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Sleepless Nights

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Originally, for Baines, the hardest part of espionage was remembering to answer to a new name. Bill Mulder's people had made this their top priority, calling him variations of Alexei Krycek until he turned his head at the first syllable but, in his dreams, he was still Michael Baines. He was still the little boy who had wanted to play soldier from the first time he held a toy gun; still the man who had realised that dream and seen it swept away in horror of the Nexus Project.

Those dreams varied, depending on his state of mind. Some nights they preyed on him, sending him images of the dank air duct filled with bloody corpses, of the massive jaws of the alien creature, dripping saliva. He would awaken from these in a panic, his body covered in a sheen of cold sweat, trying to claw himself from the restricting bed covers that had tangled around his thrashing limbs.

Others were purely sexual, the overpowering sensation rippling through his body at Marty's touch. He still saw her face, morphing into that male face in his dreams. He still saw the frustration and hesitation as Marty considered going back for him. In his dreams, Marty dragged him from the car; hands and lips falling upon him like some ravenous beast. His face would morph, again, into the monstrous creature with torn flesh hanging from its bloodstained teeth, forcing his body into total, exquisite annihilation. In his dream, he would lay there and accept it all without a fight.

Many a sleepless night would follow, his mind too caught in the remembered horror of both alien encounters to allow him rest.

Other dreams were of happier times, seeing the teasing laughter reflected in the eyes of lovers and friends as they reached for his hand and led him through the bright sunlit meadows of his youth. Those were the dreams he wanted to stay in forever, the ones he prayed for during the bad times when the other terrible memories seemed to overshadow his life.

"If I may have your attention, ladies and gentlemen."

Baines glanced up at the lecturer, his eyes then flicking towards the edge of the Lecture Theater where a tall, almost lanky figure hovered. He frowned at the strangely familiar face, wondering where he may have seen the man before.

"I expect you'll all agree that this will be a welcome change to the schedule. Special Agent Mulder will be talking about his specialized work within the Bureau, dealing with cases that seem to fall outside the bounds of the norm. The paranormal, to be precise."

Shock rippled through Baines at the familiar name but, what surprised him more was the flood of warmth that suffused him, the blood draining from his head, taking a short but embarrassing trip to his groin as he dwelt on the memory.

Images of the handsome face, filled with eager anticipation, swept through him as he recalled their meeting in the hospital. The bright hazel eyes had focused on him, the intelligence shining in the depths as Mulder tried to extract every single detail relating to his close encounter with the renegade Kindred. An almost forgotten memory surfaced. Mulder had touched him, laying a hand upon his shoulder and squeezing gently before starting his questioning. Baines remembered the strength in those fine, long fingers that had gripped him so briefly, and the compassion and excitement dilating the bright eyes.

He looked down as he saw those eyes sweep the sea of faces, deciding it would be better if he avoided Mulder's direct gaze just in case the older agent recognized him. Baines listened intently to the outlandish theories and equally astounding case histories, hearing sniggers and snorts as many of the students around him chose to disbelieve. He shook his head slowly, uncertain whether to feel sorry for the narrow minded views of others or to feel glad that they had never had to confront the physical manifestations of Mulder's seemingly ludicrous theories.

He glanced around, surreptitiously, seeing the fresh-faced students, newly qualified from whatever faculty had given them the right brownie points for recruitment to the FBI. He wondered how they would have handled facing down the monsters of their nightmares, and what would they have done if they had felt the electric touch of a creature whose sexual energy literally tore the life from a human being? He doubted if any of these people had ever experienced anything more extraordinary than the parlor tricks of the magician brought in to entertain them at their childhood birthday parties.

A few of those faces seemed entranced, perhaps even shocked at the revelations, believing this could not be a total load of bullshit, while others seemed skeptical, wondering whether this was some trick, some test of their integrity.

Baines felt his heart go out to Mulder, and a little bit of pride too, as he watched the man talk unshaken, unwilling to give in to the titters of muted laughter that had to be audible even within the spacious auditorium.

