Alex to go with him, against Scully's wishes. He might have been able to do something.

Phoning the Gunmen, I tell them what happened. It seems odd when they believe me. Frohike tells me that Scully figured out Mulder was the target and tried to call him. But then they had to take her to the hospital because she passed out.

Dammit! Not Dana! What now?


D.C. General
Washington, D.C.
5:52 P.M.


Scully has to be okay. She's the only point of stability in this entire fucking mess.

I've been dreading this visit for the entire flight back. Stepping into her room, I see that she looks healthy. "Agent Scully."

"Hi," she says in a weak voice.

"Hi. How you feeling?"

"I'm feeling fine."

Not for long I'm afraid.

"They're just running some tests on me."

"Well... um..." Just spit it out, Walt. I'm closer to crying than I ever have been regarding a Bureau matter.

Scully's near tears, too. "I already heard."

"I lost him. I don't know what else I can say. I lost him." I can't apologize, it's just... not enough. I didn't believe them for so long and now there's so little I can do or say. So I give her the only thing I have to give. "I'll be asked... what I saw. And what I saw, I can't deny. I won't."

The tears run over in her eyes.

"We will find him," she says in a brave voice. "I have to."

I'm afraid of what I might have to say to her. I never stopped looking for Alex, but at least he was on this planet. How are we going to look for Mulder? I don't know, but I'm certain we will.

I want to ask about what's wrong with her, but I also want to give her privacy to grieve for Mulder. I'd better just ask her to call if she needs anything and leave her alone for now.

"Sir, um... there's something else I need to tell you. Something that I need for you to keep to yourself."

She almost looks like she's going to laugh. Hysteria? "I'm having a hard time explaining it. Or believing it. But, um..."

What?!

"I'm pregnant."

What?! But I thought she didn't have any eggs?

I watch her try to smile, but she's still crying.

Welcome to the Twilight Zone.

Stammering, I manage to congratulate her, feeling completely unclear on whether or not this is welcome news. I don't know what to say and she offers no explanation. When a nurse arrives, I ask her to call me for anything, then excuse myself.

In the elevator, I think about rumors that she and Mulder were lovers. Could she be pregnant with his child? I never believed those rumors. Scully's too professional to get involved with a co-worker. I convince myself it isn't true, then as I unlock my car, it occurs to me that most people probably consider me too professional to become intimate with a colleague, too. I get into the car, hoping for her sake that she's got a boyfriend no one knows about.

On the drive home, I call the Portland office and get a non-update on Mulder's disappearance. There's nothing to find. The SAC is only being polite about my continued queries because he knows I'm going to bust his balls if he isn't.

When I enter my apartment, I find Alex seated in the living room. I cache my SIG and walk over to him. "Mulder's gone."

Alex nods. "I know. Are you okay?"

"No, I'm not okay." I collapse into my chair. "Did we set this up? Did you, Marita and I engineer Mulder's abduction?"

There's a flash of something like hurt in Alex's eyes, then his expression quickly shifts to blank. "No."

I feel a pang of guilt for the accusation. I do trust him. "Alex, you were playing Mulder. All I'm asking is were you being played?"

Alex looks at the floor. "Tell me what happened."

"We were setting up the lasers, like the Gunmen told us to. Mulder walked out, following the path of the laser light. I looked away." Dammit, why did I do that? I should have gone with him. "I heard a sound... like a high-pitched whine. When I looked up Mulder was gone. I called for him. I went to where I'd last seen him, but there was nothing there." I massage my forehead with my fingertips. "Then there was a bright white light. Brighter than any normal light. Then the direction of the light changed and I could see the underside of a ship. That's it. We searched the woods, but found no trace of Mulder. The only thing we found was impression marks left by the ship and a, um, crop circle."

Still staring at the floor, Alex says, "So he disappeared in a matter of seconds and you didn't see any signs of the bounty hunter?"

"Correct. The only thing I saw was a ship." The only thing. Sounds funny. I saw a fucking spaceship.

"Then Mulder walked through that shield voluntarily. As to whether or not he went with them voluntarily, I couldn't say."

"You think Mulder went voluntarily." It seems absurd, until I think about it. Christ, he just might have. "What makes you think that?"

Alex is still looking at the damned floor. "The type of shield they use... it looks for certain brain patterns to determine who can pass. Sort of like a built-in security system. It keeps people out, but it doesn't keep people in. If Mulder was able to pass in, he could have come out. He couldn't have been abducted in the short time you glanced away, so I have to conclude he found, and passed through the shield of his own volition. As to whether he stayed voluntarily... I don't know. If he weren't being controlled, he would have been able to come out."

"I appreciate that you're trying to alleviate my responsibility, but I don't think that's possible. You were right. I was not prepared for this. I had no idea what to do to protect him."

He finally looks at me, eyes flashing. "Christ, Walter, there was nothing you could do. There's no 'prepared' when it comes to dealing with this. If I had been there and Mulder decided to walk into that shield, there's not a damned thing I could have done to prevent it. I couldn't have gotten him out. Neither could you. There is no protection. The best you can do is know how to kill one if you come across it, and how to recognize the oil so you can run. I didn't want you there because I didn't want you to become another abductee. But Mulder... he should have known what to avoid. Assuming he wanted to avoid it."

There's something I need to ask, but the longer I delay asking it, the longer I can delay having to hear the answer. "Do you know how to find him? Or is he just... gone?"

Alex shrugs. "I don't know how to find him. The Resistance might have some idea. We estimate that about 70 percent of abductees are returned eventually."

I was helpless when they took him and I'm still helpless. And knowledgeless. I feel so fucking overwhelmed. This changes everything. I thought nothing was bigger than Alex and I trying to get free of the nanocytes, but if any of this is what Mulder said it is, our lives are almost petty concerns.

Empathizing with Mulder as I never have before, I wonder what I'm supposed to do. There's no government agency where you go to report aliens. If Mulder is to be believed, some in our government already know, and may have nefarious intentions. If I told anyone, who'd believe me? Yesterday, I was disbelieving Alex. Now, I'm questioning myself. Did I really see that? I know I did.

Alex leaves me to my musings for a long time, then offers, "To answer your original question, no, I don't believe I was played. The Resistance likes having Mulder on the X-Files, and they wanted the ship. They're not going to be happy with this turn of events."

"What about Spender?"

"What do you mean?"

"Did Spender play you, us? Maybe he wanted Mulder abducted for some reason."

Alex shakes his head. "Spender wanted to revive the conspiracy. He was disappointed that the ship was lost. In any case, it doesn't matter anymore."

"You said the shield can filter... so, the ship, or the aliens wanted Mulder? Why?"

"Most single-time abductees are not abducted by aliens. They're taken to research facilities and experimented on. These people are then better suited to the type of experiments the aliens perform. I can only assume that weird thing Spender cut out of Mulder's head interests them. His genetic changes... something. I'm not sure."

"It's bad enough they've taken him, but I hate to imagine... Fuck, he used to joke about anal probes." Whatever they're doing to him, it's probably no worse than what Alex has had to face in the Resistance labs. Still, I'm filled with regret and fear that my naiveté has somehow done this to Mulder. I just want him back so he could tell me 'I told you so' with a big fucking grin on his face.

As if reading my mind, Alex murmurs, "Walter, don't... you'll go crazy thinking about what could be happening."

We sit in silence for a long time while I review everything I've ever believed to be true, and try to figure out how it's different now. The beancounter trying to limit Mulder's vision is now a big joke. The X-Files unit is massively underfunded. I find myself wishing I could've somehow brought that ship back with Mulder so he could've shoved it up the beancounter's ass. Or maybe the Director's.

I petulantly ask Alex, "Why didn't you tell me it was real?" I know the question's not fair. He did tell me. My own disbelief was the problem.

Alex gives me an arch look and decides to ignore the question. "Believing wouldn't have changed the outcome."

"Did you believe any of this before you saw it?"

"No. Definitely not. I thought Mulder was insane, and I resented every single time I had to pretend to believe him. Then my former patron within the Consortium showed me an alien. A live one. In a lab. I... it took me a little while to adjust."

I'm relieved I didn't see an alien. A ship is... less of a commitment. "What did it look like? Surely not like you'd think... big eyes, big head, or E.T. or something?" I realize I'd be disappointed if it did look that way. It should look unexpected.

"Well, when they're young they look quite... monsterish. Um, very tall, slimy, strong, clawed and beast-like. Then they begin shedding. And wind up looking, well, like the little big-eyed, big-headed gray men."

Slimy, strong, clawed and beast-like? I feel like I ought to be laughing. I wish I could.

**

The expression on Walter's face is... surreal. Like he feels surreal. Part of me hoped he wouldn't have to face this truth. Even I, without a moral conscience, find this to be burdensome.

"Christ, Alex, are these things really trying to colonize the planet?"

It's adding insult to injury. "Yes. At first, we were told they were looking for a slave race. It's beginning to look like they just plan to use most of us as... incubators."

Walter looks like he's glazing over. "So, that thing that grew in Scully..." He shudders. "And now she's pregnant."

I give a start of surprise. "She's pregnant?"

"Sorry. I wasn't supposed to tell anyone. But, yeah, she's pregnant."

I contemplate that for a moment. "The Resistance probably already knows, but... I thought she didn't have any ova."

"That's what I thought. But, how would the Resistance know? Scully just found out yesterday, I think."

Walter truly does not grasp the power these various groups have--the Organization, the former Consortium, the Resistance. "Scully probably had blood work done that's stored on a computer. If it has her social or name attached to it, they know."

"Is she going to be safe? Are they going to leave her alone? Now that Mulder's gone..."

"They've never been very interested in Scully before. I don't see why they would bother her now." I contemplate the carpet. Mulder. Scully. The Resistance. And Walter accused me of setting this up. I was unprepared for how much it hurt to have him think I'd use him that way. I almost left... just to get my own thoughts together, but I knew he needed me. For answers if not for anything else.

I rub my forehead, feeling a headache coming on. Suddenly we're all business. I wonder how this turn of events is going to affect us. It seems impossible that Mulder being abducted by aliens, on a mission I set up, will not have a deleterious effect on our relationship.

