Welcome To The Harem

Mean Reds by Shahara Zade Part 1 of 2
Summary: Deslea's rec: "Monica, Marita, Krycek and Vic are back with a very inventive explanation for Existence. Brilliant exploration of Monica's descent into Krycek's world." Once A Thief crossover, sequel to Hitchcock Blonde.

Mean Reds 1/1 *R*
Shahara Zade

SPOILERS: Through the end of S8 (XF) & Endgame(OaT) Sequel to Hitchcock Blonde (if you want to catch up, that story is archived here Part 1 Part 2).
RATING: R-ish (slash/het/references to animal sacrifice)
KEYWORDS: Marita Covarrubias/Alex Krycek/MonicaReyes/Victor Mansfield
DISCLAIMER: The intellectual properties of Chris Carter, John Woo, Truman Capote and Sean Stewart are not mine. No infringement intended.
SUMMARY: It's all the mean reds. You mean like Communists? Or like the blues? Both I suppose. You're afraid and you sweat like hell, and you're not even sure what you're afraid of, except that something bad is going to happen. It's a constant sense of impending doom. Some people call it angst. Comes with the territory in this line of work - don't you think?

(New Orleans)

There are always repercussions.

You sleep with the devil's woman; you pay your pound of flesh in kind. You mess with your mother's dark gods; they too always want compensation. You try to do good deeds? Act with good intentions? Let me tell you about the road to hell.

* * *

Mama started chemo too late. Two weeks before she died, she was in so much pain, tears of fury stood in her eyes. "Get me some of that codeine, girl." The whole day had gone like that.

"I can't let you have it yet, Mama."

"Don't tell me what the fuck to do, you little tramp. Oh merde, I wish I was dead and buried."

I was exhausted. "Fine. That's what you want? Here's the pills, Mama. Here's the whole goddamned bottle. You want it? Take it! Take every last one. I'll get you a glass of bourbon to wash it down, how about that?" I was so mad; the bottle of pills in my hand shook hard enough to rattle. Mama just cried and cried.

But I was talking about repercussions, about cause and effect. Alex Krycek had forced me to open myself to the Invisible World, to the Loa, to Mama's gods. Somehow, in doing this, I had also opened myself to Mama's spirit, her Guede, and it was restless and maybe bored and seemed to have an opinion on every subject, and I hadn't been able to figure out how to make it stop. Mama. Mama in me like cancer, in my bones and blood and lungs.

In my head.



Lying in bed, I can still see the place where I shot out one of Lucy's surveillance cameras, even though it's been patched for years. The area is darker, like a scar that never healed right.


Lucy lied and lied and lied, to me and everybody else too. Lucy was a bitch. Not your common, garden variety bitch, either. Lucy was the Notre Dame of bitches, the Empire State Building. She was so big, so encompassing, she devoured the room. She had a range like a B-52 bomber and more stopping power than a .357 magnum. Women like Lucy should only happen in operas. Like any woman in the opera, Lucy had a boundless capacity for ownership and control.

God, she controlled us, demanding our obedience and tribute like some Roman empress. Me and Mac and Li Ann and Marita...hell, probably Alex Krycek too. It's a wonder we're all still breathing.

I should try to forgive, or at least forget. I really should.



I'm chopping potato and onions for Mama's version of enchiladas. The Friday potluck is tomorrow and, at the end of the day, the FBI field office is just like any other office. You make the mistake of showing up with something rich and covered in cheese just once, and your co-workers fall at your feet, drooling about 'authenticity'. You get stuck cooking the same dish for life. Or until retirement if you're the lucky type. People actually waylay you in the parking lot to sure you're bringing those 'decadent' enchiladas again.

Authenticity. They always seem so disappointed, after they've convinced you to divulge the ingredients, and they learn the secret is not some exotic thing they can cheerfully mispronounce, but Jiff peanut butter. Mama's enchiladas.

I've got three candles lit, but my eyes burn from the onions anyway. I'm sniffing and rubbing my nose with the back of my wrist, and I don't see him so much as feel him, like a low-level electrical current. I turn slowly, clutching the knife.He doesn't acknowledge me at all.

He leans against the bookshelf, brow creased, apparently fascinated by my copy of Earth Angels: Engaging the Sacred in Everyday Things.

"Oh shit." I don't think I say it aloud, but he glances up, still frowning.

