Title: Conundrum
Author: Chad Skywalker
Email: Chad_Skywalker@webtv.net
Feedback: Yes, please.
Archive: Yes, just leave my name on it.
Date: June 18th, 2001
Status: WIP
Rating: PG
Series/Sequel: This story is a sequel to "Dangerous Undercurrents".
Category: M/O
Fandom: The X-Files
Spoilers: This adventure takes place after the TV story "Existence".
Disclaimers: All familiar characters belong to CC and 1013; any others were conceived in my warped imagination. Azathoth and the Great Old Ones were created by HP Lovecraft and are now the property of Arkham House.
Dedication: To Bertina.
Summary: Eighteen years ago Fox Mulder fought the Azathoth cult. Jamie, his first love whose body was chosen to host the evil entity, fell prey to its power. Now in 2001 history seems to be repeating itself. A series of bizarre deaths reawaken Mulder's fears. Is there a link to a thriving genetic company with a secret agenda that may threaten the entire world? Mulder, haunted by a lost love he refuses to believe is dead, is slipping into despair and madness. But are the visions which plague him really hallucinations?


CONUNDRUM
n. riddle esp. with punning answer; hard question.
[16th century; origin unknown]

"Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny."

Prologue: Breathless

***********
Oxford, England
October 1983
***********

I hold the knife in a shaking hand. My ears are drowned out by the sound of my own racing blood. I barely acknowledge the resounding crash, as a section of the roof caves in. The struggles and protests of those who dared to interrupt the ceremony are gone.

"Perfect sacrifice!" I intone, holding my hands high. Dazed at the achievement of my life's dream, I stare down at the inert body of the Chosen One that lies on the chamber's floor. High above, a thick inky mist swirls in the whirlpool of devastation. Like a hawk seeking out its prey, the life essence of Azathoth swoops down.

It envelops the blood stained body like a cloud, seeping into the sacrificial cut. Lifting it up, the body convulses above the ceremonial stone until the mist clears. Lightning flashes, as a sign of the deliverer and proclaiming the end of frustrating years of waiting. The surviving members of the Cult of Azathoth kneel close to the stone. I hear the roaring of the imploding catacombs and realize the chamber will not last much longer.

"Quickly, we must find the naga box!" I shout. A flurry of black cowled figures begin a frantic search. One of the brothers, Edward, remains by the deliverer's side watching for any sign of life. A stone crashes dangerously near Brother Jacob's feet, but he does not flinch. Faithfulness is unquestioning. The others sift through the growing rubble.

"Make haste!" I urge them on.

"High One, we cannot find it," Brother Andrew says.

Fury overtakes my reverent awe. As Vice-Chancellor of the university, I have dealt with many problems, but how dare anyone dash the hopes of a lifetime?

"What? What?!" I hear myself shriek above the crashing of rocks.

"It must be beyond here."

I stare at the rockfall entombing the tunnel entrance. "No, this cannot be!" I turn swiftly back to the altar. The body of the Chosen One lays completely still. Brother Edward has tended the cut, but not a single breath issues from the body. I feel fear.

"Brothers, our faith is being tested," I tell them. "We must will the Great One to life!"

The other brethren and I kneel close to the stone, chanting the ancient tongue. We reach a crescendo, drowning out the destruction all around us.

"My lord," Brother Edward, tears in his eyes, indicates that the body is beginning to stir. I hear the intake of a deep breath. Raising my hands over the body I cry, "Praise Azathoth!"

As if in the throes of a fitful sleep, the eyes of the Chosen One dance feverishly beneath closed lids. The mouth mumbles silently. I hear strange words, the last remnants of the host mind remembering its past life. Instantly his eyes flash open, staring all around. For the first time, I hear the Great One's voice. The sound emerging from between his lips is deep and sibilant.

"A heartbeat... feeling... warmth... strong... excellent!"

The body raises itself to a sitting position. He flexes his hands, watching each finger move. "So strong... Oh, I like this!"

The other faithful and I bow low, listening in growing awe as Azathoth experiences the sensations of his new body.

"My shapeless existence is ended. Now I am he... alive within this oh so wonderful, wonderful frame!"

A pair of intense green eyes glance sideways, staring imperiously at the attentive Brother Edward. I hold my breath. An ancient power emanates from those eyes, hurling Edward telekinetically across the room. He falls like a broken doll against the wall.

"You are indeed powerful," I say, unable to contain my fervent glee. "Welcome to your new body."

It was then that I knew something was wrong. The Great One's breathing became shallow, the skin becoming deathly pale. Without the full life force contained in the naga box, and the cult weakened, the time of the deliverer was failing!

"I am not complete," the Great One whispers, weakly. He looks up, and for a moment, his expression grows soft. "What's happening to me?" He shifts his gaze toward me, and the powerful voice returns. "Where is the naga box?" he demands.

Racing to his side, I gently lower him back down. "We will find it, my lord. I promise."

It is a promise I can not fulfill. With a shattering roar, I and the brethren feel the crushing weight of our catacombs bear down on us. I am swept away by an avalanche of crushing stone. I wait for the warmth and safety of my great god, but it never comes.

~oo0oo~

A black wave overtakes those assembled in the cavern. The body of Jamie Grayson lies in silent darkness; tucked beneath an overhanging ledge. Trapped and wedged within a tiny cave created by the falling roof. This would become the entity's resting place until strength returned. Alone in the darkness. Waiting.

~oo0oo~

Time passed and life moved on in Oxford. Seasons came and went. Those who had died in the cave in of Oxford Woods had been mourned long ago, and those with good sense avoided the mysterious forest and it's strange nightly sounds.

Far below ground, a hand slowly twitched into life. Rocks shifted and were swept away...

~oo0oo~

***********
Oxford, England
June 2000
***********

Pitch black. Kendrick chewed on his bottom lip nervously. How the hell had he let those guys dare him into coming out here? He couldn't even see his own hands in front of his face. Me and my big mouth, he thought. Slugging down a few beers had provoked a series of wild ghost stories. When he dismissed the tales of the legendary haunted woods, that had given the fraternity members all the incentive they needed. The young pledge would have to spend a night alone in the woods.

Kendrick sighed and watched his breath evaporate in the cool darkness. Here he was standing in the middle of the Oxford woods making a fool out of himself. He just knew the frat brothers would jump out from behind a tree at any moment to holler "Boo!" Well, they could just laugh themselves silly. He didn't believe in ghosts and he was determined to prove them wrong.

Tramping through the overgrown forest, he winced as a patch of nettles clawed through his pants leg. He stopped to catch his breath. Damn, why was he even doing this? To be a member of the best fraternity on campus, that's why, he reminded himself.

High above, the thick clouds obscuring a full moon drifted past. Beams of moonlight illuminated the area. Kendrick smiled, at least this wasn't so bad. Turning to get a better look round, he gasped in surprise. Just a few paces behind him the ground had been churned up, exposing a gaping hole. If he'd taken a step backwards he would've fallen through. Thanking his lucky stars, Kendrick wiped his brow then bent to examine the hole. It looked as if something had blown itself up through the earth. Did they have giant gophers in Oxford? Rubbing his wispy chin thoughtfully, Kendrick stood and walked around the exposed ground. No one ever came into the wood, so what could have caused this? It certainly wasn't a ghost!

A summer wind whistled through the branches overhead. Kendrick's ears pricked up. He could swear he'd heard a faint whispering... No, it's just your imagination! All of those crazy stories were getting to him. It was hard to believe that there were once secret caves beneath the woods, and that the spirits of those who died in them haunt the woods. Give me a break!

His eyes growing accustomed to the gloom, Kendrick cast about for somewhere to rest for the night. There, a clump of boulders. Settling down against the cool stones, he splayed out his legs and waited for the hours to pass.

Again, the wind carried a delicate whispering through the trees. The snap of a twig! Kendrick sat up, stilling the panic that threatened to form. Rising to his feet, he called out, "All right you guys! I know you're out there."

No response. Just the mournful hooting of owls.

Kendrick shook his hands frantically. "Oooo, I'm really scared," he laughed. "Come on out!"

Fingers of bone chilling mist flowed around him. He shivered, trying to control his instinct to run. The rustling of a bush. He spun back around, eyes wide with surprise at the figure who appeared.

"Hello?" he called. "Um, who are you?" Kendrick didn't recognize the boy at all. He looked to be about his age, although his skin was so pale that it was practically luminous in the moonlight.

"Did Roy and Brian send you out here?" he continued. Why wouldn't this guy answer him? "Are you from the frat house?"

Finally, the figure smiled. It sent a chill right through Kendrick's bones. The air filled with a screeching, keening. He fell to his knees and covered his ears.

"Stop it! Stop it!" he screamed, helplessly.

An irresistible, paralyzing force took hold and Kendrick cried out one last time. The mist parted and the owls took flight...

~oo0oo~

Inspector Trevor Winston, retired, listened with a growing sense of fear as the local TV news reported the death of a student found in Oxford woods. He listened carefully, unable to believe, not wanting to believe.

"Are the ghosts at work again? This is Corrine Lasky for ..."

Trevor switched the set off. Beside his nightstand, he quickly opened a bottle of pills and downed several in one gulp. "No, it can't be happening again," he told himself in a hushed voice.

Staring at the black cordless phone, he made a swift decision. Opening a drawer, he took out a well thumbed address book. Hands shaking with the effort, Trevor found the number he needed. Dialing, he waited for someone to answer. His eyes darted nervously to a bedroom window. What was that? A small tree limb brushed against the pain. Just the wind you silly old buffer.

"Hello, who is this?" a gravelly voice answered.

"Professor Wickham, this is Trevor Winston, do you remember me?"

"Winston... Winston... No, I'm afraid I've never heard of you."

"Listen you crazy old fool, you know exactly who I am!" Trevor lost every ounce of patience. "Listen to me, something happened in those woods. I think... I think..."

"Eh? What do you think? Well, spit it out man!" Wickham's voice crackled down the phone line.

Trevor froze in his bed, he simply could not move. Rivulets of sweat streamed down his face. His ears filled with a vast rushing sound. Eyes bulging in shock, he whispered, "No, it can't be. You're dead!"

"Dead? Dead, indeed. Contrary to popular belief I'm still very much alive," the professor sternly said. "Hello? Are you there?"

Inspector Trevor Winston, retired, let out a low, despairing moan. On the other side of Oxford, Professor Douglas Wickham's old heart filled with a sense of fear and dread he had not known in seventeen years.

A voice tinged with an alien presence demanded, "Where is the naga box?"

Then, the line went dead.

Wickham dropped the telephone from his numb hand. Casting his eyes feverishly about the rooms of his quarters, he took a deep breath and headed inside a curtained alcove. There, he took an ancient tome from its podium. Holding it under an arm, he knelt beside an old fashioned safe.

Under pressure, he could not remember the combination. It had been so long since he locked it. What was it? He had such little time. Think! Ah yes... 42-37-19-21... Click! The safe door swung open and Wickham carefully extracted a mahogany box. The sides and top of which were intricately carved in an image of a snake eating itself.

He groaned from the rheumatism in his knees. As swiftly as possible he hurried into the main room. With no living relatives, there was only one person who could take care of this dreadful business. Outside, the sound of whispering echoed on the wind. Time was running out!

~oo0oo~

The Great Plan. My every racing thought is filled with this one, driving purpose. There is an imperceptible chill hanging in the air. Morning mist has yet to dissipate around the spires of the shining building. I momentarily tear my eyes away from a flickering computer monitor; staring at my own reflection in the weather proof glass surrounding the office.

Why is it taking so long? But, I remind myself, it has been eighteen years -- eighteen years of fruitless searching. Would they be successful this time? Promises from a dark stranger had filled him with hope. So far, he had been very useful. Very useful, indeed.

I register the heavy double doors opening, but pay little attention to Gordon Stratton, vice president of my company. He stands, towering over me beside my desk. The glow of the computer screen illuminates my face. He recognizes the image reflected off my wire rims.

"Well?" I ask, my voice harsher and more impatient than I intended.

"I'm sorry, sir. I beg your forgiveness." Gordon, ever the crawler, bows low before me.

I sigh heavily, the Armani suit conforming to my every move. "You come here empty handed. I take it the mission was a complete failure?"

"Not completely," Gordon began. This statement catches my attention. "Go on," I urge him.

"We investigated the leads. The deaths were all connected with the Oxford incident."

Tell me something I don't know, you simpering fool! "And?"

"And, we discovered the bodies."

"Bodies?" The word catches in my throat. Could all of my plans and dreams have been for nothing?

Gordon nods, a glimmer in his eye. "All but one. The one we were sent to find was missing."

"This is excellent news!" I detect the excitement rising in my voice. "Our suspicions are confirmed." A sudden thought strikes me. "But why did you come back to San Francisco? Why are you not in Oxford looking?"

"Our agent is still there. He believes he has a lead. It won't be much longer, I can assure you."

Gordon's tone is a little condescending. Does he need reminding of my status? I stare him down, and he is easily quelled.

"My lord, what of your father's bones?" he asks, after a moment's hesitation.

I sweep a thick manila folder across my desk. "They are of no matter. It was with the money left in my father's will that secured our success; that built Avatar in the appointed place. His death will not be for nothing. I shall fulfill his dream."

Gordon's face fills with hope. "All of the tests have been successful?"

Irritation grows. I can feel the start of an ache behind my eyes. "Do you intend to talk me to death? I have kept a close watch on the tests, and I do not consider a percentage of 89 to be successful."

"Our backers have fully supported the project..." Gordon protests.

I return with a sly, cutting grin. "And abundantly filled your wallet?"

He bows once more. "Please forgive me. I think only of the great plan."

"We lie on the threshold of power undreamt of! All we have to do is grasp it!" My voice fills with a reverence I cannot control. I focus on the here and now. "Leave me, but report back to me as soon as our agent has made contact."

"Yes, my lord." Gordon kneels, then turns and leaves my penthouse office.

I pause before further musings. How much longer must I wait? I am so close to fulfilling an aeons old dream. Everything depends on the success of the mission. My faith is unwavering. I, Matthew Blair; CEO of Avatar, the world's leading genetic research facility; son of Vice-Chancellor William Blair III. Taking my rightful, inherited place as High Priest to the Cult of Azathoth. Closing my eyes, I can feel the excitement growing.

"The power to control life... and death," I whisper.

This time there will be no failure. My eyes open to peer at an image blazing from the computer screen. It burns itself into my cornea. The objective, the prize I desire. The photograph overlaid hundreds of times; of a young man with golden hair and bright, green eyes. The Deliverer.

[Next Episode: Nightmare]

 


 

Chapter One: Whispers of the Past

Huddled within his jacket, Fox William Mulder took a deep cleansing breath of icy mountain air. He shifted his weight on the hill side. How long had he been sitting here? He couldn't remember, but it was long enough for his behind to go numb despite the plus fours. Resting on his backpack, Mulder peered through his sunglasses at the magnificent scenery. Jutting from the earth on all sides were mountains leading down into a quiet valley. In the exact center sat a monastery.

His journey began about a month ago, soon after Dana Scully had given birth to her son William. They'd shared a kiss; an embrace of life moving on. Mulder knew that she and the baby would be well taken care of. He had come to a reluctant acceptance that his time with the FBI and his life's work with the X-Files was over. However, he still had a quest, and pressing questions that needed answers.

Long buried memories had reemmerged during his abduction a year ago. Every fiber of his body had been probbed, including his mind. The day he finally awoke in a hospital to find Scully's face smiling down at him, was the day the nightmares started all over again. Dreams he had repressed for eighteen years. He needed to resolve the whirlpool of feelings within his soul.

That first year at Oxford had begun with such hope; friendships, school, parties... and love. Fate had deemed to send a mystical, idealistic, smart mouthed hurricane crashing into his life. Jamie Grayson, having won a scholarship to study at the esteemed university, had been chosen... chosen? ...to be his flatmate.

With cold hearts, the fates had taken Jamie away just as swiftly as he arrived. There had been a rockfall in a series of catacombs near the school. To this day Mulder could not recall the events clearly. Why had he been in those tunnels? He'd suffered a concussion and awakened in a hospital; his memories vague.

The news had hit him like a ton of bricks. He barely remembered being anywhere near the caves, but the fearful sense that Jamie had been in some kind of danger persisted. Granted release, Mulder had spent night after night at the site. His friend Carolyn had even sat with him, encouraging him to hang onto hope until there was none left. He could not get a straight answer out of a single soul. Not even from the inspector or the reclusive professor who saved his life.

The day Jamie's belongings were collected was the day Mulder left the flat. He'd only kept a few things for himself, a photograph and an unfinished letter. A single minded purpose had replaced his grief. His studies had become a prime obsession. Graduating at the top of his class, Mulder left Oxford behind to return to the States where he found his niche in the FBI. He would never forget the day he discovered the X-Files, nor when he filed the mystery surrounding Jamie's death into one. Now he had nothing left of the first boy he ever loved. The files had all gone up in smoke, metaphorically mirroring so many events in his own life.

Eighteen years later, here he was-sitting on a mountain with a handful of smokey memories. And, he reminded himself, this is the reason why you're here.

When he told Scully where he was heading, she laughed and told him to have fun Yeti hunting. Any other time he would have adamantly brought back some kind of proof, be it an imprint, fur, or a suspicious piece of dung. Not this time. For this was something he had to do on his own. He'd researched spiritual cleansing, and discovered *The Tibetan Book of the Dead* with its secrets of the astral plane, and out of body experiences.

The embattled Tibetan monks' true belief in higher plains of existence might be the key to understanding the nightmares. If he could somehow break through the barrier, perhaps he would finally remember exactly what happened back in 1983. Hypnosis with his therapist had yielded success with the events surrounding Samantha's abduction, but had proved a complete waste of time concerning his lost memories of Jamie.

With so many things constantly keeping him on the run, Jamie's death had become a shadow in the back of his mind. Now it was as if someone was deliberately stirring up a hornet's nest. Ever since his own abduction, he could quite literally hear a voice faintly calling to him. He could be anywhere, doing anything, and the voice would sound; particularly at night in his dreams. The visions he saw in his sleeping mind were becoming more vivid and disturbing. That's what pushed him into this quest, a spiritual one to understand.

The frosty morning he arrived in Lhasa, Mulder's guide introduced him to an elderly monk named Saphan. Using a walking stick, the blind holy man lead Mulder inside a little lamasery beside a rushing river. Setting down his backpack, Mulder slowly took in the brightly colored paintings covering the walls. Saphan stood beside a prayer wheel, waiting. "What do you seek?" he simply asked.

The question seemed strangely familiar to Mulder. A chill ran across his skin, like someone had stepped on his grave -- which was highly probable with the way this year had gone.

"I'm looking for answers. About someone I lost a long time ago," he replied, not knowing quite what to say. "I'm... seeing things."

The monk tapped his stick three times. "I ask again, what do you seek?"

"The truth," Mulder said, licking his dry lips.

Satisifed, the Saphan began to turn the wheel. The multicolored ribbons flew around in a whirl. The small monk's voice became low, "The truth you seek is inside yourself. It has always been there. You must see the wall that bars the truth as glass. The wheel of life turns, we are all one, tormented by gods and demons. You have been tormented more than most."

Mulder began to feel very drowsy. The gompa spun and the chasing colors of the prayer wheel became one. Images of his life blurred and flashed past in rapid succession...

"Ready, Sam?" he called to his little sister.

"Higher, Fox!" Samantha begged as he gave her a hearty push on the swingset.

"Do you believe in the existence of extra terrestrials?" he heard himself ask. More voices and faces from the recent and distant past spun by.

"Scully!"

"They call me Spooky, Spooky Mulder."

"They've been here a very long time."

A young man with blonde hair and green eyes. "I'll always love you," he said.

Gasping, Mulder opened his eyes wide and tried to catch his breath. Just like the dreams, he felt as if he'd been floating above himself. Mulder found the little monk standing before him, placing a long silk scarf over his shoulders. "You will need this for good luck."

Fingering the material of the hada, he sat down heavily on the gompa's floor.

"The truth you seek is not here," Saphan adamantly told him.

Dazed, Mulder looked up at him with sad eyes. "Please, tell me where I can find it."

"You are too inquistive, my child." He smiled. "Life is a journey as the wheel showed you. What you seek lies buried in shadow. You must leave here soon. Your journey will continue."

And so it had. Leaving more puzzled than when he'd arrived, Mulder had decided to take in the charmingly mysterious Tibetan landscape. The monk seemed to know more than he was saying. Why was it so important for him to leave? He had not dreamed once since his arrival. Maybe it was the crystal air? The more he thought of it, the sleepier he became...

Mulder found himself in a field lush with grass and blooming summer flowers. He breathed in the intoxicating air and felt totally at peace. In his shirt sleeves and jeans, he enjoyed the grass tickling beneath his bare feet. In the distance, he could just make out a sign sticking out of the ground. He walked toward it. OXFORD UNIVERSITY, it read. Curious place to leave a sign.

He passed on and spotted a figure sitting crosslegged on a hillock. The closer he became he could see that it was a young man holding a boquet of roses. The boy smiled and tossed the flowers, where they froze in mid air. Taking him by the hands, Mulder began to swing him around. A playful laugh came from his voice. "I've been looking for you everywhere."

"I've always been here. You just didn't know where to look."

Mulder continued to spin. "I forgot something important." Somewhere, he could hear a telephone ringing. The boy's face became distant and sad. A cold wind whipped through the field; dark clouds blotting out the sun.

Mulder glanced around. Dark figures in hooded cowls slipped between knarled, gray trees. He frowned. "I don't understand. Where have you been?"

"Alone in the darkness. Waiting."

Mulder stared uncomprehendingly at the curved dagger in his hand. "What's this?"

"Don't you remember?" An innocent question stepped in hidden meaning.

The blade was covered in blood. Fear took hold of his heart. The roses fell to the ground, wilted. He looked up, the boy slid to the ground; the front of his shirt soaked in dark crimson.

Mulder tried to help, but found his legs unwilling to respond. He stiffened, feeling a presence moving up from behind. The handsome Russian's elfin features frowned at the scene. Mulder could see right through the hole in the man's forehead.

"What are you doing here?" he asked.

The man shrugged. "You shouldn't be surprised. Our paths were destined to cross again." He glanced down at the bleeding figure and pulled a frown. "You know they say he died because you abandoned him."

Mulder felt like knocking him to the ground. "No, that's not true!" he said through clenched teeth.

"How would you know? You can't even remember anything." The dark man appeared by his left shoulder, "The occult?" Then his right, "Undercurrents. Ring any bells?"

Shaking his head, Mulder stared back at the young boy's body... but it had vanished. A booming, alien voice called to him from all around. "Where is the naga box?"

Lightning flashed and the field washed over in dark shadows...

"NO!" Mulder awoke with a jolt. It took him several minutes to orientate himself. Gulping in deep breaths, he looked all around and found his apartment shrouded in darkness. His apartment! Sitting up, his sweat soaked body stuck to the sofa's upholstery.

"What the hell was I drinking?" he wondered aloud. The last thing he remembered was arriving home, severely jet lagged, from the trip to Tibet. Across the room, the television sizzled a fuzzy screen of static. He rubbed his eyes. Man, they felt so sore!

Standing, he groaned and stretched his muscles. Moving toward the crackling set, Mulder saw that the porn video he'd been watching had rewound and ejected. Taking it out, he tossed it onto a pile of tapes. He couldn't even remember watching it. Smacking his mouth, he headed toward the kitchen to make some coffee.

He noticed the message light on his answering machine blinking rapidly. Pressing a button, he let the messages play through while he started the coffee maker.

"Mulder, are you okay?" Dana's voice asked from the machine's tiny speaker. In the background he could hear little William gurgling. "I haven't heard from you since you got back from your trip."

Mulder looked up and left the kitchen. Was Scully trying to play a joke on him? He'd just returned from the airport.

"You said you were going to come by four days ago! I swear if you've come home with a real abominable snowman, I don't wanna know! Call me!"

Four days! What was Scully talking about? He turned at the sound of a thud. Opening the apartment door, he found a stack of newspapers waiting for him. Lifting one from the bottom his eyes widened with disbelief at the date. He'd actually been asleep for four whole days!

He leaned against the door frame. This had never happened before. What was going on? Then, the dream came rushing back. It had been so vivid. What was his subconscious trying to tell him? Maybe it was time he told Scully about it.

Mulder sighed and decided to take a hot shower to clear his senses. Halfway down the hall he froze in his tracks when a voice he had not heard in eighteen years clicked on the machine.

"Um... Foxy, hi this is Carolyn Prentice, well Carolyn Fredericks now, from university, remember? I've been trying to contact you for some time. Erm, something's happened in Oxford.. at the site where... you know, where Ryan and Jamie... I didn't want to tell you like this, but I thought you'd like to know."

Carolyn's voice hurriedly reeled off her telephone number. Heart racing, Mulder played back the message again and again. Something happened, but what? Is this why the monk suggested he come back? He had to get in touch with Carolyn immediately. Maybe this would be the answer. There was no way he'd let this chance pass him by. It looked as if he was going to get more use out of those frequest flyer miles after all...

