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Angels 1: Guardian Angel by Jami Wilsen

TITLE: Angels 1: Guardian Angel
AUTHOR: Jami Wilsen
ARCHIVE: RatB, DitB, NickZone-Alex Annex
DISCLAIMER: Ever since Chris Carter f***ed his fans with the Season 8 finale, I heartily welcome any legal action or proceedings should they be brought against me for using these characters as I see fit. I'd win hands down. [g]
RATING: NC-17 - language, slashy m/m sex
SUMMARY: Challenge fic for the December RatB Challenge - Bodyguard fic - Serve and Protect. Mulder, Krycek and airplanes, oh my.
BETAS: This is unbeta'ed. Forgive me!
SPOILERS: Don't know, really, but it is set sometime before the Requiem episode, end of Season 7.

* * * *
1: Guardian Angel
* * * *

Train of Thought:

When a human presumes to wear the cloak of the Angel of Death, a terrible price will be exacted from them. No one is more aware of this than I am. Believe me. I know better than anyone else can, just how terrible the price I will have to pay will be. On Judgment Day, when I die, when I'm standing before ... well, whoever it is who's there, I know that not just the pound of flesh closest to my heart - although you can count on that being the first to go - but all of it, my whole body, will be rendered as payment. There won't be any part of me that can be salvaged; all that will be left is a quivering spirit, naked before the judges who weigh its worth against the pain I have caused, and the times I have blotted out the lives of numerous other souls. Maybe. That's if I hold to the Christian belief system and I'm not sure that I do anymore. I mean, if the Bible really had the truth down, it wouldn't be contradicted by the presence of all these aliens. It would seem to be the height of human arrogance to imagine that we were the only life that 'God' in his wisdom saw fit to create in a universe as big as the one we inhabit. But that's all beside the point.

The true horror is that it wasn't that I had no conscience, no moral center, no soul or awareness of what I was doing: I did. Every step of the way. And I went down that road with my eyes fully open. At first I was a fool. I had no idea I was being used. But I have no reason to lie to myself. I figured it out pretty quickly. I was a tool; used by evil, for evil, for the purposes of doing evil unto others. And I knew it. I can never justify it; I can't even rationalize it to myself in the privacy of my own mind.

But I can say that if I hadn't done the things I did, not only would I have been discarded as easily as they picked me up and replaced by another tool probably less aware of these issues than myself, but other victims, other innocents, would also have suffered greatly. Far more would have died and the few times that I managed to make a difference would never have happened.

I blame the Syndicate Elders for the deaths and the horror in my life and also for the lives I've taken. Not to say that I didn't have choices to make. But if I hadn't been there, no one would have been around to make a difference on the inside. Not to mention the fact that once I got out, I did everything I could to bring them down... And succeeded, I might add.

I'm not saying I believe that it is 'right' to sacrifice pawns, but when one is playing the game, it becomes inevitable that one will be faced with that choice sooner or later. The problem with people like Mulder is that they pretend that they aren't also playing the game. They presume to wear the cloak of Justice Herself, and judge me from their high ground, pitting their superior 'good' and 'right' justifications against 'evil', presuming to dispense justice against 'villains' and all the while practicing the worst kind of dishonesty of all: self-deception. That's true hypocrisy. And that's something they'll never admit to. I just wish Mulder would climb down off of his soapbox and stop preaching to others. You know? Lend a hand instead of delighting in being the fly in the ointment? It really doesn't help the situation all that much and it gets old after the first few times one has to sit through the angry diatribe.

The sad part about this is that it's the only way he can feel he's making a difference. The smoking bastard knew it too, and exploited it ruthlessly. Well, if one won't admit even to oneself that one is playing the game, one can expect to be used. He wasn't a pawn; no, Mulder is a white knight. And like all champions, he actually believes that it makes him somehow superior to everyone else on the board. If only he could see, take off the blinders and take a look around, he'd understand that maybe the black knight on the opposite side isn't an enemy at all, but a necessary polarity to his role in the game. A foil against getting caught up in the game and believing one's own bullshit. Think of all we could accomplish if he worked with me rather than against me. We'd be unstoppable. Instead we always go around the same merry-go-round, with him flinging curses and blows every time we meet. He's hopelessly stuck in his crusade, his quest.

Of course, I'm 'evil' for even trying to point this out, so I won't bother. Besides, like a good little knight, he'd just charge. Enemy ahead: visor down, weapons ready, charge! Ask questions later, in the interrogation room. No Miranda, no Fifth Amendment - just a few choice insults and vicious jabs interspersed with a couple of rounded punches.

So I'll keep doing the work that he sneers at. He has no idea how much of a target he has made of himself, though. I'm certain that Mulder has a subconscious death wish. Why else would he throw himself into the thick of the worst situations without backup, leaving Agent Long-Suffering Scully to ferret him out by sheer intuition and maternal instinct? Time and again he places himself in harm's way; someday there won't be anyone to catch him when he falls, no one to bail him out when he gets in too deep. But, I do what I can, silently, from the wings. I doubt he has a clue as to how many times I've saved his ass.

The way I see it, it's my token gesture of atonement for the initial betrayal he still hates me for. That's when the enmity started. Everything else just seemed to lead on from it - and it *all* went to hell from there. Too many things I can't undo and probably wouldn't, even if I had the choice.

Bill Mulder was just as responsible as the Smoker for all the horrors perpetrated by the Consortium in the name of their twenty-five year plan. If anything, I think I hated him more for his mistreatment of Fox. If I had to choose which of them to shoot, Bill Mulder or the smoking bastard, I couldn't. I'd have to insist that they stood together, one before the other, so I could take them out with the same bullet.

So here I sit, on the flight from LA to DC, protecting a man from certain death that awaits him sometime between now and the end of the journey - a man who has not even the faintest idea of the danger he's in, and would like nothing better than to see me dead. It's a risk, of course, but I don't think Mulder would shoot me outright on a plane full of passengers. It's likely that he might forget about depressurization in the heat of the moment but as long as I avoid the airplane toilets, I'm fairly sure I'm safe.

I'm not sure who the ghoul is, shadowing my Fox, but I'm going to remove the asshole as soon as I find out where he's located. He may already be aboard this flight, so I'm not taking any chances. I'm also glad that Darlene is here. She's good; I've worked with her before. But it's going to be a long flight and so far, Mulder hasn't seen me although I know it's only a matter of time. I'm hoping that I'll at least get another hour's worth of peace before the dance begins, because if all goes well, I'll have to keep his attention and stall him indefinitely right up until we land. That way we can flush out the killer and Darlene can take him out while I keep Mulder out of harm's way. If the killer's even on board. I just hope that the other reason for our presence here aboard this particular flight doesn't get compromised along the way.

* * * *

Mulder looked up as the stewardess whisked open the curtain that divided first class from everyone else slumming it in the rest of the plane. She looked like she was getting ready to serve drinks again. He licked his lips; his mouth felt dry and he was sure that he was getting a headache from dehydration as well as the turbulence. It was a long haul and he wanted it to be over *now*... He waited, absently looking back down at the files he was reading, waiting for the stewardess impatiently. She finally pulled out the trolley and started serving the first row of seats.

Mulder caught sight of someone in first class and for a moment the world pitched and yawed horribly. He knew that face. There was no mistaking that profile. Pinned by the rising rage and overwhelming curiosity that held him frozen in place, his eyes burned with purpose as he watched his mortal enemy sitting... nonchalantly sipping a Coke, for God's sake -

The stewardess broke his line of sight and he started to rise before remembering that his seatbelt was still fastened. That the slime-bag rat-bastard should be sitting up there in first class while he was sitting back here, next to the anti-disciplinary mother with her two noisy, obnoxious brats from hell, infuriated him to no end.

He asked for water and sipped it, waiting until the stewardess had passed before getting up and moving forward. As he neared the man in the dark business suit, in the aisle seat closest to the entrance, there was no mistaking his identity: it *was* Alex Krycek. The bastard had obviously crept on board last, trying to avoid detection. The window seat beside him was empty. A vengeful and terrible smile of satisfaction lit Mulder's face as he came to stand beside Krycek's seat and he leaned down, resting his left hand on the headrest directly behind Krycek's head and the other on the arm of the seat.

Krycek looked up, startled and a little angry at the intrusion, but as he recognized Mulder staring down at him, he swiftly relaxed into an expression of resigned irritation. He sighed and looked back down, away from Mulder, before facing forward with blank indifference.

In a low, monotone voice, Mulder said, "You sneaky, miserable, goddamned piece of shit. Give me one good reason why I shouldn't shoot you here and now."

"Mulder," Krycek replied tiredly, "Do you really want to kill me in front of everyone?"

"Give me one reason why I shouldn't."

"The nice people on this plane might get upset?" Krycek ventured, eyes flicking forward to catch Darlene's gaze. She nodded once, slightly and she came a little closer to them, pretending to be fiddling with the items on the trolley - close enough to listen. Mulder didn't notice.

"I think once I explained to them who and what you are, they might be more understanding. Do I need to get out my badge or are you going to go with me quietly? It's up to you if you want to make a scene, Krycek." Mulder wasn't bluffing.

"And why should I go anywhere with you?" Krycek smirked up at him. "Not that I wouldn't mind spending a little quality time with you somewhere more private, Mulder, but really - on board a plane? The Mile-High Club is probably doing quite well without us. You might find all the toilets occupied."

"I'm not falling for your crap this time, Krycek. And you're not getting out of my sight either. This is one time I'm not letting you disappear without answering some questions."

"Why?" Krycek asked, his voice giving away nothing.

"Because you always leave," Mulder said, before he could stop think about what he was saying.

Krycek was looking at him. He seemed to stop and turn this answer over and over in his mind.

Mulder could see Krycek thinking it through and wished he hadn't said it. What in hell had possessed him to say it? He continued onward, hoping to just bypass this horrible little moment altogether.

"Come on, get up. Let's go."

"You're kidding," Krycek grinned up at him. "Like I'm going anywhere with someone who usually attacks me on sight."

Darlene chose this moment to intervene. "Sir? You are going to have to return to your seat. This is first class. And it's obvious that the gentleman doesn't want to speak with you. In any case, we don't need a scene here, and I will have to ask to see some identification. If he is a known felon, there are easier ways to deal with the situation. We can notify the captain and crew, and alert the airport when we land."

"In which case this slippery bastard will already have found a way to get lost. No, I'm staying up here with him. You can upgrade my ticket to first class, if you like, but he's not leaving my sight." Mulder had taken out his badge and shown it to her as he spoke.

Darlene glanced at Krycek, who gave her an imperceptible nod. "Very well, sir." Her voice was stiff. "But please try not to alarm the other passengers."

Mulder shuffled by him and sat down beside Krycek, in the seat on the other side of him by the window. Krycek sighed. Mulder turned to regard him. "What are you doing here?" At Krycek's pained look, Mulder added, "And if you don't want a spectacle you can just answer me instead of playing games. Don't make me force it out of you. You know I will, Krycek."

Krycek turned to look directly into Mulder's eyes, meeting his gaze almost with a challenge. "I know. I'm surprised you can keep your hands off me, this time." And before Mulder could rise to this, Krycek continued, "There's a man tailing you. He's aboard this flight. I don't even know which passenger he is. Believe it or not, Mulder, I'm actually here in a protective role. Looking after *your* ass. And there is one other operative on board, too. I'm not alone. So you might want to lighten up a little."

At the ripple of anger and disbelief that crossed Mulder's face, Krycek added, "I'm not going anywhere at fifty-thousand feet. If it makes you any happier, we can go lock ourselves away for the rest of the flight. But I strongly suggest that you not draw undue attention to either of us. By approaching me so openly here, you've blown my cover. If he is here, he'll already be watching you."

Mulder swallowed. The thought of spending the rest of the flight locked in a cramped airplane toilet with Krycek was... disturbing on so many levels it wasn't even funny. But the desire to get the man on his own, away from the eyes of the rest of their fellow fliers was unbearable. He so badly wanted to put some pointed questions to the rat-bastard. And not have to worry about his method of persuasion, either.

"I'm not sure if I believe your story of this tail or not, but even if it's true, it doesn't explain why you're here," Mulder stated. "It's too much of a coincidence that you're on the same flight I am, and this tail is far too convenient."

"Let me put it this way," Krycek replied. "What choice do you have? Without making a scene and possibly drawing him out that way? I assure you, he's a professional."

"Why is he following me?"

"Because of the information that he has been told is going to be passed to you on this flight," Krycek said, immediately.

Mulder was surprised; he hadn't expected Krycek to be forthcoming. And it practically begged the question. "What information? And who assigned him to me? What's the hit? Have I been targeted for termination, or what?"

Krycek shrugged. "I don't know. But it's a sideline agency, dealing in black ops affairs for one level of the government-"

Mulder interrupted him, "Which government? Ours?"

"U.S.," Krycek clarified, before continuing, "and believe me, they don't give a damn about your FBI career or your connections with the previous Syndicate. They'd take you out along with me just to get the information. They know how hot it is - and that it was stolen from their files three days ago."

"Stolen? By whom?" Mulder was almost afraid of the answer, it seemed too easy.

Sure enough, Krycek smirked at him. "Mulder, I'm not stupid. I can't give you the information here, for two reasons. First, he'd see that you have it. He'd make his move sooner, seeing I'm involved. It could get nasty. Second, I figured you'd react like this, so I'm willing to cut a deal."

"There's not going to be any *deal*," Mulder said forcefully, before remembering where they were and toning his voice down. "Either you hand over this 'information' to me right now or I will make a scene, to flush the bastard out in the open, or to prove that you're full of shit and trying to save your ass by feeding me a bunch of crap, as usual."

Krycek raised his brows at him and then slowly said, "Believe me, Mulder, this information is so good, it's your Holy Grail."

Mulder moistened his lips. He was painfully aware that Krycek was probably stringing him along again. "Start talking. If you can't give it to me now, you can at least explain what it is."

Krycek shook his head. "I was planning on giving it to you when we landed. All I can tell you is that it's proof-positive of extra-terrestrial life. A body. Well, bodies. More than one. Ancient bodies discovered at an archeological site in the Rocky Mountains, in northwest Wyoming. Near the Rockies... Bighorn Basin. Ever been there?" At Mulder's frown, Krycek continued, "They want this knowledge suppressed because they know that if word gets out, the place is going to be crawling with excited press, civilians, anthropologists - it'll be a circus. They really don't need that kind of attention. Think about it: physical evidence of alien life here on our planet, dating back nearly ten thousand years..."

"Why are you passing it on to me?" Mulder was suspicious of Krycek's motives. It sounded too good to be true.

Krycek looked away, considering the silent screen before them where the film was being projected for the benefit of the passengers with the earphones. "This is one project that needs to be exposed, Mulder. You'll know why when you read the file."

Slowly, Mulder said, "Fine, I'll tell you what. Let's make another deal: you hand the information over to me now, let me read it and you can watch my back. In return, I'll let you go when we land."

Krycek stared at him with surprise. "How generous. Why should I believe that?"

Mulder returned his gaze evenly. "Because it's your call, Krycek. Because until I see some proof of this hot news, *I* have no choice but to fall back on what I know of you from personal experience. You're a liar and a coward and I know you'll do anything to ensure your own safety, even at the expense of others."

Krycek sighed. "And why should I trust *you* to let me go when we arrive?"

"I'll keep up my end of the deal, Alex. But only if you produce this information. Otherwise, I'm bringing you in."

Krycek smiled slightly. "And my fellow operative? Do you really think they wouldn't interfere?"

"They won't, because you'll explain the situation to them." Mulder regarded him coolly. "It's up to you. You were going to give me this stuff anyway."

Krycek snorted. He seemed to consider Mulder's suggestion. Finally, he nodded. "Okay. I'm going to get up, and go into *that* toilet," he indicated the one nearest them, "and in a few minutes, come in after me." Krycek leaned down to retrieve a slim, black briefcase from under his seat. He unbuckled and got up, leaving Mulder to wonder how they had managed to progress from a near in-flight tussle to him joining the rat-bastard-traitor-son-of-a-bitch into the airplane toilets after all.

He swallowed, wondering why the idea was so fascinating. For some reason, he was nervous, and as the seconds ticked by, he grew aware that a certain level of sick excitement was rising within him, only to settle in his stomach.

When he thought that enough time had elapsed, he got up and went to the door, opening it and taking into account the need for speed, quickly shutting the door behind him. Trying suddenly not to feel claustrophobic about being enclosed in such a small space with Alex Krycek. Jesus.

Krycek was smiling. "You know, I don't think I've ever been in such a tight spot with you before, Mulder."

"It'll be a lot tighter and even more uncomfortable if you don't get on with it, Alex," Mulder replied dryly, a warning in his voice.

Krycek leaned the briefcase over the sink and opened it. The files were visible as Mulder peered past Krycek's arm. Photographs. Black and white, even some in color, showing skeletons... mummified remains... dwarf-like and bizarre, almost hideous in their inhuman proportions. "Jesus," he breathed, "they look like little people -" he stopped.

Krycek flipped through them and then turned the file so Mulder could read the document header: Remains of Artifact #5. Krycek turned to him, Mulder leaning back instinctively in the enclosed space, away. "There it is, Mulder. It's all there. Now do you believe me, about the tail?"

"Yes." Mulder found himself practically drooling - his hands were itching to grab the files and read them. Krycek closed the briefcase. "Wait," Mulder said, lamely.

Krycek grinned at him. "I'll let you go through it all when we go sit back down. But I'm altering the deal. See, the way I figure it, it's not really fair. There's no way you'd be able to do anything once we landed, in any case. About me, I mean. So promising to let me go just doesn't cut it. I'm already gone. I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask for something else."

"What?" Mulder was ready to promise anything at this point.

Krycek's eyes glittered, a slightly feral expression coming over his face, leaving Mulder with the feeling of being trapped. Mulder straightened, his eyes narrowing.

But Krycek's reply left him stunned. "Considering where we are, I don't see why we shouldn't take advantage of the situation. I'm not a member of the club yet, and given your solitary nature, I'd bet you aren't either."

