Pity and Rebellion

By Vanzetti

Nothing is given: we must find our law.
Great buildings jostle in the sun for domination;
Behind them stretch like sorry vegetation
The low recessive houses of the poor.

We have no destiny assigned us:
Nothing is certain but the body; we plan
To better ourselves; the hospitals alone remind us
Of the equality of man.

Children are really loved here, even by the police:
They speak of years before the big were lonely,
And will be lost.

                                        And only
The brass bands throbbing in the parks foretell
Some future reign of happiness and peace.

We learn to pity and rebel.

-W. H. Auden, In Time of War XXV

Part 1


Some days I wonder why I even bother to shut the door in the mornings when I leave for work. Whoever had broken into my apartment had also left the front door unlocked; this implied that he (or she?) was still in there, and didn't want to surprise me. Or else he (she, they?) just didn't care if my apartment was robbed once they were done with it. I thought about walking away, going out for dinner, going over to Scully's. But why put off the inevitable? Whoever was waiting was there for a reason, and I needed to know what it was.

I started to open the door. "Ready or not, here I co--" Something heavy hit me on the back of the head, and the world went black.

When I woke up again, I was in a car. In the front seat of a car, belted in, my hands cuffed in front of me. This wasn't too bad; I could have been tied up and in the trunk. We were moving, and I sat as still as I could.

"Welcome back to the land of the living," said the driver. I tensed up and swung towards him. Only the fact that that tricky bastard had somehow cuffed me to my own belt kept me from punching him. Alex Krycek. I was wrong. This was very, very bad. "Relax, Mulder," he said as I rattled my cuffs. "We're just going on a little field trip." He had this little smile, half proud and half amused. The asshole was really enjoying himself.

"I'm not going anywhere with you, Krycek," I said firmly. I started to work at getting the cuffs loose from my belt. All I had to do was get out of the car. Although the fact that we were going north on the Jersey Turnpike, doing about eighty five or ninety, might make that a bit tricky. But he'd have to stop sometime.

He looked over. At least he wasn't smiling any more. "Stop it. Don't even think of attacking me. If I lose control of this car, we could crash. Driving one handed is enough trouble, without having to fight off a maniac like you."

One handed? What was that about? I decided to ignore it for the moment, and worry about getting free. "Why should I care if you crash the car? What's the worst thing that happens--I take you with me? It would be worth it." How did he get the cuffs through the belt loop? This was going to take some time to get out of.

"Listen up, Mulder, and listen good. After you left me back in Russia, I got in touch with some old friends. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, they've... diversified. Ever hear of the Russian Mafia?" He was smiling again. I didn't really care. "Then you know they've gone global. They're even hard at work here in the good old USA. So this is the deal. If anything happens to me on this trip-anything-a payment will be made to some of these old friends, and they will do me one last favor. Are you listening, Mulder?" I didn't respond; I was busy trying to rip off my belt loop with the handcuff chain. "Mulder?" he repeated.

"Yeah, OK, I'm listening. One last favor. What is it--you'll send flowers to the graves of all the people you've killed?"

"It will pay for the murder of one Dana Katherine Scully." He said her name very slowly, with evident enjoyment.

I went still. My mouth was dry. "How do I know if you're telling the truth?" I asked. It would be just like him to make something like that up, just to fuck with my mind. Wouldn't it?

"Can you afford to assume I'm not?" Damn. That was what I had been thinking.

"What if I just escape? This doesn't have to go any further..." I sounded desperate, and I knew it. Krycek had me by the balls.

"No good. Like I said, Mulder, you and I are going to take a little trip. Dana Scully is going to stay home, safe and sound, in DC."

"Fuck you." I said. Suddenly I wasn't frightened. I was furious. "When this is over, I'm going to make you cancel that contract, and then I'm going to kill you."

"Yeah, whatever," he shrugged, leaning his head back. "Take a number. Actually, you may change your mind after you get where we're going. I'm not doing this for my own pleasure, you know." I didn't respond to that, and the car was silent for a while. "Don't you want to know where we're going?" he finally asked.

"No." I said. "I have nothing to say to you."

"Suit yourself. But just so you don't get a surprise, we're driving to Newark and taking a flight to New Delhi. I packed some stuff for you."


I didn't really relax until we were on the plane. Once I'd uncuffed him, he might have decided that I was bluffing and just walked away in the bustle of the airport, in the belief that he could protect her from anything. Like that's worked so well in the past. But when he got onto the plane with me, I knew he was hooked. I made him call her from the airport, even if it was the middle of the night. The last thing I needed was that woman chasing after us. I had left Skinner strict instructions not to permit her to come looking. Now that Mulder and Scully were back on the X-Files and under Skinner's thumb, my life was a lot easier. Things were looking up. Or they would have been, if I hadn't been so fucking worried about saving the world.

Yes, that was really me. Alex Krycek, Sewer Rat. Seriously concerned about the end of life as we know it. And frankly, it pissed me off. I mean, why couldn't Mulder and Scully be better at their job? They were the heroes, I was the bad guy, right? It was their job to save the world, mine to stand on the sidelines, offering the occasional cryptic message and then slinking back into the shadows. That was the way I liked it.

Actually, I wasn't worried about saving the whole world. But there are parts of it which I wanted to preserve, and it looked like I was going to have to exert myself.

I don't usually sleep on airplanes, but I must have been exhausted from tormenting Mulder. The next thing I knew we were arriving at Heathrow. He was giving me a funny look when I opened my eyes and shifted in my seat, and I wondered if I had been drooling or muttering his name or something. How embarrassing. How pathetic, that I still wanted Mulder's respect.

All he said was, "Your arm..."

The penny dropped. Well, he was bound to notice it eventually. I braced myself for whatever he was going to say. "What about it?"

"Was it... Tunguska?" He had this weird expression on his face. Was it sympathy or disgust?

"Yeah," I said. It was impossible to keep the bitterness out of my voice. "Guess you never visited that village of friendly one-armed people."

His face hardened. "You deserved it."

"Fuck you too, Mulder." I hate air travel. I think it's because they don't let you carry guns.


We changed planes in London. New Delhi was not our final destination, despite what Krycek had said in the car. In fact, we got off the plane in Tashkent and caught a flight to Ashgabat, which, as I learned in the airport, is the capital of Turkmenistan. I wasn't surprised that he had lied to me, but I wasn't thinking clearly at the time. I was tired, jetlagged, deeply worried for Scully, and perhaps a little frightened. The last time I had gone on a field-trip with this man he had betrayed me and left me to die. It didn't inspire trust.

Scully. Krycek made me call her before we boarded; she hadn't sounded thrilled with what I told her, and I couldn't exactly explain the situation. What was I supposed to say? "Scully, I've been kidnapped by Alex Krycek, and he says that if I don't come with him he'll have you killed"? Maybe I should have said that. At least she'd be aware that she was in danger.

We changed passports as well as planes in Tashkent. I did not leave the US as Fox Mulder. At this point I can hardly remember what the name was. Now I was William Caldwell, and we had just landed in some godforsaken former Soviet republic with -stan on the end of its name. Whatever. Krycek negotiated with a cab driver-in Russian-who took us to an enormous and impressively run-down Soviet era hotel. We dropped our bags off in a room which stank of mildew. It was late afternoon. I had no idea what day it was. I had no idea what Krycek had packed for me. I was still wearing the suit I had gone to work in on Tuesday.

For food, Krycek took us to some kind of hole-in-the-wall place where they slapped down big bowls of a mysterious meat dish and a basket of flat bread. Horrible wailing music was playing loudly. The other tables were crowded with dark-skinned men, some in polyester tracksuits which even I could tell were ugly as sin, others in big furry hats, long shirts and loose trousers. Krycek ate with the single-minded determination of a man who has no idea when he'll see food again. I tasted the stew and it wasn't too bad, but greasy. Scully would have hated it, I thought, and suddenly remembered where I was, who I was with, and why. Krycek must have sensed my change of mood, because he leaned back, took a swig of soda, and smirked at me.

"Well Mulder?" he said. "Don't you want to know what's going on?"

