RATales Archive

Articled to Error

by Vanzetti

Title: Articled to Error
Author: Vanzetti (vanzetti@populli.net)
Rating: R for language, violence and betrayal.
Category: Adventure, mytharc, K/O.
Spoilers: The mytharc through One Son. We are in a post One Son AU.
Disclaimer: The X-Files universe and the characters of that show are the property of 1013 and Fox. No profit is being made here.
Thanks to my ever-loyal beta readers, Ann Ripley and Bardsmaid, who have done everything in their power to make this story better. All errors are, of course, mine.
Summary: Various unpleasant truths are revealed.
Notes: Distances are not to scale. This is, after all, a work of fantasy.
Author's note: What a long, strange trip it's been. There were times that I never thought I would finish this story. Here you will find the first four chapters. This is not a work in progress; the next four chapters are with my betas and the final chapters are in draft form, waiting for a revision. I expect to post the next four chapters next week, and then the end of the story the week after that, but this depends on my own RL schedule and that of my betas. If people prefer not to read until the whole thing is posted, I do understand.

The first two parts of this story are "Pity and Rebellion" and "Pain is Real". You may be able to understand this story without having read them, but I make no guarantees.

That said, go, read. And send me feedback: vanzetti@populli.net

Wandering lost among the mountains of our choice,
Again and again we sigh for an ancient South,
For the warm nude ages of instinctive poise,
For the taste of joy in the innocent mouth.

Asleep in our huts, how we dream of a part
In the glorious balls of the future; each intricate maze
Has a plan, and the disciplined movements of the heart
Can follow for ever and ever its harmless ways.

We envy streams and houses that are sure:
But we are articled to error; we
Were never nude and calm like a great door,

And never will be perfect like the fountains;
We live in freedom by necessity,
A mountain people dwelling among mountains.

--W. H. Auden, In Time of War XXVII (1938)


I only realized the scale of the disaster when I met my two colleagues in Sidi Dhrif. Until that meeting, based on the information I'd received from the men Strughold had sent to the US, I had believed that we had suffered only a minor setback, albeit one with some disturbing implications.

My eyes wandered over the courtyard covered in tiles of blue, white and gold. The fruit trees and flowers growing over every possible surface were almost enough to cover the smell of the smoke I was exhaling. It really was an incongruously beautiful spot.

"What do you mean, you didn't recover the data?" Strughold thundered. Our other colleague tried to meet my eyes in sympathy, and I ignored him. Not for the last time, I wished I had eliminated him when I had the chance.

"Mulder and Scully don't have it," I said. "Krycek must have double-crossed them and kept it for himself. His partner refused to hand it over."

"You don't understand how important it is that we recover that information," the Englishman stated.

This time I met his eyes. "What I cannot understand is why you permitted the research to progress so far."

"Krycek could have continued it on his own if we had attempted to shut the labs down. I judged it safer to allow it to continue where we could monitor it."

"Can you find this person?" Strughold asked. "This Jacob Bookman?" He sounded irritated. His ability to commandeer a presidential palace outside Tunis for our meeting was no doubt meant to impress me. I was more impressed by his paranoia--we were meeting so close to the fountain that its noise would cover the sound of our voices--and his extraordinary worry about the situation with Krycek, Mulder and Jacob Bookman.

"Of course," I said. Bookman and I had shared an interesting, if inconclusive, discussion as he used me to cover his escape from Winchester Air Force Base. He had expressed interest in the Project and I had intimated that the fee for his entry into our little clique would be Krycek's head. If I could find him again, I was certain I could renegotiate. The uncertainties could wait until I was alone.

"And Mulder?" Strughold asked.

"For the moment, Mulder must remain free to act. Once Krycek is taken care of and the information is retrieved we can reconsider, but right now I need Mulder in the open."

The other two didn't object. How could they? Their idiotic gamble had lost them Krycek, Mulder and the vaccine data. John Davies, Strughold's security chief, was lying dead in a ditch somewhere in Central Europe. And they had managed to involve two complete strangers who were somehow allied to Krycek. Now, as usual, they needed me to clean up the mess.

I said my goodbyes and returned to Tunis airport. Twelve hours later I was face to face with one of the few people I had left in the organization. Not that the others were disloyal; most of them were merely dead. Krycek had to have been behind the El Rico firestorm. It was another item I would have to take up with him when I saw him again. My shadow-child, my slippery protege, I should have paid more attention to him, and now I would have to kill him. Nothing fancy, this time. Alex Krycek had a remarkable talent for escaping from situations which should have left him dead. This time a bullet in the back of the head would finish the matter.

It was almost a certainty that Fowley too would betray me someday. For the moment, though, I had little choice but to rely on her. "Marita Covarrubias was sent from Fort Marlene to one of the sites in Colorado," I told her. "Find her and have her brought back here."



I was getting used to looking up from my desk to find Scully watching me, one eyebrow slightly lifted. She had started to try to distract me with new cases: she even passed me a report about a slime monster in Minnesota. I passed it back and returned my attention to my computer screen.

Scully said something about an appointment, grabbed her briefcase and walked out.

I opened my mouth to call after her--the slime monster was proof of how worried she was about me--but she was already gone.

When I heard footsteps in the hall and the door opening I started to talk right away. "Listen, Scully, I'm sorry. I know I've been--"

Diana Fowley was standing in the doorway. "Fox," she said uncertainly.

It took a second for my brain and my mouth to reconnect. "What the hell are you doing here? Where have you been? You're apartment was deserted!"

"I had some vacation time to take. And I've... I've put in for a transfer to the Atlanta field office."

"A transfer." I stood up. "Aren't you forgetting something, Diana? You don't really work for the FBI. You work for the Smoker, C. G. B. Spender, whatever the hell his name is."

I was still hoping that she would tell me that I was wrong. She just looked at the floor for a second. "It isn't that simple, Fox," she said. "I thought I was doing the right thing."

"The right thing? How is betraying everything I thought you stood for the right thing? Help me understand that, Diana, because right now I'm not very clear about that one."

She bit her lip. "I'm sorry."

"Diana, you were with me when this all started, when we found out about the X-Files. Was everything you ever told me a lie?"

"No!" she said. "No. I came here today because I was worried about you."

"And luring me to El Rico was a sign of how much you care about me."

A line appeared on her forehead. "What are you talking about?"

"Everyone there died, Diana. And if it hadn't been for Scully's call I would have been there too."

"And you think we were trying to kill you? We were trying to help you, to save your life and to help you find Samantha again."

"Don't bring my sister into this, Diana!" I said, a little more loudly than I meant to.

Diana stepped back. "If you want to blame anyone for what happened that night, blame Krycek."

It was my turn to be confused.

"Who do you think told them that we would be there, with Cassandra? He was supposed to turn up, but he never did. He was double-crossing the group the whole time. And then he completely disappeared. Even Birtwistle couldn't find him, until he turned up and kidnapped you, and handed you over to Strughold."

"Krycek didn't hand me over to anyone."

She met my eyes. "Fox, please be careful. Krycek is a loose cannon--no one can restrain him any more. I know you don't feel... I know you can't trust me right now. But please remember that if you need anything, you can come to me. No matter how desperate the situation seems. You're not in this alone. If you ever believed in what we had together, believe that."

I just stood behind my desk and stared at her until she dropped her eyes and turned to leave. I really had to settle things with Scully.


Jacob Bookman:

In my father's house are many chambers. I chose the one on the left-hand side on the second floor. It hadn't been used in quite a while except as a guest room; the bookcases now held the overflow from the office downstairs and the posters which had once covered the walls had been rolled up in the basement somewhere and replaced by black-and-white photographs.

From the window I could watch the path that led up to the front of the house, so I settled down to wait for my father to come home. Force of habit took him to the library every morning. He claimed that he was producing another book. It might be the volume of autobiography he sometimes threatened to write, although the need to change nearly all the names--to protect the guilty, of course--seemed to be holding him back from publication.

I had no idea what I would say to him when he did return. I was uncomfortably aware that I'd run home like a little boy bringing his father a broken toy, handing it over to be fixed. But I was no child, and my father could not make this decision for me.

Spender had been very clear that the price of my entry to the conspiracy would be Sasha's death. An excellent choice from his point of view, as it eliminated what he would see as the major risk, that Sasha and I were working together. Once I would have rejected it out of hand: Sasha was one of the few men I considered, if not my equal, then at least my friend. I had felt the same about Daniel, whose death should have made me even more reluctant to endanger Sasha. Once we really would have been working together on this, plotting against Spender and faking a death which he could accept, leaving me on the inside and Sasha working underground.

Now, though, both my problems had the same solution. It was all too clear that Sasha had discovered my role in Daniel's death, and that he suspected that I knew that he knew: why else would he keep himself and my sister away from me? The best way to ensure that he never used that knowledge against me was to remove Sasha altogether.

The same action might save my life. Not just mine: there was my family to think of, my father and my sister. And more.

In Turkmenistan I had for the first time gotten a sense of the scale of the disaster ahead. The idea that the world was run by some secret cabal working behind the scenes was one I'd been taught to regard as the worst kind of paranoia. I didn't like the knowledge that I'd been mistaken.

Now that I knew, I had to act.

I got up and went over to the window to look out. Across the street a thin woman with straight brown hair was trying to load two little girls into a maroon Volvo. An old man was walking up the hill with a German shepherd on a leash.

The conspirators had, I presumed, received some kind of guarantee that they would survive. Sasha seemed to believe that it would be possible to stop what was coming. But even he had to admit that his ability to work within the conspiracy was now limited. He had double-crossed them too many times. Whereas I...

I could take his place, if I were willing to kill him.

The little girls got into the back seat and the woman drove away in the Volvo. I turned from the window and went to sit on the bed. There was no way I could take this problem to my father and allow him to judge me for the choice I might have to make.

I got up from the bed and smoothed the covers. He would know that someone had been in the house no matter what I did, but he would probably also know that it was me. As I turned off the lights I gave the room one last glance: Leilah's dolls seemed to stare back at me accusingly from their shelf. The yearly gift of a well-meaning family friend to a girl who had preferred to play with my trains and my father's printing presses, it was ironic that they were one of the few things left to mark that the room was hers.

I let myself out the back door and was caught again by the sight of the old wooden garage Sasha had named the firetrap and Leilah, more euphemistically, the guesthouse. In fact most of our guests stayed in spare rooms, but Sasha had lived there whenever he visited us despite the lack of heat. Never quite family, never just a guest.

The fate of the world rested in the hands of a few old men. If Sasha was to be believed, their attitude was "apres moi, le deluge." Such a situation could not be allowed to continue. I could not turn away from what I knew, no matter what the sacrifice required.

The first thing to do, I decided, was simply to find Sasha. Once I saw him, I would know what to do.



After Mulder got back from wherever Krycek had dragged him too--and refused to tell me anything about what had happened to him--he started to insist that we go out for lunch. He preferred to eat outside and kept anything important he had to say for those occasions. So it was lunchtime when he handed me the plane tickets to San Francisco. We were leaving the next morning. Mulder doesn't believe in prior warning.

"What's in San Francisco?" I asked.

"Berkeley," he corrected me. "Jacob Bookman's family home. We need to find him before Spender does."

"And you think he'll have just gone home?" My belief was that Jacob Bookman had either made a deal with Spender or had left the country and was off with Krycek, wherever the hell Krycek was hiding.

Mulder must have guessed that I was skeptical, since he hunched his shoulders a little, the way he used to when he was trying to get me to buy some outlandish theory. "It can't hurt. We can interview his father, try to get a sense of where he might have gone. We need that data, Scully."

I got a good look at the Bookman family home the next morning, as we pulled up to the curb in front of it. It was a wide wooden building with a stone foundation and a deep front porch. The upstairs windows stared out blankly at the two of us as we left the rented car in the driveway. The plot was large and overgrown, giving the sense that the house was hidden from its neighbors.

We had been told by the Bureau office in San Francisco that Professor Bookman knew we were coming. But there was no sense, as we walked up the path, that anyone was watching us, and no one answered the door when we rang the bell. We waited another minute, and then Mulder glanced over at me and took out his lock picks. I looked away while he worked on the door; I suppose it was my own form of plausible deniability. If I were ever asked, I could always say I'd been concerned about Professor Bookman's safety.

"It's open," Mulder said. He sounded surprised, and I gave him a quizzical look. "No," he explained, "I mean, it was already unlocked."

Not a good sign. We both drew our weapons as he pulled the door open.

The front porch led straight into the living room. My first impression was simply a sense of space: it was a big room, with a high, wood-beamed ceiling and a big stone fireplace on the left-hand wall. My second impression, as my eyes adjusted to the dimness, was that someone had really done a number on it.

The place was a mess. The left-hand wall had been lined with bookshelves: their contents were now spread all over the floor. A glass case across from us was lying on its side, its contents spilled out onto the floor around it.

Mulder looked grim as we split up to circle the room. I was still picking my way through piles of books when he said, "This wasn't a burglary." He sounded very certain.

"How do you know?"

He gestured at the wall behind the fallen display case. "That carpet is an eighteenth-century Persian prayer rug. It's very valuable."

How the hell does Mulder know that kind of thing? "Not everyone has your eye for antiques," I protested.

"But any burglar would have realized that these coins lying on the floor are made of gold. Whoever did this was looking for something specific."

I sighed. "The data?"

Mulder nodded. "I'm going to look around upstairs."

I checked the other rooms on the first floor: they had all been ransacked. We would never be able to tell what, if anything, was missing, aside from the most obvious things. In the office the CPU had been taken, probably along with some CDs and disks. In the kitchen containers of food had been dumped on the table and there was a pool of water forming in front of the open door of the refrigerator.

Next to the pantry, a door led down to the basement. I remembered Jacob's comment about his sister using it to make fake IDs for her friends, and got out my flashlight. I was expecting something exotic, but it was just the usual: stacks of cardboard boxes, some of which had been emptied onto the concrete floor, rotting furniture, more bookshelves and a washer and dryer up against one wall.

Back upstairs, I found Mulder standing in front of the fireplace. He didn't even turn around when I came in. "Scully," he said, "come take a look at this."

"Did you find anything upstairs?"

"More mess," he answered. "No dead bodies, though. That's got to be a good sign." He half turned and offered me a photograph in a cheap plastic frame. I took it automatically, and looked down. Krycek and Jacob Bookman, with a girl who was probably the sister. They were dressed as if for a costume party--the girl's dress was something from the forties, maybe. Bookman was in a tuxedo and Krycek in a linen suit, and they looked like they were laughing about something, maybe the small red hat Leilah was trying to hand to her brother: Bookman had his hands up as if to push it away. What caught my attention, though, and must have drawn Mulder's as well, was the expression on Krycek's face. He looked delighted. Not smug, or cautiously pleased. Just purely happy. His mouth was open, as if he was about to say something. He was holding a fedora in one hand and reaching for the red hat with the other.

"He looks so young," I said, before I could stop myself.

"I forgot what he was like when we first met him," Mulder said softly. "The years have really roughed him up." He sounded regretful.

I was irritated by the sympathy I had felt, and handed the photograph back to Mulder. "This doesn't change anything," I said briskly. "Just because Krycek didn't spring fully-formed from the earth doesn't make him any more trustworthy. He's still an amoral killer with--"

The front door slammed open. "Freeze!" a voice shouted. "Police!"

We turned, our hands in the air. Skinner was going to be furious.

It took a few minutes to convince the good representatives of the Berkeley PD that they had not caught the thieves red-handed. They were apologetic, but not apologetic enough to let us keep cluttering up their crime scene.

I left Mulder trying to be territorial and found a guy looking to make detective whose eyes lit up when I used the phrase "ongoing FBI investigation." He promised to go over the house with a fine-toothed comb; I didn't believe that there would be any evidence to link this to the conspiracy, but that was no excuse for not trying. More importantly, he told me he'd keep me up-to-date on the investigation and let me know the minute any member of the Bookman family reappeared.



"He killed Skinner, you know," Scully said in the car.

She should have known that midday traffic on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay bridge was not the best place for that kind of announcement. I had to concentrate on keeping us in our own lane before I could respond.

"What?" Skinner had growled at me the day before.

"Over the winter. With the nanotechnology. He killed him and brought him back to life. So Krycek didn't tell you about that."

"No." It didn't occur to me to doubt her.

"He's been holding that threat over Skinner ever since, making him do his dirty work."

It was starting again. Whatever fragile peace I had achieved with Krycek was about to be broken. "He told me that he's looking for a cure for the Oil, that he's trying to stop Colonization."

"And you believed him."

"I think he meant it. I don't think he meant for either of us to end up in Strughold's hands."

"Hm," she said. "Why would Alex Krycek be working against them?"

"Survival," I suggested. That was a reason Scully would accept, although I wasn't sure that it was the whole story. "Maybe all he wants to do is save Alex Krycek, but he seems to think that the best way to do that involves saving a whole lot of other people as well."

"But not Skinner."

