Original Sin


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It's post Fight the Future, and Scully has moved to Utah. Unfortunately for her, the X-Files followed her there. She must not have noticed that the state emblem is a big old beehive.  Poor Scully.  When will she learn?

Tags: NC-17mytharc, casefile, M/O, S/O, MSR, chipfic, Samantha, horribly absent & hugely apologetic author

Feel free to yell at me at syn_tax6@yahoo.com

Complete text file is HERE.






Chapter One  

 

The man with the cigarette was lying to her, but in her line of work, Dottie pretty much took that for a given.  If liars had a Mecca, it'd be Vegas, where everyone was shining you on about something all of the time.  Hell, she was the only woman left on her block with real tits, that's how it was. 

 

But Mr. Jameson was certainly admiring the view from across her desk, which was one reason she knew he couldn't possibly be telling the truth about his beloved missing wife.  She picked up the picture again - it showed an unsmiling but very pretty brunette.  "You say she came here with a female friend of hers?" 

 

"That's what I understood, yes.  Cynthia Daniels, her friend from Cornell.  They were going to have a...girls' weekend away, just the two of them." 

 

Damn if the old bastard didn't have a gleam in his eye, imagining it.  "But Cynthia didn't actually go." 

 

"No, when my wife didn't come home and I couldn't reach her by phone, I immediately got in touch with Cynthia.  She had no idea what I was talking about and hadn't seen Stephanie in almost a week." 

 

"So what makes you so sure your wife is here?" 

 

"I checked with the airline.  She was on the plane." 

 

"The airlines don't just give that information out to just anybody." 

 

He gave her a thin smile and took a drag on his cigarette.   "I'm not just anybody.  I'm a man who desperately wants to find his wife, and I'm hoping you can help me." 

 

"You seem to be doing pretty well on your own so far." 

 

"I need someone here in town who knows the ins and outs.  Can you find her?  If you say yes, I'm prepared to offer a handsome sum.  If you say no, I can find someone else to take my money." 

 

"I can find her for you, sure."  Pretty rich lady like that was probably holed up with her pool boy in one of the Bellagio suites.  "You might not like what I find.  In my experience, people don't come here to be alone, if you know what I'm saying.  Your wife may have left her friend behind but it's likely she's got a new one." 

 

"I don't care about that.” He flicked aside a bit of ash.  “I just want to know she's safe.  I want her to come home.  Can you make that happen?" 

 

He pulled out a clip full of hundred dollar bills and ticked off ten in a row without blinking an eye.  She hesitated just a moment.  Her gut said this guy wasn't just looking to kiss and make up, and she wasn't about to track down the sad woman in the picture just so he could use her as a punching bag.  But Benji was on his third pair of sneakers this year and the car payment was already two days late.  Better she find this Stephanie Jameson before her husband caught up with her.  If it turned out to be a silly tryst, no harm, no foul, but if she was really on the run, Dot could warn her to cover her tracks a damn sight better.  What Mr. Jameson didn't know wouldn't hurt him.  "I can take your case."  

 

"Excellent."  He handed her the money and a business card.  "That number is my mobile phone, so you can reach me anytime.  I expect you'll have a progress report for me within twenty-four hours." 

 

"You mind if I keep this?" She waved the picture at him, but he was distracted by Scotty walking in, clanging the cow bell over the door. 

 

"Hey, did you see there's a town car parked outside?" Scotty said, stopping short at the sight of their latest client.  "Whoa, sorry to interrupt." 

 

"Keep the picture," said Mr. Jameson, turning around with that creepy smile of his again.  "I have plenty."  He stubbed out his butt in the ashtray she used for clients and walked past Scotty without an acknowledgement. 

 

As the bell clanged for Jameson's exit, Scotty went to the old table  he used as a desk and set down his laptop.  "Was that business I smelled under all that tobacco smoke?"  

 

"Yep, we've got a case.  Wife off in Vegas for a little slap- and-tickle and the husband wants her home."  He turned around from setting up and gave her a broad grin.   You need a haircut, she thought. 

 

"Slap and tickle?  Sounds like fun.  I call 'tickle' and you can be 'slap.'" 

 

"Damn right I'm slap.  You want coffee?" She got up to get a second cup as he bent over to plug in his computer. 

 

"No, I'm good," he answered as she paused to appreciate his low-slung jeans.  He stopped working and waggled his ass.  

 

"You like what you see there, woman?  There's more where that came from." 

 

She snorted with laughter and went to the coffee pot.  "You'd better watch it 'cause one day I'm gonna take you up on that  offer." 

 

"I wish you would," he said.  "You know it's true." 

 

"No," she replied firmly.  "I've got a policy." 

 

"No dating co-workers?" 

 

"No pedophila.  I've got a ten year-old and you ARE a ten-year old." 

 

"Dot, I'm twenty-seven.  You've seen my driver's license." 

 

"I've also seen how good you fake an ID.  Not to mention that you haven't even got a car.  You ride around on a ratty old bicycle."

 

"Yeah, but you'd fit great on my handlebars."

 

Dammit if he didn't give her that grin again.  "Quit sassing me and get to work.  We need to find out if Stephanie Jameson checked into any hotels around here." 

 

She showed him the picture and he let out a low whistle.  "So start with the nice places, eh?" 

 

"Yeah, start there.  But I wouldn't be too surprised if that ain't where we end up.  In my experience, these types come out here to live two kinds of fantasies.  One is the satin  sheets, overpriced shows, and swanky restaurants, but the  other... let's just say if this lady has the same kind of money  as her husband, she can buy anything - or anyone - she  wants."  

 

*** 

 

Scully was already awake when the phone rang.  She didn't sleep much anymore, had convinced herself she didn't need it.  She spent most nights half dozing in the living room chair with a novel in her lap and a bright light shining down, as if in an interrogation of her fractured dreams.  It was his phone, ringing at his bedside, and she still did not answer it, not even after a year of living together.   That he knew not to answer hers was one of the reasons they fit so well.  She heard his muffled, sleepy answer and set her book aside, prepared to make him coffee and kiss him goodbye.   The machine was perking away in no time, filling their small kitchen with sound and smell of caffeine-in-waiting, but he had yet to emerge from the bedroom.  She found him sitting in his boxers, head in hands, with the white sheet still tangled about his waist.  "Ruben? Is everything okay?" 

 

He looked up.  "That was the Las Vegas coroner's office on the phone.  They need me to come identify a body." 

 

"What?"  She closed her robe and went to sit next to him on the bed.

 

"They think it's my sister.  They won't tell me anything else over the phone.  I asked if they'd been in touch with her husband but apparently she still has me listed as next of kin.  Or maybe she changed it back after the divorce, I don't know."  He ran a hand through his thick, spiky hair.  "What the hell was she doing in Las Vegas?  I need to book a flight." 

 

"I'll go with you."  He didn't seem to hear her; he got up and started rifling through the top drawer of his dresser. "They wanted me to bring a recent picture.  Why would they want that?" 

 

She knew, of course, having seen too many bodies destroyed beyond recognition. "I'm so sorry," she murmured.  The muscles in his back rippled in the soft light as he emptied the contents of the drawer out onto the dresser top. 

 

"I don't think I even have a recent picture.  I haven’t talked to Annie in three years – I only know what my parents have told me."  He had told her he had a sister who was not biologically related to him, that they both had been adopted by the same foster family years ago.  She knew they weren't close anymore but had not pressed him for details.    Maybe, she thought, she hadn't wanted to know.  It was a bit of a relief to have a man who didn't want to talk about his sister. 

 

What about your desk?" she asked, rising from the bed.  "I can look there."    It was a somewhat ridiculous offer.  She had never met the sister and wouldn't know her photograph.  She imagined a female Ruben, with long limbs, caramel skin and a single dimple on the right cheek.  But of course there was no reason to think there was a family resemblance.

 

"No, I'll do it," he said.  "Can you check the flights?   Maybe it would be better to drive.  God, what about her two kids?  Who's going to tell them their mother is dead?" 

 

"I didn't know she had children." 

 

"A boy and a girl.  I hope to hell they're with their dad right now.  He might've been a bastard to Annie, but I know he loves those kids."  Scully went to her office and powered up her computer to search for flights.  Outside, the black wall of night hid the Orquinnh Mountains. As a child of the sea, it had taken her some time to get used to their omnipresent bulk but now she felt safer in their shadow.  Only when the sun caught the stone at just the right angle, turning it to D.C. gleaming white, did she catch her breath anew. 

 

Ruben appeared, still not dressed, his half-naked reflection caught in the window glass.  "I can't find even one photograph," he said, his voice cracking.  "It's like she never existed." 

 

She left the computer and went to encircle him.  His breath was hot with grief, his hands grabbing at the silky folds of her robe.  She rested her cheek against his warm skin and thought of Melissa's photograph in her wallet, slowly fading away. 

 

Losing a sister meant losing part of your childhood.  She and Melissa had argued over every sweater, cassette tape and square inch of space in the half-dozen tiny bedrooms they had shared.  But each time they had to pick up and move, Melissa was the one to reassure her in the dark: don’t worry, it will be like home again soon.  Now Melissa was gone, and there was no one left on earth who knew about the desperate crush she’d had on Danny Trevecchio in the sixth grade.

 

She’d left Melissa behind now, silent as her grave, along with everything and everyone else from the past she had abandoned in order to become this new person, the one she might have been all along.  Sometimes, she almost believed it was true.  But just then, as she held him, her gaze wandered the room beyond his quivering shoulder, and she realized: there were no pictures of her, either.

 

* * * * 

 

"What are you doing here?" he asked, and from his couch, Diana gave a wry smile.  This was his standard greeting for her, it seemed; no matter where she happened to be, he always questioned her right to be there.  He'd been running, another constant these days.   

 

"I brought dinner," she said, nodding towards the Chinese food containers sitting in his kitchen.  "I imagine you've worked up quite an appetite." 

 

He ducked into the bathroom and she heard the tap running.    When he emerged, he was toweling off his damp head and frowning at her.  "I'd love to, but I still have to get the paperwork done on the McEckerson background check.  If it's not done by tomorrow, Kersh is going to want to know what exactly I've been doing with my time."  

 

"Look, if it's a problem for you, I can stop bringing you in on our cases.  Spender would be grateful, I think, to have the X-Files office pared down to its official two-person staff.  You can spend here to eternity doing background checks." 

 

She said it because she knew the words were hollow; he knew it too because he didn't bother to argue.  That he could be so cavalier now rankled her.  Fox Mulder liked to piss and moan about the things he had sacrificed for the X-files, but she had become a different person so that his search could continue.  "I thought the plan was to get Spender out." 

 

He walked to the kitchen and took out two bottles of beer, wordlessly offering her one.  She accepted.  "It's still the plan, but these things take time."   

 

"It's been almost two years.  I'm beginning to think you like the little weasel."  He paused to take a long drink of beer.  "Or maybe, you just like being the boss of me.  You get to call all the shots in this arrangement." 

