Title: Entropy I: If Only To Prevail
Author: Maraschino
Disclaimer: This story is based on the characters created by Chris Carter, Ten Thirteen Productions and Fox Broadcasting. No copyright infringement is intended, and no money is being made. Spoilers: Everything after Momento Mori hasn't happened yet.
Rating: R for violence, profanity
Category: XA

Summary: Mulder and Scully are drawn back into the Consortium's fingers when the events of Tunguska/Terma and One Breath/Momento Mori come back to haunt them.


Entropy: the tendency for a system to degrade or move towards a state of increasing randomness.


Russian Department of Security and Defense
Moscow, Russia
January 26, 1958

All he wanted right now was a waste basket with which he could puke his guts out.

All he wanted was an aspirin to relieve the incessant humming in his head.

All he needed was something to calm his nerves - to stop his hand from shaking and his brow from perspiring.

And yet...

...yet, he was happier than he had ever been in the short twenty five years he had been in this wind blown, snow covered, barren country.

He glanced furtively around the walls that surrounded him and absorbed the oak panels, the varnish starting to lose its shine after so many years. The painted walls, ever so subtly, were starting to chip around the edges where it met the baseboards.

Funny, even though the lamps were bright, there was no glare coming off the hardwood floors. It was as if the floor and its fellow inanimate objects were quite aware of the tangible scent of the foreboding atmosphere. They were merely backdrops - ornaments and pretty decorations - to the men who spent their entire existence in this room... creating history, editing it... occasionally deleting when necessary.

It was awe-inspiring.

He heard footsteps approaching and immediately straightened his posture, made sure his jacket was buttoned, his fly done up, and wiped his damp brow with a shaky hand. He took a deep breath, exhaling in one fast whoosh as the door opened.

"You're early."

"I know... I was told you wanted to see me immediately."

The old man pulled out a manila folder and handed it to the man standing, if not shifting slightly from side to side, in front of him. "I trust you'll get on it right away. This one's important."

The young man took a deep breath again. His first assignment... he couldn't believe it.

And it was a biggie.

He wrapped his fingers tightly around the envelope, causing the top to pucker slightly to cause some of the contents inside to crumple just a bit. He had no choice... the sweat in his hands was making an effective lubricant between his flesh and his first assignment.

His heart started to beat faster in anticipation.

His first assignment.

And it was important.

"I'll get on it immediately."

The older man squinted his eyes for a fleeting second and glanced down at the envelope, gaze ever so steadily, ever so practiced, coming to eventually meet that of the envelope's carrier. He forced a nod in the direction of the young man before leaving the room.

Upon the elder's departure, the dark haired man opened the envelope.

His first assignment.

On top of some eight by ten photos were intelligence reports with handwritten comments.

And it was important.

He pulled the papers away to look at the glossy black and whites.

He was met by the side profile of one Bill Mulder who was sharing a drink with an as of yet unidentified man who was smoking a cigarette.


The Chmilar farmhouse
Outside Camden, Alabama
November, 1996

"Matt? Matthew, honey? Come look at the falling star! Come look... no, Sara, don't tease Johnny like that. Oh my God! There's another one! Maybe it's an asteroid shower! Maybe... Matthew, you have to come look at this! I've never seen anything like it!"

Awakening from his nap to his wife's impatient cries, Matthew Richard Chmilar - farmer, father, and currently beckoned husband - came down the stairs two at a time, pulling a shirt over his naked chest. His wife and children were standing on the porch, apparently transfixed by something in the sky. Glancing upwards, he slowly let out his breath in awe of the spectacle above him.

God, it was amazing... certainly one hell of an asteroid shower.

He continued to watch the tiny specks of light as they fell to the ground as his wife and two kids continued to ooh and ahh at the exhibition which was unfolding above them. He leaned over to his wife, momentarily noticing how his winter jacket seemed to be swallowing his wife whole. Only her head and legs were sticking out of the oversized parka. He glanced down and studied her gams more closely.

She had shaved today.

He almost lost his train of thought; it soon to be replaced by a more lustrous one. "I uh... think it's an asteroid shower." He paused to glance back up at the sky and put his hand around his high school sweetheart's waist. "And it looks like some of the rocks may have landed in our corn field." He couldn't recall if the radio had mentioned if there would be an asteroid shower tonight. Hell, they had a hard enough time trying to get the weather straight.

He turned to his children. "Sara, Johnny, how 'bout when I go work in the fields tomorrow, I'll go lookin' for some moon rocks."

"Moon rocks?" His children looked at him incredulously.

"Yeah, moon rocks... but only for children who go to bed at their bed time and give their parents some relief." Matthew looked back at his wife, who smiled in return.

"Moon rocks?" She arched an eyebrow at him. "An' what, pray tell, are you filling our children's heads with now?" Matthew could only shrug his shoulders and smile back. His children, meanwhile, were already in the bathroom furiously brushing their teeth.


The Next Morning

It was a rock.

Matthew shook his head, nonsensically correcting himself.

There were a *couple* of rocks.

Scattered throughout his field, the *moon rocks* were black, plain, and in comparison to some of the cow pies he had picked up in the past, quite boring looking. He absently looked up to the sky. The rocks in front of him were far too "normal" to come from the far reaches of space.

He picked up two rocks of equal size, knowing the hell that would break loose if Sara or Johnny got a bigger rock than the other. He turned the mineral in his hands and examined them more closely. His eyes caught the tiny spores which dotted the rock's surface, and he gingerly ran his finger over the rough, porous material. He smiled. Nodded in assertion.

Finally, they were starting to resemble something from the moon.

He gasped when he saw the spores moving.

"Oh my lord."

Matthew backed up two steps instinctually, watching, holding the *worms* which were swimming in the 'rock'.

His hands started to shake. He watched, transfixed, as the tiny black worms, smaller than his pinkie, migrated through a rock which normally, if he remembered his grade three science correctly, was a solid, and more specifically, an impenetrable medium. He felt his stomach drop, and the blood leave his extremities. All awareness of the outside world started to fade, only to concentrate on the piece of mineral he was holding. His body seized - its natural physiological response to panic; and his thoughts were left to jumble, pound, tumble, rush, swirl like a torrent river through his head.

"I shouldn't have picked up this rock..."

"I have to call Rick; he's the sheriff, he'll know what to do..."

"I shouldn't have picked up this rock..."

"Oh God please don't let Sara and Johnny come looking for me I shouldn'thavepickedupthisrock..."

His thoughts came to an abrupt halt as the worms easily passed through the surface of the rock onto his hands, and then seemingly disappeared into his flesh. A scream, a terror - primal and inhuman - escaped from his throat.

It was a terror born of the invasion of his body by an unknown parasite.

A terror that his wife and children would come looking for him and face this same hideous mass.

A terror, which had been caused by a black, ordinary-looking rock, which was not, by any earthly means, ordinary at all.


Omaha Police Headquarters
Omaha, Nebraska

It was over.

Dana Scully, federal agent and board certified pathologist, slumped in a chair in a comfortably bland conference room, gazing at her partner, equally slumped, if not more so, in the chair across from her.

A little more than three hours ago, John Sherritan - male, Caucasian, slight build, brown hair, blue eyes, abused by his mother, child molester, and murderer of twenty teenage girls - had been caught and quickly processed, if not roughly so. He was now wasting his miserable life in some cell, awaiting the inevitable death sentence that would come once the trial was over.

Scully knew she would never be able to forget the numerous autopsies she did this past week. One did not easily forget dismembered corpses missing their eyes, fingers and hair.

She stole a quick glance back to her partner. He needed a shower. A decent meal. Some semblance of rest. A case where the locals didn't give you jack shit on their case and expect you to wave your magic wand and catch the perp. Omaha hit too close for comfort for Scully. It was too eerie of a reminder of the darkness her own partner could engulf himself in.

He had come, he had profiled, and he had eventually caught... and now some empty shell was sitting across from her, staring blankly at the picture of Janet Reno nailed patriotically behind her. God, it was Donnie Pfaster and Bill Patterson all over again.

In a subconscious gesture, she fingered the bottom of her right nostril. Just to check. To her relief, only a faint ivory smudge, courtesy of what little foundation was remaining on her face, could be seen on her index. She swore inwardly when she noticed Mulder had been watching.

About twice a day was the norm now. One nosebleed a day was considered a bonus. None a day... well, it hadn't happened for quite awhile now. She was tired and irritable. Even without her medical degree, she would have been able to make a diagnosis from her symptoms. It was no coincidence her lack of appetite and the resultant decrease in calories would occur at the same time her crankiness would climax.

She looked back at her partner, his worry lines having exponentially increased these past few weeks. She had to inwardly smile. The effort Fox Mulder had put in this past week to *not* be Fox Mulder, for the sake of a fiercely independent woman named Dana Scully, was, almost paradoxically, chivalrous. She saw the concern in his eyes...how he would often open his mouth to say something, or start to raise his arm to lead her out. Then he would stop, fully aware of the I-can-do mind set of his partner, and quickly avert his gaze, close his mouth, or clench his fists and retract his arm as if burned. Only when she was too worn down, would he subtly suggest she get some sleep.

Not because she had fallen asleep at that Omaha diner when he had been in mid-sentence.

Not because they had had to ring room service to bring an extra box of Kleenex because they had used the last box in her most recent nose bleed.

Not because she had a cancerous mass in her sinus cavity which could oh so easily start to spread to her brain.

Oh no, but because Mulder would *need* her later. He would only half-jokingly say she was the only one who could keep him sane.

"I'll need you later, Scully. You know I *need* you to keep me sane." Her partner would then flash a sardonic grin, quickly softening it into a concerned look. "You should get some sleep." The commentwas always followed by a warped smile, one where the corners always tilted downwards. "Then you'll be all rested when we really *need* you."

*Need*.

After four years of working together, Mulder was the only one who knew exactly how to push her buttons.

But in a good way, Scully quickly amended with a twitch of her lips.

But along with the disguised coddling and forced smiles, Mulder was also hiding something. She tried to ask him, bribe him, coerce him into telling her what was wrong, but he would gently remind her that she should be worrying about her own personal health, rather than his. Although he never told her, she knew he was getting headaches.

Bad ones.

Often.

She had seen him downing one Aspirin after another and knew that the stress, of not having caught the killer yet, was building. But Mulder never took Aspirin during the Mostow case, nor the Barnett case before that. She had tried to reassure herself that it was only the stress that was causing Mulder to run to the drug store every few days.

"Just need to get some stamps, Scully..."

Yet her doubts refused to dissipate. - Mulder knew Scully was staring at him, trying to look like she was examining the paint color behind him. He wanted to laugh and say, uh huh, yeah... Nice try, Scully. She should be worrying about herself, for God sakes. He had lost count how many times her nose had bled during the investigation.

He remembered he was at twelve by last Tuesday.

God, he was trying. Trying so hard not to call her mom, rat to Skinner, bar the door of her motel room and order her, as her superior, to sleep. But he was fully aware of the stubbornness and stamina of his partner; was fully aware that she wanted to be fully involved in all investigations.

But the steadily growing knife in his abdomen would further twist and impale itself every time her nose bled, or every time she apologized for being irritable, or for all the meals when she said she wasn't hungry.

He didn't know for how much longer he could act *normal*.

He wondered what time it was. The effort required to move his wrist and force his eyes to look downward, proved to be too tiring a task. He could not recall a case which had left him so exhausted... so physically and emotionally spent. It was taking all his concentration just to will his eyes to stay open. Even talking seemed like a monumental task.

And then there were the headaches, which came and went as they pleased. Mulder inwardly grimaced, rubbing a hand over his temple, amending that the headaches were seemingly more content to *come* more often than *go*.

A small, nagging thought in his mind reminded him of the incident in Tunguska. He put it aside. Stress he told himself. The headaches, occasional dizziness were all due to stress. Oh yeah, and old age. Of course... it had to be.

Tunguska is over.

Omaha is over; the UNSUB has been caught. He closed his eyes, and soon fell asleep, still upright in his chair, now oblivious to the concerned look which had flashed across his partner's face.


Russian Department of Security and Defense
Moscow, Russia

The intelligence officer looked down at the official looking form on the table in front of him. The red letters screamed at him: 'Classified'. After ten years of working in this building, it was a sight that was all too familiar. He glanced back up towards the man standing by the doorway. "Is this real? Can we trust this?"

The man standing on the other side of the room shifted slightly and cleared his throat. "The Americans have already dispatched an army reconnaissance team to retrieve all the evidence and *deal* with any witnesses... if need be."

"Are they currently in possession of the objects in question?"

"Yes."

"Approximately how much?"

"Intelligence reports the rock, when whole, was approximately fifty meters in diameter."

Colonel Josef Beranek swore under his breath. He passed a weathered hand over his chin, feeling the one night's worth of stubble he was now sporting.

If it hadn't been for the god damned Americans with their god damned noses in everybody's business he could still be in Krasnojarsk with his mistress.

Instead, he was here, in god damned depressing Moscow, dealing with *pressing business*.

He knew the importance of the Black Cancer. He knew the Russians needed it and needed it badly. He *knew* the importance of having something the Americans didn't have.

He turned suddenly from his thoughts to face the man in front of him. "I do not need to remind you the importance of the proper execution of this mission. *That* rock is a powerful weapon which must remain solely ours. I don't think I need to remind you of Tunguska, something which intelligence reports you partly contributed to."

The man standing across from him lowered his eyes for a brief period. Yes, he knew what embarrassment he had caused. He never knew how fast he could talk before that day. And yes, he knew how important this mission was. He raised his chin and looked squarely at the Colonel before responding. "Success is imperative, and I assure you, Colonel Beranek, there will be no repeat of Tunguska." He paused, again slightly shifting, the leather jacket causing an unnatural sound as it shifted against the man's body. "My partner will get the necessary money and weapons, and we need new citizenship papers. But that can be later."

Colonel Beranek had heard the sound, previous seconds ago, and took deep breath, reminding himself that this was the man that they insisted was the best. He managed to keep the irritation in his voice to a minimal level. "Yes, later. You know what channels to use."

Satisfied, the man started to reach for the doorknob, having to shift slightly to the right to reach the doorknob with his right hand. He was looking forward to going back to the States. "Colonel, I give you the assurances of me and my partner, the Black Cancer will forever be the sole property of Russia. The Americans will never know what hit them."

Beranek could only nod slightly. He still was wondering what the Consortium was doing, assigning a man who was missing a whole god damned arm, and his female, Barbie-like partner to this mission. He knew society was changing. He liked to think he was an open minded man, but yet, assigning *these* two to *this* mission made him wonder if his colleagues had lost all their common sense.

However, Beranek knew better than to question orders. The still vivid memory of his colleague's stiff corpse floating face down in the Laptev Sea was all the motivation he needed to keep his mouth shut. He forced a smile as the man waited under the door frame for a response. "That is all I am asking of you, Comrade Krycek."


The Chmilar farmhouse
Base Headquarters for the Army Reconnaissance Team
Outside Camden, Alabama

"Colonel Henderson, the perimeter has been secured and all evidence is being packed and sent, sir."

"To Boise?"

"Sir, yes sir. We should be able to be out of here by oh seven hundred tomorrow morning, sir."

"Good. Dismissed."

Colonel Henderson watched as the sergeant practically marched - difficult to do in his level five containment suit. Only here for about sixteen hours and retrieval was almost finished, with the goods being sent to Boise for closer study. At least they were rocks this time, not some shape shifting, invisible alien who would give his men fifth and sixth degree radiation burns before it disappeared altogether. No, this sucker was a lot easier to deal with - a lot easier to pick up, to research, to store in little polymer vials and containers so it could be examined...

But it was also a lot more potent.

He knew the Russians were studying some specimen. All the countries with intelligence agencies knew this. Hell, they'd been studying it, reportedly, since 1908. But no one knew what it did, or how lethal it was, or if the Russians had even developed a suitable anecdote.

Henderson shuddered, glad that his men were too busy with clean up to notice.

He knew now.

He saw the woman and the man lying in the field, dead. Or not. The jury was still out to whether they were dead, or according to one of the field doctors, having their metabolic processes exponentially diminished... whatever the hell that medical jargon meant. Their children had been found in the house, crying. Apparently, the husband had gone first, and when he didn't come back later in the afternoon, the wife went out to look for him, telling the children to stay in the house.

Then the Calvary arrived. Picture perfect. Just like the commercials, with the patriotic "Be all that you can be, in the Arrrrrrr-my" a running accompaniment. Except instead of fatigues, guns and ammo, the men were equipped with containment suits, biohazard containers and weapons not even the prez knew existed.

The children were immediately shipped to Spokane, away from the horror of seeing their parents, away from any potential threat the close proximity of the rock would cause, but more importantly, away from curious people with potentially dangerous questions.

Another sergeant with another update snapped the Colonel out of his reverie. Henderson batted his mask futilely, steaming the inside of the polymer panel with indecipherable swear words. He couldn't make out the man's face behind the suit, blinded by the sharp glare of the visor and its surrounding silver polymer material. "Sir, Intelligence reports the Russians know about the rock, but are unsure whether they'll go ahead and attempt anything."

The news came as no surprise. Colonel Henderson learned a long time ago never to trust Intelligence and their 'reports' entirely.

Perhaps Intel believed the Cold War was over. Perhaps Intel wasn't sure if the great Russian Bear was going to take action.

But he was damned sure the Russians would be coming soon.


Federal Bureau of Investigation Headquarters
Washington, DC

"I swear, Scully, I think paperwork is a primitive form of torture."

Scully couldn't help but smile over her laptop monitor. "Well, maybe if you stopped moaning and groaning about it for more than ten minutes, then maybe you would get it done faster."

Mulder mumbled something indecipherable under his breath as he turned back to his paperwork, patiently awaiting his John Hancock and the date. "Scully, what day is it today?"

Scully momentarily stopped typing and furrowed her eyebrows in concentration. She remembered FAXing the autopsy data from the Sherritan case to Quantico, remembering also the shudders she got when she had to sign and write the date beside the bland, lineup shot of the accused. "Thirteenth of November... Thursday..."

In her peripheral vision she saw him, pen in hand, lean over his rapidly disappearing desk, it being strewn with two week old folders, articles and papers. Omaha was on the top, open and of primary importance now, it being precariously balanced on a pile of other multicolored folders.

The Mulder-scrawl, as Scully liked to refer to it, consisted of approximately five seconds of loud, noticeable ball point pen, scratching... no, ingraining itself for all eternity into the grains and fibers of the paper. The sound had almost become as familiar as his voice.

She glanced up when the scrawl was mere milliseconds long.

"Shit!"

Mulder stood over his desk, clutching the pen as if a dagger. He would clench his jaw, only opening it to relay the next expletive that came to mind.

"God forsaken fucking shit!"

"Mulder... what the fuck is wrong with you?"

Apparently his outburst was wearing off on her too.

"I can't believe I fucking forgot!"

Only the whir of Scully's laptop could be heard after he proceeded to kick the garbage can.

Scully watched Mulder pace the office with the palm of his hand against his forehead, muttering obscenities, saying he didn't call, should have called, can't believe that it happened, how could it happen. He didn't flinch when his hip caught the corner of his desk.

When he could recite every passage in Hamlet. When he could relay word for word every profile he wrote for that bastard Patterson and ISU. When he could recall everything Scully had ordered in that backwoods Omaha restaurant. Fox Mulder with his damned eidetic memory did not simply *forget*.

His pacing came to an abrupt halt when he saw Scully standing in the middle of the office, ready to intercept and take down if necessary. "Mulder, what is it?"

Mulder swallowed. Swallowed again. The saliva in his mouth refused to coat his larynx, refused to allow him to speak any louder than a whisper.

"Scully, day before yesterday was Sam's birthday."

Nothing more needed to be said.

She watched Mulder deflate, felt herself doing likewise. Scully swore she could hear the nitrogen and oxygen atoms colliding in the air surrounding them. When she dared to speak, her voice echoed, vibrated, sounded ten times louder than it actually was. "Who were you supposed to call?"

Mulder looked up at her, startled, not realizing he had spoken aloud during his pacings. He convulsively swallowed again, slightly relieved when his voice was stronger. "I was supposed to go to the Vineyard. You know, the whole stay with mom schtick." He paused, his gaze to the floor as he continued. "She said the stroke made her realize what was important. I didn't even fucking call. Shit."

Four years of working with this man, and Scully had honed her what-is-Mulder thinking skills. Yes, like he said, he felt upset, guilty even, for not calling his mother. She knew little about the woman Mulder called his mother. She remembered telling her own mother that the elder Mulder's relationship to her son could be called distant at best. Sure, she cared for him, as he did for her. But they didn't *talk*... they didn't *share*.

She wondered how much the disappearance of one Samantha Mulder had to do with that... or the murder of Bill Mulder several decades later.

A trip to the Vineyard would have certainly helped calm the rocky waters of their relationship.

But there was a deeper, more hidden underlying message - one that had not been mentioned by Mulder, but which Scully could see. Trips to see relatives could be rescheduled, could be made up. Forgetting a sibling's birthday, one who had been torn away from her family and yet to return, well, the implications her partner could draw were potentially dangerous, evidenced in the tremors of incredulity that entered his voice when he spoke.

Forgetting Samantha Ann Mulder's birthday, was like forgetting the little girl whose picture Mulder kept religiously on his desk. Scully's eyes absently tracked towards Samantha's framed photo, the sweat suit clad girl seemingly untouched by the surrounding chaos of papers and files. Scully held back the sigh that was forthcoming, wondering what assortment of guilt-laden conclusions were currently forming in Mulder's warped mind.

"Mulder," Scully spelled out her words carefully, appeasingly. "We just got back from a high profile case. It took all our time. All our effort." She shuddered at a memory. "Your profile, Mulder. The autopsies... we weren't given an opportunity to think about much else. Your mother will understand."

