Welcome To The Harem

Healer by Deslea R. Judd Parts 3-4 of 5
Summary: Four factions. Three species. Two men. One woman. What if Jeremiah Smith eluded capture in DeadAlive?

Healer *PG13* 3/5

Deslea R. Judd
Copyright 2001

DISCLAIMER: Situations not mine. Interpretation mine. Deal.
ARCHIVE: Yes, just keep my name and headers.
CATEGORY: X Files, mythology, Jeremiah Smith POV, Krycek/Marita.
SUMMARY: Four factions. Three species. Two men. One woman.
SUMMARY FOR CRYPTIC-PHOBIC: What if Jeremiah Smith eluded capture in DeadAlive? This story is a response to the Purity Virtual Season "What If?" challenge.
THANKS: To Rachel Anton, who hauled me out of a mid-fic crisis and assured me this was a story worth writing. I'm glad she did; I've enjoyed it.
MORE FIC: http://fiction.deslea.com
FEEDBACK: Love the stuff. deslea@deslea.com
AWARDS/ELIGIBILITY: Spooky 2001 Eligible. Recommended by IOHO (June 2001). Second runner-up, "What If?" challenge, Purity Virtual Summer Season, June 2001. This story was featured in the quarterly multi-fandom zine Worlds Away And Time, October 2001.


How I love the cold.

Forty years of exile on this hot, wet planet, and still I haven't completely adjusted. The heat radiates off my body; the dampness lingers on my flesh like slime. It no longer drives me mad as it did for the first decade; but still I long for the comfort of the cold.

The snow came a week after my first meeting with the Kryceks. I revelled in it, and although the climate was more of a challenge to them than to me, they seemed to enjoy it, too. We stopped sleeping outdoors, and I missed that; but otherwise things progressed as they should.

For four days after we healed Felicia Derringbar, there were no signs of recovered abductees. Nothing on the CB, nothing on the police scanners, nothing in the news. I suggested we might use the time for attending to personal matters, and both were agreeable. We drove south-west to Reno overnight; and on the fifth day, Alex and Marita were married. They both seemed a little lost, as though not quite sure how to deal with the reality of doing something for themselves; but they seemed happy, too. I wondered how long they had been dreaming of things they wanted to do together, all the while convinced they could not be done.

We eschewed the truck and the succession of cheap motels for a pair of luxury suites, and indulged at the finest restaurant we could find. It was a nice change from the rough living we'd been doing. They ate heartily and excused themselves early, and I retired early myself, pleased with the events of the day. Human marriage still mystifies me, but equally, it awes me, and fills me with hope. It felt good, after so long spent rambling from place to place and healing to healing, to do something other than merely survive - to bear witness to a commitment to something more. I felt an optimism that had been missing from my life for some time.

I was awakened by a series of pounding knocks at an unconscionably early hour in the morning. I stumbled to the connecting door and flung it open. Through my sluggish, half-awake haze, I beheld Alex standing there in his track pants, his chest gleaming with droplets of water, hair dishevelled, eyes wide with fear.

"She's gone."

Those two words were like a bucket of cold water. Awake now, I pulled on my clothes and followed him into their suite. "What happened?"

"Nothing, as far as I know," he said grimly, picking up his prosthetic limb and strapping it on. I watched him, fascinated by the dexterity with which he accomplished the task. "I went to have a shower. She was sitting there eating breakfast," he said, nodding to the lounge. There was a room service tray with a half-eaten fruit platter on the coffee table, along with an open newspaper. I went and inspected it. "When I came out, she was gone."


He came over. "What is it?"

I pointed to the newspaper splayed out. "Washington Post. There's a piece on Mulder's funeral." At his look of blank incomprehension, I said, "Look at the picture."

He came and stood beside me, buttoning his shirt. "Where?"

I pointed. "Scully. She's got her hand on her side. Ligament pain." He looked down, then back up at me, eyes wide with horror, their colour tinged with dark remorse. "Marita knows what that means - she does it often enough herself."

Alex closed his eyes. "Oh, God. She knows Scully's expecting." He bowed his head; combed his fingers through his hair. It stood up comically. "Go on, Jeremiah - say it."

"Say what?"

He sighed. "'I told you so.'"

I laughed then. I couldn't help it, but it was kindly meant. "I would never say that to you." And I wouldn't. Poor, weak humans, I reflected; mistake after mistake after mistake, and only rarely did they learn. It would have been annoying if not for their childlike humility after the fact.

He snorted ruefully. "You'd think it, though."

I laid my hand on his shoulder. "Let's just find her."

We found her three hours later.

I will gloss over the intervening time, if only because I am unsure how to interpret it; how to describe it. Alex was grimly focused, systematically looking over maps and landmarks. His behaviour, once the initial shock had passed, gave no hint of what he might be going through; no hint that this was his wife and his unborn child, all he had in the world. He might have been looking for a lost dog, or a wallet. I came as close as I would ever come to disliking him that day.

When we found her, though, all that changed, and my ill-feeling evaporated, leaving me ashamed. When we saw her, huddled on a park bench across the road from a baby store, all his defences melted away. He went to her and knelt in front of her, whispering to her in Russian, taking her hand in his; and she nodded, and allowed him to kiss her. I hung back a little, but even from a distance, I could see her cheeks were flushed and wet; her eyes were unnaturally bright.

