Articled to Error, by Vanzetti
Part 3. Headers and disclaimers in part 1



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

"Krycek," I started to argue.

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

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

"You don't--"

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

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

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

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

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

"New York," she said.

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

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

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

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

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

"You must trust someone, Alex."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I already knew the answer to that.

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

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

"Leilah?" I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

His mouth creased. "I didn't."

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

"I thought he would blame me."

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

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

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

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

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

"Why not?" He sounded very distant.

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

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

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

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

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

"I saw the opportunity."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

"But?" I prompted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What's this?" he asked.

"An address in Carthage."

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

"What happened to Italy?" I had asked.

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

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

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

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

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

Why wasn't Scully here?

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

Why had I let Krycek go into that meeting alone?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I doubt it."

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

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

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

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

"A threat?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

The argument followed me as I hunted for a bathroom.

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

"It wasn't my secret to confess."

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

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

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

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

"How did she find out?" he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Where in Tunisia?" she asked.

"Tunis. Carthage, really."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

"I didn't think," I admitted.


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

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

"Leilah, he won't."

"Did he tell you that?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I know."

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

"I know," I said again.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"The vaccine?" I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"That's not..."

"It's the same to Spender."

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

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

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

"Take care of yourself," I told him.

"If you're going, you should go now."

I nodded. "I'm going."



As he'd promised, Mulder came to see me as soon as he got back from New York; he turned up at my door with a bag of Chinese food at around eleven p.m. to tell me what had happened. Jacob Bookman had had his own brother-in-law murdered. Krycek had managed to turn the situation to his own advantage.

"So essentially," I said, fishing around for the last of the shrimp, "C. G. B. Spender and Jacob Bookman were both trying to kill Krycek, but neither of them succeeded."

"I don't think either of them was trying very hard," Mulder answered.

That left us with Krycek still out there somewhere, up to no good. "Too bad," I muttered, a little more loudly than I should have. Mulder frowned. "Did you ask him about Skinner?" I asked. His guilty expression was all the answer I needed. I put down my chopsticks. "Mulder, how could you?"

"We had more important things to worry about."

"More important than a man's life? A friend's life?"

Mulder stared at me. "It wasn't the right time."

"When is it going to be the right time?" My voice rose. "When Skinner's dead?"

"He won't kill him." Mulder sounded very certain, but Mulder was certain about all kinds of things.

"How can you be so sure?"

"I just know." His lower lip began to stick out slightly, usually a sign that it was time to give up the argument.

I decided to ignore the warning. "Because Krycek told you? Mulder, all he's ever done is lie to you."

"You weren't there, Scully," he said. "You have no idea what Krycek is really like."

I wasn't there, I almost said, because Mulder had once again decided that he knew best and run off with Krycek and without me. "He's a monster."

"No," Mulder said softly. "He's only a man. A man who's willing to sacrifice everything for his goal."

"Sacrifice?" My voice was rising again. I tried to modulate it; I hate shrillness. "How can you sit there and talk to me about Krycek's sacrifices?"

"Scully, you-- Look, never mind. This was a mistake." He stood up. "You used to trust me."

The look on his face was almost enough to make me change my mind. "You used to trust me, too, Mulder. It goes both ways."

"I do trust you, Scully. This isn't an either-or situation. But I've never been able to make you believe what I believe, and I don't think Krycek is a subject you're willing to be flexible about."

"I know what he's done. To both of us. Unless you no longer believe that he killed your father and arranged my abduction."

That hit home, but he didn't stay to argue with me. "Good night, Scully."

I didn't feel like I'd won the argument.

We pretended nothing had happened, and although I could see Mulder getting anxious it wasn't something I was willing to talk to him about. I suspected that he was waiting for Krycek to contact him. But I was the one who was contacted first.

It had been an awful case: two mysterious disappearances in Wisconsin. We never found the bodies, our clothes ended up covered in mud and our best suspect had literally disintegrated before our eyes during a pounding rainstorm. Even Mulder couldn't find anything positive to say about the case. To top it all off, our plane home spent an extra hour in a holding pattern before we could land. I told Mulder that all I wanted was a hot bath and a good night's sleep, and headed for my car.

Once home, I locked the door behind me, kicked off my shoes and dropped my bag in the hall. Was that open bottle of white wine in my fridge still any good? When the doorbell rang I muttered "Damn it, Mulder, what's wrong now?" and opened the door without looking.

Of course it wasn't Mulder. It was Jacob Bookman, holding a briefcase. "May I come in?" he asked.

At least he had better manners than most criminals, I thought. "What happens if I ask you to go away?"

"Please, Dr. Scully, this is important."