Mulder absently nodded, not fully paying attention to whatever logic his partner was probably dictating now. He caught the 'I want to believe' poster behind his partner and inwardly flinched. He did not want to delve into the reasons why he forgot. Sure, the case was draining, sure his diet of the week consisted of stale police coffee and doughnuts, sure he wrecked one of his suits because he took a shower in it right after he was done writing his profile.

But Sam... Sam was real. Wasn't she? He had said so to Werber so many years ago. What had happened that he could get so easily sidetracked? God, there was the whole Jeremiah Smith thing, Schnauz, Ephisian and Melissa...

The X-Files had been opened because of his search to find his sister. She was his main goal, his lifelong quest, his singular passion.

Wasn't she?

"... Mulder."

He looked back at his partner, who was radiating that special pained look it seemed she reserved just for him. "Hmmm..."

"It'll be okay, you know. Your mother will understand."

He looked at the cell phone lying on his desk, its lighted number pad glaring accusingly at him. Scully was answered by a non-committal grunt. His next words came out slowly, reluctantly, as if the effort to pull out consonant and vowel sounds was a laborious task. "I guess... I guess I should call my mother and tell her I haven't fallen into some abyss." The never-ending chasm was appealing; Mulder was wishing nothing more than for the floor to open up underneath and swallow him whole.

He started for the desk, for the phone, when there was a voice. Quiet. Understanding. "Do you need some privacy, Mulder?"

Scully watched him nod no with the handset to her ear. She wasn't sure if her partner would want her to be witness to an intimate conversation with his mother. She wasn't sure if she wanted to. She cringed when his voice cracked with the first, "Hi mom. It's me, Fox."

Then, "Yes, I know I said I'd come down, but there was a big case in Boise that we got... I know I should have called... I'm sorry...I know it was Samantha's birthday... But the case was important..." She heard the voice trail off, the excuse sounding lousy. There was no way Mulder's mother could understand the work her son did.

Mulder said he preferred it that way.

She watched him bite his lip. So hard that she was afraid he might draw blood soon. "What kind of case? It was... A case...A homicide investigation. I just forg..."

Scully sensed Mulder didn't stop because his mother had interrupted him, but because he simply could not bring himself to admit that he had forgotten the birthday of his sibling, of the woman's daughter, who had been missing for twenty four years now.

She watched him nod into the phone. "I know... I know...I'll call later... I promise I'll call later. Yeah... Bye." He disconnected the phone and slowly disentangled himself from the chair.

Scully watched him take his phone, and grasp it so tightly that the hand was trembling slightly. Suddenly, violently, he slammed it against the edge of the desk. The federal agent got to fourteen slams before he stopped, air noisily going through his nostrils, lips pressed so tightly together that they were turning white.

The next words were cruelly spat out, the bitterness evident in every syllable. "Yeah, Scully. She'll understand all right."

Scully opened her mouth to protest but he waved it off. The voice was now tired and defeated. "I know you said... what you thought was... right. It's okay. I'm gonna go home. I don't think I have much capacity to think right now. I'll do the paperwork tomorrow."

She watched him stuff the battered phone into his pocket and walk, feet dragging, shoulders slumped to the door. There was a surprised grunt as Mulder nearly ran into the broad chest of Assistant Director Skinner, who by evidence of his outstretched hand, had been almost ready to open the wooden panel.

"Agent Mulder." The older man acknowledged his younger agent with a nod. He saw the agent's partner sitting behind her laptop. Judging from the defeated posture of the section chief and the nervous way his partner kept looking back and forth between the two men, Skinner suddenly realized he had not come at the very best of times.

"Agents Mulder and Scully. I just came down here to personally commend you for your work in Omaha. I just got a call from the big wigs there and they just want to thank you for all your help. They say both of you did incredible work." He looked to Scully and then towards Mulder. Both of them looked like they hadn't heard a thing he had said. "Agent Mulder? Are you feeling all right?"

Mulder looked up to his superior. "I'm just... tired... sir."

Skinner almost had to lean in to hear his agent's response. "Go home and rest, Agent Mulder, Agent Scully. You deserve the break after what the officers in Omaha say. Maybe go home and see some family."

Skinner failed to notice Mulder cringe.

"Thank you, sir. I will." The Assistant Director watched the agent walk out the door. Mulder nodded one more time, his feet dragging slightly, his neck and shoulders hunched towards the floor, his hands barely gripping the leather briefcase. Skinner heard the sigh of his partner as she returned to her computer. He opened his mouth to say something, then thought better of it.

Skinner quietly showed himself out the door.


Scully's Apartment
Annapolis, Maryland

Pulling her jacket on, Scully made sure she had her purse and keys before she made her way to the door. She sighed loudly when the phone rang just as she was reaching for the door knob.

She ran to the cordless, managing a breathless "Hello?" to whoever it was that was calling.

"Scully, are you okay?"

Scully smiled. "I'm fine. How are you?"

There was no hesitation between question and response, the exchange having occurred so many times before. "I'm fine." Scully's smile faded when she heard his monotone response.

There was a long pause, punctuated by the audible breaths of her partner. "Mulder, it's okay, you know."

A sigh. "Yah, I know, Scully." She heard him take a deep breath. The next phrase came out in a rush. "I don't suppose you want to get a drink with me to celebrate my sister's belated birthday and her older brother's complete callousness." There was a pause, and his voice slowed to normal Mulder-speak. "Notice the emphasis on 'one drink', Scully. I promise you won't have to drag me into the car this year."

Scully smiled at the memory. She still remembered last year when a local bar had called at two in the morning, one November fourteenth and asked if she could please pick up a Fox Mulder who was currently passed out.

Scully wanted to go - wanted to comfort her distressed friend. "Ah... the whole family's coming over to Mom's house to eat. Bill Jr. and Charlie are coming from out of town..." Scully swore she could hear Mulder's face fall. "But, I'm sure my mom wouldn't mind if you came. She makes so much food, we always have to take home her leftovers. She's been asking about you anyways. Come, Mulder."

"Ah... no, that's okay, Scully. No offense, but family gatherings aren't high on my 'to do' list right now. I shouldn't have asked anyway..."

"Mulder..."

"S'okay, Scully. I know you haven't seen you're family in a while, I'm sure they want to see you."

"But..."

"No, it's okay, really. I'll just..." Mulder tried to sound nonchalant on the phone as he lowered his voice a notch. "It's okay, Scully... Really. You need... I know you need to see your family. Go. So... So seeyouhavefunbye."

Scully was forced to whisper a sad "bye" to the dial tone which assaulted her ear.


Apartment 42
Alexandria, Virginia

CASE FILE X-365-465-3532

NAME: SAMANTHA MULDER

DATE: NOVEMBER 28, 1975

IN CASE OF EMERGENCY CONTACT:

AGENT FOX MULDER FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION
WASHINGTON, DC

DESCRIPTION: SUBJECT WAS ABDUCTED BY HOME BY UNKNOWN ENTITY, NOVEMBER 27, 1973. NO PHYSICAL EVIDENCE OF BREAK IN EXCEPT FOR BLOWN FUSE. NO FINGERPRINTS EXCEPT FOR ONES FOUND ON GUN WHICH SUBJECT'S BROTHER USED TO TRY AND WARD OFF ATTACKERS. LATER UPON QUESTIONING, SUBJECT'S BROTHER HAS NO RECOLLECTION OF EVENTS WHICH OCCURRED DURING NIGHT IN QUESTION. SUBJECT'S BROTHER WAS FOUND CATATONIC ON LIVING ROOM FLOOR....

Mulder lifted the glass and swallowed. Eyes closed, after a fleeting moment of discomfort, he felt his lips, his throat, his stomach eventually welcome the burning amber liquid. The Jack Daniels was beginning to dull the thoughts in his head, but not as much as he had hoped it would. At least it took the edge off the headache which had followed him home from Omaha.

His fingers rubbed his temple harder, in more defined circles as his conscience, as guilt - his ever constant companion - waged war with the voices of memories past.

Is it too late for a game of Stratego?

I forgot my sister's birthday...

I need your protection, Fox...

God, how could I forget my sister's birthday?

You traded your sister for your partner, is that what you're trying to tell me?

I'm sorry, Dad. I forgot Sam's birthday.

I'm turning into my father. He used to drink too.

What kind of brother am I, that I forget my sister's birthday?

Mulder had always wondered what a reunion with his sister would be like. He had always had the belief that she would be found. And, although the psychologist in him dictated it was naive, he believed everything would be right again when she was finally returned.

She would make everything good again.

Occasionally, in between the hordes of nightmares he had, there would be a *good* dream. In between the dreams where Scully was killed, tested, his father an alien, Samantha dead, Phoebe coming back, Patterson coming back for his soul, the world obliterated and him the sole survivor - in between all those nightmares - he would sometimes be reunited with Sam.

Sometimes she would be eight years old and running into his arms. "Foxy, I've missed you so much," she would say, with her brown braids swinging. Other times, she would be thirty or so, coming to him, telling him she didn't blame him, that she had made it, had a family, had a career, and that she had always, always loved him...

But now...

The reunion two years ago was nothing like he had expected. Granted, she was an adult clone, but the reunion was anything but happy. The consequences... Well, his mother still had a hard time understanding. Then this year, he was reunited with a child clone. Their meeting could hardly have been called a reunion. Mulder snorted loudly, hearing the disgust echo off the walls of his empty apartment.

For Christ sakes, *it* couldn't even talk.

Sam was his quest, his life long goal, his Holy grail... His Achilles' heel. The Roches and the Cancermans could wave her around and almost certainly Foxy Boy would follow. Would he be able to put aside all the doubts when he finally found her? How would he be able to know for certain?

There would be no such thing as a happy reunion.

Would there ever be a reunion?

Startled from his thoughts, his head turned sharply and his hand automatically reached for his gun when there was a knock at the door. He put the gun back on the coffee table when he heard the familiar "It's me."

Mulder walked over to the door and opened it slowly, watching the female enter his apartment.

Marita Covarrubias turned towards the sweat-and-alcohol smelling agent still standing by the door. "Agent Mulder, I have some information which may be of some value to you."


United States Federal Medical Research Facility
Boise, Idaho

"The man is dead, Colonel Henderson. I see no reason to try the test again."

Dr. Trish Zama, all five-foot-one of her, found the crick in her neck was quickly worsening as she continued to glare into the face of the very muscular and very no nonsense six-foot-four frame of Colonel Henderson.

"The man died of acute septic shock. Christ, the drugs we used to try and relieve the symptoms are worse than the organism itself. He is dead. We do not need to perform the test again." She rose her voice to try and let the words sink in. "It is an exercise in futility. These test subjects are dying for nothing."

Henderson continued to glare at the doctor, trying to use his height as an advantage. "They are dying for science, Dr. Zama. Just as makeup companies use lab rats, we use the great race of Homo sapiens. You managed to put your conscience aside two years ago, so you no doubt can do it again." He glanced over to the gurney, reflexively swallowing when he could see the dead subject's skin still moving, trembling, twitching, alternately stretching and relaxing in response to the parasites to which is was still playing host.

"We need to know if there are any factors which affect this organism. I'm sure you're well aware of the need to catch up to the Russians." He paused so his next words would have a greater effect. "So I suggest you do your job... before you meet a fate similar to your father's."

Trish tightened her jaw. The Colonel was rubbing fucking coarse salt into an old festering wound. The bastard did not have to bring that up. "This organism, *Colonel*, is not like the retro virus of before. It is not hampered by cold, by heat, by antibiotics, by anti-coagulants, anti-viral agents. We have researched, autopsied, tested, and examined at least a hundred test subjects now. There is no need to waste anymore innocent lives, Colonel. This... this *organism* is unstoppable. I recommend you bury it in the ground or send it back to where it came from."

Henderson rolled his eyes, wanting nothing more than to grab her thin neck with his hands and squeeze. He hated her, hated her sudden onslaught of conscience. A traitor to the project, he hated her father too. He placed his hand on the holster at his hip, drawing the doctor's attention to semi-automatic it housed. "I suggest you follow orders, Dr. Zama, because out of all lives you should be concerned about, it should be yours."


Apartment 42
Alexandria, Virginia

The blond woman looked at the currently bedraggled man who was sitting on his leather coach, nursing a tumbler of whisky. Some God awful porno tape was playing itself on the TV; the grunts and moans were still faintly audible, the flexibility of the people momentarily holding the attention of the special representative. With a cleansing breath, the female turned back to the agent in front of her.

"Agent Mulder, I've come with some information which may be of value to you."

Mulder looked at the UN informant warily before reaching for the remote control and muting the TV. He had heard this phrase numerous times before.

"And that is?"

"As of nine o clock yesterday evening, a rock fell in a field by Camden, Alabama - it was of extraterrestrial origin." At this stage of the proceedings, there was no need to beat around the bush. "It is the same rock that the Russians were mining in Tunguska." Mulder flinched at the mention of the Russian city, unnoticed by Marita. "The rock has been sent to Boise for further study, and they are attempting to find a possible vaccine."

Mulder's attention was piqued, but his face remained impassive. "Why?"

"The Russians have had a head start on us, Agent Mulder. An eighty-eight year head start in researching and carefully studying this organism. You've heard of the space race? The arms race? What kind of power do you think a country could have if they had an organism which rendered its host completely incapacitated on a cell level. What if there was only one country that had a cure? With their head start, needless to say, the Russians have a slight advantage."

"You're referring to biological warfare."

"If need be." Mulder's informant moved deeper into the living room, moving closer to the federal agent before speaking again. "Agent Mulder, the Russians came very close. The gulag you went to was a primitive testing center."

Mulder nodded. No shit.

"The Russians developed something - some sort of bio-chemical compound. When given to test subjects infected with the Cancer, the symptoms went away." Marita paused. The desire for global domination was not a thing of the past, contrary to popular belief. If the Russians came, she was determined to be the first one to put a gun to her head. There was absolutely no way she was ever going back. "You can imagine our fears when we discovered the Russians had a potential vaccine..."

Mulder looked at the woman standing across from him - for one split second still expecting the intense glare X. Eyes shifting, words barely escaping her lips, as if the effort to move them was too great a price, a very deliberate way of walking, of moving... she was polar opposite of his last informant. He sensed a 'but' coming soon...

"*But*, these symptoms reappeared later. Running guess is that this chemical puts the cancer into some sort of temporary remission or dormant state. The subject recovers, but then they start getting headaches and dizziness which gets worse as time progresses. The original symptoms then re-emerge. That is, the subject lapses back into his original catatonic state." Marita noticed Mulder had gotten very pale, the sweat was starting to run down the side of the agent's face. "Agent Mulder, are you feeling all right?"

Mulder attempted to clear his throat. "Uh... it's the whisky..." Catatonia? Jesus Christ. "How long of a remission?"

"Most of the test subjects were *normal* for a period of two to three months."

Mulder did a quick calculation. Two to three months, so that meant he had how long before... NO! He quickly derailed the thought. It was just stress. It had to be stress. Mulder exhaled a shaky breath while trying to ignore the growing terror in his stomach. He looked back up at his informant.

"Tell me more."


Margaret Scully's house
Baltimore, Maryland

Scully felt guilty, guilty that she was actually enjoying herself. The fact that she was enjoying herself was also an odd sensation, strangely foreign. God, how long had it been since the family had gotten together? Although she knew that her cancer had something to do with everyone's sudden desire to see everyone again - assure themselves that everyone was relatively healthy - it had been a long time since she had seen her brothers. Until the moment that they had arrived, she hadn't realized how much she had, indeed, missed them.

"Dana, eat some more pie, you need to gain some weight."

"Yeah... Day-na. Need you to get fat." Bill Jr. proceeded to snort like a pig, much to the amusement of his three children and to the disgust of his wife.

"Seriously, Dana, are you feeling okay?" Even when they were kids, although he was the youngest, Charlie was the more serious of her two brothers, always looking out for other people's welfare. No wonder he had become a social worker.

"I'm fine." She caught her family's subtle signs of doubt - the slight shift in position on the coach, the quiet intake of breath, the slight twitch of the lips.

It unnerved her more than any red lettered manilla folder labelled X could.

"Really, I'm fine." She put on her best 'I'm fine' smile, usually reserved for her partner. "I get tired a little more easily, and get nosebleeds once in a while but it's okay. Really. Mom, don't look at me like that... I'm okay." Scully smiled, Deep Throat's 'a lie is best hidden between two truths' still haunting her.

"How's Fox?"

Scully's eyes, wide and bright in an attempt to convince her family members that she was indeed fine, averted, turned towards the floor, and darkened. She didn't want to know what kind of inner torment he was subjecting himself to. Maybe she'd drop by his apartment on her way home. Just to check.

"He's... okay, mom."

"Is he treating you okay?"

Scully turned towards her younger brother, noting for the first time the edge that had crept into his voice. "Yes, Charlie."

"So have you two hit the sack yet?"

Scully almost spit out the pop she had been drinking. She heard her mother gasp loudly. "No!" She looked at her older brother who was smiling wildly. It was exactly the reaction he had wanted.

Dana smiled despite herself - Bill Jr. still knew how to rile her even though she was no longer the teeth-braced, gawky teenager she once was. "We're partners, Bill. Partners. He knows how I like to be treated." Her voice started to grow distant, as she thought back towards Omaha. "He knows me probably better than anyone. He's a very good friend..." She caught herself quickly, that was not the word she had wanted. There was no word for what he was. "...*More* than a friend. He knows I don't want this... cancer to affect our work." Even a month after her diagnosis, it was difficult to say *that* word.

Charlie stood by his sister, half listening to what she was saying. The other half trying desperately to calm the storm that was brewing inside - the combination of feelings that seemed to weave and warp themselves into one horrid mess. Resentment. Anger. Helplessness.

Unbeknownst to anyone else in the living room, Charlie was cursing Dana's partner. Her sickness was because of *him*. Missy's death was because of *him*. The new worry lines on his mother's face were because of *him*. "Gee, Dana, what a *great* guy your partner must be."

Her head snapped towards her younger brother. She heard the dangerous undertones his voice had carried. His sarcasm reeked of animosity, unchecked rage - one which had been allowed to brew and simmer for some time, and only now was ready to spew. The conversation regarding Mulder had quickly gone downhill from concern, to humour, to accusatory. "And what is that supposed to mean?" Dana's mind vaguely registered a doorbell ringing, but her Irish temper was too busy rising.

Charlie's temper rose alongside hers. Fox Mulder might as well wear a robe and recite scripture, if he meant that much to his clearly misguided and naive sister. "Dana, he called you into that hostage situation, when, if I may remind you, you were no longer working with *him*. Then the psycho kidnaps you and you're missing for months, while he returns, saying he turned you in to the aliens for Christ sakes!" He caught, from the corner of his eye, Bill's wife ushering the children and the toys hastily upstairs. "I thought you were dead! Do you know what that was like for me? For mom?" Charlie stopped suddenly, the emotions still too close to the surface even though two years had passed. He remembered Mom telling him she had just picked out her grave stone; his lunch had gone into the toilet immediately after.

He paused, slowly exhaled, counted to five - all the things he told the broken people who walked into his clinic to do. "Dana, you're painting him as a saint. And I... I... I'm sorry, but I can't look at him that way. I see him or when you talk about him, all I can think about is your dissapearance. All I can think is maybe, maybe Missy would still be alive. All I can think about is puking in the toilet with worry." There was a tense pause when Charile shook his head grimly. "I can't forgive him for calling you to that case. I'm sorry."

"I see," Scully whispered bitterly. Her piercing blue eyes bore holes into her brother's grays, and Scully crossed her arms over her chest resolutely. "He cares for me. He looked for me." She paused, feeling the tears threaten. "At least he had faith in me."

Charlie reflexively flinched. "Are you sure you're not sleeping with him?"

The slap was loud - echoing, rebounding off the walls of the now silent house.

It wasn't a reunion. It was a war zone. Under the facade of the apple pie, two point three kids American household, wounds were being cruelly ripped open, no holds barred. Past memories, so cleverly, so deceivingly hidden, now thrown out, shot into the other person's face as if artillery.

The tears were blinding her; she couldn't hear anything for the rushing in her ears, she couldn't feel anything for the blood pounding in her veins. She heard a familiar voice, muffled, in quicksand. Only when she fully concentrated could she hear what the person was saying.

"...Dana, Fox is here."

Dana turned, only to see the very mortified face of her partner.

He had heard everything.

He wouldn't meet her eyes. Her mother had her hand gently behind his back - as if in preparation to catch him, brace him, if he should fall. Charlie felt the blood rush to his face, couldn't decide if he wanted to run to the bathroom or beat the crap out of the man in front of him. Dana looked from her partner to her brother, back to her partner. She tried to emanate apology, as if the waves of emotion she was feeling could magically diffuse into him.

Mulder's chest hurt. His heart had moved to his stomach under the weight of accusations and charges which had been hurled at him. He didn't know Scully's brother had felt that way about him. It only made him wonder who else felt the same way.

Charlie didn't need to blame him.

For he was quite capable of blaming himself.

Scully's cancer was a result of her abduction... her abduction was a result of Duane Barry... Duane Barry was the result of him... His carelessness... His fault... His fault only...

He momentarily forgot why he had come... What had pushed him to drive all this way to see her. On yeah, Marita and that Russian gulag thing. Yet his feet remained planted, unwilling to move. Only when Scully walked over and gently took his arm, leading him outside, were his feet finally able to obey.

Scully turned her partner around to look at him, momentarily meeting his eyes until he jerked his head away. She stood on the porch with her arms around her thinking of something to say.

They both opened their mouths at the same time.

"I'm sorry."


United States Federal Research Facility
Boise, Idaho

Trish hated this part. She hated hearing the subjects scream as the liquid rock was poured onto their faces. She hated being the one who had to record their initial reactions and attempt to put it into words.