"Hey Monica, what did the Zen master say to the hotdog vendor? Make me one with everything." He slams the book shut and drops it onto a side table. He takes another book from the shelf. "Hmm. Aquarian Prophets? What crap. The Lost Continent of Mu? Crap. The Plane of Bliss? *The Plane of Fucking Bliss, Monica?*"

He knocks over the Affirmation Station, a little clock that plays inspirational messages you pre-record in your own voice. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

He crunches my dream catcher under the heel of his boot. "You know, the problem with you New Agers is that you're so busy feeling good, you forget about evil. You emasculate it. You call it *negativity*."

My throat constricts. "Do you see yourself as evil, Alex?"

[Careful, girl. Careful.]

--Not now, Mama.--

"Not until I met our friend with the Canadian passport."

I can't think of a good reply, distracted by wondering how and when he had time to see Victor's passport. This is going from bad to worse. Fast. That leer...dangerous. Manic. Something bad is loose in the room, spinning around and around like a child's toy top.

[Don't provoke him. Don't make him angry. You don't want to see him angry.]

Alex Krycek motions me forward. "Come'ere a minute."

I'm standing on the border between the kitchen and the living room, where hardwood turns to carpet. My legs are frozen. Strength goes out of them like balloons deflating.

--How do I live through this, Mama?-

[Remind him of his humanity.]

--Take him for beignets? Brush powdered sugar off his leather jacket for him?--

[Whatever it takes, girl.]

He curls his fingers at me again. Come closer. Closer. I fight panic, and my breath comes in quick gasps.

"Aw, I wouldn't kill ya, Monica," he drawls. I am close enough that he can run his hand over my jaw. "Splinter your cheekbones though. Hurts like a bitch."

The back of his knuckles...not knuckles...something cold. Plastic. My head snaps left. The knife thuds on the carpet. He doesn't seem angry. He works calmly, breath soft and even, dropping his shoulder to shoot a short, powerful jab straight into my ribs. I stagger against the back of the couch. Pain cycles, collarbone to hip. It's like I've swallowed a hot stone. I hear his fist connecting, and then crying. Me I guess. It fades to vague wheezing.

This is just business. He's going to stop soon. He won't let me die; he's here for a reason. Got to be.

* * *

There's water running in the kitchen. The world is gilt-edged. Floating. His boots move toward me and he kneels, face neutral. Then he smiles quick and fleeting and offers me a hand up. He has brought a towel soaked in cold water.

"I'm bleeding."

"I know," he says, as if his knowing explains everything, puts the whole mess in a coherent, rational context. He shakes his head, weary. "Come on, Monica, we don't have time for this. I didn't hit you that hard. The bleeding will stop."

He pulls me roughly to my feet and half-carries me to the couch. I sit, waiting for whatever comes next. He pulls a cigarette from the pack on the coffee table, lights it, inhales, and then fits it between my lips. It wobbles there as I watch him out of the corner of my eye.

"Where's Marita?"

"Safe. As long as you cooperate of course. Please don't make me hurt her out of some stupid misplaced morality. I don't want to, but..."

I have tried so hard not to be bitter about Marita. I just wanted to know that she was okay. I'm almost surprised by the catch in my voice. "And she would be a willing sacrificial lamb, too - wouldn't she?"

He nods. "Monica, I need your help again, but you have to know how serious I am. You *know* what happens if you try to cross me? Don't you? If you try anything? If you go to the Bureau?"

My head is pounding.

[He won't just hurt her, girl, he'll kill her.]

--Shut up, Mama.-

[He'll kill her and he'll make you watch.]

Who crosses Alex? Only people who don't know him, and they sure as hell don't make that mistake twice, because he is serious. The faint pleading in his tone is enough to make my teeth chatter.


"Yes what?" he asks.

"Yes. I'll do whatever you want. Please, just don't hurt her."

* * * *

He has done his homework; obtained substances both exotic and controlled. With both of us working, we are ready at three minutes till midnight. The Mission Style end table serves as an impromptu altar. We sit cross-legged facing each other in front of it. I pick up the silver bowl he has brought. People always assume you have to be fancy, but Tupperware would have been fine. I take the liquid into my mouth and it bites like a snake, the feeling you get on the top of your tongue when you touch it to a battery.