Not Skinner. I thought of him, lying on the hospital bed while Krycek, hidden somewhere, turned his own body against him. Skinner had put himself on the line for us again and again. He had protected us to the best of his ability. In those terrible months when Scully was dying, he had made a deal with the devil to keep her alive. And Krycek? Krycek had finally admitted to killing my father and arranging Scully's abduction.

And still... this murderer in my brain was not the man I'd faced down in that stable, not the man caught between hopelessness and humor outside the lab in Turkmenistan. He was a killer: he had killed my father, he had killed Skinner, I had seen him leave a trail of bodies over the last few days. But that wasn't all he was.

"Did you know that Krycek lost an arm in Russia?" I asked.

Scully expelled a breath. "Is that supposed to make up for everything he's done?"

"No. No, of course not. But..."

"Mulder, I think you need to admit that Krycek was just trying to use you. I don't know what for, what his purposes were, but you can't just assume that they were what he told you. He's trying to manipulate you. He's just using a different method than he did with Skinner."

I started to protest and then realized it. "Actually, I think you're right."

"What?" She glanced over at me and almost smiled. "Mulder, can I get that in writing?"

"No, seriously. Krycek has some kind of plan that he needs my help--our help--for. He took me to Turkmenistan to prove that I could trust him and work with him."

"By kidnapping you."

My mouth twitched. "Well, no one ever said Krycek was normal. I agree that he set the whole thing up, except for our capture by Strughold. That was not part of his plan. Neither was anything that happened there."

"It could have all been an act." I shook my head and she sighed. "Now what? And what about Skinner?"

"I don't know. Maybe if I look like I'm playing Krycek's game I can get him to let Skinner go."

"Look like you're playing Krycek's game, or actually play Krycek's game?"

She'd caught me. "This thing with Krycek, Scully, I feel like it's as close as we've ever come to the truth."

"You've always found it easy to trust Krycek," she said. "I wish I understood why."

"Does it frighten you?" She frowned. "Because it frightens me. Scully, I'm not sure I want to trust Krycek, and I know I don't want you to trust him."

"Well," she said, "there's not much risk of that."

"You know I rely on you to keep me sane."

One perfect eyebrow lifted. "Keep you sane?"



My life is not exactly full of pleasant surprises. So something has to be pretty fucking catastrophic--in the "my dad died last week and my boss just tried to kill me" scale--before I really sit up and notice. Getting caught in Turkmenistan by Strughold's people was getting uncomfortably close. Someone had known about that facility and had been watching it. A leak on the Russian side of things, with ties to Strughold, was bad news. The Russians were very close to a feasible vaccine, and if what Strughold had said was true, there was no way I could permit him to get his hands on it.

And after Austria, I had a score to settle with Strughold.

I figured that Leilah would be anxious to see the back of me. It was for the best: the man she had thought I was wasn't the person I had to be most of the time. Anyway, I couldn't stay in Spain; it was too far out of the loop. And the house was giving me the creeps. I knew it was time to go when I dreamed that Daniel Katalan's ghost came to stand at the foot of my bed and demand his revenge.

She left with me. My week resting my leg left her pale and sharp-eyed. I knew she wasn't sleeping much because every night, very late, she would come and lie next to me in my bed, slipping out again just before the sun rose. I pretended to sleep through it and waited for her to put the pieces together when she was ready.

In Moscow it was still winter, and the streets were full of wet snow. I don't keep an apartment here any more so I checked us into the National Hotel; in Moscow things are either very good or very bad, and this way at least I could be pretty certain the heating wouldn't break down. I left Leilah in the room while I went out to let a few people know that I was back in town.

When I got back I was feeling cautiously optimistic. I wasn't exactly Moscow's golden boy any more, but the people I dealt with were realists. Once they'd found out I was playing both sides they got over it: they could still use me.

I knocked on the door. "Sasha," I said.

"Right." It was her voice, through the door. She opened it to let me in. "What's that? Luggage?"

I had a heavy parcel wrapped up in paper and string lodged under my prosthetic arm. It had been awkward to carry even up to the room. I pulled at it with my good arm. "It's for you."

She came forward and got it from me, using both hands. I stayed still and watched her take it over to the bed and start to rip at the paper. She looked up and gave me a small, careful smile. "It's not a bomb, is it, Sasha?"

"No." I hoped not.

I guess it was pretty obvious once the paper came off, but she unrolled the whole thing and laid it out flat on the bed.

"A fur coat," she said. It was hard to tell if she was pleased or not.

"You were cold just in the taxi coming in from the airport." She was staring at me, not smiling. "Check the inside pockets."

She did. "A fur coat and two guns. You really know the way to a girl's heart, don't you?" She almost sounded as if she thought it was funny.

"One of the guns is for me."

"Sasha, what is this?"

"A coat," I shrugged. "A gun."

"You don't have to buy me things."

"At least see if the damn thing fits."

She put it on and went to stand in front of the mirror. It was long and narrow, the sable only a little darker than her hair, so that I could see where one ended and the other began. She was barefoot, and it came to her ankles. The coat looked like I'd thought it would when I saw it in the window and went into the shop to buy it. Maybe better.

"So," she said, turning around. "It fits."

"It looks..." I trailed off. What was I supposed to say?

"Sasha, it's a beautiful coat. But you shouldn't buy things for me. You don't have to take care of me."

I couldn't take care of her. It was crazy for me even to try. "You haven't heard the bad news," I said.

She grinned. "If it was really bad news you wouldn't have bought me the gun."

"Dinner with two generals. We can't get out of it. Vodka, filthy jokes and greasy food."

"Will there be lap dancers?" she asked. "Daniel said there were usually lap-dancers."

I rubbed my hand over my eyes. "I hope not."

When I looked up, she was standing right in front of me. "Thank you," she said.

I brushed my hand over the sleeve of the coat, barely touching it. "It's just a coat." It was Russian sable. I met her eyes. "You aren't... You shouldn't think... I don't want anything for this." There. That was tactless enough.

For just a second, I thought she might start to cry. But she blinked and said, "You never expect anything, Sasha. It's part of your charm."

I would figure out what she meant by that later. "It's worked so far," I ventured.

"Yes," she said, frowning a little. "Will you let me help with all this? The... aliens?" She said it like it was a word in a foreign language. "You've carried it on your own long enough."

The urge to trust someone becomes overwhelming sometimes, although it has never worked out. The situation was dangerous enough without bringing in my messy relationship with Leilah and Jacob. All I would do was hurt her. Hurt her more, anyway. A better man than I am would have sent her packing. But she was a good shot and an excellent forger and had contacts all over Europe and Asia. And I was tired of being alone.

Dinner with the generals was not as bad as it could have been. One of them turned up with his mistress, a stringy second-rate ballerina in a very small, very lurid dress. About halfway through the meal the other one managed to connect Leilah with her brother and proceeded to lecture her drunkenly on Yugoslavia and Chechnya while the ballerina slipped off to the bathroom to shoot up. A party of Georgian gangsters sitting at the next table got interested in the lecture and started to argue with the generals about terrorism and corruption--subjects they probably knew more about than the generals did. They also insisted we try some kind of Georgian lamb dish they had ordered, which undoubtedly involved parts of the animal normal people throw away. It was so disgusting that we all needed a lot more vodka to wash away the aftertaste.

I love the New Russia. At least no one got killed.

We stumbled back into the hotel at dawn, after the usual protestations of eternal love from the Georgians. The ballerina had to be carried out. When we got back to the room Leilah muttered something at me, lay down on the bed and fell asleep, still wrapped in the coat.

The dinner was worth the headache. The Russians had ordered the Turkmeni lab closed down in a response to the destruction of so many of the American labs by the alien resistance; the three key scientists had been moved to more secure locations. Now I knew where they were.

In the morning I decided to go pay them a visit and see if I couldn't make someone else feel as sick as I did.

Yevgeny Beraichev was alone in the lab when I found him. Perfect. I locked the door behind me and leaned back against the reinforced glass; he looked up when he heard the lock but by then it was too late. He knew he was in trouble when I pulled down the shade so no one could see in.

"You told me you had a vaccine," I said.

He was already pale from the winter and the time spent inside the lab, so he didn't have much color to lose. He swallowed and then wiped at his mouth as if he'd been drinking something. Then he brushed his hair out of his eyes. It was long and stringy, no real color, and didn't really match the rest of him. Yevgeny was a man made out of cubes: cubes for his legs, cubes for his torso, a cube for his head. He looked solid, even in the lab coat, but I could practically smell how scared he was. I walked toward him, three slow steps.

"You told me you were making progress. I thought we had a deal, Yevgeny."

"Aleksandr Grigorievich..." he began. "I thought... That is..."

"You thought?"

"Progress. Yes," he said. "Yes, I have made progress. The results are good." Three more steps had me an arm's length from him and him babbling. "You have to understand, we left so suddenly, I couldn't put it in the store-room. There wasn't time. I was keeping it separate, so no one else would find it. It was an accident!"

"You were holding out on me, Yevgeny. Admit it." He jumped backwards and beads of sweat appeared on his face. He was much more frightened than what he had done warranted. Lucky the first time: I'd found my leak.

"No! Here it is; let me get it." He began to move sideways, as if he was afraid to turn his back on me. Well, the man was supposed to be some kind of genius.

"Stay there." He froze. "Tell me a story, Yevgeny. Who have you been talking to? And what did you tell them?" I pulled a chair away from the machine it was sitting in front of. "Have a seat. Make yourself comfortable."

He shook his head, the first sign of resistance. It was bound to start.

"Did they threaten you, Yevgeny?" I kept my voice low and soothing. "I can threaten you too, if it will help." He shook his head again and I sighed. I had a headache. Why shouldn't he?

Beraichev was solid, but he wasn't fast. I took one step closer to grab him by the neck of his shirt and slammed his head down against the laboratory worktable. His hands scrabbled against the smooth surface. I slammed his head down again, so he'd know I meant it, and let him go.

"I don't want to hurt you," I told him. "Don't make me hurt you, Yevgeny."

He pushed himself up, then stepped back and sank into the chair, holding his head in his hands. "The vaccine isn't perfect. It has a 53% success rate. I think I can make it better. I don't know if I can make it perfect."

Fifty-three percent. Was that two billion lives lost or two billion lives saved? It was no good: the newborn Grays would just rip up anyone the vaccine worked on.

"Fifty-three percent is worthless. It won't save your life."

He swallowed. "I can make it better, Aleksandr Grigorievich, but then the vaccine becomes impossible to synthesize." In other words, impossible to produce in the necessary quantities. Fuck.

"Not good enough. I thought I could count on you, Yevgeny. Not just to do the work. To keep your mouth shut about it. You mentioned my name to someone. Who was it?"

He looked up at me. "They'll kill me," he whispered.

"Not if I kill you first.".

He swallowed convulsively. "I saw Malcolm Foote at a conference in Bonn..."

"And you complained about me," I whispered, leaning closer.

He nodded.

"You were worried about the work," I continued. "You weren't sure what my intentions were."

"He told me you were going to release the virus, that you only wanted the vaccine for a small group." Beraichev was still whispering, his eyes closed. It was like his fear had put him into some kind of trance.

"And you believed him."

"He told me... he told me he would help, that if I let him know when I was going to give you the vaccine he'd take care of it."

"That he'd take care of me, you mean."

He swallowed and nodded again. Then he opened his eyes and said, "But I didn't leave the vaccine in the lab for either of you. I kept it."

"You double-crossed us both?" I barked out a laugh. He was sweating, though. Like I said, he was some kind of genius. "Yevgeny, you idiot! Where are the samples and the documentation?" He gestured with his head to one of the shelves. Keeping an eye on him, I went over to look into the box in it. A set of vials in a case, some computer disks and printouts. It looked good. Three of the vials had the number he'd given me on them. Series 77-22, number 1764. I slipped the whole case into my pocket and drew my gun. Beraichev got up from the chair. "Sit back down," I told him.

He sat down and I shot him between the eyes.

The other two scientists were geniuses too, supposedly. Maybe this would make them work harder.

As I walked back into the hotel I was feeling fairly pleased with the way the day had gone. My headache had almost disappeared. Krostenko and Selunskaya were suitably impressed by Beraichev's dead body; I didn't expect any trouble from them for a while. The Russians still needed me as a go-between, so they wouldn't raise the issue of my killing Beraichev directly; what they would do was increase the security on the other two and their work so no one else could get in. That was good: I didn't want anyone getting at them until I knew what was going on with the vaccine-Colonization link. And tucked into my coat pocket I had Beraichev's vaccine. Fifty-three percent was better than nothing. It had to be.

Plus, I had a lead on the leak to Strughold's organization, although I wasn't looking forward to confronting Malcolm Foote. After Charne-Sayre's death he'd taken over the Brit's research program. He was an idealist, a man more like Mulder than me. The last person I would have expected to go over to Strughold's side.

One of the bellboys got in my way as I strode across the lobby. "Madam is in the conservatory," he announced, then stood there and stared at my shoes, waiting for his tip.

Leilah had probably been bored, sitting in the room. I changed directions and went to find her.

The National is proud of its conservatory. You can sit there in the middle of winter, surrounded by tropical plants, drinking your gin and tonics and dreaming of empire. A lot of brass, polished daily. A lot of wicker. Fern bar by Faberge.

I stood in the entry, scanning the room, as the headwaiter hovered behind me. There she was: I hadn't seen her the first time because she was talking to another woman. I could see the back of a blonde head. The ballerina? Leilah saw me and smiled, then leaned forward to say something to her companion as I made my way over to them.

They'd been having tea, not drinks, and the table was littered with the detritus: fine china cups and plates, a small pot for the tea and another, on a warmer, for the water, some kind of yellow cake. There were two pieces left. It made a nice scene, two good-looking, well-dressed women meeting in the middle of the afternoon for a little fashionable gossip. Even their looks contrasted: one fair-skinned and blonde, the other dark-haired and tanned. Two businessmen at a table nearby were clearly admiring the view. I desperately wished that I didn't know either woman, so I could appreciate it too.

My headache was back, with a vengeance. I got to the table on autopilot; they both looked up and smiled at me.

"Hello, Alex," Marita Covarrubias said.

I slumped into a chair next to Leilah's. "You're looking well, Marita." It was true. Oh, I could see traces of the wreck she'd been in the way the skin was clinging to her cheeks and in the broken veins in her eyes, but other than that she looked completely self- possessed. She always had.

A small tightening of the muscles around her mouth was all the answer I got. As if I didn't have enough enemies. "Can we talk here?" she asked.

"I don't think you want to go anywhere more private."

"You must know why I'm here."

"Since it isn't the glorious Moscow climate, I guess I must have pissed someone off."

"He wants to see you."

I grinned. No shit. "He probably wants to kill me. What's in it for me?"

"He claims he still needs you on the inside, particularly now." Now that the resistance was trampling all over his secure little kingdom, I guessed. I'd be happy to sit back and watch it happen if I wasn't worried that the rest of the planet was about to follow the Smoker down the drain.

"But you don't believe that."

She gave me a little smile. "I think you're right. But he's started to talk about a new generation taking over. Agent Mulder's name was mentioned."

Ah, the threat. Come back and play nice or we'll bring Mulder in. We know what you want, and we'll give it to him, instead. He'd always been the heir-apparent. The rest of us were just substitutes, kept in place until the day Mulder took up his rightful position. If it came to that, I wondered which way Mulder would go. Spender had been chipping away at his integrity for years, getting him closer and closer to the organization, frustrating him and forcing him to compromise. Diana Fowley was claiming that she had almost got him to come to El Rico with her. And in Austria he'd seemed happy enough to play along with Strughold for his own ends. Maybe this time it was going to happen. A Mulder who was willing to play ball allowed all kinds of interesting possibilities.

I said, "The old man's been trying to get to Mulder for years. It'll never happen, but you can tell him good luck from me."

Her face tightened. Didn't like being messenger girl, did she? But she couldn't have expected I'd take her back into my confidence, especially with Leilah sitting right here next to me.

"You don't have to trust me to realize that this time he means it," she said.

"But I'm not going to drop everything and rush back to Spender on your word."

"Don't you think he knows that?"

Jesus. I was never going to shake this headache. Not so long as the Smoker was alive. Right now I was in no condition to deal with Marita. I stood up. "Are you still staying at the apartment?" She nodded. "I'll contact you there."

Leilah stood as well. "A pleasure to meet you, Ms. Covarrubias."

Marita tilted her head slightly, looking up at her. "Remember what I told you," she said. "Alex, I look forward to hearing from you."

Great. I took Leilah's arm as we walked out. "What did she tell you?" I asked.

"It wasn't what she said as much as how she said it. Pretty much every sentence could have ended with 'you poor, deluded girl.' What does she want?"

"The usual. Freedom. Power. My head on a platter."

"Too bad. I liked her." Shit. The elevator doors closed behind us; Leilah leaned against the back wall and stared at our blurred reflection in the metal. "Once we got over the awkward moment when I thought she was a prostitute and she thought I was one. If the two of you are secretly married, now would be a good time to confess to it."

