Best Novel


Our nomiees for "Best Novel" this year are and interesting mix of old and new authors. We also have an interesting mix of emotions in these stories. From tears to laughter, from anger to pain, the readers have been taken to the highs and lows of human feeling. Reading these stories, we've been on amazingly different journeys in the lives of the same two men. And no matter what place the authors have brought us to, I'm certain we've all enjoyed the ride.

The nominees are:

Hope by Jami Wilsen

Alex lay on the couch in a daze induced by the latest in a long line of afternoons of doing absolutely nothing. He had even found himself ignoring the need to get up to use the toilet, waiting until his bladder was hysterically insistent. He'd tried half-heartedly reading but had given that up too, eventually. Sighing absently through his nose, he regarded the television without even seeing it. Bored. Bored, bored, bored.

What am I doing here? Why... am I here? Somehow, knowing that not one single other being in existence gave a damn affected his desire to really find the answer to that question, even on a theoretical level.

Retirement from the intrigues and survival drive of his previous existence, as well as the chaos amidst post-Consortium mopping-up, was not turning out exactly as he had expected. The boredom and futility was taking its toll, and he simply could not find anything to replace the scale or scope of what he had been involved in for so long now that it was gone. Some had expected him to renew the Syndicate's activities and pursue the same goals that CGB Spender had suggested. The thought of being *his* heir, even by default, sent a shudder through him.

A rippling sneer of revulsion still crawled over him at the thought of the Morley man. Pushing him down the stairs had been such a catharsis.

God forbid that Alex Krycek might want something more akin to a normal life than the questionable glory of running the world behind the scenes. Spending time doing mundane things, like mowing a lawn or taking up a hobby as innocent and trivial as collecting rare CDs or foreign films. Making up for lost years, making time for himself for a change rather than running around as an errand boy, for old men with delusions of grandeur and faceless aliens with dubious agendas. Another unsung hero. Let alone taking a lot flack and dealing with everyone's hostility and mistrust towards him while looking out for the good of humanity. The desire for a brief hiatus, followed by the pursuit of another career, was what had led him to this quiet period. Problem was, nothing new had yet emerged. He was simply too over-qualified for anything but cross-departmental intelligence or governmental sabotage and infiltration.

He didn't consider it hiding, nor did he have to justify the need to seek any kind of equilibrium after his previous experiences. He didn't suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (he suspected he should) but the cold sweats and horrific nights he spent reliving the loss of his arm and his sojourn in the silo so many years before were more than enough to contend with. Now that he'd allowed himself the space to relax, all the suppressed stress and tension was surging to the fore and he had to deal with it.

He felt a small measure of self-congratulation on his success in coping with it so far. He'd known others who'd eaten bullets after the Consortium's fall in the wake of the last coup by the rebel aliens. Still, the days were too long to really replace the nights and he didn't know which he found more uncomfortable. He chalked it up to seriously over-due vacation time and the need to assimilate.

Not on My Watch 4: Remember Me by Aries

The attorney placed the typed page on top of the pile to his right and picked up a handful of new pages from his left.


For the first time since the group had assembled at the table, Alex showed some signs of life. His head jerked up, and he looked wide-eyed at the attorney.

"God, I knew yours would be the hardest message to write..."

"No," Alex gasped, leaning over, clenching his fingers in his hair. "Don't. Don't read it..."

The attorney stopped, and Scully rose from her seat, coming to squat in front of the shaking man. "Alex," she whispered, lightly rubbing his thigh. "It's okay..."

"*No*." He began to rock, hands still tightly clasped in his hair. "It's not okay. I don't want to hear it...I can't...I can't, Scully."

"Why? You heard the rest..."

"He's saying goodbye," Alex sobbed, rocking faster. "I can't hear it. You weren't supposed to leave me, weren't supposed to..."

"Alex, come on..."

"I need more. We were supposed to have years and years together. We were supposed to..."

The group watched in stunned silence, moved by the bereaved man's outburst.

"Alex...Alex, listen to me. If you don't stop this, I'm going to have to sedate you..."

He looked up at her, profound grief shimmering in his eyes. "I don't want to say goodbye," he whispered. "I want him back."

Renaissance Man by Queen Mab and Ratadder

A large sign read:

Captain Duncan McKeir's School of Piracy! Swashbuckle with the Most Dastardly Rogues on the Seven Seas! Shows at 10:30, 12:30, 3:30 Demonstrations Throughout the Day

This must be the group Charlie wanted to see. Mulder checked his watch; the show had just started a few minutes ago. He moved along the outside aisle, making his way slowly toward the stage. The two 'dancers' were now engaged in a slapstick argument, while the third fellow continued to harangue them in exasperation. Something about his voice...

