Hem Ben Ik by LiviaB

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Hem Ben Ik cover

Title: Hem Ben Ik

Author: Livia B

Website: Livia’s Ink spot … http://go.to/inkspot

You can find a formatted, easy-to-read version of this story at: http://www.stoodjood.com/livia/fanfic/hbi.html (via web.archive.org)

 Rating: NC-17 for nasty language and some extremely naked pretzels

Category: S

Content: SA, SkA, M/S RST, Sk/O, and a soupcon of some slashy UST.

Spoilers: Everything through Requiem, plus a little smidgen of Doggett, but no S8 spoilers otherwise.

Archiving: Auto-archives, okay. All others, please ask first.

Disclaimer Haiku:
Legal restrictions
Make me sing this harsh refrain:
I do not own them.

Notes: At the end.

Summary: When no one is who they seem to be, whom do you trust?

Book One

(Archivists note: Sadly no further installments were found. Although this is a complete story, prepare for some disappointment. If you know of any more to it, let me know asap! – )

Hem Ben Ik, 1/7

by Livia B

Skinner has been keeping secrets again.

Scully has suspected it for a few weeks now. She has been studying him carefully – watching as he shifts his gaze from hers and fidgets with the corner of a file folder, watching the way he is inexplicably unavailable at odd hours, watching the way he slinks off to unexplained meetings. The way he’s been smiling quietly to himself when he thinks no one is looking.

Under normal circumstances, she would be pleased for him, for whatever peace of mind he has found. But now it’s about neglect, and Scully is irritated. Skinner is no longer concerned about her safety. He has set aside the search for Alex Krycek and Marita Covarrubias, and will not explain why. He has released the overnight bodyguards outside her door, and he hasn’t called to check on her for the past three weekends.

His step is lighter.

“Is everything all right, Sir?” she asks him one afternoon after an especially long and arduous strategy session with Doggett and Kersh.

“Hm?” he asks from the edge of nowhere.

“Sir?” she repeats, attempting to receive the notice from him that she used to garner.

“Oh, of course. Proceed. Keep me informed.” He waves her off without another glance.

Skinner is keeping secrets again, and Scully is not amused.

Later in the day, while she and Doggett are busy assembling their notes for long, separate nights of work, he comments to her, “The Assistant Director seems distracted.”

“Yes, he does,” she responds in a bland voice, far from eager to demonstrate the extent of her concern.

There is a long silence during which Scully begins to realize she is being watched. She looks up.

“You think it has anything to do with the work?” he asks.

She finds herself feeling suddenly possessive. Skinner is her ally to speculate on, not his. She raises her eyebrows, hoping he will understand that the subtle blending of amusement and chastisement. “If it doesn’t have anything to do with the work, Agent Doggett, it’s his business.”

To Doggett’s credit, he drops the subject and wishes her a good evening.

The following morning, while they wait outside Skinner’s office for a review of their current case load, she pays particular attention to every detail of their surroundings. The potted ivy plant on Kimberly’s desk is thinning out a little as it gets longer. There is a long white scratch near the kickplate of Skinner’s door. Doggett’s suit is nearly identical to the one he wore yesterday. The subtle pinstripes are missing from the dark cloth, but appear instead on his tie.

Men have it easy, she thinks to herself, irritated that she chose another too-tight shirt. It is uncomfortable, but she dares not adjust it. Doggett is a skilled investigator, and she wants to give him no more information about her than he needs to have right now.

He chooses this moment to lean over and whisper conspiratorially, “I hope he’s on his game today. I don’t think I’ll be able to go through all these cases twice.”

She turns to him in surprise as the door to Skinner’s office opens. They both turn their heads.

A woman exits the office and makes eye contact with Doggett immediately. “John,” she says in a friendly voice, and walks over to shake his hand as they both rise.

The woman is attractive, Scully notes, still committing her surroundings to memory, detail by detail. Approximately thirty years of age, wavy brown hair, blue-green eyes. Light tan, full lips; big-breasted and long-legged. Mulder’s type. She might remind Scully of Diana Fowley, were her angles more severe or her expression less kind.

“Great to see you, Audrey,” he responds, smiling. “It’s been a while.”

“Well, with you subterranean now and me up on seven…” She returns his smile, and hers is playful.

“Don’t go there, Audrey.” He turns to Scully. “Do you know Agent Scully?”

The woman’s smile broadens. “By reputation only. Glad to meet you,” she says, holding out her hand in greeting. “Audrey Vos.”

Scully knows the name. Vos is a profiler in Behavioral Sciences, and a popular one at that. With her easy smile and abundant cleavage, it’s obvious why. Scully shakes the offered hand, and tries to remember to be friendly. “It’s good to meet you, Agent Vos.”

Since word of her water-tossing tirade spread throughout the building, other Agents have been treading lightly around her. “Don’t cross Scully,” they’ve been whispering to each other. “That freak Mulder ran off on her and she’s taking it out on everybody else.” She hears it in the whispered conversations in the restroom, or in snippets as she passes by halting conversations. She knows what they are saying, and although she cares nothing for their opinion of her, she is beginning to understand the importance of fitting in. With as much at stake as she has, she must not continue to alienate any potential source of information.

“So how’s everything going in the paranormal corner of our little investigative world?” Vos asks Doggett.

“It’s going, I’ll give you that,” he says, “but I’ll be damned if I can explain it. There really is something to those stories, Audrey.”

“Tell me about it at lunch some time.”

He nods. “It’s a date.”

“Actually,” Vos continues, making mischievous eye contact with Scully, “I believe you owe me two lunches.”

He smirks.

“Why don’t you make it up to me by taking Agent Scully and me somewhere nice this week?”

He looks over at Scully with an expression of concern. Already it has begun, Scully thinks. He’s learned to be careful of her. She wonders if it’s a good or a bad thing, and offers just a shade of a smile in response.

Vos must notice the silent exchange, because she elaborates. “Don’t think of it as repayment of a debt, John. Think of it as a chance to be seen with two of the hottest properties in the Bureau. A regular harem.”

He chuckles. “How could I refuse an offer like that?”

With the shades of New York in his pronunciation, the implication is distinctly Godfatherish to Scully, and for some irrational reason, it amuses her. “Sounds good,” she replies before she has a chance to change her mind.

“Agents?” Skinner says at the door, and when she turns, she sees he appears amused as well. “Let’s get to it,” he tells them, the light tone somehow compatible with the implicit order in his words.

“See you later,” Vos says, leaving them to their meeting with the A.D. They both nod and follow Skinner into his office.

When Skinner stops ahead of them and makes a quick trip back to the open doorway, Doggett catches Scully’s eye and raises his eyebrows. She gives a very slight grin in response, concurring with his conclusion. Vos is in Behavioral Sciences, which falls under the purview of Assistant Director Arden. Her visit was most likely something other than professional in nature.

Then she considers the implications, and she arrives at a conclusion she doesn’t like: this woman’s wiles are distracting Skinner from his work, and it begins to upset her again. The grin remains on her face for a moment more, just slightly longer than she actually feels the emotion behind it.

To assuage her curiosity, she looks up this Agent Vos, and discovers she is a five-year veteran of the Bureau, previously a forensic psychologist for the San Francisco PD. PhD, Stanford, summa cum laude. She has an impressive background and excellent solve rates.

But her curiosity will not be allayed by data collected from an impersonal computer record, so that evening she borrows some equipment from her friends, and sets up shop outside Skinner’s building. As if to answer her questions, he approaches the building only minutes after she has settled in, his arm slung loosely around the shoulders of Agent Vos, his jaw relaxed for once and his eyes focused solely on the woman by his side.

And it should be enough, Scully tells herself, that Skinner is happy. She should let it go at that, this one woman whose warm smile pleases him and distracts him from the harshness of his life. She should be satisfied that her sometimes friend has found some measure of happiness in the midst of tragedy.

It should be enough that Vos is an esteemed professional with solid credentials and a solid education, adored by someone Scully normally respects.

Instead, it annoys her. It is not enough.

It is not enough to explain the dismissal of the guard agents outside Scully’s door. It is not enough to explain Skinner’s reticence to locate and incarcerate Krycek and Covarrubias. It is certainly not enough to explain the sudden absence of the baseline fear Scully has always felt in Skinner, thumping in him like a second pulse.

There is something missing from this explanation. She needs more.

The next day Scully follows Vos home, to a corner townhouse only blocks from Scully’s own home in Georgetown.

One cat – no, two – basil growing in the front window, a window box in the kitchen, filled to bursting with mixed herbs. Thick, broad leaves of the lily of the valley and lemon grass bunch together on the long outside wall. An American flag flaps idly over the front door. A small oxidized copper alien head peeks out of the rear hedge. A trio of East Indian children dash in and out of the shrubs, giggling.

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young play on the stereo. Deja Vu. We have all been here before.

Scully waits patiently, hidden amid thick lilac bushes, and aims the parabolic microphone through the kitchen window, to the woman on the telephone.

“I know you said it would be difficult, Reg, but this is important. I want them all out. Every last one. This change is almost complete, and there is too much at risk here. Walter has confirmed the dismissal of the guards, and she is vulnerable. I will not accept anything less than full compliance.”

Scully shivers at the mention of her own situation. This is what was missing; Skinner is being duped.

Vos shakes her head in frustration. “No, my order of protection extends only to outsiders, and you know that. YOU, on the other hand, have no such protection. Do your job, Reg.”

Scully knows of no Reg in Behavioral Sciences. That leaves only one uncomfortable conclusion.

“Yes, of course. Be thorough.” She hangs up the phone.

Scully hopes to see a reaction to the call, but there is none. Vos simply calls the cats, feeds them, and takes a container out of the refrigerator and loads it into the microwave oven.

The woman says little as she waits for her meal to heat up, except to play referee between two territorial cats. “Fergie, get away from Carlo’s dish. I MEAN it.” She removes a plate from a cupboard and extracts silverware from a drawer. After a few moments, she removes the meal from the oven, and moves into the living room.

Scully follows, returning to her car, and rolls down the window to aim the microphone. She has to slouch down in her seat to remain inconspicuous, and hopes that Vos will not look out the front window.

From her cramped perch, she can see less of the room than she would like, but she can see enough to know that Vos is sitting on the sofa, eating her dinner with one hand and tapping away at her notebook computer with the other.

Scully realizes how dull the single life must appear from the outside, and suddenly feels terribly lonely.

She spends a few minutes using the binoculars to examine what she can see through the window, and reads through the titles cramming the living room bookcase: “Chariots of the Gods?”, “The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated”, a trio of large softback volumes by Douglas Hofstadter, a half-shelf of Carlos Castaneda, “Understanding Computers and Cognition”, “Cognition: An Introduction to Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit”, “Destination Earth: A History of Alleged Alien Presence”, “Alien Base: The Evidence for Extraterrestrial Colonization of Earth”. She shudders with a familiar rankling.

Her cell phone rings and she jumps. She thinks of switching it off without answering, but the display reads that it’s Doggett.

“Scully,” she says in a low voice.

“Agent Scully, it’s Agent Doggett.” Has the man not used a cellular phone in the last year? “I hope I’m not interrupting anything important.”

“No, not at all,” she lies. She says no more than that, knowing he will elaborate. He always does. The man knows how to talk.

“I just wanted to let you know that Deputy Director Kersh asked for my assistance on a kidnapping case in Knoxville. I know we have a lot of cases on our plate, but none of them are make-or-break. I’ll be gone through the weekend, maybe a little longer. I hope you didn’t have anything urgent for us to look into.”

She most certainly does not. “No, not at all,” she repeats.

If he picks up on her false solicitude, he makes no indication of it.

She still has the binoculars to her eyes and the earpiece in place when she hears Vos’ own phone ring. She ends the call with an abrupt but polite, “Have a good trip. Call me when you get back.” Instead of pressing the “End” key, she simply turns off the phone so she can give her full attention to the conversation taking place inside Vos’ home.

“Hiya handsome,” Vos says lightly. “How’d everything go in Paree?” She smiles and laughs, nodding. “I thought he might. It was clean, I assume?” She smiles tersely. “Of course,” she replies playfully.

Then her expression becomes serious. “It’s time to go to Tunisia, Alex.”

Only one identity leaps to mind, and Scully shudders at the implications. Alex Krycek, whom her own boss and only confidant now refuses to locate.

“Yes. I’m planning a senior management meeting on Saturday. Can you get there, get it done, and get back here by then?”

Vos pauses, and her face lights up. “I knew there was a reason I kept you on the payroll.” She laughs. “Yes, that too.” And as suddenly as the smile crosses her face, it departs, leaving behind nothing. Her face is utterly blank. “Do you have him in your crosshairs?” She nods. “I’ll call you back.”

Scully knows what is coming, and her chin trembles. There can be no other explanation for the words she has heard.

Vos hangs up the phone, and for a moment she does nothing except rest her hand on the receiver. She is breathing harder, staring off into space. When she picks up the handset again and dials, Scully adjusts the parabolic in the attempt to narrow in on the receiver. She wants to hear what the other party is saying.

She is not successful.

“Jurgen,” Vos oozes insincerely. She pauses for a long while, and as there is no discernable reaction on Vos’ part, Scully assumes the line is silent. When Vos speaks again, the distance in her voice is utterly chilling. “It’s time.”

For a few moments, Vos appears to listen to the caller. Then she responds. “You’ve always known how it would play out, Jurgen. It’s my time to take the reins, and it’s your time to become extinct. It’s a whole new world out here, and we’re going to play by my rules now.” She pauses and nods solemnly. “I understand. But that baby is a symbol, Jurgen, and a tangible weapon. I’ve learned from the best, and it’s time for me to apply that knowledge. No more cloak and dagger nonsense. It’s time to do this for real. Say goodbye.” Another pause. “Right over the ridge to the east. At least it’ll be quick, you piece of Nazi shit, and it’s more than you deserve. If I had both the time and the inclination, I’d make you suffer as much as we all have. So just close your eyes and it’ll be over before you have a chance to say ‘Seig Heil,’ you murderous son of a whore.” Despite the invective, her voice is still measured when she places the handset gently into the cradle. A moment later she picks up the phone, dials, and says with equal calm, “Do it.”

Scully’s stomach knots.

Vos waits a few moments and finally nods. “The sooner the better. See you on Saturday,” she says pleasantly, then hangs up and returns to her dinner.

Scully gathers the equipment in shaking hands, and leaves quietly.

+++

Skinner answers the door, wearing a sweatshirt, jeans, and nothing else. Scully looks down at his feet, wondering why his toes are curling into the springy fibers of the carpet.

“What can I do for you, Agent Scully?” Skinner’s voice is calm but wary.

Scully pushes past him, taking possession of the area at the foot of his stairs. Skinner may pay the rent, but when she enters a space, it becomes hers. “Who is Audrey Vos?”

Skinner’s expression remains impassive, but the tightness in the corners of his eyes betrays the effort he is expending to maintain the illusion of calm. “Why does that concern you?”

“Because I tend to take it personally when a Consortium lackey seduces my boss and convinces him to compromise my personal safety.”

Skinner’s shoulders slump at her words, and he leads her further inside, sitting on the sofa, and motioning for her to do the same.

