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

This entry is part 1 of 7 in the series Iolokus with MustangSally Series

The misspelled monster that started it all. Although I’m told it promotes heteronormativity in the end, we were more going for polymorphic perversity; you’ll have to judge for yourself.

Summary: Painted across the barren and desolate reaches of Texas, the shadows of the Project put additional pressure on Scully and Mulder’s already fragile relationship. After a hostage crisis raises more questions about the Project’s breeding program, Scully begins her own investigation, leaving Mulder to choose between saving her and saving himself. Finally, the investigation leads to tragedy and Mulder and Scully find that more questions have been asked than answered.

The title reference was to an island mentioned in Medea, to which we turned for fairly obvious reasons.

Warnings: extreme violence, including the death of children.
Iolokus cover


1
Oh, unfortunate one! Oh, cruel!
Where will you turn?
Who will help you?
What house or what land to preserve you
From ill can you find?
A god has thrown suffering
Upon you in waves of despair.

 

One – the oracle

And that day the hot wind blew down through the burning rocks, and over the ground of sand. The wind, a still breath of Hell, smelling of ovens, smelling of dust. A stray wisp of dust-smoke whipped along the gravel ground and curled at my feet as I stared into the sun. Above me, the sky was the color of molten bronze and a dark bird circled overhead. Behind me I could hear the women weeping. Knotted together beneath the metal sky, the women's faces were torn and wet.

Mybabymybabymybaby. My baby's blood. My baby.

The heat dried my eyes, but the women's tears outpaced the sun. Swallowing in a dusty mouth I felt the wind lick my face like the tongue of a lizard before I followed her.

I hate Texas. If there's anything more stubborn, obstinate, hostile, and ignorant than a Federal Marshall, it's a fucking Texas Ranger. Rangers with their goodamned cowboy boots and bolo ties looking at us Feds like we're going to rape all their cattle and daughters before we piss on the Alamo.

"In here," the head honcho Ranger yanked open the door for us. I felt as though I was part of the invasion of Munchkinland rather than the Eleanor Roosevelt Day Care Center for Federal Employees. As I walked through the hallways, I smelled the ghosts of cookies, of hamsters in aquariums, of wheat paste, and disinfectant, breathing in the smells of a hundred children.

As always, Scully moved at my left. Even with the wrinkles in her suit, her face was as freshly pressed as ever.

I followed her into the room marked Nursery 1 underneath a banner of smiling teddy bears cut from brown paper, each teddy bear marked with a child's name. In the tot-scaled room, set up on tables that barely topped their knees, the Hostage Negotiation Unit was busy with files and phone lines and a blueprint of the building.

A tall African-American woman rose from a tiny chair and held out her hand. I blinked with recognition. Agent Kazdin, the woman who ran the Hostage Negotiation Unit from the Duane Barry case, the gestation of the dark odyssey. She was a bitch without a doubt, but she was good at her job and it had only taken a month or so for my ass to grow back after she had chewed it off.

"Agents Mulder and Scully, it's good of you to get here so quickly," she said in a voice as crisp as her clothes.

"How did you beat us here from Washington, Agent Kazdin?" I asked and shook her dry hand, "did you beam down?"

"Budget for emergency transportation," she said.

Yeah, they had a fucking budget while I was trying to scavenge paperclips from VICAP. They could fly down on a fucking Lear Jet. I, however, sat in coach with my knees pressed into my chest. At least they had to use the kiddie desks now.

"What exactly is the situation?" Scully asked, looking around the room with a sharp, assessing stare.

Yeah, that's Scully, down to the bone.

"At eight-fifteen this morning, William Abrams walked into the Day Care Center with an AK-47, he shot three of the workers, killing two, and then barricaded himself in the third nursery with twenty children under the age of four. He called the White House and demanded to speak with the President, the call was traced back here. At ten twenty-eight, three shots were fired in the nursery, and Abrams refuses to talk to anyone," Kazdin recited with the passion of someone giving street directions.

"So why are we here?" I asked.

"He said the magic word, the word that makes Spooky crawl out of his hole," rapped out a voice with Bronx consonants, "he said aliens."

Fuck, I thought.

"Zippy," I said.

"Spooky."

Agent Mike Zipprelli was encased in the kevlar and Velcro carapace of the SWAT unit, which suited his sly dark eyes and gleaming black hair. He stared at me for a moment, measuring. I'd seen him bare-assed in the locker room at Quantico and unless he had a transplant . . .

"You left Investigation Support?"

"Party was over after you shot down Patterson," he shrugged, "I'd rather blow the heads off these sick motherfuckers than try to think like them. Anyway, asshole in there calls the president and tells the White House operator that he has important information about the invasion of earth. Now since he's been here, he hasn't said shit about aliens, hasn't been saying much of anything since we re-routed his phone so it comes in here."

"How far have you gotten negotiating with Abrams?" Scully asked Kazdin, ignoring the fact that Zipprelli was looking at her as though he wanted to know what she tasted like.

I wasn't going to tell him.

Kazdin grunted, interrupting my staredown with Zippy before we actually whipped out the rulers. "Not very far. He hangs up whenever we call into the nursery and all he will say is that he wants to talk to either the President or Dan Rather."

"Dan Rather? He must be insane," Zipprelli snorted.

"What's the frequency, Kenneth?" I asked.

No one got it. I sighed, and was rewarded by one of Scully's tight-ass teacher faces.

"I don't want to minimize the seriousness of this situation, there is a man in there with an unknown amount of ammunition and twenty children. We lose even one of those tykes and we are going to be up shit's creek with the men in HQ," Kazdin rubbed her eyes for a moment and then stared at me. "Since you're the alien man, go talk to Abrams about aliens, get his confidence, promise him you'll take him back to the Mothership if you have to, but get those kids out of there."

"Right," I agreed. "What do they call him?"

"What?" Kazdin frowned like I'd just asked her what color her underwear was.

I pulled my snidest tone out of reserve and used it. Fuck you, I have a psych degree too. "His friends. Colleagues. What name do they use when they wish to speak to him? Is he William, is he Bill, or maybe Abe or Spike? I'm supposed to be his friend and if I get the name wrong he could decide I'm getting signals from the Dark Side of the Force."

She snapped her fingers and one of the agents whispered something frantically into his headset. Moments later, he looked up. "Bill."

I nodded and Zipprelli stepped forward with a bulletproof vest.

Naturally, Zippy had tightened the vest too much and in a matter of moments, I was sweating like a cold beer on a hot day, and I couldn't quite draw a deep breath. I hoped that my sweat wouldn't short-circuit the small headset and microphone Zippy had clamped on my head. The Texas Ranger who had followed us into the room gave a bovine snort while I struggled into the TAC gear; the Ranger wasn't wearing kevlar. Real men don't wear kevlar.

"She's cute," Zippy remarked after the door shut behind us.

The kevlar wouldn't help him much if I decided to break his nose.

I followed Zippy to the intersection of two hallways where the SWAT team had set up a barricade of black plastic and fiber panels designed to deflect gunfire. The men in their black clothes and their black hats were like a murder of crows waiting in a cemetery. Wiping sweat-soaked hair back from my face, I let Zippy lead me to the edge of the barricade and pointed to indicate the door behind which Abrams had the children. This door was surrounded by construction paper balloons labeled with the names of the children.

Akira Anna Connor Dakota David Devon Jamal Kevin Pat Shane Tamika

Those were the names that I could read from where I stood and I wondered if the balloon children were alive beyond the happy door, or had Abrams killed any of them. There was a movie that they had showed when I was a child, something about a red balloon that got away and had all kind of adventures. I couldn't remember the name of the movie but I remembered that the balloon was alive. If only I could open the window and let the children float free, caught by the hot wind.

God, what if I screwed up? Negotiation was hardly my forte; I couldn't even get the right order at McDonald's half the time. I wasn't a fool. I knew I had an irritating effect on people. If that wasn't the understatement of the year . . .

Now there were twenty little lives counting on me to boot. Oklahoma City flashed through my mind, images imprinted in the consciousness of the nation. Small bodies carried out by weeping firemen. Behind the door of the Nursery, there was silence. No whining or weeping children. My experience with children was limited, but I knew that they should have been crying. The silence made my blood turn to sand my bones to stone.

"Bill. Can I talk to you?" I called.

"Fuck off," the man suggested from the other side of the door.

"I want to talk to you about the aliens," I continued.

"Did you miss the memo?" Abrams asked in a dry shade of irony, "Didn't they tell you that I was crazy?"

"Then we have something in common. Tell me what you know."

"Why should I?"

"I've seen things," I said and began to slide along the wall towards the door.

Zippy's hand plucked at my shoulder, but I threw off the grip and continued to slide to the arc of balloons, the wall cool against my cheek. The earpiece crackled in my brain, picking up voices from the command center. I stopped to listen. "We have something," a man said, " air duct. Runs from the roof, through the main system and into the nursery."

"Gas?" Kazdin asked.

"Would flood the whole building. Might be toxic to the children. It's geared for adults. I'm thinking a sharpshooter."

"Why are you telling me this and not doing it?"

"The duct is too small for any of my men."

"Will I fit?" Scully's voice asked.

I held my breath, shut my eyes.

Shit fuck.

"Every single one of these children are not real. They have been created to destroy us," Abrams said in a calm, collected voice, sounding as though we were having this conversation over coffee rather than through a door with guns on both sides, "they aren't human. We're holding the source of our own destruction close to our breast. They will weaken us from the inside and destroy us."

"Who are they, Bill?" I asked, my fingers touching the purple pulpy paper of a balloon marked with Tamika's name. She can't do that, she can't crawl through the vents, she can't get caught in the dark, she can't try to sneak up behind this fuckhead and she can't take him out. I won't let her. I can't.

"The ubiquitous, invisible them."

"How?"

"I was changing the junction box out on Jonestown Road. I heard the conversation between two men. They mentioned a plan, merchandise."

Merchandise. The word was like a rock in my gut. A rock on a bruise.

 

2
The dark cloud of her lamentations
Is just beginning.
Soon, I know, It will burst aflame as her anger rises.
Deep in passion and unrelenting,
What will she do now, stung with insult?

Merchandise?

I heard Mulder gulp air as Abrams said it.

The word crackled through my earpiece and my brain as I followed the quartet of Rangers up the stairwell. Why choose that word? Was it at all possible that Abrams knew?

I had been merchandise.

They (the ubiquitous, invisible them) had stacked me and stored me and returned me to sender.

Postage due.

The Rangers all frowned at each other, none of them liking the idea of sending a tiny little thing like me in to do a man's job. Fuck them all, I thought, and took the rifle that one of them handed to me. They were damn lucky I hadn't turned my gun on the one who had held the door to the roof open for me. I checked the rifle, looked along the sights and saw that it was aimed well and stocked with ammunition. I wasn't planning on getting in a firefight with Abrams, but I wanted more than one shot.

"Can you handle that? Looks a little big for you," Zippy asked.

One of the Rangers snorted and a patch of color brightened Zippy's olive cheekbones.

"What I meant was, would you rather have a pistol?"

"I learned to shoot with a shotgun."

"You blow this motherfucker's head off and we'll stand you for as many rounds as you can drink at Parrothead's in town," a blonde crewcut in FBI Tac pret a porter offered.

"If this young woman wastes Abrams, we'll pick up the bar tab," the oldest ranger grumbled.

And then they would see who has the worst hangover in the morning and continue the male posturing. Zippy started helping me into the kevlar vest which was designed for a man, and painfully flattened my breasts against my ribcage.

Under my high tech armor, I started to roast in the chimney air on the roof. A helicopter chattered overhead and sent up waves of sand the color of crushed cork. An access panel was unhooked and a section of roof peeled off. A black rectangle plunged into the interior of the building. A small black rectangle. A very small black rectangle.

I started unfastening the bulletproof vest.

"Put that back on! Do you want to get shot?"

"Look, I won't fit in the shaft with this on. I won't be able to maneuver, and there's a good possibility I'll get heat stroke. Can we just get the harness, please?"

The harness in question was a standard mountaineering one, a man's harness and even with the buckles pulled tight by Zippy's capable if friendly hands, it barely fit me. By that time I had discarded my shoes and trouser-socks as well as my jacket. The hot air dried the sweat on my body. Finally, with the harness in place, the headset over my head, and the rifle gripped in both hands, I let them lower me into the hole.

The air vent was metal and hot on my bare feet. Without a light, my eyes quickly accustomed to the dark as I was lowered foot by foot into the stomach of the building.

****

Goddamnit, I thought as I heard what was going on above my head. I have a hard time concentrating at the best of times, but listening to Scully breathe in my ear while I was trying to talk to Abrams was almost more than my brain was able to handle. It's just that the breathing pattern she had taken up in the airshaft was almost identical to the one she adopted when we had sex. It was a little bit like having a phone-sex call at your desk while your boss was in the office. If I walked away from the nursery door with a hard-on a whole new "Legend of Spooky Mulder" was going to be born that day.

"Bill, look here, you can't stay in there with the children, there's a whole SWAT team outside who will shoot you into Swiss cheese if you screw up. Why don't you put the gun down and come out before the situation gets out of control."

"And it isn't out of control now?"

The bitter and salt of his words tasted too familiar to me, I'd had them in my mouth more than once.

"It's not too late," I whispered into the sticky wood door.

"If the SWAT team doesn't kill me, then They will, if They don't I'll be executed. Give me a good reason to give up like a good boy."

I didn't have one and Kazdin began growling some trust bullshit into my head and I had to turn down the sound of the headset until I couldn't hear Scully breathe anymore.

I shut my eyes and the words were so clear in my head that I can't honestly tell you if I spoke them aloud or not.

Don't let them take you alive.

There are worse ways to die than sucking on your own gun.

I know.

Do it, Bill.

The scalpel in my stomach dug a little deeper.

****

There was light at the end of the tunnel. Literally. I could see the light from the grate over the vent in the nursery, could hear a man's voice muttering to himself. Since it wasn't echoed in my ear, I knew it wasn't Mulder. I crawled forward like a snail on a hot sidewalk, leaving parts of my body cooked to the side of the vent. They don't make non-stick venting. The rifle was pushed under my arm and squeezed the hell out of my left breast. No wonder the Amazons performed mastectomies to perfect their archery.

"In position," I hissed into the tiny microphone.

With my nose up against the dirty grating, I could see Abrams' head and shoulders above a row of plastic shelving full of bright, happy stuffed animals. Sesame Street characters grinned at me with their empty placid smiles. Ernie looked particularly vapid that day. In the corner of my seriously restricted field of vision, I could make out what looked like two small bodies on the carpet by the window. The room was so quiet. He must have killed the children; there was no other explanation. I dragged the rifle out from underneath my body and relaxed into a comfortable position, my cheek alongside the stock and looked down along the sights.

Like shooting fish in a barrel.

The crosshairs lined up at the back of Abrams' head.

The bastard had killed the children.

My sweaty finger stroked the trigger and waited for the order.

****

I wondered where Scully was, if she was waiting somewhere with her gunsights on the back of Abrams head, or my head for that matter.

"How do I know you're not one of them?" Abrams asked me.

"You don't," I admitted, "you're going to have to take my word for it."

That and a quarter will buy you a nice house with a great view of Love Canal.

"You're right, I don't."

A rifle makes a particular noise when the bolt is drawn back, even something like an AK-47. Despite rumors to the contrary, I actually do not have a death wish as such.

I dove for the linoleum as the fire poured over my head.

Wood splinters and unidentifiable gore rained down from the ruined door onto my throbbing head. All I could hear was my heartbeat and a strange underwater gurgle that might have been voices. I raised my head and wood chips and bloody chunks of Bill Abrams fell to the floor. Abrams' head, looking like a Jack-O-Lantern left out on Mischief Night, bobbed through a hole in the door big enough for a man to crawl through. But Abrams wasn't going to be crawling anywhere again, not unless he could manage to do it without a brain.

I stood up and what might have been a hunk of cerebellum the size of my fist fell to the ground with a wet plop.

>From inside the room came a metallic clanging sound and I looked through the hole in time to see Scully drop from the air vent high in the wall with a rifle slung over her shoulder like a soldier. She picked her way across the floor in her bare little feet to the first of the small bodies on the carpet. I saw her touch the fragile neck to feel for a pulse. I saw her lift the hair from the back of the child's skull and look at the nape of the little creature's neck.

I knew what she was looking for.

I didn't want her to find it.

The pain almost made me double over. I made it to the shrunken bathroom and leaned over the miniature sink and gave up what was left of the airline breakfast and several cups of coffee. Afterwards I rinsed my mouth out and crunched a pair of Tums between my molars.

A moment later, Zippy was leaning over the other bathroom sink heaving up whatever possum pancakes passed for breakfast out here. Only then did I feel better.

Bill Abrams was dead on the scene from a self-inflicted wound. The wound inflicted by Agent Scully from the ventilator shaft cleanly pierced his heart and would have killed him had he not blown the fuck out of his own head a millisecond before.

Abrams left behind no family (none that wanted to claim him) and nineteen dead children. It looked like–not that I wanted to take Scully's job, but just eyeballing it–he'd strangled sixteen after he found the first three gunshot wounds too draining. Too much blood on the scuffed tile floor; he would have slipped and slid in it. Scully found the twentieth child hiding underneath a pile of stuffed animals in the coat closet. I wouldn't want to have to foot the bill for Jamal's mental heath care for the rest of his life.

While Scully was coaxing a near-catatonic Jamal out from the closet, I looked at the neck of the closest child. He was one of the lucky ones–shot right off, instead of having to stand in line as his classmates were slowly executed. There was nothing out of the ordinary, except for a lot of blood and the fact that the kid was a stiff as a dried cod.

The kids hadn't been merchandise.

Even while the Rangers and the other Fibbies pounded Scully on the back in congratulation, her lips thinned and she stared at me with gas flame eyes over a pile of dead bodies.

****

 

3

Let Innocence, the gods' loveliest gift,
Choose me for her own;
Never may the dread Cyprian
Craze my heart to leave old love for new,
Sending to assault me
Angry disputes and feuds unending;
But let her judge shrewdly the loves of women
And respect the bed where no war rages.

"While the Spookster here processes all this, you wanna go grab a beer?"

I nodded. It was all over but the paperwork. Mulder had, uncharacteristically volunteered to write up our end of it while I collected the gratitude of the Rangers.

"You'll be sorry," Mulder chanted in his toneless singsong from the desk.

Zippy's eyes rolled like marbles and he jerked away, making a 'crazy' circle in the air next to his left ear. I probably shouldn't have laughed.

The bar was charming. Beer signs, CD jukebox playing both Country and Western and a potpourri of domestic beers on tap behind the counter, they had Coors, Budweiser and, Bud Lite. The women eyeballing Zippy's House of Fed suit had big hair and bigger bustlines. The Rangers and the Fibbies can be friends provided that there's enough to drink. Pretty shortly, the glasses were getting emptied and the conversation was getting loud.

"So, " Zippy began, lighting a cigarette," how do you like working with the Spookster?"

"It's far from dull."

He nodded and flashed me a brilliant smile.

"Y'know he was the youngest one in our class at Quantico, and a total dork besides."

"And you were the star?"

"You know it babe," he gave me the orthodontist's fantasy smile again.

Zippy flagged down the barmaid for my third beer while he was waiting for her to fill the mug from the tap, he pulled down his tie and unbuttoned the top two buttons of his dress shirt. There, against the arabesques of his collarbones rested a heavy filigree crucifix, catching the light from the neon over the bar. I stared at the buttery light. Of course he was Catholic, he was Italian and naturally he would wear a cross and he probably had a St. Jude medal on his key chain, the patron saint of policemen and hopeless causes. When he pushed the beer towards me, his bright denim eyes caught my gaze.

"Gift from my Grandma, I was an altar boy," he said with a self-deprecating little smirk.

I wanted to reach out and touch it, but instead I clamped my hand down around the cold glass and let the ice-brew flow down to my own cold center.

"What's the matter?" he asked.

I almost spit beer all over his nice shirt.

"What?"

"You look so sad."

"I'm fine, Zippy."