 

"Not all of them."  She stepped closer and ran a hand over his chest, the T-shirt still warm and damp with sweat.  She'd swear he liked the sex as much as she did, but sometimes he said no anyway, probably just to prove he could.  He extracted himself from her embrace and drained the last of his bottle. 

 

"You were handed the X-files as a punishment to me, not because you earned them." 

 

"Oh, I earned them," she said in such a tone that he snapped to attention.  "I was there at the beginning.  I was there when things went to hell, and I damned sure helped put your Humpty Dumpty back together again." 

 

His shoulders drooped, the fight leaving him.  He reached one long finger and touched her chest through her blouse, right where the bullet had left its mark.  "I'm going crazy," he murmured.  "I'll go out of my skin if something doesn't change soon.  I can't live like this forever." 

 

"So you'll what...quit your job?  Move to Utah?  How would that help your cause, exactly?"  He pulled back his hand as if burned and she knew she'd gone too far.  Utah was a place they did not talk about, ever, although she sometimes caught him staring at his US map and wondered what he was thinking. 

 

"I won't be your back alley consultant forever," he said.   You need to find a way to fix it or I will.  If that means leaving the FBI for Utah or Kansas or outer Zimbabwe, then that's what I'll do." 

 

*** 

 

It was still dark when they took to the sky, dawn just threatening to break the clouds.  Scully still traveled for work on occasion, but it had been a long time since she was on a flight like this, with dread waiting on the other end.  Ruben took her hand and leaned his head back against the seat.  Dry-eyed and world-weary, he looked much as he had the night they'd met, over a dead ten year-old boy.  Her job was to establish the manner and cause of death - homicide by drowning - and his was to prosecute the killer.  But the boy had no name and the cops could never find the guilty party.  So Scully's part was over while Ruben's remained unfinished, a sad file tucked in his desk drawer. 

 

"I should have tried harder," he said, startling her from her memory.  "After the divorce, it must have been so hard for her, a single mom with two kids, but I know she must have been killing herself to make it up to them.  When we were little she used to take in stray animals -- half dead birds, the cat with one eye.  Our parents finally said enough but that just meant Annie had to sneak them food out in the back yard.  God, she was the sweetest little thing back then." 

 

"When was the last time you saw her?" 

 

"Four years ago."  He reached out to fiddle with the latch on the tray table.  "I drove out to see her, Jack, and the kids, and she was acting funny the whole time.  She'd started seeing some shrink who apparently thought she needed to explore her past – something about repressed memories of what had happened to her when she was a kid.  Jack said she'd started having nightmares, but she wouldn't talk to me about it. I guess, uh, I guess you could say I wasn’t very supportive.  What the hell was the point of dredging up her past, especially if it was just making her crazy? We argued about it, and I decided to give her some space, figuring she'd come around again.  But she never did." 

 

"I'm sorry," she said, covering her hand with his. 

 

"I wish I could say that to her," he replied.  "Just one more time." 

 

He sighed and squeezed her hand.  "Thanks for coming with me, Dana.  It means a lot.  You're the closest thing to family I've got around these parts."  She smiled but then looked away.  More and more, he'd been talking about family with her, about children and a future, and she knew she had to find a way to tell him - she wasn't sure they could have either. 

 

By the time they arrived at the morgue, the sun was climbing the sky, on its way to a sizzling summer day.  Scully hid behind her dark glasses as they exited the rental car and prepared herself for the ugliness she knew was inside.  

 

A balding man in a gray suit was waiting to greet them.  He smelled like spearmint gum but he wasn't chewing it.  "Ruben Cetera?  I'm Sheriff Mike Holloway.  Thanks for coming down so quickly." 

 

"Of course," Ruben said, turning to her.  "This is Dana Scully." 

 

"Ma'am," Holloway replied.  "Can I get you folks anything to drink?  Coffee?  Water, soda?" 

 

"No, thank you," said Ruben.  "I'd just like to get this over with if that's okay." 

 

"Certainly.  Come this way.  The elevator is back here." 

 

"Can you tell me what happened?" Ruben asked as they waited. 

 

"Why don't we save that conversation for a little bit later?   I promise I'll tell you all I can." 

 

They stood in awkward silence in the stainless steel cage as it descended into the bowels of the building. "I'll just go let them know you're here," Holloway said.  "Be back in a moment, okay?" 

 

Scully rubbed Ruben's arm as he took a deep breath.  "I can wait outside if you like.  Your call." 

 

"I'd like you to come in, if that's okay.  You're more used to this than I am.  Maybe you can see something I won't."  He forced a grimace.  "And I'm not liable to hear anything past 'is this your sister?'" 

 

She gave a quick mental ‘thank you’ that she had never had to endure this with Melissa.  "Mr. Cetera?  We're ready when you are."  Holloway held open the door at the end of the hall.  Ruben reached the threshold first and then slowly entered the room.  She felt him stiffen and heard his smothered gasp.   "Oh, God," he breathed.  "Annie."  He froze, blocking her view, and she was forced to step out around him. 

 

Across the room, perhaps 15 feet away, lay a woman with half her face swollen beyond recognition.  Scully saw long, dark hair and a single white arm sticking out from under the sheet.  She took a step forward, and the movement seemed to awaken Ruben. 

 

"That's her," he said, approaching the body.   "That's my sister.  What the hell happened to you, baby?" 

 

Scully walked around to see the woman from the other side, and yes, she was clearly Caucasian, with skin so pale it was almost translucent.  "We're so sorry for your loss," someone said.  

 

"No," Scully murmured as she looked again, and woman’s face came fully into view.  It just couldn't be.  She crept a little closer and made herself look.  You're seeing things, she told herself.  It's not possible. 

 

"Dana?" 

 

The face from the bridge, she realized as she folded over on a gasp.  As cold and as scared as she'd been, Scully would never forget it.  Even half gone, one side purpled with bruises, the features were unmistakable.  Dimly, she was aware she was making a scene, but her heart was threatening to claw its way out of her throat.  She couldn't speak.    "We should get her out of here." 

 

Someone grabbed her by the arm and she felt herself moving but she couldn't tear her gaze from the body.  "No," she managed, fighting them off. 

 

"Dana, it's okay."  Ruben tried to pull her against his chest. 

 

"I know her."  She was shaking now, and her knees had locked to keep her upright.  "I know that woman." 

 

"You know Annie?" 

 

"Annie?” said a disembodied voice.  “I thought her name was Samantha.”


 

 Chapter Two  

 

They sat in a small windowless office in the basement, each with a half-drunk cup of water, silent under the heavy churn of the air conditioning unit.  The noise vibrated Scully's bones and she longed for the peace and quiet of her previous basement, where the thick concrete walls generally kept the summer heat at bay.    The scar in her neck itched, the way it always did when she was nervous; or maybe it burned, like a homing device, because she surely was back home again, despite being two thousand miles away from the place where she had started. 

 

Ruben hadn't really looked at her since they'd entered the room, content instead to destroy the waxy rim of his paper cup using one stubby fingernail.  "So," he said finally, "what was that all about back there?  Are you going to tell me how you knew Annie?" 

 

Here, away from the body, she could almost make it not true.   The woman's face looked like hamburger meat, almost unrecognizable.  It had been more than four years since that terrible night on the bridge.  The woman could be anyone, except of course, for the name.  Scully swallowed with difficulty. "They said her name was Samantha." 

 

"Samantha was her first name, but growing up, she liked to be called by her middle name, Ann.  You still haven't answered my question." 

 

"I was once on a case that involved a woman who looked very much like her, a woman who also called herself Samantha." 

 

"What case?  When?  You're saying Annie's been in trouble before?" 

 

Scully shook her head.  "The resemblance is striking but it's not...it can’t be the same person." 

 

"How can you be sure?" 

 

"The other woman died, Ruben.  She...drowned."  And then melted.  Scully cast a look at the door and wondered if she should warn the men on the other side that their victim might start emitting a noxious green gas at any moment. 

 

The blood was real, she told herself.  You saw it.  This is not the same thing.  But Mulder's voice, after all this time, rang clear in her head: clones, Scully, there were at least five of them, maybe more.  The one in the river wasn't her, but somewhere there's got to be the original.    She cleared her throat, ignoring her hot cheeks and the buzzing in her ears.  She forced herself to say the words that had gotten her into so much trouble before.  "Tell me more about your sister."   

 

"I don't really know where to begin.  She was already living with the Ceteras when I got there and they adopted us both about a year later.  She used to hang off my top bunk bed like it was a jungle gym but I let her sleep up there anyway because she sometimes had nightmares.  She didn't like to talk about her first home and our Mom said it was because she'd been abused there.  She said that's why we should call her Annie, like she asked, because she was making a new life for herself and a fresh start called for a new name."  His face crumpled and he sniffed hard to control himself.  "You think maybe she had a sister?" he asked. "Possibly a twin, even, and that's the woman from your previous case?" 

 

Scully was saved from answering by the reappearance of Detective Holloway.  "Sorry to interrupt you folks but I have some questions I need to ask Mr. Cetera."  Ruben crushed the remnants of his paper cup with one hand and made an easy toss into a dented metal wastebasket.

 

 

"I'll answer your questions but I don't know how much help I can be.  I haven't talked to her in almost three years now." 

 

"You mind if I ask why that is?" 

 

"We were already busy, you know, leading separate lives – me in Salt Lake City, and her with her family in L.A..  But we talked on the phone sometimes, and she’d send me pictures of her kids, that sort of thing.  Then one day she called up and asked for my help.  She wanted to find her first family, the ones who had abused her and landed in her foster care to begin with.  I said there was no way I was going to help her go back down that path.  Do you know how many kids get adopted at our age? Two preteens with a ton of baggage? The odds are less than one in a hundred.  We had two parents who loved us, and she wanted to throw that back in their faces."  His face flushed.  Scully could see how angry he was about this imagined betrayal even now, and Holloway didn't miss it either.   

 

"I see," he said, making a couple of notes.  "And do you know if her search was successful?" 

 

"Last I heard, it wasn't, at least that's what she told our parents.  But I didn't ask for regular updates on that particular topic.  Why?  Do you think she found them and that's who did this to her?" 

 

"I've no reason to believe so at the moment.  What can you tell me about her ex-husband?" 

 

"They split last year.  Jack always seemed like a nice guy to me, though I gather from my parents that he was kind of a dick to Annie during the divorce.  He's a fibbie, like Dana here, but I suppose you know that already." 

 

Holloway raised bushy eyebrows at her.  "You're FBI?" 

 

"Uh, yes.  Forensic pathology." 

 

"And you say you knew the victim?" 

 

Scully hesitated and smoothed a non-existent wrinkle from her pants.  "No, I was mistaken," she said.  "She strongly resembles a woman I knew back when I worked in Washington, but that woman is deceased." 

 

He waited a beat, his pen poised on the pad. "I can see why you were startled then.  Listen, Agent Scully, would you mind giving me some time to talk with Mr. Cetera alone?" 

