Impossible

by Courtney Gray



"What if you slept?
And what if,
In your sleep
You dreamed?
And what if,
In your dream,
You went to heaven
And there plucked
A strange and beautiful flower?
And what if, when you awoke
You had that flower in your hand?"
  --Samuel Taylor Coleridge



Mulder was lost. The road he had taken should've led him into the center of the little town. Instead, he seemed miles away and going deeper into the woods by the second. He stopped the car and got out, vainly turning in all directions to get his bearings.

It was still dark, not quite dawn. He could hear a few birds chirping in the shadowy trees. It was a hilly area. He saw a path leading up a slope and began to walk, hoping for a better vantage point. The trees began to thin as he climbed upward. He started to hear water rushing. Dried twigs and leaves crunched under his shoes. He stumbled once over some loose rocks and pebbles.

He paused for a few moments, breathing in the crisp air in quick gulps. Even though it was chilly, he was sweating.

He had to find that town and get supplies. They were almost out. They needed to get on the road again since they were almost sure a Bounty Hunter had spotted them a few days ago. Scully was exhausted from their last near escape. He had to get back to her as soon as he possible.

His eyes felt gritty. He was so tired, so very tired. A sense of futility seeped right down into his bones. The running was pointless, he knew. Eventually, either the shapeshifters, or the super soldiers, or the Human collaborators would find them. And even if they managed to somehow evade all their pursuers, any true escape was impossible. They were only marking time. The clock was already ticking for every human being on Earth. In less than a decade, the Aliens would return in full force. And they were going to win. There was nothing in the world that could stop them.

Mulder thought about what he'd said to Scully when they first went on the run. He'd told her that maybe there was hope. They had been talking about what they believed in, about finding the truth. A tendril of hope was all they seemed to have left.

In the days, weeks, and many months since, Mulder watched that tendril shrivel up and die. He felt like there was nothing left inside him but pain. The worst part was looking into Scully's eyes and seeing the despair that had settled there. Giving away the baby she loved so desperately had left her... hollow. It was as if she was slowly fading away.

He tried to shake off his grim thoughts as he trudged up the winding path. Just as he approached the crest, he slipped over a root and stumbled forward, his hands flying out to break his fall. Something sharp cut into the edge of his right palm. Swearing, he scrambled to his feet. His palm throbbed. Carefully, he pulled out a little fragment of stone that had embedded itself in his skin. Blood seeped out from the cut and he pressed down on it, wincing. Watching his steps, he approached the top of the rise. The dawn was not far away and the sky was already lightening to a smoky grey across the horizon.

Rushing water made him look down. A wide stream wound its way like a dark, shiny snake between the sharp, jutting rocks along the valley at the base of the steep hill. He stared at it, listening to the sound of it. For a moment, he felt like stepping off the edge. Put an end to it. Stop the pain. It would be so easy. So easy. Finish it, a whisper from the past echoed. A cold breeze fanned his face and he shook himself, taking a step back. Something made him look to his right, towards a thicket of shrubs and bushes.

A young girl was sitting on an old tree stump near the shrubs. A dog sat beside her. Mulder almost jumped at the unexpected sight. He hadn't seen either of them as he'd approached, the tall shrubs obscuring his view.

The girl was looking out towards the coming dawn. She looked no more than ten or eleven years old.
She seemed oblivious to his presence. The dog turned his head towards Mulder but made no further move. Mulder thought the big dog looked like it could even be a wolf.

Approaching slowly, Mulder called out. "Hello? Are you all right?"

The girl turned slowly towards him, her head dipping slightly to the side. "Hello. Yes," she said.

"My name is Mulder," he replied, managing a tired smile. "You shouldn't be out here in the dark all alone."

"I'm Claire. I'm not alone." She scratched the big dog-wolf behind his ears and he leaned into her hand.

Mulder nodded. "It's pretty cold up here. Uh, isn't your family worried about you? It's easy to get lost in this kind of area."

"I'm not the one who's lost," she answered.

The sky was turning pink, the sun starting to rise over the distant hills. He could see her eyes clearly and couldn't stop himself from staring. Her eyes seemed to change color. It was probably a trick of the pre-dawn light, he supposed. He thought her eyes were a dark brown but then they seemed to turn to a grey blue color and then to a pale green. Her green eyes made him remember someone else for a moment, and he felt a heavy emotion twisting at his heart. He turned away and looked towards the sunrise.

"Where are you from?" he asked.

He heard her sigh. "Nearby."

Mulder had to look at her to see if she was pointing to something, but she wasn't. Her eyes looked brown again. They looked far too old for a little girl's eyes. In fact, they seemed... ancient. He mentally shook the thought away. "Do you know where the town is from here? I need to get there to buy some supplies."

"It's not far," she said, reaching out to stroke her dog-wolf on the head.

"Can you show me?"

"Is that what you're really looking for?"

He stared at her, unable to answer. Not knowing why he wasn't able to answer.

"That cut on your palm. It's going to leave a scar."

He raised his hand. It wasn't bleeding anymore, but he could see the little jagged circle left by the sharp stone. He was surprised that Claire could even notice it from where she was sitting. "It doesn't hurt," he told her.

She looked at him as if she was waiting.

He got the feeling not too unlike those moments when he'd come upon an X-File, a tingling sensation in the pit of his stomach. There was something very... eerie about the girl. And her dog, too, for that matter. It was more than the fact that she was out of place, sitting on a tree stump, in the cold, in the dark. "Who are you really?"

She gave him a little smile, gazing at him with timeless eyes. "I'm Claire. Who are you really, Mulder?"

The sun was rising, brilliant spikes of golden light spreading across the horizon, slowly painting the sky with bright streaks of crimson and violet.

Mulder turned towards it and felt the light on his face. He gasped at the sheer beauty of it. It'd been a long time since he'd actually looked at a sunrise. Suddenly, the anguish of knowing that it would all be lost, that humanity would be lost, overtook him and he bowed his head. It had all gone so terribly wrong. A sister taken away in the night, tearing a family apart forever. The wasted years of rage and anger and fruitless searching. Trusting no one. Not even Scully; not enough to let her find a meaningful life of her own. The sound of three gunshots echoing in an underground garage, finishing more than just one life. It shouldn't have happened. All the years leading up to that awful moment, to all the awful moments, shouldn't have happened. Skinner, Scully, Krycek, all the many players in the half-century long Alien Conspiracy, it all should have been different.

"You can change it."

Claire's voice made him look up. It didn't sound quite like a child's voice anymore. Eyes that seemed to hold the depth of millennia gazed back at him. He swallowed, not questioning why this supposed child seemed to be able to read his thoughts. And he was too tired to fight the despair. "It's impossible."

"Impossible was your life's work. You've looked for it and researched it and seen it many times when no one else could... or would."

Mulder thought about his X-Files, inexplicable and abstruse and wondrous. "That was different. This... this is too... big. I can't fight the future. I can't change the past. I can't change... everything. It's impossible."

She turned towards the vista of sky and hills and rising sun. "You've found the impossible in the infinitesimal crevices of the darkness and you believe that the end of your world, the end of all, lies there." A kind, wrenchingly tender smile grew over the little girl's face. //The impossible is so much greater. It is inside you, Mulder. It waits. It's always been there, waiting. Do you think there is no greater power, no greater energy than what lurks in the darkness? Be still. Look inside. Do not believe. Know it and it will be.//

Mulder frowned. She was not speaking to him yet he heard her words clearly in his head, like a vibration moving through his whole body, like a breath of purest air filling his lungs. It was the strangest sensation he'd ever experienced. "Who... what are you?"

"The impossible has been called by many names. Look inside and you will know." Her eyes held his and he saw... he saw the depth and breadth of the universe in them, framed in a light so clear, so brilliant, so endless, that he felt tears welling up in his eyes.

The warmth of the rising sun slowly enveloped him as he shut his eyes, tears trailing down his face. He became still, let the moment draw out as he met the silence. He didn't know how long he stood there, was unaware of time. He felt like everything was being stripped away from him, like he was dissolving. Then the moment came and he let go of his fear, let go of a past strewn with wrong choices and failure. Let go of a future filled only with darkness and hopelessness and death. He held on to the image of the light that still stretched across his inner vision, the light that moved beyond his body, beyond all boundaries, beyond time. It bathed him in a mingled sense of compassion and power that he could never have imagined.

Mulder gazed into his heart, his soul, and knew. He didn't need to believe. He knew.

In that instant, he felt himself falling, falling backwards through the air, through the sky, warmth brushing against his face, against his closed eyelids. Gently falling... drifting... floating. Floating in a million pieces bathed in light. And he wasn't afraid.

**

The first thing he became aware of was the faint beeping noise. His eyes were closed. He felt sluggish and heavy. The steady beeping sound came from his left side. Slowly he turned his head, groaning as he struggled to open his eyes.

He imagined another pair of eyes, eyes older than the stars, older than time, eyes that changed color with a deep, inner light. The image grew misty, faded.


The beeping seemed to get louder. He heard a voice, getting closer.

"Oh my god, get Dr. Doherty, get the nurse! He's moving, he's waking up!"

More sounds as he managed to open his eyes, wincing at the sharp light.

"Fox, Fox? Oh, son, that's it, look at me, Fox."

It sounded like his... mother. But his mother was dead. Was he dead? He tried to swallow, move his lips. His throat felt like dry tinder. Forcing himself to focus, he felt a warm hand patting his forehead, his hair, lightly stroking his cheek. He looked at the face that wavered slightly before him.

"Mom?"

"Yes, Fox. Yes. Oh, thank god." She had tears in her eyes.

He looked at her in confusion, picturing her grave, remembering her suicide. Yet, it seemed a little like a dream. She reached out and cupped his hand in a warm gentle touch. Her hair was more brown than the grey-white of recent years before her... death. "What?" His voice was hoarse, throat like sandpaper. He realized there was a tube running from his nose, a tube running from his arms, tubes and wires seemingly everywhere.

"Don't talk, Fox. The doctor should be here any second." She looked around, frowning at the half-opened door.

A nurse walked into the room, rushing towards him, her eyes checking the monitors near the bed. A moment later, a doctor came in. But Mulder's gaze was riveted to the third person who came into the room, hardly hearing the doctor's questions. "Sam?" he whispered, mouth hanging open in shock. Visions of a dozen different clones, adult Samanthas, rose in his mind. The image wavered in his consciousness, then seemed to fade like a vague nightmare. He blinked, tried to swallow. He tried to raise his other hand, trailing wires and tubes. "Sam?"

She was smiling, a big wide smile. "Hey, big brother," she said, maneuvering around the doctor and nurse to stand near the bed next to their mother. She reached down and clasped his wrist lightly, her hand soft and warm. "Easy. I knew you'd come out of this," she said. "I just knew you would."

