Kingdom Clones

by Flutesong

Title: Kingdom Clones

Author: Flutesong



Keywords: M/K Slash and Mytharc

Spoilers: Episodes to Red and the Black - then AU

Rating: NC-17 MM sexuality and bad words

Summary: Mulder and Krycek share time and space, have adventures and get to the truth

Warning: Anger, angst, bad language, sex and joy

Archive: Sure, let me know where

Notes: Big thanks to Sue Ashworth and Kashmir for the magnificent beta on this looooong story!

Disclaimer: The X Files belongs to its legal entities. The continuing fascination for the characters expressed in this story is mine.

Kingdom Clones

I. Guest Pass

Mulder knew the jig was up.

He didn't waste time regretting his choice to steal the uniform, follow the contingent of Black Ops onto the base, another installation not found on any official U.S. Survey Map and near Kingdom Mountain in North Carolina, and into the briefing room. It wasn't until they all took off their helmets and exposure was imminent, that he'd had second thoughts.

They were all clones; six-foot, blonde, blue-eyed clones about eighteen years old, and they were not smiling. They were, however, staring at his helmeted head.

"Er... harrumph," A dry voice from the far end of the room uttered. "Is there a problem here?"

All ten of the clones came to attention and turned towards the voice. Mulder turned back towards the door, but it was too late. Another phalanx of clones, six-six and beetle-browed, calmly blocked the way out.

Mulder removed the helmet and turned back towards the voice. "Ah, Mr. Mulder." The British accent was clearer now his ears were exposed. "How inconvenient of you to drop in at this particular moment."

"Really," Mulder said. "If I'm interrupting, I can leave and make an appointment later. I would just need your name and phone number, of course."

"No, no, I wouldn't dream of it," the dry and increasingly acidic voice answered. "What kind of a host would I be, after you've obviously taken so much trouble to come by?"

Mulder approached the Britisher. The blondes calmly intercepted him and removed the helmet from his hand, the gun from his waistband, the other gun from his ankle, his cell phone, watch and jacket. He felt lucky they hadn't stripped him down to his skivvies. Denuded of his arsenal and his means of communication, Mulder sat down in a chair at the conference table.

The Brit remained standing, "You will forgive me," he said. "I have pressing concerns to attend to at the moment, you understand, so you will simply have to wait your turn." He motioned to the clones nearest to him and said, "Show our guest to his room." He paused, considering for a moment, "In fact, put him in the room adjoining our other 'guest' and see that he had everything he needs."

Mulder was calmly lifted to his feet and firmly escorted from the room, "How soon can I expect to continue our conversation?" He called out as he was inexorably moved down the hallway." He received no answer to his query. "So, boys," he continued, addressing the identical blondes, "Anything good on the tube tonight?" They didn't answer either.

The room was plain; bed, commode, sink, table and chair. There were no windows and no knob or hinges on the inside of the door. It closed with a soft pneumatic hiss. There was no TV, or books or magazines, and no switch that he could see to control the recessed ceiling light. A second door on the side wall of the room did have an inset pull mechanism.

It looked like a room a clone could be comfortable in. The thought chilled him.

Mulder sat on the bed and took stock of his situation. The Brit had had other opportunities to kill him, so he did not think he was in immediate danger of death. A mind wipe was certainly more of a possibility. Since Weikamp, he'd begun to come to the unsettling conclusion that it was very likely he'd experienced such occurrences more often than he'd been able to document.

Certainly it had happened the first time he'd met Deep Throat and gone onto that Air Base despite his advice. Scully had witnessed the results of that one. Deep Throat had confirmed, in his sardonic way, that Mulder had indeed seen technology not meant for his eyes.

What worried him were the fragments of dreams and half formed sensations he'd begun to 'feel' were more real than not. His experience with drug and light induced memories from Dr. Goldstein, during the time he'd been involved with Amy and David Cassandra's deaths, counted, even though that particular doctor had not been part of the usual cabal of old men. Certainly, Samantha's abduction was the most profound example. How much of what he believed was true or real? Had she been taken in front of his eyes, and had he been rendered helpless by alien or man-made influences? Was what he remembered the truth or had it been suggested -- implanted in his memory to hide or distort the truth?

He and Scully had not discussed the incident with Dr. Goldstein, although he knew she continued to watch him for reoccurrences of colonic events or fugue states. His attempts to get his mother to be more forthcoming had failed, and she had firmly retreated, distancing herself even further from the semblance of cooperation in his quest.

Scully had recanted her certainty that the memories Dr. Werber had helped her recall from the incident on the bridge had been a mind wipe. No, that wasn't exactly true. She had denied what Werber had helped her 'see' was the truth; she didn't doubt her memories had been altered.

He'd been impressed enough by Krycek's dire warnings to hop right along to Weikamp and get wiped himself. God! Mulder rubbed his forehead tiredly; he wished he knew for sure what he'd seen in the back of that truck.

He drank, cupping his hands under the sink faucet; there were no cups available. Food, he guessed, would either be offered eventually or not.

The door on the wall beckoned him. There was a chance it led out, or to another exit through whatever room was on the other side. The Brit had said another guest was 'visiting'. He didn't know whether he believed the 'guest' was there of his own volition or was a prisoner like himself. He was sure he wouldn't believe whatever position the guest took; even at such short notice he didn't doubt the Brit could supply another spy, but it was worth a try. Given that the Brit didn't seem to want him dead, chances were the guest wouldn't be violent. The evening was young; he was already bored and frustrated with simply waiting around.

Mulder knocked on the door and stepped off to the side. His instincts told him he was probably safe enough, but presenting a full target was foolish. He heard a chair scrape and footsteps approach the door. He waited, and since the person on the other side did not open the door, he knocked again. "What?" A voice asked him from the other side.

Mulder felt a momentary awkwardness. What should he say now? Hi and hello sounded tentative. Introducing himself to a closed door seemed silly. Saying I am stuck on the other side of the door seemed redundant. This wasn't a bust, or a FBI appointment. He wished Scully were here. She would forge ahead with the 'I'm Agent Scully' approach.

He reached for the inset handle and slid the door opened halfway, careful to shield his body behind the unopened half. "Shit," he heard, followed by an impatient exhalation. "It would be you, wouldn't it?" Alex Krycek said and stepped from his covered position behind his half of the partially opened door.

Mulder wondered why he was surprised. He'd presumed Krycek had come with the Weikamp message from the Brit and not from the Smoker, so why shouldn't Krycek be where the Brit was? He didn't attack Krycek. For one, the man was already sporting a variety of bruises across his torso, and, for another, he was missing his left arm. Missing his left arm! The sight and knowledge of it reverberated in Mulder's mind; growing no more comprehensible the longer he looked. Images flashed like a flip book, the one-armed peasants, Krycek, crouched and holding him at gunpoint, the man's surprise at his off-color remark, and the stiff side when he'd sauntered away from Mulder, having the temerity to turn his back on a loaded gun.

"Seen enough of the freak show?" Krycek ground out and turned away, returning to his chair at the table.

Mulder looked away and processed that the room was a mirror image of his own, but that the bed looked like it had been slept in, and there was a plastic tumbler on the sink beside a toothbrush and a tube of toothpaste. Mulder had the thought that this was the real Krycek. It made no sense at all to produce an imperfect, one-armed clone just to bewilder him.

"What are you doing here?" Mulder asked.

"Waiting," Krycek replied.

"Waiting for what?" Mulder asked shortly.

"Waiting for Godot, Mulder. What the fuck makes you think I have anything to tell you?" Krycek answered, bitterly.

"I guess you shot your load with the Weikamp tip, huh? Think that somehow makes you a hero or makes up for everything you've done? As if you care about the fate of the planet when all you've ever cared about is yourself." Mulder accused viciously.

Krycek stared at Mulder, his face a perfect mask of sharp-boned, razor-edged rage. It was all the more profound because it was mute.

Mulder actually stepped back a pace, before he recovered himself, making as if to take a seat on the table edge and thus tower over the seated Krycek.

Krycek reacted to the provocation by getting to his feet just a moment before Mulder could sit down. He emphasized his contempt with a graceful, courtly and overdone gesture indicating Mulder could have his chair.

Mulder stopped and they both stood at arms length, poised to do battle.

"Take a swing at me, Mulder, and this time I'll break your goddamned neck," Krycek hissed, breaking the silence.

"You and what army?" Mulder sneered, but he didn't attack.

"Get the hell out of my room," Krycek said.

Mulder considered his options. Facing an implacable Krycek was new in his experience. Always before he'd been able to read some kind of need to make contact, and never before had Krycek threatened him with a return of physical hostilities.

Mulder waited, meeting Krycek's eyes squarely, but Krycek never blinked or backed down. "Fine," Mulder said and returned to his room. He left the door opened behind him. He heard Krycek sit back down with an angry screech of chair legs ruthlessly abused by a body hitting the seat with force.

A long time later he heard Krycek take a piss before lying down on the bed. The door remained open.

II. Rot in Hell

Dinner arrived, borne by the ten blondes, in the form of sandwiches, fruit and a large tumbler of cold tea. There were no plates or flatware, and the clones laid the food on the bare table. They also laid a pair of sweat pants and briefs on the table.

One of the blondes spoke, "Mr. Mulder," he said, "Remove your clothing." The clone said nothing further. The ten waited, some blocking the door, a few in the hallway and two in the room with Mulder.

"No," Mulder replied.

Without visible reaction or impatience, the doorway clones and the inside-the-room clones approached Mulder.

Mulder fought, but he was quickly overpowered, and the clones successfully removed his clothing. The tea was spilt and the sandwiches and fruit mashed under the overturned table during the fracas.

A clone wiped up the spill with Mulder's shirt, righted the table and chair, returned the mashed food to the tabletop and, taking Mulder's clothes, left the room. The remaining clones left with him.

Naked, out of breath and defeated, Mulder looked up to see Krycek standing in the open doorway, his own full tumbler of tea in hand.

"You never know which battles are worth fighting," Krycek said quietly.

Mulder picked up the sweat pants and put them on.

Krycek poured half his tea into Mulder's cup and returned to his room.

Mulder stared at the half-filled cup for a long time. He placed the tea, mashed sandwiches and fruit on his chair. He took it all into Krycek's room.

Krycek was sitting at his table, food untouched, sipping his drink. Mulder joined him, adding his food and cup to the table. He pulled up his chair and sat down. He didn't ask Krycek if he could join him, but after a few moments Krycek picked up his sandwich and began to eat it. Mulder did likewise and they ate in silence.

