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The Gift of an Enemy

Part I
by Sylvia

It was only Wednesday, and Mulder was so tired he could hardly drag himself up the stairs to his apartment. It hadn't been a hard day so much as a boring one. Like the one before, and the one before that.... Hell, like the last several weeks. It was not a new tactic-bury the bothersome agent with so many trivial little cases and so much routine psych evaluation crap that he would never have the time to stick his nose into things they didn't want him to.

Well, it had been tried before. It hadn't worked then, and it wouldn't work now. Sooner or later, he'd get a whiff of something-something out of the ordinary, something that smelled of a cover-up, and he'd go after it come hell or high water. He knew what was going on here, and he wouldn't let them stonewall him. He was only playing it their way at all because he hadn't seen his chance yet. Because he wanted to lull them into a false sense of security. Because he was tired.

He was drained in a way that had nothing to do with physical fatigue-it was a mental exhaustion, an all-too-familiar depression. He knew it would pass in time... he just had to hold up until it did. It would have helped if the cases he'd been given had required some amount of effort, but no such luck.

Still, it would pass. He reminded himself of the fact that it would-that it always did-at least a dozen times an hour. It would pass as it always passed, to return worse than ever when something occurred to trigger it again-a case, a nightmare, a stray thought he couldn't suppress in time....

And each time he grew more and more fearful of the inevitable day the depression would refuse to lift. He knew that it would come... but this was not it. It was important to believe that this was not yet the time.

There was a small girl in a shapeless grey jumpsuit standing in the corridor in front of his apartment-she couldn't have been older than nine or ten. Her mousy hair was cut short in a no-nonsense way and she wore a very calm, almost tranquil expression that looked peculiar on her young features. She was waiting.

Mulder found himself wanting to reach for his gun. He didn't have time to feel ridiculous before the girl spoke. "Special Agent Fox William Mulder. Please confirm this identification. The area is secure."

His eyes narrowed and he stopped where he stood, dropping the briefcase with a muffled thump. Keeping his hand from his weapon was now a conscious effort.

"I'm Mulder," he said cautiously. "Who are you?"

"I have no designation in your aural communication," the girl informed him.

Unless this was some kind of sick joke, the thing that looked like a girl was no girl-at least not in any usual sense of the word. And while there were a number of people Mulder thought fully capable of setting him up like this, it felt real. It was real, he was sure of it.

The knot of fear in his stomach was all but forgotten as the familiar thrill of fascination ran through him, tempting him to forget caution. He resisted... for the moment.

"What do you want?" he asked with characteristic rudeness.

His lack of social skills didn't seem to bother aliens much, at least not nearly as much as it tended to bother humans. That was the advantage of completely incompatible politeness systems-you didn't think anything of rudeness when chances were you wouldn't recognize the other's politeness anyway. Very probably Mulder was being polite, by someone's standards.

This alien, at least, took Mulder's lack of small talk in stride. Perhaps it had reflected on variations in social customs. "We wish to initiate negotiations for a limited agreement of trade," it said.

It stood completely straight, hands at its sides, unmoving except for the minimal motions required for breathing and talking. It hadn't moved in any other way since Mulder had come around the corner from the staircase.

"We are not associated with the others with whom you have had contact. We require information. We offer information in return. Is this acceptable as a basis for further negotiation?"

"What kind of information are we talking about?" Mulder asked suspiciously. "How do I know you're telling the truth-that you haven't been sent by the Consortium to trick me?"

"We require information about the association you mentioned. It would not be profitable for us to trade for something we already possess."

Mulder snorted. "Why are you here if that's the kind of information you're looking for? I don't know anything to speak of on that." Or on anything. But he wouldn't say that. He wouldn't even have thought that if he could have helped it.

The head of the girl-alien made an odd bobbing motion. A nod, Mulder realized. "Affirmative. The information we offer in trade will enable you to obtain the information we require. We have chosen you as primary associate in order to guard against suspicion of our involvement, in the event that a breach of security is noted. Your motive would not be a matter of conjecture. We would not be implicated."

He pretended to think it over, though he didn't really need to. Whatever information these aliens were after, it was certain he'd also want it. It was an insane idea, but it was completely irresistible. And the aliens must have known it would be. Maybe they'd read his personal file. Or maybe they'd just hung out in the FBI cafeteria and listened to the gossip about old Spooky for ten minutes or so.

"I need to know more before I decide," Mulder lied.

Another pseudo-nod. "Can negotiation over terms be considered initiated?"

He hesitated for a moment before throwing caution to the winds. "Yes. Now what exactly-"

"We will resume negotiation at a later period. It is traditional with our people that, when negotiations have been agreed upon, the approached party accept a gift from the initiators as a token of good will. We have deposited our gift in your dwelling. Please indicate if it is acceptable."

She-no, it-or whatever-still didn't move. Mulder advanced cautiously; when he was about to bump into her, she stepped back. She moved almost like a normal girl, but not quite. There was something in the rigid posture of her body, the spare employment of muscles....

The door was unlocked. Why was he not surprised? At least they hadn't broken it down or melted the lock-demolishing doors was probably considered rude by alien standards, at least when you were trying to establish business relations with the owner.

The exchange or one-sided dispensing of gifts under these circumstances wasn't that alien a concept-or, to be precise, it was an alien concept shared by many human cultures. In medieval Europe, the giving of a gift by the host to the guest had been a legally binding gesture that-

Alex Krycek was sitting on his sofa.

Mulder dropped to the floor and rolled for the cover of the nearby easy chair, gun in hand. How could he have been so credulous! All it took was a girl who recited some phrases she'd been taught by a master manipulator and liar and Mulder was ready to drop everything, sign on the dotted line in his own blood, and go UFO-watching.

Krycek hadn't moved a muscle when Mulder came up and propped his arms on a scuffed arm-rest, aiming the gun squarely between the bastard's eyes.

There was something odd about this. Krycek looked as though he were on drugs-he was collapsed into a corner of the sofa, staring off at the ceiling behind Mulder, his face slack and his breathing shallow.

Mulder straightened slowly and reached up to snap on the light. Krycek didn't react.

Keeping the gun trained unwaveringly on the spot just above the root of his enemy's nose, Mulder moved closer until he was standing directly in front of the other man. Krycek was wearing the remains of what might have been a very expensive suit once-it was hard to be certain since it was little more than a crumpled mass of wrinkles and stains now.

His eyes didn't focus-not on Mulder, not on the gun, not on anything. They were all pupil, seeming huge and much too dark in the pallid face. His features were covered by a thin, unhealthy-looking sheen of sweat.

"Please indicate if it is acceptable," the girl said from two yards away.

"This is the gift?" Mulder couldn't keep the disbelief from his voice. "Krycek is the gift?"

"The gift of an enemy is considered acceptable by our people."

The gift of an enemy.... Christ. "Where the hell did you find him?"

"It called the location Berlin."

"But-how? Why Krycek? What's the matter with him?"

"Its genetic pattern was available. It betrayed you, making it your worst personal enemy. Its current state is caused by the interference of my associate with its control over its voluntary systems. This method made transport feasible and renders it unable to withhold information. If you wish to terminate, state your intention so that my associate may vacate."

Mulder moved closer to the slumped figure on the sofa, the gun almost forgotten in his hand. "He's-possessed? And you-the girl? That's not your body?"

"No," the alien said calmly, making the young girl's voice sound anything but young. "This body was unoccupied."


"It was in a state of coma."

How about that-aliens who acquired unoccupied bodies. A question of ethics? Doubtful, considering how easily they talked of termination. It was probably easier to handle a body when no one was at home. The girl certainly looked to be in a better state than Krycek. Must be more comfortable for the alien, too.

"But you're not one of the oily ones." That had looked different... strange that it always seemed to show in the eyes.

The girl blinked in an almost human gesture, then shook her head in a jerky way that ruined the effect. "No. We are not of that kind."

"Thought not," Mulder muttered, holstering the gun and hesitantly reaching out to touch Krycek's face. The skin felt cold. "Can he hear me?"

"Yes," Krycek's voice said inflectionlessly. Mulder jumped slightly before he could catch himself. "It is aware. It can be made unaware if you prefer."

"No-no, that's fine. Can he answer questions?"

"I can answer. Its memories are accessible."

There was a pause while Mulder studied the pallid features. Alien take-overs seemed to happen to Krycek the way fender benders happened to other people. Not that it wasn't a nice body in its way, but when there were so many nice bodies around to choose from, it did make you wonder. Some kind of karma? Cosmic radiation? Subconscious psychic signals?

"It is fighting harder against my control," the alien inside Krycek said. "It believes it knows the question you will ask."

"Really." Mulder felt the familiar burn of rage rise and swallowed convulsively, stepping back to prevent himself from doing anything rash. "Imagine. I guess this time you'll have no choice but to tell me, won't you, Krycek-must be a frightening experience for you to be unable to lie. So tell me-did you kill my father?"

There was no change in the body, no tensing, not a hint of expression. Krycek looked like a breathing corpse.

"No," the alien said, moving the rubbery lips. "It killed William Mulder, whom it does not believe to have been your father. It has concluded that Michael James Hunt is your father."

Mulder gaped, too stunned to feel the rush of hate and fury that should have followed the announcement of what he had always known-that this was the man responsible for his father's murder. William Mulder's-his father's!-murder. "Michael James Hunt? Who the hell is Michael Hunt?"

"It knows other designations but believes this to be the most probably genuine one. The Cancerman is your preferred one."

"WHAT?? Krycek, you-!" Mulder stopped just short of accusing the miserable rat of being a liar. It was true enough, but he wasn't talking with him at the moment, and strangely enough, he believed the alien was telling him the truth-that is, the truth as found in Krycek's mind.... Whatever twisted delusions the bastard sold to himself as truth.

It was obvious that Krycek was not only a slimy, murdering, low-life traitor but also a very confused individual.

He shied away from the knowledge that not once in the time they'd been partners, or after, had there been cause to doubt that a very sharp and anything-but-confused brain lurked behind those green eyes. It was just about the only thing he hadn't had cause to doubt where the double-crossing son of a bitch was concerned-God knew nothing that had ever come out of his mouth had been the truth.

"I knew it," he said doggedly. "I always knew it! He killed my father-Bill Mulder, my father! And Melissa Scully?"

"No. It was there, but its orders were to search for a data carrier. It was shocked and displeased when its accomplice shot Melissa Scully."

"But he killed my father." Mulder was talking to himself now. Neither of the aliens commented.

He whispered it again, believing it, drowning out the burst of confused panic Krycek's weird theory about his parentage had conjured. The expected fury was finally beginning to rise, burning away the uncertainty and blessedly blotting out the pain and guilt and helplessness, if only for a few brief moments.

"It wishes me to elaborate," the Krycek-alien said suddenly, its voice pitched slightly higher than before. In a human, Mulder would have put it down to surprise. "Do you wish to hear its reasons?"

"Reasons?" It was too much-Mulder exploded. He lunged for Krycek and seized him by the throat with his left hand, hauling him forward in preparation for landing a right hook on his cheekbone, just where it would be the most painful-

Almost immediately, he released him again and recoiled, trying to forget the feel of clammy skin beneath his fingers, the limp, boneless way the head had flopped back. Krycek felt like a corpse.

The shock damped his anger and he realized that he did want to hear what Krycek thought could justify a murder-any murder, but especially this one.

It was the kind of thing that had always fascinated Mulder. He could look into most killers' minds with almost uncanny precision; in fact, it sometimes disturbed him how well he understood the twisted logic of insanity. He could walk the warped paths of mental sickness so surely when he was in search of his quarry... too surely for his own peace of mind.

It hadn't worked that way with Krycek, though. Mulder had never had any idea of how his mind worked.

"Go ahead," he said tightly, hugging himself as though he were cold.

