Title: Will
Author: Helen B.
Rating: R for Language, PG otherwise

Bad things had happened to Walter Skinner during his years with the FBI. Consortium goons had shot him in the gut. The undercover CIA agent briefly planted in his office had killed him with nanocytes and brought him back again in an agonizing day and night that had turned his own blood into a weapon against him. But nothing had ever hurt as much as the second Sunday in March, at 2:30 in the afternoon.

He'd been up on the roof of the Krycek house, showing Will how to repair a loose shingle after the last storm. Alex, who had killed him once and saved his life on several other occasions, was out of the country again, chairing an international conference that was supposed to result in greater sharing of intelligence across national borders.

At fifteen, Will didn't need a babysitter but he missed his father.

Dana had asked if Skinner would provide a little backup while she finished some paperwork at the office. And if the leak got fixed, that would be okay too.

He liked Will, and he was directly responsible for the cross-agency lecture series that had the boy's mother doing paperwork on a Sunday afternoon. So he'd said "Sure," and showed up with a tool box in one hand and a pizza box in the other. Dana had taken a piece with her, extracting a promise from both of them not to fall off the roof. Then they'd gotten to work while Skinner listened to the sorts of plans and promises that Alex should have been around for but missed too much of lately.

"He's never bailed on a season opener yet," Skinner reminded him.

"Not yours, not the Orioles. He won't this time either."

"He travels more now," Will objected.

Skinner nodded, accepting that. "He trusts you to take care of your mother and to keep things together around here while he saves the world." They'd never hidden the story of his parents' early careers from Will. If someone came after him, he had to understand what was happening. That wasn't what he meant by "keep things together" on the Krycek roof, though.

"Somebody has to," Will agreed. They shared a conspiratorial grin.

Alex Krycek had come out of the field in 2001, after they'd cleaned up the last of the consortium he'd gone undercover to eradicate. It had taken almost ten years of unimaginable strain on the man and his marriage, but through it all Dana was steadfast as they came, both as a team member and a wife. He didn't like to remember the times they'd both thought they'd lost Alex, or the death scene he'd faked in front of Fox Mulder to get him out at the end so that he could be there with Scully when she had her baby.

Will had been the unexpected bonus, the pot of gold at the end of the whole horrific mess. His father had spent another ten years with his career in a holding pattern in cryptography rather than accept a promotion-track post that required time away from the family. He couldn't have taken the managerial grind after the life he'd been living anyway. The respite had kept him alive, and his bosses at the CIA had seen that he got it, but they needed his experience. Alex found himself on the fast track in Counter-terror whether he wanted to be there or not. Fortunately for all of them, he thrived at the conference table like he never had as an operative. But Alex Krycek, who had made an art form of ignoring his disability in the field, considered the loss of an arm sufficient excuse on the homefront and had never lifted a hammer or a nail in defence of his Arlington roof.

"He'll be back in time for the game. Don't worry. It's just a conference--lots of hand shaking and cocktail weenies, and then home.

You know this is where he wants to be." That was the crux of the problem. Short of a surveillance tape from an underground parking garage that none of them wanted Will to see, ever, how did you convince a fifteen year old boy that his forty-seven year old dad wasn't pining away for the excitement of the field?

"Yeah." Will pointed at the cracked asphalt shingling that refused to let go of the roof. "I think we're going to need a crowbar for this."

"There's one in the trunk of my car." Skinner offered his keys and Will scooped them up.

"I'll be right back." He headed down the ladder as only the young with tough work gloves could do it--took his weight on his arms and slid, catching himself on a step once or twice to steady the ladder.

He was too polite a kid to say so, but Skinner knew he wasn't convinced about his father. It might be time to whisper a word or two in the director's ear.

He was thinking that they needed to get Alex home, at least until after Spring training, when he heard three sounds that, taken together, nearly stopped his heart. First came the gunshot, nine mil.

semi-automatic. Will's scream followed right after, with more fear and pain in it than when he was seven and broke his collarbone learning to roller blade. No doubt where the bullet had gone.

And then, the voice he never expected to hear again. Mulder, calling "Scully!" with panic raising the pitch of his voice. Even after fifteen years, Skinner knew the man had a gun trained on somebody just from the sound of his voice.

He hadn't thought it could get any worse. Then Will had gone completely silent. And Walter Skinner was stranded on the roof without a gun or even a cell phone to call for help. God. Dana wouldn't survive losing Will; he didn't think Alex would either. Come to think of it, he wasn't breathing all that well himself. Calm down.