I expelled a breath and stood aside to let him pass.

"Thank you," he said. "I'll be brief, since I'm sure you're tired. These papers came into my hands, and I suspected that you would find them interesting." He rested the briefcase on my hall table and pulled out a thick manila folder.

When I opened it, the paper on top was a letter to a Dr. Alfred Frankel. I closed the folder and held it out to Bookman. Ten days earlier I had received a report about Dr. Frankel's death: he had died in a fire in his laboratory at the University of Virginia. The fire had, according to the report, been caused by a gas leak; Dr. Frankel had been the only casualty, but all his work had been destroyed along with his lab.

"There is only one way you could have gotten these papers," I said. Bookman didn't take the folder from me. It was evidence of a felony. If I kept the papers I would be concealing evidence of a murder. Not a murder anyone would let me and Mulder solve, but still a murder. The papers were confirmation of that--the coroner had ruled it an accident, and I'd only found out about Frankel's death because I was subscribing to a list for entomologists.

"You have there Dr. Frankel's most recent working notes on the link between swarming behavior and aggression in three bee subspecies. Something about that research made him worth eliminating."

Eliminating people for Spender must be Bookman's new line of work. "Did the Smoking Man ask you to give these to me?"

"I hope that he doesn't know I have them at all," Bookman said. He gave me a rueful smile. "I also hope he never finds out about them. My life is quite literally in your hands, Dr. Scully."

He would have said that anyway. There was no way to tell what the papers really were: an elaborate forgery? A trap of some sort? A blind alley? Or possibly, the kind of evidence I could use someday to build a case. "Am I supposed to believe that you killed Dr. Frankel and then in a fit of conscience decided to preserve his work? When you tried so hard to join Spender's conspiracy in the first place? I'm not convinced."

"Then believe that I have no desire to succumb to this plague when it is released."

"When? Not if?"

"When," he said. "Someone has invested a great deal of effort into this project, and they will want a return on their investment." He met my eyes. "It's late, and I should go. Goodnight, Dr. Scully." He took his briefcase and let himself out.

I stared at the folder I was still holding. It wasn't too late. I could put the whole thing in an evidence bag and open a file on Dr. Frankel's death. I could phone Mulder and ask him to come over and give me his opinion. Instead I sat down and started to read. I told myself that I could always share it with Mulder later, if there was something worthwhile in it.



Leilah hadn't been joking about the Mediterranean cruise. "Trust me," she said. "There's a man on Malta who arranges this kind of thing. Jacob used to use him." So we flew to Paris for a brief meeting with Marita and then to Marseilles, where Leilah tracked down a man she knew who knew a man, who knew a man... and on and on until we found ourselves on Malta walking up a ramp and onto a huge white ship where we were issued with a pair of plastic tags identifying us as passengers. There was almost no security.

The next morning we arrived in Tunis. The two immigration officials working at the dock hardly glanced at our passports, and we boarded the tour bus heading for Carthage. Just like any two tourists, except our shoulder holsters were less obtrusive than their hidden money pouches, and our camera bags contained silencers and ammunition.

We ditched the bus next to a park full of Roman ruins and began to wander inland and uphill. It was a quiet neighborhood of big houses hidden behind high walls, with vines and flowers pouring out over the walls and onto the street. We wandered past Birtwistle's place, noting the location of the security cameras and the solidity of the gate, and kept going uphill.

At the top there was a large church--a big white thing that looked like it had been transported from Paris--and a smaller building which housed a museum. And of course, more ruins. I stared down at the houses of Carthage: the Brit's was overshadowed, so I couldn't see in. I would have liked to be sure that the Smoker's description was accurate.

I found Leilah sitting on a stone bench, watching a group of tourists stare uncomprehendingly at some old brick walls.

"Now what?" she asked.

"We've got a couple hours to kill." Too bad it wasn't later in the year--to get back on the ship we'd have to do the hit in the middle of the day, and there was nothing like a hot summer day to relax a target. Still, the sky was blue, the air was clear and warm, flowers were everywhere. It was the kind of day no one would expect to be shot. Nearly perfect for an assassination.

"Do you want to go look in the museum?"

I stared at her. I hadn't been in a museum since I met a contact at the National Portrait Gallery in London two years before. And I couldn't remember when I'd last gone into one to look at the stuff inside.

"It's not like we have anything else to do," she pointed out.

"I don't like museums." Museums, being full of valuable objects, tended to have guards. So instead we wandered back down the hill and to the edge of the water, where we sat on a bench by a little lagoon which Leilah told me was the ancient harbor. The houses came up right to the Mediterranean.

