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Well-Kept Man 3: Metal and Bone

by Mice

[Story Headers]

LONE GUNMEN OFFICES
TAKOMA PARK, MARYLAND
MID-AFTERNOON

"So, Byers," Langly asked, "how's it feel to be a kept man?"

Byers rolled his eyes and sighed, vaguely annoyed. "Well, I'll get to dress a little better anyway. It's not like you guys were keeping me in a style to which I'd like to become accustomed." At least they'd waited until he gave them the information about Rohrer before the harassment started.

"Yeah, but having to put out on demand?" Frohike shook his head.

Byers grinned an evil grin. He crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back into his chair. "That's not what's going on, and don't tell me you wouldn't do it for Scully."

"Oh, low blow, Byers, low blow." Frohike scowled at him.

"Yeah, and Dogbert's no Scully," Langly snorted.

"What makes you think I'd want him to be?" Byers asked, eyebrow arched.

Jimmy watched as the conversation shot back and forth around him.

"What the hell do you see in him anyway?" Frohike asked. "I mean, aside from the money and the decent clothes?"

"Amazing sex?" Byers offered, "Broadway shows? Good food?"

"Well, aside from that?" Langly asked.

Byers laughed. "He's been good to me. I mean, trust is hard, but he really has treated me well."

Frohike shook his head again. "Mister clenched jaw and a buzz cut? Sorry. I just can't see it."

"I think he doesn't want other people to see it," Byers said. "No matter what he says about it, he doesn't want to be outed at work."

"He's, like, got a pole terminally shoved up his ass," Langly said.

"Sometimes," Byers said. "Besides, you can't tell me Skinner isn't that way. Anyway, he's not like that when we're alone."

"No," Frohike said, grinning like some perverted demon, "then he's got a pole shoved up your ass."

Byers blushed bright red. "Can we not go there please?"

"Uh, guys --" Jimmy started.

Langly looked over at him. "Byers is datin' Doggett, dude."

"Well yeah, I got that part," Jimmy said. "But why are you giving him such a hard time about it?"

"It's Doggett who's giving him the hard time," Frohike smirked.

Jimmy frowned as Byers' blush intensified. "Really, Frohike. Can't you guys lay off just a little?" He turned to Byers. "You look pretty tired."

Byers nodded. "I was up late last night, and up too early this morning because we had to catch the plane."

Langly bared his teeth in a wise-ass grin. "Yeah, and I can bet on why you were up late, too."

Byers sighed. This was getting old -- and embarrassing --very quickly. "How much do I tease you about Walter, Langly?"

Langly laughed. "Not much now, but you sure gave me hell at the beginning."

Langly had him there. He had, in fact, given him just as much shit as Frohike had when Langly began seeing the Assistant Director for things other than hacking consults about the X Files division. This was probably just karmic retribution, or something equally ludicrous.

"Look, guys, I think I need some lunch." Byers rose from his chair, rubbing his eyes. "I'll see you in a little bit."

"Aw, come on Byers. We're just giving you shit," Langly said. He stood and slid an arm around Byers' shoulders. "You look too tired to drive. I'll take you."

Byers sighed and nodded. In private, Langly was less likely to poke him about it, and he really did feel too tired to drive the old VW microbus. He wanted to talk to Langly anyway. "Okay."

"Denny's?"

Byers chuckled to himself. Back to reality, where he was broke and lived in a warehouse. "Yeah. That's fine. Thanks."

"Can I go too?" Jimmy asked, starting for the door with them.

Frohike grabbed Jimmy's wrist. "No way, kid. I have work for you here." He shooed Langly and Byers out the door with a motion of his hand behind Jimmy's back.

Once they were in the van, Langly asked, "So how long has this been going on? It must have been a while, if he's taking you away for a weekend in New York and shit like that. I mean, why didn't you tell us?"

"About a month."

"That's it?" Langly blinked and stared at him as he started up the microbus. "When the hell have you two had time to do much of anything in the last month, John? And what's he doing taking you off for some expensive vacation and buying you stuff like that suit, when you've only been together for that long?" Langly pulled out of the alley into the street.

"I was pretty surprised, too, Ree."

Langly kept his eyes on the road. "Are you sure you're okay with all this? With Dogbert and the way he's treating you? How fast this is moving?"

Byers thought for a while, watching the passing buildings. He kept an eye on the traffic as well, checking for tails. "I think so."

"You're not sure."

"No, I'm not," Byers said, shaking his head. "Will you stop asking me those questions?" He paused for a moment. "How did you learn to trust Walter?" he asked. "We both know the kind of messes he's been in, the compromises he's had to make."

Langly sighed. "It took a while. Mostly it was just getting used to each other, really. There was a lot of talking before we started playing with the serious stuff." He cast a quick glance at Byers, concerned. "Is that what you guys are doing, playing?"

Byers nodded.

"You really are moving a lot faster than I'd have expected, dude." Langly turned back to the road ahead of them. "Like, be careful, okay?"

"You know I am," Byers said.

"How many times you guys been... well... you know?"

"Ree!"

"Hey, it's a legit question. Like I said, it took a while for me and Walter to get past the whole negotiation thing."

Byers looked away, vaguely embarrassed. "Twice." He glanced back over at Langly.

Langly blinked. "Twice? Like, before he took you to New York?"

"No. That includes New York."

Byers could see Langly blanch.

"You mean he took you to New York and bought you that fuckin' Armani for your second fuck?" Langly shook his head in disbelief. "Jesus, John, what's next? A trip to Amsterdam and a ring?"

Byers' mouth hung open for a moment. Composing himself again, he said, "It's not like that, Ree, and it's not like we're playing the kind of games you and Walter do. I'm having a hard time with all this. With trusting him. With... with being treated like I'm sane and rational."

"You've been playing with him. You let him haul you off to another state for a long weekend. That sounds pretty trusting to me." Langly turned the microbus into the Denny's parking lot. "How long after you started seeing each other did that happen, anyway?"

Byers blushed. "The first time," he said quietly. Logically, he knew he'd taken reasonable precautions but in looking back on it, he could see how it might appear reckless, even foolhardy.

Langly parked the microbus and slammed the emergency brake handle up. "The first time?" Langly's eyes went wide. "I don't... what the hell got into you? You're not like that. You fell real hard for Modeski, but you didn't shag her."

"It wasn't likely that he'd hurt me, Ree, and I really don't want to talk about Susanne. You know that was an entirely different situation."

"Well why didn't you say anything to us? You should have at least let me know so I could get you some backup if anything bad went down. You know better than to take off and play somewhere with somebody you barely know without taking precautions, dude."

"It wasn't at his place, or anywhere dangerous," Byers said. "It wasn't really heavy stuff. And you guys were gonna be home in a few hours. It wasn't like I was taking a big risk."

"When was this, anyway?" Langly grimaced, annoyed.

Byers reached for the door handle. "You remember the night you and Frohike did that funky poach for the TREYNOR file?"

Langly stared at Byers, eyes even wider, then just shook his head. "Man, I never even guessed. You must really be falling for him, dude." He opened the door and got out. Byers followed closely as they went into Denny's and got seats. Nothing further was said about the situation until after their orders were in.

Byers shook his head. "I think it's more just... a matter of convenience, really. It's just the sex."

"I kinda doubt that, if he's treating you like this." Langly paused. "You just let him tie you up?" he finally asked.

Byers nodded. "Yeah, but he was careful. Nothing happened that I didn't want."

"If you didn't trust him, you wouldn't have let him do that. I know you. Don't lie to yourself. "

"There's more to trust than that, and you know it."

Langly sighed and nodded. "Yeah, yeah, I know. But, really, there's more goin' on here than you think, John. It ain't just sex."

"He's a decent man, Ree. I know I can trust him with my body; that's the easy part. It's not like he needs any scandals around him, and you know as well as I do that he needs our help with the X Files. Kersh is gunning for him as it is. It's... it's just..." Byers reached out and brushed his fingers over the back of Langly's hand. A soft, momentary touch, it was over as quickly as it began. "I don't know if I'll ever be able to trust anyone as much as I trust you and Mel."

They looked at each other for a long moment, both of them sharing private regrets.

"It's hard, ain't it?" Langly asked.

Byers nodded.

"He's treating you okay, then?"

The two leaned back from the table a bit as their food arrived. Once the waitress was gone, they resumed their conversation.

Byers smiled softly for an instant, then lowered his eyes. "Yeah, he's been good to me, and could you just lay off with the paranoia? I'm not some 18-year-old kid, Ree. I don't need a babysitter or a chaperone. He's been careful and respectful and hasn't pushed to try to make me do anything I haven't wanted to."

"You're not just saying that 'cuz of the suit, right?"

Byers looked up and pinned Langly with an annoyed glare. "I resent the implication that I'm that shallow, Ringo."

"Sorry, dude. I just worry about you sometimes. I guess I don't wanna see you get into this over your head. Besides, I thought I was gonna have to buy you a polyester tie to go with that thing." Langly's face twisted as he tried to suppress a grin.

Byers snorted. "Polyester! God, Ree, that's a mortal sin." He started in on his sandwich.

"Like, you think you wanna stay with him?" Langly asked through a mouthful of burger.

"Stay with him? That's a little premature, don't you think? I'm not sure what I want," Byers said, "and it's way too soon to be asking a question like that." He took a breath. "But I've been alone for a long time." They looked into each other's eyes.

Langly swallowed his mouthful. "I know. I'm sorry."

"Don't be. We knew what we were doing when we decided it would be this way."

Langly nodded. "Yeah, but still..."

"I'll certainly be seeing him again, but from what he's said, nothing really seems to last for him. And you know the lousy luck I've always had." Byers sighed and poked at his salad with his fork. "I figure I'll just enjoy it while it lasts, you know? After this, who knows how long it'll be before I meet anyone again. Who would want me, anyway?"

"Someday it'll be right for you, John. And, like, I think anybody with a brain would want you. You'll find somebody; you're a decent guy. I mean, it worked out with me and Walter, and you know how much everybody laughed about that at first."

Byers gave a small, ironic chuckle. "That's true, but you guys went into it looking for more than just somebody to play with."

Ringo and Walter had seemed like the least likely combination he could have imagined when things started out between them. Langly's fascination with the burly, bald Assistant Director had seemed more like a farce than a potential relationship. Byers had never believed that Walter Skinner would give Langly anything more than the time of day, unless he wanted some hacking done. Then again, Byers still couldn't believe he'd just spent an astonishingly good weekend with John Doggett. Stranger things than these were constantly happening in their lives.

He closed his eyes and let his mind drift back over the best parts of the weekend.

"Yo, Byers, eat your sandwich before the cheese congeals, dude."

Byers blinked and looked down at his plate. Langly was almost done eating, and, yes, the cheese in his sandwich was starting to develop that telltale plasticky look of the almost-too-cold.

"You look like you're half asleep," Langly said.

Byers stretched, yawning. "I think you're right. I'm tired." He was barely keeping his eyes open, even after having consumed two cups of bad coffee with lunch.

"Finish that up so we can go home already."

Byers looked at the sandwich and picked it up. The next time he looked back at his plate, it was gone. He had no idea when he'd eaten it.

Langly hassled him at the counter about who was going to pay. They split the bill. Byers was unsurprised, and too tired to argue much.

Back in the microbus, Langly asked, "So what kinda stuff did you do over the weekend?"

Byers looked over at Langly. "He took me to a club."

"In the scene?"

Byers nodded. "Mm-hmm."

"Which one?"

Byers shook his head. "I don't think you'd know it. It was a private club. Seemed pretty exclusive. Lots of rich guys."

Langly's eyebrows vanished into his hairline. "Did you, like, know anybody else there?"

"Not really, no," Byers said.

"You went to a private club with him, where he was the only person you knew? You guys were only watching the scenes, right?"

"Well, we played a little, but it... it was safe. Controlled." Byers swallowed, distracted, remembering Doggett and Brentali touching him, and the men watching them. He could still feel their hands on his skin, the hot, damp traces of their mouths.

Langly stared at him hard for a moment, then looked back to the street, jamming on the brakes before he ran the red light. They were both thrown forward against their seatbelts.

"You might try watching the road, Langly," Byers snapped.

"Jesus Christ, John." Langly shook his head, ignoring the blaring horn behind them.

Byers was convinced that one of two things was happening. Either he was suicidally insane and stupid because he was horny, which seemed to be Langly's impression, or he really did trust Doggett more than he realized. Much as it scared him, he hoped it was the latter.

He genuinely believed that Doggett could be trusted with his body. Doggett had demonstrated that. He'd shown he could keep a promise, that he would be there if things got a little weird after a scene. The way Doggett had treated him after the club Friday, then Saturday morning, left him feeling a little more certain of himself and his situation.

"Any other stupid shit I should know about?" Langly asked, getting the van into gear again as the light went green.

Byers snorted, irritated. "No, I think that's all for 'stupid shit'. We went to see the Statue of Liberty and the New York Public Library. We saw The Cloisters and went for a walk in Central Park, then he took me to see 'Cabaret'. We ate at a bunch of fancy, expensive restaurants. He bought me a suit."

Langly seemed somewhat mollified by the mundane list of tourist activities. "You know, Byers, you're either a total moron, or you've got something good goin' and you just don't realize it." He cracked the crooked half-smile Byers liked so much, then chuckled. "For your sake, I hope it's the good thing."

"So do I."


Home at last, Byers crawled into his small bed, alone. Though he'd napped on the plane, it hadn't been restful, and he was grateful for the chance to sleep now. He fell asleep quickly.

His dreams were erotic.

He could feel the weight of his Master's body on his back, feel Doggett enter him, taking him with strong, slow strokes. It was hot and intense. He heard Doggett whispering desire in his ear. He tossed restlessly on the bed, moaning quietly.

Brentali was there too, watching.

The Italian was naked before him, arousing and magnificent. There was dark, curly, graying hair on his chest. His cock was standing high and hard. He held Byers' bound wrists, his grip tight and powerful. 'Suck, boy,' he ordered. Doggett kept the slow, intense pace he'd set. Their hands were on him everywhere; scratching, pinching, tugging his hair, stroking his cock, twisting his nipples, caressing his skin. He could taste Brentali's hot shaft, smell his musk. He swallowed him deep, desperate for more.

Byers could see himself from near the bed as they took him. He watched the two men fuck him, restrain and dominate him. Seeing and feeling it at the same time aroused him utterly. It was exquisite.

'You're mine, Johnny,' Doggett whispered fiercely in his ear. 'Mine.'

"Master," he mumbled in his sleep.

'I own you, slut.' Doggett's voice was harsh. Byers' Master thrust harder into his body, the thick shaft filling him with every rough, deep stroke. Brentali pumped faster in his mouth. Byers gasped, near the edge. 'Take it, slave,' Doggett rumbled, fucking him hard and fast. 'You want it. You want to be taken. You want to be mine. Beg for it.'

Byers heard himself plead with them for more, though his throat was still full with Brentali's long, slender cock. His Master and the Maestro answered his need with incredible force, pain and pleasure twined in a rich, wanton mix. He looked into his own glazed, half-closed blue eyes, overcome with bliss and desire.

With a muffled grunt, Byers came, then slid below the threshold of dream.


DOGGETT RESIDENCE
FALLS CHURCH, VIRGINIA
THREE DAYS LATER, EVENING

Doggett heard the wheezing VW microbus pull up near his house. Byers had called earlier in the day, asking to come over and talk to him. He refused to discuss anything on the phone, only insisting that it was urgent, and extremely important. Doggett suspected it had something to do with Rohrer, but, considering how many pies the Gunmen had their fingers in, it could have been just about anything. When he got home from work, he'd tucked a condom into his pocket, just in case. Lube had gone into a drawer in the living room for easy access.

A moment later, he heard Byers come up the front steps and opened the door to him. Byers looked around, then ducked inside. Doggett opened his mouth to ask what the visit was about but Byers put a finger to his lips, gesturing for silence. He went to the front window and drew the curtains closed, then pulled an electronic device out of his pocket and started checking the living room.

He watched as Byers scanned silently for several minutes, then sighed. The tension in the bearded man's body melted visibly away. "I think it's safe to talk now," Byers said.

"Okay, what's the big hush-hush?"

Byers sat on the couch. "The guys and I have been running down info on Knowle Rohrer since we got back."

Doggett nodded, taking a seat next to him. "Sorta figured this would be about him. What did you find?"

"Apparently, there is some sort of super soldier operation happening in New York City," Byers said. "It has something to do with the TREYNOR files we found for you last month. We're not sure what yet. Details have been very hard to come by, and we're not sure who the players are yet. We've got an approximate location, though not an exact address. Langly's pretty sure it's on the docks in Queens, and that to get much more, we'd have to find and crack the facility and do the hack from inside. It would require a pretty complicated funky poaching expedition. My guess is that this is why Rohrer was tailing us. He may have believed we were onto the facility and looking for it."

Byers pulled a disc from his jacket pocket. "What we found is all right here. You need to look at it."

"Am I gonna be able to understand what's on here?" Doggett asked.

"Probably, but if you need help interpreting it..." Byers said.

Doggett took the disc from him, their fingers touching as it passed between their hands. He saw Byers close his eyes for a moment and shiver minutely. He smiled to himself. "Yeah," he said. "You should stay in case I need any help. I was pretty lost in the TREYNOR files until you guys explained some of it to me."

"I thought that might be the case," Byers said. A smile crossed his lips.

Doggett took a slow, deep breath. Damn, Byers looked good. He'd found he had missed the man's quiet presence in the last few days, wanted him around more often. The more he got to know Byers, the better he liked him. He wondered if Byers was in the mood to play, or if he'd only come to discuss the files. He slipped into his Dom role for a moment to see if Byers would respond. "Get us a couple beers from the fridge, Johnny."

Byers nodded. "Yes, Sir." He rose and went off to the kitchen. Doggett grinned and pulled the lube from the drawer where he'd put it earlier.

He went into the dining room and booted his laptop. He didn't want to take the disc to his office upstairs unless he had to. This was a more casual, comfortable atmosphere, and there was more room for both of them to look at the screen. He heard the hiss and clink of opening bottles, and it wasn't long before Byers found him.

"Here, Jack," Byers said, handing him one of the cold bottles. He took a sip as Doggett watched him, then leaned one hip against the table. Byers crossed his arms over his chest, the bottle dangling from one hand.

"Thanks," Doggett said. He was having a hard time focusing on their work with Byers standing next to him like that. The man's slender frame was a powerful distraction. He took a sip from his beer and set it on the table. "Come here," he said.

Byers swallowed, licking his lips, then nodded and set his beer down. He stepped forward. Doggett took him in his arms and heard Byers' almost inaudible sigh as his sub's arms slid around his waist.

"You wanted this, didn't you?" Doggett asked.

Byers nodded against Doggett's shoulder.

"You could have come over any time, you know," Doggett said. He stroked Byers' back gently with his fingertips.

"We were too busy," Byers said. "This occupied pretty much all our waking time over the last three days. It was a tough hack. The information was tightly guarded and we had to be really careful. It was too important to let slide. We pushed back this week's publication by two days in order to get the work done."

Doggett nodded. "Yeah, I understand." He nuzzled Byers' hair, then ran his lips along the curve of Byers' ear. Byers shivered. He held the slight man tighter, heart beating faster. It was making him hard. "God, what you do to me," he whispered.

Byers rumbled "Mmmmmmm," and raised his face to Doggett's. Their lips met and they kissed slowly, with growing heat. Byers tasted slightly of bitter hops and alcohol, but it was good. Doggett pinned his hips against the table, and put his weight into Byers' body. They ground together slowly for endless minutes, breath coming faster.

Byers pulled back. "You really need to look at these files," he said, breathless.

"It can wait half an hour, " Doggett said. "Can you stay tonight?"

He could feel Byers' pulse quicken at the question.

"I- No. I'd like to, but I can't," Byers said. "Not tonight. There's too much work left to do if we're going to get this week's issue out, and I'd never hear the end of it when I got home."

"You will spare the half hour, though, right?" Doggett asked, a demanding edge in his voice.

Byers nodded, smiling. There was excitement and arousal in his eyes. "Of course, Sir. It would be my pleasure."

Doggett grinned. "That's what I want to hear." His hands slid along Byers' back and sides, taking in the lines and curves of Byers' muscles. He'd wanted this since they'd returned home. The few nights they'd spent together hadn't been enough. Thrusting his hips against Byers' trapped body, he took his mouth again, kissing deeper this time.

Byers moaned into his mouth, hands moving along Doggett's body, pulling his hips into him. Byers' hands on his ass felt good and he held the man tight. They were panting together, and Doggett wished Byers had more time. He leaned back a little and pulled the knot from Byers' tie, still pinning him against the table. Byers leaned his weight back on his hands, eyes half closed, lips parted. Doggett felt a tightness in his chest, heart hammering.

He tossed Byers' tie aside and started unbuttoning the man's shirt. He wanted to feel skin under his hands, but was frustrated when he found Byers was wearing an undershirt.

"You're wearin' too many clothes," he grumbled, raking the fingers of one hand down the center of Byers' still concealed chest. Byers whimpered and tilted his head back, exposing his throat. Doggett leaned in, taking the soft, hot skin into his mouth, licking and sucking. The flesh under Byers' chin was scratchy with stubble and he ran his teeth along it, feeling his sub groan in response. It wasn't enough, but it helped.

Doggett couldn't wait any longer. He fingered Byers' undershirt for a moment, then took it firmly in both hands. The urge was too strong to resist. With a sharp, powerful movement, he tore it. He felt wild, like some cougar, totally in control of the man under his hips. It was an incredible aphrodisiac.

"Aaah!" Byers gasped and his eyes went wide. His chest heaved and he jerked back. Doggett saw the flash of fear and astonishment in his face, and kissed him hard. His hands slipped into the ripped fabric, playing with his sub's chest. Byers moaned into his mouth. After a moment, Doggett pulled back and ripped the undershirt completely open.

"Take off your jacket and shirt, Johnny," Doggett commanded. He kept his hips braced against Byers, maintaining his control of the man and the situation.

Byers was panting, his eyes darkened in desire. Doggett could see it had aroused him even more. "Yes, Sir."

Byers' hands shook as he moved to comply, and Doggett pulled the tail of Byers' shirt roughly from the waistband of his pants. He slid his hands up under the clothing even as Byers pulled it off. Doggett watched, hungry, as more of the man's flesh was exposed. He traced the lines of Byers' ribs with his fingertips, nipping at his collarbone.

"Please, Sir, more," Byers whispered. Doggett loved the sound of want in his sub's voice. It made his rod throb as he trapped Byers' hips with his own.

"Oh, yeah." Doggett's heart thudded against his ribs, shaft aching as he ground himself into the man's groin. Byers was just as hard as he was. "So hot," he muttered. Bending down, he sucked and nibbled at Byers' chest and shoulders.

Byers tossed his shirt and jacket aside, then leaned back to brace his hands on the table again. He spread his legs, inviting Doggett to slip between them. Doggett took one thigh in his hand, raising it as he bit at one of Byers' nipples. He slipped his hips between Byers' thighs as he let the man wrap the raised leg around his ass.

"Uhhhh..." Byers slipped onto his elbows, leaning further back on the table. His head lolled back, body stretched in an elegant arc that made Doggett lightheaded with desire. He thrust his hips hard into Byers, wanting desperately to be inside him. Reaching down, he unbuckled Byers' belt, and opened his pants.

Tugging at the waistband, he pulled the pants and Byers' boxers down off his hips. He backed off just a bit and growled, "Roll over, wanna fuck you." He reached into his pocket for the condom.

Byers whimpered, but rolled onto his stomach, his raised ass exposed.

"Gonna give it to you deep," Doggett said, his voice low and excited as he slipped the condom over his heavy, thick rod. "Gonna make you beg to come."

"God, yes," Byers moaned. "Please, Sir." He held the edges of the table tight, bracing himself, then spread his legs as best he could with his pants around his ankles. He looked so hot. Doggett ran a hand softly over the smooth, pale ass before him, played his fingers along Byers' dangling balls. Byers moaned again.

He loved the way Byers felt, loved the heat and tightness of him when they fucked, loved how soft the man's skin was. More than anything, he loved how Byers responded to him. It was as though the shy man had been waiting for years for the right key to open him up. The raw sensuality hidden within him was delicious and tempting. He could see Byers abandon himself to it. Doggett wasn't going to venture any guesses as to why, but he was glad he was lucky enough to be the man who'd brought this out of him. Seeing Byers like this only left him wanting more.

He ran his fingernails up from Byers' thighs to the base of his spine, leaving quickly fading pink trails behind on the pale buttocks. Byers trembled under him, breathing hard.

"You're so hot, little cub," Doggett growled, his voice quiet. "Such a sweet ass." Taking the cheeks of Byers' ass in both hands, he kneaded them, caressing them. Byers relaxed completely into the moment, groaning happily as he panted in his arousal. Parting the mounds of muscle in his hands, Doggett leaned down and blew gently on Byers' opening, leaving the man gasping, eyes clenched tight shut. He grinned as he watched Byers thrust helplessly under him, his cock leaking. The sight made him even harder. His dick ached with his need.

Raising his hands, he slid them up Byers' back, stroking gently from hips to shoulders, then down along his sides to the hips again. He repeated the process over and over, leaning his weight into Byers' body, the slip of skin under his palms hypnotic and sensual. After a while, Byers was in an erotic trance, eyes half closed and glazed over.

Doggett slicked the fingers of one hand, letting the lube warm before he applied it to Byers' opening. The soft caress drew an almost purring sound from his sub, and Byers' shaft twitched. He slicked himself and pressed his hardness up to the man's pucker.

"Relax, Johnny. Take it slow," he mumbled, sliding in with firm but gentle pressure.

Byers' voice trembled as he moaned deep in his chest. Doggett reached up and took Byers' wrists, pulling his hands from their tight grip on the table's edge. He brought them together at the small of Byers' back and held them tight with one large hand.

Byers panted and whimpered. "Yes," he groaned. "Oh, God..." His skin glistened with a fine slick of sweat as his body responded to Doggett's penetration.

Doggett's eyes swept over Byers, gently restrained and writhing beneath him. He watched his rod slide into the nearly nude, vulnerable man to its root, felt Byers' tight muscles grip him hard as he moved. It was sweet and slow and nearly unbearable. His heart thudded fast and hard, and he gasped as he slowly pulled back until just the head of his cock remained in Byers' body. The glacial pace of his penetration was exquisite agony, and he closed his eyes as his head fell back, mouth open, panting. He listened to the animal sounds Byers made while he moved in and out, and his hand tightened around his sub's wrists.

Byers was trembling hard now, near orgasm and incoherent. Doggett could feel it in the way the man's muscles gripped his shaft, see it in his hot, flushed frame. He released Byers' wrists and covered him with his body. He braced himself against Byers' shoulders and thrust deeply, forcefully. He heard groans and shouts of pleasure. He didn't know whether it was Byers' voice or his own as he moved frantically inside him. The friction of his clothed chest against Byers' naked back left him hypersensitive. Doggett felt his balls tighten, sweet and hot, and they cried out together as he pumped home hard and fast, riding Byers with all his might.

"God, Johnny..." He wasn't close enough to Byers. Even inside him, he wasn't close enough. The thin layer of clothing felt like a wall between them. He wanted them to melt into each other's skin. Even like this, it was intense. It was indescribable.

He felt Byers jerk and come hard under him as he shot his own load. The salt taste and musky scent of Byers' skin left him high and dizzy. He could hear Byers' breath sob in and out as he gasped under the force of their orgasm.

Slowing again, his motion gentler, he held Byers. After long moments, their breath began to slow, falling into a rhythm together.

"Oh, God," Byers whispered.

Doggett nodded.

"Needed that." Byers' voice was unsteady.

Doggett raised himself on shaking arms. "You okay?"

Byers nodded, his eyes still closed. "Yeah."

"Can you move?"

"Uhhhh... no."

Doggett chuckled, breathless. He let one hand slip along Byers' side and come to rest at his waist. He'd have to clean the rug before it dried. He leaned down over Byers again, kissing the curve of his jaw under his ear, then rose and carefully pulled out of the man's body. He was still tingling.

"Come on. We need to get cleaned up."

Byers slid his arms underneath him and raised his still-shaking body to a nearly upright position. He nodded.

Doggett reached down, grabbed Byers' pants from where they lay around his ankles, and raised them to his thighs. Byers took them and pulled them up around his waist. Doggett slipped an arm around him and they leaned on each other as they wobbled to the bathroom.

Byers rested against the sink once they entered the room. Doggett looked up, seeing them both in the mirror. He laughed. "God, Johnny, we are one hell of a pair." Byers looked up and started chuckling as well.

They both looked utterly debauched -- hair mussed, clothing wrinkled, skin flushed red and sweaty, still breathless.

"God, you're hot," Doggett said, then leaned in and kissed Byers briefly. He handed him a washcloth. "Clean yourself up, then go clean up the mess you left on the rug." Doggett pulled off and discarded the full condom then grabbed a washcloth of his own.

Byers nodded as he washed himself. "Yes Sir," he said, his voice and breathing finally normal. When he finished, he zipped his pants. "I don't have an endless supply of undershirts, you know," he said with a smirk. He turned to go.

"Hey, c'mere," Doggett said. He reached out and took Byers in his arms. They held each other tight for a long minute.

"Okay," Doggett said finally. He patted Byers' ass. "I'll get you some new ones. Let's go. We got work to do."

"I really need that beer," Byers said, licking his dry lips.


HOOVER BUILDING
A.D. WALTER SKINNER'S OFFICE
WASHINGTON, D.C.
NEXT DAY

"Thank you for coming, Agents." Skinner gestured to the chairs in front of his desk, and Doggett and Agent Reyes sat before him. He shuffled some papers and handed them each a file folder.

"What do you have for us, Sir?" Doggett asked. He opened the file in front of him to a photo of a mangled body, the head severed and lying nearby. Underneath was a photo of a second body, similarly mutilated.

"They appear to be two ritualistic murders: one in Connecticut, the other in Rhode Island," Reyes said, examining her own copy of the file.

Skinner nodded. "The similarities of the two murders are what brought them to the attention of the FBI. The inexplicable ritualistic elements landed them in your lap. I've already sent Agent Scully to Bridgeport to autopsy the first victim. Your tickets are in the files you've been given, and I expect you to join her this afternoon."

"Of course, Sir," Doggett said. "I don't see any notes here about who the victims are."

"Right now, they're John Does," Skinner said. "Their wallets were missing, and their prints either weren't in the system, or they were removed. This really has my red flags up. The murders took place yesterday evening within less than an hour of one another. The bodies were both found within minutes of the murders. We may be looking at some kind of conspiracy, with two murderers acting in tandem."

Reyes nodded. "Providence and Bridgeport are over 120 miles apart. There's no way one person could have killed them both within that timeframe."

"That's what the local departments said," Skinner replied.

Doggett shook his head. "I don't like the sound of a possible conspiracy."

"There could be some astrological or numerological significance to the fact that both murders apparently took place at nearly the same time. There could be cults with branches in both cities that consider the date significant. The beginning of August does have some Pagan religious significance." Reyes asked.

"That's your specialty, Agent," Skinner said. "I want you to get right on this. Your plane leaves in four hours for Hartford. You'll meet Agent Scully in Bridgeport."

"Yes, Sir," Reyes said. She and Doggett stood.

"I'll expect a report regarding that autopsy by tomorrow morning," Skinner said. "Then I want Scully in Providence for the second victim's autopsy."

"We'll tell her when we see her, Sir," Doggett said. He and Reyes turned and departed for their basement office.

They were silent until they entered the elevator. "I don't like the looks of this," Doggett said.

"I agree, John." Reyes nodded, frowning. "I've got a very bad feeling about it."

"I'm sure Scully'll have something for us by the time we get there."

Reyes nodded. "You take a quick look through the files to see if we've had any cases like this in the past, and I'll run up a couple of astrology charts."

The elevator door opened onto the basement hallway. "Yeah, lookin' through the files is a good idea, but I'll need to make it quick. You really think we're gonna need that astrology shit?"

"John, you may not believe in it, but enough people do that it could be significant."

Doggett shook his head. "Yeah, yeah, okay. Whatever. We won't have much time to get the plane. You got a bag ready in your trunk?"

"Constantly," Reyes said.

Doggett nodded. "Me too. At least we won't have to try to pack first."

"You going to fax Mulder a copy of those photos?"

Doggett snorted. "He's retired." The idea of getting Mulder involved annoyed him.

"He knows these files inside out. He could tell us if he remembers anything like this much more quickly than you could look things up. And he'll know the files that were destroyed a few years ago that we can't access anymore as well."

Doggett rolled his eyes. He started rummaging around the office, gathering the things they'd need for their investigation. "Yeah, right. Him and that memory of his. But if he tells me it's about aliens, you're buying dinner tonight."


CITY MORGUE
BRIDGEPORT, CONNECTICUT
LATE AFTERNOON

"I can't believe it's blunt force trauma," Scully said, "but that's what all the evidence suggests. To decapitate someone with a blow like that, the object would have to be moving at an incredible speed." She had just stripped off the surgical scrubs.

"Blunt force? That was no baseball bat, Scully." Doggett said.

"Whatever hit him struck at the base of the jaw," she motioned to her own throat, "at the carotid artery and blew right through."

Reyes fidgeted. "That's bizarre. Was this near a construction site? Maybe the body was moved?"

Scully shook her head. "No, the blood spatter on site was consistent with it being the place of death. The body wasn't moved. We should go out to the site so you can examine it before too much of the evidence is destroyed."

"Good," Reyes said. "Has anyone found anything large enough to do damage like this?"

Scully frowned and shook her head again. "No. No one found anything that could be a potential murder weapon, and the woman who found the body didn't see anything either."

"You're gonna need to head for Providence tomorrow morning, Scully," Doggett said. "Skinner wants that second autopsy report tomorrow. If this one's done, fax it to him before we head over to the scene."

"Naturally," Scully sighed, and nodded. "Not yet. I'll do a quick examination of the site with you, then finish up the autopsy report and get on the road tonight."

"I don't think you gotta be quite that fast," Doggett said. "The guy'll still be dead when you get there. You should at least join me and Monica for dinner before you head out. She's buyin'."

Scully looked over at Reyes and raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"

"Aliens," Reyes said.

Doggett chuckled, smug. He crossed his arms over his chest and leaned on a cabinet.

Scully's eyebrow climbed a little higher. She crossed her arms as well. "Would you mind explaining that cryptic comment?"

"Before we left, she wanted to ask Mulder if he'd seen anything like this before."

Reyes rolled her eyes. "He said if Mulder said it was aliens, I had to buy dinner." She paused.

"Aliens," Doggett and Reyes chorused, looking at each other.

Scully laughed. "You two head on over. I'll meet you there shortly."


ROGER WILLIAMS NATIONAL MEMORIAL
PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND
NEXT MORNING

"Residual footwear impressions at the Bridgeport site turned out to be combat boots," Scully said. "The victim was wearing loafers." She handed Reyes a copy of the report results.

"The lab really got the results back quickly," Reyes said.

Doggett sipped his coffee as he and Reyes stood with her, examining the second murder site. "And this site?" he asked. It was already looking like a long day.

"Same thing," Scully said. "More combat boots, victim wearing something else."

"But not the same pair, or even the same size." Reyes puffed at her Morley Light. "Couldn't have been the same person."

"Maybe it really is a conspiracy," Doggett said, hoping he was wrong. "Military job?"

Reyes crouched, looking at the blood-spattered grass. "What kind of weapon could do this? Blunt force trauma to the carotid, decapitating both victims, apparently effortlessly."

Doggett's stomach tightened. "I've got no idea. Never seen a weapon that could do anything like it, but we know the military's been doin' some weird shit lately." He thought back to the TREYNOR file and the information Byers had brought him. God, it made sense even though a lot of the material was still confusing. He looked up at Scully. "Rohrer. I wonder if he had anything to do with it?"

"Even if he's a supersoldier, he can't be in two places at once, Agent Doggett."

"And not in two different sizes of combat boots," Reyes added.

He shrugged. "Well yeah. But we know there's more than one of 'em."

