Title: Deconstruction
Author: Entil'zha (jkeegan3@home.com)
Summary: Mulder sometime after "Requiem"
Rating: R (profanity, violence)
Legal Disclaimer: All my pretty little toys belong to Chris Carter and 1013 Productions, Fox, etc., etc.
Category: Angst...and lots of it
Spoilers: This occurs sometime after "Requiem", and so there are spoilers for that episode. Also spoilers for "all things" and various parts of the mytharc.

Note: This is my first piece of X-Files fanfic, and my first bit of writing in over three years. I am using this as practice for a couple larger pieces I am working on, so please give me comments or criticisms!

Mulder was suspended from the ceiling by thick cords of material that he could not identify. It felt like metal, hard and unyielding around his wrists, and yet it shifted and moved as if it were living. The blood slowly seeping over and around the cords did nothing to loosen those bonds...if anything, the material repelled the blood and left it to trickle down the length of his body, dripping to the floor from his mangled feet.

How long had he been hanging here, within this featureless room, the blinding light piercing the darkness from above? Time had no meaning ever since he had joined the others and come aboard the alien craft. The alien had instantly pulled him aside, knocking him unconscious, leaving him naked in some kind of cell. And then...he could remember nothing more. He had awoken within this room, suspended by his wrists.

The alien had come to him soon after he had awoken. He knew nothing about the alien other than the fact it was the same alien that he had seen before, on so many occasions. This was the alien that had killed the colony of clones, the ones that had pretended to be his sister. What had the imposter called the alien? The Bounty Hunter...yes, that was it.

The Bounty Hunter had taken it upon himself to begin questioning Mulder. Mulder had no doubt that this was one of the Bounty Hunter functions, to act as some kind of enforcer for his masters. The same masters who had taken the abductees for some unknown purpose.

The questions were unoriginal. Why had he interfered? Why had he come with the abductees? How much did he know? And how had he become infected with Purity? Mulder had answered all of them again and again, only to be beaten again and again. But he would not give the Bounty Hunter the satisfaction of breaking him down.

He heard footsteps nearby, seemingly out of nowhere, and he knew that his captor had returned. He tried turning his head in the direction of the footfalls, but his neck was too stiff from the torture. And so he waited until the Bounty Hunter stepped into the column of light before he laid his eyes on him.

"You are still alive?" the Bounty Hunter said, his deep voice full of derision.

"Still alive," Mulder said as strongly as possible, ignoring the pain in his lower lip where it had been torn. At least his jaw was still intact. The thought of answering the questions past a broken jaw made Mulder remember that the situation could always be worse.

"It has occurred to me that you are not nearly so great a threat as you were made out to be," the Bounty Hunter said evenly, as he began circling Mulder in measured steps. "You stumble into matters far beyond your means to deal with them, with no thought for the price."

The Bounty Hunter stopped when he was once more standing in front of Mulder. "I let you live that first time because I was instructed to do so. And then, again and again, you interfered. Never understanding." The Bounty Hunter grabbed Mulder by the throat and pulled him within an inch of his distinctive face. "Never facing the fact that you were running to your own death."

Mulder choked on his own saliva as he tried to reply. "I needed...the truth!"

The Bounty Hunter let him go, leaving Mulder swinging painfully by the cords ripping slowly into his flesh. "The truth? What truth do you still need to discover? Your world, your people, will soon be ours. You are nothing but food to them, do you understand?"

Mulder tried to glare at the Bounty Hunter defiantly, but he could not lift his head far enough to make the gesture worthwhile.

The Bounty Hunter shook his head. "Now look at you. This, the threat to Purity." The Bounty Hunter reached into the darkness, retrieving a long metallic club with odd protrusions on one end. "Now, let us continue."

The Bounty Hunter stood resolutely before Mulder. "Why did you interfere with my mission?"

"I wanted to know where the abductees were being taken, because they were the first abductees in years." Mulder finally gained enough strength to look into the Bounty Hunter's eyes. "There is a reason why they are being abducted, isn't there? The project has started again."

He saw the strike coming, but forced himself not to flinch. When the club hit, arcs of electricity ripped across his chest along with the physical trauma. He cried out, biting his lip again to stop himself as quickly as possible.

"Why did you join them?" the Bounty Hunter asked, lifting the bloody club towards Mulder's face.

"I wanted to know what was going to happen to them. I felt like I was supposed to be th-"

Again, a blow to the chest, leaving Mulder in agony, as the Bounty Hunter continued.

"How much do you know?"

"Nothing," Mulder said as he spit blood onto the floor. "I thought the project was over. I thought the Syndicate Elders were dead, burned to death." He smiled, despite himself. "But then you came."

The club tore across his face, ripping a gash into his left cheek. "When you were you exposed to Purity?"

Mulder took a deep breath, and then forced out his answer. "Three years ago."


"Tests. Russian tests for a vaccine." Mulder knew that there was no reason to hide the existence of the vaccine; ever since he had used it to save Scully, the Colonists had known of it.

The Bounty Hunter raised his arm, ready to bring down the club one more time. "Why did you-?"

Before the Bounty Hunter could say another word, the entire room rocked as the sound of a distant explosion echoed through the darkness. The Bounty Hunter began sliding to one side as the floor tilted, and Mulder began swinging in the same direction, his arms straining against the sudden increase in tension.

He heard screaming, and then something pulled the Bounty Hunter into the darkness by his arms. Mulder heard the Bounty Hunter cry out in pain, and then the darkness exploded as flames filled the air. In the new light, Mulder could see two alien Rebels standing on either side of the Bounty Hunter, who was now on fire. As the Rebels turned to him, Mulder began pulling on the cords around his wrists, trying desperately to rip them out of the ceiling so he could defend himself.

But they did not release, and as the nearest Rebel raised his weapon, everything went black.

Mulder awoke on his back, staring into the sea of stars. At first he was confused, unable to understand what was happening to him. But then he remembered the Rebel attack on the Colonist spacecraft, and the torching of the Bounty Hunter. He was no longer hanging within the alien torture chamber.

Mulder blinked, trying to determine if the stars looked familiar, all the while checking to see if there was pain in any part of his body. Surprisingly, there was none; he lifted his arms so that he could see his wrists, and they were perfectly intact. He sat up quickly, running his fingers along his left cheekbone, but the gash was nowhere to be found.

He looked around himself, and saw that he was sitting in what appeared to be a field, the lights of tall buildings in the distance. Central Park, he realized, laughing into the night air. He was in Central Park! Pulling himself to his feet, he stumbled across the grass towards a better lit area. There was no sense taking the risk of being stabbed or beaten after his benefactors had returned him to his health! All the while, he laughed at his good fortune. He was home!

Never mind that Central Park was an oddly public area for him to have been deposited. The notion concerned him slightly, but that could wait. The first thing he needed to do was find out how long he had been away. He had no doubt that Scully had been doing everything possible to find him since his abduction. Or, if her health had taken another turn for the worse, she would have convinced Skinner to start the investigation. But had they even had time to properly search? Had Scully remembered enough of the details to know which parties might be responsible?

Krycek...he had mentioned that Cancer Man was dying. And Mulder was sure that Cancer Man had something to do with the abductions. Cancer Man had been at the forefront of the collaboration with the Colonists, with Purity. He was the first person that Mulder would have hunted down. But if Cancer Man were dead, who would be the next in line? Was he even really dead, or was it another of Krycek's little tricks?

It was not long before Mulder was out of the park and onto a public street. He had every intention of finding a 24 hour convenience store and looking at the newspapers for the current date. But when people started to point and laugh, and some even started running and covering their eyes, he knew something was seriously amiss.

"All right, stop right there!"

Mulder stopped in his tracks and raised his arms slowly, still marveled by the lack of pain. As he reached to the sky, he felt a cool breeze tickle the hair under his arms and between his...


He turned slowly, planting a tentative smile on his lips. As he feared, two police officers were standing on the sidewalk behind him, weapons drawn. "Officers, I can explain..." Then he remembered the overall reputation of the New York Police Department during the time of his abduction, and cut himself short. He looked down, unable to believe that he was completely naked and had never realized it.

"Officer...can I get into the car now?"

For a jail cell, the current accommodations were actually quite comfortable. At least, when compared to his last cell. This one came without the fashionable organic bondage devices. They had given him some clothes to wear while his background was still being checked. Luckily, there were still enough odd robberies in the Park, so his story had been taken at face value. The Bureau would do the rest. As he suspected, it only took a couple hours for the local police to determine that his credentials were legitimate.

