Sent: Wednesday, August 18, 1999 1:23 PM
Title: NEW VERSION: COMING OUT (1/1)
Author: Josan
Date: August 8, 1999
Summary: A formal night out
Pairing: Sk/M/K
Rating: PG-13
Archive: ArchiveX, Ratlover, Gossamer. Any others if you ask: just so I know where this is travelling to.
Comments: jmann@spam.mondenet.com
EXPLANATION FOR THE NEW VERSION: After I posted the original COMING OUT, I got some feedback with "I liked it but...". So I took a hard look and decided to do some more work on this one. Hey, that's what feedback is for. And I've discovered that my ego may *not* be so sensitive after all. (This is not a call for abuse!) Many thanks to Solan, Maldrake for looking it over again and making suggestions, and beta'ing. And for Hopie who read it in hardcopy and agreed with the "complaints".
EXPLANATION: P. D. James (Dame that she is) once explained that she wrote her novel a chapter here, another there. I am only following in her footsteps: except that *she* probably knows very well where her characters are going. I, on the other hand, am being led by the nose by mine. Definitely after LONG DISTANCE RUNNERS, ANSWERS, maybe even after NIGHT OUT.
DISCLAIMER: These are the property of CC, Fox and 1013, but let's not forget that imitation is the greatest form of flattery.


COMING OUT

Mulder checked in on Alex to see how he was getting along.

"Need help?"

Alex was muttering under his breath, turned to see Mulder looking as though he had been born in that tuxedo. "I still think this is asking for trouble."

Mulder grinned, came into Alex's bedroom where Alex was examining himself in the mirror.

The first time Thomas Nash had insisted that Alex attend a formal do, he'd gone out and rented a tux. Which had made him look like some bedraggled misfit. Mulder had hauled him off to his tailor and insisted that, since black tie was now part of his life, Alex needed a properly fitting suit. The problem, of course, was the prosthesis and its hardware.

The tailor had viewed that not as a hindrance to be covered up, but as a challenge so that, unless one knew or was up close enough to realize, the prosthesis would not disturb the line of the suit. He had even produced a shirt designed for the same purpose.

Mulder went to stand behind Alex, became aware just how tense Alex was: he really wasn't crazy about this outing. He needed something else to put him in a better mood, thought Mulder, and casually rubbed himself along Alex's back while he reached over Alex's shoulders to take the tie's ends in hand. He sighed, concentrating, into Alex's ear. Stroked the underside of his chin, as if by accident. And set to finishing off the picture of an elegant Krycek in black tie. "There."

To no effect.

"Mulder, talk to him." Alex turned so that he was encircled by his lover's arms. "This isn't a good idea."

"Alex, stop worrying." Mulder reached up to stroke Alex's face, trying to reassure him. "It's been two years. Everyone who needs to know knows that you're with us. This *isn't* the FBI. This is a charity auction and dinner put on by Walter's think tank. Wilson-Jones knows all about us."

Alex turned back to check them out in the mirror. He was vain enough to appreciate that the two of them looked good in formal wear. He had no great objections to wearing black tie. But this was the first time he was actually, officially accompanying his two lovers to a public function. And, unlike them, *he* didn't think it would go over well.

"Alex." Mulder rested his chin on Alex's shoulder, also checking them out in the mirror. He was used to seeing himself done up this way, but it always surprised him how well formal wear suited the other man. "Stop fretting. It's not like he's asked anything much of us before. He wants this. He wants the two of us to accompany him to this gala. It's important to him or he wouldn't have asked.

"Besides, you owe him. Who came down and bailed you and your team out that night Gus tripped the alarm? Argued with the cops until Nash could get there to clear up the whole thing?"

Alex sighed, already defeated. The night of their first failure and they'd been had by a trip-wire that a ten year old could have set up. Alarms ringing, lights flashing and they had just sat there, waiting for the cops to show up. He'd gotten in a call to Skinner, using his cell phone, just to let him know about the situation. So he wouldn't worry.

Instead, Skinner was waiting for them when they arrived at the police station. Alex's team was viewing this like a lark, but he knew that Alex would feel differently about being cuffed, fingerprinted and charged. He kicked up enough of a fuss, long enough so that when Nash showed up the "culprits" had never gotten past the front desk.

"Besides," Mulder continued before Alex could say anything, "who keeps on inviting him along to those B&E's so he can have some fun? It's work for you, but a pleasure for him. He's just reciprocating. Alex, you know he wouldn't ask you if he thought it would put you in danger. Or even make you feel uncomfortable."

Actually, Skinner had informed Mulder in no uncertain terms that it was time Krycek came out of the shadows.

Alex just nodded, accepting that he was going to accompany Walter and Mulder, in spite of his fears that the world at large was not yet ready to accept the fact that a best-selling author, a respected member of a prestigious think tank, both ex-FBI, were shacked up with an ex-Consortium assassin.

Philippa Wilson looked up from greeting an old friend when she realized that the men she had been waiting for had arrived . Nothing like three seemingly unattached men who looked extremely elegant in black tie to gladden a hostess's heart.

"Walter. How very nice to see you could make the gala."

Walter leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. Philippa Wilson was seventy-five if she were a day, beautifully made-up, dressed in a deceptively simple gown of muted crimson, and was the Wilson in Wilson-Jones. In other words, his boss. She hadn't ordered him to put in an appearance, just "suggested" it.

"And Fox. May I tell you how much I enjoyed your latest book. It kept me up all night, I just couldn't put it down."

Mulder laughed, politely kissed the offered cheek. "Thank you, Philippa. Nothing like knowing that I've kept a beautiful woman from her sleep."

She smiled: she and Fox Mulder had crossed paths several times over the years. It was nice to see the boy looking so relaxed.

She turned to the third member of this party to discover she was being examined by a pair of incredibly beautiful green eyes, in a manner which seemed quite removed. Though he hid it well, this one didn't want to be here.

Walter made the introductions. "Philippa, may I present Alex Krycek. Alex works for Thomas Nash, of Nash Securities."

