Harper's Grove
Author: Laura
Email: wolfens@cox.net
Fandom: X-Files
Pairing: M/SK, eventually M/Sk/K
Rating: Adult
Status: finished

Warnings: mm sexual situations and violence, Post-series, AU, sort of case file, lots of schmoop

Summary: Mystery surrounding the disappearances of young men in a small town.

Archive: Let me know first.

Disclaimers: No copyright infringement is intended. The X-Files belong to the Fox Network and Chris Carter and 1013 Productions and basically not me.

Notes: Thank you my queen, Bertina, for beta, support and putting up with my whining. Thank you Amazon for the post beta beta and final polishing of the story.

Harper’s Grove

Washington, DC
J Edgar Hoover Building

Fox Mulder took one last look around his basement office. The walls were bare, shelves were empty and his file cabinet was now located upstairs in a spacious new room housing the X-file department. After the failed colonization, the FBI decided to legitimize his once scorned quest of the paranormal. He was no longer referred to as Spooky Mulder. No, now agents lined up to request transfers to the X-files and called him 'Sir'. He was a hero. The man who stopped the aliens. The man who brought the Consortium to its knees.

He hated it.

The same people who laughed at him and his beliefs were busy slapping him on the back and telling him they believed him all along. It sickened him, all the noses stuck up his ass. All of them were trying to jump on the glory train and all he wanted was to get off at the next station.

He knew he should be basking in the limelight, but it was a hallow victory. They might have won the war, but the causality count was too high. So many unsung heroes who died and no one would remember the role they played. And the truth, it was still out there.

Mulder planned his escape carefully. No one knew his plans to resign. He stayed late several nights making copies of the files and packed his personal belongings. The only thing left to do was hand his resignation over to AD Skinner. He glanced around one last time, making sure he wasn't forgetting anything. Mulder pulled the door shut on what had been his life for the past eight years and headed up to Skinner's office.

He approached his boss's office with a little trepidation. Mulder had faced aliens, the Consortium and countless monsters, but what he had planned filled him with fear. Kim Cook sat at her desk fielding calls. She barely looked up to nod him in. Mulder took a deep breath and entered the office.

Mulder had no idea how Skinner would react to the goodbye he had planned. That is if he didn't chicken out. He had desired his boss for years, but the whole dynamic of their positions and the no fraternization rule had always offered a convenient excuse not to pursue his desires. Plus, Mulder's obsession with the truth about his sister's abduction and his struggle to stop the colonization had pretty much put his personal life on hold for years.

This was his last and only chance to do what he wanted. Mulder stepped carefully up to the huge oak desk that screamed power, just like the man sitting behind the desk. Skinner's office had always made him a bit nervous, only because of the illicit thoughts involving the AD and the desk. Mulder cleared his throat that was suddenly dry.

"What can I do for you, Agent Mulder?" Walter Skinner looked up from his paper work and regarded his favorite agent curiously.

His simple question shot a bolt of desire through Mulder. He had no problem with what he wanted Skinner to do for him, but he couldn't make the words leave his mouth. Usually when he was at a loss for words meant he was unconscious. He cleared his throat again and thrust his resignation papers at his soon-to-be former boss.

"Sir, I'm here to give you these, um, my resignation papers and to say goodbye." Mulder's voice remained steady, which surprised him. Skinner was the only reason he had stayed on at the bureau as long as he had once Scully had left.

Skinner rose from behind his desk and Mulder's eyes tracked Skinner's crisp white shirt that shifted across his broad shoulders. Skinner reached out and took the papers from Mulder's hands, briefly making contact with his fingers. A shiver ran through Mulder's body.

"This is not unexpected," Skinner started to say. Mulder was floored. He thought he had kept his plans carefully hidden. Skinner seemed to be reading his thoughts when he continued with, "You haven't been very enthused with all the changes in the department. I thought at first it was because Scully left with the baby, but then I..."

"No," Mulder interrupted. "I'm happy for Scully. She deserves a new quiet life away from all the horrors she was put through. Scully put everything on hold for me since we first became partners. I...had to let her go."

"What about William? Don't you want to be near your son? A part of his life?" Skinner asked gently.

"No. Yes." Mulder stumbled for the right words. The conversation was not going the was he had planned. He didn't want to talk about Scully or William, but Skinner had left him no choice. He took a deep calming breath.

"I want to be part of William's life, but I don't think 'Mulders' were cut out to be good fathers."

"I was under the impression Charles Spender was your biological father." Skinner stated more than asked. He knew the answer; he wanted to gauge how Mulder was dealing with the information.

"That, Sir, just proves my point. Neither Bill Mulder nor Charles Spender were worth a shit as father figures." Mulder couldn't hide the bitterness that crept into his voice.

"Mulder, you have what it takes to be an excellent father. In a way, both men taught you an important lesson." Skinner paused momentarily. "How a father shouldn't be."

"Sir, I don't want to talk about my family, I wanted to say goodbye." Mulder quickly changed the subject before thoughts of his parentage spiraled into depression. "I am opening an investigation firm. I plan to pursue the paranormal on my own, without the restrictions of the FBI."

"What about the resources the FBI offers?" Skinner didn't want Mulder to quit. He understood the younger man's reasons, but his heart was aching, knowing he would no longer get to see Mulder on a daily basis.

Mulder shook his head and then grinned broadly. "The Lone Gunmen have my back."

"I'll miss you." Skinner quickly realized what he revealed and tried to correct himself. "The Bureau will miss you. You have been a fine agent and an asset to the FBI. Your skills will be sorely missed." Even to Skinner, his words sounded like a typical going away speech. He wanted to say more. He wanted to tell Mulder how much he wanted him, but the words wouldn't leave his lips.

"Thank you, Sir." Mulder cleared his throat. His voice was thick with repressed emotion. This was it. Skinner was perched on the corner of his desk. One long muscular leg draped over the edge. The fabric of his suit slacks pulled taut across his thigh. It was now or never. Mulder looked straight into Skinner's warm brown eyes and dived in.

Mulder knew it wasn't his best kiss. But nerves and the fact that it was his perennial wet dream Walter Skinner, caused him performance anxiety. He could feel Skinner's body tense and wondered how long before Skinner shoved him away and punched his lights out.

He felt a small rumble vibrate through his body. It took him only a moment to realize it was coming from Skinner.

Skinner's body was no longer tense. He relaxed into the kiss and brought his hands up to Mulder's face. Skinner's broad fingers worked their way into Mulder's spiky brown mane. His fingers tightened and he took control of the kiss.

Mulder melted under Skinner's attack. He had no desire to fight for dominance of the kiss; Mulder only wanted to surrender to the warmth and power that was Walter Skinner.

He was lost in the sensation of Skinner's mouth. It took him a moment to realize the kiss had ended. Mulder's lips were numb and swollen with arousal. When he could focus again, his eyes sought out Skinner's face. Skinner's eyes were even darker with lust, but he was still firmly in control. Mulder wondered just what it would take to make the man lose it. He was hoping to find out. After the mind-blowing kiss they had shared, he knew there would be more. Lots more.

Six Months later...

MSK Investigations

"Hey, Walter. Take a look at this."

Skinner walked behind Mulder and peered down at the screen of his lover's computer. He briefly scanned through the e-mail taking in the salient points.

"What do you think? Sounds like something we ought to investigate."

"Where did this e-mail come from? It's not addressed to you. In fact, that appears to be a FBI address."

"Um, I've been meaning to talk to you about this."

"Now would be a real good time."

Mulder swung around his chair and faced his lover and partner. They had opened MSK Investigations to carry on what Mulder had started with the X-files, paranormal investigations. The FBI had expanded the department, but without Mulder's focused attention to detail and intuitive leaps, the X-files discarded many cases as superfluous and cranks, not worthy of their attention. For those reasons, Mulder had enlisted the help of his long time friends the Lone Gunmen.

Frohike, Langly and Byers set up a system to intercept e-mails that wound up in the trash of the FBI computers and forwarded them to MSK Investigations. They also had been able to track calls made to the X-files department which were never returned. Mulder used the information to narrow down his research to which cases he felt needed more attention than the FBI was willing to investigate.

As he explained this to Skinner, his lover's face slowly went from a frown to an all out scowl.

"You and your goofy friends are breaking no telling how many laws. I thought we agreed to keep our firm legal and above board."

"Walter, these are legitimate cases the FBI throws out. People need our help, but they don't know about us. This is the best way to find out who out there needs MSK Investigations. Besides, it's not as if we are breaking into classified files." Mulder crossed his arms.

Skinner rubbed the bridge of his nose beneath his glasses. Mulder was right; the FBI was turning away too many cases that clearly needed investigated. Case in point, the current e-mail on Mulder's computer. It was no use fighting about it, what was done, was done. He just wished Mulder had come to him sooner before plowing ahead and involving the Gunmen in breaking into the FBI e-mail system.

"You're right, Fox. This case," he pointed to the computer screen, "should have never wound up in the trash." Skinner smiled at his lover, "In the good ole days, you and Scully would already be on a plane to Illinois."

"I've already booked us a flight," Mulder grinned at Skinner. "I'll fill you in on the details of the case during the trip. You're going to love Jopler. From everything I found so far, it’s a picturesque little town, complete with white picket fences and a gazebo in the town square."

"Also complete with mysterious disappearing citizens that no one wants to report missing."

"Ah, the seedy underbelly beneath the whitewashed veneer, waiting to be exposed after all these years." Mulder sat rubbing his hands in anticipation of their new case.

They had a successful little business, but this was the first case that had more mystery than facts. Just what he liked best, a case with no discernible motive or reason for the disappearances and no preconceived notions to wade through. He wished there was more evidence, but then again, two trained investigators surely would be able to find evidence the locals had overlooked.

They left Kim Cook, who had eagerly wanted to leave the FBI with her former boss and his lover, with instructions to call if anything important came up, and then headed home to pack for their trip. By 10 am, they had boarded a plan to Chicago, where a rental car was waiting for them to make the two-hour drive to Jopler.

"What do we know so far about the missing persons in Jopler?" Skinner leaned his chair back and closed his eyes. Flights always made him sleepy unless someone was talking to him or he had a case to read. Even magazines and books put him under.

"When we get to Jopler, we will meet the Sheriff," Mulder flipped a couple pages searching for the name of Jopler's sheriff, "Jameson. He is the one that sent the e-mail. Sheriff Jameson is a local and has been sheriff for thirty years, he says in his tenure as sheriff, seven people have come up missing. One, maybe two so far this year,"

"Is he sure they didn't move away?"

"Well it seems the missing citizens range from teens to young adults. It also looks like it only happens every ten years." Mulder's eyes sparkled. "A ten year cycle is pretty regular, but that doesn't explain why no one wants to file a missing persons report. With no reason to investigate, Jameson hands are tied."

"If the citizens of Jopler don't want to talk to their own, what makes you so sure they will be willing to talk to us?"

"I'm not sure, but after we check in with Jameson, we'll decide what to do. I think our best bet would be to approach the citizens like we were investigating local legends for a book. People are much more willing to talk if they think they might get a little famous in the process."

Skinner gave his lover, partner and best friend a sleepy grin, then closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep.

One day earlier

Jopler, Illinois

Jopler was a peaceful little town nestled in the heartland of Illinois. Far from the trappings of the city, people lived out their lives here. An occasional restless teen would leave to seek their fortune in the big city, most eventually returned home a little wiser and a little more appreciative of what Jopler offered. Very few were never heard from again.

Children played in the street and the residents didn't lock the doors to their homes or their cars. The crime rate was nearly non-existent. The Sheriff's department dealt mainly with rowdy high school football fans when a neighboring town visited for a home game.

New residents of this sleepy town were few and far between. No new houses were built, so it was only on those rare occasions when a family moved or a resident died that a home become available.

Jeff felt lucky to have been given the chance to live and raise his family here. He never expected a city boy like himself could easily settle in and call such a town home. But he and Mari had not only settled in, they were starting a family, made friends and immersed themselves in the community.

He loved Jopler. Living here with Mari was a soothing balm on his soul. After the first few months, they had slowly let go of the fear of being found and with the fear went the hurt of their shared past. They eventually stopped pretending to be married and made it official. They told the town it was renewal of their wedding vows, to celebrate their new home and friends. The citizens of Jopler turned their quiet ceremony into a town celebration.

Now, nearly a year later, he was strolling through the cool fall evening to the grocery store to get Mari some ice cream. He could've taken the car, but he enjoyed walking, leisurely taking in the sights, smells and charm of Jopler. Jeff looked at his watch. He had been longer than he wanted. Although Mari wouldn't mind him being gone so long, Jeff decided to take the short cut through the small grove of trees bisecting the town.

The townsfolk said it was called Harper's Grove. You couldn't call it woods. It was really just a small patch of land that was never developed. The leaves crunched under his feet breaking the silence of the evening. He looked around and noticed that, although the trees weren't thick, no light penetrated through their remaining leaves. His body gave a shudder, as if a goose ran over his grave.

Jeff shook his head and laughed at himself; still paranoid, when living in Jopler was the safest place to be. He took one last look around and headed home. The crackling leaves were loud enough that he didn't hear a presence come up behind him. A small sliver of moonlight through the trees was the last thing he saw.

Somewhere in the Smoky Mountains,
East Tennessee, early the next morning


"Alex?" A hesitant female voice sounded over the telephone line.

"Marita Covarrubias. You were told never to call unless it was an emergency."

"Jeff's missing. I didn't know what else to do. You've got to help me. Please, Alex."


"Thank you," she responded, but all she heard was a dial tone.

Jopler, Illinois
Davies Residence

Marita stood staring at the phone she had recently hung up. She rubbed her hand gently over her swollen stomach. She could feel her baby putting up a fuss. It was nearing time. She only hoped Alex would find Jeff before the baby was born. She didn't know what she would do if Alex couldn't find her husband.

'No,' she screamed mentally. Alex had to find Jeff. He just had to. Marita paced over to the window of the living room. The street where she and Jeff lived was lined with trees that were slowly shedding their leaves with the onset of autumn. She could see her neighbors, the Marlows, raking up leaves in their front yard. It was almost Norman Rockwell perfect.

Little Debbie Marlow took a giant leap into a pile of leaves, sending them scattering across the lawn. The Marlows' Golden Retriever play bowed and jumped in with Debbie. Her parents laughed at her antics and soon joined her in tossing leaves in the air.

Marita felt a smile tug at her lips. In a couple of years, it would be her son making a mess of raked leaves. She could almost picture her and Jeff laughing and making leaf angels on the lawn.