...Okay, dokey, Subject Number one screamed like hell, and them lapsed into a complete catatonic state which, dog gone, we can't really cure with normal medical procedures. The things - or organisms of 'extraterrestrial being' - inhabit the host by entering any open air body cavity such as the eyes, nose or ears. Yuck...

She still remembered patient zero and one - the poor saps who had found the rock. Eyes open, staring, their mouths agape, as if caught in some unimaginable terror. She didn't know, and didn't want to know how her father had dealt so easily with the mass suffering and death brought on by his own hands.

But then of course, she would never get a chance to know. Because as Henderson had so kindly pointed out, he was dead - and not by any natural means.

She hated Colonel Henderson.

The complete unabridged edition of a dumb testosterone-saturated prick with a stick up his ass.

She hated her job.

Trish rubbed a hand over her face, a memory threatening. Darren had hated his job, too - had tried to leave, but was now wrapped up in a straight jacket, pacing in a room with padded walls in a pretty looking hospital. A government institution, no less, that wasn't on any road map. Coincidence?

Trish did nothing but roll her eyes and clench her teeth at the thought.

She was growing tired of living in shadows and answering to the men in shadows. Men with no names who sent middle men, also with no names, to retrieve the research, to give new commands, to deliver more test subjects. She did not want to join her father. She had thought she was done. The retro virus was supposed to be the last one.

She had discovered how to control it, but they deemed the virus too easy to kill. Too easy to figure out. Apparently the FBI had managed to. So it was thrown away. The retro virus was made obsolete, shunned as if the extraterrestrial biotoxin was as simple as the measles or small pox.

Just because the Project wanted something that was exclusively theirs.

Ingrained in her brain, was still the regiment of heparin, plasma, and the cocktail of anti viral agents. Trish grimaced, almost forgetting the cooling blanket and the cold room that each patient would be subjected to. Still ingrained were the darkened orbitals around the eyes, the occasional squeal of the EKG, the blue lips...

Her head tilted upwards. Oh God, how easily she thought she would be able to leave. How naive. How so much like her father.

She thought she would be able to leave after the retrovirus - that she could finally have her freedom and her life.

Just a normal life.

Two years later, she was still in this stainless steel hell hole.

After devoting her entire adult life to The Project, Dr. Trish Zama wanted out.


Margaret Scully's house
Aberdeen, Maryland

The silence was so thick, so palpable that Scully was tempted to raise her hand to see if she could touch it. Instead, she reached for her partner's arm. "How much did you hear?"

He studied the sidewalk. The conversation forever etched in his memory, was running in a continuous loop through the fissures of his brain. "I heard how hard your abduction was on your brother and your mom."

Scully nodded, noting Mulder's defeated voice. "Charlie, didn't mean what he said, Mulder. He didn't have time to think properly."

"He's had two years to think about it."

Scully's mouth twitched. There was no adequate response she could give him. She looked into the living room window; Charlie was no longer there. "So... what made you decide to come?"

For the first time that evening, Mulder raised his head to look at his partner. Scully nodded her head, almost imperceptibly, to urge him on.

He swallowed, shifted his weight to his left foot and spoke as if reciting a monologue. "A rock landed in a field in Alabama. A retrieval team was sent to clean up the place and send everything to a facility in Boise. A family found the rock, and the father and mother are now dead. The children have been sent to an orphanage in Spokane."

Scully waited for him to ask her.

She waited longer.

He didn't ask.

She nudged him slightly with her elbow, tried to dispel the heavy and quickly settling air of depression. "Mulder, aren't you going to tell me to pack? You know, tell me where to go?"

The question was in the back of throat, wanting to come out, prevented - barred - from forming into words by what he had heard a mere ten minutes ago. "You don't have to come Scully. It'll be dangerous."

"So?" Scully looked at her partner carefully, noticed for the first time the black jeans and the leather jacket that he was wearing. There was most likely a knapsack in the trunk of the rental car parked out front, along with a plane ticket to Boise. However, the posture of the man in front of her was like that of a puppet whose strings had just been cut. He did not resemble a federal agent who would soon be illegally violating a federal quarantine. Scully glanced into the living room window again to see Charlie arguing with their mother. She sighed. "Mulder... don't read too deeply into anything Charlie said." She paused, bent slightly at her knees to look into Mulder's eyes which were focused on the ground. "Hey... tell me what you want me to do."

His face twisted and in an agonizingly short torrent of words he blurted, "I can't... Scully.... Too dangerous...I won't..."

Scully's eyes flared. "Mulder, don't you dare heap all this shit onto your shoulders. Don't. I'll do whatever I damn well please. It's not your fault. Charlie was a bastard for what he said. He doesn't understand. He thinks I'm fragile."

Mulder inwardly smirked. Scully was anything but fragile.

"Mulder. I. Don't. Blame. You. I never did."

Mulder looked up at his partner, noticing the tremor that her voice carried.

"Mulder, I want you to tell me, exactly what you would have said to me if you hadn't heard any of that bull shit Charlie said. Tell me word for word... And I know when you're lying, Mulder. So help me God if I have to shoot you again."

Mulder noticed the corners of Scully's lips twitching slightly. He wanted her safe. He wanted Mrs. Scully to have two daughters instead of one...

But he had also wanted her to go to Spokane.

"I was um..." He cleared his throat, his next words came out in a torrent. "I was thinking that maybe... Only if you want to... That you might, if you could, go to Spokane and check on the children while IgotoBoisetocheckoutthesite...."

"Let me go to Boise, too."

The response was automatic. "No."

"Mulder! Don't ditch me."

The conversation was now on familiar ground. "Scully, I *need* you in Spokane. We *need* to talk to those kids before they ship them off somewhere were no one will be able to find them. I don't know what's exactly in Boise. Maybe it'll be nothing." Maybe everything, Mulder amended inwardly. He smiled a weak reassurance towards Scully, comforted only by the fact that there would be no worms in Spokane. "I think we have a better chance if we split up. I *need* you in Spokane, Scully."

Once again, there was that word.

She looked at him closely, drew her face closer to his. "What are you hiding? Why is this rock so important to you?"

Mulder shook his head. "I don't know what you're talking about."

She started counting off the fingers on her right hand. "One, you forgot Sam's birthday." Scully pretended to ignore the wince on Mulder part. "Two, you were despondent and depressed when you called this evening. Then, three, Charlie had to open his big mouth." She tilted her head slightly. "But yet you still want to go... why?"

Mulder opened his mouth to protest, cut off quickly by his partner. "I'll go to Spokane, Mulder. Just tell me why it's so important. I don't need a psych degree to see it's personal. You wouldn't have come over and asked me just right now if it hadn't been so. It's not purely the government conspiracy your trying to make it out to be. Tell me. What's in Boise?"

Mulder decided it would be faster to say something... Anything, rather than try to convince Scully that everything was fine, and that there was no personal agenda on his part, no potential organism that was invading his body. He decided to tell the truth... Or, rather, a warped version of the truth.

"Scully." She shifted her body position slightly, showing Mulder that her attention would be directed solely on the next words he would say. "This rock, that they found in Boise, is the same rock that they were mining in Tunguska."

Scully recognized the name of the Russian city immediately. It was a name she went to jail for, the name for which she incurred the wrath of a sub Senate committee.

"This rock contains the organism which was responsible for Dr. Saks... This you already know. When I was at the gulag in Tunguska... I was *witness* to certain events. I *watched* people being purposely infected with these worms. They were test subjects, basically. The liquid came from a pipe... And they'd squirm... But can't move... The chicken wire..." He paused momentarily, the onslaught of memories threatening to suffocate him.

"And then... then... it was just like Saks. No movement, can't tell from first glance whether they're dead or not. Then they'd wake up in their cells some hours later with no recollection of what happened to them or how much time had passed."

Mulder subconsciously raised his hand to his arm, remembered the nausea, and the bicep that seemed to burn. "This happened repeatedly, until the subjects eventually died, presumably because of the stress the body's immune system was subjected to."

He paused, remembering the man who was in the cell next to him. "I met a man, a geologist. He had no reason to help me, but he did. Because of him, I escaped, and for his sake and the sake of all the other innocent people in that cell, I need to find the vaccine, if they have indeed developed one. I'm sure the military is working full force in an attempt to catch up with the Russians." Mulder had to inwardly laugh - the Cold War had never ended, contrary to popular belief. "If they're researching this organism, then they have to be looking for a cure. Forget about nuclear bombs or stealth planes. Biological warfare is the weapon of choice now." The calmness in Mulder's voice betrayed the emotions he was feeling. "Scully, they have a vaccine... Or a semi working vaccine anyway. The Russians managed to cure these people to some degree. The army can't be too far behind. Scully, I have to find it"

Scully absorbed all the details. He still hadn't told her all of what happened in Tunguska, and after what he had just said, she wasn't sure if she wanted to know. "You were in the cell?"

"Um hum..."

"But they didn't test you?"

It was a story hole Mulder hadn't realized. The cogs in his brain started to work furiously in an attempt to find a plausible response. "I escaped before they had a chance to." He could feel his heart throbbing in his throat; whatever little to none telepathic ability he had was pushing the woman in front of her to please buy it.

Scully caught a brief flash in his eyes. She knew there was more, that there was much more than what the man in front of her was letting on. But she also knew by experience that pushing would be useless. She would wait. For now.

"Wow. Rambo-Mulder... I'm impressed." Scully saw Mulder raise his eyebrows to her, her heart simultaneously feeling lighter. "I guess I better go pack for Spokane then... I'll go to the airport with you and then catch the next flight out, I guess."

Mulder smiled out of relief. Spokane was safe.

Scully started heading inside where she was met halfway by Charlie. She stopped momentarily, gauging Mulder's reaction. Both men waved her off.

She continued on inside, to see her mother smiling - conveying the aura of experience and wisdom it seemed only mothers possessed: that things were alright and all kinks could be mended.

Charlie raised his right hand in a mock surrender. There was a forced smile, causing it to look more like a grimace. Mulder regarded him warily, unsure of what to expect after his outburst before.

"Fox... I mean... Mulder... I was... I was totally out of line before." He paused, remembering the animated conversation with his mother not more than ten minutes ago. She had been speechless when she had tried to describe Dana's relationship with the man in front of him. He looked back at Mulder, speaking carefully, avoiding any potential land mines. "Mom tried to describe your relationship with Dana, but all she could come up with was that it was special. I guess I can't understand that yet." He paused, struggling for what to say next. "Mulder, Dana's my little sister. She's very special to me..."

Mulder nodded, in full agreement.

She was special to him too.

"...And I don't want to see her hurt..."

And neither did he.

"...And I would die to protect her."

At his last sentence, Mulder looked at Charlie - made sure his partner's brother could see that he meant every word he was about to say. "So would I, Charlie. So would I."


Boise International Airport
Boise, Idaho

The brunette stewardess smiled at the married couple in front of her.

Such poor little things. All new to the States and they couldn't speak a word of English to save their lives.

"Thank you Mr. and Mrs. Popov for choosing our airline." The stewardess paused. She hoped she had spoken slowly and loudly enough for them to understand. She carefully enunciated her next sentence. "Have... a... great... day... and... wel... com... to... A... mer... i... ca."

Nodding at the stewardess and retrieving their luggage from the bins above their seats, Alex Krycek and his partner landed safely on American soil.


United States Federal Medical Research Facility
Boise, Idaho

Upon reaching the modern, highly secured medical facility, the first thing Mulder heard once inside were the screams. Memories of a complete paralysis, an inability to move or scream for help soon filled his mind. He could still vividly remember the screams around him, the terror of the unknown alien parasite invading and crawling through his body, the utter nothingness that followed...

Shaking it off, he stalked through each section, trying to find a room which would contain some sort of lab or pharmacy, a magic pill, a test tube of anecdote. He could feel the desperation beginning to form at the back of his mind - clawing for space, looking for a spot to implant itself and multiply.

So preoccupied by looking into the doorway of one of the main lab rooms, Mulder did not see the figure who would approach him and put a gun barrel to his head.


Christ, did the guy ever give up?

Krycek saw Mulder, but he also saw the figure slowly approaching the agent with gun in hand. God, he hoped she would shoot him. He reminded himself he had much bigger things to worry about - and much bigger fish to fry.

It was too risky to try and retrieve the rocks and transport them, as evidenced in the Tunguska fiasco, so the general consensus was to destroy whatever the Americans had recovered. He looked over to his partner who was carefully attaching a device to one of the facility's walls behind a garbage can. He liked to think of himself and his partner as Boris and Natasha.

Out to destroy Moose and Squirrel, of course.

All it would take were some explosives, a timer, and three wires - which were ironically red, white, and blue.


"Who are you?"

"My name is Agent Mulder. I'm with the FBI." Mulder inwardly cringed as he expected the person in front of him to yell for security, shoot him, kick him, chastise him, tell him he was breaking the law by trespassing on private property, anything other than what she would then proceed to say.

"Prove it."

"Uh... my badge is in my jacket pocket if you want to look at it."

At the gun woman's approval, Mulder reached into his jacket pocket and slowly removed his badge. He quickly sized up the petite form of the female who was still pointing the gun at his chest. She was Oriental, wearing the stereotypical lab coat and stethoscope, and looked very, very haggard... and oddly familiar. The next words took him even more by surprise.

"If you get me out of here, I can help you."

It had to be a lie. A set up.

Doubt temporarily flared in Mulder's eyes. The gun woman saw this and hastily continued. "I've been working here for all my life. I can get for you some disks of research we've done on retro virus', extraterrestrial beings, cloning, hybridization. I'm a doctor, Agent Mulder. I've been here for fifteen years. I've diagnosed and cured some of the worse virus' not yet known to any other medical institutions or facilities. I've made vaccines from chemicals that not even the Nobel prize winner from last year knows exists. I'll tell you whatever I know if you can get me out of here." She saw the inner battle this FBI agent was currently undergoing. Apparently he had heard similar sentiments before. "Agent Mulder, please."

Mulder studied the woman in front of him - her hands shaking slightly, her inexperience with handling a gun clearly evident. "Are you familiar with an organism which leaves its host in a catatonic state?"

Trish took a step back, momentarily stunned that a federal agent knew so much about an organism that the Project was trying desparately to keep hush hush. "Why?"

"Do you?"

Trish nodded a quick yes, in response to the urgency which had crept into the man's voice.

"How much do you know?"

Trish narrowed her eyes, wondering exactly what interest the fed had in the rock. "I know more about it than anyone else you'll be able to find in this place." Mulder nodded. So far, so good. "You have the disks on you?"

"No, I have to go get them. It'll only take ten minutes."

"They're personal disks?"

"No, I have to swipe them from a vault in one of the lab rooms."

Mulder took a deep breath and made up his mind. "I came in through a door in section D4. It was by some stairs, do you know what I'm talking about?"

The woman nodded.

"Five minutes, be there." He clamped down on his urge to say 'or be square'.

The gun woman looked at the tall, lanky agent before her and wondered why he wasn't moving yet. Oops, the gun was still pointed at his chest. She quickly lowered her arm and shifted the gun to her left hand. She raised her right hand to Mulder.

"Pleased to meet you Agent Mulder, my name is Trish... Trish Zama. I'm... uh... sorry about the gun thing."

Accepting her hand, Mulder wondered what it was about this Trish Zama that was so vaguely familiar.


Krycek looked back down at his partner whose face was furrowed in concentration. She was checking the lead wires for the fourth time in as many minutes. "Everything all set?"

"Everything."

He grinned seductively at her. "I must say, it's truly a work of art."

She returned the look. "Well them, wouldn't you say I deserve a kiss for such a job well done, monsieur Vladimir Popov?"

"Hmmmm... Only if you're a good little girl. You know how it goes - the bigger the blast, the bigger the climax." He saw her take a sharp intake of breath in anticipation. "Now, now... just as soon as we get out of this blasted country, my dear."

"Have I told you, Lexi, how much I love anarchy?"

Krycek arched his eyebrows at his partner. God he loved this woman. "My sentiments exactly. Come on, let's get out of here."

As the two figures silently left the building, a timer hidden underneath a garbage can lid read 00:20:00.


God damn, where the hell was he?

Although, to Mulder, logic dictated that you follow the exact opposite way you came in when leaving, the guard currently pacing the hallway in front of him with two 9mm pistols at his hip, warranted a change in plan.

Must have been at a pee break when I entered, Mulder mused.

The federal agent was about to turn around and try the other direction when he found himself looking straight into the very familiar looking eyes of Colonel Henderson.


God, it was like Townsend, Wisconsin all over again.

Deja vu was all Mulder could think as he was roughly handcuffed and forced into a metal chair. Colonel Henderson was pacing, wearing very familiar looking green fatigues.

"Agent Mulder, why is it we keep running into each other like this?"

"I'm tempted to say your dynamic personality, but I'm afraid it's just the sex."

Mulder failed to see the gun before it connected with his jaw.

"Your sense of humour is not very humourous. What are you doing here?"

"Funny, I was going to ask you the same thing."

The next gun butt to the jaw had Mulder seeing stars.

"Agent Mulder, we are try to research the most recent ecological disaster."

Mulder rolled his eyes. "As I recall, Colonel, you said the exact same thing just before a civilian Max Fenig disappeared and a dozen soldiers lost their lives due to fifth and sixth degree radiation burns, and under your command. If you're going to make an excuse, I'd recommend you think of a more original and plausible explanation."

"I'm sorry, Agent Mulder," the Colonel's tone was almost curt. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Oh yeah, I forgot. Deny Everything. Got it."

The Colonel grabbed a hold of Mulder's throat, causing the chair he was sitting on to rock precariously on its two hind legs. "Agent Mulder, this is a medical facility. We do research. We are always in need of research subjects. You could be in a lot of pain for a very long time before you meet your unfortunate demise. If you do not willingly ans...."

"What the hell are you doing, Colonel Henderson?"

The Colonel abruptly turned around and let go of Mulder, sending the chair and it's captor tipping backwards. "What is it now?"

"That is my test subject. The lab techs didn't sedate him enough, and I need him. Now. We want to do one more batch of tests before tomorrow morning. We need to prep him."

Mulder watched the exchange between the woman he knew as Dr. Zama and Colonel Henderson. If only looks could kill - the bad blood between the two was evident.

"Why isn't he gowned?"

"I told you, the techs didn't sedate him enough."

"He's a test subject?"

Trish rolled her eyes. "Isn't that what I said? This guy's a fed anyway, I'm sure you won't miss him. Now, Colonel Henderson, please, can you hold him down while I sedate him?"

Mulder looked sharply at her. He thought she had come here to save him, but now he wasn't so sure. He particularly did not like the gleam the Colonel's eyes had now developed.

He soon found himself restrained by Colonel Henderson himself along with two of his guard goons. He watched as she withdrew a syringe and bottle. His mind started to panic and he tried to struggle, to scream - panicking because there was no one here who would care about the echoing screams that floated through the empty corridors. He heard the hot breath of the Colonel whisper: "It looks like Santa does grant wishes, Agent Mulder. I must have been a particularly good boy this year." He saw the woman in front of him draw the needle closer and closer to his arm. He waited for the sharp prick, the ice racing through his veins, the heaviness, the approaching darkness...

It didn't come.

There was no prick, no ice, no heaviness, and Dr. Zama was slowly moving away from him, recapping the needle and saying, "he should calm down soon."

He felt the cool dampness on his sweater, the needle having pierced two layers of his clothing, but not his flesh. It was all an act. Hell, he could play at this game too. Although his heart was racing, he willed his breathing to slow down, slowed his flailing handcuffed arms and stopped his legs from kicking. He tapered off his screaming until no more sound came from his mouth. He even added some drool.

Maybe someday when the Bureau finally did fire him, he'd go into acting.

He bit his lip to prevent himself from yelping as one of the guards none to gently lifted the limp agent over his shoulder. Once in the lab, Dr. Zama shut the door and leaned her back on it. She was biting her lip, as if to keep herself from laughing. "That," she said, when she composed herself finally "was definitely an Oscar winning performance."


00:01:00

00:00:59

00:00:58


Having short legs was definitely a disadvantage.

Trish could still hear the pounding in her ears and the adrenaline pumping through her veins as she tried to keep Mulder's sprinting figure in view. It didn't help that she was getting whacked in the arms, legs and head by tree branches - the thorns stuck in her pants would take forever to get out. Mulder gradually slowed down and waited for her approach.

Mulder's car was still at least two miles away, with at least one mile of that dense underbrush. The forest that surrounded the compound was their cover, but they had to stay near the compound in order to keep their bearings. Their trek was one of running, waiting for the guard to pass, crawling, waiting for the guard to pass, and standing completely, totally still, while waiting for the guard to pass. Both jumped whenever there was a sound - their ears hypersensitive to any sort of noise. And both were absolutely, head to toe, no-spot-of-flesh- visible-anywhere filthy. Mulder turned around to see the short- statured woman, almost wheezing, finally catch up to him.

"They don't let us out much... if you couldn't tell," she managed between pants.

Mulder bent over to puts his hands on his knees. Apparently the little sprint fest had winded him as well. He took a few cleansing breaths and then looked around. "Come on," he said rising suddenly and putting a hand on her back to push her on. "We still have at least a mile and a half to go. Knowing my luck something'll probably happen along the way."

As if on cue, the whole world turned orange.


Spokane General Hospital
Spokane, Washington

"Here, dear, why don't you read a magazine and get comfortable... This is going to take awhile."

Scully smiled her thanks to the nurse and accepted the offered magazine - "Cosmopolitan" and Ten Steps to Better Sex.

Glancing at the bag hanging above her, and silently cursing it, Scully whispered a silent prayer - praying that this incident was isolated and was the last.

It was a prayer that had been repeated many times in the past month.

She would not tell anyone she was here getting a blood transfusion.

Not Mulder.

Not her mom.

Not Skinner.

No one.