The palm of his hand was warm on my cheek, Mulder's hands are always so cold, and I wanted to just roll over and surrender, touch something normal, touch something simple, uncomplicated that wouldn't poison me afterwards. I saw Ed Jerse's face over Zippy's for a moment, and I jerked out of his touch so fast that I knocked over my beer.

"Autopsy tomorrow," I babbled, realizing that I'd taken the same witless staccato tone that Mulder gets, "I have to go."

I rose and he didn't stop me. I felt his molten eyes on me as I left.

****

I was nearly finished with the case files when Scully returned, mad as a cat after its yearly flea dip. She marched over to the tiny table where I was and slammed the laptop's screen down, forcing it into sleep mode.

Scully was by no means ready for sleep mode.

When she bent down to kiss me I could taste Zippy's sweat on her, but she didn't smell like sex, just beer and cigarette ashes.

Normally she's fully feline, never giving more than the subtlest clues to her desires, the flicker of an expression, tilt of an eyebrow, all tiny bits of information to be assembled into a coherent whole. It's my job, and with Scully I can still get it wrong. I can still blunder, a slow-witted mongrel, into her roomful of cut glass and cut myself to death. But this time she was tossing me a big-ass hint that she wanted to get laid.

I'd have to think about it.

The fact that I was her creature didn't mean that she should be too confident of that fact. Zippy had touched her, she'd let Zippy touch her, which constituted loitering with intent as far as I was concerned even if she hadn't followed through on it. Obviously something hadn't clicked and she was back to her good ol' standby, fucking Fox Mulder. (And I mean "fucking" as a gerund, though she probably thought of it as an adjective.)

I hoped that she'd led Zippy on until he'd gotten the world's worst case of blue balls and then laughed at his pencil-slim dick. Scully wasn't averse to taking the easy shots.

I was ready to hurt her now.

"Did you have a good time?" I asked as though she hadn't just tried to suck my tonsils out of my head.

She shrugged. She knew I'd imagine the two of them–the rest of the agents were paper dolls, irrelevant–in the smoky bar, listening to the stupid wails of some heroin-glazed singer pretending to be in love, the amber bite of the alcohol and how it would erase the edges of the day. Bodies moving at the edge of their vision, reminding them that they could just go back to Zippy's place and fuck like lemmings.

Bunnies, I mean.

I wasn't done yet. "I just don't want you to be hung over. What with the autopsies tomorrow morning? Less room for error with children, isn't there?"

"Apparently not where you're concerned."

Yep. Straight to the balls. I guess she was too jet-lagged to bother batting me around the hotel room for fun before she administered the killing bite.

The mouse bites back.

"You either, for that matter." Blinking like a cat too close to a candle flame, Scully stared at me for a moment. I stared back the best that I could but with those eyes of hers it sometimes feels like staring into the moon for too long. I reached for her, wanting to make her apologize, admit that she had been wrong to go drinking with Zippy, and to punish her for it. She tasted of salt when I ran my mouth over the sweat-damp landscape of her throat. Her fingers twisted into my hair as though she was trying to open my head like the top of a Snapple bottle.

"Be *nice*," I warned her.

I got a bitten lip for that one.

I slapped her hands away from my head and she gave me a poisonous glare. I swear to God if I ever hit a woman, it's going to be Scully. She can get me from mellow to psychotic faster than a Porsche on a test track.

Yanking on her wrists, I pulled her down onto my lap. One of the things that I frequently forget about Scully is that she is so tiny and so delicate that I could probably snap her neck with my hands, provided that she didn't blow my head off first. I sucked on her neck, tasting her hot skin and deliberately leaving a possessive mark. She didn't complain at the scraping of my teeth, only arched her back against me and dug her fingers into my shoulders. I slid down her throat, pulling her shirt up with fumbling, stiff hands and caught her breasts through the framework of her bra. She must have been planning to fuck Zippy since she had a no-nothing cradle of black cobweb and wire hanging onto her breasts like a bad memory.

Asshole that I am, I backed her down onto the tiny table which wobbled dangerously under our combined weight. She shimmied out of her trousers and her panties, which ended up somewhere over my left shoulder, and I have no idea what happened to her blouse and bra. But she was lying there gold, pink, white and glowing in the yellow light from the bedside lamp, her head dripping off the edge of the table and her legs tight around my hips. Scully grabbed the tongue of my tie and pulled me down onto her.

Lines of control were getting thinner and harder to maintain.

Her mouth was like a pencil sharpener, grinding away on my lips and tongue on the pleasure/pain border. Fingers scrabbled at my back, my ass, the fly of my pants, and finally reached for my cock and decanted it with more enthusiasm than grace. Her breasts were under my hands, I was buried in her up to what felt like the base of my spine and she was rocking underneath me. God, she was too much, too tight, too wet, too active around me, and it had been months since she let me touch her.

I lasted about five minutes, if that, until I came with a sloppy thunderclap and slid on top of her. She gave a little moan of disappointment and I moved to make amends with my mouth and hands. Eventually she snapped taut as a fishing line with a ten pound bass at the other end, and I heard her triumphant gasping through the surround of her thighs.

Somehow, we made it into the bed and I lay there with her curled around me like the most innocent of kittens snuggling with a favorite toy, while I tried to figure out why I was markedly NOT HAPPY. As a matter of fact, I was feeling drained in a way that had little to do with sex.

My lovely little vampire love, she bleeds me.

Literally, sometimes.

Not long ago, she almost bled me to death.

San Diego. I never want to go back there again. I spent too many hours at that damn hospital watching the child/not child dying muscle by muscle, watching Scully's face get thinner and more transparent moment by moment. She became her own reflection in the glass of the isolation chamber. Then I was banished, sent outside like a bad puppy to wait. I sulked on one of the standard hospital-issue plastic chairs until my brain went as numb as my ass. Or my ass went as numb as my brain, whatever.

Finally, she wafted out of the isolation chamber, a Sarah Bernhardt Hamlet with her cropped amber hair, her black suit over narrow shoulders and slim legs, her face made of eggshell. I stood up. Her lips were pressed into a red ink line. Hardly slowing her pace, she pulled at my coat sleeve and clipped along while I loped to keep up. The final destination was a handicapped accessible bathroom off an empty conference room, I'll never know how she knew it existed. With a hard hand at the small of my back she shoved me into the dark box of the bathroom, pulling the door shut behind us. For a moment it crossed my mind that she might have been one of the shape-shifters, until she grabbed the hair at the back of my skull and dragged my mouth down on hers. I'd know her taste in my dreams, on my deathbed, in the deepest unconscious state, and the worst of soap-opera amnesia. Pulling at me, ripping her blouse out of the waistband of her pants, dropping her jacket on the floor, biting at my lips, and pulling my hands onto the hard heat of her breasts.

I don't have that much self-control. The second my sluggish neurons made the connection, I was groping her like a teenager out of sight of the chaperons. My cock was harder than a fifteen-year-old's, when she slithered up onto the washbasin, her naked ass in my hands, and my pants at my ankles, I surrendered.

Like she had to twist my arm.

Frantic, she was, heaving against me, in a jagged rhythm, her breath hot and wild in my ear, squeezing my cock inside her, wet and endlessly tight around me. Her heels bit my spine, her fingers pierced my rib cage and she rocked back and forth. The only sound she made was a series of sharp pants, like those of a person in pain, and when she would climax, her entire body would seize up and vibrate like a struck tuning fork. I think she must have come three times in that bathroom and I know it had more to do with her frame of mind than my prowess. I'm not that naive. When the orgasm finally hit me and turned my spine and my brain into a pulsing laser beam of sensation and cleansing mindlessness, I felt a strange sense of gratitude that she'd let me come at all.

The moment that my exhausted member fell out of her, she wiggled off the washbasin and began to feel around for her clothes. Throbbing and brain-dead, I listened to her move around the little dark room.

"W-what the hell?"

"She's dead."

I heard a zipper hiss shut.

"Emily is dead. I have to get all the hospital paperwork and make the funeral arrangements. I'll call you once the particulars are planned."

She shut the door behind her, leaving me in the darkness. When I could think I washed my face and rinsed my mouth from the thin warm stream from the tap. California has a water shortage and the water was sluggish and metallic and I spat again and again until my mouth was dry.

I could still taste her.

In the artificial air-conditioned Austin hotel air, so dead and distant from San Diego, I could feel the pain all over again, like I'd just discovered it. A thousand pounds of pressure and silver knives. Something was in my spine, pulling apart each nerve fiber, shredding axons and dendrites.

In California I'd learned that I'd made a terrible mistake. The Scully I carried around inside me, whispering logic and somehow still managing to drown out all the other voices in my head, the one who'd eaten me whole and accepted it all–she was my own invention. I needed her, and I thought I'd found her. She needed a quick fuck, and she thought she'd found it. The only difference was, she was right.

The sad thing was that I understood her reasons with more clarity than I could discover for my own.

****

The next morning, I was sitting at my borrowed desk, trying to write a coherent profile and waiting for Scully to return from the autopsy bay where she was checking personally to see whether any unusual scars or lumps had been missed on the victims.

"You should have warned me," was the first thing Zippy said to me when he walked in.

Shit, someone should have warned me.

I shrugged. I guess he meant that I should have encouraged him; that way he would have known that Scully was, how shall I say it, difficult.

"I know you two are sleeping together."

I looked up at him, genuinely surprised. "What gives you that idea?"

"I saw it in your eyes when she walked out of that schoolroom," he said. My eyes, not hers. My lover's eyes are nothing like the sun; they are black holes and no light escapes them. "I'm not as smart as you are but I've got good instincts."

"Your good instincts didn't keep you from taking Scully to a bar last night."

"Yeah, well, the little head and the big head disagreed on that."

"Which is which for you?"

"Fuck you," he said, but his heart wasn't in it. "Here's a list of the families if you want to go ask them how many times they've seen 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind.'"

****

There was an instructor at Quantico who thought that Robin Williams was funnier than nitrous, and he'd start every 9am class off with the rousing cry, "I love the smell of formaldehyde in the morning!"

I, on the contrary, hate the smell of dead people. The only good thing the cancer did for me was deaden my sense of smell. The various salves that most people use make me break out, and I refuse to walk around with a little red mustache all the time. So I deal with the smell like I deal with everything, I get through it.

We did the children first, like on a sinking ship.

Bill Abrams suspected that the children at the Roosevelt center were hybrids just as Emily had been.

He was wrong.

None of the little corpses revealed the green tumor's growth at the base of the skull or any of the strange pseudo-capillaries that Emily had exhibited. Not that I knew for sure, the bastards had stolen her body as well. But these dead children were terribly normal — as normal as can be expected when a high-powered rifle bullet passes through immature tissue and organs or when strangulation blackens the face with blood, causing petechial hemorrhages under unwrinkled skin so young and fresh adult women would kill to have it. There were going to be nineteen closed coffins.

When we finished with them, despite all the care I'd taken, there was blood everywhere. Nineteen bodies adds up, even if they're just kids. Blood on the floor, on the outdated porcelain tables, dripping thickly down the scales used to weigh organs, smearing across the chalkboard used to record data. The chalk was so bloody that I had to break a piece in half to get something that would actually write, and even then the blood had soaked in a pink ring around the white center.

The children, contrary to Abrams' claims, were just ordinary dead American kids. On the other hand, Abrams himself exhibited many of the strange scars left on Duane Barry's body. Naturally. I found no implants.

Naturally they had covered everything up with a thin veneer of normalcy.

So I covered everything up with my own thin layer.

But what if those children had been merchandise? What if they had been like Emily, captive by their own misbegotten conception? What if they had been my children?

The children whose possibility had been stolen from me.

The ova that They had harvested from my senseless body were in the world somewhere open to any abuse or misuse that They decided.

I had to stop that. I had to get back what had been taken from me or prevent Them from using my ova by destroying each and every reproductive cell that had been stolen from me.

No short and painful Emily-lives anymore. I'd rather have no progeny than another child suffer the way she had.

I wasn't sure what I was going to do.

Stripping off the gloves and gown, I dropped them into the biohazard bin in the Morgue and headed outside. The Texas sun warmed the death chill out of my flesh as I stood next to one of the clerical workers who was smoking a cigarette in the parking lot. She looked over at me and took in the splashes of blood on my sneakers and the bottoms of my scrub pants.

"The kids?" she asked

"Yeah."

She held out a pack of Morleys and I almost laughed.

Twenty little bodies. It was a new record.

The smoke tasted better than I remembered and it cleared the formalin taste out of my mouth, replacing it with the taste of incipient death.

One of the rental fleet cars pulled up and Mulder got out his blackened sunglasses catching a flare of sunlight, his dark suit blowing in the hot wind.

"Anything?" he asked me, staring at the cigarette in my hand.

"Nothing. And you?"

"Nothing. None of the children were adopted. Abrams must have had a few wires crossed."

I shut my eyes and the sunlight burned flame orange through my closed lids.

"Are you all right, Scully?" he asked in a soft voice.

"I'm fine, Mulder."

 


4

 

There's something that she means to do; and I know this:
She'll not relax her rage till it has found its victim.
God grant she strike her enemies and not her friends!

When we got back to D.C. I began to pull myself away from the reactivity I'd settled into, the inactivity a thin scab over a wound.

Rouch, Rouch, Rouch.

It sounded like a noise that a dog made before it threw up on the carpet. A thickened bark. As I flipped through the file on Emily that Mulder had written in his hurried printing, jagged here and there, showing that it had been written in cars, on airplanes and probably while he was sitting on the toilet, I realized that I had never looked at the file before. I hadn't wanted to know and part of me was still pretending that it had never happened. The black rollerball words made it all real. The bare narrative in Mulder's somewhat lurid style brought the whole thing back to me with a clarity and a pain that I hadn't felt while it was happening to me.

I shoved the file back in the cabinet before Mulder came back from the copier. I suppose I might have had a strange look on my face as he walked in, because he tilted his head to the side in his befuddled puppy fashion before slumping into his desk chair and dragging his tie through the puddle of spilt coffee in the blotter. I retreated to my "work area" and started entering receipt costs into the expense spreadsheet in my laptop.

I wondered what Skinner would do if I put in a request for reimbursement for Emily's funeral.

But let me explain.

They (of the ubiquitous, invisible them) had stolen something from me. They stole the future. Not content with just making La Familia Mulder miserable for the rest of eternity, They decided that my future was going to walk a parallel path. While I was missing, abducted, whatever you want to call it, they managed to steal every last one of my ova. There were no scars, no marks, no clues other than an irregular menstrual cycle (which was par for the course with me). When I began chemotherapy for the cancer that was an alleged side-effect of removal of the implant in the back of my neck, my oncologist suggested that I go in and try to have my ova harvested as the chemo would treat the cells as though they were cancerous.

Imagine my surprise when I found that I had no ova to harvest.

I had to replace my everyday dishes after I went on a rampage through my apartment, destroying everything that had a satisfying crash. The wineglasses I reduced to a fine powder on my kitchen floor and I broke enough mirrors to continue my bad luck well into the next century, if you believe in that kind of thing.

Not only had They stolen my ova, but They had used them to create some strange half-human hybrid, the child known as Emily. My daughter. The daughter that I only had for a few short weeks and who died in my arms since she was not suited to live in this world.

Needless to say this upset me.

But I continued on like the good little soldier that I am, brave little Scully with her gun and her badge trotting loyally alongside Mulder into one half-assed mess after another. I didn't cry, I didn't mourn, I continued. I showered, did my hair, dressed, put on my make-up and drove to work each day where I felt like I was watching the rest of the world through the glass of an isolation chamber.

I sat across from Mulder in the basement office, the muscles in my inner thighs still aching from the sex we'd had in Austin. Good old Mulder, he always throws himself into the matter at hand as long as it interests him. Apparently I interest him. In a way, he interests me. Not the way that I think he imagines, but he interests me nevertheless.

Rouch.

Rouch interested me greatly.

A hasty search on the Internet had revealed that Rouch had an office in Austin, ostensibly for sales, but one had to wonder when one was dealing with Them. I needed to know more. Mulder would have contacted the Gunmen, gone to their "no girls allowed" clubhouse and gotten the information, or called his latest gift from the Informant of the Week Club. I wasn't about to go begging Frohike for anything, the little troll would probably expect to get some head in return.

Finally, Mulder noticed that he was mopping up the desktop with his tie and exited, swearing, stage right.

I pounced on his Rolodex, looking for anything out of the ordinary.

What I found to be out of the ordinary, was a woman's name. The Rolodex was as much as a boy's club as the rest of his life, and the name popped out like a squeezed eyeball.

Marita.

I had the number committed to memory before he got back.

****

I was starting to feel like I was standing at the dock waving good-bye to the Lusitania.

It was fairly obvious to even someone with his head as far up his ass as I do that Scully was up to something. She was making me itch as though my clothes were filled with fiberglass. I spilled my coffee, dropped files, knocked my hip on an open drawer and generally acted like a teenager while she sat with her La Giaconda smile over her laptop. This was the situation where I wanted to bash her head into a pulp and take carnal revenge on her unconscious body. It occurs to me now that I should have taken advantage of the situation when she was in a coma years ago.

I never claimed to be normal, but at least I'm self-aware enough to know that I am not. Self-aware enough to keep my thoughts at a fantasy level rather than acting them out. Most of the time, anyway.

The Rolaids were losing the battle against the coffee and I had to retreat to the bathroom to vomit for the second time that day. Maybe if I had eaten something healthier than the greasy doughnut I'd gnawed on the Metro that morning I would have felt better. When I came out of the stall, Danny was standing at the urinal getting rid of his coffee in the more accepted fashion.

"Fox-Man, you look like shit," he greeted me.

"Fuck you," I said and began sluicing water over my face.

"Partying too much again?" he asked and zipped up, which reminded me of something.

"I saw Zippy in Texas," I said and rinsed my mouth out with the chemical cocktail that passes for water in DC.

"Yeah? How's the motherfucker doin'?"

Zippy, Danny, and Spooky all went through Quantico together, in the sexy days of the late eighties, giving rise to a lot of Top Gun jokes. Despite his last name, Danny was a tall Aryan blonde courtesy of the North of Italy and played the Iceman role, Zippy was our Tom Cruise, which left me as Goose with the mark of doom on me. Now Danny was permanently attached to a computer, Zippy had a Velcro fetish and I had problems of my own. A far cry from our spiky buzz-cut and Ray Ban days.

"'His ego's writing checks that his body can't cash', other than that he seemed fine. I don't think he misses us."

Danny grunted. "Hey," he asked, remembering something and looking at me more carefully than you usually want to have happen in a men's bathroom, "you got a brother?"

If you lived in my world, you'd understand my answer.

"Not that I'm aware of."

"I was watchin' CNN the other day and they had some news conference about a drug that the FDA doesn't want to approve, and the guy from the drug company looked a hell of a lot like you. Except he was good-lookin'."

I faked a laugh.

"Poor bastard. You didn't catch the name of the drug company, did you?"

"Nah, one of the kids was kickin' up a fuss and Marie was bein' a real bitch about it. The joys of family life. Catch you later Fox-man."

"Later."

When I got back to my office Scully was looking serene which made me itch even more. There was no oxygen in the room and I needed to think. What the fuck was going on with her now, what the hell was a guy with my face doing on CNN (although knowing Dad you could guess the obvious, Mom wasn't the only one who needed a cheat sheet to figure out who she should be expecting in her bed), and I really wanted to go on-line and find out if the drug company in question was my good old friend Roush.

I needed to get rid of Scully for an hour at least.

"Scully, did you happen to pick up that murder case file from the MPD that Skinner wanted me to look at? Fucking MPD can't do shit anymore."

"No."

"Do you mind? I've got to get this expense report crap out of the way before they start attaching my paycheck."

The MPD ME's office was annoyingly far away and I never would have sent her under normal conditions. Rather than giving me an argument about it, she closed her laptop and picked up her sunglasses.

"Want me to get you a sandwich while I'm out?"

"Uh, no thanks."

She nodded and left, frightening me through to my spine.

I logged onto the 'net and waited for the CNN site to come up. While I was waiting, I reached for the phone planning to put in a call to Marita and see if she knew anything about this FDA deal and the man that looked like me.

