[XFVCU] Midnight In The Firing Line

by Deslea R. Judd

Midnight In The Firing Line
Deslea R. Judd
Copyright 2003

DISCLAIMER: Characters not mine. Interpretation mine. ARCHIVE: Yes, just keep my name and headers. RATING: PG13.
SPOILERS/TIMEFRAME: Set eighteen months after The Truth. CATEGORY/KEYWORDS: Post-series, casefile, mythology, XFVCU. SUMMARY: Eighteen months after The Truth, the X Files are up and running again, with all the old players in a new formation. VIRTUAL SERIES SITE: http://xfvcu.deslea.com AUTHOR SITE: http://fiction.deslea.com
FEEDBACK: Love the stuff. deslea@deslea.com.

"Thirteen years ago, a political aide with an interest in veterans' affairs stumbled onto something big. She was lucky enough to choose the right people to tell, and smart enough not to get herself killed by the people who already knew. A task force was created. A cover operation so deep, so complex that those involved would maintain it at any cost. A conspiracy to fight the conspiracy.

"It took us a decade, but we won. Some of us lived to tell the tale, but all of us were maimed. Some of our scars are outward. Some are inward. Some of our number were lost. Friendships were destroyed, people were torn apart, and new loves were founded in the ruins of the old. The lines between ally and foe became blurred. Some of us did things we swore we never would. None of us are who we were.

"Those of us who remain are left to pick up the pieces. There have been changes in the world thanks to our work. Colonisation is no longer a certainty. Our children have a future once more.

"But humanity itself remains our most dangerous predator. The conspiracy is no more, but the need for protection is as strong as ever. This is our work. This is X Files: VCU."

"Nobody down here but the FBI's most unwanted."

Scully smiled to herself. "You've read the papers then?" she wondered, passing through the basement door, coming to stand beside Mulder in front of his old desk.

He turned to face her, holding up a newspaper for her appraisal. "I think we should save this one for the scrapbook, Scully."

She took it from him. "Who's in the firing line today? It can't be Krycek or Spender, they were yesterday."

"Please - you're breaking my heart." He came around to look over her shoulder. "No, I think you'll like this one. 'Tearful Reunion At FBI Safe House. Baby William Comes Home.'"

"A slow news day, then." Her tone was withering, but a smile played around the corners of her mouth.

"Pretty much." He took the newspaper from her and put it into a cardboard box, on top of a stack of files. "What do you say, after this meeting, we go home and spend the day with him?"

"Assuming we can pry him away from Mom," she said. "Just so long as you know, we can't play hooky every day. Only highly-paid consultants get to do that. We cheap ones have to work for it."

Mulder hefted the box and put it under his arm. "Scully, do you really think I'm cheap, or are you just saying that?"

Her retort was cut short by Doggett's voice. "You two stealing the office stationery again?"

They both looked up, and she smiled. "Hello, John."

A broad grin spread over Doggett's face. "Good to see you two back here." He came forward and shook Mulder's hand.

"It's good to be back," Mulder said, looking at the brand new open space beyond what had once been the north wall. "Kind of."

"It's changed a bit," Doggett agreed, releasing his hand. "Got a bit more space these days."

Scully followed their gaze. "You're going to need it. Have you seen the papers?"

"The Hybrid Protection bill. Yeah. Monica and I heard it on the radio this morning." He looked at his watch. "We're due upstairs. You coming?"

Mulder nodded. "Right behind you."

Scully spared one last look over her shoulder at the basement, and she followed them.

~x~

"They're not going to like it."

This statement was so obvious, so utterly self-evident that Skinner gave Krycek the filthiest look he could muster. "They're not the only ones, Agent Krycek," he said, stressing the title a little more than necessary. "Need I remind you that thanks to you, the FBI has come under fire from Congress, not to mention the entire American public?" He slid a newspaper across the table at him in disgust.

"FBI Defends Killer Agent. Victims 'Unavoidable Casualties,'" Krycek read aloud. His voice was level, but his cheek flickered, and Skinner knew he'd hit a nerve.

"It's yesterday's news," said Marita, sliding a newspaper of her own at Skinner. "This is today's. And today, you need us."

He spared it only a glance; he knew the contents by heart. "I'm well aware of the new political landscape. I don't know what you two did to get him back on my staff, but I want it on the record that I don't like it."

"Your objection is noted," Krycek said, with only the faintest trace of irony.

Kersh spoke up from his stance at the front of the room. "Agent Krycek," he said, "we're not under cover any more, and you're expected to play by the rules now. Watch yourself."

Krycek's lips curled, just a fraction, displeasure barely suppressed. "Yes, Sir."

They were interrupted by a sound from the doorway. Skinner looked up, then got to his feet. "Agent Fowley," he said, coming forward with his hand stretched out. "It's good to have you back with us."

"Good to be back, Sir," she said, shaking it in a firm grip. She released it, and walked around the table to Krycek and Marita. She sat down at their side. Skinner wondered if that was a show of allegiance, or if she just had some idea of what was in the wind. It wouldn't have been the first time.

He didn't have a chance to ponder the question, however. Mulder's animated voice could be heard through the door, saying, "- and so this federal marshall, who's supposed to be guarding us, says, 'Sure! I'd love-'"

He broke off mid-sentence as he rounded the door.

"What the hell is he doing here?" he demanded, glaring at Krycek. Scully came around beside him, jaw set firm. Doggett moved in through the door behind them, standing back a little way. It wasn't like him to dodge bullets, but Skinner couldn't blame him for sitting this one out. Hell, it wasn't his fight.

"Agent Mulder, please sit down. I'll explain everything once the others have arrived." He wasn't sure Mulder was going to comply, but he did, with visible ill-grace, Scully at his side.

"Who are we waiting for?" Doggett wondered, glancing back at the door. Agent Reyes made a discreet entrance, saw Krycek, and glanced quizzically at Doggett. He gave a minute shrug, and they sat. Follmer and Spender were close behind her.

"No-one, now," Skinner replied, glancing at his watch. They were still a few minutes ahead of schedule, but still, he'd have expected them sooner, in the circumstances. "Agent Follmer, could you close the door and sit down? We have a lot to get through this morning." Follmer looked uncomfortable, presumably at the mention of his lowered status, but he complied.

Kersh spoke. "Before Assistant Director Skinner begins, I would like to welcome you all back to work. Agents Mulder, Scully, and Fowley have all returned to us from witness protection as planned. It's good to have the three of you back on deck." He looked over at Jeffrey, eyelids flickering behind his glasses. "Agent Spender returns to us from medical leave, and Agent Follmer has returned to us as well." Skinner reflected that Kersh was working his way down the list of undesirables, and saving the best for last. "Agent Krycek also returns to our staff," he said, looking pointedly at Mulder, "and you will make him welcome."

"This is a joke," Mulder said. "It's a bad joke. Agent Krycek killed my father."

"With FBI sanction, Agent Mulder. If it hadn't been Agent Krycek, it would have been someone else. And there was no way for him to refuse without blowing the operation."

"Not with mine," he fired back, and Kersh sighed.

"It was a regrettable situation. We've discussed this. For the record, I sympathise."

"Then get him out of here," Scully said. "Send him off to special ops or the CIA or wherever the hell FBI-sanctioned assassins go to retire. How am I supposed to tell my mother that I have to work with the man who killed her daughter?"

"He didn't kill your sister," Marita said. It was the first indication from the Krycek corner that they were aware of the discussion before them.

"What is she doing here?" Scully demanded.

"Ms Krycek is here on official business," said Skinner. "As for Agent Krycek, we have no say in the matter. This assignment comes from higher than either the Deputy Director or myself."

Mulder stared at Krycek, addressing him directly for the first time. "You," he said. "You asked for this, didn't you? Why can't you just leave us alone?"

Krycek seemed to deliberate. Skinner could almost see the wisecracks and the double-talk hovering over his lips, but he seemed to think better of it. "My wife and I were exposed to the oil," he said. "We have a vested interest in monitoring the progress of experimentation victims. And their offspring."

Skinner caught Kersh's eye, and Kersh gave a very slight nod. Marita was pregnant, then.

