Topaz: X-Files fanfic by bardsmaid


by bardsmaid

Chapter 8

Friday, 4 June 1999

I knew Alex had been up late, pacing around the living room, but he obviously hadn't wanted to talk. It reminded me of my brother Gordy after he came back from Vietnam. You could tell he was full of something he really needed to let out, but he wouldn't open up. I watched it build and build. We'd been close as kids, and I wanted so badly to help him, but it seemed there was nothing I could do. "If you weren't there, you couldn't possibly understand, Carrie", he'd say, and then turn away. So I just had to leave him be. It was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do.

Gordy was lucky; unlike many of the men he served with, he was eventually able to work through the things that were bothering him. And very likely I was going to have to let Alex do the same. Still, the implications I was seeing weren't pretty. Obviously, Alex had hoped, growing up, that he and his brother would develop a connection, but what he'd admitted to was "a lot of bad blood" between them. Granted, jealousy could be a factor on Alex's part; after all, he'd been raised--for whatever reason--in a foreign institution, placed there by a father whose questionable style and motivations I couldn't even begin to comprehend, and his brother had been with the FBI, a job that requires an advanced degree. From Alex's perspective, his brother must have had an enviable upbringing.

But the long history of animosity, with his brother being in law enforcement, also led to the rather obvious conclusion that Alex had been on the wrong side of the law, and probably for a long time. He'd admitted to me that there were men trying to find him, and he took all sorts of security precautions that had definitely made me take notice.

My left brain was beginning to work overtime, wondering whether I'd made a serious mistake in letting him come here. Not that it had been as much of an issue before Tyler was involved, but now, if someone were to show up on the doorstep asking after Alex., what would I tell anyone? What would they do if "I haven't seen him" or "I don't know who you're talking about" didn't satisfy them? Beyond that, was I endangering Nelson by getting him to take Alex for the next few weeks?

On the other hand, these were all very hypothetical questions, and what I'd been relying on so far was the first-hand evidence I had. Alex had been meticulously honest with me--at least as far as I could tell, admitting to things that definitely weren't designed to cast him in a positive light. His circumstances might be puzzling, but he'd never once done anything to set off my internal 'danger' alarm, which was a pretty fine-tuned piece of equipment. And he'd gone out of his way to let me know there were potential issues with his staying here, knowing I could have asked him to leave.

Could I trust my gut feelings on this? Generally I knew I could. But I'd been wrong on occasion; I hadn't seen what Ron would bring into my life, or recognized how he'd been manipulating the conversation surrounding Ty. Say what you will, few things in life leave you as uncomfortable as knowing your default sensor might not be giving you an accurate reading.


Washington, D.C.
10:15 a.m.

Mulder looked into the hand mirror and frowned. "Are you sure this is my only option?"

"Not your only option," the woman behind him said, running a comb through the back of his hair. He angled the mirror for a better view of her and the streak of pink that ran through her hair. "Just a distinctly more convincing option."

Mulder winced.

"Aw, come on. Man up, Mulder," Frohike said from his position leaning against a counter. "I have to deal with this stuff every day."

Mulder focused on the mirror again. 'Convincing' was what he needed; in fact, it could be critical. "Okay," he sighed finally, resigned. He wondered what Scully would think. He raised a finger at Frohike. "Laugh and I'll kill you."

"Who, me?" Frohike said, feigning offense.


Longmont, Colorado
10:41 a.m.

Carrie hauled her two bags of purchases up the stairs and nudged the door open with a shoulder. Inside, she was met with silence. Pausing, she took one bag to Tyler's room and set the other in the kitchen. Then she started down the hallway in search of Alex. He'd still been asleep when she left an hour and a half ago, but his room was empty now. Venturing inside and crossing to the window, she looked down, but the patio, too, was vacant. Maybe the living room?

She went back down the hallway, glanced into the living room--empty--and stepped inside. A streak of sunlight crossed the piano. She hadn't sat down to play it in six months, not that her technique was anything to boast about. She crossed the room to the far window and looked out. Below her, in a flower bed that had been neglected for the past year, Alex was down on one knee, weeding. He seemed very focused, determined. When he spotted her, she waved. His expression, a momentary mixture of surprise and something she couldn't quite read, was quickly smoothed over.

"I'll be out in a minute," she said, and turned away. But her pulse tightened slightly, tripping a little faster. An odd, unwelcome feeling overtook her. Was it a warning or simply the apprehension that had built up around her simmering questions about him? Swallowing, she reminded herself to take a step back. To think clearly. To see accurately.

"You know," she said when she'd come around the side of the house to where he was working, "I hadn't given much thought to the balance issues involved in everything you're having to do, even how best to balance while you're reaching like this."

He glanced up at her. "Can't wait to have the arm back."

"I can imagine." She squatted down and reached for the base of a large weed. "Looks like you're making good headway here. Thanks for doing this. I didn't expect, when you contacted me, to end up getting free gardening service." She tried for a smile. "How are you feeling?"

He shrugged. "Okay. Little bit of a headache. Think I just... Guess I needed a way to keep my mind off next week."

"Your brother's visit? Because you don't know which way it will go?"

He nodded, focusing on his work. "We've got to locate this group. Could be critical. He's got his reasons to want to find them, too." He shrugged and pushed out a breath. "Still, there's no telling how it will go."

"Does he have qualms--you know, ethical or moral qualms--about whatever is involved in this search?"

Krycek let out a half-snort, half-laugh she wasn't expecting. "He's a complete pie-in-the-sky idealist. You know, the kind of guy who wants everything to come out neat and clean, and--" He shook his head.

"And," she ventured, "you came up through the school of hard knocks."

"Yeah. Maybe. Hell, there's no way to get through to a guy like him that sometimes your two choices are 'bad' and "halfway down the drain', and you have to go with one of them; there aren't any other options." He swallowed, paused and tossed a handful of limp greens toward a growing pile beside him.

Carrie sat down at the edge of the lawn. "I was in his postion once, and maybe I still am, for the most part. My brother Gordy served in Vietnam, and when he came back... well, he had quite a hard time readjusting. He wouldn't tell me what was bothering him; he'd just say I wouldn't understand. But eventually, years later, he did tell me a few things, maybe like what you're talking about. It's"--her lips pressed together momentarily--"sobering. Very sobering."

"What kinds of things?"

"They were private. I told him I wouldn't tell anyone. But"--she ran the backs of her fingers over the grass--"I can give you a general example. Are you familiar with the TV show M*A*S*H?"

"Seen it a few times, yeah."

"In the very last episode," she said, looking past him, "this terrible dilemma comes up, where a woman is in a bus that's pulled off the road into some trees, and an enemy patrol is coming through the area. She has a baby, and the baby's crying and won't stop, and she's forced to make a choice between saving her child, which would give away their position to the enemy, or smothering the baby in order to save everyone on the bus."