My Rolodex was already open to her number.

A two by four of nausea hit me in the back of the head but I dialed anyway.

Voice Mail.

"This is Marita Covarrubias. I'll be out of the office all day. If this is an emergency, please reach me at my cell phone number-"

While her silky voice recited the numbers, I watched the CNN site come up.

The drug company was Rouch. The press conference was in DC and I would have bet my last antacid that Marita was slithering around somewhere nearby.

The snake chewed at my entrails.

 

5
God, and God's daughter, justice, and light of Helios!
Now, friends, has come the time of my triumph over
My enemies and now my foot is on the road.
Now I am confident they will pay the penalty.

 

Marita was not what I had expected. I'd talked to her on the phone when I was running Mulder's little administrative errand, before they started to sleep together and he'd decided that the two of us should never meet.

How do I know they slept together? Oh, please. After all this time together, I just knew. It was in the way he'd sit in our office on the mornings after, just a little looser, a little more slumped. The guilty-gloating looks he'd give me, liquid eyes shifting like mercury then freezing at my subzero glare.

I'm confident that after l'affaire Goldstein he didn't go back to her. Each time we have a crisis, Mulder finds some new betrayal to work on me. In his infinite transparent soul, lies are just promises he found he couldn't keep. But his body, unlike his mind, is a temple; my temple. I've written my name on it in gunshots and stitches. I've traced runes above it and bound him with a handshake. This is the only thing I know: he didn't sleep with her after we got back from Massachusetts.

I thought about it as I waited for Marita to arrive at the cafe at the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art. I sipped my coffee and looked down into the main hall below, where tourists milled, determinedly getting their dose of DC culture, as if sculpture had anything to do with government. Reviewing my first time with Mulder made sense, because it was one of the main things Marita and I had in common. The two of us were quite a pair: Mulder's sidekick and his informant, his seraglio.

I'd taken Mulder back to his apartment. I drove the car he'd stolen from me and through the long drive, hours of grinding my foot against the gas pedal as if I could smash his face in with my pointy shoe, he hadn't said a damn thing. He was pretty doped up thanks to the friendly ER doctors, whose eager drug-drenched hands he'd been unable to resist as he was still surfing the ketamine wave.

The plan was to set him down and get out of there before I took my own gun out and showed *him* what it was like to have someone–your partner, to be exact–re-enact William Tell with a Sig Sauer and you as the stammering target, sans apple. I had to take his hand to get him out of the front seat, and I almost didn't have the strength. It might have been the chemo I'd been covertly and sporadically engaging in, my little secret drug habit, not that I really needed to take affirmative steps to hide it in the previous few months even before Mulder headed out to Neptune via Air Goldstein. The weakness made me even more furious and I hauled him up the stairs. He was blinking and trying to look around him, but he was moving his head too slowly to see much of anything.

I flicked the locks, one, two, three, and dragged him in. Then over to the couch where I pushed him down as easily as brushing a shower curtain aside.

I leaned over to touch the scab right under his hairline and he flinched, bringing a hand up to stop my inspection. I pulled away, angry at him for resisting and for leaving me and for getting a hole in his head in the first place so that all attention had to be focused on him until he was better. I would have told him about the cancer metastatizing if he hadn't run off, if I hadn't found him naked and cowering in a bathtub. Really I would have.

I drew in a breath to start the lecture and he looked at me and winced again, already hearing the accusatory words–not that it would take Mulder's near-psychic powers to know what was coming. He caught my wrist again, tugging me toward him. My knees rested precariously on the edge of his Playboy-era black leather couch and I could barely keep my feet on the ground against his leverage.

He twisted and pulled, very gently, and suddenly I was sitting across his lap, his free arm rising around my back to prevent me from toppling over and our joined hands extended as if we were going to get up and dance around the room. I could see the scabs clearly now; little dried flakes of black blood stuck off from the main wounds and the flesh around the entry points was puckered and swollen, though not badly enough to indicate infection.

His mouth bled heat onto mine.

My hands were at his throat, whether to strangle him or push him away I honestly did not know, and then his head lolled back faster than I could follow and he looked at me, curiously, waiting.

I gaped at him. I'd never thought that he would make the first move, especially not now. Not now that I was dying and certain to leave him shortly. And not now in particular when he'd just got through hallucinating and had nearly killed at least one of the two of us in his drugged haze. He smelled, I noticed, of stale sweat and a hint of iodine.

His eyes blanked for a moment, his face relaxing, and I knew he was experiencing a flashback from the ketamine and the other, still unidentified drugs that the butcher had used on him. A mental landside, images twisting and curling in the fire of his past.

This was a bad idea. He was not well, not even at Mulder-normal, not sane.

He returned to the present and his eyes flashed shock that I was on his lap–he'd lost the last few minutes before the mini-seizure, and I knew all over that this was a bad idea.

His hand slid up, over the curve of my back, engulfing my shoulder. I leaned into it.

I felt the cancer move in my head, smiling at him. Yes, it said, come and play. To me it whispered: Relax, Dana, all God's children gotta fuck. What will it be like to slip away in morphine and bedsores knowing that you never had him?

And he pulled me to him. My thighs shifted on the bones of his legs, burning beneath me. His eyes were open as our lips met, and as I closed my own to enter into the necessary darkness I was certain he'd be watching me the entire time.

This was a terrible idea.

His lips were gentle on mine as he ran his right hand down the line of my throat, tickling the pulse there where the cancerous blood jerked and trembled. With his left hand, he pulled me closer as my mouth opened.

His tongue was wet sand and I bit at it until I could taste his blood.

The Lost Weekend, as I like to call it, followed. That's when I learned what it's like to be Mulder, living with the omnipresent knowledge that you have, very recently, screwed up in a very major way. Every minute was as dark and rich and sweet as fine chocolate, made both bitter and better by my knowledge that Mulder and I understood what was happening in very different ways. This is the vortex of self-knowledge that I've discovered: I got an extra kick out of my emotional distance in the face of Mulder's obvious commitment, and then an dose of guilt for being so cruel, and then the guilt fed the sexual pleasure. It was really quite a wonderful thing to find out about myself, and someday I'll have to thank Mulder for it.

Throughout all of it I took deep delight in puzzling out the quirks and tender places in my partner's body. His cheerfully lecherous jokes, his leech-like cuddling after sex, the fact that his socks were the first clothing article he took off and the last one he put on. The fact that his skill at oral sex made him worth his weight in gold.

I should have told him then that it was wrong to call out my name as though I were the cold orb of the moon he was howling to. However, it's hard to be analytic and rational when your vocabulary has drained away and you're left with monosyllabic sighs and grunts, with a few time-tested Anglo-Saxon words for variety.

And the honeymoon had been wonderful, once we'd sorted out the unpleasantness with Kritschgau. That ridiculous comic-book romance, the failed partnership retreat–those weeks at the end of 1997 were almost perfect, almost what I would write if I could write the X Files myself. I was in remission and I allowed myself to imagine that Mulder and I could just keep on as we were and I'd never have to explain to him or myself what I thought burned between us.

San Diego exploded my life like the comet at Tunguska.

But I was getting over it. I'd let Mulder back into my bed, hadn't I? Well, back onto a hotel table, but let's not quibble. And Marita was going to help me close this latest sad chapter of my life.

Marita arrived only ten minutes late. I could tell that it was her by the eau de conspiracy she wore like a blue haze of smoke around her shoulders.

They were lovely shoulders; I could see why it had been easy for Mulder to fuck her. And, since he could be absolutely confident that she had a hidden agenda, there'd be no real need for mistrust.

She coiled gracefully down into the chair opposite me.

"Agent Scully?" Her voice was hot chocolate with whipped cream, the words blurred by some unfathomable accent. Blue eyes glittered like poker chips; time to ante up.

"I need some information. Information about a research project that I was unwillingly made part of. I had to attend to some of the consequences of that project in San Diego recently. I need to know if there are other…consequences as yet unaccounted for. I believe that companies known as GenTech and Roush are involved. I want names–who owns controlling shares, who's in charge, where they can be found. Where the remaining research facilities are located."

She stared at me. I grew angry. Angrier. How dare she look at me as if she knew what I was just because I'd been an unwilling subject of the machinations of powerful men? Just because I'd had my future stolen. She thought she could read me like an airport mystery and I could feel my face thin out, the anger ready to explode.

Finally she looked away, out at the Calder mobile swinging gently in the artificial breeze. The thousands of pounds of brightly painted metal bobbed above the tourists milling through the atrium below, and one blue plate couldn't have been more than ten feet away from the table at which we sat. I imagined the mobile coming loose from its moorings, crashing down as the tourist-ants scampered, mothers trying to snatch their children away but failing, failing.

"I think I can find that out for you," she said in that furry butter tone, so rich it had to be a put-on, and I didn't process the content for a few seconds. She was already rising, sleek and confident, and she leaned back down and whispered into my ear. "Do not attempt to contact me again. You'll hear from me when I have information of use to you."

I looked for a discarded skin or a few iridescent scales on the seat she'd left behind, which was still radiating her body heat, but there was nothing.

6
I have often engaged in arguments
And become more subtle, perhaps more heated,
Than is suitable from women;
Though in fact women too have intelligence,
Which forms part of our nature and instructs us –
Not all of us, I admit; but a certain few
You might perhaps find, in a large number of women
A few not incapable of reflection.

I was losing her. She was drifting away from me faster than the cancer had taken her. Damn, it was so fucking cruel, to have her back and healthy and now — she was buying a ticket on the Disoriented Express. It's a nice trip, I suggest everyone take a ride at least once. Gives you some perspective. It was such a cosmic joke. The planets finally aligned correctly and for "one brief shining moment" we were together, a functioning unit in the field, and a couple in bed. Then it was gone. Had I imagined the whole thing?

The first moment she walked into my office years ago in her ugly suit with her too-earnest face and her frumpy haircut, I was a dead man. You could have dragged me around a beach house and called it "Weekend at Mulder's". From the beginning, I've had a thing about intelligent women. Smart is sexy. Phoebe and I had planned on getting married and raising our own little serial killers one day, and, like all intelligent women, in the end she did me a serious injury. When we parted she took a chunk of my heart and all my Clash records. So when little Dana Scully tiptoed into my hotel room with her mosquito bites, I could have come in my pants like a kid. But I declared her off-limits, spending the nights with the Video Vixens and shooting putty at the moon while I thought about the way her skin smelled. Truth to be told, I had the sinking suspicion that her sexual interest in me was less than zero, no pun intended. I also suspected that she didn't like me very much most of the time.

But–

But that night when she took me home, my brain still swirling like a Slurpee dispenser at the 7-11, I looked at her pale little face and it was the hotel room with the mosquito bites again. My tripping brain was transposing her then face with her now face and I heard crickets outside even though it was winter. She looked so sad and so delicate that I wanted to — I wanted to open her up like a bag of fresh-ground coffee and inhale her. I wanted to bury my face in her hair and never come up for air again. I wanted her to save me.

I pulled her onto my lap and I felt her cool blue gaze spray across my face when I touched her. She didn't move when I finally kissed her. It was one of the kisses that should go down in the great kisses of history, simply because of the finality of it. After five years, after a million road miles, a thousand cheap hotel rooms, a hundred incidents that left both of us weak and shaking. Yes, this was it!

And she was dying so if she decided that she was going to hate me for the rest of her life the torment would be short.

I half-expected her to go through the corny routine of slapping me. Instead, she seized the sides of my face and kissed me back with a violence that left the holes in my head stinging. There on the couch, my fingers worked their way under her sweater to her hot, sweet skin. Her ribs were hard under my fingers and her heart was beating like a trapped squirrel's. Cupping her hot breasts in my hands, I experienced a drug-heightened epiphany that threatened to remove what was left of my brain. I ran my lips over the stretches of her throat and drank her in, her fingers digging hard into my aching back. All she did was gasp. I was drunk with her when I finally began to peel away the wrapper of her clothes and laid her down on the black sofa, her skin burning with phosphorescence in the dull light of the room. Scully's body is a marvel. You don't understand that the business suits cover so much. There were red weals in her shoulders from her bra straps as she bound herself like Olivia playing Ganymede, but her breasts were full, her waist exquisitely tiny and her hips and belly flaring out with geometric precision.

I didn't just make love to her — I worshipped her.

I polished every centimeter of her body with my hands, with my mouth, with my body. She tasted of cookies and, ultimately, she tasted of the sea. I sucked her lips, nipples, fingers, toes, and she sighed and moaned all the while her skin so white on the blackness that she was a ghost. My hand between her legs, I kissed her mouth and swallowed all of her moans, I swallowed the salty tang of her climax twice before I even took off my shirt. I fumbled off my clothes while she clung to my back like Spanish moss, wet with sweat and come, her fingers in my hair, her teeth grazing the back of my neck. I sat on the sofa with my cock tall enough to raise a flag on, and pulled her down onto it. I ground my teeth, looked into the distant reaches of the galaxy within her eyes, feeling her enclose me, her breasts against my chest and her hands gripping my shoulders. I don't know how I lasted more than a minute inside her, maybe it was a side-effect from the drug but I stroked and ground into her until she was limp as paper on a humid day, her wet hair sticking to my face, her deliciously tight pussy gripping me. Somehow she came again, sobbing against my face, and that finally tripped the circuit breaker in my head and I shot into her for five years of frustration and longing.

I wept.

Okay, Hallmark commercials make me weep but this was different, really.

That was a lost three days, lost in skin, sweat, smells, and sex. We worked through the Karma Sutra forwards and then backwards, pausing only to eat take-out Chinese, bathe, and sleep. I recuperated from my experience with Doctor Goldstein very quickly that way. Time stretched elastic until she finally left, taking her swollen mouth and satiated eyes home to Annapolis.

The Tuesday I returned to the office, I found her sitting with her glasses on, reading a post-mortem report. I almost leaned down to kiss her but the tundra of her eyes kept me at bay.

The routine was established that day, have sex until we were both sore and worrying about permanent damage to our genitals, and then say nothing about it. Nothing at all.

I could continue the innuendoes as usual, that was included in the unwritten rules, and I could open the door when she came to my apartment and strip her naked, telling her how it felt to have her hair brush me like butterfly wings and her butterscotch-pudding skin against mine. We could eat takeout together and discuss cases. But no hand-holding, no movies on my couch. We were either naked and fucking, or we weren't.

It's a measure of my delusions that I thought briefly that I was in heaven. I had Scully professionally, and boy did I ever have her personally. I had her in positions and places I'd never dared fantasize about. The fact that she couldn't open her eyes when I was inside her bounced right off my shields.

It was right after the Emily-creature died and Scully began to change that the stomach pains started. Psychotropic illness. Peptic ulcer from internalization of stress. All very classic, I could have written myself up as a case study. Man has sister/mother issues, forms platonic relationship with woman who fulfills sister/mother roles. Platonic relationship turns sexual. Man is temporarily happy. Sexual relationship becomes complicated, he feels rejected and abandoned. Man develops ulcer.

The ulcer bit me, and I fast-forwarded to the present. I wasn't going to give Scully up without a fight. She'd shot me to save me and the least I could do was return the favor.

That's how I came to be leaning against a pillar in Union Station, wringing my hands; when I realized what I was doing, I shoved said hands into the pockets of my suit and waited.

I watched the good-looking blonde peruse the magazines at the ornate stand in the center of Union Station, the statues looking over our heads with their intaglio eyes staring through us. Loitering behind the pillar, I felt as though I should have been wearing a trench coat with a fedora and an unfiltered cigarette cupped in my hand. She was sporting a tres noir ensemble, skinny skirt that cupped her ass like a friendly hand, and those padded shoulders that women wear to make them look tough. Marita was about as tough as overcooked pasta. She caves faster than a politician under pressure does, but she could suck the paint off the bumper of a Range Rover without breaking a sweat.

She didn't see me until I grabbed her by her biceps and began pulling her away from the newsstand, her briefcase bumping against my leg. Briefcase, what a joke, other than a file folder, her cellphone and a few pens, Marita's briefcase holds nothing related to the job listed on her resume. She carries condoms, a change of underwear, KY jelly, a spare pair of stockings and a travel toothbrush and toothpaste set – for her *real* job.

As we walked along, Marita stepped in closer to me, so her breast bumped against the back of my hand, and a cloud of Chanel #5 filled my sinuses.

"This is very melodramatic darling, you just could have called," she hummed in my ear.

"What were you talking to Scully about?"

"Just girl talk. Comparing notes."

You see, that's why arguing with a woman is like tap-dancing in a puddle of nitroglycerine, they have their own set of rules, and I'll be damned if any man has ever gotten a copy. The overriding principle seems to be to make the man look stupid. Even if the woman has a cobra wrapped around her neck, she'll try to convince you that you're gauche for not knowing it's the in thing.

I steered her towards Americas, the overpriced overgrown diner that sprawled across one corner of the once-classy main atrium. The maitre'd's expression indicated that he wasn't sure if my suit was good enough, but gave us a table anyway. What kind of a world do we live in when a maitre'd can't tell a real Hugo Boss from a knockoff? I shoved Marita into the chair at the table and plopped down across from her.

"What train are you taking?" I asked.

"The Two-Forty."

"That gives you about thirty minutes to tell me exactly what the fuck you were talking to Scully about yesterday. And I'd rather you were talking about the size of my dick, I don't think it was anything that innocent."

"Your dick is anything but innocent, Fox."

"Don't call me that."

She must have her smile done at the same place as her hair and nails, at the femme fatale salon or something. I felt the pain in my stomach kick up another notch.

The good thing was that I didn't want her any more. Whatever had pushed me to her was gone, nothing was left, Dr. Scully had surgically removed it.

"Tell me what happened."

The waiter interrupted, taking her order for wine and mine for a scotch rocks. Dad would have been so proud.

"She called me," Marita purred, eager to make things complicated. Ring ring, pick up the clue phone, dearie. I already knew *that*.

"About what?"

"She had questions about the Project."

"Which project is this one? Overthrowing the government, the cover-up of extra-terrestrial life or Microsoft's plan to dominate the world."

"Roush."

The pain in my stomach danced with a partner in my head.

"What were the questions?"

"Locations of the company's facilities, list of stockholders, but she could have gotten that from you, couldn't she? You get all the company information with your stockholder information?"

What? Never let them see you react, that's a good rule for dealing with women, or Consortium flunkies, or sentient beings in general. "Obviously, she was interested in things that weren't in the stockholder reports. What did you tell her?"

"Nothing right now, I don't have the information at my fingertips. I have to *research*."

She made the word sound obscene. The waiter brought our drinks. I guess it didn't look bad from the exterior, a couple of obvious government types having a drink in Union Station before one got on the Metroliner back to New York. What the waiter didn't know was that there was only a hair of a rope of control keeping me from taking the gun out of my belt and reducing her vapidly pretty face to a mess of blood and bone shards. Instead I took a deep gulp of scotch, feeling it sting the wound inside me.

"Whatever you tell her, I need to know."

"Isn't it terrible when you can't trust your lover?" she asked.

Honestly, I wouldn't know what it was like to trust one.

"Marita, I mean it, I need to know."

"What's it like to need?" she said over the rim of her wineglass.

"Don't fuck with me."

Blinking, she settled back in her seat and her smile thinned.

"Have you decided you're going to be a player now?" she asked.

"I don't play games."

I left a twenty on the table to cover the drinks.</


7
O Zeus!
Why have you given us clear signs to tell
True gold from counterfeit; but when we need to know
Bad men from good, the flesh bears no revealing mark?

 

"We've been checking up on that pharmaceutical company you asked us about," Frohike said. As usual, each word had the weight of conspiracy behind it, as if his life were in danger merely for getting on the phone with such knowledge. I wanted to yell at him to spit it out but I was just too tired.

My bones were turning to sand inside my body and Scully, Scully my dark satanic bride, was leaving me behind. I had no energy but I'd do what was necessary to stay with her.

"Mulder?"

"Yeah."

"Do you already know this?" Perfect, now Frohike was getting ticked off. I could imagine him tilted back in his sagging swivel chair, cool as a pimp watching someone else's whore get busted. Guest starring Fox Mulder as the whore.