At the end of the lecture, Mulder asked for questions and what followed was a mixture of attitudes from those willing to be open-minded and those wanting only to debunk anything that fell beyond the realms of the possibility in their own sterile worlds. Baines could not help the questions that bubbled to the surface of his mind, ardently wishing circumstances were different so he might have the opportunity to discuss his encounters with someone who might actually listen and, better still, understand the horror of what he had seen and experienced.

He knew better though. He knew this was a man who might recognize him as being Michael Baines rather than his new alter ego, Alexei Krycek. It was a risk he could not afford to take so he kept a low profile, filing from the auditorium within the mass of other bodies even though his impulse was to remain and talk with the handsome man.

That night's dream was a change from the usual. He saw again the plain features of Marty, morphing from female to male as the pain of their sexual encounter rippled through him. She/he had glanced back at him, annoyance carved across the features at the missed opportunity.

The dream changed. Once again he was in the discotheque, trying to be heard above the loudness of the music blaring out around him as he talked to the relative stranger on the cellphone, trying to locate Zunoski. The place was almost empty except for a few writhing bodies of paid dancers. He felt the electric touch on his hand, the feel of warm fingers drifting over his heated flesh. He looked up but the face of Marty was morphing into the features of Agent Mulder. The luscious lips, full and pouting, were forming words that he could not hear but Baines did not care. He gripped the hand that reached for him, entwining their fingers and allowed himself to be lead out of the noise of the discotheque and into the silence of the darkened streets.

The dream scene changed and he was in the car, but it was not the car he remembered. This one was larger, roomier. He looked up into the passion-filled hazel eyes, seeing the lust reflected as strong fingers clasped him tightly. Their mouths met; licking, biting, sucking, tongues dueling as they tried to devour each other, uncaring of the groans and passionate cries that filled the interior of the plush car. The back seat became a bed; black sheets of satin slipping down their naked torsos as they writhed against each other.

He cried out as he was filled, his legs splayed either side of the athletic frame, welcoming the deep thrusts, as Mulder possessed him, body and soul. Arms and legs tangled him in a firm embrace, trapping him beneath the heavy heat of the alien/familiar body. He cried out as his senses spiraled out of control, fear and lust vying for supremacy as he climbed to the heights before tumbling headlong into the abyss - and into the jaws of the monster waiting to fill him with its own life-force.

Baines screamed, sitting upright, eyes wide and staring as the last of the dream faded with remembrance of the saliva drooling over him as the creature surveyed his living but broken body. Cold sweat trickled down his back, more sweat plastered the strands of hair to his forehead and he swept them away. He became away of a rapidly cooling stickiness over his belly, and realised he had come for the creature that was Mulder.

Baines rubbed his hand across his face, wiping away the stinging beads of salty sweat that were trickling into his eyes, and cursed loudly. He threw aside the bed covers, knowing there would be no more sleep tonight and padded, naked, towards the bureau where he had stashed a half bottle of Stoli. He unscrewed the cap and took a quick swallow of the fiery liquid, reassured by the warmth that traveled down to fill his stomach. Baines closed his eyes and let the images of his dream flow over him, dwelling on the good parts, the feel of Mulder's hands upon his heated flesh, the feel of the large shaft filling him.

It seemed a little strange; these images of Mulder filling his head and body but Baines had learned not to question the convoluted workings of his mind. Male or female had never been a concern to Baines before; he was comfortable with either sex and willingly took pleasure from both. With the Kindred who had targeted him, it was not the gender that had shocked him, merely the fact that this unattractive yet electric person had seemed to change from female to male before his very eyes. If Marty had come onto him in male form then he would have been just as receptive to the alien and, if he was to be completely honest with himself, he may not have shrugged the male Marty off so easily as he did the female on that first approach.

Hours later, Baines was still sitting on the edge of his bed in the dormitory at Quantico, still slowly sipping at the Stoli despite the initial temptation to drink himself into a drunken stupor. Even so, he was becoming pleasantly drunk, the alcohol warming his body and fuzzing the rough edges of his jagged nerves. With luck he might be able sleep again but he had a feeling that Mulder would supply him with many a sleepless night in the future.

Eventually, the haziness of the vodka worked its magic and he felt a pleasant lassitude that heralded a need for sleep. He replaced the half-emptied bottle and slipped back between the now cooled covers, drawing them over him, and prayed for happier dreams to complete his night.

