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Seconds by Tiramisu

Title: Seconds
Author: Tiramisu
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Webpage: http://pages.prodigy.net/trishmoran
Status: Complete
Pairing: M/K
Rating: R
Spoilers: all episodes up to and including Existence
Summary: What really happened during the eighth season!
Disclaimer: Supposedly most of these guys belong to CC and Co., but two of them were tired of all the abuse, so they ran away this season and came to live with me. In exchange for them, I'm willing to give CC my character, General McCarniss.
Notes: This is what really happened during the eighth season. CC and his cronies got all confused, but I didn't. So I fixed it for them.
More notes: By the way, the timeline may seem a bit condensed. CC shuns the Gregorian calendar for some reason, and I haven't yet discovered which one he's replaced it with.
Even more notes: About the car - I know nothing about car models and makes. I can barely tell a Camaro from a Jeep. I asked a couple of folks, including Kamio, but no one seems to agree on just what kind of car Alex is driving during the eighth season. So I made it a Lexus. Alex, Fox, Lexus, X-Files...X... well, you get the idea.
Thanks: My darling Kamio did the beta for me, and he's a devout 'shipper. But he's also sweet enough to tolerate my devotion to the great love between Fox Mulder and Alex Krycek, as long as I continue to love him more. Which I will, as long as he doesn't bring up "Existence" ever again.
Feedback: This epic is my first serious attempt at fanfic, so I'd love to know what y'all think about it. I'm at


Seconds
By Tiramisu

Part One:

"They dug him up."

Alex Krycek finished closing he laptop before looking up. The figure in the bedroom doorway waited patiently.

Finally, with an indifferent glance, Alex responded. "Who dug what up?" Not waiting for an answer, he turned to the map spread open on the bed in front of him and attempted to fold it one-handed, pinching the center crease and letting the large page fall in on itself, then repeating the process as two more creases aligned themselves.

In the doorway, the older man continued to wait until Alex, irritated, repeated himself. "Who dug what up, Smith?"

"The AD and his friends." That caught Alex's attention. He gave up on the map and turned his attention to the speaker. "They dug up the other Mulder. The clone."

Stunned, Alex could do nothing but stare. Jeremiah Smith crossed the room, sat on the edge of the bed, and gently took the map from Alex's hand. He began to re-fold it neatly along the original creases as Alex's brain broke apart this new information.

"Okay," Alex finally murmurred, more to himself than to Smith. "Mulder doesn't know, does he?"

"No."

"Do you think he can handle it?"

"Do you?" Smith countered. "You know him better than I do."

"Come on, Jem," Alex spoke impatiently, "Is he well enough yet? If we tell him, it won't send him over the edge or anything, will it?"

"I don't think so, no. But if he doesn't actually need to know yet, then it may be wiser not to speak of it to him. He may be strong enough to walk across a room now, but that's about it."

Alex thought a moment, then nodded with a sigh. "Alright. I'll see what I can find out. We won't say anything to him unless we have to."

Smith rose and handed the folded map back to Alex, who accepted it with a nod. "Thanks, Jem."

"You're welcome. Good night, Alex."

" 'Night." Alex tossed the map into the nightstand drawer as Smith turned to leave.

"Hey, Jem?"

From the doorway, Smith glanced back into the room.

Alex asked, "How did you find out? About them digging him up?"

"It was on the news." Smith answered, smiling slightly as Alex mouthed a soundless 'Oh, fuck'.

"Don't worry. Agent Mulder doesn't have a television in his room, and he's not strong enough yet to make it down that flight of stairs. He won't learn of it unless you or I tell him. Good night, Alex."

Alex nodded at the retreating form, sighed, and reached for his cell phone as Smith disappeared down the hallway. It looked like he was going to be traveling tomorrow.

**********

A heavy rain was pelting the window as Fox Mulder awoke. Early morning, he realized groggily. For several weeks it hadn't mattered to him what time it was, or what day. He'd been too exhausted to care and in too much pain. But Jeremiah Smith was tending to him, and he was just beginning to feel more normal.

He still couldn't remember much about how he'd gotten here. Images faded in and out along the edges of his consciousness, lights and darkness and screams and bright fiery pain. And fear, subsiding at times into a cold apprehension but never really leaving him. The knowledge - the certainty - that this, whatever this was, was what Scully had gone through once. And it had been his fault, somehow. He remembered screaming her name until his voice was raw, desperate with the need to tell her how sorry he was for it, for putting her through this, before he died. And he was sure he *would* die.

But then he was away from all of it - somehow taken from the dark place and the searing light and the awful pain. And he was riding along miles of highway, wrapped in something warm and familiar. And Krycek was driving.

Krycek.

It was Krycek who had told Mulder how to find something...

Mulder shook his head impatiently, then winced at the ache the motion caused. The headaches were much less severe now, though, and his teeth had stopped hurting altogether. He was even able to handle solid food again. Much better than those liquid supplements Smith had been straw-feeding him for a while.

The scars were healing, too. When he'd first seen them, Mulder had been badly shaken by the mass of red gashes across his torso. They'd been bandaged prior to that, and the first few times that Smith had changed the dressings, Mulder had been too weak to pay much attention. By the time he'd really noticed, the scars had already begun to heal. Still, he was shocked. His chest was covered in deep small wounds, dominated by a single long cut as though he'd been split down the middle. On first seeing it, Mulder had had an instant of recognition - of remembrance. But then the white terror had flashed through him, and the memory was gone again. The clinical side of his mind knew that this forgetfulness was self-protective, but it still frustrated him.

Footsteps and the aroma of coffee drew Mulder's attention toward the bedroom door, which was still always left just slightly ajar in case Mulder needed to call Smith for anything, though Mulder had been able to get at least as far as the bathroom without help for more than a week now. For a few days, Mulder had begun to close the door himself whenever he could. But Smith, ever solicitous, would check on him many times each day, and always left the door open partly open. So, for the time being, Mulder had given up the game. The door remained ajar.

This time, though, the footsteps did not approach the door. They, and the scent of the coffee, continued on past his room, down the hall toward the bathroom, and further past. Mulder had noticed the other day that there were two more doors down that way; his own room was the nearest to the staircase, but he assumed that the other doors belonged to two other bedrooms. From what little he had seen of the house, he didn't expect that either of the other rooms was likely to be much fancier than the one he was recuperating in - plain, clean, sparsely furnished, with bare hardwood floors. He couldn't see any of the downstairs from the top of the staircase, but he had checked the view from his window and seen the chimneys of a few other homes through the trees. He'd also seen the old pickup truck in the driveway, and the new Lexus. That in itself wasn't too surprising to Mulder. He thought he'd heard voices on more than one occasion since he'd been here, and while Smith denied it, Mulder had known that there was someone else in this house at times. And he had a strange suspicion that he knew who it was.

*********

Alex jammed his cell phone into his coat pocket, slung his overnight bag over his shoulder, and snatched up his empty coffee cup. He moved quickly and quietly up the hallway, resisting the urge to peek in on Fox as he passed that door. On the stairs he met up with Smith.

"Finally taking him some breakfast, huh?"

"Well," Smith pointed out calmly, "you ate everything I fixed earlier. If you were that hungry..."

Alex shrugged. "I was. Besides, I've got a busy day ahead of me. People to talk to, places to be…" Alex shrugged again, then added in a quieter tone, "Take care of him while I'm gone, Smith."

He moved to pass Smith, but was stopped by a hand on his arm - his prosthetic arm. He jerked his entire body away reflexively, grasping the banister as he did, nearly knocking the breakfast tray from Smith's other hand. "Damn it, Jem!" he hissed, " Don't do that!"

"Sorry." Smith *did* look contrite as he calmly used a napkin to mop up a bit of coffee that had sloshed over the side of the cup. His expression sobered, however, as he returned his gaze to Alex. "Are you going to talk to Agent Scully?"

Alex shook his head. "No, I don't think so. I need to scope out what's going on first. I may talk to Skinner, though. I'll know more after I talk to my contacts at Wiekamp. Why?"

"Call me before you talk to Scully. I may have some information soon. There's a chance that the doctor she's been seeing is not quite honorable."

"She's not *dating* him, Smith," Alex pointed out. "What is it you've heard?"

"There's a good chance that Dr. Parenti is one of them," Smith told him. "At least, the Zeus facility is definitely under suspicion at this time." His blue eyes caught Alex's green ones as his meaning struck home to the younger man.

"God, Jem." Alex leaned hard against the railing. "Why didn't you tell me this before?"

Smith glanced quickly up the stairs toward Mulder's room, then turned again toward Alex. "I don't know for sure, even now, that there's anything to worry about. I'll be receiving a phone call later today that should bring some news."

Nodding, Alex told him, "Okay. I'll call you after I get done at Wiekamp. We can figure something out then." He motioned with a jerk of his head toward the upstairs. "Take that coffee up to him before it gets cold. Not that he won't drink it that way, God knows," Alex added.

Smith continued up the stairs, his mask of serenity back in place. "Take an umbrella, Alex. It's raining," he advised quietly. If he heard Alex's muttered response, he showed no sign of it. But he waited until Alex let himself out before gently pushing open the door to Mulder's room.

**********

"Good morning, Agent Mulder," Smith smiled as he entered. "Do you feel up to a little breakfast?"

Mulder nodded absently. "Who were you talking to before?" He didn't really expect an acknowledgment of this, but even though the words had been muffled, he'd recognized the timbre of Alex Krycek's voice. He'd heard those tones too many times, and in too many circumstances, to be mistaken. Still, he wasn't surprised at Smith's placid answer.

"No one." Smith put the tray down on the nightstand beside Mulder's bed. As soon as he let go of it, Mulder took the little wicker tray and brought it to his lap. The scrambled eggs were a little bit runny for his taste, but he didn't care. He was famished. "I'm afraid the coffee may be a bit cold. Why don' t you start on your eggs and I'll go reheat it for you? I'll bring you a fresh napkin, too," he added.

Through a mouthful of eggs and soft bread, Mulder murmurred, "No. Stay, please." He swallowed and continued. "Talk to me."

When Smith looked reluctant, Mulder sighed. "About anything. I'm just bored. If you don't want to tell me about Krycek being here, fine. I'll pretend I don't know. Tell me about the Knicks or something."

"I don't know how the Knicks are doing, Agent Mulder. I'll try to find out for you, though." Smith smiled again and sat lightly on the edge of the bed. "Now that you're able to stay awake for more than a few minutes at a time, I suppose your recuperation is beginning to seem monotonous. Would you like me to bring you some books, or maybe a jigsaw puzzle? I think I saw a few around here somewhere."

Mulder nodded. "I'd love it." Jigsaw puzzles weren't the easiest thing in the world for him, especially in the poor light of this room, but at least it would kill some time. "I don't suppose there's a television around here?"

"There's a large one downstairs," Smith told him. "I don't think there are any on this floor, though."

At this, Mulder paused from shuffling eggs onto his fork with his bread. "You don't know, though? Isn't this your house?"

"No. It belongs to some people I know. They're letting me use it for a while."

"Do they know that *I'm* staying here, too?" Or Krycek? he wondered.

"No. But don't worry about that. They wouldn't mind."

Mulder swallowed some of the cold coffee and studied Smith. How much could he ask without driving the man into silence? "Look, Mr. Smith, I know that you've been taking care of me here -wherever 'here' is - and I don't want to seem ungrateful, but why am I here instead of in a hospital? And why won't you tell me what's happened?"

Smith began to rise, but Mulder's hand shot forward and stopped him. "Please. I've got to know."

Smith nodded somberly. "You *will* know. But for now, just get some rest." As Mulder opened his mouth to speak, Smith continued, "I'm really very glad that you're feeling stronger. But you've been through quite an ordeal, you know."

At the word 'ordeal', an instant of bright terror jolted Mulder. But before its source could be identified, the sensation was gone, leaving only a cool vague shadow inside Mulder.

Jeremiah Smith observed this calmly. "Give yourself another day or two, Agent Mulder, and we'll see how you're doing. I do promise you, you'll have your answers soon."

**********

Alex drove rapidly away from the base, his mind digesting what he had just learned. The General had been well aware of the exhumation, which didn't surprise Alex. But that resurrecting a clone had seemed to present the military with an opportunity...

"He'll make an ideal replacement, Mr. Krycek, if they can resuscitate him." General McCarniss had said. "The new Agent Mulder is already well-trained - "

" 'New Agent Mulder'?" Alex repeated. "And what about the old Agent Mulder - the real Agent Mulder? What happens if he's ever found alive?"

"I'm afraid he would not be re-accepted at the FBI anyway, should he ever turn up alive. Which is unlikely at this point. Unless you have additional information on his whereabouts?"

"No," Alex mumbled dejectedly. He'd given the General his best weary look, and continued, "I searched the entire Pacific Northwest, but nothing turned up. I even followed the FBI team out to Arizona..."

"And found no more than they did?" the General wondered. "Surely, there was something to be found there. AD Skinner is not the sort of man to spend the FBI's money on travel unnecessarily."

"AD Skinner apparently felt that alien spacecraft run on Amtrak schedules." Alex didn't have to pretend the bitterness in his voice when he spoke Skinner's name. "There was nothing to be found in that desert. Believe me - I looked."

And Alex *had* looked. And he had found Fox before the bounty hunter had shown up, and before the FBI had shown up. For four days, he'd kept a semi-conscious Fox hidden in an old mining shaft, sharing what little water he had. Until the FBI and the bounty hunter had cleared out of the area, and he could get Fox to the car he'd left miles away.

He'd gotten Fox to Smith's compound in Montana, driving day and night, frightened, terrified, that he'd be too late. Blaming himself for telling Fox about the spacecraft in the first place. Blaming himself further for not going along to keep an eye on him. He'd never forgive himself for that one if Fox didn't survive. And he'd never forgive Skinner either way.

It had been Smith who had noticed the additional scars - the small, deep one on Fox's left arm just below a patch of torn and discolored skin, and the peculiar burn mark behind the left ear. So Alex had posed a few questions, traded in on a few favors, and taken a few lives, and had learned about the military's cloning operation.

They still didn't know that it was Alex Krycek who had sacrificed their clone one Montana night in order to rescue Smith and Fox from discovery by the FBI. They couldn't possibly know that. Because Alex Krycek was still alive, sharing a small Pennsylvania farmhouse with his two rescuees.

And now his highly placed Wiekamp contact was just one more enemy. Only the General didn't know it yet.

**********

"Hi, Jem. How's Mulder?" Cell phone to his ear, Alex dropped down onto the dark leather sofa.

"Hello, Alex," Smith's cultured voice came through the telephone, and for a brief moment Alex remembered another gentleman he had worked with. "Agent Mulder is sleeping at the moment. He and I played cards earlier this afternoon, though."

Alex grinned. "Sounds like he's really finally getting better. Did he win?"

"He's not *that* much better." There was a rough grating sound; Smith must have dragged a chair across the floor. "Where are you, Alex?"

"Still in DC. I'm at the apartment. Figured I'd drop off this month's rent. Looks like his little FBI friends have been combing the place again."

"I take it you've made certain that this line is secure, and that the apartment is not wired?"

Alex nearly growled. "Don't insult me, Smith."

Smith chuckled. "Very well. I know you're careful. Incidentally, Agent Mulder has been asking about those little FBI friends, as you call them."

Alex swore. He knew that subject would come up, now that Fox was doing better. "What did you tell him?"

"Just what we agreed upon. That, for his own good, his whereabouts were currently not being revealed to anyone."

"Good." And not even a lie, Alex thought. "I don't expect he liked it too much."

"True."

Alex could picture Fox's frustration at Smith's cool, placid demeanor. If Alex had been the one to tell Fox that he couldn't see Scully, there would be puddles of Krycek's AB-positive all over the floor. But Smith had a way about him.

"What did you find out today, Alex?" Smith queried.

Alex propped both feet up on Fox's coffee table. "That the military is in favor of this whole thing. They figure that once *their* Mulder is out of the hospital, they've got a combination informant-bodyguard to put near Scully, at least until the baby is born. They were going to try to place someone else in that spot, anyway, but given Mulder's relationship to Scully and the FBI, they see this whole thing as a blessing in disguise."

"I don't wonder." Smith paused, and Alex gave him a moment to digest this information before prodding him on. Alex swallowed hard and closed his eyes as a dark premonition swept over him.

"Jem, what did you learn?"

Smith didn't answer right away.

"Smith?" he tried again, more harshly this time.

A sigh came through the phone line. "Dr. Parenti and his team think that they have succeeded where the other teams have failed. They believe that they've manipulated human DNA to a point that those who possess it can heal spontaneously from injuries and recover from illnesses with no after-effects. They've implanted embryos with manipulated DNA in six women so far."

"Just human DNA?" Alex wanted to know. "This sounds like..."

"It sounds like me, Alex? My informant tells me that the DNA being used at the Zeus facility is primarily human."

Alex shook his head, though the gesture was lost over the phone. "I've been in that lab, Smith. There are aliens in jars all over the place."

"Yes," Smith concurred, "but according to my source, the alien DNA is being used only as a blueprint. The goal, supposedly, is to make certain that this new breed can be developed with no dependence on any alien sources at all."

"I don't think I believe that," Alex said. "Some of the cases I've seen in there - those women did not give birth to human babies."

"True. But if you manipulate DNA the right way just a bit, the result won't necessarily look human. Manipulate it a bit more, and the result won't, by definition, be human." Smith heard the doubt in Alex's sigh. "I cannot promise you that my contact has all of her information correct. I can only tell you that as far as she is aware, this is the truth."

"You trust her?"

"Yes," Smith said simply.

"Okay, then." Alex shifted his feet from the coffee table to the arm of the sofa. "I'll keep it in mind. Do you have the names of the six women?"

"Yes. And one of them is Dana Scully."

Damn, Alex thought. Fox'll go nuts if he hears about this.

"Anything else?"

"Only that all six of the women live in the DC area, and all are due in late spring. My source claims that there are no risks to the health of the women, although none of them were told that there was anything unusual about the embryos."

"And the military is sponsoring this one, too?"

"Yes," Smith told him. "Although my informant clearly has no idea that the purpose of this has anything to do with fighting off an extraterrestrial invasion."

"What's she think those things in the jars are, toys?"

Smith remained silent. Alex moved over to the aquarium and turned the overhead light on. Peering in, he scratched at the glass for their attention.

"Okay," Alex sighed. "Well, maybe I can find out more later. After the little fishies and I have some supper, there's someone else I'll need to meet with."

"Military?"

"Not exactly. Guy's a liaison between the Pentagon and the CIA. Name's Knowle Rohrer."

                      

Part Two:

Light from the hallway was seeping through the crack in the slightly open door as Mulder awakened. Some instinct in him reached over, but the other side of the bed was empty. He cursed himself silently. It had been more than six years now since those few months Krycek had shared a bed with him - was he never going to stop reaching for the man?

He rolled over, noticed the dim nightlight burning in the hallway, and remembered where he was. Or rather, remembered what he knew about where he was - which, he reflected, wasn't much. Lying there, he tried yet again to recollect what had happened. He remembered traveling to Oregon with Scully to investigate a possible UFO-related incident. Remembered the kid, Billy Miles, who was now not a kid but a police deputy. Remembered some stupid scolding he got back at the bureau for going over budget. But that was *before* going to Oregon, wasn't it? Did he go back to DC after that, or was he in Oregon right before being in this house?

No. He was somewhere else in between. Possibly a lot of somewheres. If he could only piece together the fragments of memory...

If only he could stay awake long enough to reason his way through it...

**********

Rohrer had insisted that Alex meet him at the top of the Cladder Building, thirty-five stories over the District of Columbia, and he was already waiting on the roof when Alex arrived at seven-thirty. The rain that had swept through the region earlier had frozen in patches, and as Alex headed toward the edge where Rohrer stood, he thought about how easily either of them could end up no more than a large messy spot on the concrete below. So he waited several feet from the parapet, until Rohrer gave in and moved toward him.

"What do you want, Krycek?"

Alex went straight to the point. "Zeus - what's it mean to ya?"

Knowle Rohrer studied Krycek with an unpleasant grin. "Thinking about having a baby, Alex?" His eyes moved slowly from Krycek's face down to his shoes.

"Thinking about *never* having any, Knowle?"

Rohrer chuckled coolly. "Take it easy, boy. Zeus, huh? Place is trying to perfect human DNA. One of three facilities sponsored by the US government to do just that - but you already know that, don't you?"

Alex nodded. "Have they succeeded?"

"Maybe." Rohrer cast an interested glance at Alex. "Why?"

"Just answer the question, will you? As far as you know, have the doctors at that lab managed to create some kind of superior human?"

Rohrer shook his head slightly, but his eyes glittered brightly. "Not that I know of. But I think I'd better look into it, hmm?"

Alex didn't trust that gleam in Rohrer's eyes. He'd known the man for several years, but there was something not right about him tonight. Still, he'd proven himself a reliable source in the past...

"While you're at it, find out for me what's really being done with those alien-in-a-bottle things, or whatever the hell they are."

"Sure." Rohrer headed for the door into the building. "It's chilly out tonight. If there's nothing else you need, how about we get back down to sea level?" He pulled open the large metal door, let himself through, and held the door open for Krycek.

Alex shrugged. Damn idiot, he thought. It's not like *I* was the one who wanted to meet on a rooftop. "Fine," he agreed, taking the door from Rohrer and passing through. From habit, he took a moment to be certain that the door closed silently, and as he turned back around, he discovered that Rohrer was holding the elevator for him.

Well, it's after work hours, he reasoned. I don't suppose anyone would see us together. Anyway, he's the one whose job would suffer for it, not me.

So he stepped reluctantly into the elevator and leaned against the back wall. His eyes automatically glanced upward, checking for the trap-door. As long as there was an exit...

"Basement or lobby?" Rohrer asked.

"Basement," Alex told him. Lowering his eyes from the trapdoor, he caught Rohrer leaning forward to hit the B button.

And the breath all but fled his lungs as he noticed the bumps on the back of Rohrer's neck.

Oh, shit.

**********

Alex was doing ninety miles an hour on the I-83 North before he really became aware again of where he was. The car windows were wide open, in spite of the cold, and a light sleet was blowing in on him. The same lines spun repeatedly through his brain -

Rohrer was one of them. A replicant. Alien.

The elevator ride had been endless. Sheer will had kept Krycek still during the descent, the windowless metal walls closing in on him as he watched the countdown on the elevator register. Every floor they passed was a year, an eon.

Rohrer was one of them.

Thirty-five floors. Thirty-six, to the basement. Stay calm. Twenty flights to go. The elevator barely crawled. Could replicants turn into black oil? he wondered.

An alien. Rohrer wasn't human any more.

Five weeks of the taste of oil in his mouth. The stench of it in his nostrils. Five weeks of no escape from that dank, airless chamber. Of just him and an alien presence that could enter him, control him, without even a chance to fight it. Five weeks of hell.

And Rohrer was an alien now.

The little 'ding' of the elevator bell as the doors eased open was the sound of freedom made almost tangible. The crushing feeling in his lungs was almost unbearable. There was a cold, crawling sensation along his skin. But Alex, ever the well-trained soldier, fought the urge to flee and walked calmly through the doors behind Rohrer, nodded in response to the other man's good-night wave, and proceeded toward his car at a perfect leisurely pace. Not until Rohrer's minivan had disappeared out of the parking garage and onto the street did Alex's legs fold bonelessly under him.

**********

There was nothing wrong with the muffler on Smith's pickup, but the noise of the engine turning over was an outrage in the middle of the quiet country night. Mulder had just begun to drift off to sleep again when the sound shook the room. Intrigued, he worked his way to the window in time to see the red taillights turn right along a road Mulder couldn't make out in the darkness. Where was Smith going at this time of night?