"I have a wife in Shanghai and two more in Yemen," I said automatically. She snorted. "Marita Covarrubias is a ruthless bitch who is waiting for the day when she can spit on my dead body. And I need to go to England tomorrow."

"And you want me to stay here and keep an eye on her." Leilah supplied.

"She used to have contacts. She might still be a player."

The elevator door opened and we walked back down the corridor to the room. "She thinks we're lovers. Will that be a problem?"

I answered as the door closed behind us. "Tell her whatever you think will work. I'll back you up." I might someday be desperate enough to give Marita another try, but I doubted it. I was pretty sure she felt the same. I had no idea what she wanted now--whatever she would gain the most by, I guessed. Much like myself: it was one of the reasons we had worked together so well, and probably why everything fell apart.

I sat down on one of the little chairs and watched Leilah step out of her shoes and wiggle her toes. "Will you be all right while I'm in England?" I asked.

"Of course." She sounded surprised.

I considered leaving it there: it wasn't my problem. Except that it was. "Will you sleep?"

She sat down on the bed. "I can hardly spend the rest of my life following you everywhere you go."

"But you could go home."

"I think activity is the best cure. I don't want to go home and play the invalid."

"I'd warn you about how dangerous this thing is..."

"But it would be a bit late," she finished.

"Everything is expendable, Leilah."

"Is that what happened to Marita?"

Shit. What had that woman told her? "More or less. She decided that I was expendable, and her employers decided she was expendable." And look at what had happened to them, and to her. There was probably a lesson in there for me.

She frowned at me as if she could follow my thoughts. "All right. I'll stay and look after Marita for you. Can you handle England without backup?"

"I'll manage," I said. "Did she really think that you were a prostitute?"

"I was mortified," she said. "Mistaken for a Russian whore? But now she thinks I'm in love with you." She made a face and batted her eyelashes at me.

"You look like an idiot when you do that."

"Wait until she sees the coat," she said, trying to sound grim. "It's bound to confirm all her darkest suspicions about us."

"Great," I muttered.

At that, she burst out laughing. "I'm so flattered, Sasha."

The relief I felt at hearing her laugh was unexpected. She was leaning back against the headboard and smiling at me from across the room. I smiled back, vaguely surprised by how unfamiliar it felt.



There was a phone ringing in my dream. No, it was really ringing. I tried to feel for my cell phone on the coffee table without sitting up and managed to knock three piles of folders to the ground instead. I grunted to myself as I pushed myself up; there it was, in the flickering blue TV light. "Mulder." I said.

"Mulder, it's me."

"Scully! Couldn't you sleep?" I looked at my watch. Only 11:30. Too many nights spent re-reading the same useless files must have caught up with me.

"Mulder, were you asleep?" She sounded amused. "I just called to make sure you remembered your mother's birthday."

"The card is in the mail," I assured her. Scully and I have long since stopped worrying about the fact that all our conversations are monitored. We sweep for bugs, but we also talk in code. This month "birthday" means we need to meet. "Did you go out this evening?" Not an unreasonable question for a Saturday night, and maybe she'd use the answer to tell me where we were meeting.

"A friend from medical school was in town for a conference." No code words there, although about a year ago "medical school" was our code for "alien." "We met up for drinks, and I ran into one of my cousins; I didn't even know he was living here." Bingo. I'd see her at the Gunmen's; they'd probably be pleased to know they'd been promoted to Scully's cousins this month.

We managed another few minutes of empty conversation, and then I told her that I'd slept instead of eating and was going to go pick up some Chinese food or something.

"Fine," she said. "I'll see you Monday."

I spent a little while driving around in circles to make sure I wasn't being followed. Today was Saturday; if Scully had mentioned Sunday I'd have known it was urgent, but Monday meant I could take my time.

After the usual rigmarole with the locks, Langly let me in. Scully was waiting in their workroom.

"It was the most secure location I could think of," she said.

I nodded, but I wasn't listening. I recognized Joseph Bookman from the photographs I'd seen in the wreckage of his living room, but I like to think I would have known him even without that. He was an older, slighter version of his son, white-haired but with the same eyes and nose. The laugh lines were even more pronounced.

"Agent Mulder," he said. "I understand you've been looking for me." His voice was soft, with only the slightest hint of an accent on the consonants.

"We're looking for Jacob, your son," Scully corrected. "It's vital that we contact him."

"Why?" he asked.

I paused before answering. "How much do you know about what Krycek has been doing?"

Instead of answering, Bookman glanced over at Byers, Langly and Frohike, who were hovering by the door like a mismatched Greek chorus waiting for their cue. "Guys," I asked, "could you give us a minute?"

Scully cleared her throat. "Now that we're face-to- face, the three of us can go somewhere else." Langly's face fell. "Thanks for the help, guys." She smiled at them until Frohike, at least, smiled back.

"You've been practicing that smile," I accused her when we got onto the street.

"Mulder, I have no idea what you're talking about." She frowned. "Besides, you know they record everything."

I let it go. "There's an all-night diner in Arlington we can go to," I suggested. "It's quiet and there are some booths in the back."

Bookman and I walked Scully to her car, then kept going to mine. "Have you heard from Leilah?" I asked. "Is she all right?"

All the lines on his face seemed to shift down, leaving him looking old and tired. Shit. Something was wrong.

"When did you meet my daughter?" he asked.

I exhaled the breath I was holding. Until I'd opened my mouth he'd had no idea she'd been involved at all. "We met in Turkmenistan," I started carefully. How much could I tell him? "She came with us to the lab. You know about the trip to Turkmenistan?"

"I know what Sasha intended. I surmise, from the fact that my house was ransacked and the FBI are looking for my son, that everything did not go as planned."

"They found us there. A man named Conrad Strughold sent men to pick us up. Krycek, Leilah and I were taken to another base, in Austria; Jacob got away, with the information we'd found there. I sent him to Scully. We managed to escape, but Jacob still has the data. That's what I need to talk to him about. That's what they were looking for in your house." That sounded all right, to my ears. "Leilah stayed with Krycek, in Europe. We didn't realize that Jacob was..." Was playing whatever game he was playing, but I couldn't use those words.

"I see," was all the old man said.

We got to the diner; I could see Scully's car in the parking lot. Before we got out, I turned back to Joseph Bookman. "That information is more important than Jacob knows. In the wrong hands, it could mean the end of the world. Do you have any idea where he's hiding?"

"He won't be hiding," the old man said. "He'll be--"

He was here. I could see the door to the diner, and I saw him walking out, his hand on Scully's arm. I couldn't see her face, but she was standing as far away from him as she could manage.

Joseph moved quickly for an old man: he was out of the car before I was. Jacob turned and saw him, and froze. Scully took advantage of his surprise to wrench her arm away. He turned back, and said one more thing to her before turning and walking away to the other end of the lot.

He managed three steps before he froze again, caught in a new set of headlights.

The vans seemed to have come out of nowhere. One minute the four of us were alone in front of the diner and the next there was light and shadow everywhere. One van roared to life in the parking lot and the other pulled up right behind my car, blocking the exit. Its lights threw my long shadow all the way across the parking lot to Scully's feet.

Caught again. This was a habit I was going to have to break. I raised my hands wearily as the usual men in back filed out of the vans. Jacob was still looking for a way out: I could see him judging the distance between the men approaching him and the door to the diner.

"Mr. Bookman," someone behind me said, "Please don't try anything foolish." I didn't need to look. I could smell the smoke from his cigarette drifting over us all.

Jacob glanced over at his father, who was now standing quietly next to me. "You may have miscalculated, Mr. Spender. I don't appreciate this kind of tactic."

"You have something that belongs to me," Spender answered. "Consider this my way of reopening negotiations."

The data, I realized. That's what it had to be: the data from the Turkmenistan lab. "Listen, Jacob," I said, rushing to get the words out before anyone decided to shut me up, "You can't give that data to Spender--you have no idea what he's going to do with it. As soon as they have a vaccine--" Something metal poked me in the spine. It felt like a gun, and I fell silent.

"Do you have a different bargain in mind?" Jacob asked Spender.

"That agreement still stands. Consider this a new set of talks."

"I see. I think that since you've made your point, these negotiations might proceed more easily if you let my father go."

"I don't see why I should."

"Mr. Spender, I will not deliver the data while you are holding your hostage. There is no possible negotiation on that subject. You are welcome to come with me, or to send as many men with me as you see fit, while I retrieve the data, but I will not deal while you are holding my father."

"Wait a minute!" I said. "You can't trust him, Jacob--"

"Do you have a suggestion, Mr. Mulder?" Jacob asked in the same polite tone he was using on Spender.

"Mulder and I will accompany Professor Bookman," Scully said. We would? I stared at her. "That should be acceptable." She was speaking clearly rather than loudly.

Spender was looking at her too. From where I was standing, it looked like he was smiling slightly. A trick of the light, I hoped. What made Scully think we could just walk out of this situation?

"That is acceptable to me," Jacob agreed. Spender just nodded and lit another cigarette.

"Fine," Scully said. "We'll leave you... gentlemen to your discussions." She walked across the parking lot to my car as I stood there, tense and waiting for someone to try to stop her. Then I heard the van behind us reversing. I didn't want to give Spender a chance to change his mind, but Joseph was sill standing next to the car, with Scully now next to him. He said something in a language I didn't even recognize. Jacob responded in an angry voice, and Joseph let Scully push him into the passenger seat. I heard her door close a second after mine.

"Let's go, Mulder," she told me. "Drive around a bit and make sure we aren't being followed."

"Agent Scully--" Joseph started.

I broke in. "What the hell was that about, Scully?"

I heard her moving around in the back seat. "Later, Mulder."


"They didn't need an audience, Mulder."

"Scully, if Spender gets his hand on that vaccine research it could be the end of everything. Billions of lives are at stake."

"You don't know that, Mulder. That's just what you were told. Anyway, it's just a matter of time before someone else replicates the research. That's the whole reason science works."

"I think I'll go to New York, Agent Scully," Bookman said, "and stay with a relative there. I can give you the address."

"I'm not sure you should," Scully said.

"I think we've put you and Agent Mulder in enough danger."

"How exactly--" I started. Damn. Scully had essentially told Spender that if Jacob didn't come up with the information we would hand over his father. "Scully, how could you do that?" Scully's ruthlessness always shocks me.

"Making the threat was all that Spender needed to do," she said. "We could all stick around and watch him make more threats, or the three of us could walk out."

"And leave Jacob there," I added.

"He can take care of himself." She turned to Bookman. "What happened between Jacob and Krycek?"

"I'm not sure," he said. I glanced over, but couldn't read his expression.

"Do you have any ideas?" I asked.

"Nothing solid," he said. "There's a late-night Amtrak train up to New York. I'd like to be on it."

"We'll drop you off," Scully said. I started to head into the city.

The car was silent for a minute or so. Then Bookman asked, casually, "What did you and my son talk about, Agent Scully?"

"Nothing important. There wasn't really time."

"It concerned Sasha."

"He thought that Mulder might know where Krycek was."

Bookman turned to me.

"I left him in Austria." I said. In Austria, my conscience reminded me, in a stolen limousine with the dead body of a rapist stretched out on the back seat. "He could be anywhere, by now." And I was far less likely to be able to predict his movements than Jacob was. What the hell was going on here? "We're going to need to contact Jacob again, Professor Bookman."

"I don't think that would be a good idea."

"If he contacts you, tell him to get in touch. We can help him." Assuming he could get away from Spender in the first place.

"I'll pass on the message," Bookman said. His tone didn't promise much. He reached into the inside pocket of his coat and took out a wallet and a pen. He scribbled something on a card and passed it back to Scully. "Helene Bauman is a cousin of my wife's. If I'm not there, I'll be back at home. I understand you know the way."

"Did Jacob tell you to leave home?" I asked.

"I have a nose for trouble. How do you think I found the two of you?" Then he frowned. "No, he didn't tell me. Not in so many words."

Again, we all fell silent. I stopped at a red light at the edge of the Capitol Hill district and watched the pedestrians. The click of the door opening caught my attention. "Thank you, agents," Bookman was saying. He was already standing next to the car. "Good night." On that he slammed the door shut and was gone.

I started to reach for my seatbelt. "Let him go," Scully said, so instead I pulled over so that she could come sit up front.

Her face was drawn. "What was all that about, Scully? What did Jacob say to you?"

She answered me with a question. "How would you characterize the relationship between Alex Krycek and Jacob Bookman?"

"Allies. Close friends. They've known each other for a long time. Krycek's most stable relationship is probably with that family."

"And Jacob's brother-in-law, Daniel Katalan, what about him?"

"I don't know," I said. "Krycek told me he was an arms dealer, that he'd been killed in a car bomb. Why?"

"Jacob Bookman told me that he believes Krycek killed Daniel Katalan. Or had him killed. Krycek seems to be moving up the food chain from assassin to someone who hires assassins."

"Scully..." I began.

"You don't know, Mulder," she said. "You don't know he didn't do it." The muscles in her jaw clenched as she swallowed whatever else she was going to say. I drove her the rest of the way home in silence.



In 1936, when he was thirteen year old, my father ran away from home. Not just from home: from his entire identity, the cherished only son of a bourgeois Jewish household in Berlin. He ran east, a decision Leilah once described to me as a sign either of madness or an exceptionally bad sense of direction. "Paris," she said. "London. Rome. Madrid, even. But no, he ends up in Poland." When I asked him about it, he only said that Poland seemed like a good place for a man who no longer wanted to be a German. He spent the next three years walking from one shtetl to the next, working and studying and immersing himself in an alien world. He later described it as his first taste of ethnography.

In 1939 he found himself in Soviet-occupied territory; he spent a year there before slipping back over the border to join a partisan group. He wasn't ready, he said, to serve one monster in order to destroy another, although in the end that was the choice he made. In early 1943 his group had to retreat and east was the only direction they could go. The Russians needed soldiers, and my father managed to keep the whole group from being shot as deserters and subversives. They ended up in the infantry, and the infantry took him home.

"I had seen enough," he said, "in '39 and '40 to guess what it would be like. But the reality was worse. We were as cruel to our own side as to theirs, more afraid of our own commanders than our enemies. I marched into my own city as part of a conquering army, and that was how we treated it. We took what we wanted. Our options were victory or annihilation: it was a struggle for survival, pure and simple."

He had told me a hundred times that he'd been lucky. I knew that it wasn't simply luck: he was smart, too, and brave. And--this was never said openly, but was hinted at by nods and winks by the men who'd know him then-- entirely amoral.

Right now I could only hope that I was my father's son. And that I was backing the right monster.

I was sitting in the back of the car with Spender; he had two of his flunkies up front, one to drive and the other to look imposing. I kept going over the scene back at the parking lot. I should have gone to get the disks while Spender held my father; now, of course, he insisted on accompanying me, and I would never be able to use these drops again.

We stopped outside the post office and I hesitated, my hand on the door. When Spender nodded I got out and ignored the two men who got out to follow me in. They'd done the same at the cemetery, when I'd gone to pick up the key.

I opened the box with a silent prayer. Glory hallelujah, the US mail had done its work and the disks I wanted were waiting for me. These were the originals. I was sorry to give them up, but it seemed safer than trying to pass off the copies.

Back at the car, Spender was smoking again, with the windows rolled up. The disks disappeared into a pocket.

"I have no reason to trust you, Mr. Bookman," he said.

It was, I had to admit, a serious problem. Spender in fact had numerous reasons not to trust me, and the events back at the diner had created a few more. "Nothing has changed since our earlier conversation," I lied.

"Good. Because I believe I have a use for you."

"You yourself said that our original agreement still stands."

He exhaled smoke at me. "Your involvement in the Project was unexpected. But perhaps fortuitous."

It couldn't possibly be that easy, could it? I made a noncommittal noise.

He stared out the window at nothing for a long moment. "I have reason to believe that Krycek will return to this country shortly. When he does he is likely to go to a certain property in Virginia. I can arrange for you to be there, waiting for him."

"With an escort?" He nodded. "I see." Someone would have to be there to make sure I did what I promised.

"You do understand what the consequences of double- crossing me would be." It wasn't a question. "My own people will be there in any case."

"Of course." I could feel the adrenaline. "Our original agreement still stands, then." Sasha's death for my membership in the group. His life for mine. Unless I could outwit Spender: the trap he'd set for me today had impressed me, if not in the way he'd meant it to. I could see the possibilities opening up, a wealth of different outcomes to the game I was playing with Sasha and Spender.

They could wait. "It stands," Spender said, "provided this information is what you claim it to be. If you accept, I'll arrange transport to the site for you." Transport under guard, no doubt, and blindfolded. But there was no other choice: having seen this battle, I would not turn away from it.

"I accept," I said.



I turned up at Marita's door unarmed. In a metaphorical sense, anyway, since I still had the gun Sasha had given me. The coat I couldn't help, but I was wearing my own jeans and sneakers and a shirt Sasha had shoplifted for me in Vienna. My other clothes were in a shopping bag. The outfit made me look like I was still in college.