 

Scully met his gaze and he gave her a slight nod, almost like a secret signal between two law enforcement officers.  I’ll be the good cop this time.

 

She wasn't sure if she was being removed due to her personal connection with Ruben or her professional connection to the dead woman's husband, but she wanted to try to get another look at the body anyway.  "I'll just be outside," she said, laying a hand on Ruben's arm.  He patted her distractedly, as his attention was still focused on Holloway. 

 

"Are you looking at Jack for this?  Is that why he's not here?" 

 

"We've spoken to him and he's on his way," was the last thing Scully heard as she closed the door on her way out. 

 

It had been years since she'd pushed her way into a morgue uninvited and perhaps she was a bit rusty.  The ME, a heavyset man wearing a plastic apron and goggles, looked up in alarm the second she stepped through the doors.  "You can't be in here," he told her. 

 

She saw the body had been cleaned for autopsy.  "I'm a pathologist with the FBI," she said as she took out her identification.  The ME didn't so much as glance at it. 

 

"I don't care if you're J. Edgar himself dressed in drag," he said.  "Get the hell out of here." 

 

So Scully was sitting on a bench in the hallway when a tall man came crashing through the doors.  He wore sunglasses and expensive looking clothes that reeked of cigarette smoke.   "Who are you?" he demanded when he saw her. 

 

"Special Agent Dana Scully," she said, trying her identification again. 

 

He removed the sunglasses and stepped closer, towering over her.  It was then she noticed his holster.  "FBI?  Who sent you?"  She got up and around him to reclaim her personal space. 

 

"No one sent me.  You are?" 

 

He flashed his own ID.  "Jack Milgram, LA Bureau.  They told me to talk to a Detective Holloway about my wife.  She was brought here sometime last night." 

 

"Your wife," Scully repeated, though she could guess already who he was. 

 

"Samantha Milgram.  Is she here?  I want to see her." 

 

"I wouldn't..." 

 

But he was already charging through the doors.  "Hey!"  She heard the ME yell and figured she'd take advantage of the confusion to steal another look. 

 

"This isn't a sideshow and I ain't selling tickets.  I'm telling you like I told her -- get the hell out of here." 

 

"That's my wife."  Jack Milgram had stopped short in the middle of the room, sunglasses still dangling from one hand.

 

"Oh, hey, I'm sorry," the ME said, his demeanor softening somewhat.  "But you still can't be here right now." 

 

"He's right, Agent Milgram," Scully said.  "You don't want to see this." 

 

A bitter divorce, an apparent hot temper - she was fairly certain Milgram would be needing a good alibi.  "Who the hell are you people to tell me what I want?  This is the mother of my children, for Christ's sake, and someone has slaughtered her like a common animal.  I damn sure need some answers." 

 

"You'll get your answers," the ME told him.  "But not until I do my work and that isn't happening until you get the heck out of here." 

 

Milgram turned and looked her up and down.  "You look like you've been around the block a few times.  What's your beat at the Bureau?"

"Forensic pathology." 

 

"Perfect."  He waved his sunglasses at her.  "I'll go, but she's staying." 

 

"The hell she is." 

 

"I want someone from the agency at least observing this autopsy.  No offense, Doctor, I'm sure you're perfectly skilled, but she's my wife and I'm calling the shots." 

 

"You've got no authority here." 

 

"Don't worry, I can get it."  He was already on his cell phone.  "Don't you let her body out of your sight," he said to Scully.  "Tony, it's Milgram.  I need your help with something." 

 

"Your friend is charming," the ME said as he went to get a fresh pair of gloves. 

 

"We’re not friends. I've known him for all of five minutes."  He gave her a skeptical look from the far side of the body.  

 

"You're really a forensic pathologist?" 

 

"Trained at Quantico." 

 

"With Gil Riley?" 

 

"The very same." 

 

"Gil's pretty sharp," he replied grudgingly.  "If you talk to him, tell him Bob Bartleby said hi, ok?  I guess it can't hurt to let you watch, but just stay out of the way." 

 

Scully put on a gown, goggles and gloves and took her place silently.  Up close, there was no denying it.  This was the same face from the night at the bridge.  She recalled Mulder's words as they had pulled the previous Samantha from the cold Potomac waters: "I think she's still alive." 

 

"The deceased has been identified as Samantha Milgram, age 36 years old.  Height is five foot five, weight at one hundred and twenty-five pounds."  Scully walked to the end of the body to view it from a new angle.  Outside of the violent beating, there was nothing out of the ordinary.  She had contusions on both forearms, probably from trying to defend herself from the attacker.   But there was nothing to suggest she was a clone.  Of course, since cloned humans didn't actually exist to her knowledge, there was nothing in the medical literature about how to spot one.  She leaned down to study the part of the face that was still there.  Samantha Milgram had remarkably clear skin, with very little sun damage.  That could indicate good genes or a reduced period of exposure. 

 

"Excuse me," Bartleby said pointedly, and she stood aside.   "Cause of death is blunt force trauma to the head, resulting in a left orbital fracture and three separate skull fractures." 

 

"Any idea about the weapon?" Scully asked. 

 

"Something heavy, swung with a lot of force.  I haven't pulled any splinters out of her hair so I would guess we're not looking at a wooden weapon.  Maybe a pipe or an aluminum bat, something of that nature.  I'm sure you're used to seeing more exotic homicides given your work with the Bureau." 

 

She'd frozen everything, left her old life just like that, with burns on her face and a dim memory of Mulder behind a wall of ice yelling her name.  Only in her dreams did she thaw, painful crystals dissolving at last as she remembered the warmth of his palm against her face.

 

Life on the X-files had brought a mutant a minute, but it turned out that when you weren't looking for it, you didn't see monster men come crawling out of the sewers or regrow heads or disappear into a pile of ash on the carpet.    Dana Scully, M.D., looked at the body before her and saw a grisly but ordinary murder.  She could walk away and let the local boys clean up after this one.   

 

But Special Agent Scully was already talking, the script familiar but the words distasteful. "We should scan the body for imbedded metal." 

 

Bartleby widened his eyes behind the thick goggles.  "There's no evidence of a gunshot here." 

 

"I'm not suggesting she's been shot.  I think you should check both the nasal pharyngeal passages and the base of her neck for a computer chip." 

 

"Look, I don't know what sort of game you're playing here..." 

 

"Fine, I can do it myself."  She moved to ready the X-ray, but he grabbed her arm. 

 

"The hell you will.  You're just an observer here, remember?   I can still have you tossed out on your keister, FBI or no FBI.   You're in my house now and I make the rules." 

 

"X-ray the body."  She met and held his gaze, and something he saw in her eyes made him let her go. 

 

"It will just take a second," she said. "I'm sure Agent Milgram would appreciate your cooperation." 

 

He threw up his hands in defeat.  "Fine.  You want an X-ray?   We can check out all her fillings." 

 

He performed the test and together they studied the film.   Samantha Milgram had two fillings in her back molars and a small, oblong piece of metal lodged in her left sinus cavity.   Bartleby's face was ashen in the eerie white light.  "Who the hell are you again?" 

 

"Do me a favor," she said.  "Don't tell anyone about this.   Not Detective Holloway, not even Agent Milgram." 

 

"What is this thing?  You said it was a computer chip?   Should I remove it?" 

 

"Leave it for now," she said, already walking away.  "I'll be back." 

 

"Hey!  Hey, you can't just leave now!" 

 

She took out her cell phone and went back to the quiet hallway, where she leaned against the cold wall and took several deep breaths. Ruben said there was nothing to be gained from mucking around in your past, but hers was rising up to meet her like quicksand.  She braced herself and dialed the number.

 

"Mom," she said with relief when the call rang through.  "It's me." 

 

"Dana!"  Maggie Scully sounded both pleased and surprised to hear from her.  "How are you?" 

 

Scully halted, momentarily thrown off her game.  When had her mother stopped asking, "Is everything all right?" at the start of every phone call.  "Mom, I need you to do me a favor.  You remember that letter I gave you?  I need you to send to me right away, same day express mail if possible."  She checked her watch and saw it was still only nine-thirty in the morning back east.  There was a long pause on the other end. 

 

"You said not to give it back to you." 

 

"That was before.  I need it now. I need you to have it sent to the Las Vegas Coroner's office." 

 

"Las Vegas?  Dana, what's going on?  Are you all right?" 

 

"I'm fine, Mom.  I just need you to send the letter." 

 

"The one from Fox Mulder."  As if there could ever be another. 

 

Scully waited a beat, felt the world slipping away.  "Yes," she said as she eyed the doors to the morgue.  "The one from Mulder." 

 

*** 

 

In his short-sleeved, button-down and khaki shorts, Scotty Griffith looked more like a tourist than a local, but that suited him just fine as he mixed among the scattered afternoon crowd at the MGM Grand.  The ostentatious adult funhouses all strove to be bigger and brighter on the outside, but down in the belly they were all alike: dark carpeting, no windows, and a maze of one-armed bandits with the same electronic siren call.  The law now demanded the casinos provide smoke-free rooms, but the stale smell of years gone by clung to every draped corner.  Two years of working with Dot had taught him to keep his eyes open, so he checked out every face as he walked by; a pair of old ladies in velvet track suits gossiped as they worked the video poker; a balding man with a faded Lakers T-shirt cussed out the dollar slots.  Scott saw college kids, tourists from the deep South - "honey, yew've got to come try this mahchine; it's based on Gilligan's Island!" - and a bride and groom ignoring each other in favor of a Keno game. 

 

No one matched the photo in his pocket.  "Excuse me," he said as he stopped a waitress carrying a tray of empty glasses.   "Have you seen this woman in here at all?" 

 

"Nope, sorry," she said after barely a glance.  "Lost your girlfriend, did ya?" 

 

"Something like that.  Thanks."  He'd pulled the picture in and out so many times it was starting to look a little worn around the edges.  Dot had said it was possible this lady didn't want to be found, and so far, his investigation was backing that up. 

 

He went to the front desk and was glad to see Marty Warren was working.  "Go away, we don't want any," Marty said without looking up, but he was smiling.  Scotty leaned over the counter like an overgrown kid.  

 

"Marty, how's it going?"  "Man, you would not believe what happened ot me last night.  I was playing this fish and he's on full tilt, right?  Bet a pair of fives with a nine kicker, I shit you not.  So next hand I draw a big slick and damned if the same dude isn't re-raising me like he's sitting on the rainbow and its pot of gold.  I go all in and the asshole has a backdoor straight." 

 

"Better to be lucky than good," Scotty said. 

 

"What the shit you know about it?  You ain't either.  Hey, you up for a game tomorrow night?  One of our regulars is out-of-town courtesy of the LVPD." 

 

"No, thanks.  I'm working a case." 

 

"Figured as much.  Who's shagging who now?" 

 

"This woman is missing," Scotty said, offering up the picture.  "Her name is Stephanie Jameson and I'm trying to find out if she stayed here." 

