So Many Masks

by Ursula

Title: So Many Masks

Author/Pseudonym: Ursula

Fandom: X-Files with reference to "Bad Company: Nick Lea Character: `Jake' and Commish Character: Ricky Caruso

Pairing: Mulder/Ricky Caruso as Krycek

Rating: NC-17

Status: Complete

Date Posted: 7-5-04

Archive: FONXL then the rest

E-mail address for feedback: Fan4Richie or Ursula4X@aol.com

Classification: X File, Crossover of sorts, Romance Slash

Series/Sequel: Is this story part of a series: Sequel to False Faces

Web Site: http://www.fhsarchive.com/stories/Ursula.html

Disclaimers: No profit, fan fiction for fun

Notes: In False Faces, Mulder loved and lost a young cop named Ricky Caruso. Since then he has looked for his lost lover almost as hard as he searched for Samantha. Like Samantha, he has been offered glimpses of Ricky, but they are never the one he loved in reality.

Thanks to Laura for beta

Warnings: Slash

Time Frame: First Season

Another lie. Another fucking false face. Another ghost in his life.

Of course, Mulder went back as soon as he could ditch Scully.

"Michael? Michael Martin?" Mulder said, when the man with Ricky's face answered the door.

"Hey, Mulder? I remember you," Michael said. He cocked his head, looking interested. "I thought everyone was done with me. I called and they said it was a closed case. The woman or whatever the hell she or he was had died."

"Oh, yeah, she's dead," Mulder said. "I just had some follow up questions. May I come in?"

"Sure," Michael said, looking very trusting for someone who claimed to be a jaded patron of the single's scene.

Michael's place reminded Mulder of Ricky's. It was furnished more expensively, but had that same feel.

Rumpling his hair, Michael said, "You want some coffee or something? I was just going to make some."

"Sure," Mulder said. He sat down on the black leather couch. "I tried your work first, but they said you were home ill. You're not still having problems from that assault?"

"I haven't been sleeping well," Michael said, "I was up most of the night so I called in. I don't know. I never used to take sick days, but my head's not right anymore."

The noise of an espresso machine prevented any conversation until Michael came back with the coffee. He sat down on the couch with Mulder, close, his thigh warming Mulder's side. Normally, Mulder would have pulled away, but he felt lost and confused and Michael looked so much like Ricky.

"I see you've only lived here a few years," Mulder said. "Can I ask you a personal question?"

"Yeah, I guess so," Michael said. Then, "Are you going to come on to me, Agent Mulder? I mean, what happened, I don't normally let guys picks me up."

"I never said you did," Mulder said.

"Not that I'm uptight or anything," Michael said. "Kind of curious about it lately. Since that night. Wondering. Had a couple of wicked dreams."

"A lot of guys are curious," Mulder said softly, sipping the coffee.

"Yeah, but these were really strange dreams. I uh put your face on that . . . that woman who turned into a man," Michael said.

"I imagine that was because you talked to me about the incident," Mulder offered as an explanation.

"Yeah," Michael slowly agreed, but he didn't sound as if he bought into that argument. "The dreams were pretty wild. A big turn on, if you know what I mean."

"I wanted to talk to you again because I used to know someone who looked a lot like you. I was wondering if you were related to anyone in Eastbridge, New York." Mulder said.

"Never heard of the place," Michael said. "Is that all you wanted?" Michael sounded disappointed.

"No, I . . ." Mulder started to answer, but words failed him. Perhaps Mulder forgot that it wasn't his lover. Perhaps he didn't care at that moment. He kissed Michael. Michael responded. A moment later they were necking passionately on that butter-soft leather couch.

From one kiss to Michael's bed was a swift and inevitable progression. Michael made love like Ricky. Despite his statement that he had no experience with his own gender, there was contrary evidence in the way he responded.

Even if it wasn't Ricky, it was good, so good.

Waking up, Mulder felt weight sprawled over him. He smiled he stroked his hand down the naked back. Michael sighed, snuggled his face deeper into Mulder's shoulder, and snuffled his way back to sleep . . . just like Ricky.

Reaching for his cell phone, Mulder intended to go in Michael's bathroom to call in sick. The damn thing rang. Michael woke up, startled, blinking at him.

"Sorry," Mulder said, "My partner."

"Red haired chick?" Michael asked.

Mulder winced as he answered Scully's call, "Scully, I was just going to call . . ."

"Skinner just rang me," Scully said. "He wants you on a case I've been working. We have a body mutilation."

"Oh, fucking great," Mulder complained. "Can't you . . ."

"Where are you, Mulder?" Scully asked with some interest.

"At a friend's," Mulder said.

"Should I ask you what you're wearing?" Scully teased.

"I don't think so," Mulder replied.

Michael had staggered out of bed, turned to study a bite mark that Mulder had left on his ass, laughed, and continued on to the bathroom. Mulder eyed that beautiful butt and groaned. "I really . . ."

"Mulder, AD Skinner said that he was not sure where you were yesterday, but he better know where you are today," Scully said.

"I . . ." Mulder started. "I meant to call in."

"Mulder, meet me at the morgue," Scully said.

Click. That was it. Mulder was going to have to get his ass to work. Rolling out of the totally trashed bed, Mulder followed Michael into the bathroom. Leaning in the doorway, Mulder said, "Have to go to work. My boss is mad about yesterday. I forgot to tell him where I was going."

"Yeah, I guess I should go to work too," Michael said. "Hey, Mulder? Uh? Oh, man, I feel like some of my one night stands. Listen, if you wanted . . ."

"This weekend?" Mulder said. "The entire weekend? Michael, there a few things I haven't told you."

"Doesn't matter," Michael said. He embraced Mulder, hugging him before leaning forward into a seriously romantic kiss. "I really like you, Mulder."

"I really like you, Michael," Mulder said.

OooOooO

When Mulder returned the next weekend despite the disconnected phone, Michael was gone, had given his notice, and vanished. No one seemed to know where he had gone and honestly, no one cared, not even the many women he had dated.

Was he Ricky? Was he a clone like the clones of Samantha? Mulder could never hold the truth in his hands.

Twice more Mulder saw men who might have been Ricky. He talked briefly to one, but the man didn't remember him. He was working as a male secretary in a company that had many shady dealings. His supervisor was killed. Jake disclaimed any knowledge of the crime and of the other shady dealings associated with the company.

Frohike had heard about the case through his conspiracy theory cohorts and had sent Mulder some leads. Leads that Mulder found less interesting than the face of the man in the background of the grainy picture of the crime scene. Jake Hilton was the image of Ricky Caruso and Michael.

By flying standby for an exorbitant amount of money, Mulder managed to get there in time to question Jake Hilton. Jake was a frightened man and thought he would be killed to prevent him from talking even though he denied knowing anything that could help the investigation. Before Mulder could arrange protection for him, Jake had been pulled out of his car, kidnapped. There were no leads and somehow the case was sent to the cold case files almost immediately.

The third sighting was almost immediately after Mulder lost track of Jake. He had been pushing to re-open the case when he was attacked by what appeared to be Jake. He might have been killed but the man he called Deep Throat appeared. Mulder had almost gone into shock when he saw his ally stab `Jake' in the neck, but `Jake' bled green and his face changed when he died into someone entirely different. Deep Throat had said, "You can't believe what you see. Any one can be replaced. Your world is full of false faces, Mulder. You must struggle to see through them."

Mulder did not quite give up, but he looked to the next appearance of Ricky's face with dread. How would he know even if he found Ricky if it was him or some horrible substitution?

OooOooO

"Agent Mulder, it's your 302. Assistant Director Skinner just approved it," this latest incarnation of Mulder's lover said.

It was manna from heaven was Mulder's first reaction, but when he opened the file that he was handed, the first thing he saw was that the case had been opened. An hour after Mulder had met with Skinner, showed him the information he had been given on the murder of Doctor Saul Grissom, Agent Alex Krycek had produced even more data and had been given permission to investigate. Skinner had approved the case investigation at that point, belatedly adding Mulder's name to the assignment.

"There's a mistake here," Mulder said. "There's been another agent assigned to the case."

"That would be me. Krycek, Alex Krycek," the clone said.

Mulder was proud. He didn't react. He didn't turn a hair. They had done a damn good job on this one. He even talked like Ricky.

How dare they? How fucking dare they?

Tight smile on his face, Mulder looked past the outstretched hand. All he could remember at the moment was that every time he thought he found Ricky, they took him away. He couldn't let himself hope. This time they sent the man with Ricky's face to him. It probably wasn't him. Probably was a clone, a shape shifter, a fake of some sort.

Ah, the kid was offended. He even had Ricky's expression when he was pissed off and trying not to show it. Son of a bitch . . .

"It's my case, Agent Mulder. Look, I may be green, but I had the case first and I'm not going to give it away so quickly" Krycek said.

`Rip my fucking heart out, why don't you?' Mulder thought. It was how Ricky would have reacted down to the rise of the voice and the high color in his cheeks.

Aw, fuck, get it over with. The sooner Mulder let the little bastard know that it wasn't going to work, the better.

A tight smile on his lips, Mulder told the creature with his lover's face that he would share the case with him. As soon as Mulder sent the agent off to sign for a bureau car, Mulder was off to the sleep clinic where the victim, Doctor Saul Grissom had worked. He hoped that the assholes that sent Alex Krycek to him were displeased. They could . . .

They would punish him. Punish him for Mulder's actions. What if Mulder was wrong? What if this was Ricky? A Ricky that had been brain washed to forget who he had been, who he had loved . . .

Why had he done it? Hadn't Mulder known better than to love someone? Ricky Caruso had paid for Mulder's weakness, his loneliness.

This Krycek, the man with Caruso's face, would pay as well when he failed. Mulder didn't think failure was permitted by the men who were behind so much of the world's misery. It couldn't be helped; Mulder could not, would not rise to this bait.

OooOooO

When Mulder emerged from the sleep lab, he was greeted by a curb empty of the taxi he had asked to wait for him. Instead Alex Krycek stood by a bureau car, a pissed off expression on his face. The moment Mulder approached, Krycek was in his space, belligerent, indignant, and beautiful.

"I paid off your cab. Hey, I don't appreciate being dumped like someone's bad date!" Krycek snapped.

Damn, maybe this was Ricky? There was something about the quick temper and the attitude that reminded Mulder of his lost love, but Mulder was afraid to believe, afraid to open his heart and find out that it wasn't his lover. If it was Ricky, why was he being given back after all that effort to keep him away? Could Mulder help him remember who he had been? Should he?

"I'm sorry if I hurt your feelings," Mulder said, keeping his tone somewhere between sarcastic and sincere.

"Where do you get off copping this attitude?" Alex asked. "You don't know the first thing about me!"

"Exactly," Mulder said.

"You know, back at the academy, some of the guys used to make fun of you," Alex said.

The voice was Ricky again. The attitude, even the way the young agent stood.

"Oh stop it, or you'll hurt my feelings," Mulder sniped back.

"But there were some of us who followed your work. Believed what you were doing because we knew that there was more out there than they were telling us," Krycek continued. His eyes seemed open to Mulder's gaze, offering himself.

Mulder's cell phone was ringing. It was Scully. She said, "Grissom didn't die from cardiac arrest."

All right, that didn't surprise Mulder. Krycek cocked his head, obviously trying to listen in on the phone call.

"What was it?" Mulder asked.

Scully sounded mystified and somehow satisfied, maybe glad to be back on Mulder's team. At least he hoped so. He needed her. "I think you should come down and take a look for yourself. I haven't even started on the chest and abdomen yet and I'll have a lot more to tell you then," Scully said.

Excited, Mulder said, "I can make it in two hours."

Well, he could make it in two hours if Krycek drove him down . . .

Time to do rebuild some bridges.

Mulder reached for the door of the bureau car. A smug look on his face, Krycek said, "Where are we going?"

Ricky used to wear that expression when he was teasing Mulder into coming before he was ready. Pretty clone, pretty Mulder bait . . .

Maybe he would have a taste, just a small taste . . .

But not now.

This case was an X-File and Mulder felt like someone had released him from a hook and put him back in his element.

OooOooO

"When did you get out of the academy?" Mulder asked as they drove.

"Couple months ago," Krycek answered. "Before that I worked as a cop in New York. I went to night school to earn my Master's Degree in Computer Science."

"You must have done pretty well to be posted to DC as your first assignment," Mulder said.

"Yeah," Krycek said. "I did good."

"Who's mentoring you?" Mulder asked.

"Agent Shelby," Krycek responded. "He's out on family leave right now. Wife is having triplets. He's okay."

Shelby, Shelby? Oh, yes, he was assigned to domestic terrorism. Shelby was the guy with the dark brown eyes surrounded by deep lines. He had been transferred recently from Arizona and had the tan skin to prove it.

"Who was your boss when you were a cop?" Mulder asked. Ricky had always called Commissioner Scali, boss. The Commissioner was a hands-on type of person and had taken a personal interest in all of the police officers he supervised. His attitude toward Ricky had been distinctively paternal. Mulder thought that Ricky had problems with his father and found Tony Scali an approachable substitute for his more distant and disapproving parent.

"Boss?" Krycek repeated. "Funny word to use. I worked for a Captain Scanlon. He recommended me for FBI training."

"You're young to have accomplished all of that," Mulder said.

"Older than I look," Krycek said. "I'm twenty-seven. I'm ambitious, Mulder. There's a lot I want out of life."

That echoed Ricky. Why in the hell didn't they just give him back Ricky? Mulder wondered. Why dangle him in front of Mulder like a carrot for so long and then give him back as someone else? Not that Mulder was ready to accept that Krycek was Ricky. Not yet.

"Here we are," Krycek announced as he found a parking space that was reasonably near the pathology lab. "Strange to be back at Quantico." He stretched and craned his neck in an odd bird like manner. That was not one of Ricky's habits.

One of the instructors stopped Krycek in the hall, smiling at him. Huh, well, Mulder knew they were at least that smart. They must have known Mulder would check Krycek out, make sure he had gone to the academy.

OooOooO

Scully was in her element, carrying a large slab of something with a shiny pink membrane covering it to a stainless steel tray. Her red hair was covered by a white sterile hair net, her body by a lab coat. She wore latex gloves, not yet stained so she must have changed them in between tasks in the autopsy.

Mulder asked, "Spleen or pancreas?"

"Stomach," Scully replied. "I was just about to start on it."

Mulder had kept going, leaving Krycek to talk to the instructor. Now, he came bounding in like an exuberant puppy. Scully's hackles seem to raise instantly, an appraising look on her face, before she dismissed her rival.

"This is Alex Krycek. We're . . . uh . . . working the case together," Mulder explained.

"Good to meet you," Scully said, her voice somewhere below freezing.

"You too," Krycek said, stepping forward with outstretched hand.

Somehow, it seemed worse to see it as a third party. Scully brushed right by Krycek's hand, making no eye contact with him. Of course, she was gloved as Krycek should have noticed, but she didn't say anything to explain. It came off as rude. Mulder wondered how many agents had noticed him doing the same thing to Krycek. It probably hadn't added to his already known reputation for social inadequacy.

Standing in front of the corpse, Scully said as if lecturing, "Notice the pugilistic attitude of the corpse."

Notice the young agent gagging and trying to cover it with a cough. Mulder glanced at Krycek and rolled his eyes toward Scully. She went on talking, lowering her voice to make the conversation more intimate, if you could call anything that happened in this atmosphere intimate.

"This condition generally occurs several hours after death. It's caused by a coagulation of muscle proteins when the body is exposed to extremely high temperatures," Scully lectured. She must be adapting to academy life and teaching future pathologists and investigators about forensic pathology. Mulder knew that she was safer away from him, but he was so alone. He needed someone he could trust.

"Like fire?" Mulder said, thinking about that spent fire extinguisher and the call to 911.