She focused on him now. He'd sat down at the edge of the bed. "I guess that stuck with me so strongly because it was a lot like the situations my brother described to me. It's hard, if you live a normal life, to even comprehend that there's not some other way, a 'C' or 'D' option after the 'bad' and 'worse' that are 'A' and 'B'. Or that you can't just walk away and wipe the slate clean. Or wake up and discover it was all a dream. Your mind wants to do that." She glanced up momentarily at a squirrel barking in the tree overhead. "I don't think we realize what a luxury it is to live in a world where we aren't faced with those kinds of choices. Anyway, I wrestled with that dilemma for a long time. What would I do? Would I save my child at the expense of all those other people? But could I do the other? If there were no other options?"

"You can think about it. But you don't know what you'll do until you're there." He fingered a tuft of grass and looked up at her. "Old man had me shipped to Afghanistan with the Russian army in '85. For a few months, anyway."

"During the war there?" She could feel her frown. "Why?"

"He wanted me to get experience." He flashed a bitter smile. "So I'd be more useful to him."

She shook her head. "I have to say I just don't understand this man, your father." A pause. "So you were, what, infantry?"

"Special forces." After a beat, he pushed out a breath. "I was a sniper."


Washington, D.C.
10:45 a.m.

Kristen dabbed something on a makeup sponge into the hair at Mulder's temples.

"See how it changes your look? This is quick to use, and it's easy to pack when you're on the road. Washes out easily, too, so you can switch looks in just a couple of minutes if you need to."

"What about that?" he said, pointing toward the counter.

"That," she said, "will need adhesive, and there's a lotion I can give you to keep the adhesive from irritating your skin. But it's going to look great. It will get you right back to your normal look. Or at least, as close as humanly possible."

"Trouble is," Frohike said, clearning his throat, "he needs to be able to do a quick switch--like in an airport bathroom, without arousing suspicion if someone's tailing him."

"Ooh," she grinned, a gleam in her eye now. "Spy stuff."

Frohike shrugged. "Not exactly, but close enough."

"Okay, then we're going to have to go a different route. But I can get you what you need, yeah."


Longmont, Colorado
10:48 a.m.

Krycek swallowed and pulled on the tuft of grass between his fingers. It wasn't what he'd planned to say, but it pretty much told the story if you connected the dots. And Carrie was definitely one to do that.

After a beat, he glanced up at her. The expression on her face was unreadable.

"I imagine--I know," she said, "it changes you to have to do something like that. With people of my brother's era... well, I know the suicide rate has been phenomenal. It's unbelievable, really. Years after it was all over, there had been more suicides among Vietnam vets than there were American casualties during the war." She shook her head. "Imagine: more soldiers have died by their own hands because of what they saw or did than there are names on the memorial wall in Washington."

"Happens over there, too--suicide," he said, grasping another tuft of grass and squeezing it. "Russia's a rough neighborhood compared to here. It's pretty standard for recruits to get beaten by higher-ups... sometimes pretty badly. After that, some of them figure suicide's their only way out. But I heard stories, too--about soldiers being killed for their organs. Then they ship the bodies home and call it suicide."

Carrie grimaced.

It was probably time to stop before he overdid it. With most women, he wouldn't have mentioned any of this, but she wasn't like most of the women he'd known.

"Sorry." He shrugged. "It's not pretty stuff. Don't mean to ruin your day."

She let out a sigh. "No, it's okay. You're right, it's not pretty at all. But maybe that's part of the problem between you and your brother. The worlds you two have grown up in are so radically different. There's the potential for a huge comprehension gap there." She leaned forward and rested her arms on her knees. "But you know, sometimes different experiences mean that you each of you brings skills and talents to the table that the other one doesn't have. That could be a bonus for both of you. The challenge is finding common ground to begin with."

"Yeah. Guess you could say we've been kind of lacking in that department."

Carrie's lips pressed together momentarily. "If you don't mind telling me, what's the best encounter the two of you have had? It might help to figure out what's worked for you in the past. I won't ask about the bad ones."

The bad ones. Krycek opened his mouth and hesitated, picturing himself standing in old Bill Mulder's shower. Or waiting in Mulder's darkened apartment, his note--the bait--already in place on the floor. He swallowed.

"There was this time, a little over a year ago. Two weeks earlier I'd gone to his place, had something important to tell him...." Maybe taking Mulder down at the outset wasn't such a great idea, in retrospect. Except that he'd been itching for some kind of payback for the loss of the arm, and there was never any telling whether Mulder would haul off and punch you first if you didn't do something to tip the odds in your favor.

He cleared his throat. "Anyway, I'd just gotten in off a 14-hour flight from Colombia; I was tired as hell, and I got to my place ready to drop, opened up and found Mulder sitting there asleep on my couch."

"So, he came uninvited?"

"He had no idea where I lived, and I wouldn't have told him. But evidently when I stopped by his place, I dropped a receipt from the little grocery store across the street from my place, and he used it to track me."

"So this definitely wasn't what you were looking forward to."

He shook his head. "He was really out of it. I put all my stuff away and he didn't so much as stir. Finally I woke him up and told him to leave."

"Why had he come?"

He shrugged. "Beats me. Curiosity? He's like that. He's like a kid with a magnifying glass; he wants to know about everything. If there's a trail, he wants to follow it."

"So what happened?"

He shrugged. "It was weird. I was running on fumes, and Mulder woke up groggy. Maybe neither of us had enough energy left to shove each other around for once. Meant to shoo him out, but then I opened the fridge and there were two beers sitting there, and I ended up offering him one. Surprised myself." He pictured the look on Mulder's face before he'd replied, mouth soft, half-open in surprise. "So we sat outside on these two old chairs on the roof patio and drank our beers. Talked a little. Nothing important, just"--he smiled briefly--"like two normal guys hanging out." He shrugged and looked past her. "Hard to describe. Unexpected, I guess."

"Maybe a glimpse of what it would be like to be on the same side of things?"

After a beat, he nodded.


Lincoln, Nebraska
11:43 a.m.

Eighteen picked a shirt from the pile of clean laundry on the bed and began to fold it. She glanced at the corner of the motel room, where the female sat beside the half-open curtains. They were proving tedious, these days between travel, sitting around with nothing more to do than wash clothes, anticipate the next meal and spend far too much time in front of a television with unfamiliar news anchors, strangers telling stories of some metropolis she'd likely never know or visit again.

It was hardly easy for the female, either, though it gave Four a chance to test the range of her sendings. If Six picked up anything as they approached California, he'd let Four know right away. She hoped the problem was, in fact, solved; otherwise they might be stuck a week or more in one of these places, leaving her to feel more rootless than she already did.

A soft knock came on the door, two quick raps then a pause followed by a third--Four's signal. She set down the socks she was holding and went to open it. Four slipped inside, closed the door and considered the girl beside the window.

"She needs a chance to be out of here," Eighteen said. "To walk or see things. Something in the open air; that always seems to please her."

"Except," he said, "for yesterday. I've been unable to determine what occasioned her tears."

"She liked the wildlife pond later in the afternoon, with all the ducks and the eagle. To sit for so long... It can't be good for her."