"How could they do this?" Reyes said, gesturing at the mess.

"I don't know, but they're a hell of a lot stronger than a normal person. No normal human could pick me up and toss me like some toy like that Billy Miles kid did. Who knows what they're capable of? God, I hate this. I wish I knew what the hell we were messin' with."

"They may be stronger," Scully said, "but the next question is why would they do this? Who were these men? Until we can identify them, how do we know where to start?"

"Why weren't their prints in the database?" Doggett asked. "Somebody has to want these guys to stay unidentified."

Reyes stood. "Maybe they were removed, like AD Skinner suggested."

"Maybe," Scully said, "they were never there."

Doggett looked at Reyes.

"Aliens," she mouthed.


LONE GUNMEN OFFICES
TAKOMA PARK, MARYLAND
TWO DAYS LATER

"But I really do think they may be able to help," Scully said, as Doggett waited impatiently behind her. He didn't need convincing, but he'd let her talk. Byers opened the door.

"Agent Scully," Byers said, "Agent Doggett. Come in." He looked at Doggett. There was an odd expression -- discomfort? -- on his face.

Doggett looked at Byers for a moment, then nodded, keeping his distance. "Hey, Byers." Scully didn't know about them, or about his relationships with men, and he really wasn't keen on her finding out. He was concerned about the look on Byers' face, though.

"Well, hello pretty lady," Frohike said, swooping in to greet Scully.

"Frohike." She smiled at him. "Byers. Where are Langly and Jimmy?"

"Jimmy's upstairs doing the laundry. He'll probably join us shortly--" Byers said.

"--And Langly's off with his gaming buds," Frohike finished. "What do you have for us today, Agent Scully?"

Scully held her hand out to Doggett. He pulled the manila envelope from his jacket and handed it to her.

"We need these two men identified." She pulled the photos out of the envelope and showed them to Byers and Frohike.

Byers went green. He slapped a hand over his mouth.

"Ugh. Don't show these to Langly," Frohike said, disgusted.

Byers shook his head vehemently and hurried out of the room.

"Jeez," Doggett said, "is he gonna be okay?"

"I think so," Frohike said, dubious, looking back toward the bathroom.

"He's seen worse than that before," Scully said, "and hasn't been that upset. I would have expected it from Langly. Are you sure Byers is all right?"

"He said he was feeling a little queasy when he got up this morning," Frohike said. "He thinks dinner last night didn't agree with him." He rested his hands on his hips.

"I should have a look at him when he gets back," Scully offered. "What did he eat?"

Doggett nodded. "Yeah, maybe you should."

"If he'll let you," Frohike said. "He had chili, same as the rest of us. I don't know why it would bug him. Everybody else is fine."

"There's been a stomach flu going around," Scully said.

Doggett fidgeted. "Yeah, Bernie Maddox over in VCU has it." According to Maddox, it didn't last long, but it had been pretty nasty.

Frohike shrugged. "If it's a flu, it's probably some EBO biotoxin test. They usually are. I think this one's only been lasting a day or two."

Scully snorted. "Biotoxin tests? That's ridiculous, Frohike. It's just a flu. They go around every year, and you know it."

"That's because They have seasonal tests. Influenza is an EBO. Everything since at least Roswell has been connected." Frohike gave her a determined look.

Scully shook her head. "Right, Frohike. Nobody ever gets the flu for natural reasons anymore." Doggett could see the amused annoyance on her face. "Well, I'll have a look at him when he comes back anyway. In the meantime, can you deal with this project for us?"

Doggett looked toward the bathroom, then back at Frohike and Scully. "These two guys are murder victims killed a couple of days ago. One in Bridgeport, Connecticut, the other in Providence, Rhode Island. We got no ID on them, no prints in the system, no dental records, no apparent motive, no real idea what killed 'em. We ain't got jack."

"At a guess, I'd say they lost their heads," Frohike said. He looked back at the photos and sighed. "Yeah, we'll see what we can do. I'll try to put together some cleaner photos so that Langly can cope, and I'm gonna make Byers go to bed when he comes out of there." He looked over at Doggett.

Doggett looked back toward the bathroom. He could hear the muffled sounds of retching coming down the hall. "Sounds like a plan." He'd have to call later, when Scully wasn't around, to check on Byers.

"Why don't you two have a seat," Frohike said. He waved in the direction of the bathroom with his thumb. "I'm gonna go check on the narc. Be right back." He waved Scully into a comfy chair and pointed Doggett at their ugly, whorehouse-red couch. He set the photos near a scanner and hurried back toward the bathroom.

"You think he'll be okay?" Doggett asked, looking over at Scully.

Scully nodded. "The current round of flu is pretty mild, comparatively speaking. 24 to 48 hours, mild fever and chills, nausea, muscle pain, a few other symptoms we won't discuss in polite company. Byers doesn't seem to get sick too often, so I imagine he'll be fine in a day or two as long as he rests and stays warm and hydrated."

Doggett nodded. "If it's just Langly and Frohike, it'll take 'em longer to do this."

Scully shrugged. "Probably, but they're all very good at these things. It'll get done, whether or not Byers is in bed for a couple of days."

A moment later Frohike was back, bringing Byers, now wrapped in a faded Army blanket. "Sit there," he said, pointing next to Doggett. "Scully's gonna look at you and make sure you're okay."

Byers sat, shivering slightly. He looked lousy, pale and drawn. Doggett didn't allow himself to put an arm around him. "How you feelin'?"

"Miserable," Byers muttered. There were dark circles under his eyes that Doggett hadn't noticed earlier. At least, if Scully was right, this wouldn't last long. Byers looked up as Scully approached.

"Frohike, do you have a thermometer?" she asked.

"Yeah, be right back." He scurried off.

Scully knelt in front of Byers. "Let me take a look at you." She made him open his mouth, checked his eyes and his pulse, and felt his forehead before Frohike got back. He handed her the thermometer, and she put it in Byers' mouth.

Byers sat, slumped into himself. He leaned back, dropping his head to the back of the couch, obviously exhausted. Byers' fever was apparent, even through the blanket that wrapped him.

"100.9," Scully said. "Congratulations, Byers. You have the flu. You have just won at least two days of bed rest. Take some aspirin to get your fever down. Get lots of liquid, stay warm, and --" she looked over at Frohike, "-- just rest."

"But --"

She shook her head at Byers. "I don't want to hear it. And you," she looked at Frohike, "make sure he doesn't get up if it's not necessary."

Frohike sighed. "Yeah, I think we can manage that. We may have to tie him down, though, or get Jimmy to sit on him. You know what a workaholic the boy is." He smirked.

"There's too much to do," Byers said. "I can't afford to be sick."

"Shut up, Byers," Frohike said. Byers glared back up at him, or rather, he tried to. It wasn't very convincing.

Doggett did his best to ignore Frohike's 'tie him up' comment. "You two get started on the photos," he said. "I'll help him upstairs."

Scully and Frohike nodded. Scully turned back to the computers, and Frohike gave them a grin before he turned away to help her.

"Thanks," Byers mumbled. "I got really dizzy all of a sudden. Those photos," he grimaced, "were a little much. God, I ache everywhere."

Doggett slipped an arm around him and helped him stand. He spoke quietly to Byers. "Yeah. I'll make sure you get some aspirin. You got 7-up? My mom always gave me some for my stomach when I was a kid."

Byers wobbled to his feet, leaning heavily on Doggett, an arm around his waist to help steady himself. "No. I'll ask Jimmy to get some ginger ale later." They started for the stairs.

Byers was shaky. He moved slowly as they climbed the stairs. Doggett tightened his arm around him a little, letting his fingers subtly caress Byers' side. By the time they got to Byers' room, he looked utterly drained. Doggett eased him back on the bed and pulled his shoes off.

Jimmy peeked in the doorway. "What's up? Byers, are you okay?"

"Scully says he's got the flu," Doggett said.

"Oh, wow. Bummer."

"Would you grab a couple aspirin and somethin' for him to take 'em with?" Doggett asked.

"Sure," Jimmy said. "What do you want, Byers?"

Byers groaned. "Just water. I'm not sure I can handle anything else right now."

"You got it, buddy." Jimmy hustled out.

Byers sat up, though it seemed to be quite an effort. He pulled at his tie, loosening the knot.

"Lemme help with that," Doggett said.

Byers shook his head. "Not with Scully here. I don't want her getting any ideas."

"She's the one who sent you to your room, and it's not like she's right here. You look like you could use some help."

"Thanks, Jack, but no. You can hand me my pajamas, though." He gestured to his dresser. "They're in the top right-hand drawer."

Doggett nodded and pulled them out, then handed them to Byers.

"You should go back downstairs. I'll be fine. Really."

Doggett sat on the bed next to him. He put a hand on Byers' forehead. "You sure? You really don't look too good." The fever wasn't that bad, but it was enough.

"I can ask Jimmy for what I need. There's nothing unusual in that. If you stay up here too long, she's going to wonder where you are." Byers was quiet, his voice not quite right. "I know you don't want people at work to know."

Doggett sighed. "Yeah, okay. You're right. That wouldn't do." He squeezed Byers' shoulder, then caressed his flushed, overheated cheek. "I'll check on you later, when she's not around. You keep your ass in bed and get better, Johnny. You'll only be down a couple days."

"I hate staying in bed. I get bored."

"So read or somethin'. I hear you got up before you were supposed to and tried to work, I'll kick your ass."

Byers looked at him, a half-hearted smile on his face. "Promise?" He shivered a little. He pulled his jacket and shirt off. Doggett hung up the jacket in Byers' closet.

Doggett snorted. "You gotta be kidding. You're not in any shape for anything but sleep." He went back and sat next to Byers again. "Put your damn pj's on before you get a chill."

Byers slipped his pajama top on and buttoned it. He reached out and stroked Doggett's face slowly with the back of his fingers. "Thanks. Go work. I'll be fine."

"Rest, Johnny. Stay in bed. I mean it." Doggett took Byers' hand and gave it a squeeze, kissed him softly on the cheek, then headed back to join Scully and Frohike. He nearly ran into Jimmy as he headed back for the stairs. "Hey, be careful where you're goin'. And you take care of him, you got it?"

"Of course." Jimmy smiled. He raised the water glass at him. "Don't worry, Agent Doggett. We'll make sure he's okay. He'll be better soon."

Doggett heard Scully and Frohike talking quietly as he descended the stairs.

"How's it goin'?"

They looked up at him. "We're gonna have to do a bunch of photo database searches," Frohike said. "It'll take at least two days, is my guess. This is gonna be slower without Byers helping, but Langly's damn good at it. We've got face recognition software that should help. If their prints and dental records were removed from the databases, we'll find out when and how."

"As soon as you find anything," Scully said, "anything at all, let us know."

"Always, Agent Scully. You know I can't deny you anything."

"Can it, Frohike," Scully said. "All I want is an ID for these victims. You get any ideas and I'll sic Mulder on you."

"Mulder? You think he scares me?"

"He should," Doggett muttered.

Frohike laughed. "He may disturb me, but he doesn't scare me."

"We gotta be goin'," Doggett said. He looked over to Scully. "Those DNA results come back yet?"

"Not until late this afternoon, if they show up today at all," she said. "I need to get back to Quantico, though. Will you drop me off?"

"I'll call you when I know anything," Frohike said. He followed them to the door.

"Thanks, Frohike," Scully said.

Doggett slipped a hand behind her, escorting her as they walked out the alley and down the street. The guys lived in a dirty industrial area. It wasn't exactly safe, even during the day. He knew they'd been there for ages, but really wished Byers lived in a better place. "Sure, I'll drop you there before I head for the Hoover. Wonder what Monica's got?"

"I hope it's more than those astrology charts she was playing with yesterday morning."

Doggett snorted. "I didn't think that was gonna come to anything. Waste of time and money, that stuff."

"While I understand your reservations, Agent Doggett, I do think it was reasonable of her to check this. We didn't have anything else to go on, and if it did turn out to have some kind of astrological significance, we might have had a place to start. Occult groups, extremist religious cults --" she shrugged. "At least she eliminated some possibilities. Right now, that does help."

"Yeah, well, I'll run down some more of those fiber results when I get back." They climbed into his truck and headed out.


LONE GUNMEN OFFICES
TAKOMA PARK, MARYLAND
NEXT EVENING

Frohike let him in this time.

"How's Byers?" Doggett asked as the door closed behind him.

"A little better, still not great."

Doggett nodded. "You findin' anything?"

"Well, Langly found when the prints were removed," Frohike said, leading him into the work area, "but we can't trace the records to who removed 'em, or who the prints belonged to. Same with the dental stuff. We're thinking it's an inside job. As to an ID, not yet, but we're close."

"Got anything I can take back to Scully later?"

Frohike shook his head. "Maybe in a few hours. Byers was asleep when I checked him a while ago, but if you wanna go look in on him, feel free. He's been a bitch to keep in bed."

Doggett chuckled. "Figures," he said, and headed up the stairs.

"Hey, Jimmy." The big blond was heading for Byers' room from the kitchen.

"Oh, hi, Agent Doggett. How ya doin' today?"

"Fine. How's Byers?" He followed Jimmy across the living room.

"He's still asleep. I was bringing another cup of ginger ale for him, for when he wakes up. He's getting a little better, but I think it'll still be a day or so before he's ready to get up again."

"Why don't you let me take that in to him? I'm gonna sit with him for a while. Frohike said they might have something for me in a few hours."

Jimmy handed him the cup. He nodded. "I think he'd like to see you if he wakes up. Maybe you can get him to stay there. He tried to get up like three times today, and Frohike and Langly both yelled at him."

Doggett chuckled. "Yeah, I bet. Thanks. I'll talk to him if he wakes up."

Jimmy grinned and hurried off toward the stairs. "Hey guys!" he called, "What do you want for dinner?"

Doggett entered Byers' darkened room. There was a chair near the bed that hadn't been there before. He set the cup on the small bedside table next to a half-read book, then sat in the chair. He thought about the first time he'd been in this room, a little over a month ago now. So much had changed since that casual encounter.

He felt uncomfortable seeing Byers like this. The bearded man looked pale and fragile in the dim light coming through the door. He was restless as he lay there. Doggett laid a hand on Byers' forehead. He felt feverish.

"Wish you felt better," he muttered. Actually, he really wished Byers was awake. Sitting and watching him like this felt awkward. Watching Byers sleep in his illness seemed a little too intimate. Doggett had never done anything like this with the other guys he'd been with. He hadn't actually spent much time at all with most of them when sex wasn't involved. And the ones he'd tried to get closer to, things just never seemed to work out. Vulnerability when you were fucking was one thing. Like this? Most guys didn't like it, or want it. Then again, nothing about Byers was like any of the other guys he'd been with.

An hour or so later, Byers rolled onto his side, facing Doggett. He moaned in his sleep. Doggett reached out and stroked his cheek slowly. He still felt too hot.

"John. Wake up, little cub, you need to drink somethin'."

"Hmm? Mel?" Byers' eyes fluttered open, not quite focused.

"No," Doggett said, his voice soft. "It's me, Jack."

"Jack? Uhh. When... when did you get here?" Byers started to sit up.

"Hey, hey, easy. You're all feverish. You're gonna get dizzy if you sit up too fast. Take it slow."

Byers nodded, easing himself up. Doggett tucked his pillows behind him to support him.

"Thanks."

"Here." Doggett held the cup out to him. Byers took it carefully and sipped. "How you feelin'?"

Byers took a few more sips. "I'll be fine," he said.

"Not what I asked."

Byers leaned back into the pillows. He closed his eyes, and Doggett took the cup from him. "Shaky," he said.

"You still got that fever."

"Hate this. I should get up. Work to do."

Doggett snorted. "Damn, Johnny, you're a fucking idiot. Can you even see straight?"

"Too much to do," Byers mumbled, trying to sit up again.

Doggett put a hand in the middle of his chest. "You're staying right here. Frohike and Langly, they got it covered. Said it would probably only be a couple more hours."

"No, gotta help."

"Jesus, Johnny, give it a rest." He wondered if he was like this when he was sick. "You lay there, and you don't move. I'm gonna be back in just a minute, okay?"

Byers nodded. He looked like trying to sit up had taken everything out of him.

Doggett got up to look for aspirin. He could hear Jimmy in the kitchen.

"Hey," he said, poking his head in the kitchen door. "When was the last time somebody gave Byers some aspirin?"

"Oh, uh," Jimmy looked at his watch. "He probably should have some more. It's in the medicine cabinet in the bathroom." He pointed.

Doggett nodded. "Thanks." The bathroom was a pit, but he managed to find the aspirin anyway. He took it back to Byers.

"Hey, you need to take these," he said.

Byers was barely awake. Doggett sat with him on the bed and helped him. He was surprised to find Byers was shivering. A hand on his bare skin was enough to reveal that he'd taken a chill. Doggett looked around the room and saw a couple of crumpled blankets sitting on the dresser. They'd obviously been needed before.

He was just tucking the second one around Byers when Langly came in.

"Damn, he's chillin' again, isn't he?"

Doggett nodded. "Yeah. I just gave him some aspirin."

"Oh, good. That was part of why I came up." He helped finish tucking Byers in the blanket. "You might wanna call Scully and Moronica."

"You mean Agent Reyes?" Doggett said, annoyed.

"Hey, she stops givin' us 'tude, and we'll start makin' with the Agent Reyes. In the meantime, she's just Moronica."

"Quiet," Byers mumbled. "Head hurts."

Doggett ran his hand over Byers' forehead again. Chill and clammy. Byers was supposed to be alert, competent, witty. He was supposed to be healthy. This was all wrong, but thankfully it would pass soon. Doggett looked up at Langly and sighed. "So what have you got?"


LONE GUNMEN OFFICES
TAKOMA PARK, MARYLAND
LATE EVENING

"Zeus Genetics?" Scully asked. She sounded uneasy. Reyes watched her, curiosity in her eyes.

"Sure looks like it," Langly said. "Assholes."

Doggett looked over at Langly. "You guys run into 'em before?" It looked like Scully was uncomfortably familiar with the name.

"You might say that," Frohike said. He crossed his arms and leaned back against the desk where he stood.

Scully looked up at Doggett and Reyes. "Mulder found what he said was a cloning facility in one of their storage warehouses some years back," she said. "By the time we could get anyone there to verify his story, everything was gone. It was as though the place had never even existed."

"Like, they're way too good at that shit," Langly said. "Total sanitation crew." He shuddered.

Frohike nodded. "And those cloned bastards are dangerous. Cut 'em and they bleed green acid, just like the bounty hunters. They're toxic."

"Genetic experimentation could explain a lot," Reyes said, "but bleeding green acid?"

Doggett buried his face in one hand. Clones. Aliens. He supposed it wasn't any more bizarre than the whole supersoldier thing and Billy Miles, but that didn't make it any easier to swallow. Byers was convinced it was all connected. Doggett wasn't, but he didn't really know what to think about any of it.

"The Kurts did try to help, though," Scully pointed out.

"Yeah, but they all still bleed green toxic goo," Langly said, a look of disgust on his face.

"That's not exactly their fault, or their choice, Langly." Scully gave him the look of death.

Langly just shuddered.

"Kurts?" Reyes asked. She shifted her weight. "Who are the Kurts?"

"A series of clones," Scully said. "The one Mulder met was named Kurt Crawford. Mulder says he met several of them while I was hospitalized in Allentown, Pennsylvania a few years ago. They were doing genetic research at a fertility clinic nearby. They claimed... they claimed that the women who'd been kidnapped -- 'abducted' -- and implanted with chips were their genetic mothers. The project involved harvesting women's ova, apparently to produce clones."

Reyes shuddered. "Harvesting ova for genetic experiments --that's... how awful. Like the chip you --"

Scully nodded, silent, her face hard.

"Don't go there," Langly said, soft and threatening. Reyes lowered her eyes.

"So what the hell does all this mean?" Doggett asked. "You suggesting there's some connection here?"

"Both of these guys were scientists working for Zeus Genetics at different facilities," Frohike said. "Both of 'em killed on the same night, right about the same time. Damn right I think there's some connection here, and I think it's about those damned clones again." He looked to Scully with concern in his eyes.

"Yeah," Langly said, pacing in a small clear area between a couple of desks, "but the bounty hunters, dude, they don't go poppin' people's heads off. They just kill 'em with one of those ice pick thingies. Or strangle 'em. Or something." Langly looked vaguely queasy. Doggett hoped he wasn't coming down with the flu too, but suspected it was just the hacker's infamously weak stomach.

"And we have their bodies," Scully said. "If the scientists were clones of some sort, they'd have dissolved before they were found, just as the various clones we've encountered did."

Reyes shuddered. "Dissolved. Ugh."

"Well, maybe the clones killed them?" Frohike offered.

Scully shook her head. "Unless they have powers we're not aware of, I don't think that's likely. The Jeremiahs can apparently heal through some unexplained means, but I don't think they have the strength or speed necessary to kill someone in that fashion."

"I remember reading about it in the files," Reyes said. "Do they have other psychic abilities?"

Scully said. "I don't think the Kurts did. The Jeremiahs can shapeshift as well as heal, from what I understand. I think different sets of clones were designed for different purposes. From what Mulder gathered, the Jeremiahs, and a series of Samanthas -- allegedly based on his sister's genetic patterns -- were intended as colonists. They were later hunted down and most of them were killed."

Doggett was sure he was getting a headache. Everyone was wandering way too far from reality for his comfort. "Nobody has that kind of speed and strength. Nobody human, anyway."

"That's what we're saying, Dogbert." Langly gave him one of those looks, his mouth screwed into an annoyed expression. "The clones are alien hybrids, dude."

"Damn it, Langly, this is nuts." Doggett wasn't in the mood for any of this alien crap. "You guys seriously want me to believe in aliens and green-blooded clones and all that shit?"

Scully lifted an eyebrow at him. "Agent Doggett, some of these things I've seen with my own eyes. I can't explain them, but I don't have any better theories about what they are. Nothing human can do what any of these creatures do."

Reyes nodded. "Some of what we've encountered has been pretty strange, John."

"Yeah," Langly said, petulant.

"Can't you people do anything without arguing?" The voice was Byers'.

Doggett turned. Byers was descending the stairs, looking miserable, with Jimmy in pursuit.

"Aw, c'mon Byers, you gotta get back in bed. You're sick!"

Frohike took a couple of steps toward the stairs. "Get back in bed, Byers." Langly turned from his pacing to face the two.

Reyes held up a hand. "Don't come too close. I don't want your flu."

Byers kept walking. He was a little wobbly, and his voice wasn't very strong. "Honestly, Agent Doggett, you've seen some strange things in your work with the X Files. Are you sure you're ready to dismiss it all just because you haven't seen it yourself?"

Doggett sighed and closed his eyes. "No. I'm ready to dismiss it all because it's... it's... Come on, Byers, it's aliens, for God's sake!" He looked back over at Byers.

"Try to have an open mind about this, John," Reyes said. "We haven't got a better explanation just yet."

"No, but there's got to be one," Doggett insisted.

"When I find it, I'll let you know," Scully said.

Jimmy caught up with Byers at the foot of the stairs and grabbed his arm. "Please, John, go back to bed."

Scully hurried over to them. "Byers," she said, looking annoyed, "I told you to stay in bed for at least two days unless it was necessary. What are you doing up?"

Byers swayed and leaned into Jimmy. "I can help," he insisted.

"You'll help by gettin' your ass back in bed," Doggett said. He started over toward Byers, stepping past Frohike.

"What they said," Frohike added.

Reyes nodded. "The best place for someone with the flu is in bed. Have you tried any herbal remedies yet?"

"Is Nyquil an herbal remedy?" Langly said, snorting.

Reyes looked at him. "Garlic. Echinacea. Goldenseal. Things like that. He needs to support his immune system during something like this, or his recovery will be much slower."

Scully already had a hand around Byers' other arm when Doggett got there. "You've got a chill, Byers. Being up right now is really not good for you. You need to rest."

"What did you find?" Byers asked, looking at Frohike.

Frohike sighed. "Zeus Genetics. Both our headless horsemen here were scientists working for them. This stinks of Old Smokey's work."

"Who's Old Smokey?" Reyes asked Doggett quietly, coming up behind him.

He shrugged. "The old guy Mulder talks about in the files, I bet," he said. "The chain smoker."

Reyes nodded. "That would make sense."

"Score one for Dogbert. And Smokey ain't dead," Langly said, poking a finger at Doggett. "No matter what Krycek told Mulder, I ain't buyin' it. That cancer-suckin' geezer is still around pulling strings."

"You got that right," Frohike grumbled. He looked uneasy.

"I'm sure it's all connected," Byers insisted, struggling weakly with Jimmy and Scully. The longer he tried, the worse he looked. "It has to be. Those supersoldiers have to be coming from somewhere. They're not natural. It's, they're..." He looked like he'd lost the thought in mid-sentence.

"Dammit Byers, go back to bed," Doggett snapped. "You're not doin' anybody any good here. You're just gonna keep yourself sick. That's no help to anybody."

Jimmy and Scully started muscling Byers back up the stairs.

"Wait a minute. ZG. The TREYNOR files," Byers said as they pulled him along. "Remember, there were references in them to ZG, guys. We were trying to figure out who ZG was. It's not a who, it's a what."

Doggett's eyes widened. The initials in the files had been puzzling, but it had been overflowing with acronyms and coded phrases to begin with. They'd only deciphered a few, and TREYNOR wasn't among them. "Zeus Genetics... Shit. I think you're right." The pieces were starting to fall into place. He wasn't sure of the picture yet, but shapes were beginning to manifest.

Byers sagged against Jimmy, looking exhausted. The jock's arms were around him before he could slip too far, and he picked Byers up. "You're goin' to bed, buddy," he said.

"They're coming from Zeus Genetics," Byers muttered. "Put me down."

"No way," Jimmy said. "Bedtime."

"I can walk, damn it." Byers' protest was heartfelt but feeble.

Jimmy shook his head. "Yeah, right. If I let you fall over and get hurt, Frohike'll kill me."

"So will I," Langly snapped.

Scully followed Jimmy up the stairs, Doggett close behind her. He wanted to hear more.

"I have a very bad feeling about this, John," Reyes said quietly falling into step behind him. "Something's really wrong."

Doggett shook his head. "It stinks."

"Men," Scully muttered. "If they're not trying to pretend they're not sick, they're whining like it's the end of the world."

"Hey," Doggett said. "Where the hell do you get that idea?"

"Look at him," Scully said, nodding her head at Byers. "He's as stubborn as Mulder."

Doggett was willing to give her that one. He chuckled.

"Nobody's as stubborn as Mulder," Byers muttered.

"Come back here, Dogbert," Langly said. "We're not done yet. I think the narc's right."

Doggett stopped and turned to look at Frohike and Langly. Reyes almost stepped on him.

Frohike waved him back. "Come on, Doggett. Jimmy and Scully'll put his ass back where it belongs and we can get on with this. It's not like everybody's gonna fit in his room anyway."

Doggett sighed and went back to join them. Reyes followed him, leaving a respectable buffer against another sudden stop. He watched Scully and Jimmy disappear around the corner with Byers as they got to the top of the stairs, then leaned down to speak to Frohike and Langly privately. "Damn it," he said, quiet, "I wish he'd keep his ass in bed."

"Been like this every time he wakes up," Langly said. "Jimmy has to keep draggin' him back to bed."

"Christ, is he always like this?" Doggett shook his head, not quite wanting to believe it.

Frohike nodded. "Yep."

Reyes joined them. "What's the big secret?"

"Just talkin' about how big an idiot Byers is," Langly said, smirking.

Doggett turned to her. "That bad feelin' of yours, Monica. What's up?"

She sighed. "I'm not sure yet. It just feels like it's going to get ugly." She turned and looked up the stairs, then looked back at the Gunmen. "I don't think you should be involved in this case. You're civilians, and it's not safe. I think someone's going to get hurt."

"Hey babe," Frohike said, his annoyance clear on his face, "right now, we're your official only hope."

She crossed her arms and looked down at him. "Oh, great. We're doomed."

Doggett put a hand on her shoulder. "Oh, come on, Monica. They're helpin' us out here. What they've been saying, it makes sense, aside from the whole alien thing. This Zeus Genetics, if it's the ZG in those files the guys found for us last month, it could be big. This could blow a whole bunch of stuff open. We might be able to figure out what the hell's really goin' on with Knowle and with that Billy Miles kid. Maybe figure out what the hell the military's up to, how they did it, and why."

"Right now, John, I just want to find out who killed those two scientists without anyone else getting hurt," Reyes said.

"We're workin' on it," Langly said. He glared at her. "Those assholes need to be stopped, man, and nobody else is doin' it."

"We're doing it because it's the right thing to do," Frohike added. "Somebody's gotta keep the people informed and try to stop those bastards from fucking over the people. Not to mention coverin' our own asses."

"And you guys are going to save the world?" Reyes asked. Her disbelief was plain as she leaned back against the desk.

"Nah," Langly said. "We're just tryin' to get the truth out."

Frohike nodded. "If we don't, who will?"

"I think that's our job, guys," Doggett said. "That's why they put the I in the FBI, you know." He grinned and shook his head.

Langly laughed and Frohike elbowed him.

"Hey!"

"Hippie jerk." Frohike looked back up at Doggett. "Mulder said that once. You guys, you may look for the truth, but can you really put it out there if you find it? You got Kersh on your ass all the time. You know he's not gonna let you tell the truth. He'll find some threat that'll keep you quiet. There's always that old nut, 'national security.'" Frohike gestured to himself and Langly. "We don't have to deal with crap like that."

"No," Langly said to him. "We got other crap to deal with. Like not bein' able to pay for getting the next issue out. Shit like that."

"You also have to deal with no weapons and no legal backup, boys. You walk a real thin line," Doggett said. That was something he worried about. He respected the guys for their determination and dedication, but was afraid it might get them seriously hurt or even killed someday. "Sure, investigate this stuff with us, but, damn it, stay the hell away from the field."

"I don't got any plans for funky poaching in the near future, dude," Langly said. He shook his head emphatically.

"Depends on what we find," Frohike said. "What if you guys find stuff you're not equipped to deal with? We've backed up Mulder a lot over the years. He trusts us. He's been coming to us since before he got assigned to the basement. We've got time depth here, Agent Doggett; been doing this stuff for years."

"You got some kinda suicide wish is what you got," Doggett said. "You guys and Mulder. You push it too far." He wished it wasn't true, but he'd seen that sharp edge of madness in Byers' eyes once. He might respect the guy, but it didn't change the fact that Byers was really weird sometimes.

"Like you don't?" Langly raised an eyebrow at him. "You chase around bat-things and pull sluggy parasites out of Scully's back, and you think that's normal?"

"Sanity is relative," Reyes said.

"Now you listen here, sister," Frohike said, a finger raised in her face. "We document everything we possibly can. We run one hell of a tight ship. Byers would have our butts if we printed stuff we couldn't at least bring some evidence to bear on."

"Well, I'd like to see some of it." Reyes reached down, picking something up from a pile of papers on the floor, and looked at Frohike. She held up an old issue of 'The Lone Gunman', with the headline TELETUBBIES = MIND CONTROL. "Your evidence for this, for example."

Doggett didn't dare comment, especially after his own cracks about the aliens. He wanted to defend Byers and the guys, but Reyes wouldn't get it. She was about the last person he wanted to figure out that he was seeing Byers, anyway. Even though she knew he'd been seeing a guy again, she disliked the Gunmen. He was sure she'd urge him to dump Byers, and he didn't want to hear her insult the man he was more and more coming to care for.

"Our narc's got a good head on his shoulders, and if you tell him I said that, I'll be forced to kill you," Frohike said.

Langly nodded. "Yeah. What Frohike said." He looked more upset at Reyes' charges than Doggett expected. The whole situation smacked of the 'he's my brother -- only I can insult him' sibling thing.

Reyes opened her mouth to object, her nostrils flaring with anger.

"Look, can we get back to this search?" Doggett asked, cutting her off before she could start. "We still have to find out what the hell is going on here. Do we know where these Zeus Genetics offices are that the victims were working in?"

Scully returned from Byers' room. "Okay, guys, what's the rest of the news?" She settled herself against the desk where Frohike had been working and looked at them expectantly.

"The Providence guy, Aaron Sprague, was working in a small office in Narragansett --" Langly said.

"-- and Trevor Linden McCrae, Mister Bridgeport, was working in a lab in Bridgeport, not far from where he was killed," Frohike said.

"McCrae was a geneticist. Sprague was a biostatistician," Langly continued. "We can't tell yet what project they were working on, but they were in communication on a pretty regular basis. They might have been working on the same thing in different offices."

"Statistics?" Reyes said. "I can't imagine anything more boring."

Scully nodded. "A geneticist and a biostatistician. It seems likely they might be working on the same or a related project. Sprague might have been crunching McCrae's numbers. But the fact that these facilities aren't located in the usual circuit for the big labs with access to Cray time is really suspicious. Even if I didn't know Zeus was on the shady side, I'd suspect it just from that. I wonder why they were killed?" The blue of her eyes intensified in the dim light, and Doggett knew her mind was working overtime.

"Maybe they learned something they weren't supposed to," Reyes suggested.

Doggett shook his head. "If they were researchin' the project, they're supposed to be learning things, aren't they? What would they learn that they weren't supposed to?"

"The purpose of the project?" Scully asked.

"Who's really behind it?" Reyes added.

"Could be," Frohike said. He sat down at the computer again. "I don't know if these guys knew each other before Zeus Genetics, but we haven't really had time to chase anything down on 'em from their past. Just the immediate work history. Now that we have their identities, we can crack their background checks and personal records and see. At least, if those records haven't been wiped too."

Langly nodded, sitting next to Frohike at another terminal. He threaded his fingers together and cracked his knuckles.

"I don't want to know," Scully said, turning her face from the Gunmen. "I don't see anything."

Reyes nodded. "Do you have anything else for us before you get into that?"

Frohike shook his head, not bothering to look back at them. "Not right now, but Langly's still trying to figure who pulled the prints and dental records from the system."

Langly looked up. "Yeah, that's what I'm dippin' into right now."

"Let's get out of here and see if we can catch some food," Reyes suggested. "I haven't had dinner yet."

Scully nodded. "Yogurt with bee pollen for lunch wasn't exactly filling."

"And who's supposed to be payin' for this?" Doggett asked.

Both of the women looked up at him. He sighed and shook his head.

"What didja expect, Dogbert?" Langly asked. He snorted. "Chicks."

"Okay, okay," Doggett said, heading for the door.

Scully laughed. "Next time, it's my turn."


DOGGETT RESIDENCE
FALLS CHURCH, VIRGINIA
NEXT NIGHT

"Johnny?" Doggett was surprised to see Byers standing there when he opened the door. He was still looking a bit pale and wan, but seemed to have more energy. The dark circles under his eyes were gone.

Byers stepped inside and waited for Doggett to close the door before proffering a disk.

"This the background checks you guys did on Sprague and McCrae?" Doggett took the disk.

Byers nodded. "They'd met before they were employed by Zeus, at a conference after they were both out of college. Apparently, they stayed in touch, but it wasn't frequent until after their affiliation with Zeus. Both of them had somewhat questionable ethical issues surrounding their grad research work. Sprague was nailed for plagiarism, and McCrae allegedly falsified some of his data, though it was never proven. I'm kind of surprised to find they were both working. I have to admit, it made me wonder why any legitimate organization would hire them. Something's definitely going on here."

"Well, we knew that from the beginning. This whole clone thing Scully was on about isn't exactly makin' the front pages. If this place was legit, it'd be on CNN. Half a dozen universities'd be claiming credit. You find out anything about who pulled their records from the system?"

"No," Byers said, "other than the fact that it was an inside job. But we suspected that anyway."

Doggett sighed. "Right. I'll look this stuff over later. You guys keep lookin' for stuff, would you?"

"Of course."

"You doin' okay? You look better." He rested a hand on Byers' back.

"Thanks, yeah. Frohike wasn't going to let me come alone, but I talked him out of sending Jimmy along."

Doggett smiled. "Glad you're feelin' better. What else is on here?" He waved the disk.