~oo0oo~

"Oxford! You're going to Oxford?" Dana Scully tried to kept the explosive tone down. "Mulder, you just got back from Tibet."

She stared across at her friend sitting in her living room. His stoic expression told her that his mind was fixed.

"Scully, I have to go. It's so important to me to find the answers."

"Answers to what, Mulder? First you trek off to the Himalayas and now you're headed back to your alma mater. What's going on?" She didn't mean to give him the third degree, but didn't like the idea of him leaving again, nor the twinge of possessiveness she felt. Sitting beside him, she kept one hand on the baby's cradle. Inside, William slept like an angel.

Mulder clasped his hands together, long fingers interlacing. Dana could sense something serious in the air.

"My first year at university I fell in love with someone who died under mysterious circumstances," he told her.

"Oh, Mulder I had no idea." The pain radiating from his eyes spoke volumes.

He stood up and started to pace the well lit room. "I've never been able to remember exactly what happened. It was easier not to think about it." He paused before her and took a single, nervous breath. "Ever since my abduction I've been having recurring nightmares about him."

Dana blinked. "Him?"

Mulder nodded. "Yes, his name was Jamie."

"Mulder, all this time and you never told me," she said, slowly. The news really didn't come as a surprise. Sure, Mulder had been married to Diana, but maybe this explained why it had been a disaster.

"I'm sorry, Scully. It's just that my personal life has been... nonexistant. Did I shock you?" He couldn't help but smile.

"No," she smiled back. "Somehow I think I've always known."

Mulder stared off into space for a moment. "I've tried everything to remember. And the dreams are becoming more real, more frightening."

Scully put on her doctor's cap. "Repressed trauma," she diagnosed.

He suddenly became very animated. "Then you understand why I have to go. If there's even the slightest chance..."

Dana held up her hands. "Whoa, slow down, Mulder. Yes, I understand but I'm afraid you might be setting yourself up for a fall."

"I have to try." He looked at her with pleading eyes. She could read them like a book; he clearly needed her support.

"Alright," she agreed. He practically beamed at her response. "Just let me know what happens."

"I promise." He looked in on William then made a beeline for the door.

"Good luck," Dana called after him. "I think you're gonna need it."

Mulder turned back and gave her a sly wink. "Funny you should say that. A monk told me the exact same thing."

After Mulder was gone, Dana pondered over her best friend's revelation. She decided that she'd really like to know more about Jamie and what happened to Mulder all those years ago...

~oo0oo~

Pressing down on the horn impatiently, Mulder willed the traffic to move on. It was bumper to bumper all the way through town. He'd be late for his flight. He felt as if a bit of the weight had been lifted from his shoulders since his talk with Scully. Something had always held him back from telling her about a part of his life he'd kept secret. The time had been right, and her theory about his dreams jived with those of his therapist. Perhaps what happened back in 1983 had induced post traumatic stress syndrome. But why? There was only one way to find out -- go back and confront his demons.

It had been wonderful to hear Carolyn's voice after all these years. She sounded just as excitable as ever. However, he was puzzled by their cryptic conversation. She thought it best if they could discuss recent events in person.

"Come on, come on," he said, as the cars ahead inched along. Frustrated, he turned on the radio.

"Call for your free psychic reading," a voice blasted through the speakers.

He was in no mood to hear a commercial. He needed something to perk him up. Going from station to station he finally stopped when the harmonious melodies of ABBA came through. He grinned to himself. It had been a long time since he'd last heard this song. In fact, it had been on the day he met...

Mulder stared wide eyed across the bustling street. Between the sea of motorists and scores of pedestrians he saw a figure standing on the pavement.

"Jamie!"

[Next Episode: The Return]

 


 

Chapter Two: Down And Out In Oxford

Frantically reaching for the door handle, Mulder kept his eyes focused on the incredible image. Wind blowing around him, Jamie stared directly at him. His green eyes blazed with a penetrating fierceness Mulder had never known before. Outside, the light changed color and a herd of pedestrians moved across the sidewalk. His vision obscured, Mulder silently cursed as Jamie disappeared behind the crowd. Wrestling with his seatbelt Mulder leapt from the car. Ignoring the irate horns he ran toward the cement.

Looking from left to right, his heart sank and he suddenly felt very foolish; not for the first time in his life, he noted. Taking deep breaths, he returned to his waiting vehicle. The motorist beside him stared open mouthed through her car window.

"Road rage makes ya do all sorts of things," he shrugged.

Closing the door behind him, Mulder fastened his seatbelt and took a sip of the coffee he'd picked up from Starbuck's. It's just those dreams, he reminded himself. He couldn't help but toy with the possibility.

"Am I losing my mind?" he muttered.

A voice from behind him said, "Could be. Someone shot a bullet through mine."

Mulder stared into the rearview mirror. Alex Krycek sat on the back seat. "Now I know I'm dreaming," he replied.

"Are you? Maybe he's looking for you instead of vice versa," Krycek suggested.

"What do you know about it?" Mulder shook his head in an attempt to wake himself up.

"Don't know," the Russian shrugged. "I'm just a figment of your subconscious."

"I've never thought twice about you."

Alex laughed impishly, "Yeah, sure. I'm in your mind, Fox. Don't play games with a pro."

In the driving seat, Mulder felt him searching into his thoughts. He had to put a stop to it.

"You've been alone for too long. Oh, what's this? I had no idea I rated so highly in your fantasies."

Mulder did not answer but stared straight ahead through the windshield. White hot anger surged through him, the old familiar anger Krycek always inspired. "Shut up!" he threatened, uselessly.

"Did you forget about him just as easily?" wondered the figment in the back seat.

"No," he replied, blood boiling. This was Mulder's dream and he didn't see why a rat bastard like Krycek should be talking down to him. Especially a dead rat bastard. "Look, why don't you just tell me what you want?"

Alex's face leaned in close. Even in his dreaming mind, Mulder could feel his hot breath against his cheek. His body blazed with a scarlet fire.

"It's out there. Waiting for you," he whispered.

Jamie's faint reflection stared directly through the window at him. But his face was different; angry and accusing.

Mulder jerked awake with a start. Looking up, he saw the vehicle ahead far in the distance. He was alone in his car; no Jamie, no Krycek -- the visions had vanished once more. He sighed and waved behind at the blaring horns. Glancing up again, his hands froze on the wheel. Mulder rubbed a hand across his bleary eyes. A phantasm, a peculiar dream that's all it had been. Things were getting out of control. Shifting gear and pressing his foot down, he sped toward the airport.

~oo0oo~

Relaxing his back against the plush seat, Mulder allowed the jazz music pouring from his portable CD player to calm his senses. He stared out of the window at the warm, pink evening clouds passing by. He'd boarded the flight just in the nick of time, and things had been uneventful ever since. Mainly due to the fact that he refused to let himself fall asleep again. For the life of him he could not understand why Alex Krycek had taken a starring role in his dreams. Was it guilt? He'd watched, frozen in time, as Walter Skinner gunned the man down after a series of constant threats. It had all been so surreal; as if made up in the mind of some deranged writer.

After all the years of fighting, Alex was dead and no longer a threat. Mulder had not been blind to the fact that those actions produced a profound effect on Skinner. A young steward, with features not disimilar to Krycek pushed a drinks trolley up the aisle. He gave Mulder a little wink, and Mulder smiled back nervously. It reminded him of the insinuations the Alex in his dreaming mind had made. He could never maintain an argument with Krycek. It always ended explosively; the Russian was always too strategic, too cunning, too ruthless... too sensuous. Mulder felt confusion rise up and become pure shock. What had Dream Alex meant by 'Out there. Waiting.'? What was he trying to do?

A rumble of turbulence shook through the plane. Mulder just ignored it and concentrated his thoughts on what lie ahead in Oxford. He felt a nervous anticipation in his heart. Maybe he would finally find the answers. Maybe he would finally find the truth.

~oo0oo~

Carolyn Prentice Fredericks stood among a line of family and friends impatiently waiting on the airplane's passengers to disembark. Brandon was off on an assignment, the twins were looking after the house, which gave her the free time to pick up her old college friend. Carolyn fidgeted a bit in the cold terminal. She didn't know how to explain everything to Foxy; she couldn't quite believe it herself. Her face brightened at the sight of a tall, lanky, criminally handsome man with short brown hair walking with a carryon toward her. His face broke into a patented Fox charm-the-pants-off-of-you Mulder grin.

"Foxy!" she squealed, throwing her arms around his neck.

He hugged her back warmly. "Carolyn, you look terrific!"

She stood back and observed him up and down. "Well, look at you! Just as good looking as ever. I'd hate to see the portrait hidden in your attic," she laughed. Her voice was a disarming mixture of Southern and British.

"How long have you been living here now?" he asked.

"Um... Gosh! Since the last time I saw you. I met Brandon and the rest was history."

"Carolyn, I have to know. What's going on?" Mulder gently took hold of her arm.

She looked up into his hazel eyes. "I think you might want to sit down first," she suggested.

He sighed. "I've come straight off a plane, Carrie. Just tell me."

Hooking her arm around his, Carolyn lead him through the swishing electronic doors toward the security area. "About a year ago, a student was found," she whispered the next word, "murdered... in Oxford woods."

"And you think there's a connection with what happened in 1983?" Mulder immediately sensed where this was heading.

She shook her head. "Not at first. You see my husband is a journalist and his contacts in the police department tipped him off."

"Tipped him to what?" Mulder, focused on Carolyn's story, didn't notice the heavy set security guard waiting with his hand out for Mulder's luggage. Carolyn nudged him in the ribs. "Oh! Yes, here you are."

A distracted Carolyn let her mind wander. "You're a very hard person to track down, Foxy. I tried to get in touch with you back when it all happened. Were you buried under a rock?"

"No, just buried," he muttered under his breath.

"You what?"

"Nothing. You know what they told me in the hospital after the accident?" Carolyn shook her long blonde head. "That my amnesia was a 'merciful blessing'."

"Maybe it was," she concurred. "You still don't remember what happened?"

"No," he admitted, dejectedly. "Whenever I try to focus on anything, it's like, like... wandering through a fog."

"I still get a chill from the memories." Carolyn shivered involuntarily, and huddled within her faux rabbit coat.

"Exactly what do you remember?" asked Mulder. Not once had she offered any information. When she winced, he decided to try a different tact. "We never got a chance to compare notes. You left school a month later."

She nodded, grateful for the change in subject. She didn't like the lady in the large blue hat eavesdropping from behind. Nor the weirdo in a fedora and trenchcoat staring at them.

"Like I said, I met Brandon and I was..." She tried to think of the proper word. "...in the family way."

Mulder's eyebrows shot up. "Carolyn! And I thought I was the wild one."

She stifled a giggle. "Silly! It was all very innocent. And besides he made me an honest woman. My hands were too full with the twins to be wild."

"Twins?"

"Mmm-hmm. Jessica and James."

"James?"

"After Jamie," she gave him a full smile. "You know how much I adored him."

Mulder looked away, a pang of sadness returning. A hand went to her mouth. "Oh, Foxy I'm sorry. I didn't mean to..."

"No, I'm here to rediscover the past," he told her, adamantly. "Now, can we get back to what you remember and what you found out?"

"Oh, look here's your bags," she pointed. The guard handed over Mulder's luggage, and the pair walked on down a slanted corridor toward the nearest exit. Away from the crowd, Mulder gave her an expectant look. Carolyn continued, "Soon after the boy's body was found in the forest, there were two more deaths."

"Under the same circumstances?" he pressed.

"Yes," she began slowly. "All of them unexplained. Mulder, one of them was Professor Wickham and..."

Mulder's breath caught in his throat. For an instant, a vision flashed before his eyes of a small white-haired man flourishing a leather satchel. "The professor?"

"And Inspector Winston," she finished. Carolyn watched as the information sunk itself in. She bit her lip, worried.

Mulder blinked several times, and felt a sharp pain in his head. "Whoa!" exclaimed Carolyn, catching him when his legs wobbled. She helped her friend to an empty chair. "Are you all right?"

"Yeah," he said, holding his temples. "Ah... just the rush of stepping off the plane."

She narrowed her eyes. "Right. Look Foxy, I might not have finished university but I know a lie when I hear one."

"Carolyn, please go on." He squeezed her shoulder reasurringly.

"I don't think..."

"Please?"

Had it been a mistake to ask Mulder to come here? The feeling behind his eyes sucked her in. That Foxy magic she remembered so well. Against her better judgement, Carolyn resumed her tale.

"The cause of death was never found. One thing the police kept secret was another strange discovery in those woods. A hole blown clean up through the ground."

Mulder jumped on her words. "Blown up? A hole? What was found at the bottom of the hole?"

"You and your fascination with holes," she said, cheekily.

"Carolyn."

"Sorry, just trying to make you smile. They didn't find anything."

"What? They didn't investigate?"

"Mulder, don't you remember the legends of those woods?" She let out an exasperated sigh. "Nobody will even go near them."

"Wait a minute, wait a minute," he said, quickly. "If this all happened a year ago, what's been going on since?"

"Good question! My husband became intrigued with the stories and decided to write an article. He found out that an American company made a huge donation to the university and were granted permission to excavate the woods."

"What did they find?" He was half afraid of her answer.

She inhaled deeply. "They completely uncovered a series of catacombs, and found skeletons..."

"Carolyn, was..." he began, slowly.

"No, no. That's why I wanted so desperately to find you, Foxy. Most of the bodies have been identified by dental records... I wasn't sure if..."

Mulder's heart filled with a hope and joy he had not known in a long time. He leapt up, startling Carolyn. "Do you know what this means?"

"Mulder, wait! Calm down. Yes, it's a possibility. It would be a miracle if Jamie survived."

"This explains everything!" he cried.

"Explains what?"

He gripped her shoulders, staring into her incredulous face. "I've been having dreams about him for some time now. I thought it was my memories trying to tell me what happened. But on my way to the airport, I thought I... No! I saw Jamie in D.C.!"

"Mulder!" The almost fanatical gleam in his eye caused an uneasiness in Carolyn. She patted his arms. "Let's find out for sure before you start thinking this is the second coming."

Mulder picked up his suitcase and carryon, turned and broke out into a jog toward the exit. "I want to go to the site - now!"

Carolyn shook her head in amazement. That man had not changed one bit!

As the pair left the airport terminal, the man in a fedora and trenchcoat spoke into a cell phone. A photograph of Fox Mulder clutched in his hand.

~oo0oo~

The drive from Gatwick to Oxford had been, for the most part, a silent one. Carolyn refused to let Mulder build his hopes up for nothing. Her first thought had been the slim chance that Jamie got out alive. Brandon insisted that she look at the situation realistically. The chances were slim to none, but she had to know not only for Mulder's sake, but her own. She had carried the guilt of not watching Jamie more carefully for eighteen years. She would never forget the nights spent with Mulder near the site, before the search was abandoned. He'd been heartbroken, and she herself couldn't grasp the deaths of Ryan and Jamie. The way Mulder had transferred his grief on his studies created a gap between them. She tried to keep in touch, but as with all things, they grew apart and she left school. She'd been quite surprised to hear that he and Phoebe had started dating again. Jamie would've had a fit!

...That is if he... Carolyn concentrated on the road ahead. Beside her, Mulder was pouring over her husband's notes with a penlight. She hoped that this trip wouldn't be for nothing. In a way, she could almost understand why Foxy shut out all talk of Jamie; became obssessed with school; and dating Phoebe. It was easier to forget than face the pain. By coming back, he seemed more than willing to face the ghosts of the past. But could she?

Mulder looked up at the shrouded British countryside rushing by. He felt on the brink of something important. Carolyn's husband's notes were very thorough. It seemed that Jamie's family requested not to have any dealings with the original investigation. His grandmother had actually cursed a detective over the phone, refusing to believe that her grandson was dead! Mulder felt an incredible energy in his soul. Could it be possible?

Turning down the Corrs' latest, Carolyn glanced over at her friend. "Mulder?"

"Hmm?"

"What are you thinking about?"

"Do you believe in miracles?"

"Yes, I suppose I do. What about you?"

He pondered this. "I'd just about given up on mysteries," he admitted. "But now I'm not so sure... There's a lot of things I'm not sure about anymore..." His voice trailed off. "Yes, I still believe," he stated firmly.

The little yellow convertible puttered on through the night.

~oo0oo~

The large, high beam flashlight sparked into life in Mulder's hand. He'd packed in a hurry, but this was one of the first things he grabbed. Any hope that Oxford woods could jog his memories failed to inspire. There was scarcely a tree left. The entire area had been bulldozed, particular areas marked out with abandoned wooden pegs, orange tape forming checkerboard like squares.

"Was this company archaeologists?" he wondered aloud.

Carolyn left the car's lights on, the double lines of light piercing the blackness. She hurried across to Mulder, keeping so close that she repeatedly bumped into him. "What? Oh, no, not at all. That's what Brandon found so funny."

"Well, what was the joke?"

"Why a genetic company would want to dig up a haunted wood."

Carolyn's words hung on the misty air. Why indeed, Mulder wondered. He stopped before a little, white sign planted in the ground. In red block letters it read,

EXCAVATION FUNDED BY AVATAR

"Avatar?" he rolled the word around in his mouth. Bfore he could mull it over further, Carolyn gasped and nearly stepped on his toe. "Did you hear that?" she hissed.

Mulder flashed the light around. "Hear what?"

"A twig snapping." Her fear filled eyes turned to him. "What if someone... or something's out there?"

Squinting, Mulder only recognized a soft wind whistling by. "And they call me paranoid," he smiled, trying to lift her spirits.

"Oh, you!" She smacked him in the arm. "I don't know why you couldn't wait to come here in the morning, Foxy. For pete's sake, I can't see a thing!"

"What's this?" He pointed the flashlight at a large burrow, supported by props. The entrance had been completely boarded up.

"I think that must be the way inside the catacombs," Carolyn guessed. "I guess they sealed it up after finding the bodies."

Mulder thrust the flashlight into her hands. "I want to get inside!" he exclaimed, reaching forward to pry the boards loose.

"Mulder! I am not going in there."

The boards were fixed firmly in place. Mulder stood back and hissed between his teeth. In a fit of anger, he kicked out at a board. He stalked back toward her, determination glaring from his eyes. "Carolyn, I want to know everything. No matter how painful it may be."

"Foxy," she began gently. "I know about as much as you do. I was never down there."

"Yes, but what happened before? It's all on the tip of my mind. I only need a push to jar the memories."

She shook her head vigorously. "No, no. I don't want to remember."

"You made the choice to remember when you called me, Carrie. Come on, it's just the two of us out here. You can tell me."

The softness of his voice had the desired effect. She let her mind flow back to the autumn of 1983. "It all began after we met Jamie. There were two... deaths."

"Deaths," he repeated. "Yes, I-I think I remember."

"Jamie started having bad dreams..."

"Dreams?" Mulder repeated, distantly.

"You were really worried, frightened even. Then, out of the blue you asked me to look after him."

"Look after Jamie. Why?" He shot his eyes back to her.

Saltwater welled in her clear blue eyes. "You thought that someone was after him."

"Who? Carolyn, think! Try to remember."

"It was a long time ago. I didn't know at first," her voice rose to an almost hysterical pitch.

"Know what?"

She wiped the tears from her cheeks. "It was Sebastian Beal, he kidnapped Jamie... and it was all my fault."

Carolyn buried her face in Mulder's shoulder, weeping openly. Something about this seemed familiar, but it was like a television drama... something he'd watched instead of experienced. "It's alright, Carolyn," he said, patting her back. "One thing I'm sure of, Jamie would never blame you for anything."

"He was always so kind, so gentle," she sniffed. "And he loved you so much."

"What happened next?" Mulder asked, hopeful. He had to focus on the events leading up to the cave in.

"Professor Wickham showed up and everything went bananas," she explained, as she wept. "There was a terrifying sound. I can still hear it some nights. We couldn't move... The professor did something and the sound stopped."

For an instant, Mulder could hear a whispering, dragging sound. But the images refused to come. Carolyn looked up into his faraway face. "Do you remember?" she sniffed.

"Unfortunately, no." An old familiar despair took hold. "Why can't I remember?" He slung his arms out at the plowed ground. "I was here when it all happened, but everytime I grasp onto a solid, real memory it slips through my fingers."

Carolyn gasped in surprise, and Mulder shielded his eyes against the glare of approaching headlights. Who could this be? Who would be coming out here, beside them? The lights dimmed and Mulder made out a couple of slim figures emerging from a car.

"Hello, Fox," Inspector Phoebe Green smiled.

"Phebes?" Carolyn breathed.

This had been a day full of surprises. The last time Mulder saw Phoebe was when he and Scully helped her on a case that was most definitely an X-File.

"Well, this is really turning into old home week," he smirked. "Phoebe, how did you know?"

She shrugged. "I've been expecting you to turn up. I have men posted at the airports."

"Lucky you," Mulder half joked.

"And when I heard you entered the country I figured you'd end up here. I just didn't expect to find you in Carolyn's arms."

"Oh," Carolyn bristled.

"Then why are you here?" Mulder inquired. "To keep us away from the site?"

Phoebe stared across at him. Why did he have to be so hostile, so distrusting? "Look, if this is about Jamie..."

Carolyn cut her off. "You never liked him."

"Look, I'm not here to talk about that. Fox, I brought someone you'd like to meet."

For the first time, Mulder and Carolyn took in the stunningly beautiful young woman with Phoebe. Her porcelain face was framed in long, dark hair which shined in the car's headlights.

"Hi," she smiled.

"This is Miss Brown," Phoebe introduced them. "A psychic investigator whose services have come in handy."

"Thank you." Miss Brown shook hands with a stunned Mulder and Carolyn. "Inspector Green filled me in on the details. I've always found the woods to be an interesting source of spectral activity."

She started walking around the deserted excavation. "This place smells of death," she said, dreamily.

Mulder stepped forward and took Phoebe aside. "Phoebe, you actually brought a psychic out here?"

"Nice to see you again, too, Fox."

"I'm sorry, I... just..."

"Look, I knew you'd investigate eventually. I knew you wouldn't be satisifed until you found the truth."

A low wailing grabbed their attention. Carolyn hurried over to Mulder's side, gripping his leather jacket tightly. Miss Brown stood with her hands outstretched, her eyes staring.

"Evil... evil was unleashed here," she whispered.

"What evil?" Mulder urgently asked, but Phoebe hushed him.

In her mind's eye, Miss Brown saw a circle of thirteen black cowled figures surrounding a stone. The image changed to a young man, with blonde hair and green eyes. She whirled around and pointed a finger at Mulder.

"You!" she proclaimed. "There is a presence all around you... One who was here... One you loved and lost... One who is lost... One who is lost..."

Goosebumps spread across Mulder's skin; a gutwrenching fear raced into his heart. No, no, Jamie couldn't be dead. Please don't let him be dead.

"What do you see?" Phoebe asked, neutrally.

"Tunnels... torches... dark figures..." As Miss Brown described her psychic vision, Mulder felt an aching pain building up behind his eyes. Shadowy images blinked in rapid succession before him...

Narrow tunnels, flickering torches set at intervals along the rock walls. Intersections leading deeper into the earth. Have to find him! Must find him! Men in long, black robes appearing on the edge of his vision...

"There's a boy... he's filled with fear... but not for himself... Someone he loves is in danger... No!" Miss Brown screamed the words, experiencing the raw emotions generated by her gift.

A stream of sweat rolled down Mulder's face. He saw a curved knife held in a gloved hand. It flew through the air...

"NO!"

"NO!"

Mulder and Miss Brown cried out in unison. Shocked back to reality, they both crumpled to the ground. Carolyn and Phoebe were at a loss as to who to help first.

~*~*~*~*~

Mulder walked along a vast beach of golden sand. High above, the sky was a kalediscope of vivid indigo and bright silver stars. The gentle breaking of waves filled his mind. Nearby he spotted an old sign beside the carved white cliffs.

UNDERCURRENTS
Bringing Things To The Surface

He cocked his head to the side. It seemed distantly familiar. A long forgotten slogan. A message from the past. He moved on, laying his naked body down on the surprisingly warm sand. He peered into the night sky. The stars twinkled down at him mischieviously. One particular star floated in space, waiting for something. The star moved closer to Mulder, changing from silver to a brilliant gold. It had green eyes and flowing blonde hair. Mulder reached out for a burning kiss of desire. His body was aflame with an intense need for that kiss. Their lips slowly began to touch...

"I think he's coming around," a voice said.

~*~*~*~*~

Mulder awoke with a jolt, strangely energized, beneath the comforter of a luxuriant hotel bed. Lost in shock, he pressed a hand to his tingling lips. The star... he knew in his heart it was Jamie.

"Good morning," Carolyn said.

He blinked around. "What? Where am I?"

Phoebe and Carolyn exchanged concerned glances after spending a vigilent night by his bedside. Miss Brown had recovered quickly; assuring them that Mulder would be fine, and after returning her home, Phoebe had followed Carolyn to the hotel she'd booked for Mulder. He slept through the night, giving the two women a chance to make an uneasy peace. The little whimperings and moans Fox made had caused some concern.

"That must have been some dream you had," Carolyn ventured, slyly.