"Why would I know anything?"

Whine, whine. Sometimes the drone of my own voice is just about enough to make me choke.

Cough. "We got a list of Roush's major stockholders. They're a privately held company, but they make enough money that people in the financial world pay attention…most of the profit's from this one drug that helps people who've had heart attacks. But they reinvest a lot in R&D. Rumor has it that many of their projects benefit the military. And of course they're…connected…with illicit tests on unwilling subjects."

Gee, Frohike, tell me something I didn't know. "So?" I hope God exists, just so someone appreciates the fact that I do have self-control. Despite objective evidence to the contrary.

"Mulder…according to our information, you own a ten percent share of Roush."

"How?"

"Roush just released their report and they listed the major stockholders. You're one of them."

The hard drive in my head ground for a moment. Stock? I'd almost forgotten that innuendo from the bitch. I had some stock, I knew, the broker flooded my mailbox with useless paper at regular intervals. Dad had invested money for me when I was a child, and there had been a ream of paperwork about Dad's investments that I vaguely remembered from the leather and wood lawyer who had settled Dad's will. I signed a lot of paper that day, mostly to get out of the office as quickly as possible so I could lick my wounds in private. There could have been stock. There must have been stock; he'd left me everything. Nice checks came quarterly and the broker pretty much had carte blanche to re-invest as he saw fit.

Blood money.

Great. That was just perfect, another reason to flagellate myself.

"It's ironic, right?" I said in my most annoyingly flippant tone, the tone that never failed to make the Great Walter Skinner clench his jaw.

"You could say that, or you could say that it makes your loyalty questionable."

"Fuck that, Melvin. Infiltrate and divide." A little eddy of acid lashed my stomach and I refused to bend over with the pain; someone might have wired my kitchen for video again.

"You could have bought Microsoft."

"Now there's a company with no interest in world domination."

I opened the refrigerator, the cordless phone jammed against my shoulder. No beer. You'd think that a guy with all that stock would have beer. At that point I would have sold my soul for some beer, maybe I had no soul left to sell, my soul was in the stock market.

"Is there anything else?" I asked, sounding both juvenile and whiny again.

"No. I just wanted you to know that we know."

He hung up on me.

"You know everything, don't you," I told the dial tone.

He didn't know what I was going to do next, I didn't either, until I dialed the phone.

****

I let myself into Mulder's apartment when he didn't come to the door immediately.

"Mulder?" I hated even the small uncertainty of having to call out.

"I'm in the bathroom," he said, muffled, over the running water. Mulder was like a bulimic lately, he couldn't take a piss without running the tap. I don't think he used to do that, but maybe I just hadn't been paying attention. "There's something you need to see in the bedroom."

I expected another dead body, at the least. Instead I found the room frosted with pieces of paper.

Although you'd have to know him to understand this, underneath the clutter Mulder is actually a very organized person. He has his own system for remembering where things are. Part of it is to make it harder for any malevolent outsider to find particular information, but part is just Mulder's own cussedness. He won't do anything the easy way if a harder approach can be pulled off with the appropriate amount of effort and planning.

This mess was different. Manila folders lay scattered like dead butterflies over the floor of the bedroom. Their contents, I deduced, were what were covering the bed.

"What is all this?"

He answered by coming up behind me and pushing me forward onto the bed. I fell hard and gracelessly. My hands were on the bed, sliding over the stacks and stacks of papers he'd strewn there. Glossy brochures were scattered slippery and thick, a bedspread of publications. I think there were stock certificates too; I could see the thin purple and green scrollwork around the borders, the decoration that's supposed to make wealth noble. The papers smelled like money. I couldn't keep my balance and my arms went out with a whoosh.

I could feel him, his cock poking roughly against me–he was already undressed. I almost wished I could turn around, because we never fuck under good lighting conditions and so I never get to look at him, but he was already pulling up my skirt and snarling at my underwear for being too practical and sturdy to be ripped off. He had to settle for hauling it down my legs like he was scraping napalm off my skin; his fingers left dents. I was stretched out across the bed, financial statements all around me.

I tried to read–some were upside down from my perspective, but there were a few that were clear. Mulder's accountants had sent him regular reports on how his stocks were doing. I hadn't realized that I was screwing such a wealthy man. I should have gotten him to take me to dinner more often.

Mulder paid no attention to my distraction–no, wrong, I think he was counting on it. He put his hand under my stomach, tilting my ass up into the proper position, and I clenched my hand and was surprised by the paper cut. It was long and painful and he forced his way inside me and that hurt too, but not for long.

As he slammed into me, I could feel his balls slapping against the insides of my thighs. "You remember what I told you about Roush, about Blevins?" His voice was more even than it is when he makes reports to Skinner. "I had the Gunmen check, but I didn't think–I don't read most of my mail, except for the adult video catalogs." He wasn't even breathing hard. I wondered if he could be enjoying this or if I'd corrupted him.

"Roush is connected with the experiments on abductees," he continued. "Frohike couldn't find out much because they're very secretive. But it appears that we have an unexpected advantage–I'm a minority stockholder. I think I'm entitled to look at the books, actually, though my lawyer hasn't gotten back to me on that yet."

I was so amazed that I lost any sense of what was happening, and I tried to get my hands underneath me so I could stabilize myself. He batted them away almost absentmindedly. My shoulders were starting to hurt from the strain. I wasn't quite lying down on all that pristine paper, but I wasn't kneeling either; my arms were stretched out like matchsticks, keeping my face from disappearing into all the letters and brochures. He was holding me, holding us both, and the stocks were shifting underneath us as smoothly as his cock was slipping in and out of me.

"Dear old dad," he said, when he'd found a good rhythm. Now he sounded like he'd been running. "He left me very well-off. Invested his hush money well. I wonder how many suits I bought because Roush's drugs aided the super-ovulation process. I bought three or four in the months after you were returned."

"Don't…" I moaned, wanting him to shut up, to take it back. It didn't occur to me to suggest that it wasn't his fault.

"Shh," he warned, and put his fingers into my mouth to enforce the command. I bit down, not hard enough to draw blood, and he growled and thrust harder.

It was horrible, it was degrading, I thought in a few brain cells as my breath caught low in my belly and I sucked on his thumb as though it were another cock in my mouth.

At least this time it probably wasn't on tape.

His other hand went to my jacket, which was still buttoned, and he clawed it open. Now my poor leverage was the only thing keeping either of us off the bed. If I lowered myself, he'd slip out of me and I didn't want that.

He pushed my breasts together roughly, as if he could get them both in one handful if he just strained hard enough. For once he just didn't care about what was happening to me, and I liked it. If he were gentle, I would have died. So it was Mulder fucking Scully, subject verb object, and I didn't make a sound as I loosened around him, as I disappeared into all the white and cream paper and the cascade of black letters. The pounding inside my pelvis, his cock pounding inside me, the pounding inside my head, the pounding of my blood over the pounding black staccato letters and numbers on the bedspread. His fingernails sliced into the circle of my tattoo and somehow that was enough to push me into the crevasse. My head fell forward and I started to shake and cry out with nothing other than animal delight. He had one arm around my waist to keep me from getting away, but where would I have gone?

I slept afterwards, still wearing my shoes, still lying on the leaf-pile of papers, Mulder's arm around my waist, breathing loudly into my ear.

I dreamed a memory.

It was December 28, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, and the sermon began on time; the Catholics of San Diego were punctual folk. The priest began speaking even as baby Matthew's gurgles subsided into sleep.

"We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod. Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."

The murmured response of the congregation was familiar to me; once again I was wrapped in the loving arms of the mother church. It had been so long, and still there was forgiveness and a place for me, and for all other wayward children. However conceived, the church loves all life.

The priest began to recite from Jeremiah 31:15. "Thus says the Lord: 'A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are not.'"

I do not remember standing up or moving from the pew into the aisle.

I walked out of the church, down all the rows and past all the heads turning to see who could stalk out when the sermon had only just begun.

My cross burned my chest like a piece of the sun. A piece of the Son.

I have no son. Nor daughter neither.

In the hospital, remembering to breathe like someone who's going to live, remembering what it was like to have someone look at me and not see *Love Story* playing at their own personal cinema of life, I was willing to let go of the skepticism. I offered chance and faith and microchips each an equal share in my success story.

That was a variety of disbelief too. That was a copout, and I am ashamed now of the weakness that would not let me look too closely into the mechanism of my resurrection.

For my mother's sake, I vowed, we would have a priest at Emily's funeral. But from then on, I would make my own chance and my own justice, or I would have none at all.

Movement finally woke me. I opened sleep-sticky eyes and looked at the twilight room. Mulder was picking up the stock papers and shoving them into a banker's box. The fact that he was still naked leant a strange tone to the scene. I watched him, marveling at how nicely he was put together. An economical animal, no extra flesh, nothing but the stripped-down mechanism of skin, bone and muscle. Most of the bed had been cleared of paper, save for what I was lying on. I sat up in my wrinkled suit and gathered up the papers on the dark green bedspread.

Crouching by the banker's box, he looked up at me, and I could hardly keep from staring at the hard lines of his haunches. Even though I was sore, I could feel myself get wet again.

"What are you going to do?" I asked.

"I don't know."

The last of the papers went back into the box and I had the flash of replaying this ritual time and time again in the office, the filing of the papers, the ending of the argument. At least with him nude, the view was better.

"Mulder?"

He dragged himself out of whatever dimension he'd escaped to.

"Yeah?"

"Since you're such a rich man, call the Chrysanthemum and order a big sushi tray, I'm hungry."

He smiled and life was normal for a moment.

But the words, the black letters on the glossy paper stared back at me like marks on the handle of an executioner's axe.

Roush.

Roush paid him money, blood money, hush money, thirty pieces of silver, how much for his soul, how much was my future worth?

 

8

I am afraid
Some dreadful purpose is forming in her mind. She is
A frightening woman; no one who makes an enemy
Of her will carry off an easy victory.

Scully put the phone down and I saw a fragment of a guilty look, like a hawk's shadow over a field on a sunny day, cross her face. She asked me if I wanted coffee, even though I was the one who was late to work and by custom I should have gotten it, and I said yes.

When the redial button on Scully's phone put me through to the U.N. switchboard, I knew that she'd contacted Marita again. She took a long lunch, and I was pathetically grateful that she didn't say that she had a dentist's appointment or something similarly ridiculous. She took her briefcase, and though I didn't have a scale to weigh it before and after I knew her well enough to see that she carried it more carefully when she returned.

Scully's mostly made of iron but her kidneys work the same as anyone else's. Finally she had to go to the bathroom, and I blessed female anatomy and bigoted males; this was J. Edgar's building and there are no women's bathrooms in the basement. She had to go up two floors.

She left the briefcase behind.

Scully knows my e-mail password. She has my keys. She could recite my social security number from all the times she's written it on hospital insurance forms.

Why didn't I know her secret codes?

I think that question answers itself.

I tried to slide the letter opener in to jimmy the latch once I realized that I wouldn't be able to figure out the combination in time. The blunt knifelike object could have made a fine murder weapon (and might have, had Scully found me), but it made a piss-poor lever.

I did succeed in puncturing my left hand pretty good when the letter opener slipped out of the crack in the briefcase and embedded itself in the hand holding the briefcase in place. I couldn't even nurse it openly in front of Scully for her medicalized sympathy.

The wound was deep but small; it bled sluggishly. Maybe my blood wasn't sure if I was alive either. I wrapped my hand in a handkerchief–finally, a use for the damn things again–and waited for her to get back so that I could glare at her. She looked to see if the case had been moved, but I'd been careful and I'm fairly sure she didn't see a change of position. We wouldn't discuss this in our office, not when it could so easily be bugged, so I determined to try again that night.

I had to go to the bathroom myself when she returned, because the pain in my abdomen had gotten so bad. When I threw up this time there were thin coils of blood among the half-digested food. There was a lot of that going around; there'd been blood in my stool, as they say, for a couple of weeks. Now there's a phrase that doesn't tell you much: blood in the stool. What that means is that your shit turns black and slimy. At first I'd thought it was the remnants of the Black Cancer, which as far as I knew still lived, dormant, in my blood. But then I'd managed to connect it to the stomach pain, bright boy that I am, and knew that it was more likely an ulcer. I'd scheduled a doctor's appointment, which was actually coming up tomorrow. They'd make me drink barium and irradiate me. After all that I'd been through as a kid and then again as an adult, the incremental harm had to be minimal. I just didn't have time for this weakness. Scully was not impressed by it, and she certainly wasn't going to wait for me to be well enough to chase her.

As it happened, I had more than enough reason to show up at Scully's place. She left the office to drop off a pathology report she'd done as a favor to VCS and, five minutes later, the delayed e-mail arrived, telling me that she was taking vacation time and not coming back to the office for a week.

I played James Bond to Kimberly's Miss Moneypenny, which she ate up with a spoon. She sneaked me in between his three o'clock and his three-fifteen. Skinner had shoved the stick very far up his ass that morning, I could tell. He looked at me like I was his sausage and pepperoni pizza that had arrived covered with maggots instead.

"You granted Agent Scully a week's vacation?" I said. "Where's she going?"

He glanced down at the papers on his desk. His hand twitched as if he wanted to rub his temples, but he wouldn't do me the courtesy of revealing that I bothered him.

"I didn't ask her," he said. "I didn't feel that it was any of my business."

"Yeah, well, if you think I can get myself into trouble on my own, you've got a whole new experience coming."

That got his attention. "You believe that Agent Scully is going to engage in covert or illegal activities?"

"I don't know what I believe." Now there's an understatement. "But she shouldn't be alone right now."

"I don't think that you're in any position to judge what Agent Scully does or does not need right now."

"Oh, and you are? Was that part of the bargain you made with the smoker–he cures Scully's cancer, and then throws her in as your reward for playing along?"

He rose to his feet like an avalanche. I was glad that the desk was in between us. I almost reached for my gun, but then he really would have beaten me up and I couldn't afford to waste that time.

"*Agent* Mulder," he ground out, "I'm going to ignore that because I understand that you've both been under severe stress recently. Apparently, Agent Scully has decided to deal with that constructively. I wish I could say the same for you. If I'm mistaken, and she's picked up your bad habits, I will hold you personally responsible for anything that goes wrong."

The twelve-year-old idiot living in my skull forced my mouth open. "That's rather inconsistent of you, isn't it, sir? First you say it's none of my business, but now it's my fault and my responsibility. What do you want me to believe?"

He was around the desk in a flash. I'm not a short guy, but I literally looked up to Skinner. Literally. I never noticed the fact that he had reddish flecks in his eyes until he shoved his face into mine. Remember that moment in Jurassic Park where the Velociraptor stares at the hunter through the bushes? Like that, only with more teeth involved. I didn't move because one of us would not have walked out of the office if I had.

"Listen to me and listen well, Mulder. I think we both understand that Agent Scully is in danger because of her association with you. If she's taking active steps to increase that danger, I expect you to stop her. If I have to protect her by taking away her badge, I'll do that. Unlike some people, my desire to curry her favor does not outstrip my concern for her."

Primal growl therapy.

Skinner, I thought admiringly as I let myself out, I'm really going to need your balls this weekend.

9

Visitations of love that have come
Raging and violent in a man
Bring him neither good respite nor goodness.
But if Aphrodite descends in gentleness
No other goddess brings such delight. Never, Queen Aphrodite,
Loose against me from your golden bow,
Dipped in sweetness of desire,
Your inescapable arrow!

The doorbell rang and I looked at the clock on the VCR, Mulder was half an hour later than I had expected. Taking into account the amount of time it took him to get the e-mail message, the inevitable trip up to Skinner's office to bitch, driving to Annapolis and finding a place to park. Mulder isn't as random or as sneaky as he would like the world to think.

I opened the door.

High anger, high color, his hair sticking out around his head like spiky feathers, glaring down at me as though I were a bad little child. He literally shoved past me into my apartment. I don't like having him here; he takes up too much space, invades my little lair and breaks things. He breaks water glasses, door hinges, a magazine rack, and it's all because he is too big, has too much energy for the rooms. While I was in San Diego he killed all my plants by over-watering them. I left a dead child on the West Coast and came home to slimy decay in terracotta pots.

"What the fuck are you doing?" he demanded and performed a Heathcliff glower near the sofa.

"I'm going to visit Charlie in Arizona."

As a lie, it was fairly maimed, but Charlie was in Arizona and if everything went well, I would stop and visit before I came home. If things didn't go well, I could hide there.

If things really hit the fan, Charlie could identify my body.

"Bullshit."

"Do you want to see my plane ticket, read my phone bills? I am going to visit my brother in Arizona."

He deflated a fraction.

"Why now?"

"Why not? Slow case load, I still have some vacation time left and I really need to get away."

"From me."

The minute that Mulder realizes that the world does not revolve around his shapely ass the heavens are going to open up and angels will sing.

"No."

Turning my back on him, I went into the kitchen, he tagged along behind me like a puppy chewing on my shoelace. A big gangly puppy not yet grown into his paws and snout. I wondered what kind of dog he was going to be when he was full-grown. If he ever grew up.

"You can't go," he said.

Translation from Mulderese to English: Don't leave me.

"I need some time, all right?" said and started putting dishes in the dishwasher.

He grabbed my forearm hard enough for it to hurt and a wineglass–a new one, dammit–slipped from my fingers to the floor. The glass exploded into tiny fragments.

I told you, he breaks things.

"You're a shitty liar, Scully."

Still squeezing my forearm, he pulled me around the open dishwasher door. The metal corner sliced through my sweatpants and ground along my shinbone. I gasped at the pain, but this didn't stop Mulder from hauling me into the living room.

He wouldn't let go even when we stopped moving. We were different temperatures, but for some reason I couldn't tell who was hot and who cold. I stared up at him. Did I look like that when I knew he was about to run off without me? I hoped not. So sad and blasted, like a coastline after a hurricane when all the shoddily built houses have been knocked down.

"Are you going to screw me over too? Throw me to the wolves? Or maybe you're just going to fuck some poor schmuck like Zippy senseless for a change of pace?"

"What if I did fuck Zippy? What would you do?" I asked and stepped closer to him.

Like a dog who isn't quite sure if he has seen the steak on the countertop or not, Mulder cocked his head and blinked at me. He can be so fucking stupid sometimes.

"You know, Mulder," I continued conversationally, lowering my voice so that he leaned in just as if we were conferring over a dead body.

"Some people might think that the abrupt change of topic from my vacation time to your old friend Zippy indicated a certain amount of…jealousy…on your part."

My shin screamed betrayal, but the rest of me was keenly aware that Mulder had done much worse in his time. I could tell by the visibly throbbing carotid artery in the soft part of his long neck that this was going to be worth running through the terminal and waving my badge to make them hold the plane. And this way I could make the flight without having to pull a gun on him.

I watched his mental Yellow Pages flip to "Getting Some." His breathing sped up and he put his hands just above my elbows, pulling me up into the kiss. His mouth was salty and sour and coppery, as if he'd been drinking blood.

When he let me go, my weight landed on my heels with enough force to jar the bones of my legs. He kept his hold on my right arm and marched me down the hall, half a step in front of him, to my bedroom.

I'm going to let you in on a secret: Mulder knew. He knew why I was seducing him, and his knowledge had a lot to do with the fact that he yelled and screamed and basically alerted all the neighbors to the fact that Dana Scully was entertaining a gentleman caller.

Normally he isn't into blow-jobs, he believes that it's better to give than receive, but this time he grabbed my head like I was a recalcitrant screw-top bottle and held me down. He was hot as a burning poker in my mouth and I tried to tilt my head to get the best angle for my throat as he nearly scalped me with his fingernails. I wish I could say that I just wanted to get him into a puddle on my bed so I could go, but the fact is that his desperation made me dizzy and wet. If I'd choked, he probably would have let me go, but I was allied with the part of him that wants to be betrayed and together we managed not to gag.

He came, shaking like a Parkinson's patient, and pulled me up his body to squeeze me tight. I waited for him to loosen his grip, thinking I could always take care of my own problem later, but instead he began to lick his way down my body like he was momma cat and I was the kitten he was cleaning.