"Monica?" His voice seems to echo. Distant. The candlelight dims, cars on the street below go silent. Grey blossoms eat my thoughts, blind energy washes over me. Smell of candle wax. Smell of blood. Copper pennies in my mouth.

"No," I whisper. It doesn't save me.

* * *

"Welcome back." Seductive husking voice. I'm on my back. My eyelids flutter open, then fall shut again, weak. I don't really want to see him anyway.


"Take it easy, I've got you."

[Yeah, girl, he got you all right.]

--Not now, Mama.--

Got me. Shit. I struggle up. "What happened?"

"You petitioned the Orisha...and you...it told my future. Basic divination ritual, just like I said it would be." He doesn't sound so sure. He looks shaken, and I wonder what Mama's gods have told him.

My body feels like a fried egg someone slapped onto a hot skillet, sunny side down. "So," I ask, "did you get what you wanted?"

He shakes his head and the corners of his mouth twist upwards, equivocal. "You don't need to know yet."

Yet? Fuck. This is not good. It means he'll be back. "Alex, I-"

"It's okay," he shushes me. "I just needed to be sure."

He tells me the Orisha mounted me, rode me for almost nine minutes. I sit back on the couch, still dizzy, my arms clinging around my knees.

"But it's not *okay*, Alex. It was like being killed!"

My voice comes out so small, so child-like. I hate it, but can't stop it either.

"That being, that thing - not me - came into my head and murdered me so it could ride around in my body! The more you let them in, the more open you are to anything coming in. My mother pickled her own liver because she couldn't live with it day after day!"

"I hear you," he soothes.

I am not that easy. Anger sours and burns in the back of my throat. "You're making fun of me now?"

"No." His expression is solemn, and maybe a little sad.

"Thought you had a problem with psycho-babble."

"Let me tell you a story," he says. "Something that happened once, a long time ago, in Hong Kong."

I am too tired to argue.



Mac's lush mouth sucks me, tongue swirling; and I unclench my fingers tangled in his hair, returning to Earth. Tantra again. I've lost count of climaxes. No ejaculation seems like cheating, just one infinite throbbing spiral.

"Uncle," I gasp.

Mac releases me and launches himself up the bed. I start to sit up, but he straddles my chest, eyebrows waggling like Groucho Marx. "Now *that's* kinky, Vic."

"'Uncle' as in mercy, you goof. 'Uncle', as in we should have started dinner thirty minutes ago."

He bats curling lashes at me. "But of course." He raises and projects his voice, grinning. "La Generale must not be kept waiting!" Quick and light, he plants a loud slurping kiss on my cheek, slides away and disappears into the bathroom. A few moments later, the shower is running and he's belting out "China Girl" at the top of his lungs. When Mac is ninety years old, he will still live to tease Li Ann.

Li Ann hasn't gotten around to having Lucy's surveillance systems removed from my place yet. I suspect that when Mac and I are together she leaves the monitors on in her office while she works, not really paying attention, not getting off on it, but almost as comfortable background noise, like a Cole Porter CD at a cocktail party.

Sex, for her, isn't so much about lust and passion as it is a bonding mechanism. Empowering. Transcendental. Even in the most convoluted Kama Sutra positions, she is serene, focused, and meditative. Liquid in her movements.

I guess I don't mind so much about the monitors, and Mac loves them, loves the performance element. I figure she never asks me for anything and won't let me give her much, so this one intrusion into my space is kind of flattering. The closeness is nice.

The shower stops. Good. Mac has to help me move the grill. Tonight, we will cook salmon steaks on the balcony, in the rain, probably blackening them in masculine enthusiasm. We will pretend to amuse ourselves with the pretension of manliness, testosterone flowering in the smoke and flames. I will, anyway. He never seems to need that kind of posturing. At some point, Li Ann will join us, and we will sit in the too-formal dinning room chairs and listen to her tales from the trenches.

* * *

It must be four in the morning and I'm sprawled across the couch, drifting. Mac and Li Ann bicker good naturedly from the floor. "I'm telling you, Li Ann, Mr. Lin's stall was on Temple Street."

"It was *not*! It was on Cochran. I remember because the last night we stopped there, you spilled noodles on my red dress." She hoists herself up, trying to stand, and then wobbles. Mac catches her, laughing. While she was talking, he tied the shoelaces of her sneakers together. Mac is probably the only guy in the world that could get that kind of move past her. He is also the only one for whom the consequences of such an action might not prove fatal.