I sat there looking for the fuzzy line where the blue of the sky met the blue of the water. "Do you have any ideas about how we'll get into the house?" Leilah asked.

I grinned at her. It really was a beautiful day. "Yeah. But you aren't going to like them."

We spent a few hours like that, walking from one bench to the next, since every ruin in Carthage was surrounded by its own little park. After lunch we strolled back to the Brit's house. We paused just to the left of the door, and Leilah leaned back against the wall. I bent down, wrapped my arm around her, and started to kiss her.

It didn't feel right. We were both tense, listening for a noise from inside the house and hoping that no one else would come out and tell us to stop: Tunisia was pretty secular, but I sure that kissing on the street was not acceptable. It was probably illegal. I found that I was touching her lips as lightly as possible, and moved my head to kiss her cheek instead. That felt more natural. Natural enough to make me wish we were doing this for real.

The gate opened and a man stuck his head out and started to yell at us in French. Pay dirt. I took out the gun Leilah had stuck in the back of her jeans and shot him in the head. The silencer muffled the noise, but we hurried in anyway and dragged him over to the guard post just inside the gate. Where the Smoker had said it would be, actually.

There should have been another man on guard. I guessed that he was out doing a walk around the perimeter. Sure enough, a moment later the radio in the guard post crackled to life, and the man announced that he'd be coming back. He wandered back as if nothing was wrong and stood there gaping at his dead friend propped in the corner while I held a gun on him and Leilah tied him up. He'd get loose eventually. Someone had to tell Strughold we'd been here.

We found the Brit inside, sitting and reading in a simple room on the second floor. There was a tray with a plate and an empty wine-glass on the table next to him.

He looked up when I opened the door and asked, "Is there a problem?" Then he recognized me and his face went pale. He put the book down and pushed himself to his feet, saying, "You!" He always did like melodrama.

Leilah walked around the room, closing the shutters. He glanced at her but turned his attention back to me when she went to stand against the wall behind him. "I should have known that my colleague would fail to eliminate you," he said.

"You did tell me that he'd be useful," I said. "And you were right. He told me how to get to you."

"You're making a grave mistake."

"No, I'm correcting a mistake."

"Alex, you must realize that Spender is only using you. He's wanted to get rid of me for a long time. Imagine how he's laughing at you now."

"The same way you used to laugh at me, right? You set me up. You were planning this all along."

"No," he said. "You don't understand. I had no choice, but I did what I could for you. I left you free and in control of the vaccine program."

"Only because you never expected me to succeed."

"Because I knew you would succeed. I've always had the greatest faith in you, Alex. Those were terrible days, just after we discovered that the virus had mutated, that the aliens had been lying to us. I had to bend to Strughold's will, but at least I managed to save you. It's true that I assured him that without me you would never succeed, but I had--I still have--the greatest faith in you."

"And Strughold, no doubt, believed you story. But here's what I don't understand. Strughold told Mulder that the vaccine was necessary for Colonization. You told me that the vaccine would prevent Colonization."

He took a deep breath. "Alex, Strughold must have been lying. Remember, at that time he still believed you'd found a vaccine in Turkmenistan. He probably hoped Mulder would destroy it or would persuade you to give up the project. But you mustn't let this failure discourage you--you can still find a vaccine. I have faith in your abilities."

It was so tempting to believe him. "I didn't fail," I said, watching him very carefully. He might have been telling the truth. But I remembered Malcolm Foote, tucked away somewhere in Strughold's organization now. No way the Brit would have handed him over if this was all a bluff.

"Don't exaggerate," he said sharply. "I know that you didn't retrieve anything from the Turkmenistan facility."

"Because Beraichev had already removed it."

The room was dark, but I saw him blanch. "Do you really expect me to believe you?" he asked.

"I thought you had faith in my abilities," I said. Fuck. I could still remember the way he'd flattered me when we came to our agreement, after he took the Russian vaccine. What had he called me? 'A man who could do good and not get caught at it.' I'd been an idiot.

"Where is it?" he asked.

"Somewhere you'll never find it."

"I don't believe you."

"I don't care what you believe. You aren't going to make it out of this room alive."

"You're a fool," he said harshly. "You have no idea what you're dealing with."

"Then tell me!" He had been so damned convincing, when he told me he was trying to save us all. "Tell me what's going on, old man!" Two steps brought be right up to him and I backhanded him across the face. His head snapped back and he swayed, but when he came back up he was smiling at me.

Shit. Couldn't I have tried to persuade him that I believed him? It was too late now and he knew it. "How uncomfortable for you, not to know if you're saving the world or destroying it. Poor Alex. You'll always be someone else's errand-boy, won't you? Now you're doing Spender's bidding."

