Actions

Work Header

Frantic, Part 2

Work Text:

Frantic, Part 2

Frantic, Part 2

by Chad Moore


From: <>
Subject: [mskslash] NEW FIC: FRANTIC 9/16 (M/SK, K/O) NC17 Date: Wednesday, August 28, 2002 8:41 PM

[See Part One for disclaimers, etc.]

FRANTIC by Chad Moore
PART NINE: CAN'T GET YOU OUT OF MY HEAD

I can't believe I'm about to watch Mulder go through this, Scully thought as she took in the stoop-shouldered older man in his comfortable tweed suit and wire-rimmed glasses in whom Mulder had such unshakable faith.

"This is called Rapid Eye Technology," Dr. Werber explained, indicating the black, oblong device Skinner was currently plugging into a wall socket for him. "It recreates REM sleep so that things in your subconscious that you might have suppressed are able to come to the surface freely."

Mulder stared at it apprehensively. He thought it looked like something left over from the set of "Logan's Run". "I'm not going to hallucinate or space out, am I?" he wondered aloud.

"Highly unlikely," Werber replied. His smile was reassuring and kind. "But if you're willing to free associate during the procedure you might be surprised what comes into your head."

Mulder nodded, ready to get on with it. "Okay, so what do I do?" he asked, lifting a questioning hand.

His therapist moved toward the RET machine placed atop a tripod in the middle of Skinner's living room. "You follow these lights with your eyes." Werber pointed out a line of tiny blue bulbs recessed horizontally on one side of the device. "Just your eyes, not your head, all right?" he instructed, then walked back to Mulder's side. "Every so often I will tap your hand like this," he said, lightly touching the top of Mulder's hand, "but don't look down -- just keep following the lights, okay. Are you ready?"

Mulder shared a nervous grin with both his partner and his lover. "Now you're sure this thing isn't gonna make my brain explode?" he asked the doctor.

"I hope not," Werber kidded, then more seriously, "No, of course not. I assure you this is perfectly safe and I would have never recommended it otherwise. Are you comfortable?"

"Yeah." Mulder settled back in a creamy white, overstuffed armchair and tried to relax.

"Would you get the lights, please?" Werber asked Skinner.

The Assistant Director gave his lover a hopeful, supportive look before moving to turn down the lights. Instantly the lights of the RET started to move back and forth, chasing each other in quick succession...


Tonight was the night, Alex Krycek thought darkly as he propped himself on one side of the highly polished oak bar. Tonight he would unravel the cat's cradle that was the mystery of Faith Matthews; Who was he? How could he and Fox Mulder be brothers? And how had the young man been infected with a strain of alien virus? Krycek had a mission here. One that he was determined to see fulfilled.

It had been a simple objective in the beginning. Spender's associates, of which there seemed to be an endless supply, had been alerted to Faith's strange blood sample, and had then set about stealing the vial containing it while making it look like a professional break-in by someone within the FBI lab itself had occurred.

News of the alien infected blood had quickly leaked, and then Krycek's contact had appeared...the former FBI agent had not been forgotten, and he'd quickly become acquainted with the strange happenings in D.C. since his absence. What he hadn't expected was Cancerman dispatching Marita Coverrubius to spring him from that hellish prison camp with a generous offer above and beyond his freedom, and with only one condition: discover the truth about Mulder's new-found brother.

Krycek had agreed, only because he had aims of his own. He'd been fiercely determined not to become Spender's witless pawn again -- the thought disgusted him to his very core, where the dark seeds of revenge had flowered and bloomed in that Tunisian prison. A whiff of cigarette smoke from a passerby caused an indirect twinge in his shoulder, where his left arm had been crudely amputated, and sent a shiver of fury for the old bastard through Krycek. He could still smell the dank, grimy cell where he'd been held and tortured for months...

He immediately shook off the memory and locked it away, choosing instead to focus on the here and now. His simple mission had been made more complicated than he could have ever imagined -- not by Spender or the threat of discovery by Mulder -- no, it was Faith Matthews himself who had thrown a wrench into the works -- and a handsome wrench at that.

Krycek's mind replayed that night at the gazebo; the way Faith had lightened his mood, the look the young man had given him... Then his green eyes filled with regret. When the simple task had begun, he'd been given strict sealed orders from his superior, and his two options all teetered on the results of the virus analysis: Protect Faith Matthews or kill him.

He saw Faith again in his mind and Krycek could not deny the intense feelings chipping away at his heart as if it were a melting iceberg. But what did they mean? The thought stopped the Russian. Alex shook his dark head, telling himself he was being crazy.

He paused and waited until his heart stilled once more, then tentatively, he lifted his drink to his lips. Spender, like an old dog with a bone, was hounding him more and more for information. "Stay on him and keep up with whatever he's doing," Spender had said, in their most recent conversation. "And keep him occupied. He's going all over the place. You have to keep him under control. You have to make sure--"

That's when Krycek had cut the connection.

Although it had been just a few days since he'd met Faith, in that time Krycek thought he'd put their encounters to excellent use... It should have been simple, even if he--

"Alex, hi!"

Krycek started and turned from the bar. "Faith," Alex said, his face lighting up automatically when he saw the younger man. "You look...great."

"Thank you." Faith felt a thrill of excitement coarse through him.

"I guess I should've had my tux pressed," Alex confessed, taking in the young man's dressed-to-thrill attire, then his own.

Faith noted that Alex seemed nervous and a little on edge. But then he felt his own blood pressure skyrocket when the other man opened his jacket a little, revealing a body-hugging silk shirt underneath. Faith couldn't help but notice how the sea-green cloth brought out the color in Alex's eyes.

"Ah, hold that thought," Faith was quick to reply, once he'd emerged from his distracted orbit. "Now remember what you said: this is a thank-you dinner." He held a hand to one side of his face and confessed, "It took me about three hours just to decide what to put on. Besides what you're wearing is way better than some ol' tux."

Faith's little diversion seemed to have the desired effect, and the pair shared an ice breaking laugh.

"I didn't exactly just step out of the shower like this," Alex replied with a sly grin. He ran his fingers through his slicked back hair and Faith felt his legs actually quiver. A bartender strode forward to deliver two sparkling glasses of champagne that Krycek had ordered earlier with instructions to have them delivered when his guest arrived. "I hope you like it," Alex said, smiling at Faith. Then he held out the glass in his hand. "I haven't had Bellini since Harry's Bar in Venice."

"Oh, Venice! Is that anything like Harry's Bar in Newark?" Faith smirked, taking a sip of the delicious drink. His eyes widened in wonder, partially put on, partially real. Alex gave a short laugh and Faith chuckled, "Yeah, ya see, I haven't actually been outside of the good ol' US of A in, like, ever, so..."

Alex considered this for a moment, then smiled and raised his glass. "So here's to you, Faith from the good ol' US of A," he toasted. "Thank you...for everything."

Faith sketched a mock bow. "Oh, thanks..." Then he took another taste from his glass. "Oh, and bonus points for not mentioning my age to Captain Peacock over there." He nodded back at the maitre d' standing snobbishly beside the entrance. "That's very classy of you, very classy."

Faith watched Alex as a mischievous grin began to spread across his face. "Well, I had a feeling you might be jailbait," Krycek said calmly.

"Oh, no, more like a Jersey babe." Faith blushed and grinned, realizing Alex was teasing him. "Like I always say, `you're only as old as your fake ID'."

"Don't look now, but the maitre d' is headed this way." Alex stared at Faith with a severe look, but couldn't hold it and burst out laughing.

"You are so bad!" Faith cried, and he playfully punched at Alex who smiled and dodged the harmless blow.

Alex had to admit he liked the way Faith was reacting to him. The younger man's simple joy of being around him was more intoxicating than the glass of Bellini in his hand.

Faith chimed in on his thoughts, as if he could read them, "It's really nice bein' here with you, Alex."

"You know something, Faith? I was just thinking the same thing about you."

A goateed waiter, dressed to the nines, waltzed up to the bar. "Your table is ready, sir," he announced to Krycek. "Sorry you had to wait so long."

"No problem," Alex replied, though his gaze stayed fixed on his young companion.

"Right this way." The waiter gestured with an outstretched hand for the pair to follow him into the dining room.

"Shall we?" Krycek raised an eyebrow at Faith, who nodded enthusiastically.


Skinner tilted his head in the gloom to watch Mulder closely, while Scully perched on a chair opposite the sofa, keeping her trained eye on Werber's method. "Mulder," Werber began softly. "I want you to tell me where the safest place you have ever been is." The doctor's penetrating gaze stayed fixed on Mulder, but the agent didn't blink or look away for his hazel eyes were focused on following the rapidly blinking RET light board.

"Walter's bedroom," he answered honestly, eliciting a rush of warmth to Skinner's heart that simultaneously flushed his cheeks.

"Picture it."

"I am."

"What makes you feel safe there?"

"The sound of Walter laughing, watching some dorky horror movie with me while I'm polishing off a carton of Caramel Coyote ice cream. The feeling of-of his arms `round me."

"Comfort. The sounds of home?" his therapist suggested.

"Yes, that makes me feel safe," Mulder replied, the tone of his voice becoming slower as the machine had the desired effect on him.

"Very good." Werber nodded, lightly touching Mulder's hand. "Okay, now I want you to think of a place where you feel vulnerable."

Mulder thought for several seconds before saying, "Work, just before a Committee hearing."

"Is there another place where you feel anxious or even threatened?"

"My parents' home."

With this answer, Skinner exchanged an uneasy look with Scully.

"Picture it," Werber continued.

"I am."

"What makes you feel unsafe there?"

"The arguments between my parents...between me and my father." Mulder took a sad breath and sagged. "Too many things were taken away there."

"That makes you feel unsafe?" When Mulder slowly nodded, Werber continued, "Do you remember the man Spender being there? Can you see his face?"

"No, not now."

"Try, try to see his face."

Mulder concentrated. "I'm sorry...I don't know why...I just can't."

Seeing his patient becoming anxious, the doctor lightly touched his hand again and assured him, "It's perfectly all right, Mulder. Any answer that you give is the right answer."

All at once the lights appeared to take on a life of their own, flashing, winking, blinking before Mulder's eyes. That's when the technique started to work. Skinner could see it in Mulder's face, the way his lover nodded and seemed to go into a trance-like state.

"Wait, now I-I see him," Mulder announced suddenly.

"What is he doing?" Werber inquired, keeping his voice calm and soothing to gauge the answers Mulder needed.

"This man...he-he's been here before." Mulder's eyes darted back and across the lights, getting flashes in between them of the Cigarette Smoking Man. "He's arguing with my mother."

"Does that still upset you?"

"Yes," he said unhappily.

He heard rustles and tears, and sighs and whispers. In an instant the flashing blue lights were replaced with the distorted image of himself hearing the argument outside of his parents' bedroom. Another flash of blue light; someone breathing; a heartbeat -- his own. White lights flickered overhead, bright, not, bright...

Mulder saw himself in a stark white room. The opaque haze revolved around him, though he was perfectly still. He suddenly felt unbelievably dizzy; almost seasick. Dimly, he was aware of being strapped on a gurney and shapes moving around him; something icy darted right through him. A face hovered over him, its gaze level and unblinking. Over its nose and mouth stretched a mask of white paper. Mulder blinked, then he blinked again and the other man's features became more distinct. He inhaled sharply. The figure stretched back, holding an empty hypodermic in a gloved hand.

Then, inexplicably, he heard Spender's gruff voice: "Begin the procedure."

The doctor's cold, gray eyes stared down at Mulder through a set of blue-tinted lenses...a strange, silver, tubular device burning into his mind.

Mulder cried out in pain.


Oceanview was exactly how Faith had pictured it. The chic, wildly expensive restaurant reminded him of an elaborate MGM musical set with its softly lit dining tables assembled on two tiers facing a black and white ripple-patterned dance floor. Sparkling blue draperies flowed in a non-existent breeze, resembling the ocean waves for which the place was christened. The perfect touch of cliched romantic elegance was completed with a small orchestra playing a light rhythm of "That Old Black Magic" in the background.

Now seated in an intimate corner, Faith propped his elbows on the table, cupping his chin in his hands and studied Alex in the candlelight. His eyes roamed over Alex's lean and strong body, admiring his handsome face, and his green eyes sparkling with mischief, with...with longing? Faith took a nervous little breath and swallowed.

Krycek took a drink from his glass, then sat it down to regard the other man closely. "So, how did a boy from New Jersey end up in the nation's capital?" he asked with an innocent, wide-eyed, `everything-you-say-is-fascinating' look that Faith simply could not resist.

"Oh, well..."

An Oceanview waitress served them their meal as Faith explained how he'd segued from the stuffy confines of Winterborne School, to putting himself through college, and finally getting in on the ground floor of WSR Graphics.

"I guess I took a big leap," he said with a shrug. "Sometimes I wonder how the heck I got here myself."

"I know the feeling," Alex remarked, eagerly stabbing his fork into a glazed slice of chicken. Faith noticed how the other man's left arm moved stiffly, with a certain delicate effort and he wondered, not for the first time, what might have happened.

"Let me tell you," Krycek went on, shaking him from his thoughts, "when you travel as much as I do -- and I've been to a lot of places -- you sometimes forget what city you've woken up in."

He could feel the wistfulness creeping into his voice, the memories of those long ago days before all the lies and deception, before the Consortium. He could hardly believe he was opening up to Faith like this. He held Faith's gaze another moment, then looked down at the table, suddenly flustered.

"So, um, how's your friend doin'?" asked Faith abruptly.

"Same," came Alex's muttered, unconvincing reply.

"Does that mean you'll be in town for a while?" Faith looked up at Alex, a bit confused and embarrassed as if he couldn't believe what he'd just said.

Smooth, Faith thought, kicking himself. A very smooth way of findin' out whether or not Alex was available, single...or whatever. Why don't I just ask him to do me right here in the middle of his salad?

He made a split-second decision.

"I'm assumin' a lot here, I know, but if you need any help...," Faith said in an effort to be direct and regain his cool. "See I learned somethin' very important in kindergarten: if you need somethin' you speak up. You know, I need a crayon, I need a cookie...I need to know if I can help you out again." He shrugged. "My MO hasn't changed much since then."

"You've always been a man with needs?" Alex said, with just a hint of teasing in his voice.

"Oh, yeah..." Faith cringed at the breathlessness of his reply.

"But you're not needy." Alex was quick to point out. "You're honest and you're to the point and that's what I like. You know, it's really refreshing."

"Like a cold shower, refreshing," Faith burst out in embarrassed frustration.

"No, that's not what I said -- I said it's refreshing," Alex said more seriously, and then, with a shy grin, he added, "Ever since I met you -- you've been there for me. If I needed cab fare or just...just chasing the blues away. I said it once, I'll say it again, thank you, Faith."

Faith held his breath for a moment and then felt his heart thump hard inside his chest. Call it trust, he thought, or call it lust, but I think this guy's really worth a shot. The idea made him want to jump into Alex's lap right there and then.

"Well, my psychic friend told me I'd be helpful to a handsome stranger -- Surprise!" Faith had to smile. "So, just so you know, anytime you need me to do another good deed I'll do it." There was a naughty twinkle in his eye as he added, "Or a bad deed," Faith's chuckle was lusty and he made eyes at Alex, "but you'll have to beg first for one of those."

"Oh, now that's what I like," Alex remarked, one side of his mouth quirking up. "You're an all-purpose guy."

"I like you, too."

"I know," said Alex, softly.

Faith's cheeks turned a bright shade of pink. "Uh, am I that obvious? My pals tell me I'm subtle -- subtle like a fallin' piano."

Alex's smile broadened.

Faith shrugged helplessly and with a light laugh wondered, "Well, what do we do now that I've totally embarrassed myself here?"

"Well, we're here to celebrate, right?" Alex reminded him, raising his glass once more.

"Okay!"

"The night is young, we've got a wonderful dinner in front us..." Alex Krycek leaned forward in his chair and smiled sweetly. "And celebrate is exactly what we're gonna do."


"What did you see that frightened you?" Sensing a breakthrough, Dr. Werber leaned forward excitedly. But both Skinner and Scully were tensed from Mulder's reaction to the experimental treatment. Mulder's face contorted in pain as the long repressed memories flashed tortuously before his anguished eyes.

"My head," he moaned. It throbbed with pain. The blue lights continued to strobe like mini-explosions in his mind until Mulder couldn't take them anymore. "No, turn it off! Turn it off!" he jerked out of the chair.

"It's all right, Mulder," Werber was swift to soothe, but he could see by the panic and fear in his patient's eyes that it was time to pull Mulder back. In a gentle, yet commanding tone, Werber reminded the agent that he was in a safe place, that what he was seeing were only memories that couldn't hurt him... but Mulder was beyond listening. The doctor turned his head and quickly instructed, "Would you get the lights, please?"

It was Scully who turned up the lights because Skinner had already rushed to Mulder's side and was taking him into his arms. "Fox, are you okay?" he asked, startling his lover, who regarded him dazedly, dizzy and unfocused, as if he'd fallen asleep. He flushed dully as consciousness returned.

"I'm sorry...I can't do this," he confessed. "I can't do this."

"It's all right, Mulder," Werber told him, as the agent turned away from the concerned looks he was receiving. "I don't want you to be uncomfortable."

"I saw..." Mulder knew he had to go on, and he began to feel tremendously guilty about his inability to tell them what he remembered. Then after a moment, he panicked and shook his head. "I can't say it."

"Don't upset yourself about it." Werber's voice was kind but firm. "If you feel like talking later, you can call me, anytime."

"Is it normal for a patient to respond like this?" Scully demanded.

"It's nothing to be worried about," Werber told them all with assurance. "Mulder remembered something and he reacted to it. Many times this signals a breakthrough." He addressed his patient, "It's possible that you may start to remember more in a few days. This treatment often has residual effects."

"I just wish he could say what he saw out loud," Scully sighed. "Maybe if he did that it wouldn't scare him."

"I know," Werber conceded, "but it's up to Mulder."

"Uh, hi, basket case still in the room," Mulder snapped at them.

"Listen, there's no pressure," Skinner gently informed his lover, taking his hand. "You handle this any way that you want."

Mulder swiveled his head at Skinner, then took a deep breath. "I saw...I think they -- they were stealing my memories."


"Now let me ask you a really personal question." Krycek looked at Faith with penetrating eyes.

"Okay." Faith nodded for him to continue.

"Are you seeing anybody?"

Faith stared at him, then the seriousness of Alex's voice cracked another huge smile on his face. "No...no. I'm completely free."

"So no serious relationships since you've been here?" Krycek asked, settling back into his chair.

"Oh, uh...no," Faith said determinedly, then scrunched up his face a little and admitted, "yeah, well, sorta. There was a guy, Luke, and um," he pretended to consider, "the postman ambles by every once in a while, but other than that -- no, nobody at all...nobody lately...nobody."

"That's hard to believe."

"Thanks, but look who's talkin' here."

"Faith, did this Luke break your heart?" Alex narrowed his eyes, teasing the younger man with sudden intensity. He watched as Faith's mouth dropped open in surprise. Before Faith could say a word, however, the Russian affected a pitch perfect New Jersey accent as he declared, "Oh, I knew it -- that stinkin' bum! Ya let me know where he is and I'll break his thumbs for him, a'right? I'll teach him how to swim with the fishes, huh?!"

"Oh, you sound just like my Pop!" Faith exclaimed, then burst into laughter. "Don't do that anymore! That's scary."

Krycek joined in. "All right, okay," he said, catching his breath and suddenly more aware than ever of just how much he was enjoying being here with Faith.

Faith, in turn, absently stirred his food around with his fork. He felt himself drifting away pleasantly in the atmosphere of the restaurant and Alex's company.

"Well?" Alex prompted, forcing Faith to consider again the question he had just asked him.

It took him a moment to find his voice, for he had been lost in the other man's eyes. "Um, oh that..." Faith chewed his lip, trying to think of an easy way to change the subject.

"Are you gonna tell me what happened after that night in the park?" Alex wondered with the faintest hint of a pout. "You took off like a man on a mission."

"Yeah, that's me -- Battering Ram Matthews." Faith surrendered. "I was. See, my sad story is I'm adopted. Only it's not so sad, `cos I loved my parents, y'know." He felt a painful twinge grip his heart. "I just recently found out I have a brother -- this FBI guy." Faith glanced at his drink, aimlessly tracing the tip of the glass with his finger as he went on, "I always had this feelin' inside of me that I was...y'know, different...and I could never figure it out. But I just couldn't believe this whole adoption story, so I went back to Newark, hoping to find some answers."

"Did you?" Alex asked, staring across at him, lights suddenly going on in his mind, even as he thought he might like being in the dark a little more.

Faith pressed on, "Yeah, but my big hunch turned out to be a big bust. I went to the church where this nun, this real sweet lady, took me when I was a baby. When I talked to her it all became very crystal clear; everythin' that was fuzzy." He sighed sadly. "It was all true and I was just kiddin' myself."

Heart melting in his chest, Alex felt his fingers itch with the need to reach out to Faith. "Faith, I-I know how much that's got to hurt," he said, placing his hand over Faith's.

Faith flashed the other man a brave smile, warmed by his touch. Alex really was a sweetie, he thought. "Oh, yeah, but I'm happy now, y'know, now that I..." His voice faded as he started to get choked up. "...I know the truth."

"You don't sound happy."

"It's just that somethin' terrible happened to my folks that sorta started all this."

"What?" Alex asked, cocking his head to one side, all empathy and interest.