They'd been lovers once, Mulder remembered, as he chewed. One mad weekend when they'd solved and closed a tough case. High on success and drunk on successive shots of whiskey, they'd tumbled into their motel room, stripped off bloody, soiled suits and hadn't questioned the imperative to get into the shower and each other as soon as was humanly possible. There was no question of awkwardness. Their unspoken knowledge of the other's sudden sexual availability generated no anxiety, only a rather joyful comfort that the day was going to end, for once, with satisfaction all around.

Laughing and retelling each other the highly exaggerated points of the bust, they'd soaped up and run hands and mouths across firm flesh and rapidly beating pulse points. Krycek had grasped Mulder's cock and stroked him to orgasm, then he had come against Mulder's thigh when, breathless, Mulder kissed him deeply.

They'd slept, damp and exhausted, in one of the two beds.

Mulder had woken in the middle of the night, with a raging thirst and another erection. He got his drink first and woke Krycek with ice-cold lips and fingers. Between them, they'd found a total of three condoms in their shaving kits. Neither had jeered at the other for this pathetic display of hope. Neither had lube, and neither commented on that either.

They'd managed. Krycek hadn't laughed when Mulder came almost as soon as he'd attained penetration. The intensity was too real, and the need too overwhelming for jocularity. In fact, Krycek almost sobbed his relief when Mulder finished him off with his mouth.

They'd slept again, well into the morning.

Three days, Mulder thought. Three days of a kind of completion and well being that he'd given up hope was possible.

When they'd ventured out, Mulder had been relieved, not suspicious of the ease with which Krycek slipped back totally into young straight agent mode. He'd appreciated it because he had reverted to 'Mulder' mode himself.

Late in the afternoon of the last day, Krycek had gone out to fetch the food for dinner. He'd called the room and told Mulder to come and meet him. When Mulder had reached the address, he'd been baffled. It was an industrial side street a few blocks from the restaurant where Krycek had gone to pick up the food. He'd seen Krycek signal him to come down between a semi-trailer and a loading dock. For a moment, Mulder had been suspicious and thought he was being set up. He'd felt guilty immediately and dismissed the idea.

He'd sidled up to Krycek, about to ask what the hell was going on, when Krycek had made a shushing motion. Mulder stayed quiet. A stronger sense of unease took hold as he saw Krycek was dressed in different clothing than when he'd left the motel room.

Krycek had given him an indecipherable look, put a piece of paper in his hand and whispered in his ear, "Let's play Secret Agent Man. I'm an informer who comes to you with bits of information, and you're the stalwart hero out to save the world." Mulder had grinned at that point, already excited by Krycek, the game and the location. It was perfect, and it echoed many of his own fantasies. Krycek hadn't grinned back. Mulder felt his lust grow hotter as Krycek remained in his dark role.

"Look at the paper, Mulder, and pretend to be pissed off. You'd been hoping for more, and now you're angry. Don't let me go until you're satisfied," Krycek said in a low voice and showed Mulder a condom and a small tube of lubrication in his shirt pocket.

Mulder played along wholeheartedly. He'd cursed Alex the informer and manhandled him up against the back of the truck. He'd pressed his hard-on up against the man and found the pants that Alex had on under the large black shirt were already ripped at the seam, and there was no barrier to his ass. Alex made token struggles of resistance and Mulder almost came in his own pants. They'd continued to tussle, until Mulder, with the few remaining brain cells that were still operating, attempted to mount Alex gently. Alex cursed and bucked backwards. The violent penetration made Alex stifle a scream and made Mulder lose all his inhibitions. He'd fucked Alex hard and mercilessly and bitten the back of his neck hard enough to draw blood when he came.

When they'd got their breath back. Krycek had laughed exultantly and kissed him sweetly. "Remember this Mulder," he'd said. "You're the only one I could ever do this with, the only one I can trust to go there with me like this."

Mulder had kissed him back, wildly charged with freedom and happiness. He'd whispered back, "Yes, oh yes. As long as you take me there too."

"Never by force, Mulder," Krycek had replied, seriously, "never by force."

"As if you could," Mulder had sassed back, laughingly, as he spied the take-out food and Krycek's other clothes in a pile by the wheel of the truck.

"Oh, Mulder," Krycek said in return, "It's knowing that I could that makes it so good, and you know it."

"Let's go eat. I'm starved," was all that Mulder had answered. But they had both known what Krycek had said was true.

They'd returned to D.C. and work. No mention or gesture was made of that time together; each seemingly content to wait for another special opportunity. None had come. Duane Barry had happened instead.

Mulder thought about those days a thousand - no - a million times since. He'd convinced himself that all of it was a lie. All of it. Occasionally, exhausted and beaten down by a case or circumstances, he'd get a trickle of awareness, which was almost a leap of understanding, about the game they'd played that night. That the game was about another kind of trust given, and a pledge made.

He'd rejected this 'almost' epiphany, choosing instead to believe that Krycek had forewarned him. That Krycek had known what was coming and given him permission to exact violence, pain and sex as revenge.

And he had. The liberation he'd felt each time he'd made Krycek hurt had given him the fix he needed to go on and not give in. He knew that what Krycek had said that long ago night was true and was still what made it good. "Never by force," Krycek had promised, and Krycek had kept his word.

Mulder watched as Krycek bit into an apple. It seemed to Mulder that all along Krycek had offered him an apple poisoned with betrayal. The mashed sandwich turned to dust in his mouth.

"You bastard," Mulder said. "Bastard," he said again, but Mulder knew, deep in heart, that he had been the one to break that long ago lover's pledge.

Krycek met his eyes calmly and only a slight derisive sneer marred the corner of his mouth when he said, as if he'd been reading Mulder's thoughts, "You never 'had' to do it, Mulder," he said. "You chose it over arresting me or killing me. So if I rot in hell for whatever life I've led, you'll be there right alongside me, for all the lies you've told yourself."

And Mulder knew this was true as well.

III. Protocol

Mulder went back to his room for the night, but he left his chair by Krycek's table. In the morning the phalanx of beetle-browed clones came and escorted both men to a communal shower, where they were given clean sweats and undershirts. Mulder was given a toothbrush and a tube of toothpaste. After they were clothed, the clones had them sit and they were shaved. They were taken to a dining hall and allowed to go through the line, choose breakfast and eat it in peace. Aside from the clones, there were no other people present.

Mulder and Krycek made no conversation, and the clones were silent. Their rooms had been cleaned and the beds remade by the time they were returned. On the table in Krycek's room there was a stack of sandwiches, fruit and a jug of cold tea. Mulder's chair had not been placed back in his own room.

Mulder watched Krycek from the doorway. Krycek began a series of stretches and bends. He was heavier than he'd been, no longer boyish or fey. Krycek removed the t-shirt and hoisted one of the chairs on the stump of his left arm. He did a long, slow, even paced workout, forcing the stump to bear the weight and awkward shape of the chair. He added the second chair and continued the exercise. He finished, covered in sweat, but breathing easily.

Mulder didn't even try to be unimpressed. In less than a year since the trip to Tunguska, Krycek had rebuilt as much strength and flexibility as seemed possible.

Krycek drank a glass of water and dried off the sweat with his t-shirt.

"Krycek?" Mulder said in a questioning tone. "What happened in the gulag?"

Krycek coolly looked at Mulder, "You mean you don't know? You seemed awfully sure when we were there. After all, you were certain enough to make an escape and drag me with you by force."

"You sold me out! They performed the tests with the black oil on me. You were cozy with the commandant," Mulder tried hard not to let the familiar rage raise his voice.

"How could I 'sell' you out? We were both there in the cell. Do you think they asked my permission to use you? I had a KGB cover that was slender at best. I used that, Mulder, to delay them from testing me. I was trying to make contact with my father's old boss. He's a communist relic from the old USSR, but he might've been able still to pull a few strings and get us out. You weren't going to die in any case. Jesus Mulder, haven't you put any of this together yet?" Krycek asked exasperatedly.

Mulder debated exactly how much to reveal to Krycek. He had several theories that couldn't be backed up with anything as solid as evidence. Had he seen or did he know things that Krycek did not, and, if so, would it give the man more of an advantage against him to use later? Where the hell did Krycek stand in any of it, and why the fuck was he here? "You tell me what you're doing here, and if I believe it, I'll tell you what I know," Mulder said.

Krycek laughed. "Yeah, right asshole. We're way past that point. I think if anyone should be forthcoming it's you." He stopped laughing, but the look he gave Mulder was filled with malicious humor. "I'll tell you this though, no one is coming to rescue you this time. Cancerman is not available to make deals on your behalf, and the FBI won't get anywhere, no matter how much Scully or Skinner may try. Oh, and you can try to sweet talk these guys, but unlike the peasants back in Mother Russia, I don't think you have anything to offer them in exchange."

"The Brit won't kill me," Mulder said.

Krycek laughed again. "You just keep telling yourself that. The old buzzard may have rethought the outcome of the Project, but he doesn't need either of us to help him get what he wants, and if he did, well, Mulder old pal, he can just make as many of 'us' as he pleases. Who knows? He may already have."

"You're full of shit, Krycek," Mulder said disgustedly.

"Keep telling yourself that one too. Maybe you'll sleep better," Krycek said in return.

They ate lunch at Krycek's table. Mulder wished he would put the tshirt on. His unselfconsciousness about the wreck of his body, mocked Mulder. The obvious discipline and strength of it annoyed him. He had always counted on Krycek to be weaker somehow, even though back when he'd played at being an agent, he'd been fit then, too. Mulder worried that he'd begun to believe his own version of events way too completely. He had let reality be altered by the times Krycek had fallen under his fist and given way beneath his cock. To accept that Krycek had allowed it to happen, when he'd been fully capable of stopping Mulder anytime was a sobering idea.

Mulder returned to his room after lunch, and this time Krycek closed the door between them. He heard the toilet flush, and the sink run, and then it was silent. He napped and woke with a sluggish headache and the half perceived sensation that he'd dreamed something unpleasant. The door was open, and he wondered if Krycek had watched him sleep.

The clones returned, bearing full outfits of clothing. Mulder did not fight changing this time. Dressed in dark blue prison garb, socks and sneakers, he was led into the hall. Krycek was there, dressed and surrounded by his own contingent of escorts. Together, they were taken to the dining room of more luxurious private quarters and told to wait; they were left alone. Mulder tried the doors, but they were locked, and the inset handles didn't budge.

The clones returned with serving platters, and the Brit followed them in. He sat at the table and poured some wine, "To your continued health, gentlemen." He toasted and drank the wine. Neither Mulder nor Krycek joined him in acknowledging the toast, and they did not drink.

The old man ate sparingly, but well. Mulder and Krycek ate rather more, but enjoyed it less. They welcomed the coffee. The Brit smiled sourly and drank herbal tea.

"Mr. Mulder, as I said earlier, you arrived at a most inopportune moment. One would have thought you'd be more cautious about trespassing in secure areas uninvited, after your recent experiences," the Brit stated.