"Go ahead, tell me. Why are we here? I take it this isn't your idea of a honeymoon."

"Don't be facetious, Mulder," he said. Facetious. I had no idea the rat bastard even knew words like facetious, let alone used them in ordinary conversation. "You know about El Rico?" he asked. I nodded.

"Things have been... unsettled since then. You could say there's a power vacuum. That means that there are certain opportunities. You might get a chance to see something interesting. Something they don't want you to see."

"What kind of things?" I asked. I was caught up. I couldn't help it. This sort of thing was my life's work, and Alex Krycek, liar, traitor, murderer though he was, shared it with me. I didn't understand why he was part of my life, but he was.

He looked around the cafe, then turned back to me, satisfied that no one was listening. "Something to stop it."

"Stop what?"

"You already know the future. The bees, the oil. The propagation of their species and the destruction of ours. They may not be as ready as they meant to be, but everything is changing very quickly. They will begin to move soon." He looked very serious. This was possibly the most lucid set of sentences he'd ever said to me, at least since he betrayed me the first time.

I wished he was still being cryptic. "How much time do we have now?"

He shrugged. "I don't know. They don't exactly send me progress reports." He turned his attention back to his meal and started eating again. I watched the way he ripped the flatbread up, using only his right hand. I swallowed another bite of unknown meat. It had no taste at all.

"Krycek?" He looked up, still chewing. "Who are you working for?"

It was clearly the wrong question to ask, because his eyes went dark, almost black, and he slammed the tabletop with his right hand. "Jesus Fucking Christ, Mulder! Who do you think? Who's left, for God's sake?"

"The Smoker? You're working for Spender?" As I said it, I know it wasn't the right answer. "Or the rebels?"

"You really don't know anything about me, do you, Mulder? I work for me. Get it, Mulder? Me." He finished his soda and threw some paper money on the table. "Are you finished? Let's go."

I slept fitfully that night. The bed was lumpy, the room was cold, and through the open window I could hear the sound of gunfire. That was something else about this town. It was full of men with guns. The army and police seemed to be everywhere and even the men who looked like traffic police were heavily armed. Krycek hadn't even tried to get a gun through any of the airports we traveled through, but when we arrived here he went straight to a locker in the airport, jimmied it open, and retrieved a couple of handguns and three small knives, which he concealed in various places on his body. He didn't offer me a piece. My own was probably still back in my apartment along with my cell phone and my ID.

Krycek, apparently still unsure whether to consider me an ally or a prisoner, had cuffed me to the bedposts. The bed was a crappy piece of furniture, and I could probably have gotten free easily enough. But then I would have had to decide whether I was an ally or a prisoner, and I wasn't ready to make that call either.

Part 2


In the morning we waited in the hotel lobby for Krycek's contact, the man who he said would take us where we were going. Krycek was drinking tea, and when I asked for coffee I got a slimy cup of lukewarm instant. I put it down and Krycek, smirking, had them bring me another glass of tea. I had gotten used to tea in the morning in Oxford, but this was nothing like that: black and sharp tasting, where English tea is milky and bitter.

"Who is this guy we're meeting?" I finally asked.

"A friend. He's been keeping an eye on the base for me for a while and secured it when the Consortium moved out." He looked at me, amused. "You don't have to trust any of us, Mulder. Just remember what I told you. There are only two choices now: resist or serve."

Krycek had placed me with my back to the door, so I didn't see the contact until he was practically at our table. We both got up, and the two of them slapped each other on the shoulders and muttered at each other in Russian or some language like that. Then they turned to me. "Jacob, this is Fox Mulder. I may have mentioned him to you in passing."

"Mr. Mulder," he said. "A pleasure. Jacob Bookman." He had a firm handshake and dry hands. Jacob Bookman was not what I expected in a Krycek contact, although I'm not sure what I did expect. For one thing he was an American. At least, he spoke perfect American English with a West Coast accent. He was tall, perhaps an inch taller than Krycek, and had curly dark hair, skin tanned a medium gold and a prominent beak of a nose. He had a thin, intelligent face with laugh lines around his mouth. He wore an expensive-looking tweed suit, and looked more like a rich academic than a native guide. When we sat down the waiter brought around another set of glasses of tea; Bookman addressed him briefly in a language which wasn't Russian.

"Aren't we heading out?" I asked.

"In a while," he said with a thin smile. "Nothing happens very quickly here. How was the trip?"

"Uneventful," Krycek responded. Clearly kidnapping and death threats were all in a day's work for him. "It's my fault. I told him last night that we thought the schedule had been moved up."

He looked sharply at Krycek. "Do you know something new?" Krycek shook his head. The waiter came back with a tray of food: melon, cheese, yogurt, hard rolls and little jars of jam. "It was just as you predicted," Bookman started. While he talked, he was cutting the melon up. Krycek picked up one of the rolls and started to split it with the thumb his prosthetic hand. "They moved out, and got rid of some of the equipment-here, give me that." He reached over and took the roll out of Krycek's hand. I tensed in anticipation of Krycek's angry reaction, but he just smiled. He looked... was that pleased?

"Thanks," he said.

"Jam?" asked Bookman. My mind was reeling and my mouth was hanging open.

"Please." Had I just heard Krycek say please? Jacob split the roll and began to spread jam onto it. This was far weirder than anything I had ever encountered in the X-Files. I consider myself an open-minded man, but I was having trouble with the image of Alex Krycek allowing someone to cut up his food and butter his bread for him.

"Help yourself, Mr. Mulder." Bookman said to me, then turned back to Krycek. "The computers are all still there, and the security systems are in place. They didn't destroy all of what they left behind." He passed a plate full of food to Krycek.

"Did they leave any samples?" he asked.

"Nothing so far, but I haven't been able to get into the labs and storage areas yet because of the security systems. I didn't want to activate a self-destruct mechanism." He turned back to me. "Aren't you hungry, Mr. Mulder?" I managed to shut my mouth and grabbed a roll. "Do you have the codes, Sasha?"

"I think so." Sasha? I had just been introduced to a man who felt free to make little sandwiches for Alex Krycek and call him Sasha.

After that bizarre breakfast, we went back to the airport. Our cover was fairly simple: I was a rich American doing some hunting, Krycek was my bodyguard-and wasn't that a joke-and Jacob was my host here. I asked what I was hunting, and Jacob just started laughing. "Usually we hunt Russians," he admitted, which sounded good to me. Krycek wrinkled his nose.

Back at the airport, I began to worry: I was trapped in a foreign country, in the company of two men I had no reason to trust. One was a complete unknown, the other... well, Krycek had had numerous chances to kill me in the past. But no one knew I was here, and no one knew I was with him. If I were killed here, my body would never be identified. Scully would never know what happened to me: she would never even be able to begin investigating.

Ashgabat in daytime was a medium sized industrial city, full of concrete apartment blocks. The strangest thing about it was how normal it seemed. Only the Cyrillic-alphabet signs reminded me that I wasn't in some rust-belt town. Well, that and the big furry hats.

We flew to the ridiculously-named city of Mary, another medium sized industrial city. Maybe a few more factories than Ashgabat. Bookman informed me that it had once been Merv, one of the trading cities strung along the Silk Road, but there was no sign of any exotic past that I could see. Just sagging concrete and dust and exhaust fumes everywhere.

Bookman and Krycek had started gossiping on the plane. I don't know what else to call it. This really was a new side to Krycek. Sure, there were a fair number of violent deaths among their mutual acquaintances but there were also two marriages and a birth. I had trouble imagining Krycek as a wedding guest. What kind of gifts do assassins bring? Bookman, on the other hand... if we had met in DC, I would not have pegged him as a psychopath. Of course, I didn't realize what Krycek was until it was too late, either. Bookman spoke like an educated man. He laughed quite a bit. He made Krycek laugh once. I'm not sure I had ever heard Krycek laugh honestly before this. But I couldn't be sure that this was an honest laugh. Perhaps Krycek was lying to Bookman as well, presenting him with a face he knew the other man would respond well to. Perhaps Bookman could be persuaded to see things from my point of view. They had stopped talking about people, and were now engaged in a debate about the political situation in China: strangely, it was Krycek who was arguing that political liberalization was inevitable and would be peaceful, and Bookman who favored armed insurrection.