"Special Agent Fox Mulder, currently listed as missing by the Federal Bureau of Investigations," the officer on duty had said. "I never thought that the whole alien abduction business would check out, but what do you know? That's what they said happened to you. Go figure." The officer had laughed it off. "Wacky bunch down there, I guess!"

"Oh, yeah," Mulder had replied, as they had waked towards the front desk. "You should see them on Friday nights. Party animals, every one of them." Now they were nearly to their destination. "So, who did you say was coming from the Bureau?"

"Hold on, let me think," the officer replied, looking just as vacant as ever.

"Agent Scully?" The officer shook his head, so Mulder kept guessing. "How about Skinner? That name sound familiar?"

"No, no, nothing with an 'S'," the officer said as they rounded a corner. "Sounded Slavic, something with a 'K'..."

Mulder had as much time to ponder that mystery as it took to rest his eyes on the man standing in front of him, wearing the typical black suit of the FBI. But Mulder was not worried about the man's wardrobe. He was too busy trying to wrap his hands around the man's throat.

"Krycek!" His fingers had barely come to rest on Krycek's neck before two officers, including his tour guide, pulled him to the ground.

"Just like you said," one officer cried to Krycek as they worked to restrain Mulder on the floor.

"Mulder and I have some...unfinished business," Alex Krycek said calmly as he waved the officers off. "But Agent Mulder is a smart man...right, Agent Mulder? He'll calm down if you let him up."

The officers let him go without argument, which completely surprised Mulder. But then he remembered. Why would any police officer question Krycek's sincerity? There was no doubt in Mulder's mind that Krycek had made sure that the correct ID and badge were in his possession.

"Why are you here?" Mulder said vehemently as he pulled himself to his feet. "Why not Scully?"

Krycek seemed to consider his words before answering the questions. "Agent Mulder, I realize that you have not spoken to many people, and after your arrest, I doubt you had much time to think about how much time has passed. But it might be better if we sorted that out privately." He gestured towards the door, towards the waiting morning.

"Are you sure you can trust him?" an officer asked Krycek, and Mulder had to bite back a harsh laugh. Krycek nodded. "All right, then, Agent Mulder, you're free to go. Just remember to keep out of the Park with expensive clothes, huh? The homeless like to wear Armani."

Mulder gave the officer a patronizing smile, and then glared at Krycek as he walked past his nemesis towards the door. He was completely silent until they were both outside and out of earshot of any police or other pedestrians. Once they rounded the nearest corner, Mulder took Krycek, threw him up against the wall of the closest building, and pressed his forearm against the double agent's throat.

"All right, you bastard, what the hell are you up to?"

Krycek did not fight back, but instead pointed to one of the newspaper vending machines by the curb. "First, check the date," he whispered. " Then we'll talk."

Mulder nodded absently as let Krycek go. He bent down carefully to read the date on the paper, keeping an eye on Krycek at all times. What he saw astounded him. "July 22, 2010?"

"Check the other papers if you like. This is no game." Krycek noted that Mulder did exactly that, with exactly the same results. "A little over ten years have passed since you were abducted in Oregon, Mulder. And a lot of things have changed since then."

"Ten years," Mulder muttered, and then he looked more closely at Krycek. Now, seeing him in the sunlight, Mulder could tell that Krycek's features had aged. But ten years? What could have happened in all that time?

"Scully," Mulder added, more firmly. "What happened to Agent Scully?"

"She's alive, Mulder, if that is what you are asking." Krycek shook his head. "But she is no longer working for the Bureau. She left soon after you were taken."

"But I'm supposed to believe that you work for the Bureau now? Is that it?" Mulder pointed in the general direction of the police station. "They might have been fooled, but I know you better than that. What are you really up to? Whose errands are you running now?"

Krycek smiled, holding up his hand. "No errands, no angle. I'm working for the Bureau, plain and simple. Just like I was before." Krycek laughed, actually seeming to be pleased. "The project's over, Mulder. Colonization is no longer a threat. We're set to building a better future within the system now. No more secrets."

"Oh, bullshit," Mulder responded frankly. "You say all these things, but offer no proof. Why should I believe you now?"

"You know as well as I do how we beat the black oil," Krycek said guardedly. He pointed to the sky with his right hand. "It was the Rebels, Mulder, the resistance. When everything looked like it was all going to fall apart, we made a deal." Krycek sighed. "They removed the threat of colonization, and now we provide them with certain natural resources they need to continue their struggle on a larger scale. They were the ones who returned you here. Does that match your experience?"

Mulder could only nod. He remembered the attack on the Colonist ship, the death of the Bounty Hunter, the hands of the alien Rebel reaching for him...it was fresh in his mind. "Yeah...it does."

Krycek nodded. "I know you have no reason to trust me. I made some mistakes. But the most I can do is prove to you that what I say is true. It's been ten years, Mulder. That's longer than you worked on the X-Files. You know how much can happen in that kind of time."

Mulder knew all too well. So many deaths...his mother, his father, Scully's sister...almost himself and Scully, more than once. And Scully had been little more than a tagalong those first few months, and then a trusted friend, and then, so much more. Did she remember what they had shared, in those weeks before he had disappeared? Had she moved on?

"Scully," Mulder said finally, after a long silence. "I want to see Scully."

Krycek seemed to hesitate, and then replied. "That may not be a good idea. There is someone else you should see first. The Assistant Director wants to debrief you before anything else."

"Skinner?" Mulder was looking forward to seeing his old friend, and decided that it might be better to get his information from someone he trusted. Or was he still walking that fine line between the truth and the lie?

But Krycek corrected him quickly. "No. Skinner is no longer Assistant Director." Krycek smiled. "He's head of the Bureau now. You might be surprised to know that it was his management of your work that sent him up the ladder. Once our alliance with the Rebels was made known within the community, his advocacy of your reports made him seem like a prophet."

"You're kidding," Mulder said with a smile. So he would have to play along with Krycek's game anyway.

"Why else do you think we were able to respond so quickly?" Krycek said, still smiling. "Your abduction case has been under constant investigation by our department since the day you disappeared. Less at first, but after the alliance...you became a high priority. 'Spooky Mulder' is a legend in the FBI now."

Mulder held back his shock and confusion, and simply shook his head. "Then who are we going to see?"

"Not now," Krycek said with a wink. "I want to see the look on your face when we walk into his office."

Mulder flinched at Krycek's sudden familiarity, but he forced himself to stay calm. "All right, then. Let's go."

Mulder walked down the familiar hallway towards Skinner's old office, carefully concealing his emotions. Everything looked exactly the same as it had been ten years before, but on closer inspection, worn and somewhat threadbare. Even the faces were the same, only aged by time. Mulder almost felt as though each new face was untouched by the years, until he looked again, and saw the truth. But oddly, few people turned to watch as he followed Krycek towards the office of the Assistant Director. Hadn't Krycek said something about his abduction being well known? Wouldn't they be surprised to see him? Or at least gratified?

As he walked through the secretary's office, he thought he saw Kimberly, Skinner's old assistant, sitting in the chair. But again, it was his expectations fooling him...he quickly noted that the seat was completely empty. He pulled his attention back to the matter at hand as Krycek knocked on the door to the Assistant Director's office.

"Sir? It's Agent Krycek. He's with me now."

Mulder was not sure what to expect...there was no sign on either door telling him the name of the new occupant of the office. But when the door slowly opened, and he saw the identity of the Assistant Director, he nearly passed out.

And then he instinctively reached for his gun.

"Ah, Fox, good to see you have returned." The elderly man lifted his wrinkled hands to pull another drag off a freshly lit Morley. "Before you say anything...or do anything foolish...why don't we step into my office?"

Mulder bit his tongue, and allowed Krycek to escort him into the door. This man had always had full access to the office, even when Skinner had been in charge. Acting rashly would only serve to get himself killed. The best option, he realized, was to play along until he could determine what was happening, and how he could expose the truth behind the lie. He took his customary seat across the desk that had once been Skinner's. As soon as Krycek closed the door, Mulder started laughing.

Cancer Man gave Krycek a wry look, and then blew out a mouthful of smoke. "You find this hard to believe?"