"It hated William Mulder," the Krycek-alien stated. "It was glad when the order came. But it wouldn't have killed William Mulder if it hadn't known it was about to kill you."

"It-what-don't call him it! What do you mean, he was about to kill me? That's absurd, he was going to tell me...," he trailed off into uncertainty. "It's preposterous."

He was trying to convince himself-and what was worse, he knew it. This was one gift he could have lived without.... Maybe he should have just shot Krycek immediately-maybe he should shoot him now, before he had a chance to reveal any more impossible truths, more wild theories that would haunt Mulder's days and nights for the remainder of his life.

He considered it, but it was too late. He might have done it in the flash of startled shock after coming in to find Krycek on the sofa, or in the instant of bright, clean anger when the bastard had wanted to give Mulder reasons for murdering his father. Not now. Not like this.

It was one thing to shoot Alex Krycek when he was alive and kicking-or even to beat him up when he was handcuffed and unable to defend himself. But strangely enough, it was another thing entirely to kill him when he was sitting slack-jawed and glassy-eyed on Mulder's sofa, full of intriguing and horrifying knowledge, possessed by an alien who wanted to give Mulder a gift.

Sometimes his life was too strange even for him to believe.

"Go on," he said quietly, dreading what the alien would say, but needing to hear it all the same.

"It-William Mulder-he-had petitioned your death because he believed you were becoming too dangerous. The petition had been turned down. This one was not supposed to know, but it-he-sought such information. When the command to kill William Mulder came, he knew it was because he was preparing to go over the heads of the other leaders."

"No," Mulder whispered. This wasn't true. This couldn't be true.

"He hated William Mulder because he was his testing supervisor," the Krycek-alien went on. "He does not want me to reveal this. Am I correct that this means the information is of special interest?"

"What? I mean, yes-I think. What?"

"William Mulder was testing supervisor-in charge of all early experiments, testing and training conducted on this one, up to his transferal to advanced conditioning. This one believes he enjoyed his job."

What? This was becoming more like something from the Twilight Zone every second! Krycek was the perpetrator here-Krycek hadn't been abducted, experimented on, victimized....

"You're telling me Krycek was one of the children-" he couldn't go on.

"His parents were given the instruction to choose one of their children for participation in Consortium testing," the alien said calmly. "He believes all members of the highest levels of the association were expected to participate in the project, thereby proving their dedication, providing hostages, and perhaps fulfilling the needs of a project involving genetics that he has yet to form a firm theory on."

"And his parents chose him."

"His father informed him, 'there's not much choice, you're the toughest of the lot and always gave us the most trouble, you're nowhere near as bright or promising as Misha, it would kill your mother to let Andrei or Tasha go, and Raisa is just a baby.'"

"Jesus." Mulder felt chilled in spite of himself. He'd never been able to imagine any parent could make such a choice... but-this meant Samantha was still alive. If Krycek had survived, why not Sam? It couldn't have been so bad. It had been the children of the Consortium leaders, after all, the children of the people doing the testing-it had been a token more than anything else. Right? And now he had a real chance of finding Sam!

"Samantha?" Mulder hardly recognized his voice.

"He attempted to access that information when he was assigned to you, but it proved inaccessible."

Mulder fell into the easy chair and said nothing while waiting for the random, unconnected thoughts and emotions buzzing through his mind to settle. It was an unaccustomed feeling, this mental chaos-he had a very well-ordered mind in the usual run of events.

"Tell me what they did with the children," he instructed the alien at last.

"The files on the other subjects have proven inaccessible. This one was transferred to a distant branch of the organization and there subjected to varied physical and psychological testing programs interspersed with medical treatments including implantation, genetic resequencing, chemical readjustment of neuro-transmitter balance-"

"Genetic resequencing?"

"The technique was unsuccessful."

"How many different testing programs did they run, for God's sake? Why-what were they trying to do? Did any of it succeed?"

"The exact number is not certain due to self- and other-imposed memory lapses. The intended results are not certain due to lack of data. This one is contemplating several theories. He does not believe permanent physical changes were wrought, though this is an unsubstantiated thesis based on potentially faulty facts."

Mulder was relieved-because of Samantha, but also because the concept of a loss of self like the one implied by something like genetic resequencing was too horrible to contemplate, no matter who experienced it.

"You said he was transferred to a distant branch of the organization?"

"Correct. He believes the cause to be the danger of conflict of interest. His father's base of activity is called Moskva, and it is likely a number of local members of the association are acquainted with him and possibly his family."

So-the distant branch of the organization was the one in the US. All a matter of perspective.

"At the age of fifteen, he was rescheduled for training in suburban teenage existence. Training in arms, unarmed combat, languages, and computers was accelerated. At the age of sixteen, he was introduced into a suburban community with two operatives continuing training under the guise of parents. After graduation, he proceeded to be trained at Quantico."

Samantha. Something like this had happened to Sam. It wasn't so bad. If a bastard like Krycek had survived, why shouldn't Sam? She was out there right now, maybe in Russia, or in Europe or New Zealand, in a normal job, living a normal life, maybe married, with children... God, no. No children, Sam.

Mulder distracted himself by asking the alien question after question about the Consortium, the experiments run on young Krycek, and anything else he could think of. After two hours, he was astonished by how much classified information the man had been able to snatch out from right beneath his employers' noses. He didn't know whether to be impressed or repelled. Was there no one the man hadn't betrayed, spied on, or stolen from?

"Let's go back to the second year of testing, test run four alpha. On the second run, did they change the order of the individual units or-"

"This one is slipping from me," the Krycek-alien announced. "Further knowledge pulled from his memory will be unreliable."

"What do you mean? He's fighting you?"

"No. He is approaching termination."

"What!" Mulder sat up with a jerk. "What are you doing? Don't kill him! I-there's still so much I have to know!"

"Then I must vacate and return later," the alien announced. "Damage should be reversible at this stage. We can negotiate further extraction of information."

"Yes," Mulder agreed. "Now get out of there. You might have told me it would kill him if you were in there too long!"

"I did tell you," the alien pointed out with perfect logic.

The girl-alien, who had been standing near the door in her inhumanly still way, walked over to the couch with her equally inhuman gait and stopped directly in front of Krycek's limp form, staring at him measuringly. After a moment, she reached out to grip his shoulders and hauled him upright without the slightest sign of effort.

There was a moment of peculiar intensity as she bent and studied Krycek's face. What was she looking for? Something in his eyes? It seemed highly doubtful aliens perceived the world in the same way humans did, of course.... Maybe what she was "looking" for was a characteristic change of skin temperature, an electromagnetic signal, pheromones....

Suddenly, the alien leaned forward and brought her smooth forehead against Krycek's. Mulder stared, fascinated, and moved closer, hardly conscious of his own motion.

The flash of light was so intense it blinded him for a crucial second. When his vision finally cleared, there was nothing left to see. The girl-alien had retreated and was facing Mulder, motionless as ever. And Krycek was once again collapsed on the couch.

Damn it! Aliens without physical bodies? Radiation, magnetic fields, sub-atomic matter clouds? Maybe he could ask them to do it again-maybe if he got sunglasses this time he'd get a better view. Have to check the spectrum of that flash, set up recording equipment, why are human eyes so inefficient....

Krycek jerked once, convulsively, his body arching up from the cushions. He took a harsh, gasping breath as his previously limp form began to shake.

Aftereffects of alien possession. Muscle tremors, caused by the as yet incompletely reestablished control of the brain over voluntary systems? Sounded good.... Had to check with Scully, see if she thought it flew....

Krycek's head snapped up; he glanced at Mulder, but his gaze slipped past him and fastened on the girl. He was back to looking like Krycek instead of a corpse. It was reassuring somehow, even though the expression in his eyes was anything but-it looked a lot like murderous rage held in check by blind panic.

Mulder realized with a sudden jolt of horror that he hadn't thought to search Krycek for weapons. He couldn't allow him to hurt the aliens! And even if he didn't dare attack them-a man with an expression like that on his face and a weapon within reach was a good candidate for the next supermarket massacre.

"It is not a threat in this condition," the girl-alien-now sharing a body with the alien that had arrived in Krycek-announced. It seemed that it could read human facial expressions quite well. Mulder wondered whether it had plucked the knowledge from the mind of the comatose girl, had had it passed on from some other host or the Krycek-alien, or had been on earth long enough to learn to read human body language for itself.

There would be a fitting occasion to ask all of these questions. He promised himself that there would be, knowing there probably wouldn't, because he couldn't bear the thought of not knowing.

"It's a threat in any condition," he said instead, his voice dry.

Krycek ignored him, staring at the alien and shaking.

"Incorrect. It will not be able to exert sufficient muscular force for independent locomotion for several hours." The two aliens moved towards the door. "We will return to negotiate. Please affirm your acceptance of the gift and your agreement to negotiate."

"Yes-I accept the gift and I will negotiate. I'm not saying I'll enter into an agreement with you, but I'm willing to negotiate."

The girl's slim form slipped out of the door without further ado and she shut it quietly behind herself. Itself. Itselves.

Mulder locked the door behind her and went to get his handcuffs.

Krycek was obviously aware of his presence, but other than some very weak and half-hearted moves to fend Mulder off when he frisked him for weapons-coming up empty, which meant the alien had dumped his usual arsenal before bringing him in, maybe for the sake of politeness-he put up no resistance as Mulder dragged him into a more or less sitting position and locked his hands together in front of his body.

Of course, he didn't have much choice about not putting up any resistance. He was shaking so hard that his teeth were chattering audibly.

After a moment of thought, Mulder hauled him around and pushed him back until he was lying down on the sofa, long legs dangling over the armrest at one side. He fetched the blanket crumpled in a nearby corner of the room and tucked it around him. Krycek's skin was chill and damp to the touch, but he didn't feel like a corpse anymore.

After watching Krycek shake for several more minutes, Mulder decided that he probably wasn't going to die within the next hour and wandered into the kitchen to throw together a sandwich from the remains of yesterday's Chinese take-out and some bread he couldn't remember buying. It looked edible, so he'd eat it. If the Consortium had planted drugged bread in his fridge, well, it was bound to be more wholesome than any of the other stuff in there.

He brewed up a pot of coffee and, as an afterthought, poured some for Krycek, adding large amounts of sugar and cream before taking it out to the enemy who was sweating and shivering on his sofa, courtesy of a couple of polite business-aliens.

"Krycek. Pull yourself together and drink this."

He fully expected a biting remark like so you're into poisoning now or a sarcastic how kind, Mulder, I always knew you cared, but Krycek said nothing. He chattered with his teeth instead.

"Very well then, have it your way," Mulder told him and set down the mug on the coffee table. He wondered if he should begin to worry-Krycek incapable of a snappy comeback had to be in dire straits, indeed. And there were so many things he still needed to know, so many things Krycek knew about the Consortium, the testing, alien possession.... "All right. Here, I'll hold it for you. Just swallow. You can do that, can't you?"

He could, though about half of the coffee ran out of the side of his mouth and onto the couch before they managed to coordinate the mug-tilting and swallowing. After the first few swallows had gone down, Krycek started coughing and retching and Mulder had to turn him over and pound on his back, feeling utterly ridiculous.

He left Krycek lying on his stomach and went to get some case files from his briefcase, which was when he remembered that he'd left it in the hallway where he'd dropped it on realizing there was an alien waiting for him outside his apartment. Skinner would have throttled him for leaving classified material out like that-but then, Mulder's apartment could be considered just as public as the hallway in front of it, considering how often people broke in. Maybe he should always keep his more confidential files outside. No one had stolen them from there, which was more than could be said of what happened to them inside most of the time.

"Mulder," Krycek rasped after quite a while.

Mulder looked up. His enemy was still sprawled across the couch in the same position, more or less motionless except for the occasional shiver.

