Blood Ties V: Legacies(1/3)
"And the crowd goes wild!"
Bent over and panting with his hands braced on his knees, Mulder
regarded Grey's victory dance with wry amusement. Straightening
up, he used the bottom of his sweatshirt to swipe the perspiration
from his face.
"Didn't your mother ever give you the talk on being a poor
winner?" he asked dryly.
Grey favored him with a large grin, spinning the basketball
expertly on the tip of his index finger. "How many times have I put
up with losing to you? At last, my reputation has been vindicated!"
"Yeah, yeah," Mulder said, slouching off the court. "I think this is
what's known as 'dumb luck.'"
"If you say so, little brother," Grey replied smugly as he fell into
step with Mulder. "I prefer to think of it as a return to the natural
"Speaking of nature," Mulder said, waggling his eyebrows.
What's up with Agent Harding?"
"Nice segue," Grey snorted, shooting him a sharp look.
"Thanks. You going to answer the question?"
Grey sighed deeply and tipped his head back to gaze up into the
darkened sky. The city lights obscured many of the stars, but a
nearly full moon illuminated the clear November evening. Kate
had loved the fall with the passion of a child -- raking piles of
brightly colored leaves only to scatter them with a belly flop,
carving pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns, evenings sipping tea in
front of the fireplace.
"You aren't thinking of Kristen, are you?" Mulder asked quietly.
Grey dribbled the basketball, the thwack, thwack of vinyl against
pavement soothing to his suddenly restless spirit.
"Kristen is terrific. She's beautiful, and smart, and fun to be with."
Grey caught the ball and tucked it up under his left arm, running
the fingers of his right hand through his damp hair. "But when I'm
with her... This is hard, Fox," he said abruptly, frustration written
in the clench of his jaw.
"I know. Take your time."
Grey sucked in a long draught of air and blew it out slowly. "I
thought I was over the hard part, that I'd weathered the worst of the
pain from losing Kate. But dating Kristen -- it's like someone
sharpened the knife. I'll be with her, having a great time, and then
-- God, it sounds so cold, but I find myself comparing her to Kate
"And she doesn't measure up," Mulder finished gently. "Try not to
beat yourself up over it, Grey, it's a completely normal reaction.
Grief is a process, you can't rush it no matter how much you might
"It's not fair to Kristen, though," Grey pointed out, shoulders
hunched guiltily. "I've considered breaking things off, telling her I
can't see her any more, but..."
Grey closed his eyes briefly, then turned to gaze at his brother.
"But I've been so damn lonely. And in spite of everything else, it
feels good to have someone in my life again." He shook his head
ruefully. "Pretty selfish, huh?"
"Depends. Have you talked to Kristen about what you've been
feeling?" Mulder asked carefully.
"Yeah, I've been up front from the beginning. She knows all about
Kate and she's been really understanding. Like I said, she's
Mulder shrugged. "Then I think you need to stop feeling guilty and
do the best you can to move forward -- whether that ultimately
means with Kristen or with someone else. You know, it isn't a
crime to be happy with someone who's not the least bit like Kate,
Grey's smile was pale but genuine. "Yeah, I know it's not a crime.
It's just difficult to accept. Can you honestly picture yourself with
anyone other than Dana?"
A kaleidoscope of images cascaded through his mind, melting
from one to the next. Phoebe Green, Bambi Berenbaum, Kristen
Kilar, Diana Fowley -- attractions that at best could be described as
empty, at worst painful. All insignificant sparks eclipsed by the
supernova that was his Scully.
"No," he admitted softly. "I guess I can't."
Grey's gaze softened. "I had what you have, Fox. Once you've
experienced it, you don't want to settle for less."
They arrived at Mulder's building and he fumbled his keys from
the pocket of his sweats. He started to slip one into the lock, but
paused. "What Scully and I have didn't happen overnight, Grey.
Give it a chance."
The tickle in the back of his throat hit just as the elevator doors
closed. Mulder braced one hand on the wall and surrendered
helplessly to the wave of dry, hacking coughs. They abated a bit by
the time the elevator reached his floor, though sporadically one
would sneak past his defenses.
"You all right?" Grey asked, concerned.
"I'm fine," Mulder assured him, blinking tears back. "It's just the
tail end of a cold that I can't seem to shake."
"Maybe we shouldn't have been shooting hoops like that, it is
pretty chilly out there," Grey persisted, still frowning.
"I said I'm fine. Really. I've already got Scully on my back about
this, I don't need you too," Mulder replied impatiently. He twirled
the keyring on his finger. "That is, unless you'd like to concede that
the only reason you beat me tonight was because I'm still under the
"Nice try, little brother."
Mulder opened the apartment door, emitting a waft of warm air
and a delicious smell. Scully stood at the stove, stirring the
contents of a large pot which seemed to be the origin of the mouth-
watering odor. Casually clad in jeans and a pale blue sweater, she
tucked a strand of copper hair behind one ear and flashed them a
"'Bout time, you two. That must have been some game."
Mulder glared at his brother and held up a warning finger. "Don't
Grey's eyes widened and he pressed one palm to his heart. "Me?
Joke about the fact that not only did I beat you, but by six points?
It never entered my mind, Fox."
"You are so not funny," Mulder grumbled, but any further response
was cut off by another series of coughs.
Scully's eyes narrowed and she set down the spoon and walked
"It just started!" he said defensively, holding up both hands as if to
ward her off.
Scully contented herself with folding her arms and glaring. Mulder
squirmed under the force of her gaze.
"Sculleee! I swear, I was fine until I came back inside. It was just
triggered by the switch from cold to warm air, I'll be fine in a
minute." His protest was unconvincingly punctuated by another
"He's right, Dana, he didn't cough while we were playing," Grey
spoke up when Scully looked less than satisfied.
She pursed her lips. "Fine. But if this thing hangs on much longer
Mulder, you *will* see a doctor. You've been nursing this cold for
"It's a deal. Now get back there and finish my dinner, woman!"
Mulder returned, pasting on a look of mock severity.
"Watch it, Mulder. That wasn't funny the first time," she warned,
but resumed her stirring.
"Smells delicious, Dana. What is it?" Grey asked curiously.
"Irish stew. My mother sent it. She knows it's one of the few ways
to get Mulder to consume vegetables. With all the gravy, he doesn't
really notice he's eating them."
"Ha, ha." Mulder growled.
"Well as the victor, I'm claiming the first shower," Grey
announced, ignoring his brother's rolled eyes. "Be out in a few."
When he'd ducked out of sight around the corner, Mulder moved to
stand behind Scully, slipping his arms around her waist and
leaning his chin on the top of her head. With a soft puff of air she
leaned back into his embrace.
"It does smell wonderful, babe," he said, tilting his head to press a
kiss to her temple. "Thanks for sharing."
Scully turned her own head to return the kiss on his lips. "I wasn't
kidding, Mulder. She makes this for you, not me. My mother has
made it her mission in life to help take care of you ever since..."
She faltered, then resumed cheerfully. "Anyway, what's mine is
yours -- within reason."
Mulder grinned and pulled her soft body closer to his own. "Same
here, Scully. I'd be glad to give you anything I've got," he said in
the husky voice he knew drove her crazy.
Her lips quirked. "Later, Mulder." Realizing she had the perfect
introduction for a topic that weighed heavily on her mind, Scully
plunged ahead. "Mulder, I noticed that your lease is coming due."
She didn't need to see his face; his entire body became rigid. Hurt
vied with annoyance and Scully struggled to smother them both.
"Yeah, next month," he said woodenly.
Scully lowered the flame on the burner and turned in his arms. Just
as she'd expected, his face was studiously blank. Times like these
she wondered what she was doing with this man whose mercurial
moods could shift in the blink of an eye. One moment he would
offer her his heart on a silver platter, the next, guard it as jealously
as a miser hoards his gold. Mulder was the first person to admit
that he carried a fair amount of baggage, and at times Scully found
the load almost unbearably heavy.
"I thought we'd discussed a more permanent solution to the living
arrangements," she said quietly. "It seems crazy to pay double rent
when we're essentially living together."
Mulder shrugged, his eyes skimming hers but never quite meeting
them. "I know what you're saying, Scully. I just don't think we
should rush into anything. Anyway, I'm not sure all our stuff would
fit into your place."
*Patience. Remember who you're talking to. The man has been
either emotionally or physically abandoned by everyone he's cared
Scully reached up to lay a hand on his cheek. "Mulder, we don't
have to live in my apartment. We can find someplace that belongs
to both of us. I don't really care where we live, as long as we're
Mulder pressed his own hand over hers, closing his eyes and
swallowing hard. When he opened them, she was stricken to see
fear mingling with love in the hazel depths.
"I want that too, Scully," he murmured. "I just need a little time to
get used to the idea."
With a soft exhalation of resignation, Scully slipped her arms
around his waist and leaned her cheek against his chest. The
sweatshirt was soft under her cheek, the faint smell of his sweat
mixed with the residue of his cologne oddly comforting.
"Take all the time you need, love. Just don't shut me out."
Mulder's answer, another kiss pressed to her forehead, was
followed by Grey's reappearance in the kitchen doorway.
"Go," Scully urged, sending Mulder an unspoken look of
reassurance when he gazed uncertainly into her eyes. "Dinner will
be ready in five minutes so make it fast."
He touched two fingers to his brow in a mock salute before
squeezing past Grey, who was lounging against the doorframe.
"Can I help, Dana?"
Scully smiled warmly. "You could pour our drinks. I'll have water
and I'm sure Mulder will want iced tea."
Another series of barking coughs erupted from the direction of the
bedroom and Grey watched Scully tense. Pulling three glasses out
of the cupboard he crossed to the freezer for ice.
"You're worried about Fox's cough," he observed.
Scully pursed her lips and somewhat reluctantly nodded. "Not
specifically the cough. His health in general, I guess."
"Why? What's going on?"
Scully hesitated, casting a guilty look at the doorway before
answering. "It's hard to put a label to it. He never really bounced
back after his injuries from Cole. He's had one illness after
"Well, it *is* the cold and flu season now," Grey remarked.
"Yes, but Mulder is normally disgustingly healthy. And it's more
than that. His energy level is all wrong. You know what an
insomniac the man is, but lately he's just the opposite. He's conked
out on the couch after dinner on more nights than I can count, and I
still have to practically drag him out of bed in the morning."
Grey studied Scully's troubled face. "You've confronted him about
Scully snorted and rolled her eyes. "You saw him just now. He
refuses to acknowledge even the possibility that something could
be wrong. We've had more than one discussion turn into a fight
about this. He claims it's just job stress and he needs a vacation."
"Maybe he's right. Maybe some time off would take care of
everything," Grey replied reasonably. "I'll agree, he looks a little
tired. But you have to admit, Dana, that as a doctor you may be
more apt to suspect the worst."
Scully sighed, then managed a little grin. "I'm not used to the voice
of reason coming from a Mulder. Thanks for providing a sounding
board. Mulder and I have both put in for vacation time over
Thanksgiving. I hope it will do the trick."
She peered into the pot and glanced at the clock, frowning. "This is
ready and I still haven't heard the shower. Would you please find
out what he's up to?"
She chuckled quietly to herself as Grey left the kitchen, muttering
good-naturedly about being his brother's keeper. She extracted
three bowls from the cupboard and lined them up on the counter,
using a ladle to fill the first with some stew. She was just filling the
third when Grey returned, his expression troubled.
"What's the matter? Is he almost ready?" Scully asked, brow
creasing in confusion.
"Umm. I'm not sure what you want me to do. Come see for
yourself," Grey replied uneasily.
Fine tendrils of dread twisted in Scully's stomach as she followed
Grey out of the kitchen to the bedroom. The sight that met her eyes
did nothing to ease her disquiet.
Mulder lay sprawled on the bed, sound asleep and oblivious to the
illumination flooding the room from several lamps. It appeared
he'd been in the process of stripping for his shower -- his shirt
tossed carelessly on the floor and both running shoes lying beside
his feet where his legs folded over the end of the bed. Face slack
with slumber, his breathing deep and even, he didn't twitch when
Scully walked over to lay the back of her hand against his
"I noticed he felt a little warm when I touched him earlier, but I
didn't mention it," she murmured. She grimaced. "It didn't seem
worth a fight."