After getting two long nosebleeds on the flight from Washington to Spokane, Scully had fainted at the airport and had the embarrassing experience of being gawked at by numerous travel goers as she was carted off by the paramedics. Despite her 'I'm fines', the 'I just didn't eat breakfast', and her medical credentials, she was still forced on a gurney and transported to the hospital.

She called her oncologist in DC, and he, in turn, had ordered an MRI and CAT scan, the results to be immediately forwarded to him. He would then call her with the diagnosis. If there was any, she reminded herself. She was under strict orders by the Spokane doctors to go home after the transfusion - to wait for her results in DC so that if treatment was required, she would be able to commence it right away.

She did not tell the doctor on call that immediately proceeding the transfusion she would be heading back to her motel to aid her federal agent partner in an unauthorized investigation which involved extraterrestrial killer rocks.

The magazine a dead weight in her hands, Scully wondered what he was doing now - wondered why was this case so important. She knew the case was personal, but personal regarding who? The I-have-to-save-the- world crap was only a cover.

Something to do with Tunguska.

Something having to do with her cancer? Her abduction?

Something to do with his father's death? Her sister's?

Something to do with Samantha?

No. No, none of those fit. Tunguska and its rock were something else entirely.

It was something about him.

It was about the way his hands were wringing when he told her about what he saw in his cell.

It was about the way his breath had quickened and his eyes had shifted when he told her about the worms.

Thoughts now turned to Mulder, she reflected on their bittersweet relationship - sweet relationship, bitter circumstances. She would not tell him about this jaunt in the hospital. Hell, if it was him, he'd be doing the same.

She absently flipped through the magazine, momentarily stopping at an add for Morleys. She ripped the add out of the magazine - ripped it in half, in half again, in half again, until the pieces were so small that she could blow them off with the slightest breath.

Giving up would be giving in to *them*. Quite simply, if she was not with Mulder and his X-Files, then they would be able to declare victory. Symbiotic they were now - one could not survive without the other. Mulder never mentioned it, but both of them knew what the big picture held if she was no longer in it. She was not being overly dramatic in her certainty that Mulder would be dead if she were to die. Sure, maybe he would still be talking, breathing, walking... but he would no longer have hope. Drive. Desire.

She knew, was so sure of it in the deepest part of heart, because she would be the same way if their roles were reversed.

Scully once again looked at the bag hanging above her. The red fluid - the medium through which life could be sustained - dripping slowly, going through plastic tubing, eventually into her arm, via a stainless steel needle.

She would not let the cancer get to her.

She was going to beat it - for two lives depended on it.


Outside the United States Federal Research Facility
Boise, Idaho

Colonel Henderson landed right in front of them.

At the same instant a piece of brick hit Mulder square in the shoulder, Colonel Henderson, or what was left of him, landed by their feet. Charred, black, and still on fire, he was not screaming nor thrashing about. He was quite visibly dead. Knocked on to his stomach by the piece of flying clay, Mulder's nose was five inches away from the smoking remains of Colonel Henderson, whose green fatigues were now black ash - blown off the carcass by the slightest breeze. Mulder shuddered at the smell which met his nasal passages and the thought of dying by fire made bile rise in his throat and his stomach threaten to expunge all its contents.

He looked to his left and saw Trish trying to stand up, still slightly dazed by the blast. The whole facility had been knocked to the ground in a matter of milliseconds. Now it was all rubble, brick, and the occasional glowing ember. It would take a while for the ambulances to arrive. They didn't even know this place existed.

Perhaps even more ominous than the occasional popping of wood which sent sparks flying every which way, or the occasional barrel of whatever exploding, was the otherwise lack of noise. There were no screams. No cries for help. No 'help me I'm underneath this boulder and pinned'. The blast levelled everything, everyone. Even if rescue squads were dispatched right now, Mulder was already certain that they would find no survivors.

"Agent Mulder... We should go... The disks."

Mulder turned to look at her and winced when the movement caught his shoulder by surprise. Trish leaned over to examine the wound, noting the added gloss that blood could give to a leather jacket.

Having been examined by one certain doctor many times already, Mulder started pulling away. "Let's get out of here, whoever did this may still be around here." Mulder's lips drew into a tight line. The explosion certainly was no accident, prompting him to wonder who the unknown assailants were targeting. He started to sprint away.

Trish started jogging, soon working up to a sprint in an attempt to catch up to Mulder who was still six feet away. She called out to him, her voice punctuating certain syllables in time with her steps "We should probably stop by the hospital, your shoulder is going to need stitches."

Even in the crackling of the fire, Trish could hear the exasperated, and very audible sigh of Fox Mulder.


Good Rest Inn
Spokane, Washington

Scully was frantic. Hospital stay long forgotten, she saw the medical facility explosion in Boise. She saw the news reports and rising body count. A gas leak they had called it. A gas leak in an abandoned warehouse which was being used by soldiers in a training exercise.

Sure. Fine. Whatever

Scully was positive.

No one could have survived that blast.

She had called his cell to receive the mechanical drone stating the phone was currently out of service or range. She called the office, just in case Skinner, by sudden onset telepathy, had predicted Mulder's actions and called him back. She called his apartment just in case by some fluke of nature or by some super human stealth speed he had already come home.

Maybe, he had met a woman and held off going to Boise for one day.

Yeah right, the probability of Skinner growing hair was higher.

Maybe he went jogging.

That was more believable.

But for twelve hours?

Like an accelerating train, the thoughts became a mantra, became a litany of phrases she had uttered so many times already.

She would not worry. She absolutely *would not*...

She stared at her cell phone as it began to ring.

Mulder?

Perhaps it was Mulder dead, and someone calling to inform her so...

She pushed the 'talk' button. Her "hello" was a mere murmur.

It unnerved her more when there was no reply. She could feel her worried breaths being reflected back to her face courtesy of the plastic of her cell phone. "Hello?" She heard a sigh and then a "Hi, Scully, it's me."

"Mulder?" He could hear the high pitched squeal in his partner's voice.

"Yeah, it's me, Scully. I'm okay." He had to get the last part in quickly before he gave her an ulcer. "How's Spokane?" Safe Spokane, Mulder reminded himself.

"Much better now."

"Did you get a chance to talk to the kids?"

"Uh... no." Scully hoped, although she knew it was highly unlikely, that Mulder would not ask. The memory of her hospital stay and what it could mean came crashing down on her. She knew what the next question would be.

"Why not?"

"Because..." She struggled for a response. "Uh... because... I didn't have time."

"I thought your flight left late last night."

"It did. But... I... I missed it."

"*You* missed it?" Scully could hear the incredulous tone in Mulder's voice.

Scully grew defensive. "So what... Yeah... I missed it."

Scully thought Mulder was about to say something, but then stopped himself in the process. She heard a familiar background noise from Mulder's end of the phone, a smile playing on her lips. It was the same sort of background noise she had heard earlier that afternoon. "Mulder, you wouldn't happen to be in a hospital would you?"

Scully's smile grew larger when she could hear Mulder's sigh of resignation. "Yah, Scully. Apparently some brick from the medical facility decided to hit me in the shoulder and I kind of needed some stitches. We're here in lovely... uh..." She heard him ask someone where they were now, and then came back onto the phone. "...in Boise County General, got ten stitches, nothing major." Scully didn't know anyone who thought ten stitches were a minor affair.

When Mulder started talking again, his voice had sobered considerably. "I found out some things, Scully. I'll head down to Spokane after my fun here's done. We can talk to the kids together tomorrow."

Scully, her rendezvouz to hospital now fresh in her mind, nodded her head as if her partner would be able to feel the gesture. "I'll be waiting."


Good Rest Inn
Spokane, Washington

"...so what did Trish say?"

"She says she wants to move back to Japan after this whole thing is over. She wasn't born there, but she says she thinks she'll be able to blend in."

Scully nodded. That wasn't what she meant. "No, Mulder. About the disks. What did she say about the disks?"

"Oh... the disks." He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out three slim hard disks. He shrugged his shoulders. "She wasn't going to do anything with them, so she gave them straight to me when we were driving here."

"So where's she going to stay in the meantime?"

"She refused witness protection; she said she wanted to be as mobile as possible. So I said she should probably stay in another motel for awhile - different than ours, just in case. And when things cool down, to get the hell out of here and not look back. I think they suspect something. I won't be surprised if they start cross checking dental records with the bodies at the scene. God, I hope these disks are jus..." Mulder trailed off and looked at Scully, his brow wrinkled with worry. "Scully..." He fingered his upper lip to indicate Scully's nose was once again bleeding. He wordlessly handed her a Kleenex.

It was a ritual Mulder had begun not so long ago. With every new motel they went to, he made sure he knew where all the Kleenex boxes were located. He watched her absentmindedly pull the Kleenex out of its box, crumple the one edge slightly and then put it against the offending nostril. It was a familiar routine both of them were now used to, as would be the proceeding conversation.

"I'm fine, Mulder."

There was no response.

"Mulder, I'm fine. Quit staring at me."

Scully watched him avert his eyes and take a shaky breath. She decided to change the topic before he asked her how many nosebleeds she had yesterday. "Mulder, how's your shoulder?"

"It's fine." Mulder looked back at Scully, who just rolled her eyes.

"Okay, okay. I just have a *small* headache."

Scully's smile started to fade. Mulder admitting any malaise that he was feeling was automatically a bad sign. "For how long have you had the headache?" She remembered him drowning four Aspirin earlier when he and Trish had just arrived, saying his shoulder was bothering him.

Mulder shrugged his shoulders. "Only a couple of hours. It's not that bad. Besides, we have to worry about tomorrow."

Scully sighed in resignation, both of them had become quite adept in the art of changing the subject. However, not permitting herself to admit it to Mulder, she did agree with his last statement.

Tomorrow they would look for some answers.

For tomorrow they would go to the orphanage and talk to the children.


Good Samaritan Social Services
Spokane, Washington

Mulder hated these places.

Upon entering, the cramp entered his stomach, his fingers started to numb, and the already present throbbing in his head increased ten fold. The pastel painted walls, the cheery Disney posters strewn all over the wall, the posters stating "All dreams come true with hope" were total, absolute, complete bull shit.

He would know, he had been here.

Well, not here in Spokane. But the one in Chilimark was exactly like this, with the exact same kind of posters, with the exact same kind of inspirational messages.

He was sentenced here approximately twenty years ago, just when the beatings got really bad - just when Mr. Cowan saw the angry red marks on his back after one basketball practise. For the first time he didn't have an excuse. Black eyes, bruised arms and knees were easy to cover - he had fallen down the stairs, off the tree, a baseball managed to strike his cheek - but inflamed red skin courtesy of a one inch thick leather belt could only plausibly be caused by one thing.

A one inch thick leather belt.

He remembered being sent here, being told he was loved. And he tried to accept their explanations, but he always secretly wondered where his parents were, why weren't they getting him out of this place of cry babies and bed wetters. The posters were only there to cover up, to distract, to divert, to deceive. If the children didn't know their parents weren't there, weren't dead, weren't abusive, weren't whatever, then maybe everything would work out and everything would be all right.

Walking into Good Samaritan Social Services, Mulder already felt a sick sense of deja vu.

Scully watched her partner follow her, if not hesitantly, into the building. She saw him looking at a cute poster of Mickey Mouse and frowning.

"Can I help you?"

Scully looked to the heavy set woman who was now approaching them. "I'm Agent Dana Scully and this is Agent Mulder." She glanced back at her partner, who was now approaching, glad to see that he was finally out of la la land. "We were wondering if we could talk to two children who have just recently been admitted here - Johnny and Sara Chmilar."

The woman looked apprehensive. "Their parents just passed away."

Mulder stepped in. "We're aware of that, ma'am. They aren't in trouble or anything. We just want to ask them some questions regarding the circumstances of their parents' death.

The woman nodded. She lowered her voice. "They're so quiet. They barely say anything. They haven't cried. The poor things must be so traumatized. I'm just scared they may crack or something... I..." The woman swallowed, her eyes cast downward. She started walking away. "Follow me."

They were lead to a play room where there was only the two children. Mulder grimaced when he was confronted with more posters. The boy was colouring, while the girl was reading a story book. They looked up when the three adults came into the room.

Scully walked towards the older girl, her blond hair an exact match of her younger sibling's. In different circumstances they could have been Osh Kosh poster material. Mulder kept his distance, leaning against the doorframe for support. "Sara, Johnny, my name is Dana. That's my partner, his name is Fox." She saw the corners of the girl's mouth upturn slightly at the mention of her partner's name. "We're FBI agents, kind of like police officers, and we want to talk to you about what happened to your parents." Scully paused, unsure of how to proceed next. Sure, the Academy taught you how to deal with distraught children whose parents may have been killed by human monsters, but the section concerning killer alien worms was still to be written.

"If you talk to us, Sara, we can try and catch the *people* who hurt your parents. We can make sure they don't hurt anymore people."

Any smile which had been starting, was snuffed out. There was no flicker or waver, no moment of hesitation; the girl's face simply fell, as if all adjoining facial muscles had been cruelly disconnected. The boy had stopped colouring.

"Mommy and Daddy are sleeping." The boy's whisper was barely audible to the two federal agents.

Mulder stopped leaning against the door and moved into the room, kneeling beside the younger boy. "Johnny, did you see anything funny outside the house the day your parents went to *sleep*?"

"We were there."

Scully nodded her head sympathetically. "We know you were there in the house, Sara. Did you see anything funny outside?"

"No." The girl's voice was impatient, hurried, as if the two agents had completely misunderstood what she meant. "We were outside. We *saw* Mommy and Daddy sleeping."

Out of the corner of their eyes, Scully and Mulder exchanged looks with each other. Surely, it couldn't be possible. "What do you mean, you were there?"

"When Mommy didn't come back we went out to look for her and Daddy and we saw them beside the *moon rocks*."

Mulder thought his eyes couldn't open any wider without his eyeballs falling out, thought his stomach couldn't cramp up any more without it hemorrhaging. The same neurotransmitters and synapses which he used to build profiles on serial killers were firing wildly, manically. His thoughts were suffocating, as his brain attempted to put all the rapidly increasing pieces of the puzzle into some logical conclusion, at least into some semblance of order. Were the kids infected? Or were they not? Did they have any idea of what happened to their parents? Or were they fully aware of the implications of the *moon rock* that landed on their field?

What Sara said next made him want to leave, to get out of there; his fight or flee reflex was in full flee gear.

"They're in us now."

"In you? Who?" Scully had no idea what they were talking about, or why Mulder was suddenly looking nervous.

"Them. They're in us, that's why we could see Mommy and Daddy and not sleep. But we're going to go to sleep soon too. We're gonna see Mommy and Daddy in heaven very soon."

Mulder tried to clear his throat, make sense of the situation. If the organisms were in the children, they shouldn't be talking, colouring, reading... Whatever.

They should be dead.

Could this be some fantasy the children were concocting to help deal with their parents death? Doing his residency in England, he had encountered many such cases. But this...

Mulder doubted this was a concoction.

Johnny then looked squarely at Mulder. He looked at the older man and looked deep into his eyes with a seriousness that a seven year old boy should not have been burdened with. "We know that they're in you now. We can see them. But they're sleeping. But they're not gonna sleep long."

Mulder looked toward Scully who looked completely bewildered by the entire conversation.

"I don't know what you're talking about." He couldn't believe he was defending himself a boy who barely reached his waist.

"Them. They're sleeping in you, but they don't sleep long. Maybe we'll see you. Mommy said heaven's for good people, and Mommy said me and Sara were very good, an' all police officers are very good, so... so we'll see you."

"Who are they, Sara? Who are the *them* that Johnny keeps talking about?" After starting the conversation, Scully was starting to feel very much like the odd man out. She had no idea who they were, and apparently, according to Mulder's body language, it was a very vital part of the investigation.

Something that was in the children, but also in her partner.

Scully's mind quickly drew a blank.

*Them* was a connection solely between Mulder and the children. Mulder evidently knew what they were talking about, so much so that she could almost hear him consciously trying to slow down his breathing.

"*Them*. they don't have any names. There's too many. They..." Sara suddenly stopped talking. Scully watched her muscles start to spasm, the small form eventually writhing off the chair where it proceeded to go into violent convulsions. Sara's seizure was soon followed by Johnny's.

Scully and her scientific logic could not believe what was transpiring. She tried to convince herself that their convulsions had nothing to do with the fantastic story they had just told her - *story* being the operative word.

The convulsions grew in their intensity. Scully could hear their teeth grinding, their joints creaking under the stress. "Oh God." Her fingers numbly reached for her cell phone and dialed nine-one-one. How the hell could she describe this? "This is Agent Dana Scully with the FBI, badge number JTT0331613. I need paramedics at the Good Samaritan Social Services. We have two children aged seven and twelve who have gone into violent convulsions that... Oh God, just wait a minute..." Scully stared open mouthed at the still forms of the two children. No movement. No lingering residual spasms. Eyes open. Clear. Unseeing. She heard Mulder from behind her. He was on the verge of hyperventilating.

"Oh God. Oh God, Scully, it's starting. It's just like..."

Scully was interrupted by the panicked voice of the nine-one-one operator. "Yes, I still need an ambulance..."

"Scully, get a special containment unit out here too."

Scully opened her mouth, on the verge of asking why, but she thought better of it when she saw her partner's hands wringing, his eyes darting. "Yeah, I'll also need a special containment unit." She heard the operator take a deep breath over the phone. A few more words were passed before Scully disconnected her phone.

Scully stepped towards Sara in an attempt to assess her condition when Mulder stopped her suddenly, grabbing her arm roughly and abruptly stopping any forward progress. "Mulder, what are you doing? Check Johnny's pulse, while I check Sara's."

"No." He moved so that he was in between the children and Scully. His grip had still not loosened.

"What?"

"You heard what they said." His voice was a mere whisper. The knuckles in his hand were starting to turn white, while the flesh it held was starting to turn blue from the lack of circulation. "You could get it."

"Mulder, they're children. They have their own stories to help deal..."

"Scully, don't they resemble Dr. Saks? We need to evacuate this place."

"Mulder, these worms are not in the children. If they were, they would have been catatonic, or in a coma - whatever it is that these things do - immediately after they saw their parents. It's been what, two days since they were picked up, and there were no incidents. They've been so traumatized by their parents death that..."

Mulder was shaking his head. "But what if, Scully. You saw what those organisms did to Saks. We can't risk exposing this place, Scully. Special containment is just for precautionary measure. For now."

Scully sighed. Her mother's mantra, better safe than sorry, echoed once again through her head. She nodded her agreement reluctantly. "I think you're just being paranoid. Mulder, have you even thought about the fact that if these kids were infected, it should have showed up immediately?"

"I know... I know... I don't have an explanation."

Scully replayed the short but mind blowing conversation in her head. She looked up at Mulder sharply, making sure she had eye contact before she commenced speaking. "Mulder, they said they were in you too."

Mulder grimaced. He had been hoping, although he knew it most likely would not to happen, that Scully would magically forget that part of the conversation. The female federal agent didn't fail to miss the panicked facial expression that her partner's visage momentarily carried. He unlocked his eyes from hers and started to stare at the tiled floor.

"I don't know what they were talking about, Scully."

"But..."

"Scully, you said it yourself, they're kids, they're making up they're own stories. It's not true." He was aware of how hypocritical he was sounding. He had debunked her theory a mere five minutes ago, and was now using it defend himself. He took a calming breath. "Scully, we both know that I wouldn't be standing here talking to you if they were in me, right? I'd be having seizures. I'd be in a coma. Whatever. Right?" He saw Scully nod her head slowly. "I'm fine." He failed to mention the rapidly escalating headache which was causing his eyes to burn underneath the fluorescent lights. "Now let's evacuate this place and see if what these kids were telling us was true, and if it was, why the hell it took it so long for the things to take effect."

Before she could voice her objections, Scully watched her partner storm out of the room muttering something of the likes that perhaps Trish would know, and that this couldn't be happening. She looked at the kids, her insides turning at the blank look in their eyes, the stillness of their bodies. She glanced at her watch and put a hand to her mouth. Only five mintues had passed since the body-wracking violent spasms had begun.

Scully drew in a shaky breath.

It turned out Johnny had been right when he said that they were going to sleep really soon.

She heard the loud squeal of the sirens approaching and started for her partner and the exit. She couldn't help but wonder what the children had meant in their comments towards Mulder, and his subsequent, vehement denial. His outburst, was an indication, as much as Scully couldn't believe it, that the children's story had some truth in it.

This case was very personal.


West 46th Avenue
New York City, New York

The elderly man walked into the elevator silently fuming - silently ripping out his American colleagues for their stupidity and their carelessness. This matter was not going to die quickly and it was time to take action. The elevator stopped at the top floor and he stepped out, to meet the familiar aroma of smoke, leather, and oak. He set his briefcase down and proceeded to sit in one of the leather chairs. Not coincidentally, it was the seat directly across from the man who was currently smoking a cigarette.

"You stupid ignoramus." He spat out the words. "How could you let security be breached like this? they still have the advantage and we have nothing. *Nothing*."

The smoker twisted the butt of his cigarette into a nearby ashtray before speaking. "they have the rock. So what? The Russians have had it since 1908 and yet they still have no vaccine, or at least an effective one. They can't use it yet because they are threatened with exposure too. Frankly, I think the matter has been resolved quite nicely." He took a package of cigarettes out of his pocket before proceeding.

"The media is reporting that the explosion was caused by a faulty gas leak, and all the bodies have been accounted for - innocent men dying while training to serve their country, gentlemen. The media loves stories like that. If the Russians have the rock, fine. All they've really done in eighty years is fondle with it anyways. I assure you gentlemen, there is no danger." He carefully chose a cigarette and raised it to his mouth.

"We had it all." The older man enunciated each word carefully, a faint British accent brushing his words. "We had research. We could have had the vaccine if we had time to study the rock. We had so much power for about the space of twenty four hours. We have nothing now. All burned up. Ash and soot. The mistake happened on your country's soil, the mistake is on your hands."