“Who is she, sir?”

He shakes his head slowly. “Too much at once. I can’t explain it all in one sitting, Agent Scully. You’d never be able to digest it.” At her expression of disdain, Skinner looks down at his lap. “Can you just trust that I understand her motives and that my goal is to protect both you and the baby?”

“No,” Scully says coldly, “not when you dismiss my guards while your new paramour hires Alex Krycek to commit assassinations.”

“Strughold,” Skinner murmurs.

“What?” Scully asks in surprise.

“Jurgen Strughold. I’m glad it happened this quickly.”

“Strughold, as in Strughold Mining?”

He nods. “And if that’s really what you heard, then she’s not a lackey any more.”

Scully blinks, fumes, turns her head, breathes deeply. Her visceral instinct is to pound his face into the industrial steel edge of the coffee table. Instead, she turns her anger inward, extruding it in a fine, narrow beam, and focuses it on him through slitted eyes.

“Who the hell are you?” she asks him, finally.

He returns her gaze levelly. “Part of all this, the same as you.”

“You may be a part of this, sir, but you’re nothing like us.” She doesn’t notice that she’s used the first person plural.

“Scully, please, let me help you to understand. There’s a lot to know, and I don’t think I can dump it all on you at once. Can’t you please just let me tell you as much as I can now, and wait for the rest?”

Scully folds her arms in front of her. “Tell me what you know and I’ll listen.”

He breathes deeply and purses his lips before he begins. “She’s wonderful, Scully. She’s one of us. She rose within the ranks because she knew how to play them. For Audrey, it was mostly about revenge, and only partly about saving the world. But with her last obstacles out of the way, now she can focus on what’s important.”

“Lucky woman,” Scully snaps. “Most people who succeed in satisfying their vengeance never have a back-up plan.”

“Will you let me tell you this?”

She sits and stares at him.

“Okay, look,” he says, and stops. Skinner wipes one large hand across the top of his head and sighs. “I promise you that you won’t be left out of the loop. When it’s time, they’re going to need your voluntary assistance, and they’ll come to you with everything. But it’s too early right now – nothing is settled conclusively yet – and it’s too much to explain alone.”

She decides to ask something small and unlikely to tax his ability to elucidate. “What part did she play in Mulder’s abduction?”

He is taken aback, and she is pleased. “None.” When Scully fails to reply, he elaborates. “She’s aware of the measures we’re all taking to find him, including the continued communication with SETI and a few well-chosen contacts in the armed services. Believe me, she’s behind our efforts.”

“What else is she behind, sir?”

He shakes his head. “Maybe we should just go see her and you can ask her yourself.”

“No,” Scully says. “I have no interest in being lulled into the happy visions of salvation she seems to have fed to you so successfully. What’s her current case?”

“No, Dana. I won’t permit this to interfere with Bureau business.”

“In the end, Walter,” an indignant Scully stresses, “what matters is the human race. If it really is coming, Bureau politics will be worthless, and you know that. If she knows anything or anyone who can…” She stops, measuring her words to give them the greatest impact, and settles on a calculated, “You owe me.”

“Fine,” Skinner exhales, shaking his head. “She’s undercover at The Coral Aster Friday night. Serial murderer, takes women on open-mic nights.”

Scully nods. When Skinner opens his mouth to speak again, she raises one hand to silence him. She never questions that he will obey. He has always been a little afraid of her.

“Don’t tell her I’ll be watching. I want to form my own opinion.”

“Just be careful, Scully.” He pauses for a moment, his eyes lifting to meet hers. “If it helps,” he tells her in a weaker tone, “she thinks you’re wonderful. She’s told me so.”

Scully rises, turns away, and walks purposefully toward the door. “Yet another killer infatuated. How very flattering,” she grumbles over her shoulder as she leaves.

+++

Hem Ben Ik, 2/7

by Livia B

***

Audrey’s skin is warm and pale gold in the half light of his bedroom, and he doesn’t understand how it can be so salty so soon after a shower. For that matter, he has trouble understanding how he can be so hard, so impossibly hard again so quickly. He wants her, and since their first reckless tumble into his bed, he has stopped trying to figure out why. She is lovely, she wants him, and he can have her. It is enough.

Her velvety voice moans for him, for his long, strong fingers, and he finds he can refuse her nothing.

He has been unable to refuse her since they met. Even before Krycek placed the palmtop lightly on his scuffed desk blotter, before the first official meeting, he has been bound to her in a way that defies explanation.

When she bumped into him in the hallway outside his office and invited him for coffee, he accepted. When she offered to buy, he nodded dumbly. When she offered him a sip of her sickly sweet caramel mocha concoction, he accepted without hesitation. The sugar was cloying to him, a devotee of hard black heat, but when the taste of her from the rim of the cup slid across his tongue, he changed his mind. The light sweetness of her lip gloss (mango, he was to discover later) combined with the scent of her hand, her lips, devastated his senses. He was, from that moment, thoroughly and irrevocably hers.

<When he’d been quiet for too long, she reached into her pocket, withdrew a penny, and tossed it to him with raised eyebrows.> Her offhanded humor amused him.

<She lay back on the slippery ivory sheets, speaking to him softly of relative nothings, warming him with her voice, twisting one lock of hair seductively around her index finger. “Come hither,” she rasped to him playfully.> Her relaxed monotone soothed him; her dark waves seduced him.

<“It’s not the same thing, Walter! You’re either a slave to your destiny or you’re the master of it. But you have to decide that. And you have to do it now.”> Her intensity addicted him.

His type, he mused one Sunday morning, while absently stroking the top of her foot with the sole of his own, had always consisted of one end of the female spectrum or the other: Starched, buttoned-up wives-in-waiting or brazen harlots with short-term agendas. Never someone bright, independent, and playful. But the connection with her was so immediate and visceral, he did not question it.

He loved her. Before he’d ever known the softness of her sheets, he loved her. Before he’d ever slid a lint roller over his jacket to remove incriminating cat hairs, he loved her. The driving hunger and the feeling of peace coexisted within him without conflict.

When he discovered her purpose, he adored her. Her openness, her gentle maternal protectiveness seemed unreal, but he believed. She wouldn’t use him, he was certain of it. Krycek’s gift confirmed it.

“You’re gonna feel like dying for a week or two,” Krycek warned him. “When they die, they produce some kind of toxin. You’ll have what feels like the worst flu of your life. But when the little corpses start leaving, you’ll feel a whole lot better.”

Skinner only blinked, and wondered how Krycek knew so much about it.

“They’re gonna escape through any available route, so be ready. Shit, you’ll be sweating out the fuckers.” Krycek showed him the “evacuation” protocol on the pad, smiled, and left. “No hard feelings,” he said cheerfully as he strolled out of Skinner’s office.

Spender had been dead for less than a month, and as promised, Audrey was already beginning to clean up the mess her predecessors had left behind.

<“Why didn’t you warn him he’d be taken?” he asked her.

“I didn’t know, Walter. I didn’t know they wanted him,” she winced, her voice breaking. “I’m working on it, believe me. This wasn’t supposed to happen.”>

There had been a hole in his life, a chasm nearly, something he couldn’t identify, and although the loss of Mulder hurt him on a fundamental level, Audrey appeared by his side and dulled the pain.

<“Who are you?” he asked her. Her own pain was so close to the surface, and he hungered to know.

“That’s complicated.”>

She is complicated, he thinks idly, as his left hand presses her shoulder to the mattress while the middle finger of his right hand strokes firmly up against the barrier of nerves that send her shuddering and crying out for more, for more of him. She wants him completely, he feels it. He aches to drive into her, but her needs come first. He will come second, and he will come hard.

“God, Walter…yes…”

Sometimes he wonders how he looks to her when he comes. With Sharon, he was self-conscious. She used to turn when a man with a beautiful head of hair would pass by. She used to gaze longingly at slim, lithe Asian men. He used to feel huge under her scrutiny; a bald, lumbering musk ox.

Audrey makes him feel beautiful. She counters his movements fluidly, and it makes him feel graceful. She melts into his embrace and he feels cherished. She clings to his powerful arms with rapture, she pleads with him to be rougher with her. He feels strong, and she is not afraid of him. She wants more, she wants him to give himself to her. She doesn’t understand that he already has.

When he wakes to a cold bed illuminated by only a sliver of light under the door, he rises on heavy feet and shuffles downstairs.

He finds her sitting on the floor by the coffee table, surrounded by files, wearing only a pair of reading glasses. Through the glass tabletop, he can see her long legs stretched out in front of her, but the exquisite little triangle of brown curls is hidden behind the steel edge of the table. She is tapping away at her notebook computer.

Were the circumstances less dire, he might be amused. “It’s late.”

“Mm-hm,” is her reply. She continues to type.

“You’ve been up for three days straight. It’s time to get some rest, Audrey.”

“Mm-hm.”

He shakes his head. “You’re not going to find him tonight.”

That gets her attention, and she looks up. “I already have.” She doesn’t go back to her notes for the moment. He feels her gaze on him, hard and shockingly intimate. When he looks down to see what she’s been staring at, he notices the pajama bottoms riding low on his hips. A dangerous little smile crosses his lips and he looks back up. She has a peculiar kink about his hipbones.

“Audrey,” he tries.

Her eyes finally rise to meet his, and she pulls her hands away from the keyboard. “Brian Evans is already dead.” The thought is chilling. “I’m certain of it. I have to stop the next one.”

He is about to push her again toward the idea of sleep – wondering for a bit if the carpet is scratchy under the sweet skin of her naked thighs – when she elaborates.

“I’d found six others, Walter, all demonstrating a similar manner of death and post-mortem display. I just…I just couldn’t sleep – – there was something nagging at the back of my brain about it. On a lark, I ran the dates and locations through an Internet search engine.”

He quirks an eyebrow at the low-rent technique and demonstration of her alarming intuitive bound.

“You know what I found?”

He shakes his head, eager to hear.

She rotates her notebook computer around so he can see the screen. What it shows is the full season schedule for the Boston Red Sox. “Away games. Every city, every date, a perfect match. Seven for seven.”

He huffs out a breath in response, sitting down on the couch behind her. “So it’s either an employee or a fan.”

“Mm-hm. I have Dale looking up credit card records for all the away games and comparing the account information. Since there were no killings in Boston on home game days, I added to my profile that the killer might be established in society – or at least believes he is – since he fears being caught close to home.”

Bringing his hands up to her shoulders, he asks, “Have you contacted A.D. Arden yet?”

She nods. “Just. We’re setting up covert surveillance on all team members, management and road crew. Their next game is on Friday in Houston.”

He uses the pads of his thumbs and begins to rub small circles deep into the tight, knotted muscles there. “Are you going?”

“Mmm.” She shakes her head. “Uh-uh. I have the sting at the Coral Aster on Friday. I’m sure SAC Komorowski and the Houston field office can do just fine on their own. I only consulted on the profile anyway.”

He nods, even though she can’t see him, and continues to rub her shoulders. She has written up a solid character profile and has gone as far as identifying a likely group of suspects. Her work on this case is done, and without the pressure of more dead children on her conscience, she might be able to sleep.

He kneads the muscles in her shoulders a little while longer, until they flutter and loosen and her head begins to loll forward in fatigue. With long, soft strokes, he lightens his touch and caresses her back, her arms, her breastbone, her neck, with the idea of soothing her into rest. “There’s no more to do here tonight,” he mutters into her ear. “Let’s go to bed.”

Her head lifts and he feels her body’s weight sag backward against his shins. She sighs deeply and responds, “Okay.”

He helps her rise and walks her back upstairs, one hand always touching her cool skin, always in contact with her should she fall or try to pull away. He lays her down onto the bed, and stretching out behind her, draws the thick comforter over both of them.

When faced with an unknown, his primary instinct is normally suspicion, but there is no room for it here. The raw truth of her, the warmth of her, the scent of her, the promises she’s already made and kept – these are the proofs of her sincerity. She loves him, he is hers, and she has saved him.

She will save them all.

+++

“Coral Aster” turns out to be a euphemism, and not a subtle one, judging by the almost exclusively female clientele of the bar. It would only be less subtle if the sign outside were to boast large, light-up fiberglass pudenda. Scully realizes that many of the duos she notices dotting the landscape are, in fact, couples.

A serial murderer with a taste for killing lesbian singers. Scully sighs and pushes her way through the crowd. ‘Everybody has a kink,’ she thinks. It disturbs her that this thought occurs to her so casually.

The crowd thins near the empty makeshift stage, and she is surprised to find a seat up front. She takes it, and is immediately approached by a stringbean of a blonde with loose western boots and an apron. She would look more at home at a cowboy bar for anorexics, Scully thinks idly.

“What can I get you?”

No caffeine, Scully reminds herself. Options in a bar are meager for the expecting. “Do you have real ginger ale?”

The blonde smirks and shakes her head. “No, just that bartender version.”

Scully grimaces. “Just a Sprite then, please.”

“Seven-Up okay?”

“Guess I’ll live dangerously,” she replies with just the wrong amount of enthusiasm. For a moment, the glib remark makes her feel that she’s not alone at the table, that the missing piece of her is there again. The feeling fades quickly as the blonde nods and heads back to the bar.

She spends far too much time thinking about not thinking about him these days.

While she waits for her prop – even one as lame as a bar glass of lemon-lime soda – she takes in the details of her surroundings. She is nearly in the center of the front row of little tables, right in front of and beneath the stage. She suspects that when the singers begin to perform, she will be able to carry out highly detailed examinations of their nose hair.

She hopes they don’t have any.

To her right is an empty table waiting to be cleared.

To her left is another small table, its lone occupant studying the room with the same rapt attention as herself. Just as her gaze turns to him, his gaze turns to her. He isn’t unpleasant looking, but he isn’t really attractive either. ‘Nondescript’ is a good Bureau word for him; she would be hard-pressed to pluck him out of a lineup.

‘The perp,’ an annoying internal voice supplies. She pushes it aside, vaguely irritated by the constant encroachment on her thoughts. For reasons she can’t explain, she has begun to make intuitive leaps without the benefit of proper and corroborating evidence. It makes her angry.

She is honest with herself for a moment, and recognizes that most things make her angry lately. With no leads opening up on her partner – her real partner, she amends – she feels powerless, and she doesn’t like to feel powerless. So many little things cull up memories of him that she finds herself in an almost constant state of frustration over her inability to find him. Anger at least is more productive than self-pity.

The nondescript perp looks back at her with guarded curiosity. She smiles and nods.

“I’ve never seen you here before,” his nondescript voice tells her.

“That’s because I’ve never been here before,” she says casually, turning back to watch the crowd, her innate professionalism kicking in to assure she doesn’t botch the bust.

Thankfully, the fizzy sugar water arrives as she turns and she asks the emaciated server to run a tab.

She feels the perp’s gaze through her back, and it feels like worms on her skin.

This couldn’t have come at a better time. She thinks about all she has yet to accomplish, and how vitally important it is that she blend in with the trendy, slightly upscale crowd. She has only just begun to show, and only when she’s undressed. She is wearing a sweater tonight – a slim little knitted silk coating in deep violet – and it feels decadent. She sips the soda, which isn’t. Hell, she can pretend it’s just about anything. This one, she thinks, is a gin and seven. Later on, she may go for something bolder, like a vodka and tonic.

