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Manipulations of the Heart

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Manipulations of the Heart by T. Rose

Title: Manipulations of the Heart
Author: T. Rose
Rating: NC-17 violence and slash
Pairing: Fox Mulder/Cory Raines
Crossover: X-Files and Highlander
Disclaimers: All things X-Files belongs to Fox, 1013 Productions, and Chris Carter; all things Highlander belongs to Panzer/Davis, while all other characters and concepts belong to me.
Beta: Paula and Ursula, I have to thank you both for all your assistance. All mistakes are, of course, mine.
Archive: Anywhere
Feedback: Yes, I love all comments. Praise and criticism both.
Summary: This is while Mulder is still in Oxford. It's really hard to explain, but here goes. Mulder is learning about immortals and how to kill. Cory comes along and helps him out of a bad relationship.


                          Manipulations of the Heart
                                      Prologue

     Fox gasped softly, trying not to make a sound, as Grysher hit him again. Fox had learned that suffering silently would help appease the Professor's anger. It seemed there was nothing that disgusted him more than Fox's pleas for forgiveness, which Grysher made clear were pathetic. He wondered what he'd done to deserve the beating this time. Whatever it was, Grysher would expect him to figure it out himself. He doubled over, due to an extremely harsh blow to his gut, and knew he'd be missing yet another lecture at the University.

     Later that night, Fox groaned as he attempted to find a less painful position on the hard cot in the cell in which Grysher had locked him. He shivered beneath the rag he'd been given as a blanket, knowing it wouldn't keep out the biting chill that was seeping from the ancient rocks forming the walls of his prison.

     Fox hated the dungeon of this castle, but he could hardly resent the Professor, the man who made him sleep down here. The man that loved him. Him... Fox Mulder, a man so unworthy that even his own parents begrudged him affection. He would do anything for this love... anything.

     He comforted himself with thoughts about their 3 years together; better times.

     ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

     Before classes started, Professor Grysher approached Fox Mulder, whispering to him. "I'd like to speak to you when class is over."

     Fox Mulder nodded, then sat listening to the lecture and wondered what the Professor could want.

     When the others left, Grysher turned to the student standing there silently waiting for the Professor's attention.

     He stared at the young man for a moment, admiring Fox's tall, lanky form. The directness of the hazel eyes was slightly unnerving, but he would eventually deal with that. When Fox began shifting from foot to foot, he spoke.

     "Do you have plans for this evening?" Professor Grysher got straight to the point. He didn't believe in dancing around the subject. Besides, he suspected Fox might be too naive to understand.

     Fox was startled. He hadn't realized the Professor could possibly be interested in him. "No sir."

     "Well then, would you like to go out to dinner with me tonight?"

     Fox nodded. The idea that the distinguished Professor would want to be seen with HIM sent a shiver down his spine. The Professor was a decent looking man, with brown hair just beginning to turn silver, piercing blue eyes, and an imperious smile. Fox wondered why Grysher would want to go out with him.

     Then it occurred to him that maybe he was thinking this was more than it was. But why else would the Professor invite him out to eat? His mind spun out of control and he was grateful when the Professor pulled him back to reality with a time and a place.

     That evening, Grysher took him out to Claridge's Restaurant off of Brook street and questioned him as to what he wanted to do in the future, where he grew up, who his parents were, and how he was getting on in Oxford.

     Relationships between students and the faculty were not allowed, but Grysher had always been one to get away with doing whatever he wanted, so he continued to take Fox out to eat, often taking him to see the opera or the ballet as well. They both shared a special interest for classical music and Grysher was able to get tickets to almost anything playing.

     One evening, Grysher took him to the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. They went out to eat at the Ivy and Grysher made a choice from the select wine list.

     Grysher approved the wine and the waiter left with their order. "We've been together for almost 4 months now, haven't we?"

     Fox nodded, watching as Grysher poured them each a glass. He wondered where Grysher was going with this. A few days before-hand, Grysher had suggested they go to see Madame Butterfly. Tickets to the show were coveted by everyone. The show had been as good as the reviews had promised. Now they were at the Ivy , one of the most expensive, elite restaurants in London where well-known people were often seen.

     Grysher actually seemed nervous. "We get on very well together. I'd like to take this relationship a bit further... would you move in with me?"

     Fox couldn't believe it. He wasn't sure what he had expected, but it certainly hadn't been this. He couldn't speak, so he nodded. His hand was shaking so badly that the wine almost sloshed over the side of the glass as he accepted it.

     Grysher was much more relaxed, having taken care of that. He smiled, and reached into his pocket to pull out a jewelry box.

     Fox flushed, wondering what sort of gift Grysher was about to give him. Grysher was a bit of a romantic, and had given him a gift at every month anniversary, usually a small antique of some sort. He opened the box, and his eyes widened further. It contained a watch in the shape of a skull. It hung from a heavy silver chain.

     "It was made in the 1600's, in France. It's a very rare find, just as you are." Grysher was pleased with Fox's stupefied reaction. "I wanted you to know how much you mean to me."

                                       Chapter

     One day when Fox returned from classes, he found all his jeans and sweatshirts had been thrown away. It bothered him at first, until Grysher explained that he couldn't be seen with a man who looked like a tramp. Fox understood his point and agreed to go to Grysher's personal tailor. He even began to wear suits to the few casual activities he was allowed to attend. His classmates' jeers convinced him that Grysher was the only one who would ever care about him.

     He found Grysher to be like his father in that he was demanding and autocratic. Grysher never apologized for 'disciplining' his young lover, but he was always less stern and more affectionate for the next few days. He had a lot of different properties and Fox always enjoyed their weekend excursions to the other countries. Grysher would tell him stories about the antiques he displayed in the castles, and always made the history sound exciting and alive. He continued to take Fox out to the opera and the best dining, never hesitating to spend money on the young man.

     The Professor also rewarded Fox's loyalty and devotion by having Martial Art Masters teach him ancient secrets, beyond those taught to the average student. His eidetic memory helped him duplicate the moves after very few repetitions and mastering these skills gave him a heady thrill.

     There were many different kicks, punches, and other moves used in fights with another person, but it was the non-action, the pressure point death-blows, the different ways of rendering a person unconscious or dead with seemingly innocent contact that struck Fox as interesting puzzles, stimulating his body and mind and making the long hours and sore muscles an acceptable nuisance.

     He was pleased when the masters praised him, but when Grysher told him that he exceeded every expectation he'd ever had, Fox worked even harder. After a year it became such a part of his regimen, he couldn't imagine not spending at least an hour of his free time in meditation or going through katanas.

     It wasn't until Grysher began to train him with weapons that he became suspicious. Why was Grysher so determined he master the Russian and German languages?

     That was when he confronted the Professor.

     He didn't want to sound ungrateful and he spoke softly. "I feel as if I'm learning to become an assassin."

     "Fox, do you love me?"

     "Of course." Hazel eyes stared guilelessly into his lover's.

     "Then trust me. Everything I teach you is necessary to our future."

     Fox protested, trying to will the Professor to understand. "But I don't want to kill."

     "If you love me, you'll do what I consider necessary for our safety, even if that means killing." Grysher was deadly serious.

     ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

     ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

     Fox whimpered softly as he shifted onto his side while he tried to sleep.

     Images swirled in his head. He remembered another day when Grysher had shown him love. There had been no hitting, no insults or angry accusations... just tenderness and pleasure. But it also had been the day of his first kill. Surprisingly this hadn't been as horrible as he had feared. The regrets came later.

     ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

     "We're going to a dinner party this evening. There will be many prominent people there." Grysher handed Fox the suit he would wear that evening.

     Suspecting there was more the Professor wished to say, Fox remained silent as he took the suit.

     "There will also be a man there from my military days. He's eager to meet you."

     Fox was surprised. "He is? Why?" He continued to dress, pulling on the slacks.

     "I told him about your intelligence and your ability to defend yourself."

     Fox was distressed as he realized what this really meant. "You told him I could kill?"

     "I'm so proud of you, love. You've mastered so many skills so quickly. You're no longer the weak and naive boy I was attracted to in the beginning, but now a strong, intelligent man I can be proud to love."

     The pride Fox heard in the Professor's voice made his heart flutter. All doubts were gone when the Professor spoke like that. "Thank-you, Professor."

     Grysher smiled in acknowledgement as he moved behind Fox to knot the black tie around his neck. "Your father works for the government as a scientist, doesn't he?"

     They were facing the mirror, and Fox felt safe and secure with Grysher's arms holding him like this. He hardly heard the question as he nodded his affirmation. He turned his head to rest his cheek against Grysher's.

     Grysher petted his hair tenderly, then cleared his throat. "My friend has heard of him. Come along, we don't want to be late." He pulled away.

     As they rode to the party, the Professor spoke urgently to Fox. "Mr. Eastleigh is an important friend. But, he is also a very dangerous man. I want you to promise me you won't shame me."

     "I'll try not to, sir."

     The Professor made sure what he was saying was clear. "If he wants you to kill someone, you don't ask questions, or argue with him. You just obey him."

     "You know I can't do that." Fox knew he risked the man's anger, but was unable to agree to such a thing.

     The Professor didn't get angry, instead he got very serious. "If you will not obey him, he could decide to have us both killed."

     This distressed Fox. "Why would he do that?"

     "Because he has to trust us. If he thinks you're unreliable, or that I'm dishonest, he will dispose of us. I told you there was a reason I was teaching you what I did. This is the reason. If we don't do what Mr. Eastleigh wants, he could ruin me, or kill me. Do you want that to happen?"

     Fox shook his head. "Of course not. But..." He was about to argue when Grysher interrupted him.

     "I know you're a good man. I don't want you to become a murderer, but if you disobey this man, you forfeit my life. We all make mistakes, my love. You can forgive me mine, can't you?" He presented the question as a challenge.