"Should we just let him sleep?"
Scully nodded, pulling an afghan from the back of a chair and
covering Mulder's bare torso, gently tucking his arms underneath.
Mulder mumbled something unintelligible, then quieted when she
stroked his cheek. After turning off two of the three lights she
slipped out of the room, leaving the door ajar.
Grey had collected his bowl and glass and seated himself at the
kitchen table. She joined him, but found her appetite had deserted
her. Grey watched her stare blankly at her stew for several minutes
"Would you like me to put his in the oven?"
Scully shook her head, dismayed to find she was precariously close
to tears. "I'll just cover it up and he can nuke it. I'll wake him in an
hour if he doesn't surface on his own. He needs to eat."
Grey detected the tremor in her voice and reached out to lay his
hand over hers. "Dana, don't make more of this than it is. He's been
under the weather and I probably just wore him out playing ball.
I'll talk to him tomorrow, see if I can convince him to get checked
Scully blinked rapidly, then managed a real smile. "Thanks, Grey.
I'd appreciate that."
Grey held up a hand. "Hey, I didn't say he'd *listen*! But I'll give it
my best shot. In the meantime, you need to eat too, darlin'."
Spirits a little lighter, Scully picked up her spoon. But the stew
tasted like sand, and the little voice in the back of her mind refused
to be silenced.
Scully was a creature of habit. Mulder lay in bed, resisting the pull
of sleep and watching the nightly routine with heavy lidded eyes.
She completed each step in strict order -- use bathroom, don
pajamas, wash face, brush teeth. Mulder noted with fascination that
teeth never came before face, pajamas before bathroom. Crazy as it
might sound, he found comfort in that small stability amidst the
flux of his life.
Scully pulled back the covers, letting in a brief puff of cold air
before she climbed under and moved to snuggle up against his
warm body. Not too warm, she observed -- the Tylenol she'd
forced down him earlier must have done the trick. Mulder's right
arm curled around her body to cup her shoulder while his other
hand sifted lazily through the silky strands of her hair. The
tightness in her chest loosened a bit further and she sighed
"Grey settled?" Mulder asked, his voice sounding as sleepy as his
"Mmhm. I feel kind of sorry for him on that couch, though. If you
had a little more space you could trade that thing in for a sofa bed -
- he visits often enough."
The remark was meant innocently, but the muscles in his arm
coiled in response. "More space, Scully? As in a different
Scully turned her head, propping her chin on his chest to glare at
him in annoyance. "I said to take all the time you need, Mulder. It
was just a simple observation -- no secret agenda."
Mulder searched her face, then relaxed, a look of contrition
replacing wariness. "Okay. I guess I know that," he admitted
softly. Feeling awkward, he added, "I wouldn't worry about Grey,
that couch is very comfortable. I used to sleep on it all the time."
Still irritated, Scully didn't answer and the silence stretched long
and empty between them. If not for the continuous movement of
his fingers in her hair, Scully might have thought Mulder had
fallen asleep. He finally spoke, his voice the carefully controlled
monotone used to mask deep emotion.
"After Sam's abduction, I think my parents wished I would just
disappear. Maybe because they blamed me for allowing it to
happen, maybe because seeing my face was too painful a reminder
of what they'd lost -- hell, maybe because I drove them crazy by
trying too hard to make up for what I perceived as my own
failure." Mulder's chest lurched in a humorless laugh. "Whatever
the reason, I think my father's favorite phrase became, 'Get the hell
out of my face, Fox.'"
Scully squeezed her eyes shut to stem the flood of tears and
pressed her lips tightly together. Though she longed to blurt out
words of comfort, she knew they would only succeed in shutting
Mulder down. Instead she pulled his hand from her shoulder and
laced her fingers with his.
"I guess I was pretty vulnerable emotionally when I met Phoebe,
and she didn't hesitate to take advantage. All I knew was that for
the first time in about as long as I could remember, somebody paid
attention when I walked into the room. I fell hard, and when she
suggested that we move in together, I couldn't believe my luck.
Unfortunately for me, Phoebe possessed a remarkably short
attention span when it came to the men in her life. Six months later
I was left holding a lease I couldn't afford and Phoebe had
assuaged her boredom with Ian Thorne, her political science
Mulder sighed, gazing bemusedly at Scully's thumb as it traced
hieroglyphics on the back of his hand. "Diana.."
He broke off abruptly when Scully's soft body turned rigid in his
arms. Cursing her involuntary reaction to the name, Scully forced
herself to relax.
"Go on," she urged, her voice as warm and comforting as a child's
"When I met Diana, I was still in pieces from my stint in VICAP. I
hadn't tumbled into the abyss, but by the time I quit, my toes were
hanging so far over the edge I could barely retain my balance.
Diana was the first person besides Reggie Perdue that didn't look at
me as though I might start foaming at the mouth while spouting
divine oracles. She was by my side when I opened the X-Files and
she believed in the work."
*And in you* Scully thought to herself.
"It wasn't the wild ride I'd experienced with Phoebe, but in many
ways it was better," Mulder continued. "Diana provided
a...stability to my life that I desperately needed. I don't think either
of us would have classified what we felt as love, but I never
expected her to leave the way she did. One day we were sharing an
office and a bed, the next she'd joined Anti-Terrorism and was
packing her bags for Europe."
"Did she tell you why?" Scully asked, curbing with difficulty the
boiling fury his words inspired.
Mulder shrugged, his face displaying only self-deprecation. "She
said she couldn't continue as things were, that she needed a
change." He snorted derisively. "It was her kind way of telling me
she was tired of my shit."
"Are you sensing a pattern here, Scully? Do I really need to draw
you a picture?" he interrupted sharply. "I have failed miserably at
every significant relationship in my life. I don't want to screw this
Scully regarded him solemnly, reaching her free hand up to brush a
lock of hair from eyes slate gray with misery. "You won't."
Mulder's eyes, which had slipped shut at her touch, popped open in
a fierce glare. "I appreciate the vote of confidence, Scully. But you
don't *know* that."
Though her heart still ached from his revelation, Scully mustered a
genuine smile. The full effect was only slightly marred by the
quivering of her lower lip. "But I do. Mulder, you've been a major
force in my life for six years. We've worked, played, laughed,
cried, lost family members, gained family members, and faced
death on more occasions than I care to admit. I've seen your shit,
Mulder." Her smile widened to a grin. "And perhaps more
importantly, you've seen mine. I'm not going anywhere, love. I'm
right where I want to be."
In one swift motion Mulder rolled her beneath his body, covering
her lips in a passionate kiss. Chuckling, then moaning, Scully
slipped her arms around his neck and her fingers into his hair.
Mulder kissed her slowly and thoroughly, working his way along
her jaw to the spot behind her ear that drove her crazy and then up
to press his lips tenderly to her forehead before leaning his own
"I love you so much, Scully," he whispered, his voice drenched
with the wonder of a man witnessing a miracle. "I've never felt this
way about anyone. This is it for me, all I've ever wanted. Please
don't let me ruin it."
Scully swallowed the lump in her throat, pulling him into another
kiss before tucking his head under her chin. "Not an option,
Mulder," she husked, still running her fingers through his hair. "I
can be pretty stubborn once I've made up my mind."
He chuffed silent laughter that melded into a yawn. "Yeah. I've
noticed, babe -- ow!"
Scully smirked, releasing the hunk of hair she'd just pulled and
resuming her gentle stroking. Mulder's fingers slipped under her
pajama top to reciprocate on the soft skin of her stomach.
"A place of our own could be nice," he mumbled.
It was the closest thing to a concession she was going to get
tonight. Scully pressed a kiss to the crown of his head but said
nothing. Eventually his fingers faltered and his body grew heavier
against hers as he slipped into slumber. Scully closed her eyes and
Grey listened to sharp, hacking coughs coupled with the hiss of the
shower for several minutes before setting down the newspaper and
moving into the kitchen. By the time he'd fixed a cup of coffee,
Fox had emerged from the bathroom dressed in faded jeans and a
heather gray tee shirt. As he handed over the mug, Grey noted
uneasily that the color of the shirt only accentuated the pallor of his
"Thanks. Where's Scully?" Fox asked, sinking onto the couch and
filching the comics from the pile.
"She had to run by her apartment for something. Said she'd be back
in a few with some bagels." Grey chewed his lip a moment, then
forged ahead when Mulder unsuccessfully attempted to smother a
cough. "That doesn't sound good, Fox."
Fox didn't look up from the Peanuts cartoon he was perusing. "It's
just bad first thing in the morning. It'll slack off."
"A month is a long time to be under the weather, little brother.
Why don't you just go see a doctor and get checked out?"
Fox looked up through narrowed eyes to study his face, then
groaned. "No. Please. Not you too! Scully's been after you, hasn't
she? She's turned you to the dark side."
"That's not funny, Fox, she's worried about you," Grey
admonished, but his lips twitched in amusement.
"I know she is, but it isn't necessary. I had a bad cold and it's
taking me a long time to kick it. Period. It's just a little cough,
Scully is over-reacting."
"Fox, you passed out on the bed at seven o'clock last night and we
had to wake you up so you could eat! And in spite of that you were
still out cold when Dana left this morning! You have to admit
that's not exactly your style."
"So I'm a little run down! I seem to remember you getting on my
back because I didn't sleep enough, now I sleep too much!" Fox
slapped the mug down on the coffee table and leaned back with his
arms folded defensively across his chest.
Grey curbed his own frustration and tried a different tack. "I don't
get why this is such a big deal. Dana's worried. Is it too much to
ask you to see a doctor just to ease her mind?" he asked
His brother heaved a longsuffering sigh and leaned forward,
elbows propped on his knees and face buried in his hands. After a
moment he looked up, and Grey was relieved to see the petulant
"No, it isn't too much. I just don't want to make something out of
nothing," Fox replied. He took a deep breath, then blew it out.
"Look, I'm just not used to dealing with other people's opinions
when it comes to running my life. Mom and Dad checked out of
the decision-making process right after Samantha's abduction and
I've been on my own ever since.
Grey nodded slowly, reflecting on his words. "Fox, how did you
feel when Dana was sick? Didn't you want to be involved in her
He'd obviously poked an old wound. His brother's fingers curled
into fists and he scowled. "But I wasn't. Scully refused to admit
when she was tired or hurting. All she would tell me was that she
More than one previously fuzzy conversation snapped into sharp
focus but Grey concentrated on his current epiphany. "So ... what?
You're going to give her a taste of her own medicine now? Is that
"No!" Fox protested, but Grey could see that he was shaken by the
thought. "No, I love her, I would never deliberately..."
"Maybe it's not deliberate, Fox, maybe you're not even aware
you're doing it. But it would be understandable. It's not easy to
hand the keys over to someone else -- believe me, I know! But
sometimes it's part of loving them."
Fox's gaze was searching. "Kate?"
Grey licked his lips. "Yeah. In my case it was the reverse of what
you're facing. It's all relative, all give and take. You've got to
weigh the price for you against the benefit to the one you love. I
finally realized that respecting Kate's wishes was the right thing to
do. It cost me so little compared to what she gained."
Fox closed his eyes, his steepled fingers tapping nervously across
his lips. Grey knew he was thinking of Dana and the many times
she'd supported him despite her own doubts. After a moment he
opened them and cocked an eyebrow.
"You should've been a lawyer," he growled. "You certainly know
how to build a case."
Gotcha! Grey crowed internally, but he merely stretched and
regarded his brother gravely. "Nah. I don't like people interrupting
me when I'm on a roll."
"Very funny. I guess I could make an appointment to get checked
out next week," Fox grumbled. "Happy now?"
Grey favored him with a Cheshire cat grin. "Doesn't matter how
*I* feel, little brother. What matters is that *Dana* will be happy."
He waggled his eyebrows.
