Strange Allies
an X Files story
by Brenda S. Antrim
Rated PG for language.
No sex, very little violence, some cussing, lots of conspiracy, not much angst and no romance. Third season spoilers included. Characters of Mulder, Scully, Krycek, Skinner, Cancerman, Mr. X and the Well Manicured Man belong to CC and 10-13. Names were changed to keep track of the guilty. Enjoy.

ps ... yeah, one really could escape a silo this way ..


His eyes hurt.

His hands hurt.

His throat hurt.

Even his skin hurt.

So much of it was hazy, and the little that was there was overwhelmed by the horror of the present. Exhausted, frightened nearly out of his mind, disoriented, confused and feeling the last shred of hope seep away, he allowed his body to slide down the cold metal wall. Staring at the hulking darkness of an undoubtedly alien craft, spidery tracings of the access ladders blending into the bulk of the ship, shifting aching eyes to seemingly endless metal walls and far distant lights above him, he gripped torn, bloody fingers together until the knuckles shown white through the oily residue on his hands.

He didn't want to die. Not yet. Not here. And not like this.

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

Special Agent Fox Mulder stared at the smug little man in the dull gray suit and wondered, not for the first time, how he managed to retain enough self control to not strangle the little toad. Another cover assignment, not killer kitty cats or disruptive astrological phenomena, but another pissant assignment that was getting in the way of what he really wanted.

Answers.

His diminutive partner sent him a deceptively calm glance. She knew he was about to explode, and he could almost see the gears turning under her cap of auburn hair. The mental image broke the tension in his mind long enough for him to stand abruptly and turn to face his boss. Assistant Director Skinner had been sitting with his usual stoic demeanor as the little gray toad driveled on about the importance of interdepartmental cooperation and shared case responsibilities. God, Mulder grimaced silently, I hate the CIA. And they call *me* a Spook. Mustering the last of his composure, he addressed the AD.

"If that will be all, Sir, Agent Scully and I need to make those transportation arrangements."

Skinner almost let his lip twitch, but managed to control it in time. Tact was not Mulder's strong suit. "You have the information you need in the case file, Agent Mulder. Go to it."

"Yes, Sir." There was no enthusiasm in his voice, merely grim acceptance.

Dana Scully kept her questions behind her teeth until they closed the door to the basement office behind them. Settling against the doorjamb, she studied her agitated partner for a long moment. His jaw was tensed, full lips pulled in tightly, and his hand clenched around the case file as if the innocuous manila folder was an enemy he needed to choke.

"Okay, Mulder. Spill it."

He stopped stuffing papers into his briefcase and pinned her with sharp hazel eyes. "We're running out of time, Scully." Despite his efforts to control his voice, the anger in his body was bleeding through. She could read his frustration as clearly as if he was shouting it.

"Time for what, Mulder?" Calm, reasonable, diffusing. She hoped. His next words dashed that hope and tensed her up as badly as he was.

"Time to get back to that damned silo before Krycek bites it. Time to find the *one* weak link in this whole goddamned conspiracy, to find out who was behind Carlos, who *really* killed Melissa and my father. If we don't get him *out* of there and get some answers, we'll be *too* *late*." He'd given up on his briefcase completely and crossed the floor to stand in front of her, leaning into her until she almost recoiled from the intensity of his presence.

"He's probably already dead, Mulder." She couldn't look at him, couldn't let him see the hopelessness in her own eyes. He reached out with unexpected gentleness, catching hold of her chin and turning her face until she had to meet his eyes.

"We don't know that, Scully." His fingers softened their grip, opening to lay a soft palm against her cheek. "We don't know, and we have to find out."

They stared at one another for a long moment, each torn by the depths of sadness and need for closure in the other's expression. So much pain, mirrored between them. Finally, she nodded, turning from him to carefully place some closed case folders in a small locked drawer in her desk.

"They won't let us go." She looked up at him from beside her chair.

"Vacation?" He sounded hopeful, knowing now that she was with him on this, not regretting informing her of his plans beforehand, for a change. She shook her head. "Sick leave?" She pursed her lips, then shook her head again.

"How long do you think it'll take?"

"Watching our backs and covering our tracks?" He barely waited for her nod before continuing. "Three days max."

She smiled suddenly, startling him. "Well. I suppose it's time to go AWOL, then."

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

The first time he saw them he thought that he was hallucinating. No features, just bulky, shadowy light figures making odd creaking and whooshing noises. He'd scrambled back, still too disoriented and afraid to understand what was happening. Later, when his mind cleared a little, he cursed himself for his stupidity. It might have been the only opportunity he would get for a escape. But the solid steel door swung shut, leaving him in the semidarkness again, alone with the dark metal shape that gave him nightmares. Well, the ship, and a pea green canvas bag, with field rations and canteens full of water.

He didn't know why they were keeping him alive. There was no one to ask.

After eleven days, he felt like he was in hell. The stench was horrible. He'd done the best he could to remain civilized, but he'd had to use the far curve of the round room as a latrine, and he had no way to wash, determined not to waste his drinking water when he didn't know when or if he would ever get any more. There was no ventilation in the metal silo. The fetid air was making him ill, and he was becoming nearly frantic with the need to escape.

On the twelfth day, they returned. This time, he was better prepared, using the shadow of the alien craft as cover until they were inside, then making a break for the door.

They were expecting it.

The first blow was a glancing one to the ribs, and he managed to twist aside and keep his footing, almost making it to the dim rectangle of light that marked his freedom.

Almost.

The second blow caught him in the back of the neck, breaking his stride and propelling him to his stomach. After the fifth blow, he lost count, rolling into a fetal position to lessen the surface they had to strike at, and still trying to crawl toward the door in the small intervals between blows. Whoever they were,

they were professionals. The blows were painful, and effective, and did not cause any life threatening injuries. They simply battered him until he stopped moving. Then one of them dropped another canvas bag next to his unconscious form and shut the door firmly on the now-silent chamber.

On the twenty first day he found out why they were keeping him alive. Why *he* was keeping him alive, his old mentor, his ex-boss. They needed a test subject. The others who had survived the alien possession had escaped, and the Consortium member from France was having a difficult time convincing his counterparts to let them have the scientist and his wife for further study. So they were going to use Krycek. Allow, no, encourage the alien to reinhabit Alex, with the promise of being reunited with others of it's kind, then isolate him/it and force him/it to submit to careful study. Try to contain and manipulate its ability to utilize radioactive bursts without damaging the host body. His erstwhile superior stood calmly smoking while he explained in great detail exactly what the alien possession would do to his body, until it undoubtedly self destructed from rage and frustration at being kept from its ship. By which time, of course, the Consortium and its scientific staff would have all of the useful information they could get from this particular alien. Not that Krycek would know, of course. He would have died from the radiation poisoning, or burns, or internal bleeding, or hemorrhaging organs, or any one of a number of unpleasant possibilities by then. He had listened in silence as long as he was able, then cursed the bastard softly, viciously. All he received in return was a serene smile.

When he was alone again, for the first time, he cried.

On the thirty seventh day they returned, bringing more food, more water, and beating him again. Of course, he had tried to escape, and he had hurt two of them in the attempt, one seriously enough that the others had had to carry him out. He hadn't had the satisfaction of watching, though. He'd been unconscious.

On the forty sixth day he found the seam.

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

Neither agent spoke as they buckled themselves into the small Cessna. Once again, Mulder's flaky friends had come through, Scully thought to herself with a quirk of her lips. Her mind flashed back to the scene, in the cramped, dark offices of the Lone Gunmen.

"We can't be seen, and we're on a very strict time limit. Skinner's going to be on our tails soon enough."

"We'll need medical supplies, as well," she broke into the rapid-fire conversation flowing around her. The men were deep in details, but she wanted to remind them of the purpose for the mission. "After over six weeks in a missile silo, if he even *is* alive, he will not be in good physical condition." Her eyes met Mulder's, and she silently warned him not to get his hopes too high. He answered her with a barely perceptible nod, his own gaze reassuring her that he was keeping one foot on the ground while his head was in the clouds, planning rescue attempts. Their connection was barely disturbed by Langley's amused snort.

"There they go again, with the telepathy." He grinned at Byers, who nodded solemnly.

"There has been some interesting anecdotal evidence regarding close mental linkages from individuals who have faced extreme danger together over a period of time-" Before he could launch into a full explanation, Frohicke sighed deeply.

"I'm still waiting for my chance to create some linkages with the lovely agent Scully," he grinned, then raised his hands helplessly when all four of the other occupants of the room glared at him. "Well, one can hope," he muttered, looking somewhat relieved when Byers took a freshly printed sheet from the small laser printer and handed it to Mulder.

"Here are the locations and contact information for your pilots. You'll change planes twice, then meet up with a private helicopter pilot who will take you on the last leg of your journey. A locally-owned vehicle will be waiting for you both as well." Mulder nodded, scanning and retaining the details from the sheet before handing it on to Scully. "These are good people, friends of ours. You should be safe, but stay alert."

Mulder grinned at him, the expression belied by the grimness in his eyes. "Always."

Langley took up the thread of conversation. "We've planted the first of your case reports in the CIA main database. Anyone who looks will believe that you're out in the wilds of Lake Oahe, and the field offices in Mobridge and Aberdeen will be getting reports via email. They just won't realize you're in North Dakota instead of South. There shouldn't be any problem there."

"Shouldn't be," Scully reiterated. "I've talked to the ME and gotten the autopsy and toxicology reports faxed to me here in DC."

"And I know Mark Weldan, SAC at Aberdeen. He's used to my methodology -- we spent some time in VCS together. He'll just figure I'm tramping through the snow sniffing the ground for clues." His resigned tone of voice was belied by the satisfaction in his eyes. It was gratifying to be able to use his odd reputation to help his cause, for a change. Usually, it just got in the way.

"The helicopter will pick you up at a private landing strip just south of Lake Sakakawea," Frohicke chimed in, his round face completely serious for once. "Be very careful, Mulder. The most recent surveillance indicates that in the last three months special forces and black ops troops have been beefed up in the areas all around the supposedly abandoned silos."

"Their presence would certainly indicate some sort of precious cargo," Byers added.

"Yeah," Mulder agreed, a hard edge creeping into his voice. "And that cargo has our answers."

Scully was pulled abruptly back into the present by the light touch of Mulder's hand on hers. She looked inquisitively at him, and he leaned closer to her so that she could hear his voice over the rattle of the engine without his having to shout.

"There's something I didn't tell you, Scully," he admitted. "In Hong Kong. Krycek ... saved my life."

She pulled away and gave him an incredulous look. The corner of his mouth quirked up, but his eyes were steady, serious. "He pulled me into the hotel room where he was supposed to meet his buyer. Then he shoved her out in the hallway and slammed the door shut, before he hopped out the window. The alien incinerated her out in the hallway, but the door between us gave me enough time to unlock the cuffs and get the hell out of there." He paused, his gaze straying from her puzzled face to the clear gray spring sky outside the small window. "I don't know why he did that." With a jerky shrug, he slumped back against the seat.

"Just one more answer to find, I guess," she replied softly. Their eyes locked with perfect understanding, and she leaned against the headrest and tried to relax. It was going to be a very busy few days.

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

It was a gamble, but for once it paid off.

He knew they'd be coming soon. It was anywhere from nine to sixteen days between the visits so far, and he knew from the fact that the old bastard had told him so much that they wouldn't be waiting much longer before the experiments began.