"Um, I, ah yes, quite." He actually blushed.

"Are you feeling better?" Phoebe asked.

"What happened?" He winced from the bright sunlight streaming in.

"Miss Brown called it a psychic fusion," Carolyn explained. "Whatever that means."

Phoebe sighed, and stretched her back. "You both experienced the same vision."

Mulder nodded vaguely. "I know what it means. Did she say if..."

"No, Foxy. What was the last thing she said before passing out, Phoebe?" Carolyn said, sitting on the edge of his bed.

"She felt a great crashing," Phoebe replied, thinking back.

"I'm sorry you didn't get the answers you needed," Carolyn said.

"This might help," Phoebe offered, tossing a thick folder onto the bed near Mulder. He picked it up and started leafing through. "It's a report on the deaths in '83 along with those from last year."

Mulder smiled a stunning smile. "Thanks, Phoebe."

She shrugged nonchalantly. "It's the least I could do, but I wouldn't get my hopes up."

He slipped out of his T shirt and grabbed at his suitcase. "They're already in the stratosphere," he told them. "Jamie's alive!"

Carolyn looked at Phoebe, then at Mulder in wide eyed puzzlement.

"Just how did you come to that conclusion?" asked Phoebe.

He whirled around, talking hurriedly. "You've heard of precognitive dreams? I believe mine have been trying to point me toward him all this time. I thought I was just going mad, when I should have been paying attention to the clues."

"Mulder, calm down!" Carolyn exclaimed. "You're starting to scare me!"

"I'm starting to scare myself, actually," he said, shrugging into a fresh shirt.

Phoebe rushed to his side and gripped his arm. "Come on, do you honestly believe that Jamie Grayson could still be alive after all this time? I mean, why wouldn't he contact you?"

He paused, refusing to let doubt in. "I don't know, but I have every intention of learning exactly what happened." He looked at the sunrise colors through the window. "Jamie is out there, and I'm going to find him!"

[Next Episode: Midnight Madness]

 


 

Chapter Three: Off With His Head

"Where do you think you're going?" Phoebe questioned, sharing a very concerned look with Carolyn. Mulder's outburst had left them both rattled.

He turned, halfway out of the hotel room's door. "I told you, I'm going to find Jamie."

Phoebe's eyes danced feverishly. "You're assuming this because of a dream?"

"It's not my imagination!" he exclaimed.

"Fox, nobody could survive a cave-in like that." She had to make him see reason, instead of flying off.

Mulder eyes flashed dangerously. "He's not dead! If there is even the slightest chance, I have to hang onto that hope. I've let this go for eighteen years. I don't want to hear any more negative talk about what may or may not have happened. Can't you just accept that I believe in my heart that he's alive?"

Carolyn stepped forward, eager to intervene. "Um, Foxy, where are you planning to start?"

"I thought I'd visit the university and talk with the head of the archaeology department," he sighed.

"Why?" Phoebe scoffed. "Everything you could possibly need is here in the files." She gestured toward the unmade bed where a thick folder waited.

"There's not a single thing in there to tell me what I was doing in 1983. I'm going to learn exactly what they discovered down in those catacombs," he answered, his eyes pleading. "Look, I need something real, something concrete to hold on to."

Phoebe sighed and folded her arms. "If you insist on running off like a maniac, I'd better come with you."

"Me, too!" Carolyn chimed in.

Mulder slid into his jacket, keeping an eye on both his friends. He realized he must sound like an insane SOB, but he'd been branded with that distinction from day one. "Alright," he agreed. "I'd appreciate the help."

He hurried out of the room. As Phoebe made to follow, Carolyn held her back with a restraining hand. "What changed your mind?"

"Not wanting to see Fox locked up, mostly," she replied.

Carolyn fixed her with a steely gaze, one she reserved for getting her own way with her husband. "You don't believe that Jamie could still be alive, do you?"

"No."

"Then why did you give Foxy those files?"

"To make him come to terms with it."

"But if Jamie did survive..."

"That's a pretty big if," Phoebe observed.

"Did you see the hope shining in his face?" Carolyn asked. "I don't want to see that light go out. We can't take his hope away."

"What's worse, Carolyn -- knowing or not knowing?"

Carolyn chewed this over. It was a valid question. Before she could respond, Mulder reappeared in the open doorway. "Are you two coming?"

~oo0oo~

Mulder strode about five paces ahead of Carolyn and Phoebe as they made their way down a brightly lit corridor toward the archaeology department. The historic university looked exactly the same; the halls wafting a musty smell of books. Mulder could feel Carolyn and Phoebe's eyes on his back. He knew they were tagging along out of worry, and not out of the belief he felt. He couldn't help but think of all the times Scully had done the exact same thing. Well, everyone in the world could call him crazy. His dreams, his visions, were trying to tell him something. He was more certain about Jamie with every step.

Carolyn, who had been uncharacteristically silent on the drive over, peered through a passing window. If Mulder discovered what actually happened back in 1983, how would it effect him? She glanced across at Phoebe, the discerning voice of reason through it all. Carolyn could sense that she was still bitter about losing Foxy to Jamie all those years ago.

The trio paused outside a large door with the name DR. BRYCE LANGFORD emblazoned on the frosted glass. Mulder rapped loudly on the paneling and made to open the door. Phoebe slammed a palm against the glass. "You'd better let me handle this," she suggested, walking in ahead of him.

Dr. Langford looked up over his glasses as a woman entered his office, followed closely by a man and another lady. "Yes, how may I help you?" he inquired.

Phoebe flashed her badge in the man's face. "Inspector Phoebe Green, Scotland Yard." She nodded back at Mulder and Carolyn, who joined her in front of Langford's cluttered desk. "These are my associates, Mr. Fox Mulder and Mrs. Carolyn Fredericks."

"Hi!" Carolyn smiled. Her outburst elicited a withering glance from Phoebe.

"Scotland Yard?" Langford repeated. "You have the advantage of me Inspector Green."

Phoebe smiled faintly. She loved how her official status set people on edge. "We're here investigating your findings in the excavation of Oxford Woods."

"Oh, really?" Langford looked the three people over. "Everything was clearly documented and reported last year," he explained.

"We know about the bodily remains, doctor. What we're interested in was the catacombs purpose."

"Purpose?"

Mulder leaned forward. "I lost someone down there and I have to know..."

Phoebe cut in before he could continue. "Please, doctor? Your help would be greatly appreciated."

"Of course, inspector," he said after a moment's hesitation. Langford stood up and hooked his thumbs in the lapels of his jacket. He moved toward a framed map of the catacomb system hanging on a nearby wall. He adopted his best speech voice. "The cave system is a natural geological formation, carved out of rock by a long-dried up underground river."

Mulder peered at the map, with its honeycomb of tunnels marked out -- all leading to a huge chamber, like a spider at the center of a web.

"And what about this?" he asked, indicating the drawing of the chamber.

"Oh, that? The central chamber was the largest cavern found. Many of the most important archaeological finds..."

Mulder did not have the patience to hear a lecture. "Yes, I get the picture. It's big. What I'm interested in is what you found down there."

The doctor hesitated once more. "Dr. Langford, I must insist..." Phoebe cut in.

He shrugged. "Nothing of any significance. Nothing to pinpoint what those people were doing down there eighteen years ago."

"What about the hole blown up through the earth?" prompted Mulder.

"Oh," he sighed. "Just a build up of air trapped underground. It found a crack in the crust and released itself. Rather like a cork popping out of a bottle." He laughed.

"You can't be serious!" Mulder exploded.

"We've determined that the ghostly noises heard over the years came from the wind carried through the tunnels," he replied, smugly.

Phoebe nodded at Carolyn, who squeezed Mulder's arm. They wouldn't get anywhere if Mulder pissed the man off. "I've gone over the reports thoroughly, Dr. Langford. Besides a few vauge notions, no one seems willing to make a conclusion." Goddess, now she was beginning to sound like Mulder!

"What are you suggesting, young lady? That I've been supressing information? That the legends of witchcraft and ghosts are true?"

Mulder looked across at Phoebe, both taken aback by his hostile attitude. "What have legends got to do with an avalanche in 1983?" Mulder wondered aloud.

"Well, there were the ravings of that professor..." Langford stared off into space. "Oh, what was the man's name?"

"Wickham," Carolyn opined.

Langford snapped his fingers. "Wickham! Oh, yes that was it. Weird Wickham."

"What did he say?" pressed Mulder, he duly noted the shiftiness in the man's eyes.

The doctor sighed, as if it took every ounce of will to reply. "He went on and on about a cult using the catacombs. Have you ever heard of such an outrageous suggestion?"

"I've heard far worse," Phoebe replied, glancing knowingly at Fox. She was quite surprised by his faraway statement.

"A cult?" Mulder repeated, his voice faint.

Langford waved his hands in the air, dismissively. "Sheer nonsense."

Carolyn felt a chill. Something about this seemed familiar. Of course! The night Jamie disappeared... Professor Wickham and Foxy were arguing about a cult. "Oh my god," she whispered.

"What is it, Carolyn?" Phoebe asked.

"I-I remember the professor talking about a cult..." she began, slowly.

The words filled Mulder's mind. He shook his head to clear his thoughts.

Dr. Langford puffed out his cheeks in irritation. "If you want to discuss fantasy, kindly leave my office. I have a great deal of work to do."

"But..." Mulder began to protest.

"Yes, I guess that's about it then. Thank you for your valuable time," Phoebe said, cuttingly.

Mulder stalked out of the office, his face red from frustration and anger. Carolyn and Phoebe caught the door before it could slam back on its frame.

"Mulder, wait!" Carolyn called.

He whirled around, fuming. "Absolutely no help whatsoever."

"I'm sorry," she frowned.

"What are you thinking, Fox?" Phoebe wondered.

"I think that man was lying," he replied.

"So do I."

Carolyn looked from one to the other. "Well, what do we do now?"

"I think we should go back to the site and find a way down into the catacombs," Mulder told them, firmly.

Phoebe raised a skeptical eyebrow. "It may be another wild goose chase."

"This is one goose I'm ready to catch and cook!" he said, excitedly.

Carolyn bit her bottom lip. She did not like the idea of trudging underground in a place like that. "Um, I don't know. I've got a bad feeling about this," she groaned.

~oo0oo~

Dr. Langford peeked out of his door into the now empty hallway. Swiftly turning the lock, he hurried back to his desk. Taking a deep breath he picked up his phone and dialed the operator.

"Hello, operator? Yes, I'd like to place an international call to a Mr. Gordon Stratton at the Avatar research facility, San Francisco, California, United States."

~oo0oo~

The reassurance of daylight did nothing to allay Carolyn's fears. Oxford woods, churned up and excavated, was still the creepiest place on the planet. Foxy was all too eager to go down into the catacombs. She didn't like it. What if what he found dashed all of his hopes for good?

Phoebe's earlier question came back to haunt her: 'What's worse, knowing or not knowing?'

Parking Carolyn's car in concealment, Mulder found a tire iron, snatched up his flashlight, and briskly headed straight toward the boarded up entrance. Phoebe parked her car nearby, and quickly followed, carrying two flashlights bought in town.

"Are you all right?" Phoebe asked, taking in the nervous statement on Carolyn's face.

"Um, there's not going to be any... ah, skeletons or anything down there?" she wondered.

Phoebe snorted. "I don't think so. Everything was removed during the excavation."

"Good," she sighed, relieved.

When they eventually caught up with Mulder, he was already hard at work prying loose the boards. The burrow was shaped like a mine entrance. Phoebe felt better for being here. What they were doing was highly illegal, but she was very curious to know why Dr. Langford was being so uncooperative.

With an audible grunt, Mulder tore several planks away. The hole left was just large enough for them to squeeze through. Letting the crowbar drop, he gripped his torch and looked back at his friends.

"Ready?" he asked, expectantly.

"After you," Phoebe said.

Mulder ushered them down the steeply sloping tunnel that led into the caves. Descending a stone staircase, Mulder's flashlight swept across the cave system's rock walls. He noted that a lot of money had gone into opening up the catacombs. Sturdy pit props had been erected to support the exposed tunnels. At random intervals, metal hooks dripped with condensation. The archaeology team had taken their lamps after completing the excavation. He felt a chill piercing his skin. Everything seemed so familiar, like a half remembered dream.

"It's a wonder someone didn't buy this place and turn it into a theme park," Carolyn's voice echoed.

"And bill it as what, Oxford's Cave of Horrors?" Phoebe suggested.

Mulder moved further into the tunnel. Just on the edge of his vision, he saw figures moving stealthily along the darkened corridors. He blinked rapidly and the images chased themselves away.

"Foxy, are you ok?" Carolyn inquired, worriedly.

"Yeah, just deja vu," he replied.

A sharp wind blew through the tunnel opening, causing Carolyn to whirl around and point her slim flashlight into the darkness.

"It's just the wind," Phoebe chided.

"I hope so. I don't fancy meeting any ghosts," Carolyn breathed. "You know what, I think I'll wait outside. I'd like to call home while you two poke around."

"Cowardly custard!" Phoebe called after her.

With a quick turn, Carolyn stuck her tongue out before reemerging into the sunlight.

Further along the tunnel, Mulder paused before a huge area of cave wall divided into marble panels depicting cracked, faded figures and odd symbols. He took a small, black notebook from his back pocket and began to sketch.

"What are you doing?" asked Phoebe.

"I've got three friends back home who might find this interesting," he replied.

Phoebe inhaled deeply and took tentative steps toward him. "Fox, what are you going to do if you find out he's really dead?"

"Don't say that," he whispered, closing the notebook.

"I have to. I understand that you feel guilty about the past..."

"Of course I do! I have to find the missing pieces. I have to know what happened."

"For closure?"

"No! For my heart. I never stopped loving Jamie."

"I know," she said quietly. "I just wish things could've been different."

Silence hung like a shroud in the damp cave.

"I'm sorry, Phoebe," Mulder said, sincerely.

"The last time we met, you didn't mention anything," she said. "I thought that you'd put this all behind you."

He smiled a little. "To be honest, I thought I had."

"It's water under the bridge," she told him, moving to examine the wall. "I wonder why this was left behind?"

"I've seen this before," Mulder said, half to himself. He knelt to examine a particular fresco. Hundreds of years old, the carved stick figures surrounded a stone.

Phoebe ran a hand across the marble surface. "It appears to be a primitive ceremony," she observed.

Mulder pointed at the last panel. "What do you make of that?"

She joined him, and took in the stick men raising their hands above a stone. Mulder peered intently at the final slab. It also depicted a series of a lines radiating out toward... something.

"This one's been scratched out," he said.

Indeed, the image had been completely desecrated by a blunt object.

Phoebe stood up, brushing her hands off. "Well, obviously someone wanted to keep the end of the ceremony a secret."

"Dr. Langford?" he suggested.

"Who knows?" she shrugged.

Mulder turned on his heel, casting a light around the tunnel walls. His heart raced, causing a rushing sound in his ears. What he wouldn't give for a bag of sunflower seeds right about now to calm his nerves. He knew the answer was here staring him in the face.

"Phoebe, what do you know about the legends?" he asked.

She sniffed dismissively. "Just that the woods were meant to be haunted by lost souls. I do remember reading that occult ceremonies continued to take place even after the university was founded."

Balling up a fist, Mulder slapped himself in the forehead. "It's here! All the answers are in my head. From what Carolyn told me last night, something strange had been going on."

"Look Fox, I know what you're getting at." Phoebe sighed. "There was never any evidence to support Professor Wickham's claims of a cult."

"What about these?" He shined the light on the marble frescos, then pointed it in her direction. "How do you explain what we were doing down here?"

"I can't," she admitted. "But there's something you have to realize, all of the witnesses are dead. You're the only one left."

He nodded, grimly. "And I don't remember a damn thing."

"Fox, there could be more going on here than any of us know. I will grant you this, the murders from 1983 and those of last year are unexplained. There is no plausible explanation as to why the bodies decomposed so quickly."

Mulder gave her a Hanna-Barbera double take. "What? Are you trying to tell me that you think there's a conspiracy here?"

"I'm suggesting no such thing. I just think you should be careful."

From outside came the low rumbling of an approaching storm. Phoebe shuffled her feet, suddenly feeling a bit frightened. "Come on, Fox. I think we've seen enough."

"No," he shook his head adamantly. "I'm not leaving yet."

He made for one of the tunnel openings that lead deeper into the catacombs.

"I don't like this," Phoebe said, warily.

"You're beginning to sound like Carolyn," he said.

"I'm beginning to understand how she feels." Phoebe stopped and rubbed the back of her neck. Her hair was standing on end. In the distance, she could hear a slight... whispering. "What's that?" she asked.

Ahead of her, Mulder stood rooted, unable to move.

~oo0oo~

Turning off her cell phone, Carolyn replaced it inside her jacket. The twins were fine, and hearing their voices made her feel more at ease. Just like his namesake, her son James could sense that something was wrong. She clumsily assured him that everything was fine, and that she would be home soon. Shortly afterwards, she'd jumped at the sound of an approaching storm. The setting sun was casting a series of creepy shadows over the area. Carolyn shivered. A thunderclap sent her scurrying back inside the darkness of the tunnel.

"Hey, you two!" she called. "It's starting to get dark out there and I really think we should be going."

Her eyes widened in surprise. Mulder was backing away, his face filled with terror. Carolyn rushed forward and tugged at Phoebe's sleeve.

"What's wrong with Mulder?"

She froze. A sound which haunted her nightmares echoed up one of the tunnels. A whispering growing in volume to a slithering scream. Mulder hunched forward, wrapping his arms around his knees. He started crying softly, rocking back and forth.

Phoebe stared down at him in shock. He'd slipped into an almost catatonic state. Carolyn knelt beside him, willing him to move. What in the hell could reduce a man like Fox Mulder into a frightened child?

"What are we going to do?" Carolyn wailed. "He won't move!"

The slithering sound drew closer. "Grab an arm!" Phoebe hollered.

Grasping him under an arm each, the two women hauled Mulder to his feet and made a dash for the entrance. They struggled through the opening and burst out into a sudden downpour.

"Look," Carolyn cried, pointing at her car standing in the rain.

"Come on!" Phoebe shouted.

They ran, carrying an unconscious Mulder between them, slipping through the mud. Something large passed overhead. The keening of birds in a raging storm.

Phoebe shook her head. "Birds! It was only birds! I feel like a bleedin' B-movie star!"

Carolyn felt a kind of nauseous relief. "I don't believe it!" she cried. "That...that sound came from within the tunnel."

"Remember what Dr. Langford said about sound traveling through the cave? I guess he was right." Hefting a limp, soaken Mulder between them, Phoebe nodded. "You'd better get him to a doctor, fast."

Carolyn reached her vehicle and grabbed at the door, pulling it open. She jumped inside, Phoebe helping her to set Mulder into the passenger seat. Then she started the engine.

"Just a moment, what are you going to do?" she asked.

Phoebe pointed back toward the tunnel entrance. "Put those boards back into place. We don't want someone getting lost down there. I'll call you later."

"Ok, if you're sure," Carolyn said, all to eager to leave. Gunning the engine, she pushed her foot down on the accelerator, and sped away with Mulder as fast as she could.

The wheels spun out, sending a spray of mud flying onto Phoebe's coat. "Great!" she hissed. "What next?"

Shaking her head, she headed back toward the tunnel. The rain was coming down in buckets now, and she was tempted to leave the opening uncovered till morning. Knowing her luck, someone would come along, get curious, then lose themselves in the tunnels. Picking up the discarded planks, Phoebe started to set them back into place.

Once more, a screeching sound filled the air. She looked up into the rain soaked sky, flicking her dripping auburn locks from her eyes. Boy, she'd love to have a pair of sights trained on those bloody birds!

Something large crashed through the tunnel opening, splintering the wood into tiny fragments. Phoebe screamed and staggered backwards, falling into the ever growing mud. Her eyes were large saucers of fear.

A creature, from the darkest nightmare imaginable, roared its fury. Its snake-like creature reared up, and slithered through the mud toward her.

Struggling to her feet, Phoebe slid frantically for her waiting car. Lightning flashed, and the creature lunged for its prey. Leathery wings propelled it forward, swooping down. A tentacled mouth clamped onto the back of Phoebe's neck, just as her hand reached the door handle.

Dark blood spread into the brown water. The lifeless husk that had once been Inspector Phoebe Green crumpled to the ground with a sickening squelch. A bolt of lightning pierced the sky, and the creature screeched its triumphant.

Phoebe's body began to disappear under the mud.

~oo0oo~

Some distance away, Mulder stirred and rubbed at the aching behind his temples. "Carolyn, what happened?"

She turned to him in surprise. He looked as if he'd just woken from a dream. "I should have never brought you here," she whispered.

"What? Why?" he questioned.

"Relax, Foxy. I'm taking you to see a doctor."

"I don't need a doctor!" he insisted, his tone that of a petulant little boy. "Ouch," he winced, shutting his eyes against the pain.

"Oh, no?"

"Please, just tell me what happened."

"You went into some kind of shock. You really had me scared."

"Carolyn, it's nothing. I've been having these... funny turns for about a year now."

"All the more reason to have a doctor check you out. Do I have to drag you by the ear?"

"Ok, ok," he relented.

~oo0oo~

Stepping off the escalator, Mulder walked through the D.C. airport terminal. After a good night's rest, due to medication supplied by Carolyn's doctor, he'd slept through the night. He insisted on heading home that morning. Carolyn made him promise to call as soon as he knew anything. Even though he was no closer to learning the truth about Jamie, the search brought back the same feelings of excitement he'd had working on the X-Files.

What puzzled him was his blackout in the tunnels. Carolyn had tried and tried to describe what happened, without success. Somehow a strange whispering sound had reduced him to a gibbering wreck. 'Am I just losing my mind?' he wondered.

Hopefully, with the journalist's and police information supplied by Phoebe and Carolyn, the Lone Gunmen could make something out of it. He knew that he couldn't do this alone. He needed help to get Jamie back.

Picking up his suitcase from the carousel, Mulder placed the thick folders under his arm. Digging in his pocket, he found his car keys and headed for the parking lot. No sooner had he left the main concourse when a familiar prickling spread across his skin. Someone was watching him. Slowly, he turned and swallowed hard.

No, it couldn't be! He shut his eyes tight. When he opened them again, the apparition was still there. Striding with purpose down a flight of stairs was a figure in a black jacket, T shirt and jeans. His presence dark and brooding even across the building. Recovering from his initial shock, Mulder sprinted after Alex Krycek.

Keeping him firmly within his sight, Mulder hurried as fast as his legs would carry him. Krycek was alive! This was no dream! The Russian turned at a kiosk, and Mulder leapt over a chair in his frenzy to catch him.

Krycek disappeared behind a wall. Almost there! He rounded the corner...

Breathing heavily, Mulder fell to his knees and onto the floor, mute with shock.

Ahead of him there was not a single soul. Only a long, empty corridor stretching infintely away.

All of his emotions: hope, trust, and love were viciously torn out. He'd actually chased after an apparition of a man he saw killed before his very eyes; believing him to be real and solid. Just like he'd searched in Tibet and Oxford, chasing after the truth. It was all a lie.

Jamie was gone.

Sick, reeling, he sat with his back against a colorless wall. Voices from the past called out to him.

"No one could survive that."

"Your lost memories are a merciful blessing."

A side door opened and a young desk attendant wearing a soft lavender uniform stopped and looked down at the pale man sitting still and cold.

"Sir, do you need help? Are you ill?"

But Mulder did not answer, having retreated somewhere private as hope and reality drifted away.

[Next Episode: If You Remember Me]

 


 

Chapter Four: Memory Lane

"Another death?" I asked, trying to conceal the glee in my voice.

"Yes, sir," Gordon Stratton confirms. "The Shoggoth left behind in the catacombs has been awakened. We paid Dr. Langford well to keep us informed of anyone prying into the Oxford incident."

I steeple my fingers and stare across at him. "Hmm. Very wise. Although it concerns me that our agent did not inform us of this."

Gordon nods. "Perhaps he had no knowledge of the inquries, or--"

"Yes," I prompt him.

"Forgive my impertinence, lord, but I do not trust him. It was not wise to bring a stranger into our midst."

I've known of Gordon's jealousy for some time. True, he had his own doubts but the proof first brought to them was more than enough.

"Do not question my decisions," I tell him. "If we do not hear from him soon, we will take matters into our own hands. Now, tell me just who was digging into the past?"

"Inspector Phoebe Green of Scotland Yard, Carolyn Fredericks nee Prentice, and Fox Mulder."

I sit up sharply in my high backed leather chair. "Fox Mulder? Interesting. Our agent assured us that he would not be causing any problems."

I notice the look in Gordon's eye. Further proof of disloyalty? "What did they find?" I ask, sharply.

"As far as we know, absolutely nothing. Mulder returned to the States and Inspector Green met an untimely fate."

Pushing back from my desk, I stand before Brother Stratton who duly kneels. I could care less about the inspector. My interests lie with the elusive Fox Mulder.

"So, Mulder is beginning to ask questions." I turn to Gordon. "To be on the safe side, send someone to keep an eye on him."