He could see the sheen of tears in her eyes. "Is it really you?" he whispered. She looked at him, head tilting slightly, a little frown growing over her face, the confused expression he remembered so well on her little girl's face. But this was a grown up Samantha. The doctor and nurse began fussing with him, checking his readings, asking him questions, moving tubes and monitoring equipment and making him more comfortable.

At the doctor's request, his mother and Sam reluctantly left the room as they examined him.

"How... how did I get... here?" he asked, after Dr. Doherty had finished and the nurse had given him some water to ease his throat. He felt rusty and fragile and strangely displaced, as if he should be somewhere else. He could see a dark, rushing stream in his mind's eye and then a sunrise, a glorious sunrise, but it was growing fainter, hazy, yet the sense of its ethereal beauty remained.

"You don't remember the accident?"

Mulder frowned at the doctor's question. "Accident?"

"Yes, you were in a car accident seven days ago. You've been in a coma," replied Dr. Doherty.

He tried to think back. It all seemed... blank. He squeezed his eyes shut in frustration. He couldn't shake the peculiar sensation that he should be somewhere else. He could see another life, like a double exposure on a photograph or a shadow cast against the light. He could see it, like he knew his mother had died. Like he knew that Samantha had been abducted as a child. There were people and events that seemed very real in his mind. But everything else was blurry, indistinct. Beyond this strange double vision was a quiet yet growing conviction that he had experienced something... extraordinary, something that had literally transformed his world.

"Don't upset yourself, Mr. Mulder," the doctor told him. "Short term memory loss is not uncommon in cases of head trauma. You took quite a blow when your car ran off the road into that streambed. You're very fortunate that you didn't sustain any other serious injuries. Other than the head injury, you suffered only superficial cuts and bruises."

Mulder opened his eyes, took a long breath. His mother and Sam had come back into the room and were standing just behind the doctor. "Sam," he called, lifting his hand towards her.

Dr. Doherty stepped aside and let the women by. "Visit with your family. We'll need to do some scans and some further tests, but that can wait for a bit." He nodded and headed for the door, gesturing to the nurse to follow him.

Samantha gave him a worried smile and took his hand in both of hers. His mother reached down and stroked his hair. A million questions were forming in his mind.

"Here, Fox, do you want a little more water?" asked his mother, bringing the glass with a straw that the nurse had left on the table.

He nodded, sipped half of the water. It tasted wonderfully cool and soothing. It gave him a moment to pull his thoughts together. He couldn't just bombard them with questions. He was also a little afraid that this would all turn out to be some kind of dream or hallucination. If it was, he didn't want to wake up. An image of Scully's face rose in his mind, her eyes stark and hopeless. "Scully," he said aloud.

"Dana will be here as soon as she can, Fox."

He turned to meet his sister's gaze. "Scully?"

"Yes, I called her when I was out in the hall. She's finishing up a presentation at Quantico and then she's supposed to meet with Deputy Director Skinner, but she's sure he'll let her go once she tells him that you're out of the coma. He's been pretty worried about you, too."

The memory of an underground garage and Skinner's grim expression as he fired his gun for the third time flashed before his eyes. He gasped at the cold horror of it, suddenly chilled by the vision of his own blank face as he looked down at Krycek's dead body, at the line of blood oozing from the bullet hole in the middle of the man's forehead. "Oh, god... "

"What is it, son? What's the matter? Shall I get the doctor?"

His mother's strained voice cut through the nightmare image, bringing him back from that other shadowy world.

"N-no, Mom. It's okay. I'm all right, just shaky. I... I can't remember the accident, or anything about that time," he said, deciding to ask the sort of questions they might expect. "Can you tell me what happened? Where was I going?"

He listened as they explained, feeling more and more certain that he wasn't just experiencing some bizarre hallucination.

"The police report said it appears that your car was caught in a storm, lightning struck a tree and it fell across the roadway. You veered to get out of the way and your car went over an embankment down the side of a hill through a thicket of bushes and rocks and into a stream. You must've hit your head on impact and lost consciousness. Thank god there was someone not too far behind you. They saw your car going over the embankment and contacted the police." His mother shook her head. "Fox, I wish you had a normal kind of job instead of those X-Files of yours. You wouldn't be in this hospital now if you hadn't been out chasing whatever strange thing you were investigating—"

"Mom, c'mon, don't get on his case about it," cut in Samantha. She glanced at Mulder and gave him a wink. "You know it wouldn't do any good anyway. Fox is more stubborn than you are. Besides, he loves his weird old X-Files. And, anyway, he'd make a lousy accountant."

That brought a sigh and a smile to his mother's lips. "Yes, yes, of course. As long as you're all right now, that's all that matters," she conceded, bending down to kiss his forehead.

Her lips were warm, their touch comforting. He couldn't remember the last time she'd kissed him like that, or shown so much open... affection. Not since before Samantha was taken, his mind supplied. But his sister had never been abducted; she was standing right there, by his bed, teasing him and making their mother smile.

His sense of double vision returned as he once again recalled bits and pieces of a very different life. He examined their faces, drank in the soft emotion in their eyes. He had so many questions, so many questions he was afraid to ask, as if somehow any one of them might break a spell and jar him back into the desolate shadow reality that wavered in his mind.

He drew in a breath, taking the risk. "Where... where's... dad?"

The two women exchanged quick glances. His mother swallowed as she turned back to him. "Son, your father died over twenty years ago." She bit down on her lip, waiting for his reaction.

"How did he die?" he persisted, needing to know.

"Liver cancer. You... you don't remember?"

He shook his head, trying to shake the vision of his father lying in a pool of blood on a bathroom floor. Seeing the suddenly worried look on both their faces, he added. "I... I think my memory was affected by the... accident. The doctor said it wasn't unusual. I... I'm sure it'll all come back to me later. Don't... worry if I ask a lot of stupid questions right now, okay?" He tried to smile.

He told them he was getting hungry, even though he wasn't. That seemed to reassure them, gave them a healthy, normal reaction to focus on. "I'm going to find the nurse and see if they can get you something to eat. No more tubes for you," his mother announced firmly as she left the room like a woman on a mission.

His smile was genuine as he watched her leave.

"Well, you haven't forgotten how to distract her."

He met his sister's probing hazel eyes and, once again, marveled at her... solidity, the realness of her. "Samantha," he said, the word was a whisper, filled with wonder.

She shook her head, her thick brown hair moving across her shoulders in waves. "Big brother, you have been giving me some weird looks. Do I have a bugger hanging from my nose or what?"

He laughed, even though his throat still hurt. "I... I'm just so glad to see you." He cleared his throat and she handed him the water cup again. He drank the rest of it down, his eyes never leaving her face. "You've grown into a beauty, you know."

"Fox, you're acting... Spooky," she replied. "That concussion must've really scrambled your brains." But she returned his smile, patting him on the shoulder as she said it.

"It might turn out to be an improvement," he told her. He held out the empty cup. "How about a refill?"

**

Despite his mother's best efforts, they wouldn't give him anything but some apple juice and a cup of strawberry jello. Mulder reassured her that it was plenty. The doctor soon called a halt to their visit so that Mulder could take some tests, including a CT scan and an EEG.

"We'll see you when you're finished with the tests, son," his mother told him. "Dana should be here by then, too."

He swallowed nervously but it wasn't the tests that worried him. The last image he remembered of Scully's face was one he never wanted to see again.

The tests seemed to take forever. He was already beginning to get antsy before they even started, wanting to get up and walk around. Wanting to get up and walk out and explore whatever world this was he'd been thrust into. It was so different, yet it felt strangely familiar, too. It was too close to his dreams, to all those fantasies he'd indulged in and never hoped to realize; the ones that had eventually become too painful to even consider, not in that dark world that had enveloped him.

When they returned him to his room and settled him on the bed, the nurse told him that his mother, sister and his partner would be allowed to visit him for a few minutes, but then he would have to rest.

He practically counted off the seconds until they came back, watching intently as Scully entered the room. He didn't know what to expect.

It was her smile that jolted him. It seemed like he hadn't seen that smile in such a long time. It was joyous and sweet, and it matched the happiness in her big blue eyes.

"Mulder, damn, it's good to see you," she said, moving to his side and smiling down at him, her head tilted in that familiar way. He stared at her, returning her smile with one of his own. She looked like she did when they were first partnered. Her hair was shoulder length, full and more reddish-brown than red. No strain lines around her mouth, no shadows in her eyes. She was wearing the long thick wool coat that he remembered from years ago. It almost swamped her small frame, her bag hitched up over one shoulder.

"Hi, Scully." He was surprised his voice was steady. He didn't trust himself to say any more than that, just drank in the sight of her.

"Hello, Mulder," she answered, taking his hand. "I spoke with Dr. Doherty and he's very pleased with your recovery. He said your test results were all normal. A couple more days of observation, and you should be able to get out of here."

"What, two whole days!" he whined. Laughter filled the room and he glanced at his sister and mother and back at Scully. "I feel fine now. Better than fine."

"Yes, you certainly sound like your old self," she agreed with a nod.

"How are you doing, Scully?" he asked, his fingers squeezing her small hand.

One of her eyebrows lifted a fraction. "I've missed watching you deface the ceiling with your pencils and use the waste bin as a basketball hoop. You better not try and duck out on me and go chasing some anonymous tip all by yourself ever again, understand?"

"Then both of us would've been in that crash." He gave her his best innocent look.

She shook her head and sighed. "It's good to have you back, Mulder."

His mind painted an image of her sitting on a shabby twin bed in a shabby motel, knees drawn up to her chin, her face thin and haggard, her eyes haunted. A little blue swatch from a baby's blanket was gripped in her hand, pressed against her cheek. He blinked the image... the memory... away and focused on the Scully that stood before him. "You don't know how happy I am to be... here," he answered.

"Would you like some more apple juice, Fox?" his mother asked.

He nodded and allowed her to fuss over him as he lay back and indulged in looking at the three most important women in his life. He never thought he would ever see any of them again, certainly not like this.

It seemed... impossible. The word triggered a flashing image of a little girl's face, a girl with timeless eyes, a magnificent sun rising at her back. He gazed down at his hand, and focused on the scar on his palm. A jagged little circle. Mulder swallowed hard, feeling an incredible new sense of hope settling in his heart.