"Yes," she held out her hand, "Thomas's break-in expert, I believe. I'm very pleased to meet you, Mr. Krycek." And didn't add that he had been one of the subjects under discussion when she and Nash had lunched together about a month ago. Thomas was the son of yet another old friend and she liked to keep in touch with him. He had been very enthusiastic about the success rate of his verification team. Their efficiency had increased business. And he had been very vocal about their leader, so she had been curious.

"I've heard a great deal about you from Walter, Mrs. Wilson. The pleasure is all mine." He took her hand in his, brought it up to his mouth and gently passed his lips over the top.

Nicely done, my lad, thought Philippa Wilson and put more warmth into her smile. "There is nothing a woman of my age enjoys more than the attentions of a handsome man. Please, call me Philippa. And may I call you Alex?"

Alex smiled and Philippa Wilson understood just why Walter Skinner would want this one around.

It didn't take much time for the men to be separated.

Mulder was quickly surrounded by a group of fans, happily accepting their compliments, teasing them with snippets of his latest work-in-progress. He loved the "ah's" and "oh's" of sympathy he got when he recounted the trial and tribulations of book tours, badly prepared interviewers.

Walter was off with several members of the Board, to discuss the latest development on one of their projects. He caught up on FBI news with some old colleagues, promised to give some serious thought to reviewing a Senate sub-committee's assessment of an upcoming issue.

Even Alex managed to work the floor a bit. He ran into the president of a software company who had used his services to test out one of its new security programs. Who in turn introduced him to a colleague who also had some concerns about his security needs.

Alex might have felt more comfortable about the evening if it hadn't been for the man who seemed to be very interested in his companions. Who always had something to say to them once he had moved on. It took only a couple of startled glances directed his way to understand that Nash Securities would be better off if he found a corner to hide in.

Philippa Wilson was a spectator in that little drama. She was pleased to see that Alex Krycek didn't go running off to carry tales to Walter Skinner, not even to Fox Mulder. Like Thomas Nash, she was fully aware of the background of the young man who unobtrusively made his way to the bar.

Alex settled against the bar, a vodka in hand. He would be careful, as ever, not to overindulge, but he needed some reason to be here, where he could keep an eye on his shadow. A game of cat and mouse, he thought. No, he smiled into his drink, rat and terrier.

So, he was surprised when they moved into the dining hall to find that he had been seated at Philippa Wilson's table. Next to an old friend of hers, a woman who had once trained in Russia at the Kiev Ballet. It didn't take much time for them to establish that they both spoke Russian and, though Marita Conway-Jones, sister-in-law to the Jones in Wilson-Jones, fulfilled her social obligations with the others at the table, she often monopolized the intriguing partner at her right.

"So, what do you think of him, Mar?" Philippa examined her face in the powder-room mirror.

"I take it you mean Alex, not the old fart you placed to the left of me."

Philippa ignored the unkind reference to an ex-Vice President.

"He's beautiful, intelligent, has a nasty edge to his humour."

"Which I noticed you appreciated."

"Very much. So, Phil, who have you got him for? I can't see any of those granddaughters of yours, or mine for that matter, being of the slightest interest to him."

"He's already taken. He's with Fox and Walter."

"Oh." Marita paused in the reapplication of her lipstick. "Ohhh." She exchanged raised eyebrows with her childhood friend. They both smiled. "How nice to know the younger generation has some old-fashioned vices. Do you remember the chauffeur that Natty Wordsworth had..."

Philippa had arranged that while they had all been at dinner, the items to be auctioned off were set up in the hall they had just vacated. She knew, from past experience, bids were more likely to be at the high end if bidders had enjoyed a good meal and the pieces were still very new to them.

She could see Walter talking to Fox, both of whom then looked around the room searching for somebody. She caught sight of their target only because of the man who was making his way into one of the shadowed corners. Oh dear, she thought, enough is enough.

"Ah, Mr. Krycek."

Alex slowly straightened up from the wall he was slouching against. He took a sip of his drink. "Mr. Director," he acknowledged.

The Director took his time looking the man up and down, a slight look of distaste on his face. "How nice to find you looking so very well, Mr. Krycek." His voice bordered on insult. "I hope you intend keeping in good health, for all our sakes."

"I'm doing my best, Mr. Director." Alex kept his voice as expressionless as his face.

"Keeping busy, are you?"

"Almost as busy as you've been." He took a sip of his brandy. "Of course, if *that* continues, I'll probably find myself out of a job and with lots of time on my hands. Time, as Walter would say, to get involved in things that are really none of my business."

The Director's head shifted back, as if pulling away from a nasty thought. Gritting his teeth, he agreed, "Then it's fortunate that you are so very busy. And should remain that way."

"Alex, dear." Philippa Wilson smiled at the two men, purposefully laid her hand on Alex's arm. She'd overheard that last bit of their conversation and was very pleased with Alex's discreet handling of the matter. "I'm so very sorry to interrupt this conversation, but Walter is looking for you. He'd like you to join him over by the podium. You don't mind, do you, Martin?"

"Not at all, Philippa. I'm sure Mr. Krycek and I have nothing much more to say to each other."

Alex gave a slight nod of his head, smiled down at his hostess, bent and kissed her on the cheek. "Thanks," he whispered and went off to find Walter.

Philippa Wilson took the Director by the arm and began strolling around the room.

"Did you think I was going to cause a scene?" he asked a bit sarcastically. Only a bit, because she was a power worthwhile having on his side.

"Not at all, Martin. But I really would prefer getting through the evening without bloodshed."

"I doubt Krycek..."

"Martin, not Alex. I'm certain the young man has much better manners than to behave that way, here at least. No, I mean Walter. I'm not certain that he would restrain himself if he found you harassing one of his boys." She smiled at some old friends who knew better than to interrupt her when she had that look on her face.

The Director was peeved. "I don't understand why he lets that...thing hang around." Suddenly he stopped in his tracks. Philippa turned to smile at his stunned expression. "One? Of his boys? I know about Mulder, but are you implying..."

"Martin, dear, I'm not implying anything. I'm just saying that Walter can be very protective." She looked amazingly innocent at that moment, even though her voice hardened, just the slightest. "And so can I."

Alex found Mulder first. Mulder took one look at his expression and asked, "You okay?"