"Assistant Director," Doggett said, "as fascinating as Agent Krycek's motives may be, I'm a bit more interested in the rest of the faces in this room. My understanding was that Mulder and Scully would be working from home as consultants and that Reyes and myself would continue with the X Files. So what's with the cast of thousands?"

"The climate has changed, Agent Doggett," Kersh replied. "I assume you know of the proposed Hybrid Protection Act?"

Reyes spoke for the first time. "It's a proposal for comprehensive legislation to protect hybrids, experimentation victims, and former super soldiers from discrimination, and to ensure that they have access to appropriate medical care."

"Alleged former super soldiers," Doggett corrected. "We don't know if the reversals are permanent."

"You're pretty circumspect, considering your old buddy McMahon is spearheading the legislation," Follmer said.

Skinner stifled a sound of annoyance.

"Shannon McMahon isn't my buddy, and she's the Veterans' Affairs advocate," Doggett said, with seemingly infinite patience before moving in for the kill. "Not that I'd expect you to be familiar with the finer details, what with being suspended for the last couple of years and all."

"My testimony put away forty-seven cult members who wanted Agent Mulder here dead. How many convictions have you had during your time on the X Files again?"

"Testimony you used to get out of a murder rap with only a demotion," Mulder retorted. "You're here on our shirt-tails, Follmer, so don't use me to bolster your position."

Reyes leaned forward. "You know, I hate to interrupt your pissing contest, but I for one would like to know why we're all here."

"So would I," said Jeffrey. "A.D. Skinner, you were telling us about the Hybrid Protection bill?"

Skinner nodded. "The Hybrid Protection bill changes things for us. Agent Doggett, Agent Reyes - you've been warning Deputy Director Kersh and myself for some time now that we would see a marked rise in paranormal cases after the details of the cover operation became public."

Reyes nodded. "That's correct. This is due to a rise in the identification of genuine cases due to increased public awareness, and false reports arising from fears and misunderstandings among the general public. Media attention on experimentation victims was also far greater than we originally anticipated." Her gaze flickered over Jeffrey, by far the most public face of the victims. There was very little scarring left, but Skinner could still see a horribly disfigured man superimposed over Jeffrey when he looked hard enough. He didn't know if that lingering shadow would ever completely leave his consciousness.

Kersh motioned to Marita with his hand. "Ms Krycek is here to talk a little more about the impact of the Hybrid Protection bill. She has been appointed to the United Nations committee for the Care And Protection of Experimentation Survivors, or CAPES. The FBI will be reporting to her on hybrid issues in law enforcement on a regular basis." Which basically made Marita their boss, Skinner thought irritably - his, at least. Follmer caught the inference - he shot Skinner a sympathetic glance.

Marita cleared her throat, rising to her feet. "Agent Reyes is correct in her assessment of the implications of growing public awareness of the numbers of experimentation survivors within the general population. However, the proposed Hybrid Protection Act is a complicating factor. On top of legitimate cases, you're going to see cases fabricated for political gain."

"How do you mean?" Follmer wondered.

Diana spoke. "Anti-hybrid groups will be trying to discredit experimentation survivors and make them appear dangerous. The pro-hybrid groups will fabricate cases to garner sympathy. There will also be fabricated cases that serve the agendas of the various factions - the ones that want hybrid registration, the ones that oppose or endorse affirmative action, the ones that want to differentiate between types of victims, and so on. And the legitimate cases will all be used for those purposes as well."

Marita nodded. "That's correct. Your work just got a huge boost of credibility. You have a bigger budget, and a bigger staff. But you're also in the spotlight. You cannot afford to put a foot wrong right now."

"Sounds to me like this legislation is more trouble than it's worth," said Doggett. "And it's going to protect people like Knowle Rohrer."

"It's also going to protect people like Agent Spender," said Mulder, and a vision rose in Skinner's mind, a memory of a particularly horrid cartoon that had appeared in the New York Times - a disfigured Jeffrey handing over an FBI folder to ET and receiving a healing touch in return.

"And more than half the people in this room," added Scully, "and our children." Looking at Marita, he saw her hand stray towards her belly, and then she caught herself and moved it away.

He intervened. "Agents," he said. "Our job isn't to debate the legislation. Our job is to handle the fallout."

Kersh took up the lead. "Exactly. Agent Fowley, you will be partnered with Agent Krycek. Agents Doggett and Reyes will continue together as before, and Agent Spender will partner with Agent Follmer. You'll function mostly as independent teams, with some overlap as needed. The six of you will work together in the basement, with Agents Mulder and Scully offsite, at their home and at Quantico. Technically, you're a branch of Violent Crimes Unit, but that's mostly to expedite funding - for all practical purposes you'll be a self-contained unit. Mulder, Scully, you'll be on call for anyone in the unit who needs your expertise."

Mulder sat back, arms crossed over his chest. "You can't seriously expect me to be on call for him," he said, looking at Krycek with disdain.

"Believe me, Mulder, I don't like the idea any more than you do," Krycek replied, levelling him with his gaze.

"Agents," Kersh said in warning. "Agent Mulder, your contract requires you to serve the unit as needed. I won't allow you to pick and choose which agents you'll work with. Either you're on the team, or you're not. As for you, Krycek, try not to make any more enemies on your first day back. You have enough of them as it is."

Mulder's expression was mutinous.

Deftly, Skinner diverted the conversation. "Well, you all have cases waiting for you, but I would like to draw your attention to one in particular. Holly Buchanan, aged seven, died two days ago after being struck by a teacher in Biloxi, Mississippi. The teacher's name is Martin Shaw, former USMC, served for six years before receiving a medical discharge. The locals are saying he's a test subject. The case belongs to Doggett and Reyes, but it's a poster child for every special interest group under the sun. I'll expect you all to pitch in on this one if necessary."

There were murmurs of assent. Some were more heartfelt than others.

"Daylight's burning, Agents," Kersh said, shuffling his papers pointedly. "Doggett, Reyes, you have a plane to catch. The rest of you have office arrangements to see to. You're dismissed."

They took the hint. The noise level rose as people got to their feet and prepared to leave. Out the corner of his eye, Skinner could see Mulder and Scully sharing a look of dismay. He supposed his own expression wasn't much happier.

Diana was talking to Marita, but she looked over at Mulder and Scully, touched her arm in farewell, and broke away. She came around the table to meet them. Skinner followed her course with interest.

"Fox?"

Mulder looked up at the sound of her voice. "Hello, Diana," he said, rising, his voice suffused with warmth.

"It's good to see you. You look good. You too, Scully."

"Thanks." Scully's tone was polite, but short. She went on with packing up her papers into her bag.

"Listen, I'm going to go down to purchasing and work out what to do about the office furniture down there. Knocking that wall out was good, but they weren't planning on having so many agents down there. I'm thinking Doggett and Reyes can keep the desks they have, and maybe something modular for the rest of us so we can all fit. Any preferences?"

"Don't bother with desks for us," said Mulder, looking at Krycek, talking to Marita and Kersh across the room. "We're not going to be working here much anyway."

Diana sighed. "Fox," she said, taking his arm. "Don't let him drive you out."

"We won't," Scully said, stepping forward, taking Mulder's other hand in her own. "Don't worry about us."

Diana took the hint, releasing Mulder's arm and moving back a fraction. "Well, good," she said. "I'll see what I can come up with for downstairs. Good to see you again." She beat a hasty retreat.

Skinner smiled to himself, but he had to admit that Diana had a point. "She's right, you know," he said. They turned to face him. "He's not worth it."

"Maybe none of it's worth it," Mulder said, and he turned on his heel and walked away.

~x~

Scully was worried. "Talk to me, Mulder."

"I'm fine," he said, staring intently at the road.

Scully arched an eyebrow. "Mulder, how many times have I said, 'I'm fine'? And how many times have you believed me?"

"Too many, and never," he conceded, his mouth curling up at the corners. It wasn't quite the grin she'd hoped for, but it was a start.

"So?"

