Tine Rua by Menagerie

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Tine Rua by Menagerie

Tine Rua cover

TITLE: Tine Rua

AUTHOR: Menagerie

EMAIL:

ARCHIVE: Anywhere except “worst of” lists, I guess. Just tell me so I can visit!

SPOILERS: Everything through Season 7 except the last ep. Season 8 has not happened, Mulder has not been abducted.

RATIING: PG through eventual NC-17

CLASSIFICATION: X, UST, eventual MSR, some H

KEYWORDS: M,S, Sk, LGM, O

DISCLAIMER: I don’t own Mulder, Scully, Skinner, LGM or any other X-Files regulars. They belong to many many lawyers at Fox, 1013 etc. I’m not making a profit, just having fun. Mr. Sevigny, however, is all mine!

SUMMARY: Phoebe Green is back and Scully isn’t having it. Phoebe tries to enlist Mulder’s help with a case and gets the agents engtangled in an international crime.

~~~~~~~~

It had been raining for forever. Or at least that was how it felt. She glanced up at the gray sky, blinking as the spits of rain splashed against her eye lashes. Time to gather the animals, she thought sourly. Right now being stuck in a wooden tub with two of every wildlife species available sounded better than going back to her dark, dank basement office alone.

She sighed heavily and kept walking, pulling the collar of her trench coat snugger around her neck. She had to stop thinking like that. Just go get some lunch, get back to work and try not to look at the clock every two minutes until five o’clock. She couldn’t remember the last time a day had taken so long.

She settled into her chair and popped the top off the steaming cup of coffee. Normally she preferred tea, but today was a coffee day if there ever was one. Maybe the extra jolt of caffeine would prod her interest in the report that sat half finished on her computer. Maybe, if she finished the report, she could go home early. It wasn’t like she didn’t regularly put in overtime. Who could begrudge her a few hours?

She turned to drop the top of her cup into the garbage and her eyes fell on his empty chair. That was the other thing she had to stop doing. No looking at the clock and no looking at his forlorn chair crouched behind his overburdened desk. Her fingers itched to attack the stacks that slid and tumbled over the desktop but she knew he would be royally pissed if she touched them. He swore he knew exactly where everything was, and in truth, he probably did.

She turned back to her computer and jiggled the mouse to deactivate the screen saver. A password prompt popped up and she keyed in her six letter password. The report she had been working on appeared and she looked down at her notes to begin again when a shadow against the door caught her attention and she started in her chair.

“Oh, sorry. Didn’t mean to startle you.” Scully stared at the impeccably groomed redhead in the doorway and felt her mouth open. The other woman smiled and stepped into the room, her hand outstretched. “Scully, isn’t it? I don’t know if you remember me. I’m-”

“Phoebe Green,” Scully breathed. The other woman’s smile stretched. Without thinking, Scully stood and reached her out her hand. The hand she took in hers was slim and dry, almost silky to the touch. Scully all but snatched her hand back.

“You do remember me, then? I hope I haven’t come at a bad time?”

“No,” Scully managed, her eyes darting over the other woman’s designer suit, well coifed hair and obviously expensive jewelry. “I was just writing a report. What brings you down to our part of the world?” She did a mental check of her own appearance. Her hair was probably a little frizzed from the rain, but her suit was relatively new and fit her well. Her gold cross and a pair of gold knot earrings were her only jewelry. Not fantastic, but nothing to be ashamed of either.

Phoebe smiled again and Scully thought was quite enough of that. Don’t bother, Honey, she thought grimly. Your charm is wasted on me.

“Well, it’s a bit of a long story. Do you mind?” Phoebe gestured at the chair in front of Scully’s desk and dimly Scully realized that Phoebe was indicating that Scully had been rude in not offering her a seat. Tough, Scully thought.

“Please,” Scully said, and resumed her own seat. This out to be good. ‘Ten to one you can’t dance to it,’ she heard Mulder say in her head and she suppressed a smile. For the millionth time she wondered if he had ever fished the tape out of the garbage when she wasn’t looking and listened to it. She had almost done so herself, finding excuses to send Mulder out of the room but never quite having the courage to dig out the tape. If he did decide to listen to it and it was gone, he would know that curiosity had gotten the better of her, and that wouldn’t do.

“Is Fox at lunch?” Phoebe asked, her eyes drifting to the barren chair. Scully crossed her legs and sat back in her seat. Time for some fun.

“No. He’s on vacation.”

Phoebe’s eyebrows rose slightly and a sardonic smile creased her lips. “He actually took a vacation? I thought he was married to his work.”

It was Scully’s turn to smile. He is married to it, you little bitch, she thought. And basically to me, so go take a leap.

“The bureau only holds over vacation time for so long. You use it or you lose it.” She shrugged a “what can you do” at the Englishwoman.

“You didn’t have any time saved up?” Phoebe asked. Now we’re getting to it, Scully thought. Subtlety wasn’t getting Phoebe the answers she wanted.

“I’m joining him later,” she said, offering another smile. It wasn’t exactly true, but neither was Mulder just on vacation. He was on the Vineyard dealing with the less than joyful task of putting his father’s house on the market. After that he was going to make his way to his mother’s house and prepare to do the same thing. She was supposed to meet him there on Wednesday for follow-up on an unrelated case.

“So, are you in the States on a case?” Scully took the lead. Let her chew on the vacation thing for a while.

Phoebe crossed her legs, showing a good deal of well-toned thigh. “Hmm, yes and no. I’m actually here on holiday with some friends, but there was some research I was hoping to do in New York when I’m there in a few days. I thought Fox might be able to help me.”

I’ll just bet you do, Scully mused. Research, huh? So, that’s what they’re calling it in England these days.

“I’m sorry, but he’s out of the office the rest of this week and all of next. Can I help you with it?”

Scully didn’t get to savor Phoebe’s disappointment for nearly long enough. To her surprise and displeasure, the redhead accepted her offer.

“Yes, you probably can.” Another smile. “I need access to some records at the NYPD. Of course, there’s professional cooperation between the American police and Scotland Yard, but I thought Fox – or you – might know someone on the force that could help me get around the red tape, as it were.”

Scully shifted in her chair. Damn, why had she made the offer? No she was stuck having to help this woman, and there were few things in life she would rather not do.

“What kind of records,” she stalled, although several names of NYPD contacts were already clicking through her brain. Maybe she could dump Phoebe on one of them and wash her hands of the pest.

“Personnel records, actually,” Phoebe said, getting an eyebrow arch from Scully. “We’ve had a spate of killings in Kent, and the chief suspect is an American ex-patriot who used to work for the New York police. We’re trying to find out as much about him as possible, and his personnel file would be a large help to us.”

Now Scully was frowning.

“Personnel files can only be opened by a court order, I’m pretty sure,” she said. “There are laws to prevent employers from turning over that sort of information.”

“Right,” said Phoebe. “And that’s rather the rub. By the time you wade through international laws, preponderance of proof, not to mention sticky politics in not only investigating an American but a former cop, the man will have killed four more people before we get to him.”

“What makes you think he’s your killer?” Scully was curious, in spite of herself.

Phoebe sighed and settled back into her chair. Clearly, she had hoped not to have to justify her request. She had no doubt thought that a couple of smiles and some innuendo would get Mulder’s immediate cooperation. Scully wasn’t sure if it would have, but she suspected he might have caved if for no other reason than to get Phoebe out of his hair. And out of wherever else she might try to insinuate herself.

“He’s got motive and opportunity in all four cases. Apparently, he’s somewhat of a Don Juan. The problem is that he becomes very possessive and the women get tired of it rather quickly. All four of the victims have dated him in the last year. That is their only connection.”

“Do you have any forensic evidence?”

“Not as such. We have some fibers from two of the victims, but we as yet, we don’t have a search warrant for his flat. He’s a cop, he knows what he’s doing, how to hide things. And obviously, he’s not cooperating at all.”

Scully chewed her bottom lip for a moment, watching as Phoebe spoke. The clipped English, the perfect posture, the air of sophistication she carried about her, it all struck her as patently false. She knew from what little Mulder had told her that Phoebe was the real thing, a spoiled heiress with too much money and too few morals. Her choice of Scotland Yard was only to better be able to play with people’s lives. Still, there was something about the woman that wasn’t quite right…

“Agent Scully?” Phoebe prodded after the silence had stretched to several moments. Scully snapped back to the discussion and straightened in her chair. “I was just…thinking. I don’t know how I can help you, Phoebe. If it were a case file, I could probably get you faster access. But a personnel file is going to have to go through proper channels.”

“Yes,” Phoebe said, watching her closely. “Proper channels is what I am trying to avoid.”

Scully stared right back at her. “I’m sorry, I can’t help you with that.”

The other woman’s lips curled into a small smile and Scully felt that she had somehow fulfilled the other woman expectations. Her obviously low expectations. Well, fuck you, Scully thought. I’m not about to jeopardize my job just to prove you wrong.

Phoebe rose to her feet and Scully did the same, suddenly conscious of how much taller the other woman was. In heels, she would be able to look into Mulder’s eyes without barely tipping her head. Scully ground her teeth together at the thought and stuck out her hand.

Phoebe grasped her hand firmly and looked down into Scully’s eyes. “Tell Fox I said hello and I hope he is having a grand holiday.”

“I will,” Scully smiled back at her. They don’t call me an Ice Queen for nothing, she thought, knowing her eyes were glacial. “Sorry I couldn’t be of more help.”

Phoebe drew her hand away and shrugged as she turned towards the door. “No hard feelings.” Scully watched the slim figure vanish through the door before she slumped into her seat. All of the sudden, she was exhausted.

She had just started the bath running when the phone rang. She glanced at the clock as she entered her bedroom. It was Mulder. He had been calling every day, just to check in and make sure nothing worth his interest was happening on the X-Files.

“Hello,” she said, sitting on the side of the bed.

“Scully, it’s me.” He sounded depressed, beaten, and her heart went out to him. She had known this would be hard for him. Hard to let go of the hope that a young boy had once held about his father. Hard to acknowledge the unanswered questions that would always stay that way.

“Hi. How’s it going?”

He sighed, but said nothing. Then he sighed again. “I hate this,” he finally muttered. “Can you pay people to do this stuff?” She smiled wanly and found herself stroking the back of the phone with her finger as if it were his cheek.

“Yes, you can, Mulder, but I don’t think you want a stranger poking through your father’s belongings.”

“I don’t know why not,” he countered. “It’s like looking through a stranger’s stuff. I went through all his papers and things after he died. There’s nothing here.”

She felt her heart constrict as he said ‘nothing’. Nothing was exactly what his father had offered him over the years. Only once had he reached out and then he had been killed before he could offer his son any belated compensation for the years of bitter silence. It was the story of Mulder’s life and it was clearly weighing heavily on him today.

“Then maybe you should hire someone and come home,” she said softly, hoping he would, but knowing he wouldn’t.

“No, I need to do it. It’s my birthright, isn’t it?” The sarcasm was heavy and it came from an old, dark place. Abruptly, he changed the topic. “How are things at the office? Anything interesting happen?”

Oh yeah, she thought. Your bitch of an ex-girlfriend sauntered into our office today ready to seduce you into breaking a half a dozen laws for her, but I threw her out on her ear. She didn’t even need to consider whether or not to tell Mulder about Phoebe. Just knowing she on this side of the pond would be enough to send Mulder over the edge.

“It’s been a thrill a minute,” she said instead. “I finished the report on the Rawlings case and sent it up to Skinner. Cox and Baines came back from vacation married and Kersh is threatening to fire both of them. Oh, and we’ve been invited to Kim’s birthday party next Friday. I regretfully declined for both of us.”

“Married?”

She laughed. “Yeah, you should have seen the uproar that caused.” Suddenly, she remembered her bath. “Mulder, can you hang on a minute?”

“Sure.”

She put down the phone and went into the bathroom. The tub was almost full and bubbles covered the surface of the water. She turned off the tap and went back into the bedroom.

“I’m back.”

“So, what does everyone have to say about Cox and Baines being married?”

She settled back against the headboard, twining the cord around her fingers. “Oh, what you would expect. Half of the people claimed they knew they were seeing each other. The other half claim is a marriage of convenience. You know, standard water cooler stuff.”

“What’s Kersh going to do?”

She shrugged. “Who knows? I don’t think he can fire them for getting married, but he is probably going to reassign them to different partners.”

“In the cafeteria and the parking garage,” Mulder snorted and Scully laughed.

“Probably. Kersh doesn’t like not knowing what’s going on with ‘his’ agents, so I’m sure they’re going to pay the price.”

“Too bad,” Mulder said. “They’re actually both pretty decent at their jobs.”

Scully snuggled down into her bed and stifled a yawn. Hmm, the bed felt very good and very soft. Maybe she would forgo the bath and just slip under the covers after she got off the phone with Mulder.

“Actually, ” yawn, “Kim was telling me that Cox is probably going to quit as soon as she gets pregnant anyway.”

“Marriage and kids?” she heard Mulder’s surprise and she couldn’t help but grimace. Yes, Mulder, there are still people that do that old fashioned thing of having a life.

“Married FBI agents with kids. How wrong is that, huh Scully?”

She stifled another yawn. “No Mulder, not wrong. More power to them, I say. If they can be happy and piss off Kersch at the same time, I’m all for it.”

Mulder laughed then and she felt an absurd burst of pleasure knowing she had made him smile. She snuggled deeper into her pillows.

“Hey, you’ve got a point. Let’s buy them a really nice wedding gift, okay?”

“Okay,” she was smiling now, too.

“And,” his voice was lower now, and dangerous. “Let’s sign the card Mr. and Mrs. Spooky and see if that starts any rumors.”

She chuckled. “Starts any rumors? Mulder, get a clue. Everyone there thinks we’re a couple as it is. I don’t get called Mrs. Spooky for nothing, you know.”

“So, what you’re saying is that if they’re expecting anyone to come back from vacation married it’s us?” There was laughter in his tone and she was still smiling.

“Yeah, that’s pretty much it.”

“I guess we wouldn’t want to do anything predictable, would we?”

“Hmm, no, I guess not,” she murmured, reaching over to tug the far edge of the quilt up over her.

“It would be funny, though. To seethe looks on their faces.”

“You want to get married just to shock the typing pool?” she shook her head at the idea.

“Well, no. There would be other advantages.” She laughed at his suggestive tone. “What do you say, Scully?”

She was warm and sleepy now, the quilt under her chin, the pillow under her head.

“Uh uh, Mulder. You don’t get off that easy. If you want to ask me to marry you, you have to do it right. I want the ring, the roses, and you down on one knee.”

“You forgot the string quartet in the background,” he teased and she smiled against the phone.

“That too.”

“Scully?”

“Yeah?” For some reason, she felt her stomach do a flip. He wouldn’t. He couldn’t. Not even as a joke.

“I think you’re half asleep. I better let you go to bed now.”

“I am in bed,” she murmured.

“You are?”

“Sort of. I pulled the quilt over me. I was going to take a bath, but I’m comfy now.”

“Okay, you go to sleep. I’ll call you tomorrow.”

“Okay. Mulder, are you okay? Are you sure you don’t want me to come up for the weekend? I could help you go through stuff.”

“No, Scully. I would love to have you come up here, but I need to do this. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

“Okay.”

“G’night.”

“G’night.”

She hung up the phone and snuggled back under the quilt. Sweet dreams, Mulder, she thought, as she drifted off. I hope I helped you think about something else, if only for a little while.

Phoebe Green was standing outside her office door when Scully got off the elevator. She couldn’t quite suppress a scowl at the sight of the leggy Inspector lounging against her door in yet another impeccable suit. That’s a Donna Karan original or I’ll eat my hat, Scully thought sourly, before shaping her face into a complacent mask.

“Phoebe. Did you forget something?” She unlocked the door and flipped on the lights, leading the other woman inside.

“No. I’ve come to see if you can put me in touch with Mulder. I assume since you’re joining him on holiday that you know how to reach him.”

Scully put her laptop on her desk and shed her trench coat. It was still raining. Like London, she thought. Thanks for bringing the weather with you.

“If you give me a number where you can be reached, I can give it to him the next time we talk,” Scully said, taking a seat in her chair, and offering one to Phoebe. Phoebe chose to stand.

“It’s rather important that I talk to him soon. I’ve only so many days here and I am moving about a bit.”

“I see. I should be able to reach him today. If you want to write down your number.”

“I’d hate to inconvenience you,” Phoebe said. “If you’ll just give me his number, I can contact him myself.”

Scully sat back in her chair, amused at the woman’s desire to tower over her. Nice intimidating trick, Phoebes, she thought. But a little obvious, isn’t it? Getting a little desperate to get our way, our we?

“I really can’t give you that, Phoebe. But as I said-”

“What, is there an official Bureau policy about not giving out an agent’s phone numbers to fellow members of law enforcement?” Phoebe cocked her head and stared at her. “Or is that a Dana Scully policy?”

Scully matched her stare for stare.

“I wasn’t aware you needed to reach Mulder on official Bureau business. You would need to talk to Assistant Director Skinner if you want Mulder and I to work on a Scotland Yard case.”

Phoebe smiled like a Cheshire cat, crossing her arms across her chest.

“It isn’t officially Bureau business. I was just hoping to talk to Fox. Is that a crime?”

“No. Neither is it a crime to not give you his phone number.”

Phoebe sighed expressively and looked pointedly at the ceiling. Three pencils, Mulder’s latest victims, hung from the pock-marked ceiling above his desk. A small smile traced Phoebe’s lips.

“He still gets bored easily, I see,” Phoebe said. “It was always a challenge to keep him entertained.” She looked at Scully. “Made me stretch my repertoire quite a bit, he did.”

Scully felt bile rise in her throat and wondered what it would feel like to punch those smug, perfectly outlined lips.

“How fascinating,” Scully said in a tone that belied her words. “So, do you want to leave a phone number?”

“Sure.” Phoebe took the paper and pen Scully handed her and scribbled a local number before handing them back. “I’m staying at a friend’s house. He should be able to reach me there today and tonight.”

“Fine.”

Phoebe turned on her heel and headed for the door. She paused and smiled down at Scully. “Thank you, Agent Scully. I look forward to hearing from Mulder.”

Scully sank back against the warming porcelain and willed herself to relax. She had been a ball of tension all day following her ‘run-in’ with Phoebe Green. Run-in was the way she thought of it, like a fight that didn’t quite happen. All the tension and none of the pay off.

She had frankly been a basketcase all day as a result. Skinner had arched an eyebrow at her flip comments about a recent case that the higher ups were asking questions about. They don’t really want answers, she told Skinner. They just want to ride our asses. The AD had obviously realized that he wasn’t going to get the cooperation he needed and had dismissed her.

She had even sniped at Teresa Cox, now Teresa Cox-Baines as they rode the elevator together. Congratulations, she had said at the still beaming bride. Way to shake up the office. Teresa hadn’t known how to take the second comment and Scully had belatedly smiled at her, trying to take the edge off. She hadn’t meant to hurt the other woman’s feelings or rain on her parade. She had every right to be happy. Everyone had a right to be happy. Scully was just starting to wonder when the hell it was going to be her turn.

The cordless phone rang beside her and Scully’s eyes popped open. Mulder. Shit. Now she had to tell him about Phoebe and it was the last thing she wanted to do. She had intentionally not called him earlier. Phoebe had said she would be at that number today and tonight, but not tomorrow. It was a Friday night. If Mulder did call, Phoebe would likely be out on the town, and he would miss her.

The phone trilled again and Scully briefly dabbed her fingers on a towel before pressing the talk button.

“Hello,” she said.

“It’s me,” Mulder said, and she was relieved to hear that he sounded better than the night before.

“Hey, Me,” she said teasingly back. “How are you?”

“I’m fine,” he said. “And you?”

“I’m in the bath,” she said with uncharacteristic frankness. “I’m doing very fine.” She heard him chuckle.

“So, I guess I don’t need to ask what you’re wearing, huh?” She smiled widely.

“Bubbles. Lots and lots of bubbles.”

“Ooh, sexy,” he breathed heavily into the phone and she laughed.

“Mulder, you’re way too good at this. Just how much of your paycheck goes to those 900 numbers anyway?”

“You’re reaping the reward, so why complain?” he bantered right back.

“Ok, you’ve got me there. How did today go?”

She could hear the sound of fabrics rubbing against one another. He was probably settling into his father’s couch. All of the sudden, she felt wicked.

“Before you answer that, Mulder, you haven’t said what you’re wearing.” She heard his sharp intake of breath and stabbed her other fist into the air. Score one for Scully.

“Uh, nothing as sexy as bubbles, Scully. Just sweats and a t-shirt.”

“Mhm,” she made a sexy sound in her voice and bit her lip to keep from laughing. It was so easy to tease Mulder on the phone. In person she didn’t usually have this much moxie, but with a safe distance between them, the redhead part of her came out.

“Back to your earlier question….” Scully grinned. Oh, he was definitely unsure of how to handle this. Oh well.

“Yeah?”

“The real estate agent came over and took pictures of the outside of the house. I hired a moving van to come and get the heavy stuff on Monday.”

“What heavy stuff?”

“Furniture, mostly. Some paintings, stuff like that.”

She frowned. “What are you going to do with it?”

“Put it in storage, I guess. There’s a local place that has reasonable rates.”

Scully swirled the bubbles with her left hand and watched bemusedly as she painted a smiley face with her finger.

“Why?”

“Why what?”

“Why are you putting the furniture in storage? Why not sell it with the house?”

He sighed and she could hear him settling into the couch (bed?) more. “I don’t know. Some of it is antique. Some of it belonged to my grandmother and great grandmother. I guess I feel weird just selling it.”

“Oh. That makes sense.”

“Does it?” He sighed again. “I mean, why should I keep it? It’s not like there’s some grand Mulder tradition to keep alive. Why lock it in a steel box so I can sell it later?”

Scully sat up a little.

“No, Mulder. You should keep it. They’re family heirlooms. If your first instinct was to keep it, then I think you should.”

“But why? What am I going to do with it? It’s not like I’m going to need to buy a big house some day and fill it with furniture.”

“You can’t live in your apartment forever, Mulder. You might want to move out to the Vineyard some day, or to the Cape.”

“Even if I did, Scully, this furniture needs a big house. It’s heavy oak and mahogany stuff. Some of it’s pretty ornate. The headboard on the bed alone is six feet tall.”

Scully closed her eyes. She could imagine the furniture. Dark, stately, elegant. Her mother had several pieces passed down to her that were the same. Scully would inherit some of it someday. She could already image the house that it would go in. I wonder if his furniture and mine would go together, she found herself thinking, and sat up straighter in the bath. My God, what was she thinking? She was way ahead of the game here. But there it was. She didn’t want Mulder to sell that furniture. It might have a place to go one day.

“Mulder, I think you should hang on to it. Really. I don’t know why I even questioned you.”

“No, you’re right. I-”

“Mulder,” she said softly, “It’s your family’s. I really think you should keep it. You’re already making some big decisions, just let this one go.”

She knew he was confused over her about-face and her sudden insistence that he not sell the furniture. Don’t question it, she silently pleaded. Just trust me.

“Okay,” he said sounding unsure. “I’ll just have them put it in storage.”

“Good,” she said, hoping she didn’t sound too relieved. She was pretty sure their furniture would blend together nicely. I can’t believe I’m thinking this.

“So, how was your Friday?” he asked.

“Um, it was okay.” Shit. Back to Phoebe Green. “I had an unexpected visitor. Actually, she was there to see you, but had to settle for talking to me.”

“Oh?” He was curious. She pursed her lips and frowned. Damn, she didn’t want to tell him. She sighed. No help for it now.

“Phoebe Green is in town.”

Silence. Not even a breath.

“She wants you to help her do some research on a case involving an ex-NYPD cop living in England. They like him for the murder of four women, former girlfriends.”

“Why does she need my help?” His voice was perfectly neutral. She hoped hers was as well.

“She wants access to his personnel files, and of course, that takes a lot of time and red tape. She was hoping you could help her circumnavigate that.”

“Uh huh.” Still no hint of what he was feeling, so she plowed on.

“I told her you were on vacation. She asked me to help but I refused. She wanted a number where to reach you, but I wouldn’t give it to her.”

Nothing. Not even a grunt. Scully sighed.

“She gave me a local number where you can reach her. Let me go get it.” Scully put a hand on the edge of the tub to pull herself up.

“No. Don’t bother.” Scully sat back against the tub.

“You don’t want the number?”

“No.” His voice was tight, his words clipped. “Let her dig up her own information. I’m not getting my ass in a sling for it.”

Scully let out a long, slow breath. Thank God, he wasn’t going to fall for it.

“Scully?”

“Yeah?”

“I’m sorry you had to deal with her. I didn’t know she was in town.”

“I know. It’s okay.”

“Did she give you a hard time?” Scully smiled.

“She tried, but she failed.”

“I’m glad.” She could hear the smile in his voice and smiled back. She heard him shift the phone and wondered if he really was wearing sweats and a t-shirt. A black t-shirt. Or a gray one. She liked them both.

“So, what are you doing with your weekend?” he asked. Phoebe Green was apparently forgotten, and Scully felt ten years younger, knowing it.

“Um. Nothing, truth be told. I need to do laundry and clean, but that’s about it. Can’t contain my excitement.” It was true. With Mulder out of town, life was far too mundane. Granted, she was always bitching that she didn’t have a normal life, but normal wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. At least with him in the same vicinity there was the chance that something interesting would happen.

“Sounds tedious. I’m tackling the attic tomorrow. Can’t wait to see what awaits me there.”

“Come on, Mulder. Attics are fun. You find all sorts of bizarre and ancient things that you A) can’t imagine anyone using and B) can’t figure out why anyone would save.”

He chuckled. “Yes, and knowing my father, there will be even more bizarre things than in a normal house. Maybe I’ll find an old alien probe or a box of Roswell photos.”

“You wish,” she grinned at him. “I’d hear the shout of joy from here.”

“Hmm,” Mulder muttered. “I’m not so sure. I’ll settle for a fantastically expensive coin collection and my old Indian Guide uniform.”

She laughed. Just the idea of Mulder as an Indian Guide made her smile. Of a young Mulder in the khaki shirt and shorts, knobby knees sticking out, cowlick whipped by the wind. Suddenly there was a lump in her throat.

“I don’t think the uniform will still fit,” she said, wincing as her voice cracked a little. He couldn’t know what the image of him as a boy did to her heart.

“No, I’m pretty sure not,” he said amiably. “I guess I just want proof that I didn’t dream that part of my life.”

Oh Mulder. She closed her eyes and felt her heart constrict. There was so much in that simple statement. There was a time when his life had seemed normal, when he had been the All-American boy. It had been a lie, but at least he had been able to believe it for a while. She thought of him in the dusty attic, facing lie after lie as he stuffed the proof into endless garbage bags for the workers to haul away. Was there no end to his pain?

“Mulder,” her voice was firm again. She had a plan. No, just a thought. But it felt right and she was going with it.

“Yeah?”

“I’m going to come up early. I’m going to come up there tomorrow.”

“No. Scully, you don’t need to baby-sit—”

“I’m not, Mulder. I wasn’t kidding when I said I love attics. I really do. It’s like going through a time machine. And I’m bored stupid sitting around here.”

“Bored stupid, Scully?” she heard the amusement in his voice.

“Yes. I’m going to email Skinner and request the time off. I’m sure it won’t be a problem.”

“Scully-” A thousand warning bells rang in her head. He doesn’t want you there. He wants to be alone. He doesn’t want your pity. You don’t know what you’re walking into. You don’t know what could happen. She ignored them all.

“I’ll be there by noon. One o’clock at the latest.”

“Are you sure?” She felt a wave of relief wash over her. He did want her there. He was just afraid to ask.

“I’m positive. I need to go pack, Mulder.”

“Okay. I’ll see you..tomorrow.” He sounded happy and she knew she was.

“Tomorrow, then.”

Oh, it was stupid. It was childish and immature and she was pretty damn sure she had stepped through a time machine sometime during the night because she felt more like a lovesick teenager than a middle aged woman.

A lovesick teenager on her way to meet with the man of her dreams. Not her partner. Not her friend. A man. The one that made her stomach roil and her pulse beat faster.

She glanced at herself in the rearview mirror and saw the flush on her cheeks, the sparkle in her eyes. She had told herself that she was being ridiculous. It was just Mulder. It was just a few days out of town together. It wasn’t like they didn’t do this all the time.

But there was no case. No conspiracy. No board of shadowy figures to elude. She was just helping someone she cared about go through the painful process of sorting through his father’s things. Then they would go to his mother’s house and repeat the process. She was just going to help.

But what made the difference was that he wanted her help. Hers. In all the world, there was only one person he would share this with, and it was her. And she was determined to be there for him. In all their years together, there was too much that they had both still faced alone. Often by choice. More often by habit. She wanted to change that.

It was 12:16 when she pulled into the driveway behind Mulder’s car. She stilled the urge to check herself in the mirror again and climbed out of the car. She tugged her blue sweater down and locked the car door. Emotions, thoughts, and fears flashed through her as she walked to the front door. Don’t think, Dana. Just do.

She knocked on the door, eschewing the doorbell and waited. In moments, she heard his footsteps inside the house and the door opened. He was wearing a black t-shirt and jeans. A strand of hair hung in his hazel eyes and he hadn’t shaved that morning. He smiled at her.

I love him

“Hi,” he said and stepped back to let her enter.

“Hi,” she replied and crossed the thresh hold, her shoulder brushing against his arm. She suppressed a shiver.

“How was the drive?” He lead her into the living room. There were boxes and garbage bags everywhere. The shelves had already been cleared off, the pictures stripped from the wall. She turned and smiled at him.

“Not bad. I made pretty good time.”

“Can I get you a drink?” He gestured for her to sit on the couch.

“Thanks, no. I just finished a soda.” She shifted a little. “I’d like to stand for a while, if you don’t mind.”

He smiled easily. “Butt numb?” She grinned back.

“Yeah. A little.”

“Want me to rub it?” He leered suggestively and she laughed outright.

“How did I know you would offer, Mulder?” Her insides did a flip flop. “One of these days I’m going to say yes and then what will you do?” she prodded him teasingly. He cocked his head to the side and a lazy smile drifted across his face.

“I’d die a happy man.” She laughed again and rolled her eyes. And Scully’s stomach does a lay out double back and the crowd goes wild.

“I’ll just bet,” she murmured. “So, let’s see the attic.”

She followed him up the stairs to the second floor. On the landing she stopped to look out the window at the gorgeous view. It was really too bad this place had such awful memories for him. It would make a great summer house. And she had to check out the furniture while she was here…

He led her to a narrow door in the hallway and pulled it open. Appropriately, it creaked and they grinned at each other. He reached inside and fumbled for the string suspended from the lightbulb. The bare bulb glowed, revealing a set of steep stairs. Mulder bowed low and gestured for her to proceed him.

“Ladies first.” She arched an eyebrow at him and started up the stairs. Despite the relative gloom, she was sure Mulder had a very good view of her ass. She chanced a glance over her shoulder and sure enough, that was where his eyes were focused.

“You’re staring at my ass, Mulder,” she said dryly. Or she hoped that was how she sounded.

“Just wondering if it was still numb,” he countered, as they continued to climb. She paused, one foot on the top step, and slowly wiggled her hips from side to side.

“Nope. Feels fine.” She climbed the last step and walked into the attic. She didn’t need to turn around to know Mulder’s mouth was hanging open. Special Agent Scully did not do those things. Not in front of her partner.

Scully turned all the way around in the attic, peering into the dark reaches under the eaves. A dirty window to the north and another to the east supplemented the meager artificial light. Dust motes danced in the air and she drew in a breath of dry, musty air.

“Ah, the smell of an attic. It’s universal.”

She turned to find Mulder looking at her, a small smile playing along the corners of his mouth. He was clearly wondering what had gotten into her and she had every intention of letting him wonder.

“Where should we start?”

Scully did love attics. She loved opening old boxes and discovering bits and pieces of the past. That it was not her past made no difference. History was elemental, no matter whose it was.

Scully did not like dust, however, and it was all over her. In her hair, on her sweater, and at least a pound of it was up her nose. Every time she blew her nose the tissues got blacker. And despite Mulder un-sticking and propping open both windows, it was hot in the attic, making them both sweat.

She glanced over at Mulder as he sorted through yet another box of books. Rivulets of sweat had streaked through the coating of dust on the side of his face and she had the strongest urge to paint Indian war stripes there. They hadn’t found his Indian Guide uniform, but as Mulder had explained, if it had been kept anywhere, it would be at his mother’s house. Scully was disappointed, but maintained hope that his mother had kept it in a fit of sentimentality.

She sneezed for the upteempth time and felt her throat constrict tightly. It was time for a rest and a cold drink.

“I vote we break for a cold drink,” she offered, and pulled herself to her feet. She winced as her back twinged from hunching over boxes. Mulder’s eyes focused on her and put the book in his hands back into the box.

“Sounds like a plan to me.” She reached out a hand and hauled him to his feet. If her back hurt, she could only imagine what his must be like after five days of similar work. His hand was warm as it clasped hers and now on his feet, he towered over her as he usually did. She tilted her face up to his and his eyes caressed it. He hadn’t said anything, but she knew how much he appreciated her being there. She smiled and to her delight, he did the same. She turned and led him to the stairs, their fingers still entwined.

Mulder had clearly gone to the store since they had talked on the phone the night before. The fridge was stocked with her favorite soda, water, and yogurt. She handed him a can of iced tea and took a soda for herself before sitting at the kitchen table opposite him.

She cracked open her can and took a long drink.

“You went shopping.”

“Least I could do for helping me clean out this mausoleum.”

Scully looked around the kitchen. It hadn’t been updated in a while and the lack of care it had received was evident. Still, it had possibilities. It could serve a family well, if so called upon.

“I don’t know. I kind of like this house, Mulder.” She looked at him as he gulped his tea. “I know it has bad memories for you. But it’s a nice house.”

He shrugged and finished off his can. He pivoted in his chair and shot it into the garbage can by the counter. Mulder pumped both hands into the air.

“And the crowd goes wild.” Scully felt a twinge in her gut at the familiar phrase. At least one member of the crowd was going wild, she mused.

He had pivoted back in his chair and was looking at her intently. She tried to meet his eyes evenly, sipping her drink.

“So, Scully,” he said, drawing out her name slightly. “Wish you were back in DC doing your laundry, yet?”

She took another sip and returned his gaze.

“Nope.”

“Wishing you were cleaning your apartment rather than a dusty, dirty old attic?”

Sip. “Nope.” He cocked his head slightly.

“Wish you had a partner who wasn’t such a headcase?”

Sip. Sip. “Nope.” His eyes were shining at her and she knew hers were twinkling right back. No regrets, she thought to herself. I hope he can see that.

He must have because he reached out and took her hand in his and squeezed it gently. His hazel eyes were soft and warm and she wanted to just sink into them and forget about everything else. Trade him for someone normal? Nope.

She squeezed his fingers back and put down her can. Was this the moment? The one that she had wanted and feared and dreamed about? Was this the way it would happen? That she would finally turn off the alarm bells, climb over her own walls, and just let her heart have its way? She had come so close once. In the hallway. And then the opportunity had been stolen, and she had never gotten the nerve back. But maybe now, maybe here, they could try again. Maybe they could build some good memories in this house before it was gone.

She caressed the back of his hand with her thumb and then slowly raised his hand to her lips. Softly, she kissed the back of his hand, her lips rubbing against the warm skin and the wiry hair, her eyes never leaving his. She heard his sharp intake of breath and saw his pupils dilate slightly. He turned his hand and one finger stroked the side of her face. He was drinking her in with his eyes and she felt herself leaning forward, willing him to pull her in, make her his. Mulder leaned forward, his other hand coming to rest on the other side of her face. He was cupping her face now, rising up out of his chair and she knew in a moment their lips were going to touch…

A loud bang on the door startled both of them and they jerked apart. Scully blinked and licked her lips, her eyes casting about wildly for a moment, wondering where the noise had come from. Mulder was on his feet, frowning as he ducked his head slightly to look out the window. Without a word, he went to the front door.

After a moment, Scully followed him. She was in the hallway when he opened the door and was rocked back by a woman throwing herself into his arms. Mulder took a step back, his arms automatically encircling the woman to steady her against him. Scully’s mouth dropped open as the woman threw back her head and planted a kiss firmly on Mulder’s lips. Phoebe Green.

Mulder yanked his lips away from Phoebe and pushed her off him. Phoebe grinned up at him and pressed her body against his again.

“Hello, Mulder. Aren’t you going to say hi to an old friend?”

He pushed her away completely this time, stepping back and putting his hands on his hips. The frown on his face echoed in his eyes, which were hooded and dark.

“Phoebe, what the hell are you doing here?”

“Looking for you,” she purred, putting her hands on her own hips. “I heard you were taking holiday.”

“How did you find me?”

She smiled dazzlingly up at him and reached out and stroked a well manicured finger down his chest. “I have my sources.” He batted her finger away.

“And the fact that I didn’t want to be found meant nothing to you?”

She gave him an appraising look and folded her arms across her chest. “How was I to know you didn’t want to be found?”

“I thought I made that pretty clear,” Scully said coldly. She was leaning against the doorway into the kitchen, her arms folded across her chest, her fists clenched.

Phoebe slowly turned her head and looked Scully up and down. Scully knew how she had to look. Sweaty, dirty, disheveled. And almost kissed, damnit. She glared at Phoebe, who responded by looking back at Mulder.

“I asked her to give you my number. When I didn’t hear from you, I took matters into my own hands.”

“I got your number,” Mulder said stiffly. “I didn’t call.”

Phoebe shot a look at Scully and smiled back at Mulder.

“But how was I to know that? Agent Scully not very forthcoming. She’s rather protective of you, you know.” This seemed to amuse Phoebe and she arched an eyebrow at him.

“The feeling is mutual. So now that you know I got your message and didn’t call, you can leave.”

“Mulder!” Phoebe pouted. “Is that the way to treat an old friend? After I came all this way to see you?”

Mulder leaned forward until his face was almost touching hers. When he spoke, his voice was low and soft, and Scully felt a chill zip down her spine. Mulder was no one to mess with when he spoke in that tone.

“You are not my friend. You never were. You were not invited here. You are not welcome here. Now leave.”

Phoebe’s eyes widened and she blanched. She’s not used to being talked to like that, Scully realized. I wonder if anyone has ever dared speak to her like that? She hoped not. She wanted Mulder to get some pound of flesh for what Phoebe had put him through.

“Fox!” Phoebe said, and Scully was pleased to hear that her voice was higher than usual. “You’re just going to throw me out?”

“Yes,” he said, still softly, though he had drawn back from her.

“Just like that? You don’t even want to know why I came here?”

He shook his head. “I don’t care.”

“What if I told you-”

He held up his hand. “Which part of ‘I don’t care’ don’t you get, Phoebe? I don’t care why you’re here, why you say you’re here, what you want, what you think you can get, or what lies you are prepared to tell to get what you want. I just want you to leave.”

She was staring at him open mouthed now, and clearly Phoebe had no idea just how badly she had burned her bridges with this man. She had no clue, Scully thought bitterly, just how badly she had hurt him. But she did know, whether she wanted to admit it or not, just what she had thrown away.

“Fox, I can’t just turn around and leave. It’s almost four o’clock. It will be dark soon. I don’t have anywhere to stay.”

He shrugged. “Not my problem. Go into the village. I’m sure someone there can point you to an inn or something.”

“You don’t care? If I stumble around in the darkness, in a foreign country? Just like that?”

Mulder cocked his head to the side and Scully could see the beginnings of a smile curling his lips. Mulder brought up his hand and snapped his fingers in Phoebe’s face.

“Just like that, Phoebes. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”

Phoebe had gone pale at Mulder’s earlier pronouncements, but now a dark flush was stealing across her cheeks.

“But—”

“Phoebe, if you don’t walk out that door in the next five seconds, I am going to bodily throw you out it,” Mulder drawled. “I think you know I’ll do it.”

“I just don’t-” Phoebe stopped. She saw the glint in his eye and closed her mouth. Without another word, she turned and walked through the door, pulling it closed behind her with a bang.

Mulder stared at the door for a moment, his hands still on his hips.

“Bitch,” he said to the door and turned and looked at Scully. Scully met his eyes with her own round ones and couldn’t help it. She whooped with laughter!

“Mulder!” she said gleefully. “You were incredible!” He smiled ruefully and shrugged, half embarrassed. Scully couldn’t believe what she had just seen. Mulder had given Phoebe Green her comeuppance and she, Dana Scully, had been there to witness it! All of the sudden she felt like dancing. She crossed the foyer quickly and swept Mulder into a hug. She felt his surprise and then he was hugging her back. She squeezed him hard and then pulled back to grin up at him.

“Remind me to never, ever piss you off that badly!”

Mulder grinned down at her and reached up to brush back an errant strand of red hair.

“You could never piss me off that badly, Scully.”

They showered and drove into town for dinner. She watched as Mulder’s eyes flicked over every car on the road, back and forth to the rearview mirror and the side mirror. He was expected Phoebe to pop up at any moment, and the muscle throbbing in his jaw suggested that he was going to have a lot more to say about it if she did.

Scully sank back into the upholstery and let her own gaze fall on the passing scenery. She was no longer worried about Phoebe Green. Mulder had made it very clear, in word and deed, that he wanted no part of her. She could spin her tales and drop innuendoes until the cows came home. He wasn’t interested. Scully knew he had never listened to that tape. It had wound up as landfill, unheard.

The small Italian restaurant hadn’t been redecorated in twenty years and Scully had her doubts about Mulder’s choice until the first bite of gnocchi passed her lips. She closed her eyes and almost moaned.

“Good, huh?” She opened her eyes to find Mulder smiling at her. He’d been doing a lot of that today, and so had she. It was a good habit to develop.

“Delicious. I would have never guessed.”

“I know.” He paused to take a bite of his lasagna. “The locals are the only ones that know about this place. I think the owners purposefully don’t fix it up so that the tourists don’t stop here.”

“Still,” Scully said, after swallowing another bite. How did they make the gnocchi so light? Hers were always a little heavy. “I’m surprised word of mouth doesn’t get around.”

“I think telling a non-local about this place is grounds for being barred from the restaurant,” Mulder said. “I’m not taking any chances. How about you?”

“But I’m not a local, Mulder. Aren’t you going to get into trouble?” Her eyes danced at him. His twinkled back.

“No. They’ll just assume you’re my wife or girlfriend. That’s allowed.”

“So, we’re undercover, then?”

“Mhm,” he murmured around another bite of lasagna, followed by a sip of wine.

“So, which is it? Wife or girlfriend?” She took a sip of wine. “We should be on the same page if we don’t want to get caught.”

Mulder chewed for a moment, looking thoughtful.

“Fiancée,” he said finally. Scully wagged her empty ring finger. “I just popped the question. We’re going to Sevigny’s tomorrow to pick out the ring.”

“Sevigny?”

“A jeweler in the village. Does first rate, custom designs. People come from all over to buy from him. He and my dad used to golf together occasionally.”

“I see. So I can expect a nice fat diamond on my finger then?”

Mulder grinned wolfishly.

“But of course. Sevigny wouldn’t let me give you anything less. So, yellow gold or platinum?”