I glanced at my alarm clock, looming accusingly over the bed. I could still make it if this took less than half an hour. I was wound tightly enough that it could have been over in thirty seconds, if he'd tried. I wondered if he knew, after all, and this was some plot to keep me in DC. And then his five-o'clock shadow scraped against my thighs and I thought I could fly to Arizona on my own.

I could feel the roughness of each individual taste bud on his tongue. What the hell, I thought, and moaned his name. As far as I could remember, I had never done that before. He stopped and looked up at me and I groaned protest. He grinned like a skull and began again. Spread open, digging into the mattress with my fingers and my heels, his fingers inside me and his tongue and teeth dancing over the engorged landscape of my clitoris, I started to shudder and twitch like a prisoner in an electric chair. I was dashed and broken like the wineglass and I screamed. I don't know if he was channeling his teenage self or if he simply imagined that he might not get another chance, but soon he wrenched my legs apart and entered me, hard and ready again.

Of course Mulder would have to become a sexual athlete at the most inconvenient possible time.

I tried to match his rhythm but he wouldn't let me; he pinned my hips down with his hands and slammed in and out. Maybe his strategy was to ensure that I couldn't walk wherever I was going.

"You-like-this," he chanted to me on the downswing of each thrust.

I groaned an agreement.

"Look-at-me, " he continued.

I did, and I didn't much care for his semi-psychotic intensity.

"Say-my-name."

"Mulder."

God, I was getting head-fucked to boot.

"What-do-you- want?"

I smoothed my hands around the sides of his chest, feeling the breath like a trapped demon inside him, his cock a trapped demon inside of me.

"Fuck me," I whispered.

"Can't-hear-you," he grunted.

"Oh God, Mulder. Please. Please. Fuck me, fuck me hard," I grabbed at his hard ass, pulling him deeper into me, hurting myself, whispering the script of his video porn into his shoulder.

The orgasm was as intense as it was unexpected. Through Nagasaki's cloud, I saw him grin fiercely and let himself go.

It took more than a few minutes for me to get coherent again. I licked his shoulder, contemplating what to do next. He was oily and faintly bitter, like the skin of an orange. He tugged the sheets closer around himself, murmuring incoherently, and then subsided. The air was cool on my naked body, chilly where the wetness of sex had not fully dried on my thighs. Funny how such a ridiculous act, ludicrous in all its aspects and positively distressing in many cases, can take on such importance.

I left him in my bedroom and went to the living room, where I'd tucked the map and the printouts in a back issue of JAMA. If I woke him up and explained, he'd accompany me to Bethel and witness one more destruction of the evidence, just as anguished and shocked as if he were seeing it happen for the first time.

Mulder does pain so well.

The last few days, since Austin, he'd been twitchy and nervous as a white rabbit after the condom broke. His nose didn't twitch but it might as well have.

He could smell my research, and he thought I had a plan.

I wondered, if I put him in a box, would he writhe and squirm with maggots as quickly as my poor dead bunny? No, Mulder would fight. He wouldn't be entombed in some coffin; he wouldn't be spirited away while I wasn't looking, either. He might wander off on his own, run through my fingers the same as always.

Emily's death was a nuclear strike. The sand that I slipped and slid through in my dream fused to glass. Since then, when I slept I woke to glass needles in my eyes. Green glowing rain surrounded me. I walked barefoot over glass like ocean waves frozen mid-storm and it did not cut me.

I couldn't go near my little girl without a mask, because she might have bled on me and made me ill. And though she didn't bleed, she just slipped away, there were still bloody handprints on the whitewashed walls of my mind.

I wondered if I could still bleed.

I hadn't bled in over a year.

Mulder was relieved that I never bothered him about birth control. Even then, he knew. He knew that even if I weren't dying I'd have no one but him. And he liked it, I'm sure of it. The little boy lost doesn't like to share. He would have found that out about himself earlier if Samantha had stayed, I bet.

I was rambling. That too made sense, thoughts sliding on glass, bouncing off glass. I would make myself a suit of glass armor. I was radioactive; I killed everyone I touched. And I needed to make that deadliness work for me.

No more stoic suffering for a voyeur-God who eats it like candy. I'd been patient. Now it was time for me to act.

Cain was a farmer and Abel was a shepherd. Cain sacrificed the fruits of the earth for God's approval and Abel gave Him fresh warm bodies. God loved Abel and his sacrifices. He thought Cain was a wimp. So whose fault is it that Cain resolved to do better next time?

I was going to do better next time.

God, I'm told, helps those who help themselves.

I turned and went back into the bedroom to pack. Mulder was sprawled across my bed, breathing noisily. For all his anguish, he sure sleeps well once he's gotten laid.

He didn't stir as I quietly filled my duffel bag with dark clothes, extra ammunition, and other necessities.


10
O where will you find the courage?
Or the skill of hand and heart,
When you set yourself to attempt
A deed so dreadful to do?

 

She was gone when I woke up. From the feel of the air, she'd been gone at least a few hours. She wasn't even within a hundred-mile radius.

How could I know something like that? Let me digress just a minute–it'll make what comes next more understandable.

There are some things I've never told any of the various shrinks whose thresholds I've crossed over the years.

For example, when Sam was taken I started wetting the bed again. No one ever found out. Mom was having a deep personal relationship with Valium and Dad was not around, a fact for which I was profoundly grateful every time I woke to those heavy wet sheets. I was already doing the household laundry, so it wasn't any problem to clean up after myself. I started putting towels down to preserve the mattress, but I think eventually my bedroom began to smell. But it wasn't as if I was bringing chums home after school to play, and Mom's world had narrowed to the path between the bedroom and the kitchen, where I'd find her at strange hours, just sitting at the scratched and dented kitchen table.

And fire. I was not entirely truthful with Scully when I told her why I fear fire. I didn't tell her that, watching my friend's house burn, I was transfixed with desire. When I was younger I'd stare at fires for hours, looking at the shifting flames, how they'd eat and eat and never stop unless you killed them. I wanted to be the one who'd set that house on fire. I wanted to get up close to it, infinitely variable and capricious and so welcoming. Something told me that if I started, though, I wouldn't be able to stop until I'd burned the world down. So, standing in the ashes of that summer home, I deliberately made myself fear fire, hate it as much as I wanted to love it. Making myself phobic–it wasn't the first time I'd remade myself, but it might have been the most important.

Finally…For Hanukkah 1973, we were supposed to get a puppy. I'd wanted one for ages. Dad was hard to read, but I'd overheard Mom grinding him down with that silvery little voice, and I was sure he was going to cave in by December. When Sam was taken, that hope ended. But I was glad because, when I was minimally functional again, I thought a lot about hurting animals. They were small and vulnerable and trusting, like Sam, and I desperately wanted to do something to show the world that I was in control, that I was someone who mattered.

Imagine my surprise and delight when I took my first abnormal psych tutorial at Oxford. What's the sociopathic triad, Fox? Could it be…bedwetting, firestarting, and cruelty to animals during adolescence? Congratulations, you get a set of lovely meat cleavers and a lifetime supply of Hefty plastic bags, for those times when nothing else will hold what you need to hide.

People mock my behavior. More so now that I'm in the X Files, but they did even back in ISU and VCS. They just don't get it. Compared to what I almost was, what I still could be if I didn't pay attention, I'm a textbook model of mental health. I should give empowerment seminars: Post-traumatic stress–making it work for *you*.

Like a fair number of sociopaths, I'm smart enough to see people for what they really are. I know what they're going to do before they know it themselves, often. I just don't usually give a shit.

So there's no need to wonder how I knew that Scully had adopted the "ditch first, ask questions later" policy I'd so carefully demonstrated to her. I knew she was on her way to search out and destroy anyone who'd stolen her children from her. Yeah, I'm the Wizard of Odd, and Scully was getting odder by the day.

I was only lucky that she didn't know about my little metal vial full of forever. This time she wouldn't have aimed to wound.

I called the Gunmen and asked them to track Scully's credit card purchases down. Fortunately, Frohike had gotten over his ridiculous little snit. Conspiracy theorists swing so readily from distrust to total faith. They have to, to make their theories work and to find people who'll listen to them.

She hadn't lied about the state, anyway. Phoenix.

What's in Phoenix, Scully?

Thank God Arnstein Porter Rowe & Crump pays its associates ungodly sums to toil twenty-five-hour days; one of them was happy to look up my file when I called. Tell all the lawyer jokes you want; if you can afford one, they're better than live ammunition. Roush's holdings included a building in Bethel, Arizona, a long unpleasant drive from Phoenix but easily doable in a day. The building was listed on their reports as "storage."

Maybe they were "storing" "merchandise."

I hung up and called AmericaWest.

Then I called the Gunmen back.

 

11
I know indeed what evil I intend to do.
But stronger than all my afterthoughts is my fury,
Fury that brings upon mortals the greatest evils.

I was being followed.

I could feel it like a hundred spiders crawling over my body. When I stepped off the escalator in the Phoenix airport rather than going to the baggage carousel, I ducked behind a kiosk selling cappuccino and waited to see who arrived at the baggage claim to claim me. I half expected Mulder or a team of Them (the ubiquitous, invisible them), but what I didn't expect was Mulder's peroxide doxie in a gray linen suit wrinkled from traveling. She clipped along like an antelope on her thin legs and silly heels, passing by the coffee kiosk like just another tourist, a briefcase in her hand. With my hand on my gun, I gave up the shelter of the coffee counter and followed her. Marita collected her luggage and went over to the rental car desk. I had my own bag in my hand and followed her as she went out into the bright Arizona sunlight as she jingled the car keys in her hand.

"What the fuck do you think you're doing?" I demanded as she stopped at a blue Ford Explorer.

Damn her skinny ass, she didn't look surprised at the sight of my gun or me.

"I want to know about Roush as much as you do," she purred in her creamy voice.

"Give me the keys," I instructed.

No one seemed to notice the little drama we were staging in the rental car area, all the happy businessmen seemed oblivious to the two women hissing at one another while one woman held a gun. They must have thought that we were a very strange lesbian couple with a unique way of solving our problems.

With my free hand, I pulled my cuffs out of the case at the base of my spine.

"Please put one cuff on your right wrist and get in the passenger seat, then put the other cuff around the door handle."

She blinked at me and smiled.

"Of course."

Grinding my teeth, I threw both our bags in the back of the Ford while she sat in the passenger cabin looking like a princess when the revolution had come.

I didn't know what else to do with her so I took her with me.

I could have driven in silence the entire time, but the small superior smile began to get to me after a while. The sun was going down and I was having trouble keeping my eyes on the road. "Tell me more about the Project," I ordered. I was curious to discover the contours of the lie I'd be told this time. Perhaps by keeping track of everything that was told us, we could by process of elimination discover the real plan.

Marita idly drew designs on the grey plastic covering the glove compartment. My back was aching and I could only imagine how she was doing, her arm trapped in one position for so many hours. I'd locked the handcuff key in the trunk so that she understood that doing something to run me off the road would leave her dangerously exposed even if she did manage to incapacitate me. She could take the chance that she'd survive a crash and be able to flag someone down, but I thought it was unlikely.

"The creation of a master race," she said musingly. "The dream of the twentieth century. With appropriate genetic modifications, the perfect soldier, the perfect worker…the perfect ruler–all of them will be possible. Massive, total replacement of the population."

"How can they imagine they'll get away with it?"

"Why do you think that so many healthy young white women have fertility problems, Agent Scully? Why do Bangladeshis live longer than black men in the inner cities? They *are* getting away with it. In another generation, if the technology continues apace, unmodified people–inferiors–won't be able to breed, much less allowed to do so. They will work until they die, and then the New World will begin. There is so much land in the world, after all, if you take away the people."

I watched the road fall away under the constant thrum of the car's wheels. When she spoke again, I started and swerved. "Why are you doing this?" she asked, almost incuriously.

"They were taken from me, without my consent. Using them is wrong, and it's got to be stopped."

"But destroying your eggs and the fetuses won't do anything to stop the men who ordered these experiments. They'll just go out and ruin someone else's life."

"Then I'll find them next. But first I'm taking back what is mine."

Marita shook her head and turned to stare out the window. The cuffs jostled faintly, the thick metal incongruous against her fine-boned wrist.

"I had a daughter," she said to her ghostly reflection in the glass. "She lived to be almost eighteen months."

I watched the white lines of the roadway disappear under the car. The road was smooth as cake batter, and I thought of the huge federal bureaucracy and all the taxes necessary to coordinate such a massive nationwide undertaking as a highway system. Not entirely unlike the organization necessary for a breeding project.

"She was a test subject too," Marita continued, as if I had given some indication that I cared. "An earlier version than the children your ova were used to create. She had six fingers on each hand. The nodes were everywhere on her–at her elbows, on her back, in the crease of her thighs. Even daily transfusions of that liquid they use weren't enough to keep her alive. She was in terrible pain every day of her life. I cried with joy when she died."

The sky was grey, except for a wash of pink at the horizon where the setting sun burned through the cloud cover. In the distance, almost invisible, the darker grey of mountains prevailed. I'd always thought of deserts as hot, but in the dying day it couldn't have been warmer than fifty degrees.

"Can you prove any of this?" I asked, my hands twisting on the steering wheel as I bore down with my foot, pushing the car up another five miles an hour.

Marita made a little sound, like Mulder when I asked him the same question. Despair and self-mockery and a dash of condescension for extra flavor; maybe Marita had learned that noise in his bed, but he'd never thought to teach it to me. "What would you have said if I'd come to you earlier? You'd have thought me a pathetic lunatic." Her silky voice made the words sound untrustworthy, but I had to admit that the woman had a point.

Marita used her free hand to rub the chained wrist where it was beginning to bleed. Her voice, never loud, dwindled to almost nothing as she stared at the passing desertscape. "I was…I never knew my parents. I think I was a test subject too. I believe that's why my child died…I thought that Jason was a controller and not a subject, but I knew as soon as I met Mulder that I'd been wrong…or perhaps my genes couldn't be transmitted without appropriate technological assistance. When I think that my arrogance might have brought her into the world like that…" I thought that she was done speaking, but she began again, more strongly. "Maybe we can find proof when you get into the facility. There have to be records there."

"Who is Jason?" I asked. 12

Let no one think of me
As humble or weak or passive; let them understand
I am of a different kind; dangerous to my enemies,
Loyal to my friends.
To such a life glory belongs.

Holmes had the Baker Street Irregulars, Donald had Huey, Dewey, and Louie, and I had Langley, Byers and Frohike. I would rather have had Harpo, Groucho, and Chico. The Marx brothers might have behaved better. The Three Amigos sat in the plane like a bunch of college students headed for spring break. Frohike was hitting on the flight attendant, Langley was deep in Wired, and Byers was trying to talk to me. I didn't feel much like talking as the airplane coffee was setting my stomach on fire again. I was going to have to give up coffee and beer, this much I knew, and the thought was depressing the hell out of me on top of everything else.

"You know that half of the planes in the US fleet are suffering from extreme metal fatigue and you take your life in your hands every time you fly?" Byers asked.

"I saw a crash site. Body parts everywhere. I guess the crash was a shattering experience," I said and pushed my seat back.

Flying coach, as usual, and I had no legroom. Fuck it, if I lived through this Scully and I were going to live it up, first class and champagne every time, courtesy of Dad, Roush, and all the other minions of Hell who quarterly added to my coffers.

"Mulder you look like hell," Frohike offered from the other side of the aisle.

"What do you have lined up at the other end of this flight?" I asked.

"We have a contact in Sedona who is going to loan us a van with full surveillance gear. We pick the van up at the airport and ditch it afterwards. All very neat and anonymous," Langley explained.

"What do you think Scully went after in Bethel?" Frohike asked.

"You tell me," I grumbled and unpeeled another pair of Rolaids, "But I'll bet you a hundred bucks you get it wrong."

"You have the money for it," Frohike said and smiled a trollish smile, "Roush's money."

"I have a theory," Byers began in a soft voice near my ear.

Byers. I could have been friends with Byers.

"I was trying to ascertain what would draw Agent Scully to the Roush installation at Bethel. There is only one possibility. She has somehow found information which indicates that the ova which were taken from her are at Bethel, and she is going to retrieve the ova."

Marita must have known, that must have been the research she was doing for Scully. The hot lead of this knowledge added to the pain in my stomach.

"But why would she retrieve those ova when we have that vial in cryo at the University?" Byers asked, "that's where the logic ends."

"She doesn't know, " I choked.

His head framed in the light of the window, Byers gaped at me, a bearded vision of compassion.

"You never told her? What the hell is wrong with you?"

Did he want the whole War and Peace of my twisted psyche or just the Cliff notes summary? The flight wasn't that long.

"It never came up," I lied.

"Ah jeez, Mulder . . . " Langley whined.

"Back off, okay."

"But are the ova still in vials or have they been fertilized? Are we talking about fetuses here? Viable or non-viable? This brings up a lot of complicated issues," Frohike pointed out.

"No shit," I agreed.

"Should the fetuses be of sufficient maturity to be considered viable by the state of Arizona, I think we can extrapolate from the laws in the state regarding abortion, that Agent Scully's destruction of said fetuses would be considered murder," Byers reasoned aloud.

I peeled two fifties off the folded wad in my father's monogrammed money clip.

"I'll buy the first round, boys."

I added two airplane bottles of Scotch on top of the coffee and the Rolaids and thought I was going to die. By my watch, I was now three hours, East Coast time, late for my doctor's appointment for whatever horrible thing growing in my duodenum. I could imagine myself like some poor schmuck in an Aliens movie with a creature busting out of my stomach at any moment. That would have amused Frohike to no end. I shut my eyes and willed myself not to throw up. Just to make myself more nauseous, I thought about Marita.

It had to be the last time that we were in bed together, her bed in her apartment in Manhattan, her little high-class lair where her handlers sent her customers. At that point I was pretending that I was someone special, that I was breaking the rules somehow. I later realized that her seduction of me had been as spontaneous as a Space Shuttle launch. It was a rainy Sunday afternoon and we hadn't gotten out of bed at all, she was lying on her back in a nest of expensive sheets and throw pillows with her manicured fingernails scraping my scalp while I drove her mad with my mouth. She moaned and thrashed in her well-intentioned theatrical way while I went down on her. Then she cried out a name, and it wasn't mine.

Who the hell was Jason?

Good manners kept me from pursuing the question but now, almost a year later I thought I had the answer.

Jason Lindsay was the spokesperson for Roush. The face of the company was angular, had a nose with more symmetry than character, wore his shiny black hair falling into his eyes, and favored dark Hugo Boss suits and Jerry Garcia ties. This was the face that Danny had wondered about, the man who looked like he could have been my brother. For all I knew Jason Lindsay was my brother. Other things that Marita said were starting to fall into place. Some of the comments she had made that I wasn't as unique as I would have liked to think. I remembered all I had heard of the beginnings of the Project in the Cold War, the early successes and failures of the hybrids, the hybrids containing too much human DNA, and the different model years of the hybrids.

>From the search I had done on Jason Lindsay, I knew his birth date was September 9, 1960, which made the poor bastard a Virgo, but who cares. He'd gotten his BS at Stanford and his MBA at Yale, he played basketball in college and had been considered one of the bright young things at Roush which had led to his meteoric rise in the company. He lived alone in a luxury apartment in Austin and was one of the most eligible bachelors in Texas even though he had been seen with a variety of starlets over the past few years. He was the John Kennedy Jr. of pharmaceuticals.

It sounded like fun.

Following the chain of logic, sick, as it may have been, gave me a theory that I was NOT going to share with the Gunmen.