"Yes, my lord." After Gordon bows once more and leaves my office, I return to the image radiating from the monitor screen of my computer. Yes, if the promises of my agent fail, then there is another hope. Fox Mulder may lead me to the Deliverer after all...

~oo0oo~

Dana Scully was worried, seriously worried. It was over a week now since she received the call that Mulder had been hospitalized. After arriving back from his trip to Oxford he'd been found in the airport terminal completely unresponsive. Her number was the first found and, leaving William with her mother, she'd raced to the hospital.

He lay in a starched white bed, looking as if he'd been crying non stop. His eyes were haunted by hope drained away. She'd had to use her clout to keep Doctor Wright from admitting Mulder to the psychiatric ward.

"Mulder," she said, softly. "It's me, Dana." He didn't even blink. Scully felt her heart drop.

In his own time, he managed to relate bits of what happened. She caught herself gasping aloud. She should have taken his dreams more seriously. Mulder shut his eyes and began to cry softly, frightened by his own doubt.

Talking with Dr. Wright, she managed to have Mulder released into her care. Half heartedly she convinced him that Mulder was only suffering from depression; half heartedly because she failed to convince herself.

He was back home now, and Dana kept a constant watch over him: stopping in for impromptu visits, and calling regularly. Yes, her maternal instincts were in full force with William in her life, and yes, she might be overprotective of Mulder. Another blow occurred when she intercepted a frantic telephone call from the UK. Inspector Phoebe Green's body had been discovered, killed under circumstances that would end up in an X-File. Using her better judgement, Dana decided to keep this from him for the time being.

And so the week had passed. Mulder's usual dry humor had returned, but there will also hints of darkness and despair. He insisted that he was fine, over and over again. From everything she'd been told, everything she'd observed, Dana didn't think so. She was so concerned about him that she called Walter Skinner to ask for help.

"If you could try to talk to him," she told him over the phone, "I'd appreciate it."

Walter listened with growing concern while she gave him sketchy details behind Mulder's breakdown. Apparently, he had been experiencing nightmarish visions that nearly pushed him over the brink. He thanked Dana for letting him know about Mulder's 'collapse', although -- truth be told -- he was put out that she hadn't informed him the moment it happened.

He'd been thinking more and more of the former agent lately. He felt overly protective, something which went beyond the call of duty. Ironically, Walter had tried to contact Mulder several times to let him know of something he'd discovered. Now, it gave him the opportunity to check on him. Here he was standing in the hallway outside of apartment 42. Hefting a large package, Walter took a deep breath and rapped on the door.

"Hello, sir," Mulder said, surprised. He'd been expecting Scully for one of her "unexpected" drop ins. He was standing in the open doorway, wearing a white undershirt and blue sweatpants. His hair stood up, and it appeared as if he hadn't shaved in days.

"May I come in?" Walter asked, after the shock of Mulder's appearance wore off.

"Um, sure," he replied, holding the door open.

Walter walked in, and Mulder failed to notice the large brown parcel resting under a brawny arm.

"And what's with this 'sir' business?" asked Walter. "It's Walter."

Mulder plopped down on the sofa as if he didn't have an ounce of energy. He propped up a leg and Walter could tell the former agent was not wearing underwear beneath the sweats from the suspicious outline jutting to the side. Walter made a soft grunting sound, and swallowed, in an attempt to avert his eyes.

"I really don't feel like being cheered up," he said.

"Dana told me what happened," Skinner replied, grateful for the change in subject. "I'm sorry."

"Seems like everything's biting me in the ass these days."

Walter had been through and seen a lot knowing Fox Mulder. But he'd never seen him quite so withdrawn, as if he'd completely given up.

"Would you like to talk about it?" he offered.

Mulder snorted. "Talk about what? How I've completely lost my mind? How the hospital was on the verge of having me committed? How I've started seeing ghosts?"

Pressing his lips tight, Walter leaned forward. "Scully told me a little."

"Oh, yeah," Mulder harrumphed. "The late lamented rat bastard has been haunting me." Mulder's voice broke off. No matter how depressed he felt, he recognized the hurt in Skinner's eyes. The death of Alex Krycek still a very sore subject.

"Come on, Mulder. I'm not going to judge you or make assumptions. I just want to help."

At this Mulder smiled, then choked on a deep throated sob. In that instant, the words, the pent up emotions came pouring out. He couldn't stop himself, the dam bursting into a thousand pieces. "My first year at university I fell in love," Mulder began. "His name was Jamie."

Walter fixed his gaze on Mulder, his suspicions confirmed. Mulder continued, not waiting for Skinner's reaction. "It was the first time I was genuinely happy. Our time together was cut short. He died. And I've never been able to remember what happened."

He couldn't believe he was confessing this to a man like Walter Skinner. Hot tears flowed freely, and Walter found his strong arms wrapped around the man he'd admired from afar for so long.

"Mulder, I don't know what to say. I'm so sorry that this happened to you." This was quite different from Scully's sanitized version.

Breaking contact, Mulder sat back and rubbed at his eyes. "Open your heart to someone and they leave you," he said in a hushed voice. "It's been easier not to let anyone in."

Walter felt helpless, wishing he could something to make him feel better.

Mulder stood and gazed out the window. "When I saw that featureless corridor stretching ahead of me it all hit me."

"What did?"

He turned and looked at him. "My search, my quest. Like looking for the end of the rainbow. I realized I'll never find it."

"Jamie must've been someone very special." Indeed, magical even to cast such a spell over Fox Mulder.

"He was," Mulder replied, his eyes glistening. "I've never known anyone quite like him." He smiled a little. "Ever heard of being swept off your feet?"

Walter nodded.

"Well, that's what it was like with Jamie," he said, crossing his arms over his chest. "The first time he was in my arms, the world fell away. I remember that better than anything."

A moment of understanding passed between them.

Walter coughed lightly and broke the awkward silence. "Well, the second reason for my visit is this..." he said, indicating the package resting on Mulder's coffee table.

"What is it?" Mulder wondered. He hadn't ordered anything.

"It was sent to the Hoover building about a year ago," Walter told him. "You were... missing... and it sat buried in the mail room for months. One of the clerks brought it to me a couple of weeks ago."

Half interested, Mulder read the hastily scribbled writing across the brown paper. He arched an eyebrow. "No return address?"

Walter pushed the parcel forward. "The postmark says 'Oxford'."

Mulder's eyes went wild. He started tearing at the packaging in a frenzy. Walter stood up, startled by the sudden animation. Throwing the discarded wrapping aside, Mulder found a cardboard box beneath and dug his fingers into the sides.

"Here, let me help," offered Walter. Sitting beside him, Walter took out a pocketknife and sliced the lid open. Mulder pulled back the sides and peered inside. He gasped in astonishment. With shaking hands, he extracted an intricately carved mahogany box.

"What the hell is that?" asked Walter. It looked like a witch's jewlery box. What was Mulder getting himself into now? "Look, there's something else in here." Reaching inside, he lifted out an ancient book inscribed with the same snake symbol that decorated the box.

"I-I... know this," Mulder whispered hoarsely. Suddenly, he cried out and the box fell onto the carpet. He clutched at his head, a blinding ache building up behind his eyes.

"Mulder? Mulder!" Walter yelled, desperately.

Mulder drew in his breath sharply, pulled deep down into an invisible vortex of undercurrents. His eyes stared wild as a series of visions flashed before him erratically...

He sat beneath a sea of stars with a handsome young man with blonde hair and green eyes at his side.

'You have to trust someone,' the boy said.

'Jamie!' He saw himself running across a lush, green campus.

'He is the Chosen One!' Professor Wickham pointed a finger, accusingly.

A tall, hooded figure plunging a curved knife into Jamie's stomach. Jamie's hands covered in blood.

He and Jamie, smiling coyishly at one another. 'Well, Just Mulder, I'm James Grayson. Jamie to my friends.'

'It's Jamie, then,' he replied.

Jamie's face slowly turned to him, warmth radiating from his sparkling emerald eyes. 'I'll always love you,' he whispered.

Mulder reached out to touch him, and the images dissolved into a flash of brilliant white light. He sat up, gulping in air. Walter was kneeling by his side.

"I remember... I remember everything!" Mulder proclaimed. A rush of emotions filled every fiber of his being. The memories were inside of him once more, restored. Memories he had repressed of his last days with Jamie were free at last. For the first time in years, he felt complete.

Walter helped Mulder up from the floor. He'd been on the brink of dialing 911. "Mulder, are you all right?"

But Mulder ignored his question. "Why on earth did they drag me out of that catacomb?! I was trying to save Jamie!"

"What?" Walter searched his face. "Mulder, I don't understand."

Mulder gripped his arms. "There was a cult. They'd chosen Jamie as their sacrifice. Jamie was stabbed..."

Walter visibly winced from the hurt in Mulder's voice. "A sacrifice?"

"A cave in! The caves were collapsing." His voice became more frantic as the memories returned. "Jamie wasn't dead... I was trying to get to him, but the professor and Inspector Winston pulled me away."

Mulder stood up and began pacing the length of his apartment, sweat glistening on his brow. Walter watched him, trying to work out what was going on.

"Mulder, I really think you should sit down and take it easy," Walter suggested, gently leading him by the shoulders back toward the couch.

Mulder started to sit, but jumped back to his feet. "Sit down? Sit down! Don't you understand what's going on?"

"No," he said. "I'm with you but you're going too fast for me, and I don't think you should be getting this worked up or you'll be back in the hospital."

Tapping his bottom lip, Mulder stared out of his window and started talking to himself in a hushed voice. "Wickham and Winston were both murdered by something that caused rapid decomposition. That night in Oxford, I went into shock after hearing... a whispering sound..." He snapped his fingers and shouted, "Of course!"

"I'm not following you," Walter confessed.

"Don't you see? Something remained alive even after the avalanche. Something that killed."

"What are you suggesting, Mulder? That Jamie's ghost has been trying to warn you?"

"No, no don't say that."

Walter sighed heavily. "Well, what you're telling me is pretty far fetched. You describe visions that began about a year ago--"

"Coinciding with the deaths," Mulder broke in.

"And then you start seeing Krycek as well?"

Mulder shook his head. "I know it's crazy, Walter, but I haven't felt this sure about anything in a very long time. I'm sorry there's just some answers that I need. And I need to find them for myself."

"Soul searching?"

"Definitely searching." His voice was distant.

Mulder retrieved the fallen box, then stared down at the accursed book sitting on the coffee table. The last time he'd seen it, the tome had been resting in Professor Wickham's flat. He touched it with slightly nervous fingers. An instinct told him exactly how important it was.

Feeling Walter's concerned eyes upon him, Mulder looked up. "Listen, I need to ask a big favor."

How could he refuse? "Name it."

"Can you find out all you can about a research facility called Avatar?"

"What's the connection?" he asked.

"I'm not sure," he confessed, "but I'd like to know what interested them so to fund an expensive excavation of the catacombs. It's funny..."

"What is?"

"In some ancient beliefs, an avatar is a godlike entity."

Walter sighed, and had to stop himself from chuckling. Mulder was definitely feeling better. "I'll see what I can find out... if you promise to take it easy."

The younger man nodded vaguely. He collected the book into his arms, and strode away. Walter stared after him. "Mulder, where are you going?"

He gave him a cocky grin. "To take a shower. It's time I rejoined the land of the living."

~oo0oo~

Mulder stood beneath the warm, pulsating water spraying down from the shower head. His face broke out into a huge grin. The memories of his time with Jamie were back. They were clear as pictures. He closed his eyes, basking in the glow of his first love.

'I'll always love you,' he heard Jamie's voice say.

Jamie's body had not been idenitifed. This thought resounded and spun round and round like a carousel in his mind. The persisting feelings returned. It was possible. Jamie could have escaped the avalanche. He wasn't afraid of the truth anymore. Mulder threw back his head and allowed the waters to wash over him. He felt good to be alive.

~oo0oo~

The flickering images of a boat sailing into a brilliant sunset filled the darkened room.

"No way, dude!" Langly protested. "Those two are definitely lovers."

"Come off it," Frohike argued. "Did you see that kiss? Sure it was hot, but what a cop out!"

"Yeah, well, I still say Xena and Gabrielle are more than just friends!"

With a little grunt, Melvin flicked off the television set.

John Byers waved his hand to catch their attention. "Shh, guys! Look, we've got a visitor."

"I don't believe it," Frohike said, peering at the black and white monitor. "It's Mulder!"

Standing outside the door, Mulder was literally hopping from foot to foot anxiously. He carried a large book under one arm. Admitting their friend, Mulder burst into their HQ. "Hi, hello, aloha," he said, quickly.

Byers, Langly and Frohike looked at one another, nervously. Their friend appeared to be the picture of health. "Yes, I escaped from the macadamia ranch," he smirked.

"Sure you shouldn't get your own parking place at the hospital?" joked Melvin.

"Might be easier than being dragged there all the time," he replied.

After his shower and a good shave, he'd found the discarded notes from the trip to Oxford. The three stooges were his best bet to uncovering this mystery. He'd hidden the naga box carefully. The life essence of Azathoth still resided within. He'd actually jumped when a slight whispering emanated from within. Enough trouble had been caused when the box had been accidentally opened. Thankfully, Professor Wickham managed to capture most of the essence -- although a small portion managed to escape.

Mulder held up the tome, the light reflecting off the faded, cracked cover. Six eyes widened, recognizing the circular snake symbol adorning the front. Mulder plopped the book down heavily onto a nearby, cluttered desk. The trio inadvertently knocked Mulder out of the way in their haste to have a look at the book he'd brought in. They looked like starving kids let loose in a candy store.

"Do you have any idea what this is?" Frohike asked. "Hot fucking damn!"

Mulder looked at him in mock surprise. "Melvin, do you kiss your mother with that mouth?"

"It's, it's, it's..." Langly couldn't form the words.

"The Necronomicon," Byers finished for him, an ominous awe tinging his voice.

Mulder nodded. It was just as he feared. "After you guys wipe the drool from your chins, I need you to give me a translation. My latin's a little rusty. Anything to do with Azathoth, Chosen Ones, the works, got it?"

Langly looked up. "I can scan the pages and run them through one of the new translator programs."

"Good," Mulder nodded. "How long will it take?"

Byers guessed. "Two or three days, maybe."

"What's the rush, Mulder?" asked Frohike. "Looking to dig up a Great Old One?"

"What do you make of these?" Mulder produced a black notebook, flipping the pages to his hastily drawn symbols. He noticed the looks passing between his friends. "Look guys, this is very, very important to me. I lost someone to a cult many years ago," he explained. "Anything you can find out, please?"

"Sure thing," Frohike answered for them all. Byers and Langly nodded their assent.

"Thanks," smiled Mulder. At last he was getting somewhere.

~oo0oo~

By the time he reached Avatar reception, Walter Skinner was considerably irritated. Yesterday, he'd spent the best part of an hour on hold before connecting with an Avatar representative. When he finally got through, it was a press officer who gave him so many run around answers that Walter felt nauseous afterwards. He was one to never suffer fools gladly, and these guys were slick.

Using his official status, he'd managed to get a man on the line -- Vice President Gordon Stratton -- who offered to answer all of his questions. It made him wonder if they were avoiding any trouble with the bureau.

Taking it upon himself, Walter hastily decided to visit the facility based in San Francisco. He wanted, correction, he needed to do this for Mulder. Is this the same magnetic draw that caused Scully to drop everything for him? Yes, he cared about Mulder deeply. The hurt in Mulder's eyes as he related the story of his first year at Oxford had tugged at Walter's heart. Losing someone the way he had, no wonder he'd retreated into work. To be truthful, he'd done the same exact thing. If his findings helped Mulder to move on, so be it.

Now he knew the facts very well. Mulder's restored memory had produced a wealth of information. And it was enough to make anyone highly suspicious. Using bureau resources, Walter had learned that Avatar was originally ITAR -- the institute for technological advancement and research -- which went belly up soon after the millennium. Some bigwigs had appropriated the building, proclaiming it Avatar -- the world's leading genetic research facility. Mulder was right, what possible interest could a place like that have in funding an archaeological expedition?

His thoughts returned to the present, and the gleaming walls of Avatar reception. An oily voice, dripping with sincerity called out to him. "Mr. Skinner?"

Taken off guard, Walter saw a man appear from around a corner. "Welcome to Avatar." As he stood, the stranger took his hand firmly. "I'm Gordon Stratton, Vice President."

"Good morning." The man's hand was clammy to the touch.

"I hope that we haven't kept you waiting. The president of our company looks forward to meeting you."

Gordon ushered Walter into an elevator and pressed the button for the penthouse. Standing side by side, Walter studied the man in the reflective surface of the lift doors. He broke into a monologue describing the company's purpose. Walter noted that his words were like a rehearsed speech.

"We're willing to aid the FBI in any way that we can," Gordon concluded.

Walter took a deep breath. "This isn't an official visit."

"Oh no?"

"My interests are... personal."

The doors slid open. Without a word, Gordon led him along a hallway decorated with exspensive art pieces. Walter peered at the bizarre images as they passed by. Must be by some new age artist, he reckoned. At the end of the hall, his guide ushered him into a luxurious office.

A man, clearly in his mid-thirties, was sitting behind an enormous desk. Walter had expected the president of this company to be much older.

"Welcome to Avatar. I'm Matthew Blair. How may we help you, Mr. Skinner?"

"Thank you," he replied, taking a seat before the desk. "I'm here on behalf of a close friend."

"Oh?"

"Concerning the excavation of catacombs in Oxford."

The two men visibly blanched. Bullseye! Raw nerve, direct hit.

With confidence, he continued. "I just find it a little odd that a genetic research facility would be interested in a so-called haunted forest."

Matthew faintly smiled. "The excavation was personal to me. My father was one of those killed in the avalanche."

Swallowing to conceal his surprise, Walter felt embarrassment rising. "I had no idea," he admitted.

"My father was vice chancellor of the university," Matthew explained. "He discovered a group of students involved in," he paused for dramatic effect, "dangerous practices the night he died."

Walter stood up, furious with himself for getting tangled up in one of Mulder's wild ideas. "Gentlemen, thank you for taking the time to talk with me..." he began but Matthew quickly broke in.

"What happened in Oxford was a lost opportunity."

Gordon edged toward him, almost as if to console him. Were the two men lovers? Walter wondered. "There will be another chance."

They were like a double act! Walter read between the lines and sensed that this trip had not been in vain after all. Matthew's fingers danced across a computer keyboard, gazing intently at the screen. Walter stared across the desk and immediately noticed a reflection in Matthew's glasses of the computer screen. He knew it all too well: Mulder's FBI profile. How the hell could they access classified information?

"We've been trying to reach those involved in the Oxford incident," Matthew told him.

Sharply, Gordon added, "Some remain... out of reach."

"Not for much longer," said Matthew.

Military training helped Walter to remain calm. He felt guilty for doubting Mulder. He definitely sensed something dark about Avatar. He seemed to have been forgotten by the two men. It might have been a chance to leave, but then the image bouncing off the president's spectacles changed. He could just make out the photo reflected in the lenses. It was a young man with blonde hair, smiling beatifically.

There was a sudden look of obsession glaring from the president's eyes. He pulled up and said, "There are other ways of finding him."

A harsh electronic trilling filled the penthouse office. Gordon answered his cell phone, a look of concern passing over his face. "Our agent has been spotted back in the country," he muttered.

Matthew Blair stared off into the distance. "Without contacting us?"

"That devious little..." Gordon whispered.

"Enough!" Matthew snapped. The air in the room was suddenly cold.

Walter, determined not to let this moment pass, quickly jumped in. "Is there a problem?" he asked urgently.

The president turned slowly and regarded him curiously, as if remembering that the AD was still in the room. "Not at all, Mr. Skinner."

Moving forward, Walter stood directly before him. "It's nothing we can't handle," Gordon assured him.

Walter's eyes were drawn to the computer screen. Two images completely filled the pixels: Mulder's and the mysterious blonde man. Between the photographs, words spilled down in an endless stream:

*Find the Deliverer*

The screen flared into darkness, and Walter actually took a step back.

Matthew's voice became very hard and rasping. "Thank you for visiting Avatar, Mr. Skinner. If you'll excuse us, we have business to attend to."

The heads of the facility slowly turned to stare at each other. Startled by the creepiness of the situation, Walter edged away from the desk and left the office.

Matthew sat back into the cushion of his leather chair. "Keep a close eye on that man."

"What about your agent?" Gordon pressed, refusing to use the term 'our.'

"If he has betrayed us, we will deal with him."

~oo0oo~

Walter Skinner shook his phone angrily. He'd been trying to call Mulder ever since he left the Avatar building. Everytime, the blasted answering machine picked up. Where had he run off to? He rang Dana, but she hadn't seen him either, and now she was concerned. The meeting at Avatar had left him rattled. What was their interest in Mulder? And who was the young man in the photo?

The lights of D.C. filled him with relief. Thanks to a brief doze on the plane ride home, his batteries were recharged. A sense of anticipation filled him as the taxi pulled up outside of Mulder's apartment building. Walter peered at a darkened window. He'd have to leave Mulder a note. Paying the cabbie, he stepped out and hurried inside.

The elevator doors opened, and the corridor leading down to number 42 was distinctly quiet. 'Get a hold of yourself, Skinner!' he barked to himself. Fingering his collar, he felt a slight trickle of sweat.

He paused at apartment 42 and moved to knock. Then stopped when he noticed the door was slightly ajar, darkness beyond. With alarm, Walter gently pushed the door open with the toe of his shoe. Thankfully, the hinges didn't creak.

Casting his eyes into the gloom, he noticed a figure hunched over Mulder's desk. Dim illumination from the aquarium revealed the shape to be a man as he moved closer. Sensing another presence, the figure straightened and turned around.

For one of the few times in his life, Walter Skinner felt his legs turn to jelly.

"Well, look who's here," Alex Krycek smiled.

[Next Episode: How To Build A Better Rat Trap]

 


 

Chapter Five: An Infinity Of Surprises

"This isn't possible." Walter Skinner's statement lingered in the air. He swallowed hard to moisten his dry mouth. Alex Krycek, the man he shot down a few months ago, was standing alive and in the flesh before him.

Alex threw back his head and laughed heartily. "And I thought Scully was the eternal cynic."

Walter shook his head, ostensibly denying the reality of his vision. Mulder! Mulder claimed to have seen Krycek many times. Was the ghostly apparition haunting him as well?

Krycek frowned. "Man, you don't look well. Maybe you'd better sit down."

Something wasn't right. The former double agent no longer possessed his hard edged tone. No, his words were almost... caring.

"Why? How?" he stammered. "Why aren't you dead?"

"Too many questions make you sound a bit egotisical, Walter. That's much more Mulder's style." Alex casually flipped through an address book on the desk. "By the way, where is the errant Fox?"

A trillion questions flowed through Walter's mind. Absolutely no one, not even Alex Krycek, could survive a bullet through the brain. He'd seen his share of death in his time, but never had it made him more sick to gun down Krycek. As hard as he tried to rationalize the events, the more futile it became.

Alex's voice broke into his thoughts. "Still speechless? My my, I can assure you that I'm very much alive." He stretched out an arm. "Go ahead, feel."

A part of Walter was terrified to breathe in the same room with him. With a sudden burst of nervous energy, he reached and gripped Krycek's arm, hard.

"Ouch!" Alex cried, then grinned. "See, told you."

"How is this possible?" he demanded.

"I would've thought that even you would realize that nothing is impossible."

"Don't give me that bullshit, Krycek! I shot you! You were dead!"

Alex smiled, his green eyes sparkling like a cat's in the gloom. "Are you certain?"

"I don't know how you survived, Krycek, but I want you out of here -- now!"

Krycek sat down in a nearby chair, resting his legs up on Mulder's desk. "Not until I've seen Mulder."

Anger, confusion, and worry surged through Walter's mind. "Why? What are you going to do, try and kill him again?"

"On the contrary," he began with a snicker. Alex started to reach inside his black leather jacket. Daggers flashed in Walter's eyes, he didn't care if Krycek had a gun, he didn't care if Krycek was about to bring out the dreaded palm pilot and send the deadly nanobytes straight to his heart. He lunged for him.

"You're not going to get another chance!" he roared.

Taken by surprise, Alex toppled backwards as Walter steamed into him. The two men went rolling across the floor of Mulder's apartment. Alex groaned, his back contacting with a table. It rocked back and forth precariously, a lamp shattering.

"Would you listen to me for a minute?!" shouted Alex through clenched teeth. A part of him found the brawl exhilirating. How he'd missed the physical contact. Walter hammered down on him once more, and he realized that the AD just might kill him out of a sense of loyalty to Mulder.

Walter braced himself as Alex struggled for release beneath him. He held down the Russian's good arm, locking the strong flailing legs within his own. Staring down into a pair of bright green eyes, Walter felt himself being sucked in. Those eyes that had haunted his dreams for years. Oh yes, Alex Krycek was 100% alive.

Krycek was a bundle of unrestrained power, but Walter had the upper hand. Surprisingly, the younger man was not offering up much resistance. Krycek slid beneath him, and Skinner felt their groins connect inch by inch. Walter felt a shock of heat coursing through his blood. He forced himself to blink and keep focused on holding Alex. No, he wasn't going anywhere.