     Fox recalled the day before, when he'd forgotten to lock up a few ancient texts and Grysher had been furious. He'd eventually forgiven him, and just told him not to forget next time. Surprising, since the manuscripts were worth thousands of dollars each.

     Fox unhappily nodded at the Professor. "Yes, of course."

     The Professor hugged him. "I love you, Fox."

     ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

     "Mr. Eastleigh, this is Fox Mulder. Fox, this is Mr. Eastleigh."

     Mr. Eastleigh seemed to stare straight into Fox's soul. His ice blue eyes were sharp but calm. He was impeccably groomed and appeared to be in his early fifties.

     "So, you're William Mulder's son." Mr. Eastleigh's British voice was emotionless and soft.

     Fox nodded, keeping his expression neutral.

     The Professor wanted him to be able to conceal his true thoughts behind a mask. He thought Fox was too expressive. So, he had taught Fox the right expressions for every occasion, the proper words for any conversation, and had impressed upon him the importance of never revealing his true feelings. Fox realized he was now in a situation where it would be important to demonstrate what he had learned.

     "I'd like to speak with you, Mr. Mulder--- alone." Mr. Eastleigh looked at Grysher imperiously.

     Grysher nodded and backed off immediately.

     Fox was a little unsettled by his companion's easy acquiescence, but he followed Mr. Eastleigh without question.

     "Mr. Grysher tells me you're a very intelligent young man."

     Fox shrugged, saying nothing.

     Mr. Eastleigh changed tactics. "You are very fond of Mr. Grysher, are you not?"

     "Yes sir."

     "What will you do to protect him?"

     "Anything necessary."

     "That's fortunate for him. He's going to be shot tonight, as he's leaving the building, if you don't prevent it." He watched Fox carefully.

     "Why do you tell me this?" Fox kept his expression impassive.

     "I have no reason to want him dead." Mr. Eastleigh nodded absently at a guest.

     "Why don't you stop it then?"

     "Mr. Mulder, I have no reason to care if he lives, either."

     Fox knew that this was it, the moment of which the Professor had warned him. He tried to sound as casual as possible, while his heart was stuck in his throat. "What can I do to prevent it?"

     "I will introduce you to the man. As for what you can do-- I believe you know that as well as I do. Come along." Not waiting to see if Fox obeyed, he changed direction and led Fox further into the crowd.

     Fox swallowed and as he caught up to Mr. Eastleigh, he considered the least noticeable and quickest acting pressure point methods he knew. They stopped in front of a handsome young man in his early twenties, with light blonde hair, blue eyes and a fancy tux.

     "Mr. Josan, this is Mr. Grysher's companion this evening. Fox Mulder. Mr. Mulder, this is Frank Josan. My companion." He watched as they shook hands. "You two may learn you have a lot in common."

     Mr. Josan smirked. "You think so? Hey Fox, are you any more comfortable in this place than I am? There's a card game going on in one of the back rooms, would you like to go hide with me?"

     "No, I don't think so. Maybe next time." Fox then addressed Mr. Eastleigh. "I'd better go find the professor."

     "Nice to have met you Fox." Mr. Josan smiled.

     As he was walking away, Fox heard the man snicker before suddenly gasping for breath. He returned to the Professor, his insides quaking as he thought of the deadly handshake he'd bestowed upon Josan.

     The Professor patted his shoulder kindly with an understanding smile on his face.

     An hour later, Mr. Eastleigh approached them while Frank Josan was carried out of the house in a body bag.

     "You did well, Fox." Mr. Eastleigh stared straight into Fox's eyes, gauging his reaction.

     Fox lowered his eyes and turned away. He noticed the gentleman nod at the Professor before walking off.

     Grysher praised Fox as they rode home in the cab. "I'm so proud of you, Fox. Mr. Eastleigh tells me you saved my life. I'm very grateful to you." Fox snuggled into the older man's embrace, trying to ignore the guilt threatening to suffocate him.

     ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

     Fox shifted on the cot, shivering while he remembered his actions after Mr. Josan's death. It bothered him to kill. But he did it for the Professor's safety-- and his own. Mr. Eastleigh had required his 'services' six times. He had to travel to France over a weekend once as Mr. Eastleigh's 'companion', for a meeting with some of his cronies. He had been instructed to take care of one of the older men subtly, and without evidence of subterfuge, as he had done with Josan. Though he had hated what he was becoming, he had been grateful he was asked to use his skills with pressure points, rather than with weapons.

     It had occurred to him that he was no better than Mr. Josan. Mr. Eastleigh had said that evening that they might discover they had quite a bit in common. He hadn't thought so at the time, but as he had continued to carry out his 'assignments', he had realized at what Eastleigh had been hinting. It had shamed him to think of himself as a hired gun. He had mentioned it to the Professor once, but Grysher had made a production out of what could happen if Fox ever refused. Funny how in the beginning he had thought he was protecting the Professor-- while now it was more a manner of self-preservation, since he had learned that he was in more danger from Mr. Eastleigh than Grysher ever would be.

     Fox heard a soft noise and was off the cot immediately, groaning in pain when his stomach protested the quick motion. He slowly crept toward the cell door, knowing it would not be the Professor. The Professor never relented when he was punishing him.

     Candlelight seeped into his dark cell and he heard the housekeeper whispering. "Fox, it's Mrs. Keplar."

     Fox winced. If Grysher ever realized the kindly old woman was helping him while down here, she would be lucky if she were dismissed without references.

     His urging was gentle. "Go to bed, Mrs. Keplar."

     "I will, but not until you drink this tea. It'll help calm the pain in your tummy." She reached into the small partition in the locked door, holding out a mug of steaming tea.

     He took it gratefully, having previously experienced the effectiveness of her concoctions, and drank it slowly.

     "Thank-you, Mrs. Keplar." Once he'd finished the soothing tea, he handed her the mug and she bid him good-night.

     He heard her tching about the pair of them as she climbed the stairs. He vaguely wondered if Grysher even realized she knew about the dungeon. His affection for the sweet-hearted woman prevented him from asking.

     He moved slowly, leaning against the wall, until he found his cot.

     The room was again pitch black and he hated it. Some nights while being punished, he thought he could hear the screams of long dead prisoners that had been tortured within these confines. On the nights he was locked in this cell, falling asleep usually meant waking in a cold sweat, screaming for mercy after reliving the memories of the persecuted souls.

     The knowledge that Professor Grysher had once been a part of this world had frightened him, when he first found out; it still did.

     He lay down and remembered the evening he had found out about the Professor's immortality.

     About 4 months after his first 'assignment' with Eastleigh, Fox had met another man from Grysher's past.

     ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

     "Hello Edwin." The young man's voice was a challenge as he greeted the Professor and walked into his study.

     Mrs. Keplar followed him, wringing her hands in distress. "I'm sorry sir, I asked him to wait but he wouldn't."

     The Professor nodded at her. "It's all right, Keplar." She walked away muttering, and he waited until she was gone before he turned to greet the handsome young man.

     "Marcus. Would you like a brandy?" The Professor was already walking to the liquor cabinet as he made the offer.

     "Sounds good." Marcus made a mock bow, a lock of light brown hair falling over light blue eyes to give him a boyish look.

     "What's it been, Ed? Thirty years?" Marcus accepted the glass. His eyes slid over Fox with blatant interest.

     Grysher scowled at the other man's actions. "At least."

     Fox didn't understand how they possibly could have known each other for thirty years. Marcus didn't appear to be more then a few years older than he was. But his thoughts were interrupted with the realization that Marcus was using Grysher's first name. The Professor had never allowed Fox to know his full name, much less use it. He wondered who this man could be.

     "You had me arrested for murdering one of your 'boys'." Marcus turned to stare at Fox, considering a repetition of the offense.

     "I thought you were given life with no probation, in the United States."

     "I got out on good behavior. So I decided to come repay you for all your 'helpful' assistance during the trial." Marcus growled as his handsome young face twisted with anger and hate.

     Grysher glanced at Fox and tilted his head to the side. "Fox, go tell Mrs. Keplar not to make dinner tonight."

     Fox obeyed, though he was concerned for his lover's safety.

     Fox returned about 10 minutes later and Grysher talked to him privately in the next room.

     "Marcus and I are going out to the woods. He's challenged me to a duel. We'll fight to the death."

     Fox argued desperately. "But, that's foolish. You can't."

     "It's a matter of honor, Fox. It's what I do. I'll explain more to you this evening."

     "But what if he hurts you. He might defeat you. Let me fight for you, instead."

     "No, it's my responsibility. He challenged me. If you'd feel better about it, you could follow us. If you think I might lose, I want you to shoot him. All right?"

     Fox nodded determinedly. Grysher patted his back and went off to get his weapon.

     Fox took a deep breath and swallowed hard. He had never used a weapon on a real person before. Targets, they were easy, not humans.

     //Oh God, I can't do this. Please help me do this.//

     The times Mr. Eastleigh had required his abilities, he had always wanted the subtlety of pressure point contact. That had been difficult enough for Fox. Now he would be shooting someone.

     //Come on, Fox, it's no different than anything else you've ever done. If you don't, the Professor could die.//

     Fox stealthily followed them into the woods behind the Professor's castle. Grysher owned almost 200 acres of land just outside Oxford and almost a third of it was forest land.

     He hid behind a tree and watched the fight. Marcus was obviously a better swordsman than Grysher. He toyed with the older man as he nicked him on the arm and taunted him with promises of what he would do when Grysher was dead. "Don't worry about that pretty little boy in the castle, Eddie. I'll take really good care of him." He sliced open the Professor's leg and easily dodged his attempts at retaliation with a laugh.

     Unable to watch the fight any more and sure the Professor couldn't possibly win, Fox shot the other man.