The project, in its infancy, had introduced alien DNA into healthy adult humans who mutated and died as a result. I had seen their bodies in a buried freight car. In the fifties, human fetuses which did not give the resulting fetus full alien attributes, but was infected by the viral form of the DNA which then mutated the resulting essentially human babies. The babies had a few bonuses from the alien DNA such as higher resistance to the toxic alien body fluids and side effects such as empathy. That would have been the Cold War model. In the late sixties the process was repeated with better success and any resulting viable beings were then cloned which gave rise to the cloning of my sister Samantha, the doctors, and the Kurt Crawford series. Sometime in the seventies, the good folk at Roush began splicing alien DNA directly with human DNA. This stellar move created such wonderful creatures as Darin Oswald who could bring down lightning with his mind, and a whole flying circus of mutants. And most recently They were abducting women and removing their ova to continue the process by splicing the alien genes with more precision, and this had created the child creature called Emily. Kids like her were more high-tech but less viable than the sixties versions. Thoroughbreds, you might say.

Ergo, the entire Mulder family had been a testing ground since the beginning. As Samantha was the result of an experiment, so was I. This meant that Jason was either the clone or I was, or we had simply come out of the same batch at the lab.

I tripped over Frohike's feet as I stumbled for the airplane bathroom.

At the rate things were going, Jason was going to be an only child very soon. Him and his n brothers, where n is an unknown quantity.

Am I an unknown quantity? I think the men who've supervised my carefully limited investigations have known me all too well.

Rather than being food laced with blood, what I threw up in the cramped airplane bathroom was blood laced with coffee. After I washed my face (was it mine or was it Jason's) I sat on the closed toilet seat and shivered. I needed to tell Scully. I needed her right then and there in a way that was beyond partnership, beyond sex, I needed her to make me feel real.

And she was out to destroy creatures that had begun the same way that I had.

Later, in the van, the boys all but forgot about me, rambling on to each other about past road trips and who forgot to bring the Doritos. Langly and Frohike were insulting each other as they inspected their friend's equipment, oohing and aahing over the latest toys.

It gave me some time to think.

Scully thinks that I misunderstand the nature of her connection to me. Maybe she thinks that even I would have more pride than to tag along after her with my tongue hanging out of my mouth, if I really understood what she thinks of me.

Balderdash. I understand perfectly. At least number two on the list of reasons I love her is that she would have to be brainwashed before she'd ever say, or even think, "I love him." (Number one might just be proximity, but of course she's only stayed with me so long because she's Scully, and so that's not entirely an independent variable.) Phoebe was a tyro's practice, not a fair test, she couldn't love me because Phoebe isn't capable of it. Scully's my masterpiece because she is capable, she obviously is, but–here's the crucial part–I've made absolutely certain that it can't be for me.

I understand that Scully is a pathologist; she chose her specialty because she likes to poke into dead things to see what made them hurt.

I understand that the main reason she lets me into her bed is that it's so hard to remember to buy batteries when you're travelling all the time, and anyway it saves space not to have to pack a vibrator.

I understand that I hope that this will change someday, though I know it won't. If I'm a fox, Scully is the hunt. Hounds flowing like water over emerald grass, scarlet jackets and sharp leather riding crops cured in blood, hooves pounding like heartbeats in the earth. The cruelty is the beauty. And one day, if I'm lucky, she'll take my skin and nail it to her wall.

There are conventional reasons for our relationship, and it would be another act of arrogance for me to deny that they have any relevance. Adrenalin, rage indistinguishable from passion in our veins, all that sort of thing. Every time we fuck we are laughing in death's face.

I'd be more comfortable with that explanation if I didn't think that really, Death was laughing at us. I think that every time we make each other into convenient receptacles we saw off another piece of our souls, or my soul anyway, I wouldn't swear that Scully has one. Every time she uses me she takes us further from the parallel universe–it has to be out there somewhere–in which our bond is all that is good and true about my life, even if we never touch.

I made Byers pull over at the next gas station/convenience store. Langly made fun of me, said I had the bladder of a pregnant woman, but I didn't want to throw up all over the nice dirty van. The really annoying part about an ulcer is that you've got to eat to keep the pain level under control. But then the pain itself causes nausea, and so food comes up, uglier than it went down. I'd tried skipping meals to avoid the cycle, and if you think dry heaves are unpleasant, you ought to try bloody dry heaves. Bile and blood and saliva, the holy trinity of body fluids.

The convenience store only had little rolls of Tums. I bought four.</


13
Can you tearlessly hold the decision
For murder? You will not be able,
When your children fall down and implore you,
You will not be able to dip
Steadfast your hand in their blood.

 

The U.N. representative was crying in her sleep, without motion or even much noise. She cried as if she knew she'd be punished if anyone heard her. She tugged against her restraints, and when they wouldn't give she opened her mouth and moaned softly, then turned on her side, curling her body into itself as best she could.

Her feather-fine hair fell away from her swan's neck, and through the stray blonde-brown strands I saw a green nodule centered in the back of her neck, just underneath the hairline. It didn't look swollen and inflamed as Emily's had; it was more like a large birthmark, if birthmarks were chartreuse. It appeared to be slightly raised, but not very prominent, and it could easily have been concealed by a collar or a scarf or even Marita's shoulder-length hair. How had Mulder never seen it while he was sleeping with her? A little cover-stick can work wonders. I should know. I don't think Mulder knows yet that I've got a mole above my lip.

I scooted closer and reached out, stopping when I could feel the heat radiating from the sleeping woman. The fine hairs on the back of Marita's neck surrounded the nodule, but didn't cover it; the skin looked thickened, keratinous like fingernails. She was still sobbing, and the small shaking of her body made close inspection difficult.

According to Mulder, the "clones" he'd encountered hadn't demonstrated any visible markers of genetic tampering–other than being identical copies, as I'd seen myself. They could be killed by a spike to the back of the neck, which might release the toxic green substance in their pseudo-veins but at least was final, whereas shooting them didn't appear to slow them down any. But their necks looked normal, I thought, remembering the abortion doctors.

So Marita and Emily had to represent another variation–with *more* exotic (alien?) DNA than the regular clones? I couldn't quite get my mind around the question. The neck was vulnerable but vital; nerve clusters there could be–attached, maybe?–to whatever alternative system the green fluid represented. But why would the point of joining be external? If Marita had been telling the truth about her daughter–and the fact that she was apparently some sort of hybrid herself did not exclude that possibility–then maybe the visible nodules were defects.

I frowned. There was insufficient data to confirm or disconfirm the hypothesis. The strange vein-like system I'd seen briefly appearing on Emily's arms had degenerated so quickly after her death that the postmortem had been able to determine nothing but that there was too much necrotic tissue in her body to be explained in a conventional manner.

If the Project had been successful in creating completely human-looking hybrids already, why were they now making defectives?

Maybe it had something to do with mass production. If Marita was telling the truth–there that problem arose again–then the next phase of the Project was to replace normal people with those who'd been categorized, controlled, and modified. But the Project's masters needed many kinds of hybrids, not just one or two in every age cohort.

I knew that ova could be frozen. That was what would have happened to my ova, had they been where they were expected to be. I thought back to the information I'd received from the oncologist. Inside each ovum is a chemical stew, a ferment eagerly waiting for an acceptable sperm to complete its transmutation into a new and unique being. When freezing occurs, chromosomal abnormalities can be caused; no one knows exactly why, though it may have something to do with intercellular ice crystals or damage to the cell membrane caused as water leaches out of the cell to keep the chemical potentials balanced during freezing.

Frozen ova meant another step in the process where something could go wrong. Every time you set up a production line, you've got to expect that a couple cars will leave the factory with no seatbelts or bad shocks. I suppose the Project kills people who fuck up instead of just firing them, but it's so hard to find good help these days.

And if these bastards were trying to plan evolution, they might want to grow a batch of zygotes with funky chromosomes to maturity, just to see whether they could get their own pet Modells or L'Ivelys or Darin Oswalds. Errors like Emily would be acceptable.

I wondered what Marita's talent was, that had made her worth saving.

She stirred on the bed and I moved away from her, feeling dirty. I was playing God no less than the men who'd ripped me apart. I tried to curl myself into a perfect sphere. If I could just tuck my head against my knees right, I'd be smooth and impenetrable. I'd be able to gather the strength I needed for tomorrow.

How could I do this? How could I hold my children in my hand and destroy them? Was it worth the cost, just to have my revenge on the men who'd violated me so brutally?

And yet that answer had been reached long ago; it couldn't be changed twenty miles away from Bethel just because I didn't like what had to be done. I would set myself on fire if I could burn the men who'd done this. They had no right. They'd perverted what should have been my choice, if I'd have made it. They'd killed God and taken His place, so someone else would have to avenge the crime.

I was so alone. I could feel Mulder, out there in the darkness, heading towards me with no thought but to grab me and rub me into his skin until we merged. But he'd smother the fire within me; he'd use his own needs to do it. He wouldn't mean to put me out entirely, just to make me more the right size to be his helpmeet–but the result would be the same.

In the end, we're all alone. We have to be. If we try to open ourselves up we bleed to death. Only our boundaries keep us alive. Even if they feel like knives sometimes.

If I got through this, everything would work itself out, it had to. Maybe I could even take from Mulder the strength I so desperately needed without dissolving into him.

"I wish I were like you," Marita said wistfully, breaking my concentration. "You're so…strong. I thought that all I could ever be was useless and pretty and ornamental, and so I never tried…to be strong. I know I'm not…smart like Mulder."

I didn't quite follow this conversational turn. I leaned over to check the handcuffs, cursing the fucking cheap hotel beds with their solid headboards that provided nothing with which to secure a prisoner. I ought to file a complaint with the Holiday Inn board of directors.

In the absence of a suitable post on the headboard, I'd elected to cuff Marita's hands behind her back and run a bike chain through them, which I then wrapped around the leg of the bed. It forced Marita to lie on her side awkwardly, but I could live with that.

I was suddenly aware that I was lying mostly on top of her. Her blouse had come undone several buttons too far for decency. Not that Marita would know about that. Marita's breath was warm and sweet, and she was looking up at me with wide, compliant eyes.

"You're so beautiful," Marita whispered, her tongue flicking out to wet her lips.

I felt something turn over inside me.

Dana, I said to myself, this is far more fucked up than sleeping with Mulder. Prisoner's a whole new level of degradation down from partner, even a partner on animal tranquilizers. Dana? Dana are you listening?

The corners of Marita's mouth quirked, a shy smile. I moved my hand from the bike chain to Marita's shoulder, rubbing it as I might have rubbed a dog's stomach. The blouse was silky, but spotted with dust and stains. The skin underneath was hot, so hot, a lava flow.

Is her internal temperature the same as a human's? I wondered, and considered whether there was a safe way of finding out.

Marita shifted, rolling over on her back, her arms dragged underneath her by the handcuffs and the bike chain at what must have been a painful angle. Now I was straddling Marita's body. I could see her nipples outlined against her ruined blouse. My hand moved down, inching over the swell of Marita's breast. It was warm and firm and undoubtedly weird, undeniably weird, yet thrilling at the same time. I had the strange feeling that if I turned around Mulder's ghost would be sitting in the chair by the window, his legs stretched out in slumped comfort, his eyes black with desire, his hand creeping towards his lap.

I glanced back up at Marita's face and caught the slight stillness; it wasn't the slackness of arousal, but a more contained waiting.

I wasn't surprised that Marita would try to seduce me, really. That was what Marita did. Marita probably thought that deep down I wanted to believe, wanted to trust just as much as Mulder did.

Mulder probably would have let me tie him up if I'd asked, but I'd never asked. I skimmed a hand up the bound woman's arm, running from the blood-warmed metal at her wrist, barely visible in the shadow of her torso, down the bluish veins on her inner arm, the crease of her elbow and then the softness over the bicep that swelled just beneath the short sleeves of the blouse. The woman's lack of body fat is almost criminal, I thought. I'd have to work out full-time to have arms like that.

Marita's eyes on me were intense, but somehow lazy, catlike. I almost thought they were yellow in the bad light from the cheap lamps.

I moved the hand that had been stroking Marita's breast to the remaining buttons. They were on the wrong side, I thought and realized that I'd only ever unbuttoned a man's shirt from the outside. It's the little things that make the difference, and I didn't suppress a short laugh because it wasn't as if Marita was going to get snitty about it.

"You can do anything you want," Marita whispered, and I stopped undressing her to put a finger to her lips.

"Shh," I commanded. "I know that."

Marita's skirt came off easily, the fine grey linen sliding over fine silken thighs with barely a whisper. Mulder did this, I thought. He ran his tongue down those thighs–I moved backwards down the bed to do the same. Marita moaned; I frowned. That wasn't any fun. The woman could have waited longer to start faking.

"Tell me what he liked," I said, moving back up so that I could breathe in Marita's ear. Marita wasn't going to go on Jerry Springer and talk about threesomes any time soon. And I was curious, and Marita was there for me.

Marita turned her head into the pillow, exposing her long perfect neck and a little patch of green. Salamander skin, green and fresh and inviting. I licked the edge, wondering if I'd get a contact rash. The skin was as smooth as it looked, not rough and scaly, and I could taste the sweat caught in the fine hairs of Marita's nape. Then I bit Marita's earlobe. "I asked you a question," and Marita jerked away but the cuffs caught her and I could feel the muscles tense underneath her; delicate silly Marita was thinking about trying to get loose and that wasn't a good idea.

"He liked to go down on me," Marita breathed.

Ah yes. I didn't know whether he'd call it a desire to return to the womb or just a desperate need to be liked, but Mulder hadn't ever been happy unless he could push my head back and spread my legs and make me shake like a tuning fork.

I decided to see what she'd learned from his efforts.

Afterwards, I lay on the far edge of the bed, not looking at Marita. The ceiling's random pattern of dots like wormholes was far more interesting.

Marita was enthusiastic, but she didn't have the instinctive sense of what I liked. Not like Mulder. At first I thought that he was so good he could get a blow-up doll off, but then I realized that his British bitch wouldn't have let him go so easily were that the case. It's that I'm like the creatures he hunts. He needs them to justify his existence, and they need him to hunt them, to pay attention. He opens my head up and extracts what he needs to know, and then he leaves.

At least when I do it I sew the poor bastards up afterwards.

I had to admit it: I wanted Mulder there. I didn't know what I wanted to do to him. What was more important was that I wanted, anything. And I'd believed I'd never want again.

The world has never had all the colors in it for me that it has for Mulder. I think that's why I'm so fascinated by him. He's not afraid to live intensely.

No. He's terrified. But he doesn't have a choice.

Mulder suffers, Scully endures.

When did that begin to make me angry? Not relevant. I just remember that I stopped feeling the anger in San Diego. I was so hostile to him that I could have taught the Serbs and the Croats something about enmity, but I didn't feel it.

He fucked me in the bathroom and I threw my head back against the cheap cold institutional mirror. I thought for a minute that I might just…fall through. In the looking glass world, Dana Scully can cry for her children. There must be a me, in all the possible realities, for whom barrenness and then the sudden end of barrenness didn't mean this blankness. This cold fire.

Mulder's natural flair for the dramatic must have been rubbing off.

Marita lay quietly on the other side of the bed. I hadn't even let her touch herself. That might have been unfair. But fingers and thumbs aren't what get her off anyway. Even I can see that in her eyes, and most of my interpersonal contacts are with the dead.

I worried a little about choking her. Consider the position, really–so awkward, me lowering myself down and trying to ignore my thigh muscles demanding their rights, agitating against the demands of my libido. Hands balanced against the headboard and I was thinking, God, that wallpaper is plainly awful. The heat, dry and yellow, that spread out from my clitoris through my belly and thighs.The orgasm a jackhammer, ripping me apart.

I'm not entirely sure it was pleasure and not pain that I felt.

It didn't help that I could feel the shadow-Mulder in the chair watching us the entire time. Was this one of the images he used to amuse himself those lonely nights of masturbating on his sofa? Really, the sofa should have given birth to an ottoman after all the sperm it had taken into its crevices. But in the end it was the same, me and the sofa, infertile dead ends both.

"Now," she said, her voice cream and brown sugar, "I have you. I gave you something Mulder never can."

I turned and looked at her incredulously, but it wasn't worth wasting a good put-down line on her.

14
Suppose that the children have grown into youth
And have turned out good, still, if God so wills it,
Death will away your children's bodies,
And carry them off to Hades.

Marita watched me load our briefcases into the back of the Explorer with some trepidation. And well she should, because they were full of bottles of gas, expensive spring water poured onto the red earth to be replaced by cheaper, but more effective, fluid. "I thought we were going to Bethel to find the truth," she said, not quite a question.

I shrugged, unwilling to waste breath on an answer that wouldn't come out right in any event.

We drove toward Bethel for fifteen minutes before she tried again. "I assume you have some plan for getting into the facility?" Marita asked with her customary sly guile. I hoped that poor Mulder hadn't actually had to listen to her to get laid.

"I was just going to flash my badge and see what happened," I said. Actually I had a search warrant that looked very professional and official, if I did say so myself. I had a laser printer the same as the U.S. Attorney in Phoenix.

She sniffed, a very affected noise in the dry air. "Even Mulder might have planned ahead."

"Hah," I responded.

"You're lucky that I came along," she said, sounding bored. "I have ID for both of us. It should stand up to visual and electronic inspection. As far as they know, I'm an ally."

"As far as I know, you're their ally."

"What, I'm walking you into a trap? Dana, anyone above the level of janitor at Roush could have you killed within three hours if they wanted to, just by picking up the phone and having an assassin sent to your grimy little basement office in DC. And I wouldn't be too sure that the janitors couldn't do that too. Get this through your head–they don't think you're a threat. Maybe you should be grateful that they're still operating on 1960s principles; to them women are annoying inconveniences to be obviated by the pending development of artificial wombs. They–don't–care."

The last three words hung in the warming air as we pulled up to the gate.

****

Jason Lindsay had worn his Roush badge for the press conference. With careful application of enhancement algorithms, Frohike had managed to capture a good image of it. Jason Lindsay could kiss my ass, the son of a bitch had gotten the better nose out of the deal. The friend's van had a state-of-the-art ID cutting machine as part of its equipment, either that or Frohike pulled it out of his portable hole, he was always a big D & D fan. There was an obvious computer stripe on it which we couldn't code correctly, not without access to a land line and a few hours anyway, but we were hoping that the visual ID would be good enough to get me through the door.

My job was to become Jason Lindsay.

These days they make hair dye for men, but I had to buy cover stick to get rid of the mole that Jason Lindsay didn't have, so the woman behind the counter at the tiny drugstore in the nameless town an hour from Bethel still thought that I was a transvestite.

Byers had brought along mousse and a tiny tube of hair gel, bless his well-groomed heart, and I slicked my sopping, blackened tresses back in Jason's 'do, which resembled Andy Garcia's.

As I fiddled with the makeup, I thought briefly that I'd overlooked one other model for the Gunmen: the Three Musketeers. After all I was apparently the Prisoner of Zenda, taking my brother's place though he was the true heir to the throne. First my life was a bad Star Wars subplot and now this. I wish the Gods or men who are pulling my strings could at least stick with one genre. I wouldn't mind being the hero of a Regency romance. Or maybe we could swing by the Brady Bunch for a change of pace. I always had a thing for Marcia.

As I dabbed the beige goo on my cheek, I found that I was grinning like an ass at myself in the rearview mirror. I was covering up my mole the same way Scully did every morning. Did she really think that she could fool me? I've seen fingerprints that forensics people missed and she thought that I wouldn't notice that she had a mole on her upper lip. I loved that mole, loved the fact that she felt compelled to hide it and loved the fact that her makeup wore off in the night and I frequently met the mole first thing in the morning before she awakened.

The blood loss must have been getting to me. Scully made me take iron pills; I was the only man my doctor had ever known to take them, but my own Iron Maiden insisted that it was the least I could do to fend off anemia, the way I managed to stumble into anything pointy. But I was rapidly outpacing my body's ability to replenish itself. I just hoped I'd make it to Scully's side in time for her to save me.

I tried to focus on Jason. The CNN footage only had a few seconds of him moving, stepping up to the podium, but even that little was enough to show me that he walked like a man who'd just gotten laid by an eighteen-year-old beauty queen. Which was probably close to the truth. He didn't swagger, he didn't care to piss anyone off without reason and swaggering could do that, but he walked, well, satisfied. He moved liquidly, he was just old enough to have had deportment lessons if his parents/custodians/trainers had thought it appropriate. He would be an excellent dancer. He would be a world-class fuck.