Fox rolled his eyes and returned to the comics, ignoring Grey's
jibe, but a slight curve at the corners of his mouth gave him away.
"Fox, have you seen my keys?"
Mulder, seated at the computer reading his email and chuckling
quietly to himself, looked up just in time to catch the flash of a
blue oxford shirt as his brother disappeared into the kitchen.
Before he could open his mouth to reply Grey was back, fingers
absently fastening the buttons at his collar while his eyes roamed
the living room.
"Thought you left them in your jacket pocket," he remarked, lips
curved in amusement as Grey darted to the wooden coatrack and
began patting down the pockets of his tan jacket. With a small
grunt of satisfaction he pulled out a keyring and, after a moment's
hesitation, gripped it between his teeth and began using his freed
hands to tuck the shirt into his pants while ducking into the
"What's with him?" Scully asked, tossing the medical journal she'd
been reading onto the coffee table.
"Hot date," Mulder smirked. When Scully narrowed her eyes he
added, "He's running late. Kristen is expecting him in twenty-five
minutes and he's never going to make it."
"You shouldn't have kept him out so long, Mulder," Scully said
reprovingly. "What were you two doing all afternoon?"
Mulder shrugged, eyes darting between Scully and the computer.
"Went to the gym, got sucked into a pick-up game." His eyes
moved rapidly across the screen and he snickered again.
"Mulder, *what* is so funny? You've been awfully entertained by
"It's from the Gunmen. Frohike sent me an article that claims talk
shows are actually the encoded broadcasts of alien infiltrators."
Scully pursed her lips thoughtfully. "Well, Jerry Springer always
has given me the impression he doesn't belong on this planet," she
Mulder grinned, delighted by her response. "You watch Jerry
Grey's reappearance aborted her answer. With his shirt now neatly
tucked into a pair of khaki pants and loafers on his feet, only his tie
still hung askew, looped through his collar but unknotted. "I'm
outta here," he announced, snatching his jacket from its hook.
"You're going to freeze in that thing, you know," Mulder observed
calmly, turning in his chair. "It's going to get into the thirties
Grey shrugged. "Can't be helped. I always forget it can be colder
up here. I'll be fine."
Mulder sighed in resignation. "Take my leather jacket, it's right
there. Scully and I aren't planning to go out anyway."
Grey hesitated. "You sure?"
"You're already taking my car, why not the clothes off my back?"
"Well, when you put it *that* way..."
Grey replaced his own jacket and snagged his brother's, spinning to
head for the door.
"Wait!" Scully called.
When he turned back, raising a questioning eyebrow she got up
from her seat on the couch and moved quickly over to stand in
front of him. Taking hold of the tastefully understated tie (*didn't
borrow this from Mulder* she reflected with a small smile) she
deftly knotted it, smoothing the ends. After appraising him for a
moment with a critical eye, Scully nodded in satisfaction.
When she raised her eyes to his, the depth of his emotion surprised
her. "It's been a long time since a pretty lady did that for me," he
said quietly, leaning over to give her a peck on the cheek. "Thanks,
"My pleasure," Scully replied warmly. "Have a good time."
"But not *too* good," Mulder chimed in, waggling his eyebrows.
"We expect you to conduct yourself as a perfect gentleman at all
"I'm from the South, little brother," Grey retorted, opening the
door. "We invented the concept."
Once the door closed Scully walked over to Mulder, already
immersed in his email. She regarded him silently for a moment,
then swung her leg over his and settled herself into his lap, facing
him with her arms draped loosely around his neck and effectively
blocking the screen.
Mulder blinked, a wide smile spreading slowly across his face.
"Grey is taking Kristen to that nice little Italian place and then to a
concert, Mulder," Scully said, schooling her expression to hide her
smile. "What are we doing tonight?"
Mulder bit the inside of his lip. "Pizza and a video?"
She heaved an exaggerated sigh. "Six months, Mulder. It's barely
been six months and the only plans you have for us on a Saturday
night are carryout pizza and renting a video?"
His smile turned decidedly lecherous. "'Course not, babe. I'm full
of plans for us."
Scully rolled her eyes. "I walked right into that one, didn't I?"
Mulder just leaned his forehead against hers. "Some fettuccini
Alfredo from Maggiano's? Maybe a bottle of wine, candles, and
Scully turned her head to nuzzle his cheek. "Good plan, Mulder.
Very good plan."
En route to Bethesda
When the engine began to hiccup, Grey groaned aloud. If
everything had proceeded according to plan, he'd be pulling up
outside Kristen's townhouse right now, watching her open the door
to reveal the smile that always made his heart speed up with
conflicting emotions. Funny how even after all this time it was
hard to shake the feeling he was cheating on Kate. Especially
considering his certainty that Kate would have wanted this for him,
encouraged him to find happiness with someone else.
He'd never tell his brother, of course, but sometimes being around
Fox and Dana provoked a near-physical pain. It hit him at odd
times, the little things that more clearly than words testified to the
devotion between them. The way his thumb lingered on her cheek
when he tucked a strand of copper hair behind her ear. The
blinding smile she never bestowed on anyone else. The joining of
their eyes that managed to convey an almost embarrassing depth of
intimacy without a single touch. Grey rejoiced at his brother's
happiness even as he ached with the reminder of all he'd lost. In
this, as in many ways, making Fox a part of his life was a
The car, sounding more and more like an asthmatic in the throes of
an attack, gave a final, violent jolt and died. Cursing under his
breath, Grey managed to coax the vehicle over to the side of the
road before it glided to a standstill. Wishing he'd listened more
closely all the times he'd watched his dad work on the car, Grey
heaved the sigh of a martyr and pulled the lever to pop the hood.
"This has got to be your fault, Fox," he muttered, shivering at the
contrast between the warm car and the chill wind. "I'm not sure
how, but it stands to reason."
Traffic whizzed merrily past as Grey trudged to the front of the car
and raised the hood. Naturally, he'd come to a halt about halfway
between streetlights so that the engine was little more than a
confusing mass of shadows in the near darkness. The wind kicked
up a little and Grey flipped up the collar of the leather jacket,
breathing on his cupped hands for a few moments before
continuing his fruitless poking of the engine.
He'd just decided to throw in the towel and walk to the nearest
phone when a bright blaze of headlights spilled around the edges
of the raised hood and he heard the distinct crunch of tires on
gravel. Raising one hand in an attempt to shade his eyes from the
glare, Grey peered into the headlights that were quickly
extinguished a moment later. As his eyes struggled to adjust yet
again to the altered lighting, Grey could just make out a single
shadowy figure approaching at a leisurely pace.
"Trouble?" The voice was soft, muffled by the intermittent drone
Grey bent back over the engine, watching the stranger carefully
from the corner of his eye. The calm voice and relaxed manner
gave no indication of threat, but it never hurt to be cautious. He
thought longingly of the gun tucked into his duffel bag back at
Fox's apartment, then told himself he was catching his brother's
"Can I take a look?"
The stranger stopped when he drew abreast of the front tire,
leaving Grey plenty of space. No more than a silhouette in the
darkness, but roughly his own height and build, Grey noted. He
was clad in black jeans and a black leather jacket, hands stuffed
into the pockets and shoulders hunched against the cold. After only
a moment's indecision Grey shrugged, stepping back and gesturing
with a sweep of his hand.
"Take your best shot."
The man chuckled quietly and bent over the engine. Grey's tension
eased at the show of faith. Whoever this Good Samaritan was, he
trusted enough to turn his back on a stranger. Grey's gaze
alternated between the man's back and his watch, wondering idly if
Kristen would have begun to worry.
"Here's your problem," the man said after a moment, beckoning
with a tilt of his head. "Take a look."
Grey stepped up and leaned over, squinting to make out what the
stranger's finger indicated. "You lost this belt. See?"
Grey snorted. "In this light? Not really."
The stranger released a small puff of air that must have been a
laugh. "Feel right here."
Grey obligingly reached out, his fingers contacting the frayed ends
of something. Before his brain could register the sensation,
however, something sharp bit into the skin of his wrist.
"OW! What the hell was that?" he cried, pulling his arm out as if it
were on fire and tilting it to catch the light. A small drop of blood
oozed over the pulse point.
"You all..." The stranger had also straightened up, revealing green
eyes and a slight smile. His words cut off abruptly and his eyes
widened in shock, then narrowed in anger. "What the... You're not
Grey opened his mouth to retort but a sudden wave of dizziness
blurred the man's face to little more than a pale oval in the
darkness. He staggered, grabbing onto the car with one hand
and shaking his head in an attempt to clear it.
"Whaddare you talkin' about?" he demanded, the words slurring on
his suddenly thick tongue. "'M not Fox, 'm his brother."
Forcing the words out only exacerbated his disorientation, and
Grey's limbs began to feel leaden and disconnected from his body.
Despite his iron grip on the car his knees buckled. Spitting out
words in a foreign language that could only be curses, the man
caught Grey by his jacket and hauled him upright. Unfortunately,
supporting Grey's nearly dead weight proved to be a challenge. The
stranger stumbled, flinging his right hand out to steady himself and
tearing his black leather glove on something sharp in the process.
He propped Grey against the car and scrutinizing his features.
Grey struggled to keep his eyes open, the small corner of his brain
not fogged with whatever drug he'd been given shrieking that he
was in deep trouble. The man uttered a few more epithets in what
sounded like Russian, then his lips twisted into a sardonic grin and
"Damn it, Mulder! You wind up causing me trouble without even
"Who. Are. You." Sheer force of will kept him conscious - the
words sticking in his mouth like peanut butter.
The answering curve of the stranger's lips could hardly be called a
smile. "I used to be your brother's partner," he said flatly, the
words coming to Grey as if from the end of a dark tunnel. "You
can call me Alex."
Grey's eyes slipped shut and he slid into the darkness.
"Have a seat, Alex."
Krycek shut the door and crossed to stand before the man seated
in a plush armchair. "I'd rather stand," he replied insolently, the
slouch in his body clearly conveying his disrespect.
The speaker merely regarded him calmly with steel gray eyes,
removing the cigarette from his lips and expelling a long puff of
smoke. "Sit down."
Though the decibel level didn't change, the implied threat was
obvious. Gritting his teeth, Krycek sat stiffly in the proffered
"Would you care to explain to me why I sent you to fetch one
Mulder and you came back with another?" the smoker asked
"I thought it *was* Mulder," Krycek growled. "I didn't realize it
was his brother until I'd already drugged him, and by then it was
Another long pull on the cigarette and a leisurely exhale. "So you
decided to add insult to injury and bring him here."
Krycek lunged forward, the hand that was still able clenched into
a fist. "Look, what do you want me to say? He came out of
*Mulder's* apartment, got into *Mulder's* car - hell, he was even
wearing *Mulder's* jacket! In the darkness he's a dead ringer for
him. I had two choices - either dump him in the car and risk
Mulder catching on to what happened or bring him here. You've
had McKenzie under surveillance for nearly two months. Are you
really going to tell me you didn't intend to test him sooner or
"According to *my* timetable, Krycek, not as a result of your
bungled attempt to complete the required task," CSM replied
coolly, his voice silk over steel. "The problem with Mulder
remains unresolved, and time is of the essence. His brother could
Krycek bared his teeth in the parody of a smile. "Maybe you can
The smoker ignored his jibe. "How certain are you that no one saw
Krycek shrugged. "It *was* the side of a highway. But traffic was
light and he did me the favor of not stopping under a streetlight. He
was too surprised to put up a fight, and I'm reasonably certain no
one saw me put him in the car."
"You'll pardon me if I derive little comfort from your assurances,"
CSM remarked dryly. He leaned over and stubbed out the butt of
his cigarette in a crystal ashtray. "See that he's settled in the blue
Krycek felt the cold gaze follow him to the doorway, heard the
snick of a lighter as the old man lit another Morely. His hand
twitched with the desire to reach for the gun in the waistband of his
jeans and end this charade of cooperation. With effort, he cooled
his temper and common sense won out. Now was not the time, but
eventually that day would come.