At last, she pulled away, and she lifted her head to include me. I came closer, then sat down beside her. She started to speak, and faltered. She made a little hitching sound in her chest, then started again. "You knew," she said, her voice thick and husky. "Both of you knew."

I nodded. "Yes, Marita. We knew."

"Why didn't you tell me?" It was a whisper, raw and aching.

Alex swallowed visibly. "I didn't want you to worry." His voice was gentle.

She gave a thin laugh, but it came out as a sob. "You didn't want-" she shook her head in dismayed disbelief. She ran a slender hand over her face and sighed. "What else do you know?"

"Not much more than you," he admitted.

I said reluctantly, "We know that she's pregnant, and that her doctor has been experimenting with making women pregnant."

"Pregnant with what?" she said hesitantly.

Alex took her hand once more. "Greys. We think he's working for the Colonists. But we don't think that's what happened to her. She's had a difficult pregnancy, but none of the hallmarks of a Grey pregnancy. This is something different."

She thought on this. "Are they trying to hurt her?"

He shook his head. "If anything, they're trying to keep her safe - at least until she delivers." He went on reluctantly, "They're very interested in this baby of hers."

Marita's brow was lined with worry. "Skinner had his arm around her. It could be Skinner's, couldn't it?" She sounded hopeful, and I understood why. If Scully's baby were Skinner's, then it was probably different to her own.

"No. Not unless Skinner is immune." At her questioning look, I explained, "Immunes can only have children with other immunes."

"You mean they can't conceive with a non-immune?"

"No. They can conceive, but they can't carry to term. The father determines the baby's immunity. An immune mother and a vulnerable father make a vulnerable baby. And a vulnerable baby is consumed by the residual oil in the mother. Since Scully has carried successfully this far, both father and mother must be immune."

"Mulder," Alex said pensively.

"Could be. There aren't many immunes left. The Purists killed most of them along with the hybrids. I don't think they really cared either way about the immunes, but unfortunately, most of the vaccine facilities existed side-by-side with hybridisation ones. The immunes were collateral damage."

"So what does that mean for our baby - and Scully's?"

Alex bowed his head for a long moment. "Well, our baby, and hers, are both children of two immunes - two people who have each been infected. Why that's of interest to the Colonists, I don't really know. But I bet Jeremiah does." They both looked at me expectantly, and he said, "Well?"

I gave a low sigh. "I don't know - not for sure. But I can make a pretty good guess. There's a resistance double, or rather triple who can be trusted - a woman named Reyes. I can probably get more from her."

"Not Monica Reyes?"

"Yes. The FBI woman. She's working for the Colonists, but she's really resistance. Her brief is to protect Scully and her baby."

"Why don't I know her?" Alex demanded.

"Alex, there's a whole body of resistance that worked very hard to stay out of the field of vision of the strictly political interests. You know all the powerbrokers, but you've never even scratched the surface of the grass-roots revolution. Rebel clones like some of the Kurts, abductees, and just plain ordinary people who stumbled across something they weren't supposed to, and couldn't walk away."

That shocked him. "Wow."

Marita said thoughtfully, "I knew there were renegades, but I didn't realise they were so organised." She looked at me with a level gaze. "You said you could make some guesses, Jeremiah. So - guess."

I stared down at my hands. "The Colonists will want to know if an immune mother can bear an immune baby safely, because they feel an immune mother might also gestate one of our own species safely, as well. They don't necessarily want to hurt Scully or her baby, and as far as I know they wouldn't have any reason to take the baby; they only want to know if it can be done. The Kurts are still major players in the Colonist regime, so I'm guessing there will be a push to protect Scully, and Monica Reyes is part of that agenda."

"That's good news," Alex said, but he didn't sound reassured. He went on grimly, "What's the bad news?"

Reluctantly, I said, "The bad news is, these babies are hybrids. Naturally occurring hybrids, almost totally human with traces of Purity in their gene code. They'll still be human," I added hastily, "if anything, more human than human. But the Purists remain opposed to diluting the species. They will want to kill Scully's baby, and preferably Scully too; but they will want it born first so they can use its body in tests on a weapon against the Greys, who I think by now they must recognise as a threat."

Marita held herself very still. She demanded, "And the Greys?"

"The Greys will want to kill Scully's baby immediately because its oil immunity will make it a biothreat to their race. As far as they know, Scully is the only female immune, and she was supposed to be infertile, which is probably why they haven't worried about her. But now, they'll want her sterilised or killed."

"Are you saying they don't know about me?" Marita said urgently.

I shrugged. "I can't say for sure, but I really don't think so. I didn't, and I kept my ear very close to the ground in those days."

Alex spoke. "The Englishman tried very hard to hide you from me, and so did the Smoking Man. They were using your location as leverage." The muscles in his throat contracted. "In the process, maybe they inadvertently hid you from everyone else, too."

"But won't they sense it? Jeremiah did."

I shook my head. "No, I only sensed that you were pregnant. Neither you nor your baby's concentration is high enough for us to detect it. I put together your immune status from Alex's, and the fact that you hadn't died in early pregnancy."

"She can't have that baby," Alex murmured. For an instant, I thought he meant Marita; but he was holding Marita's gaze with his own, and I realised he meant Scully.