"This degree of limb flexion is observed exclusively in burn-related victims," Scully said, still in her instructor's voice.

"But there was no fire," Alex said. He wasn't an easy kid to intimidate and he was a lot more subtle than his gawky coltish moves seemed to indicate. He had come silently up until he was right behind them.

"And no epidermal burns to indicate as much but when I opened up the skull, I found external hemorrhages, which can only be caused by intense heat. Some how, this man suffered all of the secondary, but none of the primary physiological signs of being in a fire," Scully said, her voice conveying her curiosity.

"Any theories?" Mulder asked, glancing back and involuntarily including Alex Krycek in the conversation.

"I couldn't even begin to explain what could have caused this. It's almost as if. . ." Scully said.

Mulder could tell Scully was resisting an idea that she found unbelievable. Still. After all they had seen, all they had experienced, Scully was not ready to open her mind to the unexplainable.

Scully wasn't Ricky. Mulder could remember how much he looked forward to Ricky graduating and joining him. Ricky had believed what his eyes and senses told him. Ricky didn't look for the answer that reassured him. What would Krycek believe? Who was he?

"What?" Mulder prompted as Scully still hesitated.

"It's almost as if his body believed that it was burning," Scully said.

Ah, the obvious, always state the obvious when you are fighting to resist an idea outside the norm. Mulder loved her for it at the same time as he found it a source of endless frustration. His eyes slid to Alex again. What would it be like working with Alex? Mulder had looked forward to training Ricky, refining his brash enthusiasm and harnessing his abundant energy and underused intelligence. If Krycek was Ricky, part of the work he anticipated was finished. He had already seen that Krycek was a bright boy with good training. Unfortunately, all the facts pointed to Krycek's appearance as a trap. A nice juicy trap for Mulder.

Feeling eyes on him, Mulder forced his thoughts away from past, present, and hoped for partners to the case. He nodded at Scully and offered a smile of encouragement.

Scully said, "I'll finish here." She snapped on a new pair of gloves and glanced at the corpse. Mulder read the Scully speak and knew she wanted Krycek and him out of her lab so she could work.

"Let me have a copy of the report," Mulder said.

"I will," Scully said. Her eyes traveled between Mulder and Krycek again. Mulder didn't always listen to what a combination of intuition and trained insight told him about people. Sometimes relationships were a bitch to maintain when what you really wanted to do was concentrate on an unfolding mystery. However, he didn't need either the instincts he used as a profiler or the training he had in psychology to understand that Scully was worried that she was being displaced.

Mulder smiled again and said, "I count on you, Scully."

Now Scully smiled back before turning her attention to the autopsy table. OooOooO
As soon as they walked several feet from the pathology lab, Krycek stopped in his tracks. He looked back at the lab and remarked, "She doesn't like me."

"I wouldn't say that," Mulder said. "The past few months have been hard on her. She was my partner."

"Yeah, I heard," Krycek said.

"What did you hear?" Mulder asked.

"That you were not . . . that you saw a lot of each other outside of work," Krycek answered.

"We were partners," Mulder said.

"You going to see me outside of work?" Krycek said.

Well, that was an interesting question, given the implications of Krycek's comment about Scully. Mulder looked Krycek up and down, as if he was stripping the bad suit off Krycek with his eyes.

Krycek ducked his head and blushed, but didn't correct what he said.

Mulder finally answered, "We're not partners yet, Krycek. Let's see how you keep up with me."

"Can we at least stop and eat now?" Krycek asked. "I didn't have lunch."

"Sure," Mulder said, "I like Chinese. Do you?"

"Sure," Krycek said, "Sure, I love Chinese."

For a moment, Mulder saw Krycek frown slightly as if searching memories that would not fall into place. How could a man not be sure whether he liked Chinese food?

OooOooO

Ricky had hated Chinese, didn't have much interest in anything other than the plainest American food unless it was Italian. Krycek let Mulder order, ate mechanically, but didn't seem to enjoy his food.

"Next time, we get Italian," Mulder said. "I bet you love Italian food."

That earned him a big smile. Krycek said, "Yes, I do. How did you know that?"

"You look like you would," Mulder said. "More tea?"

"Yeah," Krycek said.

"You going to keep the bureau car?" Mulder asked.

"Thought I would," Krycek said, "I checked it out for the duration of the case. Hey, Mulder, what do you think we have going here?"

"I don't know yet," Mulder said. "We need to look for a pattern. Something's happening, but we don't have enough information yet. There has to be something missing, something that would explain how a man died as if in a fire with no burn marks on his body or in the room."

"Weird case," Krycek said.

"You want out of it?" Mulder asked.

"Of course not," Krycek said. "Mulder, I like you. I really do. I wanted to work with you. That's part of the reason I grabbed the case as soon as I heard about it. I don't want the kind of career most guys do. I'm not looking to bust red neck militia or left wing kooks. I want . . . I don't know what I want, but I think I can find it in your X Files. From the moment, I heard about them, I knew they were for me."

Mulder heard Ricky's voice, the plans they made, the future they imagined. You would think after all this time, after having Diana Fowley as a partner, loving her, marrying her in secret, and losing her to her career, after being given Scully to debunk him and winning her to his side that Ricky would fade. But he had not. His relationship with Diana had been a dreadful mistake of which he reminded himself when he and Scully had grown close. He didn't need another failed romance and he didn't need to have another distraction from the ache in his heart where a missing lover would live forever.

Smiling, Mulder said, "You want to be known as Spooky Junior?"

"Not exactly," Krycek said, ducking his head and smiling, "but I don't care what other people say. I'm my own man."

Those last words sounded hollow, haunted. Mulder almost reached to comfort Krycek before he remembered that this was not his lover or if it was Ricky, it was not a lover who remembered him.

"Drop me off at home," Mulder said as he paid the bill.

"Yeah, no problem," Krycek said. "Pick you up in the morning?"

"Yes," Mulder said, "thank you."

"I live to serve," Krycek replied. He grinned and it was Ricky's big, happy smile for just a moment before Krycek's face returned to its state of vigilance.

OooOooO

A firm rap on Mulder's door announced his `partner' had arrived. "Got you coffee and a Danish," Krycek announced. He appeared unaware that he was wearing a powdered sugar mustache.

"You must have had yours already," Mulder said. "I have to remember you like powdered doughnuts."

"With raspberry filling," Krycek said. "How did you know about the powdered sugar?"

Mulder pointed to his lips and handed Krycek a napkin. Ricky used to get `into' his food too.

A pretty shade of rose colored Krycek's elegant cheeks. "God, I hate it when that happens."

Mulder used to kiss the sweetness from Ricky's lips when that happened. He was two hairs from giving this counterfeit the same treatment. Pulling himself back, Mulder said, "We better get started. Thanks for the coffee, Krycek, and the ride."

They disagreed mildly at the car, but Mulder won and drove. It was just as well. Krycek's phone rang a few minutes later.

"What happened?" Krycek asked, voice rising with excitement. His eyes danced when Mulder made eye contact with him. "Yeah?" Krycek prompted and then continued after listening, "You're kidding? Yes, I think it ties in. Thanks, Wharton, thanks a lot," Krycek said. He settled back, looking very satisfied with himself.

"What's up?" Mulder asked.

"Detective Wharton, just told me that there was another unusual death last night," Krycek said.

"Yeah?" Mulder promoted. Traffic was backed up for a block in front to them. The light had turned green twice with only a car length clearing. Maybe he should have had Krycek drive. He was getting pissed off.

"He's going to messenger a file to us," Krycek said.

"Krycek," Mulder said.

"Alex," Krycek said. "We're working together. Call me by my first name."

"You don't look like an Alex," Mulder said.

A snort of laughter. "What do I look like?" Alex asked.

"I don't know, just not an Alex," Mulder said.

"Humor me," Krycek said.

"Just don't expect me to let you call me by my first name," Mulder said. "Not even Scully calls me that."

"I know," Krycek said.

"How do you know that?" Mulder asked.

A blank expression then puzzlement. Alex shook his head and said, "I must have heard it somewhere. They talk about you around the Hoover."

"Then you probably heard that I had a brilliant career gone bad because of the crazy ideas that I have about aliens," Mulder said.

"I heard that," Alex admitted. "but I don't buy it."

Studying his notepad, Alex said, "This case however is not an X-File."

"Anyway, what I meant to say was `thank you for getting the information,'" Mulder said, "and sharing it."

It was as close as Mulder was willing to come to an apology.

Alex nodded and gave Mulder one of his soulful looks. "We're working together, Mulder. That's good enough for me."

Mulder lapsed into silence, his head spinning between the intellectual defenses against Alex and the emotional response he had to him.

Sometimes over the past few years, Mulder had a moment or two when he wondered if his obsession with Ricky Caruso was an excuse not to commit fully to other relationships. It had been a brief episode in his life, an intense week or so on the case that they shared, a few weeks afterwards as they spent as much time together as distance and careers could manage. Was that enough to be sure that it would have worked? That Ricky would have been his partner in both life and work? Mulder didn't know. Someone, the same forces that took his sister, had taken his lover. He hadn't had a chance to see if it would work. All he knew was that it seemed so right, so natural, and that whenever he thought about Ricky, it felt as if his heart was breaking.

OooOooO

By the time they had checked into work, the messenger had dropped off the envelope. It was in Krycek's name. Mulder found himself wondering how well this Wharton knew Krycek. He seemed very willing to give him information and not through formal channels. Was Wharton someone from Krycek's past? Someone Mulder could question to resolve his suspicions about his new partner?

"This detective is very helpful," Mulder said.

Alex said. "He's a good egg."

"Likes you?" Mulder asked.

"Yeah, not everyone finds me too repulsive to even shake my hand," Alex said.

"Well, I'm sorry about that, Kr . . . Alex," Mulder said. "I was having a bad day and I didn't know who you were."

Mulder still didn't, but he thought he had a very good idea. He also knew that THEY, whoever the hell the bastards were, had not kidnapped Ricky, brain wiped him, and returned him to Mulder's not so loving arms without a damn good reason. Krycek was a trap for him, but Mulder wasn't sure what the purpose of the trap was. Much as he hated to admit it, they had him. He wanted Ricky. Maybe he wanted Krycek if he couldn't have Ricky back.

"What?" Alex asked.

"Problem?" Mulder said, as they walked toward the library.

"You had one hell of a strange expression on your face," Alex replied.

"I was just thinking that you remind me of someone," Mulder said.

"Someone you didn't like," Alex said, as if this revealed all.

"No, someone I cared about," Mulder said. "He vanished without a trace."

"Did you look for him?" Alex asked. "I bet you didn't look for him."

That was an odd thing to say and the emotions packed behind the statement were strong. Krycek's voice went ragged and his eyes dark.

"I looked for him," Mulder said, "Never really stopped looking."

"Don't hold it against me that I'm not who you wanted me to be," Alex said.

"I won't," Mulder said. "Come on, I want to see what this Detective Wharton sent you."

"Sure," Alex said, "Sure."

OooOooO

The fat envelope contained pictures and not the kind you whip out to show the relatives. Krycek turned out to have a cute little corporate streak, pinning up the photographs on a bulletin board as if he was making a presentation. The two of them perched together on the desk Mulder was using, closely examining the photographs. It felt very natural to discuss the new evidence with Krycek, very natural to sit so close to him. Mulder was all too aware of the movement of other agents around the bullpen, the cacophony of phone conversations, keyboards being tapped. It was a far cry from the privacy he had enjoyed in his basement office. Still, at least this was a real case, a real X File. It was pleasant enough, side by side with Alex, having the ready wit of the young agent at his call.

"The victim's name was Henry Willig. Unemployed and lived on disability. Police found no indication of forced entry or a struggle, no abrasions or contusions on the body and cause of death is being listed as a burst aneurysm," Alex read from the report.

"So, why did your friend from homicide call us?" Mulder asked.

"Because the medical examiner called him," Alex replied, standing up. "The autopsy revealed forty-three small internal hemorrhages and skeletal fragments which doesn't just happen spontaneously. Not without some corresponding external trauma."

"What does the ME have to say about it?" Mulder asked. My God, it shouldn't feel so comfortable. It was like having Scully back as his partner. Only, this was so close to what he planned years ago when it was supposed to be Ricky at his side.

"He said if he didn't know otherwise, he would swear they were gunshot wounds," Alex replied, giving Mulder a look of shared secrets.

"What's this scar right here?" Mulder asked pointing at an angry red scar that traveled along the back of Willig's neck. Although the mark was deep, it appeared precise as if surgical in nature. He wanted Scully to look at the picture to get her opinion. Meanwhile, he had Alex.

Alex read fast. He thumbed back through his file, frowned, and replied, "According to his medical history, the only surgery he ever had was an appendectomy."

"Well, unless they got to his appendix through his neck," Mulder said. He earned a small smile from Alex.

"Maybe it happened during Vietnam. Willig did a tour with the Marines in 1970, and I'm sure they didn't keep the best of records," Alex said, raising a brow at Mulder

All of Mulder's partners seemed destined to do the eyebrow thing. Must have been all those Star Trek episodes preparing him for the Vulcan brow.

"Willig was a Marine? So where do all Marines receive basic training on the East coast?" Mulder asked.

"Parris Island," Alex answered, his quick answer followed by a look asking for praise.

Mulder nodded and said, "Where Grissom was stationed from 1968 to 1971."

"Which means that he and Willig were there at the same time, twenty-four years ago," Alex said, sounding unabashedly excited.

"I think we have some more research to do, Junior. We're going to the library. Hope you remembered your card," Mulder said. He grinned at Alex and nodded. It was all good.

"Junior, huh?" Alex said. "Say that with respect."

Mulder grinned and said, "Come on. We have a hot date with a computer terminal."

OooOooO

"Here we go. Willig was assigned to Special Forces on Re-con squad J-7. Of thirteen original members, he's one of two survivors," Mulder said.

"Until yesterday," Alex reminded.

"This leaves us with one person who can tell us what happened on Parris Island," Mulder said, pointing to a name on a list. "Feel like driving?"

"I have the keys," Alex responded.

"You need to check with Scully before we go?" Alex asked.

"No, you need to check with Wharton?" Mulder shot back.

"I'm cool," Alex replied. "Look, Mulder, I don't even know the guy. It's not what you're thinking."

"I'm not thinking anything," Mulder said. "Come on, partner."

Alex startled then smiled again, following Mulder's long legged stride with his own. They were matched, a set.

OooOooO

"You ever been to New Jersey?" Mulder asked. It was an idle question, not meant as anything more than a sound to fill the silence.

"Yeah," Alex said after a hesitation, "Sure I have."

Interesting, a lot of the time when Mulder asked Alex a personal question, he seemed to be reviewing information in his head. Was he just a lousy plant, unable to readily recite his cover story? Mulder didn't think so. Whomever, whatever, Alex Krycek was, he was not stupid.

"You have a headache?" Mulder asked, seeing the slight wince.

"Yeah," Alex replied. "I get them sometimes. I guess a little more often since this case. I must be thinking about it too much. It's frustrating to feel as if the evidence is trying to tell us the answers, but it just won't all come together."

"This man, Cole, could be the key to this case," Mulder said.

"I still don't have a picture in my head as to how these deaths occurred, but it must tie into whatever was going on with these men on Parris Island," Alex said. "Experiments on soldiers, secrets, I hate this shit."

"I agree," Mulder said.

The VA medical center was a dump. The place looked like a concrete box and it smelled of despair, that pervasive odor of urine, feces, pain sweat, and decay. The antiseptics used to clean the place left a lingering chemical smell. Alex wrinkled his nose and said, "Lots of respect for the veterans."

"Yeah," Mulder said.

"Hope I never end up at a place like this," Alex said.

"You want to die young and pretty, Alex?" Mulder asked.

"Don't fucking say that," Alex replied. He gulped air and said, "Mulder, I'm sorry. I over-reacted. Someone used to say that to me. I hated it."