The Lexus wasn't in sight, and the house had a palpable emptiness to it. This was a perfect opportunity to explore a bit, at least as far as his legs would carry him. But the empty hallway, even with the nightlight still burning, unsettled him. And for the first time in his adult life, he was genuinely afraid of being left alone.

Leaning against the wall, he stared at the crack of light defining the way to the hallway, and took a couple of deep breaths to steady himself. Then he moved with uncertain steps across the room and out into the corridor.

Okay, he told himself with some shame, that wasn't so hard now, was it? Now where to go?

A cool draught blew through the hallway and he shivered. The flannel pajamas he wore were warmer than anything he usually wore to bed, but he wished now that he had a bathrobe, as well. The muscles in his shoulders, already sore, tensed against the chill. He considered turning back, crawling into bed again, and escaping into sleep. But here was his chance to find out something about what was going on. He had to take it.

The door across the hall from him led to the bathroom. There were two other doors further along on this floor, one on either side of the corridor. The one next door to his own room would be the easier one to reach, so he moved along the wall until he could turn the doorknob.

***********

The Reading turnoff was racing past. Two hours now, Alex had been driving with no goal but to get away from the Cladder Building and Rohrer. His hand was no longer shaking. Still, the sudden chirrup of his cell phone jolted him badly. He interrupted the third ring.

"What?" he asked gruffly, willing his voice not to tremble.

"Alex?" Smith questioned softly. "What's wrong? You don't sound right."

"I'm fine, Jem. What's up?"

"Where are you?"

Good question, Alex thought. He glanced at the bright green highway sign up ahead, stunned to realize how far he'd driven without being aware of it. "I'm about twenty minutes from the house. Maybe less," he added, with a glance at the speedometer. Amazing that he didn't get pulled over by now. "Why?"

"I'm on the way to the new compound," Smith told him. "They've found two more..."

"You left Mulder alone?"

"Take it easy, Alex," Smith reassured him. "Mulder was sound asleep when I checked in on him. And he hasn't been trying to escape or anything..."

"They could go after him," Alex pointed out.

But Smith didn't agree. "The military don't know where he is. And if the others want to get to him - well, you and I wouldn't be able to stop them, anyway."

The hell I wouldn't, Alex thought. At least I'd die trying.

Aloud, he said, "Fine. I'll be at the house in a few minutes. You go take care of the other abductees. I'll take care of Mulder."

"Alex?" Smith queried gently. "You do realize, don't you, that their lives are just as valuable as Agent Mulder's. I can't pretend that one human life is worth more than another. And I have to begin the healing in them, before it's too late."

"Do you think they've been implanted? That they're potential replicants?" The very word sent a tiny cold panic through Alex; he shook it off with annoyance.

Smith answered, "I expect so. Most of the ones we've seen lately *have* been."

"Mulder wasn't," Alex reminded him.

"Mulder was vaccinated."

Something else he hates me for, Alex thought with a grimace.

To Smith, he merely said, "Okay, then. Do what you've got to do. I'll take care of Mulder. See ya tomorrow." Before Smith could respond, Alex ended the connection. Home was only a few miles away.

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

He knew the instant he turned the door handle that this was Alex's room. The faint scent of Alex's cologne, of Alex himself, leather and soap...

But it was the little spiral notebook that caught his eye as if it glowed, that made him certain that this was Alex's room. From the day he'd met Alex - Krycek, he corrected himself - the man had always kept those little pocket-notebooks handy. One at his desk at the bureau, one in the glove compartment of his car, eventually one under his pillow at Mulder's apartment. Always one in his jacket pocket.

He would jot down any odd bits of information - notes for work, plans for a weekend, names of books he wanted to read. Any little fact that struck him as interesting. And Krycek had always found the oddest things interesting, and had the strangest facts available at his fingertips. It was one of the first things Mulder had loved about him.

God, he missed him sometimes.

When Krycek had disappeared from his life, he had even remembered to take the notebook from under his pillow...

Mulder placed one hesitant foot into the room. It looked much like his own, really. A simple double bed with an old, but clean, quilt covering plain white sheets, the small painted dresser and matching nightstand, the wooden straightback chair by the window, all very much the same. But Mulder's room didn't have a laptop, and there was no flashlight on Mulder's nightstand. No knife on Mulder's bureau, either. Yep, this was definitely Krycek's room.

Across from the doorway, the window vibrated lightly in the wind, startling him. His heart slammed against his ribs.

Another tentative step into the bedroom.

And his legs shook beneath his weight. Throwing one arm out to the side, he found the wall, and let himself collapse against it.

Damn, he thought. How long was he going to feel so weak?

The room was small - it would take only a few steps to get him to the bed. Determined, he moved another step forward. He was too far from the wall now, and not quite close enough to the bed, and when his legs again gave out, he fell to his knees. Exhausted, he just sat there in the middle of the floor for a moment and drew several more breaths.

Well, no dust on the floor, Mulder noted with wry amusement. He tilted his head and peeked under the bed. Nope, not even a dust bunny. Well, what do you expect? The man could clean up a crime scene so thoroughly that Luminol wouldn't pick up the bloodstains. Always was a neat-freak, he thought.

Mulder pulled himself back up. He wanted to check out that notebook. With his lungs shuddering at effort, he made the additional two steps to the bed and fell forward onto it with relief. The pillow on this side smelled like Alex. Mulder pressed his face into it and inhaled deeply.

Damn, he was so *tired*.

He shouldn't give in to this, he knew. It was only the soporific effects of his illness, and the vague unease at being alone, that was making him sentimental. Alex Krycek was a mistake from his past, and a curse that haunted his present and future. He was *not* worth missing. He was a cold-blooded remorseless killer with no loyalties but to himself. And Mulder should have known that from the beginning.

He'd only known Krycek for a few days when he'd seen the young man take a life - that really should have given him a clue, he thought ruefully. Alex had been shaken up at the time, not for ending a human life, but for having been fooled by Augustus Cole in the first place. On the ride back to DC, Alex had admitted as much. By the next day, the young killer had been determined to be more careful, but he'd never shown the least concern over the death.

And Mulder, who used to consider himself skilled at deciphering people, had believed that Alex was only denying his own sense of guilt. Not until months later did he realize that Alex was incapable of any guilt. But by then, Mulder had lost his soul to the man. And six years later, he still hadn't found a way to claim it back.

So here he was, confused and sick and lonely and frightened of being alone in a big dark house, and still finding comfort in the scent of Alex's pillow. God, he was pathetic. Maybe he should just give up and die right now.

He started again as the purr of an engine approached. Not the pickup, obviously, he thought. The Lexus, then?

A minor panic struck Mulder, and he jumped up. The sudden movement started the room flying wildly around his head.

But he needed to escape this room before Krycek found him in here. Two steps forward, and he was close enough to the doorframe to grab it for support. He extended his hand forward…

*********

Alex pulled into the driveway with a soft screech of tires, killed the engine, and leapt over the porch railing in one fluid motion. Keys in hand, he let himself in to the house and paused, listening for any sound. Hearing nothing, he flicked on the stairwell light and ran for the upper level, taking the steps two at a time. Fox's door, usually only slightly ajar, was standing wide open. Alex froze.

Listening again, but still hearing nothing but wind, he tiptoed forward and peeked in to Fox's room. He wasn't there.

Alex automatically glanced over at the bathroom door, but it too stood wide open, and the light was off. He reached in to his coat pocket and withdrew a Glock, uncocked the safety, and began to move soundlessly down the hall. Next door to the bathroom, Smith's bedroom door was closed. But just beyond where he stood, Alex could see that the door to his own room also was open, a dark cavern in the wan light from the corridor. He continued toward it until he spotted the hand.

Fox lay face-down on the hard floor just inside the doorway.

And Alex's heart actually paused in its beating.

Until Fox moved.

Alex sucked in a great gulp of air as his pulse resumed its rhythm, and he dropped to his haunches beside Fox. Absently, he tossed a glance into his room; no one else was there, so he flipped on the overhead light.

Restoring the safety on his gun, he returned it to his jacket pocket and focused his attention back on his former lover. First he ran his hand over the man's skull, but there were no new lumps or wounds that he could find. He checked Fox's pulse, found it reasonably strong, if a bit too rapid, and gently turned the man over. Nodding to himself, he slipped his hand inside Fox's pajama top and spread his palm over the man's heart. It, too, seemed to be beating easily. He couldn't be sure whether Fox had passed out from exertion, or simply fallen asleep there. He removed his hand from Fox's chest and placed it against the man's forehead. No fever.

Well, may as well try to get him back to bed, he thought.

"Hey," he murmurred softly. "Wake up, sleepyhead."

Fox moaned, but didn't waken. Alex let his hand drift from Fox's forehead down his cheek.

"Come on, hon," he tried again. "This ain't no bed you're in." A deep breath escaped Fox, who turned his head sideways into the palm that still rested against his cheek. Alex swallowed, but didn't move his hand. From down the hall in Mulder's room, the chirp of his watch sounding the hour echoed back to them. Alex counted off the little bleets.

"Eleven o'clock, Mulder," he teased gently. "You planning to spend the rest of the night sleeping on the floor?"

It almost seemed as if Fox had nodded at the question. But Alex figured he must have been mistaken. Still, maybe he'd better explain this to him.

"You have to wake up, sweetheart," he told him gently. "It'd take me twenty minutes to carry you one-handed. And you probably wouldn't enjoy the experience, anyway. So come on, now. Please." He stroked Fox's face again, his thumb tracing the outline of the other man's jaw. Until he heard one word escape Fox's lips.

"Alex."

And Fox pressed his lips to Alex's palm in a quiet kiss.

Alex fell back, off his heels, into the bedroom door, and stared in awe at the other man.

He's still asleep, he reminded himself. He's just so exhausted that his mind can't even work right. When he opens his eyes, he won't even remember it. Or worse, he'll regret it. Don't let it mean anything to you, boy.

But it did.

Earlier tonight, the muted bell of an elevator reaching a basement had signaled safety, freedom, everything to Alex. He would've said then that that bell was the sweetest sound in the world.

He would have been wrong.

The sweetest sound was that soft moan of his own name on Fox Mulder's lips. Alex would've faced anything, even that elevator ride again, to hear that word once more in that tone. But now he could do nothing but stare.

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

It wasn't the first time Mulder had awakened to find himself lying on the floor. And it wasn't the first time he awoke to the sight of Alex Krycek watching him. But neither had happened in quite a while, and he couldn't recall them ever having both occurred at the same time.

The shrill chirp that had awakened him this time had apparently come from Krycek's cell phone. The younger man was sitting beside where Mulder lay, talking to someone he referred to as 'Jem'. The black coat he wore was damp on one side.

"No, I just got back a few minutes ago," Krycek was telling someone at the other end of the phone. His green eyes were on Mulder.

Mulder struggled to sit up but fell back dizzily. He breathed in and closed his eyes, preparing to try again. Before he could, though, he felt a hand touch his cheek. He opened his eyes. Krycek, phone to his ear, offered his good arm in support and Mulder silently accepted the help of his former lover to settle against the wall. Alex's eyes, as they met Mulder's, were solicitous and concerned, and Mulder had to look away.

Krycek continued into the phone, "Yeah, Mulder's fine. He was passed out on the floor of my room when I got here." For an instant anger shaded his voice, but it faded quickly at whatever was spoken to him from the other end of the phone line. "No, I guess he's okay now. But he shouldn't have been left alone, Jem."

Mulder leaned forward and hissed into Krycek's other ear, "I *don't* need a babysitter."

Krycek jerked away from him as if stung. He glanced quickly at Mulder, disconcerted, and then just as quickly turned back to the phone call. "How are the two new ones doing?"

Mulder didn't know who "the two new ones" were, or how Krycek wanted them to be doing, but clearly the response from the other side of the phone line was not good. The color drained rapidly from Alex's face, and he swallowed hard. Mulder tilted his head to catch Alex's eyes. Alex only shook his head and turned away from Mulder's questioning gaze.

Mulder leaned back and waited.

********

Alex wrapped up the call quickly and jammed the cell phone into his coat pocket. Fox was watching him, waiting for an explanation, but Alex merely returned the gaze wordlessly. Sorry, sweetheart, he thought. We're not talking about this tonight. I need to think first.

The new ones were fine, Smith had told him, but it was a close call. We almost didn't get them in time, he'd said.

And Alex remembered the replicants. And Rohrer.

He stood and shrugged out of his coat, tossed it on the bed, and turned back to Fox.

"Think you can make it back to your own room?" he asked.

Fox thought about it a minute, then answered honestly, "Not really, no."

"That's okay. You can take my room," Alex offered. "I'll take yours." He extended his hand to help the older man up. "C'mon, Mulder. You'll be more comfortable on the bed than on the floor."

Fox took his hand and allowed himself to be pulled easily off the floor. But once standing, he continued to hold on to Alex, studying his eyes with that intensity he so often gave things.

"What's going on around here, Krycek? Where is Jeremiah Smith?" Fox demanded in a low voice.

Krycek. Oh well, I knew it was too good to be true.

Alex gently drew his hand free from Fox's. "Smith is just down the road a way. At a compound that we set up there a couple of months ago."

Fox waited expectantly until Alex continued. "For abductees. Smith heals them."

A spark of interest lit Fox's hazel eyes. He leaned in closer to Alex. "Abductees? As in 'abducted by aliens' abductees?"

"Yeah, 'abducted by aliens'," Alex said, backing away. He took his coat from the bed and hung it in the closet. "What do you think he's got down there, a half-way house?"

"Where's he find them?" Fox wanted to know. He yawned, but his eyes still glittered.

Alex shrugged as he closed the closet door. "He's got people who work with him. They find them all over. Anyplace there's been a sighting, they go investigate. Sometimes they find someone. Sometimes they don't." He snatched up his laptop from the nightstand. "I guess it must be hard to tell whether a sighting is a pick-up or a drop-off."

He turned again to Fox, just as the older man tried to stifle another yawn. Alex shook his head softly and said in a more gentle voice, "Look. You're tired again. Lie down and get some rest." And with that, he nudged Fox lightly, and the older man dropped into a sitting position on the bed.

Fox mumbled sulkily. "That's all I ever do." But the bed felt, oh, so comfortable, and Fox swung his legs up onto it, as well.

"Right now, that's all you *can* do," Alex pointed out with a sympathetic grin. To his astonishment, Fox grinned back.

"But I do it well, don't I?"

"Better than anyone else I know," Alex told him, giving him a wink. He jerked his head to indicate the bed. "Off with you, now. If you need anything, give a shout, okay?"

**********

Mulder held down another yawn as Krycek headed out of the room, but as the younger man made a move to switch off the overhead light, Mulder felt his earlier uneasiness return. And he was loathe to let Krycek leave him alone.

He paused in the act of pulling the covers over himself and called softly.

"Alex?"

At the sound of the name, Krycek's hand froze midway toward the light switch. He glanced over his shoulder at Mulder, a peculiar shocked expression in his eyes.

"Yeah?"

"Are you going to work on your laptop for a while?"

Krycek nodded. "Why?"

"Would you stay in here?" The request was out of his mouth before he knew he was about to ask it.

Krycek looked even more stunned than before, and Mulder instantly regretted the question. There must be any number of reasons that Krycek would want to turn him down. And certainly he himself shouldn't want Krycek's company. The man had betrayed him too deeply. So why the instinct to reach out to him?

Krycek answered slowly, "I don't think that would be a good idea."

"Oh. Okay," Mulder shrugged. "No big deal." He let his head fall back on the pillow. "I'm pretty sleepy, anyway." He was, too. But still, as Krycek nodded and turned again to go, Mulder added, "Leave the light on?"

And this time, when Krycek returned his gaze to Mulder, there was a new concern in his eyes. He moved closer to the bed and looked down on the older man.

"Are you afraid?" he asked gently.

Mulder hesitated, then nodded. He should probably be too humiliated to admit this, he thought. To anybody else, he would be. But this wasn't anybody else. Alex Krycek could make him feel all kinds of things, but embarrassment wasn't among them. They'd shared too much for that.

Krycek moved around to the other side of the bed and kneeled gingerly on it. He leaned forward, his green eyes locking on Mulder's. "Alright," he murmurred. "I'll stay if you want."

And God, Mulder wanted to touch him just then, to connect with him and melt into him, to burrow into the concern and the comfort he saw in those dark, expressive eyes.

But he only nodded softly. "Thanks. It's silly, I know. I'll probably be asleep in two minutes, but..."

"It's okay. Just rest, I'll stay."

As Krycek shifted, settled back against the headboard, Mulder rolled over onto his stomach. He turned his head so that he could see the other man through one eye. For a moment, he was reminded of those nights six years earlier, when sleeping beside this man was a regular occurrence. But those nights were in the past, and Mulder felt their loss as keenly as if for the first time. He sighed, and slid his arms under the pillow as he breathed in its scent. Shame to have Krycek so close, and still have to rely on a pillow for comfort.

Krycek propped the laptop on his knees as he opened it up. The small sounds of the system coming to life were soothing to Mulder, and he closed his eyes wearily.

"I wish I wasn't so tired all the time," he mumbled into Krycek's pillow.

Krycek chuckled. "Don't worry. You're getting better. A couple of months ago you couldn't even recognize me or Smith, and now look at you. Holding conversations and everything. Another few weeks, you'll be strong enough to belt me in the mouth again."

Mulder opened one eye and looked askance at Krycek. "I don't want to hit you," he murmurred.

Krycek quirked an eyebrow. "Good," he said lightly. " 'Cause I don't want to be hit." He wrinkled his nose in a funny grin at Mulder, and Mulder couldn't help grinning back. The thought crossed his mind that he should say good-night now to Krycek, but he was so tired...

                        

Part Three:

"I blew it, Jem," Alex said, drumming his fingers on the tabletop. "I practically *handed* the Zeus lab over to them..."

Smith passed the coffeepot across the table to the younger man. He hadn't yet taken his windbreaker off, but he sat on one of the hard wooden kitchen chairs and faced Alex placidly.

"You don't know that, Alex. It's quite likely they were already aware of the experiments at Zeus."

Alex shook his head adamantly. "That Rohrer…replicant…thing." A chill ran through him, though he tried to contain himself. "That thing didn't know about Zeus. What kills me is that I *knew* he wasn't acting right. And still I pointed him right at that damn lab."

He ran his one hand through his short dark hair, and added in a mutter, "And I went there to get information from *him*."

"Let it go, Alex. You can't undo it, so we'll just move on with what we've got." Smith sipped his coffee calmly. "I'm not worried about the doctors at Zeus, anyway. The military will do what they can to protect their project."

Their project. Which, at the moment, included Scully. Alex glanced toward the archway into the living room, half expecting to see Fox coming down the stairs. Smith followed the gaze, a curious expression shading his eyes.

"You didn't tell him about Agent Scully, I assume?" he asked.

"Tell him what - that she's carrying a baby lab rat?" Alex shook his head. "No, I don't think we *can* tell him that, at least until we have some way to protect Scully. If we can't offer him that much..."

"We can't," Smith corrected him simply. "You said yourself, the military is placing clones around their subjects to guard them. That includes Agent Scully. If they plan to perform tests on their subjects, they quite likely are already in a perfect position to do so."

"Their fake Mulder is still unconscious in the hospital," Alex reminded him. "I haven't administered the stuff they gave me to save him."

"You will, though," Smith told him. "Today, when you go back to DC. You must. Besides," he added, "there's no guarantee that they haven't already placed other clones in positions to watch everything. They do intend to go on with these experiments, Alex. You need to maintain their trust. We need that line of information."

Alex said nothing. He was well aware that if he didn't get that vaccine into the Mulder clone, McCarniss would simply have someone else do it. And that would be the last time Alex could count on McCarniss for anything.

But he refused to believe that there was no way to protect Scully and that baby she was carrying. If he could keep them safe, maybe Fox could forgive him for the rest of it. For everything that had happened, and for what still could happen. Believing in a future with Fox was all that kept Alex Krycek fighting.

God, it had felt so good last night, just being near him.

When he had first smuggled Fox and Smith out of Montana, Alex had taken on much of Fox's caretaking. He couldn't do the actual healing, of course, but he had done what he could. He sat with Fox, tried to get liquids into him, cleaned up after him, gave him sponge-baths. He changed linens and pajamas. And when Smith gave the word, he helped walk Fox around the room to improve his circulation. But Fox had been only semi-conscious during those long weeks, and he had shown no signs of recognition toward either Alex or Smith. Once he had begun to, Alex had faded into the background. Smith never asked why, but Alex was pretty sure he knew.

And last night, Fox had known who Alex was, and had talked to him, and had even turned to him for comfort from his fears. It probably wouldn't last, Alex knew. But it had been nice.

So if there was a way to protect Scully, for Fox's sake, Alex would have to find it.

He looked again at Smith. "What if we hide Scully here…?"

"It wouldn't work," Smith told him sadly. "The military only has a half-dozen of these embryos successfully implanted. They won't just allow one to go missing. And if they trace the child to this house-"

Alex paled visibly as the realization hit him. "They find Mulder," he finished. "And kill him to protect their clone."

Not an option, then, Alex thought. Whatever else might happen, keeping Fox alive was his first priority.

Smith stood and took his coffee cup to the sink. Alex watched, his mind racing. When Smith returned to the table, Alex continued quietly, "And now that I've tipped off Rohrer about Zeus, the *replicants* will be after the babies, too. Only, it'll be to kill them."

Smith nodded somberly.

"So those women are in danger now from both sides." Alex pushed his coffee away, nauseous.

Smith nodded again.

"And they'll stay in danger as long as they're carrying those babies," Alex reasoned. "And what about after they give birth?"

"The women become totally expendable to the military, at best." Smith explained. Alex nodded bleakly. "If they get in the way of the tests, they become a threat to be removed. Assuming the military doesn't want to experiment on them, along with the children. We have only your contact's word for that. Do you trust him?" Smith asked.

Alex shook his head emphatically.

"So the women may actually be subjected to further tests, even after they give birth," Smith continued. "And of course, the replicants wouldn't hesitate to kill them, under any circumstances. Though *their* real goal will be to eliminate the children."

"So the only way those women might be safe," Alex concluded bleakly, "is if..." "Is if they were not going to have those babies," Smith finished for him. He looked no happier at the thought than Alex himself was.

Oh God, Fox. You'll never forgive me for this one.

*********

Twice during the night, Mulder had awakened. The first time, Alex had still been awake, working feverishly at something on that laptop of his, the fingers of his right hand applying soft rapid keystrokes while the artificial left arm held the small computer steady against his propped-up knees. Mulder had opened one sleepy eye and seen Alex glance away from the green computer screen to smile at him, and had fallen contentedly back to sleep.

The second time, Mulder awakened to a darkened room. Alex had turned off the overhead light, but the hallway door was open, and the dim cast of the nightlight had provided a hint of illumination to the room. And Alex was gone.

Mulder lay listening to the silence until sleep again overtook him.

*********

Alex wondered sometimes whether it was determination or just plain insanity that made him face things that terrified him. But riding up and down in that elevator, waiting for Skinner to show, had pretty nearly drained him. And by the time Skinner had shown, Alex knew that the proposal he had in mind would have to be made elsewhere. He simply couldn't do one more ride.

So instead, he had led Skinner down the familiar dark basement corridor, and into the office of the X-Files.

"Word on the street is he's back from the dead. He's a regular Houdini." Sitting in Fox's chair, Alex pulled open desk drawers casually, and discovered Fox's old nameplate, discarded and dusty. A surge of resentment flooded him. God, this was going to be tough. He sure wasn't going to give anything away to the man in front of him, though. He tossed the nameplate lightly onto the desk.