"Well, you know me," Mulder said flippantly, "put up a sign that says 'Keep Out' and I'll be there before the paint is dry."

The Brit was not amused, "Really Mr. Mulder," he said. "You should appreciate the rather precarious position you find yourself in. No doubt, Mr. Krycek has informed you of the new, shall we say, organizational hierarchy these days."

"Actually, Mr. Krycek tells me very little. Never mind that whatever little he tells me is bull anyway." Mulder said with cool venom in his tone. "So, unless you'd care to give me a crash course on the 'organizational structure' of a consortium made up of traitors, liars and murdering bastards, I haven't a clue."

The Brit curled his lip, "Such histrionics are as unbecoming as they are futile. Dead, Mr. Mulder, you will learn nothing at all," he said, reaching for the brandy decanter and pouring himself a glass. He did not do likewise for the two other men.

"Either tell him, kill him or let him go," Krycek said impatiently. "You've had years of this cat and mouse crap. He thinks he's a hero, and you think you're god. A lot of good that does anyone, and you get nowhere."

"Exactly where do you think I need to go that depends on Mr. Mulder's cooperation?" The Brit addressed Krycek.

Krycek answered, not looking at the Brit, but at Mulder, "He needs to get into your head. All along there's been something you either know or saw that has all the buzzards scurrying around either to kill you or keep you safe. So far, obviously, they haven't been able to get at it, or you probably would be dead by now."

Mulder was astounded. Of all the scenarios and possibilities he'd imagined, even the growing certainty that he might have been part of a genetic experiment himself, this was news.

Krycek grabbed Mulder's glass and poured a large measure of brandy in it. He thrust it at Mulder, who took it reflexively. "Here buddy boy, drink up. You look like you've just 'learned' something unpleasant," he said, sarcastically. "Heaven knows, you might actually 'believe' me, and what a shock to your system that would be."

Mulder gulped the fine brandy, and the Brit made a moue of distaste at the act. "What do you need from me?" Mulder asked, hoarsely.

"Just pretend he's the Straw Man in the Wizard of Oz, Mulder, and he's singing 'If I Only Had a Brain'." Krycek said in a tired voice, "See what a wonderful legacy your good old papa left you now?"

"That's enough!" The Brit pushed back his chair and got to his feet, "you're being as dramatic as he is, and it serves as little purpose. Before Mr. Mulder leaves, if he leaves at all, I'll have what I need. And I don't need you," he turned towards Krycek, "to assist in any way. So I suggest you look out for yourself and keep an eye on your own best interests, which I have always understood, first and foremost, are staying alive." He left the room.

Mulder refilled his glass and after a moment, filled Krycek's. They drank silently, each immersed in their own thoughts.

The blonde clones returned to escort them back to their quarters. Mulder looked up from his glass and met Krycek's eye, "Follow the Yellow Brick Road," he murmured.

"You're drunk," Krycek said, but he smiled.

IV. Headache Medicine

Mulder wished for a TV, a book or a deck of cards, anything to break the boredom and the silence.

He'd fallen asleep last night, muzzy from the liquor and bewildered from the new knowledge about why he'd been both threatened and saved time and again by the old men. Krycek had paced in the other room, and the steady tempo had lulled Mulder, making him dream about a caged beast, biding his time, but planning his escape, regardless of the bars.

They were back in their rooms, after the obligatory morning grooming and feed. Krycek had exercised and was pacing again. Mulder wondered if Krycek had issues with claustrophobia.

The repeated tread began to drive him batty. Mulder got up and went to the door, "Could you stop!" Krycek looked at him questioningly. "The endless pacing. It's driving me nuts." Mulder explained. Krycek looked at his feet as if they'd been operating independently of his thoughts. He shrugged in irritation and said, "Okay." Then he stood there as if unable to decide what to do next.

They both moved and sat down at the table. "Talk, Mulder," Krycek said. "Tell me about some the cases you've worked on the past few years, tell me your latest theories, movies, books, anything, just talk."

Mulder looked around the small Spartan space and at the infinitesimal tremors that ran up Krycek's arm and shoulders. He had another sharp vision of that caged animal on the brink of chewing off its own paw to escape. He began to talk.

He told Krycek about devils disguised as suburbanites, roaches that might be aliens, and a nebbish shape-changer, who seduced women and didn't use birth control.

Krycek asked questions and made comments. Mulder warmed to his audience, seduced by Krycek's apparent willingness to accept the impossible. He caught himself a few times; reminding himself this was what he'd initially believed was the real man and had been so very wrong.

He took a break to eat a pear and thought again whether it had it all been lies. In light of all that had come later, perhaps Krycek was someone who could accept the extreme. God knew, he'd certainly experienced enough of it for himself.

Mulder spoke some more. This time he recounted cases that had festered unresolved in his heart. He told Krycek about the young woman who'd spent years as a captive of a madman only to die, never able to live free, giving life to another young woman. He spoke softly about the possibilities of recurring lifetimes, and of the lovers and friends that went through time together. He told Krycek about the pedophile who'd somehow made a synaptic connection with him and taunted him with a version of Samantha's death. He unsparingly detailed how he'd met and ultimately failed a true believer. He'd failed Max Fenig, not once but twice, and how the gentle young man had sacrificed himself willingly to prove what Mulder believed 'was' true. He mourned how another gentle young man, who's only dream was to be noticed by Scully, had died as well, because he been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

They ate the dry sandwiches and drank their tea. Krycek sat on the bed and stared at the open door. He began to speak, never taking his eyes off the illusion of a way out of the room. "It happened in the bathroom at the airport in Hong Kong, you know," he began, and Mulder held his breath in surprise.

"It was as if I were in a plastic jar. I could see what was going on, hear and breathe, but there was in impenetrable shield in-between what I willed or wanted, and its control over me. I had the 'feeling' it instantaneously knew everything about me. Not just my history, but on a cellular level. It reacted in my voice, and with my gestures. I remember it taking me into the bathroom again, before we got on the plane. It was if it went through my inner experiences and asked me what would be the most unobtrusive way to coexist, and I replied you would be bound to make a big deal over a request on the plane, just to show you were in charge, you know? Except, of course, it didn't 'ask' me at all. It just 'took' everything and incorporated it. As you grew increasingly antsy with my silence, it 'touched' you somehow, not physically, but with some kind of energy. You went to sleep and stayed that way, until just before we landed. I remember we rented the car without incident and were on the GW Parkway, heading towards the ice rink to get the tape from the locker. Then there was pain. Incredible pain. I was suddenly in Spender's office, and Cardinale wanted to kill me, but I had the tape, and Spender took me to the silo. I never spoke after Spender had the tape. The alien had what it wanted, a means to get to the ship. It was as if Spender knew what it was all about and had seen this before."

Krycek got up and splashed his face with cold water from the sink faucet.

"There was pain again," he said, desperately, "and I was suddenly torn apart. I could feel heat, not hot like boiling water, Mulder, but heat as if I had become lava or was being cooked in a microwave from the inside out." He moved restlessly and stood in the doorway.

"I looked down, and it was slithering out of me. Not energy, but black oily stuff. It came out of everywhere, every pore, from my eyes, mouth and ears. I tried to tear off my clothes, but I was still in the plastic jar, and all I could do was puke and watch it slither into the ship."

Mulder was horrified. He'd wanted Krycek to suffer; even the loss of the arm hadn't been too much. This was different. Human suffering for human betrayal was understandable. This kind of agony was not. He made a move to touch Krycek's back. Krycek stepped quickly away, and Mulder dropped his hand.

"Then it was gone," Krycek whispered in a voice from far away. "It was gone and I was alone; no longer in a plastic jar, but in the silo. I don't remember much. I tried to break through the door, and I screamed. No one came. I don't know how much later, but I heard a faint echo of voices and recognized Spender's. He left me there."

Krycek rubbed his forehead against the doorjamb. "All of a sudden, I was wandering outside, half starved, when I heard a bunch of men attempting to get on the base. They were having an argument about whether to use tear gas or just shoot the guards. I hid in the back of one of the trucks and stayed there, until they returned and drove it away. I waited until I was sure they were gone and got out. It was a small town. I had nothing, and I was hungry and filthy. It would have been too noticeable to try and steal anything. I had no weapon, anyway. I was sure the area would be over-run with Spender's men any moment." Krycek finally faced Mulder.

"It's funny," he said and stopped.

"What?" Asked Mulder.

"I think I gave up," Krycek answered.

"Gave up?" Mulder asked gently.

"Yeah. I just gave up. I walked until I saw a house with a porch light on, and I went up and knocked on the door. This skinny old man came to the door with a shotgun in his hands. It was so weird, Mulder. I thought, right in that moment, you would've appreciated how weird it was. The man took a look at me and started laughing. He said, 'you must've walked a long way, boy, cause there ain't any oil wells in these parts,' and he laughed some more and opened the door." Krycek smiled at Mulder, "Of all the fucking things that had just happened to me," he said, "This was the X File. That I should land on the doorstep of a truly whacked out old coot and be welcomed in with open arms."

Mulder smiled and then began to chuckle. Bizarre, it was so wonderfully bizarre. Krycek was right. In the final analysis, human behavior was the real X File.

"What happened next?" Mulder asked.

Krycek sobered, "Our host found me. Set up the contacts with my dad's old friend and sent me in to the terrorist encampment. See, Mulder it was all a set up. I didn't know anything except my orders to get you to take me to Russia and get you vaccinated. The Brit was running his own experiments and wanted the latest from the Russians, who with the break up of everything else over there, have gone rogue and cut most ties to the organization. I was part of the payment, you were going to be let go, although I didn't find that out until much later."

"What do you mean? Payment for what?" Mulder asked, although he had a suspicion taking shape.

"The vaccine. Only everyone was cheating everyone else. The Russians sent over the old relic to destroy the Brit's progress in the States, he thought for the good of the Motherland and not for the Russian wing of the syndicate. You were going to be used and I was going to be used up. Spender double crossed the Brit and let them know I had been exposed and survived. You were the bargaining chip. The Russians knew about you and were going to trade you back for sole ownership of the vaccine," Krycek ran out of breath and patience.

"Don't you see, Mulder? Whatever the fuck you have inside your brain is more valuable to these bastards than anything else. You, Mulder! The truth is in you," Krycek pushed passed Mulder and flung himself on the bed.

Mulder sat down on the edge of the bed. "I don't know what it is, Alex," he said.

Krycek looked at him, "Well, Mulder, neither do I."

VI. Role Reversal

They sat on the bed and the harmony they'd created by their shared storytelling slowly dissipated. Mulder knew Krycek felt it when his breaths became deliberately measured and his body purposefully casual. "I was happy, those days before Duane Barry happened," Mulder said.