Mulder had a gun on whoever'd shot the boy. He just had to get down there and find his cell, get help. Dana would kill him for this. How had he let his guard down this way?

The ladder leaned against the side of the house and Skinner climbed down almost as fast as Will had, too fast for a man his age. He'd locked his gun in the wall safe but his cell was there on the picnic table with his jacket. Got it. 911. One shot fired. He was running while he talked to the dispatcher, through the house, pick up clean towels, give the address, and yes, one injury, fifteen year old boy, he was checking. Out the front, and Will was lying in the middle of the driveway, bleeding onto the inlaid bricks that he'd helped Skinner install just last year while Alex had sipped iced tea and offered unhelpful advice from the sidelines.

"It's Alex fucking Krycek." Mulder was standing over the boy, lips skinned back from his teeth, his nine millimeter Glock pointed at Will's head. His voice shook, but he held the gun rock steady. "Or whatever the aliens turned him into." He spat the words like he'd bitten into something nasty.

"No, Mulder, it's not." And exactly how badly had the man slipped into insanity, or could he really not know they'd actually won? "Now put the gun down on the driveway and stand away."

It took the Director of Special Operations voice, but slowly, the gun dropped. Skinner fell to his knees at Will's side, checked the wound.

Straight in and out, upper leg. Looked like it missed the bone and he didn't see any arterial blood. That for the EMTs, while he tried to figure out what he was going to tell Will and how, dear God, was he going to explain this to Dana? He ended the call and gave his attention to the boy, who'd gone clammy on him, gasping in wide-eyed terror at the madman who'd shot him.

"You're gonna be fine," he crooned in a sing song voice that wasn't working at all to calm the boy. "Stay focused on me now." He wadded the towel over the wound and pressed down hard. Will screamed.

Skinner reminded himself that he wasn't hurting the kid on purpose, but his stomach tried to climb out his throat anyway. Mulder didn't even flinch.

Shit. Mulder had disappeared years ago. Every once in a while the Lone Gunmen had an email message from him with instructions to pass it on to Scully. But the account would always shut down as soon as the message was sent. They'd known he was alive but hadn't been able to communicate with him. Dana had thought he would come in on his own once he realized the threat had ended, but the years had passed, he hadn't come back, and they'd all just given up. What a way for him to make an entrance. Skinner didn't have time to worry about Mulder's feelings now, however. Will's eyes had started to roll.

"Stay with me, Will. This is nothing. You won't even miss opening day at the Yard." Sirens wailed in the distance, coming nearer, but Will was fading on him.

"I want Mom," he whispered, struggling to come back because Skinner had used that voice on him. Nobody disobeyed when he did that, not even Will's mom.

"I know. I'll call her as soon as these guys have looked you over."

Two doors down, the ambulance had pulled up at the curb. Police cars blocked the road at both ends. Skinner never let up the pressure he held on the wound, but he reached for his ID and held it over his head with his free hand.

"Accidental shooting," he said. "This man is a former special agent under my command. He thought he saw a high level want with a grudge trying to break into the house. False alarm but the boy darted out, got hit. It was just a stopper; the boy should be fine if you can get that ambulance over here."

Keep it calm. Mulder was looking stubborn. The officer--Skinner was pretty sure he recognized him as Will's little league coach from a few years back-- didn't seem convinced. And Will was looking at him as if he'd just sold him out for thirty pieces of silver.

"I want Dad."

Not good. Skinner recognized that tone. Not from Will, but his father, and in one of his more lethal moods. That was not a place he wanted to visit again, certainly not with the man's son. "No you don't. We'll let your mother handle that, I think."

"Who--?" Mulder started.

"Who do you think?" he left the "asshole" part of that question unspoken, but Mulder read it in his face and had already started to sulk. "If I were you, I'd keep my mouth shut and start thinking. The police may find it easier to accept that you shot Will by accident than to call a director of the FBI a liar, but you'll need a better story for Dana Scully."

Of course, Mulder couldn't even do that much. "She said William was my son."

"This is not the time or the place," Skinner pointed out between gritted teeth, a reminder the officer enforced with his Miranda rights. Remain silent, he wished at the man, Alex still has friends in wetwork. And you just told his son something no fifteen year old boy should have to know about his mother. But the EMTs were loading Will onto a stretcher and they needed information. William Alexander Krycek. He lives here, mother Dana Scully Krycek, father Alexander Krycek.