Scully followed the fragrance of garlic and oregano and the
muffled sound of coughing into the kitchen. Mulder, just returned
from picking up their dinner, had relegated to her the task of
choosing some music and sent her into the living room. In the
meantime, he'd transformed the kitchen table with candles and a
rose. She stepped through the doorway just in time to catch him
covering his mouth with the back of his arm in a vain attempt to
stifle his hacking.
"I told you I should be the one to get the food. That jacket wasn't
warm enough and the last thing you need is another cold," Scully
"Scully, I'm fine," Mulder snapped, but the words lost their punch
when he dissolved into another round of coughing.
"Sure. Fine. Whatever," Scully muttered, nudging him out of the
way and opening the container of fettuccini. She closed her eyes
and inhaled blissfully before spooning some onto a plate.
Mulder tamped down on his own irritation and wrestled with the
wine bottle, venting his feelings on the stubborn cork. "I'm going
to the doctor on Tuesday, Scully. You can drop it now, you won."
The wine bottle's cork blew at approximately the same time as
Scully's. "What's that supposed to mean -- I've won?"
The sensible voice in the back of his mind whispered that he was
being insensitive, but Mulder ignored it. The annoying tickle in his
chest and the accompanying ache that had begun sometime during
the ill-fated pick-up game both attested to the validity of Scully's
worry and sparked his temper.
"Just what it sounds like! You've been on my back about a simple
cough for the last two weeks until you finally wore me down. I
made the damn appointment, the least you could do is give it a
Stung by the acid in his words, Scully compressed her lips into a
thin line. Defenses up, she spoke without stopping to consider the
words. "In my family that's called caring, Mulder. Sorry if that's a
foreign concept for you."
The words sandbagged him, and for an instant Scully read the
shock and hurt clearly in his eyes before he regained control.
Mulder turned from her and opened a cupboard, emitting a
sarcastic chuckle. "What are you saying, Scully? You mean you
don't think the Mulders could have been poster material for a
He pulled down glasses and filled each halfway with the wine, his
face expressionless. Only the slight quiver of the bottle betrayed
his indifference. Scully closed her eyes and sighed. Her anger had
ebbed the moment she realized she'd hurt him, leaving only
resignation and remorse in its wake. Sometimes maintaining a
relationship with Mulder was like whitewater rafting -- she felt
swept along with only a modicum of control, treacherous rocks
cropping up when least expected.
"Mulder, I didn't mean it to come out like that," she said quietly,
fixing her gaze on his stiff back.
Mulder turned and extended a glass, but his manner remained
guarded. "Sure you did, Scully. And we both know it's true," he
replied, swirling the liquid in his own glass and studying it. "After
The phone rang, and Mulder set his wine on the counter, brushing
Scully's arm gently with his fingers as he moved past her to the
"Mulder. Hi, Kristen, what's up?"
Scully leaned against the counter, idly sipping her drink and
listening to Mulder's half of the conversation.
"What? He's not there?" A brief pause. "He left here over an hour
ago, he should have been to your place by seven."
Alerted by the edge to his voice, Scully walked into the living
room. One hand held the phone pressed to Mulder's ear, the other
restlessly twisted the cord.
"I'm sure there's a reasonable explanation -- maybe he got held up
in traffic or stopped off at a store for something."
Though his tone remained generally calm and reassuring, Mulder's
body language screamed worry. He chewed the inside of his lower
lip as he listened to Kristen, fingers now drumming nervously on
the desktop and his feet shifting back and forth.
"No. You stay put. Scully and I will trace his path to your house
and see if we run into him. We'll leave right now." He listened a
moment, and Scully could faintly hear Kristen's rapid flow of
speech on the other end of the line. "Try not to worry, I'm sure it's
nothing. We'll see you soon."
Mulder replaced the receiver in its cradle with exaggerated care
and stood staring into space for several seconds before his gaze
wandered to Scully. It was clear he was deeply disturbed but
desperately trying not to show it.
"Grey never picked up Kristen." Scully stated, moving closer but
not touching him.
"She's pretty worried. Can't figure out what could be keeping him."
Mulder ran his hand absently through his hair. "Neither can I."
"Put a sweater on and we'll go," Scully said gently.
Mulder nodded placidly and disappeared into the bedroom without
arguing, clearly revealing just how troubled he was. Scully sighed
and donned her own coat, promising herself that sooner or later the
conflict in the kitchen would be revisited. When he returned clad in
a navy v-neck sweater with his hand extended, she raised one
"Keys?" he asked impatiently.
"I'll drive. It is my car, after all, and the seat is already set so that
my little feet can reach the pedals."
She wasn't really angry, just a little irritated by his assumption that
she should be the one to ride shotgun. The remark about her feet
was meant as a joke, to lighten the mood, but seemed to achieve
the opposite. Mulder's expression darkened and when he opened
his mouth Scully braced herself for another battle. To her surprise
his mouth snapped shut and he shrugged.
"Suit yourself," he muttered, and reached for the door.
Scully followed him down the hallway and into the elevator,
attempting to gauge his mood. Contrary to her initial assessment,
he didn't seem angry, just distracted. She slipped her arm through
his and watched him come back to her.
"You can drive if you'd like, Mulder. I really don't mind."
Mulder turned eyes to hers that were soft with gratitude. "I just... I
need to be *doing* something right now, Scully. If I have to just
sit I think I might lose it."
The elevator doors opened and she barely had time to press the
keys into his palm before he was off again, his long legs eating up
the ground at twice the rate of her own. Once behind the wheel he
slid the key into the ignition, but paused. Scully read the odd look
on his face and interpreted it correctly.
"Mulder, it's probably nothing."
Mulder took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, then started the
engine. Once on the road he hunched forward over the wheel,
scanning the horizon with sharp eyes. Scully turned her own gaze
to the shoulder, silently praying that she'd see Mulder's car pulled
safely to the side of the road, perhaps with a flat tire. A line from a
children's movie she'd once watched with her godson popped into
her head and she chanted it over and over in her mind like a
*Let no bad happen*.
Halfway between Mulder's apartment and Bethesda, where Kristen
lived, her eye caught a glint of metal off to the right.
"Mulder, stop," she ordered quickly.
Mulder reacted in knee-jerk fashion, swerving suddenly onto the
shoulder and slamming on his brakes. A black Camaro, dissatisfied
with his slower pace and riding his tail, roared past with the blast
of a horn and the driver's upraised middle finger. Oblivious,
Mulder pinned Scully with his eyes.
"What is it? Did you see something?"
Scully opened the glove compartment and pulled out a flashlight.
"Something. I'm just not sure what."
She got out of the car and began walking back along the side of the
road, training the beam of light down into the ditch where the
shoulder fell away into an empty field. Mulder trailed in her wake,
exuding nervous energy but holding his tongue. After walking
back around three hundred yards to a spot halfway between
streetlights, Scully's light caught something in the weeds and
bounced back at them. Ten steps closer and her heart began to
thump wildly in her chest.
A car lay amidst the tall grass, tilted against the embankment so
that it nearly rested on its right side. Even in the poor lighting she
could see it was black, see the dent on the left fender where Mulder
had hit a guardrail during a high-speed chase. Mulder's car.
Before she could vocalize the realization Mulder was scrambling
down the incline, his gun drawn. Scully switched the flashlight to
her left hand, keeping it centered on the car, and pulled her own
weapon. Mulder reached the driver's door, slipping a little on the
slope, and cupped his hands to the glass so that he could peer
inside. Scully came up behind his shoulder and moved the light
around the interior.
The empty interior.
Mulder's hands dropped to his sides and he turned to face Scully.
"He's not inside."
The simple statement held a mixture of bewilderment, worry, and
relief. Scully pursed her lips as she considered the car, then
clambered back up the hill to the road. She could feel Mulder on
her heels, watching her movements as she swept the flashlight
across the pavement. After several moments she'd seen enough,
and snapped the light off to conserve batteries.
"So?" Voice steady but apprehensive.
Scully walked slowly over to gaze up into his face. "I don't see any
skid marks, Mulder. Nothing to indicate that he lost control of the
Mulder was chewing his lip again, viciously enough that Scully
had to bite back a plea for him to stop. "The position of the car is
all wrong, too," he observed. "If it had left the road with any
momentum it would be on its side, or even rolled over. As it is, it
"Like somebody pushed it down there," Scully finished softly, her
concern for Grey warring with that for Mulder. "We need to get a
team out here, Mulder. And you need to call Kristen."
Mulder closed his eyes. Scully watched his Adam's apple bob
convulsively, the fingers on both hands flexing and then relaxing
several times. When his rapid breathing slowed to a more normal
pace, he opened his eyes and reached for the cell phone he'd tucked
into the pocket of his brother's jacket. He punched in the number
with steady precision and his voice remained smooth and even.
"Kristen? It's Mulder. I've got some bad news..."
Scully turned and moved several steps in the opposite direction,
pulling her own phone out and pressing number three on the speed
dial. Glancing at her watch she couldn't help fearing that the
likelihood of finding the man home at eight-thirty on a Saturday
evening was low.
*Come on, pick up the phone. Please be there...*
A little surprised by the almost giddy sense of relief, Scully
abruptly realized she didn't know quite where to begin. Grasping
for composure, she was chagrined to find her own voice lacked
Mulder's level tone.
"Sir, this is Scully. I'm sorry to bother you on a Saturday night, but
I need your help."
A deep sigh from the other end of the line, and when Skinner
spoke his voice dripped weary resignation. "What did he do now,
The grin broke out reflexively, quickly succeeded by a sharp pain
in her chest. If only that was the problem -- Mulder haring out and
taking off on one of his wild goose chases. Her eyes darted to
where he stood, shoulders slumped and eyes shaded by the hand
not gripping the phone.
"Scully? You there?"
"Yes. I'm sorry, sir," she said quickly, shaking off her paralysis.
"It isn't Mulder that's in trouble. It's Grey."
"*Grey*?" Skinner repeated.
"He's missing, sir. He left Mulder's apartment two hours ago to
pick up Agent Harding for a date but never arrived. Mulder and I
found his car in a ditch, empty. I'm fairly certain someone pushed
"Give me your location, I'll have a team out immediately."
Scully surrendered to the mechanics, giving Skinner the
information required, setting the machine in motion. She closed the
phone, her eyes seeking out her partner before she'd replaced it in
her pocket. He stood at the top of the embankment, staring blankly
at the deserted car. When she drew closer, Scully saw that he was
"Mulder, it's freezing out here. Let's wait in my car," she suggested
quietly, slipping her cold hand into his equally frigid one.
"He wouldn't listen to me," Mulder murmured as if he hadn't heard
-- which was probably the case. "I tried to warn him, to tell him
that sooner or later that cigarette-smoking bastard would figure
things out. But he wouldn't listen."
"You're his brother and he loves you," Scully replied, stroking her
thumb over his.
Mulder laughed -- a ragged, wild sound. "Yeah, and where has it
gotten him? The same place as everyone else that's ever made that
Scully flinched. "Mulder..."
"NO, Scully! Don't try to sugar coat what you know is the truth. I
brought this on Grey through my own selfishness. If I'd just left
well enough alone, stayed out of his life, he wouldn't be in this
mess right now, going through God knows what! I should've let
my head guide my actions, not my heart. And if you have any
common sense remaining you'll learn something from this and do
Scully's mouth dropped open and she gaped at his retreating back
as he spun on his heel and stalked toward the flashing red and blue
lights that appeared on the horizon.
The fear existed inside of him like a living creature, feeding on the
passing minutes spent in solitude, growing until he could contain it
only by sheer force of will. Grey's eyes roamed the room
ceaselessly, searching impotently for something to provide a
distraction, to focus on. Unfortunately, his surroundings were
painfully sterile and lacking in inspiration.