"Tell me what you want," Skinner demanded. Alex was unimpressed.

"What I want," Alex told him mildly, "is to give you the chance to save Mulder's life." When Skinner only glared, Alex asked innocently, "You don't believe me?"

"No, I don't."

Alex scowled. He didn't like or trust this man. For too many years, Walter Skinner had taken orders from anyone with the right credentials, without asking why. The man could be controlled entirely too easily. But he cared deeply about both Scully and Mulder, and at the moment, that might make him useful. If Alex could manipulate him just right.

He leaned slightly forward in the chair, playing his one hand over the electronic controller. "I can push a little button," he explained simply, "and send thousands of nanobots lying dormant in your bloodstream sizzling to your brain stem. And all I want to do with that power is save a man's life."

A brief flicker of interest lit Skinner's eye, but it faded almost instantly. "I don't think his life can be saved."

Well, what did you dig him up for, then? Alex wanted to ask.

But he had to play this right. Too much was at stake. He took his hand from the controller, but kept it near him on the desk as he spun out the offer.

"I have a vial that contains a vaccine," he began. "Mulder knows of it. His father developed it to fight the alien virus." He observed Skinner's reaction carefully, but if the man knew the truth about the vaccines, he certainly was a hell of an actor.

"There's no vaccine that can help the man I found in that grave."

The resignation in Skinner's voice troubled Alex. He had to make Skinner believe there was a way to save the man in that hospital. The nanobots alone weren't going to be enough of a bargaining chip this time. Skinner wouldn't put Scully through hell for his own sake, but he just might do it to save the life of Fox Mulder. But why was the man acting so disinterested?

"You found him," Alex started, fighting his frustration, "and you don't even know what you've got."

Skinner gave Alex a brief glance, but didn't respond. Instead, he turned as if to leave.

Damn. Alex eyed the AD with suspicion. He hadn't really expected him to take the bait right away, but... With surprisingly speed, Skinner spun around and made a grab for the controller still sitting on the desk.

Alex was there first.

Grinning maliciously, he leaned across the desk toward Skinner, near enough to see the panic in Skinner's eyes. I could almost respect you for that one, old man, he thought. Not that you'll ever know it.

Moving in close to him, he warned the AD, "Push of a button, Walter." Picking up the controller, he strode casually out of the room.

Oh, yeah. He just might take the bait after all.

**********

Staring at himself in the bathroom mirror no longer shocked him, but the gaunt, sallow face wasn't quite enough to inspire confidence. Still, Mulder had made the walk from Krycek's bedroom diagonally down the corridor to the bathroom unassisted, a fact of which he was inordinately proud. When Smith had brought him his breakfast, he hadn't seemed surprised to find the agent in Krycek's room. But Mulder had been profoundly uncomfortable; he had no idea what, if anything, Krycek had told the older gentleman to explain the fact that Mulder had spent the night in Krycek's bed.

In Krycek's bed.

The very phrase, echoing through his mind, was enough to stir the same old need that his dark-haired demon always roused in him.

God, Mulder, he thought as he stared into the dull hazel eyes reflected back at him. Your father must be spinning wildly in his grave. It's not enough that you let his killer walk free - do you have to *want* him so much?

And what about Scully? And Skinner? Their lives suffered because of Krycek. They were Mulder's friends. His loyalty should be to them. He hadn't seen them in months - he should be missing *them*, not the one who hurt them. Not the one blackmailed them, who betrayed them, who threatened their safety and their lives. And not the one who lied so easily - who had again last night said he'd stay, but hadn't.

Mulder leaned his hands heavily on the bathroom sink, still staring at himself in the mirror. If he could just keep remembering all the wrongs Krycek had committed, maybe he could get over this. Maybe he could quell the desire he felt for him. Maybe he could forget the need the man's scent stirred in him.

But he didn't think he'd ever forget the look he'd seen last night in those perfect green eyes when Alex Krycek said, "I'll stay if you want." Or the way he felt when he woke up alone.

**********

The hospital room was surprisingly dark, even with the glow from all of the monitors, but Alex saw no reason to put on a light. He wouldn't be in here for long.

Listening first to be sure no one was approaching the room, he moved soundlessly toward the bed. He'd seen this clone only once before, and it had been dead then. But it had been only recently killed when Alex had dumped it in that field. Now, it was suffering signs of mild decomposition - amazing, really, that it was recognizable at all, especially since the body had never been embalmed, according to McCarniss.

He knew that the military had kept an eye on all of the funeral arrangements, that General McCarniss himself had arranged for the so-called "autopsy" and funeral tasks to be done by someone less emotionally involved than Scully. To spare her, he'd said. Presumably they were just being careful - at the time, they'd had no reason to suspect that the body in question was their own clone, and not the real Fox. McCarniss had been furious upon finding that out, but even now he had no suspicion that Alex had been the one to sacrifice the clone and leave it out in the Montana farmland.

But once Scully and the others had pinpointed the Hoese woman in Montana, Alex didn't see much of a choice. He knew that Fox's location at Smith's compound would be discovered eventually, and he had to get the two of them out of the area. He hadn't particularly wanted to have the clone killed - it might have been useful later -but it was hardly as valuable to him as the genuine article. So he hadn't hesitated to call in a favor and have the clone's lifeless body delivered to him in Montana.

Well, McCarniss sees his chance to have this clone reincarnated, and I suppose I owe him that much, Alex thought. He ran his fingers over the clone's throat, pressing until he located the butterfly shape that verified the location of the thyroid. Once he determined the ideal spot, he took out the syringe McCarniss had given him, ripped the rubber cover off of it with his teeth, prepped it to remove the excess air from the top, and injected the pale fluid into the clone. Even with only the one hand, the whole process only took a matter of seconds.

Alex checked for changes on the monitors, but there didn't seem to be any. From what he understood, all of the equipment and tubes and IV drips were irrelevant to the health of the clone once the injection had been given. The machines continued with their harmless little beeps, and Alex turned away from them.

He gave the clone another quick glance. Scary, really, how much it looked like Fox. It shouldn't. Fox was more than an assortment of genes and chromosomes. Alex would have sworn he'd know the real Fox from a fake, no matter what. But looking at this thing on the bed, he realized how possible it was to be fooled. He'd have to be careful.

A footfall in the corridor caught his attention, and he dove silently behind the room's large door. The familiar silhouette of Walter Skinner appeared. Krycek paused, then stepped out of the protection of the shadows. Skinner turned, startled, and Krycek gazed at him placidly.

"It's hard to believe, isn't it... that Mulder could ever possibly get out of that bed?"

Skinner threw a quick glance in the clone's direction, then looked back in desperation to Alex. "I need the vaccine, Alex."

Oh, so now I'm Alex, am I? Well, maybe we can get somewhere now.

"Yeah," he agreed. "Time is wasting."

"What do I have to do?" Skinner wanted to know.

Alex took another small step forward. "Oh, it's simple, really. Make sure Scully doesn't come to term."

Skinner stared at him in shock. Alex merely watched him, keeping his face a mask of unconcern. He was afraid he knew what Skinner's answer would be, but he had to try. Scully would never abort that baby based on anything he told her himself - not even Fox's life would come before the baby's. But there was a chance that Skinner could come up with something that might convince her.

So he hoped, but he wasn't surprised by Skinner's answer. "You're out of your mind."

"She can't have that baby." For a moment, Alex thought about telling Skinner the truth - that the baby Scully carried was not a miracle, but a feat of genetic engineering. That it was a test subject and a prototype. And that after it was born, it would be subjected to further testing, and its mother would be deemed expendable if she tried to prevent it.

And that it was a threat to the aliens, who wouldn't hesitate to remove it along with Scully.

But Skinner was looking at him as if he were the worst kind of monster. "No," he told him, appalled. "The answer is no."

Alex moved another step closer to Skinner and the exit. No, he thought. Skinner just couldn't be trusted with that much information. Besides, he wouldn't believe Alex Krycek, anyway. If Skinner was going to persuade Scully to give up the baby, it would have to be to save a life already born. A life that mattered to him, and to Scully.

Take it slow, he told himself. Give him a chance. Maybe he'll think on it and change his mind.

"We all have a life in our hands," he told the man coolly. "I have yours... you have Mulder's... and Scully has her unborn child's. Let's see who's willing to sacrifice."

Skinner only stared in mute horror, so Alex let it go for the moment and strode out of the room. He had maybe forty-eight hours before the clone showed signs of improvement, no matter what anyone did to him now. That gave him two days for Skinner to change his mind and offer a trade. He doubted it would take that long, though. Either Skinner would jump soon, or not at all.

Alex strolled casually through the double doors at the end of the hospital corridor, turned left, and with easy confidence, turned the handle of the heavy white door marked "Staff Only". Scanning the shelves until he spotted the collection of empty medication vials, he helped himself to a handful and calmly let himself back out into the corridor.

He was sitting in his Lexus in the hospital garage, watching Skinner's car and sipping what was left of a bottle of cranberry juice, when he saw Scully's new partner in his side-view mirror.

Damn. So much for plan A.

He gave his ignition key a vicious twist and gunned the engine angrily.

**********

Smith had found a chess set in the linen closet downstairs, much to Mulder's delight, and they were playing their third match when the Lexus pulled into the driveway. Mulder had returned to his own room earlier in the afternoon, and from where they both sat, they could see Krycek's dark form moving soundlessly up the stairs.

When he reached the landing, he peeked into the room, then entered softly. Shedding the jacket he was wearing, he crouched beside the bed and eyeballed the chessboard. "Who's winning?"

Smith was winning, but he merely smiled at Krycek and said, "There's some leftover spaghetti if you're hungry."

Krycek shook his head, returning the smile crookedly. "I ate with the fishies," he said with a wink at Smith.

Mulder didn't understand the reference, but he noticed the wink. He didn't like it. He'd wondered before just how close Krycek and Smith might be. But even with Smith sitting right there, Krycek turned to Mulder, and the expression in those green eyes was undeniable.

"How are you feeling today?" He brought his good hand to Mulder's forehead, as if checking for a fever they both knew was not there.

Mulder drew back coolly, silently.

He had noticed the new bruise on Krycek's face immediately. His fingers itched to touch it, to trace the raw red line across his lower lip, and stroke the discolored flesh over the left side of the jaw. Instead he turned to the chess pieces.

"Mulder?" Krycek, still sitting back on his heels, peered up into Mulder's solemn face, concerned. "Everything alright?"

Mulder scowled into the green gaze. "Who hit you?" he asked quietly.

Krycek smirked at him good-naturedly. "Some guy. Name's Doggett, I think. Ever meet him?"

"No." Mulder studied Krycek, puzzled. "Should I have?"

Krycek shrugged and glanced briefly at Smith, then back at Mulder. "Guy's an agent."

"At the bureau?"

"Yeah." Krycek's head bobbed up and down. "You know him?"

Mulder shook his head. "Why did he hit you?"

"Don't know," Krycek shrugged again. "I was just sitting in my car, minding my own business, and he shows up, weapon drawn and everything."

Smith listened thoughtfully. Mulder frowned.

Krycek continued, "So I started up the car, figuring I'd better get out of there, and this nutcase leaps right through the car window and starts pounding on my face and trying to grab the steering wheel and all."

"Why?" Mulder asked him. "What did he want from you?"

"I don't know." Krycek insisted. "I never even met the guy before. He just began pounding on me for no reason."

Mulder, unamused, merely raised an eyebrow. At the other end of the bed, Smith duplicated the action.

"Well, why would someone just start 'pounding' on you for no reason?" Mulder wanted to know.

Krycek sighed. "Happens to me all the time, Mulder."

If Krycek meant anything by that, he certainly gave no indication of it. But Mulder felt his cheeks flush slightly.

"So how do you know the guy's name, if you've never met him?"

"I said I never *met* him," Krycek clarified simply. "I didn't say I never heard of him." He threw another curious glance at Smith, who gave the slightest shrug but said nothing. Turning back to Mulder, he added almost petulantly, "I'm not lying."

"You must have done something, Krycek. He wouldn't have hit you without a reason."

Krycek rose. "You don't even know this guy, but you'll take his side over mine, huh?" He glared at Mulder for a moment, but Mulder knew too well how to read the real emotion in those eyes. He'd hurt Krycek.

He turned back to the chessboard dismissively, saying, "I don't have to know him, Krycek. I know *you*."

The silence in the room took on a new tone. Across from Mulder, Jeremiah Smith fingered a white bishop absently; Mulder could feel the older man's eyes on him, questioning. But Mulder didn't return the gaze, didn't glance up at all from the chess game.

It was Krycek who finally spoke again. "I guess you do, Mulder," he said quietly. "You sure know where to put the knife, anyway." He turned, the jacket in his hand swinging into the nightstand with a heavy thump. The gun in his pocket, Mulder assumed.

Mulder looked up in time to see Krycek's dark form walking away. Tight jeans and hiking boots. It would have been a nice view, he thought wryly, if only it weren't so typical. Krycek was always leaving him. Never mind that Mulder himself so often gave Krycek good reason to go.

Knife, hell. Damned thing was a double-edged sword.

**********

Alex stared out into the night long after Smith's pick-up had disappeared in the direction of the compound. He was disappointed, though not really surprised, that Skinner hadn't taken him up on his offer for the vaccine. Not that it would have been the real thing, of course - Alex wasn't about to risk that - but it would have saved a lot of trouble if Skinner had somehow been able to find a way to convince Scully to end this pregnancy.

So now it fell to Alex to come up with some other way to protect Scully. And he had no idea if that was even possible.

Overhead, a floorboard creaked. Fox must be getting out of bed. Alex listened, heard the slow progress of footsteps from the bedroom to the bathroom, heard the bathroom door close with a click. The hallway and stairwell were lit, and Alex had left the bright overhead light on in the kitchen, but the living room, where he stood at the window, was in darkness. An old habit, making it easier to see out into the night, but more difficult to be seen. Alex had long ago learned to rely on the darkness for protection.

But now, as he looked out, his eyes panning the sky for unusual lights, Alex thought about the replicants. Smith's people found abductees in all sorts of places. Some had been found not too far from this little house, in fact. And the ones that weren't found in time evolved into the replicants. Like Rohrer.

Alex shook off the terror that crawled across his shoulders, and peered out again at the night.

"Alex?"

Alex's breath caught in his throat, even as he identified the so-familiar voice. He turned toward the archway into the hall and another shiver creeped along his skin. Fox stood precariously at the top of the stairs, one hand on the banister, leaning forward slightly.

"Krycek? Are you down there?"

And Alex was at the base of the stairs instantly. "What is it, Mulder?"

Fox looked uncertain. "Why are you sitting in the dark?"

"I was standing, actually," Alex corrected him, forcing a lightness into his tone. But Fox was still at the very edge of the top step, and Alex didn't like that at all. "You really shouldn't be there, Mulder," he remarked gently. "You might fall."

Fox shook his head. "No, I won't. I was…I was wondering, would it be alright if I came down and watched some television or something?"

"Sure," Alex answered easily. "If you feel up to it. Can't you sleep?" he asked, concerned. He climbed the stairs as he talked.

"I was asleep," Fox told him. "I do practically nothing *but* sleep."

Alex grinned, but Fox only gazed soberly at him. "And I want to talk to you," he admitted.

Alex's smile turned into a smirk, but he kept his voice light. "About whatever you're mad at me for this time?"

"No," Fox replied seriously. "About what happened to me."

Alex studied Fox for a moment, then nodded reluctantly. "Okay," he agreed. "But can we wait until Smith gets back? There are some things he can explain better than I can. He's only gone to check on the folks at the compound," Alex reassured him as the agent opened his mouth to protest. "He should be back in a little while." He wrapped his arm around Fox's too-thin waist and motioned at the railing.

"I've tried to ask Smith," Fox told him sulkily. "He won't tell me anything."

Gripping the banister with one hand, Fox threw his other arm around Alex's shoulder and together they began the descent.

"He just wants to focus on your recovery first," Alex explained. "He - both of us, really - want to make sure you're okay." He kept his eyes down, watching with concern as his former partner took one shaky step, then the next.

On the fourth step, Fox paused to catch his breath. A trickle of perspiration slid along his temple. Taking his arm from the other man's waist, Alex reached up and brushed the little bead away. His hand lingered against Fox's face, as melancholy hazel eyes watched him in silence.

"*Are* you okay?" Alex asked him softly. Fox nodded, his gaze still on Alex's face.

The rumble of Smith's pick-up startled them both. Alex turned his head as headlights flared brightly, filling the living room with giant dancing shadows. Seconds later, the lights died as the engine fell silent, and the living room was again cast into darkness. Alex shook off a chill as the thought of the replicants again skittered through his brain.

Beside him, Fox also shivered, and Alex wondered what the sudden bright light had stirred in him. The stories of the abductees were burned into Alex's mind; he could only imagine what Fox was thinking, but it was enough to chill him again. He slid his arm back around Fox's waist protectively.

"Maybe you should sit and rest a minute," Alex suggested.

Fox lowered his eyes to the long wooden staircase. "I think so," he agreed. Holding onto Alex's arm for support he lowered himself carefully onto the step, then slid closer to the railing, and patted the space beside him.

Alex sat as beckoned, as a key turned the front door deadbolt.

Smith entered, a small leather bag in his hand. Cool blue eyes swept over the two men with only the mildest curiosity. "Is everything alright?"

Alex nodded wordlessly, then returned his attention to Fox. Those solemn eyes still gazed at him, troubled. He drew a tentative hand across Fox's brow, brushing back the dampened hair. When Fox didn't pull away, Alex slid his arm around the other man. Fox leaned into him, fatigued, his head coming to rest against the younger man's shoulder. Alex drew him in more tightly, felt the brush of his former lover's lips against his ear.

"I don't want to feel like this."

And Alex closed his eyes against the pain, and murmurred, "I know."

But God, that hurt. It was hard enough living with the possibility that Fox might never love him again - the thought that maybe Fox *did* still love him, but regretted it, was almost too much to bear. He desperately wanted not to cause this man any more pain, but it seemed he couldn't stop.

From below them on the stairs, Jeremiah Smith spoke in his usual placid tones. "Actually, Agent Mulder, you're mending quite nicely..."

Alex gave a vague shake of his head. "I don't think that's what he means, Jem," he muttered.

Ascending the first several steps, Smith continued as if Alex had not spoken, "...but I really think you should be back in bed."

Fox lifted his head from Alex's shoulder then, but didn't pull away from the embrace. His eyes went from Alex to Smith.

"I don't want to go back to bed," he told the older man. "I want to talk about what happened to me. Sooner or later someone's going to have to answer my questions."

Smith studied the agent thoughtfully. "I see," he said. "But I really don't think that this is a good time for it. In the morning, perhaps..."

Fox turned to Alex with a scowl. Reading the 'I told you so' in those eyes, Alex shrugged sheepishly and looked up at Smith.

"I kind of promised him, Jem," he explained. "I told him we'd go over the whole thing when you got back."

"When you got back from the *compound*," Fox emphasized. "You're healing people there, aren't you?"

Curious, Smith glanced at Alex before answering.

"Yes, we are."

"Abductees?"

"Yes," Smith said again. "Now why don't we get you settled into bed, and we can continue this conversation later?"

But Fox ignored the suggestion, shifted his eyes back to Alex.

"I'm one of them, aren't I? An abductee?"

It wasn't really a question, and Alex didn't answer it. He brought his hand once more to Fox's face, a feather-soft touch against the other man's cheek. It was Smith's somber voice that brought the answer Alex couldn't give.

"Yes."

                       

Part Four:

The pick-up, pulling out of the driveway, scattered light across the bedroom ceiling as it caught the morning sun. Mulder watched from the window, hands in the pockets of his bathrobe; his mind was still piecing together what he'd learned, and what he remembered.

Five months had gone by since he'd last seen Scully. For three of those months, she'd thought he was dead. Yet now she sat at the bedside of a man she thought was Mulder, alive again. She'd been through hell so many times because of him. How in the world was she dealing with it all?

He had tried to ask Alex that question, but Scully was always an uncomfortable subject for the two of them to discuss. Mulder had never stopped blaming Alex for Scully's abduction, and Alex had never shown him the least remorse for his role in it. He still bristled at the mention of her name.

So Mulder had turned to other questions. How had he been found? How did he end up in this little house in Pennsylvania? And how far had the colonization plans progressed?

And Alex had told of finding Mulder in the desert, and of the days in the mine shaft. Mulder remembered bits and pieces of the journey to Montana, and as Alex told the tale, the images in Mulder's mind began to make sense. In a way, it was almost a relief, just knowing the facts behind the memories.

Smith took up the story then. Mulder had been at the compound for over a month, feverish and delirious, his immune system fighting off the alien implant as his body began to heal. The injuries he'd sustained while he was missing had been curious, Smith told him. Some were consistent with those of the other abductees. But two wounds, in particular, were reminiscent of other experiments they'd seen - military experiments.

It was Alex who had discovered the nature of the experiments, and who had spirited Mulder and Smith away from the compound one night, bringing them here, to a home that belonged to people known to both Alex and Smith. It had Mulder again wondering just how close the two were - how well, and how long, they'd known each other. But he didn't ask that question, either.

Soft footsteps padded along the corridor. He listened a moment, but didn't turn around, assuming Alex would continue on downstairs. Only the familiar creak of the floorboard just inside his bedroom door alerted him to the fact that Alex had entered. That was deliberate, he knew. Alex could move with utter soundlessness when he chose; he must have wanted Mulder to hear him.

So Mulder turned from the window. The other man stood in the doorway, clad in plaid flannel trousers and an oversized black tee-shirt, the left sleeve hanging empty beyond the truncated arm. His short dark hair spiked in all directions. He greeted Mulder with a tentative smile.

Mulder smiled back at the sleepy green eyes. "Morning."

"I'm just heading down to fix some coffee," Alex told him. "I thought I'd see if you wanted to tackle the stairs again - maybe catch some tv?"

The suggestion made Mulder smile once more. Last night they had spoken of conspiracies and alien abductions, of love and betrayal. It was just like Alex to remember that they'd talked about watching television.

"Yeah, I'd love to," Mulder said. "I was toying with the idea of grabbing a shower first, though."

Alex frowned, dubious. "You sure you feel steady enough? That tub gets pretty slick."

"I'm *not* sure," Mulder admitted. "But I feel like trying. I'm sick of just washing up at the sink. Besides," he added, sniffing at his pajama top, "I feel like I reek."

Green eyes regarded Mulder thoughtfully. "Maybe you could try a bath, instead. It'd be safer. At least," he grinned, "as long as you don't drown yourself or anything."

Drown.

An image flashed in Mulder mind - a tube or tank of some kind. He was inside it, underwater. A memory? Or his imagination? He'd seen subjects in tanks before.

But had he been one?

Alex was looking at him in concern, the grin fading. "Hey," he said softly, as if not to spook Mulder. "You alright, there?"

"Yeah," Mulder reassured him. "Just a weird feeling, that's all."

Alex raised an eyebrow doubtfully, but didn't speak.

"Really," Mulder offered by way of explanation. "It's just been a long time since anyone suggested a bath to me."

It did make more sense, though, he realized. He was pretty sure he could get himself in and out of a bathtub without losing his balance or having his limbs give out on him.

He moved past Alex, out of the bedroom and across the corridor to the old-fashioned bathroom. Giving the tub some consideration, he agreed, "Yeah, that sounds good..."

"Okay, then," Alex said cheerfully, coming up alongside Mulder beside the tub. "Come on. Let's get the tub filled, then we can get you settled in..."