**

Despite his insistence and his complaints, his doctor kept him in the hospital for the entire two days and nights. He spent most of the time finding out as much about his new world as he could. He was careful with his questions, using his 'amnesia' to cover for any slips. He became more distinctly aware of the difference between an existence he used to have and the life he supposedly led in this... different world. He considered the notion that he'd been thrust into a parallel universe. He had studied the theories of parallel universes, parallel timelines, and that explanation just didn't seem to feel right. He'd also discarded the possibility of a psychotic delusional state, again not from any logical deduction but from a gut feeling, an instinctual... knowing that told him whatever it was that had happened to him, it was very real.

The day before his discharge, Walter Skinner came to visit him. Again, as with Scully, he was startled by the man's smile. His boss had never seemed particularly comfortable smiling, even on the infrequent occasions when he did so. At least, that was the Skinner one part of his mind remembered. As Mulder greeted him and watched the easy way that Skinner smiled and felt the genuine warmth that shone from the deep brown eyes, he also saw an image of another Skinner. That other man was very different; his face was weary and grim, with eyes that held nothing but a growing soul-deep pain, the weight of a dark self-judgment heavy on his shoulders. There was no trace of hope in that other man's face.

"Agent Scully tells me you're impatient to get out of here, Mulder," this very different Skinner told him.

Mulder swallowed, the flashing vision of a dark underground garage and the hollow sound of three gunshots almost cutting off his breath.

"Mulder?" Skinner's smile faded into a frown of concern.

It hurt. It hurt to remember it. But... it didn't happen, not... here. It never happened, a voice in the back of his mind told him. Yet, he could see it, feel it, that other nightmare reality. It was what could have been. Or what had been. Impossible, he thought, the word echoing through his mind in a not quite little girl's voice. He shifted against the pillow, drew in a deep breath. "I'm... I'm fine, sir," he said, with as much assurance as he could put into his voice.

"Perhaps I better call the nurse," said Skinner, glancing towards the door.

"No! No, really, sir. I'm fine. I just get these, uh, jumbled memories, popping up. The doctor said my... amnesia would cause some... confusion. I'm okay though. And, yes, I can hardly wait to get out of here and back to work," he added sincerely.

Skinner was shaking his head. "Agent Mulder, you are on medical leave for two weeks, per your physician's recommendation."

"But, I don't need—" He stopped as Skinner gave him a look that was almost pleasantly familiar, if it wasn't for the fact that it meant it was futile to try and argue the point any further. "Okay, two weeks," he said through a sigh.

"There were moments last week when we weren't sure you'd ever come out of that coma. It seemed like you were sinking deeper and deeper," Skinner told him. "You're a lucky man, Mulder. Agent Scully can manage the X-Files until you get back. Give yourself a little time to fully recover, enjoy the two weeks and be grateful you're all right, that you have your life back." Skinner reached out and patted his shoulder before glancing at his watch. "I better be going. I'm taking Sharon and the kids out to dinner tonight."

Mulder blinked as he digested that last bit of information. "Uh, how is your family, sir?"

Skinner shrugged his trench coat more comfortably around his wide shoulders. "Teenage twins are a challenge, Mulder. Both girls want tattoos. Jason wants us to adopt another puppy. As if two dogs weren't enough already. Naturally, Sharon thinks it's a great idea. That's why I'm taking them out to dinner. No tattoos, no third dog. I figure they might even listen to reason if we're all in a public restaurant."

Mulder chuckled. "Do you think you'll convince them?"

"I might win on the tattoos. With the new house, there's plenty of room for another dog." But Skinner's lips twitched upward in a smile. He looked... happy.

"Thanks for stopping by, sir," Mulder told him.

"I'm glad you're back with us, Agent Mulder. I know there have been times when you made me feel like tearing out what little hair I have left with your near reckless disregard for proper Bureau procedure." Skinner paused. "But, I admit I missed having you around. Despite your sometime... unconventional approach to your cases, you're a brilliant man and a damn fine agent. Welcome back, Mulder." He nodded to underscore his words and headed for the door.

Mulder lay back against his pillow and watched the door close behind his boss. He ran a hand through his hair. He felt a tremendous sense of relief and gratitude. And then the face of another man rose in his mind, but he quickly pushed it away.

**

"No, Mom, really, I'm fine. Yes, I'm getting plenty of rest. I'm going out for a run later this morning. Doctor said exercise was fine. Yes, I'll dress warm. No, you and Sam left me enough food to feed the Knicks for a month. They're a basketball team, Mom." He sighed. "Yes, I promise I'll call if I change my mind about staying with you." He shook his head with a grin. "Sam already called and I spent all day with her yesterday. Yes, Scully called, too. Okay, okay, Mom, yeah, go and get ready for that charity brunch of yours. Bye."

Mulder hung up the phone and scratched his chest through his t-shirt as he gazed around the living room. Even with the empty pizza boxes and the beer bottles littering the table, the room looked better than he ever remembered. The cream colored walls made the place seem larger and brighter. Sam's vase of fresh flowers and his Mom's sunset-colored afghan over the back of the leather sofa added more color to the room.

There was a large holly berry wreath trimmed with a deep red bow on one wall near the bookcase, another gift from Sam. "You've gotta have something in here to mark the season, Fox," she'd insisted. Then she'd started talking about Christmas and how she and Mom were planning on making it extra special this year now that he was well again. It was eerie for Mulder to suddenly picture in his mind a long tradition of family Christmas celebrations. In that dark world of his memory, the holidays held little to celebrate; he had, in fact, actively ignored them.

Sunshine filtered in through the windows, making the place look warm despite the winter weather outside, drawing him back to the present.

He turned around and headed back into the bedroom and paused in the doorway. His bedroom was clean and tidy. Even after four days of medical leave, he kept thinking he should sleep on the sofa but it seemed silly when the bed was so comfortable. One of Sam's paintings hung on the wall opposite the bed: an oil of a rolling field of soft yellow and gold flowers beneath a blue-violet sky. There was a tranquil and quiet feeling about it. Sam was a good artist. As a kid, he recalled how she was always drawing something, crayons stuffed in her pockets and a plain notebook under her arm. And now she was a successful graphic designer. His baby sister. Sam, all grown up. The fact of it still made his throat tighten with emotion.

He pulled on his running sweats and went back into the living room, pausing in front of the fish tank. Even the fish looked happy and a little overfed as they weaved through the little waving plants and the intricate rock formations of their watery home. He threw in a pinch more of food anyway.

Gathering up the pizza boxes and bottles and bringing them out to the trash, Mulder thought back to the previous night. The Lone Gunmen, sprawled around his living room, making snide comments about the sci-fi movies they'd brought over, joking with him and sharing their latest Conspiracy theory on the JFK assassination. All three men, very much alive. Not buried in Arlington graves as one part of his mind believed.

It had been a good night, good seeing his old trio of friends again. He smiled as he pulled out an issue of Celebrity Skin that had been wedged between the cushions of Frohike's chair. He straightened up the room a little and stared at the window near his desk. He could almost see the "X" taped to the glass even though he had the clear sense that he had never done such a thing.

It seemed his whole world, this remarkable, impossible world, was a gift. Scully would have called it a miracle. Mulder knew he'd been given a clean slate, a chance to start over. There was only one thing missing. One person. Mulder had tried not to think about him. Tried to convince himself he didn't want to know. But as the days passed, the dark and bitter visions surrounding that one man began to build like a storm in his mind.

Alex Krycek. Mulder walked to the door to go for his run and looked back at his apartment again. It was just the same, yet completely different. Maybe that was it. With all the others, from Scully to Skinner to the Gunmen, Mulder had some sense of a dual existence, of a past changed. Even with Sam and his Mom, as overjoyed as he was with seeing them because a part of him sensed he had lost them both, yet another part of his brain acknowledged that they had always been there, had always been a apart of his life. But with Krycek, there was nothing but those terrible 'memories'. There was no sense of the man in any other context. No sense of him at all. It seemed strange. Unfinished.

As he walked out of his building into the bracing winter morning, he realized he had to find Alex Krycek. He needed to place the last piece of his dark and somehow fading world into the light of this new one.

He hadn't mentioned Krycek's name to anyone. He'd asked the Gunmen about Spender, the Smoking Man of his dark visions. He was sure they must have researched the man at some point. Yet none of his three friends had ever heard of the man. Mulder's heart told him that Spender didn't exist here, just like the nightmare Alien Conspiracy didn't exist here. Yet, that backroom of his consciousness distinctly remembered a convoluted, deadly scenario that had been his reality. He'd given Frohike, Byers and Langly several other names that he recalled and asked them to check them through their sources. But he hadn't given them Alex Krycek's name.

The crisp winter air chilled his face as he ran. The trees were bare, the sky was a pale blue. The faint scent of wood smoke hung in the air. It was December but the world seemed extraordinarily fresh and new. Mulder's thoughts drifted back to Krycek. If Spender didn't exist, then maybe Krycek... He stopped short, his breath puffing out as he bent over and rested his hands on his thighs. The possibility that Alex Krycek only existed in a shrouded corner of his mind was somehow... unacceptable.

More than any other person in his life, he felt as if his relationship with Krycek could have been very different. Should have been different, yet as events unfolded, that had seemed... impossible. Suddenly, Mulder felt a sharp, painful twitch in his hand and he looked down at his palm. He stared at the small circular scar. Gently, he rubbed it with his fingertips.

He'd been given the impossible and he'd been allowed to remember it. He had to use that knowledge and not ignore it. It was his turn to set things right.

When he looked up, the world was blurry and he blinked his tears away. Slowly, he began walking back to his apartment. By the time he walked into 42 Hegel Place, he was deciding how to go about finding Alex Krycek.

He called Scully at the office.

"Mulder? Are you all right?" she asked.

"Uh, yeah, Scully. I was wondering if you were free for lunch. I know it's the last minute—"

"Oh, if you'd only called earlier, Mulder, but I, um, already have plans."

Mulder smirked. "Agent Doggett taking you out to lunch again?" He could almost see her blue eyes widening at the other end of the line.

"How did you know?"

He snickered. "I'm gooood. Actually, from the way you talked about him during our conversations, I get the feeling ol' square-jawed John is just your type."

"Mulder! We just enjoy having lunch together once in a while, if our schedules allow," she replied primly, but he thought he heard a smile in her voice. "Now, if you want to meet for lunch tomorrow?" she offered.

"Yeah, yeah, that'd be fine. Glad you can squeeze me into your busy social calendar," he teased.

"You're just going stir crazy, aren't you, Mulder?"

"Yeah, that, too." He paused, took a deep breath and said it. "Alex Krycek." And waited.

"What? Who's that, Mulder?"

He ignored the sinking feeling in his stomach. "Alex Krycek. Doesn't the name ring a bell, Scully?"

"No, should it? Who is he?"

Mulder chewed on his lip. "It's a name I... remembered after I woke up in the hospital. I have to find him. I was hoping you'd recognize his name."