     Marcus turned around, clutching his shoulder, and spied Fox. "This is against the rules, Edwin." He snarled when Grysher shoved the blade into his stomach.

     "I follow no rules, Marcus. You know that." Grysher positioned himself to strike as Marcus fell to his knees, blood flowing freely from his gut.

     Fox watched in horror as the Professor stood over the kneeling man and sliced off his head, with one stroke. He stared in disbelief as the corpse fell, head rolling to the side. A feeling of unreality washed over him as he heard thunder.

     He hardly registered the screams of the Professor as he was pummeled with the lightening that seemed to shoot out of the stranger's headless corpse. The air crackled with electricity as he watched.

     He was still standing there in a daze when Grysher staggered over to him. "Thank-you, Fox. You did well." He led the shell-shocked young man out of the woods and back to the castle.

     Later, when Fox finally came back to reality, he left his room to find Grysher.

     "Back with the living?" Grysher sounded sarcastic, as he looked up from the book he'd been reading.

     Fox nodded, feeling suddenly ashamed. His questions were shoved to the back of his mind, not wanting to anger the man with his disillusionment.

     "Good. You can help me take care of the body." Grysher stood up and started to walk away.

     "Aren't you hurt? I saw him get a good swipe at your leg." Fox was surprised to realize the Professor wasn't limping. There was a bloody rip in Grysher's trousers, but when he parted the tear to look, he found no wound.

     "I heal quickly."

     "The lightening in the forest-- what was it? I saw it strike you. It hurt you, why didn't it kill you? Why did you have to cut off the man's..." he gagged as he said the word, "...head?"

     Finally Grysher came to a decision and nodded. "Fox, I'm immortal. Marcus was also immortal. That means we heal quickly, we don't age, and unless someone takes off our head, we don't permanently die. The lightening you saw was his Quickening. The Quickening is our life force. When we take someone's head, we receive their Quickening. We receive their memories and their knowledge."

     Fox had always been open to extreme possibilities. If Grysher said he was immortal, then Fox was willing to believe, especially after what he'd seen. Other things began to click and fit into place too. Things the Professor said and the way he seemed to talk about events as if he had lived through them. The importance placed on certain objects in the house. Comments he heard others make when they talked to the Professor.

     "How old are you?"

     Grysher smiled at him, pleased with his reaction. He didn't answer as he led Fox out to the woods to get rid of the body.

     ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

     Fox shivered as he heard a rodent scurrying about beneath his cot.

     Since then, the Professor had faced only two other challenges, with Fox loyally waiting in the background to ensure that Grysher didn't die.

     It seemed that the only way to be safe and to keep the Professor safe was to kill anyone that stood in their way. Fox rarely questioned the necessity of his actions anymore and attempted to ignore the nagging doubts that lurked in his subconscious. He needed the Professor more than a conscience, didn't he?

     Fox finally fell into a fitful slumber, wondering why nothing seemed to make sense anymore.

                                    Chapter

     On a sunny Saturday afternoon, 2 weeks after his confusing reflections in the dungeon cell, Fox was walking with the Professor through the park.

     He noticed immediately when his companion stiffened. He looked around, wondering who had attracted Grysher's attention. A young mother walked past; ignoring them as she pushed a stroller ahead of her. An older man hobbled by, using a cane. A few teenagers passed, talking and laughing. Then he saw the attractive young man, tall and lean with short black hair, dressed in a pair of black slacks and a purple velvet shirt, walking towards them cautiously, but without fear. He could see the man's eyes were gleaming with good humor and he envied the man for his cheer.

     Guiltily, he slipped his eyes away from the beautiful man to Grysher. He saw his lover frowning and knew his disloyalty had been noted. Fox lowered his eyes to the ground, dreading the punishment he'd suffer when they returned to the castle. He knew he deserved it, but it didn't help quiet the voice inside his head that was growing increasingly resentful.

     Satisfied that Fox knew his wrong-doing, the Professor's attention left his repentant lover to turn his wrath onto the stranger who dared intrude, with his flirting eyes and cheerful smile. He recognized the appreciation in the other's gaze when it landed on Fox, and was furious to realize Fox was again returning the other man's regard. His Fox should never look at anyone else like that... ever. He began to wonder if this stranger might become a threat.

     The stranger addressed himself to Fox. "Cory Raines."

     Fox shook his hand. "Fox Mulder. This is my partner, Professor Grysher."

     Cory winked at Fox and then turned to Grysher. "I've met your 'partner' before." He spoke to Grysher though his words were aimed at Fox.

     "I don't know you." He growled at Cory suspiciously.

     "Sure you do. Back in the Colonies. You were using that pretty little bond girl to do your dirty work, remember?"

     Furious, Grysher suddenly and vividly recalled where he'd met this man.

     1729--- Lynn, Massachusetts

     "Please, sir. I've never done such a thing before. Don't make me do this. I'll get caught." His pretty, young indentured servant pleaded with him as she pushed her long black hair back off her face. The rouge she wore displayed her high cheekbones. Grysher idly wondered if she were part indian as he slapped her for arguing with him. She fell backwards, and landed on her bottom unceremoniously.

     "Ramsey Corwin, ma'am. At your service." An attractive man with flashing green eyes gallantly helped the frightened girl to her feet.

     She lowered her eyes shyly. "Charlotte."

     Corwin was surprised. The girl's clothing had given him the impression that she was a tavern wench of many charms. He had come to her assistance believing the other man's advances were unwelcome.

     "Get off with ye. She belongs to me." Grysher snarled possessively, and grabbed the woman's wrist tightly to pull her closer to him.

     Charlotte winced, but didn't argue.

     Corwin shrugged and sauntered off.

     Dismissing the intrusive immortal's presence for the meantime, Grysher hissed into the whimpering girl's ear. "Now listen here, Charlotte. I want Lord Hampton dead." He pointed to the young dandy they'd been discussing before the interruption. "Now get over there and seduce him. Once he's dead, I want you to go through his things and take anything of value. I'll wait for you at the hotel." He left her there alone, confident she'd not dare disobey him.

     The next day, when Grysher realized the girl had not yet returned, he went off in search of her. He learned that she had been seen leaving with the immortal from the night before. The young lord he had sent her after was alive and crying theft. His bond girl and the money were gone... with Ramsey Corwin.

     -------------------------------

     Grysher's hands fisted as he attempted to control his temper. "1729. You stole my bond servant."

     Cory grinned, reminiscently. "She was desperate to escape and I've never been one to ignore a damsel in distress, especially when she knows where to find a good stash of money." He shrugged.

     Grysher began to grind his teeth.

     Cory had carefully watched Fox's reaction to Grysher's announcement about meeting him in 1729. The young man hadn't even blinked, indicating to Cory that he already knew about immortality. But how much?

     "So Fox, how long have you and the Professor been together?"

     "About 3 years."

     "Are you happy?"

     Fox blinked. Lately, this very question had been entering his own mind quite often. He'd been doing his best not to dwell on it. As long as Grysher was pleased with him, all was well. "Of course." He wasn't particularly convincing.

     Cory was well used to seeing abuse, both physical and psychological, and he recognized it in Fox now. He had a sixth sense about that type of thing. Problems that could be taken care of with a robbery and a good-sized check were more fun to deal with, but the only reason he had approached Grysher now, after successfully avoiding the man for 250 years, was because he had noticed the attractive young man walking with him and was reminded of Charlotte. He figured that if this Fox Mulder was in a situation he wasn't sure how to escape, he could come up with a plan to help.

     Grysher could already see the ideas forming in this man's eyes. "We are both happy. Fox is not desperate to get away from me. Good day to you." He abruptly turned and began walking away from Cory. Fox shrugged apologetically before he moved to catch up with the Professor.

     Once they were driving home, Fox dared to ask him about Cory. "Who is he, Professor?"

     Grysher's reply was short. "A thief with no honor."

                                    Chapter

                                    Chapter

     Grysher wanted Cory punished, not only for stealing Charlotte from him, but also for capturing Fox's attention. He had always trusted Fox's devotion to him completely, but something had changed in the past few weeks. Fox was no longer as dependent on him for approval as he should be. Lately, it seemed that he was forcing Fox into compliance, rather than coercing him. He needed to regain full control over Fox.

     The arrival of this Cory Raines was the last straw. He could just see Cory meeting up with Fox after classes when he wasn't around to prevent it, and convincing the young man that he could do better. He couldn't allow that. Not after all the time he'd put into training him. If that meant the death of the thieving immortal, all the better.

     By that evening, he had already learned where Cory was staying, and Fox listened as Grysher explained what he expected of him and why it was to be him that carried it out.

     Fox remained unconvinced as he watched Grysher angrily pace through the library. "That incident was so long ago and you haven't suffered. Besides I would never leave you."

     "It's time he paid for stealing my property, and I won't have him chasing after you now too."

     Fox stayed silent as the Professor frowned at him.

     "If you truly love me, you'll take his head for me." Grysher stopped to stand directly in front of him.

     Fox shook his head, but his expression changed from stubborn to undecided as he considered the merits of what the Professor was saying.

     "I love you, Fox. I've taken care of you, believed in you, supported you... Is this how you repay me? By betraying me with another?" Grysher finally lost his temper and slapped him.

     The slap was hard enough to snap his head back. Fox supposed he should be grateful he hadn't begun punching him again, yet. Grysher had beaten him when they'd returned home earlier. He didn't want to deal with another 'session'. Not today.

     "I'm sorry, Professor. You're right. I'll kill him for you tonight." He made the promise with his eyes lowered.

     Grysher looked forward to this night. It would be the first time Fox would actually KILL an immortal. Of course, it was too bad he couldn't be there to take the Quickening, but he was more concerned with cementing his hold over Fox at the moment. Through the centuries, he had been using his mortal pets to kill his enemies. If the mortal got caught, they were the ones to be killed or imprisoned. Then he went out to find another one.