Krycek didn't reply.

After a while Mulder asked, "Why did you play the game?"

Krycek rubbed his shoulder and didn't reply.

"I think about it a lot. It was the most exciting sexual experience of my life. The whole dark forbidden fantasy of it allowed me to go where, for once, I was not judged lacking or foolish. Why did you do it, Alex?" Mulder asked with quiet intensity.

"It doesn't matter, none of it matters. Maybe I thought we could have - that the sexual bond -- hell, I don't know, and it doesn't matter. You went too far when you had me cuffed. Until then you were just getting your own back, and I didn't like it, but I understood." Krycek spoke in a deadened voice. "You crossed the line though, into outright sadism, when you had me cuffed." He laughed, an ugly bark of a sound. "You know what? Until that moment, I thought you were a better man than me."

Mulder felt a fast rising tide of anger wash over him, "You're a liar, a traitor and a murderer Krycek," He took a fortifying breath to continue when Krycek interrupted, "Maybe I am, but at least when I kill someone, they only die once, and I don't get off on their pain by torturing them over and over."

"Being a considerate assassin makes you a better man?" Mulder sneered.

Krycek rubbed his head wearily, "Does violating me for revenge and feeling entitled to it make you one, Mulder?"

"I didn't rape you!" Mulder yelled.

"Fuck you, Mulder," Krycek said, "who's the liar now?"

Mulder grabbed Krycek's good arm and tried to twist it behind him. Krycek used his legs to topple Mulder and pinned him with a knee to his chest. "Don't you dare! I told you before, don't touch me again. The 'game', whatever the hell it was, is over. There are no more rules, and I'm not your personal whipping boy or your imaginary demon."

He rolled off Mulder and hunched, knees drawn to his chest, his head on his knees, breathing hard.

Mulder lay flat on the floor, also short of breath.

In the small room, the silence took on a personality all its own.

"Are you going to help me find a way out of this place?" Mulder asked. His urge to plead, //help me anyway; no matter what I've done// remained unspoken.

Krycek raised his head and looked at the open doorway once more, and then he looked at Mulder, "Yes," he said simply. He left nothing unspoken.

"Thank you," Mulder replied just as simply.

VII. Eidetic Memory

They were taken to same mess hall line for dinner as they had been for breakfast. The Brit, his fine food and wine, were nowhere to be seen.

Both men noticed everything again with even more vigilance. So far neither had perceived a way past the clone contingents, or a way to distract or eliminate them.

They stayed up late into the night, sharing information and trying to determine what it was about the inside of Mulder's head that could be so valuable. Mulder thought it must be something to do with Samantha's abduction, but Krycek believed it was something even earlier. He went so far as to say that whatever it was might even have been the reason Samantha was taken instead of Mulder to begin with.

Mulder felt a surge of familiar guilt and frustration with all his father had not told him or helped him to understand. Krycek compounded Mulder's pain by adding that he was sure Bill Mulder had known everything.

"Is that why you killed him?" Mulder asked once more, but this time it was without heat.

"I didn't kill him," Krycek answered absently. "Do you think that was the ace up his sleeve?" Krycek speculated. "That he knew the 'something' important and kept it to himself? You were certainly protected because of it; maybe he and your mother were, too. If he spilled it to someone, his usefulness would have been at an end."

Mulder thought, "I saw him so seldom over the years, but his drinking got heavier, and the night he died he said he needed medication." It was the first time he'd ever uttered anything to do with Bill Mulder's death that did not have Krycek's name attached to it.

"I know," Krycek, said, "I heard him talking to you. He seemed awfully concerned about the alien test subjects you found later with Mr. Holstein. Of all the experiments and secrets on the MJ Documents, why them?"

"You were there, and you say you didn't kill him?" Mulder cried out, loss and lies overwhelming him once more.

"I was there, and I didn't kill him," Krycek answered stoically. He relaxed when he saw Mulder's distress did not take the form of a physical attack and softened slightly. "I was there to make sure he didn't kill you. At the time I thought the order came from Spender, but now I'm not so sure. Spender went ahead and ordered a fatal attack on you and then tried to blow me up. It was only when we weren't dead, and I threatened Spender with exposure, recovering the MJ tape became of prime importance to the rest of the buzzards."

"How did they know anything?" Mulder asked. "How did they know I was going to see him, that I needed protection from him? If you were there then you do know who killed him."

"Damn it Mulder! I don't know. I didn't even know you were high as a kite that night. I was monitoring the whole thing from the bathroom. The sound carried through the vents. When he came in, he was shaking. He saw me and dropped the pills. I bent over to pick them up. I knew him, Mulder; he'd been the one to fill me in about you! The shot came through the window. By the time I straightened up, I heard your footsteps on the stairs. I ran. Cardinale was already pulling away, so he would not have had time to shoot him and get back to the car. I did not see anyone else."

"My father briefed you? Prepared you to betray me? Helped set me up?" Mulder dropped his head into his hands.

"Fuck, fuck, fuck!" Alex hit the table with the palm of his hand. "Yes. Okay? Yes he did, but for all I knew, you'd been prepped to set 'me' up. I got in trouble when I was a kid. The charges were dismissed, and the records sealed. I went to an attorney before I signed my FBI application, and he said I wasn't obliged to report it, because the charges had been dismissed, and I was only fifteen at the time." Alex jumped up and paced agitatedly. "Spender came to me right before graduation. He threatened to expose the record. I said go ahead. I had nothing to hide. He laughed. Really? He was so smug and I became afraid. Then he showed me what the FBI would see, if they opened the record, and it wasn't just the boyhood nonsense I'd been involved with. I wanted to graduate. I thought once I was in, I could go back to the courts and petition for the real file."

"Forgive me if I was nave, Mulder." He practically spat out. "Excuse me for thinking 'justice and truth' were something real. I agreed to infiltrate the bad boy genius in his basement hide-a-way. The FBI sanctioned it all. By the time I actually met up with you, someone important had died and Spender and Bill Mulder were not happy about it. I didn't know shit, but I knew enough to believe they would kill me if I fucked up." He turned, bent down and said, directly into Mulder's face, "I fucked you instead. Damn if it didn't turn out to be the same thing."

Mulder buried his head in his hands again, but Krycek was not having it. He smacked Mulder's hands and pulled up his face by his hair. "Bill Mulder was a bad man. He was one of the buzzards. He didn't give a fuck about you, your sister, his wife, the fate of mankind or your quest. He traded life and death, like all the rest of them, pimping whoever they could get hold of, until they stopped being useful. So, hero, stick that truth up your ass and get on with your own life, if you get lucky enough to have one."

Mulder didn't bother to cover his face. He let his shock and sorrow show. Krycek slammed out of the room and left him in peace. When he was done, he washed his face. He poured what was left of the tea in the cups, wishing it were coffee and went to get Krycek.

Krycek rejoined him at the table. They continued their previous discussion, until they were too tired to talk anymore.

They began the night sleeping apart, with the door opened, but when Mulder woke in the night, he took his pillow and blanket and went back to sleep on the floor by Krycek's bed.

VII. Time Served

Krycek cursed soundlessly as he watched Mulder settle into sleep on the floor by his bed.

They'd both been stuck for a long time, he thought, both of them refusing to be accountable for the weight of their pasts. Oh, and not only the mutual past, but the machinations by those who had put the whole insane mess into play. He snorted to himself; he hated waxing philosophical, it just depressed him.

He'd told Mulder the truth. They had gotten to him originally through an undisclosed youthful experience. He just hadn't told him the whole thing. Maybe he would, if Bill Mulder's name was bandied between them again. He hadn't killed that particular buzzard, but he'd wanted to. He'd wanted to real bad. He sighed and tried to make himself more comfortable on the narrow bed.

He listened to Mulder's soft snore and remembered what it was like to feel the exhalations of Mulder's breath on his shoulder. He hated how perfectly he remembered every sensation. It was a weakness he'd failed to uproot, and which now would no doubt embroil him in another life threatening adventure. Fatalistically he knew he'd used up more than his fair share of near-death experiences.

Mulder mumbled something in his sleep. Krycek almost reached down to reassure him. He berated himself some more and tucked his hand under the pillow instead.

He detested the communal shower routine they 'enjoyed' at the hands of the clones each morning. It reminded him, vividly, how much more vulnerable he was with only one arm. Being anywhere near the clones made his skin crawl.

The Brit thought the offer of a new arm was good bait. Krycek kept his true feelings to himself; he was damned if he was going to be 'fixed' by their fucking alien technology.

Krycek had stayed loyal to the Brit for one reason. It kept him close to the action and, occasionally, near enough to one of the buzzards to get his licks in. He'd been about to die anytime these past few years. Death didn't scare him. Vengeance, on the other hand was his last personal mission. By the time he bit the dust, as many of those old men and their minions as he could manage would have gone first.

That the rest of mankind, including Mulder, would benefit was just the icing on the cake.

"Hey Alex," Mulder said, interrupting Krycek's thoughts. Krycek looked up from his plate, he guessed he was 'Alex,' now that he'd agreed to help Mulder escape, and Mulder had found some kind of peace sleeping on his floor. "What if what they need is not a memory or something I know? What if it is actually a piece of my brain? Something they tampered with or that has grown in there?"

Krycek put down his fork. Bingo, he thought. It made sense. After all, they'd had access to whatever 'thought' Mulder might have whenever they'd wanted to tap in. They'd tried it a few times too, Krycek's knew. "Bingo," he said out loud. "That makes a lot of sense out of the need to keep you alive for so long. But I wonder why they just didn't keep you caged up somewhere until they could harvest it or whatever?"

Mulder chewed his toast, swallowed and began to do what he did, in Krycek's opinion, best; he started putting it together. "What if whatever it is needed to develop as a result of input from, hell, I don't know, living? Or maybe it hasn't turned on yet? What if it only gets 'ripe' from exposure to something or someone else, and they don't know what that 'other' thing is?" Mulder warmed to his theme. "They've already dug around in there, haven't they?" He asked, and then answered himself, "Of course they have. Mind wipes, regression therapy, surveillance, sending in people to be friends, lovers, enemies?" He quirked an eyebrow at Krycek, "Hell, even Scully's reports on my behavior have probably been thoroughly examined. I mean, why else make sure a doctor was assigned to be my partner? She doesn't even need to have been one of them or have been briefed on what to look for. Her personal exactitude would've served them perfectly. Besides, they 'don't' know what to look for. That's been the wrench in the whole operation."

"What if it has been discovered" Krycek asked, "And that's why the Brit is keeping you under wraps now?"

Mulder sipped his coffee. "I don't think so. I think the Brit was surprised I showed up here. I think he is scrambling around, out of sight, trying to get his ducks in a row. They've come a long way, it seems." Mulder said, gesturing toward the blondes with his cup, "Cloning at will. But these guys aren't like the others I've met."