 

"She don't look familiar to me, but let me check with the computer."  He hit a few keys and shook his head. 

 

"No, man, I'm sorry.  We've got no Jamesons here now or in the last week." 

 

"Thanks for trying.  Keep your eyes and ears out, huh?  I've got a bad feeling about this one." 

 

"Will do, Scotty."  Outside, the sun was frying the strip into a shimmering mirage, heat radiating back off the concrete and drying everyone's eyeballs.  The local thermometer threatened to break one hundred and fifteen today.  Scotty paused to put on his sunglasses, not eager to leave the cool mister that sprayed the valets and bellhops every few seconds. 

 

"Feels like you're in a goddamn hot house, don't it?"  The doorman tugged at the collar of his shirt.  "I don't care how dry they say the heat is.  Once you get over one-ten, you might as well be cooking from the inside out." 

 

"Don't I know it," Scotty said.  "I've been to seven hotels today and each one it's harder to leave the air conditioning behind." 

 

"Seven hotels?  You must be really particular about your room." 

 

"No, I'm a PI.  I'm looking for this woman.  You haven't seen her by any chance?  We got a lead she might be checked in to one of the strip hotels." 

 

The doorman took a long look at the picture.  "You know, she looks real familiar.  I know I've seen her someplace." 

 

"Do you remember where?  Or when?" 

 

"It wasn't too recent.  I don't think she was a guest here..."  He stopped and grinned.  "Oh, yeah, I got her now.   I didn't recognize her with her clothes on.  She's a stripper.  Works out of the Foxy Lady, I'm pretty sure." 

 

*** 

 

They lay fully clothed on top of the bedspread, curtains drawn and one small lamp illuminated.  "It's not even six yet," Ruben said.  "I shouldn't be this tired." 

 

"You didn't get much sleep last night," Scully reminded him.   "And it's been a long day." 

 

"June twenty-eighth," he mused.  "Not far from the longest day of the year.  They're not even sure yet which day she died, whether it was early yesterday or late the day before.   What do you put on the headstone in cases like that?"  Scully had no answer. 

 

"Have you called your parents yet?" 

 

"No, I had better do that.  I just can't imagine how to tell them.  They used to wait up for us when we were teenagers.   The car would pull up in the drive and their bedroom light would go out.  Kids were home, time to get some sleep.  My father pretty much yawned through Annie's junior year of high school.  This is just going to kill them." 

 

She reached for his hand and squeezed it.  "I'm sorry."  It was an apology in advance, for what she had to do. 

 

"I'm glad you're here," he told her with a half-smile.  "I'm glad Jack had you watch the autopsy to make sure nothing was overlooked.  Thank you for doing that." 

 

She withdrew her hand.  "You don't need to thank me." 

 

"At least you can be of use here.  Holloway must have asked me a couple of hundred questions and I couldn't answer half of them.  We both know how this works, Dana.  If someone got close enough to do that to Annie, it was personal.  She probably knew the guy.  The cops want to know as much as possible about her life and all I can tell them is what she was doing three years ago.  If I'd stayed in touch more..." 

 

"Don't.  You can't blame yourself." 

 

"Absent any evidence to the contrary, I certainly can.  At best, I'm guilty of negligence.  I walked away from her at time she could have used my support."   

 

"Sometimes you have to walk away." 

 

"That's bullshit.  I am not going to be one of those guys who feeds himself a load of crap excuses.  I'm going to face what I've done and try to make it up to her the only way I can, by helping catch the animal who did this to her."  He rolled off the bed and started unbuttoning his shirt with quick, angry motions.  "I'm going to take a shower and then...call my folks, I guess.  I wish there were some way to  tell them in person, but I can't ask them to get on a plane,  knowing there is terrible news at the other end and not  knowing what it is.  Maybe if I stand under the hot water long enough, the right words will come to me." 

 

He closed the bathroom door behind him with a quiet click, and Scully lay alone in the empty room.  It was nicer than any of the ones she ever stayed at with Mulder, with soft sheets, heavy drapes, and a working thermostat.    Unbidden, came a memory from their first year together, the early days where they always seemed to be sharing a too-small umbrella.  He'd smelled like wet cotton and sun-flower seed salt, towering over her in his great black coat.  One day he'd pushed her too far and they'd eaten dinner in their separate gray motel rooms.  Then after dark, just as she'd turned out the light, came the knock on their shared wall: shave-and-a- hair-cut.  That he'd been there, watching light from under her door, made her smile.  She'd answered back: two bits. 

 

The letter was in her suitcase now, inside a Fed Ex envelope from her mother.  Scully retrieved it with shaking hands and paused to look at the closed bathroom door where Ruben had gone. The sound of the rushing shower gave her cover as she tore open the weak cardboard package.  Attached was a slip of paper with the letterhead: from the desk of Margaret Scully.  "Be sure you really want this.  Some doors, once opened, cannot be shut again.  Love, Mom." 

 

Underneath was a sealed white envelope with no writing on the outside.  He hadn't even given it to her in person.  Instead, she'd found it slipped under her front door the morning of her departure.  Fox Mulder was not one for drawn-out good- byes.  She'd looked for him at the airport, waited for her phone to ring; for months she'd held her breath at every sound outside her apartment, certain he'd come to object, but he never had.  Her mother probably thought she'd been dying for the letter all this time.  In truth, she hadn't wanted to know, hadn't wanted to give him the last word.  She didn't need to read the letter; she could get what she needed without knowing the contents.  But once it was in her hands... 

 

She caught her breath at the familiar script and nearly fumbled the pages away.  There was no salutation, just a slim piece of paper taped to the top with the message:  Only half of what you know is true. 

 

Then Mulder's handwriting continued:   I got this in a fortune cookie the day before you were assigned to work with me.  I didn't even realize I'd kept it until about six months later, when I found it with a Wintergreen Lifesaver at the bottom of my coat pocket.  I thought it was crap, and particularly useless crap, because what is the point in knowing that half of your knowledge is wrong if you don't know which half?  Then you came along and your assessment seemed much lower.   If you believed 10 percent of what I said, we were having a good day.  So I kept saving it because I thought it was funny.  It took years of arguing, but I want you to know I finally understand the point.  You don't have to know which half is right -- the point is to question everything.  There was a time when I didn't think I could do this job with you at my side.  Then quickly there was a time when I thought the opposite.  Now I don't know what to think, but maybe, at last, I can finally accept that as a good thing.  M. 

 

She swiped at the tears in her eyes and shoved the letter back in her bag.  The envelope she took with her.  She paused to write a vague note to Ruben and drove their rental car to the morgue.  As she had imagined, Bartleby was still there. 

 

"I need another favor," she said. 

 

"Not until I get some answers." 

 

"That's what I'm trying to attain."  She handed him the envelope.  "I need to test the DNA on this against Samantha Milgram's, and I need it in a hurry." 

 

"That's an expensive proposition." 

 

"It's important, and I'd prefer not to go through the Bureau on this."

 

"If I do this for you, I'm going to need some answers." 

 

She folded her arms.  "Such as?" 

 

"Such as what the hell is with that metal implant and how did you know to even look for it?" 

 

"I've seen similar cases before.  As to the implant's purpose, I can only speculate.  Some think it's a tracking device.  Others suggest it's involved in mind control." 

 

"Mind control?  Are you shitting me?" 

 

"And you might want to consider moving Samantha Milgram to an unmarked location." 

 

"Why would I want to do that?"  "Because the people who put that implant there just might want it back.  Run the test, and put a rush on it."  God help her if there wasn't a match.  God help them all if there was. 

 


 

Chapter Three

 

In a town famous for oddities, they were still a most unlikely party of three: the ex-husband, the ex-brother, and Scully, who had never met the dead woman but perhaps knew more about her than either of the two men.   Scully and Jack Milgram each had black coffee, mostly untouched, while Ruben's emptied packets of cream and sugar littered the table in front of them.  Ruben liked coffee only in theory, Scully had said more than once.  The closer it got to coffee ice cream, the happier he was; Scully often teased that he should just order the mocha latte full fat whipped cream with sprinkles girly drink since that's what he really wanted anyway.  Ruben always retorted that real men didn't order sprinkles on their coffee. 

 

"I did some checking on my own," Milgram said, "and they had another murder last month that showed a number of similarities.  A woman about Sam's age, alone in her motel room, strangled not beaten, with nothing else disturbed and  no signs of struggle or forced entry.  The case is cold already but this might get it back on the fire.  I'm going to push for Bureau involvement and see if I can't get things moving." 

 

"I don't understand what she was doing here in the first place," Ruben said. 

 

"Yeah, well, she hadn't been herself in some time.  She used to be the perfect mom.  The kids were clean, well-dressed, and happy.  She lived for them.  Then she took up with that shrink, and her behavior became erratic.  Missed appointments.  Drinking wine with dinner and then finishing the bottle afterward, you know what I mean? Then a few months ago they start coming back to me wearing the same clothes I sent them off in.  I ask them, 'how's your mom?' and they make excuses for her.  She's busy, she's tired.  I showed up there once to pick them up and they were parked in front of the TV, watching The Godfather of all things, and Samantha was nowhere to be found.  She arrived ten minutes later saying she just had to run to the store but she'd told a neighbor to look in on them." 

 

"She's a single mom now," Ruben said.  "Things maybe aren't so easy for her.  If you hadn't have left..." 

 

"She didn't have any groceries with her," Milgram interrupted.  "If she went to the store, where were the damned groceries?" 

 

"That's why you were trying to take the kids from her?  Over some missing groceries?" 

 

"Ruben," Scully said, laying a hand on his arm.  He shook her off. 

 

"No, my parents told me the whole story.  He's the one who was cheating.  He's the one who ran out on her, and then he wanted the kids too.  No wonder she was going out of her mind." 

 

"You don't know what you're talking about.  Your parents heard only what Sam wanted to tell them, and she was probably feeding them the same line of bull I was getting."  He stood abruptly, chair skidding over the faux tile floor.  "Excuse me, Agent Scully, but I need some air."  He had his cigarettes out before he'd cleared the door, and she watched as he paced and smoked along the outside of the storefront.

 

Ruben sat back, nearly upending their table, and ran both hands through his hair.  "Annie loved those kids, Dana.  She never would have done anything to hurt them, and it would have killed her if Jack took them away for good.  This person that Jack is describing, that wasn’t Annie." 

 

She thought of waking up in a burn unit with singed eyebrows and no memory of the people who had gone up in flames around her.  "You said yourself you hadn't talked to her in a while," she said to Ruben.  "It's possible she was going through something you didn't understand." 

 

"No.  No, I won't believe that.  You didn't know her.  She would never hurt her kids." 

 

Her cell phone rang and when she saw the ID read LV Coroner, she turned her back to Ruben to answer it.  "This is Scully." 

 

"Agent Scully, this is Dr. Bartleby.  I have the results of the PCR test you requested.  Samples show twenty-seven percent of alleles in common." 

 

"Wait, did you say a twenty-seven percent match?" 