-ooOOoo-

The day the Smoker approached him, Baines had worked out in the gym until he was exhausted. Then the Director of Quantico had ordered him to his office. The smell of nicotine hung heavy in the air, the blue smoke curling towards the ceiling like some living entity about to take the form of a genie and, idly, he wondered what three wishes he would request. He cast the stupid notion aside.

Baines stood and waited, watching as those dry, seamed lips sucked at the white stick, the pale blue eyes glazing momentarily in heady euphoria as the nicotine flowed through his veins to stimulate the pleasure spots in the man's brain. He could read the physical appraisal in the man's eyes, unflinching as they raked down his body, pausing fleetingly at his groin. A small smile of satisfaction teased across the heavily lined face.

The eyes dropped to the folder spread out before the man, nicotine-stained fingers turning the pages, those eyes glancing up from time to time. The voice, when it came, was gravelly yet smooth, a strange combination that suited the man perfectly. There was no introduction made.

"Do you love your country?"

The question startled Baines even though he knew the answer.

"Yes, sir."

"You have scored exceptionally high in all areas of training. Your lecturers are very proud of you although, they have noted one black mark, a propensity to keep yourself aloof from others."

"I was not aware I was expected to be sociable."

"Do not concern yourself unduly, Mr. Krycek. If you had exhibited extreme anti-social tendencies then you would have been... requested to resign ... no matter how high your scores in other areas."

Baines licked his lips. The coldness in this man's eyes unnerved him. He had seen more warmth in the green eyes of the alien monster that had attacked Project Nexus and almost turned him into its next meal or, worse still, into a human host for its seed.

"I have need for an intelligent agent; one willing to put his country before his own gains." The man paused to draw deeply upon the still-burning cigarette. "I am, reliably informed, that you could be a prime candidate."

"What would be expected of me?"

A tight smile, those eyes taking on a far-off glaze.

"An open mind... and a willingness to do whatever is necessary to preserve our country."

-ooOOoo-

If Baines had expected to be removed from Quantico immediately and placed into another training establishment then he was sorely disappointed. Instead, life at Quantico continued at the same pace until he had graduated near the top of his class.

During the remaining weeks since that meeting with the Smoker, Baines accepted small assignments: delivering information, backing up another man on covert missions. Nothing he could not handle, and certainly nothing that would have put a freshman, like Alexei Krycek, ill at ease. The difference was that he copied - or placed in memory - every possible detail of each assignment, relaying that information back to his contact in the Resistance.

A third of his class had dropped away by the time they reached graduation. Baines waited patiently with his surviving classmates for the assignments to be posted, seeing the disappointment in some eyes, the joy in others, as they were each sent their different way. His own assignment came as an anticlimax. He was being sent to FBI headquarters in Washington, un-partnered, his first official role within the FBI one of contacting potential witnesses to a felony.

Months passed slowly and, willingly, he pushed himself forward to back up more experienced agents whenever the opportunity arose. He was eager to prove his worth as an investigator, even though it meant being dumped with most of the paperwork. He had not expected to enjoy being a federal agent, uncertain whether he would be comfortable working within a non-military organisation, especially one that was so laden down with paperwork. Instead, he found it interesting, even a little exciting on those occasions when he had been part of the team that had cracked a case. Still, he missed the thrill of the battle, the adrenaline rush that came as he faced down a possibly hostile foe in some nameless foreign land.

He continued to perform small errands for the Smoker: attending covert meetings to pick up or drop off information, chauffeuring the Smoker on other occasions. Dutifully, he passed any information onto the Resistance, no matter how meaningless it might seem to him. He realised, with a slight thrill, that the tasks he was being set were becoming more involved, perhaps even dangerous. His role as purely a messenger boy seemed to be coming to an end. He was being given the occasional call to back-up a possibly psychopathic Hispanic called Cardinale, a role that left a bad taste in his mouth but he was hardly in the position to refuse to work with the man. Then, one day he found a folder placed under his door with instructions to copy the enclosed 302 in his own handwriting, and have it on Assistant Director Skinner's desk by 07:00 the next morning.

The rest of the folder explained what he was expected to do... and with whom.