"Assistant Director," Mulder said finally, wiping the developing tears from his eyes as he ran his hands down his face. He simply couldn't play along, not after all that had happened. "You have got to be fucking kidding me. How the hell does someone like you become Assistant Director in the Bureau. No, wait...let me guess. This is some sort of trick, right? I mean, that is the way you operate. Krycek, the abduction, this is all some sort of game."

"Not a game, Fox, and this position is quite legitimate, I assure you." Cancer Man took his seat behind the desk while Krycek came to a seat next to Mulder. "After the Rebels came, as you might have expected, I found myself in a very...uncomfortable set of circumstances. My allies in the government soon found it more profitable to place all of the responsibility on my shoulders for everything involved in the project. Never mind that the deaths of my colleagues had destroyed most of our plans, as had the initial attacks by the Rebels leading up to that point. I had maintained by ties to Strughold and his international allies, and when they were arrested for treason, so was I."

"But at the time," Krycek added, "what nobody expected was that the same project that was dedicated to aiding colonization was also fully capable of aiding the Rebels in their efforts here."

"The Rebels created what can most easily be termed a counteragent," Cancer Man continued. "If the black oil was a self-mutating virus, the counteragent was a perfectly self-adjusting vaccine and cure. It was our limited success to create a vaccine that, once merged with the Rebel technology, that allowed for the ultimate defense and elimination of the black oil on our world."

"And it was your delivery system that spread it quickly enough to prevent the black oil from infecting enough people to make a difference," Mulder finished for them. He shook his head. "And this is what saved your ass?"

"Never bet against a winner, Fox," Cancer Man said with a grin. "And never underestimate the importance of knowledge. Once it was determined that we had the means and method immediately available, the trial was suspended. My erstwhile allies, the ones who had so quickly granted me full responsibility, found themselves missing out on that good fortune."

"Because full responsibility meant you got all the credit," Mulder spat back. "And so what prevented you from placing yourself on a higher pedestal than this? Why the FBI, why this department?"

Krycek shook his head and smiled. "It's simple. I'm surprised you can't see it yourself. It became obvious that he," and Krycek pointed at Cancer Man, "was the one behind a great deal of the cases in the X-Files. And, on the other hand, he would know the source of some of the rest."

"The X-Files has become more a matter of cleaning out the skeletons from our collective closets than solving mysteries," Cancer Man said bluntly. "After the pardon from President Clinton, I was appointed to Director Skinner's old post...by Skinner specifically."

"Skinner appointed you?" Mulder stood, unable to hear anymore of the lies. He pounded his fists on Cancer Man's desk. "This has to be the most unbelievable line of crap you have ever tried to pull on me, Cancer Man. And you screwed up, 'Assistant Director' CGB Spender! Unless the Rebels came within months of my abduction, Clinton was no longer President. So how could he have pardoned you?"

Cancer Man and Krycek glanced at each other, and then Krycek took Mulder by the shoulder. "Listen, I told you, things have changed in the last ten years."

Mulder shrugged off Krycek's hand and stepped back away from the desk. "Changed? You're working on the X-Files, and Cancer Man's in charge? Skinner's the Director and on your side? And where's Scully?" Mulder shook his head. "This is some kind of nightmare. This is not real. This is just another one of his lies." Mulder pointed to Cancer Man, who stood up, retrieving a disc from his desktop computer.

"I expected just that reaction," Cancer Man said smoothly as he held out the disc. "Here, take it. It's blank. Go to any newspaper office in the city and have them download any information you need to prove that this is genuine."

"I don't need a damned newspaper to tell me this is nothing but lies," Mulder countered. "What about 'President Clinton', huh? You still haven't answered that question."

"Because like we said, things have changed," Krycek said calmly. "Yes, Bill Clinton left office at the end of his second term. Hillary Clinton took office in early 2005. The Rebels came soon after that. Check the records if you want, it's in every textbook and encyclopedia."

Mulder stared at Krycek, then turned to Cancer Man, who only nodded. Mulder slumped back into his seat, grabbing the disc on the way. "And here I thought it was just a nightmare. Now I'm sure it's worse. How the hell did *she* become president?"

Cancer Man sat back down, and sighed. "Remember that we wanted a weak government that we could control, one bloated and overwrought by its own sheer size. President Bush won easily over Vice President Gore in 2000. The vice president made some foolish choices, looking into certain projects that were, shall we say, environmentally questionable.

"But President Bush was a little more efficient than we had expected, and while an assassin's bullet would have been just as easy, leading him into defeat at President Hillary Clinton's hands was far more elegant and politically expedient. And she provided us with a very distracted government." Cancer Man smiled. "Look it up yourself, Fox. Perhaps your brother can help you find a source?"

Mulder snapped to full attention at Cancer Man's words. "Brother? What are you talking about?"

Cancer Man smiled as Krycek stood. "Times have changed, Fox. Information is now fully available that was once carefully hidden. I told you once I that I am your father. Do you remember that?"

Mulder smirked. "Right. And I still don't believe you."

Cancer Man nodded. "Of course not." He pulled open a drawer in his desk and pulled out a large file, filled with computer printouts. "And so, as with all else, I am making the proof available to you."

Mulder hesitated, knowing that in the depths of his soul, he did not want to know. What if he was this monster's son? Could he live with that knowledge? And did that mean that Cancer Man was also Samantha's father? Would that information be in the file as well?

"I have always looked after you, son," Cancer Man said quietly. "Even when we were at odds, I made sure that you were safe. My allies always wanted you dead, out of the way. I saved your life more times than I can count."

"And you destroyed everything I loved, and took away just as much from Scully," Mulder replied. Against his better judgment, he took the file, placing it on his lap. "Why should you expect my thanks now? Or my cooperation, or belief?"

"I don't," Cancer Man admitted, though there was a sincere sadness in his eyes. "Part of my work here is a personal attempt to set things right, Fox. And to rebuild what little family I have not destroyed, to build a legacy. Cassandra, Jeffrey...I lost them both...killed them myself. Your mother, your father...the list could go on and on. But you are still alive." Cancer Man turned to Krycek. "And so is Alex."

Realization dawned on Mulder, and he shot out of his seat. "Are you trying to tell me that Krycek is my brother? Are you out of your mind?"

"It's all in the files," Krycek said, addressing Mulder for the first time in a more intimate tone. "I had a hard time dealing with that myself, but the proof is there. It was part of what changed things for me, made me realize that I wasn't alone in the world. It made me reconsider some of my choices."

"Oh, please, and having your arm cut off did nothing? Why should I start believing you now?" Mulder shook his head. "These files are probably nothing more than a part of the lie. What is this really all about?"

Cancer Man sighed, and then pointed to the file. "Then don't believe me, Fox. Don't believe Alex. Look at the name of the person who ran and studied the DNA tests. Because I know that you trusted her."

Mulder slammed the file down on the desk in front of him, and scanned the first few pages until he read the name of the doctor who had run the tests and analyzed the data. But in this heart, he already knew. He had known as soon as Cancer Man had mentioned "her".

Dana K. Scully.

Mulder closed his eyes, and tried to wish it all away. Ten years lost, taken away by a moment's impulse. All the pain and suffering at the hands of his captors, dreaming of a return, only to find...what? That his two greatest enemies had reformed, taking up some twisted version of his own crusade? To find that the one person in all the world that he had trusted without question...the woman to whom he had actually given everything he had...was no longer part of that quest? And she had proven that he was the son of a cold-blooded killer and traitor, now praised by everyone who had once ridiculed him.

"I know how confusing this must be," Cancer Man said finally. "We have secured a room for the night at the Watergate. It will be yours as long as you need it. Alex is in your old office. He will give you full access to all available information and help you in any way he can."

Mulder continued to stare at Scully's name on the report, not wanting to take his eyes off the faded print. "Take me to my old office, and then leave me alone. All I want is full personal access." He finally tore his eyes away from the report and glanced at Cancer Man, suddenly weary. "Can you get that for me?"

"Already done." Cancer Man nodded to Krycek. "Alex made sure of it once your return was confirmed. He will provide you with the codes you will need."

Cancer Man stood, and gestured towards the door. "Now, I suspect you have a long day ahead of you. I've leave you to it." He nodded to Krycek, who smiled at Mulder.

Mulder slipped the disc into the file, and then started walking towards the door. "All right. Let's get this over with."

Hours later, Mulder found himself waking at the sound of knuckles softly knocking on the door to his old office. He rubbed his eyes, only to see his brother standing at the door, leaning oddly on what was left of his left arm. Krycek's eyes were questioning, so Mulder simply nodded and gestured towards the nearest empty chair.