"It's hot out there," he said, gesturing toward the window, "and the temperature's increasing. But I'll inquire. Perhaps there's somewhere close by with water and a breeze."

He glanced again at the girl, who sat rocking subtly on her chair, her eyes focused on the sky above the building.


Washington, D.C.
12:18 p.m.

Ché looked up from his computer screen and paused, listening. Yes, it did sound like a knock on the door. But he wasn't expecting anyone. Few people knew where he lived, which was safer in the long run. His pulse speeding up slightly, he stood, approached the door and peeked through the peep hole.

Outside stood a balding, middle-aged man wearing a brown tweed blazer and wire-rimmed glasses. He fiddled with a matching golf cap in his hand--he looked rather uncomfortable, actually--and raised his hand to knock again.

"Sir, I believe you have the wrong door," Ché said. "If you are looking for Mrs. Glaser, her door is the one to the left."

The man cleared his throat and looked more directly at the peep hole. "No," he said. "This is the right door. Alex Krycek said I should stop by and show you somethin'." The stranger seemed to have a New York twang.

Ché frowned. Aleksei hadn't mentioned sending anyone by. The fact was, he'd never actually been stuck in this position before, with someone unknown at his door claiming to have come at his friend's direction. What if it were one of Aleksei's enemies who had gotten the information through...

"I was here Monday for the apartment address. 2C?"

Startled, Ché looked through the peep hole again. The man on the other side offered an awkward, obviously pained smile. Quickly Ché unlocked the door and opened it. His visitor stepped inside.

"Sorry about the lack of notice," the man said.

"My apologies for not recognizing you."

"Actually," Mulder said with a sigh, "that was the objective. If I'm going to go see Krycek, neither of us is going to want Smoky's old buddies trailing me." His fingers skimmed the too-smooth top of his head. A pained expression flitted across his face. "Do you think it's convincing enough? If I hadn't said anything, would you have figured out it was me?"

"In truth, it would have taken me quite a while. And without any hints... perhaps not." Ché shrugged. "Anyway, most surveillance is done from a distance, it is not? The old men's minions will know you only from a handful of photographs, correct?"

"I hope so."

"Then I think it will work." He paused. "You said Aleksei told you to come by?"

"Yeah. He wanted me to try this on you, get your opinion."

"Then perhaps we should take a picture, yes? So he can see for himself?"

After a reluctant pause, his guest agreed. Ché went to retrieve his digital camera and returned moments later to find Mulder once again fingering the newly-smooth top of his head. Undoubtedly, it would do nothing for a man's ego to suddenly have to confront himself in an aged condition, however illusory.

"This disguise, it was just put together for you?"

Mulder sighed. "Yeah. This morning. Guess it's going to take some getting used to."

"Undoubtedly. But at least it's not permanent, right?"

His guest bit his lip, and finally nodded. "Yeah. Good point."

"How about you stand over here, against this wall?" Ché said, gesturing.

Mulder moved into position. He tried for a neutral expression. Ché pushed the camera's focus button gently, then clicked.


Middle Creek, Nebraska
5:48 p.m.

The girl sat at the edge of the water, the brown-haired woman close beside her. It was hot, but the wind was blowing, making the trees branches overhead wave and jostle, drying the sweat on their faces. The shoreline was full of people, but somehow the gray-haired man had managed to find them a spot in the shade, where a row of big trees hung over the water's edge.

For hours the section of sky she'd been able to see from the window of their room had been gray--first dark and solid, then lighter with mounded cloud shapes gliding diagonally from one corner of the glass to the other. Eventually the clouds had thinned, tearing and dissolving here and there, and blue sky had begun to appear between them. Now, here at the edge of the broad lake, the sky was mostly blue with thin wisps of grayish-white.

Hot air ruffled the girl's short, thin hair. Involuntarily, she smiled. It felt like... fingers, like... something. Something she'd known, once, that she couldn't pull out of the thickness that was her mind. There was closeness, and hot breath, and a feeling...

A sudden yearning washed over her, bone-deep, as if she were a magnet, every fiber in her seeking out... she didn't know. Something needed, necessary. Gradually the sensation ebbed, leaving a strange emptiness in its wake. It had come from something real, the feeling. Something she'd known and been a part of. Not like now, when the world was out of focus, blank stretches interrupted by sudden streams of images that held little or no meaning: the never-ending road, rooms with two matching beds, signs filled with meaningless symbols. Her two constants the brown-haired woman and gray-haired man.

The girl turned, blinking into the wind, and closed her eyes against the relentless flow of air. Sweat trickled from her brow, slipped into the edges of her hair and dried. Her toes stretched forward, searching, finally finding the tepid water that lapped the shoreline.

She would wait for the feeling to approach again, the way you'd lure a tiny bird, patient, not moving until it reached your open hand.


Longmont, Colorado
7:48 p.m.

Krycek folded his last clean shirt as best he could and tucked it inside his sports bag. Now that he knew he'd have the prosthesis within a week, every awkward action without it was that much more frustrating. But everything had been packed, pretty much. Tomorrow morning Carrie would take him to Nelson's...

At least, as long as she still trusted him at that point. He'd watched her after he told her about Afghanistan. And she had to have extrapolated, had to realize where that kind of background could lead. She'd been a little quieter, maybe, but that was all. Still, she had to be thinking about it.

He had, too. He'd sent Ché instructions to look up motels in the area for backup places he could stay on the cheap if things went bad. And possibilities for getting out of the area on the outside chance that things took a real nosedive.


He turned, surprised. "Yeah?"

"Could we talk?"

Something cold dropped through him and settled in his gut. "Yeah, sure. About?"

She looked a little awkward, but she came in a step and smiled. "Do you mind if I sit?" she asked.

"Go ahead." He reached for the desk chair, to offer it to her, but she sat down on the carpet crosslegged. After a pause he eased himself onto the chair.

Carrie set her hands lightly on her knees and looked up at him. "It's about Nelson, Alex. I just want to make sure I'm not putting him in any danger by sending you over there. He's a really good friend, and I would never want to do anything to put him at risk."

Krycek swallowed. "I have a guy--a friend--who's keeping an eye on the group that's after me. So far we've got no indications that they have any idea where I am. Mulder, when he comes, he'll be in disguise, and he'll be putting out an electronic trail--flight manifests, credit card records for rental car, meals, that kind of thing--showing that he's flown to New York to visit his mom."

He cleared his throat. "Nothing's ever foolproof, but the planning's good and tight." He paused. "Look, you've gone above and beyond for me. Twice now. I don't want to make this hard for you. If it's going to worry you, I'll find someplace else to stay. The thing about Nelson's place is that I'd have the chance to walk, to work on getting some strength back. But it's your call." He paused and shrugged. "Your decision."

"I... I don't know. I just don't." She pulled up one knee and wrapped her arms around it. "Maybe it's a very mild version of one of those dilemmas we were talking about this morning. Nelson's would be a great place for you, definitely. But I have my friend to worry about, and Ty. Once you have children, there's this defensive, pre-emptive mindset that comes over you, a new yardstick you measure everything by." She paused and looked at him. Cocked her head slightly. "What?"