 

"I ran it twice.  Then I ran them both through CODIS and came up empty.  Now do you want to tell me what the hell is going on here?" 

 

"I will," she said.  "But there is someone else I have to tell first."

 

******* 

 

Mulder clicked through the computerized file on Michael Caufield, forcing himself to pay attention.  This was his job now, reading other people's field reports to determine which of these yahoos might pose a risk to national security.  Most of the information was collected by junior agents, but frankly, he thought they got the better end of the deal.  At least they got to leave the building on occasion.  His cell phone rang from inside the jacket he had draped over the back of his chair.  He removed it, only to fumble when he saw the glowing little box on the front read D. Scully.  The phone hit the floor and spun off under his desk. 

 

"Shit," Mulder muttered as it continued to ring.  He flailed around with one arm until he made contact, and his answer was breathless, "Hello?" 

 

"Mulder?" She sounded unsure, despite the fact that she had called him.

 

"Uh, yeah," he replied as he sank back down into his chair.   He managed to upend a container of pencils in the process. 

 

"It's me.  I mean, it's Dana Scully.  Is this a bad time?" 

 

"No, no, of course not."  He felt out-of-time, actually, floating and strange.  His mouth went dry and his heart hammered against his breastbone.  "What, uh, what's up, Scully?" 

 

"You changed your phone number.  I had to go through the Bureau to get the new one." 

 

"You always did know how to find me." 

 

There was a long beat of silence on her end, during which he only heard the pounding of his heart. "Mulder,” she said finally, “I don't know quite how to say this.  I'm in Las Vegas and there's a case here that I'm afraid may involve you." 

 

"An X-file?" 

 

"I'm not entirely sure yet.  A woman has been murdered but the cause of death looks straightforward at the moment.  However, I have my suspicions about whether that will hold up with closer examination."

"Well, give me the details.  Maybe I can help." 

 

"I'd rather not talk on the phone." 

 

"You want me to get a secure line?" 

 

"No."  She hesitated for what seemed like a million years.   "I think you should come out here, Mulder." 

 

"Come...to you?" 

 

"I wouldn't ask if I didn't think it was important." 

 

"No, I know.  It's just that, well, I don't know if you ever heard but I'm not actually on the X-files." 

 

"Oh?"  So many layers in one small word.  Go ahead, he thought, let me have it.  But instead she said, "It doesn't matter.  Your interest in this case is potentially more personal than professional anyway." 

 

"Personal?  And you can't tell me anything more?  I don't hear from you in two years, and then all of a sudden you ask me to jump on a plane, no questions asked." 

 

"The fact that it's been two years and I am the one making this phone call should tell you how important this is." 

 

"Can I get a hint at least?  This dead woman, does she have a name?" 

 

There was a long pause on the other end.  "She's identified as Samantha Milgram." 

 

"Her name is Samantha?" 

 

"Just get here when you can, okay?  I'll explain everything then." 

 

He sat back in his chair, dazed. "All right, I'll be there as soon as I can."   

 

They never said good-bye.  Mulder was already in motion, shutting down his computer with one hand as he grabbed his suit coat with the other.  Diana and Spender were coming in the main doors, back from whatever adventure did not include him, and Diana stopped him with a touch on the arm.  "You look like you're in a hurry." 

 

"I'm going out of town," he said as he pulled free.  Spender watched the whole interaction with bored eyes. 

 

"Where?" she asked.  "Do you have some kind of assignment?" 

 

"Vegas.  It's not for work." 

 

"Don't tell me you've taken up gambling." 

 

He thought of how many Samanthas he had chased in his lifetime and considered the long odds that this one would come up lucky.  "Something like that." 

 

She grabbed hold of him again.  "Well, if you wait a bit, maybe I can arrange to go with you.  I have a little vacation time saved up." 

 

"No."  He broke her grasp and headed for the door.  "This is something I need to do alone."

 

****** 

 

Dot knew several of the girls working out of the Foxy Lady so odds were good she'd find a familiar face even at six in the evening.  She should be home putting dinner on the table but when Scotty said their missing rich woman had a job stripping in the sleaziest joint in town, well, Dot had to see that for  herself.

 

The Foxy Lady hadn't changed since the eighties, with its blue lights, brass bars and black vinyl seating.  It was perpetually dark in the windowless lounge where a scattered group of men watched Marcy Cravitz play peek-a-boo with her underwear.  Dot took a seat at the bar and placed a twenty where Marcy could see it.  Sure enough, the girl came dancing her way.   "Hey, Dot haven't seen you around here in a while."

 

"No offense, but I already got what you're selling."  Marcy leaned down to retrieve the twenty, showing off her big tits and her platinum wig.  Dot tried not to notice the needle marks on the girl's arm. 

 

"How's Benji?" 

 

"He's good.  He took a wipeout on his bike last month and broke his arm.  He's driving me crazy about when the cast comes off." 

 

"Poor baby!"  She raised a leg and gave Dot a money shot she hadn't really needed. 

 

The bald fat man from the corner looked up from his cigarette and sports page. "Hey, I don't pay you for talking!" 

 

Marcy gave a shrug, what can you do, but Dot flashed her another twenty.  "I could use your help.  You on break any time soon?" 

 

The girl cast an eye toward the fat man.  "He's supposed to let me off at six-thirty when Kim gets in, but she's been showing up late." 

 

"I can hang around."  Forty for Marcy plus the overtime she'd owe the sitter.  Good thing the man with the fancy car paid well.  "Meet me at the McDonald's down the street." 

 

Benji might forgive her if she showed up with a happy meal.  McDonald's made rotten coffee but she needed a reason to take up space in the corner booth.  She washed it down with an apple pie that had been nuked nearly to death.  Marcy didn't show until nearly seven.  The wig was gone, revealing her naturally stringy brown hair, but the thick makeup remained.

 

"You want anything to eat?" Dot asked her as she slid into the booth. 

 

"Here?  No way.  Fat and calories in this stuff is like poison." 

 

This time Dot did look pointedly at the needle marks. 

 

"If you say so." 

 

"Don't you start with me too." 

 

"I didn't say anything.  Look, I need to know if you recognize this woman.  We heard she might be working at the Foxy Lady.  Have you seen her before?" 

 

Marcy barely needed a glance.  "Cheryl?  Yeah, I've seen her.   She works weekends sometimes.  Not real friendly.  Why, what's she in some kind of trouble?" 

 

"You tell me.  When's the last time you saw her?" 

 

"God, I don't know.  Couple of weeks ago, I guess.  Like I said, we're real close.  She's kind of a tight-ass, acts like she's better than the rest of us.  What’s she to you?" 

 

"A man came into my office saying he was her husband and he's looking for her." 

 

"Husband?  She never said anything about being married.  I didn't see no wedding ring." 

 

"He says her name is Stephanie Jameson.  Does that name sound familiar?" 

 

"Nah, I never heard it before.  A husband, seriously?  I can't imagine being married and still working in that dump.   You get a man to get out, you know what I'm saying?  What's he like?" 

 

"Older guy, well-dressed, about six feet tall.  Likes his cigarettes."

 

"A smoker?  No kidding.  Funny you should say that.  There was a guy who used to come in and watch Cheryl dance.  Kind of creepy if you ask me, but he seemed real into her.  I never saw the guy without a cigarette.  The other girls and I used to call him Old Smokey.  Cheryl didn't seem to mind him, though.  In fact, Shaniqua told me she saw them talking in the back alley one night.  Said Old Smokey seemed to be trying to close the deal." 

 

So the missing wife story was a line of bull, but that didn't explain the picture of the woman with expensive pearls and a nice sweater set.  From the sound of things, Old Smokey had a pretty good idea of where to look for Stephanie Jameson, but for some reason hadn't pointed her in the right direction.  Or then again maybe he had.  He was paying her too much money for it to be a wild goose chase, so wherever this woman was, she had to be long gone from the Foxy Lady. 

 

"If she married that guy, good luck to her," Marcy said with a shudder.  "I still say there are easier ways to earn a quick buck." 

 

****** 

 

On the plane, Mulder sat in the back and waited for takeoff.   The other passengers were still boarding, jostling each other with overstuffed luggage.  He took out his phone and called up her name again just to make sure it was true.  Scully had left quickly for Utah, for which he was grateful, but the traces she left behind disappeared much more slowly.   He'd had her voice on his answering machine for three months before he'd accidentally deleted it. Handwritten Post-It notes – Mulder, sign this before Skinner has us banished to a sub-basement office – cropped up among his files. 

 

That first winter, Diana had picked at the arm of his black wool coat.  "You have a bit of lint," she'd said, and he'd turned just in time to watch a red strand of hair sail into the breeze.  And now, suddenly, here she was again, D. Scully, 555-201- 5973. 

 

He shut his eyes and probed for the memory. It was waiting, loose and worn, like a much-loved novel.  No matter how many times he replayed it, the ending was always the same... 

 

He is back home with his lonely furniture and a wizened tomato slowly decaying in the fridge.  It's so hot the air forgets to move.  His T-shirt sticks like a second skin, and it doesn't seem possible that he nearly froze to death on the far end of the world only a few weeks earlier, when Scully had saved him after he had rescued her.  Or maybe it was the other way around; he is never sure where to start the running tab. 

 

They live in a semi-permanent state of déjà vu; stakeouts and small towns, all ordinary except for the man-beast-deadly-virus-shape-shifting alien treachery taking place in the background.  Villains perish as evidence disappears, and Mulder and Scully always end up right where they started, their case solved but nothing explained.  So he's not surprised to see her come walking right out of his memory, with the same untucked shirt and deadened look in her eyes.  Only this time he has no one to blame but himself. 

 

"The door was open," she says, a hint of disapproval in her voice, as if a single locked door made a damn bit of difference. 

 

"The A/C is out and I'm trying to get a breeze," he answers with a gesture toward the open windows, where the limp curtains made mockery of his plans.  "Hottest day of the year so far and of course this building has no air conditioning.   This place is a dump, Scully.  I should move." 

 

She chuffs a dark laugh because she knows he never will.  He is pathologically unable to move on, even when he knows he should. She's still standing near the door, poised for flight, and a trickle of sweat runs down the back of his neck.  "Mulder, I..." 

 

He sits up abruptly to cut her off.  He stopped her from leaving once, and it's just possible fate will intervene again.  "I have cold beer in the kitchen.  You want a beer, Scully?" 

 

If she's drinking, she can't say the words.  She closes her mouth and then shrugs.  "Why the hell not?"  

 

She slips out of her shoes, becoming one Scully smaller, and follows him silently to the kitchen.  The lights are off to keep the heat down and he decides to leave them that way.  He uses the counter edge to pop open her beer, the lid skittering into his microwave and ricocheting to the floor.  When Scully doesn't pick it up, he knows he is in trouble. 

 

Her mind is already elsewhere, a place he cannot follow.  He stoops to retrieve the cap and then presses the jagged teeth into the soft flesh of his thumb.  "Where were you today?" she asks around a swallow of beer.   "You disappeared on me." 