-ooOOoo-

"We have a problem."

Bill Mulder dropped the phone back into its cradle and stared out of the window trying to think of a way out of this latest disaster. Michael Baines had been a fantastic discovery; highly trained, highly motivated. The kind of soldier who would follow orders and yet was intelligent enough to know when those orders conflicted with the aims of the Resistance. The soldier's expertise with a wide range of weaponry and explosives, and his combat and computer skills had brought him to readiness much sooner than expected. Nevertheless, Bill Mulder had spent months preparing the young man, adding espionage techniques and language training to the already impressive list of skills - and Alexei Krycek had been born.

Infiltrating the Consortium had been the hardest part but Mulder was in a high enough position to ease the path of his protege. With Baines's new background firmly in place, Bill Mulder's counterpart, the ubiquitous Cigarette-Smoking Man, had snapped up Baines immediately, adding him to his 'goon' squad. This suited the Resistance perfectly for keeping tabs on Spender was one of their main objectives. The Smoker seemed to be heavily involved in the implementation of any Colonist plans, and having a man on the inside, reporting back names and places, had already paid off handsomely.

Bill Mulder snarled, balling one hand into a fist and smacking the desktop. All had been going well, perhaps too well. Perhaps they had over-trained Baines, made him too tempting an agent for aiding in the machinations of the Smoker. They had intended for Baines to become Spender's right-hand man, accepting the possible risk that he would be sent out on dirty assignments, but this latest could have far reaching consequences, and could destroy all their hard work.

It was so typical, almost laughable. Spender had his finger in one hell of a lot of pies and yet, of all the assignments he could have given to Baines, he had to choose the one that would blow the resistance fighter's cover to smithereens.

"Damn it."

Bill Mulder rubbed his jaw thoughtfully. Somehow his only son had managed to screw up all his plans yet again. This insane quest for the truth; this search for his missing sister, had put paid to a promising career as a psychologist, sending his son to the one place where he would have the resources behind him... the Federal Bureau of Investigation and, unfortunately, had led him to the X-Files. It was here that the problem arose.

The first attempt by the Consortium to subvert his son's work was the placement of Dana Scully. She was a well-known skeptic, a scientist first and foremost who had been given strict instructions to curb Fox Mulder's excesses. Although she was no Consortium spy and therefore under no orders, Spender had also expected a certain amount of chemistry to develop between the pair, hoping this would redirect that razor-sharp intellect to more physical pursuits. To an extent this was the case, but it was a deeply platonic love that grew between them rather than the expected sexual relationship. Spender had discovered, far too late, that Fox Mulder's impressive heterosexual porn collection, which was displayed so prominently in his poor excuse for an apartment, was merely a cover, hiding a predilection for pretty young men rather than buxom women.

Instead of Scully hindering Mulder, her skills had strengthened him. She gave him greater focus, gave him an outlet for describing his outlandish theories with someone who had the knowledge and strength of mind to dispute rather than accept everything without question.

Following the near disaster with the Erlenmeyer Flask, the Consortium knew they had to separate Mulder and Scully but they still wanted someone in place to keep tabs on Fox Mulder. They had assigned Spender the task of finding that someone, and he had chosen his newest protege, Alexei Krycek.

To Bill Mulder, Spender's reasoning was quite flawless: Michael Baines was young, clever, resourceful... and beautiful, and he was exactly the type of man who would appeal to his son's baser instincts.

Under any other circumstances this might have worked to the advantage of the Resistance as Fox did seem to have a knack for digging the dirt on all the sordid little Consortium secrets, but his son was blessed with one other attribute; an eidetic memory.

Fox had investigated the case concerning the Kindred, and he had interviewed the sole survivor of one of the sexual attacks - Michael Baines. Bill Mulder was under no illusion. His son would recognize that Michael Baines and Alexei Krycek were one in the same person from the moment their paths crossed.

With a callousness that could not be explained away, Bill Mulder decided that the effort he had put into building Michael Baines into Alexei Krycek carried far more weight than his own flesh and blood, and that Baines's cover remaining intact was paramount. He picked up the phone and set the wheels in motion, setting up a scenario that would lure his son away from Washington DC to Puerto Rico; a scenario that would bring about a loss of certain memories.