"Just..." He had no idea what kind of reaction he'd given. "Got no experience there. Never considered bringing a kid into the world. Wouldn't do it. Not the world I know."

He looked past her, suddenly remembering a photograph he'd noticed on a shelf in the barn house, of Tracy at maybe ten years old, and thinking about how she'd changed since then. She'd asked him once, out of the blue, whether he ever thought about growing old. It had caught him off-guard. He'd be forty-five when the invasion hit... if he survived that long. Any alternatives to that had never been on his radar. Until earlier today.

"Penny for your thoughts," Carrie said.

He looked up at her. "This friend e-mailed me a picture today of Mulder's disguise." He drew in a breath and held it for a second. "Makes him look twenty years older. Kind of shook me, seeing him like that."

"Well," she said, a smile pulling at one corner of her mouth, "if twenty years puts him in his fifties, I'm here to attest to the fact that life goes on at that age, and pretty well, too." She paused and shifted where she sat. "Which brings us back to Nelson's. Maybe we can take it in increments, re-evaluate as we go along. I guess in the end it boils down to trust... and I don't mean anything negative by that, just prudent caution."

"No, it's the only way to go. Blind faith"--he shook his head--"doesn't do anybody any good." He took a deep breath. "Look, I'm no saint, but I didn't choose this... life, this... role I ended up with. The group that's after me and Mulder, they've got plans to unleash this virus--the black oil, the stuff that was in me--on the population. We both want find a way to stop them. No telling whether we'll be able to, but we've got to try."

"And if there's something I need to know, or understand--to know I can trust you, that I'm doing the right thing?"

"Ask. Hell, there's a lot about me you're not going to want to know, but--" He paused.


He let out a half-held breath and cleared his throat. "Tracy knew more about me than anyone else. Not because I told her. This is going to sound crazy, but she was psychic. She could see into you like she'd opened a file drawer full of everything you'd ever done in your life. Sometimes I still wonder why, knowing what was in there, she didn't just take off and get as far away as she could. But she didn't... so I guess there must be something there..." He shrugged.


Georgetown, Washington, D.C.
9:15 p.m.

Scully collected her briefcase and bag of groceries, nudged the car door closed with a knee and squeezed the remote's lock button. The bones had been carefully examined, she'd written up a detailed report and checked on the status of the evidence bag of Samantha's hair. Thankfully, this time there were records verifying that the sample she'd submitted was awaiting the results of the DNA test. Now she just had to contact Mulder about how and where to meet about the results, once they came in.

She'd worked longer days than this one. Still, knowing this wasn't a normal investigation but an elaborate ruse she was helping to create--one that might be examined in detail on the receiving end, and which could have unknown repercussions--had made it particularly draining. She'd told Mulder earlier not to expect her tonight. And tomorrow she'd go to visit her mother.

Scully went up the front steps to her building. Strangely, the light was on in her living room. Maybe Mulder had some information for her, though she would have expected him wait in the dark in order not to arouse the suspicions of anyone the Consortium might have watching her. She swallowed against the emptiness in her stomach. Maybe he'd brought take-out. She smiled briefly at the thought. She hadn't had anything to eat since the tub of yogurt she'd eaten at noon.

Pushing the building's front door open with her shoulder, she went to her own door, shifted the bag of groceries and maneuvered the key into the lock. Turning the handle, she pushed the door open to find an unexpected figure on the couch.

Her eyes widened. "Bill, what are you doing here?"

"Mom loaned me the key. I came up to see her today." His voice was tight, clipped. He stood now. "We need to talk, Dana."

"About?" she said, feeling herself tighten. She set the bag of groceries on the dining room table.

"About? About this crazy thing that happened to Mom." He took a few steps toward her. "About the fact that she was deliberately infected with a potentially fatal disease by someone out looking for you and that scumbag of a partner of yours." His hands went up. "Where's the logic in this, Dana? Where's the line where your personal investment finally stops trumping the safety of your family?"

Scully's hands went to her hips. Her lips pressed together. "So you're blaming the victim?"

Bill's mouth opened. His face was beginning to redden. "What do you mean, blame the victim? Mom's the victim here. Can't you see that? She had no part in this."

"Neither did I, Bill. Was it my fault that the most manipulative man I've ever known of decided to try to get to Mulder and me through Mom?"

"You could have tried some kind of negotiation, couldn't you? Where were you while Mom was going through this alone? She nearly died, Dana."

"I know that, Bill. And she wasn't alone. We had people--extremely competent people--monitoring her constantly. Her doctor was working with us. We had an almost unimaginable amount of help with this."

"And where were you during all of this?"

"I was in hiding, in Kentucky. This man was after us to kill us." She looked down; her voice quieted. "He nearly did. We were a fraction of a second from being executed when"--she moistened her lips--"when someone we wouldn't have suspected of helping us intervened and saved all of us--Mulder and his mother and me." She swallowed and looked up at him, unblinking.

"Okay," he said, his hands fumbling with a magazine he'd been reading. "Okay, so I'm glad you got away. But hasn't it given you second thoughts about the path you're on? Didn't you learn anything from this? Why would you march right on with your life, continuing to put yourself in jeopardy like that?"

"What are you implying?"

"Isn't it about time you quit this job? This FBI work's not for you, Dana. You've been shoved down stairs, shot at, chased..." He exhaled loudly and sucked in another breath. "I hope you've at least thought about what trailing around after this guy Mulder has done to you."

"And what is it you expect me to do, Bill? Change careers to something safer? I could do that and then be hit by a car crossing the street on my way to lunch."

"But the odds would be a lot better."

"What about your job, Bill? You could conceivably be killed doing what you do. That would affect the family, but I don't see you resigning from the Navy to move into the civilian sector."

"That's different."

"How is it different? Because I'm a woman, or because my choices don't fit your preconceptions of what I should be doing?" She paused, her fingers finding the chair back beside her and squeezing. The silence between them echoed through the room. She closed her eyes briefly and opened them again. "I've had a long day, Bill. I need to find something to eat and get some sleep. It's time for you to go."

Bill's lips twisted. Letting out a sigh, he returned to the couch and dropped the magazine onto one of the cushions. "I'm not going to let you keep doing this to Mom." He started for the door.

"I'll be up to see her tomorrow," she said, working to keep her tone even.

"Good. It will be good for you to see her before she goes."

"Goes where? Bill?"

He turned to face her. "I've talked with Tara. We're going to be moving Mom in with us."

Scully swallowed. "In San Diego?"

"No. I've been reassigned. In two weeks we'll be in Bahrain."

Scully stood open-mouthed. Bill turned away, opened the door and went out.


Mulder's rented room, Georgetown
9:38 p.m.

The light came on beside Mulder's front door. Seconds later the door opened an inch or two.

"Scully?" Behind him, the room was dark.

"I know I said I wasn't coming, but..." She bit her lip.