"Maybe he had something to do with the case you were working on when you had the accident. Your short term memory of events during that period may not come back. That would be typical for trauma-related amnesia. I wish I could help you, Mulder, but you never told me where you were going that day or why. You just took off. That's a seriously bad habit that you are going to have to break."

Mulder ran a hand through his hair. "Dressing down received and noted, Scully. I... I'll do better in future."

"Did you want me to check your files here? I could run a Bureau inquiry."

"No, that's okay." He didn't want any official snooping going on unless he could do it himself. Though he was disappointed that Scully didn't know Krycek, he was also relieved. It meant that a big part of his nightmare world could not have happened here. "When I see you tomorrow—" He heard a phone ringing in the background. "Uh, go ahead and get that, Scully. I'll call you later about lunch."

"Well, okay, Mulder. I'll talk to you later then."

As she clicked off the line, Mulder had a feeling that it was the intrepid Agent Doggett calling, given the speed with which Scully ended their conversation. He felt a tiny pinch of jealousy that surprised him. Maybe he was a little too used to being the main man in his partner's life. He shook the thought away and decided to pay a call on the Gunmen. They were expecting him to stop by later anyway.

**

The Lone Gunmen's offices were still a bastion of high tech wizardry, but they didn't look quite the same. The differences were as fascinating as the distinctions he had found in his own apartment.

The Gunmen were still located in the warehouse district of town but instead of being in the center of a near rundown collection of old, abandoned buildings, they were now surrounded by a variety of artists' studios and collectives, as well as offices of entrepreneurial survivors of the dotcom bust and a variety of non-profit organizations. His friends lived in the midst of what seemed like a thriving, little Bohemian business district rather than the isolated, bunker-like hideaway of his memory.

He walked past a small gallery displaying folk art carvings and handmade quilts and stopped in front of a plain double door with a plastic holder in the middle of it containing the latest issue of Lone Gunmen. He pressed the doorbell and gazed up above the doorway until he spotted the small electronic eye. He smiled and winked at it. A few seconds later, the door opened.

"Hey, dude, c'mon in." Ringo Langly greeted him with an armful of multi-colored network cables. "We're setting up our tree."

Mulder followed him down a short corridor and into the spacious converted loft that served as both their offices and living space. Several computer tables crammed with equipment and flat panel monitors lined one side of the space. Cables snaked around table legs and chairs and crammed into and out of various routers and patch panels. Not too far away were a couple of comfortable sofas littered with more equipment, books and magazines. Beyond that, near the wall that divided office and living space from the bedrooms, stood a tall aluminum Christmas tree, nearly covered in garlands of network cables and little shiny CDs. A bright pink iPod crowned the top of the tree.

"That's a helluva an eyesore, Langly," Mulder told him.

"Hey, it's a reflection of our technologically dependent times, boyyo," snapped Frohike as he stepped out from the kitchen area, wearing a red apron with 'Kiss the Chef' printed on it. "Our tree makes a fitting statement, both celebratory and cautionary."

"And it doesn't shed and it's eternally reusable," noted Langly. "I think this one was made in 1964."

"A tumultuous year in our country's history," added Byers as he stepped in from the back rooms.

"Please stop there; I give up," said Mulder holding up his hands. He walked over to Frohike and threw an arm around him. "So, what's the little woman cooking today?"

Frohike pushed up his glasses and threw off Mulder's arm in one smooth movement. "Working on some beef stew, if you must know. Want some coffee?"

"Nah, I'm fine." Mulder glanced at the other two men. "So, guys, did you find anything on those names I gave you?"

"You only gave them to us last night, Mulder," returned Langly as he threw his remaining cables near the tree and headed towards the computers.

Mulder put on his hangdog expression.

"Actually, we ran the full checks this morning," admitted Byers. "There wasn't much to find."

All of them moved towards the bank of computers and Mulder leaned against the edge of a table as Langly pulled up a list on the screen. "You gave us five names. We could only find extensive info on one: Marita Covarrubias." A moment later, the picture of a pretty blond woman appeared on the screen. "She works for the U.N. as an interpreter, Russian to English. She's on maternity leave at the moment with her second child. Married to a tax lawyer named Darryl Hislop for the last five years. The have a three year old girl. They live in Hoboken. We can give you her whole life history, but it's pretty dull."

Mulder frowned. "And the other names: Gibson Praise, Duane Barry, Michael Kritschgau, Knowle Rohrer?"

"Knowle Rohrer was a CIA agent. Killed during a classified operation in Tunisia nine years ago. As for the others, there's no record that they ever existed."

Frohike shook his head. "We dug pretty deep, Mulder. If there was something to find, we would've found it. Are those names important?"

Mulder stood up and headed towards the silver tree. He stared at it for a moment before answering. "No, not anymore." He turned back and met each man's curious look. "There is one other name though. This one is important." He paused, biting down on his lip. "The name is Alex Krycek."

Langly swiveled around in his chair. Frohike took a step forward, his mouth opening. Byers put a hand to his mouth in surprise.

"How do you know Alex Krycek?" asked Frohike.

Mulder looked from one face to the other, taken aback by their reaction. "What do you mean, how do I know him? How do you know Alex Krycek?"

The three men exchanged speaking looks. Frohike nodded to Langly. The lanky blond stood up and walked over to Mulder. "Any first tier hacker has heard of A.K."

"Krycek is a... computer hacker?"

Frohike snorted. "That's like saying a great white shark is a fish. He was a programmer extraordinaire, an innovator, a maverick among mavericks. Pieces of his early code are still used as a foundation in dozens of open source initiatives, man. He was the coolest."

Mulder swallowed. "Was? Is... is he dead?"

"No, but he hasn't done anything since the game," replied Langly.

"The game?"

Byers turned on one of the computers and started tapping the keys. "That was his crowning achievement. He created this video game that blew us all away. It was so intricate, so... believable—"

"Yeah, and the Corporate Suits got wind of the buzz on it and approached him with a mega offer. They said they'd handle it properly, give it the kind of packaging and marketing that it deserved. He thought they'd do it right." Langly hung his head. "I guess he just wanted to believe." Mulder flinched but they didn't notice.

Frohike continued. "After he agreed to the deal, they turned around and said it needed some modifications. Given their target audience, it was too controversial, had too many political implications. Worse yet, they told him it was too... intellectual, too difficult. They insisted on changing it; give it better 'mass appeal.' " Frohike grimaced at the phrase. "They wanted bigger profits so they cut corners. They wound up gutting the life and brains out of it. A.K. couldn't stop them; he couldn't do anything about it once he'd signed on the dotted line."

"What happened?" asked Mulder as he stepped up behind Byers and looked at the monitor.

"It made a fair amount of money. It wasn't the hit it could've been by a long way, but it's still in production and I guess A.K.'s still getting a tiny slice of the profits, but it's not his game. It's not anything like his game. Doesn't even have the same name." Byers clicked on a file and the screen slowly faded to black, then glowing green letters began to coalesce like smoke condensing. "This was his game."

Mulder let out a gasp as the title appeared. Alien Conspiracy.

"Yeah, the deepest, darkest game ever, dude," said Langly as he came up beside Mulder. "Combines some heavy government conspiracy theory with a damned complicated plot about an Alien takeover of the planet with the help of a human Syndicate. Multi-layered, complex, lots of twists and turns. Beautifully programmed. Definitely not any kind of kid's game, but beautiful. Not like the pitiful, shoot 'em up bastardization that hit the malls of America."

"How did you get this? Did... he give it to you?"

"It's his final beta version. He leaked it after they shafted him. Impossible to find a copy now. The Suits put out an injunction. Lots of heavy legal threats all over. Really got ugly. A.K. dropped out of sight after that. We got this copy from The Thinker."

"Who?"

"Our comrade, Kenny Soona," replied Frohike.

"He's a database genius. Helps us out once in a while. We've contacted him when you needed some specialized db analyses, Mulder," added Byers. "He's very trustworthy, loyal to his friends."

"Yeah, very simpatico with conspiracy theory, too," piped in Frohike. "Also a top notch programmer. He hung out with A.K. in the early days before he went reclusive."

Mulder drew in a deep breath. "Can you show me this game?"

The trio exchanged a round of bemused looks. "Uh, sure, Mulder, but this is not your usual cup of tea, ya know," answered Frohike. "I mean there are no monsters, no paranormal stuff."

When Mulder gave him an astonished look, Langly interrupted. "Hey, like you've never been shy about telling us that you couldn't care less about, and I quote, 'that crazy extraterrestrial crappola propounded by a bunch of nutcases and crackpots,' end quote, so you can see why we're a little surprised here, Mulder."

"Yes, I think we all expected you to have lost interest the minute you saw the title of the game, didn't we guys?" asked Byers, as the other two Gunmen nodded in agreement.

"I don't believe in the existence of extraterrestrial lifeforms?" asked Mulder in a stunned whisper, more to himself than to the other three men.

"Gee, dude, that must've been one helluva life-changing knock on the head you got in that accident."

Mulder glanced at Langly. "Yeah, yeah it was. There are definitely more extreme possibilities out there then there were before." He gave their worried faces a reassuring smile. "Hey, I've broadened my horizons. Nothing wrong with that, right? Now, I'd really like to see what Alien Conspiracy is all about."

Shrugging, the three men returned their attention to the monitor and let the game begin.

**

The hours sped by and Mulder didn't even notice that he spent all of the afternoon and most of the evening in front of the computer until Langly began pointedly complaining that he was starving to death. Reluctantly, Mulder tore himself away from Krycek's video game and turned a dazed expression on his three friends. "I have to find Alex Krycek. You have to help me."

They looked at him with a mixture of concern and a little suspicion. He got up, rubbed a hand over the back of his neck, feeling the tension there. "It's really important, guys. I... I know him from... well, it's too difficult to explain, but I need to see him, talk to him. This game of his, it's a lot more than that to me. I understand it. I really do. You have to locate him for me."

"It's not that we don't want to help you, Mulder," replied Byers. "But this isn't your average kind of request. A.K. is something of a legend in our circles. He's also a very private man. Not at all easy to contact. Seems he never stays in any one place for long." Byers sighed, glancing at Frohike.

"We've got to know why you want to find him, Mulder," said Frohike bluntly. "You may be our pal, but you're still with the Man. You're a Fibbie and we've heard rumors that A.K. had some... problems with either the NSA or FBI when he was just getting into his programming stride. They tried to recruit him and something happened. He probably turned them down and that put him on the outs."

Mulder went over to Frohike and grabbed him by the shoulders. "This is personal, very personal. This is for me. Damn it, Melvin, it has nothing to do with the Bureau. You know I wouldn't use any of you like that. Please help me."