He shrugged a little, turning off the main road. "I just can't help wondering whether it's worth us going back to the Bureau. We don't need the money, and it's not as though it's all up to us any more. We've talked for years about what it would be like when we could finally have our lives back, and now it seems like we're buying straight back into it all over again."

Scully frowned. "You're really thinking of quitting?"

Mulder pulled in to the curb. "I don't know. Maybe." He looked at her. "Would you mind?"

She shook her head. "It's your decision, Mulder. Like you said, it isn't all up to us any more." Getting out of the car, she said, "But would you really be able to leave it behind?"

"I don't know," he said, talking to her over the roof of the car while he locked up. "It's been a long time since I had a choice."

Scully went to their door and unlocked it. "I know the feeling." Letting herself in, she held the door for Mulder and closed it behind him. "Mom? Are you here?"

"I'm upstairs with Will," Maggie called out, her voice distorted and echoing down the hall. Scully hung up her coat, and then her mother came down the stairs, footsteps clattering, William perched on her hip. "Look, Will," she said, "Mommy's home!"

"Want Daddy," Will said, reaching out to Mulder.

Scully rolled her eyes. "Good to see I was missed." Mulder laughed, taking the boy, who promptly wriggled free and toddled off in the direction of the kitchen.

"How'd it go, honey?" her mother wondered, following them into the lounge. "Any interesting cases to sink your teeth into?"

Mulder looked questioningly at Scully, but Scully gave a slight shake of her head. It was the wrong time to tell her about Krycek - not that there would ever be a really good time. "There's one that might be interesting," she said. "John and Monica are heading out to take a look. They'll probably want me to do an autopsy tonight or tomorrow. Do you mind?"

"Of course not. Will and I have a lot of catching up to do." Maggie's eyes were suddenly, unnaturally bright. "He remembered me, Dana. After all this time."

There was a lump in her throat. "Agent Van De Kamp showed him pictures of us all every day, Mom. She wouldn't let him forget. We owe her a lot. She kept him safe. And she kept him ours."

Maggie looked away. Sniffling a little, watching Will, tugging his bear off the coffee table. "I said some awful things to you when you - when you sent him away, Dana."

Scully closed her eyes against the memory of that terrible day. "You didn't know, Mom. It's okay." It wasn't, but too much had happened. She didn't have the luxury of holding grudges against the little family she had left.

Mulder was looking at them. Looking worried. She could almost see the wheels ticking over in his mind, trying to think of ways to break the moment.

"Mrs Scully," he said, "why don't you stay here today? Spend some time with all of us? You could spend some more time with Will. And I think we could all use some time out."

Maggie blew her nose on a white cotton handkerchief. "Don't be silly, Fox, I'm sure you both have things to do."

"No, Mom," she said. Eager to bridge the gulf between them. "Please stay."

So she stayed, and they spent the day together, renewing their ties as a family.

~x~

Diana was annoyed.

"I only touched his arm," she said irritably, signing her name on the requisition order in heavy strokes to emphasise her point.

Marita suppressed a grin. "You touch everyone," she sympathised. "Hell, you've always got your hands on my husband. Just as well I'm not the jealous type."

"Face it, Diana," said Krycek, "you and Jeff could screw right there in front of her, and she still wouldn't believe you weren't pining after Mulder."

"It's bloody ridiculous. How many years have we been divorced? Ten? Eleven?"

"How many years since you kissed him?" she countered acidly.

Diana had the good grace to flush. "That's still five. You're not helping." Marita just laughed.

"So do you really think this is going to work?" Krycek wondered, peering over Diana's shoulder at the floor plan she'd sketched out. Marita came around the other side. "That's a lot of people in a small area. You sure we aren't going to kill each other with our service weapons?"

Diana shook her head. "Doggett and Reyes still have their old spots, so there's nothing to be territorial about there. And you, me, and Jeffrey all get along well. Follmer can't afford to make waves - he needs all the allies he can get. I think we'll be fine."

"Speaking of Doggett and Reyes," Marita said, looking over her shoulder at the agents in question, "I thought you were going to Mississippi."

"I thought you were going back to your office," said Reyes off-handedly from across the room, but there was no malice in her voice. She was preoccupied, flipping through papers on her desk.

"I'm waiting to get the car keys from my husband, but as usual, Diana's monopolising him," Marita said. "What's your excuse?"

"Our flight's in an hour," Doggett said curtly, pulling his cellphone from his pocket when it rang. "John Doggett."

Krycek fished in his pocket and handed the keys to her. "Nag, nag, nag," he said, but the fondness in his voice belied his exasperated sigh. "See you at home?"

She took them. "Sure."

"That was Shannon McMahon," Doggett said from behind them. By unspoken assent, they paused, listening. "She says we need to look into this kid's parents. She wouldn't tell me any more over the phone."

"That was fast," said Reyes. "How does she even know we have the case?"

"I don't know. But it sounds to me like this might be a frameup. Maybe a child abuse case hiding behind allegations against the teacher."

Krycek spoke up. "They could be encouraging the media circus down there. Might be worth poking around the journalists, see who picked up the story first."

Doggett's voice was discernibly colder. "Like they did with you, I suppose?"

Marita could see the slight stiffening in Alex's jaw. He said mildly, "A.D. Skinner told us to help out, that's all."

"I think we can handle it." Doggett turned to Reyes, dismissing them. "Come on, Monica, let's go."

Marita sighed, watching them as they left. "Damn him. That wasn't fair."

Krycek shrugged. "I'd better get used to it, I suppose." She wasn't deceived, but she didn't push it. "What do you make of that, though?"

"The tip-off?" Diana said. "Not sure."

"Shannon is Veterans' Affairs," said Marita. "And Biloxi is a military town."

"You're thinking the parents might be veterans?" Diana wondered.

"Or test subjects, more to the point," Krycek mused. "It's possible."

Marita could feel the corners of her mouth turning up into a grin. "Do you think it would be stepping on their toes if I were to try to find out?"

Krycek was solemn. "A.D. Skinner told us to help," he said ingeniously. Diana laughed.

"Then I'll help," she said simply, leaning up to kiss his cheek, and then she left them there.

~x~

"So what do you make of all this, Monica?"

She didn't take her eyes off the road. "Well, John, that depends on what you mean by 'all this.'"

Doggett stretched back in his seat, warming to his theme. "I mean us being stuck with those guys. What Krycek said back in D.C. about us all killing each other - I'm thinking he might not be all that far off the mark."

"I don't know about that. You just agreed with him on something. That's a start." She was smirking, and he smiled in spite of himself. "But John, I think this could work out pretty well. They've all got good service records, and they all know the X Files. I think it could work."

He twisted in his seat to look at her properly. "I'm not talking about their competency, and you know it. Krycek's a wildcard."

"Krycek's also partnered with his wife's best friend."

"You seriously think Diana will keep him in line?"

Reyes nodded. "I think so. There's a connection there from their undercover days. And she'll mediate between him and Mulder."

Doggett snorted laughter through his nose. "I bet Scully will love that."

She laughed. "John, this isn't about Krycek and you know it."

"I don't trust that guy, Monica. Sure, he was on our side, but he also made a lot of trouble for us. That prank with the nanocytes? He could have got Skinner killed, just to prove a point."

"I hear you, John, but I know you. The thing that's really chafing your ass isn't Krycek, it's having to work with Brad."

"He shouldn't even be here," he argued. "He used our work to save his ass."

"And he sat in prison for two years, stalling and waiting until he could do it without blowing the operation. He didn't have to do that, John."

"Monica, the guy has nothing to do with the X Files. We only brought him in in the first place because we had to. The only reason we have him now is that no-one else wanted him."

Reyes shook her head. "He's a good agent. Sure, he's not going to be making any Mulder-like leaps anytime soon, but he can hold his own in the field."

It bugged him, hearing her defend him. He frowned. Didn't answer.

"You're jealous," she said, clearly amused.

"Bullshit."

"You are so."

He cleared his throat. "What's the name of the school we're going to again?"

She was struggling visibly not to laugh at him, but she didn't try to change the subject back. "Everglade. We're not far away," she added, peering at the street numbers out the window.