These days, she's always dressed for the gym. She works out with her new recruits every morning and evening, attempting to rebuild her unit, focusing on trust and comradeship over Lucy's bullying style. Her people - kids really - have been charmed into eager submission. They adore her. She embodies everything that is good and noble and right in their eyes, and their devotion borders on cult worship. Which is of course wildly ironic, given their typical job descriptions. I have to wonder how comfortable she is with it.

The argument has degenerated into a full-fledged tickle fight when the phone rings. We listen to my voice on the machine growling to the caller to leave a message.

"Victor?" The voice is breathy and, at first, unfamiliar. "Victor...I'm so sorry to be calling this early...late for you I guess...Vancouver's two hours behind Central Standard - right? Oh god, I don't know what I'm doing...I just didn't know who else to call..."

Hiccups. Sniffling. Mac and Li Ann staring at me.

"Victor, he came back...he came to my home and he said he would hurt her and he made me...oh shit - "

I snatch up the receiver, knocking the answering machine to the floor in the process. "Monica! Slow down. It'll be okay. Where are you?"

"The Hummingbird...um...New Orleans...payphone. I was scared to call from my place. He left, but - oh it was bad! It was really bad..."

* * *

Mac and Li Ann flank me as I hang up and grab my car keys and jacket. I almost don't notice her hand on my arm, the tight set of her jaw.

"Where are you going?"

"Going to get her out of there."

She holds me in place. "She should go to her own people. The Bureau."

"Didn't you read my report? He *owns* the fucking Bureau! She's scared and she doesn't know who to trust."

"Fine. I'll send Mac to debrief her. Safer that way."

"She doesn't know him. I'll go."

Li Ann's body is between mine and the door, her palms run over my shoulders and it is a caress, but also a gesture of dominance. She isn't giving in. "You're retired, remember? I want you as far away from the action as possible. Let's avoid the whole mistaken identity cliche disaster for as long as we can."

"Um, like you said, I'm retired. You don't have the authority - "

Mac has slipped into his shoes and waits beside the door for her orders. He doesn't question her much anymore. Not on official business.

"Vic," she says, and it's almost a whisper, "you know I have the authority to deputize any citizen under emergency conditions. This qualifies. Please. Don't make me pull rank on you, dearest."

She kisses the tip of my nose and I'm pulling away from her. But she's won...for now. Dearest. She never called me that when we were engaged.

* * *

Li Ann calls it sulking.

Maybe it is. If I open my mouth, things are going to come out that I don't want to have to try and take back later. I lay on her couch, flipping through TV channels, choked on the scent of red and white roses in the vase on the coffee table.

A kid dies horribly anywhere on the globe, and an investigative staff is there to report it, every half-hour. Little boy drowned in a well in Maine. Six year old girls contracting AIDS and fucked to death by tourists in Thai brothels. Could have been Li Ann. Her mother sold her for that. Another click of the remote and some kid named Sarah, probably not much older than my sister, Alice, wants to sell me mascara.

The laptop linked with the Agency library glows on the floor accusingly. In our excavations of old records, we have encountered several references to a secondary Agency authority. Lucy seems only to have dealt with them on occasion, but buried within each of these occasions there are oblique references to kids. Lab rat kids. Abducted kids. Murdered kids. Maybe it isn't even connected to Monica's experiences in Montana, or what happened in California. I would like to believe this, but the same names keep popping up. Marita. Arntzen. Alex Krycek. That last one, over and over. I click off the TV and close the laptop with my foot. I don't want to think about it.

"You're pacing again." Li Ann's voice is mild.

"Let's head over to the airport."

"His flight was delayed in Phoenix, Vic. He won't get in until seven."

We both jump when the phone rings. I've had my calls forwarded to her line, so I pick it up.

"You guys get what you want, but I don't want to talk to him again - okay?"

I switch to speaker.

"Monica, my Director is here too. Tell us happened."

"Don't. Just don't. I can't talk to him...can't deal with him." She sounds dazed. She must mean Mac, which is strange. Women love Mac.

"What did he do?"

"Look, I agreed to help your people track Alex Krycek, in return for protection for Marita...oh shit...I can't believe I'm doing this."