"First time I've heard you swear," Mulder said. "I was starting to think you were a Sunday school teacher on the side."

"No," Alex said. "I swear. I guess I was trying to be . . . professional."

"You always want to be a FBI agent, Alex?" Mulder said.

"I never even considered anything else," Alex said, his words an echo of the ones that Ricky had said when Mr. Smoke had talked about wanting to be more than a tribal cop.

Mulder tapped Alex's arm as they passed a door that said, `Psychiatric Ward' and said, "I think that's where we're supposed to meet the doctor."

Alex made a face. "I hate people in white coats, doctors. They give me the creeps."

Another little clue . . . one that Mulder didn't want to think about for too long. What had they done to Ricky? What had they done to his beautiful boy?

OooOooO

"I've been supervising Mr. Cole's treatment since I admitted him twelve years ago. I'm afraid you won't find him very cooperative, though," the doctor said.

"We just want to ask him a few questions about his military service," Mulder said.

Hanging back, Alex seemed to want Mulder to take the lead here. That suited Mulder just fine.

"He doesn't respond very well to authority figures," the doctor volunteered.

"Is that why you put him in isolation?" Mulder asked.

"Oh, we've had to house Mr. Cole in this section of the ward because he kept interfering with our treatment of the other patients," the doctor said. He frowned as if at a remembered annoyance.

"How was he interfering?" Mulder asked. He glanced over. Alex was jotting down notes on his little pad.

"He was disrupting their sleep patterns. Psychiatric patients especially, it's critical that the circadian cycles be strictly maintained. . ." the doctor explained.

"Excuse me, but exactly how would Cole disrupt their sleep?" Mulder pushed. They arrived at what appeared to be a cell. Bilious green paint covered the door. There was a tag on the door with a long series of numbers. The door was closed with a heavy bar. Nice accommodations.

"Here we are. Mr. Cole, there are some gentlemen here to see ..." the doctor said, voice shifting to a cheerfully professional cadence.

Peering past the doctor, Mulder saw it was empty. Well, maybe he was at some sort of treatment. The bed was neatly made. A bible sat near the foot. The place was furnished like a jail cell, a sink, low table bolted to the wall, nothing much else. The florescent light flickered overhead, making the room seem even starker. A hell of a place to spend years of your life . . .

Following the doctor, Mulder glanced back at Alex, who was still quieter than he had been over the last couple days. "Come on, Alex, we'll be done here soon."

"I'm coming," Alex answered. "I'm okay. Have to get over not liking hospitals and all."

Mulder dropped back and patted Alex's arm again. "Yeah, you're doing fine."

Another smile crossed Alex's face. Ricky had smiled like that when Mulder had praised him. Mulder thought that there were two conspiracies here, two X Files. The case to which he was not assigned was the one that he cared the most.

"You discharged him just a few days ago," the blond clerk said, not even checking her computer terminal. Her eyes took in Mulder and Krycek, curious, but professional enough not to ask.

"I most certainly did not. Don't you think I would remember if I did?" the doctor snapped. He fiddled with his black rimmed glasses.

"Well, I was on shift, Doctor. You signed the order yourself. That's your signature, isn't it?" the clerk said, offering him a manila folder in evidence.

There was a picture in the file, a thin, weary-appearing man with sullen, very red eyes. The last victim also had swollen and dark circled eyes. Cole's head was down. He wore a white tee shirt in the picture and gazed at the camera in resentment.

"Let's get Cole's face onto the wire," Mulder said to Alex. He needed no more evidence than this discharge to suspect that Cole knew a great deal about Grissom's death. In any event, Cole might need protection if the Vietnam connection held true. Mulder was sure he could justify the pick-up order.

Alex nodded, flipping the picture up to study the discharge form.

Before Mulder could say more, his phone rang. He half expected it to be Scully. She had been calling him more often over the past two days.

"Mulder," the brusque voice said. "Mr. Mulder. I have obtained some information that may shed some light on your current work. You must exercise discretion when we meet. If anyone follows you, I won't be there.

Every time, his new informant called, Mulder had to fight the urge to tell the man to go fuck himself. Mister X was no Deep Throat. He seemed contemptuous of Mulder, pissed at him, and giving enigmatic hints when Mulder was sure he knew more than he was saying. However, Mister X was the only show in town. Mulder said, "I'll be there. Where?"

His new `source' directed him to a location. Mulder left while Alex was calling in the warrant on Cole. He saw his new `partner' glance his way as he left, but Alex was tied up in the details of getting the information out on Cole. His little frustrated frown amused Mulder more than it should have.

Mulder might like Alex. He might suspect that Alex was his lost lover. Neither fact made him willing to trust Alex. The man with Ricky's face was sent to him for a reason and Mulder probably wouldn't like to hear what that was.

OooOooO

The location was a construction site or a demolition site; Mulder couldn't tell whether they were building something or demolishing it. That was probably symbolic, but Mulder didn't have time for allegories right now. There was no one on the site and it was sparsely lit. Mulder searched the darkness until a part of it moved out at him.

"Who are you?" Mulder asked.

His informant was a big man, powerfully built. A large black man with a military hair cut, salt and pepper sideburns and a neat beard. He wore a black trench coat. All he needed was the peaked floppy hat to be the black spy that Mulder remembered from Mad Magazine.

"Who I am is irrelevant," the man said.

The man was no charm school graduate. He sounded angry, but Mulder thought the anger stemmed from fear. Considering the fate of Deep Throat, Mulder couldn't blame him.

"Why are you trying to help me?" Mulder asked. He really meant it. After the man that he called Deep Throat died, why would anyone working for his mysterious opponent dare to help him?

"You think I want to be here, Agent Mulder? I don't want to be here," the man said.

Mulder had decided to call the man Mister X since he would not supply so much as an alias. God, these men loved to play games. Was all this drama necessary?

"What is this?" Mulder asked, accepting the file that X held out.

"Data from a top secret military project, born of the idea that sleep was the soldier's greatest enemy," Mister X said.

"Of course, someone was conducting sleep deprivation experiments on Parris Island," Mulder replied, thinking about the information that Krycek had presented back at headquarters.

"Not deprivation, eradication," Mulder's informant said.

"Why?" Mulder asked. What good would that do? His mind traveled back to university days; they had studied Mengele. The Nazi doctor had conducted experiments that continued to provide information used today in any number of fields yet he had also indulged in pseudo-science, trying to prove the Third Reich's theory of genetics. In his vain quest, he had tortured, he had killed, he had committed crimes against humanity. Mulder wondered if that was what he was confronted with in this case . . . a waste of human suffering in the name of vain glorious military pursuits?

"Why else? To build a better soldier. Sustained wakefulness dulls fear, heightens aggression. Science had just put a man on the moon. So they looked to science to win a losing war," Mister X said. He sounded almost approving even if he was providing information to expose the experiments.

"And Willig and Cole were the lab rats," Mulder remarked.

"Lab rats with the highest kill ratio in the marine corps. Four thousand plus confirmed kills for a thirteen man squad," Mister X said, his tone still nearly admiring.

"You think Cole's behind what's happening now?" Mulder asked, thinking of the face in that picture. The expression had been that of a fanatic, someone burning with rage, someone on the edge of madness if they had not already fallen.

Mister X said," I'm not here to do your thinking, Agent Mulder. All I know is Augustus Cole hasn't slept in twenty-four years. There's someone else you should see. A member of the squad who was reportedly killed in action."

"I thought Cole was the last," Mulder said.

X handed him a scrap of paper with a name and an address. Mulder glanced at the three lines on the paper.

"His name is on the envelope," X said. He turned away.

Calling after X, Mulder asked, "So how do I contact you?"

"You can't," X said.

"I may still need more," Mulder said, wondering if X knew anything about Alex Krycek and Ricky Caruso. His instinct said that Mister X knew more about this case than he was telling and perhaps he also knew about why Alex had pushed his way into Mulder's life at this point when he felt so lost.

X said, "You still don't get it, do you? Closing the X-Files, separating you and Scully was only the beginning. The truth is still out there, but it's more dangerous. The man we both knew paid for that information with his life, a sacrifice I'm not willing to make."

It was no use saying more. Mister X was blending into the shadows, moving away from Mulder as fast as he could disassociate himself.

As usual, Mulder was going to have to struggle through the process of sorting through the bullshit himself. Sometimes he wondered why scraps of information were dangled in front of his face. Maybe he was being manipulated to sniff out the flaws in the conspiracy just so they could follow behind him and cover up any evidence.

What the hell was Mulder supposed to do? If he thought too much about it, he would do nothing at all. That wasn't his nature. He would rather take a chance and pursue the hope of finding the truth, whatever the hell that was!

OooOooO

Alex was probably fuming by now, Mulder reflected as he drove back to the VA hospital. He would be too if his partner dumped him without a word and without a car. Yes, there he was, pacing back and forth out front of the V.A. hospital. Before he drove up to where Krycek waited, Mulder hid the file he had just been given under the mat in the car. As soon as he was able, he would fax a copy to Scully and then hide the original.

Stepping out onto the road, Alex flagged Mulder down, jerking the door open angrily. "Where were you? Someone matching Cole's description just robbed a drugstore in Queens and the place is located under a motel just around the corner," Alex said, his words rushing together. He sounded more like Ricky than ever.

"Is he alive?" Mulder asked.

Alex apparently had decided to keep working with Mulder. He said, "He was when the night man just saw him. So where were you?"

There was no way Mulder could trust Alex. Not yet. Not until he could make Alex remember. Mulder said nothing. Alex glanced at him, a sharp look, yet there seemed to be genuine hurt hidden behind the anger.

In silence, they drove to the hotel, ran into the lobby, and straight up to the second floor where Wharton said he would wait.

"Detective Wharton? I'm Agent Krycek, this is Agent Mulder," Alex said.

The famous Detective Wharton wasn't the rival Mulder imagined. He was a middle aged man with mostly grey hair, sagging jowls, slumped shoulders, and a hangdog expression.

Wharton nodded and said, "I've been waiting for you guys. I tried holding the SWAT guys back but they're getting a little antsy. For what it's worth, Cole didn't steal dime-one from that drug store, just a bunch of pills."

That made sense to Mulder. Cole needed medication, something to help him function.

Before they could get more information, Mulder heard gun fire, three shots. Someone screamed. Mulder and Alex hit the stairs, belly down, side by side.

Alex was breathing heavily, very keyed up. It was not the first time he had faced gunfire if he was Ricky, but Ricky had not been in many situations this tense. A lot of his work had been plain blue collar officer stuff, everything from investigating domestic violence to traffic stops. He had admitted to Mulder that he seldom had occasion to fire his gun off the practice range.

Still, Alex showed potential. His eyes met Mulder's briefly in silent communion. They moved as one up the stairs, ready to take on whatever they found.

"Inside, NOW!" Alex yelled at the people peering from their rooms. He moved from side to side, gun hand traveling as if connected to his eyes.

Mulder caught a glimpse of blue uniforms, bloody blue uniforms.

"Officer down!" Alex yelled, his voice shaking a little. Alex knelt to check one and Wharton the other as Mulder forged on to see if he could find Cole.

"We got two officers down, request emergency vehicles, immediately," Alex's voice spat into his cell phone. He was doing a good job and Mulder felt comfortable in leaving him in charge of the shooting scene.

An open window explained what had happened to Cole. Mulder looked out cautiously and saw nothing. Uniformed officers moved below, hopefully doing a through check of the many hiding places in the alley beneath the window.

Alex rejoined him, wiping his hands on a handkerchief.

"What's going on here, Mulder? These two officers, they shot each other," Alex said, sweating from the exertion of his dash up the stairs. His eyes were wild from the excitement of the last few moments. His voice was more accented. Mulder could hear the same mish-mash of accents with which Ricky had spoke, the result of moving from New York to Chicago to a brief stay in Canada before they had finally settled in Eastbridge, New York, where Mulder had met him.

Mulder didn't have any answers for him. He reached out, brushed Alex's arm and said, "You okay?"

A step back. Alex stared at him then deliberately came back in reach, eyes asking. Mulder felt like he was trying to tame something wild. He rested his hand on Alex's arm for just a moment. He nodded. "You're okay."

Benediction. Alex bowed his head and took a deep breath.

"Thanks, Mulder," Alex said.

OooOooO
Ricky . . . Alex, whoever the beautiful young agent was, was still talking to the police officers who had responded to the scene. He seemed to feel comfortable with them and they seemed to like him. Once a cop, always a cop? Mulder wasn't sure, but he suspected that Ricky Caruso was emerging from the facade that had been layered over his personality.

As soon as they arrived at the hospital, Alex had gone off with Wharton. Intent on the two officers who had been shot, for once, Alex had not noticed that Mulder didn't follow. Mulder had time to fax the reports to Scully, having persuaded a clerk that they were essential information on the shooting. When Mulder returned from hiding the file, Alex was still in the middle of a hornet's nest of police activity. No police officer was capable of complete objectivity when another cop had been shot. Alex's reactions were those of someone who had worn blue. Krycek said he had been a cop; Ricky had been proud of his uniform, son of a long line of police officers and firemen.

Stepping over to Mulder, Alex whispered, "These guys were partners, best friends, and they were experienced officers. It doesn't make sense that they would panic and shoot each other. The one who is still alive is holding on, but he still unconscious. They're hoping he will be able to explain. Poor guy . . . it's all over for him even if he lives."

"Keep on it for a while, Alex," Mulder said. "The officers seem to respond well to you. Make sure that everything is the way it seems. That there wasn't any gossip about either officer having problems that could account for what happened."

"Yeah, I can do that," Alex said. He turned to go back to the waiting room full of officers.

Mulder called Scully and said, "Scully, I'm still at the hospital where they brought the officers that were shot."

"Yes, Mulder," Scully's voice said. "I'm going over these reports you faxed me. They're incredible." Scully sounded enthused, despite the grim subject matter, as if she too had missed the mysteries of their work on the X Files.

"Well, the military already sent troops into radioactive mushroom clouds; I guess they figured they had to top themselves, right?" Mulder's tone was light, but his thoughts were not.

Sleep modification, genetic manipulation, twisting, misusing, destroying human beings as they pleased.

Ricky . . .

Sweet, innocent, beautiful Ricky . . . Ricky would have hated that description. He had always been so cocky, any self-doubt hidden behind a brash exterior.

What had they done to him to make him into Alex Krycek?

More importantly, could it be undone?

"Sleep eradication still doesn't explain the shooting of those two officers, or the anomalous autopsy results on Willig and Dr. Grissom," Scully replied.

"Well, I learned something at Dr. Grissom's clinic. About what happens to a person's cortex when you stimulate it with electricity," Mulder offered.

"They experience mild visual and auditory hallucinations, any first year med student could tell you that," Scully replied.

Nice going, Scully, Mulder thought. Way to build your partner's confidence. He frowned at the cell phone.

"Well, what if that stimulus were to come from a remote source? What if Cole had somehow developed the ability to project his unconscious?" Mulder proposed.

"Are you suggesting that Cole killed these people with telepathic images?" Scully asked. As usual, she wasn't buying it.

"Think about it, Scully. In all those years without REM sleep, maybe Cole built a bridge between the waking world and the dream world. A collective unconscious. And what if, by existing consciously in the unconscious world, he developed the ability to externalize his dreams and effectively alter reality," Mulder said, his thoughts racing as he put the scraps of information together in his head.

"Even if you're right, you'll have a much better chance of finding Cole if you work up a profile and try to surmise his next move," Scully lectured.

"All right, I'll sharpen my pencils and I'll see you later," Mulder said.

Ah, there Alex was. He stood a polite distance away this time, lifting his chin and his bright eyes inquiring.

Mulder smiled at him, a very small smile but an honest one. "I'll be right there, Krycek."

Alex nodded and went back to whatever he had been doing.

