This story is also available at this location on The Archive of Our Own, where all my current stories and comments can be found. I am no longer updating this site.

This entry is part 3 of 7 in the series Iolokus with MustangSally Series

Without your family, what have you got? As Mulder attempts to deal with the mundane horrors of suburban life, his fragile security is threatened by the return of a less-than-savory relative. It’s Father Knows Best meets Seven as the former X-Files partners reunite.

Warnings:
“This segment contains moments of affection/happiness unusual for the series.”

According to the surgeon general, women should not read this product during pregnancy because of the risk of birth defects. Reading this product impairs your ability to drive a car or operate machinery and may cause sleeplessness and irritability. Do not use in or near eyes. Keep this and all other NC-17 fan fiction out of reach of children. Do not read this product if you have a severe reaction to extreme situations or an aversion to drool. Store at room temperature and avoid excessive heat. Do not use if seal is missing or broken. This has *not* been sanitized for your protection

For new moms Parrotfish (Aaron and Paul), and Lynsa
(Josie). This drool’s for you.

‘VIX TE AGNOVI’ means “I hardly recognized you.”

Are you lonesome tonight,
do you miss me tonight?
Are you sorry we drifted apart?
Does your memory stray to a brighter sunny day
When I kissed you and called you sweetheart?
Do the chairs in your parlor seem empty and bare?
Do you gaze at your doorstep and picture me there?
Is your heart filled with pain, shall I come back again?
Tell me dear, are you lonesome tonight?


1 Thou best know'st What torment I did find thee in; thy groans Did make wolves howl, and penetrate the breasts Of ever-angry hearts.

 

I'd already been through my bag three times, the rest of the room twice and I was about to turn the bag inside out when Zippy came through the connecting door.

Ropes of rain lashed against the windows. It was a vicious spring, wild and storm-wracked, enough to make me believe that global warming was already affecting climate patterns. Or maybe the spring wasn't any different from any other spring; maybe I was noticing it for the first time. Maybe I was losing my mind.

"Looking for something?" Zippy asked blithely. Oh no, the storm wasn't making *him* jumpy, not in the slightest.

"Yes," I snapped.

"What is it?"

"It's personal."

"Not one of those female things, is it?"

I bared my fangs and he smiled. "Could it be…this?" He brought his hand from behind his back and I snatched the stuffed animal away from him. I've had lots of practice with defensive glares and I gave him a pretty good one.

Thumper looked at him accusingly too.

"Look, Dana, I've spent enough nights on the other side of the wall from you, listening to you…well, I don't know if you're asleep or awake but frankly I don't care. That bunny is not going to solve your problems no matter how tightly you hold onto it."

I twisted the bunny in my hands, pressing it into my stomach so that its plastic nose stabbed into me, and I was painfully aware of how pitiful I looked. "What do you want me to do? Leave the thirty thousandth message on his machine? Call Emerson and beg him to intervene? Go to court and try to explain to the judge why I left the child I'd just gotten custody of halfway across the continent?"

"Let's try D, none of the above. The case is closed, the bad guy is a puddle of goo–and let's not even start on that one, all right? Our flight leaves tomorrow morning. Talk to him. *Go* there, Dana, I know you've got the address, you must have written it a hundred times by now. It's a lot harder to say no in person."

"You don't understand."

"That he can't forgive you for being human? For being hurt and used and fed up?"

"I don't need you to defend or justify my actions. I accept them. Mulder understands them."

Zippy groaned and raised his hands. "Fine. You tell yourself whatever you have to. But you need to do something, because I don't think my buying earplugs will really solve the problem."

The thunder growled elemental agreement.

****

There were lots of things that I never thought I would do. I never thought that I would climb Mt. Everest, I never thought that I would ever eat zucchini, I never thought I would wear a tie to work every day, I never thought that I would know the difference between large and small cap stock, I never thought that I would sell out and let the piercings in my ear fill in with scar tissue, and I never thought that I would spend a beautiful Friday afternoon in March waiting in a pediatrician's office. Miranda, however, thought this was a good thing and sat upright in my lap, looking around at the other babies and toddlers raising hell with their mothers. I was the only male in the room tall enough to see over the reception counter.

Humming to herself in untranslatable Miranda-ese, she sat on my lap with the tip of my tie stuffed in her mouth and kicked her feet. The tie, as usual, was infinitely preferable to the pacifier I had jammed in my jacket pocket when her Highness found it wanting. Unquestionably, she was the most intelligent and the most beautiful child in there. The mothers looked at us with dismay at her aura of self- possession and poise, or maybe it was the shirt Warwick had put on her that morning. Tie-dye with little dancing Grateful Dead bears he picked up on his yearly pilgrimage to San Francisco. Hell, I thought it was acceptable and what else would a modern kid wear with overalls anyway? At least she wasn't wearing the 'legalize it!' one Frohike had given her. "Miranda Scully?" the assistant asked.

I took my progeny over to the counter and waited. The woman looked up at my tie-sucking princess and me and smiled an inane smile.

"Mr. Scully?" she asked.

"No, Mr. Mulder," I corrected her and nodded down at Miranda, "this is *Miss* Scully, and Dr. Scully will not be joining us."

Damn straight she wouldn't be joining us until Miranda was old enough to vote. Hell, I last saw Scully in early December, just after she'd abandoned Miranda out in Montana to my newly discovered twin Emerson. Emerson was a nice guy but I had begun to imagine something different for my life than fruitless quests and unending danger. I threw a temper tantrum and got on a plane to get my daughter. When I got back, I'd transferred to Quantico — and that last meeting between us didn't really count, because I wouldn't look at her while armed. Now it was spring, and I was getting used to my new life. Actually, things were shaping up really well. There was a possibility that I was happy.

The scores hadn't come in from the East German judge yet.

The exam was a routine well-baby visit and Miranda looked imperiously at the doctor as she undressed her, examined her chubby little limbs and kept up a running patter of questions directed at both Miranda and myself. "You're getting to be a big pumpkin, aren't you?" The look Miranda gave Dr. Byrne was vintage Scully. The translation was something like 'I beg your pardon, but my father and nanny speak to me in an adult fashion, not patronizing me with baby-talk.'

"I was wondering about her size. . . " I began.

"What about it?"

"She's two pounds heavier and four inches longer than the average for her age, and she was premature."

"The operative word is average, Mr. Mulder. She's just on the high end of the curve."

"So she's a moose. A Mooselet."

"Basically. And you are an obsessive first-time parent with too many facts and figures from the million childcare books out there." Had this woman been looking at my bookshelf?

"She's happy and healthy. Don't worry about anything. What about you?"

I busied myself in stuffing my daughter's rubbery little limbs back into her clothes. Given a choice she'd prefer to be nude all the time. Sometimes on lazy nights I'd watch television on the sofa with her on a towel and me in my shorts. I hoped this wasn't going to encourage deviancy in her adult years because she had watched the Redskins play while she was in the buff.

"What about me?" I asked. "It's not easy being a single parent, gender roles notwithstanding. You're separated from your wife, right?"

"She wasn't my wife."

"That makes the issues more complex, doesn't it?" Dr. Byrne put her hands in the pockets of her lab coat and leaned against the exam table and watched me try to ease Miranda's flailing dinner-roll feet into her sneakers.

"Dr. Byrne, I appreciate your concern for Miranda and myself, but I have a degree in abnormal psychology from Oxford and I'm administrative Agent In Charge of the Investigative Support Unit at the FBI section of Quantico. I have seen things that make Silence of the Lambs look like The Cat in the Hat. My issues are *nothing* like those of the average single parent."

I did stop before I pointed out that I had recently reviewed a case file about an infant of Miranda's age who had been reduced to hamburger after being raped by her stepfather. "So you think that you don't need support?"

"I wouldn't know what it was like," I snapped the shoulder straps of her overalls over Miranda's hot little shoulders and sat her upright. She gave me a gummy smirk and grabbed my already-wet tie and popped it back into her mouth.

"Doctor, we're fine."

****

The playground was deserted, not surprising because the moon was a hangnail in the sky and good little children were home in bed. Swings pulsed gently in the cool spring breeze and the slides lolled like outstretched tongues.

Everything was covered in green light, a layer of gelatin over the world. I moved forward, wafting like a ghost across the hopscotch circles and four-square boxes chalked onto the black concrete.

The green-tinged white shoes stood out starkly against the wood chips of the jungle gym area. I bent to look into the wooden box of the play structure, big enough for two very friendly eight-year-olds, hemmed in by ladders and ropes and other childish things.

The woman's body draped limply over the rough wooden floorboards. A runnel of dried blood ran along the long index finger of her right hand and colored her nail tarry black. Her neck was thrown back and I could see the livid bruises.

I didn't have to touch her to know that she'd been strangled.

There was a sound, feet slipping on damp woodchips. I turned and looked into a face that hadn't been far from my consciousness for years. Mulder's face was as immobile as a death mask as he reached for me.

He smiled as I began to scream.

Zippy's hand over my mouth and the harsh light of the motel room lamp brought me awake. He shushed and pushed at me until I managed to get my mind to run my nerves rather than my spinal cord. When I regained control, I sat up and his hand fell away. He looked at me like a jigsaw puzzle whose picture he hadn't quite figured out. There were circles under his eyes that hadn't been there when I'd met him. I remembered the feelings too well, of being caught up in someone else's undertow and being sucked below the surface, while still struggling against the currents.

"Are you going to tell me about this one?"

I shook my head and got off the bed, moving past him to my laptop on the table at the other end of the room. He watched as I booted up and logged into the FBI server and then the NCIC database.

He followed and watched over my shoulder as I entered the search pattern I wanted. Within minutes, the results returned, no exact matches but four hits worth looking at. Then I read the descriptions of the hits and understood.

"What is it?" he asked, as impatient as I'd been six years ago.

I tilted the screen so he could see it better.

"George Naxos lived," I said. "And he's working his way from Texas to DC."

****

I had barely managed to extract Miranda from the station wagon when my cellphone shrieked. I ignored it as I kicked the door shut. It was a nice car, really, a sporty silver gray and green Outback with a darker gray plush interior, and its new-car smell had lasted an entire five hours, before the Mooselet spit up all over the back seat. For the first time. Now the plush was flattened in places from various cleanup attempts, successful and not, the interior was strewn with Miranda's traveling toys (it being more practical just to have another set of toys rather than move them from car to house with the requisite forklift), and it smelled, more or less, like dirty feet. The child safety seat in the back was a device of torture to the Mooselet. She resisted being put in the seat, whined at stop signs and red lights. There must been a genetic tendency for high speed in the Scully family somewhere. As far as Miranda was concerned, when one was in the car one should *go* and not wait for anything. If I didn't get her out quickly enough at the end of the journey she would begin to fuss, and if that didn't speed matters up enough, she set up howling as though I were pulling off her arms and legs.

I could see how much fun I was going to have teaching her how to drive.

Miranda set up a counterpoint wailing to the phone that lasted beyond the point at which the voice mail took over. We did a couple of trips around the house while she cried herself out. I hated to hand her over to Warwick when she was crying, because it always made me feel like a big insensitive clod. The fact that he called me a big insensitive clod when I did so might have had some relation to my feelings.

While I was walking, I caught a glimpse of the stray cat we'd been feeding on and off for the past few months. We set out cans of tuna fish and she'd dart by, picking at fragments, as long as we stayed inside or across the yard from her. A flash of sulfur yellow eyes indicated that she had registered my presence. The cat was black, skinnier than her own shadow, and very, very cautious. I was beginning to come to the conclusion that she was ninety percent sure that she didn't want to be tamed or rescued, but the ten-percent uncertainty led her to tease.

What did that remind me of?

Or, more importantly, who?

When Miranda was quiescent at last, I headed into the house. Warwick had made brownies and the house smelled like a chocolate factory. He came out of the kitchen and gave me a knowing look.

"Your old boss wants to talk to you. Real bad. He's called four times in the last hour."

I handed him the baby and he handed me a brownie. I sighed and headed for my study, hoping that the brownie didn't contain any controlled substances.

Skinner, unsurprisingly, was still in his office.

"I wanted to let you know," he said as soon as I said my name, "that there has been a request to take a set of ISU cases out of ISU jurisdiction for investigation by another unit."

"And you want me to approve it? I can do that, but can it wait–"

"That unit is the X Files."

Fuck, fuck, and triple fuck.

"What are the cases?" I asked, clutching the phone like a drowning man tugging at a fragment of timber.

He rattled off a barrage of numbers, "and one new enough that it doesn't have a case number yet; the locals haven't filled out the forms. Five murders, spread throughout the Southeast and moving upwards. Agent Scully" his pause could have been measured in microseconds, or I could have been imagining it, "said that it related to an open X File."

"And she asked you to be the go-between, passing our notes like in grade school? I thought she was–"

Whatever I thought was lost to history when he grunted like a man ducking incoming fire. "She wants to speak to you about the cases. I thought you might like some advance notice."

I blinked like a stunned steer. "I'll…read up on the cases," I said breathlessly, and hung up.

Then I remembered that I'd have some difficulty with that. The computer wasn't working too well as Miranda had spilled twelve ounces of apple juice into the keyboard. I wasn't too upset about it because too much apple juice is very bad for a growing child's health–they fill up on it and don't eat enough that's nutritious. The computer shop was sending a new keyboard, but for the moment I was computerless; Warwick's Little Mermaid screen savers made me seasick, even if he would have let me touch his jury-rigged monstrosity. Wasn't it Bill Gates who'd said that 640K of memory should be enough for anyone?

The end result was that I'd have to go to the office to look up the case files, and then Scully would probably show up here and find Miranda. Not that I was expecting some sort of Baby M smuggling scenario, but what if she decided she liked being a mom again?

What if she didn't?

I'd have to wing it, and Scully's devastating if you're not ready for her. And often when you are. I hear that hurricanes are like that too.

Iolokus III: Vix te Agnovi 2/20 We all were sea-swallow'd, though some cast again (And by that destiny) to perform an act Whereof what's past is prologue, what to come In yours and my discharge.

All things considered, the meeting went better than I'd thought.

We rang the doorbell, which was answered by an Asian man about half a foot taller than I am. He had a towel thrown over his shoulder and a Pet Shop Boys concert T-shirt that looked like it had seen better days, probably better discos.

"Sir? I'm Special Agent Dana Scully and this is Special Agent Michael Zipprelli, we're looking for Agent Mulder." When I said my name he gave me a once-over that had nothing to do with my feminine attributes. I guess he was surprised that I only had one head.

"I'm Warwick Chang," he said and didn't offer his hand. "Why don't you come in, I'll get Mulder."

We came through the foyer and entered a lovely sunny family room. Miranda's fingerprints were literally everywhere, along with piles of videocassette tapes out of their boxes– Disney, I was relieved to see when I craned my neck discreetly–and teething rings and one of those strange stacking toys whose purpose is to teach children that big is bigger than little.

"She doesn't like that one," Mulder said and I spun, almost falling over when my foot hit a pile of alphabet blocks. "She thinks it's condescending, did you know that knowledge of basic physics and spatial relations appears to be hardwired into babies' brains? Of course you did, I forgot to whom I was speaking."

His voice was low and flat as the Dust Bowl.

He gestured at the couch, which was covered in a loud geometric pattern that couldn't have shown any spills that weren't glowing radioactive. "Sit down, it's not as nice as the old one but, well, you can guess."

I picked my way to the couch and sat next to Zippy, who gave my hand a furtive squeeze as Mulder looked straight through my head.

I licked my lips and met his eyes. "We're here about a case."

"Of course," he repeated, with disinterest that should not have made my ribcage close around my heart like a hand wringing a bird's neck. "The one you want to take from ICU."

"It's more than that," I said. "It's George Naxos."

The first emotion he'd shown crossed his face–horror and fear marbled in equal measure. "You've got to be kidding," he said when he'd managed to swallow the expression, "you know you don't ever need an excuse to visit."

I swear to God I would have hit him if Zippy's arm hadn't kept me down on the couch.

My partner — Zippy — began to talk, hoping vainly to keep us on-topic. "I think you'd better take a look at what we've got. You might be in danger, if he's figured out the connection."

Mulder's gaze broke and he looked over my shoulder, at the dinner table set for two (and a half, counting the high chair). "So tell me what you think dear George has been up to lately. I haven't seen any graveyard murders recently."

"He's not leaving them in graveyards. He's switched to playgrounds."

The muscles in his cheeks jumped as he processed this.

"So you think that now he knows–now that I know–my sister's not dead he's decided playgrounds are more his style?" I heard my own incredulousness in his voice and didn't like how it tasted.

I folded my hands on my lap. "I haven't ruled anything out. You yourself suggested that there was some sort of connection between his MO and your sister's abduction."

"Let me ask you, was my leaving all it took for you to become a believer? Because you've never been this gullible before. If I'm hearing you right, you now want me to believe that I'm not a serial killer because I projected my childhood trauma on someone who was one."

"I don't want or need you to believe anything, Mulder. This isn't your investigation, I take full responsibility. But I do want you to be concerned for your own safety." And that of your daughter, I added to myself.

My daughter.

Damn.

"Pardon my incredulity, but I'm finding it a little hard to deal with the new Dana Scully. What, the position of Believer opened up and you saw it as a good career move? Your instincts aren't serving you very well in that regard, though I do congratulate you on the promotion to AIC, sorry I didn't send a card."

Mulder's anger was as familiar and comforting as a cup of hot chocolate. It helped me focus. "It's possible that George heard or read something while he was being held at Roush that enabled him to make the connection, he's nearly as smart as you are," I said heavily.

"Dana," Zippy warned, "you should tell him."

I looked down at the briefcase in my lap, my careful little presentation that I'd written up for Skinner and Mulder tucked inside, and shifted in my seat.

"What?" Distrust, sharp as the bread knife I used to cut open organs. It burned like acid against my skin; I thought I'd leave the house with a disfigured face to match the soul inside.

"I didn't just…figure this out," I admitted. "I've been having…disturbing dreams. Last night I dreamt about George's fifth murder."

A flash of interest from Mulder. Despite himself, despite me, he couldn't resist a story with that certain paranormal bouquet. "And?"

"And that murder was logged into the NCIC database five hours ago–twelve hours after I dreamt the scene."

A revenant of the old chiding smile crossed his face like fog or cobwebs. "A question we haven't learned how to ask yet?"

"Maybe." Zippy twitched beside me. I knew he didn't like being left out of our in-jokes. I'd explain later, possibly.

****

Warwick was guarding the Mooselet, down in his lair away from the combat zone. Scully still hadn't asked to see her, though I noted with clinical detachment her eyes searching out every sign of a baby's presence, every stain and primary- colored toy and Handi-Wipe that hadn't quite found its way to the trash can yet.

She excused herself while I read the file she'd put together and Zippy watched me like I was his latest suspect.

After five minutes I raised my head. "She never took this long in the bathroom when she was with me, aren't you letting her take breaks?"

Zippy stared at me, practically bristling. "I don't know, why don't you go ask her?"

"You sound like you don't really mean that," I observed.

"I think she needs you in her life like the President needs another horny intern. But she's hurting and you should talk to her."

I sighed. "And you can't soothe the savage Scully?"

"There's no need to be an asshole about this, Spooky."

"Fuck you, Zip."

Scully was in our (and I mean Miranda and my) room, looking not at the empty bed but at the empty crib. Her hands, clutching the railing, were as white as the low-gloss nontoxic paint on the crib. Miranda actually had a room of her own but Warwick and I were in the process of redecorating it in a Disney theme and the Mooselet and I were sharing quarters until the toxins from the new paint and carpet had dissipated.

Scully's eyes were fixed on the wall above the crib, where I'd taped up all the postcards she'd sent. I think there was one for every airport they visited and every town. I hadn't acknowledged a single one but I had spent many nights pointing out landmarks to Miranda and making up stories about what the X File might have been. She didn't write anything on the back, you see, only the date and her initials.

"Kind of pathetic, isn't it?" I asked, "but at least I'll have something to show her when she's twelve and wants to know what her Mom was like. 'Oh Miranda, she cared about you enough to send you postcards, but not enough to actually write anything'. You could have at least put the fucking case numbers on them so I could let her read the field journals."

"Skinner would have given you the case files if you'd asked."

"Let's not drag Walter the Terrible into our little domestic dispute, please," I sat on the edge of the bed and tried to stare her down.

My legs were shaking like the green Jell-O that Miranda liked so much. I wanted to hate her, I really did, and I wanted to group her with the rest of the predatory females that have plagued my life. I wanted to rip her away from the crib, wrench her head back in a flurry of burning hair, and tear the demure black suit from her white body. Then I would throw her on the bed and *prove* how much I had starved for her. Of course she'd rip out my heart and eat it right there on the dark patterned comforter. She was so good at that.

"How is she?"

"Oh fine. Other than the fact that she wakes up screaming every night, wailing 'Mommy, Mommy! Where's my Mommy?"

The combination of pain and hatred that flashed through her eyes nearly stopped my heart in my chest. I'd seen that look before and had never been on the receiving end of it. I was now officially one of the bad guys. She won the staring match as I dropped my gaze to contemplate the dried blob of mashed banana on the toe of my sneaker.

"If she could talk she might say that or she might say that she had gas. It's kind of hard to tell at this stage of development."

"I'd like to see her," she asked in the most careful of voices.

I took a deep breath and hardened the shriveled remains of my willpower.

"That's probably not a good idea, she's reached that stage where strangers frighten her and she might throw a screaming fit, " I lied, "we went to the doctor today and she's a little stressed out right now."

Scully pivoted on the heel of her size six pump and stalked out of the room like a much larger species of predatory feline. Her heels gouged into the carpet.

"Zippy," she growled in a tone she must have learned from Skinner, "we're going back to the city."

Zipprelli shoved the case files back into her briefcase and danced to her side.

"We'll be in touch," he said the standard Bureau dialogue without much emotional investment.

"You do that," I shoved my hands in the pockets of my pants and trailed them through the door and out to the motor pool Ford parked at the curbside.

In contrast to the behavior of the past five years, Scully slid into the driver's seat and gunned the engine. I hoped Zippy's nerves were up to the challenge.

"You'll hear from Skinner regarding the reassignment of the cases," she said, nearly ripping the parking brake out by the cable.

"Take the cases, see if I give a shit. Do whatever you want, it's what you do anyway," I snapped, my last frayed nerve giving way like old dental floss.

I had to jump back from the car as she peeled out, nearly losing a foot in the process.

Bitch.

Selfish bitch.

I got the mail out of the box as the Taurus sped down the street. Warwick's domestic tendencies did not extend to this chore for some reason. I think it had something to do with the fact that he only believed in e-mail rather than anything made of paper. Among the bills and the junk mail there was a thick envelope with an Austin postmark and what looked like a law firm's return address. What the hell was "LLP," anyway, it sounded like a Schedule I drug rather than a business type. As I took my shaking body up the walk to the front door, nearly tripping over the blooming daffodils in the random front garden, I opened the letter and read it.

I had to read it again as I sat at the kitchen table and ate entirely too many brownies.

As far as I could make out through the legalese, the remainder of Jason's estate, that which was not tied up in Roush, he had left to Miranda, with a small bequest left over for me, just enough to be a slap in the face. Between the properties, contents of said properties and the horse farm, Miranda was the owner of no small chunk of change. And there was blood on every coin of it.

I'd have to tell Scully, as Miranda's legal guardian she had responsibilities now.

Bastard.

Warwick finally brought Miranda upstairs when the smoke had cleared; by then I was sitting on my old sofa in the study and gazing blankly at a documentary about Emperor penguins at the South Pole. The hot heavy bundle that was plopped in my lap was the Mooselet who promptly gave out a chuckle and reached for my nose – her favorite toy.

"What up homey?" Warwick asked.

"Same old same old. Maybe I should just get 'sucker' tattooed across my forehead and be done with it."

"She wasn't what I expected," he said and sat cross-legged on the old southwestern rug spread across the floor, "I thought she's be taller."

"She is taller, you just don't notice it at first. It sneaks up on you, and then it's too late."

The Mooselet cooed in agreement, she too was larger than she seemed at first. As if sensing my mood, Miranda went boneless and stuck to my chest like a limpet mine smelling of honey. She continued to warble as her fat little fingers picked at the molded plastic eyes of her favorite kangaroo beanie baby. Her scalp was hot against my face when I pressed my lips to her peachy little head.

***

I probably should not have been driving. I probably should have been sitting in the back seat shoveling anti-anxiety meds into my mouth like M&M's. Or sleeping pills. But the Bureau's doctors were too fucking professional to let me get away with that and for some reason I was hesitant to prescribe for myself. So instead I drove, heading against the coagulated traffic. Zippy, Blues Brothers shades protecting him from my Medusian gaze, looked out the window at the cars creeping past.

"That went well, I thought," he muttered.

I couldn't look at him, I had to keep my attention on the road so the car would stay on it. I passed a balky while minivan with a bumper sticker touting an honor student. Miranda would probably do well in school; she certainly had the genes and the cash for it.

"It could have been worse," Zippy added after the minivan lagged behind, "at least he didn't actually throw us out."

"In another minute he would have. The only good thing is Mulder's agreed to let us take the cases away from ISU."

"And how does that make you feel?"

I spared him a glare at a stoplight.

"I'm fine, Zippy."

"Pull the other one. You're driving back to Annapolis."

"Shit."

"Let's go to your place and order a pizza. I'll take the car home and get you in the morning."

Like a seagull dazed by a rough spring storm I headed home.

My apartment was a mess. I honestly hadn't gotten around to cleaning in weeks. There were dirty dishes in the sink, a pile of mail that I hadn't gone through yet overflowing from the coffee table, and the drapes were still closed as I had left them the week before. I tossed my keys on the table and stepped over the newspapers jamming the door. Zippy looked over his glasses as though he was examining a crime scene, and I suppose that he was.

"Call the pizza place. It's speed dial number four. I'm going to put on some sweats."

While he called, I added to the pile of dirty laundry in my bedroom and sat on my unmade bed to take off my stockings. My lonely dirty bedroom. In my bra and panties, I stretched out across the bed, too drained to finish dressing. I rolled over on my stomach and shut my eyes. The rumpled sheets smelled like my own late-night sweat from the near nightly dreams of the Brothers. All of the brothers. Some nights my Technicolor dreams were of enacting half the Kama Sutra with my particular Mulder, other nights I dreamed of being bound and gagged while each one violated me, other nights it was one or the other of the brothers, and my subconscious betrayed me to the point of a baroque chiffon fantasy world where I reclined on silken sheets like Mata Hari and had them all at once. The problem being, any one of the visitations from the adult movie studio in my brain could awaken me shaking with dread or trembling with lust with little relation to the subject matter. The first time I woke grinding my pelvis into a hotel mattress while I dreamed of the useless, beautiful Darien underneath me made my precarious grip on sanity slip within sweaty hands. The resulting orgasm from the dream Darien left me weak, shaky, and feeling filthy. At least the first one had been Darien.

I was now on the fourth trip through the alphabet. To be blunt, dreaming of George's other nocturnal activities was something of a relief. At least it wasn't me he left in the playgrounds. I much preferred being a witness to full-fledged participation.

When the pay per view hotel movies offered 'Boogie Nights' I refused to even watch the ads. Zippy probably thought that I was the world's biggest puritan. If he only knew the truth. I could have gone to talk to Karen Kossoff but I didn't want to upset her. Maybe I needed an exorcist rather than a therapist. I tried taking a vacation, and a week at the wintry beach in Delaware did not help in the least, just left me thinking about the amniotic pull of the sea. I wondered how far I had to walk into the water before my hair floated around me like seaweed and the sea washed me away. I could float away on the cold water forever.

"Hey."

Warm hand on my shoulder. I pulled myself out of the depths and rolled over. For a moment, I saw a different face on the man standing next to my bed. Realizing that it was Zippy, I grabbed the bedclothes and pulled them over my body.

"What?" I muttered and sat up, keeping the comforter wrapped around me.

"What did he say?" Zippy asked, his weight compressing the mattress next to me.

"Fuck off, more or less," I rubbed at dry eyes, "he also let us have the cases, but you heard that."

"Did you get to see Miranda?" he asked with surgical detachment.

"No," unaccountably, my throat closed around the words, "he wouldn't let me."

Zippy reached out and rubbed my knee through the comforter in a friendly, soothing gesture as though I had been Miranda.

God, how big was she now? Was she happy? Was she really better off or was she slipping into the morass of genetic destiny? Mulder was in some ways the eternal optimist, he thought that love could make everything better. If he loved her, he thought, he could protect her from fate and politics and skinned knees. And when his protection failed he'd see it as an inadequacy of his love. I wondered if her pain would disappoint him as much as mine did, if he'd be able to forgive her when she got hurt and if she'd ever understand that Mulder wanted to bear her pain so much that he would not allow her to possess her own suffering.

Of course at this point her suffering was a wet diaper. Perhaps I was projecting.

"Pepperoni?" Zippy asked.

"Mushrooms."

That night I had the strangest dream. For once, my late- night movie didn't star one of the Mulder brothers. I dreamed that I was in the hallway outside the X-Files office. I had a feeling that Mulder was inside, but I was unwilling to walk in. Instead I watched a woman in a severe black suit walk towards me in the hall. I was too far away to see her, but her hair was long and curling past her shoulders, the color of Bing Cherries.

It must have been the pizza.

Iolokus III: Vix te Agnovi 3/20 His mother was a witch, and one so strong That could control the moon, make flows and ebbs, And deal in her command without her power.

Believe it or not, I had a lot of work to do that was related to my *real* job, and so I tried to get some of it out of the way while simultaneously keeping the Mooselet entertained. This required some creativity on my part. She was about as mobile as a bean bag chair but as far as she was concerned having the world revolve around her was movement aplenty. So I plopped her down on the carpet in the study and stretched out on the floor. How did anyone get anything done before the invention of the cellphone?

"Ralph," I said into the phone as I waggled the plush unicorn in front of Miranda, who was still in the process of deciding whether or not she was bored, "you can't claim a Mr. Coffee as a reimbursable expense, no matter how much you need the caffeine to work."

The doorbell rang. During the day dealing with the hoi polloi was Warwick's job, and I wasn't in any way jealous of it, so I ignored the noise and finished my lecture on fiscal responsibility. Miranda had not quite yet made the connection betweeen the buzzer or the sound of the front door closing and visitors, though she always appreciated finding someone new on whom to practice her wiles.

Footsteps down the hall suggested that I was going to have to face the world, or some fraction thereof, despite my feeble attempts at hiding out. Warwick knocked, then pushed open the door.

"Mulder," he said, sounding even more strained than when he'd announced Scully and her new squeeze, "you have a visitor."

I pulled myself off the floor and squinted out into the hallway.

"Well," I said as Warwick evaporated, "it's old home week. How are you, Mother?"

She looked as patrician as ever, with her white hair I knew for a fact she dyed to get the gray out. She did, however, seem a little awkward as she held the enormous doll. It was as big as Miranda and eight times as elegant. Pale as China White, its rosebud lips and blue vitreous eyes reminded me of Scully. The flat sociopathic gleam of the glass orbs didn't hurt either. Its hair was curled in long blonde ringlets that would have looked good on a Hasidic Jew, and it wore a sapphire velvet dress with lots of delicate lace sticking out in uncomfortable-looking places. Its eyebrows were painted on like a model's but its lashes looked real. It was huge, expensive, and utterly absurd for an eight month old who still thought that sucking on her own toes was the height of coolness.

"I brought my granddaughter a gift, Fox."

"She's not quite to that 'playing with dolls' stage. I'm kind of hoping she goes straight for guns." What on earth, or on Reticulum, had she been thinking? The doll was completely developmentally inappropriate; at best Miranda was going to eat its hair and spit up on it, if she showed any interest in it at all.

Her mouth tightened into the flat grim slash I remembered well. She didn't seem drugged or otherwise confused, and I wasn't sure how well I liked that. "I want to spend some time with my family and to get to know my granddaughter."

"Samantha isn't enough to fill your lonely nights?"

"I haven't heard from her in months, Fox."

"Whatever. All right, you've seen Miranda, she's got all the requisite fingers and toes, she doesn't look very much like you or me, shall I call you a cab?"

She looked around the room. "It's a nice house. I take it you've finally spent some of your father's money on something that will last beyond next season's fall collection."

I took Miranda in my arms, despite milady's protests. I needed help staying calm and Miranda was better than Valium, even squirming and whining.

"You were the one who taught me about good taste in menswear." Even after Mom took the night train to the Land of the Mood Elevated, she was always quick to notice when I wasn't looking spiffy. Never mind the fact that a boy who's well-dressed by adult standards couldn't be more vulnerable to harassment if he actually sewed a patch on his back that said "Yes, I am a faggot," never mind that I was already an incredible misfit, Mom had to ensure that my ties and socks matched, as if that was her good parenting credential. If it was, she should have sued the hack who sold it to her.

No. She was leaving, and even if I had to put a Star of David and a string of garlic over every door and window, she wasn't coming back.

She stared at Miranda intently. Maybe she was looking for signs of intelligence, or attempting to commune with her on the astral plane. I suppose that I could have asked her what results I should expect from the various genetic manipulations to which Scully and my genotype had been subjected. But how could I expect her to tell the truth?

The Mooselet took this opportunity to practice blowing spit bubbles, which she did with the concentration of a concert violinist negotiating a tricky movement of Tchaikovsky. I didn't bother to tell strega mamma that the spit bubbles usually climaxed in a round of spitting that would have done a camel proud. Miranda then let loose a cascade of evil baby chuckles that made Mom raise her eyebrows.

I heard the doorbell ring again. Great, Torture Mulder Day had been declared a national holiday. I wish I'd known so that I could have marked it down on my calendar. With my luck it was my boss come to yell at me, or maybe Kristen Kilar had finally named me in a paternity suit and I'd have to support a little bloodsucking fiend for the next fifteen years.

When Zippy came into the study I was so relieved that I actually smiled at him. This disturbed him enough to make him stop under the lintel.

"Come on in, Zippy. Mother, this is one of my fellow agents. We have some important work to do on a pending case, so I think you should leave. Warwick can get you a cab if you need one."

Her mouth twitched and she stepped towards me. Would she really slap me again? Zippy would love that. "I'll be in town for the next few days," she said. "I'm visiting some old friends…on Capitol Hill. We should talk, Fox."

Yeah, that's what women always say, right before they start rearranging your internal organs. I nodded as politely as I could and motioned to Zippy. He and Mom did an awkward little shuffle as he came closer and she went through the door. I wanted to follow her out to make sure that she really left, but that would be rude; anyway Mom wasn't the kind to wait around for further humiliation.

I put Miranda back on the floor and walked over to close the door. Zippy was still looking at me as if I were the kind of fungus that used to live in my refrigerator. He wasn't going to say anything, though; old psychologist's trick, force the subject to make the first move. Fuck that, I thought, I could spot him a queen — and I had — and still beat him at this game.

"So what are you doing here?"

Zippy bent down to greet Miranda. He pulled her up into a sitting position and nudged her cheek, eliciting a saliva- specked smile. He was looking at her, not me, when he spoke. "I had some more questions and I figured — well."

I knew what he wasn't saying. "Where is the beauteous Agent Scully?"

"She had all the autopsy results from the first four sent to her and she's working on the body of the latest victim. Death doesn't do weekends and neither does she."

"I remember."

Now they were playing pattycake, or at least Zippy was trying to play and Miranda was watching him with the kind of wide-eyed adoration that he used to get from slightly more mature women.

"So have you figured out how you're going to explain the birds and the bees to her when she asks where babies come from?"

"Sure. See, when the mommy loves the daddy very much, she shoots him. Later his sister takes the daddy's sperm and mixes it in a little glass dish with the mommy's cryopreserved eggs. Then they go kidnap a woman off the street…"

He was laughing. Actually, I was laughing too. Miranda looked from me to him and back, and smiled wide as a moon pie.

"You're a sick fuck, aren't you?" Miranda nodded, agreeing with him.

"Watch it, Zip. Little pitchers have big ears."

"Better to learn at home than on the street." He feinted and poked her gently in the tummy. She roared with laughter and drooled on his arm, which he just wiped on the carpet. "So, talk to me. You read the original file on George, right?" I nodded; Scully must have told him about our first meeting. "Canadians are being coy about turning it over and I wanted to find out what you knew."