"This is a protected house," he told the officer in charge, code around here for the home of a high-risk somebody in the security services.

The man didn't look surprised. "I assume that AD Scully will be around to talk to him after she's seen to her son," he guessed, spot on and taking in the shooter with a narrow-eyed glare. "Should I expect Alex to show up looking for blood, or can you defuse that time bomb?"

"It was an accident."

The cop didn't look like he was buying that explanation and Skinner didn't think Alex would either. "He's away on business. I'll try to make sure he doesn't find out until we've got Will home and can clear this up."

Criminalists were invading the scene with their boxes and powders and the ambulance was ready to roll. Skinner had to go. "I'll call Dana on the way to the hospital. She'll get to you when she can, but Will has to be her first priority. In the meantime, consider it friendly fire. Don't arrest him, but don't let him go either. AD Scully will kill both of us if she doesn't get to talk to him."

That much the officer seemed willing to believe. But he'd taken more time than he should have defusing one situation only to discover he had a bigger one on his hands in the ambulance. Will had a cell phone to his ear, and he wasn't talking to his mother.

"Some guy named Mulder. Skinner knew him, he seemed to know you.

Doesn't like you much." Not Uncle Walt, but Skinner, which would send up a red flag for Alex. He still had hope that Scully could pull his bacon out of the fire with her son. Didn't count on forgiveness any time soon, though. The boy was a Krycek through and through.

Will was listening while on the other end of the call Alex said something to his son. Skinner wondered what magic words he'd used to reach his father during a top security meeting that included heads of state. Ambulance, maybe, or bullet wound. He reached for the phone as Will started talking again: "He was in some sort of time warp, called me Alex and tried to convince Skinner that I was you. Skinner told Mr. Farmer that--"

He took the phone, wanted Alex to hear it from him personally and not through anybody else, least of all his son. "I told the officer in charge that it was an accident. That Mulder had come to the house to see Dana. He thought he saw a wanted trying to break into the house and Will got in the way of the shot."

"It's no surprise Mulder still wants to kill me." Alex snapped at him across twelve thousand miles and Skinner found himself checking for flesh wounds. "I got his girl, his kid, and his house in the suburbs.

I didn't think even Mulder would take his revenge on a kid, though."

"I'm on an unsecured line in an ambulance full of civilians, including your son. If you really want me to explain why Mulder thought you were a fifteen year old boy, meet me at the Lincoln Memorial at midnight. But I think it's a little late for those games, don't you?" A lot of people had come back younger than they'd been when the aliens had taken them. They just hadn't come back human.

A long, pent-up sigh was his immediate answer. "Somebody should have reeled him in years ago." Which was true, except Mulder hadn't worked for the FBI when he went underground, hadn't wanted to be found, and hadn't committed a crime that would have allowed them to start an official investigation. Skinner heard a mumble of conversation behind the muffle of a hand over the phone, then Alex was back. "I've got a flight home, should be there by tomorrow morning, your time. How is he, really?"

Alex had already figured that out for himself or it would have been the first question and not the last. But even tough guys needed reassurance sometimes. "We're still in the ambulance but he managed to con the EMT out of a cell phone and break up whatever meeting you were in to complain. I'd say he's going to be fine. In fact, I'd head home tomorrow before going to the hospital. They may not even keep him overnight."

Will perked up at that. He added, for both of them, though, "He needs you here."

"I'm not very good at this father business." Alex sounded discouraged. "Tell Dana I'm trying." Okay, make that terrified.

"She's been married to you for twenty-six years, Alex. I think she knows that."

"I don't tell either of them what the mean to me as often as I should. You forget they don't just know."

After all they'd been through, Skinner figured that Dana did know, but Will sometimes needed to hear it. No need to tell his father that with an audience hanging on his every word. Alex had his mind back where it belonged--on his family and not on the man who'd put a hole in his son's leg-- which was as much as you could hope from a phone call.

"Catch your plane, Alex. You can talk to Will when you get home." He canceled the call before returning the cell phone to the EMT. "Thank you. When you get the bill, send it to Walter Skinner, Director of Special Operations, FBI." Will would be washing his car until June to pay for that call, but it was worth it to put the boy in his debt. He wanted to be Uncle Walt again and figured that, for the kid, he'd even sell Mulder down the river if he had to. He just hoped he didn't have to.