Marita was appalled. "Alex!" she burst out in reproach.

"If she doesn't carry to term, they'll assume it can't be done. But if she has that baby, and it lives, they'll see us and our baby and they'll work out that our baby is the same, just like Jeremiah did. You and this baby will be at just as much risk as her and hers." He traced the wedding band on her finger. "You're four months along, Marita. We only just got married. As long as Scully doesn't carry to term and you do, they'll think it isn't mine. And that means they won't know you're both immune."

Marita was very pale. "Alex - you're not going to kill her baby - are you?"

He looked at her steadily. His expression was haunted.

"Alex, promise me you won't kill that baby. Promise me you won't lay a hand on Scully."

He watched her for a long moment, frowning. At last, he said very deliberately, "I promise I won't lay a hand on Scully." He enunciated the words very properly, and I wasn't sure he planned to keep that promise in anything but its most precise form. If he could find a way of taking that baby from the redhead without touching her himself, he would do it - I was certain of it.

Marita didn't look convinced either, but she nodded. She got to her feet, bracing herself with one hand on the bench. "Come on," she said abruptly. She nodded to the shop opposite. "Let's go baby shopping."

Alex looked at her dubiously. "Is that meant to express hope, or invoke guilt?"

Her expression was fond, yet grave. "Both."

She turned away and walked on ahead, leaving us to consider.


I ignored him, pushing the warmth out of me, through my palms, urging it into Mulder's flesh. Touching him, I felt a violent ripple of distaste. He'd been dormant - effectively dead. His flesh was cold and clammy. I had seen many wounds in my life, and I would see many more; but this chilled white thing before more bothered me more than any of them.

"Look at him," Alex whispered with unconcealed awe. "Three months in the grave, and yet he lives. How can that be?"

"The oil," I said grimly. "That's what we didn't take into account."

"The fourth faction," he mused. Funny - those words had only been a throwaway line, but he used them often, like an invocation. He said finally, "How do they fit into all this?"

"I honestly don't know," I said absently, laying my hands on the dimpled scar tissue covering Mulder's cheeks. "But I have my suspicions."

"You gonna share them?" he demanded, stalking over to the door and peering out. "Still clear," he added as an afterthought.

"Well, think about it. You've got this oil, and it can either stay oil or mature into greys within its human hosts. Which is better?"

"They both seem like pretty crappy choices, really. Limited power to act versus the likelihood of being used as breeding stock." He said it with the resigned air of someone who knew about crappy choices.

"What if there were a third option?"

"Such as?"

"What if they've found a way to somehow transform the human host into a permanent vessel? With the power of my species, their own near-indestructability, and the use of human faculties-"

Alex's eyes were wide with realisation. "There's nothing they couldn't do."

I looked up from Mulder's prone form, nodding grimly. "The one thing I don't think anyone counted on was the oil's own desire for evolution, for self-actualisation. After survival, it's the most primitive instinct. For millennia, it has been trapped - under the ground on earth; in the wastelands back home. But now-"

"Jesus." He looked down at the man before us, seemed to hesitate, then pulled a stiletto from his pocket. He toyed with it. "Are you saying Mulder is one of them?"

I shook my head hurriedly. "No. I don't sense the oil in him at any great strength. Just a faint trickle, like you." He nodded, and pocketed the stiletto once more. "But it's getting stronger. It's hard to explain, but there's a throb to it that isn't there in you. It's doing something - building something."

"Building itself." He ran his hand over his jaw, sighing. "Can you fix it?"

How the hell should I know? I felt a surge of irritation, but I quelled it. "I can bring Mulder back from his current state, but I don't know if I can give him what he needs to defeat the oil as well. I've never tried." I went on hesitantly, "Presumably this was happening to Theresa and Felicia and all the rest of them, as well, and I healed them; but they weren't this far gone. I just don't know, Alex."

"He already has immunity," he pointed out.

"That might be enough," I conceded. "It might not."

"I've got vaccine with me. Would that help?"

"Couldn't hurt."

He fumbled in his pocket for a moment, then drew out a vial and a hypodermic needle. He gave a sardonic laugh. "Who knew, when I offered it to Skinner, that it would be of use? Shit, I just wanted to know where the bastard was." He drew up a dose from the vial and moved towards the inside of Mulder's elbow, then stopped short. It was already occupied. "Fucking IV," he muttered. He inspected the man's hands, checking for possible entry points between the fingers, but those were covered with an array of little sensors, taped thoughtfully into place. Alex looked at them doubtfully, then pulled up Mulder's sleeve instead. With a sound of satisfaction, he eased the tip of the needle into the ripples of Mulder's smallpox scar.

"Is placement important?" I asked with interest.

Alex shook his head. "Nah. Normally I'd hide it between the toes or in his scalp, but there are tubes everywhere. I don't want to touch anything I don't have to." He put the used needle neatly into the sharps bin, which inexplicably amused me. He shoved the half-used vial into his pocket. "Come on - let's go." He headed for the door, then stopped short. "God damn it, it just gets better and better. Here's Skinner."

"I'll play doctor," I said, but I wasn't confident of my chances of success.

Alex negated this. "No - he'll know everyone dealing with Mulder's case. Hide in the bathroom - I'll keep him away from you."