Her eyes flicked past me and then she gave me that vaguely pitying look. I stifled a sigh and pushed by her and into the apartment. However long Sasha's side-trip would take, it was going to be too long. I had meant it when I promised to help him. Remaining on good terms with him might be another matter entirely.

She closed the door and turned to look me over. "Ms. Katalan," she said. "Make yourself at home."

"Do you think we could try first names?"

"Is it that kind of visit?" she asked. "I was under the impression that you were here to watch me." Sasha had warned me that she didn't like the arrangement he'd suggested either.

"I think I'm here so you can baby-sit me."

She smiled at that, barely. "Do you have a regular schedule? Dinner at six and bed at eight?"

"Actually, I'm allowed to stay up late and watch whatever I want on TV."

"If you say so," she said. "Let me give you the tour."

The apartment had a large kitchen, but Marita didn't cook. "I used to live in New York," was her excuse. She didn't eat much of the food we ordered in, either. She had that pinched look women get after too many facelifts, although I didn't think that was what had happened to her. She moved as if she'd been taken apart and put back together, and wasn't sure that everything still worked.

She read after dinner, something in Italian by Primo Levi; she kept shifting the distance between her eyes and the book. After an hour or so she announced that she was going to bed, and offered to help me make up the couch. I stayed up for a while longer, pretending to read Anna Karenina; it was on a list of books I was supposed to have read in college, and there wasn't much else. When I thought it was late enough I turned off the light and lay back on the sofa, staring up at the ceiling. The building creaked around me: someone upstairs pacing back and forth. It would be better if I didn't sleep. If I did I would only dream, and I didn't think Marita would respond well if I tried to sneak into bed next to her.

She believed that Sasha and I were lovers. In fact, everyone we met seemed to be under that impression. Although not technically true, it wasn't an unwelcome idea. Sasha had been almost unbearably generous over the past few weeks; I was going to have to pay him back eventually. And it would be better if I stopped using him before he lost patience with me. You couldn't crawl into a man's bed every night and expect nothing to happen.

I must have slept, because I woke up, gasping, to find Marita standing over me, wrapped in a white robe. "What were you dreaming about?" she asked.

It felt like I was still dreaming. "Revenge," I whispered. She nodded and slid away into the darkness.

I got up before dawn and found her in the bathroom, crouched over the toilet. When I asked her what was wrong she said, "Nothing. Leave me alone."

"Don't you want anything?" I asked.

"Revenge," she said, and began to cough.

I went into the kitchen to make tea. It wasn't so bad--nothing like the kitchen at the house in Austria--as I filled the kettle and put it on the stove. I found the teapot and measured tea into it. Then I thought I heard a step.

I whirled around, my heart in my throat. There didn't seem to be enough air in the room. I took a step backwards and my shaking legs buckled under me and dropped me to the floor. My eyes were fixed on the door way.

No one was there. No one was there.

The kettle had been boiling for five minutes by the time I was ready to stand up again. The noise must have come from the apartment above us. Maybe next door. I watched the doorway and counted to a hundred as I waited for the tea to steep.

Marita drank what I brought her, although the cup shook in her hands. I had to help her walk back to the bedroom; she was hunched over like an old woman. "I have to go out," I told her. "I'll be back soon."

She looked up at me from the bed. "Don't. Get out while you can." I didn't bother to tell her it was too late for that.

Blood, my brother would say, will tell. I returned from the local market with a scrawny chicken, two onions and a few vegetables. Back at the apartment I forced Marita out of bed and into the kitchen, where she sat at the table with a blanket wrapped around her. I hoped her company would keep me from having another panic attack. I might not be able to keep John Davies out of my dreams, but I was damned if he'd haunt me while I was awake. Besides, I could hardly spend the rest of my life afraid to set foot inside a kitchen.

She watched me stand at the sink and scrape the carrots. "You're making me soup," she said. Her voice was rough. "Why?"

"It's something to do."

She gave a delicate cough. "How unusual."

"Who do you want revenge on?" I asked her.

She answered by saying, "You can go if you like. You don't really believe that Alex is coming back here, do you?"

The problem with carrots is that they don't take much concentration. You can't really stare at them as if you're hoping that they've got the answer to whatever is bothering you. Not without looking like a complete idiot, anyway. It was probably typical of Sasha to run off like this to check on something, leaving me with a sick woman of unknown loyalties. And if anything went wrong in Cambridge no one would be there to haul him out of trouble. But then, trouble was Sasha's natural habitat. He would probably cope. I was less certain about Marita Covarrubias.

"Are you going to drink that tea?" I asked.

"You put sugar in it." The end of the sentence came abruptly, as if she had intended to add another complaint but realized how whiny it would sound. I smiled at the carrots and dumped them into the pot with the chicken.

It was only a temporary victory. She waited for me to be finished with the pot and hit me when I turned around. There was nothing left for me to pretend to be interested in. "Of course," she said, "you know about his arm."

I met her eyes and nodded. I knew about a dozen stories about Sasha's arm, more or less elaborate as the situation demanded. There was one I particularly liked, involving a shark off the Great Barrier Reef, and another about a bus crash in India. The only thing I was sure of was that none of them were true.

"They were trying to help him, you know. No arm, no test." Her tone was meditative. "They were wrong about that, but cripples aren't much use in a mine, and the gulag didn't want to feed people who couldn't work. They left the community alone, most of the time. Alex didn't even know about them. He had no idea what was going on until it was too late. It must have been terrifying for him, to be held down like that, overpowered... maimed." She was still talking in that same slow tone. "Still, they believed they were saving his life."

I closed my eyes, but all I could see was the knife, the hands holding Sasha down. I had to clear my throat before I could get the words out. "What happened?"

"He disappeared after that. For about six months. Then he came back and hunted them all down. Men, women, children, anyone who'd been living in the forest. If he found them, he killed them." I expected her to be smiling, because my discomfort must have been clear enough. But she looked very serious.

It fit far too well with everything I knew about Sasha to be untrue.

"Do you still think you belong here?" Marita asked.

Destroy the thing that hurt you was a rule I followed as well. "Two days after my husband's funeral I hired Sasha to find and kill the people responsible."

Her eyelids flickered. "Did it help?"

"Help?" I stared at her incredulously. "It wasn't supposed to help." It was something that had to be done, like covering the mirrors or rending your clothes.

She started to laugh but it turned into a cough. I brought her water. "You aren't quite the ingenue you pretend to be, are you, Ms. Katalan?"

"Leilah," I insisted.

"You already know that you would be better off running as far away from all this as possible."

"Could you turn your back on it?"

She sighed. "I wish I could." She rested her hand on mine for a moment, before pushing herself up from the table. "I think I should sleep now."



Cambridge was a dead end. I broke into the labs there and found them empty. There wasn't as much as a fingerprint belonging to Malcolm Foote in the whole place. I found an administrative office and looked around for a while, then let myself out. It was 2 a.m. and the Cambridge nightclubs were disgorging the usual assortment of drunk, belligerent Englishmen. I kept my head down. If I paid too much attention to them I'd end up letting someone pick a fight with me.

In the morning I went back, claiming to be a friend of Azem Omanovic, one of Malcolm's research assistants. I found a graduate student to charm and was told that Azem was working on a different immunology project now, over in Addenbrooks Hospital. He'd been lucky to get that. Malcolm had been offered some kind of big-name job with a German company and had just picked up his research and left.

It was ironic, because if everything had gone right I would have come to Cambridge anyway and handed the vaccine stuff over to him. I was no scientist, but the Brit had trusted him.

I flew to Bonn out of a sense of duty, but there was no evidence that Malcolm had ever been there. The company claimed they'd never heard of him. He was probably in Tunis, unless Strughold had set him up in his desert hideaway. Either way, he was beyond my reach.

By the time I got back to Moscow I was cursing myself for an idiot. I should never have left Leilah and Marita together. The sour look Leilah gave me when I turned up at the apartment confirmed my fears. "He's back," she called. "We need to go back to the US," she told me.

"Why?" Then Marita came out into the living room. She was walking hunched over again and when she lifted her head I could see that there was something wrong with her eyes. "Jesus. What's wrong with you?"

"What did you expect?" she asked.

"Did you know this would happen?"

She tried to shrug, and winced. "I should have realized that Spender wasn't trying to cure me."

"What did he give you?"

"Why do you care?" She had to be in a lot of pain, to say something like that.

"I can't leave you here in Russia," I said.

"Because you can't trust me out of your sight?"

That was certainly a consideration. "Marita. What's doing this to you?"

"It's like a low-grade infection," Leilah said.

Shit. "Infection... Infection with what?" I asked.

"It's dormant, Alex," Marita answered. "Spender just gave me a dose of something to repress it further. The pills ran out the day you left."

There was a sour taste in my mouth and my own eyes were stinging. Psychosomatic: the doctors had sworn that I hadn't suffered any lasting damage from the Oil. "Were you planning on sharing this?"

Leilah left my side and helped Marita into a chair. I nearly grabbed her and pulled her back--she could have had no idea of the danger. I would have liked to turn and run.

Marita saw it. "I'm not a danger. No one's worn protective clothing around me in months."

"You're carrying the virus."

"Sasha," Leilah said, "she needs some kind of doctor."

Marita made a face. She probably never wanted to see another doctor in her life. Too bad I'd killed Beraichev. Although... "I have a new version of the vaccine. It might suppress the virus again. It might even cure you."

She raised her head. "I'm not sure that would be a good idea."

"It should work." There was a fifty-three percent chance of it.

"I agree. But Alex, they were using me to test a resistant strain of the virus."

Jesus. "Resistant... to the Russian vaccine." My mouth was dry, and swallowing didn't help.

She nodded. "I don't think it was a great success. The resistant strain isn't very effective. It doesn't even paralyze the person it infects."

"But it is resistant."

"And if they knew about this new vaccine..." She didn't need to say anything else.

Marita still had the ability to leave me slack- jawed. I tried to think, but viruses and vaccines and Strughold's story about the aliens and everything the Brit had told me were whirling around in my head. I closed my mouth and focused on the problem right in front of me. She grimaced slightly in pain and dabbed at her leaking eyes.

"We'll do it anyway," I said, hoping it was the right choice. "But you know what this means."

"I won't let myself get taken alive," she said. "But to be safe, if anything happens..."

"I'll make sure your body is destroyed." It seemed to comfort her. What a hell of a world.



Krycek was waiting for me in my apartment. Again. This time he wasn't lurking in the dark, though. He was just sitting on my couch, paging through the National Enquirer.

He looked up when I came into the apartment. "I can't believe some of the shit you subscribe to, Mulder," he commented.

"Where the hell have you been?" Not my most brilliant comeback.

He tossed the paper onto the coffee table, next to his feet. "Going to and fro upon the earth, walking up and down on it. That kind of thing."

Cute. "Well, I'd tell you to make yourself at home, but you're already doing that." I looked at the boxes on the table. "Was that the leftover Chinese in the fridge?" He shrugged his right shoulder. I'd been planning to eat that. I dropped my briefcase by the door and went into the kitchen to see what he'd left for me.

I turned around from the fridge to find him right behind me, a little closer than I expected. "Mulder," he said, then paused. He swallowed. "I need your help."

He was giving me this earnest look--the way he'd looked at me when we first met, back when he was still innocent Agent Krycek. If he'd ever been innocent Agent Krycek.

"Is this some kind of snow job?" I asked.

He blinked, looking slightly offended. "It's no joke. I need you to persuade Scully to come out to a house in Virginia."

"I knew you were only making friends with me to get at Scully," I said. His face loosened slightly, and he stepped back to give me a little space. "What do you want with her?"

"She's a doctor. I have... a friend who's sick."

"Not Leilah?" To my relief, he shook his head. "Scully's a pathologist," I pointed out.

He grinned for a second, letting the earnest mask slip. "Precisely. She also has the virus and the vaccine in her blood. I need her to run some tests. There's all kinds of equipment at the house. Did she have any side effects after Antarctica?"

He was already moving toward the door. When I didn't follow him out he paused with his hand on the doorknob. "We need to talk," I said.

"About the vaccine?" he asked. "I don't know, Mulder. I can't swear that what Strughold told you was a lie, but I've never heard anything like that." He sounded so easy in my company that it was hard to remember what he was.

"About Skinner," I grated out.

"Oh." The pleasure--if that's what it had been--his face had shown fell away like another mask. He was very still.

"I know what you did to him."

He took his hand off the doorknob. "Forget it, Mulder. The answer is no."

"What do you mean, the answer is no?" I took a quick step forward, then stopped myself. Krycek hadn't moved, but his stillness now seemed like a threat. There was something different about the air between us.

"I'm not letting him loose," Krycek said. His voice was low and even.

I tried to match his tone. "You're killing him."

His mouth curved. "Actually, the point is not to kill him. That technology was expensive and I'd lose a considerable investment if I killed him."

I gave in to the impulse and punched him, slamming him back up against the door. He winced and stumbled, and then stood there, breathing heavily.

"The answer is still no," he said.

"Let him go."

"Forget it."

This time when I punched him he blocked me and punched me back. Even with one arm and a bad knee he was frighteningly competent--I wasn't sure how I ended up with my face pressed against the wall and my arm twisted painfully behind my back.

"Ask me something else," he growled into my ear.

"Did you kill Daniel Katalan?" It was the first thing that popped into my head.

"What?" He dropped my arm and stepped back.

I turned around, rubbing at my forearm. Looked like the question had surprised him, too. "Jacob Bookman told Scully you did. Did you?"

"That has nothing to do with you."

"Damn it, Krycek..."

He frowned. "Would you believe me if I told you I didn't?"

"Try me."

"Fine," he growled. "I didn't do it."

It wasn't the most convincing denial I'd ever heard. "Then why did Jacob--"

"Forget it, Mulder. Has Scully made any progress on the data we got out of the lab?"

"You... I thought..." Shit. "Jacob never gave us the data. What's the problem between the two of you?"

"Nothing. It's not important." Krycek was looking tired and older again. "Fuck. Does he still have it?"

"I think Spender has it," I admitted.

"This just gets better and better." He sat back down on the couch and leaned his head back.

"I can ask Diana to get it."

"Fowley? She's in the Smoker's pocket."

"She thinks I'm a fool to trust you, too."

"But here we are."

Here we were. "Do you ever wonder why the people closest to you trust you the least?"

"Self-defense?" He cracked a weary smile. "Come on. If you're through interrogating me, let's go get Scully and head out to the Brit's old place."

The nickname caught at my attention; there was a connection there waiting for me to make it. The Brit, the Brit... "Birtwistle," I said.

Krycek glanced up at me. "Yes?"

"That was his real name. An Englishman with that old BBC accent. He gave me the vaccine for Scully. And I saw him get blown up."

Krycek was looking somber now. "He pushed Spender too far: Spender was just looking for an excuse, and the group agreed with his judgment. Don't blame yourself."

I shook my head. It didn't fit. What had Diana said, exactly? 'Even Birtwistle couldn't find him, until he turned up and kidnapped you.' Present tense. "No. Diana implied that he was alive. That he was working with Spender and Strughold, monitoring you for them."

Krycek's mouth was hanging open. "Alive? And working with the group? Shit..." he whispered. "He set me up."

"What do you mean?"

"Wheels within wheels." He hit the arm of the couch with his fist. "They wanted a vaccine program. Something they could control, but didn't belong to them." He still wasn't really talking to me, just working things out in his head. "That explains what happened in Turkmenistan... they must never have expected me to succeed. Oh, fuck." If I thought he was pale before, he was completely white now. He stood up. "I have to go."

I grabbed his arm as he headed back to the door. "What's going on?"

He did something to break my hold. It wasn't painful; he just wasn't there anymore. "I have to go," he repeated. "It's a trap." He was out the door before I could ask him what was going on, so I followed him out.

"All right," I said in the hall. "Where are we going?"

He looked at me, and a little color seemed to come back into his face. "Mulder..." he started, then seemed to decide to let it go. "Virginia. A house there I thought was secure."

"You sent Leilah there?" I guessed.

He nodded. "And Marita." Covarrubias? What did she have to do with this?

"Let's go, then," I said.


We both noticed the tire tracks in the mud. I pulled the car over to the side of the road and we both got out to look at them.

"The mud is still damp," Marita said.

"Someone's been on this road recently," I agreed. "The trees have been cut back, too. It doesn't go anywhere else, does it?"

"They might have come and gone." She didn't sound like she believed it.

"We could just hide along the road and wait for the cavalry." Sasha had gone to get Mulder and Scully and told us they would meet us at the house. "But I'd feel rather foolish if it turned out to be nothing."

"We don't have any weapons," Marita pointed out.

"We aren't going to launch an attack. Just take a look around. If you feel well enough, that is."

She got the superior look again. "Of course." It was just a little look around. We could handle that.

After that I drove more slowly, without the headlights. Marita suggested that we leave the car a little distance away from the estate, and found a place to hide it. We walked in through some empty paddocks. There was a light on in the main house.

"The stable," Marita whispered. "They sold the horses after he died."

We crept around the side of the building and found the main door unlocked. I pushed it open far enough to squeeze through.