He got up and walked around to the end of the couch where Krycek could see him. Well, see his shoes, at any rate. "What? Want some more coffee?"


Great-now he was imagining things. "What?"

Oh-of course. Mulder, you can be so stupid sometimes-you actually thought he wanted to take a bath. Yep, right, FBI supermind. "You need to go to the bathroom." Turning into a damn nurse, and for that bastard Krycek of all people....

"No. Bath. I want-need-"

"You want to take a bath?"


Mulder gave an incredulous bark of laughter. "What did that alien do to your brain-scramble what little sense you had completely? You're lying there on my couch half-dead, too weak to so much as lift a hand, and you're telling me you want to take a bath? Why not go for a shower? Why not jog down to the bar at the corner and get some peanuts? You want to play some squash, maybe? Go kill the Korean karate champion?"

Nothing for a moment. Then, doggedly, "bath."

"You are out of your fucking mind!" Mulder shouted. "There is no way that you are having a bath! When you can get up and walk to the tub is when you get to take a fucking bath! Or-wait, this is my tub, you're not setting foot inside my tub-not ever, not even if you were able to do handstands on the shower rod! Is that clear enough, Krycek?"

Another pause. And then, Krycek gave something like a very low, very weak little growl and said, "Mulder. Please. I need to take a bath."

He had already opened his mouth to call him an idiot in terms even Krycek couldn't misunderstand when the "please" penetrated the fog of incredulity shrouding his mind. Had that been a note of desperation in his voice, woven in with the weakness? But why, for heaven's sake, when he was talking about a bath?


Spooky Mulder. Bloody Stupid Mulder would have been a more fitting choice. And he was supposed to be such a hot-shot psychologist....

No, he was. He was good, and he knew it. It was just that somehow, all of his expertise went flying out the window whenever he ran into Krycek, together with every last shred of professional detachment. It was difficult to see past the fact that this was the man who had betrayed him. Mulder had grown to trust Krycek, begun to like him almost against his will, rely on him, see him as a friend-and he had been betrayed by him. It had hurt.... It still hurt, and every time Mulder saw Krycek, the wound broke open anew.

It was understandable that he had trouble disengaging his personal feelings when it came to Krycek. Still-perhaps he should try harder.

Krycek had been possessed by an alien for the second time that Mulder knew of. Neither occasion could have been pleasant. The first time, the 'oilien' had used him as a data bank, a convenient means of transport, and a murder weapon and then left him to come back to himself in an abandoned missile silo-together with the being that had misused him and its ship, and without any real hope of ever getting out.

This time, an alien had picked him up as a present for a man he had betrayed, dug around in his memory for interesting bits of information to hand to said enemy, swatted down his resistance, and drawn it out until he'd almost died.

Now he wanted to take a bath. It was perfectly logical, to be expected, even-alien possession was analogous to rape in many ways. It was a fundamental, traumatic violation of the individual's control over the body-and in this case, even the mind.

The rape of the mind could not be cleaned away with soap and water, and in the purely physical sense, the alien had lodged somewhere inside Krycek. Neither touch could be erased by a simple bath. But then, the trauma of sexual assault couldn't be touched-let alone dispelled-by such means, either. It was always merely symbolic-the attempted washing away of the memory of forced possession.

He debated whether to tell Krycek that it would make no difference, that no matter how long he soaked, it wouldn't make the experience any less horrifying, the violation any less real.


"I'll go run the water," he mumbled, feeling like an idiot.


In the end he had to half carry, half drag Krycek through his apartment to get him to the bathroom, where he sat him on the toilet, unlocked the handcuffs, and pinned him against the wall with one hand to strip him with the other. It didn't work very well-Mulder hadn't had a lot of practice at undressing pale and slightly trembling traitors and hit-men barely this side of consciousness in order to wrestle them into a bathtub-but after a lot of cursing, tugging, and tearing, he managed to hoist a naked Krycek over the rim with a splash, soaking himself from head to toe in the process.

"Jeesh-the things you drag me into, Krycek. You're lucky I even have a tub. Do you realize that a good sixty percent of people who live alone don't own bathtubs? And twenty percent of those who do only take showers, anyway."

Krycek seemed to be asleep now. Great.

Mulder moved around carefully to reach for the soap, holding Krycek's head above water and marveling at how young and helpless he looked. With his short hair black with moisture and the long lashes spiky against pale cheeks, he was the picture of innocence. Krycek. Asleep in his bathtub.

Alex Krycek was asleep in Mulder's bathtub. No one would believe him if he told this story. Scully would think he'd finally flipped his lid. The alien part, she might buy. This? Not in a million years.

It was odd, somehow, to think of Krycek as someone human enough to develop such a common neurosis in response to trauma. It was even more odd to realize that he had never expected Krycek to react like a normal human being. Briefly, before he could turn off his mind, Mulder considered what this said about himself. That he'd dehumanized his enemy because he couldn't bear the thought of being outsmarted by a mere human? That he'd turned him into a creature that could be hated and hunted down without the need for mercy or remorse?

He came down on his train of thought at that point, concentrated on scrubbing the sleeping Krycek clean, and hoisted him out of the tub again. He'd lost a lot of weight since Mulder had seen him last, but he was still much too heavy for something like this.

Mulder dragged the dripping Krycek to the bedroom, where he unceremoniously dumped him on the rug in front of the bed while he cleared the heavy cartons he kept some of his books in from the bedspread. Nobody had slept in this bed for years; Mulder preferred to sleep on the couch, and he didn't get a lot of overnight visitors. He didn't get a lot of visitors of any kind-except uninvited ones, that was.

He returned to the bathroom to get a towel and proceeded to dry Krycek off. It wouldn't do for his newly available source of information to catch pneumonia and die before Mulder had utilized it fully.

Krycek was sporting several scars that looked pretty new-seemed like he'd had several narrow escapes lately. An angry red scar from a gun graze traced over the outside of the left hip, and there was a long, slightly older knife scar over the lower ribs on the right side. And what was that mass of scar tissue high on his left arm? That looked wicked-must have hurt like hell. It looked as though someone had tried to take his arm off right below the joint with a blunt knife-

The memory of a one-armed man offering to cut his own arm off slammed into Mulder.

He hurriedly dried those parts of Krycek he hadn't reached yet and struggled to get the man into an old pair of sweatpants before hoisting him up to the bed and beneath the covers. By the time he'd finally achieved the task, he was panting, his arms were aching, and he was the one shivering and in danger of catching pneumonia from running around in wet clothes.

Before he went off to change, he re-cuffed Krycek's wrists and fastened the chain to the bedpost with a second pair of cuffs. His gift might be weaker than a half-drowned kitten at the moment, but Mulder wasn't about to take any chances.


Alex woke to the sound of low sobbing and realized it was his own just before the familiar jolt of panic hit him with blinding, nauseating force.

No alone in the dark in a strange place oh God no get out of my mind my body no no don't touch me I'll kill you I swear I'll kill you no don't leave me alone in the dark no no I'll do anything ripping through my body tearing at my mind drowning dying aware don't touch me get out get out leave me alone

A burst of pure, dazzling white light unfolded across his vision, hitting him in the face like a slap and bringing him back to himself so abruptly that for a frozen, eternal moment, he entirely failed to recognize the man standing in the doorway with one hand at the light-switch, the other aiming a gun at his face.

"What the fuck are you doing?" the man asked sharply, his voice tight with suspicion and dislike.

The tone cut through Alex like a knife and for a moment he thought he was falling, falling back into that bleak, featureless void of gut-wrenching, frenzied terror.

His body jerked and the sudden fire in his wrists recalled him to himself. He looked down and discovered that he was half-kneeling, half-standing on a bed, braced against the wall, both wrists locked in handcuffs attached to a very solid bedpost by another pair of cuffs. Apparently, he had been trying to wrench the post from the bed.

Unfortunately, both post and cuffs seemed much sturdier than his wrists.

Jesus. What a mess.

"Sorry," he said, or tried to. After clearing his throat several times, he began again. "Sorry about that, Mulder. Try cold water and a lot of soap. Hey, the sheets probably needed washing anyway."

Mulder advanced into the room wearing the black-eyed, laser-focused expression Alex remembered so well. Don't make me laugh, Mulder-here I am, cuffed and weak and shaking and bleeding all over your bed, and you behave like I'm about to do the Houdini. Do I really look like much of a threat?

He was staring at Alex's face. "Christ, Krycek. Do you always have bad dreams or was this a special feature in honor of alien possession?"

"Anyone ever tell you your soothing small talk stinks, Mulder?"

He reached out and Alex recoiled violently, almost falling off the bed. The cuffs bit into his wrists viciously, a new trickle of blood slicking his hands.

Mulder held his gaze steadily and bent forward, touching Alex's cheek. His fingers came away wet.

"Crying?" His voice was not quite as icy now-it had thawed to only a shade or two beyond chilly.

"What do you think?" Alex snapped. "You getting enough of a kick out of this yet, Mulder? Maybe you want to beat me up a little to make it worth your while?"

Mulder's mouth thinned, his eyes narrowing dangerously. Alex steeled himself for a blow that never fell.

Mulder backed away as though removing himself from temptation. "You're a bastard, Krycek," he said coldly, stating a fact of nature.

"Yeah, and you're repeating yourself, Mulder," he shot back. "You got anything new to say? Otherwise how about you get the fuck out and let me and my neuroses commune in peace?"

He hesitated for a moment. And then, to Alex's surprise and relief, he left.

Alex slid down into a sitting position, leaning back against the headboard and trying to arrange his arms across it in a way that would take the weight off his maltreated wrists. Okay, Alex. You have to get out of here before the aliens come back. How can you get Mulder to uncuff you?

He considered several strategies before admitting to himself that escaping wasn't really an option unless he could make sure he wouldn't just be rounded up again like a stray head of cattle whenever the aliens were ready to carry on their overtures of friendship to Mulder.

He then spent several heartbeats fighting off the panic that threatened to overwhelm him at the memory of coming out of the house to find that thing waiting for him, pretending to be a child, reaching out to him-don't think of that, you idiot! Not yet, it's too soon, not yet, wait for it, it will fade with time....

When he looked up, Mulder was standing in the door again, staring at him with an unreadable expression on that beautiful face.

He came forward and dumped a handful of tubes and bandages on the bed. "You get panic attacks?"

"Mulder, that's amazing. I'm impressed. Must be that Oxford education of yours."

The expressive mouth tightened again and Mulder reached out to grip Alex's wrist. Alex resigned himself to some kind of painful and inventive twisting of joints, or maybe just the old-fashioned crushing grip. What he got was Mulder unlocking the cuff.

Before he could stop himself, he asked, "What the hell are you doing?"

"What does it look like?" Mulder's voice was somewhere in the middle between annoyance and weariness.

It looked like he was cleaning the abrasions and cuts left by the sharp metal, putting some kind of salve on them, and wrapping the wrist in a bandage before snapping on the cuff again. Then it looked like he was doing the same thing to the other wrist.

Whatever had brought this on, Alex thought it was an amazingly good thing. He held completely still, not even flinching at the sharp sting of the salve against the open flesh, and kept utterly quiet. He didn't want Mulder to rethink his reasons for doing this, whatever they were. Probably wanted to save his mattress.

"It's really very typical," Mulder said absent-mindedly, stepping back after refastening the second cuff over the pristine white bandage. "All of the mouthing off, the goading towards violence, the taunts-verbal aggression to cover up perceived vulnerability. Even being beaten is acceptable as a result because it happens as a result of your actions, ergo your will, and is subject to your control in a way, thus reducing vulnerability. Control is very important to you, isn't it, Krycek? That must make it even worse to lose all control to an entity-"

"All right, I get the point," Alex snapped. "You're a great psychologist and I'm impressed as hell. Now if you're not going to hit me and put me in control, get out."