Then, Alex's left arm lashed forward sending Walter reeling. Struggling to his feet, Alex gripped his muscular shoulders and slammed Walter up against a wall.

"Your arm," gasped Walter in shock.

"You'll find I'm full of surprises," he replied, cryptically.

Walter inhaled deeply. "Just get it over with, Krycek!"

Alex laughed, but it was not dripping with its usual sarcasm, instead it was a laugh of mirth. The playfulness in his voice caused Walter to freeze.

"You never change, do you?" Alex asked, his grip becoming firmer against Skinner's throat. "Look at the two of us. We've been pining after a man who'll never love us back."

Walter found swallowing difficult, especially with Krycek's arm resting against his neck. "I-I don't know what you're talking about," he insisted, unconvincingly.

Alex's exotic features loomed in close. "I can sense the guilt in your heart. Let it go," he whispered. "You did me an enormous favor."

"What, I..." Walter didn't understand. What was he implying now? Before he could question further, he gasped as a pair of sensuous lips pressed against his own. The kiss was bold and searingly hot. Alex held him firmly, confident and in charge. Instinctively, Walter closed his eyes and parted his mouth slightly.

After that, Alex let go and leaned back. His eyes, unreadable and piercing.

Walter coughed a little, and straightened his very rumpled shirt. "If you're not here to kill anyone, exactly what in hell do you want?" he asked, sounding breathless.

Walking over to the fallen chair, Alex bent to pick it up and Walter was given a full, glorious view of his rounded buttocks held tightly in dark jeans. Walter's lips still tingled from the kiss, and he began to wonder if he'd lost his mind. This was Alex Krycek, a man who had tried to kill him and his friends numerous times. And now? There was definitely something different about him. Krycek sat down, and extended a hand to Mulder's sofa. Well, whatever has changed Alex, he still possessed the same 'I own the place' attitude, Walter noted.

"I have something that the little Fox has been looking for," he explained.

"Maybe you'd better start at the beginning," Walter said.

"It's a very long story."

~oo0oo~

Mulder stepped out of the elevator and into the hallway leading to his apartment. He finished a coca-cola to wash down the Chinese food he'd consumed on the way home. He hadn't eaten a full meal in days, and it had been like ambrosia. He'd spent most of his time at the Lone Gunmen's HQ, waiting rather impatiently for his friends to translate Professor Wickham's copy of the Necronomicon, and the scribbled symbols from the Oxford cave walls.

He remembered seeing the book in Professor Wickham's flat. It prophesised Jamie's sacrifice. He just had no idea at the time that it was the accursed Necronomicon. The professor must have known something had escaped from the caves before his death, and he'd entrusted Mulder with the book and the naga box. A year had passed since the old man's death. Was he too late?

Mulder had never been good with waiting. Frohike, Byers and Langly eventually shoved him out, saying that they couldn't concentrate with his constant hovering. Well, it was something he couldn't help. If there was any clue to learning what happened to Jamie after the avalanche, then he was going to find it. Come hell or high water. He would not believe that Jamie was dead; not until he saw a body, and even then...

His mind was clearer than it had been in some time. The visions had ceased their torments. A part of him had been tempted to get on a plane for Georgia. He'd reasoned that if Jamie was indeed alive, certainly he would head home. But then why hadn't he ever contacted him over the years? If Wickham knew to send the book and the naga box to the Hoover building, certainly Jamie would've found him the same way.

'Maybe I'm just clutching at straws,' thought Mulder. No, something had been unleashed to cause the deaths of both Wickham and Inspector Winston. The same something that killed anyone who came into contact with Jamie back in 1983.

Ditching the disposable cup into a nearby trash bin, Mulder focused on this last thought. Approaching his apartment, he figured he'd better call Scully. She was probably tearing her hair out wondering where he'd been. Then, there was Skinner... Walter, he corrected himself. Maybe he'd had better luck with finding out more about Avatar's mysterious involvement.

Pushing a key into the lock, Mulder was surprised to find the door opened. He clearly remembered locking it after Walter left two days ago. Scully must've used her spare key. Yes, she was probably inside, arms crossed, tapping her foot, with a disdainful look on her face.

Cautiously he opened the door, and peeked inside.

"Hello?" he called, venturing within. "Scully, I'm sorry I didn't call but I--"

Mulder stopped mid-sentence.

Seated on the living room sofa was Walter Skinner, looking a bit shell shocked and as if he'd been in a scuffle. What froze Mulder in his tracks was the person sitting across from him... Alex Krycek!

"He's back," Walter said, standing.

"And it's about time," Alex finished, with a smug grin.

"No," Mulder's voice was a terrified whisper. He couldn't believe he was seeing things again! "Get out of my head!" he shouted fiercely.

"Mulder, take it easy," Walter said, gently. He moved forward, and began to talk slowly. "I know it's hard to believe... I couldn't at first, but he's alive."

"What?"

"It's true. You're not dreaming."

Mulder stared across at the person who had been a taunting figure in his visions. There was a major difference here. This Alex Krycek did not sport a gaping hole through his forehead. Just for a moment, Mulder felt lightheaded.

Alex stood up and threw his arms wide open. "See for yourself," he smirked.

With a rough shove, Mulder pushed Alex back down into the chair. "Oh, Fox. You do play hardball, don't you?" He winked across at Skinner, who cleared his throat awkwardly.

"You're not going anywhere until we get to the bottom of this," Mulder told him, through gritted teeth.

Alex shrugged away from his grasp. "Well, then, maybe you'd better have a seat. You're not being a very gracious host."

Mulder's mouth dropped open. "I'm glad I don't have your nerve in my tooth! You come in here back from the dead as if nothing ever happened!"

"Takes one to know one," Alex pointed out.

"Why you little..." Mulder began. Nearby, Walter noticed that his friend's blood pressure might burst. He stood up to intervene.

"Come on, Mulder," he said, leading him to the sofa. "I really think you should listen to what he has to say."

Grudgingly, Mulder sat down. "I want to know right now how you survived," he ground out through clenched teeth.

"Ever heard of a company called Avatar?"

The simple question left Mulder completely cold. "What do you know about them?"

Alex sat forward, clasping his hands as he explained. "Some time ago, the Consortium got wind of the research facility's rather suspicious dealings. They sent me in to check around. I did a small job for them, stealing some top secret computer equipment."

"Typical," Mulder murmured.

"What did they want with it?" Walter cut in.

Alex shrugged. "Never found out. It's what I discovered when cracking into their secure files that caught my attention. They had a complete file on you, Mulder. Plus records on someone you knew a long time ago."

"This is ridiculous!" shouted Mulder.

"I think that this might grab your attention," said Alex. From an inside jacket pocket, he fished out a crumpled photograph and tossed it over to him.

Catching it, Mulder stared at the wrinkled film and felt his heart skip a beat. It was the picture of him and Jamie taken soon after they'd met. He'd stored it away in an X File... an X File he'd made on Jamie's disappearance... an X File he thought had burned up...

He leapt to his feet and grabbed Krycek by the collar. "Damnit, where did you get this?"

Walter forcibly pried Mulder's fingers loose and held him back.

Alex rubbed the back of his neck and looked up at Fox, wounded. "When we were partners, I found your file and took it," he admitted.

"Why? To give those Consortium bastards something to use against me?" he asked, hostily.

Alex shook his head. He couldn't reveal his true reason for taking the file. When he'd first discovered it back in '97, he felt a sharp twinge of jealousy. Fox Mulder was a conflicting object of admiration, desire and affection from day one. He wanted to know what kind of person Mulder could love. He wanted to know more about this Jamie Grayson who had been Mulder's first love.

"No," he finally answered. "I wanted to keep the information from them, if you must know."

"Yeah, right," Mulder broke in.

"And I thought maybe I could help."

"Help me?" he scoffed. "That's the best joke I've heard all week."

"Think what you like, but a year ago that photograph changed my life."

Mulder became very quiet. "A year ago?"

Alex nodded, his voice becoming a little distant as he remembered the events. "Avatar was searching for Jamie. I recognized him from the photo and offered to help them, but for a price."

"Of course," Mulder scoffed. "It's not as if you'd do anything out of the kindness of your heart."

Walter noted the pained statement on Alex's face. "Mulder, let him finish," he advised, anxious for Alex to get to the point. "What price?" he asked.

Alex smiled faintly. "I needed to hide, to disappear. I'd made many enemies over the years, ones who would relish my death. I knew exactly how well-connected Avatar was, so they offered to construct a clone."

"A clone?"

"As an example, this is what they did for me." Taking off his jacket, Alex rolled up his sleeve and showed them his completely healthy new arm.

"That's incredible," Mulder conceded.

He flexed his arm proudly. "So they made a clone. It served my purpose and theirs."

"Theirs?"

"They needed a guinea pig for their experiments to see how successful the process would be. Turns out, a clone becomes gradually unhinged."

"Unhinged?" In that moment, the pieces all fell into place. "Is that why you -- I mean he -- went raving mad in the parking garage?"

"Suppose so," shrugged Alex, indifferently. "I was nowhere near it."

"Then where were you?"

"I was in England last summer. On the trail of three unexplained murders," he laughed at the memory. "In a way, it was like being back on the X Files."

Mulder, growing increasingly impatient with Alex, clenched his fist. "What happened? What exactly did you find out?"

"Nothing, at first. Then, I was in a market near Oxford..."

"Oxford?" Mulder questioned sharply.

Alex continued. "When I saw someone who looked exactly like the boy in your picture."

"What are you saying?" Mulder narrowed his eyes, wondering what kind of game Krycek was playing.

Across from him, Alex sat back and his eyes became sad. "He was very ill and seemed to have been living on the streets. He didn't know his name, where he came from or anything. He was literally someone without a past. I had this feeling about him. I took care of him and we traveled together for some time. Slowly, he regained bits and pieces of his memory."

Walter reached out and squeezed Mulder's shoulder. Alex had related the story to him, and he knew what was coming. How would Mulder take it?

"Mulder," Alex said, sitting up. "Jamie is alive."

For one brief, shining moment Mulder's eyes radiated hope. Then, he exploded. "You sorry son of a bitch! First you make my life a living hell, and here you turn up back from the dead claiming that someone I lost is alive?"

"Listen to him, Mulder," Walter suggested, gently.

Mulder couldn't believe his ears. "Are you serious? Have you forgotten what he's done to me? I think he defied death just to come back and torment me."

"Oh, would you get over yourself? I'm not doing this for you, I'm doing it for Jamie. He needs you, Mulder."

Mulder nearly jumped on Krycek had it not been for Walter's restraining grip. "I don't want to ever hear you mention his name again!"

Alex ignored the harsh insults. "He started asking for you. Mulder, he's still very sick and I," he hesitated for a moment. "I'm afraid of what might happen if Avatar discovers him."

"Why?!" Mulder shouted, breaking free of Walter. "Why did Avatar go to such great lengths to excavate that cave? What do they want with me and Jamie?"

"Mulder," Walter said quietly. "I believe Krycek."

Mulder turned, confusion dancing in his eyes. "You what?"

"After I left yesterday, I went to the Avatar facility in San Francisco," he explained.

This revelation caused Alex to balk. "That's the worst thing you could have done!" He stalked toward the window and peered through the blinds.

"I don't understand," Mulder confessed.

"Are you ready for this?" Walter asked. "Avatar is run by Matthew Blair, the son of Oxford university's deceased vice chancellor."

"What?!" Mulder gasped.

Walter nodded grimly. "He and his VP gave me some cock and bull story about funding the excavation to find Blair's body."

"And you didn't believe them?" Mulder pressed.

"No," Walter said. "Not only was it their strange attitude, but also what I saw flashing on a computer screen."

"You saw it, too?" Alex asked, interrupting.

Mulder looked between them, feeling like the odd man out. "Saw what?"

"Images of you and Jamie with the words 'Find the Deliverer' between them," Walter told him with a sigh.

Mulder sat back down heavily. He rubbed a hand over his mouth, thinking furiously. 'My god, if Krycek is actually telling the truth...'

"Mulder, what is the Deliverer?" asked Walter, taking a seat beside him.

"It was the name that cult gave to their chosen one," he explained, sadly.

"And the chosen one was Jamie," finished Walter.

Both men snapped their heads up as Alex bolted for the door. Mulder quickly beat him to it and gripped his arm, causing Alex to cringe.

"Just where do you think you're going?" he fiercely demanded.

"With all of your poking around, you're going to bring Avatar straight to your door. I've got to get Jamie away from here," he told him, yanking loose.

Mulder studied the look on Krycek's face. The Russian was a master of deception, but if there was even a chance... Love, his mother once told him, was sacrifice.

"I'm going with you," he announced.

Alex started to protest, but Walter moved toward them to defuse another potential brawl. "I'll drive," he offered. He wasn't about to let either one of them out of his sight.

Holding up his hands in mock surrender, Alex complied. Mulder opened the door and Walter walked out into the hallway. As Krycek made to follow, Mulder twisted him around.

"I swear if you're lying, I'll kill you with my bare hands!"

~oo0oo~

The ride into the country began in solemn silence. Walter drove with Alex relaying directions from the passenger side while Mulder remained in the back. During the drive, Alex scooted in the seat over to Walter to point out an imperceptible country road. Switching on the air conditioner, Walter loosened his collar. He decided that he was feeling a long repressed sexual need, that was all. Things would return to normal when this was over. But he wasn't completely convinced. He was ready to admit that maybe something had changed Krycek.

The car bumped and bounced along the uneven dirt track which lead deep into the woods far from the city. Jostled, Mulder stared out of the window, his heart pounding nervously. He mulled over the disturbing dreams and visions he'd been experiencing for a year now. As sure as the world, a sixth sense had been trying to make him understand. He just wasn't listening. In the dreams, Krycek appeared near Jamie. His eyes cut forward to peer at the back of Alex's dark head. Mulder wanted to believe, oh God how he wanted to believe this was true.

"Why did it take you so long to tell me about Jamie?" he wondered aloud.

Alex turned in his seat. It was still startling to see him alive. "Because he's been in shock. He only just started to remember you."

'Is it my imagination, or is Krycek relishing this?' Mulder thought, disturbed that his supposed former enemy had such power over him still.

"Turn here," instructed Alex.

Walter found a path just big enough for a car to get through. It was naked to the human eye. If Krycek wasn't with them, they'd never find it. His eyes wandered over to study the masculine shape of Alex's legs. The car skidded a bit, and Walter returned his attention to the road.

Overhanging limbs and tangled vines brushed against the vehicle, like a bizarre car wash. Finally the pathway opened up onto several acres of land. The car pulled up to a quaint little log cabin, built out of a creamy brown wood. Mulder thought it would like right at home on the cover of Home And Garden. An expensive woodcarved gate surrounded the house. It reminded Mulder of the peaceful gompa back in Tibet, tucked away and secluded.

Parking under a grove of shady trees, Walter unbuckled his seatbelt and was grateful to step out into the fresh air. "Nice place," Walter opined.

"We like it," Alex replied.

"We?" Mulder cringed. "Exactly how long have you been living here?"

"Not long," he replied.

A sudden thought struck Mulder. Perhaps he really did see Jamie on the streets of DC. He quickened his pace, eager to find out the truth. He began to talk nervously. "I'd hate to learn where you found the money for a place like this."

Alex merely shook his head. If Mulder only knew how well Avatar had paid him... The three men walked up a twisting stone lane and onto the front porch. Unlocking the front door, Alex stepped inside. Mulder shared a knowing look with Walter.

The interior of Alex's cabin was beautifully furnished. Mulder's eyes flashed around the surroundings, briefly noting an intricate Russian tapestry hanging on the far wall. He felt heartsick; there was no one inside waiting.

"Jamie?" Alex called. No answer. "He must be out back."

As Mulder headed for a set of double screen doors, Alex gripped his arm. "Hey, take it easy. He still doesn't remember a lot of things."

Mulder shrugged loose. How dare Krycek tell him how to behave! A sickening thought lurched through his system as he walked outside and down stilted steps. This could all be some trap schemed up on Alex's part. He certainly felt safer with Walter Skinner's reasurring presence nearby.

The back yard opened out onto lush grounds, and what must have been farm land at some point, complete with a sparkling pond. Surrounding the pond were a row of majestic willows, leaning in toward the water.

Mulder turned round in a full circle, searching for any sign of life. A cool breeze ruffled his hair. He sensed something. From the corner of his eye, he could just make a figure moving along the edge of the pond. The branches obscured his vision.

"There he is," Alex's voice came from behind him. Mulder was barely aware that the two men were standing close by. Walter held his breath, watching the look on Mulder's face, when he moved closer to him. This was something that Mulder wanted to be true more than anything else in the world.

Taking a few steps Mulder paused, staring at the figure's back. His heart was beating so fast that he thought it might burst out of his chest at any moment.

Very slowly, the figure turned and their eyes met for the first time in eighteen years. Thunderstruck, amazed disbelief filled Mulder's face.

"Jamie," he whispered.

[Next Episode: The Trick Is To Keep Breathing]

 


 

Chapter Six: Twice Upon A Time

'Just keep breathing,' Mulder reminded himself. All of the incredible things he'd experienced in his life never prepared him for this. For a moment, he thought he might fall backwards, but somehow he steadied himself and remembered to stand up straight. His devilishly handsome face broke out into a wide grin of joy. He hurried forward, unable to control his movements any longer.

Jamie stood only a few feet ahead, his eyes wide. His face remained expressionless for several moments as Mulder approached.

In seconds, Mulder wrapped his arms around him in a long, slow, molten embrace. Years worth of pent up emotions flowed freely. Carefully he smoothed Jamie's hair and whispered words of comfort into his ear.

"Mulder?" Jamie gasped. He pulled back and held his face in his hands. The bright green eyes that had first captivated Mulder searched his face questioningly.

"I never thought I'd see you again," Mulder told him, his voice breaking.

"How did you know where to find me?" asked Jamie in amazed disbelief. Mulder looked back over his shoulder for an instant and Jamie knew. "Alex?"

Mulder nodded yes. "It's incredible." Someone I've hated him for so many years, he thought, I can't believe he actually brought you back to me.

Jamie's smile still took Mulder's breath away. He could have been frozen in time, looking almost exactly the same as he had back in 1983; all except for the unhealthy pale skin tone. Mulder held off questioning Jamie about why he looked as if he hadn't aged, too caught up in just the closeness of his lost love.

"He took care of me," Jamie explained. "Even before I knew... before I could remember who I really am."

"You're here now and that's all that matters." Mulder gripped his neck, and held a hand flat against his chest. He had to be sure this was all real. He felt a reassuring heart beat coming through. Mulder looked into his face, and grinned brightly.

Farther up the bank, Alex Krycek tore his eyes from the reunion to stare at Walter Skinner. Alex elbowed him in the ribs. "Come on, I think they deserve some time alone, don't you?"

Walter nodded, and glanced back at Mulder holding onto Jamie with a great deal of interest. He was genuinely overjoyed for Mulder. The touching look beaming from Mulder's face caused a tug at his heart -- mainly because he sensed a storm about to erupt. There was a deeper reason Walter was on edge about this reunion. He knew he was being overprotective, and there wasn't anything he could quite put his finger on that explained his feeling. Jamie's initial lack of emotion was odd, not to mention the air of mystery that Walter found unsettling. Pushing the nagging doubts to the back of his mind, he trailed after Krycek. Perhaps he could get more answers from him inside.

As the two men headed inside the shaded cabin, Mulder held onto Jamie tightly. "Let's sit down," he suggested. Taking him by the arm, Mulder helped Jamie to sit on a tree stump beside the water.

Stroking his soft blonde hair, Mulder murmured, "If I had only known."

"How could you?" Jamie asked, shaking his head sadly.

Fresh tears flowed down Mulder's face. "I still can't believe it. I thought I'd lost you forever."

"You almost did," he replied quietly.

Mulder realized that he'd have to tread very carefully. "Jamie, what happened?"

Jamie squinted, remembering back. "It was horrible. I was bleeding and rocks were falling all around me. Then there was just darkness. I couldn't move. I just laid there."

"You were in shock," Mulder told him gently. "How did you get out? The authorities called off the search, and I thought... I thought..." he choked on the words.

"You thought I was dead. What else could you think? I still don't know how I survived. I just blacked out and I woke up in a hospital."

"A hospital in Oxford?" Mulder questioned, stunned by his revelation. "They didn't try to find anyone who might know you?"

"I didn't even know who I was or where I had been. How could they even guess? They sent word out, but no one ever came."

Mulder shook his head, anger and guilt building up in his heart. "Jamie, I'm so sorry," he whispered, holding his hand tightly. It felt so cold.

Focusing on the sky above, Jamie went on. "I wandered for such a long time, searching for something... I knew there was something important missing from my life." His voice took on a distant tone. "And then I met Alex."

Mulder's eyes glistened with fresh tears thinking of the terrible existence Jamie must've led. "What did he tell you?" He managed to ask.

Jamie shrugged a little and brushed a golden strand from his eyes. "He seemed to know me, and he offered to help me rediscover my past. We lived in Oxford for about a year. Then all of a sudden Alex said that it was important that we return to the States," Jamie replied.

"Did he say why?"

"No, but I've never had any reason to doubt him. He's been very good to me." Mulder found himself speechless. Alex Krycek had done something even he couldn't; he'd found Jamie and kept him safe. "It sounds as if you've been a good influence on him. He said that you were ill."

Jamie turned away. "Yes, I've been having dizzy spells and trouble breathing for a long time. I just feel so lost."

"Not anymore." Mulder reached for his shoulders and turned Jamie back to face him. "We're going to get through this together."

With a gasp, Jamie reached out and gripped Mulder's hand. "Mulder, help me!" he pleaded, his voice desperately weak.

"Jamie, what is it?" Mulder asked, full of concern.

Jamie closed his eyes and took a deep breath. When next he looked up, his statement was calm, his voice controlled. "Um, could you help me back inside? It's beginning to get dark."

"Okay," Mulder replied, not entirely convinced. Taking Jamie by the arm, he helped him up. Shakily, he fell against Mulder, who caught him before he could collapse.

"Whew, that was the worst one yet," he said.

"Are you all right?" he asked, holding onto him for all the world.

"Yeah, if it's not this, it's the nightmares."

"Nightmares?"

"Yes, they started some time ago. Around the time I began to remember you."

Mulder's eyes widened in surprise. "A year ago?" Jamie nodded. "Jamie, I've been having nightmares too!" Mulder told him, excitedly. "Have you ever heard of astral projection? I think that we were trying to communicate with each other through our dreams. To find each other again."

Jamie laughed lightly. "Oh, Mulder, I've missed you."

"I've missed you, too. If you only knew how much." Tenderly, Mulder ran a finger down his nose and said, "I promise, everything will be all right."

~oo0oo~

Oil lamps cast a warm orange glow across the cabin's living room. From beside the double doors, Walter continued to watch the reunion with a protective scowl. Darkness had started to fall and he could just make out the two figures beside the lake. Nearby, Alex sat in a powder blue recliner with one leg slung over the side. Walter still felt an electric shock seeing Krycek alive.

"How has he been?" Walter asked, out of the blue.

"Just fine until recently."

"With all he's been through..."

Alex gave him a dark look. "What are you so worried about?"

"Worried? Yes, I suppose I am."

"About Mulder?" he teased. "I'm the one who ought to be worried about Jamie. I'm beginning to think it was a bad idea to bring them back together."

Walter turned and regarded him suspiciously. Ever since Krycek swept back into their lives, there was an odd proprietory concern about Jamie everytime he was mentioned. Never one to hold back, Walter decided to voice his thoughts.

"What I'm worried about is why you didn't turn Jamie over to Avatar when you found him?" he questioned the younger man, scanning his face for a reaction.

Alex sat back and pondered Walter's question. There was still a huge part of his story he'd deliberately left out. The silence spoke volumes and Skinner's voice cracked like a shotgun of insinuations.

"Maybe it was the same reason Mulder fell in love with him? Is that it, Krycek? Are you trying to keep Jamie for yourself?"

Taken aback, Alex stood and walked over to Walter. "I just can't win, can I? I thought I'd made it perfectly clear where my feelings lie," he paused, then took a breath. "It would have been easy to turn Jamie over. I just didn't expect to care for him."

Walter was about to speak, but Alex beat him to the punch. "No, and it's not what you're thinking. Yes, I was curious to learn what kind of hold he had over Mulder. I just never expected to care for him. Jamie's the first friend I've had in..." his voice broke off. "Look, I'm risking my life keeping him hidden from Avatar. I should have kept him hidden from Mulder, too. He certainly was in no hurry to find him."

"That's because he couldn't remember what happened, Krycek!" Walter blasted. He prepared himself for a verbal onslaught, but Alex's attitude took him completely offguard.

Alex jumped from the chair and stood before Walter. "I just don't want Jamie to get hurt," he said. "Or anyone else."

Their faces drew in close. Walter tried to steady his breathing. The sound of car doors slamming interrupted the moment. Alex jerked his head up and raced to the large bay window facing out onto the front lawn. Hiding behind a silk drapery, he peered out cautiously. Through the growing darkness, he could see that a black Lexus had driven through the camoflauged path. Vines clung to the windshield wipers. Two men dressed in the style of door-to-door salesmen were investigating Mulder's parked car. Alex swore in Russian under his breath.