She and Jeff had spent the first few months of their new lives hiding out from the neighbors. They didn't want to draw attention to themselves, but fear kept them from becoming comfortable. Alex Krycek had given them a new life, complete with histories and new names. It was only when the national news reported the thwarted colonization that Marita and Jeff finally relaxed.

When they were no longer looking over their shoulders and expecting alien bounty hunters around every corner, the two fell in love. Marita was surprised. She knew all about foxhole romances. With Jeff it was more than that. Jeff Spender, now known as Jeff Davies, turned out to be a loving, sweet man. Nothing like his father.

Marita had always been drawn to powerful men, but Jeff was not powerful in the conventional way. His power was the depth in which he felt things. People were naturally drawn to his warmth and honesty. She had been swept away before she knew what was happening.

Marita smiled at the memory. Jeff had proposed on Christmas last year. He had surprised her with a simple solitaire diamond, purchased at the local jeweler. Her former life had been filled with expensive jewelry, given to her by diplomats and heads of state, vying for her attention. Jeff's ring, presented with his heart attached, was more beautiful and precious than anything she had formally owned.

She looked outside once more, pressing her small hand against the cool glass. The sun was beginning to set, washing the street in a warm orange glow.

"Please hurry, Alex," Marita whispered.


During the flight and two hour drive to Jopler, Krycek had plenty of time to think about what was waiting for him. He knew Marita would not have called unless it was important. She wasn't given to over reacting. And Jeff, he was completely in love with Marita. That was why Krycek had settled them in Jopler together. He had seen the way Jeff instinctively protected Marita. Playing cupid wasn't in Krycek's repertoire. But hell, someone deserved to be happy.

Jopler wasn't a tourist trap. The townsfolk were friendly to each other as well as to strangers passing through. It had only one hotel, for visiting relatives he supposed. He had spent one night in the hotel when passing through the town on assignment and much to his surprise; the locals had treated him as if he had always lived there. Krycek had succumbed to Jopler's charm and, when a house had come up for sale, he had purchased it, hoping when the war ended he would be able to lose himself in the sleepy little town. But his plans changed when Jeff and Marita had become his responsibility.

Krycek pulled into the drive of the Davies residence. He had been proud of himself when he had decided on Jopler as a home to settle Jeff and Marita. They had both been too tired and war weary to make decisions, so he had planned all of their escapes and demises carefully. And for the two of them, Jopler seemed perfect. He hated to give it up, but he could survive anywhere and Jeff and Marita needed the peace and security Jopler would give them.


The baby's room was painted in jungle animals and corresponding stuffed animals occupied every available surface. Marita's hand stroked over a couple as she walked toward the crib. The crib was solid oak and the bedding was warm earth tones. More stuffed animals lined the edge around the crib. Marita picked up a giraffe and hugged it to her chest.

Krycek could see her small shoulders start to shake as she began to cry. He wrapped his arms around her trembling frame, pulling her into his embrace from behind. Marita cried silently for a few minutes and then took a deep breath.

"I don't know what I'll do without Jeff. Oh, Alex, I love him so much. We're so happy here." She sobbed out and her crying renewed.

"Sh, it's going to be okay. I'll find Jeff. I promise." Krycek gently turned her in his arms and placed a kiss on top of her head. "I promised I would take care of the two of you, and I will. Marita, you need to calm down. Jeff will be fine and home soon. Okay?"

Marita wiped her hand across her tear-tracked face. Krycek reached over to pluck a tissue from the box by the crib and handed it to her with a reassuring smile. Her big blue eyes filled with more tears that spilled over and ran down her face. Marita leaned into Krycek's shoulder and let go. Her crying lasted a few more minutes before she could pull herself back together.

"Where are you going to start?" Marita asked as she wiped her face once more.

"I think the best starting point would be if you tell me exactly what happened the night Jeff disappeared. And then, I better talk to the sheriff, to see what he knows."

"Okay, there is not much to tell. Come back into the kitchen and I will make us some coffee."

"Should you be drinking coffee?" Krycek asked, genuinely concerned about Marita's pregnancy.

"It's decaf. I can tell Jeff hates it, but he never complains. He is so happy about the baby..." Marita's crying resumed. She knew she was given to overemotional outbursts, but she missed having Jeff's support. Marita looked at her friend. Alex had dropped everything to help her and Jeff. She knew he had given up the little house in Jopler for them. It warmed her heart that Alex would do such a wonderful thing.

Marita started some coffee and joined Alex at her kitchen table. She told him in detail what she could remember about the night of Jeff's disappearance.

"I wasn't worried about how long Jeff had been gone at first. We used to take long walks. But since I entered my third trimester, it's a little hard for me to walk for more than thirty minutes, so Jeff walks alone, now."

"Do you know where he was walking that night? Could he have taken a different route?" Alex encouraged Marita.

"Jeff normally takes the route by the high school; the Dairy Queen is next to the school. Every once in a while he takes the short cut through Harper's Grove."

"Where is Harper's Grove?"

"It's the small patch of trees separating the two sides of Jopler. You would have driven by it on the way here. It's kind of like an undeveloped park area." Marita paused from her story to take a sip of her coffee. "That's all I can really tell you."

"Are you sure you can't think of anything else?"

"No. Except, there is a boy missing too. I can't remember his name right now, but he has been missing since Friday." Marita looked into Alex's eyes. "Do you think the disappearances are related?"

"I won't know until I talk with the sheriff. Do you have somewhere I can change?"

"Of course." Marita gave a small self-depreciating laugh. "I've forgotten my manners. We'll put your bags in the guest room, you can change there. You are staying here?" Marita asked the last with a little fear. She didn't want to be alone and Alex's presence was comforting, but she didn't want to push.


"Can I help you?" Sheriff Doug Jameson held out his hand in greeting to the young stranger. Jopler didn't get many visitors and the sheriff's office usually wasn't one of the main stops. He looked over the man with the trained eyes of a thirty-year veteran of the sheriff's department. Jopler may be a small town, but Jameson took pride in his job. He hadn't come by his job through popularity, no, Jameson was good at his job and the citizens of Jopler depended on him.

The stranger standing before him wore a dark unassuming suit of charcoal gray with clean lines that almost hid the prosthesis and probably would from an untrained eye. He was tall, but not as tall a Jameson. A small, but disarming smile graced the handsome face.

"Barclay. Agent Barclay, FBI." The young man grasped Jameson's hand in a firm shake. Jameson was a little shocked. The actual FBI was here in Jopler. When no one answered his e-mail, he had assumed the FBI had dismissed his inquiry for assistance.

"Welcome, Agent Barclay. I didn't think the FBI was going to send anyone. Glad to have you. Glad to have you." Jameson kept pumping Krycek's hand for a little longer than necessary. Krycek upped the wattage of his smile. He hadn't planned or considered this turn of events. If the FBI knew about what was happening in Jopler, he would have to work fast before the real agents showed up.

"I would like to start with you telling me a little more of what has been going on." Krycek retook possession of his hand, flexing the fingers, trying to re-establish proper circulation.

"Well, Agent Barclay. I explained most of it in the e-mail I sent." Sheriff Jameson reached over and swung the half gate open in invitation. "I had my deputy pull all the files on missing persons since I've been sheriff. It's a bit of a mess. We've been updating to a more efficient computer system, but only half the files have been entered."

The sheriff led Krycek to a room in the back of the office. On the table were several file folders. He picked up the first one, briefly scanning through the contents. He picked up another, then another. They all were cases for missing persons, but nothing further than a preliminary statement had been taken.

"Sheriff, did you investigate any of these?" Krycek tried to keep the irritation out of his voice, but the way Jameson bristled up, he knew a little had slipped through.

"I explained the circumstances in the e-mail." Jameson pulled himself up to his full imposing height.

"I didn't mean to offend you, Sheriff Jameson. Please refresh my memory." Krycek flashed Jameson a humble smile.

"Oh, no offense, son. You just caught me off guard." Jameson ran a big hand through his salt and pepper hair. "I hadn't thought about any of these cases in ten years. It wasn't until the Phillips' boy came up missing." The big sheriff hitched up his pants before he started pacing the room. "None of the cases were ever closed. Course, we dropped what little investigation we were doing when the family members asked."

"Why would anyone ask you to stop looking for their missing family member?"

"I don't rightly know. That's the main reason I asked for the FBI's help. Mrs. Phillips wants her boy found, but if much more time passes, I suspect she too will ask me to stop the investigation. I would like to find the boy before that happens."

"What do you have on the Phillips case so far?" Krycek kept glancing through the files as the sheriff talked. He could find no discernible pattern, except the incidents happened every ten years and so far all the cases involved young men or boys.

"Mrs. Phillips' boy, Danny, didn't come home Friday night. He was playing football down at the high school with a bunch of other boys. The others remember him leaving at sometime after seven. He was due home by seven thirty, but he never arrived." Jameson paused, looking straight into Krycek's eyes. "Danny's a good boy; he's not the type to run away."

"I'm sure he's not, but we can't rule it out just yet. Is he the only person reported missing so far? According to the pattern, there should be two more," Krycek urged Jameson to continue, wanting to find out if Jeff was suspected to be missing yet.

"Danny's the only one who been reported missing, but..." Jameson stopped. He didn't want the FBI agent thinking he was jumping to conclusion.

"Go on, Sheriff."

"Well, hell. It's just that Mrs. Davies claims her husband Jeff is out of town on business. But in all the time I've known Jeff Davies, he hasn't left Jopler once since moving here. Jeff is the one helping us update the computers here at the office and besides, that pretty little wife of his is about to give birth. Why would he pick now to go off on business, with her being so close to her due date?"

"It does sound a little suspicious. If you'll give me her address along with Mrs. Phillips, I'll question them both. And Sheriff Jameson, would it be okay if I make copies of the files?" Krycek knew he would be taking a chance of being discovered, but it would be easier to go over the files at Marita's.

"Sure, that'd be okay, I'll have Deputy Nixon make 'em for you. Is there anything else I can get for you?" Jameson handed the files to his deputy, who had appeared out of nowhere.

"A map of Jopler would be a great help." Krycek barely had the words out when Deputy Nixon produced a map. Krycek gave the deputy an odd look. Deputy Nixon was an odd duck, but efficient. He looked back at Jameson. "Were there any other cases of interest during the same period of time, maybe an increase in crime?"

"No, Sir. Jopler's a pretty quiet little town." Deputy Nixon drew Jameson attention away. The deputy whispered something in his ear, but Jameson shook his head. "The Burke girl just made up that story to get attention; it has nothing to do with any of the missing boys."

"Sheriff, what about the Burke girl?"

Jameson gave Krycek a brief description of the Burke case and Deputy Nixon produced a copy of the file before Krycek could ask. Krycek gathered up his files and headed to his car. His first stop, he decided would be Tammy Burke's house. Might as well start with the oldest case, even though the sheriff insisted it wasn't important.

Tammy Burke's Story

Tammy Burke was a loner. One those average girls who never stood a chance to be noticed among the throws of beautiful blond blue-eyed cheerleaders at Jopler High School. Not at all popular to begin with, Tammy became more unpopular after she was diagnosed with lymphoma. The other students treated her like a leper, although they all knew she wasn't contagious. She was branded an outcast. No one would risk his or her reputations by befriending Tammy, which was why she had started taking the short cut home from school through Harper's Grove.

Tammy ignored the tall tales that the little grove of trees was haunted. Facing ghosts was easier than facing the group of her peers lining the sidewalks through town. Besides, she liked the walk. It was peaceful and she could pretend it was leading her to a magical place, where she was pretty and popular, not the cancer-ridden outcast she had become.

Each time Tammy used the short cut, her fear of the unknown lessened. She had faced her cancer head-on, with only the support of her mother. Ghosts and goblins were the least of her worries. The cancer was in remission. Tammy no longer looked sick and there were days she almost felt like herself again. She headed into Harper's Grove like she had done so many times before. It was a little later in the evening, since Tammy had stayed late at school finishing an art project.

Tammy was preoccupied with thoughts of her mother’s reaction to her latest 'masterpiece', so it took her a while to notice the change. Half way through Harper's Grove, Tammy realized it was darker than usual. No moonlight was breaking through the few leaves still clinging to their branches. A cold shiver ran through her small frame. Tammy pulled her old navy pea coat tighter around her torso and picked up her pace.

A loud, strong gust of wind rustled the leaves, sending them into a whirlwind around her feet. Tammy felt someone or something behind her. She abruptly stopped walking, spun around and screamed.

When Tammy woke up, her watch indicated she had only been out for fifteen minutes. She scrambled to her feet and ran home. Tammy hurriedly told her mother about the attack. Although Tammy wasn't hurt, her mother felt they should report it to the sheriff's department.

Sheriff Jameson took down Tammy's statement word for word. He didn't want to dismiss the sixteen-year-old girl's story, but it seemed a little farfetched. Jameson convinced mother and daughter to go home and he promised to investigate.

Jameson entered Harper's Grove early the next morning. It was a beautiful peaceful place, but it gave him the creeps. He hated the little grove of trees. Even as a boy he avoided going any where near Harper's Grove, believing the old tales about how ghosts would appear briefly to take young boys away. Jameson wanted to dismiss the tales as stories to keep rambunctious kids in line. Jopler's own boogeyman. But he couldn't help feeling there was something more to the legend than anyone really wanted to admit.

He took one last look around and something sparkled in the early morning sunlight. Jameson squatted down and brushed away some of the leaves. Beneath the fallen leaves and half buried in the soft earth was a heart shaped charm. Jameson picked it up, brushing away the dirt, before putting it in the pocket of his coat.

The Burke house was on the opposite side of the town than the high school. He supposed it explained why Tammy would have taken the short cut through Harper's Grove. Jameson thought about Tammy's story of the alleged attack. It didn't make a lot of sense. If she was trying to claim the 'ghosts' of Harper's Grove attacked her, she must have forgotten one of the aspects of the legend. Tammy was not a boy, and the 'ghosts' only took young men or boys. He wondered if perhaps she was trying to garner sympathy, although her cancer should have been enough. Jameson was well aware of how cruel the other teens at the high school were. He had heard them taunting and making fun of Tammy on several occasions. He reprimanded them when he could, but it was really their parents job.

He couldn't figure out why Tammy would want to draw more attention to herself. Jameson knocked on the Burke's door. Mrs. Burke was raising Tammy alone, after her husband had died five years ago. He showed Tammy the charm he found. Tammy clutched the little heart shaped charm to her chest. Tears glistened in her eyes as her mother explained it was a birthday gift from Tammy's father before he had died.
Tammy unclasped the silver chain from around her neck and slipped the charm back on.