 

This is almost funny, coming from her, the woman who has  several times vanished on him like the magician's rabbit; he knows if they go on like this one day he will not be able to  abra-cadabra her back into existence again.  "Baseball," he tells her, because it's not a lie.  "Yankees- Orioles.  The guys bought tickets a few weeks ago to try to cheer me up." 

 

"I thought you looked as though you'd gotten some sun." 

 

He touches the rim of his pinkened ear.  In the dark, he can't see the freezer burns that still marked her face. "The Yanks won, seven to two.  Seven, coincidentally, is also the number of hotdogs that Frohike ate."

 

"You missed an interesting staff meeting, interesting enough that I suspect you knew the agenda ahead of time."  The light streaming in street lamp catches part of her hair, a flash of red in his otherwise black-and-white kitchen.  "I don't think this was so much a jaunt to the ballpark as a Fox Mulder staged protest.  You must have known this was coming but you never said a word.  Were you ever going to tell me?" 

 

She sounds defeated, not angry.  "I just found out for sure this morning." 

 

"From Diana." 

 

He hesitates to confirm, but eventually nods.  "They told her she would be getting the X-files appointment, so she gave me a courtesy call." 

 

"How nice of her.  Did she also tell you the division has been structured so that it falls under the direction of Alvin Kersh now?  Skinner's out." 

 

"What?"  

 

"Ah, so she didn't tell you everything.  Apparently someone upstairs was not happy with the amount of latitude granted us under Skinner, and they believe Kersh will run a tighter ship.  They are keeping two agents within the division, however, although I'm quite sure you know that part." 

He flushes and is glad for the cover of darkness.  "Diana did mention." 

 

"The short list includes both you and Jeffrey Spender.   You're an obvious choice, of course, but I couldn't figure how Spender merited inclusion given his meager experience and relative lack of interest in the subject matter.  I wondered if maybe he was Kersh's nominee, or perhaps a choice dictated from on-high.  Imagine my surprise when I talked to Skinner after the meeting." 

 

"Scully, listen..." 

 

She raises her voice, cutting him off.  "Skinner said the list was your idea.  You specifically recommended for Spender and against me.  Skinner was guessing that Spender is just a straw man to make sure you get the assignment.  Is that why you left me off, Mulder?  Afraid of a little competition?   Only one agent can win the X-files raffle and it had better be you, is that it?" 

 

"I did it for your own good." 

 

"Pardon me if I don't recall putting you in charge of my life." 

 

He’s not in charge, not at all, not of anything, ever.  Everything always shattered to pieces around him and then he scrabbled in the dirt for the scraps. “You made it pretty clear you were willing to risk your life, but that doesn't mean I have to let you.  I don't want to stand around and watch you die." 

 

"Then maybe your name is the one that should be left off the list.  You don't get to make my career decisions for me, Mulder.  You have no right." 

 

At his age, Mulder's father had two kids, two houses, a wife and a high-powered job.  Mulder has the X-files and Scully.   To keep one he has to lose the other and there is only one choice he can make. 

 

"There is no guarantee I'll get the slot," he says, "and then maintaining the work gets seriously complicated.  No budget, no protection from Skinner, no following whatever cases we want on FBI time.   We'd be just shy of committing treason again." 

 

"We've done it before." 

 

"And remember what happened then."  He still has nightmares about the cable car ride up Skyland Mountain, can feel the paint chipping away under his nails as he struggled to hold on.  "I won't go down that road again, Scully.  I can't." 

 

"You're saying I'm a liability to you.  Thanks very much.   What happened to 'Scully, I can't do this job without you?'   You have her now so that makes me expendable?"   

 

An ache starts in his throat, forcing him to swallow several times.  "No, of course not." 

 

"I felt like a fool at that meeting, Mulder.  I was practically fired in public view and to find out you're the one behind it all... You stabbed me in the back today and the worst part is you still think you did me a favor."  

 

She turns and stalks out, leaving him to scramble after her.   "Scully, wait." 

 

"Go to hell."  She is shoving her feet back into her shoes. 

 

"You don't understand." He tries to grab her but she breaks free and starts for the door. 

 

“I understand perfectly!  You screwed me to get what you want.  Men do it to women all the time, but I never expected you to do it to me."  She opens the door but he reaches over her head to slam it shut again, leaving her trapped, tense and angry.  "Let me go." 

 

"Listen to me."  He has to say it to the top of her head.   She will not turn around.  "I am sorry it had to be this way.   I shouldn't have let you walk into that meeting unprepared, but I am not sorry for protecting you.  You don't have the sense to get out when the getting's good, so yeah, I am going to go ahead and make that decision for you." 

 

"God, you are so damned arrogant sometimes!  Why is my life so much more precious than yours?" She wiggles around to look him in the eye.  "The risk is okay for you but not for me?" 

 

"I'm not the one they've abducted!  Not once, but twice.  The cancer, the chip in your neck, now this latest adventure in  Antarctica ­– how many chances do you want to give them?   Don't you ever just want to say 'enough'?" 

 

Her eyes well up.  "Of course, yes.  A thousand times.  But Mulder, I wanted to be the one to say it." 

 

He touches her cheek below the fiery red marks.  "The thing is, Scully, I knew you never would." 

 

She leaves without a word, warm skin slipping away from his hand, and he doesn't chase this time, doesn't watch; instead, he leans his head against the door and listens to the sound of her footsteps grow quieter with the distance. 

 

"Sir, you need to turn that off now," said the flight attendant, rousing him from the past.  He closed his phone and tucked it into his shirt pocket, where it sat warm against his heart.  

 

**** 

 

She found Ruben on their tiny balcony with the warm breeze in his face and a scotch on the rocks slowly melting its glass.   He was leaning over the edge, staring out at the neon jungle, and did not seem to hear her approach.  "Mind if I join you?" she asked, and he startled, the ice clinking against his glass. 

 

"You?  Anytime."  He extended his arm and she settled into his side.  The sun had set long ago but it was still very hot, too hot for snuggling, so she pulled back after a moment.  Mulder's plane was going to land soon, and there was no way she wanted Ruben unprepared. 

 

But once again she had a rock-hard conversation in front of her and no opening to chisel her way in.  "Thinking about Annie?" she asked him quietly, and he shook his head. 

 

"Actually I was thinking about how we met, about the boy who was drowned and left on the side of the road. It's been almost two years, and there's still no one to answer for that boy's death.  We don't even have any leads.   What if that happens with Annie?  What if they never catch the guy?" 

 

Scully considered her answer for a long time.  "I can't lie and say it's not a possibility.  We both know it happens.  And not knowing is agonizing.  I waited more than a year to find the man who shot my sister and there were times I was sure it was never going to happen.  But we did eventually catch him.  The cops care, Ruben, I promise you.  They won't forget and they won't stop trying to solve this case." 

 

"I guess you would know," he replied, looking into his drink.   "You're the one who worked all those cold cases, right?" 

 

She bit her lip.  This was one of his fundamental misconceptions about her history that she had never desired to correct.  But a big correction was coming, at a speed of approximately five hundred and twenty-eight miles per hour.  "Ruben..." 

 

"I was just thinking maybe Jack is right about getting you involved with the case.  I mean, at least you know every angle to look for.  You can make sure the local guys aren't missing anything.  I know you busted guys years after the fact but I've got to think that it's easier to catch them now when the trail is still warm." 

 

"Ruben, about that.  My job wasn't specifically to investigate cold cases, although many of them were classified that way.  We took on unusual cases – those that had failed to be resolved by traditional investigation." 

 

"Like what kind of cases?  Special victims?" 

 

She followed the intense beam of light from the top of the Luxor to the night sky.  "In a way, but it was more than that.  They were cases with possible paranormal involvement." 

 

He frowned at her for a moment. "What?  You mean like UFOs and ghosts?" 

 

"In a manner of speaking, but the reality was much more complicated." 

 

"Are you kidding me?  You were seriously working National Enquirer headlines like they were actual cases? I can't believe you'd waste ten minutes on that stuff, let alone years.  Aliens don't kill people; people kill people." 

 

"And more often than not, we ended up with a person behind bars, but along the way, we uncovered elements in each case that were difficult to explain with traditional science." 

 

He was looking at her like she was a new person.  He shook his head and rubbed the back of his neck.  “Why are you telling me this now?”

 

"My partner was a man named Fox Mulder.  He lobbied the Bureau to establish the X-files division shortly before I came on board.  The root of his interests was intensely personal. Mulder's little sister was abducted from their family home one night when the children were alone."  She hesitated.  She didn't want to lay Mulder bare quite yet.   She would make him sound like a fruitcake and herself crazy by association.  "Mulder founded the X-files as way to pursue all avenues of investigation into his sister's disappearance." 

 

Ruben took a deep breath. "And I feel for the guy, believe me.  That sounds awful.  But it wasn't an alien or a ghost who took that girl.  Surely you must have pointed that out to him." 

 

"I know it sounds ridiculous.  That's what I thought too at first." 

 

"At first!  You're saying you believe this crap?  ET is going around snatching children from their homes?" 

 

"Listen to me.  Mulder may not have been one hundred percent right about everything, but he wasn't entirely wrong either.  Alien or not, there are forces at work outside the government conducting secretive medical testing." 

 

He glared at her and swallowed the rest of his scotch.  "I don't know why you are spouting this off at me right now.  I really don't have the energy to deal with crazy shit at the moment, Dana.  Please help me understand where all this is suddenly coming from." 

 

She backed off.  Give him something more concrete, she told herself.  That's how you always approached this stuff.  "Mulder's sister's name was Samantha," she said.   

 

Ruben was a smart man.  His mind didn't leap like Mulder's but a couple of scotches didn't even slow it down.  "The morgue, when you said you recognized her..." 

 

"I've seen pictures."  She hedged her bets, not mentioning the clones. 

 

"You said she was little when she disappeared.  You've seen pictures of a little girl!  Just because the name is the same, that doesn't mean anything." 

 

"I had the lab run a DNA test." 

 

"No," he said, already denying it.  “No way.”

 

"It's a match, Ruben." 

 

"That's crazy!  She's not his sister.  Annie wasn't abducted by aliens or ghosts or the Bogeyman.  She had parents who beat her like a drum and that's why the state took her away.   If this Mulder guy is her family, why the hell didn't he help her?  She can't have been that hard to find." 

 

"He's been looking for her most of his life," she said, ignoring the rest of it. 

 

"And you think you've found her.  Well, I think you're wrong,” he turned away and crunched an ice cube in his mouth.  “Run the test again."  Scully said nothing, and he glanced at her.  "Wait a second, you've already told him, haven't you?  That was the reason for all your secret phone calls today." 

 

"He's on his way.  It was the only fair thing to do." 

 

"Fair!  What the hell in this situation is fair?"  He clutched the glass as though he intended to throw it over the edge but then stopped himself.  "I don't care what the DNA says.  She's nothing to him.  Her name was Samantha Ann Milgram and she lived in Los Angeles with her two children.   She had a mother and a father in Denver who took her in and loved her like she was their own.  What happened before that is irrelevant." 