Scully met them at the emergency room with a glare at Skinner for letting it happen and followed the gurney into the examination bay.

Skinner waited outside, plagued by his own guilt. Maybe he should have sanctioned a search for Mulder. He'd frankly thought that the man had put a life together somewhere under a new identity and had decided to live it in peace like the rest of them. So much for wishing. Scully was going to come out of that room breathing fire. He figured the only thing worse than being Walter Skinner right now was being Fox Mulder.

They threw Dana out to give her son some privacy while they did the exam. She joined him in the waiting room looking like she'd been the one to take the bullet. "Will he be all right?"

She nodded wearily, knowing the drill. She'd gone through it herself, and with Mulder. Worse, with Alex. "He'll need surgery to clean out any fragments. They'll want to keep an eye on him for a few hours, but I should be able to take him home tonight."

It didn't turn out that way, of course. A woman with too much blood on her scrubs came to give them the news.

"A metal fragment almost too small to see without magnification lodged next to the femoral nerve. We got it out before it had time to move around, but the swelling is making it difficult to tell whether there was any permanent damage. We'd like to keep him overnight. If we can get that swelling down we'll have a better idea of what we're dealing with."

Would he ever play baseball--or walk without a limp--again, that meant. Dana had thanked her and asked for a cot. Farmer sent over an officer to rotate duty at Will's door because the EMT had reported Will's conversation to the police. They were taking no chances that Mulder had shown up now because of what Alex was doing locked in a room with his counterparts from half the friendly nations and no few of the unfriendly ones on the State Department's radar. Which left Skinner to go back to the house and give Alex the news when he showed up in the morning. With a last assurance from Dana that no, she didn't need anything, he headed back for a night on Alex Krycek's couch.

At six thirty in the morning, the phone rang. Skinner staggered off the couch and grabbed the receiver just as a key scraped in the lock.

He had his gun out and pointed at the front door before Dana had finished her "It's me." Had the gun stuffed in the back of his waistband before she'd finished with "Is Alex there?"

Did they have married people radar, or did Scully bug his clothes?

"He just walked in the door."

Krycek did the raised eyebrow thing that left his youthful underlings cleaning out their shorts at the Agency. Didn't work on Skinner. He handed over the phone with his own ironic twitch of a brow. Then Krycek was just a dad talking to his wife about an injured kid. It still amazed him, after all these years, to see the effect Dana had on her husband. Other people knocked on Krycek's walls and asked to be admitted. Around his wife, the walls just disappeared.

"But he's going to be okay?" Alex was saying, and Skinner was relieved when he nodded his head on the phone, though Dana couldn't see it. "Give Skinner fifteen minutes for a shower. I have a few things to do here first, and then I'll meet you at the station."

He hung up. Hadn't left a message for Will, which worried Skinner almost as much as the fact that he'd used his last name to Dana. But he was still alive, so he figured the news had been good.

"Will's asleep. Dana said they had him up and walking last night.

They want to run a couple tests this morning, but the doctor says it looks good for a complete recovery."

"I'm glad." Skinner gave a nod to emphasize his support, but didn't venture anything else. Alex was chancy when he felt threatened. He'd been on a plane for fifteen hours and looked to be gearing up for battle. Not the time for small talk.

"Dana wants to go over to the police station now." A fond grin momentarily lightened Krycek's grim expression. "I think she wants to see how Mulder likes a bullet in his leg." Given Alex's mood, he'd be getting off easy. Dana didn't usually go for a kill shot.

Krycek slipped into work mode between one breath and the next, rigid discipline holding in check the cold fury that tightened every muscle. Halfway up the stairs he stopped and gave a wave in the general direction of the downstairs bath. "You know where everything is. Dana asked if you would bring her a change of clothes. I'll leave them on the sofa. She said she'd ask for a patrol car to take her over, but you might want to send an FBI car and driver."

"And you'll be...?"

"Making a few calls. I'll be right behind you."

He ought to be going to the hospital, reassuring himself that Will was still alive and likely to remain so. But when it came to Mulder, Alex would follow Dana's lead. At least, until he decided to murder the man. With a last lingering thought that he was too old for another round of consortium-era blood feuds, Skinner went in search of his own shower. There was no sign of Alex Krycek when he came out, but a small suitcase sat on the couch.