Frohike stared at him for a moment, and then nodded. "Okay, man. We'll see what we can do, but if we can even locate him in the first place and if he doesn't want to talk to you, we want your promise that you'll respect his wishes and leave him alone."

Mulder stepped back, his eyes on the floor. He wasn't sure he could make that promise.

"Well, Mulder?"

He looked up. "I'll... try."

Langly shook his head. "You are one of the weirdest guys around, amigo."

Mulder dredged up a smile. "Yeah, well, what else is new. Look, I'll try and respect his wishes. I just want a chance to talk to him." He didn't know how to explain that he saw his nightmares comes alive in Krycek's game. His dark visions had been uncannily recreated; everything from the nameless chain-smoking arch villain to shape-shifting pursuers to the secretive group of wealthy old men who collaborated with an Alien species intent on taking over the Earth. Many details were different, but the central storyline was almost identical to a world Mulder was sure he'd miraculously escaped.

"It's getting late. Go home, Mulder. We'll call you when we have the info." Byers patted him gently on the back and steered him towards their door.

Mulder figured that whatever was showing on his face must've convinced them that he didn't mean Krycek any harm. That held a certain irony for him. He wasn't sure quite how he would feel facing Krycek again, but he wanted to find out. And he needed to find out how and why Krycek seemed to be so familiar with a reality that only lived now in Mulder's mind.

When he got back to his apartment it was almost eleven o'clock and there were two messages on his voicemail from Scully. He groaned as he remembered he was supposed to call her about lunch the next day. Her second message simply said, "Call me when you get this." Her tone of voice meant business. After a quick glance at his watch, he decided it was better to risk waking her than not call and hear about it later.

"Hey, Scully, hope I didn't wake you."

"Are you all right, Mulder?"

"Uh, yeah, I'm sorry I forgot to call you earlier but I was at the Gunmen's. I got caught up in a video game they had and lost track of the time."

The brief but pointed silence that followed had him biting his lip until it was broken by her sigh. "Well, at least you returned my call. Remember you're on medical leave. I was starting to worry when I didn't hear from you."

"Yeah, I... I—"

"Don't bother with the apology, Mulder, it's okay. So, do you want to meet for lunch?"

"About that, Scully. Is it okay if I meet you later in the week? Something's sort of come up and I may not be free for lunch tomorrow."

"Mulder, you're not working up a case or anything, are you? You're supposed to be taking it easy."

"I'm not working, Scully, honest. I was just trying to get in touch with an old... friend, that's all. I wanted to get together with him and just shoot the breeze, talk over old times. All very restful. No stress, no strain."

She harrumphed in time-honored fashion but didn't push the issue. He cracked a couple of bad jokes and made her chuckle a little before they ended the call.

Mulder didn't sleep much that night. He tossed and turned, recalling Krycek's chilling video game. A game. Mulder's dark dream life, his unrealized life, his what-once-was-his-life. In a game. What did it mean? How could Alex Krycek have imagined it?

Krycek. All Mulder could picture was the man lying dead on a cold, concrete floor and himself calmly walking away. It had seemed unreal... wrong, even in his memory of it.

By the time the sun rose, Mulder was showered, dressed and drinking his second cup of coffee. He spent the early morning at his computer, hunting and pecking for information on Krycek and his game. There was little more than a mention of the man as one of the developers of the first edition. The game itself, now in its second edition, received fair to poor reviews. From the description, Mulder doubted there would be a third. It had literally nothing left of Krycek's original concept.

Feeling frustrated and impatient, he called the Gunmen a little before noon.

"Mulder, we said we'd call you," Frohike told him.

"I'm anxious."

"Gee, who would've guessed? Listen, pal, I know you've got a burr up your ass about seeing A.K., but you're not gonna get what you want by bugging us. I promise, Mulder, we'll call you back in a little while, okay?"

"Frohike, I couldn't find any info on him on the 'Net."

"Yeah, so? He's not the lead singer in a boy band, Mulder. He always kept a low profile, never liked any limelight, even in Programming Land where he was known. He didn't mix, you know? Just leave it to us. Now, go and irritate your family or the delectable Ms. Scully."

"Call me as soon as you can, Frohike."

"Understood. Bye."

He put the phone down with a sigh. He was really piss poor at waiting. That was one thing that definitely had not changed.

It wasn't until late that afternoon when he heard from Frohike again. The Gunman made it clear that they still had reservations about giving him Krycek's location.

"We talked to The Thinker. He said that he hadn't seen or talked to A.K. in over two years, but the last time they saw each other, A.K. was a very disillusioned man. Like real troubled, you know? He hadn't done any programming in a while. Alien Conspiracy had been his obsession for a long time and Kenny said that he was still grappling with it mentally."

"What do you mean?" Mulder asked.

Frohike hemmed for a few seconds. "Kenny said A.K. was, well, a little crazy. He said it sounded like A.K. couldn't shake the ideas out of his head. He just wanted to be left alone and he didn't particularly trust anyone anymore, see?"

"You may not believe me, Frohike, but I do see. I'll be careful with him. You have my word."

Finally, his friend gave him Alex Krycek's address. Surprisingly, he was living in an apartment in Baltimore, barely an hour's drive away from D.C. "Thanks, Frohike."

"You're lucky that A.K. seems to have settled in one place for a while. Seemed like he was living all over the country. If he was shifting from one location to another like he was, we probably wouldn't have found him. He could have wiped out his trail any time, dropped off the map altogether. Maybe he's finally coming back from the ether. Just don't make us sorry we gave this to you, Mulder."

"I won't," replied Mulder, very much hoping the same thing himself.

*

With Krycek so close, he couldn't wait another day. He didn't have a car; the Bureau car he'd been using had been wrecked in the accident. He decided to go out and rent one.

It was around 8pm when he drove into Baltimore, and not long after that when he arrived at Krycek's address. It seemed like a quiet neighborhood made up of a mixture of brick row houses, wood frame homes and an occasional apartment house, interspersed with small businesses and shops.

Mulder parked nearby and walked down the street, finally stopping in front of the Sunrise Bakery. Checking the address, he realized that Krycek's apartment was on the second floor. The bakery was closed, the wide windows empty except for some scattered cake stands and a model of a fancy, three-tiered wedding cake in one corner. Twinkling Christmas lights were strung around the window like a frame. The name of the bakery curved in yellow letters across the top of the glass. Krycek's arched doorway was to one side of the bakery window. There was no nameplate anywhere, just a mail slot with the street address. Stepping back and glancing up, Mulder could see a pale light in the two front windows. The curtains were drawn.

He had no idea what he was going to say as he stepped up and rang the bell. The door had a little peephole in the center. There was a light fixture above him, illuminating the little arched entryway. The building was a dove grey color with white trim and looked like it had been recently painted. He stared at the peephole as a minute and then another went by. He rang the bell again, and kept his finger on the buzzer a little longer. For a moment he thought he heard something, like a footfall on a squeaky board, but then there was nothing but silence and the sound of the wind and an occasional car driving by.

He suddenly felt as if he was being watched. He kept his eyes on the peephole. "Alex, please open the door. I just want to talk to you," he said aloud. He waited, rang the bell again. It seemed as if several minutes went by. He still sensed that he was being observed. "Do... do you remember me, Alex? I remember you. I remember you from an entirely different life, a different world."

He didn't know if he just sounded insane. He was standing there, talking what sounded like gibberish to a closed door. Another five minutes ticked by. The night air was now biting cold and he was shivering. When he dashed out of the house, he hadn't thought to bring a thick coat; he stood there in his jeans and flannel shirt, hands tucked into his pockets. The wind was brushing against his back. "It's freezing out here. I just want to talk to you. The Lone Gunmen gave me your address. I'm a friend of theirs. I... I need to talk to you. Please, Alex, open the door."

It seemed strangely appropriate to call Krycek by his first name. Mulder stamped his feet, the cold creeping up his toes and wrapping around his feet. He hunched his head but kept his eyes on the peephole.
Then he heard the sound of a lock being turned and swallowed hard as the doorknob turned and the door slowly opened just far enough for Mulder to see the man standing there.

"Who are you and what do you want?"

The sound of that husky voice sent a different kind of shiver through Mulder. The door was open about five inches. Mulder looked into the face that haunted so many of his dreams. "My name is Fox Mulder." He searched the wary green eyes for some tiny spark of recognition.

"I don't know you. What do you want?"

At least he hadn't slammed the door in Mulder's face. That was something. A gust of wind whipped against Mulder's back, ruffling his hair, stinging his neck. There was a lost quality about Krycek's expression, a kind of resigned despair. Mulder saw shadows within shadows in his face. He couldn't stop the words that seemed to flow from his lips. "You've dreamed of being locked in a deep, dark place, screaming for help; no one hears you. You've imagined something alien, slick and black, moving inside you, covering your eyes, taking your mind. Your arm," Mulder paused, took a breath. "You've imagined the pain, having it cut away—"

He watched those green eyes widen in shock and alarm. "H-how? No one knows that—"

"I know, Alex. That wasn't in your game, but I know it happened. Not here. Not in this existence, but it happened. It happened to you. Please let me in, Alex."

Krycek looked stunned, stepping back heavily from the door. Mulder didn't hesitate, slipping past him before the other man could change his mind. He headed up the wooden stairs quickly. One of the steps creaked. He glanced over his shoulder. Alex was just staring up at him, his hand still on the half-open door. "Close the door, Alex," he said. "I'll explain as much as I can. C'mon."

The apartment with its high ceilings and airy layout would've been attractive if it hadn't been for all the clutter. Even with the large, built-in bookcase along one wall of the living room, more books, magazines and paper seemed to be piled everywhere. There were two laptops, a desktop and various hubs and routers on what looked like the dining room table. A large laserprinter and scanner took up most of another table in the corner. There was a blanket thrown over the back of a comfortable looking couch, one corner of which also held some bed pillows and more newspapers and printouts that seemed to spill out onto a wide, rough hewn coffee table. A plate with an uneaten, stale-looking sandwich and an empty mug was also on the table, along with a small, half-eaten bag of shelled sunflower seeds. Mulder stared at that for a moment before letting his gaze move on to a fancy flat panel screen that hung on the opposite wall with shelves full of audio and video equipment below it. He could see a kitchen beyond the dining area and a short hallway that had to lead to the bedroom and bathroom.

The books and magazines, the papers and leaflets, they were almost all about the same subject: investigations on extraterrestrial life, UFOs, alien abductions, SETI studies, Area 51, Roswell, government cover-ups. Many of the titles were all too familiar to Mulder. He'd collected the same materials himself. Perhaps the most bizarre difference of all in this changed life of his was learning from the Gunmen that he seemingly disdained the subject of extraterrestrial contact.