"You're going to talk with him?" I said with a ripple of irritation. Honestly, he could be like a schoolyard bully sometimes. I wondered idly whether there'd been some history between Skinner and Marita - I seemed to recall her mentioning that their paths had crossed. If I was right, that might explain a few things.

"Just going to fuck with his head a little, that's all." He laughed at my expression. "Don't worry about it, Jeremiah. I'm not going to hurt him, just scare him a little. Teach him not to hold out on me again. We don't need the delays."

I had my doubts, but I did as he said, going to the bathroom and pulling the door shut behind me. I shot him a baleful look over my shoulder on the way.

I couldn't hear anything for endless moments. I heard hushed voices, but couldn't make out what was said. That worried me. The door was a thin one - they had to be almost whispering for me not to hear. But why would Alex be whispering?

At last, the door was yanked open, and Alex bundled me out. "Come on - now. I go left, you go right. I'll meet you out the front in an hour." He led me to the door between Mulder's room and the corridor.

I made a sound of frustration. "Damn it - what the hell are you up to, Alex?"

"You don't wanna know," he said, peering out the window, left and right.

"No, I'm sure I don't. But what are you up to?"

"Just trust me, all right? We're on the same side, here - remember?"

I sighed, and nodded. "Yeah, all right. But Billy Miles-"

"There's no time! Just go, damn it!"

His urgency finally transmitted itself to me, and I did as he said.

"Sorry about that. I underestimated the strength of Doggett's involvement. He came after me for the stupid vaccine."

I peered out the car window at the misshapen front panels. "Hence the collateral damage." Privately, I wondered whether it was as simple as that, but I decided it didn't matter much. Whatever games Alex was playing on the side, I still had no doubt that he and I were fundamentally playing for the same team.


"Pity about Billy Miles," I said thoughtfully.

Alex made a noncommittal sound. "I spoke to Marita while I was waiting. She got into the hospital records. Whatever change was happening in him had already taken place by the time we got there. There's an entry about a seizure and a brief double-heartbeat." He breathed out in a rush. "We couldn't have prevented it - and we might have showed our hand. Worked out for the best."

"Que sera sera. At least we know to watch him - see exactly how they operate." That didn't seem to cheer him much, so I said brightly, "Hey - the car rental people are going to love you."

That aroused a ghost of a smile. "Not as much as Marita will. We took it on her credit card."

"It's not in her real name, surely?"

"Course not. But she'll object on principle." He laughed with genuine fondness. "Might be just as well. Make her feel part of it. She hates not pulling her weight, as she puts it."

"That's absurd. She's seven months pregnant."

He nodded. "Yes, it is. But she spent a lot of time being powerless. Doing her bit seems important to her."

"She hacked into the FBI to get Mulder's location - and the hospital records," I added as an afterthought. "She's not exactly sitting on her laurels."

He laughed. "I like you, Jeremiah." His expression darkened. "Dragging her into the field - that's not negotiable. Deskwork, fine. But not fieldwork." I wondered if he was conscious of his language, that he still used the vocabulary of his days with the FBI.

"I'm inclined to agree. If Scully's pregnancy is anything to go by, Marita could be at risk. Of course, Scully may just be predisposed to prenatal complications."

He shot me a curious look. "Have you been healing her, Jeremiah? Is there something I should know?"

I shook my head. "No, I haven't. I would, of course; but there hasn't been a need."

"Just as well - you'd have to fight her to be allowed to do it," he grinned. "You don't want to get rumbling with Marita, Jeremiah. She can kill a man more ways than I can." It was a threatening statement, but his voice wasn't predatory - if anything, it was benignly proud.

"Has she ever?" I said thoughtlessly, then instantly wished I hadn't. It didn't particularly matter at this point, and if she had, I didn't want to know.

"Not that I know of, though I imagine she might have to get out of that place."

I shot him a puzzled glance. "I thought you got her out."

He shook his head, looking at the road rather than me, even though we were stopped at traffic lights. "I eased her path," he corrected. "I killed a few guards. Left her an empty corridor. But I didn't do enough."

I looked at him curiously. "She thinks you did."

He did look at me then, but only shook his head with a bitter smile. "No, she *says* I did. Just like I say it's okay that she tried to sell me out to Mulder because it was the safest thing for her to do at the time." I didn't know exactly what that referred to, but I decided not to ask. "Doesn't make it okay," he went on grimly. "It just means we shut the door on the fallout."

I stared at him. "How can you just close the door on something like that so neatly?"

He shrugged. He said mildly, "I dunno. I just love her, man."

I thought it was the most mundanely poignant thing I'd heard anyone say in my life.

"I hate this."

I rested a companionable hand on Marita's shoulder, and as an afterthought, I drew her into the crook of my arm. "He won't be long, Marita. He's doing it for you - and your child."

"He's doing it because he doesn't know how to walk away," she said bitterly. I thought that was probably true.

Alex slammed the trunk of the four-wheel-drive, then came around the vehicle to meet us. "I'm set," he said gently.

Gently, she broke free of me and went to him. "You're not going to hurt Scully's baby, are you?" she whispered. "You promised."

He shook his head, and as much as I had felt it necessary to extract the same promise from him myself the night before, I believed him. "I'm going to protect that baby, Marita. And maybe when it's born, we'll have some answers, too." He kissed her then, fiercely tender, his hand resting over hers on her belly, and whispered to her in Russian. She held on tight to his jacket, holding him close, and nodded, letting go reluctantly when he pulled away.