Krycek double-checked the address. The Burke residence wasn't far from Jeff and Marita's. He hoped Tammy Burke would be willing to talk. Jameson had dismissed her reported attack twenty years ago as the machinations of a young unpopular girl trying to gain attention. Intuition told him the girl wasn't lying, but it didn't explain if she was attacked, why she didn't disappear. And it didn't explain why she was the only woman or girl to ever be involved.

He knocked on the door. Tammy Burke was average, but not unattractive. She had the demeanor of someone who didn't socialize very much. After he showed her his badge and explained why he was there, Tammy reluctantly invited him in.

"I don't think I can help you, Agent Barclay," Tammy stated as she sat down on an unassuming floral love seat.

"Ms. Burke. Tammy. I want you to explain, in your own words what happened twenty years ago," Krycek urged her gently.

"There is nothing to explain. I just had a dizzy spell and fainted. My lymphoma had only recently gone into remission and I was not in the best of health," she hurried to explain.

"Then why did you claim you were attacked?"

"I was trying to get some attention," she said. Tammy looked everywhere but at Krycek. He could tell from her body language she was lying.

"Tammy, why make up a story that would make people mock you and call you a liar? That doesn't seem very smart." He paused, letting his words sink in. "I believe you were attacked, Tammy. Whatever you tell me, here and now, will not go any further. You have my word."

Tammy Burke looked hard into the handsome FBI agent’s eyes. She wanted to trust him. She had recanted her story after her mother had threatened to send her to a counselor. Tammy decided she would rather be a liar than considered crazy.

"I don't know if I can tell you anymore than what is in the police report." Tammy hedged, she didn't want to remember, the night twenty years ago still haunted her dreams.

"Tammy, I've read the report, but I would rather hear the story from you." Krycek was sure Tammy must have forgotten something that would explain why she had survived the attack.

"I can remember entering Harper's Grove, most people around here avoid going through it, but I wasn't afraid..." Tammy continued recounting her attack. Her story had not changed from what Jameson had written in Tammy's statement years earlier. When she finished, Tammy was visibly shaken from the memories. Krycek let Tammy gather herself, before continuing.

"Tammy, what is it about Harper's Grover that makes people avoid it?"

"The legend. I always heard growing up, not to go through the grove because of the ghosts."

"Ghosts?" Krycek didn't remember the sheriff mentioning any legends surrounding the town and none of the files had mentioned Harper's Grove.

"I thought it was just a story to scare us kids. Plus I thought I would be safe."

"Why would you have been safe from these ghosts?"

"Well the legend says the ghost only attack boys."

"Tammy, if the legend says only boys were attacked, then why do you suppose you were attacked?"

Tammy took a sip of her cooling tea. She didn't answer the question. She got up from the settee and went into the next room. A minute later she returned with a high school yearbook. Tammy flipped through the pages, stopping and then turned the book around and handed it to Krycek.

Krycek scanned the young faces on the page. He didn't understand what Tammy was trying to show him. Tammy wasn't pictured on the page. His eyes flickered to the name column. Tammy Burke was the third name down. Krycek scanned across the row to the corresponding picture. Instead of Tammy, a pale-faced boy with a crew cut stared out at him.

"I'm not sure what you are trying to show me."

"That's me, Agent Barclay." Tammy pointed to the pale-faced boy. "My hair had just started growing back after the chemo. See, there's my charm the sheriff found that night."


Krycek read through the report on Danny Phillips once more before he went in to talk with Mrs. Phillips. He checked the map the sheriff had given him. Only a few of the supposed missing persons were from the same side of town Danny was. Most notably, Tammy Burke, who was the only one to not be taken, and Jeff and Marita. It made sense for Danny and then Jeff to take the short cut through Harper's Grove. Krycek wasn't as sure about the legend, but he had noticed the town had a local historian; he planned to pay a visit after he talked to Mrs. Phillips.

Mrs. Jeanne Phillips was a gracious hostess, recently divorced and raising Danny on her own. She promptly invited Krycek in, telling him how glad she was to see the FBI handling her son's case. Mrs. Phillips explained the circumstances surrounding Danny's disappearance, emphasizing what a good boy he was.

"Mrs. Phillips, I have to ask, are you sure Danny didn't go to see his father?"

"Absolutely not. Danny and I are best friends; he wouldn't leave without telling me. Besides, his father and I had a friendly divorce and we share custody, Danny would have no reason just to take off on his own."

"What about school? Any problems with the other students?" Krycek couldn't believe Danny Phillips was quite the angel and model son Mrs. Phillips was portraying him.

"Danny is an honor student and very popular. As I told you before, he was playing football with his friends at the high school. Sheriff Jameson talked to the other boys and none of them said anything was out of the ordinary last Friday night."

"So, Danny left the football game sometime after seven?"

"Yes. Dinner is at seven thirty and it takes about twenty minutes to walk from the high school here."

"Would Danny have any reason to take a short cut? Looking at a map of the town, it would only take Danny around ten minutes if he cut through Harper's Grove." Even as Krycek was asking, Mrs. Phillips was already shaking her head no.

"Danny knows better than to go through the Grove," she replied.

"Is that because of the legend?" Krycek prompted. He figured if Danny had taken the short cut home through Harper's Grove, he might finally have found a plausible pattern.

"I don't believe in that nonsense and neither does Danny," Mrs. Phillips retorted, clearly offended someone would think she believed in superstitious drivel.

"I'm just trying to cover all the bases, Mrs. Phillips," Krycek said, trying to smooth her ruffled feathers.

"Oh, I'm sorry to be rude, Agent Barclay. I'm so worried about my Danny, I forgot my manners. There is no way you could have known Harper's Grove is some nonsense the town cooked up to add some color. And don't let anyone around here tell you different."

Krycek decided Mrs. Phillips would not be persuaded her son would do anything wrong, even something as innocuous as taking a short cut. He looked at his watch. It was getting late and he should stop in to talk to Marita again before going to speak with the town historian. Krycek was sure Danny had cut through Harper's Grove, and if Jeff also took the short cut, Krycek was sure a pattern was forming.

He thanked Mrs. Phillips for her time and left for Marita's. It was nearing lunchtime and his stomach rumbled; reminding him he had not eaten since before he left Tennessee.


Mulder and Skinner landed at O'Hare at noon. The rental car agency had a car waiting for them. Skinner was glad he had recruited Kim Cook to join MSK Investigations.

"It'll take us about two hours to get to Jopler," Mulder announced while reading a map of Illinois he picked up off the counter.

"Let's go see Sheriff Jameson before we go the hotel. I want to get started on this as soon as possible," Skinner suggested as they maneuvered their way through the airport traffic.

"Okay, according to my notes, the Sheriff's department is on Main Street. That should make it easy to find." Mulder smiled, briefly looked around for disapproving eyes, then planted a kiss on Skinner's cheek. He wasn't ashamed or embarrassed about public displays of affection, but Skinner claimed he liked them to keep a low profile in extremely public places. Mulder figured his lover was still a little shy.

"You know, just once, I would like to visit some small town where Main Street wasn't the 'main' street." Skinner pulled Mulder into a proper kiss, surprising Mulder with it's intensity. Skinner released his stunned young lover with a wink and got into the car.


They drove along the clean pristine streets of Jopler, taking in the quiet pace of life. No one was turning and staring at the strange car and a man sweeping the sidewalk in front of a hardware store actually waved at them. Mulder had never been in a small town quite like this before. The citizens of Martha's Vineyard were friendly to their own, but treated strangers with a wary countenance. Mulder loved living in the city, with all the hustle and bustle and excitement, but you also ended up being a nameless face in the crowd.

He reached over and grabbed Skinner's free hand and squeezed gently. Skinner offered up a smile for his lover. He could almost read Mulder's thoughts. Jopler was nice and reminded him of the town he grew up in. Skinner had often mentioned moving to a small town, away from the hectic life of Washington, DC.

They pulled into the one parking place in front of the Sheriff's department. When they entered the door a very large man with graying hair greeted them. Sheriff Jameson was taller than Skinner, his large frame was carrying a bit of a middle age spread, but otherwise, the man seemed in fairly good shape. His blue eyes sparkled as Skinner made their introductions. Mulder quickly started doing a mental profile of the Sheriff, gauging his skill as an officer of the law.

"Well, Mister Skinner, the FBI was here earlier. I wasn't expecting anyone else."

"The FBI was here?" Mulder interjected.

"About three hours ago, a nice young agent name of Barclay. We gave him copies of all the files and some addresses to visit. I guess he must still be talking with Mrs. Phillips or Mrs. Davies, since he hasn't come back in."

"We're not here on any official business. Just doing research for a new book on mysterious disappearances."

"I've heard of you, Mr. Mulder and I'd be more than glad to help you out. I'm a bit of a UFO watcher myself, but I don't think the disappearances are alien abductions."

Mulder laughed. "Sheriff Jameson, MSK Investigations looks into all aspects of the paranormal, not just alien abductions."

"Okay, then, since that's settled, Deputy Nixon here will get you copies of the files and the address of Mrs. Phillips." The Sheriff barely finished speaking when the deputy handed Skinner a stack of files.

"What about Mrs. Davies' address, you mentioned her earlier?"

"She says her husband is out of town, not missing, but Agent Barclay said he wanted to talk to her."

"If you could give us her address as well..." Skinner started to ask politely, until the strange little deputy pointed to the post-it note atop of the stack of files. "Thank you, Deputy Nixon."

Nixon disappeared into an adjoining room. Mulder watched the door to see if he would return with some more information, but Nixon was apparently gone for good this time. The three men shook hands, then Mulder and Skinner headed back to their rental.

"Where should we start?" Skinner asked as he flipped through some of the files.

"Didn't you find Deputy Nixon a little strange? He kept appearing and disappearing." Mulder didn't turn to Skinner when he spoke; he kept watching the door to the sheriff's office.

"Nixon was odd, but I believe he's just good at his job. Kind of like Kim, always anticipating what we need." Skinner thought for a moment. "Unless you noticed something about him I didn't?"

"No, there was just something about him." Mulder finally looked at Skinner while he struggled with his seatbelt. "Let's go talk to Mrs. Phillips first and then we'll talk to Mrs. Davies. I trust Jameson's instincts; I think there is more to Mr. Davies, than merely being out of town on business."

Skinner pulled out onto Main Street, following the directions the deputy had written down. Jopler was small enough; they found the Phillips residence without a problem. She explained to them she had already spoken to a nice FBI agent earlier in the afternoon. Mulder charmed her into telling them the facts surrounding her son's disappearance, leaving them with more questions than answers.

"What do you think, Walter? Is Danny Phillips missing or did he run away and Mrs. Phillips doesn't want to face it?" Mulder asked when they got back in the car.

"I think we should..." Skinner started to respond.

"I wonder if our illustrious Agent Barclay is having any better luck than we are?"

"Jealous?" Skinner smirked at his partner.

"No, of course not. I do wonder why the bureau suddenly decided to send someone to investigate the case."

"We have to tread very careful on this one; we don't want to impede a Federal investigation," Skinner emphasized as he pulled along looking for the Davies residence.

"Of course not, wouldn't want to hinder the FBI," Mulder remarked snidely.


Miss Birdie Lancaster was a blue haired eighty-six-year-old, who was as spry as most women twenty years her junior. Birdie had never married, instead she had taught school for years, until she retired and devoted herself full time to the history of Jopler. Even as a young girl everyone called her Miss Birdie so often that she wasn't sure if anyone remembered her last name.

She had spent her entire life in Jopler and knew everything about everybody. Although she didn't see her role in Jopler as a busybody, she felt that her job as the official town historian gave her a certain license to nose into people's business.

She had always listened intently to the stories her elders told her. Miss Birdie had dedicated her life gathering historical facts about Jopler. It had become almost a tradition for the townsfolk to give her any old newspapers, diaries or records they might find in their attics, basements and root cellars.

Miss Birdie loved nothing more than to be asked to tell some of the stories about Jopler. She was a frequent guest speaker at the primary and secondary schools. She had turned her home into a museum and was working diligently to get it entered in the historical register of Illinois.

The three-story house provided spacious room for the volumes of newspapers and artifacts she had acquired over the years. Jeff Davies had been pestering her for some time to computerize everything, much like he was doing for the sheriff's department. Miss Birdie still refused to 'modernize' her museum.

Miss Birdie wasn't too keen on computers. Computers and microfiche would never replace the feel a person could get from paging through a hundred year old document. And she felt a computer would never match her ability as a storyteller. Still, she was slowly coming round to Davies' nagging. She wasn't getting any younger and no one had yet stepped up to take her place.

When she spoke to the handsome young FBI agent, he pleasantly surprised her. He was well mannered, unlike many city people. Agent Barclay didn't push or interrupt as she spun the tale of Harper's Grove. He asked insightful questions at the appropriate times.

Krycek had left Miss Birdie's with a sick feeling in his stomach. The legend of Harper's Grove had begun around the first settlement of Jopler. In fact, according to Miss Birdie, Harper's Grove had been a place to avoid before Jopler had a name. She had suspicions about the missing boys and young men over the years, but the families often scoffed at her about her 'ghost' tales.

Krycek drove back to Marita's thinking about all he had found out. A serial killer he could handle. Alien abductions and kidnappings he could handle. But an over hundred-year-old ghost was out of his league. His thoughts immediately shifted to Fox Mulder. This was the kind of case Mulder loved. If there was any way he could let Mulder know about Harper's Grove without involving Marita, Jeff and himself, he would. But there wasn't. He would have to take on the ghost of Harper's Grove by himself.


Mulder pressed his body flush against the side of the house, crouching down enough to be hidden from view of anyone driving by or approaching the house. He heard the car slow down and then turn in to Marita's driveway; he snuck a quick peek that nearly caused him to give away his position.

He shook his head. The man in the car couldn't be Alex Krycek. Alex Krycek was dead. Mulder peered around the corner of the house again. It was Krycek. He appeared for all intents and purposes not to be concerned with being seen. As Krycek stepped on to the front porch and shifted his load to his other arm, Mulder stepped up swiftly behind him, pressing his gun to Krycek's temple.

"Don't try anything, Krycek. Just open the door slowly." Mulder kept the pressure against Krycek's temple, not wanting to give the man a chance to try and escape.

Krycek recognized Mulder's voice immediately. He would never forget the soft monotone, or the slightly nasal New England accent. He cursed himself internally. He had thought he had more time before the feds showed up. The fact that Mulder was here meant Scully was too. And it also meant they were now very aware that Marita was living in Jopler under an assumed name.