Alex grunted softly. "I just had a nice *short* conversation with your ex-boss."

"Shit!" Mulder grimaced. He had worried about the guest list.

"It's okay. Walter's boss rescued me."

"Philippa?" Mulder smiled. "She would."

"Ah, here you are, both of you. There's something I want you two to see. Come on." Walter looked curiously delighted.

The two shrugged at each other, played follow-the-leader until Walter stopped in front of a roped off area. The three men just stood there.

"Nice, eh?" Walter commented.

"Oh, my," said Mulder. "A Morgan."

Alex gave a soft whistle of appreciation.

Surrounded by the red velvet ropes was a canary yellow Morgan convertible sports car.

"It was" explained Walter, "decided only this morning to add this to the auction. One of only sixty made that year. It's out of Jameson's collection. Somehow, Philippa got him to part with it for the auction. She figures it might bring in as much as one hundred thousand dollars." Very casually, he tossed out, "I figure I could provide about thirty-five of that."

And he let that hang in the air.

Alex did some quick calculations about what he had in a nearby safety deposit box as well as in his legit bank account. "Hummm. I could do that too."

Mulder figured he could cover the whole amount without batting an eyelash: he had sold the movie rights for his last book for an obscene amount of money. But he realized the symbolism of this division: it would be the first purchase they had all contributed to, on an equal basis.

He smiled at Walter who just raised his eyebrows. "Count me in for my share."

Alex grinned at the two of them. Who found themselves grinning back.

"Philippa, thank you for the lovely evening." Walter kissed his boss's cheek. "And thanks for keeping an eye on Alex."

"Not much of a chore, Walter. Beautiful men are always a pleasure to watch." Then she smiled. "And he really is very sweet."

"Sweet? I think 'interesting' might be a better word. But sweet?" He laughed at the thought of Alex's reaction when he told him that he had been found "sweet".

He looked over to the corner of the foyer where his two lovers were already drawing up battle lines over who was getting the Morgan for the weekend. He sighed. Why hadn't he thought this through before suggesting they bid on the car? The squabbling was just beginning.

************************NIF*********************

 


 

Title: Philippa's Request
Another episode in the ANSWERS universe
Author: Josan
Beta: Solan
Date: November, 1999
Summary: Philippa Wilson asks our lads to do her a little favour.
Pairing: Sk/M/K
Rating: PG-13
Archive: With thanks to CJK at: http://adult.dencity.com/CJK/, Yes to Basement
Comments: jmann@mondenet.com  OR, if you're getting bounced due to the anti-spam filter my server has added, try jmann@spam.mondenet.com

DISCLAIMER: The three main characters and the doctor are the property of CC, Fox and 1013 (Tant pis!), but the rest belong to MOI.

NOTE: Marina Conway-Jones used to be Marita, but I had forgotten there was already a Marita, who is not my Marita, so Marita (mine) has become Marina.

NOTE 2: The Russian Embassy involved in this story may be located in Washington D.C., but architecturally, is based on the old one in Ottawa.

(Hey! It's *only* a story!!!)


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

Krycek slouched against the doorway of the "family" room and examined his two housemates.

Mulder, long legs stretched out in front of him, was sitting on the base of his spine, remote in hand, channel surfing through an almost muted tv.

Not muted enough for Skinner who was stubbornly sitting very straight in his favourite chair, working his way through the same report he'd been trying to read for the last week.

Mulder ignored the occasional glares that were directed his way just as Skinner ignored the slightly exaggerated heart-felt sighs that came from Mulder's chair.

Krycek knew what they were both feeling.

Bored.

As he was.

Not that he was bored with work...well, not really. After nearly three years, his team was top-of-the-line. So well trained that they knew what to do without his having to direct them. Nash had congratulated him just the other day about some work they'd done. Problem was it was work his team had done with almost no input from him. He was beginning to feel that he had trained himself out of a job he liked.

And Mulder. Well, Mulder was suffering from a bout of writer's block. After producing four best sellers in a row, he was fresh out of ideas.

So he was driving them all crazy with his attempts to find himself a new story line. He'd taken over the bathroom, spending hours soaking in a hot bath. There were candle wax droppings and stains all over the room from his insistence that candle light was absolutely necessary to setting the right atmosphere.

That hadn't worked, so he'd tried meditation, long walks, wine and mood music -- though Krycek couldn't see how Nine Inch Nails mixed with Montavani could motivate you do anything other than pull your hair out.

Now he'd taken to living in front of the tv, remote in hand, waiting to be struck by lightning.

Which was driving Skinner crazy.

Things were very slack right now at Wilson-Jones, and so Philippa Wilson was taking advantage of down time to have all the offices redone. Skinner had been effectively banned from going in. Though he didn't go into his office all that often, of course *now*, that's all he wanted to do.

All considered, it wasn't surprising that things had gotten a little tense at the Krycek/Mulder/Skinner household.

Krycek pushed his shoulder off the jamb, went and dropped into his chair. Cleared his throat.

No reaction. Mulder kept on surfing; Skinner, pretending he was reading.

"Ah-hem!"

Well, this time he'd gotten Skinner's attention. He smiled at him, waited.

Skinner put the report down: Krycek was up to something.

Krycek directed his gaze at Mulder. Skinner shifted a bit in his chair so he had a better view of their dishevelled lover. He, too, stared at Mulder, waited.

Mulder knew they were waiting for him. He wasn't in the mood to be accommodating. He had an editor who was calling every week to ask him how the new book was coming along. So far he'd been hedging, telling her he was still doing research. She'd offered him a research assistant. Yeah. Right. Like that was going to help a lot when he had no idea at all what needed researching.

Skinner softly cleared his throat. Mulder sighed deeply, loudly. Hit the off button and turned to glare at the two others. Skinner countered the glare with a very knowing raise of an eyebrow, turned to face Krycek.

Now that he had both their attentions, Krycek slouched a bit in his chair, stretched his legs out, crossed one booted foot over the other.

"I had an interesting lunch meeting today."

Mulder grimaced a "Big deal!" face. Skinner at least made a pretence of looking interested.

"With Philippa Wilson."

Now he had both their attentions. Not 100%, but a hell of a lot more than before.