Krycek had done exactly what Mulder had always feared would happen if the office was ever turned over to someone other than Scully. It was actually clean. Mulder noted with some satisfaction, though, that his "I Want to Believe" poster was still proudly tacked to the wall behind the desk. Apparently this office was maintained as a monument to himself, which made Mulder consider that perhaps Skinner had not lost his sense of humor over the last ten years.

Krycek looked around the office as well, reading Mulder's expression. "Things have changed, haven't they?"

"Indeed they have," Mulder said with a sigh. He eyed Krycek and wondered if he would ever be able to see the man without hatred. Even now, it was difficult to forgive all that had transpired between them. But there was so much to consider now...provided, as always, by Scully's impeccable attention to scientific detail. "So we are brothers."

"I know what you're thinking," Krycek said with a grin. "Cain and Abel, right? Only less devoted to one another." He nodded towards the file. "So you've accepted what is in there."

Mulder looked down at the mountain of evidence that he had been trying to find fault with before exhaustion had overtaken him. "Not really, but I trust Scully, so in place of her actually telling me this herself, yes, I will accept what is in this file. Even if I would rather be dead, to be honest."

Krycek pointed to the filing cabinets next to the desk. "Almost all of them have been solved. The X-Files, I mean. Some never will." He leaned towards Mulder, his grin returning. "We never did get much of a chance to see what kind of team we could make, working together. I know that this is all sudden for you, but I've thought about it for quite some time. And I think that you might find it worthwhile to rebuild your life dealing with something that you are familiar with, even under the circumstances."

Mulder snorted out a derisive laugh. "Dream on, Krycek." He tapped the pages in front of him. "It says here that you are Cancer Man's son, just like he said it would. Why would you trust him now, after all of the times he's tried to kill you?"

Krycek sat back, pondering the question. "Our father tested both of us in his own way, but like he said, he did also keep us relatively safe along the way. I think he wanted to have sons that would exceed his own grasp. You were ultimately dedicated to the truth, and I was dedicated to survival." He shrugged. "Maybe he respected our successes, even as he engineered our failures."

Mulder closed the file, tossing it onto a nearby chair. "Maybe. So are there are other surprises that I should prepare for?"

Krycek hesitated, and then nodded. "There are some things that I think you would rather not know, and some things that are just waiting for the right time. But I have the feeling that you want to know everything now."

Mulder shook his head. "No. Not everything. Just one thing." Mulder stood, peering down at Krycek with powerful intent. "I want to know what happened to Scully."

Krycek tried to hold Mulder's gaze, but ultimately looked away. "Mulder, I do-"

"Damn it, Krycek, I want to know! I need to know, don't you understand?" Mulder moved so that he could look Krycek in the eye. "You're asking me to trust everything that I have seen, all of it in Scully's name. But how can I do that unless I know what happened to her, and why she left the X-Files. Tell me! Show me! At least let me know if she's really still alive."

"I told you, she's alive," Krycek said, holding up his hand in an appeal for understanding. "But you don't know what you're asking. I told you, there are things that you would rather not know."

"Bullshit, Krycek." Mulder pointed to the door. "You want me to believe you? Then you take me to see her! I want to see Scully now!"

Mulder could see the hesitation in Krycek's eyes, but finally, he nodded. "All right. I'll take you. But do not forget this conversation."

Mulder nodded. He promised himself he would not forget, because it would be just another reason to hate Krycek for trying to play his little games. But now, finally, he would learn the truth.

"This is Scully's home?"

Mulder was sitting in Krycek's car, after what had seemed like an endless drive west. They had taken Route 66 to Route 81, traveling about an hour down the interstate until finally taking an exit for a small, rural Virginia town. The word "rural" was an understatement. The house was in complete disrepair, with an overgrown yard and what looked like old children's toys rusted and broken on the rotting porch.

Krycek nodded solemnly. "If you want to turn back..."

"No," Mulder said firmly. "I've come this far. I can't leave without seeing her."

Mulder shifted the car into park. He felt as though the bottom was about to fall out of his world, even more than it already had. What was it that Krycek, of all people, was trying to protect him from? Mulder noted that there were two cars in the yard already, with fresh tire tracks. Scully had company...possibly people that Mulder had never even met. Would this be even more awkward than he had imagined?

"Are you coming?"

Mulder looked at Krycek, who was halfway to the front door already, concern plain on his face. "Yeah," Mulder replied softly. "I'm coming."

He caught up with Krycek, and together they walked to the front door. Upon closer inspection, the house looked even worse...and those were definitely children's toys on the porch. Mulder began frantically recalling the days before he had been abducted, and there was a hard lump surfacing in his throat. With just a moment's hesitation, he looked at Krycek, and then knocked on the door.

"Damn it! Right in the middle of cooking dinner! Sammy, get the door!"

Mulder froze. Scully! That had been Scully's voice! Older, obviously, and very impatient, but it was Scully, without a doubt!

The door opened, and a young girl, about nine or ten years old, looked up at Mulder with his sister's eyes. Mulder gripped the frame of the door tightly, his fear and suspicions confirmed in a rush. He looked at Krycek, unable to reconcile what he knew to be true with the evidence standing right in front of him. Scully had been barren for years after her abduction...so how had she given birth to this child, this young girl with flowing red hair and his sister's eyes?

Mulder forced himself to speak. "Sammy? Samantha?"

"Yeah," the girl said, looking back and forth from Mulder to Krycek. "Who are you? Uncle Alex, I didn't know you were coming to visit. Mom's not going to be happy. You know how she gets when she doesn't know extra people are coming to dinner."

"I'm just passing through," Krycek said softly. He glanced at Mulder, and then smiled at Sammy. "Can we come in? This man wants to talk to your mother."

"OK...I guess so," Sammy said, pulling the door fully open. She looked closely at Mulder, as if inspecting his face. "Do I know you?"

"I doubt it," Mulder said, trying not to choke up. His daughter...this was his daughter! And Scully had named her after his sister! He had to resist the urge to pull her into his arms, knowing that the child had probably never seen anything more than a photograph of him before now. And she was already wary of him as it was.

Sammy shrugged, and ran back into the house, leaving Krycek and Mulder to let themselves in. Mulder turned to Krycek, his eyes full of accusation. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"You'll see," Krycek said, his voice full of an equal measure of sadness. "Let's meet the others."

Mulder had less than a moment to ponder the meaning of Krycek's words. Within seconds, they were in the main living room, and two ten year old boys jumped to their feet, running towards Krycek. Both looked exactly the same, and very much like Mulder had when he had been their age.

"Uncle Alex!" they both cried, smiles wide on their faces. They both looked ready to tackle Krycek, but they stopped short when they saw Mulder standing next to him.

One of them frowned and stared at Mulder with suspicion. "Who's this guy?"

"Billy, Fox, this is -"


Mulder looked up at the sound of an old friend's voice, and saw Byers staring at him, his face pale. Behind him was Langley, his hair now pulled back in a somewhat respectable manner, wearing a suit identical to the one Byers was wearing. Both of them gave Krycek an angry glare, and then Byers stepped forward and took hold of the two boys.

"Go find your sister and play outside, boys. Uncle Alex will play with you later."

"But I want to -"

"Now." The two boys, hearing the tone in Byers' voice, both ran out of the room. As soon as they were out of earshot, Langley stepped forward and looked Krycek in the eye while Byers quickly and firmly held him back.

"Alex, you asshole, what did you bring him here for?"

Krycek held up his hand, begging for peace. "He wouldn't listen. He had to see for himself. He wouldn't accept any of what we told him otherwise."

"I told you not to hide the records on Scully, Alex," Byers said angrily as he pushed Langley back. "Why didn't you listen?"

"That's exactly what I did," Krycek shouted back. "But I was instructed to give him full access. And that specifically included bringing him here if that is what he wanted."

Langley, hearing Krycek's words, stopped in his tracks. "Spender told you that?" He looked to Byers, who patted him on the shoulder. "Well, that I find hard to believe, but he's the man in charge. We'll know soon enough if you're lying."

Mulder turned to Krycek, finding it ironic that his old nemesis would be some bastion of sanity after so little time. "Three children? All named for members of my family?"

"You mean you didn't even know that much?" Byers said. He eyed Krycek suspiciously. "Why not at least tell him that?"

