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Prologue

Hamlet: I say we will have no more marriage! Those that are married already, all but one shall live. The rest shall keep as they are.

I didn't want to get up. I knew there was still a mess of lamb chops congealed in pans down in the kitchen. Gummy bits of matzo were glued to the floor where the kids had flung them. Dana had been decorating Easter eggs for the last few days and had hidden them all over the yard last night. Moonlight madness, me and the missus crawling under bushes and getting covered with grass stains and dirt. We fell dirty and bone-tired into bed, too beat to make love, Dana sniffling from whatever it was that she'd caught from the twins. All that work and in the morning, we'd have to drag the kids around, point them at the eggs and then applaud their stunning detective work in retrieving them. Plus, she had already eaten the ears off of five chocolate bunnies and watching that always disturbed me at a fundamental level. Why the ears?

Blended families, feh.

I decided to go for my morning run, get away from it all for a little while before launching the full onslaught of domestic bliss. Blinking in the morning sunshine, I pulled on sweats and a T-shirt and turned to look at my sleeping wife.

She was blue and silent, her outline distorted and inhuman on the bedside. Cold.

And I remembered. How her cheekbone had felt against my knuckles as it crumpled, the salt spray of hot blood from her mouth as she fell back and back. I remembered collapsing her throat with the edge of my hand. It felt like fruit, bursting and bubbling beneath the elastic skin.

I remembered the sounds she made when her lungs wanted what her throat could no longer give. It wasn't even human.

After that things were distorted, like opening your eyes at the bottom of the swimming pool and looking into the stinging chlorine blueness. But I knew better than to go running for the kids.

The kids were never going to need hurrying again.

Now, standing in the bedroom with the evidence of my crime before me, I could not begin to explain what I had done. I could only want, as I had never wanted anything else, to take it all back, to be someone other than the monster who had done this and then fallen into a sound sleep next to a cooling body.

So I did what I'd intended to do when I first rose.

I ran.

Tikkun Olam 1/25
Guildenstern: You die so many times; how can you expect them to believe in your death? Player: On the contrary, it's the only kind they do believe.

Light lanced through the bedroom like tracer beams, seeking me out so that the morning could slay me.

Scully doesn't like to get up early, but that Sunday she was up before me. Going to Easter Mass. I couldn't believe that she'd offer herself to God, cranky and caffeinated, when she wouldn't roust herself to go look at the strange markings on the ground at the apple orchards near Herndon.

We'd fought about it the night before.

Then I fucked her on the coffee table, hard and fast the way she likes it when she doesn't want to acknowledge that she's with me.

But she stayed for the night which was an event in and of itself, even though she had curled up at the far side of bed like an inanimate object. The only time I slept in the bed was when she was with me, and it was still like sleeping alone. I reached out for her sometime before dawn and she grunted in something that wasn't English but deigned to let me slide my hands over her breasts without breaking any of my fingers. In the morning she showered and dressed without a word. Scully's return to God is one more bone of contention between us. Just a metacarpal in our skeleton of issues, really.

While she showered, I stared at the ceiling and wished, for a few moments, that I had a quiet, normal life with a family. Wife, kids, cat, SUV–the basics. Maybe a nice, manly dog. I wished more than anything else that I was not this person, this lunatic freak. I wished that Samantha had never been taken and that I had remained an ignorant innocent until colonization descended. I heard Scully bumping around and fumbling with the vagaries of my plumbing. Finally, she went and I lay in bed, dreaming like Dorothy Gale sans tornado. I must have drifted back to sleep again, because it was nearing noon when I checked the useless alarm clock.

Ah, fuck it. A little coffee, a good run, and I'd be ready to rumble. I swung my legs off of the bed and bent to grab some sweats and a T-shirt.

The phone trilled.

"Mulder."

"Yo, Spook."

I tried to place the voice, and failed, lacking sufficient information. "Who's this?"

"Lieutenant Gregor," he said, miffed. "I guess the star doesn't remember the backup singers."

"The Lloyd case," I recalled.

"Yeah. So, I hear you're into the mysterious and suspicious now. I've got a hell of an Easter gift for you."

Lt. Gregor had been a nice young patrol officer when we worked the Lloyd case together. He'd been a big help collecting evidence and keeping my brains off of a hotel room wall, and I suppose that I owed him. "What is it?"

He read off a Virginia address instead of answering. I could feel the scowl distort my face, but I recorded the information on the back of an overdue Amex bill.

"Are we going to need autopsies?"

"Four, looks like."

"Half an hour."

I hit the off button and then the only speed dial number that involved a human with an IQ over seventy.

"I'm in line for the confessional," Scully hissed, her voice almost lost under the disapproving cough from someone beside her.

"I'll pick you up there, we've got a case."

She hung up before I could manage it. I hate it when that happens.

I considered changing but it was a favor on a Sunday morning. Gregor could suck it up. So I snagged a Pop Tart on my way out the door and galumphed into the car. I was glad that I already knew where Scully went to church; I doubted that she was in the mood to tell me. She was waiting outside for me on the hard gray gravel of the church's sweeping driveway. I considered it a great favor that I didn't have to go in and get her. Maybe she wasn't sure if I could cross the threshold.

My partner, naturally, was pale and seamless in her fine blue suit. I wondered if I had made it onto her Top Ten list of things to confess.

We pulled out of the church parking lot and into the crush of traffic. I thought I knew where I was going, but the green Beltway sign popped up like a target in a Quantico training simulation. I cursed and swung the car onto the entrance ramp that would take us to the scene of the crime, if we could survive the ongoing criminality of DC traffic. The guy I'd cut off honked and flashed his lights. "What are you doing, Mulder?" Scully asked sharply.

"Sorry," I said, rattled. "I could have sworn we wanted the Outer Loop." I hit the gas and concentrated on making it safely through, which was not unlike landing on the beaches at Normandy on D-Day, though there were fewer dead fish.

Scully was silent the rest of the way, the late-morning sunlight rendering her sunglasses opaque, and she was as inscrutable and smooth as a robin's egg. Silence from Scully is generally not a good sign. It means that she is thinking and it usually ends as a shot in the balls to me either literally or metaphorically. And she was smelling like one of the many tiny hotel shampoo bottles that bred in my shower stall. I wished I had never let her get out of bed.

Gregor was waiting for us on the steps of a beautiful house. A station wagon and a Range Rover were visible in the dimness of the open garage.

Gregor licked Scully from high heels to hairspray with his eyes. She noticed and did not introduce herself.

"So, why are we here?" I asked.

"Woman and three kids found slaughtered in the bosom of their home. Signs of a man's habitation everywhere but he's not around. Classic domestic case with skip-out."

Can you say Simpson, boys and girls? Good, I knew you could.

"Yeah, so?"

"So, the people who discovered it are the realtor showing the house and the nice young couple with her. The house that is supposed to be entirely empty but somehow has furniture, along with cars, clothes in the closets, mail for Robert and Dr. Dana Rothstein at this address. Freakier still, you saw the two vehicles? Plates don't exist; they're made-up numbers. And we can't find Bob or Dana in any state database. Even AT&T, which sent them a bill five days ago, doesn't think they exist — and you know the phone company never forgets about you."

"You're suggesting the house and its contents somehow emerged from the Outer Limits?"

Gregor looked at Scully like she'd made a racially insensitive remark. I figured I ought to introduce them.

"Lt. Gregor, this is my partner, Agent Scully. She'll be your forensic pathologist today. Shall we take a look at our mystery guests?" Scully's incredulousness matched my own growing excitement. What if the Rothsteins lived here in some parallel universes, the boundaries breached in a moment of crisis? Maybe they came from a place where I was a happy, hauntless man.

The house smelled like talcum powder and, underneath, death. Death is a rich, complex smell, black and blue with bacteria toiling and teeming. After you get past the nausea, it's fascinating.

"You want to see the kids first, or do you need to work up to that?" Gregor asked as he followed us in.

The order the killer did them in mattered, but I wouldn't know that until I'd looked around some. I looked at Scully.

"Let's see the children," she said. She could never resist a dare.

The twins, a boy and a girl, had been strangled. I could smell the dirty diapers from six feet away, but Scully put her gloves on, got up close, and poked around.

"Manual?"

"One-handed," she replied, not looking back at me. It would have been like picking a kitten up by the scruff of the neck.

"How big would his hands have to be?" They'd been left face-up. If they hadn't been moved by the photographers or, worse, someone hoping against hope that they might still live, then that suggested indifference to their identities. That meant the killer might not have been the dad.

I wondered why I didn't want it to be the dad.

Scully looked back at me speculatively. "Not unusually large. I'll need to measure the marks, but I think they'd be about the size of yours."

Gregor and I stared at my hands.

Then, into the bathroom. Scully gasped and fell back a half step, careening into me as I crowded into her.

When we stood side by side in front of the tub, I saw why.

The toddler floating like a drowned watersprite in the stillness could have been Emily's twin brother. I suspect that Scully sees the resemblance in every child who passes by, but this, even I could see. The child even had that same pathetic bowl haircut that I thought went out of style twenty years back.

I'd seen what I needed to and backed away. Scully was still looking down at the dead child, but I doubted that she was compiling forensic evidence. I knew better than to try to comfort her, so I followed Gregor into the master bedroom.

This was the worst. The woman on the bed was about Scully's height, and her hair color had to have come from the same Clairol box.

The victim was at least thirty pounds heavier than Scully, who'd been thin as a Communion wafer even before the cancer. This woman had seriously generous breasts and hips to match. She'd been the kind of woman you could easily think of as a mother, or more to the point, the kind of woman you could spend a lot of time trying to impregnate. Lush, full body that a man would need a rescue party to pull him out of. Her hair was impracticably long; the kids would have yanked it out by the handful as she carried them from place to place. Nyquil and tissues on her side of the bed suggested that she was fighting off a cold before she failed to fight off her killer.

The beating she'd received had obliterated any previously extant facial features. Presumably the guys back at the lab could reconstruct a face for her, but for the moment she was as featureless as a Barbie whose head had been held in an open flame.

That, unfortunately, was a pretty good sign that it was the dad.

I needed to find out more about our primary suspect. I turned to Gregor. "Any pictures of the man of the house?"

He shrugged. "Not that we've found, but we've just been taking pictures and dusting. There's a study with two computers in it if you want to look for records or something. But you might want to take a look in the kitchen, first. Seriously dead cat in there."

"'Seriously'?" I asked as we headed back towards the stairs. "The others are only mostly dead?"

"Let's put it this way, Spook. When the Resurrection comes … this cat ain't gettin' up."

Gregor had definitely been watching too much Homicide.

By the smell, at least one big-hatted cop had tossed his (or her, I shouldn't be sexist) cookies in the kitchen. People can tolerate anything inflicted on other human beings, but puree a kitty cat and you've crossed some deep boundary. You'd think that species loyalty would make it the other way around, or at least that people would recognize that cats lack the basic indicia of consciousness, but you'd be wrong. People often reserve their inhumanity for other humans. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals existed a generation before anyone thought to do anything similar for children. And Adolf Hitler was a vegetarian.

What's black and white and red all over?

Answer: your basic household pet after a psycho killer had an in-depth conversation with him. Most of the fur was centered around the garbage disposal. It had been a black cat, probably with a white belly and adorable white socks. It looked like he'd done most of the chopping on the cutting board designed for that purpose. He hadn't bothered to clean the knife, which lay blood-blackened by the stove. And on the stove there was a pot. And in that pot there was some meat, E-I-E-I-O.

I guess that explained the barbecue smell in the air.

"Did he leave the stove on?" I asked Gregor, turning to where the detective was waiting outside the kitchen. I didn't really blame him for staying in the dining room; he'd be seeing this scene in his nightmares anyway.

Gregor shook his head. So, our pussy-poacher didn't intend for the house to burn down. Maybe we were supposed to see all this.

"Study," I ordered and followed where Gregor led me.

 

Tikkun Olam 2/25

Player: There's nothing more unconvincing than an unconvincing death.

The sermon was the kind of New Agey Catholicism that might eventually have brought Melissa back to the church. Me, it just annoyed. I didn't particularly care about the historical connections between fertility rituals, spring planting rites, and the Resurrection. I didn't want to hear squat about fertility. I was in a bad mood even before Mulder called me. Then Mulder forgot the basic layout of the District, which did nothing for my mood. And driving past all the happy Easter Sunday families strolling through their upper-middle-class neighborhood could induce nausea as easily as your average chemo course.

The toddler was difficult. His face was so fragile, even in death when nothing worse could really happen to him and his eyes were so large and open although they were never going to see the world. The last thing he'd seen in his short life was the shiny white ceiling of his bathroom behind the face of his killer-creator. His rubber ducky had fallen into the tub at some point and nudged his unresponsive eyebrow as I stared. I handled it all. That's what I do.

"Scully!"

Mulder's bellow was not his Scully-I'm-in-danger noise but his attend-me-now-woman noise, and so I took my time getting downstairs. A good thing, too, because otherwise the skirt might have torn. The attractive if slightly greasy-looking Lt. Gregor pointed me in the right direction with a smile.The study was nice, dark paneled wood and a leather couch that could have been an upmarket cousin of Mulder's own monstrosity. Mulder was at the far wall, looking at the diplomas hanging over the computers.

"When's the last time you looked at your diplomas, Scully?"

I shrugged and walked towards him. "Years, I suppose. They're in a box at the back of my –"

Actually, they were on a wall in a Virginia house of horrors. I stared dazedly at the evidence that Dana Katherine Scully had been awarded her bachelor's degree from the University of Maryland on this 15th day of June 1986. The one next to it indicated that she had received her medical degree, in like fashion, in 1990.

"What –?" It came out more as a whisper than a demand.

"Still wondering if this is an X File?" He pulled away from the wall. "Robert Rothstein draws comic books, there's a bookcase full of them and his current work is on that table under the window. He's in the middle of an issue so it's fair to say that he wasn't expecting this to happen."

I looked around the room. I saw the brightly-colored illustrations, flattered by the spring sunlight shining through the window, and the bookcase filled with plastic-jacketed comic books. There were no family pictures on the walls and none on the desks.

"They haven't found a purse or a wallet," Mulder said in answer to my unspoken question. "Why don't you look through the files in the desk and I'll check for any secret photo album stashes in the living room."

I nodded blankly and he left me there. Moving over to the desk, I put out a hand to touch the diploma. The glass of the frame was cool and smooth under my fingertips. Robert Rothstein had graduated from Maryland too. His diploma looked much the same as mine — hers, only he'd gotten a liberal arts degree. They must have met in college, and I couldn't read the ketubah so I couldn't tell off-hand how long they had been married. Had they been happy? It was hard to tell considering the fact that the wife was beaten to a bloody mess upstairs.

Maybe an intruder had killed them and abducted Dad for further fun, but I doubted it. Ninety-eight percent of all domestic homicides are committed by a friend or family member. No matter what The Fugitive taught America, most women who are murdered in their homes are murdered by a husband or a boyfriend, not a mysterious one-armed man who leaves a trail as wide as Constitution Avenue. And Krycek hadn't been spotted in the area lately.

I rifled through the file drawer that was built into the desk. Years of tax returns — Robert made good money for a man whose literary vocabulary was limited to "Pow" and "Ka-zam," and Dana was an eye surgeon. No wonder they could afford this house that wasn't theirs. Contracts with comic book companies, health insurance information, medical records. Robert Rothstein was taking enough drugs to start his own neighborhood pharmacy. Tegretol for manic depression, Verapamil to control migraines and maybe some off-label use against violent outbursts, the aptly named Paxil to make him feel warm and fuzzy, Klonopin and Trazadone to let him sleep, and Inderal for anxiety. It didn't escape my attention that Mulder had taken most of these once or twice.

I continued on through the medical records to a worse surprise.

Robert Rothstein had just undergone extended medical treatment for a nasopharyngeal tumor. A letter from his doctor suggested that he needed a screening every two months to ensure that remission continued, and thanked him for his willingness to participate in the experimental program.

I knew this doctor. Given the other circumstances, that fact was not so surprising — nasopharyngeal tumors aren't like ear infections; there were six specialists in the United States worth consulting, and I'd had some contact with all of them. This woman, though, worked out of Georgetown, and she'd been my primary oncologist throughout most of the cancer.

She'd never told me about any experimental program.

I looked up as Mulder reentered the room. He looked — normally I'd say he looked like he'd seen a ghost, but with Mulder that event would involve a happy, excited face and not the shell-shocked expression he actually wore.

"What did you find?" I asked. "Family album," he said. "Lots of kiddie pictures. Dad was behind the camera most of the time and Mom was a pretty poor photographer. Brown/brown, about five eight or nine, a hundred and seventy pounds, clean-shaven. They're both wearing glasses in the wedding pictures, young geek love, and it's hard to tell what either of them really looked like."

"Was it him?"

Mulder looked down at his hands, strong strangler's hands. "I don't think we'll know for sure until we get the prints and hear his story."

Robert Rothstein wouldn't have been the first person framed for a family murder to get him out of the way when he was no longer convenient. "Let's run the Rothsteins through the federal database and see what we come up with. I'll send the diplomas to the lab to see if there are any prints on them."

He looked over at me as though I had suggested that we forget the whole thing and go out for an Easter Egg hunt instead.

"I need you to take a look at something," he said. "In the kitchen."

Mulder followed me into the kitchen and I was drawn over to the shiny silver sink. Tufts of black fur protruded from the disposal, clumped from the mixture of water and blood that lay still in the drain like the calmest of seas. I turned like a marionette and went to the stove. The cat's 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 stew.

"I need to know," Mulder said carefully, "if he did this first. I'm betting yes. The cat's the only one who'd trust its instincts that something was very wrong. Everyone else would see Daddy and ignore all contrary input."

I looked up and whatever he saw in my face made him turn celadon, though the kitty slaughter alone hadn't been sufficient.

Hours passed of bagging and tagging evidence with the annoyed Arlington Police who would have been happier celebrating Easter with their families. Mulder had all the comic books boxed up as potential clues to the mind of a monster and then disappeared like Ben & Jerry's when I was feeling down. Not that there was any correlation between my feelings and Mulder's flights.

****

I felt like I was moving through water. The world had taken on sinuous outlines and even sound seemed muffled. The feeling of unreality was enough to make the hair on my arms stand on end and I rubbed at them through my sweatshirt. Blurred vision and muffled sound are not inconsistent with sinus congestion from allergens, Scully's voice whispered in my mind, due to inner ear involvement.

I walked around the Rothsteins' neighborhood, looking at the neatly tended front yards with the tulips slick with rain reaching up at the dull sky. There were ruined Easter Egg hunts all over town that morning, with the rain coming out to make the backyards into pools of red Virginia mud and flattening all the meringue ruffles on the little girls' dresses. I walked, absorbing; taking in the feel and the smell of the area and wondering where Bob had gone. Where would I have gone if I had been Bob? He hadn't taken either of the cars and dispatcher reports showed that a taxi hadn't picked him up, so when Bob had left, he had been on foot.

At least there wouldn't be a low-speed chase with a white Bronco any time in the near future. The credit cards I'd found in Robert's wallet had come up as invalid numbers when I called the companies, so he wouldn't be found that way. I'm sure they worked on his Earth.

The wallet was in the drawer of the end table next to the couch, exactly where I put mine when I came home from work. I checked there on a hunch. It's where Dad put his and, were I ever to inflict a son on the world, I suppose he'd put his wallet there too when he grew up, if he grew up and was not abducted by aliens and filleted like a swordfish before he got his own place. The social transmission of knowledge is often more effective than the genetic, which is subject to the vagaries of recombination.

The vagaries of recombination. Like the kids on their way to the morgue. Like the many futures I could have had if I'd chosen differently, before choice evaporated like water in the desert. The butterfly flaps its wings, the alien turns its glowing gaze to me, and it could have been different.

Robert and Dana. Dana and Robert. Dana and —

I pulled out my phone and speed dialed.

"Scully, are you familiar with any of the theories about parallel universes?"

"I've watched The Twilight Zone."

Scully humor can be used instead of bitumen for mummification.

"What if Dana is you? And Robert's the psycho in her life?"

The line hummed and crackled for a moment, as cellphone lines do.

"Isn't it a little early in the game for you to be identifying with the UNSUB?" she asked and I had a mental Polaroid of her looking at her watch, "It's only been three hours. It usually takes you at least a day."

And waste valuable plot time?

"Okay," I looked down at my shoes in the mud, another pair ruined in the cause of Justice, "Submitted for your approval, at certain points in a person's life there are seminal events which dictate the course of the rest of a life. For example, the moment that you decided to join the FBI, at that moment two paths diverge and the time line where you join the FBI is the time line which is the now. Which means the time line where you decide to be a county pathologist is another time line."

Or an eye surgeon.

"I'm listening–" she prodded me.

"Well, what if Robert and Dana are from another time stream, where decisions were made which affected the course of their lives and this ended up with their marriage and the children."

A snort of bitter amusement split the static.

"Meta-realities? Why not go back to the Hegelian Paradox where you go back in time and kill your father to prevent your own birth, but you must have been born in order to kill your own father. It doesn't work. It's science fiction, Mulder."

"It's the only thing that makes sense. Eliminate the impossible and what remains, no matter how improbable, must be the answer."

"I don't have time for this," she snapped, "the coroner's van just got here. I'm going with them — I'll call you when I'm done with the autopsies."

For the second time that day, she hung up on me. I cursed and jammed the phone back in my pocket. I should have waved that album in her face so that she could see her zaftig twin playing with photographic children, but at the last moment I couldn't do it. I couldn't show my barren partner –barren because of me as surely as if I'd given her an STD — pictures of her otherself playing happy and carefree with her adorable children.

Scully was probably already coming up with a good explanation for why Dana Rothstein had her diploma. But I already knew why: It was Dana Rothstein's diploma too. Funny, Scully never struck me as the type to take her husband's name.

Out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw something move in the bushes and I held my breath while I watched. Was Robert out there watching me and listening to me talk about him? What was he thinking? What had he thought when he squeezed the life out of his children, his own blood, little lives snuffed out like birthday candles in a ungentle breeze?

The squirrel emerged from the bushes and chattered angrily at me, reminding me of Scully.

I wandered back to the house, thinking about chaos theory and complexity theory and piles of sand shifting, grain by grain, as stresses accumulated until the whisper of an angel sent everything tumbling down.

I ducked under the ugly yellow police tape, the color of investigation, and went inside to where death and dust were already settling like veneer over the Rothsteins' former possessions. Our reptile brains tell us to take our secrets down, into the darkness and the damp. I once worked a case where the killer kept all his victims' shoes lined up on shelves in the basement. There were two rows of size four women's, one and a half of five, another row of six, and sevens broke the record with a whole five rows. I hadn't counted further because he was already in custody. I'd predicted that they'd be organized by size, but I hadn't really understood how it would look, there in the basement with the light bulb hanging yellow off to the side and every pair different, some worn and some unmarred, like the Goodwill sales rack.

Some things you want to keep underground.

The Rothsteins didn't have shoes. They had some boxes of baby clothes that looked like they'd been raided when the twins came. They had spiders, sticky and prolific. They had Dana's college textbooks, with a neater version of Scully's loopy handwriting in the margins, and old ski equipment.

In the far corner was a bookshelf, and that's where Robert was. Not his body, but his life. At least two hundred sketchbooks, probably more, ranging from the cheapest drugstore books to expensive, thick handmade paper.

The cheaper ones were generally older — they were on the top shelves and his technique was fairly crude in the first ones I flipped through. They were black and white, with no helpful dialogue balloons. I don't think the characters depicted could really talk. Screaming pretty much ran the communicative gamut for them.

In pencil, in pen, sometimes as light as if he'd traced the frost on a winter windowpane and sometimes carved into the paper as if he was trying to chisel the images out of his brain, Robert had filled these sketchbooks with abduction images. Corridors curved wrong around monstrous forms with inexplicable machinery in their hands, as if Escher had designed a spaceship and populated it with H.R. Giger organic monsters. Humans and parts of humans tumbled through the pages like Holocaust victims, thin and screaming, always screaming. If I tried I could hear it in the back of my head, the mechanical din interwoven with the sound of human suffering.

The images were repetitive, though the styles varied and improved with time. A boy screams as he is strapped down and his abdomen or genitals punctured by what looks like an enormous mechanical cock. At times it is composed entirely of thick, slimy tentacles, still with the jagged edges of metal visible where the skin is thin. At times it is all hard edges and needles. At times it is smooth and featureless like a termite's egg, dull plastic under artificial light, or the light of unmapped stars.

And the worst is that, in the middle of the destruction, the boy's face convulses in unwanted ecstasy. There is no narrative structure; his violation is complete or in progress or just starting and then the same image will be repeated, or another image, or we find the boy cowering in his cell, searching for a corner but unable to find anything in the circular world of his insanity. Other times the boy is an observer, his eyes glassily drugged as a woman's skin is lifted off of her in layers or the alien embryo claws its way untimely from the womb. The Abduction Variations, by Robert Rothstein.

The babies in his pictures had the almond eyes of every Whitley Streiber fantasy but they were not all-powerful and I doubted they were benign. They deformed under the irritated pressure of gravity, bones pushing out from latex skin. Limbs, sluglike and uneven, left gray wet trails on the seamless floors of the ship-lab-torture chamber. The women's faces were dead, beginning to decay, as the fetuses were extracted, but in the sterility there were no blowflies or maggots. Sloughed skin lay like wetsuits in the corridors of the ship of nightmares. Despite the graphic nudity, there was no sex, no human-to-human contact. Always the alien or the machine initiated the touching.

Either Robert was an abduction victim with continuing flashbacks, or he was a paranoid psychotic with one of the most complex and dangerous delusional structures I'd ever encountered. This is what he saw when he closed his eyes and when he kept them open. Years of repetitive vomiting it onto clean paper hadn't helped him. I wondered if killing his family had.

I couldn't go through all of the books at once, so I took some representative samples to scare Scully with.

I stopped at the Bucar and stared. It was gray. I could have sworn that it was blue. No matter, one Bucar is pretty much the same as the other. My key fit the ignition so I gave it no further thought.

Tikkun Olam 3/25

Guildenstern: There is an art to the building up of suspense….. Though it can be done by luck alone.

I hate Sunday afternoon autopsies. Let alone on Easter, which is the day that Christ rose from the dead. Not that I expect to witness such an event, that's more Mulder's line, but it's hard enough to get right with God when I don't have to deal with His creatures' favorite sport — murder — afterwards.

With a crushed larynx, Dana died choking on her own blood. The twin babies suffered a related fate when they were subjected to manual ligature until they suffocated. The toddler had been held down until he vomited and sucked in two lungfuls of water. It didn't take much to fill his lungs, less water than you'd need to make a pasta dinner.

We still didn't know their names.

When I opened Dana Rothstein's abdominal cavity I found that, in addition to the normal complement of organs, she also had a four-month fetus which, depending on your viewpoint, could add another murder to the total. In Virginia it would be unlawful abortion; the killer — or, realistically, Robert Rothstein — could add another six months to his multiple death sentences.

Like sands through an hourglass so are the days of our lives. Sunday passed into Monday while I worked on the bodies. If there were any unexpected chips of metal, inexplicable venous systems, or other indicia of government experimentation I wanted to know about it. The toddler's brain showed abnormalities surrounding the central sulcus, but, as usual, I couldn't be sure what my data meant. The Monday morning crew that came into the morgue was only mildly surprised to see me and the bodies that I had slid into the refrigerated drawers. I wondered how Mulder would convince Skinner that this was within federal jurisdiction. Obviously, if Dana and Robert weren't from our universe, Virginia wouldn't have any particular claim over their deaths.

If Mulder's theory were true, no one would claim the bodies and they would go into Potter's Field, unmourned. I wasn't about to call my mother, that was for damn sure. But I did take a sample of Dana Rothstein's blood and an impression of her prints.

Since state and county offices are open the day after Easter, albeit grudgingly, I managed to finesse a phone and a desk at the morgue and started making telephone calls from the scant facts that I had been able to glean from Robert Rothstein's medical records. I made calls, took notes, and drank disgusting morgue coffee which had the chemical aftertaste of death. My doctor denied any knowledge of Robert. That meant zilch as far as I was concerned. But Robert hadn't been active on any of the newsgroups, nor did the families of my fellow patients remember talking to him, or his doctor wife. That was much more suspicious. You get to know your disease pretty well when it's as exotic as my cancer. There were housewives from Pennsylvania who knew as much about peptide agonists as I did, at least before their tumors expanded and they couldn't even control their own bowels. We'd known each other nearly as well as we knew the thing pulsing in our brains. It was a pretty close community of interest, and men would stand out, but no one had heard of the Rothsteins.

My eyes were hurting from strain and formalin fumes when Mulder finally came to pick me up for lunch.

It was the same table we always sat at in the corner of Starbucks, where we could see the entire shop spread out before us with the wall to our backs. The bored slacker types were putting "SALE" stickers on the chocolate bunnies in the basket near the cash register. I bought a grande and a purple foil milk chocolate bunny to fortify myself and sat down next to Mulder, who was reviewing my autopsy notes. I could believe that he had psychic powers when he read my handwriting.

"Mulder," I started in a carefully neutral voice, "you realize that your theory about parallel universes is not going to stand up under departmental scrutiny."

He smirked at me and I wanted to kick him. It was his smartass know-it-all smirk which never failed to make my palms itch with annoyance. The patronizing smirk, the 'silly rabbit, Trix are for kids' smirk.

"People who don't really exist don't really get murdered, nor can they be prosecuted in a court of law," he said with the most caustic sarcasm in his monotone repertoire, "but if the phone company says they exist, they must exist."

"Proving nothing. Queequeg was once offered a MasterCard with a three-thousand dollar limit."

"That's a lot of doggie biscuits."

I bit the right ear off of the rabbit and Mulder shuddered in sympathetic horror. Freud would be so pleased. My stomach was as hollow as the bunny's and the cheap chocolate was exactly what I needed.

"Do I really need to point out to you that you're projecting my entire experience onto these people who have the vaguest resemblance to me."

Vaguest.

Point being, Dana Rothstein had given birth to three children which I would never be able to do, and Rob Rothstein had slain those three children and his fecund wife. Which, one hopes, Mulder would not do. He's too chicken shit. Should Mulder ever find himself in the same situation–three kids and a fourth in progress–he would be more inclined to hare off to Tibet and put up with the lack of cell phones rather than commit murder. On the other hand whoever marries Mulder and is capable of handling the Spawn of Mulder would be more inclined to sling his slacker ass out the door before his internal pressure cooker spurted blood and gore on the ceiling.

The Sumatra coffee was bitter the way that I liked it.

"Well we're all guilty of looking at the world through the prescriptions of our own experience," he said and slid longer and thinner over the chair, stretching out like a Toon character until he had taken up most of the legroom in our section of the cafÈ, "some prescriptions are more rose-colored than others."

He stuck his finger in the froth clinging to the bottom and the sides of his cup and slowly sucked the foam off his forefinger, his gaze never breaking mine.

"What's your perspective on it, Doctor Scully."

You're a pig, Mulder, a big, oinking pig. But even as I thought this my body reacted to the sight of him sucking off the foam as though it had been me. The bastard.

"My perspective is quite simple, it's a series of unfortunate coincidences and mistakes. She was accidentally issued a copy of my diploma, same first name and no human being checks these things, the signatures are machine-drawn. The realtor was mistaken about the house listing and the social security database used by the DMV and the telephone company was either corrupted or accidentally deleted."

"Mistaken diploma, twice, that she framed and displayed in her house without correcting. Self-effacing of her, don't you think? And she still would have gone to school with you."

I refused to look at his finger circling the top of the cappuccino cup in the same rhythm he had used to circle my clit two nights before. "Do you know everybody you went to school with?"

"I would have if they had the same name."

"'Dana' is more common than 'Fox'. As a matter of fact I went through medical school with two other Danas and one was male."

"Was that him in there? Maybe he got tired of the jokes and went in for a sex change."

I missed the smell of coffee. I missed X Files that were just mysteries, without providing commentary on my own twisted life. "We have to leave it to the local police. Without any evidence of what happened or why this woman had my diplomas, it's a domestic crime, not something of cosmic significance."

"But every life is sacred, so it is of cosmic significance."

That was a deliberate reference to my decision to go to Mass on Sunday morning and had nothing to do with the case. I finished my coffee and looked at the few black grounds clinging to the bottom of the cup. What was I supposed to do? Explain to Mulder how my on-again off-again relationship with God was back on again? Knowing Mulder as well as I did, I found it unlikely that he would ever be amicable to sharing me with even anything as non-corporeal as God.

It was Mulder's strange form of jealousy that he wanted my undivided attention. I wasn't about to try to explain to Mulder that I found Father McHugh as soothing as the sweet, milky tea that my mother had given me when I was a sick child. Could he understand that sometimes, I seek comfort the same way that Mulder seeks discomfort? That guilt feels best when it can be built up and discharged in a concentrated recitation of sins like draining a battery of energy? And under that, I knew, Mulder distrusted faith because when he prays, he prays to me, for me, and he knows that he is not heard.

I wanted to know God's existence, the way I used to know, but now all I was capable of was belief. Knowledge had fled, bleeding and tattered, after Emily died.

All I could do was look back down into my cup as though the answer was somewhere among the grounds.

"Computer error," Mulder said with another one of his smirks.

"I'm going back to the lab," I told him.

He was looking out the window and his eyes slid over the street outside without seeing anything as I took the bunny and ran.

****

Preliminary fingerprint results from the house suggested that Mulder and I had walked around, latex-free, for four or five months, pawing every available surface. We've had a less than stellar evidence control record, but I was pretty sure that we hadn't been to blame in this case. Sure enough, Dana Rothstein had my fingerprints and my blood type. I was willing to bet that the DNA tests would also label us twins, but — despite what the movies tell you — DNA typing takes a bit longer than an afternoon.

I had no idea what the DNA would prove. The tests could hardly show that I was actually dead on a slab. Cloning was a strong possibility, especially with the nasopharyngeal tumor in the house like a helpful sign: "the Conspiracy was here!"

Would it have been worth it, to retain my innocence and my fertility for six extra years and produce three and a half lovely children? They hadn't suffered long, and even Dana hadn't known what was coming, from the lack of defensive wounds or skin snagged under her fingernails.

I wanted to go shopping to take my mind off my troubles, but my credit cards wouldn't bear the weight. Instead I went to the gynecologist for an appointment I'd scheduled days before, just the thing for the single woman who is feeling a bit dissatisfied with her lot.

Mulder called while I was waiting in the reception room, reading a back issue of Glamour. "What have you found out?" he asked without preamble.

"Soylent Green is people," I told him and hung up. There was no way I was discussing Dana over the phone. And we never talked about Scully.

****

All I wanted to do was flop out on my sofa with a bag of Doritos and a copy of Independence Day and watch the good guys beat the crap out of the aliens. If it had been me up there, with my luck, the alien computers would not have been Mac-compatible and it would turn out that Bill Gates was quisling on the human race. But children love their special treats, and the Gunmen had devoured the stack of comic books I had brought to Paranoid Central the night before and were waiting for me with bright shiny faces. I wished they had enough enthusiasm to go around but, unlike D&D scenarios, it couldn't be shared.

"This is amazing," Langly said as soon as I'd gotten past the locks.

"Enlighten me." The boys were arranged around the room. Langly had on a Sisters of Mercy T-shirt whose gothness mocked his blond hair. Frohike was in the flak vest he'd begun wearing everywhere at some point and Byers was the man in the gray flannel suit. All of them had piles of Robert's comic books. The ones by Byers were neatly stacked; Frohike and Langly were not so neat, but they had respect for the comics and so the precious pages had been returned to their clear plastic envelopes.

"Well," Byers pointed out, "we already know that the comic book doesn't exist. Some of the people on the credits with Rothstein are definitely working in the industry, but they're doing different things. If it's a fake, it's a very well-thought-out one. I actually got an offer from the people at Forbidden Planet — they wanted to order the whole series." He stroked his chin, torn between nervousness and profundity.

Hey, wait. "When did you get rid of the beard?" Byers was always the stable one and the change made me uncomfortable.

He gave a sheepish smile. "Mulder, I haven't had a beard in three years."

"Nice of you to notice," Langly chimed in.

"Never mind," I said weakly.

Langly held up one of the comics. On the front, two small figures raised guns against an enormous sea-beast. "So, the heroes of these stories are two G-folk named Rex and Samantha, right? And they investigate the paranormal and the deeply strange? And they have some technogeek friends called the Mouseketeers, dedicated to proving that Disney is out to take over the world –" He sneezed, which gave me an opportunity to interrupt.

"It must be a parallel universe, they're not worried about Microsoft."

He tugged at his glasses. "Listen, Mulder –" If I looked closely I could see a small furry creature at the bottom corner of the cover, right near the UPC code. About the size of a midget, annoying dog with a pretentiously literary name. I could feel the blood vessels in my brain about to burst.

"Either this guy has hacked his way into the FBI mainframe and read your reports for the past five years-"

"Or," Byers said judiciously, "he's got another kind of source." He templed his hands below his chin and looked at me with the appraising eyes of a surgeon evaluating how much of the tumor can be cut away without killing the patient.

A psychic doppelganger. Scully had been more accurate than she knew when she accused me of identifying with the suspect. What will they think of next? More of me? It was bad enough staring at my face in the mirror with my ghosts staring back and I wasn't interested in sharing with anyone. Not even myself.

Frohike sniggered in his corner, drawing my attention. "What these goombahs didn't mention," he said, smiling like a frog, "is that Rex and Samantha are doin' the hot monkey love thing on the sly, after four years of bantering foreplay. Which reminds me, where is the enigmatic doctor?"

Frohike's chuckle degenerated into some wet chest-coughing and he spit something foul into a handkerchief.

"She had to see a man about a corpse," I told him in my best monotone. And you'd better believe that it's a very good monotone indeed.

****

"So when did the spotting start?" Dr. Shimada said from the other side of the sheet which was keeping me from seeing what she was doing between my legs.

How strange. Mulder could go down on me for hours and I was permitted to see the whole thing. However, in the confines of the doctor's office, I was reduced to trying to figure out what was being done by a series of cold sensations and the shadows on the sheet.

"Three days ago. I couldn't get here any sooner because of work."

That sounded so respectable, when what I needed to say was that I couldn't pay adequate attention to my own health because a man had gone crazy in Arlington and killed his wife and children, a wife who had my name and a resemblance to me.

"Work's been really busy," I elaborated.

"I think what we're seeing here is a variation on breakthrough bleeding which is often seen when women use artificial hormones after menopause and the hormones go slightly out of balance. This is not a normal menstrual cycle."

I had always hated the mess and the pain of my periods as much as any woman, but after the cancer and finding that I was sterile I missed them. I suppose I had hoped in the back of my mind that the process would somehow reverse itself and I would be healed of all my ailments. At least that was what I had been praying for at Mass all these months. If God could see fit to cure me of one malady, why not another? It wasn't that I was suffering from baby-hunger per se, but I was suffering from not being able to make the choice between reproducing or not. You can't create multiple universes by exercising free will if there are no choices to be made. So once I had been abducted I had killed all the potential childbearing Dana Scullys and now I had to face more dead children with what were presumably my genes. All my options were postmortem.

"Oh," I summarized.

"I think that you ought to consider the artificial hormones I suggested at your last appointment. You could be a candidate for early onset menopause. Considering the fact that you have ceased menstruating, you virtually are in a menopausal state. What we would like to curtail with the hormones are any of the unpleasant side effects from an uneven hormone production — excess facial hair, lowering of the voice and suchlike."

You're such a boy, Jack had said all those years ago.

"Also the risk of osteoporosis."

How inconvenient to break a hip falling down the stairs while chasing a suspect. Skinner would be so pissed.

"Let me think about it," I said.

The Razor's Edge was four blocks away from the medical center and I had gotten pretty familiar with the frozen margaritas when I had been undergoing testing to determine the causes of my infertility. The Edge made a great tart margarita with top-shelf tequila, fresh lime juice, and kosher salt thick enough to melt ice on sidewalks or psyches. The first margarita went down with the sharp bitterness of love while I watched the late breaking international news on CNN on the TV beyond the bar. Not unusually, there was something horrible going on in Asia where people were dropping like proverbial flies from some upper respiratory ailment, which had apparently come from birds. I watched the glossy heads of the news announcers smile with pity while they announced the death tolls.

The murder in Arlington hadn't made anything more important than the police blotter in the local rag; the department had seen to that.

The second margarita was as good as the first, better possibly.

On the TV, the bodies were piled like autumn leaves as inadequately gloved and gowned workers shoveled lime on the dead with a careless disregard usually not seen on American television.

"Ah man, why did they have to show that!" the man next to me grumbled.

I looked over; he was Asian, in his mid-thirties and had lines of tiredness around his eyes, behind his glasses. He was also wearing a scrub shirt from the hospital and had blood splatters on his sneakers.

"Sorry," I said.

He took off his glasses and rubbed at his eyes, "I'm having a bad day."

"Join the club."

A small smile crossed his face.

"Edwin Kim," he said, "Eddie," and my brain slowly processed that as an introduction.

"There's a lot of that going on. Those people in wherever –" he gestured at the TV — "are having a worse day than we are."

That was debatable. Whatever pain they were going through was over. The uncertainty was past, no more branching timelines for them.

I could have left then, walked out and hailed a cab and the cab could have taken me to the airport for a new life. Instead I sat there like a dead thing and pushed my empty glass forward to the bartender for a refill. The tequila was racing through my blood like a Formula One racecar and I could hear the buzzing of the motor in my head.

"But here I am drinking margaritas at noon on Tuesday because I've been losing patients."

"What did they have?"

"Pneumonia."

"Viral or bacterial?" I asked and he gave me a look, "I was pre-med in college," I said and it was true if misleading.

"Non-AIDS gram-positive pneumonia. They did not respond to standard antibiotics. Adults and children with highly-resistant pathogens who crash after about three days."

"Sounds like the epidemic on the news."

"I ran tests to isolate the pathogen and nothing was detected in bronchoscopy, transtracheal aspiration, or lung puncture. I called the CDC and got a canned message about flu shots. I fucking hate this town."

He slammed his glass down on the bar and the margarita sloshed over his knuckles.

The bartender refilled our glasses with another round of frozen oblivion. The cold stung my nose and the salt worked with the tart and melted on my tongue. Two more of these and I was going to think that I could climb the Washington Monument, which might do more to take my mind off of things. I could be on the Fox six o'clock news, reinventing government with my buddies Smith and Wesson. I looked over at Edwin Kim and wondered what it would be like to lose a patient or two. My patients were always dead before I got to them and my cases were mostly about the dead. When I walked into a situation, it was already over. The same way that most of my life was already over.

"What's your pain?" he asked.

"Life," I said and shrugged.

"That's enigmatic," he said and gave a little smile.

"That's been said about me before."

"What's your name?"

"Samantha Mulder."

I don't know why I said that.

At my weight, which was at the low end of my ideal range, two drinks were really my limit. I had five.

After the third drink, Edwin Kim was starting to look like a double-chocolate muffin after six weeks of dieting, and when he put his hand over mine on the bar top, I wondered if the rest of his body was as neat and cleanly muscular as his hands. The mutual buzz of depression and alcohol moved from his fingers to mine like an electrical current through copper wire. When I came back from the bathroom, Eddie was standing next to the to barstool and looking at his shoes.

"Samantha," he said and I almost didn't react to the name, "I don't usually –"

"Me either."

He kissed me then, outside the kitchen door of the bar, and although I shut my eyes and exhaled, nothing happened.

Damn Mulder.

"I can't," I said. Whether it was fate or just one of many possible outcomes I don't know, though I did not feel that I had any choice.

He looked even sadder than before.

"At least let me buy you another drink," he said.

It seemed the least that I could do.

The sun was setting when I finally left the bar. I was very drunk when the cab pulled up at the curb.

"Hegel Place, Alexandria," was all I said and looked out the window.

Passover hadn't passed over the Rothstein house, or me either.

 

Tikkun Olam 4/25

Rosencrantz: Well, there are only two of us. Is that enough? Player: For an audience, disappointing. For voyeurs, about average.

I fled from the Gunmen and the adventures of Rex and Samantha who never stayed hurt, at least not for long, and who forgot the past with each new issue. I was so desperate to get to my apartment that I didn't even take the time to write a nasty note to the person who'd parked in my space.

Getting the door open and staggering inside was as much of an accomplishment as laying a girl for the first time. I'm not as much of a slob as Scully thinks; I rolled my tie up (it was a Ferragamo, after all) and put it away in the dresser. The jacket and shirt I just tossed aside.

I didn't recognize the Native American wool blanket masquerading as a bedspread on my recently sex-christened bed. I examined it carefully but couldn't find any metallic objects embedded in the weave. It smelled like everything else, my sweat and a dash of Scully's private essence, as if it had been there for months.

Maybe Scully had brought it over. Didn't Phoebe have a blanket like that? I had a Guinness-soused memory of sex under stars that involved a scratchy blanket. Losing my virginity had been an event worth commemorating, but I didn't recall any souvenirs. I checked the apartment for bugs, searching high and low in my T-shirt and dress pants and getting the pants ridiculously dirty by crawling on the floor to get under the furniture, but I didn't find anything except previously uncharted dust.

The phone rang just as I gave up.

Frohike's voice was music to my ears the way John Cage was, but I couldn't be picky.

"Good news, Mulder."

"You found Pamela Lee's private number." I leaned back on the couch, looking up at the ceiling as I spoke into the phone. I wondered who was spying on me lately, as the folks upstairs appeared to be recent Indian immigrants and I doubt they were part of the Master Plan.

"No, but I did find an interview with Rob Rothstein in the back of one of the books. Issue twenty-four, the two-year anniversary issue. The interviewer's a real person, he inks for Dark Horse Comics, I made some calls and he denies knowing who Rothstein is, says the comic doesn't exist."

Or exists just a universe or two to the left. "And what did he reveal in this ground-breaking interview?"

"That his lift doesn't go to the top of the slope, basically."

I scratched at my stomach, feeling like a stranger in my own skin, as the underwater feeling was back again. "I've got the psych degree, why don't you give me the data and I'll draw the hasty conclusions."

I wondered if I had any decongestants.

"He told the interviewer that he has no memory of his life before age thirteen, when he was found walking down a highway in New Jersey. The Rothsteins adopted him and he says they're the perfect parents even though he was a pretty fucked-up kid, always cutting school and getting into fights."

I heard the key in the lock even as Frohike was talking, and I have to admit that I did pick up my gun. But when the door opened and Scully glided in I put the gun back on the coffee table. Like a ghost, she slipped past me and into the bathroom, and I heard the shower running. That was odd.

Before I could think much more about it, Frohike dragged my attention away again.

"He says he was in and out of trouble with the law, that he was locked up for stealing a car when a shrink encouraged him to draw out his troubles and pain." He sneezed, and then did something that probably involved a tissue and certainly was no better to listen to than to watch. Phlegm-fest over, Frohike continued. "He got a G.E.D., then went to college where he met his wife, the lovely and talented Dr. Dana, and he put her through med school. Surprisingly enough, she didn't dump him for next year's model when she was through. D'you ever think that women are just superior to men? Anyhow, he says that Dana's the model for Sam the cute little Fibbie."