“Platinum.”

“Solitaire, emerald cut or marquise?”

Scully arched an eyebrow. How did he know so much about jewels? Apparently, Sevigny had passed along the tricks of his trade.

“Hmm, that’s tough. I like solitaire, but that’s what everyone has. Emerald cut, I think.”

Mulder nodded, pretending to take this seriously. Scully couldn’t help but smile. This banter was fun. They definitely needed to do more of this. Mulder leaned forward and looked at her hand as it held her fork.

“About a carat, I’d say. Something not too overpowering for your hand, but still big enough to let everyone know you’re taken.”

She arched an eyebrow at that. “No arguments there. So, an emerald cut diamond set in platinum.”

“High quality, of course.”

“Oh, of course.” She sat back from her plate and tucked an errant strand of hair back into place. “That ought to cost you at least two months pay, Mulder. You’re very serious about protecting this restaurant.”

“Above and beyond the call of duty,” he said solemnly and raised his glass in a toast. She did the same and the crystal clinked together. They both took a sip.

“So,” Scully said, digging into her dinner again. “What about you? Yellow gold or platinum?”

“Platinum to match yours, of course.”

“Diamonds, or no diamonds?”

He shrugged. “Maybe a couple of small ones. Nothing too pretentious.”

“No,” she said solemnly. “But just enough to show that you’re taken.”

A smile quirked his lips.

“Exactly.”

They had returned to his father’s house in companionable silence. She had eaten too much, but after the wonderful pasta there was no way she was not trying the tiramisu. If possible, it had been better than the pasta and she had savored every bite. She had been conscious of Mulder of watching her enjoy the dessert, his eyes lit with happiness. He was happy to have found a place she liked and enjoyed watching her. She had licked the last bite off the spoon very slowly, just for good measure.

They had walked hand in hand to the car and he had opened the door for her and helped her in. To any observer, they looked like a newly engaged couple. The woman sparkling and giggly from wine, the man content and pleased to have pleased her. The grizzled sixtysomething hostess had recognized Mulder’s name on the credit card and although years had passed, offered condolences on his father’s passing. Damn shame, she had said. Nice man, always said thank you, always treated people right. It didn’t hurt that Mulder had left an outrageous tip.

They pulled into the driveway and Scully released her seatbelt. She was tired, pleasantly so, from the day’s exertions. Phoebe Green was a thing of the past, and Scully didn’t even think of her when Mulder opened the screen door and a slip of paper fell out. He, apparently, was thinking of Phoebe, as his jaw tightened when the paper fell to the ground. He stooped to pick it up and unfolded it with one hand.

Scully felt her stomach clench. That bitch just doesn’t give up, Scully thought. What the hell does it take for her to get a clue?

“What is it?” she asked, dreading the answer.

“It’s from the local police. It appears they have a ‘friend’ of mind in custody who is asking for me.” He flicked her a glance over the note. “Guess who that would be.”

“Why is she in custody?”

He shrugged and crumpled the paper in his hand. “Who knows? Who cares? She probably got stopped for speeding and flipped off the cop. Not my problem.” He unlocked the door and they went inside. Scully pulled off her coat and hung it on the halltree in the corner. Mulder had shrugged off his jacket and let it fall over the staircase railing. Automatically, Scully picked it up and hung it up. She turned around to find Mulder watching her, a half smile playing on his lips.

“Once a slob, always a slob,” he said. She shrugged.

“My neat-knickness is ingrained. The navy pounded it into my father’s head and he pounded it into ours.” She smiled at a memory. “Melissa never did get it, though. Used to drive Dad crazy. Didn’t matter how many times he yelled at her or grounded her or gave her more chores, she just couldn’t remember to put things back where they belonged.”

“I’d have been dead meat, huh?” They moved to the couch and sat down. Scully folded her legs underneath her.

“I don’t think so. He didn’t demand perfection from everyone. Just his children.”

Mulder rolled his eyes.

“Ouch.” She shrugged.

“You know, it wasn’t always fun. I mean, when Dad got mad that military training came out. We did drills, no joke. But you know, it taught me discipline. And it taught me that my father cared. He really cared about what happened to me. About what kind of person I was. I didn’t realize that until later, but that was probably the best part of his rules and regulations.”

Mulder nodded and his eyes were sad. No doubt wondering what it would have been like to have a father who cared so much. She reached for his hand, draped along the back of the couch, and took it in his own.

“Your father did care, Mulder. He just got tangled up with the wrong people.”

Slowly, Mulder shook his head, but his hand stayed in hers.

“No, Scully. He was the wrong people.”

“He tried to make it right, Mulder. At the end. When he called and needed to talk to you.”

Mulder looked at her, his hazel eyes sad and weary. He doesn’t even try to believe, she realized. This is one battle he really and truly has given up. Now the question was, did she dare try to rekindle the hope? Was that fair? Was it wise?

“He was drunk, Scully. And scared. I was out of it on those drugs in my water, but I knew that even then. Something had spooked him and that’s why he called me. I don’t know if I believe he was going to even tell me anything. I think he just wanted my reassurance.”

“Reassurance about what?” She shifted closer to him on the couch, their legs almost touching. His fingers were warm in hers. She could feel the sadness in him.

“That I was still there. That I didn’t know anything.” He paused. “Maybe that I didn’t hate him.”

“Did you?” she asked softly.

He rubbed the pad of her thumb with his own, painting slow circles around it. He stared at their enjoined fingers, watched as he traced her skin.

“No,” he said at last. “I didn’t hate him. Not then. I didn’t know enough. I didn’t realize that he was a perpetrator, not a victim. I didn’t know that he had willingly handed Samantha over.”

“And now?”

He sighed and squeezed her hand. He looked at her, his eyes trailing over her face, searching for something.

“You can’t really understand that can you, Scully? Hating one of your parents? Hating someone in your family?”

“I’ve come pretty close with Bill a couple of times,” Scully muttered. Mulder laughed.

“Okay, I’ll grant you that. He can be maddening, for sure. But, deep down, you know you love him. You know that he loves you. He may drive you crazy, but he’s never betrayed you.”

She nodded and dropped her head. He was right. She really didn’t have a frame of reference. She hated the men that had taken her. Hated the men who had left her sterile and wondering how many hybrid children they had brought into the world using her stolen eggs. She hated the men who continued to taunt and torture Mulder with the truth. But it was not the same as being sold out by your own flesh and blood.

She felt his finger under her chin and raised her eyes to his. Tears burned in hers and she saw a glimmer in his.

“I’m sorry, Mulder. I don’t have anything to cry about.”

“It’s okay. We’ll talk about something else.”

She blinked hard a couple of times and shook her head to clear her thoughts. There was something that she wanted to say. Had wanted to say to him for a long time.

“Mulder, I want you to think about something.” She pulled his hand into her lap and wrapped her other hand around it. She really wanted him to hear this. She needed to reach him. She saw that she had his full attention, his eyes warm and open. But the sadness still lurked.

“I know that I don’t have a real point of reference for how you feel. I don’t know what it is like to be betrayed by a family member. I don’t know what it is like to be the child chosen to stay and live with the guilt. I don’t know what it is like to discover that my father was a traitor. But I do know two things.”

She paused and collected her thoughts.

“One, is that despite everything that he did, I know that your father did care about you. Mulder, he may have been scared and drunk when he called you, but he still called you. He reached out to you. He was out of the work for a long time before that. Cancer Man told us that. That he had turned his back on the work. I don’t think he was trying to protect it, or the Consortium. He was reaching out to you, to protect you. It doesn’t make up for what he did, but it shows—I think it clearly shows—that he did love you.”

She bit her lip, watching his reaction. His eyes were glossy with tears, but his face was composed. He was listening to her, taking it in, turning it over in his mind.

“The other thing I know is this. After all that you went through, Mulder. Losing Samantha, the guilt, the shame, the fear. Working so hard all these years, throwing away chance after chance to improve your own life in favor of finding the truth. Suffering the things that have been done to you. After ALL that, Mulder. To find out that your father was part of it. That he contributed to that. Mulder, there is no shame in hating your father for that. Whether that hate lasts a minute or a lifetime, there’s nothing wrong with that. It doesn’t make you a lesser person.”

The tears were brimming in his eyes now and she could see that he was struggling to keep his emotions in check. He wasn’t the only one. She leaned forward.

“Mulder, you need to forgive yourself for your feelings about your father. You need to allow yourself to be human.”

“What about turning the other cheek, Scully?” Mulder said hoarsely. “What about forgive thy neighbor?”

“Mulder,” she said softly. “Even God has his limits. He struck down Babylon. He brought the flood. Even he could turn the cheek only so many times.”

Mulder ducked his head and she saw his chest heave. He was trying to keep it together , but she wasn’t going to let him. She pulled him into her arms and he grasped her, his arms sliding around her waist. She hugged him to her, slowly rocking as his tears fell. Heal, she prayed fervently. Let some of the sadness drain away. Let some of the guilt fall to dust.

They stayed that way for several minutes before he turned his head to the side and cleared his throat.

“I don’t still hate him, Scully,” he whispered. “Sometimes I want to, but I just can’t. I just feel…sad.”

She nodded and stroked his hair. “Yes, he was a sad person. He had everything in life and then he lost it.”

“I don’t think I could do that. I know I couldn’t.” He sat back, wiping at his eyes and she reached up and stroked away the wetness he had missed. He grabbed her hand. “I can’t ever lose you, Scully. It would kill me.”

“You’re not ever going to lose me, Mulder. I’m stuck on you like white on rice.”

Mulder’s eyebrows rose at that and she couldn’t help but smile sheepishly. Okay, it was a silly saying, but it was true. Nothing he could do would dislodge her from his life. And the same was true vice versa, she knew that as well.

“Scully,” he was massaging her hand with his thumb again, and it was creating a very nice feeling in the pit of her stomach. He glanced up at her and then back down again, almost shyly. “We got interrupted again, this afternoon.”

She nodded, but couldn’t get words to come out of her mouth.

“It seems like we always get to a moment and then something happens.”

She nodded again, never taking her eyes from his. His thumb was painting patterns on her skin and dizzily she try to follow them and his voice at the same time. He looked up at her then, his eyes serious and hesitant.

“I’d like to try that moment again.”

“Third time’s a charm,” she said, and her voice cracked. Please please please just let it happen this time.

He was leaning forward, looking straight into her eyes, and she couldn’t remember how to breathe. Her lips parted slightly and she swallowed. His eyes were so soft, the greens and browns swirling. His lips were parted slightly too and she wanted to taste them so badly. I’ll never eat gnocchi again if it means I get to kiss those lips right now, she thought inanely. I will offer any sacrifice to any god if it means we can finally have this moment.

Mulder’s lips were almost touching hers and she could feel his warmth breath on her face. Her heart was thudding in her chest, or was that her throat? and dimly she realized that he had stopped stroking her hand and was now just holding it.

He rubbed the end of her nose softly with his own and oh God it was so sensual the way he did that. Eskimo kiss, Mulder? Somebody kick start my breathing again, okay?

“Scully,” his lips were so close, it was hard not to close her eyes and press her mouth against his. “No matter what happens… If the house falls down, if aliens materialize in this living room, if Elvis comes down the stairs singing “Walking in Memphis”, I am going to kiss you. Okay?”

She licked her lips. “Okay.”

Her eyes flickered shut and then his mouth covered hers and she felt her heart surge. Their mouths pressed against one another, their lips rubbing, tasting. His hand came up under her chin and he pressed her to him. His tongue darted forward, first tasting her lips, then pushing past them into her mouth, stroking her tongue. Their mouths opened wider, the kiss deepening, their tongues twining and dancing as they explored each other.

One of her hands was on his chest and the other on his thigh. She leaned in and stretched up, willing their mouths to merge completely. My God, she had been kissed, or thought she had. But never like this. Never with such passion, such tenderness.

Never with such love.

His fingers were tangled in her hair and he was sucking on her bottom lip, nibbling on it and it sent a jolt straight through her. Oh God, if the first kiss was this good, what was the rest of it going to be like? She shivered, because she had every intention of finding out. Soon.

Finally, they broke apart, breathing heavy and staring into each other’s eyes.

“Was it worth the wait?” he asked breathlessly.

“Yes,” she said, just as breathless. “But I think we need to do it again. Immediately.”

He smiled then, a full-out beautiful smile that reached his eyes and it filled her heart to overflowing. Then he lowered his mouth and captured her lips again and Scully wrapped her arms around his neck. She wanted to be closer to him, wanted to touch every inch of him. Only when they were inside each other would she be sated. She pressed herself against him and felt Mulder pull her back against him as he leaned back against the couch. Scully threw her leg over his hips and straddled him, capturing his lower lip at the same time, nipping it with her teeth.

She felt Mulder gasp as she nipped him and again as her thighs settled around him. His hands tightened on her waist and then one hand slipped down to caress her bottom through her cotton pants and she felt a jolt of molten heat sear her to the core. She arched back against his caress and felt Mulder’s fingers tighten in response. They were both breathing heavily now and she broke their kiss to dip down and run her lips along his jaw and under his chin.

“Scully,” he whispered fiercely. His mouth was on her neck, nipping at her collarbone, licking along her clavicle. She sucked his ear lobe into her mouth and his hips bucked involuntarily, throwing him up against her. Pure heat suffused her as she felt his hardness through his black jeans and she thrust back just as involuntarily.

“Scully,” his voice was ragged. “Scully, are you sure?”

She kissed him fiercely, her teeth pressing against his.

“Yes,” she said into his mouth. He kissed her back just as fiercely and then his hands were on her hips and he was pressing her down against him and he was thrusting up and she tossed her head back and moaned. Oh God that felt so good. Oh, she had to have more. More.

Mulder’s mouth attacked her neck, her jaw, her shoulder as they ground against each other. He was rock hard, thrusting up against her, the heat from their bodies making their clothing damp. She ran her hands along his chest, seeking out his nipples to roll and pinch them. He bucked up against her harder, knocking the breath out of her lungs. It was time to get the clothes off. Now.

She bunched handfuls of his t-shirt in her hands and tugged upwards. Mulder let go of her long enough to raise his arms and let the t-shirt slip off. She tossed it over the couch and looked at him. His eyes were dark with desire and his lips were full and bruised from their kisses. His chest, lightly covered with dark hair, was heaving from their exertions. His tight hard stomach quivered as she stroked her fingers over his six pack.

He was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen.

She smiled slowly, triumphantly, lovingly. He returned her smile and reached forward to kiss her softly, with exquisite tenderness. Where their first kiss of a few moments ago was a beginning, so too, was this one. There were no questions, no fears now. They knew the future. They were going to be lovers.

Scully’s fingers went to his waistband. She fumbled for the button and finally grasping it, tugged it open. Mulder’s breath caught in his throat as she grabbed the tab of his zipper and slid it down.

BANG! BANG! BANG!

The pounding on the front door made them both jump for the second time that day. Their eyes met and the same thought shuttled through both of their minds at once. Phoebe. Scully stared into Mulder’s eyes, watching as the anger battled for a place with the pure lust that had darkened his hazel eyes to green.

“Ignore it,” he said, his voice husky with desire. He reached for her again but she stilled his advance with a light brush of fingertips on his forearm.

“I can’t, Mulder. Knowing her, she’ll just break in a window or pick the lock.”

Mulder hissed in frustration and nodded jerkily, knowing she was right. Wordlessly, Scully slid off his lap and he rose to his feet. He glanced around and spying his t-shirt on the floor behind the couch, he bent to retrieve it. Scully sat back against the couch, watching with barely cooled desire as he tugged the shirt back over his head and down across his torso. They had been so damn close. New hatred for Phoebe burned in her veins as she watched Mulder walk to the front door.

Mulder twisted the deadbolt and threw open the door without even trying to see who was on the doorstep first. Every line of his body betrayed the seething fury that was now the source of his boiling blood. Phoebe was going to get it like she had never had it before.

Mulder stared dumbstruck at the diminutive sheriff that stood in the doorway. Mulder took in the woman’s liquid brown eyes, her pixie haircut, and the Glock 9mm strapped to her hip.

“Fox Mulder?” she asked. He looked past her, his eyes searching the darkness for the familiar form and saw only the outline of trees.

“Yes.”

“I’m Deputy Sanger. I’m sorry to bother you so late, sir, but I was wondering if I could have a moment of your time.”

Mulder pursed his lips and hesitated for a moment. Throwing Phoebe out on her ear was one thing. Tossing a sheriff’s deputy off the front porch was another. He stepped aside and gestured for her to enter.

Scully rose to her feet as the female sheriff stepped into the room. Even in boots the woman was just Scully’s height, and more petite. She looked like a stiff wind could knock her flat and Scully realized this was the way people thought when they looked at her. Not big enough to carry that badge. Not strong enough to wield that gun. Scully had no problem with either idea. She had the distinct feeling that the cover of this book hid a spine of steel.

“Deputy Sanger, this is my partner, Special Agent Dana Scully. Scully, this is Deputy Sanger.” He looked down at the deputy. “I assume you know that I am an FBI agent?”

The deputy nodded. “Yes, sir. It’s common knowledge.” Deputy Sanger looked back at Scully and she felt herself being coolly appraised and categorized. What the hell was this about?

Mulder gestured for the deputy to sit but she shook her head and looked back and forth between the two of them.

“What can we do for you, Deputy?” Scully asked, in what she hoped was a neutral tone. Her nerves were still jangling from Mulder’s touch, hi s kisses. Had they really just been about to do the wild thing on his father’s couch? Had it really only been three minutes ago that she had been unzipping his jeans?

“There was an incident earlier involving a woman who claims to be a friend of yours.”

“Phoebe Green,” Mulder said. The deputy arched an eyebrow.

“Yes. You knew she was in town?”

“She stopped by unexpectedly this afternoon. I didn’t know if she was staying in town or not.”

“So, she’s not staying with you?”

Mulder shook his head. “No.”

The deputy waited for him to elaborate. When the silence stretched she nodded, as if she was understanding something.

“Would you care to describe the nature of your relationship with Ms. Green?”

Mulder shifted and his eyes shot to Scully quickly before he looked back down at Sanger.

“I wouldn’t say we have a relationship. I went to college with her in England. I haven’t heard from her in years. She showed up here this afternoon, totally out of the blue.”

“Did she say why she was here?”

“She started to and I cut her off. I didn’t want to hear it.”

“Did you ask her to leave?”

“Yes.”

Scully frowned as she listened to the question and answer exchange. Something was funny here. If Phoebe was trying to get Mulder to bail her out why the twenty questions?

“I’m sorry, Deputy Sanger, but I’m a little confused,” Scully said quietly. “Why are you interested in Agent Mulder’s relationship with Phoebe Green? What has happened?”

The other woman’s eyes met hers and her curiosity was frank. Clearly Phoebe had not mentioned that Scully was here with Mulder. Just as clearly, Phoebe had suggested that her relationship with Mulder was far more intimate than Mulder was explaining.

“Ms. Green was stopped just outside village limits for excessive speeding. When she protested, the officer asked her to exit the vehicle. There was an altercation and she was arrested. Ms. Green is claiming to be a member of Scotland Yard.” The deputy’s eyes returned to Mulder. “She is also claiming to be a guest of Mr. Mulder’s.”

Scully saw Mulder’s jaw tighten and knew he was about to blast away at Phoebe’s lies. But Scully wanted the rest of the story.

“I see. But that still doesn’t explain why you are out here late on a Saturday night questioning Agent Mulder.”

“Ms. Green says that she is here on official business. That’s she investigating a case involving an string of international murders and that holding her in custody is impeding the investigation. She assured me that Agent Mulder could corroborate her story.”

“It’s a lie,” Mulder sat flatly. “I am not involved in any case with Phoebe, international or otherwise.”

Deputy Sanger was studying him closely, taking the muscle twitching in his jaw and his blazing eyes. The anger fairly rolled off of Mulder.

“You don’t know what she’s talking about?”

“No.”

“Is she a member of Scotland Yard?”

Mulder shrugged. “I don’t know. She was when I last saw her, several years ago. I have no idea if that’s still true.”

“Do you have any other idea as to why she would be in Tisbury?”

He shrugged again. “She claimed to have come here to see me, but I don’t put a lot of stock in that.”

The deputy frowned. “You don’t have any idea why she is here? It doesn’t strike you as strange that after many years she would appear at a house you happen to be visiting in a town you don’t live in?”

“I gave up trying to understand Phobe’s motives a long time ago,” Mulder said firmly, indicating that he was done answering questions. He shifted his weight again and met the deputy’s frank look of disbelief with a bland nonchalance. Scully knew that look. He was done being congenial to his fellow law enforcement officer. Scully also knew the determined look on Deputy Sanger’s face meant the questions were far from over.

“Phoebe came to our office in DC,” Scully said. She saw Mulder’s frown, but plunged ahead. They could do this now or later, and it might as well be now. “She wanted to see Agent Mulder. When I explained that he was out of town on vacation, she asked for my help regarding a case she said that Scotland Yard was investigating. A murder case. Their main suspect is an American ex-patriot who is also ex-NYPD. She wanted access to his personnel records and was hoping that either Agent Mulder or I could facilitate that. I assured her that she was going to have to go through official channels. She left a phone number for Agent Mulder to reach her at in Washington. Then she showed up here unannounced this afternoon.”

Sanger eyed Mulder. “You call her?”

“No.”

Sanger’s eyes switched to Scully’s. “Is there a case with Scotland Yard?”

“I have no idea,” Scully said. “I never bothered to check. We couldn’t help her and she didn’t want the Bureau’s official involvement.”

“I see.” The deputy was processing all this information and it was clear that there was a lot more she wanted to know. She looked back up at Mulder. “Agent Mulder, I’m going to stretch here a little bit, but bear with me, if you would.” She paused and waited for his nod. “Despite having a mouth that would make a sailor proud, Ms. Green seems to be a pretty intelligent woman. Educated. She’s well dressed, driving a nice car. From what I can tell, she’s not delusional or demented. You agree with me so far?”

Mulder nodded and Scully found herself doing the same. Sanger went on.

“So, you’re telling me that she shows up unannounced, obviously not welcome. You told her to take a hike. She leaves.” Sanger was looking back and forth between them. “So, why would she tell such a stupid lie? Why would she ask us to contact you to vouch for her when you’re not going to?”

Mulder shrugged and his face remained blank, but Scully could see the unease in his eyes. He had been wondering the same thing and it bothered him. Scully felt Sanger’s gaze and met the other woman’s eyes as openly as she could.

“I don’t know, either,” Scully said honestly. “It does seem stupid.”

Sanger nodded. “Okay, so we’re on the same page about that.” She sighed. “Well, I don’t see that there’s much else I can do tonight. Thank you for your time and assistance.”

“What are you going to do?” Mulder asked suddenly, and Scully could see him wanting to bite back the question.

Sanger was moving toward the door and Mulder and Scully trailed her. She stopped and waited for Mulder to open it for her and she stepped out onto the porch.

“We’ll continue to hold her on the assaulting an officer charge and check her story with Scotland Yard. We’ll go from there.”

“I’m sorry we couldn’t be of more assistance,” Scully said, and actually meant it. The deputy clearly had an unpleasant task ahead of her.

Sanger nodded. “If I have any more questions, I’ll be in touch. How long will be you be here, Mr. Mulder?”

“Until Tuesday.”

“Fine. Thanks again. Have a good evening.”

“You, too,” Mulder said, closing the door on the retreating deputy’s back. He clicked the lock and turned to face Scully.

“What the fuck?” he said slowly, shaking his head. “That woman’s audacity knows no bounds. Vouch for her, my ass.”

Scully frowned and wandered back to the couch where she plopped down on the site of their former passion. “I don’t know, Mulder. Sanger is right. It doesn’t make sense. Phoebe had to know one phone call would blow her story apart. Why bother?”

Mulder plopped down next to her and rested his head against the cushions. “Who knows? Maybe she was just buying some time. It worked, if she did. Since I don’t have the phone turned on, they had to come out here twice just to talk to me.”

“She couldn’t have known that,” Scully countered, turning it over in her mind. She was sure there was something more sinister behind Phoebe’s bizarre behavior.

“Actually, she could have surmised it. Once she found out where I was, I’m sure she tried to call and found out that there was no phone number, unlisted or otherwise.”

Scully sat forward. “That’s another thing, Mulder. How did she know you were here? I certainly didn’t tell her. The only other people who knew were Skinner and Kim, and I can’t see either one of them giving Phoebe the time of day, much less your location.”

Mulder shrugged and rolled his neck. “She can be pretty damn persuasive when she wants to be. She might have been able to wiggle it out of Kim.”

“Uh uh,” Scully said, firmly. “Kim didn’t get her job by having a pretty face. She’s been squeezed by the best of them. She knows a snake when she sees one. Phoebe’d have better luck with Skinner.”

“No,” Mulder said. “Skinner wouldn’t fall for any of Phoebe’s tricks. He’d see right through her.”

“So,” Scully said slowly. “Where did she get the information?”

“Maybe she followed you,” Mulder said and grinned as Scully glared at him. Scully felt a flush steal up her cheeks at the very thought of Phoebe staking out her apartment and trailing her all the way from the city.

“And then she waited three-four hours to knock on your door? I don’t think so, Mulder. She was a woman with a mission, and I don’t see her parked down the street while we spend the afternoon together.”

Mulder arched an eyebrow. “You mean, ‘together’ together, Scully? You think Phoebe thinks we’re doing the wild thing?”

The flush darkened on Scully’s cheeks and her eyes snapped at him with anger. “I have no fucking idea what Phoebe Green thinks,” she said coldly. “And I don’t care.”

Mulder was still grinning. He clasped his hands behind his head and his eyes were sparkling right back at her. They were full of amusement and affection…and desire.

“Do you suppose it pisses her off? Thinking about us together? Do you suppose it makes her want to claw your eyes out?”

Scully pursed her lips and willed her anger to cool. He was clearly enjoying this, and why not? It was more than time for him to have some fun at Phoebe’s expense. And it was Phoebe he was laughing at, not Scully. She tipped her head to one side, considering his questions.

“I imagine it amuses her, Mulder. She makes it very clear that she doesn’t consider me much of a rival, much less her equal. She probably thinks I only do the missionary position in the dark with my nightgown on.”

Mulder’s eyebrows rose as the sarcasm dripped from Scully’s words.

“I take that to mean that you would find such a scenario boring, Scully?”

Scully smiled archly. “It works on a cold night when you’re half asleep and don’t really want to do more than scratch an itch. Otherwise, no, it doesn’t really do it for me.”

Mulder’s eyebrows had all put disappeared under his hair and his mouth was slightly open. Desire was winning the battle over amusement and affection in his eyes and Scully felt a thrill of pride. Just talking about sex with her was enough to get him started.

“Phoebe made a point of telling me that you get bored easily, Mulder. Said that she had to expand her repertoire just for you. Given what you’ve said about her sexual appetite, I’d say that’s a pretty big compliment, wouldn’t you?”

“I guess,” Mulder said blandly, though she could see the surprise on his face. Bitch, Scully thought. We’ll see about expanding repertoires. “I think the fact that she made a reference to our past sexual relationship suggests that she does find you a worthwhile opponent. She was trying to intimidate you.”

“She did.”

Mulder sat forward quickly, his eyes boring into hers.

“Don’t let her, Scully. Phoebe’s got nothing over you. You know that.”

“Yes, she does,” Scully said, softly. “Experience. She knows a side of you that I don’t.”

Mulder reached out and clasped her hand in his own. “Not for long.” He wiggled his eyebrows at her. “And we can take care of that oversight right now.”

Scully rolled her eyes. “I don’t think so. Somehow, talking about your sexual adventures with Phoebe doesn’t put me in the mood, Mulder.”

Mulder swore under his breath and tugged at her hand.

“C’mere,” he said softly and slid his arms around her and she put her head on his chest. Scully sighed and relaxed against him. God, he felt so good. If only the deputy hadn’t come knocking on the door…

Mulder kissed the top of her head and tipped her face back with a finger under his chin. Slowly he lowered his mouth and kissed her gently before pulling back to look into her eyes.

“Phoebe has nothing on you,” he repeated, emphasizing each word. “I hope you know that what I feel for you is something I have never felt for anyone else and certainly not for her. I was a kid, then. I was naïve and gullible and bowled over by her airs and her lies. I was in awe of her, I was mesmerized by her, but I never loved her. My feelings for you are—”

Scully placed a finger over his lips.

“No. Not now. Not in this context, Mulder. I very much want to hear what you have to say. I have wanted us to talk about this, to have this, for a long time. But not with the ghost of Phoebe’s name on your lips. I don’t want any bad memories with this. This is ours, and I don’t want to share it.”

He smiled then, at her heartfelt words, and bent and kissed her very softly again. She kissed him back harder, frustration masking her tenderness. She wanted to wrap herself inside this man and lose herself in their feelings for each other. She wanted the whole fucking world to go away from just one night, one hour even. She didn’t want anyone’s specter hanging over them when they finally opened themselves to each other.

Mulder kissed her chin, her nose, her eyelids and finally her hair. She felt him sigh and saw his eyes close as he rested his forehead against hers. “I guess this means I’m not getting lucky tonight?”

She laughed at the mournful tone and kissed him fiercely. “I’ll make it up to you, I promise.”

He opened his eyes and tilted his head. “Yeah?”

She gave him her best Cheshire cat smile. “Oh, yeah.”

The morning sun filtered through the gauzy blue curtains and Scully cracked open an eye. It took a moment for her to remember where she was. The guest room in Mulder’s father’s house. Attic. Kissing. Restaurant. Couch. Phoebe.

Fuck.

Scully groaned and buried her head in the pillow. God damn Phoebe Green to the deepest, hottest pits of hell. May she have to roast on the spit for all eternity while the hounds of Hades snapped at her burning entrails. Scully groaned again. If the nuns from Catholic school only knew what she did with the imagery they had terrified her with as a child.

Scully rolled over and scrubbed at her face with her hands. What to do? There was still the rest of the attic to sort and pack, and Mulder had said something about a storage locker in the village that he hadn’t opened yet. How to get through the day with Mulder without it being awkward or strained? It was like going on the third date. Would they or wouldn’t they? Sex or no sex?

Scully lay on her back and let the gauntlet of thoughts and emotions run through her. The passion between her and Mulder. His anger at Phoebe. The tenderness when he tried to tell Scully how he felt about her. The way the desire in his eyes made her melt and strain for him at the same time. The way his bare chest felt under her fingers. The taste of his mouth. It was all there. And there was no shame, no regret, no fear in her. Just a resolute anticipation.

I should just go into the other room and fuck his brains out.

Even as she thought it, Scully giggled. She couldn’t do that. Just march into his bedroom, pull down the covers and straddle him. What would he be wearing? Boxers? Pajamas? Nothing? She shivered at the idea of Mulder naked. Mulder naked and sleepy, tangled in the sheets, his hair mussed, his skin warm and soft. She threw back the covers.

Scully plucked her robe off the back of the chair and then threw it back down. Why put it on if you’re going to take it off? She glanced at the bathroom and thought about brushing her teeth. Nope. If he didn’t have a chance to kill the morning breath, then she wouldn’t either. They’d just be au natural all the way.

She felt a buzzing in her stomach as she opened the door and went down the hallway to Mulder’s bedroom. It had been his father’s room and she had insisted that he keep it as his own. She would start in the guest room and work her way up, so to speak. She swallowed and put her hand on her stomach as she stood in front of the bedroom door. It was slightly ajar, but she couldn’t see the bed. Ten steps, and she would be there. Ten steps, seven years, and it was a whole new day.

Scully took a deep breath, exhaled, and pushed open the door. The bed was empty.

Forget the hounds of hell, she was going to rip Phoebe’s guts out with her own hands.

Scully listened for sounds from the bathroom, but heard nothing. He wasn’t there. She turned and padded down the hall to her own room, seething. So much for impulsiveness. Just as she reached her own doorway she heard a sound below and stepped closer to the stairwell. It was the sound of metal on metal. She sniffed. Mulder was making breakfast!

She hurried through her morning routine, opting for a quick suds and rinse in the shower, although her teeth were scrubbed within an inch of their enamel. She pondered what to wear and opted for a simple t-shirt and jeans. It had gotten rather warm in the attic yesterday and besides, the hem of the t-shirt just brushed her waistband. A little stretching or lifting and it would ride up to show her nicely toned stomach. She might not be Miss America, but Scully knew she had nice abs. Time to let Mulder get a gander.

She heard the clinking of crockery as she made her way down the stairs. The smells were wonderful and she couldn’t help but smile. All these years he had insisted that he couldn’t cook. She could smell eggs and bacon, and maybe even, pancakes? Not bad for a confirmed bachelor.

She strode into the kitchen and stopped short as Mulder expertly flipped two pancakes on the griddle. He pressed down on them with the spatula and turned to smile at her.

“Good morning,” he said and a tingle zipped along her spine at his gravelly voice. His hazel eyes twinkled at her and she felt her breath catch.

I have to kiss him this second.

She crossed the room and wrapped her arms around his neck. He encircled her waist loosely with his arms as she pulled his head down to hers and kissed him. Their lips and tongues danced and she pressed the full length of herself against him. She smiled against his mouth as she felt him grow hard under his jeans.

Mulder pulled his mouth away from hers, his breath coming in short, quick pants and stared down into her eyes.

“Good morning,” she said huskily.

“It sure the hell is,” he said just as huskily. “Do that again and we won’t make it to the couch.”

She grinned. “You gotta problem with the kitchen table?”

Mulder’s eyes got wide and she saw that he had no problem with it at all. She laughed and then sniffed the air. “Mulder, your pancakes are burning.”

He leaned down and kissed her hard and quick and then let her go to save their breakfast.

She retreated behind the kitchen table and sipped her orange juice while her eyes wandered over his jean clad ass. It wasn’t the first time she had indulged herself, but it was the first time that she didn’t care if he turned around and caught her looking. In fact, she wanted him to. It was time to melt her Ice Queen reputation once and for all. It had been her refuge and her defense for too long, and it couldn’t be there if she and Mulder were going to make this work.

Her turned from the stove carrying two heavily laden plates. Their eyes met and she was lost all over again in their soft depths. From the look on his face, he was feeling the same way. Oh, they weren’t going to get much housework done today. She was pretty sure of that.

He sat down and she looked at her plate for the first time. It was heaped with scrambled eggs, several slices of bacon and three perfectly round pancakes.

“Mulder, I’m never going to be able to eat all this!” she protested as she picked up a fork. Not that she wouldn’t give it a good try. Her stomach was rumbling in expectation.

Mulder took a long drink of his orange juice and licked his lips. “I figured you might need the fuel. We’re going to work off a lot of calories today.”

Her breath caught at his double entendre and she couldn’t think of anything witty to say in response. Yes, they were going to work some calories off, and it wasn’t going to be by chasing dust bunnies around the attic, either.

They ate in silence and the room fairly shimmered with anticipation. Mulder cleared the table and wiped down the stove and counters while she rinsed the plates and stacked them in the dishwasher.

She had just turned the dishwasher on when a sound outside caught her attention. She went to the kitchen window and her spirits sank as Sheriff Sanger stepped out of her cruiser.

“Mulder,” Scully said, turning to him. “The sheriff is back.”

They looked at each other silently, acknowledging with their grim faces, the lost opportunity of the morning and all that it could have been. They walked to the foyer and Mulder unlocked and opened the door.

“Good morning Deputy Sanger.”

The diminutive officer stepped through the door without a word. Mulder closed the door and the three stood staring at each other. Sanger eyed Mulder cautiously, her narrowed eyes sweeping over him speculatively. Scully knew that look. It was the look you gave a possible suspect.

“Agents, again, I’m sorry to bother you. But we have a new situation and I thought you might like to be appraised of it.”

Mulder nodded.

“It seems,” the deputy continued. “That Inspector Green has escaped.”

Mulder crossed his arms against his chest and titled his head.

“Escaped? From the jail?”

“No, she was being transported. We don’t have the facilities to hold prisoners long term and she was being held until her arraignment on Monday. So we were transferring her to the main county jail when she disappeared. A pedestrian called 911 and reported an injured sheriff on the side of the road. He’d been struck in the back of the head and he’s in the hospital. His cruiser and Ms. Green are both missing.”

Scully felt her mouth “O” in surprise. Not even she could imagine Phoebe doing something like this, and she didn’t think there were too many things Phoebe wouldn’t do. But assaulting a police officer and stealing his car? It was one thing to lose your temper over a speeding ticket and another to crack a cop over the head.

“How is the other deputy?” Scully asked. Sanger’s eyes now appraised her.

“He’s unconscious. There’s some swelling in the brain. It’s critical. We don’t know what’s going to happen to him.”

“Did you find anything at the scene to suggest what might have happened?” Mulder asked quietly.

“Not really. We found a pair of handcuffs with some blood on them. It’s been sent to the lab, but we’re guessing it’s Ms. Green’s. Of course, we don’t have anything to match it against.”

“What about a weapon?” Mulder asked.

Sanger shook her head.

“No, but we’re still searching the area. My guess is she took it with her.”

Mulder chewed on his bottom lip and regarded the deputy thoughtfully. He shot a quick look at Scully under his lashes and she tensed, knowing what he was going to say.

“Have you considered that maybe Phoebe was taken by force?”

Sanger shook her head vehemently.

“There’s nothing to suggest that.”

“But there’s nothing to rule it out, either,” Mulder said firmly. “Look, Deputy, I don’t pretend to know Phoebe Green well. I wasn’t exaggerating when I said I have not talked to her in years. Probably five years. But I did know her once upon a time and I have trouble believing that she would do something like this. It isn’t her way of doing things. Phoebe plays mind games. She manipulates. She doesn’t bang people over the head.”

Sanger tilted her head as she looked up at Mulder and Scully could see the doubt in her eyes. She really thinks he’s involved, Scully realized. She doesn’t know how or why, but she clearly thinks he’s not telling the whole truth.

“Why would someone want to abduct Phoebe Green?”

Mulder shrugged. “I have no idea. Maybe it has something to do with this case she was working on.”

“She’s not working on a case. At least not officially,” Sanger said. “We contacted Scotland Yard. There is a case involving a former NYPD officer, but Inspector Green was taken off the case. She’s officially on vacation and is not acting on behalf of Scotland Yard.”

“Why was she pulled off of the case?” Mulder asked.

Before Sanger could answer, a trilling noise drifted in from the living room. Scully couldn’t tell if it was Mulder’s cell or hers.

“I’ll get it,” she told him. “Excuse me.” She went into the living room. Their cells lay side by side on top of the mantle. She picked up Mulder’s phone. The LCD read “AD Skinner”. She pressed talk.

“Hello.”

“Agent Scully?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“I did call Agent Mulder’s phone, didn’t I?”

“Yes, Sir. He can’t come to the phone right now.”

“I see. I’ve been contacted by Scotland Yard regarding a case they say Agent Mulder is working on. Are you familiar with this?”

Scully turned to watch Mulder and Sanger talking in the foyer. Clearly, the sheriff’s department had felt their suspicions strongly enough to repeat them to Scotland Yard.

“Yes, Sir, I am aware of the case you’re talking about. But Agent Mulder is not involved in it, per say.”

“Per say? Would you like to elaborate, Agent Scully?”

Scully walked to the back of the house and went into the four season room overlooking the back yard.

“An Inspector by the name of Phoebe Green showed up at our office earlier this week looking for Mulder. She told me she was investigating a former NYPD officer and wanted Mulder’s assistance. I told her he was on vacation and that I couldn’t help her. She came back the following day and asked that Mulder call her at a local number. I gave the message to Agent Mulder but I don’t believe that called her.”

“So how does this equal Inspector Green being in jail for assaulting an officer and saying that Agent Mulder is working with her on a case?”

“We’re a little confused about that as well, Sir. She showed up here yesterday unannounced. Agent Mulder asked her to leave and she did. When we returned from dinner, a sheriff’s deputy arrived and said that Inspector Green was asking Mulder to vouch for her. He explained the situation and the deputy left.”

“Scotland Yard is royally pissed about this, Agent Scully,” Skinner said tersely. “The Tisbury police seem to think that Agent Mulder is involved. Inspector Green is not assigned to this case, and my sources tell me she is actually on administrative leave from the Yard pending disciplinary action. The mucky-mucks at Scotland Yard are complaining to the Bureau brass that we’re overstepping our bounds and it’s all become a big political mess.”

“I understand, Sir.”

“Does Agent Mulder have any idea why Inspector Green is trying to draw him into this?”

Scully swallowed. How much history did Skinner already know? How much did he need to know? She knew Mulder had a theory, and she knew that Skinner wasn’t going to like it.

“I don’t think he does, Sir. He hasn’t spoken to her in over five years. They knew each other at Oxford.”

“Yes, I remember her asking for help on a case several years ago. Is this a personal thing between Mulder and her?”

“It may be, Sir.”

“And I assume, from what you’ve told me, that Agent Mulder plans to stay out of this? I can tell the brass and the Yard that they’ve been misinformed?”

“Well, yes,” Scully hesitated. Apparently Skinner didn’t have the latest information.

“You’re hesitating Agent Scully.”

“Well, Sir, a sheriff’s deputy is here now. Phoebe Green and a police cruiser are missing and they have an unconscious deputy in the hospital.”

“She escaped?”

“It’s possible,” she paused and sighed. “Agent Mulder thinks she may have been abducted.”

The silence was deafening and Scully closed her eyes. The longer the AD was quiet, the worse the explosion would be. Several more moments went by.

“And on what does he base that hypothesis?” Skinner asked in a careful, clipped tone and Scully winced. Oh, this was going to be bad.

“Based on his knowledge of her character. It’s Agent Mulder’s opinion that hitting a sheriff over the head and stealing a police car is not in keeping with her character.” Scully paused. “I’d have to say I agree with him, Sir. Phoebe doesn’t strike me as the violent type, and she has a great deal of confidence in her ability to get her way.”

“Which was considerably thwarted by being bounced into a jail cell,” Skinner snapped. She could imagine him fingers rubbing the bridge of his nose, his glasses pushed up against his forehead.

“Yes, Sir,” she said quietly.

“Does the local PD think that Agent Mulder is involved?”

Scully shot a look over her shoulder. She couldn’t see Mulder and the deputy, but she could hear the hum of their voices.

“I think they believe that he knows something more than he is saying.”

“Is he?” Skinner was almost snarling now and she was grateful they were not face to face.

“I don’t believe so, Sir. I’m the one that told him Phoebe was in the country, that she wanted to talk to him. He never took the number where she was staying, so he wouldn’t have known how to contact her. I don’t think he knows what she’s up to, and he doesn’t seem to care.”

“The local police care, and as long as they care, then we have to.” Scully could almost hear the wheels turning in Skinner’s head. “Agent Scully, I want you to tell Agent Mulder to give his complete cooperation to the Tisbury police. If they want the Bureau involved officially, call me immediately. Otherwise, I don’t want either one of you doing any more than answering questions. No snooping around, no riling up the locals. Are we clear, Agent Scully?” Skinner’s voice was like polished steel. He was not pulling punches this time.

“Yes, Sir.”

“Now is not a good time for an international incident. There’s clearly more to this case than what Yard officials are willing to say. I’m working on finding out why Inspector Green is being disciplined but it’s going to take me a while to get the answers. In the meantime, I want you two to stay clear of this.”