Mulder stared at him. "You're insane," he declared at last. "You're crazy, if you think I'm -"

Krycek reached out in a lightning-swift movement and Mulder found Krycek's hand on the back of his neck pulling them together, their lips meeting in a mid-air collision.

Not giving him time to react, Krycek furthered it along, kissing him warmly, sensuously, drawing it out, passionately even. Before Mulder could remember that he really didn't, *shouldn't*, be wanting this to be happening, Krycek's hand moved from Mulder's neck down along his arm and then around him, to his back, bringing them even closer together.

Abruptly, Mulder found his limbs and his will once more, and pushed away, leaving a mere six inches between them. It would have to do. It still wasn't enough. Krycek's eyes were dark, his face surprised and flushed.

Mulder could only imagine what picture he presented, he didn't dare flick a glance at the mirror beside them. He swallowed. The impression of Krycek's lips was burning on his own. He merely stared back at Krycek, wondering why the man didn't move. Krycek seemed to be waiting - for what?

As the moments slid between them, Krycek's face shuttered once more and he looked almost chagrined, as if waiting for Mulder to threaten him, to go for him.

Mulder cleared his throat. He felt a sarcastic smirk coming over him, the perfect and only shield against the sudden vulnerability he felt at being so close to Krycek after what had just happened.

"Last time, it was a kiss for an impassioned speech and a night's adventure on an Air Force base. Tell me, Alex: what would I get out of you if I let you fuck with me? Don't tell me you're so hard up for dates you have to whore the secrets you steal?" Mulder tried to ignore the heat he felt in his face, scarcely able to believe he was even in this situation.

Krycek said, "At least I'm not so desperate to get my hands on alien bodies that I'd offer my ass to whoever can point me in the right direction."

Mulder felt the breath go out him. "Bastard son of a *bitch* -" He lurched forward, meaning to wipe the smirk right off the rat-bastard's face - only to find himself abruptly facing the sink, bending over the briefcase, Krycek twisting his arm behind him with surprising speed and strength. Mulder had to put his other arm up in that instant, bracing himself, unless he wanted his head pushed down further. And he gasped as he felt Krycek's full length of his body leaning into him. The telltale bulge of Krycek's arousal was pressed tellingly against Mulder's left thigh, burning the skin of his leg and his ass through the fabric of his pants.

"Uh-uh, Mulder, I don't think so," Krycek breathed in his ear, the husky voice making him swallow in spite of himself and causing a shiver to lance through him. "Play nice; we don't want to attract attention, do we?"

Mulder steeled himself. Bitterly, he said, aware of the hoarseness of his own voice, "Come on, Alex. You were asking for it with that one."

"Yeah? You were the one wanting to make this more physical," Krycek countered.

Mulder choked out a laugh, his arm tightening as Krycek gripped it harder, twisting it just a little bit more behind his back. "You're the one who kissed me, remember?"

Krycek growled behind him, in his ear, leaning over him, pressing him against the sink. "I meant the fighting, asshole. I'd really rather leave here without any bruises or bleeding."

His voice strained and going up in pitch as the tension and pain in his arm grew just a little too much, Mulder bit out, "Okay, okay. All right. I won't - I won't go for you."

The tension eased up on his arm, mercifully, but Alex didn't seem to be moving. In fact, he seemed frozen there, practically draped over Mulder, from behind him.

Mulder shifted. "Alex? Come on. You got your kiss; I really want to read that file."

Waiting. Krycek's breath coming a little too short and fast in his ear. "No, this time you have to pay for the information, *Fox*. This time," Krycek swallowed, "this time your ass is mine." He shrugged slightly; Mulder felt the movement against him, behind him. "Otherwise, no file for you."

Mulder licked his lips. Perfect. Forced to have sex with Alex Krycek, fifty-thousand feet up. "Fine. No file, then. You can keep it. I'm not for sale, not even for alien bodies." He drew a breath, trying to ignore the brand of Alex's stiffness that was burning against his butt, the way that Alex's thighs were tight up against his own. Not to mention the hardness of his own cock pressed against the edge of the sink. It was very nearly uncomfortable. If it weren't so hot...

But Alex sank slightly, sagging over him. Mulder chanced a glance up at the mirror and saw Alex's eyes were closed, a look of resignation, even disappointment, on his face.

Mulder couldn't hide the accompanying disappointment he felt himself from following. And it wasn't over the file, either.

He cleared his throat. "A-Alex? This is kind of painful. Do you mind?"

Krycek stepped back, letting go of him. Mulder straightened and turned to face him. Krycek had a weary expression now, as well as wary, his eyes a little too haunted, too wounded and too wide. They had a pleading quality about them that Mulder abruptly found simultaneously upsetting and inviting.

Mulder folded his arms across his chest. He tilted his head slightly to the side, searching him with a questioning gaze. "What do you want, Alex? You want me? We can talk about it; just don't ask me to exchange sex for information. It's demeaning."

But Krycek was obviously trying to rally himself. He straightened before lifting his chin higher. "And jerking off over porn in lieu of any real relationship isn't?"

Mulder clucked his tongue, shaking his head. "That's the wrong track to take with me. Really. I'm talking about your sordid little offer; your, ah, 'indecent proposal'. You can't buy me, Alex."

Krycek flushed, his eyes flickering. His eyes shadowed and the mask fell back into place, adopting his customary indifference at this. "Fine. Keep the file." He was about to say more but a sudden rattle of the door jerked them both with an unpleasant shock, turning in unison to look at the door. Whoever it was must have finally read the 'engaged' sign on the outside of the door, for they were left alone. Leaving them to look back at each other, waiting for the other's reaction.

Mulder shook his head again, leaning back against the sink, his arms still folded. He said again, "You want me, Alex? I'm willing to talk it over. But don't mix it up with your clandestine criminal activities."

Krycek looked slightly ill, like it was beginning to dawn on him that he'd made a gross miscalculation. Mulder considered him; maybe Krycek had thought that letting the momentum sweep them into it would have been enough to get Mulder to go along with it. Mulder raised his eyebrows, waiting.

Krycek let out a breath, frustrated. "You want it too," he pointed out, with a knowing glance down at Mulder's groin where his arousal hadn't dissipated.

Mulder shrugged. "It happens. Doesn't mean that it means anything."

"Oh, okay. Then you won't mind if we finish what we started." Krycek stepped forward, taking this as his cue to lean in against Mulder again, his arm going around him once more, almost as if daring Mulder to make him stop.

Mulder allowed a sneer to cross his mouth before leaning closer, turning his head to the side to press his mouth to Alex's. Heat, and more heat - the sweat was suddenly trickling down his sides. Christ, whoever would have thought that Krycek's mouth would be as sweet as he'd imagined after that initial curve ball and the subsequent wonderings it had evoked afterwards. He was getting lost in Alex's lips; warm, soft, perfect, far too good. Delicious.

And the realization that Alex was sliding his hand down to unzip Mulder's pants, reaching in to touch his hard length and free it from his boxers... Mulder gasped, pulling back to get a breath, the sensation of Alex's hand holding his cock leaving a wake of fire burning back up to his brain.

There was the stunned awareness of his hands moving seemingly of their own volition to go to Alex's jeans and undo them, drawing out the other man's cock, feeling the silky shaft and the way that it leaped in his hands as Alex moaned against him almost desperately.

Alex sucked in a breath and savagely seized Mulder's mouth under his once more, nibbling at him, Alex's tongue sliding between Mulder's lips to seek out his. He had to admit that Alex's desire for him was as much a turn-on as their circumstances.

Mulder found his awareness shifting between the sensation of their tongues sliding against each other wetly, unbearably hot, and the groin-tugging feeling of Alex's cock against his own as Alex shoved his hips into Mulder's, making their cocks rub together. The action drew a whimper from Alex's throat as their kiss continued, unbroken, even as they set up an instinctive rhythm and then Alex was shuddering against Mulder, tremors seizing his body.

The sudden, startling sensation of Alex's wet come spilling all over their hands and Mulder's jolting prick sent a shaft of pure lust shooting up Mulder's spine, all along his skin, over his whole body. And then he felt it rise - the wave peaking all throughout him to gather in his lower gut and surge with explosive, beautiful showers of sparks in his bloodstream and out his cock as his orgasm hit him, pearly ribbons of his come mingling with Alex's.

Alex was leaning against him, his face in Mulder's left shoulder, panting. Mulder closed his eyes, breathing hard, allowing the languorous blissful lassitude that held his body in its sway to control him. He relaxed, and then a knocking on the door reached both their ears. Alex straightened, a strange expression in his eyes as he looked right back at Mulder.

"Y-Yeah? What? I'll be out in a few minutes," Mulder called, grabbing up a handful of tissues and cleaning himself up.

There was a long silence. Mulder zipped up his pants. The stewardess called, "Sir? Are you okay? Are you feeling all right?"

"I'm fine. Nearly done." He stared back at Alex who had already cleaned up and zipped up his own jeans.

Alex held his eyes for a little longer and then slid away. "I'm fine, Darlene."

"Okay. Just checking, sir." She moved away.

Mulder raised his brows and then chuckled. "She's the other agent, isn't she?"

Alex let out a breath. "Mulder, I -" he broke off.

The silence was palpable. Mulder sighed. Sardonically, he asked, "Have I earned the file, do you think? I really do want to read it."

Alex opened his mouth, his lips parted to speak, then obviously decided to not bother. He stepped close once more, kissing Mulder slowly, lingeringly, repeatedly. Mulder let him, responding barely, wondering why any desire for a physical altercation with him had fled. He didn't want to hit Alex. The tension was gone. Alex didn't look happy though. Mulder swallowed. Hell, did he really want to know why? "This *is* what you wanted, isn't it?"

Alex licked his lips. Leaned in again and kissed Mulder hard, warmly. Drawing back, he took a breath. "Come on. Let's go. Bring the files. You can read it up in first class."

Chewing his lips thoughtfully, Mulder waited a few moments after Alex left and then picked up the briefcase. As he left the toilet, he bumped into a man obviously in need of its amenities. "Excuse me," he said, absently. Going back to sit down next to Alex, he was almost excruciatingly aware of the proximity of the other man. The smell of him. The heat of Alex's body, and the way Alex refused to look at him. Instead, Alex seemed preoccupied with glancing around them, obviously scanning the passengers to see if anyone had noticed their return.

Darlene passed them, a look of concern on her face. It cleared as Alex looked up at her. Some unspoken signal passed between them. Mulder looked down at the file in his lap. He tried to concentrate on the photos and the extraordinary evidence that appeared to be for all intensive purposes 'real' and valid. But the events of the last fifteen minutes were indelibly grooved into his brain and he couldn't focus on anything else.

Thoughtfully, he turned to face Alex, waiting until Alex realized his eyes were on him and returned his gaze. "Exactly how long has it been that way for you?" Mulder asked, genuinely curious.

"About as long as it has been for you," Alex replied, a little too glibly; especially with the way he looked away, his eyes filled with something that Mulder found himself interpreting as regret.

Mulder lifted a brow. "Oh? And if I said that I'd felt like that since the very beginning?"

With a tight smile, Alex said, "It wouldn't surprise me. You have an impulse control problem where I'm concerned."

Mulder stared at him. "If you're implying that I can't keep my hands off you, you're right. But then, you can't seem to stop kissing me, either."

At this, Alex did look back at him and met his eyes, squarely. "Do you want me to?"

The question took Mulder off-guard. "Want you to what?"

"Stop kissing you," Alex repeated, his face unreadable now.

Mulder exhaled. "No. But it doesn't change what you are."

Alex rolled his eyes at this. "Please. Don't start on all that again. I've memorized it already."

"Fine," Mulder replied, stiffly. "I just don't want you imagining that it somehow cancels out the past. Just because we shared a male bonding moment."

"Is *that* what that was?" Alex said, sarcastically.

Mulder smiled slightly. "It was for me. Why? What was it for you? Was it particularly significant? What, you're gonna tell me you'd been waiting for that for years, Alex? Hell, if it meant that much to you, why'd you wait so long?"

Another stewardess came close, smiling brightly and offering food, effectively stopping Alex from making any kind of reply to that. It left a feeling of unfinished business between them though, and Mulder felt cheated out of getting a response from him. It was one time where he wished he hadn't had the last word.

Especially as Alex refused to answer even as she moved away and they ate their respective dinners. As airplane fare went, it wasn't bad, but Mulder found himself wishing too that they were on the ground. When he tried to analyze *why*, he found himself coming to the startling conclusion that maybe Alex's presence meant more to him than he realized, also. It wasn't just that he wanted to get answers out of him; he wanted to continue the mental parry and counterthrust with him. To get the truth out of him, by whatever means. And not just the 'truth'... The truth of why Alex kept initiating these sexual interludes. When had things changed? One encounter, they were... In Siberia. The next, Krycek was leaning over him in the dark kissing him on the cheek. And Alex without an arm... Jesus. He felt a twinge of regret and even a little guilt at that. Then he remembered his father.

Mulder swiftly felt sick at the realization that Alex could be playing him along, stringing him down a well-tread path of seduction and mind-fuckery. He tried to focus on the files.

If Alex was tired of talking with him, fine. Mulder had his information and it certainly was intriguing. But as an hour passed, and then another, and he knew they must nearing the final hour before they landed, he turned to Alex once more, breaking the tacit silence.

"So, Alex, who appointed you my guardian angel?"

Alex looked up at him, surprised. "What?"

"You said you were here on this flight to look after me, make sure that the assassin didn't get to me," Mulder elaborated.

Alex shrugged. "I kind of figured it was part of the plan, seeing as I was bringing you the information, anyway."

"That's - not quite what I meant. Why are you looking after me? Have you done this before? Without my knowledge, I mean?"

Alex looked away, down before him. "Sometimes."

"Why?" pressed Mulder.

Alex looked up at him. "Why do you think?" But he refused to say any more.

Even when Mulder said, "I think you can't leave me alone."

Alex didn't answer.

Mulder sighed. "So what happens when we land?"

"You get off. We follow. Don't bother trying to look for us. We'll watch your back." Alex sounded curt. He obviously considered their conversation ended.

Sure enough, the announcement that they were going to be landing imminently effectively broke the mood that had settled over them. A new tension mounted.

Mulder waited until the end however, after they had landed, and were cruising in to taxi along the runway, to lean over to Alex and say quietly, "It meant as much to me as it did to you." He hoped that would draw out some kind of response. Maybe even a slight confession, however ambiguous.

Alex flicked a gaze at him, but didn't say anything. But the hope in his eyes made him seem younger and a little less dangerous somehow. It was enough to be incriminating. Mulder drew the only conclusion left to him: Alex had been wanting him for some time, indeed. Probably from the first. He'd suspected so, even through the ridiculous puppy-dog act in the beginning.

And then the 'ding' went, over their heads, along with the seatbelt sign flicking off, and people were standing up. Darlene came to stand next to Alex and whispered something to him. Alex turned to Mulder. "You'd better get off as soon as possible. You'll want to be one of the first to disembark. Keep your eyes out."

Mulder nodded. And then he was retreating to pick up his carry-on bag, back to the aisle where he'd been seated when they first left. He tried to catch a glimpse of Alex as he left but both he and Darlene seemed to have disappeared completely.

He left the plane uneventfully, trying to ignore the disappointment he felt now that the encounter was over. He couldn't help wondering if the story about his 'tail' hadn't been a ruse after all. And tried to dispel the disappointment instead with the looming anticipation of verifying the files in the briefcase that Krycek had given him.

On the drive back home, however, he couldn't stop replaying the memory of those kisses, the last few kisses Alex had given him, over and over his mind. He hadn't imagined it; Alex had been a little too sincere. And to his supreme discomfort, his dreams were filled with them all too vividly for nights afterward. Even over the memory of Alex pressed up against him, coming on him, with him, which served for excellent jerk-off material in spite of his attempts to not think about it.

When word came back that the information Alex had given him was good, and indeed too hot to ignore, he thoughtfully began to compose a strategy of how to behave the next time their paths crossed. He wasn't even worried that they would; he knew Alex wouldn't be able to stay away.



TITLE: Angels II: Fallen Angel
ARCHIVE: RatB, DitB, NickZone-Alex Annex
DISCLAIMER: Ever since Chris Carter f***ed his fans with the Season 8 finale, I heartily welcome any legal action or proceedings should they be brought against me for using these characters as I see fit. I'd win hands down. [g] Besides, I have no money. None.
RATING: PG-13 - language, slashy m/m references...
SUMMARY: Mulder goes off on another lead given to him by Krycek. Scully is less than pleased. Mulder picks up a traveling companion.
BETAS: This is unbeta'ed. Forgive me!
SPOILERS: Don't know, really, but it is set sometime before the Requiem episode, end of Season 7.
NOTE: there is a third chapter after this one.

* * * *
ANGELS 2: Fallen Angel
* * * *

Fallen Angel
Roger Daltrey - lyrics by Kit Hain

Out of favour
Into the fire
Thrown from my state of grace
I fall to ruin
You call me Liar
The blight of the human race
But it's against my will
I am banished to this place

I'm losing control
A stranger in a state of change
Locked in the rift between heaven and hell
I drift like a fallen angel
Like a fallen angel

Here in exile
Your justice bars
Branded the philistine
Am I the demon?
The one that turns
The human decline
And it's against my will
I'm banished to this place

But it wasn't always this way
Once I had glory
And you'd follow every word of my law
Now I am cast from this role
Now I am broken

* * * *

Air Force Outpost
Northwest Wyoming
7:14 PM

In the communications tower, the young lieutenant was staring at the radar screen suspiciously. He knew exactly what the oddly-behaving object he'd been tracking was. He looked up as the general leaned over his shoulder.

"Sir? What do you want me to do?"

"Do? Nothing, for now. Just keep an eye on it."

"This is the fifth one in the last two days. What shall I put in the report?"

The general grimaced. "You aren't going to be making any report on this one. I shouldn't have to tell you that."

The lieutenant swallowed. "Sir, it's accelerating rapidly..." His voice trailed away as they both watched it increase to over 350kph and then abruptly hang. It was almost as if the object appeared stuck on the screen.