"We?" Mulder queried with a smirk.

Alex turned his most innocent gaze on Mulder and explained, "You don't think I'm going to risk you slipping in the tub and splitting your skull open, do you?" Giving the tap handles a twist, he said easily, "Don't worry, Mulder. I'll just make sure you're settled, then I'll leave you be until you're ready to come back out." He ran his hand under the water, adjusted the temperature, then closed the drain and let the tub begin to fill.

No reason to argue, Mulder thought with a shrug. "Lots of hot water," he directed, leaning against the sink for support. He studied the back of the dark head thoughtfully.

Alex didn't look up. "Yeah," he confessed, "I remember."

And Mulder remembered, too. Did those months haunt Alex the way they did him?

There were times since their break-up, times when Alex Krycek would suddenly reappear in Mulder's life, when the pain and shock would hit him with as much force as they did that afternoon six years ago. Moments when the numbness that had settled into his life wore off, driving him to a violence he hadn't known himself capable of.

Yet inevitably the bright initial pain would fade, and Mulder's life would merge once more with Alex's, linked by common enemies and a fascination for each other. The truth would matter again to Mulder and the passion he once had for his quest would return. Until the next time Alex left.

It was insane to want him back.

Watching him now, Mulder wondered again just how his old lover had managed all this time. Where he'd lived. Where his money came from. How many injuries he'd suffered. How many betrayals. *He'd* been through hell, too, Mulder knew. But damn, he looked good.

He noticed how easily the other man managed with one hand.

Well, he's had three or four years of practice at it already. And Alex Krycek was never one to give up. He just keeps on going. My own little Eveready bunny, Mulder thought with sudden affection.

My own?

Damn, Mulder thought. I'm doing it again.

Alex, satisfied that the bath was acceptable, turned to Mulder. "Come on," he said. "Get undressed."

Mulder hesitated, then disrobed quickly. Not until he stood nude before Alex did he remember the ugly gashes still scarring his flesh.

But Alex, unfazed, simply offered his hand in support; Mulder accepted it, stepping into the deliciously hot water and slowly lowering himself.

Once Mulder was settled, Alex turned to leave. Mulder grasped his arm.

"No, don't go," he said. At Alex's puzzled frown, he clarified, "Stay and talk with me."

Alex hesitated, then agreed. "Okay," he said. "What about?"

Everything, Mulder thought. You, me, what happened... All of it. "The abduction," he suggested aloud. "The clone, the compound, the colonization, take your pick."

Alex perched on the side of the tub. "Well, we went over it pretty well last night, Mulder," he reminded him. "What else do you want to know?"

"How to get rid of the clone, for one thing." Mulder said. "Sooner or later, I've got to be able to go back to my life, right?" He wasn't in a hurry about it, he admitted to himself. But he wanted to know. He watched Alex's bent head expectantly.

There was no answer.

"Alex?"

Alex reluctantly raised his eyes, looking uneasy for the first time that morning. Mulder forgot about the soap in his hand and leaned toward his companion. The younger man rose and moved toward the sink, and the door.

Damn. "What is it, Krycek?"

Drawing in a deep breath, Alex met Mulder's gaze. "You can't go back," he explained. "Right now, the military thinks you're dead, and if they find out you're not, they'll correct the situation. They want to keep that clone in place, ready to do whatever they want done."

Whatever they want done. Not good, Mulder thought.

He studied the man leaning against the sink. It bothered him that Alex had moved away so instinctively, anticipating the violence he'd experienced before at his ex-lover's hands. Not that Mulder was strong enough to inflict any damage at the moment, he thought wryly. But Alex was innocent in this case; he hadn't caused Mulder's predicament with the clone, he'd only pointed out the risks to Mulder. And Mulder didn't want to chase Alex away.

"Well," Mulder suggested as mildly as possible, "who says they'd have to know? If this clone looks just like me - it's made from my own DNA - then no one would be able to tell the difference. You said so yourself..."

But Alex shook his head. "But it's not really a true clone," he explained. "Not a... not a pure clone, I mean. It's made from your DNA, but they've added something… some foreign genetic code..."

"Foreign?" Mulder repeated with interest. "You mean alien? That thing has alien DNA?" He shouldn't be surprised, really; he'd seen, himself, products of human-alien experimentation. He'd spoken to living examples of it. But that one of them looked like him...

"I'm not sure it's actually DNA," Alex corrected him. "My contact just refers to it as 'genetic material'. It's something they discovered from their tests on the alien embryo they've got. Whatever it is, though, it's a cinch that they'll be able to distinguish you from the clone with nothing more than a blood test. And they may not even need that."

Mulder nodded thoughtfully.

Alex returned warily to the side of the tub, kneeling to meet Mulder's gaze. His eyes were sympathetic. "It's just not something worth risking."

"But I'm *willing* to risk it," Mulder told him. "I can't just stay away from everything I've ever had…ever been. I can't leave it all for some stranger to step into, as if I never existed."

"If you go back, and they find you out, they'll kill you. You *can't* take that chance." Eyes intent upon the older man, Alex added, "There's too much at stake for them to let you live."

Mulder knew that was true. The military could be ruthless, but they were fighting a race of beings with frightening advantages over them. They couldn't afford to play by normal rules - not when the possible extinction of mankind loomed ahead. What was the life of one man worth, measured against the entire human race?

Nothing.

Just another casualty of war.

He looked down at his scarred chest, at the pale puncture marks in his hands, at Alex's empty sleeve.

"I want my life, Alex," Mulder said simply.

"I know."

Alex took the forgotten cloth from Mulder's hand and began washing the other man's back, long soothing strokes. Mulder let out a sigh. Hunching forward to allow Alex better access, he considered the possibility of returning to DC anyway. Scully was there, and Skinner. Frohike, Langly, Byers. Was he really supposed to accept never seeing them again?

*Could* he?

Wrapping his arms around his knees, he told the other man, "I can't just let it all go, Alex. You're asking me to walk away from everything that matters to me. Do you know what that's like?"

Alex answered him softly. "Yes."

Yes.

Yes. Of course, you do, Mulder realized. You did it yourself, six years ago.

He looked at Alex, but the younger man's eyes were focused on the washcloth. "*You* walked away by choice," he pointed out quietly.

Alex glanced up at him. "No, I didn't," he told him.

"You did," Mulder contended. "I went to your place that afternoon, and every stick of furniture was already gone. Your stuff was even gone from my apartment..." "You reported me to Skinner. What was I supposed to do, stick around and wait to be arrested?"

"You could have told me the truth," Mulder said. He looked into his former lover's eyes, a rush of sadness coming over him. We could have had so much, he thought.

He sighed. "But you walked away like I didn't mean a thing to you."

"The hell I did," Alex argued. "You turned me in to Skinner. You never came to me first, never asked for my side of the story. You just sold me out. If Jeff's old man hadn't had that office bugged - if he hadn't tipped me off - I would've gone to prison." The green eyes were bright with pain. "*You* betrayed *me*, Mulder. Not the other way around." He drew in a breath, and Mulder expected him to say more, but Alex only shook his head and sighed sadly.

He pushed the washcloth back into Mulder's hand. "Call me when you're ready to get out of the tub," he told him. "I'll come and help you. I doubt you really want me to sit here and talk with you any more." He rose and headed out the door without a backward glance.

Mulder stared at the washcloth for a moment, as Alex's bare feet padded softly down the stairs.

Damn.

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

He got himself out of the bathtub without calling for Alex's help. There were only additional pajamas in his bedroom, so he worked his way along the corridor to Alex's room and helped himself to a pair of sweat pants and the henley shirt that Alex had worn the day before. Pulling it over his head, he inhaled the fragrance of his former lover.

I want him back.

Is this what a brush with death does, then? Psychology 101, he told himself. A second chance at life, and the human mind re-evaluates what's important. Retracing his steps up the hallway, Mulder thought about his life. About Alex... Scully...the bureau... Samantha... his search for the truth... One at a time, they were all being taken from him.

But if he could choose, if he could have one of them back, even at the cost of the rest, he knew which he wanted.

Leaning against the wall, he closed his eyes and saw again the green eyes greeting him this morning, uncertain and hopeful. The same green eyes filled with pain, unprotected from Mulder's accusations just moments ago. The perfect green eyes that gazed at him silently as a hand rested on his cheek, last night on the stairs.

He wasn't being asked to walk away from his life. Quite possibly, he was being offered a chance to take it back.

***********

Alex closed the connection and tossed the cell phone onto the kitchen table.

Fuck, he thought to himself. All that trouble keeping up Fox's apartment, just so that damned clone could take it over?

According to McCarniss, the clone had responded well to the injection Alex gave him. Last night he'd awakened for a few moments, and all indications were that his mind was working fine.

Whatever that meant, Alex thought.

He assumed that McCarniss' people had been concerned about what McCarniss referred to as "learned memory", a process the military used in training the clones to function as the people they replaced. It was unsettling. Alex pictured again the clone as it had looked in the hospital yesterday. Even with the decaying wounds, that thing had looked enough like Fox to fool anyone. With memory programming, the clone would be nearly impossible to distinguish from the genuine article. The idea disturbed Alex.

And the military had other clones out there, successfully replacing their counterparts. How many, Alex didn't know. He doubted McCarniss would give him a truthful answer to that question.

Clones, and replicants, and shape-shifters. And we sorry humans are supposed to win this war?

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

Mulder stood unnoticed under the kitchen archway, watching with curiosity as Alex struggled, one-handed, with an electric can-opener. Twice the younger man tried to jam the rim of the can under the blade, but the appliance slid, and the can struck the countertop loudly. Alex swore, grasped the can again, and repeated the process. Again he failed, and again he swore. But he collected the can once more.

Mulder approached him soundlessly. Standing close behind the other man, he reached his arm forward to take the can. Alex drew in his breath sharply, spinning around and nearly knocking Mulder off his feet.

"Geez, Mulder," he said, stunned eyes widening, "what the hell are you doing down here? Did you get down those stairs by yourself?"

"That's a rhetorical question, I assume." Mulder grinned, and was rewarded with Alex's crooked smile in return. One thing about Alex, he thought gratefully. The man never held a grudge against him.

He looked down at the can in his hand, wrinkling his nose at the label. "Tomato soup? For breakfast?"

"That or beef stew," Alex said, taking the can back from Mulder. He turned again to the can-opener and added, over his shoulder, "Anyway, it's closer to lunchtime. We slept kind of late, you know."

Shrugging, Mulder took the can again, opened it without trouble.

"I can do that," Alex told him.

"So can I," Mulder pointed out simply. "More easily than you can." He handed the can to Alex, who dumped the contents into a saucepan.

"I manage," he said softly.

Mulder studied the familiar profile. Alex stirred the saucepan's contents gently, careful not to let the pan slide on the burner. "Why don't you let me do that?" Mulder offered.

Alex shook his head. "Go watch tv," he suggested. "I'll call you when it's ready."

But Mulder merely leaned back against the countertop, observing Alex. Under the black tee-shirt, the outline of the mutilated shoulder was just barely visible, ending a couple of inches above the hem of the sleeve. Mulder resisted the temptation to push the sleeve up and examine it. But he had no intention of ignoring its existence. "Where's your prosthesis?" he asked easily.

"Upstairs," Alex answered with a shrug. "I don't bother to put it on until I get out of the shower."

"Oh."

Alex looked over at him. "Does it bother you? I can go put it on now..." He glanced at the short sleeve hanging empty. "I forget. Some people get uncomfortable."

"It doesn't bother me," Mulder assured him. "I just wondered."

He started opening drawers curiously. Finding the one that contained the flatware, he picked out a couple of serviceable spoons.

"Are we going to need knives or forks?" Mulder asked.

Alex shook his head lightly. "Not unless there's something wrong with the soup. If you're hoping for toast or salad or something, you're out of luck. I need to get to the supermarket this afternoon."

Mulder shut the drawer and pulled open the cabinet directly above it.

"Bowls are in that one," Alex said, gesturing to Mulder's left. "You want to go with me?"

"Hmm?"

"To the supermarket," Alex explained. "I thought you might be bored just staying in the house. You seem to have made the stairs okay, so…" he shrugged. "If you don't feel up to walking, you can sit in the car. At least you'll see some scenery."

Mulder grinned and nodded. "Can I borrow something to wear?"

"Looks like you already have," Alex remarked, amused. "You know, I do have *clean* things up there."

"I wouldn't know. I don't snoop."

Alex chuckled. "Since when?" Turning the heat off under the saucepan, he said, "Bring those bowls over here, huh?"

Mulder obliged, then reached for the handle of the pan.

"I...," Alex began.

"...can do that," Mulder finished for him. "I know you can. But so can I." He poured the soup as Alex stood, wordless. Placing the pan on the back burner, Mulder turned his eyes once more to Alex. "I let you help *me*," he said earnestly.

"It's not the same thing," Alex argued. "You're recuperating. I've learned to live with one arm."

Mulder looked at him curiously. "Have you ever considered asking Smith if he could heal it?"

"He's already offered to, several times," Alex told him. "I don't want him to."

"Why not?" Mulder asked, surprised.

Alex shrugged. "I just don't," he said lightly.

Mulder picked up the two bowls and placed them on the kitchen table. Alex followed with the spoons.

"Is there orange juice?" Mulder asked, opening the refrigerator. Retrieving the pitcher, he turned again to Alex. The younger man stood beside the table, facing away from him. Mulder continued, "It would make things so much easier for you if Smith restores it. You must have a reason, if you're not letting him."

"I'm not a frigging starfish, Mulder," Alex answered him, annoyance creeping into his tone. "I don't want to sprout new limbs."

Mulder watched Alex, perplexed. "But I don't understand," he said. "You know Smith's been taking care of *me*. You wouldn't let him, if you thought he was up to no good, would you?" He didn't really mean it to be a question; he felt perfectly safe in this house around both Alex and Smith.

But Alex shook his head, giving a weary sigh. "Contrary to what you may think, Mulder, I wouldn't *let* anyone hurt you." As Mulder approached the table, Alex moved to sit down. Before he could, Mulder grasped his arm.

"I know that," Mulder said quietly. He stood very close to Alex again. His former partner stared at him uncertainly.

"I want you back, Alex."

Only Alex's stunned expression made Mulder sure he'd spoken the words aloud.

"You what?" he asked, his gravelly voice almost a whisper.

Mulder repeated softly, "I want you back."

"Why?"

Well, it was certainly a fair question. Mulder frowned into the green eyes, unsure of how to explain adequately.

"You and I are better together than apart," he tried, his voice low. "I think...I think we're happier together. I know that something inside me is only right when I'm with you."

Alex stood mutely, head bent.

"I'm tired of pretending the hurt will go away - for either of us," Mulder said. "We've given up so much already, trying to fight a war no one even believes is real. It doesn't seem fair that we should have to give up each other."

Mulder waited until Alex raised his eyes, then continued. "I know we've done some damage to each other over the years, but..."

"I can't take back what I've done," Alex told him quietly. "I can't even say that I would if I could."

"I know," Mulder solemnly agreed. "But I know more now than I did then. I think I can understand some of it. We'll have to work out a lot of things, but I'd like to try, if you're willing."

Alex looked away again; when his gaze returned to Mulder, the eyes under those thick lashes were thoughtful. But he didn't speak.

Well, Mulder figured, you can't expect a quick answer. Too much has gone down between us. So much has happened to us both, he thought, his eyes traveling to the left shoulder. Alex noticed and followed the direction of Mulder's eyes.

"Does it matter, really?" he finally asked. "I mean...would you only want me back if I let Smith heal it?"

The question would have been insulting to Mulder, if not for the glimpse of insecurity he saw in the man he knew so well. Alex was pragmatic by nature; if he had rejected the opportunity to have his arm restored, then he had to have a hell of a reason to do so.

"If I say it matters," Mulder wanted to know, "would you let him?"

Alex frowned. Mulder could see the struggle behind those gorgeous green eyes.

"Yes," he admitted.

Mulder reached out, brushed his fingers through Alex's dark hair, let his hand stroke the younger man's head and rest against the back of Alex's neck. A gentle, tentative step closer, and he leaned in, nuzzling, touching his forehead to the other man's.

And kissed him.

Just the barest hint of a kiss at first. A taste of those lips he'd remembered so well, a hesitant pressure, as he drew lightly on Alex's lower lip, taking it between his own.

"It doesn't matter," he murmurred. "It doesn't matter at all."

Part Five:

The television was on, but Alex paid no attention to it. His eyes were on Fox, sleeping beside him on the small sofa, head on Alex's shoulder. They'd started off earlier in the evening lazing side-by-side, but when Fox grew drowsy, he'd pushed Alex back into the sofa and burrowed contentedly into him. And for the past hour, Alex had been half-sitting, half-lying, his prosthetic arm loosely around his lover and his good hand combing softly through Fox's golden-brown hair.

If the world ended right now, he thought with affection, at least I'd die happy.

They'd been together now one week. Much of it they'd spent in exactly this position, just lying together quietly. When they spoke, it was of Fox's recuperation, the aliens, the government. The future of the planet, the rest of their lives.

They rarely spoke of the past.

One shadow they faced, and one shadow they ran from.

Fox stirred, murmurred his name, buried his face in Alex's neck. Alex nuzzled the soft crisp hair, kissed the other man's temple.

Tomorrow he'd have to get back to DC. The clone was recovering too quickly; it would be released from the hospital in just a few more days. McCarniss must have made plans for it by now, and Alex intended to find out what they were. But tonight...

The familiar roar of the pick-up preceded the bright white lights that flooded the living room, the twin beams growing in size and intensity until they merged. They were accompanied by a shriek of tires entirely unlike Smith's usual driving. As Alex glanced toward the door, he felt Fox stir again and waken.

By the time the pick-up's engine settled into dark silence, both men were on their feet.

Smith entered the house, crossing the hall quickly and pausing under the archway into the living room. He began without preamble. "Are you watching the news?"

Alex shook his head even as Fox scrambled for the remote control. "What's wrong?"

"There was a shooting a few minutes ago," Smith explained, as Fox flipped rapidly through the channels. "In front of the White House."

"Who was it?" Fox asked.

"A man named Salt. Howard Salt." He turned to Alex. "He was demanding to see the President. The first report said that he was claiming aliens were taking over the United States."

Alex scowled. "Once upon a time, I'd've written him off as a nut," he mumbled. To Smith he asked, "Did he say anything more specific?"

"There's not a lot of information available..." Smith paused as Fox found a news channel. Alex crossed to the television and crouched in front of it, studying the footage as it aired. Behind him, Fox sat again on the couch and leaned forward, also watching.

Smith stood in silence as the events were replayed across the screen. Cameras panned the area of White House lawn from several angles, but Alex saw nothing unusual. It was when the video clip of one guard was aired that Smith spoke.

"There," he said. "Watch that guard."

Alex did, but still saw nothing out of the ordinary. He looked over his shoulder at Fox, but the other man only shrugged in equal bewilderment.

They glanced in unison at Smith.

"Wait," the older man directed. "You'll see it when the camera pulls out farther."

Alex did see it, then. The silver disc, only visible in the guard's hand for a moment. In the rest of the footage, the guard's hands were empty.

Alex turned to Fox. "A CD," he said, and Fox nodded in agreement. "The footage must be spliced or something."

"Could you see what was written on it?" Fox asked.

Alex shook his head and glanced once more at Smith. "*You* did, didn't you, Jem?"

"Yes," Smith told them. "In the first bulletin. The CD was labelled 'Fight the future'."

Fight-the-future. Oh, fuck. But who was this guy Salt, and what was his connection to the Project?

Fox was watching him with curiosity. Alex rose and returned to his place beside his lover. It looked like it was time to fill the agent in on a few things.

"Fight the future?" Fox prompted, his eyes shifting back and forth between Alex and the older man. "I take it that means something to you?"

Alex nodded. "It's the name of a project," he explained. "Led by the US military, but without official sanction. There are private enterprises involved, too. They're trying to breed a sort of...I don't know, a...," he finished with a shrug, "...super-human."

"A human being with greatly enhanced abilities," Smith clarified. "Particularly regarding the ability to recover from injury and illness."

"Like you've done in healing me?" Fox queried.

Smith shook his head. "You're healed because I healed you. Project Fight-the-Future is an attempt to breed a generation of human beings who can self-heal as needed. Right from birth. It involves manipulated DNA. It's still in the experimental stage, but there are presently six women carrying fetuses which are essentially lab subjects for the project."

The agent threw a quick glance at Alex, then turned back to Smith. "What happens when the kids are born?" Fox wanted to know.

"They will likely be put through a number of tests, in order to gauge the success of the experiment," Smith told him. "Theoretically, the infants should be able to spontaneously recover from nearly anything. Starvation. Immolation. Exposure to heat and cold, viruses and bacteria. Broken bones. Lacerations..."

"I get the idea." Fox stopped him, a vaguely nauseous expression on his face.

"As cruel as it may sound, the project leaders view it as a necessary evil," Smith continued. "The future of the human race may well depend on it. You're fighting a species that is much more difficult to kill than you are."

"Look at the way the shapeshifters recover instantly from almost anything," Alex pointed out, "unless the healing center in the brain stem is damaged. That's why the only definite way to kill them is with a puncture wound to the stem. If humans were as hard to kill, our chances of winning this war would improve."

The agent's hazel eyes examined Alex with distaste. "You aren't trying to *defend* it, are you?"

"I'm only telling it like it is." When his lover's appalled look remained, Alex sighed. "Fox, look. We have to be willing to sacrifice some, or we're going to lose it all. We can't fight this war by the rules of the Geneva Convention. The other side isn't human. We'd never win." He turned his gaze toward the floor, adding, "I've seen worse things done."

"Worse than torturing children just to see how they heal?"

"Yes," Alex admitted. He couldn't bring himself to raise his gaze, afraid to meet the accusation in his lover's eyes.

The room was silent, but for the drone of the television reporters.

Smith took a seat near the window and gazed out into the darkness. Alex picked up the remote control, fingered it absently.

"Okay," Fox finally sighed. "Just for the sake of argument, let's assume that it's the lesser of however many evils. But if the military is the chief sponsor of this project, why would this fellow Salt have pulled such a dangerous stunt? Logically, the President would have access to any of the military's files."

Alex shrugged again. "Maybe he learned something new. Or maybe he thinks the military isn't keeping an accurate record on the project." He returned the remote to the coffee table. "Or maybe he's just a nut."

"He's not just a nut," Fox argued. "He had something on that CD. He knew that project's name. He must have felt there was something worth risking his life for in that information."

"I suspect you're right, Agent Mulder. Alex, were you still planning to go to Washington DC tomorrow?"

Nodding, Alex said, "Yeah. And I'm already planning to make a side trip to Wiekamp to talk to my contact. But I doubt he'll tell me anything about it. Whatever that guy knew, it probably didn't reflect well on the project."

"I agree," Smith said. "I was thinking of your other contact..."

"Rohrer?" Alex shook off the chill that washed over him as he spoke the name. He'd already told Fox about the replicant.

"Why not?" Smith replied mildly. "He's not aware that you know what he is. He may be willing to work with you. It's a certainty that he'll be working with others who want to find out the contents of that disc. If they consider you an ally, they may share that information with you, should they learn it first. If you discover it before they do, you naturally will not pass it along to them."

Alex nodded soberly. Smith was right, he knew. Maintaining that informant relationship with Rohrer was the logical thing to do. And Alex Krycek believed in doing whatever needed to be done. But it was going to take a hell of an acting job this time. The very idea of the replicants unnerved him. He'd never before come across an enemy that he couldn't kill. Even the black oil could be eliminated, though the vaccine was still desperately hard to come by.