Faith took a deep breath. "Well, there was this accident, a `plane accident last year and this -- this wonderful man and this wonderful woman who really were my parents, no matter what, well now they're dead...and I pray every night that they know how much I loved them..." Suddenly, the memory jolted Faith, making tears spring to his eyes. "Oh, great!" he exclaimed, exasperated with himself. "What am I doin' here? Why did ya have to go and ask me that? Now I look like a complete mental case!"

"Faith, I am not a man who is scared by a few tears," Alex assured him. He passed Faith a napkin.

"Thanks." Faith swiped at his eyes.

"I'm sorry, Faith," Krycek began, "look, I hope you don't think I'm prying, but, ah, I just--" His gentle smile faded and he glanced away, pulling back when he felt the truth about his real purpose for being here nearly spilling uncontrollably over his lips.

While he brooded, Faith broke in, "You know what I'm gonna do when I get home tonight? I'm gonna write a book about all the things ya don't do when you're having dinner. Rule number one: you never tell your new friend the worst thing that's ever happened in your life, especially if it's a sob story."

Faith felt guilty and more than a little embarrassed. He guessed it was because so many other guys had disappeared when he'd shown them his more eccentric, softer side. And unloading about his past and breaking down in front of Alex...Well, that went way beyond eccentric.

Suddenly, he gave Alex a small, apologetic smile. "Look, if ya wanna take a rain check, believe me, I'll understand," he finished, balling up the napkin in his fist.

That's when Alex cut him off. "No," he said firmly, then more gently, "I'm not going anywhere and neither are you." Then to Faith's genuine surprise, Alex leaned forward and gazed at him with deep, caring eyes. "Faith, just so you know, it's not raining anymore."

Faith swallowed hard. He felt himself falling deeper into the other man's eyes and warmth spread through his body. He wanted to kiss Alex so desperately... "It's no fair makin' me smile like that," he said with a nervous laugh. Then, sniffling, Faith gasped, "I've been babblin' on all night here. What about you? Tell me about where ya came from, about your life."

Alex stiffened. "I won't bore you with the details," he said, shifting a bit in his chair.

"No, oh, no, no no," Faith said swiftly. "You could never bore me. Besides, I already told you I was adopted and that's -- that's like a major league thing. I wanna hear all about you and your travels."

"You first," Krycek said insistently. "I will tell you the story of my life later, okay? Right now I just wanna talk about you. I want to hear about all of your life before you found out about your brother."

"Well," Faith began, after a moment's hesitation, "before that my life was...colorful..."


Out of one meeting and into another.

CGB Spender blew out a puff of blue smoke and eased his body into a chair in the conference room. He'd received the call from Doctor Jareth Lucard shortly after leaving New York on a private plane. Spender had assured the man that Mulder would not be a potential problem; that matter was well in hand. Although they had secretly worked together for years, it had been ages since his last face-to-face encounter with the doctor and, this time, there was more than a little tension in the air. The scientist looked like a member of the Consortium -- overdressed in a double-breasted chartreuse suit -- though the man had only brief contact with the others at the beginning of the Hive project.

"Well?" Spender croaked tartly, submitting to the indignity of having to prompt him.

While the doctor relayed information he already knew -- the alien virus found in the boy's stolen blood sample -- and searched through his findings, Spender let his mind wander. He'd managed to hold off the Elders -- just barely -- and knew it was only a matter of time before they took matters into their own hands. He himself was consumed with curiosity over Faith Matthews and would know how to proceed once he knew exactly who the boy was. Of one thing he was certain: he should have never let Marita talk him into bringing Alex Krycek into this. The woman still had feelings for the traitorous man; Spender could see it in her eyes and hear it in her request to free him. His jaw clenched uncontrollably, annoyed at the thought of Krycek's failure to cooperate. Spender had neither the time nor the patience to keep reminding him to continue monitoring what he was supposed to be monitoring.

"There is an extra gene in the subject's DNA structure," Lucard announced in his rich French accent, excited by the possibilities of his discovery. "I can't tell you why it's there or how it came to be, or even for that matter, what function it might serve." He paused and glanced at Spender over the rim of his blue-tinted spectacles. "At least, not without a tissue sample," he added insistently.

"Yes, that may be possible." Spender flicked ashes into a tray and conferred urgency with his eyes. "We'll have to proceed carefully. And there is the matter of ascertaining the credibility of his background."

"If it's true, then and Faith Matthews is who you really believe him to be..."

"Our first success and the first of a new breed: 80% human, 20% alien hybrid."



PART TEN: SURPRISE!

"I don't want to talk about this anymore!"

It was several moments before Mulder spoke again, and both his revelation and response had the opposite effect on those present.

I shouldn't have let him do this, Scully thought in a huff. She didn't like the pallor of her partner's face or the way his voice sounded -- all weak and far away, as though it was a major effort just for him to get the words out. She knew that undergoing the experimental RET treatment had been Mulder's decision, but in her own medical opinion the results had only proved fair at best, possibly more damaging at worst.

And Skinner, worry and concern furrowing his brow, stayed well within reaching distance of his lover. Mulder looked drained and tired, and Skinner quelled a surge of anger at the doctor's experimental methods. Walter reminded himself how determined Mulder had been to go through with this; sometimes the A.D. thought his lover would bolt for the street at any moment to find the first person with a pocket watch to hypnotize him and seek his answers.

"Is it possible that what he saw wasn't a memory?" Scully queried uneasily. "It sounds more like a nightmare, doesn't it?"

"Anything's possible," Dr. Werber conceded with a firm nod, "but this technique is really designed to stimulate memories rather than imagination." He clasped his hands together and came to a sudden decision. "Listen, Mulder's had a difficult evening. He should rest for a while, now. He might remember more later."

"I agree," Skinner said, standing close to Mulder, ready to be there should he collapse, which, truthfully, he certainly looked ready to do.

Mulder looked up, the internal struggle evident in his eyes, when his therapist approached. "This is a new technique," the older man told him gently, "and it's not foolproof. Whatever happens, you've shown a lot of courage for trying."

Shaken, the agent nodded. "Thanks for coming," he murmured distantly.

Dr. Werber moved to the back of the room to retrieve the RET machine. He unplugged it and hefted the device back into its case.

"Let me help you get that," Scully offered, taking the case while Werber retrieved the tripod stand and headed toward the door. Skinner gave her a nod of thanks for giving him and Mulder an opportunity to be alone.

Skinner put a protective arm around Mulder's shoulders. "Are you okay?"

"No, far from it."


Half an hour later, after paying for their meal, Krycek had offered, then insisted on giving Faith a lift home. Faith had almost completely gone over his life story while Alex remained very much a dark and sexy man of mystery. However, they had found several things that they had in common and made a special bond of friendship in a short amount of time. The strength of it surprised both men, but neither was willing to admit it, just yet.

When their cab stopped in front of the Three Oaks apartment building, Alex looked out the window. Faith watched his eyes widen. "We're already there? That drive went by too fast."

Faith agreed and a silent spell fell over their heads for the first time. He caught a sweet whiff of cologne. He inhaled deeply, suddenly wanting to drink Alex in during these last few moments together. Something along with the scent seeped into his heart, already longing for the time when he would see Alex again, if he would. The feeling took a hold of his heart and squeezed it tightly.

As the cabby looked up and grumbled something at them, Faith was the first to speak up. "Um, would ya like to come up for coffee?" He held his breath a little. Alex's answer might give him an idea of what he thought of spending more time together.

"Yeah, that would be great."

Krycek paid the fare, then smiled easily at Faith and followed him upstairs. He didn't know why he had agreed to come up with him. He had all the answers he needed, and his job was done, but he also had to admit that some part of himself didn't want the night to end. The chances of a night like this happening to him again were near impossible, and he knew that, but sometimes the things you think could never happen, happen just like that. Underestimating the impossible was something Krycek had learned not to do.

Stepping onto the second floor walkway, Faith reached into his maroon blazer pocket for his key. "I think I should warn you my room-mate swears I make the best coffee in Crystal City," he declared with a bright smile. "You might become addicted."

"You're living with someone?" Krycek asked, taken aback.

"Oh, yes," Faith sighed deeply. Then with a wicked glint in his eye, he said with mock seriousness, "Maggie."

"Maggie?"

"Maggie Shelton, my best friend," Faith assured him with a wry grin. He sidled his way over to the door, and whispered conspiratorially, "We're a very racy pair, y'know? Very racy."

Alex leaned against the wall, blushing under the gaze of Faith's "gotcha" smile. He shook his head and pushed himself back up when the younger man started to open the door. Krycek suddenly tensed.

"Wait a minute," he hissed, placing a warning hand on Faith's arm.

"What is it?" Faith whispered back.

"I thought I heard a man's voice inside."

Faith blinked. Was Maggie entertaining? There were no lights on inside which he had to admit was unusual as Mags always left a lamp on at night. He frowned and turned back to Alex, who was now sporting a certain feral gleam in his eye -- like a jungle cat on one of those late-night Animal Planet specials about to jump on its prey.

Alex signaled for Faith to be quiet by placing a finger on his lips. He slowly moved forward and gently opened the door with the toe of his shoe. His heart thumped heavily in his chest. Dangerous possibilities presented themselves one by one in his trained mind. Had Spender secreted someone inside the apartment?

This is ridiculous, Faith thought with an audible sigh. Ever impetuous, he darted forward and reached inside the door, eliciting a warning of "Faith, wait!" from Alex.

But Faith had already found the light switch, flipped it on and a crashing chorus of "Surprise!" instantly assailed both him and Krycek.

Faith's eyes widened and his mouth fell open at the scene inside Maggie's apartment: it was filled with friends and co-workers from WSR Graphics along with pink and yellow streamers, a gaudy GOOD LUCK banner, balloons of every shape, size, and color, and a table laden with gifts.

"Oh my gosh!" cried Faith, glancing over his shoulder at Alex, who had visibly relaxed, although he seemed just as stunned if not more so.

"We surprised you, huh?" Maggie giggled as she detached herself from the others and practically leaped over to Faith.

"Yeah! Oh..." He was flustered, and not covering it at all.

"Look at him!" Maggie exclaimed brightly, nudging her friend and giving the incredibly gorgeous man with him a flirtatious little wink. "Nothing much can tie up Faith's tongue." She took hold of Faith's arms and steered him round to face her. "Since you missed your first going-away party, we decided to bring the party to you!"

Another rousing cheer from the crowd of well-wishers caused a bright shade of pink to flush Faith's cheeks. He mentally kicked himself for not telling Mags about his change of plans the second she waltzed in from work. All he could think about at the time was dinner with Alex and now here he was stuck in the middle of this mess.

"Say something, Faith!" prodded Maggie.

"I-I-I'm just in shock," he managed to stammer out, while looking sheepishly at Alex. "A good shock, y'know," Faith added with a wave of his hands. "It's just that my heart isn't catchin' up with everything else, that's all." He took a couple of breaths and suddenly remembered his manners. "Oh! This is my friend," he moved closer to the other man, "ah, Alex Arntzen, this is Maggie."

"Maggie Shelton -- pleased to make your acquaintance." She smiled winningly.

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Maggie." Alex threw a sly grin at Faith. "You've got perfect timing. Faith was just talking about you right before we came in."

Maggie bounced her hair. "All good, I hope!" She elbowed Faith in the ribs good-naturedly while unabashedly appraising Alex from head to toe. "Still got the goods, huh, Faith?" she teased from the corner of her mouth.

Alex suddenly found something interesting about his shoes and Faith's cheeks segued from pink to bright crimson. Faith looked back up, hoping he didn't look as troubled as he felt. Then, he felt his heart jump when Alex's shadowed eyes met his in a warm, soft smile.


Still trembling, Mulder took a few quick, calming breaths and leaned heavily against a chair. His heart was racing, his mouth dry. He felt weak, like he'd taken physical blows rather than emotional ones, and he would have liked nothing more than to sink down on the floor to rest, but he forced himself to stand. Now wasn't the time to worry Skinner and Scully. Not when he was still trying to piece together what he'd remembered.

"Are you all right?" Scully asked, slipping back inside and closing the door behind her.

"I'm fine," Mulder lied, trying to catch his breath.

Scully looked carefully at him for a long moment, and then observed, "You're dehydrated. And you look terribly pale."

"I'll be fine as soon as I get a glass of water," Mulder insisted, glancing back toward the kitchen where Skinner had gone.

"Mulder, you remembered some things that troubled you," Scully began gently. "Don't upset yourself because you didn't remember it all..."

"I know." Mulder's mouth set in a determined line. "But Dr. Werber said there's a ripple effect when using this technique and I could remember something new tomorrow." He leaned his body back against the chair and folded his arms. How could he make Scully understand? He had to find out everything: Why that damned Cancerman was arguing with his mom...Why his memories were taken away...and what it all had to do with Faith.

"Here I filled it with ice. Just the way you like it."

Skinner's deep, warm voice shocked him from his musings. Thanking Walter with a shy grin, Mulder took the tall glass in both hands and drank until it was empty.

"Mulder, the best thing you can do is try and get some rest," Scully suggested, knowing that she might as well be talking to the chair. She'd seen her partner in this state many times before; he'd never rest until he found the truth. It was his way, and she had to admit, her way now as well. If she'd gained one thing in her relationship with Mulder, it was tenacity.

"I'll see you in the morning," Mulder muttered, brushing a hand across his moist lips.

Scully looked at Skinner, then back at Mulder. "Excuse me?"

"Yeah, I'm going to work tomorrow," he said, and she could hear the stubbornness in his voice, which suddenly took on a petulant tone.

So what if my head aches and my stomach is queasy and I can't seem to get past this dizziness? he thought, then continued speaking to Scully: "Spender's not gonna have a chance in hell of trying anything with both of us back in the basement."

"Mulder, I know what the X-Files mean to you, and I hate to be the one to remind you of your own possibly mortality, but you are in no shape to return -- not yet," she warned him, wanting to be logical. If Mulder showed up at the Bureau acting suspiciously it could only mean more problems -- for both of them.

But Mulder looked away, his mind made up.

Scully sighed and appealed to their superior, "Sir, can't you try to reason with him?"

Skinner held up his hands in a manner both supplicating to Scully and defensive of Mulder. "This is entirely Mulder's decision." He'd run over several ideas in his mind, including handcuffing Mulder to the bed. But he understood his lover's urge to fight and respected it, and as such, had to support the decision and trust Mulder's instincts on this, even if it meant taking on Scully.

"I meant what I said, Scully," Mulder abruptly retorted, not meaning to snap at her.

"Mulder, I'm just worried that--"

"Don't worry about me. I'll be fine," he said with a lot more confidence than he actually felt. "All I need is to catch up on some rest. By tomorrow I'll be alive and kicking. You'll see."

Scully hesitated, and then with some misgivings nodded slowly. "Okay, we'll see, but if you're not better by tomorrow morning, I'll make certain that you're back in the hospital faster than you can say, "international global conspiracy"."

Mulder blinked. He'd learned a long time ago not to argue with Scully and the last thing he wanted right now was another hospital visit. He looked away from her while chewing on his bottom lip and made a barely perceptible acknowledgment of her words with his head.

"If you need me at all tonight, you can reach me on my cell." Scully checked her watch. She was tired herself, she realized, but anxious to get to work on Faith's blood sample. "Hopefully, I'll have a productive night at the lab."

Skinner moved up on Mulder from behind and squeezed his shoulders. "I've got your number on speed dial," the A.D. told her. "I know a certain agent that's going right to bed."

Scully threw a grateful smile over Mulder's shoulder at Skinner, relieved by the knowledge that her partner would be well taken care of. After she'd gone, Mulder started pacing until Skinner's low, warning growl stopped him.

"It'll work out," Skinner comforted.

"Really?" Mulder asked, hope and uncertainty dancing in his gold-flecked eyes. "Even if I don't remember everything that happened?"

"You will," the older man told him gently.

"How do you know that?"

"Do you have a choice?" Skinner smiled and softly kissed Mulder gently on the lips trying to make Mulder feel all the love and encouragement he could give through his actions.


"Hey, how are you?"

"You're gonna knock him dead in Boston, Faith!"

"WSR won't be the same without you!"

"You look gorgeous -- fabulous!"

Dizzy from the warm wishes of his friends, Faith sighed and discomfort crept up in his face. How was he ever going to get out of this? "Oh, gosh, this is amazing..." Faith gave a weak and empty laugh, feeling foolish.

"Nothing but the best for our Faith, right guys?" Maggie called out which garnered a resounding cheer from the party guests. The excitable blond draped an arm across Faith's shoulders. "After all you've been through, you're starting to look like yourself again, Faith."

Faith put on a fake smile as all the pain of recent events came rushing back to him. He made a swift slashing motion under his chin. "Ah, zip it," he told her in a singsong voice. "It's water under the bridge, `kay?"

His first `date' with Alex and he didn't want his best friend giving the-most-incredible-guy-on-earth the `too much information' version of his life right now. It was what he considered a closed subject. He looked up to find Alex watching him intently, almost as if he could sense Faith's growing unease.

Okay Matthews, Faith ordered himself, get your act together!

"Let's just talk about now," Faith suggested, then after a quick look `round the room, added, "and all this...it's just way too much."

"You deserve it!" Maggie shouted, and then her features went soft. "Poor baby, you were so sad about finding out about your family. And I know you're still hurting." Faith's grin melted away and he glanced down at his hands, debating whether or not he was going to actually strangle his best friend, just to shut her up. The desire grew as Maggie asked Alex, "Did he tell you?"

"Yeah," Alex said gently, keeping his gaze focused on Faith. He noticed the confusion in Faith's eyes and how suddenly sad he looked.

Maggie, unaware of how uncomfortable her friend was becoming, drew him to her own shoulder. "Ah, he's a tough cookie. Looks, sense of humor, talent -- he's got it all!"

"Ah..." Faith forced a smile while Maggie tried to sell him to Alex.

"And he's--" she went on, but Faith wriggled free and took Alex's hand.

"We've gotta talk," he said, pulling a bemused Alex away from Maggie with a smile and a "be right back, honey," and then leading him away from the party and back toward the front door as a dozen blow-ticklers went off around them.

Krycek tried not to laugh, but a smile crept up on his lips and it was apparent in his voice. "Faith, your friends are crazy about you," he said.

"Yeah, oh, yeah, I love them to death, but they're just plain crazy...and Mags..." Faith sighed helplessly.

Alex threw a look over Faith's shoulder at Maggie who was dancing in the middle of the other revelers. "She throws one hell of a surprise party."

"Yeah, she does do that," Faith agreed, unable to keep an embarrassed bite of sarcasm out of his voice. "But it's really, really bad timing..." He hoped that Alex would catch the hint.

"You've got a table full of presents over here," Alex reminded him, gesturing with his head, "and I wanna see you open them."

"Oh..." Faith hesitated, throwing a grimace of guilt at the table. "I never could resist a pretty package..."

"We noticed!" Kevin Abrams, a flashy bartender from Michele's, exclaimed with a thousand-watt smile and a suggestive look aimed directly at Alex.

Faith sighed. He could happily crawl under a rock and hide there for the rest of the night. "But, I..." he started to protest.

"Come on, Faith." Alex grinned and pulled him back into the center of the room just as the doorbell chimed. "I wouldn't miss your party for the world."

Maggie bounded past them to answer the door. "Yoo-hoo! Get in here!"

"Check them out!" Someone shouted amongst the sudden flurry of catcalls.

Faith almost swallowed his tongue. "Are you sure about that?" he asked Alex, raising an eyebrow.

"Hey, guys, the entertainment's here!" Maggie giggled with a tip of her party hat. A pair of tall, lean, tanned men whose bulging biceps threatened to tear apart the police uniforms they were wearing followed her.

Oh boy, Faith thought, wondering how he was ever gonna get out of this one.


Mulder closed his eyes for a moment and felt he could not open them again. His body felt heavy and weary, and he couldn't have objected to his lover's solicitatious manner even if he'd wanted to, so he allowed Walter to lead him upstairs. In the bedroom, Skinner handed one more glass of water to Mulder, and made sure the younger man popped a couple of Advil before heading into the bathroom. Mulder stumbled toward the bed, slipped off his pants and shirt, and fell forward onto the large soft bed, leaving just his boxers on.

Skinner came back to the room to find his lover snoring gently and stretched out across the bed. He set the alarm clock -- mindful of how adamant his lover was about returning to work -- and undressed himself. Then he carefully slipped Mulder under the sheets and got into the bed beside him. Immediately, Mulder snuggled in close, mumbled something completely unintelligible, and Skinner held him tight as he fell asleep beside him.



PART ELEVEN: A BOY AND HIS RAT

Scully stepped out of her car, taking care with her medical bag, and locked the doors. The drive from Crystal City had taken a little over an hour, and she was feeling some impatience, her thoughts torn between worry for Mulder and isolating the virus in Faith's blood. She turned and walked toward the year-old concrete and glass Madison Foundation; one of the most advanced research facilities in the country.

Thanks to her college friend, Stephano Raffaele, she'd managed to secure one of the private labs. First time ever knowing a board member had done her any good, she silently noted.

Scully paused on the wide front steps. She gripped her medical bag tighter as a slight whisper of a breeze ruffled the autumn leaves of nearby trees. She looked uneasily around the softly lit building and the nearly empty parking lot. The fine hairs on the back of her neck stood up, and she felt as if eyes were watching her from somewhere in the surrounding gloom.

The red-haired agent started when a security guard, an older man in his mid-fifties, greeted her at the entrance. "Dana Scully?" he inquired, having been pre-warned of her arrival.