"What the hell?" the lieutenant breathed. It looked as if the object was suspended in mid-air, stationary even as it retained its altitude. Suddenly, two fighter jets appeared, designated US Air Force, and before their very eyes, the object disappeared. It reappeared, and then the screen blipped, as if they had lost power or experienced an electrical surge. It looked as though the jets were trying to intercept. Neither man knew how to work out what had just happened.

Although the lieutenant tried to raise the pilots, there was no response and the jets tracked off the screen without further action. But it had appeared as though they might have fired upon the object.

He raised his eyes to the general's, who met his gaze squarely. An unspoken understanding passed between them. He cleared his throat. "N-Nothing to report, sir."

"Good." The general straightened and sighed. He turned to go but said over his shoulder, "Somebody's ass is in a sling, that's for sure. I'm going to make sure it isn't ours."

General John Linden made his way to the empty office and sat down heavily before picking up the red phone. "Hello? Put me through to line five." He waited. "Steve? It's John. Hey, how you doin'? It's been a while. Listen, we've got ourselves a bit of a situation here at the dig. As of this moment, it looks like Operation Fallen Angel is officially re-opened. Someone just shot one down right over us. Yeah, right over our goddamned heads. Yeah, I know. I don't know who the hell ordered it - it certainly didn't go by me. It's gonna be a real shit-storm unless we get this contained, fast. We're going to need cover. Thanks. Yeah. Thanks, Steve, I appreciate that."


Hoover Building
Washington D.C.
8:46 AM

Mulder looked up at Scully who was frowning down at him. "We have to go to Wyoming." He shoved the file Krycek had given him across to her.

She turned her frown to the file as she scanned its contents. She sighed. "Mulder, please don't tell me you want us to go hunting dwarves in the mountains."

"Scully, you don't understand. This is hot. The guys just called me; Langley said two Air Force jets shot down an unidentified craft right over this same archeological site last night. They intercepted a military communication to someone here in D.C.," he carefully ignored her skeptically raised brow, as he continued, "and it gets weirder. I had the information verified; there really is an anthropological team that was digging around in the foothills of the Beartooth Range - only their findings have been suppressed and their research shut down. Something to do with mining rights and environmental pressure from The Nature Conservancy, a group that have been trying to cite the Endangered Species Act on unnecessary drilling and scientific surveys in the wild. It's obviously a cover."

"Mulder, this isn't an X-File, it isn't even a case. And - and even if it's scientific or military, it's none of our business." Scully had her long-suffering tone, trying to reason with him.

"Aren't you even curious?" Mulder looked up at her, feeling a bit squashed by her complete lack of enthusiasm. He should be used to her lukewarm responses by now. Still, it always stung a little when she pulled her skeptic's hood over her head and pretended that there was nothing there. He knew that something was up. And for Krycek to risk approaching him on the flight last week to give him this information... It was certainly tugging at his instincts. "Scully, something incredible is going on and I intend to find out what it is. I'm going out there, whether in an official capacity or not."

She sighed. "Another wild chase across the country after lights in the sky? And little dwarf bodies? Mulder, how do you know that these aren't hoaxes? Many-" she paused, trying to gather her wits and momentum, "There are many cases of so-called ancient skulls and bodies that have been proven to be merely well-executed fakes devised by people desperate to make a name for themselves in the archaeological community-"

Mulder stood up suddenly, interrupting her. "I know, I know. It's probably nothing. But I already booked us two seats to Billings, Montana and a charter flight to Cody, Wyoming. I have to check this out. If you don't want to come, I guess I'll be doing this one alone."

Scully stared at him, refusing to be cowed by his usual display of stubborn insistence. "Fine. I hope you find something, I really do. I'd hate for you to be disappointed and end up with nothing, yet again. Mulder, I admire your persistence. You know I do. But chasing after every shadow, after every wild story - it just... Mulder, I can't understand why you're going off like this based only on some pretty pictures and inconclusive rumors of military activity. It just seems like a lot of expense and energy for nothing."

Mulder suppressed the urge to raise his voice and patiently said, "In 1932, gold prospectors blasting in a gully in the Pedro Mountains of Wyoming, 60 miles from Casper, found a fourteen-inch high mummy. Scientists who studied it said it was a pygmy, maybe of some obscure, ancient Indian race, perhaps a forerunning ancestor. It was in a ceremonial burial ground. It was displayed in sideshows for years and then disappeared but its authenticity was attested to by every single expert who studied it." He picked up a file from under a pile of others and opened it. A stark black and white photo showed the Pedro Pygmy Mummy. It resembled a wizened, little old man. "They reckoned he was about 65 when he died."

Scully pursed her lips, scowling slightly. "Interesting. But what does this have to do with military jets over another site?"

Mulder was getting excited. "Can't you see? They keep finding mummified little bodies of some ancient pygmy race. The Indians of the area have numerous legends, about cradle-snatchers, evil dwarves and ugly little men who terrified them. All in mountainous regions in Wyoming." He turned and picked up another file, slapping it down in front of her, ignominiously. "Another case, this time in Coffee County, Tennessee. An ancient graveyard, containing over 75,000 pygmy skeletons, all buried in a sitting or standing position."

Scully looked back up at him, with a slight smile. "I know what you're going to say. That maybe the sightings of small 'alien' beings and little people that have been reported for hundreds of years can be attributed to a race of underground pygmies. That they've been dwelling under our very noses all this time, hidden out of sight."

"Exactly! This might be what we've been waiting for. Proof, Scully! Proof of these beings - only the military doesn't want the public to panic, thinking that we've got dwarves living amongst us. Some of the Indian legends of these pygmies are frightening."

"Well, it's Friday. I guess if you really want to go off chasing little people, you have the time to do it. I said I'd go visit my mother this weekend. I'll have my cellphone if you want to reach me on that number."

Mulder ignored her flippant answer and grinned at her. "Cover for me, for the rest of today?"

"Sure. I won't tell Skinner what you're doing, though. He'd skin me, in your absence. I'll say you've gone off on a hiking trek in the wilds. You'll need hiking boots, you know."

"Yeah, I know. I'm already packed."

Scully heaved another sigh. "Good luck, Mulder. Have fun."

As the tapping of her heeled feet echoed away out of the basement office and down the corridor, Mulder realized there was nothing keeping him from leaving immediately. He purposefully gathered up all the files and left the office, himself.

Train of Thought

Somehow, somewhere along the way, Mulder moved from being a contemplated daydream in the back of my mind to a wish, a high-flying dream that sang with the poignantly sweet call of something 'better', something I could feel prodding insistently in the night, or when I was alone. Then he became a need, a desire. A necessity in my life that nothing could assuage. Finally, he became a dangerous distraction. Entirely too dangerous. I can't afford it. And it was so stupid to give in to the impulse of the moment, on that plane. Unutterably stupid. Never mind that it provided me with endless dreams that are vividly more satisfying and hours of fantasy fuel. Still, I never intended to give away so much. I can only hope that he didn't see how much I really wanted it, given to his propensity for denial and his absolute imperative in insisting that I'm merely a cold-blooded manipulative liar.

I'm starting to regret giving him that information. It was sensitive, and the people I stole it from were mightily pissed. I had hoped that he would call enough public attention to the site to get them to close it down. Turns out we didn't have to do anything. Some fat fool, in an ambitious gesture no doubt merely aimed at sending a message to his opposition, decided to take out one of the grays' craft - right over the site. It got it the situation the attention we wanted but entirely the wrong kind. Now I'm up to my neck in extra-terrestrial politics and attempts to instigate reparative compensation. 'Just because'. I happen to be the only guy around with enough experience to negotiate multi-racial talks between our government, their government, our factions, their factions, the individuals responsible for the snafu, the individuals covering our ass, the people covering their own asses... It's a fucking circus.

And there isn't anyone else. No one else has the same level of experience and accumulated knowledge of the situation. No one else who actually knew what the Consortium had been up to. No one else who could represent anything beyond a mirror of the previous Syndicate agenda. Which means it's up to me. Again. I wonder how many times I'm going to have to clean up other people's messes. I wonder how many more times I'll have to shoulder the responsibility. I wonder how much convincing it would take to get Mulder to trade jobs with me... I wonder how I could convince him to work with me. I could do with the help. Yeah, and pigs might fly.


Clark, Wyoming
Off Belfry Highway 120
3:08 PM

Driving the rental car along the dusty dirt road into the hills that lay at the foot of the impressive dark-blue mountains of the Beartooth Range, Mulder was beginning to wonder at the lack of military presence. Indeed, any presence. The entire community of Clark seemed sparse and composed merely of lone houses and mobile homes scattered along the edge of dirt roads like the one he was on, a good several miles between each residence. The long drive from Cody, around the peak of Heart Mountain that now lay on the southern horizon on the distance, had left him travel-weary. Particularly after the flight he'd just made. The landscape was dry and the scrub and sagebrush hid clumps of prolific pear cactus with red-tipped needles. The occasional dust devil or whirlwind could be seen traveling along the same dirt roads that he was exploring, miniature tornados blowing tumbleweeds before them.

As he coasted along the dirt road, the loud ratcheting noise of hovering grasshoppers reminded him of rattlesnakes shaking their rattlers. It was rather disconcerting. But the smell of the sagebrush everywhere was pungent in the heat.

He saw a man fixing a barbed wire fence, working away under the afternoon sun. Stopping the car, he got out and approached him. "Hi. I'm looking for the Leroy Ranch. Could you tell me if I'm on the right track?"

The man stopped and took off his cowboy hat, wiping sweat from his forehead. "Hi, there. It's right up that way," he turned and pointed north, along the same road Mulder was on. "You're right near Sugarloaf, here." He indicated the flat-top mesa hill that rose up pale against the prairie to their left. "Just keep on this road. It gets kinda steep and rough, the road does. You one of those surveyors?"

Mulder stopped. "No, I'm here about the archeology site. Do you know anything about that?"

The man started chuckling. "Oh, boy. You're gonna get more than you bargained for. The government came in and shut them down. Word gets around fast here; people are complaining that it ain't fair to put up No Trespassing signs on private property. Dan Leroy was really pissed when he found out the government was sealing off whole chunks of his own acreage."

Mulder made a sympathetic expression, nodding. "I'll bet. I'm here to get the scoop on what's happening. I heard they discovered some kind of old Indian burial ground."

"Naw, it was bodies. Little, funny-looking bodies. I'm not kidding; you ask anyone else around. It was creepy."

Mulder realized he had one of the local gossips and decided to try to milk this opportunity for what it was worth. "Well, tell me something, did you happen to see or hear anything funny yourself? How about recently?"

The man gave him a grin. "Two jets yesterday evening, shot down another plane back up there in the mountains. Phyllis Smith said she saw them do it, too. The plane they shot down was also kind funny-looking. She said it kinda glowed. But hell, things like that have been seen around here before."

Mulder grinned back at him. "UFOs? Have you seen any yourself, around here?"

"Not lately. But there was a sighting at the Twin Hills, back down along the highway, about fifteen years ago. And then there was that 1976 sighting over Heart Mountain," the man lifted his chin in the direction of the peak, back towards Cody. "Yeah, it was just like out of that Close Encounters movie. Lots of lights and stuff, right around Christmas. Some people were talking about Santa Claus, making jokes. But it was kinda scary." He gave Mulder a look, askance, tilting his head. "Ah, you really thinking of going up to Leroy's?"

"Yeah, why?" Mulder had the feeling of imminent revelations, the way the man was looking at him all of a sudden.

"'Cause there are stories about that place up there. See, the oil drilling company came in, surveying, years ago. Started a well and pump up there, past the ranch, in the mountains. Dan told me when he was drunk one time that one night the king of the dwarves appeared in his bedroom and asked for his help to get rid of the oil well. Said the little guy told him that it was disturbing his people who lived up there."

"No kidding," Mulder said, a little astonished. "What did he say?"

"Well, he said he'd see what he could do. He tried talking to some EPA folks about getting them to move out. But nothing happened. Then, they started losing tools and equipment. Strange stuff; things going missing. They had to close it down. It's abandoned, now. And then these here scientists come up, digging up stuff, and they find all those little bodies. It's kinda scary, you know?" He shook his head. "Ya gotta wonder."

"I'll say. Well, you've been a real help. Thanks. You know I really do have to go up there and check it out for myself now, after what you've told me?" Mulder grinned widely at him.

"Yeah, well you look out for yourself, sir. There is some weird stuff going on up there." He shook his head again. "I won't go up there after dark, to tell you the truth."

"I'll try to be back before the sun goes down. Well, thanks a lot. I appreciate it." Mulder reached out a hand.

The man shook it. "Bill Cramer. Pleased to meet you, mister, ah..."

"Mulder. The name's Mulder."

"So, you working on a story? What, are you a reporter?"

"Actually, no. I was just in the area and I heard about what happened. Wanted to get the story for myself, you know?"

"Well, Mr. Molder, I hope you manage to see something. I bet they've sealed it off pretty good, by now. They probably already took away all the bodies and things."

"That's okay. I just want to have a look at the place."

"Well, good luck to you."


Mulder got in and drove off in a flurry of dust. He could barely suppress the tense glee that had seized him as he'd listened to what Cramer had told him. It still had him in its grip, and his body was laced with adrenaline and excitement. He felt like he was on the trail of buried treasure. In a way, he was. Proof. Vindication. Actual bodies. And UFO sightings, no less.

Cramer had been right. The road got rougher and the underside of the car was getting scraped by the occasional jutting rock as he made his way up higher and higher past the Leroy sign that marked out the man's ranch. He was making his way deeper into the mountains and he had to suppress a twinge of doubt as he saw how far he was having to ingress into this area. It would indeed not be wise to be out here in the dark. At one point, the dirt road forked and he took the one to the left, wondering if he would find himself at the site of the dig, or at the abandoned oil well. An abrupt dead-end loomed in front of him, a big wire fence complete with all sorts of daunting military warnings and signs. On the top, a camera was swiveling. He wondered if he should chance it but realized that he'd have to go back and then return on foot and scale the fence farther along where it wouldn't be monitored. This was probably the road that led to the site.

Frowning to himself, he reversed along the road and carefully made his way back to the fork. This time, he took the one on the right and it led even deeper into the mountains. The road carried on past a turnoff where the abandoned drilling facility sat, a misshapen collection of buildings and equipment, looking very out of place in the pristine wilderness.

Taking the turnoff, he drove right up to the facility. Getting out of the car, he stretched and took a deep breath. The sides of the steep valley rose up all around him, the large hills barely obscuring the mountains towering just behind them. Cramer was right. He wouldn't want to be here after dark. For the threat of bears or cougars, or even stranger creatures. Still, the wild beauty of the place was undeniable. He was getting a little worried though about the lack of other people. He would have thought that the military would be crawling all over this area. It didn't make sense that this place would be so deserted. But the downed, glowing 'plane' of the night before had gone down somewhere farther north so he reasoned that they must be concentrating their efforts up there.

Walking around the outside of the facility revealed nothing out of the ordinary, until he saw the lock had been forced on the door on the left side of the building. Curious, he opened the door and entered the building. Taking out his flashlight, he began to explore the interior of the abandoned complex.

He felt a strange sensation in his head, like a whisper brushing across his mind. Mulder drew his weapon. He didn't want to be unprepared and he could definitely feel the presence of someone else in the vicinity. He was not alone.

The unusual sensation increased, almost like a physical sense of someone touching the insides of his skull. And then he heard it. Well, not in his ears. It was like the memory of a voice inside of his head, only he was hearing it in the moment. It was like an odd displacement, a thought that wasn't his, and not unpleasant, although it was unsettling at first.

//I am alone. We are alone. //

He didn't get the feeling that his gun was needed, so he put it away. Keeping the flashlight before him and venturing further into the dark depths of the rooms, he followed the direction of where he could feel the voice was coming from. Right at the back, secreted behind the door of an empty storage closet in an old office.

"Hello? Is anyone there?" he called out, his voice echoing in a weird muffled sound in the dusty place.

The mental mind-touch returned, this time laced with a little ironic humor and curiosity, although there was the strong sense of a background fear and vulnerability. //We are the only ones here. You are a strange one. You are not like the others. //

"I'm not," he mumbled, feeling a bit foolish to be talking aloud almost to himself. "I'm just... looking. Looking around. I'm looking for answers."

A mental chuckle followed his reply. //Perhaps we can help each other. I am looking for an answer, too. //

He licked his lips, wondering why he still felt a pang of fear and trepidation in the pit of his stomach, despite the calm and reasonably friendly feel of the silent voice. He was standing in front of the closet now. "Can - can I open the door? I mean, do you want me to?"

The background fear and vulnerability intensified briefly. //Very well. But please don't panic-fear-scream-yell-afraid- // The sudden jumble of words burst over him along with a larger dose of fear and he felt himself feeling stronger, more in control. "Don't worry, I won't. I won't do any of those things." And drawing a breath, he slowly opened the door, holding the light to shine down on the floor.

Slowly, Mulder raised the light to look into the corner of the closet and saw a small, pale-skinned creature crouched there. It had burning eyes, large wrap-around eyes with huge black pupils surrounded by blue irises. It had no hair on its overly large head and it was wearing a soft, silvery-gray suit of some kind, with an insignia of a small triangle on the front, on it s left breast.

Mulder couldn't even speak. His mouth was too dry and he was in a hazy kind of shock. Even after waiting all his life to meet an actual, living, intelligent alien being like this, he was far from prepared for the reality. All he could do was think: what - <I>who</I> - are you?

//I was only conducting a routine observation, looking for the small ones who dwell in this place. But the jets came. They found my ship, and I crashed last night. I couldn't fix the damage; it was irreparable. I had to leave. They were looking for me. I came here. //

Mulder gulped, feeling a surge of sympathy as well as doubt. 'They' would undoubtedly kill this being if they found it.

//I can disguise myself from their eyes, but I cannot stay here. You are looking for answers. I can help you find them, if you will help me. // The hope and good intentions of the being were broadcast simultaneously and in that instant, Mulder realized that he would aide this creature in whatever way he could.

The being's voice was enough to assure him of its intentions, although he was sure that anyone else who saw it would undoubtedly go through the panic-fear cycle it had described to him. "Let's get out of here," he suggested. "They know I'm here. They must have seen my car on the road, earlier, when I reached the fence."