"Where are you going?" Scully asked, sounding wistful.

"We're gonna check out another member of the squad and see if he can tell us anything about Cole," Mulder said. He felt a sting of guilt. He had told Alex what they were doing, included him as naturally as he would have included Scully.

"Sounds like your new partner is working out," Scully said.

Making sure that Alex was out of hearing "He's all right," Mulder said. "He could use a little more seasoning and some wardrobe advice, but he's a lot more open to extreme possibilities than . . ."

Mulder really meant to say "than you were." He couldn't help thinking of the Scully that he had first met, all business in her blocky suits. Her blue eyes constantly questioning him, disbelieving his theories.

"Then I was?" Scully said quietly. She knew him all too well.

"Than I assumed he would be," Mulder said, a social lie. He did know how to lie. He simply chose not to indulge in white lies most of the time.

"Must be nice not having someone question your every move, poking holes in all your theories," Scully replied.

"Oh yeah, it's . . . it's great. I'm surprised I put up with you so long," Mulder said, trying to convey how much he missed her. Even if he could get his Ricky back, even if he could have his X-Files back, he couldn't imagine working without Scully. She would like Ricky, but first he was going to have to explain a few things to her.

"You'd better go. I'll read over this report again and see what else I can come up with," Scully said, her voice sounding distant and aggrieved.

"Okay," Mulder said, gently hanging up the phone.

Why had he never told her about Ricky? Mulder knew that the original reason was that he didn't trust her. He thought she had been sent to spy on him and she admitted as much later. Of course, she didn't think of it as spying, which was what might have made her perfect for their purpose. She made her reports, volumes of crisp, detailed Scully reports. Her supervisor read them and whomever else. People like the man who stank of smoke that attended some of Mulder's meetings with Skinner.

OooOooO

"There wasn't any gossip about the two officers. As far as the rest of the guys were concerned, what happened was unbelievable. The two officers weren't the kind to make a mistake like that, shooting each other," Alex said.

Sighing, Alex put away his notepad. "Where are we going anyway?"

"To a diner," Mulder said.

"To eat?" Alex asked.

"No, remember, I promised you Italian food," Mulder said. "We'll go later. Right now, we're going to this diner to interview another member of Cole's unit, one who was reported missing in action and of whom there was no record of return to the United States."

"The day is mostly gone already," Alex said.

"You want me to drop you off somewhere to rest?" Mulder said. "Is your headache back?"

"No," Alex said. "I feel strange though. When I was talking to those cops, I had the feeling . . . I felt like I belonged."

"Were you a uniformed cop, Alex? Is that how you entered the FBI?" Mulder probed.

"Yeah," Alex said. "Then I went to . . ." Alex frowned and said, "Funny, I forgot for a moment what college I attended."

"You're tired," Mulder said. "It's not easy being my partner. You're allowed to say you need a break."

"I'm tough," Alex said. "If you can take it, so can I."

Mulder smiled at that and said, "Grab some coffee at the diner. We need to keep that brain of yours sharp."

Alex smiled again. "I'm all yours, Agent Mulder."

Mulder wished.

OooOooO

The diner was one of those places that could exist anywhere. It looked as if it had not been redecorated since the fifties. He hoped the coffee wasn't that old.

"Salvatore Matola?" Mulder said.

Matola was thin, male pattern baldness had worked half way through his hair. He wore his hair very short. He looked different from his picture, a mustache and beard outlining the full mouth that had marked the picture Mulder had seen with an innocence that belied the facts. He had the same red, swollen eyes as Mulder had seen in the second victim and in the picture of Cole.

"You gonna shoot me? You gonna kill me?" Matola asked.

"We're with the FBI. We just want to ask you some questions. Why did you think we were gonna kill you?" Mulder asked.

"I don't know," Matola said, slurring his words.

"You know about Willig and Grissom?" Mulder asked.

"I read about it in the paper. I guess they're finally killin' us all off," Matola said. He continued to clear the counter, his moves automatic as if he was trapped in an endless loop of film. It must have seemed that way to him, day after day, no sleep, the depression and fear building without the benefits of rest. It was a hellish way to live.

"Who? Hey, Sal? Sal, can you spare a few minutes?" Mulder said.

"I guess so," Sal said, rambling from place to place as he spoke. He wandered around with a stack of dirty dishes for a while, set them down, and picked them up again before finally getting them to the kitchen. He was like a man working in his sleep.

"I got a break comin' up. Spare a few minutes. I guess," Sal muttered.

If Sal was the end result of the experiments, Mulder knew they had failed. Perhaps there was a brief period of enhancement, but the long term effects were destructive. Sal was almost a robot, a malfunctioning robot. Cole was mad, a mad killer, Mulder suspected.

They sat at the counter. Sal smoked. Everyone was smoking except Mulder and Alex. The diner was filled with a haze of smoke. Despite that, Alex ordered coffee and sipped it as Sal spoke.

"They said it's be like living two lifetimes. At . . ." Sal said, breaking up his words and staring off with unfocused eyes. He started over. "At first, that's what it was like. Not having to sleep at all made us feel like nothin' could touch us, you know? We'd do twenty-four hour patrols, night ambushes, you know, and that type of thing."

Sal looked as if he was seeing into his past. He was a man lost in time, trapped in horrific memories that it would have been more merciful to allow to fade. Perhaps that was what sleep did. Allowed you to blur the corners of your life, forget the worst memories, and integrate the rest into a whole with which you could live.

"And you never got tired?" Mulder asked.

Alex was taking notes. He was always taking notes, reminding Mulder of Ricky. Ricky's Commissioner Scali preferred detailed reports from his officers and Ricky had frequently whipped out a pad and jotted a few details down to help him remember.

"No. Not so that we had to sleep. And then, nothing that the pills couldn't fix," Sal said.

"Serotonin?" Mulder asked.

"Yeah," Sal answered.

"How long did this go on?" Mulder asked.

"Quite awhile, I'd say. Quite awhile until we stopped taking orders from the company commander in Saigon," Sal said. A hint of a smile crossed his face at that thought. He drew a deep drag of his cigarette.

"You mean the entire squad went AWOL?" Alex asked, his voice sounding incredulous. Mulder turned slightly, watching him as he reacted. Alex shook his head faintly in denial and disgust before turning back to coffee and note-taking.

"Yeah, somethin' like that," Sal admitted.

"Well, then who did you take orders from?" Mulder asked.

"We just made up missions as we went along, until it didn't matter anymore who we were killing. Farmers, women. Outside of Phu Bai, there was this school, they were just kids," Sal said. His voice hardly inflected. He might have been telling them his grocery list for all the emotion in his voice, but his hand shook a little as he tapped an ash off the end of his cigarette.

"No one ever tried to stop you?" Alex shot in. He had been squirming in his seat, uncomfortable with the conversation, grimacing at times.

Mulder wondered again how those anonymous men had broken Ricky and remade him. Was it conditioning or had they done something like this . . . carved a new person with neurosurgery.

"No, sir," Sal replied, glancing at Alex with a fearful look.

"We suspect that Augustus Cole may be behind the murders of Willig and Grissom," Mulder said.

"Preacher? That's what we used to call him on account that he was always reading from his bible, saying this and that about judgment day. Sayin' that we'll have to pay for what we were doin'. That's what he said back then, that's what he's saying," Sal said.

"But why Grissom? He was never in country; he wasn't even part of the squadron," Mulder said.

"Sure he was. He made us what we are. Him and Dr. Gerardi," Sal said, finally showing some emotion, hate coloring his otherwise bland words.

"Who's Gerardi?" Mulder asked.

"The other doc . . . the one who did the surgeries on us. It's because of him that I haven't slept a night in twenty-four years," Sal said. "I gotta work," Sal said. "I gotta work."

Zombie-like, Sal stubbed out the remains of his cigarette and stood up. He went back to clearing tables as if Mulder and Alex were gone from his memory.

Once they were outside, headed back for the car, Alex remarked, "Suddenly, I'm not hungry anymore. Jesus, Mulder, Jesus . . ."

"I know," Mulder said. "Give me the keys; I'll drive." Mulder said.

Alex dangled the keys from his fingers, letting Mulder take them without protest.

OooOooO

The traffic wasn't moving. They had been on the Long Island Expressway for an hour, most of the time, not moving. Half an hour ago, Alex had taken off his suit coat and thrown it into the back seat. His shirt was blindingly white. A few minutes later, he had loosened his tie and unbuttoned his shirt collar. He still had the damn notepad out.

"We're going after Gerardi. Cole sees himself as a kind of avenging angel. In his mind, everyone responsible for the atrocities, whether directly or indirectly, must be punished," Mulder said.

"Yeah, but why now? Why after all these years?" Alex asked.

"Phu Bai was one of the bloodiest massacres of the war. Over three hundred children slaughtered. But unlike My Lai, no U.S. troops were ever charged. The twenty-fourth anniversary of the massacre was two days ago," Mulder said. His eidetic memory made the facts as clear as if he was reading from the page from which he had first learned them.

His cell phone was ringing again. "Mulder," he answered.

"I think I found the Francis Gerardi you're looking for. He's a professor of neurosurgery at Harvard," Scully said.

"Do you have his number in Boston?" Mulder asked.

"Yes, but he's coming to New York for Grissom's funeral, tonight. He's arriving at Bronx Station on the seven-thirty train," Scully said.

"Try to have a photograph waiting for us at the security desk so we know who we're looking for, okay?" Mulder said.

"Got it," Scully said. Mulder smiled. It was good to hear that voice, the Scully he remembered and loved, crisp, helpful, and efficient.

"Alex," Mulder said. "Time you saw some expert defensive driving. We have to be at Bronx Station by seven-thirty."

Checking his watch, Alex shook his head. "No way in hell, Mulder. There's a line of traffic in front of us and I think I saw a traffic helicopter. . ."

Mulder pulled out of the line of traffic and drove the next few miles on the shoulder. He looped in and out of traffic, grinning as Alex went from polite requests to stop to cussing him out. Finally, his new partner went silent, white-knuckles grabbing the dash and lips drawn into a tight line.

When Mulder turned off at the Bronx exit, he spared a glance at his partner. Alex had turned a pale shade of green and his eyes were as big as dinner plates.

"See, we could get here on time," Mulder said.

"You are the craziest son of a bitch that I ever met," Alex said.

Mulder smirked and said, "How fast can you run, Agent Krycek?"

"I can keep up with you," Alex replied.

"Then let's do it," Mulder challenged.

Long, long legs stretched out with his own equally lengthy limbs. Mulder wasn't trying to lose Alex. He trusted him to keep up.

Whipping into the train station, Mulder gazed about until he saw a transit cop holding a piece of paper. That must be it. He grabbed the faxed picture, glanced at it, embedding the image in his eidetic brain. He thrust the picture at Alex, who scanned it, nodded, and handed it back.

`Good girl, Scully', Mulder thought, grateful for Scully's help in obtaining the picture.

`Good boy, Alex, too', Mulder added, speculating that Krycek has memorized every mole on Gerardi's face.

"Stay here, I'll cover the other side," Mulder said.

The station was busy. It was hard to pick individual faces out of the moving masses. Mulder scanned for males with beards, looking at the same time for Cole's weary, embittered face.

Sparing a moment, Mulder glanced at Alex. His partner shook his head, his eyes still searching the crowd. Mulder returned to his duties, trusting Alex to take care of that side of the station.

There he was . . . That was Gerardi walking toward him. Behind him, gun in hand, was Cole.

"Federal Agent! Drop your weapon," Mulder yelled.

Mulder fired at Cole, once, twice, three times. Cole didn't fall. Mulder managed one more shot and then Cole was shooting back. Mulder felt the bullets hit, felt the pain. Sorry, Ricky. Sorry, Samantha . . . Mulder had failed.

"Mulder!" a voice was yelling.

Ricky . . . it was Ricky.

Were they back in that clearing? Had something hit Mulder's head and knocked him out? No, that was years ago, back in the woods where the false face mask had been carved in a living tree.

No, Mulder remembered where he was, the train station and Cole had shot him. "Gerardi! Where is he?" Mulder shouted, sitting up. He was almost in Alex's lap and Alex seemed reluctant to exit this arrangement. Even if it had been Ricky for certain, Mulder wouldn't have put up with this. He struggled to his feet, a wave of dizziness making him grateful for the continuing support of Alex's strong hands.

"Gerardi's not here," Alex replied, looking worried.

"I saw him," Mulder said.

"Mulder! You were shouting and waving your gun around, but Gerardi never showed," Alex replied, his voice, rising sharply and sounding shocked and disbelieving.

"No, Gerardi was here, and so was Cole. We just missed them," Mulder explained.

"Mulder, if they had been here, I would have seen it. I'm telling you, Mulder, they weren't here," Alex insisted, his fingers tightening on Mulder's arms as he spoke.

Shrugging free of Alex's grip, Mulder looked around. Shit, the guards were still aiming guns in his direction. Everyone was looking at him as if he was crazy.

Mulder still believed in his own perceptions. He had learned over his time on the X Files that other people sometimes didn't see what he did, they would ignore the facts if they didn't fit their world.

"Is there video tape?" Mulder asked. "I want to see the videotape from the security cameras."

Looking concerned and doubtful, Alex followed Mulder to the control room that housed the security monitors.

OooOooO

"Okay, there's nothing here. Start with a small window of time, say nineteen thirty-five to nineteen forty-five. If you don't find anything in that time frame, then open it up one minute at a time. With all these cameras, we should be able to see something," Mulder said.

The Port Authority officers weren't happy, but they obeyed, exchanging looks at each other when they thought Mulder wasn't looking. He had the feeling that Alex was about to pitch another of his temper tantrums. He seemed to think that Mulder had experienced a delusional episode.

Here, Alex was, a belligerent expression on his face. He stepped closer to Mulder and said, "Can we talk for a second?" It wasn't phrased like a question. It was a demand.

All right. Mulder took Alex's arm and led him aside. Despite the tension, he enjoyed the slightly shocked expression on his new partner's face at his almost intimate touch.

"What's the problem?" Mulder asked.

"You still haven't answered my question. What happened?" Alex said.

"I told you, I thought I saw Gerardi!" Mulder explained.

"Come on, you just about killed somebody back there. We both know I'm covering for you by keeping it between us," Alex claimed. He jutted his chin forward and set his body as if this verbal confrontation could become physical.

"All right, what do you want to know?" Mulder said.

"What's the truth? There are things you're not telling me that I need to know," Alex replied, passionately.

"It's just that my ideas usually aren't very popular," Mulder said. He knew that he was risking something, but he had to reach inside Alex, reach a place where his Ricky still lived.

"I told you, I want to believe. But I need a place to start," Alex said. His eyes searched Mulder's face, wanting an answer, but not the one that Mulder was tempted to give him.

"I think that Cole possesses the psychic ability to manipulate sounds and images to generate illusions that are so convincing they can kill. How's that for a theory?" Mulder said.

"Puts a whole new spin on virtual reality but at least it begins to explain some things," Alex said. His expression was guarded, not giving Mulder anything more than his words despite the nod of agreement he offered.

"Agent Mulder?" one of the security officers said, calling them back to the row of monitors. "See this car in the upper right corner?" the security officer said, pointing to the screen.

"Yeah," Mulder replied.

"It wasn't there five minutes ago," the officer replied.

Bingo. "Where is this?" Mulder said, tapping the monitor.

"Track 17. It's a restricted part of the yard," the man said.

"Come on, Alex," Mulder said, grabbing his partner by the sleeve.

"You'll need flashlights," one of the security officers said. "You'll need back up."

Mulder smiled and said, "The flashlights, we'll take. I don't want anyone in there, but me and my partner. The person we're hunting is a mentally ill Vietnam veteran. He's not charged with anything. I want to get him out of there alive."

"We'll be on standby," the port authority cop said.