He looked at his lover. If Smith weren't there, Alex would've sunk into Fox's arms, if only to calm himself and draw on Fox's own courage. But they weren't alone. And the issue was still at hand. He needed to remain cool. Jaw set, he turned again to the healer.

"Alright," he told Smith. "I'll meet up with Rohrer tomorrow."

"The hell you will," Fox countered. He stared at Alex in disbelief. "You don't have to do that. There's got to be some other way to find out what's up." He shifted his gaze to Smith and added, "You know what you're asking him to do? If the replicants catch on to him, they'll kill him."

"Possibly," Smith answered solemnly. Alex read the remorse in the blue eyes, but he and Smith both understood the truth. As much as he loved Fox, he couldn't protect him from the ruthlessness of it.

"It's like I said before, Fox," he began, his voice low. "We have to be willing to sacrifice." He swallowed uneasily under the agent's angry glare. "I know you think I can be a cold bastard, but you have to know - I wouldn't ask anyone else to go through something I won't face myself."

"Why is *this* necessary, though?" Fox asked earnestly. "We've just agreed that the military's project may be cruel, but it's got to be. Why are you willing to put yourself through so much, if we're not going to do anything with what you'd learn from it?"

"If it's about the project, it's worth knowing," Alex explained. He glanced briefly at Smith, but the older man remained wordless. "You'll agree, once you know the rest." He watched as the agent's angry eyes darkened with suspicion.

"What's the rest?" he asked.

Alex said, "We told you there were six unborn children out there that the project is focusing on."

Fox nodded.

"So there are six women who are also being used as subjects."

Fox nodded again, as Alex drew in a deep breath.

"One of them is Scully."

***********

Mulder rolled over, reaching out in his sleep but finding the space beside him empty. I'm doing it again, he thought. He rubbed his eyes wearily, blinking at the sunlight filtering into the room, and drew himself into a sitting position.

Alex.

He yawned and focused on the figure at the window.

"Hey," he mumbled. "I'm not supposed to be alone in here anymore."

Alex glanced at him in confusion, then walked over and sat on the bed beside him. " 'Morning, hon," he said softly, leaning in for a kiss. "What's that you were saying?"

"Nothing," Mulder told him, sheepishly. He ran one finger along the crease in the leather jacket Alex was wearing. "Leaving already?" he asked.

Alex nodded. "Long drive ahead. I've got to get an early start. I waited until you woke, though," he pointed out.

Mulder smiled. "I see that. Thanks." He pressed his lips against the side of Alex's neck in another kiss, while he let one hand wander inside his lover's jacket, and under his shirt.

"Keep doing that, and I'm not going to want to leave," Alex warned him.

"Good. I don't want you to leave." Mulder drew back and gazed into the green eyes. "And you don't want to go," he stated. "We can figure out some other way to get the information on that disc, you know. You don't have to do this."

"Yeah, I do," Alex told him. "Smith is right. We can't afford to toss away any of our options. That replicant has information that we don't, and it's willing to trade with me. We can use that to our advantage. I have to do this."

But you don't want to, Mulder thought. That thing scares you to death. You're only doing this for me. For Scully. Because you think she matters to me more than you do. And I can't make you see the truth.

"Let me come with you, then," he suggested.

Alex refused. "We can't risk you being seen walking around DC while you're supposed to be in the hospital. It'd be too hard to explain."

"So? I'll wear a disguise."

Alex only shook his head. "No. But don't worry," he reassured him. "I'm only going to *talk* to Rohrer, and to stop in on your doppelganger and my contact. I'll probably be home before the night's out."

He detached himself from Mulder with obvious reluctance. As he rose to leave, he added, "Oh, I'll probably stop in at your apartment, too. You want me to save anything for you before the clone gets to keep it all?"

"My apartment?" Mulder repeated, curious. "It's still there?"

"Sure," Alex said, pausing in the doorway. "I figured you'd be needing it again, so I kept it up for you. Since the funeral, I mean. Scully had been taking care of it before that. But after they buried you - I mean the clone -," he grinned, "I took over."

"Thanks," Mulder said, returning the grin. "I appreciate that." Especially for giving some of the credit to Scully, he thought. But he didn't say it aloud.

Alex waved the thanks aside. "No problem. Your aunt wanted all of your stuff, but I took care of her. You know, it's a good thing you never made a will, or I'd never have been able to keep everything together for you. Not that it matters now, I guess," he added as an afterthought. "The clone'll just get it all now."

"How did you take care of my aunt?"

As soon as the question was out, Mulder wished he could have taken it back. It sounded much more harsh than he'd intended, and much more emotional. He watched in dismay as the grin faded from Alex's face.

"I didn't kill her, Fox," the younger man sighed, "if that's what you're wondering."

His tone was mild enough, but Mulder saw the brief flash of pain in the green eyes.

"Sorry," Mulder mumbled awkwardly. God, they had enough things to deal with already. They couldn't let every wrong word become an accusation. "I didn't mean it like that..."

We're going to have to deal with it sometime, Mulder thought ruefully. It won't go away. God, I just wish I could believe you, Alex.

But he couldn't. And in Alex's perfect green eyes, he saw that the other man knew it.

"Sorry," he said again.

Alex scowled, but without rancor. "I talked to her after the funeral," he explained patiently. "We worked things out. I told her to keep her mouth shut, and if anyone asked, to tell them that she was keeping up your lease for a while as a place to stay when she visits DC."

"She never visits DC," Mulder told him. "She's afraid of the place."

"Who isn't?" Alex shrugged. "Doesn't matter, anyway. Now that you're alive again, Scully and that Doggett character have had their grimy little fingerprints all over the place. Which means they've spoken to your aunt since they dug up the clone." Zipping his jacket, he asked once more, "So do you want me to save anything, or no?"

Mulder thought a moment, then nodded. "Bottom shelf of the bookcase, tucked into the front of the almanac, there's a picture. The one we had taken at Lake Champlain."

He knew that Alex remembered the picture; during the months they'd been lovers, it had sat, framed, on that same bookcase. When he'd discovered Alex's betrayal, Mulder had thrown the picture across the room, shattering the glass of the frame. But he'd never been able to bring himself to get rid of the photograph.

As Mulder watched now, that crooked grin reappeared on the younger man's face.

"You still have that?" Alex asked quietly.

"Yeah," Mulder admitted, rising from the bed. "And I'd like to keep it. But only if you can collect it with no trouble. Don't risk your life over it." He reached the doorway, where Alex stood, still smiling. "That photo means a lot to me, Alex. But nothing means more to me than you do. Not some picture, not the whole planet. Not even Scully." He drew his fingers along Alex's jaw. "So take care, okay? "

Alex nodded wordlessly, took a silent step backward, and turned toward the stairs.

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

The rest of the morning passed quickly. Mulder spent much of it with Alex's laptop computer, researching news stories on Howard Salt, the arrests made at the Montana compound, his own disappearance and death. The mainstream news media had discovered the story of the exhumation of Fox Mulder's body, but were at a loss to explain it. The official quotes from the bureau were included in the articles, but Mulder didn't see how anyone could believe them. No official story could explain the resurrection of a man three months buried.

The arrests at the Montana compound had received little attention, but Mulder found the photographs interesting. He'd heard Alex and Smith refer to Absalom, but this was the first time he'd seen pictures of the man. Not quite what he expected, somehow; the calm determination in Absalom's eyes reminded Mulder of Smith himself.

One photograph in particular caught Mulder's interest. In it, Absalom was pictured with a handful of followers. There was no article attached, but the caption referred to the group as members of a UFO cult. And one of the members, clearly visible in the upper corner, was Howard Salt.

Mulder jotted down the URL of the website and continued.

The coverage of Howard Salt himself was still sketchy. The man worked for the United States Census bureau, and had a recent history of poor attendance and low performance.

Not a single article referred to the CD that he, Smith and Alex had seen in the guard's hand.

Damned mainstream media. Can't count on them to report anything properly.

Curious, he began accessing the search engines for any other articles or information on Salt. Story after story reported the same handful of details. It wasn't until he hit an underground site that he found what he was looking for. Salt had granted the site owners an interview only a few days ago, revealing his abduction experiences and his suspicions that aliens were beginning to take over the United States. In the interview, Salt expressed his frustration with the news media, whom he had approached repeatedly with his information.

Odd, Mulder thought. As far as he had seen, not a single news source had mentioned previous encounters with Salt. Wonder if someone's been shutting them up.

Reading further, Mulder was surprised to discover his own name in the article.

"...the takeover is escalating," Salt continued. "There are people whom we know to be dead, returning to life under the possession of the extraterrestrials. That FBI agent, Fox Mulder, for example. Everyone swept that story aside, didn't they? But I've got a list of others, as well. People whom it's been verified were dead..."

So that's what's on that CD, Mulder figured. The list. Salt obviously hadn't known the details of Mulder's rescue, or that it was a government-designed clone that had been buried and later exhumed. But the majority of his conclusions fit with what Mulder knew. He read on:

"...but have apparently turned up alive. The US government has an additional database of statistics on these people - samples of their fingerprints, voiceprints, DNA. Their entire genetic makeup..."

That may explain the clones, Mulder thought. But was it possible that the government knew in advance who would be abducted, knew which abductees would receive those alien implants and which would not?

His own father had known in advance that Samantha would be taken, had in fact chosen her to be an abductee. That cigarette-smoking bastard had known that Cassandra Spender would be taken multiple times.

Alex had known that Scully would be taken.

Hadn't he?

The rest of the interview yielded nothing new to Mulder. A quick search of the site's archives, and he discovered that there were no more articles concerning Howard Salt. Curious, he scrolled back up the alphabetized list for his own name. A site like this ought to have something more on him, he thought wryly.

He found links to two articles.

"Mulder, Fox: FBI agent revived three months after burial." "Mulder, Fox: Paranormal investigator abducted by aliens?"

He was about to follow the first link when his eye caught the name just above his own.

"Miles, William: OR man revives during autopsy."

Billy Miles?

**********

Alex scoped the park, his mind automatically scrutinizing and categorizing the early afternoon crowd. Most of them still wore jackets, the spring sun not yet warm enough in the chill air. Tourists, businessmen and women, packs of children on class trips -no one who looked out of place.

And no sign of Rohrer.

The busy visibility of this location generally wouldn't be Alex's idea of a good place to meet with a contact. But calling to arrange a better time and place would have been nothing more than a stalling tactic, since Alex knew he could find Rohrer jogging here any afternoon. That the wide open area of the park soothed his claustrophobic nerves was only a lucky coincidence. Nothing more.

"Looking for someone?"

Fuck.

Alex spun around instantly, facing the questioner before the last syllable was out. His hand in his jacket pocket gripped the Glock concealed there, and his knuckles brushed the cool metal of the pick beside it.

He didn't remove either weapon. The man in front of him, dark-suited and straight-backed, had to be bureau. But he was alone, and he didn't appear ready to pull out the handcuffs.

"Do I know you?" Alex asked coolly. He was still unsettled by the way this man had snuck up on him so easily, but he was damned if he was going to let the bastard know it.

The man extended his hand to shake. Alex ignored the gesture; he wasn't ready to sacrifice quick access to his weapons.

"My name is Crane," the agent said, withdrawing his hand. Alex's mind flashed back to a moment, six years earlier, when he'd been on the other side of that gesture. "I'm with the FBI," Crane told him.

No kidding, Alex thought. "So?"

"I'm also a friend of Knowle Rohrer's," Crane declared. "He pointed you out to me, Mr. Krycek."

So he's around here someplace. Alex's eyes swept across the visible expanse of park over Crane's shoulder.

"Oh, he's not here right now," Crane said, observing the movement. "But he thought I might be able to help you."

"And I'm supposed to believe you?" Alex asked, skeptical.

Crane shrugged. "You don't have to," he replied. "But I have reason to believe that you and I are on the same side in certain…affairs. The same side that Knowle is on."

"Maybe," Alex said gruffly. His mind was spinning through the possibilities. Was this guy telling the truth? Did he know that Rohrer was a replicant? Was he one, himself? If he was an associate of Rohrer before Rohrer's transformation, he could prove to be a valuable ally. Assuming he was telling the truth.

He couldn't chance any of it. There was too damn much at stake. He needed more information.

"Alright, then," he proposed. "Why don't we both go meet Rohrer right now?"

The suggestion seemed to surprise Crane. He was silent for a moment before he nodded. "Okay," Crane agreed. "We can go right now. He's on the other side of the park."

So he lied just a minute ago, Alex noted.

"But we may have to wait," Crane cautioned as they began walking. "He was going to meet with someone else this afternoon."

" 'S okay, I'll wait." Alex glanced casually at the man walking beside him. If Rohrer really *had* told Crane that Alex was on their side, then this man might be willing to share a bit of information. It was worth a try, he thought. "So if we're all in this together, how about telling me who Rohrer's meeting with?"

Crane smiled amicably. "Sure. It's not an ally, though. It's another agent. One I work with, myself, as a matter of fact." As they approached the north gate of the park, Crane nodded his head in the direction of two men standing by a water fountain. Rohrer's tall form was unmistakable. The other fellow, Alex reasoned, must be the one Crane meant.

It was Agent Doggett.

**********

"So he really didn't know anything?" Mulder asked. He watched as Alex spread mustard onto a roll and began fixing his third sandwich. He must not have eaten all day, Mulder thought.

"He says he doesn't," Alex answered, glancing at the other two men in turn. "He's up to something, though. He told me he expected to find out more about that CD after Doggett looks into the Census database. But I think he's lying. I think he's setting Doggett up for something."

"For what?" Smith queried.

"I don't know. All I know is that he's planning to tip Doggett off to the passcode for that database. I told Rohrer I'd be back in DC in a couple of days to see what he learned."

"So the whole meeting was a bust," Mulder grumbled. "You're going to have to do it all over again."

Alex swallowed a bite of his sandwich and shook his head. "Not a bust, Fox," he told him with a smile. "I may have gotten one or two things taken care of."

Mulder looked at him, curious. There was a touch of optimism in Alex's tone, almost a sense of self-satisfaction. "Such as?"

Smith answered for Alex. "For one thing, we know about Agent Crane," he reminded Mulder. "And we know that Agent Doggett is associated in some way with Knowle Rohrer."

That was true, Mulder acknowledged with a nod. He turned back to Alex. "Anything else?"

"I think I may have neutralized the threat the replicants pose for Scully," Alex told him.

Mulder stared, dumbfounded.

"How?" Smith asked with interest.

"I told Rohrer that the Zeus project had been undermined. That Scully's baby isn't what they think it is - that it's a human-alien hybrid."

"*What*?" Mulder asked. "It isn't, is it?"

"No, of course not," Alex assured him. "But it's better if they think it is." He took another hungry bite from his sandwich.

Smith nodded pensively. "That's very clever, Alex," he agreed. "For the replicants, a superhuman is a threat to be eliminated before it's even born. But if they believe that the baby is a successful hybrid, they'll do whatever they have to in order to protect it."

"Meaning?" Mulder queried.

Alex explained, "For the past fifty years, the aliens have been waiting for us to create a successful hybrid. It was part of a bargain we struck with them."

"Cassandra Spender," Mulder remembered. "The consortium was supposed to oversee the experiments. That's how they thought they'd save themselves."

"And stall the colonization," Alex pointed out. "The aliens wanted a hybrid species that would be strong enough to use for slave labor."

Smith concurred. "And they'd still like that."

"So you think they'll leave Scully alone now?" Mulder wanted to know. He wasn't so sure of that, himself.

But Smith and Alex both nodded. "For the time being, at least," the older man said. "Unless they have reason to think that she'll abort it. They won't let her hurt it herself, either."

No problem there, Mulder thought. She's wanted a baby for too long.

"Why just Scully?" he asked Alex. "Why didn't you tell Rohrer that all six of the babies were hybrids?"

"Couldn't risk it," Alex told him. "Some of them might be born before Scully's kid is. If they have time to find out that I lied to them..."

"...they'd be back to going after her," Mulder finished for him. And they'll kill you as well, he thought. Oh god, Alex. You've got to stop doing this...

"Better that at least *one* of the kids is safe from them," Alex said. That earlier light had faded from his eyes, though, and Mulder cursed himself for asking the question.

"Clever," Smith reiterated, rising from the table.

Mulder nodded in agreement. "It is, Alex," he said. The younger man looked at him from under those thick dark lashes, making Mulder smile in spite of himself. "And thank you," he added quietly.

Alex shrugged it off.

Placing his coffee cup in the sink, Smith said, "I'd better be getting over to the compound. Unless there was anything else..."

"Nope," Alex told him. "That's about it. McCarniss told me nothing, except that he's having Mulder's double reinstated at the bureau. Scully and Skinner had already submitted a request, so McCarniss only had to pull a few strings there. He says he doesn't know anything about Howard Salt or that CD."

Smith nodded. "Well, we expected that." He crossed the kitchen archway and took his windbreaker from the closet. "Good-night, gentleman," he said.

"Good-night," Mulder answered, pushing his own chair back to rise from the table. He dumped the last of his cold coffee into the sink. "Drive carefully," he cautioned.

Alex only mumbled, " 'Night, Jem," through a mouthful of sandwich.

Pulling on the light nylon jacket, Smith let himself out the door.

Mulder waited until the roar of the pick-up had dimmed before speaking again. He crouched alongside the other man's chair, facing him. "Alex?"

"Hmm?" Alex swallowed the last of his sandwich with a hard gulp. "What is it, Fox?"

Mulder reached over, taking Alex's chin lightly in his hand, drawing Alex's gaze to him.

"Look," he said, "I know that there are things we haven't talked much about -"

He broke off as Alex pulled back. His hand slid from his lover's jaw to the back of the man's neck, holding him firmly in place. "No, let me say this, okay?"

The green eyes darkened, but Alex said, "Go ahead."

"I just need you to understand this," Mulder said simply. "I don't care anymore what you did in the past. It's just not worth losing you again." He paused, but his lover only stared wordlessly at him. "Well, I just wanted you to know that. Okay?"

Alex was still for a moment. "Okay," he agreed quietly.

Mulder pressed a light kiss against the other man's forehead. "So," he said, rising, "are you finished with supper, or do I have to wait a while longer before I get you into bed?"

"I'm done with supper," Alex grinned, "but you can't go upstairs yet. There's one more thing to take care of."

Intrigued, Mulder asked, "What is it?"

"Checkbook pocket of my jacket," Alex told him. "Go look."

Mulder raised an eyebrow. "Ooh, brought me a surprise, did you?"

"Hardly," Alex answered. "You asked me for it this morning."

Mulder was on his feet instantly. His lover's soft chuckle followed him across the hallway to the closet door. It was a nice sound, he thought as he plunged his hand into the deep pocket. He knew what he'd find, even before his fingers identified the cool smooth surface of the small sheet.

He withdrew his hand, pulling the little photograph along with it. Staring up from the picture were three smiling faces - his own, Alex's, and a plastic replica of Champ, the sea monster. Mulder smiled back at them.

                      

Part Six:

Mulder stirred his coffee restlessly, eyes scanning the list of websites Alex had left with him. This had become his morning routine now, checking for updates on this handful of sites and bulletin boards that Alex and his associates used. At first, Mulder had appreciated the assignment, both as a palliative to boredom and as a gesture of trust from his lover. But as the days passed and the agent's strength returned, Mulder found himself anxious for more of a role in what Alex called 'the war'. With the laptop in front of him on the kitchen table, he began skimming the morning's news.

Howard Salt's death had been replaced in the headlines last week by Absalom's death, and Mulder had found himself with the opportunity to learn a bit more about Scully's new partner, John Doggett. He knew that Alex still considered the man an unknown quantity; Doggett's association with Rohrer troubled him, and the agent's disbelief in the conspiracy made him unpredictable and untrustworthy. But Alex did admit that Doggett's concern for Scully seemed genuine, and Mulder found himself predisposed to like the man for that. And he had seen the news coverage of Doggett after Absalom's death. Whatever John Doggett believed about the conspiracy, he clearly found it abhorrent that Absalom had been killed the way he had. In time, Mulder suspected, he could be made to understand the truth.

He swallowed a mouthful of the lukewarm coffee, grimacing at its bitter taste. Across the table from him, Jeremiah Smith glanced up from his newspaper, about to speak, and smiled instead. "That bad, is it?"

Mulder shook his head, embarrassed. "I just let it get too cold," he admitted. Nodding at the newspaper under Smith's hand, he asked, "You find something there?"

"Possibly," Smith told him. "I don't suppose Alex has made it all the way to Wiekamp yet? He may be able to look into these while he's there."

"He only left a couple of hours ago," Mulder reminded the other man. "He's probably still on the highway. What have you got?" he asked, leaning over the table to see headline of the story in question. Smith pushed the paper toward him helpfully, turning it around for Mulder's benefit. Then he reached for one of the other newspapers on the chair and placed it beside the first one.

"Go ahead," the older man said.

Mulder looked at the two articles, picked up the first one.

"'Arlington Woman Killed in House Fire'," he read aloud. He skimmed the short article. The woman was alone in the house, asleep, at the time. The fire was attributed to faulty wiring; she and her husband had recently had their home renovated in anticipation of the birth of their first child.

So?

"Was she one of the six?" Mulder wondered aloud.

Smith nodded. "Yes. Due any day, as well."

"I take it you don't believe this was a simple accident, then."

"I don't know," Smith confessed. "But it bears looking into. Alex's contact at Wiekamp is involved in the project at Zeus Genetics. He may be able to tell us something."

Mulder frowned, scanning the story a second time. "It doesn't make sense, though," he pointed out. "Why would the military kill one of their own experiments?"

"I don't know that they would," Smith acknowledged. "Although there's a chance that they want to test the viability of an embryo not carried to term. The story does not actually mention the state of woman's pregnancy, nor the condition of the child."

Skeptical, Mulder handed the newspaper back to Smith. "The military doesn't need to kill the mother," he argued. "They could just arrange for her to be hospitalized, and then take the baby, claiming complications. It seems more likely that the replicants are responsible for this fire."

"That is a possibility, as well," the older man agreed. "I'm hoping Alex can find that out."

A flash of resentment struck Mulder, and he opened his mouth to object. He didn't like the idea of all of this being put upon his lover. Alex had too utilitarian a view of his own life as it was.

But Smith merely nodded his head at the other newspaper, still by Mulder's hand.

Sighing, the agent turned to the second article. " 'Oil Rig Blowout Turns Deadly'," he began.

Oil?

Mulder shot a glance at the healer, but Smith said nothing. Mulder turned back to the article and continued reading aloud:

"The body of one of two men who disappeared Tuesday following an explosion on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico has been recovered off the coast of Texas. Simon de la Cruz worked for GalPex Petroleum from 1999 until his death Tuesday on the GalPex rig, Orpheus. De la Cruz, a Mexican national, was found with flash burns covering more than 90% of his body..."

Mulder paused, an uneasy thought creeping into his mind. He'd seen thisbefore. And if Smith has singled out this article as well, he reasoned, then this is not just paranoia.

He looked up and met the older man's somber blue eyes. "Radiation?" he asked.

"I think it may be," Smith confirmed for him. "According to that article, GalPex had just recently tapped in to a new supply of oil in the Gulf of Mexico, and..."

"...and you think it's black oil," Mulder finished for him.

"I think there's a chance of it, yes."

Mulder considered the possibility, skimming the rest of the article. The facts certainly fit. And if that oil got loose…. "Any idea how GalPex stumbled on to this oil?"

Smith shook his head. "Could be coincidence, I imagine. Or it could be that they were led to it. I've got people looking for abductees all the time, but we don't find them all. The ones that transform into replicants can blend in to society quite easily. There may be one or more of them working at GalPex. At other refineries, too, for that matter. It would be a logical field for them to penetrate, when you think about it."