I had more trouble with Jason at first because I thought that he wasn't the kind of man whose mind I usually inhabit, and part of me was praying that he was somewhat like me. After I realized that he was well aware of Roush's real enterprise I was able to apply the standard techniques. I breathed Jason in; when I breathed out my voice was inflected, dramatic, smoother, with a shading of down-home drawl, a pitchman's voice, a continent apart from my own toneless drone.

When Jason told Byers that he was ready the little guy couldn't conceal his involuntary shudder.

The guard didn't even look twice at the ID, just smiled and said hello. I gave him a casual, ironic half-salute, and he held the door for me.

I've got the whole world right here, in my pants, wrapped around my great big dick, I smiled.

There was a card reader after all. I swiped the badge with appropriately manly nonchalance (thank God the reader had a little sign showing you which way to hold the stripe or it might have ended right there) and looked surprised when the machine beeped an accusing red.

"Celine decided to do my laundry," I said with a laugh. "This was in the pants–two thousand dollar pants, do you believe it, and she decides they should go in the 'synthetics' cycle, the washer looked like a cat exploded in it. She made it up to me for the pants but it looks like she managed to demagnetize the card too."

The guard laughed with me, we were two great guys sharing a laugh at the crazy ways of women, and, earning my eternal gratitude, he unclipped his own card and buzzed me through. "You'd better get a replacement."

"For Celine or the card?"

I stopped laughing as the fire alarm began to whoop. The guard ran one direction, I ran the other. I felt Scully nearer with every pulse of light and noise.

****

The soldier held the door for us and gave us his best manly-man smile, obviously thinking that we were a fully lickable pair. Marita gave him a last soulful glance as the door closed and he grinned as if she'd smooched him. Then she did something to the door, which bleeped reproachfully at her. "It's locked from the inside now," she said. "We can find everything we want without interruption."

They'd had the lighting done by Conspiracies Inc. and it was of course dim, indirect, and eerie. The liquid hum of hundreds of machines surrounded us, thrummed through the soles of my feet and in my inner ears.

Marita's skin had turned Kermit-the-Frog green from the light bleeding from the tanks. I was sure I didn't look any better.

There were rows and rows of tanks, at least a few hundred. Each large enough that a grown man could have curled up inside one, most of them were occupied by fetuses.

Marita went off to the side, looking at the charts strewn over a table by the wall. I couldn't be bothered to notice anything but the fetuses themselves.

We were in the facial deformities section, it seemed. Three eyes, one eye, two eyes but placed where the cheeks should have been. Thick rubbery lips, lipless mouths that couldn't close over large spadelike teeth, tusks that had torn through the protective flesh around the mouth. Trunks and missing noses and harelips. It is one thing to see such abnormalities in textbooks, in autopsies but another entirely to look at the mutated faces of what should have been your own healthy children, or discarded eggs washed out to sea in a flow of menstrual blood. I hadn't felt this queasy since I'd given up chemo for Lent.

I walked forward, into the group of fetuses with arm issues.

The lights on the monitors surrounding each tank indicated that the fetuses had heartbeats. I stepped closer and watched one flippered thing, more like a walrus than a person, breathe the green liquid. Its eyes were open and, when I waved my hand in front of it, they tracked the movement.

I am the walrus. Goo goo ga joob.

I turned away and headed deeper into the room.

At the back they had the ones that looked viable and regular. From what I could tell, there were no black (green) babies, no Asian (green) babies, and no Latino (green) babies either. I couldn't be sure about more than that, but the Project probably wasn't as anti-Semitic as Hitler had been; Exhibit A, the Mulder clan.

Behind the last row of tanks there was a door that opened without any need for a key. The lights were off and I flicked them; halogen burst into luminescence, nearly blinding me after the dimness of the other room.

It was a nursery. I smelled talcum powder and the plastic of disposable diapers and sterilized baby bottles. It was empty yet, but it looked ready to receive customers. It had even been decorated in a cheerful Sesame Street theme; the New World Order wasn't going to be populated by kids who'd been deprived of sensory stimulation during those vital early months. I wondered if the Children's Television Workshop was connected to the Project. Public television–is it really a threat to your children? Is the constant call for cooperation more sinister than sharing cookies?

The monitors burbled complacently. These babies were going to be decanted without incident. Not too hot, not too cold, but just right.

These weren't my eggs, or any other woman's eggs, not any more. They were new beings, utterly unique and capable of becoming individuals.

Unless, of course, their creators decided that their usefulness was up. Or unless the chromosome flavor of the week didn't work out well and they perished, in horrible pain, before their birthdays caught up with the number of fingers they had. Or unless their controllers ran out of the "treatment" used to keep them alive in Earth's alien environment.

Emily…I think I may have said the name aloud. What good did her life do for her? Pain and shots and slow deterioration, and a succession of women none of whom could really be called "mother." Such mothers Emily had: mindless and decaying in a nursing home, bloodless and slaughtered in a bathtub, heartless and deranged in a secret facility. That would be me.

This room had hundreds of Emilys, but each story of suffering would have its subtle variations, its individualized Hells. If they were lucky, a few of these silent slime-coated infants would grow up to be as well-functioning as Mulder or I was, a hell in and of itself.

Over my dead body.

I strode over to the side of the room, where Marita was gathering files and making them into neat stacks. I ignored her and pulled cabinets and drawers open, looking for something powerful, something — hard.

There was a fire ax just inside the side storage room, whose door I pushed open in desperation when all I could find in the cabinets was baby wipes and diaper cream.

It broke the tanks with ease, though my arms began to ache after about twenty or so.

When I got to the normal-looking babies, Marita slid over to me. "Leave these alone!" she snapped. "There's nothing wrong with them."

"Says the woman with the green pimple on the back of her neck," I said, and sucker-punched her. She went down and didn't get up, her high heels kicking feebly in the growing layer of green goo on the linoleum.

By that time, someone had figured out that there was something wrong in the lab, and lights were flashing in my eyes, distracting me. Red lights on green made the scene seem a little like Christmas in Hell. I finished with the tanks. Then I went back to the briefcases, pulled out the bottles of gas, and began to pour.

15
Come, children, give me your hands,
Give your mother your hands to kiss them,
O the dear hands and O how dear are these lips to me,
And the generous eyes and the bearing of my children! I give you happiness but nowhere in the world.

The flames were spreading rapidly. The green liquid was flammable, and fire swept across the floor faster than my eyes could track it. Glass popped somewhere in the lab.

My gas trail had done more damage than I'd thought; the line of fire that looped into the storage room at the side of the lab flared and I heard a hollow boom as something exploded a few rooms away. I could feel the oxygen leaching out of the air as it fed the fire. My hair rose away from my face and shoulders in the artificial simoom of the air currents.

Marita had gotten to her knees, scrabbling to try to save the fetus nearest her, crooning wordless reassurance. Its limbs moved feebly as she reached for it.

The flames caught her as she staggered to her feet, cradling the dying fetus. Marita was covered in the green stuff from her struggles on the floor, and the fire coursed over her body, caressing the places Mulder had touched. The places I had touched. She screamed as her hair began to catch.

One of the vats that was still standing tipped over, brought down by something I couldn't see.

Among the shards of glass and the gush of green there was a baby, full-term or beyond. Its little fists twitched once, twice. I could see it coughing, spewing green fluid as it tried to adjust to the world of air.

It wriggled, and I could see that it was a boy. He managed one real breath, and opened his mouth to scream anger at the world for bringing him so roughly into it.

The flames swept over him, and I turned away.

I could see into the nursery as well, which had caught fire through the connecting door from the main lab. Empty cribs and changing tables spewed gouts of flame from the lines of gasoline I'd poured on them. The stink was incredible, wafted to me on the heat. The hot air, rising, made all the cheerful mobiles twist and bob. Ernie and Bert from Sesame Street smiled at me with their blind plastic eyes. I felt sweat beading at my hairline, running down the hollow of my throat where one drop trembled against the tiny cross whose warmth throbbed against me like a mockery.

Suddenly unable to tolerate it any longer, I reached up and pulled hard, so hard that I could feel the skin at the back of my neck part and the salty blood mix with sweat and hair to sting painfully. The chain broke and slithered to the floor as I flung the charm, the idol, the broken God into the flames, giving it once again to my child. My children. I saw it falling into the gold of the fire, a black speck against the conflagration, and then it was gone.

Mulder screamed my name.

I was not terribly surprised that he'd made it, nor that his timing ensured that he was too late to do anything.

He moved closer, not quite so fast as the flames were spreading around the room. He grabbed me by the shoulders and looked back into the lab, horrified, where Marita was still burning like a candle.

"We've got to get out of here! I'll get her, just go!"

I smiled a little and stared harder at the fire.

I felt his gaze, cooler than the inferno around us. He saw what I had become; he saw that I would not leave of my own volition while my children's fate was yet uncertain.

He could have saved Marita, who wanted to live. Instead he slung me over his shoulder, knocking the breath out of me, and began running for the exit. I struggled a little, for form's sake. I had nothing against survival particularly.

The fresh paint on the walls was beginning to blister and peel. Burning plastic soured the air and there was a faint whiff of the smell I'd known before, from Mulder's clothes when he was exposed to the toxic blood of the shape-shifting thing and from Emily's hospital room even through the face mask they'd forced me to wear. It made my eyes sting and water, though I couldn't really feel anything. Perhaps multiple exposures to the toxic fumes had built up a little resistance. Mulder was crying, but his gait was steady.

We passed security doors blown off their hinges, safety glass that had shattered in glossy green cubes all over the floor. Mulder stumbled a few times, and finally I grabbed his gel-stiffened hair and he stopped. "Put me down," I commanded, and though he couldn't have heard me exactly over the keening of the fire alarm and the sirens that were audible even from inside the building, he knew what I meant.

He dropped me to the floor almost too suddenly for me to keep my balance, and I had to steady myself against him with one hand. He looked at me, and the smoke and noise and heat dropped away because I was too surprised to notice anything but his face.

Mulder was *angry* with me. He was distraught, anyone could have identified the emotion, but his rage was directed particularly at me. I hadn't seen that, excluding the times he was under the influence of psychoactive drugs, since–well, I couldn't remember when Mulder in his right mind had been furious at me. Upset that I wouldn't go along with some piece of craziness, sure.

He made an impatient face because I was just staring at him, when even a psycho like Mulder knew that running was really the more important item on the agenda, and he grabbed my arm and pulled so that we were running in tandem.

I'd memorized the layout of the facility in order to get in, but I hadn't given any thought to getting out and I didn't recognize the path we were taking. Mulder appeared completely confident, but that wasn't any evidence that he knew where the fuck we were. Now we were in what appeared to be a corridor of offices, with nameplates and Dilbert cartoons on the closed doors.

He stopped in front of one door. "Jason Lindsay, Public Relations," the sign said. He loosened his grip on me and kicked the door open; it gave at once, cheap-ass construction, because who's going to try to break into the P.R. guy's office? Who but Mulder.

We ducked into the room, me following Mulder like always. I closed the door so that we wouldn't be obvious to any searchers. When had he made this adventure his own? Fuck it, I thought, and swept my eyes around the room, intending to drag him out.

Until I saw the pictures on the wall. A man who was almost Mulder shaking Ronald Reagan's hand, and George Bush's, and Clinton's too. That man with lots of fat executives and the ever-present Bill Gates. With a woman who I thought was an actress on one of NBC's comedies, Friends maybe.

He was looking around the room like he'd just landed on the moon.

"What the hell is this?" I asked, and he noticed my existence again.

"Jason Lindsay gave a press conference for Roush a few weeks ago. Danny said…I just guessed…fuck. . . help me," he gave up and grabbed a computer disk, whatever Jason hadn't finished before he left for the weekend, and handed it to me. "We need to take some evidence with us."

"Mulder, I just torched an entire gene-splicing lab, and you want to take a *disk* from the P.R. guy as a souvenir?" He was already pulling file cabinets open, grabbing files at random, piling them on the desk.

Mulder looked up and gave me the most frightening smile I'd ever seen. "As you pointed out, you torched it. Not much evidence left there, right? Want to go back?."

There were shouts from the hall outside, feet pounding past. Then silence again. Mulder had an armful of files, and he seemed to think that was enough. He put his ear to the door, then threw it open and stuck his fool head out. No one blew it off, so he motioned for me to follow and then guided me to the stairs under a flashing red light and an Exit sign.

>From above us in the stairwell, I could hear doors banging and men shouting. The smell of smoke was stronger here. The walls were covered in bilious yellow paint, and then there was a flash and a chunk of paint-covered concrete nearly took my ear off.

Someone was firing at us from above. Mulder cursed and shoved me down the stairs, and we scrambled as best we could to get out of the line of fire, pressed against the wall for minimum exposure and descending.

I reached for my gun, but it wasn't in its holster. I couldn't remember what had happened to it.

Mulder, miraculously, was currently in possession of his own weapon, and he transferred the files to his left hand and aimed the gun upwards, scanning to see if the gunman was following us. There were no further shots, but there was so much noise that I couldn't tell if there were footfalls on the stairs.

Two flights further down and the paint color changed to a cobwebby grey; a sign on the wall informed us that we'd reached level P1. At the landing, the stairs ended and there was a door in the wall. Mulder yanked on the round metal knob and the door stayed exactly where it was. He swore again and twisted and jiggled the knob, but nothing changed.

He motioned me back with a wave of his gun hand and aimed for the top hinge. I thought about it as I covered my eyes and ducked away from the door: the electronics of the locks at the facility were too complicated to be defeated by a simple shot blowing out part of the locking mechanism. But what you can't go through, you can often go around, and the hinges were the most efficient way to do that.

The second shot, though, wasn't from his gun, and he was immediately on the ground beside me, twisting and rolling to get in position to return fire. I smelled blood and knew that he must have been shot, but he was still reacting well and I didn't have time for an interrogation of the sort required to get Mulder to admit injury.

"I've got a gun in my ankle holster," he hissed as he fired once, just to keep the bad guy wary. I scrambled down his body, feeling his hard ass and legs under my hands in a way that might once have embarrassed me, until I reached his basic black socks and the leather holster strapped around his leg. I retrieved the little gun–it wasn't even an automatic, I noted with disgust as I straddled his body to get a better angle on anyone coming down the stairs.

The man above us was shouting for backup, and now I could hear steps on the stairs, thudding down towards us. I bent my head a little so that I could speak in Mulder's ear. "Get the other hinge." He nodded, once, and twisted under me to aim correctly, and I braced myself on my left hand and waited.

The soldier came around the turn of the stairs, hunched over to minimize the size of the target he presented. I shot him just under his right knee. He screamed, high and resonant in the confines of the stairwell, and tumbled forward, almost to where Mulder was still straining to aim right.

I shot him again, this time in the face, and he jerked once and was still. He was wearing a flak jacket over jeans and a T-shirt–it looked as if he'd been hastily rousted out of bed to come after us, and the haste had been deadly. I grabbed his semiautomatic and stuck the girly gun in the waistband of my pants, in case it came in handy later.

Mulder fired and the door shuddered. The lower hinge wasn't completely blown off, but he got into a half-standing position and kicked at the bottom, and the top began to tilt into the stairwell, leaning dangerously over him as it began to twist off under its own weight. The undefeated lock at the doorknob held on, but it wasn't designed to keep a block of solid metal upright, and it squealed and gave way. Mulder pressed me back against the far wall, covering me with his body.

The door came down, held off the floor by the soldier's body, and we darted through and were in a parking lot. Cars dotted the structure, but most of the spaces were empty. Mulder's head whipped around, searching.

"Don't tell me you forgot where you parked," I yelled, my ears still ringing from the gunfire. He didn't even bother to look at me, only grabbed my arm again and pulled me away from the open door, behind a concrete pillar.

He fumbled in his pocket and pulled out a mini-mike. "We're on the parking level and we need you here now, guys." His tone was distracted, a little impatient, but much calmer than I'd expected.

There was noise from the direction of the stairwell and he pushed me against the pillar, getting ready to dodge around the concrete to fire at whoever was coming for them. I raised the semiautomatic and prepared to go around the other side.

There was a screech of rubber, crying out as it got transferred from wheels to garage floor, and a black paneled van careened around a corner and headed directly toward them. The soldiers in the stairwell began to fire, so I inferred that the van was on our side and poked my head out to lay down some covering fire. Mulder grabbed me back, roughly, even though I'd already begun to pull back, and he looked at me as if he were surprised that I'd risk death, appalled by my foolhardiness. I almost laughed, and then the van doors slid open right in front of us, we jumped in, and I was knocked into the back by the force of the acceleration. Mulder barely got the door closed as we jolted over a speed bump, and I could see round bullet holes appearing in the body of the van from several exciting angles. Papers from the files we'd stolen flew like albino autumn leaves around us.

A crash shook the van, bouncing my head up and down like a week-old tulip, and the windshield shattered. I couldn't see very well from the back, but I thought that Byers was driving. Metal screeched and groaned, and sparks popped over the front of the van, and then we were through whatever barrier we'd hit and still accelerating.


16
I will bury them myself,
Bearing them to Hera's temple on the promontory;
So that no enemy may evilly treat them
By tearing up their grave.

 

We drove for hours, stopping for gas a few times. We were headed, I discerned, to California, where the boys would dissipate like smoke in wind and meet up again, when they could, in DC. Mulder probably had some plan for the two of us, but he didn't let me in on it.

He glared at me for a long time, bouncing around in the back of the van. There were no seats and the rubber mats that should have cushioned the bottom of the cargo area had been removed at some point, so we sat on painfully uneven metal and crud. His face writhed like a belly dancer when I examined his gunshot wound, which turned out to be reasonably minor, but he did allow me to touch him. He didn't say a word, limiting himself to sharp nods and headshakes. He didn't trust himself to talk to me in front of the others, which was fine by me.

We stopped for the night at another cheap motel in the middle of nowhere. Byers, still the most respectable-looking of the group (and I include Mulder and myself, because we were scorched), went to sign us in and returned with two sets of keys dangling from green plastic rectangles. Mulder held his hand up for one set, and all three of the Gunmen looked at me, then at Mulder, then me again, as if they were watching a tennis match. He flexed his fingers impatiently and Byers tossed a key over.

Mulder caught it out of the air like a hawk taking a pigeon.

We'd gotten adjacent rooms, so we couldn't expect to keep much private, not with the decibel levels I expected to reach. But it was an illusion of privacy, enough so that we could talk.

He opened the door and sardonically gestured me in first. I stalked past him and sat on the double bed furthest from the door, crossing my arms over my chest defensively. He closed the door and turned to lean on it, with his own arms crossed. I felt like I was in a gunfight. Draw, pardner.

"How did you find me?"

He looked at me balefully. "I read ahead in the script."

Fine.

"What comes next?"

He sighed and looked down at the straggly carpet. "If no one salvages any incriminating videotape from the fire, you could just go back to work."

I felt the air solidify into glass, encasing me, trapping me. "I could? What about you?"

"I'd say our effectiveness as a team is pretty much shot to hell, wouldn't you?" Some energy sinkhole in the room was sucking all the light away; his face blurred into darkness as I strained to see it.

I hugged myself more tightly, wondering when it had gotten so cold. "Just because I went off without you, Mulder? Did that insult your manhood?"

He twitched, lurched forward half a step, and I believed he was going to do me harm. One way or another. But he stopped and swung his fist against the grimy beige wall instead. I could feel the room shake with the impact.

I would have welcomed being that wall. "I'm sorry I killed your latest informant. She lost her nerve at a bad time."

He shook his head. "I don't care about that." There was a change in him, a gathering storm whose lightnings would transform him utterly. I was afraid of what the results would be.

"What do you care about, then?" It was the wrong move, I could tell instantly, a perfect opening. The lightning flashed–I thought I could feel it crackle in the air–and he flowed across the room and knelt in front of me, his hands pushing the crappy mattress down on either side of me.

"I care about you, Scully. About what you're becoming…what you've become. I think we need…we need help. Maybe some time away from one another…I just want you to work in the light, and I think you know you've gone too far into darkness right now."