A moment later his wrist was on her hand, pulling her inside. He reached to toward the desk; she heard heavy metal--obviously a weapon--settle there before he closed the door and locked it.

"Mulder, has someone found this place?"

"No." His voice was soft. "Just being careful."

"Were you asleep?"

Apparently he didn't intend to turn on the light.

"Yeah, I was kind of drifting."

He came closer. Warm arms wrapped around her. She closed her eyes and pressed her head against his bare chest. After a moment he pulled back slightly. A thumb wiped at a wet spot at the corner of her eye.

"What's wrong, Scully?"

"I just..." She opened her mouth. Closed it again. Breathed in against the building pressure and let it slowly out again. Mulder's hand smoothed her hair back from her face. "I finished the examination of the bones. The report's written. It was a long day, that's all, and then I got home about twenty minutes ago to find Bill sitting in my living room."

"What?" He pulled back, looking at her in the shadows.

"He'd come to see Mom. He was angry... as usual. Angry that we brought this down on Mom's head."

"Smoky did it, Scully, not you or me."

"I know that, Mulder." She sniffed in a breath. "I just wish he'd stop treating me like a child, as if he knows my life and what I should be doing so much better than I ever could. He's not my father, and even if he were, he'd have no business--"

Strong arms pulled her against him.

"I hate to say it, Scully"--there was the barest hint of a smile in his voice--"but you're going to have a hard time getting me to defend the guy."

She slipped her arms around his waist and held on. His chin came to rest against the top of her head. Reminding herself to breathe, she listened to his heartbeat as they swayed slightly in the darkness.

"He's taking her away, Mulder."

"What? Who?"

"Mom. He and Tara are going to have Mom live with them. Bill's been reassigned. They're going to Bahrain." She paused. "In two weeks. I feel like..."

"Like you've been accused of mistreating the family puppy and now they're going to give it away?"

"I guess so. Something like that." She let out a sigh.

Soft lips pressed against her hair. His grip on her loosed and both hands came up to frame her face, then smoothed back into her hair. "You've had a long day, Scully. You should get some rest." A kiss against her temple and he moved back.

"I think you're right." She squeezed his hand and let go, then went to the desk chair. Slowly she took off her clothes and laid them across the chair back. When she looked up, he was already in bed, holding the sheets open for her. Leaving the chair, she slipped in beside him.

She lay on her back, studying the shadows on the ceiling, trying to decompress. After a moment she turned toward him and readjusted the pillow. She squinted at him in the dark.

"Mulder, what happened to your hair?" She reached toward it but his hand came up and caught her wrist.

"Shh." He brought her hand to his chest. "It's part of the disguise I'm going to be using to go see Krycek. I didn't want to do it this far ahead, but as it turns out I'm going to need the time to get used to looking at myself this way in the mirror. Right now it makes me want to shoot myself."

"Is that why you didn't turn the light on?"

"Yeah." He let out a sigh.

"It's alright, Mulder. We do what we have to do." Her lips came together. "I still know who you are underneath it all."

She rolled toward him, closed her eyes and tried to will away the tension inside her. Eventually her eyes opened again. She studied Mulder's silhouette in the shadows. Reaching out, she slipped an arm around his shoulder, coaxing him toward her.

"I thought you wanted to sleep."

"I do. At the moment, though, I just want to block out everything extraneous."

"And that would leave?"

"You. And me."

"Nothing else?"

"Nothing else."

He pushed up on one elbow, half leaning over her. She slipped a hand between them and nudged his hip, urging him on. A leg settled between hers, then a second. She closed her eyes, felt his leg hair against the smoothness of her thighs, his muscles against her stomach, then the soft, probing pressure below, seeking admission. She tipped her hips slightly, felt him slowly slide inside, filling her and setting off a wave of need. Her body rose to meet him.

Mouths met, smiling.


... the next day...
Saturday, 5 June 1999
Lincoln, Nebraska
8:53 a.m.

Four closed the car door and returned to the motel room for a final look around. So far, they'd managed not to leave anything behind. The female was in her seat in the car and Eighteen was returning the room key to the motel's office. It would be a seven-hour trip today, plus stops. With any luck they'd find places for the girl to walk along the way; it seemed to relieve the tedium of travel, and calmed her in the process. She tended to prefer the unpaved, more natural places, which was just as well, since those locations provided fewer curious eyes to watch her. They'd told the few who'd asked aloud about her condition that she had a brain injury. The explanation seemed to satisfy them.

Along the way, at rest stops, they'd witnessed the spectrum of human behavior from tired, occasionally cranky travelers. There were couples who disagreed, using various levels of nuance--or none at all--to hide their friction from the eyes of those around them. Children played while others pushed, or backed away from strangers obviously different from themselves. Some people dropped their litter at the edge of the parking lot and drove off, not bothering to put it in the proper receptacle. But there were other scenes, too: new babies held by grandmothers or kissed on the forehead by young siblings; a very elderly man who, step for step, accompanied an equally elderly woman pushing a walker, as solicitous of her as if they'd been newlyweds; a teenage boy who ran after a well-dressed couple to return the keys the man had dropped.

The species was not without its faults... which was, of course, true of any species. But there was something at the core of the best of them, something he hadn't completely defined but which had coaxed him quietly, over the years, toward the path he was on now. A risky path, with no guarantees of success and much to be lost if his efforts were to end in failure, but a path he was now dedicated to pursuing.

In the parking lot, a car door closed. Four looked out to see Eighteen in the passenger seat. Pulling the room's door shut, he turned toward the car and looked up. The sky was clouding over and the heavy, humid breeze was thick with the scent of rain. A pinprick of water landed on his cheek. In the window behind Eighteen, he could see the girl's eyes watching the flow of clouds overhead.


On Saturday morning I put Alex's things in the car and drove him over to Nelson's. My mind was in a half a dozen different places at that moment, but I remember, now, glancing over at him in the reclined seat next to me. His position, to keep from being seen, only accentuated the questions I hadn't been able to chase from my mind. Was I doing the right thing? Would I somehow be endangering Nelson, who had been such a stalwart colleague and friend? What if someone were to come to the house looking for Alex? What if Tyler answered the door? I'd never lied to him, and I certainly wouldn't want to start now, but how could I protect Alex any other way?

And there--right there--was the flip side. Who was he, when it came right down to it? Unless I was more deluded than I realized, he'd always been a meticulously straight shooter with me, even when his truths turned out to be hard or inconvenient. And he'd gone through experiences that I could relate to through my brother. On the other hand, Alex's had been no official war. The damage to his body and the stories he told almost certainly highlighted a life caught up in illegality. And yet his brother, the ex-FBI agent (and terminal idealist, according to Alex's description of him) was open to working with him. It all made my head spin. I nearly missed the turnoff to Nelson's driveway.

When we finally pulled up between the house and garage, I helped him carry his things into the bunkhouse. For the first time in all we'd done together, the moment was awkward. It wasn't that this was the end of anything; if things went smoothly, he'd be here for another three weeks and I'd be stopping by every few days to check on him. Maybe there was too much to say, and neither of us knew where to begin. In the end I just smiled, but as I reached the door, he called me. When I turned back, all he said was "thanks", but there was something in his eyes that weighted that single word with meaning.