"More information about Zeus Genetics, mostly. There's not a lot, I'm afraid. Their real business is buried deep. Most of their cover deals with stem cell and cancer research." Byers stuck his hands in his pockets. "And I'm sure they're working on that, but not in the way they're stating."

"You been able to eat at all today?" Doggett asked.

Byers shook his head. "Not much. I'm not that hungry."

"Frohike didn't force stuff down you?"

Byers looked up with a wry half-smile on his face. "He tried. He's been on my case about it all day, but my stomach's still a little off."

"I was just about to eat. You wanna stick around a while, have something with me?" He motioned toward the kitchen.

Byers shrugged. "Sure, I can give it a try. I'm not sure how much I'll be able to eat. Frohike'll be happy if I do, though."

They headed for the kitchen, Byers close behind Doggett. "He always seems like he's fussin' about you guys."

"Yeah, I guess he is. He's sort of our den mother."

Doggett snorted. "I'm trying not to picture him in a skirt here. God."

Byers chuckled. "Please! Anything but that. What's for dinner?"

"Ordered some Chinese. How do you feel about mu shu pork, veggie lo mein, and some egg flower soup?"

Byers looked at it. "I could probably handle that," he said, sounding uncertain.

Doggett pointed to the cabinet where he kept the dishes. "Grab yourself a plate and a bowl." He went into the dining room, started pulling containers from the delivery bag and set them on the table. Opening the containers, he scooped and poured for himself, then sat down.

Byers joined him with a small plate and bowl of his own. He didn't take much, but that didn't surprise Doggett. "Smells good," Byers said, seating himself.

Doggett nodded, tucking into his dinner. "Is good. You look like you need it."

"Frohike's been acting like I'll blow away in a stiff breeze the past couple of days," Byers said. He sipped at the soup. "You're right. This is pretty good."

"Frohike worries too much."

Byers laughed. "Yes, he does." He wrapped some pork in a mu shu wrapper, spooned on some sauce, and nibbled at it. "Hmm. I think I'd better leave off the plum sauce. It's a little much."

"Don't eat it if it'll make you sick," Doggett said.

Byers set the wrap down. He wrapped more pork, this time without the sauce. Taking another small bite, he nodded. "That's better."

Doggett didn't comment while they ate, though he watched Byers. He enjoyed watching Byers. It didn't really seem to matter what the man was doing, he was just glad to see him. It was good to have Byers there, sitting at the table with him.

"You maybe wanna stay tonight?" Doggett asked, picking at his lo mein.

Byers looked up from his soup. "I, ah, Sir, I'm not really up to --"

Doggett smiled. "I know. I wasn't askin' about that. Just wanted to know if you'd like to stay tonight. And it's only Sir when we're playing, you know that."

Byers looked thoughtful for several minutes. "I think I can probably get away with it," he said. "Don't you have to be at work tomorrow though?"

"Yeah. In fact, me and Monica'll be on our way to Narragansett to check out the Zeus offices there first thing, but that doesn't mean you can't stay. You can head home in the morning. It won't disturb the routine."

Byers nodded. "Okay. I will, then. I'll have to let the guys know. Just be careful with the investigation. These people are dangerous." He started to rise.

"At least wait until you're done eating," Doggett said, motioning to him to sit again. He felt inordinately pleased at Byers' acceptance. It would be nice to have someone to sleep with, even if they didn't do anything. He'd missed it since they'd been back from New York. He'd missed Byers.

Byers settled back into the chair. "You're right. Mel would probably keep me on the phone until everything was cold anyway." He chuckled. "Much better to wait until after."

"Why would he do that?"

Byers laughed. "I think he wants gory details or something."

Doggett grinned. "Well I won't be giving him any."

"Neither will I." Byers grinned back. The smile lightened his face, and the food seemed to be putting some color back into him.

"Good. Let him get his jollies elsewhere. I thought he wasn't into guys."

"He's not, really," Byers said, "but he believes in equal opportunity porn."

Doggett laughed, dropping his chopsticks onto his plate. "Equal opportunity porn?"

"He draws the line at livestock."

Doggett shook his head, still laughing. "Oh, my God."

"Aliens, though, do seem to rate."

"Aliens? Please, no." Doggett put his face in his hand.

"Well," Byers said, mischief in his voice, "he said Delenn was hot, therefore alien babes are fair game." He chuckled. There was evil in it, Doggett could tell.

"I don't even wanna know," Doggett moaned.

"Your food's getting cold," Byers said.

"Bitch."

He looked up at Byers, who had a broad, if tired, grin in his face.

"You're probably more into Seven of Nine, right?" Doggett watched as Byers lifted an eyebrow.

"Actually, I was more into Wonder Woman."

It was Doggett's turn to raise an eyebrow. "Wonder Woman?"

"That magic lasso of hers..."

Doggett laughed again, shaking his head. "You're one sick puppy under that tight assed exterior, Johnny."

"So I've been told."

"You got one problem with that, though," Doggett said.

Byers tilted his head and looked at Doggett, curious. "Oh?"

"Well, Wonder Woman ain't an alien, is she?"

Byers chuckled. "No, technically speaking, she's not. So if we're going with aliens, I guess it would be Superman."

"Since when is Superman an alien babe?"

"When wasn't he?" Byers asked, grinning. "Last son of Krypton and all that stuff."

"I shoulda figured. Truth, justice and the American Way, eh?"

Byers laughed. "Maybe a little, but try imagining him in leather and tell me he wouldn't be the hottest Dom in the known universe."

Doggett sat silent for a moment, boggled. He stared at Byers. "It's true, isn't it? It's the quiet ones that have the sickest minds."

"No," Byers said. "Not at all." He shook his head, still grinning. He took another bite of his mu shu pork.

"Bitch," Doggett said. Byers was twisted. He loved that in a guy.

"You keep saying that."

"I keep meaning it."

"I think your vocabulary needs a little work."

Doggett glowered at Byers. "I think it's your ass that needs a little work."

"I thought we weren't going to do that tonight?"

"Don't tempt me." He poked a finger at Byers.

Byers smiled, shaking his head. "Under other circumstances, I'd take that as a challenge."

"Don't even think about it. No playing tonight. You're really not up to it." Much as he might like the idea, Byers still looked under the weather. Doggett didn't want to push him.

"I know." Byers sighed. "Doesn't mean I don't wish I was."

"'S okay," Doggett said. "Next time."

"I hope so."

Doggett felt a pleasant warmth growing in him, and he smiled. He enjoyed this, all of it -- the banter, the laughter, Byers' company. There was an ease to it he never suspected he'd find between them. It was comfortable, comforting.

Byers didn't eat much more before he leaned back from the table. He sighed. "I think that's about all I can handle for now," he said.

Doggett nodded. He was nearly done himself, though he'd eaten considerably more. "You want anything else? Something to drink maybe? Coffee?"

Byers shook his head. "Not really, thanks. I'm actually pretty tired. The day felt a lot longer than it was."

"You're still not quite right," Doggett said. "I'm not surprised."

Byers' eyes slipped shut for a few moments.

"You wanna go to bed, then?" Doggett asked.

"Not just yet," Byers said. "Got a movie, maybe?"

Doggett shrugged. "Gotta work tomorrow. If we watch something it shouldn't be too long."

"It's not all that late yet." Byers stood. He picked up the dishes.

Doggett looked over at the clock. It wasn't quite as late as he'd thought, really. "What are you in the mood for?"

"Something brainless," Byers said. "I just need to relax for a while." He headed for the kitchen. Doggett started cleaning up the empty boxes.

"Jackie Chan?"

Byers shook his head. "Not so frantic."

"Mmm." Doggett followed Byers into the kitchen. "Like what, then?"

Byers put the dishes in the sink and turned to him. "Got any classic monster movies? Frankenstein? Dracula? The Mummy?"

"Monster movies were never really my thing," Doggett said.

"Let me think about it," Byers said. "I still have to call the guys anyway, tell them I'll be here tonight."

Doggett nodded. "Go do that. I'll take care of the dishes." He shooed Byers out of the room.

A little while later, they sat close together on the couch. Doggett had pulled out an older movie, for Byers' sake --'Superman' with Christopher Reeve. He was amused, but Byers seemed more interested in turning into a vegetable. After a while, he lay with his head cradled in Doggett's lap. Doggett ran a hand absently through his hair, enjoying how soft it was between his fingers.

Soon, Doggett was paying more attention to Byers than the movie. Byers was half asleep, watching quietly. He made contented sounds as Doggett's hand slipped from his hair down his arm to his waist.

"We don't need to watch all of this, you know," he said.

Byers shifted his weight slightly. "Mmhmm."

Doggett's hand slid slowly to Byers' stomach. "You wanna try English?"

"That was."

"Yeah, right. Do we go to bed, or stay here and finish watching the movie?"

"Mmmmm... bed, I guess," Byers said, trying unsuccessfully to suppress a yawn. Doggett let his hand follow the arc of Byers' stretched body to his chest. Byers trapped Doggett's hand under his arm when he lowered it. "Feels nice."

"You do," Doggett agreed.

Byers smiled and looked up at him.

"Come on. You don't look like you're gonna last that much longer." He tugged gently at Byers' suit jacket.

Byers nodded. "Okay."

Doggett let him sit, then wrapped Byers in his arms and kissed him.

"Mmmm." Byers' response was warm but slow. Doggett could feel how tired he was.

"You're gonna fall asleep here if you don't get up," Doggett said.

Byers ran a hand along Doggett's side. "I did try to get up. You're the one who's keeping me here."

"Lyin' sack," Doggett said, getting to his feet. "C'mon." He took Byers' hand.

Byers got to his feet and followed Doggett up the stairs to the bedroom. They undressed in silence, and Doggett pulled the covers back. He crawled in while Byers hung up his suit. When Byers stripped to his skin, Doggett smiled. He hadn't been sure if Byers would.

Reaching out, Doggett pulled Byers toward him and down onto the bed. Byers came to him willingly. Once under the covers, he slid close to Doggett and put an arm around him, laying his head on Doggett's shoulder. Doggett put a hand on Byers' hip and tugged him over until their bodies were pressed tight together. Byers rested one leg over Doggett's hips, and Doggett ran his hand down the back of Byers' thigh to the inside of his knee.

"Mmm. Nice," Byers said.

"Yeah." Doggett held Byers more tightly. "I'm glad you decided to stay."

Byers nodded. "Me too. It's... it feels good to be with you. I like the idea of not having to get up in a little while and go home."

Doggett kissed him, soft. "So do I." He rumbled a contented sigh when Byers squeezed him. He kissed Byers again, slow and possessive. It made him hard, and he pressed against Byers' body, breaking the kiss to breathe.

"Want you," Byers whispered against his lips.

"Sure you're up to it?"

"If we take it easy. Slow would feel really good."

"I can do slow and easy," Doggett responded, taking Byers' mouth again.

Byers moaned low and deep, his breath already getting ragged. The sound intensified Doggett's desire. He wanted Byers more than he'd imagined. In the few times they'd been together, he'd begun to get used to the feel of Byers' body, to anticipate the ways the man responded. There was something very sexy about knowing a partner's response, not having to guess all the time. He moved against Byers' firm, slender frame, deepening their kiss.

Byers sucked at his tongue, hands moving over Doggett's body. When they caressed his ass, Doggett's breath quickened, nearly panting. Byers' touch was sensitive, exploring him gently. It raised gooseflesh on Doggett's back and legs, his shaft responding in kind. 'I should have him like this more often,' Doggett thought. That was the one real disadvantage of having Byers bound beneath him -- no returned touch.

"So good, Johnny." He thrust against Byers, whose own cock was hot and swollen. The feeling was delicious. He thrust again, then set a slow rhythm, hard flesh slipping together, slick from their leaking fluid.

"Mmm, yeah," Byers whispered.

Doggett pulled Byers atop him, holding him tight. Byers kissed him hard for a moment then lifted himself up on his elbows.

"What?"

Byers looked him in the eyes. "I want you on me, in me."

Doggett returned his gaze. "You sure? I don't wanna get too rough. You can control things better this way."

"Please. I need to lie down. Like this, I'd have to sit. I'd get tired too fast."

Doggett nodded. It made sense, and he had to admit he loved being on top of Byers. He could get so deep sometimes. "On your back?"

"Yeah." Byers rolled back onto the bed. Doggett shifted to let him move closer to the center of the mattress.

"God, you look good like this," Doggett said. Byers was spread out before him, legs parted, one knee raised. His hard shaft stood out from his body, head glistening with moisture. Doggett leaned down and licked, tasting him.

"Ohhhh..." Byers arched up into the wet stroke.

"Sweet," Doggett muttered. He could smell Byers' arousal, taste it in the salt of his pre-come. It tightened his gut, made his rod twitch with want. He took Byers' cock in his hand and stroked him, long and slow.

Byers let out another low moan, fingers tightening into the sheet beneath them. "More," he gasped.

Doggett continued stroking, tightening his grip. He watched Byers' face, blue eyes clenched shut, handsome features twisted in pleasure. The 'o' of his mouth surrounded by beard was dark and tempting. Doggett thought about filling it with his rod, but knew he'd rather thrust into Byers' tight ass. It would be the perfect way to end their day, buried in Byers' body, slowly driving them both over the edge.

He let his grip loosen, then slid his hand down to cup and caress Byers' balls. Byers thrust gently upward under his hand, panting. "Please, in me," he begged. He reached up and tugged at Doggett's shoulder. "Can't take... much more. Uh, oh God, want you."

"It's okay, Johnny. Soon. I'll be in you soon." Doggett hadn't considered that Byers might be so sensitive. He'd thought instead that his tiredness might slow things down, and had hoped their joining would be longer, more languid. With a quiet, anticipatory sigh, he reached into his bedside drawer and pulled out lube and a condom. Byers' state only fired his own need.

He slicked himself and rolled the condom on. A moment later, his fingers sought Byers' opening. He leaned over Byers' body, sucking and nipping at his nipples as he touched the soft pucker.

Byers moaned, loud. "Unnnh, oh God oh God, Jack, please." Byers' arms were around his shoulders now, hands searching and kneading.

Doggett pulled one of the pillows to him and patted Byers' hip. "Up a little," he said. Byers lifted himself, and Doggett doubled the pillow and slid it under his hips. They'd need the support.

When Byers settled, Doggett pressed two fingers against the pucker of his ass and pushed gently. Byers opened to him with little effort. Even the thought of Byers being so willing was stealing his breath. He stretched him, stroking inside him for a moment, eliciting groans and gasps.

"Fu-fuck," Byers stammered, "please Jack. Aahhhhh."

Doggett couldn't make himself wait any longer. He took one of Byers' knees in his hand and raised it, lowering himself over Byers' body. He braced himself against the mattress with his other hand and touched the blunt head of his rod to Byers' opening.

Byers gasped and arched under him, clutching at his shoulders. He watched as Byers' head fell back, throat exposed.

Slowly, Doggett entered him. He grunted as the head of his cock passed the tight ring of muscle.

"Uuunh..." The husky sound of Byers' tenor lodged itself in Doggett's gut.

"Easy, Johnny." He pushed deeper, forcing himself to move as slowly as he could.

"Ohhhh, oh!"

Doggett gasped and bit his lip, shuddering as the root of his rod was taken in a hard grip. "Oh God, oh John, fuck, so tight..." It took so much effort to resist the urge to back up and pound into Byers. God, it was so good. "So hot, John, so -- unh -- fuck."

Byers was moving slowly under him. The sounds he made were low and erotic, growls and grunts, moans and sighs. Doggett met his movement, gentle but passionate. He kissed Byers' shoulders and throat, licking and sucking as he moved. Shifting, he rested his weight on Byers, wrapping his free arm around his sub's body. They were so close, their flesh molding against each other.

He could feel the pounding of Byers' pulse at his throat with his lips and tongue. It excited him even more as he claimed Byers, taking him slow and deep. Doggett wanted to hold him like this all night, moving inside him, making Byers his. It was a gift, the way Byers gave himself over to their pleasure.

"Ahhhh, God, coming --" Byers gasped and jerked, hands gripping Doggett hard enough to bruise. Byers clamped down hard on Doggett's shaft, and gouts of hot, sticky semen rushed between their bodies.

Doggett grit his teeth, grunting as Byers shook beneath him. He shuddered as Byers cried out, panting hard.

"Easy, easy," he whispered in Byers' ear. "Need -- oh God, John, need more."

Byers nodded, still gasping for breath. "Uh, yeah, ah..."

Doggett kept moving, slow and steady, sinking himself to the root into Byers. Pleasure burned in him, building with each stroke. "Unnnh, so tight, so hot Johnny --"

Byers looked up into his eyes. "Fuck me," he said, breath still coming in sharp gasps. "I know... you want it..."

Doggett moaned and let go of Byers' leg. He covered his sub's body entirely and kissed him deep, thrusting slow and powerful. He moaned into his cub's eager mouth, their tongues slipping together hot and wet. Byers wrapped his legs around Doggett's waist, pulling him in. Doggett gasped, breaking the kiss.

"Oh God, Johnny. Ahhhh, ungh." He was shaking with need now, and Byers squeezed his dick in time with his strokes, pushing him past endurance.

Byers caressed his face, kissing him soft, over and over as they moved in unison. Doggett needed this; needed the tenderness, the touch. It shone like a spotlight into the empty places of his life and filled them. "Come for me," Byers whispered. "Come."

Doggett lost control at the words, emptying himself with a wail as he writhed in Byers' arms. "Ah! Unh! Nnh! Yes! Johnny--" He gave himself to Byers' plea, spilling his need and his passion into him. His head spun with his release; it was like flying. Joy infused him.

They lay together, panting, holding each other. Doggett moaned softly, heart hammering. Byers kept kissing him, lips soft on his skin. "Love the way you fill me, Jack. Love how strong you are, how hot you are."

"Johnny."

Byers smiled at him, drowsy and beautiful. Doggett grinned back. Yeah, he wanted this to last.


ZEUS GENETICS STATISTICAL RESEARCH FACILITY NARRAGANSETT, RHODE ISLAND
NEXT AFTERNOON

It had taken over an hour to get past several layers of receptionists and petty officials before Doggett and Reyes gained an audience with Karen Twitchell, Ph.D., the Zeus Genetics facility manager. All of them had expressed distress at Aaron Sprague's death, but it seemed as though gathering evidence was going to be a chore. Doggett didn't look forward to repeating the procedure in Bridgeport later that day.

"May we see Dr. Sprague's office, Dr. Twitchell?" Reyes asked.

Twitchell was tall and heavyset, with greying brown hair. She wore thin, bifocal wire rim glasses and gave off a very strong impression of someone who didn't like being messed with. She was businesslike, but distinctly prickly.

Twitchell leaned back behind her desk. "There's nothing there but a computer and an empty desk, Agents. I don't understand why you want to see the office."

"There may be evidence there regarding his murder," Doggett said. "I assume you'd like to know who killed him."

"Of course, Agent Doggett. I just don't see what you could possibly find in his office that might identify someone who would assault him in a park in Providence." Twitchell sighed. "What happened was tragic, but now I'm going to have to find another biostatistician to take Dr. Sprague's place. Bringing someone new up to speed on his project is going to be time-consuming and will seriously interfere with our work."

"I'm sorry for your loss, and the difficulty this presents to your work, Dr. Twitchell," Reyes said, "but we do have to conduct our investigation."

"His personal effects were all removed from the premises and returned to his family," Twitchell said.

"And his personal email and contact information?" Doggett asked.

Twitchell's eyes narrowed. "We consider what is done in our facility and the data on our computers proprietary information, Agent Doggett. Your investigation is causing quite an uproar. It's frightening our potential employment candidates."

Doggett knew it was the murder, not the investigation, that was frightening people. He leaned forward in his seat, putting on his best Bad Cop attitude. "You do realize, Dr. Twitchell, that the law does not protect institutional correspondence on company computers. It's not considered private correspondence. We don't need a warrant for the information."

Twitchell shifted uneasily. She looked at Reyes. Not seeing any sympathy, she turned back to Doggett. "Well, all right then," she said tightly. "But I'll have to ask you to sign confidentiality agreements first."

"That depends on the wording of the agreement, Dr. Twitchell," Doggett said. "If something we learn here becomes relevant to the murder investigation, it may need to be revealed in court."

Twitchell's face darkened. "By all means, read it first." She pulled two packets of paper from her desk and proffered one to each agent.

Doggett and Reyes both spent some time reading the document. When they were done, they looked at each other.

Reyes spoke first. "I think we'll have to modify this paragraph, Dr. Twitchell." She pointed to part of the tiny print, in the non-disclosure section. "This is unacceptable for the Bureau's purposes. The language is far too restrictive."

Doggett nodded. "It would prohibit us from testifying in court."

Twitchell took the document from Reyes and read the paragraph in question. Her face fell, frustration growing. "Yes, I'm afraid it does."

Doggett picked up the pen she'd offered him and crossed out the offending paragraph, initialing it. "You initial it here too, to signify your approval."

Reluctantly, Twitchell did so. "And yours as well, Agent Reyes," she said with a put-upon sigh. After the formalities, she took the documents from them. "I assume you'll require copies."

Doggett nodded. "Yes."

"Very well." Twitchell rose and indicated the door. "Come this way." On the way to the hallway, she had her administrative assistant make copies of each document and handed them to the agents. Once this was taken care of, Doggett followed Reyes and Twitchell down a long hallway.

At several points, they passed through cardkey security doors with cypherlocks. It was natural enough in a place like this, but Doggett could feel in his bones that Byers and Scully were right. He'd been a cop for too many years; he could almost smell the wrongness of it. There were some seriously hinky things going on with Zeus.

Eventually they came to a door with Sprague's name on it. Twitchell swiped a card through the lock, punched in a code, and let them in. Doggett took in the small, nearly empty office.

He walked into the room, turning on the light. Reyes followed him as Twitchell watched them both intently. Doggett advanced to the desk first.

"How long was Dr. Sprague employed with you?" Reyes asked.

"Aaron was with us for five years," Twitchell said.

"How was he as an employee?" Reyes shifted her position slightly as she spoke, leading Twitchell to turn her back to Doggett and the desk.

Doggett knew she was running interference, so he quickly searched the bottoms and backs of the drawers as he made a noisy show of booting up the computer to cover the sounds.

Twitchell sighed. "He was a good statistician. Quiet. Did his work."

Doggett's fingers found a tiny envelope stuck on the back of the top left desk drawer. He palmed it, not wanting to let Twitchell know he'd found anything.

"Did he have any enemies?" Reyes asked.

"Everyone in the field has professional rivals, people who disagree with us or accuse us of making things up. It comes with the territory. But would anyone want to murder him over it? No. Biostats people just hiss and spit at each other in the professional journals, Agent Reyes."

"Will I need a password to get into his email account?" Doggett asked, turning back to look at Reyes and Twitchell.

Twitchell's face darkened. "Yes, Agent Doggett. I'll do the input myself."

He nodded and rose. "By all means. Wouldn't want to interfere with your security procedures."

Twitchell sat at the desk, waiting for the main screen to come up. Hunching over the keyboard, she typed in the password. Seven keystrokes before she hit enter, Doggett noted. Not a long password. It might help when he went back to the Gunmen later. He was sure there had to be something in the system. The security on this place cost a fortune.

"Here, Agent Doggett. And I trust you'll restrict yourself to only that information which does not require a warrant for access." Twitchell's voice was hard and annoyed. It was obvious she hated having to let anybody into the place at all.

"You got it, Dr. Twitchell." He didn't feel a need to aggravate her. Whatever had been in the tiny envelope might be more valuable than anything he'd find in the email.

Twitchell and Reyes hovered over his shoulder. Doggett called up the email program and tucked a blank disk into the computer, copying the directory and files.

"What do you think you're doing?" Twitchell asked.

"Preserving the evidence," Doggett said. "You never know when some virus is gonna whack your system. I'd hate to come back later, if we needed to, and find that the data was destroyed."

"Of course." Twitchell's reply was dour.

Doggett was quick to make sure that Sprague's address book was copied along with the email files. He wanted to see which of them would match McCrae's contacts -- provided they got to Bridgeport before Twitchell alerted that facility -- and have the Gunmen check out any overlaps. It was entirely possible that if two men were murdered, a third might have information that would lead the investigation somewhere.

Conspiracies layered on conspiracies in Doggett's mind. He wondered if this was how Byers thought on a daily basis. It was starting to make his head hurt. His life had been so much less complicated before he'd been assigned to the X Files.

"Okay, I think we've got whatever exists," he said. He pulled the disc from the computer and stuck it in his pocket. Standing, he turned to the door. "Shall we?"

"Thank you for your time, and your cooperation, Dr. Twitchell," Reyes said. She offered her hand to Twitchell, who ignored the gesture entirely.

A few minutes later, they pulled way from the facility and started for Bridgeport.

"I found somethin' in that desk, Monica."

She tilted her head. "Oh?"

He pulled the tiny envelope out of his pocket. "Didn't have a chance to check it out, but it feels like it might be a key or something." He handed it to her.

Reyes opened the envelope. She tipped the contents into her palm. It was a safe deposit box key.

"I think we're onto something here, John."

Doggett nodded. "Any idea where Sprague did his banking?"

"We can check at Providence Mutual," she said. "That's where his checking account was."

"Where's his branch?"

"Not far, from what I recall."

"Well, I say let's check it out before we split town. If this doesn't turn anythin' up, we'll get the Gunmen on the phone and see what they can come up with."

"We'll need a search warrant," Reyes said.

Doggett nodded. "I got an old friend from Lebanon, went on to law school after the military. He's a small time judge in Providence now. He owes me a favor."

"What kind of favor?" She arched an eyebrow.

Doggett pulled over into a 7-11 parking lot to make the phone call. "I got his wife out of a jam once." He dialed.


PROVIDENCE MUTUAL BANK
178 MAIN STREET, NARRAGANSETT, RHODE ISLAND TWO HOURS LATER

The drive didn't take long.

With their FBI identification and the search warrant in hand, they were allowed into the safe deposit boxes, accompanied by a teller. The key for Box 5414 fit, and inside was a large binder. They left the key at the bank, taking the binder with them.

Doggett sat behind the steering wheel for a few minutes in the bank parking lot. He flipped through the pages. "This doesn't make much sense to me. Looks like a lab notebook, though. I bet Scully can tell us about what's in here."

Reyes looked at the pages as they turned. "I suspect this is the project Sprague and McCrae were working on. What does the first page say?"

Doggett flipped back to the beginning of the notebook. "Just some numbers. We're not gonna get anything out of this here in the car. We're gonna have to consult with Scully. But first, we gotta get our asses to Bridgeport. It may already be too late to salvage any evidence there. To tell you the truth, I'm surprised we got anything here. I'm wondering if Sprague's email is gonna have anything useful in it at all."

"We won't know until we get it into a computer to read it," Reyes said. "I don't suppose you got the password that Twitchell typed in?"

Doggett shook his head, handing the notebook to Reyes. "No, but it was seven keystrokes long. That's something."

"It could have been any seven random keys," Reyes said. She put the notebook into the bin under her seat.

"Unlikely. Most people's minds don't work that way. The password would be something Sprague would remember. Might be a birthday, or a family member's name, or where he went on his summer vacation. Some shit like that."

"We're not going to solve it right this instant," Reyes said as he started the engine.

"No, but the guys probably could do something about it."

Reyes sighed. "I don't see why you want to consult them."

"Hey, they found out who our victims are. This is the sort of thing they're best at. Don't knock 'em. They may be weird, but they get results."

"And we should be using the Bureau's computer labs on this."

Doggett pulled out into the traffic. "We need their help, Monica. You know how Mulder was always losing his evidence. Somebody's gotta be inside the Bureau messing with stuff. What is it that you dislike about the guys so much?"

Reyes sighed and leaned back into her seat. Crossing her arms over her chest, she stared out the passenger window. "They just... I guess they just rub me the wrong way. They never seem serious about anything. They're unprofessional. They're constantly bickering with each other. There's bad energy all over that dump they live in."

"So you're sayin' they just have bad vibes?"

"I--" Reyes shook her head, resting her face in one hand. "No. John, if they weren't Mulder's friends, we'd be arresting them for computer fraud, industrial espionage, and probably treason on top of that. You know what they do. They're criminals. They should be behind bars."

"They're journalists. They do a lot of stuff so they can get their stories. It's shady, but bigger papers do stuff like this all the time, and you know it." Doggett could feel his blood pressure rising. He didn't want to fight about this, but he couldn't let Reyes trash the guys -- trash Byers --without saying anything. "They're on the right side, Monica."

Reyes glared at him. "So they're vigilantes. How is that any better?"

"They know things we haven't got a clue about. We need them. They've been Mulder and Scully's go-to guys for years when it comes to the really strange stuff. Anything fringe, and they seem to have the skinny on it. They got ways of finding stuff that I can't even begin to figure out."

"Since when have you been their great defender? It wasn't that long ago that you thought they were just Mulder's flaky weirdo friends."

Doggett gripped the steering wheel more tightly. "Since they been finding information for us that's been helping us solve some of these cases. It's not about what they look like, or how they come across, Monica. It's about what they actually do under the Stooge act. These guys get results, no matter what you think of 'em. Maybe you should consider that. Where would we be right now if it wasn't for their help this week?"

Monica sat silent, arms still crossed over her chest.

"I'll tell you where we'd be. We'd be suckin' wind. We'd still be trying to sift through dental records that don't exist. We'd still have two John Does with their heads knocked off in some impossible way, instead of identities and hard evidence in our hands." Doggett pointed to the seat where Reyes had stashed the notebook. "We sure as hell wouldn't have that -- whatever it is."

Reyes sighed. "I don't know, John. Maybe you're right, but I just don't like those guys. There's something so... peculiar about them. You trust them more than you should."

"They haven't exactly steered us wrong yet."

She snorted. "Teletubbies, John? Supposedly, Byers is the one who insists on fact checking. How could he let them publish something like that?"

Doggett grinned. "Whatabout Byers? It's not like you've seen their evidence. Now, if they'd been talking about Barney..."

"John! This is serious! And I think Byers is crazier than the other three put together. He just hides it better than they do."

Doggett gritted his teeth. Reyes' words angered him. Byers was a little peculiar, admittedly, but he wasn't crazy. "He's not nuts, he's just... kinda... eccentric. Besides, don't we all get a little crazy sometimes? Sometimes bad shit happens and the only way you can cope is by being a little nuts."

Reyes gave him a look. "What kind of bad things?"

"Those guys ever tell you how they got together?"

She shook her head. "No. I've never talked to them unless you or Dana have been there. I think they know I don't like them. Why should they tell me anything? Did one of them talk to you?"

"A little," Doggett said. "I'm not entirely sure what went down, but it sounded pretty damned bad to me. From what they said, they almost got killed, and so did Mulder. Apparently they've been doing their paper ever since, and worrying that these conspiracy guys are out to get them because of what they say they know."

"And how do you know they're not just riding on Mulder's investigations into the conspiracies to feed their egos? Thinking that these conspirators are out to get them to make themselves feel important?"

Doggett shrugged. "I don't think they'd lie about it for no reason. Sure, Langly's got ego for miles -- well, okay, they all do, but they seem to really know what they're doing. Let's just drop it, okay? They can help us, and I think we should let them."

"You're a stubborn man, John; you'll do what you're going to do. I just think that we should use Bureau resources instead of pulling in civilian 'consultants,' even if they are Mulder's friends."


ZEUS GENETICS LAB
BRIDGEPORT, CONNECTICUT
LATE AFTERNOON

A search of Trevor McCrae's computer had come up empty. As Doggett suspected, there had been no email correspondence left to find. Now, Doggett and Reyes sat in a small, stuffy office with Gary Rosen, an undergraduate lab assistant. Short, obese, and already balding in his mid-20s, he was the sixth person they'd spoken with so far.

Rosen was accompanied by Helen Curriman, an official from Zeus Genetics' human resources office. Curriman was a grandmotherly, white-haired black woman with a sharpness in her eyes that left Doggett on edge. He'd known women like that when he was growing up. They never missed a single trick. She'd been assigned to "observe" all of their interviews with Zeus personnel. Getting anything past her would be a bitch.

Rosen looked sad and uneasy. "Trevor was a pretty cool guy, really," he said. "Most people liked him. I did. He was decent to folks, you know? Didn't get all uptight if somebody had a bad day, remembered people's birthdays, all that stuff."

"So he didn't have any enemies," Doggett said.

Rosen shook his head. "None I ever heard of anyway."

"Mr. Rosen," Reyes said, reassurance in her voice, "can you tell us anything about Dr. McCrae's recent activities or behavior that might shed some light on why anyone would want to kill him?"

Rosen sighed and lowered his eyes. "I don't know. He... well, I mean, he seemed kinda nervous the last week that... the week before he died. I don't know why. It didn't seem like he was doing anything different, but I only really ever saw him around work."

This checked out with what McCrae's other co-workers had said. Doggett nodded.

"Was he a loner away from work, Mr. Rosen?" Reyes asked. She touched Rosen's hand then backed off slightly.

"Don't really know," Rosen said. "He never talked about much of anything he did away from the lab. Sometimes he'd talk about his wife, you know, but never anything else. I don't think he had kids or anything."

Reyes nodded. "Was there anything at work that might have been causing him any undue stress? Were hours longer than usual? Was there a particular project that he seemed to be having any difficulty with?"

Curriman looked at Reyes but didn't say anything. Rosen didn't notice the glance. He was staring into his hands.

"Well, really, I think the whole nanotech project was bothering him. I don't know why, it's rea-"

"Gary, this interview is over," Curriman snapped. "You will not discuss classified projects with outsiders."

Rosen looked up, startled. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Curriman," he said.

"Wait a minute, this could be something useful to our investigation," Doggett said.

"I'm afraid you'll need to return with a subpoena if you wish to continue this discussion, Agent Doggett. The interviews are now over. You will not be allowed further access to our people without subpoenas and an attorney present." She stood and pulled Rosen to his feet by his elbow. "Come along, Mr. Rosen."

She looked back at the agents. "I'll have to ask that you two remain here. I'll send someone to escort you out in just a moment." With that, she turned and left, Rosen in tow.

"I think we just hit paydirt," Doggett said.

Reyes nodded. "Is that a hunch, John?" She gave him a wry half-smile.

Doggett chuckled without much humor. "Yeah, you could say that."


TREVOR LINDEN McCRAE RESIDENCE
1740 CASSAHANSETT WAY, BRIDGEPORT, CT
EVENING

"The last few weeks before... before he was..." Lisa McCrae closed her tear-reddened eyes and sniffed, suppressing a sob.

Doggett handed her a tissue. "It's okay, Mrs. McCrae, take your time."

She nodded.

Reyes looked over at Doggett and laid a hand on his arm.

Once Mrs. McCrae got herself under control, she spoke again. "Trev was so uneasy. I don't know what happened, but I was fairly sure it was something at work."

"Did he ever talk to you about his work, Mrs. McCrae?" Reyes asked.

"Not much," she said. "He always told me it was highly classified medical research."

Reyes nodded. "Of course."

"But what did he say when he did talk about it?" Doggett asked.

Mrs. McCrae closed her eyes and lowered her head. "He said... he said he felt that the project he was working on seemed to be verging into... questionable ethical territory."

Doggett and Reyes looked at each other. "Did he say why?" Doggett asked.

Mrs. McCrae shook her head. "No. Trev... he was very upset. He came home one evening saying that things at work were a mess, but he was going to try to stop it. He didn't say anything else. It was less than a week later that..." Her voice broke and she buried her face in her hands.

Reyes moved to stand next to her, laying a hand on one shoulder. "I'm truly sorry for your loss, Mrs. McCrae. If there's anything else you can add to this, any information at all, it would be very helpful. It might help us find his murderer."

"Trev really wanted to make a difference, Agent Reyes. He so wanted to restore his name after the allegations that were made against him in college. This... this was all so hard on him. He was so angry, but didn't say why."

"Did he ever mention a guy named Aaron Sprague?" Doggett asked.

Mrs. McCrae nodded and looked up at him. "Yes, he was one of the statisticians on Trev's project. I met him once. He seemed a very nice man."