"Reckon it might be that media circus up ahead," he said, leaning forward to get a better look at the throng of people crowding on the sidewalk in the next block. The building looked rather like a quaint old church, but on closer inspection, he could see a sign inscribed with the legend, 'Everglade Community School.'

"There are protesters," she said, pulling in to the curb. "Can you read the placards?"

He peered. Reading aloud, he said, "Register Test Subjects Now, No Freaks In Our Schools, Pig Fascist Military Frameup, Ban Corporal Punishment, Real Men Don't Hit Children, Support Our Town - Blame The Victim! - I'd say between them, we have all the bases covered."

"Charming." Reyes switched off the ignition. "What do you say we go stir up some trouble of our own?"

He grinned at her. "Lead the way."

~x~

"Everglade is a small school," Hank Geary said, closing the windows against the rabble outside. "We started up in 1992, and we decided at the outset to restrict the overall student count to ninety. Martin Shaw was one of our founding teachers."

"How did you come by Mr Shaw?" Doggett wondered. He'd seen schools like this in his search for schools for Luke. They tended to be insular. He couldn't picture Geary stooping to advertise in the newspaper. "Was he an acquaintance of yours?"

"Not directly, but we had mutual friends. He's a local, served in the Gulf, came out with a medical discharge and needed a job. I didn't ask too many questions - we don't talk much about Gulf War Syndrome around here, too many military types around, but we all know about it. Officially, he started out as a teacher's aide, studied at night to get his certification, that kind of thing. It worked out well."

Reyes frowned. "Until...?"

"We have a three-strikes corporal punishment policy. It isn't often used. If there is a particular issue that does not respond to regular disciplinary measures, the teacher has the ability to offer two warnings and then administer corporal punishment. The punishment is administered as a single stroke, either with the flat of the hand or the cane, and it's done in the presence of a fellow teacher."

"What did Holly do?"

"She left her sports kit at home. I realise that this is a minor infraction, but it had been an ongoing problem for quite some time. It seems that she didn't like to take phys ed. It had developed into quite a phobia."

Doggett nodded. "So this guy Shaw caned her?"

Geary's voice was regretful. "Yes. It was done in line with the policy. It should have been fine. But ten minutes later the girl was dead."

Reyes nodded. "Do you have an explanation for that, Mr Geary?"

"I'm afraid I don't. There have been rumours. A local reporter has been saying that Martin is one of these super soldiers."

"Do you believe that?"

"I don't think he's a super soldier. He doesn't have those bumps on the neck that the papers keep talking about, and he didn't have the memory lapses that some of them reported, either. But a hybrid? Maybe. He might not even know himself." Geary pointed to a door at the end of the corridor. "That's Shirley MacIntyre's classroom. She was the witness to the punishment. You'll want to speak to her, I suppose?"

Reyes nodded. "Yes, we would. Can we do that now?"

"Certainly. I'll take her class while you talk to her. Let me get her for you." Geary left them, walking ahead to the classroom door.

"What do you make of that?" Doggett wondered, hanging back, watching Geary knock on the door.

She didn't answer for a moment - just stood there, thinking. At last, she said, "I'd like to know what he really thinks."

"You think he's too neutral?"

"For a guy whose school is under siege with protesters for every special interest group in the state? Yeah, I do."

He thought about this. "You think he knows what happened? Or just has some suspicions and he doesn't want to believe them?"

Reyes opened her mouth to reply, but they were interrupted by the bustling approach of the bountiful Mrs MacIntyre.

"I'm very sorry to keep you waiting, Mr Doggett, Miss Reyes." She pronounced it 'Reeze.' "You with your important work and everything, too."

Reyes smiled sidelong at him. She didn't correct her pronunciation. "It's quite all right, Mrs MacIntyre. We only waited a moment."

"I suppose you want to hear about the other day, don't you? Such a lovely girl, too." There was none of the unconsciously exaggerated grief Doggett had come to expect from bystanders in these cases - just a slightly bewildered undertone of loss.

By unspoken assent, Reyes took the lead. "You were the witness to a lawful punishment, I believe?"

"Yes. The policy requires it. We don't like to talk about," she looked around cautiously, "deviant teachers here. But that's what the rule is for."

"To prevent child abuse under the guise of punishment."

"That's right."

Doggett spoke. "What happened that day, Mrs MacIntyre?"

"Well, it all seemed fine. Martin, that's Mr Shaw, he struck Holly on her bottom with the cane while she leaned over a desk. I'm sure he didn't do it hard - she was only seven, after all. And it didn't make much of a sound. He was talking to her about leaving her sports kit while he did it and he wasn't out of breath."

He frowned. "Did he remove any of her clothing to do it?"

"Certainly not," the teacher said in clear affront. "It was done through her skirt."

"So you couldn't have seen whether he left a mark at all."

Mrs MacIntyre hesitated. "Well - no -"

Reyes prompted, "Then what happened?"

"Holly stood up, and for a few moments she seemed to be all right. She said, 'I'm sorry, Sir, it won't happen again Sir,' very nice and polite, and then she went white and blood came out of her mouth. She started to fall, and Martin caught her, and he said, 'Oh my God, Shirley, get a doctor,' and I ran to the office and they called the ambulance and then I went back to Martin and Holly with Mr Geary, and then while we were waiting she died."

Mrs MacIntyre was quite breathless after this pronouncement.

"How did Mr Shaw seem to you afterwards?" Doggett asked.

"He was devastated. We all were. The five of us - Hank, Martin, myself and the parents - we all just sat in Hank's office and cried."

Doggett frowned. He tried to picture the teacher and the parents in the same room so soon after the girl's death, and he couldn't do it. "What happened after that?"

"Hank sent him home. He's on paid leave."

"Paid leave?" queried Reyes. "Not a suspension?"

Mrs MacIntyre looked shocked. "Certainly not. We look after our own."

"So if we wanted to talk to him, we'd talk to him at home?"

"No, the protests got too bad. He's staying with the Buchanans."

Reyes stared at her.

"The Buchanans? Holly's family?"

Shirley MacIntyre nodded. "It's like I said, Miss Reyes. We look after our own."

~x~

"I want to be tested."

Reyes blinked. "I don't think I follow."

Martin Shaw sat there in the Buchanan living room, hunched up into the smallest space possible on the corner of the couch. His hands were splayed out flat on his knees.

"I want to be tested," he said again. "I want to know what they did to me."

Doggett spoke. "You think the military did something to you when you served, and that's why that little girl died?"

"Did you see her body? What else could it be?"

In fact, they hadn't seen the body. The coroner had flown it to Quantico at their request before they left D.C. But he'd seen the photos. The lower half of Holly's body was one massive haematoma.

"Mr Shaw, there is no one test, or even a range of tests, for what the military did. At most, we can loosely identify a range of syndromes. Most of the documentation about root causes is still covered by official secrets legislation. Veterans' Affairs is working their assess off trying to get people diagnosed and treated, but there's no formal avenue for what you're asking for."

"Then what are these people supposed to do?" Shaw demanded, nodding at Holly's mother, clinking cups and saucers through the door in the kitchen. "What am I supposed to say to them? Their daughter died because of me and now they - they -"

Melody Buchanan came hurrying out. "Martin, don't upset yourself. No-one blames you. You couldn't have known." She patted him gently on the shoulder.

Doggett refrained from pointing out that there was a good crowd of people in town who seemed to blame Martin Shaw.

"Thank you, Melody," Shaw said, touching her hand. "You've been a great comfort." Doggett was struck forcibly by the odd little role reversal being played out.

"Are you finished with him?" Mrs Buchanan asked them. "I'd think Martin should lie down. He's been very upset."

"Thank you, Melody. I'd like that."

"For now," Doggett said. "We'll telephone if we need to ask you anything further. You'll be here?"

"If not, Melody or Hank Geary will know where to find me. I won't be far." Shaw excused himself and made his way up the stairs.

"Poor Martin," Melody Buchanan sighed, watching him leave. "He came back from the Gulf broken, you know. Lots of men did. He's a gentle soul. And this whole thing has been a nightmare."

Reyes was frowning. Clearly perplexed. "Pardon me for asking, Mrs Buchanan, but how is it that you came to be hiding Martin?"