"What do you mean?" Krycek asked.

Mulder pursed his lips and considered Krycek's question as if he were still deciding what to share. Krycek waited patiently, giving him as much time as he needed.

"Actually, I've met several types." Mulder said. Krycek felt his mouth go dry and a queasy, panicked sensation roiled in his gut. Trust, now, from Mulder, after the hopes, which, once upon a time, he had dreamed. Fantasies of partnership, of trust, maybe even of love, all of them dashed by time, experience, and Mulder's carnal violence - was he ready? He shook his head, and Mulder paused, eyeing him questioningly.

"Be sure, Mulder," Krycek warned him. "Be very sure. Don't mistake this for some intellectual exercise or prison cell camaraderie. We're together now, and if we're lucky, we might both survive. Think, Mulder, because the games we played are over."

VIII. Commuted Sentence

They returned to their quarters. Krycek pulled off his shirt and began his stretching routine. Mulder hadn't spoken since Krycek had made his ultimatum.

Krycek was surprised when Mulder took off his shirt and stood facing him. "What?" He asked Mulder.

Mulder put out his arm and grasped Krycek's left shoulder. Krycek held himself absolutely still. "There's nothing I can say in my own defense," Mulder began. "I took all the hate and frustration of a lifetime full of shit and focused it on you. You were the 'one' I could get to. More honest to kill you? More legitimate to arrest you? Yes." Mulder shook the sweat off his brow and ran his hand across Krycek's smooth chest. "I hurt you because I could. I could because you let me." Krycek shivered. "You let me because it was the only way to make me one of 'them' too. Someone you could despise." Mulder dropped his hand.

Krycek stood unmoving. "I..." he cleared his throat. "I don't despise you." Was all he could manage to say. The vast outpouring of grievances he'd held in check since the week after Skyland Mountain, when Mulder had hurt him the first time, dried up, unspoken.

Mulder tilted his head and ran his tongue over his lips. Krycek felt the urge to lick his own dry lips too, but he clamped his mouth shut and denied the impulse. "I don't distrust you," Mulder said in a shuddery voice.

They both stood there in the silence. Krycek felt sweat drip down his back from the hairline at the nape of his neck. He saw Mulder was sweating too.

"Okay," Krycek whispered in a choked voice, reached for the towel and wiped his face, "Okay," he said more strongly.

"Okay," said Mulder, taking the towel and wiping his own face.

Krycek suddenly felt self-conscious standing there, chest to chest with Mulder. He felt a momentary resentment that Mulder's body was still perfect, then he looked in Mulder's eyes and saw his damage was so much more than skin deep. "Have we hurt each other enough?" He asked Mulder.

"Yes, I think we have," Mulder answered seriously.

IX. Terms of Engagement

Late in the afternoon, the Brit had them escorted to a small conference room. Krycek could see the Brit was laboring under a great deal of stress, his voice was clipped, and his communication brief. He looked at Mulder and frowned. "Unlike most of my colleagues," he began, "I do not subscribe to the theory that killing someone automatically ties up loose ends." He waved his hand impatiently as Mulder started to make a remark.

"You are both safer here, for the moment, than anywhere else. Your colleagues' curiosity regarding your whereabouts, Mr. Mulder, has been appeased. They are not searching for you. I assure you Ms. Scully and Mr. Skinner are unharmed."

"What lies did you feed them?" Mulder demanded. The Brit declined to answer. "Why should I believe you?" Mulder insisted.

The Brit pursed his lips in his familiar sour expression, "It is immaterial whether you believe me or not, Mr. Mulder. My plans are going to take some time to come to fruition. You and Krycek will remain here." He focused on Krycek. "You keep foolishly resisting my offer of a new arm. Perhaps with Mr. Mulder here to monitor your condition, you will reconsider."

Krycek shook his head. Mulder looked questioningly back and forth at the two men. "Leave it alone, Mulder," Krycek said warningly. Mulder subsided, and the Brit shrugged.

"I will leave you then. You will be moved to more comfortable quarters for the duration." The Brit went on, "Plan away, gentlemen. It will give you something to do. I can assure you however, there is no escape from this facility. You will come to no harm in the meantime."

"Yeah?" Mulder said sarcastically as the Brit turned towards the door, "What happens when you get back?"

"The Brit paused, but didn't turn around, "There's many a slip, 'twixt cup and lip Mr. Mulder. You might keep that in mind. I am quite sure Mr. Krycek never forgets that particular lesson. Perhaps you can solve the riddle of yourself in the meantime." He said as he left the room.

X. Step On A Crack...

The new quarters were more comfortable than the bare room he'd been occupying, Krycek thought. Although he'd only been there a few days longer than Mulder, he was heartily sick of having nothing to do between the scarce meetings with the Brit. He'd been brought here after his mission to Mulder's apartment. He realized, now, that the entire exercise had been less about diverting the annihilation of the alien rebel leader than one more attempt to expose Mulder to another stimuli.

He and Mulder each had their own efficiency apartments, with a large room containing a sleeping nook, a well stocked, galley kitchenette, a small living room area and bathroom with a private shower. The two small flats were self-contained on opposite sides of a corridor. The corridor itself was accessible only through locked doors at either end. The best part was that each flat had a sliding glass door to a small walled patio. Krycek was relieved he would be able to be outside, albeit caged, as often as he wished.

The door to his space and the sliding door to the patio had no locks, but at least he would have some measure of privacy. The flats also had a supply of books, newspapers, magazines and a television. He rather thought Mulder would be relieved to be able to be entertained with familiar activities.

The cleverness of the technology in the apartment impressed him. The kitchenette had a microwave encased in a steel shell and attached to the wall. The small refrigerator and the TV were similarly ensconced, making them impossible to remove and use for parts to create a possible weapon. The light fixtures were all recessed and unreachable and there was no exposed wiring anywhere. Each item had a small portal that emitted a light beam which when interrupted, turned the thing on or off. There were three such portals by the door: one for general overhead lighting, one for the reading beams over the head of the bed and the small dining table and last for the bathroom light. The shower, sink and toilet also had portals to operate them.

Krycek spent several hours investigating how the apparatus worked. One wave turned things on or off and various combinations changed channels, the temperature of the water and the setting of the microwave.

The was no closet, no changes of clothes and only one towel, so he believed the clones would come on a regular basis and supply them with clean clothes and additional foodstuffs.

He went onto the patio and sat on the bench. He heard Mulder find a sitcom on the TV and play with the volume control.

So far he saw no means of escape.

The clones did not arrive to take them to dinner, so Krycek made something for himself. Eventually Mulder wandered in through the patio door. "Have you eaten?" He asked Krycek.

"Yeah, a while ago," he answered.

Mulder frowned slightly, shrugged and said, "Okay." He wandered back out the door; Krycek followed him into his flat. Mulder prepared a sandwich and grabbed a handful of grapes. "Want some?" He offered the bowl of grapes to Krycek.

Krycek took a few and they ate companionably. "I don't see anything obvious as a way to get out," Krycek said.

"Me either," Mulder said and put down his sandwich. "The technology is very sophisticated. I suppose we could break up something and try to use it as a weapon, but I'm not sure it what it would take to disable the clones. Do you have any idea how many there are between us and a way out?"

"No," Krycek answered. "Other than a few meetings with the Brit, I've been confined. I was only here a few days earlier than you."

"Why'd you come?" Mulder asked.

"The Brit sent me to you, then to Atlanta to intercept a package from a courier. The courier never showed. I drove from Atlanta to Raleigh and picked up some stuff I had in storage. Then I returned to DC and found a message for me to travel here. If we ever get out, I do have a car parked somewhere."

"Hmmm," said Mulder, "What was the courier supposed to be carrying?"

"I'm not sure," Krycek replied, "but he was coming from overseas, Africa or the Middle East. I was waiting at the international terminal, and the only scheduled arrivals were from that part of the world."

"What kind of operations do they have over there?" Mulder queried.

"I've been out of the loop, you know?" Krycek answered shrugging his left shoulder for emphasis. "I remember some bits of information regarding experimental distribution of pathogens. They were in the planning stages, trying to determine which crop would be the most genetically compatible and have the widest mass acceptance. They were trying grains, corn, wheat or I think."

"Were they going to spread the virus or the vaccine?" Mulder asked.

"Either. Both?" Krycek shrugged again looking glum. "Who the hell knows with these guys? I told you before there is no one plan, no one truth."

"Yeah," Mulder murmured, "so you did."

They munched some more grapes.

Krycek had a sudden searing memory of them spitting out the 'soup' in the gulag. "A prison is still a prison," he said viciously.

Mulder looked at him, showing no surprise at the outburst. A few heartbeats later he nodded slowly.

Krycek pushed back, got up and went to the patio door. He stepped outside and took deep breaths. Mulder joined him and they sat on the bench.

"Is Scully going to die?" Mulder asked Krycek quietly.

"Did she remove the implant?" Krycek asked in return.

"Yes, but later Spender supplied me a replacement. Then he disappeared, presumed dead from the amount of blood found on his floor."

Krycek considered what Mulder said. The Brit had implied that Spender was out of the picture, but he hadn't said the man was dead. It could be the reason the Brit was in such a hurry to get things done. "As far as I know, Spender is alive. I have not seen him. If he gave you the means to save Scully, then it won't have come free of charge."

"No," Mulder answered. "It wasn't offered for free. He pulled out all the stops though. He allowed me to see Samantha too."

Krycek jumped to his feet. "Samantha?" He paced agitatedly.

Mulder got to his feet as well. He took one aggressive step toward Krycek and halted, wrapping his arms around himself.

Krycek stopped pacing and stared at Mulder. He realized Mulder was consciously holding back. "You want to slug me, don't you?" He snarled. "You get scared, come up against anything that tears at your old shit, and you automatically assume I'm to blame. Well, fuck you, Mulder. I'm six goddamn years younger than you are. I was little kid when Samantha went missing, and it was another fifteen years after that before I ever heard of her, or you. As far as I know she was taken as part of the original Purity experiments and never returned alive. If Spender 'showed' her to you then either he's gained some new access with the aliens, or his game plan has gotten even deeper."

Mulder took an audible breath.

"It's got to have something to do with what's in your head, Mulder." Krycek spoke quickly now, "all along they keep dangling carrots in front of your nose. Everything from genetic experiments, various technologies, clones, bits and pieces of your past, anything to 'turn' it on or force you to remember the missing piece they're looking for. Fuck, the whole X Files is one big experiment in stimuli they use to try to get you cracked open. They keep you alive, barely, keep you motivated with trickles of 'discoveries' and dangle the next carrot. I was part of it, true, but only briefly and obviously to no avail. So they tried to kill me. Now all of a sudden, I'm useful again. For what, Mulder? Why is the Brit going to all this trouble to keep 'me' here, offer me a new arm, protection? This is his domain, he could do whatever he wanted now that he has you here."