If she gets wild tonight, she’ll be drinking Tequila with just a splash of soda. She chuckles quietly to herself, attempting to imagine what it would take for her to get wild at lesbian open-mic night at the Coral Aster. She decides on nitrous oxide with a morphine chaser.

And his eyes are still on her.

Finally a slim little man in snug red velvet pants takes the stage and taps on the microphone. The rest of the crowd is silenced by the move, but it deafens Scully, who is too close to the speakers, and is unprotected by a mass of bodies to absorb the sound. She imagines, too late, that this is very likely why the crowd is clotted in the back of the bar.

The shiny dark hair atop the thin face bobs playfully, dipping over the forehead, just skimming the eyebrows, and it bothers her. The man is elegant, effortlessly stylish in his red velvet pants of sin.

“Evening! How’s everybody doing tonight?”

Assorted cheers, shouts, and catcalls emanate from the crowd. Seats fill in quickly, as the audience prepares for the show to start.

“Nobody’s given us song lists yet, so I guess you can just come on up and pick a number.” He consults a slip of paper held in his left hand for a moment. “But I have a note here for you, Babs,” he says teasingly to a brunette to Scully’s right. “This is from your namesake, and she says, ‘Cut it out right now.’ That mean anything to you?”

A spurt of laughter erupts from the table, and the brunette purses her lips, delivering an air kiss to the emcee.

“You wish,” he mutters, as he takes the microphone from the stand and wanders over toward the keyboard player. “You feeling up to the task, Jeremy?” he asks.

“I’m always up,” Jeremy oozes. The theater of it sickens Scully.

“Okay,” the dark-haired emcee says, turning back to the crowd. “Who’s first tonight?” When there’s no response, he supplies a name. “Carlee?”

Scully turns to see a stringy blonde nod and rise, depositing her jacket on her chair as she leaves her table for the stage.

Scully wonders if performance is purely voluntary and hopes to hell that it is.

The blonde, Carlee, mumbles something unintelligible to the keyboard player, who plays a note aloud. The blonde shakes her head, and the keyboard player plays another note, this one higher. She nods.

As she approaches the microphone, smoothing her too-tight dress over her too-thin figure, the keyboard player looks up at the other members of the band, and communicates what Scully assumes is information about the song they’re about to play. She isn’t one of the best in the Bureau for nothing, she thinks distractedly.

While she should be devoting her full attention to the perp beside her and to the fascinating group dynamic, she is instead noticing that everyone is too thin. It irritates her. She doesn’t yet show, but already she feels huge. She has gained weight; she can feel it loitering about her hips and waist, in the added effort it takes to raise her arms, in the growing fullness of her cheeks and breasts.

Carlee begins to sing, and although her voice is pretty, she is also singing painfully flat. It hurts to listen, and Scully turns to see if anyone else is wincing. They are not. She returns her gaze to the stage, and pretends to enjoy the show along with the rest of the pretenders.

She wonders how much they’re pretending tonight.

That’s when she notices two familiar faces at the rear of the crowd: Agents Bensen and Kim of Violent Crimes. They are dressed casually, sitting on adjacent barstools, sipping what Scully assumes to be pretend scotch and sodas. They are leaning toward each other in an ostensibly provocative pose, but Scully sighs and turns back to the flattened tones of Carlee as a respite. Amateurs. They might as well have “STAKEOUT” scrawled on their overly glittered chests for all their subtlety.

When Carlee finishes and the applause begins – most likely in relief, Scully imagines – a gentle hand touches her left shoulder. She whips around in alarm.

(continued in part 3)

Hem Ben Ik, 3/7

by Livia B

Cool eyes and dark hair angle down toward her. Lush lips form the words, “Boy, it’s crowded. Mind if I sit here?” Scully nods dumbly, and Vos joins her at the table, facing Mr. Nondescript. Scully feels, rather than sees Vos smile, and there is a warmth and understanding there. For an instant she feels relaxed and safe, before it occurs to her that she is here to learn, not to be courted.

“Audrey,” Vos says, still smiling.

‘Ah, so no fake names,’ Scully thinks. Fine. No problem. “Dana,” she replies simply.

Vos draws back, almost imperceptibly, and asks, “Is this okay?”

Scully examines her lovely square face and nods. “Sure. You want something to drink? I think I saw that skeleton in boots around here somewhere.”

“Hey,” Vos chides playfully, “be nice. She’s my Ex.”

Scully lowers her gaze to the surface of the table in embarrassment. “I’m sorry,” she says before she realizes it’s all a show for the perp. She takes a moment to recompose herself in her persona of the evening: Dana, curious straight woman. When she looks back up, her smile is mischievous. “You’re kidding,” she says.

Vos’ smile turns wicked. “Yeah.” She laughs. “Too skinny for me. I like a woman with a little more body to her body.” The server arrives and takes her order before slipping back into the crowd. Vos lowers her chin slightly, so that her eyes look up under serious brows, her expression nearly predatory. “You’ll do nicely,” she breathes.

Scully lifts her glass and takes a sip. She looks into Vos’ eyes, and suddenly feels illiterate. She is, under normal circumstances, skilled at reading expressions. But there is something unspoken in Vos’ narrowed eyes, and she is baffled. She plays along. “It’s not…I’m…I’m not exactly…” she falters convincingly. She smiles shyly. “I’ve never done this before.”

“You mean picked someone up in a bar, or picked up a woman?” Vos asks, her voice level and disarmingly calm.

“Both,” Scully says shyly. “My…significant other just left, and I guess…I don’t know…I’ve been curious…”

Vos beams, and Scully wonders how much of it is theater. The smile is gorgeous, and it makes Scully feel irrationally good.

“It’s okay, Dana,” Vos replies softly. “I understand.” She looks around her, nodding to patrons here and there, and asks distractedly, close to her ear, “Do you sing?”

Scully shakes her head. “Not in the widely accepted meaning of the term. I think I’ll just listen.”

Vos turns her attention back to Scully and smiles. “I’ll be back.” She approaches the empty stage, mutters a few instructions to the musicians, and waits for the band to begin. Shapely and elegant in snug blue velvet, Vos sways her hips slightly to the introduction, and Scully fears for another painful auditory experience.

When Vos begins to sing, Scully’s concerns abate. The voice is warm and very expressive. It’s not a thing of beauty, but the emotion and technical execution are both considerable.

“Mona Lisa, Mona Lisa, men have named you. You’re so like the lady with the mystic smile…”

Vos’ eyes are trained solely on Scully, and they exchange expressions of interest and sly, mutual understanding. They know it is a game, but the perp does not.

Scully suddenly wishes she’d read Vos’ profile of the killer. She would know what kind of scenario to play out. Her concerns seem unimportant, however, in that Vos appears to be leading in this dance, and while she is nearly devouring Scully with her expression, Scully goes along for the ride. Vos is the profiler, after all. She is playing this precisely as she thinks she should.

Scully wonders for a brief moment why she is so quick to trust this woman, but when the intense stare she is receiving demands a public show of response, she remembers her role and grins playfully in return.

“…Are you warm, are you real, Mona Lisa…or just a cold and lonely…” Vos’ expression is warm and comforting on ‘lonely’, before she finishes with, “…lovely work of art?” The question is, of course, rhetorical, but when her voice gently caresses the word “lovely” as she gazes openly at Scully, the implication is clear. It is a public seduction.

The crowd is silent for a half-breath after the song ends, all eyes riveted on the show near the stage, before the applause begins.

When Vos returns to the table, her drink is waiting for her, sweating a little already from the wait. Scully is surprised to see it there in Vos’ hand, moving swiftly to the full lips. She has no recollection of the waitress having brought it over.

Vos leans in toward Scully and brushes her lips against the shell of Scully’s ear. The warm breath combined with the icy wetness of the drink on her lips sends jolts of jittering energy across Scully’s chest. Scully expects more innuendo, but instead hears, “He resents the idea of confused or curious women being removed from the heterosexual dating pool. Play it like a first-timer. Make me sway you.”

Scully turns her head just slightly, so that her lips just barely brush the edge of Vos’ own ear. “I am a first-timer. You have your work cut out for you,” she whispers.

Vos pulls back and purses her lips in concentration. “I’m not so sure about that,” she declares luridly.

Although she doesn’t intend to, Scully blushes anyway.

Another singer – one of the few men in the room, and a thoroughly sauced one at that – takes the stage and as he loosens his tie, he begins to muddle awkwardly through “Route 66”.

Vos’ posture becomes casual again. “So what’s your story? Your guy fuck another woman?”

Scully evaluates the question – wondering if Vos is at all curious about her real situation – and decides to stick with her predetermined persona: Truth with a twist of whatever’s necessary. She loads her words with subtext aimed solely at Vos. “He’s always had…other interests.”

“So what’s this? Payback?” Vos teases.

“No. Just a little healthy investigation.”

Vos’ expression shifts to what appears to be genuine surprise, and Scully likes the feel of it.

“So you’re interested in learning more?”

Scully smiles in response. “Maybe. I don’t know. I really do want to know what it’s all about. I’d like to understand what it was that took him from me.”

“I think I might be able to help,” Vos responds. “But it’s going to take a whole lot of trust. Can you do that?”

Scully is still too far from trusting this woman, but the case comes first. “I think so,” she mutters. “I’d like to.”

Vos pulls her hand away from the drink and slips it over Scully’s own hand on the table. The touch is cold and damp, and it reminds Scully of the danger she is courting.

“What’s your story, Audrey?” Scully asks.

“Same old, same old,” Vos replies, teasing the webbing between Scully’s thumb and forefinger with the tip of her own thumb. “Slept with a few guys. Hated it. Found me a good woman. Lost her.” At Scully’s encouraging smile, Vos continues. “God, I’m such a cliche.”

“What do you do?” Scully asks, nudging the conversation into realistic turf.

“Systems analyst.”

“Do you like it?”

“Nah, dull as dirt. But we might go public inside of the year, and I’ll be able to retire on my options. You?”

Scully doesn’t hesitate. Around the time she decided to escalate her pretend drinking, she also determined her life story and her profession, just in case. “I’m an oncologist.” She doesn’t have the credentials, of course, but the combination of her medical training and her own experience with cancer are sufficient to help her bluff her way through the conversation.

“Wow. Depressing,” Vos notes.

“Not as much as you’d think,” Scully says plainly. “Survival rates keep on climbing. I’m very optimistic about the future of alternative treatment options.” She certainly is, she thinks, reaching her free hand behind her neck and running the tip of one finger along the faint scar, pretending to work out a kink in her neck.

When she realizes what she’s doing, she drops her hand to the table and takes a sip of her watery soda.

The crowd offers up unenthusiastic applause for the singer, who is replaced almost immediately by a massive black woman, who elects to present an energetic but slightly sloppy rendition of “Chain of Fools”.

“So why here, Dana? Why now?” Vos sounds sincerely troubled on Scully’s behalf.

“You know,” she says dryly, “I have no idea. I just couldn’t sit at home one more minute. I saw the sign and figured it looked as good as any other place.” She intensifies her gaze into Vos’ eyes, and moves toward her slightly. “Admittedly, at the moment, it’s looking better than most.”

Vos’ smile turns from sweetly amused to hungry. “Are you sure this is what you want?” Her expression is all about her own need, but her words convey concern for Scully’s peace of mind.

The conflicting sensations are spooky in their familiarity, and Scully banishes the thought so she can concentrate on the professional scenario. She can still feel the perp watching her, and it is a good sign. They might gain a bust out of it and get a dangerous criminal off the street. “I don’t know,” she replies softly. “You’re so lovely, and I’m…” She aims each word to the man behind her, to entice the suspect further. She examines Vos’ square jaw, her glossy brown hair, the casual posture despite her natural height. Without thinking, she finishes, “I think you’re my type.”

Vos smiles mischievously again, and dragging her index finger across the beaded surface of her glass gathers a few droplets of the condensation on her fingertip. Before a single drop of water drips away, she uses it to draw a streak along the neckline of Scully’s sweater. When she speaks, her voice is low and rough, edgy with playful impatience. “We ought to get you out of these wet clothes.”

Unbidden, a shiver vibrates through Scully’s body, her skin rippling into gooseflesh, her nipples tightening, the tops of her thighs tingling.

Vos leans in again, and Scully meets her halfway, her lips already dangerously close to Vos’ ear before she hears the agent’s next set of instructions.

“I’m going to kiss you. Pull away and get apprehensive, but give me your number. I’ll keep pushing. As you leave, look back at me once, and make it wistful.”

“Yes,” Scully breathes into her ear, fearful of the future, hoping to hold on to just one more moment of the present. It’s irrational, she knows it intellectually, but her instincts scream at her to remain in place, in the hope that the warm breath will tickle her ear again.

Scully feels Vos pull back slowly, the soft cheek slipping gently along her own, as Vos’ mouth draws closer to hers. She feels the warmth and delicate pressure of lips against her jaw above, as Vos’ fingers slip below, to cup her jaw in one hand. Everything slows – the movement around them suddenly at a crawl – and the world turns silent as their lips touch and part with Vos’ withdrawal. In half a heartbeat they are joined again, warmth infused by the gentle press of silky skin against silky skin.

There is no roughness here; no harsh possessiveness or male stubble. No hard bones or firm sinew – – just a sweet touch, soft flesh, and hot breath on her skin. It is thrilling.

It is terrifying.

Scully remembers her role, and jerks back out of Vos’ hold, stammering. “I’m sorry…I…I don’t think I can…” She is flushed and flustered and so deeply into the role she is playing, she is unsure how much is real and how much is artifice.

Vos reaches out a soothing hand, and strokes her cheek with one gentle thumb. “It’s okay, Dana. I understand. Take some time and think about it.”

Scully nods dumbly, permitting Vos to continue to lead the exchange.

“Just promise me,” Vos says softly, “that if you decide it is what you want, you’ll come to me.”

Scully pauses for a moment, pretending to think it over. She thinks briefly that she can obtain Vos’ telephone number easily, and she already knows where the woman lives, so there is no need to ask. Startled by her own thoughts, she nods her head and agrees. “Okay.”

“I want you to give me your phone number, Dana,” Vos says.

Scully shakes her head. “I don’t know, Audrey.”

She pushes the issue. “Dana, you’re amazing. I want to get to know you better. Please don’t be afraid of this. Tell me your number, please.”

Scully’s jaw trembles, an involuntary reaction to her fear of further abandonment and loss. She doesn’t understand where it comes from, but she fights it. Vos appears pleased. “I think I just need some time. Maybe it was a bad idea…”

“No,” Vos says firmly. “If it’s what you want, it’s not a bad idea. Don’t end your life before you’ve even begun it. Find out, and then make your decision. If you spend the rest of your life denying what you want, Dana, you’ll be miserable.” She shakes her head. “Take it from someone who waited until it was almost too late. Please don’t deny yourself.”

Scully’s voice is still shaky when she replies. “I don’t know about this. I mean, I loved him, and maybe I’m just confused…”

“Please. Just give me your number. I promise I’ll wait a while before I call. Just tell me I’ll see you again. I need to, Dana. Please.”