After staring into space for a while, he looks at me again and asks, "Is the Resistance trying to stop colonization?"

Focus, Alex. "Yes. But their goal is to prevent the spread of their enemy, not to preserve our species. They could care less about us."

"Yes, they made that point abundantly clear with what they've done to you." The anger in his voice is not subtle.

I shrug. It's irrelevant in the grand scheme of things and there's nothing I can do about it anyway.

"The Resistance, they're just other aliens, right? Are they from another planet or something than the colonizing aliens?"

"The Resistance is primarily human, though a few renegade members of the colonists' slave race work with them. The rebel aliens effectively... well, they own the Resistance, and can command them, but don't usually choose to. And yes, the rebels are from a different planet. A planet that was slated to be colonized. They had the technology to escape and stop the colonization. They have a large cadre of clones they sent to earth to help stop the spread of the colonists."

Walter mutters something I don't catch.

"I didn't hear you, Walter... what was that?"

"Aliens 101," he replies grimly.

"I'm sorry you had to find out this way."

He nods, looking even more glazed than before.

"Walter, do you need some time... to think about this stuff?" I know he needs to be alone sometimes, I'm just not sure if this is the time.

"Hm? Oh, yeah. Uh, I definitely need some time to think about this."

He seems totally out of it, but I have to finish the question. "So, do you want me to come back in a couple days?"

"Uh, no. I mean... can you stay the night?" I've never seen the expression on his face before. He looks... apprehensive, I guess.

Something in me unwinds a little, but it's too much to hope that things will ever be back to normal. "I can stay for as long as you want. I was just trying to see if you needed some time alone."

Walter shakes his head and gestures vaguely in my direction. Something in his body language tweaks my subconscious. I respond on instinct. I think he wants me closer, so I rise and stand in front of his chair feeling some trepidation. I'd hate to be reading him wrong. I nudge his knees, then kneel between his legs, tentatively resting my hand on his abdomen.

He leans forward and lets his head fall to my shoulder. My hand slides around to his back, rubbing in circles. I'd apologize again if I thought it would help. But nothing I can say will bring Mulder back, and I know that's what he wants.

When he speaks again, his voice is very low and the words come out slowly. "I never in a million years thought I'd be saying this, but life was a lot simpler two days ago."

I kiss his ear. "Don't think about it until tomorrow. It's a lot to absorb and obsessing won't help."

He nods numbly. We stay in that position for quite a while, before I rise and guide Walter upstairs. Fuck the nightly rituals. I stick a toothbrush in his hand and take off his clothes. A few minutes later, when he's in bed, I peel off my clothes and slide in next to him.

Walter captures me and pulls me closer. Face to face, I wrap a leg around him and stroke the back of his neck. His eyes are open for a long time, and even when he closes them, I know he's not asleep. I give a quiet sigh, too easily feeling how lost he is.

I stay awake until I'm certain he's fallen asleep.

**

I'm standing outside a Saigon whorehouse trying to look nonchalant, while Larry's in the alley next door buying dope. I feel something wet on my leg and look down to see that my legs are bare and my bayonet has stabbed a hole in my calf. It's oozing, but the blood is black.

Fuck, it's not blood, it's oil.

I reach down to try to brush it off me, but it's viscous and slimy and gets all over my hand.

There's a shadow from the alley and I turn, hoping to see Larry, but what I see instead is a seven-foot-tall clawed monstrosity lumbering toward me. I grip my bayonet so hard my knuckles crack and thrust it in front of me. When the beast reaches striking distance, I jab at it furiously. I feel the squishing of tissue as the blade penetrates the thing, but when I remove the bayonet the beast keeps on coming. I back up so I can stab it again, but it still doesn't stop.

I back away again and keep hacking at it, but no matter how deep the cuts the monstrous thing doesn't even slow down.

"Walter!"

I've got to kill it!

"Walter!" Alex's voice...

I open my eyes and see him propped on his stump, his weight on one of my arms. His hand is wrapped around my other wrist, restraining it. And, for a moment, I can still see the clawed thing looming over us.

"Fuck!" I groan as the beast fades. "I'm okay," I add to reassure Alex. With a concerned expression, he releases my wrist. I huddle on the bed and breathe, trying to slow my heart rate and dissipate the adrenalin.

Alex nudges my body until I'm lying on my side, facing away from him. He curls up behind me, brings his arm around my waist and slowly strokes my chest and abdomen.

I capture his hand and kiss it. "It was just a dream. I'm really okay."

"I know you are," he whispers. His lips touch the back of my neck and he curls a leg over my thighs.

"I didn't, uh, hit you did I?"

"It doesn't matter. Try to go back to sleep." He pauses for a second. "Unless... you'd like to, um... talk about it."

After a heavy sigh, I reply, "Not really. Just my imagination creating pictures from the descriptions you gave me." I scoot backward into his embrace and put my hand on his thigh. "I'm sorry I hit you."

"It's okay. I'm sorry you had to take this in all at once. I know it's a lot to absorb."

"Well, it's my own damned fault. Mulder's been telling me for years. All I had to do was believe him and I'd've had plenty of time to get used to the idea."

Alex sighs as his fingers trace circles on my stomach. "His own partner didn't believe it, Walt. And I... I didn't believe it either. Not until I saw." His lips brush the back of my neck again. "Would you like some good news? At least, I think it's good news."

Breaking out of his embrace, I roll over so I can see him. In the dim bedroom light, I can't see any evidence of my hitting him. "Sure, I could use some good news."

He touches the side of my face. "I killed Spender."

I blink at him in astonishment. "Really?"

Alex nods, watching me carefully.

"Good." I have to remind myself that I'm in law enforcement so I should care but I don't really. It's tempting to ask if his body is going to turn up and cause me problems, but I decide to let it go. If it does turn up, I'll be surprised.

So Spender's dead? Too late really for all the damage he's done.

I'm lying in bed with Spender's killer, but I know a lot more than I did before. There's a real war going on... between the human race and... something else. That changes things. I just haven't figured out how yet.

Alex moves a little closer, wrapping his arm around me, then brushes his lips against mine. "I... I wouldn't have sent you and Mulder up there if I thought he was a target."

"I know you wouldn't." I meet his gaze. He needs to know that I trust him. And I do. "I believe you, Alex."

He rests his forehead against mine. "Thank you," he murmurs.


Wednesday, 24 May 2000
6:18 A.M.


Alex is still asleep when I wake. He's lying on his back looking sweetly innocent. The sunlight through the window reveals a large bruise on his chest and a small one on his jaw.

Fuck. I brush my fingers gently over the bruises. I'm sorry, Alex.

His eyelids twitch, then open. He gives me a sleepy smile, rolls over onto his stomach and goes back to sleep. I sit watching him for a few minutes, remind myself that he'll heal, then get up to get ready for work.

An hour later, he appears downstairs as I'm about to leave. He presses his naked body up against me, rubbing his hands along my back. "Morning."

"Morning." I kiss him and mess up his hair with my fingers. "Alex?"

He nuzzles my neck. "Hmm?"

For some reason I don't like asking this, but I have to. "I need you to contact the Resistance and see if you can get any information that will help Mulder. Can you do that for me? Today?"

"Sure." He nips at my earlobe. "Take the satellite phone and I'll call you when I know something."

I pull back so I can see his face. "Alex, don't do anything that puts you at risk. Okay?" Sorry, Mulder. Maybe I ought to put your welfare first, but I can't.

With a slight frown, Alex watches me for a moment, then replies, "Okay."

"Thank you." I kiss him again before departing.

When I get to my office, I commandeer Kimberly and we write my report together. She seems a bit surprised by the contents, but doesn't question me. While she's completing the report, I pull out a pad of plain paper and draw a picture.

Half an hour later, the Director reads my report while I sit in front of his desk fidgeting. Now I know how Mulder felt presenting his reports. Like a fucking wacko. I have to keep reminding myself of what I saw. It was real.

The Director grunts and gives me his reprimand look. "It's a very interesting report, Walter, but you didn't come to any conclusions."

"After all the shit Agent Mulder had to endure for his conclusions, I thought you'd appreciate that I avoided speculation."

He eyes me grimly. "What are your conclusions?"

I stand up and pace the room, wanting to lash out at someone, before turning back to him. "What do you think? That report is very clear about what I observed. I even provided a sketch. If you saw that, what would you conclude?"

"Assistant Director, sit down and answer my question." His disciplinary voice.

I don't fucking care. Refusing to sit, I face him. "It's either a military aircraft or an alien aircraft."

"Uh-huh." I've used that same 'yeah right' tone with Mulder. I'd still feel much better about this if he were here to give me shit for disbelief.

I kick the chair idly. "Regardless of which it is, there's no question in my mind that the Air Force and the NSA know about it."

"Well, obviously if it's a military aircraft-"

"Don't be daft. We have satellites that can read the number off my badge. These guys know. That's the only place I can think of to start looking for Agent Mulder."

"The X-Files doesn't exist to search for your AWOL agents."

I gape at him. "His disappearance is obviously an X-File. Surely you don't mean to deny me the resources to investigate?"

"Of course not. Agent Scully can spend some time on it."

"Some time?" I start pacing again. I shouldn't, but if I don't I'm going to hit somebody. "Just what are you afraid we're going to find?"

The Director stands slowly, eyes cold. "Don't use that accusing tone with me, Skinner." His voice is low and calm. Too calm.

I shake my head at him. I'm not going to let the bastard intimidate me. Everything is at stake here. It's a stale Bureau joke to say the fate of humanity is resting on whatever you happen to need at the moment. This time it could be true. "It's been obvious for years that the conspiracy goes beyond the military."

"It's not your charter to investigate the military."

"No, but the Bureau does fall under the jurisdiction of the Bureau."

"Just what are you saying, Assistant Director?"

"That someone in the Bureau has been supporting a conspiracy to conceal this information." I sound so much like Mulder I almost laugh.

"And who would that be?" Way too calm. Sees himself as untouchable.

"I did think to consider the man who put C.G.B. Spender on my back as a logical suspect."