"Oh, hello," she replied, flashing her FBI badge while taking a cautious look back over her shoulder. "Yes, I..."

"Is everything all right, miss?"

Scully shook her head, suddenly feeling very foolish. "Fine," she replied.

"Mr. Raffaele ordered a lab be left available for you tonight."

"Thank you." Ignoring her pang of suspicion toward what could be lurking and watching in the darkness, Scully followed the guard through the sliding glass doors.


"Ah, excuse me...hey?" Faith called and signaled with his hands in an attempt to grab Maggie's attention, but she and the other party guests were too wrapped up in the thumping music and the hard bodies of the strippers to notice his obvious distress. That is everyone except Krycek.

"Faith, relax," he said calmly. "Your friends have obviously gone to a lot of trouble and they want you to have a good time."

"Yeah, but I..."

"Faith!" Maggie suddenly called, waving to him from the crowd. Grasping his arm she pulled him between the two dancers with a cry of, "We've got some prime beef for you!"

Faith groaned inwardly and swiped a hand through his hair. Not only was he in an awkward position here, literally, but if he wasn't careful, this was going to blow it with Alex. He grimaced through a smile as muscled flesh gyrated around him and kept his eyes firmly fixed on Alex, who watched from the sidelines and shrugged light-heartedly.

There were cheers, whistles, and even more catcalls when the music was over.

"Oh, this is great...This is so... You know, guys, I'd..." Faith struggled to find the right words he wanted to say, but felt them tugged away when Maggie and the others hustled him toward the table.

Lily, Sophie and all of his friends pushed in close to look over his shoulder. He glanced down at all the going-away presents and `Good Luck' cake and felt another enormous wave of guilt crash into him.

"Open this one first," Nicole from Accounts said, thrusting a gift into his hands.

"I can't," Faith said with a firm shake of his head. "I can't...."

"C'mon, Faith," Maggie urged, puzzled.

"No, I can't..." Faith broke away from them and hurried out the front door.

"Faith, what's the matter?" Maggie worriedly called behind him. "Where are you going?"

"I'll see what's wrong," Alex offered, already moving after Faith. He turned at the door. "Everyone just..." He held up his hand, at a loss for words. "Ah, yeah, okay!" And with that, he disappeared out onto the walkway.

His cat's eye gaze searched left and right and he found Faith at the far end of the dimly lit stairwell. His shoulders were slumped in much the same position as when Krycek had first met him at the bar.

"Faith?" he started. Alex heard an audible sniffle as Faith sheepishly glanced over his shoulder at him.

"I guess I should be used to havin' the rug pulled right out from underneath me," Faith declared with a helpless shrug. "I just wish I hadn't ruined what could've been a very perfect evening by doin' the fifty-yard dash out of there."

Alex glanced at him sideways with a crooked smile. "Yeah, I think you might've just set a world record."

"Oh, it's just parties..." Faith cleared his throat, embarrassment clearly evident in his eyes and in his voice. "You know, they get ya all worked up with that emotional stuff...and I didn't expect that bunch jumpin' out like that."

"They're a great bunch of people, Faith," Alex told him. He couldn't even begin to recall the last time he'd been surrounded by so many joyous faces and he couldn't understand why someone like Faith, definitely a party person, would want to leave.

"Yeah, well...they are...I know." Faith sighed and turned to face him. "I'm sorry, I just hope I didn't embarrass you." He reluctantly started back toward the apartment, thinking that he'd blown it big time. "Um, you probably wanna go. And I'd better get back in there."

Then, to his surprise, he felt a strong hand grip his arm.

"No, no way. Neither one of us is going anywhere," Alex told him firmly. "Not until I talk to the real Faith Matthews."


Scully was examining Faith's blood sample under a computerized electron microscope, in the desperate hope of finding some explanation to A. -- How was he infected? and B. -- What was his apparent immunity to the virus? She studied the computer read-out screen.

It was all here. The answers. She searched Faith's tissue profile, adaptation, and disease resistance...but no sign of physical immunity...


"So you wanna get to know the real me, huh?" Faith looked deep into Krycek's eyes, as if trying to gauge the other man's sincerity.

Alex nodded, wishing he could be less cagey. He knew the performance Faith was putting on for him was only to hide his true feelings. "Faith, why did you run out of there like that?" he asked, gazing at Faith with his big green eyes. "You've got a room full of well-wishers in there just dying to celebrate with you. Unless there's something you're ashamed or embarrassed of..."

"Oh, no, no, no!" Faith quickly rattled off. "I've gotta tell you Mags and every single person in there are good as gold, but I...it's just me." Blushing slightly, Faith dropped his head from Alex's gaze and said, "I feel like such a phony right now acceptin' their gifts and congratulations."

"Why?" Krycek didn't give up as Faith looked up to meet his eyes. Alex held them there before he quietly confessed, "Faith, I didn't ask you out to dinner just to thank you or to talk about the hors d'oeuvres. Come on, talk to me. Let me in."

"So you wanna know the real Faith Matthews?" Faith suddenly blurted out with a questioning look, then rigorously waved a hand. "Well, lock up the china shop `cos there's a bull on the loose."

"I think I can handle it," Alex said, cocking an eyebrow.

"Oh, you think so, huh?" Faith skeptically replied, then started babbling as Alex inched closer, "Well, the real Faith Matthews wears too many flashy clothes, is into crystals, and...and don't even get me started on this silly accent."

"I like it, y'know, huh?" Alex replied, once more adopting his best impersonation of a Jersey native.

"Oh..." Faith couldn't help but smile.

"You're selling yourself short, Faith," Alex assured him, with feeling.

But Faith stubbornly shook his head. "No, you don't know me. You don't know how it's killin' me that my friends wanna celebrate the big job offer...that I turned down," he replied regretfully. "Yeah, that's right, I turned it down and I haven't had the heart to tell them." He smacked his hands together. "See, that's it, the whole package right there." Then softer, but with no less feeling, "I'm a shmuck..."

Krycek's eyes suddenly shone a little more green, something Faith would've sworn was absolutely impossible. "That's a big decision," the Russian replied after a moment, choosing to ignore Faith's last comment. "Are you sure?"

Faith shrugged. "Like I told you, I've got a brother now and there's just some...things I feel I've gotta work out." He sighed deeply. "You must think I'm crazy."

There was silence.

Then Krycek's hand brushed against Faith's cheek. "No, that's not what I was thinking at all," Alex said, his voice barely a whisper. He brought his eyes up to meet Faith's. "Just so you know, I think you're pretty damn amazing." He moved forward as he spoke, brushing his lips against Faith's, then holding them there.

Faith closed his eyes; suddenly all his unspoken questions about this incredible man were answered in an instant.

Alex pressed closer, sensing acceptance, and deepened the kiss, sliding his lips across Faith's slowly. Krycek's heartbeat sped up when he felt Faith wrap his strong arms around his neck. He could lose himself here, could kiss Faith for...

But then...

"Faith?" Maggie called, mincing out of her apartment.

Both Alex and Faith pulled back, suddenly, as if waking from a dream.

"Oops!" Maggie winced at breaking the moment and started to back away. "Sorry, I'm interrupting." She held up her hands. "I was never here!"

"Too late for that!" Faith exclaimed, his breathing ragged. He stared at Alex, his lips aching and burning for more. That was like the top ten of all top ten kisses, Faith thought. I've never been kissed like that before, ever! And I don't think he has, either. He looks pretty dazed. Oh my God, am I falling in love with him?

Suddenly the world was spinning much too fast and Faith wished he had a remote handy to just put everything on pause.

"In that case, are you coming back in?" Maggie wondered, taking a tentative step forward.

Faith hesitated, then Alex stepped in. "You know Faith was just telling me, ah, how surprised he was and how exciting it all is, and he just has to catch his breath and he'll be right back in, okay?"

"I'll get `em all warmed up for you, Faith." Maggie nodded her head and clapped her hands excitedly.

"Okay..." Faith watched as she trotted back inside, then he turned and grimaced. "I almost had an out there, and now I've gotta go back in there and whoop it up." Almost as an afterthought, he added, "Nice save there, by the way -- Do ya think she thought you were helpin' me `catch my breath'?"

Krycek recognized the defensive tone. "Everything's going to be fine," he guaranteed him. With a reassuring squeeze to Faith's shoulder he said, "You go in there, have your cake, they'll ask you to give a speech and you tell them exactly what you told me."

Faith's eyes widened. "Oh, yeah, right." He gave a short laugh of disbelief. "That's really gonna go down big."

"What? They'll be thrilled."

"I can't do that," Faith told him, "I can't throw that around. That I turned down that job -- it would be like I'm wearing a high hat or somethin'."

Krycek pulled the other man close and gazed into his eyes. "It's family, Faith. And these are your friends -- maybe, just maybe, they might be proud of you -- ever think of that?"

Faith considered this. Planting one more quick kiss on Alex's soft lips seemed to help his thought processes, and a deeper kiss in return from Alex made his decision for him. Faith quickly turned and stepped toward apartment thirteen. He stopped and threw a wry sideways glance at Krycek.

"Come on," he said, thumbing back at the door. "Are ya gonna escort me back in there or what?"

Alex breathed deeply and nodded. "I thought you'd never ask."


Just as Krycek had predicted, Faith's friends had accepted the news of his decision to stay in Crystal City warmly -- Maggie had thrown her arms around him in an enormous hug, thankful that Faith wouldn't be leaving after all.

Party atmosphere in full swing, Krycek watched and laughed from the sidelines as Faith appeared to be having the time of his life dancing with five of his girlfriends in front of the apartment's big picture window. When the intense bass beats started to fade, Faith smiled and burst out laughing as the others were quick to grab the strippers and pull them into the next song.

Grinning wildly with delight, Faith hurried over to Alex's side. "That was fun! That was awesome!" Faith smiled up into his face.

"You've got the moves, believe me," Alex told him, smiling playfully. "You look fantastic, Faith."

"How many graphic designers do ya know that can dance like this?" Faith wondered teasingly.

"You're the first one I've ever met," Alex admitted with a chuckle. Then he shook his head in amazement. "You look like you're having a lot of fun out there."

Faith's eyes widened. "You wanna dance?" he asked breathlessly.

"Me?" Krycek considered for a moment, then couldn't help himself when he cried, "Ah, what the hell!"

"Hel-lo!" Maggie exclaimed in amazement as she and the other party guests jumped back.

In the middle of the apartment, Krycek turned and offered his hand to Faith. "May I have this dance?" he softly asked, grinning.

There were sighs and aws all around them, and for just a moment, Krycek forgot it all, forgot the lies, the deceptions, the dark side of life.

Faith smiled. "Why certainly..."

"Just a second!" Maggie cried, giving her best friend a wink. Scurrying past the party-goers, she made a beeline for the stereo and promptly changed the CD from Techno House to an oldie-but-goodie romantic ballad.

Taking Faith in his arms and holding him close, Krycek lead him in time with the slow start of the song, never taking his eyes off Faith's. His smile warmed Faith's heart, which in turn warmed his own, and he leaned in to whisper, "Don't you hurt me now."

"Same goes for you," Faith softly replied. He gave Alex's hand a gentle squeeze.

Consumed by the spark in Faith's hazel eyes, the words of the song became a complete blur to Krycek, his thoughts limited to how nice their movements felt. The couple never noticed that a large portion of the room was watching them; they were too busy watching each other.



PART TWELVE: AUTHORITY BITES!

Mulder leaned back in his chair, stretching his legs as far as they would go under the desk, and tried to sort out his thoughts. once the computer warmed up, he saw that he had several new e-mail messages waiting for him in his inbox and groaned at the thought of sorting through them all this early in the morning. He was severely tempted to nuke them all in one go, but decided against it. Instead, his eyes flashed over the spam, his finger stabbing the delete button for the sex sites, flagging a gift certificate from Amazon.com, and chuckling over the Cure Baldness Now! ads.

Pretending that he felt fine in spite of a persistent headache had been difficult enough in the sanctuary of Skinner's condo, but it was getting nearly impossible to do here at the office, and after the events of last night, he had hoped he could get through his first day back at the Bureau as smoothly as possible. Nothing about his basement office seemed to have changed since his absence; well, maybe it was a little bit tidier. Hell, who was he trying to kid? It was spotless and everything was in order. He smiled, imagining Scully sorting through his own unique filing system.

His thoughts wandered back to Walter, as they were in the habit of doing now, and he felt a sudden urge to phone his lover's office. Mulder paused in the act of picking up the receiver. What would he say? It would sound silly or suspicious to Skinner's secretary if he just said he was checking in. As he was contemplating this, the phone rang and he quickly picked it up, "Mulder," he said distractedly. He couldn't hide his surprise at hearing his therapist's voice on the other end. Dr. Werber quickly explained that Agent Scully had called to inform him of Mulder's return to work.

"Has anything come up since our session last night?" Dr. Werber asked, clearly concerned for the well being of his patient.

"N-no," Mulder stammered, shaking his head, and then feeling foolish because his therapist couldn't see him. "No new memories, but I did sleep better." A white lie, he checked off in his mind.

"Good," Werber sounded pleased, as if this was the answer he was expecting. "Don't force a thing. The memories will come back on their own."

"Thanks, Doc."

"If anything comes up that you want to talk about..."

"I'll call you," Mulder assured him. Hanging up the phone, Mulder chewed thoughtfully on his lower lip. He looked up just as Scully entered the room quietly.

"Hey. How are you holding up?" she immediately asked, peering at her partner closely.

"Okay," he replied with a non-committal shrug of his shoulders.

Warmth lighting up her eyes, Scully set a box of assorted doughnuts on the heap of papers newly scattered across Mulder's desk. "In honor of your first day back," she explained as he cocked a quizzical eyebrow at her.

Mulder rubbed his hands together and grinned goofily. "Nothing like sugar shock," he said, digging right in and taking a bite out of a jelly-filled treat. "Always perks me up."

Scully gave him a half smile, still tired from her all-night session with Faith's bloodwork. "What I need right now is a cup of hot, strong..." Scully trailed off, noticing a trademark smirk on Mulder's jelly covered lips.

"Made a whole pot," he said, jerking a thumb at the coffee machine tucked away in a corner gurgling noisily to itself.

"Smart move," Scully said, actually beaming at the thought of Mulder's notoriously bad coffee making skills. It was good to have him back. "You look as though you're feeling better," she noted, peering with her sleepy eyes at Mulder while discarding the contents of the pot and shoving it back into the machine to start a fresh batch of coffee.

"Dr. Werber's done all he can. Now the rest is up to me," Mulder replied, swallowing a mouthful of pastry, then added, "and after last night, I'm ready for anything."

Scully turned and arched a knowing eyebrow at her partner. "Why do I get the bad feeling that `anything' has already happened?" she wondered aloud.

"Because the minute we arrived this morning, Kersh called Skinner into a meeting." Mulder rubbed his temples, trying to ward away the oncoming headache, which had never really let up in the first place, but was now trying to grow in intensity.

"Mulder, that doesn't have to mean anything ominous," Scully pointed out. "So long as Agent Spender is not in attendance I don't think you have anything to worry about."

"Oh, really?" he countered, waving a crumpled memo in her direction. "Well, what do you say to this crap I found taped to the door?"

Scully took the wrinkled piece of paper, which she decided must have been stomped on by Mulder earlier, if the size ten florsheim print was any indication, smoothed it out, and scanned over it. "Oh no," she sighed.

"Yes, that's right, Agent Scully," Mulder replied, tapping a well-chewed pencil on his laptop and adopting his smarmy FBI voice. "We both have a date with the Office of Professional Review tomorrow morning."

This did not look good, and Scully knew it. But she couldn't let it bring her partner's morale down. "I'm not giving up Mulder and neither should you," Scully told him, pressing her palms on his desk. "Besides," she added worriedly," a Committee meeting may be nothing compared to what I discovered in your brother's blood sample last night."

Thoughts of Spender exposing his relationship with Skinner evaporated from Mulder's mind instantaneously. "Tell me," he said abruptly, leaning forward in his chair, "is he going to be all right?"

"I think so," Scully said, opening the folder she'd brought with her.

"You think so?" Mulder's shoulders slumped. "Don't tell me things like that, Scully." He sighed. "I was hoping for something more definitive."

"You want definitive, ask Stephen Hawking." With the folder open in one palm, Scully went to get the coffeepot and poured herself a cup.

Mulder looked up at her with a wry smile. "You know your trouble, Scully?"

"Not yet." She studied the results and topped off Mulder's mug.

"Your trouble is that you can't keep your mind on one thing at a time." Mulder made a hurry-up motion and snatched a chocolate drenched doughnut. "Your mental processes are all over the place."

Scully took a sip of coffee and cleared her throat. "Are they?" Quickly and tactfully -- after all, this was about Mulder's brother -- Scully explained everything she had found in Faith's blood sample. "Virus contamination would seem to be complete and total. If there is anything unique in Faith's metabolism that enables him to resist, I couldn't find it. The virus actually seems to be gathering strength, struggling to lash out and take over, but each and every time an attempt is made his phagocytes suppress it."

"What about the danger of contagion?"

"No." Scully shook her head emphatically. "If the disease was contagious at this stage, anyone who had come into contact with him would have contracted it by now," she clarified.

Mulder frowned. He looked as confused as she felt. "So what you're saying is my brother's a walking carrier for an alien disease," he said indignantly. As it all sank in, he couldn't help but laugh at the absurd irony that felt like a smack in the face. Proof of extra-terrestrial life existed, after all this time, but he didn't dare utter a word about it. There was no telling what lengths the government would go to in their efforts to conceal the truth -- visions of exploding buildings, his formerly burned office, and murdering bounty hunters danced within his tortured mind -- not to mention them taking Faith away in the blink of an eye. His hands were tied.

"There's a wide range of possible blood characteristics, Mulder." Scully paused, weighing her words. "It may take days, even weeks to check them all."

Stunned, Mulder stopped chewing to stare at her. "Faith may not have weeks," he muttered darkly, his mind still wrapped around both the virus and the government.

Scully stared back. "What I really need is a sample of the virus I was infected with to compare and contrast," she said, pursing her lips tightly.

"Oh, that's simple then," Mulder smarted with an airy wave of his hand. "Sure, it's just gonna fall into our laps the day you win the lottery and I get to play center for the Lakers."

Scully ignored his trademark sarcasm. "We're so close, Mulder. We could be on the brink of reproducing the antidote you yourself held. There must be a reason the virus has not harmed Faith."

Mulder held up his pencil again, and offered her a peculiar facial shrug. "The answer may lie in sheer stubborn willpower."

"If only." She cracked a smile, then paused to muse on Mulder's remark. Determination, stamina...Yes, knowing Faith, they could be a factor. She shook her head. "I gave Faith a call on the way over and asked him to meet me this afternoon."

As if on cue, Mulder's phone started to ring. "Mulder," he answered. Scully watched his eyes grow large, and then he replaced the receiver with a dead-calm expression. "That was scary."

"Who was that?"

"Skinner's secretary -- she said there's a visitor named Faith Matthews waiting for you upstairs in the office."


Jeffrey Spender briskly moved down the FBI hall toward Director Kersh's office. Both Mulder and Skinner were back and Kersh had already summoned the A.D. in for a meeting. That was good. It was very, very good. Because it meant he had Mulder exactly where he wanted him -- on edge and likely to make even more mistakes. Now it was time to step things up. Without sufficient evidence to warrant a discharge, all he could do right now was metaphorically rock the boat. But he would make sure that Mulder's boat sank by the time he was done. The Bureau couldn't afford a scandal and all he needed was a little more proof.

Soon enough, Spender thought. Soon enough. He paused at the half open door to Skinner's office, discovered that the A.D.'s secretary was away from her desk and he could just make out a young man seated on the edge of Skinner's desk, idly swinging his legs.

Inside, Faith sat casually playing with a bronze paperweight in the shape of a bulldog atop the desk. As he turned the heavy cool shape over in his hands, he kept finding his thoughts drifting to Alex. A soft smile crept over his face as he remembered dinner and the surprise party last night. Smiling, laughing, talking and dancing until the night became so late it seemed a waste of time going to bed! And he knew by the end of it that the attraction was mutual. Alex was the most beautiful person Faith had ever met...

"Can I help you?"

Faith turned, suddenly and rudely shocked out of his daydreams of Alex . "Nah, I'm fine," he snapped, his brow furrowing under his light brown bangs. Was this deja vu or what? he thought. Something about the man in front of him struck a nerve. He gave him closer scrutiny. Yes, there was something naggingly familiar about him. Great, now it was gonna bug him all day `til he figured it out. "Have we met?" he asked curiously.

"I don't think so." Adopting an officious air, Spender demanded, "Excuse me, but what are you doing in here alone?"

"Excuse yourself, Slick," Faith shot right back, bristling. "Not that it's any of your business, but I'm waitin' for Agent Scully." He flashed the visitor's ID he'd received downstairs.

Spender's face darkened at the mention of Mulder's partner's name. "Who are you?" he demanded in a tight, angry voice.

"He's my brother," Mulder said, his tone a match for Spender's. Faith blinked, surprised, as Mulder appeared in the doorway.

Spender cocked his head. Had he heard Mulder correctly? "Your..."

"Brother," Mulder repeated, moving in front of Faith. He couldn't ignore or control the protective pang that had kicked in the second he saw the little weasel confronting his brother.

"I'm Faith Matthews." Faith stepped toward Spender, jabbing his finger against the other man's chest to accentuate his words. "And who the freakin' heck are you?"