Mrs Buchanan shrugged. "This was the one place that the protesters wouldn't think to look for him. We all talked about it at Everglade - my husband, myself, Hank and Shirley. It seemed like a good idea."

"You must understand why we're surprised."

"Well, it's hardly his fault, is it? The military and their awful tests. If anyone's to blame for my poor baby, it's certainly not Martin."

Doggett's head hurt. He could sense the imbalance here, the way that the picture was off-center, but he couldn't quite lay his hand on what would make it look right. He said, "You feel strongly about it, then?"

"It's a military town, Mr Doggett. Everyone knows someone who was tested on, or who served with someone who was. There are a lot of people in this community who feel very betrayed."

"Were you or your husband in the military?" he wondered.

Mrs Buchanan shook her head. "But we have friends, of course."

Reyes said gently, "Why don't you tell me about Holly?"

Melody Buchanan swallowed hard.

"She was - she was a lovely girl. Very polite. Very gentle. She loved - she loved to play with her guinea pig. She-" she broke into tears. "I'm sorry. I have another daughter, and my husband, and poor Martin. I've had - I've had to be strong-"

Doggett looked around, and spied a box of tissues on the dining table. He went and got them and brought them to her. She took one mechanically.

"They won't put him in jail, will they?"

"Mr Shaw?" he said. "Probably not. We won't know for sure until we get the forensics back, but at this stage, I'm not seeing enough to have him charged with a crime."

"That's something," she sniffled. "Do you think he'll be allowed to teach again? He was so good with the children. Holly and Isabel adore him-" and then she apparently remembered that Holly was dead, and she struggled against fresh tears.

Privately, Doggett doubted that Shaw would teach again, but he said, "Let's just wait and see what happens."

"Someone from the FBI will be in touch about releasing Holly for burial," said Reyes. "The coroner is flying her out to our forensic facility in Virginia, but it won't be for long."

Mrs Buchanan blew her nose. "They'll be gentle with her, won't they?"

Reyes nodded. "The forensic doctor is a friend of ours. She's a mother too. She'll be gentle."

She summoned a watery smile. "Thank you."

They showed themselves out.

~x~

"I have food and information. Which do you want first?"

Diana looked up from her seat at Doggett's desk. "If that's Chinese, food."

Krycek turned, then rose, and drew Marita close. "Information," he said, kissing her soundly.

"You only love me for my contraband," she chided. "Where's Jeffrey?"

"Out somewhere trying to lose Follmer, probably," he replied. "What have you got?"

"Melody and Ian Buchanan used to be Sergeant Melody Chesterwood and Corporal Ian Prescott, both USMC. Buchanan is his mother's name. They changed it when they got married."

"So they are military, then?" Diana asked, extricating the take-out from Marita's hand.

"Were," she corrected, rifling through her portfolio. She found the folder she was looking for and handed it over. "Both discharged on medical grounds in 1994. There's a nine-month gap in their service records just before that. My contact says they were part of a program called Delineate. She doesn't know what it was."

Krycek frowned, skimming the couple of pages of hand-scribbled notes inside. "We should call the others. Who do you think would be more receptive?"

"Reyes," said Diana. "Definitely."

He smirked. "So. I'll call Doggett." Diana laughed.

"I can't stay," Marita said while Krycek picked up the phone. He wedged the receiver between his shoulder and his cheek and waved. "Are you coming over tonight, Diana?"

Diana nodded, leading her out the door into the corridor. "Jeffrey's catching up with Fox, so it'll be just me tonight."

"How's that going?"

"Not bad. They're still getting to know each other. It's going to take time."

"So what's on your mind?" she wondered, pressing the elevator button with a smug little smile. The way Diana had led her out was subtle, but not subtle enough.

Diana's voice was tinged with amusement. "Am I that transparent?"

"To me?" she laughed. "Yes. What's on your mind?"

Diana shrugged. "I suppose I just wondered why you came back here." She pointed out, "You could have told us about the Buchanans over the phone."

Marita sighed. "I don't know. There was nothing specific. I was kind of worried about Alex, though. This isn't a great situation for him."

"I agree. But he'll be fine - this is Alex. He survived working for the Consortium, after all."

"He didn't hate the Consortium as much as he hates Mulder and Skinner," she retorted as the elevator doors slid open. She was only half joking.

Diana laughed, but her good humour had dropped back a notch, she noted. "I'll keep an eye on him."

"Thanks." She stepped into the elevator.

"Anything for a friend who comes bearing Chinese."

Marita laughed as the doors slid closed behind her.

~x~

"She's not angry enough," Doggett said, clattering down the steps of the Buchanan household.

Reyes looked at him curiously. "I'm listening."

He thought a moment, choosing his words carefully. "She's sad, but she isn't angry. It's not like her kid was killed in an accident. It's more like she died after a long illness. Think about it, Mon - her daughter died two days ago because this guy hit her for leaving her sports kit at home. Even if she really doesn't blame him in her head, wouldn't you think just a little part of her would be blaming him in her heart?"

She nodded. "You would. But it's more like she feels bad for him."

"Either these people are saints, or they're hiding something, and I'm betting they're hiding something. This whole thing is wrong."

Reyes was nodding. Frowning. "I agree with you, John." She fumbled for the keys to their rental and found them. "So where to now?"

He shrugged. "Shannon said to look into the parents. Canvas the neighbours, maybe." His cellphone rang, and he answered it. "John Doggett."

It was a bad line, but not so bad he couldn't make out the voice on the other end. "Doggett, it's Alex Krycek."

Doggett stifled a sound of annoyance. "What do you want, Krycek?"

"I don't want anything," the voice on the other end said patiently. "I've got some information for you about the Buchanans."

He was conscious of an urge to tell Krycek to back off, but in light of their meeting with Melody Buchanan, he swallowed it. "Go on," he said grimly. He listened while Krycek filled him in, gritted his teeth and thanked him, and rang off.

Reyes was looking at him. "Well?" He told her.

"Should we confront her with it?" she said, looking back at the Buchanan house. "Or hold off?"

He thought about it. "They're not going anywhere. Let's go back to the hotel and wait for the autopsy results. I'll make some calls and see what I can find out about this Project Delineate."

~x~

"Where's Scully?"

Mulder took a mouthful of beer. "She's at Quantico doing the Buchanan autopsy. She's been gone a while - she shouldn't be long. So in the meantime, it's just us boys," he added, mostly to Will, who was sucking interestedly on Jeffrey's tie.

"How are you?" Jeffrey asked. "After this morning, I mean?"

"I don't like it," he said. He considered broaching the subject of quitting the Bureau, but he decided against it for now. "What about you?"

Jeffrey said diplomatically, "Working with Follmer's going to be a challenge."

Mulder smirked. "Now, Jeffrey, there's no need to be tactful with close relatives."

"Okay, working with Follmer is going to be the bane of my existence. He's too conventional, too correct, and too by-the-book. The guy's a goddamn politician."

He laughed. "Gee, that sounds familiar."

Jeffrey had the good grace to flush. "I learned better."

"Follmer could, too," shrugged Mulder, though he didn't think it was very likely.

"You don't really believe that, do you?"

He took another drink of his beer. "Just playing devil's advocate. I hardly know the guy."

Jeffrey stretched out on the couch, inadvertently pulling his tie out of William's reach. Will screwed up his face in irritation. "Doggett doesn't like him."

Mulder lifted Will and deposited him on the floor. He looked up and said plaintively, "Want Jeffrey's tie, Daddy." Cooperatively, Jeffrey began to unknot it, but by the time he was done, Will had forgotten about it. He was inspecting the dustbunnies under the couch.

"I'd take that with a grain of salt," Mulder said, as though there had been no interruption. "Doggett not liking Follmer, I mean. Follmer used to be hooked up with Reyes."

"Was he? I didn't know."

"It's a basement thing," he grinned. "Everyone hooks up down there. Me and Scully, Doggett and Reyes, you and Diana."

"Krycek and Follmer?" Jeffrey said with a mischievous twinkle. "They're the only two left."

"Marita would love that."

"Marita would join in," Jeffrey countered, laughing.