“Yes, Sir.

“And, Agent Scully?” His voice softened.

“Sir?”

“I received your request for a week’s vacation. I’ve approved it. I hope you can actually have a vacation. You’ve earned it.”

Scully smiled, not only at the words, but at the hint of warmth behind them.

“Thank you, Sir. I appreciate it.”

“I’ll be in touch.”

Mulder was closing the door behind the departing Deputy when Scully stepped into the foyer.

“Well?” she asked. He turned and shrugged.

“They’re convinced that she escaped, and Sanger’s made it pretty clear that she thinks I’m involved.”

Scully crossed her arms and leaned against the doorframe.

“They’ve made that part official, I’m afraid. That was Skinner. He’s being called on the carpet by Scotland Yard and Bureau brass for you being involved in this case.” She reiterated her conversation with Skinner and finished up with “He’s not kidding, Mulder. He wants us to stay out of it.”

Mulder shrugged again.

“Fine by me. I’d be happy to not ever see Deputy Sanger again. Even if she does fill out that uniform pretty well.” He leered at Scully and she rolled her eyes.

Scully eyed him, her teeth tugging at her lip. She wanted to believe that Mulder would walk away from this, but she couldn’t quite go there. Past history with Phoebe or not, Mulder the investigator was convinced something was wrong with the picture, and she had never known him to walk away from that.

“You really think she was taken?”

He gestured for them to go into the living room and they plopped on the couch.

“I think it’s possible. First of all, how did she get out of the cuffs? Secondly, how did she get the deputy to pull off the road and let her out of the car? Sanger verified that there’s a metal barrier between the front and back seats of the car, so they had to be outside the vehicle when he was struck. Third, what did she hit him with? It’s not like they give prisoners large, heavy objects to carry with them. It doesn’t add up.”

“I agree,” Scully said. “But I also know that we can’t get any more involved than we are.”

Mulder picked up a throw pillow and plucked at a stray thread. He twined the thread around a finger and tugged at it. They both watched him for a moment, then Mulder tossed the pillow aside and looked up at her.

“I don’t want to get involved. I meant it when I threw Phoebe out of here. I don’t care what she’s up to. But I think the sheriff’s department is handling this all wrong.”

“Either way, they are looking for her, Mulder. With one of their own injured, local law enforcement isn’t going to leave a stone unturned.”

He gave her a sheepish smile and she realized he hadn’t thought of it that way. “You’re right, Scully.”

She smiled back at him then and felt a glimmer of hope that he would leave it alone.

“So, what’s next?” Mulder frowned and she swept an arm at the boxes in the corner. “Back to the attic?”

“Um, no. Actually, I have to go to a storage unit that my father had. I don’t think there’s much in it, but I need to clear it out.”

“Okay, storage unit it is,” she said brightly. It didn’t sound all that fun, but it was better than beating the bushes for Phoebe.

“Actually, Scully, it isn’t going to take both of us. I think most of it is old tax records and winter clothes from ten years ago, that sort of thing. I could probably just run over there and be back in an hour.”

Now it was Scully’s turn to frown. “Mulder, are you trying to ditch me so you can go look for Phoebe?”

Mulder’s eyebrows rose. “No, it’s not.” He saw that she was not convinced and sat forward. “Really, Scully. I’m not going to go looking for trouble. I just don’t see the point of both of us going over there.” He looked around. “The truth is, I’m behind and if I’m going to have things ready for when the truck comes tomorrow, I could use you here finishing the attic.”

She grinned at him. “All by myself? I might get scared.”

He snorted. “Yeah. There might be bats or mice or something. You’ll just have to stand on a box and scream until I get back.”

She laughed. “Bats and mice, no problem. Spiders? I’m on the box.”

They got up from the couch and she tilted her head up to receive the kiss she somehow knew was coming. His lips closed over hers, warm and soft and she felt a corresponding surge of warmth in his chest. Why, oh why, did we wait seven years to do this? She wondered. How can it be so easy to do when it was so hard to get here?

He broke the kiss and smiled down at her and she smiled right back.

“I’m getting very used to doing that,” he said softly.

“That’s good,” she said. “Because I expect you to do it often.”

He grinned then and leaned down for a quick, firm kiss. “Yes, Ma’am!”

She watched as he scooped up his keys and strode to the door. He turned back to her.

“I’ll be back in an hour.”

“I’ll be here.”

Scully blew a strand of hair out of her face and sat back on her heels to survey her work. Four open boxes crowded around her. She had gone through quite a bit of stuff and there were two huge garbage bags full of what she had tossed. But there were so many things she didn’t know what to do with. On her own, she would chuck most of it, but it wasn’t her decision to make.

She looked around the attic and was pleased with what she saw. Except for some furniture, it was pretty much cleared. There was actually quite a bit of room up here and with a little work it could be used as an office or a rec room. As a kid she had always wanted an attic room to herself. It was mysterious and cool and private. Unfortunately, her parents had thought it was too much seclusion for a young girl. Especially for a young girl who had three other siblings loudly insisting that they should get the attic.

A damp strand of hair flopped in her eyes again and she shoved it back behind her ear. It slipped forward again and she scowled. Time to break out the barrettes. Scully climbed to her feet and brushed off her jeans as she walked to the stairs. She could use a drink too, now that she thought about it.

She was digging through her cosmetic case when she heard a swishing sound in the hallway. She stopped and looked up, a frown creasing her face. One remarkable thing about this house that she had noticed was how quiet it was. As if the house itself were afraid to call attention to itself. Fitting, considering the man who had owned it.

She listened for a moment more, and hearing nothing, went back to her search. She was sure she had brought them. Maybe in the pocket of her carryon…Scully froze as she looked into the empty side pocket. Her gun was missing. She checked the other side and found both extra clips missing as well. A cold heaviness settled in her gut and she swallowed against the bile it had displaced. Where the fuck was her gun?

Even before she turned to the door, she could feel the eyes on her, boring into her back. Slowly, her hands loose at her sides, Scully pivoted to face the door. Nothing that had flashed through her mind prepared her for the sight before her eyes.

Perfect, elegant Phoebe was covered in dirt and blood. Her hair was stuck to her head, her face streaked with dirt. The casual, but oh-so-well-cut white top of yesterday was smeared with rust. Her wrists wore circlets of dried blood. Her jeans and shoes were caked with mud. Scully’s gun rested in Phoebe’s right hand. It was cocked.

Scully looked into Phoebe’s eyes and felt a finger of fear press at the back of her neck. There was madness in the other woman’s gaze. Madness and fury.

“Agent Scully,” Phoebe snarled at her. “We meet again.”

“Phoebe,” Scully said, trying to keep her voice calm. She was trapped. Phoebe blocked the only feasible exit from the room and there was no way she could miss a shot at such close range.

“Surprised to see me, are you?” The other woman pulled her lips into an exaggerated pout and Scully mentally added up the minutes spent in the attic. If Mulder were back within the hour he said, he would be at the house in 10-15 minutes. Keep her talking. That was the best she could do.

“Yes, I am, ” Scully said. “Why are you here?”

Phoebe waved the gun at Scully and gestured for Scully to sit on the bed. Scully sat down heavily, her eyes noting the tremble in Phoebe’s hand as she trained the gun on Scully’s face.

“You ask too many questions, Agent Scully. You need to listen more. That’s part of the game, ” Phoebe said and laughed harshly. “A good investigator must listen as well as they question. They taught me that in academy at the Yard, you know. Righteous crap, but true after all.”

“I’m listening,” Scully said.

Phoebe laughed again, showing her still perfectly white teeth. “Damn straight you are. Guns do have a way of garnering one’s attention.”

Scully nodded slightly, but said nothing. She had no idea what was going to trigger this woman, so better to err on the side of caution. Phoebe looked around the room, and again Scully saw her trembling. She wanted to ask what had happened, but mindful of Phoebe’s complaint, she didn’t.

“Nice house, hmm?” Phoebe said. “Fox owns this now, doesn’t he?”

“Yes.”

“His dad used to live here. I remember him talking about it at Oxford.” She made to roll her eyes, but it seemed to throw her off balance and she staggered before pulling herself up. “He used to prattle on and on about how his dad ignored him, didn’t want him for a son. It was quite boring, actually.”

Scully felt a surge of fury sweep through her. You ignorant cow, she thought. Do you have any idea what you did to him? You’re probably the last person he ever spontaneously opened himself up to. He took a chance with you and you squashed his feelings like a bug.

“Yes, poor Mulder. Unhappy childhood. Mum and Dad didn’t love him, they loved his sister.” Phoebe trained her eyes on Scully. “He never did find her, did he? Poor sot.”

“She’s dead,” Scully said between her teeth. Bitch! Just let me get that gun and we’ll talk about who’s a poor sot. I’ll have you slapped in the back of a sheriff’s car so fast you won’t know what hit you.

“No. Really?” The sarcasm oozed over Phoebe’s words. “I could’ve told you that. Does he believe it?”

“Yes.”

“Well done, Agent Scully. So now Mulder is single, well-to-do, and unencumbered with the quest to find his long lost sister. Sounds like you’ve snagged yourself a live one.”

“Whatever,” Scully snapped. Phoebe laughed.

“Oh, stop pretending you don’t give a damn, Dana. He’s not here. It’s just us girls and you can count on me to keep mum. You love him. You’ve loved him for years. What’re you waiting for? A sign from heaven?”

Scully ground her teeth and mentally checked the time. Five to ten minutes. She was halfway home. Crazed as she was, Phoebe wasn’t going to shoot Mulder. She needed him, for some reason.

“What? Nothing to say? The famous Agent Scully is speechless?” Phoebe was smirking at her, one hand cocked on her hip, though Scully saw her wince as the joints bent. “Trust me, he’s worth a ride. Or two.” Scully glared up at Phoebe and the British woman laughed. “God, and they say the British are reserved. You do have ice in your veins.”

Phoebe wandered to the window and looked out it, keeping her wavering gun pointed at Scully. Scully assessed the distance to the door and from the doorway down the stairs. It was too close. Phoebe could still get off several shots.

Phoebe faced her, leaning slightly against the window sill. “I don’t know how you do it,” she said in a pleasant tone. “I couldn’t keep my hands off him. He walked into that pysch class and I was stuck to the chair. Stuck, I tell you.” She laughed again. “All I could think about was dragging him off to some empty classroom and fucking his brains out. And then, later, when I finally got the chance. Well!”

Scully clenched her jaw and stared at the carpet. I will not rise to the bait. I will not give her the satisfaction of making me do something stupid. Scully raised her head and twisted around to look at Phoebe. Bring it on. You can’t hurt me with this.

Phoebe seemed to sense the challenge and proffered one of her trademark Cheshire cat smiles. She looked for all the world like a cat with a bowl of cream. Well, she does have the gun, Scully thought. That makes the bowl hers.

“The first time I fucked Fox I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I was young then, but I’d had a few.” She giggled. “Actually, I’d had quite a few, and none of them that spectacular. But Mulder. Oh, Mulder had what it takes, if you get my meaning.” Scully glared wordlessly back at her and Phoebe whooped with laughter.

“He’s hung! Not too much, you know. Just enough. And knows how to use it. He’s a very intuitive lover, Dana. It’s like he knows what you want before you do. And adventuresome! You thought I was just being a bitch when I told you I had to expand my repertoire, but I was telling the truth. He’ll try anything, Dana. Anything.”

Five minutes. Five minutes and he’ll walk through that door, catch her off guard, and I am going to shove that gun barrel where the sun don’t shine. I’ll give you a new act to include in your repertoire, Scully seethed.

“You haven’t fucked him, have you?” Phoebe shook first her head and then the gun at Scully’s face. “You’re out of your fucking mind, you know that? Probably don’t want to jeopardize your partnership. Your friendship.” Phoebe sneered at her. “Men and women can’t be friends, Dana Sweetheart. They can fuck and they can fight. The rest is a put on.”

“Thank you for your advice,” Scully ground out, no longer bothering to hide her anger. Relationship advice from this slut? What was next; recipes?

“You’re welcome. I’m being nice here and I don’t have to be.” She waved the gun again. “You haven’t been nice to me since I arrived in your office. Very bad manners.”

“So sorry,” Scully said sarcastically. “Why don’t you put down my gun and we’ll start again.”

Phoebe snorted. “No, I don’t think so. Once I’ve talked to Mulder, I’ll be on my way, so don’t worry your pretty head about that.”

Through the open window, both women heard the sound of a car in the driveway. Phoebe jerked her head to look out the window and Scully’s heart leapt. Mulder!

“Fuck!” Phoebe hissed and pulled back from the window. “Fucking sheriff.”

Scully stared at Phoebe, ideas racing through her head. Should she call out to the officer? What was Phoebe going to do? Had someone seen Phoebe breaking into the house?

Phoebe jabbed the barrel of the gun into Scully’s chest.

“Get up. You’re going downstairs. We’re going to see if they go away. If they start snooping around, you’re going to tell them everything is fine. I’m going to be standing right behind you and if you do or say anything to tip them off, I’ll shoot both of you. Are we clear, then?”

Scully nodded and went out into the hall. Carefully, quietly she went down the stairs with Phoebe next to her, the cold metal of the gun pressed against the back of her neck.

“Stay here,” Phoebe hissed, as they stood near the inside wall halfway through the living room.

Several knocks sounded on the front door. Scully forced herself to breathe evenly, her eyes darting to the glass at the top of the door to the windows on either side. Several knocks rang out again.

“Agent Scully? Are you in there? Agent Scully?” Deputy Sanger’s voice was muffled through the door.

“Piss,” Phoebe hissed. “She’s not going to leave. You’re going to have to answer the door.” Phoebe shoved her forward with the gun. “Remember what I said, Agent Scully. Mess up and I’ll kill both of you.”

“I remember,” Scully said, walking towards the door. At this point, she didn’t know if Phoebe would really follow through with her threat or not, but it wasn’t a risk she was willing to take. As she reached the door she glanced over her shoulder to see Phoebe hiding in the doorway between the living room and the dining room. She had a clean shot to Scully’s back.

Scully went to unlock the front door and found it already unlocked. She pulled the door open.

“Deputy Sanger. Sorry, I was in the attic.”

The other woman stared at her, and it seemed that all pretense of civility had gone by the wayside.

“Agent Scully, have you seen Phoebe Green in the last hour?”

Scully shook her head and licked her parched lips. She had never gotten that drink and the inside of her mouth felt like a wool blanket.

“No. Why? Have they tracked her to this area?”

“Not exactly. We found the deputy’s car about three quarters of a mile from here on a back road. She could have gone any direction from there, but I thought she might be headed here.”

“I haven’t seen her,” Scully repeated. “After Mulder threw her out yesterday, I really doubt that she would come here again.”

“Uh huh,” the other woman’s eyes drilled into hers and Scully held her gaze evenly. “I saw Agent Mulder in town. He seems to agree with you.”

“Agent Mulder is one of the best profilers the Bureau has ever produced,” Scully said stiffly. “Chances are, he’s right.”

Sanger nodded, but her eyes remained cold. “Well, I just wanted to give you a heads up. If she does show up, you need to call us right away. This is not an FBI matter.”

Scully nodded. “We understand that. We will turn Phoebe over to you immediately if she comes here.”

“You do have cell phones, right? I know there’s no land line here.”

“Yes, we both have phones.”

“Good. Why don’t you give me one of the numbers, so I can reach you if there’s any more information.”

Scully gave her the number and Sanger snapped her notebook closed before pinning Scully with her eyes again.

“Deputy Vaughn is in the ICU. He’s in a coma.” She paused. “He’s got an elderly mother and two kids to take care of. There is no way Phoebe Green is going to walk away from this.”

“I understand,” Scully said and wondered just how many times today she was going to have to say that. At least this time she meant it.

Sanger went down the steps and Scully watched her climb into her car and pull out of the driveway. Her eyes searched the street. Where the hell was Mulder?

Mindful of Phoebe’s instability, Scully hurried and closed the door. Slowly she turned around.

Phoebe was gone.

Seven minutes later Mulder pulled into the driveway. Even from the front porch, she could see the concern on his face. No less than five sheriffs cruisers surrounded the front of the house, their lights swirling red and blue patterns into the bright morning sky.

Scully watched as he jumped from the car and jogged up to the porch. He could see that she was uninjured, but she could feel his concern nonetheless. He took the steps in twos until he stood in front of her, crowding Deputy Sanger aside, his long fingers reaching out to brush her forearm.

“Scully,” he said urgently. “What happened? Are you okay?”

She smiled at him, even knowing that Sanger’s eagle eyes weren’t missing anything. So what if his concern touched her? Sanger could think it was because they were partners or because she thought they were more. Either way, he was worried about her, for her, and she appreciated it.

“I’m fine. Phoebe was here. She broke into the house while I was in the attic. When I came down to get a drink and put my hair up, she cornered me in my room.” Scully sighed and pushed back the same errant strand of hair. “She has my gun and both of my extra clips.”

“Damnit!” Mulder swore. “What happened? Where is she?”

“When Deputy Sanger showed up and started pounding on the door, she pushed me downstairs and told me to get rid of her. She warned me that if I said anything she would shoot both of us.” Scully paused. “I believed her, Mulder. I never really thought Phoebe was capable of physical violence. Like you said, it’s not her style. But I think she would have shot me in the back if I had tried to get away.”

Mulder’s brows lowered in a frown, and his hand reached out to grasp her arm. She unbent her arms from around her chest and squeezed his fingers back. This wasn’t easy for him. Even without knowing why Phoebe was there, he was blaming himself for this. She knew the guilt was building in him, and with in, an insurmountable desire to do something about the situation.

“She wants to talk to you, Mulder. That’s what she kept saying. She just wants to talk to you and then she’s going to leave.”

“So she got away?”

Scully nodded. “Yes. After I convinced Deputy Sanger that I hadn’t seen Phoebe, I closed the door and turned around to find her gone. I have no idea when she took off. I called Deputy Sanger right away, but Phoebe was already gone.”

“If you had given me some clue that she was there, we would have captured her,” Sanger said, her tone bitter and accusing.

Mulder whipped around to glare at the deputy.

“That’s pure bullshit and you know it. I don’t care how Podunk the local sheriff’s training academy is, any green recruit knows you don’t mess with a person with a loaded gun, much less someone you know has been trained to use it.”

Sanger’s face blossomed into vermilion and she matched Mulder glare for glare.

“What I know is that there’s some crazy Brit running around with a loaded gun and a whole lot of ammo. She put my friend into a coma and we just missed an opportunity to stop her. I also know there’s more here than what you’re saying and I am not convinced that you aren’t involved in this whole charade. That’s what I know, Agent Mulder.”

“Really? Well, Deputy Sanger,” Mulder’s voice was dripping with venom. “I have a few questions, myself. For example, IF Phoebe did escape, why didn’t she take the deputy’s gun when she appears to have wanted one? Why did she abandon the car in the middle of the countryside where it would be difficult, if not impossible, to find other means of transportation? Why, if she is in cahoots with me, would she show up at the one place you would expect her to run? As you said yourself last night, Deputy Sanger, Phoebe Green is an intelligent woman. These are not intelligent decisions.”

“She’s running,” Scully said, her voice low. She saw the surprise in Mulder’s eyes and went on. “She’s a mess. Covered in blood and dirt. Her wrists are mangled. And she’s scared, Mulder. She was trembling the whole time.”

“You think she was kidnapped out of that car?’ Sanger said in disbelief. “What is it with you two? Little green men from Mars come and snatch her?” She curled her lip. “Oh yeah, I’ve done my research on the two of you as well. Crackpots, that’s what I heard.”

Mulder had pulled himself up to his full height and the impenetrable mask on his face was one that Scully knew well. If people didn’t treat Mulder seriously, he would return the favor.

“Thank you for that expert opinion, Deputy Sanger. Now if you’ll excuse us, we’ve got things to do.”

“My forensics team isn’t even here yet,” Sanger snapped. “We have to dust for prints and gather evidence.”

“Fine, go ahead.” He leaned forward, putting his face in hers. Scully saw her stiffen, but she didn’t budge. “But don’t step over the line, Deputy Sanger. I find you or your people snooping where they have no business being and I will come down on you like a load of rocks. I may be a “crackpot” but I’m a crackpot with connections.”

With that, Mulder put his hand on Scully’s arm and guided her inside the house, leaving Sanger to steam on the porch. They walked in silence to the four season room at the back of the house. Mulder shut the door behind them and turned to her.

“Did you mean what you said? You think Phoebe is in trouble?”

Scully chewed her lip, indecision warring inside her. If she said yes, and told him everything about the way Phoebe had acted, there would be no way to stop him from getting involved. If she lied, not only did she betray his trust, but was possibly putting him in danger by encouraging him to look the other way. She looked out the window at the rolling blue ocean and then back at his troubled hazel eyes.

“Yes,” she said. “I think she’s in trouble. I don’t know why or how, but she’s in over her head.”

“You think it has something to do with this case she’s trying to get information on?”

Scully shrugged. “It follows. She was adamant about not wanting official Bureau involvement. And we know she’s been bounced off the case in London. There’s more to this case than what she told me.”

Mulder ran his fingers through his hair. “We have to find out about the case. Skinner give you anything?”

“No, but he’s working on it. He thinks it’s significant that she was taken off the case as well. He’s also suspicious that the Yard officials are so rabid about the FBI staying away from this case.”

“I don’t think we can wait for Skinner’s diplomatic channels, do you Scully?”

Here we go, she thought. Into the wild blue yonder to parts unknown.

“No.”

She saw the relief in his eyes. He wanted her to support this, to sanction his involvement. It made her stomach feel warm, knowing how much her approval meant to him.

“I’m going to call the Gunmen, see what they can turn up.”

“I better call Skinner and give him an update,” she said as they both moved towards the door. “We need to keep him in the loop on this one.”

“I agree.” His hand was on the doorknob and she stopped him with a touch. She reached up on her tiptoes and kissed him gently on the mouth. His arm encircled her waist and he deepened the kiss. She swayed against him, her hand falling against his chest. The tip of his tongue touched her lips and she smiled against his mouth.

He pulled back to look at her.

“You are so beautiful,” he said simply and she blushed. “You are. I’ve wanted to tell you that, so many times.”

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” she said. “It means a lot to me that you see me that way.”

He smiled and lifted her hand to his lips. He brushed against the skin lightly, making her shiver.

“I always will, Scully.”

Mulder was frowning at the phone. “Uh huh. Yeah. What else?”

Scully pressed the talk button on her phone and ended the call with Skinner. The AD had calmed down considerably since their last conversation, although he was clearly not happy with the latest developments. He was especially unhappy with the Deputy Sanger’s blatant suspicion of Mulder and had promised to speak to her superior. ‘The various agencies have to work together to solve this,” he had emphasized. “This isn’t a pissing match.”

Scully had been mostly forthright with her boss. She had told him in detail about Phobe’s actions and demeanor. Scully had also told Skinner that she now firmly believed Phoebe had been abducted from the sheriff’s car and had escaped from whoever had taken her. With trepidation, she had asked Skinner to allow them to pursue the case, and he had agreed, with the provision that they keep him informed every step of the way. She had promised and he had said he would turn up the heat on his sources to see what they could tell him about this case Phoebe had been excused from. Scully had thanked him and declined to mention that Mulder was on the other phone with the Gunmen pursuing his own line enquiry.

Mulder handed his phone to her.

“Frohike wants to talk to you,” he said, deadpan, and Scully arched an eyebrow. What was new? Frohike always wanted to talk to her. She took the phone.

“What’s up?” she asked, rather briskly. She really wasn’t in the mood for suggestive banter.

“He’s telling the truth, you know,” the little man said solemnly. Scully’s eyebrow twitched again.

“About what?”

“About Phoebe. He hasn’t had anything to do with her since that arson guy case five years ago.”

A smile spread across Scully’s face. He was such a strange little guy, this Frohike. Even as he swore his unwavering devotion to her, he always hastened to defend Mulder over any possible accusation.

“I know,” she said softly. “I believe that.”

“You do?” Frohike heaved a relieved sigh. “Good. Because that bitch has messed with him too much already.”

“Really?” Scully mused. “He told you about it.”

“It’s what he hasn’t said that tells the story,” Byers chimed in.

“She burned him bad,” Langley said. “She got her claws in deep, no doubt about it.”

Scully wanted to laugh at their earnest defense of their hero, but she bit her lip. It was so like these guys. Loyal to a fault.

“I couldn’t agree more,” she said, keeping her voice firm. “And that’s part of the reason we need your help. I want this done with and her back on a plane to England as soon as possible.”

“We’re working on it,” Langley said. “I’m almost into the Yard’s records, but it may take a while to track this down. I doubt the info we need is going to be spelled out in her personnel file.”

“I’ve got a contact over there that can get me the unofficial scuttlebutt,” Frohike chimed in. “She had to really step over the line to be put on administrative leave. Her family’s minor royalty and you don’t call a golden girl on the carpet unless you’ve got a really good reason.”

“The State Department is involved in this as well,” Byers said. “They’re watching this case very closely but telling the U.S. agencies to handle it with kid gloves. We may be able to find out something from someone on the Hill as well.”

“You guys are amazing,” Scully said, shaking her head. “Is there anyone you don’t have a way to glean information from?”

“Nope,” Frohike said proudly and she knew all three of them were smiling. Scully was sparse with her compliments so they were to be taken to heart.

“Okay, our phones are on.”

“We’ll call the minute we have anything,” Byers promised.

Scully disconnected the call and looked up to find Mulder watching her, his hands resting lightly on his hips. A shaft of afternoon sunlight streamed in through the living room window, basking him in a golden glow. His hazel eyes seemed greener, his hair had just a tiny hint of red to it. He was gorgeous, and she felt an overwhelming urge to kiss him.

It must have reflected on her face, because a huge smile suffused his and he stepped closer until there were scant inches between them. He leaned over and brushed her ear with his lips.

“I want to kiss you, too,” he breathed and she shivered in spite of herself. How in the world had they not done this all these years? Already her body was readying itself for him and she found herself shifting uncomfortably in her suddenly tight jeans.

“I’m sure Deputy Sanger would be happy to include that tidbit in her report,” Scully whispered back, just barely letting her lips graze his earlobe and getting a tremble in response. She grinned. This was fun, who cared if the deputies saw them?

“I’m just about don’t care,” he said, but pulled back a little to flick a glance at the phalanx of deputies still swarming on the porch. “I guess I should have made cookies and lemonade.”

Scully snorted. “Yeah, because we always get treated like that when we descend on someone’s house.” She turned to watch the technicians dusting the room for prints, focusing on the wall Phoebe had hidden behind. “It does give you a different perspective. Like a doctor or a nurse having to be the patient.”

“You’ve done that too many times,” Mulder said and she saw the guilt flash in his eyes. She tapped him lightly on the chest with her fist.

“Don’t go there, Mulder. I’m a big girl. I make my own choices and take the consequence, just like you.”

He titled his head to one side and offered her a goofy grin. “So, you’re saying that I’m a big girl?”

She rolled her eyes at his lame joke and then leaned forward to pin him with her eyes.

“I certainly hope not.”

His eyes widened at her double entendre and she laughed at him. He laughed too and then leered at her.

“Well, Scully, there are a lot of strange things about me, but that’s not one of them. I am a one hundred percent bona fide American male.”

She grinned. “I’m very glad to hear that, Mulder. Very glad.”

They stood and grinned at each other like children with a naughty plan until Deputy Sanger came into the room.

“We’re just about finished. I trust I can expect you down at the station to give a formal statement later today, Agent Scully?”

Scully turned and gave the woman her best nonchalant face.

“Of course.”

They watched as Sanger crossed the room to her forensics team.

“What now?” Scully asked, her eyes crawling back to her partner.

He shrugged. “I don’t know. Phoebe’s got to know they’re going to stake out the house, so I don’t think she’ll risk coming back here.” He ran a hand through his hair. “But if she still wants to talk to me and she’s on foot, she’s not going to go very far.”

“Is there anywhere she would think she could meet up with you? A place you might have mentioned to her when you were at Oxford?”

Mulder blew out a frustrated sigh.

“I don’t know. I wasn’t up here that much to begin with, and I don’t know what I would have mentioned to her. I don’t think I told her much about my dad.”

Scully winced internally, thinking about Phoebe’s cruel words. “He used to prattle on and on about how his dad ignored him…it was quite boring, actually.” A renewed sense of fury engulfed her. Phoebe might be in trouble, but she was still a bitch and more than ever Scully just wanted all this over with and Phoebe out of their lives. Their lives, not just Mulder’s. Not anymore.

Having seen the last of the deputies off the property and waving at the two stationed down the street, they were off in search of lunch when Mulder’s phone rang. He handed it to Scully.

“Hello?”

“It’s me,” Byers said. “We’ve got some preliminary information for you.”

“Go ahead,” Scully said, sitting forward in her seat.

“The case Phoebe was working on was a murder spree of four English women, ranging in age from late twenties to late thirties. All four women were found raped, strangled, with their tongues cut out and their hands in handcuffs. From what I can tell, the guy did a real hatchet job on the tongues. The only connection between the four women was that they had dated the same man, an American ex-NYPD Sergeant by the name of John Jacob Milling. Supposedly all four women had dumped him, claiming he was possessive and jealous. Two filed complaints with their local constabulary but nothing every became of the complaints.”

“Where does Phoebe come in?” Scully asked. So far this was the same basic information that Phoebe had given her.

“Phoebe was the Inspector on scene for the third and fourth murders, and that was when they put together that they had a serial murder and that Milling was the connection. Phoebe became the lead investigator on the case, but she apparently wasn’t convinced that Milling was their killer. We haven’t found out the details of why she was taken off the case, but the official reasons for her suspension was ‘failure to execute her duties’ and ‘conduct unbecoming an inspector’.”

“I tapped into NYPD,” Frohike said. “Milling retired on a full pension but he was basically shoved out the door.”

“Why?” Scully asked.

“Too many excessive force complaints. They start all the way back in 1975, although back then the cops had a little more leeway in how they handled their suspects, so not a lot was made of it. Then he had three complaints in ‘89 and they put him on a desk for a couple of years. He worked active cases again in ‘92, seemed to keep his nose clean for a while, then had three more complaints in ‘95. He had twenty-five years in by then, so they had him quietly retire.”

“So, no formal sanctions or anything?” Scully was scowling at the phone. Thin blue line, my ass. How can they condone crap like this over and over again?

“He was written up a couple of times, got a slap on the wrist, that was all. There were two law suits filed and both were settled out of court.” Frohike paused. “I noticed that half of the complaints were from women. I think that’s pretty unusual.”

“It is,” Scully said. “So, any idea why he moved to England?”

“His grandfather is English,” Langley put in. “And he’s stinking rich, too. Looks like Mills moved there to take over his grandfather’s printing business. Milling’s father died relatively young and the old man doesn’t have any other heirs.”

“I wonder why he waited to move,” Scully mused. “Why work as a cop for 25 years if you’re the heir to a fortune?”

“Maybe he got off on the power,” Frohike said. “If he likes to slap around women he can get his jollies at work.”

“Does he have a record? A criminal record?” Scully asked. “I would think the violence would spill into his personal life.”

“He’s been married twice,” Byers said. “The second wife had a restraining order taken out against him. But no criminal record.”

“Do you have the wives’ contact information?”

“Yeah,” Byers said. “I don’t know if it’s recent.”

“Find out,” Scully said. “I want to talk to those women. And I want to know exactly what Phoebe did to get thrown off the case. Something doesn’t track there. And email me what records you do have, especially anything from those women’s autopsies.”

“Will do,” Frohike said and they hung up.

Scully clasped the phone in her hands as Mulder parked in front of small café. Phoebe’s refusal to see Milling as the killer was bothering her. The circumstantial evidence was overwhelming, even if she didn’t know about his violent past at the NYPD. Why would Phoebe be so blind?

Mulder sat and watched her expectantly. Scully shot him a rueful glance.

“Sorry, just trying to assimilate the info.”

He unsnapped his seatbelt. “Let’s go inside and you can fill me in.”

Mulder dug into his hamburger with relish and nodded as Scully told him her questions.

“Phoebe’s not stupid, Mulder.” She said lifting a forkful of salad. “Why would she not think Milling was the killer?”

He swallowed and sat back from the table. “Maybe she didn’t want to.”

Scully made an inquiring sound in her throat as she chewed. Mulder went on.

“Maybe she had a reason for not wanting to suspect him.”

“You think she knew him?”

“Possibly.” He paused. “Maybe she was even involved with him.”

Scully stared at him. “Dating him? That’s a pretty big jump, Mulder.”

“It is, but it would make sense.” Mulder leaned forward, putting his elbows on the table and pushing his plate away. “Think about it, Scully. He’s a former cop. He did the job for 25 years. It makes sense that he would gravitate to police officials there. It’s the brotherhood thing, you know,” he said, making a face which Scully mirrored. “And he sounds like the type that would appeal to her. Lots of money, macho, arrogant. Maybe Phoebe got in over her head.”

Scully sat back from her plate. “I know this is off the topic, Mulder, but do you ever wonder why she got involved with you? I mean, you don’t fit the profile. You came from a comfortable background, but nothing like what she was used to. You’re not macho, although,” she grinned at him, “You can be damnably arrogant at times.”

He studied her for a moment and she realized that he had thought about it and that he was deciding how much to tell her. She met his gaze and waited. He sat back in his chair.

“I have thought about it, and you’re right, I don’t fit her type.” His eyes roamed the small café. “I think maybe I represented something that she did want, but something that she didn’t want to let herself have.” He blew out a breath. “I don’t want to sound ‘arrogant’” he twitched an eyebrow at her and she smiled. “But maybe I gave her something that other guys didn’t.” He paused again. “I cared about her. About her as a person. What she liked, what she thought. I don’t know if many other of her men did.”

Scully nodded, encouraging him to go on. He was opening an old wound here and she wanted him to know that she appreciated it. And that she cared.

“Phoebe made it really clear that it was all a game to her. The other guys in her life got that.” He looked down at the table. “I didn’t. I was all sincerity and earnestness.” He laughed, but it was a mirthless sound. “I really was a clueless dork. I wanted her to care about me, so I cared about her.”

Scully swallowed hard and reached across the table and laid her hand on his arm.

“You were, and are, a nice guy, Mulder. And as much as I hate it, the old saying is true. Nice guys finish last.”

Mulder squeezed her hand. “Not if it means that I wind up being with you, Scully.” He tilted his head and his hazel eyes twinkled at her. “I don’t know if that means I’m not a nice guy anymore, or if that means I just got lucky. But being with you puts me in first place, not last.”

Scully felt tears prick behind her eyes and she blinked furiously to disperse them. Her eyes glistened nonetheless and the beloved lines of his face blurred.

“Mulder,” she said hoarsely. “That is the nicest thing you have ever said to me.”

He smiled. “I’m going to top it. Just wait.”

She laughed, clearing her eyes. “Okay, just don’t make me wait seven years, okay?”

“Nah. Only four or five.”

The waitress arrived to refill their coffee and they pulled their hands apart and went back to eating. Scully polished off her salad and sat sipping her coffee.

“So, if I follow you,” she began. “You think Phoebe was involved with Milling and she refused to see him as the killer. She got pulled off her case for refusing to pursue him-”

“Or because the brass found out she was involved with a suspect,” Mulder interjected.

“And then Milling decided to go after her?” Scully shook her head. “If she defended him, why try to hurt her?”

“Maybe she finally got wise. Maybe she found incontrovertible proof of his guilt. I don’t know, Scully. But I think she came to America to find out more about him, to investigate him and that means at the very least she was entertaining the notion that he was guilty.”

“Maybe she came her to clear him?” Scully wondered.

Mulder shook his head. “No. There’s nothing here that can prove he’s innocent. There’s nothing here that can prove him guilty, either, I’m pretty sure. But there is information here that points to a pattern of violence, especially against women.”

“I want to talk to his ex-wives,” Scully said. “I think they can shed a lot of light on what this guy is about.”

“I agree,” Mulder said. “And I don’t think sitting around her waiting for Phoebe is going to get us anywhere.”

“So, New York?” Scully asked. “I need to run it by Skinner.”

“I think so. If we want to know what is motivating Phoebe, we have to know the story with this Milling.”

Scully watched him closely as she asked her next question.

“What about Phoebe? IF she’s in trouble, should we go running off to NYC?”

Mulder glanced down at his coffee cup and then back up at her. Sadness weighed in his eyes.

“I don’t like leaving her here, Scully,” he said softly. “But I can’t protect her if I can’t find her.” He paused. “And I can’t help her if she’s threatening to shoot you. This is the best I can do.”

Scully reached over and gripped his hand.

“Then we’ll do it.”

Scully gave her statement at the sheriff’s department and didn’t miss the thinly veiled hostility in the room. Deputy Sanger had not been parsimonious with her opinions. Apparently everyone in a three county area thought Scully had intentionally let a would-be cop killer go free.

As she proofed and signed her statement, she was aware of Mulder at her back and she knew he was staring down the deputy on the other side of the desk. Mulder could be so impervious to slights against himself, but he was old-fashioned about ones against Scully. Even as he knew she had developed a hide nearly as thick as his own, he felt that she shouldn’t have to take it. She smiled to herself as she signed her name with a flourish. It felt good to have someone automatically, one hundred percent in her corner.

The walked down the steps of the station and out to their car without talking. Skinner had approved the trip to New York and they were going to head back to the house and pack up. Mulder had already called the moving company and postponed the moving truck indefinitely. Who knew how long this was going to take. But, Scully mused, it wasn’t like the furniture was going anywhere in the meantime. Besides which, she wanted time to look it over closely. She wondered if French Revival and Queen Anne furniture could be mixed?

The were tooling down main street and Scully was admiring the quaint store fronts of the various boutiques when Mulder suddenly pulled into a parking space. She looked at him in surprise and he grinned at her as he turned off the car and released his seatbelt.

“I almost forgot,” he said. “Come on.” He gestured for her to get out of the car as he unfolded the long length of his legs and climbed out himself.

He took her hand and led her down the sidewalk to a small storefront with a green valance. The stained glass in the door depicted a cornucopia and Scully knew it had to be very old and valuable. The detail and colors were exquisite. She glanced at the lettering on the large storefront window. Sevigny’s Fine Jewelry.

A small silver bell rang as the door opened and for some reason it reminded Scully of the scene in “It’s A Wonderful Life”. Everytime a bell rings, an angel gets their wings. She smiled.

The shop was small but immaculate. Dark wood molding framed the top and bottom of each wall. Built-in wooden cases, oak, if she was not mistaken, lined the room. Several glass cases clustered around the center of the room and were ringed with maroon velvet chairs. Brilliant Oriental rugs were scattered around on the floor.

There was no one in the store and Scully turned around slowly, taking it all in. Jewels glinted at her from behind locked glass. Even from a distance she could see that everything there was high quality.

An old man popped his head through the maroon curtain at the back of the store.

“Fox!” the old man exclaimed. “Fox Mulder, I don’t believe it!”

Mulder grinned and started towards the back of the store as the man, white haired and bespectacled, literally bounded forward to envelope Mulder into a bear hug. When the man, and Scully presumed this was the infamous Mr. Sevigny, stood up straight, he was a couple of inches taller than Mulder.

Sevigny kissed Mulder on both cheeks and then held the younger man’s face between his palms.

“Damnation, Son,” he said. “You’ve turned into a fine looking man. You must have three wives and twenty children by now.”

Mulder laughed and blushed and shook his head.

“Not even one, Sevigny.”

The older man shook his head. “Foolish women. Must be the only type you meet.” He peered into Mulder’s face. “Unless you’re the fool. Are you a fool, Fox?”

Mulder laughed again and glanced over his shoulder at Scully who felt herself blush. “Yeah, Sevigny. For a long time now.”

Sevigny was looking at her now and Scully willed herself to walk forward. Why am I so nervous? She chided herself. It’s just some old friend of his father’s. It’s not like I’m meeting the family for the first time. But then, she reasoned, this old man was probably as close to family as Mulder had left.

Sevigny stepped past Mulder and looked her up and down. Mulder turned and stood next to him and Sevigny shot him a sly look under his lashes before returning his silvery eyes to Scully.

“Scully, I want to you to meet Anton Sevigny. Sevigny, this is my partner, Dana Scully.”

“Partner?” Sevigny grunted. “What the devil do you mean?”

“We’re in the FBI together,” Scully said, somewhat lamely.

Sevigny trained his eyes on her. “Horse feathers. Fox would not bring me his ‘partner’.” He pivoted to look up at Fox. “When’s the wedding?”

“Sevigny,” Mulder protested weakly, his face getting redder. “We’re not engaged. I just thought Scully would like to meet you and I haven’t seen you in a while…”

Sevigny ignored him. “He’s going to ask you, young lady. Don’t worry about it. And you’ll get a nice ring, or I’ll know the reason why. Just tell me what you like and I’ll make it perfect.”

“Uh, t-thank you,” Scully stammered, not quite meeting Mulder’s eyes. Oh God, why had Mulder brought her here? They hadn’t even slept together yet and this old man had them walking down the aisle.

Sevigny looked from one to the other. “You’re going to make nice kids,” he said. “Red-heads, I bet.” He watched, bemused, as neither agent said a word. He looked back at Mulder. “So, you’re selling Bill’s house. Not going to settle on the Vineyard, then?”

Mulder shifted uncomfortably. “He died there, Sevigny. I just don’t feel comfortable there.”

Sevigny waved a hand, a plain gold wedding band flashing in the light. “He lived there first, Fox. I know, I know, it’s just a house. But you belong here. You’ve got roots here.”

Mulder shrugged. “How’ve you been Sevigny? Still running the store.”

The older man snorted and gestured for them to sit in the velvet chairs. “Who’s going to run it but me? Martha runs the house and Mikhail, well, he wants to play with his cars and chase women.” Sevigny shot an apologetic look at Scully. “My son is a playboy. Nothing is serious to him.” Sevigny shrugged. “He will die penniless and without a legacy. What can I do?”

“He’s not that bad,” Mulder said. “He’s just a happy-go-lucky kinda guy.”

“He’s lazy!” Sevigny said fiercely. “Not like you. You had good grades, you play sports, you build a career. Mikhail, he is always a child.” Another shrug. “I can not worry anymore. When I die, no more Sevigny’s.”

“That would be a loss,” Mulder said softly and Sevigny shot forward in his chair.

“Yes, and I’m an old man, Fox.” He jabbed a thumb at Scully. “You want to get her a ring to wear forever, you better hurry it up.” He sat back and looked at Fox. “You’re not ready yet, huh? What happened with the last one? The one you told me about the last time you come here?”

Mulder stuttered and Scully noticed that the red on his cheeks was returning. “What? I wasn’t seeing anyone…it’s been three years, I think…”

Sevigny’s lips twitched in amusement and he raised his eyes heavenwards. “Fox, always you are a careful man.” He looked at Scully. “He was always a good boy. No trouble for his parents and they did not know how good they had it. Look at MY son, I say. Always in trouble. Count your blessings!”

He looked back at Mulder. “Careful is good, Fox, but too careful is bad.” He gestured at Scully. “This is she, is it not? The one you told me about.” He tsk tsked at Mulder. “So many years wasted. What are you waiting for?”

Mulder was studiously avoiding her eyes and Scully felt her heart go out to him. He had wanted to share a piece of his childhood with her. To introduce her to a friend, and instead found his heart and desires being laid bare before her.