He carefully turned the doorknob and opened the door. Mulder's gun prodded him inside. Instead of Scully, Krycek eyes landed on AD Skinner standing in the kitchen doorway holding onto Marita's arm.

"Krycek." Skinner hissed out.

He and Mulder had both been shocked when Marita answered the door, but Skinner was more shocked to see Krycek. Skinner would never forget firing the bullets that had killed him. Skinner hadn't wanted to kill the younger man, but Krycek had left him no choice. He still woke up in a cold sweat from nightmares of the incident and now it turns out, it was all an elaborate lie.

Krycek had used a clone to orchestrate his death. With Skinner and Mulder as witnesses and Skinner firing the shots, no one would suspect it wasn't real. Skinner was relieved he hadn't actually killed Krycek, but he wasn't happy about being used as part of the lie.

Krycek ignored Skinner; he focused his attention solely on Marita. He looked deep into her eyes and asked, "Are you okay?"

"Of course she's okay," Mulder growled and shoved Krycek further into the room. "Get over there and sit on the couch, and don't try anything."

Krycek walked calmly over and sat on the couch, Mulder's shove barely making him lose a step. Marita pulled her arm free of Skinner's grip and rushed to Krycek's side, clasping his hand in hers. "I didn't know what to do, Alex. They just showed up without warning."

"Imagine our surprise to find Marita Covarrubias alive and well," Skinner said as he moved to stand beside Mulder, facing the two on the couch. He kept his gun trained on Krycek. "And then you show up like the proverbial bad penny. I thought I had put you out of our misery."

"What are you doing here, Krycek? Is this another Consortium project? Are they kidnapping new victims for their experiments?" Mulder demanded. He wanted to knock the blank look off of Krycek's face, but Mulder didn't want to risk hurting a pregnant woman, no matter how much he wanted to get a reaction out of Krycek.

"Mr. Mulder, I understand your concern, but I asked Alex to help me. I couldn't go to the sheriff and risk exposure."

"But why Krycek? You could have come to me for help."

"As Mr. Skinner so eloquently put it, I am supposed to be dead. And there simply was not enough time to explain why not only I am alive, but also Jeffery Spender."

"Jeff Spender is alive?"

Skinner nudged Mulder and nodded towards a picture on the wall. Mulder couldn't tear his eyes away from the happy couple on their wedding day. Living in this town were three people he thought dead. Who else is still alive? He wondered. Mulder turned back to the couple on the couch.

"Who else is lurking around here?" Mulder directed his question to Krycek.

"No one, Jeff and I live here now. We were married last year and want to raise our family here." Marita rubbed her swollen stomach. She turned to Krycek and gave him a warm smile. "We are so happy."

Krycek started absently rubbing his thumb on the back of Marita's hand, still clasped in his. Skinner didn't fail to notice the tenderness between the two.

"Ms. Covarrubias," Skinner started to say.

"Mrs. Davies," Marita interjected. "I think it would be best if you called me Mari, or Marita, there would be less confusion."

"Marita, we could offer you protection."

"No you couldn't, not the protection we need. Jeff and I wanted a new life away from the Consortium and memories of his father." She cast a quick glance at Mulder. She wasn't sure if he knew Spender was not only Jeff's father but his as well. "Alex helped us find a new and better life here in Jopler."

"How long has Jeff been missing?" Skinner decided to direct the conversation back to the disappearances. He didn't want Mulder to start brooding on his parentage.

"Jeff has been missing since the day before yesterday. Alex just arrived this morning." Marita looked imploringly at Skinner. "If you want to help me, then work with Alex and find Jeff."

Mulder thought about what Marita was asking. He stalked around the room trying to form order from his chaotic thoughts. He stopped and stared hard at Krycek, taking in all the changes.

Krycek looked good. A little older perhaps, but they all were. He still had a youthful look about him, despite the slight graying in the sideburns. Mulder wondered how old Krycek actually was; they had never been quite sure what in his files was real, not even the birth date. Mulder's eyes wandered to the suit Krycek was wearing. The dark suit looked good on him, not anything like the horrible ill-fitting suits he wore when he was in the FBI.

"What do you want to do about them?" Mulder asked Skinner after he finally stopped pacing.

"I don't know, we can't trust Krycek," Skinner replied. He didn't like the look he had seen in Mulder's eyes when he was staring at Krycek. Mulder had never said anything, but Skinner had always been a little suspicious of the exact nature of their relationship.

"Look, Skinner. I have information..."

"Same old song and dance? You never change, do you?"

"Damnit, listen to me just once," Krycek hissed.

"Listen to more of your lies, more half truths. What's your angle in this, Krycek?" Mulder stated more than asked. He needed to keep his anger towards Krycek on the front burner. He wanted no more stray thoughts about how good Krycek looked filtering through his mind.

"He doesn't have an angle! I told you, I asked Alex to help me find Jeff," Marita pleaded. She winced as a tiny pain shot through her abdomen. She hoped the three men didn't notice because she wanted their attention on Jeff, not her.

"Either shoot me or arrest me, just stop waving your gun around." Krycek had felt the slight shift when Marita tried to hide her pain. The stress of the situation was getting to her. He didn't know much about pregnant women, but he thought for sure having a gun pointed in her direction wasn't good for her nerves.

"We can't actually arrest you," Skinner said. "We're no longer with the FBI."

"Then back off Skinner." Krycek demanded as he jumped up from the couch.

Mulder shoved him back down and snarled out, "*We* may not be agents anymore, but we could just could as easily hand *you* over to Jameson for impersonating one."

"Whatever. Look Mulder, do what ever you want, but use the information I've gathered and find Jeff, before it's too late."

"What do you know about the disappearances?" Skinner asked.

"Everything I have found out so far is in those files and notes. There's a lot more going on in Jopler than Jameson knows or is willing to admit." Krycek gestured toward the files scattered out on the coffee table where he had dropped them. Skinner reached down and picked up Krycek's notebook and skimmed through the notes.

"You seem to know a lot. Are you sure you're not behind this, Krycek?" Mulder asked, still trying to get a reaction out of Krycek.

"Jesus, Mulder. The disappearances started over thirty years ago. I was a kid," Krycek said as he flopped back against the couch in frustration. Mulder would never believe him.

Skinner flipped through Krycek's files. They had no reason to trust Krycek, but if what was in the files was even remotely true, they would need all the help they could get. Plus, Skinner needed to get Mulder focused on anything besides Alex Krycek.

"Okay, we won't turn you over to Jameson, but we don't want you holding anything back and no disappearing. What have you got?"

There was a collective sigh as some of the tension left the room. Marita rose as well as she could and went to the kitchen to make everyone coffee, while Krycek opened the files and placed them around the coffee table.

Krycek told them what he had found out so far, barely glancing at his notes as he talked. Mulder moved over and sat beside him on the couch, hovering over the files and slightly brushing against Krycek's leg. He stiffened; Mulder this close sent tingles throughout his body. He could smell Mulder's unique spicy scent. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply. He could almost imagine...Marita interrupted his thoughts when she sat on the other side of him and passed around the coffee.

He looked over at Skinner, who had a dark look on his face. Their eyes met. Krycek couldn't help the smirk that formed on his face, but Skinner didn't back down. He kept his glare steady. Krycek finally looked away; dropping his eyes, and went back to the files.

"You would have made a good FBI agent, Krycek," Mulder stated. He was impressed by the information Krycek had managed to gather so far in such a short time.

"I was a good FBI agent," Krycek replied resignedly.

"Being a plant is different from being the real thing, you were trained to fit in, that doesn't make you a good agent." Skinner still held a certain amount of resentment that he had been fooled so easily by the eager green agent routine.

"The grades were mine, I earned them," Krycek mumbled. He didn't know why it was important they knew this and didn't want to examine why it was important to him.

"We were all trained very well to fit in where we were to be stationed," Marita interjected.

"Marita..." Krycek warned in a low voice.

"I think it is about time Mr. Skinner and Mr. Mulder understood what we were. What we were trained to be."

"Please go on, Marita," Mulder encouraged. This should be interesting, he thought.

"We, the children of the Consortium, were trained from a young age to be chameleons, to fit in wherever we were needed. But we were not just plants; the covers had to be real. The elders didn't arbitrarily decide who to put where; our positions were decided through aptitude tests. Certain qualities that showed up were encouraged."

"Lying and murder showed up on aptitude tests? That must have impressed your trainers, Krycek," Mulder taunted.

"Fox..." Skinner warned. He didn't like where this was going. He didn't want to acknowledge the power the Consortium had over its members. And if Krycek and Marita were taken as children, it explained how they could have fooled so many people. Skinner also didn't like the implications of what might have happened to Samantha.

Krycek noticed Skinner's use of Mulder's first name. He started wondering about Mulder and Skinner. They were not in the FBI together anymore, but they were apparently partners of some sort. He started watching more closely the body language between the two men.

"Excuse me, Marita, please go on." Mulder encouraged Marita to continue. He was very interested to gain some insight into the workings of the Consortium that had eluded him for years. Although they had brought the organization down, there were still many questions left unanswered.

"When our positions were chosen, we were educated accordingly. Some of us were accelerated through school, but our education and degrees were real. There could be no question about our positions. No discrepancies. The Consortium didn't accept failure."

Krycek didn't want to get into this with Mulder. He had effectively kept Mulder from finding out any of his history; he needed to redirect the conversation back to the case at hand.

"I think we should start by searching around Harper's Grove. From everything I have gathered so far, I think it's the key."

"According to your notes, tomorrow night would be the next time this 'ghost' strikes. We should be there to stop it and hopefully find Jeff and the missing boy," Skinner added. As much as he hated to agree with anything Krycek said, he approved of his redirection of the conversation.

"I still don't understand why the families wanted the investigations stopped. Do you think it's some sort of mass hypnosis? Will the same thing happen to me if you can't find Jeff?" Marita's voice cracked, she didn't want to blandly accept Jeff's disappearance like the others had.

Krycek clutched Marita's hand in his, leaned over and whispered in her ear, "I'll find Jeff, I promise."

Mulder thoughts caught up with the conversation. He could hear the distress in Marita's voice and realized he had completely forgotten what they were there for. His questions could be put on hold, at least until they found Jeff and Danny.

The three men began to map out a plan. They would search Harper's Grove in the morning and then stake it out after nightfall.

Hopefully, if the pattern held true, they would be able to catch the 'ghost' before anyone else was taken. Although the area was small, it would be difficult for just the three of them to cover. Skinner wondered if they should trust Krycek not to disappear. The affection Krycek showed Marita seemed genuine, but was it enough to keep him here?

After Marita served them dinner, Mulder had suggested they stay with her instead of going to the hotel. Marita appeared reluctant at first, but relented with a barely perceptible nod from Krycek. Skinner smiled at Krycek's reaction when Mulder told Marita they would be sharing a room. Krycek's face didn't flinch, but his expressive eyes couldn't hide the shock and what Skinner thought might actually have been hurt.


Marita rolled over on her side to try and find a more comfortable position. She wasn't due for two more weeks, so she had talked herself into believing the pains were false labor. She looked at the alarm clock. Only five minutes had passed since the last time she looked.

Marita could still hear Mulder and Skinner going at it. She was a little surprised they would have sex here in her home. She didn't mind, but she was worried how Alex was handling it. She had caught on from the start that the two men were a couple, but she also knew how Alex felt about both of them. He put on a brave front, but she knew it hurt him to see the two of them together.

Another pain gripped her abdomen. If this was false labor, she wasn't sure she was going to handle real labor when it hit. Marita scooted towards the edge of the bed and struggled to sit up. She slipped her robe on and walked to the living room, barely glancing in the direction of the muted noises across the hall.

Marita could make out the form shifting restlessly on the couch. She stood watching Alex, just outside the entrance of the room. When he sat up and pounded his pillow into submission and flopped back down, she heard him speak to her. He still had great senses.

"What are you doing up, Marita?" Krycek mumbled from where his face was buried in the pillow.

"I couldn't sleep. Are you okay?" Marita asked softly, not wanting to alert her other guests.

"Why wouldn't I be?" Krycek sat up and Marita moved to sit beside him.

"Alex, I know you can hear Mulder and Skinner." Marita rested her head on Krycek's shoulder. She could feel the tension in his body. He might try and deny his feeling, but she had known him too long.

"So?" His response didn't surprise Marita. She reached over and wound her fingers in his. She studied the contrast of her small hand in his much larger one.

Marita was about to admonish Alex's nonchalant attitude when another pain hit. This one was more intense. She felt liquid gush out of her and flow down her thighs, soaking her gown and the couch. She turned to Alex, her blue eyes huge in her face.

"Alex. I...think my water broke."

"Your what?" Krycek leapt off the couch. Marita merely smiled at him. She was surprised she wasn't scared.

"My water broke. You need to get me to the hospital." She pushed herself up off the couch. Her hospital bag was already packed and waiting in the hall closet. Marita wanted to change, so she patted Alex on the back and waddled to her bedroom.

"What do I do?" Krycek voice cracked.

"Go tell Mulder and Skinner what's happening." Marita winked at Alex and closed her bedroom door.

Krycek had forgotten all about the noises coming from the guestroom until he burst through the door. The sight before him brought him up short. It was one thing to hear them making love or imagining it in his head. Nothing had prepared him for the sight before him.

Skinner's large frame was glistening with sweat. Mulder's long legs were wrapped around Skinner's trim waist and his feet were flexing across the tight muscular buttocks. Krycek was momentarily mesmerized by the motion of Skinner's muscular ass as he thrust into Mulder's body. Krycek slowly moved his eyes up to Mulder's face. Mulder's eyes met Krycek's, then his back arched, exposing his throat as he cried out his completion.

It only took a couple more thrusts before Skinner followed Mulder with his own orgasm. Skinner had caught Mulder looking behind him. Without turning around, he knew who was standing there, watching them. Skinner pulled out of Mulder's body and flopped over on his side, yanking the sheet up to cover their bodies with it.

"What do you want, Krycek?"

"You...I mean, Marita..."

"Spit it out, Krycek." Skinner was amused. He had never heard Krycek fumble over words before, nor seen him without his usual impassive expression. He watched as the glazed look slowly dissipated from the enormous green eyes. Krycek shook his head.

"Marita's in labor. I'm taking her to the hospital." Krycek turned on his heel and stormed out of the room. Mulder sat up and smirked at Skinner.

"Do you think he enjoyed the show?"

"Humph," Skinner snorted in reply. He stood up and pulled on his discarded jeans. Mulder sat back against the headboard and watched. It was only after Skinner started buttoning up his denim shirt that Mulder made any motions to get up.