At last, he turned to me, and shook my hand. "Look after her, Jeremiah."

I nodded. "See you in New York." It was a pathetically inadequate expression of what it meant to me that he entrusted her to me, but it would have to do.

"Good man."

We stepped back, and I drew her against me once more. We watched as he drove away.

"Do you believe him?" she ventured at last. "About Scully?"

"Yes," I said firmly. "The Purists know about her now - we know that from our surveillance of Knowle Rohrer. There's no gain in killing her or her baby. If he did it, they would wonder why. It could lead them straight to you." I didn't tell her about the promise I had extracted from him myself - she was worried enough already.

She nodded thoughtfully. "The Purists have Knowle and Crane, and the Colonists have Reyes. What about the Greys?"

I shrugged my shoulders. That was in the category of the unknowable. "We have to assume, from the actions of Billy Miles, that they know enough to be damn afraid of Agent Scully."

Marita nodded, pulling away from me and leading me back to the motel. "There's something disturbing about how Miles behaves," she said gravely. "Something automatonic. He doesn't seem to have the consciousness of the Purist replicants."

I followed her into our room. "The Greys, as we knew them, no longer exist," I said, sitting down on one of the beds. "By remaining in their larval state, they remain essentially primitive. Their replicants are drones, trained only to kill and to survive."

Marita started pulling clothes out of drawers and laid them out on her bed. "That makes sense. What about the Purists?"

"I don't know what the difference is there. Maybe they're using immature oil. That might allow the replicants to hold onto their own memories and intelligence."

Marita fetched her suitcase from behind the door and laid it out on the bed. She started to put her clothes into it. "Well, if he thinks he's going to a city full of alien drones without backup, he's got another think coming."

I made a sound of frustration when I realised what she meant to do. "Marita, no. Alex is right."

"Alex is protective. He's right to be, but that doesn't change one fundamental fact. Going into something like this without someone watching your back is suicide. We haven't come this far - achieved so much together - to split up now."

"So you'll rise or fall together." She nodded, and I countered fiercely, "I won't let you. I promised him."

"You promised you'd look after me," she argued, quietly implacable. "I'm going to DC, with or without you. You'll find it easier to keep your promise if you choose the former." Unbelievably, she smiled at me with great affection as she issued this ultimatum.

I didn't like it, but she didn't leave me much choice; so I went with her.


Healer *PG13* 4/5

Deslea R. Judd
Copyright 2001

DISCLAIMER: Situations not mine. Interpretation mine. Deal.
ARCHIVE: Yes, just keep my name and headers.
CATEGORY: X Files, mythology, Jeremiah Smith POV, Krycek/Marita.
SUMMARY: Four factions. Three species. Two men. One woman.
SUMMARY FOR CRYPTIC-PHOBIC: What if Jeremiah Smith eluded capture in DeadAlive? This story is a response to the Purity Virtual Season "What If?" challenge.
THANKS: To Rachel Anton, who hauled me out of a mid-fic crisis and assured me this was a story worth writing. I'm glad she did; I've enjoyed it.
MORE FIC: http://fiction.deslea.com
FEEDBACK: Love the stuff. deslea@deslea.com
AWARDS/ELIGIBILITY: Spooky 2001 Eligible. Recommended by IOHO (June 2001). Second runner-up, "What If?" challenge, Purity Virtual Summer Season, June 2001. This story was featured in the quarterly multi-fandom zine Worlds Away And Time, October 2001.


"God, how I hate morse code."

Skinner looked positively antagonistic, but he deigned to demonstrate a little curiosity. He nodded to the little black pager-like device in Marita's hand. "What's the range on that thing?"

"No limit. It's a celullar linkup. I just hope he's still fluent."

"Won't other people hear?" he queried.

"No. It's set to vibrate the message." She frowned, still pressing buttons. "'Skinner a replicant. Get out.' Doesn't get much plainer than that."

"Where the hell did you get this?"

"Just a little something from Spies 'R' Us."

I never knew when Marita was joking. "You've got to be kidding."

"Only about the name." She shot me one of those gorgeous smiles. I don't know what it was about her smile, but it got me every time, no matter how many times I saw it. If not for the divides of time and space and race, it might have been love.

"Just how did you two find me?" Skinner's voice was a growl. I'll never understand humans. Personally, if I were a prisoner and someone of dubious loyalties came to rescue me, I'd let bygones be bygones - at least for the duration. Maybe that's what makes people like me and Marita and Alex different from people like Mulder and Scully and Skinner. Skinner would sit there and rot just to spite you.

If Marita was annoyed by his lack of gratitude, she didn't show it. "We were watching Alex's back. We saw you being taken, and decided to follow." She sent the message again, and was rewarded with a rush of vibrations. "He's got it. It's about time." She pressed the buttons again in a new sequence. "'Forgot your Morse, milaya?'" she murmured. She put the device away.

"What did he say?"

"That he's getting out now. And that he's gonna wring my neck for not staying in New York." She turned to Skinner. "The replicant who took you - Knowle Rohrer - he works for the Purists. That's why you're still alive - the Greys kill theirs in the process of replicating, but the Purists seem to use cloning in their modus operandi."