"She's asked me to look into a little matter for her."

Krycek smiled innocently at the two men now glaring at him.

"Krycek, get on with it," Skinner snapped.

"He won't," grouched Mulder. "He's having too much fun drawing this out."

Krycek grinned. "Actually, we may all have some fun. If we decide to handle this for her, that is." And stopped there.

"Alex!" Skinner growled. "We are neither of us in the mood right now for games. Get to the damn point. What does Philippa want us to look into?"

"She would like us to break into the Russian Embassy." And watched as his little bombshell brought interest to Mulder's eyes, incredulity to Skinner's.

"Okay," Mulder began sitting up, "now that you've really got our attention, why don't you tell us why she would like us to break into the Russian Embassy?"

"Marina Conway-Jones."

He got two questioning looks.

"She spent some time in the fifties training with the Kiev Ballet. Had a affair with a dancer who turned out to be an informant for the KGB."

"Letters?" Skinner offered.

Krycek nodded.

"So, what's the big deal? I mean," said Mulder, "it was almost fifty years ago. Who cares?"

"Her grandson?" Skinner smiled as Krycek nodded again. Nice to know he could still follow a trail with just a few clues.

"What about her grandson? He's going to be upset because his granny had sex? I don't get it." Mulder's attention was beginning to stray back to the remote.

"Gregory Jones Walker will be running for Congress in the up-coming elections. He's still quite young, only in his twenties, but already they're talking bigger things for him." Krycek had Mulder's attention again.

"And," picked up Skinner, "the fact that granny had sex, as you so indelicately put it, with a KGB informant -- officer probably?"

Krycek nodded.

"Might not go down well with the voters, especially of the district he's running in. They're rather conservative in that neck of the woods. That kind of revelation would pretty much put an end to any of his political aspirations."

He turned to Krycek. "So what do they want in return for the letters?"

"They want a certain transportation firm to be recommended by Wilson-Jones for a government contract."

"Moving?" Skinner asked in his AD voice.

"Computer hardware for certain military destinations."

Mulder gave a low whistle. "Which means one way or another they'll find a way to infiltrate those computers."

"A virus. A transmitter system of some kind." Krycek shrugged. "Your guess is as good as mine. Not to mention who really owns the transport company."

"Wild guess," said Mulder, "Russian Mafia."

"One of the new American-Russian businesses." Krycek was pleased to see that writer's block hadn't affected Mulder's ability to grasp the big picture.
"So, no letters, no blackmail." Skinner drew them back to the problem at hand. "Who approached whom?"

"A newly arrived attache asked Philippa for a meeting. They held it yesterday morning in her office. The recommendation report is to be tabled next week."

"Not much time." Skinner met Krycek's eyes, saw something else in them. "Alex. What aren't you telling us?"

Krycek slouched in his seat, looked at Mulder. "The newest attache is an old acquaintance. Of ours. Mine and Mulder's."

Mulder sat up straight. "Really?"

"The doctor at the camp."

Mulder's face went hard.

Skinner had seen Mulder's face take on many aspects in the years he'd known him, but he had never seen this expression, ever, on his lover's face.

Krycek had.

"You're sure?" Mulder's voice was dangerously soft.

"Philippa videotaped the meeting. We went back to her office after lunch and she showed it to me. It's him all right. Calls himself Solovyov. Vladimir Sergeyevitch Solovyov. Supposedly here to oversee the new scientific exchanges between American and Russian universities."

"Jesus Christ!" Mulder got up, took a nervous turn around the room.

Skinner knew the story behind the trip to Tunguska: Mulder's exposure to the black oil, his part in testing the effectiveness of the vaccine. How Krycek had lost his arm. How he had stolen the vaccine.

"Well," he looked at the two men, "how are we going to do this?"

Krycek pulled his gaze away from Mulder. "*Are* we doing this?"

"Fox?"

Mulder took a last turn around the room. He would have to get his emotions under control. He took a deep breath. Held it. Released it. He turned to look at his lovers.

"Yes."

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

Krycek held a private meeting with his team. By afternoon all five of them had put in a request for vacation time. Which led to a very closed meeting between Krycek and Nash. The upshot of that meeting was a middle of the night transfer of equipment from Nash Securities to a house in the suburbs of Washington. Considering that all three residents had their own computer set-ups, their own high-density lines, it was merely a matter of exchanging some of the older equipment for the very latest in prototypes.

Krycek set up his team in the family room, let them loose on finding the information they would need: architectural blue prints, security system, inside schedules, guard routines, etc.

Skinner got on the phone and began pulling strings to get an invitation to the celebration supper planned at the Embassy after the ceremonial signings of new business exchanges between the two countries. The Secretary of Agriculture was going to be there along with the Secretary of Commerce. It didn't take much to have a best-selling author and a member of a respectable think tank added at the last minute to the guest list provided to the Embassy by the personal assistant to the Secretary of Agriculture, who, not many people knew, had spent five years with the FBI working undercover.

Krycek paid a discreet visit to a fuming Marina Conway-Jones. He let her vent her anger and frustration at the fact that something which happened before her marriage could affect her grandchildren. He got her to dig around in her old letters for a sample of her handwriting forty-five years ago. They needed something to compare with, just in case.

"I wrote to the jerk in French." They were speaking in Russian. "It seemed so much more romantic." Marina pulled out some notes from a French lecture she'd attended while she'd been dancing in Europe in her twenties.

"Was he worth it?" Krycek asked, then quickly kept on. "Sorry. That was personal. Forget I asked."

Marina Conway-Jones came to stand right in front of the man she was hoping could pull off a miracle. If she were the only one involved, she would have had no qualms about revealing the liaison herself. But there were others who would be hurt through no fault of their own.

She may have found her grandson a bit too pompous for someone his age, but she hated the fact that her past behaviour could ruin his hopes, his dreams for his future.

And Phil. Well, Phil was her dearest friend, the sister of her heart, but she should not have to put the reputation of an organization she'd built to reflect her own honesty, her trustworthiness into jeopardy. That she was even contemplating it was proof enough of the love the two bore each other.