I turned on the microfilm machine in my head and rewound. "George Herbert Naxos–at least his middle name wasn't Wayne, right? Born December 1, 1961, given up for adoption the same day. Adrienne Naxos was a practical nurse who worked for a wholly owned subsidiary of Roush, I guess they wanted to keep it in the family. Unfortunately she seems to have been a real Nurse Ratchet. There are hospital records going back thirty-five years, and remember that she could take care of the minor stuff herself so the records, even if complete, would only be the tip of the belt buckle. I'm guessing that she'd lock him somewhere to punish him, maybe a closet or a basement, and she burned him when he was really bad. Given the contours of his crimes, sexual abuse is also a strong possibility.

"On November 27, 1973, around midnight, George had a series of seizures. Adrienne took him to the ER. She must have been very frightened, especially when he remained catatonic for nearly a week. When he woke up he had no recollection of anything out of the ordinary.

"After that, though, his budding criminal career began. Subsequent investigation by George's psychiatrist suggested that his first experiments with firestarting and animal mutilation began at around that time. No one made the connection between George and the local epidemic of kitty- cat slaughter, and things went back to normal for a while. Then George developed artistic differences with Adrienne. She wanted to live and he thought she looked better dead. He strangled her and burned her house down when he was fifteen and disappeared."

"And was he killing all through the time until he was caught?"

I shook my head. "Not enough evidence to be sure. He never copped to anything but the murders they already had him for, but that doesn't mean shit. Also, because he was caught in Canada which doesn't have the death penalty, the Canadians weren't really cooperative in investigating murders he might have committed in the U.S. — they didn't want him extradited and killed."

"Bleeding hearts."

"That probably explains why Canada's such a violent nation. Execute more jokers like George and they'd be as peaceful as the United States." I smirked and sat down in my chair, realizing too late that I'd leaned back onto a reasonably fresh formula stain. Well, I wasn't dressed for work anyway.

"I've seen the pictures of his recent work, I know Scully's theory on why his MO changed. What do you think?"

I made a choked sound.

"She's exploring the possibility of some kind of connection between you two," he prompted.

"You can say the bad word, Zippy, I know it's tough but you're a big boy — psychic. She thinks he's in my head."

"I've read the Roche file. I've read the file on your sister's disappearance. I know the significance of November 27, 1973, and that this isn't any more far-fetched than explanations you've endorsed in the past. Are you unwilling even to consider the possibility?"

Too full of nervous energy to sit still, I hopped off the chair again and began rolling Miranda around on the floor. She enjoyed it, but it didn't make Zippy go away. "I'm…not unwilling. Maybe too willing. Did you know that for a while in the 1980s, while he was still free, George and I were on some of the same mailing lists? The sticks and stones will break my bones but whips and chains excite me kind. I guess the family that comes together stays together, or something like that." Miranda made the face that indicates that a full diaper is on the way, and I picked her up.

Zippy followed me to the changing table, wordlessly opening the jar of baby-wipes for me. I worked in silence until I could be sure what I was going to say.

"Frankly, Zip, I'm fucking terrified. I can barely control myself and here comes George, moving with the force of pure id, to showcase all the bad things about me. I have a bad feeling that this ends with me and him fighting to be alpha wolf, except that I don't know which one of us is me."

"You're you, he's him. End statement."

Zippy scooped the now clean and sweet-smelling Miranda off the changing table and held her in one arm with a skill borne of long practice.

"You know the difference, don't you sweetheart?" he asked.

Miranda gave him a drooly smirk and stuffed his tie in her mouth.

Naturally, he was smitten.

****

After reviewing the autopsy data, I spent the weekend on the sofa with my favorite men – Ben and Jerry. At least the freezer kept the ice cream edible. Everything else in the refrigerator was suspect. I ate my way through Cherry Garcia, Wavy Gravy, Phish Food, and Chunky Monkey before I went into the bathroom to throw up. It wasn't bulimia per se – just nerves. God, my other great problem relationship – food.

Why was it that I had the worst time with the simple things in life? Food, love, sleep, sex? The things that should make life a little bit more worthwhile. I overate when I was unhappy. I'd eat until my stomach rebelled and then I'd throw up. Sometimes I just ate. When I got out of the Academy and the relationship with Jack Willis (love and sex) was going to hell, I put on twenty pounds. When They closed down the X-Files, I ate myself three sizes larger and my best black suit made me look like an eight ball.

The cancer, or the chip I now bore in the back of my neck like the Bar Code of the Beast, had twisted my metabolism so I now had that of a tree shrew. Or maybe I just wasn't eating the way I used to. It was sometimes hard to remember, easier just to add another cup of coffee to the sloshing nightmare inside me.

I hadn't gotten sick from eating like that for years.

I sat on the cold floor of the bathroom for almost an hour, listening to the clock over the shelf tick and counting the tiles in the floor. No matter how many times I told myself that it was only an anxiety attack and that it would pass, the shaking and sweating refused to stop. So I sat there with my face on the cold and forgiving toilet seat and waited it out.

Finally, I managed to make it to the medicine cabinet and dry-swallow a Xanax. I avoided the gaze of the burning- eyed woman in the mirror and stumbled off to the deceptive sanctuary of my bed. The pillowcases were cool, if dirty, and I huddled there while the sunlight made the branches of the bare spring trees skitter shadows across the walls.

I had the playground dream again. The jungle gym, the monkey bars, the roundabout, and the swings. As usual, I found myself moving across the wood chips in the strange and weightless way of dreams until I was peering in the open maw of the playhouse. The dread and the darkness filled me again, as the blackness called.

"You don't want to go in there," a voice that felt feminine instructed me.

In a non-corporeal form, I turned, saw the shadow figure by the swings, watched the light bounce off of the blackness which made up the body.

"Don't go in the playhouse," she prodded.

"Who–"

"Just call me your subconscious, you can accept that explanation," she sounded a little bit the way I did on my answering machine, but annoyed, "but just trust me on this–"

"The last thing I'd trust is my subconscious."

"The old chestnut – that to understand the artist you have to study his work – this is an ideal application for that theory."

"The last thing I want to do is get into George's head."

"He's already in yours."

Then the drugs finally took hold of my lower mind and it all melted away.

****

It rained most of the weekend and Monday morning it looked like more of the same. I was in the shower with the Mooselet when I remembered that Warwick had to meet with a client that day and I was going to have to work from home. I wasn't supposed to do that two workdays in a row, but I'd been such a good boy for so long that I thought I deserved it. I left a message for Diane before my feet hit the floor. I'd never actually had an administrative assistant before and I was still in the honeymoon period where I was asking her to do things as though I was asking for an inconvenient favor. I was starting to wonder exactly how screwed up my entire reaction to women had become in the past year.

"You want to go to the grocery store?" I asked Miranda. "We have no food and we're going to starve." She thought this was hysterically funny and dissolved into a wet shower of giggles, flailing her feet and arms around like a little froglet. She was easy to get a laugh out of. I buried my face in her fat belly and blew a raspberry. She howled with glee and grabbed a double handful of my hair.

Sitting in the safe confines of her baby bath at the shallow end of the shower, she giggled and banged both her chubby little fists against the blue plastic sides of the tub. This was our morning routine; I'd plunk her in the baby bath while I showered. I never let her out of my sight, which meant for a lot of soap in the eyes and probably broke several covenants of child care, but when I was done washing, I'd lather her up and sluice her off under the shower head. She loved the shower and squealed with joy as the water bounced off her pink little body. I used to think that Scully had the softest skin in the world until this little green-eyed woman came into my life. I was beginning to get used to smelling of baby shampoo and Dove soap every day.

I let Miranda roll around on the bed while I got dressed, then I shoveled her into a romper thing and trekked downstairs for the ceremony of feeding her Highness. Bibs were for pussies. Warwick and I had cut up bath towels and put Velcro on them so she was cocooned from chin to toes, with only her hands free to cause mischief. She banged happily away on the tray of the high chair with her fat fists while I organized cereal, formula, and mashed a banana. It was a good morning when most of the food went in her mouth rather than on either of our clothes or in our hair. Today was not a good morning and the Mooselet gleefully spit a blob of banana straight into my coffee cup. The result didn't taste all that bad. I scraped dribbled banana off her rubbery little face and shoveled it back into her bubble-gum mouth. Caring for Miranda hadn't been as complicated as I had originally thought it was going to be. Time-consuming, yes, but requiring a high IQ, no. She ate pretty much what I ate, only mashed into a pulp, she slept when she wanted to, and dirtied disposable diapers at an appalling rate. Yes, I was worried about the environment, but the future was going to have to cut me a break — I was, after all, a man and I deserved to have my handicap forgiven.

I had more coffee, sans baby banana, and prepared for the assault on the grocery store. I gathered keys, wallet, cellphone, trench coat in case of inclement spring weather and my father's wedding band. I'd taken to wearing the ring out in public when I was with Miranda as it tended to ward off awkward questions. The few occasions I had forgotten to slip the thing on my finger I had gotten bizarre advances from women and even stranger advances from men. Warwick had thoughtfully left the grocery list spreadsheet stuck to the refrigerator and I stuffed it in my pocket and grabbed the Mooselet to head out.

The sun was shining in the parking lot so I decided to leave my coat in the car. I propped Miranda up in the shopping cart and slung the diaper bag over my shoulder, feeling my testicles shrink as a result of being so unmanned.

Taking a baby through a grocery store is not unlike running the obstacle courses at Quantico. The Mooselet had a reach that was going to make her a top scorer in the WNBA. The problem was the fact that her reach was paired with an oral fixation (something I had never bothered to grow out of) and anything that she got in her tentacles went straight into her mouth. I kept popping Zwieback toast into her oral orifice to keep her from sucking on Windex bottles. Vegetable aisle first and I went through the dull routine of checking the organic produce for bruises and ripeness. I could have gone through all the produce with a forensics team and not been happy with the results. Only the best was going into the Mooselet's body. Warwick and I could live on beer and Doritos, but her Highness was only getting top quality. Pasta, canned goods and baby supplies were next on the spreadsheet. The disposable diaper display still amazed me – I wondered what technology had been used to develop all the diapers. No wonder there wasn't enough money for the space program, it was all being used for diapers. Somewhere between the diapers and the cereal, Miranda's face reddened and she started to strain. This was the sign that she was moving her bowels and I had about ten minutes before she began an operatic howling. Her Highness did not like to sit in a dirty diaper. I can't say that I blamed her. Rushing back to the deli section, I grabbed the nearest lunchmeat slicer and begged for a bathroom. The woman eyed Miranda with suspicion until eau de dirty diaper wafted across the deli and cut through the assorted odors of salami and cheese.

The woman's eyes were sharper than the blades on her slicer.

"This way," she pulled on my sleeve and I decanted my aromatic baby and followed.

"Pay attention now, Skip–see those double doors, the ones that say *Employees only*? Go through there, STRAIGHT back to the right of the pop machine, through THAT door, make a left, go up the first set of stairs, down the hall and it's the third door on your left. Do you want me to take you? I'll wait outside–if you want me to…"

"No, I'm fine, really."

The bathroom was cramped and utilitarian, with nothing to put Miranda on while I performed *the worst job in the world*. The only good thing about being over six feet tall is that the long legs make a pretty viable changing table. I sat on the closed lid of the toilet with a drop cloth protecting my jeans, and performed the ritual of the changing of the diaper. Miranda cooed with pleasure at being freed from her smelly plastic pants, cleaned and re-fitted with a fresh diaper with little bunny rabbits on it. I snapped up her romper and balanced her on my hip while I shoved the debris in the trashcan to astound the cleaning crew later that day.

Women have soft, curved hips strictly for the purpose of balancing a baby on them (it also gives them a shape that attracts men the way free Springsteen tickets attract crowds). Miranda tended to start out at my bony protuberance and slide downward, as she had nothing to rest on. I was seriously considering having a seat bolted to my hipbone before she slid to the floor like a fireman on a pole one day. But she clung with Velcro persistence as I re- shouldered the bag and left the bathroom.

Once we had gotten back into the grocery store proper, I discovered that some helpful soul had decided that my shopping cart had been abandoned and needed to be emptied. I caught up with the stock-boy before he had put everything back away. I had to retrace my path through the canned goods again, and this time, I added a generous amount of canned cat food to the basket to feed our stray. Cats do not live on tuna alone. Neither do FBI agents and Web designers so I bought beer. I had to balance the last six-pack in the kid compartment with Miranda and she twisted one chubby fist around the long neck of a Corona and gave me a cherub's smile.

"Da," she offered, nearly sending me into cardiac arrest, "da, da."

And then she trailed off into a bubbling peal of baby cackles.

A metaphor: Da equals beer. Sophisticated logic for an eight-month-old, she took after her mother.

Between the two of us we were going to see what the cap on the therapy bills on the federal health care plan really was.

I couldn't wait to tell Warwick.

Unfortunately when I got back out to the parking lot the back window on the station wagon was shattered. There was green safety glass everywhere, and my trench coat was gone, along with the cellphone that had been resting blithely in its pocket, so I couldn't roust Warwick from his meeting with the news of Miranda's burgeoning language acquisition.

Shit, I'd paid a thousand dollars for that coat. It was made in England, it was absolutely *gorgeous*, and I wouldn't have enough free time to get a new one tailored until Miranda started preschool. I wondered if they couldn't use the old measurements.

Also it would be annoying to get a new cellphone and have the number changed, not to mention the hassle of getting a new ID badge to clip to the next coat. For some reason, even though the Bureau had my picture on the computer, every time I lost an ID badge I had to get a *new* picture taken, as if I was suddenly going to get plastic surgery or something. Not that plastic surgery was an outrageous idea, but it was aggravating that the pencil-pushers wouldn't take the more efficient route and use a file photo.

More importantly, the safety glass had done its job admirably well and there were about four thousand cubist pellets inside the car. They weren't sharp, but I hardly wanted to add them to her Highness's diet. So I parked her in the front seat, setting off a cycle of wails that made every passer-by check to make sure I wasn't slapping her around, and spent the next half hour picking out every piece of glass in the car. I'm not sure I could have put the whole window back together when I was done, but in the end if there was glass in the seats Miranda wouldn't find it until her arms were longer than mine.

I put her safety seat in its rightful place, threw out the ice cream that had melted in the interim, and headed home. The only redeeming thing was that I hadn't stashed my sidearm or my "insurance" pistol in the coat. That would have been a *bad* thing, this was merely a hassle.

Miranda went into the crib for, hopefully, a nap while I put the groceries away and started the round robin of phone calls to begin the replacement process of phone and ID. I also called the Arlington Police to report the break-in of my car and the Subaru dealer who promised to have a guy from the auto glass place come out and fix the window. In the meantime, he suggested that I duct-tape clear plastic over the broken window. How charming and how professional. I found the duct tape in the closet and went outside to do the deed with a roll of clear plastic wrap. Hopefully that wouldn't look as bad as a Huggies bag. On the other hand, I just could have used a diaper, as if the baby seat and the accumulation of bright plastic toys in the back seat wasn't enough of a clue. The Subaru was definitely not a car to cruise for chicks with.

My own little chick was wide awake and peppy as hell as she stuffed her fingers in her mouth and cooed at me when I finally made it upstairs to the bedroom. Somehow she had managed to free her feet from her socks and her pink toes were cold to the touch. Sighing, I scooped her up and brought her over to the big bed, where I kicked off my shoes and rolled her around for a few moments before playing the Mulder family equivalent of "piggies".

"This little alien went to Market, this little alien stayed home,"

She squealed as though I were funnier than George Carlin on uppers and let me roll her until we were face to face, her round jade eyes just inches from mine.

"Da," she asserted and grabbed at my nose.

I could live with that.

 

Iolokus III: Vix te Agnovi 4/20 The truth you speak doth lack some gentleness, And time to speak it in. You rub the sore, When you should bring the plaster.

I woke up without really remembering falling asleep. I could sense Miranda still on the mattress, and heard a woman's voice cooing to her with thickened vowels and blurry consonants that did not belong to my surgically precise bete noir. I opened my eyes and got a myocardial-infarction- causing view down the front of Ingveld's sweatshirt. Warwick's squeeze (there are too many words to describe that kind of relationship and all are inadequate) was a tall, shapely blonde wench from one of the former Iron Curtain countries with an accent that could induce an erection in the clinically impotent and a body that could do the same for the hearing impaired. Oy! She was the kind of shiksa that Auntie Sophie warned us about. Tall, blonde, stacked, motorcycle-driving, pierced navel and pierced nose, Ingveld fixed and built computers with her stubby dark blue fingernails. She and Warwick were inseparable, bound together by a relationship forged through three years of e- mail, voice mail, and telephone. Warwick loved Ingveld's mind. The packaging was an added bonus.

Yeah, I envied them, wouldn't you?

More to the point I envied Warwick. Maybe I needed to find a nubile twenty-four-year-old blonde to drown my sorrows in.

"Varvick said that your lady was here," Ingveld said, propping Miranda up on her flat stomach as she settled herself on the bed next to me.

Ingveld's head was on the pillows and mine was at the foot of the bed, and I basked for a moment in the nonchalant way that she dealt with her own personal space and the space of others. She and Miranda both thought nothing of grabbing my leg when they wanted attention, or shoving me out of the way to get a better look at the television. Casual, easy, and living in a world where nothing would hurt them.

Right.

"She's not my lady."

"Vhatever. He said that she upset you. Does she want to take Miri away?"

"No. She wants to take some of my cases."

"And the problem is?"

"I'm still mad."

With her usual lack of respect, Ingveld nudged me in the ass with a Doc Marten boot.

"Do not be. You have the baby. You have the house. You should be happy."

"It's complicated."

"Life is complicated. You love her or you do not. Decide and then be that way."

Maybe I would be better off getting my relationship advice from the genie in Aladdin, but the genie did not smell like clean girl and leather.

"The new keyboard I have put in. No more apple juice, okay?" she asked.

"Beer?"

"Not for the baby."

I had finally managed to download the files on George's latest spree when Zippy called from the hospital.

The real problem with living in the suburbs is that it takes forever to get back into the city. I drove as fast as the rain would allow, hoping that the lack of any rear view wouldn't get me killed. Fortunately I was going against the traffic, as all the white folks who worked in the city but didn't pay taxes there headed back home to their nice houses, houses that looked just like mine from the outside. The ride should have given me time to prepare but for some reason I couldn't think. I just drove, with my mind on 'pause'. Which was good since Zippy hadn't given much in the way of detail and I could imagine far more disgusting and lurid things than the average bear. Occupational hazard.

Skinner met me in the hallway, pale lipped and shaking rain from his trench coat.

"What–" I started.

"You entered the Hoover Building at two thirty this afternoon."

My mouth hung at loose ends for a moment while my brain skipped tracks.

"No. I was asleep, at home."

"No alibi?"

"What would I need an –"

I stopped, took a breath, tried to collect the thoughts that scattered like ticker tape at a parade.

"What exactly happened?" I asked.

The story was short and sweet. A man fitting my description had attacked Agent Scully in the basement office. My ID was registered as entering the building forty minutes before the attack took place, and I was seen leaving the building ten minutes after it happened. Agent Zipprelli tried to stop the assault on Agent Scully and the attacker escaped. Since it was well-known that there had been some 'tension' regarding my promotion to Chief Administrator of ISU and Agent Scully's to AIC of the X-Files. . . rumors, you know.

"Sir," I said when he finished, "If I took it into my mind to do Agent Scully an injury it wouldn't be in broad daylight in the Hoover Building."

He blinked behind rain-speckled glasses.

"You wouldn't find the body."

"I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that," he snapped, "you realize the seriousness of this situation. I know exactly how far things degenerated between you two and the performance in my office regarding the Admin Chief position was something less than convincing."

"Darien got all the acting genes in the family."

"I'm not finished yet–"

Although I technically didn't answer to Skinner anymore, his whip crack tone made me start.

"I know you and Agent Scully had a personal relationship the nature of which is generally discouraged between agents in the same section, and I also know that your sole motivation for applying for the Admin position was to remove yourself from the X-Files and Agent Scully's presence. Suffice it to say that it is not beyond the realm of possibility that certain ill will could still linger after six months."

The OJ Simpson syndrome.

"Ah, there's just two mitigating factors -" I interrupted, which I could do now since I was higher up the food chain than I used to be, "First, you know Agent Scully and Agent Zipprelli are profiling a series of killings that they believe were committed by my jailbird brother George. And – my car was broken into today. My trench coat, cellphone, and ID were stolen. I did call into HR as soon as I got home, which might have been at about noon, to report the missing ID."

"You reported the ID loss as soon as you got home?" he echoed in a voice of disbelief.

"That's what I tell my agents to do," I looked over his wet shoulder and saw a nurse waft in and out of a room where a small woman with auburn hair lay on a white sheeted bed, "and I know you understand the importance of practicing what you preach."

I brushed past Skinner and into the room.

I'd played this scene entirely too many times before. It goes something like this: the petite redhead lying in a white sandwich of sheets in a hospital bed with a clear tube running above her coral lips while her skin stretches pale and wan underneath the cold light from above the bed. This time there was the added benefit of petechial hemorrhaging around her conjunctival orbits, something I was used to seeing on dead people but not living ones — most of the strangulations I dealt with were successful.

The heart monitor beats were a stately dance in the background. For the umpty-umpth time, she was in a hospital bed and it was all my fault. Instead of holding her hand — I'd given up the right to do that the minute I played Frisbee with her laptop — I flipped open her chart and tried to make sense of the notes inside. From what I could make out due to ignorance and handwriting, it seemed that other than the ugly bruising around her throat and larynx, she was pretty much all right, and that the ER doctor had given her a hefty shot of Demerol for pain management. It must have hurt like a bitch to have your windpipe almost crushed, and from personal experience, I knew I would have been seriously stoned with that dosage and I didn't weigh a hundred and ten pounds soaking wet.

I should have been holding her hand when she woke up but I was afraid that she'd pull me back under, like a sailor who had already survived one encounter with a mermaid.

So I stood there and waited, waited until her reddened eyelids stuttered open and she stared up at me like a television between stations.

"Scully?"

She blinked. Sorry, Agent Scully's not home right now, may I take a message? The wrinkles around her mouth and eyes were crisp engraved lines in the stark fluorescent light and the broken-veined skin under her eyes was as purple as the dying crocuses outside.

I touched her cheek and she flinched, pupils wide as pennies with the drugs.

"She doesn't like to be touched," Zippy pointed out. Of course not, and certainly not by someone with my face.

I straightened up and turned to confront him, squaring my shoulders. "Tell me what happened."

"I found them in our office. I thought–well, you can guess what I thought. I pulled him off and he kicked me in the balls and ran out. Scully was blue and gasping for breath and I called security. I'm sorry, man. I should have caught him."

I wanted to be angry at him. But that would have required this disaster to be his fault, not mine and I couldn't let that be.

"Did you call her mother?"

Zippy started. "Should I have?"

"She lives right around here, you know." I could see that he didn't even before he shook his head. I suspected that the lovely and talented Agent Scully had alienated more than just me when she ditched Miranda like a bad date.

"301-555-2791," I said stonily.

"You wanna call?" he offered me his cellphone.

I shook my head. I'd had enough Catholic guilt to tide me over into the new millenium, and anyway Mrs. Scully's kind condescending manner drove me nuts now that we weren't united in what we were grieving over. She pitied me, this I knew, and I don't think I ever forgave her for authorizing the shutoff of Scully's life support all those years ago.

I wondered how I'd manage to get along with the third generation of Scully women once she started talking.

Perhaps unfortunately for Scully, she regained consciousness–of a sort–just before her mother arrived. She was looking hazily around and trying to speak when the door slammed open and in stalked Maggie.

Mrs. Scully sailed into the room like a destroyer, her hair frizzy from the rain, and immediately came over to Scully's bed, pushing me aside as she inspected her daughter.

"'m ok," Scully mumbled, responding to her mother's angry glare, and tried to turn her head but couldn't because of the swelling and the monitors.

"What happened, Fox?"

I counted to five and then looked her in the eyes. "She was attacked by George Naxos, who impersonated me to get into the FBI building."

"Will she be all right?"

"I'm not a doctor, Mrs. Scully, but from what I see–"

She slammed her hand down on the metal railing of the bed, and Scully winced, her red-marbled eyes seeming to sink further back into her skull. "Damnit, Fox, this wasn't supposed to happen anymore!"

Breathe, in, out, in, out. I was not going to fight with her in front of Scully, not when Scully was the real problem. I wasn't.

Zippy stepped forward like the stalwart guy he is. "Mrs. Scully, I'm Dana's partner Michael Zipprelli, it's a pleasure to meet you though I'm sorry it couldn't be under better circumstances." He did it all in one breath, before she could interrupt. She didn't take his outstretched hand.

"So, did you catch the man who did this? Fox's *brother*?"

He shook his head solemnly. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Scully. We're going to have Dana under guard until this is over–"

"She's coming home with me."

Scully's eyes widened and she shook her head. Her pupils were as big as bullet holes; I don't know how well she was really tracking, but she's always had great instincts.

"Dana, honey," Maggie said, leaning over the bed, "you're in no shape to continue working. We'll just stay at my place–"

Another frantic shake, and a hideous cough that matched any twenty-year smoker's.

"Don' wanna–"

"Mrs. Scully," I said diplomatically, "it might be better if Dana stayed with people who can protect her–"

"You?" she asked, not with contempt, precisely, but with disbelief, as if I'd told her that I had conclusive proof that Jesus Christ was a second rater carpenter and *not* the Messiah.

"The Bureau is very concerned for Dana's safety," Zippy said softly, "and that of her daughter, it really would be better if we could concentrate on protecting them in one location."

Holy fuck, I hadn't even considered–Maggie's eyes flickered over my blanched face.

"Yah," Scully chimed in. She sounded like she had a mouthful of marbles, but I understood. "Wanna go w' Muller."

Naturally, that settled it. It would take more than Demerol to take Scully out of the habit of command.

After a few more hours in which she didn't die, they released her. The doctor warned me to watch Scully for delayed onset of airway obstruction. Who knew that strangulation could work slowly?

We drove back to my house. Frohike was outside the window of the room I shared with Miranda, hanging off a ladder as he hammered a black wire into place. I had no idea what it was for but similar wires now outlined every window in the place. They'd torn up the lawn something awful, and enormous lights were now in place to keep any part of the approach to the house from falling into shadow.

The neighbors were not going to like this. It probably violated one of the covenants in my deed and at the next meeting they'd vote to spend some of the annual litigation fund on suing me until I got the house back into compliance with neighborhood rules.

They could take a fucking number, I'd pay the damages.

I unloaded Scully, still limp and pliant as a mannequin, and helped her stumble down the path. She only fell against me twice. Inside, Warwick was pacing, carrying Miranda from room to room like a ship unable to find a port.

"Can you shoot?" I asked him as I eased Scully down onto the sofa. She lay across it, a slash of simplicity over the wild Ikea chaos of the pattern, and smiled softly at Miranda. Her gaze was so senselessly maternal that my chest nearly caved in.

"Like, a gun?" Warwick asked, mercifully breaking my concentration.

"No, like a camera. Of course like a gun. If you can't you may want to go stay with Ingveld until this is over, if you're not armed you're a liability."

"My parents run a twenty-four hour grocery store in Brooklyn," he said.

"Shotgun it is," I said and headed back for the station wagon. Zippy, bless his homicidal heart, had brought his entire gun collection up from Texas–he lived out in Virginia to avoid the District's stricter gun control laws–and we'd stopped by his place on our way home. Zippy was currently getting some clothes for Scully.

Meanwhile his boy-scout preparation was going to be put to good use in my house. I figured that when Miranda learned to crawl we'd put trigger locks on all the guns, maybe I'd even join Parents For Gun Control, but given current realities every gun in the house made her a little bit safer.

When I'd put the guns in the most logical grab points around the house, I returned to the living room, where Scully was lolling on the couch. Her unfocused eyes were cornflower blue and she was nearly sleeping, her mouth open so that she could breathe more easily. I could very easily get used to Scully sleepy and biddable like this; I wondered if the Bureau's insurance would cover a continuous diet of sedatives.

I walked over to her and knelt, adjusting the sofa pillows so that she could rest more comfortably. Like Miranda, she had to be kept from sleeping on her stomach. I must have stared at her for several minutes before she raised her hand, little ladyfingers trailing over my cheek like liquid nitrogen.

"Mulder," she said and I could almost pretend that the huskiness of her voice was desire and not damage.

"Yeah?"

"Did you know I went to a rape survivors' group?"

I could have guessed for a hundred years and never come up with that as the first thing she'd say to me high on Demerol. I guess she didn't notice my shock, because she continued right on, wheezing a little but determined as ever to have her say.

"It was held in the Chevy Chase Public Library. I went because I thought it would help me, if I could talk to strangers about it maybe I could talk to you. There were six other women, and they…their stories, they were so normal, I know there shouldn't be such a thing as a normal rape but the sad fact is that there is." A soft, almost hesitant cough escaped her, and she took a few moments to breathe. "The strangest story was the woman whose son's high school principal raped her after a parent-teacher conference. And then they got to me, and a lawyer for DOE recognized me, she'd seen me at the hearings. It shouldn't have mattered but it did and I thought, I can't tell these normal people the story of what happened to me, I can't break their world apart. Anyway they wouldn't believe me, disbelief is so much safer. So I ran. I'm good at that, running, you know? Running from what I fear."

Carefully, carefully, Mulder. Even with the drugs there's never a safety net with Scully. One false move and you'll hit the ground like a Hefty bag full of tomato soup.

"Are you afraid of me?"

She blinked. "More than anything else."

Her left arm was curled protectively over her stomach and I rested my hand as lightly as possible on the sleeve of her shirt. Through the silk I could feel the warmth of her blood. In a minute she was asleep again.

I watched her sleep until the phone buzzed. I snagged it from the end table, missing my cellphone already. At least Scully was so far under that it would take electric current to wake her. "Mulder," I said, untangling the cord.

"What have you gotten yourself into this time?"

Julie Graff's bark wasn't music to my ears — unless percussion counted. She'd been the first female profiler under John Douglas, moved out to California during the Patterson years, and had returned to head the ISU when Patterson nuked himself. She'd sacrificed any hope of a personal life to get ahead in the Bureau's culture of manliness, and I thought she might resent my flextime existence just a little. But with a Ph.D. in abnormal psych and more commendations than I had injuries in the line of duty, she was a wonderful Fearless Leader. And, to her credit, she didn't like to see profilers burn out; she didn't mind broken marriages, that was a part of the game, but she hated having to train fresh meat.

"I'm having some family trouble," I told her, knowing it would trigger her warning lights. "I may need to take a few personal days."

"Pretty fucking funny, Mulder. I don't like having an AD lecture me on the care and feedng of my agents. Why doesn't your charming brother show up in the NCIC database?"

"He did his confirmed wet work in Canada," I told her wearily. "Agents Scully and Zipprelli of the X Files just moved him from 'presumed dead' to 'presumed deadly' yesterday."

She sighed; I imagined her rubbing her temples in the overheated underground office, pushing loose strands of hair aside. Unlike most of the women in the Bureau, she kept her hair long, swept up in a huge messy bun that tended to get lopsided as the day went on. Most of it was salt-and-pepper gray, but there was a wide auburn streak just left of center. Her hair was a good indicator of her personality — no- nonsense and fiery at once. "AD Skinner suggested, and I agreed, that you should remain in your house until we catch your worse half. We're releasing your picture to the local news stations, telling them it's George Naxos, and warning anyone who sees you to call the police."

"Isn't it nice to be so well-liked."

"Shut up, Mulder, did you want us to wait until we had a picture of *him*? Look, I know this is rough on you, having him attack your ex-partner –"

"He didn't do anything I haven't considered."

I heard the crunch of ice cubes. She always chewed them up when she finished drinking her iced coffee. "Right, I forgot. Sorry I offered some sympathy, Macho Man. Try not to get yourself killed, I've used up my recruiting budget for the year."

Click.

 

Iolokus III: Vix te Agnovi 5/20 For every trifle they are set upon me, Sometime like apes that mow and chatter at me, And after bite me; then like hedgehogs which Lie tumbling in my barefoot way, and mount Their pricks at my footfall …

My throat hurt.

I blinked the sleep out of my eyes and realized that I was staring at a painfully white ceiling. Off to one side a television was singing, and I heard various shuffling noises, someone making dinner perhaps.

I remembered the Bureau, the hospital, a little of what had gone on. Talking despite the pronounced harshness of my voice even in my own ears.

Glacially slow, I sat up. Everything seemed to work, though deep breaths triggered a spate of coughs which hurt like having George's hands on me all over again.

Mulder had thoughtfully left my file on the coffee table in front of the couch. I quickly gathered the essentials. My hyoid bone was intact, according to the soft-tissue X ray, which meant that I had a good chance of being just fine once the swelling went down. There were the expected thumb marks and fingernail scratches on my throat, along with the smaller circular bruises from the tips of his fingers. Because we'd struggled and he'd shifted his grip, the markings were spread across most of my throat, so it looked as if my throat was as covered with color as George's. What was up with the throat thing, anyway? I made a mental note to ask Mulder.

The report also noted that I had Tardieu's spots on my throat and face from the burst blood vessels and so I'd look a bit like I had a very, very late-onset case of chicken pox. I didn't want to rush the first look in the mirror; it's so easy to go from gratitude for surviving to horror at not looking one's best. If there were no pulmonary sequelae, though, I should be back in fighting form in no time.

I pushed myself off of the thickly padded sofa and stood, swaying a little as the blood rushed to and fro. I was hungry and it was going to be a bitch and a half to eat food in this condition. Maybe I could borrow some of Miranda's.

Tottering into the kitchen, I found Mulder. He was checking the temperature on the oven. There were glass bowls and spices strewn across the countertop, along with a shotgun.

He looked at me. "Back from Planet Painkiller?"

I nodded, then realized that was a bad idea. "Did they prescribe anything for the pain that won't knock me all the way out?" My voice was as hoarse as Marlon Brando's.

"I have some Tylenol 3 with codeine, the doctor said that was fine if you started coughing but they don't want you to take anything stronger that might depress respiratory functions." He pulled a wooden chair out from the small kitchen table and held it out for me. I figured that such generosity should not go unnoticed, so I sat. Anyway I still wasn't sure how ready I was to move around.

"Dinner should be ready in about half an hour. Zippy's upstairs listening to the boys explain the new security arrangements and Warwick's got Miranda. Can we talk?"

I looked around the kitchen, buying time. This room as well appeared to have been furnished in one quick trip to Ikea, the result being that everything was in primary colors and blonde wood. It looked a little like the showroom must have, except for the spills and stains that had accumulated in the strangest places, like the side of the refrigerator and about six feet up the wall, next to the clock.

"What are we going to talk about?"

He shrugged. "Survival tactics, maybe. You…said some things, Scully, while you were under the influence. I know you wouldn't normally admit to them but I don't think they were untrue."

I racked my brain, which simpered and shrugged helplessly. I remembered talking, but not what I'd managed to say.

He pulled another chair out, reversed it, and straddled it, his hands gripping the top of the chair. His sleeves were rolled up and the corded muscles of his forearms stood out. I remembered his hands, cool and certain, enfolding me.

"I admit that it's been hard for me to see things your way and frankly I haven't tried. Can you tell me…*why* you left Miranda?"

I took a deep, painful breath. I'd rehearsed this speech a few times, but that didn't make it any easier, or any more persuasive to my own ears. "You have no idea how hard it was to watch Aileen just pick her up and make her coo. Every time she showed me how to do something I just…got further away. I'm not good at trying things I'm not already good at."

He glowered. "I wasn't very good when I started."

"Fine, you're a better person than I am, you win. Does it feel good, Mulder? How does it feel to be a superior being?"

The words caught in the swollen tissues of my throat and I coughed. It burned like acid. I choked a bit and Mulder thoughtfully waited for me to catch my breath before he took it away again.

"A member of the master race, you mean?"

I looked down and laced my fingers together. "That's not what I meant."

He leaned forward and put his big hand over mine, swallowing both. I remembered that slightly sweaty palm intimately. "I know. Scully…I'm not saying I'm better than you are. Just that…you made some choices I didn't agree with."

"There comes a day," I said, "where you realize, at about eight o'clock at night, that you haven't thought about how you were raped for the entire day. And it's surprising, that you've gone so long without thinking about it. You congratulate yourself, that's good, that's progress."

He released my hand as if reminded of my need for distance.

"I like to think that I could have handled all this if it had just happened a little slower. But I had no sooner done the blood test than — Mulder, I watched you, you and your brothers, you tore Jason to pieces –"

He stood abruptly and whirled so that he didn't have to look at me. "What was I supposed to do? Should I have turned the other cheek? That only keeps your face from getting lopsided. Should I have let him get away with it? After what he did? The women he killed? What he did to our brothers? What he did to you?" His hands were braced against the flour-smeared kitchen counter, shoulders heaving, taut and beautiful as a Stradivarius.