This would leave only Agent Scully as a risk but he hoped Baines would be able to make up a plausible story to explain away her sense of familiarity should their paths ever cross.

Otherwise, Dana Scully might have to be memory wiped too - or disposed of.

-ooOOoo-

Baines had felt this same fluttering in his stomach on his first parachute drop, that very real fear of what happens if the chute does not open, what happens if the back-up chute fails too? The rear flap had been lowered at the back of the cargo plane and he stood with the rest of his class, on the very edge, gazing out into a sea of fluffy white clouds that gave all the appearance of being solid enough to step out upon. The wind buffeted him, dragging at his face, whipping the loosened collar of his combat jacket.

"Tighten that collar, soldier."

The sergeant had barked an order at him, shouting to be heard above the roar of the wind. Under normal circumstances, Baines outranked this man but here, on Special Forces training, his rank meant nothing. Baines had obeyed instantly but his hands were trembling as he tugged on the loose flap, sealing it down. He watched as the sergeant counted down the final few seconds before slapping the first of the trainees on the shoulder. Ahead of him, they disappeared over the edge, one by one, moving him forward until it was his turn to step into thin air.

His stomach flipped right over as he made that leap of faith, all his training forgotten for a moment as he fell through the thick clouds and saw the green and brown of the ground far below. It was a fantastic sight, this illusion of flying, of gliding on the wind, free as a bird. Below he could make out the garish red and white of parachutes opening, reminding him that it was all illusion, that he could not fly high and free, and that the ground was fast approaching.

He pulled the release cord, feeling the sudden lurch as the air caught inside, slowly his descent dramatically, and the fear had been abated. Now he was hanging, arms raised holding tight to the ribbons stretching up to the air-filled dome of silky red and white material.

Something large came hurtling by; passing him so quickly that it took a moment before he realised it was the shape and form of a man.

"Pull the cord."

He yelled hopelessly, his words ripped away by the wind still buffeting him, and by the rapidly increasing distance between himself and the other. Horror kept his eyes following the man down, his own feet hitting the ground soon after, instinct and training taking control as he dropped and rolled before gaining his feet and pulling down the parachute before he was dragged along the ground behind it. He snapped off the chute ties and raced towards the slowly growing knot of classmates and instructors, watching many turn aside to retch.

Morbid curiosity pulled him forward and he caught a glimpse of a body splattered over the hard ground. The head had burst like a watermelon and the arms and legs were bent into unnatural positions. The fluttering in his stomach became more violent and he only just managed to turn away before losing the little he had eaten for breakfast earlier that day.

Baines's thoughts came back to the present, his eyes refocusing on himself, reflecting back from the full-length mirror. He studied his reflection, eyes appraising the uniform of his new special assignment. The suit was an ill-fitting, off-the-peg polyester from JC Penny, something plain, grey and innocuous with sleeves that were just a tad too short for his long limbs, but it was cheap. Bill Mulder had specifically told him to buy something acceptably cheap, something that would not make him stand out in the crowd.

He glanced at the three ties he had picked up at the same time, all were different colors to match his mood or need. One of the lessons Bill Mulder's people had taught him was that appearance was everything. The red and blue stripe tie was for days when he wanted to give all the appearance of someone fresh-faced, enthusiastic and dynamic, yet green around the edges. Its vibrant colour would distract the eye and its less than tasteful design would distract the brain, leading the observer to believe he was not as worldly-wise.

The plain, deep red tie was for intellectual days when he wanted to be appreciated as someone with more than just a pretty face and a good body. He hoped its simplicity of pattern would give the false impression of someone mentally alert and efficient.

He held up the green one and gave himself a wry grin, remembering how the store assistant had remarked that it was almost the same shade of green as his eyes. Green was for days when he wanted to merge into the background, to become just a face among the crowd.

He dropped it and slid the red and blue tie from the rack, tying it carefully and smoothing it down.

With a palmful of gel, he slicked back his hair and stepped back to reappraise the stranger in the mirror. The gel had darkened his hair to almost black, making his eyes appear an even deeper shade of green. He looked deep into those eyes wondering if others could see the same haunted soul that cried back to him.