"Fine," Mulder said, as another officer handed Alex and he large flashlights.

Alex grunted and checked his flashlight. Mulder nodded and flashed his also. "Just follow my lead, Alex."

"Don't I always?" Alex said. He smiled, Ricky's smile and Mulder wanted him to be Ricky, wanted it so badly.

OooOooO

Someone screamed as Mulder and Alex entered the tunnel. Alex flashed his flashlight around wildly at first. Mulder tried to be methodical, but he was almost as spooked as Alex.

First there was a broken pair of glasses on the floor then a dark red streak of blood. Mulder followed the trail with his flashlight beam until he saw the slumped figure of a man tied to a post. He saw a deep wound on the neck, perhaps an attempt by Cole to inflict the same injury on Gerardi that he had inflected on the soldiers. Mulder touched the man, found a feeble pulse and looked back at Alex.

"He's still alive. Put pressure on the wound on the back of his neck and radio for help," Mulder yelled at Alex.

Glancing back at Alex, Mulder thought he had froze, something that happens to a lot of new agents, new cops. Mulder yelled, "NOW!" penetrating the adrenaline overcharge of his partner.

"This is Agent Krycek requesting emergency assistance. My location is track seventeen in the freight way house," Alex said, voice shaky again, but doing what he needed to do.

"Stay with him," Mulder said. He could handle Cole and the situation if he didn't also have to cope with a keyed-up new agent over reacting.

OooOooO
Mulder saw Cole standing on the edge of the platform, his dark figure outlined against the dim light. He knew what the man was thinking. He wanted to escape, the only escape that he could hope to find from the cage that the bastards had created of his own flesh.

"Step away from the edge. Corporal Cole, I'm a federal agent, now please, step back," Mulder directed.

"Go ahead, shoot me," Cole said, almost pleading.

"That's not why I'm here. I'm putting down my gun. I just want to talk to you for a few minutes, after that, you're free to do whatever you want," Mulder assured, crouching to place his gun on the scarred wooden deck.

"I'm tired," Cole said. His mad eyes gazed hopelessly at Mulder.

"I know," Mulder said.

"Naw, man, you don't know. You have no idea," Cole muttered. He looked at the train rails as if they might hold salvation.

Mulder thought he knew what Cole wanted, an end, a rest, the only sleep he could not be denied. If he let Cole have it, the answers might die with him.

"One minute is all I'm asking," Mulder said.

"One minute is more than I can give. My blood's boiling in my veins. I can feel the air stinging on my skin," Cole said.

"What the military did to you was wrong, but your testimony can help," Mulder said.

"They cut out a part of my brain. They made me into somebody else. I can never get back what they took away from me, and I'm gonna stop them from taking anything more," Cole replied.

Mulder heard and felt the words in his gut. `They made me into somebody else.' Ricky. Alex. He knew. He was sure.

Mulder had the feeling that he was losing control of the situation if he ever had it.

Then he heard someone behind him and Cole reacted, his hand flung out, holding something flatly in the palm of his hand.

What was it? A gun? For a moment, that was what Mulder saw and then he knew it was Cole's bible.

Shit. Alex had his gun drawn and was stalking forward, hand slightly shaking. He had his eyes focused on Cole's hand and Mulder guessed that Alex saw the gun, not the bible that was the reality.

OooOooO

"Krycek, put down the gun and get out of here. Krycek, I said, put down the gun and get out of here!" Mulder yelled.

What the fuck was the matter with the kid? He was looking at Cole and every nerve was jumping. He raised his gun, fired twice, and Cole went down.

"Good-night," Cole said, peace stealing over his countenance.

Cole was beyond help and he had taken his secrets with him.

Meanwhile Alex was searching with desperate, horrified intensity for the gun he seemed sure that he would find. He looked over the edge of the train platform, almost touched Cole to look under him, saw the bible, froze, and went back to his increasingly frantic search.

"He had a gun. He was gonna shoot you," Krycek said. He was pale, shaking, and tears were almost escaping from his eyes. He kept stealing glances at Cole as if waiting for him to leap up, taking away the magnitude of what Krycek had done.

"You did the right thing," Mulder said.

A moment later, Krycek was losing his lunch. Mulder called in the shooting and watched for as long as he could stand it without going to his partner. At that moment, it didn't matter who Alex Krycek really was; he was in pain.

"I didn't mean to do it," Alex moaned. "Why did he do that? It was just a bible. It was a bible!"

"It's okay," Mulder said. "I understand."

When Alex stopped throwing up, Mulder said, "We have to give our reports."

"I want to go home," Alex said. "I want to go home. Mulder, take me home."

"Shh, take a deep breath," Mulder said, turning Alex physically away from the body. "It's going to be okay. I know what you saw. I know why you shot him. Just pull yourself together. In a little while, you can go home and rest."

"He wasn't armed," Alex said. "It was a bible, but I saw a gun. How . . . why did I see a gun?"

"I'm not sure, but I have my theories," Mulder said.

Big green eyes stared at him. Alex Krycek was shaken to the core. "I never shot anyone before."

It was the truth. Every instinct told Mulder that. He saw the transit cops arriving. Soon agents from the internal review team would follow because Alex was a FBI agent who fired his weapon at a suspect. They would have come even if Cole survived.

Mulder put an arm around Alex and said, "I know, Alex, I know."

Moving away from him, Alex turned to stare at the body. His shoulders slumped. Mulder didn't approach him again. Alex was going to have to work through this, not an easy thing for anyone, not matter how tough. Somehow, he liked the Alex all the more for the depth of his reaction.

Although it seemed like a day passed before they were dismissed, it was about ninety minutes. The shooting review team was sympathetic to Krycek's distress and Mulder's hurried explanation.

The Office of Professional Responsibility field agent nodded at Mulder and said, "You can take the kid home now. You know he's required to have counseling after this. Looks like he's going to need it."

"Yeah, I know, I'll talk to him about it," Mulder said. "Thanks."

Alex wanted to be left alone, something Mulder was willing to do since he had checked the car when he finished his interview. The file was gone. Alex would have had time to steal it when Mulder spoke to the team alone.

It was fucking confusing. He didn't know if all of that remorse was an act or if someone else had taken the file. He had been an idiot not to move it when he had a chance. He had faxed a copy to Scully, but how long would that last? Headquarters was a sieve. Information constantly leaked from the Hoover. Whomever that man was who attended so many of Mulder's staff meetings, he had access to every office, every secret held in FBI headquarters.

OooOooO
Mulder drove around for hours after Scully called to say that her office had been broken into. Finally, he decided to hell with it. He was going to confront Alex about the file.

Turning the car back to Alex's apartment, Mulder was determined to end this. He would question Alex about the file and, possibly, depending on his answers, tell him about Ricky Caruso.

It took several minutes of knocking to get Alex to answer the door.

"Can I come in?" Mulder asked.

"I don't know," Alex said. He stood in the doorway, slightly swaying. His tie dangled from one side of his rumpled white shirt. The top button to his trousers was unbuttoned. His belt was off; it was thrown across the room toward the phone. He held onto the door frame as if barring Mulder.

"You've been drinking," Mulder said. "Want company?" He brushed past Alex to enter the apartment. The place was void of personality unless you counted a stack of Italian take out containers in the garbage. Looking at them, Mulder said, "I said I was sure you liked Italian food. Is that from tonight? Did you eat?"

"Didn't take out the garbage for a while," Alex replied. "Couldn't eat tonight."

Now that he was here, Mulder found he didn't want to talk about the file. His anger was drained, replaced with a weary certainty that this was Ricky and that his former lover needed help, not to be condemned.

"Funny about me liking Italian food so much ," Alex remarked. "I always have. I don't know why. My parents were Russian."

"We should talk about your family," Mulder said. "I want to get to know you. Do you have any pictures of them?"

"Uh," Alex said, looking lost. He glanced around the apartment as if looking. "I guess not. We weren't the picture-taking kind of family."

"Too bad," Mulder said, "I bet you were a cute kid."

"You want a drink?" Alex asked. He poured a couple shots without waiting for an answer.

"Sure," Mulder said.

Alex had the stiff, all too careful walk of a man trying hard not to appear drunk. He handed Mulder a drink. Mulder took it and set it on the coffee table.

"Ricky," Mulder said. It might have slipped out or perhaps it was a test.

"Uh," Alex said. He turned around to face Mulder, tripped over his long legs, and tumbled into his lap.

Mulder had his arms up to catch the man he hoped was his former lover. He had a lap full of Ricky or was it Alex?

"I'm going to kiss you," Mulder announced.

"Kay," the man said.

Then, "Wait," struggling up, Alex went to his closet and took out a device. He turned it on and explained, "It's a signal jammer in case I missed any bugs. Being with you is worth getting in trouble for. Besides, I do this a lot. Jam his bugs. He doesn't need to monitor me all the time."

"Who, Alex?" Mulder said. "Who do you think is monitoring you?"

"Later, Mulder," Alex said, swaying a little. "You were going to kiss me. I wanna be kissed."

Okay, Mulder had to fight his urge to insist on knowing more about the bugs and the people behind them. Besides, Alex looked so beautiful, so needy. Pulling Alex into his lap, Mulder delivered what he promised. Alex tasted like Ricky. He responded like Ricky.

Deeper kisses, holding Alex tightly as he straddled Mulder's lap, a rumbling, purring sound of excitement coming from his chest.

Mulder couldn't remember anything but desire. He wanted Alex with a blind passion, a consuming desire that eradicated all conscious thought.

Suddenly, Alex pulled away, a cry of pain and fear ripping from him. "I know you," Alex shouted. "I knew you when they showed me the picture of you. It was like I was hit by lightening. I remembered something. There was a tree. A mask. A mask that spoke to me."

"Yes, Ricky," Mulder said. "Remember, Ricky."

"They hurt me. He took me. He took me from my apartment when I was packing to move in with you," Ricky said. "How long? What the hell did they do to me? I don't know who I am!"

Eyes wild, Ricky paced, holding his head as if in pain.

"You're Ricky Caruso," Mulder said, "My lover. It was my fault that you were taken."

Mulder tried to reach for him, but Ricky jerked away. "They told me you were insane. They told me that you were misusing the resources of the FBI. That you were corrupting other agents like Agent Scully, even corrupting AD Skinner. You were digging into things that . . ."

Shoulders heaving, Ricky said, "I can't remember now. What did they tell me? Something about secrets. What's wrong with me, Mulder?"

"What they did to you is unforgivable," Mulder said. "Think about Cole, Willig, the others. Think about the kind of ruthlessness that could do that to American soldiers. Are they men you can trust? What have I ever done, Alex . . . Ricky, to make you doubt me?"

"Oh, God, oh, God," Ricky said. His wanderings brought him back closer to Mulder. He took a step forward, another one, and then he was in Mulder's arms.

"Help me, help me," Ricky said.

"It's going to be all right," Mulder soothed, holding his lost and found lover. His hand caressed the back of Ricky's head, comforting, but also looking. He could find no scars, nothing to indicate that they had invaded Ricky's brain. That didn't make it better.

"Where the hell is this?," Ricky said, looking around him. He pulled away from Mulder, walking around the apartment, examining the almost anonymous surroundings. "This isn't mine. This isn't me!"

Throwing things wildly, a book, a CD, a pen holder, Ricky was furious. He said, "Mulder, they did it to me, didn't they?"

"I don't think there's anything physically wrong with you," Mulder said. "I'll have Scully examine you."

"No! I don't want her to touch me. She hates me," Ricky blurted out. "I don't like her. It was supposed to be me. I was supposed to be your partner, not her. I remember they showed me surveillance of you and that woman, that Fowley woman. Now, there's Scully. You made her your partner. You trust her, not me. What was I? Did you just have sex with me because I was a stupid kid who you could use? Were you relieved when they took me? Did you fucking arrange it, Mulder?"

"Take it easy," Mulder said. He waited, seeing the terror, the anger in Alex's eyes, in Ricky's eyes.

"What am I going to do?" Ricky asked. "I'm not a cop anymore, am I? Scali must have thought I did something stupid to have to run off like that."

"He never canceled the missing person," Mulder said. "He calls me at least once a year to see if there's anything new about you. He never gave up. I never . . . I kept looking, Ricky. Anything they told you about me was a lie."

"What about Fowley?" Ricky asked. "That a lie?"

"No, I married her," Mulder said. "I thought . . . I was alone and she supported me. I thought I loved her, but that doesn't mean I stopped loving you, Ricky. As for Scully, it's not that kind of relationship. When she understands, she'll help you."

"I don't know what to think," Ricky said. The fury was draining from his voice. He looked at Mulder, his face so weary and grieved.

"I think I have a plan," Mulder said. "Come on. We're going to go somewhere."

"My shoes," Ricky reminded him, looking around in the mess he had made of his formerly neat apartment.

"There, under the couch," Mulder said.

Ricky nearly fell down, reaching for them. Mulder said, "Sit down, I'll help you. I'll take care of you."

"Oh, Mulder," Ricky said. "Oh, Mulder, I am so glad to see you. Don't let them take me again."

"They won't," Mulder promised, determined that they would not. He guided Ricky's feet into his shoes and tied them for his lover. "There, we better go. We better go now."

"Wait," Ricky said. He went to his desk, extracting a familiar file from a hidden compartment. "This is yours. I already told Spender that I found it though."

"Spender? Who is that? Is that the man who took you?" Mulder asked.

"Yeah, he's the guy who smokes Morley cigarettes when you meet with AD Skinner. He's the first one I really remember when I was Alex. I was asleep and I woke up. He was there. I remember being confused and he was gentle. He told me I was Alex Krycek and said he was my friend. I knew there was something wrong, that my memories didn't seem right, but I didn't have anything else to go on. If I wasn't Alex Krycek, I wasn't anyone at all," Ricky said. "I don't know what to do with this file. Spender will expect it. He's expecting me to report soon."

"We'll deal with the file and your report to Spender later," Mulder replied. "What's important to me now is protecting you."

Mulder knew he would have to ditch the car and find a place to hide until Ricky had sobered and could deal with his returning memories. Ricky followed him out to the car, docile, stunned.

Once Ricky settled in the seat, he stared out the window, his face bereft of all of his self-possession and spark.

A few minutes down the road, Ricky stirred from his slumped position to say, "I have to call my parents." Ricky added, "and my aunt and uncle, my sister, Commissioner Scali. This must have been terrible for them. I hope they don't think I ran off because I was in trouble?"

Oh God, Mulder had hoped to put this conversation off. He said, "You should wait. We have to get some things settled."

"Mulder, I don't know about your family, but my family would kill me if they found out that I didn't contact them right away," Ricky said. "Give me your cell phone. I better not use mine. I won't tell them where I am, just that I'm safe."

"Ricky, I am very, very sorry," Mulder said.

"What?" Ricky asked. His eyes narrowed. "Just tell me, Mulder."

"Your mother couldn't take the strain. Her heart gave out. Your father . . ." Mulder said.

"Was it drinking?" Ricky asked. "He usually kept it under control, but a couple of times after he retired. . ."

"Yes," Mulder said. "After your mother died, he went on a binge. They found him at the house. He died in his sleep. Alcohol poisoning."

"Ah, God," Ricky moaned. He folded into himself. "I killed them."

"You didn't do any such thing, Ricky," Mulder said. "The people to blame are the same ones who took my sister . . . if it's anyone's fault, it's mine. They took you away from me because I loved you."

There was no answer. Ricky leaned to one side, his face buried in his arm, silent sobs racking his body.

Trying to feel the silence, Mulder said, "Your aunt and uncle are fine. Mick lived with them all the way through high school and still visits every holiday. You remember Mick. I attended his college graduation last year and now he's at the university, doing graduate work. He wants to be a psychiatrist and help abused kids. Your sister is on her third kid. She named the last boy, Ricky, after you."