"How did you know those things?" Krycek's voice held a tremor. His eyes looked wild. "How do you know me?"

Mulder felt a rush of anxiety as he met those eyes.., There was no way of answering the questions that wouldn't make him sound like a lunatic, but somehow, Mulder felt, beyond logic, that if there was anyone in this world who would believe him, it was the tormented man before him. "I'm going to tell you the truth, Alex."

So Mulder told him. As he spoke, the memories, all the dark visions, became clearer, more real and detailed in his consciousness. At some point, they found themselves sitting on the floor, books and papers scattered around them.

He recalled their partnership, the tendrils of the Conspiracy that wrapped around them both, and the Project that was protected by a syndicate of powerful old men for over half a century. He spoke about his search for his sister and his father's murder. He told him about Scully's abduction and the special child she carried.

It was more difficult than Mulder had expected to talk about his intense feelings towards the Alex Krycek of that clandestine world. It was difficult to look into this man's all-too-familiar eyes and speak of the treachery and betrayals that Krycek had committed. Krycek had been his enemy. Yet, now, Mulder felt a peculiar twinge of shame, a sense that all his hatred had been a waste, a destructive force that had led him nowhere.

When he told Alex how he saw him die in that underground garage, he almost faltered, struck again by the extent of his callous detachment. To have felt so bitterly about Krycek for all those years and then to witness his death and feel nothing at all, it seemed terribly contradictory.

And then, finally, Mulder told him about the moment in that doomed world when he had given up all hope, that moment when he had come upon a strange little girl on a hilltop just before the dawn. He tried to describe how he'd felt in that instant when he knew the impossible was taking place, when he felt himself falling and falling... into a new world and a second chance. How shocked and mystified he'd been when he woke up in the hospital to a fresh, new beginning, to a life he'd never thought he could have.

Mulder talked until his throat was raw. Alex didn't say a word, but he listened. He only moved when Mulder described Krycek's death, at which point Alex raised his fingertips to his forehead and touched the exact spot of that final bullet.

Drained, Mulder stopped talking and waited for Krycek's reaction. He watched as Alex slowly rubbed his hands repeatedly over his face. His dark hair was longer than Mulder remembered. It was unkempt and ragged, as if he hadn't bothered with a haircut in months. His beard shadow looked like he hadn't shaved in a couple of days.

Mulder's visions recalled a very different looking man, one who had changed from a seemingly naïve and eager, baby-faced agent into a cunning and ruthless assassin, but always with an aura of self-containment and self-control. The man before him seemed to be teetering on the edge, the emotional strain showing clearly in his eyes and expression, in every movement he made.

"I see them in my head, like memories, but I know they couldn't be. Faces without names. Places and events almost exactly like what you described. They just keep playing over and over in my mind. I was sure I was going insane. Maybe... maybe I already have." The husky voice sounded flat, defeated.

Mulder could suddenly see himself in this Krycek, as if, on some level, they had exchanged places. In the course of a life that had led him on a fruitless search and a losing battle against forces he couldn't stop or control, there had been many moments when Mulder felt himself close to madness. Even with Scully's support, he often felt alone in his belief in extreme possibilities. "I'm not making any of this up, Alex. I know how outlandish it sounds and I have no way of proving it to you other than the memories, the nightmares that we both share.

"I don't understand." Alex stood up and began pacing back and forth, fingers clenching, his whole body tense as a coiled spring. "Am I supposed to believe that you just... wished this reality into being? Are all the nightmares, all these damn thoughts that fill my mind night and day, things that have actually happened?" He stopped and threw back his head, eyes searching the ceiling for a moment before closing. "God, I'm so damned tired. I can't think anymore. Maybe you're only a figment of my imagination. You're not real. Not real."

A sudden sense of urgency swept over Mulder as he got to his feet and quickly walked over to stand in front of the other man. Reaching out he drew his arms around Alex and pulled him against his chest. Green eyes flew open as Krycek gasped in surprise.

"I'm as solid and real as you are, Alex. You're not crazy."

Maybe it was the sheen of tears in the green eyes or the naked anguish he saw within them. Maybe it was, at long last, the full realization and acknowledgement of the undeniable bond that destiny had formed between them. Mulder knew he'd always had a complex, emotional response towards Alex Krycek. In another life, he'd called it hatred. It had seemed easier; in that life, anything else would have been... impossible. Mulder brought one hand up and placed it near the beard-stubbled cheek. Pulling his hand back for a moment, he glanced at the little circular scar on his palm. A tear slipped slowly down Alex's face. Mulder touched the cool cheek and felt the bead of moisture against his fingers. Alex didn't move except for the tears that continued to fall silently.

Gently, Mulder pulled them closer and kissed Alex on the mouth. His lips were warm, wet and salty from his tears. The contact was like a spark igniting between them. Mulder felt it burning through his whole body. He kissed him again and felt the response as Alex returned the pressure, their kiss deepening. This is the way it was meant to be. The thought settled in Mulder's mind like a certainty, like a healing truth.

They pulled away slowly, eyes opening to each other, gazes searching, discovering, acknowledging.

"I feel like I... know you. Like I've known you for a long time. Like I've... wanted you for a long time,"
said Alex, voice breathy. He shook his head, confusion and need rising in his voice. "I don't understand, but if... if you're not... real, then I don't want to be sane."

Mulder let out a breath, more than a little surprised himself by the depth of his physical attraction to this man. "I'm real, Alex. When everything... changed and I woke up in that hospital, I started remembering bits and pieces of that other life. Even then, I tried to block you out, but I couldn't. I had to find you. Something was driving me. The thought that you might not exist or that you were dead... here, was not something I wanted to face. I've spent my whole life investigating the improbable, the unexplainable." He placed his hand over Alex's heart. "But now I'm sure that nothing's impossible. Maybe, maybe the impossible happens all the time, but we just don't remember. We're given the gift of a new start, maybe a thousand new starts, but we don't realize it.

"Carl Jung talked about the experience of déjà vu as a product of the collective unconscious. Maybe it's just the fragments, the little echoes of what remains deep in our minds after the impossible happens."

Shrugging, Mulder continued. "I don't know why I still remember that other reality so clearly. Or why you've been tormented by a past that doesn't exist anymore. Maybe it's because we wouldn't have come together like this any other way. I think we were always meant to be together. I feel it. I can finally let myself feel it." Mulder watched a little frown line crinkling above Alex's nose. He'd thrown a lot at him all at once and he was just glad that Alex was still willing to listen. "When do they open the bakery downstairs?" he asked.

Green eyes blinked owlishly at the non sequitur. "Uh, seven, I think."

"They must start baking even earlier, right?"

Alex nodded. "The bread, I can smell it. Sometimes it fills the whole apartment. It smells wonderful."

"Do you know the people who run the place?"

Still frowning, Alex nodded again.

"Fine. Then in the morning, we'll go down there and you can introduce me to them and we'll all have a nice little conversation. We'll buy some rolls or fresh bread for breakfast. Unless you think all of those people are crazy, too, that should prove I'm no figment of your imagination."

"In the morning?" repeated Alex, caught by the one phrase, a tentative hope growing in his eyes.

Mulder couldn't help but smile. "Well, uh, I thought I could spend the night. It's getting pretty late and it's awfully cold out there and, well. Aw hell. You do have a bedroom, don't you? Please say you have something larger than a twin bed." He slipped his arms around Alex's waist.

Alex chewed at his lip for a moment. "I don't sleep very well. I've had insomnia for years. I usually just crash on the couch. But, uh, yeah, I've got a double bed."

Mulder drew in a breath, wondering at the peculiar little angles in which this Krycek's life seemed to overlap and mirror his own. "Good." He moved closer, until their bodies brushed, pleased when Alex put his arms around him, too. "We can talk." He grinned. "Maybe we can do more than that?" Even as he asked the question, he was amazed at how much he wanted it. It felt as if his soul had finally been set free. And his body craved the man in his arms, a deep hunger unleashed.

For the first time, he saw Alex smile. It was a little smile, but it changed his face, lit it up. When it faded, Mulder asked worriedly. "What is it? Don't you want... " He didn't know how to finish the question. He had no right to make assumptions about this man, even less to make demands.

"They're not here? The Aliens. The old men. They're really... gone? I've searched and searched, trying to find some evidence, some way to prove, but there's nothing. I thought I could stop the images and thoughts playing over and over in my head when I wrote the video game, but it only got worse."

Mulder relaxed. "There's nothing to find. They don't exist here. I'm sorry that you've suffered so much, Alex, I truly am, but you have to believe this, if nothing else: you're free. None of that will ever happen. Maybe now, those visions in your head will fade because you know they're not real. Not anymore. They'll fade because we're together."

The small smile returned. "I... I want to believe you. I want to believe in this." With a lift of his chin, Alex leaned forward and brought their lips together.

**

The bedroom wasn't quite as cluttered as the rest of the place, but they still had to clear another small pile of books and papers off the bed. And Mulder had to explain why the poster of the UFO above the bed made him stop and stare. All it lacked were the words; otherwise it could have been an exact copy of the one that had hung on his basement office wall.

"Do you want me to take it down?" Alex asked him.

"No, it doesn't really matter. It's only a poster, isn't it?"

Alex gazed at it thoughtfully. "It gave me a chill the first time I saw it. It felt... true. I had to have it. Funny, but yeah, it just looks like an ordinary old poster now."

They changed the sheets, Alex on one side of the bed and Mulder on the other. Then they stood there a little awkwardly, not knowing quite what to do. Mulder wanted to jump over the bed, grab Alex and tear his clothes off, tumble him into the bed and map every inch of his naked body with his tongue and his hands. His cock twitched as he drew in a shaky breath. He needed to let Alex make the first move. Even if it meant his balls would turn blue, he had to restrain himself. Then he noticed the growing bulge in Alex's faded blue jeans and the fact that they were both leaning forward slightly, fingers flexing, like two over-eager racehorses at the starting gate. Their eyes met and they both burst out laughing.

In the next instant, they were on the bed, pulling off their clothes and throwing them on the floor even as they kissed. Alex was making soft moaning sounds. When their bodies touched and, at last, they were skin to skin, Mulder was moaning, too. Their cocks were hard.

"I've never wanted anyone like this before," murmured Alex breathlessly. "You feel so... real."