     But Fox was a pre-immortal. After his first death, he would be an immortal too. Grysher intended to have complete control of him when that happened. The emotionally dependent were the easiest to manipulate. Besides, he did love Fox. He had never met another man like him. Not only was he useful, but he was a pleasure to have as a 'companion'. Fox was intelligent, interesting and loving. Grysher didn't want to lose him.

     That evening, Fox walked into the pub and socialized with a few of his classmates while he looked for Cory. He had few real friends, but with Grysher's 'lessons', he had learned to function quite well in public gatherings.

     He spotted Cory Raines across the room, flirting with one of his friends. He walked over, sounding confident as he greeted the girl and Cory.

     "Hello Mariah, Cory."

     "Hello Mulder." Mariah greeted him with a smile. She pushed long brown hair out of her face and she stood a little taller. She had introduced herself to him when she had started at the University and had insisted they become friends. She didn't like or trust Grysher and told Fox so, quite often. But since he loved the man, she was willing to tolerate him..

     "I thought you went by Fox." Cory took a sip of beer.

     "He tried to change it to Mulder when he started here. But, his... 'lover' put a stop to that." Mariah said 'lover' with obvious disapproval.

     Cory nodded, filing that away for future use.

     "I had gathered you were new in town. How did you two meet?"

     Fox changed the facts only a little. "We met in the park today. He knew the Professor and came to talk."

     Cory didn't disagree, but he wondered why the young man's voice sounded strained. "Is everything all right..? Mulder?" He spoke the name hesitantly.

     Fox looked away for a moment as if determining what to say. Finally, he turned to him and presented a false confession. "The Professor has another student over tonight. He wanted me to get scarce."

     That didn't ring true to Cory. It didn't fit with the profile. Grysher was possessive. He certainly wouldn't send Fox off on his own to amuse himself. He was more likely to lock the young man in a closet and leave him there until he was ready to use him again.

     Apparently, Mariah thought so too. "So it's finally over?"

     Fox shrugged, shoulders hunched, head down.

     "I'm sorry, baby." Mariah wrapped her arms around him as she realized how insensitive she sounded.

     "Good riddance, Mulder. You deserve better than him." Cory's mind began to whirl with ideas.

     Fox shook his head. "No, he gave me everything. He loved me, trusted me and believed in me. He didn't call me a failure. I need him."

     Mariah petted his head, holding him close to her as she rubbed his back.

     Cory made a show of looking to see how close she held Fox and she made a face at him, unseen by Fox, as she shooed him away. He mumbled something about getting them some drinks.

     Meanwhile, Fox found he was really getting into this. What if Grysher really did tire of him, or he wasn't good enough? He would be lost. He needed Grysher, didn't he? He would do anything to stay with him, he had to.

     When Cory came back, Fox was standing a little away from Mariah and watching him with evident interest.

     Cory couldn't get rid of the feeling that something wasn't quite right about Fox's interest, but he ignored it. He handed Mariah her drink and then gave one to Fox, being sure to brush his fingers against Fox's before pulling away to take a sip from his glass. Fox blinked twice and stared at the beer a moment. Mariah hid a smile behind her glass. They seemed interested in each other. Now if only Fox would let it happen.

     "Melanie just walked in. Do you mind if I go talk to her?" Mariah looked at Fox for his response.

     Fox shrugged and watched her leave. He turned back to Cory. "He was angry, because I talked to you this morning."

     "Should he have been?" Cory stepped closer, deliberately invading Fox's space.

     Fox stared at him a little nervously. Finally he nodded. "Probably."

     Cory shook his head. "He should have been grateful you loved him. He's not exactly a prize. You're a prize." He watched Fox's expression closely. He was trying to be careful, he didn't want to scare him off.

     Fox shook his head. "He gave me purpose. Nobody ever saw anything worth loving in me, until him."

     "You never allowed anyone to see who you really are, did you?" The realization came to Cory instinctively. "Your professor decided he wanted you, and pretended he 'saw' you, loving you anyway."

     "Like you're doing?"

     Cory blinked, surprised. "I'm attracted to you, Fox, and I'm sure I could very easily like you -- but I certainly can't say I love you. I'd have to know you better. But you're a very beautiful young man."

     Fox scoffed. "Sure, I've got them lining up."

     "You would if you wanted; like Mariah over there. When did the Professor take you in?" He worded his question carefully.

     Fox took a step away as he realized how close Cory was to him. "After a few months of my stay at University."

     "He wanted you while you were still self-conscious, before you'd completely adapted to life here." Cory finished his beer and signaled a waitress for another.

     Fox didn't answer. He didn't like how much sense this man made. Grysher did love him-- he did. He had told him so. Granted, it was often when he was hitting him for screwing up, but that's the way love was. He had been lucky Grysher had looked past all his flaws and forgiven them. He had certainly been told so often enough.

     He wanted to argue, to convince the other man and maybe himself in the process, that Grysher did care about him, but he remembered he was supposed to gain Cory's trust and get Cory to go off with him somewhere in private. He could kill Cory right here, and no one would be the wiser, but cutting off the unsuspecting man's head wouldn't be so easy. There would be the Quickening effects to beware of, and he'd have to be able to escape without being seen.

     Grysher would assure the police that he had come home that evening after the club, and Mrs. Keplar would back him up on the story, not wanting to let Fox get in trouble. They knew this without having to plan it with her. All he had to do was get Cory back to his hotel room. Grysher had told him to use the man's own sword.

     "I suppose you're right." Fox made the concession grudgingly.

     "Of course I'm right." Cory grinned and changed the subject, asking Fox about the courses he was studying.

                                      Chapter

     Later that evening, Cory and Fox left together for Cory's hotel. "You're just visiting?"

     Cory nodded as he unlocked the door. "I'm just here to finish a job. I'll be leaving next week."

     Fox wondered if that might appease the Professor, but then remembered this was a test-- he was supposed to prove himself by killing Cory. It occurred to Fox that it would be a lot easier for the both of them if Grysher would just accept his love and not require constant proof in the form of actions with which he wasn't comfortable. But, Grysher would just accuse him of being weak, and start to wonder if he had indeed made a mistake about Fox being the man he had thought he was.

     Cory was approaching him now and he prepared himself to respond favorably when Cory pulled him in for a kiss. It wasn't long before he was no longer pretending. Cory was no amateur in the art of seduction and he had decided to help Fox forget about Grysher as much as possible.

     Fox had never realized sex could be so enjoyable. With Grysher, it was more an act of necessity, because it was what Grysher wanted. There was pleasure of course, but nothing so mind-shattering as what this man was putting him through. When the time came that he should have put a stop to it, in order to kill Cory, he was lost in a haze of pleasure and it didn't occur to him until it was too late.

     When Cory lay beside him asleep, he realized that he had failed. He felt lost. He didn't kill the man, and he didn't want to. Grysher would never forgive him for this. He physically began to shake... his mind kept telling him that he could still fix it. Kill the man, take his head and Grysher would never know the difference. There was a small voice in his head that said it was too late and maybe that was a good thing. Just allowing the thought to surface made his stomach lurch.

     Cory awoke when Fox left the bed to rush into the bathroom. He waited until Fox returned and stopped him from dressing by standing up and putting a hand on his shoulder. "What's wrong?"

     "It wasn't supposed to happen this way. I was supposed to kill you and take your head." Fox stood there waiting for the man's reaction, embarrassed to realize he was crying.

     Cory decided to dwell on the most curious statement first. "Take my head? You're not immortal." He wondered how long it would be before that statement would no longer be true.

     "Grysher wanted you dead. You stole his property and I had to prove myself. But I just can't do it." He brushed a hand across his face, to wipe away a tear.

     "Why couldn't he just challenge me like a normal immortal?"

     "He said you didn't deserve a chance to defend yourself and that it was my responsibility to kill you. If I truly loved him."

     Cory winced. He pulled Fox back onto the bed and decided to comment on the bruises he had noticed earlier. "Does he do this to you every time you anger him?" He covered a bruise with his hand.

     Fox flinched. "When I need it."

     Cory had been abused often enough by his 'friends' -- usually for dragging them into his plans. He never enjoyed it, but it didn't bother him much either. He healed quickly. But it was irresponsible of Grysher to treat the young man this way. Fox was still mortal. He wouldn't heal within minutes, or even hours, until after his first death. A 'condition' that no one could tell Fox about until after the fact.

     "Has he asked you to kill for him before? To prove yourself?"

     Fox looked away. Cory gently pulled his head around to face him.

     "Usually it's to keep us safe. If I love him, I'll protect him from those that wish to harm us. But, he says that to kill -you- would prove my love." Fox unhappily stared off into space, refusing to look into Cory's eyes.

     Cory whistled. "I can understand you're killing for safety, but has he actually killed anyone for you?" He hoped he wasn't totally mangling his point by talking about murder and love as if they were related.

     Fox did look at him then. "He doesn't need to prove himself to me."

     "So, why should you?"

     Fox had asked himself the same thing just a few hours before. "He needs me to."

     "What's good enough for you should be good enough for him." Cory gently rubbed his new lover's arm.

     "He deserves better than me. I need to make him want me." Fox tried to make him understand.

     "I want you and you don't have to do anything more than smile."

     "You just want to put one over on the Professor."

     That annoyed Cory. "Fox, I couldn't care less about the Professor. You don't have to believe everything he tells you. You go to Oxford for God's sake. You're intelligent enough to think for yourself."

     Fox looked stricken and Cory was contrite immediately. "Baby, I wasn't kidding when I said you were beautiful. What has the Professor been telling you anyway?"

     Fox knew he was betraying Grysher by telling this man anything. The Professor would never want him now. Cory wouldn't stay and he would be alone again. But he found himself telling Cory anyway. "If others knew me the way he did, they would never accept me, much less love me. While he loves me in spite of it."