A square 10 X 10 foot room, walls institutional white and lacking
any windows, empty except for a toilet, sink, and the bed to which
he was strapped. Yes, strapped securely with five point restraints
so that he couldn't even scratch the itch over his left eye that
The physical discomfort, however, paled in comparison to the
mental anguish. When he wasn't obsessively recalling each and
every horror story Fox and Dana had recounted about their own
abductions, he agonized over his brother's reaction to his
disappearance. More than twenty-five years since Samantha
vanished, and Fox still woke screaming in the night, still drove
himself relentlessly to find her. Grey feared another such loss
would blur the fragile line of stability that Fox walked, tipping him
into a breakdown. None of this was Fox's fault, but undoubtedly
the man would assume the blame.
Grey grimaced, rubbing his face against the pillow to assuage the
itch. If his current predicament was anyone's fault, it was his own.
Fox had repeatedly tried to warn him about the faceless enemy that
lurked in the shadows, and he'd arrogantly disregarded those
warnings. Truth be told, he'd dismissed much of it as his brother's
overactive paranoia, confident he could take care of himself. Big
The doorknob rattled, commanding his full attention. A moment
later his kidnapper entered and shut the door firmly. He'd shed his
leather jacket, and the black tee shirt he wore clearly revealed his
muscular right arm and the prosthesis that substituted for his left.
Grey's eyes narrowed as made the connection.
"You're the double-crossing rat bastard Fox has told me so much
about," he said coolly. "Alex Krycek -- am I right?"
Krycek grinned wolfishly and pressed one hand to his chest. "It
warms my heart to know that Mulder talks about me," he replied,
stepping across the room to lean against the wall near the foot of
"Believe me, he becomes very...vocal when your name comes up,"
Grey said wryly. He scowled at Krycek. "So where am I, and why
am I here? I'm not part of this equation, what do you want with
Krycek snorted. "If you have Bill and Teena Mulder as parents,
then you're part of the equation. But to answer your question, I
didn't want *you* at all. Your presence here is purely accidental."
Grey recalled Krycek's diatribe back at the car, and his eyes
widened. "The car, the jacket -- you thought I was Fox! You were
after him, not me."
Krycek grit his teeth. "In the dark, you could be twins. I didn't
realize you were in town, so I never expected anyone but Mulder."
"You *sabotaged* that belt, didn't you?" Grey growled. "It wasn't
just luck that you came along when you did."
"I don't believe in luck -- I make my own," Krycek said with a lift
of his chin. "Mulder's Saturday nights have become amazingly
predictable since he came to his senses and started screwing his
partner. He always heads over to Scully's place at about the same
time. Just my luck that you had to come into town and upset the
"My deepest apologies," Grey replied sarcastically. "Why don't
you just chalk up this whole evening as a waste of time and let me
be on my way?"
"Nice try. But just because you weren't the objective tonight
doesn't mean you weren't on the agenda."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Grey hoped he sounded
belligerent, feared he sounded intimidated.
Krycek raised an eyebrow. "Oh come on! You can't really be that
na´ve! Mulder must have told you about the Project, about your
father's involvement in it."
Grey glanced away from the piercing green eyes. "Fox has told me
a lot of things. I don't necessarily believe all of them, in spite of the
fact that I can see *he* does."
"Then you're mistaken," Krycek replied. He straightened and
paced across the room and back again. "Fox Mulder may be many
things, but a fool isn't one of them. The threat he's fighting against
is very real, and like it or not, his role in this little drama was cast
long before his birth. Yours has yet to be determined."
"I had nothing to do with Bill Mulder or this 'Project' you speak
of," Grey snapped, tugging at the straps that fettered his wrists.
Krycek cradled his head in his hands, shaking it slowly. "You
really don't get it, do you? Why do you think your parents hid all
evidence that you existed? You're bound to the Project by virtue of
Bill Mulder's blood in your veins! How inextricably, remains to be
Grey stared at him, his mind working furiously. "You mean
"Fox and Samantha were the first fruits of a plan, and the inception
of that plan occurred years before you were born -- before Bill
Mulder even came to work for the State Department. Humans
genetically altered to instill a natural resistance to the alien virus.
An experiment that, until recently, appeared to be successful."
Grey could feel the blood drain from his face. "Does Fox know
Krycek shook his head sharply. "No, and he won't find out. After
we're finished determining just how successful Bill Mulder was at
shielding you from the experiment, we'll wipe your memory." The
wolf grin again. "You'll never even know you were gone."
Grey clenched his jaw, his mind skittering away from *that*
picture. Krycek had said something important, something that
niggled at the back of his mind. He scanned his memory until it
abruptly clicked into place.
"You said that the experiment on Fox seemed successful until
recently. What did you mean by that?"
Krycek's face closed off at the same moment that the door opened
to emit a linebacker in the white dress of a hospital orderly. Grey's
heart skipped a beat when his eyes landed on the syringe in the
man's meaty hand.
"Krycek, wait! We're not done with this conversation yet! You
owe me an answer, don't..."
Like shooting fish in a barrel, Grey could offer no resistance as his
arm was subjected first to the cool swab of alcohol and then the
sting of the needle. This time the drug didn't pull him under, just
turned his muscles to gelatin and left him unable to remember why
he was supposed to be upset. Krycek's face undulated gently in
and out of focus, and when the linebacker loosened the restraints it
never occurred to Grey to struggle.
As Krycek began speaking, Grey watched with fascination his
tongue dance between lips and teeth, though he'd lost the ability to
"When you start giving me orders like that, you even *sound* just
like him," Krycek chuckled, watching as Grey was bundled onto
a gurney. "Been nice meeting you -- not that you'll remember."
Stepping aside he looked on impassively as the orderly wheeled
Grey out of the room.
Scully leaned wearily against the side of her car, watching Mulder
comb the embankment again. She was so focused on her partner,
when a large hand descended on her shoulder she barely bit back a
startled scream. Skinner's fingers tightened briefly then released,
and he mirrored her position.
"There's really nothing more we can do here tonight, Scully," he
said, his own eyes following Mulder's relentless searching. "We'll
come back when it's light, and in the meantime forensics can go
over the car for trace evidence."
Scully nodded. The police had left the scene nearly a half-hour
earlier, the car towed to the bureau shortly afterward. She was cold
to the bone after spending over three hours in the chill wind, and a
hot bath and flannel pajamas figured prominently in her fantasies.
But the lone figure stalking restlessly back and forth amid the
weeds had other ideas.
As if reading her mind, Skinner added, "You need to get him out of
here. He passed the point of usefulness over an hour ago, and I
think pure adrenaline is the only thing keeping him on his feet."
Unreasonable anger, fueled by her own helpless frustration, flared
at Skinner's words. "You think I don't realize that? If you've got
any suggestions on how to make it happen, I'm all ears!"
Skinner didn't take offense. "I'm the idea man," he replied dryly. "I
was hoping to leave the execution to you."
The laugh that bubbled up turned into a sob somewhere in her
throat. Horrified, Scully clamped down hard on her lip with both
teeth and forced herself to breathe slowly. Respecting her struggle
for composure, Skinner didn't put his arm around her, but he
leaned into her side a little, his warmth and bulk comforting.
"Whatever happens, Scully, we'll get him through this."
Scully blinked rapidly. "I want to believe that, sir. Because I don't
think Mulder could survive losing another sibling to his father's
Skinner touched the back of her hand, startled by the lack of
warmth. "Start up the car and get the heater running, Scully, you're
freezing. I'll take care of him."
More than a little ashamed by her relief at his words, Scully merely
nodded and forced herself to motion. Skinner walked slowly over
to where his other agent, features set in granite, swept a flashlight
back and forth over the uneven terrain. He stopped at the edge, just
before the shoulder of the road fell away to the field, and waited.
When several minutes passed without Mulder breaking his stride
or acknowledging his presence, he cleared his throat.
"There has to be something here, something we're not seeing,"
Mulder muttered without raising his head or pausing.
"Mulder, this is a crime scene, and I'm officially ordering you off,"
Skinner said, injecting a little more steel into his tone.
It produced the desired reaction. Mulder's froze, his head whipping
up so that his eyes could lock onto his boss. The insolent protest
that commenced actually warmed Skinner's heart -- a big
improvement to the shell-shocked aura Mulder had been exuding
"You can't do that! I'm conducting an investigation and..."
"Mulder, the only thing you're conducting at this point is a lesson
in futility." Skinner shrugged off the irritation that Mulder's
insubordination always engendered and softened his words.
"You've been at this non-stop for going on four hours. You're cold,
you're tired, and it's too dark to see a damn thing. Add to that the
fact that your partner is about ready to drop, and I'd say it's time
you called it a night."
Mulder climbed up the slope to join Skinner but a protruding lower
lip and furrowed brow testified to his reluctance.
"You could give Scully a lift. I can drive her car home when I'm
finished," he persisted.
"I could, but I won't," Skinner said sternly. "You *are* finished,
Mulder. Get some rest and resume your investigation when you
can actually see something."
Skinner turned and took several steps toward the parked cars
before he noticed the absence of footfalls behind him. His temper
sparked anew, and he spun around sharply, a reprimand on his
tongue. The wounded child camouflaged in Mulder's clothes made
the words catch in his throat.
"I'm not a child left catatonic on the floor this time," Mulder said
softly, belying Skinner's vision. "I won't sit back and just let this
happen. I have to fight."
Despite the attempt at bravado, Skinner experienced a painful
flashback to another day when he'd confronted a broken,
despondent Mulder packing up his belongings in the X-Files
*How many times can one man face losing what he holds
"No one's asking you to stop fighting, Mulder," he replied gruffly.
"Just to employ a little tactical sense."
Whether his words struck a chord or Mulder was just too
exhausted to continue resisting, this time Skinner was gratified to
hear an echo to his own footsteps. He walked around to the driver's
side of the car and Scully lowered her window, bathing his face in
a puff of warmed air.
"I'll see you two at the bureau bright and early," he said, watching
peripherally as Mulder slumped into the passenger seat. "Report
directly to my office, I'll have the forensics sent there."
"Thank you, sir." Scully's shadowed eyes communicated clearly
that her response concerned more than his investigative support.
Skinner leaned in a little closer so that he could see Mulder's face.
"Get some sleep, Mulder. We've got the bureau's best resources on
this and we *will* find him."
Mulder didn't acknowledge or contest Skinner's statement --
merely leaned his head against the seatback and stared out the
The coughing commenced the moment Scully pulled onto the road
and lasted the entire drive back to Mulder's apartment. The hacking
held a deep, booming sound that her physician's ear recognized as
more than just the dregs of a cold, and when he gasped for breath
the wheezing was clearly audible. Scully pressed her lips tightly
together, a dam against the torrent of misgivings that wanted to
By the time Mulder slipped the key into his door the spell had
eased up a bit, but Scully's worry had not. He paused in the kitchen
doorway for a moment, taking in the congealed plate of fettuccini
and the abandoned bottle of wine before continuing into the living
room and slumping onto the couch. Scully discarded the food and
put on the teakettle before moving on to the bathroom where she
rummaged around until she'd uncovered a bottle of nighttime cold
medicine behind a can of shaving cream.
She clutched the bottle, her thumb picking absently at the peeling
label as an inner battle raged between Dana Scully, MD and Dana
Scully, the woman in love with Fox Mulder. The cold remedy
would supress Mulder's cough with the added benefit of knocking
him unconscious for a few hours -- probably the only way he'd
sleep at all. Yet the idea of treating the symptoms and not the cause
went against every ounce of her medical training. She stood there,
irresolute, until Mulder broke into another round of hacking.
Mulder cracked open one eye when Scully moved his feet and sat
down beside him.
"Sit up," she said, unscrewing the cap and filling the little plastic
measuring cup with the red liquid.
Mulder screwed up his face like a toddler ordered to eat
cauliflower. "Sculleee! That stuff tastes like turpentine!"
"I'll forego asking just how you would know how turpentine
tastes," Scully replied, extending the little cup. "Hold your nose."
Mulder hauled himself upright and tossed back the contents in one
fell swoop, shuddering violently and making exaggerated gagging
noises afterward. Scully ignored the theatrics and disappeared into
the kitchen, returning a few minutes later with two mugs of hot tea.