"Do you know if he was in contact with Aaron recently?" Reyes asked.

"I think they talked fairly frequently," she replied.

"Did your husband email him from home?" Doggett asked.

"I don't know," Mrs. McCrae said. "I never read his email. We have separate computers."

Reyes nodded. "May we examine his?"

Mrs. McCrae nodded. "If you think it'll help find the people who did this, of course." She rose. "It's in his study. I haven't touched it since... since..."

"Of course," Doggett said. "Do you happen to know his passwords? We may need them."

"We have a cable modem. He's... he was online all the time. All you'd have to do is click to check his email."

"That should help," Doggett said. He and Reyes followed her into the study.

Doggett sat down and booted the computer. It wasn't password protected, and he downloaded the email without trouble. There were over 250 messages, but they downloaded quickly. He and Reyes looked over the subject lines and the addresses of the senders. There was a good bit of spam, but they ignored it.

One originated from Sprague's email address, but the subject line was mangled. It was dated the afternoon of the day Sprague and McCrae were murdered.

"Look," Reyes said, pointing.

Doggett nodded and clicked on the email. When it opened, the body of the message looked just as messed up as the subject line.

"It's encrypted," Reyes said, a slight frown crossing her face.

"Sure looks it," Doggett said. "I don't know much about this stuff though."

"I wonder if his other emails from Sprague were encrypted as well?" Reyes laid a hand on Doggett's shoulder and looked down at him.

"I'll check. His stuff to Sprague might be encrypted, too."

Mrs. McCrae leaned over them, looking down at the screen. "I know Trev used PGP. He said that I should as well, if I had anything to say that I didn't want the entire world knowing."

Doggett looked up at her and nodded. "Thank you, Mrs. McCrae. That'll help." He clicked on the outbox and found that McCrae had indeed been sending encrypted messages to Sprague for almost three months. There were others in an email folder labeled 'nanonano.'

"When did he start usin' this PGP encryption?" he asked. Reyes met his eyes. This had to have something to do with what Rosen mentioned at the lab.

"About three months ago, I think."

"That would make sense," Reyes said.

Doggett turned back to Mrs. McCrae. "We're not gonna be able to deal with this here, Mrs. McCrae. Can we take this computer to the lab so we can have the encryption broken? It may hold some important clues."

Mrs. McCrae nodded. "Please, if you think it'll help find whoever killed him, do whatever you need to." She gestured at the computer. "I don't need it, I have one of my own. Only Trev ever used this one."

"Thank you," Reyes said. "We may need to hold it for evidence for some time."

"I don't care," Mrs. McCrae said. "If it helps you, keep it." She blew her nose and patted at her tears.

"We don't want to keep you any longer, Mrs. McCrae," Reyes said. "We'll be out of here as soon as we get the computer unplugged."

It was short work for the two of them, and Doggett carried the computer tower to the rental car. "We gotta get this to the guys," he said.

Reyes nodded. "In this case, I suspect you're right. The Bureau's lab might be able to crack the encryption, but I'm not sure the evidence would be safe. We both know how often things have gone missing from the office with no explanation."

"Not to mention somebody burning the place down that once," Doggett said. "We need to head back to DC. I don't think we're gonna get anything else from Zeus."

"We should head for Hartford and catch the next flight back," Reyes said.

Doggett nodded. They had open-ended tickets, and if there was room on the next plane, they could get back to DC within a few hours. The quicker they found out what was in the notebook and the computer's hard drive, the closer they'd be to getting to the heart of the case.

On the highway, Doggett noticed that a car was tailing them. He pulled off at an exit and got back onto the highway, watching as the tail caught up with again them about five minutes later. "Monica, we got company."

"Lovely," Reyes said. She looked into the mirror on her door. "The blue sedan?"

Doggett nodded. "I'm gonna try to lose 'em. Hang on." He took a sharp right at the next exit, then headed off into the small town, working his way around on side streets. They stayed on surface streets for nearly half an hour before Doggett got them back to the highway.

"Looks clear," Reyes said, watching the cars around them.

Doggett kept a sharp eye out. He didn't notice anyone shadowing them the rest of the way, but the blue sedan had left him uneasy. Someone must have found out about the notebook, or perhaps the computer. He wondered if they'd been followed to the bank. Until they were on the plane and in the air, he wouldn't let his guard down.

At the airport, Doggett carried the computer tower and notebook in a carry on suitcase. As armed FBI agents they went through security behind the scenes, and the computer was booted up to make sure it was what it appeared to be. Doggett watched carefully, keeping an eye out for anything or anyone who seemed out of place.

Reyes was nervous but quiet. They were assigned seats on a plane leaving within fifteen minutes of their passage through security, both of them standing anxiously near the gate as they waited. They watched everyone suspiciously.

"Wouldn't we be endangering Mulder's friends if we gave this to them?" She looked around.

Doggett nodded. He knew it was true. It bothered him, but the Gunmen were the only ones he could trust with something like this, and they were already involved in the case. "I know, Monica, but like you said, I'm not sure the FBI labs or the evidence lockers would be safe either. I don't want to put the guys at risk, but we don't have any other resources. Who else can we trust?"

"I don't know, John. I know we'll have to talk to Dana. Maybe she can help with the notebook, but I don't know that she can help us with the encryption. PGP is supposed to be nearly impossible to break."

Doggett sighed. He kept his voice low, speaking in Reyes' ear. "Yeah, which is why the government keeps trying to get people to stop using it. I think maybe Langly could do it, or at least figure a way around it. But we gotta get this stuff to somebody who can help us figure it out, and not just the encryption. This nanotech thing; the guys have looked into stuff like this before. Scully trusts 'em. Byers has been doing a lot of research on it recently, too. We'll just have to keep a close eye on them, and the evidence while it's with them."

Reyes looked up as boarding was called. "We can worry about that later. Right now, let's just get back home."


LONE GUNMEN OFFICES
TAKOMA PARK, MARYLAND
LATE THAT NIGHT

"PGP," Frohike said. "Some of the best independently produced private security software around."

"Not as good as mine," Langly said. Frohike snorted.

Byers folded his arms and leaned back against his desk. "The only easily available encryption program that doesn't have built-in government back doors for the CIA, NSA, FBI, and other intelligence agencies."

"I heard it was unbreakable," Doggett said.

Langly shook his head. "It's a bitch, but it's not impossible."

"Yeah," Frohike said. "Most folks don't have the firepower to run the decryption algorithms."

"And you do?" Doggett looked around the office. "I'm not buyin' it."

"Nah," Langly said. "But we got one thing those agencies don't."

"What's that?" Reyes said.

"The hard drive," Byers said.

"And that's important because?" she asked.

Langly grinned and plugged a keyboard and monitor into the tower. "'Cuz that means all we gotta do is find the file where he's got all his private keys. The public keys are in the messages. We run the files until we find which ones match the two public keys --"

"-- and we don't have to run a decrypt by hacking time on a Cray," Frohike finished.

Byers nodded, a smug smile on his face. "Who needs a Cray when you have us?"

"When you got me, you mean," Langly said. "I don't see you bustin' your butt to help with this."

"There's only one hard drive," Byers said. "And don't pretend you're the only one who could do that."

"As long as Kimmy doesn't show up and try to claim credit, I don't give a shit," Frohike muttered.

Langly glowered at the keyboard. "Oh, fuck him and his --"

Reyes cleared her throat.

"Uh, right. Sorry," Langly said. He blushed.

"I wouldn't worry," Byers said. "It's not a DOD hack."

"Would you guys get on with it?" Doggett said. He glared at Langly.

"When will Dana get here?" Reyes asked, looking at her watch.

Doggett looked at his watch as well. "Shouldn't be much longer. I told her it was urgent."

Langly sat down at the keyboard and cracked his knuckles. "This shouldn't take too long," he said.

"Yeah, just get on with it, Blondie," Frohike said. "The delectable Agent Scully will be here soon. I want something to show her."

"Like she'll think you did it," Langly snarked. "She knows my kung fu's the best."

The door buzzer rang, and Doggett, Reyes and Byers went to answer it. The security monitor showed Jimmy at the door, burgeoning bags of groceries in his arms.

"Hey, guys, lemme in." Jimmy looked up at the camera.

Byers unlocked the door and opened it, grabbing a bag before it fell. Reyes took another.

"Thanks, Byers," Jimmy said. "There's about four more bags out in the van."

"I'll get 'em," Doggett said.

"Thanks," Byers said.

"Hey, does this mean everybody's staying for dinner?" Jimmy asked as Doggett headed up the stairs into the alley. He brought two of the bags in quickly, passing Jimmy as the young man hurried back out for the last of the bags.

Once he got inside, Frohike pointed upstairs. "Byers is in the kitchen putting stuff away. You wanna take those up to him?"

Doggett nodded.

"Don't worry," Reyes said. "I'll make sure these two stay on track." She grinned and winked at Doggett.

Doggett chuckled. "Want a whip?"

"I'll probably need one."

"Hey," Langly said, "I got sensitive skin." He shot her a glare.

Frohike laughed. "What he really means is, don't threaten him unless you mean it."

Reyes shook her head, disbelief and a slight hint of discomfort in her eyes.

Doggett headed up the stairs. He found Byers in the kitchen, his jacket slung over the back of a chair. He was putting away cans and boxes.

"How you doing?" Doggett asked. He set the bags down on the table and laid a hand between Byers' shoulder blades.

Byers looked around at him, relaxing from a stretch to put a box on the top shelf of the cabinet he faced. "Feeling better, thanks," he said. "I've been less tired today."

"I'm sorry I had to get out of the house before you woke up this morning," Doggett said.

Byers shrugged. "I knew you'd have to. It's okay." He turned and smiled, reaching out to Doggett.

Doggett hugged him, holding him in a warm embrace. He could hear Byers sigh, leaning in close. "Just wish I coulda been with you," he said. "That tail we picked up outside of Bridgeport bothers me."

Byers nodded against his shoulder. "Did you notice anything or anyone when you got back?"

"No. I watched all the way here, too. Monica said she thought it was too dangerous to bring this stuff to you guys. I'm not so sure I disagree. I want you to be careful when you're out."

Byers leaned back and looked into Doggett's eyes. "I'm always careful," he said. He started to say something else, but Jimmy entered the kitchen lugging the last two grocery bags, and dropped them noisily on the table.

"Oh, hey, guys. Didn't mean to interrupt or anything. Agent Scully just got here."

"Thanks, Jimmy," Byers said, moving away from Doggett. Doggett let him go and backed off a step himself.

"We need to get down there, then," Doggett said.

"Can you handle this by yourself?" Byers asked, looking over at Jimmy.

"Oh yeah, no problem." Jimmy nodded. "You guys go talk to Agent Scully. I'll be down when I'm done." He smiled at Byers.

The first thing Doggett heard at the foot of the stairs was Langly's voice. "Man, if this Goddamn 'nanonano' folder's got Mork and Mindy fanfic in it, I'm gonna kill somebody."

Frohike laughed. "Why the hell would somebody encrypt shit like that?"

"So nobody would find out who was writing it," Langly said. "I mean, would you admit to it?"

"I wouldn't do it in the first place," Frohike said.

"See?" Langly shook his head. "It's gotta be coming from somewhere. It's like a plague."

"Will you please explain to me what was so urgent that you brought me here at this hour?" Scully asked.

Doggett stepped over to her. "Well, that would be my doing, Agent Scully," he said.

"Ah, okay." Scully nodded. "It wouldn't be the first time the guys have called me in by faking someone else's voice." She gave Byers a sharp look. Byers blushed.

"It's about this," Reyes said. She pulled the notebook out of the case they'd brought the computer tower in. Scully reached out for it, and Reyes laid it in her hands. "We're not sure what's in here, but it came from Aaron Sprague's safe deposit box."

"The key for it was taped on the back of one of his desk drawers in his locked office at Zeus," Doggett added.

Scully opened the notebook and flipped through it quickly. "Bio-statistical analysis," she said. "Complicated stuff. This is going to take me several days to get through."

"I wondered," Doggett said. "We've got email from Sprague's office computer. Once we get that together, it might save you some time."

"And the other material Langly's working on," Frohike added. He elbowed Langly.

"Hey, watch it, Doohickey," Langly said. "Don't hassle me when I'm working my mojo."

"So what's stopping you?" Frohike gestured to the keyboard. "Aside from having no mojo, I mean."

Langly stuck his tongue out at Frohike and turned back to his work, fingers tapping over the keys like lightning.

Frohike turned back to Scully. "We figure this'll just take a minute."

She looked up from the notebook. "I can tell you already that something in here is a definite and serious statistical anomaly."

"Oh?" Byers moved to look over her shoulder.

Scully pointed to a column of numbers, picking one out with the tip of her finger. "Yeah. Look here. All of these other numbers, until right here, they range between -.03 and +.1, but this one --"

"+2.5?" Byers asked. "I can't believe that."

"That's an astronomical difference," Scully said. "And look, from this point on down the column, these numbers stay in the +2.3 to +2.47 range."

"That's really hard to credit. It's too much of a statistical leap. I mean, is that even possible without the numbers being faked?" Byers raised his eyes up the page. "I wonder what the alphanumeric codes at the heads of these columns stand for," he said quietly.

"So do I," Scully said. "Possibly subjects, possibly different tests. The matrix is pretty complicated."

"I wonder what the numbers indicate," Reyes said. She looked at Doggett. "Do you think this might be the project Gary Rosen mentioned?"

Doggett cupped his chin in his hand. "Nanotech?"

Byers raised his head and eyed Doggett sharply. "What about nanotech?"

"Nano nano," Langly said. "Get yer PGP keys here, kiddies." They all stood and moved to crowd around Langly and his monitor. Langly clicked a few more keys, and email messages started resolving into text from the morass of garbage on the screen.

Frohike was the first to respond, whistling low and soft. "This is the big one, guys."

Byers nodded, looking up at Frohike from where he leaned over Langly's shoulder. Scully simply stood, shaking her head in amazement.

"We need to bring Walter in on this," Langly said, shock in his voice. "What do you bet this has something to do with the shit Krycek shot into him?"

Scully picked up her cell phone. "I'll call him."

Langly shook his head. "I -- let me, okay?"

Scully lowered her phone and nodded. "Are you sure?"

Langly nodded at her and got up, heading up the stairs.

Byers sank into Langly's chair and looked up the stairs after the disappearing blond. "That's going to be a hard phone call," he said.

"He'll want to hear it, though," Scully acknowledged. "If this is a connected project, we may be able to get those things out of his system, or at least find a way to keep anyone in the conspiracy from controlling them like Krycek did."

Frohike nodded. "That'll be a relief."

Byers dropped his eyes to the monitor. "We don't even know if this project has anything to do with it. I don't think we should be holding out any false hopes."

"When did those numbers start coming up," Doggett asked.

"I can't be sure," Scully said. "There aren't any dates in the notebook, at least not that I can decipher."

"But these coded emails start about three months ago," Frohike said. "That's not nearly long enough ago to account for what happened to Skinner."

"We don't even know for sure that this notebook has anything to do with the emails yet," Reyes said.

Doggett shook his head. "No, I'm certain it does. If it wasn't connected, why were these guys killed? With the notebook, Zeus' secrecy, and these emails, either there's a connection or it's a really amazing coincidence. I think our victims were getting ready to leak some information, if what McCrae's wife says means anything."

"There's one way to find out," Frohike said. "We could hack Zeus' statistical UNIX cluster. See what comes up." He locked eyes with Byers, who nodded.

"I agree," Byers said.

Langly hurried back down the stairs. "He's on his way."

"What did you tell him?" Scully asked.

"We found some stuff that might interest him." Langly shuddered.

Scully looked at him. "You didn't tell him what?"

"You know I couldn't on the phone," Langly said. "There's ears everywhere."

"He's right," Byers said, "it's too sensitive. Anyone could be listening."

Reyes tilted her head. "Why would AD Skinner listen to Langly?" she asked Doggett. "Shouldn't Dana have called him?"

Langly looked at her. "There's some things you don't know. Probably better off not knowing."

Reyes narrowed her eyes. "Oh, right. Just take your word for it."

Scully shook her head. "He's right. It's not relevant to the case, but yes, hearing it from Langly probably is a better idea."

Reyes sighed, confused. "John, would you mind telling me what's going on here?"

Doggett shook his head. "It's not my place to talk about it, Monica. That's up to Skinner."

Reyes rolled her eyes. "Then I'll talk to him."

"You bet your ass, it's up to Skinner," Langly said. He poked Byers in the shoulder. "Okay, so now that we've got this email stuff decoded, what's next?"

Byers rose, letting him sit back down. "Frohike and I think it's time to pay the Zeus statistics clusters a visit."

Langly pushed his glasses up his nose. "Oh, jeez, funky poaching? Right now?"

Frohike laughed. "No, dipshit. From here. If we can't crack it from here, then we'll consider a road trip."

Doggett shook his head. "No road trips. Not for this one. Two guys are already dead. I don't want any of you in a body bag." Especially not Byers. He repressed a shudder at the thought and pushed it away hard.

"I'm with John on this one," Reyes said.

Scully nodded. "In this case, so am I."

Byers looked at them. "And what if we can't get the information you need from here?"

"Then we find some other way," Doggett said, finality in his voice. He fixed his eyes on Byers', letting him know in no uncertain terms that he would brook no argument.

Byers sighed and lowered his eyes.

"It's not so bad. I got some idea of what we're up against for a password," Doggett said.

"You do?" Langly's eyes lit up.

"Well, a little. It was seven letters, Sprague's password."

Frohike's eyebrow went up. "And how do you know this?"

"Watched while the facility head typed it in. Counted the keystrokes before she hit enter."

"Clever," Byers said, nodding approvingly.

"Yeah, but what seven strokes?" Langly looked down at the keyboard. "Could be anything."

Frohike looked up at Doggett. "Wait a minute. Those files. TREYNOR. That's seven letters."

"Worth a shot, dude," Langly said. "Lemme get to the system first. If this doesn't work, I'll set up the password cracker."

Frohike nodded and sat at his computer. Byers, at his own desk, joined the networking. They were silent for several minutes, each concentrating on their work. Scully looked through the notebook in her lap while Doggett waited impatiently. Reyes sat, tapping her foot on the floor.

Doggett watched the Gunmen at their work. They were smooth together, like black ice on a road. Smooth, Doggett realized, and just as deadly.

They cracked jokes while they typed, giving their efficiency a sense of ease, but he could tell by the look in Byers' eyes and the lines of stress on his face that they were well aware of how dangerous their task was. Their movements were coordinated, each watching the other as they concentrated, following and covering each others' tracks as they worked.

Doggett felt a growing warmth in his chest, watching Byers, remembering their time together the previous night. The more time he spent with Byers, the more he admired him. The man had made his unassuming way into Doggett's life and settled there. He wished Byers would be going home with him that night, but knew it wasn't going to happen. It would be too much, too fast, and they both had other commitments.

Skinner arrived just as Langly cracked the Zeus site.

"B.I.N.G.O.," Langly said. "Got it in one, Frohike. You were right." There were equal amounts of admiration and exasperation in the tone.

"What's going on?" Skinner asked, as Jimmy let him in.

Langly looked up. "Nanotech. Zeus Genetics. It's a mess." He looked down at his keyboard. "I'll be with you in a minute. Gotta run the root directories."

Skinner's face wrinkled into a severe frown. "Has this got anything to do with what happened to me?"

"I can do that," Frohike said quietly, tapping Langly's shoulder. "Go say hi."

Langly grinned as Byers nodded his agreement. He looked up at Skinner and rose. "We don't know yet, but I knew you'd wanna be here just in case."

Skinner reached out as Langly moved closer, putting a hand on the skinny blond's shoulder and giving it a brief squeeze. He nodded to Langly. There was a softness and affection in his eyes Doggett never saw in the office.

Reyes raised an eyebrow. Doggett shook his head at her, giving her a 'not right now' look.

Langly headed back for the keyboard, AD Skinner at his heels.

Doggett saw Byers give Reyes a nervous glance, turning his eyes back to the keyboard quickly to continue supporting Frohike's work. Doggett looked over Byers' shoulder. "What's up?"

"Heavy security," Byers said. Langly sat down again in the chair next to Byers.

"I got it," Langly said. He gestured Byers back a bit then looked up at Skinner. "We got a nanotech project at Zeus Genetics. Dogbert here says he thinks the dead guys were gonna leak something about this and that's why they got scragged. What we don't know is how the hell their heads got knocked off like that."

"And what would this have to do with what happened to me?" Skinner leaned over Langly, one broad hand on the back of his chair.

"Like, what if this is a new generation of what Krycek shot you up with?" Langly's eyes were back on the screen again. "If this is the same kinda stuff, maybe we could find a sample somewhere, hack into it. Maybe Fro could figure out how to shut off the shit that's in your system, or even get it out of you."

Skinner nodded, his face thoughtful. "How likely is that?"

Langly shook his head. "Not sure yet, but I swear Walter, if this is it, we'll fix it. We'll get you out of that mess."

Skinner ran a hand absently through Langly's long, fine hair. "I know, I know. If anybody could, it would be you." He sighed. "But pardon me for not holding my breath. You guys have run into things you thought might be related before. None of them have panned out." Skinner pulled his hand back just a little too quickly to be casual. His body betrayed his sudden uneasiness at realizing what he'd done.

Reyes' eyes widened. Doggett could tell she was confused. A hand in Langly's hair was an unprecedented public intimacy, and Langly calling him Walter was equally unusual. He was surprised that Skinner would be so open in front of anyone who didn't know.

Langly paused, ice blue eyes looking up into Skinner's deep brown. "We'll hit paydirt someday. I promise." His voice was low and rough with emotion.

Doggett ached at the pained look that passed between them. He remembered what Byers had said that night in New York, about how Skinner had been compromised, and the risks he took. Suddenly, Walter Skinner seemed much more vulnerable in his eyes. It was a frightening thought. Skinner was a tough man, he'd seen that. He trusted Skinner with his back, and to see him with that look in his eyes -- it was unsettling.

"What the hell is going on here?" Reyes hissed in his ear. "This is weird."

"You know about the nanocytes that almost killed him," Doggett said. "It's all in the file. The guys have been trying to find out how to get rid of them ever since. It's been some pretty heavy stuff. If you're stressing here, Monica, go have a smoke."

Reyes didn't look satisfied with the answer or the obvious dismissal, but didn't press further. She gave him a look that he knew meant he'd be grilled later. He'd have to send her to Skinner if she wanted any answers. Doggett relaxed slightly when she nodded and pulled a pack of Morley Lights from her pocket, then headed for the door. Langly and Skinner were... complicated. She really didn't need to know about their relationship, but it looked likely to come out any time now. He'd only found out because he'd seen them together at the Oasis, a kink club in Maryland.

Their mutual reactions had been of surprise and slight embarrassment, but the crowd had been mixed, so neither Skinner nor Langly had drawn any conclusions about Doggett's own orientation, and he hadn't offered any comment. He'd only been there to watch that night. They'd talked briefly and known it couldn't be mentioned outside the club. Since he'd been seeing Byers, though, his cat was out of the bag with the other Gunmen. He wasn't sure if Skinner knew.

Reyes returned from her cigarette before the Gunmen sorted out the directories.

"Look for anything marked TREYNOR," Byers said. "Look for files with the alphanumeric strings at the tops of the columns in the notebooks too."

"Yeah, yeah," Langly said, concentrating on his work. "I'm setting up the search strings right now."

Byers nodded and typed on his own keyboard with swift fingers. Frohike muttered to himself as he worked, quietly reciting strings of letters and numbers as he watched file names flash by.

Scully tapped Langly's shoulder. "Make sure you get the graphs too. They'll make the information in the notebook much more comprehensible. We'll be able to decipher a lot more of the information with them."

"Start in the backups," Frohike said, turning his head and looking over Langly's shoulder. "These guys have been dead for about a week. Some of these files won't have been touched since then."

"Right," Langly said. "But they've probably got other guys workin' on these projects too, so I gotta look in the shared files, as well as Sprague's personal stuff. And this other guy, McCrae, his files too, if there's any on this cluster. We may have to crack the Bridgeport site too."

Byers nodded. "I'm on it," he said. With that, Byers turned to another computer and started typing furiously.

Frohike tapped the screen of his monitor. "Starting to pull down some files," he said.

"How dangerous is this, guys?" Doggett asked. "Is anybody gonna notice that you're in there, grabbing this stuff?" He wasn't very familiar with the Gunmen's world, though he'd watched them operate a few times. That lack of knowledge was beginning to worry him. Getting more attached to Byers made him worry more about the man and the risks he took.

Langly shook his head. "Nah. UNIX is a total snap to crack on a system like this. They'll never even know we were here. It'll be totally invisible. Once you get in, you give yourself SysGod status and dump the old password, and there's, like, no trace."

"So you guys are safe, then?" he asked. "Nobody's gonna come kicking your door in half an hour from now?"

Byers nodded. "For this hack, yes. We're unlikely to have any... unexpected visitors as a result of this action." He looked up. "I suspect we may end up having to get into other sources that'll be considerably messier and far more complex before we get to the bottom of this. For those, we'll have to cover our trail very carefully."

"How's that?" Doggett asked. "What kind of sources?"

"We won't be sure until we can get the lovely Agent Scully here to analyze the stuff," Frohike said, "but considering the implications of what we're up against -- genetic manipulation, nanotech, clones, and who knows what else --we're definitely dealing with the conspirators that Mulder's been chasing around for years."

Langly nodded vigorously. "Yeah, those bastards are behind all kinds of shit like this. And that nano stuff, man, Krycek had his hands in that. Those people are more dangerous than you got a clue about, Dogbert. If they get wind of any of this, everybody's ass could be toast."

"The guys are right about Krycek and the conspirators," Scully said, looking up from the notebook. "We're playing a very dangerous game. Krycek was an assassin, Agent Doggett. He killed Mulder's father, and was with Luis Cardinale when my sister was murdered." She shifted uncomfortably in her chair, looking away. Her voice softened, subdued, when she continued. "They'd been gunning for me that night. Melissa came to my apartment when I was out. They killed her instead."

"I'm sorry," Doggett said. "I... I didn't know." The longer he worked the X Files, the more he learned about the losses everyone around him had suffered. If he actually believed in such things, he might think the division was cursed.

Skinner looked up and nodded. "Alex Krycek was an extremely dangerous man, John. There are a lot of others like him involved in this."

Reyes sat, silent, taking in the conversation as Doggett considered the information.

"The guy who was an Agent working with Mulder while Agent Scully was missing," Doggett said.

Skinner and Scully both nodded. "Yeah," Skinner said, "him. Rat bastard." Skinner sighed and looked over Langly's shoulder again. Doggett noticed he wasn't touching Langly this time.

"I'm into the Bridgeport facility cluster," Byers said.

Frohike nodded. "Great. I'll be with you in a sec. Almost done scanning the directories and files here."

"I'm on the downloads in Narragansett," Langly said. "Got your graphs, Agent Scully. We'll have 'em here in just a couple minutes."

Byers looked over at Frohike. "This password won't be as simple, I'm sure," he said.

"No way they'd both use the... then again, why wouldn't they both use the same password?" Frohike asked.

Byers shook his head and snorted. "That's really unlikely." He hit a few keys. "I don't believe this. How on earth could two scientists be so stupid?"

Frohike chuckled. "Man, these guys are clueless about security."

"Makes it easier for us," Langly said, not bothering to look up.

"I'm with you," Frohike said. "Starting the root directory scans."

Byers nodded. "I'm on it too."

Doggett turned to look when he heard a noise on the stairway. Jimmy was coming down the stairs.

"Hey, everybody, dinner's ready," Jimmy said.

Langly looked up. "Can't go eat upstairs tonight, dude. We're in the middle of a really sensitive investigation."

Jimmy grinned. "Aw, that's okay. I'll bring stuff down here. How's it going?"

"What are we having?" Frohike asked, still looking at his monitor.

"I made spaghetti," Jimmy said.

"That sounds pretty good," Scully said, looking up at him. "Thank you, Jimmy."

Reyes looked over at Scully. "These guys cook?"

"Frohike's a very good cook," Scully said, "and Jimmy's not bad either. Now, if it were Langly making dinner..."

Byers snickered quietly.

"Don't insult the God of Hacking," Langly said, looking over at Scully. "Especially not when he's getting your charts and graphs for you."

"She's right, blondie," Frohike said. "You burn water. The last time you tried to make a tuna casserole, the guys down the street at the Limerick called the fire department."

"You lie like Shatner's rug," Langly muttered.

Jimmy smiled. "The fire engines were cool, though."

"It took two days to air the place out, Langly." Byers wrinkled his nose. "Burnt tuna is not the most appealing scent on the planet."

"I'll help you carry the food down," Skinner offered. "Reyes? Doggett?" He looked over at them.

"Sure, Sir." Doggett headed for the stairs.

Reyes hesitated. "You know, if I'm not needed, maybe I should just go get some dinner on my way home."

Skinner shook his head and pointed up the stairs. "Agent Reyes, what they find here could help break the case. It would behoove you to be here when the information becomes available."

Reyes sighed and followed Jimmy and Doggett up the stairs, Skinner on their heels.

By the time dinner was consumed, the necessary files had been downloaded and a start had been made at copying the information for Scully to examine. Byers and the other Gunmen would be going over it the next day as well.

Reyes left first, a file disk in hand for her to examine later. Once she was gone, the atmosphere relaxed slightly.

Scully departed not long after Byers gave her the CD with the files on it.

"God, how could I have slipped like that?" Skinner said, sinking into the Gunmen's whorehouse red couch. He sighed and looked over at Langly who was standing behind Byers, making snide comments about his work.

Doggett nodded. "It can be hard; you're used to this being a safe place."

"And what's this Langly was telling me earlier about you and Byers?"

Doggett could feel himself pale a little at the question. "I wasn't sure if you knew or not."

"It's best to keep it out of the office," Skinner said. "Less stress to deal with. Kersh, he's always looking for an excuse."

Doggett nodded. "Ain't that the truth. Last thing either of us needs is to give him an excuse to come down on our ass. But Scully knows about you and Langly?"

Skinner crossed his arms over his chest. "You can blame that on Frohike."

"Yeah," Langly said from across the room. He shot a glare at Frohike. "Troll."

"Hey," Frohike said, "it was an accident."

"Accident my ass, Doohickey."

"I was drunk!" Frohike protested.

"I still think I should have shot you," Skinner said, a wry grin on his face.

"Scully didn't freak on you?" Doggett asked.

"Surprisingly enough, no," Skinner said. "I'd expected that, with her being Catholic, she might have had a problem with it. She doesn't know what we do together; I think that would be a lot harder for her to accept, but she's never said an unkind word about the situation." His brow wrinkled. "She did express some surprise about it being Langly, though."

Doggett chuckled. "Not like anybody would think you two were exactly each other's type."

"Nobody ever said we were," Langly said.

"Manifestly not," Byers agreed.

Langly grinned. "But sometimes what you need wins out over bein' somebody's type."

Byers nodded, and Doggett could see a certain sadness in his eyes. He wondered where the emotion came from.

"Yeah, sometimes it does," Skinner said. "You done over there, Ringo?"

Langly and Byers exchanged glances. Byers nodded.

"Yep, I'm done," Langly said. He grinned, then came over and sat next to Skinner on the couch. Skinner slid an arm around the skinny blond, and Langly leaned into his broad chest.

Doggett caught a fragment of a glance Byers cast at Langly, tucked under Skinner's arm, and suddenly wondered if the two Gunmen had been lovers once. It would explain a lot, he thought. He wasn't sure how he felt about the idea. He rose, going to join Byers. Frohike had gone upstairs with Jimmy already, taking care of the dirty dishes.

"Hey, Johnny," he said softly, "you okay?"

"Me?" Byers looked up at him. "Yeah, why do you ask?"

Doggett laid a hand on Byers' shoulder. "Just... you looked kinda sad there. Wondered if something was bothering you."

Byers shook his head. "No, I'm fine, but thanks." Byers' hand found Doggett's. "I'm still a little tired from the flu the other day, that's all," he said. The look in his eyes betrayed the lie.

Doggett wasn't sure why Byers was lying to him, but he didn't feel right asking about it yet. They'd played together, had talked during the weekend in New York. At times it had been frighteningly intimate, but he didn't feel he had a right to ask about something that was obviously so personal. He knew he really didn't know Byers that well yet, and he wasn't entitled to anything. If Byers wanted to tell him, he would when he was ready. For now, the cagey response would have to be accepted.

He squeezed Byers' shoulder. "Did you know Langly'd told Skinner about us?"

Byers nodded, the barest hint of a blush reddening his face. "I knew he would at some point. I wasn't sure he already had, but it was inevitable. It was probably premature, though." He shrugged. "Neither of us have had the best of luck with other men."

There was an undertone of pain in Byers' voice that strengthened Doggett's suspicions about Byers and Langly, but he wasn't going to press the issue. He knew it was true --neither he nor Byers had the best track record with their relationships.

"Maybe things'll be better this time," Doggett said, not quite daring to hope. "For both of us." He leaned down and nuzzled Byers' hair, brushing a soft kiss on one ear.

Byers sighed. "I hope so. It would be nice to have someone around -- someone reliable, who wouldn't run at the first hint of anything unusual."

Doggett nodded. He could understand that desire. He still thought Byers was downright odd, but there was a steadiness and solidity in the core of him that was impossible to deny. It pulled him in as surely as any moth to a candle. "How long until you're done?" he asked.

Byers typed a little more. "I've got some search strings running for these files. I'm scanning for words and phrases associated with the different projects the conspiracy has been running over the years. With all these files to go through, it'll probably take most of the night, but I can let it run by itself and check it in the morning. I'll let you know as soon as I have any results."

"We're heading out for the night," Skinner said. Doggett and Byers both looked back at him. Langly was grinning broadly, Skinner's hand tight on his shoulder.

"See ya tomorrow, guys," Langly said.

"Night, Ree, Walter," Byers said.

"Night, guys," Doggett added.

"Goodnight, Byers, John." Skinner nodded to them and guided Langly toward the door. Langly opened the door, and Skinner turned back to them. "Good luck."

"Thanks," Byers whispered. Doggett slipped an arm around Byers' shoulders, wishing he could do something about the subdued pain in the man's voice. They both watched as the door closed. "I need to go lock up," Byers said, "unless you're leaving now too."

"Not just yet, but soon." Doggett let him go to the door. "What's going on with this -- you jealous of Skinner and Langly?"

Byers looked away, casting his eyes to the floor. He sighed softly. "They're happy together, Jack."

"But you're not."

Byers didn't reply. His eyes were still on the floor. Doggett walked over to him and put his arms around him.

"I'm sorry," Doggett said, quietly.

Byers finally looked up and slipped his arms around Doggett's waist. "I shouldn't feel like this. They deserve to be happy, both of them."

"So do you."

Byers closed his eyes, silent again.

"You don't believe me, do you?" When Byers remained silent, Doggett pulled him close and ran a hand slowly through his hair. He could feel the beat of Byers' heart against his own chest. He wished again that he could take the man home with him, but knew Byers would refuse. Byers held tight to him for a few moments, hardly breathing.

"Do you want me to stay for a while?" Doggett asked.

"No," Byers said. "I've... I've got things to do."

He felt Byers' arms tighten around him. Another lie, he supposed. Whatever was bothering Byers seemed deep, and too private for expression.

"You don't have to be alone, you know." Doggett tilted Byers' face up and kissed his lips gently.

Byers held back for a moment, hesitant, then returned the kiss with equal gentleness. "I know," he said. "I'm sorry. I don't really have things to do, I just... I guess I just need some space right now. I'm not used to this."

"Me neither," Doggett said. "You don't have to lie to me, Johnny. Whatever's goin' on, I just wanna help. I don't like to see you sad like this."

"I'll be fine."

"I know. You always are. I'd just rather see you happy is all."

Byers' face lightened, and a tiny smile crossed it. "Thanks. I appreciate that."

"You still want me to go?"