"Skinner's valueable," I pointed out. "He could be bartered down the track. Makes sense that they'd want him alive."

"Where are we?"

"Hartford, Connecticut. About four hours' drive from D.C. Or three, if I drive," she added with a self-deprecating grin.

"She's not kidding," I laughed. "Mr Skinner, there's one thing I haven't worked out. The metallic skeletons. Did they say anything to you about that?"

"Not to me, exactly," he said, unbending a little, "but when I was drifting in and out in the car, I did hear them talking about metallic deposits."

"The oil would have bits of gold and iron ore and copper and stuff in it from being underground," Marita said thoughtfully. "Maybe that's how it makes the skeleton."

"That makes sense." I nodded to Skinner's cuffed hands. "Okay - how are we going to get him out? We can't get him up through the roof like that. You're not strong enough to pull him, and you pushing him from below is too risky."

"Just how fragile do you think I am?" She sounded annoyed.

"I'm not being paternal - well, not totally," I amended at her withering look. "If he fell on you, you could go into labour."

"He's right," Skinner said grimly.

She breathed a sigh of resignation. "All right. Here, let me try those cuffs."

"You don't really think you can pick them, do you?" Skinner demanded, holding out his hands anyway.

She shook her head. "Doubt it, but we seem to be out of options." She took the wire I handed her, but abruptly handed it back again and fished in her coat pocket. She pulled out her vibrating cell phone and opened the flip. "Yeah?" Pause. "Alex, thank God. What happened? No - hold on, tell Jeremiah. I'm working on Skinner." She laughed. "His cuffs, you idiot. Here." She handed the phone over to me.

I took it. "Alex, what's happening?"

"I'm not sure, but Billy Miles just tried to kill the Anti-Skinner, so I'm guessing that they're playing for different teams."

"They are. Skinner is a Purist clone, made with the same sorts of properties as Billy. We're with the real one now. He's in surly temper but otherwise fine." Skinner shot me a glare. I ignored him.

Alex's tone was cautiously hopeful. "That means they can be used against one another - and that they might know how to kill one another." He thought a moment. "Okay - I'm going to cosy up to Knowle. See if I can convince him I'm a sympathiser - and that the Anti-Skinner is a Colonist double. Maybe I can use them against each other somehow."

"Good thinking. Knowle is little in the scheme of things - no-one is going to give Scully's location to him. But Skinner is a risk - Doggett or Mulder could give it to him at any time."

"We have a few hours. Skinner is in hospital from what Billy did to him. He's going to have to stay there at least 'til the end of the day to keep his cover. If I can't get rid of him before Mulder gets the location, I'll have to kill Mulder."


"He'll lead them straight to her."


He cut me off. "No buts. This is endgame, Jeremiah. Winner takes all."

I groaned. "Just don't do anything rash."

"Who? Me?" he said sourly, and rang off.

I closed the phone and handed it back to Marita. She took it with a curious look. "What was that about? The last bit?"

"Nothing important," I lied uneasily. "Just fatherly advice."

"Yeah, right." She looked down at Skinner's wrists. "I can't get these things off."

I felt a ripple of unease wash lazily over me. My breathing suddenly grew faster and shallower, and a faint throb seeped into my consciousness. "Something's wrong," I said abruptly.

"What is it?" Skinner demanded, his features lined with tension.

"I'm not sure. Purists, maybe. Get back up in the roof, Marita." She complied at once, managing the task without help despite her ungainly frame. I followed, shooting Skinner an apologetic look. He either didn't notice or pretended he didn't.

We huddled there in the dark, listening. A few moments after I slotted the vent cover into place, we heard voices. I worked to follow the conversation for a while, and then, deliberately, I tuned out.

Skinner was being interrogated.

"They want to know where Scully is," Marita whispered.

I nodded, and drew her close against me. "We're going to be here a while. Try to sleep, Marita."

"You don't want me to know what they do to him," she accused.

"No, I don't."

She lay her head on my shoulder. "You're very good to us, Jeremiah," she said sadly. "No-one's been good to me before, besides Alex."

"You're good to me, too, you know," I said, partly to distract her from the voices below, and partly because it was true.

"What do you mean?"

"Well - people don't really let me in, Marita. They'll share their pain with me so I'll take it away, but they won't just be with me. They don't share the joy, or the mundane. They want me to heal them so badly, but they can't bring themselves to be my friends. Because if I'm their friend, they have to stop seeing me as a commodity, and they can't afford to do that."

"I never realised," she whispered in awe. "You've been alone, too."

We stayed there silently for a while, huddling closer when the sounds from below grew more insistent. I tried not to let them make sense, but I gathered they were hurting him. Through the narrow slits in the vent cover, I could see streaks of black rising in Skinner's face.

Marita saw it too. "Nanocytes. They have a controller. Bloody hell."

"It'll be over soon. We'll get him out."

We fell silent again, but finally, she spoke. "What's Alex going to do, Jeremiah?" she asked in a low voice.

"If he can't stop the other Skinner before Mulder gets the location, he means to kill Mulder."

She stiffened against me - just for a moment. "It would solve the problem," she admitted, "but I hope it doesn't come to that."

I patted her shoulder in a fairly mediocre imitation of reassurance. "So do I."

Tap. Tap. Tap.