     Cory already realized this, and doubted it was the only thing Grysher had ever said, but it was obviously the part that stuck out in Fox's mind.

     //Damn, the problem with helping people with psychological abuse was the time it would take. Give me a good bank robbery any day.//

     If he was serious about helping Fox, he would have to stick around. He would also have to challenge Grysher. The Professor wouldn't just release this man willingly. //Was Fox worth it?// Then his seldom-heard conscience made an appearance. He normally ignored it, but he heard it this time. //You use the needy and less fortunate to excuse your criminal tendencies. How concerned are you, really, in the welfare of your fellow man?//

     Cory chafed at the very idea that he was insincere and decided to prove to himself that he wasn't a fake. He looked at Fox, willing him to believe. He had no idea what the right thing to say could be, but he had to try. "The man's a liar, babe. That's not love. It sounds to me more like he's using you, making you into something that -only- he could love. You're worth so much more than he's letting you believe. Nobody is perfect, yet people seem to fall in love with each other all the time. You just haven't had a chance."

     Fox suspected Cory was right. It was as if everything he had been thinking was now being voiced aloud by a virtual stranger. But there was no escape, not anymore. "Grysher would never let me leave, even if I got the courage to try. I think he might even try to kill me, rather than let me free."

     "He probably would. Listen, I've got a plan." Cory wondered vaguely why people seemed to get nervous whenever he said that. Fox didn't berate him though; instead he just waited to hear the idea.

     "I'm gonna challenge Grysher. We'll tell him you did try to kill me, but I got wise and prevented it. I'll call him a coward. That should get his attention." He grinned as he imagined the man's reaction to such a statement.

     "He'll have difficulty believing I failed." Fox wondered if he truly loved the Professor as much as he'd thought. After just a few hours spent with Cory, he realized that for awhile now he had been doubting everything he had believed for the past 3 years. The question now, he supposed, was whether he really 'needed' the Professor so desperately that he could continue to betray his own convictions? Did he really want to continue killing to prove his love? The longer he remained with Grysher, the more he felt his own self fading away, as he attempted to become what the Professor wanted him to be. But, could he allow Cory to try to kill the man, just because he wanted to get away?

     "You're just a child compared to me. He can't expect you to have the ability to kill me if I got wise to it."

     "He would know it wasn't true because he's spent the last 3 years training me to kill, with emphasis on pressure point blows. He knows I can easily execute them and be successful without being noticed." Fox began to get agitated as he realized the truth in his own statement. Until recently he had never allowed himself to believe the Professor could possibly have been training him for such a life all along. But the more he thought about it, without Grysher's overbearing presence to cloud his judgement, the clearer it was that the Professor had probably been planning this since the beginning.

     "So that's why he has you do the killing to protect the pair of you. But anyway, you won't have to worry about whether he'll believe it or not, because I won't lose." Cory made the assurance confidently and then he tried to grasp the idea of pressure point blows. "Does he study this pressure point thing?"

     Fox shook his head. "The Master wouldn't teach him because he's immortal, but he taught me because I'm not."

     Cory suspected something wasn't quite true in that statement, but doubted that Fox realized it. "I want you to remain here. You don't have to, but I think you'd be safer. He might decide to kill you before the fight, just in case he was to lose." Cory began planning for the coming morning with the same excitement he usually felt before a heist. He wouldn't allow Fox to be brought into the game so soon, not if he could help it. Fox had enough problems to deal with, he didn't need to worry about fighting for his life too.

     "Are you sure it's me you're worried about? Grysher's told me all about the Game. I know you immortals try to kill each other so you can be 'The One'. Are you sure you're not just using me to get his attention so you will have the chance to kill him?"

     "I don't buy into all that immortal stuff about the Game, and that 'There Can Be Only One' crap. I wouldn't be challenging him if not for you. I don't go around killing people for the sake of it. But if I don't kill him, will you be able to leave him? Will you even want to, once you go back to him? If you don't want me to challenge him, I won't." Cory wasn't going to do this against Fox's will. He wanted to help the man, but he wouldn't force him into anything.

     The idea that Cory would do this for him was unbelievable. He still held doubts that it was purely for him, but the idea of freedom was too appealing to quibble over semantics. Fox made his decision quickly. "He usually has me in the background to make sure he doesn't lose." He realized his actions hadn't been as honorable as he had always deluded himself into believing and he lowered his eyes.

     "Well this time you won't be there to 'assist' him. Without you, he'll have to fight clean."

     Fox's expression was bitter as he remembered the past few years from a different viewpoint. "There are some young men he's been working with lately. They aren't students at the University and I doubt he's teaching them philosophy. I wouldn't put it past him to call on them to take my place. I wouldn't trust him."

     "I won't. Now I want you to try to get some rest." Cory readjusted the pillows, and nodded at the space next to him as he lay back down. He didn't feel that now was the time to deal with Fox's feelings of betrayal. He would need a lot of time and encouragement to really get through this period. He wanted to deal with Grysher first.

     Fox obediently lay next to his new lover and was soon asleep. The doubts relegated to his dreams. Shortly before dawn he awoke screaming. It was a surprise because he hadn't dreamt of his sister's disappearance for over 2 years. Grysher had considered the memory a danger to Fox's well-being and had attempted to 'exorcise' it. He also considered it bad for his own health to have Fox wake him from a restful sleep, so he would punish Fox when he suffered from any type of nightmare.

     Cory's tone was soothing as he attempted to wake him. "Come on baby. Wake up now. It's just a dream."

     Finally Fox became aware of his surroundings and he apologized profusely, almost desperately.

     "Hey, we're all allowed our fears. It's okay now. You wanna talk about it?" He vaguely remembered hearing somewhere that it was good to talk about these types of things.

     So Fox told him about his sister, and her kidnapping. Cory didn't laugh or berate him the way Grysher did when he spoke of the light and her floating through the air.

     Instead, Cory nodded seriously. "I was kidnapped once, about 25 years ago. They didn't know I was immortal and thankfully they never found out. I remember the bright lights and floating through space too. But I always figured it was some sort of planted memory to make me -believe- I'd been abducted by aliens."

     "I'm not sure, maybe it is." Fox couldn't swear to anything. "I remembered through hypnotherapy and dreams. I can't be sure of anything. I used to have nightmares about it all the time, though."

     Cory didn't comment on that. Instead he focused on the statement Fox had made in the beginning. He had been watching his sister while their parents were out, and his father had been furious with him for letting her be taken. Now he understood why Fox had been so susceptible to Grysher's special brand of 'love'.

     "It wasn't your fault she was taken. You were just the scapegoat. Easy to blame because you'd be unable to defend yourself." He began to caress Fox's arm.

     Fox didn't argue or agree. Instead, he moved to snuggle in with Cory and after a moment of the silent comfort, he turned just a little and licked Cory's almost hairless chest.

     It was completely unexpected and Cory laughed. "Fox, you're beautiful." He moved to hug the now self-conscious man.

     Fox liked being called beautiful. Grysher had never been much for compliments. Since Grysher had never bothered much with foreplay either, he felt rather inexperienced. But he had been trained to do certain things and he had always learned quickly... so he did what Cory had done to him earlier that night.

     Fox lowered his head back and lightly bit at the nipple closest to him, his thumb rubbing the other. He figured he must be on the right track when Cory moaned beneath him. He licked a trail down Cory's belly to his cock.

     Meanwhile, Cory was drowning in sensation. The first time, he had been in control, with the impression that Fox was unfamiliar with real love-making. Now he wasn't so sure, but he was determined to let Fox go at his own speed.

     Fox took hold of Cory's erection, and brought the leaking head into his mouth, rolling his tongue around it.

     Cory gasped. //Oh God. Patience? Not likely!// Before he could voice anything, he felt that moist warmth entirely surrounding his cock.

     Fox had a hand on Cory's hip, holding him still. He began to use his mouth and tongue to steadily build the other man's need to a level he'd never personally reached. The soft, desperate moans and whimpers told him that Cory was close.

     Cory cried out as he came into the young man's throat. Fox sucked him dry and let the now limp cock drop from his mouth. He moved up until he was face to face with the panting man.

     Cory smiled weakly at him. "Thank-you, Fox." He reached out to pull the man in for a kiss, spreading his legs in obvious invitation. His other hand began stroking Fox's semi-erect cock and it began to harden immediately.

     Fox was surprised at the offer and broke off the kiss as he fumbled for the lube Cory had used earlier. //God, if you exist, don't let me mess this up.// He forced himself to banish away all thoughts of Grysher and slicked his fingers. He ran a hand over Cory's leg as he pushed in one finger, then two, preparing him the way Cory had done with him earlier. He found and stroked the man's prostate, hoping he was doing it correctly. His confidence grew when Cory began to move frantically beneath him, practically fucking himself on his fingers. Fox used another finger and Cory began begging him senselessly.

     "Come on Fox. I'm ready.... I need you, NOW!"

     He whimpered when Fox left him to prepare his cock and groaned with relief when he felt Fox return-- positioning himself above and guiding himself into his ass. Once inside the tight heat, Fox began to move at a slow, cautious pace.

     At the first touch against his prostate, Cory cried out. "Harder Fox. More already!" He rarely had lovers that took as much care in his pleasure as he did with theirs and he was beginning to understand their impatience.

     Fox obeyed as he took hold of Cory's erection. He thrust in harder and faster, pumping his lover's cock in time with his movements. He was close. He gripped Cory's shoulder tightly and drove into him almost brutally. He could feel his orgasm building. He squeezed and pulled on his lover's cock, drawing more frantic moans from him. Finally, unable to hold back any longer, he came with a shout. Cory followed soon after and stared sightlessly at Fox for a few moments before he fell into a deep satisfied slumber.