Mulder accepted the offering silently, but pulled her close when
she sat down beside him.
"No problem, Mulder. Just as easy to make two mugs as it is to
make one," she pointed out lightly.
Mulder pressed a kiss to her temple. "I don't mean just the tea," he
said hesitantly. "I mean all of it, your patience, your support --
even your nagging. I know I don't make it easy."
Scully swallowed hard against the constriction in her throat.
Mulder didn't do apologies in the classic sense, something she'd
learned to accept. She understood just how difficult saying those
words must have been, especially under the all-consuming anxiety
over Grey's disappearance.
"You do require a bit of effort," she agreed, weaving her fingers
through his and bringing his hand to her lips. "But then again, I've
always enjoyed a challenge."
"I've been alone a long time, you know?" he continued, and she
saw he was staring at their meshed hands with something very like
awe. "I'm not accustomed to anyone else having an interest in my
well being. I was like that Simon and Garfunkle song -- did you
ever hear it? 'I am a rock, I am an island,'" he sang softly.
"And a rock feels no pain," Scully murmured. "And an island
"That's the one. And then you came along, Scully. And for the first
time in forever, I had someone who was there for me -- and in the
truest sense of the word. I can remember the first time I recognized
it, as clearly as if it were yesterday. I woke up in that hospital in
North Carolina, confused, scared, and my leg hurting like hell. But
then I realized that someone was holding my hand, and the fear
and pain eased up a little bit. I opened my eyes and saw you sitting
there, in that cheap blue plastic chair that must have been
incredibly uncomfortable, and you'd obviously been there all night
because you looked completely exhausted. Then you noticed I was
awake and you smiled. And it was like having the sun right there in
my hospital room, all to myself. And I felt a little guilty -- not for
putting the dark circles under your eyes, but because I'd do it again
and again if it meant I'd be on the receiving end of that smile."
Mulder burrowed his face into her hair and Scully reached over her
shoulder to cup the back of his neck with trembling fingers. She
wanted to turn in his arms and kiss him silly, but she could feel
that there was more, that he hadn't finished yet.
"I didn't think it could get better," Mulder finally managed to
whisper. "Then I found Grey. And while you give me the things I
never thought I'd have, he gives me things I never even knew I
wanted or needed. God, Scully, ever since Samantha was taken I've
felt like the shell of a person, minus so many of the basic elements
that most people take for granted! It's like you two have managed
to fill the empty places -- most of them anyway. But the cost to
you, and now Grey..." His voice broke, but he forced himself to
continue. "I feel like some kind of vampire, sucking the life out of
you both to fill up the void in myself."
Scully sat forward and turned to face him, eyes burning blue
flames. "You know, you really piss me off when you talk like
this!" she growled. "You are *not* to blame for the bad things that
have happened to me, or for Grey's disappearance tonight. You've
dedicated your *life* to fighting against the men responsible, and
Grey and I have the right to make that same choice. We are exactly
where we've chosen to be. And damn it, Mulder, did you ever stop
to think that just maybe you give us something back? That you fill
a few gaps in our lives as well?"
Her ire produced results where tenderness would have failed. Eyes
glistening, he pulled her back into his arms and nuzzled her neck,
his warm breath sending shivers down her spine.
"Don't wanna piss you off, Scully," he mumbled, but she could
hear the smile in his voice. "Contrary to what some people believe,
I'm not suicidal."
They sat like that in companionable silence for a while. Scully's
eyes began to feel heavy and she could feel Mulder sinking toward
sleep, his grip on her easing and his breathing slowing. Just as she
was about to suggest a move to the bed, he spoke.
"I can't go through it again, Scully. I just... It hurts too much."
The breath-stealing pain Scully experienced at his quiet confession
was equaled only by the blinding anger toward those who
"You heard Skinner, love. We'll find him. And when we do, we'll
make that smoking son of a bitch sorry. Very, very sorry."
Skinner uttered two words and Fox Mulder turned into a raving
maniac before his eyes. Out of his seat and pacing, a string of
obscenities coupled with descriptions of revenge both creative and
graphic tumbled from Mulder's lips. Occasionally a barking cough
broke the flow and caused the man to catch his breath, but he
quickly plunged onward, never losing his place upon resuming.
Alex Krycek. Skinner massaged the spot on his forehead directly
over the throbbing caused by too much tension and a guilty
conscience. He could certainly sympathize with Mulder's reaction
to the news that forensics had recovered the man's thumbprint on
the engine block of his car. Krycek was a wild card, a confirmed
traitor and a man whose only allegiance was to saving his own
skin. He also happened to hold Skinner's life in the palm of his
"Mulder, sit down," he grated, finding small comfort in the fact
that his ranting agent acquiesced. "I understand your feelings in
this matter -- God knows, I'd like five minutes alone with the man
myself, but this isn't getting us anywhere."
"Did forensics come up with anything else, sir?" Scully asked,
shooting her partner a look that managed to convey the message
"behave yourself" as clearly as if she'd uttered the words.
Skinner adjusted his glasses and picked up a piece of paper from
his desk blotter. "The car was deliberately sabotaged, the fan belt
cut part way with a knife so that it would break after only a brief
period of use. The only fingerprints found inside the vehicle
belonged to you, Mulder, or Grey."
"So Krycek probably damaged the fan belt and then just followed
the car, knowing it would break down eventually," Scully mused,
glancing from Skinner to Mulder. "The print on the engine could
be from when he cut the belt."
"Or when he overpowered Grey," Mulder said tersely. "He had to
get close enough to either hit him or drug him. I've mentioned
Krycek, but Grey has no idea what he looks like. That bastard
could have acted like he was trying to help and then ambushed
Skinner clenched his jaw, feeling the small muscle twitch the way
it always did when he was particularly irritated or stressed. He
really didn't want to increase the burden on the man sitting across
his desk, but felt obligated to share his thoughts. His ability to help
Mulder directly was severely compromised, so the importance of
providing what information he could only increased.
"Mulder, I want you to consider something," he said gruffly. "Grey
was driving *your* car after leaving *your* apartment. It's entirely
possible that he was not Krycek's intended target."
Mulder's restless fidgeting abruptly ceased and he went very still.
Skinner could see the moment his agent made the connection -- the
anger drained from his face to be replaced by a hurt so intense
Skinner's own stomach clenched in sympathy.
"You mean me," Mulder said, forming the words as if they were
foreign objects in his mouth. "Krycek set the trap for *me* and
wound up with Grey instead." His eyes squeezed shut and he
swiftly shaded them by cupping a hand to his forehead. "God,
Scully, I even gave him my jacket," he choked.
Scully sent Skinner an agonized look before reaching over to lay
her hand on Mulder's arm. Skinner expected soft reassurances
designed to comfort, so Scully's no-nonsense admonishment threw
him completely off balance.
"Get past it, Mulder. Immersing yourself in blame isn't going to
help Grey. We know now that Krycek has him, so the next logical
step is to find Krycek."
Perhaps more astonishing than Scully's "tough love" approach was
the result. Mulder scrubbed once at his eyes and his slumped
posture straightened. He turned toward his partner, eyes haunted
but with the renewed steel of determination.
"Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
Scully's lips twitched. "Time to cash in the chips from that debacle
Skinner's eyes darted between them, brows drawn together. "What
exactly are you two talking about?"
"Just utilizing unofficial channels, sir," Scully said, eyes glinting
with repressed amusement.
"Unofficial..." Skinner trailed off as the meaning behind her
cryptic statement became clear. "Ahh. Scarecrow, Tin Man, and
Toto," he said, equally pleased to put a startled grin on Mulder's
face and complete bafflement on Scully's. "You go ahead and I'll
keep the machine running here. Check in later this afternoon."
To her credit, Scully maintained her professional persona until
they'd exited his office, the door nearly shut. Skinner glanced up
just in time to see her pause and grab Mulder by the elbow.
"Scarecrow, Tinman, and Toto? Mulder, what in the heck was
Skinner talking about?"
Skinner smirked to himself. It wasn't every day you could nonplus
the unflappable Agent Scully.
Headquarters of the Lone Gunmen
Mulder was definitely ill. After much bullying, Scully had
convinced him to stop for a quick breakfast on the way to the
Gunmen's place, but he'd used more of his bacon and eggs as the
medium for transforming his plate into a modern work of art than
he'd consumed. Scully cast a sideways glance at his flushed cheeks
and the perspiration that beaded his upper lip, fighting a no win
battle over whether or not to draw attention to it. Mulder took the
decision out of her hands by unexpectedly turning on her.
"Cut it out, Scully," he snapped, eyes narrowed in irritation.
"Cut what out?" she returned shortly, her own temper slipping.
"Looking at me like I'm going to keel over any second! You should
be worried about Grey, not me."
"I'm worried about you both, there's plenty to go around," Scully
murmured, studying her hands in her lap. She heard Mulder take a
long, deep breath and slowly release it.
"I know. I guess I can't expect any less of you. But your concern
isn't necessary, I'm doing fine." He snorted and shook his head. "If
you really want to help me, figure out the best way to tell the guys
that I have a brother."
"They don't know yet?" Scully asked incredulously. "Mulder,
they're your closest friends, why wouldn't you have told them?"
Mulder lifted a shoulder and picked at his thumbnail. "I'm not sure.
I guess I figured the fewer people that knew, the safer it would be
for Grey. Obviously it didn't make a difference."
He flung open his door before Scully could respond to that,
swiping at the moisture on his face as he ambled up to the door.
Scully grit her teeth and followed- - something she'd become quite
proficient at doing over the last six years.
"How many?" she asked, folding her arms as she waited for an
answer to Mulder's knock. It's daytime, and you phoned ahead.
I'm betting on five or six."
Mulder managed a shadow of a smile. " I think you underestimate
the extent of their paranoia," he said, shaking his head. "I'm
guessing at least eight."
The sharp staccato of deadbolts disengaged began a moment later
and they counted silently while grinning at each other. After the
seventh thunk, the door cracked open to reveal Frohike's right eye.
"I win," Scully announced smugly, moving to stand where the little
man could see her.
Mulder scowled. "How do you figure? Seven is halfway between
six and eight!"
"The rule says whoever is closest without going over, Mulder.
Therefore, I win." She brushed past him when Frohike finally
swung open the door.
"What rule? We never discussed any rules!" Mulder called after
her retreating back.
"And just what can we do for the lovely Agent Scully today?"
Frohike asked, accompanying his question with the expected leer.
"Frohike, I'm hurt. Keep talking like that and I'll begin to feel
unwanted," Mulder said, putting on an exaggerated pout.
"You're always wanted here, Mulder -- just as long as you bring
Scully with you," Frohike returned smugly.
Langly, wearing a ratty blue bathrobe and sweatpants, shuffled into
the room while munching a Poptart. He squinted at them a little
irritably through his thick rimmed glasses. "Hey, Mulder. What's
so important that couldn't wait?"
"Good morning to you, too," Mulder replied.
"Don't mind him. He was up half the night playing Doom with
some cyberbuddies," Byers said smoothly, minus his usual suit, but
still sporting a tie with his v-neck sweater. "Frohike said you
needed our help and that you'd explain when you got here."
Mulder shot Scully an oblique look and cleared his throat. "Yeah. I
need you boys to pull out all the stops on this one. I have to find
someone, and fast."
"Who is it?" Frohike asked.
Mulder kept his expression carefully neutral. "Alex Krycek."
As if the pessimism fairy had waved her magic wand, doubt
replaced inquisitiveness on all three faces. For a moment Frohike,
Langly, and Byers just exchanged cryptic glances, saying nothing.
Byers, ever the diplomat of the group, finally responded.
"You realize we've tried this before, Mulder. Krycek is
notoriously difficult to pin down."
Worry and sickness combined to shorten Mulder's temper. "I didn't
say it would be easy. What happened to all that talk about how
your kung fu could beat anybody else's?"
Langly scowled and looked about to retort, but Frohike cut him
off. "We didn't say we wouldn't give it our best shot, Mulder. Just
not to get your hopes up."