As Krycek doubtless expected, Skinner offered his own services as Scully's driver. At the station he let the plain clothes detective on duty show her to the interrogation room and settled in beside Farmer behind the one-way glass in the observation area. Alex hadn't arrived yet, but they'd already brought in Mulder, who was sitting at the table in the center of the room. He wasn't under arrest but protective custody wasn't any more comfortable. Scully took a seat opposite him.

"Hello, Mulder." Cool. He'd shot her son, after all.

Mulder glared at her. His offended indignation froze on his face when Alex Krycek walked in behind her, though. Skinner noted that while Krycek had his hands in his pockets in a mocking display of ease, every muscle tensed and his face was completely blank.

Scully looked like she expected it, but her arms came up protectively under her breasts anyway. Not their usual greeting after an absence.

Even in front of their respective bosses Alex usually rested his hands on her arms and dropped a light kiss on the top of her head. In the bad old days he'd thought that cold and empty look was all there was to Alex Krycek. Then it had mostly disappeared. He hadn't fully understood what it meant until Will was thirteen and Alex had watched the kid hang upside down on a skateboard twelve feet above the ground.

He'd kept it together in spite of his dead panic, remarking only, "So that's a half-pipe. They look a lot smaller on television." He didn't think today was going to work out quite as well.

"What are you doing here?" Mulder, in his most annoyingly belligerent tone.

Beside Skinner in the observation room, Farmer winced. "I thought he knew Alex."

He could only shrug to that. "He thought he did."

The undercover bastard version of Krycek's persona gave Mulder a slow glide of lids over unyielding eyes, a cobra deciding when to strike.

As a rule, Dana didn't let him get away with that shit, less concern for his target than for what it was doing to him inside. This time, however, she kept quiet. Skinner figured that Mulder had fixated on Will's looks and hadn't quite processed the fact that he'd come close to murdering her son. He wondered if Scully was carrying.

Alex still said nothing, but he took his good hand out his a pocket to gesture a come-ahead at the doorway. Suddenly, the little room was swarming with techs who disconnected the station recording equipment and swept the room and Mulder for bugs. When they were finished, the door to the observation room opened and the same team repeated the drill.

"Clear it," Alex said, meaning he didn't want witnesses in observation, but added to a figure in the doorway, "Try not to ruffle any feathers. Will still lives here." Which was a strange way to put it.

"So do I, Krycek, so do I."

Skinner recognized that voice, gave the man a familiar nod when he stepped into observation. Alex hadn't just tapped one of his departments for some unofficial free time, then. Directors came and went in the security agencies, appointed by political decree.

Sometimes they knew what they were doing but mostly they didn't. This was the real power behind the CIA. He was also the man who had given Alex Krycek ten years in the basement at Langley while he got his head straight enough to be of use to his country again. Skinner figured Helmsley would keep Alex clean enough to stay sane this time.

But there weren't more than three people left alive who knew who put out the hit on Mulder's father. Two of them were in the observation room and the hitter was on the other side of the glass. Skinner, who'd read the file later, would have shot the man himself if he'd still been alive. Helmsley, who stood in the doorway, had given the order.

"Director." Helmsley returned the nod then gave Farmer an apologetic shrug. "Sorry to have to evict you from your own station, Doug, but Alex isn't going to wait until we do a clearance investigation on you."

Skinner thought Farmer would object, but the policemen put up his hands in a gesture of surrender and headed for the door. "Just promise me one thing." Farmer turned in the doorway, leveled his own laser glare. "That son of a bitch had better not get away with what he did in my city. Will Krycek and my daughter have been friends since they were both in kindergarten and I am not going to tell her that the man who shot him got a "get out of jail free" card because he had better connections than Will's dad."

"Believe me, Doug, he doesn't. I can't tell you more than that. I can't promise more than that."

Farmer accepted what he could get and closed the door behind him.

Helmsley didn't seem interested in chasing Skinner out, so he turned back to the one way glass.

"Mulder is a lucky man," Helmsley commented from the privacy of his own gaze fixed on the window. "Will didn't die."

They'd all lucked out, but just barely. Alex had been right. "I should have brought him in years ago." The man had been entitled to whatever peace he could find out there, but they should have followed up to make sure at least that Mulder wasn't sitting in a cabin somewhere building bombs for the end- time.

"I almost made the same mistake." Which was as close to a thank you for Skinner's intervention with Alex Krycek as he was ever going to hear from the CIA. "He's not walking out of here," Helmsley added.