Distractedly, Scully nods, and reaches for a cocktail napkin. Vos digs into her purse and pulls out a neon green pencil with a rubber alien head covering the eraser end. She laughs nervously and hands the pencil to Scully, who scrawls a telephone number on the napkin. She drops the pencil and stares at the phone number for a moment before picking the pencil up and handing it back to Vos along with the square of cheap folded tissue.

“Thank you,” Vos says with comforting intensity. The sensation is familiar, and Scully soaks it in.

Scully nods, and rises to leave, hoping she is doing it all properly. She hasn’t baited a killer so directly in a very long time. “Thank you for being so understanding.”

Vos smiles broadly. “No thanks necessary. The ‘know thyself’ part of this is always the hardest.”

Scully closes her eyes, nods, and turns to leave. Just as she approaches the doorway, she turns to look at Vos.

Wistfully, she’d been instructed. She doesn’t really know what wistful is. She thinks of perhaps a soldier boarding a train to head out to war, with his best girl on the platform, waving a handkerchief to him. Is that wistful?

She settles for mildly regretful yet somehow optimistic. It manifests itself in a small smile and a warm gaze. She turns and leaves.

The air outside is crisp and cool, and Scully is grateful for the four-block walk to her car. She concentrates on the clacks of her heels on the pavement and the puffs of foggy breath she slips through as she walks briskly. This is concrete, this is real. Something that’s the same now as it was an hour ago.

She doesn’t realize she’s been followed until she feels the hand on her shoulder. She starts back in alarm. When she turns, she’s face to face with their nondescript suspect.

“I’m sorry,” he tells her. “I didn’t mean to startle you. Are you all right?”

Scully steps back, holding her hands out in front of her, and commits every facial feature of her assailant to memory. “Yes, I’m fine,” she tells him. “Is there something you want?”

“Well, yes…” he says, his voice trailing off, his gaze moving down and to his right. A classical submissive posture. “I saw what happened in there, and I thought if you were afraid to go home alone, you know, in case that woman followed you…”

“Really,” Scully tells him, “I’m fine. She was very nice. I’m sure she doesn’t mean any harm.”

He shakes his head and tells her in a stronger voice, “No, she does mean to harm you. She’s trying to tempt you. It’s good you got away in time.”

She understands that since this is a Bureau sting, there are microphones and cameras everywhere. The man warming his hands by the barrel down the street is likely an agent, as is the businessman chatting up the prostitute near the alley. They need more from him in order to make an arrest. It’s up to her.

“Temptation isn’t a bad thing.”

“Yes, it is,” he says firmly. “It is when someone tries to corrupt you against your will. God is pleased with you for being so strong.”

“Look,” she tells him, turning to walk closer to the man by the barrel, “I appreciate your concern, but it’s my life, not yours. I’ll live it as I see fit. Excuse me.”

He moves past her quickly and blocks her way. “No, it’s the life that God gave you, and you have an obligation to live it the way he says is best. He told us in Leviticus 18:22, ‘ You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.’ He forbids the atrocity of homosexuality. Do not be tempted to stray from His path.”

“I know Leviticus,” she counters, “and it says nothing – not one word – about unrelated women engaging in sexual activity. The Old Testament is nothing if not specific on the matter of sexual taboos.”

He stares at her for a moment, apparently startled by her words, but continues undaunted. “God instructs us in Leviticus 20:13 that ‘If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death.’” He watches her for any sign of reaction, and when she turns to walk back to the bar, he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a knife.

Before he can reach her, two black-clad figures emerge from the shadows and wrestle him to the ground. “FBI! Drop your weapon!” one agent shouts angrily. Scully turns and watches the arrest with clinical detachment as Vos approaches, running.

She stops, panting, and stands beside Scully to watch the booking in silence. When the perp is back on his feet, his hands safely cuffed behind him, Scully asks casually, “Did you get all of that?”

One of the arresting agents pauses for a moment, his telltale faraway stare indicating he’s listening on his headset. “Yeah. You can give your statement in the morning. You don’t have to stay.”

She nods and turns to leave.

“Agent Scully,” Vos calls out, unmoving.

Scully turns on her heel, a good twelve feet from Vos, and waits. A puff of wind blows a rustling plastic bag across the cold, damp pavement between them.

“Thanks for your help. You’re as good as they say.”

‘Figures,’ Scully thinks, angry again. She turns and leaves.

+++

“Where did you get this?” Skinner asks Audrey gently a few hours later.

When she arrived on his doorstep, distracted and wild-eyed, he drew her inside, put her in bed, and wrapped her in as many blankets as he could find. The weather had turned unseasonably cold, and she was shivering. The air in his apartment was still chilly.

She lies now, as she has lain for the past two hours, staring at the ceiling, her hand finally warm in his. He has never seen her so fragile and unsure, and he loves her for permitting him to be the strong one tonight.

Gently he reaches over and touches the small scar on her right cheek. “Was it an accident?”

This comment finally rouses her attention and she turns her head to face him. “Not unless the plastic surgeon slipped,” she says blandly.

“How old were you?” He will try every technique in his repertory to get her out of her cocoon tonight.

“I was still a kid. Doctor said it should come off. Nobody argued.”

He will learn nothing this way. He watches the dot on the digital clock flash, one second per second, until somehow twelve minutes have elapsed. “What happened, Audrey?”

She sighs. “It was a clean bust. Nobody got hurt. Bastard’s in jail.”

Without the stress of a difficult arrest, injuries to agents or civilians, or an escaped perp, what was left to be upset about? Then he remembers. Scully.

“She was there, wasn’t she?”

Another sigh. “Yeah.” Her mouth is tight, the pain she is shielding seeping out, and he wonders how she is able to keep from sobbing from the strain of it. He lies beside her, his head propped on one hand, and admires the firm set of her jaw, the vulnerability in her perpetual pout, the shadows of pain behind her eyes. He wants to ease it. He wishes he could.

“Was it bad?”

She shakes her head. “She’s amazing.”

He agrees. “That she is.”

She rolls over onto her side and looks deeply into his eyes. “I don’t know how to make this right for her, Walter. Her pain is so close to the surface.” She closes her eyes for a moment and just breathes. When her lids lift again, she appears resigned. “I want to protect her, let her know she’s not alone. But she is. And we’re both responsible for that.”

The words hit him like a blow to the gut. He rolls onto his back and covers his eyes with the back of his hand. “I’ve just started to forgive myself, Audrey. Don’t lay this on me. I did what I could.”

“So did I, and we both failed. Neither of us saw it coming. Now they’re both paying the price for our inattention. What I’ve done makes me sick, Walter.”

His voice is quiet but firm. “I’d rather see you regretful than cavalier.”

“Well here it is. Mop it up with a biscuit.” She rises to a sitting position and stares at the blank white wall at the foot of the bed. “I’m going for a run.”

He looks back at the clock. “It’s past three a.m., Audrey. Let’s just go to sleep.”

She shakes her head. “I have to go.”

She is already rising and pushing the blankets off her fully-clothed body when he puts a hand on her shoulder. “Audrey, stop.”

She slides off the bed and keeps moving toward the bedroom door.

“Stop.”

“Not now, Walter.”

“STOP.”

She whips around to face him, her eyes aflame, her mouth a thin, hard line. “Did you do this with him, Walter? Did you push him this hard?”

He doesn’t understand what she is implying.

“What is it? Is it the fucking that gives you the privilege of trying to bend me to your will? To fit me into some little mold of what you think I should be? Or what I should be to you?” She is shaking, her face deep red. “Tell me, Walter. Am I some kind of fucked-up compensation therapy for you?”

He shakes his head languidly. Perhaps if he slows down the conversation, he’ll stand a chance of understanding it. “What the hell does Mulder have to do with this?”

She breathes shallowly, her jaw clenched tight, her fists balled up against her thighs. Her voice is small and cold. “Who said anything about Mulder?”

She stares him down, until he can no longer maintain eye contact and drops his gaze to the floor. He feels the victory in her bearing as she leaves the room. A few seconds later, he hears the front door slam.

+++

Hem Ben Ik, 4/7

by Livia B

***

It wasn’t anything earth-shattering that set them in motion toward each other. It was just a weekend of personal revelations and failures. They found each other, and after they talked – really talked for the first time in years – they found each other again.

By the time Mulder had washed the mugs and set them out to dry, Scully had slid down onto her side on the sofa, and when he returned to the living room, he stopped to watch her sleep. Weird, he thought at the time, that despite the lovely calm of her features in repose, he liked her face better when she was awake.

Later, he would not have been able to say whether tripping over the coffee table was a subconscious act or simply a matter of clumsiness. But when she awoke to the slam of his body against hers on the sofa, and the mumbled curse buried in her hip, all that mattered to him was that she was awake.

“Sorry,” he’d muttered contritely, sitting up and rubbing her hip where he’d landed.

She rose slowly, faint amusement coloring her tired cheeks, and looked at him indulgently. “If you’d wanted me to go, you might have considered employing one of many more subtle approaches.”

He didn’t make the decision to stand and hold out his hand to her; it just happened. As tired as he was, and as amazed by the weekend’s events, the words came, unedited, in no particular order. “Bed. C’mon.”

“Mulder?” she asked cautiously.

His words continued to flow without conscious guidance. “It’s late. I love you. Let’s go to bed.”

She stared at the proffered hand, clearly on a decisive precipice, he knew. He didn’t care. He just wanted to go to sleep, and he wanted her there. Instinct won out.

“Bed. Late. C’mon. I promise your virtue is safe.”

At his last comment, she looked up into his eyes and sighed, shaking her head. “If I’ve learned anything about myself this weekend, Mulder, it’s that I’m not nearly as virtuous as I’d thought.”

“And I punched a kid with leg braces when I was seven. You get over it. Come on, Scully, I mean it. I’m beat. BED.”

She took his hand and rose, and following him into the bedroom, muttered, “Pushy, pushy.”

He was already down to boxer briefs and halfway into bed by the time Scully freed herself of her pantyhose, and slipped into bed in her bra and panties.

“Do you have a t-shirt or something?”

“Mhrhpphsl,” he replied helpfully into his pillow.

She shook her head and slid into bed.

– – –

Forty-five minutes later, while he was breathing thickly and she lay wide awake, she made a few decisions.

First, she liked the smell and feel of being with him in his bed. She felt safe, and safe was good.

Second, she decided that she really did like the look of him. Lying there with him, cozy and comfortable and relaxed, she saw him not as a necessary annoyance or an intellectual challenge, but rather as a big, warm, nicely constructed man. She liked it.

Third, she decided that she would accept his latest confession of love. Granted, he’d been dead tired when he made it, but he hadn’t been pumped full of pharmaceuticals, and he hadn’t been hallucinating, so she made the decision to consider it genuine. She also decided that it pleased her.

Fourth, she decided that should he choose to awake and kiss her, she would cooperate.

When, after another twenty-six minutes of waiting, he still didn’t awaken, she realized that she was disappointed, and that the idea of a kiss had somehow transformed into the necessity of a kiss.

So she made a fifth decision, to slide over to Mulder’s side of the bed, mold her front to his back, drape her left arm along the solid length of his hip and thigh, and nestle her nose into the short, prickly hairs on the back of his neck.

His breathing stopped and for a moment he lay stone-still. Then she heard his sleep-roughened voice, enriched by what must have been a smile. “That was subtle.”

She exhaled a mute, staccato laugh through her nose into his neck in response.

He began to breathe normally again. “I’m not misreading this,” he said plainly.

She answered him by lifting her head and pressing an open-mouthed kiss against the side of his neck, tracing the hard tendon with her tongue. His skin was salty, and her sixth decision was that she wanted more.

“Okay, good,” he said firmly, rolling toward her and laying one open hand across the curve of her hip. As he leaned in and sucked her lower lip into his mouth, he drew her hips toward his, and made his intention clear with one firm, single thrust against her pelvis.

“God, yes,” she whispered, lifting her leg to wrap around his, sliding her thigh under his downturned palm.

He understood, she assumed, and took her leg in his hand and drew it more fully across his hip, pulling her closer, thrusting against her again. He exhaled a harsh, “Yeah,” as he leaned in even closer and scraped his teeth across her chin.

Her seventh decision was a piece of cake. When faced with the alternative of either pulling away from his strong, hungry body in order to tell him how she felt, or rather to claw at his shorts to eliminate the barrier they created, she simply took action.

“Fuck,” Mulder groaned as her nails scraped across his hipbones in the graceless struggle to slide the firm elastic past his hardening penis.

She raised her eyebrows in amusement, and left the binding elastic where it lay for the moment – pressing his burgeoning erection mercilessly downward – and revisited the front of his pelvic bone with her nails to reconfirm her suspicion.

When he emitted a throttled gasp at the contact, she smiled against his panting mouth. “Noted,” she said, returning her hands to his captive penis and liberating it at last.

When the fabric was shed and she slid her palm against the underside of his cock, his breathing became interesting: Quick, shallow inhalations followed by slow, deliberate exhalations. The rhythm was unmistakable, and Scully found herself blissfully out of control.

Sex now, thinking later.

She’d decided, way back around number five, that she would take what she wanted, and give without reservation. And with his naked body pressing resolutely against her, she felt just fine about the matter.

Mulder’s naked body, she thought, amazed by how unamazed she was, and slowed things down just enough to get that extended taste she promised herself two decisions ago.

She dragged her tongue across the bottom edge of one pectoral muscle, and smiled when the hair there tickled her nose, as he stroked her back and sighed. She grazed one of his nipples between her upper incisors and her lower lip – firm pressure above, soft pressure below – and teased the tip with her tongue. He moaned softly and slid one long leg determinedly between hers.

His mouth was just right. His lips were soft, but he used just enough pressure against her neck and shoulders to prove he meant business.

His tongue was inventive but not invasive. The tip of it stroked the inside of her lower lip – an unlikely spot for arousal, she thought – and she shuddered from the raw carnality of it. He licked tight little spirals around the tops of her breasts and across her stomach, and blew cool air over the damp trails to make her shiver.

His hands were large but graceful. They slid the bra from her skin and traced the undersides of her breasts, cupped their rounded shape, moved on, moved down. They teased the flesh at her waist, scraped the front of her hips on the same spot that he’d found so sensitive before, and it made her gasp. His fingers pulled the panties from her, combed through her tangled curls below, and slid through the moisture she’d accumulated. They teased her clitoris maddeningly and slid effortlessly into her body. They curled, reached upward, and found – almost immediately – the knotted flesh so eager for his touch that her body shook at the first contact.

When he finally rolled her to her back and took possession of the space above her, it felt right, too. Not too possessive, not too timid.

The physical sensations were thrilling, but it was the little sounds he made as he touched and tasted that drove her half-mad with lust. He licked a nipple, and moaned on an open vowel. He nipped at the underside of her chin, and growled involuntarily. He wrapped his lips around her clitoris, and groaned on a long, firm, “Mmmm.”