Mulder choked on his beer. "I don't want to know."

"I'm kidding. Seriously, Follmer's not going to get too close to Krycek. He's not going to want to be tainted by association."

"That's something. It's bad enough Krycek's got Diana in his corner. You too, for that matter."

Jeffrey held up his hands. "I'm non-partisan here. I'm not going to get caught up in your war with him, no matter how justified it might be. I have to work with him, I have to socialise with him, and I just don't need the stress."

Mulder shrugged. "Fair enough." It wasn't, really, but he and Jeffrey were still in the first, tentative stages of getting to know one another as brothers. It was too soon to expect that kind of loyalty, and doing so could well drive Jeffrey away. He didn't want to do that.

"There's something else about Follmer."

"What about him?" he asked, diverted.

Jeffrey frowned. "Well, we spent the morning together - went down and got our service weapons, listened to the others argue about the furniture, all that kind of stuff. There were just a couple of things he said - I get the feeling that he's not too hot on survivor rights."

Privately, Mulder thought that might not be such a bad thing, given Jeffrey's leanings in the other direction. He said only, "That could get tricky in the field."

"Yes, it could. I hope I'm wrong. I don't want to be reining him in every time we have to question a hybrid."

They were interrupted by the sound of the front door opening and closing, and then Scully appeared in the doorway. "Hi Jeffrey," she said, taking off her coat and leaving it on the side table. Jeffrey waved. Mulder got to his feet, and she came over and kissed him. "How was Will?"

"He was fussing at first, so I gave him a beer and let him surf internet porn and then he was fine."

"Mulder," she said in mock reproach.

He smiled broadly at her and sat down again. "What's happening with the Buchanan case?"

Scully dropped down in the armchair opposite. William crawled out from beneath the coffee table and wandered over, and she picked him up. "Holly Buchanan died of massive internal bleeding. It doesn't look like the teacher did anything wrong, though - she had haemophilia. An unusually severe case. She's lucky she survived as long as she did."

Jeffrey frowned. "Isn't that supposed to be rare in females?"

"It's very rare. Haemophilia is a sex-linked recessive gene. For a female to get it, the mother has to be a carrier and the father has to have it as well, and even then there's only one chance in two. That's why it used to be considered a royal disease - because once it was introduced into the bloodline, the intermarrying within the British and European royal families made it much more likely for the gene to be pass it on."

Mulder nodded. "So the case is solved?" But somehow he didn't really think it was. There were lines etched into her brow. Something wasn't quite right, he thought.

Scully shifted uncomfortably in her chair. "There's still some question marks. Doggett said the parents lied about their military service, and they did receive medical discharges. But on the other hand, a lot of people are lying about their military service right now, just to keep out of the firing line. I don't see how the two could be related. It's a genetic disorder."

Jeffrey said thoughtfully, "The hybrids were genetically modified. Look at what they did to my mother."

She gave him a respectful nod, but demurred, "They wouldn't be modified to have a genetic disorder, though, surely. The idea was to make the super soldiers invulnerable, not vulnerable."

Mulder got up and paced. "But this wouldn't make them vulnerable. It would make their offspring vulnerable. Scully, what if they were trying to make it so that the races couldn't mix? So that any mixed-race child would die?"

Jeffrey stared up at him. "It would make sense. The alien race was big on racial purity."

Scully frowned. "I have some blood samples from the parents at Quantico. They provided them for identification purposes. I could run some tests, see what I can find out."

Mulder nodded, and got to his feet to take William from her. "I'll watch him."

Scully handed him over. She shot him a good-natured grin. "Just try and keep him out of the porn."

~x~

"Scully thinks she might know something about Project Delineate," Doggett said, hanging up the phone.

"I should hope so, with that timing," said Reyes, flushed and breathing hard. "What does she think?"

He scooted over in bed, getting closer. "She thinks it was a project experimenting with haemophilia genes, trying to make it so that any child of a super soldier and a drone would die, to prevent interbreeding. That's Mulder's theory, anyway. She doesn't have anything definite yet - she's sent off the Buchanans' blood for further analysis - but she says that there are visible peculiarities in their X chromosomes."

"Haemophilia is carried in the X chromosome, isn't it?" she said. Her breathing was returning to normal.

Doggett nodded. "That's right."

"So what do you think?" she wondered. "Do you think the Buchanans knew?"

"Knew, or suspected," he said. "Holly didn't want to do phys ed. Maybe her parents told her not to. Maybe they were afraid she'd get hurt. Maybe they were going to let Martin Shaw take the fall because they were afraid of being exposed as test subjects themselves."

Reyes frowned. "What if it goes deeper than that?"

"What do you mean?"

"John, they changed their names in 1994. That's long before anyone in the general population knew anything about the tests."

"You think they might be running from something else?"

She nodded. "I think it's a possibility."

He thought about it. "Maybe. Maybe the military." He pulled away from her and picked up the phone once more.

"Who are you calling?" she said, sitting up, pulling on her dressing gown.

"Shannon McMahon," he said, flipping through his wallet looking for her number. "She gave us this. She must have some idea." He found it, and keyed in the number.

The phone rang out for close to a minute, but at last, there was a click, and then a sleepy voice on the line. "This had better be good."

"Shannon," he said. "It's John Doggett. I'm sorry to wake you."

Shannon's voice was suddenly alert. "John. What is it?"

"I'm wondering if you know anything about a Project Delineate."

"Delineate?" she repeated. "What's got you wondering about that?"

"Then you have heard of it," he prompted.

There was a rustling noise. He thought she was probably getting out of bed. "I have, but I don't know much about it - it was some kind of racial purity experiment in the mid-nineties. It didn't last long."

"Can you get me a list of people who were involved?"

He could detect the frown in her voice. "I don't know. Maybe. Is this about the case in Biloxi?"

Doggett hesitated, but after a moment, he nodded. "We think the Buchanans might have been part of it."

He could hear sounds of movement. "All right. Stay on the line and I'll fire up the computer and see what I can get you." More movement, both foreground and background, and the sound of a door opening and closing. He thought he knew what it was.

"Aw, shit, Shannon, I didn't mean to interrupt your hot date."

Shannon laughed. "No such luck, I'm afraid. I just knocked something with my foot, that's all. I'm turning on the computer. Jesus, this is taking forever to boot."

"I'm sorry for getting you up."

"It's not a problem. I only sleep from habit."

"You still don't need to, then?" he wondered, momentarily diverted.

Rustling sounds of hair as she shook her head. "No. Our biological capabilities are unchanged by the alien withdrawal."

He raised an eyebrow, causing Reyes to look at him with open curiosity. "That's not what you've been saying in public."

"What am I supposed to say, John?" she scoffed. "'We're people too, please be nice to us, and by the way, I can whack off your head with my bare hand'?"

Doggett had a memory of that night two years earlier in Baltimore and shuddered.

"Here we go. Project Delineate went through ten test subjects before they pulled the plug on it. Most died within six months - Amity, Drury, Graham, Harlen, Mackaness, Schuyler, Tubb, and Verity. Chesterwood and Prescott are missing. Are those the Buchanans?"

He nodded. Frowning. "We think so."

"You should get over there and sit on them, John. It looks to me like someone's been picking off the Delineate subjects. This case might have drawn attention to them. If you put the pieces together, someone else might have, as well."

He was already reaching for his clothes. "Will do. Thanks, Shannon."

"Don't mention it."

He rang off. Reyes was watching him.

"We've got to get over there, Monica. I'll explain on the way."

~x~

Martin Shaw was weeping.

"We thought - they were protesters - coming for me," he stammered. "The Buchanans told me to hide in the cellar."

Doggett paced, looking around the ruins of the Buchanan living room. Furniture was overturned, and the debris of scattered and broken bric-a-brac lay everywhere, but there was no sign of robbery. He would get the police department out to dust for prints, he supposed, but he doubted they would find anything.

"So you stayed in hiding?" Reyes wondered.

Shaw nodded. "They said it was better that way. But then - they took them - Melody and Ian and Isabel as well - I understand about the parents, but why take the girl? Why?"

The two exchanged glances.