That could have meant a bullet in Mulder's head, but Skinner noticed the pen in his breast pocket. Hypodermic, he figured. Sedation and an agency institution. Or maybe this morning would change everything. He didn't think Mulder had gone so far that he could shoot a kid without remorse. Even Krycek's kid. They just had to break that monofocus of his on the past.

Krycek sat down, put his hands on the table--one real, the other a sculpted marvel of classified robotics--in negotiator mode. "All right, Mulder, let's start with, 'why?'"

As usual, Mulder wasn't listening. He had his own agenda, and the first oblique question went to Scully. It didn't surprise Skinner, since he'd heard it yesterday. It probably even answered the question. "You said William was mine."

Scully nodded, kept her eyes lowered as she answered. "They wanted me to carry the child to term and they told me what they thought would persuade me not to question it. Spender obviously thought it would be a grand joke if I gave birth to a Krycek baby instead. He didn't know it was the greatest gift he could give us."

Her hand crept closer to Alex's on the table, but he didn't take it.

Skinner wanted to hit him, except that he'd seen the old tapes of Mulder beating Krycek and recognized that expression. They'd be lucky if they didn't lose both men to their murky past. Mulder, of course, had to push it.

"But you were sleeping with me!"

"Twice," Krycek muttered, which surprised Mulder. He'd clearly anticipated that his great revelation would come as a blow to his nemesis. Krycek gave a humorless little laugh. "It was a honey trap."

"It was more than that," Scully didn't wait for Alex this time. She took his hand, gripped it so tightly that her knuckles whitened. "I truly did care about you Mulder. You were so lost, so desperate. Alex had disappeared in Tunisia; we thought he was dead. I was supposed to keep you level but I was falling apart myself, and it just..." She gave a little twitch of her shoulder, unable to go on, but Alex had twisted his hand in hers so that he was returning her grip.

"My eggs were destroyed, Mulder. Physiologically, I could only be a surrogate. But I thought, if I could have this child, whatever it was, maybe Alex could love it anyway." The years of horror spilled out in the tears rolling down her cheeks: her own abduction and the loss of her husband in Tunisia, and then the terror of wondering if Spender had planted a monster in her womb. Skinner decided if Krycek didn't do something about it he was going in there and putting a stop to this. But Alex put an arm around her shoulders and did the kiss on the top of her head thing that always seemed to steady them both.

"I'd love any child of yours, however it came to be," he murmured.

Scully turned her head into his breast and silently wept mascara all over that dignitaries-and-heads-of-state suit. Alex held her close with the one arm he had left and kissed her hair and let her cry while Mulder looked on in horror.

"Scully! That scumbag murdered my father!" He didn't say, `how can you pick him over me,' but it was in his voice.

"Guilty as charged," Krycek answered, "It's one of my better memories of that time."

Mulder was halfway across the table when Krycek pinned him in place with a look. "Spender wanted it done and the agency decided to sanction it. I was rated for wetwork back then and I'd read the file on what he did to my wife. I'd have done it for free."

"Now I'm supposed to believe there's a long-dead wife and tragedy turned you into what you are today!" He couldn't very well attack Krycek while Scully was crying on his lapel, so Mulder took out his frustration with a crashing blow to the table. "I can't believe you are buying into this crap, Scully!"

"For a man with a brain bigger than Einstein's you are so full of crap, Mulder. Dana was my wife. She still is. Helmsley recruited us both out of grad school. I was doing poli-sci, she was in medical school. We'd been married three months when she went undercover for the FBI, working with you in the X-Files. So she doesn't have to buy any of my crap. She was there for all of it."

The crack in Alex's voice had Skinner worried. He wanted this whole little display over, even moved away from the window. Helmsley stopped him with a hand on his sleeve. "Let them see it through," he said. Scully had stopped crying. She never gave in to it for long and wouldn't tolerate a threat to her husband.

"And you let them take her?" Skinner thought Mulder was going to come over the table at him again, but Alex didn't even seem to notice.

"You mean how could I let your father at her?" he snarled back. "We didn't know. Dana came in as the good cop, to keep you under surveillance. I went under as Spender's protege. We had no idea how deep it ran or what they would do. The agency doesn't assign married couples to the same high-risk operation, so when it looked like it was getting dangerous I suggested they take her out. We thought her position in the FBI would protect her. Helmsley had an extraction ready, but everything went to hell when she brought one of Duane Barry's implants back to the apartment. It took me three months to find her."