 

"Not to her.  You said yourself that she wanted answers." 

 

"And look where it got her!  She's in the morgue with half her face missing, and now you're telling me some FBI guy is going to come in here and tell me aliens did it.  Well, pardon my French, Dana, but fuck that - I don't believe in aliens, but I'm damn sure if they existed, they would have more sophisticated ways of killing a person than beating them to death." 

 

"You wanted my professional opinion on this case," she said.  "And here it is.  The local police may be able to give you answers about how she died.  But Mulder may be the only one who can give you answers as to why."

 

  ****** 

 

Diana was alone in her office when the phone rang, disturbing the quiet.  She knew who it was before even answering.  "What did you find?" she asked, prepared to take notes. 

 

"The sheets in Vegas don't show much.  You've got three missing persons and two unsolved homicides in the last twenty-four hours." 

 

"Give me the homicides." 

 

"One's vehicular manslaughter, a hit-and-run.  The victim's name is Harry Posner.  The other is a woman beaten to death in a motel room.  Victim is ID'ed as Samantha Milgram." 

 

Diana stopped writing.  "Fax me what you have on the Milgram case.  I want the pictures first." 

 

"You got it."  She paced by the machine, waiting.  The picture was slow coming through but she knew before it was half done who it was.   She used her cell phone to call the number he'd given her for emergency purposes only.  Of course it was just a voice mailbox with no identified party attached.  At this point, she didn't care.  "Mulder's gone to Vegas," she said.  "I just got the information on the Samantha Milgram case.  Just what the hell have you done now?"



 Chapter Four

 

The air conditioning at McCarran was turned to high frost, so Scully ordered hot coffee just to keep her hands warm as she waited.  She didn't dare drink it, churned as she was at the middle.  His flight was due to land in mere minutes.  From her view near the window, she could see the planes approaching in the distance, lined up like giant fireflies over the desert.  It felt like preparing to meet him again for the first time, back when she was new and he was a punch-line with a basement office.  They call him Spooky Mulder, her friends had said.  He thinks he's better than the rest of us.  She'd found him pompous, witty, exasperating and thoroughly deserving of his schizophrenic reputation for greatness and madness.  Only later had he become a complete person, a Mulder who loathed beets, adored treacly movies, and left a trail of sunflower seed shells in rented cars across America.  He snored when drunk and had beautiful, long toes. He could button his shirt one handed. West-coast Yankee tours rendered him bleary-eyed but happy because he loved beating the A's and their "stupid white shoes."    He never remembered birthdays, not even his own, because there was only one date in history that mattered to him anymore.  

 

He didn't say hello when he called because he fully expected her to keep up with the conversation, even if he was starting in the middle of it, and he didn't say good-bye, not when it mattered, because for Mulder things were never truly over.  Once upon a time she'd known him better than he knew himself, and now here he was poised to walk through the door as a stranger. 

 

She saw the plane roll up to the gate, so she ditched the coffee and wiped her hands on her pants suit.   There was nowhere to hide in the thin crowd as people started tramping down the gangway.  Hi, Mulder.   How've you been?  A man with a briefcase passed her, stinking of alcohol.  Next was a haggard mom trying to corral three small children.    She tried leaning against one of the chairs, but it was too low to be practical. The passengers straggled off in clumps, the minutes ticking by, until she started to wonder if Mulder was on the plane at all.  She forgot her nerves and approached the counter, peering down the concourse.   No one approached. 

 

"May I help you?" asked one of the attendants. 

 

"I, uh... is everyone off the plane?"  She fumbled in her pocket for her ID in case she had to explain further. 

 

"Scully?"  She jerked her head up and there he was, sporting a too-short haircut and a rumpled suit jacket, standing in her personal space just like he had never left. 

 

"Mulder." 

 

"You didn't have to come all the way out here to pick me up." 

 

They'd lived half their time together in airports, and she'd wanted to meet him on familiar territory.  "It was no trouble." 

 

He jostled into her as the last passengers filed out behind him, and she sucked in a surprised breath at the sudden contact.  "Sorry." 

 

"Did you bring any luggage?" she asked as they moved out of the way. 

 

"I came as-is."  He smiled a bit, and she noticed the crinkles around his eyes had deepened just slightly.   "You look good, Scully.  The desert agrees with you." 

 

"The car is this way," she said, and they fell into step easily.

 

"Las Vegas translates as ‘The Meadows,' did you know that?" he asked as they walked.  "It's a pretty  strange name for a desert when you think about it, but  I guess there was more water here back when the  Spaniards first showed up.  Maybe that's how it seemed like a good idea to squeeze one point eight million  people into an area that gets around four inches of  rain each year." 

 

"Mulder..." 

 

"Still, I never figured you for the Sin City type, Scully.  Of course, I never imagined you'd go for Mormons either, but I guess there's always a degree of freedom in these equations.  You and the Man Upstairs always seemed to share a certain simpatico, though, even if the specifics differed - but you and Vegas?   Tell me you're not all mobbed up." 

 

"Mulder." 

 

"But all that neon sure is impressive," he said as they stepped outside.  "I don't know how the pilot managed to find the landing strip." 

 

She stopped walking, and he continued on without her, getting three cars deep into the parking lot before he noticed she was missing.   He halted with his back to her and was quiet for a long time.  "I need to know," he said without turning around.  His voice echoed in the half-empty garage.  "Is it her?" 

 

"Why don't we go someplace where we can talk? I can explain everything there." 

 

"Scully, please."  He faced her and she could just make out his features in the dim light.  "I've been on a plane for four hours.  I've waited twenty-six years.   Don't make me wait any longer.  Is it her?"

 

She hesitated a moment before giving a tiny nod.  "It looks that way."  She took slow steps until she joined him in the shadows. “I’m so sorry, Mulder.”

 

"Thanks," he said, laying a hand on her shoulder.   "For coming to get me." 

 

*****

 

Scotty stood under her porch light, hovering like a giant moth. "What the hell are you doing ringing my bell at this time of night?" Dot asked him through her screen door.  "Benji's got school in the morning." 

 

"Sorry, I saw your light on." 

 

"This isn't the red light district.  Call next time, okay?" 

 

"Sorry.  I found out something I thought you might want to see right away." 

 

She noticed he had a large envelope in hand.  "Come on in.  Don't slam the door." 

 

"I didn't mean to wake you," he said, carefully closing the door behind him.  "I'm always up.  It's too damn hot to sleep." 

 

"Your AC on the fritz again?  I can take a look at it if you want." 

 

"I put the good one in Benji's room and I'm buying a new one tomorrow.  Old Smokey's money is good for something, huh?  You want a beer or something?" 

 

"If you're having one." 

 

"I passed one a long time ago," she said from behind the refrigerator door.  "Helps me forget about the heat."  She tossed him a can and he sat down on her ratty orange sofa. 

 

"Funny you should mention Old Smokey," he said.  "He's kind of the reason I'm here." 

 

"You have a lead on Stephanie Jameson?" 

 

He braced the can between his knees and cracked it open one-handed.  "I was thinking about what you were saying, how she might be on the run from someone, possibly Old Smokey himself.  I got to thinking maybe we should put feelers out at the morgue, so I talked with my boy Don.  I told him to be on the lookout for a white woman, mid-30s, brown hair, from out-of-town.   He tells me they've already got such a woman." 

 

"You're kidding me." 

 

"He managed to get me a photo.  It's not pretty."  He gave her the envelope and she withdrew the single photograph within; it showed a once-pretty woman with  half of her face missing. 

 

Dot let out a low whistle.  "Someone sure did a number on this lady." 

 

"That's her, right?  That's Stephanie Jameson." 

 

"Sure looks it.  They ID her yet?" 

 

"That's the interesting part.  She's been identified as Samantha Milgram, an L.A. native who was staying over at the Mayfield Inn, which, coincidentally, is where she was murdered two nights ago." 

 

"Old Smokey was on our doorstep four days ago.  You think he got to her first?  Could explain why he hasn't been calling us every ten minutes for an update like the clients usually do." 

 

"Possible.  But get this," he said, leaning closer to her. "Don says the vic has a husband, some FBI guy who's in town mucking around in the investigation.   Old Smokey didn't really seem like the government type to me.  And why say her name was Stephanie Jameson?   If the object was to find her, a fake name isn't going to help." 

 

"Yeah, I get that, but he was paying us an awful lot of money for a wild goose chase.  I still think he wanted the woman found.  Maybe they're twins, Stephanie and Samantha." 

 

"One dead and the other missing?  I could see that."   He took a long sip of beer. 

 

"Or it's one woman leading two very different lives," Dot suggested. 

 

"Hard to keep one husband in L.A. and the other in Connecticut.  Maybe that's why she gave Old Smokey the tall tale about coming out here with her friend.  Maybe the friend's been covering for her all this time." 

 

"We should talk to her.  If one husband found out about the other, it could explain how her face ended up looking like hamburger meat."  She finished the last of her beer. "I’ll tell you what – you track down the friend.  I want to talk to Smokey again." 

 

Scott froze with the beer almost at his lips.  "You sure you want to do that?  There's a good chance he killed that girl.  Maybe we should go to the cops with what we know and let them take it from here." 

 

"I took his money.  I promised to find her."  She looked down at the gruesome picture again.  "If he did this, I want to be sure he's going to pay.  Right now all we have is a hinky client who hired us to look for a woman, who may or may not be his wife, who may or  may not be dead.  We can go to the cops when we manage to fill in some of the blanks." 

 

"Yeah, well, I just don't want us to end up blanked in the process." 

 

****** 

 

It was after midnight, and the Coroner's office was closed so they went to the hotel bar instead.  Mulder ordered a beer while Scully opted for soda water and lime.  She looked so much like his memory, with her pale skin and steady blue eyes,that he almost wondered if he had conjured her up himself like a desert mirage.

 

"So I am drinking alone?” he asked as he fingered the edge of the blue cocktail napkin. “Want to keep your wits about you, is that it?”

 

"It's been a long day."  She leaned down and retrieved a folder from her briefcase.  "Bear in mind I'm not supposed to be showing you any of this," she said as she handed it to him.  "I'm not even supposed to have it myself." 

 

"I thought this was your case." 

 

"Not officially." 

 

He held the slim folder in his hands but did not open it.  "I don't understand.  Then how did you find out about this?" 

 

"Read the file."  


He flipped it open and there was the autopsy report.   "Cause of death, blunt force trauma.  Someone beat her to death?" 

 

"She sustained fractures to both arms," Scully said.  "Whoever did this, she fought them hard." 

 

He held his breath and flipped the pages until he reached the photographs.  These were no soft-focus glamour shots; they were designed to document the horror of her injuries, close-ups of her bloodied face and broken bones; each individual gash its own private gallery.  These were the pictures a jury would see, if anyone ever answered for the crime.  Mulder let them fall to the table in front of him, the images fanning out.