"Sasha," Bookman finally said, "you're such an idealist!" Oh yes, I thought, I could persuade Bookman to take my point of view. Whoever this man was that Bookman thought he knew, he wasn't Alex Krycek.


In Mary, Jacob left us at the airstrip and went to reclaim his Land Rover from some friends of his. Mulder watched Jacob's departing figure, then turned abruptly to me. "How well do you know him?"

Poor Mulder. He really hated having to rely on the two of us. "For an overeducated part-time terrorist, he's pretty normal."

"A... what?"

I gave Mulder a toothy grin. Jacob had spent part of the flight discussing US antiterrorism measures with him. "Well, he started out just studying the subject, then working undercover, but I think he went native after Sarajevo. He spends a good chunk of every year just across the border in Afghanistan. Still, you should have seen him at his sister's wedding. It was in Jerusalem. Anyway, you think you're paranoid? He was terrified that someone would spot him. Half the wedding guests were Israeli intelligence."

Mulder didn't find this funny, although that wedding was one of my favorite memories. Just thinking about it made me smile. "He's a terrorist? What... he..."

"Blows things up? Mostly he does target analysis, intelligence stuff. He's not exactly volunteering for suicide missions. And if something looks really bad, he tries to pass the intelligence on--although I think he's more involved in destabilization, guerilla wars, these days. He was setting up some kind of game against the Indonesians a while back. He has this weird beef against them, I don't really know what it is." Mulder's eyes no longer looked like they were going to pop out of his head. Apparently destabilizing Indonesia was an acceptable pastime in Mulder's book, although privately I thought that the bloodshed was only going to get worse. At least if I kill someone, I'm there to see it. "Still, funny career choice for a nice Jewish boy from Berkeley."

"You're full of shit, Krycek." I just grinned at him. Divide and conquer may be a cliche, but it's a cliche because it works.

There's only one road out of Mary, following the course of the Murghab river; everything else is just desert. Technically the whole area from Mary south to the Afghan border is a security zone, closed to tourists, but Jacob seemed confident that he could get us through it.

Our trouble started at the third checkpoint out of Mary, just past the market at the edge of a little no-name town. It was nothing more than a few houses and a cafe where the road widened into a kind of square. We stopped the Land Rover, were offered tea, offered them cigarettes and had our papers inspected by about eight guys--at least one of whom could hardly read the Cyrillic. Bookman seemed to know a couple of them and they started a friendly argument, something about a horse race. Our problems began when the cafe door banged open and a big man rushed out. He was really big, about my height but at least twice my body weight. With his big greasy mustache and big fur hat he looked like something the Mongol horde had left behind.

When he started to yell at the soldiers they stiffened up and began to look threatening, blocking the road behind us and ahead. I tried to reach for a gun but they had the three of us covered. Jacob said something in a joking tone to the big man, and then a word or two in some Turkic dialect to the men around us. It was obviously an insult, because a couple of the soldiers started to snigger. Just as clearly it was the wrong thing to say, because the big man drew his own gun on us and started to yell, calling Jacob a cheat and a horse-thief and a couple of other things.

At this point there were far too many guns out for my taste, especially since none of them were mine. One of the soldiers was poking me in the back with his machine gun. The whole thing had happened very quickly: Mulder was still looking confused, but knew enough to put his hands up when a teenaged army recruit was pointing a gun at him.

The big man kept talking now that we were all harmless. He had a whole series of grudges, starting with the horse race and ending up with a mining contract that Jacob was supposed to have sabotaged. He had some unflattering things to say about Jacob's ancestry as well, which was when my friend made the mistake of answering back. The big man hit him in the side of the head with his pistol. He staggered but didn't fall. I kept still, but Mulder tried taking a step forward only to be pushed back again by the soldiers. The big man snapped something at them and they started herding us into the guard-post. Mulder started to protest and complain until they hit him a couple times. Then he shut up.

I wasn't too happy about being locked up either. Jacob, on the other hand, looked dazed but not worried. He hadn't looked frightened at any point, although that might just have been his sense of natural superiority. No, I didn't like this one bit: not the fact that we were being herded into some kind of basement jail-cells, not the fact that they had taken my guns and two of my knives. Especially not the fact that I had too fucking much still to do with my life to die here in the tail end of nowhere, just because Jacob couldn't keep his mouth shut. I was thinking seriously about leaving him here when I broke out.

The big man followed us down to the basement for another round of insults and threats. Then they locked the three of us into cells and left us in the half-light.


The cells under the guard-post were like something out of a cheap Western, except that they were made of concrete like everything else in this country. We were in three tiny cells facing into the center of the room, which contained a desk and chair for the guard and a rack of assault rifles on the far wall. I started trying the bars, but it was a solid little cage. Krycek went straight for the ledge at the back of the cell and lay down on his back; Bookman went to the side of his and stood there looking down at him. "Well?" he finally said.

"Well what? You're the one they want; I can probably persuade them to let me and Mulder go." Krycek paused. "Did you do it?"

Bookman looked down his nose. "I don't need to cheat at horseracing."

"And the rest?"

He shrugged. "He's corrupt. They're all corrupt and so am I, Sasha. It was just business, anyway. What do you want me to do, sign a confession?"

"Wait a minute," I said. "This is about a horse race?"

"And a mining contract," Bookman said. "But I think the race is what really upset him."

I turned toward him: now we were facing each other across the middle cell, where Krycek lay on the ledge with his eyes closed. For some reason, the thought that he was just going to take a nap made me extremely angry. "You, get up!" I said.

He didn't move. "What is it, Mulder?"

"We could have been shot back there, in the road."

"It's possible," Bookman said. "But a person can die at any moment here. A soldier at a roadblock could have decided that one of us was a spy, or not liked the look of our money, or simply been in a bad mood that morning, and it wouldn't matter. We would still be dead."

"You asshole!" I hissed at Krycek. "Did you even think of that? What happens if you just die by accident here? What happens to Scully?"

That got his attention, and he dragged himself upright. "Mulder. Nothing it going to happen the Scully. There is no contract. I was messing with your head, OK? Shit. I can't believe you really thought I would do something like that." He actually sounded hurt.

I don't think that a human being can be angrier than I was at that moment and still live. Through the red haze I heard Bookman asking what that was about, and Krycek explaining what he had told me. Then Bookman started to laugh, and Krycek joined in, and I thought that my anger really would kill me.

I was still trying to speak, getting ready to tell Krycek what I was going to do to him once I was free, when they stopped laughing and moved to the front of their cells. There was a shout from somewhere upstairs, and the sound of a scuffle, and then some kind of gasping laugh, much closer.

"Was that--" Krycek began, when a bundle of dark cloth whirled into the room. A set of keys went flying through the air into Bookman's hands as the bundle resolved itself into a woman--a young woman--wearing the long dress I had seen on uncountable women here and a black scarf that was falling off her head. She was carrying what looked like a police-issue rifle. I had time to notice dark hair, dark eyes and a huge grin, then "Door!" Krycek shouted. In English, I realized, as she whirled and let off a burst of machine-gun fire. The guard in the doorway fell to the ground. Bookman had his cell open and tossed the keys to Krycek before grabbing a gun off the rack across the room. Krycek opened his own cell and kicked the keys over to the far corner of mine--damn him--but he didn't go for a gun. When I turned around to let myself out, I saw him with his arm wrapped around the woman. They were kissing. Thoroughly and enthusiastically. Another burst of machine gun fire, this time from Bookman, and a second guard fell.

"Sasha," he said evenly, "get your hands off my sister before I have to shoot you too." He had the decency to hand me a gun as we left the room.

Part 3


I had more than one reason for kissing Leilah like that as soon as I saw her. For one thing, I wanted to find out if she had, in fact, blown that guard to get at his keys. She had. I also guessed that it would keep Mulder from attacking me as soon as he got out of the cell. It did. And of course, I was happy to see her. I don't know why she decided to kiss me back, but I wasn't complaining.