It was unlocked because someone was in there, someone who'd heard us approaching and was waiting by the door. He grabbed me by the shoulder and yanked me the rest of the way in. I had to clench my teeth to keep a scream from escaping. I kicked, and my leg hit something. Then there was a crack behind me and he dropped me as he fell. I rolled away.

When I came up, I saw Marita standing over the body, holding a shovel. She met my eyes and then bent down to check his pulse. As I pushed myself to my feet she looked up and shook her head at me.

A quick check of the barn told me that we were lucky: he'd been alone in here. When I got down from the loft I found Marita trying to drag the body to the back of the barn where it could be hidden under some sacks and junk. I gave her a hand, noticing that she'd given him three or four good whacks with the shovel. Overkill. Reassuring to know we were both a little disturbed.

Back at the door, she'd laid out the man's weapons: a gun with a spare clip and a knife. Not much there, but it would have to do.

"Take the gun," she mouthed, so I did.

There was nothing to discuss. It wouldn't take long for them to notice that they were missing a man. We didn't have a lot of time to look around before falling back to hide somewhere.

We kept ourselves in the shadows as we made our way closer to the house: the land around it was overgrown, as if no one had mowed the grass or cut back the trees for a couple of seasons. There were lights on inside, and I could see figures moving around through a set of French doors. I crawled forward, then lifted myself up onto my elbows to get a better view.

One of the men in the room was Jacob.

He appeared to be arguing with the other man there. What on earth was he doing here? Waiting for us? But who were these other men?

Marita crept up next to me. She gave me a look with a question in it. I shook my head at her and kept watching Jacob.

A third man entered the room. I recognized him as well, although it took me a second to place him. He had been in Austria, and was one of the men who'd driven the armored car with Sasha in it to Germany. He must have made it all the way to the US with Agent Mulder.

Jacob said something to him. I could tell from his expression that it was a command. The Austrian backed out of the room.

Oh, I did not like this at all.

I started to crawl backwards, and Marita followed me. At a safe distance back, we stopped behind a bit of overgrown hedge. "Look," I whispered, "Sasha will be here soon. One of us needs to go back to the road, where we left the car, and wait for him."

"Both of us," she said.

I shook my head. "I want to see what's going on here and get a better estimate of their numbers. I'll follow you later."

Marita stared at me for a moment; I had a feeling she knew I wasn't being entirely honest. "Don't do anything stupid," she said.

"I'll meet you back at the road," I promised.

"Do that. If you get hurt, Alex might actually murder me."

"I should have guessed you weren't worried about my well-being."

She gave me one of her cool smiles and was gone.

I stared after her for a minute or so, to make sure she was really going, then crawled forward again to the house. This time the room was empty. I crept up to the stairs, but couldn't see anything like a motion sensor. I was up on the back porch, checking the French doors for wires, when Jacob came back into the room. I moved to the side, but not quickly enough. He stopped in his tracks, then strode forward, did something to a wire on the other side of the door and pulled it open. I shot through.

"What the hell are you doing here?" he said. "Did you track me here?"

"It's nice to see you too, Jacob."

He scowled at me. "You shouldn't be here. Is Sasha with you?"

I shook my head.

"Idiot," he muttered. "You've got to get out of here."

"What are you doing here?" I asked. "Do you know who these people are?"

He gave me the 'older brother' look. "I'm trying to do what's best for us all. There was no need for you to come here and put yourself in danger."

The door opened, and the man Jacob had been arguing with came in. "We have a--" He saw me and stopped talking.

"My sister follows me everywhere," Jacob snapped. "Go on."

I was fairly sure I knew what he was going to say.

"There's a man dead in the barn. Battered to death. Krycek must be here."

Jacob, though, turned to me. "Did you do that?"

With a little effort, I could keep them from raising an alarm. I tried to look as innocent as possible. "How was I supposed to know he was yours? He grabbed me, and I hit him with the first thing that came to hand. You'll find the shovel in the next stall." I could tell from the look on the other man's face that they already had.

"A false alarm," Jacob said. "Can you cover for him?"

The other man shrugged. "We can cover, sure. But Krycek's beaten worse odds than this."

I caught my breath. Oh, Jacob, what have you been doing?

Jacob said, "But you didn't have me with you before. Clear the way to the house. If you attack him in the open he'll be able to escape. And give me plenty of room when he gets here."



Krycek was driving like a maniac, his eyes fixed on the dark road in front of us. If he was feeling the deja vu, he didn't mention it. I stared out the window at the trees.

There was movement to one side and a flash of white. "Stop!" I said, before I had a chance to really see it.

It might have been nothing but Krycek hit the brakes. He was out the door and rolling before we came to a complete stop. By the time I got out he was already standing again, his gun pointed at a pale figure.

I recognized her: Marita Covarrubias. She was standing at the side of the road, her hands raised.

"Jesus, Krycek," I said. "What are you doing?"

"He thinks I betrayed him," she answered for him.

"Again," he added.

"Again," she agreed. "I didn't."

"I don't believe you, Marita," he said.

"If you're going to kill me, Alex, go ahead and do it. Don't just walk away again and leave me to the group."

Krycek didn't lower the gun. "What happened?"

"The site is being used," she said. He swore under his breath. "We broke in to take a look, but we had to kill a man. I don't know if they've raised the alarm yet. Then Leilah saw someone she recognized. She said she would meet me back here, but... I think she was going to try to contact him."

"Jacob?" I asked.

"Maybe," Krycek said. "Marita, do you know who's at the site?"

"Spender's people."

He was thinking under all that intensity. "How did you end up in the Fort Marlene labs?" he asked.

She didn't seem to have any better idea of where that was going than I did. "After," she glanced at me, "after the Englishman died, Spender took over the lab I was in. Before that, they were working on the vaccine, but the Englishman had me doing analysis, too."

"No need to pretend," Krycek said smoothly. "Mulder knows that Birtwistle isn't really dead."

She tried to cover up her surprise. "I see," she said. But was she surprised that I knew, or that he was alive?

Krycek didn't seem in doubt. He put the gun away. "You didn't know either," he said.

She took a step forward. "What do you mean, he's alive?" she asked, in a more natural voice. "How is that possible?"

"He's alive, and working with the group. What's left of them: Spender and Strughold."

"Oh, Alex."

He ignored her sympathy. "Right. There's a back way into the labs. It'll get us into the main house without having to go over the grounds."

Wouldn't Spender know about that? Krycek didn't look like a man to argue with, so I kept the question to myself.



Leilah was scowling at me. "I think you were about to explain to me why this isn't exactly what it looks like."

I considered trying to make excuses, but the fewer lies I told this evening, the better. Besides, she wasn't stupid.

As she realized it, her eyes grew wide. "It is what it looks like," she said. "Why?"

"You saw what I saw," I said. "Sasha thinks he can hold off the whole invasion on his own. You know that's crazy. This is the only way."

"He wouldn't be trying to do it on his own if you and I were helping him."

"Alone, or the three of us against the world--what does it matter?"

"So you decided to join the opposition."

"Against a greater evil, yes." If anyone would understand me, it would be my sister.

"Jacob, Sasha is one of us." The final three words might have been capitalized.

"Because he's you're lover?"

"We aren't... Oh, forget it. Do you think they'll keep their bargain?"

Stupid question. "There's only one way to find out. You have to know how important this is, Leilah." Please trust me..

"What I know is that you're handing Sasha over to his enemies."

"Believe me, if there was any other way..." I reached for her, and felt her flinch under my hand. Shit. I needed her on my side. "Leilah, what did Sasha tell you about Daniel's death?"

Her eyebrows drew together. "What are you talking about?"

Was it possible... I needed to break the bond she had with Sasha, and this was the best way. The cleanest way, although the amputation metaphor was unfortunate. "Did he tell you who was responsible?" I pressed.

"It had to do with one of the shipments he was arranging. The hit was subcontracted to a Russian organization by a Southeast Asian group, separatists in Malaysia." She was reciting from memory and at the end bit her lip. I noticed that her eyes were slightly red.

God forgive me. Was I really going to stir all this up again, right in the face of her grief? And could I hurt her like this just to save my own skin?

To save us all, I told myself.

Sasha could only blame himself for whatever misplaced nobility had led him to keep my secret.

"Did you ever wonder why a Malaysian group would use Russian subcontractors?" I asked.

"What... What are you implying?" She was no fool.

I made my voice as gentle as I could. "Leilah, I know you're going to find this hard to believe, but Sasha..."

Two shots were fired at the front of the house, and I lost my chance.

She met my eyes. "He's here now, Jacob. What are you going to do?"

What indeed? "I'm doing this to save your life. To save all our lives. Now get out of my way."



Mulder, by some miracle, managed to keep his mouth shut as I broke into the Englishman's house. I had considered telling him to watch Marita, and to kill her if she showed any signs of switching sides, but what was the point? I knew he'd never do it.

There was one man at the entry to the lab. I shot him. The basement area itself was empty, and we made straight for the stairs up to the ground floor. The door at the top was slightly ajar. I hesitated for a second; Mulder met my eyes and nodded. Then I was running up them, only barely aware of Mulder at my shoulder, right in step.

There was a man with a gun at the top of the stairs. Mulder and I both fired and I don't know which bullet killed him. Marita, just behind us, shot that man's partner as I turned my head to check that she was still with us. Three down, but who knows how many they still had?

We were in the front hallway of the house. To our right the main stairway went curving up to the next floor. Between it and the front door was a door leading to the library, and another to the left of the front door, across from us, that led to a sitting room. To our left, a door led to the rooms at the back of the house: kitchen, dining room and two more living rooms. I could hear footsteps in that direction.

I had one goal, I told myself: to find Leilah and get her out of here. But other questions kept crowding my mind: the virus and the vaccine and the game Birtwistle had been playing with me. Mulder's bizarrely helpful behavior. Marita's trustworthiness. The extent to which I was still being manipulated.

"Check upstairs," I whispered at Mulder. Marita followed him up: she probably knew she was safer with him than with me. I moved toward the back of the house.

The door at the back of the foyer led to a kind of service passageway: kitchen to the left and a big formal dining room to the right. The room Marita had seen Jacob in was through the dining room, so I leaned my weight against the right-hand door, letting it swing open. Jackpot. I heard Jacob's voice coming through from the other room, although I couldn't make out the words. The door to the next room swung open and Leilah walked in, with Jacob right behind her.



When my father returned to Berlin he went straight to his parents' home. They weren't there. The German family living in the place couldn't tell him anything. It took him most of a year to learn the story.

They could have left Germany before things became impossible, but they waited. They were still waiting for their son to come home when they were taken away.

They didn't survive. My father doesn't talk about his parents.

Sasha relaxed when he saw us.

It was the best opportunity I would get. I rushed him and pushed him back against the wall. We ended up frozen together, my gun pressed up against Sasha's neck.

He went completely limp, his mouth still open with surprise, and waited. Still frozen. He was barely even breathing. My finger on the trigger, a little pressure, and Sasha would die. The world narrowed down to my hand and his face. I had to be able to do this. It was too late: I was caught in the trap I myself had laid.

"Jacob," Leilah said. I heard her take a step. "Jacob, put away the gun."

"It's too late. If I don't do this, Spender will take it out on our father. He'll assume I'm working with Sasha."

She took another step. "Jacob."

I would do it. I had to do it. I had to do it while staring Sasha in the face.

I closed my eyes, just for second.

He struck, knocking the gun out of my hand and pushing back at me. I opened my eyes and saw a glint of metal in his hand and felt cold then fire in my side. Stumbling back into the table, I clutched my side. There was blood on my fingers. It didn't hurt. All I felt was relief.

Sasha was standing in the center of the room. "What the hell is going on here?"

Relief. There was one way out which would leave Leilah and my father untouched. It would be a gamble, but lines I'd recited to Sasha once were running through my head.

A brahmani bears sons for austerities,
A mare for running swiftly,
But a princess like your mother
Bears sons for being slaughtered.

It was a hell of a game.



My knee hurt. My back hurt. A man I'd known for ten years had just tried to kill me.

"I'm sorry," Jacob said. "I thought this would work out differently."

"What do you mean, differently? What the hell is going on here?"

"He thought he would be able to kill you," Leilah said.

"But instead you're going to have to finish it," he said.

"Finish it?"

"What?" Leilah said.

"I'm not going to kill you," I said firmly. There had to be a way out of this.

"No," Jacob agreed. He turned to his sister. "Sasha didn't tell you..."

We all turned as the door opened, but it was only Mulder with Marita. He had another man with him. Joe Maiuri--one of Spender's. "I found him upstairs," Mulder said. "He claims that... What's going on here?"

Jacob was ignoring him. He bent down to pick his gun up from the floor. Mine, by instinct, was in my hand and pointed at him. I followed his movements. Don't do anything stupid, Jacob. Don't force my hand.

"What didn't Sasha tell me?" Leilah asked.

"He didn't tell you everything he found out about Daniel's death. And he didn't kill everyone responsible."

Don't make me do this.

Another step brought Jacob face-to face with his sister. Mulder made a kind of stifled noise.

I could shoot Jacob now, but I'd never be able to explain why I did it.

Then Jacob handed the gun to Leilah, pressing it into her hands and taking one limping step back.

"It was an accident," he said. "Please believe that. Or rather, I didn't realize that it was Daniel who was responsible for those shipments." He cleared his throat. Two lines appeared at the corners of Leilah's mouth, and her hands tightened on the gun until her knuckles were white. "I couldn't let that shipment go through."

She shook her head. Her mouth formed the word "no" but no sound came out.

"It's true," Jacob said. His voice had stopped shaking. "I had it done. I'm sorry." In a surprisingly smooth movement he knelt in front of her, his head bowed, waiting for the shot.

Leilah raised the gun.

We all stood there frozen. I was counting each breath. At twelve I heard her cock the gun. They were both bone-white. After another seven breaths Leilah closed her eyes. Mulder shifted his weight as if about to take a step forward, but stopped himself. I counted another ten breaths, and eight more. Leilah's eyes were open again, but I wasn't sure what she was seeing.

She made a kind of choked noise, like a swallowed cry. One hand came up to cover her mouth. Then she bent down, placed the gun on the floor and ran from the room.

I found that I could speak again. "Let's go." My voice sounded strange to me. Jacob was still kneeling on the floor, but his hands had come up to cover his face. "Leave him," I said to Mulder, meaning the man he was still holding, who seemed as transfixed as the rest of us. To Jacob I said, "Stay away from us." I intended to start moving, but my feet remained fixed to the ground.

Marita put her hand on Mulder's arm. "Let's go," she repeated, and went out the door. That released the rest of us: Mulder dropped his hand and turned, and I followed them out the door. Joe nodded to me as I passed him.

Leilah hadn't gone far. She was standing in the front hall, staring at the door. "There are more of them outside," she said. Each word was distinct, as if the relation between them wasn't clear to her.

Mulder glanced at me. "We'll use the passage." He took the lead down the stairs and nodded up from the bottom. Marita put and arm around Leilah, who shuddered but let herself be guided down to the basement. I followed, since there was no reason to hang around. There was no noise coming from the back of the house.

The basement was still deserted; I noted automatically that the bodies we'd dumped down here hadn't been moved. Mulder's memory led him right back to the hidden door; he stopped in front of it and stared at me.

He wanted the combination, I realized. It was a complex code, numbers to be delivered in a certain rhythm. The repetition was almost soothing: here at least was something simple. If A, then B.

I let him lead us down the narrow corridor, keeping my attention focused behind us. I didn't think they'd be coming after us: interfering with Mulder except under direct orders was pretty much a capital offence in Spender's eyes, and Joe Maiuri hadn't survived all this time by being stupid. But it never hurt to be cautious.

Outside, Mulder led us back to the two cars and gave me another look. It was time to take charge again. We took the bags out of the rented car and left it there: rented under a false name with a false credit card, it was more of a liability than anything else. And I needed to keep track of everyone. Marita's face softened when she looked at me in a way I hadn't seen in a while. Mulder was still being suspiciously helpful.

And then there was Leilah. On whom, suddenly, a great deal seemed to depend. So long as Spender believed that the two of us were together, he'd be encouraged to leave Jacob alone. My experience was limited, but that didn't seem like a very good basis for anything, let alone... whatever we might have had.

I let Mulder drive and managed to get Marita into the front seat next to him. In the back, I took my first good look at Leilah. She was still white, and her face was smeared and teary. Other than that, she looked stable: it was probably shock. She didn't meet my eyes, but she reached over and grasped my good hand tightly in one of hers. My vision went blurry, and I blinked to clear my eyes.



I was most of the way back to my apartment--driving there because I couldn't think of anywhere else to go--when Krycek tapped me on the shoulder. "Take us to National," he said. His voice was still rough.

"Krycek," I started to argue.

"Mulder, I've got less than twenty-four hours to fix things with Spender. I need to go to New York."

"Fine," I said without thinking. "We'll go to New York."

"You don't--"

This time I cut him off. "Don't argue with me." I looked in the rear-view mirror but couldn't see much. He had turned to stare out the window, the light from the streetlights gliding over his cheekbones.