Scully leaned forward and rested her hand on Sevigny’s arm and he turned his silvery eyes on her face.

“He’s waiting for me, Mr. Sevigny. I haven’t made it easy for him.” Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Mulder’s surprise, and his gratitude, as she spoke.

“But you are here,” Sevigny said stubbornly, gesturing to his shop. She smiled at him.

“Yes, we are.” They shared a look then, Sevigny and her, and she saw that he understood. Maybe the cart was before the horse, but what harm was there? Let them flirt with the possibilities and maybe it would lead to reality.

“What kind of jewelry do you like?” Sevigny asked. “I only see one gold cross. Very delicate. It suits you.”

“Platinum band, emerald cut, about a carat,” Mulder rattled off and Scully’s eyes flew to his. Hazel orbs twinkled back at her. He had remembered every detail. Of course he had. That was Mulder.

Sevigny was on his feet, energized. He bounded to a nearby case and pulling a key from the jumble fastened to his waist, unlocked the case and withdrew a ring, mounted on black velvet stand. He swooped down on Scully and before she could utter a sound, he had taken her left hand and slipped the ring onto her finger.

“Perfect!” Sevigny said.

Scully stared down at the ring and her mouth fell open. The diamond, white and clear, blazed fire on her finger. It sat there, pressed against her flesh like it had always been there and always would. The metal, cold at first, was already warming to her skin, and the weight, which had surprised her, was already feeling comfortable. She turned her hand slightly, this way and then that, watching as the diamond flashed and sparked. She had never had a diamond on her finger before, and had never really imagined what it would look like. The wedding dress she might wear, the church, the vows. She had imagined them all. But she had never wondered what kind of ring she would wear. Never wondered what is would feel like.

Sevigny was making a contented humming noise in his throat and she looked up at him, suddenly conscious of must be a stunned look on her face. She couldn’t quite bring herself to look at Mulder. She didn’t want the question on her face and she was afraid to see it on his. She’d imagined being asked many many times in her life. She had even wondered what it would like for Mulder to propose. But never in any of her incarnations, had the man asked her in the jewelry store.

“It’s beautiful,” she said simply, her eyes dropping back to the ring. She was stalling and she knew it. She could feel Mulder’s gaze on her and she knew she couldn’t resist the clarion call for long. He wanted her eyes, her soul, and she was afraid. Yes, she wanted the question and she wanted the man. But not here, not like this. It was small and petty and she knew that, but she had only been half joking when she had told Mulder over the phone that she wanted roses and wine and romance. She planned to only do this once and she wanted it to be right.

“I think we chose well, don’t you?” Mulder’s tone was light and she risked a glance at him and was gratified to see him regarding with calm, slightly amused eyes. Thank you, she thought. Thank you for not pushing.

“Yes.” She titled her head at Mulder. “Maybe you should take over when Sevigny retires, Mulder. You seem to have a knack for this.”

Sevigny chortled at this and did a little jig.

“He always makes the girls happy, this Fox. They always like him.”

Mulder rolled his eyes and shook his head. Scully laughed.

“So, he was a lady killer, huh? All the girls following him around.”

Sevigny frowned. “Lady killer, no. Fox, always he was courteous. Polite.” Sevigny grinned. “But always, so handsome. Yes, girls always like him.”

Mulder got to his feet. “I think we need to go now, Scully.”

She laughed and grinned at him as she got to her feet.

“Getting a little hot in here, Mulder? A little too close to home?”

“Yeah, that’s it,” Mulder said. Scully went to pull the ring off her finger but was stopped by the warm touch of Mulder’s finger on hers. She froze as his fingers deftly slipped the band from her finger. He paused, titling the ring back and forth, watching the diamond flash, before handing it to Sevigny. As the older man turned away, Mulder’s eyes sought hers.

“I liked the way it looked on your finger,” he said softly. “Like it belonged there.”

Scully felt her breath catch and wondered if it would be possible to freeze time right then. To hold forever the tender, wistful look on his face. She knew he was wondering the same things she was. Could they do this? Could their new intimacy really lead to the kind of relationship they both thought beyond their reach? It made her want to cry and smile at the same time.

They said good-bye to Sevigny and promised to visit again before they finished clearing out the house. With her hand in Mulder’s, Scully allowed him to lead her from the store. As the door swung shut behind her, she glimpsed Sevigny moving towards the back of the store, the ring and its stand, in his hand. A warm glow filled her chest as she realized he was putting the ring away for safe-keeping. He was saving it for them.

It was almost dark by the time they had packed the car. After a brief conversation, they had decided to drive to the city in lieu of flying. Although they had both presented good reasons why driving was the better choice, neither one voiced the one that really made the decision. It would be more time alone together. Once they got to the city, who knew what would happen or who they would encounter. But for a few hours on the road it would just be the two of them, and they both felt a need for it.

Scully checked that her cell phone was in her jacket pocket for the umpteenth time and her eyes swept over the living room. It was still ringed with boxes and she grimaced as she realized just how little she and Mulder had accomplished over the weekend. Well, at least as pertained to packing. She could hear him walking in the hallway upstairs, going into each room to make sure the windows were closed and the lights off. They had no idea when they would be able to come back.

He came down the stairs quickly, his eyes sweeping over the living room and coming to rest on Scully.

“I guess I won’t get this on the market this week,” he said nonchalantly, but Scully had the distinct impression that he was watching her closely. She shrugged.

“I don’t think you’re going to have any trouble selling it no matter when you put it on the market,” Scully said. “There is always more demand than supply for houses like these.”

Mulder stopped in front of her and she tipped her head back to look up into his face. His hazel eyes were soft and she knew her own blue ones were shining up at him.

“I don’t have to sell it, Scully,” he said quietly. “If you like it, then I’ll keep it.”

Her eyes widened and she felt her lips part, but she didn’t know what to say. She had not expected this. That eidetic memory he was blessed and cursed with would never let him forget what had happened in this house. Finding his father bleeding on the bathroom floor, calling Scully, his mind twisted by drugs, his hands covered with his father’s blood. Those images were burned on his brain.

She stared up at him, wondering what to say. She did like this house, but it was more than that. It was part of his past, part of his family, and she liked being able to touch it. But not at the cost he would have to pay for it.

“We can make new memories,” Mulder said. “The old ones don’t have to dominate this place.”

She pressed her fingers against his chest and felt it rise and fall with his breath. She knew there was little that Mulder wouldn’t do for her. He had proved that over and over again. But this was more intimate, more personal than other times. He was offering her a place for them to be together. He was offering her a future.

She rubbed her fingers along his sternum and looked up into his waiting face.

“Let’s think about it,” she said, and her voice wavered. “Good memories don’t always out-weigh the bad, and I don’t want any ghosts, Mulder.”

He smiled then and she knew what he was going to say before he said it.

“Ghosts, Scully? You don’t believe in ghosts.”

She smiled back.

“Maybe. Maybe not. But you do, and that’s who I’m concerned about.”

He took her hand in his and raised it to his lips. She gasped as his lips grazed lightly over her fingertips, his eyes never leaving hers. My God, the man was a master of seduction.

“I’m going to be just fine,” he said. His lips trailed down her fingers and he kissed her palm, pressing into her flesh. His tongue darted out and licked the center of her hand and her fingers flexed around his face. She felt a rush of heat suffuse her.

“Mulder,” she said, her voice husky. “If we’re going to New York tonight, you had better stop that right now.”

He grinned and planted a firmer kiss on her palm before gently releasing her hand. “Rain check?”

She arched an eyebrow at him. “Mm hmm.”

They took Mulder’s car and after a brief stop to gas up, they were on the road. The radio played classic rock softly as they sped through the night. They didn’t talk much and Scully had long ago put aside the emailed information from the Gunmen. The autopsy information hadn’t really shed much light on the case and she wasn’t in the mood to stare at the few grainy photos that they had printed out on Bill Mulder’s antiquated printer. Apparently the boys had felt some levity had been needed as one of the attachments had been a rather ribald comic strip. It, of course, had taken the longest to download and she didn’t even want to know what her cellular bill would be after that.

They were about halfway to the city when Mulder pulled into a quick mart gas station.

“Coffee break,” he said, climbing out the car.

“Pit stop,” she replied and got out as well. She didn’t want to contemplate the state of the women’s restrooms, but nor did she want to hold her bladder all the way to Manhattan.

She was pleasantly surprised to find the women’s room clean and well lit. There was even hand soap in the dispenser and she took a minute to run her fingers through her hair and check her light make-up.

She returned the key to the attendant and went outside to find Mulder leaning against the car sipping his coffee. She could see a matching cup in a holder inside the car. He turned to watch her walk up and purposefully she let her eyes wander over his long, lean form. Jeans, white t-shirt, black leather jacket, hair nicely mussed by the breeze. God damn, he was trying to kill her.

“Are you trying to kill me?” he murmured as her eyes finally make their way to his. “Or could we just pull over on some back road and release some of my tension?”

She opened the car door, her eyebrows arching at him. “Your tension? What about my tension, Mulder? You’re the one in tight jeans and a leather jacket.”

He grinned like a boy. “You like? Really?”

She rolled her eyes and ducked to climb in the car. “As if you need to ask.”

Mulder chuckled and climbed in beside her. “I am going to wear this jacket for the rest of my life,” he said and Scully laughed. She leaned over and lightly punched his arm.

“I can just see you, eighty years old, tooling around in your wheelchair in that jacket.”

He snapped on his seatbelt and twitched an eyebrow at her. “Will you still find me sexy when I’m old and wrinkled, Scully?”

Her eyes sparkled at him. “Attraction starts in the mind, Mulder, and I can’t imagine you not sexy as long as you’ve got your wits about you.”

“So, back road it is?” He started the car and she shook her head.

“Drive, Mulder. We have work to do.”

He made a big production of sighing and looking disappointed as he put the car into gear and they eased out of the gas station. She couldn’t help but smile as a little shot of joy zipped through her veins. If this part was so much fun, she couldn’t wait for the culmination.

As soon as they were back on the road, he reached over and took her hand and she twined her fingers through his. They were so good together, and despite all the worries and reservations that she knew they both still had, it was going to work out. They had both seen too much and been through too much to expect perfection or even normalcy. They had unique jobs and those jobs took a unique toll on them both. She didn’t have a clue how they were going to handle this at work, and she knew that was going to be a sticky question. Skinner wasn’t going to be easy to fool, if they decided to take that route, and it flew in the face of the fantasies that had taken over her brain. You couldn’t have the same address as your partner and expect people not to notice.

Then there was her family. She mentally winced as she imagined Bill’s response. He had been dubious at first when she had insisted that she and Mulder were just partners and friends, but eventually he had believed her. He had seen what she had been desperate to hide, even from herself, that Mulder meant so much more to her. He wouldn’t be happy to learn that she had faced her fears and embraced what her heart wanted. Yes, Bill was going to be a problem, and she was going to have to enlist her mother’s aid, as well as Tara’s, to help control it. The problem was, she wasn’t sure how either women would take the news themselves.

Maggie liked Fox. She had been moved by his devotion to Scully when she had been abducted, and although Mulder had told her little about that time, Maggie had mentioned it several times. Missy had told Maggie that Mulder was the one who brought Scully back, that it was his strength and his love that had convinced her to choose life over death. Either way, Maggie Scully was grateful, and she also knew more about her daughter’s heart than Scully would have liked. But Maggie had become more protective of Scully since Missy’s death and she would have greatly preferred it if both her daughter and Fox would leave the FBI for a safer, quieter life. She didn’t quite blame Mulder for Scully’s cancer or her bareness, but she didn’t quite exonerate him either. It didn’t help that Mulder took the blame for both squarely on his shoulders. They would have to talk about that more. If they’re being involved meant he would take on even more guilt every time something happened to her, then they had to re-think things. She was not going to let him subjugate her like that. Equals then, now and always. Or else.

Mulder slipped his hand away to take a sip of coffee and did the same. The hot, bittersweetness coated her mouth and she smiled against the rim of the cup. He had loaded it with cream and real sugar, eschewing her preferred NutraSweet. Ah yes, the man did respect her, but he never stopped pushing, either. She suspected she was going to have to start stocking her freezer with hamburger and burritos and all sorts of “real food” as Mulder would say. On the other hand, she was pretty sure that if faced with the choice of a tofutti dreamsicle or nothing, he would learn to eat healthy once in a while.

She was still holding her cup so Mulder’s hand dropped to his thigh after he replaced his cup in the holder. In the dim light from the road, she could see the outline of his leg and the long fingers splayed against it. She remembered those fingers gripping her hips, pulling her against him as he arched up underneath her. Her face flushed and she squeezed her cup. If only Deputy Sanger hadn’t interrupted them….

“Mulder, you drive like a snail.”

Scully froze as the saccharine sweet voice touched her ears at the same time that the cold steel of her gun pressed behind her ear. Mulder swore and the car swerved as he twisted in his seat to glare at Phoebe.

“Eyes forward, please,” Phoebe said smoothly. “I’d hate to come this far only to die in an auto accident.”

“God damnit, Phoebe!” Mulder swore again as he pulled the car back under control and glared at her in the rearview mirror. “What the fuck are you doing here?”

“It’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?” Phoebe said smugly. “I’m hitching a ride.”

“I thought you only traveled first class,” Mulder snarled. “That trunk must have been rather cramped.”

“Oh, it was, and her luggage is damnably heavy,” Phoebe pressed the gun harder against Scully’s nape for emphasis. “I think I pulled my back just shifting it around so I could climb in the boot.”

“My apologies,” Scully said sarcastically and was rewarded with another shove of the gun. Mulder caught the motion and suddenly the car was swerving sharply to the right and grinding to a halt. Mulder twisted in his seat to stab Phoebe with his eyes.

“Don’t push me, Mulder,” Phoebe snapped. “Keep driving. We’re going to New York.”

“We’re not going anywhere until you take that gun off of her,” Mulder said between his teeth.

“How quaint,” Phoebe sneered. “Chivalry is alive and well. Be a white knight on your own time, Mulder. Now drive.”

He slowly shook his head. “No. You need me for some reason. Well, you’re not getting one iota of cooperation until you take that gun off of Scully.”

Phoebe’s eyes were getting wild and she shoved the back of Scully’s head with the gun. Scully’s head snapped forward, her chin banging into her chest. Her hands clenched into fists and for the hundredth time that day, she wished she had brought her back-up weapon from D.C.

“You’re not in a position to give orders, Mulder. Push me too far and I’ll-”

“No, you won’t,” Mulder said with a calmness that he couldn’t have felt. “You know if you shoot her nothing will stop me from killing you, Phoebe. Nothing.” He stared deeply into her eyes. “Now, I’ll help you. That’s why we’re going to New York. But I’m not taking the chance that we hit a bump and you accidentally blow the back of her head off.”

Phoebe’s lips drew back in a grimacing laugh. “God, you are SO noble, Mulder. Always concerned for the lady.”

“I’m no lady,” Scully said low. “And I intend to prove that to you at the first opportunity. But he’s right. The road is bumpy and you’re obviously exhausted. You could accidentally pull the trigger and kill either one of us.”

Phoebe snorted, but pulled the gun back from Scully’s head. She shrugged. “Fine. Have it your way, then. But I’ve still got it cocked, so don’t get any wise ideas.”

“Fine,” Mulder turned back around in his seat and Scully could feel his eyes on her. She met his gaze and nodded once, briefly, to show him that she was fine. Pissed, but fine. She could see the anger in his eyes as well. Phoebe was right in that she needed to keep the gun. All bets were off with Mulder and he would overpower her the first chance he got.

Mulder pulled back onto the road, his eye flicking between the pavement ahead and Phoebe in the rearview mirror. The British woman sat back in her seat and out of the corner of her eye, Scully could see the gleam of the gun in her hand. Her wrists were still encircled with dried blood.

“What happened to you?” Scully asked, then remembered Phoebe’s earlier complaint about her questions.

“I’ve whacked a cop on the head and made off, isn’t that perfectly obvious?” Phoebe sneered.

“Milling is here, isn’t he?” Mulder said, catching her eyes in the mirror. “He followed you to the States.”

“Incorrect, my dear Watson,” Phoebe said tiredly. “I followed him.”

“Why?”

“To stop him.”

“Is that why he is trying to kill you?” Mulder persisted. There was no answer from Phoebe and Scully turned a little in her seat and was surprised to see tears brimming in the other woman’s red-rimmed eyes. Phoebe looked back at her , anger flashing in her eyes at Scully’s discovery. She waved the gun at Scully and Scully turned back around.

“Did you confront him?” Mulder pushed. Phoebe barked out a laugh.

“Just how stupid do you think I am, Mulder? Give me some credit. I may have slept with a serial killer, but I know better than call him on the carpet.” She sighed. “I don’t know how he found out I followed him. He flew into New York, I flew into DC. I didn’t know he was on to me until he forced the sheriff off the road.”

“But he didn’t kill you,” Scully said simply and Phoebe laughed again and sat forward.

“Sorry to disappoint you, Agent Scully. I know how badly you want me dead.”

“You’re not that important to me,” Scully said blandly. Not yet, but she was getting close. Phoebe chuckled.

“Overestimating my importance am I? Well, be cheered. He tried. His other women weren’t trained in hand-to-hand, you see. He really ought to have known better.”

“I still don’t understand why you’re doing this on your own, Phoebe,” Mulder said, drawing the conversation back to where he wanted it and away from Scully. “Why not have the Yard contact the FBI and let them bring him in?”

“When?” Phoebe shot back. “Those bloody idiots are more concerned with how it all looks than stopping a killer. His grandfather has a lot of money and influence.”

“So does yours,” Mulder said grimly.

“My family has nothing to do with this,” Phoebe said firmly.

Mulder looked at her in the mirror again and Scully felt something shuttle between them. For all her bravada about Mulder just being an idle amusement, Scully wondered just how much Fox Mulder had gotten under Phoebe’s thick skin.

“Why were you kicked off the case?” Mulder continued doggedly. They were getting close to the city and he needed answers.

Phoebe snorted and threw herself back against the seat. “For impeding the investigation. For sleeping with a suspect.”

“Did you?”

“Of course I did. I’d been boffing John for two months before I pulled that case in Kent and then the other one. I had no idea he was involved.” She laughed bitterly. “I know a lot of people think I’m not picky about my lovers, but I really don’t fancy murderers, you know?”

“How did you impede the investigation?” Mulder asked, slowly the car slightly.

“When I pulled the first case in Kent, it rang a bell. I had seen a couple of reports of other women murdered in the same way, just months before. I rang up the locals and had the files sent to me. I was seeing John at the time and he knew all about it. He made a big production of telling me that he knew the third victim, Lucy Wells. Said he had dated her a year before. He acted all worried that his name would get in the papers, how it would affect his ailing grandfather, and asked me to keep his part of it out.”

Phoebe turned and looked out the side window of the car. “Like a besotted idiot, I did it. No one else knew that she had been seeing him. I was working like the devil to connect the three cases when the fourth woman was killed. That case was in my jurisdiction too and I knew right off it was the same guy. But I couldn’t find anything to put them together. He was smart, you see. The first woman he was involved with right after he moved to England, almost five years ago. Her friends and such had forgotten all about him, although she was one of the women who filed a complaint on him. His grandfather got is squelched and we didn’t know about that until later.”

“The second woman he was involved with right after the first, and again, it was so long ago that no one thought about him. She’d had a more recent boyfriend with a record and we were looking to connect him up but couldn’t make it go.”

“Lucy Wells had filed a complaint against him and John told me all about it. Even showed me the report that the bobbies wrote up. It was a him versus her thing. She said he stalked her and threatened her outside her flat, he said he was just trying to get some of his things out of her place. John knew enough people by then that he made that go away on his own.”

She paused then and stared silently out the window for several moments. “He’s very charming, Johnny. He pulled in a lot of police people. He was one of them, you know.”

“So what happened with the fourth victim?” Mulder nudged her. Phoebe looked at him in the mirror.

“Marissa Stokes. She was his mistake. He was still seeing her when he started seeing me, so it had only been a few months. She dumped him, like the other women had..” She paused again. “He picked me on purpose, you see.” She laughed. “Played me, he did. He knew what area I covered, and knew that both Lucy and Marissa’s cases would come to me. He planned it all out. It was rather brilliant, really.”

“How did you find him out?” Mulder asked, more gently this time. Phoebe’s voice was starting to waver and her emotions were leaking through in ways she would not want. The gun in her hand was still very much a threat.

“Pictures. We went over her flat with a fine tooth comb. I was crazy with it, really. I knew I was missing something, but I just couldn’t put a finger on it. He was very careful. No prints, no clues, nothing. We had a couple of fibers, but nothing to match them to. He wore different clothes every time. The only thing he kept the same was the way he killed them. Strangled, raped, and then he cut their tongues out.” Phoebe shivered, her voice barely above a whisper. “He killed two women and came and slept in my bed.”

Scully and Mulder shared a look and in spite of herself, Scully felt her heart softening towards her nemesis. Phoebe was in over her head this time. She had met someone who was colder than her and it was a rude shock. It was always an abrupt awakening to discover you were not at the top of the food chain.

Mulder nodded his agreement with her thoughts and then looked up at Phoebe in the mirror. She was looking at nothing, her eyes unfocused, replaying memories only she could see. Mulder slowed the car even more.

“Pictures?” he prompted. Phoebe’s eyes met his in the mirror and she swiped at her face.

“Yes. I went back to her apartment myself and went over it again. I found a knapsack in her closet with a camera in it along with a beach towel and some shorts. It looked like she had flung it there. There was film in the camera so I took it and had it developed.” She stopped and pursed her lips. “There were pictures of John and her at the beach. I dated the pictures based on a concert notice on a billboard in the parking lot. They had been taken only a couple of months before. That’s when I knew it was him.”

“What did you do?” Mulder asked.

“I fucking screamed, that’s what I did,” Phoebe said. “I went out of my bloody mind for a whole day. I just walked round and round the city trying to figure out how I could have been so bloody stupid and wondering what the hell I was going to bloody do about it.”

She snorted. “You can just imagine the delight of my co-workers, you know? I knew they would be delighted to see me fuck-up so badly. And there was the press, I knew they would have a field day with it. ‘Minor Royalty in Yard Shags Serial Killer’. Pleasant.”

“Did you turn him in?”

She sighed. “Yes, but not right away. I wanted to do some digging. I called up the police where the other two women were killed and had them poke around a bit, see if anything with John popped up. They finally found the one report made on him. And I called the families and friends again to see if they had heard of him. Of course they remembered him then, and talked about how jealous and controlling he’d been.”

“So, I had my connection. They’d all dumped him and he’d harassed them to one point or another afterwards. As soon as he found a new woman, he’d leave off bothering the old one.”

“I made excuses not to see him for two days, but I knew he was getting suspicious, so I had to make a move. I went to my manager and told him what I knew.” She snorted again. “Do you think I’d get some credit, or maybe even a thank you? No. First I get chewed because I went back to the apartment alone. Then I get it for taking the camera and film without telling anyone and for not giving the pictures over as soon as I got them back.”

“So, they suspended me and put some sorry bugger in my place. They didn’t even wait to read over all the information, they just stormed into Johnny’s flat and arrested him. They could’ve had the upper hand if they’d waited. I could’ve set him up and we could’ve got him red handed, but they wouldn’t listen to me.”

“Did they think you were involved?” Mulder asked, checking her in the mirror.

“No, not really. Although they made some noise about it, it was just to trump up the charges against me. They said I couldn’t be on the investigation because I was ‘personally involved’. They botched it, though. Johnny’s too smart. He didn’t keep his clothes that he used and he kept his mouth shut. Granddaddy’s fancy barrister showed up and got him sprung straight away.”

“Did he come after you?”

“No, not right away. He knew I was the one that whistled on him, though. He still had connections and there were plenty of people that thought I had set him up over a lover’s quarrel. He played that one a lot.” She laughed. “There are some daft idiots that actually think I killed those women because I was jealous of their past relationships with Johnny.”

“Were you? Jealous?” Mulder ventured. Phoebe shot him a scornful look.

“Mulder, you know me better than that. I don’t care who a man has had, it’s who he’s with now that matters. I’ve never had a problem keeping a man, you know. It’s getting rid of them that can be tiresome.”

“So I recall,” Mulder said quietly and Scully felt her heart constrict. Out of the corner of her eye, Scully saw Phoebe lift her gun.

“You’re going a bit slow there, Mulder. Even with the kilos to miles difference, I know you’re under the limit. Let’s step on it, shall we?”

Mulder complied and pushed the accelerator. Silence reigned in the car as the three digested Phoebe’s tale. Scully wasn’t sure how much she believed it. Phoebe’s version had her an innocent victim, an unknowing dupe, and she had a lot of trouble swallowing that. She could believe that Phoebe’s co-workers at the Yard had jumped at the chance to malign her. Phoebe wasn’t much of a team player. Come to think of it, Scully, mused, neither am I. Plenty of people at the Bureau seemed to get a kick out of my misfortunes. She could and did dismiss them as fatuous jerks, but it still stung.

“So, why are you going to New York?”

“Johnny made two mistakes. The film was one. The second was using cheap condoms.” Phoebe laughed and her voice oozed scorn. “There were traces of semen found in Marissa. Not a lot, just enough to suggest a leak, or a broken condom. There isn’t enough evidence yet to force Johnny to give a blood sample for comparison, but there is something that we did find out from the semen. The killer has hepatitis. Hepatitis, as you know, can not be cured, only treated. All I need is medical records showing that he has it, and we’ll have enough evidence to make him give a sample. Then we’ll have a match and he’s as good as caught.”

“Have you been tested?” Scully asked and then literally bit her tongue. She should have kept her mouth shut. Phoebe, as Scully expected, glared at her.

“No point. It’s too soon. If I have it, it could take months to show up.”

“There are newer, more sensitive tests.”

“Later,” Phoebe snapped. “It won’t bloody matter if he kills me first.”

“Why do you think he came back to the States?” Mulder asked. They were getting into the city now, and all he could do was head for the hotel unless Phoebe said otherwise. She wasn’t offering up her agenda just yet and they needed to hear the rest of the story.

“To destroy his records,” Phoebe said simply, her eyes taking in the New York skyline. “He knows once we get them, he can be tested and it’s all over.”

“Why not just run?” Mulder said. “He’s got the money.”

“His grandfather’s got the money,” Phoebe corrected. “And he may support his grandson, but he isn’t going to continue to do so in the face of overwhelming evidence. He also isn’t going to finance an escape. Granddad is from the old school of honor and justice. He’ll expect Johnny to stay and defend his innocence.”

“So why not let the Yard get the records?” Scully interjected. “They know about the hepatitis, right?”

“Yes, but it’s all very sticky, Agent Scully. The New York Police Department doesn’t like having one of theirs being accused of murder. They want to see evidence, they want proof that he’s involved before they’ll give up the records. Wouldn’t want to besmirch their stellar reputation, you know. Without the records, we don’t have proof. It’s a Catch-22”

“Have you told them what you’re looking for?” Scully dared to turn around. “If you tell them the killer has hepatitis and Milling does, then they know you’re likely on the right track.”

“I have no idea what they’ve been told,” Phoebe said coolly. “If the Inspectors on the case are smart, they’ll be vague. I wouldn’t put it past the US officials to destroy the records just to save face.”

Scully felt her face get hot. The woman’s contempt for virtually everyone and everything was really beginning to wear on her. Apparently only Phoebe Green was good enough for Phoebe Green.

“So why do you need Mulder?” Scully snapped. “Why chase him around the country and get him in hot water?”

Phoebe smiled archly then and Scully could see that she enjoyed having gotten a rise out of her. Last one, Scully swore to herself. She won’t get the better of me again.

“I need Mulder to get into the files for me. I hadn’t thought about going to the ex-wives, but that might work as well. They would know what doctors to contact if the information isn’t in his personnel files.”

“I doubt that it is,” Mulder said grimly. “I don’t think an officer with hepatitis would be allowed to work on the street.”

“You’d be surprised,” Scully murmured. “It’s considered a civil right.”

“To infect people if you get hurt while on a dangerous job?”

“Mulder,” Scully explained. “People with AIDS can work in food service or in hospitals. It’s the same thing. They don’t present a danger in and of themselves and they can not be denied the right to pursue their career because of a medical condition.”

Phoebe made a face. “Remind me not to eat in any more restaurants here,” she said. Scully scowled at her.

“The risk of transmission of AIDS or hepatitis in the manner you are suggesting is virtually nil. There has to be contact of an open wound with bodily fluid and it has be instantaneous, not minutes or hours later.”

“Whatever,” Phoebe said. “So, Mulder, where exactly is this hotel that we’re staying in?”

Mulder shot Scully a glance and his lips thinned in frustration. He hadn’t known exactly how this was going to work, but he had hoped Phoebe had decided that she didn’t need him after all. The contact information for the ex-wives was on the seat next to her.

“It’s the Marriott, just off Times Square.”

“Swanky,” Phoebe said derisively.

“I don’t have your trust fund,” Mulder said caustically. “Besides, it’s a big hotel. I’d rather not draw attention to us.”

“I’m not complaining,” Phoebe said. “I’ll even pay you back if we make it through all this.”

“If?” Mulder said, arching an eyebrow and risking a glance in the mirror despite the growing traffic. “Don’t you mean when?”

Phoebe shrugged and pain reflected in her eyes. “He means to kill me, Mulder. And he’s proven rather good at that so far.”

Mulder didn’t reply and Scully kept her silence as well. It was strange to see Phoebe thrown off her stride, and not nearly as satisfying as Scully had expected it to be. The fact that Phoebe was holding a gun on them was somewhat dampening her appreciation, Scully reasoned. In another circumstance, Scully would be rather smug about seeing the indomitable Ms. Green brought so low. It wasn’t a very charitable thought, but there was just too much water under the bridge and Mulder still wore the scars from that woman’s claws.

As they pulled in front of the hotel, Scully’s cell phone rang and all three people in the car froze. A bellhop approached the car with a gleaming luggage rack and Mulder held up a hand, indicating that he should wait.

“Let it ring,” Phoebe said, the tension in her voice slicing through the second trill.

“It’ll raise questions if she doesn’t answer,” Mulder said.

“She can call them back once we’re in the room,” Phoebe snapped. “Now, I’m going to put the gun in my pocket, and we’re going to go check in like normal little people. I’m warning both of you, if you try something funny, I’ll shoot.”

Mulder turned around in his seat and once again, pinned her with his stare. “No you won’t Phoebe, because you would wind up in the hands of the NYPD and that’s as good as dead. I don’t know if you’ve thought about this, but you’re right where ‘Johnny’ wants you. I said I would help you, and I will. But the bullshit with the gun stops now.”

He didn’t wait for her response but opened the door and climbed out. Scully bit back the smile that threatened to curve her lips and did the same.

The check-in went as smoothly as Phoebe had asked. Scully’s eyes opened wide in surprise as the girl at the counter confirmed the reservation for a two bedroom suite. Mulder caught her eye and shrugged, embarrassed. Scully shot a glance at Phoebe, who had watched the silent exchange and was infuriated by the other woman’s smirk.

They took the elevator to the suite in silence. The quiet chime sounded as the doors opened and Mulder led them down the plushy carpeted hallway to the room. The electronic keycard slipped in and out and the lock popped open. Mulder stepped aside and gestured for both women to enter before him. Scully took the lead and marched into the room.

Her heart sank as she took in the finely appointed living room and the gleaming wooden bar. The room was beautiful and was obviously costing Mulder a fortune. If Phoebe herself had not been there, Scully might have tossed aside her earlier concerns and this might have very well been the site of some ‘tension relief’. Without a word, Scully continued into one of the bedrooms and looked around. A king sized poster bed dominated the room. A cream chaise lounge sat before a large window with a view of the square and an entertainment center occupied most of another wall. She pivoted to walk into the bathroom and groaned inwardly at the Jacuzzi tub that would fit two nicely. There was even a corner shelf that would hold a bottle of wine and some candles.

She went back into the living room in time to see Mulder tipping the bellhop and closing the door. Phoebe was moving restlessly about the room and Scully took a moment to appraise her. She had gotten a change of clothes somewhere; probably from breaking into a summer home. They hung on her petite frame. She was mostly cleaned up, but dark red circlets on her wrists and a bruise on her right cheek suggested what she had been through.

“You should let me look at your wrists,” Scully said, almost involuntarily. “They could be infected.”

Phoebe turned to look at her and Scully could feel the hate rolling off of her. It seemed that no matter what tact she took, it offended Phoebe.

“I took care. I’m fine.”

“Scully’s a doctor,” Mulder said. “She carries a medical kit with her.”

“Of course she does,” Phoebe said. “Probably has some tranquilizers with her, too.”

Scully rolled her eyes. “I have some sleeping pills, yes, but nothing injectable. If you don’t want the help, that’s fine with me.”

Scully crossed the room and hoisted her suitcase. She walked towards the room she had already investigated.

“I guess that’s your room,” Phoebe said to Mulder. “Unless you’d like to share my bed.”

“I’d rather sleep on the floor,” Mulder shot back. Scully reappeared in the doorway.

“You’re sleeping in here,” Scully said firmly.

“Ooh, Mulder, you better seize the opportunity,” Phoebe purred. “Somehow I don’t think she orders you into her bed very often.”

Mulder’s eyes blazed at her and Phoebe threw back her head and laughed.

“How did you become such a loser, Fox? You had great promise. You really did.”

Mulder picked up his suitcase and carried it into the room with Scully’s. Scully stood in the doorway, her arms folded across her chest.

“Now what?” Scully asked to neither and both of them. “It seems we’re at a stalemate.”

“Tonight, we sleep,” Phoebe said. “Unless of course you and Fox have other plans.” She laughed at Scully’s stoneface. “Just keep it down, will you? It’s been a long couple of days.”

Mulder stood behind Scully in the doorway and she knew his hand was on his gun. He may have thrown Phoebe off her original plan, but he didn’t trust her with a weapon.

“Tomorrow Mulder and I are going to go see the lovely people at the NYPD.”

“What makes you think I can get any of that information?” Mulder demanded. “I’m not exactly big on networking, as you know.”

“You’ll have a way,” Phoebe demurred. “You always do, when properly motivated.”

“And me?”

“You’re going to stay here and mind your business. Once I have the information I need, I’ll go straight to the airport and be out of your hair.”

“What about Milling?” Scully demanded. “Do you expect him to sit by and watch you nail him?”

Phoebe gave her a drop-dead look. “I’ll handle John if he shows up. Don’t worry about him.”

“Fine. Let’s get some sleep,” Mulder said, turning back towards the bedroom.

“Not so fast,” Phoebe said, pulling the gun from her pocket. Mulder’s lips tightened and his eyes flashed. “I just need some insurance that you won’t pull a fast one on me. First, I need the phones in your room. One in the bedroom and I’m willing to bet, one in the powder room.”

Mulder pivoted and strode to the phone beside the bed. He unclipped the phone from the line and carried it to the living room where he tossed it on the couch. Scully did the same with the phone from the bathroom. They stood and stared at Phoebe.

“Now your cell phones,” Phoebe said, smiling. “No midnight calls.”

Mulder sighed heavily and pulled the phone out of his pocket.

“Don’t you think you’re a bit paranoid, Phoebe? We could have stopped this several times if we’d wanted to.”

“I just don’t want you going anywhere until morning, is all,” Phoebe said smoothly. Mulder dropped his phone on the couch and reluctantly, Scully did the same. “There, now that didn’t hurt too badly , did it? Now, you two lovebirds just go get cozy in your room and I’m going to block the door off for you. Can’t have you leaving on me, now can I?”

Scully turned and shrugged at Mulder before stepping back into the bedroom. Phoebe advanced on them like a cat stalking its prey and reached out to pull the door closed.

“Have a good night kids. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t.” She winked at Scully. “Remember what I said, Dana. He’ll try anything once.”

The door closed in their faces and Scully, who hadn’t realized she was holding her breath, released it in a long sigh.

“I don’t know what pisses me off more, Mulder. The fact that she’s holding us at gunpoint using my gun or the fact that once I do get it away from her, I am still not going to be able to do what I want to her.”

She twisted to look up at Mulder and saw him regarding her with wary, sad eyes.

“What? Mulder, what’s wrong?”

“What did she say to you, Scully? When she was at the house.”

Scully frowned and crossed her arms across her chest again. She didn’t want to get into that now. She was tired and it was pointless anyway. Phoebe had said whatever she thought would hurt.

“Nothing worth repeating, Mulder. She was just trying to get a rise out of me.”

“Did she?”

“Once. Then I decided not to play and she lost interest.”

“You didn’t mention this earlier.”

Scully shifted from foot to foot and looked up at him. “It wasn’t relevant. She’s was pretty out of it, Mulder. Shock, I think.”

“I want to know what she said,” he persisted.

Scully shook her head and walked over to her suitcase and lifted it onto the luggage rack in the corner.

“I told you, Mulder. Nothing. She was just prattling on and on. I wasn’t really listening.”

She popped open her suitcase and started rummaging through for her toilet articles. God, she was tired. Had it only been this morning that Phoebe had held her at gunpoint at the house? It felt like a week ago. And was it still today that they had been joking and flirting at Sevigny’s? She glanced down at her bare hand and thought about the diamond glinting on her finger.

Mulder came up behind her and she felt his fingers close around her shoulders. Gently but firmly, he turned her to face him.

“I need to know what she said to you, Scully. Phoebe is a master manipulator. She can take one kernel of truth and turn it into something else all together. I don’t want her lies to be between us.”

Scully clutched her make-up bag and nightshirt and looked him deeply in the eyes.

“She’s not, Mulder. I know what she is and I knew what game she was playing. I didn’t believe her. I don’t believe her. She’s just trying to get at me anyway she can.”

“She’s jealous,” Mulder said simply and Scully nodded. “I don’t know why,” he continued. “She’s the one who threw me away.”

“Phoebe’s like a wild predator. She stakes a claim to something and whether she wants it or not, the key is not letting anyone else have it. Just the fact that someone else wants something makes her want to take it away.” Scully tipped her head as she regarded him. “She finds our relationship humorous. She thinks we’re the biggest couple of losers in the world because we haven’t become lovers yet.”

“How does she know that?” Mulder asked slowly. Scully shrugged.

“She deduced it. Body language speaks volumes, Mulder. You know that. And who knows what she overheard when she was hiding in the trunk of the car. Enough to put the pieces together.”

“I’m sure she finds us very amusing.”

“Oh yes,” Scully continued. “She thinks I’m an Ice Maiden and you’re a loser because we didn’t screw each other’s brains out the first day we worked together. We’re sexual incompetents, and I can’t imagine being much lower in Phoebe’s estimation.”

Mulder scowled. “Sex is about the only thing Phoebe can count on in a relationship. She either quashes anything higher or runs from it.”

“So, you think we’re ahead of the game?”

Mulder reached up and ran a finger across her cheek and down along her jaw. “Do you doubt it?”

“No, I don’t.”

Mulder let Scully use the bathroom first and she came into the bedroom to find him stretched across the bed flipping channels on the television. She busied herself putting her clothes away as she heard him go into the bathroom. With a sigh, she turned to face the bed and nervously pushed a strand of hair behind her ear. This could have been so different and it just made her want to scream that it was going to be this awkward instead.

She walked to the foot of the bed, trying to decide which side to sleep on. Mulder had pulled out a pillow on the right side, so she chose the left and pulled back the covers. The mattress dipped somewhat under her slight weight and she smiled. The mattress was firm, but not hard. At least she would be comfortable.

She turned off the bedside lamp on her side and picked up the remote control. She had thought about closing her eyes and feigning sleep, but that wouldn’t be fair. They had to face this if they wanted to get through it.

She was half watching the Planet’s Funniest Animals on Animal Planet when Mulder came out of the bathroom. She watched out of the corner of her eye as he put his things back into his luggage and turned back towards the bed. He was wearing his boxer shorts and nothing else. She swallowed and looked back at the TV. Pushing forty and still had a six pack. God Almighty, how was she going to get through this night?

The bed dipped as Mulder settled in and she handed him the remote. He took it and clicked off the TV. They sat, looking at each other, Mulder’s face in shadow as the lamp behind him backlit his features.

“Are you okay with this?” He asked softly.

She nodded and offered him a genuine smile. “Yes. I just…” she blushed and looked down briefly before looking back up at him. “If she wasn’t on the other side of the wall, I’d be a lot better about it, though.”

He smiled slowly and then leaned forward to brush his lips tantalizingly over hers. Her eyes fluttered closed and she pressed her lips against his, deepening their kiss. Her hand reached up to cup the back of his head and Mulder’s mouth opened to grant her tongue entry.

They sat kissing like that for several minutes. His fingers stroked her arm and she played with the fine hairs at the base of his neck. She pulled his lower lip between her teeth and nibbled on it. Mulder’s breath caught and she smiled against his lips.

He pulled back slightly to look at her, his eyes wide and dark with desire. They were both breathing heavily and she licked her cooling lips, already missing the weight of his mouth on hers.

“I could do this forever,” he whispered. Scully smiled and nodded, not trusting herself to speak. “I don’t care what anyone else thinks, this is worth waiting for.”

Scully’s smile broadened and she leaned forward and kissed him again. Her tongue darted forward and his responded in kind. She pulled his tongue into her mouth, sucking lightly on it and felt the gentle pressure of Mulder pushing her down on the bed. She acquiesced happily, pulling him down on top of her as she sank back into the pillows. The upper half of his body covered hers and she could feel his heart beating as his chest pressed against her breasts.

Mulder’s hands skimmed over her shoulder, across her clavicle and back up to cup her face. Free to run her hands over his back, she did so, reveling in the breadth of his shoulders, the tapering to his narrow waist and flat, hard stomach. One of Mulder’s fingers was teasing her nipple now and she pressed herself into his hand. Oh God, he felt so good and she couldn’t get enough of this feeling. She thrust her tongue more deeply into his mouth and felt, rather than, heard his answering groan. A tight, hot need was filling her center and she ached to feed it. To just let go and give her body what it wanted so desperately.

As if reading her mind, Mulder’s hands stilled on her body and ever so gently, he pulled back from their kiss until their lips separately with a soft pop. She looked up at him silently, waiting for his explanation and knowing what it would be.

“This may be my undoing,” he said, his voice husky with desire. “But I know we are both going to regret it if we let this happen here.”

She nodded wordlessly. He was right. She would hate herself in the morning, and would be none too happy with him, either. There was no way they would be able to keep it from Phoebe and if there was ever anything in the world that Scully did not want to share with anyone else, it was this.

“I’m sorry,” Mulder said. “I shouldn’t have started this. I’ve just gotten both of us wound up.”

She reached up and stroked his face. “Mulder, you could have come out of the bathroom with toilet paper stuck on your foot, toothpaste in your eyebrows and half your hair shaved off, and I would still have been wound up.”

He laughed and grabbed her in a fierce hug which she happily returned.

“I love you,” he said and then pulled back to look her in the face, realizing what he had said. She stared at him, open mouthed. She knew it, of course. And she knew that he had wanted to say it. But neither of them had planned for it to be now. She saw the worry in his eyes, the hesitation, and knew that he was panicked that he had ruined it. That he had not waited for the perfect moment that she wanted.

I love you, he had said. With his whole heart. With the love in his eyes and his strong arms holding her close. It was the perfect moment.