Fuck. Where was the anger? Why wasn't he aiming it at me? I needed him to be angry so that I could be indifferent to it. His hands slid closer, brushing against my hips and I tried to stand up, but he was too close and I slumped back down without grace.

His face was buried in my neck and he was rocking me, crooning lullaby nonsense and I was so angry with him for infantalizing me. Except that I was also sobbing, without any idea how that had happened, and he had to stop being nice so that I could remember how to be strong.

He picked me up and turned so that I was on his lap and he was the one on the bed, still not letting me go, telling me how strong I was and how I was going to be all right. I didn't even have enough volition to struggle; my existence had narrowed to the need to force the next cry from my lungs and then curl inwards waiting for another. I couldn't stop wishing that he'd stayed mad.

I don't remember crying myself out. When I woke he was still wrapped around me and the motel room was invisible in the darkness. He was lying on my right arm, which had gone numb. I pulled it out from under him and he awoke.

His hand rubbed my face. My nose was congested and the burns from close contact with the fire were beginning to hurt, but I turned into his palm as if it were cooling snow. He made a sad-amused sound. "I know you don't want this from me," he said, as hoarse as if he'd been the one crying helplessly for hours, "but I don't have anything else to give." Then he stiffened and pulled away, singed somehow by his own words.

"What is it?" I choked out.

"There is…something else. I…I didn't tell you before because I thought you had too much to deal with already. I was right, but…you should know…I have some of your eggs."

I blinked in the darkness, feeling the sleep crusted in my eyes. "You have what?"

"I told you about the fertility clinic, about finding out that your eggs had been harvested." No, Mulder, you told a family court judge while I was sitting there, but let's not quibble. "I didn't tell you that I saw them, where they were kept. And I…I took a vial. I couldn't help it," he begged. "The Gunmen got someone to take a look–they were well-insulated, and they're still frozen. Over twenty, some might be viable…"

If I'd still believed in God, I would have prayed to Him to remove the anvil that had fallen on my chest, squashing me into that malodorous motel bed like Coyote caught in the trap he'd set for the Road Runner. I had only survived Bethel because, I thought, if I destroyed the place then the violation would be over.

"Wh–when were you going to tell me that part of the story?" I sat up, moving my numb arm around, welcoming the way that the pain forced me to think again.

"I don't know!" He rolled away and off of the bed, pacing in the darkness. "When you were a little further away from it, when you'd had some time to get over Emily. It's not like we've had the most open and friendly of relationships since then."

The anger hadn't disappeared, I discovered, only gone back into its cave. It could be called out when necessary. "Friendship has nothing to do with it, Mulder! That's what you've been missing all along. This is about my body, about what's been done to me and my children, and you had no right to conceal this from me. No right."

I could feel him nodding miserably. "I know that, Scully. I'm sorry." The other bed whined as he settled down on it. "I can never take back the decision not to tell you right then. But once I'd waited…each time was wrong. Should I have told you when you were seeing ghosts? While you were in the hospital for your tests? Maybe when the cancer had metastasized, maybe I really could have made your day then. San Diego might have been a good place to do it, maybe in the funeral parlor."

I flushed, glad he couldn't see me. But he knew, damn him.

"Scully," he said softly, and I leaned toward his black-coffee voice. "We're too fucked up to keep looking for the truth right now. When we get back, take the eggs. Do what you have to do with them. If you want–if you can–come back to me when you're ready."

"I won't leave the X Files just because you're having a personal problem with me," I said in a dead woman's voice.

He swallowed. "Then I'll leave, until and unless you're willing to trust me again. Skinner will be thrilled to make you AIC. He'll give you a good partner. I–I don't know why I'm doing this any more. As long as you do…I'll do whatever you want."

Sometimes, when a bone is broken and then left unattended, it heals wrong. The bones fuse and the limb is shortened, deformed. True healing can only come when the bone is re-broken and set right.

Is that what you were trying to tell me, Mulder? A medical metaphor for a medical doctor. I wish I'd understood. All I felt was the unbearable cracking and splintering as I broke again.

17

Happiness is a thing no man possesses. Fortune
May come now to one man, now to another, as
Prosperity increases; happiness never.

In the end, I did end up visiting Charlie after all.

It was an incredible relief when Byers pulled the van into the dusty driveway of Charlie's low hacienda-style house nestled between a pair of barren hills outside Sedona. A chicken walked in front of the van and gave me an evil glare. The Gunmen huddled in the van and refused to come out. Throughout the trip, Langly had been making noises about getting back to DC to analyze Jason Lindsay's files and try to find out more about him, and Frohike had been giving Mulder dirty looks, as if acting distrustful were a really cool way of showing Mulder that he cared. From what I gathered, Mulder was certain that his DNA was shared with Jason and, likely as not, ten of Jason's closest friends. And I thought he needed to worry about whether I was sleeping around.

Mulder shouldered his knapsack and followed me to the house, the hot wind blowing the jacket of his ruined suit around him. Charlie emerged from the shadows of the house and enfolded me in a fraternal hug. He was thinner than I had seen him and the gray was starting to show in his shoulder-length hair and his full beard, but he was hard and muscular against me and seemed as cool as well water.

"Took your time, Squirt, " he said and smiled.

"Had stuff to do," I replied.

There had been a joke when we were growing up that Charlie could only say a certain amount of words per day. When his allotment was used up, he went silent as a stump. In a house full of jabbering Scullys Charlie walked in his own silent zone.

"Your boss called. Twice yesterday, once today, I let the kids answer the phone and they were real unhelpful."

He looked over at Mulder.

"Charlie Scully."

"Mulder."

"C'mon in, Juanna's made lunch. You wanna invite your friends in."

"They're leaving," Mulder said, "and they aren't very social."

I think Juanna and Charlie had five children, but I wasn't sure. It was a small herd of small people running hither and yon through the low, wide rooms of the house, and it was hard to get a head count. Juanna turned out to be a tiny Latina/Native American gold-skinned woman with an infectious laugh. I tried to help her get lunch on the table and found that I was staring at simple things like forks as though I had never seen them before. She patted my shoulder and didn't say anything. For that I was grateful.

Lunch was served at a battered table that looked as though it could have dated back to the Spanish settlement of Texas. I took the Mexican beer that Charlie offered me and let it dull the sharper bits of my mind. While I ate mildly spicy beans and rice, Charlie and Mulder talked of vague male things, of four wheel drive vehicles and how much rain fell last year. It dulled to a mosquito drone in the back of my head.

Suddenly there was a clatter of silverware falling to the ground, Mulder paled and stood. Charlie pointed him toward the bathroom; they'd already bonded in that strange way men have. I didn't know who I was angrier at for that.

"He's a good man, Dana," Charlie said gently as the door clanged shut and the water began to run. "You should cut him some slack."

I formed my face into a smile. "You don't know what you're talking about."

"I know what I see. You've been hurt, but all he wants is to help you."

"Charlie, if that were all he wanted I never would have been hurt."

"Y'know, Squirt, you've got to forgive people for not being perfect."

There was a muffled moan from the bathroom and I rose to check on him. He opened the door as I approached. His lower lip and chin were covered in blood, so bright that it had to be arterial, dripping like drool from a baby's mouth.

"I think–" he said, garbled by all the blood, and then collapsed. Behind him on the sand-colored tile floor was a trail of blood from the pink-stained toilet bowl. In that well-organized civilian bathroom it looked as fake as Karo syrup with red food coloring.

Charlie was already running for the phone.

****

I woke to a world muffled with painkillers. It's a little like being a kid all wrapped up against the cold, tubby as a snowman. You're mostly insulated but your fingers and toes get cold and numb.

Scully perched on a nearby chair, reading an issue of the National Review so old that it had Reagan on the cover. She looked up when she heard my breathing change.

"You had emergency surgery to cauterize the ulcer," she said quietly. "You lost a lot of blood, as usual, but that shouldn't matter much. The real problem is the bullet wound. I'm supposed to report things like that, and now I could lose my license because they wanted to know what hospital I'd treated you at and I didn't have a damn thing to say."

I gaped at her. Even unconscious and bleeding, I'd apparently managed to fuck up again.

"Eurf." I muttered and rattled the IV line that kept me bound to the bed. "What did you tell them?" There, that came out right. I only sounded like I was talking through five layers of paper bags.

"I said you'd taken a graze in a hostage situation down in Texas and waved my badge around. You heal fast; it's not totally outside the realm of possibility."

I heal fast. She'd commented on it before, but I hadn't given it much thought. Chalked it up to my supremely masculine force of will, I guess; real men don't get incapacitated by gunshot wounds even when major arteries are compromised. But of course one would want one's master race to heal quickly, especially if one were expecting the Neanderthals to resist the new order. Jason probably never had any problems cutting himself shaving either.

Well, none of that would keep Scully in possession of her badge. I was glad she'd already thought of an explanation, I hate to have to make it up as I go along. Scully's a much better liar than most people expect her to be. I nodded to let her know that I'd understood.

"Getting your story straight?" Skinner's voice made me try to sit up, which only served to cut through the drug haze and remind me that my abdomen had been cut up from the inside with what felt like a Weed Whacker.

"Sir," Scully acknowledged coolly. Her shoulders twitched, and I knew she was shocked, but the voice was the same as always. She should bottle that voice and sell it as coolant. Engine overheating would be a thing of the past.

"So, now that Agent Mulder knows what to tell the fine folks at the hospital when they ask, are you going to think about telling me the truth?"

"How did you know where we were?" she replied incuriously. I could feel the blood rushing through my veins, running to my stomach where it bit at my flesh.

"Your brother's wife was very helpful when I arrived at her door. I think she's impressed that I'd actually come all the way from Washington to look at you two."

"I'm impressed," I offered. So he'd lied to me about not knowing where Scully had said she was going. Maybe he thought that he really wanted an audition in Scully's boudoir. Maybe I should have encouraged that, it might have been better for everyone concerned. Instead I gave him a shit-eating grin aided by the painkillers that, with me not moving, were buoying me up like the Princess on her twenty feather mattresses; without the pea in my stomach and the AD in my face, I could have gone straight to sleep.

"Correct me if I'm wrong," Skinner offered, "but last time we met, wasn't your hair brown?"

"Only my hairdresser knows for sure," I said, and batted my eyelashes. Scully turned to stare at me, and I could see that she hadn't noticed until Skinner had pointed it out. It figures. I mean, Scully had been busy, but still it hurt some. But I relentlessly persist in forgetting that Scully would need a radio telescope or a Stryker saw to notice something happening to me.

Scully stood. "Excuse me," she ordered and walked out the door. We both looked after her. It wasn't very Scullyesque to take a bathroom break in the middle of a confrontation. But I'm damned if I know what Scullyesque really is these days.

****

I felt the cramp for about five minutes before I understood it. I hadn't had cramps since high school; when I went away to college and met George I started on the Pill, and I'd never stopped even when I wasn't sexually active because I enjoyed the freedom from nausea and the two-day flow instead of the previous week-long pain. Recently, of course, that hadn't been a problem, even without the Pill.

I excused myself and went to the bathroom.

My panties were soaked in blood, absolutely ruined. I stared at them.

And remembered dry heat in an anonymous motel, remembered speculating about what made Marita worth saving, Marita's sly assurance that she'd given me what Mulder never could.

She was wrong about that too, the twit.

So there I was, absolutely the same as before the abduction, really. Except for the scar on the back of my neck and the microchip inside. And the three years of nightmares and rage. You could bleed every member of the conspiracy that had entrapped me dry and still not have a river deep enough to wash away what had been done.

This blood wasn't even a down payment.

But it wasn't water, either. It was real and it might have something to do with the future.

I cleaned myself up as best I could, stuffed some toilet paper into my underwear, and went out to face all the men who would never, as hard as they tried, understand exactly why I'd gone to Bethel.

Mulder was waiting, baiting Skinner like a trapped and angry bear. He was going to let me explain, and his deference seemed more like trust than abdication.

And as I looked at him, as he decoded the encrypted message on my face and understood that I'd been reborn, I realized that I had been wrong. Mulder understood. He didn't approve, but we'd never asked that from one another and I wasn't about to start.

Maybe understanding was enough, for now.

That and hot sex, of course.

"Sir," I said and focused my attention on Skinner, "I need to tell you a story about a woman who was betrayed."

I gave him as much of the story as he could handle, which was everything except a night in a seedy motel and the exact status of my ova at the time of their incineration, to wit their already-completed union with somebody's sperm. As far as he was concerned I'd destroyed a bunch of haploid cells that had been stolen from me, that were mine by right.

I offered him my badge, though I couldn't offer my lost gun, and he just looked at me.

Finally he sighed. "Step outside, Agent Scully."

Mulder looked at us suspiciously but didn't protest.

We stood close in the bright busy hospital hall and his voice was low. "I thought that you were different than Mulder. That you were in control of the journey you were taking."

"Sir, no one is in control but the men behind these experiments. I don't deny that…" I couldn't finish. Deny everything, Mulder's voice in my head suggested. "What could I have done within the law? When I had indisputable proof of my d–my daughter's relationship to me I was scoffed at, told that I had no right to interfere with her care. She was there in front of the people who supposedly run this country and they paid no attention. Should I have gone to them again?"

Skinner blinked and put his hands in his pockets. "I had hoped that you would not decide to use the very methods these men use to hide the truth."

"Some things are more important than making the truth known to others. What I did–that is my truth, sir, and I accept its consequences."

He nodded, and I felt something tall and strong and faintly dangerous that had always been between us crumble and disappear.

"I'm sorry for your loss," he said, and meant more than Emily.

"After the disappearance of the man you and I know as the Smoker, I don't have much insight into the corridors of power. If there are repercussions from this adventure, we will all discover them at the same time. I won't perjure myself, Agent Scully, but…I understand why you felt you had to break the rules. Just remember that, without proof of wrongdoing, we're locked into an endless cycle of retribution and coverup, and whatever temporary victory you feel you may have achieved is meaningless if the larger objectives behind this project are obtained."

I nodded once and turned to go back to Mulder.

18
I loathe your prosperous future; I'll have none of it,
Nor none of your security–it galls my heart.

Two days later I was released from the hospital with a couple of bottles of pills and a lengthy owner's guide for my ulcer. The diet described was implausible in the extreme. Where was I going to find boiled rice and bland food when I was in the field? I could just see myself with an MIB lunchbox in my hand going to question a suspect. Life without coffee was almost not worth living.

"We need to stop at a store," Scully said.

"Why?"

"I need to buy some underwear."

I considered that for a minute. In the hospital, when Scully had returned from the bathroom, she'd been brighter, she glowed like a being from a different plane. I could tell that something had happened–and what does a woman find out when she goes to the bathroom?

Could Scully have encountered one of the Jeremiah Smiths at Roush?

And then I remembered Marita, burning for the dying children. She'd been with Scully, and it would be comforting to think that she wasn't really a person. I remembered one time when I thought for sure Marita had drawn blood, I could feel the wetness on my skin. The next morning when I stood with my back turned to the mirror and looked over my shoulder there were just the faintest of pink welts; by the afternoon I could have gone swimming and not drawn any comments. Well, not about the marks on my back, anyway.

"Was it Marita?"

She blinked, blue eyes winking out like candle flames and then returning full-force, and I chalked up another victory. Scully nonplused is not something you see every day.

"Probably."

And that was all she'd say. I don't know if I'll ever understand the details of what went on between the two of them. I'd like to think that Scully was a little bit jealous, that she dug into Marita with her sharp little claws.

****

Charlie drove us back to Phoenix. Mulder had a round-trip ticket for the next day, and I'll never know how he timed it that way when he made the reservation. I'd suspect him of actually coordinating these things with the Conspiracy, but maybe he really is psychic. He bought me a one-way seat next to him, which gave me an idea.

I made Charlie let us off in Scottsdale, the ritzy Phoenix suburb, at the first really expensive mall we came to. We hugged and he shook Mulder's hand. Then he turned back to me. Mulder backed away, with that exquisite sensitivity he shows for everyone but me.

"Do right by him," Charlie whispered to me as he grabbed me again, squeezing so tight that my burns ached. "I don't think you can do right by yourself unless you take him with you."

I smiled up at him and tugged on his beard. "Take care of yourself, Charlie. And try not to give too much advice, it'll ruin your reputation."

He nodded and left. Mulder looked up at the huge gold Lord & Taylor sign on the building in front of us and sighed. "What are we doing here, again?"

"Before we go back I figure I might as well get some use out of your ill-gotten gains."

"My dividend is sure going to drop now that you've set fire to my assets."

"Cracking bad jokes won't help when I liquidate your assets." A softball pitch, just for you, my easily amused partner.

I was not disappointed.

"Ooh, promise?"

Lord & Taylor had a wonderful women's department. Both DKNY and Tahari do wonders for short women like me, helping us go up and down, in and out in the right places. I love my cranberry suit with the black velvet lapels, don't get me wrong, but it's always bothered me that my partner has more suits than I do, when all *he* really needs to do is vary the shirt and tie. It's forced me to spend thousands of dollars over the years–it's amazing what I used to wear before I understood what it made me look like to stand next to him in my not-quite-right brown pantsuits.

It never occurred to me to exploit his wealth when we started sleeping together, I suppose mostly because I'd just assumed that he skimped on everything else to dress so well. I just hadn't been paying attention. Sure, the apartment was a hole, but it was in a nice neighborhood, and you've got to pay a lot in rent each month for the landlord to accept all the broken doors, gunshots, and assorted woundings Mulder has brought to the building over the years. But, even if I'd known, I don't think I would have demanded his credit cards. Certainly I'd wanted the physical release at least as much as he had; it's not like he needed to lure me with extra inducements.

The fact that I was spending Roush's money made it much easier. Now, maybe I could have demanded that he set up some foundation for abductees or "experiencers," as Jose Chung wanted to call them. But that wasn't very realistic and, frankly, I need at least as much psychic healing as anyone who'd be a candidate for a grant. Let me tell you, Donna Karan is a fabulous therapist.

Mulder didn't even blink when he signed the credit slip, though the sales staff did. I had them ship it straight back to Maryland; no need to make Mulder struggle under all those bags like some pussy-whipped husband in a sitcom.

We wandered through the AV department on our way to buy lingerie, and Jason Lindsay's handsome face was displayed on a hundred TV sets. The shades varied slightly; on some sets you could see the blue highlights in his inky hair and in others it was a muddier black-brown. The drapes behind him on the podium changed from the blue of a late summer twilight sky to periwinkle, but in all of them he was saying the same thing: Terrible, terrible accident. Promising lives lost, promising research avenues destroyed. Heart goes out to the families and friends of all involved. The fire started among a batch of highly volatile chemicals and swept through the facility too fast for full evacuation, and the rumors about firefighters finding locked corridors and smoke-choked corpses who'd been sealed in were completely unfounded.

He was handsome enough that I almost wanted to believe him.

I nudged Mulder, who was staring at the images, at the funhouse reflection of himself. "Is he…?"

"I'm not sure," he said. "I'm guessing yes. I'd imagine that we were conceived in adjoining petri dishes anyway."

"There would be records of something like that," I said.

"The fake ones or the real ones? He's older than I am, we probably weren't really made side by side…but it's nice to know that Roush is staying in the family."

The news changed to show a story about a baby in some national park who'd fallen through a crevice into a tiny cave and the heroic rescuers trying to get her out, and we moved on.

Victoria's Secret coughed up a flurry of underwear, at which Mulder could only goggle. I think he wanted to smirk but couldn't quite pull it off. He came close when the salesgirl offered to model a few of the nighties for him and I informed her that we were going to preserve the element of surprise on that a little longer.

Mulder slept on the plane back east, his head drooping sideways until his hair, which was beginning to show brown roots, was brushing my face. I could have moved away, but I decided not to. All the way home, I listened to the sound of his breathing and counted the gray hairs that were beginning to peek through the brown and black.

So many years, so much time, so many unfulfilled promises, so many betrayals marked in each of those gray hairs. I wasn't sure that I wanted to add to them, wasn't sure that I wouldn't cause a skunk-like stripe of white to bisect his head, and I knew that I didn't want to add to the damage that had already been done.

I didn't know what I wanted anymore. I just wanted to go home.

The End

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