It was Mulder's turn to pace. His agitation was clear to Krycek. He hoped Mulder would really get past the blame-game once and for all.

"Okay, okay," muttered Mulder. "What if the timing is right? Somehow 'right' because of what?" He turned and faced Krycek, face alight and intense. "Does the vaccine work, Alex? Really work? Would using it on a global basis stop colonization? Could it even, potentially, kill them?"

"What if it - 'they' - are all connected?" Krycek said.

"What? Connected to what," Mulder asked.

Krycek stumbled through the concept before it could get away from him, "What if it isn't a virus, the way we define virus. What if it is all part of their 'wholeness'? Mulder, what if it is 'all' life force somehow? Their essence, their being? Like human DNA, but only, hell - I don't know, sentient? So if a 'vaccine' or a perfect human/alien hybrid works, it screws them up?" Krycek enjoyed a moment of sardonic amusement. What he's just said sounded crazy, but what the fuck, he was talking to Mulder.

Mulder paced some more, "So all of it is connected? The oily stuff, the rock worms, the blasts of radiation, the ability to shapeshift or heal? But they dissolve when punctured at the back of their necks and the green goo they emit is toxic to humans." Mulder gestured rather wildly and looked lost for a moment. "Yes, yes, that makes sense in a way. It must combine with human DNA somehow and either that's something they have been searching for or something they want to annihilate. Because it might be a good thing or their Armageddon."

"Yes!" Krycek exclaimed. "That's why, in the gulag, they needed my blood for the tests and yours as well. We've both been exposed to it in different ways and survived. But you're valuable in addition to surviving exposure; you've been valuable all along."

Mulder sat down quickly as if he were a balloon from which all the air had been suddenly let out. "Mulder, are you okay?" Krycek asked, becoming worried when Mulder sat there, motionless. He grew more concerned when Mulder paled and looked at him with haunted eyes. "What?" Krycek asked urgently.

"You said it first, Alex." Mulder whispered in a shaken voice.

"What? What did I say?" Krycek crouched beside Mulder and, for the first time, touched him gently of his own accord.

"You said, as far as you knew, Sam and the others were taken and never seen alive again. My file, the one they had stored away, indicated 'I' was supposed to be abducted, not Sam. But, Alex, what if I was?"

"Was abducted?" Krycek was whispering too, trying to cover up the horrible scenarios flipping through his mind. He'd read some of the reports about the tests performed on abductees. What they'd done to Scully were small potatoes in comparison.

"Yeah, abducted. Back then, in 1973." Mulder put his head in his hands. "And Alex, what if I was one of only a few or maybe the only survivor? What if that is my 'value'?"

"Mulder, listen to me!" Krycek commanded taking Mulder's hands away from his, now wet, eyes and compressed lips. "You are human. You are human! Samantha didn't die so you could live. It wasn't an either-or scenario. If, and I say, 'if' you were both abducted back in 1973 and you survived, that's just the way it was. You had no control, no say over any of it. Whatever the fuck they did to you didn't change you into them."

Mulder laughed an ugly wet sort of chuckle. "Yeah right. Just made me into some kind of mutant or a time bomb waiting to explode." He poked Krycek in the chest, "I know!" He said sarcastically. "I know," he cupped his crotch, "I'm a fruit waiting to ripen." He pushed Krycek away from him and covered his face.

Krycek sat on the floor, "Well if you are, then so am I." He said and began to laugh humorlessly, "Bananas, that's what we are Mulder. Stark raving bananas, and what could be more fitting?"

XI. Mirror, Mirror

They slept together in Krycek's bed. It happened so simply, Krycek thought. They gave up trying to make heads or tails out of the convoluted mess they were in and watched TV in Mulder's flat; they ate the rest of the grapes. Eventually Krycek got up and returned to his place, Mulder turned off the TV. A few minutes later, when he was ready for bed and taking a last drink of water, Mulder walked in and joined him. Mulder didn't ask him if it was okay or if he were welcomed, he simply said, "I'm ready to turn in, too." Krycek shrugged his acquiescence.

Krycek placed his glass of water on the nearest flat surface, Mulder threw back the heavier top blanket, and once Krycek had settled, waved his hand over the aperture to turn off the light and got into bed himself. They didn't touch once they were in bed, but they took up the same sides they'd occupied so long ago.

They slept. Krycek wakened several times during the night, the first time alarmed by the brush of Mulder's foot against his shin and the second time surprised that he hadn't felt Mulder leave to take a leak, but had come to full alert only when he'd returned. "It's me, Alex." Mulder said and went back to sleep.

Alex stayed awake for a long time. He thought about the concept of companionship. He wondered if he'd really ever experienced it before. Certainly not in this way, with all, well 'most' of the cards, he amended his own rhetoric, out on the table, and no secret agendas to conceal. It didn't particularly surprise him he was in bed with Mulder. He was amazed, however, to find they'd both lived long enough to get back in one together.

He thought about what it had felt like the last time it had happened. He remembered the attempt he'd made to fall into totally fucked-out lassitude and how it had eluded him, exhausted though he'd been. He'd needed then, to find a way to make Mulder understand. Understand what? He hadn't been sure, but 'something'. Something big and real enough to sustain him and maybe Mulder too, once the future became the present and then the past.

He didn't bother to mourn the past. It was gone. Krycek rubbed his shoulder, massaged the truncated stump. He reasoned that they hadn't cut off his dick when they'd chopped off his arm; it had merely felt like that for a long time. He gave up before he became mired in those unhappy thoughts and went back to sleep.

The third time he woke, Mulder was stroking his chest. In silence he shrugged his acquiescence once more and Mulder maneuvered him gently until he was half covering the never forgotten landscape of Mulder's strong torso, concave belly, sharp hip bones and bony knees.

Krycek felt Mulder's shoulder, arm and hand with his hand. Mulder twined his fingers with Krycek's and Krycek kissed him. They didn't hurry, and they didn't speak. It was so good to be here, Krycek thought, so 'good' and it'd been so long since the last time.

He freed his hand and pushed down Mulder's shorts and then his own. Mulder swiveled his hips until they were cock-to-cock and wrapped in each other's embrace. They rocked, kissing, between soft moans and "oh, fuck - so good" murmured by both of them, between breaths. They came in tandem.

Krycek felt Mulder tremble.

He slowly disengaged, got up, offered Mulder his water and went to get a towel. He wiped up and returned, handed Mulder the towel, took back his water glass and drank deeply. "You okay?" he asked Mulder, once he was sure he'd swallowed the lump of history and lost dreams, along with the water, in his throat.

"I'm okay," Mulder answered.

Krycek got back into bed. They lay, not touching, in the bed they shared and slept until morning.

XII. Far Horizons

Krycek noticed the clones never came near the inset devices for the control apertures. He watched them for several days before he decided to tell Mulder. Not convinced they weren't being monitored, he invited Mulder to share a shower. He could see Mulder was surprised. They spent much of their time together, slept together and had become comfortable talking. Not just about escape plans or conspiracy intrigues or even aliens, but normal conversation.

They'd continued to have sex in the quiet intensity of the night. Krycek sighed to himself. It was good, and the pleasure immense, but they remained subdued, he thought, neither willing to fully let go, neither willing to be the first to allow himself to be fucked. He made no casual gestures of affection and Mulder followed suit. It was lovemaking, nonetheless, terrifyingly gentle and gut wrenchingly fragile.

Krycek didn't pretend to a prelude to seduction when he asked Mulder to join him in the shower he just said, "Come on, Mulder, we've worked up a sweat exercising out here in the patio. My shoulder aches, and it would help if you worked the kinks out under the hot water."

Mulder asked, in a surprised voice, "Did you strain something? Why didn't you call a halt sooner?"

Krycek was taken aback in turn, Mulder sounded genuinely concerned that he was in pain. "No, it's not too bad, really." He reassured Mulder, "I could just use some TLC."

Mulder put his hand to Krycek's forehead as if he were checking for a fever. Krycek laughed, suddenly more lighthearted than he'd been in years. Mulder frowned at him and he laughed some more. "Come on, asshole, I want a rub down, not a mother hen," but he couldn't resist throwing a mock punch at Mulder's jaw that turned into a caress across his lips and jaw.

He watched Mulder's eyes widen, and a glint of humor sparkle, "A rubdown? I can do that." Mulder said and smiled.

"Good," Krycek said, "let's see you put your money where your mouth is." Mulder's smile became a grin, and Krycek realized they were coming on to one another. He rubbed his chest, conscious of a lurch in his heartbeat that radiated a piercing pain as the rapid tempo of his pulse resumed.

Mulder reached out and kissed him voraciously. Krycek felt a fierce unexpected sense of joy. He couldn't resist it. Just once, for the joy of it, he thought. "Just once," he said aloud and held Mulder to him, returning the kiss.

"Once?" Mulder asked, pulling Krycek toward the bathroom.

"For the joy of it," Krycek said, completing his thought aloud.

Mulder stopped pulling and kissed the palm of Krycek's hand, then his inner arm, bicep, shoulder, neck, reaching his mouth he kissed him a promise, "For the joy of it," he said solemnly, "yes."

XIV. House of - Straw

"The light apertures contained an emitting beam set on a low microwave frequency," Mulder told the Gunmen after he'd been heartily welcomed back into the fold and had handed over a slew of files, tapes and diskettes. He began the tale of his experiences with a detailed description of the technology. "We figured out the clones could not step into the beam, that's why they escorted us from place to place while they cleaned or prepared the places we had left. The beams were turned off for them then."

"You could have fried your innards," Frohike said as he eagerly peered at the apparatus in his hands.

"How'd you get it out of the wall, let alone make it a mobile unit?" Byers asked. "You said they were encased in steel."

Mulder laughed. "They were," he replied. "Krycek, er... slipped in the bathroom and crashed into the wall behind the toilet. It gave way. Although you couldn't see it from just looking at it, there was a panel behind a layer of drywall. We tore up the wall and from inside out we were able to unscrew the unit. We found the same flaw near the wall behind every emitter unit."

"Drywall, screws and I bet there was duct-tape too," Langley said dryly. "Be glad the whole building wasn't made out of some 'alien' material, Mulder or you'd have been there for the duration."

"Yeah," Mulder said. "We ripped up the sheets and tied the damn things to our bodies. Alex, uh, Krycek, used some of the wire to rig an off/on connection for each of us. As soon as the clones opened the hallway door we went for it. I thought he might electrocute himself with only one hand to aim the things and turn them on and off, but he managed." Mulder took a deep breath and rubbed his brow, "well, he almost managed it."