"Emerson is a saint, " he added a moment later, "he can forgive. I can't and I won't. I still hate Jason for what he did. Am I supposed to forgive him?"

"No," I whispered and wanted nothing more than to throw my arms around him and never allow him to release me. "But he brought us to this place where you hate me and I'm — I don't have anything of myself left over. I'm sorry, Mulder. I'm sorry I wasn't strong enough for this."

"No one is."

No motion whatsoever. Then a series of shudders and the words emanated from him almost as if he willed rather than spoke them, as if he had no choice. "I just don't understand why you had to leave Miranda. I know why you couldn't stand to be with me. But what did she ever do to you?"

I was hunched over, my body reduced to a skin full of fire, charcoal burning and smoking from every pore. I would have screamed but the ligaments holding my face together were twisted and immobile.

I knew that nothing of what had happened was Miranda's fault. But I couldn't get away from some simple truths: Jason had raped me with the same casual glee with which he'd created Miranda. I'd discovered her the very week he'd ripped me apart. And when I held her she'd felt like a byproduct, I couldn't recognize her among the howling mass of my own troubles. It was almost as though she had been the product of the rape, rather than a distantly related event. Truthfully, I resented the idea that her needs were somehow of a different order of magnitude than my own, that just because of the genetic connection I should be able to make my life work right or at least ignore all my problems and just dote on her. God knew that the genetic connection between the brothers Mulder had been of little value to my own Mulder, and though Miranda was too young to form much in the way of conscious intent I was no longer sure she'd be free to become an upstanding human being.

Yes, it was not her fault. But it wasn't my fault either, so why was I the one to blame?

How could I possibly explain this to him when I didn't rightly understand it myself?

I wanted the drugs again, wanted to have the edges of my own hurt and guilt blurred, and I wanted to sink into the warm pool of semi-awareness so I didn't have to feel anymore.

"Let's get you something to eat," he muttered and went back to the stove.

I felt as if I'd wandered into a bizarre version of I Love Lucy. Mulder, you got some 'splainin' to do.

The doorbell buzzed as Mulder was adjusting something inside the oven. It smelled good, but he slammed the metal door and grabbed the now flour-spattered shotgun from the counter, warning me with a look to stay put.

I heard him growl in the foyer and recognized the tone, standard posturing; the visitor was almost a friend, to the extent that Mulder had friends. (Theoretically he could have acquired a whole slew over the past few months, after all he'd gotten a house in the suburbs, a nanny, a station wagon and a promotion and friends would only be marginally more strange.)

Zippy followed Mulder into the kitchen, looking around with a strange wistfulness. He probably wondered when he'd lost his chance at domesticity and how Mulder had found it.

He was carrying a suitcase from my closet, the green one. If he'd packed carefully there could be two weeks' worth of clothes inside. If he hadn't packed carefully there could be three.

"We need to talk," he said. Mulder watched, standard superior smirk on his face as if we were just two random rookie agents from his team and he'd seen our entrance scores.

"What about?" It wasn't as if standing would give me a height advantage, so I didn't bother.

He drew a deep breath. His eyes were flashing like sunlight on water and those perfect teeth were bared in a snarl. "I got you some clothes. There were only two changes of underwear in your drawers so I had to do some laundry, which is why I'm so late. While I was waiting I threw out your trash, all three months of it. I threw out the two dead plants and watered the one that has a chance of making it. I also threw out all the food in your refrigerator and the onions that were rotting in your vegetable bin. Then I took the liberty of sorting your mail and I even paid your bills, since I assume you didn't want the electricity or the phone shut off, which events were scheduled for next week. You can pay me back by signing over your last few paychecks to me, which ought to be easy enough since you haven't deposited them either.

"Along with the clothes I brought your Zoloft, which I suspect you haven't been taking. I almost hope you haven't because if this is you on meds…"

Mulder's smirk had turned to ill-concealed horror, and I felt myself flush deep red with the shame of having him present for all this.

Another humiliation. Funny, you'd think I'd be used to being violated by now.

I gathered all my remaining self-control into a tiny ball, smaller than a sugar cube, and tried to keep it in my mouth. "I wanted sleeping pills and I walked away with those, whatever happened to service?"

"Dana." His voice had risen an octave; this wasn't Zippy's hot-air anger but something else entirely. "I need to know what happened when George attacked you."

Of all the replacement partners in the Bureau, I had to end up with another fucking psychologist.

He didn't need to tell me I owed him an answer; we'd saved each other's lives and limbs often enough in half a year for me to acknowledge that truth. "He was reading a file," I said in the hesitant little-girl whisper George had left me with. "I came in and he turned and looked at me. I thought it was Mulder; he just stared at me. I went over to my desk and sat down. I was expecting an argument. When I looked up he was still staring. Then he said, 'Come here,' and I–"

I was panting and my throat hurt. I would have cheerfully paid a million of Roush's dollars to get Mulder out of the room. I could feel him broadcasting anger and pain off to my side. It was distracting. George's eyes had been curious, his voice burnt velvet; his rage in the sepia-stained basement had felt entirely appropriate to me and I had missed at first the absence of self-hatred that was the sine qua non of Mulder's existence. For a moment, before the tired realization brushed me, I felt the lovely languor of desire. Even after I knew it was George the languor held, until the pain started.

Another slow, calming breath, and I shuddered like a scarecrow in a high wind. "I knew then, knew it had to be George. Same damn mistake as always. So I, I stood up and I" deep breath, one that made me cough, delaying me when I wanted it to be over, "closed my eyes and I waited. And he came to me."

Mulder muttered something incomprehensible. My eyes were unfocused and I started when Zippy strode forward and dropped to his knees to shove his face up against mine.

"Dana," he repeated. "I can't stop you from killing yourself, though I must say you picked a particularly unattractive method. But like this you're going to get *me* killed. If I can't rely on my partner, what am I supposed to do? You put me in danger today, you're going to put Mulder in danger, and everyone else in this house. So we've got two choices here. I can tell Skinner what I saw at your place–he's itching to put you on disability, you know–and you can go home. George will probably find you again and you'll get what you want."

I put my hand to my throat and made the bruises sing again. "What's the other choice?"

"You agree not to do anything that fucking stupid again until we've got George, you take your goddamn meds and start to feel better and we catch him together. Once this is over I'll load the fucking gun myself for you if you insist but this shit does *not* fit into the schedule here."

I blinked. Tough love had nothing on my boy Mikey.

"You know, antidepressants take about two weeks to start working," I said.

He grinned. "Just pretend you've been taking them for a while."

I raised an eyebrow–it felt unfamiliar; I hadn't been in the mood to play for so long.

He frowned, then. "There's something else."

"What more could there possibly be?"

In reply, he handed me a thick envelope, rough and expensive under my coarse fingertips. The return address indicated that Texas was going to smack me around again.

I hadn't expected to be Miranda's trustee, however. According to Jason's lawyer, I was legally obligated to use the money for her benefit until she came of age. I couldn't reject one lethal cent; it was all for her. I caught Mulder looking at the envelope and letterhead knowingly. He must have received similar information about Jason's will. Yippee.

"Well, there's this to say for the Mulder brothers," I said to no one in particular. "As far as I'm aware there are no deadbeat dads among them, which is better than you can say for any randomly selected group of ten men."

Zippy put his hand to my cheek, his thumb running gently over the broken blood vessels below my eyes, and then we both jumped as Mulder knocked a measuring cup to the floor, where it shattered.

Iolokus III: Vix te Agnovi 6/20 A devil, a born devil, on whose nature Nature can never stick; on whom my pains, Humanely taken, all, all lost, quite lost; And as with age his body uglier grows, So his mind cankers.

She'd as much as admitted that she would have let George kill her if Zippy hadn't intervened. I tried to imagine what would have happened if she'd died and was completely incapable of it; the world without her would be white nothingness. Fuckhead, you could have answered one of her calls. You could have wondered why she stopped calling instead of assuming she didn't give a shit anymore.

And if you hold that torch any higher you're going to get mistaken for the Statue of Liberty.

After I swept up the ill-fated measuring cup I fled the kitchen to set up the guest bedroom.

We'd never used it before. Mrs. Scully had made a few day trips, but we were both uncomfortable enough that I'd never asked her to visit overnight. When Ingveld stayed over she naturally slept with Warwick. Who knew what the neighbors thought about her–I suspected that the prevailing wisdom was that we were a gay couple raising the daughter I'd had before I came out of the closet, but don't ask, don't tell is a powerful norm in suburbia so I hadn't cleared up anyone's confusion yet.

I hauled a set of sheets out of the linen closet and began to make the bed. Wordlessly, Zippy came in with a set of pillowcases and began stuffing the pillows in.

"How many towels will you two need?"

Zippy put my hand on my upper arm, preventing me from tucking the top sheet under the mattress. "I'm not staying in here, Mulder. That couch looks fine."

"Don't be ridiculous," Scully wheezed from the doorway. "I'm nine inches shorter, I'll take the couch."

My brain was going to explode. I could see how the gray- pink chunks would decorate the carpet and be lost in the cabbage roses of the wallpaper. I pushed past Scully and went to find my daughter.

Okay, so Zippy hadn't known how depressed Scully was or what her apartment was like. On the other hand, after five years, including nearly a year of on-and-off raunchy sex, I'd had extraordinarily limited access to Scully's inner life, or even her outer life, so his ignorance proved nothing. He'd reassured me that they weren't going to get it on under my roof, but that didn't foreclose a history between them. It was Scully's pattern, Jack Willis and me and now him, unless of course she only went in for supervisors, which suggested that she could also be doing Skinner.

I reached Miranda on autopilot. Warwick gave me a worried look but handed her over without verbal protest. She was heavy and real in my arms, and I began to calm down.

Zippy wasn't sleeping with Scully. He was saner than that. And the jealousy had made me forget my dearly departed twin's intervention into her life. Even if Scully wasn't capable of taking care of herself enough to say "no," Zippy wasn't the kind of man who'd be indifferent when she stiffened and shut down.

It's hard to explain, but I never really integrated the rape into my understanding of what had happened to us over the last year. Of course it was the main reason, among a strong field of contenders, that I'd decided to kill Jason, but in many ways I had imagined a rape without a victim. Scully had been my bridge to the rest of the world for so long; what the concrete couldn't absorb, the steel bars beneath could. I could accept her destructive rage but not, it seemed, her need.

I think she might have said something to him that she wanted to say to me, something about the two of us, and he'd brushed that aside. And since close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, not twin brothers, I'd never get to hear it and she'd never feel it again.

I'd like to think that Scully ate the macaroni and cheese, soft enough to go down more easily than the chicken I'd cooked for everyone else. I myself skipped dinner because I didn't want to deal with anything but my little princess, who was demonstrating her mastery of the universe by whacking anything that came within reach, namely me, and squealing happy as a hog surrounded by soybeans when she could get a loud smacking sound out of the contact. I really, really wanted to live in her world.

Warwick kicked me out when he came back down to work on his latest presentation, but he let the Mooselet stay. I fled to my study and watched the sunset bleeding like a breach birth over the western sky.

The stray cat was in the back yard again; I could see her out the window. She darted from bush to tree like a scarf blown by the wind, snagging against every bit of cover she passed.

I wanted to lure her into the house. We'd feed her until she was round instead of rectangular, we'd get her a collar and all her shots, we'd do the right thing and have her fixed, and we'd pet her shamelessly. She'd curl on my lap on the rare occasions it wasn't occupied by Miranda, and she'd sleep in the sunshine on the windowsill.

Then I had a vision, as powerful as anything Dr. Werber or Roche ever sent me. I came into the kitchen and was drawn, as in dreams we're drawn, over to the shiny silver sink. Tufts of black fur protruded from the disposal, clumped from the mixture of water and blood that still swirled in the drain. I turned like a marionette and went to the stove, where the pot was bubbling so viciously that the entire stovetop shook. The lid disappeared and I saw- her face hadn't been submerged, so it was still mainly intact, but the rest of the body had been boiling long enough that the sharp feline bones were visible in the brown, pungent stew.

"Mulder?"

I closed my eyes and willed my body not to tremble. If I looked bad enough Scully might want to touch me.

God, please let that be George's influence and not my own twisted impulses. If they could be separated at this point.

"Mulder?" Closer now, two feet at most.

I could smell her skin.

"What is it?" I growled, turning and staring down at her.

"Do you see anything out there?"

Little did she know that she had almost as much to fear from the monster inside the house.

I shook my head. "Just thinking."

"Oh."

Warwick knocked on the open study door, announcing his presence. "Sally Jessy Raphael's 'people' are on the phone," he said. "She's doing a show on 'My Twin Is a Criminal.'"

His presence punctured the tension so fast I almost heard the pop.

"How'd they'd get the number?"

"Probably bribed someone at the pediatrician's office."

"Tell her I'll wait until she focuses on the sad effects of genetic manipulation of the North American male."

"Aye, aye." He turned and closed the door as he left.

I looked at Scully. She was more shocked than she'd been upon discovering the Flukeman. If only all the monsters announced themselves with their deformities.

Then there was the nose thing. Did that count as a deformity? It pretty much depended on what my mood was like at the time. Today, for example, I was giving Pinocchio a run for his money. At least Cyrano managed to get Roxane to love him by proxy; in my life, that would be a moral victory.

"I think the more publicity George gets the better," I told her, "but I don't think I can stomach Sally."

"You were expecting Jerry Springer?"

"I'm holding out for Letterman," and we grinned shyly at each other like kids passing notes during class.

"Top ten list?" she asked.

"Sally Jessy Raphael's 'people'. How do you get 'people'? I think I need 'people.'"

"People who need people," Scully half-sang, sending my hackles to full attention.

"Don't quit your day job," I said. This was way too weird, we weren't even friends, were we? We were sending each other more mixed signals than a dyslexic third-base coach. It was small comfort to think that she was just as confused as I was.

I turned to more immediately relevant matters. It was clear Zippy (and Scully, if I couldn't prevent it) would be doing the legwork, but I could review the collected evidence thus far. Ironically, this was the way ISU profilers were supposed to work; the theory was that we sat like Mycroft Holmes while all the evidence was brought to us and solved cases from afar, leaving evidence collection and on-site work to the Sherlocks in state and federal investigative bodies.

Working in administration had made me aware of the reality of the *average* profiler's job. The only variety was where you were going to sit in the cafeteria at lunch. When you were done with one case there was no travel time to use to recover. And already I'd been sucked into solving cases instead of just assigning them, when I was right there and the file was open and the profile was just too obvious to waste anyone else's time on. Ralph Williams had already given me a mug that said "I'm too busy to delegate it, so I'll just do it myself."

There was nothing unusual about profiling just from reported evidence. Examining the scene itself was a luxury, indulged only when the case proved intractable, or too high-profile, or strange in the way of X Files.

I moved to my desk and opened the manila folder from George's latest collection. Scully had organized the file and noted her opinion that he was escalating–as usual she had to put her two cents in even when it got to my areas of expertise–but she was thorough enough that I'd be able to form my own conclusions.

The photos from the crime scenes were repetitive, with the depressing sameness-in-variety of a soap opera plot or the designs on a deck of playing cards–hearts, clubs, protruding tongues. As I flipped through the stack I heard Scully sit on the couch, and the creak of the leather brought back the kind of memories that aren't terribly appropriate during the construction of a profile.

Five swollen tongues dragging on dirt or concrete or wood faded to gray with the passing of the seasons and the drum of small feet. Five uniforms, white and peach and pink. Five sets of torn pantyhose, five rapes. He *was* escalating now, not just in frequency but in violence, as there was evidence of vaginal and anal penetration. Prison must have been boring him. Bite marks on the last three, and on number four he'd taken a nipple but that hadn't been repeated, maybe it was just an experiment. The sexual assaults were postmortem, naturally. Live women just weren't the same.

Strangulation isn't a particularly unusual or suggestive method of killing. The necessary weapons are convenient, effective, and satisfying–it's good to be up close, to watch your victim struggle, choke, and turn blue. To feel her go lax underneath you like a yarn doll, all her pointless flailing stilled, her will overborne. I suspected that Scully's compliance had helped to save her, not that I was going to share *that* little theory, but George liked the power of dominating his victims and he was probably surprised and a tad miffed when Scully didn't resist.

There was no evidence that he'd attempted to force any of the dead women to fellate him, a favorite of many serial rapists. That would have required him to let up some on their necks. So it wasn't just the convenience, there was something about strangulation he liked. And the tattoo around his neck, this was related too. Barbed wire drawing blood so that he was eternally bleeding.

"Do you have a theory about George's apparent neck fetish?" Her voice snaked its way through the twilight to turn circles inside my head. I feared and hated and desired the return of her mind-reading capabilities. I needed her to look after me. I needed to talk this out.

I needed a really good hairdresser, too, but that was beside the point.

"It's well-known that partial strangulation can be a source of sexual pleasure," thank you, Clyde Bruckman, "and I suspect he may think he's giving them what they want," is that what *you* want, Scully, "there may have been an early sexual experience with a woman who did enjoy that particular kink. One time it went too far, he killed the girl and he liked it. The girl reminded him of his mother, that bitch, and she'd provoked him, she wanted to fight and he wanted to fuck and because he was bigger he got his wish. He probably didn't do a great job of disposing of the body, but he was panicked and didn't go through the ritual of displaying her, which means the murder is probably still in some unsolved file in Anywhere, USA.

"It might have started earlier, though. His adoptive mother, nagging, saying such horrible things that he just wanted her to stop talking. The things he had to choke down just to stay alive, the rotten slimy food she fed him when he was bad and had to be punished. And the rage that felt like it would crawl out of his stomach and burst from his mouth and destroy the world. The anger frightened him and he liked it, I think he got the tattoo as a way of asserting control over the thing that lives inside him. He's bound it with barbed wire; *he's* the one who decides when the noose will tighten and when the beast will take over."

"You're saying he thinks there's something living in his stomach?" I had forgotten how that tone of hers, even distorted by the hideous swelling of the tissues of her throat, could make me absolutely batty. If it wouldn't be poaching on another man's territory I could have strangled her myself.

"It's a metaphor, Scully. Even psychos can understand metaphors." Hmm, that didn't come out as clearly as it should have.

She looked away. "Practitioners of Haltha Yoga believe that parts of the body have symbolic meanings as well and the throat is analagous to the vagina–could his MO, and the tattoo, be a reaction not simply to his hatred and fear of women but his hatred and fear of that which he thinks is feminine in himself?"

I stared at her. I don't know where she hides the CD-ROM with the world encyclopedia she uses for this little trick, and it's not like I haven't had the opportunity to check her over.

"It's possible," I didn't begrudge her the insight. Well, yes, I did, but it was a grain of sand on the shore of our accumulated struggles. And it was fairly clever.

Iolokus III: Vix te Agnovi 7/20 The mistress which I serve quickens what's dead, And makes my labors pleasures. O, she is Ten times more gentle than her father's crabbed; And he's compos'd of harshness.

Miranda woke at 3:23, demanding a feeding. She'd been sleeping through the night recently, but I suspected that all the strangers around her were disrupting her equilibrium. Possibly she was picking it up from me.

I trotted down to the kitchen, noting on my way that Scully had won the battle with Zippy and was stretched out on the couch, taking up about half its length. The light blue blanket had slid down past her breasts; she was sleeping in a long- sleeved sweatshirt and I saw the collar of a T-shirt peeking out around her neck.

I remembered her sleeping in big flannel nightshirts that exposed her bird-delicate collarbones, and later, entirely without hesitation, in the nude even when I put my boxers and shirt back on. Standard response to sexual assault, I reminded myself, and was surprised to find a new vein of self-hatred. I thought that lode was mined out, but Scully's always inspirational.

I hurried to get the formula heated up, stopping the microwave just before it pinged so that I wouldn't wake Scully. I took Miranda over to the table and sat down, staring blankly at the pictures stuck to the refrigerator, the ones of Miranda and I, Emerson, Aileen, and Samuel at Samuel's bris not long ago. My favorite picture was of Miranda and Samuel sitting in front of Emerson's big fireplace, looking at each other with more skepticism than I could believe coming out of their little bodies.

The caption, in Emerson's neat handwriting, was "I thought I was the only baby in the world."

At this point feeding Miranda was more a response of my autonomic nervous system than a conscious process, and it took me a while to notice that her Highness had fallen asleep in my arms again. She went back in her crib, bare of pillows and stuffed animals to cut down on the risk of SIDS, and slept.

Scully was thrashing against a nightmare when I went to put the bottle in the sink. Flailing as ineffectually as a sick kitten against the tangled blanket, she keened and her eyes rolled beneath closed lids as I approached.

I wanted to believe that she deserved to suffer, that her demons were proportionate to her demonic nature. Like many things that I want to believe, I was having increasing difficulty with this claim.

Her eyes popped open as suddenly as a camera flash and I was trapped in the glare.

She ground herself against the pillows as if she could disappear through the thick padding through force of will. One hand flailed for her gun on the side table, and I reached out to stop her. If she was going to shoot me again I wanted both of us in our right minds.

"Mulder?"

I nodded and pointed at my unmarred neck.

"Did I wake you?"

I didn't like that question, it suggested that she'd been loud enough to wake other people before. My nightmares were silent, she'd slept through plenty lying in the same bed with me, but hers apparently had a soundtrack. "Late-night feeding," I said. She nodded, accepting.

I should have left. Instead I reached out and pulled the blanket back up to her neck. "Were you dreaming about Jason?" I could really get sick of my passion to know the truth, if I thought about it.

She shook her head and smiled the way homeless drunks do when they ask you for money, rueful and mocking and self-hating all at once. "Baylor, actually."

What? Surely she didn't have bad dreams about *his* death, of all we'd seen; most of my brothers had died worse deaths. Then I thought again about her pitiful struggles with the blanket and understood a little better.

"That happen a lot?"

She knew what I was really asking–is it all of us who do this to you? She gave me the same smile as she brushed sweaty strands of hair off of her smooth white forehead. "I'm hoping my subconscious gives me some time away from George on the theory that he's made his quota for the month."

I wanted to ask her if I was featured in her late-night horrors, I needed to know, but I didn't want to be the villain of the night. I also didn't want Emerson bonking her, even if it was only in her own mind.

The thought must have been plastered across my face like a handbill, because she gave me another pained smile and pushed her hair away from her cheek, making the bruises show inky black on the paperwhite of her throat.

"Sometimes. Apparently my id isn't concerned with your ego."

"Scully, " I started, "you know I would give almost anything for all of this not to have happened to you."

"Almost?" she asked in a slightly sharp tone.

There was a time when I wouldn't have qualified the statement.

"Miranda. I wouldn't sacrifice her for anything."

Curling herself up into a half-seated position, she pulled up her legs and I sat in the space on the sofa that was still warm from her body. Despite what she had just said, she leaned against me, boneless and limp as the Mooselet. I could smell the soap on her skin and the dark vanilla and almond smell that was only her. God I missed this, the silent intimacy that had evaporated like perfume oil when we had started sleeping together. We'd gotten the physical world and all those pleasures, and lost everything else.

"Is she your salvation?" Scully asked in a dreamy voice, her head drooping like a daffodil with no water against my shoulder.

"Yes."

"That's good," she said in the singsong tone of one already asleep.

When her breathing deepened and she drifted away again, I eased her back against the pillow, and I couldn't stop myself from smoothing her hair as I did so before I made my guilt- drunk way back upstairs and fell into bed alone.

****

The pain in my neck was fighting a battle with the crick in my back for my attention. Morning sunlight batted at my face and I groaned as the events of the day before ran a slow- motion replay through my mind. I smelled coffee and that brought me off the sofa like Dracula arising from his coffin. Stumbling into the kitchen, I expected to see any number of people, Mulder, Zippy, Warwick, even George, but I was not expecting the BLONDE. And she was blonde, blonde down to the tuft of pubic hair that was coyly peeking out from underneath the bikini panties small enough to be an afterthought. I swallowed hard in my hurtful throat and tried to concentrate. Tall, leggy, buxom, and stuffed in a tight white tank top that let her nipples show, she was everything that I wasn't, oozing sex appeal like the warm smell of coffee. Turning, she smiled and handed me a mug of coffee.

"You vant sugar?"

She had an exotic accent and straight teeth.

"No," I croaked and retreated to the table.

"You are Scully? I am Ingveld," she said by way of introduction.

I nodded and drank coffee.

"Vox said that you had been strangled at the throat," she said, sitting in the chair across from me, with one foot on the seat and her arm around her leg, casual and nonchalant even though I could probably have given her a gynecological report from the view.

Vox?

Oh God. Murky waters ran clear. He was sleeping with her.

The burning in my chest had nothing to do with George or the coffee.

"You look like death not cooked. Come and we'll fix you up a bit," she stood up and pulled on my sleeve like a child.

Since I didn't have anything better to do, I followed her.

Downstairs, into the realm of Warwick, where himself was glued to a computer monitor bigger than my television set, with headphones attached to a Discman. He had become one with the machine and lines of multicolored code moved across the black void as fast as his hyper-kinetic hands could type them. As she passed, Ingveld trailed her hand over his shoulder with telling intimacy. So unless she was sleeping with both of them (and you never could tell with these Marlene Dietrich types) it was Warwick whose name she mispronounced in the throes of passion.

The "mother in law" apartment consisted of a big living room complete with TV, sofa and computer, a separate entrance and a big bedroom which I followed Ingveld into. Like every other room in the house, the apartment had been decorated in Ikea showroom. Warwick's bedroom was a mess, clothes dripping off the furniture and soda cans on the bedside table.

Ingveld opened a black duffel bag and hauled out a plastic zippered bag.

"You go take a shower, and I will give some clothes to you and the marks we will make vanish."

The bathroom attached to the bedroom was clean, at least, even though there were wet towels hanging all over the place. I found a dry towel, finished my coffee, and locked the door behind me before I got under the hot spray of water. Emotional fallout from Jason's rape had been extreme, and I still locked the bathroom door even when I was alone in my own apartment. I also could no longer stand flowery- smelling soaps and shampoos. Fortunately, Warwick and Ingveld were heavily into herb shampoo and deodorant soap so I could wash without feeling sick. Bundled in a towel, I stuck my head out of the bathroom. "What have you got?" I asked.

Ingveld passed me another tank top and bikini panties. I almost laughed. I'd been dying of cancer, sick unto death with chemotherapy drugs and I'd still worn a bra. Then again, my life hasn't been without regret and wearing a bra too much was one of the things that I could fix with little disruption to my life or anyone else's. When I had struggled into the underwear and we stood in the bedroom like two textbook illustrations of different female body types, Ingveld handed me a green wrap skirt that probably bared her slender calves. It made my lower half look like a sofa — a sofa with ten little toe-worms wriggling out from underneath.

"You know," I said, looking sadly into the mirror, "I think I'd better try whatever clothes Zippy brought me."

She grinned and went over to the side of the room. She must have brought my suitcase over while I'd been in the shower. I really wanted to dislike her, but upon further consideration I decided that she was way too happy and aboveboard for Mulder to fuck. Also she saw my point about the skirt, didn't protest, just got out a pair of jeans and handed them over.

"Maybe we do something about your neck?" she said after I had slipped into a pair of jeans that had been fashionably tight and now were fashionably baggy.

My throat and neck still hurt, but it wasn't anything that a judicious application of Ibuprofen and cough drops couldn't handle. The external signs of my near-George experience could also be dealt with. God knows I'd covered up bite marks from George's good twin for almost a year. While Ingveld dabbed Clinique Pale Ivory and a lot of pressed powder on my throat, I tried not to flinch at her touch and, for the most part, I succeeded. Next we covered up the broken blood vessels on my face, already purple with death. Eventually the cells would blacken and dissolve into the surrounding tissue. For the moment artificial pigment would have to do.

Shaky, wearing more makeup than the average clown, and violating most of the FBI dress codes, I pulled a blazer on over my jeans and shirt and went to look for my partner.

Zippy and I drove out to Quantico to surround ourselves with signs of law enforcement activity. I had to remember that there were plenty of hard-working people on my side. Still, I knew first-hand, or first-neck really, that the Hoover building basement wasn't all that safe, and I sat facing the door as I reviewed the autopsy reports at my borrowed desk. "I think we've got another," Zippy said, coming into the stifling little room I had appropriated for us. He'd been pulling all the reports on recently discovered bodies in Virginia, Maryland, and the District, looking for any that might match George's pattern.

I reached over and took the printout. Victim characteristics matched somewhat: her teeth identified her as Charleyne Davis, physician's assistant, four foot eleven, missing since last week when she'd disappeared after the end of her shift at Northeast Georgetown at four a.m. He'd always done nurses in the past, but he might be branching out further into the health care profession, especially now that hospitals were hiring all sorts of non-nurse personnel to do caretaking tasks. But Davis was not just a PA; she was also African- American, which put her at the outer reaches of plausibility for George who as far as we knew had to date stuck to the standard intraracial pattern.

If this one was George's he was trying some new techniques to coincide with his new set of victims.

"I'll call and have the bones sent over," I said. "Was any flesh recovered, anything preserved in the refrigerator or something like that?"

Zippy nodded. "It was in the garbage disposal. It got– clogged–because the UNSUB just kept, um, stuffing bits. Nothing in the fridge though."

"Well, I guess whoever did this wasn't big on leftovers."

Davis's hyoid bone had been fractured, suggesting death by strangulation. There were no fingerprints in the cheap rented apartment where the killer had left her remains. He'd had time to clean up, didn't have to leave in a hurry, because even though his neighbors had called the super to complain about the strange, sour smell coming out of his apartment the place was too much of a pesthole to expect rapid action.

He'd killed her and hacked her up, but I didn't think the cutting was part of the fantasy, just a necessary practicality to fit her body, by parts, into the pot. This was speculation because there wasn't actually anything bubbling on the stove when the cops finally came along. But over the hacksaw marks where bone had been cut there were the distinctive signs of "pot polish" — shiny marks made when bones are boiled and strike each other and the sides of the pot as they bubble. And the crime scene photos included images of the kitchen. I didn't even know that pots *came* in that size; what could they possibly be good for except to serve mankind?

The bones had been stacked neatly on the cheap fiberboard coffee table when the super had finally entered to check things out, the skull and the two tibia bones displayed in a pirate's cross in front of the rest. The soggy muscle and fat trapped in the pipes was not very helpful; any trace evidence had been washed away, and it was impossible to tell, given the condition of the flesh by the time it was found, what he'd used to cut her up or whether his technique indicated any past experience with butchery.

There was no forensic evidence to suggest he'd eaten her flesh, but there was nothing to indicate the contrary either. We couldn't even be sure it was George, at least not until Mulder gave his oracular opinion.

First I had to deal with Mulder's superior. She sent a message up to the surface, she wanted to see us instantly, and we took the elevator down into the depths of the bomb shelter that was the ISU.

I'd heard about Julie Graff for years. Meeting her was even more impressive. She had blue peregrine eyes and a nose to match, a wild swirl of hair piled precariously on her head, and a no-nonsense brown pantsuit that screamed "authority figure." If there'd been more women like her at the Academy I wouldn't have had so much trouble with male father- substitutes.

I wanted to genuflect but I thought she might take it as mockery.

"You look like a college student," she said. "Don't you own a pantsuit? Don't answer that. Instead, explain why this case should be in your bailiwick," all rattled off before we were able to sit down.

Zippy glanced at me and then made his own attempt to answer. "George Naxos is part of an X File that's been open for the past four years, and active for over six months."

"You're counting Agent Scully's disappearance as part of the same X File, I presume," she laid her hands flat on her mahogany desk, "I've read the reports on Roush, I know Mulder's twisted little version of Family Feud. What I don't understand is why this serial killer should of his own merit be an X File. Surely you don't think Naxos's actions are being dictated by some shadow conspiracy or a shipful of little green men?"

"Gray," I muttered.

"What was that, Agent Scully?"

"Ma'am, there's evidence that George Naxos's pattern is somehow related to the trauma that Agent Mulder experienced as a child. The unexplained transmission of sensation and information between twins, even when other crimes are involved, has historically been the business of the X Files. If you'll look at the cross-references in the file–"

"Fuck the cross-references. You think you'll be able to catch this monster faster than my profilers because you've got more experience with spoon-benders? Zipprelli, I remember you were an okay profiler but you've been away from the game too long."

"Ma'am," I tried again, "the X Files represent a legitimate area of inquiry, we've survived numerous levels of review by demonstrating that our methods work. Agent Mulder himself has noted the disparities between George Naxos's pattern and what one would otherwise suspect. And the particular change he's demonstrated after being freed in Texas–the switch from graveyards to playgrounds–is highly suggestive."

She wasn't buying it. This was worse than trying to convince Skinner of something. And I wasn't nearly as inured to skepticism as Mulder had been. "Suggestive of what, Agent Scully?"

"Of some sort of — spiritual — connection between Mulder and Naxos, something that will draw him to Mulder. You could call it psychic," the look on her face suggested she'd rather call me a cab, "but I don't think the name is terribly important. If Naxos also committed the latest murder we're investigating, then his pattern is more complex than just replicating Mulder's trauma. He is fixated on Mulder, that seems clear, and I'm involved whether anyone likes it or not. We can catch him. But we could certainly benefit from whatever expertise the ISU could spare."

She stared at me. "Mike, would you excuse Agent Scully and me for a minute?" He nodded and patted my shoulder as he left.

I heard the lock snick in the door and she leaned forward, eyes whirling like diamond-tipped drills. "I know you fucked Mulder up but good, and that doesn't make me too inclined to trust you on this. But for some reason he seems to think that you're right, you'll have a better chance to catch Naxos than anyone else. And I do trust him. So — this is still your investigation, for the moment. You're welcome to consult with Ralph Williams, he's one of our best up-and-coming kids and he thinks Mulder walks on water. If you damage Mulder any further, though, I'll have your badge and the next job you have will be as ME in Bumfuck, Idaho."

I blinked. "But I already told them the benefits weren't good enough."

She smiled for the first time. "Then play nice, Agent Scully, and you won't have to call them again."

After that I needed a breather, so I took the autopsy report out to Mulder's house. It was Warwick's turn to stand guard. Given his druthers he wouldn't have let me in, but I pushed past him.

Mulder was in the family room, rubbing Miranda's stomach as "Beauty and the Beast" played. The Beast was asking for advice about how to woo Beauty. Sure, I take all my love advice from household appliances. Then again it was no stranger than some of our X Files.

He looked up and quickly scanned around for Zippy, his face taking on that pinched panicked look when he realized that we were the only adults in the room.

"We need your opinion on whether this girl is one of George's victims," I said. "If she is we need to rethink things, he's getting more exotic."

He read the first few lines. "Boiled her?"

I nodded, then had to say "yes" out loud when he didn't look up.

He shuddered and closed the file.

"Mulder?"

"I'll read it later, okay? Yes, it's George."

"How do you know?"

"It's…consistent." Miranda whined and he absent-mindedly began to rub her stomach again. I squatted down and held out a finger, which she grabbed in her fat little fist and pulled to her mouth.

Mulder separated us gently but firmly. "Leave that alone," he told her, "you don't know where it's been."

"I wear two pairs of gloves when I do autopsies," I said, knowing that I'd opened myself up wider than the Grand Canyon.

"That's not what I meant."

I rocked forward a little; you'd think that being prepared would help a little, but it didn't. He flashed me a quick look and I could tell that he wished he hadn't.

Arms wrapped around my knees, I spoke again. "What's consistent?"

"He's looking for…fulfillment. When he got out he returned to the old pattern, with a few significant differences of course, but mostly it was the same thing–the same victims, the same kind of location. But that didn't work for him anymore, the rape didn't give him enough of them, he needed more. And he thought maybe if he possessed one more fully, if he *consumed* her, he'd have what he wanted."

Miranda babbled under his slow-moving hand. He'd reduced me to similar gibberish in the past, but she had a better excuse.

"So you think he did eat the flesh."

"Parts, anyway. But I doubt it helped him any."

Miranda looked up at me and extended her hand again. Apparently Mulder hadn't managed to poison her against me entirely. He'd probably need another few months at least. Tentatively, I put my index finger in the center of her palm and pushed. She giggled.

"Helped?" I asked. "In what way?"

"He wants to consume the women, to make them permanently a part of him, to fill that nurse-shaped hole that his mother left in his psyche. By necrophiliac sex acts and then the mutilation and cannibalism of the latest two killings, he's seeking greater and greater commitment and satisfaction from the victims."