It understood him as he spoke, seeing the mental images as he replayed them along with his words. //Agreed. // The being stood up slowly, unfolding tense limbs and visibly relaxing in his presence. It stood just over four and a half feet tall. It waited for Mulder to turn and leave, following quietly behind him.

As they made their way out of the building, Mulder asked, "How is that I can hear your voice in these words?"

There was an indulgent smile. //Telepathy is so convenient. You filter what I send you and make what sense of it you can. All the rest is energy, vibrations. But you already know this. //

It added, with a measure of its own curiosity, //You have the potential for this ability, and more. Why do you not develop it? //

"There hasn't really been a need, up until now," Mulder said, dryly. "Besides, you might already know this, but people like me are considered, uh, generally 'spooky'."

A silent grin and understanding was directed at him, as the being comprehended the humorous reference from his memories. They left the building, and Mulder felt the urgent desire to get the hell out of there. They were in danger of losing what lead-time they had. He went to the passenger side and opened the door for the being who climbed into the seat, looking rather frail and childlike in the suddenly all-too-human environment of the car. He shut the door and then went around to get in himself, to back up and turn the car around.

As he drove carefully back down the treacherous road, he mused upon the fact that he was in shock. He had driven up and found the pilot of the downed UFO; he was aiding it in a get-away and currently had said-pilot in the seat beside him. He didn't want to stare but it was too monumental. He wondered why Scully always seemed to miss these kinds of events. Even in Antarctica she'd been unconscious as the giant ship rose above their heads and flew away. He kept glancing at the being out of the corner of his eye. Half-formed questions rose and fell in his bubbling thoughts, but he didn't want to pester it.

A dry response came to him. //I am male. My name is Daein. I am like you, in that I am a hybrid, also.// A note of pride crept into his voice. //I am 42% human. The rest of my heritage is - // It stopped, trying to find the relevant data in Mulder's conscious awareness. //- Zeta Reticulan. You call them little grays. But it is merely one race. //

"Thanks," Mulder said, a note of gratitude in his voice for the information that Daein was volunteering. "You know, I've waited all my life to be able to speak with a being like yourself. But I never really imagined that it would happen, after all these years, waiting for it to happen..." He hesitated. "I think I'm still trying to deal with the fact that you're actually here."

Understanding, comprehension. //You wanted this, to meet one like me. Many of your people here do not. They are afraid of it. They project much fear. It draws the wrong kinds of beings to them. // Mulder could sense the mutual gratitude in Daein's response, for Mulder's non-threatening and mostly reasonable reaction to Daein's physical existence.

"Where do you want me to take you? What will you do? How will you be safe?"

//I don't know. My people will see the ship was destroyed. They will look for me. // But there was a twinge of fear and loss in Daein's reply.

Abruptly, Mulder found he was driving back onto the main highway, off the dirt road and onto the asphalt. And just beyond them, ahead on the road, was a roadblock of military vehicles. Coming up behind them were two more, converging on him both from the turn-off to the site and Leroy Ranch, as well as the northern route of the highway.

He stopped the car. "Damn it!" he exclaimed, furiously. Gripping the steering wheel, he fumed. What could he do? It wasn't fair. Just when he'd finally got what he'd waited for all his life...

Daein soothingly sent, //Don't worry, Mulder. They cannot see me. Tell them you found nothing. I will project my non-existence so they will ignore me. Most humans will ignore something they don't want to see. //

Acutely aware of the presence of the hybrid gray alien sitting next to him, Mulder almost burst out laughing from the tension as the armed men in uniforms began to surround the car. "You better be right." He rolled down the window.

"Get out of the car, keep your hands on your head," one of them ordered.

Mulder looked out of the window at him. "What? What is it?"

"Just do it," the man said. "Come on, move."

Sighing, Mulder opened the door and stepped out. They began to search him. They found his badge and gun. "FBI? What are you doing here?"

"I'm not here on a case. I was just taking the weekend off to go hiking. Maybe some fishing along Clark's Fork Canyon," Mulder explained.

Approaching them was an Air Force officer in blues. "Let him go. Give him back his gun," the man ordered. He strode up to Mulder. "General John Linden," he introduced himself, and added, "You wanted to see about the grave site, didn't you?"

"The road was blocked. I turned around," Mulder said, sardonically.

"There's nothing left up there anyway. They've already cleared the area. There's nothing to see. We've got kind of a sticky situation up here right now though, what with the downed plane and all. We're conducting a search up in the mountains. We can't have sightseers getting themselves lost in the middle of all this and complicating our salvage efforts. I'm sure you understand." General Linden appeared straightforward, meeting Mulder's eyes as he mentioned the 'downed plane'.

"Downed plane, huh?" Mulder almost grinned. He was suppressing the urge to look back at the car, to see if he could still see Daein in the front seat. To his relief, everyone seemed to be ignoring his strange, partly-human, mostly-alien passenger.

"Well, you know the score," Linden said, almost apologetically.

"Yeah, I think I do." Mulder did grin at him, at this point. "Okay. Look, I'm leaving anyway. I only wanted to see the dig. But if all the bodies have been removed, there isn't much point. I may end up just fishing, after all."

"I might join you, if things get any more whacked out, here," Linden said, wearily. "Wish I was in your shoes. Enjoy your weekend."

One of the men came back to the general. "Sir, he's clean. The car's empty."

"Well, I guess we'll let you go on your way," Linden said, staring at the car briefly, with a slightly puzzled expression before straightening and looking back at him.

"Thanks. And good luck, finding that plane." Mulder met his gaze.

"Right." Linden gave a little half-smile and then shook his head, first as if to clear it, and then as if sighing to himself. "Let's go," he ordered.

They began to climb back into their vehicles and drove away, leaving Mulder to get into the car and sit numbly behind the wheel.

He turned his head and looked at Daein. The little fellow's skin was positively translucent in the sunlight. "That went well."

//He saw me. I asked him not to say anything. It is odd. He didn't want to see me and agreed to pretend he didn't. I don't think he even remembers it now. Sometimes human beings do that. But he has met others before, other Reticulans. He doesn't like it when people shoot down our ships. //

Mulder took a deep breath and started the engine. "So, what do we do now? How long do you think it will be before your people find you?"

Daein seemed sad, wistful. //I'm uncertain. But they will concentrate their efforts in this area. I dare not go too far from the base. //

"The 'base'?" Mulder repeated. "What base?"

"There is a base in the mountains near here. Farther south."

Driving along the highway, back towards 120, the Belfry Highway, Mulder said, "I don't want to take you into town. But we might need to stay overnight in a motel somewhere. We could stop in Cody. Somewhere obscure, on the edge of town. What do you think?"

Daein said, //It would be better for me to stay in the mountains, close to my people. You could get supplies here, at this place. //

Mulder looked ahead at the small store. The Edelweiss. "All right," he said, slowing down to drive in to the front of the store and park. He inhaled and turned to Daein. "I won't be long."

//Thank you for helping me. // The sincerity and depth of emotional regard in Daein's statement took him by surprise.

"Believe me, it's- it's an honor," Mulder said, quietly. He opened the car door. "Back in a few minutes."

//Strawberry ice cream. Please obtain some for me? // Anticipation ran throughout Daein's request.

Mulder smiled, bemused. Right. Strawberry ice cream. Everyone has their indulgences, he thought. And felt Daein's answering, happy smile. He shook his head, feeling almost as if he were agreeing to buy a treat for a kid.

Inside the Edelweiss, Mulder found himself perusing the shelves for supplies that would come in useful on an extra-terrestrial road trip. And grinned to himself. He thought of phoning Scully and then thought better of it. This was his, this experience; it was just for him.

Paying for the goods with cash, he returned to the car. As they continued on the highway in the direction of Cody, Mulder found himself relaxing. The drive was monotonous, the road so long and straight that he could afford to get in some good discussion time here. He tried to formulate some sort of concrete question out of the mass of seething curiosity in his mind. Daein seemed to sense it and left him alone.

A herd of pronghorn antelope was grazing by the roadside and as the car neared them, they bounded off, their white rumps signaling danger as they leaped away. The way the herd acted in unison as one community helped him to think of what he wanted to ask Daein.

"Are you part of a collective? Does your race generally exist as a collective consciousness?"

//The Reticulans do. There is much confusion between your people and Reticulans. Humans see them as hive-like while the Reticulans see humans as lost units, entirely lost in their separatist egos and unable to connect or communicate with each other. As a hybrid, I exist with others of my kind much in a state as you do - able to experience either means of communication. //

"How long have you been here, on Earth?"

Surprised, Daein turned his head to look at Mulder. //I was born here. This is my home. I have traveled all over, to the bases that are open to my kind. But this planet is my home. //

Curious, Mulder asked, "Do you feel a kinship with humans, then?"

//Of course! I am proud to have human genetics as part of my DNA heritage. The Reticulans that you call 'little grays' are rather unemotional and although very efficient, they do not make interesting companions. I am glad to have this opportunity to travel with you. //

The tone of respect and sincerity in Daein's voice caught Mulder off-guard. Somehow, he hadn't expected humanity to be valued so highly from a more advanced being such as this one.

Daein picked up on this thought however and continued, //No one is better than anyone else. We are all different, unique beings. We all have something to offer. Of course, human prejudice is not one of them, and Reticulan snobbery is not, either. //

"Snobbery?" Mulder smiled at the image of a little gray with its nose in the air, attempting to come across as superior.

Daein smiled too. //This is all you wanted, isn't it? To converse with someone who was not of your race? //

"Yeah, that just about sums it up. I wanted to have someone else's point of view, to meet someone who didn't think like everyone else I've met. A real, honest-to-God 'alien'." He shot Daein a look. "Sorry if that appellation offends you."

//I understand what you mean by it. But appearances can be deceiving, //Daein mused. //You may have dismissed other interesting minds in the past, simply because you judged them as being 'merely human'.

Mulder gave a twisted half-smile at this. "I know. But meeting you makes up for the loss, I think."

Passing rocky hills intricately carved by erosion over the years and creeks bearing glacier-melted water from mountains and stream tributaries, they began to climb in altitude. The road stretched out before them but Heart Mountain was getting closer.

"Where are we going?" Mulder asked, wondering about their destination.

//There is a base just above Sunlight Basin. We will come to the road soon. //

Mulder was startled. "What, just up ahead? I passed the sign on the way here, earlier today."

Daein turned to him and said plaintively. //I am very hungry. //

"Your ice cream - I'm so sorry," Mulder said, reaching behind him and grabbing up the plastic bag that had the small carton of ice cream in it. He handed it to Daein who promptly withdrew it from the plastic bag and took off the lid. There was a small wooden scoop on the inside of the lid and Daein began to delicately consume the ice cream. Mulder couldn't help his fascination with watching the little man eat. He made it look like a sensuous performance without being greedy or sloppy in the slightest.

Humor laced Daein's observation: //I am glad that my manners do not offend you. //

Mulder fixed his eyes back on the road, concentrating. "So, what race are you, anyway? Do you have a designated race?"

//I am Sassani. It is not easy being Sassani at this time; there are not enough of us to truly call a full race. There are not enough of us to populate even a smaller world, let alone one this big. But one day, the experiments will be successful and people who are of an even more appropriate hybridization mix will be produced. They will colonize a new world. //

"So <I>that's</I> the plan behind all the abductions and creation of the hybrids," Mulder said, realization dawning.

//Only partly. There are many experiments, many races. It is one facet, //Daein explained, carefully spooning pink gobs of ice cream into his mouth. //There are some races and factions who have other agendas. Some of them are far more sinister and serious than ours, as you have already discovered. But the Essassani will be a success because in the future they already 'are'. They have come back from that time to interact with us and others of your people. //

"Time-travel?" Mulder found himself adopting a somewhat Scullified skepticism at this. But the undeniable honesty that was inherent in Daein's communicated thoughts and mind-touch with his was genuine. This particular Sassani actually believed that this was indeed the case.

//Your own government has conducted terrifying and irresponsible experiments with time-travel already, using devices and technology to create loops connecting Montauk, the Eldritch ship and Mars, as well as other places,//Daein commented, a dark and fearful thread staining his mental thoughts.

"Right, the Philadelphia Experiment," Mulder said. "I wasn't sure how much faith to put in those stories. But what about the other races? What about the rebels? And if your people as well as the Reticulans have bases everywhere, why aren't they doing anything to contain the Black Oil? And the oiliens? And the grays with the sinister agenda?"

Daein gave a little mental shrug. //It is all to do with the voluntary deal that your government made years ago. It seems that there is a non-interference policy with only so far that others can strain the limits of the agreement. The deal was made with those particular grays, not with anyone else. They are therefore stuck with the results. Some of us do not like it but there are higher forces, higher powers. Some races are here to arbitrate and will step in if necessary, but only to avert major crises. //

Mulder frowned to himself. This topic cast a dark shadow over an otherwise sunny and remarkable day. The late afternoon sun was shining directly through the windshield and he had on his dark glasses. With the Sassani sitting beside him and he in his sunglasses, he realized they looked like they'd just come off the set of a film about the Men In Black. He laughed quietly.

Daein laughed with him. And then said cryptically, //My people thought of that one. We worked hard to influence the correct individuals to implement the utilization of some of the ideas in that movie. //

Mulder glanced at him, startled. "What, the one with Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith?"

Daein only chuckled and refused to elaborate.

Mulder sighed through his nose. Then went on to the next line of questioning. There was so much. Too much to get through. He was aware of time passing, even though the road was so long. "Have you contacted the pygmy race who live under the mountains?"

//We leave them alone. They do not like to be disturbed, although they are less likely to warm to humans than to little grays. It was my intention to inquire into their thoughts on territory and expansion in this region. We mean to increase activity on our base. //

"Your mission got aborted rather suddenly. How will you continue?"

Daein put the strawberry ice cream away. //Afterwards, I will complete it. I must get to safety first, however, and regather resources and support. I was doing this as a favor for this base, after all - the one we are going to. //

"In Sunlight Basin?" Mulder began to understand what was going on. "All the sightings over the years in this area... It's because of the Sunlight base, then? "

//Yes. //

"But where do you actually come from? What brought you over here?"

//I am usually stationed in the Cairngorms of Scotland, // Daein said. //But the publicity in that region has grown recently, especially as the rather irresponsible British Air Force keeps flying planes and jets over that base. The magnetism generated by some of the equipment inside the base affects their instruments and they crash. They should know better than to fly directly over the affected areas. It was decided to tone down operations there for a time. It was becoming embarrassingly like the Bermuda Triangle with such a high incidence rate. //

Mulder laughed. "Yeah, I can see how that would start to generate unwanted attention."

Daein gave him a mental grin. //I have only been to this base once before. I had only just been stationed here. I was sent here a few weeks ago and this was my first mission away. //

Mulder said, "I'm sorry that they shot you out of the sky, but I'm glad I decided to follow up the story. Otherwise I wouldn't have met you."

//It is very curious to me, Mulder, how you can understand our position so well, and yet remain so closed to the views of others of your own kind. //

Mulder glanced askance at Daein, wondering what the hell brought that on. "What do you mean?"

//There are blocks in your mind that you enforce deliberately, particularly in the presence of certain people. I will not pry, but the blocks are noticeable, even when you are not consciously attempting to suppress your thoughts. They are very strong whenever your thoughts alight on the memories of certain acquaintances of yours. All the people who mean the most to you, in fact. //

Mulder's mind raced, trying to comprehend what Daein was talking about. "Unless you are more specific, I don't understand what you are referring to."

//Without pushing at the blocks you have erected, I cannot elaborate. I am sorry. It would be inexcusable of me. It would be, how would you say, 'bad manners'? //

Understanding lit Mulder's thoughts. "Sometimes, when things are too painful, the only way I can deal with them is to cut them off. I don't want to give undue attention to things that cause a lot of pain. And some people have hurt me in the past, so I refuse to dwell on them. Maybe that is partly what you're picking up."

Daein sounded doubtful. //It is unhealthy, in our culture, to suppress the pain. It becomes like a toothache, the decay setting in on the inside to rot away the heart from within. //

Mulder tried not to give in to the sudden surge of despair that Daein's comments brought him. He swallowed, trying to remain focused on the priority of the moment, of this greatly fulfilling encounter.

//Perhaps I could help you to release the pain, // Daein said, sadly. //It was not my intention to hurt you. Forgive me. //

The depth of Daein's contrition and desire to make amends nearly brought tears to Mulder's eyes. "Please, stop. It- it's okay. It's fine. I understand. There's no need... I just - I - " He fell silent, his mind overcome with the sudden backwash of all the various suppressed pains and wounds he'd felt for so long. Even over his sister... He'd thought himself healed of that one, free of the deep pain over Samantha's disappearance and his dedicated search for her.

Daein abruptly brought him back to himself with a calm, soothing wave of mental reassurance and emotional stability. //She is indeed free, as are you. As are all of your family and friends. There is no need to doubt it. You are already sure of your convictions in this matter; why do you wallow in pain now? //

Mulder smiled bitterly to himself. This encounter was dredging up personal issues from within himself that he had not expected to deal with. Although he should have expected it, when dealing with a telepathic being. He wanted to kick himself for not realizing it earlier. And he said, "Thank you. You're right. I only do it because it's my way of strengthening those blocks you spoke of. It's my way of refusing to deal with the things I want to keep locked away."

//I am deeply sorry. Now is not the time to address them. //

Musing, Mulder said, "No, maybe it is. Maybe in this way, our meeting can be truly productive. I'll bear you to your safe haven, and in return you can help me find my own haven, inside. An inner peace. I would value that very highly."

//Even over information on political agendas of extra-terrestrial races? //Daein was almost laughing at him, gently teasing.

Mulder smiled over at him. "Your people value subtle humor, don't they?"

//The symbol of the triangle with the rings is our insignia. It represents the key to the Essassani home- world, near Orion. But in our base at Sunlight, the corridors were constructed specifically to be quite high and of a comfortable breadth, so that any member of any race might traverse them with ease. There is a telepathic sign that is hosted in each corridor in the symbol of the triangle: 'We Cater For the Tall and Wide'. //

Mulder burst out laughing. "Being so short and thin, it's very considerate of you to think of others in that way."