"Well you could've fooled me! How are you going to give it your
best shot if you've already made up your mind that it can't be
done?" Mulder growled, pacing across the room and fiddling with
an unidentifiable piece of electronics.
Frohike's brows drew together but a small movement caught his
eye before he could speak. Scully had taken a step toward Mulder,
then hesitated. When she felt Frohike watching her she shook her
head sharply and resumed her aborted movement, positioning
herself at his side.
"Mulder. Tell them why," she urged, voice as soft and smooth as
Frohike, perceptive as always, narrowed his eyes. "Just why do
you need to find Krycek so badly, Mulder?"
"Yeah, Mulder. What's the bastard done now?" Langly chimed in.
"He kidnapped someone," Mulder replied quietly, still showing
them his back.
"What's the dude's name?" Langly persisted.
Mulder turned slowly chewing his lip. "His name is Grey
McKenzie. He was staying with me. We think Krycek may have
mistaken him for me."
"Do you think his life is in danger?" Byers asked carefully.
Mulder traded a long, enigmatic look with Scully. "I don't know.
But there's something else you need to know. Grey McKenzie..."
"Is your brother," Frohike finished.
Mulder's jaw dropped and Scully's eyebrows rose.
"C'mon, Mulder, what kind of schmucks do you think we are?"
Frohike sniffed, managing to sound both smug and wounded at the
"You certainly must realize that we maintain a discreet...vigil on
matters concerning your well being," Byers added.
"How long?" Mulder grated through clenched teeth.
Guilty looks, like three little boys caught stealing cookies. "Since
the first time he came up for a visit," Frohike finally confessed.
"When you were having all those nightmares."
"You *knew* about that? You bugged my apartment? Damn it, is
there any part of my life you aren't privy to?" The implications of
his own question sank in and Mulder turned pale, then red.
Scully had apparently come to the same conclusion, and her voice
crackled with high voltage, a promise of dire consequences. "Does
"Alas, only in my dreams," Frohike sighed lecherously.
"Byers made us take them all out when you and Mulder finally got
together," Langly explained sulkily.
"Good choice," Scully said darkly.
"So you think that Krycek abducted your brother, thinking he was
you?" Byers asked, effectively changing the subject. "Are you
certain that Grey wasn't Krycek's target from the start?"
"No," Mulder admitted reluctantly. "But he was wearing my jacket
and driving my car -- said car having been sabotaged by Krycek
so that it would break down. I think mistaken identity is a logical
"Our last confirmed sighting of Krycek was nearly a year ago,"
Byers remarked. "We'll have to proceed from that point."
"Whatever it takes," Mulder said tightly. "I can't decide which I
like least -- the idea of Grey in the hands of that rat bastard or that
black lunged son of a bitch."
Mulder had intended the statement to resonate with fury, but the
slight quiver of his voice betrayed him. Scully's fingers dancing
questioningly against his palm diverted him from embarrassment.
He looked down into bluer than blue eyes that bestowed complete
understanding without words. As it always did when she was near,
the impending darkness receded.
"We're on it," Langly said, already tapping away on his keyboard.
"Keep your phone turned on and we'll call when we have
"Don't worry," Frohike added as he walked them back to the door
and began to throw back the line of locks. "You were right the first
time. Our kung fu *is* the best."
Mulder glanced at his watch, feeling the minutes slip by like water
through a sieve. Grey had been missing for well over 12 hours and
he couldn't fight the feeling that they were already too late. What
he needed wasn't kung fu. He needed a miracle.
Awareness seeped gradually into Grey's brain, like rain on hard
baked ground after a long drought. The first perception to make it
past his cotton-headed stupor was pain, so widespread it seemed as
if every cell in his body hurt -- including his hair. The darkness
that enveloped him was even more troubling, until he figured out
his own lowered eyelids were the cause. Hefting them open proved
to be a challenge, but after several dogged attempts he succeeded.
He blinked owlishly at a white ceiling for a moment before turning
his head to the left and taking in vaguely familiar stark white walls.
Right back where he'd started, it seemed. He experimentally
moved his arms and legs, gratified by full mobility. Whoever
returned him either forgot the restraints or decided they were
A cleared throat echoed loudly in the stillness, shocking Grey into
whipping his head to the right so abruptly that the room tilted
crazily on its axis for several minutes. When his blurred eyesight
cleared, Grey saw a man with a weathered face and sharp,
calculating gray eyes seated in a plastic chair and observing him.
He registered the stench of cigarette smoke even as the man
casually lifted one to his lips and sucked in a long draught.
"First the rat bastard and now the black lunged son of a bitch,"
Grey croaked, wondering why his voice sounded as if he'd been
screaming. "Hail, hail, the gang's all here."
The man's lips curved, whether in amusement or contempt Grey
wasn't sure. "I see you share your brother's propensity for whistling
in the dark. Amazing what a group of shared genes can produce."
"What did you do to me?" Grey demanded, struggling to prop
himself up on rubbery, aching arms.
The man exhaled a noxious cloud of smoke. "Nothing that caused
any permanent damage."
"Easy for you to say, you're not the one who feels like he's been hit
by a semi," Grey muttered. "I don't suppose I could get a glass of
The Smoker rose and moved to the sink, filling a plastic tumbler
with water before returning. Grey accepted it silently, eagerly
draining the contents while taking the chance to size up his
situation. Without windows, he lacked the means to determine
something as elementary as whether it was currently day or night.
His extreme thirst and the emptiness in his belly hinted at the fact
that he'd been in this place long enough to miss at least one meal.
Beyond that, he knew very little.
"Let's get to the point," he said grimly, returning the empty cup.
"What are you going to do with me. And more importantly, what
did you intend to do with Fox?"
"The answer to your first question is that I will eventually return
you to your brother -- once I have satisfactorily relieved my doubts
concerning your origins."
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"I understand that Alex explained a bit about our interest in your
Grey scowled. "If you call that an explanation! Sounded more like
science fiction to me."
CSM smiled thinly. "A submarine was once considered science
fiction, Mr. McKenzie -- until it became reality. I assure you that
the genetic modifications performed on Fox are very much a
reality. It is whether any of those enhancements exist within *you*
that remains to be seen."
"So after you've tested me like some sort of guinea pig, you'll just
let me go home?" Grey's voice oozed disbelief.
"Suitably...conditioned to resume your life, yes."
"You mean you'll do something to make me forget this place,
forget you," Grey returned.
The Smoker shrugged. "A reasonable price, don't you think? We
could never allow you to leave here with your memory intact, and
the alternative is...unpleasant."
"To say the least," Grey growled. "What about my other question?
What did you want with Fox?"
CSM smiled enigmatically, casually taking another drag on his
Morley. "Surely you can understand that any valuable investment
requires careful monitoring."
Grey's eyes narrowed. "But it's more than that, isn't it? Krycek
said something, something about the experiment on Fox being a
success 'until now.'"
CSM dropped his cigarette butt to the floor and ground it beneath
his heel, standing. "Alex talks too much. I'd suggest you get some
rest, Mr. McKenzie. Tomorrow will be a very full day."
"I want an answer! What's wrong with Fox? Are you the reason
he's been sick?" Grey insisted, struggling to swing his legs over the
side of the cot.
The Smoker froze and turned slowly around. Piercing eyes
scrutinized Grey's angry face. "How sick is he?"
Grey jerked his head to stare at the wall. "Go to hell."
To his astonishment, the man seized his wrist in a bone-crushing
grip. "Don't play games with me, this concerns your brother's life!
How sick is he?"
Grey met the gaze calmly, prepared for the anger it contained. The
genuine concern that lurked just behind the anger rattled him. "I
only know what Dana told me. She said he's been sick a lot lately,
and that he's tired all the time. He does have a pretty nasty cough
right now, but he swears it's just the leftovers from a bad cold that
he can't seem to kick."
The Smoker continued to study his face for a moment, as if
judging the truth in his words. What he saw seemed to trouble him
-- he spun abruptly on his heel and stalked to the door.
"What is it?" Grey persisted, shaken by what he guessed to be an
uncharacteristic reaction from the man. "What's wrong? Answer
me, damn it!"
CSM paused in the doorway, his bland mask firmly back in place.
"Get some rest, Mr. McKenzie and leave your brother to me.
You'll need that determination the next few days."
The door clanged shut behind him while Grey still fumbled for a
response. Cursing loudly at the four unforgiving walls he flopped
back onto the mattress. For the first time since the ordeal began, he
felt no anxiety over his own fate. The barely disguised alarm on
the Smoker's face at his description of Fox's condition drove all
fears for his own safety from his mind. Dana's words from the
previous evening flitted through his head.
*I can't shake the feeling that something is seriously wrong.*
Always perceptive where Fox was concerned, it appeared her
instinct might be correct.
Headquarters of The Lone Gunmen
"What have you got?"
Mulder propped himself against a filing cabinet, looking as if a
strong breeze could topple him. Bruised-looking shadows marred
the flesh beneath his eyes, accentuated by his pallor. His naturally
lanky frame now appeared gaunt, wrists nearly skeletal where they
peeked from the cuffs of his shirt.
Langly frowned and pulled out the chair to his right. "Sit down
before you fall down, Mulder. You look awful."
"And to think I was just about to tell you how cute you looked in
that shirt," Mulder wisecracked, but he folded into the proffered
seat with a sigh.
Frohike plucked at Scully's elbow and drew her aside with a tilt of
his head. "What's wrong with him?" he asked, eyes darting from
her to Mulder and back again. "This can't just be worry over his
brother -- he looks sick."
"He is. It's some type of respiratory infection, he's coughing almost
constantly," Scully murmured, worry tinged with anger. "I'm pretty
sure he's been running a fever too but he keeps popping aspirin
before I can get a true reading. He needs to be in bed, not chasing
down Alex Krycek, but he won't listen to me."
Frohike snorted. "I watched the man sneak out of the hospital right
after being shot in the head, remember? Believe me, I know how
stubborn he can be."
Scully managed a weak smile, then turned her attention to Langly.
"Krycek showed up in town around January," he was telling
Mulder. "Before that he'd popped up in various exotic locations,
most notably Tunisia."
Mulder lifted his head from where he'd propped in on a fist,
searching out Scully's eyes before slowly nodding his head. "Go
"One source swears that they saw him hanging around a local gym
at roughly the same time, though what he'd be doing there is
anyone's guess. He was definitely spotted at D.C. General
Hospital shortly after that."
"D.C. General?" Scully said sharply, her mouth suddenly lacking
all moisture. She walked quickly over to stand behind Mulder,
laying a steadying hand on his shoulder. "Are you certain?"
"The source is reliable," Byers confirmed gravely, raising an
eyebrow at her tone.
"What was the name of the gym?" Mulder asked hoarsely, placing
his own hand over Scully's.
"South Street," Frohike answered, a small line creasing his
forehead. "Why? You know the place?"
Mulder tipped his head to meet Scully's eyes, seeing his own
devastation mirrored there. "Yeah. I've heard of it."
"It appears our friend remained in the area for at least a month. He
was spotted numerous times with your buddy CGB and with his
son," Langly continued, scanning a printout.
"You mean Jeffrey Spender?" Scully asked, startled.
"Yep. Krycek dropped out of sight right after Jeff Spender was
shot. Until about a month ago."
Langly waited, expecting pressure for more information, then shot
Byers an uneasy look when Mulder continued to stare blankly into
"You okay, man?"
Scully's fingers tightened on Mulder's shoulder and he shook
himself free of his daze. "Yeah." He muffled a cough, then cleared
his throat. "Yeah, go ahead, I'm listening."
"We've got records of a Karl Arntzen, matching Krycek's
description, on a flight to New Mexico, then a return trip back here
the beginning of October. After that, zip."
Mulder leaned both elbows on the table and massaged his temples.
"Nothing confirmed," Byers admitted. "Just rumors of him popping
up at various locations around the area, like a will o' the wisp.
Nothing substantial, and nothing traceable. Whatever he's up to,
he's being very careful."
"Which leaves us nowhere," Mulder replied, closing his eyes.