It was the intent that quickened her pulse. His intent. He was intent to make her frantic. He was intent to press her into the bed and fuck her. She moaned. Mulder was going to fuck her. He was above her, hard cock in one hand poised and ready to penetrate her, and she was going to make sure it happened. She was going to wrap her legs around his waist and tilt her pelvis just so, and he was going to thrust that beautiful penis into her. She was going to fuck him. Hard, if she had any say in the matter.

His cock was just right; not too thick, not too long, but hard enough to remind her of that gratifying intent, and just the right size to reach the necessary spots and fill her a little too well. She’d forgotten – how could she have remembered? – how sensitive she could become and how she would be able to feel every contour of his penis as it pushed into her.

When he withdrew, bumping and jarring all the right spots on the way out, her body screamed to take him back in. When he slid back into her, pelvis meeting pelvis, it wasn’t enough.

“More, God, harder,” she moaned. They were the first words either had spoken since she’d discovered that first erogenous zone of his.

“Yeah,” he breathed again, withdrawing methodically and slamming back into her. They both groaned in satisfaction. Again he withdrew, and again another hard thrust, accompanied by a raspy “yeah” that rattled her body.

She wasn’t at all surprised by their lack of eloquence. She’d long since abandoned the romantic notion that confessions of love were supposed to be tearful and dramatic. Somehow, with his casual words and his simple statements of pleasure, the moment seemed to fit.

He, himself, fit just the way she’d hoped, and that was all that mattered. With each firm, pounding thrust, his penis stroked the knotted, rippled flesh he’d found earlier with his fingers, and it felt so much better than her vibrator. Room-temperature silicone, pink and vaguely berry-scented, was a poor substitute for hot, hard, silky flesh; a man’s weight above her, the slam of slick hips against hers, the puffs of hot breath on her neck, the stuffy air that made her tilt her head back to gasp for clean lungfuls of air, the mouth that descended to her neck to fulfill the misinterpreted need for additional contact.

She hadn’t asked for it, but once she had it, she found wanted more. And when she pushed her neck against his lips more firmly, he responded just the way she hoped: With a firm, possessive bite.

“Yes,” she panted, asking for an encore. He complied, and brought his tongue into action, mimicking the pumping action of his penis, as he bit and sucked above while he slammed against her below. It was agony, and it was magnificent.

“More,” she groaned, hoping he would think she was asking rather than begging.

But he was too quick, even clouded by sex. “That’s all I got, Scully,” he gasped. “What the hell…would you do…with more? You’re already…gonna have…a bruised…cervix.”

She laughed, and for once she wasn’t concerned that he would misunderstand. He didn’t. He kept pounding away, and smiled at the sound of her laughter.

“More,” she panted, “as in…harder…faster…don’t be so…gentle.”

He chuckled weakly, and a dangerous gleam flashed in his eyes. Before she could clarify further, he slid back and out of her, slipped his arms under her knees, and moved back inside her, losing only a stroke or two in their rhythm. By the time he’d buried himself in her again, her knees were close to her chin, and he was so deep inside her, she thought for a moment she might feel his thick cock nudging the tense muscles at the back of her neck.

His expression turned wild, his eyes glazed and his mouth tense with exertion. He grew harder and thicker inside her and she guessed that he was very close to losing it completely.

Not yet, she begged silently. More, God, please, keep fucking me. Show me, show me.

“Help me,” he pleaded, unrelenting in his rhythm.

God, he understood. He knew she was enjoying it, but that she would need more than vaginal stimulation, and he was unconcerned for the implications to his manhood. He needed her to get herself off, and he wasn’t shy about asking.

He apparently didn’t expect her to be shy about it either.

She wasn’t. Reaching down with her left hand, she slid the tip of her index finger against her swollen clitoris, pushing back the thick hood of flesh, and generating, immediately, a swell of pleasure so intense she cried out from the shock of it.

“Yeah,” he said hoarsely. “Yeah.”

She timed her second stroke so it wouldn’t conflict with the descent of Mulder’s hips against hers, and when she shuddered again with little twitches of pleasure, she lifted her eyes to look at his beautiful face. She saw his forehead.

“Yeah,” he groaned, and repeated himself when she stroked herself again. His head was down; he was watching her press and slide her finger against her own clitoris, and he was getting off on it.

She smiled and tipped her head back again, closing her eyes and concentrating on the sensations between her legs. She tensed her vaginal muscles in an attempt to bring her orgasm more quickly, and he lifted his head, groaning loudly into her ear.

“Fuuuuuuuck…woman…where’d you…learn that?”

“Thailand,” she husked back, continuing the voluntary muscle contractions and increasing the pressure on her clit.

He began to thrust harder and a little faster. “Really?”

“No,” she chuckled, losing her concentration. She’d been so close. “Medical…school. Bladder control…exercises.”

“Mmmm,” he moaned when she resumed her vise-like grip on his cock and began to press firm, flicking strokes across her clit again. So close. So close.

“Yeah,” she breathed.

“Yeah,” he responded into her skin, resting his forehead against her shoulder.

“God,” she moaned, so close.

“Come on,” he begged, his strokes losing elegance and evenness.

“Yeah,” she groaned, her legs tensing, her eyes slamming shut, her lungs seizing.

“YEAH,” he cried out against her as he finally succumbed and pulsed within her, jabbing a few more graceless thrusts in an apparent effort to bring her along.

There was no need. With the delightful but distracting thrusts abating, she could concentrate fully on the sensations radiating from her clitoris, and with only a few more intent strokes, she stiffened and came as well, her breathing resuming with a desperate gasp, her thighs gripping his sides.

When a heavy, saggy Mulder had finally slid to one side, Scully took her first full, unfettered breath in what felt like hours. The air was cool and refreshing in her lungs, and it cleared her head enough to hear what Mulder was mumbling into her upper arm.

“Under ‘sated’, see ‘satisfied’.”

She smiled weakly, her muscles lax and blissfully uncooperative. “I need a shower,” she mumbled. “Oh God, my legs. Do you have a walker around here somewhere?”

He gave a meek chuckle and was snoring before she could decide what kind of response would please her best. Her eighth decision of the night was that this one suited her just fine.

Three hours later, she’d risen on pleasantly wobbly legs, showered, dried her hair and dressed. He was still asleep when she passed by the foot of the bed, a cloud of his scent overwhelming her. The heady aroma of sex by the bed, combined with the bouquet of his soap that she herself bore, threatened to weaken her resolve. She picked up her jacket in an attempt to head off the lingering doubt that she should remain or wake him, to assure him that she had no regrets.

As she slipped on her jacket, she realized it was unnecessary. He knew. When he eventually awoke, he would know. And if he didn’t, she would flash him a knowing smile at the office, just to make sure.

Then he would show her more slides of eviscerated livestock, and the day would begin.

She had no way of knowing that they would have only one more night to spend together, only one more chance to make it real. Only one more opportunity to create a new life inside her.

They succeeded that once before everything fell apart.

+++

“I screwed up,” Audrey says sullenly into the mouthpiece of the telephone. “I totally lost it.”

Krycek yawns. “It happens.”

“Not to me it doesn’t. I was completely irrational.”

She hears him scratch. “What do you expect, that you’ll wake up tomorrow and be wise and all-knowing? Considering how far you’ve come,” he yawns, “you’re doing really well. Just apologize and say it was that time of the month.”

What an asshole. “Charming.”

“So what happened?” he asks.

“I lost it. Total meltdown. I don’t even know why.”

A few rhythmic puffs of breath overload the earpiece. “Of course you know why. Tell him.”

“I can’t and you know that. It’s too much to ask of him.”

“Then don’t tell him and stay pissed.” She hears his bed creak. “Look, you have two choices here: You can be completely honest with him and freak him out completely, or you can tell him only what he needs to know and live happily ever after.”

She sighs. “Assuming Scully cooperates.”

“Right. Once that happens, everything else is just gravy.”

She breathes slowly, evenly, for a moment and considers the situation. “He’ll freak out if I tell him. Men like him are very protective of their masculinity. It would call everything into question if he finds out…”

The silence over the phone line breaks for a moment with the sound of neck joints popping satisfyingly into place. She hates when he does that.

He pre-empts her. “Shut up. It feels good.”

“Forget it,” she snaps before hanging up the phone.

Walter will not be calling, she thinks, as she settles into bed for the second time tonight. She will have to make it up to him tomorrow. An apology followed by a night of schnapps and poker should restore equilibrium in their relationship. For once, she is glad he’s uncomplicated.

+++

When morning comes, everyone is on edge.

Skinner rises, bleary-eyed, and takes a short, brisk shower. He gets to work later than he planned and takes it out on Agent Masterson in the form of impatience.

Krycek awakes feeling cagey, unhappy that his agenda is still unfulfilled. He is grateful the meeting is only a couple of hours away. It can’t be over soon enough.

Audrey blinks uncomfortably at the sudden sunlight. Didn’t she just fall asleep a minute ago?

Scully has not slept, and rises, zombie-like, to begin her day. Her lips ache, her legs ache, and there is still a dull, persistent throbbing between her legs. She is tired of being angry.

The day does not improve markedly.

+++

When Krycek is called into the meeting, he anticipates a ripple of excitement and confusion. Instead, as he tosses the straw Panama hat onto the middle of the conference room table, he is met with stony silence. So much for the casual drama.

He opts for a second approach.

“Morning, boss,” he says deferentially to Audrey, who sits at the head of the table.

Audrey’s voice is clenched. “Have a seat, Alex. Things are just getting interesting.”

He looks around the table at the faces of the organization’s remaining management and shudders. Middle-management, all of them. Not a forward thinker in the bunch.

“Anton was just informing us that he doesn’t agree with our new approach,” she informs him.

“That so?” Alex responds, rolling his eyes in an attempt to convey indifference as he sits.

“Mm,” she tells him.

It is like a life at court, he thinks. Private conversations held aloud for the benefit of the nobles present. Impressions to be made, information to be conveyed with subtlety.

Except there is no subtlety here. He understands what Vos is implying, even if the numbskulls around the table are missing the point entirely. Her well-practiced air of authority is utterly lost on them. She may be inexperienced, but she’s definitely a player. He has no reservations about playing on her side of the court for a while.

“We have nothing to gain from the change in plan,” Anton responds. “There is no perceivable advantage, strategically or financially,” he explains.

“Ah,” Audrey responds opaquely. “Anyone else feel that way?”

Gazes suddenly leapfrog from one face to another; some tense, some worried, some bored. But there is no communication there, as there would be with their experienced, ruthless predecessors. Those men were players. These schmucks are terminally thick.

“It’s okay,” Audrey continues. “You can disagree. It’s time to reorganize, and I only want to go forward with a core group that believes in the work. The rest of you can go. Nan will show you out.”

Six of the eleven bodies present rise from the table.

“It’s not what I signed up for,” the Austrian says.

“She’ll never go along with it,” the Brit adds.

“Count me out,” the Ukranian concurs.

Six of them, in a row, stream toward the door to the anteroom that Audrey’s assistant, Nan, holds open in a gesture of friendly aid. When the last of the six approaches the door, Nan catches Audrey’s eye and notes the barely perceptible nod.

Krycek follows them in just before both the inner and outer doors bolt from inside. The expressions of panic amuse him. He fires six perfect, silenced shots in succession, his hand steady even with one of the pathetic losers holding onto his prosthesis in supplication. He is the last to die, and Krycek makes a point of looking into his vacant eyes before pulling the trigger.

“Asshole,” Krycek growls as he fires.

While Nan calls the cleanup crew, and he returns to the board room, he notes, with amusement, the expressions of horror on the three remaining faces.

“You’re our core crew,” Vos assures two of them.

Then she turns to the third, who jumps when Vos makes eye contact. Alex chuckles.

“Easy, girl,” Krycek tells Marita, and takes his proper seat to the right of Audrey.

He hears the new boss tell Marita in a warm, careful voice, that she’s been harmed enough. That she’s been through too much and that she isn’t of much use to them. That they won’t harm her. That they’ve set up two bank accounts in the Cayman Islands and two sets of fake ID to get her there. That she is about to retire, and that she shouldn’t consider contacting anyone in the organization again or returning to the United States until the war is over.

Marita looks like a blonde muledeer about to be flattened by a tractor trailer.

“It’s okay,” Vos assures her. “I have no interest in killing you. We had to eliminate the dangerous elements in the organization,” she says calmly. “They might have done irreparable harm to others. You’re a different story. You’re an innocent in this, and it’s time for you to go hide somewhere safe.”

“You mean that,” Marita says warily, her eyes still wide and her posture ramrod-straight.

“She means it,” Krycek tells her. “It’s a whole new ballgame.”

She doesn’t seem to believe him.

“Honey,” Vos tells her, “I don’t have much more patience than this. I need to get to work, and I need you to go away now. We’ve been very fair about your compensation. I’d like you to go and try to have a nice life, okay?” On the final words, Vos pats Marita’s hand. To her credit, Marita doesn’t flinch at the touch.

“Alex, show her to the car, please?”

He nods and takes her out of the board room. He chuckles as they reach the elevators, when her gait begins to resemble a death row march.

“We’re not going to kill you, Marita. If we’d wanted you dead, you’d be dead already. You’re on your way to the beautiful Caribbean and ten million dollars.”

“Why?” she asks in a shaky voice, and he purses his lips, faintly sickened. She used to be something.

“We sympathize with your situation. It’s hard to be used and abused, and this is your ticket out. So say ‘thank you’ and go.”

“I’m supposed to thank you.”

“Hey, I didn’t hand you over, if that’s what you’re implying.” She is the definition of damaged goods. “Just take the money and fucking run.”

By the time they reach the black sedan at the port corchere, she has calmed slightly.

“Have a good life in the sun, Marita,” he says, opening the door for her. “If you’re smart, you’ll stay away.”

She nods tentatively and steps into the car.

Just before he closes the door, he examines the premature lines surrounding her frightened eyes, and offers her a single word of advice. “Moisturize.”

Trembling with false bluster, she leans back into the soft leather of the seat and crosses her arms. “Fuck you, too.”

Krycek closes the door with a grin and watches the car drive away, shaking his head. Poor little twittery thing. A good, solid, scheming mind gone to waste through futile experiments.

By the time he returns to the board room, the atmosphere is significantly lighter.

Vos is smiling, regaling the remaining two managers with Jurgen Strughold’s final words.

“Sellout,” the New Zealander says with a chuckle.

“Good riddance,” the Canadian agrees.

Krycek takes his seat once more and settles down to work. “All right. So we have, what, two cloning labs left?”

+++

Hem Ben Ik, 5/7

by Livia B

***

The elevator doors have to open at just the wrong instant. Comfortable in the descending car, ready for a half-day’s work, which on a Saturday would equal a full weekday’s accomplishments, she sifts through a mental checklist of important tasks. Find the mundane in the fantastic, keep an open mind, forget about last night’s folly.

Then the doors slide open, emptying Scully, arms filled with files, into the basement hallway. Just as she looks up to round the first corner, she meets Agent Vos’ gaze, and looks away uncomfortably.

“Excuse me,” Scully mutters as she passes.

“Here, let me,” Vos replies and moves to take a stack of folders, so Scully can locate and use her office key. Stiffly, Scully acquiesces.

“That was a hell of a bust last night,” Vos continues as they enter the office, and she places the pile of file folders on the desk. Without pause, she begins to examine the assorted curiosities on the walls and shelves.