Mulder pushed Alex onto his back and straddled him, bending down to lick at a nipple before biting it with just enough pressure to make Alex gasp. "Does that feel real enough?" He kissed a line up to his neck, pushing back the thick, dark hair and bit into the tender juncture of neck and shoulder, hard enough to leave a mark. "Maybe that'll convince you," he said. Then he reached down and wrapped his hand around their erections, pressing them together. "Or this." He stretched out over Alex, aligning their bodies, grinding and rubbing their cocks together in a steadily quickening pace. It felt like an exquisite kind of flash fire scorching through his body, his blood, his pores. It didn't take long.

They held each other tight as they came.

When his senses calmed and he could think again, Mulder shifted to one side, keeping their bodies close. He nestled his head against Alex's dark hair.

"Fox?"

It was a husky, breathy sound. His name never sounded so good. He raised his head and looked into wide, green eyes. "Yes, Alex?"

"You're not going to leave, are you?"

"Only if you throw me out and even then I'll put up a helluva fight." Mulder nibbled on a warm earlobe, smiled and licked his cheek. "Your beard shadow leaves a nice, little burn."

"Damn, I... I'm sorry—"

"No, it's fine. I could really get used to it. Even being smeared with cum feels good right now."

Alex chuckled softly. "Yeah, well, maybe until it dries." He sighed. "Damn, this is really happening," he whispered. "I can't believe that just a few hours ago, I was miserable. The whole fucking world was miserable. Desolate. And now... the whole world has changed." His voice trailed off. He turned on his side, facing Mulder and caressed his shoulder with the palm of his hand, stroking up and down his arm as if needing to affirm Mulder's presence. "How can the whole world change just like that?"

Mulder put his hand over his lover's. "I asked myself the same thing not too long ago. I'm just grateful it did, and I've promised myself that I'm going to make the most of it."

The long lashes lowered, shading his eyes. "I hurt you... in that other life. I hurt everyone you loved." Lips pressed into a determined line. Mulder waited, sensing Alex's sudden unease. "There's something... something I have to tell you. Something you need to know. I should have told you before we—" his voice shook and he swallowed. "I just wanted you too much. I couldn't stop myself."

"What is it?" prompted Mulder gently.

"I... " Alex shook his head as if he had to pull the words out. "I know the kind of person I was in that... place. I... I felt myself... killing. That world, when it started filling my head, when I would just sit or lie in this bed, seeing nothing else, I'd feel myself moving through that world, manipulating those people, knowing what I wanted, knowing how to get it. There were times when I felt a real... pleasure in what I was doing to them, even when I was killing them. Humans, aliens, didn't matter. I felt so strong, so in control, and I... liked it." His eyes squeezed shut. "I enjoyed it, Fox." He swallowed and looked into Mulder's widening eyes. "I could feel the darkness in me, the power it gave me, and I... wanted it. Wanted to be that man." He stopped, trying to read Mulder's reaction.

"Why?" whispered Mulder, stunned by the unexpected admission.

Alex frowned but didn't look away. "I am Alex Krycek. The man you described from the life you knew, the man I see in the visions, the dreams, they are the same man. I'm that man. The road not taken, Fox. If circumstances had been different, I'd be the same man here. I'd be the man you hated. I have that darkness in me, Fox. Do you understand? Can you accept it?" He lay back against the pillows with a sigh. "When the visions kept expanding, when everything started getting worse and worse, that's when I started feeling trapped. It wasn't the fate of mankind that haunted me. It was my fate. Mine. There seemed no way out. No way to... win." His lips twisted into a bitter smile. "That's when I started programming the game. It was as much to find a way for me to win as it was to work the visions out of my head, to try and make them stop altogether."

His voice grew softer and Mulder strained to hear. "When you told me how you saw me die, I remember it from my nightmares. There were never any faces, just shadows; I never saw you, but I always sensed the hatred around me and then the... relief." He paused for a moment, his chest heaving. "I deserved to die. Maybe that's why I keep seeing all of it. All that darkness is inside me. It's part of me. That's why it doesn't go away."

They both grew silent, drawn into their own thoughts. Finally, Mulder sat up against the headboard, hands resting over his bent knees. "People have written and debated about the duality of human nature for centuries, Alex, from Socrates to Robert Lewis Stevenson." He shook his head. "I think we all have the potential for good and evil in us. Is who we are determined by the choices we make or is it the circumstances around us, those variables we don't control, that lead us to those choices? It sounds like a simple question but there aren't any simple answers. It's not one way or the other; it's an infinitely changing combination of the two." He turned his head and looked into the troubled green eyes. "Yes, you're Alex Krycek. Could you turn yourself into a conscienceless, cold-blooded killer here and now? No, I don't think so. Hero or villain? They're both inside us. Variables and choices, Alex.

"Maybe if I hadn't shut you out when I first met you, back in that other life. Maybe if I had trusted you, I could have given you another choice, another alternative. So many maybes, Alex. I could be as responsible for what you became in that existence as you are."

"No," replied Alex firmly, as he grabbed him and pulled him down beside him on the bed. He kissed Mulder hard, held him tight enough to hurt. Releasing him, he asked. "Do you still want to be with me, knowing... "

Mulder moved closer and kissed him again. "That other place, that time, it doesn't exist. This is a new world, a new beginning for both of us, understand? Yes, I want us to be together. I want to be with you. We've already made different choices here. We'll build different lives, too." Mulder brought Alex's hand to his lips and kissed his palm. "Look, why don't we clean up and then we can just relax a little." He waited until Alex met his eyes. "And then make love, hmm?"

"Make love?" repeated Alex carefully.

The words sounded foreign to Mulder's ears, too. He couldn't even remember the last time he'd ever spoken them to anyone, but he couldn't think of another phrase that was more fitting. "Yes," he answered.

**

Alex's shower was too small for the both of them to fit comfortably. That was probably for the best, Mulder decided, knowing that they needed at least a bit of distance to let their thoughts settle. Having a slick and soapy Alex within groping distance was a distraction that would've drained more than just all the hot water. Alex told him to shower first; when Mulder came out of the stall, he saw that Alex had just finished shaving.

"Hey, you didn't have to that, you know," he told him.

"I can see the beard burn all over you, Fox. You look like someone used a bristle comb on your face." Alex smiled and kissed him with only a slight hesitation. "Better?"

"Mmmm. Well, okay, I'll admit that does feel nice." Mulder held his hands up like a photographer framing a picture and pronounced teasingly. "Mister Krycek, you are a pretty boy with a pretty face."

The face in question turned a decided shade pinker as Alex abruptly turned around and padded into the shower to the sound of Mulder's chortling.

Afterwards, neither man got dressed again, silently agreeing to go back to bed and burrow under the covers together, the temperature in the room dipping as the winter wind rattled the windows. After some coaxing from Mulder, Alex began telling him about his life, his family, his work. His parents had managed to emigrate from the U.S.S.R. to the U.S. in the '60s. They settled in upstate New York where Alex was born. One day, when Alex was five, his father ran off with another woman and never came back. As far as Alex was concerned, his father was dead.

"Mama raised me. It wasn't easy. In the beginning, it was a real struggle, but I never doubted that she cared for me with all her heart. She passed away when I was eighteen. Cancer. She was all the family I had, all the family I needed. I still miss her."

There was a faraway look in the green eyes for a moment and Mulder wondered if the Krycek of his dark world had a similar background. He realized with a stab of guilt that he had never bothered to find out.

"Anyway," continued Alex as he seemed to catch himself, "I was always good at working with computers. I was writing programs in high school." He gave a little sigh. "I wrote some wicked code. Dabbled in a little of everything. It helped me get a pretty good scholarship. Got me a reputation of sorts, and more attention than I wanted. I was a real geek. I felt comfortable with computers. It was an environment I could control. They didn't judge me."

"The Gunmen said you're a legend in their rarified circles, a computer whiz extraordinaire."

Alex just smiled and shrugged. "It came easy to me; I never thought much about it. I actually enjoyed it most of the time; I met some cool people who were into it, too, early on. We respected each other's work, helped each other. I was as close to happy as I could remember. Then, one day, when I was still in college, a man from the FBI came to talk to me. He wanted to recruit me, said I'd be put in a special training program and I'd be doing important work, serving my country. I could advance quickly, he told me. It actually sounded appealing, almost... noble. I was flattered to be singled out, but I didn't want to look anxious, so I told him I had to think about it." He stopped, puffed out a breath and shrugged. "I often wonder what would've happened if I'd said 'yes' then and there. As it was, he said he'd call me in 48 hours and wanted a yes or no. I was going to accept, but he never called. I figured I'd blown it."

"Do you remember the man's name?"

"Blevins. I tried to run some checks on him later. I found out he'd left the Bureau. I considered applying to the FBI myself but, at that point, there was something that just didn't feel right about it to me. So, instead, I got a job with a software company, the first of several, in fact. Then the dreams started." His head lowered. "Well, I think you know the rest. I haven't been able to work for the last couple of years. I've been living off the money I made from the game, but it's thinning out. I'm not getting anything for the new edition because I didn't want to be associated with that piece of shit. I haven't even thought about what I'm going to do."

Mulder knew that Blevins was dead. Murdered by some muggers in an alley for the sixty dollars he'd had in his wallet. Mulder had asked Scully about a few Bureau higher-ups like Blevins and Kersh one of the times she'd called him. She'd told him Kersh had been fired several years ago for incompetence.

The room was getting even colder and Alex got up to turn up the heat. "This might take a while. The furnace is a relic."

Mulder admired the sight of Alex bending over to check the vent near the bed, nicely displaying his long legs and firm, round asscheeks. He cleared his throat. "With your level of skills, you could find a job anywhere. I'll help you."

Alex climbed back into bed, his cock lifting slightly, balls swinging as he threw back the blankets and slipped underneath. Mulder felt the sudden urge to wrap his mouth around them.

"I didn't think I could hold on to a job if I got one," replied Alex, unaware of Mulder's heated stare. "My concentration was shot."

"And now, do you still feel that way?" asked Mulder, sliding up against Alex and rubbing a hand over his chest and belly and inching lower to brush at the dark pubic hair.

"Well, at the moment, my concentration is definitely heading southward." Alex took Mulder's wandering hand and placed it on top of his erection. "Can I answer the question... later?"

"Can I suck your cock now?" returned Mulder. He felt Alex's penis jerk upward in response and chuckled. "I'll take that as a yes." In the back of his mind, he was marveling at how natural it felt as he shifted, threw back the blanket and snuffled his nose against the underside of Alex's soft, round balls. The thick cock jumped as if begging for attention. He nudged at the ball sac and then let his tongue play a line around, up and down, excited by the sexy, musky scent and velvet soft skin. His fingers carded delicately through the dark pubic hair, carefully avoiding Alex's penis while his other hand snaked underneath his right buttock, cupping and squeezing it. He sucked a ball into his mouth, hummed his appreciation, and then released it.