“I love you, too,” she whispered, her voice choked with sudden tears. “I’m so glad that we’ve finally gotten to say it.”

“You don’t mind?” There were tears in his eyes, too, and she shook her head and kissed him fiercely before pulling back to take his face in his hands.

“It’s real. What could be more perfect?”

He pulled her into his arms again and she pressed her nose against his chest and felt his lips on her shoulder.

“I love you, Mulder. Anytime, anywhere.”

Morning came too early and for once, Scully was inclined to just stay in bed. She had woken to find Mulder on his back next to her, one hand resting on her thigh. She had carefully moved his hand and curled herself around him, placing her head on his chest. She closed her eyes and concentrated on the gentle rise and fall beneath her as he breathed.

A few minutes later she heard a noise at the bedroom door and raised her head in time to see Phoebe opening the door. She had obviously showered and had found clothes somewhere for she was back to her normal stylish self in a tailored suit.

“Rise and shine lovebirds,” Phoebe said, managing to make the appellation sound pathetic. “We’ve got work to do.”

Mulder’s eyes slit open and he turned his head to squint at Phoebe.

“Get out,” he growled and closed his eyes again. Phoebe rolled her eyes and went out, firmly pulling the door closed behind her.

“I can’t decide, Mulder,” Scully said amiably. “If I really just hate her, or if I pity her for being such a bloodless bitch as well.”

Mulder chuckled and wrapped his arm around her and squeezed. She hugged him back with her body.

“I guess we better get moving,” Scully muttered. “I’d hate to get shot with my own gun.”

Mulder grunted and watched as Scully pulled herself into a sitting position. She swung her legs over the edge of the bed and was startled when he snaked out his arm and tugged her backwards into his embrace.

“Mulder!” she squealed. His lips tugged at her earlobe.

“Don’t I get a good morning kiss?” His voice was gravelly in her ear and she shivered.

“Eww!” Scully said, wrinkling her nose. “Not with my breath. I’d have to revive you.”

“I don’t care,” he said, his lips nuzzling at her neck. She pulled away from him.

“I do. We’re not at that point yet, Mulder. I don’t want to put you off before-”

“Before you get me off?” He asked, a grin suffusing his voice. She elbowed him and he laughed. “Ow.”

She turned and gave him her best ‘glacial’ look, which only served to make him laugh more. She took in his bed head do and his twinkling eyes and couldn’t fight the smile anymore. She shook her head and went to her suitcase.

She was combing her hair in the mirror when Mulder emerged from the bathroom. True to male form, he had forgotten several things when he went in to shower and this was his third trip out. She eyed the tight towel around his waist appreciatively and reminded herself to keep her mind on the task at hand. She was back to dealing with Miss Perfect Phoebe now and it wouldn’t do to look shabby.

A few minutes later Mulder reappeared in his boxers and a dress shirt. She watched in the mirror unabashed as he pulled out a pair of dress pants and pulled them on. As was the norm with them, they were doing things backwards. You usually had sex with a person before you slept in a bed together and watched each other get dressed. They were such common, yet intimate things, and Scully found that as much as the actual romance, it was a large part of what she craved. She wanted that familiarity. She wanted to know the expression on his face when his eyes opened first thing in the morning.

He was tying his tie now and she went to him, replacing his hands with her small ones. Deftly, she tied the tie at just the right length as he watched her, his hazel eyes bright.

“I’m going to get very spoiled if you do that for me every morning,” he said. She smiled up at him.

“Deal, as long as I get some input on your ties.”

He screwed up his face in an exaggerated pout. “You don’t like my ties, Scully?”

“You don’t like your ties, Mulder. You wear them to piss off authority figures.”

He tilted his head and regarded her with a lazy smile.

“Who’s the shrink here? I think I’m being profiled.”

She patted his tie into place and batted her eyelashes at him.

“Mulder, if I didn’t know that about you by now, I’d have to have the IQ of a amoebae.”

They went into the living room a united front and as Scully glanced over at Mulder she realized they had unintentionally both worn dark blue suits. She was sure Phoebe was going to have something to say about that.

Said person was sitting at the bar talking on Mulder’s cell phone. They stood and watched her as she finished a conversation with someone she obviously knew well. Finally, Phoebe hung up and smiled at them.

“Aren’t you cute? Matching.”

“Cut the small talk, Phoebe. Let’s figure out what we’re going to do.” Mulder circled the couch and sat down, looking for all the world like he was going to discuss dinner plans. Scully perched on the couch arm and regarded Phoebe with cool eyes.

“I’ve verified that the ex-wives are at the addresses your friends…the Gunmen? Sent you.”

“I could have told you that,” Scully said. “We verified them yesterday.”

Phoebe shrugged. “Insurance. So, first we go to the NYPD. I assume you’ve thought of someone you can contact, Mulder?”

“I have someone in mind. I need my phone to reach him.” Mulder looked pointedly at the phone on the bar under Phoebe’s hand. She smiled and tossed it to him. He caught it easily in one hand. “I’m not guaranteeing that I can get anything, Phoebe. Milling worked in Brooklyn and my guy is in Manhattan. He should be able to pull some strings, but I don’t know how long it will take.”

“I don’t have the luxury of time,” Phoebe snapped. “I need that information today. One way or the other.”

Mulder dialed the phone and the two women listened in silence as he talked to his friend. The conversation was friendly, but to the point, and Scully wondered who Mulder was talking to and how they knew each other.

Mulder disconnected the call and looked from Phoebe to Scully. “He has a friend in the right division that can get us access to Milling’s records. He doesn’t think there’s going to be much in the way of medical records, though. Unless the medical condition was the direct result of something on the job, they don’t usually include it in personnel files.”

“It has to be somewhere,” Phoebe insisted. “You Americans are totally anal about keeping records in case anyone wants to sue.”

“The records are going to be kept at a doctor’s office,” Scully said. “Or at an insurance company, although they don’t usually keep individual records on file for that long.”

“There have to be 20,000 doctors in this city,” Phoebe snapped. “What am I supposed to do, go door to door?”

“I think the ex-wives are the best bet,” Scully reiterated. “They may not be willing to give us much else if Milling has contacted them, but they might be willing to tell us who his doctor was.”

Phoebe trained her eyes on Mulder. “Fine. When do we meet with your guy?”

“He said he would have something for me in an hour. He suggested we head over to the borough that Milling worked at and he would be in touch by the time we got there.”

“Right. If we have no luck there, then we’ll go to the ex-wives.”

Mulder eyed her speculatively. “I think we should leave the wives to Scully,” he said.

“What?” Phoebe exclaimed. “Why? No. I don’t trust her.”

“You don’t have a choice,” Mulder said firmly. “Think about it, Phoebe. These are middle class New York working women. They’re going to take one look at you in your designer suits and your diamond jewelry and clam right up.”

“And she’s any better? The Ice Queen?”

Mulder chuckled. “Isn’t that your nickname at the Yard? Scully’s American. She’s from a military, working class background. They’ll be able to relate better to her.”

Phoebe narrowed her eyes at him. “You’re just trying to split us up. She could go and call the Bureau or the cops.”

Mulder shook his head. “Not likely. I said I would help you, and I will. This is the best way.”

Phoebe eyed Scully suspiciously and Scully did her best to return a bored look. The truth was, she wasn’t happy about being separated from Mulder. She didn’t trust Phoebe an inch and there was a good chance that Milling would have former co-workers on the look-out for Phoebe. If Milling showed up to nab her, Scully wanted Mulder to have back up.

She watched Mulder as he watched Phoebe and she wondered if that was part of his plan. To keep her out of harm’s way. She wouldn’t stand for that. But then again, Milling might just as well be at his ex-wives. If they realized the women could have valuable information, it stood to reason that he might think the same. She gave herself a mental shake. Mulder wasn’t trying to protect her or ditch her. He was presenting the most logical plan.

“Maybe I should go with her,” Phoebe said slowly. “I can trust your word, I think. But her,” she flicked a glance at Scully. “I don’t trust at all.”

“No deal,” Mulder said smoothly. “You’ll kill each other halfway across the Brooklyn Bridge.”

Scully laughed at the insulted look on Phoebe’s face and she couldn’t help but smirk at Phoebe.

“He’s right,” Scully said. “There’s no way we could go to those women and not have them see the animosity between us. They need to be put at ease, not frightened.”

Phoebe shifted uncomfortably in her pumps and looked from agent to agent. She seemed to come to a decision and sighed.

“Alright. Let’s go then. Where shall we meet?”

Mulder stood and Scully followed suit.

“First I need my phone and Scully needs her gun and her phone.” He paused. “I assume you acquired a gun for yourself along with all your fancy clothes.”

Phoebe made a face at him. “Yes, I did. You’re not the only one with connections.” She went behind the bar and pulled out their phones and Scully’s gun, along with the extra clips. “You noticed that I let you keep your gun last night, Mulder.”

“Of course you did,” he said, slipping his phone into his pocket and handing Scully hers. “You also didn’t barricade our door very strongly. You wanted me to be able to come to your defense in case Milling found us.”

Color stained Phoebe’s cheeks as she stared at him. “Sometimes I forget,” she murmured appreciatively. “Just how quick you are.”

Mulder watched New York creep by as the taxi inched its way towards Brooklyn. Beside him Phoebe tried unsuccessfully not to fidget and made an exasperated sound in her throat.

“Why don’t they build some more bloody roads? I haven’t been to a place yet that didn’t have snarled traffic.”

“You got a speeding ticket in Tisbury, didn’t you?”

Phoebe pulled a face. “That isn’t a place, it’s a spot on the road. Really, Mulder, when you talked about how small and quaint it was, I thought you were exaggerating. What an excruciatingly boring place to grow up.”

“It had its moment,” he said blandly. He had no intention of discussing his childhood with Phoebe. Not again.

She gave him a sardonic smile as if she could read his thoughts. She placed a hand on his thigh.

“I do want to thank you for helping me, Fox. I don’t know where I would be without you.”

He picked up her hand and placed it on the seat between them.

“You’d be using your feminine wiles on some unsuspecting NYPD officer in order to get into those files.”

She snorted. “I wouldn’t know who to start with. That’s why I need you.”

He turned to look at her then, his hazel eyes flat and emotionless. Phoebe swallowed and returned his gaze.

“I don’t know why exactly you’ve dragged me into this,” Mulder said slowly. “But playing the simpering female doesn’t suite you Phoebes, so drop it.” He returned to looking out the window, impervious to Phoebe’s lingering gaze.

Mulder’s friend called just as Phoebe paid the cabby. Their conversation was brief and when he was done, Mulder gestured for Phoebe to follow him. He took the steps into the police station by twos and she hurried in her heels to catch him.

Inside the station, Mulder made a beeline for a sergeant behind the counter. He fished out his badge and flashed it at the older man behind the glass.

“Fox Mulder, FBI. I’m here to see Jarod Coonts.”

The sergeant pressed his face close to the glass to read Mulder’s badge and nodded. He picked up the phone and spoke. When he put the phone down he gestured for Mulder to take a seat.

“He’ll be down in a minute.”

“Thanks.” Mulder took a seat in one of the worn chairs and gestured for Phoebe to do the same. She shook her head, preferring to stand, but Mulder arched an eyebrow and gestured again. She frowned at him and sat.

“I don’t want to draw any more attention to us than is necessary,” Mulder said sotto voce. “And you definitely do not fit in around here.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment,” Phoebe said lightly. Mulder blinked.

“Don’t.”

They had waited for a few minutes when a tall, thin man in his late twenties came down the steps and approached them.

“Fox Mulder?” Mulder got to his feet and extended his hand. The younger man clasped it, his palm damp and clammy. Coonts nodded to Phoebe who nodded back. “This way,” he said.

They followed him to the third floor and through a rabbit’s warren of offices and cubicles, each more careworn than the last. At last they reached a small office at the end of the hallway. Coonts opened the door and ushered them in. He closed the door behind him and pushed his wire rimmed glasses up the bridge of his nose.

“I pulled the files you need,” he said softly, as though afraid someone would hear. “Normally, they would be stored downtown already, but Millings was sort of a special case.” He glanced around the stuffy room, lined with filing cabinets and featuring a lone wooden desk and chair. “You can only have a few minutes. No one is supposed to have access to these files, but I can’t control who comes and goes in this hallway.”

“We’ll need to make copies,” Phoebe said. “Is there a copy about?”

He shook his head. “Pick out what you want and I’ll go run it off.” He looked directly at Mulder now. “If you get caught, it’s my job. You understand? I’m just doing this for Matt.”

“I appreciate it,” Mulder said soothingly. “We’ll be quick.”

“I’ll be back in ten minutes to get what you want copied. The files are on the desk.” He slipped out the door and closed it behind him again.

“Let’s have at it,” Phoebe said, snatching a file off the table. “God, look at all this paperwork. No one merits this much ink.”

Mulder picked up the other file and flipped through it quickly. As he had suspected, there were no medical records. He did note the medical insurance company Milling used his last four years on the force. This folder contained write-ups of the last three excessive use complaints against Milling and Mulder pulled them out to be copied. There might be something there that would fit with the attacks in England.

Next to him, Phoebe was absorbed in her file. Mulder watched her eyes fly across a page, a myriad of emotions flitting across her features. There was something wrong with Phoebe’s story, he was sure of that. He didn’t know what, but he was determined to find out.

Phoebe pulled out several pages including a staff shot of Milling in uniform. Coonts knocked once on the door and entered. Phoebe handed him her pages and Mulder did the same. Coonts vanished through the door.

“Did you find any medical records?” Mulder asked carefully.

Phoebe pursed her lips and shook her head. “Nothing except a report of him suffering a broken leg when he was still a rookie.”

“What did you have Coonts copy then?”

“General background info. Things we might need once we nab him. You?”

Mulder nodded. “Ah, just the last three excessive force complaints filed against him. I thought you might find some correlation between those and the attacks on the women.” He watched Phoebe carefully as she nodded her agreement, but her mind seemed to be elsewhere. She tapped her foot impatiently as they waited for Coonts to return.

When the young man did come back, his eyes were wide with panic. He came in quickly and closed the door behind him.

“Someone is here looking for you,” he hissed. “The desk sergeant just called up here asking if you were still here.”

“What did you say?” Phoebe demanded.

“I told them you left a couple of minutes ago.”

“Piss,” Phoebe snapped. “Now we have to sneak out the back. Do you have a back stairs?”

“Yes,” Coonts said, nodding vigorously. “It lets out into the alley.”

Phoebe took the copies from him. “Mulder, let’s go.”

Mulder leaned against the desk and crossed his arms. “Who’s looking for us?” he asked Coonts, ignoring Phoebe’s glare.

“I don’t know. Some Inspector somebody, from England.” Coonts looked at Phoebe. “You’re British too, aren’t you?”

“Mulder! We don’t have time for this. Let’s go.”

Mulder didn’t move. “Who’s looking for us, Phoebe? Who knows we’re here?”

“I don’t know!” Phoebe hissed. “It’s probably John, impersonating someone from the Yard.”

“Uh huh,” Mulder appeared to consider this thoughtfully. “Maybe I should go down and talk to him. I could arrest him.”

“We don’t have any proof yet,” Phoebe insisted. She was in front of Mulder now, her fingernails digging into his arm through his suit jacket. “We need to get out of here, NOW!”

Mulder allowed her to pull him to his feet and out the door. Coonts directed them to a back staircase and vanished into another office, the files tucked under his arm.

Phoebe rushed down the stairs, glancing back over her shoulder impatiently as Mulder calmly walked down the stairs. On the ground floor, she opened the door, looked both ways and tugged him across the hallway and out the exit. As Coonts had said, they were in an alley. The heavy fire door closed and locked behind them. Mulder looked up and down the alley.

“Now what?”

Phoebe whirled to glare at him. “Now we go the opposite way we came and we find a cab and get out of here.”

He shrugged. “Fine with me.” Phoebe started down the alley away from the front of the police station and Mulder followed at a leisurely stroll. Something was definitely up with Phoebe, and he was getting closer to solving the puzzle every minute.

Scully sat sipping her lukewarm, bitter coffee and nodded in what she hoped was a reasonable facsimile of interest. Mary Elizabeth Milling had a whole lifetime of woes to share and having found an interested party, she was planning on voicing them all.

“John was a good man, he really was,” Mary insisted as she stirred her coffee. “He just had an awful temper. Didn’t drink, didn’t smoke.” She paused. “Didn’t run around that I knew of. You just didn’t want to piss him off.”

“What happened if you did?” Scully probed.

Mary sighed and shot Scully a look under her lashes. “If I was a betting woman, I’d guess you’ve never had a man lay his hands on you.”

Scully stiffened although she wasn’t sure why. On the one hand, Mary was right. No man that Scully had ever been involved with had ever hit her. On the other hand, plenty of men had struck her, and worse. Was the difference in the relationship or was it that Scully didn’t wear the badge of victim that Mary somehow thought she should?

“You’d be wrong,” Scully said, deciding not to split hairs. She’d been punched, shoved, even shot. It counted. The pain was certainly the same.

Mary’s eyes widened and she shifted from a slight aloofness to warm sympathy. “Then you know what I mean. I’d say something. Maybe about getting a plumber in or not having enough money for something and he’s just go off. One minute he’d be sitting at the table reading the paper and the next he’d be smacking me. I never knew what it would be that set him off.”

“Did you ever call the police?”

Mary snorted and took another long drink of his coffee. “He was the police, Agent Scully,” she said. “His buddies were going to be the ones that showed up when I called 911. Wasn’t no point.”

“So, did you leave him, or did he leave you?” Scully surreptitiously glanced at her watch. She was supposed to meet Julie, Millings’ second wife at noon and with traffic she was going to be cutting it close.

“He left me.” Mary shrugged and stared down into her coffee. “I was upset but then I wasn’t. We were just living together by then, you know. He had his work. I had mine. We didn’t have anything in common anymore.”

“No children then?” Scully asked, although her info on Milling said that he had no children.

Mary shook her head sadly. “Nope, and that was my one regret. I gave my best years to John, I did. By the time we split up I was pushing thirty, and well,” she made a face. “I’d lost my looks by then. I’d have liked to had a baby or two, but John couldn’t have them and he wouldn’t even consider adoption.”

Scully’s ears perked. Milling was sterile. That was news. She wondered if it had anything to do with the hepatitis, but that didn’t sound right. It didn’t usually affect the reproductive system.

“How was his health otherwise?” Scully asked, glancing at her watch again. She was going to be late.

Mary shrugged. “Healthy as a damn horse. Didn’t even get colds, which always pissed me off. He’d come home carrying some damn bug and I’d get it, but never him. He always had a pile of sick days saved up.”

Scully was listening closely now. Milling was never sick? No colds even? People with hepatitis had compromised immune systems and were easy targets for cold and flu bugs.

“Did he have a regular doctor?”

“Not to speak of. He didn’t go to the doctor except to have his annual physical and the department always took care of that.”

“Did he take any medications?”

Mary frowned at her, confused by the rush of questions about doctors.

“The British cop who called me asked all the same questions. I told her all this,” she said. “He wouldn’t even take a vitamin. Said he didn’t need any of that junk. Why are you so interested in his health?”

“Just getting background,” Scully said quickly. “A member of Scotland Yard called you?” Mary nodded. “Was it Phoebe Green by any chance?” Mary nodded again and Scully pursed her lips. Why, all of the sudden, did she feel like she was chasing her tail? She crumpled her napkin and stuffed it into her half-empty coffee cup. If she caught a cab right away, she might still be on time to a second pointless interview.

“So John’s in trouble in England?” Mary was biting her lip. “His grandfather is some big wig over there, I guess. John never met him, but they used to send Christmas cards back and forth.”

Scully was standing now and smiling distractedly at Mary. Realizing her audience was leaving, Mary stood as well.

“I hope I was able to help you.”

“You did,” Scully said warmly, stepping around the end of the table. “I appreciate you using your break to talk to me.”

“It’s nothing,” Mary waved a hand dismissively. “I usually spend it in the break room reading old magazines anyway. Just something to get away from those damn phones for a minute.”

Scully stretched out a hand and took Mary’s. “I appreciate it. If I have any other questions, I can call you?”

“Sure. Uh, if you talk to John, tell him I said hi, okay? He was an okay guy, you know?”

“I will. Thanks.” Scully let go of her hand and headed for the diner door.

Julie Ashcroft DeJardines Milling Stanz was night and day from Mary Milling. Tall, gazelle-like and elegant, she ushered Scully into her sitting room and offered tea.

“No thank you,” Scully demurred, taking a seat on the damask sofa. “I’d just like to ask you some questions about your ex-husband, John.”

Julie shot a look through an archway into a formal dining room. Satisfied that no one was around she smiled graciously.

“Of course, what can I tell you?”

Scully flipped open her notebook. “You were married for almost five years, is that right?”

“Yes.”

“You divorced in November of 1994, shortly before he retired from the NYPD?”

“Retired?” Julie smiled and it was not so warm as before. “That was what they called it. But to answer your question, yes, we divorced in November of ‘94.”

Scully gazed at her frankly. “His departure from the force was not a retirement?”

Julie settled back into her chair more and folded her slim hands in her lap.

“Oh no, it was a retirement. John had been on the force for twenty-five years when he left, so it was certainly a retirement in that sense. What I mean, is that he didn’t want to go. His superiors…suggested that it was time.”

“Do you know why?”

Julie met Scully’s eyes straight on. “He beat up three women his last year on the job. He was becoming a liability.”

“You don’t seem to have a problem with that,” Scully noted. Julie shrugged.

“It was a side of him that I never saw. I didn’t ask a lot of questions. John maintained that the women had resisted arrest and he was just doing his job. I had no reason to think otherwise.”

“So John was upset when he was ‘retired’?”

“Yes. It had been his whole life. He didn’t know what to do without the department.”

Scully frowned. “Why did the two of you divorce?”

Julie regarded her with cool blue eyes framed by carefully coated black lashes. Scully waited while the woman decided how honest to be.

“John didn’t keep his promise,” Julie finally said. “When I met him he told me that he was the sole heir to a printing fortune in London. He had all sorts of books and pictures with his grandfather in them. Newspaper clippings, that sort of thing. At the time, he failed to tell me that he’d never met his grandfather.” She shifted in her chair and offered Scully a small smile. “This is going to sound very cold to you, Agent Scully, but I married John because of his grandfather.”

“You thought John was rich?”

“No,” Julie said firmly, “I thought he was going to be rich. You see, Agent Scully, I come from what was once a well-respected New York family. My father lost everything in the market crash in the 80s.” She smiled bitterly. “John used to say that my family had been rich for five minutes and I had never forgotten it. He was basically right. I grew up in a rarified world, Ms. Scully. Boarding schools, private dance lessons, fancy clothes, vacations to Europe. I was in my twenties when my family went broke.”

She paused and looked out the window overlooking Central Park. “My father committed suicide and my mother just curled up inside a bottle of gin. My sister and I were left to fend for ourselves.” She smiled bitterly. “Imagine my shock at having to support myself after having grown up with servants all my life. I was bitter. And determined to get back all that I had lost.”

“And you thought John could do that for you?” Scully asked carefully.

“Yes. I had married an older man that my father had done business with. Jack Des Jardines. He had a lot of money and he gave me anything I wanted.” Julie trained her eyes on Scully. “He also beat the shit out of me whenever he felt like it. I stayed with him for two years. Then I met John. I was ready to hear a fairy tale and that’s what he told me. I had a flagrant affair with John and Jack threw me out and divorced me. There had been a prenup so I didn’t get much except some art and jewelry that I managed to sneak out.” She paused again, a smile playing along her lips.

“I married John two days after my divorce finalized. I was envisioning royal parties and balls at Buckingham Palace. Quite naïve. Once we married, I realized that John had left out some important details. I was furious, of course. But John convinced me that I was the key to getting to his grandfather. John had been raised working class by his father who had been estranged from the grandfather for years. John said my upbringing and poise would help convince his grandfather that he was nothing like his father. That we would fit right into his grandfather’s highbrow society life.

“It didn’t work?” Scully said, fascinated with Julie’s story.

“No, not that John didn’t try. He wrote letters, offered to come and visit. His grandfather was very cautious, as he should have been. John was nothing to him, really. But John was his only living heir and it was worth a shot.”

“So you left him when you realized the grandfather wasn’t going to accept him into the family fold?”

Julie shrugged. “I was tired of being poor. The money from my jewels and artwork had run out and we were living on John’s paycheck. I’d traded one prison for another. My sister, Isabel, married a real estate developer and was doing well. She introduced me to my current husband at a party in the Hamptons.”

“You traded up,” Scully said factually. She couldn’t believe that this woman used herself as a pawn to get material things. It was too bizarre.

“Yes,” Julie granted Scully a quasi embarrassed look. “I did. Leon had money and position and he didn’t have a reputation as a wife beater.”

“No strings?”

Julie smiled. “Oh yes, there are always strings. He wanted children. I’ve given him two and he’s happy.”

Scully couldn’t help but shake her head. She spoke of her children as if they were commodities. They were, actually. Two kids equals a penthouse on the upper West Side and untold wealth. She couldn’t help but wonder how the children would feel when they realized their price and she was sure that they would know it one day.

“So, you think me a terrible person,” Julie said, watching Scully. Scully snapped back to the present, realizing she had allowed Julie to take her way off the subject.

“John, was he healthy?” She decided to plunge in. Julie did not appear afraid to tackle any subject.

The other woman frowned and titled her head to one side, a long fingernail tapping her chin.

“Yes, I would say so. He was quite a fitness buff, always working out.”

“Did he have any chronic illnesses? Anything he needed to take medication for?”

“No, not that I remember. He didn’t especially like doctors, I do remember that.”

“Did he have a regular doctor?” Scully pressed. She just needed one name.

“Um, yes, I suppose. It was my old family doctor, actually. I think John saw him once or twice for sinusitis, but that was about it.”

“Could I get his name and number?” Julie shot her a quizzical look but got to her feet.

“I gave it to the other woman. Do you still need it?”

Scully felt her face burn. She was going to have some words with Phoebe when she got back to the hotel. This whole ex-wives thing had been an excuse to get Scully out of the way. She wondered exactly why.

Seeing her face, Julie decided to ignore her own questions. ” Let me get it for you.”

Scully sat and took in the room as she waited for Julie to return. It was all tastefully done in muted tones and ornate woodwork. Looking from piece to piece she couldn’t fault anything she saw, but it was just…too much. The room screamed, ‘Look at us, we’re rich’. It didn’t feel like a home.

“Here you go,” Julie handed her a slip of engraved stationary with a name and number written on it in flowing script. “And here’s a picture of John and I shortly after we got married.”

Scully took the photo, obviously taken by someone who knew what they were doing with a camera. John Milling stared back at her, his brawny arms wrapped around his slip of a wife. The strong set of his jaw and the possessive way he held his wife suggested a man used to getting his way.

Scully got to her feet and offered the picture back to Julie. She waved it away.

“You can keep it. Maybe it will help you.”

“You don’t want it back?” Scully asked. Julie made a face.

“I had it in a box of old things. I don’t even know why I kept it. Habit, I guess.” She smiled. “It doesn’t belong in my life now.”

Scully tucked the picture inside the stationary. “Thank you.”

Julie tilted her head to one side, her hands clasped loosely at her waist. “So, he finally go through to the old man? Inherited his fortune?”

Scully shook her head. “Not exactly. His grandfather is still alive, but John lives in London and helps run the business. It’s inferred that he will inherit one day and his grandfather apparently suffered a stroke last year.”

Julie nodded, listening. “Well, I’m glad John got what he wanted. But he’s in some sort of trouble? Something with the law.”

Scully nodded. “Yes. Scotland Yard is investigating him. The FBI is just… assisting on this side of the pond , so to speak.”

“I see,” Julie’s eyes narrowed. “It must be something big if they have to go looking all the way over here.” She straightened and offered Scully a polite smile. “I wish him the best.”

“I’ll pass that along if I speak to him,” Scully said, moving towards the door.

As soon as she was on the street, Scully dialed Mulder’s cell. His voice mail picked up and she left him a brief message, telling him to meet her back at the hotel. She didn’t tell him that she had news, because she really didn’t. What she had was no news. She glanced at the name on the paper; Dr. Stouss, with a Manhattan number. She would try to see him later this afternoon, but she had a feeling she would find nothing. John Milling did not sound like a man who had had hepatitis. At least not when he lived in New York.

She let herself into the suite with the key card Mulder had given her and surveyed the room. The maid had been in and everything was back in its place. She did a quick sweep of the suite and then went into Phoebe’s room.

A leather Coach duffel bag sat on the luggage rack and Scully tugged it open to peer inside. Several sets of expensive bra and panty sets were on top. Underneath were slacks and light sweaters, all exclusive labels. Scully closed the bag and went to the closet. Five designer suits hung in a row with coordinating pumps on the floor. Whoever Phoebe’s connection was, they knew her size and her taste to a tee.

Scully snooped through the rest of the room and finding nothing else besides a set of toiletries, returned to the living room. She glanced at her watch. She had expected Mulder and Phoebe to finish before she had. She took out her phone and dialed again. The voice mail picked up and she left him another message.

Ten minutes ticked by, then twenty. Scully pulled out her phone and realized that she had a message waiting. She dialed her voice mail and listened to the message from Frohike from the night before. She punched in the speed dial and listened to the phone ring.

Frohike answered on the third ring. “Melvin’s Pizza.”

“I want one with everything,” Scully said. “Including Phoebe Green’s head.”

Frohike chuckled. “Wearing on your nerves, is she? I can’t imagine.”

“You said you had more information for us,” Scully said, getting to the point. She shouldn’t have slipped in that about Phoebe. God only knew what Frohike would tell the others, much less Mulder, about her comment.

“Yeah. I found out why Phoebe got bounced from the case. You sittin’ down? She was involved with Milling. They’d been lovers for months when she caught the third case. They also said she obstructed justice by withholding evidence. She’s in deep.”

Scully sighed. “I know all that.”

She could practically hear Frohike’s forehead crease. “You do?” He sounded wounded.

“Yes. Ms. Green favored us with her presence, on the drive to the city.”

“You’ve got Phoebe?”

“Not exactly,” Scully hedged, realizing she was on a far from secure phone line. “She pulled a gun – my gun – on us and locked us in the room last night.”

“Where is she now?”

Scully blew out a stream of air in frustration. “I don’t know. Mulder’s with her and he’s not answering his phone.”

There was a pause as neither one knew what to say. Mulder could take care of himself, but he did have a penchant for getting into bad situations. And Phoebe wasn’t exactly stable at the moment.

“Do you have any idea where they went?”

Scully paced around the room, stopping to look out the window at the dirty New York streets. “Yes and no. I have an idea. But I don’t know who they went to talk to.”

“What can we do?” Byers chimed in. Scully had heard a click on the line a moment before and realized she had a whole audience.

“I don’t know. Nothing.” She tapped her foot against the carpet. “Find me something on Phoebe. There is something not right about this whole case. About her story. Send me everything you can find about this case, no matter how small or insignificant.”

“Coming at you now,” Langley said, and she could hear the tapping on the keyboard in the background. “There are some pretty big files.”

Scully turned to the desk in the corner. “I’m pretty sure they’ve got high speed internet access here. I’ll look over the files and call you if I have any questions.”

“We’ll keep digging,” Frohike said. “I have a bad feeling about this.”

Langley snorted. “Yeah, right. You’re just sulking ‘cause Mulder’s in the Big Apple with two hot women.”

“Stuff it, Miss Clairol,” Frohike snapped, then softened his voice to Scully. “We’ll be in touch, Scully.”

“Hey, this is my natural color,” Scully heard Langley say as she hung up the phone. She rolled her eyes. Great. She had a lunatic Inspector, a missing Mulder and the three Stooges on her hands. When this was over, she was going to need a real vacation.

She had called Milling’s old doctor and had gotten about as far as she had expected. Any doctor on Park Avenue had a big enough lawyer to not worry about a measly FBI agent wanting to push the limits of patient confidentiality. Without a warrant, he wouldn’t even confirm that Milling had ever been his patient.

She scrolled through the files that the Gunmen had sent her, looking for something to answer the uneasy prickling at the back of her neck. To say that she didn’t trust Phoebe was an understatement, but she did believe that the other woman’s life was in danger. It was plain that she needed help, the question was why Mulder?

She glanced at her watch again. It was almost two o’clock and there was no sign of Mulder or Phoebe. She paced around the room, trying to decide what to do. She knew what station house Mulder and Phoebe had been headed to, but had no idea who they were going to meet with. She stopped in front of her computer and tapped her fingers on the gleaming wood of the desk. Another glance at her watch verified that a whopping minute had gone by since her last check.

She picked up the phone and dialed information for Brooklyn. Within minutes she was put through to the front desk of the station.

“My name is Special Agent Dana Scully with the FBI. I’m trying to track down another agent who was there this morning. His name is Fox Mulder.”

“Yeah, he was here,” the sergeant said. “Came in with a woman.”

“Yes, a redhead, ” Scully said with a grimace. Of course the man would remember Phoebe. Most men did. “Do you know who they met with?”

“Jarod Coonts in records. Popular guy today.”

“I see. Could I be transferred to his extension?”

“Sure. Let me see if he’s back from lunch.”

The phone clicked a couple of times and a young man came on the line.

“Jarod Coonts.” His voice wavered.

“Mr. Coonts, my name is Dana Scully. I’m Fox Mulder’s partner. I understand that you spoke with him this morning.”

“Uh, yeah,” his voice cracked. She could imagine the panic on his face.

“Mr. Coonts, I don’t want to put you on the spot, I was just wondering if Agent Mulder mentioned where he was going when he left.”

“Uh, no. He didn’t. The woman with him was in a big hurry to leave, though. They went down the back stairs.”

“They went out the back?” Scully frowned. What the hell was going on?

“Yeah, some people from Scotland Yard were downstairs.” He said Scotland Yard like it was mythical place. “She didn’t want to talk to them and she almost dragged him down the stairs.”

“What did the people from the Yard want?” Scully asked. He hesitated.

“I’m not sure I should tell you.”

“I’m working on this case with Agent Mulder, Mr. Coonts. You can tell me anything.”

“Look,” his voice dropped to almost a whisper. “I’m putting my neck on the line doing this, okay? I did it for a friend. That’s all. Those people from England came looking for Agent Mulder and they knew he was asking about the Officer Milling. They told me that Agent Mulder wasn’t on the case, that I shouldn’t help him if he asked to see me again.”

“I understand you’re in a bad position,” Agent Scully said soothingly. “But Scotland Yard has no jurisdiction in New York. Agent Mulder is assigned to the case for the FBI. Do you know if Agent Mulder found what he wanted in the, uh, material he looked at?”

“I don’t know,” Coonts voice was even softer. “I ran off some things for them, but it didn’t seem like anything important. Just background stuff on Officer Milling. His address, his next of kin, stuff like that. And some incident reports. That was all.”

“Any medical records?”

“No,” he sounded bewildered. “We don’t keep medical records in the personnel files.”

“I see. Did you tell the Scotland Yard people where Agent Mulder went?”

“No. I-I told them that he asked to see records and I said no and he left. I don’t think they believed me, but when they started getting pushy my boss told them they had to get a court order to get any information about our officers. They got pissed and left.”

“Okay. Thank you for your time and help, Mr. Coonts. I appreciate it.”

“Sure. You’re welcome.”

Mulder matched his long strides to Phoebe’s quicker ones as they walked down the sidewalk at a good clip. He watched her out of the corner of his eye and noted the frown and pursed lips. Phoebe was worried. Worried enough to duck out the back and run for cover. He wondered if he should have gone down and talked to the Scotland Yard people. Something told him John Milling wouldn’t try to walk into his old precinct and impersonate an Englishman.

“Where are we going?” Mulder asked and Phoebe started in surprise. She stopped and looked at him.

“I’m not sure.” She waved the copies from Coonts at him. “There’s not a whole lot to go on here.”

“So, let’s sit down and look at what we do have,” Mulder said, and spying a small deli across the street, took her elbow and steered her towards it.

They sat at a small table in the back, well away from the windows. Phoebe reluctantly handed him the sheaf of papers and he went through them one by one before sitting back in his chair.

“Why did you copy his initial job application and his next of kin information?”

She shrugged and avoided his eyes. “Another avenue to find people who know his medical history.”

Mulder nodded. “Have you considered the possibility that he contracted the hepatitis since he moved to England?”

“Of course, I have!” Phoebe snapped. “I went through his flat and…” she froze as she realized she was admitting to a crime. Mulder smiled grimly. He wasn’t surprised. She threw him a defiant look and went on. “I talked to his doctor in London. He doesn’t know anything about John having hepatitis.”

“Maybe he doesn’t have it,” Mulder said smoothly, watching closely for her reaction. He got a big one.

“What? Are you suggesting that he’s not the killer? He is the killer, Mulder. There’s no question about that.”

“But if he doesn’t have hepatitis, then how can he be?”

Phoebe waved her hands. “Just because he’s not getting treatment doesn’t mean he doesn’t have it, Mulder. Or maybe he went to another doctor I don’t know about to hide his dirty little secret. Or maybe, maybe, the semen sample is from someone else.”

“Then you have no line of evidence,” Mulder said and Phoebe’s eyes flashed angrily.

“You think I don’t know that? It’s him, Mulder, and I’m going to nail him. There have to be records, somewhere!”

Mulder drummed his fingers on the tabletop and worried at his bottom lip with his teeth. Phoebe was looking out the front of the deli as if expecting someone to come through the front door after her.

“You’re lying,” Mulder said bluntly. Phoebe’s eyes flew to his. He didn’t blink. “You’ve been lying all along.”

Wordlessly, Phoebe yanked back the sleeve of her suit and thrust her ravaged wrist under his nose.

“Do you think I did this to myself?” she demanded. “Do you think I gave myself these bruises?”

“No,” Mulder drawled, still watching her closely. “But I don’t think you’re telling me the whole story.”

Her face was flushed and her eyes were sparkling at him. Involuntarily, a memory flashed in his mind of a similar sight. Only the circumstances had been much different and the reason for the flush and sparkle had certainly not been anger. He banished the image from his mind and focused on the woman in front of him. Now was not the time to let his emotions lead him astray.

“I’ve told you what’s important,” Phoebe insisted. She glanced out the window again. “I think we should go back to the hotel and see what Scully has found out from his ex-wives.”

Mulder pulled out his wallet and put money on the table for their drinks. Phoebe was still looking out the window. He gathered up the copies and stood. To his surprise, Phoebe snatched the papers back as she got to her feet. He twitched an eyebrow at her but said nothing as he followed her to the door.

They walked to the corner and hailed a cab. After a couple of tries a driver pulled up and Mulder opened the door for her. Phoebe climbed in and he started to follow. Just as he ducked his head, a shove sent him sprawling onto the seat. Before he could react, another body pushed his across the seat, up against Phoebe, and the door slammed. Mulder looked up into the face of a man he presumed was John Milling. A 9 mm was balanced in his beefy hand.

“6903 Astoria, in Queens,” the man barked at the cabby. “Don’t try anything,” he said quietly to Mulder and Phoebe. Mulder nodded and shifted himself into a more upright position. He was crushed against Phoebe and he felt her wiggle in discomfort. With the three of them in the backseat it was close quarters. Reluctantly, he realized he was going to have to get closer still to Phoebe.

“I’m going to raise my arm,” Mulder said to Milling. “Just to make it more comfortable.” Milling nodded, his blue eyes darting from Mulder’s face to Phoebe’s pale one. Slowly, Mulder raised his left arm and let it fall around Phoebe’s shoulders. She snuggled next to him, letting her hand fall on his thigh as she had earlier that morning. Mulder shifted in the seat and turned his head to look at Milling.

“What’s in Queens?”

“You’ll find out soon enough,” Milling growled. “No talking.”

Mulder turned back to look at Phoebe. A thin film of sweat slicked her face and she licked her lips nervously. He noted that she had slipped the copies into her bag. He looked forward then, through the windshield of the cab. Scully was going to kill him for this.

Her phone rang and she snatched it up before the first trill ended.

“Mulder?” she barked into the phone.

“It’s me, Scully,” Skinner said. “Where is Agent Mulder?”

Scully cursed her impulsive greeting. “I don’t know, Sir.”

“He ditched you?” Anger creeped into the AD’s voice. Scully winced.

“No, sir. We split up to work on the case and I haven’t been able to reach him.”

“I see. Where did he go?”

Scully closed her eyes and exhaled slowly. As always, it was left to her to walk the thin line between truth and trust with their boss. Mulder had agreed that they needed to stay in touch with Skinner, but she knew he would not want her to tell the senior agent about Phoebe.

“To the precinct where Milling worked. He had a contact, someone who could get him access to the records that Phoebe wanted.”

“I see.”

“I’ve talked to both of Millings ex-wives. I didn’t really find out much.”

“When was Agent Mulder due back?”

Scully glanced at her watch. “We didn’t have a set time. I’m not really that concerned, Sir. It may have taken him a while to get access to the records.”

“I’ll pretend to believe that statement as long as you do,” Skinner said, dryly. “I may have some information that can help you.”

Scully sat up. “I’m all ears, sir.”

“Phoebe Green was pulled off the case because she was involved with Milling.” Scully slumped. It was all re-hash of what she already knew. But Skinner continued. “She’s been charged with withholding evidence and obstructing the investigation.”

“I see,” Scully said.

“I’ve got some more news on Milling. Customs has him coming back into the country via JFK five days ago. No one has seen him since. Scotland Yard got permission from the Justice Department to send a team over and they arrived yesterday.”

“They were at the Brooklyn precinct today,” Scully said. “Asking about Mulder.” She paused. “But not about Phoebe.”

“I told you, Agent Scully. Someone, whether it’s the Tisbury police, or someone else, has been telling the Yard that Mulder is the onus behind the US portion of the investigation. I’m having a hard time selling the whole Phoebe coercion story to the brass.”

“That’s because everyone is trying to save their own ass!” Scully snapped. “Scotland Yard doesn’t want to admit they’ve got an Inspector out of control. The NYPD doesn’t want to admit they had a rogue cop and the Bureau is only too happy to serve up Mulder as the bad guy because of his past reputation.”

“I can’t disagree with you, Agent Scully. But that is still what we have to deal with.”

Scully clenched her teeth, seething. She wanted to walk away from this. Right now. To hell with Phoebe and her maniac boyfriend. To hell with the Yard and the Bureau and all of them. Mulder had sought out a lot of trouble in his life, and more than once she had warned him; he who lives by the sword, dies by it. But this time he – they – had been minding their own business, and they didn’t deserve this crap.

“There’s something else,” Skinner said when she made no reply. “I don’t know if it’s significant, but my sources tell me that Phoebe had been acting erratically even before this case. Apparently there was a big scandal with her family earlier this year.”

Scully was all ears again. “Go on,” she said.

“Several million pounds was embezzled from her family trust. The man still hasn’t been caught.

Scully bit her lip to keep from laughing. “Phoebe’s broke?”

“Not by the average person’s definition,” Skinner said. “But compared to what she was used to, yes.”

Scully’s mind whirled over the possibilities. What had Phoebe said to her about Mulder? That now he was well-to-do and unencumbered? Did Phoebe want him back for his money? Even as she thought it, Scully pushed the idea aside. Even if he sold both of his parents’ homes and all their possessions, he still wouldn’t be rich by Phoebe’s standards. Not even by half.