“Yes,” Scully responds warily, dropping her remaining stack of folders on the desk between them. “Good profile.”

Vos snorts over her shoulder. “Get real.” She fingers a small chunk of moon rock. “You identified the perp before I even got there. Admit it.”

Scully shrugs and sits down, taking shelter behind the desk. She opens a file and begins to read. Perhaps if she works hard enough, Vos will take the hint and leave. She has neither the time nor the inclination to permit a crime boss to attempt a second overt seduction in the space of twenty-four hours.

Vos, an ostensibly intelligent investigator, fails to take the hint and wedges herself against the edge of the desk. “What’s the new case?” she asks pleasantly.

Scully decides quickly to overwhelm her with the superficial idiocies of the case in an attempt to force her out without being unkind. Although she has no interest in cultivating a friendship with this woman, it is still prudent to avoid making an enemy of her. “Mysterious lights in the sky above towns in six southeastern states appear to presage church bombings. There have been eight that fit the pattern in just under three weeks.”

“What’s your take on it?” Vos asks.

Well, Mulder’s never been an outspoken fan of organized religion, Scully thinks. Maybe he’s up in his spaceship, blowing away Pentecostals. Obviously, she is in just the wrong mood for this exchange. She grits her teeth and answers. “It could be a deliberate show to point attention away from the true culprits. A small, portable laser projector could project any number of shapes and colors on a foggy night. I haven’t discounted the drama factor,” she says, ending her words by sinking her teeth into the inside of her cheek.

“Hm,” is Vos’ only reply as she turns and opens the file on a fire in Valdosta, Georgia. “You know,” she tosses out absently as she reads, “there have been a number of sightings of what clergy has referred to as ‘the blessed spirit’ hovering over houses of worship later determined to be tainted by child sexual abuse. Maybe these cases are connected. You might want to interview the – -”

“Thank you, Agent Vos,” Scully interrupts tartly, “but I believe Agent Doggett and I will be fine from here.” Her knuckles are white as she grips the folder in her hands. Her jaw trembles slightly with the force of her clenching, and she tastes the hot, metallic trace of blood on her tongue as she bites even more firmly into the lining of her cheek.

Vos looks up, startled, and closes the folder, nodding in sudden understanding. As she rises and turns to leave, she says simply, “Sorry to interrupt.”

Scully says nothing. She watches Vos’ smooth gait, marred only by the slight slump of the shoulders; a familiar sign of defeat. The door closes with a gentle click as Scully sits and waits to feel good about her victory.

+++

She is zero for one. Rather than continuing to cultivate the rapport she built last night with Dana Scully, she has somehow managed to alienate her utterly. She decides it’s high time she got to work on her people skills.

Walter had warned her that Scully would be at the bar, and it hadn’t taken much for her to decide that the seduction would be a clever way to break the ice. She’d thought it had worked. Evidently not, judging from Scully’s hostility. Perhaps she’d been too occupied with being clever and had failed to pay closer attention to Scully’s quite possibly sincere reaction to her conscious manipulation.

She shakes her head vigorously as the elevator doors close. She commands herself to shake it off. She will have no chance of winning over Walter today if she demonstrates the extent of her defeat with Scully.

By the time the elevator doors slide open again, Audrey has begun to rebuild her composure. She will not fail herself and Walter. She will hold it together and appeal to him as one adult to another. She chuckles darkly. She is still unqualified, but will do the best she can.

As she approaches the outer door to his office, she runs down her agenda: Apologize, don’t make excuses, ask for a chance to make it up to him. It’s all perfectly logical and sensible, and it scares the wits out of her. Never have the personal stakes been so high.

She enters the outer office, and offering a perfunctory nod to Kimberly, knocks on the inner door.

The A.D.‘s cold “come in” does little to assuage her concern.

When she looks at his posture, at his resistance to meet her eyes, she can see he has lost sleep as well, and that his bluster is very likely as affected as hers. She takes a seat at the weak side of his desk.

“About last night,” she begins.

He shakes his head, his gaze still pinned to the desk blotter. This is what she has feared: He doesn’t want to hear it.

“No,” she insists, “I’m sorry.” She tries sincerity flavored with levity. “I was apparently totally mental at the time, but I saw my neurologist this morning and he assures me I’ll be right as rain after a quick lobotomy.”

He is still shaking his head, eyes closed, but he smiles and huffs out a little chuckle. When he opens his eyes, she sees what he’s been concealing. Contrition. “I was out of line, Audrey,” he tells her in a soft voice. “I shouldn’t have pushed so hard.”

She takes her turn to shake her head in bewilderment.

“You and I both know what you’ve been doing today…”

Her stomach knots.

“…and I think you might have been a little stressed out about the management meeting.” It’s an unwarranted deflection, and she argues with herself over whether to accept it.

The truth is, matters last night were complicated.

She was confused about her encounter with Scully, about how much of what floated between them was artifice and how much was genuine. Then there was Walter’s wonderful nurturing, unexpected and beautifully gentle. Then the prods that hit just too close to home. Topped with his denial over the obvious latency issues…

She is getting ahead of herself. She needs to focus and decide whether to accept the out he is giving her. She decides against it. If they have any chance at a future, she must be as honest as possible under the circumstances.

“No,” she tells him simply. “I was okay about the meeting. It went pretty much the way we expected.”

“Well, the bust last night must have…” His voice fades off.

“It’s okay, Walter,” she tells him simply, “I don’t need any excuses. I was freaked about my meeting with Scully, pumped from the bust, and a little angry about your sudden control issues. I overreacted. I’m sorry and I’m over it. So how about I come over later for some poker, schnapps, and ice?”

His eyes widen. The ice has caught his attention. She has been teasing for weeks about how ice deadens the gag reflect near the uvula, and how she has always wanted to see if she could deep-throat a kielbasa like his. She hopes she hasn’t underestimated the appeal of either mind-blowing makeup sex or shameless flattery.

He simply grins in reply, and she rises, satisfied.

“See you at eight.” She leaves the room before she has a chance to put her foot in it again.

+++

“A positive affirmation.” Scully flicks her turn signal.. “It works for alcoholics.” She looks into the rear-view mirror before changing lanes. “I can do this,” she says with strained credibility.

She drives for another five blocks before she recognizes the continual click-click of the turn signal and snaps it off in disgust. She has become a little old lady and hasn’t even noticed. She tips down the mirror for a quick check: Roots slightly more visible in the oncoming headlights, but no gray yet. Eyes swollen from sleep deprivation and stress, but no additional wrinkles. Mouth tight, but no crinkly edges on her lips yet. She’s still young.

She feels old. As old as the beast she’s driving, some clunky dealership loaner with a squeaky undercarriage and lousy struts. The seats are hard as granite and redolent of ancient smoke, and she toys with the idea that Spender might have once parked his long-dead ass on this very seat.

She blinks once, hard, to clear her head, and almost misses the turn. Swerving over into the right lane, she pulls to a sudden crawl to look for a place to park the beast. She is fortunate, she discovers quickly, that the lane was uninhabited. When she glances up to look in the mirror, she doesn’t see an empty lane behind her, but rather her own surprised face. With one hand, she slams the mirror back into place, chastising herself for the kind of stupid mistake that kills people and their unborn children every day.

She finds a spot and cannot decide if it pleases or upsets her. It doesn’t matter anyway, she determines. It must be done.

When she rings the doorbell and hears nothing in response except for a couple of muffled meows, she does not permit herself to think. She simply gets back into the car, adjusts the mirror properly, sets her turn signal, checks traffic, and pulls back onto the road.

This time she turns off the signal.

She is halfway to Crystal City before she begins to question how she will approach the subject. The only thing she’s sure of is that she will not do it in front of Skinner. God, not in front of him. She will ask for privacy, say what she has to, and then leave. Let them do their couple thing without her unwanted presence.

Parking is a breeze, a man with flowers holds the front door for her, and an elevator awaits.

This is not a good portent.

The man with flowers is getting off at the same floor, and walks down the same hallway, just ahead of her, before stopping at a door only two down from Skinner’s. He looks at her and nods in some kind of understanding and knocks at the door. She has no idea what he thinks she’s doing there and turns away.

Over the gushy sounds of a woman cooing and a man cajoling, she tightens her hand into a fist and knocks. When the annoying pair down the hall have retreated behind their door, she can hear inside Skinner’s apartment; the female laughter, the firm male strides toward the door.

“Hold on,” she hears Skinner say, his voice gravelly and very slightly slurred by the barrier between them.

When he opens the door and she sees his expression – and smells the air around him – she realizes it wasn’t the door that slurred his words.

“Agent Scully,” he says, and steps aside in invitation.

She enters quickly, and moves toward the sofa before she loses her nerve. But before she can ask for the privacy she craves, Vos derails her.

“Dana,” Vos says with a squinty smile, and Scully shudders. “I’d offer you some schnapps, but it’s kind of a single-purpose substance. Besides,” she appears to consider with great intent, “in your condition…”

Scully’s jaw clenches without her conscious permission.

Vos appears confused. “I’m sorry. I just assumed that since all three of us know… “

Scully doesn’t move, barely breathes, counts to ten. Her jaw is still tense, so she counts another ten, and this time, she relaxes a little. Although she cannot see him, she knows that Skinner is close, and his presence is nominally comforting.

“What can I do for you?” Skinner asks her.

She is grateful for the reprieve. “Actually, I’m here to speak with Agent Vos for a moment.”

Skinner nods, and moves toward the kitchen. “I’ll get some ice.” Vos falls into an inexplicable fit of deep-throated laughter at his words. “Take your time,” he says casually as he leaves the room. “And no absconding with that last cinnamon shot, Audrey,” he adds, his deep voice already echoing off the tiled kitchen surfaces. “It’s mine.”

Scully examines the two shot glasses Vos is holding carefully, filled almost to the rims. Vos sets one down on the coffee table, spilling a little of its red liquid onto the playing cards splayed out on its surface.

“Shh,” Vos says in a conspiratorial whisper, and swallows down the drink she’s holding. She shudders, shakes her head, and squeezes her eyes shut. “Ew,” she says finally, eyeing the glass suspiciously, “mint.” There are still a few drops of sticky green liquid left in the glass, but Vos puts the glass down and pushes it aside. “I hate mint.”

Scully glances at the table, then back to Vos, and something clicks into place. The scene and all it implies brings a wall of dizziness down on her, but she holds herself upright regardless. She congratulates herself for absorbing the revelation with cool detachment, and improvises a change in plans. She breathes deeply and enunciates every word with crisp precision.

“Agent Vos, I would like to apologize for my behavior earlier today. Can I make it up to you with lunch tomorrow?”

Vos’ eyes widen and a broad smile narrows her eyes until they begin to squint again. She should have noticed it before. “Lunch? Absolutely,” she replies. “How about Massey’s at noon?”

Mass lets out at 11:50, and Massey’s is less than a block from her church. This “Vos” person knows of her Sunday habits. Scully keeps breathing deeply, intent to conceal the rage. “Yes,” she replies, “that would be fine. See you then.” She turns to leave just as Skinner returns to the room with a glass bowl filled with crescent-shaped ice cubes.

He sets the bowl down on the table, and follows her to the door. “I told you she was great,” he says, gazing longingly over Scully’s shoulder. Her dizziness has not yet abated, and his expression has heaped a little nausea on top of it.

“Walter?” Scully asks sharply.

“Mm?” he responds, distracted.

“If you drink any more, you’ll be of no use to her tonight.”

He looks at her in surprise.

When she has closed the door behind her, she hears a body slam against it, and Skinner’s belated reply.

“Use me.”

And then laughter.

+++

Hem Ben Ik, 6/7

by Livia B

***

Sunday, Noon

“Forgive me, Father, for I am about to sin.” That certainly gets his attention.

To his credit, Father Isley takes it in stride. “I’m sorry, what was that?”

“Nothing.” She shakes her head at the inappropriate glibness. “I have committed a sin against a fellow human – well, I think it’s a human – by questioning her sincerity because of a lie I think she’s telling.”

“So you have committed the sin of judgment.”

“Well, no, not really. I’ve decided that she’s untrustworthy because she’s proven that she hasn’t been telling the truth.”

“I fail to see the sin in that, Dana,” he replies, and she winces as she always does when her confessor calls her by her given name. Isn’t this supposed to be anonymous? “Are you spreading suspicion about her to others?”

“No,” she replies honestly, “but I may.”

“Well, be careful,” is his simple response. “You know that God judges you by both your acts and your intentions. You might want to reflect on whether the benefit of making an accusation will outweigh the moral implications of your actions.”

Under other circumstances, he would be making an excellent point. But when her life and the lives of her child and friend are in danger, she will gladly commit this minor transgression.

“Do you have anything else to confess?”

For the tenth time in as many weeks, she toys with the idea of confessing in a clear, level voice, that she has sinned by unchastity by having engaged in premarital sex with her work partner. But she refrains, considering that her refusal to secure contraception before the act might even up the score in the eyes of the church. She answers, simply, “I’ll get back to you, Father.”

She takes her time leaving the church. First she lights four candles. She used to light only three after mass, but a fourth soul has left her life, and she needs to find a way to miss him without losing hope. So beside the candles she sets aflame for her father, sister and daughter, she lights another for him. For the first three, she prays for eternal peace. For the fourth, she prays for a safe return.

She blinks and shakes her head. No, she will not abdicate a single scrap of the responsibility, she thinks, burning her fingers on the wick of the fourth candle as she extinguishes it between thumb and forefinger. Let her supplication to heaven take the form of active participation, not submissive buck-passing.

She closes her eyes and concentrates on the slight stinging burn in her fingertips, praying for herself and for what she is about to do.

She has walked a full block and is already attempting to cross the street when she realizes she has been primping. She sees Agent Vos already seated at a sidewalk table at the corner, sipping idly on a thin glass of iced tea, and Scully runs a fingertip down each corner of her mouth, to tidy her lipstick. Halfway through the gesture she grasps the implication of what she is doing and stops at once.

In the wake of her self-rebuke, she only half registers the pigeon standing on the sidewalk across the street. When the light turns green it begins to cross, remaining carefully within the crosswalk. They pass each other at the halfway point.

Vos smiles, her eyes crinkling in a familiar squint again, and Scully takes a deep breath as she approaches and takes a seat across the table from her.

They order their food, and at first, the conversation is straightforward and unemotional.

“That was interesting,” Vos comments once the waiter has left.

“What was?” Scully asks.

“That pigeon.”

Oh, the pigeon, Scully thinks. Under any other circumstances, were she anyone else, she might find it amusing to see a pigeon wait for a walk signal. But being her, living her life, she is always inclined to question and to wonder. “Maybe it wasn’t a pigeon,” she finally responds.

Vos appears to consider this. “Maybe.”

“Maybe you’re not you,” Scully adds lightly.

“Maybe not,” Vos bats back. “Maybe you’re not you.”

Scully nods. “I haven’t discounted that possibility.” She has always wondered, given what she knows, if she is the original, or if the she who returned from her abduction or her road trip with Spender, or Antarctica, was merely a clever copy.