I opened my eyes. Marita was pressed heavily against me. I felt stiff and uncomfortable.

Tap. Tap. Tap. "Jeremiah?"

"Skinner?" I eased Marita off me, and she shifted, slowly coming awake. "Are you okay?"

"More or less. Less, rather than more, to tell you the truth. What about you?"

Marita blinked rapidly, rubbing her eyes like a sleepy child. "We fell asleep. It's cold in here."

"I fell asleep too." Unconscious, more likely, I thought. "I don't know how long I was out. On the upside, though, they took off my cuffs."

I lifted the vent cover and looked down into the locked room. Skinner looked like hell, his pallor pale, his eyes shot with blood; but he was standing steadily enough. Marita moved beside me, ready to drop back down into the room, but suddenly, I heard voices, and I grabbed her arm. The last thing I saw before I slid the cover back into place was Skinner sinking to the floor against the wall, reverting to what I presumed had been his position when they left him.

Out of my line of vision, the door banged open, and there were scuffling sounds. A man was flung across the room, and I clamped a hand over Marita's mouth before I was aware I had done it. I held her there as she choked down a gasp, then let go.

"Mulder," she whispered in horror. "We have to warn Alex." I said with more confidence than I felt:

"We will."

"Any luck?"

Marita shook her head. "He isn't answering his cellphone - either that, or he's ditched it. He does that sometimes, if he's doing something dangerous. So they can't use it to connect him to me if he's captured or-" she broke off abruptly, staring out the window. She wiped her eyes.

"That means he's ditched the pager, too - right?"

"Most likely," she whispered. "God damn it, they're going to kill him."

Mulder spoke from the back seat. "Couldn't happen to a nicer guy."

"That's my husband you're talking about," Marita said coldly.

"No accounting for taste."

"Leave it alone, Mulder," Skinner muttered.

She turned in her seat to face him. "You don't know anything about him," she snapped, catching her breath in her throat. "He's got access to more information, more technology, more money than you could dream. We could have walked away years ago. But we didn't. You know why? Because he believed what you believed. He believed in truth. He believed in bringing down those people who abused their power to save themselves at the expense of everyone else. You do it with a badge, so you're the good guy; but he does it all by himself, so he's the bad guy."

I watched them in the rearview mirror. Mulder's expression was one of distaste. He addressed me. "Why you hanging out with these lowlifes, Jeremiah? I pegged you for better taste."

I stared at the road. "All I know, Mr Mulder, is that you came and found me and tried to bully me into healing your mother at great risk to myself. They found me and asked to help me heal others, and never once asked for it themselves. They protected me, and they treated me as a friend. You treated me like a commodity." I finished grimly, "From where I'm sitting, they're the good guys."

We fell silent for a while, but at last, hesitantly, Marita spoke. Her voice husky and raw with pain, she said, "What if they kill him, Jeremiah?"

"I may be able to bring him back if we get there soon enough. As long as his body is more or less intact, as long as he hasn't reached brain death. If they shoot him in the heart or the stomach, he'll be good as new."

"What about the head?" she asked fearfully.

"Depends. I can restore organic brain function, but I can't restore factual knowledge or memories - experiential learning. He could have problems, either with storage or retrieval."

"You said we'd never asked." Her cheeks were suddenly flushed. She sounded ashamed. It hurt to hear her like that.

"You didn't," I declared. "I offered."

"Dear God, dear God, dear God..."

Marita was whispering to herself in time to our footsteps. We ran down the stairs two at a time.

"What if that security guy was wrong? What if they didn't come down here?" Skinner sounded nervous. I cast my gaze heavenward in dismay. That was the last thing Marita needed to hear.

"We'll cross that bridge-" I stopped short as the door at the bottom of the stairwell opened. Skinner walked in; and Skinner - the real Skinner, beside me - went rigid, the tendons in his neck tense and hard.

The other Skinner registered no surprise or emotion at our appearance. He simply walked up the stairs, clearly ready to walk right by us - or kill us where we stood. Suddenly, I felt Marita push her way past me, and I tried to stop her, but she shook me off.

"Where is he?" she demanded, training her gun on him and flicking off the safety. "Where's Alex?"

"You can't hurt me," the other Skinner intoned dispassionately. He didn't even look at her; merely kept on walking, pushing past her with the air of one swatting at an insect.

As he did so, she jabbed her weapon into his upper arm. "Wanna bet?"

He stopped very still, and turned his head to face her with an expression that looked very like fear.

"That's it, isn't it? The lifesource. The smallpox vaccination scar. That's why the vaccine worked on Mulder - because of where they did it." She jabbed it harder, and he flinched. "Tell me where he is."

"The one like him went after the woman," he said, nodding at Mulder. He turned his head, and nodded to the door behind him. "The one-armed man is dead."

Bright spots of pink rose on Marita's cheeks, and she shook with sudden tears. "You bastard!" she wept, and she squeezed the trigger. Sobbing, she pushed past his falling body and fled down the stairs, reaching the door before it even hit the ground.

I scrambled over the replicant's already-disintegrating body, Skinner and Mulder hot on my heels. I raced down the stairs, through the door, out to Alex's prone body, overtaking Marita and shielding him from her view. "Take care of her," I yelled over my shoulder. "Don't let her see!" I heard scuffling as Skinner and Mulder held her back.