“I’m not sure what that means, either, Sir,” she said. “But I’ll keep it mind.”

“Keep me posted,” Skinner said and they disconnected.

Scully sat in her chair and absently chewed on a thumbnail. Phoebe without money. She couldn’t even imagine it. Her thoughts went to Julie. She had been born with a silver spoon in her mouth too, and she had done what Scully basically considered to be pimping both herself and her children to get back into that silver lined world. What would Phoebe do to stay there?

Suddenly, a feeling a panic swept over her. She had to talk to Mulder. Now. They had to compare notes and she had to get him away from Phoebe. There were too many loose ends and she needed his analytical mind to bring them together. She dialed his number again and got his voice mail. Damn it. Where was he?

Her email chimed and she glanced at the computer. Langley had sent something else. She clicked to open it.

Scully,

We did some more snooping on Milling. After he retired, he opened a detective agency with another former cop. We’ve attached a copy of their license and some info. Maybe the other guy is still around and can give you info on Milling. We’ve also attached two press clippings from the London Times about Milling being suspected as the killer. Hope this helps.

-The Guys

Scully opened the first attachment and scanned it. It was a private detective license granted by the State of New York. First Defense Detective Agency, owner/operators John Alan Milling and Michael Jacob Cole. There was address in Queens.

She opened the second attachment. It was a brief article, apparently in a law enforcement magazine about the First Defense Detective Agency just opening in New York. Mike Cole and John Milling were both former NYPD retired now taking their skills into the private sector.

The third attachment was a London Times headline about a suspect in the serial killings. Milling’s name was not mentioned. The fourth attachment was an article from two days later, naming Milling as the suspect and Phoebe Green as the lead investigator. Scully scrolled through the article, finding nothing new. A picture started to load at the bottom and she waited while the black and white image focused and sharpened. It showed a man dressed in a suit and topcoat striding purposefully out of an office building. The caption read ‘Chief suspect in the Handcuff serial killings, John Milling, leaving the posh offices of Milling Publishing’

Scully stared at the man’s face. It was broad, with a strong nose and piercing eyes. He was heavily built, swarthy even, despite the elegant clothes. Her eyes went back to the face. She pulled the picture Julie had given her out of her bag and held it up to the screen.

It was not the same man.

Mulder watched with slightly narrowed eyes as Milling tied Phoebe’s hands together with a piece of rope. He jerked the last knot extra hard and Phoebe gasped in pain. A half smile played across the man’s lips as he checked and re-checked his knots. Satisfied that she wasn’t going anywhere, he stepped back to survey his work.

The dusty basement offices of the old brownstone were dimly lit by sunshine filtering through the dirty windows set high in the wall. Almost feels like home, Mulder mused as his eyes swept over the room.

This was the far back office in the so-called suite that Milling had unlocked with a key. He had marched them through a reception area and down a short hallway past another office to this one. A large formica topped desk and a heavy, high backed black leather office chair caked in dust were the only pieces of furniture.

Phoebe was tied to the chair. Her eyes blazed up at Milling as he stood over her and she made a sound low in her throat. No doubt she was cursing him with aristocratic flair, but the bandana gag prevented her from sharing her thoughts.

Mulder looked at his own hands, cuffed together in front of his body. Another set of cuffs looped through the first and attached to the ancient radiator set into the wall. Mulder sat on the floor, his right should pressed up against the radiator. A matching bandana gag was forcing his jaws apart and they had already started to ache.

“Now that went well,” Milling said, smirking at both of them. “I appreciate cooperation. I really do.”

Two pairs of eyes tracked him as he went to Phoebe’s bag on the desk. He opened it and dumped out everything. Quickly he pushed aside her cosmetics, stuffed her gun in his belt next to Mulder’s and opened the sheaf of papers. His face darkened as he flipped through them. He spun around to glare at Phoebe.

“You nosy little bitch,” he snapped. “I’m going to castrate that puke, Coonts.” He threw the papers down on the desk and leaned over Phoebe. “You know, don’t you? Little Miss Inspector? Miss Scotland Yard? You think you’ve got it all figured out, don’t you?”

Phoebe held his gaze but Mulder could see the tension in her face and body. Whatever her reasons for keeping Mulder in the dark, she was really and truly afraid of Milling and that put a cold chill down his spine. He couldn’t recall ever having seen Phoebe scared of anyone before.

Milling turned to look at Mulder. “And you. What the fuck is your problem, huh? The great Fox Mulder.” He paused and guffawed. “You think I didn’t know who you were? As soon as I heard Miss Busybody here was in the States, I knew who she’d coming running to.” He stalked across the room to Mulder until the toes of his Italian loafers nudged against Mulder’s leg. When Mulder pulled his leg away, Milling kicked him. Hard. “You have any fucking idea how much she talks about you?”

Mulder met his gaze evenly and tried to keep his face passive. Even if he had not been gagged, his normal smart ass retort would have stayed unspoken. He didn’t have a bead on Milling yet and there was no knowing how he would react to a challenge.

Milling kicked him again before turning to look back at Phoebe. “Look at her, would you?” he said softly. “What a fucking great piece of ass.” He smiled, as though at old memories. “And a fucking animal in bed.” He pivoted back to Mulder. “But you know that, don’t you, Lover Boy? Pissed me off, having to hear about it all the damn time.”

Milling walked across the room to Phoebe whose eyes were trained on his face. Milling cupped her hand in his face and Phoebe jerked her head away. He laughed and grabbed her jaw, forcing her to look up at him.

“I got you right where I want you, Phoebes,” he said softly. “And we’re going to have some fun before it’s over. Okay? You were there. You know what kind of fun I’m talking about, don’t you?” His fingers bit into her skin.

Phoebe stared back at him, but tears glistened in her eyes. Grainy images of the crime scenes sharpened in Mulder’s mind and knew they were blazing across Phoebe’s memory. She had stood in those apartments and seen those women first hand. Now she had to be seeing herself in their place.

Milling leaned over until his face was even with hers. He leaned in closer, his lips brushing against her forehead, her nose and against her lips stretched by the gag. Phoebe closed her eyes and swallowed hard. Mulder forced himself to watch.

“You could have stayed out of it, Phoebes. But no, you had to come chasing me across the pond.” His finger traced the same trail that his lips had taken only to continue over her chin, down her throat to her breasts. He gripped her right breast in his large hand and squeezed hard. Phoebe made a sound of pain and he smiled.

“Whatsa matter, Phoebe? Don’t want to play rough now? You like it rough, remember?” He leaned over quickly and bit her breast, drawing a gasp from Phoebe. She tried to twist her body away from him and only succeeded in making the chair slowly spin. He gripped the edge of the chair and sent it spinning quickly, standing back to watch as she spun to a stop. He cocked an index finger at her, leering as he did so.

“We’re gonna have fun. Later.” He turned to look around the room and seeming satisfied with what he found, picked up the sheaf of papers on the desk and walked to the door. “I’ll be back in a little while. You kids have fun now.” He winked. “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.” He grinned at Phoebe. “But then, there isn’t anything you haven’t done with either one of us, is there Phoebe?” He offered a jaunty salute and pulled the door closed. A key turned the deadbolt and they listened as his footsteps died.

Phoebe jerked herself around in the chair, testing her bonds. Mulder watched quietly as she did so. He had already tried pulling against the radiator and knew that it was set solidly into the floor. There was no way either it or the cuffs were going to give.

Phoebe contorted her body, pushing and straining against the ropes that wound around her torso and legs. Milling had done a thorough job and Mulder wanted to tell her to stop, to save her strength. For what, he wasn’t exactly sure.

He surveyed the room again, looking for something to help them. The room was bare and he wondered it hadn’t always been. The sign on the reception door had read First Defense Detective Agency. Had Milling been a part of the agency or had it been a front for something else? Maybe he had founded it after his “retirement”. But why keep the offices for so long? And why keep them when you were living an ocean away?

He heard Phoebe grunt with exertion and looked back over at her. She was twisting, trying to reach her feet but the bonds were too tight. Their eyes met and hers were filled with frustration. She jerked her hands at her feet, trying to indicate something to Mulder. He shook his head.

Phoebe threw her body forward causing the chair to jerk forward a couple of inches. A light flashed in her eyes and she did it again. Inch by inch, she urged the chair across the room to Mulder until the casters were next to his hip. He looked up at her, waiting.

Phoebe twisted the chair around until her right leg was next to him. She bobbed her head at him, her eyes going to her ankle. He frowned and she repeated the look before her eyes flew back to him. He stretched his hands as far as the cuffs would allow and was stopped several inches short of her leg.

Phoebe made a noise in her throat and hopped the chair closer to Mulder, the cold steel of the base pressing against his leg. He twisted around, pulling his lower body back to let her bring the chair closer. They strained and grunted until his fingers brushed her pants leg. She made a high noise in her throat and he knew he was in the right place. His fingers numbing from lack of blood, he stretched them until they caught the hem of her pants and pushed the fabric up. Sweat beaded up on his brow and a drop slid into his eye, stinging.

His fingers creeped upwards along her leg, the nap of her nylons rough to the touch. Suddenly, he could feel the edge of a hard, narrow object outside the stocking. He strained further, his hands screaming in protest as his fingers closed around the outline of a knife. He gripped the leather of the holster and tugged it down until the handle of the knife slid against his fingers. More sweat coursed down his face as he pulled the blade free.

He leaned back for a moment, shaking the perspiration out of his eyes and was surprised to find himself breathing hard. Above him, Phoebe was huffing too and their eyes locked. Relief filled hers and something else that he couldn’t name.

He licked his lips and positioned the knife in his left hand. The single piece of rope tying her to the chair snaked up and around her body. Steadying his hand as best he could Mulder attacked the closest part of the rope, sawing it back and forth and feeling the weight lifting in his chest as each strand popped free.

The last strand broke and Phoebe exploded into motion. She flailed against the bonds and lashed out first with her feet and then her arms as the rope gave way and fell to the floor. She shot out of the chair and kicked it away before turning back to Mulder. Her hands, tied tight with a separate rope, were still bound in front of her and she crouched in front of him to let him saw them off.

Her hands free, Phoebe reached up and yanked the gag out of her mouth.

“Ow, fuck! Fuck!” she nearly screamed. “That BASTARD!” She rubbed her mouth vigorously. “I feel as if I’ve eaten a bag of cotton balls.”

Mulder made a sound and she looked down at him as if suddenly remembering that he was there. She knelt in front of him and pulled the gag from his mouth. He spit out the fibers of cotton that stuck to his lips and tongue and worked his jaw from side to side.

“You really know how to pick ‘em, Phoebes,” he said, still stretching his jaw.

“Right,” she said tersely. He looked up at her and was surprised to see fury shining in her eyes.

“Phoebe?” he asked tentatively. This was not the reaction he had expected. She shook her head violently and stared at him, a muscle in her jaw twitching. He looked over her shoulder at the desk and then back to her. “Do you have a key for these type of cuffs?”

She looked down at his hands still imprisoned by the steel bracelets. “No. I didn’t bring cuffs with me to the states. They’ll have to be cut off.”

Mulder nodded his head towards the desk. “My phone is there. Call Scully. She’ll get people here ASAP.”

Phoebe got to her feet and went to the desk. He watched as she slowly picked up his phone and then put it down.

“Phoebe?” He felt a twitch in his chest. “Phoebe, call Scully.”

She turned to look at him, her eyes wide and dark and he saw a glimpse of the fury that had reigned there moments ago. What the fuck is going on with her? He thought. What hasn’t she told me?

“I can’t,” Phoebe said firmly. She shook her head for emphasis. “I can’t call Scully, Mulder. I can’t let you leave here.”

“What?” He stared at her as if she had just announced she was the Virgin Mary. “The hell you can’t!”

“I’ve got to do something first. I have to.” She had turned away from him and was gathering her things and putting them back into her bag. “I’ll be back as soon as I can.” She stopped. “No, I’ll send someone. I’ll call Scully when it’s time.”

“Time for what?” Mulder growled. “What the hell are you talking about, Phoebe?”

She had the bag over her shoulder now and was straightening her jacket and hair. Her injured wrists, newly reddened by the latest assault, were hidden back under her designer jacket.

“Phoebe, damnit, you can’t leave me here. What do you think he’s going to do when he comes back here and finds you gone? He’s going to be pissed, Phoebe, and he’s going to take it out on me.”

“No he won’t,” she said firmly. “He won’t come back here. As soon as he finds out that I’m gone, he’ll come after me. He’ll forget you’re even here.”

“Why?” Mulder’s eyes narrowed on her. “What the fuck is going on, Phoebe? Tell me, damnit. I’m tired of being in the dark.”

She crossed the room to him decisively, her steps firm and sure. She crouched next to him and to his surprise, took his face in her hand much as Milling had done to her minutes ago. Mulder stared up at her, not bothering to hide the anger and frustration in his eyes.

“I am so bloody tired of being humiliated,” she muttered, her eyes roving over his face. He could feel her breath on his face and was about to ask her to explain her comment when she swiftly lowered her head and her lips claimed his.

Mulder felt his body tense involuntarily as he tried to pull back. But Phoebe had a firm grip on his chin and her lips plundered his, forcing his mouth open. Her tongue darted into his mouth and assailed it, sweeping over his tongue and teeth. He tried to twist his head and she bit his lip, causing him to jump. The warm copper taste of his blood coated their tongues and she made a content sound in her throat before pulling her mouth from his.

He stared up at her dilated eyes and bruised lips and found himself flashing on another memory from so many years ago. Phoebe rising above him framed by the bare trees in the park, moonlight spilling shadows over her face as she gripped him with her inner muscles and ground him against the unyielding snow.

“So you do remember,” she murmured triumphantly and a small smile curved her lips. “I didn’t think you could forget how good we were together.”

“That was a lifetime ago,” he said willing his breathing to slow. Somehow, he had to get her to trust him enough to tell him what was going on. Only then could he convince her to call someone for help.

She leaned over him and the fingers of her left hand slowly crept up his thigh to his hip where they painted circles against the cloth, pressing deeper and deeper into his flesh with each stroke.

“No, Fox, only a few years. Not so long ago.”

Her breath brushed against his face and he felt his stomach lurch. Did she even know she was mimicking Milling? And so the abused becomes the abuser.

Her fingers wandered across his hip to his lower abdomen, inching closer and closer to his zipper. Mulder tensed, but willed himself to breathe slowly and deeply.

“I remember it all very clearly,” she was saying, her lips brushing against his ear. In spite of himself the hair on the back of his neck rose and felt a corresponding twitch in his crotch as his body betrayed him. Her fingers slid closer and he turned his face to look up into her half-open eyes.

“Don’t do this, Phoebe,” he said softly. “Don’t.”

Her eyes snapped open then and they filled with anger. They stared wordlessly at each other for several moments, her hand scant inches from his crotch. He saw her chest rise and fall with several quick breaths and color stained her cheeks.

Her right hand, which had relaxed its grip on his face resumed its previous task and she anchored his head.

“Don’t do what?” she said through clenched teeth. “Don’t do this?”

Mulder gasped as her left hand closed around his cock and gripped tightly. He felt his breath coming in gaps as she slid her hand up and down his rapidly hardening length, squeezing and tugging him at just the right times. He gritted his teeth and mentally berated his traitor body.

“Don’t tell me you don’t like that,” she said, punctuating each word. “Because the body doesn’t lie.”

“Yes it does,” he ground out, his hazel eyes blazing at her. “I’d have the same reaction if I was rubbing up against a tree.”

She slapped him, rocking his head back. He closed his eyes against the stinging, grateful that it had replaced the pressure on his crotch. Slowly he opened his eyes and brought his head forward until they were eye to eye again. Phoebe’s eyes were brimming with tears but anger was all over her face. She smiled suddenly through it all, twisting her face into a funhouse mirror image of a smile.

“If I only had the time, Mulder. I’d prove you wrong.” She got to her feet. “But I have things to do and very little time.” She strode to the door, and snapped the deadbolt open. She turned back to look at him, the door in her hand, and tears glistened brightly in her eyes. “I’ll see you around, Mulder. I’ve been to see you twice now. It’s your turn.”

She turned and walked out the door, pulling it closed behind her. Mulder blew out a breath of air and let his head fall back against the cold steel of the radiator.

Scully smacked the talk button on her cell phone and threw it on the couch in a fit of picque. She was at a dead end. Four o’clock was looming on her watch dial and still no word from Mulder or Phoebe. Even as their absence tickled the back of her brain, she had been juggling two phones, setting the Gunmen and Skinner on to the question of who the man mascerading as John Milling really was. Both sides were pulling DMV, passport and NYPD records as fast as they could and she knew it wouldn’t be long before she had a timeline from when the switch was made. Which still left the question of just who the hell was this man?

Her eyes wandered to the screen of her laptop where the license for the First Defense Detective Agency was framed. The agency was the last interest of Millings in the States. Maybe his partner could answer some questions. She retreived her cell phone and dialed information for Queens. The operator gave her the number and she punched it in, hoping that it wasn’t too late in the day to catch someone.

The phone rang twice before a recorded message sporting a young woman’s voice came on, giving instructions on how to leave a message. Scully listened to the whole message on the chance that someone would pick up the phone and then hung up as the beep sounded.

The agency was still in business, and she had double checked the address with the operator. Gumshoes kept unusual hours like most law enforcement people did. There was a chance, albeit a slim one, that if she went by the offices, that she would find someone. Rush hour traffic on a Monday meant a long taxi ride, but it beat sitting around twiddling her thumbs.

She put her hands on her hips and let her gaze wander over the suite. As long as she had her cell phone, she was reachable by both Skinner and the Gunmen. Whenever Mulder decided to make an appearance, he would be able to reach her as well. She chewed on her lip and tried to not think about where Mulder was. Although Mulder had never made an ironclad promise, she was sure they were past the ditching thing. He knew how absolutely furious it made her. And to ditch her with Phoebe was suicide. He knew that. Didn’t he?

She shook her head and snatched up a pen to write down the agency address. There wasn’t time to stand around and ponder Mulder’s motives or his current whereabouts. There were nine million people in NY and she had absolutely no idea where to start looking. In the meantime, she could and would do something about solving this case and the identity of the erstwhile John Milling.

Scully scooped up her room key and phone and glanced around. She had already put the laptop in sleep mode, which meant it was password protected. Still, if Phoebe really wanted to crack it, she probably could. Scully unplugged the laptop and picked up all the files on the Milling case. Things were not going to disapear this time.

The conceriege was blandly helpful about putting the files and computer in the hotel’s main safe and assurred her that no one else would have access to it. Scully envisioned the older man’s smile as Phoebe turned on the charm and leaned forward to afford him a better view of her cleavage while she weedled him into opening the safe for her. Scully flashed her badge at the man and watched his eyes grow wide at the FBI symbol. ‘No one’ Scully had repeated grimly. Phoebe may have the ta tas, but I can put your ass in prison.

The cab ride was excruciating. How is it, Scully wondered, that no matter the outside temperatures of the time of day, that cab drivers could manage to make the inside of their ride smell like a Porta-Potty in Juarez during August? The occassional breeze through the barely cracked windows just enhanced the aroma with strains of rotting garbage and diesel fuel. Why the hell does anyone live in this city? Scully mused, staring unseeingly out the window. Everytime I’m here, I can’t wait to leave.

She nibbled on the inside of her cheek as she looked down into her lap. Of course, she had never really come to the city just for pleasure. There was always some case or another and people shooting at her or chasing her. This time could have been different. She and Mulder could have been working together, gathering information, putting the pieces together during the day, and spending their nights having fun. A wry smile quirked her lips. Fun that had nothing whatsoever to do with the Big Apple. And if they got tired of that (in what century?) there was always the Met and Broadway and Times Square. I’ve never seen a Broadway play, Scully thought sadly. How pathetic is that?

By the time the cab ground to a halt in front of the beat-up brownstone, Scully was thoroughly and utterly depressed. She hated this city, hated her job, hated her life and most of all, hated Phoebe Green. It was all her fault. Not a reasonable conclusion, but the one she had reached nonetheless. Remembering Skinner’s tidbit about Phoebe being broke injected a ray of sunshine into her brooding. She paid the driver and turned towards the front door of the building. Maybe I’ll offer to buy some of her Donna Karan’s to help her get by, Scully smirked to herself. That ought to sting a bit.

She walked up the steps and through the open door and stopped at the dingy directory in the entryway. At the bottom, under Basement, she found First Defense Detective Agency. After a quick cast around, she found the stairs leading down and took them gingerly, noting the significant layer of dirt on them. Apparently a cleaning service was not part of the tenant’s rent.

She made her way carefully down the dim hallway noting the complete lack of placards on any of the doors. Either the offices were empty or the people who rented them wanted a lot of privacy. She unsnapped the top of her holster and settled her jacket back over it. After five or not, it was too quiet.

Midway down the hall she found the First Defense suite. She tried the door; locked. She jiggled it for good measure and then knocked. Maybe someone was inside working. She knocked again, harder this time. Come on, give me a break here, she whispered. I need to find out who this guy is.

Mulder heard a noise beyond the door and his head snapped up, his eyes focused on the doorknob set in the worn wood. He was sure it wasn’t Phoebe and he hoped like hell it wasn’t Milling. Phoebe’s assurances that Milling wouldn’t come back or harm him didn’t bring him any comfort. Milling had a hair trigger temper and Phoebe seemed to the fastest way to set it off. Mulder had no doubt that if Milling opened that door to find Phoebe missing, hell would be paid in Mulder’s blood.

He strained to hear and after another moment, heard another muffled sound, almost like a knock. He felt his heart skip a beat. What if someone else was at the door? What if Phoebe had sent someone to free him?

“In here!” Mulder yelled. “Help!” His voice, buffetted by the plaster walls and lead glass, bounced back at him. He had tried yelling in the direction of the window earlier but had given up, realizing that his voice wasn’t carrying far enough to be heard on the sidewalk. But with someone just a few feet away, it was worth another shot.

“Help!” Mulder bellowed. “In here! Back office!”

Scully sighed and put her hands on her hips. She looked up and down the hallway hoping to see someone coming towards her. She looked down the far end of the hallway and saw another door on the same side as First Defense. A back door? She strode towards it. No placard, but back doors were usually unmarked. And sometimes unlocked.

She tugged at the doorknob and was momentarily thrilled when it turned. The door swung open and she was confronted with a mishmash of mops and brooms and buckets. All covered with a nice layer of dust, she noted. So much for luck.

She grabbed the door to pull it shut when she heard a sound. She leaned into the closet. It sounded like a voice in the distance. A voice inside the office? She listened, her ears straining to pick up any sound. Come on, say something again. Just let me know you’re in there and I’ll knock on the door ‘til it falls off its hinges.

Mulder sighed and licked his lips. He would kill for a drink right now. Preferably a 48 ounce ice cold Mountain Dew. Scully had once informed him that there was enough caffeine and sugar in his cup to simultaneously kill a diabetic and keep them up for three days. “Good thing I’m not diabetic, ” he had countered with a grin, slurping happily at his Big Gulp while Scully daintly sipped her bottled water. What Scully didn’t know was that later he had caught her taking a sip of his drink when her water was gone and she thought he wasn’t looking. Oh yeah, she had her vices and he was going to exploit them all.

He licked his lips again and decided it was better not to think about a cold drink. Concentrating on something you couldn’t have was the first downfall in a situation like this. Think positive. Think about good, happy things. Like Scully in jeans and a short t-shirt. Or Scully with a big diamond twinkling on her finger. Or Scully, straddling him on the couch…

No, let’s not think about that, he decided hastily as his body roused at the memory. No use adding another frustration to the list. Being chained to a radiator with a pissed off serial killer apt to walk through the door at any minute was more than enough on his plate. Oh, but the memory was so tempting. Sometimes his eiditic memory was truly a gift and damn was he glad he would have that particular scene flitting around his brain for the next forty years or so.

Provided Milling didn’t bash his brains in or drill them with a bullet. He closed his eyes. Damn Phoebe anyway. He still didn’t know why she had dragged him into this and he was starting to think there was no reason other than she wanted to play with him again. He frowned at the unwelcome memory of her hand on him. Phoebe was not one to beg or cajole. She never had to. But from the start, she had made it crystal clear that she wanted him back, one way or another. Was that her excuse for pulling him into this case? To get back into his bed?

He chewed his lip as he thought about it. It didn’t track with the Phoebe he knew, but then again, she had always been one step ahead of him in the mind games department. Who knew what level this was in some bizarre adventure she had planned for him? Just thinking about it was making his head start to hurt.

He heard another thump, this one closer and his eyes flew to the far corner of the room. As far as he could recall, there was not another office on the other side of the wall. The suite of offices had extended to the end of the building and a narrow hallway within the suite was all that lay on the far side. He narrowed his eyes, the shadows from the sunlight creeping over the yellowing paint on the wall. Something was not quite right about the wall. There was a slight bump on part of it. A line, barely perceptible in the waning light.

His eyes went wide. A door! There was a doorway there that had been covered over. Whoever had done it hadn’t gotten the edges quite flush. And someone was on the other side of the door.

“Help!” he screamed. “I’m locked in here!”

Scully swore as a bucket, nudged off its perch by her shoulder, clanked to the floor. She stooped to pick it up, her fingers barely grazing the dirt encrusted edge as she placed it back on the top of the mop. A faint smell of Pinesol wafted into her nostrils and she grimaced. It had been years since this mop had seen use or she would…she froze as she heard the noise again. This time she was sure it was a voice. A man’s voice.

She stepped further into the closet, pushing aside the mops and bottles, reaching blindly forward in the dark. The voice had sounded urgent, like someone was in trouble.

“Hello?” she called out, feeling stupid as her own voice echoed back at her. Oh I can just see the watercooler crowd with this one, she thought grimly. Standing in a broom closet shouting at phantom voices. “Is anyone there?’ Might as well give the docs at the funny farm something unique to work on.

Mulder sat up. A voice! And not any voice. He shook his head. It couldn’t be? How in the world would she know where to find him?

“Scully? Scully, can you hear me?”

Scully jerked back and stared at the back of the closet? Mulder? She was hearing things! God help her, she was hearing Mulder’s voice in a closet. Just how obsessed was she with him if every sound she heard was his voice?

“Scully! Scully, I’m in the office. In the back.” He yanked on the cuffs and winced as the steel bit into his wrists. Damnit, that hurt and he involuntarily thought of Phoebe’s wrists. How many times had she had her wrists yanked to have inflicted those cuts he had seen. The pain would have been immense.

“Mulder?” The voice was muffled and bewildered, but it was definitely her. He heaved a sigh of relief. His guardian angel. A city of nine million people and ten thousand nondescript brownstones and she had somehow found him.

“There’s a door. It’s been painted over.”

He heard faint sounds like things falling, banging into each other and then a distinct thump against the wall where the door should be.

“That’s it,” he yelled. “Right there.” He heard another thump, followed by a stronger one and more banging noises. Come on, Scully. You can do it. You can kick my ass any day of the week, what’s a little paint and plaster?

Scully thumped the back of the closet again and felt a slight give. Mulder was right, there had been a doorway there and it was boarded up on this side. He had said painted over, so it might be boarded as well on his side. She pulled back and looked down the hall at the main entrance to the suite. The door was solid wood and the fixtures heavy old brass. She could try shooting off the lock or kicking in the door, but didn’t have much hope for either. As neglected as it was, the building had been built in a time when things were meant to last, and she didn’t think the odds were on her side.

She ducked back into the closet and started yanking things out of her way. Her fingers grazed over the boards in the darkness. They had been nailed over the doorway. She found an edge and pulled. The board flexed but the nail held. She exhaled in frustration and pushed another mop out of her way. The metal head rebounded back towards her and she caught it in her hand. The significant weight of it rested against her palm and she flicked a glance over it. Maybe.

She stepped back out of the closet.

“Hold on, Mulder. I’ll get you out.”

The mop was ancient. Its handle was made of hard wood and the head was made up of metal fasteners latched onto grimy rope-like protusions. Scully pulled her penknife out of the pocket and opened it. Prepared. Just like any good Boy Scout. Or FBI agent. She sawed at the dried out mop fronds until they dropped off one by one. Kicking aside the debris, she pushed her way back into the closet and took aim at the boards.

Whether it was adrenaline or cheap wood, the boards cracked on the first hit and Scully pulled back for another one. Another crack. She sneezed as the raised dust coursed into her nose and mouth. Crack. Crack. Her arms ached from the weight of the quasi battering ram but the effort felt good. She was finally doing something.

Mulder watched as the plaster shimmied under the pounding. Tiny spider web cracks metamorphised into larger ones until chunks started to fall off. Dirty brown boards appeared under the plaster wire and he found himself counting Scully’s strikes. Seven, eight. A huge chunk of plaster fell away and he could see that the board behind it was splintering. Nine, ten. Two other boards were buckling now and then a strange object popped through a hole. He stared at it, mystified. It looked like a metal rendition of Bart Simpson’s head on a stick.

Two more hits and he saw Scully’s small hands in the hole, tugging and pushing at the boards, knocking more plaster to the floor. Tiny particles suffused the air and he sneezed. A drink and a shower. A long…cold shower.

Scully was using her battering ram again and in moments a hole three feet by three feet gaped in the wall. Waving away the dust and plaster, Scully stuck her head through the hole. White and gray particles covered her audburn hair and her eyes were red with irritation. But her blue eyes were anxious for him and her soft lips were parted in a silent entreaty. She was simply the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.

“I’ll have to pick a better spot the next time we play Hide n Seek,” he quipped and was rewarded with a famous Scully eye roll.

“Mulder, are you alright?”

“Nothing a shower and a cold drink won’t fix.”

Gingerly, she crawled through the hole into the office. Her eyes swept the room and returned to Mulder. “Where’s Phoebe?”

His lips twisted into a grimace. “She didn’t mention where she was going when she left.”

Scully was crouching in front of him now, looking at his cuffed hands. “She did this to you?” She looked up at him and the anger made her blue eyes sparkle. He felt a surge in his chest. This woman loved him. This incredible, sexy, intelligent woman loved him and she wanted to defend him.

“No,” he said softly, cocking his head to the side. “Milling did this. She just left me here after I helped her escape.”

Scully turned his hands in her own, her finger brushing over the red marks underneath the metal. “These aren’t standard issue. I can’t take them off.”

“They’re British,” he said. “Milling’s.”

Scully sat back on her heels, her lips pursed. “I know there are some Scotland Yard people in the city, but I think it would be quicker to just have someone cut them off.” Her eyes searched his face. “Mulder, are you sure you’re okay?”

He thought about Phoebe’s kiss, her touch, and mostly her eyes. There was no point in telling Scully about it. She already felt an unneccesary disadvantage with Phoebe and telling her would just make her angrier.

“I’m fine,” he said, looking her straight in the eye. “Just collateral damage to my ego. Nothing new.”

She smiled at him but the smile didn’t quite reach her eyes. He had taken too long to reply. Something had happened but for some reason he didn’t want to talk about it. Yet.

She pulled out her phone. They would talk, after she got Mulder out of those cuffs.

It had been with considerable effort that she had remained in the main room of the hotel suite while Mulder showered and changed. He had been uncharacterisitcally silent on the cab ride back to the hotel and she was dying to know what was going on behind those pensive hazel eyes. What have you done now, Phoebe? Scully mused as she stared out the window. And why won’t he tell me?

There was a soft tap on the door and she pulled her gun reflexively. Her eyes shot to the bedroom door. Mulder was still in the bathroom. Quietly, she made her way to the door and looked through the peephole.

“Room service,” the young man said as if sensing her gaze. Scully holstered her gun but kept her jacket pushed back. It was a cliched trick, but she wouldn’t put anything past Phoebe. Or Milling.

The waiter wheeled the table in and Scully directed him to put it by the window. He extended the leaves, rearranged the dishes conventionally and turned to go. Scully dug into her pocket for a tip and saw his eyes widen as the butt of her gun came into view. His eyes, round with wonder and a tinge of fear, flew to hers, and she offered him a small, reassuring smile.

He nodded silently as she pressed the money into his hand and guided him out the door. Well, if her little badge waving at the coincerge desk hadn’t spread the word that there were Feds in the hotel, this would certainly move the rumor along.

She heard Mulder moving around in the bedroom as she closed and chained the front door. She went to the bedroom doorway to tell him that dinner was ready.

He had on a soft gray t-shirt and jeans, his feet bare and his hair damp. A white hotel towel was slung around his neck as he buckled his watch back on. She paused in the doorway, drinking him in. He looked so young and guileless right now. Like any man just out of the shower after a long day. You had to look beyond the handsome face and the lean body to the gun and badge tossed on the bed to understand how an hour ago he had been handcuffed in the basement of an abandoned office.

He turned his head to look at her and their eyes met in silent communication. He felt guilty for worrying her today. She felt guilty for even thinking he had ditched her. The silence stretched between them until she felt a lump growing in her throat.

“Come here,” she said softly. So softly, she didn’t know if he could hear it. But he moved toward her easily, stopping in front of her, their bodies almost touching. She looked up at him, his hazel eyes open and warm, waiting for her to take the lead.

She reached out and touched his chest, letting her fingers slide up along the cotton until she reached the warmth of his neck. She could smell his aftershave and the hotel soap. Her fingers ran over the smoothness of his newly shaved cheek and across the plains of his face.

“What aren’t you telling me?” she asked softly and then bit her lip. She hadn’t meant to ask, but there it was, hanging in the air between them.

Something flickered in his eyes. They closed to her, just a little, but she caught it and felt her heart sink. It was too soon. She shouldn’t have asked.

“It’s not important,” he said. His hands were on her arms now, caressing her through the material of her blouse.

“If you won’t tell me, then it’s important,” she replied. He started to speak, but she placed a finger over his lips. “Later. I didn’t mean to ask. It just slipped out. The food is here. Let’s eat.”

He kissed her finger and nodded. She stepped back, intending to go into the living room, but his hands stilled her. She watched, her breath catching in her throat, as he leaned forward and ever so tenderly, kissed her. Her eyes fluttered closed at the feathery touch of his lips on her and she sighed. When he pulled back she opened her eyes to gaze into his.

“Let’s eat,” he said. “Then we’ll talk.”

Mulder frowned as he read the printouts about Milling. The local FBI office had delivered a printer and everything Scully had learned in his absence was strewn over the coffee table. Scully sat back and watched him, knowing that he was already weaving the strands of information into a recognizable pattern.

On the desk, Scully’s laptop trilled three times as new emails arrived. She rose from the couch to check them. Two more from the Gunmen and one from her mother. Scully grimaced. She was going to have to call her mom and explain away yet another bizarre trip. Well, Mom, you see Mulder’s ex-girlfriend showed up on the Vineyard. Yeah, I was there trying to work up the courage to go to bed with him. Then the police got involved. No, not with us trying to have sex, they were looking for Phoebe because she attacked a cop. Phoebe, that’s his ex. And then they thought Mulder was involved and Phoebe stole my gun. So now we’re in New York City and do you realize I haven’t ever seen a Broadway play? What? Oh, no. We haven’t had sex yet. No time. But I’ll keep you posted.

“Scully?” She turned to see his quizzical countenance. “You okay?”

She shot him a smile. “Yes. My mother emailed me, wondering where I am, I’m sure.”

He gave her a sympathetic smile. More than once he had witnessed her trying to spoonfeed her mother a vanilla version of their latest exploit. Maggie Scully was no dummy, though, and she knew a PG version when she heard it.

“Maybe you could tell her we just ran up to the city to catch a play,” he said helpfully.

Scully stared at him with her mouth open. How the fuck did he do that? Did this nifty little implant in the back of her head connect to a viewing screen in his?

“I’ve never seen a Broadway play,” she said dully. There it is. I’m an uncultured geek.

He smiled at her. “Really? I loved to go when I was a kid. I’ve seen everything Arthur Miller has done.”

“All My Sons, Mulder?” She smiled at him. Hey, she had at least read them in college English classes.

He nodded solemnly. “Actually one of my favorites. The father was a total fuck-up. I could relate.”

She tilted her head at him and offered him a sad smile. “He had the best of intentions, Mulder. He killed himself because he let his sons down.”

Mulder scowled. “How noble.”

She sighed. She really didn’t want to dredge any of this up now. They had too many other things to worry about. She turned back to the computer and pulled out the chair. Time to see what the Gunmen had found.

She heard Mulder come up behind her as she opened the first email. It was Millings DMV records, complete with drivers license photo. It was the same record Skinner had already sent them. She smiled. She was going to have to tell the boys that Skinman had beat them to the punch. That ought to light a fire under them. She could see Langley’s indignation now.

The second one was new. A New York Post photo of the real John Milling and his then wife, Julie at a society event. Milling was straining the seams of a tux and looking very uncomfortable. Julie was looking like the cat that ate the canary. Scully checked the date; less than six months after they married, when Julie still thought he was going to be rich.

“Nothing that helps,” Scully murmered, moving the cursor to close the window.

“Wait,” Mulder said. He reached around her and pointed at the upper right hand corner of the picture. “Can you zoom in on that man there?”

Scully squinted at the slightly out of focus man in the background. He was burly, like Milling, but the picture was too small to make out the face. She saved the picture and opened another application. Click by click, she zoomed in on the man in the background.

“That’s him,” Mulder said firmly. “That’s the guy impersonating Milling. Whoever he is.”

Scully squinted at the picture. He did have the right build as the man from the English newspaper, but the picture was still too fuzzy for her to tell.

“Are you sure?” she asked dubiously. Mulder had spent time with him up close, but the picture was such poor quality.

“I’m sure,” Mulder said more firmly. “That’s him.”

Scully sighed. “The big question still is, who the hell is he?”

Mulder started to pace and she turned to watch him. He always paced when he was working something through his mind. Whether it helped him focus or just expended his extra energy, she didn’t know. She watched as his long legs ate up the length of the room and back. He was still barefoot and for some reason that made her smile. There was a time when that would have bothered her, when her jacket would still be on and she would be mentally chiding him for his unprofessional appearance. Professional decorum had certainly gotten pitched out the window.

“So, we now know that whoever this man is, he knew Milling as much as nine, ten years ago.”

“If that’s the man in the picture,” Scully said slowly. They had to stick to facts, not guesses.

Mulder ignored her caveat and continued. “So they knew each other. This guy knew about Milling’s grandfather, about the fortune. He would have also known that Milling and his grandfather had never met.”

“Mulder,” Scully warned. “You don’t know that.”

He stopped and looked at her. “No, I don’t know that, but I can surmise it. You said both of his ex-wives mentioned that he was obsessed with building a relationship with his grandfather. He convinced the second woman to marry him because of it.”

“They didn’t say obsessed,” Scully said, thinking back over the conversations. Or had they?

Mulder waved her objection away. “Still, it was important to him. It was his goal, his dream. From what he know about Milling,” he grimaced, “the real Milling, he was not the type of guy to keep things bottled up. He just let it all hang up. It’s reasonable to assume that any friend of his would know about the grandfather.”

“Okay,” Scully said carefully. It was better not to belabor a point at this juncture. Mulder made some wild leaps in his theories, but the truth was, he usually landed in the right spot. She didn’t want to throw him off.

“So, we know that the real Milling was still in the picture as late as ‘96 when he retired from the force and opened the detective agency. He was divorced by then, probably living alone. He finally convinced his grandfather to let him into the family business and he makes plans to go to England.”

“But before he does, the friend steps in and assumes his identity,” Scully finished. She folded her arms. “So, what happened to the real John Milling?”

“Dead,” Mulder said simply. “This man has proven that he’s a killer. Milling may have been his first victim.”

Scully shook her head. “But how could he pull it off, Mulder? Letters, conversations, family history? How could he know enough of that to fool the grandfather? And what about appearance? The two men look similar, but not identical. It’s reasonable to assume that Milling sent his grandfather pictures.”

Mulder threw himself on the couch. “Not necessarily, Scully. Men don’t do pictures like women.”

“They don’t?” she stared at him. He wasn’t going to come at her with the Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus thing again was he? She admitted there was some truth in the book, but some of it made her wonder if the author wasn’t really from Mars.

Mulder shook his head. “No. I can’t imagine sending a picture of myself to a relative, much less a male relative. Men don’t care what other men look like?”

She smiled at him. So, he was camera shy, was he? Another tidbit to stash away for future use. “Okay, maybe there was no photo. What about conversations? Letters?”

“We don’t know that they had conversations, Scully. Both wives said he wrote to his grandfather. They may not have used the phone.”

“Mulder!” she protested. “We live in an electronic age. I would say they not only used the phone, but probably the computer as well.”

Mulder wagged his finger at her. “Think about it, Scully. Grandpop’s in his eighties, pushing ninety. He’s old school, blue blood, all the way. He’s not going to go in for those new fangled things.”

Scully rolled her eyes. “He’s also a businessman, and a very sucessful one from what I’ve read. He’d have to have kept up with the times, Mulder. And phones have been around for more than ninety years.”

He grinned at her. “Yes, but Scully, some recluses just don’t like them. Milling’s grandfather is considered a quasi-recluse. Doesn’t like to go further than his office and then back home. It is conceivable that he and Milling didn’t talk on the phone, or not much if they did. Besides, a voice is distorted over the phone, especially overseas.”

“There are still a lot of holes,” Scully muttered.

Mulder shrugged. “Yes, but if Milling had done the hard work and gotten the old man to agree to meeting him, then all the imposter had to do was keep the ball rolling. Once the door was open, it would be hard for the grandfather to close it.”

Scully sighed and dropped onto the couch next to Mulder.

“But we’re still no closer to knowing who this man is.”

Mulder leaned back into the cushions and let his eyes wander over her. Scully watched him out of the corner of her eye as his gaze traveled from her breasts to her stomach and legs and back up again. She felt a hot tingle wash over her as the heat from his gaze caressed her skin as surely as his touch. She struggled to keep her composure. Don’t blush, don’t blush, she chanted to herself. Don’t let him know that your stomach is doing cartwheels.

“Maybe,” Mulder said, sounding distinctly distracted. “Maybe not.”

She looked at him then and felt her mouth form into an “O” at the desire she found in his eyes. His mouth was still discussing the case but his eyes were leading an entirely different conversation.

“Scully,” he said, reaching for her. His fingers curled around her arm as he leaned in to her. “I think we’ve discussed the case enough for tonight. What do you think?”

She was staring at his parted lips and words flew out of her mind. What did she think? She thought that seven damn years was a long time to not get laid and seven years of looking at this man and not touching this man all over had just about used up her lifetime supply of self-restraint.

“I think,” she croaked, as his lips touched her neck where it joined her shoulder. “That Phoebe could come in that door any minute.” His tongue was tracing her collarbone and her eyes sank shut. Oh God, that felt so good. He hadn’t had any more practice at this in recent years than she had, how could he be so good at it? His lips were sucking at her skin and she felt a pool of warmth form in her center. Oh yes, this boy knew what to do.

“She won’t,” he said, moving up her neck to just below her chin. She tipped her head back to give him better access. “She indicated that she was going back to England once she caught up with Milling.”

“Hmm,” Scully murmured. His tongue was running along her jawline and she reached up to caress the side of his face, curling her fingers around his ear and luxuriating in the softness of his hair. “I wonder why she went from running to chasing?” She crinkled her fingers in his hair and ever so slightly pressed against his head, urging him to kiss her harder. She had chained the door, right? And if Phoebe wasn’t going to come back…

But Mulder’s movements had stilled and slowly he pulled back to look at her with serious eyes. Her stomach sank as she saw Aroused Mulder replaced with Working Mulder. Fuck me, she thought. Why did I have to go and open my mouth?