Getting out of jail was surprisingly simple from that point on. The place was basically empty; we even had time for me to stop off in the upstairs office and pick up my weapons, which the soldiers had confiscated when we came in. We all came tumbling out the door and into our Land Rover, which someone had conveniently left right outside the building. Jacob jumped in front and started the engine, Mulder slid in next to him, I shoved Leilah into the back and shot the last of our pursuers before jumping in, and we were off. Leilah leaned against me; she was looking at one of her feet, which were bare and bloody. She must have left little red footprints all over that jail. "Where was everybody?" I murmured to her.

"Rounding up some sheep and goats. Someone opened up all the pens in the market, and everyone in town is busy stealing livestock." She looked satisfied with herself. I couldn't help myself, so I leaned in to kiss her again. Just a quick kiss, because Jacob was starting to look a little annoyed up front. "Our secret, right?" she whispered.

It took me a second to figure out what she was talking about; then I realized she must have meant the blow job. "Our secret," I promised. It isn't that Jacob thinks his little sister is an innocent, but I've never been sure he realizes quite what an amoral creature she is. And if he found out about that guard, Jacob would probably make us all go back to that town and mutilate his dead body. At the time, I felt we had better things to do.

Leilah had lost interest in her foot, and in me. She bent forward, lifting her voice over the noise of the engine. "You must be Mr. Mulder. How do you do? I'm Leilah Katalan; Jacob is my brother." She was holding out a small, slightly blood-stained hand; Mulder looked at it like it was a dead fish. "Mr. Mulder?" she repeated.

Reflex took over and he shook her hand. "Pleased to meet you."

"Leilah?" Jacob asked. "What were you doing there?"

"I was bored, so I came to meet you. I followed you from the airport. Didn't you notice?" Of course we hadn't noticed. No one ever notices those veiled women in whatever the native dress happened to be, they're just part of the background. "You ought to be glad I was there."

"Fine, fine. Very glad." He made a face.

"Oh, don't be so upset. It's all turned out well, and I promise not to gloat. We can tell everyone that you single-handedly broke open the door of your cell, killed all the policemen, and then came back to rescue these two. And me." Jacob started to laugh, and she settled back in her seat.

I wished that they would keep talking, because eventually Mulder was going to remember that he was very angry with me. I noticed that Jacob had given him an automatic. This was not good.

"Will they follow us?" Mulder asked as Jacob headed off the road and west into the empty countryside.

"Probably," Jacob replied casually. "I'll pull over in a little while to let them catch up."

Ordinarily, I would have allowed Mulder to hit me a little in this situation: after all, I had threatened his precious Scully, and hitting me would make him feel better and might even make him easier to manipulate, if I could get him to feel guilty about my arm. It wasn't that I liked to be hit by Mulder, but I didn't take it personally either. It was how we were.

But that kind of thing seemed out of place here. I couldn't let Mulder beat me up in front of an audience, or anyway not this audience. I had a while to think about what to do as we drove on. It was time to change the dynamic. In a way, it was going to be a relief to be free from this crazy thing Mulder and I had going.

Jacob drove for about an hour after we left the road. Now we were on a dirt track heading up the mountainside, following the edge of a ravine. As soon as he stopped the Land Rover, I jumped out. Mulder got out more slowly and just stood there, leaning against the side of the Land Rover. He'd had a lot of time to think as well, and I started to hope that he had used it to think about why I was doing what I was doing, and what was at stake.

Guess not. I shifted my weight, and in a moment he was swinging at me, a straight punch aimed at my jaw. I blocked with the prosthesis and punched him in the solar plexus, knocking him back. I took one step to follow him and kicked him in the knee, then punched him again, this time in the spleen. He fell backwards onto the ground, then got back up. I waited for him, and he came stumbling at me. He got me once in the ribs, but the blow wasn't very strong. Fighting off balance is a difficult skill; I ought to know. I let him close with me, then a jab to the jaw distracted him while I kicked his legs out from underneath him. He went sprawling in to the dirt. When he got up again I didn't wait: I grabbed him and pushed him against the side of the car, pinned him with my weight and pulled a knife on him.

He looked stunned. I knew that in a minute he would collect himself, work his arms out from where they were held between our bodies by the weight of the prosthesis. For that moment, though, he was dazed and still as I stood there with my knife to his throat. Our bodies were pressed together, a parody of intimacy.

"Enough!" I hissed. "It's enough! This ends now." He started to push against me, and I pushed back against his throat with the knife, enough to draw blood. "Who do you think I am? Don't you know that I could kill you right now? What makes you think you can just hit me like that?"

"I don't know what you are! You slink in and out of my life like some kind of stray cat, one minute you want to help me, the next minute you want to kill me... Do you want me to hate you, or not? You kissed me, for God's sake!"

I let him go and stepped back: the will to hurt him had just drained out of me. "And you followed me halfway around the world. Why is that?" We were both breathing heavily. "Mulder..." I could have kissed him again, then. If we had been alone I might have, but I could see Jacob on the other side of the car, watching us. I didn't see Leilah anywhere. "I don't know what this thing between us is."

"Temporary insanity?" he asked ruefully.

"Something like that."

"When this is over..."

"We can be enemies again," I assured him.

"Are you my enemy, Krycek?"

Nothing has ever been easy with Mulder. "I have been, and I may be again. Mulder, I have a world; occasionally it intersects with yours. That's all." His lip was split from when I punched him in the jaw; there was blood all over that side of his face. I reached out to touch it, and wondered: had I told him the truth? Did it become the truth when I said it?

"Oh, honestly!" said a voice behind me: Leilah, annoyed. I winced, and Mulder started to smile, then winced himself. She started rummaging around in the back of the Land Rover for the medical kit. "Come on, there's a little stream down here, we have to clean that off..." She was supporting Mulder as she led him away from the car.

Jacob was still standing across from me. "Well?" I asked.

"You really kissed him?"

"It seemed like a good idea at the time. Were you there for all of that?"

"I sent Leilah to do some scouting. I stayed to make sure you didn't kill each other."

"Thanks." Introducing Mulder to Jacob had been a risk; I hadn't thought about the chance that we would see Leilah on this trip. I wondered if, drunk on adrenaline, I had just made some kind of irrevocable decision: if a, then not b. If not a, then b? It sounded too orderly to have anything to do with my life.

"Sasha?" he asked. I must have been staring off into space. "Help me clear this brush, and we'll move the Land Rover further into the ravine." Before we moved the car, Jacob unloaded the weapons: machine guns, grenades, a couple of extremely fancy sniper rifles, a few kilos of plastic explosive, some other equipment. When we got back Leilah was standing there waiting for us, holding the semtex and what looked like the makings of a detonator. "Where's Mulder?" her brother asked.

"Keeping a cold cloth on his face. There's a good spot for an ambush about 50 meters back at the hairpin turn. We can block the road and set up on either side of the rock fall."

"Right," he said. "Let's go." He turned to me. "How good a shot is Mr. Mulder?"

"He has a tendency to drop his gun under pressure." Jacob handed me the second rifle.

The track narrowed between the steep slope and the edge of the ravine. I found a position halfway up the hillside and watched them set the charges. A jag in the ravine created a kind of half-circle, and the rock fall would hold them there long enough for us to pick them off one by one if we had to. I made sure I was well hidden, and started setting up the rifle. These things take longer with only one working hand. Even so, I had plenty of time to think.

I hadn't lied to Mulder. I had a world. I just didn't understand it.

Every now and then, I get the illusion that I have a choice about my life. I think that I have some kind of control, that I can decide what I'm going to do or who I'm going to be. That hasn't been true in a very long time. Fight or die. That's not a choice. Fight and die, more like it.

I asked Jacob about it once, because he could have spent his whole life in the daylight world, far away from all the lawlessness and violence he seemed to thrive on. But serious for a moment he just said that once you've looked at evil, you can't turn your back on it. And then, because there's far too much going on in his head, he quoted something to me. He said it was from a translation of the Mahabharata and bore no relation to the original. It went like this:

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

Well, mama was no princess, but I knew what he meant. It wasn't like I was going to be settling down and growing old with Fox Mulder. Or with Leilah Katalan, or her brother Jacob.