Miranda grabbed my finger in both her cold wet little hands and squealed as though Mulder and I were talking about baseball scores. It made me wonder what she was going to grow up thinking was normal conversation.

"The switch away from an outdoor setting indicates that this is a personal quest for him and not simply based on his relationship to me–he's homing in on me, that I'm not contesting, but he's also trying to resolve his own issues. I think you're right that he figured out the connection between the two of us when he was being held in Texas. Either Jason told him or there was something more paranormal at work– and now he wonders whether he hasn't been just playing out someone else's scene for the past twenty-odd years. He thinks that's why the previous murders didn't give him everything he needs. He thinks that if he tries something that's entirely personal to him, he might find what he wants."

"So where do I fit in the pattern? If he's rejecting the connection with you, why steal your ID and come after me?"

Mulder bowed his head. "Maybe he thinks he can find himself by going through me and coming out the other side, so to speak. Did he…say anything…during the attack?"

'The attack,' what a nice neutral way to put it. I shook my head. But — I really should tell him as much as I could stand to admit. "It wasn't Zippy that stopped him. He had plenty of time. When I started to pass out — he eased up. His hands were around my neck, but there was no pressure. He looked…confused." Actually he'd had the unhappy puppy look that Mulder always got when some piece of evidence disappeared or a witness refused to admit what she'd really seen. I could interpret that expression as easily as a tox screen: George hadn't gotten what he wanted from strangling me. The question was — did he know what he wanted? And how could we keep him from getting it?

I looked over at Mulder but he was gone. He was still sitting on the rug but he'd pulled himself into whatever interior space that gave him access to things which would send others running screaming into the street. No wonder he'd always had such a gift for seeing into the dark corners of bloody minds, he was a tenth segment of an entire dark chain of DNA. Miranda but down on my finger and I jumped as her sharp little gums sliced into my flesh.

God.

"She's starting to teethe," Mulder pointed out, "that's entirely natural for her stage of development, she isn't channeling George."

I felt a stab of jealousy that Miranda's merest twitch was enough to bring Mulder back from the nebula of his mind, when I couldn't do it with a bullhorn.

"You've become an expert on child care?"

"I do my homework."

Miranda log-rolled over onto her stomach and began to kick her feet and grab at the carpet, looking like a pink polka- dotted baby seal with a thin string of drool attaching her to the rug.

"Is she – normal?" I asked.

"Developmentally and physically she's on the high end of the natural scale. She does things a month or two early. She said 'Da' the other day, but hasn't bothered to do it in front of witnesses. But that's par for the course in my life."

"Brain development? CAT scans, blood work, genetic testing?" I pressed.

He looked up at me with eyes the color of a forest floor, moss and leaves, hiding things underneath.

"Didn't have them done. She's just getting standard baby care and testing."

"Don't you want to know?"

"Know what, Scully, that she's got a time bomb lurking in her genes and will die horribly in a few years so that I have lots of time to make myself not care? I can't do that. I don't give a damn if she's going to morph into a Reticulan, if that happens we'll just shop for clothes that go well with gray skin."

"But if there are–problems–they might be correctable," I whispered. Miranda nodded at me solemnly, agreeing.

"The only people who have the knowledge and technology to help if Miranda has problems would demand too high a price."

Point for him. I'd thought the same thing, watching Emily die. It terrified me–knowing that you could love a child more than anything else, be prepared to sacrifice everything for it, and be a better parent than Dr. Spock and things could still go wrong. Even if there were no genetic landmines in Miranda's future, she could just as easily run out in front of a truck when she learned to toddle. She could be dumb, she could be shy and picked on in school, she could be President; there was just no way to tell.

I rolled her on her back, which evoked much delighted squealing. "You know, when you get to be a big moose you'll be able to do that on your own."

"What did you call her?"

Mulder's tone made me snap my head up to look at him, stretching the swollen flesh on my neck so that I winced. "Don't tell me, that's some sort of ethnic insult and I've offended your lineage. I didn't mean anything by it–"

"Believe me, nothing you could say could offend my lineage. It's more likely that the moose will sue you for slander. But did Warwick tell you–?" I just stared at him, uncomprehending. "Why moose?"

I shrugged. "I dunno, just seemed appropriate."

This earned me one of Mulder's more inscrutable evaluative looks.

***

Iolokus III: Vix te Agnovi 8/20 Look thou be true; do not give dalliance Too much the rein. The strongest oaths are straw To th' fire I' th' blood. Be more abstemious, Or else good night your vow!

Wednesday passed with no more news of George. I even dared return to the X Files office and sort the latest round of referrals into stacks: You've Got To Be Kidding, Warrants Further Investigation, and High Priority. Mulder would never believe how few files actually made it into the first pile — of course the low percentage might have had something to do with the fact that I never once considered the National Enquirer an appropriate referral source. Only human experimentation (government or alien, take your pick) made it into the High Priority pile, so the Further Investigation files were piling up. We did a few exsanguinations and manifestations whenever we had a chance, but it was like opening the drain on a bathtub while running the water full force — intake exceeded outflow. Nonetheless our solve rate remained high and I might even get a merit pay increase at the next six-month review.

I was headed back to Virginia, sitting at an intersection waiting for the light to turn, when my cellphone trilled. I unshipped it from my jacket and answered the call.

"Hello beautiful," a voice that was Mulder's and was not purred in my ear.

My throat felt like a rasp had been shoved down my esophagus.

"What do you want?"

"I want to fuck you and kill you, what do you think?" he mocked and ended with a chillingly familiar dry chuckle.

The brushfire of anger started in my belly, probably in the vicinity of my much-tortured ovaries. It seemed that I felt all my anger in my reproductive organs these days.

"You can try. You didn't do a good job of it last time and you couldn't keep a hard-on with a live woman you sick fuck."

Now with the raspy voice he'd been kind enough to give me I actually sounded fairly fierce. I almost believed it.

He snorted with some strange George emotion into the phone, sounding like a hyena sniffing for carrion.

"My life is so…strange these days," he whined, now exactly in Mulder's voice. "I just need to figure some things out. I need you, Scully."

I shuddered and pulled my jacket closer around me. Then I pulled my gun from its holster and laid it in my lap. Other drivers were going to think I was about to succumb to road rage but I needed the reassurance.

"I don't know what you want from me," I stated. I think it didn't sound feeble, but I was rapidly losing my earlier bravado.

"You wanna let me show you?" he asked, his voice curling like whipped cream over chocolate mousse. Holy shit, even the innuendoes were Mulderish.

"You want me to meet you?"

"I'm at the park at the corner of Reno and 42nd. You'll know me from the carnation in my lapel."

I got an earful of dial tone.

I dialed Zippy before the noise could begin to annoy me. He picked up on the sixth ring; unlike my former partner, he was capable of ignoring a ringing phone if he was busy in other ways, like hitting on a pretty girl.

"'Lo?"

"It's me. George just called. He wants me to meet him at the park on Reno and 42nd in the District. How fast can you–"

He cursed. "I'm out in Wheaton–twenty-five minutes. Shit!"

"Don't call Mulder," I warned and hung up.

Fifteen minutes and five near-accidents later, I pulled up to the corner of the park. It was a nice neighborhood, large houses set well back from the curb, an extra stripe on the street to mark off the bike path. I parked in front of a fire hydrant and got out of the car, gun held in front of me.

The park was small, barely deserving of the name. From the sidewalk, the ground sloped upwards at a very sharp angle, nearly forty-five degrees, so that the park was set off from the surrounding territory by about five feet. A short flight of concrete steps led upwards. I couldn't see much up there, but the main grounds looked mostly flat with a few scattered trees on the fringes. There was a basketball court, blocked off by a high fence, off to the left.

I felt the first few raindrops on my scalp as I hit the first step up.

The early evening light was as gray as newspaper. The rain wasn't heavy enough to interfere with visibility yet, but the thick clouds above my head warned that it would quickly get worse. Fortunately, I didn't see any civilians when I looked around; the threatening weather had kept them away.

I pointed my weapon down at the ground and followed the concrete path towards the center of the park, scanning as I went. Aside from clusters of dying daffodils and crocuses, there wasn't much to see. There were a few stands of trees at the far edge of the park, and I tried to see if there were any human figures lurking, but I couldn't be sure.

"George," I called. My voice was softer than I expected and I tried again, straining bruised muscles. "George…Here boy."

More steps, closer to the center, closer to the trees. "What's this George, can't you deliver? I should have known better, you loser. Hell, I'd make a better man than–"

Motion, off to the left in the trees. It could have been leaves rustling in the growing wind. But I didn't think so.

I left the path and headed for where I'd seen the movement, cursing my height and my vanity as my heels sank into the ground. On the up side, the grass was getting slippery with the rain and my heels helped prevent me from slipping.

I jogged over the few dozen feet to the trees, watching carefully. It would be really useful if Zippy had been overly pessimistic, I thought and slowed down.

There was a crack, a branch breaking over to my right and I turned. He was standing, just watching, maybe ten yards from me, framed between two dogwood trees. "We never really talk, do we?" he asked, only that couldn't have been stolen from Mulder because I'd never told him and I shuddered as if the light rain were a monsoon.

"Why did you try to kill me?"

He shrugged. In Mulder's heavy trenchcoat, he looked like a refugee from a fashion shoot, as if water were being sprayed on him to emulate rain; it didn't bedraggle him the way rain affected mere mortals. "It was a mistake, I didn't realize…he gets so angry, everything that's happened to us in the past year. I think confusion is inevitable. I know you don't mean what you said just now. I understand what's happening to us. Once I've tied up the loose ends you and I can be together."

"Loose ends?" I parroted dumbly.

He took a step forward. "He's abandoned the quest. Betrayed it. All for that little worm. It's pathetic. Our work is important, Scully, there's no time to *breed*–" And he was coming towards me, nearly jogging on the thick green grass.

Lighting cracked, whiting out my vision as I fired. I'd seen him just before the thunderbolt, and at that range if I missed I should have been sent back to Quantico. But I didn't see anything when my vision cleared, no body, not even a patch of darkness on the ground where he'd been.

After a few seconds lights began to go on in the houses across the street from the park. Wonderful, more explanations due to the local police. The way my luck was running the shot had probably gone across the street, into someone's house, and mowed down a kid at dinner. I moved forward to where I'd seen George.

Under the two trees the ground was torn, as if a zombie had emerged. I dropped to my knees and began to scrabble in the dirt, looking down one second and trying to keep watch for my friendly neighborhood psychopath the next five.

I was looking around for George when I first touched the dead woman's hand.

As I dialed Mulder I heard a faint whistle, bouncing around so that I couldn't get a direction. It faded away just as I recognized the tune. It was a tune I had been subjected to on endless car rides back and forth across the US. Slow, sad and haunting, a king on a bed in Vegas, putting a television out of its misery with a handgun.

Do the chairs in your parlor seem empty and bare? Do you gaze at your doorstep and picture me there? Is your heart filled with pain, shall I come back again? Tell me dear, are you lonesome tonight?

Zippy found me a few minutes later, waving my gun with one hand while I gripped her cold dead dirty fingers with the other.

****

We held a nonliteral postmortem that night because Scully was too tired for a full autopsy, and also it's hard to get good help for that sort of thing at night. Chinese food and crime scene reports, another Wednesday night at Casa Mulder. Warwick and Ingveld had gone clubbing with their hacker friends. The Mooselet was cutting some heavy z's and the baby snoring from the monitor underscored the whole conversation.

"Definitely flayed," Scully mumbled into her drink. "Some of the strokes were done just to damage, but I'm pretty sure there's some large undamaged patches of skin that were simply removed."

"Where?" I rolled another moo shi pancake, with a little less plum sauce this time, and took a bite.

"Mainly the neck." She primly used her chopsticks to bring a few sesame noodles to her lips.

"What's that mean, you think? Removing evidence of strangulation?" Zippy asked as yet another dumpling fell onto the table top. He gave up and simply speared it with his chopstick.

"He never felt the need before. No, I think George has seen Silence of the Lambs too many times. He wants to create a new MO for himself but he can't think of one he likes so he's just stealing from Buffalo Bill."

"You mean…?"

"Yeah. He's making himself a throat toupee."

Zippy's face moued in disgust and Scully choked back something that sounded suspiciously like a laugh. We knew each other too well; we'd gone way beyond gallows humor by now. What came after that? Gas chamber humor maybe.

"Kind of makes you wonder about the advisability about letting prisoners watch cable," I added.

"At least George knows that we're gunning for his ass," Zippy remarked and took another pull on his Corona.

"That Scully is gunning for his ass, at least," I offered, "I'm just pissed off about my trench coat."

"You know what disturbs me the most about all this?" Scully asked, her fingers drawing patterns down the side of her bottle.

"The fact that he could have killed you? That he's stalking us all? That there's a serious whack-job running around out there with Mulder's IQ and picking up radio station WDANA?" Zippy asked.

She shook her head.

"What then?"

"His taste in music. Humming a Elvis tune to me."

"Which one?" Zippy asked.

I looked up, shocked. Was she actually making a joke?

"As far as I can see, he has exquisite taste in music," I said.

****

"What are you doing?"

Scully had the grace to look ashamed. The noise that brought me to the bathroom had been a metal box of Band- Aids falling into the sink as she stretched up — with the sink in the way she was just too short to reach the top shelf of the medicine cabinet. It was the one storage area in her apartment that I'd ever taken over, and that only because she had no use for it herself.

She was wearing the sweatshirt again, and gray sweatpants that fell all the way to the tops of her ankles. Her bare feet on the cold tile floor seemed oddly vulnerable, a breach in her armor. Miranda had her toes.

"I can't sleep," she enunciated in scalpel-like syllables. And along with the Band-Aids I kept my prescriptions on the top shelf, so that's what she had been up to.

I mentally reviewed the information on the little warning handout I'd gotten from the doctor. I never used to read those things but with Miranda in the house I felt it wise to know the side effects of every potentially edible product. "You can't take my Ambien," I informed her.

She stopped stretching and turned to face me fully. "There's no adverse interaction with the Zoloft if that's what –"

"Jesus, Scully," I snapped, "does depressed respiratory function mean anything to you? Bronchial swelling? Even if you split my dose in half it's too dangerous. Go count sheep." Or maybe she could count duplicate brothers, my ever-helpful guilt complex volunteered. After all we were the ones keeping her from happy dreams.

"Mulder, I chased your fuckhead brother tonight with no problems. I do not think I'm in any imminent danger of respiratory arrest," she returned fire with something close to her old Zippo flare.

"Do you want the bed?" I finally offered, sounding as ungracious as she did, "I could take the couch if you think it would help."

"Your bed?" she drawled in her gravelly damaged voice and raised an eyebrow at me.

I felt blood flow in entirely inappropriate patterns. Danger, danger Will Robinson. Even in thick sweats, even with the pallor and the bruises and the weight loss she still had the power to turn me on. I remembered her tongue flicking in just the right place in my ear, her fingers branding the hollow above my hipbone, the sour sweat under her arms and how the flavor differed subtly between her breasts. Our breathing changed together in the hospital-toned bathroom, bouncing harshly off the wall.

Good intentions were lying under the sword of Damocles. There was an invisible fire in the room. That accounted for my paralyzed terror and the sudden absence of oxygen. Hypoxia, now there was an excellent explanation.

I bent down and she stretched up. Her mouth opened as I forced her back against the wall tiles. They were as cold as ice cream under my hands compared to her hot fudge heat. She tasted like a mouthful of blood, growling as my hands slipped around her head, my thumbs flicking her earlobes and tracing the delicate cartilege of her ears.

I wanted to bend further to reach her neck but at the last second realized that for once the pain would probably overwhelm the pleasure for her. Instead I dropped down to my knees — her head followed me a little of the way down because she wouldn't let my lips go — and lifted her shirt up so that I could lap at her pale flat stomach. She jerked against the wall as I pushed my tongue into her navel and I heard her hands slap and scrabble on the tiles.

She tasted exactly the way I remembered. She tasted like manna from heaven; if the Israelites had eaten this they never would have been tempted to follow other gods and they would have refused to leave the desert. What I had forgotten was the heat, melting over my tongue and seeping throughout my body like a transfusion.

I pushed her sweatpants down to her knees, accompanied by her soft bruised sounds of encouragement, and was faced with a logistical dilemma. She's so damn short that I'd have to get down on my hands and knees to really taste her, which was not unthinkable but would be highly difficult with the sink and toilet in the way.

After I reviewed the floor plan and sleeping arrangements, there was only one feasible option.

"The study," I said and looked up, waiting for her reaction. She nodded. Her eyes were like frayed denim that's been washed too many times and I reminded myself that our relationship had never been that healthy. She pulled herself from the wall, tugging her sweatpants back up to her waist, and I noticed that the hand she used to open the bathroom door was shaking. I wanted to beam us to the first floor of the house so that we wouldn't be able to reconsider, but instead I trotted along after her like an empty-headed golden retriever (but I repeat myself).

It seemed appropriate that my sex life would get restarted on my old leather couch. I closed and locked the study door behind me as she sat in the corner, arms across her chest, looking down at her lap.

I felt a nameless anxiety. Okay, it probably had a long German name that Scully would know, but I had no clue. On my knees again, this time on the more forgiving study carpet, I put one hand on each of her quadriceps and relaxed as she opened her legs and her hands unfolded themselves to touch my shoulders. A few graceless fumbles later, she was naked from the waist down. When I bent to suck at her clitoris, her sweatshirt billowed around my head, creating a small humid world around me.

I love cunnilingus. The Latin name's a bit absurd, I wish that there was a good Anglo-Saxon term like "fucking" specifically dedicated to the practice of burying your face between a woman's legs so that you can see, smell, and breathe nothing but her exquisite cunt. It's a connection undiluted by any distance, unmediated by rationalization or even emotion. Scully moaned and the sound was like distant thunder as I lost myself in her hot-oil folds.

Some amount of missing time later, she pulled my head up and I heaved myself into her lap. Her mouth sucked and pinched; she had no reason to avoid *my* neck and she made me writhe like a bucking bronco on top of her.

I could feel my cock sticking out of the fly of my boxers, which was sort of ludicrous but I suspected that Scully wouldn't laugh. I pushed her over so that her head hit the middle of the couch and her legs went over the side. I was rubbing against her as she squirmed, trying to replace the sweat coating her body with my saliva.

I wasn't even going to bother with removing my shorts. Honestly I didn't even know if I could wait that long when I felt her soaking-wet curls against the skin of my shaft.

Skin.

Shit.

"Scully?" I whimpered, fully utilizing all three of my working brain cells.

She groaned. "Don't you have anything?"

"You forgot to send me an engraved invitation."

She pushed against me and I turned over, as clumsy as a sack of wet sand. Now I was in the middle of the couch, which gave her enough room to stretch out. I bit my tongue hard enough to draw blood when she sucked the head of my cock into her mouth. I saw her cheek distend as I bucked against her and clenched my fists, one digging into the leather and one tangling in her hair.

So long, it had been so long and I couldn't bear the thought that I would just come instantly. Scully moved her head, adjusting herself across my knees so that she could take me further in. But the angle wasn't great and I could see her wince as her attempts distressed her bruised throat.

At the very least I could try to spare her physical pain. I tugged her head up with my palm against her sweaty head and she looked up at me, lips pursed around me, her tongue flicking like a metronome.

She let me slide out and watched me, her eyes now the color that a summer sky would bleed if cut. I put my hands on her shoulders and pulled her sweatshirt up; she raised her arms and let me take it off. Then I rolled her carefully off the couch, so that she was lying under me.

Then I stopped, cursing, and moved as far away as minimally necessary to take off my boxers. She actually giggled, though she looked contrite when she saw my face. Then her face became a question mark. I wasn't sure what she'd think about this, but I carefully lowered myself down on her, resting my cock between her breasts.

If she'd raised an eyebrow I think I would have shriveled like a peanut, but instead she cupped the sides of her breasts and pushed them together. The friction was incredible; her sweat and saliva made her slick and hot underneath me. I raised my hands to cover hers, squeezing her a little harder. I felt the thin bones of her fingers fragile underneath mine, a striking contrast to the round swell of her breasts. Her skin was like rice paper, so thin that I could barely understand how the blood stayed inside. Her crinkled apricot nipples complemented the cinnamon swirl of her hair against the carpet. The purple head of my cock and the darker skin of my hands bracketing her breasts –not to mention the livid bruises on her neck — combined to give the scene the look of a Picasso painting to my blurry eyes.

All right, so men are visual creatures, so sue me. Watching her–watching us–was erotic. I don't think I blinked, even as my eyes dried out and the sight of her became painful.

She was watching me as I ground and pushed against her, eyes locked on mine like laser targets. It's me, Scully, I wanted to say, and maybe I did. It's me.

Her face was so serious, as if she were preparing to give her annual review of our work. I felt her hands slide out from under mine so that I was touching the flannel-soft skin of her breasts. She reached up to caress my face, drawing me down towards her so that I was doubled over, contorted like a crushed beer can, and when I could feel her exhalations against my lips she stopped pulling. "I missed you," she whispered and closed her eyes.

I came, tumbling down onto her like a safe tossed from a second-story window.

When her breathing evened out, I untangled myself and staggered over to the desk to get a handful of tissues to clean us off. She slumbered as I wiped off the largest puddle of come, the edges now drying and tightening on her skin.

I managed to put my boxers on without falling over by bracing one hand against the arm of the couch. There was no way I was going to wake Scully up to put her clothes back on, so instead I just piled them on her stomach and picked her up.

She'd lost more weight than I'd thought; if she stepped on a scale she'd have to jump up and down on it to make it register a hundred pounds. Just like the stray in the back yard, she needed to be fed more carefully.

I put her on the bed beside me, my hand resting on her arm, and watched her sleep. Eventually, she began to sprawl out in the way she always had. I pulled the covers up to her chin and allowed my eyes to close.

Iolokus III: Vix te Agnovi 9/20 O, a cherubin Thou wast that did preserve me. Thou didst smile, Infused with a fortitude from heaven, When I have deck'd the sea with drops full salt …

Mulder's mouth was all over me. I could feel the trails he'd left glistening like an oil sheen on hot asphalt. Currently though his head was between my legs as you'd expect, his large hands covering my inner thighs. He ate me like he was starving, like he wanted to drown. I moaned.

This was not a dream, I realized as the sunlight stabbed into my eyes and I looked up at the white stucco ceiling. This was Mulder's actual bedroom. Therefore, it was okay to be turned on.

I propped myself up on my elbows and looked over against the far wall. The crib was gone; we weren't introducing Miranda to the primal scene just yet. Mulder lifted his face and turned his head to see where I was looking.

"Warwick has her," he mumbled, gripping my thighs and raising his head enough to push his nose and chin into my belly, looking for a reaction like an enthusiastic puppy. I panted and that seemed to be enough; he bent his head to attend to more salient matters.

I groaned as his hands came up to cover my breasts. The world contracted to Mulder and what he was doing to me. The pulse of his fingers, the pulse of his tongue. Stubble against my thighs, scraping off a layer of skin cells. I pulled my knees up to give him greater access and tossed my head against the pillow.

Hs tongue was wet and cool, like seals flowing through ocean water. I threw my hands up behind my head, straining to hold on to the headboard.

Climaxing while awake was still unfamiliar to me. My own surprised yelp echoed in my ears as he pulled his glistening face from between my legs and scooted up the bed. He fumbled for the side table and I saw the familiar flash of silver foil.

"Where — ?" Dear God, please don't let him have asked Zippy.

"I went for a jog before you got up, past the 7-11." Rip.

"Mulder! You could have been *arrested*! You know you're not supposed to — " He thrust into me, eyes closed, face strained in what might have been agony. It had been so long; I was instantly made aware of the difference between ghost-fucking and the real thing. He held me down for a second, then began to move pistonlike. I felt myself liquefying around him, the initial discomfort fading.

"Sorry," he lied, pushing my face over to the side with his stubbly chin so that he could cover my ear with sloppy wet kisses. "Want me to take them back?" He paused and made as if to pull out.

"Fuck you" didn't seem appropriate. I raised my legs and dug my heels into the small of his back, right above his ass. I could tell he was smiling into my hair until I picked up the pace and he groaned and stopped trying to be a wiseass.

His hands slid from the sides of my breasts to my thighs wrapped around his waist and then journeyed back again. I whimpered and lurched against him. He took pity on me and slid his fingertips down to my clitoris. My head was pounding and buzzing as if I were in the middle of a fire alarm.

Now his teeth were on my shoulder, searching for that one spot that always –

Oh

Yes

I convulsed against him, feeling his arm tighten around me, trying not to get thrown off. I saw stars, confetti, a mist of blood red and green and all the colors in between. Dimly I felt him heave into me and come to rest, sweaty and shuddering. Oh God, so good. Utterly good and perfect. How could I even entertain the thought of being with anyone else?

He peeled himself off me long enough to remove the condom and throw it over the side of the bed. If I'd had the energy I would have groaned in disgust.

In his arms, my head tucked under his chin, I felt like a turtle inside its protective shell. The feeling of well-being was almost agonizing, because I knew it would end suddenly.

I may have dozed again, but we were entwined in the same position when I heard the door slam open, allowing a pissed- off Warwick to enter.

"Mulder, she's been crying for you for ten minutes — oh. Look, come and get her when you've got your priorities straight."

He was going to close the door but Mulder's voice, raised in measured anger over my scrambling to cover myself with the sheets, stopped him.

"I'd appreciate it if you'd take a moment to recall just who pays whom around here. And that I've never once complained when you wanted me to watch Her Highness so you and Ingveld could do the horizontal mambo, and you've got fifteen years more stamina than I do. I'll be there soon." Warwick frowned uncertainly and shut the door.

Mulder's hand circled my shoulder a few times and then he swung his legs over the side of the bed. "Sorry 'bout that." I was still so shocked that he'd defend me — us — in any way that I hadn't even begun to feel guilty yet.

Mulder by contrast was made for multitasking of that sort. "Why do I feel like my wife just caught me with my mistress?" he mused as he struggled into boxers and sweatpants that had been left in a pile beside the bed. He sniffed at the underarms of a T-shirt and donned that too.

"Back in a few," he said. "Want coffee?"

"I'll get it myself," I replied, wondering where this nonchalant attitude had come from. It was bizarrely attractive, like his morning bedhead — he didn't seem devastated by Warwick's condemnation, but he wasn't so desperate that he couldn't leave me to tend to the rest of his life.

After he left, I stared at the wall of postcards for a while. That had been a cry for help, but Mulder hadn't been listening. Maybe it was time to help myself.

Then it was out to the kitchen where to my great relief no one else from this strange agglomeration of people was present. I struggled with the yuppified coffee/expresso maker and produced a substance that, while unpleasant, had the desired effect.

I drank it standing up. It had been a long time.

I'd scheduled the autopsy for 10 am, and I had to speed just a little to make it. In a way there was no reason to hurry. She was still dead.

The blood samples I'd taken last night — it seemed so far away I could barely believe she hadn't rotted — were still down in the lab. She'd been moved to Quantico along with a large amount of the earth in her shallow grave. The evidence techs had even brought some crushed crocuses along.

As usual, he'd put her clothes back on when he was finished. Given his little experiment in do-it-yourself tannery, this had caused her once-white blouse to stick to her body in a pathetic imitation of the missing and lacerated skin. I had to cut it away with an Exacto knife, working slowly and carefully to avoid destroying any evidence. Beneath the stiff cloth her back was blue-gray between the purple-black welts of blood.

The blood had still been moist enough to attract dirt when he buried her, but not so wet as to cause the dirt to mix and seep through her shirt as mud. Given the extended drying time of blood-saturated cotton fabric in damp spring weather, I thought he wouldn't have needed to kill her nearby the park. He could have done it almost anywhere within or just outside of the District and carried her around in the trunk of a car.

Hairs & Fibers might have some insights to that, if they could distinguish trace she'd brought with her from the overwhelming amount of debris she'd picked up during her impromptu burial.

Her body evidenced the now-standard signs of manual strangulation and postmortem sexual assault. The tissue damage at the neck made evaluation more difficult, but I judged that he'd strangled her before he cut the skin off her throat: If he'd done it the other way around, it would have been squishy and difficult for him and I also would have expected more severe and concentrated trauma to the underlying tissue. (It was the difference between squeezing a banana within its peel and a peeled banana — the covering diffuses the pressure, causing less intense but more extensive damage.)

At least we could tell her family that the mutilation and the sexual abuse had been postmortem. The stripes on her back, on the other hand, were probably inflicted while she still lived. From the depth, placement, and variation in angles of the cuts, I thought she'd still been able to writhe, maybe to scream and beg if her voice hadn't given out.

George had kindly buried his victim's purse with her. She'd been Maria Penalver, Northeast Georgetown ER nurse. Her duty shift had ended at 5 pm two days before, and she'd never made it home.

I'd been in the Northeast Georgetown ER a few days before, courtesy of George. I didn't remember anything of that part of my fantastic voyage, but a quick call confirmed that Penalver had tended to me when I was first admitted — had, indeed, held my hand and reassured me as I gasped for air like a landed fish. I was a dangerous person to know.

Is your heart filled with pain, shall I come back again? Tell me dear, are you lonesome tonight?

I finished the report and called my gynecologist. Fortunately for all concerned, Dr. Shimada was willing to squeeze me in over lunch. "Always time for the Eighth Gynecological Wonder of the World," she said. I really didn't like having her put it that way. But you don't want to piss off your doctor — a lesson I wish Mulder had learned — and so I didn't say anything.

My car was still back at my apartment and in any event I could use the thrill of Zippy's Corvette. It was shiny black like Batman's costume, like the vinyl-coated goddesses of Mulder's porno mags, and frankly it made me wonder about whether Zippy was trying to compensate for some more personal inadequacy. Zippy would have insisted that he was just advertising the real goods, and I certainly didn't want to initiate a debate on penis substitutes, so I just smirked whenever I saw the thing. Okay, I saw the attraction, but then again I didn't have any worries about the size of *my* gun.

Zippy insisted on driving me to the appointment, saying that he had some errands in Georgetown, so I was able to gulp down a croissant and a soda on my way over. He wanted me to promise I'd wait in the hospital cafeteria, surrounded by lots of people, until he returned. I refused, mainly because I wanted him to return on time. If he was worried for my fragile safety, he wouldn't delay by flirting with salesgirls.

Dr. Shimada didn't make me wait too long, only long enough for me to shuffle through the magazines in her waiting room and figure out that, if the magazines had been up to date, I'd be back at a point at which my life had made sense. When my only nightmares were about things I couldn't remember. It was the shit that I could remember which was starring in my monster vision these days.

Inside the exam room, she was as pleasant as ever, her face as blank as the moon when I informed her that I'd recently become sexually active again and would like to renew my lapsed birth control prescription.

If only it were as easy to renew my lapsed faith.

Faith in what?

Oh, just about everything. God, the Universe, myself, the possibility of finding great shoes on sale, and that science would find a cure for shortness. Like I said, faith in *everything*.

"Can you slide a little closer to the edge please?" Dr. Shimada asked and I did so, looking up at the cartoons on the ceiling of the office.

"You know what they say, you can never be too thin or too close to the edge," I joked.

She looked at me, puzzled.

"You are too thin," she warned.

Whatever.

Finally the exam was over and she let me get dressed. There were no obvious abnormalities, whatever that might mean in my case; in my first bit of good fortune in three or four years, my period had ended just a few days before, so I could start on the Pill immediately. In two weeks I could forget about latex when I wasn't doing autopsies, assuming that the Pap smear didn't turn up anything horrible. The thought of returning to anytime/anywhere status cheered me more than it should have.

If I could put things right with Mulder…Then what, the Happiness Fairy would come and fix my life?

Maybe not, but it would be a start.

And yet — I was potentially making a mistake when I presumed that a healthy sexual relationship was an appropriate goal. In the past I'd used sex to keep Mulder away from me. I didn't know if I could change that.

****

After Scully left for the autopsy, I puttered around the house doing useless everyday things that would have fallen into Warwick's job description if I'd gone to work the way I should have. Being confined to the house was fraught with disadvantages; I was getting in the way of Warwick and Miranda's usual schedule and generally being a pain in the ass. Warwick had gone so far as to order a treadmill so that I could run inside the house, but it wasn't scheduled for delivery until tomorrow. I couldn't wait; much longer and my carefully maintained six-pack sized gut was going to degenerate into a keg.

Warwick had been pretty snippy about the treadmill, too. He was still sulking from being reminded of the fact that he worked for me and not the other way around, and he'd retreated to his lair to work on whatever Internet wizardry he was performing for his latest client. I took the Mooselet into the study and sat down with the budget spreadsheets that I had to justify for the quarterly operations meeting. The only problem was that I found myself staring at the sofa with an insipid look on my face — not the first time for that behavior either.

Ralph Williams showed up at eleven with a briefcase full of homework for me and a couple of Sumatra coffees from Starbucks, which was the only reason that I let him in.

That and the fact that Ralph was one of the Mooselet's favorite toys. Ralph's nickname around ISU was Worf and the sight of the poker-faced ex-college football player sitting on the sofa with an indulgent smile while Miranda sucked on his tie made me bury my amused smirk in the files.

"What have you got for me today?"

"You're got six annual performance reports you've got to do, and a shitload of other administrative bullshit that Diane says all you gotta do is read 'em and sign."

The Mooselet applauded and began to make seagull noises. Ralph rubbed her tummy and smiled down at her.

"So you gonna tell me what's goin' on with this evil twin thing?" he asked.

I took off my glasses and piled the files on the floor next to me.

"It's a long story."

"I've got all day."

When Ralph finally did leave, with the files from the week before, I could see the same flicker of uncertainty in his eyes that Scully wore from time to time. All of George's actions made me suspect, I was tainted by my own gene pool.

I was really starting to hate George with a passion.

On the other hand, he had managed to breach the communications gap Scully and I had fallen into. Manalive I had missed her, and not just as far as sex was concerned (although she had been starring in my masturbation fantasies again and I had gotten fond of the one where she was dressed like Marie Antoinette). What I had missed more than almost anything else was her annoying habit of deflating my more outrageous theories and challenging everything with her usual precise brilliance. She never failed to keep me honest and didn't give a shit about the damage to my ego. No one in ISU did that. I was either avoided or, even worse, treated with the deference due to my new status.

So what were we going to do about the resurrection of intimate relations? I didn't know, but if the night before had been a one shot only deal, I was going to strangle her myself and not let George have another round.

Miranda had grabbed one of the crime scene photos off the pile on the floor and was jamming it into her mouth. Fearing both psychological damage from the subject matter and the health risk from the developing chemicals, I took it away from her. She screwed her cherub-cheek face into a mask of tiny feminine fury and let out a screech that could have been heard in Baltimore.

The beanie baby bribe didn't work, the pacifier didn't work and I had to get up and get her a cookie from the kitchen before she quieted down and the red flush of anger drained from her face. I didn't like having my toys taken away from me either.

Iolokus III: Vix te Agnovi 10/20 …and then in dreaming, The clouds methought would open, and show riches Ready to drop upon me, that when I wak'd I cried to dream again.

After dinner I went online in the study to read the latest round of jokes that Emerson had forwarded me. They were hysterical. Half the guys writing code in his mountain hideaway were wasting their natural talents for comedy and I snickered over the soft sounds emanating from the baby monitor. I got e-mail from both Emerson and Aileen an average of twice a day, Aileen's mostly concerned with the care and feeding of the heir apparent, Samuel, and bitching about Emerson's personal idiosyncrasies. Apparently his new kick was that shoes were bad for your feet and he had issued an edict that everyone was to go barefoot in the house. Aileen was having a fit over what it was doing to their hardwood floors. Emerson's messages were lengthy journal-like missives in which he would document the events of the day and throw in a few anecdotes from the happier periods in his childhood and colorful cyber-escapades from his days at MIT.

I tried to send as good as I received, on the premise that this was the best way to get to know my brother, but I didn't type as quickly as speedy-fingers did and I suspected that most of what I sent him sounded like self-indulgent whining. Also I couldn't really give him a daily event report: two serial child rapists, five roadside kidnappers, and a partridge in a pear tree didn't make for good familial conversation even in my family, setting aside confidentiality issues. That night I was tempted to tell him about the recent developments regarding George, but since there was no indication that our evil twin was traveling in his direction, I decided not to worry him or Aileen more than was needed. They had enough on their minds with the impending legal action they were planning to launch against Microsoft.