Mulder found a tree close to the stage, with a not too uncomfortable niche where the trunk split into two, and perched, leaning against the rough bark. He studied the pirate now scampering down to the deck, waving his arms and shouting in a drunken manner. He wore a dark brown jerkin, full- sleeved 'pirate' shirt, baggy knee pants, boots, and a floppy hat with an outlandish, fluffy orange plume. His warm brown hair and beard set off a pleasant face, which blazed with comic fury at his inept crew. He looked like Errol Flynn's goofy kid brother after a few too many beers.

Mulder blinked. It couldn't be. It was. It wasn't.

It was John Byers.

"Ye mangy curs, the Captain will have yer guts for garters!" he shrieked. "Now stop that prancin' about and do it right!"

The band of pipers and drummers at the edge of the stage began playing again. This time the two dancers executed a still playful but more or less correct hornpipe as Byers explained, with the exaggerated precision of the tipsy, the importance of proper hornpiping among the skills of a professional pirate.

They finished to enthusiastic applause, the pirates bowing- and Byers nearly toppling over backward. Mulder chuckled; his nerdy friend had an unexpected theatrical streak in him. It seemed to be a day for finding unexpected aspects of his friends' personalities. What next? AD Skinner as the village blacksmith, doing stand-up comedy while he shoed horses?

He got his answer to 'what next' almost immediately. One of the pirates gestured off into the trees, "Master McStagger, look! Up in the sky!"

"It's an albatross!" Byers-McStagger cried.

"It's the Spanish Armada!" said the other pirate.

A figure came swooping across the stage, flying gracefully through the air on a rope. He swung back and forth several times, posing heroically, before jumping lightly onto the deck.

"It's Captain McKeir, King of the Pirates!" The three shouted in unison. "Huzzah!"

The crowd applauded and shouted "Huzzah!" Well-trained audience, Mulder mused.

If Byers was Errol Flynn's goofy kid brother, this was The Real Thing. Tall, slender, elegant, the man wore a snug doublet, tight knee pants, high boots, and cuffed gloves, all in black leather. The doublet, partially unbuttoned, showed a gleaming white shirt with lace frills at the collar and a good bit of a virile chest. Dark red glints highlighted the black hair that waved over his forehead and the neatly trimmed moustache and beard that framed his sensuous mouth. The emerald green plume on his black leather hat danced jauntily as he swept it off in a deep bow to the audience. "Captain Duncan McKeir, at your service, my lords and ladies."

This was absolutely impossible. Mulder watched in stunned amazement as Byers, in his character as Master Angus McStagger, first mate of The Flaming Queen, greeted his captain. Who was Alex Krycek.

Sleep and Tackle by Loren Q and Zoe Takashi

I juggle the bag of take out, a couple of videos and a newspaper while unlocking my door. I enter, hands too full to turn on the light.

Kicking the door closed, I drop the paper. As I bend over to pick it up, I feel a hand grab my collar, pull me up and run me forward.

I land squarely against the wall, smashing the container of Pad Thai. The tapes scatter on either side of me. I'm roughly turned around and someone's body slams into mine.

Oh no, not again.

The weight of Krycek's body pins me to the wall as he shoves his gun under my chin, banging my head back. "Miss me, Mulder?" His voice is a hiss near my ear.

"Yeah, like I miss jock itch."

"Hmm... you might not want to give me ideas." He quickly backs away from me, keeping the gun pointed at my chest. He glances down briefly, a look of exasperation crossing his face as he sees the noodles hanging from his leather jacket. "*Slowly* set your gun on the floor and slide it over to me. And don't get any heroic ideas... it would be a shame to have to kill you before we've had a chance to, uh, chat."

Keeping my eyes on him, I pull my weapon. I squat down to place it on the floor. With any luck, I'll be able to get to my ankle hol--

"Don't even try it Mulder. Drop *both* guns, stand and kick them over."

I comply. Shit. I hate it when he's got the upper hand. I feel my fists clench with the desire to smash into him, to wipe that smirk off his face.

"There are handcuffs on the table. Cuff yourself to the bookcase. I don't want you getting out of hand too quickly."

I snap myself to the bookcase. This is cruel. One wrong move will bring the bookcase down, killing my fish.

"What do you want now, you amoral, scum sucking, oxygen waster?"

He holsters his weapon, retrieves and pockets my guns. He shakes his head, reading the titles of the videos I've picked up. I just don't need this...