The Gunmen, collectively, wondered why Mulder was so upset over the loss of Alex Krycek, of all people. True, he seemed to have been helpful during the execution of the escape, but surely that was typical Ratboy, trying to save his own hide.

"How many clones did you zap?" Byers asked when Mulder's silence became prolonged.

"I'm not sure, a bunch. In the end they must have had specific programming not to kill us, even at the chance we might escape." Mulder said.

"But they did get Krycek?" Frohike said with something akin to relish in his tone. He'd uphold his animosity, grateful though he was to see Mulder safely returned. He took Scully's missing time and subsequent illness personally.

"Yeah," Mulder said and stared unblinkingly at a blank computer screen, "yeah." Mulder closed his eyes and saw the scene as it happened, for the hundredth time, behind his closed eyelids.

They'd made it into the bathroom in a daze. Deeply touched by Alex's sincere utterance, he'd relaxed and allowed the part of him that had once been so happy with this man to come forth. Stripping each other, kissing endlessly and licking the salty sweat from each other they'd made it into the shower.

His back to Alex's chest, they let the cool spray sluice down and sweeten their skin. Alex nuzzled Mulder's neck and began to whisper in his ear. It had taken Mulder precious moments to understand Alex wasn't saying lust filled nonsense, but telling him of his discovery. Mulder remembered the perfection he felt. Everything he'd always wanted, being held by a strong arm and told important secrets. He'd had the revelation that all along Krycek's whispered secrets had been expressions of love and desire.

Alex had laughed in his ear, "Oh God Mulder, a real wet dream." He'd continued to whisper plans, details, escape, all the while inciting Mulder with his touch, kisses and bites. Mulder had willingly braced himself against the shower wall and Alex had praised him. Praised him for his beauty, his tenacity, and his courage. Alex had mounted him as if he was precious, and Mulder's desire had spiked, and his heart had been as full as his ass.

Mulder opened his eyes. The Gunmen had tactfully busied themselves with the cache of evidence Mulder had brought with him.

"Forgive me, Alex," Mulder whispered to himself.

XIII. House of - Twigs

Mulder laid down his sack full of tapes, diskettes and technology on Skinner's desk. The room seemed crowded to him; Scully, Chuck, AD Montgomery, and a small A-List of his longtime supporters were present.

Skinner had allowed Chuck to sweep his office for bugs, and there was no one smoking at this meeting.

Mulder passed out copies of his report. It was brief, but thorough, and, when the assembly had read it, he began his slide show. He started at the beginning of the conspiracy, with pictures of the original members, including his father.

He did the show-and-tell of a lifetime. Roswell, Area 51, the Philadelphia Experiment, sightings and abductions, anomalies in scientific data; he listed them all. He warmed to government coverups, unexplained and unsolved deaths among world leaders, recycled Nazi scientists and strategists, McCarthy, Hoover, Eisenhower and everyone since. Mulder orated. Mulder gestured, and no one rolled their eyes or got another cup of coffee.

He paused, wiped his face with a napkin and took off his jacket. Just for a moment he wrapped his arm around himself and stared into the distance.

Then he began again. He spoke about Samantha, his voice somber, but sure. He talked about his need to make sense of her loss, of his family's disintegration, and his overwhelming survivor's guilt. He explained his path from History major to Psychology and the allure of solving life and death mysteries for others, once he'd joined the FBI, even if he couldn't solve his own.

His exposure to the X Files had not been happenstance, as he had once believed, but orchestrated by the conspirators. There was something they needed from him, and what tests, surveillance and experiments they had run on him had been fruitless. So they decided to expose him, make him use his faculties to expand his consciousness and monitor the results. They hoped whatever it was they were searching for would become apparent and then available to them.

Mulder's glance got caught in Skinner's steady gaze, and he held it, unembarrassed, when he talked of partners, friends, lovers and enemies, some knowingly spies and some unaware of their roles. He heard Scully gasp; halted, bit his lip and almost turned to her, but Skinner shook his head ever so slightly, and Mulder went on.

He confessed now. His elocution a mastery of understatement when he detailed his sources, now dead, his dereliction of duty to process crimes he'd witnessed or perpetrated. He bitterly vented against those who held him in contempt or thought him childlike, or worse, a wounded, fragile innocent. He raged at the personal betrayals of those he'd trusted, who'd judged him insane.

Members of his audience thinned their lips, shook their heads or nodded their encouragement, each to his own conscience.

Mulder opened his mouth and spoke, "I wanted to believe. I needed to believe that I could rectify the past. As I learned more, I was sure people wanted to know about how they were being misled. When I became convinced of the veracity of the paranormal, I wanted to share those possibilities too. And," Mulder looked from one to another among the listeners. He missed Alex now, in this moment more than he'd ever missed anyone, ever. //Mulder - he could hear Alex say - you're not Jesus and these are not the Disciples although some will betray, deny and lie about you. They're only people, most of them just trying to do their best. Besides, and he knew Alex would give him that devilish smile, your Judas is not at hand, so quit it and get on with what you have to say// "and," Mulder went on, "the existence of extraterrestrial life is here, in these documents, on the disks, in the files," he smiled a sad knowing quirk at Scully, "in Scully and in me."

XIV. Mortar

The dust settled. It had taken several months for the various authorities to read, process and begin to work on Mulder's reports and lab results. The leaks to the press caused a firestorm of panicked and outraged reaction from the public, both at home and abroad. Very few arrests were made, and even fewer facilities were found either occupied or with evidence intact, but the search continued regardless. Mulder thought he was finally learning patience, as the seasons turned. He adjusted to life in the limelight.

Scully worked ceaselessly beside him, often taking the lead, as was her due, on matters of science and medicine. Mulder was grateful to her and for her. He took her to dinner or out to lunch now, as often as their schedules allowed, and they chatted about the quieter years, when they'd had the basement to themselves.

"I told them," Scully recounted, "when I was first assigned to the X Files, that I joined the FBI to 'make a difference'." She laughed softly, "I guess I have, and in ways I could never have imagined. Mulder," she said and took his hand, "In ways I could certainly never have believed." Scully smiled ruefully and squeezed his hand tighter. "Whatever else I take away from these years, I want you to know, no matter what else I may have said at the time, I am not a victim. I signed on to the FBI fully informed that my life and health might be at risk. It came with the job, Mulder, not just with the X Files."

"There's a difference between on-the-job risk and falling headlong into a personal agenda fraught with dangers from all sides, Scully," Mulder said. "You've lost so much..." Scully interrupted him, "Yes, yes I have. But I've gained a great deal as well. Oh, Mulder, you can beat yourself up forever if you chose, but ultimately it's a waste of time."

Scully released his hand, straightened in her seat and took a sip of wine. She smiled at him. It was the broad, teasing, knowing smile he'd seen so seldom in the past few years. Mulder felt his heart turn over. She was even lovelier now than she'd been at the start. "Mulder, Mulder!" Scully said imperatively and he focused on what she was saying, his deep affection for her taking the place of some of his regrets. "I need to count on you, here," She said.

"Count on me? For what Scully?" He asked, saw the sparkle in her eyes and relaxed, grinning at her.

"Count on you to believe in extreme possibilities," she said, tapping the rim of her glass to emphasize each word and baiting him with a teasing glance.

"I'm your man," Mulder replied, getting into the game.

"You know John Ryan? The engineer from Harper-Johnson?" She asked.

Mulder flipped through the extensive list of names and faces he'd met over the past few months. A picture formed in his memory; late thirties, about his own height, wire-rim glasses and a brisk stride "Yes," he replied, "the architect who's interested in buildings with alternative powers sources." Mulder grinned, "And you, I take it?"

Scully met his eye squarely, "Yes."

"Well, if I remember right, he's got a full head of hair, red hair, Scully. You thinking of rejoining the clan from the 'old sod'?" He teased.

"I am indeed," Scully replied, adding a well-done lilt to her voice. "I am indeed, boy-o."

"Go for it, lass," Mulder said with a poorly exaggerated Irish coloring his tone. He sobered and reached for Scully's hand this time. "Go for it, Scully You've spent enough time spinning your wheels, hidden in the basement."

Scully withdrew her hand from his, softly touched his cheek and then his lips. He saw the tear-shine in her eyes and the tremble of her lips, "I will, my dear friend, I will."

XV. Construction

Mulder pulled into a scenic view rest stop on the Berkshire portion of the Mass. Turnpike and got out of the car to stretch. He'd been driving for several hours and realized he was still as tense as he'd been when he left his mother's house. The weekend hadn't been profitless. The publicity and inquiry surrounding the investigation and cover-ups had reached into her life. He'd waited until now to see her, figuring whatever story she told was better done without his presence.

He'd let go of the blame he'd held onto for so long. She'd withstood his father, Spender and him for so many years; he wasn't surprised she'd made it through this round without revealing anything new or helpful. Her role as a grieving mother remained intact. And she was, of course, Mulder reminded himself, a woman intimately familiar with grief and loss. As was her son, he added, less bitterly than in times past.

At long last he'd gone through his father's possessions. They'd been packed and put in storage and the properties sold soon after his death. He'd found nothing particularly surprising. It had been the normal junk that could have been collected by anyone during a lifetime. He'd found several manila envelopes stuffed with pictures. At first glance they seemed to be of his grandparents, his father's childhood neighborhood, friends and time in the military. Mulder collected the albums from his mother's house. These he'd seen before and since they were obviously put together after his father's marriage, he had no idea if they were complete or if pictures his mother hadn't liked had been lost. He intended to investigate all of them sometime, but it wasn't urgent.

Mulder walked up the stone path to the upper deck of the scenic platform. It was beautiful here on this crisp fall afternoon almost a year since he'd escaped from the Brit's clone factory. Since he'd seen Alex stumble as he'd turned and fired, frying the clone that'd tackled Mulder.

Everything had come to halt as Alex's head hit the sharp end of a table and broken his neck.

"Forgive me, Alex", Mulder murmured aloud to the mountainside.

Alex's eyes had been frantic, begging him to go, to keep firing and get the fuck out, but he'd stopped instead. In that moment he realized it just wasn't worth it. Person after person had fallen in his quest. Life after life damaged, destroyed, gone.

Oh, the grand plan was worth it in theory: uncover secrets, prove his theories, save the planet, but the cost, the personal cost was too high. Mulder had felt what he imagined all soldiers feel once confronted with the reality of the battlefront, and he'd never really considered himself a soldier before. He had the strong certainty, however, that Alex had. Had considered it, lived it, was a soldier.

So Mulder had done what he hoped was right. He'd aimed his weapon at the enemy and called for a medic. The clones had stopped, and one of them had run from the room. A few moments later, god, Mulder groaned into the sunlight, the longest 'few moments' of his entire life, two men had run into the room.