At this rate, none of us were going to live happily ever after. I told myself it was stupid to be worrying about that kind of thing, when we had a world to save.

I watched Leilah go back down the road towards the Land Rover and come back loaded with weaponry. Mulder followed her, limping slightly; I didn't recall the blow that did that. She pointed up the hill and he began to climb it, to where Jacob must have hidden himself. She watched him go, nodded once and turned back to start climbing up to my position. I sat up so she could see me, and saw her wave in answer.

"Nice," she said as she settled in next to me and started taking off the arsenal she was wearing. Two machine guns, a rifle for herself, an automatic, a belt of grenades and a lot of extra ammunition. It was a wonder the girl could walk. "Jacob thinks they'll be here in about fifteen minutes. He'll set off the explosives, and then we'll pick off anyone who makes it over to this side. He says to try not to kill anyone, because we have to pay blood money and it's expensive. That means you get to do all the hard work, and I only shoot if there's an emergency." Typical Jacob, I thought.

She was sitting an arm's length from me: a careful distance. She must have heard more of that conversation with Mulder than I thought. "Leilah..." I started.

"Jacob made me promise not to talk about it."

"Would you like to hit me, too?"

We were sitting in the dirt, crouched low in a gully behind some rocks. She sighed. "It really doesn't matter, Sasha. But you shouldn't have kissed me like that if you didn't mean it." Fuck. Was that her lip trembling? I guessed that I had about half a second to review all my previous encounters with her, and figure out what the hell she was up to. Sure, I had considered seducing her in Istanbul, but self preservation had kicked in and I had given it a miss. Now, though, I needed to keep someone on my side, and here she was, practically crying. I could kiss her, or things could get ugly.

Her eyes were enormous and dark, her skin was golden in the afternoon light. She was as likely to get me killed as Mulder ever was, which was probably what decided it. When I reached out my good arm to pull her toward me she seemed to come willingly until she was half-sitting my lap, her mouth pressed up against mine. She pushed her body against me, her hands moving over my face and head, her mouth like fire to my tongue. The bitter taste of semen was gone, and now she tasted only of spring water. We paused for breath and I began to kiss her lips, her face, her eyelids; she bent her head back and I obliged by kissing her neck. Her hands were wandering from my face to my head to my chest, pausing to tease as a nipple through my shirt, moving under my jacket and over my back.

How long we were like that I do not know, but when the explosion came we both jumped. She dropped her head against my chest, laughing silently, and then crawled over to take up her own gun. I peered over the edge of our hiding place.

Jacob had done a professional job with the explosives: the rocks had fallen directly in the path of the oncoming cars. I could see the top of the first and all of the second, a jeep crowded with five or six men. It had a cloth top in back; that's not very useful if someone's going to shoot at you. I could hear shouting, too. My whole body felt cold, as if Leilah had taken a layer of skin with her when she pulled away, and I was achingly aware of her lying next to me. One of the soldiers was trying to climb over the fallen rocks. I waited until I could see his whole upper body, then aimed for the shoulder. He fell back. I heard another shot, then more shouting. The soldiers in the second jeep started to get out, then piled back in. Then someone got out of the front jeep and walked back, shouting and gesturing at the other men. I heard the shot and saw him fall; Jacob had shot him in the leg, I thought, and he was screaming. I heard Jacob's voice over the screams. Leilah was whispering to me. "He's telling them that the can all go, he only cares about Mahmoud." Mahmoud must be the big man, I figured. "Did you mean that?" she asked.

"Yes. Did you?"

"Mahmoud is refusing to get out of the jeep. Maybe." The second jeep was reversing and trying to turn around, not an easy job on the narrow path. That must have brought the big man out of the jeep, because I heard three more shots, and then Jacob shouted something. There was some activity on the other side of the boulders. I saw two men pick up the body of the wounded man and put him in the back of the jeep: they must have been collecting the wounded men and the corpse. Soon enough, this jeep followed the other back down the track. I saw Jacob and Mulder on the hillside opposite us, starting to climb down. Then Leilah touched my shoulder; I rolled onto my back and pulled her down on top of me. She murmured something into my lips, and drew back. "My brother is a fine man, but if he has to walk up here and find us like this, he is likely to kill us both."

Her cheeks were flushed, and her lips swollen. "He'll probably notice something anyway."

"But he can pretend not to, and then lecture me later."

I reached up to her cheek, then traced her lips with my fingers. She began to nibble at them. "I'll protect you," I promised. She laughed and rolled off of me, then started to pick up the guns and ammunition. I looked down the hillside: Jacob and Mulder were standing in the road below us. I waved and started to pack up the rifle.

"Sasha?" She said as we stood up. "Stay with us? You know you don't have to leave."

I stopped to stare at her, trying to decide what she was offering. "There's too much left to do," I said.

"Places to go? People to kill?" Now she was only teasing.

"Don't forget my plans for world domination." She laughed. Women never believe that line.

Part 4


Driving up the gorge in the Land Rover was a slow business, made slower by the silence between the other three. Sasha had warned me that he and Mulder had a certain amount of history. The scene back there by the car suggested that had been an understatement. I was becoming increasingly concerned about what other pieces of information Sasha was keeping from me. In any case, the mission took precedence. Sasha had assured me that what we were doing was important and that Mulder was necessary. He had also told me he could keep Mulder in line. At the time I had believed him, but now, with Sasha's attention split between Mulder and Leilah, I was feeling less sure.

I would have preferred for my sister to remain at home. I certainly did not want to see her involved with Sasha: the thought was deeply distasteful. She had known him since she was a girl and never given me the slightest hint that she was interested in him. What had changed? Whatever this fascination was, I needed to discourage it. I could hardly control her when she was on her own, as the events at the checkpoint demonstrated. The idea that she might team up with Sasha didn't bear thinking about. Perhaps Leilah could be distracted by whatever we would find in the facility.

That last seemed unlikely. Leilah could be single-minded when she wanted something. When was the last time she had been in contact with Sasha? After the funeral, I thought, and I thought she had been distracted by her own grief at the time; she had hardly been speaking. Sasha had appeared, sat with the family for a day, and left. Surely there had been no opportunity. Perhaps this was merely a passing whim, in which case all I needed to do was ensure that no one got too badly hurt.

Sasha was now so different from the young man I met in Prague. In those days he could step in and out of the shadows, but now he seemed to carry the darkness within him. His laughter passed more quickly now, and I was not surprised that Mulder had believed his threats. Sasha was dangerous now, and very much alone. Another reason to keep Leilah away from him; she would love the danger, and leave him to make it greater.

Once more I cursed the bomb that had killed Daniel.

We came to the facility in the evening; now we were high in the mountains, well out of the desert. It was a low building set in the bowl between two hills. It looked small, but extended at least one level underground, perhaps more. The area in front had been cleared and paved: they used it as a helicopter pad.

Mulder jumped out of the car before I actually stopped, and Sasha followed him; they nearly ran up the steps to try the door. Of course it was still locked. I had used a window to get in when I came to explore. But Sasha flipped open the keypad by the door and tapped in a number, and the doors slid open before them. He turned back and grinned at me, like the shadow of the boy I had known. I grunted and got out of the car: I had cleared a road the last time I came here, but the drive up had still been tiring. The other two men were already inside. I told Leilah to unload the car, and followed them in.

They were waiting in the lobby. "Where's the generator?" Sasha asked. I sent him down the right-hand corridor. Mulder started looking into the file drawers in the empty offices, but it was really too dark to read anything. He moved impatiently into the darkness, to the locked door which kept us from whatever secrets they had left behind them, and stood with his head resting against it.

I returned to the front door to find Leilah standing there with a box of food. "It would be too much to suppose that you know where the kitchen is? Unless they always ordered out for Chinese?" I told her to try the left-hand corridor. As she went we heard the hum of the generator and the lights began to come on further inside.