"I was twenty-two. He was blond. Blue-eyed. Romantic. A superb dancer. With a superb body. A great deal of stamina."

Krycek nodded. "All very important at twenty-two."

Marina stroked a finger along Krycek's jawline from ear to chin. "Yes," she agreed. "And I have very fond memories of my stay with the Kiev." Her finger followed his chin, up along the other side of his jaw. "But right now, you would make me very happy if you brought me his balls along with the letters."

Krycek grinned. "I don't know about the balls, but I'll...we'll do our best for the letters."

Marina placed her long, still elegant hands on his shoulders, leaned over and kissed him first on one cheek, then the other, Russian style. "Be very careful, Alex. I don't want anyone to suffer, to be hurt on my account. These men are not KGB, they're far more dangerous."

Krycek returned the kisses. "We know. We've had dealings with Comrade Solovyov. This isn't without personal satisfaction for us."

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

Mulder was surprised to see how little the man calling himself Vladimir Solovyov had changed. Still a small man. Greyer. Thinner. Glass lenses thicker. He smiled at Mulder as they were about to be introduced to each other by a member of the Embassy cultural staff.

"Oh, but I already know Mr. Mulder. We met once. Do you remember, Mr. Mulder?"

"Yes, Doctor Solovyov, I remember."

The smile Mulder gave Solovyov caused the third man to step back, nervously look from one to the other. He quickly found someone else that needed his attention.

"As a matter of fact, I based one of my characters on you."

"Really?" Solovyov looked quite taken by surprise. "I have read all your books. Which one am I?"

"Karpov. In my first book."

Solovyov had to think. "Ah, the scientist!" Then he frowned. "The one who is pulled apart by the people he has experimented upon."

"That's him. I quite enjoyed writing that part."

Mulder smiled as pleasantly as he could, now quite enjoying the little man's badly concealed anger. He had described Karpov as a smarmy little toad of a man.

The PA to the Secretary of Agriculture came up to them. "Mr. Mulder, Doctor Solovyov, may I introduce Walter Skinner?"

Mulder gave a little absentminded nod: he was scanning the room. Solovyov looked torn between glaring at Mulder and shaking Skinner's hand. Politeness won out.

"Mr. Skinner," continued the PA, "is with Wilson-Jones, a very respected think tank based here in Washington."

Solovyov dropped Skinner's hand. "Wilson-Jones. I see." He got a very nasty look on his face. "I think I see very clearly."

Skinner merely raised an eyebrow as he watched the man scurry away to confer with a couple of very large, oily looking characters who were trying very hard to look innocuous in one corner of the room.

"Is that what you wanted?" The PA preferred knowing as little of this situation as possible.

"Yes, thank you." Dismissing the man.

Mulder turned back to Skinner, smiled at someone he knew. "What are they up to?"

Skinner took a sip of the ginger ale he held in his hand. "Identifying us. I think we've got our shadows for the night."

"Good." Mulder smiled at another fan who was nudging her companion. Soon he would be holding court the way he did at all these types of gatherings. "Au jeu."

Solovyov's thugs found it easy to keep Mulder in view the entire evening. He was usually surrounded by several people, entertaining them with quips, snippets, making them laugh at his explanation that writer's block was handicapping his newest work, at his attempts to overcome it. At one point he was the centre of attention of a group consisting of the two Secretaries, the Russian Ambassador, and their wives.

Skinner wasn't too difficult to keep under eye either. He drew less attention than Mulder, but there was no scarcity of people who were happy to talk to him. Of course conversation within that group was more serious, less raucous. Once they thought they had lost him, only to realize that Skinner had taken a trip to the washroom, coming back in the company of one of the businessmen who were the supposed focus of the evening.

At Solovyov's direction, security had been tightened around the supper populace, without most of them being aware of it. Solovyov himself stuck to the shadows of the room, like a stalker ready to pounce on his prey should he be given the opportunity.

He wasn't.

At the end of the evening, apart from the occasional visit to the washroom, neither man had left the group.

Solovyov still thought it was too much of a coincidence to have a man he'd had dealings with in the past, another with a connection to a present deal suddenly show up at the same time. At his insistence, security that night was also tightened around the embassy.

And maybe he should prepare a little surprise visit, just to ensure that the ground rules were fully understood.

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

"Is it working?"

Krycek grinned at Skinner. "Like a charm."

The birdish woman with the overlarge glasses who sat at the computer was busy tracking one of the two thugs that Skinner had managed to tag during the evening. A large black man was tracking the other from his computer.

Skinner removed his tie, unbuttoned the top of his shirt. Krycek's eyes followed his hands. Skinner caught the little flicker of hunger that flashed across Krycek's face. Sex had been pretty scarce these past weeks, what with everyone's tempers being a bit ready. He slowly undid a couple more buttons, slipped his hand under the silky material of his shirt, as if rubbing an itch.

Krycek knew exactly what Skinner was doing. And why. As he moved to go check the second computer, he passed behind Skinner, letting his hand stroke the firm ass of the older man.

The two of them exchanged grins.

"They're merging." Cyn's voice, unlike her body, was husky.

"Where?" Immediately the two men were completely focused on the computers, one to each.

Mulder found them looking back and forth between the two computers, verifying locations not only against the architect's plans that they had located but against the secure copy Liz had "somehow" (Ask me no questions!) downloaded from the Kremlin's own archives.

He had gone up to change into sweats. It was going to be a long night and he had no intention of being uncomfortable. The tray he carried in had a fresh pot of coffee, mugs on it.

"Well?" He handed Skinner a mug, took a sip from his own.

"Residence. Third floor, fourth room from the left, across from the secretary's bedroom."

"Are they inside?" Mulder leaned over Krycek, rested his chin on his shoulder. Rested his free hand on Krycek's hip.

Krycek smiled to himself. This was what they had all needed: something to break the monotony they had fallen into.

Augustus mumbled from his computer, "They seem to be facing the right hand wall."

Skinner had tagged his man on the back; Mulder, on the front. With the high resolution magnification, Gus could determine where and how the men were standing. Plus, at Krycek's suggestion, he had programmed the tags to pulse with different beats so that they came through the screen in different colours.