Daein chuckled. //We like to keep a perspective on our own race in comparison to others. We pride ourselves on having open minds and value communication, yet we retain a sense of humor when considering ourselves, as well as others. // He added, seriously, //And the taller grays and visiting dignitaries, as well as the draconian races, are indeed grateful. //

Mulder was still laughing. "I'll bet they are."

They watched the scenery slip by, in a comfortable silence.

Daein said, //We will be there in perhaps twenty minutes. //

A sudden sadness pulled at Mulder. He didn't want this to be over so soon. The previous awareness of an aching loneliness, an agonizing sense of being devoid of any real understanding or companionship of the quality he'd enjoyed since meeting Daein so fortuitously, returned.

Daein turned to him. //Mulder. My people would repay you for having so generously and courageously helped me in this way. //

Mulder tried to push away the feeling of imminent loss. "How so?"

//I will speak with them about letting you visit the base. I will accompany you. //

This brightened the impending evening somewhat. Mulder pressed him, not wanting to get his hopes up. "Would they really allow that?"

Daein gave one of his mental shrugs. //I cannot see why they wouldn't. They bring human government officials there, occasionally. And human contactees. You are also of a higher caliber, with your hybrid background. //

"Lucky for me," Mulder quipped. "I've got a built-in pass."

//You experienced trauma not long ago, in connection with the Origin Ship. // Daein's thoughts identified for Mulder the image of the craft Scully had investigated that had been off the Ivory Coast, as well as the artifact from it that had affected him so strongly.

"Indeed, I did." Mulder wondered where Daein was leading with this. Origin Ship? So, even these gentle creatures knew of it.

//You are very right to let the potential that the Originators showed you remain dormant. The reason you cannot handle such power yet is because of your audacity. Although it makes you very brave and enduring, it also renders you arrogant and impulsive. //

"Yeah, it's one of my more irritating personality features," Mulder said, dryly, thinking that Scully would feel so vindicated if she were only here to hear him having to take this from an alien.

Daein's smile was smug. It was a real one. It wasn't even mental. Mulder couldn't believe it. It was the first time Daein had actually smiled. It transformed his alien countenance from that of a Reticulan to a pale elf. //Your humor, compassion and intuition are very Essassani traits. They'll save you; those, and the fact that you believe in your extreme possibilities. //

Mulder found himself chuckling with mirth. Yet another doubled, veiled meaning. Daein had a singular, sparkling mind. Not only was he making light of Mulder and his human neuroses, he was poking fun at his own kind -while simultaneously making a completely serious reference to the characteristics of the future level of humanity.

"I'd love to let you loose on Scully," he said, shaking his head.

//She does not 'want to believe'? // Daein asked, picking up Mulder's habitual response to having to be tolerant with his partner, who often suffered the most from his 'audacity'.

"I just wish she could have experienced this with me," Mulder murmured, aware that afterwards, when it was over and he'd returned home, there was literally no one in the world that he could talk to about this incredible day.

//You are impatient with yourself. It makes you impatient with your future. But you create your own destiny... Surely you know that? //

"Sure, in principle. But in practice, things don't always seem that way." He glanced at Daein. "What would you suggest?"

//Perhaps try to remember at all times that there is a dark and light side, as well as the whole spectrum and gamut of reactions in between, to every issue. To remain lodged in a single behavioral mechanism, locked in your anger and frustration towards the future, creates a stagnant sense of futility. Where then is hope? //

"But how are we supposed to apply that to practical, everyday life? Real 'life'?" Mulder felt impatience already welling within him. Existential feel-good platitudes never sat well with him; there had to be a way to practice it.

//Is it not interesting that we were looking for each other? That our destinies met today? We could put it down to a resonance of our vibrations and intentions, our being, that somehow we were able to find each other. But maybe it was fated all along that we should meet and give each other something to take away. //

Daein had a point. The flow of synchronicity in the events leading right up to this moment today had a very surreal flavor, but therein laid the answer. They were both going where their nature took them.

Mulder realized they had driven right up into the hilly folds of terrain that lay around the bottom of Heart Mountain. The sign showing the turn-off for Sunlight Basin was just up ahead. "Here we are." As he slowed to make the turn to the right, he said, "Now I just want to say that I'm not going to simply drop you off in the middle of the countryside. I'm going to wait with you. It'll be safer if we stay in the car."

//Very prudent. There are wild animals and it will get cold later. //

Mulder also had the strong impression that Daein would be glad for the company. Waiting in the dark for his people to find him and roaming about attempting to make his way towards the base in the night would be foolish. "How close can we get to any of the entrances, from the road?"

Daein gave a negating gesture with his hand. //They could not come last night because they had no idea I had crashed. I did not report in, however, and they will look for me tonight. When they find me on the doorstep, so to speak, they will be glad. We will not have to wait long. //

"How will they know that we're there?"

//There are psychic security measures, proximity alerts. Fairly standard for Reticulan bases of operations. If we can get close enough. //

Mulder was confused. "I don't get it. Why don't you just go up and alert them to the fact that you're here, then?"

//Because you want to visit the base, do you not? //

Mulder was smiling before he realized it. "I do, indeed. Well, how far does this road go?" They were now driving down into Sunlight Basin.

//We can stop somewhere appropriate. // Daein murmured, lost in the beauty of the rich colors of the landscape. All around them the sun was shining on the hills and rocky crags. But there were large expanses of green. The sunlight on the grass and scrub made everything appear to glow with a spring-green color, nearly chartreuse against the darker pine of the trees.

"And you live here?" Mulder was slightly envious. This place was like a sheltered bowl of paradise.

//The base is more inaccessible, buried farther back beyond the small canyons. // It was obvious in the way his feelings colored his thoughts: Daein was happy to be stationed here.

They followed the road up to a point and Mulder stopped to park on the verge. He got out of the car and stretched. Daein followed his example. "I didn't think we were so close. I imagined a much longer trip."

//Time is relative. //

"And subjective."

They exchanged a grin. Mulder's face went serious once more. "I'm a better person around you. When I'm with you. With other people, I can sometimes be... all too human. All the human parts of me I can't control - they just -"

Daein regarded him solemnly. //Change is the only constant in the universe. Self-change is voluntary. If you are changing, you are flowing with events rather than against them. The friction occurs when you fight it. Because you are fighting yourself - and the universe. //

Mulder considered Daein carefully. "That sounds like the Tao, or something."

Daein shrugged mentally. //It is all the same principle, the same force, whichever name you choose to identify it. // He went to sit down on the verge, on the grass.

Mulder stared at him, then went to sit beside him. "I'm going to miss you."

Daein gave him a real smile, one that was echoed by the mental accompanying gesture and emotion. //We are friends. We resonate. Let this be your answer, Mulder: look for the resonance of beings with your own nature, and see beyond the outer form. //

Mulder stopped, realizing, "Don't judge a book by its cover."

//Precisely. //

Slowly, he said, "I think I've been looking for the answers outside myself. But I'll only find them by looking inwards. Right?"

Daein gave him a small nod, before looking back out across the vista of the surroundings of Sunlight Basin. //The more you take care of the little things, and your own inner welfare, the more you will naturally harmonize with the outer world and you'll draw those experiences and people to you that help you grow. It will be a mutually enriching experience for both. //Daein chuckled at him. //One cannot help but wonder why you've been avoiding it for so long! //

Mulder pulled a face. Dryly, he said, "Maybe I was afraid to look inside. I should have known, that the only person who could ever give me effective therapy would be an extra-terrestrial."

//58% extra-terrestrial, // Daein corrected him. //I am human, too. // He seemed very nervous, not to be dismissed as all Reticulan. With good reason; he was not the same breed at all. //But maybe I have helped you find your answer that you were looking for? //

"Right," snorted Mulder, "and the answer is 42." My apartment number, he thought. How ironic. The answer was me, all along. I should have realized it, back when the artifact - the Origin Ship - changed me.

But this line of thought was broadcast haphazardly to Daein who picked it up. //It is the same answer for several others, too. There is one in particular whose answer and every dream of personal fulfillment is linked to your apartment number. //

That was cryptic. "Who? Who are you talking about?"

But Mulder's perked interest was not enough to engage anything more from Daein on it other than a shuttering feeling. Daein was drawing a veil across their connection, at his question.

"Why can't you tell me?" Mulder hated the feeling of being blocked out. It felt strange and unnatural with this being. "Why won't you?"

//Courtesy, // Daein reminded him. //Your subconscious is more obvious to me than it is to you. I can read you too easily, all the things you hide from in yourself. I intended it only as a clue, to point the way for easier growth. That was all. It is up to you to do the growing. //

"My next step, huh?" Mulder turned away to regard the panorama, also.

//I would not presume to be your teacher or guide, // Daein said, his humility was matter-of-fact and not at all obtuse. //I am relatively young. I mean only to be a friend, a helpful assistant in return for your protection and help in returning me to the base. //

"I know," Mulder said, quietly, thoughtfully. "And I thank you."

And now Daein's voice grew dry, himself. //Although I think that perhaps this was less of a crisis for me than it was for you. My ship went down many miles from here, but you traveled nearly a thousand times that distance just to collect me and take me to my door. //

Mulder was aghast. "Are you kidding?! They shot you down! You crashed - you could've been killed! And if they'd gotten hold of you..." he trailed away, his imagination more than adequately stocked with previous information to supply the gruesome possibilities. He shuddered. "I'm just glad I could get here in time."

//I... was being ironic, Mulder. // Daein's reply was riddled with a smirking sense, although his face was expressionless.

There was a sudden flash of light in the valley across from them and Daein stood up from where he had been sitting. Delightedly, he said, //They have seen us! They know we are here. //

Mulder stood as well, and licked his lips. He was suddenly unaccountably nervous. //Uh, they - they'll be glad I brought you here, yeah?"

//Don't fear, Mulder, // Daein said swiftly, consolingly. //They are not unfriendly. They are not like the Dulce grays, or the other beings you have encountered. These are more professional and, // Daein turned and winked at him, an odd gesture for this being to make, the irony of it not lost on Mulder who couldn't help a grin, //some of them even have a sense of humor. //

Relief flooded him. "Thank God."

Daein gave him a sideways glance and a mental nudge in the ribs. //Just hope they don't start teasing you. I think sometimes you can dish it out, but you don't like being on the receiving end. //

Mulder felt his face go hot. It wasn't fair. Telepaths, he thought to himself.

The glowing light across the valley disappeared and abruptly, there were two little men, their eyes very large and black, approaching them on the verge, ahead of the car.

Daein and Mulder exchanged a look. //Reticulans, // Daein said, partly jesting, partly factual.

Mulder drew a deep breath, watching as the little grays came closer. He found himself wondering if Daein wouldn't mind mediating, then realized the reason he was thinking it was because Daein was actually considering doing so on his behalf.

Daein had been right. These grays were most definitely of a different kind than Daein was. Mulder wondered if this was it. Would anyone on Earth ever see him again?



TITLE: Angels III: Dark Angel
ARCHIVE: RatB, DitB, NickZone-Alex Annex
DISCLAIMER: Ever since Chris Carter f***ed his fans with the Season 8 finale, I heartily welcome any legal action or proceedings should they be brought against me for using these characters as I see fit. I'd win hands down. [g] Besides, I have no money. None.
RATING: NC-17 - language, slash m/m
SUMMARY: Mulder's dream comes true. So does Krycek's.
BETAS: This is unbeta'ed. Forgive me!
SPOILERS: Don't know, really, but it is set sometime before the Requiem episode, end of Season 7.
NOTE: this is the final chapter.

* * * *
ANGELS 3: Dark Angel
* * * *

Air Force Outpost
Northwest Wyoming

General Linden set down the documents he was reading as the door opened, his visitor knocking upon it as he came in. Linden's eyes widened as he took in the dark-clad man, who appeared quite happy to shut the door behind him and come to stand in front of Linden's desk.

"Can I help you?" Linden asked, letting his astonishment show in his voice. He was a little perplexed at the stranger's boldness and wondered how he'd got past security.

"Actually, I think I can help you." The man put out a hand, saying, "Alex Krycek. A pleasure to meet you, General. I just arrived from FE Warren Air Base in Cheyenne. I'm here to straighten out affairs after the, ah, 'incident' last night." Linden shook his hand. Krycek indicated the chair. "Do you mind?"

"Go ahead." Linden nodded, wondering if Mr. Krycek was as dangerous as he looked. A man in black - it was almost a cliche. "What is this? NSA? Naval Intel? Who are you with?"

"None of the above... And all of them, really. Let's just say I'm representing the last shreds of sanity in a situation already shot to hell."

Linden gave him a look. "Really. And what do you want from me?"

"It's... more what I can do for you, General. You've got a major snafu to clean up, here. Have you recovered the disc yet?"

Linden leaned back in his chair, a little more at ease since this Krycek fellow obviously seemed nonchalantly relaxed about the truth of the downed saucer. "Tell you what: I'll tell you that when you explain to me exactly what you're doing here and what you want."

Krycek gave him an affable smile. "You want the evidence to disappear. So do I. We certainly don't need the remains of that craft hanging around, once it's found. Wouldn't you say the most reasonable thing under the circumstances is to return it to its rightful owners?"

Linden sighed through his nose. "I suppose you're going to tell me you know who they are. Just how the hell do you suggest we do that?""

"I have contacts. In the interests of national security and international peace, I have an understanding with them that should provide us with the appropriate solution." Krycek stood, reaching a hand into his inner jacket pocket and handing it Linden.

Linden took the folded piece of paper and scanned it. He looked at Krycek over the top of it. "I'm supposed to believe they're right under our <I>noses</I>?"

Krycek settled himself back down in his seat. Linden noticed that the man held his left arm stiffly, almost unnaturally. He blinked, realizing Krycek had a prosthetic. This guy had seen action; that was for sure.

"We haven't seen anything like that in the area. All we've got are a lot of bogeys after dark, buzzing that damned burial site and confusing our radar."

Krycek shook his head. "It's an underground base."

Linden dropped the paper on the desk and leaned back in his chair. "Even if we went up and knocked on their door, assuming we could locate it, how are we supposed to gain entry into this underground facility?"

Krycek withdrew a strange looking object from another pocket, seemingly out of an endless source - Linden found himself wondering what the man would pull out next. Krycek held it up. It was a curious, flat silvery oblong-shaped bar, with rounded corners and strange engraved symbols on it. It didn't look heavy, the way he held it. "Our calling card. It's like a pass key."

Linden sighed. "Why contact me? Why don't you just mosey on over there and get it done?"

Krycek frowned at him slightly. "You're already involved. You need to bring the remains of the ship to them." Krycek shot him a look. "Do you trust anyone else to accompany me?"

"No. Very well. Hang around, feel free. I can't exactly give you a guaranteed time frame for when we might find it though. It's kind of elusive. Must be some kind of dampening field around it or something."

Krycek nodded. "Cloaking technology. Scan the ground with EM field detectors. You should find something. Enough to find out where it fell. Their propulsion system leaves a noticeable trace. But you won't get it looking for visible wreckage."

Linden was thinking. Finally he said, "All right. I'll go along with this. God knows I want that thing out of my hair. But I sure hope you know what you're doing, walking right up to them. How do you know they'll accept our overtures as friendly?"

Krycek smiled once more. "We have this." He held up the metallic bar again. "But we don't want to be compromised anymore than we already are. How much attention has the 'plane crash' story already attracted?"

"Well, it's not bad. We've managed to minimize it with a search and rescue story. Who was responsible for this, do you know?"

"No. That's out of our hands. But how are the locals? Did anyone see anything? Any witnesses?"

"Some, but that kind of sighting is common around here. This place has a reputation. Not enough to be a flap, but enough to cause stories. Come to think of it, we did see one guy today, a tourist. But he was FBI. Said he was on a fishing vacation."

Krycek's eyes widened slightly and he sat up straighter. "Mulder? Special Agent Fox Mulder?"

"That's the one," Linden said. "Can't forget a name like that. Why? What's he in all this?"

Krycek frowned slightly, considering. "The fly in the ointment. Although I'm sure he sees himself as the bee getting the goods. I'm responsible for him in this situation though. It can't be helped now. It was just before the crash."

"Yeah, well the crash story was what brought him, I think. He didn't buy it. He's a savvy guy."

Krycek sighed and stood up. "I'll deal with him if he shows up. Look, I'll be around. Let me know when they locate the ship. I'm going to make a few calls."

Linden stood as well. "Mr. Krycek. Who <I>do</I> you work for?"

Krycek grinned. "It depends on how you look at it. I don't work for anyone. At the moment though, I guess I'm working for the benefit of the American public, the continued stability of the military establishment, such as it is... And our relations with the little grays. This particular group, anyway."

Linden chuckled. "So it's true, all the rumors about the gray aliens? They're the pilots."

"They're the local immigrants. Some of the bases they have here have been around since the early Thirties." Krycek stated this matter-of-factly.

"Well, the thought of seeing them gives me the willies."

Krycek had an enigmatic smirk on his face. "Believe me, they're the friendlier ones. I've met some who'd give you nightmares."

"Thanks," Linden said. "I really needed to hear that."

Krycek shrugged, his hand on the door handle, and pausing before opening the door to say, "Just trying to reassure you. They won't eat us. They'll probably be grateful. Depends if we recover their pilots or not."


Reticulan Underground Base
Chief Joseph Scenic Highway
Sunlight Basin, Wyoming

Mulder found himself staring with some trepidation at the two expressionless gray Reticulans standing in front of them. After Daein, these beings looked too alien in comparison. Although that may have been due to the fact that his new Sassani acquaintance possessed a certain amount of emotional sensitivity, whereas these beings did not. Daein looked as though he was communicating with them. Wordlessly, they turned and - vanished. Into thin air.

"How... where... " Mulder said, a dozen explanations flashing through his mind, including bilocation, matter-transference, phase variance...

//Nothing so terribly complicated, // Daein smiled at him. //They possess the ability to project themselves. As do I. But you could learn how; it only takes practice. //

Mulder began to realize that the previous reports of abductees he had read referred to just such abilities; only he had supposed it was something physical, not metaphysical.

//There really is no difference, // Daein quipped, but he didn't elaborate despite Mulder's twinge of curiosity. //They say that you may accompany me. //

"Great, that's... great. But how am I supposed to do that? I don't know how to project myself."