I'll just bet she is, I thought.

"Does he have any idea where he really came from?"

"Interestingly enough, he underwent regression therapy a few years back. He recovered some memories of being abducted from his bed and experimented on by sinister gray forms. The interviewer asks 'Aliens?' and he says, 'we're all aliens, aren't we?"

My head was pounding with the distant roar of water against the shower curtain.

"Listen, Mulder, I gotta get back to my MUD. You know me and the boys aren't into this alien abduction shit, but if he's involved in a sinister government plot to control the minds of the counterculture, let us know."

I grunted into the dial tone and clicked the remote.

The television was choking out canned laughter and stupidity again; a woman with short blonde hair was wearing a sari at some stuffy society function, upsetting the country club types who reminded me somewhat of my parents. I wasn't sure exactly what was going on but the TV audience thought it was funnier than a rubber crutch. The water in the shower finally shut off and a few moments later, the door opened and Scully wafted out wrapped in the shredded remains of my bathrobe with her clothes bundled under her arm. While I watched, she went into the bedroom and came out without her bundle of clothes, combing her wet hair.

"What are you watching?" she asked and slid onto the sofa next to me.

"Don't know," I admitted.

This was unusually domestic of her, with her feet stuck under my thigh and the wet hair sticking to the sides of her face. The next thing I knew, she'd be making popcorn and sending me out to the video store to rent some fluffy date movie like Say Anything. Or even worse, a costume drama where all the characters had British accents and no one got laid like Howard's End, or a tearjerker like The English Patient. The woman dies tragically and alone because of the man's dubious allegiances. I get enough of that at work, thanks.

I could feel the warmth of Scully's body soaking through me like sun through glass. All I could think of was the way that a cat lies on its back and entices you to rub its belly simply so it can have the pleasure of digging claws and fangs into your hand. I leaned against the arm of the sofa and looked at her for some kind of sign as to what her interior weather forecast was. However, the radar had gone down like Monica Lewinsky and I stared at her like a man staring at a sky that could mean tornadoes or spring rain.

Regarding the television for a few minutes, she wiggled her toes under my leg and stared at the flickering idiot box as though the answers to all the great questions of the universe were written on the blonde woman's very tight, cropped t-shirt. They weren't, I'd already checked.

"I think this is Dharma and Greg."

Trash television was usually only for the nights in hotels when we were too tired or too sick of each other to screw, and we'd vegetate in front of the television in our separate hotel rooms. Both of us looked at the bright faces of the asinine characters for distraction from the horror we spent the day chasing.

"She's very tall," Scully added a moment later when the blonde wrapped her arms around the man's neck without having to climb on a stepladder. I began to suspect she'd been drinking. Scully generally didn't like to acknowledge that taller women existed. I think she believes that if she keeps her spine straight enough on top of those three-inch heels we'll all believe that she's really tall enough to ride on a roller coaster unaccompanied.

Aided by the blonde's superior height, the couple was kissing. Whatever faux pas she had committed was forgiven and they all lived happily ever after in thirty minutes with commercial breaks.

"You were right, Mulder, Dana Rothstein appears from all objective indicia except fertility to be identical to me."

The first four words shocked and disturbed me more than the rest of the sentence. "Scully?"

"I'm fine, Mulder." That was more of a non sequitur than usual, and I would have investigated further had she not reversed positions on the couch so that her nose pressed into my stomach and I could feel her hot wet breath through the cotton of my undershirt. Wet tongue through the knit cotton, the shirt pulled out of my pants with her teeth and licked an arrow down towards my nether regions. She'd bite off the button, gnaw through the fly, so I reached down to help her out. I saved the pants but got a good set of Scully's dental impressions on my hand for my trouble. She didn't break the skin; she only did it to get the adrenaline running.

And run it did.

I put my hand on her neck as she drew my zipper down with her teeth. Until then, I'd only read about that in Letters to Penthouse, but I'm here to testify that it can be done. I raised my hips and we got my pants and boxers off, leaving me rather pathetically clad in an undershirt and socks, but then she brought her mouth down on me like a tropical storm and it hardly mattered. Soft finger pads teased the helpless skin on my balls, making my skin creep with sensation.

Oh yeah, just like that. . .

The softness of her hair against the top of my thigh was like a painter's brush sweeping over canvas. She the artist was tracing me with her tongue, sucking each of my balls in her mouth, lapping at my inner thighs, and returning to work on the protruding flesh where most of my consciousness was centered. I stroked my hand through the burning sheaf of her hair and mumbled that she was beautiful, wonderful, amazing, the most incredible woman in the world in incoherent rambling.

When I was entirely helpless, thrusting up despite my attempts not to choke her, she pulled away and all I could do was stare while she divested herself of my bathrobe. Already smelling of me, she climbed onto my lap to lower herself down like a girl visiting a very pornographic Santa. My cock slid home into the tight, hot chamber of her cunt like a bolt clicking into a lock. With her legs wrapped around my waist and my mouth roving her breasts, we rocked back and forth for an eternity. I was gliding through the hot water of her, moving smoothly from one shade of fuck to another, her skin wet suede under my hands, my mouth. Her fingers dug valleys into my shoulders and the look on her face almost made my dick shrivel. Wild anger, acidic intensity, and something as desolate as a whitened skull. Her tongue slipped into my ear and I could feel the breaking drumbeats of her around my cock and in my arms. I felt her clench and shudder with the force of her climax, her spine bending backwards until the bright coral tips of her breasts brushed my nose and her hair swept over the crumb-laden expanse of the coffee table. Then I took over, turning and pushing her into the couch so that we could fuck like teenage lovers on a babysitting gig.

Her breath, when I tasted it, had enough tequila in it to send an alcoholic running for his one-day chip again.

"What the hell have you been up to?"

"Shut up and fuck me," she hissed.

I jerked my head back from her lips painted with bitter limes.

"Scully –"

Fingers in my hair pulled, making me yelp in surprised pain, and the nails of her other hand scratched the cleft of my ass like broken glass and it hurt, damnit.

"Knock it off," I warned and grabbed at the hurtful hand behind me.

"Fuck me hard. What's the matter? Too fucking scared?" Her lips thinned with contempt and her voice was as hard and bitter as the limes on her lips.

"Stop it. I mean it, Scully."

"I've seen corpses with stiffer dicks than you."

Ugly, ugly hard thoughts bubbling like crude oil behind the cobalt blue isinglass of her eyes. I took a deep breath even as my cock twitched with interest inside her.

"You're drunk."

Scully's got a pretty good left hook and the right side of my face went numb and then burned like hell as I realized she'd laid her fist on me like Tyson. I blinked pain tears out of my eyes and looked down at her where her hair flowed like Greek fire on the blackness of the couch.

"Bitch," I choked.

"Asshole." Breathing hard, her breasts hitching and jiggling liquid underneath me, she moaned when I slammed into her as viciously as I could, again and again, while she stretched her hands up above her on the couch, caught in invisible bonds. Boiling honey, tight, killingly clenched around me as I gave it to her with all the fury and lust of the insulted male ego.

Her legs stretched open to the breaking point, hard muscles and angles of her meager frame underneath me, I wanted to crush her like a pile of dry sticks covered in silk, a biplane, a kite, a Chinese lantern. I reached down and found her clit with my shaking fingers and she started and came again like a door slamming, shutting me out of her head by letting me into her body. But I was ready to go on forever, hard as steel and unfeeling as any of the specialty store dildoes she must use when I wasn't around. I flipped the limp armful of wet laundry that made up her body over and shoved into her again while her breasts crushed into the back of the sofa and I knelt on the seat. Her forehead thudded against the sofa while I jackhammered into her. I pinched her clit again and all she could do was moan into the leather. Infuriated, I drew back and slammed into her again while I landed an open-handed slap on one white globe of her ass. She screamed into the sofa back, closing down on me like a wolf trap, the hard shock of her climax running electric through me and triggering my own. My teeth closed over her shoulder and I tasted the coppery flavor of blood. She moaned and went liquid underneath. I came and came and came, silver tracer bullets dancing through my vision as I emptied my anger into her.

When the shaking was over, I pulled her into my arms and made my rubber-legged and bare-assed way into the bedroom, burdened with her slight weight. Her skin was clammy and feverish.

"I'm sorry," she mumbled into my hateful chest when we had bundled under the covers.

"It's okay," I muttered as automatically as I breathed and with about that much thought.

Despising myself, I watched the shadows of the leaves dance on the ceiling.

 

Tikkun Olam 5/25

Player: Act natural. You know why you're here at least. Guildenstern: We only know what we're told, and that's little enough. And for all we know it isn't even true.

 

When I was a child, my parents had a chair that they had bought when they were in Japan, before I was born. The seat cushion was stuffed with straw and sawdust. Bill hit me over the head with the pillow and it broke, filling my mouth, and nose with dirty old straw and sawdust. I cried then, I cried again when Bill blamed me, and I cried still more when Dad hit me with his belt for ruining the chair. I tasted the dirty straw and the tears when I woke up. I was sweltering hot, crushed, and gasping for breath. Mulder was plastered to my back like a postage stamp affixed with saliva. I fought out from underneath his arm, found some cold sheet space and fell asleep again.

Some time later, I swam out of a headachy morass and looked around. One of Mulder's suits hung like a dead man from the closet door and the bloody-fingered dawn flared out of the dirty windowpanes and burned holes into my brain. I wanted to crawl back underneath the smelly sheet and sleep for a decade, but there were calls to make and bad guys to put in jail. Mulder continued to snore next to me, his mouth hanging slackly open as though he had been the one drinking the night before and not me. I was sore, my arms, legs, back, neck muscles, and my entire groin. I worried about cystitis. Groaning, I pulled myself out of the bed and fumbled around for something to wear. I ended up wrapping myself in the crocheted blanket that had fallen to the floor during the night and took my headachy self out into the kitchen for the first caffeine jolt of the day. The coffee was thin and weak but it was better than nothing. By the time that Mulder finally got out of bed and stumbled into the kitchen I was three cups into the day. He stumbled over to the coffee maker and poured himself a cup, looking at me over the rim of his mug.

"Hey –" he said, adjusting his boxer shorts. Ugly shorts with the Yankees logo on them, his legs sticking out like a cartoon chicken deprived of its feathers. That and the bed-head made him singularly unappealing. These were the moments when I wished I had never slept with him.

"You know we have a meeting at nine today. Just a status report for the local cops on the Rothstein murders."

"What is the status of the Rothstein case?" he asked and managed to sound more smug than anyone has any right to in the morning.

"Unsolved." I took a deep breath. "And no explanation why someone would — would want to make a duplicate of me and then kill her and her children." I didn't mention that Mulder's prints had covered the house like they had covered my body last night. "I want to issue a statement that Robert is wanted in conjunction to the murders of his wife and children. I want to name him as the main suspect."

"Don't you think that you might want to have some facts to back up your accusation?" Mulder asked and filled his coffee mug again.

"Something other than the sketchbooks that you found? As if that isn't some kind of pathology in and of itself?"

"It's — when did I tell you about the sketchbooks?"

"Last night? When you told me what Frohike said about Robert's not-so-comic proclivities?" That was disturbing, Mulder getting sucked so far into the case that he couldn't keep track of his own communications. "Do you not agree that those sketchbooks are the sign of a profoundly disturbed mind?" I asked.

"Cry for help. How would you or I look if someone read our journals?"

I slammed the coffee mug on the table. "I'm going to take a shower."

Mulder has this amazing ability to get my temper from zero to sixty faster than a Porsche. I should have stopped and pointed out that we needed to talk to Robert as he was our only potentially living source of information. Instead, I stomped off to the bathroom to wash my body as if I could wash it all out of my head as well.

In the bathroom mirror, which needed to be cleaned, I looked like hell. There were dark shadows underneath my eyes, my hair was in rats, and my mouth was red and swollen. Feeling like something death had abandoned as not worth the bother, I rinsed my face with cold water and it didn't improve much. The area between my legs felt like I had been having sex with a pneumatic drill, and it was no one's fault but my own. I ran lukewarm water in the shower and stepped under the anemic flow.

Okay, we weren't going to talk about what had happened the night before. Par for the course: we were sleeping together but not really. I didn't want to talk about it. I didn't want to talk about how I had wanted him to punch me, to crush out the memory of the day before.

The fact was that I had been one molecule away from fucking a man I picked up in a bar. Instead of going through with it I fled back to Mulder for my penance. Sex with Mulder should have made me feel dirty and guilty according to Father McHugh, but I really didn't feel bad about it. The thought of sex with the nice young doctor made me feel filthy and guilty as hell. Funny, my mother would have been so happy if I had brought Dr. Kim home rather than Mulder, she might even have gotten over the fact that he was Asian.

I shampooed my hair and washed all my sore skin.

I'm gonna' wash that man right out of my hair And send him on his way . . .

Dressed in the suit from the day before and a clean shirt that I had stashed at Mulder's apartment for just such an emergency, I sat at the kitchen table where the light was better and put on my make-up. Mulder went into the bathroom for his own shower, and he came out again with his hair in a wet mess around his face.

"What did you do with your hair?"

I reached up and touched the wet strands of my French braid. I didn't have a curling iron or a hairdryer at Mulder's so this was the only convenient way of looking professional under the circumstances. If I kept appliances at his place that would make it official; without supplies, it was just a series of one-night stands. So, whenever I ended up at his place and had to work in the morning, I ended up with a braid. Half the FBI must have figured out that a Scully with her hair in a plait was a Scully who had gotten laid the night before.

"Five years and you never notice my hair and now you say something."

Men.

****

The phone rang. I considered leaving it alone, but hope springs eternal in the breast of Fox Mulder.

"Mulder."

"Ah, I'm trying to reach Samantha Mulder?"

They say rage is red but I saw yellow, molten metal that should have melted the receiver in my hand. "Who are you and what are you trying to prove?"

"Um, my name is Eddie Kim, Dr. Kim, you're the only Mulder in the Metro area and I was hoping you'd know where I could reach Samantha."

"Fuck off," I rejoined and slammed the phone down. Then I decided to go for a run to work off some of the incredible anger that had risen in me like a tsunami in a bad disaster film.

I should have told him that he had the wrong girl, I thought as I laced up. It's Scully who goes for the Eds of the world.

Runner's high is about the best feeling I get in my life, so I pursue it carefully. I don't want to be laid up with shin splints or a bum knee, and I always pace myself.

This time I didn't pace myself. I wasn't even sure where I was going; I passed streets whose names I didn't recognize as I ran into the spring sun. There were too many foreign things in my everyday world for my liking. Ever since this case started.

"Mulder, are you suggesting that there are 'eddies in the space-time continuum' at work?" I knew it wasn't really Scully's voice in my head I heard because Scully couldn't keep up with me without panting.

I ran and apartment buildings turned to stores turned to houses. Eventually the lawns started to increase in size and I was in suburban Virginia in all its glory. I was going to have to find a cab; there was no way I could make it back to my apartment in time to get dressed and make the meeting. With that thought, my legs gave out, and I staggered like a man just cured of paralysis by a faith healer over to a bench that was conveniently waiting to catch me. I could feel the bruises being born as I thudded down.

The traffic sounded a hundred miles away.

Shaking my head like a wet dog to get rid of some of the sweat, I observed my surroundings. I'd run out of energy in a semi-public park, municipally maintained but private in practice because no urban riff-raff would ever come out here. Well-dressed children played on tire swings and super-safe plastic twisty slides, exchanging germs as they sneezed and spit on one another. At least five suspicious pairs of adult eyes watched me, the only male in the vicinity past puberty, with extreme paranoia. I couldn't blame them, but at my level of exhaustion the only thing I might be able to abduct would be a blade of grass, and even then the roots had a good chance of winning the struggle.

I was soaked and dehydrated, and even in the warmish sun I was beginning to shiver now that I was no longer generating enough heat to offset the damp. Suddenly I noticed an exponential increase in the wariness of the women watching me watch the children. I turned my head with only as much difficulty as jacking a car off the ground, and I saw another scary man.

"Robert Rothstein?" I asked as if this kind of thing happened every week, which it pretty much does.

He kept staring at me. My head was buzzing but I think that it was just dizziness from letting my electrolytes get out of whack. He had a two-day growth of beard and looked like a Miami Vice extra in his stylish yet rumpled jogging outfit.

I could remember owning that outfit, taking it out of the dryer and sorting it from the kids' jumpers, and Dana smiling as she swung the baby around and around, giving him his own carnival ride. I was so happy that even the spit-up stain on the suit that never came out was worth it.

The memory snapped and spun away from me like a broken 8-track tape and I blinked at him, even more confused.

"Robert," I said, taking in the weed-whacker brown hair, the eyes that now seemed more hazel than brown as they'd been in the photos, the straight nose and the mole on the left side of his cheek, "I think we need to talk."

The gunshot split the difference between us, embedding itself in the bench with a crack like a spine breaking, and I rolled off and behind for some cover as I cursed my failure to bring a gun. It would have been hell on my back but so would getting shot.

Screams raked through the air like tickertape as the nannies ran for the children or for cover, depending on their loyalties. The shooter's next bullet hit the top of the bench, spraying me with splinters, and then my ears popped as if I was leaving on a jet plane. The women and children were still screaming like slasher film victims but I felt the lack of danger.

Blinking the sweat out of my eyes, I dared a look around the bench. Swings were swinging, empty of children, strollers and Big Wheels abandoned like a parent's nightmare of custody theft. There was a Harlequin, trampled on the ground, ten feet away. The lover's gleaming chest accused me as I searched for Robert.

He was gone.

When I looked I couldn't see the bullet mark on the bench. I couldn't even be sure that he had ever been there.

****

Mulder never showed up at the meeting with Lt. Gregor at the Rothsteins'. Since the Arlington police didn't know me, they had no idea how thin my functional veneer was. I drank half a gallon of burnt coffee and couldn't even work up the energy to be nauseous. The cops treated me with respect and courtesy, even if they wouldn't let me into the house until Lt. Gregor arrived. I'd been treated worse.

By Mulder.

The minute I saw him again, I was going to pull each of his carefully-coiffed hairs out if his head and then spit on his bald and bleeding scalp before I castrated him with slow and painful thoroughness. A girl has to have things to look forward to.

"Has anyone come forward to claim the bodies?" I asked Lieutenant Gregor when she finally appeared.

"No," she said as she accepted the paperwork that officially designated Robert Rothstein as a wanted criminal, "But I'll refer anyone who comes forward to the FBI morgue."

"Why would you do that?" I asked.

"You had the bodies transferred, right? But you still have to fill out the transfer orders."

My mouth opened and closed for a moment.

"The bodies are not at the county coroner's office."

"No, I assumed you had them moved."

I had done no such thing. When I had left Easter Monday, the bodies were nestled all snug in their plastic wrap, waiting for the resurrection. Had Mulder ordered the bodies moved? It was possible, and even more so that he would not tell me. Another black mark on his already besmirched record, personal and professional. Whatever expression I had on my face must have been clearer than a DC street sign and Gregor's pale eyes flicked over me with some element of sisterhood — another woman passed the shit detail by a man.

"Do you have the transfer orders?" I asked and she looked into her file, producing a document that looked authentic enough. The agent's signature at the bottom was nearly unintelligible, and I didn't recognize the handwriting. The first name might have been 'Dana,' but the last could just as easily have been 'Mulder.' Will the real Mrs. Spooky please stand up? I glanced over to where Gregor was giving me the suspect once-over. "We may be encountering some official resistance to the investigation. Sometimes the crimes Agent Mulder and I investigate aren't supposed to be solved."

"Where is Agent Mulder?"

That was the question.

"Agent Mulder is following another lead." Gregor frowned but accepted my answer despite the fact that it stunk enough that even I could sense the odor. If you hate covering for him so much, Dana, why the hell do you do it? If I didn't, what would he need me for?

Gregor and I walked into the house as if we owned it. The furniture was sturdy Ikea knockoffs with round edges to protect the children and large floral print to hide the stains. Toys congregated under the coffee table. Videos lay naked, their cases lost, their labels obscured by childish purple scribbles. It would have been homey if they hadn't all been dead.

So many impertinent insights into a family's private life. Dead people have no rights. We were looking for address books, email or letters that might lead us to Robert's friends, people who would take him in.

"I'll check upstairs, you try the study," I suggested and headed for the staircase, not waiting for a reply.

I checked the bedside tables in the master bedroom, then the dressers and even the closet. The only written material in the room was the latest Dean Koontz, on Robert's side of the bed.

It had to be Robert's side because Dana wouldn't read Dean Koontz.

Now why would I know —

There was a low rumbling sound from beneath my feet and the house shook like it was Baba Yaga's on chicken feet. I fell against the bed, bouncing up as I realized that there had been an explosion.

Lt. Gregor, in the study, with the bomb.

I ran into the hallway, where black smoke was curling up from the stairs like a night train leaving the station. I leapt down, three steps at a time. Through the living room and towards the study, where black gave way to the infinite colors of fire, creeping across the ceiling. The door was open but I couldn't see anything in all the smoke.

This was foolhardy, I acknowledged as I stripped off my jacket and dashed into the kitchen to soak it with water. Breathing through the wet fabric wrapped around my nose and mouth, I crawled into the inferno that had been the study, searching for something alive. There had been cops outside — where the hell were they?

The room was hot as a magnifying glass focused on an ant and I could feel my forehead start to burn. Above me a pall of smoke and burning air filled the room and lines of fire sputtered to both sides of me. Blacker than cancerous lungs, bitter as regret, the air clawed at my face with heavy paws.

Gregor was lying by the desk, collapsed like an old rag, hands and face burnt terribly. She must have triggered the device in her search. I grabbed her by the waist, choking as I overextended myself. Gasping through ruined Donna Karan, I dragged her over to the window — the door was too far and the fire was already running through the house faster than I could — and I struggled with the scorching-hot window sash, fumbling to open the latch and push it up.

With a lurch the sticky window gave way and I smashed my face into the storm window. Fuck! It was spring, couldn't they have dewinterized already? I shook my head, bleeding onto the bubbling white paint.

Groping through the smoke on the bookshelf by the window, I found a small, solid statuette — the Thinker sitting on a toilet, there's no accounting for taste, and I didn't blame Dana for insisting it be hidden in the study.

On my knees, I raised both hands over my head like the ape in 2001 and hurled the statute through the window.

Crash! The smoke poured out as the fresh air was sucked in. The smoke was still in my lungs like hairballs twisting and slicing my innards, but I could see the rough spring light outside. I wrapped the arm of my jacket around my fist and cleared away the jagged window shards that ringed the window like a jack o'lantern's teeth.

Turning back, my shoulder muscles groaning, I bent and gathered Gregor's limp body to me, hoisting her over the window ledge with a grunt that sucked poisoned air into my lungs. I choked and fell back to the floor, Gregor's legs still stuck inside the building like oversized Lincoln Logs.

And then she was moving, pulled from outside. I pushed myself up, leaning through the window and coughing as the firefighters grabbed me. The world whirled and roared around me as the oxygen mask covered my face. I struggled, knowing that my smoke inhalation had been minimal, but they held me down and I stopped, looking back at the House from Another Dimension as it dissolved into flame and foam.

 

Tikkun Olam 6/25

Guildenstern: Syllogism the second: One, probability is a factor which operates within natural forces. Two, probability is not operating as a factor. Three, we are now within un-, sub- or supernatural forces. Discuss. Not too heatedly.

I always keep an emergency twenty in my jogging suit. When I couldn't move my legs further I stopped in front of a 7-11 and bought bad coffee and worse hot dogs. My calves were beginning to spasm, so I also got a Post and sat down to read the Sunday Style Invitational.

When I looked up again I was in a public park.

For a while I thought that my lost time might be a symptom of MPD. The time just disappeared like I was an ATM and someone made a withdrawal. But Dana didn't believe that MPD was a clinical entity and no one had ever seen me exhibit a different personality. At least no one that I knew of.

The sun overhead suggested it was afternoon. Which afternoon? Children were playing and women were looking on. No dads, no singles with dogs. I felt nauseous with hunger. I doubted that it was still Sunday.

Slowly, I got to my feet, sniffing at my arms to see how rank I was. Answer: pretty rank. Nannies and mothers, perhaps smelling me, looked me over in horror, prepared to snatch their vulnerable darlings away from me.

Little did they know.

It wasn't me who killed them, I insisted to the voices in my head. I had no control. I should go to the police and give myself up, get help.

I couldn't explain the deaths. Deaths, multiple — whoever said that after the first death there is no other never lost a child, I thought, and felt the tears leak down my face like condensation in the muggy air. If the deaths came from the same broken place in me as the missing time, then why did I remember it? And what had I done during my earlier blank periods? Waking up with no gas in the car and scratches on my legs. Waking up in the basement with another book of drawings or a new storyboard. Waking up a prune in a shower long gone ice cold.

What had I been doing before I killed everyone I loved?

I stumbled towards a bench, but then the bench wasn't empty anymore as I approached. Flickering like a bad television image, the man turned to me. His eyes widened in shock. He looked like I always wanted to when I was growing up–tall, well-muscled, sleek like an otter. His expensively messy haircut framed his tired face.

If he'd had a suit and a badge he would have been Rex.

"Robert Rothstein?" my fictional creation asked.

I just stared.

"We need to talk," he said and disappeared as if he'd been flicked off. There was a loud noise in the distance and I whipped my head around, seeking the source, but there was nothing.

Tripping over my own feet, I reached the empty bench and fell onto it.

I want my life back, I thought.

The sun smiled down on me.

****

It had felt like such a long day that I was shocked that the sun was still high in the sky, and the day was only going to stretch asymptotically into infinity when I talked to Mulder. I know my duty, though, and I sat down on the coffee table, pushing junk mail out of the way to clear myself some space, so that I could look down at Mulder's head. He was lying like a Roman potentate splayed across his couch. Only Roman potentates were fat and happy and Mulder was neither.

"Where the fuck where you?"

I liked watching his eyes close shut between me and his thoughts. It showed that I mattered, somehow.

"I saw Robert. I went for a run and I saw Robert."

I clenched the side of the coffee table. "What happened?"

Mulder turned his head to show his distressed profile. "I tried to talk to him and he disappeared. Somebody shot at us." Mulder's not stable, I know this, but hallucinations were above and beyond the call of Spooky. I reached out, like a member of the bomb squad trying not to set off a proximity grenade, and put a hand on his knee as I suppressed a hacking cough.

I needed him participating in consensus reality for a while. "Did you have the bodies moved from the county morgue?"

He opened his eyes and focused on me, confused. "Why would I do that?"

"If you didn't, someone else did. The bodies are gone. Lieutenant Gregor was under the impression that I had them moved. Is there any reason why she would think that?"

"I didn't do anything, it must be someone in the government who wants this kept quiet … She?"

"Shit, Mulder, your powers of observation are shot to hell." He hadn't noticed my post-fire suit change, but usually he could be counted on to notice nubile women.

He blinked at me a few times and collapsed a little further into the sofa. I noticed that he had more of Robert's sketchbooks piled around him like porn mags. And they were pornographic, serial killer porn with enough rape and torture to get Jeffrey Dahmer, Ed Gein, and Ted Bundy through a serious circle jerk. And Mulder. Let's not forget that little factoid.

"What's so important about those notebooks?"

He shrugged into tired leather. "The notebooks are a pipeline into his mind. What happened to make him the way he is. If there is alien involvement, it could explain the otherwise inexplicable events surrounding that very solid nonexistent house and the connection to you."

That's right, I still hadn't told him about his own fingerprints scattered like breadcrumbs over the house. He didn't really need to know that until all his processors were cycling properly again.

"So you think, what, that the psychic energy released by the slaying of his pregnant wife and three children allowed Robert to cross the space-time barrier just to complicate our lives?"

Blinking, he looked at me as though he were a cat and I was holding out an orange.

"What have you been doing?" he asked in a weak, scratchy voice.

"*I* went to the meeting with the Arlington Police. We were going to search the house again but an incendiary device ripped through the first floor, destroying most of the contents before the fire was put out. Gregor is in stable condition at the hospital and she will probably regain most of the use of her hands."

"Were you –" he sat up and reached for me, so I leaned back.

"I'm fine, Mulder. I checked various aspects of Robert's story. I spoke with social services agencies throughout New Jersey, and I even tracked down most of the caseworkers who were there in the period from 1973 to 1975. They have no record of an amnesiac boy of about thirteen years appearing during that time. Also, there's no record of a nine or ten year old girl appearing under similar circumstances."

"What are you saying?" He was already distracted from the topic of the fire. Mulder's enthusiasms are many and his ability to give me his undivided attention is, at best, limited.

I suppose I was really saying 'I'm sorry.' "Whatever … whatever you may believe happened to Robert … the parallels aren't exact." Or maybe the same thing had happened to Samantha in our reality and she'd been discovered walking down that highway by the unfriendly neighborhood pedophile, but I could hardly say that.

Mulder surged off of the couch and wrapped his arms around my waist. I could feel his sobs shudder through his body as he pressed his face into my lap. I rubbed his shoulders, feeling helpless and out of sorts. I am not so devoid of self-knowledge as to fail to understand that I require a certain, not weakness, exactly, but need from Mulder. It is important to me that he is flexible and I am unbending. Still, I'm uncomfortable with the emotions that flow from him like foam from an over-boiling saucepan. I think Jack was trying to flatter me when he said "You're such a boy," and in a way it's true. Of course in retrospect the homoeroticism implicit in that statement sheds some light on his overidentification with Warren Dupre. But, as I was saying, excessive emotion is a lot like unpleasant body odor to me, which I imagine was why I was thinking of Jack instead of Mulder who was present in my arms and rapidly dampening my blue suit.

When he started pulling at my clothes, I knew who I was dealing with. And thank God for that, might I add. Jack, though a great instructor, was a lousy lay.

He was clumsy with the buttons on my jacket but once he'd freed me of the burden of my formal attire he was as gentle as a butterfly collector, his fingers skittering against my skin as if he were afraid to bruise me. A good thing too as I would have dissolved into swirls of smoky coughs otherwise.

Underneath the tight grayness of his t-shirt, his muscles moved like animals, hard and hot under my touch. He still smelled like his run, like sweat, and his shirt was sticky with half-dried perspiration. Under my face, his jaw was rough with stubble, hands shaking when they moved over my breasts, up my neck and into my hair.

"Your hair is different," he whispered and his fingers worked into the French twist that was rapidly sliding into an untidy mess onto my shoulders. I ran my hand down the hot slope of his neck, in the soft place below the razored line of his haircut, the vulnerable vertebrae standing out like jewels in the golden setting of his skin.

His nose pressed between my breasts and his arms circled my waist, Robert's notebooks sliding to the floor between our feet. With his face pressed into my tired skin, I could feel the after-five shadow of his beard brush like a cat's tongue. I smelled his shampoo and his hair so soft underneath my face while he buried his face deeper into my chest as though he were trying to crawl inside me. Hands roved over my ass, squeezing almost to the point of pain.

The tenderness and the need burned off like morning fog and he was ripping at my blouse, as clumsy as a chimpanzee undressing a doll. I could see the light of the sunset shimmer on his teeth. Underneath him, pressed into the coffee table with his legs prying mine open and the center seam of my skirt screaming in protest, I caught my breath and let the firewall down. He fought my pantyhose off as though they were evil and the hard, dead skin of his cuticles scraped down my stinging legs. While his pelvis smashed me into the oak veneer, he wrapped his fingers in my hair and pulled my head sideways, hurting me, but I moaned when his teeth sliced into my neck, his free hand crushing my breast between us.

So good to scour, burn, break away, break free, obliterate, and destroy.

The cotton of his shirt was tight over the cable muscles of his back and hissed when my nails scratched down the soft fabric. My blouse wadded up under my arms and my bra was hanging loose as a forgotten Post It while he suckled and bit at my nipples. The pain was so good and so clean that I arched my back against the table and whined for more. Fingers, hard and dry, circumvented my panties, and a sharp pinch to my clit made me squeal before he pressed his twined fingers up and into me. I shut my eyes and watched the blood flow through my eyelids while he drew his fingers in and out, pressing hard on all the right places and making me shudder while the inner springs of my nervous system wound tighter and tighter. His thumb ground down against my clit and I jerked upright with the silver razor shock that raced through me, our foreheads smacked together and I saw stars even as I was coming.

He didn't bother to remove my skirt or his sweatpants, just pushed up and shoved into me with the force I'd wanted the night before. God, all I wanted was ten minutes outside my head . . . More notebooks rained onto the floor. I gripped the sides of the table, feeling him fill me, stretching and pressing. Sawing in and out, fine tuned machine, autobahn, gears moving, shifting, fuel injected, pistons, chambers firing, well-oiled, smooth, hot, breaking a sweat again over his shoulders, at the hairline. Each rib, each tendon, sinew, muscle, bone in wrapped steel wire harmony, in and out and his breath in my ear, hot, catching, hitched passion need and —

And the world came down around me, gray dustclouds of orgasm sucking the air from my lungs and shaking my foundations apart. His fingers cut through the flesh at my hips, pulled me back as the slapping of his flesh into mine reached his breaking point. He came with a surprised noise and shuddered to a halt inside me, vapor-locked.

We lay, gasping, on the creaking coffee table for several minutes, until he pulled me up and we staggered like friendly drunks into his bedroom and collapsed into the bed in roughly the same position we'd been in on the table.

I could feel the words trying to escape his chest but for some reason he caught them and just pulled me closer. I let him hold me, though my lungs ached. Soon enough he'd drift off and then I could get going.

****

Surprise of surprises, I woke up alone. Scully had vanished. She claimed that she couldn't sleep with me, and I wondered what exactly what she meant by that. I pulled myself out of bed, slouched into the living room, and tripped over the sofa. For some reason, Scully must have seen fit to rearrange the furniture, which I didn't understand in the least. But my desk was against the wall where the sofa was supposed to be and the sofa had its back to the windows where the desk should have been. All my scattered books had been put away and there were plants strewn about the place. Plants? I never had plants before. I could have killed paintings of plants. My apartment was a concentration camp for plants. Bringing a plant into my apartment was the equivalent of a boxcar pulling up to the village in the middle of the night. Plants howled in agony when they saw me come into a store, and even cut flowers were nervous, yelling "Dead Plant Walking" to their compatriots I carried out the door.

My fish tank was gone.

Naked, I sat on the sofa.

Had I gone through some kind of a fugue state?

The clock on the VCR indicated that it was barely after ten, so even taking into account that I had fallen asleep after Scully had left, there really wasn't enough time for less than an army of aliens to come into my apartment and rearrange all my furniture. Aliens may be wily in the extreme, but furniture-moving wasn't their usual MO.

Maybe something had happened and I didn't remember. Ever since I'd let Dr. Goldstein frappe my brain, I'd been plagued with tiny glitches in memory. I'd forget conversations with Scully, forget where I left my car keys, which was all easy enough to write off to preoccupation or incipient senility. But this furniture-moving was different. That, coupled with the murders of the Rothstein family and Robert doing his disappearing act in the park. Or had I talked to Robert and forgotten it?

Was I suffering from artificially-induced amnesia? And how would I find out if I couldn't remember forgetting?

Okay, corpses that suddenly appeared and as suddenly departed, a killer, comic books with my cartoonish career history, Scully's hairdo, a sudden sex change in a Arlington detective, and the names changed on street signs in Alexandria, all that I could take. But my furniture had been moved, my apartment had been raped. The lines of dust were thick on the floor. The squares of un-faded paint on the walls indicated that the prints had been there for an extended period of time. Unless the set dressers had been up to their old tricks, it wasn't my apartment. It was something like what another Fox Mulder would have done with his apartment, in a world where Scully had hair down past her shoulders and wore pink pearl nail polish. Another Mulder in another universe.

It was time to stop the unaided speculation and get some help speculating.

All I need is a fast connection and a good search engine to steer her by. Once I got past all the New Age crap about regressing to your moment of birth (thank you, no; once was enough), I started finding websites with academic addresses. There was no small amount of research being done in various thoroughbred universities in the US and Canada.

According to a physicist at Lawrence Livermore, au courant parallel universe theory suggested that, if some "large discontinuous event" occurred that brought material manifestations of a parallel reality into this zip code, the incursion was unlikely to knit itself back up. God may not play dice with the universes, but He's no seamstress either. Theory suggested that the people closest to the event would experience "reality disruptions" which sounded cool, like ripples in a pond, but was disconcerting in practice. What made the Fox Mulder next door so different that he would rearrange his furniture?

So, it was possible that I remembered things being different because in the world I was used to, they were. The physicist speculated that consciousness might be able to go perpendicular to the boundaries of reality more easily than matter could. Possibly, she theorized, when breaches in the watertight compartments in God's ageless and eternal mind occurred, spirit could be freed to travel like tourists doing the two-week, ten-city European tour.

When the Rothsteins' house had appeared out of elsewhere, it hadn't crushed any wicked witches but the damage was more serious than that. Basically, I needed a pair of ruby slippers to take me home. Then Robert and his slaughtered Scully would disappear.

Or they'd just decompose in a reality hermetically sealed from mine. Maybe the best I could do was find a universe, among the infinite alternatives, in which I was happy, and leave all the other Mulders to rot in their various and several hells. If the physicist's theories were true they were all doomed to suffer anyway because every possible outcome of every possible act existed, somewhere, so what was wrong with trying to come out on top?

I paged through the sites between cans of Diet Coke. I could have really used Scully to help me with this. Of all her stellar qualities one of the non-physical attributes I adore is the way she's able to pull amazing knowledge out of her beautiful little skull.

I clicked on the final link from my search and landed on a website that had Proust wallpaper but otherwise looked serious. It was about digging memories out of unwilling brain tissue with drug and electrical therapies. There were references to the 1964 Cronin-Finch experiments which proved that time isn't perfectly symmetrical, that electrically charged particles could travel backwards in time but not in a mirror image of how they traveled forwards. The theory was that a combination of software and hard drugs could enable the human mind to do the same and thereby explore alternative histories. One of the few things that I could understand was a name and address on one of the web pages. A name and address at the University of Virginia in Richmond.

Sun was slanting through my now-clean windows when I unshipped my cell phone and dialed the airport to book a seat on the first puddle-jumper to Richmond.

 

Tikkun Olam 7/25

Guildenstern: I've lost all capacity for disbelief. I'm not sure that I could even rise to a little gentle skepticism.

 

"Dr. Strauss?" I poked my head around the doorframe of the lab and looked around.

An unremarkable science lab with computers on every lab table. There didn't seem to be much in the way of people around other than a young woman at the far lab table with a pair of headphones on, drinking orange juice straight from the carton, working at a terminal and bobbing her head to music I couldn't hear. Carefully, I walked over to her and positioned myself with the monitor between the two of us.

"DR. STRAUSS?" I half-bellowed in the voice that I usually reserve for the elderly.

She jumped, pulling the headphones off a cap of short black hair and blinking in shock at me like a surprised cat.

"You scared the shit out of me!" she scolded and threw the headphones on the tabletop, "what do you want?"

I produced my ID.

"Special Agent Mulder, FBI, I want to ask you a few questions about the research you've been doing on the physiological aspects of memory and trans-dimensional events."

"FBI, right? Not FDA?" she asked in a curt tone.

"I'm not interested in the RDA of the vitamin C in your orange juice."

Glancing over at the carton, Dr. Strauss smiled and shrugged her shoulders, "Okay, what can I do to help Los Federales?"

I had really made out well here. Dr. Lexine Strauss was one of the latest generation of scientists, the ones who had grown up on MTV and Star Trek. Taller than Scully, she could just about look me in the eye when she finally stood, and she did look me in the eye as though I were something of interest that had been coughed up by one of the homeless. She was wearing a lot of black, black workboots and black eyeliner. A silver hoop glittered in her nose. Not the geek that her published papers would have indicated.

"I found your latest publication on the University's psychology department website — the hypothesis that by re-activating memory cells one could actually catapult the test subject into the past. Not re-living the memory, but experiencing it for the first time — travelling in time," I smiled and leaned a little closer to her, until I could feel the heat from her body, could smell her sharp perfume.

In return, I got a dry little smile from burgundy painted lips.

"I've created a valid method for uncovering hidden or repressed memories," she said. "Without all the bullshit hypnosis and the subjective influences you get on the Jerry Springer show."

Set phasers on charm, Mr. Sulu.

"I spoke with Dr. Goldstein before he lost his license and went to jail."

"Pump someone with enough Vitamin K and ask them how they enjoyed their lunch with Elvis and they'll describe the entire menu," she snorted and ran a hand through her inky spiked hair. "The media has been saturated with alien abduction stories for decades. There's no way of proving that the subjects weren't just parroting something they saw on Sightings. Especially subjects with a confabulatory nature and cable."

"They could just be parroting their innermost fantasies, then?" I asked, "Like they wanted to be sexually assaulted by aliens."

She smirked.

"If they're sick fucks, yeah. The difference is that I deal with the physical traits of memory, the archaeological dig of the human mind, with a combination of electric stimuli and lipid treatment."

"Lipids?"

"Phosphatidylserine, actually," she leaned over the keyboard and let me have a good, long look at the black bra she wore under her tight maroon polyester shirt, "Phosphatidylserine is a phospholipid and a rare constituent of lecithin that facilitates the functioning of brain cell membranes. Membranes are the cells' major work surfaces and nerve cells especially depend on membranes to carry out their specialized functions. Phosphatidylserine helps activate and regulate many of the proteins which play key roles in these membrane processes."

Turning, I looked at the screen, moving my head so I was looking over her shoulder, barely grazing the side of her cheek and she leaned a little closer to me so her hip brushed mine. A decided sexual thrill started creeping up my spine towards my brain. It had been months since I had thought about a woman other than Scully and now it was hitting me like a double-shot of whiskey after months of tee-totaling. She had great breasts, full, round and succulent as fresh peaches. It wouldn't have taken much for me to bend Dr. Strauss over her lab table and ram myself home into her like the uncivilized creature that I am.

I wondered what the difference in her taste would be, sharper, sweeter, smokier, or saltier.

"Cell membrane support from phosphatidylserine translates into support from the nerve cell as a whole. In turn, support for individual nerve cells translates into support for the brain as a whole and facilitates memory-events. Like memory lubricant."

She looked sideways at me to see if it was sinking in, sleek as a Siamese. Her fingernails were long and dangerous on the keyboard as she tapped at the keys.

"EEG tests indicate Phosphatidylserine globally enhances brain performance. The Phosphatidylserine subjects not only showed significantly greater brain activation, but performed better on the memory tests. This coupled with select stimulation of brain areas increases cognitive recall. Recall enough memory-events and you are essentially living in that moment again."

My brain wasn't processing the technobabble nearly as well as my dick. "Memory events where the subject re-experiences the memories as if for the first time? Like the first time you ever made love?"

"Changing the time line. Theoretically." She smiled and I could hear her breathing quicken, "Essentially traveling through time driven by their own memory. Memory-gate theory states that events become memory-events as impulses travel through the sensory dendrites going from the spinal cord to the brain. As the memory-event becomes memory, it may be altered or modified pre-synaptically at any point along the transmission route from the spinal cord to the cerebral cortex." She illustrated the spot by lightly tapping the base of my skull and my cock stirred to life in my trousers. "The lipid therapy is combined with electrical stimuli to the brain via small electrodes placed on the scalp emitting a low-intensity signal. This stimulation is characterized by a quick onset of memory-event recall, but has only a short carryover, anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours."

She realized I was barely listening and shot me a wicked smile.

"Or you could drill holes in your head and score some heavy hallucinogens."

Been there, done that, ruined the T-shirt.

"I have to give a lecture in ten minutes so why don't you tell me what you really want to know?"

Top or bottom, Dr. Strauss?

"I need to know what I can do to be a test subject."

"I'd love to experiment on you," she said with something more blatant than double-entendre, "But I'm not conducting clinical trials right now, that part of the research isn't in the budget. But –" she scribbled a number on a sticky note, "if you need to talk about it, or anything — this is my home number and address. Call me."

I walked around the campus for awhile, thinking of Poe and his drinking until the local bar opened and I followed in the footsteps of the master.

The thought that was circling my mind like a great white off the beaches of Nantucket was frightening in its simplicity. What if Dana Rothstein was Dana Scully and Robert Rothstein was Fox Mulder, only a Fox Mulder who had been abducted rather than sister Samantha. See, if I had been starved and tortured during the crucial growth spurt years rather than fed and ignored by my parents, I might be five foot seven with Robert's thin frightened face too. I might have lost all consciously accessible memory of the unspeakable things that had been done to me and I might only have been able to draw pictures to stop the hazy dream-recollections from burning holes through my brain.

I'll never be able to forget the look on my mother's face the night that I had asked her if Dad had made her choose between Samantha and myself. Was Robert what Samantha had become? Had she been the unwilling participant in the experiments that I had seen enacted on the pages of Robert's sketchbooks? I imagined that Robert had recorded the tortures initially designed for me which Dad had forestalled by offering Samantha up instead.

Let's not forget the question which was lingering somewhere around my crotch–was this what had been done to Scully? Had she been machine-raped as well?

So, in a parallel universe, I had been abducted instead of Samantha, had grown up and become a comic book artist, married Scully and produced three lovely children who I then killed along with my parallel wife.

Then I/Robert showed up here, wherever here was, and things really started going to shit. Robert and his consanguineous corpses had crossed the barrier between his universe and mine, skewing the neat parallels until they crashed into one another like Amtrak trains. The question was whether Dr. Strauss's memory-gate therapy could fix what had gone wrong, by returning us to the point of divergence.

It was almost enough to send me running for the antipsychotic meds in my medicine cabinet. Of course they were probably past their shelf date anyway and would be about as useful as drinking Drano. I didn't need to be a doctor to know that.

It was raining when I went back to the lab. The weather was conspiring to make me even more miserable than I usually would have been under the same circumstances. The new green leaves fluttered underneath the cold rain and students huddled in raincoats and wet sweatshirts hurried from one building to another, sneezing and coughing. I had forgotten to bring my trenchcoat and I was cold and wet by the time that Dr. Strauss emerged from her lab building. Her short skirt — shit, I remembered pants, didn't I? — was quickly soaked from splashing through puddles with her sturdy boots. The umbrella that was keeping her head dry was patterned with rain forest frogs. I kept an eye on the frogs and followed her off campus. Feeling like any number of the predators that I had profiled, I stalked her through Richmond. I trailed her to a turn of the century house on a pleasant residential street. There was an old Dodge Dart in the driveway and roses were looking spiky in the front garden. Like most women, she made the mistake of taking too long to get her keys out of her handbag and I caught her arm before she got the key in the lock.

"You have to help me," I said.

Her eyes were enormous with surprise with the black lines around them. The alcohol must have skewed my normally attractive intensity too far towards the insane. Or maybe I just didn't look as good in the dark and the rain as I did in the pristine lab.

"I need your help," I added, trying to look earnest but with my infamously uncommunicative visage that wasn't an easy task.