The blood had frozen in his veins at the sight of them, Alien Bounty Hunters, both. But they had simply gone to Alex and placed their hands on him and Alex had taken a sharp intake of breath and begun to scream. He'd passed out in the middle of it.

"You must go," ABH No. 1 said. No. 2 picked up Alex in his arms and headed for the door.

Mulder followed them, the blonde clones and the beetle brows also following, lined up in a raggedy phalanx.

Walking back to his car, Mulder pensively chewed on a stalk of sweet green mountain grass.

"Go," ABH No. 1 said as they made it outside. Mulder tossed off his paraphernalia and reached to take Alex.

"No," ABH No. 1 said and pointed to the gate, "Go now." When Mulder only came nearer to Alex, ABH No. 2 said, "He will live."

"You are a fool," ABH No. 1 said, stepping between Mulder and ABH No. 2, "go now and you live, he lives. Take him, you are in danger and he dies."

Mulder looked at Alex. He was limp, barely breathing and seemed small in the ABH's arms. "Live," Mulder said and went out.

XVI. House of - Bricks

Mulder sat in his usual chair in Skinner's office. Today there was no one else there but the two of them. Scully had officially become the FBI Liaison for the scientific investigations into what the press had named the Kingdom Clone cover-up.

"You want me to get Alex Krycek full immunity from prosecution?" Skinner asked incredulously. "You don't know if he's dead or alive, you don't know what exactly he's been guilty of, you don't even know if his real name is Alex Krycek!"

Mulder nodded. This wasn't the first time Skinner had reiterated this particular list.

"We have evidence that he worked behind the lines for the Resistance. Proof that he smuggled in the prototype for the vaccine. My word, and the fact that I am here, prove he saved my life, possibly at the cost of his own. Files we've unearthed from various sources have indicated he was, at least in part, responsible for getting Scully to the hospital after her abduction." Mulder countered.

"He was responsible, 'in part'," Skinner came back, "for Scully's disappearance in the first place. He aided and abetted in the murder of Melissa Scully, probably Bill Mulder too, no matter what he has told you, possibly sold top secret information, possibly was an agent for the KGB, shot one of the militia men in front of your eyes, did nothing to prevent you from being subjected to tests in Russia, how much more do I need to say?"

"Give him immunity, if he testifies, then," Mulder said. He'd started with the most optimistic scenario hoping to work Skinner down to something he would be willing to countenance, and maybe, if he were alive, Krycek could work with.

"If you find him alive, willing and able to testify, how will we determine if he tells the truth, when he lies so well?" Skinner asked in a hard voice.

"How do we ever know any witness tells the truth? We check it out and go from there. Look, he is or was working against the syndicate, and he sacrificed himself to save my skin. I'm not pretending this evens the score or makes everything he has done acceptable, but at least this gives us all, including Krycek," Mulder found himself thinking how much he wanted this too, "a place to start over. The information he's provided is saving thousands, Skinner. Surely you can authorize a deal based on that."

Skinner grimaced, aware that he'd been outmaneuvered, "I'll have my contacts at Justice prepare the papers, carefully, Mulder, very carefully and under my complete jurisdiction. If Krycek screws up in any way, and you will be responsible to see that he doesn't, I'll have his ass in a Federal Penitentiary for life. And Mulder," Skinner said very softly, "I won't have any compunction about how long or short a sentence that might be."

Mulder straightened his shoulders, "Understood, 'sir'," he said, with only the slightest frost in his voice. He'd gotten most of what he'd wanted, after all.

XVII. Safe House

Mulder continued to prosper. The X Files Division was now peopled with a small staff of veterans and eager rookies who 'believed'. They had access to the best technicians, and Mulder had a secretary who did the budget reports. Scully transferred to San Francisco, got a promotion and bought one of the most charming condos, located at the top of a very high hill. She amazed all her neighbors, she told Mulder, because she walked the steep incline in her heels. Her architect joined a suitably environmentally green firm.

He remained in the news and published accounts of his theories regularly. Mulder engendered a cult following, and even the mainstream media called his accounts 'the Fox says... a deliciously quirky view of alternate reality.'

The trials and investigations continued as well. Now, when Special Agent Fox Mulder testified, no one rolled his eyes.

All his attempts to find out the whereabouts of former agent, and more lately spy/saboteur, Alex Krycek were fruitless.

The break came as unexpectedly as Mulder, in retrospect, should have imagined it would. One of the new veterans in his unit was scanning copies of her college yearbook after hours and using FBI equipment. She told Mulder that she was on the reunion committee and wanted to make huge blow-ups of Then/Now photos of the grads that had become very successful for the luncheon. Mulder, being the last one to cavil at the unauthorized use of the equipment, idly spent a few moments flipping through the pages.

His attention was caught by a candid picture of a group of students facing off in a large room. The students were staging some sort of contest, using odd-looking machinery. There on the left was Krycek. Not a Krycek he'd ever seen before, this incarnation was very young, skinny and had a head full of uncombed long hair. The expression though, he recognized immediately; intense concentration, and a body that seemed to be fidgeting, even in the stillness of the photograph.

"What's this?" Mulder asked the other agent, never taking his eyes off the page.

The agent laughed, "Oh, those are the Physics geeks. Every year they had a competition to see who could invent a machine that proved some theory or another. Like they do at M.I.T. and other colleges like that."

"Do you know any of them?" Mulder asked.

The agent looked over Mulder's shoulder and began to name a few of the students. Mulder interrupted and tapped the image he was interested in, "This kid?" He asked, "Did you know this one?"

The agent made a humming sound to indicate she was thinking, "What a cutie," she said eventually, "and to think I used to dismiss the nerdy ones out of hand." She sighed, "Now they're all the wealthiest and most successful men on the market."

Mulder hid his immense impatience, allowing the agent to connect the dots in her memory and come up with something. After a few more hums and umms, he was rewarded. "Yeah, I think I remember this kid. He wasn't in my class, a sophomore when I was a senior, I think. He was 'dating' a senior though, this really cool guy who was a constant source of disappointment to the female population, if you know what I mean."

Mulder nodded.

"I don't remember the kid's name, unless he's in the book in less than a crowd scene, they wouldn't list him," she turned a few pages. Mulder kept his hand in the book to hold the page. "She made a small "ah" sound and pointed out a handsome, serious face to Mulder. "That's Greg," she sighed and said mournfully, "We heard he died in the Gulf War. He was a cameraman for one of the news wires."

"He was the boyfriend?" He asked her.

"Yes. Although I don't think the 'relationship' lasted the whole year or anything. I just don't remember much, you know? I was concerned with my own boyfriends, graduating and grad school applications. Sorry."

"That's okay," Mulder said. He took the book over to the copier and made a copy of the page with Krycek's image on it.

"Do you know the kid?" She asked.

Mulder handed her book, but he stared at the copy in his hand a long time. "Yeah," he replied, "I know him." He left the room before she asked any more questions.

He called the university from his office, used his official standing to bully the clerks into expressing copies of yearbooks to the FBI and made sure the Gunmen knew he was coming over as soon as his package arrived.

In the meantime, he looked into 'Greg's' background. The young man had been an excellent student who had gone on to Columbia for grad school and been hired as a stringer for several news organizations. There was no apparent connection between him and the syndicate; his next of kin were his parents, and they'd received his life insurance and personal effects, when he died in a jeep accident in Egypt.

Mulder thought long and hard about Alex, and who he might actually turn out to have been as a young person. He looked at a picture of Greg, up on his monitor, a later picture from his professional bio, of a toughened young man in dusty jeans and with a camera on his shoulder. He'd been grinning at the photographer, and the image caught a reckless quality that teemed with energy and sex appeal.

Mulder wondered if the young Alex had been in love with this man. He'd never thought about it before, love and Alex. He munched sunflower seeds, a large damp pile accumulating on the blotter of his desk.

The early 'relationship' with Alex had been hot and hidden. Mulder knew he'd been too insecure to come out openly, and he'd figured the same for Alex. Later it had been hateful and nasty. Later still, hell, he didn't know what it had been. Tentative, intimate, fragile and perhaps tender, damn, and hot and sweet and careful. Until the end, in the shower and the immense joy, before Alex slipped and they had found the possibility of escape was at hand.

Mulder felt his blood turn to liquid fire in his veins. The warm water, Alex's hand on his cock, fingers in his ass and holding him tight as he penetrated him, the fullness of it and Alex's voice in his ear, mouth on his shoulder and teeth at his neck.

He'd been deluding himself, Mulder thought. He'd been frantic to find Alex for all the 'right' reasons, the reasonable reasons. Alex had information, Alex had saved his life, and he owed him, Alex could testify and on and on. What a load of crap.

The package arrived and Mulder, regardless of the hour, went to the Gunmen. They hit pay dirt at four A.M. Mulder took the details home, called into work to say he was taking time off and cancelled an interview.

He rested, showered and ate a large breakfast at noon. He rented a fully loaded SUV and went to explore the life and times of his elusive, enemy, friend, partner, and lover? Whatever the fuck he was, Mulder thought. He went to find Alex.

In the end, it didn't take long. Mulder visited schools and vacated addresses; he found family graves, and a few cousins who thought Alex dead long ago. He tracked down a former Colonel who'd trained Alex in Guatemala at some CIA backed militia compound. He found that the actual CIA operative who'd passed on his recommendation to Spender was one of the men named in several of the indictments Mulder's own investigations had turned up.

They made a deal, Skinner and a Justice drone to follow up on other operatives that had been relayed, at the man's hands, from legitimate government service into the maws of the syndicate.

Mulder took a night flight to Norway, blearily catching a glimpse of Copenhagen on the layover. He located the address of one Pieter Ivanovitch, a Russian ex-pat now living in early retirement, at a modern row of flats. Many Russians who found the bilingual Norwegians hospitable occupied the building.

Alex wasn't at home. Mulder had little problem breaking in, although he knew Alex would see the scratches on the lock and be on his guard when he came back. Mulder tossed the Justice Department immunity offer on the kitchen table and drank the last of Alex's coke. He took a quick shower, shaved and went to bed.

The dip on the bed and a harshly whispered, "asshole," woke him.

Alex was sitting on the edge of the bed. A fresh haircut, and a gloriously pristine, white, short-sleeved T-shirt revealed two strong, tanned arms.

"Seen enough of the freak show?" Alex asked, repeating, word for word, their greeting a year ago.

"Hell no!" Mulder answered.

Alex stared at Mulder, his demeanor changing from irritated to questioning and then, seeing Mulder smile, to a grin of his own.

Mulder laughed, pushed down the sheet and tugged at Alex's neck, "stupid ass haircut," he said as Alex gave in to the pressure and met Mulder's moving mouth.

The End

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