Their meals arrive quickly and they chat about their latest cases. Scully waits, wondering how long Vos will be satisfied to dance around the matter before giving in. She doesn’t have to wait long. When sudden nausea overcomes her and she stops eating to ask the waiter for some crackers, Vos appears concerned.

“I’m sorry about what I said last night,” Vos offers as she picks green peppers out of her salad and lays them on her bread plate. “I shouldn’t have spoken about it so casually.”

“I’m sorry I snapped at you yesterday in the office,” Scully responds, simultaneously accepting and brushing off Vos’ contrition. “I had a lot on my mind, and I didn’t mean to take it out on you.”

Vos grins. “Of course you did,” she says playfully and digs her fork into a large cube of iceberg lettuce. “I was loitering. I have a habit of doing that. You weren’t wrong to toss me out.”

“Still,” Scully insists, snagging an overripe tomato slice and pushing it aside with a grimace, “I might have been more tactful about it.” Why wouldn’t the damn woman just accept her apology without having to make herself out to be the culprit? Hadn’t she been through enough of that over the years to deserve a single conversation free from self-castigation?

Scully drops her fork and forgets to breathe.

“Agent Scully?” Vos asks in concern. “Are you all right?”

Stupid question, Scully thinks, and she dignifies it with all the answer it deserves. “I’m fine.”

The fitting response doesn’t seem to satisfy Vos.

Scully picks up her fork again and selects a crisp slice of cucumber. “Just a little dizzy,” she says. “I’m okay.”

Vos nods and crunches into a too-thick slice of carrot. Around the half-chewed nuggets, she says, “I realla wanna than yo fo yo hep on Fridee nah.”

“It’s okay,” Scully replies, digging deep into the bowl to find a tomato slice that isn’t halfway rotted. She finally gives up and tosses down her fork.

Vos immediately summons the server on her behalf. “Could you try it again, but this time with some vegetables grown during the Clinton administration?” He snatches the bowl from in front of Scully and dashes back inside the restaurant.

Scully concedes a small grin and watches Vos return to her meal, apparently unaffected by the questionable quality of her own salad. “I used to like this place,” Scully comments, looking around. “I wonder what happened.”

Vos makes an offhanded gesture with her fork-laden hand. “They must have had to make a choice between quality,” she suddenly has to shout over the deafening rumble of a passing truck, “and ambiance.”

Goddamn it, Scully thinks, nearly laughing aloud. She wants to remain angry. She decides that since Vos seems open to conversation, she will settle for facts.

She takes a long sip of her water, puts the glass back down, fiddles with its location until it’s sitting precisely within the damp circle it soaked into the tablecloth. “Audrey,” she begins in a bland voice, “what is your role within the organization?” She feels, rather than sees Vos’ reaction. Although the squinty smile is still in place, there is now nothing behind it, and Scully wonders if this is her panic face.

“I assume you’re not referring to my position within the Bureau.”

“No,” she responds.

Vos nods and spears another forkful of greens. “I’m in charge now,” she says simply, and resumes eating.

“In charge of what?” Scully asks.

Vos’ eyebrows lift and she gives a little shrug. “Everything that’s left.”

Scully sighs. Just once, can’t anyone simply answer a question with actual information? “Please don’t make me drag this out of you one detail at a time, Audrey. What comprises ‘everything’?” The server returns with a fresh salad, and she is grateful to have something to toy with.

Vos puts down her fork and takes a long pull from her iced tea, motioning for a refill from the server as he retreats. “There’s not a lot left, Dana. We’ve been dismantling most of the really controversial modules over the past few months, and with the sudden departures of the last two founders, we’ve been free to clean house.”

“And how exactly would this constitute ‘detail’?” With the fork back in her hand and the shield of a large bowl in front of her, she feels bolder.

Vos laughs. “I really don’t want to dump all this on you at once.”

“You have a choice,” Scully counters. “You can either tell me everything now or you can forget any cooperation I might offer. And don’t give me that innocent act,” she continues when Vos appears startled. “I know you want something from me. Why don’t you start with the reasons for your enlistment of Walter Skinner.”

“I’m sure you’re not inclined to believe this, but my relationship with him is entirely separate from the work.”

Scully opens her mouth to speak, but thinks better of it when her expression alone forces Vos’ gaze downward in supplication.

“I do discuss the project with him, and I have consulted him on your possible involvement in the future, but that’s it. He has control over the nanomachines in his bloodstream now, and he only answers to his bosses at the Bureau. There’s no one left in the organization to control any of them. Alex and I have seen to that.”

“I know about what happened to Jurgen Strughold. What happened to C.G.B. Spender?”

“Alex took care of him too, the way he handled most of the remaining troublemakers in the organization.”

“You mean killed,” Scully says quietly just before the server returns with a sweating pitcher of iced tea.

Vos nods while he pours. “Yes.” She looks up and smiles at him. “Thank you.” He smiles in return, clearly charmed by her, and leaves quickly. Scully doesn’t like it, but at least the service is passable.

“So now that the unsavory elements have been eliminated, what are your plans?” Scully asks the question as if she was asking a colleague how she was planning to spend the Thanksgiving holiday.

“Well,” Vos replies, gesturing with a radish-laden fork, “for starters, I have no plans to screw up everything with selfish interests.”

In lieu of a response, Scully raises her eyebrows, requesting elucidation.

“I’m not in this for the power, Dana. I just want the war over.”

“That’s what we all want,” Scully replies. “So what do you have that we don’t?”

“Well, for starters,” she answers, “cloning laboratories, samples of both strains of the alien virus, and a shitload of connections.”

Scully collects a balanced forkful of salad. “And what do you plan to do with all of these valuable resources?” She takes a bite, calming her stomach through her pretense of composure.

Vos stops eating for a moment, and looks at her levelly. She swallows.

“This is the part that has to do with me, isn’t it?” Scully asks.

Vos purses her lips and nods. “I’d really hoped to be slicker about this, but there you go. Right.” She clears her throat. “We’ve done some computer modeling, Dana, and based on your genetic donation as well as the most recent genetic profile of the most likely paternal candidate…”

“Out with it, Audrey.”

The words come out in a rush. “We think your baby could be something really vital to the human race.”

Scully ponders the implications for a moment, and reduces them to one concept: “Immune.” It’s a question, but the force of the statement calms Scully’s stomach further. Considering the turn the conversation has taken, she is pleased that she is as relaxed as she is. They are discussing experimentation on her own child.

“Not just immune, Dana. Poison.”

“Poison to whom?”

Vos smiles. “To Them, with a capital ‘them’.”

“How?”

“It’s about the bloodstream, which is how the virus travels throughout the body. We think that the baby’s spleen and liver will be able to create cells and specific biochemicals that will not only incapacitate the alien viruses, but actually kill them on contact.”

Scully nods. “And what do you want from me?”

Vos’ eyes widen. “Well, we don’t want your baby, so you can sleep tonight knowing that. We just want to take a few samples, in utero, to ensure our simulations were accurate. When you have an amniocentesis, we’d like a small sample of the amnionic fluid, as well as a small fetal blood sample. They could take just a couple of CCs from a pedal vein.”

She is shocked to realize that she is considering the request. “And then?”

“And then we test. If we’re right, we’ll need to get our cloning specialists to work the moment the baby’s born.”

Scully takes a deep breath and puts down her fork with firm intent. “I will not permit you to clone my child.”

“That’s not what we want, Dana.” She doesn’t seem surprised by the statement. “We want to clone the baby’s liver and spleen. We have systems in place that can support the organs and their biochemical productions for the lifespan of the organ.”

Scully recognizes the staggering implications for organ replacement. With widespread use of the technology, desperation and failure in organ donation could be a thing of the past. The idea sends a thrill of excitement through her.

Vos concludes, “Ideally, we want to have whole labs of livers and spleens, producing Kupffer cells and the other hemo- and immuno-microstructures necessary to create biological weapons against the colonists.”

The explanation offered could be reasonable scientifically, and Scully is interested. “What kind of weapons are you thinking of producing?”

“Two kinds, primarily,” she replies. “First we want an innoculant. Something safe for humans, but deadly to colonists. So Plan A is immunity, a defensive maneuver. We have a couple of contacts at the CDC to help speed production once we get to that point.”

“And Plan B?”

“A two-pronged offensive: Rapid-fire injection weapons for hand-to-hand combat, and an aerobic version of the human biotoxin to release airborne.” She looks over with playful confidence. “You ever see ‘War of the Worlds’?”

Scully nods. “And what if my baby is just a regular, ordinary human being?”

Vos shrugs and digs into her salad again. “We find another way. Mutational engineering, maybe.” When Scully winces at the phrase, Vos becomes defensive. “I know, it gives me the heebie-jeebies too, but we may not have a choice. We’re looking at a full-scale viral apocalypse, and soon. Either we develop weapons of some kind, or we’re extinct.”

Scully sits quietly for a few moments, evaluating her options. “If I agree,” she says at last, “I will want control over the samples.”

Vos smiles, and the smile grows. “Whatever you want, Dana. I’d like to put you in charge of the project, but if you want to stay out of it, we’ll make sure the samples are extracted with you present.”

“You want me to join your organization?” she asks with incredulity.

“Ideally.” Vos continues to smile, and her expression takes on a kind of warmth. “This is a different group of people, Dana, with very different goals. I’ve put an end to human experimentation, abductions, and executions. I want to focus on the pure science of the thing. Powermongering won’t win the war. Immunology will.”

The woman is a chameleon, Scully realizes. Vos began the discussion in a playful, conversational manner – something just familiar enough to put her at ease – and then metamorphosed into a scientist, appealing to Scully any way she could.

Scully picks up her bag and extracts the small emergency medical kit. In silence, she withdraws a single-use packet of antibacterial cream, an envelope containing a folded alcohol swab, and a sharply pointed pair of tweezers.

Vos looks on in curiosity.

When she is done assembling the items on the table before her, Scully holds out one hand, palm-up, and asks, simply, “May I?”

For a moment, Vos appears ready to bolt, but she stays put and begins to smile. She offers her hand and lays it in Scully’s, who places it on the tabletop.

She unwraps the swab and wipes it firmly over the pad of Vos’ index finger, and then over the sharp tip of the tweezers. Without warning or preamble, she thrusts the pointed end into the prepared flesh, and withdraws to a safe distance.

Vos looks up at her under intent brows, awaiting judgement.

Scully waits a few seconds, and when a single droplet of red blood blossoms from the pierced skin, she moves closer again. She taps the alcohol pad against the blood and watches it soak, still vivid red, into the cotton fibers.

She looks up at Vos, purses her lips, and nods. “Thank you,” is all she says as she wipes the fingertip once more before tearing open the cream and applying it to the puncture. “You’re a good patient.”

“And a human one,” Vos teases. “I don’t blame you for your skepticism.” When Scully doesn’t react, she elaborates. “I’m sure all of this must be overwhelming right now.”

Scully puts her tweezers away and grins to herself, her gaze pinned on the objects in her hand. “Not at all,” she says to the double-stitched handles of her bag. “It’s just difficult to make decisions when you’re not presented with all the evidence.”

Vos waits and watches as Scully meets her gaze and rises, tossing a twenty on the table. Just before she departs, she moves to her side of the table and leans in toward Vos with a conspiratorial grin.

“You might want to consider telling the whole truth,” she prods, tracing one finger across the scar on Vos’ cheek.

Scully rises to her full height, and walks away. “I’ll be in touch,” she says over her shoulder as she crosses the street away from that awful meal and the shades of truth sitting alone, befuddled, at the table.

+++

It should be raining in his living room. This is all that occurs to him. When two strong fronts collide, it should rain. There should be thunder and lightning and buckets and buckets of rain.

She told Scully the truth he’s kept secret for weeks, but she’s been withholding something from him. The heat of elation and the chill of despair meet and crash within him. It should be raining.

He heard Scully’s words and he agreed to her suggestion, but it hurt him. It still does. He doesn’t know what the implication is, what it is that Audrey’s been hiding.

Distrust seeps into him, a familiar companion, and he struggles to keep it at bay. It would be easy for him to withdraw from her at the first sign of trouble, but he will not. He will pay attention. He will watch, and he will listen. He looks over at the bar and wonders what he will do when she arrives.

When she does arrive, glad to see him and striking in lavender silk, he nearly loses his nerve. But he has been used too much, hurt too much, to back out of a chance to learn the truth.

He presses his cheek to hers as she holds him fiercely, and he whispers into her ear, “How about a drink?” Anything, any distraction, to keep his lips from her soft skin.

“Sure,” she says, drifting over to the bar. She picks up the two traditional bottles of schnapps, and seizing a pair of shot glasses, she meets him at the sofa. “Which do you want of course you want cinnamon you always have the cinnamon.” She is nervous, and it makes him feel bolder.

“Cinnamon, of course,” he responds, watching her with guarded eyes from what feels like the other side of the room. Crash, boom; buckets of rain should be coming down.

She opens the bottle and pours the shot, tries to hand it to him. Scully was right. Goddamn it, Scully was right. He should have seen it. He should have felt it. His stomach drops.

“I said cinnamon,” he chokes out.

Audrey raises her eyebrows and shrugs, looks at the bottle for confirmation. “It is cinnamon.”

He snaps, “Taste it.”

“Wha…?”

“TASTE IT.” He is no longer afraid to push.

She appears confused, and it pleases him.

“Taste it, goddamn it!”

She looks at him with fear, and brings the glass to her lips. When she takes a sip of the sweet green liquid, her eyes open wide in shock, and then close in grief. She swallows – once, twice – and does not meet his eyes. “I’m sorry, Walter.”

He didn’t want to switch the contents of the bottles, but Scully had insisted he would learn something vitally important were he to do so. Red and green, indistinguishable to the colorblind. It hurts that it’s true. “Who are you?” he asks, cold now, as cold as her contrition.

“Walter, I…”

“WHO ARE YOU?” he repeats, shaking, suddenly flushed with rage.

When she returns his gaze to his, he sees her fear and uncertainty, and it’s nearly enough to deflate his anger. Then he hears the words he wasn’t prepared to hear. “I’m him.”

“You’re who?”

“M…Mulder. I’m Mulder. I’m him.”

And he breathes, closing his eyes, waiting to gain control of his respiration and his voice and his splintering heart.

“You knew, Walter. Some part of you knew.”

He shakes his head and refuses to look at her. “How old are you?”

Her voice is small. “Fifteen. They made me fifteen years ago, right after he finished university.”

“You’re female,” he says, finally opening his eyes and looking at her.

She is a wreck, trembling and paper white. “Glad that didn’t escape your notice,” she scratches out, trying to regain some sense of who they are.

“How?” he asks, desperate to learn all he can before he collapses inward.

She takes a deep breath and holds it, before exhaling loudly and releasing some of the tension in her shoulders and neck. Her response is straightforward and unemotional. “I’m a cross-gender clone.”

The last word upsets him, and she must see that.

“I’m one-hundred percent human, Walter.”

“Then why do you exist?”

She shakes her head. “They wanted him without all his emotional baggage, so they made me.” She sighs. “I guess it never occurred to them that his problems were of their making, or that I’d end up with baggage of my own.”