"I don't know if you've noticed, but you're really not in a position to give orders at the moment," Mulder shot back, his voice once again hardening into anger. "I never thought you were stupid, Krycek. Why are you behaving like this when I'm your only chance to avoid a repeat of yesterday's incident?"

Hope flared to life inside Alex, though he was careful to keep all sign of it from his face. Mulder was willing to bargain?

Alex looked away, staring at the cartons stacked against the wall and feigning obstinacy.

"So tell me, Krycek. In the second year of testing, in the second run of test four alpha, did they change the order of the individual units?"

Alex turned his head back and met Mulder's steady dark gaze. "Random variation of units in every test sequence, blocking of simultaneously running test sequences rescheduled weekly."

There was a long moment of silence.

"What makes you think the smoking bastard is-" He couldn't say it; the words seemed to stick in his throat.

The pain was so open in Mulder's expression that Alex wished it weren't too late to lie. He'd never meant for Mulder to find out. He'd known he would take it hard-the man took everything hard. And there hadn't been any reason for him to know. It would only make everything worse for him.

Damn you, Mulder. When will you stop prying into things that are better left alone?

He knew the answer to that, of course. Never. Mulder's idiot courage in the search for The Truth was part of what made him Mulder.

Alex looked down briefly, forcing his face into a cool mask before raising his head with a brisk confidence he was very far from feeling. "Listen, Mulder. You don't know when those aliens will return-maybe tomorrow, maybe next month, or in a couple of years for all you can tell. Aliens don't work on a human time scale. So waiting for them to come and dig through my mind for you isn't the most certain way of gaining knowledge. I can tell you the things you want to know right now-but I want something in return. I'm prepared to be reasonable because I can't deny that you've got me by the balls, but you know how it is, in this world you don't get something for nothing. What do you say?"

Mulder startled him by choking out a laugh. "Nice to know you're feeling better, Krycek."

That's it, Mulder, that's the spirit. Who cares who your father is? You're you.

"Nice to know you care," Alex returned coldly. "So. You want information. I want to get out of here alive, in one piece, and without being taken over by one of those fuckers again. How about it-we have a deal?"

"How do I know you'd tell me the truth?"

"You have my word of honor, Mulder. If that's not good enough for you, well-is the alien's word any better than mine?"

"At least I don't know it's a liar. At least there's the chance it might be telling the truth."

Alex suppressed a sigh. "I've told you the truth plenty of times, Mulder. You just never believed me."

Mulder said nothing.

After a moment, Alex forced himself to go on. "All right, how's this. I tell you the truth, and when the aliens get back, you tell them that all you want to know is whether or not I've been lying to you. It can just go in and right out again. No lingering, no digging around. Okay?"

Come on, Mulder.... This is the best I can do. More than that, actually-I don't even want to think about what I just agreed to....

Breathe. That's it. Breathe and think of how delectable Mulder looks when he's casting around in search of the loophole he knows must be there somewhere. Eyes intense and oh-so-slightly narrowed, head tilted just a bit to one side, mouth set in a suspicious line....

"Okay," Mulder agreed at last, still looking suspicious, but not having found the loophole. There was none, but Alex was still relieved. Mulder in a suspicious frame of mind-that is, always-could find conspiracies everywhere.

Alex braced himself for the new question about Mulder's father. At least there had been some change-none of that boring old "did you kill my father" nonsense anymore. He could probably look forward to about ten years' worth of "who is my father" now.

Mulder was silent for a long time.

"What was your assignment?"

Surprised, Alex blinked. "What?"

"Your assignment, Krycek. When you were assigned to me."

"Oh, that." Shit. Wasn't that just like Mulder-sneak up and get you from behind just when you'd stopped expecting it.

He could still pull it off, though. Leaving something out was not not telling the truth, after all. "I was supposed to keep you from learning anything at all concerning the Consortium, I was supposed to inform them of anything interesting you stumbled across, and I was supposed to keep you safe. Physically safe-messing with your mind was encouraged."

He nodded slightly and Alex allowed himself to relax. "About what stood to be expected. Nothing else?"

Mulder and his damned thoroughness....

Alex shrugged casually and grinned for good measure. "Just one more thing. I was supposed to seduce you, too."

Mulder gaped. He looked completely floored. So much for pulling this off casually-he obviously hadn't been expecting this.

Poor, naive Mulder. It was such an obvious lever-how could the Consortium not have tried it?

Alex watched Mulder swallow back the first several questions that popped into his mind. He could hear them as clearly as though the other man had shouted them out. Seduce me? you? why would they want that? and what made them think I could be seduced by you, by any man?

He didn't ask any of those questions, though. There was no real need-the answers were obvious, after all. Mulder hadn't had much of a sex life for a while now, and he'd always kept to women except for once or twice in his early twenties, but the Consortium knew their business.

Another woman would have been too obvious coming right after Scully. So... Alex.

"Why didn't you?" Mulder asked at last, quietly.

Alex shrugged again. "I tried, in the beginning-then I told them it wasn't working. I stopped trying. They didn't want me to try too hard. The idea was for you to trust me and feel comfortable around me, not to think you'd be dragged off and pawed any minute."

Mulder looked at him oddly. "That's amazing, Krycek. I'm impressed. Nice bit of verbal quickstep. And now tell it the way it was."

"Mulder, what's the problem here? You wish I'd tried harder? Is that it? Hey, sorry, but in spite of what you may think, there are people who don't find you completely irresistible. And it's not as though you gave me a whole lot of encouragement. If I'd known you were that desperate it could have been a different story. Now that I think back, I guess your little swimming session should have clued me in."

Mulder didn't take the bait. He didn't get angry. He was on the scent now, and he wouldn't be shaken. The man was like a bloodhound.

"You backing out of the deal, Krycek? I can ask the alien this question if you'd prefer not to answer."

"What question? I answered your question. I tried for a while and then stopped. What more do you want to hear-it's not like they had a course on it. Maybe they should have-Mulder Seduction 101. I bet the flunking would be brutal."

Incredibly, Mulder grinned. There was a glimmer of real humor in his eyes. "You're really good at this, aren't you. Well, so am I. Tell me why you didn't seduce me, and try to remember I was there when you edit the truth. We were at the part where you tried in the beginning. What then?"

He wasn't going to get out of this.

All right, Mulder.... "I tried for a while. I wasn't entirely certain you were interested, but it seemed like a good bet. I started to like you, though. They wanted to use me to break you. It's the oldest trick in the book, and one of the most effective-be betrayed by someone you love, in just the right way, at just the right time, and you'll never trust anyone again. You'd never have allowed anyone close after that-not Scully, not the Gunmen, no one. You wouldn't have lasted long. So I decided not to go through with it."

Mulder looked stunned again. Alex guessed it was the idea that a treacherous little low-life like him would have something as human as scruples, let alone honest-to-God affections.

Then Mulder did it again. Had he become telepathic all of a sudden? "And that was the only reason-that you liked me and didn't want to break me?"

"It happens to be a very good reason, and if you want to think I'm incapable of anything like normal human sentiments, that's your problem, not mine!"

"Just answer the question."

Alex closed his eyes briefly. This wasn't happening. Fox Mulder, so brilliant and insightful, had never been able to read him before. What had changed? He needed time to think-he needed time to find out what he was doing to give himself away, to change it and regain the upper hand.

Mulder was watching him with the same odd look when he opened his eyes. Yeah, Mulder, you really are good at this.... You take away choices so well you ought to go work for the Consortium. Very well, then....

"The Consortium runs every operative of my level through a very careful, precisely designed training and conditioning program. It's supposed to turn out competent, versatile, efficient, and completely dispassionate agents. The perfect multi-purpose tool. I made them think that's what I was, but I wasn't. I cheated them at their own game. And the result was that I was too soft to break you, Mulder. Too soft to want to, and too soft to do it without being broken myself in the process."

The silence was so long that he began to hope Mulder would be willing to leave it at that. It was a vain hope, of course.

"Tell me," he demanded.

So Alex told him.

Her name had been Julie, or at least that had been the name she'd been using when he met her. He'd known she was a plant from the first time he saw her-she was perfect for him. Not too pretty, not too plain, intelligent, a few strange quirks, not too popular but warm-hearted in a laid-back kind of way... at least that's the impression she'd been giving when he met her, and she'd been doing a very good job.

The Consortium had been underestimating him for some time. For years he'd pretended to be just a little bit dumber, a little bit slower on the uptake, a little less lethal in combat-needing that extra minute longer in taking the situation in and calculating a course of action.

The gap had been widening slowly but steadily. He'd known he had to keep something back, or he would be completely at their mercy for the rest of his life-and that might very well be brief indeed. He needed an edge to protect himself. He'd never be theirs-never. He belonged to no one. He just had to make them believe he did if he wanted to survive.

He never even considered open defiance. His primary goal had to be survival. All other goals were secondary.

They had trained him in the art of survival, and they'd done a good job... better than they knew. They'd wanted to be able to drop him into any situation, no matter how hopeless, tangled, or desperate; have him twist, fall on his feet, and, if necessary, carve a trail of fire, carnage and deceit to come out alive and bring them whatever bauble they'd sent him in for.

He could do all that-he had done all that. But he could do it better than they'd meant for him to do. He could do it so well he gave himself a fighting chance to twist out of their own snare and come alive through the firewall of destruction they'd trace around him on that inevitable day when they decided that he'd become too dangerous.

They'd taught him the rules, and he was going to play by them, play so well that he would win a game that had never been intended to be won. He could do it. He knew he could. He would survive. He would triumph.

Julie had been the last test-a test, a lesson, and a graduation. They designed her for him to fall in love with, and so that's what he did. They taught her how to break his heart and teach him not to trust anyone, and so that's what he let her do.

He was a step ahead of them all the way. It was transparent to him after all this time-the obvious choices they'd put in his way to be found out, the off-beat ones to be found out as well. Julie, seeming to be his own choice. Not ordinary or special enough to be suspicious.

As obvious as the nose on her face.

He told her no real secrets, but far more than he was allowed to tell. It would not have been believable if he hadn't. An affection-starved, hopelessly infatuated boy who desperately needed to be understood, to have his first and only friend ever look at him and see him, not just someone he was pretending to be-who had to be loved as himself, not through some proxy that would render it all a lie and not meant for him at all....

He broke it off twice, both times protesting tearfully that he couldn't do it, couldn't ruin her life like that, that he was poison and she shouldn't touch him. He crawled back to her both times, broken up and almost wild with the need for affection, to be accepted with anger and tears and forgiveness. It was like a dance.... But she didn't know that he knew the steps as well, even better, than she did.

Finally, his superiors pulled him in and revealed her duplicity. They'd cooked up a good story, not that he'd expected anything else. They'd given her a father with a terminal disease for which there was a revolutionary and prohibitively expensive new treatment. There was no way her family could scratch together the necessary cash, and they'd all but resigned themselves to his death when Julie decided that the mysterious organization her boyfriend had told her about might pay to learn of his breach of silence.

Alex put on an appropriate show of disbelief, scorn, and finally, when confronted with the irrefutable proof of Julie accepting a check from a Consortium courier, desolation, heartbreak, and mindless rage. It was very easy to act the part because he felt it almost as much as he pretended to. That was the secret of lying well-you didn't. You merely twisted the truth.

They offered him a chance to kill her, and he accepted. He killed her. It was the kind of non-choice they always offered; she'd been given the same "chance," and it hadn't been a choice for her, either. To decline the ultimate test of allegiance would have been to fail it, and failure meant only one thing in their world.

Julie was good, but he was better, and so she was the one who flunked out of the Consortium's course. Something had died in him when he stood over her motionless body, hard-eyed and remorseless, but it hadn't been his heart.