Mulder rested his head in his hands, the enormity of that possibility sinking in.

We're not going to win, he thought. They've got too much of a head start on us...

"...if Alex can learn something from his contacts," Smith was saying.

Mulder glanced up with a start.

"What?" he asked. Without waiting for an answer, he said, "No. I don't want Alex anywhere near that rig."

"I have no intention of asking him to go down to the Gulf, Agent Mulder," Smith assured him. "I am well aware of Alex's previous encounter with the oil. No, I would only send someone who has already been vaccinated against it. If I can't find anyone appropriate, I'll go myself."

Mulder nodded, mollified. But how many options did that leave? he wondered. How many of Smith's assorted contacts were vaccinated, or could be vaccinated on such short notice? As far as Mulder knew, the vaccine was still only being produced in Russia, and very little of it there, according to Alex. No, there couldn't be too many people available with the prerequisites to handle this situation.

Mulder studied the healer thoughtfully. If Alex were here right now, he'd veto instantly the suggestion Mulder was about to make. But Smith understood the necessity of the risks; he might be willing to allow it. If not, Mulder would just have to do this on his own.

"Smith..."

The older man looked at him curiously.

"*I've* been vaccinated."

**********

Alex sat across from General McCarniss, his expression carefully neutral, pondering the general's request. As assignments went, this one would be easy. It required little time, no extra traveling. No extra contact with the replicants. And it gave him yet another contact, one which would be right there on the scene with Scully.

Yeah, Alex thought. He could accept this assignment. The entire arrangement suited him well. But he wouldn't let McCarniss know that too soon. He wanted more information first.

"Why do you need a second operative in there at all?" he quizzed the general. "You've already got Mulder in place. I thought the whole point of these clones of yours was to protect those women."

"It is. But Agent Scully is due to give birth within the next few weeks," McCarniss told him. "We want to make absolutely certain that nothing will go wrong. And Mulder has been behaving somewhat unpredictably lately. We don't want to take any chances."

Alex shook off the uneasy prickle those words caused in him. Sitting back, he asked mildly, "Unpredictable, how?"

The general studied him for a moment, then leaned forward across his desk. "We have reason to believe that he stole information from Howard Salt's computer," McCarniss confided. "There's a chance that he has begun to work with, or for, someone else. We don't actually know who's side he's on anymore."

Oh, fuck.

"We already have people looking into it, but if there's a need for your particular skills," the general smiled in a conspiratorial manner, "I'll let you know."

Maintaining his disinterested look with effort, Alex asked, "Do you think there's anything to worry about with him?"

"Let's just say that we're keeping an eye on the situation."

McCarniss rose. His perfectly straight back and direct eyes would have betrayed his position as a military man, even if he hadn't been in uniform. Most people found him intimidating.

Alex stretched and stood up leisurely.

"Come along," the general told him. "I want you to meet your new colleague. She's not military, but she has handled similar assignments in the past. She's also an excellent scientist," he added. "I assume you agree to serve as her back-up if necessary?"

"Yes." Alex followed McCarniss out the door and along the sterile corridor. He couldn't afford not to agree, now.

Who could the clone be working with?

The general strode aggresively, his heels clicking rhythmically on the tile floor. Alex, walking alongside him, was soundless.

They came to a stop outside the laboratory door. "We're going to try to get her into position as soon as we can," McCarniss told Alex. "With luck, we'll have her in place by the end of the week." He pushed open the lab door, leading Alex inside.

The redhead at the long table hardly looked like a scientist, but Alex had long since ceased to be surprised by appearances. He stepped forward as the general introduced them.

"Lizzie, I'd like you to meet Alex Krycek. He'll be your contact during your next assignment. Krycek, meet Elizabeth Gill."

**********

The sunglasses were comfortable, but the hat felt strange to Mulder. Neither, in his opinion, formed much of a disguise. But Smith had insisted on them; they were, he said, enough to hide Mulder's face from the airport cameras while subtle enough not to draw attention to him.

"I feel like a cologne advertisement," Mulder quipped. His traveling companion led him to a pair of seats near the window, away from most of the passengers.

Smith gave him a gentle smile. "You're fine," he assured him. "We need to keep you unrecognized, though, until you get on board the Orpheus. This is the simplest way to accomplish that."

Mulder stared out the airport window, watching the 727 as it approached the docking gate. "You know," he told Smith, "you really don't have to come along. I can handle this. I may be rusty, but I do know what I'm doing."

"I know," Smith admitted easily. "I won't be following you onto the oil rig. But I'd like to be nearby, in case I can be of use. Besides," he added without emotion, "I rather think that if I return to the house without you, Alex won't allow me to live."

To his surprise, Mulder felt a blush creep into his cheeks. He ducked his head and turned to watch the progress of the plane out the window.

So Smith did know about them, he figured. He wasn't really surprised; he and Alex weren't always as circumspect as they might be, and Smith wasn't a particularly naïve individual.

Well, at least it doesn't seem to bother him, Mulder thought with relief.

He returned his gaze to the healer. "How long have you known Alex?" he asked.

"Hmm? Oh, quite a few years," Smith told him. "Since he was in his teens. He and Jeffrey Spender were schoolmates. He stopped by to visit Cassandra once when she was in the hospital. I happened to be visiting her at the same time."

Mulder frowned, interested. "Did he know about the aliens, back then?"

Smith considered the question. "He knew that Cassandra believed herself to be an abductee. But he didn't know about the conspiracy. He's been learning about that in stages, over the years. As you and I have."

"As *you* have?" Mulder repeated, dubious. "You know a lot more about it than I do," he pointed out.

"Not really," his companion corrected him soberly. "I'm only trying to fight them, just as you are."

The two men paused as the attendant called their flight. Rising, Smith said, "Come along, Agent Mulder." He picked up the overnight case that held both men's clothing and toiletries, then turned and studied Mulder, appraising him once more. "Are you sure you're up to this? If you feel…"

"No, I'm okay," Mulder assured him as he stood up. He looked down at the ticketin his hand and a surge of adrenaline flooded him. He was back in the game.

"Let's go."

**********

The pick-up was gone when Alex pulled into the driveway. In itself, that wouldn't be unusual; Smith often headed over to the compound early in the evening, since Fox was almost fully recovered. But the house itself was completely dark, and that was unusual. Even if Fox had gone to bed early, he would have left a light on for Alex or Smith.

He let himself into the house and stood, listening, just inside the doorway. The house was empty, that much he knew. He'd learned long ago to trust his instincts on such matters. Nevertheless, moving to the base of the stairs, he paused again and listened for any movement.

Silence.

Alex climbed the stairs soundlessly, his eyes peering through the darkness into the open doorway of the room at the top of the stairs - the room he and Fox now shared.

The bedroom was empty, the bed made. He checked the other upstairs rooms, but found nothing.

Returning to Fox's room, Alex switched on the bedside lamp.

Where the hell is he? he wondered. He wouldn't have just left, would he?

Somewhere inside, Alex knew it was possible. Sooner or later, he'd told himself, Fox was going to come to his senses and Alex would lose him. It was only a matter of time.

But would he have left *now*?

He stared across the room at the top of the painted bureau. There was nothing on it. The picture of them at Lake Champlain was gone.

This morning, before Alex had left, Fox had again told him that the past didn't matter. It had become a daily mantra for his lover; spoken in Fox's deceptively unemotional voice, it was that man's offer of love and trust, his promise of forgiveness. But it was always delivered in the context of Alex's attempts to keep Scully safe, and at heart he knew that the forgiveness only extended that far.

Fox had stopped accusing Alex of William Mulder's death, but that didn't mean the issue had gone away. Not to Alex, at least.

He stood there now, beside the bed they'd shared this past month, and turned to face the door of the closet. If Fox had left, he would have taken at least someclothes with him. Swallowing, Alex took the two steps to the door, looked into the closet.

It didn't look as though anything was missing. Possibly his grey pullover, but that could be sitting in the laundry bin downstairs. Certainly, not much else was missing.

He checked the dresser drawers. Nothing missing here, either.

Alex let out a deep breath. Alright, he thought, so maybe Fox hasn't left me.

Where is he?

Fumbling in his pocket, Alex drew out his cell phone. With his thumb, he punched in the numbers for Jeremiah Smith's line and headed downstairs. Maybe Fox had accompanied Smith to the compound.

But the voice that greeted him over the phone was not his friend's.

Alex paused on the step, listening in disbelief as the telephone recording played through.

Out of range? Where the hell would Smith go that was out of range?

Damn it. Where were they?

Reaching the lower landing, he flipped on the switches for the overhead hallway and kitchen lights. He glanced into the kitchen, knowing he'd find no one there.

It wasn't until he turned on the desk lamp in the living room that he saw the note:

Alex -Smith and I will be gone for a couple of days. Don't worry, everything's fine. Fox

Fuck.

Don't worry, everything's fine? Alex crumpled the note angrily. What the hell were they thinking? If anyone spotted Fox and the clone in different places at the same time, Fox Mulder's life was over. Hell, from what McCarniss had said today, even if Fox were believed to be the clone, he could become a target.

And now I'll have to make sure the clone is occupied all day tomorrow, he thought. Damn.

Setting his cell phone on the desk, he shrugged out of his jacket. The Glock fell out of his pocket as he tossed the coat onto the sofa, and he picked it up, feeling suddenly very weary.

They could have told him where they were going. They could have trusted him that far.

He wandered tiredly out to the kitchen and grabbed the bottle of orange juice from the refrigerator. On the table he noticed his laptop, along with the morning's papers. The newspaper on top was folded back as though someone had focused on that article. Curious, Alex picked it up and read the headline.

And felt the blood freeze in his veins.

**********

He hadn't realized how much he'd come to think of the little house as 'home' until he drove up to it two days later. He'd been away from the house before, of course; he often accompanied Alex to the supermarket, and twice now they'd gone into Reading for clothes and supplies. But he hadn't been far away, and he hadn't been gone for one night, let alone two.

And he hadn't slept away from Alex since they'd gotten back together last month.

It was amazing, he thought, how quickly you could get used to having someone there beside you at night.

As he steered the pick-up into the driveway, Mulder spotted Alex on the porch. Barefoot in a pair of well-worn jeans, he was sitting on the porch step, his head resting against the railing. His flannel shirt hung loose, unbottoned.

He didn't move as Mulder stepped out of the car.

Well, Mulder figured, it's not like you didn't know he'd be upset. He crossed the drive , approaching his lover on the porch hesitantly, wary.

"Hi," he said softly, greeting him with an uncertain smile. "Am I still welcome?"

His lover cast expressionless eyes on him, asking him quietly, "Are you alright?"

"I'm fine," Mulder assured him. He sat beside his lover on the step and brought his hand to the back of Alex's neck, taking him in a gentle grip. "Are you angry?"

"Yes," Alex told him.

"Will you forgive me?"

Alex nodded solemnly. "For anything. But you shouldn't have done it, Fox. We're supposed to be in this together. You should have told me what you were up to."

"You would have fought me on it," Mulder pointed out. "You wouldn't have let me go."

"Damn straight," Alex agreed vehemently. "That black oil is serious shit. I don't want you anywhere near it."

Mulder scowled. "It's because it's serious that I *had* to go. We both know what that oil is about. Someone had to contain it to that rig..."

"That someone didn't have to be you, dammit!"

"Why not?" Mulder argued reasonably. "It made a lot more sense than letting *you* go."

"The hell it does," Alex countered. "I've got more experience with this stuff than you do."

"But I've been vaccinated against it and you haven't," Mulder pointed out. "Alex, that oil's been *in* you. We don't know what any further contact with it would do to you."

He broke off as Alex paled, staring at Mulder.

"I couldn't let you take that chance," Mulder said quietly. Shedding his jacket, he tossed it onto the railing.

His lover drew a deep breath, let it out slowly. "You knew about that?"

Mulder shrugged. "I was there with you, Alex. We rode the whole flight home from Hong Kong together. You think I didn't notice?"

Alex shook his head, uncertainty behind the natural defiance in his eyes. Mulder reached out, stroked the man's hair.

"It's why you won't let Smith heal your arm, isn't it?" he questioned gently. "You're afraid it'll bring it back or wake it up or something."

Alex nodded.

"And Smith doesn't know what it'll do, either."

"No."

So you just live with it, Mulder thought. All this time...

"Then don't you see why I couldn't let you go? Why I didn't want to let you risk it?"

Alex shrugged. "I could have handled it," he maintained.

"But you didn't *have* to," Mulder insisted, frustrated. "You said yourself, we're in this together now. That means we look out for each other. It doesn't mean you just take care of me."

"I don't want you to get hurt again," his lover told him softly.

Mulder brought his hand to Alex's face, lightly tracing the curve of the stubbled jaw with his thumb. "I know. But you can't take on all of the dangerous work yourself. If we're partners, we share the risks. And, plain and simple, it was less dangerous for me to go."

He took Alex's face in both hands, leaned forward so that their foreheads touched, rubbed the tip of his nose against his lover's. "Hey," he murmurred, "we haven't seen each other in two whole days. Are we gonna spend all afternoon fighting, or can we go inside and make up now?"

And before Alex could answer, Mulder leaned in and kissed him.

**********

"It was still a stupid thing to do," Alex argued into the phone. "The least you could have done was check with me first..."

"Neither of us felt that speaking with you about it would have been constructive, Alex," Smith told him patiently. "You tend to let your feelings get in the way where Agent Mulder is concerned - "

Alex glared across the kitchen at Fox, who stood fixing sandwiches at the counter. "And don't call him 'Agent' anymore. Thanks to the two of you and this stupid frigging stunt, Fox Mulder's been fired from the bureau."

The silence on the other end of the line told Alex that he'd made his point. "The damned clone was already aggravating the guys at Wiekamp," he informed the healer. "You two may have sealed its death warrant."

"Does 'Mr' Mulder know that?" Smith asked.

"Oh, sure," Alex answered tiredly. "He knows. *He's* so bothered by it all, he's making *lunch*."

Fox turned to glance at Alex, giving his lover a fierce grin. Alex scowled in return, and Fox's grin quickly faded into uncertainty.

"Look, Smith," Alex continued, "are you going to need a ride back here tonight, or you want to wait until tomorrow?"

"I think I'll remain at the compound tonight, Alex," Smith replied. Alex heard the trace of amusement in the placid voice. He told the older man angrily, "Fine, then. Call in the morning when you're ready to go." Closing the connection abruptly, he slammed the cell phone onto the countertop.

Fox winced at the sound.

"You know, great sex usually puts you in a better mood than this," he joked. He put a plate full of sandwiches on the table and sat opposite Alex.

The younger man selected one of the sandwiches and bit into it without a word, his eyes meeting his lover's with a reluctant smile.

Fox raised an eyebrow expectantly. "It *was* great sex, wasn't it?"

"Yeah, it was," Alex admitted. "At least we have that going for us."

**********

The porch faced east, like their bedroom window upstairs. In the afternoons, with the heavy growth of trees around the house, the porch often appeared to be in twilight even while the rest of the house still glowed with sunlight.

The porch was darkening now in the late afternoon, but Alex made no move to come in. So Mulder finally decided to step outside.

"You're looking thoughtful," he spoke, pushing open the screen door. "Mind some company?"

Alex leaned against the railing, staring out at the dirt road in the direction of the compound. If he moved his head, Mulder didn't see it. Crossing the threshold onto the porch, Mulder stood beside his lover, leaning against the railing, leaning into Alex.

He slipped one arm around Alex; drawing his body up against his lover's, he pressed his lips to the other man's neck with a slow, deliberate pause to graze his cheek against Alex's stubbled jaw. Alex didn't pull away, but he didn't press in against Mulder as he usually did.

"Still angry?" Mulder asked him.

"I'm not angry, Fox," Alex spoke tiredly. "I'm just trying to figure out what to do."

Mulder nodded, more to himself than to his lover. "I was thinking about that, too," he told the younger man. "If my double really is reporting to someone other than your contact, maybe I'd be in a better position than you to find that out. If I go back to DC..."

"If you go back to DC," Alex stated flatly, "you're as good as dead."

Mulder shook his head. "Not necessarily. If you can keep the clone out of the way, then maybe no one will know that I'm not *it*. You can tip me off to what your contact expects, and I can play out the rest of it myself."

"Fox," Alex sighed, "my contact is not the only one who knows about the clone. All of the people involved in that project know about it. And I don't know who all of them are, or how many of them there are, or what they may be watching for."

Mulder thought about that.

"Well," he suggested, "you may be able to find out from your contact…"

"My *contact*," Alex reminded him harshly, "is on the verge of having that clone eliminated. Whether they think you're the clone, or know that you're you, they're still likely to kill you. And you're not going to be much good to anyone if you're dead, so forget it."

Mulder swore under his breath. Turning from Alex, he gazed off past the fringe of trees, out to where the last of the sunlight still struck the road. The hell of it was, Alex was right.

"You know," he told the younger man, "you can't expect me to just do nothing while you handle everything yourself." With a glance at Alex, he asked, "*Are* we partners or aren't we?"

Alex didn't answer.

Mulder turned, examining the other man curiously.

"Alex?"

His lover shrugged. "I don't know," he admitted. "I want us to be. But I'm beginning to doubt if it will work. There are too many things we don't talk to each other about..."

Mulder let out a soft, frustrated sigh. "If this is about my going down to the Gulf - "

Shaking his head, Alex said, "It's not. Not *just* that, anyway." He hands and face grew animated as he tried to explain. "Fox, we're fighting aliens that can change what they look like. We're...we're fighting replicants that we haven't even found a way to kill. We're fighting our own government. We *can't* be fighting each other."

Mulder stared, puzzled. Alex's eyes narrowed as his voice grew more intense, more desperate.

"Don't you see? If we're going to work together, we've got to be able to trust each other completely. Believe in each other. Right now, I don't think we have that. You'll do things without keeping me posted, thinking it's better that way, but it's not. So I won't be able to count on you. And you already feel that you can't count on me, because you don't believe what I say..."

"Damn it, Alex," Mulder countered angrily, "you *can* count on me. If you would agree not to shut me out of the fight, we'll be able to talk next time - the way normal partners do. But that's up to *you*. You're not laying the blame for that at *my* feet." He heard his voice resounding in the quiet afternoon; taking a breath, he forced himself to calm down. "Don't you think you can offer me *that* much to work with?"

He waited until Alex gave a reluctant nod before continuing.

"And I've already told you a dozen times that I *do* trust you now. I see how hard you're trying to protect her. But you still don't believe me, do you?"

The bowed head was his only answer.

Damn, he thought, exasperated. We've *got* to get past this.

"Alex." Mulder gripped Alex's chin, forcing the younger man to look at him. "Listen to me. We can't carry this with us forever -it'll tear us apart. And I can't lose you again. I won't survive it. Whatever your part in her abduction, it's long since in the past. And I've let it go. I don't hold it against you any more. Would you please tell me what the *hell* can I say to make you understand that?"

"I do understand that, Fox," Alex spoke quietly. "You've put aside what's happened to Scully."

Alex broke away from Mulder's grasp and crossed the porch. Reaching the side railing, he gazed out past trees, to the fields beyond. His back was to Mulder.

"Scully is alive, Fox," he said. "It's easier to forgive what's happened to her. But what happened to her is not all there is."

Mulder blinked at the back of Alex's head, startled by the implication. He'd known they'd have to address it sooner or later. They both had known that. But he didn't expect Alex to be the one to decide to broach it. Normally, he shied away from the past.

The past couple of days had been difficult, the flights to and from the Gulf long and tiring. Earlier this afternoon, he and Alex had made love, but Alex's mood was still dark. Mulder really didn't want to deal with this now. He just wanted his lover to get past this current argument, past the hurt he was feeling over Mulder's handling of the oil rig situation.

He wanted to know that Alex wouldn't leave him again.

But as he followed Alex to the other railing, the bleak look in the green eyes changed his mind. He had done something to this man when he took off on his own. Whatever fragile hope Alex had begun to have in their relationship had been damaged. He had to handle this now.

Leaning against the railing, his back to the outside world, he tried once more to reassure the younger man.

"Pay attention to me, Alex," he began carefully, "I said it's *all* in the past. All of it. And I mean that. You knew long before I did that we were in a war with them. That there would be casualties. Maybe it just couldn't be helped..."

"You don't get it," Alex interrupted, turning to face Mulder directly. "Look at you. You can't even say the words now. When you were mad at me - when you hated me - you could look me in the eye and accuse me. It hurt you, but you could do it."

Alex's eyes locked on Mulder's. "I hated the way it hurt you. I tried for years to get you to believe that I didn't do it. That I didn't kill your father. But you wouldn't let yourself believe it. And with good reason," Alex told him ruthlessly. "Because you knew me. Because you knew the truth."

A peculiar twinge of fear struck Mulder, but he pushed it aside. He held the other man's gaze steadily.

"Is that what it would take, then?" he asked. "Is that what you want me to say? That I believe you didn't kill my father?"

"No." Alex's eyes met Mulder's, relentlessly. "No, Fox. I want you to say that you love me even though I *did*."

And in that one brief moment, Mulder felt the world turn upside-down.

He had always known it, he told himself. He had *known*...

But always, in the back of his mind, Alex's denials would replay themselves. And over the past month, sleeping beside this man, making love to him, he'd let himself hear those denials, and believe a little bit. He'd forgiven the rest of it. He thought he'd forgiven this, too. But had he only taught himself not to believe it?

He stared at Alex now.

"*Did* you?" he murmurred.

"Yes." Alex admitted, meeting Mulder's eyes with a touch of defiance.

Yes.

And in the midst of the anguish that word caused Mulder, he saw the fear in the other man's eyes. Alex wasn't only demanding absolute acceptance, absolute trust; he was offering it. In that one word, Alex had placed his entire life in Mulder's hands. While most people find it terrifying to commit their hearts to another, Alex had handed his over, along with every tomorrow he would have, to a man who at any moment of the rest of their lives could choose to send him to the gas chamber with that confession.

He had said it to Mulder once before - he'd never ask of anyone else a sacrifice he wasn't willing to make himself.

Damn. Even in a demonstration of trust, Alex Krycek played with fire.

His father hadn't been a good man, Mulder knew. He'd been a traitor to every cause he claimed to believe in. He'd been a sponsor of horrendous experiments on innocent people. He'd sold out his own daughter, handed her over to the enemy. And he'd let his son carry the burden of guilt for it. But he was his father.

Alex had killed him.

Alex stood away from him now. "You can't say it, can you?" he asked quietly.

Mulder opened his mouth, trying to speak. He wanted to say it. He had to say it. But no words came out. I need time, he thought. Just give me a little time...

Alex hung his head, turned, walked past Mulder toward the steps.

Don't leave again. God, don't let him leave again.

Mulder spun around, grabbed his lover's arm, instinctively reaching for the right one.

"Alex."

Alex stopped. Head still bowed, he peered up at Mulder through thick lashes. Mulder brought his hand to the younger man's face, cupping the chin and gently guiding Alex's head upright. Alex never took his eyes off him.

"I love you, Alex."

Mulder stared into the green eyes, determined to meet that gaze without looking away. He had to be able to say this, because Alex needed to hear it. And because he meant it.

"I love you, Alex," he repeated softly, his voice shaking. "Even though you did it. Even though you killed my father."

The tears began then. And he was on his knees, Alex holding him, sobs wracking his body as they hadn't in years. He cried for his father, for Scully, for Melissa. For Samantha, gone from him forever now. And he cried for Alex, and for the six years they'd lost.

They were still there long after the sun went down.