Reyes said gently, "You knew, didn't you, Mr Shaw? You knew you weren't the test subject here. You were taking the fall for it so the Buchanans wouldn't be found out."

He looked up at them, from one to the other. "We look after our own at Everglade, Agent Reyes. I'd have been taken care of, one way or another. It's just how we do things."

"Shit," Doggett burst out in frustration. "It was stupid of you not to tell us. We could have helped them if we'd known."

Shaw stared at him. Tears forgotten. "How?" he demanded. "By putting them in the Federal Stockade to be killed at the next shift change? All you agencies are in one another's pockets, whether you like it or not. Even Holly's body is with the military, have you thought of that?"

Reyes looked at Doggett in alarm. "I'll call Scully. We'll put agents on the labs at Quantico."

"It won't help," said Shaw. "You people think you changed the world with what you did with all those hearings. Well, you didn't. You just made a little dent in the surface." He nodded at the window. "It's still the same old world out there. It's still midnight out there, and the wolves are still at the door."

Doggett gave the man what little he could. "I promise you, Mr Shaw, we're not giving up on the Buchanans."

"The Buchanans are gone," Shaw said, and he got to his feet, hugging himself, and he turned and walked away.

~x~

"We were too late," said Reyes, staring out the window.

Doggett rubbed his hair with his towel. "You heard back from Scully, then?"

She nodded. More morose than he'd ever seen her. "Holly's body, the blood samples, the slides - it's all gone." Tears spilled over her cheeks. "Oh, John, that little girl - I promised her mother we'd be gentle with her."

"Oh, Mon." He came up beside her and squeezed her shoulder, then drew her close. She bowed her head as the tears flowed faster.

Finally, she managed to get them under control. She drew back to look at him. "John, there's something else."

He stroked back her hair off her face. "What is it?"

"Scully got a look at the security tapes at Quantico. We've got an ID on the guy who took it all."

Doggett whistled. "Maybe we got lucky after all. Who was it?"

"Someone we thought was dead." Reyes was pale. "It was Knowle Rohrer."

~x~

Krycek knew he was there before he made himself known.

Part of it, of course, was the near-preternatural instincts that had kept him alive. But part of it was that he had expected it sooner. He suspected that he had chosen his morning routine with this very meeting in mind.

He was aware of the presence when he left the apartment they'd sublet from Reyes, and he was aware of it as he walked briskly in the silence of early morning. He was aware of it crossing the main road. It wasn't until he reached the children's playground that his shadow made himself known.

"You're looking well, Alex."

Krycek held up his hand, shielding his eyes from the glare of the rising sun. "Well, look who's back in the colonies. And here I thought you still were in the fatherland."

The well-manicured man before him spared a laugh. "You thought I was burning in hell," he said, with the tone of one indulging an infant.

"Oh, come now, I'll grant that a six-year tour of England's stately homes comes close, but it's nothing the odd ski trip can't fix. And while I think of it, tell Lady Hillary that her geraniums are looking very nice this year. Oh, wait, she's the one who hated you, isn't she?"

"If you've quite finished showing off your mastery of elementary surveillance, I have some information to share with you about the Buchanan case. I assume you're aware of the events overnight?"

Krycek sat down on the children's swing. "Scully told Mulder, Mulder told Jeffrey, Jeffrey told Diana and Diana told me. I plan on suggesting that Skinner take our reports through the grapevine for increased speed and efficiency."

"Alex..."

"Why are you here, old man? What's in it for you?"

The Brit paced a little. "I'm sure you're aware that the international community is less than pleased with Uncle Sam right now."

"I'll bet," he said. "So who are you working for these days? MI5? House of Lords?"

"I'm not at liberty to say."

"You're just the consultant, I suppose? Isn't that a bit of a come-down for you?"

The Brit sighed. "Truly, Alex, dealing with Fox Mulder is less exasperating."

"I'm wounded," he said in mock dismay. "All right, all right, I'll bite. What information do you have for me?"

"Agent Mulder's theory about Project Delineate was right, but he was only half-right."

Krycek worked not to visibly betray his interest. "Go on."

"The haemophilia gene was modified to be a dominant gene. Had the project continued, it would have formed part of the apocalypse. Every naturally-conceived child of human parents thereafter, whether purebred or crossbred, would have had the disease."

"For what purpose?"

"The purpose was twofold. Firstly, to prevent successful interbreeding, as Mulder posited. Secondly, to prevent the drones from breeding an army. If the alien race wanted more drones, they intended to clone them using the tissue samples taken from the population in the course of Bill Mulder's vaccine project. Uncontrolled human reproduction was considered both unnecessary and potentially dangerous to the alien race."

"But the project was aborted," Krycek said. "Why?"

"A change in leadership. A general with a haemophilic son. Simple human sentiment."

"That's one way of phrasing it. Ethics is another."

The Brit laughed - not the politely mocking laugh to which he was accustomed, but a genuine sound of amusement. "You've gotten sentimental in your old age, Alex."

"You wish." He held the old man with his gaze. "So the Buchanans were taken to cover it up?"

"To clean it up. The same general ordered the extermination of the test subjects to prevent the gene from entering the general population. The Buchanans and their surviving child were the only ones left."

He thought on this. "So Knowle Rohrer was acting under orders?"

"It's hard to say. The chain of command isn't as clear as it once was." It occurred to Krycek that this was perhaps the first time he had ever heard the Brit admit there was something that he simply didn't know.

"But...?" he trailed off. Waiting.

"But I can tell you, Agent Krycek, that he got his information from Shannon McMahon."

~x~

"I was wondering why you'd taken to walking near my house. It's a bit out of your way."

"Only by a few minutes." Krycek took a drink from his cup and set it down on the stoop. "I just really like your coffee."

Diana snorted laughter. "Bullshit. You knew he was going to approach one of us sooner or later. And I have to tell you, I appreciated the birds' eye view."

"Yeah, I thought you might. I figure he did, too. It's not the sort of thing he'd do by accident."

"No. It isn't." She looked out at the playground, thinking about it. "You have to tell them, Alex."

Krycek frowned. "You know, Diana, if this partnership is going to involve you telling me what to do all the time, you're gonna have to get in some stronger coffee."

"Very funny."

"It would be, except for the part where I'm not kidding."

"Alex..."

He said in exasperation, "Damn it, Diana, what would it solve? It makes no difference to the outcome of the case. It's not as though the information would convict someone, or clear someone. All it does is make me look even more suspect than I do now. What purpose does it serve?"

"That's not the point," she said, picking up his empty cup and resting it on her lap with hers. "We're a team."

"No. You and I are a team. Us and them are not a team."

"We were once."

"No, we weren't. I was just the stupid kid that the Consortium wanted as their patsy, but the Bureau got to me first. I was too young, too green, with no idea what I was getting myself into. I lost my arm, my wife lost years of her life, God knows if our baby will be all right, and they don't want me but they'll still use me if they can. Fuck that shit. At least the Consortium didn't pretend to be the good guys while they stabbed me in the back."

Diana sat back. "Wow. I really don't know what to say to that."

Neither did he. He didn't say anything.

"Alex," she said finally, "what was it that he said about Fox? He was right, but he was only half-right?"

He gave a grunt that might have been a yes.

"Well, you're right. You are. I know it, even if they don't. But you're only half-right. The other half is, you chose to come back. Okay, you don't want to be here and it's because you're worried about the baby and all the rest of it, but you chose it. Now, you can either do it properly or you can do it halfway. And the Alex Krycek I know never did anything halfway. That's why you survived, Alex - every side you were supposed to be on, you lived it. Completely. That's why they hate you, but it's also why you're still alive."

He sat there. Quiet. Morose. He gave no indication that he'd heard a word she said.

She sighed and took the cups inside.

When she came back, he was standing, looking out at the playground. He said, "I'm going home. Marita's waiting." He didn't meet her gaze.

She sighed again. "All right. Tell her I said hi."

"Will do." He got to his feet and walked down the steps to her garden. When he got there, he paused. "I'll tell them," he said abruptly. "But I'm not telling them who gave it to me. Good enough?"

It was something, she supposed.