"Ms. Reyes, Mac was acting under my authority. If he has acted inappropriately-" Li Ann begins, hands perched on her hip bones, spine straight.

"I'm only doing this for Marita. And for you, because you were there...I'm only talking to you." She hangs up. Li Ann and I gape at each other.


Airport. Definitely. Get your coat."

* * *

"She's gotten under your skin, Vic, I can tell," Mac says.

We are finally back at Li Ann's, bug jammers hissing because she hasn't had time to sweep the place in the last twelve hours. "Marita? Yeah. I thought I mentioned that."

"No, man, the Vampira chick in New Orleans."

"She's stuck in the middle, Mac. She can't go through the channels normally open to her. Her organization has been infiltrated and she needs our help-"

"What she needs is a month at Betty Ford," he snaps.

"Mac, what did you say to her?" Li Ann sits on the coffee table and her knees bump against his. "Monica Reyes made contact here a few hours ago, half-hysterical. You were supposed to be diplomatic - what the hell happened?"

"I tried, I swear. Pumped her full of espresso to sober her up, but...I don't think she can be a reliable source. I mean she's such a flake...chomping on her damned nicotine gum, rambling on about evil black oil spirits and voodoo and spaceships, like some kind of goth Shirley MacClaine." He rests the tips of his fingers against his cheekbone. "I ended up giving her the standard new informant recruitment speech. Straight deal."

"Lucy's 'I own you' speech? You gave her the, 'you're not free, you work for me and there's a difference' speech?"

"I did the best I could, Vic."

"You're usually a little more compassionate, Mac." I'm chewing the inside of my cheek, trying to stay cool. I want to tear into him. I want a ticket on the next plane to New Orleans. I never should have let him get involved in the first place.

"And you're usually smarter, except when it comes to these fucked-up damsels in distress. This woman is going to get you killed...or worse."

I'm not sure how to respond to that. "Did you at least get a look at the security tape she agreed to release to us?"

"Yeah. I saw him. Regular horror show."


Mac studies Li Ann's knee, picking at invisible lint. "You know, we do what we do very well. Maybe we should just re-locate this one. Let it go, just this once. Not risk it."

In a way, I agree with him. All of a sudden, I don't want this to go any further. It's like when you're a kid and you wake up in the middle of the night and somehow you know that you must not look under the bed. Because there's something down there you don't want to know about. You really don't.

But Mac's reaction is confusing.

"I don't get it, Mac. You're a junkie for risk."

He shrugs, not looking at me. "Got old, I guess. I mean, I do my job, I come home, I'm happy. I can pretty much leave work at work, you know? It's a job I do and then I have my life and yeah, it's probably kind of weird by normal standards, whatever those are...but it's good. He lets out a breath, stands and pads over to the window, trailing his fingers across Li Ann's shoulders as he goes.

Good. Yeah.

We don't talk much about that. It occurs to me that I have never told them all they mean to me. Assumed they knew. Maybe I should mention it sometime.

Mac leans into the window, forehead to the glass, hands splayed as though he expects to be searched for weapons. "The thing is...it's crazy...it's all crazy...but I believe her. Every single crazy word." He faces us again, pale, and when he speaks, it's almost a moan. "Man, this shit is *real*.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


Maintaining normal life, sustaining daily routine, is a struggle. I still bike to the office on days when it isn't raining, down Magazine Street, over to Poydras. I even stop at the Hummingbird on the way home, postponing the inevitable. He doesn't exist during the day.

I do my job well. Better than before. The Guedes whisper their secrets to me, eager for vengeance. The dead can be 'muy tercos', as Mama used to say. Very bossy. Cases solve themselves. The more you touch the Invisible World, the more it stains you. Most bokors die early, like Mama. Their lives are eaten. I am not eaten yet - I just don't think about the things he makes me do.

We've developed our own routine. I am home and the windows and doors are locked and I look down and look up again and he's there.

[Run girl. Run.]

--It's just Alex Krycek, Mama, not the boogey man.--

[I don't know, could've fooled me...could've fooled me.]

"Where's Marita, Alex?"

"Safe as long as you want her to be, Monica."

The words are almost ritual code with us. Almost a sick inside joke. He stalks across the room, like some preternatural Stanley Kowalski in his tight thin black tee shirt. I'm not sure if that makes me Blanche or Stella. Tonight, he doesn't want prophecies, but divine interpretation of the present, and I'm seized by the silly, suicidal, Daffy Duck urge to whip out a lipstick and draw a big 'x' on his prosthetic hand. You want your palm read, Alex Krycek? Here, now your palm's red!