I went home and finished getting ready for Tyler's arrival. The next day, on the way home from the airport, Ty insisted on stopping by to say hello to Nelson. Nelson was surprised to see the gawky, taller boy I had with me, who barely seemed to fit into his skin these days, and the two of them spent a happy few minutes reminiscing. Standing beside the car watching them, just happy to have my kid home again, I glanced toward the bunkhouse and made out half of Alex's silhouette beside the curtain in the downstairs window. It made me wonder if this was what his life was usually like, looking out at the world from the shadows, apart from it except on those occasions when there was fleeting, intense contact.


It was strange, when I thought about it. Except for the few days between Pennsylvania and Reston two weeks earlier, I hadn't been on my own since the day Scully shot me--a little over five weeks. And now here I was, finally by myself, tucked away in Nelson Matapang's guest house in the pines outside Boulder. But instead of feeling relieved, all I felt was antsy.

Mulder'd be coming in a few days, and there was no telling how that would go. Carrie'd talked about how different our lives had been, how much of a disconnect that could cause between any two people, and how we really needed to listen to each other. But all the logic in the world tended to evaporate when Mulder and I got in the same room together. I hoped he wouldn't end up pounding me, because I didn't have much of a way to defend myself. Anyway, we needed to come to some sort of truce; there was work to do, and what would make those alien bastards laugh harder than the two of us beating up on each other instead of focusing on them?

I took to walking the trails through the trees, partly for the exercise and to pass the time, but partly to get away from what was in my head. And it wasn't just Mulder. Fact was, the residue of Tracy that would hit me every once in a while had been stronger the last few days, and some of it had nothing to do with what we'd been through together. There was the image of her with the short hair and the red hat. Another time it would be a feeling that would just sweep in, like when she was in the hospital, only more like... frustration and needing something; I had no idea what. It was starting to get damned creepy, and beyond that, what did it say about me, about my mental state? Maybe with everything I'd gone through, I was just losing it. It's something I'd never thought about--having some kind of mental breakdown. It was a prospect that scared me even more than the thought of the alien invasion.

On Sunday Carrie showed up, obviously on her way home from the airport, with Tyler in the car. The kid had grown at least a foot since I'd seen him three years earlier. Everything about him was changing from that soft, more compact little kid to the awkward, skinny adolescent stretching to find himself. When they first pulled in, he got out of the car, went around and headed straight for Nelson's door. But then he stopped, turned back, went to the driver's side and threw his arms around Carrie when she got out of the car. I know what that had to have meant to her. I knew what it meant to me that she'd put so much effort into me in spite of her reservations.


To: [email protected]
From: [email protected]
Dealt with something the other day that might interest you. Jeffrey Spender was saddled with disposing of his father's ashes. The old man's request was strange; he was very specific that he wanted his ashes scattered over the graves of six German WWII spies buried in the old Blue Plains potter's field in Anacostia. I went along with Agent Spender, partly as moral support and partly out of curiosity. At this point the place is nothing but an overgrown hillside with the usual scattered trash and homeless camps. But I have to assume that there was some significance to his choosing the spot; the old son of a bitch was nothing if not calculating. Don't know what his angle was, but I figured it sounded like a puzzle piece you might want to tinker with.

Heard something about a discovery of your sister's bones. Is this true?



Sunday, 6 June 1999
Quonochontaug Pond, Rhode Island
1:49 p.m.

Teena reached down to touch the water, her fingers breaking the reflection of scattered clouds spread across the shiny surface. She couldn't say exactly what had drawn her here; Fox's story was, after all, strategic and not fact. Yet its implications had sent her, over the past week, on a slippery, twisting path into the past.

For years, the summer house had been a place of happy memories in spite of the fact that she and Bill had become, by that point, only the merest shell of a couple. But once Leland had come here to announce that Samantha would be given over to the aliens, their getaway cottage had frozen into shades of gray. She'd made two final trips to Quonochontaug after that, but only to retrieve things they'd wanted at home. Today, she'd approached the ruins of the house on the access road and sat in the car briefly, staring at the charred skeleton of the house and garage, and the charred areas reaching up the surrounding trees. It was truly over now--not just the house, but everything that had been a part of their time here. Bill was gone. Leland, now, was gone. Samantha was gone, whether definitively or not she couldn't say, but neither did she have any hope of actually finding her. She never really had.

Eventually she'd started up the car again and driven here, to the beach where Fox and Samantha had spent so many hours at play. No bitter memories lurked here in the bright salt air. Much had changed, of course. Many of the older, modest cottages were being torn down, replaced by the much larger homes of the newly-affluent. Still, she could block those out. She could focus on the curving shoreline, and the water, the inlet leading out to the ocean and the leaning, grayed slats of the sand fences farther east.

It had been years since she'd really looked into the pond's shallows and noticed how the color changed from clear to pale turquoise as the water deepened, or listened to the subtle lap along the shoreline, or the calling of birds circling overhead. She used to sit here as Fox waded carefully toward the submerged boulder beds that sheltered the pond's underwater creatures. When Samantha was very small, she'd sat with her in the shallows, her legs a safe border for her daughter's splashing. Eventually, at eight, Samantha had been the bold one, swimming underwater along the rocky outcroppings in the shallows with her little mask on, coming back to the shoreline to show off the occasional treasure.

Life had been so much more vivid then. Or it should have been. It was clear now that she'd been numb, too absorbed in her own tragedies to truly share the energy and color in her children's lives. The sad fact was, the better part of her life had been spent in a state of numbness and denial, avoiding the pain of living while at the same time forfeiting its richness.

A sudden gust blew Teena's hair back from her face. She blinked against the slight salt sting of it. She remembered now, the summer she'd been pregnant with the child she knew she wouldn't keep, sitting on this very rock, feeling a foot slide across the inside of her belly and sitting up straighter, counting the weeks until her ordeal would be over. If only she'd realized that his was just beginning.

Bending down, Teena reached for a downy feather bobbing on the water in front of her. She wiped it carefully against her sweater and stood, then waded the few feet back to the shoreline. It was nearly three o'clock and the drive home would take a good two hours. Picking up her shoes, she started up the path to the parking area, sand sifting between her toes.

At the edge of the parking lot she exchanged pleasantries with a newly-arrived woman taking a striped beach chair from the trunk of a green SUV. Half an hour down the road, after a stop in Mystic for an ice cream cone, her eye caught on two green vehicles parked side by side. A striped beach chair showed through the rear window of the one on the right.


East 46th Street, New York
3:30 p.m.

"We have some news," the broad man said, clearing his throat and bringing the meeting in the dimly lit room to order.

"About?" someone asked.