And so years later, when he met FBI Agent Fox William Mulder, Alex found out what it would have felt like if he hadn't cheated on his Consortium graduation. Because Fox Mulder was perfect for him in a way Julie never had been. He was everything she had pretended to be... and more.

He was brilliant. Intense. Passionate. Focused. Dedicated. Uncompromising. Courageous beyond reason. Bull-headed and exasperating. Willfully blind. Ridiculously credulous and yet deeply suspicious. Misanthropic. Paranoid. Childishly enthusiastic. Dangerously volatile, completely unpredictable, haunted by inner demons, and torn apart by his own impossible demands on himself. Demanding the same impossible standards of others. Intolerant of human failings, most of all his own. Explosively violent. Heart-breakingly beautiful.

Alex could never have him, but he wouldn't be the instrument for breaking him.

Mulder listened with an intense concentration that gave away nothing of what he was feeling. Alex only gave him the bare bones of the story, but he knew that Mulder could fill in the blanks perfectly well on his own, and he wasn't very happy with giving away this much of himself.

Still, there were some things that never seemed to occur to Mulder. For example, left to himself, he would never in a thousand years have considered the notion Alex might have been one of the children the Consortium had demanded as blood offerings-and this in a man who saw alien abductions everywhere and who probably inspected the pizza-delivery boy he'd known for years for tell-tale notches behind the ears or signs of unusual mannerisms before opening the door.

It made perfect sense for the Consortium to start up a training program of elite agents. It should also have been pretty obvious that Alex wasn't just a hired thug off the streets-they'd never have entrusted the Mulder case to someone they didn't have confidence in.

So Alex guessed he was safe enough. If Mulder hadn't caught on to that, he certainly wasn't likely to jump to the conclusion that the so-called "liking" his ex-partner had developed for him was actually more along the lines of unreasoning, soul-consuming infatuation.

"I don't think I wanted to know that," Mulder said, somewhat shakily.

Alex frowned. "What the hell are you talking about now?"

"Samantha. What if they did this to Samantha? She could be dead...."

Alex could see the idea flare to life in Mulder's eyes in the same instant he realized he'd made a mistake. Oh shit. Oh no.

Mulder brought up the gun slowly, almost thoughtfully, his eyes dark with pain and rage. "It could have been Sam. It could have been Sam you killed. My sister, Krycek! My SISTER!"

"If it was your sister she fucking almost killed me!" Alex shouted at him, suddenly insanely angry. "She was like me, a trained killer, Mulder! I don't know who the fuck she was and it doesn't make a difference! You act as though it was all my idea! You think I enjoyed scheming and lying and fighting to stay alive every single day of my life-you think I wouldn't rather have been on the swim team and dated cheerleaders and worked in the grocery store to save money for a car? Grow up, Mulder! I'm not responsible for all the evil in the universe-in fact I've been on the receiving end of a lot of shit and all things considered I've done a very good job!"

He only stopped because he was out of breath, and once he'd gulped in a mouthful of air he decided to shut up before he lost his train of thought altogether. Mulder could be such a sanctimonious prick.

Mulder was giving him that look again-the one that made you feel like something slimy and disgusting stuck to a lab slide.

"A good job?" he said at last, his voice dangerously low. "A GOOD JOB? Do you even know how many people you've killed, how many lives you've destroyed? Have you ever stopped to think what-"

"Shut the fuck up, Mulder! I'm not taking this shit from you anymore!"

To Alex's considerable surprise, Mulder actually did shut up.

"I didn't choose to be a test subject for the Consortium any more than your sister did. So don't go all righteous on me over what I was forced to do to stay alive! You don't know anything, Mulder. You know nothing at all. You have no right to judge me. None."

God, Alex, how eloquent. How convincing. Jesus, you're such a bastard.

He closed his eyes and let his head sag back against the headboard. He was so tired of this... every time he saw Mulder it was the same. His stomach cramped at the man's beauty and he wanted to hug him close and keep him safe and kill all his enemies for him. And then Mulder opened his mouth or slugged him with his gun or tossed him into a wall.

The worst part was that he preferred the beatings to the insults. He had it bad. Shit.

"All right," Mulder said at last, his voice perfectly calm. "Tell me, then."

Great-he'd had another one of his mood swings. Now he was pulling up a chair to the bed and lounging back on it with gun still in hand, stretching out his long legs with that little half-smile on his face. What the hell had brought this on?

Alex watched him warily. "Tell you what?"

"Tell me what made you what you are."

He snorted in disgust. "Right, Mulder. Get real. You tell me what made you who you are-what made anyone what they are. Besides, what do you want to know this stuff for, anyway? I thought you were interested in what I know about the Consortium-names, places, activities, that kind of thing."

"I am," Mulder said serenely. "We'll come to that. For now I want to know what makes you tick, Krycek."

"The time bomb under your bed?"

Mulder actually smiled. "Smart-ass. No, it's not the time bomb. Yet." He considered briefly. "Tell me what it was like to kill for the first time."

"Great, now we get the profiler. I've always wanted to know what the evaluation routine for homicidal maniacs was like."

"Now, now, Krycek, we don't know if you're a maniac yet. That remains to be determined."

Alex stared at him for a long moment, wondering whether Mulder would have been trying this if he'd known how many psychological tests Alex had been put through at the Consortium's hands. Alex knew all the twists that could be used to look into the workings of someone's mind. He could run rings around any evaluation ever designed.

"Alex," Mulder said softly. "Are you going to tell me now or will I ask the alien?"

"You fight dirty for such a righteous crusader," Alex snapped.

"It's the only way to get anywhere with you. Now, are you willing to go through with this or not?"

"Mulder, contrary to what you seem to believe, I do not enjoy being beaten while wearing handcuffs, not even when I'm in your bed. I just know you'll go into one of your moral indignation highs if I give you half a chance, and your moral indignation tends to be very painful for someone. Me, most of the time. I'm not so sure I wouldn't be better off with the alien."

He still had that serene look on his face, giving Alex a slow, cool smile. "You're slipping, Krycek. That was a lie. Careful, the next one will be one too many."

"You're a morbid little shit, Mulder. All right. You want to know what it was like to kill for the first time? You want to know how I felt? I felt thirsty."

A small surge of triumph raced through Alex at the flash of surprise in Mulder's eyes.

"You trying to tell me you'll turn into a pile of dust come dawn? Or are you a special day-resistant kind of vampire?"

"What an imagination you have. I never said I was thirsty for blood, did I? You just jump to conclusions. That's a real bad habit in an investigative officer, Mulder."

Mulder opened his mouth.

"Hey, keep your shirt on. You want to hear Alex Krycek tell all-well, that's what you'll get, then."

And so Alex told Mulder about the Consortium's training program. They'd started out simple. People who were already as good as dead-fatally injured, in the last stages of terminal illness, in a coma on one occasion. Their method of approach was blunt and straight-forward, but effective. Lock the subject in a room with the prospective victim, and without food or water. Kill him, you get out-don't, you don't. Extremely simple.

After the first time, Alex had killed them immediately. The first time, though, he'd waited to see if they would really let him die if he refused to play-and to see if they would bring him a new victim if this one died on his own. It seemed likely the man would succumb to dehydration much sooner than Alex, who was fit and healthy where the other man was gaunt and feverish and only marginally conscious.

The Consortium had thought of this problem and sent in medics every few hours to give the man an infusion. The order for Alex to stand in the far side of the room would come through the intercom, and a pane of bulletproof glass would come down to seal him away from the medics as they worked.

He waited long enough to confirm his conviction that yes indeed, they would let him die. Then he picked up the gun that had thoughtfully been provided for him and shot the shivering, feverish man in the head. He'd had just enough strength left to do it. He'd very nearly cut it too close.

From then on, he made it a point to leave a margin for error in his calculations.

The level of difficulty rose steadily. The same set-up, but with someone awake and aware of what was happening, and Alex armed with a knife instead of a gun. Then, someone strong and obviously combat-trained-and Alex without a weapon. After that, two victims at the same time, all three of them unarmed. Then, two thugs armed with knives, but Alex still without a weapon-and so forth. They got up to four, all armed, before they decided he was good enough.

He survived the last test by playing on his opponents' belief that a single boy couldn't possibly be a threat, instead making them view him as a pleasant diversion they could play with for a while and dispatch at their leisure. He'd played his cards so well that one had been taken out by another in a fight over Alex, and one of those left had hesitated just that extra second when it finally came to the crunch.


"Weak stomach, Mulder?" Alex sneered. "Heard enough already, have we? You wouldn't have lasted a week, I'll bet."

He bristled slightly, but not enough.

"Or maybe you want to hear the details? I bet you'd like that. I bet-"

The phone rang. Mulder jumped, bringing up the gun forgotten in his hand and half-aiming it towards the doorway. Alex twisted off the bed in an instinctive dive for cover.

"Phone," Mulder muttered, got up, and left the room with an air of relief.

Alex began to laugh. He couldn't help himself. He stopped before Mulder answered the phone, though. Who knew who'd be listening in.

"What?" Mulder snapped. "For heaven's sake, Scully, it's the middle of the night!" Pause. "Oh. Well, what do you want?" Longer pause. "This makes no sense. Why do they want me out of town? Yeah, I know what you said! But it's just a pretext. And you know how far they've been keeping me from anything resembling an X-File lately. Obviously they want to get me-" Pause, slightly irritated. Alex could picture the dark little frown Mulder would be wearing as clearly-more clearly-than the lock of the handcuff he was actually inspecting. "You never said anything about a seminar. And why'd they have you call if you aren't even on the case?" Suspicious now. "And you tell me this isn't a conspiracy? Come on, Scully!" Pause. "Yeah, yeah. I'll call Skinner and have the file faxed over so I can leave directly from here-there's something I have to take care of before I do. Not now, Scully!"

With a paperclip or something similar, Alex would be able to get out of the cuffs in half a minute, tops.

Mulder stormed back into the room, gun now tucked away again, his expression dark. "I don't believe this! They're sending me off on a wild-goose chase to some hick burg in the middle of nowhere and sticking Scully into some bloody seminar-something's going on here, they've got something planned-" He broke off suddenly and glared at Alex. "Why am I telling you this? You're probably right in the middle of it!"

"Oh, please, Mulder! If I wanted to get you out of the way I think I could come up with a plan that didn't involve being kidnapped by an alien!"

The two men stared at each other, both more exasperated than angry. After a long moment, Mulder shifted his stance, pulling himself back and twisting his mouth the way that meant he was about to be forced into something against his better judgment.

"Right, Krycek. You're coming with me to Weimar."

"Weimar? What is it with you, do you have some kind of compulsion to drag me around the earth or something? What the hell do you want in Europe?" He didn't bother to keep the suspicion from his voice. What twisted idea was Mulder hatching now?

Mulder gave him an odd look. "Weimar, Pennsylvania. Never heard of it? Well, you know what they say, traveling broadens the mind. I can't leave you here. Who knows who'd turn up to trash my apartment while offing you, and I hate putting up wall-paper. There's no way I'm going to let them catch you in here."

"I'm touched, Mulder. So instead of endangering your lovely interior decorating job, you're going to drag me behind you in cuffs, like a dog on a leash, is that your bright idea? You're going to give the FBI a real interesting rep up in ol' Weimar-not to mention make a couple of people sit up and take notice at your sudden interest in public bondage games. I bet my former employers would be most intrigued."

But Mulder had hit upon a course of action and that was that. Once the man set his mind on something.... Alex just wished he'd get into the habit of using some common sense before he activated that infamous stubbornness. There were a million reasons why having Alex Krycek trailing around behind Fox Mulder was an idiot notion, not least of these being that if the wrong person recognized him, Mulder would be right there in the line of fire-and not everyone who wanted Alex dead cared whether Mulder lived or died.