The time had begun to blend in the eternal semidarkness of the silo. He no longer knew the difference between night and day. His voice had sounded husky when he finally tried it out, but he had to try. He could feel it. He didn't know how, or why. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that the alien had used him to transport it, and there was some sort of residual link. He didn't know, he just knew that he could feel its presence. So he talked to it. It didn't seem threatening. Just ... there.

"You can fight them, you know."

"It's you they really want to use. Me, I'm dead, anyway. But you could stay here in your saucer, or can, or whatever the hell it is."

"Please. Don't let them do this to you. To me."

"Please."

He knew the place was bugged, so he didn't say anything about the seam. And he made sure that his movements were slow, and appeared random to whomever was monitoring him. But he calculated the darkest area of the shadows, and with the silent, watchful presence of the alien at his back, he made his only possible attempt at escape.

The thin metal framework he had used to climb to the ship while the alien was carried within him moved easily, noiselessly, as he dragged it to the slick, cold walls. Somewhere between fifteen and twenty feet, straight up, moving as quietly as a cat under the eyes of a wolf, praying to a god he'd stopped believing in years before, he worked his way up the side of the wall. The maintenance had not been kept up. After all, this was an abandoned missile silo. No one cared if vermin should get in, or in this case, a desperate prisoner should try to get out. Isolation, clear ground, watchful eyes on the outside and unmoveable doors on the inside were enough to keep him in. They thought.

They were wrong.

The seam sagged and he was able to slip first an arm, then, carefully, his head and shoulders through into the darkness beyond. Forced himself to stay still until his eyes, already well adjusted to the darkness of the silo, adjusted to the different shades of darkness in the no mans' land between the outer and inner walls of the silo. For the first time in weeks, he felt the muscles of his face move into a genuine smile.

Catwalks. For maintenance.

He reached, and wriggled, losing some skin and tearing his jacket and jeans in the process, but he managed to snag the near handrail with an arm made strong by desperation. For an endless moment he hung in what felt like midair, heart in his throat, before he was able to swing his body around and ease onto the narrow metal steps. Once there, he checked the two canteens he had belted to his hips, patted the packets of dried beef and crackers he had taken from the canvas bag, and listened to his heart beat in his ears until he could breathe again.

Then he began to climb.

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

It had taken nearly a day, and they had been amazingly lucky at that. Scully swept her eyes over the bleak vista surrounding the helipad, reminding herself that they weren't that far from Minot, and shivering in spite of the parka she wore. If Krycek had managed to escape, he wouldn't survive long in this weather. Mulder had told her that his physical condition seemed poor, that he was suffering from exhaustion and whatever ill effects the alien had caused. He seemed to be running from something, but Mulder hadn't known what, or whom, had Krycek so frightened. Yet another question to be answered when they finally captured their prey.

Mulder gestured to the nondescript brown jeep sitting at the edge of the helipad. She climbed into the passenger seat and he handed her the small map without a word. Working in tandem, relying on the silent communication they had developed over their years as partners, she began to watch for patrols as he concentrated on getting them as close as possible to the target area before they would have to go in on foot.

Two miles from the silo they caught sight of the first of the perimeter patrols. Mulder stopped the jeep off the road, carefully memorizing the few landmarks in the immediate area. He turned to find Scully holding out his pack, and dangling a pair of high powered binoculars from her other hand. He looked at the three fingers she was using to support the strap, and gave her an innocent smile and the Boy Scout salute.

"I think you do it like this, Scully."

She rolled her eyes slightly and tossed him the pack. Reaching into the passenger side and retrieving her own pair of binoculars and the medical kit, she allowed herself a small dig.

"You be prepared your way, Mulder, I'll be prepared my way."

They shared a smile and shouldered their packs, beginning the cautious trek across the flat prairielands toward the silo and, hopefully, the answers they sought.

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

The end of the gamble played out as the beginning had, in unexpectedly good luck.

The single guard at the top level of the silo was bored, and distracted by the hand weapon he was so carefully cleaning. Rifle by his side, within easy reach, he never saw the shadow slip behind him, hugging the wall and making its silent way to the outside world. After it had passed, his nose registered the lingering aroma. His whole face twitched.

"Who killed the fuckin' skunk?" No one answered his disgusted mutter, and he sighed, bringing the clear barrel up to his eye and checking for stray specks of oil.

Krycek stepped cautiously from the silo, pressed flat to the wall, eyes and ears straining in the gathering shadows of dusk. He sighed softly. If they were using night vision goggles they wouldn't be able to see him yet, it wasn't dark enough. And if his luck held out just a little while longer ...

There were four guards. Irregular sweeping patterns so the timing was dicey. Happily, even the best trained troops could get bored after forty days and nights of watching the few tufts of North Dakota grass try to sprout through the frozen mud. And it had been a tough spring. The only thing they had been fighting recently was frostbite. It made the odds just a little more even.

Just even enough for one desperate man to find cover.

He moved quickly, the need for survival boosting him with a much needed adrenaline surge. Ground cover, trees, and buildings were nonexistent, but there were vehicles scattered around the silo. He made his way to a flatbed with a black canvas shell, looking around thoroughly, almost compulsively, before sliding under the flap and burrowing under the burlap and tarp tossed near the cab. He had no idea what his next move would be, but for now, he was safe.

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

There was very little ground cover, just frozen mud. Spring time was late coming to this part of the north. Mulder shifted the pack on his shoulder and tried his best to look like a hiker.

"Cows. I had no idea there were so many cows in North Dakota, Scully." He could see his breath in the air.

"Outnumber people five to one, Mulder." She was panting lightly, trying to keep up with his longer legs. They had seen two patrols, one bearing the insignia of security police from the SAC base at Minot, one bearing no insignia at all. They had escaped notice by hiding in the scrub, and so far their luck had held true. They heard the trucks before they saw them.

It was a small convoy, trundling along at a sedate thirty miles an hour, four trucks and a motorcycle, of all things. No markings here, either, and they stared at the trailing truck as its tail lights disappeared down the road.

"Looks like someone's pulling up stakes," he whispered close to her ear. She nodded agreement, a sudden sense of urgency pulling her out of the bushes and back on the hunt.

"I don't like it, Mulder." He nodded agreement.

"Yeah. Guards leaving means nothing left to guard."

Almost before the words left his mouth, the heat and the sudden pulse of displaced air knocked them from their feet. They lay for a few moments, stunned, feeling the shaking in the earth beneath them. Squinting against the flying dirt, they saw the fire in the distance. She looked at him in dismay, and he grimaced. They continued, as quickly as they could, to stop again a half mile from the burnt out remains of the silo.

"Damnit," Mulder growled softly.

"He's dead." Her voice didn't have any hope left in it. She turned abruptly. "There are no answers here, Mulder." He reached out and grasped her wrist lightly, stopping her and turning her to face him.

"We don't know that, Scully." He met her disbelieving stare with grim determination. "He may be alive. We've thought

he was dead before and he turned up alive."

"What do you suggest, then, Mulder? Sifting the ashes?"

"No." He gestured toward the road behind them. "Following those trucks."

She followed his glance and took a deep breath. "Skinner's going to have our hides for this."

He grinned. "Depends on how fast we move."

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

Rhythmic jolting woke him from his exhausted sleep, and he froze in place, feeling the truck vibrate underneath him. They were moving. This was a good sign. The more distance between himself and the silo the better. Now he just had to figure out where the hell he was and how to get away from them without being spotted. He cautiously pulled one corner of the tarp back from his face and peered over the edge. There were boxes stacked up between himself and the opening at the back of the truck. He shifted against the largest crate experimentally. It didn't move. Whatever was in here, it was very heavy. As he leaned up next to the wooden crate, he felt it.

The alien was here. In the truck. With him.

For a moment, blind panic gripped him, thinking that they knew, that they were going to take him to experiment on him. Then he realized why the boxes were so heavy. They must have removed some parts from the alien craft, and they were using them to transport the alien to another location. But why hadn't an alarm been raised? Why weren't they looking for him? Questions chased themselves feverishly through his mind as he tried to find some sense to this situation. Before he could come to any useful conclusions, the truck rumbled to a stop. Motion shifted, and he felt the sudden impact as the driver backed the flatbed to a stop, the lip of the back settling firmly next to a metal unloading dock. He tensed, then slipped back under the tarp.

The truck moved sluggishly as a forklift slid its arms into place under the palate holding the crates, lifting them with great care and removing them from the truckbed. Krycek lay completely still, breathing as lightly as he could, his eyes barely registering the change in the quality of light as the obstructions between himself and the outside world were removed. All his thoughts were on escape, timing, chances ... light footsteps caused him to catch back his breathing. They neared his hiding place, then stopped. He couldn't hear anything over the rapid beat of his heart in his ears. Then he caught the light rasp of a match, and the faint stench of cigarette smoke. His eyes closed involuntarily, and his fists clenched.

"Very impressive, Mr. Krycek. Completely wasted effort, of course, but an impressive display of ingenuity nonetheless." The thin, cold voice paused for a moment, then continued. Krycek could visualize the smoke wafting about the old man's head. Hatred made every nerve in his body sing. But it still could be a bluff. He still might have a chance. So he kept quiet.

When the rough hands tangled him in the tarp and dragged him from the truck, he knew the bluff had been called. He exploded from the folds of material with a fury born of desperation, but there were too many of them. He was unconscious again when they dropped him onto the cold concrete of the warehouse floor, next to the crate carrying the alien. Next to his worst nightmare.

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

There were very few cars on US 83 that early in the season, but Mulder and Scully managed to remain undetected as they followed the small convoy. The slow speed had given them time to hike back to their jeep and still pick up the trail. Their slight advantage was lost, however, when they arrived at Bismark. The convoy split, with no warning, and Mulder reacted instinctively, following the third truck as it turned west.

"Why this one, Mulder?" Scully's fingers dug into the edges of her seatbelt. Mulder had had to make some quick turns to keep the truck in view and not be spotted.

"I.. I don't know, Scully. Instinct." He wasn't sure how to explain it. Something about that truck felt, tasted, familiar. He couldn't put his finger on it, but his gut was telling him that there was something on that truck that he needed to find. "Trust me."

She sighed, but it was too late to follow any of the others. "Always," she admitted, "even if I don't understand you."

He grinned briefly, but concentrated on the task of following the truck. "Sirens," he murmured.

"What?" She wasn't sure she'd heard him correctly.

"Siren song," he answered, distractedly. She tilted her head, one brow climbing slightly. "It's almost as though... there was some sort of siren song coming from that truck." He shrugged. When it finally stopped and they were able to poke around, he would be able to explain. Until then, he'd just have to trust his sixth sense.

"Oh," she deadpanned. "Spooky sense."

He mock-growled at her, then leaned forward. Their quarry was coming to a halt. He shut off the headlamps and pulled the car to a silent stop at the corner of the building. They were in the warehouse district of a small town called Mandan. Snow coated the buildings and absorbed the sound, deadening the atmosphere and lending an otherworldly air to the proceedings. A rolling door clattered up, and a sturdy forklift chugged up to where the truck had been backed up to the dock. The canvas covering on the bed shielded the cargo from their eyes, but both saw the lean, tall figure step from the shadows of the warehouse into the back of the truck.

Cancerman.