Sasha came back from the generator. "I've left the lights off in the front of the building, in case anyone is checking on it," he said. "And there's a kind of garage in the side of the building, where you can leave the Land Rover. I'll go open it for you, if you want to put it away."

I could hear Mulder's voice raised as I came back in from hiding the car. "But it's all in Russian!"

"Well of course it's Russian, Mulder," Sasha answered. "This used to be part of the Soviet Union." They were in one of the inside offices, the door half-open.

"So how am I supposed to read it all?"

"I'll tell you if anything looks interesting." There was a crash, probably the sound of one of them hitting an empty filing cabinet with his fist. "Back off!" Sasha said sharply.

I could hear the sound of someone pacing back and forth in the office--Mulder, probably--and papers rustling. The pacing stopped. "That woman..." Mulder began.

"Leilah? What about her?" Sasha sounded neutral.

"She's Bookman's sister?"

"The famous Mulder observation skills. I thought that was pretty well established."

He was silent for a moment. "You two seemed pretty close."

The papers kept rustling. "Jealous?"

"She's not my type." Mulder's answer made Sasha laugh, a low seductive sound.

"Damn straight. Besides, you know how Scully gets when she hears you've been flirting with other women." He paused. "Seriously, Mulder. You keep away from Leilah. She's dangerous, and she hasn't been very stable since her husband died."

"What happened?" Mulder asked.

"Car bomb," Sasha replied shortly. "She was there at the time. Don't start looking too sympathetic. He was an arms dealer, and that's a dangerous line of work." I heard him get up. "Look," he said, "there's nothing here, just stuff about their budget, and some faked documentation for the government here. Let's go see if we can get into the labs." It was time for me to make a noise. I let my shoe scuff on the floor and took a step backward. Mulder looked flustered when I opened the office door, but Sasha was calm. "We're going to go try the labs," he said. "If the whole place explodes, you'll know it didn't work."

"I'll come too." I offered.

Leilah caught up with us by that inner door, as Sasha keyed in a complex number sequence and the lock clicked open.

"Would you do the honors, Leilah?" he asked. I was reminded of times when he had used that teasing voice on me, like silk laid over sandpaper. Leilah and I needed to have a little discussion, and very soon. She was smiling back at him, and stepping forward to open the door. The we all stepped back, coughing, as warm stale air poured out from the labs.

"Bastard," Leilah said, waving her hands in front of her face.


As soon as the door opened and the air cleared I headed in. Somewhere in here I would find the answers I needed, the key to everything I still didn't understand. I was only vaguely aware of Krycek at my side as I opened the first door. The office had been stripped bare. I went on to the next. This time I saw Krycek's gun out of the corner of my eye. I froze and then realized that he was covering me, aiming for the doorway. I wondered briefly what he thought might still be alive in here, then put that thought aside and opened the door. It was another office, this time with a computer and some papers left on the desk.

We worked our way down the hall like that, door by door. It was eerie: not the silence or the empty offices, but the way we could work together like that, as if we'd been partners for years. He seemed to know what I would do before I did it, and I found myself step in step with him as we moved forward. I was hardly aware of Bookman and his sister following us. We ended up at the end of the corridor in front of the elevator. To its left was the stairwell door, and without stopping to confer, we both turned toward it. As I reached for the handle I felt Krycek move into position next to it, gun ready. I glanced over at him, and he gave me a little smile.

The stairs led down underground. I could hear the thud of my own feet on the concrete steps, but Krycek was making no noise at all as he took the stairs ahead of me. Another door at the bottom opened into a single huge room, some kind of laboratory. As we went in Krycek turned back and shouted up to Bookman and his sister that it was clear.

I took one half of the room, Krycek the other. The lights down here were much brighter than those upstairs. I forced myself not to think about that strange rapport we had fallen into. Instead I concentrated on what lay in front of me: computers, filing cabinets, huge chrome machines. I recognized some of them as the tools Scully used for DNA analysis, but others were more mysterious. The computers would be worth a closer look, and not all the filing cabinets were empty.

With uncanny timing we both reached the back of the room at the same moment. Through the glass doors I could see a row of empty cages; beyond that was a metal door with a red light over it. The cages were big, big enough to hold an alien or even a crouching human. I wondered what kind of lab this had been.

Krycek tapped another set of numbers and the glass doors hissed open. He stepped through without waiting for me and stood in front of the metal door. He took a key from his pocket and turned it in the lock; the red light over the door began to flash and a panel slid open next to the door. He typed in yet another code, then put his hand on the screen under the keypad. The light switched to green.

He turned back to me with a tight smile. "Let's see what they left us."

Warily, I followed him in. How deeply involved was he, anyway? I had always thought of Krycek as just an errand boy, an assassin at best. But he needed some serious clearance to get past that door. The scan on his hand was the most disturbing thing; the key and the code could have been stolen, but the scan implied that Alex Krycek was authorized to walk in here. Could I really trust him to give me whatever was waiting here, or was this all some kind of trap? I had come so close to the truth so many times, only to have it snatched right out of my hands.

He was standing in front of a set of refrigerated cabinets, his back to me. "If it's in here, it'll be in the central section. Series 77-22, number 1764." I could see row after row of vials behind the glass. Some held blood, others unidentifiable clear liquids.

"And what is that?" I asked. It was cold as a meat locker in here, but that wasn't why the hair was standing up on the back of my neck.

He glanced back at me. "I told you. A weapon, something to neutralize the oil before it can infect the host. A real vaccine."

As soon as he mentioned the vaccine I froze. My thoughts went straight back to the gulag in Siberia and the way he'd left me to die there.

"What about..." I began to argue.

"The cure Scully got in Antarctica?"

How the hell did he know about that? How well informed was this man? I had a sudden urge to grab hold of him and force him to tell me everything he knew.

He didn't seem to notice my reaction, and kept talking. "The oil mutated, somehow. What the Brit gave you doesn't work as a vaccine any more, although it can be used as an antidote within a limited window."

"And Tunguska?" I asked.

That got his attention. He turned around and stared at me cautiously. "There were problems with the Tunguska vaccine. Side effects."

I took a step closer so that I was standing directly in his face, willing him to take a step back. Standing so close to him I had a sudden sense of enormous strength carefully leashed. He stayed perfectly still, ignoring my attempt to intimidate him. His eyes never left mine. "And what are you going to do with this one? Sell it to the highest bidder? Find a bunch of innocent people to test it on? Bury it forever for your buddies in the Consortium? Do you think I'm just going to stand here and let you do that?"

He stood there, unyielding. "Mulder..." he began patiently.

Whatever he meant to say was lost as Bookman cut him off. "Sasha?" he said, "Haven't you told Mulder what his role in this will be?"

"What role?" I asked angrily. I had almost forgotten that Bookman and his sister were there.

Krycek broke eye contact with me for the first time, and turned to Bookman. "What if there's nothing here? It won't matter."

Bookman spoke to me. "If we find a working vaccine, you get it. Then you get it to as many people as possible."

I opened my mouth to object, then realized I wasn't sure what I was objecting to. It couldn't just be that easy. Could it? I thought back to that disturbing moment by the Land Rover, when we had finished hitting each other. Krycek had assured me that we were enemies, although he wasn't acting like an enemy. But I couldn't trust him. Could I?

He must have seen my hesitation. "Listen, Mulder. This is important. You're perfectly placed to plan this. You may not be able to go public yet--"

"Why not?" I demanded, relieved to have something familiar to argue against. "People need to know about this. We can expose these men and stop everything. You have the information I need!"

"Those men are dead, Mulder," he hissed at me. "This isn't about the old men. This is about Colonization. Do you think they care about exposure? Once they know that the secret is out, Colonization will begin. They'll have nothing to lose." He paused, looking at me earnestly. "But you can use your contacts to start getting people vaccinated. You can use their own techniques against them."

"So you want me to believe that you're just going to hand this to me?" I asked sarcastically. "What, Alex Krycek wants to save the world?"

"Believe whatever you want," he snarled at me. "Just don't screw this up." Without waiting for my response he turned back to the cabinets. He opened one and started to sort through the vials. "Nothing is in order," he said, his face perfectly composed. It was as if our conversation had never happened. "We'll have to go through them all."