Granted, it wasn't likely someone in Weimar, Pennsylvania, would recognize him. Even so, there'd be questions asked later. At the very least, Mulder would catch some serious heat from his superiors in the FBI. And of course that was almost synonymous with catching heat from the Consortium....

"I don't have to cuff you," Mulder reasoned, caught up in the happy world of one-track thinking. "You can't run away. If you do, I'll just send the aliens to drag you back. And before you get any bright ideas about pulling me into a dark alley, I bet the aliens wouldn't be pleased to find you'd offed their prospective business partner. So I guess I won't have to keep you on a leash-you'll have to dog around behind me anyway."

That's right, but you completely missed the point, Agent Fox. And since when have you been relying on aliens like this? A bit foolhardy, isn't it? A little trusting? Alex suppressed a sigh and wiggled his eyebrows. "Pulling you into a dark alley? Little Freudian slip there, I'd say."

Mulder flushed angrily and fought himself for a moment, finally choosing to treat the remark with silent scorn.

He looked utterly delectable.

Alex sighed to himself again and held still while Mulder uncuffed him. His arms were stiff and he slid to sit on the edge of the bed, stretching carefully to get the kinks out of his muscles. His back hurt. Scratch that, everything hurt. He'd have to do something about his cramped muscles before he set foot out of this building or he'd be dead the first time someone took a shot at him.

Alien possession agreed with him less each time he tried it. Got to break this habit, Alex. Going to kill you one of these days... but not today. Another morning, and you're still alive. Good morning, Alex, have a lovely day, you charming rascal, you.

He got to his feet gingerly, testing his legs. Yup, every bit as bad as he'd thought, thank you, you alien mother-fuckers. Which was when he noticed Mulder was watching him.

He froze. There was a slightly absent-minded look on Mulder's face. It looked as though he were trying to figure something out.

"What?" Alex snapped after a moment.

Mulder blinked, surprised. "What?"

"Yeah, that's what I asked. What are you ogling me for, Mulder? You want to cop a feel or have I just grown antennae?"

Mulder gave this serious consideration. "I'll let you know," he said, and turned to walk out.


It was no problem securing another ticket for Krycek-the plane was half empty and his fake ID in the name of Kevin Alexander was as good as the real thing. For all Mulder knew, it might have been.

The clothes Krycek had been wearing when the alien kidnapped him were completely ruined, so he was wearing a suit Mulder had had in the back of his closet for years-an unremarkable charcoal grey thing that had never really fit him. It had been one of the purchases he made sometimes that puzzled and worried him a day later when he couldn't figure out what had possessed him to buy whatever it was.

When he'd confessed this particular quirk to Scully, she'd assured him it happened to everyone. She'd had to show him the half-length neon-blue raincoat hidden in the back of her closet before he believed her.

This purchase had turned out not to be so nonsensical after all. The charcoal suit fit Krycek almost as though it had been intended for him-it even looked good, certainly much better than the awful polyester outfits he'd turned up in during his time as an FBI traitor. Even with that boring tie he'd insisted on wearing, he looked... good. Well, no wonder. Mulder didn't buy cheap suits, not even when he was buying one that didn't really fit him.

The strangest thing about it was that Krycek seemed more at home in the suit now than he had during his stint as Mulder's partner. He'd always had that slightly awkward air about him then, like a kid trying to play grown-up games. Doing it very well, too, but just a little self-conscious. Mulder had often wondered whether Krycek was that good an actor or whether he actually had been uncertain, afraid of being found out. He could ask him now, and Krycek would have to tell him the truth.

Mulder considered it.

It seemed Krycek didn't like airports. No surprise there-too many travelers meant too many chances of being spotted by that one traveler who would feel compelled to do something about it-something quick and violent and ending in Krycek's death. Or maybe it was a more recent development? Mulder was almost certain that the oil-alien that had possessed the French diver had snatched Krycek in the airport rest room....

Mulder filed this question away to be considered as well.

In an airport restaurant, Krycek stuffed himself with two portions of scrambled eggs and sausage and one stack of pancakes drenched in maple syrup. As soon as they'd boarded the plane, he fell asleep and didn't wake until they had to get off.

He still moved with a subtle effort nowhere close to his usual cat-like grace. He was exhausted, though he was trying hard not to let on how much the alien had taken out of him.

In the rental car driving out to the town of Weimar, Krycek dozing in the seat beside him, Mulder finally decided it was time to ask another question.

"Krycek," he said, his voice exploding into the silence.

When he turned his head, the younger man was wide awake and watching him with a wary expression. His eyes were even darker than usual in the pale face, but there was no hint of anything but alertness about him, when an instant before he'd been all but asleep. Even so obviously drained, there was a coiled-spring tenseness to him that boded ill for anyone trying to catch him offguard.

"Aren't you going to ask me what this case is about?"

The wary look turned into suspicion. "What's this case about?"

Mulder paused while trying to ascertain his own reasons for asking this question instead of one of the several dozen sensible ones neatly lined up in his mind, waiting to be answered.

"Witches," he said at last, not having come to a satisfactory conclusion. "You believe in witches, Krycek?"

The other man gave a sarcastic laugh. "I've spent days in the company of a spaceship and a glob of oil that liked to fry people through my eyes. I've been deposited on your couch as a gift from an alien that ambushed me posing as a little girl. Hell, I've even shot a man threatening you with a Bible. Just give me the data, Mulder. Let's see if it will fly."

Mulder wanted to ask whether Krycek had really seen a gun or whether he'd known that he was shooting an unarmed man. Whether he'd been tying up the Consortium's loose threads. Seizing an opportunity and making up a plausible explanation on the basis of the facts of the case....

There was a long pause while Mulder tried to understand why there was part of him that didn't want to know the answer. It was an unaccustomed feeling-he always wanted to know. He needed to know, to make sense out of madness. This was nonsense.

"Did you see a gun?" he asked before he could change his mind.

Krycek shot him a hard look. He didn't pretend not to understand the question.

"Yes," he said at last, his eyes cold. "I suspected he might be messing with my mind, but what I saw was a gun."

Absurdly, Mulder was relieved.

"I would also have shot him if I'd seen the Bible," Krycek added, his voice sharp and precise as ice.

Mulder felt the coldness only briefly before the familiar anger surged up, making him seize the steering wheel in a savage grip to prevent himself from reaching over and slamming the murderer's pretty, empty face into the dashboard. "And are you going to reveal why you see fit to tell me this?"

There was a long pause before Krycek answered, his tone still arctic. "You might not have asked, and you had to know."

Mulder saw the sign pointing out the turnoff to Weimar just as they hurtled past.

He stepped on the brakes violently and felt a sharp stab of disappointment when Krycek caught himself in time to prevent him from slamming into the seatbelt. The car swerved around in a rain of gravel from the roadside and Mulder could see Krycek's mouth thin with disapproval.

"I should give Skinner an anonymous tip-off that one of his agents is endangering public safety by flagrant disregard of traffic regu-"

"I bet you'd have made a great boy scout, Krycek. Too bad you got your priorities mixed up. Safe driving is not a moral imperative-preserving human life is."

"It figures you don't think the two could possibly have any connection to each other."

It angered Mulder that he was engaging in an argument over his driving with this bastard-this was just the kind of ridiculous situation that invariably arose when the man turned up. "Shut up, Krycek!"

There was no further comment.

When Mulder had turned onto the proper road and shot a glance at his passenger, his face was closed into stony immobility. For some reason, this irritated the hell out of Mulder.

It was Krycek who broke the renewed silence, his voice cool, remote, and not very interested. "You going to tell me about the alleged witches any time this year?"

"Read the damned file," Mulder growled.

Without another word, Krycek turned to snag the briefcase from the back seat and settled down to scan the flimsy fax printout.

Mulder ran the information through his own mind again.

The first document was a listing of the unsolved cases of missing persons filed in Weimar, stretching back over a period of over thirty years.

Of course, such things were never truly conclusive. Any number of factors could play into a statistic and make it seem as though it proved something which it actually had nothing whatsoever to do with. There was no denying, however, that compared to the national average and what stood to be expected from a town the size and description of Weimar, there were too many. More than six times what would have been considered normal.

A discreet and long-lived murderer? A stifling community that had made teenagers flee to the city in droves? A ring of white slavers? Alien abduction?

According to Deputy Maureen Kathryn Riley, who had asked the FBI for assistance-in unconcerned disregard of the fact that the sheriff should have been the one to do so-none of the above. Her theory was that a family of witches had been kidnapping people and keeping them as pets, as slaves, or simply for amusement.

Deputy Riley had not been in Weimar long-she'd transferred there from New York not a year ago because she'd been fed up with organized crime and big city life. The first hint she'd gotten that all was not right in her serene rural idyll was the cameo appearance of Ms. Margaret Ritter in Weimar on a Sunday a little over a month ago.

Around mid-day on the quiet Sunday in question, a woman in her middle years had wandered into town and sat on a porch, where she proceeded to sob quietly. The owner of the porch in question hadn't been able to get anything out of her, let alone convince her to leave, and had finally called the police in desperation. The police, unable to find any identification on her or move her to any action other than sobbing into their uniform-fronts, had brought her to the hospital in the usual attempt to shift responsibility.

An attempt which, this time, had paid off. From the hospital's files, the woman had been identified as Margaret Ritter, who'd had a tonsillectomy there at the age of sixteen-half a year before she'd disappeared, never to be heard of again.

Ms. Ritter was no help in determining where she'd been and what she had been doing in the thirty-two intervening years; she seemed to have complete amnesia. She was healthy and in good shape, and it seemed she had borne a child at some point of her life, but other than that, nothing could be learned about her.

Margaret's parents were tracked down in Maine and asked to come take their daughter away. By the time the old couple had arrived in Weimar, however, their daughter had once again disappeared.

Deputy Riley had gotten the case. Her questioning of the hospital's personnel revealed that a young man had been seen walking out to the woods in the company of the erstwhile patient, who'd gone along with every appearance of free will. No one had seen the man enter the hospital, let alone the patient's room, which was supposedly watched twenty-four hours a day to prevent the confused woman from wandering off. No one could explain how the pair had gotten out without being seen.

When asked why they hadn't followed Margaret Ritter and her mysterious companion, the hospital personnel hedged and stalled and said nothing using a great many words. The most lucid comment came from an out-of-town nurse who'd wanted to run after the pair, only to be forcibly restrained by two of her colleagues, who would give her no explanation other than "that's one of the Lawrence's, you don't mess with them, not if you know what's good for you."

The colleagues in question, when asked to clarify this remark, denied ever having made it. According to them, they'd really said something along the lines of "oh good, that's one of the Lawrences, well if they're going to take care of Ms. Ritter she'll be just fine and we don't have to worry."

The Lawrences lived some miles out from town. Strangely enough, Deputy Riley's very reasonable wish to pay them a call and look around for the missing Ms. Ritter was vetoed by the sheriff, who failed to give a satisfactory reason for either this or the fact that he took the Deputy off the case as soon as she'd reported her findings.

A week later, the mayor's neighbors called in to say that the mayor's son could be heard screaming bloody murder somewhere in the house. The police, namely Deputy Riley and her partner, had paid a visit, confirmed the neighbors' report, and knocked on the door to be admitted into the living room and served tea and homemade cookies by a worried mother while Junior's howls reverberated through the house.

The mayor joined his wife shortly and told the two officers that he had caught his boy seeing one of the Lawrence girls. He had, of course, promptly taken the only possible recourse, namely that of locking him in his room until it passed. The conversation was conducted to the disturbing backdrop of the mayor's son demanding to be let out, screaming phrases such as "I'll die if I can't see her again" and "I've got to, don't you see, I've got to go, she's calling me." What truly disturbed Riley was the occasionally recurring harsh shout "It hurts, let me out or I'll die, it hurts!"