"Actually, Alex," Marita said, "a night's rest wouldn't kill any of us."

"You've obviously never seen the inside of Mulder's apartment." He turned his head to meet my eyes in the rearview mirror, then expelled a breath. "The DC safehouses will all be compromised," he said.

"Then we'll hide in plain sight," she said. "Spender won't expect it of you."

He leaned forward, so that his head was between the two of us. "Where will you be?" he asked her.

"New York," she said.

He grunted and sat back. "Maiuri saw you working with us."

"With Mulder," she corrected him. "Whom I will credit with my escape. I had to appear to be working with you to stay alive."

"Spender won't believe that you'll come running back to him." Krycek's voice was sharp.

"I won't. I'll let him catch me. Give me twelve hours."

"I don't like it," he said.

"You must trust someone, Alex."

"I did," he said. She was silent. "No," he said after a while. "He'll believe Maiuri or he won't, but I'm not sending you back in for this." He was silent for a while longer, while Marita gave me directions.

I didn't believe it when we pulled up in front of the Hay-Adams, and found ourselves ten minutes later in what appeared to be the Consortium suite. I stared out the window at the White House, directly across the street, and thought of the string of motel rooms Scully and I had stayed in over the past six years. "Do my tax dollars pay for this?"

"I believe the original payment came out of the defense budget," Marita said. Krycek had taken Leilah into the right-hand bedroom, leaving the two of us alone. Marita had offered me a drink, which I refused, and made herself a cup of tea.

There was another, smaller bedroom to the left. "I'll take the couch in here," I told her.

"Tell Alex I won't run off." I must have looked surprised; she smiled at me. "How can you remain so trusting?" she asked. "Never mind. Goodnight, Agent Mulder."

I stretched out on the couch and stared up at the unfamiliar ceiling. I had to hand it to Krycek: it was always something different with him. A little breaking and entering in Turkmenistan, a little imprisonment in Austria, and now a night at the Hay-Adams. And tomorrow we were heading up to New York, where we would...

I sat upright. Where we would what? What was Krycek planning? And what the hell was I doing here?

I had agreed with Scully that Krycek was trying to manipulate me, that he needed me for something. That remained true, but I still wasn't sure what Krycek needed me for. And above and beyond whatever power games Krycek and Spender were playing, the big question was still hanging over us. Colonization, and Strughold's claims that the vaccine would hurry it rather than prevent it.

Did Krycek have any idea of what he was doing? I had a bad feeling that he didn't. And if that was the case, could I trust his instincts?

I already knew the answer to that.

It was a little late for me to be doubting Krycek's motivation. I lay back down, so that I could see the door to the other bedroom. There hadn't been any noise from in there for a while now.

I must have been dozing because I jerked awake when the door opened. Krycek stepped into the room and closed it silently behind him. I rubbed my eyes and reached over to turn the light on. The glow just cast more shadows onto his face.

"Leilah?" I asked.

"Asleep." He walked over and slumped into one of the chairs, leaning forward to meet my eyes. "Look," he said rapidly. "I did what I thought I had to, to get us all out of there alive. You don't have to approve but you do have to understand that."

"I'm not arguing with you," I said.

"You're not." He was still staring at me. "Who are you and what have you done with the real Fox Mulder?"

I managed a smile. "In my line of work, that's not a joke."

"No," he agreed. "But no shapeshifter could ever be as unpredictable as you are."

My back hurt from the hotel couch: the cushions were too soft. I rolled my shoulders to try to do something about it, but it didn't help. "Tell me something, Krycek. Why did you think that Jacob would admit to killing Daniel Katalan, instead of blaming you?"

His mouth creased. "I didn't."

It was my turn to stare at him. "You didn't."

"I thought he would blame me."

"You thought--but you let him go ahead and speak."

"The important thing," he sounded dispassionate, "was to engineer a break between Jacob and myself-- to keep Spender from believing that we were working together. Either story would have worked. The version where I killed Daniel might have been slightly more convincing."

It was a chilling recitation. I found that I was on my feet and had walked across the room to the desk at the far wall. I could see my own face in the mirror above it, and behind that, Krycek's shadowy form. Strange how the lamp didn't illuminate him.

"Jacob wasn't going to kill me," Krycek continued. "Although Leilah might have. I almost bolted when he handed her the gun." He levered himself off the chair and to his feet. "Well, Mulder? You must have something to say."

Jesus, he was a cold-blooded bastard. "Forget it, Krycek. I'm not going to let you pick a fight with me."

"Why not?" He sounded very distant.

I managed a chuckle at that. "Krycek, do you have any idea how bizarre this conversation is?"

"I'm serious, Mulder. Why aren't you angry?"

"Krycek, you were ready to take the blame for something you didn't do. Ask yourself why."

"Are you trying to psychoanalyze me, Mulder? I needed a reason for a break with Jacob, that's all. So that he could stay on the inside and Spender wouldn't suspect him."

It must have sounded half-hearted even to him. "Really, Krycek. So what you're saying is that you masterminded the whole thing?"

"I saw the opportunity."

"You took an executive decision to sacrifice your relationship with Leilah so that her faith in her brother wouldn't be shaken."

He scowled at me in the mirror. "I don't have a relationship with Leilah, Mulder."

I snorted. "Just once, Krycek, would it be so hard to tell me the truth about something?"

He opened his mouth, then closed it again. "I'm screwing some girl, and suddenly that makes me a romantic hero? You really are as crazy as they say."

"Krycek, your girlfriend is a murderer, a forger, and I don't know what else." He laughed at that. "But," I continued, "it is reassuring to see that you have vulnerabilities."

"She isn't a vulnerability," he protested.

I remembered Strughold's comment about Krycek's sentimentality, and turned around, tired of looking at his reflection. "No," I agreed. "I guess not."

Krycek stared at me, smiling slightly. "Just once, Mulder, would it kill you to be predictable?"

"Apparently, since you claim you'd take it as a sign that I'm a shapeshifter. You'd probably stick a spike in the back of my neck."

"Probably," he agreed. He sank back down into the chair and stretched his legs out in front of him. Now that his face was in the light, I could see the little lines around his eyes that hadn't been there when we first met. They looked deeper than usual: probably exhaustion. There was a very faint bruise on his cheek.

The unreality of this whole situation struck me again. "Do you have a plan for tomorrow?" I asked him. "Or were you thinking of making it up on the spur of the moment?"

He ignored the question and leaned forward. "What are you doing here, Mulder?"

I bit back the flippant retort which was my first instinct and stared at Krycek. "There was a picture of you on the mantelpiece of Joseph Bookman's living room. You, Leilah and Jacob. Dressed up for a party--you were playing with some kind of hat." Krycek's face cleared as he placed the reference. "You looked... You looked very young."

"It's an old picture, Mulder. What's your point?"

"My point is... Look, forget it. Do you really think that what Strughold told us about the vaccine was true? That they need it before colonization can begin?"

He shrugged a shoulder. "I deal in plans, Mulder. If getting his hands on a working vaccine means that Strughold's going to tell his alien buddies that it's homecoming week, that's all I need to know. True and false don't come into it."

"But you don't know what he's planning. A vaccine might save us--if enough people were immune..."

"That was what your father thought. Or so I'm told."

I stared down at my hands, unwilling to respond. After a moment I heard him get up and walk back to the bedroom door.

"Try to get some sleep, Mulder," he said.



Contrary to rumor, I do use ashtrays, at least in my own office. I stubbed out my cigarette and turned my gaze on Joe Maiuri. "Your analysis?" I asked.

He shifted in his chair. Maiuri was still alive because he never expressed an opinion. As far as anyone could tell, he had no opinions. "The scene looked genuine."

"But?" I prompted.

"Well... is Krycek really capable of setting something like that up?"

I lit another cigarette and held it in my fingers. "Never underestimate your former colleague."

Behind me, the sky was getting light. It had been a long night: cleanup at Birtwistle's Virginia estate had taken longer than it should have due to the need to keep an eye on Jacob Bookman. And I had suffered an unpleasant telephone conversation with my two colleagues in Tunisia.

I wasn't entirely sure whom I wanted to kill more.

Jacob Bookman was an obvious candidate for elimination. He had, after all, failed miserably to do what I'd asked him to: to kill Alex. The data he'd handed over had been unsatisfactory, as well. But I might be able to find a use for him.

Alex Krycek had been my original target. He remained a threat. I was beginning to wonder, though, whether he wouldn't make a more suitable weapon. There were so few really satisfactory opponents left on the board. If I could persuade him to remove himself from the American scene, we might be able to come to an understanding.

Bookman would be a useful counterweight if I did keep Alex alive.

And then there were my associates. Strughold and Birtwistle. Strughold remained untouchable, hidden away in his Tunisian retreat. He was our only contact with the aliens, and as such was simply too dangerous to kill: who could say what they would do if he died? Birtwistle, though, was another matter. I had regretted more than once the decision that kept him alive.

The possibility of a satisfactory outcome remained: at the very least, I might get rid of one of the two vulnerable opponents. There would be something pleasant about using Alex against Birtwistle.

The telephone shook me out of my reverie. "Yes?" I said.

Diana was on the other end. "Sir? I'm sorry to interrupt you, but one of the techs has found something. Marita Covarrubias just bought a ticket on this morning's flight to Rome."

"Get someone to the airport," I said automatically. "I want to know if she boards the plane."

"Do you want someone to follow her to Italy?" Diana asked.

I inhaled smoke. "No." I was shorthanded as it was, and the Italian side of the Project wasn't important enough to waste manpower on.

"There's more," Diana said. "She made the reservation from the suite at the Hay-Adams."

I managed to turn my involuntary laugh into a cough. Oh, Alex. He was far too entertaining to eliminate. I would never get the same pleasure from people like Joe Maiuri or Diana Fowley. They lacked Alex's flair. "Connect me to the suite, Diana."

I heard the click as the line connected. It rang four times before Alex picked it up and answered in Italian. "Pronto." He sounded amused.

"I was under the impression that only Miss Covarrubias was going to Italy," I said. He didn't reply. "We should meet," I continued.

"We'll come up to New York this afternoon," he said. "Neutral ground."

Interesting, I thought. He wasn't as confident as he wanted me to think. "207 East 49th Street. 5:30 pm. I'll see you then." I disconnected, then dialed the restaurant to reserve a table. If things went well, we'd need a private room as well.

Alex turned up promptly at the back door to the restaurant. It was the first time I'd seen him since the El Rico disaster, and the events of the past few weeks had taken a toll on him: he'd lost the sleek look he'd had before the firestorm. But he was still as cocky as ever.

"A meeting in a restaurant?" he asked. "Very Godfather." He looked around. At this hour, we were the only patrons. "What's this all about?" He slid into a chair, darting nervous glances around the room as if he expected assassins to jump out from under the tablecloths.

"Alex," I said, "it would be a waste to have you killed."

He raised an eyebrow at that and stared at me. "You're just full of goodwill these days, aren't you?"

I slipped a card across the table to him in response. He picked it up and read the writing on it.

"What's this?" he asked.

"An address in Carthage."

"Which you're offering me because..."

"I could tell you that I sympathize with your anger at the deception practiced upon you."

The eyebrow went back up. "Let's not stretch your credibility, Spender." He stared at the card a while longer, before meeting my eyes. "My ability to maneuver freely in Tunisia is... limited," he observed.

"Only because Strughold is watching for you. We might be able to persuade him that you are no longer a threat."

He shifted in the chair. Had I caught him between temptation and mistrust? "Go on," was all he said.

It was a beginning. And I knew better than anyone the strength of Alex's desire for revenge.



Krycek had insisted on taking the meeting with Spender on his own, leaving me and Leilah to watch the entry to the alley. It seemed like a very long time since we'd seen him walk into the restaurant.

A good look at my badge persuaded the traffic cops to let us stay double-parked by the alley entrance. Leilah had smiled thinly the first time I flashed it; other than that, we hadn't had much to say to each other.

Marita had arranged a flight from Kennedy to Paris for herself. She had shaken my hand and bent awkwardly to kiss Leilah on the cheek. Instead of saying goodbye to her, Alex had asked, "Do you think you can bluff them?"

She had shrugged. "It's impossible to overestimate the French desire to be counted among the superpowers."

"What happened to Italy?" I had asked.

They had turned to look at me. "Nothing, Mulder," Krycek had said. "Let's go." He'd nodded to her and turned to lead us out of the airport. Marita had disappeared into the crowd.

Krycek was planning something, I thought. And if he was planning it with Marita Covarrubias and Spender, it couldn't be good. I considered asking Leilah what she knew, but she'd barely said a word to me since we left the farm in Virginia. Instead we sat there in fidgety silence for nearly an hour. I was wondering again what the hell Krycek was doing in there when he appeared at the restaurant's back door. He stood there for a few seconds, then stepped into the alley and started toward us.

I heard three shots, in rapid succession. I saw three wet, reddish patches appear on Krycek's shirt.

He managed two more steps before he fell to his knees and then face-down on the ground.

It was one of those freakish slow-motion moments where you feel like you're running through water. Leilah got there before me. She had turned him halfway and was cradling his head against her.

Why wasn't Scully here?

I scanned the buildings around us but could see nothing more suspicious than a few open, empty windows. They seemed to shift under my eyes, leaning in like they were about to fall in on us.

Why had I let Krycek go into that meeting alone?

Leilah looked up at me; I couldn't read her face. "Help me get him to the car," she said. She was clutching his hand in both of hers, her knuckles all white.

I stared at her. Moving him would kill him. "I'll call..." I started to say.

"An ambulance won't get here in time. Help me move him! Now!" She didn't wait for me, but put his arm around her shoulders and started lift him up.

I gave in to her determination and bent to help her. We managed to lift him and carry him, jostling him as little as possible, to the back seat of the car. It didn't seem to make him bleed any faster. Leilah sat next to him, supporting his head and upper body, and I got in and started to drive. Where the hell was the nearest hospital? The one I knew was St. Luke's, across town from us, but maybe there was something closer. We would never make it.

Krycek started to cough. "Damn, that hurts," he said. I could hear movement but had to keep my eyes on the city traffic.

Then there was the sound of a slap, all of a sudden, and I turned around regardless of the traffic to see Krycek sitting up, a blood-red palmprint on one cheek.

"Sasha, you bastard," Leilah said. "This blood is cold!"

The brakes squealed as I pulled over and double parked again, letting the taxis honk and swerve around us. When I turned around again it was to see that she'd pinned him against the seat and was unbuttoning his shirt.

"Leilah," he said. "Not in the car! What will Mulder think?"

"Shut up," she snapped. "How could you!" She sat back down when she'd exposed the kevlar vest he was wearing. Which he hadn't been wearing when he entered the restaurant. I could see the outline of the bags which had held the blood he'd used. "It's a good thing Spender didn't kill you, because now I'm going to do it myself!"

"Hey..." he started in a soothing tone.

"You absolute fucker," she continued, ignoring him. "I hate you! I positively hate you! And now look at us! We're double parked on Third Avenue, all of us covered in blood!"

She took a breath and I interrupted. "Good point," I said. "Guys, we really need to get off the street."

"My cousin has an apartment on Riverside Drive," Leilah said. Now she sounded perfectly calm. She gave me the address.

"I think your father is staying there," I said. "Helena Bauman, right?"

"Good," she snapped. "He can hold Sasha down while I murder him. Give me your phone."

I passed it back without comment. She flipped it open and dialed while I gave into an adolescent urge and mouthed the words "You're in trouble," at Krycek. He didn't smile.

"Hello? Daddy, it's me. We're on our way to Aunt Helena's." There was a pause. "Sasha and his Agent Mulder. You know." There was another pause. "Oh. It depends on cross-town traffic. Also, we're covered in fake blood. Could you warn the doorman?" She hung up.

Krycek coughed again and made a pained noise as I started the car again. "You're going to have a lot of bruising," Leilah informed him.

When I checked the rearview mirror she was sitting at the far end of the car, her arms wrapped around her chest. Krycek turned his head back from whatever he'd been staring at out the window and met my eyes.



I remember very little about the hours which followed my confrontation with my sister. Maiuri picked me up off the floor and put me in a bedroom with two men guarding the door. I remember wondering whether I ought to try to escape out the window: the ledge was broad and the drop not very far. As I had nowhere to escape to, it seemed like more effort than was worthwhile.

After a couple of hours Maiuri came back for me. We drove to an airfield where a private plane was waiting to take us to New York. In New York there was a car waiting for us, and we drove into the city, to a blocky building not far from the UN headquarters. I was left in another small room for another few hours.

Finally, Spender came to see me. "You failed me."

Not good. I would have to be able to think if I was going to survive this interview.

"None of your records suggest that your nerves are weak," he continued. "Perhaps you were never serious about working with us in the first place."

"I've never attempted to shoot a friend in the head at close quarters before this," I pointed out.

"A surprising gap in your education. Would you consider shooting Krycek from a distance?"

"No." It was best to be honest, at least at this stage.