Byers touched Doggett's cheek. "I'm sorry. I really do just need some time to myself. I'll talk to you tomorrow, when I've got the files sorted out. We can go over the information and see if we can figure out what's going on. Maybe Agent Scully will have some more information for us by then."

Doggett lowered his face to Byers' and kissed him again, more deeply. When he broke the kiss, both of them were breathless. Doggett's heart was racing.

"Okay," he said. "I'll see you tomorrow sometime, then. You take care of yourself. Get some sleep."

Byers nodded. Doggett headed out the door into the muggy darkness. Pausing for a moment on the stairs to the alley, he looked back at the warehouse door. Walking away from Byers just kept getting harder. He sighed and turned away, heading home for the night.


LONE GUNMEN OFFICES
TAKOMA PARK, MARYLAND
NEXT MORNING

Byers yawned as he made his way down to the office. Neither Jimmy nor Frohike were awake yet, but he wanted to check on the search he'd left running overnight. He was sure there would be something useful in the files. The statistical variations in the notebook Scully had examined were enough to convince him of that.

As he passed the monitors for the security camera on the office door, he took a quick glance, more out of habit than anything else.

There was a manila envelope sitting on the stairs.

Byers stared at the monitor, blinking. He moved to the system controlling the security cameras and checked the alley and the rest of the areas around the building. Nothing out of the ordinary.

"Damn," Byers muttered. "I wonder what that is."

Cautiously, he opened the door. He approached the envelope slowly. It was too thin to be a letter bomb, he thought. Not enough space to pack any explosives. There was nothing on the side of the envelope facing him.

Every now and then, some anonymous informant or other would leave information at the doorstep like this, but it never hurt to be cautious. They'd had an actual letter bomb delivered once, about five years back. It had scared the crap out of all of them, but they'd identified it as a threat before anyone had actually touched it.

He picked the envelope up and turned it over. There were no markings on the other side, either. It didn't feel like there was much in it. Probably only a few sheets of heavy paper, or a couple of photos. He wondered what kind of case it would lead to. Sometimes random leads like this led them to some important stories. He grinned, excitement rising, and brought the envelope inside.

He dropped the envelope on his desk. Byers could smell the coffee; it was done brewing, so he went to get himself a cup. The scent would probably wake Frohike and Jimmy soon. It was Frohike's turn to cook breakfast; he wondered if it would be huevos rancheros. He could use something a little spicy today.

Coffee in hand, he returned to the office. He sat at his desk and skimmed the information from his file search last night, not bothering to check everything. Sure enough, there were some significant results. He'd have to call Doggett shortly, and Scully as well. He'd want her confirmation about some of what the files seemed to be saying. The information startled him. He knew the others would find it just as disturbing.

Taking a sip of coffee, he opened the envelope. As he suspected, there were only a few photos inside. When he turned them face up, though, his heart nearly stopped. The photo on top was of Doggett kissing his neck. It had been taken in Central Park.

With trembling fingers, Byers flipped to the next photo. It showed Doggett embracing him on the ferry from Liberty Island, Doggett's mouth on his ear.

The last photo was of the two of them outside the building housing the club they'd attended. Byers was rumpled and obviously disoriented, Doggett supporting him with one arm. Byers' head was on Doggett's shoulder. He was nibbling Doggett's neck.

Byers dropped the photos, panting in near panic. They knew.

Rohrer. He'd been at the airport. It must have been Rohrer, he thought. He buried his face in his hands, trying to control his fear. What was he going to do?

He had to call Doggett. Byers looked up at the clock. Doggett was probably just arriving at the office. His head was spinning, and he thought the tips of his fingers were going numb. This was exactly what he'd been afraid of when Doggett had been so overtly affectionate with him in public -- a blackmail attempt had been inevitable.

His hand was shaking as he dialed the phone. Doggett answered on the first ring.

"Federal Bureau of Investigation, X Files Division, Agent Doggett speaking."

"A-agent Doggett --"

"Byers, did you --"

"-- got an envelope--"

"-- fuckin' photos --"

"Shit," both of them said.

Byers took a deep breath.

"I was gonna call you," Doggett said, "but something came up with the case. Got another dead body, same M.O."

"Do you have an ID for this one?"

"Yeah. Kid's name was Gary Rosen. Somebody found him in a park in Bridgeport."

"Oh, no," Byers said. His stomach tightened in nausea. "Wasn't he --"

"Yeah. We shouldn't talk about any of this on the phone."

"When can you be here?" Byers asked.

Doggett paused. "About half an hour, forty-five minutes. Depends on traffic."

"Will... will Agent Reyes be with you?" Byers wasn't sure he wanted to hear the answer.

"No," Doggett replied. Byers relaxed a little. At least they wouldn't have to discuss the photos in front of her. "She's already in Bridgeport. We got called in really early today because of the murder. I had to stay here to get what info you guys had from last night. We'll call Scully in after you and I talk."

"All right," Byers said. "I'll see you soon."

"Yeah. Look, try not to freak on this, okay? We'll figure something out."

"I'll talk to you when you get here," Byers said. He hung up the phone and hurried to shower and dress.

By the time he was armored in his suit, Frohike and Jimmy were awake. Frohike was working on a batch of huevos rancheros.

"Agent Doggett will be here in a few minutes," he said.

Frohike nodded. "I'll make another batch. You must have found something good in the files last night, eh?"

"Yeah," Byers said, "but unfortunately, that's not all that's happened."

Frohike turned to look at him. "What's wrong?"

Jimmy looked up as well. "You look awful upset, John."

Byers lay the envelope with the photos down on the kitchen table. "I had a... special delivery this morning."

Frohike wiped his hands off and pulled the photos from the envelope. He flipped through them quickly, Jimmy looking over his shoulder, then looked back up at Byers. "I'd say you two are about to be in a world of shit."

Byers started to reply, but the buzzer went off at the office door. He ran down the stairs and checked the security camera. It was Doggett.

He was breathless as he let Doggett in, then locked the door behind him.

"Johnny, calm down some. You look frantic."

Byers looked up at him, surprised. "And you're not?"

Doggett shook his head. "I ain't happy, but I'm not frantic. We'll figure this out. You told the guys yet?"

"Frohike and Jimmy know. Langly's not home yet." Byers worried what this might mean for Langly and Skinner. If someone was watching him and Doggett, would their secret be revealed as well?

"Hey." Doggett cupped Byers' cheek in one hand. He looked into Byers' eyes. "Take a deep breath here, cub."

"Yes, Sir," Byers whispered. He closed his eyes and took a slow, deep breath. Letting it out, he could still feel his heart hammering, but a spark of calm had started settling into him. Doggett's touch let him focus on something other than his panic.

"That's right, keep breathing."

Byers nodded and complied. He focused on the feel of Doggett's hand on his cheek, and the forced slowing of his breathing. A few minutes later, he was much calmer. Opening his eyes, he looked up at Doggett. "Thank you, Sir."

"You just needed to remember, that's all," Doggett said.

"What are we going to do?" Byers asked. He hoped that Doggett had some suggestions.

"Let's go upstairs for a while."

Byers waved toward the stairs. "Frohike's making extra huevos rancheros if you'd like some breakfast." His stomach was a little calmer than it had been, but he wasn't sure if he could eat.

Doggett moved ahead of him. When they got to the kitchen, Frohike pointed to the table.

"Have a seat," he said. "You want some breakfast?"

"Sure," Doggett said. "Byers said you made huevos rancheros."

Frohike nodded. "Best you'll ever eat outside of Mexico." He handed Doggett a plate. "Byers?"

"Give him a plate too," Doggett said.

Byers took the plate Frohike proffered and sat next to Doggett, not sure he'd be able to so much as swallow anything.

"At least give it a try," Doggett told him.

Byers shook Tabasco sauce onto his eggs and stared at them.

"Mornin', Agent Doggett," Jimmy said. "Did Byers tell you about the pictures he got?"

"Yeah, Jimmy," Doggett said. "I got some photos too. They're probably the same ones."

Byers swallowed and took a tiny nibble at the eggs. They weren't quite as nauseating as he'd expected. "What can we do?" he said again.

"Nothing," Doggett said. "We're not doing anything about this."

"But what about your job?" Byers asked. "Aren't you worried that Kersh will try something?"

Doggett shrugged. "It's none of Kersh's business, Johnny. You know that. There's laws against discrimination, and if anyone tries to jerk me around because of those pictures, I'll get the Ombudsman's office and the ACLU on their ass so fast they won't know what hit 'em."

"I don't suppose there are other options?" Byers said.

"None that'll do us any good. If we cave to this, they'll have us where they want us. All they'd have to do is wave a picture around and they could make us do whatever they wanted, right?"

Byers' lips twitched. That was what he'd figured as well, but the idea of being out still made him extremely uneasy. The fact that they'd both be outed only made things worse. "If people know about this, they could use us against each other."

"You think they wouldn't do that, whether anyone else knew or not?" Frohike asked. "You know what's happened to Mulder and Scully. They could have done the same thing to us any time they wanted to, but so far they haven't seemed to think we were important enough to bother with. I'd like to keep it that way."

"We're easy enough to dismiss as lunatic fringe." Byers looked over at Frohike. "But Agent Doggett's not. He's important enough for them to take notice, and not so easily dismissible. That makes me a target too now, or maybe just a tool to keep him in line."

Doggett laid a hand on his shoulder. "We'll get through this, Johnny."

Byers shuddered, remembering all the things that had happened to Mulder and Scully over the years -- the losses they'd suffered, the tortures they'd endured. He wondered if he and Doggett would be next. He looked at Doggett. "If they're following us around, what about Langly and Skinner?"

"Skinner knows the risks, buddy." Frohike took his own plate and sat at the table with them. "And Langly's a big boy, too. If somebody tries to out them, they'll decide what they wanna do, just like you guys."

"This could cause problems for everyone," Byers said. "What if it brings trouble to the paper? What if Agent Doggett gets fired?"

Doggett shook his head. "I'll take that risk, Johnny. Those bastards aren't gonna make me back down. We have to be onto somethin' if they reacted like this. And Rosen, he let slip about the nanotech. I still think this project's got something to do with the supersoldiers."

"Rosen?" Frohike asked.

"Kid from the Bridgeport Zeus lab. The one who got killed last night." Doggett took a few bites of his breakfast. "Good stuff, Frohike."

"Last night? You'd think they'd need a coffee break or something." Frohike shook his head, then gave him a brief smile. "Thanks, though." He looked over at Byers. "Byers, you know the guys and I will stand behind you, whatever happens. If some of our readers get pissy and circulation takes a hit, we'll live. Maybe some people will think it gives us more reason to get to the bottom of the conspiracies -- we can work it to our advantage somehow, if we have to."

Byers sighed. Doggett was right, and so was Frohike. They couldn't let the conspirators blackmail them, couldn't let the threat of outing stop them from investigating and exposing Zeus and the supersoldiers project.

"Okay," Byers said. "If you're not backing down, neither am I."

"Isn't this an invasion of your privacy, guys?" Jimmy asked. "I mean, it's not anybody's business who a guy sleeps with."

"Yeah, Jimmy," Doggett said, "But these people don't care about that."

Jimmy tilted his head. "Well, of course, the bad guys don't, but wouldn't our readers?"

Frohike and Byers turned to stare at Jimmy.

"You could be right," Doggett said, chuckling.

"We could run a piece about attempted blackmail on an FBI investigation into a conspiracy regarding genetic engineering. It would probably raise circulation, Byers," Frohike said.

Byers sighed. "We don't have any proof it was Zeus, and it's ethically questionable for us to run that story, considering one of our editorial staff is one of the attempted blackmail victims." It was sure to cause more problems than it would ever solve, he thought.

"No, but if they keep messing with you guys, we'll probably be able to swap it to one of the other watchdog groups in exchange for something similar they can't run." Frohike patted Byers' hand. "We can hold onto these photos, check the envelope for prints, see if we can chase down whoever delivered it."

"I've already touched the envelope and the photos," Byers said.

Frohike nodded. "Yeah, but we know enough to eliminate our prints."

"If this is anything like the stuff we're working on with the Zeus investigation, even if you do get prints, you probably won't get an ID on 'em," Doggett said. "We're just gonna have to do what we've been doing, act like we never got the photos."

Byers sighed and nodded.

"But I gotta admit," Doggett continued, "you really do look hot in that picture from outside the club." He chuckled.

Byers sat and stared at him for a moment, his mouth opening and closing. "This is serious!" He couldn't imagine why Doggett would joke about it.

"Yeah." Doggett nodded. "And we're seriously gonna ignore it. I have to keep a sense of humor about something."

"I need to call Agent Scully," Byers said.

"About this?" Doggett asked.

Byers shook his head. "No, about the information in the files."

"What did you find?"

Frohike looked over at him. "Yeah, Byers, what did you find?"

"I haven't had much of a chance to look it over yet," Byers said, "but what I did see was significant. We had quite a few hits on the search strings I set up last night. It would be easiest if we all just went over it once."

"Makes sense," Doggett said.

Frohike snorted. "I wanna know now."

"So go read the files," Byers said. "I need to do it as soon as I'm done here, right after I call Agent Scully."

"Oh, I'll call her," Frohike said. He grinned.

"I should have figured you'd volunteer for that," Byers said, allowing himself a smile. Frohike would go to the ends of the earth for Scully, given half a chance.

Frohike got up to use a phone.

"Hey guys, how's the morning?" Langly wandered in, a huge grin on his face. "Smells like breakfast!"

"Huevos rancheros," Jimmy said.

"Oh, the good stuff." Langly grabbed a plate and sat in Frohike's vacated chair. He vacuumed up half a plate of eggs before he looked up. "Byers? You look awful. What's up?"

Byers slipped the photos into his hand.

Langly looked at them and paled. "Oh, shit."

"That's about the size of it," Doggett said. "You and Skinner need to lay low for a while. If they're doin' this to me and Johnny, you guys might be next."

"Oh, man." Langly shook his head. "This so sucks. I'm sorry, guys. If we were layin' any lower, I'd need a shovel, but I should tell Walter."

"You should," Byers agreed. "Be careful, Ree. I don't want to see this happening to the two of you. You might want to stay away from the Oasis for a while."

"We might. What are you guys gonna do about it?" Langly asked.

"Nothing," Doggett said.

Langly gave him a surprised look. "Really?"

"What else can we do?" Byers said. "If we react to this, they'll know they can use it against us anytime they want to."

"Dude, like Kersh is so gonna be on your ass."

"I don't care," Doggett said. "The case is too important. I can't let any of this scare me off."

Langly nodded, thoughtful. "Yeah, it is."

"I just wish it didn't have to be this way," Byers said. He wondered if Doggett thought he was important at all. Then again, he'd said himself that he had very little to lose, at least compared to Doggett. It wasn't like the guys were going to fire him for sleeping with the man. He didn't have a reputation or a clearance to lose.

Jimmy looked up, fork near his mouth. "Why do people think this is a bad thing, guys? I just don't get it."

"It's a really long story, Jimmy," Byers said. "A lot of it is because most people aren't as tolerant or understanding as you are."

"I just think people should be happy," Jimmy said.

"Scully's on her way," Frohike said. "You're in my seat, blondie. Take a hike."

"You move it, you lose it," Langly said. He stuck his tongue out at Frohike.

"I make enough breakfast for you, and this is the thanks I get."

"Guys." Byers looked at both of them. There were days when he really thought he should be collecting child support from somebody for keeping his three roommates in line.

"You find anything in the files, Johnny?" Langly asked.

"That's why I called Scully," Frohike said.

"Awesome." Langly shoveled some more eggs into his mouth.

"Get out of my seat, you hippy jerk."

Jimmy stood. "I'll get you another one." He wandered off to look for a chair.

"At least somebody around here respects my station." Frohike crossed his arms and glared at Langly.

"Just 'cuz you're a geezer doesn't mean I should have to get up for you," Langly sneered.

Frohike snorted. "You'd get that skinny ass of yours up for Skinner."

"Last I looked, Doohickey," Langly said, "you weren't fuckin' me."

Frohike opened his mouth but didn't get a chance to retort.

"Guys!" Byers stood, exasperated, and leaned over the table at them. "Will you please stop this stupid sniping? We have better things to do with our time."

"He's got a point," Doggett muttered to Byers.

Byers looked at him, displeased. "Don't encourage them. The next thing you know, they'll be throwing food at each other, and I'll be the one who has to clean it up."

Doggett laughed. "Sit down and finish your breakfast, Johnny."

Byers sighed and shook his head. He sat again as Jimmy returned with a chair.

"Here ya go, Frohike. A chair, just for you." Jimmy set it down between Byers and Langly. Frohike sat, still glaring at Langly.

"Thanks Jimmy," Byers said. He hoped it would put an end to his breakfast annoyance.

"How long is Scully gonna be?" Langly asked.

"Traffic," Frohike said. "Probably at least an hour."

"This is too important to sit on," Byers said. He rose from the table again, restless, his stomach too upset to let him finish eating. Grabbing the envelope with the photos in it, he headed for the stairs. "I've got to get started looking through those files."

Frohike nodded. "I'll be down in a few. Gonna finish breakfast first."

"I'll go with you," Jimmy said. He carried his and Byers' plates to the kitchen.

"I'm done," Doggett said. He got up and followed Byers down to the office. "I'd like to get a head start on this before Scully gets here, too."

"That's fine with me. The more eyes, the better." Byers gestured at the computer as they approached his desk. "I'll show you the list of search strings. You can use Langly's desk if you like." He needed to focus on something other than the photos or his twisted gut.

"Langly's not gonna have me skinned for messing with his computer?"

Byers shook his head and sighed. "The likelihood of Langly saying 'boo' to you is almost nil." He looked up at Doggett. "Well, okay, so he'd call you names." He let himself show half a grin. "But he'd be near the door when he did it."

Doggett chuckled. "I'd be more afraid of him messin' with my checking account."

Byers shrugged. "Well yeah, that's a distinct possibility."

"So maybe I should just look over your shoulder instead."

Doggett settled in next to him as he scanned the screen quickly. "Can you maybe read a little slower, here, Johnny? I'm having trouble keeping up with you."

"Oh, sorry." Byers slowed his scroll, doing a little more reading, and a little less scanning.

Frohike and Langly came down the stairs a few minutes later, followed by Jimmy.

"So whatcha got, Byers?" Frohike asked.

Byers gestured at the other computers. "You can access it. I put it on our net." The more people looking through the information, the faster they'd figure out what was happening.

Frohike nodded and sat at his own desk. "Gotcha."

Langly sat as well, and turned his own monitor on. When the files came up and he started going through them, he whistled. "This is a hell of a lotta shit, Byers."

Byers nodded. "I know." He looked over at Langly. "And a lot of it relates to some of the projects we've investigated over the years." He took a deep breath. "This is significant, guys. There's way too much here. I'm betting this is why we got those photos."

"Looks like we did find some nanotech stuff," Frohike said.

"I knew it," Doggett said. "This has gotta be why Rosen was killed. It's the only damned thing that makes sense."

"Oh, Jesus," Frohike muttered.

"What?" Byers turned to him, nerves on edge. The tone of Frohike's voice knotted his stomach even harder. Langly got up and looked over his shoulder.

Frohike looked up. "You don't wanna see this, Byers."

"What?" Byers asked again.

"Shit," Langly said. He looked over at Byers. "Serious, dude. Don't ask."

Byers rose and pushed the shorter man out of the way. Looking at the screen, he suddenly got lightheaded. "No, it can't be." Byers shook his head. "Whitecorps. Again."

"You think Mata Hari's up to her old tricks?" Frohike asked, eyeing Langly.

"Last we looked, she was still hidden," Langly said. "Why would she go back to 'em?"

"Who's Mata Hari?" Doggett asked.

"This woman Byers knows," Jimmy said. "Her name's Susanne."

"Jimmy!" Byers spun and snapped at him, anger rising.

Langly answered Byers' sharp retort. "Hey, ease up, Byers. Just 'cuz your chickadee's --"

"We don't know who could be listening!" Byers glared at his friends. If they were bugged, it would be impossible to keep Susanne safe. It may have been a few years, but he doubted the conspiracy had stopped looking for her.

Doggett shook his head. "Isn't she the one you said was dead?"

"Does the concept of witness protection mean anything to you?" Byers growled.

Doggett's eyes widened, confusion filling them. "You mean --"

Byers clenched his fists. "I mean, everybody just shut up for a minute!" He needed a moment's quiet before he lost it entirely. The day had been far too stressful already, and it had barely begun.

"Whoa, Johnny --" Doggett held up his hands.

Byers turned on the other Gunmen. "She can't be involved. The failsafe would have let us know if they'd found her. Besides, she wasn't doing nanotech, she --"

"Okay, okay," Frohike said, "you got a point. Ease up, Byers."

"I'm sorry," Jimmy said. "I didn't mean to get you upset."

Byers took a deep breath, deliberately loosening his hands. He walked back to his desk and sat heavily in his chair, face held in both hands. This was going to be a lousy day. He wasn't sure how long he'd been sitting like that when he felt a warm hand on his shoulder.

"Johnny, you gonna be okay?" Doggett's voice was soft, concerned.

"Fine," Byers whispered. "I'm fine." He had to be fine. If he wasn't, the planet would probably explode. It was just that kind of day.

"I'm sorry," Doggett said. "I had no idea."

"Nobody's supposed to know." Byers sighed and looked up into Doggett's crystal blue eyes. Byers' face was lined with worry. "As far as we know, the only people who are aware of this are us and Scully, and now you. I'd like to keep it that way." It didn't help that he still missed her, still wished they could have been together.

"Uh, Byers," Jimmy said, tentative.

"Yes?" Byers turned his head to look at the big man.

"You were talkin' about maybe the place bein' bugged." Jimmy gestured toward the door. "Don't we keep tapes from the cameras at the door? I mean, did you look at those yet to see who might have left those pictures?"

Byers smacked himself on the forehead. God, he was stupid today. "No, Jimmy. I hadn't thought of it. Thank you. Maybe that'll show something."

"Might make the day a little easier to take," Doggett said. "I'd rest a little easier if I knew who did it."

"It had to be Rohrer," Byers said. "Who else could it be?"

Langly was moving before Byers could rise. He got to the monitor and started playing with the system. By the time Byers got there, the tape was spinning in reverse, lines flickering as it moved at high speed. They watched silently as Frohike, Doggett and Jimmy joined them.

A while later, Byers' attention was caught by a flicker on the screen. "Wait, wait! I think that was it!"

"Yeah, hang on," Langly said, hitting a few keys. "Gotta run it forward again."

"Too small to be that Rohrer guy," Frohike said.

"I couldn't really tell," Byers said. "It was moving too fast." He felt jittery, fearing the answer they were about to discover.

"Hang on --" Langly moved the tape forward again until a figure appeared in the frame. There wasn't much to go by, as the person leaned down the stairway and tossed the envelope.

"Frame by frame it, Langly," Byers said. His heart beat faster as Langly manipulated the image.

"Wait -- there," Frohike said, a finger at the top right corner of the screen.

"Can you zoom in on that?" Byers said. The angle was awkward, but it was part of a face.

"Yeah, just a sec." Langly fiddled around a little more and the image centered in the screen, growing larger, but grainier as it moved.

"Oh shit, is that who I think it is?" Frohike asked.

Byers' body froze, his stomach knotting hard. It wasn't Rohrer.

Doggett watched as the conversation shot back and forth.

"Fuck," Langly said, his voice flat. "It's Krycek."

"I think we're in trouble, guys," Jimmy said. He had such a gift for stating the obvious.

"That guy who was always givin' Mulder a hard time?" Doggett said. "The one who was in the FBI for a while?"

Byers just nodded, numb. Krycek. He wasn't dead. This was the last thing he needed, but at least it was indisputable proof that the consortium was involved. Whether or not their current puzzle had anything to do with supersoldiers, Krycek's presence was an almost certain proof that it had something to do with the nanotech that had been injected into Skinner.

"Damn it," Langly said. "I knew that fucker wasn't dead. What do you bet that cigarette suckin' geezer's behind this whole fuckin' mess. Damn, damn, damn. I knew it all along." He slammed his fist into the counter the monitor rested on. "Cancerman's still runnin' around too. I can just feel it. Man, Mulder's gonna have an embolism."

Byers wondered if he was going to have one of his own before Mulder even heard about it. Krycek was a known danger, whereas the supersoldiers were still more mystery to him than anything else. He knew Krycek's contacts were deadly men, men with incredible power. Even after the consortium flamb at the El Rico Airbase, he'd held onto power and connection, rising even higher in the structure that was left, until he'd allegedly been killed.

"Shit," Langly continued. "Walter's gonna have a fuckin' heart attack. He swears that bastard was dead."

"It might have been a clone," Byers said softly.

"Bled red," Langly said, shaking his head. "The clones, they don't do that."

"We don't know what color this one bleeds," Byers replied.

"We'll figure it out later, if we have the chance," Frohike said. "We've got a bunch of other stuff to go through in these files. One mystery at a time, okay?"

"I wonder if those nanoos put him back together?" Jimmy said.

Frohike huffed. "Don't be ridiculous, Jimmy. He was dead. You can't put something dead back together again."

"Maybe they got clones now that bleed red," Langly said.

Byers sighed, feeling defeated. "Maybe we should just wait for Agent Scully to get here and let us know what she's found. That's more likely to get us answers than these speculations.


Doggett answered the Gunmen's office door when Scully arrived. The guys had been sniping and arguing for the last half hour, all of them tense. Byers was on edge, trying to hold on, but his emotions had obviously gotten the better of him today. Doggett couldn't really blame him, but he wasn't used to Byers being so obviously angry and afraid.

"Morning, Agent Scully."

Scully looked up at him. "Good morning, Agent Doggett. Frohike said the guys had found something."

"Lots of somethings, really," Doggett said. He stepped back to let her enter the offices and locked the door behind her.

"Just as well," she said, heading for the Gunmen. "My own reading turned up some very significant findings as well. I would have come over after breakfast even if Frohike hadn't called."

"What've you got?" Doggett asked.

Frohike looked up and beamed. "Ah, if it isn't the divine Agent Scully. Thank you for coming over on such short notice." He rose and offered her a seat.

"Thanks, Frohike." Scully sat, and the others turned to her.

"What do you have?" Byers asked, not bothering with formalities.

"I'd like to see what you've turned up first," Scully said. "We may be able to avoid duplicating our efforts. We could save some time."

Byers nodded. He leaned back and tapped his computer screen with one thin finger. "TREYNOR definitely includes nanotech," he said. "But it's apparently got fingers everywhere. I think this is a big conspiracy project, Agent Scully, interwoven with who knows how many other projects. I've seen mentions of PURITY and some of their other major work in here. We don't have conclusive proof that this is linked with the supersoldiers Agent Doggett has been investigating lately, but we may be able to link it to what happened with A.D. Skinner."

Scully's breath caught, but she spoke without emotion. "Yes, the notebook is definitely recording a nanotech project. Did you get any indications of locations in your file searches?"

Byers nodded as Langly picked up the conversation. "Yeah. We got activity in Alameda, White Stone, and Queens. Can't really tell from this who was doing what. I think that's what's in the stuff you got." Langly sat back expectantly.

"Yes, Alameda and White Stone. Byers?" Scully looked over at Byers, who turned his face away. Doggett could see him suppress his reaction. "Queens appears to be the important one, though. That's where the statistical spike is. Something anomalous is happening there. The best guess I have is that they're using nanotech to attempt to enhance human strength, endurance, and sensory capacities. There were some notes about enhanced self-healing as well."

"So this isn't like the Jeremiahs, healing other people, then," Frohike said.

Scully shook her head. "No, apparently the test subjects in the Queens project have registered unusually fast healing capabilities when injured."

Byers looked back at her. "That would explain a few things."

"Do we have a ping on what TREYNOR's really about, yet?" Frohike asked.

"It would help to have samples of the nanotech they're working on," Scully said. "We don't have any way of knowing if it matches what was found in Skinner's bloodstream."

"They might be storing some at Zeus in Bridgeport, at the wet lab facilities," Byers said. His voice was tentative, as though he wasn't sure he could quite believe it. "But for all we know, they've moved it since the first two murders. I don't think they want to deal with a subpoena."

"First two?" Scully asked.

"There's been another one," Doggett said, "this morning. Gary Rosen, the kid Reyes and I interviewed; the one who let slip about the nanotech."

"Oh, dear." Scully shook her head. "Another autopsy then?"

Doggett nodded. "Same MO though. Head severed, probably the same blunt trauma you noted before."

"So am I flying to Hartford this afternoon, or is the body being brought here?" Scully looked up at him.

"Monica's gonna arrange to have Rosen's body transported," Doggett said. "She'll be back at Quantico by mid-afternoon, provided nobody gives her any trouble."

"Too much to assume that, Dogbert," Langly said. "These guys we're dealin' with, they're mean and they play for keeps." He gestured at Scully. "She knows that. They'll probably make sure the body gets lost in transport or something."

Byers looked over at Doggett, blue eyes guarded. "It's possible," he said. "I don't like this. I don't like it at all." He shifted nervously.

"Let's not assume the worst unless it happens, guys," Scully said. "It's possible they don't know we have this information yet, and we certainly don't have any evidence that points to a logical conclusion about the murders."

The Gunmen all exchanged uneasy glances.

"Actually," Doggett said quietly, "we have reason to believe they do know."

Scully looked up at him, an eyebrow tilted. "Oh? What happened?"

Byers looked down at the floor, blushing red. There really wasn't any way they could hide it. It would come out whether or not they wanted it to.

Doggett didn't like talking about it any better than Byers did, but the time had come when he was going to have to level with her. Doggett leaned over and picked up the envelope with the photos from Byers' desk.

"I got these this morning," Doggett said. He handed the envelope to Scully. "Or, more accurately, Byers and I both got copies."

Scully gave him a puzzled look, then pulled the photos from the manila packet. Her eyes widened and she stared up at Doggett, then over at Byers, who was blushing furiously.

"Faked?" she asked. There was doubt in her voice.

Doggett shook his head. "I wish. No, they're real."

"You two..." She looked up at Doggett again. "I had no idea. I'm sorry, guys." Scully reached out and took Byers' hand, squeezing slightly. "I'm sorry."

Byers looked up at her, his face fixed and expressionless but for the blush. "We were careless."

"You can't be on guard every moment," Scully said, quiet. "I know. I've tried."

"Krycek delivered them," Byers said, pulling his hand away slowly.

Doggett watched as Scully's whole body tightened. He moved over closer to her. "Skinner said he was dead," she said.

"This might have been a clone," Frohike said.

"Couldn't tell if the other arm was real or not," Langly said, nodding. "Video quality was pretty grainy by the time we could ID him."

"Skinner shot him," Scully said. "He should know if he was dead."

"Could have been one of the shapeshifters," Byers said, "if it wasn't a clone."

"Or," Scully said, "Skinner was wrong." Her shoulders slumped and she closed her eyes.

Doggett hesitated a moment, then laid a gentle hand on her shoulder. "Scully, we'll figure out what's goin' on here. We have to."

"We need to get back to the files," Frohike said. "This is obviously really important stuff. I'm guessing there are answers here for miles. We need to start finding 'em." He looked over at Byers. "I know this is rough, buddy, but we need to get with the program and find out what these bastards are up to. If we manage to figure out what the hell they're doing, we can publish. It's not much compensation for the threat in those photos, but it's something."

Byers nodded. His body was tight, his back stiff. He turned to his monitor again and began skimming the files. Doggett watched him as Byers focused on his work. "Anything I can do, guys?" he asked.

"We're still lookin', Dogbert," Langly said. "Hey, Byers, you seen anything yet that might give us any idea what TREYNOR stands for?"

"Not yet," Byers said, brows wrinkling. "But maybe the N stands for Nanotech."

"That would make sense," Scully agreed. She paged through the notebook in her lap. "From what I've got here, guys, the Queens project seems to be the key to this whole thing. It's where they've been having their greatest successes. The work there is orders of magnitude different from what's been happening in the other facilities. If we can find the place, we might be able to get some idea of their actual experiments and figure out what they're trying to accomplish."


GREEN PEA SUPERMARKET
RESTON, VIRGINIA
LATER THAT EVENING

Doggett wandered the aisles, searching for something to bring to Reyes' house. She'd asked him over for dinner so they could catch up and compare notes about their work for the day. He'd have to tell her about Byers and the photos at some point. He wasn't looking forward to that. Rosen's body had been delivered without incident though, contrary to the Gunmen's probably justifiable paranoia.

She'd said they'd be having pasta. He'd bring a loaf of bread and a bottle of wine, as usual. Maybe a decent Shiraz, he thought. He wondered what kind of pasta she was making, but didn't want to call her to ask. She liked to surprise him sometimes. He stood in front of the wine racks, staring at labels.

"Hey, Agent Doggett."

Doggett startled and his head snapped around toward the voice. "Agent Crane?" Gene Crane was an agent he'd met during the search for Mulder after the abduction. They'd worked together briefly in Arizona, when Skinner and Scully had taken off looking for Gibson Praise a few months earlier. Doggett held out a hand. "What's up, Gene?"

"Grabbing something for dinner," Crane said, shaking Doggett's outstretched hand. "On my way home in a few. Haven't seen you here before."

"Headin' for Agent Reyes' place. We got some work to discuss. Figured it would go easier over dinner. She's been in Connecticut all day, ensuring the delivery of a body to Quantico."

Crane made a face. "Great dinner conversation."

Doggett snorted. "Yeah, tell me about it. Better than that green slime shit at the hospital, though."

Crane shivered, his weight shifting. "Jesus, John, don't remind me. Disgusting stuff. Horrible smell. Almost ate through your shoes."

"That was a bitch," Doggett agreed. He looked back at the wine rack. "Got any ideas for a Shiraz?"

Crane shrugged. "I'm more a Merlot kind of guy myself." His voice tightened subtly. "Uh, John, you got a minute?"

Doggett looked back at Crane. "Something wrong?"

Crane shuffled slightly, looking away. "Not sure. Could be."

"You're not sure? What is it?" Doggett asked.

Crane looked around uneasily. "I don't think we should talk about it here. Come with me." He gestured toward the double doors into the back of the store. Customers could enter the back area to use the bathrooms, but Doggett rarely found himself back there.

"What kinda thing is it we can't discuss here?" Doggett asked, lowering his voice below the piped-in music.

"It's... look, it's work related. I don't feel comfortable talking about it here." Crane gestured toward the door again with his chin.

Doggett was starting to worry now. He wasn't in Crane's division. Their work had nothing to do with each other since his assignment to the X Files. Had photos been delivered to the Hoover? Crane moved toward the doors, and Doggett followed, drawn by nervousness and curiosity.

Behind the doors was a cluttered warehouse space. Crane kept walking further back. Doggett looked around as they moved,

wondering where Crane was leading, and why. He had a strong feeling that the situation was wrong, in a bad way.

His stomach froze when he noticed something weird about Crane's collar. It lay strangely across the back of the man's neck, and when Crane turned his head, an odd bump was revealed. Doggett's gut seized. He'd seen that type of bump before -- on Knowle Rohrer. On Billy Miles.

"Shit." The word escaped his lips before he realized he'd said anything.

Crane turned, fast as a cobra. One hand shot out and grabbed Doggett's wrist. A quick twist, and Doggett yelped in pain. "Ahh! Fuck!" He jerked back, twisting his arm to get away from Crane's iron grip. Only the suddenness of his movement broke the handhold. He bolted away from Crane, knowing the man -- if that's what he was anymore -- could easily kill him with his frightening strength.

The supersoldier lunged at Doggett, and he dodged the grab, running between the piled crates of produce. He had no idea if he could evade Crane.

Doggett could hear Crane's feet pound on the cement slab floor, getting closer. He slipped around a corner and hurried down another aisle between the crates, head held low. The sound of Crane's feet followed him. He tried to quiet his panicked breathing, wondering if Crane could hear him pant.

"You should have been one of us, John."

Doggett grit his teeth, biting back a sharp gasp. One of them? He didn't even know what had been done to them -- to Knowle, who'd been an old friend, a service buddy. They'd fought side by side. All he understood now was that Knowle wasn't the man he'd known anymore. Something in him had changed, twisted, and Crane was probably exactly like Rohrer now. There was something evil lurking in them.