Daein shook his head at him. //Take hold of my hand. //

As he did so, Mulder abruptly found himself standing still while the rest of the world faded away, replaced by the surroundings of what appeared to be a huge cavern. There were other Reticulans there, working amidst the saucer-shaped craft that sat docked inside it.

//We are in the main hangar, here. We must proceed to the Council room, // Daein told him.

Mulder walked beside Daein, following him to where the Council room was presumably located. As they passed the large ships, the occasional Reticulan gray looked up at them, their big black eyes inscrutably observing them. Mulder felt like he was in a dream-like state of awareness.

It was all happening so suddenly. One moment he was looking for a crashed UFO, the next he was chatting with a little hybrid alien being, then waiting for little grays to pick him up... And now, he was here. In an actual alien base. It was all so matter-of-fact. If only Scully could see him now. He wondered why he wasn't more tense and excited, as he'd always thought he would be in the event of meeting extra-terrestrials and being allowed to view their operations.

//Reality is always so much more mundane than we fear or expect, // Daein murmured to him. //I hope you are not disappointed. //

"Not at all," Mulder said to him, in an undertone.

//No need to speak, my friend, // Daein smiled to him. //Just think it. //

Daein could sense the uncertainty in Mulder and sent him a detailed series of images that shared with him the entirety of the base, it's layout, everything that Daein knew of it's physical properties.

Down to the last detail. Mulder swallowed, hard, realizing he could now draw complicated blueprints of the base and the operations that went on inside it.

Trusting me with rather a lot here, aren't you?

//It is not a question of trust, but of vibration. There is no need to blindly believe, pursue faith or trust, if one already knows and is sure of another's intentions. //

No kidding, Mulder thought, dryly, recalling every instance that he'd been uncertain of anyone, everyone, in his life. This was the first time he'd felt at home with any other being, let alone an entire base-full.

//But is 'home' not where your heart is? // Daein queried. //Sometimes, your notions and preconceptions of these things intrigue me with the inherent paradoxical nature of your mental framework. For example, it is perplexing to me how you can continue to deny your emotional needs. They are so strong, after all. They rule your actions in ways that make you appear volatile, unpredictable. //

I surprise myself too, Mulder thought in reflection. I never know how I'm going to feel until it happens. But it defines me. I like to think that it's not all bad, you know? It's what makes me human. Sometimes unpredictability introduces a chaos factor into the mix, making stale and stagnant things a little more interesting. I wouldn't want the gift of prophecy. I like not knowing the outcome. It gives me hope.

//Hope and fear go hand in hand in your state. Chaos is not random, it is synchronous, else we would not have been able to shift into this base, following their vibration signatures. //

Mulder was curious. How did we do that? How does it happen?

//You are already everywhere. If you know that, you can transport yourself anywhere that you believe yourself to be. That is a gross oversimplification of a complex quantum dimensional understanding, and yet it is a simple process. I wouldn't undertake it lightly. One must learn it gradually and practice. //

They were making their way down the long curving corridor that led past the dormitory cubicles, a series of personal domestic rooms in which the base's inhabitants lived. And Mulder laughed suddenly.

"These corridors - you really <I>do</I> cater for the tall and wide!" He could see the humor in it now, firsthand.

It was true. The halls were nearly triangular in that they tapered as they sloped upwards to provide head-room for taller folk, and were wider at the base.

Daein shrugged with a mental grin. //We must provide for all sizes and shapes of visitors. Note that if we did not, you would have to stoop to proceed through them. //

They were coming to the large communications room that sat just outside the Council room. It was a busy network of near-silent grays all working avidly at screens and communicating with each other. Through Daein's mental connectivity with him, Mulder was able to pick up a busy, comforting background hum of thoughts flowing into one another. He suddenly understood what Daein had referred to before, about the Reticulans seeing humans as 'lost units'. Each gray was a node in a network of their collective mind, with a sense of security and order. Yet, they were aware of the flow of synchronicity surrounding their collective consciousness and did not fight the individual information flowing through each of them as unique observational witnesses and experiencers.

Daein turned to him. //You will find this interesting, Mulder. Come and look at the array. //

The other grays seemed to defer to Daein as he came into the room, actually moving out of his way. It crashed into Mulder's conscious awareness that he had not been given any indication as yet, as to Daein's designated status among these people.

Daein was laughing silently. //It was not my intention to mislead you with deliberate omission. I thought you understood - as a hybrid, my status is well-defined. //

Very funny, thought Mulder, Daein's subtle wit beginning to make him feel foolish, despite the knowledge that this was also not Daein's intention. He cleared his throat and said, "What are you? What's your rank, among these people?"

//It is not a rank. It is a heritage, by rights of genetic superiority. Not in the sense of being better than either race, but containing some of the best traits of both human and Reticulan genes. I am what you might call a go-between, a mere diplomat. I can speak for both races, to each other. //

Mulder smiled. "An ambassador... a spokesman."

//That, too. // Daein stopped before several ovular screens. //Observe. //

Mulder saw with some admiration the crystal-clear holographic projections from the screens, better even than digital quality, scenes from around the world that were displayed around the room.

He had the sensation of standing in a nerve center, a pulsing organ in a greater organism.

//An apt analogy. We are in one base among hundreds. Here, we can link with other bases, and other races' operations, observe events, implement outward activity and monitor any transmission along any cable or human communications channel. We can also monitor the status of every contactee and individual in the database. //

Mulder had the accompanying image of a giant web of information, carefully collected names and faces, data on every human being alive that they had been keeping tabs on for years... It was a staggering amount of information and Mulder was nearly sickened by both the overload and the breach of privacy.

//No privacy has been invaded without the express permission of the being in question, even if voluntary acceptance was obtained subconsciously, // Daein said, with the added block on that line of thought that let Mulder know he was not going to elaborate further, particularly as he could sense Mulder's indignation.

//The hybrid program must continue, // Daein said, a note of absolute implacability entering his voice for the first time. //We are saving both races, not just the grays. Human societies on this world have self-destructive tendencies and waiting for the mass majority to evolve to a more developed evolutionary standard will take too long. The grays need to save their race <I>now</I>, and this affords us the opportunity to ensure the safety of most of the psychic matrices of the beings involved personally with this process. //

Mulder snorted. "So, it's not an excuse, it's a reason. I guess it'll have to do."

//Do you blame us for attempting this project? //

"Not at all. I can see where you're coming from on it. Just don't expect everyone to agree you've gone about it the right way, is all."

//Mulder, your own government wants to instigate a monitoring system much like this one, with their own database, for the purposes of none other than control and petty exploitation. As well as implanting of chips for monitoring and control. We implant chips merely for tagging purposes. And we are running this project for the future benefit and salvation of both races. //

"It's still invasive and hard to swallow. No one wants to hear about this - they'd freak out."

//Panic, yes. The suicidal impulse to end one's existence in the face of absolute uncertainty and the destruction of one's worldview. We are very familiar with that particular human reaction. Don't worry; the secret protects itself. We would not be able to reveal our plans fully, nor would we expect to be believed or understood. //

No shit, Mulder thought. Nobody would believe me after this, either. Not that anyone ever has. He felt suddenly ashamed. "Daein? I don't want you to think I'm ungrateful for this opportunity. Thank you."

//Hm. You are welcome. I wasn't sure how the Reticulans would feel, having your presence here. You are filled with much personal grievance and hostility towards us in general, despite your admiration for our technology and the novelty of our appearance and vibrations. //

Worried that I might pollute the place with my impure thoughts? Mulder grinned, wondering suddenly how the Reticulans would react to his all-too-human vice of indulging in vivid mental porno films in his head... In the absence of the videos, that is.

Daein smiled with him. //They do not understand that. They tolerate it. They have no sexual feelings or comprehension. It is one of the more interesting aspects of the human-Reticulan hybridization program that we are conducting here - the investigation into psychosexual behaviorisms among humans, grays, hybrids... You are considered a hybrid like me, and they attribute your habitual propensities as a human characteristic. //

Cagey, aren't you? Why can't you just tell me what you know I'm wondering about? Mulder found himself thinking this without considering the possible effrontery of it.

But Daein only chuckled at him. //Very well. The Sassani methods of reproduction include a measure of foreplay, only it is not a courtship you would recognize. Attraction is based on vibrations, like any form of communication. The sensations and the experience are all the more keen and intense, however, for being of a vibratory nature on the level of the mental and conscious plane. It is not as base and instinctual as in the usual human mating sense. //

"You make it sound like we're beasts," Mulder accused, his gaze flicking from one screen to another, wondering if every scene that was displayed had a stationary camera installed or if they were from remote sensors.

//Remote observing stations, hidden from human detection, // Daein replied. //And we do not consider humans 'beasts', despite many of humankind's hostile and violent proclivities. We think of you as self-aware, self-conscious beings who are not yet aware of your own potential. The DNA in every human has unlimited, untapped power, but this you already know. // Daein was referring to Mulder's experience with the Origin Ship, and what they had learned from it. //It is enough potential to have many of your sibling races currently envious and afraid, actually. Hence the touchy political climate of the beings involved. There are so many races waiting for the day when the Earth can be joined to the interstellar community. But that would end the experiment and we would no longer have a pure, isolated system. //

In other words, we're quarantined, Mulder thought.

//Yes. For your own protection, as well as ours. Imagine humans contaminating the outer planets in this solar system with their intentions for colonization and mining of resources. Imagine the possible risk of overload and culture shock, as well as absorption and annihilation should the other races descend upon Earth too quickly and begin social and commercial exchange! //

Daein stopped, and straightened. //We have visitors. We must join them in the Council room now. This is... unexpected. //

"What is it? Who are they? What happened?" Mulder was concerned.

Daein gave a mental shrug. //The commander of the air force team that was looking for my crashed ship, the man who let us go. He has returned it. They found the wreckage and now wish to talk. He is here with another human. This is good. They wish to ensure that we do not intend retaliatory reparations. They appear to be open to negotiating a peaceful dialogue. //

The Council room doors slid back and they entered, Mulder following behind Daein feeling awkwardly human in his jeans and jacket. But he was not prepared for the sight that awaited him.

Several little Reticulan grays with large black eyes, as well as two tall grays with the same features stood around the big, round, matte-silver table, with two humans - General John Linden and... Mulder's stomach lurched, a dizzying combination of reactions cartwheeling through his head... Alex Krycek, dressed in black. Of course. Always black, these days. Mulder felt kind of sick. This was beginning to feel like a bad dream.

Daein's sudden mental presence was overwhelming inside his head, calming and stabilizing. Nothing would be involuntarily revealed or extracted from his mind. Daein understood his wish for suppression and privacy at this moment and helped him to shield his tide of complex responses to this unnerving situation. //I will speak for you, to them. They accept that, as we are both hybrids and now friends, as well as possessing a mutual agreement of exchange, earlier. // By 'them', Daein meant the other grays.

The tall grays made Mulder think of near-insectoid features, although that may have been merely from the spindly length of their limbs and their height.

Mulder and Daein went to stand to one side of the round table, looking at the others. He met Krycek's eyes but the other man turned away, and did not look over again. Mulder was relieved to find Daein's buffering presence between him and the rest of the room. A veil of discretion, he thought with gratitude towards his new friend. He didn't want to embarrass himself with untoward behavior in the present company and seeing Krycek there had all the inflammable qualities of a match being flung into the dry tinder of his mind. He ruthlessly quelled the memories of their last encounter on the plane, coldly.

One of the tall grays was a female. She broadcast a general thought into the room, and it reached them all effortlessly, laced with the liquid smoothness of her mind. She was apparently very old. She was directing it at the humans present. // Our neighbors. You have returned our property and conveyed both it and our personnel with peaceful intent. We are thankful. //

"Y- You're welcome. I see no reason why we can't allow your base to continue to function here, undisturbed. We'll try to keep interference to a minimum. The earlier incident was a grave mistake. You have our sincere apologies and regret." General Linden looked a bit spaced. It was obviously his first time here too, as well as it being his first contact experience in meeting extra-terrestrial life of any kind.

He kept looking at Daein as if trying to remember something. Finally Daein took pity on him and unblocked the man's memory from the afternoon, saying, //It was I. Mulder here was a more appropriate aide, I'm sure you will agree. //

Linden coughed once and said, "Ah, yes. Absolutely. I don't think my men would have been able to handle it. Ah, you, I mean. It's been quite enough getting them to transport the ship back here."

The tall gray female seemed to be the primary speaker for the base's staff and directors. // It is agreeable to us to remain on good terms. A non-interference policy will be appreciated. But what of the instigators of this act? Why the senselessness of the perpetrators' intent? //

Mulder realized with a start that she reminded him mostly of the being so vividly portrayed by the Communion hype. He began to understand why that film and Streiber's accounts had been allowed to circulate so widely. It would be a shock for people to meet her kind too suddenly, despite her inoffensive, almost impersonal vibe. Daein said to him, privately, in a corner of their minds, //Exactly. Immuring them from shock by slowly inducting them into familiarity with the images. //

Linden glanced at Krycek beside him, and said, "I can answer that. The man responsible for giving the order to shoot down..." he looked at Daein, "... Daein's - craft has been dealt with. He apparently acted autonomously, outside of any chain of command. It wasn't an act of aggression but of greed. He was trying to make a point by exercising his power. We are willing to discuss terms, to compensate you for the loss and the trouble."

One of the small grays was staring at Krycek. // What is the Rebels' position in this? //

Krycek met the Reticulan stare unflinchingly. "They gave me that pass, the key, because they understand the need for discretion. There was no need for this to be blown out of proportion. They are bystanders only. Their position remains as it always has; they continue to resist the efforts of the Black Oil faction. They have a vested interest in seeing a successful conclusion in the fight against the Black Oil spreading beyond this world." His gaze almost flicked towards Mulder - and Mulder could see it. But he steadfastly refused to turn and face Mulder.

The tall female said, //Your group of Elders are no more. Where now is organized human resistance? Is there a possibility of collaboration and requests for assistance? We cannot involve ourselves directly, lest we risk compromising the integrity of our projects. But if there is now a more rational, congenial human leadership, we can under the auspices of the original deal begin to act more overtly. //

"That - would be premature," Krycek said. "There isn't a united voice and whatever resistance there is still lacks any kind of ratification from any nation, let alone all of them together."

//Indeed, // Daein commented, //so much for the United Nations. Ah, well. It is a good idea to create such a body, even if they can't do anything yet. It provides a hopeful template, and the illusion of unification in the eyes of the rest of the world. //

Linden said, "The public doesn't want to be disturbed by any of it. We're doing our best to maintain a status quo of plausible denial."

//Very well. We shall keep intensifying our efforts towards the entertainment media complex. // The tall female seemed fine with this.

Mulder found himself speaking without really knowing what kind of alien power bases these beings were really representing. Still, he had to say it. "Who's running things, then? Don't tell me the entire planet's on automatic, with a few people like us running around patching up holes when we spring a leak?"

Daein told him in an aside, //Krycek is thinking, 'Running things... Want the job? You're welcome to it.' I think he feels bitter that you are one of the people who carries the needle and makes the leaks in the first place. You undo his efforts to maintain stability in a situation that is wildly oscillating. //

Fine, he thought. That's Krycek's problem, not mine. Krycek was still avoiding his eye. Mulder looked at the tall female stubbornly. He nevertheless wanted her answer on this.

She returned his scrutiny and then gently said, //We will not decide the fate of other beings. Free will is the imperative primary right of each native entity here on this world. To decide for them would be disastrous. There must be a common voice, a consensus. They do not want to be responsible for it all, so they let the current government continue to run things for them. Individuals such as yourself are operating outside of the system and thus are not part of the system. You are the alien element in your own system and are therefore as destructive to its stability as we are when you challenge their decisions to remain as they are. //

Mulder flushed, feeling slightly put down. "There are plenty of people who feel oppressed by the current system and would like nothing more than for the atmosphere of conspiratorial suppression to end."

Linden and Krycek were staring at him, wondering why he was challenging these beings. What did he have to gain from this line of questioning? If they couldn't see that someone needed to ask these kinds of questions, to hell with them. Resolutely, he turned back to the grays.

She contemplated him intently. Suddenly even Daein's protective mental shield was withdrawn under the pressure and could not withstand her piercing mind. Eventually, she said, //If you will compose a new structural form of governmental organization for this world, bearing in mind the variables of the unpredictable and growing collective evolutions of all human beings, as well as the complex political structure that exists between all races and yours at this time, then we will gladly discuss it with you. We have no wish to impose a dictatorship of 'alien invaders' upon this world, or cause panic by frightening people with our presence. To those who truly wish to know the truth, they find their ways here quite naturally, as you have today. //

One of the other shorter grays chimed in, //You are open-minded. How many of your fellow humans would claim to possess the same hybrid genes and abilities that you do, let alone agree to accept your ontology as an everyday common reality? //

Feeling defeated by his own innate understanding of the vast majority of human apathy towards the supernatural in general, Mulder leaned forward with his hands on the table and sighed.

Daein said, //I would suggest that further discussion on this subject be conducted at another time. This is not our place, to question the current state of human/Reticulan relations. There are still people with dark vibrations who are speaking for the public, because the majority of the public wish to remain in the dark. Let us concentrate now on cementing a new understanding between each of us here. //

//The issue is an agreement of neutral non-interference concerning this base and your local military presence, General Linden, // said the tall female gray. //It is agreed? //

"Yeah, agreed. Do you require any kind of compensation, though?"

//No. It is enough that Daein is unharmed and we have made interesting new contacts here today. But we are open to any offer you may wish to present. We will pursue further discussion of our concerns later, Fox Mulder. //

Mulder nodded, wondering if he had just nearly caused an interstellar incident, himself.

Daein was laughing softly and sent him a private tendril of thought: //Never fear. They find you interesting, Mulder. You are so passionate about such relatively unemotional issues, intellectual and political concerns that affect such vast sections of people, in such a personal manner. And if I may breach etiquette yet again, General Linden is privately wondering if you need to 'get laid'. //

Sourly, Mulder straightened and folded his arms before him.