"Fox Mulder. Or I should say, about his sister." He paused a moment and glanced around the room. "On Thursday a box of human remains was delivered to Mulder's old partner, Dana Scully. As you know, she recently returned to teaching at Quantico. The box contained a cryptic note suggesting that Mulder might want the contents now that our old colleague Spender is dead. Scully examined the evidence and immediately requested a DNA typing on the remains. The results came in late yesterday." He paused. "They were as she suspected: the remains of Mulder's sister Samantha."

"And this affects us how?" asked the bearded man.

"Mulder's choice of career path was strongly influenced by his sister's disappearance," the thin, silver-haired man said. "On several occasions he used the influence of his position on the X-files to try to find out what had happened to her, absent any related case assignment. It's possible this turn of events could impact his investment in opposing us. We intercepted a phone call between Scully and Mulder yesterday."

He glanced at the broad man, who pushed the button on a small audio player.

SCULLY: Mulder, it's me. [pause] How are things going with you?

MULDER: I dunno, Scully. Not so great at the moment, I guess. I've sort of been in limbo lately. Takes a while to get your sea legs, I guess, switching from one thing to another."

SCULLY: Mulder, I received a package two days ago. There was a note inside indicating that you might be interested in the contents, so I examined them right away."

MULDER: What was in there?

SCULLY: [begins hesitantly after a pause] Bones, Mulder. Human bones, and a number of strands of hair. They were [another pause, after which she speaks quietly] not large enough to be from the body of an adult. They'd come from someone roughly between the ages of thirteen and sixteen.

MULDER: [silence at first] Scully... Oh, God. [another pause] Is this going where I think it is?

SCULLY: I'm afraid so, Mulder. I ordered a DNA panel as soon as I could. The results came back late last night. It's your sister. [pause] I'm so sorry, Mulder. So very sorry.

MULDER: [a few squeaking sounds are heard, then sniffing noises] Where...? Where did this package come from, Scully? Who sent it? [his voice is breathy]

SCULLY: I don't know. The note with it is typewritten, but there's no signature... And no fingerprints, either; I checked. The box was sent from one of those mailbox stores in a town called Lincoln, California. Evidently it's east of Sacramento.

MULDER: [more breathy noises] But... The note, Scully. What does it say?

SCULLY: It says, "Now that he's gone, I guess Mulder can have these. Give him some peace of mind." [short pause] It sounds like someone with a connection to the Smoking Man.

MULDER: Either someone Smoky asked to send them after he was gone, or... [a sigh]... maybe someone who knew about this--knew where she was buried--who was at odds with him. What condition were the bones in, Scully? Are there any marks that give you any kind of clue about what happened to her? [another sniff]

SCULLY: They were clean. There were no animal marks, none of the kind of thing you'd find if the body had been lying out in the open. Also no sign of knives or bullet holes or shattering--nothing that could give a clear indicator of how she died. Mind you, this isn't a whole skeleton; there were only a few bones in the box, Mulder--a femur, part of a pelvis, most of the bones of a hand, though some were duplicates, so most likely parts of both hands. [pause] Mulder, I'm so sorry it's turned out this way after all you've done over the years to try to find her. I know you never gave up hope, and that this isn't the ending you'd hoped for... [voice trails off]

MULDER: [muffled noises again, followed by a raw voice] Can I see them, Scully? Can I go over them with you? I need to know what happened to her.

SCULLY: Well, they weren't sent here as part of any official case. I'll get back the samples I sent for the DNA test on Monday and then I can meet you, maybe after work--

MULDER: I'm going to have to tell my mother, Scully.

SCULLY: Yes. Yes, you are.

MULDER: This is going to crush her. Not that... I don't think she ever really thought she'd get Samantha back, but... God, Scully...

SCULLY: I'll request my samples back as soon as I get in in the morning. That way you'll have them and you and your mother can make plans... I imagine she may want to have some sort of a service, even at this late date..."

MULDER: I don't know, Scully. I just don't know...

The tape player was switched off. For a moment the room was silent. Finally the bearded man spoke.

"If he ends up too focused on this--"

"If he loses his concentration," someone else said, "Krycek may not want him as a partner. Inattention leads to critical errors."

"Can Krycek do what he intends without Mulder's help?"

"We don't actually know exactly what his goals are, do we?"

"To spite us. Revenge. He thought he'd come close to having us capitulate once. I'll venture to say that's eating him alive right now." This was followed by a low chuckle.

The broad man cleared his throat. Almost immediately the conversation around the table ceased.

"Mulder may just be a distraction," he said. "No matter what Mulder does, whether he plays a role here or not, our principal goal must be to find Alex Krycek... and eliminate him once and for all."


Cheyenne, Wyoming
4:08 p.m.

The girl sat beside the window, rocking slightly on her chair, watching trees stir and lean in the wind. Ever since they'd been here, the wind had been blowing, sometimes less, sometimes more. She'd seen plastic grocery bags and bits of paper fly by, harried birds struggling to keep their course, and clouds scudding quickly past, as if they were in a hurry to be somewhere they could float slowly and finally relax.

She herself had not been able to relax. Hours before they arrived here the feeling had started, the pull she'd sensed once before, as if there were somewhere she needed to be, or something she needed to find. It had only grown stronger since yesterday, and though she'd tried to be patient, to let it come close enough, like a little bird, that she could catch and identify it, the impulse had refused to reveal itself. Instead, it left her occasionally grasping her hands together, rocking slightly on the chair to offset the pull of it.

She turned now and looked around. The room seemed empty. She remembered Four coming in a while ago, talking with Eighteen and finally leaving again, a book of maps in his hand. Standing, she went around the end of the bed and looked toward the bathroom. A strip of brightness showed below the bathroom door. Going closer, she could hear the sound of water running in the shower. She walked to the front door, looked at the locks and stared at the puzzling glyphs on the notice beside them. Turning, she went back toward the shadowed sink area. She could feel the pull, as if it were in her bones, drawing her toward...

If only she could figure it out. Maybe the transmission would be clearer outside, beyond these walls.

Returning to the door, she set her hand on the knob and felt the smooth roundness under her fingers. Gradually she turned it. A gust of wind pushed the door toward her and she stepped outside. At the end of the building was a grove of trees. Smiling, she started toward it.


Elleryville, Pennsylvania
4:13 p.m.

Jean Meyer turned from the kitchen sink toward the sound of footsteps on the back porch. A moment later her husband appeared in the doorway. In one hand he carried a cabbage; in the other, a paper sack.

"Last one, Jean," he said, holding out the cabbage. It looked almost like a giant green flower.

"Good. I've had enough to last me for a while, anyway." She took it and set it beside the sink, where she'd been washing beets. She motioned toward the sack. "What's in the bag?"

"Fertlilzer," he said. "It's the last of the stuff Shirley had. Since that FBI woman took samples from the back garden, I've had this tickle in my head to get the stuff tested if I came across any more of it."

"Tested for what?"

"I have no idea. But there's been so much funny business associated with anything having to do with Keith that I figured..." He shrugged. "I know. It sounds crazy. But if the FBI thinks it's worth looking into, maybe there's something to it. I'm going to take this to Don at the extension office in the morning." He paused, glancing at the ceramic rooster on the counter, its colors lit up by the afternoon sun. "He'll probably tell me I'm nuts, but I figure it can't hurt to check it. At least it'll get rid of this little whisper in my head."