     Fox used a towel to clean them off and then he lay next to him, his head on Cory's chest. He fell into a dreamless sleep.

     An hour or two later Cory awoke. With a shiver of excitement, he remembered he was planning to challenge 'Professor' Grysher today. Even though he wasn't known for his fighting skills, he was no coward. He had taken some heads in his time, and with his profession it was necessary to stay in shape, so he wasn't too worried about the upcoming fight. He was only worried about Fox.

     Fox seemed to sense his wakefulness and was immediately alert.

     "Good morning." Cory sat up with a contented smile and leaned over and kissed his new lover.

     Fox returned the kiss and smiled back. "Good morning."

     "Today's Sunday, Fox. Sleep a little longer." Cory petted the light brown hair softly. Fox nodded and shut his eyes obediently, listening as Cory got out of bed to take a shower. While he lay there, he thought about what he would have to do. When Cory returned, freshly showered and shaved, it appeared Fox had indeed fallen asleep again. He gently shook the young man's shoulder and when Fox's eyes focused on him immediately, he wondered if it was normal for him to sleep so lightly. Fox had seemed surprised to be awakened by nightmares, even though he had apparently been plagued with them quite often.

     "I need to call Grysher and set up a meeting." He watched as Fox wrote down a number on the hotel stationary. "Are you going to stay here then?"

     "Probably." Fox nodded. There was no turning back now. He knew that Grysher would never forgive him for failing to kill Cory. After the revelations of the night before, he wasn't even sure he cared. Now he could only hope that Cory was as successful as he expected to be. The thought of being alone was intimidating, and he wondered if he was indeed prepared to start a new life without the man, but he was certainly willing to try.

     "It'll be all right." Cory got dressed. He unpacked his seldom-used sword and hid it beneath the jacket he wore. "When this is all settled, we can start to look for a more permanent residence." He checked his appearance in the mirror, before he walked to the phone.

     Fox nodded. "All right. What!?" He couldn't believe Cory was serious.

     "You still have to graduate, right? Unless you don't want me to stay." Cory was careful not to let his expression reveal any of his own inner doubts.

     Fox shook his head. "No, it's just that I thought you were leaving next week."

     "That was before I met you. I'll stay as long as you need me." Cory was determined to help the young man, no matter how it chafed to be tied down.

     "Thank-you." Fox went into the bathroom when Cory picked up the phone. He couldn't bear to listen as they discussed killing each other. Especially since they wouldn't be, if it weren't for him.

                                        Chapter

     Cory waited until Fox had stepped into the bathroom, before he dialed the number Fox had left on the bedside table.

     "Professor Grysher, I believe you and I have some business to settle." Cory smiled when he heard the intake of breath on the other end of the line.

     "Raines? Where's Fox?!"

     Cory had wondered how the man would react. "I killed him."

     "You bastard, you're lying." Grysher wished he were face to face with the other immortal so he could try to read his eyes. He hated the phone.

     "I'm not lying. What did you think I would do? He tried to kill me. If he hadn't hesitated before trying to take off my head, I'd be gone. I was only defending myself. He wasn't immortal yet, so where did he get the idea he should behead me?"

     Grysher didn't respond.

     "Only cowards need children to fight for them." Cory assumed a statement like this would force the man to defend his 'honor'.

     "What did you do to him?" Grysher decided to ignore the insult, more concerned with the fate of Fox at the moment.

     "I didn't take his head, if that's what you're asking. I buried him outside of town before dawn. That's where he'll stay, until some unfortunate immortal digs him up and revives him."

     Grysher was grinding his teeth. "You immoral filth..."

     "Would you like to discuss this in person?" Cory twirled the phone cord around his finger as he spoke.

     "Name a place." He'd prefer to get Fox out of his grave before he went to meet this challenge, but he had other 'pets'. He would use them.

     Cory nodded at Fox as he stepped out of the bathroom. "There's an abandoned warehouse just outside of town, a kilometer from your castle. Let's meet there in an hour."

     Upon disconnecting, Grysher immediately called up some young thugs he'd been training for just such an occasion. They knew and feared Fox. He had thought to train them to work together, but had changed his mind upon realizing Fox would never give up his morals. Fox could only be persuaded to kill under severe duress, while these boys didn't need much to set them off.

     Cory was careful which immortals he met. He didn't care if mortals killed him, but he wasn't so stupid as to normally tangle with a hunter of his own kind. And he hadn't survived for more that 700 years by trusting anyone to play by the rules. When Fox had suggested that Grysher would probably have someone else in the background in Fox's absence, it made perfect sense, so Cory arrived early.

     He waited in a corner, unseen by the young mortals as they arrived and found themselves places to hide. After they had settled down, he knocked them out and locked them in a room he'd seen earlier. When he had taken care of them all, he watched from a window for the arrival of the Professor.

     When Grysher arrived, Cory noticed a young man following at a discreet distance. He was able to sneak out of the building before the Professor could sense his presence and searched for the young mortal.

     Cory spotted the young man around the corner of the warehouse, kneeling beneath a window. The man never heard him approach. He tapped the young man on the shoulder and was about to knock him out as he turned around, but the fear in the man's eyes stopped him.

     He began to pat the mortal down."What are you doing here?" He found a notebook, a camera and some film, but no weapons.

     Then he noticed the tattoo on the man's left wrist. He'd seen the symbol before, but where? "This means what?" He pointed at it, curiously.

     The man's blue eyes were skittering from side to side. He was obviously terrified. Cory almost took pity on him and let him go, but then the kid spoke.

     The young man was shaking in fear as he pleaded for his life. "I.. I'm a Watcher. I won't interfere, I promise. Don't kill me, please."

     Cory tilted his head to the side. That was possible. Now he remembered where he'd seen the tattoo. In his earlier years as an immortal, when he'd been part of a band of men that robbed from the rich and gave to the poor, he'd encountered a man with the same symbol. He was pretty sure the man had seen him die once or twice, but had never commented on it. He had seemed to watch him a lot, but had never questioned him.

     //Watchers... hmm.. look but don't touch. It makes sense.//

     "I suggest that if I lose, you stop watching and get out of here." He released the trembling man and walked away.

     The man leaned against the wall in relief. Then he began to scribble into his notebook.

     Cory entered the building cautiously. He checked the room to make sure it was still locked and the men were still out cold, before he stepped into Grysher's range. Grysher had been watching the front entrance as he waited impatiently for Cory to arrive.

     Grysher turned as he sensed Cory's approach, standing with his sword at the ready. "Where did you bury the body?"

     Cory stopped a few yards away from the Professor and held his sword before him, prepared to fight. "Like I'm going to tell you."

     "Where is he?" Grysher was practically beside himself with anger.

     Cory ignored Grysher's demands and lunged at him.

     Grysher was a decent fighter, but not in shape. He depended too heavily on his 'mortal pets'. When Cory sliced open his arm, he called out for his 'students'.

     "Are you calling those children I found earlier? I don't think they're going to be much help. They're all a bit 'tied up' right now."

     This broke Grysher's concentration enough so that Cory could stab him. Moments later, Cory took his head.

     All the windows exploded as lightening flashed throughout the room and energy crackled in the air. Cory fell to his knees as the Quickening overtook him. The power of the Quickening surged through his veins, the memories of the Professor and his victims raced through his mind as Cory struggled not to lose consciousness. He was vaguely aware of the headless body floating in the air as he was pummeled with energy.

                                      Chapter

     Meanwhile, Fox drove up to the warehouse and parked the car a short distance from it. It had occurred to him that if Grysher simply disappeared as the others had, he would be reported missing. People would wonder if Fox didn't report it himself. This wouldn't be quickly pushed aside as an unsolved case. They would question people, and there were people that had seen him with Cory at the pub last night, people that knew he was 'with' the Professor. If they mentioned Cory, or decided Fox, himself, could have had something to do with it, there could be trouble. He wanted to make sure there was no way of proving that Cory was guilty of having killed the Professor. Of course that was assuming Cory would win the fight.

     If Grysher won the challenge, he would be trapped again. He would lie to the Professor and tell him Cory had tricked him and left him tied up at the hotel. He would swear that he had escaped in order to help him. Maybe he had read things wrong and the Professor hadn't planned everything, things could change. But he doubted that was the case, and; even as he despised himself for wanting the Professor dead, especially after all the time he had put into keeping him alive; he hoped Cory wouldn't lose.

     As he was sneaking around the building, he noticed a blonde-haired man watching the conflict from beneath a window. The man looked to be a few years younger than he was. "Who are you? What are you doing here?" Fox grabbed the man's arm and forced him to turn around and face him. "Did the Professor send you here, to make sure he won?" Personally, he doubted it. The kid's eyes were just too expressive.

     "My name is Charles." He struggled weakly as Fox pulled him towards the woods. "I was just walking. I saw two guys go in there with swords. I've never seen anyone fight with swords before." Charles glanced at the man nervously, praying Fox would accept his story.

     He knew how dangerous Fox could be. Grysher's regular Watcher had written entire reports on the lessons Fox had learned while in Grysher's castle. Learning to kill, to fight not only with weapons, but also his body. From what he had read, Fox could kill him with a handhold.

     "You've never seen a sword fight before? So, you decided to watch, instead of calling the police. What if someone dies? Then what?" His stomach lurched as he realized he would have to kill the young man. How else could he possibly hope to protect the secret of immortality? He knew the Professor's warnings of hysteria and witch hunts weren't too far off the mark. Those that didn't want to kill the immortals would want to study and dissect them. The life of this young man was not worth the decimation of an entire race.

     Charles sensed the sudden change in Fox's attitude, and realized his reply could determine his survival. He had already betrayed his oath to Cory, but Cory wouldn't come out alive. Not with the precautions the Professor always took. To betray himself to Fox could get him kicked out of the Organization. Maybe Fox would be interested in joining the Watchers? "Uh, keep my mouth shut?" He couldn't do more than croak out the words.