And every hellish moment of it was in his voice. Skinner's hands flexed, ready to tear heads off to save his agent, but the perps were all dead now. He had the satisfaction of knowing that Alex had taken out no few of them.

"Let it run," Helmsley said again, reading his intention in his knotted fists, or maybe the fact that he was halfway to the door. "He needs this as much as Mulder does."

Skinner wasn't nearly as sure about that, but he decided to wait and see a little longer before knocking the deputy director of the CIA on his butt and putting a stop to the torture session in the other room.

"By the time Spender decided to silence Bill Mulder we already had enough on both of them to sanction a hit. I volunteered, Mulder. I wanted him dead more that Spender did, for what he did to Dana. And for what he did to her kids. But he was a player. He knew what he was doing and he knew the risks. Will never hurt anybody."

A fine line of sweat had broken out on Mulder's brow, and he'd gone the color of old ash. About time you started to think about what you've done, Mulder, Skinner mused.

"I saw you die, and then you were back. What was I supposed to think?" Mulder was shouting himself hoarse. "He could be your fucking clone!"

The room went silent in the way a storm does when lightning strikes.

Krycek froze, and Scully looked like he'd hit her. Mulder glanced from one to the other in fascinated horror. "A clone. I was right; he is one of them!"

"So was Emily, Mulder." Scully wore her scientist voice like armor, but she didn't fool Skinner. Mulder was in pursuit mode, however, and ignored the signs.

"But Emily couldn't survive. If he's like Emily, why isn't he sick?"

Leave it to Mulder to ask the most painful questions in Dana Scully's pain-filled life.

"They perfected the process," Scully struggled for clinical detachment. "Will was born human, but with differences--" and couldn't quite hold it together talking about her son. It had worked out okay, though. "Then Jeffrey Spender showed up, gave him a shot that neutralized the materials creating the changes in his bloodstream."

"Jeffrey Spender? Doesn't anybody ever stay dead anymore?"

"Apparently not." Alex was ready to fight dragons for Dana, but he had the sense to know that killing Mulder in front of witnesses in the police station wasn't the way to go about it. "However Will got started in life, he's just a boy now, Mulder, a fifteen year old boy.

He aces Spanish and does okay at algebra. Until you shot him in the leg, he owned first base on his baseball team. He isn't me, and he never did a thing to you.

"So. We can take it as written that you were a God-damned idiot out there yesterday. I'll even accept as fact that after all these years you still hate me enough to show up at my front door on a Sunday afternoon and attempt to shoot me down in cold blood in front of witnesses."

Alex had slipped into a rueful tone and Mulder ducked his head in an unconscious signal that he was taking his scolding like a good dog, grateful that he'd somehow squeaked through with a warning. He looked like he expected assassin-nuggies on the head and an invitation home to dinner. Experience had taught Walter Skinner to trust Alex least of all when he suddenly got reasonable, however.

"You still haven't explained how, or why now."

Ah. Mulder could still wind up dead. He reached into his pocket and suddenly Krycek and Scully both had guns drawn.

"Scully!" Mulder ignored Alex, but gave Dana his patented injured innocent look. She shook her head, but put away the gun while he pulled out a folded piece of paper and proceeded to open it on the table between them. It was a page from the newsletter the FBI distributed as part of its latest public relations effort. Mulder stabbed at the photograph of a high school baseball team. Will was third from the left.

"Where did you get that?" Scully took it, studied it. "I've never seen this before."

There weren't supposed to be any pictures in public circulation for precisely this reason. They'd taken out most of the effective organization of the collaborators but Alex still had enemies who would recognize Will in an instant--not only for who he was, but for what he was as well. And Skinner knew for a fact that there'd been no cameras during the team's tour of the Hoover.

"It came in the mail, with an address and a note that said I'd find an old friend. It seemed pretty obvious who the 'old friend' was."

"It never crossed you mind to question it?" Alex asked. He'd put his gun away, but managed to look just as lethal without it.

"Yeah, I wondered why they sent this to me now. But the face didn't lie."

Pause. Skinner closed his eyes, expecting blood on the floor when he opened them again. Mulder surprised him.

"I should have checked. It was stupid."

After a long sigh, Krycek agreed. "You won't get an argument out of me. The question is, who sent it, and why."