A lush moan filled the air. "Fox, you're killing me." The moan turned into a whimper as Mulder quickly ran one finger up and down the length of Alex's cock.

"Never in this life," whispered Mulder between licks. But he decided it was time to expand his limited experience in cock-sucking so he took hold of the base of the straining cock, placed a little kiss on the moist slit, pausing to enjoy Alex's sudden excited cry, and then took it in his mouth. He almost gagged as Alex jerked upward, managing to pull back just in time.

"Ohhh, god, your mouth," cried Alex. "Pleasepleaseplease... "

"I'm going to make you come. Want to suck you 'til you come." Seeing Alex helpless with desire was more arousing than Mulder had ever imagined. Making love to him made him feel like everything was finally falling into placing, finally... complete. He took Alex's cock in his mouth again, loving the silky hard strength of it, and began sucking. He took as much as he could as he felt Alex begin to thrust. He could hear Alex's panting breaths, punctuated by little mewling sounds. He heard his name over and over. He kept sucking, faster and deeper, loving the taste of this man's cock in his mouth.

Alex almost shouted as he came. Mulder tasted him in his mouth, semen spilling over his lips as he continued to suck. Alex's body was trembling, his breathing heavy, and his voice whisper rough as he murmured Fox's name.

Finally, Mulder sat back, licking away the semen from his lips, wiping his chin with his hand, and smiling smugly as he gazed at Alex's sated body, saliva-slicked penis curled softly over his balls. Big green eyes blinked at him through the heavy dark lashes. The tender emotion in them made his heart beat faster. It almost made him forget his own stiff and aching cock.

"Come here," said Alex. "It's my turn. I want your dick in my mouth." He grinned and reached out, taking hold of Mulder's cock and pulling him closer.

More than ready for some heated attention of his own, Mulder straddled Alex, knees on either side of his chest. He wiggled his ass against his lover's chest. His cock waved excitedly. Thankfully, Alex didn't tease, seeing the obvious need in Mulder's eyes. He opened his mouth in invitation, drawing Mulder in.

"Damn, yeah!" moaned Mulder as his cock slipped between the warm, wet lips and Alex's tongue began a sinuous dance around his penis. The urge to thrust into that luscious mouth was almost overpowering. As if sensing his urgency, Alex took more of him in, his tongue quickly flicking over the veins beneath his cockhead as one hand squeezed the base of Mulder's erection and the other rubbed his balls.

When Alex pulled away for a moment, he almost cried. "It's okay, Fox. Fuck my mouth. Don't hold back. I want it. Want you." And then he sucked Mulder deep. Too aroused and in need to stop, Mulder began to thrust. Soon he felt his whole body tighten as started to come. His head felt light, like he was flying through stars. His body was soaring, soaring.

When he could focus again, he drew back slowly and looked down as his softening cock and at Alex's smiling face, lips and chin smeared with his semen. "Damn, Alex. Just... damn. So damn, fucking good."

The body beneath him shook with laughter. "I think I'm in love with your cock." As if suddenly catching his choice of words, Alex's smile wavered a little.

Mulder moved to lie beside him. He wiped away a thin trail of semen off of Alex's lower lip with his fingertip. "Well, that's a start," he said softly. He grinned. "I think I'm at least two body parts ahead of you. I'm already in love with your mouth and your gorgeous ass... and your cock."

They were both grew quiet then, their bodies floating in a hazy contentment. Mulder felt happier than he could remember. Alex Krycek was lying naked beside him and he was happy. He watched the dark lashes flutter as Alex yawned. "Let's get some sleep. It's late," said Mulder. He reached over and turned off the bedside lamp. The room was dark except for the faint, silver-grey light that shone through the window curtains from the streetlamps beyond.

Alex frowned, forcing his eyes open. "No. C-can't sleep."

"Sure looked like you were about to," countered Mulder lightly.

"I usually don't feel sleepy. Can't sleep. Don't want to dream. Don't want to see myself... like that. Don't want to ruin... this."

Mulder put his arm around Alex, snuggling their bodies closer. "This is real. The past, that past, doesn't exist anymore. It never did." He kissed the dark hair affectionately, a wave of deeper emotion rushing through him. "I'll be here when you wake up. I promise. Sleep, Alex. No more nightmares. For either of us." He felt the truth of it deep in his heart, beyond mere instinct, beyond intuition.

Breath hitching a little, Alex hugged him tight for a moment, anchoring his arm around Mulder's waist. He gazed into Mulder's eyes and Mulder saw the fragile trust there. With a last small smile, Alex closed his eyes and let sleep take him.

Mulder lay awake a little while longer, relishing the feel of warm body in his arms and a newfound and wondrous sense of peace. Slowly, he drifted off into a quiet, restful sleep.

He woke some hours later to a wonderful aroma that seemed to fill the room. Drawing in a deep breath, he smiled. Fresh baked bread. There was also a faint scent of cinnamon and vanilla. They wafted in the air, teasing his nostrils and making his mouth water. He turned his head a little, his eyes softening at the sight of Alex's sleeping profile in the dimness, pink lips barely open, small nose twitching slightly. He looked much younger with his hair falling over his forehead and the long fan of dark lashes against his pale skin.

The curtained windows weren't quite as dark and the room was warm, the sound of the furnace knocking occasionally and rumbling low as it puffed heat through the vents. It was almost the beginning of a new day, thought Mulder, dazzled by the still unfamiliar notion of looking forward to what a day could bring. He raised his head to peer at the clock on bed table. 6:09. Almost dawn. He'd only been asleep for a few hours, but he felt refreshed all the same.

Inhaling the delicious scent again, Mulder got up and picked up his underwear and shirt and went into the bathroom to relieve himself and wash up. He got dressed, pulling on his jeans and walked over to the windows. Pushing aside the curtains, he gazed out at the pale grey sky. Hearing a sound behind him, he turned and smiled as Alex blinked into awareness. He approached the bed and sat near the pillows.

"I fell asleep," Alex told him, as if he was telling him a secret.

"That's what humans usually do during the night," returned Mulder with a gleam in his eye.

Alex punched him lightly on the thigh. "I mean, I really slept. I didn't dream about them. Didn't see those shadow men, the creatures. I didn't dream about... me, that other me. It's been years since I've actually slept even half way through the night, Fox." There was relief and joy in his voice.

"I know." Mulder saw an image of himself lying on his old leather sofa, staring up at the cracks in the ceiling, night after night.

"Thank you. Even if it's just this night, thank you."

"We can have a thousand nights and more, if you want," replied Mulder.

Head canted to one side, Alex looked at him thoughtfully, then gazed down at the fading bite mark beside his nipple. "I still can't believe it. Can't believe I could be this lucky. It's seems impo—"

"I know," cut in Mulder, this time with a grin. "C'mon, get that luscious ass of yours out of bed. It's almost sunrise. I just noticed you've got a great view from your windows. We can watch the dawn break and then get ready to hit that bakery the minute it opens. The smell is fantastic."

Alex laughed softly. "Yeah, this apartment has some nice perks, even with the grumpy furnace." He glanced towards the windows as Mulder rose and grabbed his hand to pull him out of bed. "I forgot about the view," he said pensively. "Usually I have the shades down as well as the curtains closed." He threw on his jeans and shirt and joined Mulder by the windows.

"The height of the buildings across the street leaves a perfect gap," Mulder was saying. "It's like a neat, square frame for the sunrise."

"Yeah, I think that's why they call it the Sunrise Bakery downstairs. When the sun comes up, it hits this building square on, sunlight pours into all the windows."

The purplish lilac horizon was turning a pale apricot. The colors were dazzling as only nature could make them.

Mulder put an arm around Alex's waist and closed in behind him, chin resting on his lover's shoulder as they gazed at the changing sky.

"I remember when I came across this place a couple of years ago," said Alex. "Before that, I couldn't seem to stay in any one place for more than a few months. The walls always felt like they were pressing in on me. Some days, I felt like I could hardly breathe. I'd move from one apartment to another. Didn't keep much more than a suitcase full of clothes and a laptop. I moved all over the country for years. At that point, I was seriously thinking of moving to Europe and cutting all my ties here, not that I had very many. I wanted to lose myself, I guess."

Alex turned his head slightly and Mulder felt lips against his hair before Alex continued.

"I don't even know how I wound up in Baltimore, in this neighborhood. I'd been drifting for several months, staying in motels, hotels, thinking about just buying a plane ticket to the first place out of the country. I couldn't sleep, as usual. It was the middle of the night. I started walking. It was around this time of year. I remember that it'd been raining the day before, but it was clear that night. Cold. The stars were out. I hated looking at them. They reminded me of what was out there." He sighed. "The air smelled clean. I walked and walked for hours. The sky was getting lighter when I saw this old woman. I remember how surprised I was to see this old lady sitting all by herself on a stone bench." He pointed to the bench near the curb below, just a few feet to one side of the bakery.

The top of the sun was like a vermillion disk just beginning to appear over the horizon, radiating a coral corona. The sky had turned a bluish lavender with streaks of pink and rose.

"She looked at me like she was expecting me to be there. It was really strange. She looked so calm, peaceful."

Mulder felt a shiver climbing up his spine as Alex kept talking.

"I thought maybe she was homeless or something, even though she didn't look it. She had to be at least 80 years old. I went over to her and asked her if she was all right." He paused, eyes on the rising sun as it began clearing the horizon, its light stretching across the sky, chasing away the remaining darkness. "She only smiled and told me I should stop running away. Then she pointed to this building, to the 'For Rent' sign that was in this window. It was eerie. I remember the sun was rising. It was... beautiful. Like now. I stared up at the window, watching how the sunlight was just... streaming into it. I turned around to ask her to explain, but she had walked away. I rented the apartment that day. I stopped running."

Mulder watched the sunrise as he asked, "Aside from her age, was there anything unusual about her?"

He felt Alex's body stiffen in his arms. "What do you mean?"

"Her eyes?"

Alex gasped. "How?" He gave a little resigned sigh. "I've never seen anyone with eyes like that. They seemed to change color when I looked at her. They seemed... timeless. I—I thought I had to have imagined it."

"I think I met her. The little girl, the strange little girl I met on that hilltop before dawn, the morning everything changed." Mulder bit down on his lip as Alex tilted his head to glance at him.

"You mean, you think that little girl and that old woman I saw are... are the same person? But how could that be?"

"If there's one thing I believe," replied Mulder as Alex slowly turned in the circle of his arms until they stood face to face. "If there's one thing I know," he amended, "it's that nothing is impossible."

The new dawn shimmered through the windows, limning them both in a deep golden glow that slowly filled the room as Mulder sealed his answer with a kiss.

THE END
 

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