     Fox's eyes narrowed. "Why?"

     Charles decided he just wasn't meant to be in the field. He had been assigned to watch Cory for the day, without a trainer. Grysher's regular Watcher had been called away on a family emergency, so he was to record this one day on his own. He'd seen this as a perfect opportunity to prove he deserved the assignment permanently. Now he realized he was a coward. There was no way he had the courage to even try lying to this man. He just knew Fox would see through it and kill him on the spot.

     "Because, I... well, I watch. I don't interfere. It's against the oath."

     "What oath?" He pulled Charles further into the woods as the building began to tremble and the windows shattered. Lightening could be seen flashing inside the warehouse.

     Charles glanced back regretfully. This would have been his first Quickening and he was missing it. He recalled the question. "The Watcher Oath. I'm a Watcher."

     "A Watcher." Fox glared at him suspiciously. "What do you normally watch?"

     The woods were dark, and he didn't like how deep they were going in. He wondered if Fox was planning to kill him. "Immortals. We watch and record their lives, but we don't interfere with anything they do. That's the oath, 'no interference'."

     Fox stopped, still holding the young man's arm. "You watch immortals? Why?" He looked back toward the warehouse, wondering who had survived.

     Charles' reply brought him back to the subject at hand.

     "Because their lives are important. Someday all but one will be gone, and the only proof we will have that they existed will be the Chronicles we have on them." Charles really wanted Fox to understand. If he could just convince Fox to become a Watcher, everything might be all right. Being a Watcher meant keeping the secrets of the Watchers as well as the secrets of the immortals.

     "Chronicles? So you have a record of everything the Professor has ever done?"

     "Mostly. Everything heard or seen is recorded, but we do have to keep a certain distance." Charles breathed a sigh of relief when his arm was released. "The immortals must never know they're being watched. They would kill us, or use us to find other immortals. We're a secret organization, there are no immortals that are aware of our existence."

     Fox had no interest in becoming a Watcher, and it didn't occur to him to consider the idea. But, it was a revelation to learn that there were others out there that knew about immortality and accepted it. If what Charles said was true, he wouldn't have to worry about killing him. If it were true.

     The warehouse was silent and still again, and Fox began leading the other man back towards the building. "How do I know I can trust you?"

     Charles wasn't sure how he should respond to that. How could he prove himself? His sister, Mariah, insisted Fox wasn't cruel or violent; that the lessons he learned from the Professor didn't change who he was. "My sister, Mariah, she can vouch for me." He hoped he wasn't somehow endangering his sister with his words.

     "Mariah?" Fox couldn't help his surprise. "Mariah is a Watcher too?"

     "My family has been in the Watchers for 5 generations. We're all Watchers." Charles straightened his shoulders proudly. "She hasn't taken her oath yet, but is expected to by the end of the year."

     They were at the door now, and Fox hesitated to open it. He wasn't sure if the survivor would still be in the building. He cautiously opened the large metal door and peeked inside. He forced himself not to react as he recognized the Professor's headless body lying in the center of the floor. Relief and sadness waged for dominance as he stared at the remains of his lover of the last three years. There was no sign of Cory.

     "Come on in, Charles. It's as safe as it can be. The Professor didn't survive this challenge. Just be careful not to get your fingerprints on anything." He walked further into the building. He noticed some crates were still smoldering and the air was laced heavily with the distinct smell of burnt insulation.

     Charles poked his head through the door, curiosity winning over caution. Just as he'd never witnessed a Quickening before, he had never seen a headless corpse. He took one look at the body and immediately rushed outside to vomit. Until this moment, he had never perceived the immortals as being anything other then thrilling fantasies. Now he was faced with the reality. Immortals were flesh and blood. There was nothing glorious about it.

     He reentered the building to see Fox wandering towards the back, turning around a small corner. He hurried to catch up, almost slipping on a patch of oil. He vaguely heard someone yelling from inside a room and watched as Fox removed the stick keeping the door jammed and cautiously opened it.

     Inside, they saw the six young men Grysher had summoned. Fox was pleased that Cory had taken him seriously and taken care of them before they could cause problems. The young man that had been at the door calling for help took a step back as the door opened. Two others were groggily coming back to consciousness and the other three were still out cold. Fox glanced around, wondering what he would have to do to keep them quiet. He didn't have a lot of money and could hardly pay them off. Besides, bribes usually ended up becoming blackmail.

     "Wake up your friends." He watched without sympathy as the three conscious men struggled to their feet.

     They scrambled to do as he said. Their fear of Fox was real. The Professor had trained them and paid them to pull off jobs, but Fox was always there in the background and they kept quiet, never realizing Fox actually had not been fully aware of the intent of their training. Grysher had always warned them about keeping their mouths shut, because Fox would kill them if they betrayed him. They had seen what he could do, Grysher had made sure of that. When the others were awake, they stared at Fox like deer trapped in headlights.

     The young man that had been at the door when they'd entered glared at Fox angrily. "Now you get here! What happened out there? Where's the Professor?"

     "The Professor is dead, Danny." Fox wondered if they had seen Cory and how much they knew. "I was too late. What can you tell me about the person that killed him?"

     Danny glared at him. "The guy knocked us out before we even knew he was there. We never saw his face."

     "Are you telling me that not one of you saw him? What he looked like?" Fox couldn't believe his luck.

     They all shrugged, Danny even ended up staring at the floor nervously.

     One of the others gathered up his courage. "He was waiting for us. We were watching all the exits, and nobody came in. So he must have been inside before we got here." Danny and the others nodded their agreement.

     Fox doubted it could possibly be so easy. "I can't believe this. You have no idea who did this?" He wondered if their evident fear of him could be used to his advantage. "Get out of here. I don't want to see any of you again, unless you can tell me something useful about his killer." He waited to see how they would react.

     They rose to their feet, hastily grabbing onto each other for balance as the world spun. They quickly made for the door as Fox stepped out to let them by.

     But Danny held back as the others made for the exit. "I don't think so, Fox. How do we know it wasn't you that killed him? I saw you leave the pub last night with a really good-looking man. Maybe you decided to use this as an opportunity to kill the Professor yourself." His eyes glittered with malice. The others had run outside already, not waiting to see what Fox would say to that. Danny grabbed the sword from the floor and held it in front of him as he blocked the outer exit, staring at Fox intently.

     "You're talking stupid, Danny." Fox stepped around the body of the Professor carefully, approaching the dark-haired young man cautiously, wondering how to best get the sword away without getting hurt.

     "We have to get out of here." Charles nervously pointed at the flames visible in the area they had just left.

     "No, I think you may have done it. Or maybe, yeah, that makes sense; the guy you left the pub with, that's the guy the Professor had a grudge with. He probably killed him. Don't worry, Foxy, I'll keep quiet. For a price." Then he glanced over to see what Charles was talking about, but the fire didn't seem to bother him, even as it started to spread, getting closer.

     "You don't know what you're saying, Danny. Move away from the door and let's get out of here. We'll talk about it outside." Fox couldn't hold back a cough as he watched the fire eating the back walls, quickly approaching them. He could feel the fire as it crept closer, the heat as it warmed his back, and the fear was almost as suffocating as the smoke as he remembered the fire he'd been trapped in as a boy. He struggled to keep calm as the smoke began to thicken and he coughed harder. Charles had covered his face with his hands but was struggling for breath as the smoke stole his oxygen.

     Danny grinned happily, believing he had Fox trapped now. "Yes, I do. When we get back to town, I'll tell the police that you wanted to break it off with the Professor. He didn't want to let you go, so you decided to kill him. It was a crime of passion." He began coughing too, but kept the door shut with his body. Fox was determined to get by, but he stood his ground, waving the sword in front of him.

     Fox kicked him in the groin, just dodging the ineptly held blade as he pulled Danny away from the door, shoving him towards the Professor's corpse. He and Charles escaped the building, both stopping for a moment to take in deep gulps of fresh oxygen before running towards the car Fox had parked near the road.

     Charles wondered if he should write about this in either Grysher's or Cory's chronicle, since it didn't really involve the immortals. He cleared his throat, feeling hoarse. "Do you think that guy is going to be a problem? Or the others?" They jumped into the car at the same time.

     Fox coughed again, tasting the bitter flavor of smoke. "If they are, I'll take care of them. They just want money. I don't have a lot, but I'll find a way. If not, I may have to resort to other methods. Besides, the police are more likely to believe me than them." Fox pulled out onto the road and drove further into the country, not wanting to be seen on this road when the firetrucks and police were driving onto the scene.

     He was familiar with this area and turned onto another road, deciding against arriving at the castle with an unknown man, indicating he didn't expect Grysher to be there. Mrs. Keplar would find it suspicious indeed, since she knew the Professor didn't like him to bring anyone to the castle. He headed back into Oxford on a different route.

     "Um, maybe you should have an alibi, just in case?" Charles made the suggestion as they entered town.

     Fox glanced at him, curious. "What do you mean?"

     "Well, if those other guys are questioned and they put you under suspicion, then it would be better if you could be placed somewhere else, right?" Charles wondered why he was doing this. None of those guys knew who he was, so he wasn't in any danger. Why should he care that Fox be protected? "We could go to Mariah's and tell her what happened. She'll understand. If the police question you, she'll say you were at her place."

     Fox nodded, but then shook his head. "I have to go back to the hotel. Cory will be wondering where I am. I told him I'd stay there until he returned."

     "Can't you call him from Mariah's? He'll understand the need for an alibi. He knows all about 'em. Really Fox, it would be a good idea to have an established alibi." Charles wasn't sure what it was, but he could feel that something was wrong.