Scully caught her breath and glanced at her partner. He was already reaching up to flick off the interior overhead light, so that it wouldn't give them away when they left the car. His gun was in his right hand and his left hand was unlocking his seatbelt. She took her cue from him and had her own weapon out as they crept along the side of the car, keeping to the shadows of the building. The attention of the guards around the side of the truck was suddenly diverted by a tarp bound parcel, man-sized, being wrestled from the back of the truck. Whomever was wrapped in the tarp was not a willing prisoner, and the two agents took advantage of the commotion to slip up along the loading dock and into the building, to get a closer look. They were rewarded with the sight of Alex Krycek, utterly filthy and appearing on the verge of physical collapse, fighting like a demon to free himself from four men dressed in black. He didn't stand a chance. They bludgeoned him to a standstill, then knocked him out and dropped him in an untidy heap next to a large wooden crate. The soldiers backed off, with a nodded dismissal from the smoking man, and they watched as the old man walked closer to Krycek's still form. Moving as one, they eased into the shadows along the inner wall of the warehouse, careful not to be seen as the door rolled closed.

"Oh, Alex. You never could take the easy route, could you, my boy? You never did learn when to quit. Of course, if you had, I'd have killed you long before this. Then I wouldn't have had such a perfect ... testing candidate." He curved the toe of his shoe gently under the supine form, rolling Krycek onto his back, peering at the battered, exhausted face. "You should have known that you couldn't run forever. I would catch up, Mr. Krycek. I always do." Turning from the body, he strolled with studied nonchalance through the shadowed warehouse through the side door into the dimly lit office. Mulder and Scully could hear him giving orders to the guards for patrolling the perimeter of the warehouse. Mulder began a search for internal cameras, and Scully began a circuitous approach to where Krycek lay. Mulder nodded to her that the area was clean of exterior cameras, and they had to take their chances on interior ones. Neither had understood the Cancerman's cryptic remarks about Krycek trying to run, but they would have time to try to decipher them when, and if, they managed to get out of there alive.

The sound of footsteps echoing across the floor sent Scully scurrying back to Mulder's side in the darkest shadows along the side of the warehouse. The old man had returned, with two younger men wearing the plain black clothes of the Consortium's special forces. They carried crowbars, and each went to an opposite side of the large crate and began to pry at the side panel. After a few short, strong pulls, the panel came loose, and the old man gestured for them to leave. They did so silently. He watched them go, then bent over Krycek once more. Fishing a small capsule from his pocket, he broke it open with a barely audible click and held it under Krycek's nose. The double agent woke suddenly, rearing his head back as far as he could to get it away from the sharp fumes emanating from the capsule. Cancerman chuckled, a dry, unpleasant sound.

"Welcome back to the land of the living, Mr. Krycek. Rest assured, it won't be a long stay." He reached forward nd pulled the panel completely away from the box.

Krycek stared into the blackness within the crate, mesmerized and frightened to the point of paralysis. Mulder and Scully inched forward, Mulder fascinated by the glint of alien metal alloy he could see in the packing, Scully's firm hold on his arm keeping him tethered to her side so that he didn't accidentally give away their position in his enthusiasm. All four heard the eerie swishing sound at the same time, and each had drastically different reactions to it. Cancerman smiled, a feral slice of teeth in an otherwise impassive face, his eyes remaining as cold and empty as always. Krycek began to shake, and a low, keening cry tore from his throat as he lay, eyes fixed on the back inkiness of the alien sliding toward the spot where he and the old man were watching. Mulder's breath caught in his throat, and he moved forward, trying to get a closer look, dragging a reluctant Scully along with him. Scully reached for her gun, not wanting to believe what she was seeing, having a vague feeling that somehow a bullet wouldn't do a lot of good here, but needing the reassurance of the heavy weapon in the palm of her hand. None of them expected what happened next.

Krycek put his hand out in a futile attempt to ward off the alien presence, only to feel the slick sensation of it sliding over his legs and heading directly for the older man. Eyes widening, keening stopped in his throat, his gaze locked with the Cancerman's as the alien reached its goal. The old man didn't even have time to cry out. Mulder felt his stomach clench as he watched the oily fluid being absorbed by the old man's body, seeping into his skin, not leaving any trace of its passage on his clothing. Scully found herself pressing a fist to her mouth to hold back the scream as the wintery light blue of the Cancerman's eyes was replaced by a sifting pattern of black tracings, oil in water. For the longest moment, silence reigned. Finally it was broken by a rusty voice.

"What do we do now?" Krycek still hadn't seen Mulder and Scully, so it appeared he was talking to the alien entity inhabiting Cancerman's body. It came slowly over to where he half-lay, half-sat, staring at him impassively. The agents could see the shudder that rippled through Krycek, and they found themselves sympathizing.

"Will you try to stop me." The voice was monotone, a statement, not a question.

"Hell, no," responded Alex, hastily. "I just want to forget I ever met you!" It stared at him for a long moment, the patterns shifting and flowing, as it measured the man at it's feet. Then, without another word, it turned and left the warehouse, striding toward the office, ignoring Krycek as though he had ceased to exist. With the immediate danger past, the shaking started again, and he curled up into as small a ball as he could, trying to keep himself from falling completely apart.

Scully came out of her shock first, running the short distance to kneel by Krycek's side. Mulder heard the voice that was/was not Cancerman's giving orders to pull the guards and get the trucks started. The men in black were well trained. There were no questions, there was just obedience. He moved forward to join his partner as she spoke softly to the traumatized man they had come here to find. His nose wrinkled involuntarily as he approached. Wherever Krycek had been, hygiene wasn't part of the picture. He smelled horrible. Scully didn't seem to notice, but then, she cut up dead bodies for a living.

"Krycek?" At the soft query, his head snapped up, and she found herself staring into wide green-blue eyes, pupils dilated with shock. Dark rings of exhaustion underscored his eyes, and his face was an unhealthy pasty color beneath the heavy beard and the bruises.

"Scully? How'd you get here?" His words were slurring.

"That doesn't matter, Krycek. We've got to get out of here, now." Krycek's head swung around to see the man growling at him, and he instinctively tried to back away from Mulder, memories of the beating he had received in Hong Kong fresh in his mind. Mulder stopped, and crouched down to be at eye level to him. "I'm not going to hurt you, Alex." His voice had dropped to what Scully privately thought of as his 'taming the wild witness' tone. "We're here to get you out of this mess and take you somewhere safe."

"Why?" His voice sounded like his throat was hurting him. He was desperate, but he wasn't ready to trust anyone yet, especially not a man who hated his guts and a woman he'd helped turn over to aliens for experimentation. Scully reached out a soothing hand and he cringed. She dropped the hand, but didn't back up, fixing him with her calmest professional 'I'm a doctor, now behave' look. It worked on him as well as it worked on Mulder. He relaxed a fraction and swallowed. "Why would you help me?" he tried again.

"Because you have answers we need," she replied firmly. "Now, can you walk?" He nodded, without much confidence, and Mulder leaned forward to slip a supporting arm around his back. The stench nearly made him gag.

"God, Krycek, when was the last time you had a bath?" he grunted as he lifted the slighter man to his feet. Krycek looked at him as if he'd lost his mind.

"I've been stuck in a fucking missile silo for god only knows how long. I saved the water they gave me to drink. The last time I was clean was in Hong Kong." His voice was gaining strength, but still sounded husky. Scully came around to his other side to help him walk. He had seriously overestimated his capacity for movement, and they were having to carry almost all of his weight.

Mulder saved his breath for carrying Krycek and tried to breathe through his mouth. Krycek concentrated fiercely on staying conscious. Scully wrapped a strong hand around Krycek's waist and thought longingly of formaldehyde. The journey to the jeep felt like it took forever, for each of them.

Dumping Krycek into the back seat, Mulder pulled out from the side of the building and headed for the open highway, keeping a close eye out for signs of pursuit. Scully leaned against the back of the seat, turning a critical eye on their passenger, who lay with his eyes closed and his head back, taking deep breaths. When she noticed the jeep slowing, she looked askance at her partner.

"What are you doing?" He gestured at the Best Western sign lighting up the parking lot. "We can't stop here, Mulder. We're on a time limit. Krycek," she waved in the general direction of the back seat, "needs medical attention. And our plane is waiting for us."

He studied the steering wheel for a long moment. "It's still there, Scully."

"What is?" Curiosity fought with impatience in her voice.

"The ship. It's there, in the warehouse. I need to be able to see it."

"Won't do you any good," a low voice husked from behind them. Mulder looked into the rearview mirror, fixing their passenger with a glare.

"Why not?" he challenged.

Krycek looked at him wearily, through red-rimmed eyes. "I spent weeks in that goddamned silo, Mulder. They didn't take enough of the ship to tell you anything, just a cube, just enough to contain the alien. They didn't have a body available, 'cause I'd escaped, so they just took a chunk of metal and let it suffuse it."

"What do you mean, you escaped?" Scully's voice was hard. "That was a missile silo, not your standard jail cell."

"Look, can we talk about this after I've had something to eat, and a shower?" He was almost pleading.

Mulder took a shallow breath, weighing his need to know about the alien craft against the information that Krycek would be able to supply them. He had, after all, been locked in with the ship for quite some time ... and he had been host to the alien ... Before he could formulate a reply, Scully answered for both of them.

"Two hours. That will give you time to clean up and us time to get something to eat, and we will still make the plane." The set of her jaw told Mulder she'd been pushed as far as she would go, so he gave in gracefully. Krycek nodded, thankful to

have the opportunity to take a breather and soak away the filth. Without another word, Mulder turned the key off and went into the lobby to get a room. Scully watched Krycek in silence the entire time he was gone.

There was a slight smile on Mulder's face when he returned, tossing the key negligently into Scully's lap. "I don't think they're used to people renting rooms by the hour."

She repressed a grin, surprised at herself for the momentary feeling of lightheartedness. "Not your usual, hm, Mulder?" He grinned back, then bit his lip and glanced into the mirror. Krycek was watching them with an odd expression on his weary face, almost ... envious. Mulder drove to the rear entrance of the hotel and parked without speaking, pursing his lips in thought. There were too many niggling questions about this situation, he couldn't really call it a case, but he supposed in a way it was. He just hoped Krycek would be able to shed some light on what had happened tonight. If he balked, he might have to beat it out of him. Scully saw the gleam in his eyes, but wasn't sure she wanted to know what he was anticipating, so she didn't ask. Between the two of them, they helped Alex into the room, taking him directly into the bathroom and not letting him touch anything until they got him to the tub.

Mulder had to help steady Krycek while Scully efficiently stripped him. His arms and legs were like lead, and he wasn't much assistance. She took a deep breath at the sight of the abrasions and contusions mottling his body, and her eyes met Mulder's with some consternation.

"Looks like somebody's been using you for a punching bag, Krycek," Mulder noted softly.

"Uhm-hmm," Alex mumbled. He was having a hard time staying awake, the steam from the water and the unaccustomed feeling of safety, no matter how transitory, causing his muscles to relax for the first time in weeks. His head rolled forward onto his chest, and he slipped into the tub. Scully gave up on the idea of a shower. Krycek was much too limp to stand for that.

"Mulder, none of these cuts need stitches, but some of them do need dressings. And he needs food. As do we. Why don't you go order room service and then bring in my medical bag. By that time I should have the worst of the grime off." She was squeezing shampoo through Alex's matted black mop of hair. Mulder looked at the now-nude Krycek sitting docilely allowing Scully to wash him down, and grinned.