In the end, I try to beg off and, as always, he insists. He brings me the things I need and I do what he wants, and when I'm conscious again, he's kneeling beside me, petting my hair. He helps me to the couch and brings me a drink and then another and another until I can sleep. It takes everything out of me and then some. When I wake again, it looks as though my place has survived a storm.

Hurricane Alex.

Sometimes, he only wants conjures. 'Tricks', is what Mama used to call them. A combination of magic spell and prayer. To confuse enemies, for instance, you throw sand on the floor and write the names of the people concerned on a piece of paper. Then you rub the paper back and forth with your foot in the sand. Afterwards, you mix the sand with chicken blood and store it in a box on your altar with black candles. The candles are burned for five consecutive nights.

Most tricks take more prep work than that, like cooking, and it's in the prep work that things begin to change. We are sewing yellow thread onto green silk squares, talismans for protection. I can't drink vodka and he won't drink bourbon. We have compromised on mezcal, and I'm braver than usual.

"There are at least two dozen assorted bokors and properly consecrated people in New Orleans you could have gone to. Why me, Alex? Maybe the first time, in California, it was convenient...but I'm not even trained. You seem to know as much about this stuff as I do. What do you need me for?"

He smirks and pours himself another drink and I don't think he means to reply. When he begins talking, it's Baba Yaga stories. His version of ethnic bonding or something maybe. He speaks low and fast. A hundred miles an hour, and not all in English. It's sort of mesmerizing. Then he's telling me about Fox Mulder, about being his partner. Lurid details. He tells me about labs and the military and again about the being that rode him that one time, and civil wars without humans in them. He tells me sordid things, things I don't want to hear. Things no one should have to hear. He tells me about lies and betrayal and killing and I can't stand it anymore.

"God, you enjoy this!"

I have interrupted his flash flood. He blinks, as if he has forgotten where he is.

"No, I don't."

"How do you feel, then?"

"I don't feel much like anything."

"You have to feel something."

He traces the condensation on the rim of his glass. "Relief when it isn't me lying on the ground at the end of the day. Triumph that I was better. Faster. But it really doesn't bother me anymore."

"It used to bother you?"

"Yeah." His voice is a deadly quiet whisper, the raw pain I sensed the first night I met him with Marita falls like a shadow across his face.

"When did it stop?"

"I don't know. Not for a long time. But you get to the point where you either deal or you lose it."

He allows me to consider this for a while. I think of the report I'm going to make when he finally leaves. The fact that I am going to ride down to the payphone at the Hummingbird and dial 604, an area code outside my own country. That I will repeat the tales I have heard tonight, not to some appropriate sovereign authority, but to someone whose shadowy affiliations are almost as suspect as Alex Krycek's. Someone I'm trusting mainly because Marita does.

I push the needle through the silk, hard enough to draw blood on the pad of my thumb. "I want it to bother me," I tell him. "I need it to matter. It should mean something."

He leans in close and his breath is hot against my cheek. "It means survival, Monica."

* * *

"You know, you never did explain what made you come to me, Alex."

He grins and reaches across me to steal a cigarette from my pack on the kitchen counter. I slap his hand and he chuckles and I do too, because I have forgotten for a moment. Sometimes, I do forget. I space out and he is just this overly cute buddy of mine, showing up on my doorstep at three in the morning, on layover en route to D.C. and we're just drinking and shooting the shit and I'll call in sick again and it will all be no problem.

Sometimes, I forget, and that's when I get really scared. But you have to relax at some point. You have to breathe, or as Alex says, you lose it. Most of the time, he's not so bad. Marita couldn't love him so much if he were really that bad. He's just slightly bipolar. This isn't a clinical diagnosis, of course, just observation. He can be incredibly charming. Flirtatious even. Sometimes, I think he forgets too. I've watched his eyes go flat, almost black as he remembers, and I can hear Mama whispering in my head, 'Careful girl...careful'.

He returns the lighter to the counter and sweeps his fingers through my hair, pushing my bangs out of my face. It is a familiar gesture, almost affectionate. "I did tell you," he says. "You just haven't figured it out yet."