//How interesting, // remarked Daein to him, in that little whisper again, //Alex Krycek is thinking that you look 'very cute' when you pout. //

Oh, shut up, why don't you, Mulder thought, sulking, aware that he must look like he was pouting even more. He felt like he'd been strung along, led right into it. Staring back at the assembled grays, he felt betrayed. They had been the ones to bring up the whole issue of 'who was representing human resistance to the Black Cancer threat'.

It didn't help that he felt absolutely bemused at Krycek's presence there, the rat-bastard now seemingly representing the interests of humanity. It didn't seem fair. Why him? Why were they listening to Alex Krycek? He knew Krycek was hardly an ethical, trustworthy person. Regardless of his own personal feelings of ambivalence towards him. He hated Krycek, even though the man was... what? What was Krycek to him? Mulder couldn't even begin to sort it out at the moment. The situation was too intense. There were far greater issues swirling about in his head. Damn Alex, anyway! He wasn't responsible for the man's attraction to him. Jesus.

Daein said softly to him, //Have you never considered that the Black Cancer threat was specifically designed to rally the selfish and dark leaders of your people? To force them to work together against a common 'enemy', and hence create a united voice? Someone earlier on in the last fifty years decided upon this as a sufficiently menacing threat, then approached the Syndicate Elders, who formed the Consortium to defend against it - in their own selfish way. Men with power do not like to think of losing their power. But you might like to know that not only are there ways to eradicating the Black Cancer but also all forms of cancer... and providing free energy to the entire planet. Now. You might wish to think on this. A world free of disease, the need for fuel consumption, and poverty... What would such a world offer? And what of the balance of commerce and politics in the developed nations? //

General Linden was saying, "I think I can also speak for my colleagues and superiors in Washington when I say that we could erect an enforced demarcation zone around all the portal entries to this base. Nothing flashy or eye-catching. Just enough to deter hikers and local residents from poking around."

//That will not be necessary, but we thank you for the offer, // the tall female replied. //We have not had a single intruder or accidental visitor in all the years we have had this base. But we would be glad for the protection of our craft in this area, in your air space. We would see that as a gesture of goodwill and an appropriate recompense for the attack on Daein's ship yesterday. //

The grays seemed satisfied with this outcome and began to leave the room. The tall female remained, however, and said to Linden and Krycek, //We have a request. We wish for you to remain here for a time, and oversee our operations. Then you will better understand our position and will be able to represent our interests to your people for this locale and the projects we are invested in. //

Daein turned to Mulder. //You may come with me. //

Mulder followed Daein out of the Council room and said, "Will I ever meet you again? Do you think I'll ever be allowed back here?" He realized he was going to miss Daein terribly. "Look, I'm really sorry about my outburst in there. I just - I couldn't stand hearing that and not - not speaking up -"

//We understand, Mulder. You know, you have never found your way to any of our bases. Until now. You never stumbled onto us, and until you found me today, your intuitive ability has always steered you to lesser clues or towards the government conspiratorial matters that your father and close society with the Elders and the FBI has patterned you with. It is a major step along your own path that you have come this far. You might want take a moment to consider what progress you have achieved. The closer you examine your own inner truths, the closer you will come to finding external ones. If we wish to meet again, we will. And as you do, so do I. So it will be. //

They were making their way through the base, passing through a large cafeteria. Daein wanted him to see other beings momentarily, in passing. Mulder couldn't help staring. There were odd collections of people eating at tables, quietly talking amongst themselves in strange tongues. There were blond, nearly human-appearing people, orange-skinned beings, bizarre and hairless feline creatures with enormous eyes. Each and every one of them had an unmistakable sentient intelligence in their demeanor. They were all completely unique and yet so at ease in their environment here. There was a definite ambience of peaceful cooperation amongst so many varied types of people, with such different backgrounds.

By the time they had moved on down another hallway, Mulder was speechless. He felt like his body was an automaton, moving woodenly along after Daein.

Daein was laughing. //Is it too much, too soon? You wished to see everything. //

He cleared his throat as they made their way through a display of growing plants, profusions of greenery. "I never expected this. I didn't know it would be like this, is all. It's kind of outside my normal sphere of experience. Don't get me wrong - it's great. It's more than great. Just... I know I won't be able to talk about it to anyone and I'm going to have to return to a life of solitary commitment to finding 'truths', as you said. It's a lonely road."

//Well, perhaps you can take some comfort in knowing that you will need assimilation time to digest this new reality and incorporate it in some way with your wider view of the planet. And besides, there is always your acquaintance, Alex Krycek. He has been here too, and shared this time and space with you. You may choose to disbelieve it but he remains one of the few who advocate and support you, even where he sees it necessary to do so without your knowledge. //

Mulder growled, "Just what I always needed, having to hear from an alien hybrid that Alex is my only human friend. Thanks."

//Yes, // Daein commented, dryly, //you seem incapable of realizing it for yourself. I am only reinforcing what you are already aware of but are choosing to ignore. // But he fell silent on this afterwards, aware that Mulder's state was quite fragile at the moment and could not handle more discussion of both Krycek and the fate of the planet at the same time.

Mulder sighed. Why was it that whenever he ended up getting close to the truth about the future, the truth of the government's involvement with extra-terrestrials, the 'fate of humanity', and the conspiracies and alien presence in their midst, he always ended up having to face Krycek? There was something so irritating and yet intriguing about that. Synchronicity? Maybe the chaos flow of the universe was trying to tell him something. He would figure out what it was later. Right now, he was trying to keep the sudden loneliness at bay. The sense of impending loss was starting to make him morose.

"I wish I could just stay here, for a while," Mulder said, wistfully, looking around the displays of green plants. "You know, hang out and just... watch. Learn things. Spend time with you and these people." Going back to human culture and society at this point was a real downer, after seeing a glimpse of something alternative and better.

Daein shrugged mentally. //Who knows? We might be able to organize visiting rights. You could come here sometime in the future, when you feel ready. In fact, if it makes you feel better, I will extend the invitation now, Mulder. You may come back when you think it is the right time. All right? //

Mulder looked back at him. He was once more feeling a little ashamed at his earlier behavior, and wished he didn't sound so insecure about leaving. He leaned down and gave a careful hug to Daein, who returned it. Mulder didn't want to hurt him; physically Daein still seemed almost breakable, his figure was so slight. Thickly, Mulder said, "I will miss you, Daein."

//And I will miss you, my friend. But, we are already 'there'. // Daein gave him a sunny and confident smile inside with the words. //A meeting of minds in the flow is always and forever. You will see. It will be as though you have only imagined you were alone. Once you leave here, it will not be as you expect, now that we have made the connection. //

"Thank you. For everything." Finally, Mulder let go and stood up. He straightened and said, wryly, "Well, I guess I made an impression here, huh?" He was thinking of the tall female and the others.

//You could never fail to do that, // Daein agreed, chuckling, as they began to walk away, towards the outer halls to go towards the nearest portal entryway out of the base. //It seems to be another one of your unmistakable traits. // They walked quietly up to the portal gate. It seemed unremarkably smooth, like an ordinary door with a metal sheen.

Taking Mulder's hand once more, Daein slid them easily through the portal to stand beside the car on the side of the road. It was getting dark and the stars were bright and high in the sky above, clusters of diamond dust speckling the deep blue. The singing of crickets was all around and the smell of the prairie and mountain pines was strong. The glow of Cody, beyond Heart Mountain and the road back through the hills, was pale and beckoning on the horizon. Mulder suddenly realized how hungry he was. He needed a shower. And a shave. He did want to get to the motel. He checked his watch. Ah. It had stopped. How surprising - not. He smiled.

Daein said tentatively, //General Linden is going to remain there for a while longer. Alex Krycek needs to leave, though. Will you be willing to let him accompany you on your journey back home? //

Mulder wondered at this. "Why? Why can't... why doesn't he just go? Go wherever he needs to get to, next? And why are you speaking on his behalf?"

//My understanding of this is that he was going to see you anyway, upon your return. He wanted to discuss the material he gave you, and to give you a means to see the bodies recovered from the 'pygmy grave'. The remains have been sent to Washington ahead of you. He feels responsible for having led you into this situation. //

Mulder chewed on his lower lip, thoughtfully. "I guess he did. Jesus. Don't tell me I have <I>him</I> to thank for ending up meeting you!" He sighed.

Daein laughed at him. //Mulder, you are truly astonishing to me. How can you possibly pretend you don't know what you mean to him? All of this is merely an excuse to see you. He craves your company like you crave extra-terrestrial contact. You can best repay him for leading you however obliquely into this encounter here today by understanding that. //

"I don't understand how you can give him the benefit of the doubt," Mulder pointed out. "He betrayed me, and his actions have hardly been beneficial for anyone, whether he was working with them against me, or with the Russians against them, or on his own against... whoever - that MJ-12 guy who ordered them to shoot down your ship. He has done unforgiveable deeds; his crimes are - " Mulder stopped, thinking of his dying father in his arms.

//Forgiveness is its own salvation, // Daein replied, the implications abundantly clear in the timbre of his mental voice. //It is true that he hurt you. But you should know that in doing so, he hurt himself more. At least, that is what I picked up from him. It can do neither of you a disservice to reconcile your past and your pain. But it is up to you. You are the only one who can redeem him. //

"So I'm supposed to believe that he actually wants me to like him? And not for any twisted manipulation or game, trying to get me to perform some step in his scheming, devious plans, but just because he likes me."

Daein was grinning, an actual, physical grin that Mulder could both sense and see in the dim light of the sky reflecting off Daein's face and the car windows. //Yes. And now, if you will permit me, I shall return to the base. //

"Well, take care. Don't let any more jets shoot you out of the sky. And I'll be back this way again, you can count on that."

//I shall look forward to it. Goodbye, my friend. // Daein sent him a last wave of abiding and enduring love and gratitude for helping him to return from being miles away from this place with humans scattered dangerously around the place, and back home. He raised his hand in a gesture of farewell.

"Goodbye. Until we see each other again." Mulder held up his own hand.

Daein smiled and then vanished, almost as if he slid around a long corner and was just... no longer there. Back to the same portal. Leaving Mulder to take a deep breath and lean against the car door, staring up at the evening sky. He wondered why Daein hadn't been able to know where the portal was before the Reticulans had arrived, earlier, before they took them to the base. He wondered how the vibration signatures of the Reticulans had left a way for Daein to follow them. He wondered if he could transport himself the same way. It eluded him for the present time though.

He remained there, thinking about all that had transpired, everything Daein had taught him. Yeah, taught. He wished suddenly that he'd been able to offer even a fraction in return, compared to what Daein had given him. But then, being a stranger in a strange land, treated as a monstrous creature purely because of his alien shape, Daein had indeed depended on Mulder's help to get back to this place. It would have been quite a journey to walk. The poor little guy had been no doubt traumatized and in shock after the crash, too. He was surprised that Daein seemed to have survived the impact with barely a few scratches and bruises.

Headlights from farther down along the valley sent long two, long white beams into the dark, alerting him to a car heading his way. It had to be Krycek. He knew it was, in fact. He got into the car and remembered the food in the back seat, as well as the things he had bought for the road trip, all unaware that he wouldn't be waiting all that long for Daein's people to pick him up. He turned the key, revved up the engine and waited for Krycek's car to pull alongside.

It was dark, too dark to see into the car, but he knew it was Krycek, all the same. Especially after the car stopped alongside and Krycek rolled down the window, saying, "Well, well. Fancy meeting you here, Mulder. What's a federal agent like you doing in a place like this?"

"Very lame, Alex. Even for <I>me</I>, that was lame. Besides, who are you to talk? Look, we need to get together, about pygmy remains and the fate of the planet. Again. I've got a reservation at a motel just outside of town. Follow me there," he suggested.

Krycek looked ahead, considering the dark road before them. He appeared to be deliberating this. Finally he turned back to Mulder. "All right. Turn around, I'll wait." He backed up a bit, giving Mulder some room.

Mulder managed to turn the car around and pull away, leaving Krycek to follow behind.

As he drove, he found himself wondering at all that had happened. He was starting to come down from the high and despite the displacement and general surreality of his situation Mulder realized that Daein was right. He had been hiding from himself. From the truth of his own feelings about Krycek. About Alex.

The thought of staying in the motel room with Alex was enough to cause a response from his cock, hardening swiftly as he thought of repeating that close encounter with him on the plane the week before.

He thought of forgiveness being its own salvation and how obvious it was that Alex did want him. He felt in control of the situation simply from that knowledge; he could dictate the pace. In hurting me, he hurt himself more, Mulder mused; interesting - no wonder the man always has that wounded, haunted look in his eyes whenever he looks at me.

He didn't need to punish Alex anymore for what he'd done to Mulder and those he cared about... Alex was already living in self-inflicted guilt and probably expected nothing less than a continued pattern of abuse from Mulder for the rest of their days.

Somehow, knowing that Alex was vulnerable made all the difference. It made him accessible, and rendered him less of a risk, regardless of how absurd that seemed in retrospect.

The satori of meeting Daein and the experience of the Reticulan base left him with the epiphany that if evolved and sensitive beings like Daein could forgive Alex Krycek his crimes, so could he.

It was remarkably liberating. He found he'd already had closure on his father years before, after his mother had died and he had discovered that Sam was long gone and departed in peace. Now he'd achieved his ultimate goal: contact with another (mostly) alien being. Very satisfying contact, too. Hell, it didn't get much better than that!

What was left? He began ticking off the mental checklist of automatic grievances with Alex. Tunguska. Well, yeah. He'd virtually dragged Alex there with him, and had certainly dragged him aboard the truck. Didn't matter that Alex had given him exactly the right clues to get him to want to go, it was quite enough that because of him, Alex had lost his arm. The guilt over that nearly made up for Bill Mulder. Nearly, but not quite. Still, the pain over the loss of his father had been burned in the hatred of Alex for committing the act, and with the passage of time and the knowledge of what his father had actually done in the past, a little of the usual customary poison had already been lanced by the time Daein entered his life.

Scully's abduction... and Duane Barry. That whole fiasco. Mulder gnawed on his lips. And jerked as a white owl flew across the road in front of him. Well, in a way, the Smoking Man and his cronies wouldn't have tried to do anything to Scully in the first place if it weren't for Mulder's own association with the X-Files and his penetrating attempts to pierce the veil of secrecy surrounding the Syndicate's projects. Krycek had been the tool.

The tip-off about Weikamp AFB, and the kiss. That kiss. The plane... and those hot, searing moments when Alex had come all over them both, their hands, and the way Alex had been leaning into him afterwards... And those kisses, the way Alex had kissed him after... It had seemed like he was stealing them, snatching the opportunity to be not just imparting information or sealing a deal or in the grip of lust. Just - affection and tenderness. As unlikely as that might sound, when speaking of Alex.

By the time he'd thought it all over with a Daein-inspired perspective, and was in a state of thoroughly frustrated arousal at the impending proximity to Alex in the motel, Mulder was quite ready to stop battling over the past and get on with the - the what?

The future? The seduction of Alex. He grinned. It shouldn't be that hard. Especially if Alex already had a jones for him as badly as he'd appeared to back on that plane. Christ, he'd thrown himself at Mulder. Unmistakably. This would be like shooting fish in a barrel.

When he arrived at the motel, he parked and waited to see if Alex would actually drive in. He did. Mulder went in to check for messages in the office, but the guy was no longer there. He left and went to the door of the room, fishing the key out of his pocket as Alex came up to stand beside him. "Here. Go on in. I'm going to get the food, and my bags."

Mulder brought everything in and found that Alex had seated himself on one of the twin beds in the room, and was channel flipping idly. Alex had already brought in his own bag and the now familiar black briefcase that Mulder had seen before. He experienced a feeling of deja vu. "Uh, Alex? That - I've still got that one. I thought I still had that briefcase. Remember? You gave it to me, it contained the files on the burial site."

Alex glanced at him, still pointing the remote at the TV and going through the channels. "I got another. I liked that one. I didn't think you were going to buy it if I said I was only there to get it back."

"Why not? It would've made a great excuse to drop by." He said it jokingly but the way Alex stopped and regarded him, stonily, made him wonder if Alex really did 'like him'. The strangeness of being here in this ordinary motel room with him after everything that had happened suddenly impacted on him and Mulder sat down on the edge of the other bed, wearily, trying to ignore the insistently painful hardness in his jeans. He rubbed his face with his hands. "We have to talk."

"Yeah. We do." Alex flipped the TV off and put down the remote. He was sitting on the bed, resting his back against the headboard with his legs out in front of him, his feet crossed. He sat and waited for Mulder to speak.

It was cold in the room and Mulder shivered. He got up and looked around for the thermostat, turned it on and went to sit back down, saying, "I don't hate you, Alex. I appreciate what you were trying to do, giving me the lead on this - this case. This incredible, unforgettable case."

Alex's expression was unreadable. As usual, no surprises there. He had his full implacability act on at the moment. Which was kind of telling, in itself. Mulder sighed. "I don't want to fight you. Not any more. Meeting Daein and seeing... the others, that base... It's kind of shifted my perspectives, altered my reality. You know what I mean?"

Alex had raised his eyebrows at this. "Yeah, Mulder, I think I do." He paused as he saw the bemusement on Mulder's face. "What, did you think I was going to disagree with you on that one? This has got to be the most significant exchange I've had with any race I've ever met."

Mulder regarded him with pursed lips. "Just how many races <I>have</I> you met?"

Alex's eyes flicked away, evasively. "A few. The blondes, the grays. The oiliens. Just your usual, run-of-the-mill alien. Local people." Mulder didn't even get the feeling Alex was being ironic. He sounded completely serious.

"This was - what just happened tonight - it was the one thing I had been waiting for... all my life." Mulder felt rather stupefied as the reality of it kept sinking into his brain over and over again. It had actually happened. It hadn't been a delusion or a dream. And Krycek had been there, he was proof that it had actually happened because they both remembered it. He realized he was in shock, in the aftermath.

Alex wasn't being much help. He probably felt the same way. But Mulder got up, saying, "I'm going to shower. Help yourself to the food. I got stuff that wouldn't need heating up."

He absently began to strip off, removing his clothes as he went to the bathroom. Looking over at Alex, he realized Alex was most carefully not looking in his direction. He grinned. "Are you sure you don't want to join me?"