"So, do I need to sit in a silo for six weeks to get you to do this for me? I swear, Scully, you run baths for everyone except your partner! And this one even gets his back washed." The only response she deigned to give him was a hand full of water flicked at him. He grinned and headed for the telephone.

To his back, she muttered, "I'm a doctor. It's not like I'm doing this for fun." Raising her voice to be heard over the water, she called, "And bring in some of your clothes, Mulder. He can't wear what he had on him."

"Yeah," he responded, twitching his nose again. "Those should be burned."

Krycek felt dizzy. He also felt clean. He came back to himself to see capable, feminine hands running a rough washcloth over his chest. Had he died when he wasn't looking and somehow ended up in heaven? The snort of laughter behind him indicated that he had spoken aloud.

"No, Krycek," came Scully's clear voice. "But I am glad to see you alert again. Here," she dropped the washcloth into his lap. "You finish up here. I'm going to go see what Mulder ordered for dinner. And, Krycek," he looked up to see very cold blue eyes pinning him down. "Don't even think about trying to escape. Last time I shot Mulder and you ran away. This time I don't have to protect him, and he won't be the one I aim for."

He watched the door close briskly behind her, and absently began to lather his stomach. "Damn," he muttered bemusedly. "Just when we were getting along so well, too."

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

Scully took advantage of the brief respite to plug in her laptop and check her email. She'd done the best she could with the faxed information, but those preliminary reports and Mulder's psychological profiles would only cover them for so long before they actually had to go into the field. It might be a mickey mouse case, but it was a Skinner-assigned case, so they'd have to put in an appearance. And that meant leaving Krycek alone. She had honestly not expected to find him alive, so her planning had not included a contingency plan to deal with what to do with Krycek while they were in the field. Of course, that was life with Mulder. Always expect the unexpected. The thought crossed her mind as she was reading a message from their CIA liaison in Aberdeen. Her jaw dropped slightly when her mind processed the information on the screen.

"Mulder! I don't believe this." Her sharp exclamation caused him to swivel from his rapt attention of the room service tray and hurry to peer over her shoulder. A grin grew slowly across his face as he read the report. When he finished, he whistled softly.

"Damn, we're good."

She re-read the screen with some disbelief. "The elevated heparin levels and the abnormalities in the medullae oblongatae matched when they did the third autopsy. They were able to make a trace from two partial prints found at the murder site, and the psychological profile was a perfect match to a PA at the intermediate care facility. When they questioned him he broke down and confessed."

"Not bad," Mulder added. "I told you it was a no-brainer, Scully. We cracked the thing and we never even made it into South Dakota." He paused, and laid a hand lightly on her shoulder. "You know what this means, don't you?"

"We start solving cases long distance?" She still sounded a little shocked at the ease with which they had gotten out of pursuing their assigned case.

"No," he grinned, "vacation time." She looked at him, a small wrinkle appearing between her brows as she tried to follow his logic. "We've earned it," he continued earnestly. "And we certainly have enough of it built up. This way, we don't have to handcuff Krycek to the doorjamb and stuff a gag in his mouth while we're out interviewing potential witnesses." He looked so sincere she had to believe he was serious. He didn't give her much time to think about it, either. "I'll call Skinner. You email Elaine in Personnel." She found herself nodding, and couldn't help the grin that tilted the side of her mouth. Just how she wanted to spend her vacation. Chasing aliens in North Dakota. At least she wouldn't lose her job for dereliction of duty this way.

She started typing up the message. "Speaking of Krycek, he's been in there long enough to turn into a raisin. And we do need to stop in at the Aberdeen office long enough to file the paperwork." She hit return to send the request for vacation off and turned to her partner, watching as he hung up the telephone from leaving a message on the AD's voicemail. "Chicken." He shrugged at her, willing to admit he'd taken the easy way out, and she nodded toward the bathroom. "You want to gather up our charge in there? I'll pack up the food and we can take it with us to the airport."

"'Copter from Bismark Municipal Airport to Aberdeen, stash our buddy in the back seat of a rental car, nicely trussed up, check in with the locals, make some face time, file some reports. Then back up to Lake Sakakawea and check around the remains of the silo. A nice long camping trip should give us plenty of time to get some information out of my erstwhile partner, right, partner?"

She closed the laptop with a decisive click and began to pack the remains of their dinner to feed to Krycek on the ride to the heliport. "Sounds workable to me, Mulder."

The object of their conversation paused in the doorway to the bathroom, a towel wrapped haphazardly around his waist. "And what do I get out of this little plan?" They turned in unison to look at him. The bath had helped considerably, but with the grime washed away the bruises and cuts stood out lividly against his fair skin.

"Protection," Mulder responded. "You know as well as we do, if not better, that there are members of the shadow government who want nothing more than to see you dead. You know too much. Alone, you haven't got a chance. You'd be dead already if Cancerman hadn't been keeping you alive for his own purposes."

"With us, you've got two more sets of eyes to cover your back," Scully continued where Mulder left off. "And you'll have the opportunity to make it permanent." He cocked his head at her in silent inquiry. "Help us bring them down, Krycek. With them gone, you won't have to run anymore."

He laughed, a soft coughing sound. Scully left the table to look at him more closely.

"It's the only chance you'll have, Alex. Working together we can do it. We need your information and you need our protection. How long do you really think you'll last if we leave you alone now?" Mulder's voice was calm, and reasoned, but there was a hard edge behind it. Krycek didn't really have a choice, and he knew it.

"Well, if we're going to go somewhere, I can't go like this." He gestured at the towel slung low on his hips. Mulder rummaged in his bag and came up with a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt, tossing them to Krycek.

"Here. They'll be a little long, but you'll be covered." Krycek nodded his thanks, and turned to go back into the bathroom. Scully's hand on his forearm stopped him. He looked from the fingers lying along his arm up to her face.

"Before you get dressed, have a seat. I want to check your injuries." He stared at her for a long moment, then allowed her to lead him to the single wooden chair by the small desk. Her examination was thorough and swift, and resulted in several applications of hydrogen peroxide and iodine along with gauze and paper tape. He didn't make any noise, even when she cleaned the deeper scrapes, just stared at a point somewhere in the middle distance. Mulder wondered what he was thinking, but he didn't interrupt them to ask. From the expression in his eyes, whatever it was, it wasn't pleasant. Scully finished up with the bandaging and took his jaw into her hand, turning his head from side to side, checking along his neck under his jawbone, his eyes, ears, and having him open his mouth so that she could check his throat.

"Been doing much talking lately?" He laughed again at her question, that same soft coughing as before.

"No. Not much opportunity for conversation in an abandoned silo." She shone her penlight down his throat again.

"Screaming, maybe?"

He pulled back slightly, eyes drifting off again. After a moment, he replied, "Yeah. A bit of that."

"I thought so," she answered, snapping off the light and replacing it in her bag. "Get used to the Kathleen Turner rasp, Krycek." He looked at her, then, with complete confusion. "Looks like there's been extensive damage to your vocal chords, your throat's enflamed and the tissue is discolored." She reached over to the desk and handed him the clothing. "Go get dressed. We need to hit the road."

She watched the door shut behind him, then turned to her partner, who was watching her intently from his seat on the bed. "What did you find, Scully?" He knew that something from the examination was bothering her more than she had let on.

"I don't know what they did to him, Mulder. But whatever it was, it left some permanent damage. And it takes a lot of screaming to break a voice." She frowned as she gathered up the last of her equipment and set it by the door. "You're the psychologist. You know better than I do how to handle a case like this."

"You want me to go gently with him." It was not a question.

"I think, if you don't, you're not going to get any information from him. He's close to cracking now." He nodded his agreement, but his expression made it plain he didn't like the idea.

"We don't have a lot of time, Scully."

"I know that, Mulder. But he's the one source of information we have at this point, and I'm afraid if we push him too hard he's not going to be any help. I want answers, Mulder. Not another head case who has to be locked up for his own protection."

He bit at his lower lip, fighting the instinct to go into the bathroom and shake the truth out of Krycek. She was right, and he knew she was. But it was so hard. Sighing, he rolled his shoulders to release some of the built up tension. "Okay. We'll go easy on him. But he will help us. Or so help me, I'll push him out of the plane at cruising altitude." He didn't smile when he said it. She believed him.

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

It knew where it needed to go. The mind it had taken held many, many secrets, and cold, hard purpose, but the one secret it needed was not to be found there. Not in this mind. But there were others, others that this one would lead it to, and they would know. They would be useful, or they would die.

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

The ride to the heliport was a quiet one, broken only by the sounds of Alex Krycek digging into his ham and Swiss sandwich and potato salad like a starving man. Scully watched him in the mirror with some concern.

"Don't go too fast, Krycek. When was the last time you had anything solid to eat?"

He thought it over for a moment, chewing diligently and swallowing before he could answer her. "They gave me MREs, and water. I don't know, what day is this?" When she told him, he paled.

"Forty seven days."

"Yeah," Mulder tossed in, "We were surprised to see you still alive. Care to give us a reason why they might have kept you around?"

His eyes met Krycek's in the mirror. The other man looked somewhat green. He carefully replaced the rest of the sandwich in the bag it had been wrapped in and swallowed dryly. Looking out the window at the dark landscape passing by, he hunched his shoulders, as if trying to appear smaller than he was.

"Not ... right now." Mulder could see that Krycek was on the verge of a breakdown, and, heeding Scully's warning, he didn't push him any further. They would have time for that later.

"Hope that food settles. You've got a lot of flying in front of you."

"I'll be fine."

"You'd better be."

Scully let them snipe at one another and watched her partner. Some of the tension was easing, although she could see from the set of his jaw that he was unhappy about leaving the alien craft behind. Settling deeper into her seat, she sighed. They had to start somewhere, not go running off half cocked and end up in the middle of something with half the facts, like they usually did. Pushing the odds only worked up to a point. After that, somebody got hurt. She glanced over at Mulder again. She knew who that someone would probably be.

The helicopter was waiting for them when they arrived, and the short flight was accomplished in necessary silence. They couldn't have heard one another over the beating of the rotors, and they didn't want to discuss anything over the headphones that might make the pilot curious. Once they arrived in Aberdeen, they slipped into the routine of a field investigation as if they had been on the case all along, and as if having a passenger along for the ride was standard operating procedure. It was almost seven in the morning by the time they finished up at the FBI office, and Mulder played shamelessly on his reputation as a maverick to get his old acquaintance SAC Weldan to come in early. Big hurry to get back to DC, lots of cases on the front burner, places to go, people to grill ... Mark Weldan bought every word of it.

By eight thirty they were in a motel room that *was* used to renting by the hour. Mulder, of course, had chosen it. Scully lay sleeping on one of the double beds and Krycek slept on the other, on his stomach with his head buried in the pillow, one arm handcuffed to the bedframe. Mulder sat on the floor, leaning his back against the foot of Scully's bed. The remote for the television hung limply from one hand as the other hand absently popped sunflower seeds into his mouth and received the shells he spit out, the motions automatic, the muted images of the television flowing past his unseeing eyes. He was too wired to sleep, too tired to move. The answers, at least some of them, were right in front of him, and he had to wait while the man holding them slept. Patience was not his strong suit, but he could only try.

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

This one had more resources than the previous host. It wasn't as healthy, however, and needed more frequent rest periods before shutting down. It drove the body as hard as it could, impatient with the delay, needing to find the others. Dimly, it was aware of the terror and anger of the host. As always, they made absolutely no difference. It had a mission. It would accomplish that mission. Anyone or anything that attempted to interfere would be eliminated.