I had George and he had Bill. I had just opened a message from Danny, suggesting that I take a look at a Russian porn site that he had found. I clicked on the highlighted link and the first round of naked lady pictures zoomed through our T-1, when the door to the study opened behind me.

"Research?" Scully asked in that deadly sexy rough voice she now had.

"Uh — you know Danny," I stuttered and hit the back button as fast as I could.

"Right," she said in a tone that indicated she had grasped the low level of truth in my statement.

"Feeling any better?" I asked, "your neck, I mean?"

"Better. Not great, but better."

With the luxury that having an entire house had afforded me, I had set up the study so the laptop went on a table facing the window with a view of the back yard. The spring sunset was making the dark lines of the trenches Frohike and the boys had dug turn black as tire tracks in the faded green of what would be lawn.

"Looks like you have giant, mutant gophers."

"If I had started talking about giant mutant gophers a year ago, you would have taken me for blood testing to see what drugs I was on."

"I didn't say it was giant, mutant gophers, I said it looked like giant mutant gophers," she said in a playful voice and even though I had my back to her, I knew she was smiling.

"You were ascribing giant, mutant gopher-like characteristics to the trenches?"

"That the trenches possibly could have been caused by something like giant mutant gophers," her hands dropped onto my shoulders and she began working on the muscles that always tightened like fried clams when I hunched over the keyboard too long, "If, in fact, giant mutant gophers existed, which they do not."

Her fingers, strong and assured, loosened the knots better than any Magic Fingers in any hotel could.

"Just because you have not heard of giant mutant gophers you deny their existence. What of the Coelacanth? Thought to be extinct until fishermen told a visiting paleontologist that they always got caught in their nets? What about the giant white catfish that has been spotted in the Amazon River?"

"What about the catfish?"

"It's a big fish, a big white fish. And there could be giant mutant gophers hiding in South America as well."

"They have enormous frogs in the Amazon basin, the size of a two year old child."

If it had been anyone else, I would have thought that she was shitting me. But I was luxuriating in the painless banter, the smell of her hair, and the relaxing way that her hands moved over my back. I couldn't repress a little groan of animal pleasure, like a puppy having its belly rubbed.

"I didn't tell you before, but this house, the entire environment you created here for Miranda – it's good. It's a home. An actual home," her fingers grazed my neck, "and you're doing a far better job of being a parent than I would have."

I wondered how much it had cost her to say those words.

"I just had the luxury of some ill-gained wealth, and Jason didn't-"

I didn't bother to finish the sentence.

"So what are we going to do?" she asked.

"I don't know."

Scully's hands fell away and I briefly mourned their loss, until she leaned over, her breasts pressing warm and heavy against my back, logged me off the Internet, and shut down the laptop. Her hair was in my face and I couldn't stop myself from burying my snout in it and nuzzling her ear. She gave a short snort of amusement and slapped the top of the computer down.

I retaliated by pulling her into my lap. It was such a thrill to see her splayed across my legs in her professional blue suit, nipped waist and hard plastic buttons promising secrets underneath, with just a hint of scoop-neck white silk blouse poking out of the 'v' of the jacket's neck. So severe, so competent; she'd hang my balls around my ears for patronizing her if I ever voiced such thoughts and I had to content myself with smiling moronically.

She brought her arms up to rest on my shoulders and began to stroke my earlobes with her hot little fingers. "I want to do this right," she said softly, staring at the pulse I could feel throbbing in my throat. "I'm highly fucked-up right now, though. I haven't had — anything — to anchor me all this time. If you can't be patient tell me now and I won't…I won't look for your help."

I could tell her that I'd be her anchor but even with a house and a child I was more of a floating buoy. "Just let me know what you need," I breathed into her brittle, aloe-scented hair, and reflected as I did so that it was time to buy her her own toiletries, or Warwick and I were going to be headed for a serious misunderstanding.

Then she husked, "Make love to me, Mulder," and thoughts of hygiene evaporated.

She didn't have to twist my arm.

****

Once bitten, twice shy.

This time, Mulder had the presence of mind to lock the door behind us in the dark bedroom. I watched his shadow-shape flit over to the dresser heard and saw the flare of a match and a candle was ignited. It was a small blue votive candle and the room was filled with the smell of the ocean.

"Ingveld," he said in a conversational tone, "is candle-happy. I'm not sure if it's a girl thing or because she's afraid when the lights go out. The electric lines on this street are woefully under code."

"You're a regular homeowner now, aren't you?"

My voice shuddered with the candle flame.

"I have begun," he admitted as the light pulled the bones in his face into sharper planes, "to worry about the lawn."

I would have given out a nervous laugh, but he had crossed the room in a pair of quick strides and his hands were cool on my nervously burning face. Fingers traced my nose, my brows, my cheekbones, and over my lips, as though he was learning my face like a blind man. A tingling wave rose from my stomach and brushed like electric feathers underneath my skin. I wanted to close my eyes but I was afraid that he'd melt back into the darkness again and leave me alone.

"Things will be different," he said as his hands tangled in my hair.

"Define different," I asked.

His lips were like cool wet leaves. I felt the nervous tightness in my chest relax somewhat.

"Like giant mutant gopher different – bizarre, strange, with a basis in the mundane," he whispered into the side of my face.

God help me, I snickered.

"Just look at it this way – no more hotel rooms, no more sneaking around, no more fear of reprimand – we're in different sections now and no one gives a shit," he prodded, angling down to kiss me again.

"Did anyone give a shit before?" I raised my arms so that he could pull my shirt off. The cotton fluttered against my abused throat, awakening brutalized nerves.

"I did," now his hands moved to the waistband of my pants, slide snap and hiss of zipper as I undulated on the bed, trouser socks and shoes hitting the floor. I laid back and watched him undress, golden as an Oscar statuette in the warm and flattering candlelight. He threw his socks into a hamper at the side of the room, stopping for a moment to appreciate his three-pointer, then stripped his shirt off, giving me a delectable view of his broad solid chest and compactly muscled arms. He almost fell when his feet tangled in the pile of my discarded clothes, but he recovered nicely and dropped trou with presidential efficiency.

"We could – " I whispered into his mouth as he descended again, "be seen together in public."

"God forbid," he said with a chuckle, his fingers twining in mine.

His mouth was as powerful as I'd remembered. I panted as he explored the contour of my hairline and tasted the flesh at the back of my ear, dipping down right to where the bruises on my neck began. After so long with only shadow lovers, to feel real wetness and pressure on my skin was a revelation. "Behave?" he asked into my ear.

"Of course."

He hadn't tacked on an adverb, after all.

Abruptly he scuttled away, backing up on the bed, and pulled the sheet over my body. He retreated further, underneath the comforter, until he had entirely disappeared.

"What are you doing?" I sounded fretful, too needy. He'd lit candles, this was going to be okay, truly.

"I'm a giant mutant gopher," he rumbled from his hiding place. "I seek human maidens for mates."

I covered my face with my hands and shook with relieved laughter. "No maidens here, only me," I said as soon as I'd regained a semblance of calm.

His hands snaked out and grabbed my ankles, fingers trailing familiarly up my calves and to my inner thighs. His head was still obscured. "You'll do fine," I heard and then he was pulling me towards his hidden lair of blankets.

I could not prevent the goofy smile that stretched my mouth to an almost painful extreme. "You know, I think I saw this movie on the Sci-Fi Channel."

Without further ado, his head settled between my legs and he began giving me a tongue-lashing of the most pleasant kind.

My head lolled back and I groaned appreciation. One- handed, he pushed the blankets away so that he could look up. "Sure it wasn't the Playboy Channel?" His other hand was still drawing runes on my inner thigh as he pinned me to the mattress.

"Back to work, gopher boy."

He snorted, which caused a really intriguing sensation, and bent his head again. He was watching my face as he plunged his tongue into me. I felt lighter than air, like I was flying on a seagull's back. My heels traced lines up and down his back as candlelight turned the ceiling into a waving wheatfield. The air was warm with the fire and our own heat. I curled upwards and managed to capture his head between my hands, running through his pelt — he was keeping it a little shorter these days, I noted — as his nose pressed into my belly.

He surged up and latched on to my right breast, moving his hand to take up where his mouth had left off. He should really register that mouth — hell, the whole package — as a lethal weapon, I thought as I sighed happily. His thumb circled around my clitoris, teasing but not making full contact, while he slid a long finger into me. Now I had better access to his body, and I wrapped my arm around his shoulders, pressing him closer to me.

I watched him suckle, eyes closed in concentration as he stroked his finger in and out of me, simultaneously circling my nipple with sable-heavy brushes of his tongue and the occasional nip of teeth that made white stars flash in my vision.

I needed more, needed to feel him entirely on top of me, covering me and hiding me from the rest of the world like a concrete slab in a bomb shelter. I grabbed the sides of his shoulders, right at the center of those beautiful masculine curves of muscle, and pulled hard.

He knew what I wanted and stopped only long enough to reach onto the bedside table for a condom. I stared at him hard, so that he'd know not to tear it; I was unable to wait for a second try. He gave me a shaky smile and ripped the packet open. I had to smile back at his obvious nervousness; if he *did* screw it up I'd just have to bounce up and down on his face like a yo-yo, and it's not as if that would be such a terrible fate.

I hissed in agonized pleasure as he thrust into me. "You giant mutant gophers have some advantages over normal men," I husked as soon as I'd gotten my voice under control.

He licked my ear, sending me arching off the bed, grinding into his pelvis. "You know we have expertise in –" I cut him off by raising my legs so that my knees rested just below his armpits, squeezing his chest as he slammed in and out of me.

"If you use the word 'hole' right now I'm not going to answer for the consequences," I panted.

His right hand circled my ankle, rubbing gently, his thumb grazing the sensitive skin under my arch, as he insinuated his left between our wildly hammering bodies and resumed stroking where he'd left off moments ago. "I was just going to say that we're used to working with our hands," he said with deceptive mildness as the climax overtook me.

I pressed my cheek against his end-of-the-day stubble so that he couldn't see the tears; he would have misunderstood. My hands kneaded his shoulderblades, like furled angel's wings, until he came.

 

Iolokus III: Vix te Agnovi 11/20 Mark his condition, and th' event, then tell me If this might be a brother.

The gunmen checked in at noon on Friday and they weren't happy. I listened to them banging around near the speakerphone. The cup of coffee shook in my hand. Miranda was sitting on the floor near my feet, happily sucking on the spatula she had decided was the toy for the day.

George had called the Gunmen. Using my cellphone.

"Tell me George couldn't really know these things, Mulder. He knew our phone number, where the headquarters are located. And our favorite places to meet. How is it that he knows?"

"I can't tell you that — you knew before you asked. With my family anything's possible, it's even plausible that Jason actually told George something about his plans. But he's not planning on telling you anything about that or about any other secret government projects, no matter what he promises. This is just to fuck with our heads."

"Pretty good job he's doing."

"Guys, remember who's the federal investigator here. You don't even carry guns…Do you?" The prospect was almost as frightening as the thought that George was walking around living my life.

The line went numb as my ear pressed into the phone. I guess they didn't want me to know all their secrets in case I did go over to the dark side.

I heard Frohike's breathing again as he took me off mute. "Frohike, you're going to meet him, aren't you?"

"Sometimes you've just gotta take your chance, know what I mean?"

"Let me put a trace on your phone."

"Not a chance."

"Frohike, this man is a killer!"

"Has he killed any guys that you know of? From what I hear we're not exactly his flavor."

"He's branching out! Okay, okay, will you at least call and tell us where the meet is so we can get him as he leaves?" Actually I was planning to have the team swoop down and catch George as soon as he showed up, but I could always tell Frohike that my colleagues had ignored my instructions; it would seem plausible because Frohike remembered my old status when I was in the X Files. Hmm, maybe the little guy was right to be paranoid.

While I was plotting, so was Frohike. He came back and there was a note of relief in his voice. "Yeah, sure."

"Where did he say to meet you? I asked.

He told me.

****

Of all places.

In front of the fucking Hope Diamond.

I could have died of embarrassment. Really. But no, I was a big girl wearing a gun and a body mike. I also knew that in addition to half a dozen agents scattered in the gemstone section of the Natural History Museum, there was a jerry- rigged uplink on the body mike back to Mulder in Arlington. I could imagine him hunched over the coffee table with Miranda on his lap while the silent chorus of agents looked down at the speaker with him.

I watched Frohike amble up and look at the glittering blue gem in the case. He looked furtively around, examining each tourist and undercover FBI Agent as if he was memorizing their features for a quiz later. I sighed and leaned against the pillar I was trying not to obviously hide behind. Asking Frohike to look casual is like asking a tiger to become a leopard. Only the bribe of allowing him to take the body mike off me after this was over did he agree to play nice with the Feds. Byers and Langly had refused and were off sulking somewhere. Thanks to recent events, I wasn't exactly in their good graces. I think they would have been just as happy to let George hang my head on his trophy wall.

The light glittering from the facets of the Hope Diamond has a certain hypnotic charm. I stood and watched the sparkle on the surface of the so-called cursed gemstone, looked at the depths of blue which seemed to go into a universe of blue darkness and shine, until I started wondering what it would be like to have the weight of the thing hanging around my throat, the fire would burn like ice, the facets and prongs of the setting would scratch my skin, digging in with the weight of the journey from India to Washington, the deaths dragging me into the dark blueness and -

"I love you," he whispered, his hands warm on my shoulders through the fabric of my blouse and jacket.

I swallowed diamond dust, scratching my tortured throat.

Are you lonesome tonight, do you miss me tonight? Are you sorry we drifted apart?

"You have a funny way of showing it," I said without turning around.

God, it was worse this time. Whatever Mulder-confusion I'd suffered in the office was nothing compared to this. Whatever I had willingly suppressed to hand myself over to his dark charms for the purpose of my own destruction was nothing compared to this.

Even though the cancer had done terrible things to my sense of smell, I know Mulder's. I could probably track him through a department store. He smells of books, leather, sandalwood after-shave, and something feral that belongs only to him. The smell was enough to make me hold onto the pillar for support. Somehow, George had managed to capture the eau du Mulder. I looked down and saw the familiar taupe trench coat tails sliding along my legs like a caress. George had his entire body flattened up against mine, his fingers gently kneading the rigid muscles over my shoulders. A finger of heat raced along my nerves.

"He's not good to you, you know that?" he whispered into my left ear.

The years in Canada had done something peculiar to his vowels but other than that, it was the same charmless monotone.

In Arlington, Mulder was probably having apoplexy.

"I'm so much better to you," he insisted.

He brought me dead bodies the way that a housecat brings dead mice to an owner for praise.

Does your memory stray to a brighter sunny day When I kissed you and called you sweetheart?

"I have an incredible headache," I said, giving the agreed- upon trouble signal, as if anyone didn't have a fucking clue.

"It's too crowded in here," George said with a twist of amusement, "too many FBI Agents spoil the stake-out."

His breath was warm in my ear, his hands moved down my arms, leaving hot trails through my clothes. My head was humming like a fluorescent light as his fingers burned through to my skin. The reaction had nothing to do with intelligence or sense, my mouth was dry and I felt like I was moving through warm honey. Hello? Dana! Wrong guy. This is bad, very bad. Hand moving under my blouse, across my stomach, pulling out the leads on the mike. Oh God. It could have been and I – The fingers of his right hand stroked the skin on my throat, making the bruises whimper underneath his touch. The far corners of my vision wept a red haze. I could hear my own hair hiss on the shoulder of his trench coat as my head fell back.

I knew who it was. My brain knew but my nervous system from the medulla oblongata was not paying any attention. My thighs were trembling, and I was soaking wet.

Do the chairs in your parlor seem empty and bare? Do you gaze at your doorstep and picture me there?

My wrist vanished in his hand. As I had done so many times before, I stumbled after him. Over at the Hope Diamond, I caught a flicker of movement out of the corner of my eye.

The "Employees Only" door shut behind us.

Back pressed up against the wall in the stairwell like a high school student, the banister digging into my ass while his fingers roved over my breasts and belly, his lips melting the sore sad places he had wounded on my throat while his hipbone ground hard into my pubic bone, making me whimper with my head against the wall. His fingers pushing away the body mike and sliding down the inside of my bra to touch my nipples, which were already harder than the gems in the other room. He groaned when I bit down on his earlobe.

Is your heart filled with pain, shall I come back again? Tell me dear, are you lonesome tonight?

"God I've missed you," he moaned, sounding just like I had two nights before. His fingers were busy at the waistband of my pants, fumbling first with the outer button and then snuffling with frustration as the pants didn't release their hold on my waist. Bizarrely, this hitch was what helped me reboot. Of course George wouldn't know that there was an inner button, it made the pants hang more smoothly, but how would he know about better women's clothes? He'd never had a trust fund, never even graduated college or held a full- time job.

I stiffened like bakelite, pushing my body into his growing erection but no longer molding myself to him. "I don't understand this," I said, wanting him to be off-guard when I finally went for my gun and blew his impersonating, mind- fucking head off.

"I didn't realize until recently how important you are to me," he whispered and ran his tongue over the contours of my ear. Giving up on the pants for the moment, he covered my breasts with his hands, thumbs rubbing against my nipples as if he were channel-surfing and I was the remote control. The realization that had chilled me began to seep away, melting in the renewed heat. He may not have had Mulder's advantages, but he'd figured out how to fake it.

"I just need to take care of a few things, then everything can be the way it was. Just you and me, Scully, us against the world. So good…" His tongue invaded me, rough and heavy, and I brought my left leg up to wrap around his thigh, pushing my mons against his hard-on. I'd have to let go of his arm to get to the gun, I thought with one half of my brain as the other half gurgled with need.

I released his left arm and slid my hand over the hot fabric covering his side and waist. He was a solid slab of muscle, more buff than Mulder at his manic peak. He hummed, approving the caress, and moved his mouth to cover my cheek with soft wet kisses. "Tell me you want me, Scully. Say my name."

I craved him like chocolate, like ice cream, like coffee latte from Starbuck's on a cold morning, I needed to have his bitter sweetness fill my mouth and my stomach like warm poison.

Are you lonesome tonight, do you miss me tonight?

****

I heard her breathing change as he began speaking, and I had to struggle not to get a sympathetic hard-on, which would have gone down really well with the other agents sitting on my couch watching me bounce my daughter on my lap. It was torture when George ripped the leads from the mike, but it might have saved my ass anyway.

"Isn't anyone else *there*?" I yelled into the phone, over Miranda's wails, barely noticing when Warwick scooped her up, into his less conflicted arms. "They didn't just *disappear*, god damn it! What kind of reindeer games are you playing?"

Burble, whimper of voices through the monitor, confused and angry. She went with him willingly, yes of course you idiots but *where* did she go? Flash of red/white exit light, bar on the door for easy opening in case of emergency. A white stairwell, more utilitarian than the parts of the building that were open to the public.

"The stairs," I said. "Someone needs to check the stairs."

If George was going to play head games with me, I could hit back just as hard.

Sometimes it's good to have a reputation. At least one of the useless fucks in the Smithsonian acknowledged my demand and reported that he was heading to the stairwell.

I was going to kill her, so help me. I'd make her look me in the eyes and acknowledge who I was. Not just one of a series, not some interchangeable Ken doll for her viewing pleasure.

****

My fingers slipped free of the thick cotton and my hand flopped back against the wall, the banister cool and hard under my twitching fingers. His teeth nipped playfully at my chin, pushing my head up and stretching the bruises. "Say my name." Now his mouth was at my shoulder, setting his teeth over the marks he'd made that morning.

My hand was drifting slowly behind my back. I couldn't exactly remember why.

"Mulder…"

He jerked, his cock throbbing against me, and his hands were at the sides of my face, his thumbs caressing my throat and his palms pressing my head in a flesh-and-bone vise. A pull in the right direction and my head would come off like a dandelion popped from its stem. His eyes were mulch-brown and burning with the heat generated by decomposition.

"*My* name," he insisted and my hand hit the butt of my gun. I can't say I found it intentionally, but at that point chance was good enough for me. I tugged and twisted, trying to hold my torso still against him as I prepared to shove the gun into his rock-wall stomach.

"George…"

I felt his erection wither and he groaned, anger replacing arousal. I heard a noise on the stairwell below us, someone finally having clued into the fact that George and I were having a tete-a-tete up here. The gun cleared my torso just as George looked down my side to see it.

"Bitch," he snarled and used his grip on my head to slam me into the wall. I saw white, then black as I felt my legs fold like a well-used map.

I shook my head and spit out sweeping compound. George had taken off; his footsteps sounding like a stampede of buffalo overhead. With rubber fingers, I grabbed my Sig up off the floor and fought my way to my feet. Just behind me the fire doors exploded and the gallery was flooded with agents. Up the stairs we pounded, catching a glimpse of trench coat tails fluttering through the railings. I fell into the middle of the pack, with Zippy running shotgun next to me, screaming into his headset.

"Roof. Upstairs! Move! Move! Move!"

Roof, right.

The roof was the obvious escape route, down the external fire escape and -

Mulders are never obvious.

A half phrase of a child's song rattled through my head, words changed.

The wonderful thing about Mulders Is Mulders are wonderful things Their tops are made out of rubber Their bottoms are made out of springs

Primal force of chaos. Unpredictable.

But I spoke fluent Mulder.

I stopped in the middle of the stairwell and the Tokyo rush- hour crush of dark suits flowed around me like a stream around a stone. I went back down two flights. My fingers burned on the cold metal of the doorknob.

"Dana, what the fuck?" Zippy asked at my elbow.

Dark gallery, little grating catwalks where the lights for the displays hung down. I had a momentary flash of the "breeding" facility in Texas and bit my lower lip to still it. A flash of movement in the shadows. The only agent I can beat at a sprint is Agent Amato, and he's shorter than I am, a pack a day smoker and pushing sixty-five. Zippy nearly knocked me over as he leapt out onto the catwalk. Fools rush in. I clattered along behind him, watching the lights flash up into Mulder/George's face as it registered surprise then teeth-tightening fury. The catwalk jumped and shuddered like a cheap carnival ride as Zippy's bowling-ball mass smashed into George's pin body. They fell onto the catwalk. Dazed with an incipient concussion and George voodoo, I grabbed onto the handrail with fearsweat hands. Zippy could have taken out Mulder with a punch to the jaw but George was a slab of meat after years in stir so it wasn't quite the same.

Punches flew. I raised the Sig and tried to get a clear bead on the man that wore the face I'd awakened to that morning. Somehow with Zippy involved it seemed easier. I needed a witness. I needed a lot of things but a witness would do for now.

Blowing the witness' brains out, however, was not a good idea. And I couldn't get a clear shot. Brown hair, heads bobbing, flashes from the lights from below and under it all the humming voices of the tourists.

A woman, tour guide or teacher, spoke over the noise of the grunting men on the catwalk. Her voice carried with eerie clarity up the dozens of feet between us.

" Many people think that the Allosaurus is just a smaller Tyrannosaurus Rex. The Allosaurus was actually the great- grandfather to the Tyrannosaurus Rex. The Allosaurus lived 140 million years ago during the Jurassic Period."

George had Zippy's back pressed against the handrail of the catwalk, hard enough and at enough of a severe angle that vertebrae were in danger of breaking.

"Tyrannosaurus Rex lived only 100 Million years ago during the Cretaceous Period. The differences can be seen in their hands, an Allosaurus had three fingers and Tyrannosaurus Rex only had two fingers."

Bones, bones, bones dry bones how much pressure before the bones gave way and –

The bones didn't give way, the catwalk did, Zippy, with a roar, slid backwards and into the air as the fragile aluminum pole severed with a snap.

The entire catwalk jumped and swayed like a rope bridge in a jungle adventure movie. George slid to the far end as Zippy screamed on his way down to –

"The Allosaurus was a carnivore or a flesh-eating dinosaur. He had very sharp serrated teeth that look very similar to the cutting edge on a knife and—"

Bones breaking, crashing, crunching.

I looked over the edge of the platform to see my partner crash through the skeletal embrace of the Allosaurus' outstretched claws.

George had vanished.

Below, the flashbulbs from the cameras started popping like tiny fireworks; Mr., Mrs. and Jr. America were documenting the fact that they had just lived through the human segment of the last ten minutes of Jurassic Park. With any luck something terrible would happen overnight and the FBI Agent Destroys Priceless Fossil wouldn't make the front page of The Post.

My cellphone rang at my hip.

"Dana?" Zippy, not surprisingly, sounded shaky, "I think I broke something."

"I'll be right down,"

I clicked off the phone and had to bite the back of my hand to muffle the hysterical, inappropriate laughter that threatened to shatter my skull like the Allosaurus'.

I rode with Zippy to the hospital, held his hand while they x- rayed him and agreed that a fractured femur was not the worse thing in the world that would have happened. The Allosaurus was in far worse shape. Thank God the fake terrain underneath the bones was high-tech cushioning material, not exactly designed for this situation but still in place in case any dino bones took a pratfall; the padding had done an okay job on Zippy and he had far more soft tissue to damage. I was tempted to palm a couple of his pre-op muscle relaxants but promised that I would call his parents in Brooklyn instead. I did call them and then I really wanted morphine.

I wasn't looking forward to going back to the house and facing Mulder, either.

Iolokus III: Vix te Agnovi 12/20 . . . like one Who having into truth, by telling of it, Made such a sinner of his memory To credit his own lie — he did believe He was indeed the Duke . . .

By the time the other agents stopped asking stupid questions and took me back to Mulder, I needed weapons- grade chocolate.

I settled for the few half-stale brownies lurking underneath a coating of tin foil that I found hidden in the refrigerator. I'd barely managed to dispose of the evidence when Mulder stalked in. "Can we take this into the bedroom?" I asked before he said anything. "I think the walls are better insulated."

He nodded and led the way. I wanted him to comfort me, to tell me that this confusion wasn't my fault. This was about as likely to happen as Skinner becoming the new spokesman for the Hair Club for Men. I considered dragging my feet but judged that delay would only provoke Mulder further.

"Exactly what the fuck were you trying to prove?" he hissed in a voice of dry ice.

I sat down on the bed, my legs betraying me.

"That's pretty cute, Scully, pretty fucking cute. Working your way through the alphabet again? Only during waking hours? You want I should have Christopher and Hal dug up? You can put the moves on them," he crossed his arms over his chest and leaned up against the closed door, "Of course they might be a tad bit *ripe* by now, but you've never had a problem with the smell of death before."

"You don't understand–"

"Damn right I don't understand. All I understand is less than twenty-four hours after we're making a short blunt human pyramid, you're practically going down on George in the Smithsonian. Color me slightly annoyed."

"I don't have an adequate explanation for what happened."

"Well isn't that just fucking lovely. Okay then, fine, can't imagine why I was upset. We'll just call it an X File and be done with it."

"He smelled like you," I whispered. "I knew — but I couldn't stop, not when he — you were touching me. How can he do this?"

His eyes crystallized into frost.

"How can you do it?" he asked and smiled a dark and rich smile, "but I forget, you're a whore just like the rest of them."

"Slut," I said, not even realizing I'd said it until I heard the word bounce off my knees. "Whores, they get paid."

My mind was full of lint.

I had a familiar litany to fit this situation, one that required only the slightest of modifications to account for new data: It hadn't been George's strange tricks at all making me writhe in the stairwell, had it? Just like I couldn't *not* have known that it was Jason in the bathroom all those months ago. What kind of fool, after all, lets her lover leave the lights out when her lover's identical twin is wandering the halls of his mansion, looking for pussy? Let's face it, part of me *wanted* to know what he'd be like.

Occasionally I managed to disbelieve this voice. But not very often and not now.

I was curled up on myself again, as if that ever helped. As far as I could tell it just put me in the right shape to get knocked out of the park by the great home-run hitter in the sky.

At that moment, my near-concussion throbbing and my near- strangulation choking me, still sore from my recent sexual gymnastics with the man now denouncing me, I could have put my gun in my mouth and pulled the trigger right then. Actually I'm not sure that I could have avoided doing so, if it had been on my person.

Mulder's sneer had faded but I was paying less attention as I considered my options. With Zippy's toys the house was better armed than the average gunsmith's. Or there was my Xanax and Mulder's Ambien, that and a few of the remaining Coronas would do me right, though there was the horrible possibility of discovery, more humiliation as my stomach was pumped, and then potential brain damage. Men kill themselves more often than women because they're more likely to get it right; they use guns. They don't bother with the subtlety of pills or razors or freewheeling serial killers.

I'd be breaking my implicit promise to Zippy. But what had he been thinking, asking me to wait until this was over? It was abundantly clear that where the Mulder genome was involved there was no such thing as "over," only periods of greater and lesser action/adventure.

I could just take my own gun from the end table in the family room downstairs, walk out into the twilight and do it. I no longer feared Hell; the worst that God could do would be to send me back right where I was.

Mulder was staring through me. I wondered if he could sense the black cloud of my soul, or if he'd shut down the connection between us in disgust.

I had almost made my legs uncurl to start the long march downstairs when the phone rang. I watched, half-curious, as Mulder warily picked it up.

He listened for a moment, breathing heavily. "It's for you," he said and handed it to me. The red cord stretched through the air like a length of intestine.

I pressed the receiver to my ear, hearing Mulder leave — to get to another extension, I presumed. Even without listening to the call or interpreting the look on Mulder's face, I knew who it had to be. It's not as if I got a lot of gentleman callers these days.

"Yeah?"

"Don't do it, Dana. You just need some sleep, everything will seem better in the morning."

"What do you care?" I was really curious. Just like my Mulder, he seemed impervious to small betrayals, as if confident I'd come through for him when it counted.

I could almost feel the moistness of his breath in my ear. "We can't do it alone. It's too much for any one person. But I know I can see clearly where you're confused and I believe, I truly believe, you can do the same for me. Just hang on, hang on for me. Because I'm coming."

He clicked off and I put my head between my knees and moaned. Like an animal caught in a trap, I'd chew my limbs off if I only knew where to start. The sobs that ripped through me like grenade blasts were dry and unproductive.

Eventually, after the phone stopped making noise, Mulder came and took it from my hand.

I could hear his knees creak as he knelt on the carpet in front of me.

"What did he say to you?" he asked in the mildest tone imaginable.

"Does it matter?"

Fingers bit into my throat, overlapping the bruises that awakened from their half-slumber. I looked up and watched the gold flecks in his eyes surface like koi in an algae-filed pond. I should have screamed, I should have fought. I couldn't do anything. He jerked me to my feet and my legs shook like a cheap chair's.

To be held in thrall is a terrible exhilaration.

George in the Smithsonian had been a snack, a morsel to tempt my Muldercraving into a fever pitch. I would have fucked Mulder on the stairwell at the Natural History museum, feet away from the gemstones and other strange and beautiful things under glass. I would have fucked him and loved every minute of it.

My hands were weeping sweat when I closed them over his chest. Pectorals, warm and solid as bread under my hands, his useless nipples standing hard as stones against my palms. I raked my nails over the smooth cotton surface of his T-shirt. You can't rape the willing, can you?

He slapped my hands away, making my fingerbones ache with the harshness of the movement. I caught my breath with surprise. This was a little rough even for him. With eyes that were now more amber than jade, he looked down at me as though he was examining an unpromising pork chop between cellophane and Styrofoam in the grocery store. Finally, a decision was made and his fingers made for my throat again.

The world spun like the revolving light on a squad car. I let go. I let consciousness leak away like water. I surrendered.

An unknown amount of time later I came back to myself. The mattress was reassuringly solid underneath my spine, the air chillingly cold on my naked skin. The room was filled with the insect hum of an air conditioner and my arms ached. The reason for my aching arms was clear a moment later. I was inverted on the bed; my head touching the footboard rail and my wrists efficiently lashed to the smooth rail with what felt like neckties. It wasn't the first time that he'd bound me, but it was the first time that it made me afraid. Usually, it seemed amusing, but this was not funny.

The air was so cold that I was carpeted in gooseflesh.

The door opened and I shut my eyes, willing to play possum until I had a better idea of what was happening. While parts of my mind were doing the dance of fear and the dance of lust in counterpoint, the part that was still functioning in a semi-reliable fashion did the waltz of logic. George's sexual assaults had all been postmortem. He liked his women somewhere between passive and decayed. If, in fact, Mulder had absorbed this much of George's pathological behavior, I was lucky that the ties were around my wrists and not around my neck. Even considering that I had been willing to suck bullets out of my own gun an unknown amount of time earlier, I found that idea of being strangled by the person who knew me best in the entire world somewhat less than appealing.

So, rather than create an actual corpse a la George, Mulder was willing to create a faux cadaver by rendering me unconscious and chilling my flesh with the air conditioner. Morbid, but not lethal.

Donnie Pfaster. He'd chilled his women in an ice-cold bath.

And George, he liked anal sex. God, what if –?

I couldn't handle that again – I really couldn't.

I wonder if you're lonesome tonight You know someone said that the world's a stage And you must play a part. Fate had me playing in love you as my sweet heart.

Elvis moaned in the background. If he hadn't already been dead I would have wished him so.

The mattress creaked under his weight. I held my breath. Fingertips, hardened from computer keys, smelling of baby soap, smoothed over the surface of my stomach, my breasts, circled the cold-stiffened tips of my nipples. A stab of pleasure cut down between my legs. I squeezed my eyes tightly closed. The fingers slid up to my face, stroking the bruises on my neck, following the line of my cheekbones, touching my lips. An index finger slipped between my lips and it was all I could do to keep from suckling on the dry hardness of his finger.

Act one was when I met you, I loved you at first glance You read your line so cleverly and never missed a cue Then came act two, you seemed to change and you acted strange And why I'll never know.

The finger withdrew and I could hear the telltale rustling of Mulder shucking off his clothes. A moment later, he was prying my jaws open with insistent hands before pressing his cock into my mouth with a shove. The tip of his cock nudged the back of my throat and nearly made me gag.

Tied to the bedstead, I had no leverage or control of the situation. I circled the baby silk skin of his cock with my tongue, tasting the dark wildness of him, wishing that I could dig my fingernails into the hard white curves of his ass, the long muscles in his thighs. He groaned helplessly and continued to stroke slowly in and out between my lips. I sucked hard on his glans, tasting salt and candy, traced my teeth along the shaking vein on the underside while he undulated, his knees on either side of my ribcage, shaking. A disappointing moment later he came, flooding my mouth with semen. I tried to swallow but rivulets cascaded down my cheeks and into my hair.

Honey, you're lying when you said you loved me And I had no cause to doubt you. But I'd rather go on hearing your lies Than go on living without you.

Silent and still, he lay with his head against my breasts and his hand tucked between my legs, his breathing harsh as though he'd come back from one of his runs. Embarrassingly enough, I was aroused by it all and the fingers twined in my pubic hair were wet with the proof of my need. Once he'd caught a normal breathing pattern, Mulder began suckling at my breasts, cupping one and then the other in his free hand and biting at my painfully tight nipples until I started to whimper and move underneath him. I pulled at the ties, wanting to touch him, wanting to pull him closer and inside me once again. His fingers moved, rubbing at the swollen length of my clitoris, pressing up inside me until I was grinding against his hand and moaning.

Filthy, dirty, guilty waves of pleasure rolled over me, breaking over the carefully constructed sandbag walls I'd put up around my mind. I shuddered against him, seeing white spots and feeling the undertow pull against the bottom of consciousness. At least I think I hissed the right name when I finally orgasamed underneath his touch.

Stuck together with various biological secretions, we lay under the cold wind of the air conditioner for a long time. Finally, Mulder roused himself from his stupor long enough to stumble over to the window unit and switch the machine off. The ties were loosened from my hands.

Stupid with lust, crazy with need for him greater than a need for air chocolate, I pulled him down into the bed with me. He clung like a barnacle while I ran my hands over every inch of his body, sucking at his neck and shoulders. I slid down his body, teasing his nipples with my teeth and nails, scraping the sensitive Bermuda Triangle of nerves just at the base of his spine, where the buttocks begin to cleave. The blind worm of his cock started to awaken when I sucked at his flat stomach, bringing the blood to the surface in a raspberry love bite. I ran my hand between his legs, massaging his balls within their protective sac while I tongued my way down the narrow seam of fine hair running from navel to cock. He groaned and grabbed my hair. I resuscitated his cock with my mouth until it wobbled erect once again.

A feral growl escaped him.

Now the stage is bare and I'm standing there With emptiness all around And if you won't come back to me Then make them bring the curtain down.