The smoker shook his head and smiled, more to reassure himself than the others. "At least there is damage control. All that this incident amounts to is a few obituaries and a couple burials at Arlington for the poor, brave souls of the young men who served this country." He reached for the lighter in his jacket pocket.

"All except one."

The smoker faltered. There was no flame when he tried to flick the lighter. "Except one, what?"

The man rose and stood close to the smoker. He was joined by some of his other colleagues who had been told the news earlier that morning. "Dr. Trish Zama's remains haven't been found. As you so confidently stated, everyone's remains *have* been identified, except the good doctor's." He paused for effect. "And Intel reports a certain federal agent bought a plane ticket to Boise. I think we all know who that is."

The smoker lit his cigarette. "I will rectify it."

"You've said that before, and have been sorely inefficient and messy."

The smoker rose to his feet. "I said I'll rectify it." He saw the doubts in the Consortium members' faces. "If," he paused to place significance on the word. "*If* Zama indeed did not perish, and *if* Mulder has her, I'll deal."

He saw the anger flash across his colleague's face. No, the Consortium did not like to deal. "A deal?"

The smoker smiled slightly, an idea forming. "A small deal."

"With what?"

The smoker slowly exhaled and a stream of smoke came floating out of his mouth. "With Agent Scully's life of course."


The Blue Diamond Motel
Spokane, Washington

Ahhhh... freedom.

Dr. Trish Zama sat on the couch-bed in the motel room and stretched her legs. She absently rubbed her sore wrist, noting that she must have injured it in her haste to get out of the burning hell-hole when she was oblivious to any other distractions. Clumsy appendages inclusive. Now she was taking in her surroundings, her freedom, for the tenth time today.

Agents Mulder and Scully long gone, Trish felt slightly guilty for imposing herself on the federal agents. Granted, perhaps Mulder only helped her escape to get possession of the disks, but he did not have to book a motel room for her. He and Agent Scully did not have to check in every night at seven o'clock just to make sure she was okay. Sure, Agents Mulder and Scully got the disks, but now she got the impression that they felt partly responsible for her, at least until she got safely out of the country. They could have just taken the disks and split. Hell, she would have.

Strangely, although she had lived her life through secrets, deceptions and shadows, she trusted these two.

It was a scary thought.

She rose, lifted the mattress off the bed slightly, and felt around with her right hand, momentarily starting to panic when she could not feel the envelope. When her hand finally made contact with her passport, her airplane ticket - her passage to true freedom - she slowly let out her breath in relief and scolded the inanimate objects for being so hard to find.

She knew she couldn't escape just yet. Things were too hot, Mulder had explained to her. She had the impression both Mulder and Scully were very experienced in these matters. All three agreed a week at this smoke smelling, thin walled, no cable TV'd joint, would be adequate - would be enough time to let the excitement go down.

The phone on the night stand started to ring. Trish smiled.

He was calling right on time.

"Hello?"

"I *did* tell you about the bogeymen who are rumoured to inhabit that rat trap didn't I?"

"No, Agent Mulder, but I can deal with the supernatural. I'll put some garlic around my neck and... oh... uh... That's vampires, right?" Trish could hear Mulder chuckle and some background talking.

"Well, don't worry, Scully and I stayed there before, and I only had to kill five cockroaches." There was a pause before Mulder continued. "Oh, Scully says 'hi', and wonders how you're holding up."

"I'm fine." Trish heard a distinct sigh of exasperation from the other end of the receiver, momentarily wondered what the hell that had been for. "So, how did the interviews go?"

The joking Mulder disappeared altogether. "Not well," came his terse reply. "Trish, in your research, did anyone have a delayed onset of symptoms once exposed to the rock?"

"Delayed?"

"Yeah, like they didn't go catatonic, in a coma, or whatever for a couple of days."

Mulder's question made her eyebrows raise. "No... no... The effects were immediate and sudden in everyone." His next question made her stomach lurch.

"Did you ever do research on children?"

"No." Her voice had turned into a whisper. "We're not... They're not that monstrous." In the ensuing silence, she could hear Mulder's brain working, the wheels starting to turn. She wondered how much this line of questioning had to do with the interview that morning. "There might be something on the disk, have you looked at it yet?"

"No, we're going to take it back to the Bureau and look at it. But Trish... We have to talk..."

"I know..."

"No. I mean seriously sit down and talk." Mulder glanced over at Scully and lowered his voice. "There are some things *I* need to ask you."

Trish swallowed into the receiver. "Okay. But when and where do you..."

She stopped when she heard the background commotion. Mulder's voice was now faint, as if his head was turned away from the phone. It then trailed off entirely, and she could tell he had put his hand over the receiver. The words were muffled and only occasionally decipherable. "...Scully... nose... worry... home... fine... Mulder... ah, Trish I gotta go, I'll call you later tonight."

As Trish said her brief good byes before Mulder quickly disconnected, the white van which had been stationed outside the motel Mulder jokingly referred to as the 'rat trap', silently drove away.


West 46th avenue
New York City, New York

"We have a problem... A big problem."

The Consortium members looked at the man who had just entered the doorway. The youngest of all of them, he was gradually making a place for himself amongst the Consortium members. He had even disposed of *that* black man who had been leaking secrets to *that* federal agent. They looked at him expectantly, waiting for him to continue.

"I sent a dropper to the motel in Spokane. The doctor's there." His colleagues' faces turned somber. "But," he hastily started again, "I think she's going to lay low and then try to escape the country. The doctor herself won't be any trouble. I believe..."

The British representative cut him off. "So then what's the bad news?"

"It appears that Zama took some of the disks from the facility. The men went through all the vaults at the facility before starting to identify the bodies. Everything has been accounted for, except for three disks. Zama's position at the facility would have given her access to them. These disks document our *activities* within the past decade. Agents Mulder and Scully now have the disks."

The smoker rose from his seat. The other members were talking angrily amongst themselves, and he rose his voice above the rapidly escalating din. "I said I'll rectify this." He turned to the informant. "Kill the doctor. I'll deal personally with the disks."

"We don't want bloodshed."

The smoker turned angrily to the British man. "We have no choice. I said I'll rectify it. It's been awhile since we've pushed Agent Mulder's buttons anyways. We'll get the disks. I assure you, gentlemen."

The British representative matched the smoker's glare. "I don't need to remind you of the fine line you are walking. No more accidents. No more miscalculated deals. No more surprises. If this matter is not resolved quietly..."

The smoker turned on his heels and walked towards the elevator.

The threat was left unsaid.


Russian Department of Health and Research
Moscow, Russia

Evegeny Fetisov regarded his friend and lab partner warily.

He had heard this before.

He regarded his friend whose feet were shifting slightly from side to side, whose fingers were drumming inside his lab coat pockets, and whose eyes were bright with happiness.

Yes, this ground was all-too-familiar.

But before, their announcement had been premature. After the initial human trials, which were originally encouraging, the symptoms which they had been trying to get rid of, returned one or two months later. Their somber announcement that the vaccine they had developed was, in actuality, not a vaccine, disappointed and angered the upper brass when their hopes had been falsely raised.

Both Evegeny Fetisov and Nikolai Semenov had been punished severely for their part in the fiasco.

And both of them still had physical scars - a painful reminder of what to do, and more specifically what not to do the next time.

This was next time, and Evegeny was determined not to be the scapegoat during the fallout. He once again eyed his partner. God, it was *so* deja vu.

"Come! Come! Gene, I swear. Come look! It's... It's... Come!"

His friend rendered speechless temporarily, limited only to words such as 'come', Evegeny reluctantly pulled himself out of his chair and walked over to the microscope.

"Nikki, don't you remember what happened last time?"

"Yes, yes," the blond haired man said quickly. "Just come, come look. You'll see for yourself."

Evegeny rolled his eyes and looked into the microscope.

Pupil hit eyepiece and the image assaulted his eye. His eyes widened.

"Oh my God, Nikki. This can't be."

The man smiled. "It can..." He started nodding his head, which soon escalated in frequency until Evegeny thought his friend's head truly was attached to a spring. "I just did... It's gone... What we made it worked... Hey, Gene... You look just like me, eh?"

Evegeny momentarily stopped pondering the possible consequences the contents between slide and cover plate held. From his reflection in the stainless steel cabinets, he could see that he was smiling widely, rocking on the balls of his feet. His eyes had the same sparkle as his friend's, and Evegeny snorted, discovering that he couldn't effectively silence the giggle that was threatening.

A thought, a memory, sobered him considerably.

"Nikki, we have to test it for sure this time. We have to be sure before we tell *them*."

A cloud went over his friend's face at the reminder. "Yes, yes. I know." It was barely a whisper.

The two men looked at each other.

Although the two men were physically different - one blond, tall and skinny, while the other was chunky, short and balding - both men's lives paralleled each other. Mirror images. Doctors. PhD's in microbiology and biochemistry. No life except for the one they had in the laboratory. No wife. No girlfriend. Little or no social skills. Confined to pipettes and flasks for the entirety of their adult life. Isolated from the *real* world for almost twenty years now.

What would this discovery do? What could it mean?

Most importantly, was it real this time?

Gone was the joy that was present a mere two minutes ago.

Both men had work to do.

There would be no sleep tonight.

There was extensive testing to be done.


Good Rest Inn
Spokane, Washington

"Scully, that's the third time your nose has bled tonight."

"I'm fine, Mulder."

"Scully..."

"Mulder, I said I was fine. Drop it, okay?" Grabbing for another Kleenex and placing it under her nose, Scully cursed under her breath. She doubted whether Mulder's brow could furrow with worry any further. She, meanwhile, was getting annoyed. His hovering - Christ, she had to remind him that he was still on the phone with Zama when her nose started to bleed earlier yesterday evening - was making her irritable and not quite pleasant to be around. "We still haven't talked about the orphanage yet, Mulder."

"What's there to talk about?" Mulder closed his eyes, waiting for the onslaught of questions.

Scully looked at him over her Kleenex. "What they said about you - that whatever was them was in you too."

Mulder sighed. "We talked about this already, Scully. You think I would be here arguing with you if I had those... those things inside me?"

"Who said we were arguing? I just think maybe you should get a blood test and we can send it to Pendrell along with the kids' blood work."

"So you believe their story?"

Scully opened her mouth and then closed it just as quickly. "I think we should be safe. I think that we should err on the side of caution."

"So in other words, no. So if you don't believe their story, why should I get checked out?"

"Just to be safe."

"I'm fine."

Scully looked at her partner, saw the bloodshot eyes, the darkened skin underneath them. Unbeknownst to him, had seen him cringe when the ambulance and the sirens had arrived, had watched him cover his ears, and close his eyes. "Mulder, I know you're getting headaches..."

Mulder opened his mouth to protest, and she raised her hand to cut him off.

"I know that you're getting headaches. I know that Tunguska really bothered you. I know that this case is very important to you. I can piece things together too, Mulder. I saw how you reacted at the orphanage today. Mulder, please tell me what's going on. What's really going on. What are you looking... Oh, shit..."

Mulder stared at her wide-eyed, alarmed at how fast the blood was coming out of her nose now. He ran to the box, was about to pull out one Kleenex and changed his mind and took the whole box instead. She grabbed one, clearly pissed when only a small tear of Kleenex came out when she had ripped it too fast, too zealously.

"Fuck, Mulder..." Her voice had acquired a nasal quality now that a wedge of Kleenex was being wedged up into one nostril. "Why won't you just check yourself into hospital and get yourself checked out."

Mulder clenched his jaw, watched her replace a red wedge with another one. "I wish you were more concerned for your own welfare, rather than mine."

"Fuck you, Mulder... " The voice was tired. The argument so old and practised now. "I'm fine. Back off."

Swear words, PMS-like syndrome, Mulder knew that Scully must have missed lunch or supper... Maybe both. He had been on the wrong end of Scully's wrath numerous times in Omaha. He tried to appeal to her rational, practical side. He kept his voice neutral, calm. "Scully, I think you should check yourself into a hospital. How much blood have you lost these past couple days? You're going to faint or pass out, if this keeps up, and I don't want any avoidable mishaps or accidents. Just for a check up. Please, Scully."

"Why don't you?"

"I'm not the one whose gone through two boxes of Kleenex already."

"I'm not the one who went to drug store in Omaha every second day to get a bottle of Aspirin." Scully got a small amount of satisfaction watching her partner momentarily resemble a deer caught in headlights, but his face soon turned grim, almost threatening.

"Scully... Dana. I will call Skinner and recommend you be put off active duty if I have to."

Fucking bastard. "And I will never forgive you again if you do."

All pretence of a cool, rational discussion disappeared. "What the hell do you expect me to do? Watch you bleed to death? Watch you starve yourself?" Mulder stopped yelling, his brain threatening to explode under the stress of the ricocheting, vibrating, echoing words, which were still rebounding off the walls of his skull. He raised his chin and glared at her, and whispered, "I won't do it."

Scully walked over to him, stood so that there were inches apart. "You're just like Charlie. Look, get it though your skull. I do whatever the hell I want to do, whenever I want to do it. No matter what you say, or Charlie says, or what this yellow mass in my nose says. You have no right pulling rank on me... no fucking right."

Her voice had obtained a shrill quality to it - one that grated in his head, caused his headache to whine, to scream. "Oh Scully, you're such a hero to the cause. Why don't you go to the Smoking bastard and go smoke a joint with him, or better yet, why don't you fuck him. If your death wish is so bad, you might as well go out in a bang, right?"

Scully trembled - was so angry, that the words she wanted to say, the tortures she wanted to perform on Mulder, were piling too fast, pounding against her bones so that her whole body was trembling with the effort to keep them contained. She would go for where it hurt. "You ditch me, you treat me like a piece of crap. Your devotion to your sister, whose birthday you can't even remember, is so... so... *crazy* that you are blinded. your quest, Mulder, is so delusionary, so crazy, that you don't care who you hurt. All you care about is yourself. Missy is dead. I'm missing three months of my life because of your quest. I have an inoperable tumour in my head. So... So yah... I guess you could say I'm your martyr, Mulder."

He wanted to cry.

He wanted to hit her.

"Fine... you hate your job so much... I'll finish up here... and you can catch the next flight to Washington and go back home to your fucking perfect family."

Scully looked at Mulder, his right hand on his forehead. His voice had deflated near the end. It looked like he just didn't care anymore.

"Mulder.... God, you just get me so pissed off at times..."

"Get out of here."

"Mulder, let's both go to a hospital." The words were a shock even to Scully.

"Get. Out. Scully. Now. It's not your quest. Go back to fucking Washington before I call Skinner."

Mulder watched Scully's jaw tighten and hands clench. He heard a whispered, "Fine" and the forced stomp of heels slamming on carpet. She grabbed her handbag and stormed out of Mulder's room.

Soon as she left, Mulder ran to the bathroom, throwing up the remains of his paper dry sandwich from the afternoon. Blindly reaching up towards to sink, he grabbed the now familiar bottle. He popped the lid, swallowed four of the white tablets dry, and laid down on the naked bathroom floor, praying for sleep, some relief, from the monsters in his head which refused to rest.


Margaret Scully's House
Baltimore, Maryland

Scully stood outside on the porch, remembering a conversation with her partner she had had on this very landing not so long ago.

She remembered her adamant, clearly enunciated statement that she didn't blame him - had *never* blamed him.

And she didn't. It was just that, Christ, he got her so mad sometimes. She knocked on the door and let herself in.

"Oh my God, Dana, where have you been?"

Scully blinked rapidly at the advancing figure of her mother who soon embraced her, a little too roughly, a little too quickly for comfort.

"Mom, I've been at Spokane. Remember? With Mulder?"

Her mom nodded quickly. "I know. Dr. Hannah has been trying to reach you at your apartment all day yesterday and today. He said you were supposed to fly out yesterday because something had happened, but he wouldn't tell me." Scully reflexively turned away when she saw the anxious eyes of her mother boring into her. "Dana, what happened? What's wrong?"

"Nothing... nothing happened at all."

Margaret pursed her lips. "Dr. Hannah says to call him right away. That it's urgent. He sounded worried."

Scully nodded, inwardly feeling her heart racing.

Inside her nose, she swore she could hear the Cancerman laughing.


Ruby's Diner
Boise, Idaho

Trish watched the federal agent walk, no march, into the diner - her eyes widening with every step closer he took to her. It looked like he hadn't slept at all; he was unshaven, his clothes looked like they had rescued from a dumpster, and he looked very, *very* pissed off.

"There's nothing on the fucking rock on your disks."

Trish looked at him, thoroughly confused. "What?"

"Where's the information on the rock in your disks?"

Mulder resented the shakiness that had entered in his voice. When he had woken up, pain free, he took the opportunity to look at the disks, pausing momentarily when he realized it would be Scully's lap top he would be using.

There was nothing.

The disks talked fully about cloning, hybrids, the retro virus from which he almost died from in Alaska. It might have been mind blowing.

*Might have*.

The phone call from Pendrell came some twenty four hours after the orphanage had been evacuated.

Mulder's blood had not accompanied Sara and Johnny's blood back to the FBI lab.

The phone call confirmed what he had been dreading. Yes, the kids had been infected. No, they did not know what caused their delayed onset of symptoms. Yes, they were working on it. No, they did not know when they would have anything new to report. Yes, they'd call if there were any new developments.

Trish watched the fed reluctantly sit across from her.

She wondered where Agent Scully was.

She furrowed her eyebrows; she had no idea why the fed was telling her things she already knew. "There is no information on the rock on the disks, Agent Mulder," she cautiously repeated. Mulder felt his heart constricting - like he had been given a death sentence. He could feel the straps being tied around his arms, legs and chest, could hear the lethal injection being prepared, the guillotine being tested.

"You said you knew the most on this thing," he hissed.

Trish looked into her coffee, unsure of what to make of the agent's sudden change in demeanour. "I do." She felt like she was treading on a land mine; she had to choose her words carefully so that nothing would detonate.

"Then why isn't there anything on the disks?" Mulder could feel the noose tightening.

"Agent Mulder, the rock just came in two days before you. We wouldn't have had time to put anything on hard copy.

Mulder slammed his fist on the diner table, suddenly studying the salt shaker and biting his lip when the startled cutomers grew quiet. "So then what the hell do you know?" Mulder could now hear the drums rumbling.

Trish frowned slightly, upset that the fed was lashing out at her. "I know, Agent Mulder, that the organism isn't hampered by any current pharmaceuticals available. The organism leaves the host totally incapacitated. Um... it enters through any open air body cavity."

"Fuck... I already knew that, Trish... What was all that crap you said about making vaccines and everything."

Trish glared at Mulder, hating the feeling of being interrogated. She spoke slowly, enunciated each word so that maybe, just maybe, she could calm the man down. "I was talking about other virus' the project has dealt with. I mean, there's been many different organisms and virus' which have come through Boise." She thought back to her earlier days, shuddering at the eagerness with which she had once approached each test with. "There's been one that eats through the nervous system. There's one that attaches to the brain stem. Our last one had the ability to thicken blood. We didn't have the rock for that long, Agent Mulder." Mulder's head was straining, the outrage so intense. The frustration and the desperation were building, growing, pushing so that his head was pounding, his heart was pumping. The need to vent would be coming.

"So there's nothing... No vaccine, or cure."

Trish shook her head sadly. "No..." She cringed right after her next question, unsure of whether it would set him off. "It meant a lot to you?"

Mulder smiled bitterly. "Yah, something like that." It was only his life, after all.

Trish nodded, then squirmed in the awkward silence that followed. When Mulder spoke again, she jumped slightly.

"Do you have any family in Japan?"

Trish rose her eyebrows in surprise at the abrupt change in topic. "No... No my father died last year, and my mother died when I was young." She paused, remembering Darren. "I had one friend in the Project. We... We were really close. But... But he developed a conscience - a very dangerous thing to do. He was threatening to go public and they stopped him... permanently."

Mulder nodded, all too familiar with *their* methods.

Trish looked back into her coffee. She started out quietly, still partially lost in thought. "You know, Agent Mulder, you and Agent Scully kind of remind me of us."

Mulder looked away, the insults he had flung still fresh in his mind, the insults she flung, forever engraved.

Mulder looked at his coffee, noticing for the first time how much it looked like the stuff that was dumped on his face in Tunguska.

Elsewhere in the back of his mind, the priest was reading Scripture and the gallows were being built.


Russian Department of Security and Defense
Moscow, Russia

Andrei Stojanov gripped the cell phone in his sweaty hand as if it was a life line and he was a drowning man at sea. His pace down the deserted hallway was determined and fast, but each step was accented with a hint of nervousness.

They would be happy with the first news.

But how would they react to the second part? It was bad, kind of. But it was also good, kind of. The way Andrei saw it, they had an opportunity to catch up with the Americans. Right?

Christ, only three months on the job, and he was probably already getting a god damned ulcer.

He found the familiar door and rapped his knuckles on the cedar plane before entering. He loved this part. It was an alternate universe, an alternate world, where standard, government issue hallways would give way to leather, oak and tinted shadows. The faint smell of cigars and cigarettes would slowly permeate into his nostrils. The whole room smelt like experience... confidence...

He was determined.

He would be part of this world some day.

He stood stiffly, waiting until all the men were ready for what he had to say. "Gentlemen, I just received a call from Intel. The building in Boise was destroyed. All evidence of the rock was also destroyed." The old men started talking amongst themselves, congratulating themselves for a job well done.

The man tried to control is breathing. The hard part was still to come.

The eldest of the men recognized that their gopher was still not finished. He quieted the others. "There's more?"