People treated this one with deference. With fear. It walked in the sunlight, not hiding in the shadows as the other had needed to do. It made it all much quicker. One phone call. A flurry of activity. Denial. Disapproval. It's need burned more hotly than before. It agreed to a meeting, the host with two others. They would assist. Or they would die. It was immaterial. Only the rejoining mattered.

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

Sixteen solid hours of sleep did wonders for Krycek's disposition. He awoke to find Scully changing a dressing on his back and Mulder cracking more of those damned seeds. There were times, when they were partners, that Krycek had begun to believe that Mulder was part bird.

"Uhm, I hate to be a bother, but I need to be unlocked, here." The sarcasm sounded strange in his raspy voice. This would take some getting used to ... he felt vaguely ridiculous, as if he was trying to sound sexy or intimate, when all he really wanted to do was go to the bathroom.

He was rewarded with the click of the key in the lock, and the cuff slid free. Lifting himself gingerly, he felt abused muscles clench at having spent so long in one position. "Oh. Ouch. Shit," he groaned, and felt strong hands pull him up and over into a sitting position. He looked up to thank her, to find himself nose to nose with Mulder. His eyes widened, and he instinctively cringed.

Mulder sighed impatiently. "Okay, look. Ground rules. I'm not going to hurt you. I just want to talk to you. Scully has convinced me that you're not up to getting your ass kicked so I'm going to refrain. For now. But we have to work together on this, and we have to get a move on." He pulled at Krycek's arm, propelling from the bed and shoving him none too gently toward the bathroom. "So get it in gear." Alex shut the door and cranked the shower, inhaling the steam and climbing gratefully under the hot water. After the last few months, he felt like he would never be clean again, and hurry or no hurry, he was going to enjoy it.

Mulder let himself out and strode to the small restaurant adjacent to the hotel to bring back breakfast. The sooner they were out of South Dakota and back at the silo, the better he would feel. Paying for the muffins and thermos of coffee, he was distracted by the sight of a man who looked distinctly out of place. Scooping up the bag, he nodded a hasty thanks to the waitress and headed back to the room.

Scully looked up with surprise to see Mulder swing into the room, tossing a bag and thermos onto the end of the bed before twitching the curtains aside to peer out into the parking lot. She joined him in a heartbeat, alerted by his attitude that something strange was going down.

"What is it, Mulder?" Her eyes swept the nearly empty lot, seeing what was causing concern even as Mulder answered her query.

"What the hell is Mr. X doing here?" The deep brown eyes of Mulder's secret contact met theirs through the window, and the dark form hurried across the lot toward their door.

"We're about to find out," she answered, unbolting the door to let their unexpected visitor in.

He stopped just inside the door, hearing the sound of the shower being turned off, and narrowing his eyes at the agents.

"Welcome to the wilds of South Dakota," Mulder cracked. Scully just stared at him.

"There are certain developments that you need to know about, Mr. Mulder." Mr. X was not in the mood for humor. But then, Mulder sighed to himself, he never was.

"They must be pretty important for you to come all the way up here to tell us." Scully's tone was challenging. Mulder contented himself with waiting for X to come to the point.

"Very. The man you know as Cancerman has taken some ... unusual steps."

"Like getting possessed by an alien?" Mulder politely inquired.

"And blowing up silos?" Scully chimed in.

"And calling for a meeting?" Krycek added from the doorway to the bathroom. Mr. X had his weapon out and trained on his chest before he could finish the question. Mulder reacted instinctively, stepping between Krycek and the older black man.

"Don't shoot him. He's on our side." Mulder put his hands out placatingly. "At least for now. He has information we can use."

X slowly put away his gun, eyes locked on Mulder's. "I don't trust him." Mulder snorted derisively.

"None of trusts each other, except Scully and myself. But we all have a common enemy. We can work with that. Can you?" They stared at one another for a long moment, then X nodded curtly. "Good. Now, what has Cancerman done?"

Mr. X leaned against the wall next to the door, his seemingly casual pose not fooling anyone. "Just what your 'friend' Mr. Krycek suggested. He called for a full meeting of the shadow government of which he is a part. There has been some dissension of late, and many members refused the meeting, claiming the timing was suspect and other obligations kept them from meeting. Two members of the Consortium did agree to meet. This was late last night."

"And?" Scully prompted him when he fell silent. He stared impassively at her.

"And all hell broke loose, Dr. Scully."

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

They had attempted to stop it. The one, a large, blustering man with a harsh voice, had begun to verbally abuse the host. It had probed, and found some knowledge of it's kind, but not enough, and not the right kind of knowledge. This was not the right source. It was on the right track, but this one was useless. And it threatened the host. The other, a quiet old man with a pleasant voice and a mind of ice, was useful. He had more knowledge, and he would help. It reached into the ice, melted it, took what it needed, and left, uncaring of the damage it caused. When the large man attempted to stop him, it directed the heat of it's hatred toward him. The quiet man was also caught in the blast.

The screams were brief. The hatred had been immense.

The concierge was alerted to the problem on the eighteenth floor by a gibbering courtesy phone call. The maid had been frightened out of her wits by the sight of the corpses, and had vomited in the doorway when the stench reached her. When he arrived at the floor and saw what she had seen, he joined her in the hallway and forced his trembling fingers to dial for the paramedics. Not that anyone would be able to help these ... whatever they had been.

The cleanup crew got there before the police could. Ten men, wearing black, ruthlessly evacuating the floor and closing off the area. A telephone call over a secure line, a precise description, two body bags and one thorough cleaning later, the Consortium was on alert. The man hunt had begun. And the shadows knew fear.

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

"So now, he's the one being chased." There was a definite note of satisfaction in Krycek's hoarse voice.

"You needed to know this information. I have other matters to attend to. Whatever you are going to do, Agent Mulder, it had better be soon. Your nemesis is a dead man." Without another word, Mr. X turned and left the room.

Mulder settled on the side of the bed, Scully perching beside him. Krycek looked at the closed door for a moment before picking up the discarded bag and rummaging around in it. Pulling out a muffin, he held the bag up. "Anybody else hungry?"

Scully took the bag from him and pulled out one of her own before passing it to Mulder. "Might as well. It's going to be a long morning." Mulder set the bag down and poured three cups of coffee, passing one to Scully before handing the other to Krycek. Blowing on the steaming liquid, he fixed Krycek with a compelling stare. "Okay, Alex," he prompted softly. "Talk to us."

"What did you need to know?" Sitting cross legged on the bed, muffin crumbs on his fingers and damp curls falling over his forehead, he looked about fifteen years old. Mulder reminded himself that looks could be deceiving and started his questioning. Scully leaned back, observing closely.

"Why did they keep you alive?"

"Cancerman was going to use me as a test subject. Put the alien back into me, put it under different stressful situations, try to figure out how it could create bursts of radiation strong enough to kill without harming the host body. Of course," the muffin seemed to be particularly fascinating, judging by the way Alex was studying it, "eventually the alien would get frustrated and I'd end up dead, but that wasn't a consideration, since the son of a bitch has been trying to kill me for months."

"Why?" Soft, inviting confidence.

"I fucked up." He said it simply, as if it would explain everything. "Three strikes and you're out."

When nothing more was forthcoming, Mulder prompted him again. "What strikes, Alex? What did you do?"

Krycek finally tore his eyes from the muffin, locking them with Mulder's. "I don't suppose it matters, now. You'll probably end up killing me, anyway." He took a deep breath, consciously relaxing his body, accepting whatever would come next. "The first mistake was your father. He had asked for Cancerman to protect you, and Cancerman said that he had been and would continue to do so." He ignored Mulder's widening eyes and Scully's gasp of disbelief. "He was dying, and had the need to confess, to lighten his soul, if that was possible. Even as strung out as you were on the psychotropics, you could have learned more than would have been healthy for you. Cancerman couldn't allow that. He visited your father earlier that day, warned him about talking to you, reminded him that he was looking out for you." Mulder's hands drew themselves into fists. Krycek watched warily, but continued his story. "I was there as backup to make sure he didn't talk too much. He came into the bathroom, took a bottle of pills out of the cabinet, took a handful like he was going to overdose, then he dropped them on the floor. Straightened his shoulders. I knew then that he was going to talk. So I did what I'd been sent there to do. I stopped him."

It was too much for Mulder. He exploded from the side of the bed, crossed the small strip of carpet between himself and the other man, and landed with his hands around Krycek's throat. The smaller man had been expecting it, and drew his knees up forcefully into Mulder's midriff, kicking down with his feet at Mulder's knees. Bringing his forearms up to try to break Mulder's grip, he arched his body as hard as he could, and the two combatants rolled over the end of the bed to fetch up hard against the wall. Krycek was beginning to black out and Mulder was gasping for breath himself from the blows to his chest when a cascade of cold water mingled with ice cubes splashed over both of them. They froze at the sensation, and Scully's voice came clearly through the red haze that enveloped them.

"Stop it. Mulder, get up and let him finish. I know this is hard, but we have to find out what else he knows. *I* have to find out. Damnit, Mulder, just *back* *off*." Her voice was cold, and loud, and sounded brittle. Mulder let his hands drop from his enemy's throat, looking into Krycek's eyes for the first time since he had begun to speak. They were bleak, and carried a burden of sadness he had not expected.

"Why?" he whispered in the other man's face.

"I ... had to." Krycek sounded even raspier than normal, swallowing several times to try to loosen his bruised throat. "I need to tell you the rest of it."

Mulder levered himself off of Krycek and moved stiffly back to the far side of the bed, as if adding the physical barrier between himself and Alex would help him maintain his control. Scully studied him for a worried moment, then nodded at Krycek, who had pulled himself back onto the other bed.

"Go on." His voice was harsh. "What happened next."

Krycek retrieved his cup, sipped his coffee, and took a deep breath. His hands were trembling. "After I shot him, I escaped out the back window. Then I was supposed to go to your apartment and make sure you made it back in one piece." At Mulder's incredulous look, he shrugged. "That's been my assignment from the beginning. Keep you from the truth, and keep you alive. By whatever means necessary, for both goals. That was the first mistake."

"Killing my father?" A world of pain in the words, carefully muted.

"No. Allowing you to see me, and getting you shot." Scully shuddered. He slid his eyes to meet hers, and swallowed again, painfully. "The second mistake was ... I'm sorry. Mulder's father knew the risks. He was one of the players for a very long time. I ... didn't want the assignment to take you out. One of the leaders in the Consortium argued against it, but I had to go. Carlos went as well, I guess by that time they weren't trusting me. Cancerman didn't approve of my reaction when you were abducted. Maybe he thought if I was alone I wouldn't do it." He paused, dropping his gaze to his cup, staring at the black liquid swirling around in the bottom. "He was probably right. When she came through the door, I froze. Couldn't squeeze the trigger. Carlos fired, and I realized as she was falling that there was something off. You, but not you. I went to the door and turned her on her side and saw that he'd hit the wrong woman. I freaked. Kept it inside so Carlos wouldn't report me, but I got the hell out of there as fast as I could, and made an excuse to stop and use the bathroom at a 7-11. When we got there I used my cell phone to call 911. But you were already there." He looked hesitantly at her. "I am sorry."

Her eyes were as cold as her voice. "So am I."