I gritted my teeth and set to work. He was telling the truth; they really weren't in any kind of order. My eyes started to glaze over as a tedious rhythm set in. Pull out a set of vials, look at each one, put them away. It seemed to take hours. I wanted to slip a few into my pockets, but I had no idea what was what.

Then without warning Krycek shoved the tray he was working on back into the cabinets and slammed the door closed. "It isn't here!" he shouted, and hit at the glass with his prosthetic arm so hard that it shattered. "It isn't here," he repeated more softly. "They never had it."

We all froze. I heard Leilah next to me whisper, "Sasha..." but he turned away, his face white, and ran from the room. We heard a crash from the laboratory, then another. As we came out we saw the stairwell door slam shut behind him.


Indecision held me back. Should I follow Sasha outside, or have that talk with Leilah? When she began to head for the door, I made my decision. "Mr. Mulder, go keep an eye on Sasha. Leilah, come with me and we'll find something to eat. It's been a long day, and we'll work better after food and rest." Mulder gave me a quick grateful look, whether for trusting him with something or for keeping Leilah and Sasha apart I didn't know. Leilah, though, looked less than pleased with me and I nearly had to drag her into the kitchen.

"I want you to stop teasing Sasha." Right to the heart of the matter.

She gave me a little smile but made no attempt to look innocent. "What makes you think I'm teasing him?" It seemed more likely than the alternative explanation, that she had suddenly been seized by a grand passion for Sasha. "Besides," she pointed out, "he kissed me first."

That hardly deserved a response. "Leilah, when was the last time you saw him? The funeral?"

"No, we met about a year ago in Istanbul."

This was news to me. "Really?" I kept my voice neutral.

"You were in China. We had a very nice time."

Very nice indeed. I couldn't believe that she would start an affair with Sasha without telling me. She was still my little sister. "You never mentioned it to me." I placed my hands on her shoulders, and turned her around to face me.

"It was private."

Private? Clearly I was going to have to ask her openly what was going on. "When did you and Sasha become lovers?" How long had this been going on? Surely not while Daniel was alive?

She had the nerve to laugh, and if I could bottle the innocent look she gave me then and sell it, I'd have another fortune. But then, I've always admired her courage. "Oh, all right, I'm sorry. We aren't lovers. Really, don't you think Sasha and I would have mentioned that to you?"

"But you met him in Istanbul? Why?"

"Business. After the funeral... I asked Sasha to track down the people responsible for the bomb, to take care of it." My fingers tightened of their own will and a cold feeling settled into my marrow. This was far worse than the possibility that she and Sasha were having an affair. Furiously I collected my wits, waiting for her accusations. I had allowed myself to believe that I might get away with it, but that had clearly been an illusion. She had sent Sasha to follow the trail of her husband's killers, and as I knew that trail led straight back to me. That it had been an accident, a terrible mistake, would have little effect on my sister.

She twisted a little under my hands; I realized how tightly I was holding her. "What is it?" she asked, looking up at me. I could only read curiosity on her features. Was it possible that she didn't know that I was responsible for Daniel's death? I could feel hope cracking my heart open from the inside.

The best lies are close to the truth. "I hired him to do the same thing," making it sound like a rueful admission. She might not know the truth, but Sasha? I had to assume that Sasha did.

She grinned, suddenly. "That awful man! Shall we tell him that we've found him out?"

I ran through the possibilities. Protecting Sasha and Leilah from each other had to yield in my priorities to protecting myself from them. I needed to find out how much Sasha knew about Daniel's death, and how much he had told Leilah. "No," I said finally, running a finger down her cheek. "Let him have his fun. We'll just have to think of some way to take it out on him."


The sun had set while we were indoors, but I found Krycek easily enough. He must have walked straight across the paved area and into the trees beyond it. It looked like he had only stopped when he walked directly into a tree; in any case he was standing there leaning his face against it when I caught up with him.

"Krycek," I began-but what could I say to him? In a life in which the abnormal and supernatural were my constant companions, this had to count as one of the weirder days on record. My mind went back again to that scene by the Land Rover. What had happened there? What had Krycek been trying to tell me? Had he been trying to tell me anything? I was beginning to suspect that the Krycek I thought I knew had been taken away and replaced by this new figure. This man, who would kidnap me and fight back against me when I tried to hit him. Who was beginning to insist that I meet him on his own terms. Who seemed to assume that my goals and his were the same.

It was hard for me to think of Krycek except in terms of the Consortium; I hadn't thought that he had a life beyond that. I hadn't thought about it at all.

I felt entirely abandoned. I needed Scully here, needed her rational voice to tell me what I felt, what I ought to be feeling.

Only a day in this godforsaken country, and already I wanted Krycek to drag himself out of this inexplicable despair. And not just because I suspected that I'd need him to get me home. Did I actually care how this man felt? I worried away at the notion like a sore tooth. Krycek was becoming a puzzle now. I needed to find the solution.

He gave no indication that he had heard me. "Krycek?" I tried again. "Alex?"

At that he lifted his head and looked at me. "Jesus, Mulder. Just don't start calling me Sasha." He sounded worn to the bone. I could hardly see his eyes in the darkness. I tried to laugh: what came out was a strangled honking noise. When he turned around to lean his back against the tree I really looked at him for the first time. His face was incredibly changeable: asleep on the airplane he had looked shockingly young, but at the moment he just looked tired, unshaven, desolate. Older.

I wanted to ask him if he had really intended to give me the vaccine. I wanted to ask why he had brought me here at all. I wanted to ask which moments were true, the ones when we were at each others' throats or the ones when we were working side by side.

I said: "Jacob thinks we should eat, and sleep, and start over in the morning."

Part 5


Dinner was a blur. There was no conversation. I only realized how tired I was when I found my own hand shaking under the weight of the spoon. Someone must have half-carried me to a bunk, but I have no real memory of that. Krycek woke me in the morning, looking cheerful. I could see the shape of a bandage on his shoulder; when he saw me looking he grinned even wider. "That bitch. She cut me, can you believe it?" I grunted. I remembered wanting to understand this man last night, but that was way too much information.

His cheerful look disappeared quickly enough, that morning. What we found was enough to sober anyone. We soon worked out a rhythm: Krycek went to work retrieving the contents of the hard drives, I examined anything in English, and Jacob and Leilah split the other languages. I knew I had it easy; at one point whatever she was reading caused Leilah to turn a greenish-gray color and run from the laboratory. Jacob followed her out, and brought her back about fifteen minutes later.

We stopped in the late afternoon, sitting around the table as they must have done, discussing their work. I went first: there wasn't much to tell. Enough false papers to throw off any outside investigation, financial reports which looked slightly more honest and might be worth following up in the US. The most interesting items were documents from the American and British branches of the conspiracy, detailing their own attempts to create a working vaccine. Hidden beneath the scientific and bureaucratic language lurked a catalogue of horrors, a story of unchecked experimentation on unsuspecting human beings. That I was familiar with the outlines of the story made it no less painful to read.

Leilah went next. "Some of this appears to be test results for a biological weapon. Just the agent, not the delivery system. But it's very good-a 98% mortality rate, which is unusual for a biological weapon." The oil, I thought as she continued, shivering as I remembered Tunguska. "They did a series of tests, and then focused their research on the survivors. It looks like there were abnormalities detected in their blood chemistry. The problem was that the chemistry only shows up after exposure, as if the agent triggered something in the test subjects. But they couldn't predict immunity."

"So they could create a treatment to cure the infection, but not a vaccine," Bookman interjected.

"Well," she responded, "if they have a treatment what's the problem? Anyone who gets infected by this oil stuff can be cured. Delivery systems for biological weapons are notoriously tricky."

"Not in this case," Krycek said. "What else is there?"

"Sasha," she said, "what is all this? These were human subjects, taken somewhere and killed off. They knew that most of the test subjects would die. You know what this looks like. How did you find out about this? How are you involved?"

Krycek stared at her. "Didn't Jacob tell you?"