Andrei nodded. "All the workers were killed except one doctor. Intel reports she has been involved extensively with the Americans, her father was Ishimaro." Andrei saw a few of the men nod at the name. If you were good - and Ishimaro had been brilliantly, almost Mengele-good - *everyone* knew who you were. "She stole some disks, gave them to a federal agent... uh... a Fox Mulder." He saw some the men's eyebrows raise. The name was oddly familiar. "Apparently, this disk is important. Intel doesn't know what's on it specifically, but the Americans are all worked up on trying to retrieve these disks. Reportedly they've put a hit on the doctor."

Colonel Beranek stepped out into the light from behind the older man. "The Americans didn't put a hit on the federal agent?"

"No. Apparently this has happened before."

The Colonel's eyebrows rose further from his eyes. "This agent has managed to get these disks before?"

"Yes... No... Not the disks in question. He managed to temporarily get a hold of the MJ files approximately a year ago." The men's eyebrows rose further. It was the first time all twelve men were quiet at the same time. He licked his lips. God, this was really going to throw them for a loop. "... And he was at Tunguska."

Andrei could now hear the cigarette smoldering in the ashtray across the room.

"This American federal agent was in Tunguska?"

"Yes, sir."

"He was... *tested*?"

"Yes, sir."

Vladimir Kabalevsky, in all his fifty years in the Russian Consortium had never heard anything so puzzling, so bizarre. The situation had turned so very promising and profitable in such a short period of time.

And despite the placid emotion his face showed at the moment, his innards were in turmoil. Mulder... The name would be forever etched in his memory. It was a reminder of a time he had stood in this very room, forehead sweating, palms shaking.

It had been his first assignment.

And it had been important.

The Mulders. Well, wonders never ceased. Undoubtedly, this agent was the elder Mulder's son. He had to be, if the Americans in a blink of an eye would order a hit on a doctor who had worked for them all her life, but yet would hesitate to kill a simple federal agent who had stolen some disks.

And if it was him who had caused so much trouble in Tunguska, then it meant that the young man would be suffering soon, if not already.

"Are Krycek and Filipova still in the States?"

"I believe so, sir."

"I want you go to Research, get some product, send it to the States. Tell Krycek what it is and tell him it's for the federal agent. Tell him about the disks, as well. He should know what to do; he'll piece it together."

"We're going to deal for the disks, sir?"

Kabalevsky smiled. The young ones had so much to learn. "If the Americans are so eager to get the disks, that they are willing to kill one of their own employees, those disks must be important. Whatever is important to the Americans is also important to mother Russia."

The others in the room nodded in agreement, wondering if the younger Mulder has a history half as compelling as his father's.

It had been his first assignment.

Kabalevsky's face grew grim. He would make the smoke sucking son of a bitch pay.

He reached out to the messenger, just as the young man was about to leave. The warmth and strength in his grip defied his true age.

"Andrei, get Intel to pull as much information as they can on this federal agent Mulder. I want to know why his life is so significant to the Americans." He paused momentarily, as if caught up in some memory, then shook his head. He nodded his assurances to the young man.

"And it's important."


Good Rest Motel
Boise, Idaho

Mulder picked up his cell phone, wincing slightly as the chirp of the plastic object reached the now-sensitive auditory section of his brain. "Mulder."

The silence unnerved him.

"Mulder?"

"Scully?"

"Where are you?" There was a tense laugh when both agents realized they had asked the same question at the same time.

Mulder shifted eyes his downward, feeling ashamed. "I'm still here in Boise. But... I think I'm done here." Mulder could hear Scully thinking throughout the lengthy pause, could hear her trying to put words into her mouth that she did not want to speak. "Why? Where are you?"

Scully held the receiver closer to her ear, glancing at her mom as she did so. She could feel the tears threatening when she thought back to her meeting with Dr. Hannah. "Um... Mulder." She tried to break up the mood. "I took your advice... for once. I... The tumour has grown. It... I mean... The reason why I'm calling is that... I was wondering if you could come before they start chemo... There are some things I want to say, and there are some things I want to take back. I want to do it before they start to poison me."

Mulder took a deep breath, difficult to do with the lump that had formed in his throat. He nodded into the phone, Scully's macabre humour not funny at this time. "I'll be right over."


Miami Airport
Miami, Florida

Alex Krycek didn't care if people saw him and his partner making out in the airport terminal. God, he loved the very essence of the woman in front of him. Compelled to take a stopover in Miami, before they flew directly to Russia, the two agents were 'taking advantage' of their free time.

Both were oblivious to the gawking, the parents shielding their children's eyes, and the occasional, 'God, get a room'-like comments.

Krycek groaned inwardly when his cell phone began to ring. Lips still intertwined, he grabbed for the cell phone in his jacket pocket. God damn, sex had taken a turn for the more difficult ever since Tunguska. "Ungh... Popov." His partner watched, no felt, Krycek slowly start to disentangle himself. It was obviously not the call he was expecting. She watched him get off of her, start pacing the airport floor, muttering his 'okay's, 'I understand's, and 'Yes sir's into the cell. With a final nod he punched the 'end' button, evidently pissed. She looked up at him, concerned. "Lexi, what is it?"

"We have unfinished business."

She looked at him quizzically, and waited for him to continue.

"Our two favourite American agents have some very important disks.


Holy Cross Hospital
Washington, DC

Resting comfortably under the sheets, Scully smiled when her partner entered the room, wearing the embarrassed, sheepish grin he did whenever he was nervous.

He sat down on a vinyl chair next to her, it creaking underneath its new weight, and took a deep breath. "Kiss and make up time?"

Scully smiled. "Something like that."

He looked at the small figure in the bed. Too pale. Too thin. Too frail. She was supposed to have been safe in Spokane. He had promised. He looked at the clear solution that was hanging above her bed, going through the possibilities of what it could be, what it could represent. "Is that... that..."

Scully saw his alarm and quickly shook her head. "No. No chemo drip yet. It's just a preparatory drip."

Mulder nodded his head, pausing slightly before he continued. "Scully, you know what I said... I didn't mean it."

"The same applies to me."

Mulder nodded his head, instantly regretting it, as he awakened whatever monster had been temporarily sleeping.

"Although, Mulder... I do find the prospect of having sex with the Cancerman very appealing."

Mulder chuckled, as did Scully, but it died down too quickly, the joke hitting too close to home, too close to recently mended wounds, too bitter tasting to be funny.

She felt like she was fourteen years old and at confession - felt like she was back at that booth speaking to Father McQue and admitting her fascination with cigarettes.

"I have to admit something. I was admitted here yesterday, and given a transfusion because I fainted in the airport."

She heard Mulder sigh and watched him close his eyes momentarily. He looked back to her with a pained expression. "Why didn't you tell me?"

She glanced at the opposite wall, absently wondering why it seemed all hospitals painted their walls beige. "I know... I knew... I should have checked myself in last week. Maybe even during Omaha. I... uh..." Her lips twitched with the effort it was taking to confide in the man in front of her. "I didn't want to admit that I was slowing down. I didn't want to give into this... this... disease." She managed to spit the last part out.

Mulder nodded as if he understood, and then winced when his cell phone rang.

"Mulder."

"It's me Trish."

Oh shit. "Oh damn, I'm sorry I forgot to call you last night I had an emergency and had to leave."

"Oh." Mulder heard the relieved sigh at the other end of the line. "That's okay. I was feeling bad for keeping you in Boise anyways." Trish tried to pass her concern off casually, but she still remembered the haste in which the federal agent had left the diner, his poorly concealed anger, the fidgety ticks and nuances that came with desperation. It was an understatement when she proceeded to casually state to the federal agent, "I was worried after you left the diner."

Mulder looked towards his partner, who was half listening, half pulling up the covers further in a feeble attempt to stay warm underneath the paper thin covers. Her presence cut down immensely all the things he could say, all the questions he wanted to ask, just for one more time - get one more chance to get an answer that wasn't there. "It's okay. *I'm* okay. The disks are fine, Trish."

"Are you sure?"

"Of course."

Trish could hear the cadence in the man's voice which indicated he was tightly wound, walking a thin line. It was an abrupt change from the man who had joked around with her all of forty eight hours ago.

Although it had been awhile since she could honestly say she cared for someone, she felt for the federal agent - felt bad that something was bothering him so much, that she could almost hear his body sag from the other end of the line. Mental note taken that the bad thing about leaving a life in a laboratory was that you no longer dealt with nameless test subjects, Trish was at a loss as to how to ease this man's grief. She owed him - them - a lot. How could she repay them for helping her salvage some sort of semblance of a normal life?

She had to thank them. But how? What was the going rate for someone who helped save your life? "Agent Mulder, I'll make you a deal. Once things settle down, I'll treat you and Agent Scully to a great sushi place I know. It's nothing, really, but I... I... just appreciate everything you've... well... you know." Trish, surprisingly found herself blushing.

Mulder smiled sadly into the phone.

Sushi was the last thing he was thinking about.

He pondered, thought of an excuse to turn down her offer. Somehow the excuse 'I have a headache' wouldn't really cut it. A phrase replayed in his mind.

...I'll make you a deal...

Krycek had dealt, had sold the secrets on the MJ files - encrypted or not encrypted - to the highest bidder. Krycek and the countries he did business with did not deal in bills or coins. Their currency was secrets...

Trish easily bartered with her disks. The research she did on retro virus', extraterrestrial beings, cloning, hybridization was her ticket out of Boise.

...secrets that perhaps Mulder could, like Krycek, use to deal.

With the devil himself.

The thought gave him hope. The thought made him sick.

He was dealing for Scully's life because safe Spokane was safe no longer. Because he could never make anyone safe.

One gamble, for a jackpot that held three chips.

Cure her cancer.

"Hello? Mulder... Did you hear what I said?"

"Hmmm? Oh, that sounds great." Mulder vaguely remembered a conversation about sushi. "I have to go, Trish." He disconnected the phone with more optimism than he had had at the beginning of the conversation.

"That was Trish?"

"Yeah."

"What'd she want?"

"Jealous are we, Scully? Um... it was just a check in." His phone chirped again. "Christ, I'm popular today." With only his right hand holding the phone, he thumbed the 'on' button. "Mulder."

"It's Trish."

"Again?"

"Fox, you got rid of the disks right? Like I told you to?" The name sent off warning bells off in Mulder's head. Trish had never called him Fox.

Mulder stood up, feeling Scully watch his movements carefully. His next words would have to be chosen carefully - would need to be strategically used. "Yah, I got rid of them like you asked."

Mulder heard whispering on the other end of the line. "...We're not stupid... disks... bitch."

He jumped when he heard the shot and the strangled cry. The phone was shuffled around for the next couple of agonizingly slow seconds.

The hairs in his cochlea were straining for any sound. He swore he could hear Trish apologizing to her father.

When the phone was finally picked up, the voice on the other line gave him chills. Mulder could practically smell the smoke on the phone. "I'm afraid, Agent Mulder that Dr. Zama is dead. Ironically, very much like her father. You do remember her father don't you, Mulder?"

"What?" Scully was looking more concerned as Mulder's voice had gone from humour, to alarm, to anger in the space of thirty seconds.

"Don't you remember a certain Japanese doctor on a certain train in Iowa? Killed by piano wire if I remember correctly." Mulder's sharp intake of breath confirmed that he did, indeed, know what the Cigarette Smoking Man was talking about.

Mulder closed his eyes momentarily. Perhaps death had been a a willing companion to Trish and her immediate family.

"His daughter." It was not a question.

"None other. But enough with this idle chatter, I recommend you turn over those disks, Agent Mulder."

Mulder swallowed. So the deal had begun.

"Let me think about it."

Mulder could hear the surprise in the silence that ensued.

The Cigarette Smoking Man paused momentarily, cigarette hanging from the left side of his mouth. Mulder considering a deal? This had been a man who had been willing to burn in a box car for the MJ documents. And now, a year later, he was seriously considering a deal. The Cigarette Smoking Man knew why. "You do know, Agent Mulder, that perhaps we'd be willing to deal... for perhaps the life of your partner."

Mulder looked at Scully whose blue eyes were blazing, boring a hole into his forehead. He would - he could - do this. But not in front of her. Not in front of the woman who was fiercly determined and brave and strong. Not in her earshot range. She would be so ashamed. he was so ashamed. He took a deep breath and imagined the rewards of dealing with the devil.

Cure her cancer.

"I know."

He could hear the smile spread across the phone, the lecherous smoke hitting the teeth as the man exhaled.

Cure her cancer. It had already become a mantra.

"I'll let you think about it, Agent Mulder. Give my regards to Agent Scully. I hope she gets well soon." The man smiled when there was no reply. He continued, "I'll be talking to you soon, Agent Mulder."

As the dial tone assaulted his ear, Mulder could still feel Scully's eyes on him.

"Trish is dead." It was a statement of fact, not a question.

He nodded.

"And they know about the disks and want them."

Mulder nodded again. He would not reveal anything about the last half of his conversation. Scully's nose had started to bleed again, but not to the extent of the gusher the previous night. He wordlessly handed her the Kleenex box, their eyes acting as words as they replayed the same conversation over and over again.

I worry about you...

I'm fine.

He watched her dab absently at her nose with one hand. To Mulder's relief, the nosebleed ended almost as fast as it had started.

He continued staring, alternating glances beween the frail woman in the bed, and the reflection of the man in the window. The comparisons started almost immediately - apples to oranges, but Mulder didn't care.

For while she had so much to live for, he could only find comfort in an empty, intangible quest that may never be fulfilled.

For while she had a family, he had managed to forget Sam's, Samantha's, the butt munch's birthday.

For although she could be married - at least most certainly have a boyfriend - and be safe, she was currently tied down, bogged, drowning in her commitment to the X-Files, to *his* quest.

Scully called his name, and Mulder snapped out of his reverie, smiling his reassurances weakly.

This time he wouldn't ask Skinner to set up the meeting. He'd do it himself. If he waved the disks around long enough, they'd most likely come running. His new found hope flickered when he looked back at his partner, frail figure in a thin nightgown, underneath thinner blankets.

Turning away from his thoughts and glancing back at Scully, the scattered Kleenexes with dots of red, served to remind Mulder that the time to deal was now.


Scully awakened suddenly, painfully, lost in memories she wasn't sure were her own. She tried to calm her breathing.

She looked at the clock. There were seven more hours till chemo. What little experience she had with the poison was enough.

She thought back to Penny - courageous Penny. The woman who had given her hope when she thought there had been none.

Her thoughts then turned to the murderous bastard Scanlon. She shuddered, remembering how Byers had run into the room, had told her about the oncologist's duplicity. Breathlessly, the Gunman had also told her about Mulder, and her heart had fluttered when the bearded man told her he was still stuck at Lombard.

But Byers never told Dana about the look of desperation his friend had obtained in those tense hours. He had never seen it before, and so help him God, he never wanted to see it again.

Scully licked her lips, turned her gaze to her partner. He was sitting, rather uncomfortably, in a faux-leather chair with his long legs stretched out in front of him. He had his palm against his forehead, his head leaning back on the backrest of the chair, and his eyes closed. Apparently the headache which Mulder insisted didn't exist, had come back with a vengeance.

"Mulder?"

"Hmmmm...."

Scully stared absently at the wall across from her. "Do you think Dr. Hannah could be one of them?"

Mulder opened his eyes, squinting when the light suddenly did a full frontal attack on his pupils. He shrugged his shoulders. "We both scouted him, as did Skinner. I think he is... But I don't think we'd ever be able to get a doctor who we were one hundred percent sure of. Right?"

Scully nodded. She turned away from the opposing wall, expecting to be met by the eyes of her partner. Instead, she saw him sitting back again in the chair with his palm still to his forehead, moving it in small circles to relieve whatever it was that was in his head. "Mulder, quit the mind games. Go to the nurses' station and get something for the headache. You look like you've been run over by a dump truck."

Mulder sighed. She was right. She was also dying.

Cure her cancer.

He got up from the chair and immediately grabbed for the bed table in front of Scully when the room tilted dangerously, his partner's face distorting hideously.

"Mulder?" The alarm in her voice made him will his knees to stop shaking, the floor to stop vibrating, his head to stop pounding, the dizziness to subside.

He let go of the table and tried out his legs. "Just got up to fast, Scully." He smiled shakily at her. "Not quite a dump truck, maybe more like a high speed locomotive."

Scully smiled back nervously, causing her lips to form more of a grimace. Worry still etched her face as her partner unsteadily left, but there was also some semblance of relief in that he had finally admitted his malaise without any subterfuge. She watched as Mulder left in search of the nurses station - at the same time an unfamiliar uniform entered her room.


Holy Cross Hospital
Washington, DC

The nurses, having seen the dishevelled federal agent approaching their station and politely asking for something to ease his headache, gave him two Tylenol and directed him to the water fountain.

Mulder walked towards the fountain, debating whether he should just take the pills dry, or expend precious energy walking to the water fountain.

He caught the familiar shape of an altogether familiar man. Pills and exhaustion forgotten, he sprinted to the form of Alex Krycek while at the same time unholstering his gun.

He pointed the gun at the smug man's head. "Krycek," he managed to pass through clenched teeth. "Well, isn't this a surprise."

Krycek grinned at Mulder. "Hi... Fox. I was just in the area, and thought you might want to chat. I'd put that gun away, boy genius. The nurse you passed while going to the nurses station is my partner. I assure you, Mulder, she is quite armed."

Mulder reholstered his gun, leaving the snap of his holster undone. "What do you want?"

"Well, since you asked, I want those disks."

"I guess you'll just have to wait in line."

"I have something you want."

Krycek looked at his former partner. It was obvious he was waiting for him to continue.

"Agent Mulder, are you suffering form chronic headaches, spells of dizziness, and exhaustion?" The corners of Krycek's mouth turned up when he saw Mulder blink and his jaw tighten. Krycek continued casually, "I'm sure you're aware of the fact that your country was unable to find a vaccine before the facility had that unfortunate... what was it the media said?... oh yeah, gas leak. Or maybe they did, but it just got the snot burned out of it. I really don't care. Anyways, I'm getting off topic. As of five hours ago, Mulder, Russian scientists found that vaccine..."

"Bull shit."

Krycek continued to smile at the edge that had crept into Mulder's voice. "True, Mulder. I'm sure you've been told already about the side effects of the crap we gave you in Tunguska. And I'm sure you know that within a few days you could be lapsing into a state of incurable catatonia. But, that was also a childhood habit of yours, wasn't it, Mulder?" He looked in amusement at the fleeting look of pain which crossed the American agent's face. "If you do not give us these disks, you will not be cured, Mulder. The headaches you have now, are nothing compared to the ones you'll be having soon."

Mulder saw Krycek's eyes shift off his face and towards Scully's room. He saw a nurse approaching them, who was in turn smiling at Krycek.

She smiled sweetly at Mulder. "You'll be happy to know, Agent Mulder, that the patient is doing fine."

Mulder could only return a sneer in her direction.

Krycek smiled. "I have to go now... Fox. There'll be something of interest for you back at your apartment. I highly recommend you look at it. Carefully." Krycek wrapped one of his arms across the waist of his female companion.

"I'll keep in touch, Mulder."


Mulder's Apartment
Alexandria, Virginia

The room was mess.

The chairs had been turned over, the drawers pulled out, the kitchen utensils scattered.

And when there was nothing left in the living room or kitchen, the mattress in the barely used bedroom was upended, the takeout of how many weeks ago scattered haphazardly across the floor.

And the cause of all that destruction, Agent Fox Mulder was sitting passively, cross legged, hands clasped and lying loosely in his lap, in the middle of the same mattress he had managed to upend.

Krycek was right. There was something of interest for him when he got back. Popping the video cassette into the VCR he saw the Tunguskan geologist, the one who would not give the Russian bastards the satisfaction of his suicide, the one who had given the federal agent his knife, his only possession, his only potential ticket out of that hell hole.

He saw that man, screaming in pain, holding his head, yelling indecipherable Russian words. Lying on the floor of his cell in a fetal position, he would scream for an agonizingly long period of time, stopping only to catch his breath, which were by now painful grunts. Then the tirade would continue again.

And then... then the screams stopped. Not died down, or slowly decreased in volume, but stopped entirely in one breath. In one heartbeat. The eyes, once bulging, and fever bright with pain would cloud over and stare blankly into space, the movements - the head holding, the metronome-like rocking - would stop entirely. The silence, the stillness... they were worse than the screams.

Mulder paused the tape and stared, wondered if that's what he had looked like under the chicken wire in that cockroach infested gulag.

He did not want to become that man.

But, he had already planned what he was going to say. He had already planned what he was going to do. Scully said that she was his martyr. In return, he would be hers. He would deal with the devil. Reap the rewards. Take satisfaction that he could give his partner *something* other than heartache, death and a dead end job.

It had become his mantra for the past twelve hours.

Cure her cancer.

But Krycek had threatened to upset the delicate equilibrium that he had found. He had offered Mulder a cure, had given him a choice between saving his own life or his partner's.

This decision came easily.

The mess in his apartment was not because of this.

Then he saw the note - the innocent-looking paper which had been hidden inconspicuously underneath the video cassette, and which hadn't been noticed until the video had been watched. It was a transcript of a conversation, obviously recorded by a third, outside party. The beginning and end had been cut out, but it was the date and place of conversation that had made Mulder's stomach drop - Martha's Vineyard, April 12, 1995.

The night before Bill Mulder was murdered.

Although the persons involved were only identified as A and B, it didn't take Mulder long to figure out who the two men were.

A: MY NAME IS IN THOSE FILES.

B: THE FILES HAVE BEEN ENCRYPTED OF COURSE. WE HAVE A CERTAIN LUXURY OF TIME. WE ENDEAVOURED TO PREVENT THAT FACT FROM EVER COMING TO LIGHT.

A: <PAUSE> YOU WOULDN'T HARM HIM.

B: I'VE PROTECTED HIM THIS LONG, HAVEN'T I?

Mulder cautiously turned over the paper, scared of whatever other skeletons it could reveal. A handwritten note had been attached, along with a four by six inch photograph. He recognized the wooden deck, the familiar green patio umbrella. In fact, it was still most likely stored somewhere in what was now their own little house of horrors.