"I'll figure it out," I said.

He was still smiling. "My dear boy, it's time you faced the truth. You aren't capable of it. You're a second- rate thug who's been luckier than he could have expected. Don't think that's enough to make you a player, let alone a hero."

"Go to hell, old man." I backed up those two paces and shot him.

It hit him in the shoulder. He clutched at himself, bending over and taking a great sobbing breath. Not so dignified now, was he? I shot him again, this time in the stomach, and he choked out a scream as he fell back into the chair. As he opened his mouth--to call for help? to make one last comment?--I walked up to him and shot him a third time, in the face.

I couldn't recognize him now--shattered bone and white hair covered in blood--and I actually stood there for a second looking down at him and trying to see the man I'd known in the wreck. I gasped when Leilah touched my arm. "It's over," she said. "We can go."

She led me outside and over to a little fountain in the garden. There she dipped the cuff of her long sleeved shirt in the water and rubbed at my face and neck. "Just a little blood." The cool water made me realize how hot the room had been.

Leilah took care of getting us out of the country, walking us down to one of the archaeological sites and flagging a taxi to take us back to the ship, chatting in French with the taxi driver about what we'd supposedly seen that day. At the port I started to come out of my daze. We walked past a few customs agents, flashed our passports and those plastic cards and were home free. I sat down on the bottom bunk while Leilah locked the door.

"That wasn't true, what he said about you," she said.

I shrugged. It was closer to the truth than I liked. I had no idea what I was doing or whether I was any closer to stopping the aliens or...

"I'm serious, Sasha," she said, sitting down next to me. "Look, there's blood on your shirt, too. Let me rinse it out in the sink." Her hands reached for hem of my shirt.

The next thing I knew I had grabbed her and yanked her toward me. My arm was around her back and her hands were flattened against my chest, and I was kissing her, forcing her mouth open under mine to drink her in.

She made a muffled noise and I snapped my head back. "Shit," I gasped. What the hell was wrong with me. "I'm--"

Her mouth looked bruised. I tried to move back, away from her, but her hands were clutching my shirt. "Sasha," she said, "don't tell me you're sorry." She lifted a hand to my face and pulled me to her.

This time, she didn't bite me.

Afterwards she tucked herself against my side and I lay there, staring up at the top bunk. Birtwistle's damning judgment was still ringing in my ears.

"It isn't true," Leilah said again. "You will figure it out. You have to."

In the morning she was still in bed with me, pressed up against my left side with her arm wrapped around my chest. I touched her gently, and she responded by pushing her head onto my shoulder.

It was probably nothing more than pity. I'd thought I would enjoy killing the Brit, but the exchange had left me frustrated and angry--why couldn't he have been what he told me he was? That was the kind of thing Leilah might well pick up on and decide, in her own way, to do something about.

Although she was still here.

I managed to pry myself out from under her and went to the bathroom. When I got back she was awake and half sitting up, with the sheet pulled up over her.

Something abut the way she was looking at me made me uncomfortable. I wished I'd thrown some clothes on when I got up. Too late now, so I went and stared out through the porthole.

I heard her getting up and the bathroom door closing behind her. After a little while I heard the shower start to run.

I got dressed and went out for some fresh air. We ought to be in Sicily soon.


We flew from Palermo to Rome, where Marita met us at the airport, looking composed and fashionable in a linen suit and sunglasses.

"He's dead," Sasha said as we drove away.

Marita nodded but didn't say anything. After a little while, Sasha continued, "How did Paris go?"

"I think they can be used. They don't trust Spender, and they're nervous about what happened at El Rico. They want someone who can tell them what to do while making it seem like it was their idea all along." I had a feeling that was high on Marita's list of talents. "Also," she continued, "I've reactivated a listening post near Taranto. We've been monitoring Strughold's conversations." She was smiling in a self-satisfied way.

"So you must already have known that Birtwistle was dead," I pointed out.

Her smile faded. "The second guard called Strughold as soon as he got free. Strughold tried to contact Spender right away, but Spender isn't answering."

Sasha smirked. "Those must be interesting messages."

"Alex," she said, "what if he does start to panic? None of us really know how much Strughold is capable of."

"If he panics he'll start making mistakes," Sasha said. "And we'll just have to be ready to take advantage of them." He sounded confident, but I couldn't see his face.

Marita had taken three rooms in a hotel in Rome for us. I lay in bed that night listening to Italian television shows coming through the wall from Sasha's room. He turned it off after a few hours, and I heard him starting to pace back and forth. Should I get up and go to him, I wondered. Would it make things better or worse? Last night had seemed like the right thing to do at the time--it had been what I wanted to do--but now I was beginning to think it had been a mistake. I was still debating when I heard his door open and close and a moment later he was knocking gently on my door. I got out of bed to let him in.