"Would that be the way you would want to find out?" Krycek looked back at Mulder. "Yes, three children, all yours. She was pregnant when you were abducted. Are you telling me that you had no idea that she was pregnant? Because that's not -"

"Oh my God."

Mulder's gaze snapped to the direction of the new voice, one he had been waiting so long to hear. But nothing could have prepared him for what he was seeing now. Scully was dressed in sweats, ripped and worn at the cuffs, a cigarette hanging from her lips. Her powerfully attractive features were now covered with cheap cosmetics, her hair bound in a dirty bandana. She had gained at least thirty pounds, and she looked as though she had been smoking five packs a day since the day he had disappeared.

And there was nothing even remotely close to love or friendship in her eyes. They seemed to pierce into his flesh from across the room.

"You fucking bastard." Scully rubbed out the cigarette in a large painted seashell ashtray, and then picked it up in her hand. "You worthless, piece of shit, cock-sucking, mother-fucking bastard!"

Mulder and Krycek ducked as the ashtray went flying past their heads. Mulder was too stunned to say a word, unable to reconcile his memory of Scully as she had been with this twisted reality standing in front of him. Krycek, on the other hand, seemed to be more familiar with Scully's attitude.

"Now, Dana, listen to me," Krycek said, trying to calm her down. "He just -"

"Alex, plug it," Scully said, denying him a chance to continue with a glare. "Or do you want to lose the other arm?"

Krycek wisely cut himself short, and stepped out of Scully's way as she walked right up to Mulder and planted her right fist straight into his gut. Mulder, never expecting it for a second, doubled over and had to try very hard not to lose his lunch.

"What, did you think that I would just drop everything and come running to your side, same as ever, once you finally came back?" Scully leaned forward so she could look into Mulder's eyes as he slowly straightened. "I waited five years, you prick."

Mulder coughed, trying to regain his composure. "Five years? What are you talking about?"

Scully laughed at the question, a bitter bark of a sound. "Well, Mulder, what were you expecting? After seven years of playing games, we finally sleep together. And then, what do you know? I'm pregnant, and you're abducted by aliens." Scully stabbed him in the chest with her pointed finger, driving each word home. "For years, Mulder, years...I searched for you. Skinner almost lost his job, and when the children were born, I was strapped and spent to the bone, but we kept looking for you."

"They were torturing me, Scully," Mulder said, some slight measure of indignation rising in his voice. "Krycek said that the Rebels didn't come for five years. And they tortured me the entire time." At least, he assumed so...why had it seemed so much shorter a period of time?

Scully eyed Krycek angrily, and then spat a reply to Mulder. "Five years of torture? What do you think I went through? Only to have Skinner assign me the task of proving that you were Spender's son and Alex's brother. Expecting your return the entire time." Scully looked him dead in the eye, all of her intense anger blazing into his soul. "So where were you?"

Mulder was caught, his throat too dry to speak. Why hadn't he been returned before now? If five years had truly passed since the coming of the Rebels who had rescued him, why had another five years passed? He tried to remember if anything else had happened in the meantime, but his memory was a complete blank. Five years, completely gone in a flash. But even as he came to that conclusion in his mind, knowing that it was true, he realized that it would not be nearly enough for Scully and his former friends.

"Scully," he rasped. "I don't remember."

Scully absorbed his words, and then smacked him hard across his left cheek. "Liar!"

Mulder tried to reply, but Krycek gave him a silent warning. He then turned to Scully. "Dana, he wanted to know if you were all right. Our father told me to bring him here if he wanted to see you personally. I thought that he should at least get to see his children, even if only this once."

"What did I tell you about the arm, huh?" Scully bit out, as if ready to make the first slice right then and there. And then she sighed, nodding her head. "I know you meant well. But, Alex, you could have at least warned me. I could have prevented all of this by making my wishes clear. Although I thought I already had. Looks like you need to clean the shit from between your ears."

Scully turned back to Mulder. "You wanted to know if I'm all right? Well, here I am, Mulder. Happy? Three kids, barely scraping by. You'd think that the mother of the great hero's children would have at least rated higher than this, huh? Well, so did I, once."

Everyone in the room turned to look out the window towards the front yard as the sound of yet another car coming to a halt filled the summer air. Scully smiled, and then looked back at Mulder with mock satisfaction. "At least some people still care enough to make sure I get something for my trouble, and have a little happiness."

Mulder turned to look back at her. "Happiness? Scully, for years, we both thought that you were unable to have children. Remember all that mess with Emily Sim? Now you have three beautiful children. Was that something you regret?"

"Them? Hell no," Scully said quickly. "But you know what, Mulder? Considering what happened later, I regret the fact that they're yours. No get out of my house, and go to hell."

Mulder stepped back as if struck, tears quickly obscuring his vision. He leaned against the wall behind him, as if unable to fully support his own weight. This was wrong. Everything was wrong. Scully was not supposed to hate him like this, so deeply and completely. They were supposed to love one another. Isn't that what they had shared, even without having to say it? He watched, dumbstruck, as she walked out of the room and back into the kitchen.

"Come on, Mulder," he heard Krycek say, as the sound of footsteps on the wooden porch hinted at yet another unpleasant surprise. "Now would be a good time to go."

"No," Mulder said, looking at Krycek directly. "No, whatever it is, I need to deal with it now."

Krycek looked as though he were about to argue, but Byers and Langley stepped over, shaking their heads. "Alex, let's get it over with," Byers said bluntly. "You brought him this far, you might as we'll let him go the distance."

Mulder heard the front door open. There were two distinct voices, both of which were completely familiar. One was Frohike. The other was Bill Scully, Dana's brother. Mulder considered his options, and admitted that Krycek might have been right to suggest a swift exit.

"Hey, honey, I'm home!" Frohike called as he walked into the living room. "Where are the kids?" He stopped short as he saw Mulder leaning against the wall. "Oh, shit...Mulder!" He looked over his shoulder, sudden worry on his face. "Wait...Bill, don't!"

Bill Scully came rushing into the room, and Mulder had very little time to defend himself before a fist came crashing into his face. His head snapped back against the wall, sending his senses spinning into stars just as another fist struck the side of his head, driving him to the floor.

"You asshole! How dare you come back here!" Bill Scully drove his foot into Mulder's stomach, preventing the other man from saying a word in his own defense. "You knock up my sister, tell her to quit her job, and then run out on her? And then you have the gall to come back after ten years?" Another kick to the chest, and Mulder let out a strangled grunt of pain. "I should put a God damned bullet in your head right now."

"Stop! Please!" Mulder tried to pull himself onto his hands and knees, but only managed to lean against the wall, holding out his hands to fend off any more kicking. "Let me explain."

"Oh, what, that you were abducted by aliens?" Bill Scully knelt down so that he could spit in Mulder's face. "That's what I think of you and your aliens, Mulder. I know the score as well as you do. Dana told me that she came to you when she was feeling sick that day, and how you whispered sweet nothings in her ear, telling her that it was suddenly too dangerous and costly to continue being your partner."

Bill Scully took Mulder by the hair and yanked Mulder's face closer to his own. "Funny how it took her getting pregnant with your children before you gave a damn about the cost, isn't it?" With a jerk, he slammed Mulder's head against the wall. "What about her sister, Mulder? What about Melissa?" With each question, he thrust Mulder's head against the wall. "What about her cancer? What about Emily? What about the fact that she loved you, and you threw it all away?"

Mulder reached up and grabbed Bill's wrist, stopping him long enough to speak. "I was abducted..."

"No! You *chose* to go!"

The room fell to silence. Mulder found himself unable to deny the accusation, even though it would obviously damn him in the eyes of everyone in the room. The chance had come to follow in the footsteps of so many others, and he had taken it. And despite the impression that he had tried to give Krycek, and to a lesser degree himself, he had to admit that he had suspected that Scully was pregnant. In his mind he knew that she had been barren. But in his heart...he had known.

"Yes," he finally muttered, blood now trickling down his lip from an open wound. "I knew. And I still chose to go."

Bill Scully spit in his face one last time, and then stood, looking down on Mulder in disgust. "I always thought you were a selfish bastard, Mulder. But at least it seemed like you cared, even a little bit. But I guess you managed to surprise even me." He pointed to the door, leaving no room for compromise. "Get the hell out of this house."