He gives me a lethal glare, before sitting down in his chair again. "Skinner, I'll give you some career advice. I'm not going to listen to you say that twice." He takes a deep breath, before continuing, "You will refrain from pursuing irrational conspiracy theories involving the Air Force, the NSA and especially Bureau personnel, if you wish to remain employed at the Bureau."

No fucking way. Then, you'll have to fire me. If anyone at the Bureau gets in the way of what I choose to investigate, I'll get in their way. In a big way, if I have to.

He turns his attention to a report, not looking up as he says, "You're dismissed."

Fine. Dammit, I hope I wasn't like this to Mulder. Now I understand him all too well. Some things are more important than obeying your boss.

**

9:40 A.M.

I stop at a payphone and dial a number in Switzerland. Arntzen answers immediately. "You lost the ship."

Am I the only operative who calls on this line? "I never had the ship to lose."

He growls with annoyance. "You failed in your mission."

"I got the FBI mobilized as quickly as possible. The ship repaired itself and took off."

"Why didn't you call in yesterday?"

"I was cleaning up loose ends."

"Such as?"

"Spender. He's no good to us any longer, so I eliminated him."

There's a long pause. "You were not given instruction to terminate Mr. Spender."

"I realize that." My voice is a hiss. "But he had to know I betrayed him... yet again. He wasn't going to quit coming after me."

"Do not start thinking outside the bounds of your duties."

"Fine." I really hate you, you fucking son of a bitch. I hope you're next.

"You are to return to home base by next Monday."

I feel a tremor of unease. "Why?"

"We have some business to discuss." There was enough of a hesitation in his voice to intensify the uneasy feeling.

"Very well. In the interim, I need to know what you want done about the X-Files."

"Meaning?"

"Meaning, the primary reason Assistant Director Skinner became a target was his influence over the X-Files. With Mulder missing, the X-Files are less useful to us."

"Mr. Mulder will eventually be replaced."

I carefully consider how to respond. "It's unlikely any replacement will have Mulder's drive or beliefs. Both of which have been quite useful to us in the past."

"What's your point, Alex?"

"My point is, seeing Mulder returned would be in our best interest. A believer is always a useful tool."

"We have no control over the colonists abductees."

"I realize that. But, you may better understand how to determine or predict their movements, so..." I trail off, realizing how off this must sound.

The long silence begins to concern me. "I'm surprised by your interest in furthering our objectives... especially considering that involves preserving Mr. Mulder, who I know you dislike."

I play a card I've never even thought to use since he betrayed me into the hands of the Resistance. "From our discussions before the Resistance, you know that preventing colonization is something I believe in." There's nothing I can say to his remark about Mulder, so I simply wait.

"I do remember, but I wasn't sure you did." He pauses for a moment, and apparently dropping the Mulder question, adds, "JPL Topex Poseidon satellite imaging will show the movement of all spacecraft--provided one knows what one is looking for. With sufficient data, it should be possible to predict the likely next landing and abduction sites. Microburst data can also be used to estimate the path of the colonists' ships."

I have to play this very carefully. "What would you like me to do with this information?"

"Pass it to Agent Scully... see what she can do with it."

Scully? Great. "Very well."

"I'll see you Monday, Alex." The line clicks off.

I stare into space for a long time, wondering what's coming next Monday. I know I should tell Walter, but... he has too much to worry about. The thing foremost on his mind is finding Mulder. And after my nine-month absence... telling him seems almost cruel. No, I shouldn't tell him.

It takes me another half hour to convince myself that my choice is the right one.

**

10:32 A.M.

Kimberly buzzes me. "Sir, Agent Crane is on the line to speak to you."

"Take a message, Kimberly. I'll call him back"

"Sir, he says it's urgent," she explains patiently, "regarding the Mulder manhunt."

"The what?!"

"That's exactly what he said: the Mulder manhunt."

"Okay, Kimberly. I'll take the call."

I drum my fingers on my desk. Now what? Crane doesn't even work for me. He works for Kersh. So what's any of this got to do with Crane or Kersh?

"Assistant Director, this is Agent Crane."

"Yeah," I reply brusquely. "What's going on?"

"I'm calling to inform you that you need to release your files related to Agent Mulder and the X-Files." It's not a very polite request. Sounds more like an order.

"What for?"

"Because we're trying to find him."

What is with Crane? "Agent Mulder's disappearance has nothing to do with you, Agent Crane, or A.D. Kersh."

"I guess you haven't spoken to the Director yet."

"About what?"

He pauses, then replies, "The Director has ordered a team be put together to find Agent Mulder."

"In Kersh's division?"

"Not exactly. Kersh has been appointed Deputy Director."

Scully appears at my door.

"Yeah, well, somebody might have had the courtesy to tell me." I slam down the receiver. This is my own damned fault. I acted out like Mulder used to and now the Director is using Kersh to punish me. Fuck.

She steps further into the office. "There are agents tearing apart Mulder's office who say they're part of an FBI manhunt."

"I know. I heard. Believe me, this is not my idea. I just found out about it myself."

"They're not going to find Mulder this way. You know that and I know that."

"I told you last night, I will find him. I'm going to do that. Okay? Now, I want you just to cool out. I don't want you doing anything to upset your pregnancy."

"Look, I don't understand. You are the Assistant Director. Who is going over your head on this?"

Kersh. The biggest waste of oxygen in the Bureau. "Our brand-new deputy director."

My phone rings... it's direct, not going through Kimberly. That means it has to be someone at my level or better. The display reads, "A KERSH." It fucking figures.

Scully looks over my shoulder, clearly as appalled by the appointment as I am.

I pick up the phone. "Skinner," I say in a testy voice.

"Assistant Director, this is Marsha. The Deputy Director will see you in his office right away."

"Fine." I drop the receiver in the cradle.

Scully's right. There's nothing these guys are going to do that will help.

Relax, Walt. You already shot your mouth off at the Director and look what that got you. Just stay calm and play nice, so you can still work this with Scully.

"Scully, I pissed off the Director this morning. And Kersh is my punishment."

She glares at me. "This is not helping us find Mulder."

"I know," I reply, shaking my head. "C'mon, let's go see what the bas-, what Deputy Director Kersh has to say."

On the walk over, I remind myself that I have to display a cooperative attitude. Kersh can't help us, but he can hinder us. The more he thinks I'm toeing the line, the easier it will be to run our own covert investigation.

When we get there, Kersh is already packing up his old office. Probably going to move into one of the deluxe offices. Who gives a shit.

"A.D. Skinner, Agent Scully. Thanks for getting right over."

In an annoying mockery of a command voice, Kersh continues, "I don't want to lose any time. We have one of our own missing and the only acceptable outcome is that we find him safe and alive. I'm sure the two of you agree."

"That goes without saying." As an after thought, I add the obligatory, "sir," to acknowledge his promotion. I remember when that was a term of respect.

Kersh takes a seat. "Good. This comes at a stressful time, with my new appointment. But I'm thankful for your cooperation in the hunt for Mulder." What the fuck is he up to? Whatever it is, it's between the lines. Kersh is never overt.

"Our cooperation?" Scully's voice has a lacerating edge. "With due respect, there aren't two people better qualified to be directing this action, sir."

"Right now, you and A.D. Skinner are the two primary witnesses to Mulder's disappearance," Kersh coolly replies. "I want your statement taken ASAP."

Making no effort to conceal her ire, Scully retorts, "You make us out to be suspects, sir." Well, she came right to the point.

Of course, Kersh doesn't like that. He glares at her, so I guess she read that one right. Scully and I are suspects. His investigation is off to a promising start. So we have to give statements.

"Taken by who?" I ask.

"My task force leader on this, Special Agent John Doggett. He's waiting to hear from you now."

Fine. I'll go through his drill. It has nothing to do with anything that will actually find Mulder, but it'll get Kersh off my ass.

We turn to leave and Kersh says, "One more thing."

We face him again.

"Anything leaves this building about aliens or alien abductions or any other nonsense that might cast the Bureau in a ridiculous light, and you can forget about looking for Agent Mulder. You'll both be looking for new jobs."

It's all political. Scrape away Kersh's political finesse there's nothing left. I think a Bureau man should have something real to offer. Apparently the Director disagrees.

"That's all," Kersh adds smugly.

Scully and I head to the elevator. It's overcrowded, but as soon as we step into the hall, she says, "I don't believe this."

"This isn't about finding Mulder... This is about Kersh covering the FBI's ass."

"Why do I get the feeling they'd be happy if we never found him at all?"

We pause before entering the ops room. I don't want Scully to think I'm going to be Mr. Political again. I've already made way too many compromises. "Look... I saw what I saw. I have to make a statement in there. I'm not going to tell them it didn't happen."

"Well, you heard Kersh," she replies. "They don't want the truth. You give them the truth, and they'll hang you with it."

"They can hang me with a lie, too. I'm not going to sell Mulder out."

"What good are you to Mulder if you give them the power to ruin your career?"

But that's what I've always done. Tried to balance both sides. And I'm sick of doing it. But I lose the resources of the Bureau to if they fire me. Kersh would probably love to do it.

"We will find him." This time she's reassuring me.

And what would the Resistance do to me... to Alex, if I got fired. I don't want to think about it.

I open the door and Agent Crane greets us. "Assistant Director, you can come on back with me. Agent Scully, I'll ask you to please wait on the wall until we call you."

Fuck, they're separating the witnesses. They may already be trying to hang us.

I give my statement. Saying everything that's in my report. Referring them to the sketch of the 'ship.' I don't mention that it's aliens. But inside my head I keep apologizing to Mulder.

I will not sell you out. I promise.

Crane grills me like a suspect. He's always treated me with respect, but not today. His flip attitude grates on my nerves. I try to be tolerant but he has no idea what this is really about. I'm just wasting my time with him.

My phone rings. Fuck, it's the satellite phone. "Just a sec, Agent Crane."

"Assistant Director, we would prefer that you not take phone calls during your statement."

I give him a withering look and answer the phone. "Can you call back in 20 minutes?"

"Yeah," Alex quickly replies. Then the line is dead.

I tuck the phone away and Crane taps his pen on his notepad. "We may not be finished in 20 minutes."