“And the reason you kept this little tidbit from me?” Without his conscious attention, his fingers are gripping a raised seam on the edge of one cushion, the skin white with strain, his hand shaking from the effort to contain the rage.

“I didn’t want to hurt you. I didn’t think you’d believe me, that I’m here because of you, not because of the project.”

After just one deep and cleansing breath, he makes his position clear. “You’re not here, Audrey, or whatever your name is. You just lost your admission ticket. Get out.”

“Walter, I…”

“GET OUT.” Tears well in his eyes. If she doesn’t leave now, this very second, they will spill.

She puts down the glass and rises. When she gets to the door, she mutters to the knob, “I’m sorry.”

He turns away before the door closes, and picks up the traitorous bottle of liquor. The label with its cartoonish drawing of red flames mocks him as the misplaced green liquid sloshes around inside.

With one strong heave, the bottle crashes against the mirrored tiles behind the bar. The tiles shatter, and the bottle shatters.

When the tears finally fall, anger and sorrow mingle in the salty drops. Walter stands mute at the bar, his reflection splintered in the ruined mirror as he shatters as well.

+++

Hem Ben Ik, 7/7

by Livia B

***

Audrey collapses onto his couch, and Alex is afraid she’ll break the thing. When she’s depressed, she’s dangerous.

“Should I be offering you chocolate or hemlock?”

“I’ll settle for a loaded semi-automatic,” she moans, her head tipped back, her arms crossed over her face. “Be a good host and kill me, would you?”

He smirks. She’s so malleable when she’s emotional. “It can’t be that bad.” It’s time to play Appease The Boss, and here he is without a name tag or a studio audience.

She sighs deeply and drops her arms. “This made my meltdown last week look like a college civics debate.”

“So I assume that means you told him.”

She closes her eyes and winces. “No. She told him. He tricked me into showing him without telling me that he already knew.”

Poor kid. That’s a worst-case scenario come to life in glorious Technicolor.

He sits down across from her and puts on his concerned voice. “That’s harsh. I assume he went ballistic on you.”

“For starters. I hadn’t even got to the elevator before he started to trash the place.”

Shit. He wonders what Skinner’s defection will mean to the project. It’s been so much easier to gain access to important information with a willing informant inside the Bureau. Without Skinner, Scully could defect, too.

“Sorry, kiddo. You can’t say this was unexpected, though.”

“I know,” she sighs.

He’s getting pretty tired of her sighing already. Goddamned teenager. “So what are you going to do?”

She shrugs. “Wait it out, I guess. I’ll try to contact Scully and see if she’ll still cooperate.”

It’s crunch time. “And if she doesn’t?” Come on, Audrey, the right answer is…

She looks at him, hard.

“Atta girl.”

“I don’t want to have to resort to that,” she says.

“I know.” He’s proud of her. She’s growing up. “But it’s important to know you can do it if you have to.”

She nods. “For the record,” she says, “this sucks.”

They sit there quietly for a few long minutes, while Alex ponders whether to go get that chocolate out of the fridge. It’s been known to help in the past.

He also considers that he’s damn lucky she turned out as well as she did. If she’d been any other Consortium scion, he’d have killed her long before. She was young, and she was still a little green around the edges, but she was smart as a fucking whip and more importantly, the right people were happy to follow her. Her history as an effective Fed and devoted Child of the Project lent respectability to the enterprise. They wouldn’t have been as likely to accept orders from a one-armed ex-thug.

It also didn’t hurt that she trusted him with every aspect of her life. It was almost comforting, in a vaguely familial kind of way, that she withheld nothing from him.

“So what do you think upset him the most about it?” he prods.

She shrugs again, and it starts to grate on his nerves. “The deceit for starters. Probably the fear that I’m not otherwise as advertised. And then there’s all that latency shit.”

Krycek nods. “Big bad man-beast questioning his masculinity. That’s cute.”

“Shut up,” she suggests. “I want him back, even if it means therapy. I’m sure he’s sitting there right now, wondering which parts of me he liked because they’re me, and which parts he liked because they were Mulder. It’s fucked up, Alex.” She kicks off her shoes and crosses her legs. Great, they’re in for a therapy session themselves. “I’d kind of like to know, too. I got the feeling so many times that I was taking Mulder’s place, or that I was just what Walter always wanted, you know? Mulder minus the sociopathic tendencies and dick.”

He snickers at that. She may still lack social skills, but she’s incisive as hell. “Or he’s just pissed that you lied to him about who you are.”

“Or,” she counters, “he’s suddenly insecure about his heterosexuality and thinks that he’s been compensating for his supposedly inappropriate homosexual urges with an acceptable substitute.”

“OR,” he stresses, “he’s just pissed that you lied to him about who you are. Don’t complicate it if you don’t have to.”

She purses her lips and squints her eyes, and he is suddenly surprised again to see the similarity. She really is so like him.

Her pout turns into a smirk. “So are you gonna make good on that chocolate or what?”

It’s gonna be a long night.

+++

When Alex finally delivered the ultimatum of sacking out on the couch or going home, she took the hint and left.

She sits on her sofa now, covered in cats and bathed only in the cool glow of the aquarium light, with a wrinkled cocktail napkin in one hand and the telephone in the other. She could call before it gets too late and see if the situation is salvageable.

She could go to bed and try to forget that everything has fallen apart.

Fuck the defeatist crap, she decides, and dials the number.

<Ring…> It’s not quite eleven o’clock, but Scully could be in bed already.

<Ring…> She is pregnant, after all, and probably needs her rest.

<Ring…> Maybe she has Caller ID.

<Ring, click…> Finally.

“Your call has been answered by an automatic voice message system.” Shit, she’s not home. “The party you have called = = VALET CLEANERS = = is not available.” Her stomach sinks. “Please leave a message at the tone. When you have finished recording, press one for more options, or just hang up.”

She sits, the phone resting face-up on her open palm, the connection open. By now, it’s probably recording the burble of the fish tank or the thunderous slam of her eyes as they close in horrified realization.

Everybody’s been acting. She’s been playing Good Agent and Good Conspiracist so long, she has failed to see it until now. Alex has been acting, playing his part, waiting for an opening, deciding if he likes the plan and players. Scully has been acting, playing her to gain information and control. Audrey doesn’t want to face what she’s discovered: The she has come to crave Scully’s approval, and the woman must have figured it out.

Walter. No, Walter is the only one in the scenario who hasn’t existed under pretenses. He loved her openly, trusted her completely, and believed in her utterly. And he is the one she hurt. Fuck Scully for now. If she won’t cooperate willingly, she’ll respond to coercion.

It’s the Walter situation she needs to repair, but she knows she can do nothing until he cools down. Leave him alone for a day or two, let him work out the kinks by himself, then show up with a bottle of something high-proof and gray, and make a joke out of it. Maybe some Sambucca with a dash of black food color.

And apologize, apologize, apologize. And don’t sleep with him for a while.

Don’t sleep with him.

In the office the next afternoon, she receives an email.

+++

From: “Special Agent Dana Scully” ()

To: “Special Agent Audrey Vos” ()

CC: “Assistant Director Walter Skinner” ()

Subject: Your offer is accepted…

…under the following conditions:

1. You and your organization consent to cease all illegal activities at once, including but not limited to murder, kidnapping, assault, coercion, theft, and nonconsensual medical experimentation.

2. Your organization will, under no circumstances, undertake full-body cloning of my offspring. All cloning will be restricted to individual organs, with all samples extracted from the donor only under my direct, personal supervision. Upon completion of the project, all cloned organs will be incinerated and all DNA samples destroyed.

3. You will put forth your most committed effort to locate and return Fox Mulder to Washington, D.C. alive, healthy, and with all faculties intact.

Should you be surprised by condition #3, let me assure you that I am aware of your limited sphere of influence. Should you have had any information on the location of Agent Mulder, I expect you would have already seen to his safe return. It is clear that you could not have stopped his abduction any more than I.

In exchange for the assurances above, I will agree to provide the following:

a) Limited samples of my own amnionic fluid and a 5cc blood sample extracted from the fetus I am carrying, all withdrawn under my direct, personal supervision.

b) If applicable, donor cells from my child’s liver and/or spleen, withdrawn under my direct, personal supervision, for use in generating human biotoxin to be employed as defensive and offensive weapons against both strains of the extra-terrestrial “black oil” virus.

c) Personal supervision of the entire Immunology project. To that effect, I will expect to have final decision-making authority with regard to all aspects of the use of biological donor samples, cloned replacement organs, and rights to the cloning technology itself.

Should you choose to accept these terms, please respond by return email, and I will consider the agreement a covenant.

Dana Scully

*

She smiles and forwards copies to a couple of anonymous webmail boxes. One down. One to go.

+++

Six Months Later

_____

Erin is calming again, her belly full and her mother singing little tuneless nothings, as they rock slowly in the hard, wide chair. Erin Marie, Scully decided.

She lays one gentle hand on Erin’s abdomen, soothing away the lingering discomfort of her healing incision. The intelligent microprobe they used was genuinely non-invasive, and Scully was impressed with the technology. They were able to extract miniscule tissue samples with a minimum of pain or risk for the baby. But there was still an incision, and there were still minor injuries sustained through the extraction of the tissue itself.

Erin is a trooper. A healthy, beautiful little trooper with sad eyes. She is four weeks old today.

Scully spent the day reading through test results in the laboratory, with Erin close by in her travel seat. She reviews the work, but will only supervise the procedures through the safety barrier. She will not permit the black oil anywhere near her daughter, despite news so joyous it sparked celebration throughout the facility.

Six months earlier, one drop of the baby’s blood – just one drop – was enough to wipe out an entire petri dish of the black oil.

The first strain, that responsible for mind control, desiccated immediately. All that was left in the dish was dark gray powder. When the scientists removed the ash and attempted rehydration, all they managed to create was a murky, colorless soup. Electromicrographs confirmed it: There was no DNA left to examine. The sample had destroyed itself.

That in itself was good news, but not nearly good enough. While the first strain could control the host’s mind, it was the second strain – the original inhabitant of this planet, some speculate – that was the truly dangerous one. It reacted differently to the baby’s blood. On contact, individual oil cells expanded and burst. In a chain reaction, the entire tray exploded, dramatically, spraying tiny droplets of oil everywhere within the experimental hotbox. But there was no sign of life in the remains.

At first, the scientists in the laboratory stood in awe, dumb from the realization that they had succeeded in only days where their predecessors had failed in over fifty years. Then it dawned on them that they would succeed, that it was inevitable, and that was when the shouting began.

Jumping and shouting, and laughing and crying, hugging one another in victory. “Not on MY planet!” they shouted in challenge to an unhearing enemy, planning the future, a future made more sure by the blood of one little unborn child.

Scully stood and watched through the safety glass, watched as the scientists celebrated, and closed her eyes in relief. She stroked her just barely rounding belly and smiled. She decided that day not to mention the vital involvement of those dead sons of bitches, without whom her altered DNA would not have created the child she was carrying.

She was almost halfway there, just beginning to show, when she’d completed the test results from the samples they’d extracted from her body. Her child was a healthy human with certain expected genetic anomalies attributable to those demonstrated by the mother and father. DNA tests confirmed it: The child was hers and Mulder’s. A little girl. If he had been there he would have wept, and her tears would have flowed; her first genuine feeling in weeks. It has been months now and she has yet to weep any kind of tears at all.

The cloning procedures met with some initial difficulties, but are now proceeding without incident. Scully’s team has produced a prototype biotoxin, and it has not yet caused any negative effects in the humans subjected to it. Given the common nature of its primary biochemicals, they are not surprised.

Injection weapons have already been designed and prototyped, and have been sent off to a government arms manufacturer for fabrication. The armed forces will be supplied with them first and foremost, then local authorities, and if time permits, individual, licensed citizens. The bill approving appropriations for the weaponry swept through the house and senate almost unanimously, disguised as a military salary appropriations measure.

The Centers for Disease Control have begun preparations for a nationwide sweep of “booster shots” against a sudden and inexplicable resurgence of “anthrax”. Everyone, without exception, will be injected with an inoculant guaranteed not to endanger the health of even the most frail. The CDC announced a week ago that they plan to share their stores of the “anthrax” inoculant with other nations of the world.

Behind the scenes, everyone knows what is happening. On the surface, those who know merely pretend they believe the lies. At first, Scully found the deception despicable. But when presented with a scenario demonstrating global panic, she agreed that a quiet solution would be the best alternative possible. Perhaps once it is over, the world can know what really went on.

In seventeen weeks, they predict, the first wave of inoculations will begin. In thirteen, the military will have the weapons. In nineteen, they anticipate the airborne biotoxin will be ready for release. All because of one little four-week-old girl with a fringe of dark gold hair and sad, sad eyes.

“Thank you,” she whispers to a little girl who cannot yet speak. “Thank you,” she prays silently to a God unlikely to be watching over her. “Thank you,” she wishes to a man too far away to hear. “We won,” she says through half-hearted tears.

Scully nurses her daughter and sings her little songs, but her heart isn’t in it. She tells Erin that she has saved the world, but knows that the girl will never believe her, no matter how old and smart she grows to be. Scully toyed with the idea of calling the baby Fox, just to piss Mulder off enough to come home and kick her ass for it. It’s been close to a year and he still hasn’t returned.

She thinks she might already be punishing the child for not being him; withdrawing emotionally because the child fails to fulfill her the way she needs. She toys with the idea of leaving Erin with her mother permanently. If it’s postpartum depression, it’s a special pre-emptive variety, because even with her little bundle of joy in her arms, she feels as alone as she did the day he vanished.

Everyone else got what they wanted, and it makes her angry.

After a long and arduous verbal bloodletting, Skinner took Audrey back, mostly on Scully’s assurance that the transgression was minor and vouching that the woman could be trusted. The two, while not outrageously happy, do seem to be at ease with each other again, and Scully hates herself for begrudging them their contentment.

Krycek is at the right hand of a virtuous project, probably only a global victory away from a Nobel Prize, and he’s smugger than hell about it. That angers her, too. Should he be granted any kind of honor, she will have no compunction about publicly thanking her sister’s murderer for all his assistance. The promise of an imminent scandal is one of the only things that pleases her these days.

As for Scully, she has the future of the world in her arms. She has her baby and her mother, the two people who mean more to her than anyone currently walking the earth, but it is not enough.

She thought she could be happy with what she had. She thought that saving the world would feel better than this.

=====

End.

Notes: The title, “Hem Ben Ik”, is Dutch for (roughly) “I Am He”. If you’re so inclined, do look up the Dutch name Vos. You might get a snicker out of it. Thanks and bran muffins to M. Sebasky. Thanks and goates to Sarah Ellen Parsons, Tara Avery, JHJ Armstrong, and EPurSeMouve for the beta, and to Mr. Livia for not moving out despite my endless prattle about this saga.

Research sources: Encyclopedia Britannica Online for the info on the spleen; and Systran.com for the French to Dutch translation, and to the very kind Marleen for the tweaks. Here’s hoping the title doesn’t actually read “Please Fondle My Bum”.

I’m plotting out the conclusion this very moment. Apparently, these people have more to say.

YesVirginia, I am,

– Livia B

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