Mulder pulled himself slowly to his feet, his body aching from the beating he had just received. Any will to fight back had been broken by the realization that he had left Scully without a thought to her condition or his own greater responsibility. He had deserved every bit of physical and emotional pain he had been given.

He looked to the others in the room, looking for some degree of mercy or forgiveness. His eyes rested on Frohike, who was staring at him. So this was the man who had done the right thing, helping to take care of Scully and the children when it became obvious that he was not returning any time soon. Strangely, Mulder did not find himself angry at his former friend, but almost proud.

"That's it, then, isn't it? That's how you all feel." Mulder read the faces, saw the confirmation in most of their eyes. Only Krycek reserved some measure of pity for him. The irony was almost overwhelming.

"We know we may have to work with you, Mulder," Byers said, his voice low and deliberate. "But I think it is safe to say that we would rather not. Alex and Spender will have to make that decision."

Mulder saw Bill turn to one side, and he following the man's gaze. Scully was there again, looking him over.

"Well, did you get what you were looking for?" She gestured towards the door as Frohike walked over to her and took her into his arms. "I already told you to leave. So did my brother. Don't be even more of a mule and force the others to drag you out." She turned to Krycek. "Alex, take him back to Spender. You two are the only ones who still want him around."

Krycek stepped towards Mulder as if to help him walk over to the door, but Mulder shrugged him off. Krycek relented, and merely resigned himself to following Mulder as they left Scully's house and walked into the bright, harsh light of day. Mulder forced himself not to look back. It would have been too much to bear. As it was, the weight of his guilt nearly drove him to the ground. He could feel their eyes searing into the back of his head, wishing him back into the oblivion from which he had returned. Even he had to admit that perhaps, in some sense, it was better when he was being tortured by the Bounty Hunter. At least he had reserved some shred of hope while suspended and slowly dying. Now, fully alive, everything he had ever known or trusted had been stripped away. It didn't matter if he was a legend among his peers, not if it meant that every friend he had ever had was now his enemy.

And it was all his fault.

"Mulder," he heard finally, as Krycek caught up to him. "Are you up to driving back to the city? We can find a room nearby if you would rather sleep."

Mulder turned to look at him, and saw his three children playing in the yard over his brother's shoulder. He knew he would never see them again, just as he would never see Scully. That part of his life was over now. He still had to decide whether or not there was even anything worthwhile remaining.

"No, I'm fine," he said finally, etching the image of his children firmly into the stone of his memory. He forced himself to look away. "I doubt I'm going to sleep anytime soon. Let's just go."

As promised, he had been given a room at the Watergate for as long as he needed it. The room was filled with all of the creature comforts that he could want, but none of it interested him. Not even the large selection from room service could inspire his appetite. He had not eaten since his return a little less than 48 hours ago, but he found himself unable to think of eating. The knowledge of what had transpired over the past ten years gnawed at his gut, still bruised and sore from his beating at Bill Scully's hands.

He ran everything over in his mind again and again, every detail clear in his memory. Scully had come to him that night, speaking of her newfound belief, her new lease on life. Her acceptance of her deep feelings for him and for their life together. She had started out on his couch, and then she had silently joined him in his bed. Only to leave the next morning, without malice or regret, knowing that he would understand.

And then there were the days that followed, as they tried to maintain that careful detachment while on the job. They had been so practiced at the deception, having been so obviously connected over the years. Not even Skinner had suspected that they were sleeping together, or if he had, he had kept the observation to himself.

But then there had come the case in Oregon, right back where everything had started for the two of them. And Scully had started feeling poorly, and she had come to him for comfort. That moment had been the moment of revelation, he was sure of it. And yet, he had denied it to himself, even as the case wore on.

He had known of her condition when she consented to stay behind, sending Skinner in her place. He had known of her condition, even as he had stepped through the energy barrier and following the beam of light into the crowd of abductees. And even as he was lifted into the air, into the alien craft, he had ignored that knowledge. He had still decided to leave her alone, to seek the truth, even if it meant deserting the woman he loved.

And now, everything was ashes. Scully and Skinner had spent years looking for him, until the truth had been revealed by his saviors. And then...

Mulder stopped himself short, a realization ripping through the haze of his own pity and recrimination. Something was wrong with that picture. Somehow, something did not fit. He strained to remember Krycek's exact words, just after they had seen each other for the first time since his return.

"She left soon after you were taken."

Mulder stood from his seat, pacing the room in the darkness. That was what Krycek had said, but that was not what Scully had said. He forced himself to remember her words...

"For years, Mulder, years...I searched for you. Skinner almost lost his job, and when the children were born, I was strapped and spent to the bone, but we kept looking for you."

"Five years of torture? What do you think I went through? Only to have Skinner assign me the task of proving that you were Spender's son and Alex's brother. Expecting your return the entire time."

Had Krycek spoken out of turn, out of some concern for his mental well-being? If so, then why hit him with everything about Cancer Man and the X-Files immediately afterward?

Mulder ran that conversation over in his mind as well. At the time, the seeming confusion over the mention of President Clinton had been justifiable, but what if it was more than that? What if they simply needed a moment to change their strategy, to cover up the mistake?

Other contradictions began forming in his mind, but before he could get everything straight in his mind, he heard a knock at his door. Walking over to the nearest light, and quickly making sure he was decent, he looked through the peephole to see who was there. As he had almost expected, it was Krycek.

"Mulder, can I come in?"

Mulder sighed, and then unlocked the door. "Yeah." As Krycek opened the door, Mulder noticed he was not alone. "Who else is here?"

"Just my wife," Krycek said with a smile. "No ring, since my left hand is gone. You remember Marita, don't you?"

Mulder saw the familiar blond woman step into the room, a careful smile on her lips. She was as beautiful as ever, but not quite as cold and removed as she had once been. And she seemed to have recovered from her bout with the black oil rather well, considering how she had looked the last time he had seen her. But wait...hadn't he seen her just before...?

"Good to see you again, Agent Mulder," she said evenly. She looked towards Krycek, who slipped his arm over her shoulders. "Alex said you had a rough day today. How are you feeling now?"

Mulder tried to chuckle, but the pain in his mouth suddenly flared, forcing him to only sigh. "Fine. Not enough ice in this place, though." He walked over to the counter, where a bag of half-melted ice sat next to a bucket and the requisite icepick. He gently placed the ice on his left cheek, where a large bruise had formed. "What can I do for you?"

"I know it's late, Fox," Krycek said gently, "but I thought I would try to make up for today. I really should have warned you ahead of time about the kids, and about Scully. Maybe then, you might have taken my advice and stayed away."

"No, no, it's not your fault," Mulder said, waving away the apology. "I forced your hand. If anything, I think it's made me realize that this might be my world, but it's no longer my home. I don't really have one anymore."

Krycek shared an amused glance with Marita, and then he smiled back at Mulder. "Maybe this will change your mind. Remember how I told you that there were some good surprises still in store? Well, I thought you might want to have this one now."

He smiled at Marita, who turned towards the doorway. "Sam? You can come in now."

Mulder followed her gaze and watched as a very familiar woman walked through the door, a concerned smile on her face. As her eyes met Mulder's, she broke into a warm smile, full of excitement.

"Fox? Is it really you?"

Mulder nearly dropped the ice pack as the woman rushed to him, catching him in a close embrace. He looked at Krycek, who was trying to conceal his obvious emotion. It came to him in a rush...could it be?


The woman pulled away slightly, so she could nod and look at his face as he tried to smile and tears welled in his eyes. It was her! But how could it be? Hadn't she died almost 20 years before?

"I know what you're going to say, Fox, and I want you to understand what happened," Samantha said, pulling him towards a chair so he could sit. Krycek and Marita silently closed the door and took a seat on two stools by the counter.

"I saw you, bathed in light, as a child," Mulder said, unable to believe his eyes. This was his sister! Alive, right in front of his eyes!

Samantha only shook her head. "An illusion, Fox. For your benefit. You were never supposed to know where I was, because you were supposed to stop the Colonists from invading. And the ones who saved me from the tests weren't ready to fight back. So they took me away, so that we could be together again when it was all over."

Mulder nodded, understanding what she was trying to tell him. "It was the Rebels, wasn't it? They took you, and kept you safe."

"Just like they kept you safe," Samantha said, taking his hand in hers. "You were badly hurt, and they needed a lot of time to help you heal. But I'm glad you're back now, Fox. We can finally be together, a family!"