Meeting his eyes, I reply, "We will be."

I've already told him more than he needs to know. Which is nothing really.

I answer some more of Crane's inane questions.

A movement catches my eye. Scully threw a cup of something in John Doggett's face. Wonder what he did to piss her off. It wouldn't take much today.

Welcome to the case, John.

I stare at Doggett. He's a good agent. Former Marine. NYPD. An up-and-comer. What's he doing on this?

**

11:35 A.M.

I dial the satellite phone number again. Walter answers immediately. "Skinner."

"I have the information you requested. Can you talk now?"

"Yeah. I went for a walk."

"Okay... according to the Resistance, you may get some info from satellite imaging. But it might not be easy. Specifically, you want to look at the JPL Topex Poseidon. But you'll need to know exactly what you're looking for." I hesitate for a second. "I hate to say it, but you might need to call in the geek squad."

He repeats back, "JPL Topex Poseidon. What do I tell the Gunmen to look for?"

"They should know how to interpret spacecraft activity as well as anyone. But, beyond the imaging, look for microburst data. It will take longer to filter, but it could be more useful."

"Microburst data?"

"Yes. That's all I have." It's not enough, but I don't know what else to do.

"Got it. Thank you, Alex." His voice changed on the last three words from business-like to affectionate.

Once again, I'm at a loss. I really could care less about Mulder, but he means something to Walter. So it means something to me. And that is really confusing. "I don't think there's anything else I can do, but I'll check in with you this afternoon to see if you need anything."

"Home tonight?"

"Yeah." Where else would I go?

**

1:02 P.M.

Kimberly taps on my door. "Sorry to interrupt but Agent Scully left this note for you and I thought it might be urgent."

"Thank you."

--
Fishpond. 1:00
--

It's an oddly demanding note from the usually polite Scully. Abruptly dismissing the two agents in my office, I head out.

Scully's seated on the bench, but as I approach she rises and crosses her arms across her chest. Uh-oh.

"I came as soon as I got your note."

Ignoring my comment, she asks, "Did he know?"

Did Alex know that Mulder was going to be abducted? "No." That was simple. Whether she believes me is another matter entirely.

Her shoulders slump and she sits heavily on the bench. "How can you be certain?"

Because I asked him not to lie to me. That's not going to carry any weight with Dana. "It's my best judgment based on all the information I have." That sounded weaker than I intended it to.

I know what she thinks of Alex. How she sees him. How she sees our relationship. I can't change any of that.

She shakes her head. "You're biased... possibly even blinded by your, uh, involvement with him. Every time he turns up it's a disaster. I can't believe it's a coincidence."

Pinching the bridge of my nose, I consider what to say. All I can do is level with her. Anything else would be unfair. "I won't try to convince you I don't have a bias. And you're right--trouble seems to follow him." I glance at the pond before continuing. "It's like you and Mulder. You have a bias for Mulder. But if he told you the fish in this pond were channeling John Lennon you wouldn't take it at face value. You'd still ask questions. You'd still doubt."

Scully looks at me intently. "So you do doubt him?"

"Not about this." I meet her eyes. "If you're looking for someone to blame for Mulder's disappearance, blame me. I'm the one you sent to keep him out of trouble."

"It's impossible to keep Mulder out of trouble," she mutters under her breath.

"Look, I asked Alex the same question you're asking me, and I believe his answer. But, regardless, we went on this mission knowing it could be dangerous. You and Mulder both questioned Alex's motives before going, and I did the same. But Mulder decided to go. And I can never be sorry enough for failing to protect him. But it doesn't really have anything to do with Alex."

She gives me a hard look. "What are his motives?"

I couldn't have answered that question a year ago, but now I think I understand. "His motives are the same as mine."

Scully frowns and contemplates my statement, then says, "But they weren't always, were they?" She sounds a little... smug.

"No," I reply without hesitation. "But they are now." Maybe she can read between the lines and understand me and Alex.

"Well, then, if his motives are truly altruistic, have him help us. Use some of his damned contacts to give us something... anything to work with. To help us find Mulder."

"I already have. The Gunmen are preparing to gather satellite data based on information from Alex."

She briefly looks surprised. "And how do you know this information is reliable?"

"I don't. Even Alex doesn't." Kicking the bench, I add, "Dammit, it's just a lead and, if we're going to find Mulder, I'm going to use everything I have."

Sighing, she glances away. "I have to find him." Looking back, she continues, "Even if that means relying on Krycek." Her expression tells me how much she dislikes the situation.

I take a couple of deep breaths and remind myself not to get frustrated with Scully. She has zero reason to trust Alex. Finding Mulder depends on us working together. Among other things. "We'll find him, Dana." I hope I never have to take back those words.

After a long pause, she rises to her feet. She touches my arm lightly. "I don't blame you for what happened to Mulder." Then she walks away.

I wish I could comfort her right now, but she's not going to let me.

**

Falls Church, VA
1:58 P.M.


I arrive a few minutes late to my meeting with Morgan. He selected the diner we met at a few times during my Bureau days.

Inside, I find him seated at the same booth. He rises and pulls me into a hug. I bat ineffectually at his arms, trying to get him to let me go. I spoke to him when I hired some of his guys to monitor the Oregon situation for me, but this is the first time I've seen him since I returned from Tunisia.

Eventually, he releases me and slides back into his seat. "You look thinner, but not too horrible. So, where were you for the last nine months?" His tone is low and soft, but I get the impression that he's expecting a good answer.

The waitress arrives and I order a glass of tea and something random from the menu. Looking back at Morgan, I reply, "The smoking bastard had me picked up and thrown in prison." There's no reason not to tell him the truth.

A look of surprise flits across Morgan's normally stoic features. "Why?"

"Guess I manage to bring out the worst in him."

Morgan gives a snort of laughter. "You do have a way of getting into trouble."

Christ, he sounds like Walter. I glare at him.

He laughs again. "So, where were you... incarcerated?"

You don't need that much truth, Morgan. "That seems... irrelevant."

"Fair enough." He looks at me speculatively. "So, do you want me to do something about the smoker?"

I feel my expression shift to surprised. What an unusual offer for Morgan. "Uh, no. It's already taken care of."

Morgan nods. "Yeah, he was pretty upset while you were missing. Refused to accept that you were dead. Doesn't surprise me that he wouldn't let this pass."

'He' has to be Walter. So, Morgan thinks Walter killed Spender. I decide not to correct his misassumption. I look away for a moment, stung by the reminder of how much Walter's been through the last nine months. And now Mulder.

Walter, it feels like I bring you nothing but problems. I'm so fucking sorry.

At my silence, Morgan clears his throat and changes the subject. "You two were getting hot and heavy on the balcony the other night."

I frown at him. "The pictures were a surprise."

He leans forward and rests his massive forearms on the table. "Don't get stupid, kid. Not now. Having me check for any surveillance was a smart move, but in support of a very foolish agenda."

My frown turns into a glare. "You already made your point, Morgan. Don't lecture." It's my turn to direct the conversation on to other topics.

Ten minutes later, I realize that there's no purpose to this meeting. Only that Morgan asked to see me and I agreed. How strange.

Before heading home, I decide to take care of something that's been on my mind since my return from Tunisia. Buying a new knife. I haven't mentioned to Walt that it's gone, but with everything that's been happening, it hasn't exactly been important.

The knife shop is in a nice location, too nice to be afforded by the average wares they're displaying in the case. I prop my hip against the display case and ask the young woman behind the counter where the quality merchandise is. Her manager escorts me to a private viewing area in the back. Velvet trays filled with truly fine blades are laid out for me. I immediately dismiss anything ornate. While looking over the Solingen-forged blades, I find one that looks very much like the knife I've lost. Too much like it. And that knife is irreplaceable. So, I select something else. Quality, but simply functional. Because this knife will never have any other value.

On the way back to the freeway, I realize I'm near to the apartment complex where I lived so many years ago. The place where my relationship with Walter... developed. It's just one street away. I pull onto the shoulder and stop, just staring at it. My mind churns on so many things at once. How it started, where we are now, what might have been different. I still vividly remember the night he gave me the knife. So much has changed since then. At that time, the rare moments with Walter felt so much more real than the rest of my life. Now, it's easy to see that I was completely in love with him. Of course, I couldn't put a name to it, but I was certain that the feelings I had for him were unsafe, and wouldn't be reciprocated anyway.

I'm suddenly aware of the similarities between then and now. Working with Mulder on a case involving aliens, then Scully's abduction, and ultimately, my relationship with Walter was over. And once again, aliens, Mulder, abduction and I have no idea what will happen to my relationship with Walter. I don't particularly appreciate the irony.

I slam the car into drive and pull back onto the road, tires screeching. Not a damned thing will happen to harm our relationship. Not if I have anything to say about it.

**

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Greenbelt, MD
11:15 P.M.


The Gunmen were eager to help. They suggested a couple of places where they could get access to a dish. I chose NASA Goddard because I know someone there. My badge got us access to the roof. Per their phone call, I find the guys on the roof.

They don't seem to be destroying anything. "Hey, you find anything?"

They briefly regale me with their hacker chest-thumping, then pull up the data they gathered.

I shudder to think what kind of damage these guys could do if they hacked into military satellites, but they want to help Mulder as much as I do. I don't have time to worry about side issues.

They were able to plot all the UFO activity at the time of Mulder's abduction. It looks like just one stop on the way to... somewhere.

That's the important question. "Where? Where's the UFO activity after Mulder's abduction?"

Byers replies, "Like we said, we can't tell. Not from the data we're pulling down."

I prompt, "Look, if we can figure out where that ship was going, where it's going to be, we've got a chance to find Mulder."

I try not to think about trying to collect him from a spaceship... with what? A handful of agents and a search warrant? Christ.

The Gunmen and I discuss what's left to do. They downloaded the so-called microburst data and are still working on filtering it, and hope to have something by tomorrow.

The apartment is dark when I get home, but Alex's keys are on the table. I stow my SIG and head upstairs. The bedroom is dark, too. Alex doesn't wake, so I watch him from the hall for a minute. I'd like nothing more than to join him, but I'm too keyed up to sleep.