* * *

He only really hits me one other time, and by then, I *have* almost figured it out. I sat through the same Quantico lectures he did, and this is classic BITE Model indoctrination strategy. I should have seen it before of course. Profiling cult behavior is part of my job description.

BITE stands for Behavior, Information, Thought, and Emotion. It is how cults brainwash their followers. In behavior control, the individual's physical reality, who they associate with, what they eat and drink, how much sleep they get is regulated.

Dinner party in Metairie? So sorry, Agent Reyes has to boil a cat tonight. Hung over again? Yeah, and there are cigarette burns on the furniture that I don't remember making, and I can't remember when I last slept through the night.

Round one? Point goes to Alex Krycek.

Information control involves the use of deception. Data is deliberately held back, distorted to make it more acceptable, or outright lying occurs.

Check. I have seen what appeared to be a spacecraft and a disappearing man. I have been ridden by gods I never worshiped. I don't know what is true anymore.

Thought control is achieved through loaded language. Complexities of experience are reduced to trite platitudinous buzzwords.

Resist or serve. Fight or die. Right, Alex. Got it.

Thought-stopping techniques to shut down reality testing are employed. The subject is encouraged to reject rational analysis and critical thinking, and is often kept chanting, meditating, or praying, for long periods of time.

Emotion control is accomplished through fear and guilt. The subject learns to distrust the outside world, to worry about unseen enemies.

Fear and guilt. Marita dies if I don't do what Alex wants. And if that isn't enough, numerous alien races are plotting and poised to destroy us. And there are humans willing to help them. Fear and guilt.

* * *

The ice pack has numbed my side, and I'm going to have a bump on the back of my head where it connected with the door. Alex is a very serious man. I never should have forgotten that, but I had issues with cat boiling. It was still alive, yowling and thrashing in the rose-patterned satin pillowcase he held out to me.

[Men call us emotional. That's merde, girl. They are the romantics. They think they can keep everything under control. Women, we see too clearly not to despair.]

That pillowcase smells like cat piss...but it also smells like Chanel Number Five.

"I want to see Marita, Alex. I'm not doing another damned thing for you until I can speak to her in person. Is that clear?"

He watches me, silent. Expressionless. "Fine. We'll leave this for now. Do you need a ride to the Hummingbird?"

Oh shit. Oh fuck. He knows. He knows and we're all dead, end of story. I'm so sorry Marita. I close my eyes, waiting.

"It's okay," he says. When I open my eyes he looks amused. "They're harmless. Tell them whatever you want, if it makes you feel better. It isn't like you went to the Bureau. It isn't a problem."

I could never see myself going to John anyway. You see, it happened like this: Fox Mulder's insane ex-partner-turned-mercenary thought I was one of those shape-shifting aliens, and I ended up sleeping with his girlfriend and then this other guy showed up, who looked just like him, but evidently wasn't a shape-shifting alien either, but some kind of covert operative, and now it seems I'm an informant for some Canadian secret service division...that is, when I'm not working hexes and murdering the neighbor's tabby...

And then, finally, I get it.



"We should pull her out of there."

I poke at my plate of noodles, chasing them with the fork. I can't remember the last time I felt hungry. At one point, we tried to ban shoptalk in bed and during meals. It hasn't worked.

The Director's office is as dark as ever. To be fair, Li Ann rarely occupies it. She probably hasn't found the time to redecorate. Mac isn't eating either. He hasn't even taken off his sunglasses, and it was his idea to bring her lunch. He peers at her over the rims, tense, like he's waiting for her to explode.

She's been on edge since she lost one of her rookies a couple of days ago. She doesn't much like her power, deciding who is risked, who is redeemed, who isn't.

"We're doing nothing of the kind," she answers me, tone almost shrill. "I know you're worried, but if he wanted her dead, she'd be dead already. This way, we can watch him."

I can't leave it alone. "We're being pretty opportunistic, don't you think? New Orleans is hardly our jurisdiction. And using an innocent party-"

"Jurisdiction? He is *our* rogue agent...one of Lucy's, anyway. There's your jurisdiction! Not to mention the obvious-"

"Okay." I cut her off. She knows Alex Krycek is my least favorite subject. His name ends all arguments like a doomsday weapon. His existence suggests that Lucy set me up from the beginning, orchestrated my life in horrific detail. From the harmlessly mad to the dangerously vicious, the underground world was Lucy's to exploit, bludgeon, bargain with, and win.