Jean shook a finger at him. "You're starting to sound like Tracy, you know that, Nathan?"


Cheyenne, Wyoming
4:16 p.m.

The girl wandered down the sidewalk, looking at door after identical door set into the red brick of the building. There were cars in the parking area--white cars, silver cars, red ones, some black--but there was no sign of the familiar blue one. Three children ran past her, laughing, followed by a set of parents in matching striped shirts, their hemlines flapping in the wind. Her heart had begun to race. She had no idea where she was. She'd ask for help, except that when she tried to talk, what came out were strange sounds rather than actual words. And what was the number of their room? Had she ever known it? Even if she had, the frustrating symbols on the doors she passed meant nothing to her. It was as if they were blurred and no matter how much she squinted, they refused to come into focus.

At the end of the passage stood a cluster of fir trees. She'd been to them before, hoping the pull she felt would become clearer there, but in actuality the sensation was all around--everywhere, and yet nowhere she could pinpoint. She stepped into the shelter of the trees, looked up and hesitated. This grove wasn't the same. There were, after all, nearly-identical buildings all around, and many stands of trees. It was like being dizzy, or walking through a dream.

A strong gust blew past her, pasting the fronts of her pants legs to her, making them flap out behind. The world started to spin. She shivered, reached for the rough trunk of the nearest tree, held on and closed her eyes. A low moan came from somewhere deep in her throat and slipped away on the wind.


Outside Boulder, Colorado
4:18 p.m.

At the top of the rise, Krycek paused, looking at the downward slope in front of him and below it, the start of the broad eastern plain. It was barren here, no pretense of lushness in spite of the sparse, still-green spring grasses, which would soon turn dry. There were scattered pines, a few outcropping of rocks, the odd yucca and on the downward slope, several deep crevices that no doubt carried the run-off of rain or snow melt.

By his best estimate, it was about a half-mile from here to the bunkhouse. He'd taken it easy, paced himself; there was no sense overdoing it at this point, when his recovery was finally coming along the way it should. Maybe he'd bring Mulder out here. It might be better than sitting around facing off inside, waiting for one of them to go over the edge when they could use their forward motion to wear off some of the tension.

Without warning, the scene in front of him began to spin; a second later he found himself sitting on the ground. It was happening again--the feel of her, but much stronger than it had been before, a surge of fear and desperation. Instinctively he closed his eyes and reached out...

But the next moment it was gone--the sudden feeling, the pressure. Dissipated as if it had never been. He glanced up and around. He'd landed awkwardly on his left ankle; hopefully he hadn't messed it up. Tentatively he rocked to the side, set the foot on the ground beneath him, put pressure on it carefully. A little protest, but nothing too bad. He paused, giving himself a minute, focusing out on the flatlands. Inside, a slow wave of adrenaline rolled through him.

It was like the period after the silo all over again. Then it had been the flashbacks of the Oil, like a bomb strapped to him, ready to go off without warning. Now it was this... residue, this... whatever it was of her. Some new, cruel trick his mind was playing.

Betraying him. Which was the last thing he needed.


Cheyenne, Wyoming
4:21 p.m.

Four hurried toward the cry he'd felt. It had been no more than five minutes since Eighteen had called him, disturbed to find the front door standing open and the female gone when she'd gotten out of the shower. The girl had presented no real problem before, but she'd been more restless the last three days, rocking subtly on her chair, making occasional humming noises. His own mind had obviously been elsewhere, because at the time he hadn't thought to stop and probe the cause.

Rounding the end of the building, he circled to the right and slipped into a large stand of trees at the edge of the complex's golf course. Threading his way among them, he spotted a set of pale arms grasping a fir tree's trunk.

"It's alright," he said, approaching her with his most soothing voice. "I've found you."

Touching her shoulder, he was surprised to see her let go of the tree nearly immediately. She turned and rested her head against his jacket. "You must not do this again," he said quietly. "Everything will be alright now."

He set a hand gently on her shoulder and guided her toward the building. "We will get you to where you want to go," he said, "but you must have patience."

Back inside the room, he watched as Eighteen cleaned the girl's face with a warm washcloth and coaxed her into bed. Once he was in his own room, out of the potential reach of the girl's mind, he would reach out and determine the cause of this, though he already suspected the reason. The girl had obviously established some type of psychic link between herself and Alex Krycek. Likely, he wasn't far away.


Mulder's rented room, Georgetown
8:49 p.m.

"It's too bad you don't have a bigger room, Mulder," Scully said, leaning back into the pillow and looking up at the ceiling.

"I didn't know I was going to be stuck here, hiding out from the Legion of Evil. Then again," he said, reaching out to lift a lock of hair away from her cheek, "we only tend to use the bed."

"Maybe that's because the bed is all there is."

He pushed up on one elbow. "You complaining?"

She smiled slightly and reached for his hand. "No. I think I've needed the closeness, especially this last day or so." She paused. After a moment she bit her lip.

"What?" he said.

"There's no way of knowing how long we may have to keep up this ruse"--she pulled up and sat cross-legged beside him--"that you've become obsessed with your sister's death, that it's divided us."

He settled his head against her leg. "At least there's a back way between your place and mine."

"True. Except that you're going to be out of town so much. This trip to Sacramento." She ran a hand through his hair. "Then San Diego. There's no telling--. And Mom will be gone. Not that she's always been a support in this, although she tries."

"You mean when Bill's not around to poison her view of things? Of you?" He looked up at her.

"Yes. I suppose. Mulder, it seemed like she was finally starting to see who I am--who we are, and what we do, the value of it--"

Her jaw set. He reached up and smoothed a drop of water from the corner of her eye.

"You've got to be who you are, Scully. You can't live your life waiting for other people to approve of you. Hell, I should know."

"But your mother finally came around."

"Yeah, but not through anything I did or said to her." He paused, a sudden picture of a darkened bedroom in the Reston house filling his mind. "She had to come to that herself... one way or the other. Anyway"--he pushed up on one elbow--"you're not alone. You've got me. We've got each other."

"But you'll be gone."

"Hey," he said, pulling up, settling himself behind her and pulling her back against him. He wrapped his arms around her."We've been split up before. We've always found our way back, right? Distance is hard, sure. But what we've got trumps that."

Her head came back to rest against his chest.  Quiet filled the small room.

"I don't think I ever told you this, Mulder, but after you went missing... in that train car on the Navajo reservation... I saw you. It was a dream, or a vision, or something. It was what gave me the conviction to tell your mother you'd be okay."

"It wasn't a vision, Scully. It was me. I wanted you to know that."

She turned to look up at him. "But how can that be? How can it happen?"

He shook his head, smiling. "You mean, how can something actually happen if it defies the laws of physics? Maybe it's like you said once. Maybe it's just one of those things we don't understand yet."

(End Chapter 8)

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