Spender brushed his hand away. "I definitely see the family resemblance," he snidely commented, then cut his eyes at Mulder. "Agent Mulder, are you certain this young man isn't a threat to security? He seems libel to go off just like your..." He paused for effect and threw the agent a Cheshire grin. "...Oh, yes, I meant the A.D., of course."

Mulder clenched his fists until his knuckles turned stark white. He's just pressing your buttons, he thought, to calm himself. Don't lose it.

"Everything's fine," Scully coolly assured Spender as she, too, entered the room. "Mr. Matthews has visitor clearance to be here." She gave him a tight, bloodless smile. "We can handle things from here, thank you."

Spender sighed, adopting a slighted expression. "I'm only trying to help."

Scully folded her arms across her chest. "So if I were stressed out beyond belief, you'd want to help me, too?" she challenged, stealthily avoiding divulging the full extent of Mulder's illness.

"You know, they give commendations to people like me," Spender told her, his voice growing colder.

"And you give ulcers to people like me," Mulder tossed back, not bothering to suppress his anger. His back turned to him, he waved Spender away. "Why don't you leave before a house falls on you?"

Wow, Faith privately cheered, sock it to him!

With one last parting warning, "I'm a very patient man...to a point," Spender stalked out of the room. The threat he left hung heavy in the air.

Faith grimaced. "Jeez, who was that prince?"

"That, Faith, was Jeffrey Spender," Scully replied.

Faith made a silent "o" of acknowledgment with his mouth.

"I'll give you two a moment to talk." The red-headed woman moved out of the room, both to give the two men some breathing room, and as a precaution against Spender's eyes and ears.

"Hey," Faith started to call after her, wanting to get down to business, but once the door closed he clamped his mouth shut in defeat and brushed a hand through his hair.

"Faith." Mulder looked anxiously in his brother's direction.

Feeling the agent's intense stare, Faith touched his cheek with a horrified look. "What? Do I have somethin' on my face?"

"What? No, of course not." Mulder gave his brother a curious look. "What are you doing here? I thought Scully was gonna meet you later?"

Faith slapped his hands down by his sides. "I just couldn't wait around all day, y'know," he replied matter-of-factly. "I wanna know the sitch on my blood now."

Mulder nodded, his eyes darting around the room as he searched for a conversation.

Faith played with his thumbnail and thought about what to say. "How are things goin'?"

"Peachy." But Mulder didn't mean it. "Without the pit, even."

"We're in a place with fruit?" Faith replied with a grin. "Gotta like it. So long as we avoid lemons. There's that whole sour element there."

"Yeah, well..." As Mulder's voice trailed away, Faith realized his attempt at levity had zoomed straight over the agent's head.

"You know, this is really none of my beeswax, but if things are "peachy," why aren't you doin' the tarantella on top of this desk?" the younger man wondered, concern riddling his voice.

"I've got a lot going on."

"Oh." Faith took an uncertain step forward. "Um, I, ah heard a little somethin' about that guy and all the trouble you're havin'."

Mulder lifted an eyebrow. "From Scully?"

"Yeah." Faith nodded. "She mentioned it. Sounds like a raw deal to me."

"Yeah, it is," Mulder replied, casting a wary glance at the closed door.

"Sorry."

Mulder looked up, and softly let out a sigh. "It's just that ever since I found out what Spender's up to, I can't sleep, I can't eat."

"It's that bad, huh?"

Mulder leaned a hand against Skinner's desk and looked Faith straight in the eye. "Well, let me put it to you this way -- when Skinner found out, he threw the first punch."

"He hit him?" Faith gasped, then punched the air, and broke into a wide grin. "Oh, I knew I liked that big, bald, beautiful guy!"

Mulder laughed, but it sounded false. "As much as I'd like to see the crap beat out of Spender, we can't..."

"What?!" Faith exclaimed, thunderstruck. "How dumb are you? You can't let him get away with what he's tryin' to pull. Stealin' your job right out from under you. Back where I come from we call that dirty dealings."

"Faith, I'm going to handle this myself, in my own way." Mulder shot him a quick, pointed look. "What you're proposing wouldn't solve anything -- in fact, it could only make things worse for all of us." For Walter, he added silently, more worried as usual for his lover than himself.

Faith threw his hands up in the air like he was surrendering. "Okay, okay, so you don't want him in intensive care." He gave Mulder close inspection. "You don't want that, do ya?"

Mulder shook his head.

"Well, all right, you said ya gotta handle it yourself, and there's only one way to do that, only one solid way -- good, old-fashioned revenge."

"But--"

"I'm not talkin' total warfare, big bro. But it means like someone needs a hint, know what I mean?" The gleam in Faith's eyes was suddenly matched by a warm spark in Mulder's, and they grinned at each other.


Scully stood outside the office door, feeling like a rather ridiculous guard, but what could she do with Spender obviously waiting for an earful and Kim away from her desk.

"Where's Mulder's brother been hiding all these years?" Spender asked conversationally, making his intention to not leave clearly known.

"Will you get a hold of yourself, please?" Scully told him, having had enough of the man's attitude. "What are you trying to do?"

"I don't think that's any of your concern." He shrugged. "It's a guy thing, Agent Scully -- call it pride."

Scully sighed. "I think you'd better leave now."

"Give me one good reason."

"It's a woman thing -- call it common sense."


Within Skinner's office Mulder folded his arms and leaned back against the desk to watch as Faith paced the room. Faith was speaking so rapidly, like a little kid excited by the trip to Disney World, that Mulder thought he would not stop.

"Look, this guy is tryin' to take somethin' of yours," he was saying. "Now, you gotta take somethin' of his. Revenge, it's the law of the jungle." He turned to face Mulder and rigorously waved a hand. "Let me tell ya a little story -- about how I got back at one of my many ex-boyfriends, Danny Baldarone. The only thing he loved more than himself was his cherry red sports car." He blew out his breath. "I was so gone on that guy I blew off half of my senior year so I could spend time with him. Come to my surprise to find out that he was datin' half the guys and girls in Newark."

His curiosity peaked, Mulder asked, "What did you do?"

"I got a couple of friends of mine to take that car apart and reassemble it, sorta, in his apartment."

Mulder just shook his head and chuckled.

"I know." Faith wore a guilty smile. "I lost a night's sleep over that, but it was worth it. Every single second, it was worth it to see his face when he slithered in that night." He giggled at the memory. "I know we can't get a car, but you gotta get somethin' like that, do somethin' like that, really stick it to Spender."

"I don't think that's up my alley," Mulder told him.

Faith narrowed his eyes. "You afraid of gettin' your hands dirty?"

"Oh, I don't want to stoop to his level." Mulder glanced at Faith with a frown. "What do you think? Am I losing my edge?"

"No, I think you're actin' like a moron," Faith blurted out, then seeing Mulder's wounded look he quickly added, "but not because you don't wanna get even with this snake -- I mean, believe me, I know about bad karma, it'll turn around and bite in you in the...well, y'know -- but because you're biding your time tryin' to figure out what to do, and he's circling `round like a vulture lickin' his chops."

Mulder lifted an eyebrow. "You don't sugarcoat things, do you, Faith?"

"You're a big boy and you can't let this jerk -- this loser guy -- push you around," Faith told him bluntly. He placed both hands on his hips and peered at Mulder with a stern look on his face. "Haven't you ever heard of that expression you have to be cruel to be kind?"

"Thank you for your two cents," Mulder said, scratching his jaw to hide his grin and failing miserably.

Faith turned on his heel and resumed pacing, another idea poised to go off. "All right, if revenge doesn't work for you, then, all right, this is what ya gotta do--"

Mulder jumped in. "No, no, wait. Could you just -- you know -- stop talking for two minutes here? You got a mouth that just never stops."

"I know that. But sometimes I get myself a little--"

"Just listen, okay?" Mulder stepped over to him. Faith could tell that he was upset about something. "Do you remember when we first met and I thought you were responsible for the attacks, the memory lapses, I was having?"

"Yes," Faith said slowly.

Mulder hesitated. He didn't want to admit that he was afraid of having his mind crash and burn, but he had to be honest. "I started seeing my therapist, Dr. Werber, again." He kept his voice low as he spoke. "He helped me a lot with Sam's abduction and last night..."

He turned to face the window. There was a sudden flash of light and Mulder saw the strobing blue lightboard for just a second. It flared off the glass and he winced. He staggered as the vision hit. The raw emotions he experienced from last night came flooding back in an instant as he saw the Cigarette Smoking Man arguing with his mother, then Mulder saw himself strapped down on a white table crying out in pain. Mulder's head began to pound, and his stomach churned as the impression faded. He was only half aware of Faith easing him into Skinner's empty chair. Another bolt of pain, like a lightning storm in his skull crinkled his face with a wince, and Faith exclaimed with worry, "Hold on, hold on, I'll go get Red!"

"No, no, don't go," Mulder rasped. "I'm all right."

"It doesn't look that way to me."

"Faith, please. I'm fine, really. Don't worry." Mulder concentrated on slowing his racing pulse and kept an eye on Faith's concerned face. "Just got a little side swiped there. These waves hit me out of nowhere." Then, with a sigh, "The session with my therapist didn't go too well."

"What happened? You still couldn't remember anything?"

Mulder smiled weakly and replied, "No, I-I remembered something. I'm just not sure what I saw -- and whatever it was scared me half to death."

Faith shrugged a shoulder. "Yeah, but you still went through with it anyway, right?" he said with admiration. "That took guts."

Mulder, surprised, flashed him a weak smile of thanks as he continued, "I think what I blocked out may have something to do with you after all."

"How come?" Faith asked, moving round to sit on the edge of the desk again.

"There was a man arguing with my mother -- our mom -- and...let's just say he's dark, dangerous, full of shit and conspiracies and nicotine. I think -- no, I know he had something to do with my memory loss..." Mulder stopped himself before he added `and I think he's responsible for mom giving you up.' That tidbit was probably a little too much for his hot-headed brother to handle right now.

Faith leaned forward, wearing his determined face. "You gotta track this guy down."

The agent made a silent sound of disbelief. "And then what?"

"You grill him like a shish kebab," Faith told him, making a stabbing motion with his hand.

Mulder shook his head firmly. "I can't confront Cancerman."

"Why not?"

"Well, what if--"

"What if what?" Faith sat straight up, resting a hand on his leg. "What if the truth is somethin' that you don't wanna know? Come on, face it -- not knowing is even gonna be worse. You gotta pin this thing down and get some answers to all these questions, or you're gonna spend the rest of your life torturing yourself, and you're not gonna be able to get back to the business at hand, which is your work, not to mention your life. And that is what you want, right?"

Mulder breathed. "What if it turns out that cold-hearted bastard has been using me from beginning to end?" he said angrily.

Faith shrugged. "You'll deal with it and you'll move on. Just do it, all right? Pin this down and ask the tough questions and find the answers." He gazed sympathetically at his brother, saw how his eyes seemed kind of sunken, noticed the trembling lower lip, and knew that Mulder wasn't doing as well as he'd like him to believe, not by half. "Trust me. You got nothin' to lose, and everything to gain."

Settling deeply into Walter's comfortable chair, and feeling a surprising jolt of pleasure from it, Mulder gazed up at him. For all his brashness, Faith did have a point. Not only might Faith himself be in danger, a fact that Mulder kept forgetting, he couldn't solve the riddles he'd been given and save his job by just worrying and hoping it would work itself out.

Mulder sighed. "You're right."

When Kim came back to her desk and Spender finally left, Scully stepped back inside the office and peered closely at the two men. They seemed to be in the midst of a rather tense conversation. Mulder was thinking seriously about something. She could tell by the way his bottom lip was curled.

Faith glanced up. "Ah, the face that launched a thousand tears." He hopped off the desk. "What did you find out about my blood, Red?"

Scully took a deep breath, and adopting her best lecturer's voice, filled Faith in on what she knew thus far. "As far as I can tell, Faith, you're not contagious," she assured him. "In fact, the virulent element actually seems to be strengthening your white blood cells, which may account for your rapid ability to heal."

"Huh?" Faith smirked. "And here I always thought I just had good skin -- was usin' the right soap or somethin'."

"Listen, I'm not going to give you false hope, all right?" Scully said in a troubled voice. "I want to do a few more tests before I give you a valid verdict. In the meantime, all I can ask of you is to be very, very careful."

"Don't worry, Faith Matthews always wears his helmet," he said, sticking his hands in his back pockets and rocking back and forth on his heels.

Scully blushed. "That's not what I meant...but, yes, that too." Recovering her scientific calm, she proceeded carefully, "I really don't know what effect this particular virus would have on another human being." Glancing over Faith's shoulder, she gave Mulder a pointed look. The memory of the body they'd discovered in Dallas would probably haunt them the rest of their days. There was no need to alarm Faith...just yet.

"I'm gonna go see if Skinner's out of that damn meeting," Mulder suddenly announced. Ignoring the head rush he received when he stood up, he nodded at his partner on his way out and gave Faith a swift little wave before disappearing.

Scully stole a quick glance at Mulder before shifting her attention back to Faith. "I can't believe it," she breathed.

Faith frowned. "Huh? What?"

"Seeing the two of you sitting there together with your heads together like that -- you looked like friends."

"Wouldn't go that far, Red, but we're workin' on it."

"Why? What did he say?" she asked, the anxiety evident in her tone.

"He's a wreck."

"You think so?"

"Hel-lo, Cleopatra, Queen of Denial?" Faith nodded, firmly. "Yeah, but if he's like me, then he's tough, a fighter and he'll go after that Spender guy with both guns `a' blazin'." He moved his fingers back and forth in a firing gesture to drive his point home.

"I hope so," Scully replied instantly, "because Agent Spender could ruin both Mulder and Skinner's careers with the snap of his fingers."

Faith rolled his eyes. "I don't really see what Mr. Wonderful could do," he scoffed.

"Only expose your brother's relationship with the Assistant Director to the Committee of Review," the agent answered in a whisper.

Faith fumed. "Oh, jeez, yeah! This guy doesn't miss a beat, does he? That creep!"

"Which is why neither one of us can afford to antagonize him." Scully folded her arms across her chest. "Faith, you of all people should know what the world is like..."

"Yeah, don't ask, don't tell." Faith sighed and cocked his head. "And you really think he'll drag this out `til he wins, huh?"

Scully answered with a grim nod of her head. Faith started to pace to collect his thoughts. The agent noted the faraway look in the young man's eyes, a determined, bordering on obsessive look she'd seen many times before on Mulder's face when he was on the verge of solving a case.

Faith inhaled sharply and his hazel eyes widened with an unknown revelation. "Unless someone threw him a curve ball and knocked him right off the plate..."

Scully shrugged helplessly. "Well, we're working on it."

He dismissed the notion with a wave of his hand. "Oh, no, no, no. I'm workin' on it!" Faith grinned, the excitement he felt practically sparking off him like a roman candle.

"Faith?" Scully called after him, but just like his older brother, he'd shifted into high gear and was already halfway out the door. "Faith, where are you going?"

"To see a lady about a drink!"

Letting him go, Scully stamped her foot. Her thoughts were in turmoil wondering what Faith was checking into. She didn't want a nasty showdown with Spender, but the alternative could be even worse.



PART THIRTEEN: A DISH BEST SERVED COLD (BUT IT STILL BURNS)

What was wrong with the world today? Mulder wondered. Was some sort of strange and unnatural cosmic convergence occurring that he hadn't known about?

This day had already been one of the worst and weirdest Mulder could recall, and he had to admit, he'd known some pretty bad ones. The only good thing that could be said for it was that it was almost over, and he figured not much more could happen. It was late; time to go home.

After his surprisingly good talk with Faith, Mulder had lingered outside of Kersh's office, feeling very much like a high school cheerleader waiting on the quarterback. After an hour, Scully came looking for him, and managed to drag him away.

Back in the basement, Scully introduced him to a small stack of backed-up X-Files -- or the `Weekly World News' finest', as she lightly joked -- which consisted of UFO sightings in Saskatchewan, a phantom train materializing in Georgia, and a werewolf escaping from a circus and wreaking havoc somewhere in the middle of Romania.

"Don't worry about, Spender, all right?" Scully had said, giving him a supportive smile.

"Oh, I'm not," Mulder replied, with a sly grin. "He's probably too busy picking the wings off of flies to bother me anymore."

As he got on with his work, Mulder decided not to let the morning's incident ruin the rest of his day. Spender was a jerk and Mulder knew he had far too much on his mind to give Junior his undivided attention.

"Don't play the game," he murmured to himself, remembering the only good thing `Pusher' Modell had done for him...

Finally, with only a couple of hours before it was time to leave the J. Edgar Hoover building, and having nearly chewed his nails down to the nub, Mulder had given in to his instincts and tried first phoning, and then visiting his lover's office -- not once, but numerous times -- only to be turned away by his assistant. Kim Cooke informed him that the Assistant Director wasn't accepting calls or he was in yet another meeting and couldn't be disturbed. And Mulder had grown more and more anxious with each passing minute.

Unable to stand it any longer, Mulder left Scully in the basement and took an elevator upstairs once again. He turned the corner leading to Skinner's office and was relieved to find not only no sign of a certain weasel, but also the complete absence of Kim Cooke. He found the Assistant Director's door cracked open ever so slightly and tentatively poked his head through. He exhaled with relief at the sight of Skinner, wearing his usual scowl, bent over a handful of documents.

"How did it go?" Mulder asked, gently closing the door behind him and moving into the room.

Skinner took off his glasses and let them dangle from his fingers. Exhausted and angry from the day's meetings, Walter had to work extra hard to conceal his personal stress from his lover. "Apparently our friend Spender reported the incident in his office to Kersh, and Agent Fowley backed him up," he replied as calmly as he could.

Mulder flushed angrily. "What? Son of a--" Suddenly Faith's idea of dismantling the little weasel's car seemed very appealing.

"Due to my "unfortunate outburst of anger," I've been handed a severe reprimand," Skinner broke in, wiping his brow with his other hand. "He was this close to putting me on suspension, but I talked him out of it."

"Great." Mulder closed his eyes for a second and let out a long, exasperated sigh.

"I know," Skinner replied, his eyes turning dark and soulful. "What are you thinking about?"

"Ever feel like things are spiraling out of control?"

"Frequently," Skinner replied, those brown eyes looking his lover up and down. When he had first begun to allow his gaze to run over Mulder's body, he was just making certain he was indeed all right, but he had not even made it back up to his face again before his mind was tempting him with naughty thoughts. Skinner shook his head slightly and glanced at his office door, a bit of heat tingeing his cheeks. What was wrong with him? He should know by now that he could not allow their relationship to interfere with their work, and yet here he was, wondering what it would be like to forget everything else and just make love to him right here in the office!

Unaware of his lover's erotic train of thought, Mulder continued: "I wanna be Fox Mulder again," he hoped he didn't sound like he was whining. "I wanna be that guy who's only concern is convincing anyone who'll listen that the truth is out there, and the only way to do that is find out the truth about myself and the past once and for all."

Skinner knew that Mulder was talking about his memory lapses. "Where is all this coming from?" he wondered, still half distracted by his thoughts.

"Oh, I got some very good advice today from a surprising source," Mulder replied, with a secretive wink. Thanks to Faith, he was beginning to know what it felt like to have a brother; someone whom he could talk to, confide in, make plans with. It felt good.

"Why don't you take off early?" Skinner abruptly suggested, hoping this would have the effect of a cold shower on him. He was sobered by the thought of Jeffrey Spender walking in any minute, finding them together. Skinner tried to calm down, but his thoughts kept wandering into NC17 territory, and he just knew that if he were to act on any of it, even just so much as a leer, that scheming, lying, little twerp would use it as ammunition to make sure Mulder lost everything!

"What? Why?" Mulder protested, thrown off guard. "What am I gonna do at home? Sit around and worry? I haven't reached the point where I need someone to hold my hand just yet, you know."

"And you know that I'd sit around and hold your hand," Skinner assured him, wearing a sweet smile. "Anytime."

"Don't play nursemaid with me right now, Walter, please. If things don't go my way tomorrow, there'll be plenty of time for hand holding. I'm trying to maintain a positive spin here."

Skinner sighed and watched Mulder for a long minute. He tried to keep his expression stern, but the warmth in his eyes betrayed him. "For the longest time I just thought you existed to make my job harder," he said softly.

"Oh, I did." Mulder nodded, wearing a bright smile.

"And you still do," Skinner said, without hesitation.

"Um-hum." Mulder wasn't sure if he was supposed to be insulted, or flattered.

"I care about you now more than I ever did. Maybe more than I ever thought possible." Skinner continued in that same hushed tone.

"Oh, Mr. Assistant Director, sir, don't you go soft on me now." Mulder's smile was sincere, though slightly forced as he allowed himself one brief moment of contemplation of life without the strength of Walter Skinner in his life.

"Don't be so bossy." Skinner's features were deeply serious now. "The meeting with the Committee is going to be very hard on you and I want you to be solid and steady," he went on. At Mulder's trademark frown, he growled, "Do I have to make than an official order, Agent Mulder?"

Mulder held up his hand in mock surrender. "Okay, okay, I give. I'll go home, but it doesn't mean I have to like the idea." The older man's silence in response was jarring, to say the least. "Walter?" he prompted, feeling that nagging doubt again.

Skinner's features segued from his surliest frown to a half-smile. "How's this for incentive?" he offered, only wanting the best for Mulder.

"What?"

Skinner held up a finger, having struck upon an idea. "What you need right now is a gift, a surprise. And I'm going to give you the best present you could ever get tonight..."