I wander downstairs and pour myself two fingers of Scotch, bringing the bottle with me to the living room.

Aliens.

After one sip it seems painfully obvious that no amount of alcohol will solve this problem.

I know what I saw. And I don't believe it was a military aircraft even though I want it to be. I don't want Mulder to be right. Not aliens, dammit! And hostile ones at that. This is scarier than 'Nam. A whole fucking lot scarier.

I thought I believed Mulder. I knew he jumped to hasty conclusions sometimes, but I thought I believed some of it was true. But when I saw that ship, everything changed.

His paranoia appears to be justified.

If it's true, it means that so much of my work is so fucking meaningless. Serial killers, organized crime, white-collar crime... it's all so trivial in the scheme of a planet fighting off alien invasion. I can't believe I ever yelled at Mulder for turning in expense reports late. Fuck, I should have supported him 2000 percent.

Where is Mulder? Is he on that ship I saw? I can't conceive of what that would be like, but I have a feeling he's fighting for all he's worth. Arrogant. Narcissistic. Obnoxious. Damn, I respect the man. He was fucking right.

And Scully? Pregnant? Surely Mulder's not the father. Some boyfriend? I don't see how she can do any of this work any longer. It's too risky for her child.

If Scully can't search for Mulder, I'll have to do it myself. Promote her to something with a nice safe desk. If Kersh will let me.

The Gunmen have to find something we can use. Because if they can't, what do I do? If it really was aliens who took Mulder, I don't know enough to find him.

Aliens, dammit.

I wish Mulder were here to help me understand. I'm so far out of my league. Scully's all I've got now. Even if she can't go into the field, I have to rely on her for her knowledge of the X-Files. I have to hope she can put these pieces together to form a meaningful picture.

Fucking aliens. I pour another drink because it feels like I really need it.

Alex appears on the stairs and enters the room. His warm, naked body settles on my lap and he wraps his arm around me. "You okay?"

"Yeah." I give him a quick kiss. "Just trying to absorb everything." Stroking his hair, I continue, "The Bureau's got a whole task force of men who don't believe in aliens 'looking' for Mulder. Scully and I are suspects."

He's quiet for a moment, then murmurs, "What a cluster fuck." His fingers trace circles on my shoulder.

"Our tax dollars at work... or mine, anyway."

Alex softly chuckles into my neck. "One of the few perks of my job. So, did Mulder's geeks come up with anything?"

"They're working on it. They found a cluster of abduction sites before Mulder was taken and now they're trying to identify where the ship went after that." I realize Scully isn't my only resource. Alex has a head full of alien memories.

I wrap my arms around him as if that could protect him from what's already happened.

I'm too tired to deal with it tonight. If the Gunmen don't come up with anything tomorrow, I'll have Alex tell me everything he knows. Maybe I can convince him to let me discuss the information with Scully. Between what he knows and what she knows, maybe there's something we can use to locate Mulder.


Washington, D.C.
Thursday, 25 May 2000
10:15 A.M.


Crane summoned me to the Ops room. I was tempted to blow him off, but he sounded excited about something. When I get there, Crane approaches me and says, "Assistant Director, follow me."

Scully's talking with Kersh and Doggett. Something's happened. I head toward Scully. "What's going on? What is this?"

Crane interjects, "Mr. Skinner, right this way, please. You can talk with Agent Scully after we're done."

Thanks a lot, pal.

He ushers me to a chair. Doggett and Kersh hover as I take a seat. Crane sits across from me. I've got a bad feeling about this.

Crane says, "Assistant Director, someone came into this office after hours and removed some material. Files. We don't know exactly what just yet."

I glance at Kersh, then Doggett. Why do I feel like I'm about to be accused of something? I ask, "Who?"

"The office here is secured by a pass-card lock and whoever came in last night used the pass-card belonging to Agent Mulder." Agent Crane's tone is almost too neutral.

So, what? It takes me a second to trace their twisted thinking. "You think Agent Mulder took the files?" I'm sure the spaceship just parked on the helipad so Mulder could drop by to pick up some case notes. I know for a fact the man is not fresh out of Quantico, but he sure acts like it.

"We're wondering about Agent Mulder's state of mind. In your statement," he goes on, flipping through his notes, "you said prior to his disappearance Agent Mulder had felt threatened by the FBI."

"No." Putting words in my mouth, eh? Let's set the record straight. "No, that's not what I said. I said he felt the X-Files were threatened by budget cutting."

"Is there anything you're not telling us about Agent Mulder or his attitude?" Exactly who are we trying to frame here? "Do you think he'd ever retaliate against the FBI?"

I shake my head. "Agent Mulder was only after the truth."

Kersh jumps in, "As are we, Assistant Director."

I glare at him. The truth has no meaning to people like you.

Crane continues, "Agent Scully tells us she was home last night. We see from your phone log, you were here until at least after 10:00." He offers the phone log for my inspection.

You little prick. Point your accusations at Kersh and the Director if you don't have anything better to do.

If he thinks I'm going to cower in fear, he's read me wrong. Dead wrong. I stare at him, until he blinks.

I take the phone log and pretend to read it. Then I hand it back, meeting his eyes again and toss the paper on the table.

I decide to lay it on the table, since he won't. "You think I came in here last night using Agent Mulder's pass-card?"

He replies, "You were the last person to see Mulder. You and Agent Scully."

If you want a battle, you and your pal Kersh can have one. But I'm not rolling over.

Another agent approaches and whispers something to Doggett, who leaves the huddle.

Turning back to Crane, I say, "Well, I suppose you think that ties up everything in a neat little package, but since we're all looking for the truth," I pause to glare at Kersh, "I must inform you that I have not seen Mulder's pass-card since long before he disappeared. I did not take any files from this office. And I think you will find that neither Mulder nor Scully removed any files. So I suggest you come up with another theory, assuming you actually want to solve this case."

Crane draws back a bit and glances at Kersh for support. Kersh just glares at him. Crane looks at me again, licks his lips like a lizard and says, "Sir, we are just gathering facts. We are not accusing you of anything. We have to ask awkward questions at times, but we're simply trying to solve the case."

It's an egregious lie, but I don't care. "Good. Then we're finished." Making a point to ignore Kersh, I rise and head toward the door.

Scully and Doggett are looking at something in a large carton. She steps into my path, eyes filled with unshed tears. For a moment I can't breathe. I put a hand on her shoulder. "What is it, Dana?"

She bites her lip and looks up at me. "It's Mulder's... his family's..." She's shaking as I gently squeeze her shoulder, then step around her.

Fuck.

It's a family headstone. With Mulder's name on it. Fox Mulder, 1961-2000. Is this some kind of sick joke?

I manage to get through the day without killing anyone. Only because Crane and Kersh stayed out of my face. After dealing with shovels full of Bureau administrivia, I head back down to the Ops room to find Scully.

She's sitting in front of the tombstone, gazing at it mournfully. "I don't know what to think."

It turns out Mulder ordered the damned thing. Why would he do that? Mulder's got a sick sense of humor, but this is too weird. Even for him. Keeping my voice low, I reply, "I don't believe it, Dana. It just doesn't make any sense to me."

"All right." Doggett crosses to speak to us. "I got some light on this. Maybe you can help me out here, Agent Scully." He hands her a few pieces of paper.

"What is it?" Scully asks.

He sits down. "Agent Mulder's medical records--recent stuff, over the last year. Did you know about a medical condition? Either of you?"

"No," I offer, taking a chair, as Scully opens the file.

Doggett explains, "A year ago, Agent Mulder was hospitalized. Ring a bell? Something to do with his brain?"

Immersed in the file, Scully says, "His temporal lobe."

Doggett reads, "An undiagnosable condition, it says. Irregular brain activity."

"All right, but he recovered. There was a full recovery." I glance at Scully for confirmation, getting no response.

"Was there?" Doggett asks provocatively.

I turn to Scully. "You know Mulder, he would've told us if there was anything." But she's engrossed in the medical records, ignoring me.

"Would he? He tell you about this?" Doggett presses. "About his headstone?"

"Mulder was dying," Scully says in a soft voice.

"What?!"

"It's all right here." She sounds stunned. "For a year, he was going to doctors. There's a clear record of his decline."

Doggett asks, "How well did you really know him? How far would Mulder go?"

"How far would he go for what?" Scully replies.

"The truth... his truth. Whatever it was he was trying to prove, how bad did he need to prove it?"

"It was his whole life." Scully voice is filled with pain.

After this morning, I have no patience for the indirect approach. "What are you trying to say?"

"That Agent Mulder found himself in a place none of us want to go. Life threatened, work threatened, and all for naught. Nothing proven. The effort in vain. No mark left. Unless he rolled the dice, took one big last chance to make it." Doggett's like a terrier with a bone.

Scully asks, "You think that Mulder was here? That he broke in to steal those files?"

"Broke into your apartment, stole your computer. Took his own computer. Gathering it up." Doggett lays it out like it's a fait accompli.

But I don't believe it. "To what? To prove it?"

"Or cover it up. Create doubt," he continues in a very confident tone. "I get Mulder. I get him. I understand obsession, believe me. But the question is: how far would he go? I mean, so far as to stage his own disappearance?"

You do not get Mulder. He did not rent a spaceship to fake his abduction so he could come here, sneak in and steal files he already had access to.

Scully gives me a hesitant look, like she's buying it, but she can't be.

"I know what I saw." I stand up. "I not going to sit here and listen to this. I watched it happen."

I get in Doggett's face. "He couldn't have been more than 20 yards away, but he didn't answer my call. I saw a bright light in the sky... At first I couldn't make anything out, but then the light changed direction and I could see the underside of the ship. It was not a spy plane or anything else made by our military. And when it was gone, Mulder was gone."

Fuck! I'm so sorry, Mulder.

I never should have left him alone.

Doggett is staring at me like I'm deranged.

Scully touches my coat sleeve, trying to calm me, then she stands up and leans toward Doggett. "Please don't report that."

It irks me to have her pleading for my job. If I could find Mulder, I'm not sure I'd even care about my damned job... but for the nanocytes. And the need to get Alex and me free of this mess.