Mulder and Skinner met Marita in the hall. Skinner took the overnight bag out of her hand and cupped his hand under her elbow.

"How are you doing?" he asked.

"I'm a little scared. It's too early." Marita grimaced as another pain hit.

Skinner held onto her until the pain passed. She smiled her thanks and they proceeded into the living room. Marita couldn't contain her laughter at the picture Alex presented. He had put on his boots and leather jacket over his sleep pants and t-shirt. His hair stuck up in random spikes. He had obviously been running his hand through it while he paced the room waiting for them. Alex hadn't put on his prosthesis so the jacket sleeve swung back and forth as he paced.

"Don't you think you should get dressed, Krycek?" Skinner growled.

Krycek stopped his pacing and stared at Skinner. His lips were slightly parted, a bewildered expression on his face. He blinked and looked down at his appearance. Krycek didn't say a word as he grabbed his suitcase and stomped into the bathroom.

When he returned, Skinner had already escorted Marita to the car. Only Mulder stood waiting for him, an irritating smirk on his face and his eyes flashing with mischief.

"Shut up, Mulder."

"I didn't say a word," Mulder replied and then busted out laughing.


Jopler didn't have a local hospital, only a general family practice that handled the minor emergencies. Marita directed them to the neighboring town, twenty minutes away. When they arrived at the hospital, the attending nurse took one look at Marita and rushed her off to an examination room.

"Are you the father?" The doctor asked and put his hand against Krycek's chest to stop him from entering the operating room.

Krycek glared at the man, but the doctor was unmoved. Skinner grabbed hold of Krycek's arm and pulled him away, not wanting a scene in the hospital corridor. The doctor disappeared behind the swinging doors, leaving the three men alone in the hall.


Krycek yanked his arm out of Skinner's loose grip and started pacing. Mulder and Skinner stood watching him for a few minutes, then Mulder walked down to the waiting area and flopped down on a sofa. He looked at his watch. It was after one in the morning.

"Do you think Marita will be okay?" Krycek stopped his pacing and asked Skinner.

"She'll be fine." Skinner was a little surprised at the reassuring tone that came out with his words. "Come on, Krycek. Let's go sit down. Wearing the tiles out will not make the baby come any faster."

Krycek stared at Skinner like he hadn't understood what Skinner was saying. Skinner shrugged his shoulders and headed to the waiting area. Krycek stood staring at Skinner's back. With a sigh, he followed Skinner down the hall.

By the time the doctor returned to tell the men Marita had given birth and was okay, the only one still awake was Krycek. Mulder was sleeping with his head leaning on Skinner's shoulder. Skinner's head was tilted back and a small snore was the only noise in the quiet waiting room. Krycek had spent the time waiting, watching the two men sleep.

He talked to the doctor for a minute. The doctor finally agreed to let them see Marita and the baby against hospital regulations. Krycek nudged Mulder and Skinner to wake them. Skinner gave a snort and opened his eyes.

"The doctor said we could go and see Marita and the baby. I'm headed to Marita's room now. I thought you might want to go with me," Krycek whispered.

Skinner nodded his head and then turned to wake Mulder. Mulder blinked his eyes a few times and stretched his arms up into a loud back cracking stretch.

"What time is it?" He asked no one in particular.

Krycek had decided not to stick around and watch the wake up kiss between Mulder and Skinner. He had spent longer than he intended watching the two of them doze comfortably in each other's arms. He thought he would be jealous, but instead he felt empty. He started for Marita's room before Mulder was fully awake.

"It's three a.m. Marita's had the baby and the doctor is letting us into see her," Skinner whispered and kissed Mulder. He stood and helped a sleep groggy Mulder to his feet, then followed Krycek to Marita's room.

Marita was awake and nursing the baby. She smiled at the three men as they entered the room. Marita wondered if they had any clue what a beautiful sight all three made together. Krycek walked over and leaned down to kiss her cheek. He tenderly stoked the baby's head.

"It's a boy, Alex," Marita whispered. Her eyes started to well up. "I mean, I knew it would be, but now that he is here...It's just so wonderful." Skinner and Mulder stood on the opposite side of the bed and watched the interaction between the two friends.

Skinner laced his fingers around Mulder's and gave the hand a slight squeeze. Skinner had always wanted a large family, much like the one he grew up with and now, whether Mulder wanted to admit it or not, their small family just increased.

"Have you decided on a name?" Mulder asked Marita. He knew what Skinner was thinking and he wanted to acknowledge the baby as his nephew. He had already come to the conclusion he would make Jeff, Marita and the baby a part of his and Walter's life.

"I'm sorry, gentlemen. Let me introduce, Jeffery Alexander Davies." Marita paused to let the name sink in. She watched the realization dawn on Alex's face. "We want you to be his godfather, Alex."

Krycek was surprised. He didn't know what to say to Marita. He wasn't even sure what a godfather was supposed to do. The only reference he had was the old movies and he was pretty sure that wasn't what Marita meant.

"Say yes, Krycek." Skinner was not surprised by Marita's request. Over the past day he had seen the trust Marita had for Krycek and, in light of the revelation earlier, he thought maybe they could trust him too.

The night duty nurse interrupted them before Krycek could answer. She told they had to leave and let Marita get some rest. She pushed them out the door and said to come back in the morning during regular visiting hours.


It had started to mist right before dusk. The three men had visited Marita and the baby early that morning and spent the afternoon searching Harper's Grove. They decided their best course of action was to go back after dark.

Equipped with flashlights and headsets they purchased at the local sports shop, they entered the little wooded area. Each of them carried a gun, but Mulder pointed out guns would not help much against ghosts. Their plan was for each one of them to sweep an assigned area, moving towards the center. They would be in constant contact with each other and notify the others if someone else entered Harper's Grove or if they came in contact with the ghost.

Krycek hoped the mist would help muffle the sound of their feet on the dead leaves covering the ground. As stealthily as he could, he moved towards the designated meeting point. Mulder and Skinner kept up a constant whispered chatter over the headsets. He noticed the drop in temperature at the same time he noticed their voices were the only sounds in the grove.

He stopped moving. He could sense something or someone near him. "It's here," he whispered as the moon disappeared, blanking the area in complete darkness. The wind was picked up, blowing the wet leaves around his feet. "Skinner. Mulder. It's over here," he hissed into the headset. Krycek felt a shiver run through his body and just as quickly it was gone.

"Krycek. Stay where you are, I'm headed your way." Skinner said, all pretense of stealth gone.

"Skinner, where's Mulder?"

"He's right behind...Mulder?" Skinner came to an abrupt halt and spun around. "God dammit, Krycek, get over hear now! Mulder's gone!"

Krycek started running in the direction of Skinner's voice. He could finally make out the flashlight beam sweeping the area, his own light joining Skinner's. He heard movement to his left. Both he and Skinner turned towards the noise; their flashlight beams merged in time to catch a glimpse of Mulder as he was dragged into a hole in the ground.

"Mulder!" Skinner shouted and dived for Mulder. He missed catching Mulder's feet as he was pulled into the darkness. Krycek pushed Skinner out of the way and crawled in after Mulder. Skinner followed closely behind.

The hole was more like a tunnel or crawlspace. It was large enough for the men to move into quickly but they had to travel on their hands and knees. The further they crawled, the colder the air grew. Krycek's flashlight went out first, followed closely by Skinner's. Skinner noticed Krycek's breathing grow harsh.

"Are you okay?" Skinner's voice sounded loud in the dark, even though he whispered his question.

"It's nothing," Krycek hissed and tried to regulate his breathing. He had problems with dark enclosed places since the silo, but he wouldn't let his fear keep him from stopping that thing from taking Mulder.

Without the benefit of light, their eyes quickly adjusted to the dark, which allowed them to see the eerie green glow ahead of them. They reached the end of the tunnel and dropped down into a small cavern. The green light had no visible source, but it illuminated the room enough for them to spot Mulder unconscious in the corner. Neither of the two men could sense the presence of the ghost.

Skinner rushed to Mulder's side, running his hands over his body, trying to find an injury. He could find no evidence of injury and Mulder's eyelashes began to flutter. When his eyes focused on Skinner, he asked what happened. Skinner quickly explained where they were and what occurred while they were searching Harper's Grove.

They looked around the cave and spotted Krycek on the opposite side digging in the earth. Krycek had started searching the cave after they entered and Skinner had left to help Mulder. Krycek had found two lumps abnormally formed in the mud and had cautiously started to dig, discovering the bodies of Jeff and Danny. He frantically pulled away the mud surrounding their faces and checked for signs of life. They were alive, but barely breathing.

"Get over here! I've found them!"

Skinner helped Mulder to his feet and they moved to where Krycek was furiously digging up the ground. Kneeling beside Krycek, they helped him dig the bodies out.

Skinner was suddenly yanked from them and slung across the room. When his body impacted with the cave wall he roared in pain. Mulder and Krycek turned in time to see Skinner's body picked up and hung from mid-air by his throat.

Acting on instinct alone, Krycek jumped on the ghost. The ghost, or whatever it was, had no visible substance. A slight shift in the light reflecting around the cavern was the only way they could actually see it and know where it is. Krycek managed to distract the entity long enough for it to release Skinner.

Mulder moved to help Krycek, but the younger man yelled for him to stay away and help the others. Mulder looked back at where Danny and Jeff were still half buried in the mud. He could see that Jeff was coming around. To his other side, he could see Skinner rubbing his throat and clutching his leg. He rushed to his lover's side.

"Walter, are you okay?"

"I think my ankle is broken." Skinner's face was contorted with pain.

"Where's your gun? I can't find mine," Mulder asked.

Skinner looked around the cavern floor. He had felt the gun fall out of the waistband of his jeans when he impacted with the wall. He spotted the gun not far from where they were sitting. He pointed to it. Mulder snatched it up and pointed it to where Krycek was still struggling with the entity.

"It won't do you any good, Fox. You don't know if the bullet will have any effect and, if it passes through, you might hit Krycek."

Jeff started to sit up, the voices in the cavern pulling him from his unconscious state. He tried to focus his eyes, but his mind was still foggy. He searched for something to focus on and found Danny beside him. The young boy's breathing was so shallow, Jeff thought at first he was dead, but a slight rise of Danny's chest assured Jeff the boy was alive. A scream shook the last of the fogginess from Jeff. He bolted upright and saw Krycek being slung around the cave.

Krycek had thought he had the upper hand. He clung to the unseen entity's back. Or what he assumed was the back. His body was being tossed back and forth through the air. He could see Mulder pointing a gun in his direction, but knew Mulder would not fire and risk hitting him.

The entity shifted its tactics and slammed Krycek into the cave wall. The breath was knocked out of him and, before he could gain his composure, the ghost grabbed him by his throat. He could feel his body being lifted into the air, his feet dangling a few feet above the floor. Krycek used his good arm to pound at the entity.

It had no effect. He felt the razor sharp claws rip through his jacket and into his flesh raking down his shoulders to the top of his hip. He screamed. The pain was as bad as when his arm had been sawed off. He could feel the straps of his prosthesis give from being cut and the arm slipped from his shoulder catching in the cuff of his jacket. The world started graying and turned black as he felt his body fly across the cave and he landed hard on the cavern floor.

Mulder was frozen as he watched Krycek's struggle with the entity. He caught Jeff moving to help Krycek and yelled for him to get Danny out of there. He watched both scenes play out before his eyes and he was helpless to aid either man. Skinner had gripped his arm, and tightly with bruising force as they watched Krycek's chest ripped open.

He was glad Jeff was pushing a half conscious Danny into the tunnel. After Krycek's body crumpled to the cave floor, Mulder sensed the entity leaving the area. Skinner sensed it too and, before Mulder could decide which of the fallen men to help first, the older man told him to make sure Danny and Jeff got out.

"No, I'm not leaving you and Alex, Walter!" He yelled at his lover as he made his way over to Krycek's side.

"You have too. I can't walk and Krycek is unconscious. You can't carry us both. Get Danny and Jeff to safety and come back with help. It's the only way and you know it."

Mulder ignored Skinner and continued to Krycek's side. Krycek's chest was covered in blood, his jacket and shirt beneath it was soaked through. Mulder felt for a pulse. It was weak but at least Krycek was alive, he thought. He knelt down and lifted Krycek by the shoulders and started dragging him to where Skinner was propped against the wall. He laid Krycek's body next to Skinner.

"Get out of here, Fox," Skinner growled.

Mulder pulled off his jacket and pressed it to Krycek's chest, trying to slow the flow of blood. Skinner grabbed his arm. He was about to yank back when he sensed it. The entity was back. He swung around in time to see the shimmer of light shift as it entered the tunnel.

"Go!" Skinner yelled. Mulder hesitated. He didn't want to leave the two wounded men, but Danny and Jeff were helpless. He pleaded to Skinner with his eyes.

Skinner could see the indecision in his lover's eyes. He picked up the gun Mulder had dropped and waved it towards the tunnel. "It's the only choice, Fox. Go. I'll protect Alex."

"I'll be back. Don't let anything happen to you...or Alex." Mulder leaned in and gave Skinner a quick kiss. He wanted to do more; this might be the last time.

No, I can't think that way, he thought. He took one last look at Krycek and then stood up and headed to the tunnel.

"Mulder!" Skinner's voice stopped him. He turned and saw Skinner motioning to the floor where Jeff and Danny had been buried. His eyes landed on Krycek's gun. He picked it up and crawled into the tunnel, not wanting to look back at his lover.

Skinner positioned himself in front of Krycek's body. He pressed his hand against Mulder's bloody coat. Krycek wasn't bleeding as much, but he had already lost a lot of blood. Krycek's body started trembling. Skinner thought at first it was shock, but then he noticed the drop in temperature. He pointed the gun at the entrance to the tunnel.

He waited. Nothing happened at first and then he heard it. A faint sound of running water. The sound a newly formed brook made after a rain. Skinner focused on the tunnel. The water pouring out was a small trickle, but steadily increasing in volume. He could already see it pooling on the cavern floor.

In a matter of minutes, the water had changed from merely pooling on the floor, to overflowing and streaming towards them. Skinner felt the cold water seep into his jeans. He looked at Krycek. His hair was already darkening from the water.

Skinner knew he had to get them out of there. They couldn't wait for Mulder to return with help.


Mulder couldn't see anything in front of him. He crawled as fast as he could, but the cold water flowing through the tunnel had slowed his pace and made the already cold air almost unbearable. He could finally make out a faint light ahead of him.

A shiver ran through Mulder's body. He had figured out that was usually a prelude to the appearance of the entity. He picked up his pace. He could see the opening to the exit to the outside, until the moonlight disappeared.