Mulder blinked, the surprise at Walter's abrupt change in tone already evident in his golden-flecked eyes. "What's that?"

"Me," the older man answered. Mulder's eyebrows shot up and the quirky little grin Skinner had been trying to retrieve bloomed on his face. "As soon as I'm done here," Skinner continued, "I'm gonna get out of this office, and you're gonna have an entire night of uninterrupted me."

Mulder couldn't argue with that. As far as he was concerned, Walter's idea was right up there with the invention of fire and the wheel. "If that deal includes a six-pack and a large supreme pizza, I'm yours forever!"

Skinner couldn't help himself; he placed a soft, quick kiss on Mulder's lips and received another crooked little smile in return. "See you later," he whispered, giving the stunned man a soft nudge in the direction of the door.

It hadn't even been a full minute after Mulder's departure when an obnoxious voice called out: "Assistant Director, busy as usual." Skinner glanced up from his reports. Agent Jeffrey Spender waltzed into the office; his arms were folded across his chest, and he was glaring snidely at Skinner. "Am I interrupting anything?" he asked, then glancing around the office, he sarcastically commented, "Mulder might as well reserve a parking space in here."

The A.D. heaved a deep sigh. "If pushing buttons is part of your job description, then go for it," he retorted. "But if that's your best shot, the Committee may get disenchanted with your administrative abilities a lot sooner than I had hoped."

Spender smirked a little more. "That sounds like a bad case of wishful thinking, sir."

"You know, people as small-minded as you usually imagine everybody else to be just like them," Skinner pointed out. "But what you fail to see, Agent Spender, is that Kersh wants results in black and white. He doesn't care about this petty wrangling. It doesn't matter to him. He doesn't have time for it. And frankly, neither do I."

"Well, that may be so, but I'm sure I'm not the only one wondering when protecting Mulder 24/7 became part of your job description," the agent sneered, then, with hands on hips, he added darkly, "Thanks to your antics the other day, you've put your future with the Bureau in jeopardy."

"I oughta punch you right in the mouth," Skinner shot back.

"Be my guest," Spender replied, wearing a calculated smile.

Skinner stopped himself, barely. He knew that he was doing exactly what the other man wanted. Instead of taking physical action, he took a deep breath, then insisted with a menacing gleam in his dark eyes, "I'm warning you, Agent Spender. This is a dangerous game. You wanna be a player, you better learn the rules."

Spender narrowed his own gaze, pleased with the effect he was having on the other man. "You aren't really threatening me again, are you?"

"Yeah. I am." Words all the more threatening for the flat uninflected tone in which they were delivered.

"I think all that testosterone is going to your brain, blowing -- excuse the expression -- the wiring. Don't do anything you'll regret. Or should I say, anything else."

"Agent Spender, is `snide' your only weapon? Because if it is, let me tell you, I'm not too impressed." When this failed to get a reaction, Skinner continued: "But I'll tell you this: I don't regret a single moment. I'm just sorry you're jealous. You are obviously a lonely guy. I just sort of feel sorry for you."

That got a reaction. "Come on now," the agent huffed. "You're just buttering me up. Next thing I know, you'll be putting in for overtime for frolicking around with Mulder."

The older man paused, then his head snapped up. "You know, you just gave me a great idea."

"Only one?" Spender wondered just how far Skinner would allow himself to be pushed.

"I am gonna be working overtime from now on," Skinner declared.

"I bet," Spender snorted.

"I am gonna do unto you what you love to do unto others."

"I'm sure I don't know what you mean," he replied in a lofty tone.

"I mean, this world's gotta be filled with people who hate your guts -maybe not as much as I do right at this moment, but enough. It's just a matter of finding them. Someone's gotta have the skinny on you, and I'm gonna make it my job to find it."

"Oh, look at me, I'm shaking."

"Yeah, you ought to be, because you forgot the first rule of any dangerous game, Agent Spender. Never underestimate the enemy."


Impatient and annoyed, Jeffrey Spender returned to his office, not exactly pleased with himself. The next phase of his plan -- getting Skinner to snap before he left the building -- had been a total bomb.

He anxiously slid a ream of freshly typed reports into a folder and pushed them into an inbox atop his small desk all the while gazing around venomously at the cramped confines of the office he'd been relegated to. Soon, very soon in fact, he would be ensconced back on the X-Files and Mulder would either be run out of the Bureau or busted down to listening to wire taps in this very room. A smirk crossed Jeffrey's features as he savored the irony.

His thoughts inadvertently turned to his father. Charles Spender had been virtually no help when the X-Files had been ripped away from him, and Jeffrey resented both his absence and the resulting lack of support with a deep passion.

His spiteful eyes settled on the office's other desk, currently empty, and his thoughts focused on his partner, Diana Fowley. Much to his ire, she had accepted Mulder and Scully's reinstatement without argument. Strangely enough, after giving her statement to Kersh, she'd been absent for the past several days, stricken down by a sudden flu bug. Her absence made it easier for Spender. There was no one here to hold him back or try and talk him out of his one driving purpose.

The phone on his desk started to ring.

"Faith Matthews?" Jeffrey Spender queried uncertainly into the receiver as the FBI secretary informed him of the urgent caller's identity.

"That is still my name, yes," the young man replied in a voice dripping with typical Mulder-sarcasm.

"What are you doing?" Spender demanded, incensed.

"It's called makin' an appointment," Faith replied cheerfully, "for right now as a matter of fact and since you're gonna wanna hear what I have to say..."

Spender interrupted the cocky young man angrily. "I don't have time for games, Mr. Matthews."

"Oh, I don't have time either. I'm a busy, busy boy." Faith cut right to the chase. "So this feud or whatever you've got going against Fox Mulder -- you're gonna drop it."

Spender held the phone back for a moment to stare at in incredulously. Pulling the receiver back to his mouth, he laughed dryly. "You've got about as much chance convincing me of that as Mulder does of getting a `have a nice day' card with a smiley face on it from me."

On the other end of the line, Faith took a deep breath to keep his rising anger in check. "You're gonna drop this and yes, while you're at it, you can send a smiley face to Mulder, and hell, why not send one to me while you're at it? See how nice I can be when you cooperate?"

"Is that supposed to intimidate me or something?" Spender asked, clearly not concerned with this trifling boy's threat in the least. "I have important work and you're wasting my time."

"You want specifics?" Faith put in, hotly. "Meet me at Angelo's for dinner -- seven o'clock."

"And if I don't?"

"You'll find yourself holdin' your hat in your hands before your fancy Committee instead of Mulder," Faith told him, matter of factly. "So you be there, got it?"


Spender had scored the best table in Angelo's Italian restaurant -- the one with the picture-postcard-perfect view of the Capital and the constant moving stream of cars whose headlights sparkled like a string of stars in the evening light. Not that he cared. He really couldn't understand why he had agreed to meet Faith Matthews, but he had to admit that curiosity, that old cat killer, was the prime motivator. Mulder's new-found brother had him intrigued.

Having forgone ordering any food, mainly due to his confidence that this `meeting' wouldn't take long, Spender reached for the glass of white zinfandel before him, raised it, and gently swirled the contents. Taking a large swallow, Spender glanced up at an old-fashioned cuckoo clock recessed into the wall and wondered if the young man was deliberately keeping him waiting.

Just when he'd lost all of his patience and turned to signal a waiter for the check, Faith appeared, dressed in a sharp charcoal gray suit -- a far cry from his flashy wardrobe of the morning.

Faith spotted the agent, and with a determined frown, made straight for the table.

Along the way, Faith rehearsed everything he wanted to say for about the twentieth time, and tried to quell the nervous anticipation churning in his stomach. He didn't like what Spender was up to. Not one little bit, and he knew his emotions were volatile right now. Jamming a fierce plug down on his anger, he drove himself on, still feeling unsure about himself, but feeling safe in the knowledge that he could do some good here. Taking a quick calming breath, he pulled out a chair at Spender's table, made himself as personable as possible, and with a cool, confident manner, ordered a large plate of spaghetti from the first waiter that wandered by, ignoring Spender at first, and feeling just a little like a Mafia button man.

Jeffrey Spender looked just as slick and pompous as he'd seemed that morning. Well, my friend, Faith thought, get ready to have that smug, self-satisfied look wiped off your face like a four year old's dirt under a mother's tissue. Today, Spender and the rest of the weasels of the world were gonna learn that no matter how much they thought they knew their way around the hen house, Faith Matthews' was always gonna be gunnin' for them.

Although the concept was still new, and a little frightening, the whole `Mulder-is-my-family' deal had played a huge part in his motivation. Having witnessed firsthand that Mulder was dealing with way more than he could handle, or at least more than Faith thought he could handle, the younger man had decided to take charge for his brother's own good.

Maybe blood is always gonna be thicker than water, Faith reflected, or vodka...hmm, Alex...

Focus, Matthews! he chided himself.

Without even a polite "hello," Agent Spender sat back and peered expectantly at the other man. "Now, Mr. Matthews," he said after the waiter had hurried away, "would you like to tell me what this is all about?"

Faith gazed at the other man with those annoyingly earnest hazel eyes. "I want you to quit hounding after Fox Mulder," he proposed, facing Spender head-on.

His own eyes taking on a dangerous gleam, Spender pondered, "Is this you, or Agent Mulder talking?"

"Both," Faith declared airily. "You see this mess you're makin' is ridin' up his back like a bad rash, and you're makin' us both itch, so...drop it before there's any trouble." He smiled and waggled his fingers. "Consider it a friendly warning."

"When did we become friends?" Spender smarted with an arched brow.

Faith tried to keep his tone amiable. "That didn't sound like you're agreein' with me at all, `Jeff'."

Spender crossed his legs, hid the twinge of anger at Faith's almost insolent tone, calmly sat back, and fixed him with another probing stare. "Mr. Matthews, we've only just met and, yet, like your brother, you've obviously jumped to some rather hasty conclusions about me," he smoothly retorted.

"Have I?"

"What you don't seem to understand is that the X-Files division of the Bureau was taken away from me by Agent Mulder, just when it was shaping up to be a real department." Spender's expression grew impatient. "And now, due in part to his past performances, not to mention his recent illness, it is quite clear he is unable to handle the stress of this demanding job."

"And you can?" Faith scoffed, snapping a breadstick in two. "Haven't you done enough to this poor guy?"

The agent set his jaw with stubborn determination. "That `poor guy', as you call him, took away the department rightfully assigned to me. You think I can rebuild my career just like that?" He snapped his fingers. "Reputation is a precious thing, you know." Spender looked up as the waiter returned with Faith's order and waved him away in much the same dismissive manner he was using with the younger man. "And Agent Mulder is not only ruining mine, but he's threatening the Bureau's as well."

Faith tried to be nonchalant as he twirled his spaghetti round his fork, blew on it, and took a bite. "Can I ask you somethin'?" he said, swallowing, then pointing his fork at Spender. "Do ya know what a good guy would do in this kinda situation?"

"Haven't a clue," Spender said dryly, glancing coldly across the table at Faith. "But I'm sure you're going to tell me."

"He would drop his attitude problem and hang ups and get on with his life for cryin' out loud!" he blurted out. He saw storm clouds form in Spender's eyes, and knew he'd made a mistake.

"Mr. Matthews, because you have decided to stick your nose into business that doesn't concern you, I'm even more determined than ever to take this all the way to the head of the Committee," Spender said tersely.

Faith sighed and visibly sagged. He'd hoped this would be easier. After calming the fiery indignation growing again in his belly by playing with his food, he looked up suddenly, smiling with a twinkle in his eye. "I was afraid you were gonna say that."

Spender nodded at the other man's plate. "Why don't you scarf up your pasta, clean your plate, and then head back to Mulder and tell him that?" He took a long sip of wine, set the glass down and started to stand. When no reply was forthcoming, he added icily: "Go home, little boy, we're finished."

"No, no way!" Faith snapped, raising his voice to show that he meant business and was not going to be brushed aside. "We're not finished `til I say we're done."

The two men glared at one another.

"C'mon, sit down," Faith urged. "Sit down and relax, for Pete's sake." He waited until the agent straightened his suit and reluctantly sat back down before continuing, "Don't ya wanna know what I got in my pocket?"

Spender sighed derisively. "Not really, no."

Faith gave Spender a cockeyed grin, reached into his pocket and removed a folded sheet of paper. "Take a big sip of whatever you're drinking there and hold onto your overpriced socks, buddy, `cos I'm about to blow them off." Thinking how Spender might not be so likely to worry about his brother's sex life after this screwing, he placed the page down in front of the other man. "Take a look at that."

Spender slowly unfolded the paper and found himself staring at a page torn out of a standard register book. He scanned down until he found his own signature highlighted in fluorescent marker pen.

"See, I knew I recognized you this morning," Faith declared, then smacked himself lightly on the forehead. "And then it hit me. We've bumped into each other before; at my favorite club, which just happens to be owned by a very, very good friend of mine. Whenever there's a theme night and a really big, big crowd, people have to sign in."

"So?"

Faith recognized that the other man was suddenly on edge. "So. So, I'm thinkin', I know it's a gay bar, and the drag queens know it's a gay bar, but did you know it was a gay bar?" he whispered, his expression one of mock shock. Then he looked thoughtful. "Now what was the theme that night?" He perked up. "Oh yeah, Boys! Boys! Boys!"

Spender scowled at Faith, flicking the paper back across the table. "So because of that little piece of paper I'm supposed to back off?"

Faith brightened. "That would be great!"

"I hate to trample on your bit of dramatic flare, but this flimsy evidence could've been faked on any computer," the agent sarcastically informed him, as if this would be a crushing blow to the younger man's morale.

"Oh, don't be a wise as--guy," Faith sputtered. "Yeah, I'm sure it was Joe Blow at Acme's Forged Handwriting Warehouse -- he did it," the Jersey native muttered under his breath, receiving another smirk from Spender. Recalling how his pop's lawyer pal used to act, Faith sat up straight in his chair and went all business-like. "All right, this is how it's gonna go: you're gonna leave Mulder alone and this ends up in a shredder," he proposed, snatching up the paper and waving it in the air. "But if you dig your heels in deeper..."

He thought maybe he was making some headway but Spender made it very clear that he wasn't intimidated in the slightest. Cool and relaxed, the agent remarked, "If I didn't know better I'd think you were trying to blackmail a federal agent."

"Now why would I do that?" Faith wondered, cocking his head to the side.

"To win bonus points with your new brother, and his friends." He made `friends' sound like a dirty word. "They'd all like to be grand marshal of the Spender Resignation Parade." An expression Faith could only describe as arrogant crossed Spender's face as he added, "Stop embarrassing yourself with empty threats. You're out of your league."

"Oh, really?" Faith countered with relish, then, not making a show of it, as he announced, "It only took me a few hours to get my hands on a skeleton from your very busy, busy closet." He pulled out his trump card: a video cassette from the inside of his blazer pocket.

That got Spender's attention. "And what is that supposed to be?"

Faith grinned craftily. "Oh, this? Just America's Most Embarrassing Home Video." At Spender's blank look he clarified, "A surveillance tape from the club. Smile! You were on Candid Camera that night." He sighed happily. "So nice of my friend to keep these things."

Spender glared at Faith, speechless for an instant. "Are you trying to humiliate an innocent man?" he asked in a concerned murmur, not sounding innocent at all.

Faith snapped, "Ah, I didn't even break a sweat! So much for bein' a lightweight." With a click of his tongue, he spied a pay phone in the restaurant's entryway. "You know what? Maybe I should call the Feds right now and see how they feel about all this."

Before the young man could make a move, Jeffrey pushed his wine out of the way, leaned forward and whispered, "Don't drag this through the mud."

"Me? Hello, Pot? Kettle callin'! You are the one doin' the draggin'," Faith pointed out, indignantly. "Now it's time to find out what kind of a guy you really are. For the last time: Are ya gonna ruin careers or are ya gonna do the right thing and drop this?"

A tension, thick and harsh, hung steadily in the silence between them, only broken by the clattering of cutlery and mumbled conversations as the patrons of Angelo's continued their meals blissfully unaware of the strain at their table.

Trying a fresh approach, Faith promised, "You have the Faith Matthews word of honor here. I'm tellin' ya right now if you drop this -- this whole thing, then all of this:" he held the paper out between his fingers, "disappears faster than a ship in the Bermuda Triangle." He nodded at the agent. "The ball's in your court, Jeff. What're you gonna do?"

If Jeffrey Spender was going to cave in, he didn't show any sign of it. Instead, he stared at the young man and used a bit of intimidation of his own. "Well, your opinion won't count for much in court," he threatened.

"You know, you're probably right." Faith shrugged, unconcerned. "What have I got here? I got this silly tape and a page from a sign-in book; not much, but I bet that if the Fibbies looked into it they'd find a skunk of a guy who tried to pull a rotten, dirty trick." He leaned forward and genuinely confessed, "Look I don't wanna hurt anybody here and I hope that deep in your heart -- if you have one -- you don't wanna cause Mulder any more pain. He's been through enough already." About to lose what little patience he had left, Faith finished, "But this has to stop here - please."

"So Mulder and Skinner can ride off into the sunset?" Spender suggested nastily, raising an eyebrow.

"No, no," Faith insisted with fire, "so you, me and everybody else in this can have a decent night's sleep in peace without feelin' just a little bit dirty."

"All right, Faith...I'll drop it."

Faith's eyes widened. He could see it in Spender's expression, he'd done it -- he'd gotten through to him. He felt a surge of satisfaction.

"You did the right thing." Faith nodded, trying hard to hold onto his reserved calm. "And I didn't even have to break your kneecaps to do it," he lightly chuckled, giving Spender a wink. "I can do that, y'know." He stood up, brushed down his jacket and handed the slip of paper and the video tape over. "Great!"

Leaving Spender to get the check, Faith broke into an enormous grin once he stepped lively through the entrance. Spender watched Faith go, a look of angry astonishment on his face. He pocketed the video cassette and started to rip up the sheet of paper. He glanced over his shoulder to make sure Faith had left the restaurant, then pulled out his cell phone. He suddenly wanted to know everything he could about this new problem that had just shot his plans all to hell.

His call connected with the Bureau bullpen and a wet-behind-the-ears Agent Rayner. "Yes, I need a background check run on a Faith Matthews..."

Jeffrey started when a hand gripped his wrist and pulled his phone away. He didn't even have to look up to know who the hand's owner was; a strong aroma of cigarettes had already permeated the air around him.

"You don't want to do that," Charles Spender, his father, told him.



PART FOURTEEN: YOU JUST DON'T REALIZE WHAT'S GOING ON AROUND YOU, SOMETIMES

In the spacious kitchen of Skinner's condo apartment, Mulder opened the microwave to peek in at the meal he was heating. His thoughts had been so preoccupied with his mother, Faith's blood, his returning memories and the persistent headaches they caused, not to mention the Committee hearing scheduled for the morning, that he'd set the timer for five minutes too long.

"Way to go, Julia Child," he grumbled. As he dumped the burnt contents into the trash, the doorbell buzzed. He blinked and glanced across the condo.

"Walter, did you forget your key again?" he wondered aloud, smiling at the domesticity of his comment as he crossed the living room and opened the door. His crooked grin of welcome instantly segued into a smaller one of momentary disbelief at the visitor he found standing in the hall. "Faith, hey," he said, catching his breath.

"Hey yourself, Slim Jim!" Faith exclaimed. His cheeks were flushed, and he was bouncing with more energy than a pink bunny banging on a drum.

"Come in," Mulder said pleasantly, after recovering from the wonder of seeing Faith twice in one day. He noticed that his brother was now wearing a bemused expression on his face. "What's the joke?"

Faith shook his head slowly, his grin widening. "Nice apron." Mulder glanced down at himself. He blushed slightly, realizing that Skinner's apron, the one he himself had gotten a kick over, was tied behind his back and bore a big pair of red lips, above which were printed the words "Kiss Me Quick!"

"Fact one about your brother: he can't cook," Mulder confessed coolly, though quite aware that his cool was somewhat mitigated by the lips emblazoned over his crotch. Stripping off the apron and tossing it over a chair, he offered, "You want a drink or anything?"

"Nah," Faith said, breezing past him, "I'll skip the drink `til we discuss your problem with Captain Smug." He took Mulder's arm and steered him toward the nearest chair.

"My problem?" Mulder pulled back and shook his head adamantly. "No, I don't wanna get into that again."

"Oh, but I..." Faith started, his eyes growing wide, busting his buttons for airtime.

But then Mulder put on a soft smile. It wasn't his brother's fault that he was feeling restless and rueful. And Faith didn't know that he already had a game plan in mind for tracking down Cancerman and learning just what the hell had happened between him and his mother all those years ago. All he had to do was get past the Committee meeting first...

With a muttered apology, he shrugged and said, "What I meant to say is, I really want to thank you for our talk. It helped clear a lot of things up."

"Good." Faith threw him a cockeyed grin. "So I was right; who knew?"

"Don't take this the wrong way, Faith, but I just want to forget all about it tonight..."

"Oh, I know, I know..." Completely ignoring Mulder's wishes, Faith quickly added, "I just hope it doesn't set ya back too much, Buster Brown, because when you hear what I've gotta say you're gonna owe me big -- big!"

Giving in, Mulder sighed. "All right." Folding his arms, he slid into the most comfortable chair in the room, and not coincidentally, his favorite, while Faith parked himself on the coffee table. "What have you been up to since I saw you this morning?" he asked, not sure if he really wanted to know. For a moment, he understood exactly how Scully felt some days...