"I don't know what good it would do me," replies Doggett, pushing back from the table. "Doesn't help me find Mulder."

It would help you find him if you'd get your head out of your ass. But my own head was there recently, too. I could be a little more understanding if Mulder weren't missing and we weren't on the suspect list.

Doggett walks away.

Scully puts a reassuring hand on my shoulder.

I don't want to be reassured. Covering my ass isn't going to bring Mulder back. "No, it's not good enough." It's time to find out what the Gunmen have for us.

If that doesn't help, I'll think of something else.


Georgetown
9:52 P.M.


The Gunmen scored a hit, so I brought them to Scully's apartment.

Over a map, I try to explain it to her. "These are records of microburst activity. What we read as UFO activity since Mulder's abduction."

She's been unusually pessimistic since we arrived. "I think this is a waste of time."

"No, it's not. Just look at them." I'm not going to let her lose faith. I'm worried about her. She's hitting bottom. Like me when Alex was missing.

"I'm looking," she snaps, "and what I'm seeing is activity all over the southwestern states."

"That's right."

"Mulder disappeared in the Pacific Northwest."

"And if Mulder is on that ship," I point at the map, "this is where he is now."

"Here? In the Arizona desert?" She sounds disbelieving. And hopeless.

"This is what we have." Come on, Scully. Work with me here.

"Okay. Say this is true... then how do we even begin to start finding him?"

Unfortunately, I don't have an answer. Scully turns away. I feel like we're losing her.

There's a long silence, then Langly offers, "Maybe with whoever it is they're looking to abduct next."

When no one responds to the suggestion, Frohike says, "Hey, we're only trying to help."

"We're only trying to find Mulder," adds Byers.

When Scully turns back, she looks enlightened. "That's it." She pulls out one of the maps. "It just came to me."

I lean forward and brace my hands on the table. "What?"

"What you saw, why they took Mulder, why they're in Arizona. Now it all makes sense." Her voice carries a note of excitement. "Why do people refuse to believe in aliens and UFOs after all these years of sightings and eyewitness accounts? Why?"

"Because there's no real proof," offers Frohike.

She continues, "Because, maybe, if there are aliens they're simply going around and they're... and they're removing all of the evidence before it becomes proof. This isn't Mulder who's going around and collecting this stuff. It's them."

The aliens took Mulder's pass-card to the Bureau? Oh, Christ. I wish I could prove that to Crane. But Arizona... "Then why Arizona?"

"Because they are looking to find that which is not in my computer or Mulder's computer or in the files that were removed from the FBI. They are looking to find the whereabouts of good hard proof. That in this case exists in a person, in a boy named Gibson Praise."

"Gibson Praise? That kid Mulder says can read minds?"

"Yes," she replies with the only enthusiasm she's shown since seeing that tombstone. "And we lost him in Arizona. Maybe he's still there."

I get on the phone to make flight plans, then arrange to pick Scully up in the morning. After thanking the Gunmen, I head home.

When I get there, Alex is at the table, reading and drinking a glass of tea. I kiss his forehead. "Hi."

Alex sets down the book. "Hi. Anything new today?" He takes a sip of tea.

"Arizona," I reply, stripping off my jacket. "Scully thinks they might be looking for Gibson Praise. Th-"

Alex chokes on his tea, coughing and gasping for air.

When I see that he's breathing, I pat him gently on the back. "You're not supposed to breathe it."

He looks at me with watery eyes. "Thanks for the tip," he says in a scratchy voice.

I kiss his forehead again and ruffle his hair. "Shall I continue?"

"By all means. You were about to tell me that the colonists are looking for that pint-sized mind reader."

Sounds like he knows the boy. "Have you met him?"

"Uh, yeah." He continues, muttering under his breath, "... not something I'll ever forget."

I sink down into the chair next to him. "Tell me."

Alex shrugs. "Not much to tell. I got stuck babysitting him for a few hours, the day before..." He trails off apparently lost in thought. The grim expression on his face tells me it's not a pretty memory.

"What do you know about Gibson? Do you know where he is now?"

He focuses on me again. "No. I was with the Resistance. Have no idea what happened to him." Looking away again, he adds, "Don't know much about him. Pretty tolerable as kids go. Well, with the exception of that mind reading thing. That was kind of... disturbing. He tried to warn me about what they had planned, but I didn't get it."

I hate to make him talk about it, but it seems like I should ask. Maybe he needs encouragement. "What they had planned?"

"I didn't know it at the time, but he tried to warn me that I was about to be traded to the Resistance." He meets my gaze. "The beginning of the mess we're in now."

I nod, not wanting to press him further. "And Gibson? Did he read your mind?" Not sure I believed that before, but now that there are aliens in the world... why can't a kid read minds?

"Oh, yeah. Not that I believed it at the time. He told me I'd run away from my 'significant other.' Of course, he also told me Davidson had been checking out my ass. Thought the kid was yanking my chain."

"I don't know who this Davidson is, but it sounds like he's got good taste." I find myself smiling. "Did you run away from your S.O.? Which S.O.?"

Alex looks at me intently. "You. I questioned the running away part, but that was how Gibson saw it. I guess..." He glances at his hand. "I guess I did run away."

Yeah, I think he did. Must have been hard to hear it from the kid, though. I rest a hand on his thigh and squeeze. "So it looks like the ship, or a ship, has been in Arizona. And that's where we last saw Gibson, so Scully and I are flying out there in the morning to try to find him."

He jerks his head up and stares at me. "You're going spaceship hunting? Again?"

It's almost funny. "Yeah, and if I come home without Scully, would you just shoot me?"

Alex drums his fingers on the table. "Fair enough. Because if she comes home without you, I'm going to shoot her."

I give him a hard look. "No. You're not."

He raises an eyebrow. "Then I guess you both had better come back safely."

"I'll do my best." I give him a mock salute.

Wrapping his hand around the back of my neck, he gives me a quick hard kiss. "Don't get hurt."

I press my fingers at the back of his neck. "Right here. Bullet or knife."

Alex gives me a half smile. "I'll have to get you a ckitz for your next birthday." He rises to his feet. "I have an errand I need to run. I should be back within an hour or so."

"Uh, Alex?"

"Hm?"

"What's a skeetz?"

"You'll have to wait for your birthday."

I shake my head at him. He's making no sense. I'm a little worried about this mysterious errand. But I'm not his mother. So I walk him to the door, before I head upstairs to pack.

**

Washington, D.C.
11:53 P.M.


I step into the dingy bar and make my way to Morgan's office. His boys are used to seeing me, so I'm not even questioned anymore. I tap on the door twice and hear Morgan's deep voice bid me to enter.

It takes a beat for me to process the image of the shirtless early-20's Mexican boy on Morgan's lap. Shrugging, I take a seat across from his desk. "You're taking them young these days, Morgan."

Morgan raises a non-brow, then returns his attention back to his lapful. "At least I'm not married, like you, kid." He pinches the boy's nipples, which makes the kid twitch. "I can take whatever strikes my fancy. Today I fancied something... Latin."

I frown at the 'married' remark. Where the hell did he come up with that? But arguing with him seems pointless, so I wave it away. "I have some business for you."

He readjusts the kid's position so he can grope at the boy's crotch. His hands seem to be comically large as they cover the kid's groin. "What's up?"

"The party I'm interested in is leaving in the morning... heading to Northern Arizona. I'd like you to send someone down there to monitor the situation."

Morgan's in the process of maneuvering the kid, so he can get his pants off. "Not a problem." He names a price and I readily agree.

I quickly jot down some notes as Morgan repositions the boy so he's lying across his lap, butt up. I toss the notepad on the desk. "I'm out of here. I'll be checking in with you on even hours, beginning at 10 A.M." I rise and head for the door.

He rubs the kid's ass, who's trembling with anticipation. I notice one of Morgan's hands seems to cover the boy's entire rear-end. "You sure you don't want to stay for the show?"

"Quite."


Crystal City, VA
Friday, 26 May 2000
4:00 A.M.


The blare of the alarm clock jolts me awake. Walter's warmth moves away to turn the damned thing off. I catch sight of the time and yank him back into bed. "Are you insane?"

He kisses me apologetically. "We've got a 6:15 flight."

I groan and flop back on my pillow. He brushes his fingers across my cheek, then pulls the sheet up to my neck and heads to the bathroom. When I hear the shower come on, I force myself to get up.

I climb into the shower with him and wrap my arm around his waist, my lips finding his neck. "I'm hijacking you for ten minutes."

Walter yawns loudly. "What are you planning on doing with me?"

Nudging him to lean against the wall, I reply, "I plan to suck your cock."

He squeezes my ass, pulling me closer. "Well... if you insist. But afterward, if I end up asleep on the bathroom floor, I'm counting on you to wake me up."

"Mm hmm." Of course, I'd like nothing more than for him to go to sleep and forget about this damned trip.

But that's not going to happen, so I focus on what's at hand... Walter.

I kiss a path to his nipple, sucking it into my mouth and teasing it with my teeth. Walt makes a sleepy sound of satisfaction. I move to the other one, then drag my tongue down his body as I slide to my knees. We haven't had sex since this disaster began--Mulder's abduction. There's so much I'd like to do, but I'll settle for the short time we have.

Walter's a little more than half hard when I suck his cock into my mouth. He fills out rapidly as I take him into my throat.

"Mmm... I might be waking up." He strokes the hair along the side of my head.

I back off to suck the head, teasing the sensitive underside with my tongue, then take him all the way down again. His low moan fills the room. I set a rapid pace, working his dick with my mouth in the way I know brings him off quickly.

"... too damned talented..."

One of his hands fists my hair and the other is around the back of my neck. His hips thrust forward, increasing the speed of the fucking. I wanted him to take control... to make me feel like I'm his again. My brain seems to melt as his face-fucking gets a little more aggressive. I slide my hand up his body, feeling his skin, wishing he didn't have to leave. His muscles vibrate with tension and I know he's close.

The hand in my hair tightens and I echo his groan as he begins to come. His body shudders as he rides out the pleasure.

"Christ, Alex." He slumps against the wall, one hand still in my hair, rubbing lightly. "You want to remind me why we got out of bed in the first place?"