He licked his lips and continued. "My third chance was when we ambushed Skinner in the stairwell. I'd gone to Cancerman after ... the mistaken shooting ..." He tried to ignore the choked sound coming from Scully and concentrated on his story. "I'd told him I had to get out. It wasn't working. I was marked, too well known, every excuse I could come up with. He gave me one last assignment and told me I'd paid for my truth."

"What truth?" Mulder broke in. Alex looked at him sadly for a long moment.

"It doesn't matter now." He looked away, and kept talking. "Anyway, we caught Skinner alone and beat him up, and I took the DAT tape. Carlos wanted me to give it to him, but I wanted to give it to Cancerman personally, and get some sort of guarantee that I was truly out of the deal. Carlos called him to report, and they must have come to some sort of agreement, because later that afternoon we stopped at a convenience store. Vince and Carlos went into the store and seemed to be really taking their time. It ... felt funny. I looked down and noticed the car clock was flashing, and it hadn't been the previous night, I would've remembered that. Something told me to get the hell out of there, and I got about fifteen feet away when the car blew up." Both agents were staring at him intently now. "I ran as far as I could, then called Cancerman from a diner and told him to back off or I'd make him famous. I've been running ever since. I managed to hack some of the information off the DAT tape, mainly numbers and some stuff on locations of experimentation centers, and was selling it to keep myself funded after my stash ran out. Then came Hong Kong, and you know what happened there."

"Not everything." Mulder was calm again, forcing his anger and hatred behind the wall he had carefully constructed over the years to keep his emotions under control. He would deal with the personal ramifications of this conversation later. "What happened at the airport?"

Krycek's eyes widened. "I'm not quite sure. I was at the head, and I looked down, and there was this woman in the urinal next to me. I started to say something to her, and she reached over and literally yanked me off my feet. The next really clear memory I have is being on my hands and knees on top of the alien ship, with this oil stuff coming out of my mouth, and my ears... and my eyes ..." His voice trailed off, the remembered horror of that time clouding his face. Mulder interrupted impatiently.

"Do you remember *anything* of the time when the alien was inside of you?"

The rough question jerked Krycek back to the present. "Yeah, actually. It's sort of muted, as if there was something else controlling me and I was just watching from a distance, unable to do anything to stop it or get in it's way." He shuddered sharply. "I remember being taken from the car after the wreck. These men tried to stop me. There was this incredible hatred, and it just sort of reached out, and then this light, and warmth, not like a burning sort of heat but like sunshine or something. Then I remember getting into the locker and I was trying so hard not to do it, not to take the tape out. It was my life line. Without it I was dead. But it didn't care. It took the tape to Cancerman."

"Shit!" Mulder exploded. "I knew it! That black lunged son of a bitch has my proof!"

"Yeah. My insurance."

"Why did he, you, hm. Why did *it* take the tape to Cancerman?" Scully managed to force out.

"It wanted to get back to it's ship."

Mulder and Scully looked at one another. This was not a good sign. If the ship had been destroyed when the silo was bombed, what would it try to do now?

"Why Cancerman, Krycek? Why didn't it go back into you?" Mulder was trying to fathom the creature's actions, but building a psychological profile on a homicidal alien was harder than he'd expected. Not enough data to go on.

"I think it's because it knew I was no more use to it."

"Then why didn't it kill you?" Despite her earlier efforts to get Mulder to go easy on him, she sounded like she rather regretted that the alien hadn't killed Krycek.

He shrugged. "I wasn't trying to stop it, I guess. If you can't help or can't interfere, then you just don't exist to it."

"Now what?" Scully turned to her partner.

"Do you think you could communicate with it?"

Krycek looked at Mulder as if he was insane. "Why the hell would I ever want to come anywhere *near* that thing again?" he almost shouted.

"Because we have something to bargain with, now. An exchange -- their safety for our information. We want that tape. They're at risk from this alien. You can help them take out Cancerman, which will remove his threat from you. You can find out from the alien where the tape is, in exchange for helping it find others of it's kind, which is what it seems to be looking for. You'll be safe from them. They'll be safe from the alien. And we'll have at least some of the answers, because we'll have that tape." He looked from Scully to Krycek, determined to make them see that this was their best chance at the truth. "All we can do is try."

Scully pursed her lips, weighing her need to punish Krycek against the sure knowledge that he would never see a trial for his crimes. The Consortium would see that he was dead long before he could shed light on any of their activities in a court room. Working with him wouldn't bring Melissa back to her, any more than it would return Mulder's father to him, but it would help her take down the ones truly responsible for their deaths. And that, in the end, was more justice than she had ever actually hoped to find. "Let's do it."

Krycek nodded, relieved that he had been granted a reprieve. They weren't going to kill him for his role in their relatives' deaths, and perhaps, by bringing in the ones who gave the orders, he could channel their need for revenge onto other targets and take himself out of their sights. It was certainly worth a try.

Later that day, as they settled into their seats on board the 737 bound for Washington DC, Mulder shifted over to lean close to Krycek. "I need to ask you something. Well, a couple of things."

Alex looked at him distrustfully. "About what?"

"Why was Cancerman supposedly protecting me?" He turned his head to meet Krycek's eyes, determined to get the truth from him. The younger man paused for a moment, wondering how to put this so that Mulder would understand without flipping out.

"Before I tried to leave, I knew that I'd need some heavy ammunition if I was going to stay alive and away from the Consortium. So I hacked into some of Cancerman's personal files. I'm actually pretty good on the computer. That's how he caught me in the first place." Mulder cocked his head, indicating that he should go on, but he shook his head in return. "Another story, not important right now. Anyway, turns out that William Mulder had originally volunteered you for the experiments, not your sister. Cancerman countermanded that order. I did a little digging and found out that DNA typing had been done on all the members of your family. Samantha was William Mulder's biological child. You were not."

Mulder gasped and drew back, biting at his lip to keep from cursing. He wasn't sure at all that he wanted to hear this. Krycek gave him a worried look, and hurried on. "You and I both know how easy it is to fake computer records and test results, Mulder. So I dug deeper. Your DNA profile is a close kin biological match to that of Edmund Wilkes." Mulder gazed at him uncomprehendingly. "Cancerman."

For an instant, Alex was certain that Mulder was going to vomit. He swallowed and finished the story. "When he was young, his hair was auburn brown. The color, combined with his counterintelligence capabilities, high intelligence, and eidetic memory, led to his being given the nickname 'The Fox.'" He watched sympathetically as Mulder clamped a hand over his mouth and breathed slowly through his nose. He offered him a motion sickness bag, but the offer was glared down. Softly, from the other side of his seat, he heard Scully cursing. Casting about for something, anything to take Mulder's mind off of this newest piece of the nightmare, he asked, "What was the other thing you wanted to ask me about?"

Mulder breathed deeply, his color gradually losing the tinge of green but remaining paler than normal. His eyes looked bruised in his face. Finally, he was able to clamp down on all the extreme possibilities that were running rampant in his mind, and concentrate on Krycek's face.

"Why," he had to work up some moisture in his mouth before he could finish the question. "Why did you save my life in Hong Kong?"

Krycek looked uncomfortable, actually squirming a bit in his seat before coming up with an answer. "You might not believe this, but it's the truth. All that stuff I told you when we were first partnered, about my respecting you and admiring your work? It was true. I had my reasons for what I did, but they also had their reasons for giving me you as an assignment. My primary assignment was to keep you alive. The same assignment Scully had, whether she knew it or not. It got to be a habit."

When he didn't get any answer to this, he turned to see Mulder staring at him. The wide hazel eyes were curiously blank, as if they had tried to see something more than they could assimilate. Alex bit his lip and looked away. He imagined that that would be the look one would see in the eyes of the shell shocked. A light voice on his left side brought him out of his reverie.

"What were they, Krycek? Your 'reasons'?" She looked directly at him, clear blue eyes seeming to see into his soul, and he found himself answering before he could censor himself.

"Stupidity. False expectations. Trying to protect someone who was past protecting and only finding out that she was gone after I was in too deep to get myself out." He squeezed his eyes shut, wincing at what he had inadvertently revealed. Opening them again, he gazed dully at his seatmate. "It doesn't matter any more. It really doesn't matter." She saw the hopelessness in his eyes and, for the first time, felt some kinship to him. He had been in hell. They were still there. Despite all that had gone on, there were some similarities here that she couldn't ignore. She looked past him to see her partner, slumped against the side of the airplane, gazing sightlessly at the clouds rushing past the window.

War made very strange allies.

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

Another unexpected visitor met them at the airport. Apparently some members of the Consortium had reached the same conclusions that Mulder had. A well-dressed, older man whom Mulder had met along a garden path and Scully had met at a graveside stood on the tarmac, awaiting them when they touched down. He nodded in a cordial fashion at Krycek, and the young man nodded back.

"I do believe we need to parlay." It was an order, not a request. Mulder glanced fleetingly at Scully and read her acceptance, then ducked into the nondescript blue sedan waiting for them just beyond the parking area. Scully followed him in, and Krycek slid in next to her, pulling the door shut behind him. The old man settled himself in the front passenger seat and gestured to the driver to pull out. The short drive from the airport, through the access tunnels and the double security checks, was accomplished in complete silence. Just a few miles from the airport, the driver pulled off the highway and stopped at a small restaurant, leaving the engine idling while his passengers disembarked. The old man murmured something to which the driver replied with an affirmative, and the sedan pulled away from the curb.

"We have an hour." He led them into the softly lit confines of the restaurant lounge, free of patrons this time of day. The hostess approached and set down four glasses of water, then was dismissed with a slight wave of the man's hand. The other three settled into their chairs with varying degrees of discomfort, all carefully masked. "This is what I have to offer." He slowly drew a familiar DAT tape from the inner pocket of his suit jacket. Mulder and Scully exchanged glances, and Krycek reached for the tape.

"May I?" Mulder's hand on his wrist delayed him, and he looked him impatiently. "I'm not taking it anywhere, Mulder. But I had this tape for a hell of a long time. If it's a fake I might be able to tell." Mulder reluctantly allowed him to pick up the tape, and the old man cleared his throat delicately.

"I can assure you it is not a fake, Mr. Krycek. I, perhaps more than my fellow members, have much to lose in this particular situation. There were three men who were involved in this salvage operation from the beginning. One was William Mulder." Mulder sat upright and stared fiercely at the old man. "The second was Edmund Wilkes. And the third was Johnathon Abernathy, the man you knew as Deep Throat, Mr. Mulder. Two of these men are dead, and the third may as well be." He paused to take a sip from the water at his elbow. "I am the only person still living who has as near to complete information on this unusual being and it's needs as possible." He took another sip, weighing his audience in the pause. "It will be coming after me next. Unfortunately for both of us, I do not have the information it seeks. A meeting between us will end in the our deaths. I wish to avoid that outcome, for obvious reasons."

"What do you want us to do in return for the tape?" Mulder cut to the heart of the matter.

"With the increased instability of the Consortium as a whole and the deaths of two of the six major players," he ignored their start at this news, "not to mention the untimely possession of our American colleague, I am in a rather unique position to offer you, Mr. Mulder, this tape, to offer Dr. Scully some, but not all, of the details of her abduction, and to offer Mr. Krycek immunity from further persecution at the hands of the Consortium. And, Mr. Krycek, you will have the information you have sought regarding your wife's demise and ultimate resting place."