"That story you spun for Jacob?" she shot back. "Don't be ridiculous."

"I see," he said. "Look. What matters is this. That weapon exists, and there are people who intend to use it. They have an extremely effective delivery system. Do you understand what the oil does?"

She shook her head. "There's some mention of a 'black cancer' but no details. Nothing technical except a study of rates of growth after infection."

Krycek's voice was steady, but his face was white. "It isn't cancer. It's a parasite. It takes over the host body and uses it to create a new organism. A creature which is fast and deadly from the moment it rips itself from the human host. Do you understand now why we need a vaccine, not an antidote?"

"There wouldn't be time to administer an antidote in a case of mass infection," she responded dully. Her face, too, was perfectly white. "Sasha, please tell me you're trying to stop this."

"That's why we're here," I said. I stopped, unsure. Had I just defended Krycek?

"So, you believe all this, Mr. Mulder? Aliens, conspiracies?"

Krycek laughed out loud, an incongruous noise in that room. My own mouth was hanging open. "They didn't tell you much about me, did they?" I asked her.

"Mulder believes in everything," Krycek supplied. "Alien invasions, government conspiracies. Ghosts and demons. You name it, he's bought it. He even believed in Alex Krycek, once upon a time."

There was nothing I could say to that. After a little silence, Jacob continued to outline the successes and failures of the nameless men and women who had worked here before us.


I found Leilah sitting outside on the steps after the conference. Jacob and Mulder had set to work copying whatever looked worth pursuing. Jacob was especially excited about some DNA research to isolate the genetic sequence which governed immunity. Leilah, though, left as soon as we were done. She didn't look at me when I sat down next to her, but she didn't get up and walk away, either. I wasn't sure what to say to her. She had slipped into my bed the previous night, and slipped out again while I was dozing before dawn. Then this morning I had awoken to the tail end of an argument between her and Jacob, and through the rest of the day she had avoided touching either of us.

She had been completely silent while we had sex, until the very end, when she had bit my shoulder so hard I was sure I would have a scar. She had managed to look both contrite and amused as she disinfected it and bandaged it up. I wondered if she always did that instead of screaming...

"Sasha..." she began, dragging me back to the present. "Is this really going to happen? This whole invasion thing?"

I wanted to say something confident, like, "Not if I can help it, baby." But she seemed serious, and she deserved a serious response. "I don't know," I admitted. "I mean, they've been planning it, but it's as if they don't want to start either. I can't figure it out."

"You should have told us before."

"I told your father." After the Smoker's first attempt to kill me, he had smuggled me and the DAT tape out of the US and put me in touch with some men in Russia. In return I had given him the names of every Axis scientist the Consortium had brought into the US after 1945, and the names of the men who had organized it. Bill Mulder's name had been in the second list, a fact I intended to use if Mulder ever tried to turn Jacob against me.

She drew a breath. "Oh," she said, "and that makes it all perfectly acceptable? I can see it now. He made you promise to protect us, didn't he? Did it occur to you that I might want to be told that there was a war going on?" She got up and started walking away across the pavement. I watched her and thought about just letting her walk. Then I went after her.

I had a feeling that Leilah wanted to have one of those post-sex conversations that women, for whatever reason, are so fond of. Usually I try to avoid those like the plague, which may be why my sex life was essentially a string of one-night- stands. Although being a quadruple (maybe quintuple--I lose count too) agent single-handedly trying to figure out a plan to stop a government sponsored alien invasion might have something to do with that, too.

If we did talk, she might just tell me what the hell she thought was going on between us, because I was damned if I knew. We had known each other for ten years now and I still didn't understand her.

She was standing at the edge of the tarmac, waiting for me to catch up. Yep, this was clearly an "I storm off, you follow me" day. I stopped a couple of feet away, waited for her to turn around and walk back to me. The tarmac was hot but the wind blowing down off the mountains was cool; I could hear the rustling leaves, the noise of insects and the occasional bird call.

"Sasha," she asked, "why didn't you try to seduce me in Istanbul?"

"It seemed... I don't know. Wrong. Well, tacky anyway."

"Tacky?" She was starting to smile, a little.

"Yeah. You know, you were still in grieving widow mode, and there I was telling you about a string of dead bodies, and Daniel..." I trailed off. It actually had seemed tacky to me, at the time, although of course that hadn't been my real reason. She had hired me to find the individuals responsible for Daniel's death and to kill them. How was I supposed to know that the trail would lead straight to her brother? I didn't want Jacob to know that I had that piece of information, at least not until I knew what I was going to do with it. I didn't want to give Leilah any reason to mention that meeting.

Her next question caught me by surprise. "There is a war, isn't there?" she said.

"Yes," I answered.

"And you're fighting in it. You're a soldier."

"I guess," I said, unsure where this was leading.

"A general without an army," she said wryly. I folded my arm across my prosthetic. Was she making fun of me? When she saw my defensive stance she took my hand and pulled it toward her. She held it a moment, then raised it to her lips and kissed my palm. "You know, Sasha, I killed those men at the roadblock without really thinking about it. And you know how Jacob is, he gets carried away and suddenly there are bodies everywhere." Oh yes, I thought, I knew all about that. "And you kill people for a living. But this place... this whole thing... it's different."

I still wasn't entirely sure where she was going with this. "It's all right to be frightened, Leilah."

She shook her head. "That's not it. My father has talked to you about Germany and the war, hasn't he? About how he went into the forest and fought with the partisans?" I nodded. "This is like that, isn't it? You can't protect me from it, even if that's what he told you to do." She was still holding my hand. "You spend too much time on your own, Sasha. You forget that there are other people in the world."

When I flexed my fingers she let my hand drop; before she could step backwards, though, I put my arm around her and pulled her towards me. I knew that she was right, that I couldn't protect her. But at that moment I had an irrational urge to do just that. With her head against my shoulder and my hand on her back I could at least pretend that we meant something real to each other, and that I was going to keep her safe.

I heard the sound of the helicopters approaching, but it took me a moment to recognize it. At first I thought it was just my heart beating and the blood in my veins. When Leilah broke away from me and looked up, I realized what it was. They had found us. We were trapped up here in the mountains, with nowhere to hide.

Nowhere for me and Mulder to hide, anyway. I turned Leilah's face back towards me, holding my hand to her cheek. "Can you hide in the mountains? Will you be all right?" She nodded. I bent my head down to kiss her; her lips opened under mine, and I pulled away slightly. "Run inside." I was almost speaking into her mouth. "Take whatever you can." I kissed the corner of her jaw and whispered into her ear, "Then get out and hide until we're gone." Her cheek seemed incredibly smooth. "Get as far from here as you can. Then to Washington, to Scully. Give her whatever you have. You can trust her." My eyes were closed. I kissed her one last time, as deeply as I could, then pulled back. "No time. Just go." I felt her move away.

I was still standing there with my eyes closed when Mulder came outside. "They're packing up," was all he said.

I opened my eyes. I could already see the helicopters in the distance. Four of them, in tight formation. They were probably under strength, but I guessed that there would be at least thirty soldiers in there. Against the three of us. "I sent her to Scully."

He gave me a tight smile. "If they don't kill each other, they might just save us all." I had my doubts about that. Mulder was too valuable to be killed, but Jacob and I were expendable.

"Mulder. If they give you a chance to join them, do it." He looked surprised, but said nothing. "They're almost certain to try to turn one of us."

"You want me to betray you."

"If we all die, then this whole thing was a failure." I wondered if any of this was making sense to him. It would be pretty damn ironic if Mulder finally started to understand me, after all these years. "I'd do it." I braced myself for whatever cutting comment he was thinking up. But he just stood at my side, waiting for the helicopters to arrive.


Disclaimer: The X-Files universe and all characters from that show are the property of Chris Carter, 1013, and Fox. The Bookman family belongs to me, however, and I would happily trade them for one slightly-used one-armed Russian. The Auden sonnet is used without permission; for those who care, I'm following the text of "In Time of War" found in Auden's Selected Poems.

Thanks to Kerowyn for being a wonderful beta. I miss you.