"A pity. Perhaps I can make you reconsider?"

"I doubt it."

He took out a cigarette and lit it. Here it comes, I thought. Sasha would have known that this might happen. Just as I knew that he would, in time, make my death count for something. It was what I would have done for him, had I been able to.

"I'm sure," Spender said, "that when all the information is laid out for you, you will change your mind."

And that was how I found myself on the third floor of an office building on 50th street, overlooking an alley. Maiuri let me inspect everything: the gun, the ammunition, the jacket Spender assured me they would offer Sasha. "If you wish," he had said, "you can shoot to kill."

"If you do not offer Sasha the vest, or if he doesn't take it, you will have to kill me," I had told him. "Otherwise I will make you pay."

"A threat?"

I'd held my hands open, palm up between us. "How, when you hold all the cards? I only have as much power to harm you as you give me."

My instinct had been to hold my breath while he stared at me. Would he believe it? It had the benefit of being true. If I made it through this evening, however, I might someday have a great deal of power to use against Spender.

His lack of response had assured me that he understood me all too well.

Now I paced back and forth in the room while I waited for the meeting between Sasha and Spender to finish; Maiuri leaned back in a desk chair and watched me. No doubt if I didn't shoot Sasha this time, he had orders to kill me.

It was a test, of course, but nothing so crude as the original test had been. Spender was not lying, I decided. There were easier ways to get rid of the two of us, if that had been his goal. No, I suspected he was getting far too much enjoyment out of playing with us to take the two of us off the board at this moment.

So. If we both trusted Spender, we would both live. If I didn't trust him, Sasha might live but I would be shot. If Sasha didn't trust Spender, I would kill him, and then Maiuri would kill me. There was no improvement if neither of us trusted him: Maiuri would still kill me for refusing to take the shot, and Sasha would be more vulnerable, if Spender had a second sniper tucked away elsewhere in the building. As he almost certainly did.

Either we would both live through the next hour, or neither of us would.

When the phone on the desk rang, I jumped. Maiuri picked it up and listened for a moment, then replaced it. "He'll be coming out soon," he said.

I went to the window and checked the rifle once more. Did Sasha know that he held my life in his hand? As I held his in mine.

He stepped out of the restaurant and glanced up at my window. Was it my imagination or did our eyes meet? Then he turned and walked with deliberate slowness to the mouth of the alley.

It is not true that my hands were shaking when I took my three shots, while Maiuri counted with me and pushed the buttons that would make him seem to bleed. They did not shake when I saw him fall to the ground and was unable to tell at a distance whether he was merely playing dead. Only when I saw my sister running towards his body--towards him, I corrected myself--and I had to turn away from the sight as if undisturbed did they start to tremble. I folded my arms across my chest and waited for Spender to come and tell me whether I'd passed the test.



Joseph Bookman was waiting for us at the door of the apartment building. He must have come up with a convincing story because one of the doormen helped us with the bags and let us in without much more than a curious look and the other phoned someone to take care of the car.

Leilah kissed her father on the cheek. "Sorry about all the blood," she said as he ushered us into the elevator.

He led the way to a big prewar apartment on the fifteenth floor. "Let me show you where the bathrooms are, so you can clean up," he said.

As the apartment door closed behind us Leilah stopped in the foyer and stared at him. "Did you know about Daniel and Jacob?" she asked.

"I'll just find the bathroom myself," I muttered and started to back further into the apartment. Krycek followed me, but stopped just outside the foyer.

"I didn't know," I heard Bookman say, "but I guessed."

The argument followed me as I hunted for a bathroom.

"And you didn't tell me?" I heard her voice rising.

"It wasn't my secret to confess."

Finally. I let the door close behind me and leaned against it briefly, with my eyes closed.

I washed the fake blood off my skin and changed my shirt. When Krycek had suggested that I go back to my apartment this morning to pick up a change of clothes, I had thought he was just trying to get me out of the way.

I left the bathroom and found my way to the living room. I stared out across the river at New Jersey. The view was amazing, although the room itself was shabby: threadbare brown sofas, overstuffed bookcases and dying houseplants.

A step behind me made me turn around. It was Joseph Bookman. He came to stand next to me, and we watched the sun start to go down and the joggers running back and forth in Riverside Park below us.

"How did she find out?" he asked.

I described the scene at the house in Virginia. "I think he really expected her to kill him," I said at the end.

He didn't say anything, but I saw a shudder go through him. It felt like my cue to leave him alone. I followed voices and found Leilah and Krycek crowded into the apartment kitchen.

I heard her say, "Painkillers," and then "water." As I came in Krycek, seated at the little breakfast table, was handing the glass back to her and doing his best to look meek. She slammed the glass down on the counter. They had washed and changed, but clearly not settled their argument.

"Now that we've all gotten over the shock of seeing you gunned down in the street, Krycek," I said, "do you want to tell us what that was about?"

"That was Spender trying to even the odds," he said.

Typical Krycek--what the hell did that mean? "How?" I asked.

Krycek sighed as if any idiot should have understood him. "Right now, the only people left from the original group on his level are Strughold and Birtwistle. Birtwistle doesn't count--he's hiding out in Tunisia. But if I'm out of the picture, Birtwistle might come out of retirement and try to take over the European side of things."

"So Spender's staging your death to draw him out?"

Krycek looked surprised. "No. No, this was just to put him off-guard long enough for me to get into Tunisia and get to him. If they think I'm dead, Strughold won't be watching out for me."

"So that you can kill him," I said flatly. It was so easy to get carried away around Krycek, especially when he was answering all my questions.

Krycek didn't seem unsettled. "That's certainly what Spender hopes I'll do." He reached out and caught Leilah's hand and tugged her toward him. She settled into the other chair at the table. "Now all I need is a quiet way in and out of Tunisia."

"Where in Tunisia?" she asked.

"Tunis. Carthage, really."

"Oh, that's easy. A cruise ship."

"A cruise?" He stared at her in mock horror. "Couldn't we sneak across the border in the middle of the night?"

She smiled sweetly. "That would be inconvenient. Don't tell me you're afraid of a bunch of red-faced tourists?"

"Not with you there to protect me," he said.

She rolled her eyes, but the smile seemed a little more genuine.

Watching Krycek attempt to show affection was actually a little disturbing. I cleared my throat. "I should probably phone Scully."

Leilah directed me to a phone back in the living room. As I left them I saw Krycek lift her hand and kiss the inside of her wrist. Very disturbing.



Leilah pulled her hand away as soon as Mulder was gone. I leaned back in my chair and examined her. Still angry at me, but willing to play along in public. "Are you going to be able to function?" I asked her.

She flushed. "If you can manage to keep yourself from being shot directly in front of me."

"I couldn't avoid that. I thought you'd figure it out as soon as you got to me."

"Sasha, I was so terrified that I could hardly see! I wasn't about to notice that you weren't pumping out as much blood as you should have been!"

Something about her anger made her look absurdly desirable. But I had enough bruises for one day, so I didn't pull her to me and start kissing her.

"I'm serious, Sasha," she said. "You really frightened me."

"I didn't think," I admitted.


"You know I can't let you go now." Even if that had been what I wanted.

"Yes, that had occurred to me. Although," she said bitterly, "if Spender does kill my brother..."

"Leilah, he won't."

"Did he tell you that?"

"He thinks he can still use Jacob against me someday." And since he'd decided to keep me alive, for the moment, Jacob would be safe as well. It had been a very unusual conversation, back at that restaurant.

"Oh," she said. She rested her head in her hands and stared down at the table.

I froze when I realized that she was crying. Shit. I could have gone to find Joseph and let him deal with it. Instead I went and knelt down next to her chair. She leaned against me as I wrapped my arm around her and held her like that until she was done.

She wiped her eyes with her sleeve. "Don't tell me you're sorry."

"I'm not sorry," I told her.

"This had all better work." She turned her body so that she was facing me and placed her hand on my cheek, where she'd hit me in the car. "You frightened me," she said again.

"I know."

She rubbed at her face again. "I'm a mess, aren't I?" I shook my head. "I hate being weak," she said.

"I know," I said again.

She stood up. "I have to go talk to my father."

That was a conversation I was dreading; I was going to have to explain to Joseph what I'd done to his family. "At least go wash your face first," I asked her.



Scully wasn't happy to hear that I was in New York. By the time she was done complaining that I'd left her behind again I'd realized that there was no way I could explain what had happened over the phone. That made here even less happy. "Does this have something to do with Krycek?" she asked.

"I'll tell you everything when I get back to Washington," I promised.

I hung up to find Krycek leaning in the doorway, watching me. "She hates it when I ditch her," I explained.

He stared at me as if I'd said something in a foreign language. "I'll be lying low here until we work this Tunisia thing out. I'll let you know when you can stop pretending I'm dead."

That's it? I thought. Thanks for the help, I'll let you know when I need you again?

My expression must have changed. Krycek said, "What? I'm not taking you along on a hit in Tunisia."

"You're lucky I'm willing to let you out of my sight after the stunt you just pulled." If I concentrated for a second I could still feel that sense that the world was shifting around me. "What if Spender had told his shooter to aim at your head? You could have been killed back there!"

He grinned at me. "Careful, Mulder. Someone might start to think you care."

"Fuck you, Krycek." That bastard had enjoyed taking the risk. I clenched my hands to keep from shaking the grin off his face. He saw it and smiled more widely. Krycek's first instinct seemed always to be to provoke me, as if goading me to violence comforted him somehow. The thought that my hatred of him had up to now been a reassuring constant in Krycek's life dispelled most of my anger. "Have you even thought about what might happen if you got killed?"

"Don't be an idiot, Mulder. It would distract me from trying not to get killed in the first place."

I snorted. Krycek seemed to take that as an answer, since he changed the subject. "I left some information in your apartment. Be careful what you do with it--it's what we were looking for in Turkmenistan and I don't want Spender to know it exists."

"The vaccine?" I asked.

"Fifty-three percent effective, no side effects."

What the hell? "Krycek, how effective was the vaccine I got in Tunguska?"

The exhaustion suddenly showed on his face; I wondered if he'd had any sleep the night before. "Sixty-eight percent," he admitted, "but it killed one out of every five subjects outright."

Fuck. He didn't flinch when I walked up to him. He expected me to hit him, I realized. Maybe he even wanted me to hit him. I needed to do something else with my hands so I rested them on his shoulders and stared him in the eyes. "You dragged me to Siberia to have me exposed to a vaccine that killed one out of every five people who received it--a vaccine which only worked on two out of every three of the people it didn't kill?"

"You dragged yourself to Tunguska. And you were lucky." He spat the end of the sentence out.

I opened my mouth to argue. He remained still under my hands, his left arm hanging there like it always did. 'You deserved it,' I had told him when I realized what had been done to him. Did I still believe that? I pushed myself away from him and went to stand by the window. "I have to go back to Washington," I said.

He didn't say anything, so I turned around to look at him. It seemed easier to meet his eyes from across the room. "Did you mean to have me exposed to the oil there?" I asked.

"No. You were supposed to find out about the vaccine project, not participate in it." His voice was even.

Well, that was something. "Krycek, I..."

"Forget it, Mulder. If Marita contacts you, you can let her know I'm not really dead. Spender may try to make a deal with you. That's up to--"

"Why the hell would Spender think I'd deal with him?"

"You've been working with me, haven't you?"

"That's not..."

"It's the same to Spender."

Was it the same? God, I needed to get back to Washington. I turned back to look out the window as the setting sun came out from under a bank of clouds and flooded the room with orange light. If I was going to catch a plane I had to leave soon. When I looked at Krycek to tell him that, though, the words died in my mouth. He was still standing alone in the middle of the dusty living room, but the light had caught him: his eyes were closed against it and his black clothes swallowed it up but the light itself glowed on the skin of his face. He had tilted his head up, as if to meet it.

"It's not the same," I said.

He opened his eyes and the corners of his mouth lifted slightly. "Mulder."

"Take care of yourself," I told him.

"If you're going, you should go now."

I nodded. "I'm going."



As he'd promised, Mulder came to see me as soon as he got back from New York; he turned up at my door with a bag of Chinese food at around eleven p.m. to tell me what had happened. Jacob Bookman had had his own brother-in-law murdered. Krycek had managed to turn the situation to his own advantage.

"So essentially," I said, fishing around for the last of the shrimp, "C. G. B. Spender and Jacob Bookman were both trying to kill Krycek, but neither of them succeeded."

"I don't think either of them was trying very hard," Mulder answered.

That left us with Krycek still out there somewhere, up to no good. "Too bad," I muttered, a little more loudly than I should have. Mulder frowned at me. "Did you ask him about Skinner?" I asked. His guilty expression was all the answer I needed. I put down my chopsticks. "Mulder, how could you?"

"We had more important things to worry about."

"More important than a man's life? A friend's life?"

Mulder stared at me. "It wasn't the right time."

"When is it going to be the right time?" My voice rose. "When Skinner's dead?"

"He won't kill him." Mulder sounded very certain, but Mulder was certain about all kinds of things.

"How can you be so sure?"

"I just know." His lower lip began to stick out slightly, usually a sign that it was time to give up the argument.

I decided to ignore the warning. "Because Krycek told you? Mulder, all he's ever done is lie to you."

"You weren't there, Scully," he said. "You have no idea what Krycek is really like."

I wasn't there, I almost said, because Mulder had once again decided that he knew best and run off with Krycek and without me. "He's a monster."

"No," Mulder said softly. "He's only a man. A man who's willing to sacrifice everything for his goal."

"Sacrifice?" My voice was rising again. I tried to modulate it; I hate shrillness. "How can you sit there and talk to me about Krycek's sacrifices?"

"Scully, you-- Look, never mind. This was a mistake." He stood up. "You used to trust me."

The look on his face was almost enough to make me change my mind. "You used to trust me, too, Mulder. It goes both ways."

"I do trust you, Scully. This isn't an either-or situation. But I've never been able to make you believe what I believe, and I don't think Krycek is a subject you're willing to be flexible about."

"I know what he's done. To both of us. Unless you no longer believe that he killed your father and arranged my abduction."

That hit home, but he didn't stay to argue with me. "Good night, Scully."

I didn't feel like I'd won the argument.

We pretended nothing had happened, and although I could see Mulder getting anxious it wasn't something I was willing to talk to him about. I suspected that he was waiting for Krycek to contact him. But I was the one who was contacted first.

It had been an awful case: two mysterious disappearances in Wisconsin. We never found the bodies, our clothes ended up covered in mud and our best suspect had literally disintegrated before our eyes during a pounding rainstorm. Even Mulder couldn't find anything positive to say about the case. To top it all off, our plane home spent an extra hour in a holding pattern before we could land. I told Mulder that all I wanted was a hot bath and a good night's sleep, and headed for my car.

Once home, I locked the door behind me, kicked off my shoes and dropped my bag in the hall. Was that open bottle of white wine in my fridge still any good? When the doorbell rang I muttered "Damn it, Mulder, what's wrong now?" and opened the door without looking.

Of course it wasn't Mulder. It was Jacob Bookman, holding a briefcase. "May I come in?" he asked.

At least he had better manners than most criminals, I thought. "What happens if I ask you to go away?"

"Please, Dr. Scully, this is important."

I expelled a breath and stood aside to let him pass.

"Thank you," he said. "I'll be brief, since I'm sure you're tired. These papers came into my hands, and I suspected that you would find them interesting." He rested the briefcase on my hall table and pulled out a thick manila folder.

When I opened it, the paper on top was a letter to a Dr. Alfred Frankel. I closed the folder and held it out to Bookman. Ten days earlier I had received a report about Dr. Frankel's death: he had died in a fire in his laboratory at the University of Virginia. The fire had, according to the report, been caused by a gas leak; Dr. Frankel had been the only casualty, but all his work had been destroyed along with his lab.

"There is only one way you could have gotten these papers," I said. Bookman didn't take the folder from me. It was evidence of a felony. If I kept the papers I would be concealing evidence of a murder. Not a murder anyone would let me and Mulder solve, but still a murder. The papers were confirmation of that--the coroner had ruled it an accident, and I'd only found out about Frankel's death because I was subscribing to a list for entomologists.

"You have there Dr. Frankel's most recent working notes on the link between swarming behavior and aggression in three bee subspecies. Something about that research made him worth eliminating."

Eliminating people for Spender must be Bookman's new line of work. "Did the Smoking Man ask you to give these to me?"

"I hope that he doesn't know I have them at all," Bookman said. He gave me a rueful smile. "I also hope he never finds out about them. My life is quite literally in your hands, Dr. Scully."

He would have said that anyway. There was no way to tell what the papers really were: an elaborate forgery? A trap of some sort? A blind alley? Or possibly, the kind of evidence I could use someday to build a case. "Am I supposed to believe that you killed Dr. Frankel and then in a fit of conscience decided to preserve his work? When you tried so hard to join Spender's conspiracy in the first place? I'm not convinced."

"Then believe that I have no desire to succumb to this plague when it is released."

"When? Not if?"