"Good enough."

~x~

Doggett was pacing in front of his desk.

"We need a public health alert," he said. "We need to notify the CDC, and get out bulletins to the doctors and hospitals."

Scully pushed away from her stance by the wall. She shook her head. "I feel the same as you do, John, but we have no proof. They're not going to do that on our say-so."

"But what if it didn't end with Project Delineate?" said Reyes. She was sitting cross-legged on her desk like a schoolchild. "What if someone overrode this general, whoever he was, and started another one that he didn't know about?"

"I agree with Monica," Follmer said. "We should file a complete report."

"Stop thinking like an A.D.," snapped Jeffrey. "This could sink the Hybrid Protection Act, do you realise that?"

Follmer got up from his desk and stood over Jeffrey. This would have been more intimidating if he hadn't bumped Jeffrey's chair to do it. "A.D. Skinner said our job wasn't to debate the bill, it was to handle the fallout. You're not supposed to let the bill affect the decisions you make on the job."

"Look," said Krycek, "the situation has been handled. Maybe not how we'd have handled it, but it's handled. Those genes would have been a death sentence on the human race within a few generations. It's better that they're out of the gene pool."

"Never mind about the Buchanans," retorted Mulder, standing by Scully, in disgust.

Krycek turned on him. "I sympathise with the Buchanans. And their children. But those people were doomed the moment they signed up for Project Delineate."

"Oh, come on, Alex. Do you really think they had any idea what they were getting into?" countered Reyes.

Diana got to her feet. "Agent Scully is right. We have no proof. We can argue about it all we like, but the bottom line is, there's nothing we can do. However frustrating it may be, there is no decision to be made."

No one had an answer for that, and they sat there, looking at each other uneasily in the morning light.

~x~

"She was right, you know."

Brad looked up from his drink. "You think so?"

Skinner nodded, motioning to the bartender for a top-up. "It wouldn't have achieved anything. Especially with half the story coming from the FBI's Killer Agent. I couldn't have defended it even if it went anywhere. In this unit, sometimes you've just got to cut your losses."

Brad frowned in what could have been taken for disagreement, but he didn't argue the point. He said instead, "I'm worried about Agent Spender."

Skinner drank a little. "How so?"

He shrugged. "I don't know. I just think that if it comes to a choice between the legislation and the case, he's going to choose the legislation."

"I get the feeling that that's why Kersh wanted you two together to begin with."

Brad turned to face him fully. "So I could keep him in line?" he demanded.

Skinner could almost see him weighing it up in his head - the indignity of babysitting Spender on one hand, and the inference that he was a better agent in the other. He smirked. "Or so he could do it to you. One of the two." That should fuck with his mind a little, he thought. He was greatly amused.

He put his money on the bar, managed not to laugh at Brad's outraged expression, and turned and walked away.

~x~

Diana was pouring Marita's best red wine.

"Well, we're doing well," she said firmly. "Two days in the basement, and no one's come to blows."

Krycek made a noncommittal sound, but there was a smile on his face. Marita came over and dropped down on the couch at his side. He drew her into the crook of his arm.

"That's a start," said Jeffrey. "And if anyone's likely to kill a colleague in the first week, it's me."

Krycek laughed. "Hey, Jeff, maybe we could hybridise old Bradley. You'd like him then." Jeffrey mock-threw a cushion at him before lowering it again.

"At least he's by the book," Diana consoled him. "You won't have any trouble with him getting his reports in on time."

"Meanwhile," Krycek boasted, "I'm blessed with the most beautiful, most patient partner a guy could ask for." Marita narrowed her eyes in mock reproach. He cleared his throat, amending, "Within the Bureau."

Diana laughed. "You're only saying that because I'm the only one there who doesn't hate your guts."

Krycek shrugged. "Minor detail."

"I don't hate his guts," Jeffrey said mildly. "Anyone with such good wine can't be all bad."

"Actually, it's my wine," said Marita, looking at her orange juice in dismay. "And I can't have any. Why didn't we adopt?"

"I think it was that whole killer agent, bad publicity thing," Krycek said as an aside.

"Ah, yes," she said. "Let's not do that again."

Diana raised her glass. "To being a team."

Krycek did the same. "To keeping our weapons holstered."

Jeffrey chimed in, "To suffering fools gladly."

Marita clinked her glass with her husband's. "To the best damn group of outcasts the Bureau's ever seen."

They drank in companionable silence.

~x~

Doggett sat on the visitor lounge in their office, looking at the modular desks before him.

"What do you think?" Reyes wondered, looking at them from her vantage point against the wall.

"I think I liked it better when it was just us down here."

She spared him a smile. "At least we still have the same spots as before."

"True. I'll say this for Diana, she's pretty good at not pissing people off."

"Except for Scully," she said, grinning.

Doggett said generously, "Nobody's perfect."

She paced a little. Looking around. "You know, John, before the Work And Family policy came through - when we didn't really know if the whole partners-dating thing was okay and we didn't want to ask - I always kind of wanted to do it down here. The thrill of the forbidden, that kind of thing."

He raised an eyebrow. "What are you telling me, Monica? You want to fulfil a dream before the place is so overrun with people that we wouldn't have room to do it even if we wanted to?"

She laughed. "No. I was just thinking - this is where we fell in love. For a while, it was just ours."

"I don't know. I think I loved you even before that."

She turned to look at him. "Oh, John," she said. Clearly touched. She dropped down on the lounge beside him and kissed him, long and slow.

He stroked her arm. "You know," he murmured against her lips, "it isn't too late..."

She shook her head, resting her forehead against his. "We have somewhere else that's ours now." She smiled, and her smile was infectious. "Will you take me home, John?"

So he did.

~x~

"Everything all right?"

Scully nodded. "It's just going to take him a while to get used to the new surroundings." She took off her robe and draped it over the chair. "But he went off to sleep okay."

Mulder moved over, making room for her in bed. She snuggled in beside him, resting her head on his shoulder. "That's good. I was worried that he wouldn't be ours when we got him back, you know?"

She nodded. "I think it's going to be okay, Mulder."

"Yeah."

They were silent for a while. He ran his hand through her hair, twisting it idly between his fingers. He kissed her.

She waited. Presently, he spoke.

"I'm gonna quit, Scully. I've been thinking about this Buchanan case today, and how everyone had a hand in it, and I just don't think I fit any more."

Scully hesitated. Stroking his chest a little. Unsure whether to try to talk him out of it. She would have, in the old days, but back then it was all up to them. Now, though...if he wanted to finally be free of it all, shouldn't she let it happen? Wasn't it time?

A ghost of a memory drifted through her mind.

If we quit now, they win.

She didn't know if that was true any more. But it was the only thing she had to go on.

She sighed. "Mulder, we couldn't have solved that case without you. Sure, Doggett and Reyes and everyone worked out what happened to that little girl, but you were the one who figured out why. You were the one who saw the big picture and pulled out the reason that made it all make sense."

He shook his head. "Krycek got exactly the same thing, Scully. Hell, he even got more."

"But Krycek got it from his informants," she argued. "He got lucky. He might not be lucky next time. But you, Mulder - you got it from in here." She touched his forehead lightly with her finger for emphasis. "There is no one else on the team who could have done what you did. If you want to walk away, Mulder, you know I'll support you, but I'm telling you, we need you."

Mulder frowned. Tugged her closer and sighed into her hair.

"I'll stay," he said at last. "For now."

Scully drew back to look at him. "Really?"

He didn't look so sure about it, but he nodded. "Yeah."

She stroked his cheek. "I love you, Mulder."

"Me too, Scully."

She leaned up and gently kissed his lips.

END

This pilot an advance release to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the first airing of The X Files pilot (September 10, 1993). There will be a brief hiatus, and then regular episodes will commence in October. The first regular episode will be written by Maidenjedi, followed by Humbuggie, Lara Means, and Eodrakken Quicksilver. A more detailed schedule will be available soon at the XFVCU site, http://xfvcu.deslea.com

Many thanks to the XFVCU first wave team, especially Maidenjedi and Linzee. I couldn't have gotten us this far without you.


If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to Deslea R. Judd