Mulder couldn't tell if Ricky was listening. He saw a place to pull over, a grove of trees surrounding a utility installment. He parked, turned off the car, and reached for Ricky, almost afraid his lover would push him away. Instead, Ricky clung to him, his grief sobbing out of him until he could cry no more and merely rested his face against Mulder's chest.

Mulder's voice was hoarse from saying he was sorry. He held Ricky and rubbed his back. The guilt he carried was overwhelming. The day he came into Ricky's life was the day the young policeman's life was ruined. He hated his selfishness. Why hadn't he known? He hadn't been able to prevent Samantha's abduction; he should have known anything he loved would be lost.

"I have to get back at the man who did this to me, all of the old men who did this," Ricky said when he was able to sit up without tears. "Mulder, help me get them."

"I know. I will," Mulder promised.

Ricky looked at Mulder, eyes puffy from tears, nose red and still in need of a wipe. Mulder took out his handkerchief and dabbed at his lover's face.

"It wasn't your fault," Ricky said. "I will not regret loving you. It was the biggest thing in my life and I will never forgive them from trying to take it away."

"Why did they do it?" Mulder said.

"They had someone else they wanted to have as your partner," Ricky said. "I would have been in the way. Fowley was a plant. She reported to the same man I've been reporting to. There's something else too. Your mother. . . I don't know if you want to hear this, Mulder."

"Whatever it is, if it's the truth, I need to hear this," Mulder said. He already had leapt to a conclusion about Diana Fowley. She had been so convenient, so helpful, so quickly ingratiated in his life.

"Your mother went to the man who took me after you spoke to her about helping me be accepted into the academy," Ricky said. "That's what Spender told me. Your mother asked him to take care of me, remove me from your life. It's one of the last things I remember clearly before I woke up in that apartment when you kissed me."

"Where have you been all this time?" Mulder asked. "Did they have you locked up somewhere?"

"Be quiet for a moment," Ricky said. "I have to think. It's all jumbled up in my mind."

Mulder respected Ricky's wish until his lover sighed and said, "On the other hand, nothing falls into place. I get flashes of stuff. I remember seeing you and Scully. I was lying down . . . a hospital? I remember I was embarrassed about something."

"There was a man I met. His name was Michael. He was a stockbroker," Mulder said. "He was attacked by a creature that could switch gender . . ."

Ricky managed a smirk at that, but Mulder said, "No, you would have to see my report. Anyway, Michael nearly died from the attack. I saw him with Scully and I didn't feel free to talk to him so I went back later after the case was resolved. We talked."

"I don't remember anything more than seeing you," Ricky admitted. "Bits of my life are all jumbled up with Alex and maybe with that other guy. It's hard to remember which one I am."

"I think they might have brainwashed you and set you down in another life initially," Mulder said. "But you have the worst luck and I ran into you again. Possibly twice. However, Michael was you. I'm almost sure of it. He didn't know me at first, but he started to dream about me after we met. He told me that when I went to talk with him.

"You make love to Michael?" Ricky asked, frowning at Mulder.

Oh, fuck, Mulder thought. This wasn't good.

"Did you?" Ricky demanded.

"Yeah," Mulder admitted.

"Well, at least, I know you like my type," Ricky said.

"I was sure that it was you," Mulder said, "And I've missed you, Ricky, I have missed you so much. No one else compares."

"Yeah?" Ricky said. "I think that's kind of creepy. Like taking advantage of me or something."

"I'm sorry," Mulder said.

"But I guess you wanted it to be me," Ricky said. "I guess you needed me. That part is good."

"You're right," Mulder said. "I never stopped needing you."

"I hope I can remember being Michael. I need to know what's happened to my life," Ricky said. He looked around and asked, "Where are we going?"

"Some place safe," Mulder said. "I have some friends that I told about us."

"That's good," Ricky said. "He's going to be after me."

"Who, Ricky?" Mulder asked.

"The guy I told you about, the smoking man, C.G.B. Spender," Ricky said. "He's Alex's boss. He always took a personal interest in . . . Alex."

Ricky was showing all the signs of acute trauma, isolating parts of his experiences, dealing with the psychological damage by attributing painful memories to the created persona of Alex Krycek.

Mulder knew that once Ricky was safe, he was going to need help to heal. Mulder hoped that he had it in him to be the kind of support it would take for his beloved to heal.

There was a hotel, not expensive by any means, but it had an underground garage. It was by the airport, but not the kind of place weary travelers would choose. Rooms rented by the hour if needed. Truckers stopped here for a break between long hauls, but Mulder knew that other professionals also took advantage of the short term stay option.

"Here?" Ricky asked, sounding horrified, as they pulled into the garage.

"No, not here," Mulder said. "Just wait. Come here, lean on me."

"Yeah," Ricky said, scooting across the seat to sag into Mulder's arms.

Holding his lover, Mulder hit the numbers. They weren't on speed dial. The Gunmen never had the same phone number for long.

Frohike answered. "Yep?"

"This is Marty," Mulder said. "I need a pick up. I'm in the parking garage under the Pink Flamingo."

"Dude," Frohike said. "I always wanted to do a threesome with you although that is a cheap motel. I better bring the heavy duty condoms."

"Uh," Mulder said, before realizing he had been had. "Frohike, I found him, the one I had you looking for."

"The babe? Yeah? Well, very cool for you," Frohike said.

"We'll be in the garage. Bring the van and look like you're just out for some action," Mulder instructed.

"I'm always out for some action," Frohike said.

"Shit," Ricky said. "Am I outed?"

"I needed my friend's help," Mulder pointed out. "The Gunmen know how to keep a secret, Ricky. They keep their headquarters bug free and well-guarded."

"But you told your friend about me!," Ricky exclaimed. He was still blushing and flashing little resentful looks.

"Ricky, I told Frohike because I needed his help to look for you. I wasn't ashamed of how I felt about you. If you're not comfortable with sharing how we feel about each other with some of my friends, that's okay," Mulder said. "In fact, if all you want is a safe place, I'll understand that. I wouldn't blame you at all if you didn't want to resume our relationship."

"No, I do NOT want a fucking safe place," Ricky said. "I want to be with you and I already know that is the opposite of safe. I just want to be, you know, consulted."

"I will," Mulder said. Damn, Ricky was everything he remembered, temper and all. He was adorable.

A fierce kiss rewarded his words. Ricky was half way across his lap, his hands cupping Mulder's face, his tongue teasing between Mulder's lips until they opened to him. A moaning hum vibrated between them . . . his? Ricky's? It didn't matter. They were one creature, a fierce loving union of flesh on fire for each other.

"I could make love to you right here," Mulder said.

"I could let you," Ricky said, his voice a growl of passion.

An indefinite time later, a rap on the window brought them back to sanity. Frohike peered in, his gaze interested. "You want a ride or you want to finish the show?"

"Sorry," Mulder said.

"Oh, God," said Ricky, covering his face with his hands. You could still see the blush through the spread fingers.

"Come on, I told the guys to warm up the equipment," Frohike remarked. "I don't imagine you're coming over to plan your wedding."

"Shhh," Mulder said. "Give Ricky a break."

"Don't take it wrong, kid," Frohike said. "I'd jump Mulder's ass myself if I could get him drunk enough."

That got a laugh, a nervous laugh. Mulder rolled his eyes and said, "There's not enough booze in the world. Come on, Ricky."

The back of the Gunmen's van was packed with surveillance equipment, stacks of old newspaper, cartons filled with toner and printers supplies, along with a couple mostly empty pizza containers. Ricky looked around and sniffed. "Yeech," he remarked.

"Reminds me of my college dorm," Mulder said. "How are you doing?"

"Tired," Ricky said. "I feel like I went twenty rounds with King Kong."

"When we get there, we'll borrow a bed," Mulder said. "We can rest while the Gunmen work."

"No rest for the wicked," Frohike said. "What exactly are we going to be doing?"

"Trying to punch a hole in the background of Alex Krycek," Mulder said. "I also want all the information you can find on Michael Martin of Germantown, Maryland. Also on Jake Hilton of Langley, Virginia."

"And who is Alex Krycek when he is at home? Who are those other guys?" Frohike questioned. He glanced back, gnome face filled with curiosity.

"Frohike," Mulder said, "This is Alex Krycek. The other identities may also belong to Alex Krycek."

"You said this was Ricky Caruso," Frohike said.

"Yes, that was who he thought he was until today," Mulder said. "About a week ago, this man introduced himself as Alex Krycek, a FBI agent with an interesting case he wanted to work with me."

"Manchurian Candidate," Frohike said. He nodded as if that was all he needed to say.

"I remember something about the Manchurian Candidate from my high school civics class," Ricky said. He moved closer to Mulder until Mulder put an arm around him. "Brain-washing. Mulder, how will we ever know for sure who I am? I mean, even if I am who I think I am now, how can we be sure they haven't done something so when we least expect it, I'll turn on you. Maybe I should just start running, keep running."

"No!" Mulder said. Then using a gentle voice in response to the flinch from Ricky, he said, "No, that was not why we have been through all of this. You're staying or I'm going with you. That's the way it is and I have work to do here. Work I will do better with you by my side."

"You have to be sure, Mulder," Ricky said.

"I'm sure," Mulder said, "I have never been more certain in my life."

Ricky's response was so low Mulder almost missed it. "I love you."

"I know," Mulder said. "You have to know how much I love you . . . I'd give up everything."

"No, Mulder," Ricky said. "Not everything, not the things that make you, you."

What could he say? Mulder held onto Ricky, wishing he never had to be further apart than he was right now.

Frohike laughed softly. "Almost worth the risk to see Mulder so sweet on someone. I can't wait to see how Langly reacts."

Mulder ignored his friend's digs. Frohike was Frohike and there was no use trying to make him discreet with his comments.

OooOooO

The Lone Gunmen lived and worked in what was once a warehouse. Most of the building was given up to stacks of blank newspaper, large printing machines, boxes of survivalist supplies, and unmarked boxes that Mulder tried very hard to ignore when he visited.

Part of the warehouse had been remodeled into a reasonably comfortable living area. The three men lived together like a family for protection and convenience. Mulder remembered when he first met them, the first time the three really met each other. They had come a long way since then. None of them would admit it, but they loved each other and depended on each other, perhaps not the type of relationship Mulder hoped to have with Ricky, but a deep and abiding love of a different sort.

Frohike waved John Byers over and said, "Byers, this is Mulder's friend, Ricky Caruso, also known as Alex Krycek. The kid has been through a lot and needs to rest. Mulder's going to need to take care of him. Can they use your room?"

"Certainly," Byers said, "just give me a minute."

"We can start with the FBI mainframe, see what they have on Krycek," Frohike said.

"I can get you in," Ricky said. "I've had training with computers, hacking, but I won't need it for that. I know access codes."

That made sense, Mulder thought. Krycek was a black ops agent. They would have given him every tool he might need to spy, to inveigle himself into Mulder's trust, and to steal his secrets. The only thing they had not accounted for was that Ricky Caruso still lived behind Alex's eyes and when Mulder kissed him, it had awakened his lover like sleeping beauty.

"Sit here," Frohike said, offering Ricky a chair in front of the computer. He hovered over him while Ricky's fingers flew over the keyboard. Alcohol and grief had not affected his skill. He made no errors and didn't hesitate as he entered passwords.

"There, you're in," Ricky said, standing up. "There won't be any alarms. I was authorized. Hopefully, the old men will think it's me, looking up data."

"Thanks, kid," Frohike said.

Ricky turned back to Mulder, swaying a little. He said, "I'm exhausted."

"I know," Mulder said. He looked around and called out, "Byers?"

"I'm here," Byers said, "I just wanted to change the linen for you. I hope you find my bed comfortable."

"I'm sure we will," Mulder said, tugging Ricky toward the door.

"Glad you didn't want my bed," Langly said. "I'd never be able to sleep in it again."

"Ignore him," Frohike admonished. "Langly never progressed beyond adolescence."

Langly snorted and went back towards the tangle of equipment where the Gunmen really lived.

Frohike raked his eyes over Ricky again, apparently approving of Mulder's taste. That was the nice thing about Frohike. He was in favor of sex in general, a goat of a man, but with a warm and loving heart.

Despite his attack of shyness, Ricky undressed rapidly once the door was shut, flinging his garments on the floor. He seemed to loathe every reminder of his identity of Alex Krycek. That was going to be a problem if Mulder's idea was going to work.

"I want some new clothes," Ricky said. "I want to move out of that place."

"There's an apartment vacant next to mine," Mulder said. He took off his suit and hung it carefully over the chair. "Ricky, if we tell people what happened, there are going to be some pretty big hurdles. Back when we made our plans, I was a rising star. I thought I would be able to request you when you graduated from the academy."

His pants still dangling from his hands, Mulder turned around to look at Ricky, who sat naked on the bed. "Ricky, right now I can't requisition so much as a bottle of white-out without a lot of explanations. Because of your disappearance, there would be questions, more questions than would be tolerated in a candidate for Quantico."

"They might not even let me go back to my old job," Ricky said. "Fuck! Mulder, I want to be a FBI agent or at least a cop. What can I do?"

Flopping back into bed, Ricky stared at the ceiling. He put it together and said, "That's why the deep background on Alex Krycek. You want to find out if my shadow identity holds up to scrutiny. You want me to stay Alex Krycek."

"It's your choice, Ricky," Mulder said. "If you want to go into hiding, as I said, I'll go with you. I love you. I want to be with you. I still have to find my sister, but I can work from the outside."

"Which would leave me where?" Ricky said. "Dependent on you? Maybe get a job as a security guard like an old alkie or a loser who can't pass the entrance exam to the academy? No way. That's not my life."

"I know, Ricky," Mulder said. "I couldn't love someone whom I couldn't respect. What does that leave?"

"I guess I get used to being Alex," Ricky said.

"I'm sorry," Mulder said.

"Yeah, I know," Ricky said. "Let's talk about it later. Right now, make me forget. Make love to me."

The pants fell off the chair as Mulder hastily finished undressing. Ricky rolled into his arms as Mulder tumbled onto the bed. Ricky's leg moved over Mulder's, their groins pressed together. Ricky was wild, hands roving as if he needed to reclaim every inch of Mulder's skin. His kisses flew until they simply locked to each other, forgoing oxygen to breath in the life and love they shared.

This was beyond the need for release, beyond physical arousal, Mulder had never felt this way, not even when he first made love to Ricky. Now, he wanted so badly to be inside his lover, to wash away whatever had happened to him with his kisses and his touch. To fill and be filled after the emptiness of the years he had spent searching for Ricky.

"Fuck me," Ricky said, his voice pure heat. "I want you to make me scream. I want you to take me and take me until I can't think or fear or regret. Fuck me, Mulder."

Mulder was quite willing. He knew he was clean and he knew Ricky had always been very careful. When he reached for the hand lotion, Ricky said, "Use a rubber, Mulder."

At Mulder's look, Ricky said, "Think about it. I can't even tell you where I have been for four fucking years, not for sure. Who knows what I did? What they had me do."

Oh, God, Mulder had not wanted to think of that. He could kill them, those faceless men, even his fucking controlling bitch of a mother whose fault it was that Ricky had been taken.

"Mulder," Ricky teased, dragging out his name. "You gonna make love to me or stand there thinking all day? Go find a condom. Your friend Byers has to have at least one."

Byers didn't have a damn condom to his name, not in the neat bedroom nor in the spotless bathroom adjacent to his room. Mulder ended up yelling for Frohike. His friend smirked at him as Mulder explained what he wanted. His erection should have flagged and Ricky probably would have hid under the bed in embarrassment in the old days. Instead, Mulder's arousal ratcheted up another notch and Ricky was not even trying not to laugh.

Mulder growled, "I should swat you for laughing or I could have sent you out for the lube and condoms."

"How about you just take it out on my ass?" Ricky said. "Come here, lover. I'm past ready."