"You're awake," he said. He walked over to the window and twitched the curtains open, staring out at the street below us before letting them fall closed. I turned the light on and blinked until my eyes adjusted.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"Nothing," he said. "Everything is just as I wanted. I made it. I'm all the way in. The French are in Marita's hands, and I can persuade the Italians. I know where all the bodies are buried in England, and I can make any deal I want with the Russians. And I don't have a fucking clue what to do with it." He was breathing heavily by the time he finished.

"Because you don't know whether to develop a vaccine or not?"

"I tell myself they're just bluffing, that I was right all along and a vaccine is what we need. But what if it's not?"

"But if they really needed a vaccine, wouldn't they have been working on it openly?"

He sat down on the bed. "That's the problem. They were, at first. It was Bill Mulder's project. And then as far as I can tell he dropped it and the whole thing moved underground under Birtwistle's guidance."

"It's like a basket of snakes," I said. "You can see them all wriggling around, but you can't tell where one ends and the next one begin."

He made a kind of choked laugh, so I sat down next to him on the bed. "All I'm sure of is that if I stick my hand in it'll get bitten," he said. He reached over and took my hand in his, turning it over and staring at the palm. "Leilah," he began.

"I'm not sorry either," I said, before he could say anything else. "Sasha, this is your war. You know that better than I do. All you can do is fight it."

He looked up and smiled slightly. "Thank you." He leaned over and kissed my cheek, very lightly.

I swallowed. "And maybe somewhere in France or Italy or Britain we'll find someone who knows about the vaccine."

He gave me a sharp look and said, "We?"

I smiled. "Do you ever get tired of telling people to leave you?"

"Usually I don't have to tell them."

"Jacob claims I'm a very slow learner. You may have to put up with me for a little while."

"I guess I can live with that," he said.

I looked down at my own palm, nested in his. Last night had happened so quickly that I hadn't had time to think of Davies. This morning I'd found myself remembering the feel of his hands. I shuddered and snatched my hand away, but when I looked up it was only Sasha, staring at me in concern. "I'm--" I started.

"Don't say you're sorry," he said. I managed a smile. "Should I leave?"

I shook my head. I took a deep breath to calm my heart and reached for his hand again.



From my hiding place I watched the old man sitting in his kitchen. Deceptively meek-looking, deceptively idle. He got up, checked the kettle, turned the light off underneath it and went to the fridge. Out came a stack of containers which he deposited on the table before walking to the back door and staring right at me.

"Are you planning to stay out there all night?" he asked.

I should know better than to try to hide from my father. I left my shelter and came inside.

"Tea?" he offered, pouring a little strong tea into the bottom of two cups and filling them with hot water. While it cooled I investigated the leftovers: some cold chicken, some pasta, some kind of rice dish. My father took out a plate and cut himself a large slice of carrot cake.

"Is this how you always eat?" I asked.

"It is possibly a little late for me to be setting you a good example."

"Possibly." I took the cake away anyway and found some salad wrapped in a towel. He didn't say anything except to direct me to the tomatoes and scallions.

"Well?" I asked when we had finished eating.

"It was a very nice salad."

"That wasn't what I meant."

He sighed. He was beginning to look old to me. I'd always had a sense of his age, but the years themselves never seemed to show on him. Other men might look old at sixty-five or seventy, but not my father. Recently, though, he seemed to be wearing a mask of wrinkles which hid the face I expected to see.

"I don't think there's anything to be said," he told me. "You might have trusted Sasha."


"It's his life's work."

"It's not a hobby for me either." Not anymore.

He looked at me for a while, weighing my words.

"You know how important this is," I said.

He nodded. "But will you succeed?"

It was the only important question. "I only know one way to find out. Spender has me working in D.C. as a consultant for the State Department and the NSA. It's a good cover."

"What about the rest of the job?" he asked.

I shrugged. "We'll see."

"Be careful of that old man."

I looked up, surprised. "I will be."

"Sasha came to me, the first time Spender tried to have him killed. I told him to get away while he could, and to stay away."

I hadn't known that. "What did he say?"

"The day is short, the task is great, the workers are lazy and the Master of the House is urgent."

"Sasha said that?"

"Not in so many words. Do you know the next line?"

"Go ahead and tell me."

"You are not required to complete the work, but neither are you free to avoid it."

I nodded. "You taught me that."

"I know," he said. "I sometimes wish my children weren't such attentive students."

The End