End over end tumbling, skin on skin slick with sweat, saliva, and come. I looked up into the strange mask of disinterest on his face between the tops of my feet when he plunged into me. Hot, hard and insistent once again, he filled me to my spine, stretching my muscles to the tearing point, rubbing against my nerves like steel on flint. Sweat dropped from his forehead to my face and I caught it in my mouth, saltier than the come already clinging to my tongue. I shuddered as he pumped in and out, grabbing my ass and pushing in deeper and harder at each thrust. Torn, broken and pleading, I pushed myself forward at him until we were both grunting like rutting dogs, teeth bared in snarls of lust. I caught fire in great circles that moved out from my groin like electromagnetic rings.

I bit his forearm, blood filling my mouth, in a vain attempt to muffle the shout that erupted from my chest when I climaxed and my brain crashed. Mulder continued to drive into me, sending aftershock waves along my limbs. Aftershocks hot and delicious as the actual orgasm. His teeth sliced into my breast right above my heart and he jetted into me like champagne. The thrusting grew weaker and weaker as he shuddered to a halt, finally going soft inside me.

I gathered him to me, his hair in my face and his arms around my waist. Sticky and shaking we lay like that as the room gradually warmed around us.

Is your heart filled with pain, shall I come back again? Tell me dear, are you lonesome tonight?

Just before I fell asleep I realized that we hadn't used a condom, but visiting hours were over and the lights were switched out in my mind.

 

Iolokus III: Vix te Agnovi 13/20 …sometime am I All wound with adders, who with cloven tongues Do hiss me into madness.

It was seven a.m. when I woke up. Scully slumbered, her face duplicitously innocent in sleep, the sharp lines of age and stress carved into her flesh contrasting with the rest of her smooth ivory skin.

I felt strange, as though I'd been asleep on an airplane and awakened in another time zone. The overcast morning muffled light and sound that barely made it through the cotton surrounding my brain. I had a strobe light nightmare memory of making love to Scully the night before but I didn't want to take the time to stop and examine it just then. I filed it for future rumination. Instead I showered, being careful with the scratches and bites which made me look as though I'd been gang-raped by Mongolian yak-herders. I slapped a Band-Aid on the drying scab on my forearm and wondered if the teeth marks would blossom and bud into yet another Scullyscar.

I couldn't look at her before I went, not without facing the memory of the Loch Ness Monster of her smooth skin still and cold underneath me cutting through the deepness of my pain.

I dressed to unimpress, using my most innocuous suit and a nondescript rep tie that wouldn't look out of place in the DOE or on a Metrobus driver. Hopefully this would be enough to prevent Washington's sterling citizens from dropping a dime on me.

Creeping like an intruder in my own house, I made my way downstairs and towards the front door. I heard no Warwick- like noises. He had no reason to be suspicious, none whatsoever. I hadn't misbehaved at all since he'd known me; this flight into the free world would come as a total shock.

Scully should have known better but, hey, give the girl a break, she was mighty confused at the moment. If she'd been fully functional she would have known that there was no way I could sit at home like the caterpillar on his mushroom, waiting for someone else to solve the George problem. There was no way I could just allow myself to be made a prisoner, locked up as tightly as George in his Canadian cell. There was no way that I could let him seduce her and, like as not, kill her. (To get a real sense of the freak show that was my life, ask me which of those two prospects bothered me more.) And he'd hinted that he was coming for Miranda. I was not programmed to deal with this and I knew the system was about three seconds short of crashing. I had to get out, go after him on my own.

There was only one logical place to start. Profile. Do the fucking profile, Spooky. I swung by the Starbuck's for my first fix of the day and sat in my car, letting the relays click over.

George's behavior had been erratic, but he'd given us some crucial clues yesterday. He thought he deserved to be me. He wanted my life. But he wanted my old, glamorous life, the one where I flew around the country in order to get beaten up by an astonishing variety of people and things. The one where I could afford band-collar Armani shirts and Hermes ties, the one where Scully and I fucked with slightly less trauma. He wanted, in short, to rewind my life about fourteen months.

I might just have let him if it hadn't been for Miranda. Miranda whose late-night feedings didn't fit into his schedule. She couldn't be erased like a week-old episode of NYPD Blue. But George didn't believe that; he was trying to reconstruct my old existence.

Therefore, I headed into Alexandria, toward my old haunt at Hegal Place. The super was, as usual, in his office. You don't run an apartment complex among whose inhabitants Fox Mulder is numbered without learning the value of hands- on management.

He looked up as I came in. "What is it now?"

Obviously I had been there already, or at least George had.

"I have some questions about my apartment."

He sighed. "Were there any problems with the delivery? I know you love that couch but it's not exactly easy to get up the stairs."

"I'm afraid I need to clarify some things. It's official FBI business," I flashed my snazzy replacement badge. "I need to know what happened after you gave me my security deposit back."

He scratched his head. "Why don't we just take a look, I don't want any more trouble with the FBI." He swiveled his padded chair around to peck at the keyboard. "Okay, apartment 42. Security deposit returned on January tenth. Apartment cleaned, various bullet holes and dents of unknown source repaired, repainted, floors refinished. Rented out again March fourteenth, fifty dollars more per month reflecting improvements to the premises, deposit and first three months paid by your lawyer."

Good to know that I still had that Spooky sense. "Did the lawyer leave a card?"

He pulled open the right drawer on his desk and rummaged around. "Sure enough," he said.

I love lawyers, they *want* people to know what they're doing and obligingly leave a paper trail like a Roman road. Jon Kyle, of Dallas's Lanson & Hogue, LLP. The business card was the same color and used the same font as the letterhead they'd used to inform me of how the evil that Jason did had lived on after him. (As for good being interred with his bones, that I couldn't vouch for. I think he still had bones when we finished.)

"Hey," he asked as I turned to leave, "did that business with your brother ever get settled?"

I shook my head. "Not really."

I let the door swing shut on his murmured condolences.

Now what? He wasn't home, I knew this the same way I'd known where to go. He was somewhere, being me, while I was being him. I could break into the apartment and trash the place, that would give him some *real* Fox Mulder verisimilitude.

Or maybe I'd just take a quick look around, see what was up with the old digs.

The two had been nailed into place with some shiny brads which jarred me a bit – but once I'd finessed the lock open (never return lockpicks – a cardinal rule of law enforcement), I stepped back in time. Damn. He even had old magazines on the coffee table. I had taken that particular issue of GQ with me to the house. I guess I thought I was still going to be able to afford the suits even with the mortgage and the car payment. For a second I had a brief flash of nostalgia for the pre-Miranda days. Then I saw the dead fish floating in the tank and thought again.

The red eye of the stereo glowed. There was a CD in. I touched the play button, noting that he'd programmed in only one song and set it to repeat ad infinitum.

Are you lonesome tonight, do you miss me tonight? Are you sorry we drifted apart?

Fuck.

My knees gave out with a crack and I fell to the floor, my mind refusing to wrap around the words.

Are you lonesome tonight, do you miss me tonight? Oh God please no. Not last night. I couldn't have.

She was cold underneath me.

Are you sorry we drifted apart?

Cold as death cold as-

It had to stop. I had to stop him before I hurt Scully or Miranda.

I swallowed the bile eating my throat and stood up, shoving whatever bloody human chunks were left of me into a safe corner and went into the familiar architectural thoughts of analysis and profile.

The bedroom was really interesting. He hadn't managed to re-create it as well as the living room – the comforter was the wrong shade of green and it was missing the twin peaks of clean and dirty laundry on top. (Ever wonder why I slept on the couch so much?) On the dresser were spread some grainy printouts of photos of me – my ID, the photo on file in the FBI database, and the same for Scully. Well, almost. You see, he'd pretty much wallpapered the walls with a few pictures of my divine little imp. Color photocopies, snapshots taken at a distance in various states of blurry red hair, and what looked like a yearbook picture. Holy shit. I stepped closer to the picture photocopied to poster size. I never would have known her, feathered hair, lips shining with gloss, eyes ringed with then-fashionable black lines and the telltale gleam of a retainer across her teeth. Scully at eighteen. Who would have thought? She looked as sweet and frothy as a strawberry daiquiri.

Does your memory stray to a brighter sunny day When I kissed you and called you sweetheart? Do the chairs in your parlor seem empty and bare? Do you gaze at your doorstep and picture me there? Is your heart filled with pain, shall I come back again? Tell me dear, are you lonesome tonight?

But – was the me in the pictures the me me or the him me?

Newspaper photo, gritty newsprint lay on the dresser. An old picture. Scully and I were walking out of a courthouse in Anne Arundel County. I couldn't remember the case but from my haircut it looked like about 1997 – Scully was thin with cancer in those days. The photo made things abundantly clear. He'd taken a thick black marker and drawn the barbed wire necklace around my neck. That must have been his way of replacing me with himself.

I wonder if you're lonesome tonight You know someone said that the world's a stage And you must play a part. Fate had me playing in love you as my sweet heart. Act one was when I met you, I loved you at first glance You read your line so cleverly and never missed a cue Then came act two, you seemed to change and you acted strange And why I'll never know.

My reflection shimmered at me in the silvered glass. The marker was still lying on the dresser top and I reached for it. I wrote across the cold surface of the mirror in thick black letters, not giving a shit about fingerprints – since ours were the same anyway.

"What's eating you, George?"

Honey, you're lying when you said you loved me And I had no cause to doubt you. But I'd rather go on hearing your lies Than go on living without you. Now the stage is bare and I'm standing there

I don't bother locking the fucking door behind me when I left.

The King's drug-slurred voice chased me down the hall.

With emptiness all around And if you won't come back to me Then make them bring the curtain down.

If I waited long enough, he'd show. I went back to my car and sat in the driver's seat. Station wagons weren't too common among the young unmarrieds who populated this area of town, but by the same token no one was likely to make me for a cop, driving this thing.

Two hours passed during which I stared at my ex-front door and narrowed my attention to a pixel-width. Nothing mattered but watching for George. I was my brother's keeper. And like Cain, I had plans for my meat-eating brother.

Is your heart filled with pain, shall I come back again? Tell me dear, are you lonesome tonight?

****

Dr. Shimada's office called at nine a.m., waking me from a sound sleep. Mulder had already disappeared, no doubt off playing with Miranda. In any event, the news I got pushed him off my priority list. My Pap smear had been normal, but when the nurse's assistant went to insert the results in my rather large and noteworthy file, it was missing. Subsequent investigation disclosed scratches on the locks on the office doors and the cabinet where the files were kept.

"Let me speak with Dr. Shimada."

"She's not here yet. She must be running late…" I felt sorry for the office manager; this wasn't really in her job description.

"Listen, I am a Special Agent for the FBI and if my file is gone Dr. Shimada may be in danger. I need you to put me in contact with her."

Panic tinged the woman's voice. "I tried to reach her but she's not answering her cellphone, or her beeper. She's not picking up at home…"

"Give me the address."

I was perfectly calm as I called Ralph Williams and had him pick me up in a Bucar.

When we arrived, we knocked, Then we broke down the door — we'd worry about justifying it to a judge later. The break-in was unavailing; there was no sign that Dr. Shimada had even made it home the night before. Her mail was still scattered across the foyer floor where it had fallen through the slot.

The morning sunshine was bright and clean; it didn't care what horrors it illuminated. Ralph busied himself getting an APB out on Dr. Shimada's Ford Explorer. I wallowed in guilt.

I should have known better — any fool could have noticed that female health care personnel, particularly the short ones, had early expiration dates around me. Just like it had been with Pendrell, I didn't even know her first name.

Shall I come back again –

"I have a thought," I said to the air. Ralph was nowhere to be seen. Well, I tried to let him know, I thought and got back in the car.

My apartment looked like a stranger's. Yellow spring light seeped heavy and thick through the twisted blinds as I opened the door. It was cleaner than I remembered, but then that was Zippy's doing.

"Honey, I'm home," I called out.

Oh yeah, I forgot, I'm not married.

The air was dead. Even the dust motes didn't move much. I hardly recognized the place. It didn't say anything about who I was. Not that furniture would have an easy time explaining me. The pictures might have come with the frames for all the emotional response they evoked in me.

I edged across the room, keeping my gun pointed in front of me, backing away from any corners that might hide George. My breathing rasped like a nail file in the quiet.

Reaching the other side of the room, I flipped the hall light on and continued down towards the bedroom. My back was against the wall, protecting my blind side, as I inched towards the closed door. Damn, I wished I knew what the place looked like when Zippy left it.

One, two, three. I kicked the door open and trained my gun on the figure waiting for me on the bed.

She couldn't have been dead very long, I thought dazedly as I took in the scene. Dr. Shimada had been strangled, of course, but the hat trick was how George had dressed her. Instead of putting her back into her official doctor clothes, he'd dug out the emerald green nightie I'd bought with Mulder's money all those months ago in Arizona. I was surprised he'd been able to find it, actually, I hadn't been doing glamour at bedtime in a long time. The color of the satin clashed with her blackened face, and she weighed about twenty pounds more than I had so there were some unattractive bulges.

Shock, I was feeling shock, I had to keep alert.

With my left hand I pulled my phone from my jacket and hit redial.

"Williams."

"I need you at my apartment now. I found Dr. Shimada." I hung up before he could ask any questions.

I heard the humming, my mind filling in the unuttered words as I spun and faced the bedroom doorway.

Is your heart filled with pain, shall I come back again? Tell me dear, are you lonesome tonight?

Cold room. Such a cold, cold room.

"Why are you talking to him when you could be talking to me?"

George was in the hallway, his shadow visible on the part of the floor I could see.

"Come in here and we'll have a chat," I suggested.

"Just like old times? I remember what you said the first time I had you — well, all right, the first time, in the shower, mostly you just screamed. But that night, what you said, it was so beautiful — 'Don't hurt me.' I really liked that."

"That wasn't you, you sick fuck," I said in a voice that shook like San Francisco in an earthquake.

"Wasn't it?" He shimmied half a step forward. "I find it so difficult to remember. You smelled different then — like flowers."

I should burst out of the doorway, he was close but he might not be able to react in time, all it would take was one good shot. But I couldn't shake the absolute conviction that he knew what I was thinking. Mulder would know what I was thinking. He'd be ready and he'd kill me. It would be slow and careful, not like the hastily arranged scenario with Dr. Shimada.

No. That was a copout. I wasn't afraid that he'd kill me — I was afraid that he wouldn't, that he'd complete my conversion into Bonnie to his Clyde, Bride to his Frankenstein's Monster. I didn't know if I had enough of myself left to resist that and accept death instead.

I stood with the cooling body on my bed behind me, waiting for him to come forward, but I couldn't cross the doorway myself.

Instead I darted forward and kicked the door shut. If he was going to come through I'd have warning. I might be able to make myself shoot him, shoot the man who looked and smelled and sounded like Mulder in the face and watch him die. The mirror on the back of the door shimmied slightly, vibrating from the force of the slam, and I saw my pale crazed face waver in front of me. It looked like I was pointing the gun straight at my own bruised throat.

"You can't put this off forever." The voice was slightly muffled by the door, but years of practice allowed me to interpret it.

"You have to make up your mind, George, kiss or kill. I don't like men who play games."

"Could have fooled me. You're the one who's making it difficult. It's him, him and that mewling kid, they're distracting you. God, Scully, look around you! You can't fight a global conspiracy while you're wearing a Snugli." He was close, so close, he had to be standing right in front of the door. His hand might be on the glass knob even as he spoke.

"You want to fight the conspiracy? How'd you get out of the Roush compound, George? How are you supporting your current lifestyle choices?"

"Sometimes you need to make deals to get at a larger truth. I'm not proud of everything I've done, but it was necessary."

If I hadn't known that "everything" included the systematic murder and rape of numerous innocent women, I could almost have found it plausible. In fact I had, when the real Mulder said it to me. My finger trembled on the trigger; I knew that I wanted him dead not because he was a killer, not because he was stalking Mulder and Miranda, but because he confused and upset me. If I killed him it would be for the wrong reasons, not even with the tissue of justification I'd used for the baby-things in Arizona.

Humming like the buzz of a fluorescent light.

Is your heart filled with pain, shall I come back again? Tell me dear, are you lonesome tonight?

Closing my eyes and raising my left arm to cover my face, I fired. The mirror exploded and I felt a rain of fragments. One dug into my cheek and I welcomed the start of the blood. As soon as I dared I opened my eyes. The Sig wasn't intended to shoot through doors but it was a good all-purpose weapon. The mirror and a good portion of the door were history. I couldn't see anything moving when I looked through the hole.

Then I heard the front door close and almost sobbed in disappointment. He'd escaped.

Classic ploy. If I'd been watching myself on the movie screen I would have screamed "Don't go out there."

So I didn't. Fuck heroic, I was ninety percent certain that he was still there and I was not going to let him kill me in a way that made me *look* gullible.

My arm was spasming by the time Ralph arrived with the cavalry.

Iolokus III: Vix te Agnovi 14/20 To have no screen between this part he play'd And him he play'd it for . . .

I nearly split my skin in surprise when someone knocked on my window. I turned my head and stared into the barrel of a gun.

"Put your hands on the wheel," the police officer ordered.

I complied. "You're making a mistake," I said. "My name is Fox Mulder, I'm with the FBI, my ID is in –"

"Shut up! Slowly, now, unlock the door. Keep your hands visible."

I sighed and followed orders. I should have known better than to try this without someone to give me my bona fides.

I've been on both sides of this routine often enough to skip any detailed recollection of what comes next. The patdown, legs spread and hands against the car; the cop was competent enough to find my ankle holster. Give the man a cigar. The handcuffs, cold and then blood-warm as they chafed behind my back.

I didn't try again until the cop and his partner, who'd been prudently standing back, ready to fall on me if I tried anything, began to shove me over to their cruiser. "You should call Julie Graff at the ISU, she can confirm my identity."

"Your identity is that you're an identical twin. We know your brother's safe at home, being watched by his FBI buddies." He opened the door and prepared to push me in.

"George Naxos has a tattoo around his throat," I insisted. "Just look on the description."

The cop looked at me curiously. "What's your point?"

After so long away from the X Files I'd forgotten what it was like to deal with people who didn't give any credence to what I was saying. I took a slow breath. "My neck. Look at my neck."

He put his index finger in the collar of my shirt and pulled. The tightness at the back of my neck was unpleasant, but I'd bear it for a chance at getting out of this without having to call Scully. "Geez," he commented, "that must have taken a long time. Did it hurt?"

"What?"

"It goes all the way around, hunh? You had to get that done before you went to prison, nobody in prison is that good." He released me and tipped me into the back seat so that he could slam the door of the squad car in my face.

I looked through the wire mesh protecting the cops from my violent assault, tilting my head frantically to get a glimpse in the rear view mirror, but the angle was too bad and there was too much metal in the way to see my neck, to look at my unmarked neck. It was unmarked, it had to be. Otherwise –

The drive to the station was long enough to let me consider.

George was taking over my life. Apparently he thought it was only polite to give me his in return. I had to believe that Scully would forgive me for the fact that George had apparently succeeded in fucking her at my house better than he had in the Smithsonian. I needed to believe that he hadn't actually been along for the ride, so to speak. Nonetheless he was obviously contaminating me.

How could they think I was tattooed? Ed Jerse claimed that his tattoo moved and spoke to him, but it was always present. There were a few X Files involving body markings that only manifested in certain circumstances — witchcraft- induced marks indicating possession by the Devil, for example. But I'd never seen anything about psychic *transfer* of bodily alterations. And what was it about the decorated Scully that attracted illustrated men?

I had invited him in, last night. I had invoked him, summoned him, as sure as if I'd fucked Scully in the middle of a pentacle marked out with her blood. Punishing her seemed less important now than it had then, when I was high on anger and lust.

I should have known that I couldn't just make him into a way to hurt her and expect to be unaffected. Even as kids George and I had a connection. And Texas brought us closer together, the blood feast we shared weaving us further into one another. Making us as one.

All right, so maybe tearing Jason apart hadn't been as good an idea as it had seemed at the time.

Why not Emerson and Darien? Darien was a happy whore. There were no reports of similar murders coming out of California, though I'd set flags up on the NCIC database. Emerson sounded fine in his incessant emails, and his childhood trauma had never reached out and touched George. The whole ugly mess branched out from me. Something in my tattered psyche called out for George, and George had answered.

I felt the thin ice separating me from my demon brother crack; the dark water beyond swirled and I felt the warm pull of madness.

I was jerked out of the squad car, fingerprinted, photographed (as if that would matter), stripped and subjected to a body cavity search. Contrary to popular belief, most cops don't enjoy that kind of thing; it's just a routine you get used to after a while. People can get used to just about anything, it's what makes us so damn adaptable.

By the time I was fully processed Scully had arrived. I heard her sharp tones in the hallway as she approached my cell. "- -missing from his house for the last ffive hours. He most likely decided to investigate on his own." She came into view and looked me up and down. I was wearing the same kind of ill- fitting orange jumpsuit that George had worn when we first met him. This Trading Places deal was getting old fast.

"Mulder?"

"Who else would it be? You think George lets cops catch him?"

Her eyes narrowed and she trained her scalpel-sharp gaze on my neck. I almost felt real blood start to run, to cover whatever else was there. "I thought you said he was tattooed?"

The burly officer next to her blinked and came closer to the bars. "He was. I swear to God."

"Show me your scar," she ordered. There were several, actually, but she could only mean the bullet hole she'd put in me, so I unzipped the coverall and pulled it aside. She stared for a moment, then nodded.

"This is Fox Mulder. Let him out."

"I don't know, Agent Scully –"

"Let him out," she insisted. "I'll take full responsibility."

When I walked out, dressed in my real person's clothes again, the cops glared at me. They weren't convinced. Hell, neither was I.

Before we left, we stopped for my mug shot. The officer who'd taken it insisted that he'd seen the tattoo. But the photograph didn't show any marks on my neck at all. Scully mumbled something about my maybe using magic markers – - in my sleep, unconsciously, of coursse — and I forebore from pointing out that I hadn't washed up anytime recently.

Iolokus III: Vix te Agnovi 15/20 You taught me language, and my profit on't Is, I know how to curse.

When we arrived back at the house, a verbal firefight was already in progress. A gaggle of agents cowered in the living room while Skinner and Julie Graff barked at each other.

"I don't appreciate having my competence questioned," Graff was saying as we came in. "Mulder's behaved himself for five months in ISU, in fact his misbehavior can be traced directly to the reappearance in his life of *your* agent -"

"Agent Scully is not responsible for the actions of a serial killer – or those of his brother." I saw Skinner pace by the open doorway, but he hadn't scented us yet. He'd loosened his tie a fraction, though his dove-gray jacket was still in place.

"I get it – your agents can do no wrong. You'll keep the problems in the family, right? With a mentality like that I can see why we lost Vietnam."

I stepped into the kitchen, tugging Mulder behind me. Graff's face was white splotched with red, ten years older than when I'd seen her before. She was raising a handful of ice cubes from her Starbucks cup to her mouth when we entered. They skittered on the floor as she turned to Mulder.

"I expected better from you."

He blinked, a tad sheepishly. "He threatened my daughter."

Skinner took up the attack, Graff forgotten with the appearance of this more appealing target. "And this has some connection to your unwillingness to tell anyone your insights and go haring off into the ether?"

I knew it would be wiser to remain silent. I'd let George go at the Smithsonian just as Mulder's little trick had undoubtedly scared our favorite brother away from Hegal Place. I could hardly expect Mulder, of all people, to act rationally when I couldn't control myself. What worried me more, really was the gleeful smirk Mulder had worn in the car when he described his little spirit writing act on George's mirror. And I couldn't wait to hear him recount *that* part of the day's adventures to our superiors.

Mulder just shrugged. "I thought I would have more success than a barrage of men in black descending on my old apartment. The neighbors get jumpy when that happens – bad memories, you know."

"And what insights did this excursion give you?"

"The name of the lawyer who's bankrolling George."

Graff blinked. "I thought he was just ripping off his victims' purses."

"Don't forget my trenchcoat," Mulder added petulantly. "Anyway, even twenty purses won't get you enough for a security deposit and three months' rent at my apartment. Not to mention a complete set of furnishings including an Italian leather couch."

I wondered if we could trade Mulder's couch, that unhealthy veteran of the porn wars, for George's new, improved version. Maybe we could have it forfeited when we caught him.

"Mulder," Skinner rumbled, "you continue to labor under the delusion that you have to do this alone. This is not your solo battle. It's not even your battle at all – as was made amply clear today, your presence merely complicates matters while we're trying to catch this killer. I believe that your supervisor and I, along with the agents with whom you're supposed to be working, deserve your cooperation as we attempt to keep George Naxos from taking more lives. If you can't give us your assistance, at least stay out of our way." Julie Graff nodded; she wasn't the kind to play backup singer and I doubted she'd say anything further.

Mulder stiffened his shoulders and let out a long breath. "It was a mistake," he admitted. "Obviously I have a heavy emotional involvement here. But don't you think we should explore the information I've discovered, now that we're done with the spanking?"

Skinner looked down in disgust. The beanie baby by his foot didn't appeal to him any more than Mulder's face, so he strode to the kitchen chair his trenchcoat was draped over, shook his head again, and stalked out.

Julie Graff watched him go, bemused. Then she turned back to Mulder. "You embarrassed me today, Mulder. Don't do it again." She shut him out as completely as if she'd changed channels, focusing entirely on me. "I'm sorry to hear about what happened at your apartment. I know what it's like to be stalked and I'm sorry this has become so personal. Let me know what comes of Mulder's little jaunt, will you? I have a team ready to go if you give the word."

****

"What happened at your apartment?" I asked distrustfully when Graff left. A pair of agents remained behind, whether they were trying to keep George out or me in I couldn't really say.

Scully didn't reply, just wafted out into the living room. She went to the window and looked out into the yard. I followed, waiting. The daffodils were bowing their heads as if in shame, bent from the latest storm.

"I found my gynecologist's body in my bed," she said.

"And the cut on your cheek?" I hadn't asked before because I'd been too afraid of triggering a lecture on what happened when I stole away from her side and how we were both endangered by my impetuousness.

"My mirror broke," she said, in a responsibility-evading locution that would have made Nixon proud.

"Was he there?"

She nodded.

"Did he…" Did he touch you again, Scully? I didn't think they'd fucked, I would have smelled it on her. But I didn't know if she'd wanted to.

"I never saw him directly," she said. "We talked through the door, and then I shot at him."

She gave me one of her razor-wire looks when I breathed relief, but didn't comment further.

I showered and changed into clothes that didn't stink of jail. I was nearly out of suits at this point, but really I only *needed* one. I just wanted more.

It was almost time for dinner, so, like some LSD-trip version of June Cleaver, I cooked. We waited to eat until Ralph called to update us with the latest on the gynecologist's body – Scully had been interrupted at the hhospital by the call from the cops who'd arrested me, but she'd made him supervise the transformation of her apartment into a crime scene. Maybe she thought he'd take care of her privacy; the other agents would certainly be looking for gossip material as they investigated, particularly now that everyone knew that my twin was fixated on her. By extension, so was I; not that it was a real shock to anyone, but after six months the rumors had cooled to mere embers before George added all those corpses to the pyre.

Miranda made most of the dinnertime conversation, which was fine by me although I wished that I could understand it; I would have liked to have known what she thought the Red Sox's chances were this year.

Just as I was putting the dishes in the dishwasher and Scully was trying to make friends with Miranda, who was still wearing most of her dinner on her face and in her hair, the doorbell rang. Raindrops glittered off the shining skull of AD Skinner. Two visits in one day? Was he going to ask me to play golf that weekend? Warwick got Miranda and started coffee. The rest of us went into the living room.

Scully got the nice chair and Skinner and I were forced to share the couch.

"So, what happened this time?" Skinner's tone was standard office issue, with the slightest hint of warmth breaking through.

Scully shook her head. "It was…personal." She looked at me sidelong, she might tell me more later but probably not.

Skinner's eyes flashed behind the glasses.

"Agent Scully, your report was vague and misleading in the extreme. If you are obscuring information that could endanger the life of yet another agent, I'll have *you* arrested. Do I make myself clear?"

Good old Walter, tough love to the end.

Her face was whiter than my word processor screen. God I loved seeing her react to a challenge.

The specific reaction, however, was unfortunate. "He talked to me about what happened when Jason raped me and then later what I said to Mulder when I still thought it had been him."

Skinner's head came up so fast I thought he'd hurt himself. Obviously she hadn't shared this little bit of ancient history in any of her reports. The look of guilt and pity that scampered jackrabbit-fast across his face made my stomach twist and growl for Scully.

I stared at him, thinking: Get out, get out, get out. This is none of your fucking business, sir.

Scully put her head down and swallowed. Well, at least I knew why she hadn't chewed me out for ditching her. I doubt the abandonment even registered on her internal seismograph of Bad Things.

"Coffee's ready," Warwick offered from the doorway, Miranda clinging to his hip, a thick trail of drool dangling from her lower lip.

"The Assistant Director is leaving," I said and stood up.

Skinner blinked then followed suit.

Yes, I telegraphed to him, I am throwing you the fuck out of my house, sir.

He went quietly, making a few sounds about reports in the morning and winding the case up as quickly as possible. I made the appropriate responses and locked the door behind him. When I got back into the living room, Scully had let the glassine facade she'd offered Uncle Walt shatter into powder and was in a bad way, curled in a fetal ball in the chair, rocking slightly. Her eyes were cloudy as a corpse's and she was eerily silent.

I eased her out of the chair, murmuring words I didn't understand, and took her back to the bedroom. With three blankets wrapped around her, curled up against the headboard, she eventually stopped shaking. On my way out, I noticed that the CD from last night was still in the player, like a bone stuck in a choking victim's throat. I ripped it out of the player and broke it in half.

It was eight o'clock in Dallas, so I called Lanson & Hogue from my study. Jon Kyle had gone home for the day, but I was able to reach a paralegal. The name "Fox Mulder" produced a surprising amount of deference and, eventually, a faxed list of recent transactions they'd handled for "me."

There wasn't much. Aside from my apartment and the rat- trap he'd used to boil the PA, there was only a building in a bad part of Southeast. A fixer-upper, I thought as I read the short description of the two-family building. Separated from its nearest squatters by empty burned-out lots. The windows came with complimentary boards to protect the broken glass of the panes.

I had a few questions I wanted to ask the realtor. I mean, how does a person *find* these places? "I need an isolated building in terrible disrepair, in a location where the neighbors won't pay any attention to screams, thumps, or flashing lights, at whatever hour they may appear." "Why yes, sir, I'll just check my list of psychopathic killer lairs – I believe you'll find one of these three to your liking, and they're all so affordable!" I could just imagine the standard- issue smile on the realtor's face – she was probably a Stepford clone of the one who'd sold me this house.

I called Ralph Williams and filled him in. He busied himself organizing a real raid, something at which he excelled. This time I accepted my fate, imprisoned in suburbia. Scully had to go, if she was going to beat him. At this point she might need to kill him herself to feel safe; anyone else's bullet wouldn't be good enough. So I told her, and she uncurled and began searching for her vest and gun.

I grabbed a beanie baby off the floor and stared into its eyes. A gun would have made me feel better, but as things now were, the closest I could manage was a squirrel.

****

I called the hospital and talked to Zippy, who was still stoned on pain meds and only partially coherent. At least he was alive, as few people who had been in intimate contact with George were. When I hung up the phone I headed back upstairs, my feet too heavy to lift to the treads.

I needed to talk to Mulder, and I had a small window of opportunity before the rest of the team was ready to go after George. We'd had sex that wasn't good for us before. But last night had been different, worse, and I didn't want to leave him with a final memory of us in which he couldn't be sure if he was himself.

Mulder's eyes in the halogen brightness of his bedroom were absinthe green. Look too long in them and you might go mad. As for me, I would have been more stable if I'd been drinking mercury for breakfast for the past year instead of living this particular life, and so I could stare all I wanted.

When I walked in, he looked up from the latest pictures from my deadly bedroom and immediately went on the defensive. "Isn't this the part where you tell me how irresponsible I've been and how I should behave myself while you're out saving the world?"

"Why would I do that?" I understood him so much better now. I had become him at least as successfully as George had – tangled up in a conspiracy that had destroyed (and created) my family and stolen my memories, embittered by the past, dedicated to illuminating truths that no one else respected. Miranda had redeemed him, but she'd left me in his place.

And I hadn't applied for that part of the fucking job, X Files or no.

While I edged forward, Mulder stared at me as if I were a crop circle, ready to believe and ready to declare a hoax. He looked so vulnerable in his stained T-shirt and jeans, compared to my pristine black suit. There was, of all things, a squirrel beanie baby clutched in his hand. He looked like a civilian, a little girl's father — except for his eyes.

As ever, he smelled like lust and intellect. It had to be my imagination, filling in for lost nerve pathways. Like the little girl's red dress in Spielberg's black-and-white Holocaust movie, Mulder stood out in a world gone tasteless and bland to me.

He looked down at my feet. Before we started sleeping together, we were often able to look each other in the eyes during the tough patches. I had more regrets than there were books in the Library of Congress, and most of them were Mulder-based. But I still believe that time, if not a universal invariant, flows in one direction only. I had to deal with Mulder as I'd made him, and sex had settled into every curve and pockmark of our relationship.

I could feel his moist breath ruffling the air above my head as he shifted to look at some nonexistent spot on the far wall.

When I put out my hand, he flinched. Obviously I wasn't the only one who had some reservations about last night's command performance. This time would be different, honestly. If there was anything left in my soul that was beautiful, I would give it to him now. Not to make up for the past; that was impossible. But I remembered nights when we'd sit on stakeout, waiting for something to happen, comfortable in each other's silence. I remembered holding him for comfort, grasping his hand because we could only trust each other, scrabbling with him in the dirt looking for a little girl's bones. Just once, I would try to be the woman he first desired.

He made a guilty protesting sound when I slipped my right hand under his T-shirt, but I was ready; I covered his mouth with my left, relaxing as his tongue slid out and accepted my offer.

He was heavy as a stone statue above me as we eased down onto the bed. He let me strip off his clothes, but didn't move to reciprocate. I had to wiggle off my pants and underwear from my position underneath him, grinding my hips against his feverishly sweat-cooled skin, and then push him away long enough to get my shirt and bra off. When I tossed them to the floor he put his hand in between my breasts, pinning me down, as if I were going to change my mind and make a break for it, and it was like being stepped on by an elephant.

The air was forced out of my lungs in a pitiful squawk. He eased up for a moment, smoothing the hair away from my forehead with his lips.

I let my hands and legs embrace him automatically; I knew the mechanics of the act so well that I was free to concentrate on the sensation. The worn cotton smoothness of his skin, the heat of the blood and muscle hiding underneath, the sharp prodding point of his hipbone, the knot of tension standing sentinel above each shoulder blade. Knives flashed behind my closed eyelids as he kissed a crown of thorns onto my forehead. Hot wax flooded my veins.

His mouth came down on my shoulder like a wrecking ball, sledding downwards to my breasts, avoiding the weeping scab of the bite mark he'd given me before. Then up again, so that we were kissing, close-mouthed and almost tender. His fingers teased the sides of my breasts, compressed under his weight. My hands bracketed his head, and then he turned to take my right wrist in his mouth, tongue tickling against my pulse point. I felt the hard ridges of his teeth denting the skin and was almost afraid that he'd bite through the flesh to get at the bone, crack me open and suck out the marrow. I'd wanted to consume him that way before.

I shifted my legs so that his erection fit firmly between my legs, tightening around him so that he knew what he was missing. He groaned and reached down to enter me, returning his mouth to my lips as he slid into me.

He was slow and deliberate, as gentle as he'd ever been. I felt the uncertainty that had been flickering on and off like a distant radio signal fade entirely. I was shivering as he covered my face with yogurt-cool kisses and I reciprocated, wanting to know that I'd touched every part of him at least once.

He held me tightly for several minutes, not moving much. We were vibrating to the same silent frequency; the blood might have been flowing from my arteries to his veins, our hearts alternating beats.

I let the pleasure seep through me like brown sugar dissolving in hot oatmeal and thought about a story I'd read, a long time ago. A frog meets a scorpion on the bank of a river. The scorpion asks the frog to take him across the river. "I can't do that! If I take you on my back," the frog says, "you'll sting me and I'll die." "I wouldn't do that," the scorpion replies. "If I sting you while we're in the water, we'll both sink and die." The frog thinks about it, seeing the logic, and agrees. The scorpion climbs aboard. In the midst of the river, rushing water surrounding them, the frog feels the sharp sting of the scorpion's tail. "Why did you do that?" the frog wails. "Now we'll both die!" The scorpion replies: "You knew what I was when you took me on." I don't know if I was the frog or the scorpion. But if you had to take the stinger metaphor literally . . .