An unholy scream rented the darkness. Mulder pulled himself out of the tunnel in time to see Danny fall to the ground. The rain was pouring down hard. Mulder could make out Jeff standing near Danny, frozen, his eyes wide in fear.

Mulder stumbled to his feet, slipping on the wet leaves but managing to lunge forward. The clouds overhead shifted and a sliver of moonlight illuminated the area. He reached for Jeff and spun him around.

"What happened?" he yelled.

"I...don't know! It was here. Danny screamed and it was gone." Jeff could barely hear Mulder's voice through the rain.

Mulder and Jeff knelt beside Danny. The boy was alive but in shock. Mulder thought Jeff looked like he was a little shocky too.

"You have to get Danny out of here. We don't know if it will be back."

"But what about Alex and Skinner?" Jeff asked. His eyes started to glaze over. Mulder slapped him across the face, trying to get Jeff to focus.

"Get Danny out of here. Now. Take him back to your house and call the sheriff for help. I'm going back for Walter and Alex."

Jeff nodded, expressing his understanding. He picked up the unconscious boy and started running in the direction of his house. Mulder watched until he thought the two would be safe. He moved to the entrance to the tunnel. Mulder felt the ground shift beneath his feet and watched as the tunnel entrance collapsed.


The water on the cave floor was already about six inches deep and rising fast. Skinner made his decision. He pulled his belt off and tied Krycek's hands together. The prosthesis made it difficult, since it was no longer attached to Krycek's shoulder. But with any luck, it would not slip through the cuff or the belt, Skinner reasoned.

Skinner knelt beside Krycek and positioned him on his back. As he lifted Krycek's bound wrists over his shoulders and around his neck, the extra weight bore down on his broken ankle. Skinner bit back his pain.

He felt Krycek shift and heard him mumble. It would be easier if Krycek stayed unconscious. Skinner got his wish as Krycek slumped boneless on his back making Skinner brace himself to keep from falling face down in the cold water.

Skinner slowly lifted himself up. His progress was slow, but he managed to drag Krycek to the tunnel entrance. This was where working out would come in handy, he thought as he hoisted his body and his burden into the tunnel.

The water pouring through the tunnel made it slippery, but Skinner dug his fingers in and pulled them slowly forward, inch-by-inch. He heard a scream off in the distance. It was so faint; he couldn't make out whose voice it was. Skinner picked up his pace as best he could when he felt the tunnel rumble.

Skinner braced himself for what he knew was coming. If he and Krycek had any hope to survive, he couldn't let the mudslide force them back into the cavern. He pushed his hands and his one good foot as deep into the soft ground as he could manage.

The force of the mud was strong. He could feel it coating his face and clothes. He pushed his body up, hoping to not only allow the mud to flow by him, but also to keep as much off Krycek as possible.

Krycek stirred again, the shifting weight threatened to unbalance Skinner. He pressed Krycek's body into the tunnel wall, hoping to stop him from moving.

"Don't move, Alex. Try to stay calm." Skinner couldn't tell if Krycek was actually awake or if he was just moving unconsciously. He could feel the heat radiating from Krycek's body. Skinner knew a fever setting so quickly was not a good sign.

Skinner made soothing sounds trying to assure Krycek, although Skinner was pretty sure he was trying to reassure himself at the same time.

"Fox," Krycek slurred out into Skinner's ear.

"It's alright, Alex. Fox made it out with Jeff and Danny. They're all safe." Skinner crossed his fingers, mentally hoping he was right.

"Safe. And you will be, too, but I need you to stay still and not struggle. Do you understand, Alex?"

"Alex, that's nice." Krycek's voice was a soft whisper on Skinner's neck. The mudflow was slowing down; they would soon be able to move again.

"What's nice?" Skinner thought maybe talking to Krycek would help keep him calm.

"You calling me Alex. I like it," Krycek murmured, after a short pause.

"That's your name, isn't it, boy?" Skinner replied a little more gruffly than he intended. They needed to get moving, but he didn't want to risk it until Krycek was asleep or unconscious.

"Unhunh, but you never called me Alex before." Krycek's words puffed warmly against Skinner's skin. He felt Krycek's body shudder in pain. "It hurts," Krycek's voice was little more than a soft whine.

"I know, Alex. We'll be out of here soon. Hang on, but I need you not to move around, no matter how much it hurts. Okay?" Skinner tried to keep his voice from sounding harsh, but he was losing patience. They needed to get moving. His ankle was throbbing and the cold mud had not done anything to abate the pain.

"Anything for you, Walter," Krycek said, right before he slipped unconscious again. Skinner sighed in relief. He braced himself and moved forward, making his way an inch at a time.

He heard Mulder call out his name and a second surge of adrenaline kicked through his body. Skinner crawled faster towards Mulder's voice. A flashlight beam momentarily blinded him, and then hands were reaching for him.


Mulder dug at the mud blocking the entrance to the tunnel. He was certain just as much mud slipped down the tunnel as he was digging out. He managed to keep the tunnel entrance from filling up, but he couldn't do anymore without help. Mulder hoped the sheriff would arrive soon.

He could see a little more clearly. The rain had not stopped, but it was no longer pouring hard. There was enough light for him to see by. He glanced up at the sky. Dawn was fast approaching. Mulder looked at his mud-covered watch. It was nearly six in the morning. He was shocked at how much time had passed since they had started to search Harper's Grove the night before.

Mulder heard leaves crumple and footsteps break through the silent woods. He was surprised to see Jeff come running towards him.

"What are you doing back here? I told you to get Danny to safety and call the sheriff," Mulder screamed at Jeff. Jeff panted from the exertion of running from his house back to the woods. He glared at Mulder and then handed him a shovel.

"I took Danny to the Marlows' and told them to call Jameson. I couldn't leave you out here alone, Mulder." Jeff dropped to his knees beside his brother and started digging at the entrance with his bare hands. He was exhausted and had no idea what was going on, but he knew he couldn't stand by and let Alex and AD Skinner stay trapped down there with that thing, whatever it was.

When the two men had managed to make the hole big enough, Jeff handed Mulder a flashlight he pulled from his coat pocket. Mulder directed the beam down the hole. He thought he had caught a glimpse of movement.

"Walter!" Mulder moved the light around hoping to get a better view. "Walter," he yelled again. Mulder could make out large mud covered hands in the flashlight's beam.

Mulder and Jeff reached in and grabbed hold of Skinner's hands. They tried to pull Skinner out but the weight was too much. Skinner braced his good foot in the mud and let go of Mulder and Jeff's hands.

"Mulder, get Alex out first. I don't think we will both fit through the entrance," Skinner said as he hoisted Krycek and pushed his limp body towards the opening.

Mulder and Jeff pulled the unconscious Krycek out and placed him gently on the ground. They could see Skinner's hand break through the opening and grabbed hold, pulling him out as well. Mulder wrapped his arms around Skinner's heaving chest and held on tightly.

"God, Walter. When the entrance collapsed..." Mulder choked out.

"I'm okay. We're all okay, but we need to get out of here." Skinner clutched Mulder to his chest. He didn't want to let go, but he also wanted to get Krycek to the hospital. They needed to get to a car and quickly.

The three men jumped when they first heard the loud rumble of a car engine. The headlights blinded them as Jameson pulled up in his truck. Jameson hadn't put the truck in park before Deputy Nixon was out the passenger side and kneeling beside Krycek.

"Thank god your here, Sheriff. Walter can't walk and Alex is badly hurt," Mulder said as he and Jeff helped Skinner to his feet. Jameson took note of how Mulder referred to Agent Barclay. He had read the man's ID and knew that wasn't his name. He let it slide; there would be time later to figure it out.

Deputy Nixon had already picked up Krycek and was carrying him to the truck. Mulder was surprised the small man was as strong as he was. They half carried Skinner to the truck and helped him sit in the backseat. Mulder climbed in beside him. Jeff took the passenger seat beside Jameson and Deputy Nixon stayed in back with Krycek.

Jameson switched on the sirens and turned the truck around. The tires spun momentarily in the soft mud, then the four-wheel drive kicked in and they plowed out of Harper's Grove.

Jameson called the hospital to alert them of the men's injuries. Orderlies were waiting at the emergency entrance with a gurney to take Krycek when they arrived at the hospital. They whisked him away before Jeff and Mulder managed to get Skinner into the wheelchair a nurse had brought out.

In the examination bay, the doctors cut away Skinner's boot. His foot and ankle were severely swollen, but the x-rays showed he hadn't broken it, only aggravated the torn ligaments by not staying immobile. He growled about not having a choice, but quieted down when the painkillers kicked in.

Mulder waited in the hall while the surgeons worked on sewing up Krycek and the other doctors finished Skinner's examination. He tried to get an update on either man with little success.

A nurse taking in his appearance asked Mulder if he was okay. He was cold, tired, covered in mud and had a nasty bump on the head. He looked at her incredulously and refused treatment.

Marita had managed to talk her doctor in letting her go downstairs after Deputy Nixon had told her that Jeff had been found and was okay. She wanted to be with him as he was being checked on by one of the doctors in the emergency room. She spotted Mulder as soon as the doors to the elevator parted.

She didn't hesitate from hugging Mulder, covering her dressing gown with mud and stench. Mulder explained to her what had happened and what was currently going on with each of the other men. During his recount of them and their current condition, Jeff walked out of an examination room and Mulder was quickly forgotten.

Mulder watched from a distance as the couple fell into each other's arms. He wanted nothing more than to be in Skinner's arms at that moment. Mulder was worried about Skinner, but Krycek's injuries could prove fatal.

Marita and Jeff went over to Mulder. Each of them taking a turn and embracing him. Mulder appreciated their efforts, but told Marita to take Jeff to meet his son.

Mulder sat down heavily on the sofa in the waiting room. He was exhausted and couldn't find the strength to pace the floor.

The nurse approached him and explained that Mulder could go and see Skinner. The damage to his ankle was serious but didn't require surgery and he would have to wear a walking cast for eight weeks. The doctor said he didn't have to spend the night, but should wait a couple of hours before trying to move about too much.

Skinner protested but he was too exhausted to put up much of a fuss. Mulder followed as one of the staff wheeled Skinner into a semi private room. He waited until the nurse left the room before pulling Skinner into his arms.

"Don't ever do that again, Walter," Mulder said into Skinner’s shoulder. The events of the past night were catching up with him. Mulder wasn't sure how much longer he would be able to keep it together.

"We didn't have a choice, Fox. You know that." Skinner could tell Mulder was barely holding it together. He tightened his embrace. His head was still foggy from the pain medicine, but it didn't take a clear head to see the worry lining his lover's face.

"How's Alex?" Skinner asked.

"He is still in surgery. I can't get anyone to give me a straight answer."

Skinner buzzed the nurse's station and asked if one of them could come to his room.

Mulder took a nurse aside and asked her if she could check on Krycek for them.

She returned later with news they were still working on him. They had already put in over three hundred stitches to close the gouges. The nurse explained the surgery would probably be finished in another hour and then Krycek would go into a recovery room before being moved to a private room. She said he would be put in ICU, because of the substantial amount of blood he lost.

At some point, Jeff and Marita dropped by with little Jeffery. Marita was being released later in the afternoon and Jeff offered to pick up a change of clothes for Mulder and Skinner. Mulder thanked Jeff and took him up on his offer.

An hour and half later, Mulder was clean and felt somewhat better. Skinner woke up from the nap he had been taking due to the painkiller and, upon seeing their fresh clothes, asked for a shower. Mulder offered a sponge bath, which Skinner looked momentarily interested until the nurse popped her head in and said he could have a bath as long as he kept the cast dry and stayed off his ankle.

Krycek was finally in recovery. It had been touch and go for a while because of the blood loss, but the surgeons were pleased and said he would make a full recovery. They would be moving him into a semi-private room later. Mulder crawled into the spare bed in Skinner's room and slept until the evening.

Skinner was already awake and making noise about getting out of the hospital when Mulder woke from his nap. The doctor relented since there was no reason for Skinner to stay with just a sprained ankle.

"I don't want to leave Alex," Mulder protested.

"Fox, I don't want to leave Alex either, but the doctors won't let me see him until I've been released."

"When did you find that out?"

"While you were sleeping. I figured you needed the rest and didn't want to wake you."

"Okay. How is he?" Mulder asked as he climbed in bed beside Skinner.

"They have moved him to ICU. As soon as we've filled out the paper work for my release, we can go see him."

Jeff was checking Marita and the baby out, so they waited on them. Marita didn't want to leave Krycek either, so they all decided to grab some dinner in the hospital cafeteria and then adjourn to his room.

Mulder asked Jeff what he remembered about what had happened. Jeff didn't remember anything past taking the short cut through Harper's Grove and then waking up in the cavern with them.


Jameson showed up asking more questions. Skinner explained what happened. Jameson told them Danny Phillips was checked out and was given a clean bill of health. Danny had not been able to give the sheriff any more information than Jeff about the abductions.

Jameson wanted to know about Krycek. When he used Krycek's name, they realized they had slipped up at some point. Skinner explained that Krycek had been an FBI agent and was trying to help Jeff and Marita who were in the witness protection program. Jameson accepted the explanation and told Jeff and Marita their secret was safe with him. They were relieved. Even after everything that had happened, they didn't want to leave Jopler.

No one could come up with a reasonable explanation about the ghost of Harper's Grove. Neither Jeff nor Danny knew why it suddenly disappeared or why they were taken in the first place. The worse was they didn't know if it was gone for good.

Jameson returned later that evening with disturbing news. They had put up tape to keep the public out and had called the state police for backup, but before they could begin searching the underground cave, Harper's Grove had sunk into itself.

Mulder wanted to return to Harper's Grove and check things out, Skinner refused to let him go, so Jeff offered to go with Mulder. Marita begged Jeff not to go. She was happy to have him back safe and didn't want him to put himself in any more danger. Marita was confident Jameson could handle things.

"But we may never know what happened or why?" Jeff implored.

"Do we have to know? Can't we just count ourselves lucky to have survived?" Marita was getting hysterical. She couldn't believe they would want to return. She had almost lost Jeff.

The door to Krycek's room cracked open and Deputy Nixon poked his head in. Jameson waved him in. "What do you need, Nixon?"

The quiet deputy said nothing. He looked around the room at each of the occupants. A hush fell over them and the room was suddenly filled with a bright light. When the light dimmed back to its natural illumination the deputy was gone.

"Well, I’ll leave you young people alone. I'm glad your friend is going to be okay." Jameson tipped his hat and left the room.