Mulder looked askance at Krycek, but the other man refused to meet his eyes, concentrating on the old man's proposition. Scully leaned forward. "Why not all the information? Why just bits and pieces, as always?" Her voice was forceful, but controlled, as if she feared she would scream if she allowed it full rein.

"Because the full details would place me in as much jeopardy as this creature currently pursuing me. This is all I can give you, Dr. Scully. And I assure you, it is more than I otherwise might be able to offer. I am acting on my own authority. If this does not work, it will not matter. The creature will kill me. If it does work, then no one will be able to gainsay my actions because I will have prevented the wholesale slaughter of my colleagues by a creature determined to find an answer that does not exist."

"You didn't answer *my* question," Mulder inserted softly. "What do you want us to do in return for this information?"

"I need something from each of you, Mr. Mulder. You have in your possession certain diaries kept by William Mulder covering the time period from 1952 through 1958. I need them. A straight trade, then, for you, the DAT tape for the diaries. When the creature leaves Mr. Wilkes, Dr. Scully, it is my belief that Mr. Wilkes will die. I need for you to do an autopsy on the body, and I need the results to be given into my possession solely. In return, I offer you as much information as I can give you regarding your abduction and any possible long term effects on your health and well being. Mr. Krycek, you have the most dangerous task, and the greatest rewards. I need you to convince the alien that it's craft was the only one of its kind to reach the planet surface intact, and that no other survivors exist. In return, I will cancel the current contract out on your life, release you from all obligation to the Consortium, remove all record of your ever working in conjunction with our projects, and give you the information you have sought regarding your late wife." He paused to give his audience time to absorb his offer. Taking slow sips of water, he looked from one to the next to the third, gauging the effect of his words. He had them. They knew it. Mulder spoke for all of them.

"When do we start?"

"Now, Mr. Mulder. The car will return you to the airport where a charter plane awaits. You will fly directly to Massachusetts, motor to Chilmark, retrieve the diaries and be flown back to Washington. Dr. Scully, Mr. Krycek, you will come with me. We will meet at my apartment in the city. The driver who collects you from your return flight will bring you there, Mr. Mulder."

"And the alien?" Krycek's husky question caused the old man to look at him with some surprise.

"It will find us, Mr. Krycek."

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

"I don't trust him, Mulder." Scully's sotto voce comment came as no surprise to her partner. She and Mulder had stepped away from the other two for a moment, needing to confer before going any further.

"Neither do I, Scully, but this is the best chance we've ever had of getting some answers."

"What's in these diaries? Have you had a chance to look through them?"

"Actually, I have, and they don't make any sense to me." He looked over his shoulder at Krycek and the old man, standing in uncomfortable silence by the table. "I even had Frohicke and the guys take a look at them. Numbers, mainly, and a few cryptic notes about depths and pressures and ergs. We couldn't make heads or tails out of them."

"So you won't be giving up anything you haven't already tried to crack, then."

"No. And I think it's worth the trade. He's scared, Scully." She looked around him at the utterly composed old man, and looked back up at him with patent disbelief in her eyes. "He never would have approached us unless he was desperate," Mulder insisted. "The one thing we can be assured of is that these people will act in their own best interests. I've seen what this alien can do. So have you. I don't trust him, but I do believe him."

"You *want* to believe, Mulder. I'm not so sure I do."

"What's the alternative?" She met his tired hazel eyes with very little hope. He read his answer there, and clasped her shoulder briefly. The sounds of two cars pulling up outside the front window drew their attention, and the old man stepped over to join them, Krycek trailing behind.

"The first car is yours, Mr. Mulder. We shall see you later this evening, then." Mulder nodded, squeezing Scully's shoulder for a moment before letting his hand drop. His eyes met Krycek's for an instant, and something there reassured him, something he hadn't expected to see. Determination, and hope. Whatever it was the old man was offering, it had put Krycek's heart back into him, something Mulder had never seen. He turned and left the restaurant. Scully watched through the front window as he ducked into the sedan, then turned and joined the others as they bundled into the second car and headed for the city.

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

It was growing tired. This host had a deeper strength of mind than it had expected, and it was having to fight harder than it ever had to maintain control. It could feel the strength seeping away as it fought back the mind of the man. Each fresh assault made it angrier, and it could feel more and more of the host mind slip away as it was battered down. Not that it cared if the mind was completely lost. But he still had some information it sought, and time was running short. With a brief, internal struggle, it forced the host mind to release the next part of the puzzle, the next link in the chain that would lead it back to it's own kind. An address. Another step toward home.

It tried to force the host body forward toward the address, but the legs gave out, and the old man's body fell to the floor, coughing and gasping for breath. Another sliver of consciousness disappeared into oblivion upon losing the battle for control of the address, and the body reacted with exhaustion. It considered it's options, fighting to bring the alien body back under control. It would have to allow the host to rest. Not long. It couldn't afford long. But it didn't want to lose this host before it attained it's goal.

The old man's body curled into the fetal position on the thinly carpeted floor, tears leaking from eyes that had once been ice blue. The liquid was tinged with black.

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

The diaries were right where he'd left them, tossing them with frustration into the bottom drawer of his father's desk. He sat for a moment, tracing a finger over the cracked leather bindings, wondering what was so important in the yellowed pages that the old man was willing to give up so much for them. He blessed his eidetic memory, knowing that he could call up the information if needed and try to crack the code once again. Memories of his father, sitting at this desk, reading papers, cracking sunflower seeds, came back to him as vividly as if it had been yesterday, not twenty five years ago. The sound in his ears made his heart clench, and he thought of Krycek's words on the airplane. If it was true, then finally, it might make some sense. Why his father had been willing to give him up, had always blamed him for Samantha's disappearance. Why he had never been able to measure up. Why his father had hated him.

Drops fell against the dry leather, and he took a deep breath. Tears wouldn't help, not now. No wonder his mother hadn't wanted to talk about the men in the photograph. No wonder she felt there were secrets better left unspoken. He gathered the diaries and stuffed them haphazardly into the small backpack he carried, thankful that his mother was out of town visiting friends. He didn't want to, no, *couldn't* face her right now. He would find himself asking questions that she would not answer with her words, and he would read those unspoken answers in her eyes. He didn't want those answers yet. He wasn't ready for them.

He might never be ready to face some truths.

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

Scully lay back in the antique cherrywood sleighbed and stared at the delicate tracings of the painting hanging on the far wall. She was worried about Mulder. And about herself. And, surprisingly, about Krycek. Giving up on the idea of sleep, wondering if insomnia was contagious, she pulled a robe from it's hook on the door and slipped quietly into the hallway, heading from the library. If nothing else, maybe she could find something to read. Lying there thinking was making her feel crazy.

Wandering into the large, book-lined room, she flicked on the lamps and stopped to peer at the first shelves. Classics, Herodotus, Thucydides in the original Greek, Virgil, Longus, Ovid in Latin. She sighed. Not exactly light reading.

"Not much in the way of bedtime reading, is there?" Krycek's husky voice came out of the shadows and she instinctively whirled on him. He raised both hands in the air in a half mocking gesture to show her that he wasn't armed.

"What are you doing here?" she demanded.

"Same thing you are, I suppose," he replied quietly. "Just sitting, thinking. Gave up on trying to get any sleep tonight. Too wired."

She moved over to take a seat on the couch opposite his chair. "Are you afraid?"

"Of meeting up with the Oil Slick from Outer Space again?" he snorted. "Hell, yes. Who knows if it will listen to me? It might just decide to fry me and get it over with, *I* don't know." He looked past her to the rows of books extending into the shadows by the ceiling. "Maybe it'd be better that way."

She settled into the cushions of the couch, resting her cheek on one palm, utterly unaware of the lovely picture she presented. Krycek glanced at her and found his gaze caught by the fire of her hair as it spilled over her palm. It brought to mind a different fire, golden instead of auburn, and his expression spasmed with pain. "Tell me about her," she invited, trying to understand. He stared at her hair, lost in his memories, and let the darkness cover him as he told her about Caitlin. Young, and idealistic, and drawn to the wrong cause. He'd known her since high school, had dated her all through college, hadn't known about her other activities until he was almost through training at Quantico. When she had disappeared. And a chain-smoking man in a gray suit had told him what he had to do to get her back.

"It was bullshit, of course." He didn't seem to be aware of the tears glittering in his eyes. "She'd been working for them for almost three years by that time. I don't know how they hooked her, but they had letters. In her handwriting. They were holding her hostage, I thought, so that I would do this one small job for them." He tilted his head back, ignoring the moisture escaping the corner of his eye to trail down the side of his cheek and slide down his jaw. "She was probably dead even then. But by the time I figured that out, I was in too deep to back out. I was partnering Mulder by then, and then came the mess with Duane Barry. I couldn't get any straight answers. So I just kept going. Until they decided that they couldn't count on me to do it any more, and they tried to kill me." He stopped and looked at her again. She was surprised to see what looked like relief in his eyes. "At least now I know. She's gone. If I get nothing else from this, at least I'll know that."

She pursed her lips in thought. "Do you think you can believe what this man says?"

He laughed slightly. "No way. That's why I'm getting the grave site. Or the urn, or something. I'll exhume the body if I have to, but I'm going to know, one way or the other, what happened to Cait." She nodded understanding.

"Good luck. With that, and with the alien."

He gave her a half smile. "Thanks. I'm going to need it."

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

Mulder arrived at the apartment after midnight, and went immediately to Scully's room. To his surprise, she wasn't there. Keeping a close eye on his precious backpack, he went in search of his partner. Hearing voices issuing softly from a side room, he followed the dim splash of light in the hallway and found himself in the library. Scully was perched on a couch, leaning toward Krycek, who was sprawled in a velvet wingchair. Neither appeared very talkative.

"Mind if I join the party?" he tossed into the pool of silence in the room.

Scully looked up at him and smiled, patting the couch beside her. "Got a seat already reserved for you. Any problems in Chilmark?"

"No," he responded wearily, dropping onto the soft cushions and glancing curiously at Krycek. "Mom was with friends, so I didn't have to answer any questions."

"Or ask any?" Scully sent him a concerned look.

"Or ask any," he affirmed. "You two have a cozy chat?" He noticed the tear tracks on Alex's face, but the other man had closed his eyes and was off in his own world.

"Just comparing notes," she answered. "They really are getting what they deserve, Mulder." Her voice had a familiar hard edge to it. "Anything that happens to the members of this Consortium is no more than they've earned."

He settled further into the cushions and dropped his gaze to the pack at his feet. "Yeah. I guess ... it all comes full circle, doesn't it." She noticed where his eyes were directed, and reached out silently to take his hand. He gripped it gently and took a deep breath. Unseen by the two agents, Krycek watched their by-play through slitted lids. He recognized the connection. Thought he'd had it once. Hopefully, they'd be luckier than he had been. Mulder rose to his feet and pulled Scully easily to hers.

"Bed time. Full day tomorrow." She started to reply and was taken aback by the full yawn that suddenly cracked her jaw. She gave him a wide eyed look, and he grinned at her. Shaking her head, she turned and left the room. He looked over his shoulder at Alex.

"Krycek?" He wasn't sure why he was feeling protective of the younger man, considering what he had learned about him. But he couldn't help but see the fresh faced rookie he thought had been his partner when he looked at him, superimposed over the weary face of a double agent who he thought had tried to kill him, and it turned out, had been protecting him. He didn't know how he felt about Krycek. He just knew that he had to be up for the morning confrontation with the alien, or they might all end up burned to death in a blaze of radiation. "Get some sleep."