                        

Part Seven:

He used to think of himself as an intellectual. Dispassionate, collected, open-minded. Oxford-educated and Quantico-trained. Dedicated to the pursuit of the truth. Beyond the influence of the mundane and the physical.

He used to think of himself that way, years ago.

But that was before he discovered that every synaptic connection in his brain could be overridden by a pair of sleepy green eyes in the morning, that logic and reason gave way under the pressure of warm wet kisses. Before he learned that the right words in the right voice could persuade him to do or say or forgive anything.

Before Alex.

Last night, Alex had confessed. Of all the things that Mulder suspected Alex to be capable of, Alex had confessed to the worst.

It should have changed everything.

But Mulder lay there, propped up on one arm, tracing the pattern of the early morning sunlight on his lover's skin, knowing that he just couldn't lose this again.

It should have changed everything.

But it changed nothing.

*******

The chirp of a cell phone pierced his sleep. But before Alex could reach for the offending object, the shrill sound stopped, and the phone was resting against his ear. From behind, Fox drew him close, spooning their bodies from shoulder to toe. The older man's hand held the phone in place as Alex spoke.

"Yeah?"

Smith's voice came through the phone line to him. "Good morning, Alex. Did I wake you?"

"Yeah," Alex admitted. "But that's okay. What time is it?"

"Ten minutes past nine," Smith told him. Fox's voice murmurred the same answer into Alex's neck, following it up with a soft bite.

Alex angled his head back, encouraging more of the same.

The healer was still speaking into the phone. "If you or Mr. Mulder could bring my pick-up over here, I'd appreciate it. I have some errands to run this afternoon."

Alex yawned, then made a vague affirmative noise into the phone. "We'll be there in half an hour or so, Jem. You need a change of clothes?"

Smith accepted the offer with thanks, and closed the connection. Alex shrugged his shoulders to bump the phone from his ear. "Thanks, Fox," he mumbled. "Hang up for me?"

Fox did, asking, "Why'd you tell him we'd be there so soon? I've been waiting for you to wake up for a hour now, just so we can grab a shower."

With a chuckle, Alex rolled onto his back, settling his head in the crook of his lover's arm. Smiling, he gave a leisurely stretch. "We still can," he told him. "Smith just wants us to run the truck over there so he can get some errands done. We'll have the place to ourselves all afternoon."

He studied the other man's hazel eyes thoughtfully, recognizing in them a peace he hadn't seen in years. A peace he felt in himself for probably the first time in his life.

"We're alright now, aren't we?" he asked, though it wasn't really a question to him. The clear gaze in Fox's eyes had already answered that for him.

Still, he grinned more broadly as the other man nodded. "Yeah," Fox told Alex, leaning in to kiss him. "We're fine."

*********

You could learn a lot about someone by combing through his possessions, Mulder discovered during that week. When they'd first become involved, six years earlier, Alex had owned only a handful of personal effects - his watch, his wallet, a number of pens and pencils to go with the little pocket notebooks he had carried back then. His clothes, like most of his belongings, were generic store-bought items. Nothing for the profiler in Mulder to latch onto; learning about Alex demanded more from the soul than from the mind.

His belongings were still small in number, but they reflected the strange and sometimes harsh turns Alex Krycek's life had taken. Heavy workboots, expensive shoes, worn jeans and Italian silk shirts, an assortment of keys and currency. Maps and guidebooks, an almanac, an atlas. Tubes of gel for his artificial arm. The laptop. And weapons.

A hand-held computer device drew Mulder's attention, and he tossed it onto the bed to ask Alex about later. They had agreed that there would be no more secrets, and Mulder intended to hold Alex to that promise.

He looked around the room, satisfied. All of Alex's things were now in here with his own few possessions. He'd framed the photograph of them, replaced it on the bureau with a pensive smile. He'd taken it with him to the Gulf - for luck, really - but he'd never expected Alex to notice its absence, much less to have been hurt by it. He'd thought of it as his, that picture; now, like everything else in the room, it was *theirs*.

***********

"No, just get out of there, then," Alex was saying into the cell phone. Mulder paused in the bedroom doorway, but the younger man heard him. Alex turned, extended his hand for Mulder to take. Crossing into the room, Mulder took the offered hand and let Alex draw him close.

Into the phone, Alex said, "Yeah, okay...I'll check with you later." Disconnecting the line, he tossed the cell phone lightly onto the bed and turned his attention to Mulder.

"That didn't sound like good news," Mulder remarked. His arms slid loosely around Alex's waist. "What's up?"

Alex shook his head. "That was Lizzie. Scully fired her."

"For what?" Mulder wanted to know. "You said she was doing fine there."

"Scully caught her switching pills on her."

"Switching pills?" Mulder repeated, suspicious. "Switching what pills? I thought she was only there to keep an eye out for trouble."

"She was," Alex assured him. "But the folks at Wiekamp had her substituting some kind of enhanced supplement for whatever vitamins Scully's taking. It's perfectly safe," he added with confidence.

Mulder doubted that, but he didn't want to get into another argument with Alex about Scully. If the pills had been issued by the Wiekamp people, they weren't likely to be dangerous. The military scientists there had too much reason to want to keep Scully - or at least her baby - safe and well.

He looked into the troubled green eyes of his lover. "So what happens now?"

"I'm not sure," Alex admitted. "Right now, Lizzie is being interrogated by Agent Doggett. Your double is there, too, keeping an eye on things." That should be reassuring, thought Mulder, but the disturbed look remained in the other man's eyes.

"And...?" Mulder prompted.

"And Doggett still trusts Rohrer and that Crane guy," Alex pointed out. "If he passes along the wrong information..."

Mulder didn't need to hear the rest. If the replicants were tipped off to the truth about Scully's baby, they'd kill her before she could give birth. And Rohrer would kill Alex for the lie.

"Is Jem still downstairs?" Alex asked.

"Yeah," Mulder told him. "He's waiting on a phone call before he heads to the compound."

Alex took Mulder's hand and led him out of the room. "Come on," he said. "We need to figure something out. The way things are going, this whole thing is going to blow up in our faces."

********

Smith stood at the window, his back to the other two men. There were times that Alex envied the healer's utter calmness during such chaotic times. But then, he reflected, maybe it was easier to remain calm when you possessed the ability to change shape or to heal. Hell of a lot more calming than the gun in Alex's pocket, anyway.

"Scully's baby is the *only* one who's currently safe," Smith reminded them. "The replicants are not going to allow anyone to interfere with that baby coming to term, as long as they believe it to be a hybrid."

"Right," Alex agreed, "But at this point, who knows how long that will be? Doggett trusts Rohrer and Crane. For all we know, he'll tell them everything Lizzie's just told *him*. Who knows what the hell can happen." He glanced at Fox, reading the concern in his eyes.

Smith turned, studying first Alex, then Fox. "Do either of you think that you can convince Agent Doggett to believe you if you speak to him?"

Alex looked at Fox, who shrugged.

"Well, I don't know how well he *thinks* he gets along with me," Fox answered. "I've only met him on the Orpheus, but he's been interacting with the clone for weeks now. But I can try to talk to him."

Smith nodded, and turned to Alex. "Your run-ins with Agent Doggett haven't been very productive so far, have they?"

"I haven't killed him yet, if that's what you're worried about." Alex scowled, but he had to admit to himself that it was true. And Smith himself wouldn't be able to talk to Doggett; the healer's face was still on a Wanted poster, since the arrests in Montana.

Fox, glancing again at Alex, had apparently followed the same train of thought. With that strange gleam in his eye that always unsettled Alex, Fox said, "Well, then. I guess it's me. I can head down to DC right now..."

"Hold on, doll," Alex warned. "You're not going anywhere right now. Not alone, anyway."

But to his surprise, Smith was already walking toward the coat closet in the hallway. "Actually, gentlemen," he declared, "I think it would be best if we all head down there."

Alex and Fox looked at each other, then at the older man. Grabbing his jacket from the back of the chair, Fox said, "Alright, then. Let's go."

***********

Mulder was at the wheel, the once-familiar streets feeling strangely surreal in the wet night. He hadn't realized before just how comfortable he'd become with the peaceful dark nights of their temporary Pennsylvania home.

Beside him Smith rode, eyes closed, though Mulder knew the man wasn't asleep. In the back seat sat Alex, leaning forward, eyes intent upon the DC landscape.

The J. Edgar Hoover building lay just ahead. Mulder guided the Lexus into the lower level of the parking garage, drawing up into one of the many spaces left vacant in the early evening. Ahead of him, a concrete pillar identified this area of the garage as North2. The surveillance camera attached to it hummed harmlessly.

"You're sure those things aren't working?" Mulder queried, pointing to the camera.

"Positive," Alex assured him. "They've been down for a month now. It wouldn't matter, anyway," he added. "The head of security answers to me."

Mulder raised a suspicious eyebrow at his lover through the rear-view mirror. "Nanobots?"

Alex shrugged lightly. "I do what I have to, Fox."

Giving the garage a quick scan and noticing nothing unusual, Mulder made a move to unlock the car door. "Just be careful," he cautioned Alex. "The people you use those on - they may do what you tell them, but they'd be happy to see you dead."

"Let 'em join the club," Alex muttered.

Mulder grabbed the door handle.

"Wait." Alex's hand on his shoulder stopped him. "It's over there." Gesturing with a nod of his head, Alex indicated a figure emerging from the westside stairwell. Mulder and Smith automatically glanced in the direction the younger man indicated.

Mulder caught his breath, stunned. He'd known about the clone, had heard from Alex just how like Mulder it was; he'd remembered, even without Alex's cautions, that he'd have to be careful not to be seen at the same time as his double.

But nothing had really prepared him for this moment, seeing himself - *himself* - walking across the FBI parking garage. It was eerie.

Smith peered in interest out the windshield. "Looks as though he's going somewhere in a hurry," he noted. "If Agent Doggett is available, this may be a good time to speak with him."

Alex nodded, catching Mulder's eye. "Would that work for you? If you'd rather, we can wait until Doggett leaves, then follow him home like we planned."

"No," Mulder told him, "I'll be fine. Besides, the sooner we warn Doggett, the less chance he has to tip off Rohrer." Across the parking lot, the clone had let himself in to a Ford sedan. Mulder squinted through the tinted windows to see it.

"God," he murmurred.

Smith gave him a quick, almost amused glance, then turned to Alex.

"You'd better follow it," he suggested. "I'll stay here and wait for Mr. Mulder. If the clone comes back, let us know."

"Alright." Alex climbed easily out of the back seat, as Mulder and Smith let themselves out of the Lexus.

Mulder stared for a moment at Alex before stepping aside to give the younger man access to the driver's seat. Behind him, he heard another engine start up, and realized that the clone was about to leave the garage.

"Good luck," Alex murmurred. Mulder nodded and stepped away from the car. He stood there with Smith as the car backed up and swung smoothly down the garage ramp.

"Well, Mr. Mulder," Smith spoke, once the Lexus was out of sight. "Are you ready to visit Agent Doggett?"

*********

Alex realized where they were going, long before the clone parked across the street from the front entrance of Scully's building. Not surprising, he figured. That clone was becoming more protective of Scully than Mulder himself was, now. But then, Alex was himself feeling more protective of Scully than he used to. Maybe there really was something about babies...

The Ford was parked across the street from the apartment building, just in back of Scully's car. Alex pulled the Lexus up a few spaces behind them. The rain had stopped for the moment; Alex switched off his windshield wipers, but left the car idling as he leaned back. He suspected that he might have a long wait ahead of him.

He was wrong.

The entire building suddenly went dark. Alex leaned forward again, trying to see what had happened. None of the other buildings on the block were dark; this was no blackout. It was possible, he knew, that something had happened in the building's electrical system, something perfectly innocent, but Alex Krycek wasn't quick to trust in innocent explanations. As he stared, most of the building's lights came back on. Scully's remained off. Alex threw open the car door and climbed out.

He stood there, listening. His trained ears automatically tuned out irrelevant sounds, closed in on the clatter of rusty iron.

Fire escape.

Leaving his vehicle idling, Alex moved down the block, passing the front steps of the building, continuing on until he faced the alley which housed the back entrance to Scully's apartment building.

There they were. Mulder's double was hurrying Scully down the fire escape stairs, the cast-iron railings swaying slightly under their weight. Alex guessed that they would head for the clone's car. He glanced both ways along the wet street, ready to provide cover if needed. He withdrew the Glock from his pocket and backed slowly along the block.

The form visible in the front entrance hallway wouldn't normally have attracted Alex's attention. Its movement was slow, almost leisurely; nothing about it indicated that it was chasing anyone, let alone the two figures letting themselves down the final ladder of the fire escape stairs.

But in the dim light from the hall, Alex recognized the face of the pursuer.

Billy Miles.

Alex broke into a run back to the Lexus.

It was another long minute before Scully and the clone emerged from the alley and scurried across the street. They ran not to the Ford, but to Scully's car, directly in front of it. Billy Miles was descending the front steps, his pace measured and deliberate.

Get in there, Alex thought anxiously. Get in the damn car!

Billy Miles paused on the sidewalk, then continued toward the couple.

Scully and the clone were in the car now. Alex could hear the the cold choking of the engine trying to turn over.

Billy Miles continued along the sidewalk.

The car pulled forward, then backward, then forward again, its fenders slamming into the vehicles in front and back. It was hemmed in by the other cars.

They weren't going to make it, Alex thought. They don't have time.

Billy Miles stepped out into the street.

Damn.

Alex shot the Lexus forward and out onto the street in one fluid movement.

The body of the replicant wasn't thrown by the impact. It dropped heavily to the ground. Alex ran the Lexus solidly into it, then backed up sharply, taking the tires over it a second time.

His vehicle was nearly parallel with Scully's. Lowering the Lexus' side window, he leaned forward and peered into the agent's car.

Mulder's clone, its stunned expression so like Fox's own, was staring at him. It looked as though he couldn't quite recognize Alex. In the passenger seat, Scully sat dazed.

"We haven't got much time," Alex warned them. "Get in."

For a moment, neither Scully nor the clone moved. Alex threw another glance at the replicant; its face was bloody, but it was slowly pulling itself up onto its knees.

Scully stared out the windshield, seeing the same thing. Alex could read the uncertainty on her face. He felt sorry for her, really; all of her scientific platitudes couldn't begin to explain away the being in front of her eyes.

"Mulder?" she mumbled.

Alex shot one more look at the replicant. In the other car, the clone was still staring at him, Fox's suspicious frown on its face. Alex's patience snapped.

"Let's go!" he ordered sharply.

His shout woke the other two from their daze. Hurriedly, they scrambled into the Lexus, Fox's doppelganger taking the seat beside Alex. Slamming on the gas pedal, Alex threw the car into reverse and pulled away from the replicant.

**********

Mulder braced himself as the elevator doors parted, but there was nothing out of the ordinary in the garage. He made his way silently toward the pillar where Smith waited for him. The older man stepped out of the shadows and greeted him easily.

"Were you able to speak with Agent Doggett?" Smith asked him.

Mulder shook his head. "He's not in the building, as near as I can tell. I've been searching it for the past hour..."

"He arrived just a couple of minutes ago," Smith informed him. "I had no way to reach you to let you know. You must have just missed each other."

That figures, Mulder thought.

Aloud he said, "Alright. I'll go back in and try again. You know," he added in a tone he knew Alex would recognize, "I need a cell phone. You and Alex have them. I want one, too."

Smith opened his mouth to speak, but instead paused and held up a hand for silence. Mulder frowned, listening. The healer nudged him, signalling the concrete pillar, and the two men hid behind it as an automobile sped through the garage, coming to a perfectly aligned stop in one of the empty parking spaces near the elevator corridor. Even if Mulder hadn't recognized the Lexus, he would have known Alex's driving anywhere.

He made a move to step forward, but Smith stopped him. "Wait," the older man hissed at him. "He's not alone."

Mulder peeked around the edge of the pillar, across the garage to where his lover stood. Smith was right; as Mulder watched, two other individuals exited the car. One Mulder recognized as his double, and again the eerie feeling from earlier tonight washed over him. But as he watched, the clone pulled open the rear door and assisted a red-headed female out of the back seat.

Scully.

Good God, she really *is* pregnant.

For a moment everything else left his mind, and a rush of happiness swept over him. He'd wanted this for her, because *she'd* wanted it so badly. In that instant, he remembered how much Alex had risked to keep her safe - and how he and his lover had argued over that - because Alex knew how much Mulder cared about Scully. It was *this* feeling that Alex was referring to, this moment he'd wanted to preserve.

God, I love him, Mulder thought.

But he couldn't go over to him now to say so. Alex was heading, along with Scully and the clone, toward the west-end elevator; it looked as though Alex were going to accompany the other two into the building. To Skinner's office?

Silently, Mulder and Smith slipped forward, claiming a new hiding place behind an unmarked white van. From there, they could see into the short corridor leading to the elevators. They strained to hear, but there was no conversation among the three people they observed.

The elevator doors opened with a soft whoosh and a ping that echoed across the nearly empty garage to where Smith and Mulder hid. Cocky as ever, Alex strode onto the elevator with the agents, no sign of his claustrophobic reaction evident.

Mulder glanced at Smith as the doors closed. "What do you think?"

"I think," Smith told him, "that it's going to be a long night."

*********

Alex glanced over again at Scully. She wasn't quite ready to fall apart, but the strain was definitely taking its toll on her. She looked tired, and frightened. He felt bad for her.

She was the only one in the room who had that effect on him at the moment, however. Skinner hovered over him, refusing to sit, agressively suspicious of Alex. Feeling safer in a crowd, Alex figured. He dismissed the assistant director with a sneer.

Doggett, leaning against Skinner's desk, had made it clear earlier in the evening that he didn't believe anything Alex was trying to tell them. And nothing in his demeanor suggested that he'd had any conversation with Mulder.

Directly in front of Alex stood the clone of Fox Mulder. During the drive over here from Scully's apartment, no one had spoken a word. But once they had reached Skinner's office, the clone had taken on a more voluble personna. There were instants when Alex would forget that this wasn't actually Fox here with him.

"I don't believe this crap," Doggett was saying. "I don't believe you're all sitting around here listening to it even when you know this man's a liar. Worse than that."

Alex looked at Doggett, annoyed, then turned to the others. "You can believe what you want but I don't think you can take the chance that I'm wrong."

No one responded for a moment. Alex could see the concern in the clone's face, though, when he looked at Scully. There was something genuine there. McCarniss may not be sure how trustworthy his pet is, Alex thought, but I have a feeling that Scully can rely on this thing. The thought was almost reassuring.

But something still had to be done to get Scully to safety. "There is no hospital that's safe enough," Alex pointed out, looking from Scully to the clone. "She may never even make it out of this building."

Doggett interrupted him. "Why don't you just shut up?"

Alex swung his eyes to the agent; in that instant, he would have killed the man.

But Mulder's clone interrupted quickly. "Agent Doggett."

Alex and Doggett both turned to the speaker.

"Get on the phone," Fox's double ordered. "If we're going to get Scully out of here we're going to need some help." It - he? -turned hazel eyes on Alex, and for a moment Alex had the strange feeling that this was really Fox, pleased with himself for catching Alex as he just had.

Alex had to turn away. He glanced back at Doggett.

The agent was still scowling, but he had drawn out his cell phone. Skinner looked to Fox's doppelganger with curiosity. "What, exactly, do you have in mind?"

"We need to get her past Billy Miles. He already knows what Krycek and I look like, and he may have seen you and Doggett by now. We need someone from outside."

"Who do you want me to call?" Doggett questioned.

"Monica Reyes," the clone answered him. "She hasn't spent much time in DC. There's a chance that Billy Miles hasn't learned about her yet."

Doggett nodded. "She's in New Orleans, though. We'll have a bit of a wait."

The clone looked at Alex, and again Alex had the sense that this was actually his Fox standing here with him, waiting for him to agree or opine. The feeling was unsettling. He turned his attention briefly to Scully, then back to the clone.

"So we wait," he agreed, eying the clone warily.

**********

Hours were going by, with no word from Alex. Mulder began pacing the garage. What the hell was going on up there? he wondered. Why doesn't Alex come down here to fill us in?

He paused near the Lexus. Turning to Smith, he suggested for the fourth time that night, "I think I should go up there and see what's going on."

"You'll only make everything more difficult for Alex if you do," Smith pointed out. "He's got enough to do right now."

So Mulder waited.

The parking garage covered the full city block; Mulder, during the past four hours, had roamed every foot of it. From where he and Smith now hid, the entrance and exit ramps were to their right, separated from them by nearly three-quarters of the length of the garage, but still in view. The corridor which held the elevators and stairs lay ahead of the men. To their right was another stairwell, this one used as a fire exit.

Mulder stared out at the night. The rain had started again, a fine cool mist that chilled him inside his jacket.

He never used to mind the night.

"Perhaps you should sit in the car for awhile, Mr. Mulder," Smith advised. "It..."

The soft but unmistakeable sound of the elevator doors opening carried through the garage. Both men instinctively pulled back into the shadows, hiding behind one of the supporting pillars. Mulder had expected, had hoped for, Alex. But he remained in hiding, watching.

The figure that emerged from the corridor turned to his right hurriedly, never noticing Mulder and Smith. He headed toward the upper level of the garage where, Mulder knew, the FBI fleet of cars would be. As the figure moved along the garage and out of sight, Mulder turned to Smith.

"That was Doggett," he told him.

The older man nodded.

Mulder stepped forward. "This may be my best chance to talk to him," he said. "Maybe I can catch him before he leaves." He glanced quickly at Smith. "You wait here, and I'll be back as soon as I can..."

"No," Smith hissed, grabbing Mulder's jacket. He nodded his head toward the entrance ramp. "Someone's coming."

Mulder watched the cab pull in to the garage. It sped up one aisle, turned, and began driving more slowly down the second aisle, coming to a stop almost in front of Mulder and Smith. A tan fleet car pulled up alongside it, and Agent Doggett alighted.

The dark-haired woman letting herself out of the taxi was a stranger to Mulder. Doggett paid her cabfare and sent the cab driver on his way. The woman spoke to Doggett, but Mulder couldn't make out the words. He did hear Doggett, though, as the agent brought his cell phone to his ear.

"Okay," he said. "Bring her down."

Her.

Scully?

Mulder turned to Smith, intending to ask him. But the older man's eyes were trained on the cab nearing the exit ramp. Or rather, just beyond.

Billy Miles.

Before Mulder could speak, the cab screeched and swerved. It looked, to Mulder, as though the cab had struck Billy, but the boy continued walking as though nothing had happened.

It's true, then, he thought. Billy Miles is a replicant. Mulder watched, horrified but fascinated, as the boy headed for the elevator corridor.

"Mulder! Skinner! He's in the garage!" Doggett's voice broke through, startling Mulder into action. He jumped up, ready to run forward. But Smith pulled him back by the arm and silenced him with those determined blue eyes.

"He doesn't mean you," Smith reminded him in a whisper.

Doggett was hollering into the phone even as he ran toward the elevators. "Go back! Go back!"

He wasn't fast enough, though. Billy Miles reached the corridor ahead of him.

Mulder moved to run forward, but Smith again stopped him. "Stay put!" the older man ordered.

"But we can help," Mulder argued, pulling away.

"If you're seen at the same time as that clone, your life is in danger. And if Alex has to protect you, he won't be able to protect Scully. Leave them be!"

Mulder stopped, glanced in the direction of the corridor again. The woman, whoever she was, was returning to the fleet car. Mulder drew reluctantly back into the shadows beside Smith, as the unknown woman steered the vehicle toward the elevators. Doggett still waited at the mouth of the corridor. The garage fell into silence.