“Why is she chasing?” he asked, his mind spinning in a thousand different directions. “What did she find in those files that changed her mind?” He sat back against the cushions and Scully bit back a disapointed groan. So much for tonight.

He looked through her as his eyes skated around the room and Scully reclined into the cushions, watching him.

“What was in the files?”

“Nothing, there was nothing there. No medical records.” He tugged a hand through his hair. “She made copies of his original application, next of kin information. She didn’t even look at the excessive violence reports.”

Scully’s eyes narrowed. “So something else changed her mind. Something Milling did, or said, when he kidnapped both of you.”

Mulder shook his head. “I don’t think so, Scully. I didn’t see anything change in the dynamic between them. He threatened, she rebuffed.”

“Fear can be a motivator,” Scully said. “If he pushed her too far, it could have turned her fear into anger.”

Mulder nodded. “Yes. She is angry. Very angry. But I don’t think that’s it. I watched them together and I just don’t think that’s it.”

He was on his feet now, striding around the room. “It was the files, Scully. Something about the files. She was frantic, desperate, even to get to those medical files.” He went around the couch and paced to the window and back. “She was very concerned about what you were learning from the ex-wives.”

Scully snorted. “Well, she shouldn’t. I didn’t learn anything.”

“You got the picture that told us this guy isn’t Milling,” Mulder said. He stared at Scully, realization dawning. “She knows, Scully. She knows he isn’t really John Milling.”

Scully frowned at him. “Why do you think that, Mulder?”

He was back on the couch now, leaning in, excitement lighting him from within. He looked 25 and heart stoppingly handsome.

“Why else would she want those records? Why else be worried about what you would find? I’ve thought this whole hepatitis thing was a hoax from the beginning. I don’t know a lot about English law, but him dating all four of the victims has to be enough to get them a warrant to take a DNA sample from him, execute a search warrant on his apartment. Phoebe wants those files because they can prove that this man is NOT John Milling.”

“But why?” Scully asked, puzzled. “Why would that make a difference?”

“I don’t know,” Mulder said. “But I know I’m right. Phoebe as much as admitted she was hiding something from me, and this is it.”

“So, now what? She didn’t find any records.”

Mulder nodded. “And that’s what she wanted to find, Scully. But she had to be sure they weren’t there, in his file.”

“But there are medical records out there, in the doctor’s office,” Scully protested. “The proof is still there.”

“Yes,” Mulder said. “But it’s damn hard to get to and why would Scotland Yard try to find it? They don’t know that he’s not Milling. If the hepatitis thing is Phoebe’s invention, they aren’t even looking for medical records.”

“But something in them might tip off the Yard,” Scully said slowly. “It could be anything from a birth mark to a congenital condition.”

Mulder nodded. Scully looked at him.

“But there are photos of him, Mulder.”

He shook his head. “The only photo of him in his personnel file was from when he joined the force, twenty years ago. Think about it, Scully. How many times have you had your picture updated with the Bureau? The two men look enough alike that any differences would easily be written off as age difference.”

“It’s risky.”

He nodded. “Yes, but I’m also willing to bet that the photo I saw in his file isn’t even there anymore. I bet Phoebe swiped it when I wasn’t looking.”

“Now what?”

Mulder chewed on his lip. I love it when he does that, Scully thought. I want to be the one nibbling on it. She blinked hard. God, what a sap I’m becoming? What’s next, sonnets? Mulder was looking at her and she brought herself back to the present.

“The photo of Milling and his wife. We need to print it out and take it to her. See if she recognizes the man in the background.”

“Mulder, it’s pretty fuzzy and it was almost ten years ago.”

“It’s worth a try.”

Scully stretched up on her toes and bounced on the balls of her feet as she waited for Mulder to pay the taxi driver. She had spent way too much time being jounced around in the back of taxis today. The subway was starting to sound more and more appealing.

Mulder stepped up on the sidewalk with her and she tipped her head back to smile up at him. He had put on a fresh suit at her request. Julie had not been thrilled at being called on again, much less so when her husband and children were sure to be home, but Scully had promised to make the visit brief and painless, hinting that a delay would make it less of both. Julie had given in with an irritated sigh and Scully had urged Mulder to dress the part of an FBI agent. She wondered if Julie Stanz even owned a pair of blue jeans and the thought of her padding barefoot around her ornate sitting room made Scully chuckle.

The climbed the steps in tandem and Scully pushed the doorbell. They were obviously expected as a servant opened the door almost immediately and ushered them into yet another posh room.

Scully sat on the couch and looked at the obviously old book under the sealed glass of the coffee table. She didn’t have to ask to know that it was worth a fortune. Mulder wandered around the room restlessly, straightening his tie in the reflection of another display case.

“Agent Scully,” Julie said as she wafted into the room. Scully noted that she was dressed to go out, her coifed hair even more refined and perfect than that afternoon. “I’m sorry I kept you waiting. My son is very insistent about his bedtime stories.”

One point for the socialite, Scully thought. So she does spend time with her bargaining chips.

“It’s no problem. I’m sorry to disturb you again, and at such short notice,” Scully said smoothly, coming to her feet and taking Julie’s proffered hand. “Mrs. Stanz, this is my partner, Agent Mulder.”

Julie turned as Mulder walked up and offered his hand. Scully watched as the other woman’s eyes widened and took in the handsome, well dressed man in front of her. Her mouth opened slightly as she tilted her head to look up at him.

“Mrs. Stanz, a pleasure to meet you,” Mulder said, on his best behavior. He was already pouring on the charm and Scully was amused to see that it was working. Julie might like money, but she clearly had no trouble appreciating a working man. Even one without a fortune waiting in the wings.

“Agent Mulder,” she murmured. “Likewise.” Mulder held her hand for a beat longer than necessary, looking deeply into her eyes, and Scully had to resist the urge to snort at him. He was really laying it on thick, but more credit to him. Julie was flushing and dimpling at him.

“I’m sorry to interrupt your evening plans,” Mulder continued smoothly. “But I was hoping you could take a look at a picture for me.” He removed the print out from his breast pocket and unfolded it before handing it to her.

Julie tore her eyes away from his mouth to look at the photo in her hands.

“The Black and White Ball,” she said automatically. “A charity fund-raiser. This was,” she paused, frowning at the photo. “1992, I think.”

“Yes,” Mulder said. He tapped the corner of the photo with one long finger. “Do you recognize this man here?”

Julie pulled the photo closer and squinted. “No, I can’t make out his face.” She looked up at him. “I’m sorry. Is it important?”

Mulder smiled easily at her and Scully felt her heart do a flip. Damn, but he was good at that. She was going to have to watch him. There had been too many lovelorn women in past cases. She hadn’t been involved with him then and it had made her crazy. She didn’t imagine getting to finally taste the forbidden fruit was going to improve her outlook on the matter, either.

“Yes.” He pulled out another photo and Scully’s eyebrows rose. What was he up to now? “How about this photo?”

Julie’s reaction to the photo, the one showing ‘John Milling’ leaving his grandfather’s offices in London, was visceral. She scowled and her fingers clenched the paper.

“Yes, I know him. The bastard.”

“Who is he?” Scully asked, coming closer to Julie. Her eyes met Mulder’s over the woman’s bowed head. Julie was glaring at the paper as if willing it to go up in flames.

“That’s Mike Cole. He was a friend of John’s and a real sick fuck.”

Scully stared at Julie. Sick fuck? She couldn’t imagine Mrs. Julie Stanz saying such a thing. Two points for the socialite in the evening dress.

“Michael Jacob Cole,” Mulder said. “They owned a detective agency together.”

Julie snorted. “I guess. John went into business with him after he left the force, but I wouldn’t call it a detective agency. Blackmail scheme was more like it. They used to track their clients sordid activities and then blackmail them with the findings.”

“Do you know how they met?” Scully asked, her mind whirling with questions.

Julie tossed her an angry look. “Mike was a former cop, too, only he didn’t last as long as John did. They kicked him out years ago.”

“Why?” Mulder pounced. She looked up at him.

“For beating the shit out of everyone he got his hands on. He beat a kid to death with his billy club when he was still a rookie. Used to brag about it like a hunter who bagged a deer.”

“Were he and John partners?” Scully asked.

“They went through the academy together. When Mike got ousted, John said he started working as a private bodyguard. A goon is more like it. I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t do hits for the Mafia.”

“They don’t normally use outsiders,” Mulder said, almost as an aside. “So he and John were old buddies.”

She shrugged. “I guess you could say so.” She gestured at the first photo. “Mike was at the ball. John got him a job as security. Mike got plowed and made an ass out of himself. And us.”

Scully watched as Julie screwed up her face as she talked. “You really despise him, don’t you?” she said with clinical detachment. There was something more to the story and she needed to know what it was.

Julie turned on her and Scully was surprised to see hatred flashing in the other woman’s eyes.

“Let me tell you something about Mike Cole, Agent Scully. He’s slime. He’s vermin. He IS the scum of the Earth. There is nothing that man holds dear, except his own skin. He will do anything to get his own way.”

“Including murder?” Mulder asked, watching her carefully. Julie’s eyes flicked to him.

“Like I said, I could see him as a professional hit man.”

“What did he do to you?” Scully asked softly. Julie was close, very close to telling her secret. Her eyes snapped back around to Scully.

“What you would expect. John went on a fishing trip with some guys from his precinct, oh, about a year after we were married. Mike was definitely not invited. The other cops wanted nothing to do with him. I doubt John was outside the city limits before Mike was on my doorstep, checking on me, making sure I “was okay” with John gone. He came right in, made himself at home.” She paused, her eyes narrowing. “Tried to make himself right at home in my bed, as well.”

“He tried to rape you,” Scully said evenly. Julie flinched at the word, her eyes slipping away.

“I suppose you could say that. He had me down on the bed when my neighbor came knocking on the door, wondering what all the noise was about. I’ve never been so grateful for flimsy apartment walls in my life.”

“Did he bother you again?” Mulder asked softly. She shook her head.

“Not…like that. I told John.” She sighed wearily. “He didn’t want to hear it. They never want to hear it.” Her eyes sought Scully’s for understanding and Scully nodded. The old boys’ club. She knew it well.

“But John did say something to him. It was enough to keep Mike at bay.” She rubbed at her perfectly outlined lips, smearing the liner. “He used to touch me, rub up against me every chance he got, but he never tried anything beyond that again.”

“Do you know where Mike Cole is?” Mulder asked slipping into another topic. Julie had clearly had enough of that one.

“In hell is all I can hope,” she said, offering him a wan smile. “I haven’t heard from him since John left for England.”

“Have you heard from John since he moved there?” Mulder asked and Scully held her breath.

“A couple of times, by email. Nothing big, just hi how are you.” She frowned. “He did give me a scare once, though. Wrote me this bizarre email with all sorts of sexual innuendo. It gave me the creeps.”

“Did you keep it?” Mulder asked. She shook her head.

“No. I deleted it right away and didn’t write him back. I don’t think I heard from him after that.”

“Do you know if Mike Cole was ever married?” Scully asked, her eyes flicking quickly to Mulder. She felt that Julie was getting to the end of her rope. They were pushing on too many old wounds.

Julie shuddered. “I can’t imagine any woman marrying him, but yes, I think he might have been. John once said something about his ex-wife. Megan something. I think they had a son, but Mike never saw him, or couldn’t find him. Something like that.”

Scully put her hand on Julie’s arm and saw the woman stiffen. Scully dropped her hand.

“Julie, thank you for taking the time to talk to us. You’ve been very helpful.”

Julie nodded, her eyes thoughtful and wary as she looked at Scully.

“Mike is mixed up in this trouble that John is in?” Scully’s eyes flew to Mulder’s and he nodded slightly.

“Yes, we think so.”

Julie rubbed her arms briskly as if suddenly cold. Her eyes swung to Mulder and she pinned him with a stare. “Am I going to be getting a visit from Mike Cole? Because if I am, I want to know. I have two small children.”

Mulder met her eyes straight on. “I honestly don’t know, Mrs. Stanz. But, I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility.” This time Mulder’s eyes sought Scully’s and it was her turn to nod. “We know he’s in the city. If he shows up, I would advise you not to let him in and call the police immediately.”

Julie nodded grimly and sighed heavily, her eyes fluttering shut. “Damn,” she said softly. “We never really escape our past, do we?”

Scully felt Mulder’s eyes on her and was surprised to see the pain in them when she met his gaze.

“No, we don’t,” he said quietly.

Mulder was quiet on the way back to the hotel. Scully wanted to talk to him about his comment. About the past. But she sensed that yet again, he wasn’t ready to talk. She looked out the window at the bright lights of New York and resigned herself to wait. It wasn’t their normal M.O. to talk about these things right away. They often went weeks or months before discussing the things that hovered in the air between them. She smiled wryly. In some cases, they waited years.

So, she wasn’t sure why she was so on fire to change that pattern, to talk to him now and get it all out in the open, but she was. From a relationship perspective, their old habits hadn’t been necessarily successful. Yes, they were friends. Closer friends than she could ever have imagined. But their relationship was very dysfunctional in many ways. Despite their closeness and the trust between them, they had both harbored feelings for each other that neither had been able to express. That was understandable over a span of weeks or months. But years? What did that say about them?

She glanced at him under lowered lids and watched him watching the city go by. He was a million miles away and she had no idea what he was thinking. Phoebe was in the mix somewhere, she was sure of that. Whatever had happened that afternoon between them was weighing heavily on his mind and he still wasn’t comfortable sharing it.

She shifted in her seat and blew out a soft puff of air. Maybe she was reading too much into this. Heaven knew if an ex of hers showed up and caused them this much trouble, she’d be embarrassed and reticent about it. Having past mistakes and poor judgement from years ago come along and slap you in the face in front of the most important person in your life would not sit well with her either.

Mulder’s fingers brushed the back of her hand and she turned to him, a smile automatically curving her lips.

“Penny for them,” he said softly and she shook her head.

“Nothing and everything,” she said lightly. “Wondering where we go now.” It was a white lie and she sent a plea for forgiveness heavenward. She was not going to hit him with all of this now.

He sighed. “We go back to the hotel.” He paused. “Get some sleep, and start again in the morning.”

She twitched an eyebrow at him. “You’re going to sleep in the middle of a case? Mulder, do I need to take your temperature?”

He gave her a grim smile. “Being a hostage takes it out of you.” A phantom flickered in his eyes and Scully felt her stomach lurch. There it was again. She tightened her jaw. She was not going to ask.

“Sounds good to me.”

When they got back to the hotel there was an email from Skinner outlining the official reasons for Phoebe’s administrative leave and a list of the Scotland Yard Inspectors in the US working on the case. Scotland Yard was requesting notification of any sightings of Phoebe immediately.

Mulder sighed and pulled out his cell phone. Scully watched grimly as he hit the speed dial for their boss. What a way to end the day; getting your ass chewed by Skinner.

The conversation was brief. Mulder related the facts in his famous monotone and Skinner, knowing by now that he would get precious little beyond what Mulder had already told him, obviously kept his replies short as well. After less than five minutes, Mulder was hanging up and shrugging at Scully.

“My ass is grass. Again.”

“It really shouldn’t be, Mulder,” Scully said. “I’m the one who talked to him today and neglected to mention that Phoebe was in the city. I made that decision, not you.”

Mulder tilted his head at her. “Okay, you get the next reaming, then. No matter who is at fault.”

She twitched an eyebrow at him. “Mulder, I am not taking the blame if you accidentally blow up the Empire State Building.”

He made a pouty face. “Whatever happened to ‘stand by your man’, Scully?”

She pulled off her jacket and wandered towards the bedroom. “I believe the phrase is ‘until death do us part,’ Mulder. And we’re not married,” she threw over her shoulder.

“Yet,” Mulder said, not quite sotto voce and Scully felt a tingle zip down her spine as the single word reached her ears. She wanted to turn around and look at him, but did he want her to? His voice had been so quiet. Maybe he had not meant for her to hear him? She paused in the bedroom and looked over her shoulder. He was standing in the living room watching her, his hazel eyes unreadable. She smiled, her stomach doing flips, and turned away. Heard and acknowledged. Another conversation to have in the near future.

She spent a long time in the shower washing away the city’s grime and turning over the events of the last few days. On Friday she had been in D.C., expecting to spend an uneventful (boring) weekend doing domestic duties. Then that night she had had an epiphany over furniture and invited herself into Mulder’s weekend and with any luck, into his bed. Saturday they had dared to take their relationship to a new level only to be interrupted twice. Another near kiss aborted, this time by Phoebe and then their much more intense encounter on the couch abbreviated by Deputy Sanger on behalf of Phoebe. Scully slid her soapy hands down over her body as she thought about her and Mulder on the couch. His mouth and hands all over her, devouring her. The way she had ground against him, straining for the ultimate connection between their bodies. The feeling of his hardness thrusting up against her.

She shook her head vigorously, sending water spraying around the shower stall. She had to clear her mind. They were going to share a bed together again tonight, but things had to stop there. This was not the time or the place. And whatever was bothering Mulder, it had to be aired before they consummated this relationship. She didn’t know why that was so, but she felt sure of it.

She emerged from the bathroom in her nightshirt, her damp hair curling around her ears. She would have to wrestle with those curls in the morning, but tonight she didn’t feel like doing time with a hair dryer.

The TV in the bedroom was on and the reality show “Cops” was jiggling all over the screen as the cameraman ran after the fleeing suspect and the shouting police officers. Mulder was under the covers on his side of the bed. The remote was in his hand but his eyes were closed and his breathing deep and even. She smiled at him and reached out a hand to push back the ever errant lock of hair that fell across his eyes.

Carefully, she extracted the remote from his grip and turned off the television. She moved through the suite, turning off lights and checking the locked door yet again before coming back into the bedroom and climbing into bed. She turned off the bedside lamp and slid down under the covers. A crack in the curtains let in enough light that she could see his chest as it rose and fell with each breath. She wanted to be close to him, but didn’t want to wake him up. She turned on her side and inched closer until she could feel the heat from his body. Her hand fell across his bicep and she closed her eyes and sighed. In just a few minutes her breathing slowed and deepened as she slipped into slumber. Mulder opened his eyes and turned his head to watch her sleep.

The six thirty wake up called jangled her into consciousness and she blindly turned and reached for the phone. Before she could pick it up, the second ring stopped midway and she heard the click of the phone in the other room as Mulder put it back on the hook.

She sat up and looked at the empty pillow beside her and wondered how much sleep he had gotten. She reached out and stroked the material. It was cool to the touch. He had been up for a while.

She felt eyes on her and looked up to see him lounging in the doorway. He was already showered and dressed, his white dress shirt still unbuttoned at the collar, a tie carelessly slung around his shoulders. A smile slowly spread across her face. If she couldn’t wake up in his arms every morning, this would be a nice substitute.

“Mulder, have I ever told you that you have ruined me for ever appreciating another man in a suit?”

He grinned and advanced on the bed. “I thought you liked the leather jacket, Scully.”

“Oh, I do,” she purred, leaning back against the headboard, noting that he watched with great interest. “I like you in both.”

He sat on the edge of the bed. “Anything else you like?”

She grinned at him. “I’m sure I’m going to like your birthday suit just fine.”

His eyebrow twitched and he leaned across the bed. “I know you’re not going to let me kiss you because you haven’t brushed your teeth.”

“That’s right,” she said primly, watching with concern as he leaned closer and closer. “Mulder.”

A cat-that-ate-the-canary look was on his face and she narrowed her eyes. What was he up to?

“Don’t worry, Scully,” he said lightly. “I’m not going to kiss you against your will.”

“Then what are you doing, Mulder? You seem to—oh!”

He tackled her, pushing her sideways down onto the bed. His mouth latched onto the side of her throat, his tongue darting out to paint circles on her skin. She shrieked and laughed in surprise and delight, her fingers sinking into his hair and he growled and nipped his way up and down her neck.

“You smell wonderful,” he murmured behind her ear, his teeth nibbling on her lobe. “I think you should go brush your teeth so I can ravage you properly.”

“We have work to do, Mulder,” she gurgled, fighting back the laughter.

“Fuck work,” he muttered, sucking on the soft skin on her neck. “Let’s spend the day doing this.”

“Mulder,” she warned. If he kept that up he was going to leave a mark. “Mulder, no hickeys. We’re not in high school anymore.”

Reluctantly he relinquished his hold on her skin. “I feel like I am. I feel like I just got my driver’s license, an invitation to the prom and a weekend with my mother out of town all at once.”

“Ooh, Mulder. A weekend with your mom out of town. Who was she? Did you do it till you dropped?”

He pulled back and looked at her, amusement dancing in his eyes. “I don’t kiss and tell, Scully.”

Her eyes danced at him. “I’m glad to hear that, Mulder. Although I plan to give you plenty to talk about.”

He groaned. “You are going to be my undoing. Go brush your teeth Scully or I won’t be responsible for my actions.”

She grinned and tossed back the covers. “Two minutes. I’ll be back in two minutes and then you get two minutes before we go to work.”

He flopped back on the bed and watched as she walked to the bathroom. “You’d be surprised what I can do in two minutes, Scully.”

She tossed him a look. “I’m counting on it, Mulder.”

Of course, they never got to the two minutes. No sooner had she replaced her toothbrush in its travel case than there was a loud pounding on the suite door. She scurried out of the bathroom and leaned around the bedroom door. She could voices in the hall. Voices with British accents. She closed the bedroom door and dressed as fast as she could.

Inspector Lowe and Inspector Raines managed to both meet Scully’s expectations for Scotland Yard and defy them all at once. Lowe was tall and wiry with a strong Roman nose and no chin. Raines was exactly what Scully thought Watson would look like were he a real person. Competent. Reserved. Average.

They stated their case, as it were, and sat back to wait for Mulder and Scully to do the same. They were greeted with silence. Mulder looked from one to the other, managing to convey an air of utter boredom, before turning to look at Scully.

“I’d say that about covers it, wouldn’t you, Scully?” He turned back to the Englishman. “We don’t know any more than that.”

Lowe scowled. “You were held hostage by the man for hours yesterday and you can’t add anything? What about his state of mind? His intentions?”

Mulder shrugged. “His state of mind is manic. Pissed. As to his intentions, I don’t know. To cover his tracks?”

“What do you know about this Cole?” Raines asked stiffly. Clearly, he was displeased that the Yanks had ferreted out the man’s true identity first.

“Not a lot,” Scully jumped in. She really didn’t see why Mulder was being so reticent, but all she could do was play along. “He was also a former New York cop. He was fired from the force in 1988 and has drifted from job to job since then. He and Milling opened a detective agency six months before Milling – or Cole posing as Milling – went to England.”

“Family? Friends?” Raines persisted. Scully shook her head.

“The Bureau is still working on it. Apparently even before he disappeared to become John Milling, Cole spent most of his time under the radar.”

The two Inspectors shared a look.

“Do you have any idea where they went?” Lowe asked, looking from agent to agent. “Any idea at all?”

“No,” Mulder said, and Scully knew it was the truth. “They left separately. Phoebe seemed to think she knew where he was going, but she didn’t share it with me.”

“You don’t think they’re working together, then?” Raines asked, the skepticism evident in his voice. Mulder looked at him as if he were a mosquito buzzing around the room.

“No. Cole’s intention is to kill Phoebe. He didn’t do it yesterday because he wants to torture her first.”

“And what about Ms. Green’s intentions?” Lowe snapped. Scully noted that he did not refer to Phoebe as Inspector Green. Apparently as far as he was concerned, she was tried, convicted and quit of her position at the Yard. Interesting.

“If I knew Inspector. Green’s intentions, I wouldn’t be sitting here chatting with the two of you.” Mulder rose to his feet. “And since we’ve established that none of us knows more than the others, what say we adjourn this meeting and get on with solving this case?”

Lowe and Raines came to their feet and Lowe made a show of standing close to Mulder, using his four to five inches of superior height to his advantage. Even as guilt tweaked her, Scully bit back a smile to see Mulder fighting the urge to back up, to have to tip his head back to meet the other man’s eyes. Walk a mile in my shoes, Mulder, she couldn’t help but think. Not so much fun, is it?

Lowe handed Mulder a business card. “This is how we can be reached. We’re meeting with the New York police department today about Milling and Cole to see if they can give us any leads.”

“I’ll share if you share,” Mulder said with a tight smile as the two men preceded him to the door. Lowe nodded sharply as Mulder opened the door and ushered them into the hall.

After the door clicked shut, Mulder strode back to the desk and sat down next to Scully as she booted up her computer.

“Waste of time,” Mulder murmured, watching her fingers fly across the keyboard.

“They were more forthcoming than you were,” she said absently as she typed in her password.

“Not likely,” he said. “They know more than they’re saying. Did you notice they don’t refer to her as ‘Inspector’?”

“Mhm,” Scully said as her emails started to download.

Mulder sat back in his chair and eyed her quietly. She pulled her eyes away from the catapulting files on her screen and looked at him. He tilted his head, a winsome smile on his face.

“You got a kick out of Lowe getting in my face, didn’t you?”

Her eyes widened a little. How the hell? But then, she should be used to it by now.

“It’s not something I see very often.”

He studied her, his tongue flicking back and forth over his teeth under his lips.

“I do that to you a lot, huh? Get in your space and tower over you?”

“Yes,” she said simply and turned back to her computer as it chimed that her emails had all been received.

“Does it bother you?” He asked.

“Sometimes.”

“When?”

“When I know you’re doing it intentionally to try to intimidate me.” There were several miscellaneous messages. Why had she ever given her cousin her email address? One more chain letter or friendship rose and she was going to excommunicate the woman from the family.

Mulder barked out a laugh. “Me? Intimidate you? Surely, you’re joking, Scully. When have I ever intimidated you?”

She gave him her best Mona Lisa smile before going back to her email. “I didn’t say you did intimidate me, Mulder. I said you tried. Most of the time you just wind up pissing me off.”

He was chewing on his lip now. “Because I invade your space?”

“No. Because you use your height to tower over me. You use your physical presence to try and coerce me into doing something I don’t want to.”

He frowned. “You make me sound like a bully.”

She gave him a genuine smile. “But you are a bully, Mulder. You bully and argue and shout and pout until you get your way.”

His eyes were wide now. “I do not! I do not bully. You’re the one who always argues. I rarely shout and I never, ever pout.”

She laughed at him outright, her blue eyes sparkling. “Oh, Mulder. Psychologist, heal thyself? You are always pushing people, pushing me, trying to convince us that you’re right, that we should believe you.” She paused and arched an eyebrow at him. “And you argue, shout AND pout to accomplish that.”

“So you think I’m obnoxious?” he said, trying another tact. She shook her head.

“You can be. Of course. But not overly, no.”

He continued to chew on his lip and she wanted him to stop it. At this rate, there’d be nothing left for her to nibble on and she had plans for that lip. Lots of plans.

“Are you sure you like me?” Mulder whined but his eyes danced at her. “I sound like a regular ogre.”

She grinned and reached out a hand to stroke his cheek. He quickly turned his head and kissed her palm.

“Maybe. But you’re my ogre.”

He kissed the inside of her wrist, then, his eyes never leaving hers and she felt a flash of heat flush her face. In typical Mulder style, when he couldn’t win an argument he just created a distraction. He’d never created this distraction before, however, and it was certainly on its way to working.

Scully watched his lips press against her forearm and all she wanted to do was drag him back into the bedroom. Her eyes drifted to the computer. But they had a case to solve and one pain-in-the-butt Englishwoman to get out of their hair. She bit her lip and then straightened her spine as she gently extracted her hand from Mulder’s gentle grip.

“Let’s get this over with,” Scully said, surprised when her voice trembled a little. “I don’t want another interruption.”

They were pouring over the information on Mike Cole when Scully’s phone rang.

“Scully,” she said, her eyes still glued to the screen where a copy of Mike Cole’s private pilot’s license glowed in sharp relief. It seemed Cole had been doing something constructive with his life post-NYPD.

“St. John’s Hospital and Clinics just reported a B&E in their record department,” Langley said, skipping the formalities.

“Where?” Scully asked, furrowing her brow.

“St. John’s. Where Milling’s doctor practices medicine.”

Scully stood up abruptly. “When was the break-in?” She could feel Mulder’s eyes boring into her and she met his gaze briefly before grabbing a pad of paper and taking his pro offered pen. “Uh huh. How did you get this?” She rolled her eyes at Langley’s response. “Great. Thanks.”

She put the phone on the desk and eyed Mulder. “It looks like either Phoebe or Cole or both were busy last night. Someone broke into the records department at St. John’s where Milling’s doctor practices. Their computer system was hacked and they the paper files were broken into.”

Mulder nodded thoughtfully. “No sign of either of them?”

Scully was powering down her laptop and gathering her things. “I don’t know. They got the tip from a friend at NYPD. We’ll have to talk to the investigating officers, see what they found.” She frowned as he stood motionless. “Mulder, don’t you want to go to the scene?”

He shrugged. “Why? We’re not going to find anything. They’re both trained law enforcement officers, Scully. They know how to clean a crime scene. Cole’s committed murders and not left any evidence at the scene.”

She put her hands on her hips. “I’ll grant you that it’s not much to go on, Mulder, but it’s better than nothing. Criminals do make mistakes. Even smart ones.”

He tapped his fingers on the desk. “I’m betting that if we ask, we’ll find out that Milling’s doctor’s office was broken into as well. Maybe even Cole’s doctor as well.”

Scully frowned. “To prevent Cole from being revealed?”

“Yes,” Mulder said. “Phoebe and Cole want the same thing.”

“But why?” Scully threw her hands in the air. “What difference does it make if he’s Mike Cole or John Milling? He’s going to go to prison either way.”

Mulder tilted his head. “Scully, did you know that the state can not prosecute someone if they don’t know their true identity? There are hundreds of criminals sitting in jails across the country who refuse to reveal their identity. Until that can be proven, they can not be charged with a crime.”

“Then why are they still in jail?” Scully countered, although she suspected the answer.

“Obstruction of justice,” Mulder replied. “Contempt of court. A person can be held in contempt of court indefinitely.”

“So you think this is why Cole is trying to erase the records? It doesn’t make sense, Mulder. There are witnesses, family members, pictures. All we need is one living relative of either man to prove who Cole is and who he isn’t.”

He sighed. “I know. I don’t think that’s it. Just an interesting factoid.” He smiled wanly as she rolled her eyes yet again. “I can think of a lot of reasons why Cole would want evidence destroyed. It’s Phoebe that’s stumping me.”

“Join the crowd,” Scully muttered, turning back to her computer. “I’ll email the guys and tell them to track down any other B&Es at medical facilities.”

Mulder shrugged and walked over to the window. She stared at him in exasperation before opening her email and typing a fast note to the Gunmen. She knew this mood. It was ‘introspective, pissed off because I don’t know the answer yet Mulder.’ Early in their partnership she had taken his surliness personally, assuming that it had something to do with her. Now she knew it was just anger directed at himself for not being fast enough, smart enough to catch the criminal right now.

She sat, watching him watch the city below. She loved this man. This complex, brilliant, mercurial, haunted man. Whatever else she might complain about, and there were plenty of complaints she had voiced and kept to herself, one thing was certain. He was never, ever boring.

A cell phone chirped and she reached for her phone. The display was blank.

“Yours,” she said, picking it up and tossing it to him.

“Mulder,” he said. His eyes widened as he listened. “Phoebe, where are you? Phoebe-” He stabbed the talk button. “She hung up.”

Scully was on her feet. “Mulder, what did she say?’

He sighed heavily.

“She’s in trouble. She says Cole is planning to steal a Piper and fly to Canada.”

“Where is she?”

Mulder walked towards the bedroom and she knew he was going to get his back-up gun. “I don’t know. She said Cole would be at the Westchester airport. It’s a private airport just outside the city.”

Scully stuffed her phone in her pocket and slightly repositioned her gun. She didn’t need to ask Mulder about calling Skinner or asking for back-up. This was personal and it was up to the two of them to end it.

They took the closest thing to a back road they could find into the airport. It was still a well marked road and their car would be easily seen from several vantage points, but it was less conspicuous than the main airport entrance. Scully had already narrowed down the areas where they would most likely find Cole. Several companies flew their corporate jets out of Westchester, but there were also a handful of companies that rented smaller planes to licensed pilots.

Phoebe had said that Cole planned to steal a plane, but Scully didn’t see how he could hope to. Westchester was no JFK, but it was still a decent sized airport with plenty of security. She was betting that Cole was going to go through regular channels and rent a Piper or a Cessna. Her careful calls to all the rental companies on the airport had turned up nothing, but she was not discounting Cole using an alias.

They pulled up to a cargo gate and flashed their badges. Security waved them through, Scully having already spoken with their chief about their imminent arrival. Needless to say, she had omitted any reference to a wanted serial killer or a supposed intention to steal a plane. They didn’t need a posse of wanna be security guards forcing a confrontation with Cole.

Mulder pulled over inside the gate and studied the map that the security guard had waiting for them. Mulder pointed a far hangar on the north end of the field.

“This is where the last agency you called is at, right?”

Scully checked her notes and nodded. Mulder worried at his bottom lip, his eyes sweeping the outlines of the airport.

“I think he’s going to go for that one. It’s the most remote, and there are two gates that he could slip in and out of if there was trouble.”

“The guy at the agency said they only store their planes there. They have an office in the main terminal.”

“All the more reason if he plans to steal one,” Mulder said, folding up the map and putting the car in drive.

“I still don’t think he would believe he could get away with it, Mulder. There’s too much security. It’s too hard. If this were a one runway airport maybe I could see it. But Cole has played it safe all along, and this isn’t safe.”

Mulder nodded as he carefully steered his way across the field keeping a nervous eye on the various planes that dotted the landscape. The ground shook as another plane took flight down a distant runway.

“I agree. Something is fishy. But what hasn’t been for this whole case? I don’t even know if Phoebe is telling me the truth. Cole may not be here at all.”

“He’s here,” Scully said, grimly. “I think Phoebe wants us to be the ones that bring him in.”

Mulder shot her a look. Scully wasn’t much on hunches and she knew he was trying to figure out what had prompted this one.

“You may be right,” he said, slowly. “That’s one piece of the puzzle I have yet to put together.”

They found the hangar and pulled around to the side where a sign hung over the door advertising Up And Away Plane Charters and Rentals. Mulder parked next to the building.

“No other cars,” Scully noted and he nodded. They went to the door and Scully was surprised to find it open.

A set of barren offices, reminiscent of the First Defense suite, greeted them silently. Mulder reached back and adjusted the gun in his holster and Scully touched hers briefly. They moved carefully through the empty room to a hallway and a set of three other offices, all equally empty and silent. At the end of the hallway was a heavy metal door and Mulder twisted the knob slowly, easing the door open. Scully felt a prickle of fear slide down her spine and pulled her gun.

The stepped out into the main part of the hangar. In the dim interior a handful of small planes sat hunched under the dim lights suspended from the arched ceiling. Each plane sat in a pool of light, their bright colors splashing against the darkness of the room.

They moved further out into the hangar, eye searching the murkiness for movement. Scully felt a bead of sweat slide down the side of her face. If anyone was waiting for them, they were easy targets out in the open space. Her eyes strained as she sought organic shapes among the lean lines of the planes. If Cole wanted to pick them off it would be so easy…

A loud thud from overhead made them both jump and they spun in tandem to gaze up and behind them. Above the door they had entered was a loft, a set of stairs starting thirty feet to the right of the door. At the top of the stairs was another heavy metal door. Another loud thump echoed from behind the door.

Mulder had his gun out and was already running for the stairs before Scully realized his intention. She rushed after him, pushing herself until she was at his heels as he mounted the first step. The metal clanked under the heels of her boots and she made an effort to step quietly. They didn’t need to announce that the cavalry was coming.

At the top of the stairs, Mulder paused and listened. There were no other noises and he threw a look over his shoulder at Scully who stood on the top step. Their eyes locked and she nodded sharply once. Yes, she was ready.

The handle on the door turned with a grating sound and Mulder eased the door open, his gun cocked and at the ready. Scully tightened her hand on her own weapon and licked her lips. How many times had they done this in seven years? A hundred? Two hundred? Guns drawn, pulses hammering, not knowing what they would find ahead. How many times had they found exactly the trouble they had feared? More times than not.

As the door creaked open and Mulder stepped over the threshold she flashed on him lying on the floor, a gaping wound in his chest. His blood, hot and sticky, spilling over the carpet, his eyes wide with shock and pain. His hands reaching out to her before falling limp in her grasp. The sound of his last breath rattling in his throat. The rending of her heart as she lost the other half of herself forever just as she finally allowed herself to accept that truth.

Bile rose in her throat and she swallowed hard, almost reeling as she blinked her eyes to clear her head. Focus, Dana, God damnit, she swore at herself. Distract yourself with melodramatic shit like that and you will get him killed. She swallowed again, her throat working reflexively to keep what little breakfast she had eaten down. Strong, be strong. Get through this. We’ve faced worse.

Mulder was moving through the dark room like a cat on the prowl. She slid in behind him, her gun moving in an arc before her as she swept the room. It was another office, only this one was still being used. Desks and filing cabinets crowded the room. In the corner a computer monitor glowed with a writhing fractal image, illuminating the room into deep shadow.

Another loud thump and the low thrum of voices made them both jump again and as one their guns were trained on the door at the other end of the small room. Quickly Scully came to stand by Mulder, glancing up at him as she did so. He flicked her a glance before stepping forward, his hand reaching out for the doorknob as he kept his gun at chest level.

His fingers grazed the knob before it was yanked out of his reach and Phoebe Green fell against the doorway. Scully’s eyes widened as she took in Phoebe’s tousled hair and disheveled clothing. A deep red patch flared on her right cheek belying a recently landed punch.

“Mulder!” Phoebe gasped. “Help me!”

A shot rang out and all three of them hit the floor. Phoebe’s body blocked the door open and Mulder reached out to pull her through to their side but before he could Phoebe shrieked as she was yanked violently backwards into the dark recesses of the other room.

“Mulder!” Phoebe screamed, twisting as her captor pulled her from their sight.

On his stomach, Mulder slithered forward only to duck back as another shot ricocheted off the metal door.

“You should watch the ricochet, Cole,” Mulder yelled. “You might take your own head off.”

“You wish,” Cole snarled from somewhere distant in the darkness. “Why don’t you stick your head up again and see just how good of a shot I am?”

“No thanks,” Mulder said. “You know you can’t get out of here, why don’t you just put down your gun and give it up?”

Cole laughed deep in his throat and Scully couldn’t help but be reminded of a demon. He sounded like something out of a Wes Craven movie.

“Actually, it’s your gun, G-Man. I think I’ll keep it if it’s all the same to you. I got plans. Places to be and people to see.”

“Yeah, I here the prisons in England are pretty nice,” Mulder countered, moving closer to the door. He looked back at Scully and gestured to the computer screen. Its light was the illumination giving Cole their location. She bit her lip but moved automatically towards the desk. She didn’t like the idea of them fighting this battle in the dark, but he was right. They had to take Cole’s advantage away.

“I have no intention of finding out,” Cole said. “Phoebe’s going to, though.”

“How do you figure that?” Mulder asked, keeping him talking. Scully’s finger touched on the power key on the monitor and she pushed it. The room fell into complete darkness.

Cole was silent for a moment. “Good move,” he finally said, a grudging respect in his voice. “Now we’re on equal footing.”

“Something like that,” Mulder said, his hand closing briefly over Scully’s as she touched him to let him know she was back. His arm brushed past hers as he gently pushed the door farther open.

A shot rang out, hitting the wall next to the door and Scully gasped as Mulder’s hand closed over her forearm and yanked her forward. He pulled her to the right and she crawled after him blindly keeping her shoulder pressed against her hip. He pulled her behind something – a book case? They crouched there, breathing heavily.

“Come on out, Agent Mulder,” Cole sang and Scully could tell that he had moved further into the room. Next to her Mulder puffed out a breath of air and remained silent. “Whatsa matter, cat got your tongue?” Cole taunted. “Or was that Phoebe who got it? She’s got quite an oral fixation, doesn’t she?”

Scully winced as Cole’s words dug into her imagination. Great, no wonder they had been attracted to each other. What, did she do pistachios to his sunflower seeds? Could she do the tongue thing to pop open a shell, too? Next to her, Mulder shifted on the balls of his feet.

“So tell me, Mulder,” Cole called out. “Tell me about that cute little redhead you call your partner. She’s very nice. Petite, nice blue eyes. Maybe not quite the looker that our Phoebe is, but still, not too shabby.” Cole laughed. “Is she as good in the sack as Phoebes, here? Does she do anything you ask? Does she do things you didn’t even imagine?”

Mulder’s hand found Scully’s and squeezed it. For some reason, a flash of fury burned through her. She didn’t want his reassurance. She didn’t want him to tell her again that Phoebe had nothing on her, that Phoebe was no threat. She was a threat, damnit. She had a past with him and nothing he said or did was going to erase that. Nothing he said was going to stop Cole from rubbing it in her face, either. She gritted her teeth to bite back the invective she wanted to hurl at Cole.

“Tsk, tsk,” Cole said, clicking his tongue. “You two aren’t very talkative, are you?”

“You might as well stop,” Phoebe’s voice sliced through the darkness with its acid sarcasm. “He’s not stupid enough to give away his location.”

Phoebe cried out in pain.

“Hush up now, Phoebe,” Cole ground out. “Don’t make me hurt you again.”

Beside her, Scully felt Mulder inhale a sharp breath. He was reaching the end of his patience and she knew he was going to do something soon, and not necessarily something smart. She gripped his arm, her fingers digging into his flesh. Don’t, she chanted in her head. Don’t be stupid. She’s not worth it.

Phoebe took the matter out of their hands. Scully heard a thud and a corresponding grunt and realized that Phoebe had landed a blow on Cole’s body. A loud crash was followed by a scream of rage from Cole and the sounds of two people scuffling.

Scully dug in her pocket and fumbled with her flashlight. As she snapped it on and pointed in the direction of the noise, she realized Mulder was gone.

The beam of her light fell across Mulder as he moved across the room, one hand stretched out in front of him, his gun in the other. With the light, he moved purposefully towards the thrashing bodies at the far end of the room.

Phoebe and Cole rolled back and forth, struggling to gain the upper hand. Cole clearly had the advantage of size and strength but Phoebe was agile and trained. Cole pinned her to the ground and brought up a fist to punch her but Phoebe twisted one leg around his and yanked him off balance. They rolled over again and again. This time as Cole landed on top Scully saw Phoebe’s hand snake around to the back of his pants and yank out the gun tucked there.

Mulder grabbed Cole’s arm and twisted it back, pushing him off of Phoebe. Cole whipped around, coming up on his knees and punched Mulder with his other arm. Mulder doubled over but hung on, swinging his gun up to Cole’s temple as the other man surged to his feet and kicked Mulder’s legs out from under him.

Scully ran forward as Mulder went down, Cole leaning over him, training Mulder’s own gun on the side of his head. She brought her gun up, her finger slid over the trigger.

A shot exploded from her left and Cole jerked as the bullet slammed into his body. He lurched forward and fell, his gun hand curling under him as he hit the floor. Scully whipped around to stare at Phoebe, leaning against a desk, her gun following Cole to the floor. Phoebe’s finger moved on the trigger.