Mulder shook his head. He tried to remember what had just happened, but the last few minutes were a blur. Mulder decided to let go of the mystery of Harper's Grove, he was sure the ghost or whatever it was, was gone. The sheriff's department didn't need him messing around the scene. He had more important things to take care of.


Marita and Jeff were huddled in the room's recliner. They were arguing, but their voices never rose above a whisper. Jeff moved out from underneath Marita and started pacing the room.

"Marita, we should respect Alex's feelings. If he wanted them to know, he would tell them," Jeff quietly admonished her.

"No, he wouldn't. Alex never says anything about what he wants. He has done so much for us. He dropped everything to come out here and find you. I think it is about time we did something for him," Marita stated firmly. She turned and looked squarely at Mulder and Skinner.

"Gentlemen, I know you are together and I'm not suggesting anything, but you should know how Alex feels about the two of you." Marita met Skinner with an unwavering stare, knowing he would be the hard sell.

She had already determined Mulder cared for Krycek. She had known it since the first time she had seen them together years ago. The men sat silently waiting for her to continue.

"Alex is in love with you. Both of you. He has been for a long time."

"Why hasn't he ever said anything?" Mulder asked. He knew Krycek was attracted to him and he had always known there was a lot more between them than either of them was willing to admit. But love was a pretty strong emotion to describe it with. He glanced at Skinner from under his lashes. He wondered how his lover was taking the information. Skinner was wearing the look that had gained him the nick name ‘Old Stoneface’.

"Because he was afraid. He still is," Jeff answered for Marita. "Marita and Alex are a lot alike. They couldn't form emotional attachments due to their assignments and, even after it ended, it took a long time for Marita to admit she loved me."

Marita squeezed Jeff's hand. "In our positions, loving someone was akin to signing their death warrant. It took a while for me to give up the idea. And for Alex, as long as you hated him, he would have an easier time protecting you from the Consortium."

"He worked for them. How was that protecting us?" Skinner asked.

"By being on the inside, he would know what their plans were and act accordingly. We were working for the rebels by that point, remaining in our positions inside the Consortium as spies. If Spender had known Alex was working with the rebels against the project, he would have had Alex terminated. He had almost succeeded twice before."

"The nanocytes were a test. Not only of their usefulness, but of Alex's continued loyalty to Consortium." Marita paused, thinking about all she was revealing. "You were supposed to die, Walter. Alex thought if he brought you back and made the elders think he controlled you, he could stave off any more termination orders on you. It worked. The elders thought you were on a tight leash and no longer a threat."

"I told Alex to explain everything to you and that you would understand. He didn't think so; Alex said he had done too many things to be forgiven for, no matter what the reasons were. He believed you both hated him. I didn't want to believe it, but I saw his face after you shot his clone, Walter.

He was devastated. The plan might have worked, but I think deep down, Alex didn't want to believe you would kill him."

"I didn't want to kill him. He left me no choice," Skinner whispered in reply. He moved over beside the bed and reached out to touch Krycek's face. "He should have trusted us with the truth. We would have found a way to make it work."

"Walter, he couldn't trust us and we didn't trust him. There was just too much between us. As much as I would like to believe I would've listened to him, I know I would have called him a liar and we probably would have ended up in a fight. At that point in time, I didn't even trust you entirely. God, it was such a mess back then," Mulder said.

"If any of us had trusted each other, just a little, things would have been so different. Maybe we could have stopped them sooner," Jeff added.

Mulder moved to stand beside Skinner. They looked down at Krycek. Gone was the fresh faced young man who had turned their lives upside down. Even sleep couldn't erase the lines of the hard life he had lived. His body was a roadmap of scars, ending in the truncated left arm. Krycek moved so effortlessly with the prosthesis, Mulder had almost forgotten Krycek wore it.

The night duty nurse arrived to tell them all to leave. Mulder charmed her into bending the rules and letting them stay. Marita and Jeff left with the baby, promising to return with breakfast in the morning. Skinner climbed into the spare bed and Mulder stuffed a few pillows under his cast. He crawled in beside him and nestled up against him.

"What are we going to do, Walter?"

"I'm not sure. We have to talk, but I'm not sure how I feel about him, Fox. Honestly, how do you feel?"

"I don't know. I'm attracted to Alex, but am I in love with him? I can't say for sure. I know I love you, but it's different from how I feel about Alex."

"Fox, when we were down there, in the cave, Alex said something to me. He was feverish and it probably meant nothing."

"What did he say?" Mulder laced his fingers around Skinner's hand and pillowed his head on Skinner's chest.

"That he would do anything for me."

"He saved our lives. If he hadn't attacked the ghost, it would have killed you."

"I realize that. I thought at first it was for you. That he was saving me because of how he feels about you, but after he said that… Well, since then I've started to wonder and re-examine how I have always perceived Alex."

"What have you come up with?"

"That there is a lot more to Alex Krycek than I ever thought," Skinner whispered and placed a kiss on Mulder's dark head. He let his eyes drift close.

A nurse woke Skinner and Mulder early the next morning. She was distraught. Sometime during the night Krycek had disappeared.


One month later,
Smoky Mountains, East Tennessee

"It's getting late. We should find a place to spend the night and start fresh in the morning," Skinner suggested.

"Pull in here," Mulder pointed at the rustic building off to the left. The sign said it was The General Store. Skinner turned on the signal and drove into an available parking spot. The store was empty except for the owner, RG.

"We're looking for a place to stay, close by. Can you recommend anything?" Skinner made a beeline to the man behind the register; he had become very adept at maneuvering with the cast on and only a cane. He joked a lot about practicing for the future every time he swatted Mulder's ass with it.

Mulder was immediately drawn to the many odd trinkets and crafts, clearly not what you would find in the city. Many items appeared hand made and had tiny cards attached explaining the origins of the item.

"Sure, there is a B&B about ten minutes up the road. Kinda out of the way. Jesse only has two rooms and they are usually vacant, so you'll have lots of privacy," RG included a wink with the last statement.

He had guessed the nature of the two men's relationship. The older man's eyes never truly left from watching the younger man's movements or whereabouts. He had no problem with seeing two men together; love was love, although his preferences had always been with the ladies.

Their community was filled with native artisans from all walks of life. Many of the residents were latter day hippies who had sought refuge from the commercialism of the bigger cities and tourist traps.

Nestled in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, the community didn't even have a name nor was it on any map. Most visitors found their way there when they got lost headed to Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge.

The residents were mostly self sufficient, relying on barter for a lot of their basic needs. They welcomed the occasional tourist with open arms, but kept mostly to themselves.

Mulder turned the quilt over and ran his fingers along the stitching. The craftsmanship was delicate, with slight variations due to being hand sewn. He decided to buy it for Scully for Christmas.

He glanced around checking to make sure if he missed anything. They could always come back in the morning, but he wanted to get on with the search. Skinner was still with the owner, jotting down an address. Mulder grinned. He hoped their first Christmas together would bring them what they wanted. That was why they were here, after all.

"You wouldn't have a book about the local legends and folklore of the area? Or maybe know where I could pick one up?" Mulder figured he might as well add to the reference library of MSK Investigations while they were here.

"If you’re looking for the real deal, then your best bet would be Books and Things. The boy that runs it has all sorts of old books cluttering the shelves. Seems he's some kind of ghost buff." RG rubbed his whiskered chin a moment, thinking.

"Nice young fellow. Lives up the road a bit. Comes into town a few days a week, but he does most of his business on the Internet. He'll come in special if I give him a call." RG gave Mulder a smirk. "You want I should give 'em a holler?"

"I don't want to bother him this late. We'll be in the area a few days." Mulder pulled a business card out of his wallet along with his credit card. "If you talk to him, give me a call on my cell and we'll meet him at the store."

"You sure," RG read the name on the card, "Mr. Mulder? I'm sure Alex wouldn't mind. 'Bout the only time I've seen the boy animated is when he's talking about ghosts and such. 'Course, that's his eyes, face don't hardly show any expression at all, but them green eyes hide nothing."

Mulder tried to contain his excitement, but Skinner saw the flash of hope spark in his hazel eyes. He wanted to be careful, from the way RG talked, the people around here looked after one another and if he thought they were after Krycek, he might clam up.

They had been searching for Alex Krycek since he disappeared from the hospital over a month ago. Jeff and Marita only had a cell number to call in case of emergencies. Skinner had known, if they played that card too early, Krycek would run to ground and they would have no hope of finding him.

Langly had come up with the solution. He had found a way through the GPS to trace a number no matter how long it was in use. The Lone Gunmen didn't like the implications of the government being able to track someone so easily and decided to keep the information to themselves. The system wasn't foolproof. It could only give a general location within a seventy-mile radius.

Mulder figured this would be their best chance to find Krycek. He didn't have to convince Marita to break the 'only for emergencies' rule. She was only too glad to help them. She used the excuse of thanking Krycek as the reason to call. Krycek stayed on the line for less than thirty seconds, but it was enough time for the Gunmen to trace him to east Tennessee.

That was how Skinner and Mulder ended up spending the two weeks before Christmas in the Great Smoky Mountains.

"This should be the place," Mulder said and pointed to a large farmhouse set back off the road.

Skinner slowed down and debated where to park. The snow was getting thicker and he could feel the car buck when the wind hit it. It was not the kind of night he would normally choose to pay someone a surprise visit. But then again, most people wouldn't be out on a night like this.

He decided to park halfway up the drive, hoping the wind would muffle the sound of the car. Skinner killed the engine and sat staring at the house. The night was quiet except for the wind. A light from the windows of the house illuminated the front lawn with a warm glow.

"What if it's not him?" Mulder asked his voice breaking the silence surrounding them.

"If it's not Alex, then we keep looking," he assured Mulder.

"It's getting colder," Mulder stated, to fill the silence more than anything else. He was nervous and hated waiting.

"How do you think we should do this?" Skinner asked.

"Well, getting out of the car would be the first step."

"You think we should just walk up and knock on the door? This is Krycek we're talking about."

"Alex is hiding in plain sight. He doesn't think anyone is looking for him. The Gunmen put out feelers and, as for the world at large, Alex Krycek died a year ago."

"This isn't exactly plain sight."

"No, but it's not a fortress of solitude either. Come on, Walter. I can't believe you're this nervous."

"I'm not nervous. If he rabbits, I'm not going to chase him off into the woods on a night like this."

"Alex is not going to run. He may want to, but he won't. We may have to handcuff to keep him from sneaking off in the middle of the night, though." Mulder smiled, he liked that thought, and he definitely wanted to explore it further.

Skinner knew right away what his aggressive lover was thinking. The mention of handcuffs and Krycek in the same sentence appealed to him on so many levels. He shook the vision from his head; they first had to actually knock on the door.

"All right, let's go. But, Fox," Skinner placed a hand on Mulder's arm. "Try not to jump his bones within the first ten minutes, okay? We don't want to scare him."

"Are you trying to say I am scary?" Mulder asked, mocked-offended.

"Never." Skinner gave Mulder a chaste kiss and braced himself for the confrontation awaiting them.


The temperature was dropping fast once the sun had set. Krycek was glad he had already brought in another load of firewood. He threw another log on for good measure before checking to see if his coffee was finished.

He wasn't surprised to hear a knock at the door. RG usually stopped by after he closed the shop for a cup of coffee. Krycek liked the old man. RG loved to talk and didn't ask many questions. He would stay for an hour and then head home, making the excuse that the missus missed him.

Krycek knew better. It wasn't that RG's wife didn't miss him, she didn't have the chance. The nights RG stopped by were the nights he closed early.

They had become friends when Krycek bought the place from RG. It was the house RG had grown up in and he claimed it was too big for just two people. RG hadn't blinked an eye when Krycek explained he would be living by himself, but he had taken it upon himself to check in on Krycek most evenings.

None of the shops in the area kept traditional hours. Everyone came and went as they pleased so Krycek spent very little time at the bookstore. Normally RG would call if anyone came in asking for a book.

Krycek used the bookstore as an excuse for something to do. He spent most of his time researching the local ghost stories and history of the area. Krycek hadn't lied to Mulder when he was first assigned to the X-files. He had followed Mulder's work and the time he spent in Jopler had renewed his interest in the paranormal.

He rubbed absently at the scars on his chest. They had healed quickly but the area was still tender and the itching had started early in the week.

RG knocked again. Krycek laughed to himself as he headed to the door. He didn't bother putting on his boots, RG didn't stand on ceremony and had seen him in his socks plenty of times. He wondered when RG would start using the key Krycek had given him.

"Get in here, old man, before you freeze your nuts off!" Krycek shouted as he swung the door open and found Mulder and Skinner standing on his front porch.

Mulder started laughing at the expression on Krycek's face. He was a little surprised Krycek wasn't more cautious, but if he had been, they would've missed seeing his normally blank face wide with shock.

Skinner didn't laugh. He reached out, tipped Krycek's mouth closed and said, "Are you going to invite us in, Alex? Or leave us out here to freeze our nuts off?"

Krycek took a step back and opened the door wider. Skinner and Mulder walked in and started taking off their coats. Mulder handed his to Skinner and headed straight to the fireplace to warm his hands.

The temperature was dropping outside and, although the car had been warm at first, it had gotten increasingly colder after Skinner had turned the engine off. Not to mention standing on the front porch waiting for Krycek to open the door. Mulder was cold and the fireplace looked warm and inviting.

Skinner looked around for a place to hang their coats. Krycek had not shut the door; he was still standing, rooted to the spot by the open door. Skinner nudged him out of the way and closed the door. He handed Krycek their coats. Krycek absently took them and hung them into a closet just to the side of the entryway.

He turned and looked at his two guests. Skinner had moved to stand beside Mulder, warming by the fire. They both seemed relaxed.

"How did you find me?" he asked.

"It wasn't easy. You covered your tracks well enough," Skinner responded. He looked Krycek straight in the eyes. "You broke your promise, Alex."

"I didn't break my promise. I promised Marita I would find Jeff. I did that."

"Okay, I thought we had a truce, but you just disappeared like always."

"Our truce ended when we got Jeff and Danny to safety."

"Why are you being so difficult?" Mulder piped in.

"What do you want from me? I've stayed out of your lives, why won't you leave me alone?" Krycek asked. His voice held a note of resignation in it.

Skinner decided to take a page from Mulder's book of seduction. If he allowed it, the conversation could easily spiral into an argument. He walked over to where Krycek was standing and pressed his body up against Krycek's back. Skinner wrapped his arms around Krycek's waist and loosely held him.

"Fox wanted something special for Christmas. I tend to indulge him." Skinner whispered in Krycek's ear.