Faith beamed, leaning forward excitedly. "I just had a long talk, a very long talk with Special Agent Jeffrey "The Jerk" Spender. He's dropping his case against you." Mulder stared at him open-mouthed, and Faith promptly reached out and closed it for him. "You're lettin' in flies, y'know," he smarted, then went on with an affirming nod, "He is...really."

"Are you serious?" Mulder breathed.

"Nah, you're serious enough for the both of us!" Faith lightly smacked him on the arm. "Jeez, is this how you always react when you get good news?"

"No, Faith, I-I'm sorry," he stuttered, thunderstruck. "It's just hard to believe. When he was in the office he was so cocky and..." Mulder narrowed his eyes, suspicion mingling with his curiosity. "How did you do it?"

"Well, I invited him to dinner and just reminded him of somethin' he'd forgotten about." Faith's eyes went wide with mock innocence, but he couldn't hide his infectious enthusiasm. "Oh! And of course, I had somethin' sweet up my sleeve for dessert."

"I bet you did," Mulder replied, wearing a sly grin.

"Ah-ha." Faith nodded.

Mulder sat back and gazed at the younger man with stunned admiration. "Faith, I-I just don't know what to say." He threw his hands up, then let them smack down onto his long legs. "That's pretty damn amazing."

But Faith waved a dismissive hand at him. He would've done it for anybody. If there was one thing in this world that he couldn't stand, it was a hypocrite like Spender. The sound of a key opening the front door drew both their attention.

"Well, while you're sittin' there still amazed, here's the Chief." Faith rose and met Skinner at the door. He patted the older man's chest as he breezed by him. "Have a good night, Hot Stuff," he said with a cheeky grin.

Skinner did a double-take as Faith closed the door behind him. Bewildered, the A.D. turned to his bemused looking lover. "What was that all about?" he asked, fumbling with the bottle of wine he'd brought home as it threatened to fall from his hands.

Mulder shook his head, and then, feeling a million times better, leaped forward and slipped his arms around Skinner's waist. "I think I just found an inexplicable event that should definitely be classified as an X-File -- maybe the ultimate X-File." Mulder stroked a hand lovingly across Skinner's jaw, smoothing away Walter's confused frown as he clarified, "Somehow, and don't even ask me how, Faith got Spender to drop his case against me -- us!"

Skinner's eyes widened in astonishment. "What? Fox, Faith did what? But--," he sputtered, paused, then processing, growled softly, "How did you know? I was gonna surprise you!"

Mulder blinked, then frowned himself. "Be kind, rewind."

The older man sighed, and a slow sweet smile crept across his face. "Kersh phoned as I was leaving," he explained. "Apparently `due to insufficient evidence,' Agent Spender has declined to pursue his case against you."

Hearing it from Walter's lips cemented the fact of Faith's revelation. Mulder breathed a huge sigh of relief.

"And Faith had something to do with it?" The A.D. said, his voice tinged with wonder. He'd met a lot of tough guys in his life, but that Faith was something else. Skinner was impressed. He hadn't been able to put enough needles into Spender to get even a girly scream out of him, and yet this kid -- Faith... Crushing Mulder to his chest, he simply added, "Unbelievable!"

"It's a "freakin' miracle", as Faith would say," Mulder agreed, allowing himself the luxury of being held in his lover's arms without Spender's threats looming over their heads like a dark storm cloud.

"Well, Agent Mulder, your X-File certainly qualifies for some major celebrating in my book," Skinner announced, bringing the bottle of wine he still held into Mulder's line of vision. He leaned back to take in the shining eyes of his lover. "What do you say to an intimate dinner and--" The A.D.'s voice trailed off as Mulder abruptly broke in.

"Ah, ah, ah." He let go off his lover to slowly remove the wirerims from Skinner's bemused face. "There's only one way I wanna celebrate `Freedom from Spender Day'!"

Skinner could feel his blood start to flow hot at the sight of Mulder's wolfish grin. "And what way is that, Agent Mulder?" he played along.

In answer, Mulder pulled his lover close again with one hand while trailing the other across Skinner's chest, down the front of his dress shirt and then resting it on the bulge already forming in front of the older man's slacks. "Everything I need is right here," Mulder replied, his voice low and husky. He placed a delicate kiss on Skinner's lips, then another close to his ear, and whispered, "Do you want to make love to me, Walter?"

The thought was all too tempting, and though the kisses had been gentle, it had still blown Skinner away. "You know I do, baby," Walter breathed, instantaneously turned on to molten point by Mulder's seductive tone.

Mulder pushed even closer into his embrace. The feel of Walter's arms around him and of their bodies pressed so close together quickly diminished the ache in his head considerably. Mulder let his hands slide up Skinner's chest, caressing him through his shirt's fabric, and their eyes sparkled with mischievous intent as they gazed at one another. Mulder pressed his lips to Skinner's, gently at first but then with steadily building passion. Skinner returned the kiss and wrapped his strong arms around his lover's lean frame, the desire to be with Mulder burning stronger and stronger within him, as he slowly lowered him to the floor...

Mulder was completely lost in a private world of passion so intensely hot that it could have easily melted the entire North Pole. He continued to kiss Walter with ever-building desire, his tongue slipping into the other man's mouth and beginning to dance and duel with his tongue. Meanwhile, his hands roamed Skinner's body freely, caressing every inch of him that he could reach, until returning to the front of his pants and beginning their work there. Skinner's every touch carried Mulder increasingly higher, the heat of their craving filling every fibre of his being. Mulder kissed him passionately once more, his tongue dipping into Walter's sweet mouth for another quick taste before gently tearing his lips from the older man's.

Mulder slid downwards, his body pressed hard against his lover's, until his mouth came level with the waist of Skinner's slacks. He caught the waistband in his teeth and used both teeth and hands to open and then pull Skinner's pants down. He then trailed a line of seductive kisses and even hotter yet gentle nibbles up Skinner's left leg until he was back at Walter's crotch. This time, Mulder used his nimble fingers to pull at the band of Skinner's boxers. He lowered his mouth down toward Walter just as he carefully lifted the boxers over his lover's erection. Mulder's tongue teased Skinner's rigid cock with a rough lick before his teeth caught hold of the waistband of the boxers. He gave them the same treatment he had given the other man's pants, and then began to work his way up the inner side of Walter's right leg in a trail just as hot as the one he'd given the left. Mulder continued to work his way up his lover until he again reached his cock, and this time he let his chest rub against the eager erection. He leaned against it, briefly catching it between his pecs, before finally pulling himself back up, his lips finding Skinner's once more.

After thrusting their tongues deep into each other's mouths, Mulder eagerly returned to his knees and took his lover's cock deep inside his mouth, sliding his lips up and down the rigid shaft, rolling his tongue over it. Skinner gave a sharp exhalation of breath. His hands rested on the silky softness of Mulder's head as a gentle guide as he pumped his hips with deep, slow strokes.

Mulder opened his throat wide, took as much of his lover's cock as he could, and ran his hands across the hard flesh of Skinner's ass, prying the cheeks apart, and burrowing his fingers inside. Skinner squirmed and ground his hips against the younger man's face. Releasing his cock, Mulder slid down to press his lips just beneath the other man's balls, kissing softly. Skinner reached down and pulled Mulder to his feet. He kissed his lover on the mouth, the eyes, all over his flushed face, while he unbuckled Mulder's belt and, with one swift tug, yanked his jeans and boxer briefs down around his ankles. They removed Mulder's shirt together, and then Skinner lead his lover to the sofa. A heartbeat later, they were sprawled on top of it, limbs entangled and mouths kissing each other with frantic intensity.

Skinner spread himself full-length on top of Mulder, who hummed and sighed with desire, feeling as if every nerve ending in his body was wired to the sensation of the other man's skin against his own. Skinner slowly raised himself and wrapped his hand around both of their erections; cock against cock, pressed tightly in the A.D.'s huge fist. His breath coming out in ragged gasps, Mulder reached up to squeeze the other man's nipples. Walter closed his eyes briefly, then opened them to smile down at his lover. He pivoted around and took Mulder's luscious cock in his mouth, deep-throating the younger man with a slow, even tempo. Skinner came up for air. He turned his head and grinned at Mulder, who looked back at him, eyes glazed with lust, deep rhythmic breaths parting his lips. In no time at all, Skinner produced a condom and a jar of lube from behind the couch -- right where Mulder had left it.

Mulder's long legs found their way over the older man's shoulders, and Skinner was readying himself for the initial plunge. He placed his hands on Mulder's hips, and with excruciating slowness, he entered his lover. Overcome with desire, Mulder closed his eyes as Walter whispering in his ear, plunging in and out, in and out with a gentle, slow rhythm, while his hands caressed the older man's torso. Mulder opened his eyes and saw Walter's face right above his own, his dark eyes full of love and tenderness. Mulder moved his body in pace with his lover's, speeding his thrusts as the feeling of Skinner filling him brought him ever closer to the brink. Sensing this, Walter smiled. He quickened his pace, thrusting deep, grinding his pelvis against Mulder's. Mulder reached down to cup the other man's balls in his hand, squeezing them gently. Skinner smeared a dollop of lube on his hand and started stroking his lover's throbbing erection. The older man started breathing deeply and steadily, exhaling in a loud sigh with each thrust of his hips.

Explosive sensations swept over Mulder as Skinner's cock and hand combined to work their wonders on his body. He could feel himself starting to drift away. He groaned and opened his eyes, focusing on Walter's face; sweat along his forehead, eyebrows knitted in concentration. Mulder held his gaze, and they made love, eyes locked, breathing synchronized, bodies thrusting and pulling away in perfect rhythm, then coming back together smoothly with each new stroke. Mulder reached up and ran his trembling hands over his lover's chest, now hot and slippery with sweat, and he could feel the thudding of the man's heart beneath his palms. Skinner's breathing took on a fast, ragged tone. His face was drenched with perspiration, and his lips were pulled back in a soundless growl. But his lustful gaze never wavered from Mulder's. With a sudden roar, he thrust deep and hard one final time. He kissed Mulder just as deeply, his body writhing against his lover's. At the same time, Mulder could feel his own glorious release, and he cried out, his voice muffled by Skinner's mouth.

Skinner embraced his Fox in a tight, massive bear hug, pressing his body hard against his own, as the younger man shuddered out his orgasm. Afterwards, they laid together in blissful silence, Mulder wrapped up in Skinner's strong arms, feeling their hearts beating in tandem as their chests were pressed together. He nestled his head on Walter's shoulder, and as Mulder felt himself drifting off to sleep, he wanted to freeze time right there and then. For the first time in hours, days even, Mulder's thoughts were filled only with his lover. His blocked memories, Spender Jr. and his derailed tactics, even Faith -- all were, for the time being, vanquished from Mulder's head.



PART FIFTEEN: BETTER THE DEVIL YOU KNOW

Mulder tested the water streaming from the showerhead and turned the tap to make it hotter. Closing his eyes, he tilted his face up and let the warm water wash over him. As his muscles relaxed, he poured a generous amount of shampoo into his hand and moved out from under the spray as he lathered it into his hair.

A lot of people might not think a guy with wet hair dressed in loose, comfy sweats was all that attractive, but Walter didn't seem to mind.

His mind wandered lazily through the week. Having returned to his apartment for a few days, he was glad to be back at the condo again. All things considered, Mulder thought, he was an incredibly lucky guy. Of course, he'd be a lot happier if his headaches would disappear for good.

Nearly a week had passed without any sign of his blocked memories returning. Mulder had begun to grow discouraged, but he was still determined to track down the Cigarette Smoking Man and discover once and for all what role he might have played in his memory lapses, and if Spender was the reason for his mother giving up Faith.

At this moment, however, he refused to let those thoughts, which still hung over his head, like dark rainclouds, shatter his focus.

Focus. That was what it was about, Mulder thought as he moved back under the shower to rinse the suds from his hair, the flow of water coursing soap down his lean frame. He stepped out of the shower and wrapped a towel around his waist. As he shook excess water from his wet head, he was grateful that his persistent headache seemed to be subsiding.

Humming a snatch of some rock tune he'd heard earlier, he turned out the bathroom light and flopped himself down on Skinner's bed. He picked up the TV remote and turned on the set. When the phone rang, he reached for it automatically, knowing that there was a high probability that Walter was on the other end. He had left around half an hour ago to find some takeout. "I have good news and bad news, Big Guy. What's yours?"

"Maybe you'd better go first," Skinner said with a distinct note of caution in his voice.

"Okay, I've just surfed through every single channel and our program options are severely limited." Mulder didn't pause to take a breath. "I vote for a "Maude" marathon, but if you really wanna watch "Crossfire," I'm willing to deal."

"Comedy sounds perfect," Walter said over his cell phone. "Do you want to laugh with a mouthful of tacos or burgers?"

"Those are my only choices?" Mulder asked, arching his eyebrows in what would have been a suggestive look had Skinner been there.

"As far as food goes," the older man replied, not missing a beat.

"Tacos," Mulder said, sighing. "With lots of caliente hot sauce and super spicy jalapenos."

"Be there in fifteen."

Mulder couldn't be sure, but he thought he detected a kissing noise over the phone before Skinner hung up. He replaced the receiver, leaned back against the fluffy pillows with a lazy sigh, and turned up the volume on the TV. Yawning, he glanced at the digital alarm clock on the nightstand. It was only a little after seven o'clock. He was surprised at how tired he was, considering how long it usually took him to get to sleep. Still, between work and his recent real life trials, he had been pushing the envelope of endurance lately. He suspected that he suspected that he could sleep for a month and still not catch up on his missing z's.

When his eyelids started to droop, and Bea Arthur's image became a blur, Mulder didn't fight it. He drifted off, assuming that Walter would wake him up when he arrived with supper.


Maggie placed the bag of groceries next to the door. She searched through her purse for several moments, until she finally found her keys. Already, she could hear the sound of the stereo inside. Sure enough, when Maggie opened the door, Faith was sitting at the table, listening to music and doing his homework.

Maggie smiled at Faith and kicked the door shut, struggling with the groceries. She practically threw the heavy bags on the table with a dramatic `why didn't you help me?' sigh. "How did I know you'd be studying?" she asked sarcastically.

"Better yet, how did ya know I'd need a latte?" Faith smirked, then taking the Starbuck's cup, instantly gushed, "You're the best!"

"Chinese take out will only get you so far." Maggie smiled, hefting a sack from Panda Gardens before him. "Are you hungry?"

"Just a little bit," Faith said, rummaging through the shopping bags, "Oh! Chocolate!" he exclaimed, grabbing the bag of Hershey's Kisses.

Maggie pulled the chocolate away from Faith, exclaiming, "You'll spoil your dinner!"

"You're pure evil."

Maggie smirked, "I try."

The two friends grinned delightedly at one another, and Maggie tossed Faith the Kisses. Faith glanced back at his schoolbooks as he tore open the package, only half interested. His thoughts habitually flashed on Alex Arntzen, the very memory of their all night phone conversations warming his body like Southern Comfort on a cold Jersey night.

Alas, day dreaming would have to wait. Between getting back into the swing of things at WSR Graphics, and way too much family drama, Faith had seriously dropped behind in his college courses.

Maggie unpacked the things she had bought and put them away in cupboards and the refrigerator. Stowing the last package of Chicken Voila, she asked, "Heard from a certain hottie today?"

Faith looked up excitedly, "I wish."

Almost as if on cue, the phone rang. While Maggie watched, hands on hips, Faith snatched up the portable to answer it. His face fell and he pulled his ear away for a second as a harsh clicking sound sizzled in his ear.

Freakin' static! He and Maggie had lost count of how many times this had happened now, and he privately swore to march right down to the phone company and set them onto the problem. "It's for you," he said, rigorously waving the phone in Maggie's direction.

"Better luck next time." Maggie smiled and took the phone with her into the bathroom. Pouting impishly, Faith consoled himself with a chocolate kiss and went back to his reading. After a few minutes, Maggie returned to wash her hands and start dinner. "First call I've gotten in days," she teased.

Faith whipped off his reading glasses. "And what's that s'posed to mean, Chatty Cathy?"

"Well, someone who, of course, shall remain nameless, has been running the phone hot into the wee hours of morning," she said, with an expression of mock innocence. "Besides, I was really loud coming in last night and you didn't flinch once. If you were that wrapped up, history dictates that you'd already be talking to Alex tonight, and I would again spend the night phone-call deprived."

Faith shook his head, laughing. "Mags, your logic scares me sometimes, y'know?"

"So has he asked you out again?"

"Not yet."

"Hmm." Maggie leaned her chin on Faith's shoulder, "I have an idea!"

"What is it?" he asked hopefully.

"No! It's way too risky. Or maybe it's much too practical for you! It's so simple that you would never ever think of it!" Maggie paused dramatically, grinned at Faith's scowl, and shrugged: "How about you just ask him?" She moved to pull off a pink post-it note attached to the refrigerator door, "Call him!" She handed the paper to Faith, smile widening.

Faith glared at her, then at the piece of paper with seven digits scrawled on it. "No, no way," he exclaimed, shaking his head indignantly.

"Huh? What?" Maggie did a double-take. Had she heard her best friend right? "Just when did the Pod People invade, and what did they do with Faith `I always get my man' Matthews?" Faith shrugged, shyly. "You two were pretty cozy the other night at the party." Maggie reminded him with a suggestive grin.

"I think about kissin' him all the time," Faith confessed, dreamily. "When I'm with him, when I'm not with him..."

"Walk me through this, sweetie. This is a bad thing, how?" Maggie questioned, baffled, but grinning, Faith's day dream apparently catching.

"I'm scared I'm fallin' way too fast here." Faith held up his hands, and pushed himself away from the table. "Just now, right this second, you were talkin' about history repeatin'. Well, do we have to go over my track record?"

"So you wanna savor the romance?" Maggie suggested, amused.

"Yes, romance, yes!" he exclaimed. "That's what I want. I want Alex to see the best in me. No rushin' into things, for once. Yes, I want romance, a little bit of romance, a little bit of that Sleepless In Seattle, When Harry Met Sally--"

"Hot Men of Harvard?" Maggie interrupted archly.

"Ha ha -- you know what I mean...I want some glamour before I take that next step."

Reaching out to squeeze Faith's arm, Maggie gave him an apologetic look: "Sorry I subjected you to the third degree."

"Forget it," he laughed softly.

Maggie exhaled. She understood where Faith was coming from all too well, but she really had a good feeling about this Alex. Just as she was about to say so, the phone started to ring again. Faith threw it a wry, sardonic grin. "It's your fan club callin' again," he jibed at Maggie.

"Advice to the lovelorn," Maggie answered with a giggle. Her eyes went wide, and she told the caller, "Now who has perfect timing? Just a second." She held the phone against her shoulder, cleared her throat, and said in her best operator's voice, "There's some guy named Alex waiting to speak to you."

Faith jumped to the phone. After the initial "hello's" and "how are you's?" which both men blushed through, unbeknownst to one another, Alex playfully asked in a low voice, "So what are you wearing?"

This elicited a lusty chuckle from Faith, who missed Maggie's knowing smile behind him. Then, Faith started to frown as Alex's voice became serious: "Faith, can I ask you something?"

"Sure," he replied brightly.

"Listen, I'd really like to see you again and I was wondering if you'd like to come by tonight?"

"Mmm-hmm," Faith replied, sounding as if he'd already left the planet.

"Why don't we meet in about an hour?" Alex said.

Faith snapped his fingers, shuffling papers on the table and searching for a pen. Maggie shifted a yellow notepad before him, and Faith hastily scribbled down Alex's room number at the Starlight Inn. "Deal. I've gotta make with the book learnin' for a little while yet, but I can see ya in a few -- how does an hour sound?"

They both agreed shyly than an hour might be fifty-nine minutes too long, embarrassed themselves but enjoyed it anyway, and said their good-byes. When Faith hung up, and left the room to change out of his sweats he had a broad smile on his face. He couldn't wait to see Alex again, but he certainly wasn't going to jinx it by saying it aloud. Some things you just have to get used to first.


Mulder was lost.

Where was Walter?

The dark path leading up to the house shifted around him, even though he hadn't moved since the moon had been obscured by the clouds.

Better get moving, he thought as something grabbed at his hooded sweatshirt.

A wisp of light mist glided through swaying willow trees off to one side. He turned to get a better look but saw nothing. Another wisp drifted overhead and again was gone when he lifted his eyes, but he couldn't shake the feeling that he was being watched. Wary and alert, he glanced back again, some primal instinct coming into play.

A shape flitted toward him through trees that mysteriously parted to let it pass. Mulder's gaze met glittering black eyes for the briefest of moments, and a bitter cold seeped into his bones. He turned to run but his feet wouldn't move. Terrified, he tried to call out, but found he had no voice.

When a bright light exploded before his eyes, he--

--jerked awake with a gasp.

Breathless and clammy with sweat, Mulder clutched the disheveled blanket that had twisted under his body. Several seconds passed while he settled his rattled nerves and dealt with the frightening reality of the nightmare. The experience had been similar to his visions, only much more intense. As his breathing calmed, he heard other heavy breathing in the room. Familiar breathing...

Walter.

Mulder turned on the lamp on the nightstand. Skinner was lying on his side, facing him. Mulder watched the gentle rise and fall of his lover's chest as he slowly became aware of other eyes watching him. His breath caught in his throat as he turned his head.

The Cigarette Smoking Man sat at the foot of the bed.

"How did you get in here?" Mulder demanded, sitting up.

"I won't stay long," the Cancerman replied, lighting up a Morley. He regarded Mulder curiously. "There's something you're trying to remember. But you can't, can you?"