"Which means," Skinner was thinking out loud, "that he doesn't want them to see what he's opening, so it's probably on the left hand wall. Well, that will help limit the space we've got to search."

The doorbell rang, in a coded melody. Mulder went to let in another member of Krycek's team.

Tony had been a dancer until a broken foot had put an end to a not-so-promising career. He was short, about five foot seven, wiry, all muscle. He'd put his skill to use as a second storey man until Nash had cornered him one night, breaking into his mother's apartment.

While holding a gun on the man, Nash had casually asked him why he shouldn't just shoot him then and there. He'd made the mistake of taking his eyes off Tony for a breath and discovered it was not something ever to do again. He'd won the fight that followed only because being literally twice Tony's size, his sheer weight and size had restrained the smaller man.

At that point in time, he knew Krycek was looking to add someone flexible, literally, to his team. With a bit of persuasion, necessary at both ends, Nash had covinced Krycek to give Tony a trial run. He was still around.

"Liz is keeping an eye on Marina," he reported to Krycek.

"Good. Let's hope Mulder and Skinner's presence has worried our mark enough to pay her a little visit soon. You all ready?"

"And raring to go." Tony rocked on his feet, energy barely under control.

"I'll go change," said Skinner. "Just in case it's sooner."

Mulder went to take his place behind Gus. "Accidentally" palmed Sinner's genitals as he bumped against him doing so. "Sorry."

"No, you're not," muttered Skinner, low enough for just Mulder to hear. But he grinned all the way to their bedroom, to change out of the evening's formal wear. He would need a different costume if this went off.

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

When Skinner came back, he was wearing black boots, black slacks, black turtle neck, carrying a black suede jacket. Cyn looked up as he did, gave a low wolf whistle. Everyone turned around.
Skinner gave her a cold look, got a unpenitent wink in response.

Krycek and Mulder checked him out: Skinner might be in his mid-fifties, but he was still a turn-on. Their turn-on. And dressed this way, he looked more than a little dangerous. They shared a grin and went back to the computers.

About an hour later, Gus announced, "They're on the move."

Gus and Cyn were busy changing the screen images to the grounds around the Embassy, and then to the city street plan.

"I think," Cyn said, "that we have a go. Gus?"

The big man nodded.

Skinner and Tony went out the door.

Krycek went to a third computer set up with a direct link to Liz's laptop. He typed in: Wake up, Baby. Visitors may be on their way.

Liz was the youngest of them all, barely twenty. She sent back: Fuck off, Granddad.

Gus got up from his computer, went to a table where there were three laptops. He worked over them for a couple of minutes. Went back to his screen and contacted Tony's computer with the new data.

He straightened, stretched. "My brothers will meet us as arranged."

"Good." Krycek verified the laptops against Cyn's computer. He took one, handed the two others to Mulder. "Everyone know what they're supposed to do?"

They all nodded.

Krycek smiled. "Well, then, let's go."

Cyn waved them off. She was their communications central. It was her job to link all and every string of the operation, keep them from getting tangled. She'd been Nash's secretary, thinking of retiring, spending more time with her grandchildren. But when she'd gone to spend some time with them, she soon discovered teenagers bored her to tears.

She'd applied to join Krycek's team and, to everyone's surprise, had been accepted. Cyn wasn't bored with this crew. And was more than happy to be the one who stayed behind to look after things.

Besides, she had a chronic fear of guns, and tonight, there were guns around. She fingered her good luck charm as she checked the time, sent it on to Liz and Tony.

If Solovyov were on his way to Marina's, it would take him a good hour to get there. An hour back. Marina had orders to detain him as long as possible.

They were forty minutes from the Embassy. Mulder looked at the van clock. Krycek was relaying a message on his laptop. In the back seat, Gus was humming a gospel hymn under his breath.

Of all of the team, he was the only one with a nice, upper middle class upbringing -- father was a surgeon; mother, a stock broker. Augustus had gotten through university on a football scholarship: 3.9 average in Computer Science. Never gotten into any trouble of any kind in his life. Sang in his church choir.

Thomas Nash had snapped him up, stealing him from larger, more prestigious companies by signing a document that allowed him to maintain 80% ownership of anything he developed while working for Nash Securities. Because that was one thing Gus loved doing: playing around with existing hardware, with gadgets, gizmos. And Nash was more than willing to let him do it. Which was how he came to be aware of Krycek and his specialized group.

Krycek had needed some specific modifications on a particular piece of hardware. Gus had done them but had been curious as to the reason for the modifications.

Now he was an integral part of a team planning on breaking into the Russian Embassy. Which, if it went wrong, would, at the very least, cause an international incident. Too good to keep to himself. They'd needed some more muscle for tonight's game, so he had contacted his two younger brothers, attending Georgetown on football scholarships, for a bit of adventure.

They picked up his brothers, both of whom were bigger than Gus, and drove to a location where they could easily see the Embassy. There Krycek played with the keyboard, keeping in touch with Cyn, Liz and Tony. Gus in the back seat was basking in the pleasure of running his brothers through what was expected of them tonight. Keeping them pumped but quiet.

"They're there." Krycek's announcement froze all activity for a moment. "Okay. Act one begins."

A car Mulder recognized as the one Skinner was driving pulled up to the front of the Embassy. There was a delay at the gates while the guard called in and then a lengthy exchange of conversation, a thorough examination of the car before the gates were opened and Skinner allowed to drive in.

Gus pulled out a pair of night binoculars. From his perspective he related: "He's parking it near the wall. Getting out of the car. Up the stairs. The door is open already. Looks like the Ambassador himself. In his pj's. They're arguing. He's in."

Mulder exchanged laptops with Krycek, handed that one back to Gus. Krycek's was keyed to the tag Skinner had on his person.

"Okay. They've put him in the library. He's got the tag on the Ambassador." He handed that one to Mulder, took the third computer from him. Activated it.

"Tony's moving."

In the back of the van, Gus's brothers watched in awe as their older brother began relaying coded messages back and forth between Liz and Cyn. He handed them the binoculars. "Keep an eye on the lay of the land around. Anything moves, let us know. Even if it's a rat."

In the front seat, Mulder snickered, exchanged a grin with Krycek. The Rat and his pack were certainly in motion tonight.