It took her a few moments to come to a conclusion; intellectual curiosity battled natural suspicion. I love watching women think. They have the most elegant ballet of thoughts in their eyes. She made a decision and her lips quirked in a crooked smile.

"Want another drink?"

Of course.

"What the fuck is going on?" she asked with that uncanny way women have of pinpointing emotional distress as I followed her through the first floor of the house.

While she poured Cuervo Gold into jelly glasses, I told her about Robert, the dead bodies, the sketchbooks, and a brief rundown of the changes that I had experienced in my day to day life.

"So you think you're experiencing time slippage?" she asked.

"The other possibility is that I'm going insane. Given the choice between the two, I'll take the slippage."

The rain was still falling outside while I sat in her quiet living room, on her hard couch, while her ginger cat romanced my ankles. She had cement block bookcases, rummage-sale furniture and knick-knacks from the fifties. Your typical teaching assistant dÈcor. For the first time in days I felt like I wasn't breathing through cement.

Dr. Strauss sniffled and rummaged for a tissue box. I could see tumblers clicking over behind her eyes as she tried to decide what to tell me. "There were experiments in the memory-gate theories done in Oxford during the Second World War. The general plan was to go back in time and prevent the rise of Hitler, but the technology wasn't available at the time and there were some very serious ethical questions raised. I was able to obtain access to the data from those experiments, such as they were. I used that data to begin my research with new technology and an understanding that the prime goal was personal history, rather than historical events."

"Someone has been fucking with my personal time line."

She shrugged.

"A butterfly flaps its wings in Brazil and who knows what shit happens in China."

My throat was closing around the tequila even as it burnt through to my stomach.

"You realize that anyone finds out about this and I could lose my teaching job, my grant money, everything? You're asking me to put my whole fucking future on your halfassed theory?"

"I want my life back," I rasped.

The cat chased his tail under the coffee table and my eyes burned.

"Shit," she groaned and rubbed at her eyes, "I must be as fucking nuts as you are. I'll do it."

Fifteen minutes later I was in her bed.

There was a black Kit-Kat clock ticking on the far wall and I wasn't surprised that she had a cast-iron bedstead and framed Peter Max prints on the other walls. The room smelled like incense and warm woman, discarded clothes in various shades of darkness littered most flat surfaces. She opened up a steel attachÈ case and pulled out a scarred laptop which looked like it had gone through various unaesthetic upgrades.

"You didn't just talk to Goldstein, did you?"

Damned scar tissue.

"You know this makes you an inappropriate subject." She stopped attaching the cold gel-smeared patches with their wires trailing to her Frankenstein's laptop, "you're drunk and you've already been through Goldstein's therapy."

The bed was soft as a dream and the cat was lying on my calves.

"If your theory is correct I'm the most appropriate subject you could have. I've undergone hypnosis many times before the ketamine treatment and there are other incidents in my past that cast doubt on my consciously retrievable memories. If you can help me re-experience the actual memory you'll demonstrate that your method is impervious to confabulation."

She chewed her lower lip, wavering, and what a lovely lower lip it was as well.

"At worst you can throw out the data if you conclude they're unreliable." I could detect the not-so-subtle signs of sexual interest in the human female: color high, eyes dilated and bright, breathing faster than a standard sedentary rate. As a woman, she was statistically unlikely to molest me while I was under (which was kind of a bummer), so this could only work to my advantage. I took a deep breath, glanced shyly at her and then away, and said, in a low voice calculated to draw her closer to me, "I can't live in this flux state, where I don't know what's going to change next." I reached out and took her hand by the wrist. "Please help me."

Dr. Strauss leaned closer in, her maroon lips parted, eyes dark.

I unbuttoned the cuff of my shirt, and rolled it up past my elbow, symbolic surrender.

Shaking her head to clear it I supposed, Dr. Strauss ran her fingers down the inside of my arm and the skin tingled in the wake of her fingers.

"You have good veins," she commented. I didn't let her know how often I'd heard that from medical personnel. For some reason they think this counts as a compliment. Instead, I blinked up at her with my standard soulful expression. Smart women in particular, I've found, enjoy thinking that they've successfully hidden their interest as professionalism.

She frowned and grabbed a cotton ball, sloppily soaking it with disinfectant before she swabbed my arm, like the executioner does before the convict receives the lethal injection. The cool alcohol tightened my skin and sent a shock of adrenaline through my body as I realized what I was about to do. "This is going to sting a little," Dr. Strauss mumbled as she uncapped the needle and squirted to rid it of air bubbles.

Actually, it stung a lot, like cheap whiskey.

She began to lecture again. "Subjects report that the electronic signals can be disconcerting as the drugs begin to take effect. In order to capitalize on the biofeedback mechanism, you must concentrate on the memory to which you will return. Remember, you must observe, not attempt to interfere. If you attempt to alter the course of your memories, there is no evidence that you could succeed, and even if you did there would be no way to know once you returned." The silky hum of her voice was drawing me down like rainwater running into the gutter, towards the sea.

"Theoretically, if enough of the lipid builds up in your brain tissue, you could regress without the light stimulus. Hence the importance of keeping the lipid levels in your brain low. You wouldn't want a flashback at an inconvenient time, now would you?"

As I drowned in hopeful thoughts, something in Dr. Strauss's lecture struck me. How would I know if it worked? How would I even know what I was looking for? I needed a control situation, I needed to revisit a bad decision in my past to see if I could fix it. Phoebe was a possibility, but that had lasted so long there was no crucial twenty-minute period I could use. In my drug-addled thoughts only one thing seemed reasonable: I should change things with Scully. The swirling patterns on her laptop screen pulsed outwards, into the dingy air of the bedroom, drawn towards my brain by my drug-addled desires. Scully, I thought and dived into the dead pools of my mind.

Tikkun Olam 8/25

Guildenstern: A third witness, you understand, adds no further dimension but only spreads it thinner, and a fourth thinner still, and the more witnesses there are the thinner it gets and the more reasonable it becomes until it is as thin as reality, the name we give to the common experience . . . .

When I opened my eyes again I was in Oregon, pulling the car into the lot at our motel.

I managed to park without killing us, even though I wanted to ignore everything but the bright young innocent beside me.

She was adorable — nefarious planning to the side, I just wanted to eat her up, this cute little naÔf with her easy smile and coed ponytail. I wanted to put her in my pocket and take her back with me, a kitten who hadn't yet learned about her claws. She was still seething from the sheriff's power play and troubled by the missing time, but I'd had a few years to get over it. I think she took my relaxed mood as further evidence of my insanity and she stomped off to her room.

When the knock finally came on my door, I was shocked to discover that I was shaking as hard as Scully would be. She came in and told me she needed me to look at something. Given the circumstances, I was appalled that my younger self hadn't managed a dirty joke at the time.

Still, I played the script out. She was terrified, and if I made a move now she probably wouldn't even notice, she was so focused on finding out what the marks on her back were. I watched as the red terry cloth robe dropped like the executioner's guillotine and her tiny round body revealed itself. Transfixed, I slid my fingers over the gossamer skin at the small of her back, then a few dangerous centimeters downwards, past the waistband of her sensible little panties covering that truly remarkable ass.

Moments later she was shrugging the robe back on and throwing herself into my arms. After knowing her for all these years, it was even weirder than it had been the first time, as Scully is not known for private displays of affection.

I found myself staring at the ends of her hair as they brushed against her shoulders. It was wavy, uncontrolled. In a few months she'd decide it was unprofessional. I missed the extra length, though I'd never had the opportunity to run my hands through it until the world started to swing sideways. I missed the baby fat that had insulated her from some of the world's awfulness. To have it back was a gift beyond measure.

She pulled back, suddenly as self-conscious as a teenager taking her first post-gym-class shower. I didn't hear her words but she practically teleported into the chair by the door, the rigid, one-person-only chair that she thought could protect her from the vulnerability she'd just displayed.

If I had her now, she could be driven away with ease. They might try again with another spy but I'd know better next time and, if my past life regressions had any meaning at all, no one else would be able to gain my trust. I hadn't wanted her, yet, the first time she dropped her robe for me, but now I was hardening and I wanted to begin my intervention into my fucked-up timeline. There is a special providence in the fall of a sparrow, I thought. If it be not now, yet it will come.

I'd rather come sooner than later. Moving closer, I knelt so that we were at eye level with one another. "What's the matter, Dana?" It was early enough in the relationship that she didn't seem surprised that I'd slip into using her Christian name.

She laughed, nervously but without shame. "I suppose I must have convinced myself that … well, that those marks bore some relationship to the marks on the victims."

Yeah, quite a laff riot to imagine that you might be the victim of unspeakable experimentation, Scully. This was a woman still inviolate, upright as an unplucked daffodil, incapable of imagining her own vulnerability. I resented and hated her innocence even as I desperately wanted it to last forever.

I put my hands on the arms of the chair, boxing her in. "Are you sure you're all right? Would you like me to take another look?" The tone of my voice was unmistakable and she looked up, surprised. Her eyes were still dilated with fear and I could feel the raggedness of her breath on my lips.

"I … I don't think –"

"Good," I said and kissed her. Her mouth was still open because she'd been planning to blather on and my tongue swept in with the firmness she liked. I was kissing Scully again, for the first time. Wasting no time, I put one hand on her terry-covered breast and began to push away the heavy fabric, seeking her nuclear heat.

I had the advantage of surprise and she didn't react for what seemed like ages, long enough for me to complete a preliminary survey of her mouth and bring my other hand to her hot little thoroughbred thigh, soft and a little damp against my fingertips.

And then I was flat on my ass, just in time to avoid what would undoubtedly have been a really solid knee in the balls, because Scully'd had the generosity to push me over before she went ahead and unmanned me. If I'd resisted I'd have been screaming soprano.

Scully's tiny naked feet were between my legs and I didn't think that was wise, so I scuttled back and stood up. I needed some height to have a chance of intimidating her. I could play it this way; it would be less pleasant but ultimately the goal would be obtained.

She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and looked at me with the clinical gaze she'd used on the orangutan earlier that day/five years ago. "Have you ever heard the words 'sexual harassment policy,' Agent Mulder?"

Well, yes, but I'd already considered that. In 1992 the Bureau was even tougher on little girls than it is now, or would be then, or whatever the appropriate tense is. "Come on, Agent Scully, you show up in my room in the middle of the night in your underwear, what do you expect a normal heterosexual male to do about it? And correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't you fuck your instructor — Jack Willis, right? That's not very feminist of you, is it? Go ahead, report me, and see which one of us walks away with a reprimand. I may be Spooky, but I've still got a dick and that counts for an awful lot in J. Edgar's outfit."

She flushed. She still hadn't learned to control her emotions as well as she would, which was a plus with the laughter but an awful disadvantage for trying to deal with sneaky ol' me.

The dark snake in my head (not to mention the one in my pants) wondered if I could conjure up the Dana Scully who smoked cigarettes and fucked Ed Jerse. She found strong emotions like anger and lust hard to distinguish, I knew, and it would be a pity not to take advantage of that at least once before she left my life.

I leaned in closer and I could smell her, shower-fresh. "Your agenda, whatever it is, is of no interest to me right now. What I would like to know is what your face looks like when you come."

In the flickering light of the candle, her mouth opened and then shut again, taking on the grim straightness early. She stood up and tightened the belt of the bathrobe around her waist, no doubt unaware that all she did was outline the curves of her still-luscious figure.

"What you will know is what my back looks like when I go."

And she did, the door giving a repressive little click behind her.

Well, what the hell am I supposed to do now, I thought and the world dissolved around me. I fell like the poor schmuck in Vertigo, swirling in a Technicolor nightmare of LSD fever dreams.

Blinking, I swam my way up to full consciousness and it was all different. Dr. Strauss had disappeared. Instead, hovering over me like an unmarked helicopter, Dr. Heitz Werber looked as spooked as I was.

I looked around the new, improved room. It looked like an expensive hotel room, with the remnants of an enormous room service order on the desk below the picture window. The blinds were drawn (can't have snipers dropping in, a familiar smoke-thickened voice whispered in my head) but it was day.

On the other bed, Robert Rothstein was splayed like a carelessly thrown stuffed animal. His breathing was rapid and shallow. His hands were cuffed behind his back. There was a bruise stretching across his cheekbone up to his temple, about the size of my open hand.

"Where's Scully?"

"Excuse me?" Werber asked, rocking back on his heels. "Mr. Mulder, your employers pay me very well, but I seriously doubt they would approve of this little frolic and detour."

Right, no Scully. That's what I'd wanted, and apparently I had it. I scanned the room again and saw my laptop plugged into the fancy businessman's workstation on the desk. I rose, feeling like my blood hadn't circulated for weeks, and staggered over to the laptop. A few clicks and the mating call of data, and I was into the Bureau's database.

This me had his password stored on his computer, which was strange but no stranger than my own swiss-cheese brain.

It took a few seconds to bring up the personnel records. Dana Katherine Scully died late July 1993 when a man, later identified as Eugene Victor Tooms, entered her apartment and killed her, subsequently extracting her liver.

Tooms?

TOOMS?

Compared to all the dangers we'd faced together, all the split-second escapes and dicey moments, Tooms was a kindergarten bully. You could have asked me to list our hundred most dangerous cases and Tooms would not have made the list.

But of course we hadn't had a hundred cases together. I had alienated her, no pun intended, and we didn't trust one another enough and so she —

I lurched like Frankenstein's monster into the bathroom and relieved myself of the burden of my last meal. What spewed from my mouth was nothing I remembered eating, something greasy and unhealthy that Scully would undoubtedly hate. When I'd washed my mouth out from the sink I examined my face in the gold-framed mirror. I looked much less concerned than I remembered. Driven by the unbearable compulsion to pull the scab off of reality and see the bloody truth, I began to unbutton my dress shirt. God, the suit was expensive, close to five figures probably, even with Mom's money I couldn't afford to dress this well although most people probably couldn't tell the difference.

Underneath the suit I had a smooth, symmetrical chest, unmarred like my face. She'd never lived long enough to shoot me.

I tried to remember Scully's cancer face and there was nothing, only the freshness of the Jodie Foster lookalike straight from Quantico with her really bad suit.

The employers to whom Werber had referred did not take direction from Janet Reno.

Shirt flapping like Clark Kent racing to become Superman, I bolted back into the main room. "Put me under," I ordered. "I have to go back again."

Werber pursed his lips and shook his head. "Mr. Mulder, the drugs are dangerous and the technique here only partially understood –"

"Do you know what happened to the last little man who told me 'no'?" I didn't either, but it seemed that Werber was an inventive sort, because he swallowed and headed for his medical bag.

I didn't know if I could go back to the same place twice–make that three times, I guess. But I had an unparalleled incentive. I laid back on the bed and held my arm out, the tune from 'Back in the Saddle Again' echoing in the hollow places in my brain.

The laptop hummed its electronic siren song, massaging my brainwaves into the digital rhythm. Imagining the drugs swirling in my bloodstream, I waited for the psychic elevator to drop to the ground floor and take me back to where it had all gone wrong.

****

My wrists hurt. That was the first thing I noticed when I woke up again. The second thing was that I was lying on a firm mattress looking at bland hotel wallpaper, and I still couldn't move my hands. The metal of the handcuffs was warm but unyielding.

My cheekbone ached as if I'd been hit, and I was still hungry and I needed to take a piss. I wondered how long it had been since I'd taken my medications. Dana would know — but she wouldn't, not anymore.

I heard the slaughtered-pig squeal of a modem from behind me, and then a man's voice. The voice of the man in the park who'd looked so much like Rex. I wanted to ask what was going on, but I was afraid.

There was a series of thunks and then the slam of a door — the bathroom door, I realized as I heard retching. The other man in the room came over to the bed I was on and took my chin in his hand. "You've rejoined us," he said jovially.

"Dr. Werber?"

"Have we met?" He looked at me the way a science teacher looks at a frog who's going to teach the class all about anatomy.

"What are you doing here?" I asked him.

"I could ask you the same question, my boy. But I suspect you're the one who doesn't belong."

"What do you mean?" I whined and then he was rising as Rex returned from the bathroom and ordered him away. Rex wanted to go under again, and I wanted to warn him that my troubles all started when I tried the new therapy, but he was vicious enough to Dr. Werber that I didn't want to take the risk.

I kept quiet as Werber went through the routine. When Rex stopped flailing about on the other bed, the doctor came and sat down next to me, his notebook out and his pen poised to learn my secrets. "So," he said, "describe for me your first contact with me."

"I'm really hungry," I said. "Do you think I could get something to eat?"

Werber rolled his eyes. "Yes, but you must answer my questions," he chided. I looked around the room as he went to order room service. It was an upscale hotel, with solid wood furniture and an enormous television staring unblinking at the beds like the eye of Horus. Light outlined the closed blinds. I wanted to know where I was and when. But it hardly mattered if my family was gone, did it?

Werber resumed his pose, as if he were my analyst instead of my captor. "Now you must cooperate. If you do all will be well."

I couldn't help but laugh.

"When have we met before?" he prompted.

I shrugged. "Around 1990, I think. When I was trying to remember my childhood. I was adopted at the age of thirteen, with no memory of anything before child services found me. You regressed me, but nothing useful came of it."

"And after that?"

"I never saw you again until today." I could have explained that I was intimately familiar with the apparatus Rex was now using, but for some reason I wanted to make Werber work for whatever he got.

He was opening his mouth as there was a knock on the door. "Room service," someone called from the hall.

I thought, as he went for the door, that in the movies anyone who says "room service" never is.

Since I was now deep in the midst of my own comic book, it made perfect sense that the delivery man would shoot Werber — the silencer sounded like a cough — and step into the room. What was surprising was that the killer was Pyotr. This was not a music video and I didn't want any more of my characters to come to life. However, no one was asking me.

"Pyotr?" I asked as he came to get me. He didn't make any attempt to release me from the handcuffs.

"I don't know who that is, buddy, but you're better off with me than with them." He hauled me to my feet and began pushing me toward the door, steering me around Werber's body.

"Who are you?"

"Call me Ishmael — but Alex is more accurate," he said, green eyes mocking me. "I don't know who you are but if you're valuable to them –" he gestured with his chin towards Rex, writhing on the bed in drugged agony– "you're valuable to me."

This man was very like my Pyotr, the quintuple agent. The problem was that in my storyline I had yet to figure out whether Pyotr was really on the side of good, or of evil.

Rex moaned and the lights went out in my mind.

Tikkun Olam 9/25

Guildenstern: A weaker man might be moved to re-examine his faith, if in nothing else in at least the law of probability.

"–sexual harassment policy, Agent Mulder?" Scully's glare coming from her freshly minted face was even more painful this time.

ShitshitSHIT! Not far enough, but it would have to do. I took a deep, panicked breath. "Look, I'm sorry, I obviously completely misread the situation–" the words were tumbling out of me like hailstones in a storm. "I don't work with a partner and I guess I don't really interact with people much and you came in like that–" I indicated her bathrobe while stepping further away so that she wouldn't see it as another advance. This was a good move; Scully flushed and dropped her eyes, castigating herself for her own participation in the disaster. "I hope you'll be able to forgive me but of course I understand that you may not want to continue –"

She sucked in a lungful of candle-scented air and raised her head again like a hunting dog who's finally found the scent. "That was a test," she accused. "One of your spy fantasies about the X Files."

I winced. I had to make this right. "It was a mistake, Scully, and I am sorrier than you can know. Just –just listen to me for a while, okay? It's very hard for me to know anyone's motives when it comes to the X Files. And I'm not really used to someone even entertaining the possibility that the marks on her back might be abduction-related. It, it just didn't compute when a skeptical scientist barged in and asked –"

Scully shook her head, eyes closed in what would become a familiar expression of denial. "Can we just forget about that part? I'm aware that it was totally unprofessional –"

"Why don't we just wipe out the past five minutes in their entirety?" It seemed like a good compromise to me. Dr. Strauss's method was more certain, especially since Scully was not known for her ability to give up a good grudge, but a pact to pretend selective amnesia might suffice.

Scully nodded once, slowly, and then fixed me with a measuring look. You've got a second chance, asshole, the look said, now what are you going to do about it?

"I've never really explained to anyone in the Bureau why I wanted the X Files," I said, moving away from her and sitting on the floor by the dresser, leaning against the cheap pressed wood. I couldn't stand on my own; the adrenaline rush felt like going over Niagara Falls without a barrel, only I couldn't show my dizziness to Scully because there was no good reason for it. Despite my best efforts to keep control as I told my tale of woe, the world began to spin around me.

The plug had been pulled on my consciousness and I swirled down the drain with all the rest of the useless, polluted waste.

The thin glass of reality shattered with a sound of temple bells when I finally resurfaced from my mind. Gray eyes, unfamiliar eyes, looking down at me in the smooth curves of a woman's skull. I gulped air like a fish who had leapt from the tank in a vain attempt to evolve. Something warm and soft was wrapped around me and I rubbed crusty eyes and sat up, taking in the Martha Stewart in Hell dÈcor and the rain falling in pine trees outside. A laptop hummed on the end table near my head.

"How long was I –"

"Little more than an hour. How do you feel?" she asked in a crisp voice.

"Tired."

"Well?" her eyes shone with expectancy.

"I'm not sure what happened," I confessed. "I went back and I think it's all right."

"You either went back or you didn't! Don't jerk me around."

I grabbed my cellphone from the side of the bed and speed-dialed Scully's number. No answer, but it was her recorded icy tones slurring through the air to me and I was almost reassured.

The good doctor — Dr. Strauss — was almost bouncing on her heels. Round little heels, I was sure. I wondered what it would take to get her on the bed with me.

"You retrieved a memory?" she demanded.

"Absolutely."

"I need you to document it. All of it."

"I can't talk right now. I need to go back to DC. I'll send you an email and answer any questions you have then. I'll be back."

Strauss was pissed, seriously so, but I smiled up at her to soften the blow and she wavered. I was in her bed, after all, and I had a return ticket. I got up and fought my way back into my wet jacket. Retreating to the far side of the room she lit a cigarette with sharp, angry movements.

"You screw me over on this one and I'll hunt you down and shoot you in your socks. I need to know if this works!" she bitched as a cloud of smoke drifted across her eyes, "This is my whole life's work you're talking about here."

"I understand, believe me, I do understand."

Against my better judgement, I leaned over and put my arm around her shoulders. Unthinkingly, I brought my face to hers and kissed her, gently at first and then hard enough to taste cigarettes and orange juice. She trembled underneath me, excited and still angry, torn between wanting me to stay and wanting to spit in my face. It was charming. "I'll be back," I repeated after I pulled away, and I saw her tap ash onto the floor as I walked out.

The uncomfortable relationship between intelligent women and their sexuality is amusing in the extreme. They pretend that they are more interested in intellectual pursuits than sex, and when the baser needs start screaming louder than they allow, the poor things go into mental overload. Game over, insert quarter (or anything else that works) to play again. I'd been watching Scully go through the struggle for years, and I have to admit that I've gotten pretty good at capitalizing on it.

Feeling a little bit better, I made my way back to the airport.

****

Mulder called out sick that morning, which was little surprise. I never should have gone to his apartment the night before; I should have let him sleep. So it was my fault that he was spending the day crashing. It's funny, but Mulder practically has a menstrual cycle. Every three or four weeks he pushes himself beyond the edge and has to spend a day or so on his sofa becoming one with the television remote, like a teenaged girl with cramps.

But a Mulder-free office is a good place to get work done, so I caught up on the classifying, filing, and report-writing he considers below his stature. If I had to keep re-filing his case files I was going to demand to be taken out to lunch on Secretaries' Day. Sexism isn't dead, it's masquerading as erratic behavior.

When I got back home, my telephone was ringing and I grabbed it even as I was stepping over the mail piled up on the mat in front of my door.

"Scully."

"Dana, it's Alex. Where were you last night?"

Quick tip: do not stand up your lover to sleep with your partner, as it tends to piss him off. Rule number two, never let one know about the other, as men tend to attach entirely too much importance to these things. If Alex knew I had slept with Mulder, he would be hurt. On the other hand, should Mulder find that I was fucking Alex, he was going to go postal. Mulder hates to share his toys, even when he's not using them. I guess he's so used to breaking them that he doesn't imagine that they might go on without him.

The point was, I had forgotten to call Alex and beg off, and now he was unhappy.

I recovered quickly. "Oh damn, I was working. I should have called. You know what it's like," I explained as I hobbled across the living room with one shoe while Queequeg yipped around my ankles, bugging me for dinner, "is there something that I forgot?"

"Only our anniversary," he purred at me over the line while I organized Mighty Dog and a clean dish.

"How long has it been now? A month?"

"Come on, Dana," he teased, "three months and four days."

"You keep track of these things? I'm impressed," I said and spooned meat byproducts out for the dog.

"I was thinking you put on something black and sexy, we have dinner at Bilbo Baggins, a walk by the river, a nightcap, and a few hours of sexual debauchery in front of the fireplace at my place."

"Do we have to go to Alexandria? Why can't you come here? There are plenty of good places to have dinner in Annapolis."

"What's in it for me?" he asked, and I could hear the amusement in his voice.

"I'll let you wear my leopard-print bustier."

He laughed.

"I'll be there in half an hour."

I just had enough time to take Queequeg for a walk so he could pee and sniff the pee of other dogs and change the funky sheets on my bed. I lit candles in the living room before running into my bedroom to kick my dirty laundry under the bed. Then I washed and put on fresh undies and perfume before the doorbell rang. Alex was standing there, with his usual grin on his face and his usual leather jacket on his back, humor glinting out of his unusual green-blue eyes. He was holding a bottle of good Australian Shiraz like it was a trophy.

"Miss me?" he asked and kissed me hard enough to make my knees shake and my hands grab at his shoulders for support.

"Two weeks is a long time," I agreed and let my hands wander over the hard muscles of his chest underneath his leather jacket, he handed me the bottle.

"Two weeks in Brooklyn and I was ready to lose my mind, I couldn't stop thinking about you –" his hands closed over my breasts in a meaningful squeeze.

"Forget dinner. But let's get out of the hall," I muttered. "No point in entertaining the neighbors."

Alex slouched in, greeted Queequeg and hung his jacket up on the back of a chair before collapsing on the sofa, looking lean and gold in the light from the candles. I opened the wine bottle (good boy, he knew how to choose wine without screw-caps, unlike my partner) and got two glasses and put them on the coffee table. Alex watched me with a lazy, sensual gaze while I knelt like a geisha and poured wine. Alex's tidy pointy-nosed profile in the candlelight spoke of normality, of warm nights, warm sheets, attention focused on me, not the universe in general. Queequeg hopped up on the sofa and nuzzled Alex's hand, lapping with his pink tongue. Alex stroked the dog, ruffling the cinnamon fur with friendly fingers. Alex liked my dog. He liked many things about me.

"So how's His Spookiness?" he asked.

"The same, chasing his tail in circles," I said and sipped at the sweetish wine.

"You ought to transfer out before he pulls you down," Alex commented and took a deep drink of his own wine. "Organized Crime isn't so bad, I've got a great close rate, I work normal hours and I don't get sent out in the field all that often. I did my time with Spooky and he's batshit crazy."

Queequeg yipped playfully and began to gnaw on the leather strap on Alex's watch.

"I don't know about that, Alex, I like the X-Files. I like the challenge, I know I'd be bored working in another division."

"Come on Dana, you know he's no good for you."

I blinked and the gold lights of the candles danced for a minute. Alex had worked with Mulder when I had been abducted. I'd thought he was a little prick until he brought me flowers in the hospital when I was recovering from the mysterious viral infection. He'd requested a transfer as soon as I was back at work. Alex was now in the Organized Crime Unit where the Bureau had put his fluency in Russian to work on the Russian Mafia cases. We'd run into each other at irregular intervals in the halls of the Hoover Building, then he'd paid another sickroom visit when I was undergoing chemo.

Several months ago, he'd called me at home, out of the blue, and asked me out to dinner for something other than hospital food. Since I was angry with Mulder at the time I went to dinner with Alex, and I went home with Alex, and I went to bed with Alex. That was when I decided I'd been wrong about him–Alex wasn't a little prick, nor did he have one. It's not as though Mulder and I had any formalized agreement. We were fuck buddies. Fuck buddies who would die for each other. That kind of intensity was rough on my nerves and on my skin. It was nice to go to dinner, to go to the movies, to have a man who would talk about something other than cases, who would open my car door for me, and who would pull my chair out for me in restaurants. One who was absorbed with me rather than self-absorbed.

A man who gave me his total attention.

"Come here," he said.

I put my glass on the coffee table and went to the sofa.

His eyes shone up at me.

"Take off your clothes," he said in a voice of molten lead.

My hands were shaking while I did so. The scar that Donnie Pfaster gave me itched, the way it always does when I get nervous. I know Mulder wishes he'd been just a little bit faster but he wasn't and now there's a twisted white clothesline bisecting the top of my left breast down to the areola. I managed to kill that crazy corpse-fucker on my own, the way I can do everything on my own, and it was easily ruled a good shooting.

Alex doesn't mind about the scar. For him, it just is, like everything else about me. He doesn't think it's ugly, like Mulder does — not that Mulder would ever say so, or blame anyone but himself for the scar or for thinking that it's ugly.

And I was so tired of being Mulder's Virgin Queen. If I gave Mulder four silk ties he'd think it was a campaign to improve his fashion tastes. Alex bought a Catholic schoolgirl's outfit and had me wear it, plaid skirt rolled high and no underwear, while I confessed my sins giggling and squirming on his knee. Sex with Mulder is serious business.

Sex with Alex is a roller coaster thrill-kill ride.

At his command, I preceded him into the bedroom so that he could watch me walk. He was still fully clothed as he closed the cuffs carefully around my wrists and I could see his desire in his eyes and in his pants.

"I can do anything I want to you," he breathed.

I didn't even nod in agreement; that would have risked punishment and I didn't want that, not yet.

I could smell the sweet chemical tang of the leather wristbands and the more animal tang of myself.

****

The flight was rough and the beer was sloshing around in my stomach while the plane headed towards home.

I called the Arlington PD again, from the airport, and asked them to send all the unrecycled newspapers from the Rothstein house over to our office. We could compare them to the newspapers from our side of the veil and see if there were any obvious differences, like Monica's dress being from Express.

After I threw up in the airport men's room I felt better.

I flagged down a taxi and gave the driver Scully's address, wondering if she was still living there or if that was one of the things that I couldn't remember.

It was raining and the driver sneezed his way through the red lights.

 

Tikkun Olam 10/25

Player: Here we see him and the queen give rein to their unbridled passion! She little knowing that the man she holds in her arms — !

The bedspread smelled like Downy Mountain Spring and mansweat. Drip by drip, drop by drop, Alex's sweat was falling onto my skin, falling where the skin was red and hot, the salt stinging like ocean water on sunburn. Each lash of the belt made me whimper with need and pain. It was good, good as jalepeno peppers, too much salt, alcohol on a cut, pressing on a blister, biting a lip. Every time the belt burned across my ass, I pushed my pelvis against the mattress, one ratchet away from coming. One flick away from letting my brain go up like a gasoline-soaked rag. Me. My arms aching, my teeth slicing into the leather filling my mouth, tasting the leather, my aching cunt thick with blood, swelling and taking over the entire world. The man was almost incidental. The steel of the clamps chewed into my nipples pulled down the chains, tight over my belly, tugging electric pulse of metal pleasure into the blood-filled folds of my labia.

So good.

Burning like life.

Only in pain and pleasure do you know you are alive.

Body weight falling on me, making me cry out as the lovely stabs of pain-light fell through me like glass shards. The heat of his body burning my skin, searing me. I pressed into the sopping wet bedspread, my legs swimming underneath his, rubbing, pinching, making the flare before orgasm implode along my thighs. Fingers in my hair, pulling my head back from the bedspread, hot breath over my lips stretched open over the gag, fingers pressed into the stretched skin and muscle of my throat.

"Greedy. Not until I let you."

The green of his irises shone like opals in the candlelight.

He released my hair and my head fell forward again, I rested my cheek against the bedspread and shut my eyes, a narcotic blanket of self-indulgence falling over me. Fingers between my thighs, pulling at the chains, pain/cold, hot/pleasure, sweet/agony — and his fingers pressing me open like a seashell, fingertips driving into me, nails scraping against my soaking and swollen cunt. Jerking against the clips, flicking at my clit and rubbing fingers deep inside me, feeling for the mythical spot. My fingers gripped the leather straps pulled taut in air, tears cold on my burning face. A hand pulling me up on shaking knees, my face still in the bedspread, the chains hanging down, pulling at me, my back arched and my stinging ass in the air.

I was moaning into the gag, sobbing and twisting, my universe contracted into just my body in that moment. Me. My body, me and me alone and nothing else but me and the fire in my blood.

Back and forth, back and forth back and forth against the sweet slippery skin and my brain flashed white, lash against my ass, fingers on my cunt, rubbing my clit, stretching my asshole to the tearing point. I hiccuped against the gag, begging, pleading, lash again, lash again, lash again, and webs of delight flared like a spark along a fuse.

Nownownownowohgodpleaseohpleaseohpleaseohplease

I pulled against the cuffs, fought against the binding, pressing back into the hot hard body. I was gone in a black-powder explosion, screaming into the leather, echoing in my skull and going on into the center of my solitary universe. Screaming, screaming ugly into the black nothingness which surrounded me. Consciousness paled in the edges of my mind.

He caught me before I fell into the bed, held his body against mine while I wept, pulling the gag from my mouth, unhooking my wrists, nuzzling my face and spreading my tears over our faces. Sweetly, he curled the fingers of my hand around the thick shaft of his cock.

"My turn," he whispered while his eyelashes brushed against my cheek.

From the very first time, when I growled "I like it rough" into his ear as he was stripping me and he believed me, we'd always played at sex like Kasparov plays at chess. No mercy.

Alex understood me.

I reached for the paddle underneath the bed.

****

I used my key to get into Scully's apartment, thankful that it still worked, and the world wobbled around me. Two glasses of wine on the shiny coffee table, the bottle by the lamp next to the sofa. I nearly died of shock when the yappy little dog crashed into my shin. I didn't actually kick it as much as shove it out of the way with my foot.

The pace of change was speeding up.

A low moan issued from the bedroom, Scully in ecstasy; I'd heard it before but never from so far away. And not that loud, damnit. Flesh against flesh in the only language we could both speak reliably. I had to know who she was fucking. She might not be cheating on her Mulder but she was damn well cheating on me.

When I pushed the bedroom door open the only thing I could see was the phoenix rising from the fire on Scully's back. The tattoo was enormous, burning like an arsonist's wet dream across the flammable parchment of her skin. That much rye red, I realized, as the shock settled into my bones, would have been enough to trigger hallucinogenic ergotism in all of Philadelphia.

Did she get it because I hated fire? Regardless of her claims, I knew it was about me. The phoenix and the worm ourubous were related symbols of rebirth and eternity, so this Scully wasn't a complete stranger, only part of one. The phoenix danced as she undulated on the man beneath her. I could see his legs shake as he thrust into her and she tossed her head back, groaning, her long shining hair curtaining the firebird from my sight. She would have seen me but her eyes were closed as she urged him on.

"Oh, yeah, faster, faster, just like that, yeah that's good baby," on and on and the jealousy was a tapeworm in my stomach. Not just the sex but that she'd be so vocal. Scully's usually such a martyr in my bed. I have to figure out what pleases her with only the faintest of hints from Herself and it's more difficult than unscrambling a Rubik's cube and requires far more manual dexterity. This man was getting the instruction manual and toll-free customer assistance.

"Come on, give it to me, come on –" she chanted.

I noted that there were leather bindings attached to the bedposts, unused now but I didn't think they were purely decorative, and what looked like a paddle lying on the bedspread by Scully's right thigh. A tangled ball of black leather and metal was on the floor. I thought I'd seen its cousin advertised in the back pages of Celebrity Skin.

There were times when I would have liked to gag Scully . . .

"Come on, fuck me, fuck me baby, come on. Harder baby, oh yeah, that's good –"

The man's arms were raised so that he could paw at Scully's breasts. She was shuddering around him, still reporting on the sex sensations with the intensity of a sportscaster at a playoff game, and she raised herself up with her strong little legs so that I could see the man's thick red cock gleaming in the candlelight as he pumped into her.

"Oh yes!"

Together this time, and her head fell back, her hair flaming down her back, like fire, like blood, her eyes clenched shut and her body rigid in climax. The back of my throat burned. She was beautiful, primal, and elemental. Underneath the man thrust weakly a few more times into her shaking body and then stilled. She'd consumed him. I knew. He groaned and trailed off into a defeated chuckle. She chortled into his chest and rolled off of him. Pretty fucking cute. Her hand trailed tenderly across his face, drawing my attention there and that's when I drew my gun.

"Krycek!"

I hadn't meant to give him the warning, but I couldn't help it. Krycek, who had sold Scully and me for scrap metal, killed my father, killed Scully's sister, and was probably responsible for Ebola, Chernobyl and the KISS reunion tour, should never have let the fucking distract his attention from the door — it was too dangerous. I wanted to splatter his brains all over the headboard so badly that my hand was shaking. I wanted to see his pretty little nose smashed against the floor while blood dripped into his open, dead eyes. Then I wanted to chop him up into small pieces and boil them in hot lead, then I wanted to take the pieces and have them burnt to ash, then I wanted to spread the ashes in a septic tank and piss on them.

Scully's eyes snapped open as I contemplated my favorite serial killer fetishistic killing practices. Still panting from her sexual workout, she rolled off the bed and jumped to her feet, her face as prim and outraged as if I'd interrupted a personal hygiene ritual.

Jesus Christ, there were silver nipple-clips dripping chains down into the flame of her pubic hair, clamped inside her somewhere.

"Mulder, what are you doing here?"

"What is he doing here?" I choked. My voice was hoarse with fury.

Dumb dumb dumb.

"– No don't answer that. Why is he doing it here? You know what he is –" I was panting worse than I'd been at the end of my morning-long run, five pounds of pressure away from blowing him into the next parallel reality.

Krycek blinked green cat eyes at me and made no move to cover himself, the bastard.

"This isn't really any of your business, Mulder. I know we didn't get along before I transferred out of the X Files but there's no need to –" his gaze went to Scully and, although I wasn't looking at her, he must have seen something quite startling in her face because he started talking to her instead. "*Is* it any of his business, Dana?"

I heard her go to the closet and the rustling suggested she was putting on a robe. The subtle chiming of chains roiled along my neural pathways. I was trying to figure out whether he might be telling the truth (as well as trying to figure out where Scully had those chains clipped). Maybe Krycek had only been tangentially involved in the Conspiracy at first, maybe a few small changes had taken him out of the game entirely. Scully wouldn't sleep with the Krycek I knew and hated.

Not my Scully.

Well, I wasn't willing to swear to that anymore.

My brain felt like a frozen drink, pink and icy and punctured with toothpicks. It made me nostalgic for the usual levels of untrustworthiness I encountered in my line of work.

"All right," Krycek said, his voice rising, "I'll ask him. Are you fucking her too, Mulder? Can't keep her satisfied?"

Fucking rat bastard couldn't even keep quiet when I needed to think.

"Shut up!" I shouted and the gun shook like a green recruit's.

"Are you sleeping with him, Dana? Dana?!"

He never did know when to shut up.

"Shut the fuck up!" I screamed.

Punch-drunk, I staggered out of the room, ignoring Scully's soft "Mulder?"

I heard their voices rising and falling in the comforting rhythms of bitter argument as I left the room.

I did kick the dog that ran to greet me, but it didn't make me feel any better.

The drugs from the regression and the alcohol swirled together like a tie-dyed Grateful Dead slide show in my brain and I felt the world spin around me. Scully would call it my arrogance but it was more than that; I was the center of a great turning and I could feel the widening gyre of change surging out from me like the tide.

****

"What is it between you and Mulder?" Alex asked.

It was so long and so complicated that it hurt just to imagine explaining.

"Don't ask me now," I said and I held out my hands, "I've got to call Hunter."

"You don't need to tell me you're sleeping with him. In my admittedly limited experience, a man who waves a gun at a woman's naked lover generally believes he has some right to do so."

"Really. Did you learn that watching Days of Our Lives while you were on surveillance detail?"

His hot angry breath ruffled the hair on the top of my head as he stared down at me. I hoped it hurt his neck. "Intimidation via size, that's so mature," I commented in my most judgmental, patronizing tone. Really, the boys did better in high school.

The light flickered in his eyes, rebooting.

"You can fuck up your career, his career, and mine for that matter," he said.

If anyone in the Bureau found out, we were going to have another domestic incident worse than what Patricia Cornwall did. I didn't need Alex to tell me that.

But he did have the most astounding ass, and watching it disappear into a pair of jeans just made me more depressed. Shirtless, he approached me again, bringing my face up for a kiss. "Lose the geek."

I felt the familiar personal and professional Celebrity Deathmatch start in my head.

Alex was right.

And yet —

Was it just another tactic? Mulder wasn't the only canny male I knew.

I stiffened and backed away, realizing that in running from Mulder I had been trying to build myself a better one, someone to hurt me in exactly the ways I required without engendering any obligation on my own part. Maybe Alex was a different person when he wasn't with me. I wasn't even sure if I wanted to know. And I didn't have the time, not while Mulder was out there making trouble.

"I can't do that now," I told him. "I think you should go."

Alex stormed out of the bedroom, leaving his toys. I followed because I wanted both of them to exit my apartment alive. Alex snarled at Mulder, just like Queequeg was doing from the relative safety of the kitchen. "Haven't you ruined enough of her life already? Now you have to do it twenty-four/seven?"

"Alex, I don't need you –"

He spun on me, and I was surprised to see that tears were leaking down his cheeks. "No, I guess you don't."

"That's not what I –"

"Just get out, Krycek, we've got things to discuss." Mulder's imperial command, delivered in his hoarse, smug voice, made me so mad that I was almost glad that Alex reacted badly.

"Usually," he said, stalking up to Mulder, "I don't hit drunks, but I'm gonna make an exception for you."

"Yeah, hurting the helpless always did turn you on," Mulder sneered and shoved Alex preemptively. Alex shoved back and Mulder stumbled towards my couch. "You like having someone to tie up, Alex? Trust games reassure you of your manhood?" They were poking each other in the chest like roosters gearing up for combat. "Or do you just want something I've got as a displacement of your homosexual desires? Don't think I didn't see the way you watched my ass –"

Alex drove both fists into Mulder's stomach.

"You are a fucking headcase!" he panted and I almost nodded in agreement as Mulder gagged and sagged into my cushions.

"What you want is your business, Dana," he turned to me and his eyes were still shining, "but the woman I know respects herself more than to want this," he waved disgustedly at the man moaning on the couch and kicking the wine glasses off the table.

On that note, he got his jacket and left.

As Alex slammed the front door, Mulder recovered enough to rise and move to the center of the room. He stood there like a slightly off-balance coatrack, wobbling on my rug.

"Scully—" he whined in his please-Mommy-take-care-of-me voice.

"I'm calling Hunter," I told Mulder. "You can't do this. The last time embarrassed me and it embarrassed her, and this is worse."

"Hunter, what Hunter?" he said in a bare voice.

"Your wife?" I prodded, tugging the bathrobe more tightly around my body.

"Diana?" he asked, twitching with drunken horror.

"No. Hunter Matheson-Mulder. Your wife."

The hyphenated Queen of the Universe.

"Oh Jesus, " Mulder collapsed into the couch and laughed softly to himself, "Hunter? What kind of a name is that?"

Oh just your average too much money New England family name – like FOX.

"Your wife's name?"

"I don't have a wife."

This was bad, this was the apex of badness and would go down in my personal list of the worst delusions of Mulderdom.

Sighing, I stalked past Mulder and hit the speed dial.

"Mmmh?"

"Hunter, it's Dana Scully."

"Fox's not here," she grumbled in a sleep-thickened voice.

"No he's here, at my apartment. Can you come get him?"

"Oh fuck," she groaned and I could hear the background yammering of the TV silenced, "Are there police? Or is he just drunk?"

"Drunk."

"Then I won't put on a bra."

This was starting to be a habit. He'd been shit-faced the last time he showed up at my apartment in the middle of the night, as if I were his ex-wife and he'd forgotten that we got divorced in the depths of his alcoholic haze. It said bad things about Mulder that he'd come to me for comfort before he'd go home to his wife. Bad things, but nothing I didn't already know when he was sober.

Across the line, I heard her quick, angry sigh.

"Half an hour," thankfully, she didn't finish the sentence with some suggestion that we clean and dress ourselves.

I fed Mulder glass after glass of water while we waited for Hunter. I refused to talk to him and all he did was look up at me with soulful eyes. It was too bad Queequeg hated him so much, as he could have used the acting lessons from Mulder. Mulder watched me as if he was a judge at the Nuremberg trials, trying to understand why I could have done what I did.

Not that it was any of his damn business. I'd kept up my side of the bargain and hadn't laid a finger on him since the society wedding where I ended up sitting at the table with the rest of the miscellaneous singles while Mulder and Hunter were fawned over by the best and the brightest of DC society. They looked like a perfume ad; Hunter was the most beautiful blonde antelope that I had ever seen in captivity. She was sloe-eyed and pouty-lipped with legs longer than the printout on my cell phone bill. Did I hate her? You bet your ass I did. I hated her for her long legs, her green-gold eyes, her trust fund, and the fact that she was going to pull Mulder into a rose-covered cottage while I was still paying monthly rent that didn't include electric. I hated her magnetic personality that made it easy to understand why Mulder would choose her.

The hell of it was, I still wanted her to like me, with all the desperation of the fat girl in high school staring wistfully at the most popular cheerleader. When we first met she took my hands in hers and smiled as if she were really glad to have me around. I felt a rush of some warmth as if my nervous system had forgotten that I was only meeting her because Mulder was going to marry her. Her initial enthusiasm for me faded, I think, as the months went on and Mulder did not pull away from me as much as she'd have liked, but I still wanted the endorsement of her smile when she saw me. I wanted her self-confidence, her height, her whipcrack sense of humor, her money, but I would, pathetically, have settled for her approval. Or her husband.

With him on my couch it was hard not to remember the night before the wedding. He ditched the bachelor party at ten and showed up at my apartment, tie askew and eyes alight with the passion he usually reserved for alien hunts.

Five times, a personal record for both of us, I'm sure. The last time hurt, really hurt, and I can't imagine he enjoyed it either. We were bleeding the poison out of our systems. As dawn crept up on us like a stalker, we grew still, ceasing our struggles against whatever it was we'd been fighting. Limbs tangled like the Hydra's heads, we lay together and I thought about my nice flowered dress hanging in my closet like a suicide. Despite the fact that I was Mulder's closest friend in the world, Hunter had insisted that only her friends and family could be bridesmaids, and Mulder didn't fight it because he thought I wouldn't want the "honor" anyway. I supposed that the right place for me would have been "best woman," but that was a little too ironic even for Mulder. He was right, but at that moment it still stung.

"Should I do this?" he asked, his voice dim in the gray room.