"Alex!" she shouted. "Oh, God, Alex..." her voice dissolved into tearful incoherence. Dimly, I registered Skinner making nonsense sounds of comfort.

I tuned her out, kneeling beside the body, my chest aching with apprehension. I touched the wound in the middle of his forehead. The blood there was still lukewarm, and I could still sense my own species within him. I felt the tightness in my chest loosen a little. He wasn't brain-dead, then.

I felt his forehead with my fingertips, detecting the outline of the bullet lodged in his skull. I dug out my pocket-knife and, wincing a little, I extracted it, careful not to chip the flat bone there more than I had to. I flung the bullet away, and then I laid my hands on him, gathering the warmth in my palms and sending it forth.

"Can you heal him?" Marita cried out in anguish.

"Yes," I said. "It was lodged in the skull. There's no penetration of the brain. There's tissue damage from the impact, of course; but it's repairable."

"Oh, God, thank God." I nodded to the men, and they let her go. She ran to us and dropped to her knees beside us. "Oh, Alex," she moaned, bowing her head to his chest, which even now began to rise and fall with renewed vigour. "Oh, Alex."

The men came up behind us. "He's not going to come out scot-free," I cautioned. "It will be a while before everything heals the way it should. He's going to have problems for a couple of months. Headaches, motor dysfunction maybe. It's going to be a long road." I could feel the wound closing beneath my palms, and I lifted them and let her see him. He looked like he was sleeping.

"No longer than we've already come," she said sadly, lifting her head and kissing the little pink mark where the bullet wound had been. Her tears were receding.

After long, agonising moments, Alex stirred. "Marita," he murmured. Then, opening his eyes and blinking rapidly, "Jeremiah. Mulder and Skinner-"

"Both replicants. The real ones are right here. They're fine."

"My head hurts."

"I'm not surprised. You've had inter-cranial bleeding."

He struggled to sit up. "Fuck, that hurts." He turned to Marita, holding out his hand as though for help getting up; but seeing her pregnant state, he seemed to reconsider. I manhandled him up, then held out my hand to Marita. She got up awkwardly, cradling her belly with her free hand.

Alex was wincing. "What now?" he demanded.

I looked from him to Marita for a long moment, and suddenly, I made a decision - a decision I had perhaps reached in my heart far sooner. I laid my hands on his shoulders. "We'll take care of it. You two go now."

He stared at me in utter bewilderment. "But - what about Rohrer and Crane? What about the Mulder replicant?"

"We'll take care of it," I repeated.

He kept on staring, but then his eyes grew wide in slow realisation. "You're cutting me out of the loop?" he said with an air of shocked betrayal.

"I'm setting you free." I nodded to Marita, who stood there beside him, not quite touching him, hugging herself, still shell-shocked by the events of the last few hours. "Take her somewhere safe. Have your baby. Be happy."

He looked unaccountably close to tears. His breaths were fast and shallow. His words came out in a rush. "Jeremiah, I've done things...I've killed people. If I ever had a right to walk away, if anyone has a right to walk away, I - I gave it up-"

"No." I squeezed his shoulders for emphasis. "You've paid, Alex. You've paid in blood and with your arm and with your guilt. And ultimately, you paid with your life. The fact that I brought you back is immaterial." I half-turned and indicated Mulder and Skinner with my hand. "There are other soldiers now - the old players, and the new resistance, people like Monica Reyes." I held those green eyes with mine. "It's all right to walk away."

He stared at me, wracked with indecision. Marita touched his cheek, stroking it with the back of her hand. "Alex, please. He's right. You have to step away. I can't lose you again." She kissed him there tenderly.

He didn't look at her, but he leaned into her kiss; and finally, he nodded. "All right," he breathed shakily. "All right." He looked from me to her and then back again; and then, finally, over to Mulder. "Scully's at Democratic Hot Spring."

Mulder nodded decisively, and he turned and bolted for the stairwell; but then he stopped. Hesitantly, he turned.

We waited.

"I, uh, don't think I'll ever forgive, but..." he trailed off, looking at Marita. "I think maybe I understand."

Alex nodded. Mulder shot him the ghost of a smile, then turned and ran.

He turned to Skinner. "Locker F31A at Dulles. Use your credentials to get it open. It isn't the only controller, but you can use it to counteract anything done to you. Those Lone Gunmen guys might be able to work out a way to permanently disable the nanocytes for you."

"Locker F31A. Okay."

"You'll, uh, want to go get Agent Doggett. Rohrer and Crane are probably after him for Scully's location."

Skinner nodded. "Will do." He looked to me.

"We'll take care of it," I repeated. "Go now."

Alex frowned, then nodded. Marita came to me, rested her hands on my shoulders, rose up on her toes, and kissed me. "Thank you," she whispered. "Thank you for setting him free." I gripped her arms, holding her close for a long moment, and then she pulled away with a beatific smile. "You healed him, Jeremiah. You really did." As always, I smiled back; but I felt the salty taste of tears in my throat.

Alex held out his hand. "Good man, Jeremiah."

I took it in my own, smiling, and nodded; and then I turned and led Skinner away. At the door to the stairwell, I turned and caught a glimpse of them, her cradling his head against her shoulder, his hand over her belly. I felt peace.

I closed the door.