Mulder tried to smile again, despite the pain. Could it be? Was there hope in this new world after all? He looked to Krycek...his brother...and he merely nodded. He saw Marita slowly pass one hand over her stomach, and he suddenly realized that they were expecting. Here it was, right in front of him...a new family, if he was ready to accept it.

"We'll let the two of you talk, Fox," Krycek said warmly, as he walked Marita to the door. "I hope that this will help you forget about Scully and the others."

"Maybe," Mulder said, knowing that it would not be that simple. "Thank you. This means more to me than you can ever know."

And then, as the door closed, Mulder was alone with Samantha.

"So...look at you," he said, almost unable to reconcile the image of his sister that he had always maintained in his mind with the woman standing in front of him. "All grown up." He tried to smile, but felt a sharp pain, and rolled his eyes as he placed the ice pack against his cheek.

"All grown up," Samantha repeated with a laugh. She saw the unspoken question in his eyes, and shook her head. "I haven't been back long myself. A year or two. Sometimes I'm not entirely sure." She pointed to her head, then tapped her temple. "They did their best to reverse the effects of some of the tests, but sometimes I still lose grasp of the little things."

She crossed her arms across her chest, as if forcing herself not to shiver. "I still find myself trying to forget what they did to me. Trying to make me into some kind of hybrid, they said." She looked at Mulder, and then smiled. "Alex told me all about what you had gone through, trying to find me." Her smile faded somewhat. "And the price you eventually paid, after the abduction."

Mulder gestured towards another chair, and she gratefully took a seat. "I only found out for myself this afternoon. I never would have thought -" he caught himself, the emotions of the confrontation threatening to overwhelm him again. "I had hoped that some semblance of a relationship could have remained."

Samantha nodded, her expression grave. "There's one thing I don't understand, Fox. Why did you go back to Oregon and get involved? Especially if you knew that Scully was pregnant, with what had to be your child?"

Mulder shrugged. "I don't know anymore. I was convinced that I was trying to find out why the abductees in Oregon were being taken again, when the entire project was over and the abductions were supposed to have stopped. So when the abductions started again...well, I thought that was why I went. Now I'm not so sure. The first time, yes, but the second time...maybe not."

Samantha seemed to lean forward, as if listening intently. "What do you mean?"

Mulder sighed, shifting his ice pack. "I don't even know. Maybe I went back because I was afraid of what I had started with Scully. Maybe I really was unable to hold up to that level of responsibility. I mean, when it was just the two of us and the X-Files, it was something I understood, something I could rely on. Starting a family was something else entirely." Mulder shook his head. "I'm wondering if I even would have slept with her if I knew she could conceive. I certainly thought otherwise when we were together."

Samantha slumped back, as though disappointed in his answer. "I think you are being too hard on yourself, Fox. Or not entirely honest about the real reasons you decided to allow yourself to be abducted. Why did you go with them, anyway?"

Mulder looked at her, trying to understand what she was getting at. "Like I said, I thought that maybe something was happening with the colonization project. I thought it had been over. Or, on the other hand, maybe I just knew that was a quick and easy way to leave, to get away."

Samantha rose to her feet, suddenly impatient. "Stop talking like that, Fox. I'm not going to let you beat yourself up like that. You need to really think about why you did what you did that night, and why you really wanted to be taken with the abductees. If only to absolve yourself of this doubt over your intentions toward Scully."

Mulder shook his head. "It's not that simple. It's like trying to understand everything about the whole abduction business in the first place, and how it fit into their plans for colonization. The whole thing is still a mystery."

"I think that our father could help you with those questions," Samantha said, leaning against the counter across the room. "I mean, how much did you really know about all of that? Did you know anything about why the people were being abducted?"

"Not a thing, other than the old project that our father ran." Their father. It was so hard to come to grips with that...and so much else...

"So what did you know about that project?" Samantha started walking towards him, looking him in the eye. "I mean, specifically, what did you know about the colonization, and the role of the black oil?" As Mulder gave her an odd look, not sure where she was going with the question, she laughed. "All right, just tell me when you were first exposed to the black oil, to start with."

Something clicked in Mulder's mind, and Samantha must have noticed a change in the way he was looking at her, because she stopped dead in her tracks. "I thought you said that Krycek told you everything that happened to me, while I was trying to find you."

"He did," Samantha said, if as recovering her calm. "That's right, it was those Russian experiments, right? With the vaccine."

"That's right," Mulder said, pulling the ice pack away from his face. Something was not right about this conversation...there was something familiar about it...

"Uh...do you have someplace I could freshen up?" Samantha said suddenly. Mulder broke from his thoughts, shaking his head slightly. "There's not?"

"No, no, there's a bathroom off the master room," Mulder said, pointing in the right direction. "Take your time."

Samantha smiled over her shoulder as she walked towards the bathroom. "I won't be long."

Mulder smiled after her, doing his best to seem unconcerned, but as soon as she was out of eye contact, he shot up out of his seat and walked over to where her handbag was sitting. It was sitting on its side, so he had to be careful not to let any of the contents spill out. The first thing that he noticed was a plastic covered identification card for the Bureau. So she was working for the FBI...maybe even on the X-Files, with Krycek and Cancer Man? For that matter, it sounded as if Byers and Langley were also working for Cancer Man now, but since when had they ever wanted to get involved with the government?

Looking farther, he realized that she was also carrying a gun. But if she was working for the Bureau, that made sense. Only he was beginning to think that the ID was nothing more than a convenient ruse. Unbidden, fragments of the conversation that had just ended began echoing questions from a very different set of circumstances.

"Why did you interfere with my mission?" "Why did you go back to Oregon and get involved?"

"Why did you join them?" "Why did you go with them, anyway?"

"How much do you know?" "I mean, how much did you really know about all of that? Did you know anything about why the people were being abducted?"

"When you were you exposed to Purity?" "All right, just tell me when you were first exposed to the black oil, to start with."

Samantha's questions had been exactly the same as the ones the Bounty Hunter had asked.

Mulder suddenly remembered the way that Samantha seemed to get more interested when it seemed as though he would give a better answer than the one he had given the shapeshifter, and then impatient when the new answer had revolved around Scully.

But then again, when had she arrived? She had come with Krycek and Marita, and he had been going over everything that had happened since his return right before they had arrived. And what had Krycek said to him when they left?

"I hope that this will help you forget about Scully and the others."

And, Mulder realized, it was the details of Scully's work on the X-Files and with the Bureau after his abduction that started that line of thinking...

It was all a lie, just as he had been telling himself all along. Only Krycek had kept him moving so fast, so often, that he had never really been given a chance to think about what he had been told. The only time he had been given any time was when he had looked over all of the documents that Scully was supposed to have prepared...and even then, before he could think about them in detail, he had passed out. And Krycek had been there to wake him up, to get him moving again, hitting him with shock after shock, keeping him off balance.

And now that he thought about it, now that his mind was clear, he could see that everything had been some twisted version of his own world. Krycek and Cancer Man, suddenly exactly opposite from what he knew to be true. Hadn't Krycek, just before his abduction, told him that Cancer Man was dying? Now Mulder could remember that very clearly...

"Is everything all right in there?" Samantha suddenly called from the bathroom. "It's awfully quiet!"

"I'm just tired," Mulder replied, trying to eliminate the dread from his tone.

Samantha was dead. He knew that with utter certainty. And so it could only be the Bounty Hunter, here to interrogate him in a different way, torturing him with visions of a future without any of the people he trusted.

He understood now. People had seemed to be exactly the same, until he looked again with the expectation that they should be older. The Bureau building itself, Skinner's secretary, it had all been there until it had passed through the filter of his new assumptions. Everything here was an illusion, some kind of twisted mind game...all designed to get him to reveal what he knew about colonization, so they could take measures against what he might have told others.

And now that the illusion was revealed, he knew what he had to do.

He heard Samantha moving around in the other room, so he quickly tossed his ice pack onto the table next to Samantha's handbag, and walked over to the counter. Pulling the cover off the ice bucket, he took hold of the icepick and began slowly chipping away at the ice. He was still working on one particularly large chunk of ice when Samantha walked back into the room.

"Are you all right?" she said carefully, as if studying his face. "You were very quiet, and then I heard you attacking that ice like your life depending on it."

Mulder smiled, doing his best to hide the anxiety behind his eyes. Scully had always told him that he was too good at hiding his emotions. He supposed that it was a futile effort in whatever dream world he was in now, but he had to take the chance.