It was their summer house in Maine. And Sam was lying back in one of the lawn recliners, desperately trying to imitate her mother who was sunbathing beside her. Mulder remembered that bathing suit. He remembered Sam had a little pot belly which gave a certain rotund dimension to the clown's face which was printed on the belly region of the suit. There was a rough circle drawn hastily by a red marker over a particular spot on the patio glass. The reflection of the man who was holding the camera could be seen.

Bill Mulder was never that tall.

He was never that lean.

He never smoked cigarettes.

Mulder numbly shifted his gaze to the handwritten note.

THEIR WORK MUST CONTINUE. THEIR PROJECT MUST CONTINUE UNABATED. WE ALL KNOW HOW IMPORTANT YOU ARE TO THE EQUATION.

His blood ran cold, his stomach knotted, the headache had been reduced to a buzz. The message could have meant anything. Perhaps Krycek recieved some sort of sexual gratification from screwing with his head. It had happened so many times already that Mulder was tempted to think so.

Krycek was trying to show him something, trying to lead/mislead him into some logical conclusion from the three garbled messages he had given him.

The implications were dangerous. The implication that the smoke sucking son of a bitch was more involved with Sam, with his mother, with him, than anyone had dared to suggest. Krycek was a traitor. He couldn't - he wouldn't - believe, because the implications of those fibres intertwined to make certain colours, shapes, pictures, words had the power to destroy everything his life had been based on.

The picture was surreal. It was so... family like. His mother was lying back, sunglasses on, iced tea beside her, smiling for the man who was holding the camera. Sam was lying back as well, arms straight at her sides, legs militarily straight and together, a mock-seriousness on her face. The picture screamed Norman Rockwell.

Mulder put a hand up to his mouth in response to the bile he felt forming at the back of his throat.

It was a picture a father would have taken of his family.

So, it was one more implication added to a pile which was steadily accumulating. Even though his bastard father had beat the snot out of him, he was beating the snot out of his own son... wasn't he? Bill Mulder would not have blamed Fox Mulder for the disappearance of his only daughter if he hadn't been his own biological son... or would he?

And if Bill Mulder wasn't...

And if the Cigarette Smoking Man was...

A Pandora's box Krycek had given him - one wrapped in a garish black bow, waiting only so that its demons could be unleashed.

It was another choice. It was the truth or Dana Scully.

Each argument, each rebuttal was accompanied by one utensil flying, one piece of furniture upended. The rampage and its intensity was only equalled to those thrown by one Bill Mulder some twenty years prior when alcohol and guilt threatened to consume him.

The truth vs. Scully had quickly metamorphed into one man he couldn't trust vs. a group of men he couldn't trust.

It was the coversation in Oregon all over again, except it was the shadow government that knew about Scully's cancer. And that he had to find out what they were protecting, and God, did nothing else matter to him.

It was the truth vs. Scully. It was a father who twenty five years later could still make his son cry vs. a family that despite the daughter and father they had lost, was still living - was far from the stagnant, silent relationship that could characterize certain other families.

He remembered Krycek double crossing him when he was a federal agent.

He thought back to the words passed between himself and Charlie seemingly years ago.

He remembered the militia group, and the part Krycek had played in delivering the appropriate bomb materials.

He remembered offering his hand to Mrs. Scully when her youngest daughter had been abducted, only for her to recoil in horror when she saw the blood on it.

He remembered Krycek double crossing him again in Russia.

He remembered holding his partner in that hospital, how Scully was wearing slippers that dwarfed her feet, a robe which threatened to engulf her.

Krycek was a rat. Krycek would suck cock in an attempt to get what he wanted.

The search for Samantha, his father's involvement in the conspiracy, extraterrestrials - the X-Files in itself - had become as much a part of Scully as it had him.

The truth would not matter if she wasn't here.

The ringing of his cell phone brought him out of his delirium.

"You're a hard man to find, Agent Mulder."

The timing was perfect.


Holy Cross Memorial Hospital
Washington, DC

Scully stared at the spotted tile of the hospital ceiling, prayed that her gaze wouldn't move, prayed that she wouldn't have to blink. Every slight change in movement, every adjustment her eyes had to make, would send her stomach tilting, her throat convulsing.

She couldn't talk, one of the chemo drips had left painful sores on her mouth. They were most sore when her lips were dry, but the pain caused by licking her lips proved to be too much of a deterrent.

Noises and sounds would be loud and unbearable one moment, and then in the next passage of time, the silence would be so palpable - almost tangible - that on one occasion, she believed she was already dead.

And the pain. She would not have believed such levels were medically possible, would not have believed that Penny could have suffered this long in silence. She would have reached for the call button, if not for the three seconds of agony she would have to endure in reaching for it. She would have breathed deeper, but that would have added to her nausea. She would have liked to scream, but she didn't have the energy.

She heard the door open, and soon her mother's worried face swam into view. Scully's eyes asked the unspoken question. Her mother sadly nodded her head.

Mulder hadn't visited yet.

Although her mother had tried numerous times at his home and his cell number, no one would answer, the monotone of his answering machine would be heard, or she would hear the mechanical voice stating the number was currently out of range or out of service.

Scully was too sick to worry.

She thought back to their last meeting together, not even twenty four hours ago. The pills. It had all changed when he went to get the pills she had told him to get. He came back some five hours later, withdrawn and quiet. She asked him if he had gotten some pills and he had mentioned something about the headache disappearing.

Something had happened.

Something which made him gaze at her as if this was the last time they'd see each other. Something which made his eyes dark and unreadable. Something which made her partner fidget excessively from wringing his hands, to shaking his legs, to constantly looking back towards the door.

She joked with him that his fidgeting was making her nervous.

He took her comment seriously enough. "I'm sorry. I should probably go. I'm bothering you."

Her objections fell on deaf ears.

"Scully... I... there's some unfinished business back at the motel where Trish was staying that I should take care of anyways. Your lap top... is um... I should get it. I'll come visit as soon as I can. I'm sorry."

And with that he started to leave, gently leaning over to kiss her forehead. "It'll be okay, Scully, we can get through this. I'll make sure of it."

Scully was about to ask him what he meant by his last ominous phrase, when he doubled over and raised his hands to his head. "Oh God. *God*. Shit! Shit! Shit!"

Scully was reaching for the call button when she felt his hand gripping hers. "No, Scully." He was making an effort to control his breathing, to try and not look distressed. "I'm okay. I have to go now." He stumbled out of her room, missing the door frame by about an inch, with his palm still at his forehead.

Scully sadly realized it was a sight she was quickly getting used to.

And now, a day and a half later, he still hadn't come. He still hadn't called. There were no flowers stolen from a man with a broken leg. There were no journal entries on her part.

She could no longer wait for him.

They were probably laughing.

They had won.

As another wave of nausea hit and the pain, in return, intensified, she uttered a silent prayer of mercy, waiting only for Cancerman and his Duane Barry induced cancer to finish her off.


Boscher's Run Park
Alexandria, Virginia

Mulder shifted from foot to foot, looking at his watch for the seventh time in as many minutes. Considering the bottle of painkillers he had taken today, he was fully aware that his concentration was less than spectacular.

His head still felt like it was being ripped in two.

He heard a set of approaching footsteps behind him.

"Agent Mulder."

Mulder nodded at the man standing in front of him.

"You have the disks?"

Mulder pulled out a locker key and showed it to the man. When the man reached out to grab it, Mulder pulled his hand away, gripping the key tighter in a fist.

"For Agent Scully's life."

The man smiled, while lighting his cigarette. "My, my, my, Agent Scully sure seems to have her way with the men in the Bureau."

Mulder frowned. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"Your boss seems to think..." Mulder saw the eyes avert and the face suddenly turn into a frown. "What are you doing here?"

"I came for the disks."

"I'm afraid Mulder has made a deal with me."

Krycek looked in Mulder's direction and feigned disappointment. "Oh, Fox. I'm so disappointed. I could have told you the answer to my little riddle."

"I'm not interested."

"I could cure you and give you the truth, and yet you'd rather save the bitch?"

Mulder hesitated, then clenched his jaw. "Yes." He turned back to the Cigarette Man. "We have a deal?"

"Mulder..."

"Krycek shut up."

"The truth, Mulder..."

"I said *shut up*, Krycek." Both dealers tried not to act startled when Mulder suddenly stepped towards the man with the cigarette. The man had to inwardly smile when he heard the desperation that had crept into the federal agent's voice. "So, do we have a deal?"

The grin was Cheshire-like. "Of course."

"I'm sorry there's been a change in plans."

Mulder turned around to see Krycek's partner approaching, with the gun barrel pointed to his chest. "Give him the disks or I kill you."

"No."

Krycek could see a stalemate fast approaching.

Stalemates were bad for business.

It was time to turn the tables and pull out the wild card.


Holy Cross Memorial Hospital
Washington, DC

Margaret Scully had seen her husband die, was in the hospital when her eldest daughter joined him, and stayed by her youngest daughter's bedside when she was comatose.

She was watching her daughter again, bedridden, wracked in pain from the tumours which were exponentially growing and spreading. Watching her daughter's eyes water with the effort to remain perfectly still so that there could be a few minutes of respite from the endless cycle of retching and dry heaves.

"Oh, my baby girl..."

Margaret suspected - rather, she knew - that Dana secretly understood why she was being overrun by cancer, that it had been directly related to work and the X-Files. She knew that Dana's work was dangerous, which was why she and Ahab had been so reluctant at first to see their youngest daughter, their tomboy, their Starbuck leave for Quantico, Virginia and the FBI Academy.

She assured them she would do forensics work - autopsies, reports, teaching the occasional class.

And she did.

Then she was paired with Special Agent Mulder.

Margaret had never seen such a determined man. Had never seen so much compassion and dedication to a singular, life long goal.

She had also never seen someone with such guilt. Self Reproach. She doubted whether Dana had seen his carefully hidden dark side.

Margaret had.

Dana's abduction had been hard on her. She had barely eaten, barely slept. Kept herself busy - kept herself from going crazy - by calling the rest of the family with updates, by calling her husband's old naval officers to push for information, to do their own researching, to try and find her little girl.

Her helplessness was increased a hundred fold in the case of Fox.

She looked at her sleeping daughter again. 'A self absorbed paranoiac' she had described him when they first met. Since then, they had been through everything, had conquered almost everything. They had done it together. Maybe separated by states or by temporary reassignments, but these physical or workplace barriers had left no visible dents in their armour. Sure, there were battle scars underneath, some more fresh and raw than others, but as long as they were together, there was a mutual strength, a mutual longing to find what was not necessarily meant to be found.

Now... Now... She was dying.

And Fox was not here.

In her morphine induced haze, she would ask for him, which was answered by the now standard response of "he's coming, he's coming". The mantra had been learned by the doctors, by the nurses, by anyone who was present in the room when she would ask for him.

Margaret wrapped the sweater tighter against her body.

But he wasn't coming.

"Mrs. Scully."

She turned around to see the broad figure of her daughter's and her daughter's partner's boss approaching. The tears she thought she had finished shedding were threatening again.

"Mr. Skinner."

Skinner looked at the frail figure on the bed, felt his jaw automatically clench when he remembered the Cancerman's smug words, the way his ashes dropped on top of Mulder's files, the way he sauntered back towards the elevator.

He fought the urge to slam his fist against the wall. "What is her condition?"

He watched the mother struggle with her emotions - to try and quell the shaking in her voice. "Not good. They say... they say it probably won't be long."

Skinner noticed for the first time that they were the only ones in the room. "Where's Mulder?"

Prompted by the question, Dana's mother's face contorted, anguish writ on every feature, every wrinkle on her face. "I don't know... I tried calling... he's not... not there..." The elder Scully started sobbing, recalling her inability to answer her daughter's endless pleas - having to watch her face fall each time. "...I can't answer her. He's coming... I don't know! But he's coming... He has to come..."

Skinner glanced around uncomfortably. Since 'Nam, he had never been good at reading emotions. He didn't know whether Mrs. Scully wanted comfort or privacy at the moment. He had also never been good with women; his divorce from Sharon was still a painful memory. He had only come to the hospital to *privately* get an update on Scully's condition. The smell of smoke had started to become a more constant companion this past week, so much so that he could still smell it on his clothes.

He looked at the pale face of the figure on the bed, and the tears streaking down the face of her mother. He thought he had made a deal. The man had honoured the deal which allowed Mulder and Scully to return in exchange for the much sought after MJ files. Perhaps he was naive to believe that the man would honour this one as well. Fuck, to them she was only a federal agent, an abductee, a failed experiment, a worthless human life. She and Mulder were pawns in a game where there were no rules, no mercy, no holds barred. He awkwardly stepped closer to the dark haired woman, and when she didn't step back, wrapped his arms around her. "Mulder will come... he always does."

He was reminded of the time in Maine when Mulder had managed to arrive at his mother's bedside, reeking like gasoline, God only knew why. In shock and barely coherent, he still managed to find his destination. He was sure Mulder could, *would*, do it again.

He heard the older woman sniff, and looked down to meet her eyes, now sunken and hollow with worry. "Mr. Skinner... I need to know... Is Dana sick because of her work? Is it that dangerous?"

Walter tore his eyes away from the woman's. Even though he tried to protect his agents, they still... well, this shit still happened. He felt manipulated in every sense of the word - a regular run of the mill Pavlov's dog. "I don't know, Mrs. Scully." Fuck, he was such a shitty liar. "I really don't know."

Margaret closed her eyes, and shook her head. The man was a terrible liar. She was not as clueless or fragile as Dana and her boss seemed to think she was. She knew Fox and Dana had made powerful enemies - enemies to whom justice was no deterrent as they were above the law. No, Dana had never mentioned this to her. She just knew; it was just like William and his enemies in the navy. She extracted herself Skinner's arms, momentarily embarrassed. She looked out into the hallway again. Just to check.

Fox was still not here.

Skinner knew who the older woman was looking for, and upon her return, both stood silently shoulder to shoulder, keeping vigil over the sleeping figure in front of them, sharing similar thoughts.

Both knew, witnessed for themselves during her abduction, the darkness in which Scully's partner had submerged himself. Both had seen him tread a thin line, and both saw his willingness to sacrifice his singular passion - the X-Files - for her return.

Both had no doubt he would do it all over again.

And that perhaps his absence wasn't as mysterious as both originally thought it was.

They had no doubt that that was what he was doing now.

Even if it cost him the X-Files.

Even if it cost him his life.


Boscher's Run Park
Alexandria, Virginia

"Lana, wait." Krycek held out his hand so that it pointed toward the gun - a silent signal for patience. "Mulder," he began smiling. "Fox. Don't you want to know what the meaning of what I sent you?"

Mulder steeled himself. "You're a liar and a rat, Krycek. How do I know that that picture wasn't doctored?"

Krycek pursed his lips. "Of course, you're completely right, boy genius." He paused to glance at the smoker a few feet away. "But, why don't you tell our little Cigarette Smoking friend what it is you saw."

Mulder's headache was starting to grow. He glanced back to the Cigarette Man, who was still puffing on his cigarette, if not slightly nervously. Mulder swallowed. "It was a picture in Maine. Sam and mom are sunbathing. You took the picture." He recited the quote flawlessly from memory. "Their work must continue. The project must continue unabated. We all know how important..." Mulder trailed off when the cigarette had been hastily thrown to the ground and stepped on.

"I advise you, Mulder, to hand over the key now. If you want what's best for Agent Scully, that is."

Krycek laughed manically. "Oh God, Mulder... you really don't know the big picture, do you?"

Mulder's quiet "no" went rebounding through his skull, and the federal agent wished he had brought more codeine.

Krycek smiled. "Do you know, Mulder, that in 1958, an elite Russian group - a government within a government, as you say - hired a man to spy on your father. We must thank Bill Mulder very much, because through him, we got to him." Krycek pointed his finger at the tall, lean figure who, unbeknownst to anyone, was trying to control his breathing. "He's been a very naughty boy. You think he's going to tell you the truth? Especially when he's played such a big part in manipulating your family's life?"

Mulder placed one hand on the top of head in a feeble attempt to stop the incessant throbbing.

"Bill Mulder went through twenty years of being spied on, up to and including the day of his unfortunate demise. He went through six Russian spies, a record for anyone who's counting, who have all seen various aspects of the Mulder clan." Krycek paused. "Mulder, you seriously do not believe Bill Mulder was your father, do you?"

Both men turned their heads when the Cigarette Smoking Man was suddenly attacked by a coughing fit. Both men watched almost passively as the Consortium member, while hacking, pulled out another cigarette and put it to his mouth.

The coughing subsided.

There was a grin playing at Krycek's lips. "Fox, do you remember a summer day in, oh, it would have been September, 1975. You were just starting school again, and came back from playing catch with some of your friends. Your *dad* came home late that night, was drunk. He threw some dishes, some cups - standard stuff by now it was. Then he went upstairs, got his belt, beat the boy who was sleeping in that bedroom." Krycek's voice had obtained a therapist-cadence to it.

Mulder looked down at the cement underneath him. He remembered that night, as vividly and clearly as if it had happened yesterday. Mulder's whispered "so what" had Krycek smiling. The fed had taken the bait.

"Bill Mulder found out something that night. Something about Samantha, him and Fox. Sam's abduction was no accident, Mulder. Your family had to choose. Don't you want to know why it wasn't you?"

Mulder looked up at Krycek suddenly, causing red flares to appear before his eyes.

He reached into his pocket with his one hand and pulled out a vial. "Mulder." He waved the vial in front of Mulder's eyes to draw his attention to it. "You see this vial?"

There was a whispered "yes".

"It can cure you. I can give you the truth. I can give you more... I can give you the truth about Sam. About the conspiracy plaguing your family. All you have to do is give me the disks." He waited.

Mulder looked to the Cigarette Smoking Man, and back to Krycek. Back to the Cancerman, back to his former partner. Just as Bill Mulder had been forced to make a choice so many years ago, history had come full circle. He could picture Scully, blazing and defensive like when he had first met her; sad, almost defeated when her hair was a stark contrast to the white of Missy's hospital bed; determined, and amazingly stubborn, even when dressed in a white housecoat and slippers, threatening to disappear into Lombard's walls.

Mulder looked up. Truth's allure was beckoning, but it was clouded and tarnished by the garish light of chemo and radiation treatments. The truth meant nothing if she wasn't here.

Cure her cancer.

The Cigarette Smoking Man growled, his words forced between lips and an impatient cigarette. "Do we have a deal or do we not, Mr, Mulder?"

Time slowed down. Mulder saw the Cigarette Man fall.

His father?

He saw a big gaping hole in his head, where his left eye used to be.

Scully's saviour?

He saw him fall, the cigarette dropping from his mouth and hitting the pavement, mere milliseconds after the body. Then he heard the surprise grunt of the assassin, Krycek's partner, and watched her chest explode. Mulder felt the warm blood flick onto his face.

Then Krycek began to fall.

Instinct took over. If Krycek was falling, then the vial was falling too. Mulder dove, could hear the air molecules colliding in his auditory canel, his breaths coming out as a roar. He could feel his head jar as his body hit the pavement cruelly, with one arm outstretched, the other futiley attempting to cushion his fall. His head throbbed as he watched the vial. His skull pounded as Krycek's still body hit the cement, as the Russian's head rebounded off the hard surface, only for gravity to pull it back down again.

Mulder's leather jacket was scratching, rubbing against the sand of the cement, nails on chalkboard amplified one thousand times over. His eyes remained open, even though the black jackets of the men around him had turned white, even though the sky looked red, and the sun green. His hand remained outstretched, his faltering eyes tracing the path of the falling vial. There was a resounding thud as his hand came in contact with the glass, his warped nerves closing his fingers around the seemingly hot then cold glass enclosure.

Then there was a crack, a splinter, a noise of a thousand glass lamps hitting a brick wall. His hand throbbed, pounded, forced the blood to his head as it collided with the pavement. The vial broke, shattered, and a green then orange then red then black substance lazily sloshed out, dissolved into the grey oblivion of concrete.

There was a cry, a sob, and Mulder's head screamed its protests once again when his lips pressed against each other.

And then there was nothing.

Silence.

Hope dying. Scully dying.

Catatonia.

Nothing.

Mulder looked at the three down figures. Looked towards Krycek's partner, her eyes rolling like marbles in their sockets. She was alive, but not for much longer. Looked towards Krycek.

The truth?

Looked at the old man.

His father?

Not a breath. Not a movement.

All dead.

There was a truth. But the only man who had the answers was dead.

There was a cure, but the only man who had it was dead.

The vial had cut Mulder's hand. He stared at it dully as if the hand was not his... he no longer cared.

He tried to sit, tried to force his screaming, aching arms to obey, feeling the dispair that it had all been for nothing. He apologized, apologized ten times over plus infinity, to Scully that everything had eventually been for nothing. Gone for naught. There was a man approaching.

Mulder recognized him, his British accent gave him away. He had met him just before he and Scully had gone to North Dakota. He was accompanied by a man dressed in black - a sharpshooter. Mulder didn't want to know if the Cigarette Smoking man slash maybe father had known if his colleague and fellow assassin had been spying, waiting for any screw ups, preparing to eliminate any problems. Permanently. They approached him, gun trained on Mulder's chest.

"The disks, Agent Mulder."

Mulder couldn't think for the buzzing in his head. "For Agent Scully's life," he managed to croak.

The British man reached into Mulder's pocket and took the key. The agent was too overcome by pain to try and fight him. He turned back to his sharpshooter. "Take him to his apartment." The British man leaned over so his mouth was directly over the agent's ear. The man's hot breath made the hair on the back of his neck crawl. "For Agent Scully's life," he agreed.


Scully's Apartment
Annapolis, Maryland

It defied science.

It defied medicine.

It defied all train of rational thought.