The thought of being... changed into whatever the hell these men had become, of being the slave of some shadowy organization that appeared bent on the destruction of humanity -- it was too much. He ran blindly, almost slamming into the ladder as he turned the last corner. He grabbed the thin metal with one hand and climbed quickly, realizing it led up to a catwalk as he was about halfway up. He wondered if he could climb up into the ventilation system and get out that way before Crane found him.

Heart pounding in his panic, Doggett reached the catwalk. From here, he could go two ways. He ran to the right, feet clanging on the metal grating. A quick look back, and he saw Crane ascending the ladder behind him.

"Fuck fuck fuck," he muttered. He kept running.

By the time Crane got to the top of the ladder, Doggett had come to a dead end over a maintenance platform that served one of the huge industrial fans ventilating the warehouse. He stopped, gasping for breath. Crane was too close behind him. He'd never make it back to where the catwalk had been crossed by another walkway before Crane got to him. He took a brief look down.

The view was dizzying. He wasn't afraid of heights, but his fear left him overwhelmed. There was another ladder down, but it was back about fifteen feet. He ran for it, hoping he'd make it before Crane got to him.

The transformed agent slammed into him before he reached the ladder, knocking him back against the metal safety railing. He almost went over as he lost his balance. Doggett grabbed the railing with both hands, holding on with all his strength.

Doggett yelped when Crane's fist slammed into his face. "Ow! Shit!" His arm flew up to cover his face. When he blinked his eyes open again, his vision was blurred. Blood streamed down his face. Shaking his head, he grabbed Crane's arm just above the elbow and jerked hard, hoping to toss him off balance. This time, Crane was ready for him.

"You'd be good with us, John," Crane said, his voice low and far too calm.

"Fuck you, Crane!" Doggett could hear his voice crack in his terror. He lashed out with a foot, landing a sharp blow on Crane's knee. The supersoldier's leg slipped back, but Crane barely blinked. Doggett twisted away from him and ran back toward the fan, knowing he wasn't going to get past him to the ladder. Crane followed, right on his heels.

Panic rising, Doggett stopped, slamming into the chain between the rails at the end of the catwalk. He wondered if

he could take the fall. There were produce crates below. If the fall didn't kill him, the wood shattering under him might. He sure as hell wasn't immune to slabs of broken wood thrust through his body.

He looked back just in time to see Crane swing for him. Doggett slipped to one side, Crane's fist creasing his ribcage without making full impact. The blow stunned him, but he didn't feel anything break; he gasped, doubling over from the pain. He could feel his damaged eye swelling, blood still flowing down his cheek as his ribs throbbed.

"You can't have me, damn it!" Doggett lurched upright, swinging with both fists clenched together as Crane advanced. He caught Crane under the chin and arced him back, flipping him over the chain. Crane bounced off the work platform and rolled, falling over the edge.

Doggett heard the scream as Crane's body hit the industrial fan. Blood sprayed everywhere. He sat heavily, panting. "Fuckin' asshole."


REYES RESIDENCE
RESTON, VIRGINIA
SEVERAL HOURS LATER

"John, you're late. Why didn't you --"

"Sorry, Monica. Things got a little... complicated." Doggett watched Reyes' eyes widen when she saw him.

"Oh, my God, come in." She grabbed his sleeve and pulled him in the door, closing it behind him. There was fearful concern on her face. "What happened to you?"

Doggett followed her into the living room and dumped himself on her couch. "Ran into a little trouble."

"That's obvious." She took his face in her hands and tilted his head up. One gentle thumb brushed over the butterfly tape that held the cut on his eyebrow closed. "What kind of trouble? "

Doggett sighed. He was still half-panicked but he didn't want her to know. He took a slow, quiet breath. "We may be bugged here."

She looked around. "You could be right. Come with me." Reyes led him into the kitchen and turned on the stove fan. It rattled enough to cover a quiet conversation. He sat at the table as she stood over him. They kept their voices low.

"John?" She stroked his cheek with one warm hand. He closed his eyes and leaned into the caress.

"Gene Crane, Monica. One of the agents I worked with on Mulder's disappearance. He's one of them. I ran into him at the store on my way over here. He... they..."

Reyes waited a moment, but Doggett couldn't say it. "Agent Crane? One of whom, John?"

Doggett took Reyes' hand. "He's one of the supersoldiers."

She gasped. "How badly are you hurt?" Reyes examined his face more closely. "When did this happen?"

"Just a couple hours ago. I had to file a police report while the medics checked me over. This is the worst of it. I got some sore ribs, but nothing's broken." He touched his chest where he'd been struck.

Reyes' hand followed his. "Let me see," she said quietly. She touched him where his hand rested, and he flinched, hissing. She pulled his hand away and carefully unbuttoned his shirt so she could look.

"Oh, John." He could see the purpling bruise on his ribs and watched as Reyes touched it gingerly with the tips of her fingers. She looked up at him.

"I'm okay, Monica. Really."

"Why did he attack you?"

Doggett suppressed a shudder. "He was talking like he wanted to take me back to them. Said I shoulda been one of 'em. I think they want to turn me into... one of them."

Her brown eyes snapped wide open. "No," she whispered. "No." She slipped her arms around his waist and sat in his lap. He wrapped his own arms around her and lay his head on her shoulder.

"It's okay, Mon. I'm okay."

He could see the distress in her face as she leaned down to kiss him. Her lips were soft and warm, and he needed her gentleness. The idea of being taken away and experimented on -- it shook him to the core. He felt himself start to tremble and wondered if Reyes could feel it too.

"I'm safe," he whispered against her lips. He wasn't sure he believed his own words.

"Are you? Are any of us?" She pulled back and looked into his eyes. "I knew this was going to go sour, John. Someone's going to get hurt. I don't want it to be you."

Doggett tried to still the shudder that made its way up his spine. He could feel the truth in her words. "I'll be careful. We'll all be careful."

"What happened?"

"Crane's dead. Fell into an industrial fan. It was... ugly." He closed his eyes, trying to block out the memory. He could still smell the blood. It was spattered on his suit. "The cleanup crew found one of those metal vertebrae. You remember the one we found a few weeks ago, that we couldn't explain?"

"The one that went missing."

Doggett nodded. "I think all the supersoldiers have 'em. Crane, he had this weird bump on the back of his neck. I think it's from those metal vertebrae. Rohrer had a bump like that, and so did Billy Miles."

Her eyes widened, one eyebrow rising. "You mean we have a way of identifying them?"

"Only if we can get close enough and they don't know what we're looking for. It's risky."

Reyes' weight shifted in his lap. She held him tighter. "It's better than nothing."

"Yeah, it is. But not by much."

"I wonder if an x-ray or a metal detector would find them?"

"I dunno. Scully said nobody could identify the metal the first vertebra was made of while they had it. It was really weird. We're gonna have to test this one to see if it'll show up on scans."

"Well, it has to be made of something. Maybe they had the wrong people looking at it, or they weren't doing the proper tests."

"I'm not sure." Doggett shrugged. "I bet Frohike could figure it out, if we could get the thing to him."

Reyes snorted. "Frohike? What would he know about analyzing an unknown metal?"

"Hey, he's a pretty clever little guy, Mon. Did you know he built an MRI machine out of an old TV and some spare parts?"

"You've got to be kidding." She rolled her eyes.

Doggett chuckled. "Nope. The guys have got a lot more going for 'em than you want to admit."

Reyes stared at him for a moment. "Okay, okay. I'll admit that they're smarter than I tend to credit them for, but really. They're... God, they're strange."

"They just take a little gettin' used to."

"I'm not sure I'll ever get used to them." She leaned in and kissed Doggett's forehead, touching her lips to the cut on his eyebrow. "But you're right. They have been helping. They just need to stay clear of this case. I don't like them much, but I don't want to see them hurt any more than you or Dana do."

He sighed, relaxing into the touch. He needed peace right now. Being in Reyes' arms felt good. It had been a long time since they'd spent time together outside of work. He tried to set aside the fear for a while. Crane was dead. There was nothing he could pass on to the other supersoldiers at this point. He and Reyes needed to get work out of the way and have some dinner.

"I'm sorry I didn't bring the bread and wine, like I was going to."

Reyes kissed him. "John." She smiled. "You're here. Right now, that's enough."

"Scully and the guys got quite a bit of information out of the files and that notebook we recovered."

Reyes stood. "If we're going to keep talking about work, let me make you some coffee while I fix dinner."

He nodded. "Sounds good. I could really use some." He rested his face in his hands while she moved about. His eye hurt, and he had a headache. The medic had said it would be a few days before the swelling went down, but it hadn't damaged his sight at all. He was grateful for that, at least.

It wasn't long before Reyes slipped a mug of coffee under his nose. "Thanks," he said.

"So what did Dana and the Stooges come up with?"

Doggett bit back a comment and gave her the information instead. "We got three locations with potential supersoldier activity: Alameda, White Stone, and Queens. Looks like Queens is the place where all the significant stuff is happening. Scully's pretty sure the experimentation there has to do with the expansion of human physical capabilities, probably somehow enhanced by all this nanotech we've been findin'. Langly believes it's got something to do with what happened to Skinner, and that what he got injected with was some earlier version of this stuff.

"Langly and Frohike say they got some numbers that are supposed to be identifiers for individual test subjects. That means maybe we can get some estimate of how many supersoldiers are out there, at least for this phase of the project. I think this started after Rohrer got... changed. Scully doesn't think Billy Miles had anything to do with the supersoldier project at all. She thinks he's the result of something else entirely. Mulder swore the guy was some kinda 'replacement alien', but you know how I feel about that."

Reyes nodded, stirring the spaghetti and the alfredo sauce. "No evidence of extraterrestrial involvement. But how do we know for sure there isn't any? Absence of evidence isn't necessarily evidence of absence."

"Well, we don't, but I'm still not buyin' this whole alien business. It stinks. It's just too weird." Byers had come close to getting him to accept it, almost managing to make it sound rational, but there were some lines he just couldn't bring himself to cross.

Reyes sat at the table with him. "I need a smoke. Do you mind?"

Doggett shook his head. "It's your place." He waved a hand at her.

She pulled out her pack of Morley Lights and lit one. He watched as she leaned back, eyes closing as she inhaled. The smoke stank, but the look on her face was sensual. He wished he had something that relaxed him that much, but the idea of lung cancer just didn't appeal.

"Scully says the stuff in the files is pretty scary," Doggett said. "Lots of anomalies. Stuff indicating superhuman strength, abnormally fast healing capacities, things like that. It would fit with what we know about the supersoldiers right now. It's looking like there's a definite relationship between Zeus and the supersoldiers project, though we're not sure exactly where. My guess is the Queens facility. It was in those TREYNOR files the guys found for us a month or so back. The genetic engineering stuff is just the surface level. I think a lot of it is just cover. This nanotech project is like something out of the movies, Mon. I can't believe this whole mess. If I hadn't had the crap kicked out of me by Billy Miles and Crane, I'd never believe in the damned things."

"You've always had a hard time believing in anything that you didn't see for yourself, John. I hate saying this, especially under these circumstances, but you've come a long way." Reyes took another puff from her cigarette. "You're a little more able to open your mind now, to accept extreme possibilities. Being able to admit they exist means you might actually be able to deal with them."

He wasn't sure how much he really wanted to accept or admit. Too much, and he'd no longer be credible. His career was already halfway into the toilet as it was. It was one thing to risk his career to bring down a tangible conspiracy; risking it with wild talk about space aliens was another. He was no Mulder -- thank God.

"Yeah, yeah. Anyway," Doggett continued, "Scully says that the codes on the project aren't recognized NIH codes, so the National Institute of Health is out of the loop with the research that Zeus is doing. Nothing from the Department of Defense or the Department of Energy, either, even though they both got an interest in the Human Genome Project. No visible funding. That creeps me out. It's gotta be some kinda real hush hush stuff, something the military's burying. The normal regulatory agencies haven't got a clue this is going on." He took a deep breath. The day's discoveries had all been weird ones, and his encounter with Crane hadn't helped him feel any more secure about what was happening. All he knew was that he didn't want to end up as some mad science project. "I need a break from this for a few," he said. "What did you find?"

"Same M.O." Reyes gestured at Doggett with her cigarette. "Rosen's head was severed, and it looked like the same kind of damage McCrae and Sprague sustained. We found impressions of military boots again, but from a forensic study of the impressions so far, we apparently have three sets of boots, and three different individuals responsible for the murders. They were different sizes, with different wear patterns."

Doggett nodded. "God, we need to find out how many of these bastards we're dealing with. Scully's guessing a few hundred at least, just from the Queens facility."

Reyes shuddered. "I don't like it. It's not good odds."

"Gimme Vegas any day," Doggett said. "I'd rather take on the mob." If Crane was a supersoldier, how many others had infiltrated the FBI, or the military? How much did the Pentagon know -- or did it? Mulder had insisted that aliens were replacing key individuals -- politicians, men of power, agents in important positions. Aliens or human conspirators, it didn't matter. The fact was, something nasty and dangerous was happening, and there didn't seem to be any cognizance of it in the usual official channels. For all anyone knew, it was happening under the government's nose. He'd have to talk to Mulder again soon.

"I delivered the body to Quantico myself, and checked on it before I left for the day," Reyes said. "Dana had already been in and at least briefly examined the body, but I haven't seen her report yet. I'm not sure if she did the autopsy this afternoon or not."

"I think she was gonna," Doggett said. "We'll probably get her report tomorrow."

Reyes stubbed out her cigarette. "God, I hate this habit." She stared at the butt in her fingers, then dropped it into the ash tray. Doggett bit back a gleeful comment about it, knowing it would only annoy her.

She stood to check the pasta. "Skinner didn't tell me anything when I asked, John. He and Langly have got to have something going on, with the way they were acting. Skinner doesn't just casually stroke somebody's hair. And the way they looked at each other? God, Langly, of all people. There's just something cosmically wrong with the whole idea." She shook her head, mild disgust on her face. "I thought Skinner would have better taste than that. Why won't you tell me what's going on?"

He shook his head. "It's personal stuff on his part. I got no right to talk about it, like I'd have no right to talk about your personal stuff. I'm sorry."

She looked back at him, disappointment in her eyes.

Doggett headed back for neutral waters, convinced that telling her about the blackmail attempt right now was a bad idea. He knew he had to tell her, but after dinner it might sit better. Preferably after a few beers. "It's looking like we're gonna need to get into the Queens facility to get to the bottom of this, Monica. Probably soon. I'm getting a bad feeling about this whole thing, like evidence is gonna disappear. I don't think it's worth trying to go back to Bridgeport. Byers guesses that any evidence that might have been there is gone now, and it's probably at Queens, assuming it still exists. Scully thinks he's right."

Reyes looked back from the boiling pasta. "So, are we heading out there tomorrow? Should we get Skinner onto getting a search warrant for us first thing in the morning?"

"No." Doggett frowned. "I don't like it much, but the guys have a point. We're gonna have to do this covertly. Get in and get out, outside the usual channels. If we try to get a warrant, and there is some kind of conspiracy here, they'll have stuff moved by the time we have the paper in hand. We gotta get in and out quick, see if we can nab anything on the sly before they got time to move stuff."

Reyes raised an eyebrow and grinned. "You? John Doggett? Advocating breaking and entering? I think you've been hanging around with those guys too much lately. Next thing you know, you'll have us subverting the entire government."

"And we aren't now? Like I said, I don't like it. It stinks. But I think the guys are right. We go by the book, and we won't find a damned thing. Scully figures all we'll get is an empty warehouse. She says these guys -- if they're part of the same conspiracy -- they move fast, and they don't leave anything behind."

The idea ate at his gut. The evidence, if they turned any up, would never be admissible in court. Not that aliens and supersoldiers and green-blooded clones were likely to get a day in court to begin with. It conflicted with everything he knew as a good cop. The X Files and what he had to do to investigate them were tearing down so much of what he'd considered his moral center. He wondered if he'd end up hating himself before they were done. Would he be the same man, in any sense?

He wasn't sure how Byers managed to live with it. They'd talked about it a little when they were in New York. Byers seemed able to come to some kind of compromise with himself. He didn't resort to murder, wouldn't stoop to the worst of the opposition's methods. There were lines he and the guys wouldn't cross. Doggett certainly admired Byers' dedication and his ability to cope. He wished he had a little of that right now.

He sighed and shook his head. Some questions were too hard to answer. These weren't ordinary perps. Nothing like this was provided for in the book -- the men in the conspiracy manipulated the government and made the laws. With the X Files, the book kept changing every Goddamn day. It didn't seem like there were any rules but stay alive. He'd been trying to accept that everything was different now, but sometimes it was hard. What the hell did a guy do when his UNSUBs were most likely science experiments gone wrong? Were Miles and Rohrer and the others like them even still human? He just didn't know anymore. He hated the moral dilemma. More than that, he hated the fear he felt.

He was terrified that they wanted him. How far would they go to get him? What would they do with him if they caught him? Obviously they weren't above using Byers as a pawn. He rose and went to Reyes, slipping his arms around her from behind, resting his chin on her shoulder. "I don't wanna be what they are," he whispered to her. "I don't want 'em to turn me into some kind of a monster."

"John." She turned in his arms to face him, and put her own arms around him. "Stay tonight."

He nodded, burying his face in her shoulder. He wasn't sure he wanted Byers to know what had happened today. At least not now, not tonight. The photos had shaken his sub already, and this -- Doggett thought it might be too much. "Yeah. I'll stay. Thanks, Mon."

She raised his face and kissed him. This time he answered her kiss with need. It felt good, soft tongues brushing together; the heated scent of her body making his heart pound. It had been too long since they'd shared a bed and he wanted her, needed the feel of her body on his. Her kindness and passion wrapped him like a warm blanket, and he desperately needed that now. She'd known him for years, and what he craved, Byers couldn't give him. Not now, not yet. He needed the comfort of familiarity, and the easy grace of long knowledge and acquaintance. With Reyes, he wouldn't have to explain anything. She would know without his asking.

Much as he was coming to care for Byers, the man couldn't provide those things. No one else could. There were passions and history that bound him to Reyes as surely as Luke's being had bound him to Barbara. He knew it. Reyes knew it. They'd both accepted it years ago. This intimate friendship and the nights they spent together, they were a part of the rhythm of their lives.

"Thanks for bein' here," he said.

She held his face in her hands, locking her deep brown eyes on his. "Someday, John, you'll have to make up your mind. I won't wait for you forever."

He nodded. "I know."

"I wish we were closer."

Doggett could hear the ache in her voice. He knew she wanted them to be more than they were, but he just couldn't be what she wanted. He couldn't give up what he found in being with other men, and he doubted she'd be likely to accept his more unusual desires if he ever asked her to play. He kissed her hard, wanting her but regretting the chasm between them.

"I can only offer what we've already got, Mon," he said when he came up for air. Their hearts were pounding, and he could feel her heavy breath. "You know we can't be more than this. We've known it for years. You keep asking me back anyway."

"I know." She traced a finger along his cheek to his chin. "But I need someone to be with, not someone who's in and out of my bed like this. I hope someday you'll stay." With a disappointed sigh, she turned in his arms again and checked the pasta and sauce. "It's ready. Would you get some plates and silverware out?"

They ate in near-silence, side by side, thighs touching. Doggett knew they'd share a bed tonight. He wanted it deeply, wanted her. She was hot and sweet and incredibly sexy. He slipped a hand onto her leg, caressing gently. She smiled up at him. The look in her eyes was tender.

For a moment, Doggett's chest ached. "I don't wanna be taking advantage of you, Monica. We both know this isn't gonna change. Maybe we shouldn't be doin' this. It's not fair to you."

She shook her head. "I still enjoy making love with you, John. I don't want to give that up just yet. I need that from you sometimes."

He took a deep breath. "Yeah." He nodded. "Yeah, I do too. You're really something special to me."

Reyes lowered her eyes, smiling. "So are you." She covered his hand in her lap. "I just wish things were different, that's all. It would be so much easier for both of us."

Doggett leaned toward her, taking her in his arms and holding her tight. Her softness and warmth were so necessary to him sometimes. There was an intimacy between them that he'd rarely felt with others. Sometimes he wondered what might have happened if he'd met her instead of Barbara, how his life might have been different. Would Luke have... He couldn't go there.

Reyes kissed him with passionate intensity, leaving him gasping, mind dragged back into the moment. He stood and pulled her up with him.

Body to body, they kissed again, heat rising between them. He'd forgotten how good she felt. Her hands slipped down his sides to his hips, caressing and arousing him. He moaned as her hands moved, and she echoed his sound.

Pulling back, she caught her breath. "I have to do the dishes."

"Tomorrow." He pulled her back to him and took her mouth, tongues slipping together, leaving him achingly hard. His own hands roamed her body, exploring the slopes and curves of her familiar form. There was something irresistible about the way she felt in his arms, under his palms.

When she took his hand and let him to her bedroom, he followed without hesitation.

They undressed each other slowly. She showed herself off to him, wanton, stroking his chest when he took off his shirt. His ribs ached where Crane had struck him, but the touch of her hands aroused him despite the pain; small and soft and slipping along his ribs and over his nipples. Her fingers were slender, light and agile.

He cupped the mounds of her breasts as she revealed them to him. He could feel the nubs of her nipples rise into the center of his palms as he stroked them, a sweet sensation that left him hungry for her.

This kiss was deeper than the ones that had come before. He felt as though they were trying to consume one another, steal each other's souls through their mouths. She was so familiar, so comfortable. He pressed himself slowly against her body, his hardness meeting her belly as they caressed one another. Their mutual touch left a trail of gooseflesh where their skin met.

Doggett squeezed and kneaded her breasts, gentle but urgent, and she moaned into his mouth, leaning into him with all her weight. Her tongue burned against his.

She took one of his hands in hers and brought it to her lips, kissing and licking his palm with sensual heat. He shuddered at the soft, wet flame that bloomed in the center of his hand.

"Ohhh, Monica." He lowered his face near hers and sucked on her fingers as she teased his palm. He wanted to be inside her hot, wet core, sliding his rod between her slick lips, bodies tangled and thrusting together. He craved her legs around him, holding him tight, a willing prisoner to her embrace.

He kissed and nipped his way up her arm to the curve of her neck, and she groaned, arching back to let him explore her more fully. His hands took advantage, slipping her jeans down her hips. He growled quietly, sucking at the tender flesh behind her ear. Reyes moaned again in response.

He could feel the rumble of her moan through his body, resonating in his chest and belly. It made him harder with want and he pressed the length of his shaft against her.

"Mmmm... God, John. Want you."

Her hands opened his belt and unbuttoned his trousers. They slipped down along his ass, tracing the lines of muscle, pushing his pants down from his hips. Her fingers found the crevice between his cheeks and slipped softly along it. He shivered. His naked cock met her bare flesh and the heat of their bodies stoked the flames within him.

She reached over toward her bedside table. He knew what she wanted.

He kicked his shoes off. "Yes." He eased her down onto the bed, pulling her jeans from her legs, and stepped out of his pants. Reaching over, he pulled a condom from her drawer and slipped it on.

She pulled at his shoulders. "C'mere, John." Her voice was deep and sultry, like buttered rum.

He lay atop her, kissing her fast and fierce, over and over again. He wanted her too much to speak, his need expressed in quiet, rumbling sounds as his mouth searched her body. With lips and tongue he explored her arms, her breasts, her belly. She moaned, then gasped as his teeth pinched her ripe, brown nipples.

"Oh, yessss..." Reyes' fingers stroked through his short hair, unable to get purchase as he followed the curve of her belly to nuzzle in her pubic hair. "Please." She raised one knee, opening her legs to him. The scent of her wet lips pulled him close and he licked at her with the tip of his tongue.

Shuddering, she groaned and pressed his head between her thighs. He plunged into her sweet cunt, licking and sucking at the soft flesh, invading her deeply with his tongue. She was so hot. His heart pounded as he pleasured her, slipping a finger inside to give her more sensation.

"Aaaah..." She bucked into him, pressing his hand deeper into her wetness. "Unh, oh, John..."

The burning reality of her body, the taste and scent of her, the wetness surrounding his fingers as he slipped another within her, it fired him with passion. He didn't think he could wait longer, but he wanted her to come before he entered her. He loved slipping into her as she bucked and her tight opening spasmed around him. She always made the most incredible sounds when he thrust into her like that.

"Mmmmm..." Doggett sucked at her clit, and she bucked, gasping.

"Unh, yeah! Oh God, more!" Her head thrashed back and forth on her pillow. He smiled as he licked, and stroked his fingers into her more deeply. With each thrust, she got slicker. He could feel her clit swell under his tongue as she fell more deeply into her pleasure. It wouldn't be long.

Reyes wrapped her thighs around him, forcing him closer, deeper. He pulled at her clit with his lips, sucking hard, driving her mercilessly toward the edge. His fingers slid over her sweet spot, pressing into her again and again.

She bucked frantically against him. "Aaauh! aauh! aaaaaugh!" The tight muscles within her clamped down on his fingers, and he pulled them out of her as she rocked with her orgasm.

Sliding up her body, he entered her quickly, the wet heat of her throbbing passage drawing an explosive shout from him. "Unh, aaah, oh God, Monica!" Thrusting hard, he pushed her past the crest of the orgasm and she gasped, breathless and moaning.

Whimpering, she pulled at him, scratched at his shoulders and ass, clenched his hips to her with her powerful legs. "More," she groaned.

He stroked into her deep, giving her what she wanted -- what he needed. As she peaked into a second orgasm, he gasped and cried out. It was good. It was hot. It was so sweet.

It wasn't Byers.

Doggett came hard, groaning, wishing she was Byers. He'd never felt that way with Reyes before; never wanted her to be anyone else. Why the hell did he want Byers? Why right now, like this? Exhausted, he slumped onto Reyes' body as they moaned together. He clutched her tight to him.

"Uh, uh, uh, John..." She was gasping with the slowing spasms of her orgasm. God, she made him feel good.

"Mon," he whispered, panting. He tried to put Byers' dark, red-brown hair out of his mind. He was with Reyes. He wanted to be here. He cared for her so much, loved her in his own way.

"God." He squeezed his eyes shut and held her even closer. He could hear the distress in his own voice, and hoped she wouldn't notice.

Reyes' breath steadied beneath him. "John? Are you okay?"

He shuddered, a brief, sharp movement. "Yeah. Yeah." He nodded. "I just had a really rough day. I'm sorry."

"Roll over on your side." He complied, and her body followed his, the two of them still joined as they lay face to face. She brought one hand to his face and stroked his cheek. "It's okay to look at me."

He opened his eyes. "I'm sorry, Mon. I'm just -- I feel like half of me isn't here right now."

She kissed him softly. "You look a million miles away. Do you want to talk about it?"

"I have to," he said. "It's... what happened, it effects both of us. It could really make a mess of things at work." He pulled out of her gently and kissed her neck.

"What is it, John?"

He took a deep breath, let it out. "You're not gonna like it."

She stroked his cheek with her thumb. "How bad is it?"

"Somebody's threatening to blackmail me, Mon."

"Oh, no. How? With what?"

Doggett braced himself. "You know I been seeing a guy again lately."

"For the last month or so, yes." She looked at him, dark brown eyes concerned.

"We... I got a little careless. Somebody got pictures. Nothing graphic, just... a little bit indiscreet. It was enough." He could feel himself start to blush, hoping she couldn't see it in the dark.

Reyes ran a hand along his shoulder. "You don't usually see men for long. Admittedly, it could be a problem at work, but if you're not seeing the guy anymore --"

"I'm still seeing him, Mon."

"Well, maybe you should stop, then. Reduce the risks. "

Doggett shook his head. "No, it's not that simple. I really like this guy. He's different than the others; I... I care about him. And... well, it's just not that simple."

"Why not?" The question was cautious. "Walking away from them has never been a problem before. Who is he? Someone the blackmail could hurt?"

"Monica, it's --" he took a deep breath. "It's John Byers."

Her eyes opened wide in shock. "Byers?"

Doggett nodded. "Yeah. This whole thing is as much a threat to him as it is to me. He got copies of the photos too. You know what the guys do, and how they're involved in this case. They're hoping to scare us off it. It's not gonna happen."

Anger settled into Reyes' face. "Get up. Get dressed. I'm not talking with you about this in my bed."

Well, that didn't really surprise him. He rose and found his clothing, put it on. Reyes did the same, fuming.

"I know you don't like him, but it's not like you know him that well," Doggett said. "You don't know what he's really like. Can't you give him a chance?"

Reyes' eyes hardened. "Living room. We'll talk there." She pulled her t-shirt down over her head. "I can't believe you could be that stupid," she muttered.

Doggett returned to her living room in silence. He didn't want to make things worse, but she had to know. The blackmail attempt was a problem that was leaking all over this case. They'd known each other for years, and he'd been aware that she wouldn't like the situation, but they had to find a way to work through this -- to work together and solve the case. He didn't want to lose her over this.

"First our boss and Langly, now you and Byers," Reyes grumbled. "What's next? A fivesome with Frohike?"

That hurt. "Monica, please."

She came up behind him, zipping her jeans. "I can't believe you two. At least Skinner isn't going to go after you for sleeping with a man -- even if it is Byers. I assume he knows?"

Doggett nodded. He sat on the couch. "Yeah, he does. It's all recent though."

"Do you understand what kind of a risk you're taking with your career -- what kind of a risk Skinner is taking with his -- in being with those guys? You could get seriously hurt here. You could lose your security clearance -- your job. You could lose everything, John. I just don't think Byers is worth it!"

"It's nobody's business who anybody sleeps with except the people involved. You've never had a problem like this before, so why now? Why about John? You act like the guys have a criminal record, like they're the ones we should be putting in jail. They've never been convicted of anything, Monica. And since you don't really even know him, who are you to judge if he's worth taking a risk for?"

"They may not have a record, but you can't tell me that what they do isn't illegal. How can you want someone like that? How can you like someone like that?" He could see the anger in her eyes, hear it in her rising voice.

"Intent is important too. The guys, they're on the right side, Monica. They're trying to do the same things we are, they're just doing it differently. It seems like any other time, you'd be on their side -- you fight for the underdogs, Mon. You're not makin' sense here."

"What the hell do you see in him, John? He's paranoid. He lives in a warehouse. He's... he's a man -- you've never been interested in a man for anything more than a little messing around before. He's not even your usual type! Why can't you just let this go? Walk away from him, take the case out of their hands?"

She didn't know that he'd sometimes had feelings for other men beyond just the sex before. He'd never told her -- how could she know? "We need them right now. You know as well as I do that nobody in the Bureau can do a better job at what they're doing. And my reasons for liking him are my own. I don't think you really even want to hear what I see in him; you wouldn't listen, not when you're acting this way. You're not usually like this, Mon, and I don't get it. You don't judge people like this. What is it that you dislike about them so much?"

Reyes paced the living room, lighting up a cigarette. "How could you, John? It sounds like you're... you're getting involved with him. I can't believe this. It's like he means more to you than they usually do."

The simple truth was, Byers did. Why should that be so awful? Confusing, sure, but he was upset that it seemed to be causing her such a problem. Doggett looked up at her, puzzled. "Monica, are you jealous?" It was the only thing that made much sense to him. She'd never been angry about him being with guys before. He didn't think her general dislike of Byers and his friends would make this much of a difference to her.

She looked at him, arms crossed tight over her chest. "No, John. I am not jealous." The fury in her voice told him a different story.

"It's not like you've never seen anyone else," he said. "We don't have any kind of exclusive claim on each other. Never have. But we've always been there for each other, ever since we met. I don't understand why you're being this way. You've always been the open-minded one, way more than me. Monica, I've got trouble here -- we've got trouble. This whole blackmail thing, it's not gonna stop me from working on this case, but you have to know that it's dangerous. What are these guys gonna do next? They're definitely trying to stop us -- not just me, us."

"John." Reyes sighed and her face softened. "I'm sorry. Yes, some of what I've said was un-called for. I'm very concerned about you. I think staying involved with Byers and keeping them on the case is going to get you hurt -- and maybe other people too." She looked away. "I think if you keep seeing Byers, you're going to bring nothing but trouble to yourself, and to this case."

"John hasn't got anything to do with why the supersoldiers might want me, Monica. I think that started a long time ago, when whoever it is got their hands on Knowle." He wrung his hands together then rested them on his knees. "This whole mess, John is really just incidental to it. It can hurt him too, but I really don't believe he's their target. He doesn't think anybody in the conspiracy takes him, or any of them, seriously. Just like you don't."

Reyes looked back at him. "You know Kersh will use anything against us now. He seems to have a particularly bad attitude about you, and I think this could shoot your career down."

Doggett nodded. "Oh yeah, Kersh has a hard-on about it. But let's be realistic here. There's anti-discrimination policies in place. It has to go outside of his chain of command before they can do much to me. It would have to go through legal and the ombudsman's office. Kersh can't just arbitrarily toss me. And I'll fight it every Goddamned step of the way."

"I know you will, John." Reyes sighed. "You're a stubborn man, and I love you. But I think you're making a mistake."

"Then it's my mistake to make." He stood.

Reyes walked to the door with him. "Good night, John." He could hear the resignation in her voice.

He was hesitant when he spoke. "Good night, Monica." Doggett looked back at her one last time before he shut the door, wishing it had been easier. He hoped she'd talk to him in the morning.


MULDER RESIDENCE
2630 HEGEL PLACE, APARTMENT 42
ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA
EARLY AFTERNOON

"No way, boys. I don't think he's ready for it." Mulder leaned back on his couch.

Byers shook his head. Mulder had to help. "You're not giving him enough credit, Mulder. He's come a long way since you retired."

"Besides," Frohike said, "he'll be here in a few minutes."

Langly folded his long, thin arms over his chest and nodded. He leaned back against Mulder's desk and crossed his ankles as well. "He's onto somethin' big, dude. This whole supersoldiers thing could crack wide open. And the nanotech -- damn, we could save Skinner's ass if this turns out to be the real shit."

Mulder nodded. "Yeah. It's not like we don't owe him."

Byers breathed a quiet sigh of relief. Maybe they could change his mind. "If you could come with us --"

Mulder shook his head. "You know I can't. My leg's too mangled for that kind of work anymore." He held up his cane. "This isn't a job for Super-Gimp."

It was, unfortunately, the truth. Mulder had been limping around on a cane since he'd gotten out of the hospital bed after his return. If there was trouble, he'd never be able to run, and he'd hardly be able to do a smooth break-in with a cane in one hand. It was only luck that he'd avoided life in a wheelchair.

"You're right," Byers said. "I'm sorry. We've just worked together for so many years. It never seems to feel quite right without you. Not when the Bureau's involved."

"You think I don't wanna do this?" Mulder asked. "I'd give my left nut to be in on this, guys."

"You still have a left nut?" Frohike asked, grinning madly.

"It's next to my right one," Mulder said. "Wanna see?"

Frohike snorted, while Byers and Langly chuckled. "Uh, I'll pass."

"He's afraid of his love for you," Byers said, still laughing.

Frohike raised a hand, threatening, but did nothing. Byers just grinned at him.

"Maybe you could be in the van with us," Langly said. "We could always use an extra set of eyes for the monitors."

Mulder poked Langly's leg with his cane. "You guys want Doggett and Byers to go into the facility?"

"Somebody's gotta crack the computer from the inside," Frohike said. "And Langly and I have to deal with the security. It's gonna be a mother."

"Yeah, it sure won't be Dogbert crackin' the system," Langly said, flipping Mulder the bird.

"Byers, are you sure you can trust him to cover your ass?" Mulder looked over at him.

Byers nodded. "As far as I can trust anyone, yes." It was far more than that, but he wasn't about to say anything in front of Mulder. Byers knew Doggett would do his best to get both of them out of the facility in one piece, should anything happen. It was more than he could say for Mulder, when they'd broken into the Lombard fertility clinic all those years ago. Mulder had abandoned him in a hallway, telling him to go to Scully in Allentown -- and Byers had done it to save her life, narrowly avoiding arrest, or worse. It was one of his earliest experiences with serious breaking and entering. It had been one of his more frightening ones.