"Do you still have the envelope?" Scully asked. "Paper doesn't take prints well but we might get lucky and salvage a DNA fragment. At least the labs can check out the paper and ink on the note"

Mulder dug into his pocket again and the three of them had their heads together over a plain number ten envelope and the yellow post-it he drew out.

"I don't recognize the handwriting," Krycek finally declared, and started to rise with a hand on Scully's shoulder.

"I'll give this to Skinner to take care of--right, Walt?" he asked the mirrored glass. "Will is probably awake by now and wondering what happened to us."

Skinner was wondering the same thing. Then it struck him. "How many people do you keep on the Krycek house?"

"Depends." Helmsley tried to sound non-committal, but Skinner wasn't buying it.

"Two?" he suggested.

"When he's working locally. Four when he's out of the country."

Skinner had him. Figured Helmsley wanted it that way. "You could have stopped Mulder at any time before he made contact with the boy."

They'd let Will Krycek get shot right under their noses. But what could he have done differently? The last thing he imagined in the world was Mulder shooting Dana's child, even if he did look like Alex Krycek. "You never thought he'd do it either."

Helmsley didn't say anything, but Skinner read the tension in him just fine. He was carrying the same across his own shoulders. "What would you have done if he'd killed Will?"

"Anybody else, he'd have been dead already," Helmsley said, still without looking at him. "For Mulder, they had to ask permission, and I gave it. Then you were there, and the police. It just seemed easier to let it play out this way."

Which didn't make sense, unless... "Am I going to find your fingerprints on that photograph?"

"You won't find any prints." Helmsley had orchestrated the whole thing.

"Best-case scenario," he explained, never looking away from the one-way glass, "Dana would have been there to greet Mulder at the door. She'd have had time to soften the blow before we called Alex home. They'd be having this conversation in the living room while Will spent the night at Doug's house getting friendlier with his daughter than any of the parents are exactly pleased about right now."

"Farmer's one of yours?"

Helmsley shook his head. "But he's smart enough to know that international security and kids don't mix. Worst case, you were there and I figured you could control the situation. The plan always called for Will to be safe."

Skinner could have told him that nobody was safe from plans with Mulder in the middle of them but Helmsley had been at this as long as Skinner had.

On the other side of the glass, Mulder was rubbing weary defeat from his face. "I'm sorry,"

"You always are." Alex was dry-eyed and bleak. He still hadn't seen his son. Then he said something Skinner never expected to hear.

"After all this time, I thought it was over. But somebody wanted Will dead, and they wanted you implicated in his murder."

Mulder picked up his cue. "They're not going to get away with it."

"My office, tomorrow," Scully agreed. "Neutral territory." For the men behind the glass she added, "Ask Skinner for directions; I'm not in the basement anymore."

So he was invited too. Skinner wondered what he was supposed to tell them and if Helmsley expected him to keep his secrets from them. He wouldn't do it. Learned that lesson almost too late, but he'd learned it, especially where Alex Krycek was concerned. There was only one reason important enough for the CIA to engineer the scene in the interrogation room. "They're back, aren't they." Skinner didn't have to ask it as a question. He knew.

"Yep." Helmsley sighed, so deep and long Skinner wondered if he was going to deflate into a puddle of empty skin like one of Mulder's old X-Files. Finally, he took a breath and confirmed. "Reports out of JPL indicate they're headed this way."

"When are you going to tell Alex?"

"Tomorrow. He needs to talk to the doctors and get Will back home. We did luck out, you know. If Mulder had murdered the boy, Alex would have killed him but our profilers agreed that we'd still have Alex.

Not the same, of course, but they thought he'd do fine heading black ops section. The real worry was if Will survived but couldn't play baseball anymore. That would have taken Alex right out of the game and I had even odds that he'd kill Mulder anyway."

"Alex doesn't really give a damn about baseball," Skinner objected.

"No, but Will likes it quite a lot."

There it was. The aliens were back and Helmsley wanted Mulder on the team. But he needed him working with Krycek and that meant putting him in Alex's debt. So Helmsley had bet those ten years in cryptography that if he kept Will alive Alex would stop and think before he killed the man. Lucky indeed for the three people in the interrogation room that Mulder had gone for the leg, because Helmsley would have settled for a head shot. One way or another, he'd wanted the Mulder equation solved.

Suddenly, it didn't feel like he was doing his job anymore. He felt like a voyeur. "You heard the man," he said, heading for the door.

"We're done here." He didn't wait for permission this time, but headed for the door.

The End

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