"Wha...wha...what's that?" Krycek stuttered.

Skinner looked over at Mulder and nodded to him to join them. He turned Krycek to face Mulder. Krycek wasn't struggling or trying to escape Skinner's embrace but he felt Krycek's body go rigid.

Mulder's hazel eyes were glowing with excitement. He knew what Skinner was up to and approved of the approach. Mulder stepped into Krycek's personal space. He leaned in and captured the slightly parted lips in a searing kiss.

Krycek tensed under Mulder's assault. He was very aware of his position, sandwiched between the two men. His mind suddenly went blank and he melted into the kiss. Krycek's arm snaked its way to Mulder's shoulders and up to his neck.

He could feel Skinner's hands grasped around his waist, but he didn't care. He pulled Mulder further into the kiss. A quiet whimper escaped when he felt himself being pulled from the kiss. Krycek kept his eyes closed. He didn't want to wake from this delicious dream.

"Alex?" Skinner whispered. He had turned Krycek around in his arms. Krycek was still sandwiched between them, but now Mulder was pressed up against his back and he was facing Skinner.

Krycek started to open his eyes when his mouth was covered again. Skinner? Skinner was kissing him? Krycek's mind whirled. He couldn't believe what was happening.

As quickly as it started, the kiss ended. Skinner and Mulder stepped back from Krycek and watched as the younger man slowly recovered from the double assault. His eyes blinked open and they could see the confusion filling them.

Krycek took a step back. His world finally came into focus again. He glared at Skinner and Mulder. "Is this some kind of joke?"

"No joke, Alex," Skinner said gently. "If you think this is a joke, perhaps we should try again."

Before Krycek could say another word, Skinner reached out and put his hand on the back of Krycek's neck and pulled him into another kiss. Skinner let go of Krycek's lips and nibbled his way to the younger man's ear.

"You said, and I quote 'Anything for you, Walter'," he whispered. "Are you going to break that promise too?"

"When did I say that?" Krycek was having difficultly concentrating. Skinner was doing incredible things to his ear, but he was coherent enough to know he didn't remember saying those words.

"In the cave, when I was hauling you out." Skinner dipped his tongue into Krycek's ear and swirled around, tracing the shape.

"I don't remember." Krycek felt his knees start to weaken and then Skinner's hands were cupping his ass and lifting him up.

"But you're not denying you've thought it," Skinner said as he kneaded the full buttocks in his hands.

Mulder slipped his hands around both men and pressed hard against Krycek's back.

Skinner divided his attention between the two younger men; he could feel Mulder's erection through his jeans and gave it a gentle squeeze. Mulder moaned and pressed his body harder into Krycek, trapping Skinner's hands between them.

No matter how Skinner moved his hands, Mulder received a jolt of pleasure as his cock was stroked inadvertently. He thought he was going to burst through his jeans when he felt the zipper being pulled down.

Krycek could feel Skinner's knuckle digging into the seam of his jeans and working it's way down. He heard the sound of a zipper and realized the knuckle was the result of Skinner opening Mulder's jeans. He groaned and pushed back. Only his jeans and Skinner's hands separated him from Mulder's cock.

"Settle down, boy. You'll have what you want in just a minute." Skinner hissed in Krycek's ear.

Skinner moved his other hand to Krycek's waist and worked his hand inside the snug jeans. His finger slipped between the firm cheeks and sought out Krycek's hole. When he found what he was looking for, he circled the small opening, causing Krycek to whimper and pushed against his finger.

Mulder had worked his hands around to the front of Krycek's jeans. He slowly undid the buttons and reached inside. Krycek was erect and leaking. Mulder pulled Krycek's cock from the jeans and tucked his hand under the firm balls.

Krycek squirmed from the dual sensations of their hands. He wasn't sure how much more he could take. He wanted to push back and force Skinner's finger to stop teasing his hole and get on with it, but he also wanted to thrust forward into Mulder's hand.

"Have you got condoms and lube, Alex? We're not going to make love to you without them," Skinner whispered.

It was almost his undoing. Krycek started trembling from head to foot. The thought of Skinner and Mulder making love to him was too much. He could feel his balls tighten and knew he was about to come, when Mulder tugged down on them and held them tightly. His orgasm receded to a dull throb. He was on the edge and couldn't move, if he did it would be over.

He opened his eyes. He hadn't realized they were squeezed shut. Skinner was smiling at him, but Krycek couldn't remember his face leaving his ear. He felt Mulder step back from him, leaving his cock hanging outside his jeans. Krycek opened his mouth to protest and was devoured again by Skinner.

"I found them!" Mulder shouted from the bedroom. "And the bedroom. Can you get the rat in here?"

Skinner leaned back a little and took a good look at Krycek. His eyes were glazed over and he breath was ragged. Skinner thought smugly that he enjoyed being the cause of Krycek's disorientation. He wanted nothing more than to sweep the dazed young man into his arms and tote him into the bedroom, but he knew his leg couldn't bare the extra weight. At least not yet. Hopefully by Christmas.

"Alex?" he whispered in Krycek's ear. "Are you ready to take this into the bedroom?"

Krycek nodded his consent, so Skinner slowly turned him around and nudged him toward the darkened bedroom. They shuffled their way across the hardwood floors. Skinner was glad Krycek was still a little incoherent; it meant he could use Krycek as a support and didn't have to stop to grab his cane.

Mulder was already undressed and waiting for them. He was stretched back on the bed and leisurely stroking his erection. Krycek's knees buckled when he caught sight of Mulder. Skinner used the opportunity to give him a shove, propelling him onto the bed and into Mulder's waiting arms.

"Fox? Can you keep Alex occupied while I get undressed? But don't let him come, not until I say."

Skinner needed the extra time to remove his jeans. The light weight cast kept his ankle immobile but it was inconvenient when dressing and undressing. Wearing the cast had curbed their lovemaking down to a more vanilla style, but neither of them let it slow them down.

Krycek was working his way down Mulder's body. He was completely awed that he was finally in the man's arms. His chin bumped into Mulder's cock. He looked up to Mulder's face, asking for permission. Mulder's response was to gently push Krycek's head into his lap.

Krycek lapped the swollen head, twirling his tongue around the glans. He swiped a taste of Mulder's precum before he swallowed Mulder's cock to the root. Mulder let out a shriek.

Mulder was no longer worried about Krycek's impending orgasm. He didn't think he would last much longer. Krycek was doing incredible things to him. He had fantasized about Krycek's perfect mouth, but the fantasy was not living up to the real thing.

Skinner looked over at Mulder from the chair in the corner of the room. He was buckling the last of the straps when Mulder shrieked. He chuckled. Vanilla or not, Mulder was a slut in bed. He hobbled over and tugged Krycek's jeans down.

When Krycek's jeans were lying in the floor, Skinner took a moment to admire the full white cheeks presented. He reached out and grabbed two handfuls. Krycek immediately thrust backwards, his body automatically asking for more.

Skinner ran his hands along Krycek's sides, moving slowly to his chest. He started to unbutton the flannel shirt Krycek was still wearing. It didn't seem fair that Krycek was the only one with clothes on. Skinner decided to tease the shirt open, taking each button and caressing the soft flesh beneath.

His hand brushed across Alex's abdomen and scraped across something hard and prickly. He traced the path upwards, discovering the parallel lines where the stitches had been. He pulled back immediately. This would be complicated. Skinner knew they could not risk reopening the wounds or exposing them to possible infection.

He gently tugged Krycek away from Mulder. Krycek's mouth left Mulder's cock with a plop and Mulder let out a groan.

"Alex, we need to leave your shirt on okay?" Skinner tried to get Krycek's attention, but Mulder had already swooped in and was sucking on Krycek. Krycek collapsed in Skinner's arms like a rag doll.

"S'okay," Krycek slurred out.

Skinner couldn't resist the swollen lips. He reached out and took possession. He could taste Mulder mingled with Krycek. His cock leaped in response to the flavors. Skinner knew Krycek would not last long under Mulder's attack. He never did. Mulder excelled in the art of fellatio. Skinner didn't want to rob Krycek of experiencing Mulder's talent for the first time.

"Fox. Roll over on your back, but don't let go of Alex," he prompted.

Mulder quickly compiled. Skinner eased Krycek forward until he and Mulder were in a classic sixty-nine position. Skinner squeezed out a generous amount of lube and pressed his index finger against Krycek's ass. The small opening fluttered in response and Skinner slipped in.

Krycek responded to Skinner's finger, thrusting back, trying to capture more. But Krycek was also tight. Skinner could tell it had been a long time since Krycek had been penetrated, so he added a second finger.

Mulder opened his eyes to a wonderful sight. From his vantage point, he could see Skinner's fingers moving in and out of Krycek. Skinner paused his ministrations to roll on a condom. He eased his cock slowly into Krycek's tight opening. When Skinner slid in, all Mulder could see was the balls of both men bouncing together as Skinner rocked deeper and deeper into Krycek, then he felt himself explode into Krycek's mouth.

Krycek couldn't hold on any longer. Skinner brushed across his prostate the same time Mulder scream of completion vibrated around his cock. He felt his balls draw up tight and his orgasm erupted violently.

Skinner held Krycek around the waist, trying to ride out Krycek's orgasm. Krycek's passage tightened almost painfully around Skinner's aching cock. Skinner didn't dare move or it would be all over. He felt a finger run along the crevice of his ass and poke at his hole.

'Fox. Damn you. I'm not going to last,' he thought as his own orgasm ripped through him and he pounded the last of it into Krycek's pliant body.

Skinner rolled over and dropped on the bed, taking Krycek with him. He was careful not to kick Krycek with his cast. Mulder crawled up and draped himself across both men and captured Skinner's mouth in a kiss. He leaned up on one elbow and looked down at Krycek.

The younger man was dead to the world. He gave Skinner a satisfied smirk before lying down and snuggling up against Krycek.

"Just remember, Fox. Payback's a bitch," Skinner whispered over Krycek's head.

"Don't deny it, Walter. You loved it and you know it." Mulder laughed softly as he let sleep take him over.


Skinner rolled over and pulled Mulder's body closer to his side. It took him a moment to register Krycek was no longer in bed with them. He extracted himself from Mulder's snuggled embrace and got out of bed, tucking the quilt around Mulder.

He looked around for his discarded jeans and thought what the hell. It wasn't as if he didn't wander around at home in the nude and the air felt warm and comfortable. Skinner found Krycek in the living room sitting on the rug, his arm curled around his knees and staring into the roaring fire. Krycek didn't react to his presence, but Skinner could see the tension in his back.

Skinner sat down on the braided rug and scooted up behind Krycek. He placed his bare legs on either side of the younger man. He started massaging the tension from Krycek's shoulders. Neither man said a word until Skinner felt Krycek finally relax.

"What are you doing out here, Alex?" Skinner asked, not stopping the massage.

"I did what you wanted. I fulfilled Mulder's fantasy for you for Christmas. There wasn't any reason to stay."

"Let me make sure I understand you. You think Fox and I searched the backwoods of Tennessee for the last month to find you for a one night roll in the hay?" Skinner shook his head and draped his arms over Krycek's shoulders. He lazily traced the outline of Krycek's nipples with his fingertips through the flannel shirt Krycek was wearing. He waited until he felt them peak and then pinched hard.

"Ow! What the hell was that for?" Krycek tried to pull Skinner's hands away, but Skinner had a firm hold. It didn't hurt, not really. It was just that he hadn't expected it.

"That was to get your attention." Skinner let go and starting gently massaging the abused nipples. "Now that I have your attention. Do you really think Fox and I are that shallow?"

"No, I don't. But I don't understand why you would want me, when you have each other."

"Alex, you're a beautiful man. How could we not want you?"

"I'm not beautiful," Krycek mumbled. Skinner gave each nipple another pinch. "Ow!"

"Self pity doesn't suit you, Alex."

"It's not self pity. It's facing reality. I have to look in the mirror every day. I know what I look like. Who you're talking about doesn't exist anymore, hasn't for a long time."

"If you're talking about the wide-eyed, fresh faced young agent, you're right. He doesn't exist anymore." Skinner tipped Krycek's head aside so he could look him the eye. "The boy grew into a beautiful, mature man and it's that man we want to be with."

"Don't bullshit me, Walter. Neither of you wanted me to take off my shirt. I mean, I don't blame you, the scars are not pretty to look at..." Krycek turned and yanked his chin from Skinner's hand.

"Alex, we told you. We didn't want to risk reopening any of the wounds that are not fully healed. Between your scars and my cast, I know it wasn't the most exciting sexual adventure, but we’re not into pain." Skinner reached and took hold of Krycek's chin and tipped his head up. His action was met with a little resistance. "What is this really about?"

"I did horrible things to you and Fox. How can you want to be near me?"

"It's called forgiveness. The war is over; the soldiers have come home. The only way Fox and I can find any measure of peace is to forgive."

"It can't be that easy," Krycek whispered. Skinner could see the flare of hope spark in his eyes.

"Yes it can, Alex. Listen to me. I forgive you."

"I forgive you too, Alex," Mulder added as he walked over to the two men. He had stood outside the room listening to their conversation. He sat down beside them and took Krycek's hand.

"I killed your father. Both of them." Krycek waited for the inevitable explosion, but it never came.

"I know, Alex. But I can find it in my heart to forgive you easier than forgiving Bill Mulder for not being the father I wanted or needed and knowing he handed over Samantha to the Project nearly destroyed me. He was knee-deep in the conspiracy by choice. You didn't have a choice."


"No. Let me finish." Mulder wiped at his eyes with his free hand. "As far as Spender is concerned, he deserved to die for all the lives he destroyed."

"I don't understand," Krycek whispered.

"You don't have to understand. Just trust me and Walter. You know in your heart we're not lying to you." Mulder pulled Krycek into his arms, tucking Krycek's head beneath his chin. Skinner leaned over and kissed Mulder, wrapping his arms around both of them.


Six months later

Walter Skinner walked up behind his lover typing furiously away at the computer in the den. Mulder stopped typing long enough to give Skinner a brief chaste kiss, before resuming his project. Skinner picked up Mulder's cup of coffee and took a sip. It had grown cold, making the sugar all the more nauseating.

"Get your own cup. There's a fresh pot in the kitchen. Alex started it before he left for the bookstore." Mulder didn't need to look at his older lover to know he was making a face at the taste of his coffee.

"What have we got on the burner today?" Skinner asked.

"There have been a couple more sightings reported in Cades Cove. Alex went to pick up that old book of RG's grandmother's. When he gets back, I thought we would pack the truck up and try to catch us a ghost."

The End


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