Another pair of eyes that were almost the same shade of green came back to haunt him; the black, inhuman pupil narrowing to a slit as the blood-stained jaws widened to reveal a row of spiked teeth. He could feel the warm, foetid breath against his cheek as the creature moved its large head closer, his own breath coming hard and fast, echoing along the dim air duct, as he tried to contain his sobs of fear.

The image caused his stomach to flutter madly, pulling his mind away from the terrifying creature and back to his earlier memory of that first jump, and to the fear that consumed him now. The fear was the same. He had spent many hours in preparation for this moment and now it was time to make the jump. He was standing at the edge again, about to take that step into the unknown and, although the parachute was more metaphysical than real in this instance, he gave a silent prayer that Bill Mulder's people were ready to catch him as he fell.

Baines drew himself upright, arms held straight by his side in perfect attention, then he visibly relaxed the stance that had been drilled into him over years of military service, trying to remember all the new training in espionage that been instilled into him in its stead.

"You'll have to do."

He turned away from the mirror and walked out of his small apartment without a backward glance. He had a meeting with AD Skinner in less than one hour, to hand over the 302 that would name him as lead agent on the Grissom case, in the knowledge that, a few hours later, he would be meeting Special Agent Fox Mulder face-to-face.

-ooOOoo-

With a confidence that he did not feel, Baines stuck out his hand towards Fox Mulder, having banked his initial disappointment that he had not been remembered from their first meeting, even though that lack of remembrance had come as an unexpected bonus.

He had spent hours trying to come up with excuse after excuse to explain away the similarity between himself and, well, himself, trying to figure a plausible retort, practicing rising an eyebrow in derision or surprise should Mulder look at him askew and ask why he looked so familiar.

In a way, this lack of recognition had ruined some of the fantasies he had conjured up, where Mulder had wanted to experiment with him sexually, to see if Marty had affected him in any way. He had imagined those inquisitive hazel eyes glowing with inner excitement, eager to taste what Marty had tasted, and to caress what Marty had touched. Instead he saw a lack of tolerance, recognized the gleam that told him Mulder was being a little too accepting of his attachment to this case.

He was not really surprised at being ditched, just amazed that Mulder had the audacity to do it. Making a big deal of it had brought a little remorse to those expressive eyes, and a slight reddening of Mulder's cheeks as Mulder realised how petulant he was being in running off alone, but it changed little else. The man was not ready to take on a new partner, willing to tolerate Dana Scully only. Baines knew he would have to deal with that, to some how wriggle under Mulder's defenses and make the man accept him.

As they drove through the heavy commuter traffic, Baines had to hold back on the smile that threatened to break out. Having Mulder seated so close, thighs and shoulders brushing, would provide fuel for the sexual aspect of his fantasies, but there was far more to it than that. The boyishness in Mulder's bright eyes, the excitement of pursuing a supernatural case, was sending a frisson of delight through Baines's body, centering on his groin. He shifted uncomfortably, hand loosening his tie in pretense that it was the heat of the sun rather than the closeness of that very male body causing his discomfort.

He felt a stab of remorse as he glanced at the strong profile, eyes trailing from the soft, spiky hair to the luscious, pouty lips. He longed to reach out, to grab that full lower lip between his teeth and nibble upon it, devouring this man like a sweet candy bar. He wanted to touch the stiffened nipples that were tenting the cotton shirt, to lap the soft, puckered bud with his tongue, lavishing it with all his attention while his hand dipped between the firm cheeks to tease at the tight ring of muscle.

"You getting hot?"

Baines jumped guiltily, eyes refocusing on Mulder's face when he realised they eyes had strayed to the man's groin, but Mulder was still staring straight ahead.

"Next time choose a car where the air conditioning blows instead of sucks."

Baines grinned at the double entendre, and then he blanked out his lust with questions concerning the case.

-ooOOoo-

Even though she showed no sign of recognizing him, Baines knew Scully would be a problem. The Smoker had already made it known that he expected there to be no contact between Mulder and Scully, and that he wanted Baines to report back if there was.