Ricky was tight, his anus still felt silky inside and Mulder felt some relief at that. At least, they hadn't hurt Ricky that way as far as the evidence could tell. "You trust me, love?" Mulder asked. "Let me do something nice for you."

Shifting Ricky to one side, Mulder had him spread his legs wide. He spread Ricky's ass, as lush and full as a peach, and thrust his tongue like a miniature cock inside him. Ricky clutched the sheets with his right hand as he groaned with pleasure, his free hand moved on his cock.

"Mulder, stop," Ricky said, "I want to come with you inside me and if you don't do it to me soon, I'm gonna burst."

"We can't have any bursting in Byers' bed, can we?" Mulder teased, but he slipped the condom into place and finished stretching Ricky with all the care he could take.

It hurt Ricky a little, Mulder noticed. Just as it did the first time when he took Ricky so long ago, but like the first time, Ricky soon was aroused enough to forget it hurt. He pushed back at Mulder, a litany of fuck, fuck, fuck chanted as Mulder thrust in him. Mulder's hand kept Ricky hard as he moved faster inside him. Ricky's silken hair brushed back against Mulder's chest as he arched beneath him.

"Now, Mulder, now," Ricky begged and the throaty, demanding growl was another thing to push Mulder over the edge.

Coming was combustion. First was Ricky's exultant cry, the tremors and wild bucking as he came then Mulder's release, a toe to head shaking orgasm that felt like flying. For a blissful period of time, Mulder needed nothing, had no quest, no drive to seek anything, nirvana achieved through sex. When Ricky started to move away, Mulder reached for him, but his lover reassured, "Just going to clean up."

Both of them showered, kissed and fondled, careful of areas too tender too touch. Mulder stood close to Ricky's back as the water ran over them until Langly pounded on the wall and told them to stop using all the hot water. That made Ricky laugh again and they went back to the bed to sleep.

Ricky had been a cuddly lover and that hadn't changed. He wrapped around Mulder who would not say no to him although he was no longer used to staying this close after sex. Diana had always preferred to sleep on her back, distance between them, not touching. Like sleeping with a corpse, Mulder had yelled at her after the relationship had soured. Despite Mulder's initial discomfort, Ricky made a good sleeping aid. Mulder fell asleep almost instantly and didn't wake until he heard someone come into the room.

Opening one eye, Mulder said, "Frohike, you better not be coming to join us."

"Ah, you don't love me," Frohike said. He laughed and said, "I cooked dinner. The guys and I have raked Alex Krycek's life over the coals and he appears as legit as his record indicates. Nice job. He has high school records, immunization charts all in the right places, even a military dependent medical record."

A sleep-slurred voice asked, "Does that mean I'm not Ricky?"

"Kid, I could build a record showing you were my aunt Alberta, but that wouldn't make you a Frohike. I pulled up Ricky Caruso's dental records and I was able to locate a couple check-ups for Michael Martin and Jake Hilton as well," Frohike said. "Let's see if you all have the same teeth. Scully should be good for it. She has a minor in odontology as I recall."

"You're her biggest fan," Mulder said. `Yeah, I guess I have to bring her in. Unless . . ."

There was a gut churning moment when Mulder thought of what Ricky had revealed about Diana Fowley. He knew Scully had entered separate reports on their cases, a fact that infuriated him when he learned about it. After she let him see what she had written, he resigned himself to what was an obvious attempt to keep him leashed. Now, he looked at Ricky, afraid that his lover would tell him that Scully also was not what she seemed.

Ricky was scowling. He sat up, letting the sheet they had wisely pulled over themselves before going to sleep, fall around his waist. His knees went up, pulling the sheet until Mulder had to grab at it to prevent over-exposure to Frohike's interested gaze.

"Is there's someone else?" Ricky asked.

"Not unless you know any odontologists," Frohike said. "What's your problem with Scully?"

"She doesn't like me," Ricky said.

"She doesn't need to like you to get a good picture of your pearly whites," Frohike said. "Scully will help you prove you are who Mulder thinks that you are."

Mulder asked, "Is Scully clean? I know her, Ricky. I'd have a hard time believing she works for your Spender."

"She doesn't work for him," Ricky admitted. "They thought she would rein you in and distract you. Thought that you and she would fall in love and you would stop asking so many questions. It didn't work. She ended up being an asset to you in your investigations. As far as they know, the relationship has remained platonic."

"Then we need to use her skills, Ricky," Mulder said. "Ricky, Scully and I do not have a sexual relationship. I wised up after Fowley."

Sulking, Ricky put his head down on his knees and said, "I suppose I have to let her examine me then."

"You better get Scully over here so we can fill her in," Frohike said, "and, no, I'm not just trying to get a date with her. We keep this place bug proof. More than you can say for any place in the Hoover."

This was not going to be a conversation that Mulder relished. He said, "Give us a few minutes to dress, Frohike. I want a chance to have a look at the data you dug up."

"Right," Frohike said. "You want any help getting dressed, kid?"

"No!" Ricky said. "Mulder!"

"Down, boy," Mulder said to Frohike. "Go print what you have so Ricky and I can review it."

While Ricky was in the bathroom, Mulder called Scully. She said, "AD Skinner was looking for you about the Cole case."

"Yes, I know," Mulder said. "He wants the report. Alex and I are still working on it. Scully, you remember the Gunmen?"

"I try to forget," Scully said. "What's up?"

"I want you to meet me over here," Mulder said. "We'll talk about it when you get here."

"Mulder," Scully said then sighed and said, "Give me an hour."

OooOooO

By the time, Scully arrived, Mulder and Ricky had been through all the information that the Gunmen brought up twice. Frohike led Scully into the Gunmen's war room where Ricky and she eyed each other in a fashion that made Mulder wonder if he was going to have to throw a bucket of water on them shortly to make them stop fighting.

"What's this about, Mulder?" Scully said.

"Scully, meet Ricky Caruso," Mulder said.

"What?" Scully said. "Mulder, I know this is Alex Krycek, your new partner. I remember you said something about a cop you used to know. That nice Commissioner Scali calls you about him every once in a while."

"You better sit down and look at this information," Frohike said.

"Why?" Scully asked. "I don't understand what this is about."

Mulder had slumped back into the overstuffed couch that decayed along one wall of the large room that would have been a living room in an ordinary house, but which in this house had more computer equipment than furniture. He saw Ricky moving toward him and smiled at his lover. He should have had a sense of impending disaster when Ricky glanced to see if Scully was looking. However, he was blissfully unaware of Ricky's intent until his lover settled between his legs and pressed up against him.

Scully's jaw dropped far enough to hit the floor. She said, "Mulder?"

Mulder supposed he could have shoved Ricky off his lap, acted as if it was a joke gone wrong, and risked alienating the lover he had so desperately wanted back. However, that was not happening in this life time. He said, "I understand, Ricky. I was going to tell her about us." Was that grief in Scully's eyes? He had never been sure how she felt about him, friend, partner, potential lover, or idiot savant child-man?

Mulder adjusted his leg so as not to lose one of his balls from lack of circulation and put his arm around Ricky's waist. "I never told you the truth about Ricky," Mulder said. "I met him on my last case for Patterson. There were some teenagers who spent the night in what was rumored to be haunted woods. They emerged the next morning with horribly deformed faces, twisted into the semblance of Iroquois False Face masks. Commissioner Scali had heard about me and asked for my help because it was such a bizarre case. He and Patterson knew each other well. Scali thoughtfully gave me a young local cop as a guide to the community, Ricky Caruso. Maybe I took the giving idea farther than Scali intended. Ricky and I went through some incredible experiences on the case and we fell in love."

"I didn't even know you were gay," Scully said.

"I'm bi, Scully, open to extreme possibilities, remember," Mulder said. Ricky was relaxing now, feeling claimed.

"I can't get this all into my head," Scully replied. "Why did you want me here? To have me see . . . to see you two together? I don't understand. Why has Ricky been pretending to be someone else?"

"Ricky had just applied to the academy," Mulder said. "I had received permission to open the X Files and wanted him to be my partner. I made a foolish move. I knew my mother had some kind of pull with the upper echelons. She managed to get them to admit me despite my color blindness. I asked her to get Ricky an appointment. I had no idea she would guess what he meant to me and that . . . she asked her friend to do something about Ricky. I don't think she had any idea what he would do, but the next thing I knew, Ricky had disappeared. He was seen walking out the door with someone I now realize must have been our cigarette smoking friend."

"Read these and you can see what happened to Ricky between then and now," Frohike said. "At least, we think we know where he was until recently. We need a dental chart comparison to be sure. I have charts for Ricky Caruso, Michael Martin, and Jake Hilton. We just need to get Alex Krycek's to be sure."

Scully kept glancing at Ricky between reading through the documents. Mulder moved and Ricky moved with him, keeping as close as he could get without sharing the same skin.

Whispering in Ricky's ear, Mulder said, "You don't have to be jealous of Scully."

His nose scrunching, Ricky replied, "I just wanted to make sure she knows who you belong to. I went though hell for you, Mulder."

"I know, Ricky," Mulder replied, pulling Ricky into a tighter embrace.

"Michael Martin!" Scully said, "I knew at the back of my mind I had seen him somewhere before."

"Michael Martin lived in Germantown, Maryland for two years. He accepted a job in a small stock firm after submitting his resume by mail and presenting well in the interview process," Frohike said. "Whoever scripted him was moderately careful. Records were hacked so that he would show up in vital statistics, credit bureaus, college, and crap like that. However, a deeper background check would find no record of him renting apartments prior to three months before his resume was submitted. I imagine if we flashed his picture at the high school he supposedly attended that he would not be recognized."

"Mulder, you must have recognized him when we saw him at the hospital and you didn't say a word?" Scully said, her voice rising in agitation.

"I only had known you for a few months," Mulder said. "What was I supposed to say . . . hey, Scully, this guy looks just like my lost lover. Excuse me while I ask him a few personal questions? No, I kept it cool and went back after you returned to DC. Michael said that he didn't know me, but he seemed . . . drawn to me. I was reasonably sure that I had found Ricky, but unsure why he had assumed another identity."

"When you called me after that case to tell me Skinner was looking for me, I was with Michael," Mulder said. "I had to go back to DC but I planned to get back with him that weekend, sure that if I spent more time with him that he would remember me. When I went back, he had vacated his apartment, quit his job, and disappeared. He never turned back up on any records search. Somewhat later, Frohike showed me a conspiracy case he was interested in. I saw someone who looked like Michael and Ricky in the background of the picture. The guy was working as a male secretary for a business with ties to black ops, blackmail, murder, money laundering, you name it. The woman he was working for was killed. He wasn't talking, but it didn't matter. He was kidnapped, dragged from his car. No one cared to investigate it and when I tried, I was pulled back to Washington so fast I left burnt rubber the entire way."

"And when you met Krycek?" Scully questioned.

"By that time, I was afraid to find out whether he was Ricky and I knew they weren't giving him back out of mercy. Before the game was keep away and now they wanted him right at my side. I tried to keep myself from hoping, keep myself from trusting him, wanting him," Mulder said. "But I loved Ricky. I love him."

"Oh, Mulder," Scully said. "I am sorry. Sorry for you, sorry for Ricky, and a little sorry for myself. I guess I wanted you back as my partner. Seeing you with Alex Krycek bothered me immensely. I had no idea that . . ."

Scully lowered her eyes than raised them to meet Ricky's. "Alex . . . I mean Ricky," she said. "Please give me another chance to get to know you. We're both Mulder's friends in different ways."

Muscles tensed and then relaxed. Ricky took a deep breath and said, "It's okay to call me Alex. I need to get used to being called by that name. I have to go on being him if I want to be a FBI agent. Scully, I know, well, you probably figured this out. Alex Krycek was a black ops agent. He was sent to Mulder to spy on him. What you have to believe is that I'm not Krycek, not really. It's jumbled up in my head, but I know who I am and I know who I love."

"I believe you," Scully said. She took the print outs of the dental charts and said, "Make me some disks of all of these. I can run a computer analysis to see how much of a match the four dental charts are."

"We'll need to get into the pathology lab to use the equipment there so I will have Krycek's to compare. Even if I obtain Krycek's dental charts from the records, there's no guarantee they would really be his teeth," Scully said.

"The pathology lab?" Ricky asked. "You want to use the same stuff you use on dead people?"

"It's sterile, Ricky," Scully said. "You know we have every reason to want each sample we take clear of contamination."

"I know," Ricky said, "But I don't like it." Sitting up, Ricky stood up and walked over to look at the charts. He said, "I'm getting flashes of their lives now. Mostly Michael's. He was part of me more than Jake was. All I remember about Jake, even after looking at the records and having Mulder tell me about him, was that he was crooked. I guess I had my bent moments when I was a cop, but nothing like the stuff that Jake's company did. I remember I had fun sometimes as Michael. He liked the dating scene and went out with a lot of women. I went through a stage like that right before I met Mulder. Guess I was fighting something about myself that I couldn't handle. I had to have all of the girls, prove to myself that I was a man, but instead I proved to everyone that I was just a boy. Then I met Mulder and the thing I was fighting wasn't bad anymore."

Ricky's smile when he said that was sweet, tender, and healing. He made it sound as if his pain was an even trade for being with Mulder.

Langly made a violin playing motion and said, "I feel queasy."

Frohike hit him while Byers said, "Langly, you have the soul of a clod."

"Hey, why is everyone picking on me?" Langly said.

"Because you're an idiot," Frohike said. "Well, Scully, when can we get this show rocking?"

"Soon," Scully said. "Mulder, Krycek, the only problem is that I suspect my lab is bugged."

"I can fix that," Frohike said.

"So can I," Ricky said. "We have to be quick though. Any long break from surveillance could trigger a human response. Then there would be hell to pay. Come on, Frohike, let's play with your toys."

OooOooO

"You're sure you haven't used this stuff before?" Ricky asked.

"Yes, Alex, I have not used this before. You saw me break the seal and take it out of the brand-new package. Now open wide. Mulder, you have to step behind the barrier with me in a minute," Scully said.

"Why can't he stay?" Ricky said, a whine in his voice.

Scully seemed to take inordinate satisfaction in stopping him mid-voice with the plate for the X-Ray. "Because, Alex-dear, some foolish woman may want to make little Mulder babies and it would be very sad if they were all horrible mutants from exposure to X Rays."

Ricky's reply was totally unintelligible, but Mulder imagined it was not very nice. He responded to Scully's tug on his sleeve, but smiled reassuringly at Ricky.

Scully reached back and adjusted the lead apron that protected Ricky's gonads from harm before she and Mulder stepped around the barrier.

"What are you going to do if the X-Rays show he is not your Ricky?" Scully whispered.

"He's Ricky," Mulder said. "I know him."

The soft huff of air could have meant anything, but Scully didn't argue with him.

The series of X-Rays seemed endless and Scully also insisted on fingerprints and blood samples. Ricky sounded more like his Alex persona when he growled, "If you want a sperm sample, Mulder's taking it, not you."

"Not interested," Scully said, but she looked Ricky over from head to foot anyway, making him squirm and blush so sweetly that Mulder wanted to kick everyone out and fuck him right on the examination table.

However, Ricky didn't have his ability to see the erotic possibilities. He said, "I'd like to get out of here now. It's giving me the creeps and besides, the surveillance has been off long enough to spark an investigation."

"You're right," Scully said. "I can examine these at the Gunmen's. If I can stop Frohike from breathing down my neck long enough to get some work done."

"It's love," Mulder said, fondly, but he was looking at Ricky as he spoke.

OooOooO

"How come it takes so long?" Ricky complained. He had been pacing, unable to sit down even when Mulder sat with him.

"There's a lot of comparisons to make and the equipment is not what Scully is used to using," Mulder said, standing up to block Ricky's latest round of the room. "Come on, you need to sit down. You're making everyone jumpy."