The enraged Deputy Riley, all set to file charges for child abuse and set the youngster free to pursue the course of true love, had then been dragged back to the station by her very insistent partner and ordered not to take further action by her superior.

She'd put this down to small-town politics and decided to go over her superior's head to prevent a tragedy from taking place. Reasoning that the best place to gain support would be at the girl's house-and apparently thinking to herself that while there she'd take a look around and form an opinion on how likely it was that these people had Ms. Ritter stashed away in the cellar-she drove out to the Lawrence's place after her shift.

Or rather, she tried. When she topped the small hill that marked the beginning of their property, her car stalled.

It now became fully obvious that Deputy Riley had a stubborn streak. She got out and walked, determined to hike the remaining fifteen miles rather than enduring another obstruction of justice through something so mundane as engine failure.

She'd hardly walked half a mile when-according to her rigidly matter-of-fact report-a young man suddenly stood right in front of her ("estimated distance two yards maximum. As I had not previously noted him and the road runs through an open field at this spot, I was startled. It is not feasible to conjecture he followed me since I had regularly ascertained I was not being followed, due to a naturally suspicious nature enhanced by five years in the NYPD").

The young man had ignored her exclamation and questions and stared at her for a while. Then he'd grinned, informed her he liked the look of her too well to let her become the pet of one of his siblings, and told her to go home, he'd think about paying her a visit one of these days.

At this point Deputy Riley's report degenerated into staccato statements. "I then turned and walked back to my car. It was not my intention to do so. I was fully aware of not wishing to do so. I did so nevertheless. I got in my car. It started immediately. I turned and drove back. It was not my wish to do this either. I wished to look back and see if the suspect was still present. I was unable to look away from the road in front of me. I drove back home and got out of my car. At this point, I discovered that I was able to govern my own actions again. I got back into my car, intending to drive back out to the Lawrence residence, and drove past the turn-off sixteen times before determining the futility of this course of action."

Informed of her adventure, her horrified partner begged her to swear that she'd never set foot near any of the Lawrences again because, as she quoted, "you're much too fine an officer and just generally much too nice to end up in their collection."

After a lot of futile seething and some not much more useful brooding, both implied in her report, Deputy Riley had decided that there was a real chance that people were being held by the Lawrence family against their will, for purposes unknown, by means unknown. And since no one in Weimar appeared in the least willing to do anything about it-and since she found herself unexpectedly and disturbingly unable to take effective action herself-she'd taken it upon herself to call in the Feds, a move which might very well spell the end of her career in this little part of the world.

Mulder watched Krycek skim rapidly through the report and waited for the scathing remark that this case had nothing to do with witches-that it was a conglomeration of child abuse, an unfortunate, disturbed woman who needed mental care, and an officer who'd cracked under the strain of five years of fighting crime in New York.

Krycek turned cold eyes on Mulder and smiled thinly. "Well, someone had a bright idea. This is the perfect set-up. I can see it now. You'll interview a couple of people in town and then rush out to the Lawrences full of moral indignation and scientific curiosity, incidentally putting yourself at their mercy and probably being nabbed for a body servant, if not killed. You know what this is? It's not a distraction, Mulder. It's a trap, and if you had any sense of self-preservation at all you wouldn't touch this case with a ten-foot pole."

This was so far from the reaction Mulder had anticipated that he was momentarily at a loss for a reply.

His ex-partner tucked the file back into the briefcase, tossed the briefcase over his shoulder to the back seat, and leaned back to close his eyes.

"Might just be pushers, like that Modell bastard," he murmured just before he went to sleep.

Mulder spent the rest of the trip wondering whether he wanted to know how Krycek knew about Modell.


Weimar was a fair-sized town-larger than Mulder had anticipated and without the sleepy provincial feel he'd expected. There was no sign of beat-up pickup trucks, nostalgic farm-style architecture, or locals lolling about on benches.

Instead, what they saw as they circled through the town center looking for a parking space was an elegant European-style city built almost entirely in stone. Even the roads and sidewalks had a different feel-narrower, and cobbled in the town center.

Mulder finally found a parking space in a small lot tucked to the side of an imposing building in tan stone. A small fountain surrounded by willows stood nearby on a plot of emerald grass.

"Nice," Krycek remarked as he levered himself out of the car. "Not very witchy, though. Ghosts, yes. Vampires even. But witches? Witches go with little villages out in the wilds somewhere-you know, where they can run around in rags and cackle their heads off without having to be embarrassed about it. Maybe they'll leave if we tell them they've got the wrong place."

Mulder decided that the best way to get Krycek to shut up was to ignore him. If this didn't work, he could always try the good old gut-punch.

"So, how're you going to play this, Special Agent Mulder?" Krycek inquired, stretching to get the kinks out of his muscles.

He was still hanging on to the open door. It looked casual, but Mulder wondered.

"Any ideas about how to convince the local police not to whack you over the head and claim it was a hit-and-run? And what about me-you want me to go see the sights while you work or would you rather have me tag along and pretend to be your partner, thereby arousing instant suspicion back in DC when the police here whine to them about how they don't want any agents-plural-snooping around and the request was invalid anyway and-"

It was a valid question. In fact, they both were, and it irritated Mulder that Krycek had to ask them before he'd come up with equally valid answers.

The gut-punch option was beginning to look very good, indeed.

"Under no circumstances are you to imply that you might be a federal agent," Mulder snarled instead, keeping his voice down but making up for lost volume by sheer venom. "Is that understood?"

Krycek sighed and rolled his eyes. "Yeah, Mulder, your pronunciation is pretty good and I don't need a hearing aid. I get the general idea. How about this, then-I go buy some clothes and a toothbrush while you talk to the cops. The aliens thoughtlessly neglected to pack a suitcase for me, and so did you."

"You don't have any money," Mulder said accusingly. Upon inspection back at Mulder's apartment, Krycek's ruined suit had yielded precisely seven deutschmarks, thirty pfennigs, and one dollar forty-seven in American change. Mulder hadn't bothered to confiscate the paltry sum.

"No, but you have a credit card," he said, and smiled.

Mulder should never have bought breakfast for him-it had set a bad precedent. He should have let him starve.

He could see he'd have to teach this man a lesson again sometime soon. Too bad this was such a public place.... Several people had already walked by, and while they hadn't seemed interested in the two suited men arguing next to their car, a beating of the kind Mulder was itching to bestow on the smirking bastard in front of him would surely draw unwelcome attention.

"Make up your mind," Krycek said, the smile fading into an expression that looked more tired than anything else. "Either you make me your bodyguard or something or I'll meet you again here in a couple of hours. I'm not staying in the car for who knows how long-"

Mulder snorted. "Bodyguard. Right. No-your brother went missing here last month. Got it?"

Krycek smiled again, a different smile this time, a real smile that reached his eyes.

Mulder was momentarily startled into staring. It was astonishing how that particular smile could still make him look boyish and green and innocent when Mulder knew exactly how far he was from being any of those things.

"Got it," he said softly. "Lay on, Macduff."

"That particular quote casts you as Macbeth, Krycek. Fitting, don't you think?"

No answer. The smile faded, too.

Unaccountably, Mulder felt as though he'd just kicked a puppy. It was that damned wet-behind-the-ears, softly-admiring look that Krycek had always done so well. The man probably practiced it in front of a mirror. But why the hell was he bothering with it now? He had to know that Mulder wasn't stupid enough to fall for it again-not now, when he knew he was standing in front of a cold-blooded killer with about as much genuine feeling in him as a shark.

Mulder shook his head in disgust and started off down the street, heading for the police station they'd passed several blocks back.

Before following, Krycek searched through his pockets for a quarter and fed it to the parking meter.


The sheriff was not pleased to see them. No surprise there.

"I don't know what that Riley was thinking of," the grey-haired man growled, his bushy eyebrows drawn together forebodingly. He was a big man in his fifties-just beginning to go to fat, but with shoulders that were still broader than his gut. The muscular forearms visible where he'd rolled up his shirtsleeves made him look fully capable of stopping a medium-sized brawl without any back-up. Mulder wouldn't have wanted to take Sheriff Warren on in a fist-fight.

"That gal's been nothing but trouble ever since she transferred here," Warren rasped on, casting a sour look at a lanky young man with a straw-colored thatch of hair going through a filing cabinet at the other side of the squad room. "That's the problem with big-city cops, they always think they know better than us know-nothing country rubes. Didn't want to take her on-shouldn't have-wouldn't have, except her Lieutenant made her sound like the salt of the earth or something. Hah. Probably laughed his ass off as soon as he got off the phone. Glad to get rid of her, I bet-"

Deciding he'd had enough, Mulder narrowed his eyes and cut in impatiently. "Tell me about the Lawrence family."

Derailed, Warren glared and shifted his stance, hooking his thumbs into his belt like the Hollywood parody of a police sergeant. "Nothing much to tell about them. Good, law-abiding citizens, never had any trouble with any of them. Live out of town about twenty miles, hardly ever come into Weimar. Old man Lawrence was one of the town's founders back in the beginning. All this nonsense about kidnapping is just that-nonsense."

"The statistics-"

"Statistics can prove anything or nothing," Warren cut in, dismissively waving a large hand. "Runaways for the most part, and people just passing through who happened to be seen here last. Sure, it's a higher than average number, but average is just that-average. Doesn't have to mean anything when you go higher."

Mulder leaned forward over the desk, sorting through the stacks of case files that had been brought out from the archive at his insistence. The one for Margaret Ritter was almost at the bottom, but he located it immediately and pulled it out.

"What about her?"

There were two pictures in the file-one a school portrait of a freckled teenager with frizzy auburn hair and a big smile, the other unmistakably taken by a police photographer. There was always something clinical and cold about police shots.

The toothy girl of the earlier picture had turned into a pale-faced woman with wide, frightened eyes and an otherwise completely blank expression. She was recognizable as the same person-her cheekbones showed the same high prominence, her nose was still narrow and tilted, her chin pert. There were lines radiating out from the corners of her eyes, rendered in stark relief by the photographer. Her hair was different-straight and caught back in a ponytail, now presumably a dark shade of chestnut that looked flat on the photograph, but might well be beautiful in real life.

Sheriff Warren grimaced and found a chair on which to deposit his bulk. "A runaway, obviously. Not unusual, not even that she turned up again. Didn't find her parents-that was the house she went to, you know, her parents' house, her house. So don't give me any crap on how she lost her memory. She found her house well enough, and after a while she went off again. What can you expect from someone who runs off at sixteen to have a baby and-"

"This is all very well, sheriff," Krycek said quietly, startling Mulder almost as much as Warren. He'd kept so quiet that Mulder had all but forgotten about his presence after introducing him. Apparently, so had Warren. "And I grant that it is possible that neither the statistical evidence nor the case of Margaret Ritter would hold up in court, but I think we can drop the pretense here and admit that it is highly unlikely this is mere coincidence. My brother is not a runaway teenager-he is an upstanding citizen and successful corporate lawyer, a partner in the firm of Cheldon and Alexander, as I am myself. I trust you are not suggesting he decided to start anew and chose your town as a convenient place to lose his tracks."

Mulder tried not to stare at the new face Krycek had put on, but it was not easy. There was no trace of the young, eager, and wide-eyed acolyte or the stony-faced, sneering killer. This was a sleekly confident, coolly sophisticated corporate lawyer who was accustomed to holding everyone's undivided attention when he spoke-and who spoke with such natural assurance that there seemed to be no question of doubting his words.

It was clear that the sheriff, at least, was impressed-and he was not the kind of man easily impressed, especially not by someone younger, less brawny, and better dressed than he was.

"Mr.... Alexander? I can assure you of one thing-whatever may have happened to your brother, it had nothing to do with the Lawrences. They're fine people and I won't have them bothered. We'll do everything in our power to find your brother, of course." His eyes turned hard again. "We would have much preferred to hear of this right away. Why was I not informed until now?"