'I own you,' she had told us. 'I own your lives and the Agency takes fifty percent casualties and I can do anything...' The thing is, Lucy owns us still. We are becoming the users, the monsters, the owners; just like her. Is it possible, conceivable, that she could have had some motive other than sheer sadism all those years? I had thought that, when she died, we would be free of Lucy at last. Alive, she was a monster; dead, she's inescapable. Oh God, Lucy. Please let us go.

"I'm not done yet, Vic." Li Ann pulls a dusty cardboard box from beside her chair. She slams it down on the table hard enough to splash coffee from both of our cups. In the box are bundles of photocopies, which she tosses to me and to Mac, seeming not to care that some slide onto the floor in the process. There are many bundles. "Nathan found these this morning."

Mac picks up one of the bundles, thumbs through it, and drops it back on the stack in front of him. "Um...okay...Li Ann, we've got back issues of some cheesy J.F.K. conspiracy zine. What's the deal?"

She sighs, grim. "A cheesy, J.F.K. conspiracy zine with a certain periodic guest-contributor, one M. Luder. And a good deal of the subject matter in these articles is concordant with Monica's reports, and with Bureau records accessible to the public through the Freedom of Information Act."

"M. Luder?" Mac smirks. "Oh, wait, I get it, the dead guy."

"Not as dead as we thought, apparently," she counters.

Mac finally slips off the sunglasses, folding them with deliberate care and balancing them against his plate. "And this relates to us...how?"

"Luder often refers to an organized conspiracy in his writing, a 'Consortium'..." She hesitates, taking a deep breath. "I am beginning to think that's us. *We* are the Consortium."

"Ahh did not have sexual relashuns' with that a-lee-un," Mac drawls in the most god-awful approximation of a U.S. Southern accent I have ever heard.

"I don't mean us personally, but the Agency, those who supported the work that created the Droogs, for example. Look guys, I've got claims of alien life here." She waves a packet. "I've got numerous complicit governments - including ours, I've got human-alien hybrid breeding programs, plagues to end all plagues, planned Armageddon! Remember our psychotic beekeeper case? I've got bees as mass delivery systems for designer viruses! I've got repressed memory. I've got programmed memory. I've got *cloning* projects, Vic!" She pauses mid-rant, dark eyes fixed on me.

I pretend to be absorbed by one of the headlines, moth men in the Florida Everglades. Clones and resurrections. The sky is falling in around our ears.

Li Ann sits back in her chair. "How do you think we operate with such impunity? You really believe our work has been sponsored by the Canadian government? We're a tentacle on the trunk of a multi-national beast, and I have the accounting ledgers to prove it."

"Uh, didn't the guy who used to sign our paychecks try to kidnap me?" Mac mutters.

She shakes her head, for half a second, she is again the terrified young girl just off the plane from Hong Kong, who Lucy has assigned to me. "More subterfuge."

It is too much to process. "Well," I begin, "let's say for a minute it's true, we're the bad guys. We still don't know why Krycek is really in New Orleans, and we're endangering a civilian needlessly. The guy is into voodoo or whatever. He's obviously a nutball."

"Unless he isn't," she says. "Unless he has an agenda we haven't considered yet. Maybe he's working some angle we can't see. Maybe his investment in her isn't about her at all."

"Li Ann-"

"No. Think about it." She rises from the chair. "What does he want? The same things the records indicate he's always wanted, power and information! Connect the dots, it's all degrees of separation!" She strides the length of the room and back again. "He's Luder - that is, Fox Mulder's ex-partner, right? And who was partnered with Mulder after that? Dana Scully. So Mulder goes missing, and who is Mulder's replacement? John Doggett...and...who once worked with Doggett?"

Mac and I watch her expectantly. "One Agent Monica Reyes! Don't you get it? Krycek wants back in! He can't return himself, so he creates a protege. A successor."

I hate having to ask, but she is too keyed up to explain if I don't. "But why all the hassle? What can he get from her, indirectly, that could be so important?"

She crosses her arms again, floating down from the high induced by wild leaps of logic. "That's why we have to leave Monica in, Vic. We've got to find out."

When I leave them for the evening, Mac and Li Ann are still talking bees.

* * *