The sudden arrival of high color in Alex's face was a revelation. Alex didn't look over at him, just resolutely stared at the dead television screen across the room.

Mulder sighed. "Fine, have it your way." He went in and shut the door behind him. He turned on the water and waited for it to get hot. Damn. It wasn't like Alex had any idea of the shift in Mulder's perspective regarding him. Mulder knew he needed a new angle to take with him.

And with this in mind, he climbed into the shower. Washing away the travel hours and the dust, he also washed the prejudice and the suspicion down the drain along with them. The need to protect his own lonely defensive pride and the almost frighteningly intense desire to just be held, to be understood... He was left with a simple truth that gleamed and sparkled in the clearing sky of his own mind: it wasn't just the purity of Daein's friendship and the scintillating connection of sharing Daein's thoughts. It wasn't just the ordinary physical need for release. It was the secret satisfaction in knowing that someone desired him. Even if it was Alex. In fact, he had to admit there was an illicit thrill even in that. But to be wanted, not dismissed because of his beliefs, or his pursuits. To be needed.

He left the shower and grabbed the towel, drying himself off briskly. It was steamy in the bathroom now, and he wasn't looking forward to opening the door and letting the chill in again. It was surprisingly cold. He supposed it must be due to the altitude. They were high up in the mountains, after all. He wrapped the towel around his waist and snatched up another.

Alex seemed to tense when he came back out, no doubt preparing for more of Mulder's poking and prodding at his defenses. Mulder didn't say anything, merely noted that Alex had left the food out for him. "The cheese is good," Alex remarked, getting up. "Do you mind if take a shower, myself?"

"Go ahead," Mulder said, toweling his hair dry with the second towel. He watched as Alex retreated and shut the bathroom door. Didn't even look at him once. Mulder sighed. This was not going to be as easy as he'd thought. Then again, he wondered what he wanted, himself. A quick screw? Another mutual masturbation session? The full fuck? It all seemed a bit trite and crude now, especially in retrospect. The afternoon and evening had been so out of his usual world, beyond daily routines or social platitudes. And Alex's defenses were up. He was probably steeling himself against allowing a repetition of their previous close call in the airplane toilet. Mulder sat down on the edge of the bed. He needed a scenario, some kind of strategy.

Mulder contented himself with nibbling while waiting for Alex to emerge. Damn. The cheese <I>was</I> good. He started munching his way through the snack foods. And tried to ignore the fact that Alex was naked and wet behind that one miserably pathetic barrier of a bathroom door...

Alex finally came back out, fully dressed, probably intending to leave once they'd discussed the pygmy remains and the fate of the world. Mulder chortled to himself. So much for the road trip. He had half a mind to stay here for a few more days and avail himself of the surroundings. They were only a few miles down the road from Yellowstone National Park. And the road through Sunlight Basin led right up to the Beartooth Highway, which was described as 'the most scenic road in America'. He glanced over at Alex. Somehow, he doubted he could get Alex to come along.

Alex went to sit down on the edge of the other bed, and shot him a glare.

What the hell was wrong now? Oh, right. Mulder glanced down at himself. He was still wearing only a towel. Well, damn - it wasn't like they were a couple of virgins in a Victorian convent... and maybe he could use this to his advantage. "We do need to talk."

"So talk." Alex was curt.

"I've been thinking about us, and the past. I've come to the conclusion - with a little help from our friends - that I've been clinging to a previous version of you without taking into account the fact that people change. I've changed, over the years. So have you. I'm thinking that it's about time our relationship reflected that."

Alex looked over at him, as if he was bored. Pityingly, he said, "Get real, Mulder. I'm not in any mood for any psych crap right now and I don't want to talk about our 'relationship'."

"Touchy," Mulder said, getting up. "Hold that thought, I'm just gonna get dressed. And then you can tell me what you are in the mood for, and what else there could possibly be left for us to discuss, other than our, ah, non-relationship." He picked up his jeans and got a clean t-shirt and sweats out of his bag, putting the jeans in the bag before going back into the bathroom. He'd spare Alex's composure just this once and get dressed without making a show of it.

By the time he'd shoved the clothing on and came back out, however, Alex was already pacing the room like a caged tiger. Mulder flung himself on the bed and said, "Okay, Alex, shoot. What did you want to talk about? You were going to tell me about the pygmy remains?"

Alex opened his mouth and paused. He closed it again and brushed his hand over his hair, angrily. He appeared more agitated than Mulder could remember seeing him, given that they were hardly in any kind of a violent clinch. Finally, Alex said, roughly, "They were sent on ahead. I had them sent to Washington, so you and Scully could have a look at them. Someone will probably have them 'disappeared' before long, so you might want to study them as much as possible. And about today. Thanks very much making us look like complete idiots in front of one of the more highly respected elders of her kind. She -"

Mulder cut him off. "I'm sorry about that, I am, okay? I didn't exactly set out to make a fool of myself deliberately, I feel bad enough about it now. But it had to be said. You know that. I'm glad she took the time to answer me. I certainly have never had the luxury of having any of those questions answered for me by anyone else in these past years. So it was nice to finally get someone to say something. And you know what else? While you stand there all smug and secure in your knowledge about what's going down, I'm still in the dark here, still wondering what hell is happening. So lighten up, will you? And while you're at it, you could do yourself a favor and tell me what you know rather than throwing me a few more breadcrumbs to follow along the trail. It might even get me to shut up."

Alex frowned and exhaled. "You ever stop to think that maybe the information I could give you would lead you into certain death, where even Scully wouldn't be able to get you out? If I start giving you places, names, dates - you're going to be running around checking it all out and then I'm going have to kill you for your pains. And then I'll have to kill myself for the damage incurred."

Mulder sat up. "All right, fine. Don't tell me. But you could explain how the hell <I>you</I> get given 'keys' by rebels and special tours of alien bases like some fucking VIP by the head alien herself."

Alex started pacing again. "Mulder, anytime you wanna trade places is fine by me. I'll have your cushy FBI job where you get cut all the slack and have all-expenses-paid excursions looking for the latest reported slime-terror or swamp thing, with Scully trailing around to watch your back and bail you out when you get in too deep. And you can take my place, running around trying to keep the lid on all the shit rising up in the sewers. Have you any idea how fun it is to have to fly to Tunisia to reason with insanely drunk terrorists and <I>pay</I> them not to release deadly technology on the world? Or to be the only one around who has enough gumption to be able to negotiate peace treaties with alien factions who are so completely non-human that they'd just as soon wipe us off the planet rather than have to deal with us at all?"

"How droll. Sit down, Alex, before you have a stroke." Mulder's voice was mild. "When I said 'our relationship', I meant right now. I didn't mean the past or the future."

Alex was glaring at him. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"Nothing. Forget it. Look, you're wiped out. So am I. Why don't we get some sleep, and we can talk about it tomorrow? We can go over it all in the car, on the way to the airport. And in the air."

Alex snickered, incredulous. "If you think I'm staying, you're wrong. I don't relish getting shot in the middle of the night when you wake up from one of your nightmares and decide to give yourself closure."

"Yeah? Where are you staying tonight, Alex? The car?"

Alex stopped. He bit his upper lip, considering. The unconscious act brought Mulder's attention to Alex's mouth - it sent a little shaft of warm urgency coiling in his belly. "Mulder, I -"

Mulder got up slowly from the bed and went to where Alex was standing. He put out a hand as Alex flinched. Mulder ignored it and reached out to hold Alex's right arm. "Alex. Please stay. Don't leave again. Please."

A mixture of emotions seemed to be fighting a battle inside of Alex at this; Mulder could see it playing across his face. The swiftly hidden hurt, want and hope were followed by doubt and suspicion. Alex drew back, away from him. But his eyes were dark and he seemed to be fighting the urge to do exactly the opposite. He swallowed. "I can't. I can't stay. I have to go..."

"Why? Mulder nearly winced at the need in his own voice, but he'd said it strongly enough that it was almost an accusation as well.

Alex let out his breath. "Screw this. I don't need this, not after today." He moved to step around Mulder, who reached out again and caught his arm. He flung Mulder's grip off of him and exclaimed, "Don't! Just - just stop. I'm not going to be your consolation just because you're feeling sad now that your little friend is gone."

Mulder stared at him with some surprise. "What? What the hell - Alex?" And then it dawned on him. "Daein... what did he tell you? What did he say to you?"

Alex stepped away, moving farther back, going to stand on the other side of the bed, beside his bag and briefcase. The inner struggle still seemed to be fighting it out inside of him. It was as if he was fighting simultaneously to try not to leave, as well as to not stay. He muttered, "He said that you'd - that you might need a friend tonight. Someone to -" he stopped, swallowing again, the desire and the pain so clearly rippling across his face that Mulder suddenly couldn't bear it any more.

Mulder swiftly crossed the distance to him and put his hand to Alex's face, turning Alex to face him. He leaned in quickly to kiss him, pressing his lips to Alex's, wondering at how he could have forgotten the exact sensation of the warmth, of how sweet it was.

Alex was motionless. Mulder didn't stop; he kept moving over Alex's lips until finally, stiffly, Alex's arm stole around Mulder's waist and abruptly they were half-falling towards the bed, crashing down, Alex kissing him back desperately, fiercely, possessively. The sudden heat was a flash flood between them, drawing sheets of flame over Mulder's skin, all over his body. Arms were busy, hands moving over each other's bodies and in a single-minded delirium of purpose Mulder began to undo Alex's jeans. He pulled back from Alex's mouth just long enough to gasp in a breath. Alex let out a single, little despairing moan, "Mulder -"

"Come on, it's cold. Let's get under the covers," Mulder said, breathless. He was yanking Alex's jeans down and trying to lift his own shirt off at the same time. Alex fumblingly managed to take off his prosthetic. Mulder was barely even aware of it, a little surprised by his own lack of reaction but realizing in that moment that Alex meant too much to him for it even to be an issue.

Somehow, they got into the bed, shoving the briefcase off onto the floor where it fell with a thud. Mulder blindly reached for the switch on the lamp.

And found himself being clutched by Alex who was almost trembling with barely-suppressed desire, pressing every inch of his body to Mulder's. Mulder found himself reveling in the heat of him, the slightly-slick feeling of the fresh sheen of sweat on Alex's skin.

Alex was brokenly murmuring, "Want you, oh God, want you, Mulder," his voice ragged, the urgency and need communicated so perfectly in it that Mulder could feel the blood coursing in his veins in response, the involuntary muscle spasms in his cock making it jump as Alex's voice seemed to leap into his ears and take root in his brain. He wanted to fuck Alex into the floor. The need to do so was quite suddenly refusing to leave him alone. It was the only thing he wanted to do.

Blinking in the darkness, he said, "Alex, I have got to fuck you. Please. Right now."

This had the effect of making Alex turn quite still and Mulder abruptly wondered if he had freaked him or something. "What, is that too much for you? Look, just - something. Do something. I need it. I need this. You."

Just as suddenly, his mouth and face was seized in a rushing torrent of Alex; Alex kissing him everywhere, nibbling on his chin, mouthing hot trails of fire across his cheek and to his ear, down his neck. He found himself gasping for breath again as his neck and throat were intermittently bitten and then soothed with Alex's tongue. The fresh scent of Alex's showered hair and the surprising smoothness of his skin was quickly reducing Mulder to nothing but a mindless creature ready to start begging, pleading, demanding.

Alex in his arms, responding with such fierce hunger and desperate, despairing delight that he wasn't sure he had ever felt anything like it before... It brought a sense of completeness and fulfillment, to be wanted like this. To know that it meant so much for the one who wanted him. And in a burst of clarity, Mulder realized he had always wanted Alex too - it had never been safe to see it until now, because of course how could he ever have trusted him? He almost laughed. It took aliens, an entire base's worth, to get them to set aside their differences and work out their issues.

Alex was pulling away and Mulder reached out to pull him back. "No, I just need to get the - to get - " Alex was saying, to explain. Fumbling around in the dark, Alex left Mulder lying in a de-boned and melting puddle of anticipatory desire. And then Alex was chuckling, a bit unhinged, and triumphantly saying, "- lube. We have lube. Thank God."

And then Alex was pressing all up against him again under the covers and moving more slowly than before, a little more languorously. Sensuously, like a writhing cat. Planting hot kisses almost playfully against any inch of Mulder's body that happened to be before him in the dark.

Mulder jerked his hips, moving against Alex and said, "Alex. Now. Come on." He rolled atop Alex, reversing their positions, and got up to kneel over him, taking the small packet that Alex pressed into his hand. Ripping it open, he smoothed the condom down over his cock, wondering at the exquisite waiting as the sensation of it unrolling onto his hardness left him feeling almost lightheaded.

And then Alex was lifting his legs, bringing his knees up under Mulder and Mulder found his breath taken away at the movement, the sheer trust and vulnerability of having Alex like this under him... It was almost too much. He had to stop and count to five. To ten. He wasn't going to last long.

The thought of fucking Alex now was so good that he almost came right then and there. But he reached up to take up the lube and squirt it slickly into his palm before then reaching down to grasp Alex's cock. Alex cried out at this, the silken shaft in Mulder's hand shuddering.

He slipped his finger down to press again the tight, secret hole, his other hand caressing the velvet of Alex's balls. Alex's response was vocal, strangled, "Oh fuck - Mulder, please, just - fucking do it. Give it to me."

Mulder obediently slid his finger into Alex's anus, feeling the burning, soothing silkiness inside. The thought of that tightness being wrapped all over his cock was enough to make him try to slide another finger into Alex a little too fast and Alex hissed and winced under him. "Sorry," Mulder said, hoarsely. He continued to methodically work at stretching his tight opening, readying him. The groans and muttered ravings that this elicited from Alex were enchanting, and Mulder wanted to do this to him forever.

Finally, Alex said, "Mulder, come on. I'm ready. Do it," and he brought his legs up to rest them on Mulder's shoulders, on either side of his neck. Mulder anointed his cock with more lube and then placed the head of it against Alex, slowly pushing in, sliding in and in and up and up, farther, deeper, until he was so deep inside him he couldn't go any further. The accompanying, protracted groan that Alex gave at this was enough to make Mulder grin evilly with abandon. Sheathed in the tightest, hottest and most delicious place it had ever been, Mulder's cock was more at home than he could remember it feeling before. Experimentally, he pulled back barely and then thrust upwards, the feeling of sliding upward forever into heaven going on deeper into the sky beyond - beyond -

And then Alex was shoving back against him, desperately, and Mulder knew he wasn't about to deny him, obliging him with another hard thrust, feeling Alex speared under him. At last. To finally have him. After wanting this, for so long. Being denied it, by circumstance, by reason, by guilt, by his mind. To just... let it all go, let it go with every hard fucking urgent shove, harder, deeper, faster and Alex was suddenly twisting under him, crying out as the eager pulsing of that now-recognizable scent filled the air. Hot, sweat-scented, carrying the bitter salty scalding deliciousness of thick tears. Alex's ass clenched down and gripped Mulder's cock as Alex came, open-mouthed gasps and cries as the pleasure wracked him.

It tipped Mulder over the edge; too much overload to task his already overburdened restraint. The waves of silvery peals and electric flooding of his nerves zinged almost painfully through his body as it was seized by an automatic impulse to drive into Alex's ass as hard as he could, as fast as possible. But it didn't last and abruptly Mulder was coming, coming, hanging suspended, over a high crest, a flight above the wash of pleasure, a single moment of brightness where he could feel time stop. He could hear his own voice shouting out, and then the feeling of trying to stay above, to stay high up there on that beautiful stormy moment of pleasure/pain/ecstasy/peace... Floating back.

Groggily, he wondered how much time had passed between that moment and the next. It didn't seem to matter. But Alex's ankles were no longer by his head and he was slumped over him, his face turned to rest against Alex's upper chest, their hearts still pounding in a slightly offbeat rhythm together.

Close and warm in the dark, feeling like coming home, to rest. To finally understand something, something that was still slightly elusive. Oh, right. Connection. To make this act their communion in a perfect comprehension of mutual regard. Mulder wondered if they might have reached this point earlier with less pain and fuss, but came to the conclusion that it was actually a perfect conclusion to the extraordinary events of a day so far outside his usual reality that it was only natural.

He chuckled quietly, soundlessly. Alex stirred under him. "Heavy," he mumbled.

Mulder obediently rolled to one side and then pulled Alex back into his arms. "I'm not usually this romantic," Mulder said.

Alex was quiet. "You call that romantic?" His tone was a little noncommittal, obviously wondering what the hell Mulder was thinking.

Mulder stretched, feeling it all over, all throughout his body. Then tightened his hold around Alex. He kissed Alex on the forehead, and on his cheek. "Don't go," he whispered.

"Fuck. As if I could," Alex murmured, burrowing his face into Mulder's neck a little more.

"No, I meant tomorrow morning. We need to take a road trip."

Alex didn't reply, but then pulled back slightly and asked, "What do you mean? What do you have in mind?"

Mulder grinned in the darkness. "When was the last time you took a day off, just for the hell of it? Just for yourself? It'll be fun. Come with me. It'll be great. We can check out the Absarokas, and the Beartooth Mountains."

Alex hesitated, and then said with some conviction, "You're crazy."

"Yeah, but will you?"

Alex sighed against him, his breath moving warm and almost too lightly against Mulder's skin. "One day - I guess we could steal just one." And he relaxed into Mulder a little more, contentedly, willing to believe in it at least for now.

"After everything we've been through, I think we owe it to ourselves to take a little happiness back. Reclaim it, you know? When was the last time you felt this way, this sense of freedom?"

Alex didn't reply, just pressed his face deeper in against Mulder and tightened his own arm about him.

"Actually," Mulder continued, pointing out the facts, "We have two days. Tomorrow and Sunday. There isn't any reason why we couldn't extend it a little. Go back on Sunday, in the evening. We can try to get flights back then. What do you think?"

Alex said against him, "I think you're nuts, Mulder. But I'm okay with that. Anyway, this sounds like a plan."

"If you think you're going to be falling asleep here, you're sadly mistaken," Mulder said.

And smiled as he felt Alex's answering grin against his neck.


Archived: July 04, 2001