“Phoebe, don’t!” Mulder shouted, throwing himself at her. Phoebe glared at him as he rose in front of her. They faced each other silently, the anger coming off both of them in waves. “Put the gun down,” Mulder said through clenched teeth.

Scully tore her eyes away from them to move to Cole. Her gun on him, she moved closer, the flashlight’s beam playing over the side of his face as it pressed against the carpeting. He was still breathing but she couldn’t see the wound.

“Mr. Cole?’ She stood in front of him. “Mr. Cole, can you hear me? I’m armed. I know you still have your gun. Push it out from under you slowly.”

No response. She nudged him with her foot and got nothing. Keeping her gun aimed at his head, she rolled him over with her foot. A scarlet stain spread across his shirt front and she could see a dark hole on his left shoulder. Even in dim lighting, Phoebe’s shot had been true.

His gun – Mulder’s gun – lay loosely clasped in his right hand and she kicked it away before crouching in front of him. Either he was really unconscious or he was great at playing possum. She placed two fingers on his jugular and frowned. His pulse was thready, he needed a hospital soon.

She turned to Mulder and Phoebe and felt her gorge rise again. They were still staring at each other but now Phoebe’s hand was resting against Mulder’s chest and she was looking up at him like a lost orphan. Mulder’s fingers were curled loosely around her hand. Not welcoming it. Not pushing it away.

“Mulder,” Scully said sharply. “Cole needs an ambulance.”

Mulder turned to look at her and Phoebe’s hand fell away. “He’s alive?”

“Barely,” Scully said grimly, coming to her feet. “And not for long without some help.”

“I’ll call 911,” he said, moving towards the door. As he reached the doorway, he reached over and flipped the light switch. Scully blinked as the bright light seared her eyes. She eyed Phoebe warily as the other woman blinked and frowned as well. The 357 Magnum was still in the British woman’s hand.

“He’s not going anywhere,” Scully said to her, gesturing at Phoebe’s gun. “You can put that away.”

Phoebe eyed her suspiciously.

“I’m not putting this down as long as he’s alive.”

“He’s more dead than alive,” Scully snapped and then sighed as Phoebe stared wordlessly at her. “You don’t have a license for that gun. I would suggest that it not be in your hand when the police arrive unless you want an up close and personal visit with a New York jail cell.”

Phoebe’s eyes narrowed. “I’m going to get that anyway, aren’t I? I’m still wanted for assaulting that other police officer in Tisbury.”

Scully arched an eyebrow at her.

“I’m certain that once you explain your story it will all be taken care of.”

Phoebe barked out a laugh.

“What makes you think they’ll believe me?”

“Because Mulder and I will back you up,” Scully said wearily and felt a flash of anger at the thought of helping Phoebe. It was the last thing she wanted to do, but there was no choice. She had no doubt that Cole had assaulted the sheriff. “You had clearly been victimized when you showed up at the house that day and we both saw him try to kill you just now.”

“Victimized,” Phoebe said slowly, her eyes going to Cole on the floor. “Yes.”

Scully frowned as she followed Phoebe’s gaze to Cole’s prone body. What exactly had Cole done to her? Phoebe seemed almost in shock, as though she had been through a great trauma. Had Cole done something else or were the events of the last few days finally crashing in on her?

She turned back to Phoebe and gasped as she saw Phoebe’s arm raised, the gun pointed once again at Cole.

“No!” Scully yelled, her own weapon swinging up as if by its own violition. She saw Phoebe’s fingers tightening on the trigger and Scully closed her eyes as she pulled her own and two deafening blasts sounded simultaneously.

Her arm jerked at the recoil and Scully felt it reverberate along her spine. Phoebe’s eyes were wide with shock as she slid to the floor. Her gun fell from her hand and bounced on the floor at her feet. She pawed at the wound in her right shoulder, her mouth forming a perfect “o” as her eyes slid shut and she slumped on the ground.

Scully felt tears burning in her eyes as the other woman lost consciousness and Mulder touched her arm. She raised her eyes to him, not bothering to hide her pain and anger. Behind her she heard the rattle in Cole’s throat as he drew his last breath.

The EMTs rolled the gurney up to the rear of the ambulance and positioned it carefully before lifting it inside. Scully watched half-heartedly, looking for any sign that Phoebe had regained consciousness. Behind her, she could hear Mulder giving orders on processing the crime scene. Agents from the local FBI office were conferring with him and the local PD seemed more than happy to step back.

The ambulance was almost ready to go and she raised a hand for them to wait. She walked quickly to Mulder’s side and touched his arm. His hazel eyes turned to her and she felt herself swallow as she met their warm depths. Please let him know I didn’t want this to happen, she prayed. Please let him understand that I had no choice.

He searched her face as she looked up at him and she did the same. There were no signs of rancor or suspicion. His eyes were warm, his face open and she heaved a sigh of relief. They were okay.

“I’m riding with her to the hospital,” Scully said softly.

He nodded. “Good idea. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

He squeezed her hand and she squeezed his back before walking back to the ambulance and climbing in.

The ER of the hospital was as different and the same as every one she had ever been in. Scully stood just outside the exam room door and watched the hustle and bustle of a metropolitan emergency room on a Monday night. They had two gunshot wounds, including Phoebe, at least one stabbing and four domestic disputes complete with black eyes and broken noses. An elderly man in the first exam room was suffering from dementia and dehydration and his frail wife sat by his bed patting his hand and telling him they would go home soon. Scully doubted that he even knew he wasn’t there already.

She peered into Phoebe’s room and watched as the trauma team worked on her. The shot had gone clear through and although she wasn’t in there to hear everything, Scully could tell that Phoebe was not in any serious danger. The wound was high enough to avoid any major organs. She had hit her exactly where she had wanted to.

Wanted to. Yes, that was the way to put it, although it made her mentally wince to even think it. She had not wanted to shoot Phoebe. There had not been any satisfaction in it, not even the minute amount she might have thought there would be. It was not easy for her to admit just how much she despised Phoebe. It was harder for her to admit that in the last several days she had grimly considered just how much she would like to hurt her.

But there had been no pleasure in felling the other woman. Only a sickening fear that she had somehow stepped over the line and let her personal feelings overrule her responsibilities. Like she had with Donnie Pfaster. She had tried to forgive herself for that, to tell herself that it had been in self defense, that he had already put her through so much hell that she was deserved in killing him. But she could only lie to herself for so long. She had killed Donnie Pfaster because she had wanted to. She had wanted him dead, never to haunt her again. Her badge and her gun had become her license for revenge and as much as she regretted ever visiting that unholy shrine, she had made up her mind to accept her guilt and move on.

And now this. Now another set of questions, more traces of guilt to crowd her heart and trouble her soul. Cole had done terrible things to women. He was a killer and a sadist and he had already been seriously wounded. The world was undoubtedly going to be a better place without him. Yet she had defended him without a second thought. Or had it been an excuse to hurt Phoebe? A way to strike back concealed within the dictates of her sworn duty?

Scully sighed and looked back into Phoebe’s room. They seemed to have stabilized her now and she could see that Phoebe’s eyes were open and she was responding to the doctor’s questions. Scully edged inside the door, standing back to stay out of the way, but putting herself within earshot.

“You have a single gunshot wound in the upper shoulder,” the doctor was saying to Phoebe. “It doesn’t appear that the bullet hit any major organs. It went all the way through, but we’re going to have to take you up to surgery in a few minutes to repair the damage to your shoulder.”

Phoebe’s blinked slowly, her eyes focused on the doctor’s face as he spoke.

“The nurses are going to get you ready now,” he said. “I’ll see you upstairs.”

The doctor made to leave but Phoebe raised her hand and he paused.

“Yes, Ms. Green. Do you have a question?”

She licked her lips, her eyes drifting shut momentarily before opening again slowly.

“My baby,” she said softly. “Is my baby okay?”

As the surprised doctor swung into action, Phoebe’s eyes drifted across the room and her gaze locked with Scully’s. Scully struggled to meet her gaze evenly, to not betray the shock and sickness that were sweeping over her at Phoebe’s question. This woman was going to be a mother? This woman was going to have what she wanted so desperately and could never have? Scully swallowed hard and stared into Phoebe’s eyes. I will not give her this victory. I will not let her know.

Phoebe stared back, a thin film of tears forming in her eyes. For all her bravada, Scully realized at that moment just how alone Phoebe Green was. Scully stared at her nemesis, the woman she had wanted to hurt and had and realized that she had won this battle a long time ago. Whatever else Phoebe had she didn’t have Mulder and that was what she wanted. Scully could see the acknowledgement flicker in Phoebe’s eyes before she shut them resolutely and turned her head away.

A shadow fell across her and without looking up she knew it was Mulder. She scrubbed at her temples as she regarded the speckled linoleum floor between her feet. She felt Mulder sit carefully in the chair next to her and then felt the tentative touch on her back. She sighed again and raised her eyes to his.

“She’s pregnant,” Scully said simply. “The bullet didn’t hit any major organs but they still had to take her to surgery.”

Mulder swallowed. His eyes never left hers.

“Is she going to lose the baby?”

Scully shrugged. “It’s too soon to tell. She told the doctor that she’s about three months along. That’s right on the edge of the second trimester. With all the trauma, and the anesthesia, it’s hard to know what will happen.”

“It’s Cole’s?” He was rubbing her back now, making lazy circles from her shoulders to the small of her back and she leaned back against his touch.

“Yes. The doctor asked if they should contact the father and she told him that he was dead.” Scully pursed her lips. “It explains a lot, Mulder. It explains why she wanted those records.”

He tilted his head and waited and she realized that she had not told him everything. He was missing a piece of the puzzle that she had been holding.

“Phoebe’s family lost all of their money. It was embezzled. Her inheritance and her trust fund are gone. She’s not destitute, but her lifestyle is going to have to change radically.”

“Go on,” Mulder said, but she knew he was already putting it together. He would know it before she said it, but he was giving this to her. Letting her put the last piece in place.

“When she found out that she was pregnant, she thought that Cole was John Milling and about to be the heir to a fortune. During the investigation of the murders she not only found out that he was the killer, but that he wasn’t John Milling. .Once Cole realized that he was a suspect in the killings, he knew Scotland Yard would petition for Milling’s NYPD records. He had been careful at the crime scenes. He had every reason to think he could beat the wrap and still inherit Millings’ fortune. He came to the US to purge the records of anything that could tip off the Inspectors. “

“Like medical records that indicated Milling was sterile which would fly in the face of the semen sample they took from the last victim,” Mulder said. “Or an ID badge photo.”

Scully nodded. “He didn’t know about the semen from the last victim. Remember Phoebe’s crack about cheap condoms? He thought he could still get away with it. It was a long shot. There are so many ways to prove he isn’t John Milling, but he was a cop. But, he knew the Inspectors wouldn’t look any farther than they needed to. They were looking for incident reports, history of violence. They wouldn’t want or need photos or medical information. But he didn’t know what was in the files, so he had to get his hands on them.”

“And Phoebe needed the files for the same reason,” Mulder said slowly. “She didn’t want the grandfather to find out the truth.”

Scully sighed and reached out and took his hand. “Yes. She wanted Cole dead with his identity unrevealed so that her child would inherit John Milling’s estate.”

“That’s why she killed him,” Mulder said, disgust filling his voice. “For the money.”

“Yes,” Scully said, softly. “But they’re may be more, Mulder. We don’t know what happened between them after he pulled her out of that police car in Tisbury. We don’t know what happened to them after she disappeared yesterday.”

“Are you excusing what she did, Scully?” He was incredulous. Apparently, she wore her feelings for Phoebe very much on her sleeve.

“No,” Scully said slowly, holding his gaze. “I’m not. She shot him in cold blood, Mulder. He was unconscious, helpless. I’m saying that I don’t think the money was the only motivation. There was something…off, about her.” She struggled for the right words. “It was like she was in shock. Like she was acting without thinking. I don’t know,” she trailed off, feeling that she had not communicated her thoughts correctly. “I don’t know how to explain it.”

His thumb traced the underside of her jaw and she felt tears threatening again and blinked to push them away.

“You’re thinking of Pfaster,” he said softly.

Her eyes flew to his and her mouth opened but she didn’t have anything to say. Just like that, he was inside her head, ferreting out her deepest secrets and fears.

“How do you do that?” she said breathlessly.

He smiled and leaned in to kiss her ever so softly. He leaned his forehead against hers and she felt the soft expel of his breath on her face.

“I love you, Scully. It’s as simple as that.”

The ferry ride to Tisbury had been a rough one and Mulder still looked a little green around the gills as he unlocked the door to his father’s house. Scully smiled softly as she swung the suitcase in front of her and followed Mulder through the door. It was good to be back. They were both whipped.

Mulder moved through the downstairs, turning on lights against the rapidly approaching darkness. She leaned against the stair rail, too tired to do more than watch him. He made his way back to her, satisfied that everything was fine in the house.

“You looked as tired as I feel,” he joked weakly and she rewarded him with a smile.

“I feel like I could sleep for a month,” she admitted. “And I don’t have sea sickness.”

He shot her a look somewhere between amusement and embarrassment. The sea sickness had hit him badly enough that she had driven the car off the ferry and the rest of the way home and his male ego was smarting.

“Did you want something to eat?” He gestured towards the kitchen. “I think we still have the stuff for sandwiches.”

She shrugged. “Yeah, I could eat. But can you, Mulder? You still look a little green.”

He shot her another look and she realized she needed to leave that one alone.

“Now that the world is not rocking and rolling under my feet, I could probably keep something down.”

“It will probably help settle your stomach,” she said, already moving towards the kitchen.

They ate the turkey on ryes at the kitchen table and Scully found herself mentally summing up the case. Phoebe was resting comfortably in the White Plains hospital. So far, her baby was fine. The FBI was looking into Cole’s death but Skinner had already told them that the powers that be just wanted the case to go away. Things had gotten ugly enough and neither government wanted to extend matters by charging Phoebe with murder.

“They’re saying Cole would have died from the first wound,” Skinner told them on the phone. “And you and Mulder both support her story that she saved Mulder’s life by pulling the trigger the first time.”

Phoebe’s career with Scotland Yard, however, was over. She had directly disobeyed an order by following Cole to the U.S. and the evidence against her for withholding information during the Yard’s investigation was sufficient to ask for her resignation.

What Scully didn’t know, and wasn’t sure she wanted to know, was Phoebe’s reaction when she realized that Cole’s true identity was known. Although Mulder had referred to him as Cole in the hangar, she obviously hadn’t caught it. Mulder had been the one to tell her and Scully had declined his offer to join him in Phoebe’s hospital room this morning. She had nothing to say to her and Mulder would tell her anything she needed to know.

“I’ll not only offer a penny, but a whole nickel for them,” Mulder said as he polished off his second can of iced tea. She smiled at him.

“Running it all through my head,” she said, finishing her sandwich. ‘Tying up loose ends.”

He nodded thoughtfully. “Is it all labeled and cross referenced in your head now?” he asked, teasing her for her compulsive neatness.

She rolled her eyes at him. “Just about.” She paused. What the hell. “How did she take it when you told her you knew it was Cole not Milling?”

“She didn’t say much. Just looked at the wall. She asked me if other people knew and I told her they did.”

“She was going to ask you to keep it quiet,” Scully stated.

He nodded and sighed. “Yes. I think so.”

“So, what is she going to do?”

“I don’t know.” His hazel eyes bored into her. “And I didn’t ask.”

She met his gaze evenly. “Mulder, you don’t have to pretend that you don’t care what happens to her. It’s perfectly understandable that you do. Whether I like it or not, whether you like it or not, the two of you have a history.”

Mulder jerked forward in his chair like he’d been shot.

“Yes, and it’s history, Scully. That’s the part I want you to understand. It was years ago. A lifetime ago. I am not the same person that I was then.”

“No, you’re not,” she said, refusing to be sidetracked. “And part of the reason you’re not is because of what happened between the two of you.”

“Scully,” he groaned. “It was a relationship. It was…sex. I was in college for God’s sake.”

“I know that, Mulder. I realize what you’re trying to say, and I appreciate it. And I will get past this…” she waved her hands in the air, “this hang up I have about Phoebe. But I don’t want you to put on the kid gloves around me. You can admit that you’re concerned about her.”

“I’m not as concerned about her as you think,” Mulder said flatly and Scully arched an eyebrow at him. He held her gaze.

“What happened?” she said softly, knowing all at once that he was telling the truth and that it had to do with what had happened between them in Queens.

He looked away and licked his lips. His fingers flexed around the empty can and a muscle in his jaw jumped. She reached out and touched his hand. His eyes moved to hers and she sent him a silent entreaty. Trust me. He sighed.

“It’s nothing, really. I just…saw a side of Phoebe that I had either forgotten existed or never really admitted was there.”

“Go on.” Her fingers caressed his and he released the can to take her hand in his.

“After I helped her get free, I asked her to call you for help. She refused. She…came on to me. She was touching me and reminding me about how we had been together.” Mulder looked up at her and Scully nodded encouragingly.

“Milling—Cole—had groped her when she was tied to the chair. He was taunting her, taunting both of us. He made it clear that he was going to rape her before he killed her. Phoebe mimicked him. I don’t even think she realized she was doing it.”

“She touched you?” Scully asked softly, her breath hitching in her throat. She couldn’t imagine what that had been like for him, and how difficult it had to be for him to talk about it.

“Yeah. When I didn’t respond the way she wanted me to, she grabbed me and started rubbing me.” He sighed. ” My body did respond and she took that as a sign of encouragement. She wasn’t very happy when I told her that the same thing would happen if I rubbed up against a tree.”

“I’m sure she wasn’t,” Scully said lightly although she was resisting the urge to grind her teeth. Okay, she was back to wishing she could hurt Phoebe.

Mulder gave her a wan, half embarrassed smile. “It’s the truth, Scully. Phoebe hasn’t done it for me in a long time.”

She smiled at him. “I know that, Mulder. I also know that it had to be difficult for you to deal with that.”

He shrugged. “It was the helplessness that bothered me.” He paused. “And knowing that she was capable to going that far.”

She tilted her head and regarded him quietly.

“Do you wonder why she was willing to take it that far?”

He frowned. “Because of Cole. Her whole world was coming apart and nothing was what she wanted. She was striking back in frustration.”

Scully shook her head.

“There’s one question we haven’t answered, Mulder. Why did Phoebe pull you into this case? Why did she come to you?”

“I don’t know. Because she knew me. She thought I could get her access to the records.”

“Think about it, Mulder. The first morning in New York she had a full wardrobe, money and a gun at her disposal. She has connections and obviously good ones. She didn’t need you to get to those records.”

He frowned and chewed on his lip. “Then why?”

“The baby,” she said softly. “Think about it, Mulder. What did you say at the café the other day? You were the one nice guy in her life. The one that actually cared about her when the others only wanted her body or her money. Do you think she didn’t know that? Mulder, Phoebe came to you because she wanted you back.”

He was shaking his head.

“No. I don’t believe that. If she had gotten Milling’s money, she would have been right back where she started. Rich, powerful—”

“And alone,” Scully interjected. “Mulder, this was different. This is different. Phoebe has always put herself first. She’s only ever had to think of herself. Now she has a child to think of. And whatever peace she has made with herself for the way she has chosen to live her life, Phoebe knows what and who she is. And I think it’s reasonable to assume that she knows she’s not going to be a great parent. And I think it’s reasonable to assume that Milling opened her eyes as to what her future looked like.”

He sat back and shook his head, rejecting her logic even as it was worming its way into his brain.

“Scully, I just don’t think—”

His words were cut off by a thump on the front door. They looked at each other and he shrugged before rising from the table. God only knew who it was this time.

They went to the door, Scully right behind him with a grim set to her mouth. If there was going to be more trouble they were going to face it head on together.

Mulder pulled open the door and pursed his lips at Deputy Sanger.

“Good evening,” the sheriff said tersely. “I’m sorry to disturb you.”

“That never seems to stop you,” Scully muttered and caught Mulder’s glance.

“What can I do for you, Deputy Sanger?” Mulder said coldly.

“I understand that you apprehended Ms. Green in New York?” Sanger said, her eyes shifting between them.

“Yes,” Mulder said. “She’s in the hospital.”

“So I was told,” Sanger said, her eyes landing on Scully. “She killed the other suspect you were investigating?”

“Yes,” Mulder said shortly. His hand twitched on the doorknob. “Is there something specific that you wanted because it’s been a very long day and—”

“I’ve been told that you both vouched for Ms. Green’s story that this Mike Cole or John Milling or whoever he was, is the one that attacked our deputy. Is that right?”

“Yes it is,” Mulder said. “Phoebe’s injuries support her story that he—”

“Excuse me,” Sanger snapped. “But who the hell do you think you are to help this woman off the hook? You don’t know what happened out there on the side of the road. You haven’t investigated it. You just used your influence to help her get off.”

“I gave the investigators my opinion,” Mulder ground out, his knuckles whitening on the door.

“Which happens to be colored by the fact that you have a relationship with her,” Sanger snapped at Mulder before her eyes flicked to Scully. “Or you did. Whatever the case is.”

Scully felt a flush steal across her cheeks and bit back the urge to scream at the deputy. Getting into a yelling match wasn’t going to solve anything.

“Look, my opinion is based on facts and if you don’t agree with—”

“He died, you know,” Sanger said. “They turned off the life support. But what do you care, right? Mr. Big Shot FBI, you can just go back to Washington with your little ‘friends’ and—”

“That’s enough!” Scully roared and both Sanger and Mulder started. Scully stepped in front of Mulder and planted herself right in Sanger’s face.

“I have heard enough of this shit from you, Deputy Sanger,” Scully spat. “From the moment you got involved in this case, you have had a chip on your shoulder. I don’t know what your problem is, Deputy, but I think you need to get your own personal feelings and issues in hand before you start accusing others of having a personal agenda.”

“Now, listen to me—” Sanger spluttered but Scully cut her off.

“The hell I will. We’ve heard far too much from you already. You show up here unannounced and start tossing around accusations and innuendoes like you have some right to do so. Agent Mulder has been nothing but cooperative and courteous to you throughout this entire ordeal and you have been nothing but a stone cold bitch.”

“Agent Scully!” Sanger protested.

“Look, Sanger, I know it’s tough to be a woman in law enforcement. Trust me,” Scully said. “If you think there’s a glass ceiling in Podunk Tisbury, you try life in the big city. You try it at the federal level. The higher you go, the worse it gets. So let me give you a piece of advice. Get over yourself. Do your job and don’t blame every man in sight when you don’t get the results you wanted.”

Sanger was openly gaping at her now, a dark flush on her cheeks. Scully felt the heat in her own face and could only imagine what she looked like to the woman deputy. But enough was enough. And then some.

“I’m sorry about your colleague,” Scully said, softer. “I’ve been there. I know how terrible that helplessness is. And I know you want to see someone pay for his death, but someone already has. Michael Cole killed that deputy. That’s the truth. I have no doubt about that and neither does Agent Mulder. This is not about protecting anyone. It’s about what happened, whether we like it or not. And Mike Cole is dead, so whether you believe in the afterlife or not, he has met all the earthly justice that he ever will. And there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Scully sighed and glanced up at Mulder’s wide eyes and then back at the stunned deputy.

“Go back to work, Deputy Sanger. Put this behind you as best you can and just do your job.” Scully tugged the door from Mulder’s hand. “Good night.”

Sanger closed her mouth and swallowed. She flicked a glance at Mulder and then back at Scully before turning on her heel and stomping down the steps. Scully closed the door and leaned against it, letting her eyes fall closed in sheer exhaustion.

Mulder let out a low whistle.

“Jesus, Joseph and Mary,” he breathed. “And I’m not even Catholic.”

Scully rubbed at her closed eyes and smiled wanly. “You’re nothing identifiable.”

“I’m impressed,” Mulder said and she smiled as he pulled her into his arms. She fell against his chest and rubbed her cheek against the soft nap of his shirt. Mulder’s hands roamed over her back and up into her hair, tugging it to pull her head back. Languidly she opened her eyes and looked up at him.

“Tine rua,” he murmured.

“Tine rua?” she murmured back, arching an eyebrow.

He leaned forward and rubbed his lips against hers, his breath warming them. He kissed her softly once, then twice, nipping at her bottom lip.

“It’s old Irish Gaelic, Scully. It means red fire. The brightest, truest part of the flame. That’s you.”

She smiled against his lips and kissed him back.

The morning sunlight streamed across the bed and lit up the inside of her eyelids. Slowly, Scully opened her eyes and sighed deeply. Her gaze wandered around the room, taking in the sparse furnishings and the bare walls. Ah yes, packing. They would probably have to finish that today.

She turned her head against the pillow to look at the empty one beside her. Even before she had opened her eyes she had known that he was not in the bed with her anymore. She raised her head slightly and read the clock next to the bed. Oh yeah, Mulder had probably been up for hours by now.

She stretched and smiled and rolled over on to her stomach. She felt good and was surprised at that. They had fallen into bed last night too tired to do more than mumble a good night at each other before spooning together and falling into deep sleep. She had been so bone weary at the time she had figured it would take days before she felt rejuvenated.

But the bed was immensely comfortable and the company had been even more so. She grinned into the pillow. They had shared a bed for what, three nights? She was already addicted to it. They were going to have to talk about how this was going to work because she was sure of one thing. It was okay to wake up alone as long as she hadn’t slept that way the night before. Sleeping alone was no longer an option.

She rolled over and pulled herself up to sit on the side of the bed. Speaking of alone, she didn’t feel like being alone any more Time to find out what Mulder was up to. She padded into the bathroom and turned on the shower.

It was déjà vu. He was working industriously at the stove, making a feast that would burst her stomach, and she was tripping into the kitchen with evil thoughts spinning through her mind.

“Good morning,” he said, smiling at her as he turned away from the stove. “I went ahead and started cooking. I was afraid you were going to sleep all day.”

She rolled her eyes as she wrapped her arms around his waist. “It’s nine o’clock, Mulder, not noon.”

He grinned. “Yeah, but I’ve been up for three hours already so it feels like it.”

She arched an eyebrow at him. “Six o’clock, huh? Couldn’t stand to stay in bed with me longer than that, huh?”

He leaned down and kissed her firmly on the mouth, his tongue darting out to lick her lips. Scully bit back a groan. Oh, she could definitely start every day this way.

“I couldn’t stay there any longer and still let you sleep,” he said against her mouth and Scully shivered.

“You could have woken me up,” she whispered back, her tongue caressing his bottom lip. “I would have liked that.”

“Mmm,” Mulder said. “I’ll remember that.”

They kissed again, his tongue probing her lips, pushing past them and her teeth to stroke her tongue. She did moan then, running her hands up his chest. His hands caught hers and he pulled away.

“Breakfast,” he said, his eyes dancing and she pouted her lips at him. Fine. She turned to the table which he had already set and noticed a brown padded envelope in the center. She picked it up.

“Mulder, what’s this?” It was addressed to Fox Mulder and Dana Scully. There was no return address.

“I don’t know,” Mulder said. “It was inside the screen door when I went to get the mail this morning. It has both of our names on it so I waited for you before I opened it.”

Scully felt along the lines of the envelope. There was something hard and square inside. She frowned. What could this be? Her fingers went to the sealed flap.

“Breakfast is served,” Mulder said, presenting a plate under her nose with a flourish. Scully inhaled deeply as she eyed the fluffy omelet. She tossed the envelope back on the table. The intrigue could wait, she was starving.

They made short work of the breakfast. Scully was still amazed that he cooked and said so.

“Only breakfast,” he said, shrugging. “And spaghetti.”

“So I can expect breakfast in bed every Saturday, right?” Scully prompted and then felt a flush tingle her cheeks. Oh my, she was assuming a lot, wasn’t she? Her eyes went to Mulder’s and she saw that he hadn’t missed her assumption either. He was smiling and looking at least ten years younger than he was. Her heart constricted. Oh my, indeed.

“If that’s what you want,” Mulder said, eyes twinkling. “Your wish is my command.”

Scully’s eyes widened and she gave him a sly grin.

“Well, Mulder, if that’s the case, trust me, I’ll think of something better to ask for than breakfast.”

Mulder leaned over the table and pinned her with his eyes.

“Really, Scully?” he asked, his voice low and husky. “And what else would you ask for?”

Her stomach tightened as his sexy voice and darkening eyes washed over her like a warm wave. Oh God, she was rapidly losing the ability to think of witty rejoinders. Couldn’t they just skip to the really good part?

“You’ll have to wait and find out,” she managed to croak before hiding behind the rest of her glass of orange juice. He grinned at her triumphantly, knowing he had won the round and she felt a jolt of adrenaline zip through her. Oh, he wanted a contest, did he? They would see about that.

They cleared the table and put the dishes in the dishwasher. She wiped down the table, moving the package aside and rinsed the cloth in the sink. Behind her, Mulder put the remnants of breakfast back in the refrigerator and then they were standing there looking at each other.

How do we do this? Scully wondered, trying to remember how to breathe. How do you reach for something that you’ve wanted for so long that it seems to have metamorphosed from reality into fantasy? It was one thing to find yourself at the end of a journey and quite another to find yourself at the beginning, wondering how to take the first step. They had been through so many things together that had shaped and changed who they were. But never had their intentions been so plain. She licked her lips and looked somewhere over his left shoulder. Just meet his eyes and you’ll be okay, Dana, she told herself. It’s him. It’s Mulder.

“We haven’t opened the envelope yet,” Mulder said, rescuing her. Her eyes flashed to his and then away, to the envelope on the table.

“I guess we should,” Scully said, then shot him an impish grin. “Just in case it’s a bomb, or something.”

He grinned back and picked up the envelope and tore open the flap.

“So far, so good,” he quipped. He reached in and drew out the square object she had felt earlier. It was wrapped in a piece of fine linen stationary. Mulder handed her the box and opened the note.

Scully held the dark red velvet box in her hand and felt her heart start to thunder in her chest. She had seen a box just like this, many in fact. At Sevigny’s. She rubbed her thumb along the velvet, pushing against the nap and watching a pattern emerge in its wake.

“It’s from Sevigny,” Mulder said.

“What does he say?” Scully asked, not meeting his eyes. She couldn’t stop staring at the box.

Dear Fox and Dana,

My safe is too full and I do not have room for this. I think it is better to be with you so that you will have it when you are ready. It will be soon, I think.

All God’s blessings on you. Come to see me when you are in town.

-Sevigny

Mulder folded the note closed and looked at her. Scully raised her eyes to his and licked her lips.

“Open it, Scully,” he said softly and she thought her heart would jump out of her chest. She bent her head as her fingers slowly pried the box open. The diamond, nestled in maroon velvet, twinkled up at her and she drew in a shaky breath. It was so beautiful. It was a whole world in one little gem.

Mulder was standing so close to her that she could feel the heat of his body through her t-shirt.

“Scully,” he said, his words caressing her. “Scully, look at me.”

She closed her eyes and swallowed. Oh no. Not now, not here. It wasn’t right. It wasn’t the time. She wanted it, yes, she did. She wanted him and a life and all the craziness that came with it. But it was just so much, so soon. It was rushing in on her and the warm wave was crashing over her head and she wasn’t sure she could do this. She would say yes. Of course she would. She loved him. She wanted him. But it was all so new…

His fingers tipped her chin up and she found herself drowning in his hazel eyes. Oh God, I love him so much. If he’s ready, I’ll be ready. I’ll do it. Throw caution to the wind and just do it.

“Scully, I know we’re not ready for this,” he said, his fingers stroking her face. “And I know you want dinner and flowers and me on bended knee when we are ready.”

“You forgot about the string quartet,” she warbled. He smiled and caressed her lips with his thumb.

“And the string quartet,” he amended. “And I promise you, Scully, I will give you all of that. When it’s time.”

“Yes,” she murmured. “When it’s time.”

He leaned down and kissed her tenderly. “We have plenty of time.”

She put the box on the table and pulled his mouth back down on hers. His arms encircled her waist, pulling her against him and she melted there for a moment, reveling in the feel of him before pulling away and taking him by the hand.

They stopped at the foot of the stairs and she turned to him with a question in her eyes. He squeezed her hand and they started up the stairs.

The wooden steps creaked under their weight and each footfall echoed in her head. It was surreal, climbing these stairs with Mulder, knowing that they were going to the bedroom to make love. She felt every stimulus burn itself into her memory. The feeling of her heart pounding in her chest, the sunlight splashing against the white walls, the warmth weight of Mulder’s hand in hers, the smell of dust and furniture polish in the air. At the top of the stairs he took the lead, guiding her along the hallway to his father’s room, to the mahogany heirloom bed and the tousled sheets she had fantasized about.

He stopped at the foot of the bed and turned to her. His eyes were dark with desire and she knew her own were the same. They drank in each other, savoring the silent understanding, the sweet frustration that was about to be realized. She reached up and stroked his cheek with the back of her hand.

“I will never forget this moment,” she whispered. He turned his head and kissed the back of her hand, then her wrist, the crook of her elbow, just below her sleeve. She brushed the top of his head with her other hand, reveling in the silkiness of his hair. He raised his lips from her bicep and their faces were inches apart. Their breath mingled for a moment before he lowered his mouth to hers.

Scully opened her mouth to his and her tongue darted forward seeking his. They twined and caressed each other, repeating the fervent dance of the times before. Slowly, Scully pressed herself up against his chest, her hands grasping against his t-shirt as their mouths plundered each other. Her fingers swooped and crawled until she found his hardening nipple and she pinched it, rolling it under his fingers. His breath jerked and he moaned in his throat. A flash of heat flared between her legs at the sound.

His hands were on her ass now, kneading and stroking and she felt the wetness between her legs surge. God she wanted him. Every cell in her body screamed out for him. She slid her fingers under the hem of his t-shirt and stroked her fingers over the wiry hairs that decorated his navel. Her fingers dipped and rose over the outline of his six pack and suddenly she couldn’t wait to run her tongue over the same route. She bent and quickly did so, her tongue bobbing and weaving over his muscles as they quivered. Her hands slid upward, over his rib cage to his chest where she dragged a thumbnail over both nipples simultaneously, earning another quick breath and a jerk of his hips. He pulled her back up against him and she smiled as his mouth sought hers and she nipped his lower lip before sucking it into her mouth. Mulder groaned again.

His hands were under her shirt now, sliding up her back, lifting the shirt until it was over her head and gone. With a deft movement, he undid her bra. He swept along the tops of her shoulders, his fingers pushing the straps until they fell. His hands trailed back down around her ribs and then around to the front, lifting her bra away. Scully gasped as his hands closed over both of her breasts, capturing them and taking their weight in his palms. She moaned as palms grazed over her taunt nipples, hardening them further. He rubbed against them, first up and then down slowly, dragging an electrical current throughout her whole body.

Scully felt the ache between her legs burgeoning and cupped Mulder’s ass with her hands and yanked his hips against hers. She ground against him, and felt a jolt scream through her gut as his erection slammed against her stomach. She shoved his shirt up and he grabbed a corner, yanking it over his head and tossing it.

He pulled her against him and she pressed her naked breasts to his bare chest. A shiver rocked both of them and she attacked him with her mouth. She kissed his shoulder, his collarbone, her teeth nipped at his Adam’s apple before grazing over first one nipple and then the other. Mulder was keeping pace, his mouth sucking at the side of her neck, his tongue swirling inside her ear then painting a hot wet trail down to her breasts, sucking first one nipple and then the other into his mouth.

Scully arched and tossed her head back as the room started to spin. Every nerve in her body was tingling and none more than where his mouth lips were joined in sucking on her flesh. She tugged her fingers through his hair until his head raised and their lips met again. She pulled his tongue into her mouth and sucked.

By unspoken agreement the rest of their clothes were tossed to the floor. Mulder pulled back the tumbled covers and pressed her back against the mattress, following her on to the bed. Scully’s eyes raked over his naked lean form, his dusky erection and the maelstrom of desire in his eyes. She pulled him to her, one hand stroking his hardness, the other curled around his neck.

Mulder slid down on top of her, his body covering hers and she parted her legs and lifted her hips to cradle him. His erection pressed against her hip and she arched against him, a whimper in her throat. Now. There was time for the rest later. She had to have him before her body melted into a pool of fire. Their eyes met and she let him see her raw need, seeing it mirrored in his.

Mulder’s hand slid between their bodies as he took himself in hand. The tip of him brushed against her opening and she arched up against him, straining for more. His eyes seemed to devour her and she couldn’t look away from their depths. He plundered her soul with his need and then she gasped as he thrust up inside her with one strong stroke.

“Oh God!” Scully moaned and pushed up against him as he filled her. “Oh, Mulder.” Oh God, how had she known it would feel this good? He came to rest deep inside her, his breath coming fast and ragged. She was complete, stretched, filled, her body closing in around him, melding them together. She groaned as he pulled back and pushed into her again.

“Scully,” he whispered and it sounded for all the world like a prayer.

They moved in point and counterpoint, their bodies rising and falling to a shared cadence. He stared down at her, his eyes dark with passion and she gazed back up at him, willing the incredible emotions insider her to play across her face.

He reached down and stroked her nub and Scully closed her eyes as her muscles clenched around him and her hips thrust upwards. His teeth were nipping at her collarbone and she slid her nails along his sides, making him gasp. A ball of blazing heat was forming in her midsection, every muscle in her body tensed and she arched against his fingers and his hardness, willing it to grow. She tossed her head as it did, gasps escaping from her lips.

She grabbed his hips and pulled him against her.

“Harder,” she whispered and he responded instantly, his hips slamming into her, his tip bumping her cervix with every stroke. Brilliant light exploded behind her eyelids. “Oh God, yes. Yes. Mulder.”

She was close and she could feel that he was, too. His thrusts came faster and harder until they couldn’t go any further and she grabbed him with her slick muscles, pushing him further and further over the edge.

His fingers rubbed her in a tight circle and then the fireball in her gut was exploding and red flashes blinded her as her orgasm overtook her. She went rigid as the pleasure swept over her, her muscles spasming around him, gripping and pulling him into her paradise. She clenched him, milking him, willing him to join her.

“Scully. Oh God. Scully.” He thrust hard once, twice more and then a low cry tore from his throat as he jetted into her. She clenched her legs around him as they rode the crest together, transported beyond the gravity of the Earth.

Mulder collapsed onto her and they lay entwined and panting, coming slowly back to themselves. His lips brushed the side of her neck and she kissed his temple and nuzzled him. Gradually, their heartbeats slowed and their breathing evened out. Mulder went to move off her and Scully whimpered a protest.

“I’m too heavy,” he said hoarsely, grazing her brow with a kiss.

“No, I like it,” she said softly. “It makes me feel safe. Loved.”

He smiled then and kissed her again. She tightened her arms around him and closed her eyes, reveling in the feel of their bodies together. Her fingers wandered over the planes and angles of his back. She was going to learn about each and every one of them and memorize them like a map.

They lay together for several moments before she finally tapped his shoulder and he shifted off her. They both murmured as his softened cock slipped out of her. Mulder rolled onto his back and pulled her to him. She snuggled against his chest and looked up into his eyes.

“So, Scully, I have a question,” he said. She wrinkled her nose at him.

“You’re not going to ask me how it was, are you? Because if you don’t know…”

He laughed. “No, I wasn’t going to ask. I think I have a pretty good idea, my insecurities withstanding.” He stroked her shoulder with his fingers. “No, my question is, why now? Why this weekend?”

She smiled slowly and put her cheek down against his chest. Why, indeed.

“I don’t know, Mulder. I really don’t. Something just clicked, I guess.”

“Between us?”

She shrugged. “Between us. Inside me. Mostly inside me, I think.” She tossed her head back and smiled at him. “You were waiting on me, right?”

“Yes, for about seven years now, thanks.”

She grinned. “Was it worth the wait?”

He captured her mouth in a hungry kiss and she wondered just how soon he was going to recover. They did have seven years to make up for…He broke the kiss and tilted his head.

“Answer your question?”

“Yes.”

“Good.” He let his head fall back against the pillow and closed his eyes. Scully watched him for a moment.

“A nickel for them,” she said, watching as his eyes slowly opened.

“Hmm, nothing really. Drifting.”

“I didn’t really answer your question, did I?”

“Yes, you did.”

“But it wasn’t what you expected?”

“It’s not that. I just…” he sighed and eyed her warily. “I was just hoping this had nothing to do with you-know-who showing up.”

Scully’s eyes widened and she felt him tense, worried about her reaction.

“It has nothing to do with her. I swear.”

“Okay. I was just…wondering.”

Scully smiled languidly and planted a kiss on his chest.

“I understand why you would think that, especially after what I said last night. But this is just about us. I don’t know what changed, or when I decided. Actually…” her voice trailed off. Yes, she did know when she had made her decision and how, but it was too silly, too strange to tell him.

“What?” His eyes bored into her, the questioned etched in his face. She had really piqued his curiosity now.

Scully was appalled to find herself blushing and chuckled, trying to hide her embarrassment. Oh hell, nothing was too strange to Mulder.

“I decided on the phone the other night. When I was in the bath.”

He twitched an eyebrow.

“You decided to sleep with me over the phone? I give good phone, huh?”

She punched his stomach lightly as he laughed.

“That wasn’t it, Mr. 900 Number. It was, well, if you want to know the truth…it was talking about your parent’s furniture.”

“Furniture?” he asked, bewildered.

“Yes. You were talking about selling your furniture and how it was all this antique stuff and I could see in my head exactly what it looked like. Big, solid, elegant furniture and I could see just the kind of house it would go in and how everything would look. And then,” she paused, her blush deepening. “Then I realized that the house I was envisioning was the same house that I always envision living in some day.”

“And that made you want my body?” he teased, although his eyes said that he understood.

“No, that made me want your furniture,” she deadpanned and then kissed his chest again. “I’m going to inherit some nice pieces from my parents. Mom’s been pushing me to take some of it now, and I figured your furniture and my furniture would probably go together—”

“In this nice big house in your head.”

“Yes.”

“So that’s why you insisted that I put it in storage instead of selling it?”

She bit her lip and ducked her head. “Yeah.”

He kissed the top of her head and chuckled deep in his throat.

“So, you’re matchmaking between our furniture. Now that you’ve seen mine, do you think they’ll get along?”

She peeked at him from under her lashes. “Yeah,” she said softly. “I think they will.”

He hugged her tightly and kissed her softly.

“I think so, too. I love you, Scully.”

“I love you,” she whispered against his lips and then she kissed him fiercely. He responded at once, their tongues dueling for position. She slid her hand across his abs and pulled herself up on one elbow, letting her other hand wander south. He gasped as her fingers danced lightly over him and she smiled as he twitched and hardened under her touch.

“Mulder, you do know that women in their mid-thirties are at their sexual peak, don’t you?”

“I seem to remember reading that, yeah,” he said, gasping as she slid her hand up and down his shaft. “Why?”

She smiled. “Just making sure you’re prepared, that’s all.”

“I was an Indian Guide, remember, Scully? I’m always prepared.”

She nipped at his nipple and his hips jerked against her.

“That’s good to know, Mulder. Because we’ve got the rest of the week off and I don’t plan on letting you out of this bed.”

He grinned as she rose above him, her red hair tumbling over her face, her blue eyes sparkling.

“Your wish is my command,” he breathed, stunned anew at her beauty. She grinned back at him as she leaned down to capture his lips.

“You better believe it,” she murmured and set about telling him exactly what she wanted.

The End.

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