Skinner hurried up beside him. "What's going on?"

"I think our friends from Avatar followed us here. Fuck! I knew I should have come back alone!" With one swift, trained movement Alex reached inside a cabinet and held a nasty looking glock in his hand.

Walter, the stronger of the two, wrenched it from his hands and held it aloft. "Just what do you think you're doing?" he demanded.

"Do you have any idea what danger we'll be in if they find Jamie?"

"No, why don't you enlighten me?" he asked, sternly. Walter knew the sneaky rat had been keeping something from them.

At that moment, Mulder escorted Jamie in through the back door. "Walter, there's someone very important I'd like for you to meet." His smile dropped at the sight of Skinner holding a gun out of Krycek's reach. "What the hell is going on in here?"

Alex ignored both of them, he hurried across to Jamie's side. "Come on, quick!" He attempted to pull him away from Mulder, but Mulder kept a firm grip on his shoulders.

"Why, what's all the fuss?" questioned Mulder.

Alex sighed impatiently. He was really in no mood for Mulder's overprotective ballsy attitude. "Our friends from Avatar have tracked us down."

"Avatar? Did you tell them where we were?" he snapped.

"Would you two stop squabbling?" Walter scolded from his position by the window. "Those two men are just standing out there. Like there waiting on something."

~oo0oo~

Outside, a thick rolling mist appeared out of nowhere, hovering just above the ground. Leaves rustled in the unnatural air. Two figures cut their way through the chill. Augustus Thascales examined the stationary vehicle while his partner, Richard Frazer, kept an eye on the cabin.

Everything was going as planned. They'd been watching Fox Mulder's apartment building like a couple of vultures; waiting to swoop at the first sign of action. It hadn't taken long for it to arrive in abundance. Using the surveillance photographs supplied by Avatar, they'd been able to quickly single out each of the three men who entered the complex. Skillfully they followed them from the District to this isolated area in the country.

Richard's keen eyes spotted a curtain falling back into place. He nodded and made to head up the winding stone path. Augustus stopped him with a restraining hand.

"No, we must wait and watch for them to make the next move," he told him sternly.

The impatient zeal in Richard voice made his reply come out as a whine. "But, the Deliverer is near. I can feel it in my bones."

"Yes, so can I. The High Priest will be most pleased." Augustus cocked his head to the side. "There's something else in the air. Don't you sense it?"

Richard lifted his head as if sniffing the air. His skin tingled at the sound of something large dragging itself along the ground. He glanced back toward Augustus in amazement. The older man nodded with a smirk. Together, they reached inside their collars to reveal silver pentagrams. As one, they pressed the ancient symbol to their foreheads.

~oo0oo~

Mulder and Krycek were at loggerheads, staring daggers at one another from across the room. Jamie stood between the two hot blooded men. He seemed to be torn between them. Walter froze, the hair on his arms prickling. Suddenly, the weapon felt very heavy in his hand. "Shh!" he whispered, trying to gain their attention. "Listen!"

"What? I can't hear anything," Alex replied.

Walter nodded with his head. "There's something outside, moving this way."

The room became stone silent.

A harsh slithering, whispering scream sounded from all around. Mulder swallowed hard, his restored memories making him realize all too well what it was.

"We've got to get out of here, now!" he hissed. Beside him, Jamie turned and stared around, wide-eyed with nervous anticipation.

An icy chill spread through the room, and the lamps flickered in response. A hissing shadow passed behind the back doors. Everyone turned to it, Walter brandishing the glock for a target.

An eerie silence followed for a moment.

With a tremendous force of energy, the thick oak door smashed inwards. The cabin literally rocked under pressure. An enormous, hideous shape filled the doorway. Alex scrambled backwards from the glistening, sluglike body of the Leviathan. Its five pointed head reared up like a cobra. A mouth full of spitting tentacles roared triumphantly.

Jamie took a few steps forward. In an instant, Mulder gripped his shoulders and pulled him back. Mulder had been braced for this encounter. But this was larger, stronger and more vicious than the shoggoth he'd seen so many years ago. "Close your eyes!" he shouted urgently.

The horror of the Leviathan seemed to hypnotize Skinner. He simply could not tear his eyes away from the frightening sight.

"Use the gun!" Alex exclaimed, wishing that it was still in his hands.

"I...I can't." Walter stood paralyzed under the monster's enormous power.

"That won't work!" Mulder told them, frantically trying to remember how to deal with such a legendary creature. Roaring until the windows shook, the Leviathan glided slowly nearer.

Mulder screwed his eyes tight and smacked himself in the forehead, willing himself to remember. Alex cut his eyes sideways and gasped when he saw that the creature was ignoring Walter and instead fixating on Jamie.

"Hey, you! Over here!" cried Alex, waving his arms to gain its attention.

The Leviathan swung itself around, its tail striking Walter. Alex tumbled forward and grabbed the glock as the older man fell. In one swift movement, he leveled it up to aim at the horror. It turned round again, hissing angrily, and the gaping mouth lunged down.

"Jamie!" Alex warned.

But Jamie slid neatly out of the way and the seething creature swept right past him and straight toward Mulder!

"Oh, shit!" Mulder ducked and rolled away.

Hissing in frustration, it tore round and once more Jamie staggered back, staring in silent awe. The tentacled mouth bore down and then inspiration struck.

"Salt!" Mulder declared, jumping up and sliding his long legs over the kitchen counter. The slimy shell of the Leviathan crushed a table beneath its bulk in a frenzied attempt to reach him.

Not waiting any longer, Krycek fired the gun.

~oo0oo~

In the misty darkness, the shot echoed from the cabin. Richard glanced at his colleague. Augustus merely smiled. "Do not worry. Their time is running out. The non-believers cannot harm the Leviathan with such a weapon. It will take care of them and bring the Deliverer to us."

~oo0oo~

Mulder slammed down hard onto the linoleum when the bullet ripped across the room. His ears rang from the shot. Gripping the counter, he hauled himself up and found the creature surging back toward Krycek and Walter. Mulder dashed to the cabinets and scattered the contents maniacally until he found the prize he sought.

He hurled the cylindrical container. It shattered, showering the Leviathan with salt. An ear piercing screech filled the room and it slithered back.

Leaping back over the counter, Mulder slipped past and reached for Jamie. "Jamie? Jamie, come on!"

With a roar of pure agony, the creature convulsed and twisted, collapsing into a heap on the floor. Its skin cracked open, emitting a foul vapour. Gagging from the stench, Alex clasped the gun tightly and ran over to join Mulder and Jamie who was staring down at the shattered body.

"Jamie? Are you all right?" asked Mulder, deeply troubled.

"You killed it," he stated quietly.

Mulder nodded grimly. "Yes, I did. There could be more of them on the way."

"More?" Krycek repeated. "Come on, let's get our asses out of here." He helped Jamie toward the door.

Mulder hurried over and knelt beside Walter. "What about Avatar?"

Alex looked back. "Oh, I'll handle them," he said with relish, cocking the gun for good measure. Wrapping an arm around Jamie's shoulders, Alex lead him outside.

Anger boiling to the bursting point, Mulder took Walter under the arm and helped him up. Walter spit out a few drops of blood and wiped at his mouth. "Did you see that?" he asked, breathlessly.

"I know!" raged Mulder. "That rat bastard's taking over. Jamie needs me, not him!"

Infuriated, Walter grasped Mulder's shoulders and twisted him around. "Mulder!" he barked, pointing down at the dissolving remains of the creature. He had to make him understand. "That thing. What the hell is it?"

Turning his hazel eyes to the bubbling stench, Mulder had a flash of his Oxford flat back in 1983 when Professor Wickham destroyed a similar horror.

"It's called a shoggoth," he explained.

Walter shook his head and instantly regretted it. His skull ached terribly. "Mulder, I have to admit that this is a bit beyond me," he confided.

Mulder gave him a half-grin. This was getting to be like the good old days. "Lovecraft wrote about them in his works. Seems he was spot on. Its like a servant, seeking out a Chosen One."

"Jamie?" he asked. "The second it burst inside, he didn't even flinch."

"He was in shock," Mulder sighed as if the weight of the world were resting on his shoulders. "What are you saying?"

"I think there's more going on here than either one of them is telling us."

"It doesn't mean that Jamie is involved. Does it?" He gazed pleadingly at Walter. "That's possible, isn't it?"

To his surprise, Walter's voice was gentle as he replied, "Yes, it's possible, Mulder. And for your sake, I hope it's the truth."

~oo0oo~

Alex walked slowly down the front steps, wincing as the wood creaked ominously beneath his feet. He scanned the darkness for any sign of the Avatar agents. They now knew that he had Jamie, and they would stop at nothing to get him. He whirled round, slightly amazed to find the Lexus missing.

"I guess that ball of slime scared them off," he reasoned, making his way back toward Jamie.

"He shouldn't have killed it," Jamie told him angrily.

Alex looked at him curiously. This tone was unlike Jamie. "Are you all right?"

Jamie looked away, refusing to meet his eyes. "Of course I'm all right. Why shouldn't I be?"

"Didn't that creature scare you? Mulder killed it to save you."

"I heard," he replied coldly.

Alex took Jamie's chin in his hand, and forced Jamie to look him in the face. "What's the matter with you?"

Jamie stared at him defiantly, then slowly a look of total misery filled his face. "Alex, help me," he whispered. "I made it appear!"

[Next Episode: Who's Who?]

 


 

Chapter Seven: Missing Pieces

Walter wrinkled up his nose at the foul stench invading Alex's cabin. Thanks to Mulder, the horrific creature was no more than a bubbling stain. Mulder stood close by, remembering similar events from the past. Just like an elder thing's victim, in death all the binding energy was gone, leaving nothing but a husk.

"Mulder, what are you going to do?" Walter asked, nodding his head to the bay window. Krycek and Jamie could be seen talking outside on the front porch.

"I need to ask you a huge favor," Mulder told him, his hazel eyes fierce with determination. "I'm going to take Jamie back to my apartment. I think you should go back to your place with Krycek."

"What?" Had he heard Mulder correctly?

Mulder continued excitedly. "Keep him there as long as you can. Tie him down if you have to, but try to find out what he's hiding."

Tie Krycek down? This thought caused a shocking warmth in Walter's crotch. He cleared his mind and concentrated on what really worried him. For some reason Skinner didn't like the idea of Mulder and Jamie alone together. What if Jamie had been responsible for... Damnit Walter! Mulder's been an influence on you!

"Ok," he reluctantly agreed.

Mulder smiled like a boy who just pulled one over on his teacher. "I knew I could count on you." Walter might seem a little hard-edged sometimes, but really, he was as soft and tender as a marshmallow.

"Yeah," he sighed, "but you owe me big time."

He sure did! "The next time the Lakers are in town, I'll get you courtside seats!" he said, slapping the AD on the back.

Hopefully, he would have luck getting the truth out of Krycek. Mulder knew he was hiding something. Skinner was not a man to be trifled with. If anyone could get answers out of a resurrected Rat, Walter could. And Mulder could spend some time with his long lost lover.

Together, they headed outside where thick clouds of rolling mist which accompanied the creature's arrival, slowly dissipated around Jamie and the stunned figure of Alex Krycek. Gripping his arm, he searched his friend's deeply worried face for a clue to his sudden revelation.

"Jamie," he began slowly. "What are you talking about?"

Before his eyes, Jamie's statement and entire manner changed. "Um... what? Oh, it's nothing, Alex."

Alex eyed him suspiciously. It was NOT nothing. Jamie had just stood before him in deep misery saying that he'd made something appear. Before he could question him further, Krycek blinked rapidly and felt a strange presence in his thoughts. Yes, everything was perfectly fine.

Just then Mulder and a slightly dazed Skinner stepped through the remains of the cabin's front door. Mulder dodged a sharp piece of wood and stopped in his tracks.

"What's going on out here?" demanded Mulder.

An incredulous Alex did not have an answer. He stared at Jamie as if he'd forgotten something important.

"Nothing," he answered through gritted teeth, releasing Jamie's arm. "He's just upset about what happened."

Walking down the steps, Mulder gently pulled Jamie to his side. "Jamie, is that true?"

Alex visibly bristled at being challenged.

"What?" Jamie said. "Um, yeah. Whatever he says."

"Satisfied?" Alex smirked.

Sensing the potential volatile situation brewing, Walter joined them. "Look Nitro," he addressed Mulder, then turned to Alex, "and Nine I hate to break up this party, but were did the two suits go?"

Mulder snorted at the nicknames. Walter was right, he and Krycek were like a couple of explosives when brought together.

"I think that thing must've scared them off," Alex replied, not believing his own words.

"Not likely," Mulder cut in, skeptically.

"Why do you say that?" Walter wondered, raising an eyebrow. He winced from the cut sustained during the attack.

"They probably followed us from the apartment," Mulder hypothosied. "Avatar must be part of the cult and I seriously doubt a shoggoth would scare them away." He aimed his last retort at Alex, who scrunched up his nose.

"Can we just get away from here?" Jamie asked suddenly.

Mulder nodded vigorously. Jamie's strange reaction to the events was just stress, that's all. He needed to get him to a safe place away from Avatar, shoggoths and Alex Krycek. He didn't want to mention the naga box in front of the Krycek. He had a feeling it was what Avatar was after and that was another reason he desperately wanted to return home. He had to make sure the box -- and the evil force inside -- was still tucked away, safe and sound.

"Yes," he replied. "I'm going to take you back to my place."

"Good." There was a hint of pleasure in Jamie's simple response.

Alex plunged his hands deep into his pockets. "What are we going to do there?" he questioned, uncertain as to Mulder's decision.

"*We* aren't going to do anything," Mulder told him.

"Krycek," Walter interjected. "I want you to come back to my place."

"Why, Mr. Skinner." He smiled sarcastically. "This is so sudden."

"It's going to be sudden if Avatar has our homes staked out," Mulder remarked. Why was Walter fidgeting and looking down at his shoes? "I want to be sure we're not being watched."

Walter nodded in commiseration. "Mulder's right. And like you yourself said, he and Jamie need some time alone."

"Too dangerous," Alex replied. "I'm not even sure if anywhere is safe."

Jamie impatiently told him, "Alex, I'll be perfectly alright with Mulder. We need to leave before those men come back."

Alex sighed in defeat. Despite his better judgement and his nagging doubts, he took Jamie aside. "Hey, are you sure?"

"Of course, I am."

And just like that Alex was sure and confident.

Mulder slapped his hands together. "That's settled."

A nightbird call, strangled and throaty, emanated from above them, then to their left, then to their right. Shivering, Mulder looked at Jamie and felt it was time to go. The cabin, which at first seemed to pull him in with the promise of hope, now stood ominously in the darkness.

And so, led by Mulder, they moved toward the car.

~oo0oo~

When the vehicle pulled out of the narrow, shrouded pathway, Richard nudged the older man seated next to him. Upon hearing the shrieking death cries of the Leviathan, they had returned to their car and concealed themselves along the country road. Their waiting had paid off.

~oo0oo~

"They should not have tried to make physical contact," Blair's response crackled.

Gordon stood before him, relaying the excited phone call from their two brothers. "But my lord, there were only three men with the Deliverer. It would not have been hard to take him tonight."

"It was a stupid risk. That Assistant Director Skinner was already suspicious and uneasy when he left the office."

"They had to call and tell you that a Leviathan appeared," retorted Gordon stubbornly.

Blair listened to the excited babble with cold disdain. "Yes, and somehow the unbelievers destroyed it. Whatever they do, they cannot keep the Deliverer hidden forever."

Gordon stood before the gleaming desk, anxious to speak his mind. Matthew sensed this and waved his hand. "Well?"

"What about your agent?" he pressed. He'd always known Alex Krycek was a liability the day he stepped foot in Avatar.

"Krycek has played his role well," Blair said, tapping his finger on the desktop. "He gave us the computer software, and participated in our tests."

"But, my lord," Gordon protested.

"His betrayal has not gone unnoticed. I will deal with him in my own manner," Blair smiled back maliciously. He stood and moved round the desk. "Contact Augustus and Richard. Inform them of my arrival."

"Sir?"

"If you want something done right, do it yourself. That's what my father used to say." Blair paused at the doorway. "Are our brothers prepared?"

"They're just waiting for the word."

"Make certain that all are ready. When I return with the Deliverer, we must not miss this opportunity."

Stratton's voice became a chant. "You lead us now."

Leaving the room, Blair strode purposefully down the hallway and past the portraits he'd painted. His secretary, Hannah Giroux, looked up from her computer screen as her boss approached.

"Book a flight for Washington, D.C. immediately," he told her.

"Yes, Mr. Blair." She nodded her short red head. "Sir, you received a call from Professor Bowman in the research lab."

"Inform him to have the facility ready upon my return," he snapped impatiently.

Hannah quickly picked up the phone and punched in the extension. She really hated this job! More and more, Mr. Blair was giving her the creeps.

Matthew stepped into the nearby elevator and smoothed down his suit as the silver doors chimed closed. The strange events of his tormented life were moving toward their supreme climax. His father had been a fool, but he would not fail! Blair was a man with a single obsession -- power. Just thinking about his destiny, he was high on an adrenalin rush he could not control.

~oo0oo~

Sometime later, having dropped Walter and Krycek off, Mulder sat beside Jamie inside his apartment. He was very, very worried. The reunion was not what he'd expected. And Jamie's attitude toward the entire incident inside the cabin left him feeling uneasy. At least the naga box was hidden exactly where he left it.

Jamie had remained quiet during the entire ride, and Mulder's attempts to engage in small talk were fruitless. He wasn't sure whether it was just shock or whether Jamie just honestly didn't know how to respond. The old Jamie, the one he knew and fell in love with, would have thrown his arms around him and smothered his face in kisses. This Jamie -- frozen, silent -- was a stranger.

Mulder thought back to the day before Oxford's autumn festival. With a beatific smile, Jamie had told him how much he loved the ocean. It put everything into perspective because it made him feel so small.

"Jamie, would you like to go to the beach?" he suggested. With a powerful company like Avatar hunting them down, they didn't stand a chance here. He had to get Jamie out of the country, somewhere peaceful and safe. Maybe then he could recuperate from his ordeal. Mulder hoped so with all his heart.

"Tell me again how you started remembering," Jamie spoke so suddenly that it nearly made Mulder jump.

Mulder sighed deeply. It was going to take time for him to fully recover. Distant or not, Mulder was just relieved and thankful to have him back. Sitting up on the sofa, Jamie peered at him inquisitively. For the first time, Mulder noticed that his eyes were no longer green, but a dull shade of grey.

"I started having visions," he replied.

"Visions?" Jamie questioned.

"Yeah, at first I thought I was going mad." He decided to omit the fact that he'd spent time in the hospital because of them. "Then, I received a package from Professor Wickham."

Jamie's eyes widened with interest. "Oh, really? What was inside?"

"You're not going to believe this." Mulder smirked at a private joke. "But it was a book and that damn box."

"The box?"

"It still contains the majority of Azathoth's essence that the professor was able to capture," Mulder explained.

"Where is the box now?" Jamie prodded.

"Jamie, don't worry. It's in a safe place. Nothing's going to hurt you again."

Jamie began pacing the room, full of agitation. "But I can't help but be worried. I say you get the box so we can get rid of it. Then we can get on with our lives."

Mulder stood up, taken aback by the driving tone of Jamie's voice. "No, Jamie. We can't let if fall into the wrong hands."

Jamie puffed out his cheeks in exasperation. He seemed about to protest, but instead gasped and held onto the wall. "Mulder, I'm dying," he whispered in a weak little voice.

Mulder whipped his head up. "What?"

Jamie turned with a look of irritation, then a forced smile. He held his arm tightly against his chest. "I'm dying for something to drink. Could you get me a glass of water, please?"

"Um, sure." Mulder moved toward the kitchen, casting a nervous glance back. "I'll be right back."

Jamie nodded, completely ignorning him. "Ah-ha, ok."

Stepping onto the linoleum, Mulder leaned back against the wall and exhaled. He was more worried about his love then ever. Eyeing the portable phone, he picked it up and began to dial.

~oo0oo~

Meantime, across town, Walter had carefully checked his apartment for any signs of an intruder. Krycek, a master of breaking into places, assured him there had been no forced entry. Now they both sat across from one another nursing glasses of whiskey. Walter had needed a good, stiff drink and Alex had heartily joined him. Actually, he was hoping to get the sly Russian drunk enough to where he would talk openly.

Krycek quietly downed the contents of his glass, thinking quietly to himself. Something odd had happened just before they left the cabin. But what? A thick fog shrouded his mind. He peered from time to time at Skinner seated across from him. He'd forgotten how handsome the man was.

He honestly couldn't believe he was here, back in D.C. When he'd made the deal with Avatar to locate Jamie Grayson in exchange for a clone, he promised himself he'd never set foot in this town again. Matthew Blair had been all too eager for the experiment to take place. There was a risk that the clone would be unstable. All the better for Krycek. He'd warmed to the idea immediately. No matter what happened, the clone would die and he could begin a new life. All he had to do was deliver Jamie into Avatar's hands. But that had all changed. And here he was facing the man who'd shot down his clone, thinking that Alex Krycek had become an insane, rabid dog. He would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when it happened.

"Alright, so what's in that head of yours?" Walter asked pointedly, causing Alex to jerk from his thoughts.

"Huh? What do you mean?" Alex murmured innocently.

"Spill it, Krycek," Walter continued, casually setting down his drink on the coffee table. "I noticed that worried glance when Mulder drove away with Jamie."

Alex shrugged. "Oh, I'm just hoping he's going to be alright. He was acting very strangely."

"Yeah, I noticed that," Walter added sternly. "What do you think's going on?"

"I'm not sure."

"Come on. There's got to be a reason Avatar is after him."

Alex frowned. How much could he confide in him? How, when he hacked into Blair's computer files and saw Jamie's photo he offered his services in exchange for a clone? How he was initiated into their demonic cult, worshipping a hell god? Shifting in the chair uncomfortably, Alex replied, "I think Mulder has something they want."

"Like what?"

"Something Avatar would kill to get their hands on. I was hoping maybe I could find it and..."

"Hmm... maybe keep it for yourself?" Walter finished for him. "Offer them a ransom?"

Alex sat bolt upright and gave the older man a dark, wounded look. "No! I was hoping to help Jamie." He paused. Why did this sound so familiar? In the back of his mind, he heard a deep voice resonating, 'You must help me.' He shook his head and continued. "I've put myself in more danger than you could possibly imagine."

Walter eyed Krycek warily. "Exactly what danger? Avatar cloned you, and you stole computer equipment for them. You take Mulder to Jamie and all hell breaks loose."

"What do I have to do to prove that I've changed?" Alex shouted, desperately. He reached inside his jacket pocket and Walter's eyes widened. Jumping to his feet, he held the silver palm pilot in his hand. Breaking into a sweat, Walter steeled himself for the piercing pain. He gasped in shock as Alex lifted the device and hurled it to the floor. It smashed apart, glittering pieces catching in the lamplight.

"What, I..." Walter tried to grasp the man's actions. Edging off the sofa, he stared down at the liquid crystal seeping into the carpet.

"I tried to control you." His voice was painfilled. "And I realized how wrong I was. This should show you that I want to put the past behind me."

Another slap of surprise hit Walter and he blinked rapidly. This was not what he thought Krycek would say. Was he serious?

Uncontrollably, Alex took Walter into his arms and kissed him feverishly. Skinner broke away and held the Russian at arm's length.

"Now I'm really confused," Walter sputtered, in the back of his mind he knew this was just a distraction.

"Me, too. I don't know where that came from." Alex stared off into space. Before his eyes, images flashed before him. He could see himself in Oxford meeting Jamie... and an alien voice, steeped in dark power. 'So, you know who I am. Good.' Words inside of his head, conflicting with his desire to leave.

"I think Jamie brought something back with him," he said slowly.

"What do you mean?" Walter's lips tingled from the unexpected kiss.

"I-I don't know, but it's on the tip of my mind." Alex struggled with his memories. He grasped at the lost jigsaw pieces. Some powerful influence forced him to return to the States, to bring Mulder and Jamie back together, to keep Skinner occupied. But why? The longer he was away from it, the clearer his mind became...

Walter, suddenly afraid for his friend, gripped Krycek's shoulders. Firmly, he shook him awake as if Alex were in the middle of a waking dream.

"Tell me now! Do you think Mulder's in danger?"

Alex thrust him aside. "From Avatar, yes."

"Then, you have to help him. You have to tell me all you know."

"Alright," he agreed, his green eyes peering intently. "Helping Mulder won't change anything between us. I'm doing this for you, I want you to remember that."

Pondering this, Walter sat back down, eager to hear Krycek's story.

[Next episode: The Enemy Within]

 


 

Chapter Eight: Kiss of Darkness

Dana Scully's first gut reaction was one of stunned disbelief. Jamie Grayson -- Mulder's first love who had supposedly died in an avalanche eighteen years prior -- was alive. She chided herself for being surprised. The wonders associated around Fox Mulder never ceased to amaze her. What really packed a whollop had been the revelation that Alex Krycek was the one to have found him!