Still locked together, tab a fitting tightly in slot b, I rolled him carefully onto his back. I squirmed against him until I was looking straight down into the moving green and brown abyss behind his eyes. The sharp bones of his hips bit into the soft muscles of my thighs. I felt huge, as though I were crushing him underneath me, despite the fact that his cock was digging far enough into me that I could feel it pressing into my brain.

All at once we both began to move, going from zero to eighty in .5 seconds. Jagged spikes of pleasure cut up inside my body, slicing my brain into diced meat. My breath stuck in my lungs, burning my windpipe, breathing fire, burning and blackening all around us. I grabbed his forearms in my sweating hands and used the grip to push harder and harder against him. Underneath me, he tossed his head back and forth against the dark comforter, his gyrations highlighting the long tendons along the sides of his throat. He tasted of salt, sweat, and butter against my tongue. His hands were on my hips, bruising the skin, digging into me, pulling me down harder and faster into the bone-hardness of his cock.

"No one," I gulped in a mindless slurry of sensation, "you and me only, only–"

"I know," he hissed back.

"Don't let him," and I couldn't go on.

His head was back now, mouth open and I could see the darkness of his fillings. I grabbed his jaw and forced him to look up at me, and he did, his eyes black and pulling me into the darkness inside. Shuddering and sweating, I pushed my mouth down onto his and he snarled as he arched up against me. I gagged back a shriek of pure animal pleasure as he spasmed up into me hard. I whimpered against his mouth as I went on the same wild ride on the nerve ending roller coaster. I dropped down onto his chest, reassuringly hard and sweaty underneath me. While I panted into the sticky skin of his neck, his hands smoothed the equally sweaty skin on my back. His chest heaved unquiet below me.

A gorgeous, George-less lassitude rolled over me and I could have lain there for hours.

Then Ralph pounded on the door, signaling that all was ready, and I had to extract myself from Mulder. It was like moving through glue, but I found all the important pieces of clothing, including the body armor, and turned to him one last time.

"Tomorrow, we should talk about what happens when this is over," I said. "I'm sorry, Mulder. Love isn't supposed to be like this."

Lightning flashed in his eyes. I was vaguely surprised that I'd managed to hurt him. "You're presuming," he said slowly, like a marksman placing his red laser dot on the target, "that I love you."

"No, I'm not."

What do you know — I got the last word, for once.

It sat in my mouth like ashes from a cremation as we drove into the District.

Iolokus III: Vix te Agnovi 16/20 A pox o' your throat, you bawling, blasphemous, uncharitable dog!

I had to sit in between Ralph Williams and another agent in the back seat of the car, because I was as always the shortest one. I hated it; the position reminded me of car trips from my childhood, crammed in between hot child-bodies. Melissa and Bill always got the outsides because their legs were longer, leaving Charlie and me with no place to retreat and no way to open the windows.

The drive was mostly silent. Ralph reviewed the pictures of Dr. Shimada. I glanced over a few times but didn't enjoy the contrast between the dead body and the comforter I still remembered picking out at Woodward and Lothrop's, the long-dead DC department store.

I wondered if they could smell Mulder on me, but I wasn't sure how much I cared.

We stopped the car a few blocks away from the target site. I estimated the chances that the car would still be intact when we returned as falling in the slim-to-none category. The agents, except for Ralph, stood out like — well, like white folks in Southeast in the middle of the night. The Bureau isn't exactly the poster organization for affirmative action.

"We hardly need the badges," Ralph whispered in my ear as we scanned the street, looking at the faces fluttering behind shades and the people darting into dark corners of porches.

"Maybe we should announce that we're not looking for anyone local," I suggested, but the other agents were already moving.

George's latest investment was a large building, three stories separated into two halves that had at one time been painted different colors, though with all the chipping it was hard to see what those colors had been.

"Two front doors," Ralph commented. "Strategically unfortunate."

"Highly suggestive, don't you think?" Twin brothers, Siamese houses — I thought, unwilling to question the source of the intuition, that George had been knocking out the dividing wall between the two addresses. It probably helped him keep his musculature intact while he couldn't work out in the prison yard.

The symbolism was clear enough for even a literalist like me to follow. Two bodies with one mind. Two facades with one owner, though they looked separate to the outside world.

Muffled noises from our earphones indicated that the team was spreading out, positioning people to cover every possible exit.

Finally, the signal was given, and we went in, boiling over the house like a kicked wasp's nest in reverse.

Sure enough, the two front doors opened onto the same large entry hallway. Ralph kept himself at my side; it was like being in the car again but with more legroom. I looked up into the gloom of the hallway, listening to the noise of FBI agents kicking in doors and rushing up stairs. The ceiling had been painted a long time ago, and curls of rotting paint hung down like streamers of moss in a phantom forest.

From what I could see around Ralph's enormous torso, there wasn't much furniture in the place. Instead, George had done it with mirrors. Forget ten fragments of himself, he was working on exponential numbers — a dozen reflections of my strained face spiralled away in every direction. Somewhere in the distance an Elvis CD was playing, and I resolutely tuned it out. The shouts from upstairs were routine "clear!" and related noises. We walked through the house, towards the dual kitchens at the end of the hall. I could see insectoid movement, skittling through the beams of light that swept over the stove and countertops; George was about as good a housekeeper as Mulder.

Before the kitchens came the basement stairs. The doors that concealed the stairs must have been attached to the departed dividing wall, because the steps began with a hole in the center of the hallway, gaping like the severed grin of a slashed esophagus. There was only one staircase; the building had always been whole, underground.

More metaphors.

Ralph cursed as he followed my eyes downwards. "I fuckin' hate basements," he complained. "Spiders and shit."

"More 'and shit' than spiders this time, I think," I murmured and stepped forward to go down into the pit.

The stairs weren't wide enough for us to go down two abreast, particularly when one of the breasts involved belonged to a former Golden State Warrior, so instead Ralph took point, muttering about never wanting to be a field agent.

Picking my way like Dante behind his guide, I descended into the gloom. Our flashlights swept the dreary blackness, crossing and uncrossing like Sharon Stone's legs. Don't cross the particle streams, Egon, I bit back, knowing that my companion wouldn't appreciate the reference. I missed Mulder terribly in that moment, missed being the straight man and having a partner whose actions I could never predict but always trust.

The light bounced off more mirrors, creating a disco-strobe effect that immediately gave me a headache. It was a brilliant tactic on George's part. With the light flashing back in our eyes, the beams were as dangerous to us as to him. I pointed my light at the ground to diffuse it somewhat. Ralph noticed and followed my lead.

We reached the bottom of the stairs. The concrete floor of the basement was cool and clotted with dirt. It had been used recently. Someone had tracked in dying leaves torn down by the spring storms. Green buds smeared across the floor along with torn petals from blooming dogwoods.

"Come out, come out, wherever you are," I called. "You feel more comfortable in the basement than in Mulder's apartment, don't you? The basement is where you really should be." The same could be said for Mulder, but it was different. Really.

Ralph trained his beam on the wall behind the staircase, which was covered with more photographs instead of mirrors.

The impromptu shrine to me had been annoying, especially the yearbook picture which every agent in the Bureau had probably seen by now. It was hard enough getting respect with the handicaps of my height and sex, and now I was eternally going to be eighteen and pitifully geeky in my colleagues' eyes. Another sin to lay at George's feet.

This was a step beyond annoying. The photos coated the wall, covering it from cobwebbed ceiling to dirt-creased floor. Many of these pictures had been taken recently — in the bouncing glaring light I caught a glimpse of Zippy's slicked- back hair, remaining after the rest of him had been ripped out of the picture. I'd been trapped in George's viewfinder a thousand times: entering the Hoover building, walking to my apartment late at night, eating lunch in the Old Post Office. I could all but taste his come in the air; he'd sat and masturbated to these photographs. And always he'd inserted himself into the pictures, himself as GQ models wearing ten- thousand-dollar suits. Each time there was a white cut-paper head pasted over the model's lost face, with brown hair, brown eyes and black tattoo crayoned in. George's artistic training had been sorely neglected, and the five-year-old drawing style just made everything creepier, as if I were Dorothy sharing space with the Scarecrow in those pictures.

There was a rush of air and a liquid thunk and Ralph's light went spinning away across the floor, illuminating completely useless detritus and bouncing against countless silvered fragments. The air was black as copier toner where the thin lines of light didn't pass. I swung my flashlight and my gun to Ralph's last position. There was nothing, neither George nor Ralph, where the big man had been standing just moments before. I screamed for backup as I moved my light in wide swathes across the basement. Mirrors flashed on and off like perverse lightning bugs in this underground spring night.

"You've gotten so crude," George's voice boomed from everywhere and nowhere as I spun frantically, looking for movement, trying to keep my light down to find his feet without getting mirror-struck. The only thing I saw was the flashlight, spinning towards me. I got a blinding flash of light in my eyes before it bounced away. My vision obscured by purple afterimages, I was helpless, but I kept scanning as if I could see.

"Come here and I'll show you what crude is," I promised, blinking, trying to sort out movement from nothingness. Lights semaphored at the edges of my vision and I couldn't tell what was real and what mere sensory artifact.

The skin between my shoulderblades tingled and I spun as his hands clawed at me, slipping free of the smooth rayon shell I was wearing. I screamed rage and fired. Glass splintered and shrieked as I destroyed a few of his mirror- selves. The shot hadn't been close to well-aimed, but I felt air hiss as he stumbled away, and now I knew where to point the light.

He was backing up now. The angle of the beam pointed at his feet made him cast an elephantine shadow against the wall; in the dimness I could see his hands raised in a parody of nondangerousness. "Don't shoot me, Scully."

"That didn't work for Mulder, either." I knew that no shooting board in the world would reprimand me, not with Ralph stretched out on the floor somewhere and the basement darkness aiding George's threatening actions.

"Mulder's a wimp," he asserted, and threw the rock that had been concealed in his balled hand. My flashlight crashed to the ground as I felt the impact on the bones of my shoulder. I tried to fire but my arm was vibrating with the pain, as if I'd slept on it for hours, and I couldn't keep it aimed correctly.

Dark, infernally dark, the criss-crossed lines of oily light from the two downed flashlights only serving to emphasize the utter blackness they didn't illuminate, blinking in the mirrors like dangerous stars. My finger tightened on the trigger; I would have sprayed the room with bullets if I'd been sure that Ralph was out of my range of fire.

I scrambled for the closest flashlight and tucked it under my arm so that I could aim two-handed. Finally, there was motion on the stairs as the other agents bought a clue. Swiveling my body around to track George, I caught a glimpse of legs, climbing onto a table that had been pushed up against the wall. There was a crash as he punched out the plywood covering a high-set window and then he was wriggling through. I fired and thought I'd hit him, and the herd on the stairs began firing in that general direction as well, but then his feet disappeared and it hadn't been enough to stop him.

Most of the agents were still in the house, looking through closets or crowding the stairs to see what the hell had happened, and I could tell from the cross-talk over the radio that the two outside giving chase had no chance.

While the other agents got their useless workouts, I found Ralph's crumpled form on the floor, hidden by a toppled mirror, and checked him out. Even though he still had a linebacker's body, his head was made the same way as anyone else's and he'd have a big headache. George's weapon lay abandoned by Ralph's body; just another two by four, pulled from the shattered hulk of the house. I pulled back his eyelids; the pupils were still the same size but it would take time to be sure what was going on inside. Ralph had ordered an ambulance to stand by — he was going to make a really good AD someday — and I could hear it screaming through the broken window.

When the EMTs came I moved behind the stairs and found George's workspace. From the underside of one stair depended a tiny stuffed fox, garrotted with wire that was beginning to cut through the fabric of the toy. He'd done something obscene with the feet.

It resembled some of Miranda's toys, I thought. There was a series of little animals scattered around the house, and of course what would be better to give Mulder's baby than a fox, as if he'd never heard that joke before. Ingveld had mentioned, in one of her bouncy stream-of-consciousness ramblings that she used to fill the dead space created by all the dour old folks around her, that there were at least three of the little foxes, kept in the laundry room because Mulder didn't like to see them. I stood on my tiptoes and sniffed; nothing.

"Come here," I ordered a random agent, who obediently trotted over.

"What does it smell like?"

He gave me a strange look but leaned in and drew a deep breath. "Is that…detergent?"

Isn't it wonderful to have your intuitions confirmed?

Oh, and I hadn't even looked at the dead girl on George's worktable, pressed up against the back of the stairs so that we'd been inches from stepping on her as we came down. The other agents' faces crumpled as they tried to keep from vomiting; the sour smell of semen and the odor of beginning decay had to be heavy in the air. The latest victim was stretched out like an autopsy subject on the old wooden table, her stomach as yet undistended with bloating and her flesh pale and mostly intact.

There was something wrong with her eyes.

The delicate flesh underneath them was distorted, marred. I stepped closer. What had looked like tear-loosened mascara revealed itself to be runnels of dried blood, emanating from the rips in her flesh. He'd torn her eyelids and the skin of her orbits when he'd removed her eyes, replacing them with glass whose ever-blind irises mimicked my own dishwater- blue shade.

I wondered what he did with her real eyes. Over in the corner, against an exposed beam, there was a pile of rags, bunched as if they'd been soaked with something and then dried in stiff folds. I holstered my gun, put on my gloves and knelt to examine the pile. The cloth pulled free of the floor, cracking like a scab being ripped from skin. The blood had only leaked onto patches of the cotton cloth, so some parts flowed easily while others were as stiff as heavy canvas. Underneath, sticking both to the cloth and the floor until gravity prevailed and they fell to the floor like rotting fruit, were her eyes. It looked as if they'd been brown.

I turned back to the corpse, my curiosity about the eyes satisfied for the moment. There were more things under that cloth, but I wasn't ready to look at them. The other agents followed in my wake, looking at the additional stray parts he'd discarded in that corner. I heard a voice whisper, "How did she know where -" hastily shushed by another, wiser agent.

She was wearing, I realized, one of my bathrobes – the ratty terrycloth one I always wore when there was no reason to show off. And thus, of course, the only one I'd worn for the last six years or so. It was the only item of clothing I'd worn during one memorable seventy-two hour period, some federal holiday or other, and I'd only put it on to pay the pizza delivery guy. I'd had to bring the box into the bedroom, as Mulder refused to get up and join me in the kitchen. As soon as I'd brought it over to the bed, grease already seeping through the bottom and threatening to stain anything it touched; he'd grabbed the belt of the robe and pulled it out, exposing some critical portions of my anatomy. He made some smartass crack which stung at the time, but I had managed to forget. I let the robe slip off, put the box on the floor, and got back into bed. Later I made him clean up the grease on the floorboards as we wolfed down congealed Hawaiian pizza. I'd been naked until he left early Monday morning.

The memory was vivid enough that I could smell pineapple and salt in my nostrils, stronger than anything I could actually smell these days, as I moved to examine her throat. Automatically, I pulled out my recorder and clicked it on. "Deviation from prior pattern," I noted. "Strangulation was not manual, but effected by means of a ligature – there are fibers embedded in the skin, apparently from the belt of the terry-cloth robe worn by the victim. The belt is -" I glanced around – "lying on the floor near the body."

I droned on, recording the rest of my observations. There were no visible mutilations other than the eyes, no apparent bruising. On her thighs I discerned the silver snail-tracks of semen. It had been postmortem, while she was still warm but unresisting. He didn't like the struggle; he wanted to be loved and accepted. I felt the clammy residue on my own thighs pulse as if suddenly flash-frozen. Like calling to like.

"I think you got him," one of the faceless crowd said, coming up to me, carefully positioning himself so that he was in my line of sight and didn't surprise me. "There's blood on the boards. But it doesn't seem to have been deep; there's no trail that anyone can find."

That was George for you.

But there was a trail, found by younger and sharper eyes than mine, a sticky pile of what looked like skin-colored rubber. Only it wasn't rubber, it was skin. I held a strip up to the light, a strip inscribed with an arc of barbed wire, weeping blood.

"What the fuck is that?" Ralph asked, in a voice gruff with pain.

"Destruction of evidence. He's whittled the tattoo off his neck. If it heals well, it will eventually be virtually impossible to tell them apart."

"Shit," he said and I agreed.

It was long after midnight when I got back to Casa Mulder. I slipped through the house after keying in the code on the alarm system. The children were nestled all snug in their beds. Ingveld and Warwick tangled in a knot on the sofa downstairs while MTV silently blazed from the television like a warm technophobic fireplace. In her shiny new room, Miranda rolled on her face in a ball underneath the mobile of mermaids and fairies. I touched her feather-soft skin and watched a bubble of drool ease itself onto the crib mattress. Down the hall, Mulder curled tight as a shrimp underneath his cotton blanket. When I touched his head he was as hot as Miranda, his hair damp with sleep-sweat. For once his face was relaxed into something like peace. Peace that would evaporate come daylight when today's information was processed. I deshelled myself from kevlar and Donna Karan and slid my naked body next to his. Gradually, the warmth of his body soothed me like warm water into sleep.

We slumbered like fetuses in the womb for hours of lovely, Lethe-blank silence, un-haunted by twins or Elvis

Iolokus III: Vix te Agnovi 17/20 Where, but even now, with strange and several noises Of roaring, shrieking, howling, jingling chains, And moe diversity of sounds, all horrible, We were awak'd . . .

I slept like the dead. Really. I slept through Miranda's three o'clock feeding, I slept through my six o'clock alarm, I slept through Warwick's six thirty 'be there or be dog food', I slept through the spring sunlight's feeble knock, knock, knocking on my chamber door, and I found out later that I outslept Scully (which was an oversleeping of Olympic proportions). What finally woke me up was a familiar pair of tiny, cold, hands latching onto my nose like a tick looking for breakfast.

"Mooselet," I reached out and got an armful of hot, heavy baby.

While Scully sat at the edge of the bed, muffled in her sweats once again, Miranda greeted me with a solemn look, her jadeite eyes, and the usual probicus squeeze. Sitting pertly upright and staring down at me as through she was cataloging each and every thought that had flitted across my mind since last we'd seen one another, Miranda blinked, her nearly translucent skin shining pink in the sunlight. Sometimes I thought I could see though her skin and see each and every blood cell running through her incredibly tiny and complex arteries and veins. She was so small, so indescribably fragile – made of damp tissue paper and bamboo bones that I thought one casual brush with my oafish hand could crush her like a paper lantern. Scully seemed made of brick and mortar by comparison.

Finally, Miranda sighed and pressed her wet little mouth against my left eye. She was trying to kiss, but her aim needed work. Then she straightened up and twined her wet little fingers in my hair. At the other end of the bed, Scully made a strangled noise — ooh, bad adjective, under the circumstances, but it's the conventional designation for the sound — and stood up. Miranda, watching her movement, stared after her with her usual nosy interest. The kid was either going to follow in her parents' career footsteps or become a gossip columnist. I hoped the latter – being sued was better than being shot at.

"What's that all about?" I asked, my voice coming out in a freshly awakened croak.

"You two look so *cozy*," Scully admitted and shrugged.

"You sound jealous," I said and wiped a clear pearl of drool away from Miranda's bottom lip.

"She's so . . . easy with you. I don't think she likes me," Scully's voice trailed off in such a hopeless fashion that I wanted to laugh.

"She doesn't know you yet. She's really developed a personality over the last few months."

Scully stared at her hands. "I have to admit, she wasn't like this when I was taking care of her. Human babies are altricial, they're born about three months before they're really ready for independent life, it has to do with the size of the human brain and the compromise shape of a woman's hips that allow her both to walk and to give birth. Newborns are just fetuses outside the womb, really, responsive to stimuli but not operating in a recognizably human fashion . . . Am I rambling?"

"Usually you refer to it as 'explaining the science behind the phenomenon'."

The corners of her mouth twitched and Miranda burbled, detaching her Velcro fingers from my hair long enough to stretch out an imperious hand to Scully.

"Yah-yah-yah-yah-yah-yah!" she declared.

Roughly translated from Mooselet-speak this meant: "Come hither mere mortal and you may amuse me."

"C'mon," I said. "I'll show you how to bribe her into adoration."

Cautiously, Scully crossed the room and perched on the edge of the bed, looking at the Mooselet as though she were a small bomb in a pink onesie that was liable to go off at any moment. I could have assured her that the Mooselet rarely had a bowel movement until at least noon, so she was safe for the time being.

"She likes you to sing to her," I explained and Scully rolled her eyes in pain; neither one of us could carry a tune in a bucket.

"This is not time to be vain," I added a moment later as I lay down on my stomach on the bed so I was eye to eye with Miranda.

Scully watched, one side of her mouth threatening a smile.

I took a deep breath and started.

"Take me out to the ball game Take me out with the crowd, Buy me some peanuts and Crack-er Jack I don't care if I never get back."

I paused, and Miranda looked expectantly at me, knowing that there was more. I couldn't look at Scully. Some things are too embarrassing to share with the person you've been having kinky sex with.

"Let me root, root, root for the home team, If they don't win it's a shame; For it's one, two, three strikes you're out At the old ball game."

On cue, Miranda squealed like a piglet and kicked at the mattress while she clawed at the air with devilish glee. She really liked to see me make an ass out of myself.

Now that her Highness had been jollied into a more hospitable mood I looked at Scully, who was actually smiling down at Miranda with something other than curiosity.

"Put your face down to her."

Scully complied, pushing her hair back behind her ear in an ember swath over the ash of her sweatshirt. Miranda watched solemnly as Scully bent down, then she looked back to me with a composed expression that didn't belong on a face that small.

"Kiss," I instructed her.

Miranda blinked and jerked her attention back to Scully. I swear Scully didn't breathe the entire time Miranda thought it over. Then Miranda leaned over and slammed her wide- open sucker mouth onto Scully's cheekbone, practically on her ear. So she needed a little target practice. I figured I had at least thirteen more years before boys were lining up at the door to get open-mouth kisses from Miranda, if the boys made it past the moat full of alligators, the drawbridge, the attack dogs and the anti-personnel mines.

When Miranda got bored of sucking on Scully's face, she straightened up, looked Scully straight in the eye and made a loud and lengthy declaration in Mooselet-speak.

Scully nodded and thought about it.

"No, you are completely right, I couldn't agree with you more."

Miranda seemed satisfied with this and stuck her fingers in her mouth for some meditative sucking. She latched her free hand into Scully's hair and began to squeeze the thick handful she'd gathered, looking at the lock of hair as though she was going to write an analysis of its color and texture later.

Apparently all it took to win complete and unconditional approval from Scully was to be fat, bald, and wear a lot of pink.

I couldn't watch anymore, my chest felt like a tourist voodoo doll. I left them there on the bed wrapped in some strange feminine communion and went to take a shower.

If that fuckhead brother of mine did anything *else* to endanger this spun-glass truce, I was going to rip off his fucking head and piss down his neck. Twice.

Later, I found Scully sitting on the floor with Miranda by her side in Miranda's bedroom. They were looking at a Dr. Seuss book and Scully was going over the Cat in the Hat's MO while Miranda listened intently. The spring sun oozed through the window like honey and set their hair on fire. I leaned against the doorframe and warmed myself in it. I must have sighed or something because Scully looked up at me with something like regret.

"I have to go to the Hoover Building for the debriefing. Skinner was kind enough not to schedule it until three. I need to prepare a summary."

"Go right ahead."

Miranda looked at Scully and then at me before thumping her fist down on Scully's thigh.

"Yah-yah-yah-yah-yah!" she protested.

"I'll be back," Scully assured her.

****

The briefing hadn't gone well, the younger agents didn't have their information even halfway coherent and by the time it was over, the conference room stank of raw agent- meat after Skinner had gone through a round of ass- chewing. With a headache and a queasy stomach, I escaped to the courtyard and looked up at the overcast sky that was getting darker and more Gothic by the millisecond. Someone moved near me and I jumped, but it was only Ralph Williams. Mulder must have given him instructions to stick near me, since Williams had turned into my oversized shadow.

My cellphone rang.

"Scully."

"Yah-yah-yah-yah brrrrrrrrrrrrrthhph!"

I had to chuckle, turning my back on Ralph. Miranda had lapsed into a bi-labial fricative commonly known as a raspberry. She obviously was developing Mulder's fondness for the phone.

"Hey," Mulder said.

"Hey yourself."

"We're looking at chicken or pasta here. If I could get OUT OF THE HOUSE, I could shop. What do you think?"

"Thai?"

"Warwick won't eat Thai," he said in a repressive tone.

"Pasta's good," I agreed.

"Okay. Pasta it is," he agreed and I could hear baby-babble in the background. "Can you stop and get Italian bread? And ice cream. Don't get that girly ice cream. Get something good."

"Sure, fine, whatever."

He cut the connection and I was about to put the phone away when it rang again.

"What do you want now? Beer?"

"I want you, angel."

My stomach felt as though I'd swallowed an entire gallon of Heavenly Hash still in the carton.

"You know," George growled. "I'm going to have a scar from that bullet."

"I thought you wanted me to treat you like Mulder."

"That's really funny, Scully, I always knew you had a sense of humor. Don't you think it's time we settled this? You and me? We don't need anyone else. I can leave the rest of it behind if you — I just need to talk to you."

Was he promising to leave Mulder and Miranda alone if I came to him? I thought he was. He sounded sincere, and Mulder had always been a terrible liar.

"Yes," I replied. "I want the answers too."

"There's a playground by the neighborhood school, about six blocks from his house. I'll meet you there."

Like Mulder, he wasn't big on long goodbyes.

I put the cellphone away and turned to find my latest protector, Ralph Williams, staring at me, his hands on his hips pushing back the ubiquitous trenchcoat. Maybe the men knew of some secret discount warehouse somewhere; trenchcoat replacement ate up perhaps thirty percent of *my* disposable income but I never heard them complaining about it. Alternatively, maybe they just didn't ruin them on a regular basis.

"I have to go," I said and every thought stampeding through my mind must have been tattooed across my face.

Ralph scowled. "Were you planning on bringing anyone else on this little jaunt?"

"Ralph, if you're willing, I could use the backup."

Surprise twisted in his eyes like a guttering candle flame. He'd heard the rumors and read the reports, but it had taken a few days of actual exposure for him to understand just how renegade the X Files agents tended to be. But I had no investment in running off all alone; it just seemed like that when he read the reports of me following Mulder around.

We headed to his Bucar. I had to give him directions when he wouldn't let me drive.

"Look here, Dana," the unfamiliar use of my first name made me lift my eyes from the road beyond the windshield wipers for a moment and take in the blunt profile of the younger man, "Spooky loves you. You guys have a baby. Don't be getting your ass killed. It won't do any of you any good."

"I'll keep that in mind, Agent Williams."

The rain was picking up. Lightning rather than streetlights illuminated the sign for the middle school as we approached it. "He'll run if he sees anyone with me," I pointed out as the car slid to a halt in the rain-coated school parking lot. The playground looked empty of anything but wood and metal, in the darkening early evening. Security-conscious parents had ensured that the fence around the area was high, and that there was only one, easily monitored entrance. I always knew that paranoia was good for something. "Wait here and watch out — if he tries to leave he has to come by here or go over the fence, and either way you should be able to see him."

"Don't teach your grandmother to suck eggs, Agent Scully. I'll let you go in, but you will come out at the first sign of trouble." It wasn't a request. He wasn't my superior, either, but he was about five times bigger than I was and that had to count for something.

I nodded sharply and headed through the gap in the fence that allowed the children in.

****

After losing myself on the treadmill until I was sweaty and shaking, I was late for dinner and I only had time to plunk Miranda into the high chair and turn towards the kitchen to start water boiling for pasta when the lights went out. Total blackness relieved only by strobe-flares of lightning outside.

Shit.

The spring storm continued outside while I barked my knees on the coffee table feeling around for the flashlight in the end table. Damn southern spring storms, one good lightning blast knocks down a tree, which cuts a line, and the entire town would be plunged into pre-Industrial darkness for the entire night.

Shit squared. That meant that Frohike's entire alarm system was running on battery power, only guaranteed to last three hours. We should have gotten a dog. A big, ugly Rottweiler and named it Walter.

Blind, I fumbled my way into the living room.

While I rummaged among the pacifiers and other accumulated junk in the drawer, my hands slowed as the messages from my lower centers finally made their way to my brain. The short hairs on my arms bristled, my heart jittered, and I could feel my lips peel back from my teeth in a wary snarl.

I smelled him, sour with sweat and decay, rank with blood as a jackal.

He was in my favorite chair; a flash of lightning illuminated his smile – my smile.

I straightened up, showed George my empty hands.

"I knew it was just a matter of time before you got here," I said, my voice sounding oddly calm between howls of the maelstrom outside.

He shrugged, crossed his legs, his-my eyes narrowing in the flashes of light from outside.

"How'd you get through the alarm system?"

A Nazi death's head grin. "Su casa es mi casa." What I knew, he knew. I should have guessed.

"Finishing Jason's job?" I asked.

"Fuck Jason, and fuck you too."

Okay, so George wasn't the most articulate member of our family.

"You've got a nice little deal here, cute kid, cute woman, nice clothes, and I've been rolling in shit since the day I was born."

Just a little sibling rivalry, perfectly normal if the sibling in question wasn't a card-carrying member of the Brotherhood of Convicted Serial Killers Local 479.

"Take that up with the assholes who made us. Look George, I'm sorry about what happened to you and it's a damn shame, but there's fuck all that can be done about it now."

I took a deep breath and went into the standard Bureau pitch. "If you give yourself up we can see what we can do about having you extradited to Canada and get you a good deal."

"There's no death penalty in Canada, nobody here would agree to that, you think I'm fucking stupid, Fox?"

For some reason the use of my first name pissed me off more than the invasion of my house and the passes at Scully.

I took a half step towards him.

He stiffened in the chair

From the kitchen, Miranda, left too long without amusement, began to wail like an air raid siren.

"The baby," he said and smiled.

Fuck.

I was on him before he made it halfway across the living room. That was my first mistake. Years in prison with no other physical outlet but the weight room had made George one walking muscle, a muscle with the adrenaline-boosted strength of the insane. I hit him in the solar plexus and only managed to hurt my hand for my trouble. He grabbed me around the neck and slammed me face-first into the doorway between living room and dining room. I slid, blind with pain, down to the floor; my mouth filled with broken things that might have been teeth. I grabbed his ankles and pulled. George went down in a howl of pain an octave lower than Miranda's wailing. Kicking at me, he tried to crawl away. I saw stars, stripes, and heard the 1812 Overture when his boot caught me in the temple.

"What the fuck is going on?"

Thunderous footsteps tromping from downstairs, Warwick and Ingveld to the rescue. Hands grabbed me and pulled me off, I spit out a bloody protest that I was me, but found myself underneath Ingveld's shapely Teutonic posterior.

"He attacked me," George panted in a fairly good approximation of my voice.

"No!" I moaned around my torn lips and bleeding tongue, sounding not entirely human, let alone like myself.

"Shut up," Ingveld warned and twisted my right arm up behind my back.

I spit blood onto the hardwood floor and struggled against her, but she was in full Amazon mode and there was little I could do to budge her.

"Get him upstairs, away from the baby," George instructed.

They pulled me, fighting feebly and getting rugburn for my troubles, upstairs. Into my bedroom, where George took the chair from the small desk under the window and put it at the foot of the bed. I was moaning Miranda's name, unintelligible even to my own ears.

Duct tape and clothesline, purchased on a whim when I thought it might be nice to air-dry our clothes sometime, was brought from the hall closet and Ingveld propped me up in the chair. George set to work strapping me in. Warwick vanished for a moment and came back with the shotgun, which he trained on me with a dishearteningly efficient manner.

"You fucking bastard, " I choked, "It's me! Goddamnit! It's me! He's George! I'm Mulder."

"No one's falling for that one," George told me in my own voice, "fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me."

Warwick nodded in agreement and Ingveld quickly ripped a modest piece of duct tape and slapped it over my mouth, her lovely face a portrait in disgust. Holding out his hand, George accepted the shotgun from Warwick and checked the shells.

I sobbed against the tape as I watched George head downstairs, toward the kitchen and Miranda, Warwick and Ingveld following as placidly as lambs.

"The storm took out the phone lines as well, and Scully and Williams are out tracking a lead," Warwick told him, "guess we better call the cops from your cellphone."

"That wouldn't be a good idea," George said with my voice.

The shotgun went off twice. The heavy thud of falling bodies counterpointed the distant drumming of thunder. More noise, he was dragging them somewhere, out of the way so that they wouldn't block the staircase.

Then he was back in the bedroom. I was crying with relief that he hadn't gotten to Miranda. Yet.

He looked at the gun with disgust and put it down, kicking it into the hallway well out of my reach. Then he examined his bloody hands, grimacing, and headed into the master bathroom, shedding muddy clothes as he went.

The shower lasted only a few minutes, which I spent struggling fruitlessly with my bonds. George hadn't been a Boy Scout but he was no stranger to well-tied knots, and I cursed the Martha Stewart impulse that had led me to buy the strong plastic line.

He emerged, naked and gleaming. The son of a bitch had spent most of his time in jail at the gym and he had the kind of musculature I could have had if I spent hours a day on weight machines. I felt like the before picture in a Charles Atlas ad.

In just seven years of hard time, I can make you a man.

But – oh sweet God.

He'd done something to his neck, the mark of Cain; the mark of the murderer was gone. A wide band of skin had been peeled away, replaced by an ugly red ring, crusted with scabs. He'd gone and cut off the prison tattoo, and how he'd managed to do it without slipping and cutting his own throat open was an amazement. The pain must have been . . . I didn't want to think about it. It took the mind of a madman to mutilate oneself like that.

"It's going to be such a pity," he said, putting his hands on my shoulders, and I could smell the baby shampoo in his hair.

"What?" I croaked.

"After your crazed criminal brother killed your woman and your baby, a broken man, you leave the FBI and are never heard of again."

The incomprehension must have registered on the ground beef that was my face.

"You're pretty stupid for someone who's supposed to be so fucking smart," he added with a feline sneer, "I'll see you in a few minutes. I just have a … little … something to take care of downstairs."

Miranda. I felt the flesh at my wrists part and blood begin to flow, but the line was too tight to slip from even with lubricant.

"Wait," I gargled desperately. Scully and Ralph would know they'd been tricked, they'd be here shortly. If I could keep him up here for even a few minutes, Miranda's chances would improve markedly. "Leave her alone," I begged. "I'll do anything…"

His face twisted in a predatory sneer, the response of the alpha wolf when the beta bares its throat to prove its submission.

"Anything?"

I swallowed more blood. Mine, his, ours, forensics was going to have a hard time sorting this out when I killed him. In some versions, Faust gets out of his deal with the devil. My voice was nonexistent and I only had minimal control of my fear-loosened bowels. "Anything."

His fingers were hot on my face.

"Don't fight me," he whispered.

Iolokus III: Vix te Agnovi 18/20 These are not natural events, they strengthen From strange to stranger.

I looked under and around every piece of playground equipment. The rain increased in intensity as I got more and more soaked. I jumped when I heard a thunderous noise that turned out to be, in fact, thunder, and lightning lit the sky in enormous broken-blood-vessel patterns.

Nothing by the swingset, nothing by the monkey bars or the twisty slide. Nothing in the pit for the tire swing. Nothing under the rope hammock and certainly nothing over by the basketball hoops and the smearing hopscotch and four- square chalked-in courts. I made a second circuit of the playground in frustration, but George failed to materialize. I even flipped open the nearby dumpsters and found neither George nor any of his victims. I had been less wet during many baths that I'd taken; you could have used my clothes to relieve drought in Africa.

My stomach clenched as I realized that it had been a ploy, something to distract me while he moved on Mulder. I cursed and jogged back towards the car, where Ralph was waiting.

I couldn't see Ralph standing by the car. I looked around the perimeter of the fence, and didn't see any stiff man-shaped figures through the rain.

I was rapidly going from trigger-happy to trigger-delirious. Looking from side to side with every step I took, I slowly worked my way back to the car. I didn't go within grabbing range of the car, but circled it from a safe distance.

Ralph's slumped form awaited me on the far side. I hurried forward, dropped to my knees and tried to get a look at him while keeping an eye out for unfriendly visitors.

I could tell how the story went. Naturally, Ralph looked at George and saw Mulder, the man who could get beaten up by an eight-year-old child on a crutch and was famous for same around the Bureau. Had Mulder known he would have died of shame. Ralph wasn't viscerally aware of the fact that George was a wall of death underneath those stolen G-man clothes. Ralph had jumped George. Result: Ralph zero, George one.