In all those alternate universes, I wonder if there's a Dana Scully who managed to say the words that slowly decayed in my throat. Maybe "please don't" was too difficult a phrase. Maybe if I'd just tried for "no."

"You've been planning it for months," I said instead, which was a lie because no one with a Y chromosome had been allowed to influence the plans, but it passed easily through the heavily guarded gates of my mouth. It did the trick because he left and I ended up sitting at the table at that deadly reception, my thighs aching, skin chafed, and leftover semen leaking into a panty shield while I smiled at the other pathetic dateless people.

I left the reception after Ted Kennedy made a pass at me at the bar. I guess it was a good thing that Clinton wasn't there or I might have gotten a presidential porking in the coatroom. I did, however, end up with cystitis – while Mulder and Hunter went on their honeymoon in Paris.

It was for the best, because things were too intense between us with just the work. Mulder needed more care and feeding than I could provide. And if it meant that he drank a little harder than I remembered, still he had someone in the middle of the night who had no demons to interfere with the exorcism of his own.

Hunter came, her face smooth as vanilla yogurt, her blonde hair pulled back in a sloppy ponytail.

Her legs were as elegantly long and curved as Japanese swords in her black Donna Karan leggings and an oversized gray t-shirt, which was so wrinkled as to be unrecognizable as a garment.

"Well," she said, and yawned as if her jaws would split, "here we go again. This is turning out to be a baaaad habit, sweetie." High cheekbones, low, gravelly contralto voice, skin like pearls and eyes like emeralds and amber: she was everything I dreamed of being back in high school when I still read Harlequins.

Mulder looked at her like a man who's been in the desert too long and isn't sure if the bottle of Evian in front of him is the real thing or another hallucination.

"We're going to have to get you a name tag. With a 'if found please return to' on it," she tugged on his sleeve and Mulder rose like a somnambulist, "Or maybe Dana should stop putting out a bowl of milk for you."

"That's not what happened, Hunter," I said, my patience frayed beyond repair. "I'm the one who was disturbed. "

"Fox is disturbed. Like we didn't know this already," she wrapped an arm around his waist and began steering him towards the door, "Please don't puke in the car, I just had it detailed."

Why would a woman who could have anyone marry a man like Mulder? Admittedly he had nice packaging and the sex was great, but flipping over the stone of his mind revealed far more frightening things than tropical centipedes.

Nonetheless, he followed her like a child going for his first day of school, looking back at me as if to ask me to save him from his fate. I wasn't going to hug him good-bye and tell him to be a good boy.

Queequeg hopped into my lap when I sat down on the sofa, which seemed to be shaking underneath me. Hot pink tongue lapped over my face, paws scratched at my skin through my bathrobe and he wiggled and whined for my attention, not unlike Mulder. Queegueg, however, had a leash. I tangled my fingers in his fur and determined that I was not going to look at the door.

After awhile, I considered calling Alex's cell. He might come back but he would certainly demand penance. The physical I could deal with. What if he asked me for some kind of commitment to stave off the Mulderdemons? I gave it up as a bad idea and drank the rest of the wine. Thus, I woke up with a headache and eyes swollen from frustration. Thank God for icepacks and Tylenol.

 

Tikkun Olam 11/25

Guildenstern: We can move, of course, change direction, rattle about, but our movement is contained within a larger one that carries us along as inexorably as the wind and current….

Me and the wife in the car. Can you believe it? Mr. and Mrs. —

"Fox Mulder," Hunter said as we pulled away from Scully's apartment, "please don't air our dirty laundry in public by showing up at Dana's house and making it crystal clear to her that you'd rather be with her than me."

"Can dirty laundry be crystal clear?" Obviously I wasn't yet drunk enough for this universe. I could drink a swimming pool of vodka and not be drunk enough, "You're mixing metaphors."

"Please, professor, spare me the grammar lesson."

Hunter snickered and stomped on the gas, which made my stomach lurch like the actors on Star Trek when a photon torpedo hit. She was a gazelle with fabulous legs. I'd do her, no doubt, but — marry her? I looked down at my left hand and was not terribly surprised to find a ring. I wish I'd noticed when it reappeared. Had Dr. Strauss noticed? How gauche not to take it off during adulterous overtures.

Something about being with Hunter was bringing the congested-sinuses feeling back, and I couldn't feel my hands or the cold against my face when I pressed my cheek against the window glass. My proximity-blurred reflection looked dim-wittedly back at me and I had a sudden memory of Hunter driving us the last time this happened, her so angry that she couldn't even speak. And I sat there reliving what Scully had looked like when she came in my arms, as uncomprehending that I'd done wrong as any puppy having his nose rubbed in his own mess. Later she'd — the memory fuzzed out like poor TV reception.

Why did I have doubled memories of some things and not of others? I could remember my wife but not my rearranged apartment. It was a puzzlement fit for a drunken sod like me.

We made the rest of the drive home in silence, her fuming and me trying not to throw up all over my unfamiliar car — a Volvo, a beige one. Home turned out to be an expensive condo in Georgetown. She let me bumble around until I found my furniture in a small bedroom in the back of the condo. Thank God for the couch, more constant than my own self. It didn't smell as much like jacking off as was its wont, but it felt just right when I brought a bottle of Cuervo Gold over and sat down.

I opened the bottle and she hovered in the doorway. Her mouth thinned out and the hands, naturally went to her hips. Is that gesture imprinted in the X-chromosome or is it one of the things that little girls learn at slumber parties?

"Do you even know what I've gone through for you? The sacrifices I've made–"

"What, throwing over JFK Jr. for me?" I don't know how I knew that. "I'm flattered." It was expensive hooch and hardly hurt going down.

"I walked through hell to get you," she said, and I could hear the conviction in her voice even as I remembered a chance meeting at the Senator's. Her pursuit had been dedicated but I couldn't recall much sacrifice. "You have no idea. None at all. And I didn't do it for the pleasure of getting your skinny ass out of another woman's apartment in the middle of the night."

Hunter ripped the rubberband thingy out of her hair. "I don't know what you want from me. When you spend three weeks on the road on a case, I don't complain. When you work all night and never call me to tell me where you are, I stay calm. Those things I can accept, but I am not going to be hauling you home from Annapolis every weekend."

I could hear her willing me to respond.

"This isn't easy for me to say, Hunter–but I'm not entirely sure why I married you."

"Well, Fox, I thought you liked being brought down by the hounds," she said with a leaden glare and slammed the door shut behind her.

When she left the heavy constipated feeling in my head lifted some and the alcohol eased my hurts. After I was slightly better lubricated, I called out sick — again — leaving voice mail for Skinner like the coward that I am and sent Scully e-mail at her FBI address.

Times like these I really understood what Dad saw in the bottle. Nothing. He didn't see anything, even when there was something to see, and that was such a relief. Hangovers, addiction, humiliation in front of friends, liver damage, all that is a reasonable price to pay for the rare privilege of not caring about what you've done and what you will do still.

I drank and surfed channels. I was sure that there had only been three Charlie's Angels before. And now there were four. Where had the African-American one come from? I was pretty sure that there hadn't been a African-American one when the show had been on the first time.

Somehow, this was even more frightening than Scully fucking Alex Krycek — an extra Angel. Aaron Spelling was less likely to suffer an emotional meltdown and manifest inner conflict by the creation of another Angel in re-runs than Scully. Suffer an emotional meltdown, that is. I can't see her having anything to do with Charlie's Angels, including having one spring full-formed from her head like Athena. But I could see her with Alex Krycek's cock impaling her. In fact that was all I could see, every time that I blinked.

I was the one suffering an emotional meltdown, right there underneath the evil Indian blanket on the sofa which wasn't where it was supposed to be.

****

Where did Pyotr/Alex go?

I had new clothes on and I was outside. There were no marks on my wrists. Well, aside from the old ones, that is — no sign I'd been in handcuffs. But I'd felt the welts before.

My mind was falling apart like a peeling sunburn, layers rubbing away and I didn't know what would be left in the end.

I still had enough money for McDonald's. I knew it had to be morning because there's no breakfast food after eleven and they still let me have a McGuffin. When did they change the name? I try not to watch the TV or go outside much; it's easier for me that way. But Dana liked egg and cheese biscuits with a chocolate shake, I remembered. I think I cried as I paid, but the semi-educable teenager behind the counter didn't notice.

I should just go to the police, I kept telling myself.

But I didn't do it. I couldn't have killed them. Why would I have done that? I had hallucinations more regularly than many people had bowel movements. Probably I'd come home to find them dead and the horror had sent me running into the locked closets of my mind, blaming myself in the most direct way possible by dreaming that I'd killed them. Symbolism, it had to be symbolism.

I bought another paper and there was no mention of the deaths in the front or the Metro section. That surprised me because the untimely death of white folks usually merits some ink in the Post.

I remembered the buzzing in my head in the days before my family died. It was like someone was always in the background, talking to me, but it wasn't like the voices from my past, the ones the drugs had buried down deep in the foundations of my soul. These didn't say recognizable words. It was more like overhearing voices in another room so that you know someone's there but not what the topic of conversation is. It felt like one of those voices was mine.

Maybe those strange men had been right about the computer chip. They contacted me and swore up and down that it was a government mind control plot. It sounded like a paranoid's fantasy suitable for a three-issue storyline in the comic. I was dying. They didn't seem to understand that I was dying and that I had a family to live for. The government could have made me moonlight as a soldier flying an unmarked helicopter and I would have considered it a fair trade.

My doctor said those weirdoes had gotten my name by breaking into the hospital's secure database, and that the FBI was going to take care of them. Computer crime endangers everyone. I shrugged it off because by then the tumor was already shrinking.

Now I wanted to believe that there was an explanation that didn't have to do with my biological demons. Dana and I almost didn't have any children because we were worried about their genetic legacies. But she convinced herself that my problems had been caused mostly by environmental trauma. The success of the drugs was more proof, to her, that science was enabling us to control the conditions of our own existence. If our children were particularly sensitive to traumatic conditions like whatever put all the scars on my body and the healed fractures in my bones, then we would just have to keep them safe. And she did. Until three nights ago, anyway.

I walked on blistered feet, drawn like Odysseus with the Siren's song threading its way into the hollow spaces between my neurons. After a while, the dark rose up to meet me, the sky stained sapphire in that beautiful way of Washington springs, almost as if the world were a good place. I didn't know where I was going but if I stopped moving I wouldn't start again. I waited for the light to take me away from all the pain.

****

"Fox? Wake up!"

Five more minutes, Mom.

Time for school.

Don't wanna go to school I forgot my homewor–

"Open your eyes you worthless sack of shit."

The light was not my friend when I looked through the cage of my fingers. I think I did the best double-take of my life. The woman that stood before me almost made me swallow my Adam's apple. It took a few moments to identify the lethal blonde as Hunter Matheson–and suddenly I could see why this particular Mulder had chosen to marry her. Black silk carved her skin from a glacier. The red slash of her mouth cut through to my skeleton and ground my bones between her lips.

"Hunter?" I choked.

She smiled with her cold mouth and the lash caught me across the side of the face, making my skin sing with pain and blacking the vision in my right eye. Stunned with the blow and the booze I slid off the sofa, rolling into the carpet and flopped there like a landed fish. Strong fingers pulling at my shirt and undershirt, ripping at my belt and clamping down on my wrists while the old wool of the rug pressed into my nose and eyes, scratching at the sore skin on my face and my blind eye. I kicked as I drowned, as the leather of my own belt cinched around my wrists and the leg of the sofa.

All I could see from that angle with my one good eye was her shapely ankles, wrapped in black strings of sandals, high on heels, bare skin shining white.

I've had a gun muzzle held to my head often enough and the sensation is unmistakable.

"You were serious about that Scully thing weren't you?"

"Shut up," she instructed.

Beltless, my trousers didn't put up much of a fight when she dragged them down my legs, nor did my boxers and the rug burnt against the baby skin of my frightened cock.

"Don't do this-" I pleaded with the rug, with the dirt under the sofa.

In the carpet, my mouth opened and shut like a guppy's.

Down the shivering skin cover of my spine went the gun, making each vertebra cringe with fear as I cataloged the paralysis from each point should she choose to pull the trigger, full Christopher Reeve quadriplegic breathing with a machine, Jill Killmont quadriplegic, paraplegic . . . When the gun kissed the base of my spine where ass and back meet in a Bermuda triangle of nerves something clicked in my head with the finality of a ammunition cartridge slapped into a gun.

Whatever dark version of me had inhabited this life before I had gate-crashed had a slightly more creative sex life than I did.

Hunter was breathing with the telltale hitch of lust.

I'd known for a long time that Scully and I had personal sexual profiles that were somewhat incompatible because they were mirror images. Scully defined closet sub, and I should have known that she might go somewhere else to get that if she couldn't trust me with it. Like Krycek. As for me, I couldn't advertise my preferences more if I actually dangled a bandana from the back pocket of my Levis. Hunter, either of her own volition or by my otherself's urging, liked the game.

The thought or the Scotch made me vaguely nauseous.

When the blow crashed down across my ass I was grateful. I deserved it.

Worthless, useless, crazy, loser, geek, Spooky, fanatic . . .

Each word cracked through my head as she cracked away at my body.

The phoenix rising from the fire on Scully's back, burning like an arsonist's wet dream.

Against the carpet, my cock rubbed and hardened when I shut my eyes as the leather bit into my wrists. Somewhere among the changes I had acquired a vastly increased tolerance for alcohol, along with a wife. I wondered if the two changes were related.

Behind me, Hunter was beginning to gasp with exertion and the sides of her feet grazed my calves as she stood over me. Reaching up, my fingers touched the warm hardness of the leather strap holding me prisoner. Cracking of the lash over my back and ass pulled me away from my brain to a place where only body and skin existed.

I was moaning into the carpet. This is what I'd searched the video stores and the net for, freedom from the overpowering weight of my thoughts and feelings. In the real world I could never trust anyone else to help me. Except Scully, only Scully did not want to go down into the dungeon inside my skull. If I could trust Scully then this other me could have chosen to trust Hunter instead —

The phoenix danced as she undulated on the man beneath her. I could see his legs shake as he thrust into her and she tossed her head back, groaning, her long shining hair curtaining the firebird from my sight.

Weak, helpless disappointment, always letting her down . . .

Cold and liquid slick between my asscheeks, pressed inside my tight body with cold, strong fingers and the shock of the hardness stuffed inside made me cry out. Deeper, wider, spreading me until I felt impaled with a redwood tree, staked to the floor below like a vampire caught in a coffin. Hunter's hair brushed my shoulders as she settled over me, her thighs cold as a dead woman's against mine. Moving, rocking, her breasts brushing the stinging skin of my back, she fucked me like a man, one end of the Siamese Twin dildo shoved into my ass and the other slid up into her cunt. The raw silk of her public hair grazed my hot and frayed ass, making me move underneath her on the waves of pleasure and pain.

The lash writhed against my shoulders, her nails latched in the muscles of my back and pain tears burned my eyes.

"Come on, fuck me, fuck me baby, come on. Harder baby, oh yeah, that's good –"

God, that was me.

Hunter was moaning as she fucked me, making sure that each stroke was angled for her pleasure, not caring that she tore into me all the while. Breathing turned ragged and she clutched at me, grinding her pelvis down into the tight and frightened muscles of my ass, breaking me, crushing me while she groaned with selfish pleasure. If I could only reach my cock, two or three quick strokes and I'd come all over myself like a teenager, without finesse or skill.

Gun-dropping, evidence-losing, insane bastard . . .

Scully —

Jerking, crying out in the unmistakable triumph of hard-won climax, Hunter clenched above me, her fists driving down into my ribcage and she beat a samba beat of her pleasure into my body. My breath fled my lungs like smoke after a window is opened and lights danced in the corners of my vision. Underneath, my cock was screaming for release. My brain was just screaming.

She raised herself up with her strong little legs so that I could see the man's thick red cock gleaming in the candlelight as he pumped into her. Long and thick.

Hunter ordered me to eat her and I did, her ass cradled in my forearms, pinning my bound hands underneath her hard white body. Cold she was, even with the heat of my mouth and she wailed when she came. I rubbed my aching, swollen cock against the carpet as she worked the dildo in and out of my ass until I was a mass of enervated jelly. Finally, she rolled me over like a baby too young to crawl, straddled my hips and lowered herself onto me, the cold, tight embrace of her cunt making me cry out with relief even as the dildo underneath me stabbed into my bowels. I barely moved inside her when the avalanche of my cold comfort climax dragged me down the treacherous side of the slope and onto the jagged rocks beneath.

Dweeb, slut, freak, pathological incompetent, asking for it . . .

Scully-

"I love yo—"

"I love you," she gasped into my lips.

I passed out.

Waking up in a smooth tangle of female arms and legs, smelling sex and sweet sweat, it doesn't get any better than that. Maple-syrup sunshine oozed over my deliciously tired body and I grunted in piglike pleasure, snufflling happily into the fall of blonde silk hair on the pillow next to me. Hunter's warm chuckle made me open my eyes to see her smiling narcotically at me.

"What?" I mumbled.

"You look like you're about sixteen years old when you're asleep. Sixteen and sooooo innocent."

Wrapping tightly around my skin, she pressed cool lips to my forehead and I shut my eyes again.

"Innocent until proven guilty."

"Come on sleepyhead," her fingers ruffled my hair, "let's grab some coffee and a quick run before we go out."

"Skip the run? I had enough of a workout last night."

"Old man," she teased and took her smooth limbs away from me.

"Older men are sexy, older women are yesterday's news," I warned her.

Even with forty staring us in the face, other parts of my anatomy were sixteen that morning. Long, cool, and sleek she stretched underneath me and her skin was like a balm on mine. I pressed her into the sheets and lazily lapped at her lips, throat, and nipples while I stroked in and out of her, frissions of snowflake pleasure moving from my cock, through my nerves and into my brain. She shivered in her climax and I was rushed away in a cold breeze. Later there was Jamaican Blue Mountain Roast coffee in bed and the Washington Post with her doing the crossword on my back while I read the Style section with my head hanging down off the bed. The clock on the bedside table moved languidly towards nine and Hunter finally peeled herself away from me.

"You should get to work, go out on a grace note. Mom and Daddy want us for cocktails."

"Call and cancel," I sighed.

"Fox, you know Daddy wants to talk about the job."

Job? The disk drive was empty and all I got was an error message when I tried to figure out what she was talking about. I should know.

"Right," I stalled.

Hunter continued as she went into the bathroom, dropping her black silk nightgown to the floor, giving me a long look at the graceful line of her spine, the fall of blonde hair around her shoulders, and the dimples in her tight little ass.

"We did agree that it's time for you to leave the Bureau, and working at Matheson is the perfect segue. Regular hours, less travel, and we can even move out of the city."

"We could," I agreed and grabbed at my bathrobe lying over the chair near the window. Toweling enfolded me and I stepped over the debris of the paper on the floor, "maybe we could get a dog and I could learn to walk it."

"Don't get ahead of yourself," she chuckled and I realized that it was going to be a close thing if I could walk.

Twanging in uncomfortable places, I rose and joined her in the shower. Last night and the morning had left me limp as overcooked ziti and I washed her as chastely as a hospital nurse.

Thin lines of blood swirled down the drain like crimson threads from my unraveling heart.

When I had dressed, using the tie Hunter thoughtfully left on the bed for me, I went to the study where my letter of resignation awaited only signature and delivery.

Hunter was right, the quest had been as barren as Scully for more than a year, and though chasing Bigfoot was interesting I wasn't getting any younger. It was time to build a legacy, to do work that had more than local significance. Last night was proof enough, if I needed it, that Scully was part of my past, and not a part I could reminisce fondly about. Scully didn't need me anymore, she had Krycek now.

The room smelled reassuringly of sex and Hunter's perfume, and when I left it I felt exposed. I wanted to return to her cool caging arms. Her punishments, unlike the rest of my pains, were certain and they had a point.

Tikkun Olam 12/25

Player: Why, we grow rusty and you catch us at the very point of decadence — by this time tomorrow we might have forgotten everything we ever knew. That's a thought, isn't it? We'd be back where we started –improvising.

"I understand that Agent Mulder was unable to make the meeting with the Arlington Police."

The absolute last thing that I wanted to do was listen to Skinner bitch about Mulder letting him down again. At this point in time, Skinner and I could sit around and whine like two husband-sharing trailer trash bimbos on Jerry Springer. Actually, Skinner managed to take everything Mulder did so personally that I had to wonder if there weren't more covert feelings than strict professionalism. I could easily imagine Skinner bending Mulder over the big desk in the AD's office and teaching him what it was really like to get fucked over by a superior. And Mulder would like it.

Who ever knew with Mulder, anyway?

You could say the same about me. My ass was still sore from last night.

"Agent Scully?" Skinner prompted, bringing me back to big, bald reality.

I grabbed onto my professionalism and stiffened in my suede pumps. "Yes sir, I was surprised myself. When I spoke to him shortly before the meeting he was going to attend."

Right in front of the coffee maker was probably not the most professional location to have a conversation about Mulder.

"Do you have any idea what might be behind Agent Mulder's sudden outbreak of sick days?"

PMS was not the right answer. Nor would it be a good idea to remind Skinner that Mulder was about as dependable as a two-dollar watch. Mulder is great at making me feel needed and he introduced me to an important quest, but he's not very trustworthy. I've known that since day two on the X Files when he made a pass at me and then backpedaled like Clinton on gays in the military. Being with him is like channel-surfing with satellite TV. There are far too many B-movies playing in his head. Instead of saying this, I punted. "The Rothstein case seems to have hit a personal note with him. The removal of the bodies might have exacerbated an already delicate situation."

"Keep him under control, Agent Scully. I don't have the time or the patience to deal with one of Mulder's flights of fantasy right now."

Neither did I, but since when did my needs ever matter?

"Yes sir."

"And track down those bodies, we don't want to be responsible for losing bodies. It does not reflect well on the Bureau."

I slunk downstairs, feeling as if my tail had been stepped on.

I don't usually snoop in Mulder's desk, but the letter was half-opened on top of the files for the exsanguination case I was looking for. If he was going to leave it out in the open, he must have intended me to read it. The laser-printed words jumped in time with my pulse.

I hereby tender my resignation to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

I told myself that I wasn't surprised or disappointed. The Rothstein case had piqued his interest, but as usual these days it was a mere flare in the darkened forest canopy of his mind. I could accept Hunter's theft of Mulder's body, but I didn't know how to deal with the theft of his soul. How dare he be happy enough to stop looking for answers? I felt isolation wrapping me like a mummy in our basement tomb, and Lara Croft with her big breasts and Barbie legs had stolen my treasure, leaving me embalmed, unable even to rot. I wanted a curse to bring me back to life and send me tottering after her. I wouldn't scare her to death; I'd just use my gun.

He hadn't yet signed the letter.

I waited like a cat at a mousehole until he returned to the office, bearing two cups of coffee as if to add to the bitterness of the moment.

"So," I said as I accepted the cup and felt my hand began to burn, "I see she's convinced you it's time to move on."

"Scully," he said helplessly. No, he had plenty of help.

"I thank you for your recommendation that I be given my choice of new assignments. It does surprise me that you would assume that the X Files would no longer hold my interest simply because they lost yours."

He gulped coffee and stared at the floor. I had been denied so much that I refused to be denied this fight.

"Did you expect me to say that I couldn't do this without you?" and my voice was jacked up to a volume not often heard in the dark recesses of the basement.

"No, I . . ."

"Did you expect that your waning interest in the paranormal and conspiratorial would negate my desire to discover what has been done to me, why Melissa died, why Emily died?"

He blinked each time I slapped him with a name, and I could see his eyes glisten as he struggled against further reaction.

"I don't know what's happening to me," he said raggedly. "When I'm with her . . . I have a different life. My life makes sense. But now . . . I'm not sure what I want."

I put my coffee on the desk and stepped closer to him, and he bent towards me like a flower in the wind. "Are you sure you don't know?" In the boudoir dimness of the basement his pupils were black holes, the center of his own private galaxy and I the loneliest cosmonaut. He was breathing in quick Morse Code gulps and I could feel the room heat up.

"Don't quit," I told him, bringing my hand up to brush my fingertips against his cheek. He shuddered as if I had clawed him but we never touched that way, the damage we did one another was more easily concealed.

"Do you want me to stay?"

So that was the asking price. I could have fucked him on the desk more easily. I hadn't been able to choke out the words the night before his wedding–and now he was asking me to stop him again. I dropped my hand and entwined our fingers, almost shivering with the chill from his body.

"I want to work with you. I believe that we have the opportunity to find the truth, truth no one else may be capable of finding." I squeezed and his hand clamped mine like a vise. "We are stronger together, Mulder. I want you to be happy, but I believe that leaving the X Files is not a path that will ultimately provide you with satisfaction."

He pulled me into his arms and I stroked my hands along the strong muscles of his back as he pressed me into himself. With my head tucked under his chin, he surrounded me like an envelope around a love letter. Or a letterbomb, primed to destroy anyone who would separate us.

"Hunter's going to be mad," he mused.

"What does that mean to you?" I asked, hating the uncertainty in my voice, glad that I could muffle the question against his expensive wool jacket. His hands traced runes of binding on my back.

"Not enough," he whispered and kissed the top of my head where my hair parted, my forehead, the skin in the orbit of my eye, the bridge of my nose, my other eyelid, sliding his lips across my cheekbone, my lips parting as the air in my lungs caught fire —

Coughing, I doubled over. It was the smoke I'd inhaled in the Rothstein fire, another crime to add to the Conspiracy's list. Mulder released me and stepped back as I composed myself.

"So," he said with a sick little smile.

"So," I replied, straightening my unmussed jacket. "I, uh, I think the DNA results from the Rothsteins should be back, we'll be able to check for abnormalities like branched DNA."

"Why don't you go to the lab?" he suggested. "I've got . . . a call to make."

The smile I gave him in return hurt, but it was good pain.

****

I don't like lying to Scully, but it' something that I've gotten good at over the years.

"Agent Mulder, according to my calendar it isn't April Fool's Day."

The letter of resignation was most definitely not trembling in Skinner's hand. I shrugged.

"It's no joke, that is my resignation, effective immediately."

"Has something happened that I'm not aware of?" His tone indicated that he would not be surprised if the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the KGB and Hamas stormed into his office with warrants for my arrest and/or execution.

"It's a purely personal decision."

"I can't accept it at face value."

Considering the fact that Skinner had stuck his muscular neck out for me on more than one occasion, it would have been remiss of me not to offer at least a token explanation.

"Since 1992, on a weekly basis, Scully and I fly into some misbegotten town in the middle of nowhere, rent a Taurus or, when we're lucky, an Intrigue, drive around at night, run around in the dark, annoy the locals, stay in substandard hotels. Then we run around in the dark some more with flashlights, make cellphone calls, and leave without becoming any more enlightened than when we came."

The sunlight flickered off his glasses in lieu of a change in expression.

"I took the consultant position so I can go home every night and be with my wife."

A stray muscle twitched over the pristine collar of his shirt.

"Domesticity," he said.

What? Did I expect him to understand? No. All it left me with was feeling foolish for telling the truth, as if anyone really gave a flying fuck about the truth. I should have pointed out that I was going to be making about twice his pay scale at Matheson and in the private sector there were rarely pay freezes. FBI agents aren't doing the job for the money, since we're paid on the same government scale as the guys who mop the floor in the Capitol Building. Skinner had handed his ass over to Uncle Sam when he was a kid Marine in the Mekong Delta and took Holy Orders to serve the US of A. What did he get? Shot nearly to death, a busted marriage, and an apartment in Crystal City. Fuck it. Not me.

Marrying Hunter was the smartest thing that I ever did.

"Anyway, I can give you two weeks and –"

"Security will help you empty out your desk and move personal items to your car."

Translation — they were going to make sure that I didn't take any sensitive information with me, and then escort my punk ass out of the building. Standard Operating Procedure.

"Right."

The strange underwater feeling filled my head again as I slouched to the door.

"Agent Mulder, I assume that you have spoken to Agent Scully about this."

"We spoke."

He wasn't going to get any more than that from me. I handed over my ID, my badge, and my gun.

"Good luck," he said in a voice that had an ultraviolet spectrum of meanings to it, most of which were invisible to the human eye.

Feeling naked, I shut the door behind me.

Sure enough, a pair of green grunts with bad haircuts and worse suits escorted me back to the basement office and watched me empty my personal effects from my desk. I'd gone through a major housecleaning right after I met Hunter and there wasn't quite as much shit as there had been before. I packed up everything that wasn't purchased with taxpayer money — my slinky, my wedding picture, a genuine Michael Jordan autographed baseball (the great Jordan's lackluster baseball career was an X-File unto itself), a couple of snapshots of Scully and me staring at bodies, and a half-empty bag of sunflower seeds. My things barely covered the bottom of a file box. The grunts watched to make sure that I didn't walk off with a pad of Post-Its or a paper clip. I thought about taking the "I want to believe" poster but decided to leave it for Scully.

The grunts walked me to my car where I gave them the parking permit taped to the windshield. That was it, it was done, all over in less than an hour, and I was free. Free as a man hanging on the gallows.

****

The empty desk in the office was far more eloquent than Mulder ever could be. I stared at the nice clean desktop and the sweat broke out all over my body as if I'd stepped onto the surface of the sun. The son of a bitch had stood there, extorted a confession of my deepest feelings, and lied to me. Part of me dropped to the floor and began to weep like a Jane Austen heroine, but my body made its jerky, mechanical way over to the telephone and my fingers punched in the digits for another extension.

Mulder would never have done this of his own volition. You can't work and sleep with someone for as long as I had with Mulder and not know him.

"Krycek."

"It's Dana. I need a favor."

I could hear the hard drive grind in his head even through the coaxial cable and concrete of the big, ugly building.

"How can I help you, Agent Scully?"

"Somewhere there has to be a dossier on Hunter Matheson. I need to see it. I'd get it from personnel myself but –"

"It just might look like you're trying to exhume some dirt on your ex-partner's wife who's pussy-whipped him into ditching you and the Bureau on a permanent basis," the warm slap of his sarcasm made me swallow dust.

"News travels fast," I said.

"I'll grab the file and a pizza and meet up at your place at seven, right?"

"Fine. Thanks, Alex."

After I hung up the phone, I collected an armful of my own files and paperclips and spread them liberally over the shining absence of the desk. It didn't make me feel any better.

I plotted Hunter's death and that cheered me somewhat.

****

Hunter had not yet forgiven me for having to talk me down from yet another bridge too far. She maintained, with some accuracy, that I was unduly influenced by Scully. Still, I had gone through with it, and it seemed unfair of her to hold my uncertainty against me. It wasn't surprising that after twelve years I had second thoughts. Or was that two sets of thoughts? The Rothsteins, something about the missing Robert — I had memories of another life. Hadn't I?

I was sulking on the bed as she undressed. In her presence, my memories of my recent time on the X Files seemed gray and useless, navel-gazing of the least satisfying kind. Hunter's navel was much more interesting. She brought happiness into an otherwise worthless life. What right did I have to deny her — deny myself — normalcy?

"Skinner has the letter now?"

"Yeah, it's over," I said.

Hunter sighed and walked over to me, reaching down to ruffle my hair. Once again the world yawed, images splitting as if I were having my eyes checked in the doctor's office. Hunter shouldn't make me feel this strange. She was an overbred Harvard MBA with expensive tastes and a flavor like oysters and caviar. From the beginning she'd controlled me through my own desires, knowing exactly what I wanted and seeming to enjoy it too. She didn't fight me on everything, like Scully. But I was discovering that the dominance games didn't stop at the bedroom door. Did I mind? No, not really. There was a comfort to following orders, a narcotic I wasn't familiar with.

"I've got to get clean," she sighed. "Join me?" Silk and linen drifted like falling leaves to bare her elegant limbs as she made her way to the bathroom.

She had tidied up from the night before: the euphemistically named "marital aids" had been sequestered in the spice chest on the dresser. We had jokingly named it "the toy chest" when I'd bought it for her from the antique dealer in Paris on our honeymoon. I stared at the chest, the handmade brass lock, the inlaid panels on the top and front, and the memory of that day paled like an oil painting left in the sun too long. Thin sound, scratchy memory, like a bootleg videotape-recorded over too many times.

Not my memories, not mine.

I heard the shower running. Shower running and Scully coming out with tequila on her breath and her hair sweeping over the coffee table —

"Fox?" she called.

Cool and silky water poured over my mind and I relaxed, pulling off my tie and throwing it to the floor on top of Hunter's jacket. The cleaning woman was due in the morning and she was used to our slovenly ways. I poked my head into the steamy bathroom and caught the blurred outline of her body behind the shower door. My cock stirred, lazy as a snake in the sun.

"I just want to check my e-mail."

"Don't be long," she said and laughed.

I did check my mail, booting up the computer in the office, a computer that would have made the FBI server blush with inferiority. Money does have its advantages. Scully had always made such an issue of money, of her thriftiness, her speed at getting expenses approved, finding the most "cost-effective" hotels and car rentals. Her bourgeois attitude was cute, but tiresome. Out of habit, I went to log into the FBI network and found that my password was invalid. They'd cut me off. Annoyed, I went back into the bathroom and shucked my suit, slipping into the warm water just behind Hunter. In the sweet-smelling steam she wrapped around me and there was no uncertainty in the way we moved together, as if we'd been machine-engineered to match.

Afterwards, I dozed in a vanilla-scented haze in the cool sheets.

For dinner there was delivery gourmet pizza and microbrew beer. We watched basketball on the TV in my study with her wiggling toes under my ass and me resting my beer on her legs. Life was good. After the game on the West Coast was over I made my wobbly way to the bathroom to piss out some of the beer. I popped the toilet seat and unzipped my pants, and the pale tablet floating on the water made me gulp. I knew those pills. Ortho-Cept. I'd seen those in too many bathroom medicine cabinets through the years, the vanguard against babies. That was even the brand that Scully took before Conspiracy made contraception a thing of the past.

It seemed insensitive to piss on the pill so I flushed it before emptying my bladder.

"Why are you flushing your birth control pills?" I asked.

Hunter's head snapped up from watching the post-game on ESPN.

"Hello? You quit the Bureau, I get pregnant? Remember the deal?"

"No. I don't remember."

"Are you drunk? We've been talking about it for years."

"Have we?"

Hunter didn't deign to answer, instead she hauled me off to the bedroom and proceeded to suck out my IQ via my cock.

It worked.

Tikkun Olam 13/25

Guildenstern: All your life you live so close to truth, it becomes a permanent blur in the corner of your eye, and when something nudges it into outline it is like being ambushed by a grotesque.

Saturday we went to Matheson and she showed me my office. While Hunter went to gather up some files I roamed around the unoccupied space and surveyed what was going to be my domain. It was a great desk, as far as desks go, big and real wood instead of the picture of wood laminated over particleboard which I was used to, or government issued metal desks with ugly beige sides and drawers edged just right to tear your pants. I adjusted the lamp a few inches to the left and sat down in the soft leather chair, looking out the window to where I could see the tip of the Washington Monument blinking in the twilight, like a cock bleeding luminescent red.

It was a good office. It looked to be free of the bugs of both kinds that plagued the basement of the Hoover. Windows on one wall and modern art on the other, meeting table and chairs by the window and a fountain dribbling near the door. Hunter had said that a Feng Shui practitioner had been through the entire building the year before and since that time billable clients had almost doubled. Maybe I should have the Feng Shui master come through and rearrange my mental furniture. Things were getting crowded and weird in the ol' homestead.

I looked at the phone for a moment, and dialed the number I had better memorized than my social security number. I found myself listening to Scully's answering machine — again. I'd called her cellphone, her office extension, and her home number, only to leave messages to her cold electronic shadow. She wasn't returning my calls. Hunter said that Scully was just sulking, but there was something itching at the base of my brain that disagreed with my lovely wife.

My new secretary was gracious, well-organized, attractive, and old enough to be my mother. I'm sure Hunter arranged each of these things.

Matheson was developing a specialty in coordinating law enforcement resources to take advantage of new technologies and advances in recordkeeping. There are traditional rivalries, but computers know nothing about egos and so if the computers talked, Feds and locals wouldn't need to, and everyone would be happier except the criminals. The farmers and the cowboys could be friends.

I was happily correlating robberies with police patrol patterns when the Senator called.

"Sir," I said, as respectfully as I knew how.

"Fox, it's been a while. I'm glad you've entered my old hunting grounds — I think you'll find it rewarding."

"I certainly am." It was hard to think of the old man as part of the private sector, since he'd been in office before I could vote, but the consulting firm had been in his family for ages, and Mrs. M. still worked here three floors above me.

"But I didn't call just to pat you on the back, Fox, I have a special project for you, one that will take advantage of your background — put that psychology degree to some use."

"What is it?"

"Major disaster planning. FEMA's a joke — we're talking Armageddon, half the population at least incapacitated. The federal government wants to know which would be the crucial facilities necessary to maintain order in the remaining population, and as usual the private sector is the only option for providing the skills they need."

"What's the expected cause? Asteroids, minor nuclear war, global warming, what?"

"Does it matter?" he asked.

"Sure," I told him as if I'd been doing this for years. "It affects whether or not you have access to infrastructure, communications, food supplies — and it probably affects whether or not the good citizens are going to be listening when Uncle Sam comes around with his bullhorn and his promises."

If the Senator disliked the flippancy, he ignored it. "A virus."

"Another Ebola scenario?"

"I'll have the files sent over. Oh, by the way, you did go to your doctor's appointment, didn't you? Hunter wanted me to check."

"She knows me pretty well," I smirked into the receiver. "Clean bill of health. I even got a flu shot for the coming season."

"We like our employees to be well-prepared," and the smile in his voice was as polished as thirty years of the rubber-chicken circuit could make it. "Take care, Fox."

I twiddled with the statistics for a while, already distracted by the new project. The real challenge would be getting people to believe a government-sponsored leader rather than some Hitler-wannabe using disaster as his Great Depression. The government would have to present itself as having the solution, even if it didn't. Trust was far more important than ammunition in a crisis, though the latter couldn't hurt.

I got out my notepad and started to jot.

I hadn't shut the door to my office and after awhile, I had to get up and seal myself off from the outside world. Someone was coughing outside and the noise was annoying me.

****

Frohike called me after eleven o'clock, his voice hushed as if that would keep the surveillance he always expected from catching his words. When he did speak, he sounded strangled, as if he'd got the flu that seemed to be bogging everyone down. The lunchroom at the Bureau had sounded like a doctor's waiting room for the past few days. "Mulder won't return our calls."

"Thanks for sharing." Maybe he was trying to get back at me, hoping that the Gunmen would then ignore my messages and then there would be a weird triangle of failures to communicate.

"This is serious, Dana, Matheson is involved in some weird shit."

"Tell me."

"Supposedly we're holding off on demobilizing from the Bosnian situation because of a flu outbreak in the military, but we don't think that's what's really happening. We think that the military is readying itself for martial law, using illness as an excuse to shut itself off from regular society. Electronic and voice traffic between Matheson's firm and the Pentagon has quintupled over the last week, and members of the consulting group have been quietly moved into offices at Langly and Quantico. Our friends in the world of government watchdogs" (that is, conspiracy theorists, I told myself) "are convinced that a coup is imminent."

"I'm not sure I understand what you want me to do, Frohike."

"I could show you pictures," he leered, but his heart wasn't in it. "We want you to approach Mulder. He always condescended to us, even when he needed us. He trusts you more." His voice was sad, and I felt a sudden wave of sympathy for the man.

"You think he could stop this?"

"He'd be a voice from inside the beast, someone who could expose the truth about the whole operation."

Informants, the agent knew, were supposed to provide information — and occasionally get themselves slaughtered. I swallowed and tasted silvery-metal fear. "I'll talk to him. But I can't promise –"

"Yeah. Hey, Dana, I've been looking for information on Hunter, but it's really " His voice trailed off in a pained wheeze, "… strange. You might be interested in it. I'll send you the file."

"All right," I said and hung up, realizing too late that such behavior was rude when Mulder wasn't on the other end of the line. He'd stolen my phone manners, but then why should they be any different than the other parts of my life that he'd colonized?

I turned on my computer and retrieved my email. The attachment from the Gunmen proved to be a set of scanned files from Hunter Matheson's early years. I was surprised that the Mathesons had adopted. I could imagine the political benefits, but they had two children of their own already, and wealthy adoptive parents usually choose sweet little babies rather than twelve-year-olds. The Gunmen had dug up an interview with the Senator in which he explained that Hunter was the daughter of an old friend of his who'd perished tragically with his wife and another child in a fire, and he'd gladly taken the bereaved youngster in, ensuring that she was raised in the same environment that her parents would have given her.

How small a community is Martha's Vineyard, anyway? Hunter had gone to prep school, naturally, and probably summered in Europe, but the Senator was an old friend of Mulder's father and I found it hard to believe that no one had ever paired the two aptly named children. Mulder had never mentioned that he knew her from before. Of course, important things like that tended to slip Mulder's mind — hey, Scully, were you aware that you didn't have any ova? The man couldn't be relied on to buy toilet paper and it was sickeningly possible that Hunter had been his childhood sweetheart, the one he never forgot, the one who outshone all the other women who were just papering over the aching void inside him until he returned to her.

Yo, Dana, jealous much?

But something about Senator Matheson's story made my fur stand on end. I looked at the records again and noted her listed birthdate. October 31, 1960. A nest of snakes stirred to life in my stomach, coiling and tangling and biting at me.

I wondered if they'd had neighboring bassinets at the hospital.

Frohike had appended a note near the end. "Her history is funky. All the school records check out, but if you call the people who were supposedly in her class, they have no idea who she is. And I got one guy to lend me his old facebook, the original and not the kind the universities keep for display. There's no one with the right name or face there."

The snakes swallowed pigs and I was rapidly losing my ability to breathe. I wanted so badly for her to be the bad guy, but now that it seemed to be true I could only wish for my standard disbelief.

The message I sent back was simple: "I need to know who her biological parents were."

****

The message from Scully was simple. "Please meet me after five."

She was at our bench when I arrived and I felt a thrill just from knowing that I'd gotten the part of the message she'd left unsaid. Sometimes I thought Hunter and I shared the same neurons, but it was different with Scully, because I'd had to work for it with her. Even if I wasn't willing to do the hard labor of knowing her anymore, I still respected the achievement.

"Hey," I said as I sat and flipped my trenchcoat around to cover my knees. There were fewer tourists than usual around the Mall. If I were still paranoid I'd feel more secure with the decreased opportunity for surveillance.

"Mulder, I –" the words stretched like spun sugar until they crystallized into glass and shattered in the air; I felt the fragments against my face.

"It's so good to catch up on old times with you."

She made a small sound that I would have interpreted as pain in another person. "I think there may be something wrong with your new job."

"Would that be the fabulous pay, the cushy office, or the bankers' hours?" I turned so that I could see her out of the corner of my eye. Had she been so thin before? I could see the lipstick and blush covering her real face like a layer of dust on a statue.

"I don't understand what happened to you, Mulder. These people — Matheson — they're heavily involved with the military, with keeping vital information from the public about what the government is really doing, and suddenly you're nonchalant. I didn't expect marriage to neuter you."

I shifted on the bench. "Your territoriality would be charming if you actually had any claim to the territory."

"That's not the point!" I heard her take a deep breath, and then she shifted so that she was facing me, her legs drawn up onto the bench, her hands hot around mine, and though I didn't mean to I grasped them like a drowning sailor grasps flotsam. "Mulder, for your own sake, so that you know what it is you're dealing with, I'm asking you to find out what Matheson's relationship to the government really is. I don't think that this is mere political patronage. I think this is dangerous."

She was staring at my chest, at our joined hands, and I couldn't see her eyes. "Scully," and she looked up and I should have been more careful what I wished for; they were chlorine-blue and as distant as the bottom of an Olympic pool, cloudy as if something had drowned.

"All I want is for you to find out why your consulting group has increased communication with the Pentagon in the last few weeks fivefold, why there are members working at the FBI and the CIA and probably the other alphabet agencies. Maybe it's nothing. But you owe it to yourself — you owe it to what you used to seek — to find out."

I shivered, wanting her warmth to surround me, trying to use my grasp on her hands to pull her closer, but she dissolved away from me like smoke and then she was a retreating figure on the sidewalk, stopping to offer a tissue to a coughing tourist and then moving away.

Then I had a thought that should have been warning enough: What could it hurt to just take a look around?

When I returned to the Matheson building, I went up to Hunter's office. I knew that she had an appointment with the Secretary of Commerce. What I didn't know was how she could stay awake during those things. "She's not in," her secretary told me as I approached.

"I know. I just have some … love notes to hide."

The secretary smirked, but I thought it was a pretty good bluff, under the circumstances.

You have five tries to get the password right on the Matheson computers before you're shut down. But Hunter had just gotten yelled at by the security staff to change her password, and we had an amusing little conversation about the appropriate replacement. Her favorite name for a girl baby was 'Molly,' don't ask me why, and sure enough it worked.

Logged in as Hunter on Hunter's computer, I checked the root directory. There were a lot more files there than I could remember seeing. Obviously, her access was better than mine. Out of curiousity, I checked her directory. Devoted TV junkie that she was, Hunter had named the directory "FoxFiles." At that point, I was honor bound to look at what she was writing about me. And I wanted to know if *that* was why the secretary had smirked at me.

There was a file dated the day after our last big fight, right before I'd quit the X Files. It was a saved email from a Doctor Rendigar at Princeton.

"Dear Ms. Matheson,

Your concern that Fox is experiencing flashes of 'memory' from alternate paths is understandable, but not well founded. In theory he might get some interference, like signal leakage that creates radio interference, but there is no reason he would experience it at this time, when there have been no recent cross-temporal events to trigger it. I hesitate to offer personal advice, but it sounds to me like you should just chalk it up to a marital spat whose wounding words meant more to you than to him.

I remain, Your humble servant, Akhil"

Memory, signal leakage, cross-temporal events — the jargon seemed so familiar.

Memory-gate theory, time slippage, a woman's science-sexy voice in my ear, going back to Bellefleur with Scully, and again —

Holy fuck. Memories swirled around me like the plastic litter in a shaken snowglobe.

Even paranoids have enemies, and I have more than most. Hunter knew that there was something wrong with me. How could I lose myself in another man's memories for days? It made no sense that I would slip without protest into my otherself's life (not to mention his wife) when I had noticed the change in three inches of Scully's hair.

I retained enough composure to log off, and then I staggered out of Hunter's office. One privilege of power was that no one gave me any shit about taking off work early. I took a cab home.

When I opened the door I saw that the message light on the telephone was blinking.

"Mulder? It's John Byers. . . Uh, I'm afraid I have some bad news –"

What, their server crashed again?

"Frohike's dead. About an hour ago. He had a bronchial infection and — well, he died. They talked about that Superflu that's going around. . . Uh, we're having a memorial online, if you're interested, and Langley is bringing some good beer. Call me if you can. . . Bye."

The world gave a sickening shudder around me.

Frohike? Dead?

She was blue and silent, her outline distorted and inhuman on the bedside. Cold.