At the entrance to the condo complex where Marina Conway-Jones lived, a deliciously self-satisfied Vladimir Solovyov, accompanied by his personal bodyguards, was accosted on the sidewalk by a Goth female who lurched drunkenly against him, then, as she was pulled off by one of the guards, against him and then his partner as they pushed her away from them.

Back at the house, Cyn grinned. Passed on the message to Gus that Solovyov had been tagged as had his men again. The tags had a limited life span. They could keep track of all three men again till this was over.

The phone on the table next to the computer rang. Cyn carefully checked the number on the display before answering.

"My dear, would you please pass the following message to Alex." Marina was speaking calmly belying the fact that she was trembling with anger and disgust. "Tell him that that man's balls will do very well in place of the others we had discussed."

Krycek laughed out loud when Gus relayed the message Cyn had forwarded.

"Don't I wish," mumbled Mulder. Krycek gave his thigh a little pat of understanding with the fake hand.

At what they had estimated was the right time, Mulder slipped the laptop to Gus. "Keep an eye on him." He pointed to the blue dot who was Skinner. "If he moves back and forth quickly, honk the horn."

The young man nodded seriously, took the laptop and set it up on the seat next to the one he was already working with.

"How's Tony doing?"

Krycek grinned up at him. "Almost at the door. Ready for Act two?"

"They're about a mile away." Gus looked up at his brothers. "You two know what to do. And be careful. Mom'll have my head if you get hurt." He watched with approval as they pulled balaclavas on their heads, ready to be pulled down.

Mulder got out of the van, ran at a steady pace over to the Embassy gate. Right in front of the gates, he started hobbling, as though he had pulled something. He stopped, bent over, panting hard. Krycek knew he was ignoring the guard's challenge. As car lights swept the entrance, Mulder stood, positioned himself in front of the car, barring it from entering.

The guard came out of the guard house, a couple more showed up from the yard.

The driver lowered his window, yelled at Mulder to move.

"Hey," Mulder said cheerily, "I know you. You were at tonight's supper. Seems to me I saw you every time I turned around."

He ignored the angry exchange going on between the driver and the guard at the gate, raised his hands above his head to show he wasn't armed, placed them on the top of the car, bent over, spoke into the back. "If it isn't the good doctor. Partying late, Doc?"

"Mr. Mulder. What are you doing here at this time of the night?"

"Clearing my head. Running. I like to run at night. So much quieter, don't you think."

"Ah, yes. I remember you liking to run. Perhaps you should run away again. Cities can prove to be much more dangerous than forests." He gestured to the driver. In Russian he ordered the man to drive on.

But Mulder had moved in front of the car. Just as the driver was opening his door, to move him physically if need be, two large burly black-clad shapes came barrelling out of the darkness. One grabbed the door, yanked it open, pulled the driver out, tripping him at the same time.

The second man quickly frisked him, taking his gun, a wallet, a second gun from the small of his back.

The second body guard opened the passenger side back door, came out, weapon drawn, ready to fire. Mulder threw himself against the door, jarring the man, causing him to miss.

The guards were quickly opening the gate, coming out with their automatic weapons ready to fire.

Solovyov came out of his side, screaming at them not to fire: all it would take was the shooting of an American resident, even one committing a crime, in front of the Russian Embassy to start a diplomatic incident of monumental proportion. The door opened and the Ambassador added his weight to Solovyov's orders.

Meanwhile, the two "robbers" had taken off, going around the back of the car and disappearing into the streets.

Mulder moved out into the street, hands above his head, drawing the guards' attention along with Solovyov's.

Solovyov was accusing Mulder of having organized the attack; Mulder yelled back that he was an American citizen, just out for a jog.

A car pulled up out of nowhere, brakes slammed on stopping the car right next to Mulder. The passenger door opened. Mulder bent over, as if holding a conversation, slid in and the car took off as fast as it had arrived. Disappeared just as quickly.

"Good girl, Baby," said Krycek as the car's brake lights barely came on as she took a corner.

"And Tony?" asked Gus, sighing with relief as he caught sight of two large black shapes carefully making their way back to the van. Their orders had been to make their way back to the van separately if possible. They slid in, barely breathing hard, trying to contain the hysterical reactions to the night's activities. One of them handed Krycek their booty: the two handguns and a wallet with what would later prove to be over three thousand in American dollars.

"He's in. Already up on the third floor." He smiled as Gus's brothers removed their balaclavas, grinning with the sheer joy of an adrenaline rush.

"Act three," said Gus.

"Act three," agreed Krycek. He didn't like the fact that Skinner was the one who was sitting in the lion's den. But they needed someone in who would have a legitimate reason for wanting to speak to Solovyov at this time of the night. Solovyov wanted to do business with Wilson-Jones. Who better to discuss this business than a valued employee of Wilson-Jones?

Besides, if Solovyov so much as caught sight of him, Krycek knew he would be dead, no matter what the consequences would be. Solovyov wasn't the forgiving type. Krycek didn't doubt that the good doctor had had many difficult moments after he had walked away with the boy and the vaccine. Still, if he had to, he would go in there, guns blazing should Skinner need rescuing.

A block away, Mulder checked out the weapon Liz had pulled out of the glove compartment for him. The top of his sweats had a zippered bib pocket. He emptied the box of ammunition into it.

Liz was changing the slinky Goth dress for a black turtle neck, black jeans. Mulder noticed that she didn't wear a bra, favoured very skimpy panties. She also favoured Glocks. Had two of them at hand for herself.

Liz was from Nicaragua. Had seen her family murdered in front of her when she was four. Had killed her first soldier at five. A missionary order had gotten her out when she was twelve, found her a foster home with well-meaning people who couldn't understand why such a sweet, beautiful child could fight like a demon, would attack anyone whom, she felt, threatened her. After she badly beat up a boy who was twice her size, they sent her back to the missionary order.

What had saved Liz from the streets, from probably killing some john was an old computer that sat in the office, unused by anyone. The priest had caught her playing with it one day, found someone who could instruct her in the use of it. Six months later, Liz had moved on into the world of hackers.