When assaulting men, my suitor was willing to use killing aids, in this case a knife or similar bladed instrument. I guessed that he'd used a standard hunting knife, the kind that could be purchased at any sporting goods store. He'd come in low, stabbing upwards and penetrating the sternum.

My ER rotation was a distant memory, but I heard a recording of the attending's voice playing in my head: "A sucking chest wound is nature's way of telling you to slow down." Ralph had gotten the message, special delivery.

****

George grabbed the back the desk chair and hauled me towards the bathroom. The legs of the chair cut grooves in the carpet.

"You're going to have a brief opportunity to know what it's like to be hunted and reviled by everyone and I, in turn, will have an extended time to know what it's like to be a valued member of society."

I had to have a concussion, which was why none of this was making sense. Jerk by painful jerk, he continued to drag me into the bathroom. I didn't care what he ended up doing to me, really. He could beat me, rape me, and cut off my dick – whatever – as long as there was enough time for them to get Miranda out of the house. Scully had to know what was going on. She had to. She'd pulled my ass out of trouble worse than this a thousand times, when it was only my own life on the line. All I had to do was hold out until she showed up with a grim look in her eye and her Sig in her hand, an avenging angel in size six pumps.

Just don't take too long this time – please?

"If you behave yourself, I won't kill the baby – I'll turn her over to your mother – our mother to raise."

It wasn't much of an incentive, but I was counting the minutes so I nodded. This seemed to satisfy George and he crouched next to me in the shower. With quick and efficient strokes, he cut the wash line away from my body as well as the duct tape. Then he used my own belt to lash my hands to the showerhead.

"You're such a fucking pussy," he sneered and turned the hot water on full.

Half of my brain shrieked back to Scully being torn in two by Jason in the shower in Texas, the other half of my brain decided that I deserved it.

The water hit me full in the face gagging me on a mixture of my own blood and hot water. I coughed and George punched me in the gut to silence me. While the water blinded me and filled my eyes and probably broken nose, he set to work with his knife, slicing away at my clothes with smooth efficiency. This must have been the way that he undressed his victims once they were dead. When I was finally naked and vulnerable, he shut off the water.

What happened next shouldn't have surprised me, I really should have seen it coming. It only made sense, to a madman. The knife kissed the back of my neck where the hair is sparse and fine as Miranda's. The kiss was insistent and became an ungodly pain. I snuffled against my own biceps and tried not to scream as he began to strip the skin away from my neck, in a duplicate of his own mutilation.

Yeah, it hurt. It hurt like nothing else I'd ever felt, the deliberateness of inch by inch slicing away the skin down to the muscle. Warm blood ran down my shoulders and chest, splattering on my feet and the shower wall. Slowly and carefully he continued, humming that same fucking song under his breath. I couldn't look at him; I didn't want to know if George was finding this sexually arousing. Many serial killers do find sexual pleasure in pain and mutilation rather than in what is considered sexual behavior. In an odd way, I was breaking his pattern; he didn't usually mutilate other men.

"Why?" I asked on a gasp of air.

"Why?" he echoed, his breath close enough to sear the raw nerves on my neck, "because I *like* you. M – I – C- K -E – Y. . ."

"Cut the shit George, you might as well tell me since you're going to kill me anyway."

"It's rather Freudian, actually," he said in a dismissive tone that I'd used when going over a profile with novice agents.

God, did I really sound like a sanctimonious know-it-all?

"My mother, God rest her soul, was what you might call a woman of carnal appetite. When she was entertaining her men friends, I got to stay in the cellar. A very small and dark place. No washroom," he continued as he nonchalantly continued to skin my neck, "and if I made a mess, she made me eat it. And her boyfriend's cocks if that's what they wanted."

"Classic," I groaned.

"You got to stay with our mother and had every advantage. Did you ever have to eat shit, Fox?"

His hand yanked at my hair, wrenching my head back. I opened my watering eyes and stared back into a cracked mirror of my own face.

It hurt too much to speak, he had carved away all along the back of my neck and was working towards my Adam's apple, where the skin was thinner, where I was already burned from Scully's mouth.

Any time now, Scully.

"Did you ever have a man cram his cock in your mouth?" he asked in a poisonous whisper, "Jam your head up and down, making you suck his dick even though it gagged you? Did you ever have a sweaty stranger shoot his wad in your mouth and have to swallow it?"

Kind of made Tina and Bill sound like ideal parents.

No wonder. Not that it excused any of his actions, but at least it explained some of them.

"I'm sorry," I choked.

"It's too fucking late."

I must have passed out through most of it because the next series of sensations were enough to bring Elvis back from the dead. He used a brush and bleach to clean the forensic evidence away from the shower stall and my body, rinsing every shred of evidence away with hot water. Through a red frost of pain I watched him take the strips of skin that had been part of my neck and flush them down the toilet.

****

The big man was breathing raggedly but I couldn't see any blood on his lips, which was at least the absence of a bad sign. I didn't have the right materials — I wasn't in the habit of carrying around three-point pressure bandages now that Mulder was gone from the X Files — so I had to fake it with my jacket.

I had a bad moment when I realized that unless I underwent a sudden mutation that added a limb, I would not be able to keep my gun out, hold the jacket on Ralph, and also call for an ambulance. Ralph weighed a ton, I didn't have the hysterical strength to move him, and he was going to die if I just waited for George to return.

I put the gun down and dialed emergency. Nine-one-one is my fourth speed dial. Pressing the phone between my shoulder and my chin, I retrieved the gun and scanned around again. With the dispatcher in my ear and the rain all around, I wouldn't hear George if he came up on me. I could only hope that at this point I'd be able to smell him.

The rain was falling faster now as I pressed down on Ralph's chest, trying just to keep him from bleeding out until the ambulance arrived. They were going to have trouble navigating in the blacked-out streets as were the Arlington Police and the team from the Bureau who would accompany them. I hoped someone had a good map or lived close enough to know the twists and turns of the suburbs.

Sirens, off in the distance, unnatural over the pounding of the rain. George had stabbed Ralph a while ago. He could be at the house already. No one picked up on the main line or Mulder's new cellphone.

Lightning cracked and on the wet grass next to Ralph's head I saw a vision of Miranda, complete with high chair. My hand slipped and he groaned.

She couldn't be…George hadn't had time–I blinked and saw the inside of the house, Mulder trapped and George grinning, this time I did not hesitate in distinguishing the two.

"He's in the house, Ralph," I said into his ear. Ralph blinked. "Can you…hold this down?" I brought his big limp hand over his chest and placed it over mine. Several agonizing seconds passed before I felt pressure, not a lot but probably enough to keep the improvised bandage in place.

"I have to go now, Ralph. Please try to hold on…they'll be here soon." The emergency whine was getting louder, a few blocks away at most. I had to believe he'd be safe. He nodded, tough linebacker to the core.

"You're bad news, girl, you try to kill everyone you work with?" he whispered. "I try not to," I said, "hang on."

Turning the key in the ignition didn't start the car; George had obviously done something to the car and I didn't have time to determine what, so I got out of the car and began to run.

****

My knees gave out and George had to drag me out of the shower stall. He flopped me on the bed and set about dressing the two of us.

I watched him towel-dry his hair, then use a fresh towel to dry the rest of his body. Deodorant, a dash of cologne at the base of the neck. I felt an uncomfortable warmth rise as I watched the hard body of my workout fantasies pull out the dresser drawers.

"You know, you've really let yourself go," he said as he pulled on my most comfortable old jeans and FBI sweatshirt, complete with formula stains, "you used to be such a sharp dresser."

He looked as though the declasse clothes pained him as much as the bleach burned the abraded and cut skin on my body. I was lightheaded with pain and blood loss and there was little I could do but lay passive and watch him.

He dressed me in gray Calvin Klein boxer-briefs and an undershirt, then an Italian cotton shirt with French cuffs. Every movement hurt, I welcomed the pain. It reminded me who I was: victim, loser – but not George.

He spent a few minutes choosing cufflinks and ended up with my Oxford pair. Show-off, I thought, and he shot me a lemon-sour glare. "Some of us aren't used to all these advantages," he snarled and turned to the tie rack.

He picked out one of my Hermes ties, the one with a pattern of tiny pomegranate-colored wolves against a forest-like background of eggplant, deep blue, and pine green. When he brought it over to me, I was sure that he was going to strangle me (auto-erotic asphyxiation, my mind whispered), but he simply held it up against my chin, checking the color scheme I suppose. He bent and I felt his carrion breath moist in my ear.

"After I retire from the Bureau, I'm going to use my inheritance to fund a mission of retribution. I'm going to hunt down and kill everyone who was even peripherally involved in the crimes against us. Do you think I wanted to be this way? How do you think it feels to find out that your bitch queen of a mother wasn't even your mother, that you were farmed out to her just to see what would happen? You ought to thank me for doing what you don't have the balls to do."

"Let me go," I choked, "and I promise I'll be one vengeful motherfucker." He breathed a laugh, torrid against my earlobe, and he was gone again, throwing the tie on the bed as I gagged on blood. Returning to the walk-in closet, he emerged holding my one remaining unstained good suit. God damn it. Now I was going to bleed all over it.

He pushed my rubbery legs into the pants, taking only a few seconds to figure out the closures, and tucked in the shirt. Knotting the tie gave him some trouble, but he finally produced a decent version.

I knew how Miranda felt.

But my brother was holding me up like I was drunk to infinity and beyond while he put me in the jacket. I had to admit it was a lovely suit, dark with a subtle pinstripe. Dizzy and punch-drunk, I contemplated its beauty. The threads of the stripe were almost silver if you looked closely, but it wasn't flashy at all from a distance. Single-breasted, for that slim runner's look. The only problem with the suit was that both waist and ankle holsters ruined the line, but I wasn't armed.

Pity.

Finally it was time for socks, standard black wool, and black leather Bruno Maglis. Honestly, I bought them before the Simpson trial and I had no reason to be embarrassed.

He settled the jacket on my shoulders, tugged at the cuffs, and smiled.

"You're going to make a beautiful corpse."

"You forgot the wedding ring," I said, my probably broken nose and shattered teeth giving me the ludicrous pronunciation of a man with a bad head cold.

"You've got no right to wear it, do you?" He smirked. "What room do you want to die in?"

Now would be good, Scully.

Iolokus III: Vix te Agnovi 19/20 Stand fast, good Fate, to his hanging, make the rope of his destiny our cable, for his own doth little advantage. If he be not born to be hang'd, our case is miserable.

I ran through blackened backyards like Matthew Broderick at the end of Ferris Bueller's Day Off. I tripped over something and landed face-down in the mud, losing a shoe in the process and wrenching an ankle. Cursing against the pain that shot up from the wounded joint, I got up and staggered forward, branches whipping me in the face, rain pounding through my hair to my scalp. The trenches Frohike and the others had dug in the backyard of Mulder's house were almost welcome, although a trial to navigate between flashes of lightning. Why did this kind of thing never happen on a bright and sunny day? There had to be a rule in the Psychotics International Handbook that forbade making a stand in clement weather.

My security code didn't work. It had been changed since I'd last left. The front door was locked, the back door was locked, and the garage door was locked. Damn Mulder and his security! I stumbled around to the side of the house, testing my memory of the layout until I came to the laundry room windows. I took off my remaining shoe and used it to punch in the glass, which set the alarm system into Defcon Three Mode. Not that the automated call-in to the police station would do much good at this point, if George had even left the phone lines intact. Anyway, the alarm was barely audible over the torrential rain. I was beginning to wonder if God had broken his promise to Noah.

Glass cut into my arm as I broke away the shards with my Nine West pump, and I had liked those shoes, too. I managed to hoist myself up and squeeze through the small window frame, one of the few advantages of being of less than average stature. More glass chewed on my skin as I slid onto the top of the washer. Leaving a telltale black trail of mud and blood behind me, I dropped to the floor and cradled my gun in steady hands.

Simple. No-brainer. Small house. One man. Just another training exercise.

Except for the pathetic choking sobs of the baby in the background. Not a baby, mine.

Shit.

I tripped over the bodies in the hallway between the laundry room and the kitchen. Flashes of light revealed Warwick and his leggy girlfriend piled up like stuffed animals thrown in a corner. I felt around, my fingers contacting sticky blood. He had a thready pulse and a gunshot wound to the shoulder. She – I couldn't tell where she'd been hit, and I jumped so far that my back slammed into the opposite wall when she moved.

"He's here," she slurred, like the cheap talent imported from Poland to keep the cost of the B-grade movie down. "He tricked us – Vox – upstairs -"

I nodded. "Get out of here. The police are on the way. Tell them that Miranda is still in here." A swarm of bullets held no terror for me, but I couldn't let some cop kill her, thinking that he was just taking out a madman.

She got her long, long legs underneath her and staggered to her feet. Her lover's blood stained her tank top, making it cling even more tightly. She cast one last glance down at him. "He'll be all right," I lied, wadding his jean shirt over the wound to slow the bleeding a little. "Go."

She skittered down the hallway, towards the garage.

Miranda's cries stopped.

My stomach gave a dizzy lurch – like an airplane hitting turbulence and dropping several thousand feet.

Calm, Dana, stay calm.

The kitchen was slashed with moving black shadows from the trees' bacchanal outside. Zippy's loaned shotgun lay on the table and the smell of cordite burned my nose, I scanned the room as quickly as possible, the high chair lay on the ground, and half the cupboards were open. What had George been looking for? Something to season his latest human meal with? He had to know that there wasn't time to prepare a late-night cannibalistic snack. Then again, reasoning with a Mulder was not unlike climbing a glass wall.

Something scuttled across the floor, making me jump. The cat, the cat that Mulder and Warwick fed and let in the garage in bad weather. George must have come in through the garage, and the cat followed. Smart animal, she wanted to get in from the rain.

I was too enthralled with the cat to see the shadow move until it was entirely too late. The gun was smashed out of my hand and my entire body slammed into the refrigerator, alphabet magnets rained to the floor as I looked up into his face.

His face, their face, the face.

Oh God it had to be George, but–

Are you lonesome tonight, do you miss me tonight?

Wet hair, sloppy sweatshirt, smelling of babies and warmth?

No.

"Hey baby, I knew you'd come back to me," George said and gave me one of Mulder's charming smiles.

Thank God.

His smell changed as he stepped closer and I saw the red line of grade A chuck peeking over the top of the shirt. The odor almost drove me to my knees. Blood and sweat and rot – he smelled like a gravedigger, like death itself, underneath Mulder's new father smell. I was flattened against the refrigerator like a paper doll with his fingers digging into my arms, his thighs flat against mine, and the barbed hardness of his evil erection digging into my stomach like a knife. I would cut my own throat before I let him violate me as his brother had. I tried to knee him in the groin, but my legs were too well pinned. He slammed me against the refrigerator door again to assert his dominance.

"You were waiting for me in the office, weren't you?" he asked, his breath rank on my face like a jackal's.

"No."

He leaned his face down to mine, so the clean-shaven skin of his expensive-smelling face scraped against my cheek and his tongue brushed the bruises on my neck. Part of my mind shivered and curled into a fetal ball.

Are you sorry we drifted apart? Does your memory stray to a brighter sunny day When I kissed you and called you sweetheart?

"You want me."

What is it about every man, sane or not, that makes them think that a woman is only interested in the protrusion of muscle and erectile tissue hanging between their legs? Give me a break, a vibrator can give the same results with half the complications. To be fair, though, I hadn't exactly rejected his attentions as firmly as Paula Jones dissed Bill Clinton.

But I knew what I wanted now. "Not if you were the last homicidal maniac on the face of the planet," I assured him and slammed my skull into his as though he were a soccer ball.

Yes it hurt, but it hurt him more than me and he staggered back across the kitchen. I kicked him in the solar plexus and he grunted, shaking his head like a stunned bull in the ring. My hands scrabbled across the countertop, feeling for something that would serve as a weapon. Baby bottles spilled to the floor as George roared with pain and rage and came back at me. I stabbed him in an outstretched hand with a fork, which only made him roar louder and slam his uninjured fist into my face. The drying rack went down with me and I hit the linoleum in a cascade of breaking glasses and bouncing baby dishes. I rolled through the glass and silverware, trying to escape, my face screaming in pain, while I struggled against the six-foot plus man on top of me.

There was no contest; his weight crushed me into the floor and the broken dishes while his hands homed in on the choker of bruises around my throat. I wasn't going to stand passively this time, I yowled curses at him as long as I had breath, and clawed at his face the best that I could.

A screech, loud, shrill, and almost preternatural, cut the thunder and George gave out a high yelp of pain. The feral black cat had attached its claws into the thin skin of his scalp and forehead like a flying demon. It hissed and wailed, drawing thin lines of blood on his face. I dropped my hands to the floor and my fingers closed on a good-sized shard of dinner plate. George batted the cat free from his head and it vanished into the darkness of the kitchen with another yowl for good measure.

"You bitch, you fucking bitch," he choked and grabbed for my throat again.

Shard of plate in my hands, I sliced upwards, aiming for the line of raw red flesh.

It rained blood.

George writhed off of me, grabbing at the puncture underneath his chin, his breath bubbling through its new blowhole, unable to scream with his mouth fountaining blood above and below. His feet pounded against the floor as he struggled for breath. Something fell down in the other room with an almighty crash, but since George was still somewhat alive, I sat up and watched him rather than investigate. My arms and legs were like wet string as I pulled myself into a crouch and looked down into George's eyes, saw the fear, saw the realization that he was beaten, and rolled it in my mouth like sweet candy.

Maybe I could have done something to save his life, if I'd had the proper instruments, but I didn't. I also didn't have any witnesses, save for the cat, and it wasn't going to give evidence. I'd killed hundreds of unborn mutant fetuses, so what was a serial killer?

In the silence between thunderclaps, I heard Miranda start howling again, as if she had known that the Big Bad Wolf was dying. The howling was surprisingly loud. I looked around the kitchen again and didn't see any baby. I did, however, see the cat slide into one of the cabinets under the microwave. My various hurts screaming in protest, I crawled across the floor. Reaching into the cabinet, I touched fur, and then fabric. Behind a Jell-O mold, Miranda was sitting upright next to the cat, her face scrunched into a pink knot of misery and howling like Pavarotti on a bad day.

"Come on sweetie," I rasped in my new voice, "mamma's here."

I caught her by the front of her romper and eased her out of the cabinet. Once I had her out, I plopped her in my muddy bloody lap, my nose twitching at the smell of dirty diaper, strong enough to raise the dead. She looked up at me with wide eyes before stuffing a fist in her mouth and going limp against my chest, humming to herself. The cat sat next to me, its eyes slightly more yellow than Miranda was, and gave me an assessing look before beginning to wash its paws.

I heard the banging noise again. Warwick, I thought, and rose on rubber-band legs. Warwick was alive, barely, and I grabbed a freshly laundered shirt from the basket in the hallway to wad against his damaged shoulder. Propped up against the wall to slow blood flow, he'd survive until the ambulance arrived.

Miranda wailed, wanting to be changed. I picked her back up and returned to the kitchen.

George was gone, blood spoor leading out the doorway to the main hallway and the living room. I couldn't put Miranda down – literally, I was clinging to her like superglue. I picked my way through the shattered china on bloody bare feet and found my Sig. Despite George's earlier snide remarks, a Snugli would have been a big help to free my left hand.

God, where was Ingveld the Valkyrie?

The wet red trail extended through to the living room. I knew I should probably be outside, gibbering with fear and handing Miranda to someone who could keep her safe, but that was no longer an option. George and I had a rendezvous with destiny.

We crossed the hallway, waiting for the attack, any George- noise obscured by Miranda's whimpers. She was working herself back up to full-fledged screaming, but wasn't quite there yet.

Into the living room, where I swung the gun along the path of crimson splashes to target the figure silhouetted in the door to our right, staggering down from the steps.

I was two ounces of pressure from firing when I realized that it was Mulder, his face battered and black with blood, incongruously dressed in a suit and tie. George's chameleon attire suddenly made more sense — he'd been planning to pull a switcheroo, with no one left alive who could reliably distinguish him from the object of his affections.

"Well — shit," Mulder said in a thick voice.

He sagged against the doorframe, looking around with dumb amazement. Miranda homed in on Mulder and stared at him. She pushed against me and took her fist out of her mouth, reaching toward Mulder.

"Da," she said.

A crooked smile split his beaten face.

Red and blue lights from the front driveway exploded the night like fireworks.

Mulder collapsed as George hit him from behind like a truckload of cement. In a beautiful arc like synchronized swimmers they dove behind that damned Ikea sofa. I couldn't see them, they were on the other side of the couch from me, and I couldn't hear them because men were yelling through bullhorns outside.

Gun in hand, I stepped over to the couch and pried Miranda off, shoving her ungently under the end table, which had a baby-sized space as if it had been designed for cover under fire. She squawked and then went silent.

I couldn't hear anything from the brothers over the din of the cops outside, and so I just held my gun out and stalked towards the other side of the couch.

They were squirming. In the pulsing light from the squad cars they looked half-merged, like the kind of thing you'd find in the booth next to the Enigma. Siamese twins joined at the torso, hands clutching at each other's blood-slick throats. This time I could tell the difference easily, but at the angle I had any shot would tear through both of them. There's something to be said for low-power ammunition — though not much.

The men outside were insisting that they'd fire on anyone who made a move. I believed them. They could see someone holding a weapon, they warned, and a wheel turned in my mind. That was me. They were going to fire at me in a minute if I didn't put the gun down.

Both of them looked up at me as I realized this fact, still unable to lower my arms.

"Mulder…" I croaked, and George pushed him into the carpet, slamming his head hard enough to keep him down for a bit, and staggered upright, his arms extended like Frankenstein's monster. Mulder groaned and went gelatinous on the floor.

"It's all right," he gargled, and threw himself on me as the first shotgun blast sounded in my ears. I collapsed to the ground, borne down by George's weight. Guns went off like popcorn, and I felt George's body shudder and thrust on top of me in a grotesque parody of intercourse.

The noise stopped. Or maybe I just passed out.

Iolokus III: Vix te Agnovi 20/20 Now I will believe that there are unicorns.

Ralph Williams died.

He coded on the table. His big linebacker's heart couldn't take the insult of being stabbed by a pseudo-Canadian.

Scully cried at the funeral. When I put my arm around her shoulders it remained attached to the rest of my body. She even leaned into me a little, until I winced and she let up. Julie Graff sat with on my other side and didn't mention that Scully and I had killed Ralph. Skinner was not so kind. I appreciated his willingness to treat me like a competent adult and not a circus freak. I also appreciated his decision not to put an official reprimand in Scully's file, since Ralph was the only agent around at the time and she'd done her level best to get appropriate backup.

Warwick was luckier than Ralph. He was recovering in his bedroom. Ingveld was experiencing serious survivor's guilt and would not let him even hold his own utensils, though she let him use the keyboard that she rigged just for his use in bed. This kind of thing either destroyed a relationship or cemented it; I truly hoped that it was the latter for them.

Zippy recovered slowly, aided by a pert young home-care nurse who, after the first week, would have done the job for free just to bask in Zippy's thousand-watt smile. The famous charm was working again, after a long dry spell, and I was pretty sure she wouldn't be leaving when the insurance stopped paying for her to come. I mean, when it stopped paying for her to look after his medical-care needs. Hey, if I had known that being attacked by a dinosaur was such a chick magnet, I would have done a half-gainer into a stegosaurus years ago.

Scully grumbled as the X Files languished. Given the damage to her feet from her imbroglio in the kitchen, she wasn't going to be running anywhere even in flats for a while. Which meant she'd be easier to catch, but I was in no shape to chase.

On the plus side, her scars — the ones on her epidermis — were going to be minimal, her throat was fine, and she'd even been promised that she wouldn't have a bump in her nose to match mine. As for me, things weren't going to get worse (nose-wise), and I guess that's all that one could hope for. With the matching splints on our noses, we looked like we'd gotten a group rate on plastic surgery. Rhinoplasty! Buy one get one free! Worse, Miranda was convinced that we'd had these fabulously neat toys attached to our faces just for her amusement, and she divided her time between trying to play with the bandages and skittering around in her walker like a rocket ship. She was the fastest person in the family (family?) at the moment; the two of us were still hobbling in pain.

The doctors also assured me that, in a few months, I would be ready for plastic surgery to make my neck look more normal. In the interim I was wearing lots of turtlenecks, even though the stormy spring had given way to standard Washington sauna weather and despite the fact that putting them on felt like it broke my much-abused schnozz anew each morning. Vanity, thy name is Mulder. That was one of the other things that had seemed to breed true in the experiment – narcissism.

The day after the funeral, Skinner dropped by and laid a minefield between Scully and me as efficiently as the U.S. Army in the Korean DMZ.

He'd begun innocently enough, having appeared on our doorstep to chew Scully out for rushing into the fray without sufficient backup. Having the lecture take place in the privacy of my own study didn't make it any more fun, but at least Kimberly didn't get to watch us slink in and out. Scully actually listened to him as he droned on, while I just watched and wondered what he'd think if he knew what usually happened on the couch he was occupying. Finally he was out of gas, and that was where the trouble began.

Skinner took his glasses off and rubbed his temples, staring at a ninety-degree angle away from us in our matching swivel chairs. Then he delivered a speech that had me twisting in well-concealed agony from his first words.

"Agents," he said, with stiffness that might have indicated a rehearsed speech or might simply have been second nature to him after all those years in command, "I was unaware of the true circumstances surrounding Agent Mulder's transfer, and I understand the reasons for your circumspection. Please be assured that I will treat your confidences with the utmost discretion. I'm hopeful that your current status indicates some resolution of the outstanding issues between the two of you."

I twitched and Scully breathed carefully, the way she always does when she's preparing for combat. "Sir, with all due respect, this conversation is touching on matters that cannot be of legitimate interest to the Bureau. I look forward to resuming my regular duties as soon as medically feasible." I wanted to cheer. See, you tight-assed bastard, Scully took the same damn course on Orwellian newspeak as you.

"The issue, Agent Scully, goes beyond the momentary objective and relates to the long-term success of the X Files division in revealing and halting the high-level deceptions we've struggled so long against. You need to be able to focus on the work."

"What does that mean, sir, that a child is too much of a distraction?" I could have carved the words into the floor with the icicles hanging in the air from her words.

He sighed again and worked his shoulders back with the careful motions of one who spends too much time at a desk. "I don't personally believe that Bureau members, particularly section heads, should have their loyalties divided by such time-intensive commitments. But I'm aware that the situation in which you find yourself is highly unusual, and I would not fault you for whatever resolution you find acceptable." His voice lowered and he looked at her, ignoring me completely. "I want you back on the job one hundred percent, Agent Scully, and frankly I don't care if you and Mulder get sex change operations and convert to Tibetan Buddhism so long as you maintain your dedication to the X Files. Your family drama is important as a sign of the abuses of power by the men we seek to expose, but it is not the end of the story."

Sometime during Skinner's speech she'd risen from her chair and was standing directly in front of him, hands on hips. I don't think she was consciously aware of how close her right hand was to her holster. "With all due respect, sir, I think I've spent the past few months proving that I understand exactly that. I didn't decide to make George Naxos the center of my work or my life."

Skinner stood as well. I had no desire to join them. In fact I was considering hanging a sign around my neck that said 'noncombatant'. The Marines usually honored the Geneva Convention, right? My former boss blundered on like a train about to run off its rails. "I'm aware that many recent events have been beyond your control. But you seemed . . . very affected, perhaps even overwhelmed, when I saw you last week."

"I deal with what happened to me every day, sir. I deal with the fact that I have been abducted, experimented upon, my body violated and children of my body created without my consent. I deal with the fact that some of those children died horrible deaths. I deal with the fact that I was given cancer from those experiments and that I could go out of remission any day if whoever is responsible for the chip in my neck decides to turn it off. I deal with the fact that I was raped and that my rapist created the child I'm now responsible for. If this series of events didn't bother me just a little I suspect I would be clinically insane. Don't mistake my pain for inattention to duty, sir. If it upsets you, I suggest that you not ask the questions you don't want answered."

She left the study. He didn't object.

Skinner wasn't my immediate superior anymore, but I was nonetheless aware that it would be imprudent to ask him if he was satisfied now.

He rubbed the back of his neck and sighed once, loudly. Well, my neck hurt too, and I couldn't work up much sympathy. "Sometimes I wonder — only a person who is good and true can fight these interlocking conspiracies, but the battle itself seems destined to eliminate all the light from that person's soul."

"Do you think I made a mistake, leaving the X Files?" I shouldn't be surprised that his opinion mattered to me. I had a severe shortage of admirable paternal figures in my background. And he'd dealt to save Scully, proving that he had a touch of Don Quixote in him, which I had to respect.

"I can't presume to judge, Mulder. But you must know that there are two worlds in this household. You're going to have to decide if they can coexist without destroying each other. If you don't decide, the choice may be taken from you."

With those reassuring thoughts he departed. I found Scully in the bedroom, unearthing toys from the crevices and corners into which they'd migrated, straightening up with the tears running down her face. I took a Disney rabbit from her hands and drew her down onto the bed. She pressed her face into my sore ribcage and moaned; she'd used up all her words with Skinner. We rocked ourselves to sleep, and I dreamt that George's tattoo reappeared on my throat after the surgery but that I was the only one who could see it. Everyone else thought I was the same as ever, except for Miranda who pointed at my throat and giggled. There's a reason Scully and I rarely speak of our dreams.

The good news was that Scully still hadn't made any move to leave. We'd had a bad moment the following morning when she couldn't find her favorite blue shoes and she'd realized that they were in Annapolis. The look of panic on her face meant that she was thinking about fleeing back to Maryland, with the excuse that this household was already overloaded with people in need of care. I'd distracted her by bringing Miranda in; the Mooselet could "walk" in a drunken salesman path if you held her hands up in the air and I'd helped her crash into Scully's legs. Scully was comfortable enough with her now to scoop her up and airplane her, landing on the bed and bouncing with her, shoes forgotten.

****

I only stayed with Mulder, Miranda, Warwick, and Ingveld because they needed someone with medical training in the house. Casa Mulder was like a rehabilitation facility for the strangely injured. But I knew it was dangerous for me to stay. Dangerously easy.

My dangerous liason was sitting with me in the kitchen as we waited for morning coffee to boil. Mulder was working from home full-time while Warwick was laid up, and I was learning how to telecommute; I wasn't willing to let either Mulder or Miranda out of earshot for more than a few hours at a time until recent events faded somewhat. I was disgruntled because, without the matching shoes, my one remaining clean work suit was useless and I'd have to make the quick trip to the Hoover building dressed like a slob. Mulder hissed as the stray, who was now living indoors with us, jumped on to his lap, claws extended.

I shuffled over to the refrigerator and extracted a grapefruit to follow the cereal and toast I'd already absorbed. "Hungry much, Scully?"

"I'm *healing*," I said petulantly. "That takes energy. Calories. Fuel for the body's miraculous engines."

"You must be getting some pretty low mileage," he said. I refused to give him the satisfaction and pulled out a grapefruit spoon. The silverware had Christina Mulder's initials engraved on it, I noticed.

Mulder didn't let me eat in peace long. "What do you think we should name her?" He was cooing disgustingly over the cat, petting it with the gooey sappiness of a man in love. It made me a little ill.

"Mulder, are you aware that the cat is male?" I carefully scraped the last clinging fragments of fruit from the white zest shell.

He looked surprised. "But it's so small –"

"Personal experience to the contrary, gender dimorphism is not terribly pronounced in most mammals. Also, Mulder, this cat can't be more than eight or nine months old. Look how it's expanded in the past few weeks now that you're feeding it."

His hands never stilled on the cat's coat, which was growing out faster than my roots. It looked as if the scrawny stray was going to be a longhair, even though it had been practically bald when we'd first met.

He didn't take the opportunity to comment on my own expansion, also related to Mulder's nesting instincts. I was almost not underweight and my bras were beginning to fit again. He held the cat up in the air, lifting it with his hands under its shoulderblades; it looked at him with measured disdain. "All right then, what will we call him?"

"Spike?" I suggested.

"Hell Toupee wouldn't be bad, given his recent performance with George."

I gave the requisite frown-and-eyebrow combo, and he grinned, then winced as the motion pulled sore muscles.

The pathetic thing was that rather than resuming our carnal activities at night, all we'd done was Raggedy Ann and Andy cuddling. It hurt too much for anything else. Sleeping together without sex was pleasant, but the broken-nose snoring was not. The cat even snored as he slept on the valley between our pillows.

"He keeps getting bigger every day."

"Yeah, he's turning into a real Catzilla."

I just looked at Mulder, knowing that he'd found the name; he knew it too and winked. I supposed that it was better than Velvet Elvis. At least at the vet he'd discover that pets are known by their names and their owners' last names; I wondered how he'd react when they called for "Catzilla Mulder."

Hell, he'd probably be proud.

The doorbell rang. Mulder was complacently stroking the cat and made no move to get up. Even though my feet still hurt from the glass explosion on the kitchen floor, I let him have his moment of contentment and went to answer the door.

My mother smiled thinly at me through the fisheyed peephole.

"Mom," I said stupidly as I opened the door. The spring storms had passed and the rain pattering gently on her parka was almost light enough to be unnoticeable. She stepped in and I reset the alarm.

"Honey, we need to talk."

This phrase had a power like no other to turn my stomach and send my mood down to China.

"Things are a little hectic around here," I explained, full of shame, as I led her back into the kitchen. Warwick was recovering in luxury down in his apartment, and he hadn't been up to cleaning anything yet. As neither Mulder nor I could even identify the average household cleaning product except when used as part of an intriguing method of killing, this meant that blood and mud were everywhere, indistinguishable from one another, crusted on floors, walls, and even a spatter up on the ceiling.

The various bullet holes made one wall of the living room look like a modern art installation. Even the indestructible Ikea couch now appeared a little lopsided, since there was a big black dried-blood patch upsetting the geometry of the pattern. I'd scraped up most of the gore that absolutely could not be mistaken for dirt, and that was all the housecleaning I could tolerate. There are some things you just don't ask guests to do. Mulder had at least gotten the front windows replaced and we were going to have a crime-scene cleaning specialist come in as soon as he was willing to trust strangers in the house — I was thinking 2010 or so.

The kitchen wasn't much better than the living room, though I'd managed to soak some paper towels and scrape the worst of the blood off the floor. The walls were almost surely a loss; I thought maybe the best thing would be to give Miranda some crayons and tell her to go for it.

I automatically went to the coffeemaker to start another pot. Mom watched me, evaluating, and I felt like she'd seen my report card and was about to explain to me where I'd failed. Mom and Mulder exchanged grunts that might have qualified as greetings if you were being generous.

I took a deep breath. "So, what's going on?"

The doorbell rang again. We looked at each other; Mulder wasn't going to wait in the kitchen without me, so he and I both trotted out this time, the cat twining around his feet. He opened the door and I stood behind him, my hand on my gun where our visitor couldn't see it.

"Dana Scully and Fox Mulder?" The man wearing a nondescript business suit could have been a functionary for any one of the conspiracies we've encountered over the years.

"In general," Mulder replied.

He smiled and handed each of us an envelope. "Consider yourself served. Have a nice day."

I looked stupidly down at the thick yellow paper. Mulder opened his and didn't blow up, so I followed.

"My god," he said.

My letter was short and to the point. I could only assume that his was as well.

Bill and Tara were suing us for custody of Miranda. I, they alleged, had abandoned her, demonstrating my unfitness, and continued association with me in my unstable state would be detrimental to her development. Mulder was not her biological father and was also unfit, given his history of mental impairments. We were summoned to court next Monday, for appointment of a guardian ad litem for Miranda and scheduling of home visits by an independent expert who would evaluate the suitability of Miranda's environment. The custody hearing would follow thereafter.

"That's why Mom's here," I said dazedly. "What are we–?"

"It gets worse," he said, as if commenting on the weather.

"Hunh?"

He pointed to the signature on the bottom, below Bill and Tara's. "That's the lawyer from the firm that handled Jason's affairs. The firm that did the legal defense for Roush."

End. (heh, heh)

Author's notes:

Rivka says: Sally eternally challenges me to take the characters places they haven't gone, and this time was no exception. So, this is our version of Snugglebunnies, via the Tempest. Are we going soft in our dotage? Inquiring minds want to know.

Sally says: The challenge, as ever, was to take the tired old chestnuts (evil twin and Mulder and Scully have a baby) and try to look at them in a new (if jaundiced) light. As ever, without Rivka prodding me, none of this would have been possible. And to all the kids who awarded me a "black belt in babysitting."

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