"Jesus, Mulder. This shit cannot possibly turn you on, so why bother? Are you that desperate for anything that even resembles sex?" He strides over to me, grabbing my free arm and twisting it behind my back. His body presses into mine, his voice is a whisper in my ear. "I'm really hurt that you don't feel you can call on me when you have... needs." He steps back, releasing my arm and slapping me across the face.

I lunge at him but he's out of reach. "Ooo.... Testy, testy. Careful of the fish, Mulder. They are, after all, your longest lasting relationship."

Walking the Razor's Edge by Tarlan

Waiting.... how he hated waiting. He could be a patient man when necessary but fear for Alex set him pacing through the apartment. Mulder threw himself onto the ancient leather couch, his head bouncing back as it hit the upright. The sun had begun to set behind the tall buildings opposite and Mulder watched the shadows lengthen across the floor until the room was lit only by the light from the fish tank.

Silence... the apartment seemed so silent to him now. He could still hear the muted sounds of life beyond his four walls, the whispers of television sets, the soft footfalls of people moving through the corridors but these were not the sounds he had become accustomed to. He strained to hear the sound of Alex pottering in the kitchen making coffee, the rustle of paper as Alex turned the pages in a book, magazine or newspaper. That made him smile. He'd never thought of Alex being a bookworm but the man seemed to soak up the written word and never seemed more relaxed than when he had his nose deeply buried in a book. The latest title lay discarded upon the low coffee table. Mulder reached for it, turning the battered paperback over in his hands before placing it back onto the table. He glanced towards the door... nothing... no-one.

Other remembered sounds filled his mind and he cocked his head as if the memory alone could bring them back. He missed the soft grunting breaths as Alex pushed himself to complete the punishing fitness regime... and the gentle humming that seemed to follow Alex around the apartment. It was hard to believe a man who had spent so many years on the run could make so much noise and, many a time, Mulder had stood outside the bathroom door listening to the surprisingly good tenor voice that floated above the spray of the shower while the vision of an angel in Krycek's form danced through his mind.

Mulder flicked on the reading lamp and watched as the encroaching darkness was pushed back into the corners of the room. In only a few short weeks Alex Krycek had brought his own form of light into Mulder's life. He had quickly grown used to the ready smile that greeted him each morning; the arms that reeled him in, soothing away the tension of another wasted day; the soft lips that would claim his own, sucking gently, tongue probing delicately... and those clever fingers... ten clever fingers... that would ease the constricting tie and push the jacket from his shoulders when he came home.

It was hard to believe the gentleness, the sensuality of the man when all he had seen before was a hardened assassin. Hard to believe those pure notes that filled the air in song could deepen to a husky, sexy voice full of lust and need. His eidetic memory mapped the strong body; the wide shoulders, the smooth almost hairless chest; the silky softness of inner thigh beneath his fingertips.

"Alex... where the hell are you?"

Wild Justice by MJ Lee

Green eyes softened. "I'm not. I'm making a clean break, Mulder. It's the only way I can be sure no one finds us."

"You're what?" Mulder said for the third time.

"I mean it. I'm out of the game, Mulder. I've finally got Petya back, and nothing is going to take him from me again. If I stay," a shrug, "sooner or later they'll catch up with me. Besides, I can't drag Petya along to all those dingy motel rooms and airports, always on the run. He needs a real home, not," green eyes darkened suddenly, "what he's had until now. What I had."

Mulder bit his lip. "So what was last night about?" He tried, and failed, not to let his bitterness shine through. "Payment for Petya?"

Krycek moved across the room, and Mulder's mouth went dry at the easy, graceful sway of narrow-hips encased in faded, rough denim. He sat down on the bed. "Last night was what it was, Mulder," even the voice had changed. It was not Krycek's usual defiant sneer or whipped, remote automaton. It was warm and alive with an undercurrent of pure joy running through it, and for one piercing moment, Mulder was consumed with jealousy over whoever could cause this change in his Alex. "My way of saying thank you, for Petya yes, but most importantly, as I said yesterday, to put things right. So that both of us would know how it could have been between us. And perhaps," he admitted softly, "to make sure you'll never forget me. Forget what might have been."

He leaned across the bed, brushing his lips lightly across Mulder's in a warm, brief kiss. "Besides, I didn't think you'd take money," a rueful smile, "which is just as well because I'll need every cent I've managed to salt away to create a new life for us. I can't give you the other thing you want, Consortium secrets. It would mean yours, mine and Petya's death. So that left, this." He patted the bed then rose smoothly and picked up jacket and slung it over his shoulder while moving towards the door.

"Don't go, Alex," the whisper floated across the room.

And the winner is...

Not on My Watch 4: Remember Me by Aries