With a speech prepared about him going off without telling her, it ended being swallowed the second Mulder told her why he needed her to meet him at his apartment and bring her medical bag. He had been determined to find Jamie, and by god he did it!

Knocking on Mulder's door, she found herself exhaling nervously. Her best friend neglected to tell her the circumstances surrounding Jamie's miraculous survival (typical Mulder!) and she had every intention of finding out. When the door finally opened she was greeted by Mulder's beaming -- slightly worried -- face.

"Thanks for coming," he said, ushering her inside.

"No problem." She smiled back. "Mom loves spending time with William." She reached out and gave him a warm hug. "This whole thing is amazing," she whispered.

"Yeah," he agreed, "it's just..."

"Mulder, what's wrong? I could hear it in your voice over the phone."

He looked away, and Scully knew he was dealing with something he didn't want to accept. "What can I do to help?" she asked, concerned.

He nodded toward his living room. "Would you do a medical examination on Jamie? He's been ill and I want to know exactly what's wrong."

Was it her imagination or was there a hidden meaning behind his words? "Of course, but Mulder, why didn't you..."

"It's a long story. Let's just say he's safer here."

Scully simply nodded, well used to his evasive manner. Beside her, Mulder breathed a deep sigh of relief now that she was here. Dana walked inside and her breath caught in her throat. Standing in Mulder's living room was a young man who looked all of nineteen.

"How old is he again?" she whispered out of a corner of her mouth.

"I know! Yeah, he's pale as a ghost but I swear he looks exactly the way he did back in 1983!"

She sighed. "Mulder, I can promise you he's no immortal alien. Just chalk it up to good genes. I have a thirty-year-old cousin who looks like he's sixteen." Breaking off, she smiled and approached the person in question.

"Hi, Jamie. I'm Dana." She extended her hand, and Jamie hesitated before shaking it. "Um, Mulder, where would you like me to examine him?"

"How about my bedroom? You two can have some privacy while I make a phone call."

"Ok," she said. "Jamie, after you."

Mulder watched them head down the little hallway, giving Jamie a reasurring smile. He hoped that Scully could find out exactly what was wrong. Just as the bedroom door closed, his telephone began to ring.

"Hello?"

~oo0oo~

"It's me," Gordon Stratton's voice came down the line.

Outside Mulder's apartment, the sleek black Lexus sat patiently watching the building. Augustus and Richard, two high ranking Avatar board members and brothers in the cult of Azathoth, had trailed both parties back to their respective homes.

Richard turned to the older man seated next to him. "It's Brother Gordon," he said, indicating the telephone.

"Where are you?" Gordon asked.

"On a street opposite Fox Mulder's apartment," Richard answered.

"Good. Do not make physical contact."

"Sir?"

"The High Priest will be arriving in a few hours. You're to meet him at the airport. Then and only then will you take action."

"I understand."

Gordon was about to hang up when a sudden thought struck him. "Where is the traitor, Alex Krycek?"

"He went back to the home of AD Skinner."

"Really? So he's nowhere near the Deliverer?"

"No, sir."

"Excellent! There's been a change in plans. Send Brother Augustus to the airport. I want you to find Krycek and dispose of him."

Richard was about to speak, but Gordon quickly hushed him. "This is between you and I, brother. Our High Priest's judgement is clouded as far as Krycek is concerned. You will be doing a great service to Azathoth by ridding us of the devious traitor."

"I understand," he said.

"Good, report back to me when the task is completed."

Hanging up, Gordon sat back at his desk. Finally, he would be rid of Alex Krcyek once and for all...

~oo0oo~

Closing the door, Dana set down her medical bag on Mulder's dresser. She eyed Jamie warily. His eyes danced around the room, looking for something.

She cleared her throat. "Jamie, if you'll have a seat and open your shirt, please."

He seemed to only half hear her. "What? Oh, ok."

Dana felt an imperceptible chill whenever he gazed at her with those piercing eyes. It was almost as if he were reading her mind. Shaking off the odd sensation, she knelt beside him. First she took his blood pressure, her brow furrowing with concern. Next, she listened to his heart and breathing. Dana pressed the cold stethoscope to his chest and he didn't even flinch.

"Your heart rhythm is very erratic, breathing shallow," she told him, pulling the ear pieces down around her neck.

"I'm sure it's nothing," he remarked stiffly. "I've just been having a little trouble..." He gasped and startled Dana. He gripped her wrist and said weakly, "Please, help me!"

"What's wrong? Is it your heart?"

He released her arm and sat back calmly, as if nothing had taken place. "Um... I'm fine."

She shook her head ostensibly. "Oh, no. You're not getting out of this that easily."

"I promise it's nothing," he smiled. "I want to thank you for helping me. I just need to rest."

She noticed that he was also speaking different now. His voice was slower, deeper, the accent completely gone.

"I want you to rest," she told him, uneasily. "I'm going to have a chat with Mulder."

Gathering her things, Dana walked back into Mulder's living room. He clicked off his phone and turned, pain in his eyes.

"Mulder, what's wrong?"

"That was my friend Carolyn. She wanted to know if I was coming to the funeral. Scully, why didn't you tell me about Phoebe?"

Dana exhaled and took him by the arm. "I'm truly sorry. I didn't tell you at first because you'd only just left the hospital when I found out."

He turned away and strode over to the window. He simply could not believe what had happened to his friend. His mind was still fuzzy on the events when he, Phoebe and Carolyn had revisited the catacombs.

"Is there anything I can do?" Dana asked, moving up behind him.

"It was just like all the others. Her body was nothing but a husk," he choked on the words. Dammnit! A shoggoth must have lain dormant in the caves, killing Professor Wickham, Inspector Winston and now Phoebe. He felt a deep surge of guilt and remorse.

"Mulder?" She placed a tentative hand on his shoulder.

"All I need is to put a stop to this." Mulder returned the phone to its cradle and wiped at his eyes. "So what's the verdict on Jamie?"

Dana noted the frightened little boy look in Mulder's eyes. He'd been waiting so long to find Jamie and she had to be the bearer of more bad news. She motioned toward his sofa.

"Why don't you have a seat?" she suggested.

"Uh-oh," he sighed. "It's bad, isn't it?"

Taking him by the arm, Dana gently made him sit. "Listen to me, Mulder. You aren't going to like this, but you asked for my medical opinion." Swiftly, she described Jamie's condition and Mulder felt his heart contract inside his chest. "He really should be admitted to a hospital ASAP."

Frowning, Mulder clasped his hands together tightly. "I can't do that, Scully," he declared.

"Why ever not?" she sighed in frustration. "Certainly you wouldn't jeopardize his health. There's something causing an immense strain to his heart. I'd feel much better if he were under constant care."

"It's too dangerous. Can't you continue to treat him?"

"I suppose so," she agreed. She paused and took a deep breath. "But, Mulder, here's the hard part." She sat down next to him and put a hand on his arm. "I'm very concerned about the psychological trauma he may have suffered."

Mulder gazed ahead, trying to ignore the pang that went through him. Scully knew that he was so relieved to have Jamie back that he would dismiss anything negative.

"One minute he's completely ignoring me, then he's begging for help, next he's calm." That definitely got a reaction. She saw the unmistakable flash of suspicion in his eyes. "Mulder, it's almost as if he's under a hypnotic trance or suggestion."

He felt a prickle of unease. "What are you trying to say?"

"Before I say anything else, I want you to take me step by step through how Jamie came back to you."

Mulder became very uneasy as he nervously chewed on his thumbnail. "No, I really don't think you want to know any more than I've already told you."

"But it may help in his treatement," she countered.

He gave in, obviously bursting to tell her. Dana listened patiently as he related how Jamie, after being stabbed, crawled out of the cave and awoke in an Oxford hospital with no memory.

Scully sat back. "Is that a genuine explanation, or are you just making it up?"

"Why would I?" he asked, defensively.

"To save yourself a longer, more accurate explanation."

"Would I do that?"

"Almost certainly! Mulder, this is insane. No one, absolutely no one could survive an avalanche like the one you described."

Mulder jumped up and began to pace back and forth. "No one but Jamie. He came back for me. Is it any harder to believe than when you were abducted or when I came back to life before your eyes?"

"I guess it makes sense in a crazy kind of way," she murmured. "I just don't want you to dismiss the possibility."

"Well, isn't this a switch? I'm the skeptic and you're the believer?"

Dana snickered and glanced at her watch. "I guess I'd better pick up William."

"I'll walk you out," he said. He wiped his nervous hands on his jeans.

"Again, I'm very sorry about Phoebe," she told him. Mulder nodded silently. "Just keep a close watch on Jamie."

Mulder licked his dry bottom lip worriedly. "He's just been through so much," he tried to convince himself. "It's just going to take him time."

"I hope you're right, Mulder." She was taken by surprise when he reached out and hugged her warmly. He held on, and Dana had the nasty feeling he was saying goodbye.

She turned back to look at him. "I'll be by tomorrow to check on him. In the meantime, what he needs now is rest, ok?"

"Thank you, doctor." He smiled before closing the door. Leaning against the frame, he sighed. Mulder turned and focused his eyes toward the bedroom. He wondered if Walter was having any luck with a certain Rat...

~oo0oo~

Across the District, Walter Skinner sat in stunned silence after listening to Alex Krycek's tale of how he became embroiled in the strange dealings of Avatar.

"What the hell possessed you to join their cult?" he asked, then coughed at the unintentional pun. "Didn't you have enough of that with the Consortium?"

Alex sighed wearily. "Look, it was the only way they'd take me into their confidence. I really just traded one hell for another."

Skinner just shook his head, amazed at the recklessness of the man. "And you really don't know what they're after?"

"No," he replied truthfully. "But whatever it is, it's big and somehow tied in to Mulder and Jamie. Avatar found us before, they will again. They know I betrayed them by keeping Jamie out of their reach."

"Feeling guilty, Krycek? That's a good sign. It means you still have a conscious."

"I told you I never wanted to hurt you. All I want is your help."

Walter felt speechless and just sat and stared at the other man. A loud, booming crack caused them both to jump. The apartment's front door crashed inwards, and Brother Richard hurried inside, leveling a Glock. His eyes swept the room for the traitorous Brother Krycek. The gun came up with Walter in its sights.

"No!" Alex shouted, diving and tackling the assailant. Holding tightly to his gunarm, the force of Alex's dive sent both men hurling down onto a table. It fragmented into splintered pieces.

Walter, heart thumping against his chest, watched the gun's progress as it skittered across the floor.

Overwhelmed, Richard struggled to his feet and bounded through the open door and down the hall.

Recovering the pistol, Walter took off in pursuit, he stopped in the doorway as a low groan emanated from the floor. Krycek rolled away from the shattered table, holding his waist painfully. Walter saw a broken tableleg glistening with fresh blood.

Forgetting the intruder, he knelt by his side. "You just saved my life," he whispered in disbelief.

He quickly examined Alex's now ragged shirt, stained dark red. Wrapping an arm around his brawny shoulders, Walter carefully lifted Alex to his feet and helped him across to the sofa. Removing his shirt in one swift motion, Walter balled it up and pressed it against the wound. "You were lucky. It's not too deep."

His fingers pressed into the Russian's waist and Alex responded with a loud grunt.

"If I'm going to clean this wound, I have to stop the bleeding," Walter told him.

Above him, Alex cast a nervous glance. "Do you even know what you're doing?"

"It may surprise you to know that I took a course in first aid," Walter replied with a half-smile. "So just try and keep still."

Krycek shifted his weight and grasped the edge of the sofa. "That's easy for you to say. You don't have a set of fingers digging into your body."

"Yeah, well. I'm almost done." With one hand, Walter took a sofa pillow and handed it to him. "Bite on this or something."

Alex looked at it for a moment, then threw it aside. After having your arm amputated with no anastesia, he could take an AD's thick fingers in his side. What worried him more was Avatar's presence.

"Go on and warn Mulder," he said.

Walter shook his head. "That guy's long gone. Besides, they were after you, not Mulder."

"What makes you think that?"

"Presumably they followed us here. Why not just grab Jamie and go? No, they were after you."

"We still need to get to them," he said, eyeing the door.

"First we're going to make sure you're ok."

Alex eyed him curiously. His touch had become surprisingly gentle. "Why are you doing this?"

"Because I believe you," he replied.

Alex almost did a double-take, then his face lit up. "Thanks. It's been a long time since someone did."

"Maybe that's because you stopped believing in yourself?" Walter suggested.

Alex thought about this and realized it was true. "You know, I wasn't always playing both sides and constantly looking over my shoulder. I used to have dreams."

"If you really want to change, it's never too late for dreams. Maybe you'll find them again?" Stopping the blood flow, Walter pressed down one more time.

"Ow!" Alex moaned.

"You know it might be better if we stay put. They'll probably expect for us to take off. Speaking of things that need need to be taken off..." Walter stood and pointed down. "...um, your pants."

"What about them?" Alex replied sheepishly.

He smirked and rolled his brown eyes. "Well, I need to get to your wound."

Alex held his hands to his jeans protectively, like a child about to get a shot from the doctor.

Walter exhaled deeply. "Ok, you know what? It's just going to get infected. So you can either take your pants off on your own or I can always do it by force."

With a mischievious grin, Alex stood and unclasped the first button...

~oo0oo~

Taking a deep breath, Mulder opened his bedroom door and found Jamie standing beside a dresser. He ventured inside.

"Jamie, we need to talk," he said gently.

Jamie arched an eyebrow. "Really?"

"I'm a little worried. Scully said that you..."

With catlike grace Jamie moved foward, wrapping his arms around his neck. "Oh, don't worry. I'm fine." For the first time, he leaned in and kissed Mulder passionately on the lips. Instantly, Mulder pulled away.

"What's the matter?" asked Jamie, curiously.

"Um, nothing... it's just that," he struggled to find the words, "your kisses seem different, that's all."

"Don't be ridiculous."

"I can't help it, Jamie," he said, nervously.

"It's been too long. I want you so badly, Fox." He kissed him again.

Once more, Mulder pulled him away. A flash of terror in his eyes. "Why did you call me that?"

Jamie shrugged. "It's your name isn't it?" "Yes, but..." In the time he'd known Jamie, he never once called him by his first name. Before he could finish, the telephone began to ring. Near tears, Mulder thought he might lose his composure. "I'll be back," he managed to say, turning and leaving the room.

As soon as the door closed, Jamie turned triumphantly. "I can sense my essence. I'm so close to being whole."

Opening his eyes wide with panic, he stumbled and fell against Mulder's bed. Picking himself up, a look of pure anger masked his face. Holding onto the nightstand for support, he stared across at a wall mirror. A harsh, alien voice hissed from his lips.

"Stop fighting me!"

Reflected back was the glowing soul of Jamie Grayson. "You just made a big mistake kissing Mulder," Jamie's image told the creature inhabiting his body.

"Is that what you think?" Azathoth shot back at the aura only he could see.

"That's what I know," he replied defiantly. "Mulder's going to figure you out. I controlled my arm and my voice. I'll just keep getting stronger..."

"Wrong! You'll get weaker, and in a few hours, you'll die."

The golden aura surrounding Jamie's spirit flickered faintly. "You'd better watch your back. Because if I die, Mulder will make you wish you'd died with me."

Azathoth smiled, a light flashing dangerously in his borrowed eyes. "Such defiance. That'll change."

"What are you going to do?" Jamie's soul demanded.

"Your lover in there knows where my box is," Azathoth told him darkly. "I can't survive without my essence." With one last look at the sparkling reflection, he added, "And I'd much rather your soul die than mine."

~oo0oo~

As soon as he left the bedroom, Mulder paused to catch his breath. 'He's fine. It's just me.' Angrily, he answered the insistent ringing. "Yeah?"

"Mulder," three familiar voices replied at once.

The Lone Gunmen! He'd nearly forgotten he'd given them the Necronomicon to translate. Mulder fought to control his voice as he headed into the kitchen. "All right, what have you guys found out?"

"It's pretty exciting," Langly told him through a mouthful of grilled cheese sandwich.

"I have to know -- now!" he cried.

An awkward silence followed, then Byers continued. "There's something we've found out."

"Get your ass in gear, Mulder!" Frohike added.

"No, I can't leave," Mulder whispered into the receiver. "Just tell me what you found out."

"Well, once we found the right translation program, the book wasn't exactly cryptic."

"Go on," Mulder prodded.

"There's a cool representation of the naga box," Langly said.

Mulder cut in, impatiently. "I know what it looks like, what does it say?"

"It's an essence bearer," Byers explained.

Mulder gripped the phone tightly. "A what?"

"Basically it was constructed to trap the life essence of Azathoth. This cult discovered it and the prophecy of a chosen one. When a chosen one is sacrificed, the essence enters the host body."

"And this big bad old one with delusions of grandeur will live to deliver its kind back into the world," Frohike replied.

"What would the essence do?" Mulder had to know. He had to be certain. What was he thinking? No, it wasn't possible! It couldn't be!

"A life essence is comparable to a human soul. It can possess a chosen living being," Byers told him.

"We're talking Exorcist here," Langly said. "The thing is, it can't just possess anybody off the street."

"What do you mean?" Mulder asked slowly, feeling close to an answer.

"There's something in a Chosen One's genetic code that allows the being to take over."

"Genetic..." The word 'Avatar' flashed like a neon warning sign in his mind.

Byers broke in. "Mulder, even if a fraction of it entered, it would prove toxic and ultimately lethal to the Chosen One's pre-existing soul."

An impulse of fear gripped Mulder's heart. "Oh, my god," he said hoarsely, dropping to his knees.

"What is it, buddy?" Frohike asked.

All the color drained from Mulder's face. "He's been acting really... And he wasn't surprised... And his kiss... And he was so interested in the box..."

"Mulder, what are you talking about?" asked Byers.

"Yeah, you've actually been kissing somebody?!" Langly exclaimed. "Hey guys, I win the bet!"

Frohike groaned. "I lose. Now tell him what happened when we translated those symbols."

Byers, ever the clear head, ignored both of them. "We're trying to keep up, Mulder, but you're moving way too fast."

Their voices were drowned out by the rushing of blood in Mulder's ears. He pitched forward as if he'd just been punched in the stomach, and let the phone slip from his numb fingers. This is what happened, then. This was why. The answer to an eighteen year old riddle stared him coldly in the face.

"He's possessed. Jamie's possessed!"

[Next episode: Oxford Flashback]

 


 

===== Interlude One: The Curse of Azathoth =====

THE PROPHECY OF THE CHOSEN ONE
from The Necronomicon, translation unknown
(published in The Lone Gunman)

Beneath the Earth, an ageless evil stirred. Born amongst the stars, he and his brothers were lords in the time before man. Driven into the roots of the world, they strove to return one day.

One in their number, Azathoth, desired his freedom and stretched out with his astral influence. His dark power touched those willing to listen. When his followers numbered thirteen, he instructed them to find a strong, youthful body and bring it to the appointed place.

For in the sacred city of Rhy'leh they gathered, bringing with them one strong of body and spirit. What Azathoth had not forseen was the strange little man who appeared, bringing with him a box carved from mahogany. Azathoth's dark essence reached up through cracks in the earth, a sacrificial knife swept through the air.

But the little man wielded secret magic, and as the thick mist surrounded the chosen one, the stranger leapt forward to capture the essence. Sealed inside the box, Azathoth found himself trapped in a world of shadow.

The mysterious stranger rescued the young one and they travelled to many mystical lands.

But Azathoth would not be beaten. For the Chosen One left behind a daughter. From within the confines of the box, Azathoth's essence reached out. He sowed the seed of a curse when the daughter came of age. There would be other chosen ones, and other chances of escape, in another time, another place...

[The Book of Prophecy, Part One]

~*~*~*~*~

Charles Wickham, renowned for his travels, fell in love with a young Scot named Jeremiah Patterson. Shortly afterward, Charles left for the far east. Always interested in the occult, he came across a strangely carved box in an oriental market. The old stallholder told Charles that a great secret was contained inside and he could not sell it.

Distracting the old man, Charles took the ancient box. So Charles returned from the east, thinking this box would make a fine gift for Jeremiah. But what he never knew was that the box was cursed with evil and death.

That first night, a dark fog, not unlike anything seen before, crept across the moorland, and in the morning, several men lay dead -- their bodies dry and white. The elders claimed that their souls had been stolen from their bodies.

With a heavy heart, Charles gave his love Jeremiah the box. For a while, no more strange deaths occurred. Charles and Jeremiah made plans to leave the village and travel together.

Now the dark curse returned, swirling round the highlands in death. Each night, more and more villagers died. In the green forests, cowled figures appeared signalling doom. Charles turned to Jeremiah and said,

"A curse is following the box I stole. It will kill everyone in its path. I cannot allow anything to happen to you. I shall hide the box where no one can find it."

So Charles and Jeremiah fled the dead village, but the whispering mist followed. They arrived in Oxfordshire, thinking all would be safe in their new refuge.

But one night the dark figures took Jeremiah and the box away. Charles followed, determined to save his love. What he witnessed changed his life and those of his descendants forever.

For an evil power, older than time itself, reached out from the box to claim Jeremiah. Before him was a stranger, cold and devoid of love. Struggling toward him, Charles kissed Jeremiah farewell. He plunged a dagger into Jeremiah's heart to free him forever. Holding his dead lover close, Charles trapped the black mist once more inside the box.

The next day, Charles buried Jeremiah and carved a stone to place on his grave. Then, Charles hid the box where no soul could find it. As night fell, he prayed for Jeremiah and for forgiveness. Charles Wickham vowed that he and all those who followed would protect the Chosen from the touch of evil.

In half a century's time, the box would be discovered by the dark god's followers, and the curse reached out once more.

[The Book of Prophecy, Part Two]

~*~*~*~*~

"For the one touched by the curse shall bear the mark of the naga. Through a dream he will be revealed. They will call him The Deliverer. He will make the ultimate sacrifice and will be entombed in a pit. But Azathoth will not be complete. The life essence, lost in time, waits. The Great One will find escape, and be joined by one with shining eyes and the cunning of a wolf who has caused much suffering. For this is the one who shall lead The Deliverer to the box."

[The Book of Prophecy, Part Three]

===== Interlude Two: The Awakening =====

Oxford, Summer, 2000

Silence.

A pair of bright eyes pierced the impenetrable darkness. The power within the host body flexed his muscles. Sleep had overcome him, sleep that had lasted longer than expected. He reached out with his mind, and a faint smile appeared. Sensing traces, like taste, the life essence was not too far away. He would be complete.

Hibernation had kept the body intact. He was ready to leave this tomb. Time and shadow would no longer be his prison. Turning his head, he concentrated his power through borrowed eyes. Wind whipped through the chamber, accompanied by a whispering screech. An awesome force shifted the heavy stone. Within moments, it exploded. Slivered fragments rained down as the body of Jamie Grayson stood for the first time in eighteen years.

The ground above stirred, folding inwards. With a vast force he was lifted from the tomb and into the world. High above, there was a crack of thunder and gray clouds passed over the moon.

Azathoth scanned the dense forest. He stumbled and held onto a tree. Using his power to escape had weakened him. He could feel the presence of the Chosen One within his mind, struggling for release. Sucking in great lungfuls of night air, Azathoth felt control returning. Peering ahead, he could sense the naga box. It still contained the majority of his life essence. Without it, he would surely die. He needed assistance... Raw material to seek out his jailer...

The snapping of a twig!

Ah!

The clinging mist followed the lithe figure. Azathoth moved silently among the undergrowth. 'Yes! There he is... the one I have been waiting for. I can smell it on the wind. He has been touched by my curse.'

Stepping forward, Azathoth approached the frightened young man. A smile spreads across Azathoth's ghostly features. He enjoys the succulence of fear. Gathering risidual strength he forces the boy to stare into his glowing eyes, and he cannot resist.

The thick, whispering fog surrounded the screaming boy's body. Slowly, painfully, he twisted and transformed into the hideous shape of a shoggoth, an elder thing, the Leviathan. The instrument through which Azathoth shall find the one who holds the box. The newly born shoggoth reared up, its tentacled maw hissing at its master.

Azathoth smiled. "You know what to do. Follow me."

~*~*~*~*~

Azathoth stood over the empty husk of Professor Wickham. He'd taken great pleasure in killing the meddling old fool. A satisfying payback for all Wickham's ancestors who had prevented his becoming.

The Leviathan, rabid after two fresh kills, tore the flat apart in search of the naga box. Azathoth searched the empty rooms in a frenzy of activity. The box was here! Where had he hidden it? No! Azathoth stopped his obsessive pacing. Wickham had sent the box away, far away. 'I can barely detect it now,' he wailed to himself.

Furiously, Azathoth turned and came face to face with the glowing reflection of Jamie Grayson in a wall mirror. A beautiful golden aura swathed Jamie's soul. He stared back in horror at the harsh figure wearing his body.

"What's happening to me?" he gasped.

"You're just a trapped soul now," Azathoth casually told him, irritated that the Chosen One fought control.