He swore then and there he'd never enter a building alone with Mulder like that again. He couldn't trust the man. Love him dearly as a friend, certainly. Trust Mulder with his life? Not for a million bucks.

Mulder gave him an odd look. "I never thought you trusted anybody, Byers."

"I trust the guys."

Frohike and Langly nodded vigorously. "Yeah. We don't ditch each other, dude," Langly said. He gave Mulder a pointed look.

There was a knock on the door.

"That's probably him," Mulder said. "One of you guys wanna get that?"

"How do you know?" Frohike said.

Mulder grinned. "Krycek's dead, and anyway, he would have just picked the lock and walked in with a gun pointed at us."

"Right," Langly said. "More like he'd shoot the lock off." He looked over at Byers.

Byers shuddered at the mention. He didn't want to think about Krycek or the photos. He knew Langly was weighing whether they should tell Mulder that Krycek was alive, but that would open up an entirely new can of worms. Nothing else would get done. He'd just as soon put it off until later.

He went to the door. It was Doggett -- and he had a nasty black eye. "Agent Doggett, what happened?" Byers' heart skipped a beat, and he fought with himself to keep from touching Doggett's face in concern.

Doggett looked at him, giving a subtle shake of his head, warning him away. "Hey Byers. Guys." He looked over at the couch. "Mulder."

"'Bout time you made it," Langly said. He did a double take. "Man, what happened to you?"

"Ran into some trouble last night," Doggett said. "I'm fine, just a little dinged up. How's it goin'?" He walked into the living room with Byers and stood next to him, laying a briefcase on Mulder's desk. Byers was determined to grill him afterwards and get the real story.

"Mulder's considering trading in his left nut for a seat in the van when we do the Queens poach," Frohike said, winking.

Doggett grimaced. "I didn't need to know that."

"I could have lived without that revelation myself," Byers said. He looked over at Mulder. "But with Mulder and Frohike in the same room, it's inevitable."

Mulder grinned. "You're just jealous."

Byers snorted. "Of what? I'm not the one considering giving up body parts to do this mission."

"Frohike's love for me." Mulder's grin broadened as Byers grimaced.

"He's really not my type," Byers deadpanned. That, at least, was true. They might be the closest of friends, but he'd never had so much as a twitch of interest in the man. Something about a little too short and a little too furry just didn't do it for him. He could hear Doggett chuckling next to him, and shot him a glare intended to freeze nitrogen.

Doggett just grinned. He looked back at Mulder. "So there's a funky poach planned."

Everyone nodded, making affirming noises.

"Do we know where yet?" Mulder asked.

Langly pulled a scrap of paper from his pocket. "I've been workin' on it. Narrowed it down to one of the buildings on the drydock near the old Army base."

"And how many buildings are on the drydock?" Doggett gave Langly a look.

"Seventeen," Byers answered. "I checked the maps. Only two of them look like warehouses that would be suitable for the kind of operation we're talking about, though."

Frohike nodded. "One of 'em's abandoned. The other, we traced to a shell corporation called Proteus Holding Company. We don't know yet who owns it."

"Proteus," Byers said, "was a shapeshifter in Greek mythology. Zeus, Proteus." He shrugged. "I think we've got a good shot there. If they're trying to transform humans into something else..." He wasn't positive that it was the right place, but the literary links seemed right. If other evidence backed it up, he was willing to take the chance.

"We're gonna do some security camera poaching for a couple of days first--" Langly said.

"--to see if we sight anybody we know from our 'Conspiracy's Most Wanted List,'" Frohike finished.

"You mean, like Rohrer?" Doggett raised an eyebrow.

Byers smiled. "Yeah, like Rohrer." He was pleased that Doggett had picked up on the agenda quickly. It would help quash some of Mulder's objections.

"I'll recognize some of the players if they show up," Mulder said. "I've run into quite a few of them over the years. Scully will know some of them too. If we see anyone familiar --"

"--or anybody in military fatigues --" Langly added.

"-- then we'll know we're on target," Mulder said.

Doggett rubbed his chin as he stood. He looked thoughtful but slightly agitated. "Rohrer was in my unit in Lebanon," he said. "I wonder..."

"What?" Byers prompted. He touched a hand to Doggett's elbow briefly.

Doggett looked at him. "I wonder if anybody else there was involved in this mess. Like, maybe other guys from the unit might have been grabbed by 'em?"

"Why would you have reason to suspect that?" Mulder asked.

Byers looked at Mulder. "I think it's an excellent question."

Doggett hesitated. "Yesterday..." He looked around, then pulled the chair from Mulder's desk and sat. His face paled slightly. Byers and Frohike moved in toward him a bit. Mulder's eyes narrowed with interest. Doggett looked up at them, a flash of annoyance in his eyes. "Back off guys, you're crowding me."

They backed away slightly.

"What about yesterday?" Byers asked. He knew it couldn't have been about the photos. Or could it? A cold knot tightened in his gut. Were they going to be outed to Mulder now as well?

"These supersoldiers, they've infiltrated the Bureau." Doggett looked at Mulder, blue eyes intense.

Mulder grimaced. "That figures. Who?"

"Gene Crane, for one." Doggett sighed.

"Crane? Who got assigned to VCU after the mess in Arizona with the bounty hunter and Gibson Praise?" Mulder quirked an eyebrow.

Doggett nodded. "Yeah, him."

"How do you know that?" Byers asked. Suddenly the black eye was making more sense.

Doggett turned to him. "Ran into him last night on the way to Monica's place. He..." He swallowed uncomfortably. "He tried to grab me. Did this." He tapped his cheek under the deep bruise. "Got a bruise on my ribs too, but it's not serious. Nothin' broken."

"What did he want?" Frohike asked, uneasy.

"Said I shoulda been one of them." Doggett shuddered.

Byers grit his teeth, biting back a hundred questions. This wasn't the time for it, or the place. Fear was useless right now. He had to focus on what they could learn from this. "Did he say anything about the project, or TREYNOR?"

"No." Doggett paused and took a breath. "But he had this weird assed bump on the back of his neck --"

"Where is he now?" Mulder asked, cutting in.

Doggett tapped his fingers nervously on his knee. "Dead. That bump, it's caused by this metal vertebra in their necks. Rohrer has one, and Billy Miles. It's how you can tell what they are."

"Miles isn't the same thing," Mulder said. "He's alien-generated; a replacement. The others, I'm not sure how they're created."

"Yeah, well," Doggett said, "whatever. They've both got the bumps."

"Has Scully done the autopsy yet?" Mulder asked.

Doggett pulled a file from the briefcase he'd brought. "Right here." He dropped it in Mulder's lap. "Not much to autopsy though."

Mulder opened the file, then blinked. "Uh, no. Guess not."

Langly, standing over Mulder's shoulder, paled.

"What?" Frohike asked.

Doggett sat back. "He fell into an industrial fan."

Langly swallowed and blinked. "Oh man. I don't wanna hear anything else."

"The vertebra we found, though, it went missing," Doggett said, frustration in his tone. "Just like the last one, damn it. I was gonna bring it to you to check out, Frohike. Nobody's been able to figure out what the hell the damned things are made of."

"Your confidence warms the cockles of my heart," Frohike said, chuckling.

Doggett shook his head. "I don't want to be anywhere near your cockles, Frohike."

"There's nothing on the security record from Quantico?" Byers asked, astonished.

"Nothing," Doggett said. "Not just nobody seen breaking in, but nothing at all. No record whatsoever."

Mulder snorted. "That figures."

Doggett continued. "Some really strange damage to the locker it was stored in, too. It's like it sorta... dry rotted. But we're talking metal here, not wood or anything. It wasn't rust, but the metal was weakened. It was almost like it got kinda spongy -- dry but spongy-textured and all brittle."

"That really is strange," Mulder said. "I want to get a look at it. I'll have to talk to Scully."

"Weirdness," Frohike muttered.

"They must have hacked security and had someone pull the remains," Byers said. "It could just as easily have been an inside job, if Crane was one of them. There must be others in the Bureau as well, like Agent Doggett said. There might be somebody in Forensics in on it."

"We gotta find these guys," Langly said. He looked at Doggett. "Like, we don't need anybody hauling you off like they took Scully and Mulder."

Byers' gut froze. No, that was the last thing he wanted. He could feel his short fingernails biting into his palms as his hands tightened into fists. He put them in his pockets. "Can we get blueprints for the Proteus warehouse?" he asked.

"Tonight," Frohike said.

Mulder looked up from the file. "I'm going with you guys, even if it's just for a seat in the van. You may need an extra gun along."

Frohike snickered. "Yeah, just make sure you don't lose it."

Byers gave him a sharp look. It was true that Mulder had the world's worst history with losing guns and cell phones, but having him along for backup certainly wouldn't hurt. It was, in fact, part of the reason they'd come to see him.

Doggett nodded. "Good idea." He looked at Byers. "I don't want you guys getting hurt. Monica's coming too."

"And who else will be along for our little circus act?" Mulder asked.

"Just Jimmy," Langly said. "I wouldn't trust him with the actual poach, but he can help drive."


DOGGETT'S TRUCK
EARLY EVENING

"Are you sure you're ready to do something like this?" Byers asked. "It's not exactly by the book."

"Are you kidding?" Doggett asked. "One thing I'm learning working on the X Files is that the book gets rewritten every day. Of course I'm ready. I need to find out what the hell's going on. There doesn't seem to be any other way to do it."

"And how does Agent Reyes feel about coming along for this?" He wasn't sure he wanted to hear it. He knew she didn't like them.

Doggett stared out at the moving traffic. "She thinks it's stupid taking you guys along. There's no way we can do this without you, though. She wasn't thrilled about Mulder being along either."

That figured. "Well, it's not like he's going to be able to help out much with the actual infiltration." He settled back into the seat. They'd been sent to give Scully the details of what they were planning, and now they were going to Doggett's place so he could pack up. They'd leave in the morning for New York. "But Mulder's right. We'll need extra eyes for this, and another person who's armed probably wouldn't hurt."

"It's gonna be dangerous, Johnny. I know you have to go in with me for the hack, but I really want you to be careful." Doggett glanced at Byers for a moment, and Byers could see the worry in his eyes.

"Dangerous? Of course it's dangerous! And what the hell happened to you last night?" he snapped. He reached out and gently touched the bruise around Doggett's bloodshot eye, his ginger motion contrasting with his harsh tone of voice. Doggett flinched. "Why didn't you tell us -- why didn't you tell me what happened?"

"Because I figured you'd go off like this. I'm fine, Johnny. It's just a black eye and some bruised ribs." He scowled over the steering wheel. "You had a lousy day and I didn't want to put anything more on top of it. I talked to Monica." He seemed uneasy at that last statement.

Byers knew that Doggett sometimes saw Reyes. It hadn't been a secret. "It's okay. I mean, I know you two have an... an arrangement. I just... I just wish you'd called me, let me know what happened."

Doggett shook his head. "What, and have you up worrying all night? You would have. I know you that well at least."

Byers blushed. Doggett was right. He nodded. "Yes, I'd have worried. But at least if you were with Agent Reyes, you were with someone who could help." He wished Doggett had come to him instead, but it wasn't that kind of a relationship. He knew it, accepted it. He was glad for what time Doggett could give him, and for the things they did together. Asking for more would be stepping beyond the bounds of propriety. It might be pushing too far, and he didn't care to drive Doggett away with a wish for a little more emotional connection.

"It didn't exactly turn out that way," Doggett said, quiet.

"Did you... tell her about the blackmail attempt?" Byers' gut knotted. He hoped not, but he knew Doggett couldn't really keep it a secret from her. It affected all of them.

"Yeah," Doggett said. "I did. She was, shall we say, less than thrilled."

"Is it going to be all right between you?" Byers was genuinely concerned. Right now, the last thing any of them needed was Doggett and Reyes having a fight about it. Byers knew Reyes didn't like him, but he hoped she'd be able to stay with the case at hand, rather than allowing the situation to become too personal.

"I don't know yet. I hope so." They pulled into Doggett's driveway. "C'mon. Let's go in, get some of this stuff together."

Byers followed him in, watching him carefully. He wondered if Doggett was genuinely all right, or if he was just brushing off a more serious injury along with the problems he'd faced last night with Agent Reyes. There was some hesitation to certain movements, but no real sign that the rib injuries were anything more than Doggett had claimed earlier. Still, he was concerned. He followed Doggett around the house, helping out when asked.

"You wanna give me a hand with this, Johnny?" Doggett pointed to a small pile of clothes he'd tossed on his kitchen table, and a backpack. "I gotta grab some extra clips and load 'em."

"Sure." Byers walked over to the table. "But Jack..." He hesitated.

"Yeah?"

"I..." Byers swallowed nervously. "I just want to be sure you're okay." He reached out and touched Doggett's face gently, brushing the tips of his fingers across the butterfly bandage over his eye. Doggett stood still and let him. The black eye was still a bit warm and definitely swollen, though the eye wasn't completely shut. The white of it was red with broken blood vessels. It probably looked worse than it was. He'd had a few himself over the years. "Your eye is all right?"

Doggett nodded. "Yeah. Nothin' wrong with my vision." Doggett reached out to him and pulled him close. The movement was slow and tentative, and Byers took care not to squeeze Doggett's ribs, but he did stroke his back slowly with both hands. Doggett sighed quietly, relaxing a little.

"Feels good," he said.

"I do worry about you," Byers said softly.

Doggett nodded. "I know. Not like I never worry about you. I'm not too crazy about taking you inside the facility, you know. You and the guys, you do crazy shit."

"I have to go. You'd never be able to crack the system on your own. I'm the only one that can do it -- Frohike and Langly need to crack security for us. They're better at it than I am. Jimmy can't do either of those jobs, and neither can Agent Reyes. Mulder might be able to do a little bit, but he's no hacker, and he can't do the physical stuff like he used to."

"They're all good reasons for you to go in with me," Doggett said, "but I'm still worried about it. If we run into trouble, I want you to run like hell and not look back. I'll cover you, make sure you get out safe if I can." There was a look of uncertainty on his face, as though he didn't think Byers would accept it.

"I believe you," Byers said, "and I'll run if I have to. I just don't want it to come to that. If everything goes well, we should be in and out fairly quickly and security should be none the wiser."

"If this really is a supersoldier project installation, Johnny, it's not likely to be that easy."

Byers closed his eyes. He knew that. The truth was, he was scared half to death, but the mission was necessary. They had to know, to stop it if they could. "We'll do the job," he said, trying to shove confidence into his heart by sheer repetition. "It'll be fine. Nobody's going to get hurt."

He looked back up at Doggett. The big man was looking down at him, that odd expression back on his face. Doggett leaned in and kissed him gently. It stirred Byers, leaving his heart beating faster.

"Yeah, we will." Doggett slid a hand under Byers' chin and tilted his face up. "Do you have to go home tonight?"

Byers thought. As far as he knew, he had everything he needed already packed. The guys were taking care of the rest of the equipment for the mission. "I think I can stay. I should call the guys though, find out if they need me."

Doggett nodded. "Why don't you do that." He released Byers from their embrace.

It took only a few minutes to resolve the situation. Frohike told him to stay, that it was obvious he'd sleep better if he was with Doggett instead of home worrying about him and fussing at all of them. Byers thanked him, amused.

"Okay," Doggett said. "When we finish packing, I want some time with you."

Byers tilted his head. "What do you have in mind? Did you want to play? Are you sure you're all right for that?"

"Yeah. I don't have anything too strenuous in mind. I'd really like it, and to be honest, I think we both need it. Yesterday was pretty stressful for both of us."

Byers smiled a little, and Doggett returned the expression, one side of his mouth quirking upward slightly.

"Yes, Sir," Byers said, his heart beating just a little faster. "It would be my pleasure to serve you."

"Good."

Byers worked quickly, taking care to fit everything into Doggett's backpack efficiently. He'd done this sort of thing for too many years now. That he was doing it for Doggett pleased him. If it saved his Dom a little pain from the bruised ribs, it was all good. He wondered what Doggett had in mind for the night. It was obvious anything vigorous was right out.

Slow and gentle sounded good. It would feel good. Or maybe Doggett would just want to be sucked and stroked. That would be fine too. He let his imagination carry him while he helped Doggett finish the packing. By the time everything was done, he was in a state of low but pleasant arousal, his skin slightly sensitive and wanting touch.

"Sir?"

"Yeah?" Doggett looked up at Byers.

"What do you want tonight?"

Doggett set down the last clip he'd worked on, held out a hand to him and gestured. "Come with me."

Byers took his hand and followed. Doggett's skin was warm and dry, and he held Byers' hand tight. Doggett led him up the stairs to his bedroom. He pointed to a place on the floor. "Strip, boy, and come over here."

"Yes, Sir." Byers did as he was told, shivering with anticipation. He lowered his eyes to the floor. Doggett spread a sheet out on the floor near him.

"When you're here with me like this," Doggett said, seduction in his voice, "you're mine. Your body is mine, for my pleasure. You'll do as I desire. You'll obey me and follow my orders. If you disobey, you'll be punished. If you're good, you'll be rewarded, and I promise you, you'll enjoy the rewards."

Byers closed his eyes, cock getting harder, rising before him now that it was free from his pants. His heart beat faster, breath catching. He wanted this, wanted it badly. He needed -- was grateful for what Doggett gave him in a sharp, bone-deep way he couldn't put in words.

"Look at me when I speak to you, boy." The tone was quiet. There was no harshness in it, only a demand for attention.

"Yes, Sir. I'm sorry, Sir." He looked up into Doggett's eyes.

"What were you thinking?" Doggett asked.

Byers hesitated.

"You're mine when you're here. You'll answer the questions I put to you. Tell me."

Byers could feel himself blush. "I... how good that sounds, Sir. How much I want that."

Doggett smiled. "I'm glad you feel that way." His voice lowered, a sensual almost-growl. "What gives me pleasure is hearing you beg, hearing you lose control when I fuck you. The heat of your body under me pleases me. The way you look, kneeling in front of me with your shaft and balls bound, your hands bound. Your mouth --" Doggett's astonishingly blue eyes closed for a moment, his mouth open slightly, "--God, your mouth."

Byers shuddered, thinking about that, seeing himself sucking Doggett's thick shaft. "Yes," he whispered. He could feel his own cock leap at the thought. When had he become so addicted to this man? To what Doggett did to his body?

Doggett looked back down at him, locking eyes with him. One hand reached out, stroking Byers' hair, following the line of his cheek, whispering fingers across his lips. It was like a tidal wave, overwhelming and electric. He couldn't help gasping.

"So hot," Doggett muttered. He pointed to a spot on the sheet. "Kneel there, hands behind your back, knees spread."

Byers moved. "Yes, Sir." He knelt, spreading himself open in display as he'd been ordered. One hand clasping the opposite wrist, he sat up straight. The position kept his chest forward. The blatant, erotic exposure excited him. He waited, eyes raised to his Master. He was so hard he ached.

Doggett walked around him, just looking, chin in hand. The evaluating gaze was fire on his skin. Waiting was difficult. He wanted to be touched, wanted to suck his Master's hot, stiff rod, to caress the silky skin with his tongue. He wished they could play without condoms. He wanted to taste flesh, taste the salt and bitterness of his Dom's come. He craved the intimacy of the connection, the sensual depth of that contact. Byers wished he could bring himself to ask, but paranoia and distrust still held him.

Touch. He craved touch.

"Please, Sir," Byers said.

Doggett's hand in his hair, fisting. God, it felt good. "Please what, boy?"

"T-touch me, Sir. Please."

Doggett chuckled. He tugged a little at Byers' hair. It sent an erotic charge through Byers' body. "When I'm ready."

Doggett stepped back for a few minutes, hand still in Byers' hair. Eventually, slowly, he ran one fingertip down the center of Byers' chest, from the hollow at the base of his throat to the root of his cock. Byers shivered and moaned, gooseflesh rising, his nipples hardening into tight peaks.

"Oh, yeah." Doggett grinned. "I like that sound."

Byers took a deep breath, wondering what would happen. He licked his lips, nervous.

Doggett knelt before him and tilted Byers' head back. He could feel the heat of Doggett's breath as he moved closer; Doggett's hot, wet mouth fastened gently on his throat, teeth scraping lightly along his skin, and he whimpered. He shook with the effort of remaining still, wanting to reach out and touch, to draw his Master closer, bring them body to body.

"Yes," he moaned, closing his eyes to focus on the sensual stroke of Doggett's tongue on his flesh. "Ohhhhhh..."

"Mmm." Doggett backed away and stood. "Touch yourself, Johnny."

"Sir?" Byers opened his eyes and looked up.

"Your cock," Doggett said, his voice low and husky. "I wanna see you stroke yourself. Wanna see you make yourself come for me."

Byers swallowed, shivering. He could feel himself flush even more with embarrassment. He'd never been asked to do that before, and wouldn't have considered it without the request. "Y-yes Sir."

"Are you nervous, boy?" Doggett's gaze on him narrowed and he leaned forward, towering over Byers.

Byers nodded. "Yes, Sir," he whispered.

"Good." Doggett smiled. "Do it anyway." He reached down and stroked his fingers through Byers' hair, then grabbed a handful at the back of his head, arching his neck back.

Byers gasped and moaned, closing his eyes again. God, it felt good. Even the nervousness felt good. His cock throbbed.

"Do it," Doggett insisted. "I want to see you."

Byers reached in front of him and ran his fingers slowly from the ridge of his cock to his balls and back. "Yes, Sir."

It twitched as he touched himself, getting harder, and he pushed his embarrassment back. He watched as Doggett watched him, his Dom's intense blue eyes fixed on his hand as it moved. Doggett ran his fingers along the front of Byers' throat and Byers shuddered at the soft, deft touch.

"You need it, don't you? Giving yourself up like this. You need someone to take control of you before you can let go. Someone to fill you. Someone to train you to pleasure."

"Yes." It was barely a whisper -- more like a hiss. He took his shaft in hand and squeezed, stroking slowly. "Ohhhh."

"You need to be taken like a whore, don't you? Held down, bound, taught to receive pleasure when it's given to you." Doggett's sensual growl left him shuddering.

Byers writhed, groaning.

"Oh, yeah." Doggett slipped around him then knelt behind him, wrapping his arms around Byers' waist and pulling him close. "You need to be fucked, don't you, little slut. Look at you, your hot, fuckable body -- God, that sweet ass of yours --jackin' off where I can watch. So Goddamn sexy. You want cock, don't you?"

Byers nodded, the ability to form coherent thought leaking out his ears as his fist stroked and Doggett's hands moved over him. He leaned back on his heels, knees still spread wide, sinking into the firm embrace.

"You got a mouth like a whore, boy. You want to suck my rod, don't you?" Doggett's hands slid up his chest, moving over Byers' tight, peaked nipples. Byers nodded and moaned again, and Doggett pinched them, pulling at them. Byers groaned, loud and long, then squeezed his shaft harder, starting to pump in earnest.

"Yeah, little cub, do it." One of Doggett's hands moved, sliding down Byers' body. He pulled his other arm from around Byers' waist and caressed his hip, running his fingers over the curve of Byers' ass. A squeeze, and his fingers slipped into the cleft between Byers' cheeks, spreading them, moving over his opening. "I'm gonna fill you, slut, gonna take your ass and fill it until you come."

"Ohhh, God. Aaaaannh." Byers was panting, and Doggett curled around him, biting his neck and the top of his shoulder. "Please, please, Sir."

"What do you want, boy?" Doggett's voice was right there, right in his ear, a quiet, horny, amused rumble. He could feel the man's body pressed hard against him, thrusting slowly at his ass. His Master's rod was hard and hot enough to burn through the clothes Doggett still wore.

"Please, Sir, take me." Byers could barely focus on anything but the need in his body and his tightening balls as he stroked. "Want you. Unnh, God. Need you. God, please, fuck me."

Doggett groaned behind him, then shoved him forward and down until his cheek was on the ground, ass in the air. "Stay there, just like that. Keep stroking yourself."

"Unnnnh. Yes, Sir." He could feel the chill of moving air on his skin as Doggett rose and walked away. Was he going to get a condom and lube? Byers wanted it desperately, with every fiber of his being. He could almost feel the man enter him already, imagining the heat and hardness and depth of it. He moaned again, pulling mindlessly at his leaking cock.

He could hear a drawer open and the shuffle of things moving. There was the distinctive crinkle of a condom being opened, and Byers groaned, stroking himself harder and faster. He could feel Doggett move closer again, looming over him. His heart pounded wildly as he felt the heat of Doggett's body on his skin.

One broad hand caressed his cheeks and he moaned low and long. "Unnnh, yeah. Oh God yeah. Please, Sir, please, fuck me." He was begging again, mindless with need. Doggett made him helpless with it. He was so good, felt so good, took him in all the ways Byers needed most. He loved the way Doggett handled his body; his power, his strength, the sheer mass of him as he surrounded Byers' own slighter frame and dominated him.

Lubed fingers slid into his ass and Byers cried out, wordlessly.

"Oh, yeah, that's right, boy. Let me hear you. God, I love the way you sound when you need it that much."

Byers shuddered as the fingers stroked and invaded him, and he spread his legs wider, pumped his cock harder. "Ohhhhhh. Mmmm."

A quick thrust, and something cool and hard filled him. He howled. Doggett slid his arms under Byers', pulling him up by his shoulders until he knelt upright again, body arched back, completely exposed.

"Take it, boy. Fuck yourself for me." Doggett's arms left Byers, his body suddenly bare and unsupported. He kept stroking, helpless as he moaned, eyes squeezed shut. When he opened his eyes again to see his Dom's face, Doggett stood before him, grinning broadly.

"Oh God oh God oh --"

Doggett toggled something in his hand and suddenly the big, cool toy in Byers' ass took on a life of its own.

"Aaah! Aaaaaaah!"

He could hear the mechanical grind as it spun and moved inside him. Gasping, he leaned forward onto one hand, squeezing his cock tight. It drove him, squirming and groaning, to the edge.

"Back as you were," Doggett snapped. "Stroke yourself, little cub. Come for me. I wanna see you come."

It was an effort to move with any control, but he leaned back on his heels, pumping himself hard, hips thrusting. He shouted, incoherent, as Doggett played with the controls, changing the speed of the vibrator randomly.

"Yeah, boy, that's it." Byers could hear the excitement in Doggett's voice. "God, you're gorgeous like that. I can't wait to watch Sergio fuck you in front of me. Wanna watch him take you, make you scream."

What little control Byers still had snapped and he threw his head back, bellowing as he shot. As his cock jerked and spat the thick, viscous liquid, he collapsed on the floor. The vibrator kept moving in him, left him writhing on the floor at Doggett's feet, clutching his cock hard while the fingers of his other hand dug into the sheet.

"Damn, you're so hot." Doggett's voice was breathless and close, and when Byers opened his eyes, he was right there, kneeling next to him.

"Unnh, Master, oh God, please, unh..."

Doggett's hands stroked his side and back as he bucked and trembled. "Is that what you want, boy? To be my slave? To wear my collar?" There was a tremor in his voice, and he traced the line of a collar around Byers' throat with one finger.

Byers just moaned, unable to form coherent sound. All he wanted was to keep feeling like this. He wanted anything that would give this to him, loved the sound of Doggett's voice, the touch of his skin. Calling the man his Master seemed to come as a reflex sometimes. Maybe he did want to be Doggett's slave, but if he did, he was too afraid to face that desire. He'd deny it if forced to answer.

"It's not like this, Johnny, being a slave." Doggett's voice was quiet, intimate, close in his ear. Hands on his chest, fingers pinching his nipples, Doggett's hand on his own, squeezing his shaft. "I'd love to take you like that, to own you, but you're not ready. You may never be."

"Aaaaunh. Unh." He'd stopped spurting, but the movement inside him kept him on edge, gasping.

"I love the sound of that word on your lips, little cub, my hot, beautiful boy, but if you want me to collar you, you'll have to earn it. You'll have to prove you understand it, that you really want it."

Byers groaned. The motion inside him slowed, then finally stopped, and Doggett's strong arms collected him, clutching him to his broad, warm chest. He heard Doggett's heart thundering, almost as swiftly as his own. Byers burrowed his face in Doggett's chest, making small, incoherent sounds.

Doggett held him as he got his breathing under control again, heart starting to slow to a more normal rate. He was floating.

"Oh, God, Sir," he finally whispered, voice hoarse.

Doggett reached a hand between Byers' legs and took the vibrator, playing gently with it, slipping it slowly in and out a few times before he pulled it carefully from Byers' body.

Byers went limp in Doggett's arms. Doggett held him close and kissed him deep.

"God, Johnny, you're beautiful," Doggett whispered, lips moving in Byers' hair. He caressed Byers, kissing him again. Byers sucked at his tongue, wanting everything Doggett gave him, until he pulled away. "So beautiful when you come."

"Thank you, Sir," Byers mumbled. He could barely move, and his body sang with exhaustion and pleasure.

"We're not done yet," Doggett said. Byers looked up at him. Doggett grinned.

Byers blinked and swallowed. "No, Sir. Of course not, Sir. Y-you haven't had your pleasure yet."

"Oh, I'm very pleased, but you're right. That'll be a while. I'm not done playing with you yet."

Byers shivered, not knowing what was coming but wanting it anyway.

Doggett let Byers lie back down on the floor. He reached into the top drawer of his bedside stand and pulled out a short length of chain. Nipple clips. Byers shivered in anticipation. He wondered if he'd be able to tolerate the clips so soon after coming. Everything tended to be hypersensitive for a while. He shuddered and moaned as his Master tightened them down on his nipples.

God, it felt good, stirring a wave of pleasure through his body down to the base of his spine.

"Come sit here on the bed," Doggett said.

Byers' legs felt like rubber as Doggett helped him to the edge of the bed. They collapsed under him as soon as the backs of his thighs touched it. He was trembling as he worked to keep himself upright.

Doggett stripped and sat beside him, rolling a condom onto his hard shaft. "Go ahead and lie on your side," he whispered in Byers' ear.

They lay together, bodies touching, while Byers closed his eyes.

Doggett stroked Byers' sweat-slick body slowly, tracing patterns on his skin with the tips of his fingers. He lay on his good side, enjoying the feel of Byers' flesh under his hands. He licked and nipped at Byers' throat, listening to his sub's quiet moans.

He wasn't sure when Byers had become so beautiful to him. Byers himself hadn't changed, but the way Doggett saw him certainly had. The flush of his skin when he was aroused left Doggett breathless. The way his lashes lay dark on his cheeks drew Doggett in. The way he moved -- Doggett tugged gently at the nipple clips and Byers groaned and clutched at him.

"Beautiful," he whispered. "So beautiful, Johnny."

Doggett was hard from watching Byers, from listening to the sounds his sub made when he came. The salt in his glistening sweat burned Doggett's tongue and left him wanting more. Byers tasted of need and desire. He smelled of heat and sex and pure ecstasy.

Byers' hands slid along Doggett's body, exploring tentatively. They moved softly over his side, up his chest. The touch left him tingling, like current passing over him. He held back a shudder and pulled Byers close, holding him tight. It felt so right.

He could hear Byers' almost silent sigh. The emotion in it was layered and complex -- need, relief, pleasure. He slipped one hand between them, caressing Byers' half-hard cock.

"Mmmmmmm."

He nibbled at Byers' ear. "Sweet. So sweet." Byers hummed again as Doggett sucked at his earlobe, stroking his sub's cock gently. A shudder passed through Byers' body and Doggett rolled onto him and kissed him.

Byers responded, still shaking, opening to Doggett's moving tongue. Doggett nipped at his lips and he moaned, panting. When Doggett slipped his tongue into Byers' mouth again, Byers sucked at it, eyes closed, his whole body surrendering to Doggett's rough demand.

He backed off and whispered into Byers' ear. "Suck me, little cub. I want to feel your hot mouth on my rod. Please me. Make me come." His breath was ragged with want.

Byers groaned, loud, and opened his eyes. They were dilated, big and dark, filled with lust and arousal. "Yes, Sir," he said, lips moving against Doggett's. "Anything for you."

God, the look in his eyes -- Doggett's heart skipped a beat at the words and their wild, decadent promise. Anything. Yes. He wanted this so much, wanted Byers' touch and his attention. Doggett rolled off his sub and lay on his back, one knee raised in a languid, open posture. He ran a hand through Byers' soft hair, caressing the back of his head as Byers lowered himself to Doggett's throat.

"Yeah, Johnny. Ohhhhhh..."

Doggett let himself relax as Byers' lips and tongue played softly on his neck, under his chin. Byers' beard was soft and scratchy on his skin, and he arched his head back for more of the complex, erotic sensation. God, he was so lucky. His hand fisted in Byers' hair, pulling a moan from the man. Byers kissed and bit at his skin with even more enthusiasm as he moved down Doggett's body.

"That's your fantasy, isn't it boy?" Doggett's voice was rough as he spoke, barely controlled. "To be a slave. To wear a collar." He panted as Byers whimpered into his chest, biting at Doggett's nipple. Doggett yipped and slapped Byers' hip. "Not so hard, slut."

"I'm sorry, Sir." It was a quick gasp, then Byers' soothing tongue slipping over the aroused flesh. A suck and a pull, and Doggett groaned. Byers kept his mouth moving on Doggett's chest, working his way lower.

Doggett grabbed Byers' thigh and pulled at him, making him move so his hip was near Doggett's face. He stroked Byers' ass with one hand, letting his hand slip around between his sub's legs to caress his balls. Byers whimpered again.

"You want a Master, don't you?" Doggett asked. He scratched gently from Byers' pucker down over his balls to his cock.

Byers moaned, head back, shaking.

"Don't you?" Doggett demanded. He thrust a finger into Byers' ass, then pulled it out.

Byers was gasping now, shuddering. He spread his legs further apart, his shaft hard and purple.

Doggett slapped his ass hard. "Answer me, slut!"

"S-sir, I --"

Doggett grabbed Byers' hair again. He shoved Byers' face into his crotch. "Suck!" he ordered, voice sharp and harsh.

Byers groaned and took him in, mouth wet and burning. Doggett held his head down and thrust into his mouth.

"A slave obeys orders instantly, boy." God, Byers' tongue in his slit was amazing. He tried to silence his own gasp, only half-succeeding. "Disobedience brings punishment." He slapped Byers' ass hard, several times, not letting him raise his head.

His shaft muffled Byers' cries. He shuddered as the vibration of it rang in his body.

"A slave has no safewords, John." He tugged at the chain that joined Byers' nipples, and Byers moaned, sucking harder, desperation in his movements. He could see Byers' cock jumping, beginning to leak. The scent of his arousal was thick, and Doggett barely managed to resist moving to suck Byers' dick, dangling so close. Damn, he felt so hot.

"Is that what you want? Can you really handle offering me 'anything'?" Byers only seemed to call him Master when he was on the knife-edge of losing himself, when he was coming. Doggett thought it had to be something buried deep in him, some desire that scared him too much to accept when he was more in control.

Byers sucked deeper and his mouth was an inferno of bliss, pushing Doggett to the edge. His tongue was committing acts of pure torture on Doggett's shaft. "Unnnnngh. Fuck Johnny, oh God."

Byers' hands were on his balls, caressing his ass, slipping close to his opening -- too close. Doggett was about to explode. He jerked the chain again, thrusting up into Byers' mouth. Byers groaned deep, then swallowed him, head bobbing quickly.

Doggett pulled him off by his hair, and Byers moaned a wordless objection. He tugged again at the nipple clips and shouted, "Off the bed and on your knees, slut!"

Byers, eyes squeezed shut, slipped off the edge of the bed to his knees beside it. "Y-yes, Sir," he gasped.

Doggett stood, still holding the chain. He could barely control his breathing, he was so hot. He wanted in Byers' ass so badly he was shaking. "You were out of line, boy."

Byers bowed his head. "Yes, Sir," he whispered.

"Kiss my rod." Doggett tugged at the nipple clips again, and Byers gave a loud groan, bending his head to kiss. Doggett almost lost it at the touch of Byers' lips.

"Turn the covers down," Doggett said. He let go of the chain and gestured at the bed.