Billy Miles was somewhere in the building.

With a glance at Smith, Mulder settled into a crouching position and waited.

It was unbearable, hiding in the safety of a shadow while his lover was God-knows-where.

*********

Alex drew a relieved breath as the elevator doors closed. From the relative calm of the fifth-floor hallway, he watched the elevator's descent on the register.

They should be able to get her out of here, then, he thought. Now I've just got to go let Fox and Smith know what's going on. Fox must be going crazy right now, Alex thought with a grin.

He was headed for the door to the stairs when the elevator drew back up.

He turned in time to see the elevator door open, revealing Skinner, Scully and the clone.

"Hey, look who's back," he began, but Skinner cut him off.

"He's in the building."

No need to ask who 'he' was.

He's in the building.

Alex felt his blood chill.

The elevator doors started to close, but the clone reached out to prevent it. His eyes met Alex's.

Alex swallowed, returning the gaze. "What do you want me to do?"

"You're going to protect her," the clone told him, pushing Scully gently out of the elevator. The woman stepped past the doors and turned, dazed, to look at Fox's double. But she said nothing.

The elevator doors closed again.

Alex looked at Scully. Her usual tough shell was gone; at that moment she was no longer a scientist, a doctor, or an agent. She was just an ordinary woman, frightened for her child.

"Come on," he told her softly. "We'll get you out of here yet."

*******

It was probably only a few minutes later that Alex emerged from the corridor with Scully in tow. To Mulder it seemed much longer. As he and Smith watched, Alex released Scully, who was assisted by Doggett and the other woman to the passenger seat of the waiting car. Even from this distance, Mulder could see that Scully was distraught. He wanted to run over and comfort her, talk with her, find out what he could do to help - anything. But he didn't. He couldn't risk it, not without knowing where in the Hoover building his double was. He remained with Smith, hiding.

Alex never looked in their direction. He stood slightly behind Doggett, watching as the dark-haired woman tucked Scully into the fleet car and let herself into the driver's seat. Doggett observed the women in silence; Alex appeared to speak, but Mulder was too far away to hear what his lover said.

The car drove off.

I may never see her again, Mulder realized with a shock.

Wish I could've at least said good-bye.

Smith's hand on his shoulder broke through Mulder's reverie. The older man nodded mutely toward the exit ramp, where Scully and her companion had been brought to a stop. The man waving his arms in front of them didn't appear to be threatening, though; he merely kept them waiting a moment as he turned to direct another vehicle past them along the street. From what Mulder could see, it looked like a sanitation truck.

The fellow then waved Scully's travel car along. The entire event would have been unremarkable if not for the tension in the air, and in the voice of the unknown man as he ordered the fleet car out onto the avenue.

Once the car was out of sight, Mulder returned his gaze to the two men near the elevators. Agent Doggett had turned to face Alex, but Mulder couldn't tell if any words were exchanged. As he watched, Doggett turned again and walked away from Alex, heading with a quick stride for the exit ramp. Mulder's eyes trailed the agent until he was out of sight.

"He's going to talk with Crane."

Mulder spun around, startled, as Alex's hand touched his arm. He'd forgotten how silently his lover could move.

"That was Crane?" he asked. "The one that stopped them?"

Alex nodded.

Smith frowned thoughtfully, looking off into the direction the two bureau agents had disappeared. "Do you know what he intends to talk with him about?" Smith inquired.

"No," Alex confessed. "But I doubt we'll have a chance now to get Doggett alone. He's going to stay here tonight, along with Skinner and your double. They're waiting to hear from Reyes," he told the men, nodding at Mulder. "You two may as well go home. I'll hang around here for the rest of the night. I've got to head to Wiekamp in the morning anyway. But I can just take a bureau car for that."

'Take' a bureau car? Mulder wondered. He resisted the urge to ask the question aloud, instead addressing his other concern. "Where was Scully being taken?"

Alex shrugged one shoulder. "I don't know. Only Doggett and Reyes know. They think that'll keep her safe," he explained. It didn't sound to Mulder as if Alex agreed with their suppositions. Mulder himself certainly didn't.

"This Reyes - that's the woman who's driving her?" he asked Alex.

"Yeah," the younger man confirmed. "She's an agent out of New Orleans. Monica Reyes."

"Is she trustworthy?" Smith wanted to know.

Nodding again, Alex said, "As far as I can tell. She's got a decent track record, too. Investigates ritualistic crimes, mainly, but seems open to just about anything. We may be able to use her down the road."

Mulder frowned at the choice of words, but knew that his lover was probably right.

Alex yawned. "Look. In a couple of hours it'll be light. Why don't you two go on home? I'll catch up to you tomorrow."

"No," Mulder argued. "Sooner or later we ought to be able to get to Doggett. If he's staying at the bureau all night, then he may not have a chance to meet with anyone but you three. So even if I can't catch him until tomorrow, there's still time to convince him not to talk to Rohrer."

"He's talking to Crane right now," Alex reminded his lover. "That may be as good as talking to Rohrer - I don't know. But at this point, talking to Doggett may not be good enough."

Mulder scowled. "But it could still do *some* good," he pointed out. "I think I should stay and try."

Beside him, Smith nodded softly. "I agree," he said. "Mr. Mulder and I will remain here until Mr. Mulder can find an opportunity to speak to Agent Doggett alone."

Mulder nodded, grateful for the support.

"But you *do* have a point, Alex," the older man continued. "We need to find out what Knowle Rohrer has learned. If Billy Miles is pursuing Agent Scully, it could be either to be sure she delivers, or to be sure she does not. You may be able to find out which it is, if you go about it carefully."

"What good would that do?" Mulder demanded. "Even if the replicants have found out the truth, we've still got no way to stop them..."

Smith explained, "We would know that the threat existed. Alex could alert Wiekamp to it."

"Wiekamp already knows," Alex reminded the healer. "That's why they've been trying to put clones around these women. To keep guard and tip them off when extra help is needed."

"Alex, that tactic hasn't been working," Smith pointed out. "Mulder's clone has been acting on his own. You said so yourself."

Alex turned his eyes from Smith to Mulder. Both men knew what Smith was about to suggest; both men dreaded it.

"Alex," Smith inquired coolly, "when can you meet with Rohrer again?"

Mulder flinched. He desperately wanted to argue against this. Every one of his cells was screaming to put a stop to this. If the replicant has discovered that Alex lied to him, Alex wouldn't live through the meeting.

But Mulder, like Alex, had agreed now to do what was necessary to their cause. He kept silent and waited for his lover's response.

Alex closed his eyes, thinking. When he opened them again, there was no sign of unease.

"Tomorrow," he told them. "When I get back from Wiekamp."

"Good," Smith said. "Hopefully, he won't have learned the truth yet. We may be fine, as long as he doesn't learn about Scully's baby for another day or so."

Mulder frowned. "Why?" he wanted to know.

"Because," Smith told him, "I was paying attention to Agent Scully when Alex brought her down here."

Alex and Mulder glanced uncertainly at each other, then turned back to Smith.

"So?" Alex asked.

"So," Smith explained simply, "I think there's a very good chance that by this time tomorrow, Agent Scully may be a mother."

                        

Part Eight:

"He seemed to be doing exactly what you wanted him to do - keeping Scully safe." Alex told General McCarniss. "If he's answering to anyone but you, at least it isn't interfering with your plans."

"That's not good enough, Krycek." McCarniss leaned forward on his desk, studying Alex intently. Alex maintained his expression of calm disinterest.

"We've had failures with some of the other clones in the past," the general informed him. "They develop a sense of independence. They begin to do whatever they choose."

Alex shrugged. "They're human," he pointed out. "What do you expect?"

"They're not entirely human, Krycek. They're designed differently. Not all of the wiring works, so to speak."

And just what the hell does that mean, Alex wondered.

"Their emotions are limited," McCarniss continued.

Alex nodded. "I've noticed that," he agreed. "Your pet clone doesn't get all worked up the way Mulder always did. But I think most of the people around him just attribute it to what he's been through."

McCarniss scowled. "It can't *feel* everything that ordinary humans can. Not for lack of trying to teach it," he told Alex tiredly. "But it has no sense of guilt, no sense of remorse, no sense of right and wrong..."

Holy fuck.

"As long as it answers to us," the general went on, "this is no problem. We simply teach it how to behave. But once it begins to stray from our influence, well, it can't be trusted anymore."

"And?" Alex queried coolly.

"It needs to be eliminated, Krycek. Before it becomes a threat."

Damn.

Alex shook his head automatically. "It's not doing any harm. It's just taking care of Agent Scully, like you wanted it to do."

"You're not understanding, Krycek. We still suspect that Mulder's clone is answering to someone else. We haven't been able to verify it yet, " McCarniss reiterated. "but there's no question that the clone is acting against some of our orders. As long as it is doing that, it can become a threat to the population at large. We cannot assume that it's motives are benevolent."

So you want me to get rid of it for you, Alex thought with a sigh.

"Alright," Alex nodded wearily. "I'll take care of it."

McCarniss said nothing, but that was no surprise; both men knew what Alex was agreeing to do.

Alex rising to leave, paused at the doorway. "Just tell me one thing - who is it you *think* the clone is reporting to?"

General McCarniss leaned back in the oversized chair and looked Alex up and down, appraising him.

"It would help if I knew," Alex explained easily. "If I have to eliminate a threat...," he let the thought hang in the air between them.

"Yes, I see," McCarniss nodded.

Alex waited patiently as the general again leaned forward on the desk.

"Have you ever heard of a man named Knowle Rohrer?"

**********

The parking garage had been quiet since the ambulance pulled away. It had been on Mulder's mind the rest of the afternoon, though.

Skinner's unconscious form had been discovered in that elevator not long after Alex had emerged from it, striding deliberately across the garage. His lover had talked to him and Smith at the time.

"Billy Miles is in there again," he'd warned them, gesturing vaguely toward the main core of the Hoover Building. He led them toward the Lexus. "Come on. You two are going to come with me to Wiekamp. You can wait in the car while I'm in there..." Smith had rejected the idea, pointing out that Mulder still hadn't spoken with Agent Doggett. Mulder saw the concern in Alex's eyes, knew that the man dreaded leaving him and Smith here while the replicant was around. Knew that Alex's own fear of the replicants was intensifying his apprehension. But he had to agree with Smith.

"Doggett is still in there, isn't he?" Mulder had asked.

"Yeah," Alex told him. "He was talking to Rohrer a little while ago."

"What?" Mulder and Smith glanced at each other, alarmed.

Alex shrugged, shook his head tiredly. "Take it easy. They were only together for a minute, and from what I could see, Rohrer did most of the talking. Anyway, Rohrer could see me through the window. If he felt like killing me, he could have done it then."

He had driven off shortly after, speeding to make his appointment on time. He'd made no mention of Skinner, no mention of anyone being injured.

Mulder had been thinking about it all afternoon, all evening. He knew that Alex hated Skinner, that he blamed the assistant director for Mulder's abduction. But did Alex really hate Skinner enough to have just left him lying there in the elevator?

There was every chance that Billy Miles had hurt Skinner *after* Alex had left.

But Mulder didn't believe it.

*********

Alex drove, his mind a mass of confusion. In the seat beside him sat Rohrer, calmly looking out at the Hoover building's garage.

"You wait here," he told Alex. "I'll just be a few minutes."

"I've already met Crane," Alex reminded him.

"Yeah, but I've got to meet someone else, too. He may not want me to bring company." Rohrer smiled. "Don't worry, pal. I'll let you know what I learn."

Sure you will, Alex thought to himself.

But at least I've learned what I wanted to learn, he thought with satisfaction. Doggett hasn't told Rohrer the truth about Scully's baby.

He watched the replicant cross to the corridor where the elevators were, debating whether or not to follow by stairs. He wanted to know who, besides Crane, Rohrer was going to meet with. And why.

A snap, soft and metallic, alerted Alex. He glanced quickly in his rear-view mirror.

Doggett.

The agent's hand was still on the handle of a car door; he was leaning toward the window, as if talking to someone. Inspecting the car in the mirror, Alex saw the second form.

The clone?

Doggett disappeared from Alex's view, then reappeared off to the side, heading for the south stairwell. Alex turned his gaze back to the clone, watching as it opened a cell phone and began talking.

*********

Mulder turned as the Lexus drove into the garage. Alex was at the wheel.

"Who's that with him?" Mulder asked Smith.

Smith shook his head. "I'm not sure. He looks very tall, though. It may be Rohrer."

Rohrer? What was Alex doing bringing Rohrer back to headquarters?

"Come on," Smith whispered. "Agent Doggett is following them."

Smith and Mulder worked their way along the garage, staying in the shadows of vehicles and concrete pillars. They positioned themselves near the far wall, hidden behind one of the pillars, creating a triangle with the two cars in question. Just behind them was the south stairwell. The elevators, and the west stairs, were in front of Alex.

Rohrer let himself out of the Lexus and headed for the elevators.

As soon as Rohrer was out of sight, Doggett stepped out of his automobile, leaning in to say something to the clone. Then he turned and headed for the south stairs, passing within a few yards of Mulder and Smith's hiding place. The door closed with a soft click.

"Follow him," Smith suggested. "I'll stay here and keep an eye on the clone."

Mulder nodded.

**********

Mulder hugged the outside wall as he followed Doggett up the stairs, staying two flights behind. Doggett's hand was occasionally visible on the railing as a guide, but even without that, Mulder knew exactly where Doggett was. The agent wasn't making much of an attempt to keep his whereabouts unknown. His feet slamming on the steps echoed down throughout the stairwell.

Doggett stopped on the third floor, opened the door, then continued racing up to the fourth floor.

Mulder waited, listened. Silence. Doggett must have entered the hallway on four.

Strange, though, he thought. Doggett must not know who Rohrer was here to see. Not that there could be many people in the building at this hour.

Mulder reached the fourth-floor landing. Doggett still hadn't stepped back onto the stairwell. As quietly as he could, Mulder pushed open the door and peeked out carefully. Seeing no one, he let himself into the hallway.

Doggett was ahead of him, his back to Mulder, attention drawn to something going on around the corner from him. Mulder listened, but could hear nothing. He inched forward soundlessly.

Doggett crouched low and worked his way around the corner, out of Mulder's sight. Mulder continued forward, listening.

From somewhere ahead of him came the sound of footsteps.

Shit.

Mulder dove across the unlit corridor, pushing open the door of the men's restroom, forcing it closed behind him as Doggett raced past. In the silence that followed the agent's flight, Mulder pulled open the door a crack and peeked out. Doggett was letting himself back onto the stairwell.

Where was Rohrer?

Mulder glanced up and down the dark corridor. Rohrer or Doggett?

He was supposed to be following Doggett. And Doggett had run up the stairs; Mulder had seen that much as the door was closing. But what was he running from? Or to?

Something around that corner had held Doggett's attention.

With a final glance at the stairway door, Mulder turned and continued up the hallway.

*********

He couldn't remember the last time he had dreaded something so much.

Crouching along the front seat, Alex quietly let himself out the passenger door. He used the car as a shield to hide him as he watched the clone for another minute, then began soundlessly to make his way across the garage. Beside Doggett's car was a concrete pillar, and he rested against it, bracing himself for what he had to do. Reluctantly he drew his handgun from his pocket and stared at it.

Gotta do it some time, he thought. May as well be now.

In one smooth movement he stepped out from behind the pillar and smashed the passenger's window. The cell phone he snatched from the clone's hand, crushing it angrily on the ground. The gun he trained on the creature who was so much like his own Fox.

"Get out of the car."

*********

Damn.

The elevator doors closed as Mulder turned the corner. In the dark of the center hallway, he knew he probably hadn't been seen, but it was still careless of him.

Rohrer had been in that elevator. So had someone else, though Mulder hadn't seen who it was. Someone attached to the bureau, he assumed. Crane, maybe?

He watched the lighted numbers of the elevator register. Rohrer and his companion stopped on the fifth floor.

Well, he figured, at least they're all on the same floor again.

Mulder headed for the stairwell.

His hand was on the door, ready to push it open, when the thud of heavy footsteps met him. Someone was running down the stairs.

The footsteps didn't stop on four, but kept running. Mulder listened until the sounds faded, then let himself back out onto the stairwell. Leaning over the railing, he looked for the runner.

Skinner.

What the hell was going on around here?

Mulder stood on the fourth-floor landing, debating which way to go. He looked again down at Skinner, curious about just where he was heading. But Doggett and Rohrer were both still on five, as far as he knew. He began to climb upward.

He was just about to push open the door to the fifth floor when the first shot reached his ears.

**********

That was a gunshot.

Mulder froze on the landing, stunned. He wanted to disbelieve it. A gunshot in the Hoover building in the middle of the night? But his years as an agent had left him well-trained; in his bones, he knew that that was a gunshot.

A second shot echoed through the stairwell.

Alex.

And Mulder turned and bounded down the stairs as if the devil himself were chasing him.

He shoved open the door out onto the garage, forgetting to take care to remain unseen.

But it was Smith who grabbed him.

"Shh," the older man hissed. He dragged Mulder away from the doorway, pulled him into a crouching position beside one of the FBI vans. Mulder tried to pull away, his eyes scanning the garage. Alex wasn't in the Lexus.

"Don't make a sound," Smith warned in a harsh whisper. He clapped his left hand over Mulder's mouth and nodded in the direction of Doggett's car.

Mulder peeked around the corner of the van. At first, all he saw was Skinner's broad back and the profile of the clone. He leaned out a bit further.

And the blood froze in his veins.

Alex.

Mulder struggled violently in Smith's grasp, but the older man was terrifyingly strong. The hand around his mouth tightened, almost closing off his air. Smith's other arm closed around Mulder chest, pinning Mulder's right arm uselessly to his side.

"Stay still," Smith hissed at him.

Mulder twisted his head to see the healer, staring at the man in wide-eyed horror and fighting the iron grip around his mouth and chest.

A third shot rang through the garage.

Oh, God.

Skinner shot him. Skinner shot Alex.

Mulder wrenched free for an instant, but before he could get up, Smith had caught him again. Leaning in close to him, the older man muttered, "Just stay still, for God's sake. Let them leave."

Tears spilled from Mulder's eyes. His legs gave out, and he fell to his knees beside the van. Staring at Smith, he nodded slowly. This man was a healer. He could heal Alex. He *had* to heal Alex.

From somewhere behind him, Mulder could hear Skinner's voice. "You just go. I'll get him."

As Mulder and Smith sat there on the cold concrete, Skinner strode toward the elevators. The sudden muted roar of an auto engine, the bright twin beams of headlights, and the clone was gone.

The garage was silent.

**********

Smith released his grip on Mulder. Mulder pulled loose and stood quickly. His eyes focused on the dark form lying on the garage floor.

God. Oh God.

Mulder didn't remember moving; he was suddenly there, on his knees beside his lover.

The third bullet had struck the head.

The beautiful green eyes were half-open, but they didn't seem to see anything. Mulder rested one hand on Alex's chest. It rose slightly, the faintest breath stirring in the lungs. Mulder looked up at Smith.

"What are you waiting for?" he asked. "You've got to heal him."

Smith lowered himself to his knees, as well. But he didn't reach out to Alex, didn't place his hand on the man at all.

"I can't," Smith said, his blue eyes looking at Mulder unhappily.

Mulder frowned. He couldn't have heard right.

"Heal him," he told Smith. "He's still alive. You've got to heal him."

Smith shook his head. "I can't. I'm sorry." He looked at his friend, lying unconscious and bloody on the cold floor. "I'm sorry."

"You're sorry," Mulder repeated, confused. "What are you talking about? You can heal him. I've seen you heal others."

Smith nodded sadly. "I know." He turned his gaze to Mulder. "But Alex doesn't want me to. He made me promise once never to heal him. Because of the oil."

"No." Mulder shook his head.

He had to make Smith understand.

"He was only talking about his arm," he told him, anguished. "This is his *life*." Mulder touched Alex's cheek; it was still warm. He ran his hand lightly over his lover's hair.

Smith didn't move.

"You've got to heal him, Smith," Mulder pleaded. "He'd want you to - I know he would." Mulder looked down at his hand running through Alex's hair. The hand was covered with blood.

Fresh tears spilled from Mulder's eyes.

"You have to heal him," he said again, softly. "Please."

"I'm sorry." Smith's voice reflected the sorrow in his eyes.

This can't be real.

God, please don't take him away. I've only just got him back. Don't take him away again.

Mulder lifted Alex's head, cradled the younger man against him. "Alex?" he murmurred. "Alex, please wake up. You have to wake up."

Thick lashes fluttered over green eyes, but Alex made no sound.

"Alex," Mulder spoke, rocking his lover softly. "Please. You have to wake up. You have to tell Smith he can heal you."

Alex stirred slightly.

"Come on, Alex," Mulder went on. "Please? Wake up..."

A soft moan reached his ears. Mulder bent his head forward, brushing his lips across Alex's temple. "Wake up," he murmurred again.

The green eyes opened, squinted against the pain, but focused on Mulder.

"Fox?"

"It's okay," Mulder told him. "You're going to be okay. You just have to tell Smith he can heal you."

Alex trembled in Mulder's embrace. Moaning, he shook of his head. "No," he mumbled. "I can't."

"Damn it, Alex, of course you can!" Mulder cried. "You have to!"

"I don't know...what it...might do," Alex explained weakly. He met Mulder's eyes; the misery in them mirrored Mulder's own. He wasn't going to let Smith heal him.

Alex held Mulder's gaze in spite of the pain. "I'm scared," he whispered.

You can't possibly be more scared than I am right now, Mulder thought.

"I know you're scared, Alex. So am I. But we can get through it, whatever happens. Okay? We'll deal with it together. Just don't leave me again."

Alex tilted his head, let it rest more heavily against Mulder's chest. "I love you, Fox," he murmurred.

"I love you too, Alex," Mulder whispered, stroking Alex's face softly. "Please don't leave me."

There was no answer.

"Alex?"

Alex moved his head once more, a vague nod.

"Okay," he mumbled. He closed his eyes, exhausted. "Okay, Jem. It's okay. Whatever Fox wants…" He drifted off.

Mulder leaned his head forward again, pressing his lips against Alex's tenderly. "It'll be alright," he promised. "Whatever happens, it'll be alright."

Blinking away tears, Mulder raised his eyes to Smith's face. "It's okay now," he said. "You can heal him now."

Smith nodded somberly.

"Yes," he agreed. "It's okay now."

And he placed his hand on Alex's forehead.

***********

It was the sunlight more than the motion that woke him. With a yawn, he nuzzled his face against his lover's shoulder, wincing slightly at the soreness in his head.

"How are you feeling?" Fox asked quietly.

"Okay," Alex answered, rubbing his eyes. "Where are we?"

"We just passed York." Smith's voice reached him from the front seat.

"York?" Alex repeated. He drew himself upright, leaning forward and squinting at the road unfolding in front of the Lexus. A wave of dizziness flooded him, but he held on, grabbing the headrest of the seat in front of him. "No. We're going the wrong way," he told the other two men. "We have to head south. They were taking her someplace in Georgia..."

"Later, Alex," Fox murmurred. "We'll work on all of that later. Right now, we're just going to get you home." With a gentle tug, he brought Alex back into his arms.

"We have a lot to do," Alex said, but the motion of the vehicle and the warm strength of Fox's embrace were making him sleepy again. "We have a war to win..."

"We'll win it," Fox promised him.

"You think?"

"Sure," Fox assured him. "What's a planet full of indestructible beings, compared to the three of us?"

Smith chuckled, and Alex smiled into Fox's shoulder. "Right," he mumbled.

***********
end
***********


Archived: August 25, 2001