"What the hell did you do to me?" Mulder spat venomously. "I'm so close to remembering...I can almost see it..."

"You might never remember that image glimmering in your mind." His tone was cold and impersonal; he might have been officiating a chess match.

"I will!" Mulder's voice, conversely, was hectoring and shrill as he was still shrugging off his sleep terrors, and doing a bad job of it.

"Some things are best forgotten, best left unspoken."

"I have to remember!"

"You must forget..."

Mulder stared, transfixed as a bright, white light blasted through the window. He cringed, raising his arms to protect his face from flying glass.

Everything went dark.

Silence.

Mulder blinked. He pawed at the nightstand lamp, and his eyes quickly adjusted to the dim glow as the light flickered on.

No Cancerman.

No white light.

Walter wasn't home yet.

Mulder hugged his knees to his chest, wondering if he had really awakened from the dream this time.


A light knock on the door, and Krycek brightened immediately. He found himself unconsciously running a hand through his hair, and pausing to look at his reflection in a gilded wall mirror. He adjusted the glove on his faux left hand, checked that his wine-colored shirt was straight, and smoothed down any wrinkles from his pleated black slacks.

Primping finished, he reached for the door just before a second round of knocking could begin. Throwing open the door with a welcoming grin, Krycek stopped in mid smile, not expecting to see Marita Coverubrias. "Now's really not a good time, Marita," he told her, attempting to shut the door.

But she was prepared. "You can't toss me out," she told him, slamming the door open so suddenly that Krycek didn't have time to react, "even if I am the last person you want to see."

Krycek stepped back as she walked inside. "Okay." He sighed. "Why are you here?"

Marita chose to ignore his caustic tone. She walked the length of the well furnished room, her heels making permanent indentations in the azure blue carpeting. "Very nice," she murmured, running her fingers of the duvet on the four poster bed. "I think I now have an impression of why you've been too preoccupied to notice what's going on around you."

"What are you talking about?" Krycek was in no mood to play games with Marita. It had always astounded him how Marita gathered information, sometimes she was willing to share it, and other times -- according to her own agenda -- said information was only forthcoming with a price attached...but somehow she always knew exactly what she needed to...

"Fox Mulder, for a start," she replied airily. "Did you know that Jeffrey Spender was on the verge of ousting him from the X-Files?"

"And what?" Krycek scoffed. "Mulder is skulking in the dark shadows of some quiet corner now? Or is he simply waiting in the office to play paper-rock-scissors with Jeffy for rights to the basement...?"

"No," she broke in, with a shake of her platinum blond head. "Faith Matthews prevented it."

Krycek blinked. He hadn't expected that answer. "Faith? How?" he asked, probably with too much curiosity, but he couldn't help himself, and he just hoped Marita wouldn't notice the catch in his voice.

"Blackmail, pure and simple," she replied, then with a smirk added, "it seems that Mulder's new-found brother is no angel."

"Well, neither am I," Krycek half-growled, half-murmured, to himself.

Marita arched an eyebrow. "It's partly because of Mulder's brother that I'm here." Her tone segued from aggressive to deadly serious in the blink of an eye. "I persuaded Spender to bring you back here, for one purpose...one reason, of which you are well aware..."

Expecting this, Krycek chided her, "And what? You decided to waste your time by rushing all the way over here to hold that over my head again?"

Patience nil, Marita folded her arms. "What's this about you and Mr. Matthews?" she asked pointedly.

"Leave Faith Matthews out of this!" Krycek snapped, his anger surprising both himself and taking Marita aback. "He's a friend and that's it," he added more softly and with less conviction, turning away from her lest his expression give away too much.

Pursing her lips tightly, Marita stared coldly at her former lover. "Well, Alex, it seems that I must remind you of your purpose for being here after all, since you have apparently forgotten."

"I haven't forgotten anything."

"Oh, really?" she scoffed icily. "While you were `getting close' to Mulder's brother, did you fail to notice that Spender's agents have been taking up your slack?"

Krycek stiffened. "What are you talking about?"

"That's why I had to come and see you," Marita forcibly retorted. Krycek, his face flushed, turned back to face her, thinking to argue his point, but the look on her face, now one of almost concern, stopped him, and he didn't interrupt as she went on: "By now Spender will have all the information he needs. Whatever you're going to do, you'd better do it fast. Although, whatever you decide, you may not have any time left. As far as Spender is concerned, you are now expendable."

The Russian wheeled around. "I tried to kill him, remember? So I don't think you can walk in here and undermine me with all your "fears for my life" talk. I know what Spender is capable of. I'll do things in my own way and in my own time."

"That's just the point, Alex. You don't have any time left. You need me, Alex. I can help you get out of the country."

"I'm not going anywhere. Not yet."

"He wants you dead!" Marita exclaimed, emotion coloring her voice for the first time. "You've outlived your usefulness." She must have realized that she was sounding more than just coldly concerned, as she continued more solemnly, "Knowledge is a dangerous thing, Alex -- dangerous to them, dangerous to Spender..."

"And what is that supposed to mean?" He was clenching and unclenching his fist, and he forced himself to stop, although his voice had taken on a rough, menacing timbre.

"You know exactly what that means. If you continue to be a presence in this boy's life, your own life could be forfeit. I don't want that, Alex..." Marita sighed. Couldn't he understand she only wanted to help him, to be close to him again? She would not let anyone ruin her chances.

Krycek's green eyes flashed. "I don't care about any of that!"

Marita placed a staying hand on his arm. "What are you saying?" Her eyes narrowed as she voiced her growing suspicions, "You want to protect him because you have feelings for him?" She searched his face, and when no answer was forthcoming, Marita started in a hoarse whisper, "Alex, you can't..."

But Krycek angrily brushed past her and out of the room.

Bewildered and incensed, Marita started after him, but stopped before she reached the door. Had Alex gone mad? she wondered, trying to work out what was going on here. When she'd seem him again in that filthy prison, he'd been willing to secure his freedom for investigating and taking care of Spender's problem.

And it was that problem which focused her thoughts, with laser-like precision, on the source of Alex's change in attitude: Faith Matthews -- somehow the boy was influencing the double agent that Marita thought she knew so well. No, it was impossible. What possible hold could that boy have over Alex Krycek?

Her insidious musings were interrupted by a knock at the door. Marita stalked over and opened the door to find a tall, handsome young man standing in the hall with his knuckles raised mid-knock.

"Oh, hi!" Faith said, just as surprised by Marita's presence as she was of his. He glanced at the room number for confirmation. "Um, I'm looking for Alex Arntzen..."

Marita frowned when she saw Faith's eager expression, and the frown turned into a glare as he popped his head inside. "Who are you?" she asked, trying to sound innocently surprised.

"I'm Faith Matthews," he smiled, "a...um, a friend of Alex's." The woman's curt nod sent a chill skittering down Faith's spine. She was seriously frosty. Her high cheekbones and sharp straight nose gave her a haughty appearance, and it didn't help that her narrowed, bright eyes were shooting icicles in Faith's direction. "Is he around?" Faith asked, stepping further inside and glancing around the room.

"Why?"

Faith thought he detected a wary note in the woman's voice. "He called me over," he explained, hoping to warm things up. "See, he took me out to dinner a few nights ago to thank me for helpin' him out." Flustered, he privately wondered, I don't know why I'm tellin' her this! as he babbled on, "We had a great time -- a terrific time, actually. He's a good guy, a really good guy."

Marita sent the young man a withering look. "How thoughtful of you to uh, share..." She turned her back on Faith.

Hostile much? Faith thought. He cleared his throat when she continued to ignore him. "So, um, is Alex here or...is he here?" He wanted to find Alex and leave, pronto. Hanging around this ice queen wasn't going to warm his body temperature any time soon...and certainly not the way Alex could.

Marita focused on Faith again. She gave him a condescending once over and a mean smile. "He took a walk outside."

"Outside." Faith nodded, his smile fading. He had the feeling this lady definitely didn't want him anywhere near Alex. He wondered if something was going on that the other man had neglected to mention...like a deep freeze girlfriend, or something like that.

C'mon, Matthews, he chided himself, don't be silly.

He turned on his most disarming grin, the one that Mags always said made her tingle, and said to Marita: "I'll find him...thanks for being so...nice." He turned to leave, thinking that the cool autumn air outside would be like a sunny day in the Bahamas compared to the atmosphere in this room. On his way toward the door, he rambled, "You know this place, it's pretty nice, really great."

The woman's next words stopped him dead in his tracks. "Alex wanted to be nearby," she told him, then added pointedly, "for us."

"Oh." Faith felt both his face and his heart plummet simultaneously. "Well, all righty then... Um, thanks..." He turned, rolled his eyes, and trotted out of the room.

Marita watched him go. Suspicions confirmed, her features turned even harsher and more frigid if that were possible. She stood in the doorway, gripping the wall with her hand.

"He's falling for him," she whispered, half disbelief, half simmering anger.


As soon as Faith stepped out of the Starlight Inn, questions about Alex's personal life presented themselves one right after the other in his puzzled mind. He barely knew anything about the man's past, and that Miss Frostbite seemed to think she and Alex were an item... Faith's cheeks reddened, feeling totally foolish for heading straight to cloud nine over Alex's kiss. Had it been a momentary flirtation on the other man's part? Was he just a convenience? A handy mouth, as it were?

"Tell me, oh tell me," he whispered to the heavens above, "that I wasn't hallucinatin'!"

Crestfallen, Faith wandered dismally around the grounds until, almost accidentally, he eventually found Alex standing beside the hotel pool, staring up at the evening sky. Seeing him standing there, with the wind ruffling his hair, and looking so handsome; the image tugged at Faith's heart. Clearing his throat, he took an uncertain step forward. "Alex?" he prodded.

Krycek turned. He looked worried, almost distracted.

Faith cocked his head and moved a bit closer. "Hey, need another hit from the bank of Faith?" he joked, mostly for his own benefit. But this also seemed to have the desired effect on Alex as a soft, crooked grin appeared.

"No," he told Faith, "I think I've got it."

"Pop always told me you've gotta have a couple bucks on you, `cos ya never know what's gonna happen."

"Well, your father was a wise man."

"Why do ya look so worried?" Faith asked, then, easily obliterating Blondie The Ice Princess from his mind, he thought about Alex's sick friend instead, and ventured, "Is your friend doin' any better?"

Krycek looked at him, confusion clouding his face for a moment. He'd almost forgotten about the fabricated story he'd used to get close to the younger man. "Honestly, I don't know." He shrugged. "There's a lot of testing going on right now." Which wasn't exactly a lie...

Faith nodded -- he could totally sympathize with his own situation. "So, in the meantime, you're in the dark, huh?"

"Yeah, something like that," Krycek half-whispered, his mind awhirl with thoughts from A-to-X-file and his heart full of feelings from guilt to lust.

"I'm real sorry."

"Yeah. Me, too." Krycek sighed a deep and thoughtful sigh, then looked away once more.

Faith nodded with resolve, and lightly touching Alex's arm, turned the other man to face him. "I'm gonna give you some advice," Faith declared. "You probably don't want it, but I'm gonna give it anyway, `cos that's just the kinda guy I am. You've gotta have positive thinkin' right now, y'know? Just think happy thoughts, happy memories. I know it sounds hokey, and maybe it is -- I mean, you don't see Hallmark beatin' down my door or anything. And for sure I know it's easier said than done, but I promise things will get better."

There was an earnestness, a forthright honesty in Faith's tone that Krycek couldn't overlook. While he had heard nearly the same thing from other people who had flitted briefly in and out of his life, for some reason, hearing it coming from Faith, he believed it.

"How do you do it, Faith?" he asked, suddenly brushing the younger man's hand.

"Do what?" Faith flashed a devilish grin. "Open my big mouth? Just a natural talent, I guess."

"No." Krycek smiled in return; everything Faith did seem to make him smile. "Do you realize this is, like, the third time you've made me feel better?" He realized he was unconsciously aping Faith's speech patterns, and didn't feel bad about it at all.

Rocking back and forth on his heels, Faith blushed with pride. "Third time? No kiddin'. So I did that, huh?" His grin faded a bit as his tone went serious, "If there's anything else that I can -- anything I can -- you know, uh, do for you, just holler. I'll help ya out." He really couldn't help himself; he cared about the guy even if he was involved with someone else.

"Thanks," Krycek said, strength and conviction returning to his voice. "I appreciate that." He rubbed at the back of his neck, then glanced at the younger man curiously. "Faith, how did you know where to find me?"

"Oh..." Faith jerked a thumb back in the direction of the inn. "That lady, the blond, told me," he replied with a thinly veiled grimace. "She kinda threw me the hairy eyeball there..."

Krycek's wry expression shifted to concern. "Did she say something to upset you?"

"Oh, no, no." Faith waved a dismissive hand, though he averted his own gaze this time. "You know, I totally understand."

Alex frowned. "Understand what?" he questioned, his green gaze practically glowing in the gloom as he stepped closer to the other man.

Pulse jumping, Faith felt himself falling into those eyes all over again. "Um, nothin' -- nothin' important, that is," he managed to breathe.

Alex ran a hand through his dark hair. "I'm glad you're here," he said, his voice pure with sincerity.

"I was just about to say the same thing to you." Faith smiled in return, completely unable to hide his excitement at seeing Alex again despite his run in with Blondie.

"Beat you to it," Alex smirked, then he gestured with his head and Faith automatically followed him over to sit beside the glistening pool. Beneath the surface, the heat lamps gave the water a hazy glow. "Actually, I called you because there's something I've been meaning to ask you."

"Yeah?" Faith piped up, eagerly -- probably too eagerly, he thought, and then he remembered Maggie's vote of confidence, and found the strength to not worry until this scene with Alex had played out.

"It's about the night of your surprise party. Did any part of that night make you feel, well...uncomfortable?" Krycek's voice sounded a bit unsure; like he was asking a question he didn't really want the answer to.

Faith's own uncertainty was enhanced by the other man's tone; Alex had caught him off guard; but at least he could give an answer he knew to be honest, without thought. "No," he said simply. "I can think of a lot of ways to describe that night, but uncomfortable isn't one of them." He gazed into Alex's eyes, and was pleased to see a look of relief plainly evident on the smooth features of the other man's face. Faith's confidence crept back up when Alex's hand rested on his back, the simple pressure against his shirt enough to make his world spin.

"Really?" Krycek questioned with mock seriousness. "I was thinking mostly of the way the night ended."

"Well, maybe if you reminded me," Faith offered with a devilish curl to his lips, "I could confirm that."

With no trace of hesitation, Krycek leaned closer to him, their bodies resting against each other, his arm wrapping itself around the other man's waist. "Seems to me, it went something like this," Alex whispered as he slowly bent forward, brushing his lips against Faith's.

Even after his lips had moved away from Alex's, Faith remained close to the other man, savoring the effortless delight that came from just being near him. "Oh...I remember now," Faith said looking up, his eyes telling Alex that he was no longer joking. "No discomfort whatsoever."

"Maybe I should check back occasionally," Krycek smiled, "just to make sure." It had taken him up to that point to muster up the nerve to kiss Faith again, not wanting to give in to his feelings, but now that he'd felt Faith's lips against his, he was furious at himself for waiting so long.

"Sounds like a plan to me," Faith paused, wondering if they couldn't just stay there together all night.

"What do you think of some thorough, in depth checking this weekend?" Alex abruptly suggested.

"Oh, that's...yeah..." Faith breathed, his words lost in the cool, night air.

Alex chuckled softly, "How does tomorrow night sound? Dinner, candlelight, the whole nine yards."

"Let me think..." Faith playfully glanced skyward for a second, "hmm, dinner, candlelight, a little more lip on lip action...how would that sound?" Then he looked at Alex with open-eyed wonder. "Like music to my ears."

"We're going to have a hard time beating out the perfect time we had before," Krycek whispered, moving one hand up to cup Faith's face, gently stroking Faith's cheek with his thumb. "I'm not sure if having a better time is possible."

"Anything is possible if ya want it badly enough," Faith said, moving his hands along Alex's chest and resting them on his waist, feeling the heat of his body through his shirt, and barely able to keep his hands from exploring any further south.

"Anything?" Krycek asked, pulling Faith into him. "Is this more of your father's wisdom?"

Faith's eyes twinkled mischievously in the moonlight. "Yeah, it is, as a matter of fact."

Krycek pressed his mouth to the other man's, his kiss at once both soft and sensuous, and pressing with desire. His body weakening under the sweet assault, Faith was suddenly grateful Alex was holding him close, or else he would have surely fallen into the water. Never before had he felt so much in one soft kiss, so much promise of things to come, so many emotions yet to be expressed.

"Tomorrow," Alex huskily promised.

"Mmm, tomorrow." Faith blushed in return, thrilled at the way that simple kiss had caused his heart to race and all of his doubts to vanish. "Oh, yeah, I'll be thinkin' about it all night long," he added, dreamily.

"All right." Krycek leaned in close again to place a gentle kiss of Faith's cheek. In that moment Alex Krycek knew that Faith had opened a door that couldn't be closed; he'd opened the door to his heart.

They were so wrapped up in each other that neither one of them were aware of a pair of eyes watching them, intently. From the balcony, Marita's eyes blazed.



PART SIXTEEN: MEMORY LANE AHEAD

Mulder felt the blood drain from his face.

"Sister Katherine's dead?!" he said with surprise. "Scully, what the hell are you talking about?" He ran a hand through his hair, wondering if he was still dreaming. His moment of wishful thinking, that Scully had simply dropped by for a social call, evaporated before his eyes, and he sighed. Like his earlier nightmare, this unexpected news gave him a sinking feeling like a portent of trouble yet to come.

Skinner cast a worried glance at his lover. This was not how he'd envisioned beginning his perfectly planned romantic weekend with Mulder. When he'd arrived home ten minutes after his call, with an armload of Mexican takeout, the older man had found Mulder jolted awake from a nightmare and plagued by taut nerves. Soon afterward, he'd reluctantly answered the doorbell while Mulder dressed to find that Agent Scully had arrived with this grim news.

Skinner turned to Scully again, concern etched deeply into his face. "Maybe you'd better explain it."

"Perhaps we should sit down," Scully said as she ushered Mulder toward the sofa.

They talked for several minutes, Scully telling Mulder and Skinner what she could of the strange events surrounding Sister Katherine's death. Because of his private investigation into Faith's past at Scully's request, Agent Marcus Courtney had been called by the New Jersey Bureau and informed that the gentle woman had been found brutally stabbed in the neck...at the hands of an unknown assailant. He had informed Scully immediately, knowing that she would want to know.

"I can only tell you what the Newark police told Agent Courtney," Scully added, "that Sister Katherine's body was found in the St. Michael's church sanctuary last week." She focused solely on Mulder. "I would have waited to tell you, Mulder, but I thought you'd want to be the one to tell Faith." At her partner's puzzled frown, Scully reiterated, "The day of Sister Katherine's death, two parishioners leaving the church described Faith to a tee." She paused to take a breath, then finished: "And Faith told me he went looking for answers back home."

"Wait a minute," Mulder said as he rose from the couch. "You don't honestly think my brother had anything to do with this, do you?"

"No, of course not," Scully reassured, taking his hand and motioning for him to sit down again. "But there are a lot of unanswered questions."

Mulder's stomach knotted. He understood Scully's concern all too well. Ever since Faith had first jumped into his life, the kid seemed to court disaster. Mulder certainly didn't want to draw unwanted attention to Faith. "You think the New Jersey police want to question him?" Mulder asked, worry etching his brow. Skinner reached out and touched his arm briefly, didn't get a response, but knew that Mulder felt him there nevertheless.

"I'm sure it would be pretty routine so I don't think there's a problem, but if I'm wrong..." Scully watched her partner closely, looking for some sign of understanding.

"And the police have no suspects?" Skinner asked, taking off his glasses and absently cleaning them with a white handkerchief.

"None," Scully acknowledged. "For now, the investigator's are considering this a random act, and it is really. Who would want to kill a nun?"

"I can think of someone," Mulder muttered, an old fear rising. His mother had entrusted Sister Katherine with Faith's anonymous adoption, to hide him from an "unknown" danger. That danger had become crystal clear with Scully's startling discovery in Faith's blood. Someone out there had gone to great lengths to steal his brother's blood sample, and now, it seemed, they were eliminating those with the knowledge that Faith was carrying a mutated strain of the alien virus in his veins.

Mulder rubbed his temples and closed his eyes. He could feel the tension building within him again. When he opened them again, something flashed off Skinner's glasses, catching his eye. He blinked and refocused -- Skinner didn't seem to notice anything amiss.

Another flash of blue light. Then, a loud "boom" resonated within his mind, and again with each successive flash. Slowly, an image resolved before him.

  • The hallway, raised voices, reaching for the door, seeing Spender in his mother's room... -

"They -- they argued," he whispered, trance-like. "I think..." Mulder's voice trailed off.

Skinner, noting the strained expression on Mulder's face and in his voice, moved closer putting his arm around him, and asked, "Fox, what's wrong?"

"Mulder?" Alarmed, Scully gave her partner a critical look, sensing that there seemed to be something more to what Mulder was saying...something that he was remembering...that he could almost comprehend...almost... She tried desperately to will her own strength into him, almost without realizing she was doing it.

Mulder's head was throbbing so badly he couldn't speak for a moment...then, the vision hit with all the power and fury of a summer storm, overwhelming Mulder with raw emotion.