And I remembered. How her cheekbone had felt against my knuckles as it crumpled, the salt spray of hot blood from her mouth as she fell back and back. I remembered collapsing her throat with the edge of my hand. It felt like fruit, bursting and bubbling beneath the elastic skin.

I stumbled and bounced off the wall, knocking the mirror on the floor, where it broke into shining silver shards. Seven years of bad luck . . . God this was wrong, this was a big fucking ball of wrong.

Hunter's purse on the side table next to the mail, and I almost bolted, but then I heard the shower running and I was reassured. The keys to the Volvo were in her handbag as well as a few other things I felt I needed. Did DC observe communal property laws? Since I wasn't really her husband, it was theft no matter which way I looked at it.

I called Scully from the car, but she wasn't home. Maybe she was at Krycek's place for a change, but I didn't have his number.

The bar at the airport was open and I drank Scotch until my plane was called.

 

Tikkun Olam 14/25

Guildenstern: We've been caught up. Your smallest action sets off another somewhere else, and is set off by it. Keep an eye open, an ear cocked. Tread warily, follow instructions. We'll be all right. Rosencrantz: For how long?

 

Dr. Strauss looked even better this time, and I don't think it was because she'd changed. I think it was because I was drunk enough to have to feign sobriety to get on the plane. "Things are different now. Worse."

"What the hell happened?" she demanded.

"I'm married, Frohike's dead, Scully's with Krycek and the fucking DOG FROM HELL is alive." I groaned.

Her lips thinned and I found myself on the other end of a "men are pigs" glare. I shrugged. It wasn't the first time I'd had the special pleasure of that look.

"You're married."

"Imagine my surprise."

"You changed something, didn't you?" her voice was accusatory.

"What did you think people were going to do with this, anyway?" I asked and laughed in the rain for a moment, "Stay behind the red velvet rope at all times? Did you really think they were just going to watch their childhood reindeer games?"

"The Prime Directive never worked in Star Trek either," she snarked and held open the door.

"I'm not a Trekker," I lied.

"People are such shits," she said behind me, her voice curling into my ear like a gust of pot smoke, hot and heavy. "It's not who won the eighth grade spelling bee that matters."

My hate-addled brain lit up like a Christmas tree. "Explain." I moved past her, into her living room, and took possession of her couch. She followed me like a guest in her own house, slumping sullenly next to me, her booted feet crossed at the ankles.

Secrets are so very hard to keep, because they are so very satisfying to tell. "The research wasn't designed for personal knowledge. There's not much utility in being able to return to your own childhood and be a child. The idea was that a person could return to a time in which she was alive but take on any persona available in that timespace. Like Quantum Leap."

The woman spent waay too much time watching the Sci-Fi channel.

"The military implications would be –" "Why do you think the project was funded? But control was always the problem. They never knew if the experiments were simply failing or if, when the subjects went back to attempt to alter the path of history, the changes simply spun off into other universelets, leaving the universe of intervention unchanged. And they wouldn't have known the difference because the time line was changed."

Okay, I thought I might understand that. "But I'm aware of changes. Doesn't that mean it's working?"

She nodded. "It confirms what I've believed all along, which is that the technology of fifty years ago was simply inadequate."

"I am not going to live like this."

"I'll help you," she promised, and put a warm hand over mine.

Desperately lonely, afraid and tired and needing a drink more than when I'd started on the Scotch, I leant into her soft cotton t-shirt, feeling the warm breasts underneath and the gentle swelling of her belly. I let her cradle my head in her lap like a child as I sobbed a few helpless tears. Her hand was on the back of my neck, stroking gently, and she'd never thought of the back of the neck as a good place to put an implant. Despite her tough mouth and black clothes, she was innocent of the true evil running like an undertow in the sea of everyday life. She was a civilian, a stranger, free of all my knowledge of death and pain, Lilith in the Garden before Eve pulled down the apple.

When I kissed her, her mouth parted for me like palace doors opening. She responded feverishly, her head no doubt full of all the romantic movies where the hero finds himself in trouble and in love simultaneously. The hero never seems to have a wife back home who gets off on beating him up, and if there's a girlfriend she's a shrew and easily disposed of. I didn't have a wife — not really — and I didn't have a girlfriend, and right now I didn't even have a Scully. I needed a fantasy and I didn't mind being Dr. Strauss's in return.

She urged me to stand up and follow her to the bedroom. I would have preferred the couch but I was too drunk-tired to resist. Underneath the hard clothes she was a perfect crumpet, generous breasts and thighs and a soft rounded stomach that I could have disappeared into forever. A whole woman, one who could give birth and nurture, whose body had been sculpted by Venus rather than ravaged by other stars. Her fingers worked through my hair, soothing the cold spots where Dr. Goldstein had drilled into my skull, stroking the knots of hard skin. I rolled into her balmy sweetness, letting her smooth my clothes away from my skin until I was sunk into her cunt up to my hilt and she flowed around and underneath me like sponge cake. Her hands swept over the bruises and weals from Hunter the night before. I rolled safe and warm with her, soaking up the heat and health of her skin, thawing the ice in my bloodstream.

Dr. Strauss was butter and honey to Scully's cinnamon and sugar and Hunter's rubbing alcohol and broken glass.

She whimpered and moaned underneath me and I stoked slowly and evenly into her. I was just coherent enough to hang on until she cursed and bit my shoulder, and then I came with pleasure born more of relief that I could still perform than of the inherent ecstasy of it.

I don't know when I passed out, but I woke up in a swaddle of woman-smelling sheets with my mouth rotting like unrefrigerated meat. What woke me was my cellphone, chipping away at my addled head like a dentist's drill at a cavity. I reached into the pocket of my rumpled whiskey-smelling jacket and retrieved the phone. "Mulder."

"Where are you?" Scully's voice was as sharp as a paring knife, advancing on me from across the breadth of the state.

I was so happy to have her bitch at me that I almost cried. The light was cruel as a sadistic headmaster. Even with my eyes closed I cringed away from it.

"Frohike's dead."

"I know. I'm sorry. Where are you?"

"I'm in Richmond."

Dr. Strauss ambled in, stretching so that her T-shirt rode up and exposed her bikini panties. I must have been seriously stressed since this had virtually no effect on Mr. Happy.

"What are you doing in Richmond?" I closed my eyes and let Scully's voice ground me.

"I'm trying a new technique that may let me figure out what's gone wrong with the timeline. I'm with a Dr. Strauss at her house –"

Dr. Strauss' mouth shut in mid-yawn and she gave me a curious look.

"I need your help. Dr. Strauss can give you directions."

I handed the cellphone to Dr. Strauss, who took it with some trepidation. There was a long pause on our end. "I'd really rather discuss it in person, Dr. Scully. I have NIH approval for human-subject research and there are no indications that the procedure could reactivate any seizure disorders." Another silence. "Your concerns are entirely reasonable but I really would prefer to meet you and show you my results. Let me be clear: I have agreed to perform a procedure on Mr. Mulder. Would you like to join us?" She proceeded to give Scully directions from the airport.

"Well," she said finally, closing the phone and returning it to me, "Is your … friend … always this protective?"

"It's a very complicated relationship," I said between my teeth.

If I found that I was fucking Skinner by the time Scully arrived, God and me were going to have words.

Over on the other side of the bed, Dr. Strauss glowered.

****

Fish gotta swim, bird gotta fly, Scully gotta go running after Mulder. Natural and inevitable as the tide, washing dead things onto shore.

Practically frothing at the mouth, I threw clothes into a duffel almost at random, since there was no knowing how long this little frolic and detour was going to last.

Maybe I could consider why I was letting Mulder drag me around when we were no longer partners instead of taking flowers to Frohike's grave. Frohike specifically asked me to keep working on Matheson, though. He thought the government might be hiding something to do with the Superflu. And if Mulder was about to allow his brain to be pureed again, I couldn't let him do it without a lecture.

I almost walked right past Robert Rothstein on the street. He didn't let me. "Dana!" His desperation was like Mulder's, even if the name was wrong. I turned and he grabbed me by the upper arms, crushing me to him. I could smell his days-unwashed body, thick with pheromones and salt. He smelled like Mulder, a solid presence even to my devastated sense of smell, like books and leather and late nights. Crushed to his chest and struggling, I felt his body shake with relieved sobs. His hand was in my hair, tangling and combing simultaneously.

"Get off of her!" Alex's voice surprised us both. His hands ripped us apart and suddenly were standing in a small intense triangle as Robert staggered back, overwhelmed by the larger man. Robert looked at him and Alex glared back.

"Who's this, Mulder's kid brother?" Alex sneered. "More little details you omitted from your life story, Dana?" I didn't understand what he was talking about. I suppose there was a slight resemblance: same eye color, same hair color, only Robert had never come nose-to-leather with a fastball and his past apparently included physical rather than emotional starvation.

I wondered whether Dana Rothstein had been drawn to Robert because of some genetic predisposition towards men with that certain raffish look.

While I was studying Robert, he was watching Alex. "Are you Pyotr? Or Alex?"

"Whaaat?" Alex and I asked like dual Ally McBeal imitators. I took a deep breath. This situation was not under control. "Robert Rothstein, I'm taking you into custody in connection with the investigation into the murders of your wife and children."

He blinked at me. "Alex, will you help me escort Mr. Rothstein inside?"

"Custody? If he's a suspect, shouldn't we –" Alex was a stickler for protocol. Working cases that actually went to court would do that to you.

I spared a repressive glare for him. "It's an X File, Alex, we don't have a holding pen for people who can appear out of thin air."

"I need to talk to you," Alex told me, grabbing Robert firmly by the back of his sweatshirt collar and swinging him around so that we were headed back inside.

"I know," I said, unhappy but resigned. Mulder was just going to have to fend for himself for another few hours. "But this is sort of a case here, Alex, and it's just going to have to wait. You have the right to remain silent, Mr. Rothstein –"

Robert was plunked down into my kitchen table where he promptly burst into tears. I sat on the chair opposite and tried not to bite my nails. Alex made Robert tea and after the little man had consumed a cup of caffeine and sugar he was able to talk.

"Tell me what's going on," he begged and looked at me with helpless puppy eyes.

"Dana –"

"Mr. Rothstein — Robert," I tried again, "I am not sure what exactly is occurring here. I — it's obvious that I share a resemblance to your wife –"

"But I don't understand," he interrupted. "If he's Pyotr and the other one is Rex, are you Samantha?" I shuddered as if a regiment of Nazi scientists had just goose-stepped over my grave. Since Mulder had explained Robert's comic book plots, I'd been worried about this, but it was even creepier in practice than in theory.

Alex frowned. "What is this, Dana? I got enough fruitcake during the Christmas season."

Alex hadn't seen the comic books, though. "Robert, I need to ask you some questions about the deaths of your wife and children."

Robert blinked blearily at me. "I don't remember what happened. All I know is that when I woke up she was dead. I was frightened. I thought everyone would blame me and I ran."

"Where have you been for the past few days?" I stared at him, willing him to be intimidated and even influenced by my apparent resemblance to his wife. Leaning against the kitchen sink, Alex had his arms folded across his chest, watching our little tableau with distaste.

Robert shook his head. "I don't really know. Around. Running. I saw Rex in a park somewhere."

Mulder's close encounter of the spooky kind. So maybe it wasn't a vision after all but a missed opportunity to detain and interrogate a suspect, which would be just like Mulder.

I couldn't let myself be distracted by Mulder's conceits. "So it's your allegation that you have no involvement in these deaths?"

Robert stared into the dregs of his tea as Alex shifted in my peripheral vision, no doubt wondering why I wasn't taking this dangerous suspect immediately into custody. "I love Dana. I would never hurt her."

"And your children?"

His head snapped up, his eyes crumpling into origami shapes of pain. "I would never –" He stopped and drew a shuddering breath. "I couldn't hurt them."

Using present tense meant he hadn't accepted the deaths yet. People who killed loved ones often used the present tense even as they were telling the sentencing judge that they were sorry. "Your hands are shaking," I noted.

He glanced down, surprised. "I haven't been taking my medicine lately," he said and essayed a sickly smile. I'd seen soap opera stars do better.

"Pseudo-Parkinson's can be triggered by the sudden cessation of medication as well as a long period of high doses," I informed him. "I … I have your medications here." It wasn't procedure, but I'd had some idea of researching the interactions, and maybe I thought I might slip a few in Mulder's morning coffee.

I left Alex to watch over Robert, leaning up against the kitchen counter, near the door, with his arms still across his chest like a cigar-store Indian. "Medications?" he mouthed at me, but I looked away. He didn't move a muscle while I was gone, I don't think.

The pill bottles lined up like chess pawns on the table in front of Robert, and he carefully allocated himself his prescribed doses. "One pill makes you taller," he saluted me and swallowed them with another gulp of tea. The flash of humor was good; it suggested that he trusted me.

Even if he believed his own story, it was quite likely that he'd killed his family and had no memory of the deed. Murderers in perfectly good mental condition can suffer traumatic amnesia in cases like this. Robert had a couple hundred thousand miles on his mental odometer and I couldn't trust that all the warning lights on the dash were working.

"Everything was fine until I started trying to recover my memories," he mused, staring into the waterglass as if it might turn into the Amazing Karnak and deliver all the right answers.

"With regression therapy?"

"Not hypnosis, I've tried that, Dana read all the studies and concluded that my hypnotically recovered memories were inherently unreliable. And Dr. Werber never helped me remember what happened before I was taken, only during."

"Heitz Werber?" I asked, just for the record, and he nodded. Alex looked at me curiously. I hoped he couldn't tell that I had up close and personal experience with the man and his metronome.

"Yes, but not this time. I tried an experimental memory-retrieval therapy. It was supposed to be a variant of drug therapy used on Alzheimer's patients, restoring degraded neural pathways."

I kept my mouth sealed. It's good to let a suspect control the pace of his own narrative.

"Anyway, I … remembered … something from the time before. A little girl, screaming my name, screaming for help. But then when it was over I didn't have any useful information. And after that things started to-it was like they were shifting when I wasn't looking. Just little things at first. My clothes weren't where I left them, or they weren't what I left. We had a Lincoln Navigator and then we had an Explorer," he ground to a halt.

"Are you sure that wasn't just Bill Gates fucking with your browser preferences?" Alex asked unhelpfully.

I felt a physical pull towards Virginia. Mulder was off chasing memory retrieval therapy. It couldn't be a coincidence. Coincidences were rarer than accolades from Skinner in my life.

Robert reached past the pills and the half-empty glass of water to take my hand. "Help me," he said. "Don't leave me alone."

I wondered what life with Mulder would have been like if he could say that to me instead of couching it in slide shows.

 

Tikkun Olam 15/25

Guildenstern: The scientific approach to the examination of phenomena is a defense against the pure emotion of fear. Keep tight hold and continue while there's time.

 

Agent Scully and I trooped up the gravel path to the house. It looked sturdy. Sturdier than any of us. Agent Scully banged the lion-headed knocker with more resignation than hope. Surprise flickered in her eyes when the door actually opened. Then her face went as still as a shut-off television. It was unnerving to see Dana's thin face so blank, like a dead thing walking the earth, unwilling to submit to death's regime.

Maybe this was my fever dream as I languished in jail waiting for trial. Or execution. Can you execute a person who's not in his right mind? What if he's in someone else's mind?

When I got a better look at the woman inside the house, I was sure this was all an illusion.

"Dr. Strauss?"

Agent Scully and Dr. Strauss stared at me. I guess as the crazy person/item of evidence in the group, I wasn't supposed to talk.

"Who the hell are you?" she asked.

Nobody knows me, I thought. "I did a session with you, a week ago. To find out what happened to me when I was a child."

She looked me up and down, not missing the handcuffs. "No you didn't."

"We did it in your office at the University. You had a calendar with the art of Boris Vallejo and a coffee mug that said 'everything I need to know I learned from Star Trek.'"

She flushed, an angry slash of color across her pale face. "That was a gift."

Agent Scully was evaluating Dr. Strauss with a monofilament-sharp gaze. "Doctor," she said, making up in forcefulness what she lacked in height, "may I see my p — Mr. Mulder? There are many unanswered questions in this case." The cadences were all wrong for my Dana. Each word was edged like cut glass to impress upon the listener the power of her badge, the weight of the federal government behind her. Dana hadn't needed that weight in our life.

The two women faced off against each other for a moment like caryatids on a temple, arms crossed over their breasts, eyes cold and sharp.

Dr. Strauss fell back and we shouldered past her into the house which on the inside was sloppy and chaotic. Rex — Mulder — was sitting on a beat-up couch in a suit wrinkled like a raisin. His gun was visible at his hip. I saw his hand twitch towards it and then relax as his eyes closed with the effort.

"Felt the need for a chaperone, Scully?" His voice was like a javelin and she stopped moving towards him for just a second. Not half a minute inside and there was blood on the floor already. The world I knew was dangerous and frightening, but it was softer.

"Did your regression lead to any revelations?" she asked in a nail-gun voice.

He flinched. "No. I need to go back further."

"Mulder, you need to come back to Washington. This is not a good thing for you to be doing right now."

The look he gave her made the skin dance unpleasantly on my back. I couldn't have killed Dana. But maybe Rex could have.

****

Scully was more interested in Dr. Strauss than in me and I can't say that I was surprised. She had a vigorous argument with Dr. Strauss about antiparticles, parity, and electrical charge, which ended with Dr. Strauss throwing up her hands — literally, it was very dramatic — and proclaiming that she was no physicist, just a practical researcher. It was kind of like watching a battle on Xena Warrior Princess where the babe-a-licious contestants used Newton and Einstein for weapons rather than swords and cheesy kick-boxing moves. Deliciously enough, I realized that they were arguing about me as much as they were fighting about theory. Finally they went back to their corners and Dr. Strauss began to quiz Robert about his past regressions with her alternate-universe self.

My federal darling had worked herself into a fine lather. I think I saw her nostrils flare when she sat down next to me on the couch. Maybe she was trying to smell the sex on me. "Mulder, according to all the accepted laws of physics, this — well, if we assume that the theory's premises about the ability of consciousness to move in time are valid, the implications are far more serious than some perceived disruption in your living conditions."

"What do you mean?"

"If it were, somehow, possible that Robert had crossed the boundaries from one potential universe to another by regressing and changing his path through time, he might begin to exist in both paths at once — never mind," she said at my look. "The point is that if Robert came here as a result of his regression, which Dr. Strauss denies any knowledge of, and the disruption surrounding him was sufficient to bring his entire household with him, then the theory suggests that the distortion will only continue to spread unless it's reversed."

I sensed a bad ending. "And what would constitute reversal?"

"It could be that if we, in layman's terms, reasserted the integrity of our timeline by reversing whatever incursions Robert's presence has caused, by replicating his regression and making the 'right' choice for this reality, we could suture the breach."

The jigsaw puzzle was coming together and the picture was ugly. A man with Fox Mulder's genotype had gone to a Dr. Strauss to find out what had happened to his childhood self. But he didn't. Ignorant of the Heisenberg principle, he changed things, and the universe was annoyed. Like a child scratching a mosquito bite until the skin tore, the world ripped itself apart around him for his arrogant curiosity.

"There's more," she said.

"I may already have won the Publisher's Clearinghouse Sweepstakes?" I suggested.

She didn't even blink. "Mulder, I — I think it's possible that your, that Hunter is –"

****

If what I was about to admit that I suspected about Hunter was true, time travel into the past via memory retrieval therapy wasn't the only thing we had to worry about. Hunter hadn't gotten here by regressing to her childhood. And if Dr. Strauss was right, it was dangerous for Mulder to blunder about in the past, trying to change whatever he didn't like about his life. Mulder dislikes so much that he is prone to wishful thinking about alternatives. Hell, there was a chance that he'd go back to the beginning and try to court me like a gentleman, bring me flowers and let me take my own sweet time deciding whether to kiss him. I wouldn't put it past him. I was gathering the courage to articulate my impossible theory to Mulder when there was a loud buzz from the door.

Dr. Strauss, yet another one of Mulder's gazelles, shrugged and went to answer the door. She was already resigned to the fact that Mulder brought trouble with him like sex appeal — he was good-looking enough that what would be unforgivable in a lesser man was only pathologically annoying in him.

Enter Society Siren, stage right.

Hunter brushed past her punkish cousin and targeted Mulder like a heat-seeking missile.

"My credit cards are not yours to raid whenever you decide your life lacks excitement, Fox," she said. I was impressed that she was angry enough to break the facade of exquisite perfection.

Mulder blinked up at his wife with the slow ludicrousness of the recently stoned. She gripped his shoulder and pulled him from the couch.

"Come along," she instructed.

"Couldn't we get a divorce instead?" he asked and she would have paled if not for her superb foundation and blush. She did pull away as if he'd slapped her, and he swayed like a hanged man in the wind. He looked like he was in the grip of a flashback, eyes reversed and seeing only the past as they'd been after Goldstein's butchery.

"I have to –" he said guiltily, and then a loud noise swallowed the rest.

I spun towards the door, still open from Hunter's dramatic entrance, drawing my gun as two men tumbled through, firing as they went. I dove for the pile of newspapers in the middle of Dr. Strauss's floor, glad that she was not the neatest of housekeepers. I caught a glimpse of Hunter, running like hell for the back door. A consultant, she had a finely honed sense of survival. Robert was cowering next to a bookcase by the door. He seemed to be screaming but I was already deaf.

I threw a quick look at the couch. Mulder had gone over the back at the first sign of trouble, pulling Dr. Strauss with him. I couldn't see much of her because she was quite wisely cowering behind him as he fired randomly in the doorwards direction. Mulder jerked his chin to indicate that we should retreat.

One of the intruders was down, slowing the rest of the attack team, but three more were already inside. They hadn't noticed Robert, who began to push at the bookcase. Dr. Strauss scuttled towards the back of the house, dignity forgotten.

The bookcase toppled sideways, onto one and a half goons. I shot the one whose upper torso was pinned like an abductee under the alien knife. Robert had effectively blocked the door against further entrance and he bolted across the room, heading for the hallway Dr. Strauss had gone down, as I fired at the two remaining gunmen inside. They were wearing Kevlar so I went for face shots.

One little piggie, two little piggie . . . I ejected the spent clip and reached into my jacket for another as I followed Mulder further into the house.

There was blood on the cheap carpet and I didn't know whose.

In the kitchen, Mulder and Robert were huddled around Dr. Strauss, Mulder pressing his hands over the wound in her shoulder, one hand on her chest and the other on her back as if he were trying to press her like a flower in his book of memories. She was looking up at him with disbelief, a department store mannequin aghast at her dismantlement.

"There's a door to the garage, she has a car in there," Mulder said, staring into Dr. Strauss's eyes. His hands were covered with blood, running down his skin like rain.

She regarded him as if he were the angel of death.

I pulled the door open and saw an enormous Thunderbird, black with a blue racing stripe.

"Do you have any idea where the keys are?" I yelled back into the house. We only had a minute or two more at most.

Robert was past me and at the driver's side door in an instant. He slipped in and did something at the steering column and the engine turned over. I had forgotten that his early arrests were for car theft.

"Do you need help?" I asked Mulder, but he was rising, holding his hands out to me as if I could make him clean. Dr. Strauss slumped to the yellow seventies kitchen table and I was there, feeling for her pulse as Mulder pulled me back.

There was nothing we could do, unless we had a portable ER. Mulder grabbed a gray laptop from where it was staring at Dr. Strauss and we left her to die, piling into the back seat as Robert gunned the engine. "That's a garage door," I yelled as he looked back over his shoulder and prepared to go to reverse.

"It's not my car," he pointed out and I put my hands over my head as we crashed backwards out of the garage, metal screaming and crumpling like the women in my abduction nightmares. We bounced and jolted as Robert spun the wheel, rolling over people or shrubs or both, and then we were squealing down the street. The back window shattered and we jittered from side to side like a quarterback heading into the end zone, bouncing as we turned the corner.

They — whoever They were this time — were following already, but Robert obviously fancied himself a stunt driver because we were flying down the Richmond streets as if they were the tracks at Indianapolis and the red lights starting flags.

"Where are we going?" he called back to us, and Mulder and I looked at one another blankly.

"We need to ditch the car," Mulder decided, "it's too conspicuous." Yeah, about the only thing more conspicuous would be a frog and a bear in a green Studebaker. Bear left, right Frog. Robert spun us into an alley and pulled into a space marked 'residents only.' We exited, Mulder wiping his bloody hands on the upholstery to decrease his conspicuousness. I frowned at him. Getting a woman killed and stealing her laptop is one thing, but trashing her car shows real disrespect. However, if Dr. Strauss was going to haunt him, she already had good reason so I followed the two men down the alley.

Dr. Strauss had lived in a postgraduate slum right by a commercial area, which was probably the only way she could afford to rent a house. Mulder flagged down a cab and told the driver to take us to where we could buy a car. Naturally, I got to sit in the middle because I was the shortest.

"Why do we need a car?" I asked as the cabbie informed us that his brother-in-law owned a used car business and Mulder agreed that was a really good idea.

"We're going to my family's summer house where we can escape official scrutiny, and we're going to fix what went wrong with Robert." Robert frowned and looked as if he wanted to say something until he remembered that his family was dead and then sank back into the seat.

"We need to call Skinner."

"You think Skinner can protect us?"

"He has before."

"I'm the only one to fix this, it started with changes in my life — Robert's life."

Okay, so now he was convinced that he could go into the past and fix the present as if it were a leaky sink. This was bad, this was the super banana split with three flavors of ice cream and chocolate sauce of badness. I pushed my shoulders against the smoky red leather of the cab seat and pondered how to get Mulder off of his latest ledge. Meanwhile, there *was* a larger military-industrial complex conspiracy afoot. Matheson was doing management consulting for the Apocalypse. Maybe if I reminded Mulder of this fact — well, hypothesis — well, supposition — anyhow, maybe it would catch his fancy and we could shelve this world-hopping theory of his.

Mulder paid the cab driver in cash, which is how I discovered what a wad he was carrying around. No wonder Hunter had been mad.

The best course of action was to wait until he felt safe and then convince him to return to Washington. I kept my own counsel while Mulder dickered with the salesman and took the brown junker he'd selected out for a spin. It didn't leave the muffler behind for the test drive, so he bought it for four hundred dollars.

"I'm driving," I informed them and neither one had the balls to challenge me. There was no way that I was going to let Robert have the responsibility for my physical safety, not after his previous performance, even if he was taking his meds again.

It's a long drive from Virginia to the unpronounceable and unspeakable town where the Mulder family spent their summer vacations. Mulder had me drive through cow pastures and people's back yards to avoid the major roads. Strangely enough, we were almost making better time than we would have on the highway. Even though I was concentrating on the circuitous route, the country roads were boring enough to give me plenty of time to plot his death.

On the way, Mulder rambled about his amazing life with Hunter and how he wasn't supposed to have a wife, describing in great detail the apartment he used to have and all the fish he hadn't killed. Robert chimed in with a few choice observations about how the world was changing around him, even though it was obvious that the only thing changing was his brain chemistry. This didn't seem like a good time to feed Mulder's delusion that *he* was the one out of place with my conclusion that his lovely wife might be responsible for some of the distortion he was experiencing.

See, even were Mulder right about the need for him to regress to fix what Robert put asunder, Mulder was clearly having some kind of psychotic episode. The white skin, rapid respiration and dilated pupils were enough to warn me that Spooky was on the verge — and what he was on the verge of I had no way of knowing. There was a slim possibility that if I pushed him too hard I would end up in one of the cow pastures with friendly bovines sniffing over my stiffening corpse.

I wanted him in a more controlled environment, but the problem (aside from the fact that we were all three of us currently endangered species) was that it would be hard to get him out of the psych ward if he ever entered as a patient. It's hard to protect Mulder from himself and from the world and I had the sick-making feeling that I was going to have to choose shortly.

I just drove. Reflected in the rear-view mirror, Robert snuffled and twitched and looked at Dr. Strauss's laptop the way a burnt toddler looks at a stove.

"Why did those men attack us?" Robert asked in a plaintive voice from the back seat.

"I don't know about your Dr. Strauss, but my Dr. Strauss was working from a set of experiments that were started during the Second World War. I'm sure that they were our old friends from Black Ops again."

I snorted and Mulder gave me an annoyed look. Mulder thinks everyone who looks at him sideways is a Black Ops agent. One case we were on in Key West had him constantly twitching at every poor gay man who checked out his ass. I would have expected him to soak up the adoration like a plant in the sun. Of course the homosexuals of Key West hadn't shot at us and killed a woman. It was possible the hit squad had been related to Dr. Strauss and her experiments, as the ability to change the past was a frightening weapon. More likely, I thought, was that the MIBs were Matheson hires, "security consultants" with a vengeance. They could have been following Hunter without her knowledge, but I thought it rather more likely that she'd brought them along for backup.

By the time we got to Pennsylvania, I had a partial plan. I would keep Mulder and Robert on ice while we got the Gunmen and Skinner to figure out how to bring us in safely. We'd deal with Hunter and the rest of Matheson, then see about fixing things with Robert. A potential coup had to take priority over personal vendettas.

Fortunately, Mulder is prettier than he is bright and never imagined that I would give the probable drug dealer at the bar in upstate Pennsylvania fifty bucks to let me use his cellphone while Mulder was in the men's room. By that time, I had consumed no less than three shots of vodka and the shaking was finally leaving my hands.

I called Skinner and briefly explained the situation. He was slightly suspicious, the way Ken Starr was suspicious about Clinton. "Agent Scully, this is one of the X-Files' impending clusterfucks, isn't it? From where should I expect the angry call from the local authorities next?"

"I'm not really sure, you should keep an open mind."

"Where are you, Agent Scully?" There were alligators swimming in that question.

"Buddy's Bar and Bait Shack. Somewhere off 95 — I think."

His sharp intake of breath told me everything I needed to know. "Agent Krycek has communicated with me about your conduct with respect to the suspect in your most recent case. I want you back in DC, Scully. Before the situation gets out of control."

"Sorry," I said breezily, "I think you should just try to find Hunter Matheson-Mulder and tell her that her husband is alive and that I'm doing my best to return him in the same condition." I disconnected over his vigorous disagreement.

Mulder sniffed me suspiciously when he returned, but all he could smell was the alcohol and he thought the drug dealer was just giving me the eye rather than indicating his gratitude for my contribution to his welfare. The rest of the journey was uneventful, despite the fact that I let Mulder drive.

As soon as we stepped into the fusty-smelling house, Robert began poking around, looking at the furniture as if he'd seen it in a catalogue long ago. Mulder took Robert firmly by the arm and dragged him upstairs.

Mulder found me in the kitchen, looking at the ancient canned goods. "I cuffed him to the bed in the guest room. I need a prescription for the pharmacy. I need to do another regression as soon as possible."

"Mulder, we can't do another of these drug-induced fantasies of yours." I shifted, stretching my aching back and subtly moving my hand near my holster. I wasn't averse to holding Mulder at gunpoint if rational conversation proved futile, as it so often did.

"I can't let you stop me."

I stared at him, momentarily dumbstruck by his intransigence. He stalked towards me and I was prepared for him to use his size and his not inconsiderable sexual charm. I wasn't prepared for him to use his spare handcuffs.

The thought that he was trying to hug me distracted me while he pushed my hands behind my back and then I felt the cold bite of metal at my wrists. Outraged, I butted my head into his chest and tried to knee him in the groin, but he was leaning forward to avoid precisely that eventuality and I had to settle for lunging at his ear like Mike Tyson.

"Jesus, Scully," he complained as he removed my gun from its holster and spun me around so that he could get at my handcuff key, "I would have thought that you'd enjoy this more."

The heel of my shoe in his calf made him grunt, but he gripped my biceps like any small-town sheriff and began to march me through the house.

"You don't have to do this," I said in the correct tone for dealing with hostage situations.

"Please, spare me the bullshit, Scully," he snapped.

"You're taking Robert's story to heart, you're over-identifying with him, perfectly understandable under the circumstances."

"Shut up, Scully." He pushed me harder than necessary up the stairs.

"Mulder, you have to realize that there are people looking for us and spending hours in a drugged haze is not going to improve our situation. "

"I'd gag you but somehow I don't want to give you the pleasure."

My face boiled.

"You had no business coming into my apartment. My personal life is none of your business," I said and my voice came out in a nasty, defensive whine.

"It's not?" He picked a room and shoved me inside. I refused to stumble even though he had me off balance.

"No, it's not. Your personal life is none of my business. That is between you and Hunter." The bedroom looked to have been his parents', and though Mulder disdained Freud I thought that this was unlikely to be a setting conducive to harmony.

"You understand that this proves what I've been saying about parallel universes. That I am one Mulder in a series of Mulders and the one that you know is — was — married to Hunter, and he has my deepest sympathy, but he's not me."

A little tin foil lining in the baseball cap might take care of all that.

"Mulder –" I stopped, genuinely frightened. Dr. Strauss' death might have been the last dollop of guilt he needed to push him onto the B-side of reality. Science made me willing to consider the possibility of parallel universes, but the evidence we had was that the manifestations were all physical. If he was another Mulder, then my Mulder should also be present in the flesh, like Robert was. This mind-hopping was a trauma-induced delusion, a fantasy that he could live a better life than the one he had, brought on by the admittedly bizarre events of the past few days.

He pushed me towards the bed and the world began to spin like George Stephanopolous.

Tikkun Olam 16/25

Player: It costs little to watch, and little more if you happen to get caught up in the action, if that's your taste and times being what they are.

Quonochontaug. Try saying that five times fast. Sometimes I'm not sure which Scully hates more, my atheism or my Richie Rich background. The closer we got to the summer house, the harder it became for her to hide her sneer.

So Scully was pissed. And Microsoft ruled the world. What else was new? It got to the point where I was actually hoping that she'd start telling me off. With batterers, this is called the tension-building phase, and some people claim that the anxiety gets so intense that there's a moment of relief that goes through the victim when the assault is actually triggered. But Scully punished me with her silence and I could only twitch uneasily in the passenger seat, my backache worsening by the mile.

When we finally got to the house in Quonochontaug I had just enough energy to get Robert locked up and Scully under control when she became unreasonable. I took her into the main bedroom and tried to think what would ensure both my safety and her presence. I needed to regress again. At least, away from my familiar haunts, the changes wouldn't be too jarring.

"What now?" Scully asked, puncturing my reverie, looking around the bedroom as though it were the slimiest of hotels. Her hands twisted like a ball of snakes beneath the cuffs.

"I guess that's up to you. How much you're willing to cooperate." I didn't want to have to cuff her to the bed; it would strain her muscles even more if she was already in pain.

Her head turned with geologic slowness until she finally looked me in the eye. Then she smiled, a flick of her eyes at my midsection was like one of those Star Wars laser sword things. "Oh, I know how to cooperate."

The fact that Scully was furious with me never prevented us from fucking. If it did, I would still lack working knowledge of what she looks like naked.

Adrenaline is a serious aphrodisiac.

My mouth on hers plunged me into a heat wave as terrible as Washington in high summer, hot and humid, reducing my will to nothing. Her epethelial cells on my tongue were more exhilarating than cocaine, more narcotic than heroin; Scully speedballs were zipping through the blood-brain barrier and making me sex-stupid. We kissed until she was backed against the bed and I was tearing at her waistband. Then she bit my tongue.

"Fuck," I cursed, garbled through the blood, and she smirked at me as I reared back.

"Ditching me works better, Mulder," she taunted. "It's not rational to reward you for mistreating me." There was a smear of my blood on her lower lip, recoloring her faded lipstick. I wanted to decorate her with it like warpaint.

"Mistreatment?" I sniggered. "I thought this was your scene." All this time I thought about giving her flowers or writing her poetry, and I should have tried leather and rubber.

She tossed her head like a wild horse warning a cowboy off, but I'd got her corralled and I intended to ride her hard. Avoiding her teeth, I bent to suck at her throat, to ring her fragile skin with red roses signifying my touch.

The back of her knees hit the bed and she deliberately allowed herself to fall onto the dusty comforter. It would have been an escape if it hadn't left her even more vulnerable to me. Her gaze was as forthright as ever; she might have been suggesting an investigatory strategy for our latest case for all the federal expressionlessness of her face. "Come on, Mulder, I know what you want."

"Tell me," I insisted, playing out the fantasy.

She rolled her eyes and I reached down to pinch a nipple where it protruded through the layers of her blouse and her bra. When she spoke, her voice could have issued from the Playboy Channel. "Fuck me like the girls in your magazines get fucked," she purred. "I'm all tied up. There's nothing to be afraid of."

I felt my heartbeat increase and the blood in my veins speed up to an autobahn pace. For the record, my magazines usually featured the women wielding the whips and bindings. But it was one kink in my very twisted tail and it never stopped us before. Anyway, she was ordering me around, and my cock was sure that counted for something.

I pulled my suddenly useful tie off and wrapped it around the links of the handcuffs, bending down to loom over her like an incubus in the night.

"Hold still," I ordered with a nibble at her ear, and she obeyed long enough to get the tie knotted tight around the bedpost. Then I grabbed her hips and pulled her towards the center of the bed, so that she was spread across it diagonally, her arms above her head.

Her legs were clamped together, and she resisted when I tried to put my hand on her inner thigh. "Am I going to have to do this the hard way?"

"I don't know, how hard is it?" Scully's face was flushed pink, a beacon against the faded bedspread.

"Hard enough," I asserted and went for the button on her pants. There was really very little she could do to keep her pants on, and to give her credit she didn't try, just roiled against my questing hands like a stormy sea. Naked, she was a burning brand across the bed, white-hot, sucking all my senses to her with the force of a whirlpool; she would drown me in her fire. I paused to stare — usually she didn't want to let me have second thoughts and so our nudity together was functional rather than decorative.

"Jesus, Mulder, this isn't one of your videos! Get on with it," she urged.

Stupidly, I'd tied her up while she was still wearing her shell. I could have groped her through her clothing, but it wasn't quite right and I rummaged in my pants for my Swiss Army knife.

Her indrawn breath when she saw the blade jolted my cock with anticipation. When I brought it to her neck, careful to keep the sharp side away from her, she turned her head away, overwhelmed by the sensation. Slowly, with deference to my shaking hands, I slit the shoulder seam running from the neck of the blouse to the edge of the half-sleeve, then repeated the motion on the other side. Scully was jerking her hips beneath me, fucking the air. I steadied myself long enough to cut through the thin straps of her bra as well and then closed the knife. Relief and the scent of her beneath me made me dizzy.

"Now what?" she taunted. I took the bottom of her blouse and pulled hard, drawing it down her body, over her hips and the firm muscles of her thighs and calves. I had to struggle with her to get the clasp of her bra, since she tried to push down into the bed to trap my hands, but she had no safe ground and then she was naked.

She moaned when my hands closed over her breasts, and moaned again when I squeezed. "Harder," she demanded and I complied. Bruises feel different when you know they're given in love.

I used my fingers to tweak her hard nipples, tight in the center of her small aureoles. My attention was drawn by the blue veins that snaked their way up the contours of her breasts. Her skin was so fine, almost translucent. I wanted to open her up so that I could see everything, finally understand it all. This is what made Monty Propps kill, I remembered. But that was all past me; I had a particular project to finish right now.

I brushed my lips against her smooth belly, brushing the fine hairs there with my exhalations. Her hips flexed against my shoulders and chest. I swirled my tongue around her navel, then dipped in, and was rewarded with a strong jerk, so strong I had to steady her underneath me with my hands on her hips.

While Scully squirmed, I fumbled with my belt and managed to unbuckle it, which was enough to get the pants off. I wondered if she wanted to be blindfolded — serious trust issues abounded with us — but I wanted to see her expression. I wanted us to unite like the worm tattoo that was supposed to live on the delicate skin of her back.

I outlined her body as if I were sketching it, carving her from the air, her skin sliding underneath my fingers, sweat-slick. I slalomed over her hills and valleys, pinching and prodding to keep her surprised, hoping to make the Olympic cut. She was wet for me, just for me; surely her body would never lie to me, speaking louder than the misleading silences of her mouth. Scully jerked against her bindings, fucking my fingers and gasping at the inadequacy of it.

I pulled my hand away before she tore it off and lowered my head to her thighs, which she immediately clamped shut again with killing force. This time, when I put my hands on her thighs to pry her legs apart, she used all her leverage, but it was not on a par with my lust and I pushed her legs up so that I had perfect access. I felt her pushing against me, strong and solid, as I bathed my face in her pussy.

Because she was tied up, I was solely responsible for her pleasure. And though I am normally less reliable than a political pundit I was determined to get this right. From the way she was gasping and shuddering into my face, the scenario was doing a lot of my work for me, and I was grateful. Her yelps got higher in pitch as she approached orgasm and, finally, she keened like a cat with a stepped-on tail. It's a good thing sex is so much fun; otherwise we'd be too embarrassed to ever do it.

I pulled away and examined her sweaty, flushed body with what might have been mistaken for detachment if you'd ignored the bulge in my pants. I stripped so fast I almost lost a limb. Her eyes opened, bright as muzzle flashes in the dying afternoon light, and she smirked at me.

"I should make you return the favor," I growled.

"Don't put anything in my mouth you can't afford to lose."

Returning to her, I plunged my tongue into her mouth so that she could taste herself on me, then pulled back when she began to worry my tongue with her teeth, making good on her threat.

The shock of being inside her was as intense as if I'd just lost my virginity. She was a hot shower after a long sweaty run, bread fresh from the oven, the surface of the sun. Her legs stretched around me, hitching onto my hips so that she came up from the bed with me after every thrust, a limpet cemented with lust to the unseaworthy ship of my body.

When I looked at her face her eyes were screwed shut as she gulped air, but it hardly mattered. I could feel her around and inside me and what was between us was beyond dispute or denial. The sex with Hunter had been shattering, a silver fishhook in my gut that tore me ragged, but being with Scully magnified me, expanded me like some fifty-foot-monster from a fifties film. All my flaws and all that was good exploded when I was with her, spread out for her perusal.

Feeling like a god, half-laughing like a fool, I came with the sound of her shuddering gasps.

I started out of my half-doze to the clanking of metal.

"Scully?"

When milady sleeps, she sleeps well. Scully was still twisting against the tie in her sleep, pouting like a petulant angel. She wasn't going anywhere so, without the Judas kiss I should have given her, I left our room to check on Robert.

Robert had managed to get himself off the bed and drag it four feet towards the window, walking on his knees. His wrist was bleeding over the old scars that were the tattooed mark of the brotherhood of suicidal maniacs. Where Scully had been wholly focused on getting free, Robert was twitching like a man with Tourette's, banging his free fist on the floor as he flopped like a fox with its leg in a trap.

I grabbed a blanket from the bed and tried to get it around him so that he'd do less damage to himself. He struggled away from my touch as if I were made of burning napalm. "Shh, shh," I warned, even though he wasn't saying anything. With the tears of effort running down his face, he was like a child in my arms, the little boy that I had almost been.

I dipped into his nightmare for a moment, the world black and white and my groin stinging with a humiliating mix of pain and pleasure, and then his forehead connected with my chin and the pain untangled our thoughts as blood ran over my lips and chin.

Robert fought like a cat being given a bath. His head jerked from side to side and he began to stammer half-formed syllables, the Conspiracy version of speaking in tongues. His volume rose until my ears hurt. I had to cup my palm behind his head to keep him from banging it on the floor. Then he collapsed like a building imploding.

I rushed back to Scully. When I bolted into the bedroom, she looked up from her examination of her raw-meat wrists. "What happened?" she asked, and the fear in her voice frightened me in a feedback loop of horror.

"Scully, what if Robert's chip is slightly different than the ones in this universe, what if he received signals that somehow crossed over following his regression so that he was acting from miscommunicated commands when he killed his family?"

She paid no attention to the theory. "Let me see him."

I felt a surge of jealousy, green as Krycek's eyes. "Can I trust you?"

"Why break such a fine tradition at this point?" Reluctantly, I got the key from the dresser and released her. She rubbed at her wrists and winced as she stood.

Robert sobbed in the other room. Nausea bubbled in my stomach like champagne. She grabbed a sheet from the bed, wrapped it around herself, and pushed past me and into the hallway.

I couldn't move.

****

There is only one dream.

The light is everywhere. It is so bright that it is not painful; it is pain. This light erases all memory and hope of darkness.

The little girl is screaming and somehow the light of the television is still a bluish rectangle in the larger light. The girl is screaming because the boy cannot. The light enters his bloodstream and his lungs and he is gone into the light.

I woke into darkness, relieved. At first, Mom and Dad got me a night light for the dream, which was a big mistake. Eventually they sealed the windows and the cracks at the edges of the door. It got stuffy but it kept the light out. Tonight's darkness was less complete but I was older and it wasn't as difficult.

My hands hurt, my head hurt, my knees hurt. I felt like a rag doll run over by a truck.

Dana was holding my hand the way she does, murmuring reassurance.

In the darkness, I could almost believe it was her. Her hands smoothed through my hair, calming. I imagine that I had been screaming. I hadn't done that for years but I had reason enough to regress.

"May I turn a light on?" I shook my head against her flat, fleshless stomach and pulled her more closely into me. There was a clammy wetness on my bedsheet between us — oh God I'd come from the dream. Those were always the worst. I hoped she couldn't feel it pressing against her.

Her fingers traced the scars behind my ears and the one on the back of my neck. Her touch was clinical, with the precision I associated with Dana's foreplay. We were silent for several minutes as her slow fingers began to have an effect on my heartrate. She felt so smooth and warm and alive and her heart beat under her skin.

"When you're ready," she said, "I'd like to turn on a light so that I can make sure that you're all right."

Fully awake, I could usually handle it. It was only days when the sun was out behind the clouds so that the light was directionless and shadowless that I cowered inside with the shades pulled. "Go ahead," I told her, proud that my voice did not tremble.

The light snapped on and it was reassuringly yellow. I hadn't noticed until then, but she was naked except for a sheet. So she was sleeping with Agent Mulder, like I'd thought. The thing with Pyotr was just too strange. She checked my fluttering pulse and stared into my eyes. I don't think she really needed the light for a medical reason. When she tilted my head forward so that she could look at the scars, I went without protest.

After a few minutes she let me go. She rose from her seat on the edge of the bed and I was sure she'd abandon me. "Let me see your scar," I requested. "I've never seen mine." She was surprised enough to sit down again, still graceful but with unusual haste. Her long, wild hair was falling in front of her eyes and I couldn't see into them. Her breath was loud enough to scrape against the insides of my ears. With the lamp behind her, she was a black silhouette, the shadow of a woman I knew.

Hesitantly, like a bride on her wedding night, she swiveled on the bed so that her back was to me. She tilted her chin towards her chest and I brought my hands up to push the fall of hair away.

The scar was smaller than I had imagined. It always felt so large, even though Dana claimed it was unnoticeable. But on Scully it felt as large as mine and still looked like a delicate white line, a suicide's hesitation cut. She trembled like an oak in the wind as I traced around it, still and strong at the core but wavering at the edges. "What do you remember?" I asked, because she wasn't looking at me and she might be able to answer that way.