The computer Liz used was a contribution from Thomas Nash. At sixteen, she began working for Nash because, he agreed with the priest, it was the only way Liz was going to stay out of trouble. She didn't, not completely. But at least Nash provided her with an outlet for her talents. Then Krycek interviewed her, saw a bit of himself, and took her into the team.

She knew Mulder watched her change her clothes from the corner of his eye. But she also knew he was Krycek's. She just smiled at him.

Mulder picked up the laptop she had placed under the seat, activated it and reported in to Gus and Cyn.

Inside the Embassy, Solovyov and the Ambassador were screaming at each other. So much so that the sounds penetrated up to the third floor, but not into the fourth room on the left where Tony was happily practising his talents on the safe he had found behind a framed photograph reproduction of Tolstoy sitting with his wife.

An ear open for any sound that might come from the staff -- Krycek would warn him should the thugs or Solovyov get too close, he opened the small safe, took out its contents, found the small pack of letters with the handwriting he was looking for, replaced them with the lecture notes Marina had given Krycek. Put everything back.

Now to get out.

Downstairs, the argument had caused staff to shut their doors firmly, for the guards to return to their stations, blind to what was happening behind them. For Skinner to come out of the library to see what all the noise was about.

Solovyov was surprised to be informed that Mr. Skinner, who was here as a representative of Wilson-Jones, had insisted that he had an appointment with Solovyov that very night. That he had been waiting for over an hour for him. That the Ambassador was going back to bed and leaving him to deal with this "appointment", about which *he* knew nothing. That he had sent all the servants to bed and that Solovyov should see the man out when he was done, close and lock the door behind him.

The Ambassador bid a curt "Good night" to Skinner, made his way up to bed.

Solovyov was not in the mood to deal with anyone from Wilson-Jones. The pleasure he had gotten earlier in the evening from taunting Marina Conway-Jones had quickly dissipated. Still, he had no real choice: he had to hear the man out. Who knew: maybe he had come to announce Wilson-Jones's capitulation.

But that wasn't why Skinner had come.

He was here to inform Solovyov that Philippa Wilson had asked him to look into the matter and to present his opinion on the "deal".

"I was not aware that Madame Wilson took anyone's counsel when she made personal decisions." Solovyov sat in the leather armchair that was far too large for him: it make him look toadier than ever.

"But this isn't a personal decision, Doctor. It concerns the organization and as such I have been asked to assess the damage potential should the organization acquiesce to your request."

"I assure you, Mr. Skinner, it is no request. It is a demand."

Skinner sat back in his chair, crossed one leg over the other. "How much?"

"How much what?" Solovyov was tired, not so quick.

"How much for the letters, Doctor Solovyov? This is a business deal. And the bottom line is always more important than the deal itself. How much do you want for the letters? For yourself, personally."

Solovyov began laughing. Hard. Skinner waited patiently until the man had caught his breath.

"You don't understand what I'm offering?" Skinner looked liked a teacher trying to get through to a particularly thick student.

"Oh, I understand, all right. I understand that for me to accept such an offer would mean my death. Even if I should contemplate such an offer, which I do not."
The little man stood up. The face was that of the man who had ordered experimentation on his fellow citizens, worked them until they died.

"I am tired, Mr. Skinner. It has been a long day for me. Report back to Mesdames Wilson and Jones that the deal is as I have explained it. Nothing else." He opened the door, indicated that Skinner was to precede him. The same with the outer door. He closed it sharply. Made a production of locking it as loudly as he could.

Under the baleful eyes of the guards, Skinner made his way to his car. Started it. "Tony?"

"Present and accounted for," came from the hiding space under the back seat.

The guards made him wait before opening the gate as slowly as they could. He ignored them as he pulled out of the Embassy property. Two blocks down from the Embassy, he was joined by a van, and then a dark car.

When he was sure they were out of harm's way, Tony flipped open the back seat, got out. Joined Skinner in the front. The two of them were silent for the rest of the drive back to the house. Both wore silly grins on their faces

They weren't alone.

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

Cyn had the traditional champagne ready to pour when they burst into the family room.

Krycek took a detour through the kitchen to contact Marina, report mission accomplished.

"Burn them, right now," she told him.

"You trust me to do so?" Krycek accepted a glass of champagne from Cyn who was coming to get another bottle from the fridge.

"Alex. I trust you with my life. My heart. Burn them. Bring me the ashes, if you feel you must."

In the family room, in a large roasting pan they never used, Krycek ceremoniously burnt the small pack of letters.

Cyn poured more champagne, listened approvingly to Gus's brothers relating their evening's adventures, knowing their parents had better never hear of it.

Tony rocked on his feet, energy barely restrained as he recounted his part. Cyn and the brothers made all the appropriate noises.

Liz scoffed occasionally, not too happy she had played a lesser role this time. Gus complimented her on the initiative she'd shown dressing as a Goth, her driving skills. She in turn allowed that the new tags he'd developed had made her job much easier.

Skinner scolded Mulder for throwing himself on the thug with the gun. Both Mulder and Krycek wanted to know how Solovyov had reacted to his offer of a buy-out.

Gradually, nerves toned down. Gus gathered his brothers to drive them back to their residences. Krycek thanked them both for their participation, for keeping cool while working. He divided the money from the thug's wallet between them. "A bonus. For a job well done."

Tony went off by himself. Probably to an early morning dance class where he would get rid of the nervous energy that still radiated off him.

Liz and Cyn left together. They were going to spend the day sitting in Cyn's living room, watching all the soaps she had taped while they were preparing for the job.

Krycek helped Mulder clear up while Skinner took a call from a very grateful Philippa.

"We're all invited for supper on Saturday," he announced. "Including Gus's brothers. She and Marina want a detailed report on the whole thing, from beginning to end."

The sky streaked pink when they went up to bed. Mulder yawned as he opened the door to his and Skinner's room. Krycek muttered "First up makes coffee," as he went to pass Skinner on the way to his.

Was taken by surprise when Skinner caught him by the arm, pulled him into their bedroom.

He met Mulder's eyes and they both turned to face Skinner. It would have been difficult to say whose smile was widest.

The door shut softly behind them.

*************************NIF***************************