Yet, she was alive, and Dr. Dana Katherine Scully, for once in her life, did not give a second thought to the logic that her recovery had been nothing short of miraculous.

She remembered waking up every morning in more pain than she had been when she went to bed.

She remembered pushing her mom to tears when she had yelled at her because she was breathing too loud.

She remembered feeling the overwhelming urge to die, the desire for oblivion, when the pain and nausea got so bad she could barely breathe.

She remembered feeling an overwhelming loneliness, even when surrounded by her family and friends, because Mulder wasn't there.

Then she woke up one morning, and she felt minutely better. She passed it off as death's calling and hoped the wait and suffering would be brief.

The next day, the retching and dry heaves disappeared. Scully believed her stomach, her oesophagus had finally given up the fight. Again, she hoped the wait and suffering would be brief.

The next day, there was no morphine. The opiate was no longer needed, nor was it missed. The day after, there was solid food, there was talk of going home. Much to her mother's jubilation, and her own medical denial, the doctors sent her home the very next day.

She took home a copy of the X-rays.

It was a complete remission.

But... But she was still lonely.

Mulder hadn't visited her. At all. Hadn't seen him in a week. Hadn't heard from him in a week. After his sudden departure, there had been no communication. Not that she had tried contacting him. She was silently fuming, angered that her partner couldn't get past his guilt and depression to visit her.

She got up from her couch and put on her jacket.

Time to straighten it out once and for all.


Mulder's Apartment
Alexandria, Virginia

She stepped into his apartment, always amazed at the gothic, dark apartment which reeked of dark-Mulder, of the Mulder who made her worry and tense and stressed.

Like now.

The first thing she noticed was the painful grunts of her partner from the couch.

The second item of notice was the various empty pill bottles littering his floor. The apartment looked like it had been ransacked.

"Mulder? Mulder? Oh my God!" Scully saw his darkened eyes and the pain lines in his face. He had lost weight. An impossibly large amount of weight in the short week she hadn't seen him. "Mulder, I'm going to call an ambulance. Mulder, can you hear me?"

His response was to move his hands from his head onto his ears. "God... don't... talk... hurts..." She reached out to feel his forehead, but he let out a keening wail and recoiled as if burned.

She called the ambulance, her voice barely above a whisper. The beep as she disconnected earned her another groan.

She glanced back around his apartment. It could have been a botched robbery.

She saw the pill bottles and shuddered. It could have been suicide.

She felt a touch on the sleeve of her arm. "You're... alive..."

Scully didn't know if Mulder wanted an answer.

His hand remained on her sleeve, it was the only contact he allowed, until the ambulance and its sirens arrived. She cringed when the paramedics started barking orders at each other, into the walkie talkie, at her, at him. His agony at the noise made Scully wonder if he was suffering from a tumour.

Oh God, the headaches.

Scully silently berated Mulder and his stupid martyr complex.

Then as fast as they had came, they had left. Considered distraught company, extra baggage in a crowded ambulance, they didn't permit her to accompany them, told her to meet them at the hospital.

After getting a frantic call from her daughter to pick her up, Margaret Scully found Dana standing in the middle of her partner's living room, crying and praying for the life of her partner.


Russian Department of Security and Defense
Moscow, Russia

"Gentlemen, Comrade Krycek and Lana Filipova are dead."

Colonel Beranek sat upright in his chair. "What? How?"

"Botched deal. There was a standoff, the Americans got the disks eventually."

"What about this Mulder?"

"Suffering from the after affects of Tunguska, probably."

"I think we should save him."

The room turned silent. They all looked over to the most elderly man.

"I've examined what Intel pulled up on this man. It's quite impressive. Of course, he's a Mulder... and we're all familiar with that family."

At the mention of an all too familiar name, the older men began to murmur amongst themselves. How ironic. Bill Mulder's son. A thorn in the American's side. The son of the man who helped develop the Project, now the main opponent of that white bread, old timer's club. And yet he was spared. Interesting.

"He causes our American friends quite a bit of trouble. He's the man who got hold of the MJ documents. And yet the Americans did not kill him. They didn't kill him this time either even though he was stuck in the crossfire. He's important, gentlemen. We all know about the American's lofty goals - their *Project*." The mention of the American Consortium and their future plans brought about smirks from the elder Russian men. "Maybe this young man doesn't know it yet, but this Mulder fellow is important. We could exploit that in the future, perhaps?"

Some of the men nodded in agreement.

One gentleman shook his head in disbelief. "He killed two of our spies."

"Krycek was a rat. He couldn't decide whether to be American or Russian from one day to the next. Filopova? As long as you had a bigger dick, she would do anything you told her to. No. Those two were a potential liability - we can cut this loss easily. We need this Mulder. He's much more important than Krycek would have ever been."

Beranek took a deep breath, maybe brown nosing would get him a better position. "I agree, we should dispatch another team to America."

Kabalevsky nodded. "Then it's agreed."


Holy Cross Memorial Hospital
Washington, DC

Scully looked towards the sleeping figure of her partner.

Finally, he was asleep. Only in a morphine induced slumber, would his brow unwrinkle and grunting subside.

Although it was accomplished with an almost obscene amount of the opiate.

Scully sighed, rubbed hand over a makeup-less face - wondering, still wondering what the hell her parther had done.

She looked around his room. The room was a carbon copy of the room she had been in only a week before.

The hospital was getting eerily familiar.

Her remission, sudden, quick, abrupt - she didn't know what the hell to call it - was no coincidence in Scully's mind. She should not have beat it.

She saw the MRI's and the CAT scans.

She should be dead.

But here she was, at her best friend's, partner's, confidante's bedside.

There was no scientific explanation why she was sitting at her partner's bedside in perfect physical condition.

There was also no scientific explanation why her partner was laying beside her wracked in pain in far less than perfect physical condition.

She saw the MRI's and the CAT scans.

He shouldn't be like this.

There was nothing the doctors could diagnose.

The two factors fit together perfectly. The questions ran endlessly through Scully's mind.

If he dealt, then what could he have dealt with?

Could he have traded himself, his body, to them? Give them a chance to experiment, to test, to implant, to... Hell, there were probably no words to describe the kinds of procedures they could do on the human body. The still vivid memory of Ellens Air Force Base caused her to shudder, prompted her to wonder if they had done something to his brain. And instead of selected memory loss, they wired his brain so that he would be in absolute, complete agony.

But, the headaches were occurring before her cancer reached its climax.

Scully was almost tempted to believe the prone figure in front of her didn't deal. But the lack of blood on her shirt collar, the lack of fatigue, the return of some semblance of appetite dictated otherwise.

Scully sighed again. The puzzle she was trying to solve was getting more and more complicated. Only Mulder would have the answers she would need to extract herself from this labyrinth.

She heard a shuffle.

The sight of her partner, eyes glazed, totally passive, only occasionally coherent, was almost as bad as seeing him doubled over in agony.

Almost.

"Hey," she whispered to him. When she tried normal talking yesterday, his shoulders would tighten and his eyes would close tighter. Sometimes the light was so bright he wouldn't even open his eyes.

She could see him trying to process the word - saw him thinking what the word meant, trying to formulate a reply.

"...It doesn't hurt."

She nodded slightly. If the non-tumour, non-aneurysm, non-migraine didn't kill him, the morphine would.

"...You're better."

It wasn't a question.

He just knew.

Scully's mouth trembled slightly, the desire to know what had transpired in the past couple days so severe. "Mulder. I need to know. Did you deal? Is that why it's gone? God, what could you have dealt with?"

She suddenly noticed that her agitation was causing her nails bore holes into the vinyl chair arm rests. The barrage of questions had also left her partner momentarily confused. She took a deep breath.

"Mulder, did you deal with them?"

There was a pause, more thinking, then a whispered "yes". Scully could swear he looked ashamed.

"What did you deal?"

Mulder turned his head away slightly before responding. "... disks."

The damn disks.

Scully inwardly berated herself for being so blind. they had wanted the disks. She remembered back to one particular night in another hospital room two floors up. A "I know" and a "I'll think about it". God, the clarity was frightening.

Had they waggled her in front of him?

Had they threatened him?

Had they...

"Mulder, I know it's going to be hard. But, what happened?"

He licked his lips and closed his eyes. His voice was so soft that Scully had to lean in to hear him. "Headache... father... Krycek... vaccine... father... took disk... Cancerman dead... you... cancer..."

A tear was fast forming in the corner of Scully's eye. The man was on so much morphine that he was agitated and incoherent - even deluded. Cancerman dead? Krycek and his father? Was *anything* he just said even relevant in his drug induced haze? Whatever it was, it had served to upset her partner enough.

"Scully..."

Scully looked at him, hopeful, wanting him to tell her more. "Yes?"

"I... my head hurts."

The tear managed to escape from her eye. She forced a smile, but a sudden onset of sniffles distorted it into a grimace. "I'll get the nurse."

She got up to open the door when a male nurse was entering at the exact same time.

"Sorry, ma'am."

The man was carrying a large basket of vials, caplets, gauze pads, alcohol swabs, and syringes - assorted sizes and colors for everyone's viewing pleasure.

He leaned over Mulder's beside. Apparently he was experienced with this patient.

He was whispering as well.

"How are we doing, Fox?"

"I... my head hurts."

The man nodded sympathetically. "I know, I have something that'll make you feel better."

Scully closed her eyes. She would not watch her partner be drugged into submission. She could hear the syringe being unwrapped, could hear the alcohol swab being ripped from its foil package. She could hear the IV port being cleaned and the syringe being filled. How long would she have to endure this? How long could she watch him endure this?

How long?

She could hear the equipment being thrown away. She allowed her eyes to finally open.

Mulder looked the same. Although she knew from personal experience that morphine did take a few minutes to take effect.

"He won't be hurting for awhile, ma'am."

She gave him her thanks.

She gave no second thought to the Russian accent which caressed each word the man spoke.

Nor was she aware that the vial that the man used did not contain morphine, nor methadone, nor pyramorphine, nor any earthly analgesic known to man.


Federal Bureau of Investigation
Washington, DC

Assistant Director Walter Skinner was ambivalent. He found he could not really identify the emotions he was feeling at the moment.

So the black lunged son of a bitch was dead.

They had made sure he had found out. Of course, there would be no obituary. Certainly, there would be no funeral. Only a handful of people knew that three men had engaged in a shootout over three plastic objects which contained damning information in the space of a thin film of electromagnetic material.

Was he happy? Was he antsy because he felt an overwhelming urge to dance?

Was he scared for his life? Was his life unimportant now? Was he antsy because his flee reflex was in full effect?

Was he angry? Angry because the son of a bitch was killed and not brought to justice? Was he angry because Walter Skinner couldn't serve and protect and hold the shadows accountable for their actions, like he'd like to think he could? Was he antsy because he had wanted to do nothing more than beat the crap out of that man every time he lit up?

"Sir, Agent Scully's on line two."

Kim's tone was more high pitched than it usually was. She was thinking the same thing he was.

He had been to the hospital. He had seen her. She was in no shape to be at a telephone. Unless... Walter hastily dismissed the thought.

"Skinner."

"Sir? It's Agent Mulder..."

Skinner could not believe he was hearing this woman. Other than the sniffles and the teary voice, the female agent sounded fine. "Agent Scully, aren't you... shouldn't you..." Walter couldn't remember the last time he was at a loss for words.

"I'm fine, sir. There was a complete remission, and... Sir, I'm calling about Agent Mulder."

If it wasn't one, it was the other.

"And that is?"

"He... he's suffering from... I don't know." The voice echoed utter helplessness. He winced, reminded of a similar feeling that night at the hospital with the caller's mother. "I think they know what he is suffering from." The voice came out slower, more controlled, the professional Scully temporarily overshadowing the emotional Scully. "I know you've done it before, and if you could, I was wondering if you could find out through unofficial channels... sir. Please... it looks really bad."

"Scully." He took a deep breath. A complete remission. She should be happy for Christ sakes, and now it had been reduced to a passing remark.

Shit, he hated his job - the official and now-up-in-the- air-unofficial one.

"Scully, the Cigarette Smoking Man is dead. He was involved in a shootout with Alex Krycek, who is also dead." Skinner could swear he heard the female federal agent's face falling, her body sagging. "I... I really don't know what's happening now. I'm sorry."

"Oh my God."

"Agent Scully..."

"I have to go, sir."

"Agent Scully, wait..."

"Thanks for everything, sir."

The dial tone assaulted his ear.

Mulder in the hospital. Scully is fine.

Even though the Cancerman was dead, he still ended up winning.

They played God everyday - manipulated people's lives, were puppeteers in every sense of the word. They had vast knowledge of chemicals and bio toxins that even the greatest chemists had no idea existed. That had been the perpetuators of the greatest cover ups and lies ever imagined.

And no one knew they even existed.

He got up suddenly from his office chair. On his way out, he passed his secretary. "Kim, I'm taking the rest of the day off. I'll be at the Holy Cross if something comes up."


Holy Cross Memorial Hospital
Washington, DC

"Sir, this is a surprise."

Skinner could swear he was looking at a ghost. But she was alive, looking a bit haggard, but here, alive, none the less.

He looked at the still figure in the bed. He looked... fine. "Agent Scully, what's his condition?"

"He... I... They don't know. All the tests come back normal. But when he's awake, he's in so much pain. He's on so much morphine, and I don't know how I can help him... and... is he really dead?"

"Yes."

"Krycek too?"

"Yes."

Scully rubbed her eyes - partly in frustration, and partly to remove the heaviness that lack of sleep was causing. She rubbed harder, and then stopped when the flares got too bright. "Mulder mentioned something when he was semi lucid. He said something about the disks we had, and that Krycek and Cancerman was dead. He also mentioned something about his father, but I don't know if that was related. He also mentioned my cancer. I think... I *know* he dealt."

The son of a bitch. Skinner was instantly angry at the prone figure lying in the bed. He had expressively told Mulder not to deal, and the federal agent hadn't even listened. The federal agent had... hell, Scully would have probably done the same thing if the roles were reversed.

Hell, Walter Skinner didn't even take Walter Skinner's own advice.

It was not supposed to happen like this. Weren't you supposed to go out with a bang, not a whimper? He looked back at the prone figure just in time to see a fist clenching.

"Scully..."

By now, Mulder was convulsing was into full seizures. He heard Scully calling for a nurse and she joined his side. The spasms were violent and he heard Scully gasp. "Oh my God... He was right."

"What!"

Scully was sobbing. She could not imagine Mulder turning into those children. "The orphanage... The worms..."

The doctors were now flooding into the room, a mass of green scrubs armed with syringes and vials. Strong arms were hastily reaching out and failing to restrain the figure on the bed, to quiet the bed springs that were squeaking in protest. A rough, hairy hand emerged from the fray and was now roughly attempting to disentangle the IV line the patient had dislodged. The arm had managed to tie a tourniquet, when the seizures suddenly stopped.

Scully cried - openly sobbed, not caring who saw her loss of control - cried for the loss of her friend and partner. Inwardly scolded him for being so stupid. Inwardly damned him because he had kept this secret for so long. Inwardly cursed God for being so cruel.

She would not look at his eyes. The unfocused look he would have would not be due to morphine or drugs, but from something more unimaginable and horrible.

"My head hurts..."

There was the initial shock of hearing his voice, and then there was the realization that the voice had a body to match. The realization that he was alive came milliseconds later.

"What!" Yelling and laughing at the same time, Scully felt her heart would burst when she saw him wince, when she saw his hands stay by his sides and not move to cover his ears.

He didn't answer.

Her laughing quelled.

The silence was unbearable until he broke it. "You're alive."

It was the third time he had stated the phrase in as many days, but finally he was well enough to receive a response. "Yes, I'm fine."

He nodded his head in satisfaction. "Good."

Skinner stepped in. He was still recovering from seeing his subordinate agent going into full convulsions. "Mulder, what the hell happened? You know that Cancerman and Krycek are dead?"

The reply was soft. "Yes."

Both Scully and Skinner waited for him to add details.

Mulder's jaw clenched. Scully could see him replaying whatever it was that happened in his head. From the way he started to pick and pinch at the hospital blankets, Scully gathered the experience hadn't been pleasurable. He swallowed convulsively. "I don't want to talk about it."

"Mulder..."

"Scully, I don't want to talk about it. I have to... sort it out. Maybe later, okay?"

Scully looked at the man in front of her - passive and silent one minute, convulsing the next, and then proceeding to argue with her.

God, she loved it.

"Are you okay?"

Mulder put more thought into the question than she had thought would be necessary.

"I think so. Slight headache. Tired."

She nodded.

Skinner kept altering his view, watching the exchange between the two federal agents. He still had no idea what the hell was going on. Mulder knew. Scully had some idea. He wasn't sure if he wanted to know.

He quietly left the two to themselves.


Federal Bureau of Investigation
Washington, DC

Mulder walked into the X-Files office and breathed deeply.

He never thought he would see it again.

He felt Scully waiting patiently behind him. He eased himself into his chair. There was no headache. It had been so long since he had not had the company of pain.

It was a nonsensical understatement, but he felt good.

Scully lowered herself into her chair, and both stared at each other, lapsing into a comfortable silence.

Both were healthy. One hundred percent healthy.

And their greatest enemy was dead.

Scully broke into a nervous chuckle. "Did you ever imagine we'd survive all of this?"

Mulder shrugged his shoulders in response. "No... yes... I really don't care now."

Scully nodded. He still hadn't told her all that had transpired that fateful night. She implored him with her eyes.

Mulder saw her look, and reflexively looked away. He couldn't tell her. It was too painful. He remembered Krycek's story... yarn... truth.... He wasn't sure what it was. And the only people who could tell him were dead. He wasn't sure where the line that separated fact from fiction was drawn, wasn't sure how much of what Krycek said about his father, or rather, Bill Mulder, Sam, the Cancerman was true.

When the not knowing got too painful, or the second guessing started to grow, Mulder only had to look at his partner - take pleasure in her wolfing down a salad, a sandwich, whatever - to know that the reward had been worth the sacrifice.

"Scully, you and I are healthy. Or as far as we and the doctors know, we are healthy. Cancerman is dead. Krycek is dead. What's past is past. I want to move on. I want to investigate an X-File." He paused and started to smile. "What we need, Dr. Scully, is another liver eating mutant!"

The corners of Scully's mouth quirked into a slight smile, which soon somberly straightened itself out. She sighed in resignation. "Will you ever tell me?"

Mulder refused to meet her gaze. "When the time is right."

Scully thought that this time was as good as any, yet she kept her mouth closed.

He was right.

She wanted to move on too.

She looked at the top of Mulder's desk. The paperwork they had been doing after Omaha was still on it. The sheet of paper with his signature and the date which had started everything, was still lying innocently on top of another pile of papers.

Mulder followed her gaze to the paper, and smiled, a tinge of bitterness accenting the corners of his mouth.

"Hey, Scully, do you want to go out and get a drink after work to celebrate the really belated birthday of my sister and her brother's and brother's partner's miraculous medical recoveries?"

Yes, a miracle it was that they were both here, she thought to herself. "I'd love too."

"Great. I have to tell you..." he paused momentarily, caught himself before he said it, thought for the space of a few milliseconds, and dismissed the thought as quickly as it had come. "uh... I have a great story about Sam's sixth birthday party, a donkey,and my father..."


EPILOGUE

West 46th Avenue
New York City, New York

The Well-Manicured Man looked around to meet the eternally grim faces of his cohorts.

"What now?"

The British gentleman turned to face the large frame of one of the older members. "We've finally gotten rid of one of the more clumsy members of the group. We have complete control now." The man paused, replaying the events of a few nights ago in his head. "He's no longer an obstacle. We have full access to Mulder now."

The other gentleman nodded his head. "The Project must continue unabated." He faced the other members, the air more clear from the absence of smoke. "And we all know how important Agent Mulder is to the equation."

At their nods of approval, the Well-Manicured Man snapped his fingers to the gopher, signalling for the cell phone.

"What are you doing?"

The man's face turned pensive. "The Russians have been quiet. I don't like it. We've killed two of their own, and they haven't retaliated. They're up to something." He started dialing a familiar number. "I think we must accelerate the progress of the Project. You said yourself the importance of the role Agent Mulder plays... I think it's time we stop coddling the federal agent and start forcing his hand."

The larger man stared at the Consortium member standing directly across from him, confused. "You think it's time we told him everything?"

"Only what he needs to know. Only what his responsibilities are. I..." The man suddenly stopped talking and raised his free hand to cease any conversation. An all too familiar person picked up the other line.

"Walter Skinner's Office, this is Kim speaking, how may I help you?"


Russian Department of Security and Defense
Moscow, Russia

Kabalevsky flipped through the FAXed transmission once again.

SUBJECT HYPERSENSITIVE TO LIGHT AND SOUND, BLOOD TESTS, MRI's AND CAT SCANS DO NOT CONFIRM ANY SORT OF DIAGNOSIS. 15 mg MORPHINE EVERY 4 HOURS WITH NORMAL SALINE SOLUTION...

He skimmed to the bottom... he was all too familiar with the first part.

...CONVULSIONS THEN A SUDDEN REMISSION OF SYMPTOMS. SUBJECT COMPLAINED OF FATIGUE AND SLIGHT HEADACHE, DISCHARGED 24 HOURS LATER.

It was his first assignment.

Fox Mulder, his first assignment's son had been discharged yesterday with a clean bill of health.

He looked at the accompanying folder and its contents. C NMR, H NMR, and IR spectrums come into his vision. Peaks, valleys, and lines, which he could not make sense of, showed the chemical structure of the organism that had cured a certain American federal agent.

There was a small handwritten comment on the last spectrum.

"It's real"

It put his mind at rest

And it was important.

Kabalevsky leaned back into his chair, and lit a cigarette.

Mother Russia finally had something the Americans did not have.

The Bear was back.

FINIS


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