Although she made no genuine attempt at friendliness, he felt a little empathy with the woman, understanding what had drawn her to the tall man standing close by. There was something about Mulder that was compelling, not the pure electricity of Marty's touch, and yet it was something far more satisfying. Again he felt the heat in his groin, the tightness of his aching shaft pressing against his pants. Her beautiful, cerulean blue eyes turned upon him, as if sensing something amiss, and he covered his embarrassing lapse with the pretense that the sight of the mutilated corpse lying before him had overcome him.

She bought it, giving him a look of disdain. If only she knew what he had seen, the disemboweled corpses piled high in the air duct, the hot air filled with the pungency of blood and excrement, proving that not all had been dead before they became its meal. Maybe even her stomach would have turned if she had been forced to watch those sharp teeth crunching into bone; the claws scooping out the soft innards of a woman he had taken a liking to, gore sliding down its monstrous form as it eyed him speculatively.

He turned his thoughts back to the autopsy, aware that if he continued down that path then he really would end up losing his breakfast. When she finally explained what she had found he felt her disbelief like a living entity, writhing before them, and he wondered why Mulder wanted to renew their partnership. It seemed crazy to trust in someone who was not even willing to trust in what they saw with their own eyes.

-ooOOoo-

Baines sank into the comfort of the old leather couch, gratefully accepting the clear alcohol Mulder had splashed into a glass, downing the contents in one swallow. He grimaced at the burn of the sweet white rum as it hit his empty stomach, having expected the sharpness of vodka, and glanced up at Mulder.

"Never took you for the Bacardi type, Mulder."

"Sorry. It's all I have. My ex used to drink the stuff, and I never did get around to throwing out this bottle."

Baines placed the glass on the low coffee table and buried his head in his hands, squeezing his eyes shut tight, his heart still hammering in his chest as his memories flew back to those last minutes of Augustus Cole's life.

Mulder had almost died, would have if his mind had convinced his body that he had been cut down in a hail of bullets just as Grissom - and the others in Cole's unit - had believed in their fates. The pathologist would have cut open Mulder's body to reveal the internal trauma of bullet damage even though there would have been no external sign of those wounds. Instead, Mulder had sat up, reviving in his arms, confused but wonderfully warm and alive.

However, it had not ended there. No sooner had Baines started to recover from the first shock than he had walked straight into the next. In hindsight he knew that Cole had tampered with his mind, making him believe that what he held in his hand was a gun aimed Mulder's heart. At the time, all Baines could think about was the certain knowledge that Cole had a gun and was planning to use it.

There was no reason to consider it a bluff. They were both soldiers, they had both pulled the trigger and ended a life with little more than faint regret at the necessity. At least, in his case he had felt that small regret for the wasted life.

"He wanted to die. You shouldn't blame yourself."

The voice was flat, matter-of-fact, as if Mulder had been reading his thoughts but then, it was hardly likely that he would be preoccupied with much other than the death of Augustus Cole right now. He still felt his finger on the trigger, the indecision swept away by the knowledge that he wanted Mulder to live.

Why hadn't he shot to maim? He had the skill to shoot that believed-gun from Cole's hand, so why had he shot to kill? The Smoker had wanted Cole alive, had wanted to have the exhausted soldier taken to one of his laboratories where his scientists could study him.

Baines opened his eyes, staring down at the floor in Mulder's apartment.

Was that why he killed Cole? To give a fellow soldier the dignity of a swift death, the sort of death he would far prefer if their circumstances had been reversed? Baines shook his head gently, berating himself for trying to find some altruistic motive. The reason he had killed Cole was seated on the overstuffed couch beside him. His fear of losing a man who had seeped into his every dream and fantasy, sheltering him from the fear of those deadly jaws and the calls of the siren's touch, had been instrumental in pulling that trigger.

"Krycek?"

Baines looked up, seeing true compassion in those bright, intelligent eyes - and something else besides. He had a feeling that it would take just a small nudge to turn his fantasy into reality and, for one moment, he was prepared to do just that. The thought of burying himself into the warm chest, to allow the strong heartbeat to ease away his fears, was so very strong but he was stronger still.

A time may come when he could walk into those open arms and accept the comfort promised in the beautiful eyes but, until then, he would have to live with his fantasies, and hope they would be enough to keep away the demons that brought him sleepless nights.

THE END