Her breath lost its carefully measured rhythm and became panicked Morse code. "Very little," she said at last. "Whispering voices. Men above me, making decisions. The pain, the dizziness, not even knowing who I was. The light."

"He doesn't understand. No one else can." It wasn't a question. Dana had tried to understand for years. She tried to accept the regression therapy too, even though Missy thought it was a good idea. It was a testament to Dana's love that Missy's enthusiastic endorsement hadn't made her run screaming in the opposite direction. My chest tightened and the swan's neck before me blurred.

My hand was still on her, my fingers moving in patterns without conscious volition. I hadn't felt this hormonally charged since before we were married, when I wasn't sure I'd actually get to have sex.

My lips were so close to the scar on the back of her neck warmed under my breath. I wanted to touch it with my lips, I wanted to make love to her. I wanted Dana back.

If I could still smell anything I suspect I would have smelled him on her. But I couldn't even tell if she smelled like my Dana. Of course not, Dana smelled like milk and cookies and baby things. Scully must smell of guns and scalpels.

When Mulder pushed the door open, it banged against the wall, and we all jumped, even him.

"What's going on?" he accused as Scully bounced to her feet, tugging the sheet around herself, away from my hand and my wanting.

****

When I finally went to find her she was sitting with Robert on his bed that was now the centerpiece of the room. He was touching her naked back, the way a long-time lover would. I growled and Scully pulled herself away, slowly, as if she didn't want to leave his gentler hands. What a laugh, since it seemed that Scully wouldn't know what to do with gentleness if she found it.

"He's not seizing," she informed me, looking as stiff and untouchable as a nun at prayer. We glared at each other until I looked down.

Scully drifted into the hallway, somehow managing to stay clear of me by at least a foot even though I was almost blocking the door.

"You had your chance," I warned him.

"No," he said softly, staring at her white marble back above the whiter chitonlike folds of the sheet, "I don't think I ever did."

That shut me up, and I followed Scully out of the bedroom. She was still standing there, looking into the darkness at the head of the stairs. Alpha Centauri could have been reached more easily than Scully at that moment.

"I want you to know," she said, "as far as I'm concerned this was a one-time event, a mistake brought on by stress and trauma. I'd be lying if I said I never imagined that we'd — get together some day, but I always knew that a sexual relationship begun under such intense circumstances would be a serious error. I apologize for not taking action to prevent this, and I hope you'll respect my wishes in the future."

I couldn't even follow her back into the bedroom. I should have been watching to make sure she didn't try to escape through the window into the trees outside but I was devastated, clear-cut by the sharpened axes of her words. I slumped down against the door of her room.

I thought that no matter how far I drifted through possibilities we would at least be together. I had assumed that if I had a wife I also had a steamy, Melrose Place-style office affair.

First time? Been there, downloaded that, saved it to disk. And now it had been destroyed for this Scully, who might have given me a chance to do it right. Every small change I encountered was for the worse, like icebergs calving off what had seemed like a pretty shitty life but was now looking to be above average for the Fox Mulder potentialities.

I could feel each and every blood corpuscle move through the capillaries in my head. If the only side effect of the lipid therapy was a headache and one very fucked-up existence, it wasn't going to be popular in the Midwest. Through the cardboard of the summer-house walls I could hear Scully breathing, getting herself under control so that she could dissect me more effectively in the morning. Maybe she wouldn't be so keen to have Krycek beat her if she cut loose and yelled at me once in awhile. This wasn't the Scully that I knew, even though she looked and smelled like the genuine article. But so would a clone for that matter and a dimensional version and a clone really weren't the same as the real thing at all.

****

Mulder has a serious madonna/whore complex, and being with Alex had clearly pushed me to the "fallen" category in his mental ledger. When he knocked hesitantly on his parents' bedroom door I didn't respond, because he was going to come in whether I liked it or not.

"Scully," as if my name were his rosary, "I — I can fix this, I know I can. I just need to go back, and this never has to happen. I grabbed the drugs, you can help me go back –"

I pulled the sheet more tightly around me, as if it were my shroud and I were fleeing Mulder by dying — it was the only thing that might keep him away from me. "This isn't wise, Mulder. We have to assume that we're being tracked –"

"Even more reason I should go now, before it's too late." He sat down on the bed and I managed not to flinch, though it was close.

"Mulder, no. I haven't had a chance to study Dr. Strauss's research, I can't take the chance that the drugs would do long-term damage."

Mulder has a very complicated understanding of the word "no" when it comes from my mouth. That's my fault as much as his, I know, but sometimes I can't help but feel that we've been playing a trust game for five years and he's never let me know what the safe word is. If I'd had it, I might have used it.

When he went downstairs to get the drugs and the laptop, I couldn't honestly say that I was surprised.

I should have refused to help, but if he had to self-inject there was a decent chance he'd wind up with an air embolism. That man could injure himself buttoning his shirt, and has. I put my funky clothes back on while he was downstairs, mourning the loss of my overnight bag back in Virginia.

He offered his arm to me as if we were going to dance. Mulder's veins are the most receptive part of him, really; new ideas that don't fit with his megalomaniacal worldview would have a better chance if they could infect him, like a cold virus. I considered just knocking him out and calling for help, but he was fragile enough that a new betrayal might break him, regardless of the fact that his fragility was the direct consequence of his own overheated libido. I would let him regress and then insist on returning to DC, where we would find out whether he was a husband or a widower.

Watching him lie there with the IV bag was entirely too much like watching him in an ICU bed as I'd seen him many times before. He twitched like a sleeping dog dreaming of chasing squirrels. Strauss had been very specific about the amount of time that Mulder could remain in the regressive state, but she had been unclear as to what the outcome would be if the poisoned apple caught in his throat and he stayed under. The side effect could be as mild as a hangover or it could lead to psychosis or an extended vegetative state.

And the side effect of watching someone regress could be psychosis or an extended vegetative state.

I looked at my watch. Half an hour left and then I'd change the IV to straight saline and, hopefully, he'd wake as normal. As normal as Mulder ever gets.

I should have known that avoiding sex with him was risky. We were like planes circling each other, trying to keep a minimum safe distance without any guidance from the striking air-traffic controllers of our better judgement. The crash had been spectacular and the FAA was still searching for survivors. In my half-completed fantasies about us there had always been a quickie divorce, and a slow bottle of wine and a confused and indirect declaration of devotion, if not love. Well, that was shot to hell now, like the one where I ended up with a white picket fence and two point five children who were genetically mine.

Watching him wasn't doing my nerves any good so I dug Dr. Strauss's reports out of her backpack — our backpack now, as the afterlife doesn't allow many carryons — and settled down in the armchair to read. Just to add another humiliation on top of the rest of them, the type on the reports blurred before me. Since Mulder was well and truly down for the count, I let the tears run down my face as though I were alone. The bruises on my thighs throbbed and though it had to be psychosomatic it still spurred on the tears.

On the bedside table there was an alarm clock/radio. I put on the news channel and listened to the national manhunt for the person or persons who were responsible for the kidnapping of former Senator Matheson's son-in-law – one Fox Mulder, formerly of the FBI.

Oh great.

Tikkun Olam 17/25

Rosencrantz: He's not himself, you know. Guildenstern: I'm him, you see. Rosencrantz: Who am I then? Guildenstern: You're yourself. Rosencrantz: And he's you? Guildenstern: Not a bit of it.

When I stared at the walls I thought I could almost see them changing. Just a little at a time, of course. But I would look at the cheap painting next to the window and it would be a winter scene and then, when I looked again, autumn.

Mulder's explanation was that we were cutting through parallel universes like a rebellious gradeschooler writing the wrong way across ruled paper. I would find that easier to believe if I hadn't experienced it before. Until Mulder, everyone I told thought that drugs would be very helpful.

Dana Scully came in to check on me, the silver of the handcuffs dangling from her wrist like jewelry on the bruised skin underneath. To her, the walls were not changing. Even if they went from blue to pink, when she looked at them they would always have been pink to her. It made my head hurt worse than doing taxes.

"Mulder and I are like the tines of a tuning fork," I told her, and she looked at me with her cool evaluating eyes. "We're vibrating together, sharing the same frequency, and everything else in the world keeps changing. Only we stay the same together."

"I haven't seen any evidence of changes," she told me, checking for fever with the same smoothness she'd always used on the kids.

"That's the point," I insisted. She nodded and went back to Mulder. I wanted to cry out: Don't leave me alone. But she would have anyway in a minute or so, when another Dana came to take her place. They kept getting further and further away from mine.

****

The man had a thin, sharp face and close-cropped curly hair. He was the kind of man whose nose could twitch like a rabbit's. But any uncertainty he might be feeling was concealed behind a veil of smoke and the cigarette he was holding his thinly sensual lips.

"Well, if it isn't daddy's little spy," he said and I looked around wildly.

When I turned, I saw a little boy, with defiant brownish eyes and a stubborn mouth set in a pout that would disappear at the next distraction.

To wit, me.

In my amazement, I stumbled backwards, into a haze of grey smoke that had me coughing and jerking away from the friendly hand on my shoulder. "Calm down, Bill," the smoking man said soothingly. "I'm sure the boy didn't mean to frighten you."

"Excuse me," I said, and bolted for the bathroom, which was as I remembered it (the only thing that was). When I looked into the mirror I was staring into my father's lying eyes. He looked as I always remembered him, young and vibrant. Even when the drinking made him wrinkled and grey in reality I never saw his older face when I looked at him, only the stern Daddy face underneath it.

I brought my father's shaking hands to his clean-shaven cheeks. Welcome to Freaky Friday, Mulder.

"Bill?" The voice behind the door was familiar now that I couldn't see it issuing from that young strange face.

"I'll be right out," I managed.

"Good," he said silkily and I wanted my gun, the gun that was twenty-five years in the future. I splashed water in my face. My father's eyes were bloodshot and when I cupped his palm in front of his mouth I could smell the alcohol on his breath.

Walking with the care of the not-entirely-sober, I exited the bathroom and brushed past the smoker. "Let me talk to my son for a minute," I told him and I felt his gloating eyes brush against me as I left.

The boy was moping in the kitchen, kicking his feet against a chair as he contemplated a glass of milk and a plate of cookies. Yes, this was before Mom stopped cooking.

I was transfixed by the sight of the little boy, almost a young man really, who would be denied a bar mitzvah because his parents were too assimilated and who was about to go through an altogether worse initiation into manhood. My nose was still straight and those were all real teeth. The mole hadn't begun to bother me because I wasn't shaving yet and I had no inkling why girls were different than boys.

"Fox?" I said, my voice full of wonder and trepidation.

He looked up at me with a similar expression. "Dad?"

"What — what did you want?"

"Dad — please don't let them take me!" He was out of the chair and throwing himself against me, wrapping his arms around my neck like a hangman's rope. "You don't know what they'll do, you've got to help me!"

I pushed away. "Robert?"

The boy's eyes were old, and not sane. "You've got to help me."

And let Scully die, and let Robert tear the world into confetti in his search for resolution.

"I'm sorry, son. Go back. There's nothing you can do. It happens as it happens, that's all." It was a lie to find my own truth. How many times can you betray yourself? How many times before you destroy the person you once were?

Tears flew down his cheeks and he turned away, shuddering with the force of his fear. Then he straightened up and looked back at me and Robert had gone. "Dad? What is it?"

"Nothing, son. Go do your homework."

He nodded mistrustfully and fled. I turned back to the smoker and whatever dastardly deed Bill Mulder was plotting.

The smoker didn't say anything as I walked to my desk and sat down so that the alcohol in this body's blood wouldn't distract me. "Did the conversation with your young son help you decide?"

Oh God. This was it, the moment I'd been expecting for too long. Scully or Samantha.

Fox or Samantha.

"Just to be clear, what if I decide not to decide?"

"I'm afraid … our mutual associates would consider that a lack of commitment to the Project, Bill." The threat was vague but unmistakable. "It's not the end of the world, you know. Just a different life for the child." Yeah, if by different you mean full of torture and Nazi-style experimentation, I guess you could say that.

"You wouldn't have to be making this choice right now if it weren't for your recalcitrance eight years ago, Bill. The Project would be further along, there'd be a clear choice for the test subject, and you would never have allowed yourself to get so attached. Attachment is a mistake. You know that."

"I'm not sure what you mean," I hedged, seeking more information.

He sighed. "Your foolish desire to keep your wife's genetic material for your own selfish purposes ensured that this day would come. Now decide. I've been very lenient with you, old friend, and people are beginning to ask me questions."

I cleared my throat and spoke the only name I could. Funny, for the longest time it was the only name I knew. "Samantha."

"Samantha goes, or Samantha stays?"

"Samantha … goes."

The smoker stubbed his cigarette out on the overflowing ashtray on my father's desk. "She's a charming, intelligent child. I'm sure she'll do well. That's your answer, then."

"Yes." I swallowed, wondering if my father had felt that the sacrifice was worth it too. If I were him, I'd be asking-"When?"

"I believe you and your lovely wife have a standing date to play cards with your neighbors? You'll make sure that you honor that practice two weeks from tonight."

I nodded blankly, looking down at the desk but seeing into the future-past. The Magician would be on. I wish that They would have waited until we'd finished the game of Stratego. I would have beaten her because I'd already killed her scouts and her spies; she was a terrible general.

"And here they are now," the smoker said, lighting another cigarette. I heard the crunch of tires on gravel and looked out through the window. Sure enough, Mom had just pulled up in an enormous pre-gas embargo car, a Chrysler I think, and she got out and went to let the squabbling kids in back out of captivity. Then she went around to the trunk for the groceries.

I should have gotten up to help but I don't think my dad ever did.

Then Samantha got out of the car and I thought that all the oxygen had left my lungs and my bloodstream at once. As the world began to break up into static and lightning, I only knew one thing.

The Samantha Mulder I'd just sold down the river was blonde.

The end sequence of 2001 starring me as the star child whisked through the gloppy soup that was my mind. I was watching the psychedelic oil and water show on the screen behind Jerry and the rest of the Grateful Dead through the best version of "Sugar Magnolia" in the universe, the one that existed in my imagination.

When I finally hauled the garage doors of my eyes open the bedroom in the vacation house was as I had left it, which was a good sign that I'd returned to where I had left.

Almost.

Scully was missing.

I threw my feet over the edge of the bed and swallowed down the wave of nausea that threatened to send me falling back to the mattress again. The shunt hurt when I pulled the IV line out and I was reaching for the water when I saw the blood.

I was bleeding and my chest hurt.

I poked and prodded at the white tape surrounding my ribcage, feeling the familiar grinding pain from a foreign object cutting through muscle. I had been wounded, fairly badly, and I didn't know by whom or why. This was a definite sign that all was not well.

"Scully?" I bellowed at the dark and open doorway.

She didn't answer and I hauled my hurting carcass up from the bed again. The floor was imitating the deck of a ship on a rough sea, which made the nausea flare up again. I grabbed the doorframe and hung there for a moment, letting the sharpness of the pain in my chest fight off the woozy sick feeling. The hallway and staircase were dark but I went ahead anyway.

In the living room, the only light was coming through the porch light, dappled black and silver across the old furnishings. I swung loosely around and spotted a ghostly smear in the armchair before the fireplace.

Krycek.

Of course, we hadn't seen him lately.

"Krycek?" I asked and nudged his arm.

He blinked and looked up at me.

"How'd it go?" he asked.

It was beginning to look like on this side of the coin Krycek was one of the good guys. And monkeys might fly out of my butt.

"Not good. It's still wrong. I didn't accomplish what I needed to do. I have to go back."

"You have to eat, Dana said you'd be dehydrated and your electrolytes out of balance."

I followed Krycek into the kitchen and sat at the table while Krycek puttered around with various cooking things. I sat there and watched him. The meal in question turned out to be Campbell's tomato soup and Gatorade. While I ate he sat opposite me and drank instant coffee, watching me with opaque eyes. There were a few thousand questions I wanted to ask him, but I didn't want to blow my cover.

Krycek opened his mouth several times to start to speak, but each time thought better of it. I couldn't tell whether my curiosity or my fear was greater.

The front door banging open made both of us start and broke the hermetic seal of the cabin.

"Fucking Lincoln Town Car followed me halfway from goddamned Boston. So I'm thinking that this is it and that the assholes are finally going to get me, and I'm doing eighty on the back routes, and a fucking highway patrol car comes out of nowhere and fucking pulls me over. Nailed for speeding. Speeding of all fucking things. And this bull dyke comes around to collect my license and I figured that there was no way out. Hey, I wouldn't be totally averse to trading a quickie for a ticket, but muff diving is not in the job description."

"Nice work if you can get it." Krycek drawled over his shoulder.

"Fuck you, Comrade," Langley snorted and threw a bag on the table, I could hear the telltale clanging of metal.

Guns.

Byers followed suit, carrying an equally impressive arsenal. What the fuck was going on? Finally, Scully walked in and I sucked air. Throwing a leather jacket into the corner, she ripped a black knit cap off her head and shook her burning hair free. It was a particularly nasty-looking handgun that she dumped on the tabletop.

"Fort Drum is completely deserted. No personnel, no communications coming in or out and all the security has been shut off. The equipment is just sitting there. Tanks, helicopters, troop carriers, and everything else is collecting dust," she said and raked her fingers through her hair.

"Good chance to walk away with a Humvee at the five-finger discount," Langley agreed.

"What is going on?" I asked.

Brilliant blue eyes centered on me for a moment and then flicked back to Krycek.

"How long has he been up?" she asked and went through the age-old routine of checking my pupils, taking my pulse and generally examining me like an unpromising lab specimen.

"Half an hour," Krycek said.

"Save the universe, Spooky, or are we still fucked?" Langley demanded, one hand straying to the gun at his hip.

"Knock it off, " Byers protested, "You know Mulder's always disoriented when he comes around."

"Did you fix it?" Langley persisted.

"I don't know what you're talking about," I mumbled.

"That's enough," Scully snapped, "he needs rest right now, and I'll ask the questions, all right?"

Her strong little hands caught me under the arms and hauled me away from the table; Krycek helped her ease my stupid body into the living room and onto the sofa.

"He's gotta go back again," Krycek warned her and looked back over his shoulder at the light in the kitchen, "and I don't care how they feel about it."

"He's not regressing again until I'm sure that it's safe. There's no research on the long-term effects of Dr. Strauss' drugs."

Alex scowled at her, looking like a Boy Scout pretending to be a gangster. "Details, details. When I was in town the guys in the post office were talking about the latest news from Washington. The President is still saying that there's nothing serious wrong, that the travel restrictions are simply to prevent confusion and rioting."

"I guess he knows that we wouldn't believe him no matter what he said, unless it involved some sort of sexual confession," she plumped a pillow and eased it gently behind my back, "There's no communication with South America or Canada at all. They say that Texas has closed all its borders — Mexico and US — and that all the healthy soldiers have orders to shoot to kill."

"Like that's unusual in Texas."

"Fuck you, Alex, Russia isn't even organized enough to defend its borders. When this is over Germany's going to stretch all the way to St. Petersburg again."

Pain surfaced on Krycek's face for a moment before he stood up and ambled over to us where Scully put her hand on his shirt and he grabbed the hair on the back of her head and pulled her head back for a brutal kiss. My face burned as though I had opened a red-hot oven. With her neck bent backward like a smooth white bone, she gave herself up to him. After a moment, they broke apart and looked back over at me as though nothing had happened.

"How's your chest?" she asked.

"Bleeding."

"Let's take a look at it."

Tikkun Olam 18/25

Guildenstern: Wheels have been set in motion, and they have their own pace, to which we are … condemned. Each move is dictated by the previous one — that is the meaning of order. If we start being arbitrary it'll just be a shambles: at least, let us hope so. Because if we happened, just happened to discover, or even suspect, that our spontaneity was part of their order, we'd know that we were lost.

I followed Scully upstairs and I have to admit that I was enchanted with the delicious view of her ass as she skipped up the stairs in front of me in her tight black jeans. I wanted to reach out and grab her, squeeze the muscle and flesh in my hands like baseballs. She was a bruised peach with thick mascara and she was obviously still fucking Krycek. It made me wonder what I had done for this to happen. Hey, universes may pivot, it's always my fault; my guilt is an art form.

It was another bedroom that she took me to, the one that Samantha had used when we were children, and there was a king-sized bed there now and an assortment of medical supplies on the bedside table. She put her hand on my shoulder, pushed me to a seated position on the side of the bed, and began unfastening the tape on my chest.

Despite her slightly grubby appearance, she smelled good, like some heavy perfume that my Scully would never have worn. Her hands were as sure and as quick as ever. Pulling off the rest of the gauze, she revealed a series of deep, drying scratches that were too shallow for stitches and too jagged to leave uncovered. Scully dabbed at the scratches with peroxide-soaked cotton and the scratches foamed white. She pushed my head to the side so as not to block the light from the bedside lamp. I could feel the warmth of her skin radiating from the dark shadow of the cleft between her breasts.

When she pulled away I was grateful that she hadn't noticed my changed breathing and dilated eyes, or if she did she chalked it up to the drugs. I didn't want to upset her; I needed her and Krycek to get back to where we all should be. Now the issue was more than personal. I had to go back and fix things so that the right Samantha got taken or, it seemed, the end of the world would be getting a big jumpstart from the Muldermobile.

I was trying not to pay attention to Scully when she began to undress.

"Listen, Mulder," Scully said as she shucked her cable-knit sweater, hair flying around her face. "I don't like having you go back under."

She was unzipping one boot while hopping around on the other stocking foot which would have been funny under almost any other circumstance. She struggled with the jeans and they began to squeeze down her body. I dragged my gaze back up to her face so I could think.

There were two important issues: First, I wasn't interested in joining this Mulder's world at all. Scully and possibly Krycek and the Gunmen were going to be very suspicious, very soon. I had to get back, further into the past.

Second, what was the deal with the striptease?

"You wouldn't be much use in a fight anyway right now," Scully continued, stalking over to the bed. As she pulled back the covers and joined me, maneuvering carefully to avoid jostling the injury, the hot skin of her knee brushed my leg and made me start. With the bandages, I felt overdressed.

"But if They do find us I want you mobile, not drugged up and time traveling inside your head. I know you think you can prevent this, but Robert's story was hard to believe even for me." Her hand stroked up the inside of my thigh and my idiot dick jumped. The lower centers of my brain had been so well trained by her back in the real world that any one of the versions of Scully could have made me hard in a heartbeat. "And I'm still not sure what you can do to prevent this growing disorder. It's hard to tell when a situation goes beyond that which can be controlled by one man. Complexity theory is only beginning to give us a vocabulary to describe, much less understand, these things…"

The red line of her mouth homed in, hot and wet on my navel and headed south, and no matter what my head was saying to me my cock was agreeing with the warm and dangerous lips.

"But the good news is that you seem pretty mobile now," she said with a dirty chuckle into my thigh.

"Um," I hedged, wondering if I could get out of this by claiming that the wound had me on the bench for the season, sexually speaking, and also wondering if I wanted to get out of this.

My dick was already casting his vote and he did his own little dance of joy when her lips closed around the head of my cock and she started sucking away at me with long, slow lashes of her tongue. Scully, my Scully, is no slouch when it comes to giving head, but this version had a divine calling for blowjobs. Her teeth skimmed me in the wet softness of her mouth and I grabbed at the sheets with both hands, the hurt in my chest dying out like a fire without oxygen. My skin danced into goosebumps and I swear my toenails were curling up. She made a sound low in her throat that sounded like amusement and she sucked harder, her cheeks turning into concaves of hunger.

"If Robert's story is so unbelievable why does he have my DNA and alternate memories of current events? And can it be a coincidence that he showed up when things started to go wrong here?" I managed, congratulating myself on the coherence of the sentence, as Scully brought her hand up to caress my balls and then slid an inexplicably slick finger into my anus, prodding what I can only assume was my prostate gland and sending a firehose of unbearable pleasure through me. I jerked up and howled as she worked me from both sides.

The door opened and Krycek sauntered in.

"You started without me?" he asked, his voice filled with obviously false hurt.

Oh, I had fucked this one up but royally.

Krycek flicked out the bedside lamp and Scully picked up her head long enough to gift him with one of her rare smiles before putting her head back down and trying to suck my cerebral cortex out through my cock. Stupid with sex, I watched while Krycek slipped out of his sweater and began unbuttoning his jeans. I hadn't paid attention before, but now I think I would have killed to have his body. His chest was broader and thicker than mine, and all over more heavily muscled, right down to the soccer player heft of his thighs, and, yes, his cock was impressively thick.

Kneeling on the edge of the bed, Krycek grabbed Scully by the hips and pulled her closer. Scully raised herself up on her knees, bracing her hands on either side of my hips and arched her back like a cat in heat. His muscles shimmering in the moonlight like a quicksilver statue, he looked over the smooth white expanse of her back and smiled at me. He shoved into her with a jerk that moved down through her body like a wave and she gasped around my cock in her mouth. I shuddered and shut my eyes, trying to block him out and concentrate on what Scully was doing to my cock, which wasn't difficult. Scully removed her finger from me and braced her hands against the bed for better balance. Every thrust into her was telegraphed through her body into me as though he was fucking me through her. A trio of hard breathing, quivering muscles, and ice flame on nerves. When she started to shake as if laughing, I opened my eyes in time to see this Scully's eyes flame with an unmistakable orgasm. I knew that look entirely too well. Krycek was working his hand between her legs and wearing a fuck face that belonged in a porn tape.

I couldn't come like this, not with him watching me.

Finally he came with a choking cry and flopped onto her back as though shot, but life wasn't that kind. She shook him off and they both rolled sideways off me, her mouth sliding off my cock. My erection was still a loose cannon. It was nice that they'd both come and left me holding the baby, so to speak. Krycek pulled Scully on top of him, pressing her back to his chest and splaying her legs out like a rag doll's. Her pubic hair flamed against the white of her skin.

"Come on, man –" he growled.

Resting against his body, her face was satiated, sluttish. I was shaking but I did it anyway, moving over her and finally sliding into her where she was hot enough to burn. Her hands grabbed my ass and pulled me in deeper, and Krycek's hands covered her breasts, and I saw him squeeze her flesh and her nipples standing red and hard between his fingers. Tipping her pelvis up, she drew me in deeper than before and whimpered into my ear even as her teeth closed on my earlobe. Closing around me like a fist, she shimmied underneath me and went into another climax that threatened to throw me off the bed, but Krycek held onto my shoulders when I finally came with the finality of a coffin lid slamming shut.

It was not much later that I finally fell asleep with Scully clutched to my chest like a teddy bear and Krycek plastered to my back. I had never felt less safe in my entire life. I hoped they'd both had their shots but considered it unlikely.

I was actually praying that I'd wake up dead when I finally conked out.

My cock woke up first, because it was the part of me receiving the wakeup call, in the form of a warm, pliant mouth. This must be the oral sex universe, I thought as the finger slid into me again. It was just as good this time, if not better, and I threw my head back into the pillow and writhed helplessly as a mouth that could have suck-started a jet engine focused its considerable talent on me. I wondered briefly, before thought ceased entirely, if I could maybe try to keep this aspect of Scully constant when I changed the world again.

I was still far from awake while I was being licked clean by a tongue made almost too rough by excess of sensation.

You know what happens next, and don't think that I'm so oblivious that I was unaware. I didn't open my eyes even when I came fully awake. I didn't really want to acknowledge that Alex Krycek had been sucking on my cock because, A, I didn't want to blow my cover, so to speak, and, B, well, a blowjob is a blowjob. No use looking a gift horse in the genitals, or something like that.

Nonetheless I became alarmed when he crawled up my body to settle himself over me, keeping most of his weight off me but allowing his erection to poke me in the hip. It couldn't have been more frightening if it had been a cattle prod. He was fiddling around with a tube of something over on the nightstand and I had the sinking feeling that it was lubricant.

"Alex!" Scully's voice was sharp and schoolmarmish and blessed. "No penetration, it could start him bleeding again."

"You seemed pretty content last night," Krycek grumbled, but he rolled off of me and I tried to slow my breathing.

"You may have noticed that I don't have a penis," she pointed out. "I'll solve your little problem." He stood up and stretched, his erection a ruddy arrow pointing towards Scully, and then followed it to the opening bloom of her mouth. I closed my eyes.

I am so out of here, I thought. I am history in the making.

Time flowed and I flowed with it. When I opened my eyes again Krycek was still there, but wetter. They must have shared a postorgasmic shower.

"You gonna shower?" he asked as he shook his head, sending waterdrops flying as if he were a lawn sprinkler. Lawn sprinklers didn't have consciences, did they? It fit. The towel rested low on his hips, below the pelvic cut, a place that Scully found very erotic.

I looked up at his face and shook my head. "I feel like shit," I explained.

He nodded and grabbed a long-sleeved shirt from the dresser, then dropped the towel to put a pair of slacks on. "As long as Dana doesn't complain about the smell, you know how girls are. I'm gonna feed the monster in the basement, want to come along?"

Intrigued, I swung my legs from the bed and found discarded pair of boxers that I hoped were mine. Would Krycek wear Joe Boxers? Did he even wear underwear? Did he have crabs or anything else I should worry about? I hoped not. A white T-shirt completed my attire and I plodded downstairs after him, smoothing my hair.

"Take a look at this," was all Langley would say and stepped out from in front of the television set.

At first glance, I thought that some channel on deep cable was re-running "ID4" but then I realized the telltale logo of CNN was down at the bottom right of the screen.

"Holy fuck," Alex choked.

Scully was hunched on the sofa between Byers and Langley with her knuckles, white and hard as bone, pressed to her mouth, her eyes looking like she was staring into a Hell Bosch would have needed Valium to get through.

All in all it was fairly pretty, the lights twinkling on the saucer's rim, like fairy lights reflected in the ice crystals of a New England winter. The Goyim and their Christmas lights. Only the saucer was hanging like a wind chime over the top the white obelisk of the Washington Monument, glittering like the diamonds and platinum of Hunter's engagement ring.

I knew what it was to be Cassandra.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, Elvis has left the building." Alex muttered.

The hard agate of Scully's eyes dared me to gloat. All the years of mockery, all the snide comments, the Star Trek jokes, the copies of The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy showing up on my desk, Princess Leia dolls giving blow jobs to ET in my 'in' bin, and the like. I was finally vindicated. I now had the right to give the world the finger and crow from the top of the Empire State Building that I was right, there were aliens. We were not alone. And Carl Sagan was right. I could scream out the windows "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more!"

But I hadn't quite parked in a trauma-free zone. After all, this had started as an X-File and wasn't going to stop until I'd gotten a couple more kicks in the balls.

Naturally, a statement was going to be made to the press. By my wife, the little woman, the woman who was supposed to be standing behind me, the great man.

As if.

"Thank you," Hunter said as her eyes, green on video, burned into the camera. "I can appreciate the fact that a great number if you are frightened right now. I want to reassure you that the visitors mean us no harm, they have come on a mission of mercy."

"Blow me," Krycek remarked and flopped onto the floor as though he was watching an unpromising football game.

"The Visitors have been monitoring our communications and television for quite some time now and they have chosen this opportunity to offer their friendship and help with the so-called Superflu that has been decimating the population of Earth."

"I hate that," Scully braked, "decimate — that means to reduce by a tenth. She should know better."

The Queen of precision lives.

God save the Queen.

Without another word, Scully rose and swept out of the room. After a moment, Krycek followed, either to tease or fuck her out of her snit.

What did I do? What do I always do? I turned my attention to the television.

I watched my wife, who seemed as unreal as a tissue paper outline mounted on silk, give information and shine brighter than the star that the aliens had come from. My emotions were feeling like a curry entree and I was pretty sure that I should have been standing behind her back in DC like the trophy husband that I was, smiling the inane smile of Princess Diana.

CNN laid it all out for me, and I was probably the only viewer who hadn't heard it before. Me and the OJ jurors. The coughing, sneezing, stuffy head so you can rest eternally Superflu, which had been existing on the edge of my consciousness since I had gotten mixed up with the departed Dr. Strauss and her magic potion, had been going though humanity like a sharp weed-whacker in an overgrown lawn. What had begun as an illness of the poor and disenfranchised had worked its way up the social food chain to hit the common taxpayer and the captain of industry alike. Both Bill Gates and Donald Trump were dead. So it was true about ill winds, huh?

Bodies were building up like scum in a public bathroom. Everything was contaminated by touch, breath, and it seemed that you could also get it telepathically. The Russian Cosmonauts circling the earth in their space station were dead of the virus and there was no one capable of recovering the bodies.

It was making the Black Death look like heat rash.

So the aliens — the Others, isn't that pretentious? — were going to help us, give suggestions on how to cure and how to contain the virus. We just had to do everything their way. It was pretty simple. Martial law, quarantine, compulsory infection checks, and the general movement to a very harsh, centralized control, and all with the help of the little gray fuckers.

Sons of bitches.

While the TV droned on into the night, the Gunmen slept in the blue-gray rays, Robert disappeared to the basement again and I found Dad's stash of Scotch, which had aged quite nicely.

Say you're an intelligent race that has mastered space travel, and you find a nice little blue-green planet in the unfashionable section of the Milky Way with an annoying race of hairless apes destroying a perfectly good environment, what would you do? You can't flat-out fight the apes since they have dirty thermonuclear explosives and a bad habit of using them. So you decide to eliminate a good section of the population with a nice little genetically engineered virus that won't fuck up your gray ass. Then after the virus is doing its job, you convince the governments of the hairless apes that you are the only hope and BOOM! You are a race of saviors and not invaders.

And Hunter was probably in it up to her sparkling hazel eyes. God, she was beautiful.

Half a bottle of single-malt and I was a fucking genius.

Tikkun Olam 19/25

Guildenstern: What a fine persecution — to be kept intrigued without ever quite being enlightened.

The invasion was televised. Yes they came in peace, child-sized, toad-belly soft, gray-white, with big Bambi eyes, looking so helpless and fragile next to the big pink humans. I felt dirty, wondering if they'd been involved in my abduction or whether my captors had been trying to stave off this outcome. Either possibility left me unquiet and unclean.

Alex grabbed my shoulders and spun me around in the bathroom and I stumbled, catching myself against the ugly blue tile wall.

"What?!"

"You're not letting him do it again! Jesus Christ, Dana, his brain is ruined. I could see it last night. He doesn't know who you or I are!"

I suspected that Alex was just put out that Mulder hadn't accepted him with open legs that morning. Like most men, if Alex doesn't get his RDA of sex he gets mentally constipated. I pushed my hair out of my face and turned on the water in the shower to cover the sound of the conversation.

"Mulder was never stable. I think crisis has made him saner while everyone else goes crazy."

Thousands of people were fleeing the cities as if that would slow rather than hasten the spread of infection, and thousands of others were rioting and destroying what they couldn't hoard. In the midst of it all, Mulder was suddenly the Rock of Gibraltar. He'd gotten us to the house in Rhode Island and we still had a secure phone line, tanks of gas to run the emergency generator, and at least six months' worth of food. "I think we have to trust him on this," I began to stroke Alex's cock, since the less blood he had to think with the better.

Alex spun me around and I braced myself against the tiled wall of the shower as he pushed me up and thrust into me with his usual brash confidence that he would be expected. Since we fled Matheson's goons (not to mention the U.S. military detail sent to bring us in, which I didn't like to think about because it made me feel unpatriotic), we'd been fucking like the damned on the Gates of Hell, as if orgasm constituted defiance. It was pack behavior, rubbing and nosing one another to reconfirm the links between us. A fundamental, needy reaching for humanity in the face of disaster. I understood it even if I didn't necessarily like it. I was just glad that Langley and Byers had their own arrangement.

Alex's voice lifted and fell with the rhythm of his thrusts. "What if it doesn't work, Day? What if you put him under again and he comes back as oatmeal? You'd go back to DC and start shooting aliens with your Sig and that would be that." The water washed down over me, washing away the sins and the filth of the day before to ready me for the sins and the filth of the day ahead. Alex's cool wet fingers caressed my breasts and I shuddered around him. "I can't lose you both."

Alex and I had the same problem: we couldn't deny Mulder anything, like two proud parents spoiling our demon child. "Mulder's stronger than you think," I said to the tile, wanting it to be true. Alex's hands drew temporary tattoos on my breasts and belly, images of our former lives that were washing away under the water. "If what he says is true than we aren't even supposed to exist, not like this anyway. If this is an artificially created timeline, then it has to be removed."

"We're fucking with forces we don't understand," he intoned like a voiceover in a bad sci-fi movie, and I had to chuckle which made him thrust faster. He moved a hand to probe at my clit but I slapped him away; this early in the day I couldn't stand the direct stimulation. He took the hint and grabbed my hips, pumping into me like an oil derrick, making me shake as the water danced on my neck and shoulders. I closed my eyes and shut everything else out, packed away in brown cardboard boxes for the reconstruction of my life. Alex's desire was contagious and I shuddered as his fingers marked me; I'd be wearing sergeant's stripes on my hips for a week. My quick orgasm wasn't really worth the effort, but it satisfied Alex. A few more serious thrusts and he came, shaking his head under the water and groaning like a bull elephant. When he backed away I turned and he swept me into a hug.

"We're going to survive this," I said to his slick shoulder. "Even if Mulder's wrong, there are other things we can do to fight. Don't forget that."

He washed my back before he left.

****

Holed up, things were just about unbearable. My idea of hell was being trapped in a house with Langley and Byers, Scully, Krycek, and my freakish twin Robert. Those of us who were arguably sane clustered about the television as if it was the fireplace and there was ten feet of icy snow outside. Occasionally Langley and Byers would tell some Frohike anecdote that was supposed to be funny, but none of us ever laughed. I hadn't seen him die but the pictures on TV gave me a pretty good idea of what had happened to him. Robert stayed in the basement, drawing and drawing and drawing more aliens, more mechanical rapes, and more nightmarish images of aliens implanting unspeakable things in humans' bodies. This might have been his editorial comment on the tiny grays appearing on every newscast.

This wasn't how things were supposed to be, I knew that somewhere deep in the alcohol-soaked sections of my brain. There was something fundamentally wrong with the Universe and I was the only one who was aware of the fact. I could see it as my companions stared at the screen of the television with rapt attention at the parade of aliens and the humans groveling at their feet.

The other thing that pissed me off was having to lie in bed at night with Scully and Krycek fucking each other's brains out while I pretended to sleep. I don't know who they thought they were kidding by trying to be quiet, but the bed bounced like the boat at the beginning of Gilligan's Island. Just because the booze had dampened my libido with the rest of my nervous system, they didn't have to rub it in.

"Is there any way that we can sneak a bomb or something onto the Mothership?" Krycek asked during a commercial for Diet Pepsi.

Coke, apparently, was evil and the Others had it done away with. This might have been the biggest horror of them all.

"Get real," Langley sneered.

"Fuck you."

"Fuck you." They bickered like children in front of the television.

Scully stared at the screen and bit her nails. She and the boys had made a few more weapons runs while I healed from my strange injury. We possessed an arsenal that would have made any extremist militia proud, but the consensus was that we needed to hide and figure out where the new regime was weak rather than rushing out like kamikaze pilots and smearing ourselves over the side of some alien ship.

And we were frightened, and we hoped that if we did nothing the world would go along with us, neither collapsing further nor reaching out to destroy us.

Time passed. The leaves came out like brave drag queens and the heat of the summer flushed New England's pale face. The aliens moved in and made themselves comfortable, and the Sci Fi Channel went off the air. In the cabin, not much changed. I drank, watched TV and tried to sleep as much as possible until the night that I decided that I had to regress again and put the world to rights. Messiah complex — don't live through an alien invasion without it.

The smoker's references to "eight years ago" during my last regression meant that something had gone wrong with Samantha's conception. I could change that. I had to. It didn't matter to me whether I sent a little blonde girl to tortures beyond imagining or a little brunette girl. Well, it mattered some, since I'd known the brunette Samantha, but I was beyond petty ethical qualms at this point.

I took my bottle and went upstairs. Somewhere in Scully's briefcase were the drugs — Dr. Strauss' chemical cocktail we'd fought about time and time again. My hands numb with Scotch, I felt around in the case and finally came up with the bottle. The mixture swirled around inside like liquid pearl. I unwrapped a syringe and filled it with the drug, being careful to get all the air bubles out and prevent an air embolism. If I was going to die from this injection, I'd rather overdose and die in far more dramatic fashion.

The world melted and swirled like a 1960s musical interlude, taking me away with the tide.

"Dr Mulder?"

I blinked and tried to focus. A pretty young woman, wearing a sweatshirt embazoned with a large green circle, looked across a table at me. I didn't know her. She was a honey blonde with a ponytail, and a set of breasts that you could hang a bookshelf on. The unusual sharpness of the scene made sense when I reached up to my face and touched my glasses. The young woman folded her hands on the shiny tabletop and frowned with concern.

"We could go over your notes later, if you want," she said.

"Yes. I . . . have a . . . headache," I lied and looked at the papers on the table between us, it looked like a research paper of some kind.

"I'll set another appointment with Carol," she said and gave me an unsteady smile as she gathered up the papers and stuffed them in a backpack.

"Great. Thanks."

Whoever the hell Carol was . . .

Once the door was shut behind the young woman I looked around the room and realized that I was in the unmistakable messy and book-choked office of an academic. I recognized my high school baseball trophy and my certificate from Oxford on the wall, but the electric guitar and amp in the corner was unfamiliar. Legs shaking, I walked over to the window and looked out onto a pleasant, spring afternoon in a generic college campus. The only thing that was unusual were the students.

Students, not coughing or sick from the Superflu, walked between classes with just one difference — there were normal human students, aliens in college sweatshirts, and young adult versions of the hybrids that populated Robert's drawings. I also noticed the guard towers and the aliens carrying what looked like Uzis that had been dipped in liquid silver. The human-looking students all wore gray sweatshirts with the green circles, the hybrids wore blue sweatshirts with black squares, and the aliens wore plain white sweatshirts. I started having Schindler's List flashbacks, and barely made it to the trashcan before I threw up.

Hopefully the vomiting was a side effect from the drug and I wasn't turning into a bulimic or something.

While I was wiping off my mouth and waiting for the nausea to fade, there was a polite rap at the door, and Scully walked in.

Only it wasn't Scully, not entirely.

The bones in her face were distorted around the huge black orbs of her eyes under the shining copper cap of her hair.

I started to scream.

The world swirled around me again and I was falling into something.

"What the fuck?" Hands reached me and eased me down.

I felt my mouth still stretched out into a scream and the endless sound flowing out of me like water. Never in my life I had been so cold. I was freezing in the spring afternoon and the co-eds were walking with their alien classmates while the cherry blossoms were blooming and the mothership hung over like a chandelier. So fucking cold and the blossoms were turning into snowflakes to bury me underneath. Hands were burning my face and my neck.

"Damnit, what the hell did he do? Shoot up in here? Is this a reaction or what?"

"It's not a reaction, he's come down with the Superflu." Scully's voice was more ice in my freezing tomb.

Well that was the cherry on the top now wasn't it? Maybe the aliens had been a fever-hallucination too.

****

Mulder down with the Superflu. I shouldn't have been surprised. He has the immune system of a week-old infant who had been fed on canned condensed milk all its life and whenever the daycare children of the Bureau's support staff were sick he would catch it too, which did nothing to improve my assessment of his maturity. Between Dr. Strauss' drug and the stress, it was only natural that he should come down with the Trojan horse Superflu that the aliens had used to get onto our planet. I should have seen it coming, I should have been carrying antipyretics — but that was Mulder's goddamned fault since he had kidnapped me. You don't get a chance to move your luggage into position when your lover/ex-partner kidnaps you after a shootout in his mistress's house.

Like the dry highlands outside LA, Mulder burned for days. Without a thermometer, I had no way of knowing how high his temperature was going, but when I used my mother's unscientific method of pressing my lips to his forehead he was hot enough to melt wax. I worried about brain damage — well, more brain damage. I wrapped him in wet towels and tried to keep his neurons below the boiling point. Alex wasn't amused and spent the better part of the week doing something mysteriously Alex-esque in the woods outside. I filled Mulder with aspirin and Gatorade, all that I was left with in the unsuitably primitive conditions. The Gunmen were barred from the upstairs of the cabin and Robert stayed in the basement, drawing.

After a week the fever diminished somewhat and Mulder began to cough up great handfuls of beige phlegm — a sure sign of infection. He needed the Others' substitute for our useless antibiotics. He needed fluids; he needed a hospital. He did not need to be out in a cabin in the middle of nowhere with two of the seven dwarves, two former FBI agents with creative sexual practices, and a comic book artist in a pear tree. He couldn't die like Frohike.

I turned on Mulder's cellphone, which no one had used for weeks for fear of it being traced.

I went through the menu and found Hunter's private number.

The phone trilled three times.

"Hunter," she said in that throaty voice of hers.

"Mulder has the Superflu. He needs to go to a hospital. I am giving you two minutes to trace this call. Have your people be here no sooner than eight tonight."

"Dana."

"We don't want him to die, now do we?"

I left the phone on empty air and when my watch said that the allotted hundred and twenty seconds had elapsed, I hung up.

Okay, to save Mulder I might have sold us all up the river.

I went downstairs to warn the boys.

I should have known that the bitch wouldn't keep her word. Less than two hours later, I heard the vehicles crashing through the woods.

"Scully, we got company!" Langley screamed from outside and I heard gunfire.

I draped Mulder's arm around my neck like I was escorting home a drunk and double-checked my gun.

Alex looked at me. I nodded at him, knowing that I had to be the emotionless one. "You have to get out of here. If it comes to that you have to make sure that Robert isn't taken. He might be able to regress as well."

The windows shattered inwards as if a bomb had gone off outside. A bleeding slash appeared on Alex's forehead.

"Everybody down!" screamed the man in black who landed in front of me after cannonballing through the window. I had my gun out but I didn't want to kill anyone yet so I rolled over the back of the couch, dragging Mulder with me and praying for time.

Someone screamed.

Multiple thuds indicated that more people were coming through the blown-out windows. I bolted for the door, wobbling to dodge the bullets that zinged like angry flies through the air.

Byers staggered towards me from the kitchen. There was blood dripping from his mouth, sticking in the rough strands of his beard, dyeing it like a henna rinse of the damned. I saw his knees give out.

I managed to get Mulder to the door, ostentatiously dropping my gun to the ground and holding up one hand while the other supported the limp form of my partner. MIB's swarmed on me, grabbing Mulder and dragging him away. My hands were jerked behind my body and I was cuffed like a criminal. One of the MIBs marched me over to a camouflaged Humvee where Hunter waited. She hoisted herself out of the back seat and set her cross-trainers on the pine needles underneath.

What the television crews had been avoiding was not the truth about the aliens but her body from the waist down — she was visibly pregnant. Yet another reason to hate her. She was fertile and presumably carrying Mulder's child. Irrationally, this pissed me off almost more than the aliens. What kind of a world was it when a duplicitous bitch like her could get pregnant and I had fewer eggs than the supermarket on Easter Sunday?

"Dana," she said, "I realize that I owe you an enormous debt for handing Fox over for medical care. I will keep you out of jail for this crime, but I think it would be best if you stayed away from — us for a while."