"Yes, Sir." Byers, still on his knees, moved to comply.

"On the bed." Doggett slapped Byers' ass hard. Byers hissed at the blow and lay down on his back. Doggett could see Byers' dick throb with his rapid pulse. "No, roll over. On your stomach, boy. I'm gonna take you from behind."

Doggett stood, watching Byers. His sub had been riveting as he stroked himself, as he sucked Doggett's cock. He stroked his shaft, sliding a finger over the slit. His ribs hurt, but he knew what he wanted tonight, what he needed. He knew it wouldn't be what Byers was expecting.

Byers spread himself out on the bed, hands fisting into the sheets, legs spread wide. He raised his ass into the air, moaning quietly. Doggett could see he was resisting the urge to rut into the bed.

"Good boy," he said softly. He knelt on the bed over Byers' body, stroking his back. The caress turned to scratches as Byers moaned louder, trembling beneath him. "You need it, don't you? Need my rod in your ass." One hand slid down over the firm roundness of Byers' cheek. "You need to be pushed, to be taken."

"Ohhhhh..."

His fingers slipped across Byers' opening. Byers hissed and rocked back, trying to press against his hand. Doggett slapped his ass with a sharp, stinging blow.

"Ahh!" Byers' body jerked and flattened to the bed.

"Not until I'm ready, little cub. You'll move when I let you move."

"P-please, Sir..."

Doggett leaned into the small of Byers' back, pinning him to the bed with his weight. Byers groaned and ground his hips into the bed, fingers clutching the sheets in helpless spasms.

"Yeah, boy, like that." He leaned down and whispered into Byers' ear. "Gonna take you so deep, nail you to the bed. I'm gonna make you come so hard. You want a Master? I'll Master you, little cub. I'll make you a slave to my desire."

Byers' whimper sent a shiver through him. He loved how the man reacted. It was so easy to get turned on when he was with Byers. Doggett was achingly hard. He couldn't take any more. He wanted to be inside Byers, wanted to weigh him down and slip into his tight ass, the root of his dick gripped hard. He wanted to feel his balls against Byers, the length of their bodies together.

"Gonna put it in you so deep you're gonna taste it when I come." He lay on Byers' back, feeling the man writhe under him, groaning wordlessly. The body contact was delicious, comforting. His shaft felt like it would explode if he didn't fuck Byers right now. "So hot, boy. You burn; it feels so good." He reached up and grabbed Byers' wrists, pinning him hard to the bed. "Love it when you're like this. God, I wanna take you."

"Yes," Byers gasped, "please, Sir." His voice shook, barely controlled. Doggett could feel how close he was to the edge.

He rose from Byers' body and moved toward the head of the bed, still straddling Byers. Pulling a tube of lube from the bedside drawer, he slicked himself.

"Unh, God, pl--" Byers' eyes were closed, his body flushed. He looked so good.

Doggett lay his body over Byers again, pinning his wrists, bracing himself and thrusting the head of his rod against Byers' ass. Byers bit into a pillow, muffling his howl. His body shook as Doggett slid slowly into him.

"Mmm! Mmm! Mmmm!" Byers was sweating under him.

"Oh, God, sweet," Doggett panted. He kept moving slowly, deliberately, pushing further and further into the tight heat of Byers' ass. The searing pleasure of Byers' body grew as Doggett moved. He groaned as Byers struggled under him, shouting into the pillow.

With a rough, sharp thrust, he penetrated as far as his body would let him, balls slapping against Byers' body. He growled and bit down on Byers' shoulder, holding himself still, buried to the root.

Byers turned his head to gasp for breath. "Aaaaangh! Aaaahhh!" He tried to buck into Doggett's body, but Doggett held him down with his greater weight, and his leverage.

"God damn, fuck, so hot." He struggled to hold himself still, letting the sensations blow through him like a gale-force wind. The heat of Byers' sweating body beneath him, the scent of his arousal, and the salt taste of his skin pulled Doggett closer to the edge. He needed this, needed to hold on, to keep still as long as he could with his throbbing rod buried in Byers.

Byers' firm, slim body drove him into raw, pure lust. This was what he'd missed so badly last night. He craved this sensation, this closeness, this incredible heat. He needed the feeling of control he had when he was with Byers, to make the man surrender. His chest was full to bursting with the weight of his desire for this man. He could barely fathom the depth of his need and attraction. It was becoming a compulsion; one he didn't understand, but couldn't give up.

"Unh, John, God." His own body was dripping with sweat from the intensity of this nearly motionless joining. Byers kept crying out under him, still struggling to move.

"Aaaaaangh! Master -- unh, fu-fuck..."

Master. Hearing the word again snapped something in him, and he couldn't hold out any longer. He wanted that -- wanted to own this beautiful, sensual man. He wanted into the fantasy that Byers' word betrayed, to take him as his slave. Doggett bucked into him, pumping hard and fast, ribs aching, and Byers screamed under him, coming hard.

"Yes, yes, yes, oh God, yes --" Doggett chanted the words into Byers' ear, gasping for breath as he spiraled down into helpless sensation. "Mine, John, you're mine." The world could end around him, the house come tumbling down, and all he'd be able to do was fuck senselessly. He could feel it build in his gut and his tight balls, slamming through him like a bullet. He shot into Byers, gasping for breath, unable to stop thrusting. Everything intensified, and Doggett was sure time stood still as he pounded into Byers even harder. His rod kept pulsing and he kept coming, clinging to Byers mindlessly.

They moaned and howled together, lost in their orgasm, bodies melded. He didn't know, didn't care if either of them said anything that made sense. His mind and body blazed with the intensity of his pleasure, not wanting to let go of it.

Slowly, the flood subsided. Doggett thought he might pass out from the pleasure, and the pain in his ribs. He rolled onto his good side, pulling Byers with him so they lay spooned together. He slipped his hand gently down Byers' chest to his damp, sticky stomach, trailing his fingers down into Byers' pubic hair and tracing the root of his limp cock.

Byers was gasping, chest heaving as he lay on his side in Doggett's arms. Doggett's own breath was just as heavy. He squeezed Byers carefully. The relief of their joining left him floating, dizzy.

Water. He needed water.

He didn't want to let go of Byers. Didn't want to pull his cock out of him. Byers was trembling in his arms, exhausted. There was no way Byers would be able to walk. Doggett wasn't sure he could either. Water would have to wait.

He squeezed Byers again and wriggled his hips against him, half-hard shaft still tingling as it moved in Byers' body.

"Unnnnnh."

"Oh, God, John." Doggett took another deep breath before he tried to speak again. Byers tilted his head weakly, and Doggett kissed him. It was soft but possessive. He wanted Byers, wanted so much to keep him, to have him in his bed every night. It was too much like desperation. He could hardly imagine having this wish fulfilled, but it didn't prevent him from wanting.

"Jack." It was a bare whisper. Byers looked at him, eyes half open. "That... amazing."

Doggett kissed him again, and Byers sighed into it, taking hold of Doggett's hands and pulling them tighter around him. Doggett's ribs ached, but he didn't care. He was still too buzzed on the high of his orgasm.

"You liked it?" His own voice was a whisper as well.

Byers groaned, then nodded. "God, yes... oh, God... so good."

Doggett grinned, then grimaced when the muscles pulled at the bruise on his face.

"Hey." Byers turned slightly, pulling away. His breath was coming more easily now. Doggett slipped out of him, his shaft mostly limp. Byers lay on his back and ran one gentle, trembling hand over the bruise. Doggett tried not to twitch. Byers looked down at his body. "How're the ribs?"

Doggett snorted. "Sore. I don't care."

"You should."

"God, I'm tired."

Byers kissed his cheek. "We should sleep."

"Need some water first. Gotta clean up."

Byers groaned then nodded. "You're right. I'm in the wet spot." He grimaced. "Ugh."

"Come on." Doggett pointed to the bathroom.

Byers rolled his eyes. "Do I have to?"

"You wanna lie in the wet spot all night?"

Doggett got up. Byers sighed and rose with him. They cleaned up quickly, and Byers dried the sheet with a towel, then tossed a clean one over the still-damp spot. Doggett got a big glass of water and drank it down, thirstily. He offered one to Byers, who also drank deep.

They slid into the bed together, barely managing to stay awake. "Dinner later," Doggett said. "It's early yet."

Byers shifted his weight and snuggled up against Doggett. "I'm not hungry yet. Maybe when we wake up, we can call out for something." He yawned. "Right now, I just want to sleep."

Doggett nodded, putting his arms around Byers. "Mm-hmm." It wasn't even quite dark yet, as the summer days were long, but he was too tired to think. Holding Byers left him feeling content, despite the deep ache in his ribs and the still-tender bruise on his face.

"Thank you," Byers whispered. He kissed Doggett softly, his beard scratching slightly.

"All you ever have to do is ask," Doggett said. He smiled when Byers closed his eyes and snuggled closer. There was something so right about this. One last caress, and he closed his own eyes too, settling into their embrace.


LONE GUNMEN'S MICROBUS
ON THE DOCKS
QUEENS, NEW YORK
LATE NIGHT, TWO DAYS LATER

"Haven't we got enough surveillance yet?" Doggett asked. He was cramped, and the steady diet of junk food and coffee wasn't setting well with him. Byers, Jimmy and Reyes were all off in a nearby motel, catching some sleep. They'd been on duty earlier in the day. He was bored and half asleep himself. Stakeouts had never been his favorite activity, and he much preferred the idea of being curled up next to Byers right now.

Frohike shook his head. "Haven't seen anybody we recognize going into the building. I'm starting to think Blondie was wrong about which one we're after."

Mulder, leaning back in one of the seats, sipped at his coffee. "No, I'm sure Langly and Byers were right about this. It's gotta be this one."

"Thanks for the vote of confidence," Langly said. "God, I hate this. Fro, gimme another Jolt."

Frohike reached down into the cooler at his feet and flipped a chilly can to Langly.

"Hey, dude, watch it. You shake it up and we'll be cleanin' it out of the equipment for days."

"Sorry."

Mulder straightened up in his seat. "Holy -- this can't be real." He slammed his fist down on the tiny counter where he watched the surveillance screen.

"What?" Doggett asked.

"Fuck," Mulder said. "It looks like Krycek. The bastard's dead. It has to be a shapeshifter. He went into the warehouse."

Everyone stilled, and Doggett and the Gunmen exchanged uneasy glances.

Mulder looked over at them. "Okay, what aren't you guys telling me?" he snapped. "What do you know about this, and how long have you known it?"

Doggett waited, watching the Gunmen sweat. He was nervous too, though he didn't care to admit it. It had been his own indiscretions that had brought Krycek out of the woodwork. He shifted, and Mulder nailed him to the passenger seat with his eyes.

"Spill it, Doggett."

Doggett cleared his throat. "He showed up a couple days ago at the Gunmen's place. Left an envelope. They got him on surveillance tape, but it was a quick flash. They --"

"We weren't sure it was even him, Mulder," Frohike said. "It could have been a clone. A shapeshifter. Hell, it could have been somebody in a mask. Who knows?"

"Well, at least now we got our confirmation," Langly said.

"He delivered an envelope?" Mulder wasn't going to be deterred. "What was in it?

The Gunmen looked at Doggett. It was his responsibility. He'd have to take this particular bull by the horns. "A blackmail attempt."

Mulder looked over at Langly. "What did you do this time?"

Langly held his hands up in the air. "Hey, it wasn't me this time, dude. It was Byers."

Mulder laughed, astonished. "Byers? Yeah, right. What the hell does Byers ever do that's worthy of blackmail?"

Langly looked at Doggett, his eyes begging for help.

"I got the same envelope," Doggett said.

Mulder stared at Doggett. "The same?"

Doggett nodded. "We... uh... the information was somewhat compromising. Nothing graphic. It wasn't enough to keep us off the case."

Mulder's eyes widened. "You? And... and Byers?" He shook his head, disbelief clearly written on his face. "I always kind of wondered if Byers wasn't a closet case, but you?"

Doggett nodded again. "Yeah. Me. You got a problem with that?"

"No." Mulder shook his head. "I'm just surprised. I never thought you had it in you."

"What?" Doggett said, "Tough ex-Marine, can't possibly like guys?"

"It never even crossed my mind. And Byers -- well, let's just say I'd never have guessed he was your type, or that you were his."

"Leave Byers alone, Mulder," Frohike said. "He doesn't need your shit. We give him enough on our own."

"Why am I always the last to know?" Mulder said, crossing his arms over his chest.

"'Cuz nobody loves you," Langly said. "Get used to it."

"Look, Mulder," Doggett growled, "this really isn't germane to the case. The envelopes were delivered. We ignored the threat. Whatever happens, happens, and we'll deal with it. This is between me and John, and it's none of your Goddamned business. The fact is, now we know Krycek's involved with this, and we know that this is the right building. I figured this was why the blackmail attempt was made. They wanted to keep us away from this."

Mulder looked like he wanted to hit him. "Anything having to do with Krycek is my business. If you end up getting the guys hurt because of this --"

"Oh, shut it, Mulder," Frohike snapped, sliding into the driver's seat as Langly moved to shut down the surveillance equipment. "You're not the center of the fuckin' universe, and this fighting isn't gonna solve a damned thing. We have what we need. Let's get back to the motel and catch some sleep. We can figure out what the deal is with Krycek later, when we have some breathing space. We'll plan the poach tomorrow and do the deed tomorrow night."

"No!" Mulder shouted, "We have to go in now! We can find out --"

"Mulder," Langly said.

"What?"

"Shut up. Like, we're not goin' in without everybody here. You know the drill."

Frohike started the engine.


PROTEUS HOLDING COMPANY WAREHOUSE
QUEENS, NEW YORK
NEXT NIGHT

"Okay," Frohike's voice hissed in Byers' earpiece, "you're in. Go!"

"Check," Byers muttered. He nodded and gestured to Doggett, and they hurried across the open space to one of the back doors of the warehouse building. Frohike and Langly were in an underground access tunnel several blocks away. Mulder was monitoring the situation from the microbus near the entrance to the tunnel, and Reyes and Jimmy were in Reyes' car, hidden behind a nearby building on the dock. They were far enough away to be concealed, but close enough to act as backup if needed.

When they got to the door, Byers scanned the area while Doggett opened it, pistol in hand. They both slipped through quickly. Byers closed the door securely behind them. "We're in."

"Check." It was Langly's voice this time. "You've got a hallway going left and right. Go right."

Doggett nodded and led the way. Byers prayed that they'd be in and out before their presence could be discovered.

They were both dressed in black, Doggett in jeans and a tight turtleneck, Byers in the multi-pocketed jumper that he always wore for these missions. Doggett wore a leather jacket that concealed his shoulder holster. Byers' heart was pounding in triple-time with fear. If he wasn't so scared, he knew he'd be very distracted by Doggett in that outfit.

"At the end of the hallway, turn left, and it looks like the third door." Frohike again. "There's a card swipe at the door. We'll try to open it from here."

"I've got the lockpick if you can't," Byers said. He patted one of his cargo pockets, thankful for the high tech they dedicated so much of their lives to cracking.

It wasn't long before they found the door Frohike indicated. "This should lead to a complex of hallways and a bunch of offices," Frohike said.

"Got the lock," Langly added.

Doggett raised his weapon and nodded to Byers.

Byers turned the handle and tugged with one gloved hand. The red light went green and the door clicked open. Doggett whirled into the doorway, weapon held in both hands before him, scanning the corridor. Byers followed when he moved forward.

Doggett seemed calm and collected, moving like a tiger. Byers envied his steadiness and grace. He looked around at the corridors that moved out before them and to either side.

"Which way?" Byers asked.

"We got no idea what's in there," Langly said. "Any windows on the doors?"

"No," Byers whispered.

"Any of your data file numbers from the files you found marked on the doors?" Mulder asked.

Byers glanced at the numbers on the doors. "Numerical strings aren't long enough," he said quietly. "It looks like regular room numbering."

"Try going left," Reyes said.

Doggett hurried along the left corridor, moving with almost ghostly silence, gun at the ready. There was only one door there. It was a heavy one. There was a card swipe there, along with a numeric keypad.

"How about it, guys?" Byers whispered.

"Working on it," Langly said.

They stood for several too-long moments, waiting for Langly's green light, but it didn't come.

"What's happening?" Byers was starting to sweat.

"Try the lockpick," Frohike said. "No joy here."

"Fuck," Doggett muttered. They looked at each other. Doggett's outer calm was betrayed by the uneasiness in his eyes and the tension in his shoulders. Byers could think of a million places he'd rather be.

Byers pulled the device from a pocket. He put the card into the slot and waited for the lockpick to find the code. In a moment, it blinked green. He tried the door. It didn't open. "Guys."

Frohike's voice again. "Hang on Rover One. Try it again. We'll go for the number pad from here."

"Too much of this and it might set off an alarm," Byers hissed.

"I know, I know," Langly muttered. "Go, dude, try it again."

Byers did the card swipe again, and this time two sets of green lights came up. The door opened when he turned the handle. He let out a sigh of relief. His stomach hurt.

Again, Doggett took the lead, weapon at the ready. The corridor ahead of them led to an elevator.

"Looks like we're going up," Doggett said.

"Nothin' under you guys right now but dock and water," Langly said, "so I sure as hell hope so."

There was a card swipe on the elevator as well. "Y'think they're paranoid?" Doggett whispered.

Byers swiped the lockpick again. This time, the button next to the door lit. Byers pushed it. He could hear the sound of the elevator mechanism hum to life.

"Second floor?" Byers asked. He heard the rustling of paper.

"There are several large open areas indicated on the second floor plans," Reyes said. "They might be labs of some sort, or file storage areas."

"Yeah," Langly said. "At least one of 'em's probably clean storage. If you can, get a look into them. You might be able to find some samples."

Doggett nodded. "Sounds good for a start."

They stepped into the elevator when the door opened. Byers pressed the button for the second floor.

"Check for these number strings," Mulder added, and rattled off a long series of numbers.

"Whoa, whoa, slow down here," Doggett muttered.

Byers shook his head. "It's okay, I got them." He laid a hand on Doggett's arm.

"You two can get cute later," Frohike said. Byers looked up at the surveillance camera, jerking his hand away. Frohike chuckled. "Smile, you're on Candid Camera."

"I'll kick his ass later," Doggett said. "Cut the chatter, boys."

They stood along the sides of the elevator as the doors opened onto the second floor, Doggett scanning the hallway then nodding to Byers and signaling him forward. There were four doors in the hallway, spaced far apart. The security here was tight.

"Guards headed in your direction," Langly said. "Routine patrol. Let's get you into one of those rooms, like now."

Byers hurried to the first door on the left. It was a massive metal double door that looked extremely heavy. He guessed it was several inches thick. "I wonder what they're trying to keep out," he whispered. Looking around, he saw the other doors were equally massive.

"Or what they're trying to keep in," Doggett said softly.

"Hurry up," Frohike snapped. "They're about to round the corner."

Byers shuddered. He slipped the lockpick through the card swipe as Frohike and Langly worked on the keypad. Two green lights, and they were in. The double doors slid shut with a click behind them.

"Just in time, boys," Mulder said.

Byers looked around. There were several large mainframes in the room, with workstations on long tables in the center. Another door opened into the room from the far side. Around the walls were long rows of file drawers. The room was cold, intended to accommodate electronics, not the humans that operated them.

He hurried around the perimeter of the room, scanning the labels on the drawers. Recognizing several of the numbers Mulder had recited to him, he pointed out a couple of drawers to Doggett. Turning quickly, he ran to one of the workstations and powered it up.

Frohike and Langly were on the security with him, cracking the system. It didn't take long.

Doggett came over to him, holding several small glass vials. They had tiny samples of... something in them. Each of the numbered vials had a name on it. One of the names was Knowle Rohrer.

"Shit," Doggett whispered. "Looks like this is connected to the supersoldiers project."

"Keep checking the drawers," Byers said, turning quickly back to the monitor. "I'll be a few minutes downloading information here." His fingers flew over the keyboard as Doggett went back to the walls of file drawers.

Byers slipped a CD into one of the burners and began copying files, moving as fast as he could. "Status," he said.

"Guards are gone from the hall," Frohike replied. "You should be safe for about another twenty minutes, if the patrol information was correct."

Byers sighed with relief, focusing his entire attention back on his work. The materials he found amazed him. "TREYNOR," he whispered. "I found the acronym. You guys aren't going to believe this."

"What?" Langly asked.

" TRansgenic-Extraterrestrial Yoked Nanotechnological ORganism," Byers replied.

Langly and Frohike both stifled laughs. "Oh God," Langly said. "That is so lame!"

"Yeah," Byers muttered. "Your tax dollars at work."

"My three-year-old cousin could do better than that," Langly snorted.

"Nobody ever accused the government of intelligence," Frohike said.

"Extraterrestrials," Mulder said. "That's it! This is the proof!"

"Now we just have to get out of here with it," Byers said nervously.

"Still looks clear," Frohike said. "Keep downloading."

Byers nodded and focused on the monitor again.

"Holy shit," Doggett hissed, shock in his voice.

Byers spun and saw Doggett holding a paper file in his hand, his eyes wide. He'd gone pale as milk. "What?"

Doggett looked up at him, fear on his face. "This." He hurried over to Byers. The file had Doggett's name on it.

"Oh, no." Byers felt like he'd been punched in the gut.

"Dudes, total alarm here! We've been made! Your door's been locked down!" Langly's voice snapped in Byers' ear.

Byers turned to the keyboard. "I need to finish this up!"

"No," Mulder shouted, "you got a bogey coming for the back door to that lab!"

Frohike's voice was loud in his ear. "Get out! Get out!"

Byers kept on the download, pushing for just another few seconds.

Doggett looked down at him. "Come on, damn it!"

"Go! Go!" Frohike shouted. "We're hacking the door!"

The door in the opposite wall opened, and a tall, muscular man stepped through. His hair was close-cropped, and he was dressed in military fatigues.

Doggett and Byers both looked up. Doggett slipped the paper file into his waistband and raised his gun.

"Shit. Run, Johnny!"

Byers slapped the eject button on the CD burner and jerked the disc out of the drive. He ran for the door. Skidding to a halt, he hit the button to open it. It didn't budge. "Damn it, do something!"

"Stop right there," Doggett snapped at the soldier.

Byers turned and saw him aiming at the man. The soldier kept on coming. Byers' stomach leapt into his throat. "Open the door, open the door!" He could hear his voice rising in panic. He kept pushing the button. Nothing happened.

Byers heard a shot, and turned his head back to Doggett. There was terror in Doggett's face. Another shot, and the soldier jerked but didn't slow.

It was one of them.

Byers pounded on the door. "Open the door!" he screamed. The door slid open, and he dashed through. He looked behind him, but Doggett hadn't moved.

"Come on, damn it!"

Doggett shot again, and the soldier kept on coming, running now. Doggett turned to follow Byers, but the soldier, moving like lightning, caught up to him. He picked Doggett up with one hand and threw him. Doggett sailed past Byers and slammed into the wall across the hallway with a sickening crunch. The gun fell from his hand and skittered to Byers' feet.

"Holy -- shut the door!"

"Working on it!" Langly shouted. "Shit! The fucker's locked down again! Working on it!"

"More bogeys headed your way," Mulder said. "On your floor, maybe a minute away from you."

Byers' heart was trying to crawl out his throat. He looked back at Doggett, slumped on the floor, unmoving. He looked back at the oncoming soldier, then down at the gun at his feet. Tucking the disc in his pocket, he scooped the gun off the floor and pointed it at the soldier, hands shaking. He backed up several steps until he was standing over Doggett's fallen form.

"S-stop!" The soldier kept coming and Byers pulled the trigger. The first shot slammed him back up against the wall with the sudden, unexpected recoil. With a yelp, he pulled the barrel down again, hysterically muttering, "Center of mass, center of mass--"

Byers fired again, closer this time, and again and again, striking the soldier repeatedly in random locations. The man didn't even flinch. Byers thought he was going to pass out.

The doors slid shut.

Byers took a quick breath and looked at the elevator but spun back to the door when he heard pounding.

"Oh, my God."

"We're on backup!" Reyes shouted. "We'll be there in just a minute! Get out of there!"

After the first two blows, he could see dents beginning to appear in the door. Byers stood, frozen with terror.

"We got you, man! Get to the elevator!" Frohike shouted.

Frohike's voice snapped him out of it. The pounding got harder as Byers stuffed Doggett's pistol in a pocket. He grabbed Doggett's ankles and heaved, dragging the larger man toward the elevator door. The pounding got louder, more dents appearing in the lab door. Byers was close to blind panic, barely holding on.

When the elevator door opened, he heaved with all his strength, dragging Doggett inside far enough for the door to close. He leaned against the side wall of the elevator, panting, heart pounding on his ribs as hard as the supersoldier had pounded on the lab door.

"Shit, shit, shit," Byers muttered. The doors slid open on the first floor. Byers got down near Doggett and shifted, pulling him into a fireman's carry. He had no idea if he could do it, but he had to try. He wasn't going to leave Doggett behind. There would be no second chance.

With all his strength, he staggered to his feet. Doggett weighed more than he did, was larger and bulkier, but his terror and the adrenaline in his system forced one foot in front of the other. He wobbled down the hallway as quickly as he could, Langly's voice guiding him back along the turns, through the doors where they'd entered.

He could feel muscles pulling and groaned, pushing the pain away. He had to do this. He had no choice. If he left Doggett, they'd kill him, or experiment on him. He would not let that happen. He'd rather die.

Gasping for breath, he staggered the last few feet to the door they'd come in through. Praying, he shoving against it, and it opened.

Reyes and Jimmy ran up to the door. Reyes' car was idling a few yards away, doors open. Byers' knees buckled.

Jimmy dragged Doggett from his shoulders before Byers hit the ground, and Reyes pulled him back to his feet. "Come on, in the car, now!"

Jimmy shoved Doggett's unconscious form into the back seat, then climbed in after him, and Byers nearly fell into the front passenger seat. Every muscle in his body was screaming in protest. He felt dizzy and light-headed, sure he'd vomit. Reyes slammed her door and peeled out, tires squealing.

"We've got 'em! Go, guys! Get the hell out of here!" Reyes shouted into her headset.

Byers passed out.


ASTORIA GENERAL HOSPITAL, ROOM 247
QUEENS, NEW YORK
TWO HOURS LATER

Byers sat, exhausted and miserable, in a chair next to Doggett's bed. Doggett had been admitted for observation. The doctor said he'd had a bad concussion. Doggett's vision had been blurred when he'd become coherent enough to examine, and he'd been vomiting, and now he was lying, asleep, next to him. There was an IV in one hand, filling the man with saline and drugs.

It was a miracle he was in the room at all. Mulder had been forced to offer the duty nurse a substantial bribe to let any of them into Doggett's room, but he and Reyes had finally been let in, and a blind eye turned to their movements. Mulder had made a crack about the Gunmen becoming an expensive habit, but somebody with a gun needed to be in there if one of the supersoldiers -- or Krycek -- came calling. Not that a gun would do any good. Byers had seen that himself.

Reyes had seemed torn between anger at him for trying to stay on the download, and admiration for saving Doggett's life. He was still beating himself up over waiting, but Langly and Frohike had taken issue with that behavior. They'd said several times that the door controls were taken away from them and, even if he had run when they first told him to, the door wouldn't have been opened any faster. Reyes had said nothing, but her anger seemed somewhat diminished by their insistence.

Reyes had gone a few minutes ago to phone Scully and Skinner and let them know what had happened. He hoped she'd be away for a while. He really just wanted to be alone with Doggett.

Byers had no idea how he'd carried Doggett out of the building. Looking back on the whole thing, he couldn't believe he'd done it. His body told him otherwise; it ached everywhere. He'd been given some muscle relaxants and anti-inflammatories for the sprains, but the pain filled him like a dull fire. Byers suspected he'd have a hard time walking for the next week or so. His neck and shoulders throbbed and he had a terrible headache. His lower back burned, and he wasn't sure he'd even be able to stand when the time came to get out of his chair.

The room around him was dark, dawn still an hour or two away. Frohike, Langly and Mulder were probably working on the files he'd burned onto the CD, and going through the paper file Doggett had found with his own name on it. The idea left Byers with a cold numbness in the pit of his stomach.

Reaching out, he took Doggett's hand in his own. Doggett was warm, but Byers felt like he was bearing a glacier inside. His own hands were freezing. "I'm sorry," he whispered. "I'm so sorry." Even though the guys couldn't have gotten the door open any sooner, he still felt guilty. He'd had the habit so long, sometimes it was hard not to feel that way.

The image of the supersoldier throwing Doggett through the air like a toy kept replaying in his mind. Shutting his eyes didn't make it stop; if anything, it only seemed to bring the picture into sharper focus. He could still hear the crunch of Doggett hitting the far wall. The doctor had said that, from the impact Doggett sustained, he was lucky he hadn't suffered far more serious injuries. They expected to release him late tomorrow if his vision cleared.

Byers squeezed Doggett's hand. There was no response. Aching, he shifted his weight carefully and slid an arm around Doggett's chest. He laid his head on the sleeping man's shoulder and closed his eyes, just listening to Doggett's heartbeat, and the steadiness of his breathing.

He'd almost lost him.

Shaking, Byers could feel a raw, burning tear slip down his cheek. His hand clenched in the fabric of Doggett's hospital gown. He held it tight.


ROOM 247
ONE HOUR LATER

Doggett's eyes fluttered open. He moaned softly. His head was muzzy. For a brief moment, he wondered what had happened, panicking with the thought that the supersoldiers might have him. He remembered being picked up and thrown. The last thing he'd felt was his back hitting the wall. His head was throbbing with every beat of his heart.

After a moment, he remembered waking in the ER, and a doctor testing his vision, asking him questions, but he didn't remember most of his answers. At least, thank God, he wasn't a prisoner, or a medical experiment.

It was dark. He turned his head slightly. It hurt and he hissed. Then he saw Byers, his head resting on the bed next to his shoulder. Byers' hand was in his. He was safe --they'd both gotten out, and Doggett suddenly realized just how much that meant to him.

Byers looked all right, though there was pain in his face, even asleep. Doggett raised his other hand slowly. There was an IV attached to it. He moved carefully to avoid pulling at the line and laid his hand on Byers' shoulder. He stroked his way softly down Byers' arm, but Byers didn't stir.

That feeling was back -- the one that had left him so confused. It was that fullness in his chest, and he tightened his grip on Byers' hand. He knew what it was now, recognized the feeling. It made sense of so many other things he'd been puzzling over lately where Byers was concerned.

He'd fallen in love.

For a moment, he wanted to deny it, reject it. It was the drugs. It was some kind of delusion. He'd never been in love with a man before. He'd never even thought he could love a man. Byers didn't love him, never would; he couldn't, it would never work. Byers would leave, like all the others. He'd...

Doggett didn't care. Byers was here, now, asleep next to him. Somehow, the man must have managed to get him out of the building. He couldn't imagine how, but here they both were.

He swallowed and closed his eyes, trying to will the feeling away, but it wouldn't leave. And then he didn't want it to. The intensity of it stole his breath.

The door opened quietly, a shaft of light coming in from the hallway. Doggett looked up.

Reyes entered the room. "John?" she whispered.

"M-Monica." His voice was harsh and rough, his throat sore.

She smiled, the white of her teeth light in the darkened room. "You're finally awake." She sat on the bed next to him, not far from Byers' arm. Reyes looked down at Byers. "I can't believe what he did."

"What happened?"

Reyes shook her head. "He carried you out of there."

"No." Doggett blinked. "No way. He's not strong enough." He coughed, trying to get past the soreness in his throat.

Reyes picked up a cup from the bedside table and slipped an ice chip into his mouth. Sucking on it helped the raw burn. She nodded. "He did. I saw it. I thought he'd run, John. I thought he'd leave you there and save his own skin."

"No," Doggett whispered, "don't even think that. I told him to run. I made him promise he'd run if we got in trouble. He... he didn't. He got me out." He looked back at Byers, touched his cheek. "He didn't leave me there." He blinked, his eyes damp and stinging. After a moment he looked back up at Reyes. "You're so wrong about him, Mon."

Reyes looked at Doggett, silent for several minutes. She reached out and took Doggett's cheek in her palm. "Maybe..." she said softly, "maybe I should give him a chance."

Doggett took her hand. He squeezed and she squeezed back.

"For you," she said, "I'll try."


DOGGETT RESIDENCE
FALLS CHURCH, VIRGINIA
EVENING
THREE DAYS LATER

Doggett was putting the finishing touches on dinner when the doorbell rang. That would be Byers. It was the first time they'd seen each other since they'd arrived home from Queens. Doggett's head had ached too much, and Byers had been too stiff and sore to leave the Gunmen's warehouse.

When Doggett opened the door, Jimmy was standing there with Byers. "Uh, hi, Jimmy." This wasn't exactly what they'd arranged. He looked at Byers. "Johnny."

"Don't worry, Agent Doggett, I'm just dropping him off." Jimmy grinned.

Byers blushed. "I'm not quite in shape to drive yet," he said.

"Well," Jimmy said, turning away, "I'll be heading back. Byers, when you need a ride home, let me know, okay? I'll come get you."

"Thanks, Jimmy." Byers limped through the door. He really wasn't moving very well yet, Doggett noted. He closed the door behind Byers.

"How's the research been going?" he asked.

Byers gave him an uneasy glance. "Bits and pieces of several dozen projects," he said, his voice low. "They're... they're looking at attempting to breed supersoldiers. And the nanotech, it does seem to be linked to what happened to Skinner. We --" Byers took a breath. "This is dangerous stuff, Jack. Very dangerous. We're going to have to move carefully on it."

Doggett nodded. He moved closer and put his arms around Byers, pulling him into a gentle hug. Byers sighed and settled into the embrace. It was warm, comforting. He didn't want to think about the file with his name on it. All he really wanted right now was dinner. Dinner and Byers.

It felt so good just to hold Byers. Mulder had told him what had happened in the Proteus warehouse. Had shown him some captured video. Doggett never once thought he'd see Byers with a gun in his hands. It was obvious Byers had never fired one before, and the terror on his face was stark. Yet he'd stood there, trying to hold off the supersoldier until the doors closed.

The damned things looked almost indestructible. Doggett could barely wrap his brain around how much damage that many shots would have done to an ordinary human. It was hard to even imagine how Byers must have felt, facing that thing alone. He pulled Byers closer, until a quiet sound told him he'd squeezed too hard.

"Sorry," he said. "Didn't mean to do that."

"I know, I'm okay," Byers said. "I just... if you could take it easy for a week or so, I'd really appreciate it. Everything still aches."

"Let's go eat." He caressed Byers' face and kissed him, soft. "Then we can watch a movie or something."

"The Hunt for Red October?" Byers asked, a slight tone of skepticism in his voice.

Doggett grinned. "Nah. I rented the original Mummy for you. Figured I had to see it eventually."

The smile that bloomed on Byers' face lit Doggett's heart. Yeah. He could so get used to this.

~~fin~~

Please post a comment on this story.









Fandom:  Lone Gunmen, X-Files
Title:  Well-Kept Man 3: Metal and Bone
Series Name:  Well-Kept Man
Author:  Mice   [email]   [website]
Details:  Standalone  |  NC-17  |  321k  |  04/18/04
Pairings:  Doggett/Byers
Summary:  After Doggett and Byers return from New York, our Agent brings an X File to the Gunmen. Things go terribly wrong.
Notes:  This is AU for the XF universe. Mulder wasn't dead when he got back, and he's medically retired from the FBI now. Scully was never pregnant. This series departs from canon/timeline about the time Mulder was abducted. Thanks to Amazon X, SallyH, CaroDee, and Reyes-beta SciFiNerdGrl for beta help above & beyond the call of duty.
Spoilers: Do they even have those anymore? JTS does NOT exist.
Disclaimer/Other:  We deserve 'em more than CC does. They still belong to him, though.
Archive: Basement, Lone Slasher, Countermeasures, XFMU, LGM Fanfic Bunker, Glass Onion, FHSA, WWOMB, all others ask.
Feedback: Feed me, Seymour!


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