Mulder opened his mouth, but Krycek was faster, though he talked so calmly and smoothly he made it seem as though he'd taken all the time in the world to compose his answer. "Sheriff, I'm sure you will understand that there are other matters to be considered here, which is why I would appreciate it if you kept not only my brother's temporary absence, but also my presence in Weimar in strict confidence. The firm is understandably reluctant to risk broadcasting the... displacement of one of our top attorneys. Our clients would grow nervous, and a nervous client is often not long a client. At the moment, my brother's caseload is being handled by other competent members of the firm, but we would prefer to maintain the illusion that he is, in fact, personally available at any time."

Sheriff Warren blinked and frowned. "Well," he said slowly, "This is-"

"I need to speak to Deputy Riley," Mulder interrupted. "I also want to talk to the Ritters. Where are they staying?"

The frown etched itself deeper into Warren's face and he turned to bark a name across the room. The straw-haired man he'd been frowning at earlier hurried up, face carefully devoid of expression as he looked over the two strangers invading his police station.

"Dahl," the sheriff rapped out, "this is Agent Mulder, FBI. Go bring him to Riley and show him the Bellevue Hotel-he'd like to have a word with the Ritters. And show him anything else he might want to see. Got it?"

"Yes, sir," Dahl said smartly. "Pleased to meet you, Agent Mulder. Riley's not been feeling too well, she's at home. But she'll be glad to talk to you, I'm sure. We can take my car."

Warren looked surprised when Krycek strode out in the wake of his officer and the FBI agent, but there was such an air of matter-of-fact confidence about the man that he didn't attempt to call him back to provide some of the sorely lacking information on his missing brother.


Maureen Riley was a plain, raw-boned woman with short brown hair and a square jaw. Her piercing grey eyes were her best feature.

"Riley," Dahl breathed when she opened the door in worn jeans and an NYPD tee-shirt. A smile broke over his face like the sun. It was clear the young officer was besotted. "Hey, how you doing? This is Agent Mulder, FBI. And this-uhm, well, I have no idea who this is, but the agent wants to talk to you."

Riley stuck out her hand and gripped Mulder's firmly. Her gaze slid over Krycek with alert interest as he introduced himself; she shook his hand, as well.

An all but unnoticeable widening of her eyes had Mulder following her gaze downward. Krycek's sleeve had ridden up slightly as he shook the policewoman's hand, revealing a neatly bandaged wrist. Wonderful... Mulder had entirely failed to consider what this particular detail of Krycek's appearance would look like. Just wonderful.

Krycek gave Riley a slightly rueful smile, quirking an eyebrow in an invitation to share the joke. "Too much enthusiasm, too little technique, I'm afraid. Do you play tennis, deputy?"

After a moment of silent appraisal, the policewoman smiled minimally and shook her head, turning to lead them into a comfortable but plainly furnished living room. Either she had bought Krycek's lie or she was polite enough to pretend she had.

It was difficult for Mulder to see Krycek as he would appear to someone meeting him for the first time-his knowledge of the man's murderous and treacherous nature burned too violently in his soul to be tuned out effectively. Still, considering that the bastard had had Mulder believing in his guise of awkwardness and inexperience-a deception that had to be regarded as nothing short of colossal-Mulder supposed it wasn't surprising that he could pass off what should have looked like a failed suicide attempt as a sports injury.

Deputy Riley told the story Mulder already knew from the file with little variation or additional information, and her calm, matter-of-fact manner left no doubt in his mind that she was as reliable a witness as he'd ever come across.

"You're going to see the Lawrence place?" she asked when she had finished her tale. "I don't know that that's going to be more successful than my attempt. Still, I don't have any other suggestions. In fact I have no idea of how to deal with this situation. Frankly, I don't think I would believe anyone who tried to tell me such a tale, and if I weren't still unable to turn into the road to the Lawrence house, I'd think I'd been running a fever and imagined the entire thing."

"Have you tried letting someone else drive?" Mulder asked.

A grimace crossed her features. "I considered it, but you try finding someone in this town who's willing to go there. Not even a taxi will."

Dahl, who had been alternately pacing around the room and sitting on the edge of a chair pulled up next to Riley's, jumped up again and paced across to the window and back. "Riley, you can't blame them. It's not done. Those people-"

Mulder focused on the man with complete concentration. "Please go on, Mr. Dahl."

He let out his breath in a gusty sigh. "I'm sorry, Agent Mulder, there's nothing I can tell you. We in Weimar don't mess with the Lawrences. We stay away, we don't bother them, we don't even talk about them with-behind their backs. And they leave us alone for the most part, if we don't approach them first. It's a-it's kind of a deal."

Mulder had the distinct impression that the young policeman had originally been going to say "pact," but changed his mind at the last moment.

"If you don't approach them?"

"Yeah, well...." He looked at Riley. She was watching him narrowly and he gave a frustrated little laugh. "Riley, even this is-oh, what the hell. They're not supposed to take anyone from Weimar. They only ever do if you're... initially willing. They're all supposed to be very beautiful, you know? And if you grow foolhardy and get involved with them, well, then they can take you, if they want. It's their right. And Riley, you're not from here-I worry about you. Don't go near that place again, please, and if you see that man again, shoot him on sight!"

"By getting involved, I assume you mean having sex?" Mulder inquired.

Dahl seemed a little taken aback at the blunt phrasing, but shrugged. "That's what I heard, at least. Of course I'm not certain it isn't just a local legend to keep teenagers in line. Don't sleep with strangers or you'll come to a bad end, something like that."

"And they prefer to take people from out of town-visitors?"

Dahl shrugged again, not looking away from Riley. There was a hard edge to her expression that seemed to worry him.

"What do they do with these people once they have them?" Krycek asked, voice and face devoid of expression.

Dahl's eyes darted briefly to Krycek before returning to plead with his partner. "Who knows? They never come back. Margaret Ritter was the first, as far as I know."

"You never tried to stop this?" Riley's tone was low and disbelieving. "It has been going on for-how long?"

"I don't know. I'm-listen, Riley, it's the way it is! There's nothing anyone could have done! What the hell do you suggest we should have done?"

Riley turned her head away and Dahl looked stricken.

"Riley, you don't understand!"

"Oh, I understand," she said calmly. "I've seen many like you, like this town. They watch and tell themselves they can do nothing. They never even try."

Mulder chose that moment to rise and excuse himself, eliciting a nod from Riley and no reaction at all from the agitated Dahl.

Krycek followed Mulder outside, silent as a shadow. "Poor kid."

Mulder shot him a narrow glance. "What, Dahl? Why? She's right."

How long was Dahl going to stay in there and fawn over Deputy Riley? Maybe Mulder should go back and drag him out by the ear. Though if he waited another half minute, he'd probably be thrown out anyway. Riley didn't seem the sort to suffer fools gladly.

A tight little smile played over Krycek's lips. "Maybe. Maybe not. You're like her, Mulder. Soulmates."

That made Mulder take notice. He liked Riley, but the idea that they were similar had never crossed his mind. She was solid, sensible, steady... all properties he knew only too well he had no right to claim. "What do you mean?"

"You both have to see everything in black and white. You can't allow yourselves to see anything else. That's what's wrong with you, Mulder. You're too smart to miss all the grey, and you can't bear it, especially when you see it in yourself."

Mulder still hadn't thought of a suitably scathing way to frame his reply when Dahl, looking dejected, emerged at last to drive them to the Bellevue Hotel, where Margaret Ritter's parents were waiting.


Mulder had been dreading this interview since the first time he'd read the case file. He wasn't up to this. Depression had been eroding his defenses for weeks, then there was Krycek... and now this.

It turned out to be even worse than he had anticipated. Both of the elderly Ritters were plainly at the end of their rope, and probably had been for years. Ever since that day when their little daughter had disappeared without a trace.... Until a day over thirty-two years later. They'd come rushing to her, horrified of what they would find, elated to have their child back at last, afraid of the future almost as much as the past... only to find her gone once more, leaving nothing but uncertainty for them. The same uncertainty they'd been living with for so long, but worse now-even worse than before.

Their lives had never continued after the disappearance of their child. It was worse than the death of a loved one in many ways, this uncertainty... it was impossible to put behind, impossible to deal with, impossible to accept. It was not over. It was never over.

Mulder knew how it felt-oh yes, he knew it much too well. He knew the look in the Ritters' eyes. It was the same look that greeted him every time he looked in a mirror.

Krycek had not said a word during the entire interview. Not that it took that long-there was nothing the elderly couple could contribute to the case and no reason to draw out what was an intensely painful experience for everyone involved.

Mulder had all but forgotten about the other man's presence when-just as he was striding through the hotel lobby in the grip of a sudden, frantic need to get some fresh air-Krycek touched his arm.

All of the pain, frustration, fear, and desperation exploded into a white-hot blaze of violence. His fist came up and he swung it with all his strength, straight at Kycek's face.

Something flashed briefly in Krycek's eyes and was gone. Mulder saw the other man begin to react instinctively-begin to duck, block and counter-attack in a single, instinctive flow of motion that drifted through his body as smoothly and naturally as a ripple across a pond.

Then Mulder saw him check himself and straighten into the blow. Sprawl onto the marble floor with the force of impact.

"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry-" As soon as Mulder realized that the voice apologizing was his own, he stopped. He had hit Krycek, so why was he apologizing? Granted, he had no idea why he had hit him at this particular moment, but when hitting Krycek, there was never a reason to apologize. Was there?

With a distant, rapidly fading sense of worry, he remembered where they were and swept a look around the lobby.

Everyone was gaping at him in the wide-eyed, slack-jawed way of people who couldn't believe their eyes. The Bellevue was not the kind of establishment where brawling in the lobby was part of the expected behaviour from guests.

But Mulder was beyond caring now. His mind was empty of thought, frozen into glacial impassivity.

"Mulder. Mulder? Come on, Mulder." Krycek was blocking his field of vision. "All right now? Okay? I think we should leave now, don't you? We can get a room somewhere where our reputation is a little less interesting. Okay? Come on, Mulder, talk to me!"

Some distant murmuring that failed to crystallize into meaning in Mulder's ice-numbed mind.

"No, thank you," the familiar voice answered. "There's no need. It was merely a misunderstanding. Yes, quite certain, thank you-I appreciate it."

He was taken firmly by the arm, and this time he allowed himself to be led tamely out of the building into a cool wind. A vaguely familiar young man in uniform came up to them and asked something he didn't bother to listen to.

He watched several brightly colored leaves tear loose from a tree nearby and blow away on the breeze. It was the most heart-breaking thing he'd ever seen and his throat clogged up so badly that he was afraid he might start to cry.

"I think we'll call it a day. Perhaps you could recommend another hotel around these parts, officer? This one is a bit too-shall I say, ostentatious?"


Part II


Author's notes
The Gift of an Enemy was originally going to be a story of medium length at most, and I am still not certain how it turned into a novel. However, I am certain that it would not exist in this form if it hadn't been for the support of my excellent, dedicated, and patient beta readers.
When I sent out a call for help with my first attempt at M/K slash, phyre, Ellen Smithee, and Laurie volunteered to have a look at the first bit; they not only encouraged me to finish the story, but offered constructive and insightful criticism during the entire writing process (the number of weird phrasings, strange plot elements, and outright mistakes they caught me in is best passed over in silence.) Laurie passed the unfinished novel on to her friend Celeste, who was not only willing to publish my story, but also came up with the perfect title. Cynthia and Shoshanna then joined the team and put an enormous amount of work into improving the novel, hunting down an embarrassing number of remaining blunders and giving excellent advice on how to fix them.
This novel would be very much worse if not for the hard work of all of the people I've mentioned. Thank you again!

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