I stared at her, wondering if Alex had escaped with Robert. There was only one body covered on a stretcher, and Langley was snarling at the men who were searching him.

"You killed Byers, you bastards!" Langley screamed.

Mulder occupied the paramedics, including the Gray in its Buck Rogers jumpsuit. Maybe no one even knew that Alex and Robert had been here.

"Is there something you want to say to me?" Hunter prompted.

If she thought I was going to thank her, she was mistaken in the extreme.

"You're using the Superflu and the aliens to further your political ambitions," I accused, which was marginally better than 'eat shit and die, cunt'.

She rolled her eyes. "How can you have lived in Washington all these years and still know nothing about politics? Your mechanistic worldview fails to account for the realities of human nature. I can explain recent events to decrease the creeping terror felt by the general public and salvage what's left of organized society, and that's a good thing, Dana, not a maniacal plot perpetrated on an unsuspecting populace."

If not for the content and the lack of a slide show, the speech could have come from Mulder himself. My expression must have been more eloquent than I wanted it to be, because Hunter sighed and smoothed her blouse over her belly. "I hear that Georgetown University hospital still needs doctors, I'll have you taken directly there so you won't be forced to suffer the indignities of a press conference." She nodded over my shoulder and strong hands materialized around my forearms.

I went quietly but not happily.

****

Hunter was sitting in an orange plastic chair left over from the seventies, and her stomach was distended. I knew it had to be a dream because Hunter would never use a piece of furniture like that. I wondered where the stacked blonde undergrad had gone.

But my eyes were gummy with sleep and when I blinked she was still there, smiling.

"Wha –" I mumbled, and cool hands adjusted my pillow and gave me a drink of water. Hunter supervised, her face stretched into an unfamiliar expression of joy.

"Fox, I'm so glad you're awake. We were so worried about you –" she stroked her stomach.

We. As in her and the baby.

I turned my face into the pillow, wanting the blankness. I knew that there was something wrong with Hunter, something that made me flee, but I'd been floating like a barge at high tide for so long that I couldn't quite decide what it had been. Aliens, I remembered, but how could even alien invasion have driven me from the side of my pregnant wife? What kind of man was I?

My father had some ideas about that. He wouldn't have been surprised in the slightest.

God, why couldn't I remember? I tried to raise my hands to rub my temples and found them restrained. Hunter noted my confusion, and with one motion orderlies were untying me. "You were delirious for a while, Fox, the infection had progressed dangerously far. You were restrained for your own safety." I stretched and clenched my hands in fists, feeling like a newborn baby, wondering how long it would take for me to recuperate. At least the Bureau's HMO was unlikely to complain about costs anymore. I supposed that I had plenty of sick leave at Matheson.

"Fox, I know we've had some problems in the past, been working in opposite directions, but I do love you. I want this to work. We have to bring our child into a stable family now that the world has changed so much. You know what it's like to grow up in a family without love. I can't have that for my child."

My throat closed around the words that were forming and all I could do was nod and blink at my stinging eyes. Leaning over the bed with her belly cradled up against my shoulder, Hunter's face was a cool balm against my forehead. Within the swelling confines of her abdomen, a little person kicked at me like a frog in a blanket.

"Yeah," I managed to choke out and I felt her cool tears on my face.

"Let's get you home as soon as possible," she whispered "I missed you so much. I missed you like part of myself was gone. I'm not whole without you, Fox. I need you."

I shut my eyes and felt her heart beating with mine.

Tikkun Olam 20/25

Guildenstern: The only beginning is birth and the only end is death — if you can't count on that, what can you count on?

"Put that over there –" Hunter gestured from her throne of a rocking chair.

Obediently, I pulled the changing table closer to the window, and then carried the DiaperGenie over for good measure. She surveyed the new arrangement and rubbed at her belly in a thoughtful fashion. We were into hour six of rearranging the furniture in the room formerly known as my study, now known as the nursery. No matter where I put something, she seemed to have a better place for it. Beatrix Potter wallpaper, Beatrix Potter baby bed things, Beatrix Potter pillows, Beatrix Potter stuffed animals, Beatrix Potter books, Beatrix Potter very, very small place settings, and enough Beatrix Potter silver spoons to forge silver bullets to take out a plethora of lycanthropes. While Hunter thought, I looked at the book titles, not sure if I remembered "Tale of the Dumb Fox" sandwiched between Peter Rabbit and Tom Kitten. Then again, children's literature had never been my forte, other than the more lurid Jungian readings of Little Red Riding Hood.

"I'm thinking that's too close to the window, the light might hurt the baby's eyes, or it might get a chill," she said and frowned.

Reconstructing the Western World, Hunter could do without a misstep or cracking a sweat, but arranging a baby's room was giving her mental vapor lock.

"Why don't we just leave it this way and see how it works out. Once the baby arrives, it will be easy enough to rearrange," I suggested.

An angelic smile lit her face.

"What would I do without you?" she asked.

"Heavy lifting. That's all that husbands are good for."

Reaching over, she picked up a stuffed Peter Rabbit and cuddled it to her now-plump breasts. I never would have thought I would find a pregnant woman sexy, but a gestating Hunter brought all those primitive thoughts about fertility goddesses up into my forebrain along with the male pride that I'd gone and knocked the bitch up. My sperm had gone and done what it was designed to do, rather than getting flushed or washed down a drain, thrown out in a condom in a hotel trashcan.

"I need a drink. You want water? Orange juice?" I asked.

"Some of that mint tea would be nice."

I kissed her to fortify myself against the long trip to the kitchen, and then took my happy ass downstairs where I grabbed a Diet Pepsi out of the fridge and set the teakettle on the range. On the refrigerator, under the souvenir magnets, were Hunter's favorite press clippings. Hunter with the head Other – Kin'killiko, shaking hands with Arnold Schwartzenegger (who was apparently really big in Outer Space – to no one's surprise), Hunter, a bunch of Others, and The Rolling Stones, Hunter watching while Bruce Springsteen showed an Other how to hold a guitar. Somehow I always seemed to get cropped out of the pictures before they were published, which kind of pissed me off, since I knew I was better looking than Prince Charles ever hoped to be.

"FOX!!!!!!"

Hunter's voice out-screamed the teakettle. Dropping the hot pot onto the floor, I raced upstairs to the back of the condo, threw the door open to the nursery and felt my heart drop from Outer Space to the ground in a sickening thud.

Hunter was standing in the middle of the room, blood running down her beige leggings. Her eyes begged me to do something. I grabbed a blanket from the crib and wadded it between her legs and eased her to the floor before running to the phone to dial 911.

The screaming ride to Georgetown University Hospital was a blur of noise and lights, Hunter digging her nails into my hand, drawing blood while all the blood ran out of her, soaking everything, the stretcher, the paramedic's uniforms, my hands, my shoes, everything. She wailed almost as loud as the sirens as I tried to answer the questions, tried to think, tried to remember details of weeks, months, due dates, all the information that she had dutifully recorded in her pregnancy journal which was on the bedside table at home. I couldn't even remember the doctor's name, barely remembered my own. Inside the hospital, there were blue people in blue clothes and white blue lights and the smell of alcohol. I was pulled into a side room while she was wheeled away, screaming.

The inane Monet prints on the walls blurred more while I waited and time turned into a cold liquid. I was shivering by the time that the blood-speckled doctor came in.

I stared and tried to focus on what he was saying.

So sorry.

I joined Hunter in the sterile white room and we didn't hold hands. We should have been holding hands, I thought, but I couldn't reach out to her.

I wasn't completely convinced until I saw the small still face, wrapped in bunting as if I were going to take a picture and start handing out cigars.

The baby, her baby, our baby, my baby — was dead. Dead without really living very much at all. Or being much of a baby for that matter. Grossly deformed, genetic damage, reason unknown. No neck, harelip, flipper feet; the MRI revealed a three-chambered heart and essentially no brain. There wasn't much room in her head for one, anyway, caved in as if an avenging angel had punched her in the womb.

"Do you want to name her?" the doctor asked, as carefully as if he were treading on gelginite and I had the dead man's switch. Hunter was no help; she was singing softly to herself, escaped to some foreign land where babies don't die and are as perfectly formed as cherubs.

"Her name is Molly," I said, and accepted the burden handed me. He turned to flee but my voice stopped him. "Could this have been — could this have happened because she was conceived right around the time the Superflu started?"

The doctor tried to shrug in the most compassionate way possible. "We don't know, there's not enough data about the effects of low-level infection. Sometimes — Mr. Mulder, sometimes this just happens, the pregnancy ends because it was never supposed to be in the first place. I'm sorry." One of the orderlies brought me a pink ribbon to put around her head and asked me if I wanted a priest. I shook my head as I smoothed the bow on the soft hairless head.

She died without ever really being alive. In this devastated world, as deformed as she was, it might have been a blessing.

I don't know how long I stood there, rocking her and humming, until the doctors insisted that I relinquish her to the tender mercies of the morgue. I didn't want to let her go, but Hunter insisted. "Take it away, please," she said in a voice that had been old when mammoths stalked the earth. I couldn't increase her pain, even though I wasn't done needing to hold Molly, and so I surrendered my small burden and sank into one of the ubiquitous hospital chairs.

"We can have other children, you know," she said after the door closed and we were alone. "This isn't the end."

People aren't substitutable, I wanted to tell her. Do you think that having Scully solved my need to find Samantha? Acceptable losses are for generals, not fathers. I preferred to think that Hunter was only treating Molly like a failed project proposal because the wound was still too fresh. But I couldn't be polite about it. "Maybe you can't fix everything in the world," I said and stared at the white counter where our near-daughter had so briefly lain.

"That's bullshit, Fox!" she exploded and I turned to her, surprised, as she struggled upright from the examining table. "After all I've done — I fixed *you*, for God's sake, anything else should be –"

Wheels unused for too long creaked to life in my brain, metal grinding as outdated components sought to process information. "What do you mean, you fixed me?" Hostility colored my voice, and I immediately diagnosed it as anger over the miscarriage, unfairly taken out on my fellow victim, a natural grieving response.

I opened my mouth to apologize, but stopped when Hunter paled and looked upwards and to the right, the classic sign of an incoming lie. "You had the Superflu, you would have died, the doctors hadn't seen anyone that far along survive. But you survived. You and me, we're always survivors, we're always the ones left standing."

Through the grating pain of grief that exposed my heart to the open air, I couldn't help but wonder what she'd really meant.

****

Six months.

Six months is not long in geologic terms, but it's long enough for a world to fall apart.

Three months before Mulder's illness forced us back to Hunter, and three months since, and it's not my world I'm talking about, though I'm sure it would feed Mulder's vanity to think so.

It was just that it was annoying that after six months I'd still stumble to my door with Mulder on my mind, unable to posit who else would disturb me in the middle of the night.

The face in the fisheye was unfamiliar, and these days more than ever strangers were danger.

"What is it?" I asked through the door, pulling my terry robe tighter.

"Can you help me?"

"Who are you?"

"Ringo sent me — Ringo Langley. I — I have a daughter — they say they're waiting for approval for the tests but it's been two weeks, she can't wait much longer –"

I opened the door. "Not in the hall."

He stepped in. Without the distortion of the looking-glass I could see that he was a standard nondescript government flunky type, the kind you take the Metro with every day, brown hair, brown eyes, about five-seven, nervous as I'd expect from someone violating one of the Others' central rules.

Or nervous as a clever actor running a sting.

"I'm not a doctor anymore," I told him as I closed and locked the door. He looked around my room with a detached curiosity, recording without really processing anything, which fit the profile of a nervous father. Ishmael, the dog I'd redomesticated to take Queequeg's place, nosed at his ankles, unnoticed. "I was a pathologist and then during the Superflu I was an undertaker with an advanced degree. I'm not sure I can help you."

He looked at me with the eyes of a faithful dog that had been struck by a car. Put me out of my misery, they said. "The doctor Ringo was sending people to was arrested yesterday. He said he didn't want to bring you into it, but he didn't have any choice. My daughter's leg — I can smell it, Dr. Scully."

"Agent Scully," I said, though that was no longer quite true either. "Give me a minute."

The block commander (in jails they used to call them trustees, or stool pigeons, take your pick) had searched my apartment, but he wasn't all that smart. He kept hinting that he knew I was going to violate the Others' prohibition on treating patients outside an approved facility; I think he hoped that if I was nervous enough I'd sleep with him out of self-preservation. I just stared at him blankly until he finished his search, completely missing the surgical implements hidden in the heating vent and the drugs stored in yogurt containers in my refrigerator. He may have undressed me with his eyes, but they weren't good for much else. It's just too damn bad the Superflu didn't take all the dumb and evil ones when it took so many.

"Where am I going?" I asked when I'd retrieved my bag from the other room. "We'll travel separately."

He gave me the address of a house in Cleveland Park. "I'll be there in an hour," I told him.

He paused at the door when I opened it to usher him out. "You'll come, really?"

I nodded. "I may not be a doctor any more, but I still took an oath."

Washington wasn't as burnt-out as some cities I'd heard about. The Others and the federal government both had strongholds here, and a rough order had been preserved.

With the hospitals and prisons overflowing with the sick even three months into the Others' reign, I ended up treating patients in a high school gym. The children and the old people died first, while we were still in hiding. After a while, as the essential services broke down, as the health care workers fell ill themselves, everyone died equally. I would guess that I could have saved over half of my patients, if I'd had more help, more water, more IVs. Maybe if I'd been a better doctor, even —

My mother died in my arms during the second week after I was back, before the Others' drugs had been successfully duplicated. She died coughing green-gold phlegm, ashamed of her weakness even through her delirium. I had no idea what happened to Charlie and his family, though out in the desert they might have been spared the worst of things. The military supposedly had strong infection control procedures and maybe, maybe Matt and Tara and Bill were all happily living together on the other side of the country. I'd put in a request with the new Administration to track them down, but the people in power were making no promises about the restoration of full communication across the formerly United States. Langly thought the delay was deliberate, and I can't say that I disagreed.

When the Others took over, the public reacted as if God had sent a miracle. The new Pope — the youngest Pope in three centuries — even said so in a sermon that was translated for us on the few radio stations that were broadcasting. They wouldn't have interfered, They said — likening their ethos to Star Trek's Prime Directive, and why not as they'd been watching our television for the past fifty years — but even with their belated intervention we careened towards extinction, with death rates running at 80% in the developed countries and the Superflu penetrating into the furthest reaches of steppe and jungle, killing with even more glee where there was less advanced medical care.

I stole a free hour, during the time I was convinced that there was nothing I could do for any of my patient-sufferers, and looked at the Superflu in the lab. It wasn't bacterial, as most people assumed. It most closely resembled a mycoplasmid, though I wouldn't necessarily call it that. The Others said that it was an antibiotic-resistant strain that went out of control. But that couldn't have been the cause. Antibiotics have no effect on mycoplasmids. Antibiotic-resistant diseases are bacterial, and this wasn't.

The Others were consolidating the remaining population into the cities — for easier treatment and crime control, and to reduce strain on the environment, They said. It was possible that the rumors about people 'disappearing' in the middle of the night, rumors about trains full of prisoners that ran through the night and always returned empty, were fantasies concocted by a distressed and stunned group of survivors. To me, left alone without Mulder's theories to scoff at, it sounded like colonization.

I pulled up in front of the address I'd been given and parked. The DC Administration had been very efficient about getting rid of cars that no longer had drivers, and traffic congestion was a thing of the past. I wish I could have been happier about it.

The good news was that, as a nominal member of the law-enforcement arm of the Administration, I had an excuse if a patrol caught me outside in the dark. There were some suspicious of my medical credentials; what with everyone blaming the Superflu on the overuse of antibiotics on people and cattle, it was no longer such a prestigious thing to be a doctor (or, I suspected, a cattleman). But the Administration had checked me out and let me go on working. I wondered, sometimes, if I had Mulder to thank for that.

The doorbell sounded as loud as a fire alarm to my nervous ears, and the man who'd come to my apartment opened the door before the sound died away. He looked relieved to see me, and I realized that he'd half-expected the police.

"Where's the girl?"

"She was riding on her bicycle," he explained as he led me up the stairs. "She fell — we bandaged it but it hasn't gotten better. They say at the clinic they'll get permission to treat her any day now. They say that every day."

As I entered the child's bedroom, I could smell the scent that only dead things should have. The child was blonde, no more than ten years old, tossing fretfully above the covers. Her left leg was wrapped in bandages that were black and yellow with dried blood and pus.

"Why don't you leave me alone," I suggested and the father retreated with alacrity. I knelt beside the bed. "Honey?" Blue eyes hazed with pain blinked up at me. "What's your name, honey?"

"Susan," she whispered.

"Susan, I'm D — Diane," I stuttered. What she didn't know couldn't hurt me. "I'm going to take a look at your leg, okay? It's going to hurt when I pull away the bandages, but I want you to try to be quiet for me, okay?"

Susan nodded, her face white and still as I unwrapped the bandages, sticky where fluids had dried. The flesh of her calf was weeping tears of putrefaction.

Susan's foot was cold under my fingers, and I could not feel a pulse, indicating that the blood vessels that should have kept it alive had failed. Untreated, the flesh had turned gangrenous. It would have to be excised, and the girl would be crippled for life. It could have been prevented with a three-day antibiotic course two weeks ago, but that option was gone.

I left Susan in her deathly bower and went into the hallway to confer with her father. It was ironic that his child had been one of the two in a hundred children who survived and was now in danger of dying from the Others' ban on antibiotics — like their ban on doctors, it was supposed to prevent a recurrence of the Superflu, but I thought it more likely served another purpose. I really wanted to meet an Other and give it a good dose of Bactrim. Purely as a scientific experiment, of course.

I explained to him that she was very ill, and that she would lose the leg if I could save her at all. This was the worst part, knowing not only that I could always fail but also that the rage and grief that used to be expressed in malpractice suits could just as easily lead doting Daddy to turn me in to the Others if I failed to save his little girl. He seemed to understand the risks, but that didn't mean he'd accept losing the gamble.

We got Susan drunk on some Manischevitz her father had in the back of a cupboard and had her bite down on a spindle from a chair wrapped in a towel, in part to keep the neighbors from hearing but mostly so that we would not have to fully acknowledge her pain. I made a mental note to have Langley acquire some simple painkillers if he was going to send me on house calls.

In medical school we learned about a surgeon of the 1840s, Robert Liston, who could amputate a leg in two and a half minutes. Without anaesthesia beyond opium or rum, speed was the only way of limiting the agonies of surgery. It was said that the sound of his saw on bone followed the first flash of his knife so closely that the two seemed to come from one motion; he held the bloody knife in his teeth to save time as he hacked through bone.

I was not so swift as that. Of course, I was unlikely to lop off my patient's testicles or my assistant's fingers in my haste, as Liston had. Liston ended his career performing surgery under anaesthesia, a blessed advance. But now we were moving backwards, lopping off our abilities at the behest of the Others in the same way I was lopping off this little girl's leg.

Diseased flesh feels different under the scalpel. Oddly, it's the healthy tissue that parts more smoothly, as if it wants to show you the secrets it keeps so well. When infection sets in, the flesh gets tougher, sticking together in fits and starts, ashamed of its failure. I separated the leg at the joint, where the trauma would be less, hoping that the infection had not yet sent its hidden fingers up to her thigh. Then I cauterized the wound with a modified curling iron. Susan had passed out by then, for which I thanked God. I hoped that when she grew up there might be plastic surgeons again, people who could repair a little of the butchery I'd inflicted.

Her blood pressure was good when I finished, but that's less of a hopeful sign with children than with adults. Children's bodies maintain pressure steadily until they crash, like other complex systems that are subject to cascading failures. In fact, the child's devastated body was much like our world, which had disintegrated like paper in water because of the mutation of a flu virus. The operation left me bloody but not sanguine.

I wrapped the foul-smelling lower leg in Susan's ruined sheets and hid it in my bag so that the father would not have to see it. Then I dressed the stump as best I could and wrote out aftercare instructions for the man whose name I didn't even know.

"God bless you," he said and I hoped he'd still feel the same way when (if) his daughter learned to walk with a prosthetic limb.

"God help us," I whispered as I headed back into the night.

I stopped on the way back and threw the blood-sticky bundle into a dumpster. The dogs would get to it soon enough.

****

Conversation flowed like wine, or maybe it was the other way around. I could sense Hunter about ten feet behind me and to my right, charming a Cabinet member.

Another Cabinet member.

She always said she was going to be the first woman President ("beat that Liddy Dole bitch to the punch," I believe she said) and it's never wise to disbelieve Hunter. The only downside was that she wanted me to be sociable at these sociopolitical events and it was hard to be sociable before the first few scotches, and then even harder after five or six.

All my wife's co-workers were there, but somehow it didn't seem right to be talking politics and policies during the funeral gathering.

Molly was in the Matheson family plot under a blanket of sod.

Hence the Scotch.

"Ag — Mulder," the hand on my arm was large and overly familiar, and I turned, nearly colliding with Walter Skinner, who had become many years older in the past few months.

"Director Skinner," I said and smiled to show that I meant it.

He leaned away, perhaps because he had to drive later that night. "How are you, Mulder?"

"I'm fine. And you?" Trying not to attract his notice, I put out a hand to steady myself against a nearby chair.

"Busy."

"You'd think with all the dead folks there'd be fewer criminals, at least."

He smiled like Yorick's skull. "But there are new crimes, Mulder. Crimes that never existed –" he stopped as if garroted and Hunter slid her arm around my waist like the wire that did the deed. "Secretary Matheson-Mulder," he acknowledged.

"Hello, Director. I'm afraid I need Fox for a moment."

"Of course," he said with controlled politeness, and held out his hand. Leaning into Hunter just a little, I shook it. "My condolences."

She walked us away without further acknowledgement. "Don't have any more to drink tonight, Fox," she warned as she guided me through the crowd, a power-seeking missile. "Betty Ford's dead and I don't plan on drying you out myself."

"Going to punish me for being a bad boy?" I leered and smiled bravely at the people we passed by.

"If you can get it up tonight it will be the greatest miracle since the Resurrection." Her smile was as sharp as a bone splinter, running through my bloodstream and towards my heart. It was as if Hunter had buried any feelings for Molly in the small black coffin. Last night she'd wanted to have sex — 'make love,' I should say, since we were married and all — but I couldn't leave it all behind anymore. I hadn't forgotten Samantha yet and she wanted me to wipe away yet another loss. Sometimes I didn't understand her at all. The alcohol seemed to help, or at least it smoothed out the discrepancies between my misunderstandings and her realities.

"Fox, this is John Graham, the new Secretary of Transportation. He's the one who's made such progress returning the interstate system to functionality."

"It wouldn't be America if we couldn't drive our cars wherever we wanted," I said as I shook his hand and he smiled, uncertain if I'd just said something politically subversive.

Tikkun Olam 21/25

Rosencrantz: We've come this far. And besides, anything could happen yet.

"Robert," the voice came again. I shook sleep from me like a dog coming out of the rain. When I blinked, the man who'd spoken resolved himself into Langly, my designated keeper.

"What now?"

"Robert, they need to take some more of your blood," Langly said apologetically.

"Why?"

"That's a good question," drawled the man suddenly standing in the doorway, a black outline against the fluorescent of the clinic hallway. I recognized him — as much as I recognized anything these days — as Alex Krycek. Hadn't he been left behind a few worlds back? But things had been stable for a while, the world spinning as usual even as it disintegrated around the people who really belonged in it.

Langly had edged himself between me and Alex as if he could protect me. "You know Dr. Scully's theories on Robert's altered genetic material."

"I've been made aware of them." He sounded skeptical.

"She believes that the factors found in his blood can be used to create a weapon against the Others."

"Why him? What's so special about him?"

Langly shook his head. "If you believe his abduction story, it could be that whatever happened to him caused him to generate antibodies against their genetic structure. We don't really know why, but you can't argue with a working bioweapon."

"You obviously haven't spent enough time with Dana."

Both Langly and Krycek looked surprised when I chuckled. I thought, after so many trips to the secure ward, that I'd gotten used to being an object, a thing that people's eyes skip over because I made them too uncomfortable with their own sanity. But humiliation is very hard to get used to. And the paranoia was back, because they were no longer even trying to find medication for me. The effects on the quality of my blood were too severe.

If I could believe that this was for the greater good of humanity, I guess I could have accepted it with more grace. But there was no greater good left for me. Everyone I loved was dead or changed in ways stranger than death. So it was needles and the cold vinyl of the bleeding chair against my dazed back, my neck overweighted by my ballooning head, unfrozen cans of orange juice concentrate mixed with bottled water to keep me alive, and never mind that I couldn't walk for fainting because they wheeled me everywhere to make sure I couldn't hurt myself. Any hour now they'd decide to keep the restraints on permanently instead of just during my bad patches. Any hour now I would hit a bad patch, like it better than current reality, and never return.

I hoped it happened soon.

****

The last thing that I expected was to find Hunter Matheson-Mulder waiting for me on the doorstep of my apartment when I got home. Well, actually the last thing I expected was Skinner wearing nothing but a bright orange thong and a thin layer of strawberry yogurt, carrying a box of chocolates while tap-dancing and singing "Wild Thing," but one always lives in hope. Hunter had her hands jammed in the pockets of her black leather jacket and was looking furtive and amused at the same time. I would have loved to shoot her right then but I was carrying my laptop, briefcase and laundry, and I didn't need another complaint from the neighbors, few as they now were.

"Mulder isn't here."

"I know that. I wanted to talk to you."

I pushed past her and unlocked the door. She hardly moved and I got a double-lungful of her perfume while the sleeve of her jacket brushed against the back of my hand like snakeskin.

"Don't you have some alien gifts to a grateful humanity to announce?"

"I always have time for old friends."

"I really don't want to talk to you, Hunter."

"I've prepared an interpretive dance," she said and followed me, unasked, into my apartment.

"You want to talk about Mulder," I hung up my coat, pointedly did not ask to take hers and took the laundry into the bedroom.

"I want to know why you never come to my Longaberger parties," she said and leaned against the doorframe.

I didn't like Hunter's sense of humor at the best of times, and this wasn't a good time.

"Mulder has made up his mind and taken his place in the new world order. He's entitled to do that, but he can't expect me to agree."

"You think I coerced him into taking the job in the Administration."

'Administration,' such a nice neutral word. If only I could be hopeful about what was being administered to the human race. Turning from where I had jammed the clothes into my closet, I stared back at her.

"I know you did."

Ishmael had followed Hunter into the bedroom and was sniffing at her ankles with doggy suspicion. Making up his mind, he backed away and growled. Blinking down at him, Hunter stepped away from the tiny dog as though he were a genuine danger to something other than her shoes. "You understand that Fox was wasted in the X-Files, wasted in the Bureau altogether. He's a brilliant man and that brilliance ought to be channeled into a more positive outlet — where he can make a difference." As opposed to me whose talents were perfectly suited to being sidelined. Like Mulder, she had absolutely no sense that she was being offensive. "He can't make any kind of contribution to society chasing aliens and ghosts. Now he facilitates and coordinates FBI and local law enforcement's involvement in the new Administration. He will help people understand how to utilize the new technologies to serve and protect law-abiding citizens."

She sounded like a campaign ad. What the hell was she talking about? Mulder had to send out his laundry because he couldn't get the colors/whites thing straight. Facilitate federal and local law enforcement involvement? With Mulder's personality, it was like making Howard Stern Goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations. The job wasn't the issue; it was a stepping stone. Hunter had plans, plans that, I assumed, Mulder assented to. And I could also infer that the Others didn't plan to wipe out humanity entirely, at least not at first. We might end up on reservations, with Others pushing hot dogs through the bars to feed us, but at least Hunter would be the chief honcho.

"Mulder doesn't know it, but he's a modern-day member of the Judenrat, trading his own people for power. In the end you and he will be as helpless as the rest of us."

Like Mulder, she was very good at ignoring what I was saying. "You know Fox thinks the world of you and he's confident that you'll come to understand that this is for the best. I know you didn't want to believe in aliens, but now that there's undeniable proof, consider all that we can learn from them!" She turned her charming smile on me and I felt my anger waver like a candle flame in a draft. "Dana, I'm here to ask for your help. Fox — the baby's death, it's been very hard on him. He needs you now."

Emily's death was lifetimes ago but I still felt the pain, remembered Mulder crying silently, face turned to the small cold airplane window so that I wouldn't have to see, his shoulders shaking because mine had to be strong. If he felt so strongly about Emily, it was a certainty that the death of his own child, reported with grave sympathy on the government-sponsored news, would be destroying him. I wanted to believe her, but there was the shadow of a cobra in her autumn eyes.

"Have dinner with us Friday night."

"I'll think about it." I said, and for a moment I swear I saw a shadow of Mulder's elemental sadness in her eyes.

"You'll come to dinner Friday?"

"I really –"

Her hand was cool on my arm, the fingers long and graceful as they gripped me like a hawk taking a rabbit. If she let go I would plunge a thousand feet to the earth and that wouldn't be a good idea. "Please," she said and her voice was so low that I had to lean forward to hear her, "don't hurt him any more."

I closed my eyes. Mulder had made so many hard choices in his life and I supposed that I could tolerate the awkwardness.

"All right," I said weakly, not entirely believing the words issuing from my mouth.

"Pizzaman!" a man's voice called from the front door.

Ishmael yipped for joy and dashed out to greet Alex. I trailed after the dog and Hunter followed me. When I opened the door and Alex's eyes lapped over Hunter, who was standing well inside my no-fly zone, I could feel my skin start to burn with the blush that's the curse of the fair-skinned. Alex really was holding a pizza, meatball thin crust, and Ishmael was jumping his full four-inch vertical leap to try and get a bite. It was amazing that restaurants were opening again; it just goes to show that capitalism really does work. Hunter took control of the situation, as she always did. "Eight o'clock, then, Dana?"

I nodded my head in the direction of the hallway and, amazingly, she left, brushing up against me like a cat leaving its scent on the way out.

"Let me guess," Alex drawled, "the first annual meeting of the Fox Mulder appreciation society, ladies' auxiliary."

"Where the hell have you been?" I asked, keeping my voice at normal decibel levels only by imagining Hunter still standing with her ear to the door.

"Getting pizza?" he suggested.

"You know what I mean! What have you been doing for the past few months?"

"I don't think it would be a good idea to tell you." He flicked his eyes towards the door.

"Jesus, Alex, do you really think that I would –"

"I'd love to see it if you did, but do you think Hunter would let me watch?"

I gaped at him and then turned to go into the kitchen. All the wordplay was wearing me down; I needed a drink.

Alex followed like the dog he is. "Want some pizza with that wine?" He put the box on the kitchen table where it would stain the clean surface with grease.

I opened the pizza box and took out a slice. The salt and fat exploding on my tongue was better than most sex. "Are you going to explain yourself?"

He stole a string of cheese dangling from my pizza and sucked it into his mouth with an obscene popping noise. "I've been travelling, looking at the lay of the land. Unburying some of the dead. The Superflu was manufactured, and it's just a little too convenient for my taste that the Others turned up with the perfect cure to rescue us from despair."

"So what are you going to do about it?"

He took a slice of his own and bit in. "Fight." Said like that, it was suddenly quite simple. "And you? Has Hunter convinced you to join the dark side of the Force?"

"She invited me to dinner at their place, I'm not going to go."

"I think you should."

"What?"

His eyes glittered, green-apple candy bright. "I don't think this is an opportunity you can afford to waste. They're at the top of the human heap, Dana. If anyone knows the real agenda here, it's Hunter Matheson. And maybe her pretty trophy husband too."

"I'd make an awfully awkward Mata Hari, Alex." Still, there was a possibility that I might learn something about the Others. Mulder could not have changed so much as to abandon his fundamental paranoia; if he discovered any hidden truths about them, he'd have to confess it to me. The secret to Mulder was his emotional lability: it was as easy to gain his trust as to lose it, and I could search out anything he knew more easily than I could find an implant in an abductee.

Alex stuffed trailing strings of cheese into his mouth. "I'd go myself, but somehow I don't think Mulder would be as happy about it. Though you never know –the stuff he said when he was drunk, you've got to think that there was some Freudian slippage going on."

I smiled and took another slice to cover it. "Mulder's not a Freudian."

"Jung at heart, whatever. Hey, Dana, it has been a while — can we fuck now?"

I swallowed and put my pizza back into the box. I could always heat it up later.

****

Fortunately, even in my weakened state, coordinating the resurrection of the District wasn't too difficult, now that most people were resettled into the cities. The Administration was big on consolidation, giving the overtaxed Earth a rest, with high-tech farming conducted in a few extra-fertile areas to fulfill all our caloric needs. Without antibiotics in feed to make the cattle fat, the little meat that we got was mostly stringy and tough, but it was better than going veggie all the way. While the land rested, we were going to remake society and do it right this time, with a good education for everyone and meaningful work restoring the world.

As long as they behaved, of course.

Work kept me busy, gave me a reason to do something other than damage my liver. If I could plan the resurrection of a world, maybe it didn't matter that I could never have a real family. Hunter seemed content, and she was the one who'd gone through months of pregnancy — I missed most of it, gallivanting around with the conspiracy crew, and I had no right to feel grief when she was ready to move on. Daddy Matheson thought it would be a good idea to try again, and so did she, but somehow I couldn't make non-daddy Mulder agree.

When Hunter arrived home, she sat down next to me and began stealing sunflower seeds from the bowl I'd poured for myself. I put down the copy of Delta of Venus that I'd been paging through and the dual crack-crunch of seed-eaters filled the room.

"Where'd you get your taste for these?" It was an unusual habit, one I'd never shared until Hunter.

"My Dad used to eat them," she replied wistfully.

"That doesn't seem very senatorial," I joked, and she turned away as I realized that I must have offended her. I do have an unerring instinct for screwing up.

"We have to clean up, I invited Dana over for dinner and the caterer will be here shortly."

"Dana?"

"Scully," she said with no small amount of irony.

"But –"

Standing, she put her hand on my shoulder and it was like an icepack against my suddenly swollen skin. "I've come to a decision. I know you miss her, and I don't think we'll be all right until she's out of your system. So, this is what's going to happen: you and I are both going to have her. She can take care of you in ways that I can't. I'll accept anything as long as you and I are together in the end."

My mouth gaped like a blow-up doll's even as my cock jumped like a cat chasing a feather. "Are you –?"

"I'm very serious, Fox. I'm doing this for both of us, you know. I'm not usually attracted to women, but Dana is … special. I can see that, even through my jealousy."

I turned in my chair so that I could stare into her changing bronze-copper eyes.

"I love you," I assured her. I had never been more serious. "Do you, um, do you think she would?"

"Dana Scully would cut her left breast off if you asked her to, Fox," she said evenly and her voice caressed my cheek like a silken scarf. "I doubt she'll balk at a Penthouse fantasy scene."

Tikkun Olam 22/25

Rosencrantz: We don't want to come back. Guildenstern: That may very well be true, but do we want to go?

I had briefly debated bringing wine or flowers but I was sure they'd outclass me in either case so I arrived empty-handed. Sure enough, their condo was strewn with vases of fresh flowers in whites and violets as cool as the rest of the decor, and Hunter greeted me with a glass of wine that could probably have paid for my outfit back when money meant something.

Hunter was looking particularly well-groomed today, smooth and cool as ball bearings made in zero-gee. In her black belted sheath dress, wearing a fey half-smile and a perfect strand of pearls, she looked like Audrey Hepburn with a longer, more serious face. In my dove-gray dress with matching jacket, selected to slide into the awkward gap between semiformal and informal, I felt like the short, freckled, chubby carrot-haired teenager that I had been.

"Hello, Dana," she said and her eyes coated me with ice. I pulled my jacket tighter around my body and followed her to the dining room, where Mulder lounged like Elvis waiting for his latest chippie. After Hunter, seeing him was like slipping into a warm bath. If you put a frog in a pot and bring it to a slow boil, the frog will not jump out and it will boil to death, unlike a frog who is dumped into boiling water. I just hoped that Mulder wasn't about to turn the heat up too much.

"Mulder."

"Scully." He waved a hand at the feast on the table, hors d'ouvres arranged like ranks of soldiers, and I picked up a tiny onion tart and stuffed it into my mouth so that I wouldn't have to talk.

Dinner was almost entirely silent. For fifteen minutes it was the most awkward situation I'd ever faced and I almost excused myself three times, but once I finished my first glass of wine and unbuttoned my jacket the atmosphere changed, as if we'd risen above the clouds of my misgivings. It was almost like the old silences between Mulder and me, and I was a little sad that I could feel the same way with Hunter in the room.

At one point, Mulder started to speak. "You know, I must have the best government job ever. I just tell people to do something and it gets done. There are no rules anymore, we haven't reinvented paperwork yet."

"It must be liberating, to be free of all that red tape."

"I don't know," he said, drawling each word so that his voice rubbed against me like an overfriendly dog, "there was something satisfying about restraint."

I grabbed onto my fork and looked down at my plate, wondering if my nipples were showing through the damn dress.

Mulder smirked and picked up a bowl of some fancy rice pilaf dish. "More?"

That bastard was laughing at me. I couldn't look at Hunter.

"I think I have all I can handle," I told him and stabbed at the free-range chicken on my plate as if it were his testicles.

After that there was silence again, still strangely comfortable.

Perhaps the wine made me a less discerning analyst of the conversational absence. Mulder attacked drinking with the same focused intensity he gave to sex, and I'd been matching him glass for glass, which, taking weight and gender into account, made me drunk enough that if you held a match to my mouth I would have breathed flame. It would have been illegal for teenaged vampires to drink my blood.

Hunter opened a bottle of creme de cassis and put it on the table in place of the third bottle of red she'd spirited away. She poured a dollop of the thick, purple stuff into a tiny glass that looked like an Alice-in-Wonderland prop in her hand and held it out to me.

"I shouldn't," I said. "If I drink any more I'm going to wake up in some foreign brothel."

Hunter smiled, her teeth shark-white in the candlelit room, and pressed the glass into my hand. "Why travel?"

I was so embarrassed that I had been unable to disconnect brain from mouth that I didn't become uncomfortable with her statement until she had slid behind me. Her hands lifted the jacket from my shoulders and let it fall so that my back felt the chill of winter under her gaze.

"I suppose you're wondering why I asked you here tonight," she said and her hands slid down my arms like snowfall. Across the table, Mulder's eyes were wide and dark, his mouth gleaming with the wine and the swift lash of his tongue across his lips.

"The question had crossed my mind," I managed and wondered if my voice sounded as squeaky to them as it did to me.

"You get three guesses and the first two are wrong."

Her hands reached my wrists and captured them, drawing my arms up until my palms were level with her face and I was thrusting my chest out, like a saint about to be crucified. I closed my eyes and she licked my palm.

Surely my heart was going to beat its way free from my breast. The wine moved in dizzying waves in my blood and I stood, storm-tossed, when she pulled me up.

"She's beautiful, isn't she, Fox?"

She released my arms and I could have fallen like scythed grass but I heard Mulder's voice in my ear.

"Incredibly beautiful," he agreed.

Hands in my hair, pulling the weight of it away from my burning neck and soft lips stroking my skin, hers. Mulder's hands moved, familiar, across my back and over my breasts, tweaking at my rock-hard nipples.

"Take off your dress," he said and, still with my eyes closed and desperately in need of a blindfold, I did.

I felt ludicrous in my ordinary bra and pantyhose, like a Sears catalogue image in the midst of all the Ethan Allen splendor, but Mulder took my hand and led me upstairs into the bedroom. I had to open my eyes to keep from falling up the stairs. Hunter had blown out the candles and it was as dim as a dream, which made things easier for me.

Into the bedroom, decorated in jewel tones that made the two of them glow like Greek gods. They'd been fashioned for sybaritic settings, peeled grapes and slave girls to do their bidding. But Mulder knelt before me and finished undressing me as if he were the catamite and I the mistress. Watching him, feeling his cool hands against my skin, I could almost forget that Hunter was there also, her breathing flashing in the same rapid pattern as his. But I could smell her, smell her perfume and her arousal even in the dark.

He lowered me onto the bed, parting my legs with his hand and taking a mouthful of my breast as if he was planning on devouring me in pieces. With his thumb on my clit and his hair brushing against my collarbones, I did not flinch away even when he lowered his head to my aching cunt and lapped at me like the ocean. The insistent spark of a building climax began filling my pelvis with fire, and in the corner of my eye I could see Hunter stripping the inky dress away from the length of her limbs as she climbed up onto the bed with us. Her hands were cool on my breasts, and her mouth tasted sweet from the dessert and the wine from dinner. Yes, there was a difference. Her lips were so soft on mine and she tongued lightly at my lips until I could feel myself falling into the sweet softness. Delicate fingers teased at my nipples, cupped at my breasts as if creating them from air.

The ice pick of delight stabbed through my brain and I whimpered like a frightened kitten into her mouth as I arched and writhed against the rich darkness of the sheets. Mulder licked at my clit through the rocky pass of my orgasm and the pleasure/pain of it made me clutch the sheets in between my fingers, soaking the fabric with my sweat.

I'm not a lesbian, I'm not bi-sexual, I don't do this, something whined in the back of my mind.

"Shhh," Hunter breathed into my hair, cradling me against the softness of her breasts. Hard male body crawling up against me, Mulder's mouth sliding past mine, to Hunter's, back again and his hand insinuated between our bodies, Hunter gasped and she jerked. I heard his fingers slipping out of the wet slickness of her. Through the medium of flesh, I felt her shudder as he stroked her, and it seemed the most natural thing in the world to suckle at the nipple pressed to my face. Hunter's nails ran down my back, leaving icicle tracks.

Why was I?

My breasts, cupped between strong fingers, bitten and suckled, Hunter moaning and shaking against me, her skin cool even as she cried out. When the tremors in her body subsided, there was a spontaneous movement of bodies around the bed, places were reshuffled, and I was borne along like a cork in water. Mulder's mouth on mine, his hands on my breasts, hands between my legs parting me and opening me and I felt the blunt head of his cock move inside to stretch me open and I was moaning at the familiarity of it. Hands reached around from the back to pull me onto the mattress where I was drowning.

She was behind me and I felt something pressing against my perineum, sliding upwards until it teased my anus. There were too many sensations going on and I was as light as a champagne bubble and how do you ask someone what the hell she's doing back there, anyway? I tried to stammer out some inquiry, to at least state my position for the record. "I, uh, I've never –"

Hunter and Mulder shushed me with one voice and then they drove into me like a set of teeth closing on a particularly tasty morsel, moving in unison as if the same muscles controlled them both. I was pushed and compressed and invaded like a territory under the Conquistadors. I always knew Mulder wanted to map and subdue every part of me and since he'd been unable to do the job on his own it should not have surprised me that he'd enlist help. My mind was coming apart like a smashed gumball machine, thoughts rolling every which way and getting dirtier each second. All my nerve endings were firing at once, the synapses sizzling as though I were being frozen alive rather than fucked.

When they pressed into me I thought I would be flattened like a centerfold in a porn magazine, a shared fantasy by which they could mediate their desires. Mulder's eyes were wide and staring and I could see him realize that his wife, through whatever mechanical aid she was using, was less than a centimeter away from him through my tender, tropical-hot body. His mouth moved from my neck to hers as he took advantage of my height by stretching over me to reach her, and back again as she returned the favor.

Mulder's mouth was hot on mine and Hunter's kiss was icy against the back of my neck, suckling where the chip was. Helpless, boneless, filleted and stabbed hither and yon, I moaned into the closed cave of his mouth.

His hands tangled in hers on each side of me, caging me, spiking through me like a victim trapped in a medieval iron maiden. They were caressing one another, giving me nothing but pressure and penetration and I was so close that I didn't care, grinding forward and backward, losing pieces of myself to them with every thrust.

When I came I was crying, and when they shuddered to a halt inside me I tried to move away, but the ice had closed over the surface of reality and I could not reach the air.

****

I've had fantasies in my life, some of which would probably send Larry Flynt out of the room crying like a wet baby, but when the fantasy becomes reality I start to realize what a really sick fuck I am.

Waking up to the dove-like cooing of women in ecstasy while I was still drunk on sleep and sex was a new one for me. I half-rolled over in the cocoon of the sheets where I was wrapped to see Hunter's long hair spread like honey over Scully's thighs and her face buried where Scully was brighter and hotter than the sun. On her back, Scully moaned with her closed eyes seeking the ceiling. Against the sheets, Hunter's skin shone blue-white, carved in ice and Scully glowed cream-gold and their hair ran like water everywhere. I was not the man who deserved to be this lucky. I watched, open and dry-mouthed with lust, feeling more than a little superfluous. The next step was the two of them realizing that a vibrator with ni-cad batteries replaced me and I'd be back choking the chicken on the couch again. I must have made a noise as Scully's eyes flew open for a moment and the blaze blue terror stabbed out at me across the raspberry wasteland of the sheets. A moment later she jerked half-upright and shuddered, blushing red down to the tips of her nipples in a wash of pleasure.

Hunter lifted her head and smiled at me.

The butterfly flaps its wings, the alien turns its glowing gaze to me, and it could have been different. But my cock told my brain to shut the fuck up.

The proffered globes of Hunter's ass and the pink red lips of her cunt called and I crawled to her to slide in where I belonged.

Later there was wine that went straight from my mouth to my brain, bypassing my stomach altogether, and I had a vision later of Scully hanging from the bedposts, her arms out as if crucified and her hair hanging like blood. I heard the crack of leather on skin and I had to shut my eyes and sleep again because I couldn't watch anymore.

****

Consciousness teased me like the bloody bait on the hook of reality. I swam through cloudy water and woke, gasping. I was crushed under the weight of the building collapsed around me. The two of them covered me like a plaster cast on a broken limb. I was sweaty and nauseous as I pushed them away like Venus prying open her clamshell. It was still dark outside and I stumbled in the unfamiliar room.

I staggered up from the bed and into the bathroom. Hunter was as messy as Mulder and I tried not to disturb the crime scene that was the top of the sink as I splashed water on my face. I drank water without thinking, as dehydration is responsible for the worst symptoms of hangovers. I had been drunk, but not enough to excuse my behavior. I couldn't even rationalize that I'd been slipped a roofie — my memory was as clear as Austrian crystal.

Three's a crowd, Dana. I had meant to get information from Hunter, not give her my back in the most primal of ways.

There were twin sets of teethmarks on my shoulders, one from behind and one from the front. I flashed on the moment they'd bitten down as the orgasms hit. I had always assumed that simultaneity was a myth, but I suppose I now knew why he was with her.

They shared so many things.

I stared into the mirror and my mirrorself stared back, red scalloped circles on her shoulders like the epaulets of a general in the sexual revolution.

The bathroom door opened and Hunter glided in, positioning herself behind me so that she could see over my shoulder. "Come back to bed," she suggested, her breasts three inches from my back and her hands sliding cool and curious over my upper arms.

"I can't do this."

"Scully," she said, and she sounded so sad as she reached a hand up to brush my hair away from the side of my neck, exposing it so that she could kiss me there, "what does that matter now?" Her voice was a mountain stream melting in spring, flowing cool over my hot skin. She bit and licked and I was shuddering because she was touching me.