I let his softening cock slip from my mouth, then kiss his stomach. "I'd be perfectly happy to not remind you." Because I don't want you to go to Arizona.

He shakes his head and smiles at me. "Then get your ass up here, so I can play with it."

I rise to my feet and rub myself against his body. His hands glide down my flanks. I kiss the side of his neck, murmuring, "You need to get ready to go."

Walter gives me a vexed look. "Weren't you the one not reminding me a minute ago?"

I kiss the other side of his neck. "Yes. And you can play with me as much as you want... up to missing your plane, but..." My lips move to the front of his throat. "I'm not going to come until you get back. So, if you think about dawdling... think about me here waiting."

"Ah, fuck, Alex." His expression seems to wilt. "I'm going to have a hard-on for the entire trip." He captures my mouth for a brief kiss.

Ten minutes later, I watch from the bed as he throws a few last things into his bag and prepares to leave. He squats next to me for a goodbye kiss, giving my dick a playful squeeze. This morning is the first time I've seen him relaxed or happy since this fiasco started.

Then he's gone.

Please be safe, Walter.

**

The Arizona Desert
11:30 A.M.


Navigation is a complete crapshoot, since neither Scully nor I know where we're going. We passed the reactor, where Gibson was last seen, and kept heading toward some of the abduction sites. A gas station attendant tells us there's a school for the deaf about 20 minutes away. So we drive in that direction.

When we enter the main school building, we find Doggett running out. What the fuck?

"Kid went out the window." He says abruptly, apparently as surprised to see us as we are him. "What are you doing here?"

"What are you doing here?" I parrot. Is he looking for Gibson? If so, how did he know to do it? Back outside, we find a convoy of vehicles bearing field agents.

Doggett yells at the troops, "Kid's on the move. Spread out!"

Scully and I dash for the SUV to comb the outskirts, because Doggett's men are mostly on foot.

"Dana, grab one of the radios from the back and tune it to delta!"

I try to navigate a perimeter that would encircle a running boy. I hear a squelch as she adjusts the radio.

As we hunt for anything that moves in the still desert, I ask a question that's been bothering me. "Is Doggett on our side?"

"I don't know him, Walter. What do you think?"

"That's what's bothering me. I think he's uncorruptible. So why'd Kersh give him the case?"

After a few moments of silence, she answers, "Because he knows Doggett can't find Mulder."

Because Doggett would doubt the existence of aliens if one landed on his nose.

There's a frantic radio call. "Visual on the kid! This is Dog." It's Doggett. "Due west of the school. High ground overlooking the valley. There's a man!"

Dana turns up the radio, and I perform a j-turn, blowing up a blinding cloud of dust.

"I copy that, Dog. This is Husky. ETA two minutes." There's more radio chatter of scrambling agents as I gun the car to get us to the site, convinced Gibson will be spirited away before we can get there.

Then the radio heats up again. "This is Husky approaching Dog's position. He says Mulder's got the kid!"

I take my eyes off the road for a split second to gape at Scully, who's giving me the same expression of disbelief.

An eternity of about sixty seconds passes before we see Doggett with a pair of field agents. But he's not on the high ground, he's on the low. No Mulder. No Gibson. I pull off on the road.

Dana jumps out and confronts Doggett. "Where is he? Where's Mulder?"

"I don't know."

"You don't know?" she demands. "I heard an agent say over the radio that you saw him."

"Oh, yeah, I saw him," Doggett reports uncomfortably. "I saw him back right off that cliff there and I saw him fall right over there."

I jog toward where he pointed. Christ, do not tell me he survives alien abduction only to die falling off a fucking cliff. When I get to the location, I look it over, then absently remove my glasses, wipe them on my shirt and look again.

I don't know what I expected to find, but that wasn't it. Nothing. No Mulder. No body. Just some tracks. I glance up at the cliff. I must have heard wrong. Turning back to Doggett, who's approaching with Dana, I holler, "That cliff there? He fell from there? It's impossible... a fall like that."

They reach my position, and Doggett says solemnly, "A cop sees things. A man drops five stories, dusts his hat off and goes back to work. An old lady gets shot point-blank in a Chinese restaurant, plucks the slug out of her egg foo young. But even if Mulder survives this, what he does then is too much. You got your point of impact there where Agent Scully is standing... clear and identifiable. And a set of tracks here leading down to the wash. Look at these tracks. What do you see?"

They're running tracks.

Welcome to the X-Files, Agent Doggett.

Scully joins us. "It wasn't Mulder."

"That's the one thing I'm sure of," Doggett replies.

But Scully seems certain. "It may have looked like Mulder, but it wasn't Mulder." What is she talking about?

Doggett is insistent. "I told you I knew Mulder. Okay, maybe I didn't know him that well. But I know who it was up there, and it was Fox Mulder."

"I'm sure it did look like Mulder, and you have every reason to believe that it was him... but it was not Mulder." She's being oddly patient with him. When she looks at me for support, I am totally lost. Turning back to Doggett, she continues, "I told you that I've seen things... things that I can't explain. Well, I have seen what looks like a man... transform into another man."

Oh, Christ. She can't be serious.

Carefully, Doggett repeats, "What looks like a man, but who's not a man?"

Scully sighs.

"So, what is he?" Doggett asks in a light tone. For someone who doesn't believe any of this, he's surprisingly open.

"You don't want to know." She heads back toward the cars.

"He's not a man? What the hell is he?" Doggett calls at her retreating back, "Hey, don't turn your back on me! I'm asking you a legitimate question," he says in a placating tone.

Scully turns back, looking fed up. "He's alien," she says calmly.

Doggett gives me a look as if to ask if I believe this nonsense. I think I just might. I've learned my lesson about disbelief. Plus I know Scully's a skeptic.

She adds, "He's a bounty hunter."

"Looking to collect a bounty on... ?"

Without hesitation, she replies, "On Gibson Praise... because he's part alien. He's a human anomaly."

"So, this alien bounty hunter... he disguised himself as Mulder to come out here and grab the boy?"

Dana nods. "To take him back to his ship... where we believe Mulder is."

"You know, Agent Scully... you're, uh, you're starting to remind me a lot of Agent Mulder yourself." Doggett turns and heads to his truck.

"Well then, you explain it to me," she yells after him.

Doggett ignores her and gets into his truck.

I think I believe her. Shit. If aliens can look like Mulder, or anyone, we're screwed. We can't tell an alien from the fucking mailman.

Turning to Scully, I shake my head. "If it's true or possible, what you're saying--that there's
someone like this out there--this bounty hunter... he could just become anyone. You, me, any damn one of us."

"I think that it is true," she says as if this is news to her, too, "And possible. And wherever Mulder is right now... he better damn well be smiling."

I'm speechless... with horror. Or is it wonder?

Back at the school, I ask something that's been on my mind. How Doggett knew where we were going. Scully doesn't know, but she's more worried about the whereabouts of Gibson.

I notice a blonde girl sneaking away from the school. I gesture to Scully to have a look, then observe Agent Crane approaching. I tell her to follow the girl while I deflect Crane.

Feigning a sincere interest in his investigation, I ask him a few benign questions and try to act like I have some respect for his work.

Once I'm rid of him, I pull out my cell phone and call Kimberly to check in. No messages from Kersh is good news. The only thing I can think to do that might be useful is talk to the students. Maybe one of them knows where Gibson might have gone.

One of the teachers helps me talk with some of the deaf kids, but none of them seem to be very close to Gibson. They tell me a girl, Thea, is his friend. Their description of her matches the little girl Scully followed.


8:32 P.M.

When the sun goes down, Doggett's team still hasn't found Gibson. I hope the kid's okay. Outside, another agent announces a phone call from the Deputy Director and passes the phone to Doggett. I can tell he's getting his ass reamed. Maybe that's the point.

He closes the phone, looking testy. Somebody's pulling Doggett's strings. Join the fucking party.

In apparent objection to my expression, Doggett snaps, "This amuse you? I amuse you?"

"No. It just made sense to me. How you found your way out here. Who led you to Gibson Praise." Kersh bugged Scully's apartment. He knew where we were going.

"You think I was spying on you?"

"No, but I think our new Deputy Director was. You're being made a pawn in a rigged game."

Doggett jerks his chin and we go for a walk. To get away from unwanted ears. "All right, you've painted me the picture, now put it in a frame."

I have to give him credit. He listens. "All right. You've got a good rep, Agent Doggett. You don't compromise. You don't quit. You're a damned good FBI agent--best of the best. Lot of guys put you in the Director's chair one day. Which is why you've been set up to fail. There's no amount of search and rescue or rolling cordons or eyes in the sky that are going to turn up Mulder. It's just the wrong approach."

Doggett shakes his head. "It's not a question of approach," he insists. "It's the only approach I got."

"The only way you're going to find Mulder is to give in to the truth. To listen to Scully. But even then... Say you did find him? Even then you lose. You put anything about aliens or UFOs or alien bounty hunters in your report, Kersh will ruin you. I'm betting that was his plan."

Doggett stares at me, trying to figure out why the hell I'm saying what I'm saying, because he knows it can't be true. He doesn't believe in aliens. Probably never will. But he believes what I said about Kersh. Because he knows the man. And he knows me well enough to have just a little bit of trouble dismissing what I've said.

Maybe that's enough to get Doggett thinking outside the box.

Something must have gotten through to him, because he immediately starts giving orders to find Scully. But when an agent on the radio reports he's found her, Scully walks right up to us. What the fuck? The agent in the dormitory, says Scully's standing right in front of him.

Oh, Christ. It's like she said. Just as I'm starting to wonder which is the real Scully, the one outside demands that we hold the other one and runs inside. She wouldn't do that if she were the alien, right?

I wish Alex were here.

Chasing 'Scully' into the building, we reach the dormitory. I see what looks like Scully running away, as 'Scully' goes in pursuit. An agent is down with a crushed throat. I follow the pursuing 'Scully,' until she runs into Agent Crane. There's no sign of the other one.

Fuck, I am not putting this in my report.