Alex looked solemnly up at him. "I'll be fine here." Mulder held his tongue and left him to it. God only knew he preferred the couch himself.

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

It stood in the foyer, ticking off the floors in its mind. Twelve. The host was weak, but elevators could be traps, no way out if the wrong alien stepped in with it. It placed a hand over the pulse in the host's neck, feeling the rapid beat. The host would not last much longer. The elevator it would have to be.

Krycek was nibbling his way through his fifth piece of bacon when he felt it. His hand began to shake and he dropped the meat on the sideboard. The servant gave him a dirty look at the small spot of grease on the fine Irish linen, but he was completely unaware of the rebuke.

It was here.

He turned to Mulder, eyes wide with distress, unable to say a word. Mulder got up from the table so quickly the chair tipped over, alerting Scully and the old man to Krycek's predicament. One curt word sent the servant scurrying from the room, and Mulder reached out a hand to steady Alex.

"Is it here, Krycek?" A mute nod was his only answer. "We'll be in the anteroom. It's going to work. You have to believe what you're telling it. It's the truth. And the truth is the only thing that will get all of us out of here alive." Mulder grasped Krycek's upper arm firmly enough to leave bruises. "Trust yourself, Alex. Trust what you're telling it. And give it the answers it's looking for." Wide green eyes met determined hazel, and Krycek swallowed heavily.

"I'm ... it's okay. Go on. Get out of here." Mulder nodded and joined Scully at the door to the anteroom. As it swung shut behind them, the hallway door swung wide and the man who had been Edmund Wilkes stepped into the room.

The old man felt the tremors in his limbs begin and tried to will them away. He couldn't allow fear to cloud his mind. From what young Krycek had explained, this creature was somehow able to reach into people's minds and pull out information. If the person tried to resist, they were simply crushed, from the inside. His only chance lay in allowing the alien to read the truth, and take his chances that they would be able to kill it before it killed them. Not that his temporary allies were aware of that aspect of his plan, of course. He didn't have the same need to protect Agent Mulder and his partner that the American had had. And Mr. Krycek was certainly expendable.

"Where are they?" A demand, and an arrogant one at that.

Krycek forced himself to relax the best he could, and concentrated on reaching out to the alien, trying to assure it of the truth of his words. "There aren't any more. The one you are in right now, he was lying to you. He wanted to use you for research. Remember? Back at the silo? He said he was going to put you back in me and run tests. Try to find out how you protect yourself, so he could use it as a weapon. Remember?"

"There are others. Like me. I must find them. You will help me find them." It reached out, moving faster than either had expected, leaving the old man in a crumpled heap on the floor, seeping over Krycek's foot and into his skin. Krycek tried to scream, tried to deny it access, and it paused, seeming to understand that this one would be no help, that this one was a victim of those who had victimized it. Not an enemy. Not a tool. With a sudden whipping surge it pushed Krycek away from itself, sending him tumbling against the wall. Rolling like a wave in a riptide, it caught the old man and enveloped him, desperate for the knowledge it believed he had. With a wrenching scream, he was submerged in the alien presence, and the knowledge it sought was ripped from his memory.

Mulder and Scully heard the scream through the closed door, and looked at one another for one indecisive moment. With a deep breath, Mulder tore the door open and they spilled into the room, weapons drawn, to find Krycek unconscious against the side wall, Cancerman unconscious on the floor by the sofa, and their host nowhere in the vicinity. Mulder went from one end of the room to the other, trying all likely and some unlikely hiding places, before catching a glimpse through the front window of what appeared to be the old man stepping into a plain black coupe. He banged his fist against the window, but the old man didn't pause. He turned, cursing under his breath, to see Scully kneeling beside a groggy Krycek.

"I think he's going to be okay, Mulder." She felt the strong pulse at his throat and raised his lids to look at the slightly dilated pupils. "Mild concussion, but he's hard headed. Not much worse than he's already had." She left him propped against the wall and moved to crouch beside the unmoving form of Cancerman.

"What about this one?" Mulder wasn't quite sure what to call him. Wilkes seemed odd, he sure as hell wasn't going to call him Dad, and black lunged son of a bitch took too long to say. He squelched the laughter bubbling up in his chest, recognizing it for the effective if inappropriate coping mechanism that it was, and looked quizzically at Scully.

She felt along the jugular, looking for anything, but there was no movement. "He's dead, Mulder." His skin was already cold. "I think the alien pushed him literally to death." She drew back a lid and saw the burst blood vessels in his eyes. "Stroke, maybe aneurysm, but it looks to me like his brain simply imploded." She dropped the head back to the carpet, and looked up at her partner. "Okay. What now?"

Mulder strode over to the massive desk and gathered up William Mulder's diaries, slipping the DAT tape in with them. "Now, we head home. Try to find out what was so important about these diaries. Try to follow the paper trail." He paused and set the backpack on the polished surface. "But first things first. He may very well have been jerking our chain about the records on your abduction, Scully, or," he turned to include Krycek, shakily pulling himself up by the side of the sofa, "about your wife's documentation. But we have a little time before their spies let them know what happened here. I vote we make the best of it." Scully nodded and began an in-depth search of the library, and Krycek shook the last of the ringing from his ears and started in the old man's bedroom. Mulder took the desk and worked side by side with Scully, in as thorough and fast a search as they had ever conducted.

Alex hit the jackpot. A floor safe.

"Mulder! Scully! In here!" He had the carpet rolled back and was listening intently to the tumblers when they got in the room. Mulder opened his mouth to ask him about his find, but Alex raised his hand for quiet -- and got it. It was a surprisingly old fashioned lock for such a highly placed man, but the old man hadn't trusted electronics. Krycek had it open in less than five minutes.

"I had no idea you were such an adept burglar, Krycek," Mulder complimented him. "Although I suppose I should have known." The younger man gave him a brief glare, but he was more interested in the contents of the safe than Mulder's jibes. He pulled two folders from the safe, feeling a shiver at the sight of the labels. There was nothing else in the safe save the folders. Silently, he handed Scully the one marked with her name, and sat back to open the one marked 'Caitlin Griffin Krycek'.

Before he could begin to read, they heard the commotion of booted feet stamping down the hall. Mulder darted back into the library, gathering up his pack, checking to make sure the precious DAT tape was still there. Scully stuffed her folder into the pack along with the diaries, and all three ran down the back hall to the stairwell in the back. As Mulder opened the door, they heard the echoes of footsteps coming up the metal stairs. He pointed up, and Scully nodded. Krycek made a pushing motion with his hands, and Mulder took the hint. The bootsteps drowned out their lighter steps as they ran up the stairwell to the fifteenth floor, thankful that someone, somewhere, kept the fire doors unlocked. Pausing to catch their breath, they walked to the side elevators and headed for the lobby. By the time the doors opened, the last of the black clad clean up crew was gone from the first floor, and they were able to slip out the side entrance undetected.

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

Frohicke had assured Mulder that the Gunmen had thoroughly swept his apartment for bugs the previous night, anticipating his need for privacy when he got back. Mulder was appropriately appreciative, although he'd have to explain to Scully later why she'd have to change her email address again. Krycek had settled into the corner of the livingroom next to the fish tank, and was deeply engrossed in his late wife's file. Scully was curled up on his couch, equally as involved in her own file. And Mulder sat next to her, close enough to offer support if she required it but not touching her, giving her the space she needed. He was trying once more to make sense out of the encrypted entries in the diaries. The answer was there, he was sure, at least, some of the answers. The DAT tape resting securely with Byers would have more, of that he was certain. And eventually, with enough of the pieces of the puzzle, he would have his truth, and he would find his sister.

The soft rustle of pages in the corner stopped, and Scully raised her head to look over her glasses at Krycek. Mulder followed her gaze to see him, sitting cross legged on the floor, staring at a picture from the file, pages scattered around his knees.

"What is it, Krycek?" Quietly. Mulder looked at her, eyes narrowing. One of these days she would tell him the whole story. There had to be a reason why she was so gentle with the man who had assisted in her abduction.

"She's not dead." He appeared dazed.

"What?" Mulder was confused.

"She's not dead," Krycek repeated. He looked up at the agents sitting side by side on the couch. "She's still out there."

"You're going to go looking for her, I take it." Scully sounded sure of the answer.

"Yeah. There are some pointers in here, assignments they put her on, some places they sent her."

"But if she's still working for them, Alex," Mulder began, only to be interrupted by the other man.

"I have to find her, Mulder. They could be controlling her the same way they were controlling me. That's over now," he rasped fiercely, "for both of us. I just have to find her and tell her. Get her out of it." They watched as he gathered the file and shook it into place.

"You're leaving tonight?" She was a little surprised.

"I've lost enough time, Scully." He stopped on the way to the front door, taking a deep breath and staring at them in turn. "Thanks. For saving my life. And for helping me get this far." Scully just nodded, eyes narrowed thoughtfully. Mulder looked from his partner to the tense figure at the door.

"Good luck, Alex." He meant it. Krycek smiled at them, that shy half smile that made him look so young, and ducked out the door. Mulder wasn't sure where his hatred had gone, just that it was caught in the gray area that made up so much of his life. It had never been easy to tell the good guys from the bad, and it was getting harder by the day. A muffled exclamation from the woman at his side brought his attention back to her.

"Scully? What'd you find?" Her eyes were wide, fixed on the page on her lap. He scooted closer to her, peering over her shoulder to look at what appeared to be a series of random numbers tossed into tables and crammed in no particular order onto the page. It must have made some sense to Scully, though, by the way her face drained of color.

"These records are fragmentary, Mulder, but there are some things that are clear." She swallowed dryly, running one fingertip down a series of numbers. "Findings include manipulation of levels of growth hormone, adrenocorticotropic hormone, androgen and estrogen levels, insulin and glucagon levels, extensive scarring of the Fallopian tubes, foreign growths in and ... shredding of the endometrial lining, uterine fibroids..." her voice trailed off. "My god. What did they do to me?"

The pain in her voice prompted him to curve his arm protectively around her shoulders. She sank against his side, staring in horror at the statistical evidence of the experimentation her abductors had carried out on her over the months that she was missing.

"You said they were fragmentary, Scully. Can you tell what's missing?" His soft voice brought her wandering thoughts back to the present. She nodded slowly.

"Results. Rationale. What they were trying to prove, or disprove. Permanent aftereffects." Her voice was deadened by the weight of what she read. He gently closed the file and placed it on the coffee table, drawing her into the warmth of his embrace.

"We'll find the answers, Scully. We won't stop looking. This is one more piece of evidence." She allowed her head to fall on his chest, feeling vaguely reassured by the steady thrum of his heart under her ear. "We'll get to the truth, partner."

It was a heartfelt promise. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes, taking refuge for a little while from all of the questions. They would find out what happened to her, and to his sister. Together, they would cut through the lies. Until then, she would be satisfied with the small measure of justice these last few days had brought. For all of them.

He held her while she drifted off to sleep, staring into the dim glow of the fish tank, watching his few remaining fish swimming purposefully back and forth. They were going around in circles, not really accomplishing much, but they seemed satisfied. He sometimes felt as though his life was on the same circular track as the fish. But at quiet moments like this, a small victory behind them and a continuing search in front of them, he was content to listen to his partner breathe and know that they were one step closer to the truth.

************* the end ***********************************