"It's wrong."

"Right and wrong is such an oversimplification of how the world works. You shouldn't have come here if you were afraid," and her bottom lip glimmered red with blood that had to be mine and I could see her hands over my breasts, my nipples hard and awake under her fingers.

"I'm not afraid," I said to the amber and emerald amusement of her eyes in the mirror.

"Why can't you compromise, Scully? This way Fox is happy, you're happy, and I'm happy. There's room enough for everyone," her voice dropped to a singsong murmur as her hand dropped between my legs, "And you like it, you know you do."

Her fingers moved inside me just like Mulder's and I could only stay upright by gripping the cold sides of the bathroom sink as my legs became as liquid as my cunt.

"Come back to bed," she said, "I've missed you so much."

****

I lost time again, the sun crawled across the furniture and paled away, there was sleep between two smooth women bodies and food at some point, cold and delicious things from the night before, and champagne. Hunter fed Scully champagne from the bottle and the glittering gold droplets spilled down their breasts where I lapped them off. A bowl of fruit and we were covered in sticky juice as pieces were eaten from skin, from crevices where fruit was never meant to be and I kissed lips wet with wine, fruit juices and muskier flavors. Hunter climbed atop of me and impaled herself on my cock, riding me until I was weak and gasping, hardly able to summon up the energy to come, but come I did with Scully's mouth hot on mine and the flame of her hair burning us all.

Later, Hunter was silver spooned to my back and Scully's head was tucked into my shoulder. Her body was nearly as cool as Hunter's and she shivered in the cold room.

"I can't do this," she whispered into my skin, "I'm not doing this."

All I could do was stroke her hair and wish her to sleep, and Hunter's hand was cold around the sleeping weight of my cock.

Tikkun Olam 23/25

Guildenstern: But we are comparatively fortunate; we might have been left to sift the whole field of human nomenclature, like two blind men looting a bazaar for their own portraits.

The woman who opened the bedroom door, letting in a blast of warm air that smelled clean and unsexed, was wearing a maid's outfit, not a fantasy costume but the real thing. If I'd hired a cleaning woman I'd be lucky to be called 'ma'am,' but money and power can get you image as well as reality.

I realized that I was staring at her in my nakedness and pulled the sheets around me to protect my dignity, which had disappeared like a political protester in Stalinist Russia. The woman, her brown face knotted in disapproval over her gray dress, brought something over to the closet and hung it up. She wouldn't look at me and I felt her condemnation burn through the hangover fog. Still, I was too weary to move and I could feel my back sticking to the sheets. If I moved I'd have to catalogue my hurts, and I wasn't ready for that. I'd just wait a while, not long enough for Mulder or Hunter to return, but until I was feeling a bit better.

I probably slept then. I realized that the maid must have brought my dress and jacket in when the shrilling of my cellphone cut through my brain like a wire garotte, ripping through the wine-dark haze I'd been in for — for how long?

Stumbling out of bed and towards the mirrored closet, which showed me a version of myself I never wanted to see, I reached the phone before the caller gave up. "Scully," I mumbled as I tried to turn the phone so that it was properly oriented.

"Dana?" Alex's voice made me even colder. I couldn't remember the last time I was warm.

"Yeah."

"Where are you? Where have you been all week? Ishy almost ate me –"

Wouldn't have been the first time. I rubbed at my eyes. "I — can you come get me?"

"You have to tell me where you are first," he said patiently.

"Oh." I really needed to go to the bathroom. "I'm at Mulder's."

"Dana, is something … wrong?"

Nothing, Alex, except for the shaking and the metallic taste in my mouth and the fact that I've just been –"Yeah, I think so."

"I'll be right there." He didn't need the address, which meant that he'd been monitoring the Mulder/Matheson clan. I wondered again if he was part of some more organized resistance group. All I knew was Langly, hiding whereever he could steal electricity. I wanted someone to give me a mission. Hopefully one involving Hunter's death. Dial M for Murder, Mulder, Matheson —

Staggering into the bathroom, I turned the shower on full force and could not even stand against the pressure of the water. Leaning against the stylishly gray and black tiled wall, I swallowed warm water and washed my aching hair with Hunter's expensive shampoo. When I was done I smelled like her, but I suppose that was no different than the past few days. Could it really have been a week? The blinds had always been closed in the bedroom, as if it were a vampire's tomb, and the only indication I had of the passage of time was the fact that some of the bruises around my hips were turning yellow, a sign of near-complete healing. I couldn't find my underwear or my shoes so I just put the dress on. It was looser than before — I'd lost a few pounds on the Mulder sex and alcohol diet. In the mirror my reflection's eyes were swollen bruises and there were three visible places on my neck where someone's teeth had broken the skin. The bite mark on my left shoulder was swelling, possibly infected, raw against the linen of my dress. The human mouth is one of the dirtiest possible weapons, full of bacteria and other nasties. I would be getting an up-close-and-personal demonstration of what antibiotics had been good for if it didn't heal well.

Pounding on the door downstairs. I was still unsteady, but I moved on toddler-wobbly legs, gripping the railing as the steps threatened to turn into an escalator underneath me.

"Bozhe moi!" Alex's expression when I opened the door was unflattering in the extreme, and did more to sober me than a pot of coffee.

"I want to go home," I told him and he picked me up as if he were Cary Grant and I Ingrid Bergman, carrying me away from danger. I pressed my face into the warmth of his neck as he moved easily down the sidewalk to where his car was parked in blatant disregard for regulations.

He had to put me down to open the door and I sagged against his car like an armful of drycleaning. "Have you been here since Friday? I talked to Skinner, he was looking for you. He's not so popular with the Others and I think he's looking for allies."

I could tell Alex's chatter for what it was — nervous rambling, since he was unready to confront what had been happening to me. He needed a little time to adjust to the new, improved me.

"I've been here," I admitted as he eased me into the passenger seat. "I think — I think that Hunter is not what she seems."

"That's a universal truth," he said in a non-tone and buckled my seatbelt. I didn't remember him getting in the driver's seat but then he was helping me out of the car so we must have been in motion.

The sun shining onto the brick facade of my apartment building was too bright to be borne. I couldn't walk, and it was humiliating to have Alex hoist me up in his arms again like a sulky child and stride across the lawn. He smelled healthily of man and soap.

I was furious at Hunter for what she'd done to Mulder but I'd gone into her arms willingly, just as I never allowed my anger with Mulder to interfere with my loyalty to him.

I showered again for slightly over an hour, going through the time-tired rape victim routine, but, to give Alex credit, he didn't chide me for destroying evidence. For all we knew the sexual partner of one's choice was a perk of membership in the new Administration. Matt Drudge was among the disappeared and it was unlikely that a sex scandal was going to interfere with Hunter's political ambitions at this late date.

I decided that my hair was never going to look right again so I sheared it off like Rapunzel cutting off the entrance to her tower. Very symbolic. When I was done, I had a ragged three-inch spiky mess sticking straight out from my scalp, which was guaranteed not to attract any undue attention. I finally felt clean. Wet-haired and with deodorant soap stinging my eyes, my welts, and all my mucous membranes, I pulled on some sweats and stumbled into bed. Ishmael sat on my feet and Alex brought me a cup of tea. Alex blinked at my shorn locks and then shook his own head to clear it.

"Well, that's a statement," he said, "kind of a refugee look."

My eyes blurred and his image undulated for a minute.

"Dana, I'm so sorry, I never should have asked you to go –"

"You didn't do anything," I told him. "I would have gone anyway. Just to see."

Nonetheless he would not look at my face full-on, as if whatever victimization shone from my eyes accused him.

Time blurred then. I opened my eyes, and Mulder unzipped his pants and I could feel the coldness of the stone pillar behind me through my dress but I couldn't feel him, though I knew he was thrusting inside me and his hands covered my breasts as if they were breaking news. "We had some good times, didn't we?" he asked and I stared at him, my eyes so dry that they might have been glued open. "I'll miss you," he continued and then grunted his release into the curve of my neck and shoulder. I could feel his come trickling down my stockings and I wondered if anyone would notice. The gun was cold in my mouth even as the bullet pounded up through my skull and into my brain.

I sat up with the sheets wrapped around my neck, sweat running in torrents from my scalp. At the foot of the bed, Ishmael looked up at me with mournful chocolate eyes and on the other side of the bed Alex gave me the same look only in varying shades of green.

"You should talk to someone," he suggested, "someone who can deal with this."

"Oh sure, I'll just call the local rape crisis hotline. Hi, two of the leaders of the unfree world just spent the past few days fucking the stuffing out of me and I've somehow lost my joie de vivre. Jesus Christ, Alex, you can stick your cock into whatever orifice of mine pleases you so you can deal with it!" I snarled and padded into the bathroom.

There were still bruise-like circles under my eyes and lash marks on my back, and I didn't want to peel back the ACE bandages to see what my wrists looked like. I splashed cold water on my face as Alex brought his naked gold body into the bathroom. I felt vulnerable even in my baggy sweats.

"There are still therapists around. This is a rape. Wouldn't you tell someone to seek counseling?"

"I don't want counseling, I want to shove my fist through her face," I sat down on the closed lid of the toilet and dug my fingers into my temples, "and his. I hate him. I can't believe Mulder would do this –that he would be a party to this."

"Maybe you didn't know him as well as you thought you did," he said and crouched in front of me, his voice so delicate that it would not have set off nitroglycerine, "Dana, through the work that I've done, the places I've been the last few months, I know people. People who could easily remove Mulder and Hunter."

No one had ever offered me anything so romantic in my life.

"No," I said, a little grudgingly I'll admit.

Maybe as a last resort.

His hands were warm and real on my face, not clouded by the dream at all.

"Dana, you know I — uh — well, it's the love thing I guess. We can go away. Out in California there's no authority, the Others aren't even trying. We'll go and raise oranges. You won't be alone."

"Why the fuck did Mulder do it? I thought I could trust him."

"You're not listening to me."

The theory congealing in my head like yesterday's breakfast was so outrageous that I would have laughed aloud if I hadn't been nauseous from memory.

"Hunter's blonde hair is naturally brown, Hunter is originally from Massachusetts before losing her parents at age twelve. Hunter was adopted by the Mathesons who coincidentally moved in the same social set as the Mulders."

Alex dropped my hands and rubbed at his forehead as though his brain was causing him discomfort.

"Day –"

"If there could be a Robert who was Mulder-taken-in-Samantha's-place, then there is no barrier to the existence of a woman who was the person Mulder would have been if an X-chromosome-bearing spermatozoa had beaten out the more fragile Ys. That would explain the baby, the dead baby, they were recombining the same genetic material, something closer than brother and sister."

I stood up and walked out of the bathroom; Alex groaned and followed me, picking up a towel at some point to wrap around his waist. My files were still on the coffee table where I had left them, and I sat on the couch to flip through the pages.

"Nothing was wrong until Robert showed up, then Mulder began complaining that he was confused and things were changing."

"Click back a couple links, Day."

"My hair, he was asking me about my hair and Mulder wouldn't notice my hair unless it was a drastic change. And he didn't remember Hunter. How could a man not remember his wife?"

"That bitch? Easy."

"I'm assuming that he can keep his perception of reality because he's existing outside the time line. So is Robert."

The look on Alex's face would have made me laugh at his frustration if I'd had the energy. "Robert?" He sounded like I did when I'd listened to one of Mulder's theories. "The guy we've I mean, I think I might be able to find him if you need to talk to him."

"Robert has the same genetic makeup as Mulder who happened to kill his wife Dana Rothstein who has the same fingerprints as I do, which is a little weird."

"I thought Robert was just some weirdo abductee who happens to have the secret to saving the world. You're saying he's Mulder's clone? I feel like I'm mainlining Doctor Who."

"Not a clone, an alternative version. More to the point, if Robert could leave his proper universe and start interfering in ours, then so could Hunter. So Hunter is Mulder in her time stream and she's completely skewed the reality of this one."

Sighing he sat back into the depths of the sofa and Ishmael leapt up to nibble on his fingers.

"You realize that this sounds utterly insane."

"This started out as an X-File Alex, you expected logic?"

"I guess the real question is, what are you going to do about it?"

"It can't be a coincidence that Hunter and her adoptive father are high up in the human hierarchy with the Others. If I can figure out what she did, we might be able to use it against them. There's a big party tonight, I heard them talking about it. If we confront them there, they'll have to be discreet to prevent questions from being asked about their own loyalties."

****

Another day, another reception. I tried to alternate champagne with ginger ale and buried my smirk behind a fluted glass as Others in size-proportionate tuxes mingled. I couldn't help but hear "we represent the lollipop kids" playing in my head as I surveyed the scene. A normal-size tuxedoed waiter tapped my shoulder. "Mr. Mulder? There's a woman here — a Ms. Scully?"

So Scully was back among the living. I wondered if she'd found something to wear in Hunter's closet. Some of the shorter dresses might work — she'd have cleavage down to her navel. "Bring her in."

I snagged another glass of champagne to give to Scully and tried to look suave. This is harder than you might think, even with a tuxedo and champagne. I think it has to be done unconsciously. Maybe without the unbearable weight of my thoughts it would be easier, but instead I felt Scully's approach grinding against my skin like a buffer.

She moved swiftly, as if her little dog were nipping at the heels, outdistancing the man behind her.

"We need to talk," she said, but I was distracted by her Peter-Pan-with-shaky-hands hairdo. "You've been experiencing slippage, the world isn't the way it should be, we need to –"

The man behind her was Alex Krycek. I blinked and had a brief flash of him naked which did little for my composure. Then sudden pain occurred in the general area of my face and I was on the ground, watching my blood make Rorshach patterns against the tile. Scully was yipping something in the background, then her voice cut off. I raised my hands to my face to determine what had happened and then Krycek was lifting me up. "Motherfucker!" he swore, not very creatively, as he shoved me back against the wall where my head clunked against an eighteenth-century portrait and his spittle decorated my face. "How could you?" and I folded around his fist like a tortilla.

Now I was mad, and I head-butted him, having a sudden and strange flashback to a series of other confrontations with him. The irrational hatred I felt was suddenly my ally and I managed to push him back, sending him off-balance into the arms of the security guards who'd materialized as if transported down for my protection.

"We'll take care of this, sir," the largest one said to me. It would have been manly to throw myself on him until I was pulled off, but my face really hurt and it seemed unfair to beat on a defenseless man, and anyway I wasn't really sure why he'd been so upset.

"Scully?" I croaked. "I thing he broge by nose."

But she didn't come to help me.

****

Alex's fit of temper destroyed my immediate hopes of talking to Mulder. I followed Hunter into the bathroom, where she'd bolted at the first sign of trouble. I bet she often dropped her gun too. Unlike my Mulder, though, she'd learned that the smart money is on running, on playing along, on taking what you want instead of seeking what is true. Do enough of that and someone will hold the guns for you, not on you.

Confession is good for the soul, they say. I was going to make sure that Hunter's soul got a little closer to heaven that day, just like the Inquisitors did with their victims.

Hunter was waiting for me, posed like a runway model, one hand on her elegantly attired hip.

"Nice outfit, Dana, what do you call that look? Early 80's dyke?" she said with a pretty little sneer.

Now that I knew what to look for, I could see the relationship. The same skin tone, the same smallish chin, the same chameleon eyes. She'd had a nose job sometime between the ages of twelve and twenty, and the infamous Mulder nose had been incinerated with a bunch of other surgical waste.

"I know who you are," I said, and I wouldn't stop smiling.

Hooves clicking on the bathroom tile floor, she took a few steps backwards and frowned at the gun I had pointed at her.

"Dana, I know you're upset, but once you get used to the idea –" Four days I had lost in the luxurious trap of arms and legs and pleasure, four days of my soul being sucked away. Hunter watched with her emerald eyes shadowed behind dark lashes.

"Of what, being used as a sex toy in your masturbation?"

Deep breaths, don't get shrill, I reminded myself. Shrill is weak.

"But Dana, we love you," she protested in a silky purr.

"I know who you are, and that you shouldn't be here. The senator and his wife aren't your parents."

"I'm adopted, it's common knowledge, honestly, Dana, you've been in that basement too long."

"DON'T CALL ME DANA!" my voice slapped back at me in the tile room.

Hunter flinched back from me, not liking my face.

"Your parents were William and Christina, and you had a younger sibling, Sam," I choked out and she went the most revolting shade of seafoam green, her skin clashing with the indigo of her dress. "I finally got around to checking the records. It's a shame what happened to all three of them, gas leak, all dying in their sleep from the fumes and you were the only one who lived, because you were sleeping with the window open."

"What are you accusing me of?"

"No one but you will ever know the answer to that. The question is, when did you discover that you could cross universes to find the male version of yourself? What made you decide that it would be a really neat thing to do that?"

I watched her face twitch and tighten. "It's rather appallingly self-absorbed of me, isn't it?"

"So you admit it."

She sighed and reached for me, then pulled her hand back when I waved the gun around. "It's not a matter of 'admitting.' I didn't mean to end up here — but when I discovered Fox, I knew I had to stay. Think about it — wouldn't you want to meet the one person who could know you perfectly? The person who completes you by being you? Once I was here, how could I leave?"

"You can't just pick universes like you do cars, finding the one that matches your lifestyle."

"*You* can't," she drawled. "Don't make assumptions. I came for you, too, Dana."

"What are you talking about?"

"We're bound together. You know it as well as I do. Don't tell me you don't feel it, feel the connection between us. Let Fox and me take care of you." Despite my best intentions, the gun was wavering, shaking away from her as if there were a force field protecting her. She put out her hand, but I managed to pull the gun away before she took it. "See," she said, and her voice was as gentle as if she were dealing with a balky colt, "I know you don't want to shoot me again. Miraculous healing only comes once in a lifetime, you know."

I heard the door burst open behind me, and she was already waving the security guards away. "This is a women's bathroom," she said, "you're not allowed." But they stayed and, defeated, I put the gun up to show that they shouldn't kill me. I had long ago vowed that I wouldn't actively *try* to die for Mulder, and I suppose I owed Hunter the same consideration. The gun disappeared from my numb hand and Hunter was patting me down for weapons. I had no doubt that she was serious about protecting herself even as she took the opportunity to feel me up like a prom date.

She stood too close to me so that I had to crane my neck to see her, and after I looked in her sinkhole eyes I found it easier to focus on her lips. "We need to get you back home," she said. "I want to know how you figured out that this reality picked up a passenger who didn't pay the fare."

Tikkun Olam 24/25

Player: There's a design at work in all art — surely you know that? Events must play themselves out to their aesthetic, moral and logical conclusion. Guildenstern: And what's that, in this case? Player: It never varies — we aim at the point where everyone who is marked for death dies.

Hunter had been kind enough to ensure that the handcuffs were tight enough around my wrists that I couldn't slip out. While we travelled to her lab, she sat in the back of the van with me and observed me, as if she were trying to memorize my contours for later recollection. I considered this a bad sign.

Like a stereotypical Evil Overlord, Mulder could be distracted long enough to be defeated if you just kept talking. I could only hope that Hunter shared some of his weaknesses. "You have to know that you can't have children. Look what happened before."

"That's only a matter of statistics, Dana. It's true that children from father-daughter or sister-brother pairings are more likely to have mental or physical disabilities, but even then the majority are normal. You know that the laws of probability don't really apply to people like you and me. We'll try again — we might already be pregnant from the last few days — and we'll be fine."

Now I understood why Hunter had taken the risk of having me near her, even though she couldn't control me as easily as Mulder. Drinking interferes with male sexual performance, and while it's possible for a man to fake an orgasm it's not simple, especially when your wife is trying to get pregnant. So Hunter could talk all she wanted about a spiritual connection but what she really wanted was a fertility icon, and I had the right figure for it.

"Your friend got away," she informed me. "Any idea where he might have gone? He broke Fox's nose, and I'm looking forward to discussing the etiquette of gate-crashing with him."

I'd been right; she *did* love the sound of her own voice too much for her own good. "Unfortunately for you, Alex keeps his location on a need-to-know basis. Maybe he's part of a resistance cell, or maybe he just has a girl on the side he doesn't want me to find out about."

"Don't be ridiculous," she said. "Who'd cheat on you? Anyway, I don't need your help with that. We know where Krycek and his pathetic little militia hide. It ends today, Dana."

I moved my wrists to decrease the pinch of warm metal and thought about how long it would take to bite out her throat.

****

Alex stormed into the room. His left cheek was swollen and there was dried blood on his chin. "They've got Dana," he told Langley. "We have to go rescue her."

Langley shook his head. "I don't blame you, man, but you know how this works. One person just isn't worth it, not with humanity at stake."

"Dana was convinced that he," Alex gestured at me, "is the key, that he's somehow the same person as Mulder and Hunter Matheson. You're done with him, right?"

It was true; they'd perfected the aerosol filled with elements of my blood ten hours ago, tested it on a select captured Other five hours ago, and been celebrating ever since. My blood was going to rain down on Others all over the world, and it would choke them. They would die with their skin boiling on their bodies, their eyes bursting like dropped eggs. I didn't mind so much because I remembered what they'd done to me and it seemed fair. But I wanted it to be over, now.

"Let me go with him," I said in a voice rusty from screaming. At least I think I was screaming, but none of them ever reacted, even Langley who was otherwise gentle with me, and so maybe I just screamed in my own head.

"What do you think the two of you can accomplish?" Langley asked, his tone indicating that Alex would be better off a lone commando than dragging a crazy man around.

"Matheson is questioning Dana about what she knows. She'll want to find out about Robert, too. I can create a disruption, once I'm in, and I'll get Dana out. The rest of them can all fuckin' die when the Others explode."

Sounded like a plan to me.

I don't think that Alex knew that Langley gave me a gun. It was hard and heavy in my hand, and even when he gave me a holster for it I didn't know what to do with it. I wanted the world to stop moving around me.

****

The broken nose had already expanded into two lovely black eyes, so that I looked like a raccoon with a taped white muzzle. Hunter, trailing security men like chiffon scarves, had swept me out of the reception as soon as my nose stopped bleeding. She'd sent me home in the limo while she escorted Scully in the security van. I couldn't remember when we'd gotten more bodyguards than Farrakhan.

I'd fought with Krycek before, and not over anything as innocent as Scully's affections. But at the same time I knew I hadn't.

Slippage — the word echoed in my brain. Like a shoe rubbing against a blister, exposing something nasty underneath the skin. Was I really supposed to be here, like this?

Hunter had Scully taken down into the basement, and then she told the guards to secure the perimeter. The basement was Hunter's territory, where she kept her files and a random jumble of equipment whose purpose I'd never known. Scully was strapped into a seat like a dentist's chair, her eyes screaming wide but she still stayed as silent as if she'd actually been gagged. I felt nauseous, but I wouldn't let Hunter hurt her. Not badly, anyway.

The syringe was uncapped and filled with precision and familiarity. I was impressed; I'd had much more difficulty, though I couldn't remember quite when. "It's just to relax her, lower her inhibitions about telling the truth," Hunter reassured me, and I had to think that it would be quite a relief if Scully would tell me the full truth about herself once in a while. Scully shuddered but had too much dignity to struggle.

After a few minutes she began to giggle, which was frankly creepy.

"I thought it was Robert who was the anomaly," she said, cheery as a weather forecaster. "But now I think he was a — a *reaction*," she smiled, proud to have found the right word. "There's no such thing as a free lunch in physics, you know. There had to be a reaction, a door that didn't close quite right."

I frowned at her around the pain in my face.

****

"Stay here," Alex hissed at me. I could see the snake flickering in his eyes and for a moment the skin of his face was replaced by scales. I didn't want to be alone again but before I could put the words together he was gone into the darkness.

Georgetown was always brightly lit before, even at night, lights hovering like alien eggs above the streets, but now it was dead dark. From somewhere in the murky brownness I heard a soughing sound, like a man falling and being caught, then the scrape of leather on concrete.

"Come on," Alex's hand was on my arm. Had he materialized? A man as changeable as Alex might not need to walk in a straight line to get where he was going. There were fireworks going off at the corner of my vision, distracting me.

Alex had a funny device that sparked purple and then opened the townhouse doors. Dana had wanted a townhouse, but she'd wanted college savings for the kids more. Too bad, we should have just blown the money on the townhouse. Up the ironwork steps we went, steps that curled in on themselves like paper catching fire; I could feel them moving, disintegrating, beneath me.

When we passed the mirror in the entryway I looked and saw no one there but Alex.

Light and noise bubbled from the stairs to the basement. Alex motioned me to follow him. His hands left glowing green trails in the air, and I could taste peppermint.

I was afraid the stairs would start moving, so I held back, but when I heard Alex cry out I had to take the risk.

****

It was too funny. Hunter wanted to know how I'd found her out, but it was her own actions that prompted me to investigate further. If she hadn't decided that she needed an extra bedwarmer, I never would have been angry enough to consider the possibility.

When I saw Alex charging down the stairs, I was too looped to hold back my surprise. Fortunately, Hunter only had time to turn, not enough time to reach for a weapon before Alex had aimed directly at her chest. She put her hands up.

"Thank you," I blurted out, heartfelt.

"Mulder, untie her," he snarled, not making the mistake of using the gun to emphasize his point; it stayed targeted on Hunter. Mulder ambled over to me and tugged at the knots. I suspected that he wanted very much to see what happened next.

Clopping on the stairs; Alex didn't move so it must be an ally. I gaped when Robert appeared. I thought he was safe with Langley. Didn't Alex know that he was important to the Resistance? Didn't Alex know that he was crazier than genital piercing?

"Robert," Mulder announced, his voice stained with a Mulderian realization. "You're not in the right universe, are you?"

Hunter's eyes whipped from man to man, skipping over me, which was okey-dokey with me. "Robert," she said, "I know what's gone wrong. It's me," and he held out his hands to her, "come here, it's all right."

Despite Alex's cursing, that's exactly what he did. Mulder's face contorted with jealousy and, flush with Hunter's drugs, I laughed out loud.

****

Hunter stroked Robert's head as if he were a favored pet, a feral cat she'd tamed. Robert was shaking, but he was smiling. "It's going to be all right," Hunter crooned. "We're here, I'm here and I'm going to make sure that you never have to be alone again. I'll be with you, we'll be here, we don't need anyone else, none of that matters." The words blurred into meaninglessness as Robert rubbed his head against her stomach, half-child, half-puppy, all terrifying.

"Robert," Krycek said, "you have to come away from her now. She's trying to confuse you."

"There's no need to try," he said, and his hand was fumbling at his waist. I thought he was going to undress and try to fuck her, which made me nauseous but wasn't that surprising, but he was reaching for a gun. It was so unexpected — who'd give a gun to a nut like Robert? — that I thought for a second that I was imagining it, until he aimed it at Krycek. Hunter stepped away from him, her face as unconcerned as ever but tension snapping through her limbs.

Scully, so recently freed that the rest of us had ignored her, lunged at Robert.

The muzzle flash was like a nuclear blast in the windowlessness and the afterimage blinded me for a moment.

Scully stood, rooted like an oak, in between Robert and Krycek. I assumed that Robert's unfamiliarity with his weapon had led him to miss her entirely, and I was still waiting for her to disarm him when I saw that she was falling, saw that her chest was covered with a bib of blood like a guest at the Devil's table.

She was shorter than Krycek, you see. Short enough that a bullet meant for a man's chest could catch her in the throat.

My body was at absolute zero as I watched her fall. A part of me was afraid that she'd be mad at me if I went to hold her up. Scully so hated others to acknowledge even her momentary weaknesses. But I saw the light in her eyes begin to go out like stars disappearing when the first fingers of dawn grab at the sky and I knew, past all denial.

Krycek screamed like a kicked cat and fired at Robert, cratering him in the gut. Robert fired again.

Hunter stared, her eyes glowing like the corona of the sun in an eclipse.

Robert looked down at Scully, confirming that he had killed her again. Scully's body jerked as the blood began to run down her windpipe and fill her lungs. She was almost silent, rasping like a cat trying to vomit up a hairball as she struggled to breathe against the red tide.

Krycek was looking wildly around as his guts leaked blood on the basement floor. Robert brought his hands up to cover his eyes. The gun, forgotten in his hands, thunked into his forehead. Krycek's knees folded like paper cranes and he was suddenly the second shortest person in the room. The Japanese say that if you fold a thousand paper cranes your wish will come true. I didn't have that kind of time so I staggered over to Scully.

"I — I'm going to get help." Hunter could have been speaking Finnish. I understood the click-clack of her heels on the stairs much better.

There was a bloody foam on Scully's lips and her eyes were unfocused, the pupils huge in the dimness of the basement. Closer, I could hear the gurgle of blood as it rushed into the wrong spaces of her body, drowning her on dry land, choking her heart with its own products. I put a hand to her throat to try to control the blood, but she never did what I wanted and all I could do was wash my hands in her blood as it poured forth like a rare vintage of wine.

Scully's eyes were open and I think she saw me over her. Or perhaps she saw the angel of death. I doubt she was surprised that he wore my face. Her lips moved as if she wanted to say something — always wanting the last word, that's Scully to the bone, to the striated muscle, to the bottom of her erratically beating heart. Her voice was gone and I could only watch as blood painted her lips crimson, her head jerking back and her hands beating against the cold, cold floor as she struggled uselessly to breathe. Every motion only pushed the blood into her lungs more quickly. Her neck was swelling like a python choking down a pig and I couldn't touch it anymore. When I put my head on her chest I could hear her heart crunch with every beat as if something inside was being crushed, mashed smaller and smaller until finally it disappeared.

The brain can go four to six minutes without oxygen before permanent brain damage or death. I don't know if Scully felt the electricity going out in her own mind. I know she wouldn't want to live with brain damage. Even after she changed her living will post-abduction the instructions remained the same for brain damage.

Crunch-crunch.

She would have told me what was going wrong in her chest in excruciating technical detail. If she hadn't been shot.

Six minutes is a long time. Fragments of memory tumbled through my head like outtakes from the highlight tape of our years together. Dana Scully, this is your death. She kept moving, shaking as if she could throw Death off of her chest if she could only vibrate at the right frequency. There were sounds coming out of my throat, the howl of the night wind through rocky terrain.

If it had been instantaneous it would have been easier on everyone, but instead I had to say good-bye in the time it takes to run a commercial break in a prime-time slot. Her skin, under the blood, was bluish white and I thought of marble headstones and folded American flags. Halfway through, I thought that if I couldn't tell her it was going to be all right I should at least have the decency to put her out of her misery, but I could no more do that than I could levitate. I pulled away and watched as the bloodflow slowed and her head stopped thrashing.

"Please don't go, you know I can't live without –"

Crunch.

Crunch.

I don't know when exactly she died. I always thought that I would just know, to the instant. For a while I thought that when she died I would follow, stepping on her heels in my eagerness to overtake her. But I felt no desire to die as I looked at her body, mutilated in death not much more than it had been in life. I felt nothing at all.

When I looked up, Robert was dead. He and his Dana had it easy, it was quick for them. I would have liked the chance to —

"Mulder," Krycek groaned, and I turned to him, surprised that the world was still populated. "Could you … could you close her eyes? I don't really want to see where I'm going."

Close her eyes. I couldn't even look at her. Not her, it, she was gone, fled like frost when the sun comes out. "I can fix this," I panted. "I have to go back."

Krycek laughed and red blood coated his fingers like a latex glove as he tried to hold his guts in. "Yeah, sure you can. But whatever you do leaves me here. Close her eyes, for God's sake!" In his rising voice I heard the squeal of a car crash, metal crumpling and rending itself.

I dropped to my knees on the cold, cold concrete floor and cupped Krycek's cheek in my hand. His skin was rough and cooling fast. "No," I told him. "If I go back none of this ever happens, not even to you. Sc-Scully said."

Alex blinked supermodel lashes over his LED-green eyes. I needed him to believe so that I wouldn't be the only one who did. Clap your hands if you believe in Tinkerbell, Alex.

Alex couldn't clap, he could only cough, and blood and spittle dribbled down his chin. I guess Tinkerbell was going to have to curse God and die with the rest of us. I was still holding him, and, moved by the same impulse that was telling me to pick up the discarded gun and end my life with a bullet from the same clip that had stolen Scully, I kissed Alex's temple. I felt the pulse fluttering there like the sacrificial lamb straining to be free from its tether. "It's going to be all right," I said and he laughed at me even as he died.

Now you see me

Now you —

I froze like that, cradling my mortal enemy like a satanic pieta. But Alex was not going to rise again after three days. He would only rise again if I kept my promise to fix things.

The confusion had lifted like heat after a rainstorm, fled with the pain that I could no longer feel. The events of the past months played out in chronological order, as if I were writing a report for Skinner. It wouldn't have convinced him, but it did a good job on me.

Hunter had me memory-wiped during my recovery from the Superflu, and probably Scully too, but information was at long last trickling around the artificially-imposed dams.

Robert made my head spin, he gave me memories that weren't mine. Robert was me, so I could understand the crossed signals.

Hunter made my head spin, she gave me memories that weren't mine. Ergo, Hunter was not from this branch of the tree of possibility either.

I opened drawers at random, daubing Scully's blood on the white particleboard, wondering why I'd never bothered to look in the basement of my own house. At some level I must have collaborated with her. We'd had such good times together, even if they did involve the incidental extinction and enslavement of the human race.

When I found the drugs, I stuck a handful of vials and a sealed syringe into my pocket. My hands were sticky with blood and I ruined the pants, but with any luck I'd never need a drycleaner in this reality again. I didn't know how to find the computer program that was used to trigger the regression, but Dr. Strauss had suggested that, with enough experience, the drugs alone would be enough, and I could replay the patterns I'd seen before in my imagination. I was good at seeing things that only existed in my imagination. Clatter and stumble on the stairs, the snick of metal on metal that was Hunter's security detail. I shut the drawer and turned to meet them.

Hunter was not overly concerned with personal safety; she was in the forefront of the charge.

We had that in common.

"They're dead," I said, which was pretty stupid considering the sheer amount of gore scattered throughout the room. I could smell the blood cooking where it had spattered on the exposed light bulbs. It didn't bother me much.

Hunter took my hand and led me upstairs, leaving her men to erase the evidence. I wondered if I was faking or feeling shock until I realized that there was no difference.

It was funny how our bedroom looked the same as ever. I could see a gleaming hair on the pillowcase, too short and light to be Hunter's, a casualty of love. Hunter caressed my cheek, the smooth tip of her index finger tracing my jawbone until it disappeared into my skull. "I'm sorry it had to end like this," she said, and I believed her. "I don't think it could have been different. I think it's about fate," and I heard my own voice in hers.

"What happened to your Scully?"

She must have decided that there was nothing left to hide. Perhaps she planned another mindwipe at her earliest convenience. A tear crept down her face, clear as heroin melted for easy injection and just as dangerous. "She was Dana to me. She investigated me for a security clearance on a project Matheson did — she shouldn't have asked so many questions. She — she was my first, Fox, and when I came here I was so glad to find her, to know that she wasn't alone –"

'First' — her first kill? Her first woman fuck? Which would be worse, I wondered.

Her face was ugly when she cried, and I think that fact made me realize that she was human, after all. That made her crimes all the easier to understand.

I took her in my arms and she grabbed me ferociously, like Diana the Huntress, her namesake. Her silver arrows had been transmuted to microchips in this modern age, but she was the same underneath as the godddess who'd tormented the Greeks and Romans. I kissed her wet eyelids, her dampened cheeks, the bridge of her surgically enhanced nose and felt her shake against me like a bridge in a high wind.

"It's going to be all right," I murmured into her ear, and through her tears she smiled at me and sealed her mouth over mine. If we were the same person, she could breathe for the both of us. I let her push me onto my back, into sheets that still smelled of Scully and us.

"Let me do this for you," I requested as I undressed her, stripping away the powersuited armor and finding the woman underneath, her body still strong and full even though gravity was collecting the tolls of time. Already-drying blood crumbled and drifted onto her body, onto the sheets, raining Scully. I shifted so that I could strip as well, lying on top of her and the sensory memories flowed through me like a river whose dam has burst. Hunter after a shower, Hunter in the moonlight, Hunter in her adoptive mother's wedding dress.

She moaned underneath me, rough and deep as a wolf howling in the night, and I nibbled at her throat just the way she liked. She tried to return the favor but I pushed her back. "Shh," I told her, though she was no longer speaking. "I love you."

Sliding inside her was like having my own hand wrapped around me, warm and slicktight. I put my palms on her cheeks so that she had to look at me and her moss-dark eyes were wide and wondrous as I fucked her. "Close your eyes," I whispered and, choking back further tears, she did as my hands caressed her face, my thumbs moving down to the pulse that moved like a jungle drumbeat in her throat.

She was beautiful like that, striving towards climax, trusting me to take her where we both wanted to go. Smooth as monumental alabaster . . . Yet she must die, else she'll betray more men. Leave her, leave her, leave her to Heaven.

She didn't even have enough breath to gasp when I tightened my hands around her neck and began to squeeze.

I did love her, I knew again, as if it were the first time. Her body tightened around me and she thrashed, first excited by the lack of oxygen and then terrified, her eyes open again, as shocked as if she'd been cattle-prodded. I loved her for liking what I was, and that should have been my clue that something was amiss. How could anyone love the man she wanted me to be? Scully in my nostrils, in my eyes, brushing against my legs, the bed possessed of her ghost even though she could hardly have accepted that she was dead yet.

My hands had clamped down with a force beyond my conscious control. Even after Hunter stopped moving, even after I heard her heart slow and stop with less fuss than Scully's had, I could not let go. I expected her to rise from the dead like the vampire I was, like the vampires I attracted, and make me her demon groom once again.

But there was nothing supernatural about the dead woman underneath me, and finally I convinced my hands of that fact and released her.

I pulled myself off of her silent body, my cock thrilling with the friction of movement.

"Hey, Scully," I said into the deadness, and I couldn't pretend that my voice sounded sane in my own tolerant mind, "D'you think that counts as auto-erotic asphyxiation?"

 

Tikkun Olam 25/25

Player: Between 'just desserts' and 'tragic irony' we are given quite a lot of scope for our particular talent. Generally speaking, things have gone about as far as they can possibly go when things have got about as bad as they reasonably get. Guildenstern: Who decides? Player: Decides? It is written.

Every time I went back things got worse. But now I had nowhere to go but up. I felt the freedom a jumper must feel while he falls the first few dozen feet off the bridge, a universe of possibility ending, as always, in death. It would be so much easier just to stop. Let the aliens come, what good had humanity ever done anyway? If I were to go on there was a good chance that I'd just continue spreading death and destruction through more of the universe.

I heard Scully's voice, though I knew it couldn't be coming from her throat. Scully was a corpse and dead women tell no tales. "If continuity isn't reestablished," she said in her liquid azure tones, "the disruptions could continue to spread."

If there were other worlds out there where Scully still drew breath, I had to complete the circle to save her. And I had to do it on my own.

Still wearing three kinds of blood and marked with the sexual secretions of a dead woman, I staggered to my feet and got the drugs out of my discarded pants.

I was ready this time and when I opened my eyes I was not surprised to find myself in bed with my mother.

The question was, who was I?

My mother was sleeping with her back to me. I recognized my parents' bedroom furniture and, as silently as possible, slid out from under the covers and walked to the dresser. There was no blood on me and I was wearing another man's face. This was the face of the man I knew as my father. For a moment I saw the likeness between the two of us more clearly than I had ever allowed myself to before. He had turned Samantha over to Them, and I hated him for it, and now it was my turn to hate myself for the same reason.

What I really needed was a newspaper. I had no idea what day it was and where I was. God, my parents had moved so many times before Massachusetts, moved because They had better places that Dad should be. Grabbing Dad's seersucker robe off the bedroom chair, I made for the door, but before I walked out I couldn't help but look back at the woman sleeping in the bed. Every little boy thinks his mother is beautiful, it's hard-wired into us, but what I had never realized was that my mother was sexy. I'd only seen her after her relationship with vodka and valium had reduced her to a Tennessee Williams portrait of what she had been. But there she was, warm and real as any woman in any bed. Her hair lay dark and wild around her face, the curve of a breast above the sheet wrapped around her, the lines around her mouth and eyes unformed as of yet, and her whole body soft and relaxed as only a well-fucked woman can be.

That was probably why there were condom wrappers crumpled on the bedside table next to the wineglasses.

Okay, I'd missed a Freudian nightmare by a couple of hours.

I would have fucked my mother six times on Sunday in the middle of Times Square with Howard Stern doing a pump by pump commentary on CNN and the Internet if it brought Scully back.

The aura of sex in the room burned off like the morning damp and I trudged downstairs to the front door to retrieve the newspaper. The cold cut through my bathrobe and made me gasp out loud. Like something out of a movie, I opened the door just in time to see the delivery boy, wearing the cliched backward Jeff cap, throw the newspaper over the white picket fence. He pedaled off, the sound of the playing card tapping the spokes of his bike wheels as loud as gunfire in the quiet morning. I picked up the paper.

Malcolm X was dead.

February 23, 1965.

Inside, the telephone was ringing. It was black and had a dial which almost made me laugh.

"Yeah?" I answered.

"Bill, did I wake you?"

I'd know those silky, smoky tones anywhere.

"No."

"Is Tina up yet?"

"No."

"You two have to be at the lab at nine for the implantation."

"I know."

I heard the click and poof of a lighter before he spoke again, "I know this can't make you comfortable, no man likes the idea of a cuckoo in his nest. But it's for the good of the Project, the boy was a disappointment in that regard. Things will be different, they say that they have the technique and the technology now to make sure that the child will have all the necessary . . . abilities."

I pressed my head against the wall and shut my eyes.

"What if I refused, what if I told you that this was all wrong, that it was unethical, evil, and many, many people would die because of what we're doing?" I asked. What if I went back upstairs and impregnated Tina the old-fashioned way? That must have been what Dad did to create the blonde child, in an act of monkey wrenching as simple as the Dutch workers throwing their sabots into the gears of progress.

"Do you think you're likely to say that?" he asked in an amused voice that was not without menace.

"I don't know." I didn't have to make the decision, just ratify it. My complicity was limited. I was just the guard at the gates, not the commandant, I could wash the fatty soot that came from the chimneys off my skin and pretend I didn't know.

"Won't take me long to get from New York to Rhode Island. I can take Tina. You won't have a problem anymore. You won't be a problem, neither will the boy."

//The Final Jeopardy category is "Hegelian Paradox." The answer is: "You make a cluster-fuck out of everything you wanted to fix." Fox Mulder, what is your question?//

"Bill?"

//"What happens when you go back in time and kill your father and yourself in order to prevent your sister from being fathered by another man, thus causing the invasion of the earth and the death of the woman you love, a different version of yourself, and your worst enemy?"//

"Bill?"

//"And what did you bet, Fox Mulder?"//

"I'm here."

//"Everyone's life."//

"Don't screw with me, Bill, I've had a really busy few days."

//"And your answer is –"//

"Yeah, we'll be at the lab at nine. Maybe nine-thirty, you know how Tina is in the morning."

Laughter from New York.

"Yeah, I do."

//"– correct! And for your winning prize, Fox Mulder, you get your life back, Scully gets her life back, and Samantha goes on to have a life of pain and misery as an experimental subject!"//

His voice was easy now, glutted. "Bit of a paradox, isn't it, Bill — how some choices aren't really choices at all?" The dial tone sang like the moaning of a ghost.

Poleaxed by relief and terror, I fell to my knees on the hard white linoleum of the kitchen floor. And for our other contestants, we have two trips to New Jersey.

Somewhere, Bob Dylan was singing the theme song.

Good and bad I defined these terms, quite clear, no doubt, somehow. Ah, but I was so much older then; I'm younger than that now.

I reached a traitorous hand up to restore the phone to its hook. Then I stood and went back upstairs to get Tina out of bed.

 

Tikkun Olam — Epilogue Rosencrantz: Consistency is all I ask. Guildenstern: Give us this day our daily mask. Rosencrantz: I want to go home. Which way did we come in? I've lost my sense of direction.

Scully doesn't like to get up early, but that Sunday she was up before me. Going to Easter Mass. I couldn't believe that she'd offer herself to God, cranky and caffeinated, when she wouldn't roust herself to go look at the strange markings on the ground at the apple orchards near Herndon.

We'd fought about it the night before.

Then I fucked her on the coffee table, hard and fast the way she likes it when she doesn't want to acknowledge that she's with me.

But she stayed for the night which was an event in and of itself, even though she had curled up at the far side of bed and slept like an inanimate object. The only time I slept in the bed was when she was with me, but it was still like sleeping alone. I reached out for her sometime before dawn and she grunted in something that wasn't English but deigned to let me slide my hands over her breasts without breaking any of my fingers.

The strangeness of my dream began to merge with the noise of the shower running. She was going to leave me for Heaven. And for some reason I couldn't bear to have that happen.

Why didn't I tell her I loved her? Even when she was dying I couldn't choke it out. I could imagine a scenario in which it happened, and I suppose imagination was my enemy. When I said it in my fantasies, it always sounded like an accusation.

The shower stopped running and I struggled into sweatpants and a T-shirt. When Scully finally emerged from of the bathroom, her hair styled into sleek wings around her cheeks, I met her with a cup of coffee."I'll be in the office later to recheck those lab results," she told me over the steaming cup.

You don't get to choose who you love. The only thing you can choose is how.

"Let me take you to church," I offered. Like any abusive, controlling boyfriend, I felt a strong urge to know where she was and what she was doing at all times. Church was okay — the priests were more likely to go for the choirboys than for Scully — but I wanted to steal more time in her presence.She looked at me as if I'd grown a second head, and it was Skinner's. "I've got some errands to run, I'll pick you up when you're done, we'll have lunch," I continued lamely.

"Why don't you just tell me what you want?" She took another sip to fortify herself.

"I — I want to take you to church, and then have lunch with you." Jesus, Scully, is it so unbelievable? I guess it's my fault if it is.

"You're not going to go off with the car? I don't want to be stuck out in Maryland," she warned. Her eyes were glass-hard and suspicious.

"My hand to Reticulum," I swore, holding up my right hand like a perjurer testifying before Congress. She toned her glower down marginally, from freezer- to refrigerator-cool.

"Can we go to a restaurant with tablecloths?"

"Your choice." We were going to have to work on Scully's trust issues. If nothing else, it seemed that appeasing them would be expensive.

She turned towards the door and I followed, not even tugging against the invisible leash. I was not foolish enough to think that chauffeuring Scully to church was going to convince her that I respected her religion — actually, I didn't — or even that I respected her, though that was true. But it couldn't hurt.

And things could be worse.

****Tikkun Olam: To repair and transform the world.

 

MS's notes:

Rosencrantz: Well, really — I mean people want to be entertained — they don't come expecting sordid and gratuitous filth. Player: You're wrong — they do! Murder, seduction and incest — what do you want — jokes? Rosencrantz: I want a good story, with a beginning, a middle, and end.

RT's notes:

Guildenstern: If we had a destiny, then so had he — and if this is ours, then that was his — and if there are no explanations for us, then let there be none for him —

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