"When," he said. "Someone has invested a great deal of effort into this project, and they will want a return on their investment." He met my eyes. "It's late, and I should go. Goodnight, Dr. Scully." He took his briefcase and let himself out.

I stared at the folder I was still holding. It wasn't too late. I could put the whole thing in an evidence bag and open a file on Dr. Frankel's death. I could phone Mulder and ask him to come over and give me his opinion. Instead I sat down and started to read. I told myself that I could always share it with Mulder later, if there was something worthwhile in it.



Leilah hadn't been joking about the Mediterranean cruise. "Trust me," she said. "There's a man on Malta who arranges this kind of thing. Jacob used to use him." So we flew to Paris for a brief meeting with Marita and then to Marseilles, where Leilah tracked down a man she knew who knew a man, who knew a man... and on and on until we found ourselves on Malta walking up a ramp and onto a huge white ship where we were issued with a pair of plastic tags identifying us as passengers. There was almost no security.

The next morning we arrived in Tunis. The two immigration officials working at the dock hardly glanced at our passports, and we boarded the tour bus heading for Carthage. Just like any two tourists, except our shoulder holsters were less obtrusive than their hidden money pouches, and our camera bags contained silencers and ammunition.

We ditched the bus next to a park full of Roman ruins and began to wander inland and uphill. It was a quiet neighborhood of big houses hidden behind high walls, with vines and flowers pouring out over the walls and onto the street. We wandered past Birtwistle's place, noting the location of the security cameras and the solidity of the gate, and kept going uphill.

At the top there was a large church--a big white thing that looked like it had been transported from Paris--and a smaller building which housed a museum. And of course, more ruins. I stared down at the houses of Carthage: the Brit's was overshadowed, so I couldn't see in. I would have liked to be sure that the Smoker's description was accurate.

I found Leilah sitting on a stone bench, watching a group of tourists stare uncomprehendingly at some old brick walls.

"Now what?" she asked.

"We've got a couple hours to kill." Too bad it wasn't later in the year--to get back on the ship we'd have to do the hit in the middle of the day, and there was nothing like a hot summer day to relax a target. Still, the sky was blue, the air was clear and warm, flowers were everywhere. It was the kind of day no one would expect to be shot. Nearly perfect for an assassination.

"Do you want to go look in the museum?"

I stared at her. I hadn't been in a museum since I met a contact at the National Portrait Gallery in London two years before. And I couldn't remember when I'd last gone into one to look at the stuff inside.

"It's not like we have anything else to do," she pointed out.

"I don't like museums." Museums, being full of valuable things, tended to have guards. So instead we wandered back down the hill and to the edge of the water, where we sat on a bench by a little lagoon which Leilah told me was the ancient harbor. The houses came up right to the Mediterranean.

I sat there looking for the fuzzy line where the blue of the sky met the blue of the water. "Do you have any ideas about how we'll get into the house?" Leilah asked.

I grinned at her. It really was a beautiful day. "Yeah. But you aren't going to like them."

We spent a few hours like that, walking from one bench to the next, since every ruin in Carthage was surrounded by its own little park. After lunch we strolled back to the Brit's house. We paused just to the left of the door, and Leilah leaned back against the wall. I bent down, wrapped my arm around her, and started to kiss her.

It didn't feel right. We were both tense, listening for a noise from inside the house and hoping that no one else would come out and tell us to stop: Tunisia was pretty secular, but I sure that kissing on the street was not acceptable. It was probably illegal. I found that I was touching her lips as lightly as possible, and moved my head to kiss her cheek instead. That felt more natural. Natural enough to make me wish we were doing this for real.

The gate opened and a man stuck his head out and started to yell at us in French. Pay dirt. I took out the gun Leilah had stuck in the back of her jeans and shot him in the head. The silencer muffled the noise, but we hurried in anyway and dragged him over to the guard post just inside the gate. Where the Smoker had said it would be, actually.

There should have been another man on guard. I guessed that he was out doing a walk around the perimeter. Sure enough, a moment later the radio in the guard post crackled to life, and the man announced that he'd be coming back. He wandered back as if nothing was wrong and stood there gaping at his dead friend propped in the corner while I held a gun on him and Leilah tied him up. He'd get loose eventually. Someone had to tell Strughold we'd been here.

We found the Brit inside, sitting and reading in a simple room on the second floor. There was a tray with a plate and an empty wine-glass on the table next to him.

He looked up when I opened the door and asked, "Is there a problem?" Then he recognized me and his face went pale. He put the book down and pushed himself to his feet, saying, "You!" He always did like melodrama.

Leilah walked around the room, closing the shutters. He glanced at her but turned his attention back to me when she went to stand against the wall behind him. "I should have known that my colleague would fail to eliminate you," he said.

"You did tell me that he'd be useful," I said. "And you were right. He told me how to get to you."

"You're making a grave mistake."

"No, I'm correcting a mistake."

"Alex, you must realize that Spender is only using you. He's wanted to get rid of me for a long time. Imagine how he's laughing at you now."

"The same way you used to laugh at me, right? You set me up. You were planning this all along."

"No," he said. "You don't understand. I had no choice, but I did what I could for you. I left you free and in control of the vaccine program."

"Only because you never expected me to succeed."

"Because I knew you would succeed. I've always had the greatest faith in you, Alex. Those were terrible days, just after we discovered that the virus had mutated, that the aliens had been lying to us. I had to bend to Strughold's will, but at least I managed to save you. It's true that I assured him that without me you would never succeed, but I had--I still have--the greatest faith in you."

"And Strughold, no doubt, believed you story. But here's what I don't understand. Strughold told Mulder that the vaccine was necessary for Colonization. You told me that the vaccine would prevent Colonization."

He took a deep breath. "Alex, Strughold must have been lying. Remember, at that time he still believed you'd found a vaccine in Turkmenistan. He probably hoped Mulder would destroy it or would persuade you to give up the project. But you mustn't let this failure discourage you--you can still find a vaccine. I have faith in your abilities."

It was so tempting to believe him. "I didn't fail," I said, watching him very carefully. He might have been telling the truth. But I remembered Malcolm Foote, tucked away somewhere in Strughold's organization now. No way the Brit would have handed him over if this was all a bluff.

"Don't exaggerate," he said sharply. "I know that you didn't retrieve anything from the Turkmenistan facility."

"Because Beraichev had already removed it."

The room was dark, but I saw him blanch. "Do you really expect me to believe you?" he asked.

"I thought you had faith in my abilities," I said. Fuck. I could still remember the way he'd flattered me when we came to our agreement, after he took the Russian vaccine. What had he called me? 'A man who could do good and not get caught at it.' I'd been an idiot.

"Where is it?" he asked.

"Somewhere you'll never find it."

"I don't believe you."

"I don't care what you believe. You aren't going to make it out of this room alive."

"You're a fool," he said harshly. "You have no idea what you're dealing with."

"Then tell me!" He had been so damned convincing, when he told me he was trying to save us all. "Tell me what's going on, old man!" Two steps brought be right up to him and I backhanded him across the face. His head snapped back and he swayed, but when he came back up he was smiling at me.

Shit. Couldn't I have tried to persuade him that I believed him? It was too late now and he knew it. "How uncomfortable for you, not to know if you're saving the world or destroying it . Poor Alex. You'll always be someone else's errand-boy, won't you? Now you're doing Spender's bidding."

"I'll figure it out," I said.

He was still smiling. "My dear boy, it's time you faced the truth. You aren't capable of it. You're a second- rate thug who's been luckier than he could have expected. Don't think that's enough to make you a player, let alone a hero."

"Go to hell, old man." I backed up those two paces and shot him.

It hit him in the shoulder. He clutched at himself, bending over and taking a great sobbing breath. Not so dignified now, was he? I shot him again, this time in the stomach, and he choked out a scream as he fell back into the chair. As he opened his mouth--to call for help? to make one last comment?--I walked up to him and shot him a third time, in the face.

I couldn't recognize him now--shattered bone and white hair covered in blood--and I actually stood there for a second looking down at him and trying to see the man I'd known in the wreck. I gasped when Leilah touched my arm. "It's over," she said. "We can go."

She led me outside and over to a little fountain in the garden. There she dipped the cuff of her long sleeved shirt in the water and rubbed at my face and neck. "Just a little blood." The cool water made me realize how hot the room had been.

Leilah took care of getting us out of the country, walking us down to one of the archaeological sites and flagging a taxi to take us back to the ship, chatting in French with the taxi driver about what we'd supposedly seen that day. At the port I started to come out of my daze. We walked past a few customs agents, flashed our passports and those plastic cards and were home free. I sat down on the bottom bunk while Leilah locked the door.

"That wasn't true, what he said about you," she said.

I shrugged. It was closer to the truth than I liked. I had no idea what I was doing or whether I was any closer to stopping the aliens or...

"I'm serious, Sasha," she said, sitting down next to me. "Look, there's blood on your shirt, too. Let me rinse it out in the sink." Her hands reached for hem of my shirt.

The next thing I knew I had grabbed her and yanked her toward me. My arm was around her back and her hands were flattened against my chest, and I was kissing her, forcing her mouth open under mine to drink her in.

She made a muffled noise and I snapped my head back. "Shit," I gasped. What the hell was wrong with me. "I'm--"

Her mouth looked bruised. I tried to move back, away from her, but her hands were clutching my shirt. "Sasha," she said, "don't tell me you're sorry." She lifted a hand to my face and pulled me to her.

This time, she didn't bite me.

Afterwards she tucked herself against my side and I lay there, staring up at the top bunk. Birtwistle's damning judgment was still ringing in my ears.

"It isn't true," Leilah said again. "You will figure it out. You have to."

In the morning she was still in bed with me, pressed up against my left side with her arm wrapped around my chest. I touched her gently, and she responded by pushing her head onto my shoulder.

It was probably nothing more than pity. I'd thought I would enjoy killing the Brit, but the exchange had left me frustrated and angry--why couldn't he have been what he told me he was? That was the kind of thing Leilah might well pick up on and decide, in her own way, to do something about.

Although she was still here.

I managed to pry myself out from under her and went to the bathroom. When I got back she was awake and half sitting up, with the sheet pulled up over her.

Something about the way she was looking at me made me uncomfortable. I wished I'd thrown some clothes on when I got up. Too late now, so I went and stared out through the porthole.

I heard her getting up and the bathroom door closing behind her. After a little while I heard the shower start to run.

I got dressed and went out for some fresh air. We ought to be in Sicily soon.



We flew from Palermo to Rome, where Marita met us at the airport, looking composed and fashionable in a linen suit and sunglasses.

"He's dead," Sasha said as we drove away.

Marita nodded but didn't say anything. After a little while, Sasha continued, "How did Paris go?"

"I think they can be used. They don't trust Spender, and they're nervous about what happened at El Rico. They want someone who can tell them what to do while making it seem like it was their idea all along." I had a feeling that was high on Marita's list of talents. "Also," she continued, "I've reactivated a listening post near Taranto. We've been monitoring Strughold's conversations." She was smiling in a self-satisfied way.

"So you must already have known that Birtwistle was dead," I pointed out.

Her smile faded. "The second guard called Strughold as soon as he got free. Strughold tried to contact Spender right away, but Spender isn't answering."

Sasha smirked. "Those must be interesting messages."

"Alex," she said, "what if he does start to panic? None of us really know how much Strughold is capable of."

"If he panics he'll start making mistakes," Sasha said. "And we'll just have to be ready to take advantage of them." He sounded confident, but I couldn't see his face.

Marita had taken three rooms in a hotel in Rome for us. I lay in bed that night listening to Italian television shows coming through the wall from Sasha's room. He turned it off after a few hours, and I heard him starting to pace back and forth. Should I get up and go to him, I wondered. Would it make things better or worse? Last night had seemed like the right thing to do at the time--it had been what I wanted to do--but now I was beginning to think it had been a mistake. I was still debating when I heard his door open and close and a moment later he was knocking gently on my door. I got out of bed to let him in.

"You're awake," he said. He walked over to the window and twitched the curtains open, staring out at the street below us before letting them fall closed. I turned the light on and blinked until my eyes adjusted.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"Nothing," he said. "Everything is just as I wanted. I made it. I'm all the way in. The French are in Marita's hands, and I can persuade the Italians. I know where all the bodies are buried in England, and I can make any deal I want with the Russians. I don't have a fucking clue what to do with it." He was breathing heavily by the time he finished.

"Because you don't know whether to develop a vaccine or not?"

"I tell myself they're just bluffing, that I was right all along and a vaccine is what we need. But what if it's not?"

"But if they really needed a vaccine, wouldn't they have been working on it openly?"

He sat down on the bed. "That's the problem. They were, at first. It was Bill Mulder's project. And then as far as I can tell he dropped it and the whole thing moved underground under Birtwistle's guidance."

"It's like a basket of snakes," I said. "You can see them all wriggling around, but you can't tell where one ends and the next one begin."

He made a kind of choked laugh, so I sat down next to him on the bed. "All I'm sure of is that if I stick my hand in it'll get bitten," he said. He reached over and took my hand in his, turning it over and staring at the palm. "Leilah," he began.

"I'm not sorry either," I said, before he could say anything else. "Sasha, this is your war. You know that better than I do. All you can do is fight it."

He looked up and smiled slightly. "Thank you." He leaned over and kissed my cheek, very lightly.

I swallowed. "And maybe somewhere in France or Italy or Britain we'll find someone who knows about the vaccine."

He gave me a sharp look and said, "We?"

I smiled. "Do you ever get tired of telling people to leave you?"

"Usually I don't have to tell them."

"Jacob claims I'm a very slow learner. You may have to put up with me for a little while."

"I guess I can live with that," he said.

I looked down at my own palm, nested in his. Last night had happened so quickly that I hadn't had time to think of Davies. This morning I'd found myself remembering the feel of his hands. I shuddered and snatched my hand away, but when I looked up it was only Sasha, staring at me in concern. "I'm--" I started.

"Don't say you're sorry," he said. I managed a smile. "Should I leave?"

I shook my head. I took a deep breath to calm my heart and reached for his hand again.




From my hiding place I watched the old man sitting in his kitchen. Deceptively meek-looking, deceptively idle. He got up, checked the kettle, turned the light off underneath it and went to the fridge. Out came a stack of containers which he deposited on the table before walking to the back door and staring right at me.

"Are you planning to stay out there all night?" he asked.

I should know better than to try to hide from my father. I left my shelter and came inside.

"Tea?" he offered, pouring a little strong tea into the bottom of two cups and filling them with hot water. While it cooled I investigated the leftovers: some cold chicken, some pasta, some kind of rice dish. My father took out a plate and cut himself a large slice of carrot cake.

"Is this how you always eat?" I asked.

"It is possibly a little late for me to be setting you a good example."

"Possibly." I took the cake away anyway and found some salad wrapped in a towel. He didn't say anything except to direct me to the tomatoes and scallions.

"Well?" I asked when we had finished eating.

"It was a very nice salad."

"That wasn't what I meant."

He sighed. He was beginning to look old to me. I'd always had a sense of his age, but the years themselves never seemed to show on him. Other men might look old at sixty-five or seventy, but not my father. Recently, though, he seemed to be wearing a mask of wrinkles which hid the face I expected to see.

"I don't think there's anything to be said," he told me. "You might have trusted Sasha."


"It's his life's work."

"It's not a hobby for me either." Not anymore.

He looked at me for a while, weighing my words.

"You know how important this is," I said.

He nodded. "But will you succeed?"

It was the only important question. "I only know one way to find out. Spender has me working in DC as a consultant State and the NSA. It's a good cover."

"What about the rest of the job?" he asked.

I shrugged. "We'll see."

"Be careful of that old man."

I looked up, surprised. "I will be."

"Sasha came to me, the first time Spender tried to have him killed. I told him to get away while he could, and to stay away."

I hadn't known that. "What did he say?"

"The day is short, the task is great, the workers are lazy and the Master of the House is urgent."

"Sasha said that?"

"Not in so many words. Do you know the next line?"

"Go ahead and tell me."

"You are not required to complete the work, but neither are you free to avoid it."

I nodded. "You taught me that."

"I know," he said. "I sometimes wish my children weren't such attentive students."

The End

Author's notes:

Well, here we are. At times I never thought I'd make it. I think it's fair to say that, given the sequel hook Scully has handed me, I am not yet finished with this universe, although I hope that the next installment won't take two years to write.

Them as goes looking for such things might well find hints of authors such as Alan Furst and Dorothy Dunnett; it seems that WMM has read Furst's novel _Dark Star_. I believe I managed to root out the Patricia A. McKillip references, but the Mahabharata and possibly even the Aeneid are in there somewhere. As always, the opening poem (quoted in Part 1) is from W. H. Auden, In Time of War, as published in his Collected Poems.

The feedback for these stories has meant a great deal to me; although I've thanked you all individually (I hope! If I haven't, write me and complain!) I'd like to thank you all here as well.

And finally, this is dedicated, in loving memory, to Marek. A better man, and better loved, than Joseph Bookman could ever have dreamed of being.