Silently, Ricky obeyed him. On instinct, Mulder pulled his lover close and held him. Ricky pulled away and then settled back, making himself calm down.

"Lean on me," Mulder said.

"That again," Ricky said, as close to a joke as he was able to come in this state.

Mulder felt as nervous as Ricky, but refused to show it. He believed he had found his lover and he would not ruin their renewed relationship by displaying doubt.

Ricky closed his eyes, his head pillowed against Mulder's shoulder. Mulder stroked his lover's hair, glad that Ricky had not put Alex's gel back in the satiny brown locks. He craned his neck to kiss one elegant cheek. "I love you."

"I remember," Ricky said. "At least that's not muddled. I don't have to remember I love you. That's as fundamental as breathing."

Scully appeared, looking curious and disappointed. She said, "Match, match, match, and triple match. Ricky Caruso, Michael Martin, Jake Hilton, and Alex Krycek are all the same man. Dental records, fingerprints, and blood type all are identical. By the way, Alex, you have a small carie forming on your back molar that you should have treated. "

"Thank God, I am who I think I am," Ricky exclaimed. He was shaking and Mulder held him closer.

"It's okay," Mulder soothed. "We're going to fix this."

"How?" asked Scully. "He was planted for a reason. If he doesn't do whatever job he was sent to perform, won't they come after him?"

"They will," Ricky said. "Spender . . . that's the guy with the Morley habit, Scully . . . keeps me in the dark most of the time, but he made sure I saw people of whom he was making examples. They died, but they hurt before he let them."

"Which is why you need to go back to your apartment, turn on your cell phone, and report to Spender when he contacts you," Mulder said.

"I'll be wearing a wire?" Ricky asked.

"My friends have a device even the most up to date technology won't detect," Mulder assured.

"The most important thing you can do however is gather some kind of evidence. Slip away from him, gain access to his computers and other records. Get what you can and get out," Mulder said.

"I'll try," Ricky said. "Alex . . . me before I remembered being Ricky . . . was suspicious of Spender. He wasn't sure that he was who Spender said he was. Spender told him that he had been head-injured in a mission and that was why some of his past seemed cloudy. Alex didn't really buy it. He knew what kind of games Spender plays, but he kept his trap shut. I kept my mouth shut."

Scully said, "Therapy, possibly hypnosis, may help you to recover your lost time. I believe Spender has induced an artificial form of multiple personality disorder in you, Ricky. Of course, rather that sharing the body randomly, each personality was sequential."

"I guess I need to know more about Michael and Jake's lives," Ricky said. "Alex is right here." Ricky tapped his forehead. "I can access most of his memories, but he had different motivations than me. Spender really screwed with his head. Alex wanted . . . Alex yearned for Spender's approval. He was ambitious and he also bought into what Spender said, that Alex was working for the protection of our country. High school civics. How can you protect the country by violating the constitution? I don't know how a smart guy could not think that through, but he didn't question the need to commit desperate acts."

Ricky frowned and said, "Well, maybe it bothered him, but he was ready to do them. Scully, you need to stay here or stay where you can be protected. Spender wants to move against you."

"Why?" Scully asked.

"He kept saying that Mulder is important, but he never said why," Ricky said. "He tells everyone to leave Mulder alone and then he also kept saying that Mulder must be controlled. I never understood what he was about. I mean at first I thought it was because Bill Mulder was one of the old guys."

"Ricky," Mulder said. "Ricky, what about my father?"

"Uh," Ricky said. "That just slipped out." Ricky said, "I must mean because he was in the State Department."

"Right, don't bullshit me," Mulder said. "Tell me. Tell me about the old guys."

"That's who runs the project," Ricky said. "They're all around the same age, give or take ten years. There are a couple women, but it's mostly old men. There are other younger people that report to them, but the old men make all the big decisions. They all knew each other during World War two and after."

"What's the project?" Mulder asked.

"That I can't tell you," Ricky replied. "Alex asked . . . I asked Spender more than once. He said it was to save the human race and that's all he would tell me. I'm supposed to accept his word like it was from God's lips. I hate him."

"My father is involved," Mulder said. He felt numb, things were moving at the back of his head, the feeling he used to have when a profile came together. He didn't like what this one was telling him. Samantha . . . why had they taken her? Why take a little girl? Unless it was to assure cooperation. A hostage like they used to take in medieval days.

The only thing that made it tolerable was the idea that if Samantha had been a hostage that she could still be alive. His father might even know where she was. It would have to wait. Mulder knew that the first thing he had to do was make sure that Ricky and Scully were safe. He had to protect his own . . . something his father had failed to do.

"Showtime, Ricky," Mulder said. "Showtime."

A brave smile greeted Mulder's statement. Ricky wore an expression of complete trust. Mulder hoped he wouldn't betray this gift. He hoped he wasn't making a fatal mistake.

OooOooO

The sound was muddled with static, but Mulder could make out Ricky's words. It must have been some sort of meeting as Ricky in his persona of Alex seemed to be making a presentation. Mulder had instructed him to tell them what they expected to hear, a complete report on the Cole case and Mulder's conduct.

Mulder heard the voice he remembered from occasional comments in staff meetings, "Do you know where he got this?" Now Mulder had a name for the man, Spender, C.G.B. Spender. Alex hadn't known what the initials stood for. Spender insisted that everyone use his last name . . . that made Mulder twitch. He didn't like the parallel. Maybe he should let his friends call him Fox . . .

Ricky had given Spender the file that X had passed to Mulder. It couldn't be helped as Spender had indicated that he knew Alex had it. Mulder could hear rustling. Ricky was nervous and having a hard time standing still.

"Not yet. But he got it. Which means he's either found another source, or another source has found him. Sir, if I can recommend something. You'll see that I have outlined several counter measures," Ricky said. Mulder had helped him outline the report that he presented, but Ricky was the one who had to reassure Spender that he was still the created man, the Manchurian Candidate, Alex Krycek.

"What about Scully?" Spender asked. Mulder could hear the pauses that he filled in. Spender was dragging on a cigarette during the meeting.

"Reassigning them to other areas seems to have only strengthened their determination. Scully's a problem. A much larger problem than you described," Ricky's voice said.

"Every problem has a solution," Spender said.

There was a pause and then Spender said, "You may go now, Alex, but stay here for a while. I want to talk to you privately later. Also, Doctor Hurley should see to you when I have finished with you. We want to make sure your headaches don't reoccur."

"Yes, Sir," Ricky said promptly. "Thank you for your concern, Sir."

"Think nothing of it," Spender said. "You have promise, my boy."

"Thank you, Sir," Ricky said.

Spender said. "Wait in my office."

"All right," Ricky replied.

Mulder could hear the door shut, the sounds of Ricky walking. He heard another door open and then Ricky's breathy voice say, "I'm here. I'm going to try the password. I hope that hypnotic device worked and that I remembered the keys exactly."

"Stop talking and do it," Mulder muttered, although the device was a one way sender.

The pause seemed endless. Ricky's ebullient voice whispered, "I have it. I'm in. I'll get whatever I can and get out."

"That's my boy," Mulder said. He was clenching his fists so hard that his knuckles were white.

Scully put her hand over his. Mulder looked at her and let her take his hand. "He'll be all right. You won't lose him this time."

"I can't," Mulder said. "I can't go through that again. I don't want to lose either of you."

"What are we going to do with this information?" Scully asked. "What can we do with it? You think it is about aliens, about the abductions. What if that's true? No one would believe us. We would be just another group of deluded individuals, with our weird beliefs."

Scully would hate that. She cared more about how she was seen than Mulder did. He knew she was right. They would not be believed. They would have to find another way to fight Spender and his project. Meanwhile, Mulder knew one use he would put to the information when Ricky returned with it. He would protect Scully, Ricky, and himself. He would reopen the X-Files and he would fight Spender, fight dirty if he had to.

OooOooO

"I'm out," Ricky said.

"Thank God," Mulder replied. "Are you all right?"

"Yes, Spender's still in the meeting," Ricky said. "When he calls, I'll buy some time and tell him that you called me and I had to go or blow my cover."

"Good," Mulder said. "Hurry back."

Now Mulder was the one pacing. He remembered that Jake had been on his way to meet with him when he was kidnapped. The same thing could happen to Ricky. He wished there had been another way to buy Ricky safety, but he couldn't imagine anything else that would work.

"I'm here," Ricky said.

Somewhere Ricky had acquired a motorcycle. He looked great on it. He grinned and said, "I didn't want to be followed and this is a great way to evade pursuit. Alex had it stashed away as a way to piss in Spender's face. He bought it out of project money, hacked the authorization. Sometimes, Alex had his moments."

"Sometimes he does," Mulder said, tugging Ricky inside. "It was you, lover, you did that. You were fighting back as best as you could. I'm so proud of you."

Alex smiled at Mulder through Ricky's eyes. Mulder leaned forward and kissed his lover, all of the men that he had been. Someday, Ricky would have all the memories or he hoped he would.

As it turned out, Mulder and Scully had the least to do. Ricky had the skills to help the Gunmen. Spender had ironically created the weapon that was going to rein in him, if not bring him down.

Mulder's smile faded as he considered that his father would share part of Spender's fate if Mulder ever found a way to use the information to destroy the project. That bothered him, but what could he do? In any event, this information provided a shield for now. Once he understood what the purpose of the project was, he would decide how to fight. They would decide how to fight, Mulder reminded himself, looking around the room. It was a small army, but Mulder thought it could not be a finer one.

OooOooO

"I'm very disappointed in you, Alex," Spender said.

The meeting was on neutral ground, Skinner's office. Once Mulder was sure that AD Skinner was not working for Spender, they had brought him in. Skinner fought hard not to believe, but he was too intelligent a man to deny the truth when it hit him in the face.

Skinner was the one who came up with the idea to use Navajo code talkers to memorize the information on the tape. On a higher tech level of the plan, the Gunmen had posted the information at hundreds of sites, everything from their favored conspiracy webs to Langly's Dungeon and Dragons hangouts. Mulder's contribution was to add links to Star Trek fan sites. He bet that Spender would never think to check a fan fiction archive that celebrated the love of Kirk and Spock for his secrets.

"Fuck you, Spender," Ricky said, "My name is Ricky Caruso. You should have left me alone. The day you decided to use me against my lover was the day you slit your own throat."

"You think you have information that can influence me," Spender said. "I've played this game since before you were born."

"That doesn't mean that you can't lose," AD Skinner said. "You lost, Spender. Now, we can do this nicely. You back off Mulder and Scully. You reopen the X Files. As for Agent Krycek, I have assigned him as junior agent to Mulder as of this morning. He will be an asset to the X Files once I have ordered that department reinstated."

"You're condoning their relationship?" Spender said. "How liberal of you, Skinner."

"I don't care who Mulder fucks as long as his investigations give me results and he manages to produce something that resembles a report," Skinner said, leaning back after snatching the cigarette that Spender started to light and throwing it in the garbage.

Smug was a good look on Walter Skinner's face. Mulder couldn't remember a time that his boss seemed happier.

"I see," Spender said.

"I had a nice talk with Mom and Dad," Mulder said. "Dad explained to Mother why Samantha was taken. Mother is very, very angry with you. She will testify that you kidnapped Ricky even if it means incriminating herself. By the way, we will be very glad to see Samantha back. Ricky and the Gunmen have enough information to assure me that she is alive."

Mulder scowled. The only thing that mitigated his mother's role in Ricky's abduction was that she saved his life. She claimed she didn't really know that Spender would kidnap Ricky. She expected him to find the boy another job, distract him with another lover, or so she claimed. Mother had insisted that she specifically told Spender not to hurt Ricky. Mulder didn't think he would ever forgive his mother, but her willingness to testify against Spender was an additional threat that he was willing to use.

"She won't know you," Spender said. "She thinks she's my daughter."

"I think we will be able to awaken her memories," Mulder said. "Ricky's came back. I believe Samantha's will also."

The feeling was so unusual for Mulder that he didn't recognize it or put a name to it immediately. As he glanced at Skinner's face, at Scully's scowl of distaste as she looked at Spender, and at Ricky's cold-eyed stare, Mulder knew what the feeling was. He was satisfied. He felt the glow of victory.

"I'll indulge you," Spender said. "Perhaps it's for the best. Once you understand the project, you will come to agree with me, to want to work with me. Believe me, Mulder, I have cared for you, watched over you like a son. Over the past two years as I have trained Alex Krycek, developed him, created him virtually out of nothing, I have also come to care for him."

"Fuck you, Spender," Ricky said. "I was something. Maybe I hadn't reached my potential, but I was going to do it. You screwed with my head. You took away who I was for awhile, but I won. Mulder and I won. The minute I saw him, you were the loser. Hell, let me correct that. You were always a loser; this just proved it."

Spender was standing up. He said, "You will have what you want, Mulder. I can tell you already that you will not find it worth your trouble. Beauty fades. What once was exciting, compelling in a lover will grow dismal. Power, Mulder, that's the ultimate aphrodisiac. Nothing else can compare. You will discover that. Good day, gentlemen. I trust you will be discreet in how you handle the information you took."

It didn't take much in the way of prognostic powers to know enough to hold onto Ricky. His lover's face was red with rage. Mulder held on, but it wasn't easy. Ricky's body was stronger than it had been.

Pulling Ricky back against him, Mulder soothed, "It's all right. It's over. It's all over. We won."

Skinner said, "Agents, I suggest that you take a vacation. By the time you return, you will have an office. I will even manage to find two more desks. Oh, and Mulder? Please dispose of this on your way out. I believe I will have no further need of it."

It was the ashtray that resided on the corner of Skinner's desk, right next to the `no smoking' sign.

Mulder grinned and took the ashtray. "I will get rid of this promptly, Sir. Thanks for the vacation."

"Yes, Mulder, I think you need to get a little of this out of your system. I'll do my best to keep your relationship a secret, but if you persist in hugging your partner in staff meetings, people will talk," Skinner said.

"Yes, sir," Mulder said.

"Oh, and Agent Krycek?" Skinner said, standing. He offered a hand. "I think you can take this to be your official welcome to my staff."

The handshake was warm. Ricky beamed, his eyes moving to Mulder and Scully until they smiled back.

OooOooO
Epilog:

"You changed your name, Ricky?" Scali said.

"Yes, I went undercover for Agent Mulder. Things happened and I couldn't come home right away. Now, since my parents died, I thought I might as well keep the name I was using," Ricky said.

"I see," Scali said. He hugged Ricky for the third time in an hour. "You aren't in any kind of trouble?"

"Not now," Ricky said. "There were some serious problems, but they are all cleared up now. I had to wait until I could come back here without endangering my sister or the rest of my family. I didn't know that my Mom and Dad died."

"I'm sorry about your parents, Ricky," Scali said. "Your mother was a good woman and your dad was a good cop in his time."

"I know," Ricky said.

"Anytime you need a place to call home," Scali said, "it's here. I always felt like a father to you. You were so young and you needed a lot of guidance."

"You tried to give it to me, boss," Ricky said. "You taught me a lot and I'm going to make you proud of me. Mulder told me that you never gave up, that you always encouraged him to keep looking."

"Someone had to do it,' Scali said. "What you and Mulder have together, it's like me and Rachel. It's true love. It's going to be like you just saw each other twenty years from now. It won't grow old even when you do."

Mulder could only smile. He reached to hold Ricky tight.

There were UFOs to chase. There were conspiracies to uncover. There were dragons to slay, but even with everything that happened, all the information that Mulder was still struggling to understand, nothing compared to getting Ricky back.

Ricky might not believe it, but Mulder had it down. Scali was right. They faced an uncertain future. They faced a war beyond the scope of any previous human struggle. Yet when it came to the sum of all things, Mulder was sure that what was most important was that he and Ricky would face it without subterfuge, loving one another, and at each other's side.

No more masks.

The End


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