     Fox thought about it. It wasn't such a bad idea. But he hadn't told Cory where he would be and Cory might think he'd left. He should at least call and explain. "How do I get there?"


                                         Chapter

     Cory was just stepping out of the shower when he heard the phone ringing. Since nobody knew about his being here, he assumed it was Fox. He had expected to find Fox waiting for him here, but wasn't too surprised to find the young man had left. Fox didn't strike him as the type of man that would sit still and let things happen without trying to involve himself somehow.

     He answered the phone casually. "Yeah?"

     "Cory, it's Fox. I'm at Mariah's right now." Fox sounded as if he expected Cory to disapprove of his acting on his own. "Um, we were thinking it might be a good idea if I go back to the castle, maybe call the police to say the Professor is missing. It would be suspicious if I didn't. My relationship with him was pretty public-- regardless of how over-looked."

     Cory was uncomfortable with, but accepting of the young man's apparent need for his approval. "Good idea, Fox. I've got some business to get done today. But I can be there tonight if you'd like." He still wondered if he were up for this challenge. He was surprised to realize he wasn't even considering the idea of just leaving.

     Fox wasn't sure he wanted to see Cory so soon. The Professor had just died. He needed time to think things out and get things straight in his mind. "I think it might be better if you stayed away for awhile. I need to mourn for him, alone." Fox didn't want to shove Cory away, but he needed to think things out without the presence of a stronger personality to sway him.

     "Ok, sure." Cory wasn't sure why Fox didn't want him to be there. "Are you sure you'll be all right, alone?"

     "I've got Mariah here. And there's Mrs. Keplar, the housekeeper at the castle. I don't think she would approve of my bringing another man around, especially not so soon after the Professor's disappearance." Fox prayed Cory would be willing to let him be alone for a few days, without deciding to leave him for good.

     Cory accepted his concerns and realized the problems that could be caused to Fox's reputation were significant. "Could I call you tomorrow, just to make sure you're ok?" He wondered if Fox were actually trying to get him to disappear, now that Grysher was gone.

     "I.. I'd like that. Thank-you for not getting upset." Fox was relieved that Cory appeared willing to go slowly with him.

     Cory wanted to reassure the young man that he was in charge of making the decisions. "I won't get upset with you, babe. This is your life we're dealing with. You tell me how we continue." He waited a beat, before he made another offer. "If you'd like, I could take you out to eat on Friday" He mentally sorted through restaurants he was familiar with and finally named a small, but fashionable cafe.

     Fox wondered if 5 days would be enough time for him to sort things out, but he didn't want Cory to become too impatient with him. "That'll be fine. I'll see you at 8:00?" He sighed with relief when Cory promised to be there, and then disconnected the call.

     Grysher's Quickening flowed through Cory's veins, burning like alcohol to a wound, while the demented psyche warred for dominance within his own. Images flitted past, along with a torrent of raw emotion. He could feel the love the elder immortal had felt for Fox, even as it twisted into a helpless rage when it realized its loss. He hadn't considered the idea that Grysher had actually cared about the young man. He wondered how a sentiment like love could become so possessive and cruel when it had begun as a pure and sweet emotion. It was no wonder Fox was confused, he felt the same way as he tried to understand the multi-faceted soul while it assimilated into his 'being'.

     Cory shook off the confusion and called down for room service to order a good sized meal, since he had missed breakfast. He hadn't even thought of eating until he had mentioned dinner with Fox.

     He thought of Fox as he ate, and wondered how best to deal with Fox's insecurities when he saw him again. The first thing to do would be to build up Fox's self-confidence.

     ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

     Fox hung up the phone and was startled by Mariah's voice coming from across the room. "Would you like some tea, Mulder?"

     Fox nodded and watched her walk to the kitchen. He was unsure how to act with her now. It was a little unnerving to think that she knew more about his life with the Professor then he had ever suspected. She had always been disapproving of his relationship with the man, angry that he allowed himself to be abused, and now he had to wonder if it was also because the man was immortal. But then it occurred to him that she had nothing against his getting together with Cory the other night, and if she had indeed known about Cory too, then it probably was just all about the abuse. Until he had met her, he had never known what it was like to really feel cared for, not since he had lost his sister.

     He turned to Charles. "What did you tell her about today?"

     "I told her you found me outside the warehouse, while the Professor was fighting with Cory, and that I told you about the Watchers." Charles led him to the kitchenette where Mariah stood preparing mugs.

     She turned to Fox curiously. "Things must have gone well last night? From what I hear, Cory's never actually issued a challenge before."

     Fox looked at her suspiciously. "Where did you hear that?"

     "Our grandfather was his Watcher for almost 15 years. He used to tell us stories about him all the time. He called Cory the 'Robin Hood of the 1900's'. Cory would rob from the rich, at least those he considered to be rich, and he'd give the money to the poor, like orphanages and families in need. The man never issued a challenge during grandpa's days, and was more likely to disappear when he was challenged. Grandpa says he heard Cory say the Game was a waste of time." Mariah handed each of the men a mug of tea and then leaned against the sink while she drank from her own.

     Fox accepted the tea with a nod of thanks, before he cocked his head to the side and voiced another question. "Why do you believe he issued the challenge then?"

     Mariah shrugged, a little confused by his question. "Why would the Professor have challenged him? He broke up with you. I assumed Cory was defending you."

     Fox shook his head, embarrassed. "He was defending me. But I don't think he would have, if the Professor hadn't sent me to kill him in the first place."

     "What do you mean? Grysher sent *you* to kill him? You're not an immortal, are you?"

     Fox shook his head and he found himself explaining the previous events. How they had met Cory in the park and the history between the two and the plan that Grysher had come up with to punish Cory. He apologized for having lied to her. He blushed furiously as he told her about his night with Cory, not going into details, just telling her that things had gone a little further than he had intended and everything had suddenly changed.

     Mariah ignored his apologies for lying to her and instead focused on the actions of the Professor. "The Professor planned to have you take Cory's head? Have you ever done that for him before?"

     Fox shook his head and gave her a curious look. "I thought you were a Watcher. Wouldn't you already know that?"

     "I'm not a Watcher, per se. Just a member of a Watcher family. Besides, Watchers only know about the subject they're watching. The Chronicles aren't exactly for public consumption. The only reason I knew about Grysher was because I was going to University here, and a friend of the family, another Watcher, warned me to be cautious because he was a manipulative bastard." Mariah spat the word as she thought of what Fox may have done for the man. "Did he ever convince you to behead any other immortals?" She was determined to know exactly how far Grysher had pushed him.

     Fox shook his head as he stared into the dark tea. "He wouldn't have asked it of me if I hadn't angered him earlier yesterday by flirting with Cory."

     "You flirted with Cory in the park?" Mariah didn't believe it. "What did you do, speak politely and look him in the eyes when you met?"

     Fox shrugged and looked away. His eyes landed on the refrigerator and he stepped closer to look at a picture. "Who is this?" He pointed at the snapshot of the two children.

     "That's Charles and me when we were younger." Mariah wondered at the panicked look in his eyes.

     Fox stared in shock at the photo of a young Mariah. "Were you adopted?"

     "No." Mariah set a hand on his shoulder, concerned.

     "Are you sure?"

     "I'm positive. Why, what's the matter?"

     "My sister was taken when she was nine. You looked just like her, only she had long hair."

     "Oh man. I never knew." She took the picture from his hands and set it on the counter. She led him to back to her living room. "My parents went to a fertility clinic back in the States and I was the result. I was their miracle baby." She sat him on the couch and grabbed a photo album from her coffee table. "You see, these are all me and Charles." She sounded apologetic.

     Fox looked through the album numbly. He couldn't believe it. Here was someone that looked just like Samantha, yet it evidently wasn't. "If you were their miracle baby, then how did Charles come to be?" He nodded at the young man that stepped into the room carrying his cup of tea like a shield.

     "Charlie is my cousin. When his parents died in a car accident, my parents gained custody. He was only a few months old and we were raised as brother and sister." Mariah gave Charles an affectionate smile.

     Fox accepted that. He looked through the album, all the while wondering where his sister was and if she was still alive.

     "You say your sister was taken when she was nine, what do you mean, taken? Was she kidnapped, or did she die somehow?" Mariah was sympathetic but curious.

     "Nobody knows for sure. Our parents were at the neighbor's and I was supposed to be watching her. Suddenly there was a bright light and I don't remember much after that. When everything was over, she was gone. There were no ransom demands or anything." Fox decided against mentioning anything to them about seeing her floating through space.

     Mariah was unable to imagine losing her own adopted sibling. "How old were you when it happened?"

     "Twelve."

     "I'm sorry, Fox." Mariah wished she could do something. "Listen, why don't you stay for supper. I made a casserole, there should be plenty."

     Fox snapped back to the present at her invitation and realized he had to get back to the Professor's, or Mrs. Keplar would be suspicious. Grysher rarely approved of him staying away for very long, and the fact he'd been gone all night was already going to be a problem. Mariah might provide him with a more secure alibi, he hoped, but he couldn't act too suspicious either. He wasn't supposed to know about Grysher's demise.

     He shook his head. "I've got to get back to the castle or Mrs. Keplar will get concerned. I don't want to raise any suspicions. Can I call you tomorrow?" He stood up, nervously raking his hands through his hair.

     Mariah nodded. "Of course."

     "Thanks. Charles, it was an interesting meeting. I hope I didn't scare you too much earlier." He offered a hand and Charles shook it. Having seen a more human side to the other man, Charles was no longer afraid of Fox. He and Mariah saw Fox to his car, and they casually bid each other good-bye.

     "I'll come over after classes tomorrow. We can talk." Mariah made the offer as he was starting the vehicle.

     Fox nodded, relieved that she was willing to help him sort things out. He drove back to the castle wondering what he could possibly say to Mrs. Keplar about his whereabouts.