"My ice pack was getting a little too melted, so I thought I would refresh it a bit." He made a show of looking for it on the counter, and then pretended to suddenly find it on the table. "Do you mind grabbing that for me?"

Samantha nodded with a smile, and then walked over to the table. As soon as Mulder saw her turn her back towards him, he twirled around, icepick firmly in hand. With all of his might, he forced the shaft of the icepick deep into the back of her neck. Samantha fell forward against the table, a gurgling bark escaping her throat, as Mulder pressed the icepick firmly as possible against her struggles. He could see over her shoulder that her eyes were wide with shock and pain, and she was struggling to speak.

And then he saw a rush of red blood pour out of her nose and onto the table.

Shocked, Mulder pulled out the icepick as he stumbled back away from Samantha. Samantha struggled to stand against the table, but fell to her knees as she began shaking erratically. The icepick was slick with her blood, and Mulder heard it fall to the floor as it slipped from his hand. He immediately took her by the shoulders, ignoring the gush of blood pouring down her neck, as she begin convulsing, falling to the floor.

"Oh God, oh God, Samantha, what have I done," Mulder cried out, too stunned for tears. "I'm sorry, oh God, I'm so sorry...please ...please don't die!" But it was obviously too late. He knew from the way her jerking movements began to slow that his attack had been precise. The icepick had been long enough to pierce directly through her brain stem and into her sinus cavity. But none of that clinical analysis mattered as he felt Samantha's breathing run shallow under his hands...hands stained with his sister's blood.

Moments later, Mulder found himself kneeling over Samantha, his hands covered with her blood, staring at the sister that he had been searching for all of his life...the sister he had now murdered. It all came crushing down on him, the awful truth of what he had done. Everything he thought was an illusion was sickeningly real. He had driven himself to kill his own sister in cold blood in order to break the spell of his own rampant paranoia.

And now all of the promise of a new life with a new family was destroyed. He had killed someone...Samantha!...and there would be obvious consequences. How could he explain the reasoning behind his actions? Who would accept the notion that he thought that his sister was a shape-changing alien Bounty Hunter, only able to be killed by a stab in the back of the neck? Surely there were those who understood the method from the fallout after the Rebels had come, but five years later? And the fact that Mulder had just returned from his abduction, not 48 hours before murdering his own sister, would not do much for his defense.

He placed his head in his hands, sobs racking his chest as he contemplated what little future remained. Everything he had loved was gone. Scully hated him with a passion. He would never be allowed to see his children. His old friends now considered him to be an irresponsible coward. And now, he had killed the only remaining person that had truly meant anything to him, his entire reason for living.

His life was over. He understood that a federal agent, having put away so many violent criminals in the past, would not last long in a federal prison. And one way or another, he had just murdered a federal agent. There were any number of painful ways that he could be tortured or maimed while in the prison system. And running was not an option. Krycek had told him that he was on file everywhere in the country because of his abduction. It was too early for that search to have been called off nationwide, and by that time, the word of his crime would have spread equally far.

No, there was one way to solve the problem. This future world was not one in which he could survive, not anymore. And, in the clarity of the moment, he realized that he did not want to live in this world. Not if it meant that Scully would never be a part of his life, and Samantha was dead. The fact that he had killed her himself suddenly had very little meaning for him. It was done, and soon enough, all would be made right again.

He stood, his knees weak, and pulled Samantha's handbag open, caring nothing for the drops of blood sticking to the material. Inside the bag was the handgun that Mulder had seen before. He pulled it out of the bag, and tossing the bag to the floor, fell to his knees next to his sister again, staring at her lifeless eyes.

"Samantha," he whispered, reaching out to stroke her hair, tears streaming down his face. This was not how he wanted it to end. He was supposed to have found her, supposed to have taken care of her. And lately, before his abduction, he had wanted Scully to be a part of that life. All of them, together, happy and free from the pain and suffering they had all endured.

"Oh, God, Samantha," Mulder moaned, and he placed the gun against his temple. He closed his eyes, squeezing them shut, forcing himself to erase the image of her dead body from his mind. Instead, he focused on the image of her younger self, the illusion created to grant him peace, her happiness within the pale glow of the forest, surrounded by the other children. The way they had embraced, the peace and comfort of knowing that she was beyond all pain and betrayal. He replaced that image with the image of supreme bliss and contentment on Scully's face that night, after they had made love for the first time, the way her eyes expressed all of the emotion that words could not encompass.


Mulder let his finger pulse on the trigger, and then there was nothing but a white, hot flash of blistering light, and then the inevitable release and plunge into total and complete...


There was nothing but darkness. Not a hint of structure or form, nor anything but the endless black. And then he realized that there was no movement of air, no background hum of electricity or mechanics. He seemed to be floating in everlasting darkness, alone, adrift, for all time. But then he tried to move, and the lancing pain that ripped into his wrists forced him back into consciousness.

It was as though gravity had suddenly been restored. The weight of his body suddenly increased the tension of the organic cords that kept him suspended from the ceiling of the formless chamber. His breath came quick and labored, and he realized that many of his ribs had been broken, tearing into his organs, slowly killing him.

He was back in the torture chamber again, just as he had been before the Rebels had come. All of it had been an illusion, a mind game, just as he had suspected. The final twist in the little drama that had been prepared for him by his captor. Through the medium of his pain, it was made clear that everything that he had seen and experienced had been ripped out of his own responses. Somehow, they had gotten into his mind, and they had twisted what they had found there into a nightmare future.

But they had not gotten what they were looking for. That realization came to him all in a rush. Otherwise, why would they have to go through the entire farce in the first place? There were some things, some memories, that they could not access. They had to resort to trickery and lies to attempt to fool him into exposing what he knew. Or what they were afraid he might know.

In an instant, he was bathed in a shaft of blinding white light, just as he had been before. The Bounty Hunter immediately stepped in front of him, his torture device in hand.

"So, you are even more of a coward than I thought," the Bounty Hunter said after a moment of silently looking over Mulder's condition. "Suicide." The Bounty Hunter smiled. "You gave up.

You stopped fighting."

"No," Mulder croaked. He tried looking the alien in the eye, but he was too disoriented by the sudden light. "You couldn't get me to tell you anything more. You failed."

The Bounty Hunter shook his head. "You failed more than you know. You showed us weakness. You showed us how to hurt you. Your fears are ours to control. You will break."

Mulder did not bother responding. He knew that the Bounty Hunter was right. He had given them something that they could use, again and again, to break him down, to wear at his emotions and his dedication until he was left with nothing. But then he realized that maybe, in some small way, he had gained the upper hand.

"How do I know?" Mulder said suddenly, ignoring the pain.

The Bounty Hunter seemed confused. "How do you know what?"

Mulder forced himself to smile, even if he couldn't stare the alien in the face as he did so. "How do I know any of it is real? How do I know that this is real? I could be lying in a bed right now, or still standing in that shaft of light in Oregon. This could all be some dream you created to keep me from discovering what is really happening to me. Or this could just be some ongoing nightmare of my own creation. Because this is just as real to me as that future. So do your worst. Because if I don't believe it's real anymore, you can never convince me otherwise."

With those words, he lapsed into a dry, heaving cough, unable to speak again. The Bounty Hunter stood before him, as if reevaluating the prisoner he had been so eagerly taunting. Mulder no longer cared how he looked or what was done to him. Let them beat him to death...at least he would no longer play by their rules. They had lost.

Only it was not that simple, and he knew it. Not everything that he had experienced in the illusory future had been created by his alien captors. His emotional responses, his thoughts, his reactions, they were all his own. He had believed everything to be just real enough to react truthfully.

And a part of that had been his admission to himself that Scully was pregnant. He had known that fact, and he had still allowed himself to be abducted. No, that was not honest enough...he had chosen to be abducted. Which meant, he now realized, that a part of him was willing to leave Scully and their unborn child behind. He had been willing to never see them again, for some goal that not even he could completely define. And that, more than anything, tore him to the depths of his soul.

Anything that the Bounty Hunter might do to him could compare to that crushing realization. And no denial of illusions could ever take that realization back.

The Bounty Hunter knew none of this, but his answer to Mulder's tirade was predictable. "We shall see just how long your denial will last."

Mulder gritted his teeth, preparing for what was to come.

"Now, let us continue."

The Bounty Hunter stood resolutely before Mulder. "Why did you interfere..."

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