We backtrack to the injured agent, who has blood spurting from his neck. I've never seen a throat injury that vicious. Christ, did the alien-cum-Scully do that? When 'Scully' squats down to take care of him, the man recoils. I suppose that answers my question.

Scully--I presume she's the real Scully--organizes a search, but I'm not sure who or what we're looking for. Or how we'd know it if we found it. I'm not very pleased by the prospect of waiting for it to rip my throat out.

An ambulance picks up the wounded agent.

Outside, I spot Scully, and she appears to be trying to slip away. Trying not to draw any attention, I join her by our SUV.

Then it dawns on me that I haven't kept my eyes on her since the last time I knew she was Scully. Oh, Jesus. I wish they were little green men.

Alex, you should have mentioned this.

Back of the neck. Bullet or knife.

I call after her, "Agent Scully? Where are you going?"

She ignores me and gets into the truck, locking the door behind her. Shit. It's the alien. I think. It looks like Scully. Exactly like Scully.

At the window, I try again, "Agent Scully?"

She's searching for the keys.

I pull them out of my pocket and tap the window. "Get out of the car." Tell me I'm not about to arrest an alien. If it doesn't kill me first.

Scully takes one look at me, then scrambles out the passenger side door.

"Agent Scully!"

We square off over the hood of the SUV. "Who are you?" she asks like she really wants to know.

"Who am I?" I repeat, incredulous. She thinks I'm the alien. So she must be the real Scully. Or it's a trick. I think my brain is melting.

When she reaches for her gun, I draw my own.

Scully barks, "Drop your weapon and turn around!"

"I'm not going to turn around."

"Just do it!" Scully shouts. "I know how it works--kill shot to the back of the neck." She's tough as nails, ready to take me out if I'm it.

I've been here before with Scully. One time in Mulder's apartment. And it feels... just the same. I think this is really her. Fuck, am I pointing my gun at Dana? "Scully, you're pointing your weapon at a friend."

"Turn around, or I'm going to assume that you're not who you say you are."

"Scully, it's me! Skinner!" Christ, how do I prove I'm not an alien? It's too painfully obvious... turn my back on her and trust the real Scully not to shoot me in the back.

Well, shit. It's her. It's really her. Isn't it? Would an alien be amped up with doubt like she is?

As I lower my weapon and turn around, it occurs to me. "I can prove it. I know your secret--who else knows it?"

Out of the corner of my eye, I see her coming around the vehicle, gun trained on me.

"Okay... then tell me."

"You tell me," I demand. "How do I know it's you?" I've got to end this before more agents join the party and someone gets shot. Scully won't take a chance on killing the real me.

As calmly as I can, I swing around in and grab her gun. The ease with which I take it tells me she believed it was really me.

I take a moment to breathe, watching Dana's expression shift from fear to relief.

"I don't like pointing guns at pregnant women," I gesture with the butt of her weapon, "any more than I like them pointing guns at me."

I can't work like this. It's too fucking crazy. How did Mulder ever deal with this shit? I might have killed her and the baby. This is too dangerous for her. And just too fucking weird for me.

Dana says nothing, catching her breath, trying to figure out the next move, I'll bet.

Handing her gun back, I add, "This has gone too far, Scully."

She holsters the firearm. "No. That's what's wrong here." She meets my gaze, voice low and determined... almost desperate. "It hasn't gone far enough. I need those car keys."

"And what do you think you're going to do?"

"Look, we are being hampered here by the FBI, by John Doggett, by doubt, by our own mistrust. Whatever it is, it is working... as long as we let it."

"You told me Mulder wouldn't allow it. Wouldn't let me ruin my career over this. Over him. But what about you, Scully? I mean, my God, you've got even more at stake."

She's barely holding back tears... at the edge of a breakdown, reminding me all too painfully of my search for Alex. "I... I can't take the chance that I'm never going to see him again."

She's in so much pain. She can't give up on Mulder any more than I could give up on Alex. But I doubt there's much hope of her finding him. And she's got so much to lose.

I can't bear to see her risk everything on this likely hopeless quest. "Mulder could just come walking out of the dark," I plead, "We don't know."

"Look, we've got one last chance here... waiting for us out there in the desert, Gibson Praise. It may just be who gets to him first."

I couldn't be more reluctant to let her continue, but was there ever any question that I'm going to help her? "Get in the car. I'll drive," I offer, despite extreme misgivings.

Dana hops in. I don't turn on the headlamps until we get away from the school. She navigates, explaining that she found Gibson with a broken leg. But when we get to his hiding place, he's not there. We locate him in a daze sitting on the desert floor. He says he hears Mulder... out in the desert.

If he can read minds, I guess it's possible.

Dana thinks the kid has an infection. We have to get him to the hospital. I lift Gibson, but realize Scully's not following us back to the car. "Agent Scully?"

"You take him to the hospital," she says in a faraway voice.

"What about you?"

She doesn't respond and doesn't follow. Of course not. She has to go after Mulder. If it were Alex, I'd do the same.

I'm desperate to go with her, but someone has to take care of Gibson. It's what she asked me to do. "Be careful, Dana," I mouth silently as I head back to the car.

I do my best to make Gibson comfortable in the backseat. All I've got to give him is a bottle of water and a blanket he doesn't want.

Brushing his hair off his forehead, I whisper, "I'm taking you to the hospital. You're going to be just fine."

He nods. I get in the front seat and head for the highway.

Aliens. I am so out of my league. I wonder if Alex would have been able to find the ship. By sensing it... or whatever.

I remember Alex said he'd babysat Gibson. That Gibson told him he'd run away from his significant other. It makes me smile for the first time since this morning's blowjob, which seems lifetimes away right now.

"It wasn't babysitting." The voice from the backseat is a bit weak, but I can tell he's annoyed. "He couldn't even make a sandwich."

He's talking about Alex. "Well, he's never been very good in the kitchen."

Fuck! The kid is reading my mind. Isn't he?

After a pause, Gibson says, "I guess he came back." I hear a soft chuckle from the backseat as I try to figure out how to have a conversation while not thinking about anything.

"Just don't think about the bedroom anymore." He sounds completely blasé.

Feeling my face flush, I turn up the air conditioner. I've got a pre-adolescent kid in my head.

He adds, "Or the shower."

I take a deep breath and think of the first non-sexual thing that comes into my head. Peach yogurt. I imagine giant bowls of it. And Alex licking... um, no.

I've never in my entire life been this uncomfortable. What should I say? Or think? Oh, hell. Might as well say it out loud. "Yeah, he, uh, came back. Decided to stop running, I guess." Not really, it's more like we fell into bed together and just couldn't stop. Well, whatever.

Oh, shit. I'm thinking again.

Gibson sighs. "You looked familiar, but I couldn't remember until you thought about him. He thought about you a lot, too."

I do think about him a lot. I'm in love with the man.

Poor Gibson, having to hear all this crap. "I suppose you must get pretty tired of hearing what's in people's heads... not all of it nice."

"It's pretty boring. There's almost never anything new." He makes it sound so normal.

Chuckling, I try to get a glimpse of him through the rear-view mirror. "Well, if there's something that would be more entertaining than me and Alex, please feel free to suggest a topic. And I'll try to think about it."

He gives a faint laugh in response. "You ever play computer games? Like Tomb Raider or Diablo II?"

My mind goes immediately to Lyosha. Fuck! Kid, please forget I ever thought that. There's no such person, okay? "Uh, no I don't play a lot of computer games." Lives are at stake if that information gets out, so please don't tell anyone.

Gibson is quiet for a moment. "He thought about all of them. But I won't tell."

Thank you. Thank you.

He adds, "Maybe I'll get to play Tomb Raider some day."

What does the future hold for Gibson Praise? I'm not sure, but he's definitely going to need protection. "When we get you somewhere safe, I'll buy you a copy of Tomb Raider myself. Okay?"

"Okay." He sounds tired and doesn't say anything else. When I look back, he appears to be asleep.

That's a fucking relief.


MacLaren Regional Medical Center
12:48 A.M.


It's another hour before we get to the hospital. I carry Gibson into the emergency room. It's takes them a couple hours to check him over, cast his broken leg and get him settled into a room. I'm not leaving him alone, so I play bodyguard.

I hope Dana's all right. Alone in the dark desert searching for Mulder, confronting alien bounty hunters who can look like anyone... How's she supposed to do this and protect her child? I can't imagine what's she's going through.

Gibson seems to be sleeping peacefully. I wonder if there's anyone I should call. He has family, doesn't he?

It's frightening to imagine what this kid has seen and heard. I wonder if he was ever with Spender. What kind of lesson in evil would that give a kid?

I'm still standing by Gibson's bed when he suddenly goes hyperalert.

"What? Are you okay?" I ask softly. "What's wrong?"

Gibson stares out into the empty hallway. What's got him spooked? He's levering himself up on his elbows.

"It's okay, Gibson, lie down." At least I hope it's okay. "Lie down."

But he's not settling down, and he's starting to hyperventilate. I check the door again and suddenly see his friend, the blonde girl. Thea. Gibson's panic tells me everything I need to know.

It's the alien. 'She' steps into the room and closes the door.

Back of the neck. Bullet or knife. God, can I do that to a little girl?!

Then it's too late.

I'm flying across the room, going ass-first into the wall. No little girl did that!

My gun clatters to the floor. The girl-thing is coming toward me. I'll have to go through it to get my gun back.

Back of the neck. Bullet or knife. I fumble for my pocket knife.

Then the alien-thing is changing... getting bigger. Much bigger. And the face is...

Shit. It's me.

I flick open the blade of my knife.

Visualizing the back of its neck, which I can't possibly reach this way, I decide to go for a stab, hoping to stun it. As it closes in on me, I suddenly jerk up and jab with the knife.

Time seems to go slow motion. That's me I just stabbed... sort of. Got it in the chest. Green liquid is oozing out of it. I rise to my feet to go for the neck...

My eyes are burning. It feels like there's acid in my lungs. I strike out with the blade, but feel only the hard surface of the floor as it slams into me.
** End Part 1 **

Zoe Takashi & Louise Wu,  Email Us

In Part 2...
A crisis brings together an unlikely group of friends and allies... and changes everything.

Next part in series


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