"We haven't given up," Frohike said. "We'll keep trying."
Mulder levered himself to his feet, wavering a little but impatiently
shrugging off Scully's steadying hand.
"You know where to reach us," he said, avoiding their matching
looks of concern by heading for the door.
Frohike made quick work of the locks while Byers and Langly
exchanged troubled frowns. Mulder ushered Scully through the
opening with his hand at the small of her back, but paused midway.
Turning, he leaned his forehead wearily against the hand propped
on the doorjamb.
"I appreciate your help," he said quietly. "I know you've done what
you could." He pushed himself upright and followed Scully to the
car, leaving the Gunmen to stare at his retreating back.
Fighting despair as well as the rebellion of his own body, Mulder
slumped into the passenger seat of Scully's car. She'd inserted the
key into the ignition, but made no move to turn it.
"So, can you see the word 'sucker' tattooed on my forehead?"
Mulder asked dryly.
"I can't... Mulder, there has to be some explanation. Skinner has
backed us up more times than I care to remember!"
"I don't want to believe it either, Scully. But it fits. Skinner refused
to let us pursue our investigation into who poisoned him. Now we
learn that Krycek just happened to be spotted both at the location
of the poisoning and the hospital where Skinner nearly died. Are
you going to tell me that's just coincidence?"
Scully bit her lip, well aware that Mulder's stony acceptance of
Skinner's duplicity served to cover his feelings of hurt and
betrayal. Something profound had occurred between Mulder and
their boss during her abduction, something that cemented Mulder's
trust of the man and turned him into a staunch defender of
Skinner's integrity. She'd doubted that integrity more than once,
most notably during her bout with cancer, but Mulder's faith
remained firm. Since the death of Mulder's mother and his discovery
of Grey, she'd come to view Skinner as not only a boss, but as a
friend, valuing his steadfast support. Could they really have been
"No," she finally answered, her voice little more than a whisper.
"But I do think we owe him a chance to explain." When Mulder
didn't answer she started the engine, then turned to face him.
"What do *you* think it means, Mulder?"
Mulder's head was tipped back, his eyes closed. "I think it means
that Krycek was responsible for Skinner's poisoning, and maybe
the cure." He opened eyes filled with recklessness, pain, and anger
-- a dangerous combination. "And I think Skinner had better have a
damn good explanation."
Scully emerged from the kitchen, a mug of tea doctored with
honey and lemon in hand, to find him asleep. She walked slowly
over to the couch, parking the cup on the coffee table. She hovered
over him like an impotent guardian angel, knuckles pressed to her
lips and eyes soft with affection. He'd been lying down, head
propped up with a pillow to ease the coughing and legs bent to
provide a makeshift easel for his notepad. If not for the gravity of
the situation, she'd be charmed by the picture he now presented --
glasses askew, lips slightly parted as if he were ready to argue even
in sleep, and the pencil still clutched in one slack hand. Instead,
anxiety clawed and shifted in her stomach like a cornered beast.
Scully lowered herself to sit on the table, one hand seeking
Mulder's cheek with a gossamer touch designed to assess but not
awaken. Eyes sunken, cheek too pale and too warm. Scully gently
stroked a lock of hair back from his sweaty brow, then pressed her
palm to his chest, feeling the faint, telltale rattle that accompanied
each rise and fall.
As she gingerly removed his glasses, Mulder stirred and muttered a
string of half-intelligible words that included "Grey" and "stop."
All too experienced in soothing this man back from the edge of a
nightmare, Scully wove her fingers rhythmically through his soft
"Shhh. It's all right, love," she murmured, keeping her voice low in
both volume and inflection. "Sleep now."
Mulder quieted immediately and after a few minutes his lips
curved. "Scully," he breathed.
"I'm right here," she said, unsure whether he was asleep or awake
but continuing her gentle petting.
He mumbled something she couldn't hear, fingers flexing so that
the pencil slid unnoticed to the floor with a soft click. Scully
"What?" she prompted, sotto voice.
"Hips 'fore hans, babe," he mumbled, then turned to snuggled his
face into the pillow.
Scully fought the constriction in her throat, blinking hard to clear
blurred vision. She brushed her lips across his brow and collected
the notepad, about to join the pencil. Retreating to the armchair,
she studied the makeshift timeline Mulder had constructed to
account for Krycek's whereabouts.
Tunisia. New Mexico. Just what exactly was Ratboy up to these
days? Diana Fowley had traveled to Tunisia, contacting MUFON
groups. And Albert Hosteen lived in New Mexico. Coincidences?
If so, the number was growing at an alarming rate.
A brisk knock on her door startled Scully from her musings.
Casting a fleeting glance at the still sleeping Mulder, she stood,
smoothing her skirt and tucking a strand of hair behind her left ear.
She guessed who the visitor must be and found herself
unconsciously taking deep, cleansing breaths to steady her nerves.
Skinner examined her face as he entered, continuing to watch her
closely as she shut and locked the door.
"I got your message," he said. "Kim told me you needed to see me,
and that it had to be here. I took a late lunch."
Scully stared into the face of a man that, until two hours
previously, she'd have sworn she could trust with her life. The
features remained unchanged -- warm brown eyes magnified
behind metal frames, firm jaw, lips thinned with unspoken
questions. The man who had helped them clean out Teena Mulder's
basement after her sudden death. Who had risked his own job to
help her locate Mulder during his misadventure in the Bermuda
Triangle and put Mulder's health above the need to catch a killer.
She knew this man -- didn't she?
"We appreciate you coming, sir," she said coolly. "We had to be
certain that our conversation won't be overheard, and Mulder's
friends recently swept this place for bugs."
Skinner nodded sharply, then noticed Mulder for the first time. His
jaw tightened and a line appeared between his eyes.
"Is he all right?"
Fury hit hard and fast, like being tackled while her back was
turned. How dare Skinner profess concern over Mulder while
shielding the mans sworn enemy! Rather than betray those
feelings to Skinner, she simply walked over to the couch and laid a
gentle hand on Mulder's leg.
"Mulder, wake up. Skinner is here."
Instead of the hair-trigger response she'd come to expect, Mulder
merely moaned softly and attempted to dislodge the offending
hand without waking. Scully caught her lip between her teeth, then
repeated the motion with more force.
"Mulder. Wake up."
This time his eyes fluttered open and fixed dazedly on her face.
Positioning herself to block Skinner's view, she concealed her
worry with a smile and a caress to his cheek.
"Skinner is here," she repeated quietly. "You okay?"
His tongue snaked out to moisten dry lips. "Water?" he croaked
hopefully, levering himself upright. The hacking began
immediately, until he was doubled over and breathless.
"Hold on a minute." Scully scooped up the now cold mug of tea
and disappeared into the kitchen.
A series of beeps, and then the whir of the microwave wafted into
the living room. Mulder rubbed his eyes with the heels of his
hands, then ran his fingers over his hair in a hopeless attempt to
smooth it. He eyed Skinner, now seated in the armchair, warily.
"What have you been doing to yourself, Mulder? You look
terrible," his boss asked gruffly in a tone Mulder had come to
recognize as Skinnerconcern.
"So I've heard. You people are beginning to bruise my fragile ego,"
Mulder retorted, erupting in another series of coughs.
Scully returned with the tea, which he sipped gratefully. Taking a
seat at Mulder's side, they faced Skinner in the classic position of
adversaries. Scully breathed an internal sigh of relief when she saw
that Mulder had shaken off his lethargy.
"What is it that you two wanted to see me about?" Skinner asked,
eyes moving back and forth between them. "Is this about Grey?"
Mulder glanced at Scully, then took a deep breath. "I have five
words for you, sir. January. Krycek. South Street Gym."
It must have been the last thing Skinner expected. He couldn't hide
his grimace, though he averted his face quickly in an effort to do
so. When he turned back to face them, his A.D. persona was
securely in place.
"You've lost me, Mulder. You'll have to be more specific than
Mulder was off the couch and in Skinner's face with startling
speed, one hand at the man's throat.
"My brother, the only blood relation I have left on this earth, is
currently God knows where enduring God knows what at the hands
of that rat bastard -- the same scum-sucking bottom dweller that
has been placed at both the gym where you work out and the
hospital where you nearly checked out! Now you have one chance
to provide a satisfactory explanation before whatever trust and
respect I still have for you goes the way of the dinosaur. Is that
specific enough for you?"
Skinner's expression was inscrutable. "Let go of me, Mulder," he
ground out through clenched teeth.
Scully's calming hand at his elbow and a new round of breath-
stealing coughs convinced Mulder to return to the couch. Skinner
looked on silently while he struggled to control the spasms, the tic
beneath his left eye the only external indication of his disquiet.
When Mulder tapered off to an occasional cough, Skinner leaned
forward, elbows on knees. He gazed down at his clasped hands,
jaw working nervously back and forth. Finally his bowed shoulders
straightened and he met Mulder's eyes.
"Mulder, there *is* no satisfactory explanation. My hands are
"BULLSHIT." The single word burst from Mulder's lips with such
venom it triggered another series of hacking. He shoved
himself up from the couch and stalked into the bathroom, where
the medicine cabinet opened and then slammed shut with a bang.
"He's got no business working this case," Skinner ground out.
"He's too emotionally invested and he looks like he can barely stay
on his feet."
"Are you saying you're removing him from the investigation?"
Scully asked stiffly, eyes twin chips of blue ice.
"I wasn't speaking as his boss, Scully, but as his friend."
"Do us both a favor, sir, and spare us your brand of friendship.
You've seen this before, you know how Mulder operates. He won't
stop until he's found Grey or killed himself in the attempt."
Skinner winced, his eyes losing focus as his attention momentarily
turned inward. Scully knew he was recalling Mulder's behavior
during the three months of her abduction. Driven, her mother had
once described his behavior during the time she was convalescing in
her old home. Reckless in his single-minded desperation to find her,
heedless of the physical and emotional cost. Self-destructive.
Mulder wandered back into the room, wiping his lips with the back
of his hand, a sour expression on his face that could be contributed
to cold medicine, Skinner, or the unpleasant combination of both.
"Still here, sir?" he sneered, dropping back down to the cushions
with a creak of leather. "Don't let us keep you. I'm sure someone
with your...*connections* has places to go, people to see."
Skinner removed his glasses and drew one hand slowly down his
face from forehead to chin, eyes squeezed shut as if in pain. He
finally replaced the frames and looked up.
"Krycek infected me with the nanomachines. He's got a...a device
that can turn them on and off with the push of a button. That 'rat
bastard' as you so eloquently call him holds my life in the palm of
Mulder's face registered no expression. "Has he approached you
for any favors?"
Skinner smiled -- a bitter twist of his lips. "I met with him once.
He promised he'd keep in touch."
Mulder nodded slowly. The blaze within him banked to coals, only
weariness remained. Scully slipped her hand over his and raised
"Sir, is there anything, anything at all, that you can..."
"I followed him," Skinner said grimly with the air of a man led
before a firing squad. "I'm almost certain he didn't know. I stayed
with him as far as the gates of a place called 'Nature's Best.'" He
snorted. "They produce various food items, including corn oil.
Mulder leaned forward, giving his notepad a small push that sent it
gliding to Skinner's end of the coffee table. "Directions."
Skinner waffled briefly before pulling a pen from his pocket and
jotting on the pad with harsh, jerky strokes.
"Hope you're right about the bugs," he said ruefully to Scully,
tossing the pad to the table and standing. "I have to get back to the
Mulder picked up the pad and trailed silently behind Scully as she
uttered soft words of thanks and escorted their boss to the door.
His eyebrows lowered, a line marring the pale skin of his forehead.
"How far?" he asked, his eyes charting Skinner's face like new
territory to be explored. "How far would you have gone?"
Skinner's mouth dropped open, his chin jutting forward. "Far
enough to preserve my life without selling my soul. Keep me
A short nod to Scully, and he strode purposefully out the door and
down the hall. Mulder frowned at the writing on the pad.
"I'm calling the guys, Scully. We're getting Grey out of there, and
we're doing it tonight."