  • He saw himself running, running through the dark...then, he was suddenly in the dark, at home, in bed...a deep, rumbling shook the house, jarring him awake...fear gripped his heart...stumbling down the hall...throwing open his parents' door...blinded by a bright, white light...a baby's cry... -

Mulder emerged from his memories with one terrifying image lingering in his mind: his mother enveloped in light and being lifted from her bed.

"I can't...I can't do this!" he gasped and bolted from the couch. "I have to get out of here..."

Skinner was up and by his side in an instant, reaching for him. He could feel Mulder's muscles jumping and sizzling under his big hands like water on hot coals as he held him tight. "Fox, it's all right," he comforted. "You can tell me..."

Mulder flinched. "No, I can't..."

"Hey, of course you can," Skinner said softly.

"It's okay," Scully gently told him, "just calm down..."

But Mulder shook his head violently, panic visible just below the surface. "No, you don't understand. I can't! That's what I-I'm trying to tell you, I can't..." Mulder's tone was grim, sounding like disaster was just around the corner.

"Fox, look at me," Skinner spoke soothingly to him. "What happened? You've got to tell me."

"There's nothing to tell, Walter," Mulder muttered. He shook his head with frustration.

"We've been through so much together. This is not a good time to start keeping secrets. Fox, talk to me."

"I remembered something..." Mulder grimaced, feeling something sour rise in the back of his throat.

"That's a good thing, right?" Scully cajoled.

"No! No, it's not. Not when what I remembered changes everything," Mulder said, his voice barely audible. He paused, swallowed hard against another rush of bile in his throat. Then, fighting a terrible wave of emotion, he declared, "I just want to be alone..." With that, he spun around and stalked toward the front door.

"Fox..." Skinner started after him, but Scully placed a staying hand on his arm. "Let's just give him some space for a little while," she suggested, though her tightly pursed lips and worried eyes suggested that she was nearly as concerned as Skinner was.

Skinner turned a sharp eye on her. "If he's not back by morning, I'm going after him," he said, his jaw clenched.

Scully bit her lip and gave a level look to her friend and supervisor, silently agreeing with his determined promise, knowing that she'd be right along with him.


Fleeing Skinner, Scully and his oppressive memories, Mulder had gone to the one place where he could truly be alone -- his apartment. He'd stormed inside and slammed the door behind him, leaning against it with his eyes closed, breathing hard like he'd just run a marathon.

He couldn't seem to shake the images replaying in his mind, nor the overwhelming feeling of uneasiness -- feelings that only grew stronger as the night wore on into the wee hours. He hadn't rested at all. He had done his best to fall asleep, curling up on the couch, closing his eyes, and fiddling with both the TV remote and himself. But, exhausted as he had been, sleep wouldn't come.

Mulder peered through the blinds as the first rays of morning appeared and heaved another deep sigh. He tried to remember what it was like around the time Faith was born, but that time -- being away at school, his parents' separation -- seemed vague and unreal. Reflecting on the years since then, searching for his sister, doggedly hunting for the truth, and inadvertently finding a brother he never knew -- it all felt so strange to Mulder now. Especially with the addition of this latest memory...

He was going to get some answers, or he was going to explode.

Leaving Walter in the dark was a mistake, and Mulder knew it would come back to haunt him, but he also knew that there was only one person in the entire world who could help him now. Mulder couldn't explain the feeling, but it was his steadfast conviction to go with it.

A knock at the door.

Mulder blew out his breath and hurried to answer it. "Faith, hey. Thanks for coming." Faith breezed inside, giving the apartment a quick once over, and though he appeared in the most casual clothes Mulder had ever seen him in -- shades, dark purple muscle shirt, and jeans -- Mulder thought that he'd still be right home at any dance club.

"No biggie." Faith flipped off his sunglasses and gave his brother an eager look. "What's the what?"

"Let me get my coat," Mulder said, with the grim determination of a cowboy heading into a shootout.

"Hold on, Eastwood!" Faith exclaimed, throwing up his hands. "Ease up on your trigger finger there and clue me in first..."

"I'll explain later," Mulder replied. He grabbed his coat and slipped it on. "On the way. I don't wanna waste time!"

"Where is it you think we're goin'?" Faith blinked, hesitating in a major way. "Look, ya call me at, like, five in the mornin', askin' for a favor and, y'know, here I am. But I've still gotta finish a paper that Professor Wills is gonna have my hide over."

Mulder felt himself deflate a bit. For all intents and purposes, he and Faith were still relative strangers, and it seemed that asking a favor like this of him had been too much too soon. "Yeah." Mulder sighed, regretfully. "Well, then I'm sorry to bother you."

"Did ya hear me say `no'?" Faith stepped forward, and offered a winning smile. "Whadda'ya need?"

"Faith, I-I think I've got a good chance of getting my memory back..." Mulder tried to articulate what he wanted to do. "...and I have to go to this place..."

"Sounds creepy. Is it?"

"Oh, I think I can guarantee a great deal of creepiness will ensue," Mulder promised dryly, but anxious for his brother's answer.

Then Faith's face lit up, and he exclaimed, "Wicked!", excited by the prospect.

"So, can I count on my fearless brother to come with me?" Mulder said, biting his lip.

"Sure, why not?" Faith winked. "Just so long as I'm back for my date with Alex, `cos I..."

"Alex?" Mulder stiffened.

"Yeah," Faith breathed, oblivious to his brother's reaction to that name. "He's like a dream, really -- and I'm not about to stand him up."

Mulder shook the paranoid thoughts that name instilled in him out of his head, opting to focus on getting Faith's cooperation instead. "Faith, you just have to promise not tell any one what we're doing," he said, and as his brother started to question, Mulder quickly held up a hand, saying, "Just trust me, okay?"

Faith saluted. "I promise."


Mulder hadn't been lying when he'd told Faith that they could be facing something very sinister.

What he hadn't warned him of was the news of Sister Katherine's death, or the names of those who were responsible.

At the moment, CGB Spender, the person Mulder suspected the most, was in his usual spot, seated in a leather armchair, literally breathing fire. He glanced up when the woman walked into the room, floating in on a wave of superior calm.

She'd succeeded where Krycek had failed: she'd secured all the information about Faith Matthews and eliminated the threat of Katherine McAllister and her knowledge in one day. Faith was too important to the project, too important to him to let the looming threat of Krycek stand in his way.

Alex Krycek. The man's name left a foul taste in his mouth. Now, he was cursed with Krycek's presence ever since giving into the impulsive whim of Marita Corrubrias.

Vague whisperings from his agents and the confrontation last week at the park, and the first seeds of suspicion about Krycek's motives where Faith Matthews was concerned. He should have never given into Marita's suggestion to bring Krycek back. The treacherous Russian was a regressive element, another obstacle standing between the future and everything he'd worked for.

But not for long.

"Well?" Spender greeted her in his dismissive manner.

"The wire-taps have confirmed your suspicions," the woman reported.

Spender sat up, lighting another Morley. "Alex has betrayed me?"

"It would appear so."

"Eliminate him."

"I've found out something else," she said, her voice betraying the urgency she felt. "Something more important, perhaps."

"Nothing is more important," Spender replied, blowing out a plume of smoke.

"Not even Mulder regaining his memory?"

"He never will," the old man insisted.

"No?" she countered. "What of his sessions with Dr. Werber? Sooner or later he's going to piece together the fragments. I know that Mulder is on his way to Martha's Vineyard now, with Faith Matthews in tow."

Spender started pacing back and forth in front of her, impatience flowing off him like heat off a stove. "Mulder cannot be allowed to remember."

"Don't worry." Diana Fowley's lips curled into a smile. "It's already been taken care of."


"There it is." Mulder pointed out the windshield of Faith's VW Beetle. The interior was cramped, but driving the economical car to Martha's Vineyard had saved time and a bundle in gas.

Faith nodded and parked the Lifesaver-green Bug alongside the road leading to a dark and deserted old house. Turning off the engine, Faith clamped down on Mulder's arm as he moved to open the door. "Not so fast, G-man."

"What?" Mulder blinked, bewildered. "Is something wrong?"

"You tell me." Folding his arms, Faith fixed Mulder with a piercing stare. Mulder sighed. In the short time they'd known each other, his effervescent younger brother seemed to have picked up an almost Scully-like ability to read him like a book.

"Tell you what?" Mulder frowned, trying to look genuinely confused.

Faith moved one hand up to cup his chin and tried to soften his stern expression. "You're about to take a bumpy ride down memory lane and you haven't said word one since we left Alexandria," he said. "Now either you like hearin' me ramble or you've got somethin' pretty heavy duty on your mind." Faith leveled Mulder with another pointed stare. "Which is it?"

"That obvious, huh?" Mulder glanced out the side window, sighed, then looked at Faith and shrugged. "It's probably nothing."

"Mulder!" Faith raised his voice in exasperation. "We're not budgin' `til you talk to me, or I'm gonna break my promise and tell a certain gorgeous bald guy where his Fox scampered off to."

"Threats will get you nowhere," Mulder quipped. His grin faded when Faith didn't laugh. "Okay, it's the visions. Too many, too close together, and too damn scary."

Before Faith knew what was happening, Mulder had grabbed the door handle and was setting off toward the house. "Mulder, wait!" Dropping the car keys into a pocket, Faith jumped out of the car and followed Mulder up the path.

It was already beginning to get very dark. Mulder watched the horizon as the lights made molten metal of the sky's gentle blue. He had to fight back the edge of panic that rose in his throat at the sight of his family's summer home. He still couldn't help feeling that something horrible happened here, something he had repressed until Faith appeared in his life.

The house scared him now. There was no doubt about it.

He reminded himself that the fears playing games in his mind were only a reaction to Dr. Werber's experimental treatment combined with the murky nocturnal atmosphere. Not that the thought gave him much comfort. But when push came to shove, no matter how afraid he was, there was no way he was going to back away from this.

Get a grip, Mulder, he coached himself. You can do this. Everything is going to be fine.

He picked his way along a path that seemed to grow darker and more menacing. An owl hooted, heightening the tension that seemed to hover ominously all around him like fog. He carried a small flashlight borrowed from the glove compartment of Faith's car. Held low on the path in front of them, it did little to dispel the encroaching darkness of the night.

Mulder stopped short before the door and motioned Faith forward. He watched his brother closely, drawing strength from his presence. Using a spare key, Mulder entered the house and, waiting on Faith to join him, was instantly set upon with memories -- though none of which he was searching for.

"Is this it?" Faith's loud voice caused Mulder to start. "Now what?"

Jolted from the ghosts of the past, Mulder turned eyes both frightened and hopeful towards his brother. "I want to remember what happened and I think with you here I can." A touch of hope and anxiety crept into his voice.

While Mulder wandered off to inspect the rest of the house, Faith perused the sheet-covered furniture for a minute or two, getting a visual of Mulder as a kid running in and out of the room. A short time later, he followed his brother up the staircase; the old floorboards creaking underfoot. Following the flashlight beam bobbing ahead, he wondered -- not for the first time -- exactly what Mulder intended to do here. A disturbing thought crossed his mind.

"Are we doin' a seance or somethin'?" Faith blurted out when they reached the second floor, then added, "`Cos I know from experience that's invitin' in some big bad."

A worried scowl darkened Mulder's face. Faith's concern over supernatural forces was understandable, since the circumstances behind a seance gone horribly wrong had brought the two of them together in the first place.

"Do you think this is crazy?" Mulder asked, barely able to summon up a ghost of a reassuring smile.

Faith frowned, still a little lost. He didn't want to belittle Mulder's belief that he could retrieve his memories here, but Faith didn't see how he could help. He'd never stepped one foot inside the house until tonight. Mulder looked so determined, and Faith suddenly felt the need to give his older brother a little encouragement. He reached up and gently pressed a finger to Mulder's forehead.

"What was that for?" Mulder asked, puzzled.

"A telekinetic whammy." Faith grinned. "So, to answer your question: nah, I don't have a problem with crazy." He turned in a half-circle, then blew out his breath as the germ of an idea began to form in his mind. "Hey, your memories are comin' back faster, right? Well, maybe they'd be stronger if you weren't tryin' so hard to remember."

Mulder brightened immediately. "You think?"

"I think." Faith nodded enthusiastically. "You got a better theory?"

"Nope," Mulder said with a sheepish grin. In his own unique way, Faith was handing him the same advice Dr. Werber had given him: `Don't force a thing, the memories will come back on their own.'

Mulder cleared his mind and moved on down the hall, pausing for a moment outside the door of his old bedroom. He didn't need to open it; he already knew what was inside: old boxes full of forgotten junk. A shiver of apprehension tingled his spine as he came closer to his parents' old bedroom. Moonlight spilled in from a dusty bay window, illuminating the hardwood floor just beyond the door.

Mulder blinked.

For a split second, he could see the strobing, neon-blue lightboard of the RET machine before his eyes. Then, without warning, a booming sound, like his own heartbeat, resonated within his head. It began slowly, quietly, an irregular rhythm that picked up its pace with each intensifying flash of light.

Hesitantly, he reached out for the brass doorknob. If he could replay the events leading up to the memory block, if he could only open the door here as well as in his mind...

The heartbeat grew louder, more insistent as Mulder's fingers brushed against the handle...

He was instantly caught in the grip of another vision. A roar suddenly filled his ears, and unbalanced, he fell to his hands and knees with his eyes closed.

"Mulder?" In contrast, Faith's eyes widened. He ran to his brother and knelt down, his own heart pounding as he realized something was flashing through Mulder's mind.

Mulder gasped. His head snapped up and he stared at Faith without seeing him. Then his eyes rolled back and he slumped over, sprawling on the floor as he was swept into the maelstrom of the powerful vision.

The mental images assaulted Mulder with a force so great that he writhed as though with physical pain. A silent scream reverberated through his head as he heard the arguments between his mother and the Cigarette Smoking Man; saw himself, angry and confused, home from school and going to see his mother at Aunt Teresa's, then hearing his mother's cries accompanied by the sound of a newborn baby's; saw himself running...running away; saw shadowy figures moving just out of vision; saw the summer house -- this house -- a month later, late at night, awoken in his sleep...running...a white, bright light...

"Not again!" he screamed, thinking of Samantha, then freezing with the horror of watching his mother being taken from her bedroom.

It was true, it was all true. Everything he'd believed the night his sister had disappeared turned into hard, cruel truth before his tormented eyes.

THEY were here!

"Mom!" he screamed, running...running toward her...

Then, the light captured him and he could not move, could not scream, could not cry out...

He struggled, but he was being held down. A white room. Muffled voices all around him. Cruel eyes looming close. And beside him on a metal slab was his mother.

He was completely helpless.

And the pointed beam of light was slashing through his mind, his memories...

All at once, everything went black.

Mulder found his voice and screamed...

Tears streamed down Mulder's face as he emerged from the depths of his memories. Fighting for strength, Mulder tried to breathe slowly, knowing he had to calm himself. But it was as though he were being smothered by the truth descending on him. Latching onto Faith's frantic voice, Mulder forced himself back to reality. The nausea he felt had become a burning knot, as though his stomach was being eaten away by molten lava. The volcano itself was still erupting behind his eyes, as sharp pains coursed through his head, making it difficult to focus.

"C'mon, G-man..." Faith cradled his brother's head in his lap as Mulder moaned and started to come around. "Mulder." Faith gently shook his arm. "What happened? Are you okay?"

With his pulse racing and lungs gasping for air, Mulder dug his fingers into Faith's thigh and raised his head. He could just make out Faith's worried face as the world slowly stopped spinning before him. Faith gently pushed him into a sitting position, supporting him against the wall.

"Oh my God!" Mulder's voice was barely above a whisper, but trembling with panic. "Oh my God, I remember! I finally see it..."

Like someone shaken awake from a nightmare, Mulder breathlessly started to tell Faith everything he'd remembered. But the agent was so overwhelmed that he could barely speak, and the words melded together in one long, incoherent stream. Mulder shuddered and gasped for breath.

"Woah! Hold on! Hold on! Slow down," Faith said, trying to keep up and totally losing himself along the way. "Save the play-by-play commentary for later, huh? Just tell me you're okay, big bro."

"Yeah..." A smile flickered and died on Mulder's face as he stood up. Still shaky, he steadied himself with one hand on Faith's shoulder and the other against the wall. His gaze drifted back to the dusty upper story bay window. A flash of light bounced off the glass. Dread popped up like a red mailbox flag in his mind. This wasn't a returning memory. He realized that the situation had suddenly become dangerously more complicated.

"Incoming," he whispered as the lights of a car approached the summer house.

Faith blinked. "Where?" He looked toward the window, then back at Mulder, his eyes brimming with worry and indecision. In that same instant, he heard the unmistakable sound of tires on gravel. "What the fu--"

Mulder's heart began to pound harder. They had to get out of here. Now. Before it was too late.

"Go!" he barked, gripping Faith's arm.

Faith didn't argue as Mulder urged him downstairs. They hit the floor running, barreling past the shadowy rooms and through the front door and back outside. They hurried to Faith's car as the door slammed shut behind them.

When a jet black Chrysler truck came to a stop in the drive, Mulder ducked into a clump of willow trees and pulled Faith along with him, out of sight. He doused the flashlight, then peered into the darkness, and just for a brief moment, caught a glimpse of two burly men in black inside the cab of the other vehicle.

Consortium.

A sour-milk feeling turned in Mulder's stomach at the danger he'd put both himself and Faith in. He grimaced and watched the truck pull up beside the house. With any kind of luck, the men wouldn't catch their vanishing act until they were well away. However, Mulder didn't want to tempt fate by sticking around to find out. He dashed after Faith, who was already halfway down the drive.

"We've got to hurry," Mulder said as he reached the passenger's side of the car.

"You're tellin' me?!" Faith had the car door closed, his seat belt fastened, and the engine running before Mulder buckled up.

"Come on, Faith!" Mulder's voice was tight with urgency, his gaze still trained on the truck.

"Hang on!" Faith gunned the engine; gravel flew as he backed up, and the tires spun as he shifted into drive. He shot into the road with little margin for error as the truck roared after them.

"Watch it!" Mulder cringed, but he didn't take his eyes off the truck, pursuing them like some demonic beast unleashed from the blackest pit of hell. He chided himself for that grim analogy.

The driver of the truck slammed down on the accelerator, and just missed clipping Faith's bumper as Faith yanked the steering wheel hard to the left. The little car fishtailed as Faith whipped into another road. As soon as it straightened out, he zipped into the right-hand lane.

Mulder caught his breath. "Where'd you learn to do that?!" he exclaimed with a hint of admiration. "Stunt Drivers `R' Us?"

"I'm into Nascar." Faith wiped one of his sweaty palms on his pants, then switched his grip on the steering wheel and wiped the other. Car racing had always been a secret passion of his. "What?" he asked, at the look Mulder gave him, "So? I've got a thing for race car drivers."

"Uh-huh." Mulder raised himself up from the seat to turn and look through the back windshield. "Dammit! They're still behind us."

"Got it!" Faith turned left and whipped onto a deserted stretch of road that rolled straight down a steep hill. With the truck momentarily out of sight and the daredevil in his blood still furiously pumping away, Faith shifted his attention back to his brother. "Who are those Skeebos, anyway, Mulder?" he demanded, and added with a trademark smirk, "Playin' James Bond is not my idea of family bonding, y'know!"

Mulder caught his lip in his teeth and scanned the surrounding area for any sign of the mystery truck. Everything was black, and with no street lamps, it made it hard to see anything. "I haven't a clue, Faith," he lied.

"Maybe they're after us `cos of what ya remembered," Faith suggested as he slowed the car a bit.

Though his brain felt like a glob of porridge floating around inside his cranium, all of the possible explanations presented themselves to his Oxford trained psychologist's mind, and Mulder had enough sense left to know that Faith was probably right. Then, Scully's news of Sister Katherine's death came flooding back. He frowned, and nodded. "I'm pretty sure they--"

"Stan and Ollie!" Faith's eyes bulged with sudden horror. Mulder's head snapped toward the crossroads on the left. The truck was roaring down the middle of the road, bearing down on them!

With the truck nearly on top of them, and less than a minute to go before impact, stopping the collision was impossible -- except at the last second, Faith slammed down hard on the brakes, causing the little car to spin around, and the truck roared past. Fear gripping his heart, Faith accelerated his speed once more. Swerving to miss a signpost, he drove over a patch of mud and slung into another avenue, followed closely by the truck, which had reversed itself to come after them again.

The truck pulled back, sped forward and rammed them hard. Jarred by the impact, Faith gripped the wheel tighter and Mulder couldn't be sure but he swore he heard his brother mutter an Irish curse under his breath at both the truck and its occupants. He held onto the dashboard as Faith barreled down another unfamiliar street. The truck was nearly on top of them again, and that's when Faith saw it.

"Hang on!"

Sharply, tires squealing, the Bug turned left on a tiny road that had seemingly appeared out of nowhere. And just as suddenly, the truck disappeared. Mulder was stunned. Faith checked the rearview mirror and let out a long, relieved sigh.

Emotionally and physically drained, Mulder's heart lurched back into life as Faith followed the path and eventually pulled back out onto the main road. Mulder sagged in the passenger seat. He had a sudden image of Walter, who had no idea where his lover was nor how close Mulder and Faith had come to sudden death.

"Nice going," Mulder exhaled and cast a sidelong glance at his brother. "So just how tall, tan, and how hot is this Alex on a scale of one to ten?"

Faith grinned, both at the thought of Alex, and at the ridiculousness of the timing of Mulder's segue. "Off the charts."

"Faith, look out!" Mulder shouted.

That was the last thing Faith heard before the crash.

TO BE CONTINUED...
 

If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to Chad Moore