Jamie struggled for air. "I can't breathe," he said weakly. "I feel like I'm suffocating."

"That's because your soul is dying," Azathoth replied with a hint of pleasure. "It's easier if you don't fight it."

Azathoth turned away, not wanting to continue the discussion. But the Chosen One persisted. "Where's Mulder?" he cried.

Azathoth cocked his head to the side. "Ah yes, the last link. He also dared to stop my becoming." Azathoth moved close to the mirror. "Don't worry, I'll find him again."

"I won't let you hurt him," Jamie threatened.

Azathoth simply smiled. "You may have a death wish, but I don't. One will come to help me."

~*~*~*~*~

Several months later, Azathoth stayed close to Oxford. He sent the Leviathan back to the sacrifical chamber. Not only to keep guard of the sacred inscriptions, but to also await his call. The dark god would need the manifestation for future use.

Waiting aeons for release, the curse had been fulfilled. His power had touched all through the centuries, wreaking vengeance. Azathoth stretched out with his mind, it was still weak without his complete essence, but strong enough to find the cursed. All that he needed was the wolf...

'Why does he make me wait? I want him here! Now!'

On a warm, autumn day the wolf appeared. Clothes suitably tattered and torn, Azathoth concealed himself until the right moment. He closed his eyes, reading the Russian's mind from afar. Smirking, he relished the devious thoughts emanating from within. Jealousy had sent this one searching.

"What are you doing?" Jamie's spirit angrily demanded.

With frustration, Azathoth glared at the image reflected through the shop window glass.

"Not as weak as you seemed after all?" The dark force residing within Jamie's body nodded toward the bustling crowd. "See that handsome man valiantly searching? It seems he has a colorful past with the man you love," Azathoth taunted.

A hopeful look filled Jamie's eyes, and Azathoth was quick to dash it. "What are you planning to do? Wave to him? You're just my reflection. Only I can see you," he scorned.

"Unh! What are you going to do to him?" Jamie exclaimed, fearful that this stranger would die along with that boy, Inspector Winston and Professor Wickham.

"Oh, don't worry. He's too cute to kill." Azathoth turned away, ready to catch the Russian's eye. "At last, another of the cursed arrives to play his part."

Alex Krycek hurried through the crowd toward whom he thought was Fox Mulder's long lost love, Jamie Grayson. Avatar had been right, he was alive after all this time!

"Jamie," he called, approaching him carefully.

Pretending not to know that name, Azathoth allowed weakness to show. Inside, he was privately overjoyed at the suitably confused Krycek. Using the Chosen One's compassion to reach out to this troubled man, Azathoth could feel the dying soul struggle in vain.

'Alex Krycek has a heart filled with hidden depth, something he has rarely let anyone see.' Azathoth decided to use this to his advantage.

"I want to help you," Alex told him.

Azathoth grinned. How sweet.

After a short time, the evil force unleashed its power. Krycek, terrified by the power emanating from Jamie's eyes, cannot resist. An alien voice, tinged with hate, pierced into his innermost thoughts.

'This body is dying. Where have you been?' Krycek could not answer. Azathoth, surprised he is so easily mainpulated for one steeped in blood, continued.

'You still don't understand, do you? Why you are here?'

Alex replied back, his voice calm and steady, "To find Jamie."

'Because your great-great grandmother was descended from the first. You are touched by the curse of Azathoth!"

Azathoth smiled. 'Through you the chains that bind me to this world shall shatter!'

[Next Episode: "Jamie, is that you?"]

 


 

Chapter Ten: Pawns

"How's that feel?" Walter asked, slightly out of breath.

"A lot better," a flushed Alex replied.

"Don't move," Walter told him. "I'll be right back after I get cleaned up."

Alex smirked and stood up to survey Skinner's handiwork in a nearby mirror. The wound he sustained from the earlier scuffle had been expertly cleaned and bandaged. The antiseptic stung a bit, but Walter's touch had been surprisingly gentle. Now, only a dull ache remained in Krycek's side.

Returning from upstairs, Walter handed him a crisp, white dress shirt. "Here you go," he offered. "I think yours is pretty much ruined."

But Alex Krycek did not reply, instead he stared off into space. To Skinner, he appeared to be in a trance.

"I tried to stop it, when I found out..." The former double agent whispered, half to himself.

Walter carefully approached him, a part of him still finding it hard to trust the man. "Found out what, Krycek?" he asked.

The hold on Alex's mind loosened its grip. The longer he was away from the influence... He pounded his fists against his temples. "A voice... inside my head... telling me to forget, that I'd been chosen, that I was needed... to bring him here."

"Who?!" Walter demanded. When Krycek failed to answer, he gripped his shoulders and swung him around.

Alex saw a series of visions flash before his green eyes. He remembered becoming a Brother in the Cult of Azathoth. Matthew Blair, the High Priest and president of the Avatar genetic facility, reconstructing his lost arm... then promising to harvest a clone if Krycek located the Deliverer: Jamie Grayson, Fox Mulder's long lost love.

The images increased and Alex winced with pain. He felt a pair of strong hands pulling him off the floor, although he was oblivious to whom they belonged.

He saw himself in Oxford, England a year ago discovering Jamie in a crowd. But it wasn't Jamie somehow... a fierce, powerful light shone from his eyes. A voice in his mind...

"No!" Krycek screamed.

Using the only action he knew would work, Walter hauled back and delivered a right hook across the Russian's chin.

"Snap out of it, Krycek!" he growled.

Alex looked up at him, revelation shining through his eyes. "Don't you see? I've been used. We've all been used! It was Azathoth all the time!"

~*~*~*~*~

The long forgotten portable phone slipped from his numb fingers, rebounding off the cool, tiled kitchen floor. Sickened, Mulder leaned over a counter, emotionally disoriented.

Mulder walked, as if hypnotized, into the hall. Adrenalin rushed through his body as he comprehended the meaning of it all. 'He said "help me," and I didn't listen!'

He'd been a blind, trusting fool, wanting so much to believe in the impossible. The tension, the anticipation of finding Jamie had been so great that it had felt almost sexual.

Now he felt as if he'd just been slapped hard with a jagged piece of glass, cutting into his flesh and straight to his heart. The truth hissed and spat in Mulder's mind like a coiled serpent, awoken after a long, dormant sleep.

Mulder knew that he was the one who'd been given this quest. It was his. Jamie was his.

Wordlessly, Mulder went over to his bedroom and opened the door.

Inside, "Jamie" turned from a wall mirror as if he'd been talking into it. "Oh, Mulder, you scared me," he said, furrowing his brow. "I didn't hear you come in."

"Did I? I'm sorry." Mulder's face remained set in stone, but the gold flecks in his eyes glittered with anger.

It was surreal and awful beyond anything he could imagine. Jamie, his first love who had captured his heart and his soul completely and made him want to forget the world, was host to an evil older than time.

The thing that possessed him moved across the room and Mulder felt as if he was being stalked. He mustn't show fear, whatever else happened.

"Was there something you were looking for... a box?!"

Azathoth cocked his head to the side, a malicious smile spreading across his face. Raising his hand, a powerful, invisible force hurled Mulder backwards against the wall.

Within his mind, Azathoth heard the Chosen One cry out.

Mulder groaned and clenched his teeth. With the wind knocked out of him, he held onto the nightstand and slowly regained his feet. All of the gloss had been stripped away, and Azathoth didn't bother with pretense. A cold, hard voice escaped his lips.

"Clever, Fox. Jamie said you'd figure it out. Although Jamie won't be saying anything in a couple of hours."

"Get the hell out him!" Mulder shouted.

"And give up this body?" Azathoth ran his hands along Jamie's form, caressing it. "No, thanks. I'm here to stay. But don't worry. It'll be over soon enough."

At this, Mulder went red with fury. "That's a lie! Get out of Jamie now or I'll..."

"Or you'll what?" he taunted. "To get me out of this sweet little body, you'll have to kill your precious Jamie. Call me a gambler, but I seriously doubt you're willing to do that."

Anger flushing his face, Mulder took a step toward him. "You're killing him! You have no right to do this!"

"I have every right," he hissed. "Centuries have prepared me for this moment, ever since I was trapped in that box! Jamie is the instrument, a pawn shall we say, to my awakening." Azathoth grinned. "Oh, yes, you should be thanking me, Fox."

"Thanking you?!" Mulder exploded.

Azathoth shook his head playfully. "Why yes, when my essense entered his body, I kept Jamie alive and held back the barriers of time. Trapped in that pit of darkness, building up the strength to escape. A story full of holes didn't take much to convince you, did it?"

Mulder exhaled deeply. "You think I didn't know? I realized that only a supernatural influence could have saved him."

Azathoth chuckled lightly. "Long before that, Fox. Ever since Oxford, where you first met the boy!"

What was he saying? Mulder stared in disbelief.

With relish, Azathoth continued. "He is one of the cursed -- descendants of the very first Chosen One."

Mulder thought furiously. The Oxford cemetery flashed before his eyes; the ghosts that haunted the woods, the gravestones of the Chosen Ones. Jamie's voice from the past, "My ancestors were from Scotland." The first gravestone: Here lyeth Jeremiah Patterson. Azathoth's curse passed down through the generations. Mulder felt the room lurch sickeningly.

Azathoth smiled, then his smile turned into a laugh. "So, you finally understand?"

"You've got it wrong," Mulder warned, balling his fists. "I won't let you do this to Jamie."

Azathoth's statement was victorious. "All those who prevented my becoming have failed. Inspector Winston, Professor Wickham, Alex Krycek and now you."

"Me? How?"

"They all lead me straight to you. The one who held the naga box." Azathoth replied, coldly.

The words twisted in Mulder like a knife. "Shut up!" he hollered, an unwanted tear sliding down his cheek.

Folding his arms, Azathoth began to pace around him. "Those touched by my curse have released me and I have a body again. Only one thing remains. Unless you want those pretty lips of yours sealed forever, give me the naga box!" he furiously demanded.

Something burned inside Mulder. A deep anger that flamed up. "Jamie? Jamie, I know that you're in there somewhere. Just try and listen to me. You can fight this! Please come back to me."

Azathoth turned, laughing mockingly at the man's feeble attempt. White hot fury surged through Mulder's blood. "GIVE HIM BACK NOW!" he cried, whirling the figure around. He stilled before staring in stunned silence.

The astonished person before him stared back, confused, taking shallow breaths. His skin was deathly pale, and dark circles ringed his -- yes, it's in his eyes! -- brilliant emerald eyes where tears glistened.

"Jamie?" Mulder gasped. "Jamie, is that you?"

"Mulder?" he whispered back, in a weak but gentle Southern accent.

"Jamie, oh my god, Jamie."

Completely exhausted, Jamie collapsed and Mulder raced forward. Catching him in his arms, he held Jamie tightly to his chest. Together, they sank to their knees. Jamie let out a little cry.

"Jamie, I'm so sorry," Mulder whispered while stroking his hair. "You tried to tell me and I..."

Relief washed over him and Mulder let himself relax, slowly rocking Jamie back and forth. Feeling Jamie's body shaking like a leaf, he kissed him on the forehead and moved his hands up and down his back.

"I was trapped. I couldn't move." Jamie, weak from the effort, explained. "I tried calling out to you for a long, long time." After a few moments, Jamie raised his haunted eyes. There's such a look of love in them, that Mulder found it almost too painful to look at him.

"Shh," Mulder tried to calm him, while Jamie sobbed against his chest. "It's alright, everything's alright now."

"No, it's not." Jamie shook his head adamantly. "I can..." He struggled for breath. "I can feel it inside my mind. The feelings of hate and rage building for control. I can't fight it."

"Yes, you can!" Mulder cried, holding his face in his hands. "This is why you've got to fight it." Gently, he leaned forward and kissed Jamie softly on the lips. A feeling of warmth washed over Mulder; in his heart he knew this time its the real thing.

Mulder leaned back, wiping the tears from Jamie's cheeks. "I never stopped loving you, Jamie."

Slowly, Jamie ran his fingers lightly over Mulder's face, revelling in the touch of his skin. He smiled, then choked on a deep-throated cry. "Thank you for knowing the difference between my kisses and his."

A bright grin spread across Mulder's face. "Now that you're here, we'll find a way to stop it. I won't lose you again. You have to know that."

Jamie tensed and suddeny became very afraid. "I don't know that," he said, overtaken by a racking cough. With great effort he pulled his frail body up and headed out of the bedroom. He fell against the doorframe, every ounce of his strength ebbing away.

"Jamie, wait!" Mulder, full of concern, hurried to his side and pulled him back.

"Mulder, the thought of this thing near you terrifies me. If it were to hurt you..."

"It won't!" Mulder was about to protest further, but Jamie gently placed his fingers against Mulder's half-open lips.

"No, listen to me. I don't have much time left."

Mulder frowned and listened carefully.

"This thing inside of me won't rest until it has the box. It wants to kill us all." Jamie paused, his voice breaking. "You've got to destroy it."

"What?" Hearing this, Mulder's eyes went wide in first bewilderment then alarm. "I can't!"

"You must!" pleaded Jamie, holding onto his arms for support.

"No." His voice was firm. "Do you know what you're asking me to do?"

"You've got to do it... for us all."

[Next episode: Choices]

 


 

Chapter Eleven: Surprise

"No," Mulder insisted, holding Jamie's quivering shoulders, "there has to be another way." He had to believe that. Somehow, there had to be another way of releasing Azathoth's toxic essence from Jamie's dying body.

Jamie shook his head, fighting to keep control. "Mulder, there is no other way. Nothing is more important to me than you. My being here is putting you and everyone else's lives at risk."

Mulder's eyes were alert with determination. "I won't let this keep us apart any longer."

"You know what will happen," replied Jamie, quietly. "I'm sorry, I..."

"Hey, I'm the one who should be apologizing. I let you down. I should have never stopped looking for you."

"It's not your fault, this is..." Jamie groaned and doubled over in pain.

"Jamie!" Taking him by the arms, Mulder gently leaned him against a wall. A thick sheen of sweat had broken out across his brow and his breathing was more labored and shallow than before.

Mulder caressed his face, speaking soothingly. "You just have to stay strong a little while longer. I'm gonna find a way to help you." Jamie started to protest, but Mulder swiftly hushed him. "Then we'll have plenty of time to talk when you're better."

"Mulder, I'm not going to get better," Jamie told him simply, his blond hair falling across his forehead and into his eyes.

Mulder pulled back from him and held him by the shoulders. "No, I don't accept that. You are not going to die!"

Holding Jamie in a long, tight embrace, Mulder leaned his face in close, brushing his lips against Jamie's trembling ones. Mulder was surprised as Jamie reached out and held his face. Jamie opened his mouth slightly and their kiss became white hot with intensity. Mulder's expression turned from contented to dismayed. His eyes opened wide with alarm, and he became frightened by his own doubt.

As he broke the fierce embrace, Jamie -- or rather the Great Old One inside him -- smiled, a cold, triumphant smile. Azathoth was in control. He straightened and slowly regained his feet.

"That I didn't expect," purred the evil entity. "Jamie's much stronger than I ever gave him credit for."

"Shut up!" Mulder shouted, desperate now. "Jamie, you are stronger than him! Azathoth hasn't completely beaten you, otherwise we'd all be dead."

"No!" Azathoth cried as Jamie drew on his last reserves of strength and regained control. The harsh statement changed before Mulder's eyes. Sad, tired and disheveled, Jamie dropped to his knees and into Mulder's arms. "You have to let me go," he whispered, weakly. "It's the only way to stop this..."

"And kill you? It won't happen," he growled, gentle eyes searching his. Jamie's beautiful green eyes were lit and full of fear. "Jamie, we're going to get through this together," promised Mulder. "What I've lived through this past year, believe me, anything is possible."

"You make me want to believe."

Mulder held Jamie tightly. The feeling came back -- a mystical glow, a romantic haze that seemed otherworldly. Jamie had fought to win his love and Mulder was determined to fight to keep him.

Jamie rested his head against Mulder's chest. "What are we gonna do?" he whispered.

"I won't let anything happen to you, I promise."

~*~*~*~*~

Richard Frazer exited the cab and stepped out into the parking lot of the gleaming airport. A light rain had caused a mist to waft around the tall terminal building. His mission for Brother Gordon Stratton had been a complete failure. The traitor Krycek had escaped with help, leaving him the worse for wear. He'd made a promise to keep the execution attempt a secret. In the back of his mind, he wondered why the High Priest had not ordered it himself.

Walking through a pair of sliding glass doors, Richard scanned the bustling reception area for Augustus. Soon, he spotted the older man waiting beside a Chameleon Tours kiosk. "Where have you been?" Brother Thascales demanded.

"Like I told you earlier, keeping an eye on our target." He decided to swiftly change the subject. "Has the High Priest arrived?"

"Keep your voice down!" Augustus warned, casting nervous glances at the milling strangers disembarking from various flights. Taking Richard by the arm, he hissed, "Mr. Blair phoned from his private jet. All he asked was for us to acquire a van and to meet him here."

"To what purpose?" Richard inquired.

"Why, to fulfill destiny," a voice said from behind them.

Both men turned to find their High Priest, Matthew Blair, had arrived. They gave curt little bows with their heads, but Blair seemed not to notice.

"Are all things prepared?" he asked, his eyes wide with fanatical glee.

"Yes, sir," Augustus answered.

"Let us proceed," Blair said, half to himself. Taking the lead, he moved on through the terminal with the two brethren following close behind.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Helping Jamie back to his feet, Mulder wrapped his arms under Jamie's and stood holding him tightly to his chest. "Come on," he said. "I've got some friends that can help us."

His head turned with a start as the front door abruptly opened, slamming hard against the wall. Mulder felt his mouth drop open in shock at the sight of Krycek, a slightly crazed look gleaming in his eyes, standing in the frame.

"Get away from him, Mulder!" he commanded, stalking forward. Enraged, Mulder could not believe this. He exhaled as Skinner came bounding in behind Krycek, appearing flushed.

With both arms wrapped around Jamie's shoulders, Mulder ignored Krycek and helped Jamie's weak body over to the sofa. Laying him down, Jamie instantly closed his eyes. Making sure that he was alright, Mulder reluctantly left his side. Pulling Krycek as far from Jamie as possible, Mulder wrenched him around.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" he demanded, angrily.

Walter interceded, he could feel they were in for a fight. Back at his apartment, Krycek had insisted that they get to Mulder immediately. Learning that Jamie was somehow possessed by what Avatar were searching for confirmed his suspicions and only heightened his concern for Mulder.

"Mulder, take it easy," he advised. "You really need to listen." Walter took Mulder aside. "I don't fully understand what's going on here, but I believe Jamie had some sort of influence over him."

Mulder's eyes flashed toward Alex. "You knew about Jamie?" he accused, his tone sharp. The air felt thick with deception. As far as Mulder was concerned, Krycek was a dead man. "You son of a bitch!" he shrieked, lunging at him.

"He's possessed by evil," Krycek gasped.

Mulder swiftly punched him and grabbed him roughly. "And you're as pure as the driven snow? It is NOT his fault!"

Krycek rubbed his cheek and swore under his breath. He gazed at Skinner for assistance.

Looking between the two men, Walter visibly tensed. "Mulder, I know it's hard to believe but Krycek wants to help. He knows exactly what's going on."

And he did. Alex felt dirty, used in a way far worse than how Spender had manipulated his every move. Looking at Jamie's fragile form, his anger evaporated into a profound sadness. Something was different about him. Alex no longer felt a presence in his mind, telling him what to do. He realized that Mulder was right, Jamie was the victim.

Mulder stared at Walter, incredulity filling his eyes. "You're suggesting that this homicidal maniac is going to..."

Walter sighed heavily, understanding all too well Mulder's valid distrust. "Mulder, he was stupid enough to enter their cult."

A light exploded in Mulder's mind. Anger seethed and bubbled through his blood stream. It all made sense now. "Oh, now I understand. The only reason he brought Jamie back was to get his hands on that damn box."

Krycek actually laughed. "You're so naive, it's almost cute."

"That's pretty taxing for someone who's supposed to be dead," Mulder snarled.

"Look who's talking," Krycek sarcastically shot back.

Mulder shook his head stubbornly. "Look at him!" he exclaimed. "Walter, this is what he wants. Don't you see?"

"It's not as simple as that," Skinner told him gently.

"No, wait!" Krycek shouted, stepping forward. "Let him talk. I want to hear how I was gonna pull off this brilliant scheme. I must be a fuckin' genius!"

"No, you're just a fuckin' lunatic who's gone out of his way to make my life a living hell," Mulder spat. "If you think I'm just going to stand back while you take Jamie like..."

Alex blew up. "I swear if you accuse me of killing your father one more time, I'll smash your face in!"

"That's enough!" Walter's angry voice froze them both. He shot daggers at both men who were poised to pounce on each other at any moment. "Both of you!" he growled.

"Why are you defending him?" Mulder gestured with his hands toward the green-eyed assassin. "How could he not know?"

Krycek shook his head apologetically. "I didn't know at first, I swear it," he explained. "I never wanted this to happen. But something compelled me, like it was all pre-arranged. Trust no one, isn't that right, Mulder? He used me to find you. It was all a trap!"

"You're saying that..." Mulder began slowly, then turned to Walter. "Why do you believe him? It's not as if he's ever told the truth before."

"Listen, damn it!" Walter exclaimed, losing patience with both of them. "Avatar sent someone to my apartment to kill him."

"What?" Mulder pursed his lips and glanced nervously between them.

Alex added, "And that means they're probably on their way here right now."

On the other side of the room, Jamie felt as if he were pulled down into an undertow. An invisible current dragged him into a cold, swirling vortex. A malevolent dark shape rose up before his eyes. He struggled to breathe, he struggled to escape.

*Give me freedom!* Azathoth demanded.

"I'm so tired." Jamie rubbed a hand over his eyes, trying to force the image to go away. "Why am I so confused?"

*Just borrow my strength.*

"No," he muttered weakly.

*Why not? What are you afraid of?*

"Let me go!" Jamie screamed.

A burst of laughter echoed in his mind like booming thunder. *Your life is nearly over. Give me control.*

Jamie turned for help. He reached out for Mulder, but he seemed too far away. The huge shadow swept over him like an overwhelming veil.

"Let me go," Jamie whispered.

The shadow reared above him.

Meantime, three men remained oblivious of Jamie's struggle.

"Mulder, I can help you," Alex continued. "Unless your pig-headed pride wants to get both you and Jamie killed."

"Alright," he said after a long pause. "I'm listening." This is crazy, Mulder thought.

"The naga box is the key. They'll need it and Jamie to recreate the ceremony. There's only one way to prevent it from happening."

"No!" Mulder cried, furiously.

"It's the only way," Krycek wearily said, staring into the living room at Jamie.

Mulder slammed Krycek against a wall, forcing his arm against his throat. "Look at him like that again and it will be the last thing you ever see!"

"What is he talking about?" Walter asked, confused. A soft gasp caused Walter to turn his attention to Mulder's couch. His eyes opened wide in shock at the sight of Jamie clutching at his chest and struggling for breath. "Mulder!" he shouted.

Whirling round, Mulder's anger was completely forgotten in an instant. "Jamie? Jamie!" Jamie lay on the sofa, white as a sheet and gasping for air. "Call Scully!" he roared. "Get on the phone and call Scully -- now!"

As Walter brushed by him, Alex took tentative steps, and gazed down at Jamie with sympathy and concern. He appeared so fragile that he might break. His will astounded Krycek. Jamie was fighting the evil inside, fighting to be with Mulder.

Skinner searched the room for Mulder's telephone. He turned a corner and found it lying discarded on the kitchen floor. After a few moments, he returned to find Mulder kneeling beside Jamie.

"She's on her way," he announced.

Mulder turned with worry set in his eyes. "There's no time, we've got to get him to a hospital." Lifting Jamie into his arms, he headed for the door.

Without warning, the door exploded, sending everyone scattering across the floor. Three small, oval shapes rushed through the air and burst apart with a loud crack. Apartment 42 quickly filled with a thick gas. Unable to breathe, the hissing of the cannisters became drowned out by the sound of coughing. Soon Mulder, Jamie, Krycek and Skinner were all overcome by the noxious fumes.

Now the only sound was the regular breathing of four unconscious men. Mulder, at full stretch, lay near Jamie, a protective arm thrown over him. Walter, lying on his front, lay against a wall. Alex, curled up, was partly concealed by the coffee table.

Two nightmarish masked figures entered the apartment, followed by a third. As the gas began to dissipate, Matthew Blair arrogantly strode forward and cast careful eyes over the four prone figures. He pointed silently at a blond face-down on the floor.

"This is the one," he muttered beneath the mask.

Augustus and Richard carefully lifted Jamie and started to back away. Prodding another body with the toe of his shoe, Blair nodded. "This one, too," he continued.

Leaving the long sought after Deliverer in the hands of Augustus, Richard tugged roughly at Alex Krycek's shoulder and dragged him to his feet, not daring to protest.

"What of the naga box?" Augustus asked.

Blair sneered down at Mulder's sleeping face. "He will bring it to us. We have something he wants."

[Next Episode: Should I Laugh Or Cry?]


Archived: August 31, 2001