 

"No leads?" he whispered.  Scully shook her head slowly. 

 

"Not yet.  I'm so sorry, Mulder." 

 

"I've seen a half dozen of these women now," he said, picking up a random shot.  "What makes you think this one is real?" 

 

"I was present at the autopsy.  Samantha Milgram was a flesh and blood woman; no evidence of the toxic green substance we've encountered before." 

 

His face startled to crumple then, but he forced himself back under control.  "So this is her?   Really?" 

 

Scully reached for another folder.  "I took the liberty of running a DNA test comparing her sample to one of yours.  These are the results." 

 

In the dim light, he could barely make out the tiny print.  "What does this mean, twenty-seven percent of alleles in common?  Shouldn't it be half?" 

 

"Full siblings share half their DNA, yes."  She cleared her throat.  "These findings mean you share one parent in common." 

 

He could still call up the memory of a summer day, with hazy sunshine and water that seemed to stretch forever.  His mother laughing as she sat on the dune, round as a beach ball.  "Fox, come and feel, your brother or sister is kicking!"  He'd gotten sandy handprints all over her white top but she had not yelled a bit. 

 

"Jesus," he breathed, sitting back in the booth. “No wonder he sent her away.”  The folder tipped forward into his lap, sending the photos sprawling.  He tried to gather them but they kept slipping through his hands.  Scully joined him under the table to help him pick up the pieces.  He paused, his head bumping the surface, and Scully winced for him. 

 

"Careful, that’s a delicate instrument there," she murmured with a small smile.  She smoothed the pictures into an even pile again. 

 

"It doesn’t matter to me,” he said as crouched together in the narrow space.  He could smell her perfume, unchanged in their time apart.  “I don’t care if she wasn’t his. She was mine and that's what matters."

 

"I'm sorry," she said again, her voice tender and soft, the way she used to speak to him back when she was tender and soft herself.  She let go of the pictures long enough to squeeze his hand, and he squeezed back.

 

She withdrew gently and they climbed back into the booth again, on opposite sides, as always.   "How is your mother doing these days?" she asked when they had resettled. 

 

"She's dead." 

 

Shock and then embarrassment colored Scully's features. "I hadn't heard," she murmured. 

 

"No, I guess you wouldn't."  He swallowed the rest of his beer.  "Mom had another stroke last year and didn't survive long enough for me to make it to the hospital this time.  The doctors told me she was trying to talk but they couldn't understand what she was saying.  I guess now maybe I have some idea of what her secret might have been." 

 

"You think she knew?" 

 

"That she was screwing another man behind my father's back?  Yeah, I'd say she had a pretty good idea." 

 

"I meant about Samantha's paternity." 

 

He thought of the vicious, whispered fights during the summer before Samantha disappeared.  "I think they both knew," he said.  "And all those years afterward, neither one of them ever said a godamned thing." 

 

"Maybe after all these years they considered it immaterial.  Like you were saying, it didn't matter where she came from.  What mattered is what happened to her." 

 

"Somehow I think the two are inextricable."  He picked up a stray photo, one that showed the body from its good side, if death indeed could have such a thing.  "You still haven't told me how you got involved in this case to begin with.  It's a bit of a kick, wouldn't you say?  We spend six years together looking for my sister and you leave only to stumble across her in a Vegas motel room?" 

 

She took a deep breath and slid the part of the report back to him.  "Read the part at the bottom," she said. 

 

He picked it up.  "Positive identification by Ruben Cetera," he read flatly.  "Relationship to deceased:  sibling."  He looked up in surprise.  "She had a brother?" 

 

"Adopted brother.  He was listed as her next-of-kin and so the Sheriff called him to make the identification.  He's a special prosecutor in Salt Lake City, and I made the trip down here with him, as a friend." 

 

"A friend." 

 

She avoided his eyes for a moment.  "We live together," she said at last. 

 

"Well, he must be an awfully good friend, then." 

 

"He has been."  She met his eyes, challenging him to disagree.  There had been other men at first, when he met her.  He had vague recollections of her laughing into the phone, peering into the passenger side mirror to her make-up at the end of the day.  She'd mentioned the odd name to him but he'd never bothered to learn any of them.  Jim, John, Steve, whatever ­– as long as she showed up at work each day and gave him her full attention, he didn't much care  what, or who, she did on her off hours.  Then came Philadelphia and suddenly she had *his* full attention.  There were no more dates after that.  

 

It took some time, years even, but she'd begun putting on make-up at the end of the day again.  God, how many weeks had it taken him to realize this time it was for him?    "Uh, that's good, Scully," he told her finally.  She searched his face as if not quite believing him.  "I'm happy for you.  Really." 

 

She snorted and leaned back in the booth, shaking her head. 

 

"The 'really' was overkill, huh?  I thought I sold it pretty good."

 

"You're a miserable liar." 

 

"Nah," he said, brushing the photos aside. "Just miserable.  Listen, the men who took Samantha twenty-six years ago wouldn't do this. They'd use a sniper or a toxin or they'd just whisk her away like last time.   They wouldn't leave her in a Vegas motel room for everyone to find.  These people have blood on their hands metaphorically, but they haven't shown a penchant for the real thing, if you know what I mean." 

 

"She has a chip," Scully told him quietly. 

 

"What?  Where?"  He scrambled for the photos again.   

 

"Left sinus cavity.  It's not in the report.  I had the ME leave that part out for now.  As you might imagine, he has a lot of questions that I don't really feel like answering.  I don't know how much longer I can keep him quiet." 

 

"If she's got the chip, then they know she's dead.   Even money they'll be around to clean up the evidence." 

 

"I thought of that," she said. "That's why I had the ME store the body, unmarked, in an older part of the morgue." 

 

Mulder managed a smile.  "That's my girl," he said, and for the first time since he’d landed, Scully smiled back. 

 

**** 

 

She undressed in the dark, quiet so as not to wake Ruben.  The air conditioning hummed, and the water in the sink seemed overly loud as she hurriedly brushed her teeth.  The bathroom smelled like his shampoo.  Ruben was like a silent mountain under the covers, his back to her as she slipped in beside him.  When he spoke, it was with a clear, strong voice that indicated he had been awake the whole time.  "You picked him up at the airport?" 

 

"Yes."  She tried to rub his arm with affection but he shrugged her off. 

 

"Took long enough." 

 

"We had a drink downstairs.  I filled him in on the investigation so far." 

 

"That must have taken all of ten minutes.  What did you talk about for the rest of the time?" 

 

"It was a rather lot to absorb, Ruben.  He's been looking for his sister for more than twenty years." 

 

He rolled over onto his back and looked at the ceiling.  "How'd he take the news?" 

 

"I don't know.  He seemed numb more than anything."   She hesitated, unsure of how much to give away.  "He's found other women before who turned out not to be the real thing.  I think maybe he's afraid to believe it this time." 

 

"You showed him pictures of her body?" 

 

"Yes." 

 

"Trust me.  He doesn't want to believe you." 

 

He turned his back to her again and didn't say another word. 

 

***** 

 

They were eating a breakfast of black coffee and bagels when Mulder appeared at the table.  "I had to go out and buy a new suit," he said by way of introduction.  "Flying sans luggage is freeing to the soul but expensive to the wallet." 

 

Scully put her napkin aside. "Ruben, this is Fox Mulder.  Mulder, Ruben Cetera." 

 

“I’ve been hearing a lot about you.” Ruben half-rose from his seat to shake Mulder's hand.   "Join us for breakfast?" he asked. 

 

Mulder shook his head.  "No, I want to get down to the Coroner's office.  I called ahead and Bartleby said he'd meet me there." 

 

"I'll go with you," Scully offered. 

 

"No, thanks.  This is something I need to do alone."   He looked at Scully.  "I'd like to see the rest of the reports on the crime scene if at all possible." 

 

"We're heading over to the Sheriff's office right after this," she replied.  "I'll see what I can do to smooth the way." 

 

Mulder's gaze flickered over Ruben.  "Scully tells me you were her brother." 

 

Ruben's lips tightened.  “She tells me the same thing about you.”  He paused and ducked his head. "We were adopted at the same time.  She said... she said her previous family hadn't treated her very well."  The accusation hung in the air, and Mulder went very still. 

 

"I'm not so sure she was wrong about that," he said softly. 

 

He tapped the tablecloth with his fingers.  "I'll see you both later, ok?" 

 

"Agent Mulder, wait!"  Ruben was half out of his chair again when Mulder turned around.  He walked back to the table so he and Ruben were inches from one another.   

 

"What is it?" 

 

"Annie, that is, Samantha, she was trying to track down her past.  I said she should leave well enough alone but she wanted to find her family and find out why they gave her up.  She wanted her birth certificate and stuff like that, said she had to find out for her kids' sake.  Do you think... do you think her efforts figure out what happened to her as a little girl could have gotten her  killed?"

 

Mulder considered the question a long time.  "It's nearly done me in a time or two." 

 

"You're sure then.  You're very sure Annie was your sister who was taken?"  Mulder looked at her, asking silently how much Ruben knew.  Scully shook her head very slightly.  "If it's her, you must know," Ruben continued.  "You must have some idea who could have done this to her." 

 

"I don't.  Not yet.  But I promise you that I intend to find out."  He left and Ruben stood, watching him go. 

 

"He's my age," Ruben said when Mulder had disappeared entirely.   He was still watching the archway where Mulder had exited.  "When you told me he had been looking for his sister for more than twenty years, I expected someone much older." 

 

"He was twelve when she vanished," Scully said simply. "He's been looking ever since." 

 

 

***** 

 

When Scully and Ruben arrived at the Sheriff's office they found Jack Milgram on the front steps with a cigarette in one hand and a paper cup of coffee in the other.   "Breakfast of champions," he remarked dryly as he took a puff.  "Listen, Agent Scully, I got some more information on that unsolved homicide last month.  The victim was Lisa Sanchez, a dancer who apparently turned tricks on the side.  She was killed across town but also beaten to death in a motel room – weapon has not been recovered.  I'm going to push Holloway for more Bureau involvement.  I want to see all the files on the Sanchez homicide and I was hoping you'd back me up." 

 

"I'll do what I can." 

 

"Thanks.  Appreciate it.  I know it's not a dead-on match to Samantha's case but there are enough  similarities that I think it's worth a closer look." 

 

As they left him to enter the building, Ruben bent closer to her.  "Did you tell him about Mulder yet?" 

 

"Not yet.  First I have to figure out how to explain everything to Sheriff Holloway." 

 

Holloway was frowning but seemed glad to see them anyway.  "Agent Scully, Mr. Cetera, please come in," he said, welcoming them to his office.  "I wish I had good news to report but I can assure you we're still working round the clock on your case." 

 

"No leads at all?" Ruben asked. 

 

"The lab has recovered seventy-two different prints from the motel room and we're processing them now.   Unfortunately, cleaning does not appear to be a high priority at the Mayfield Inn.  It's going to take a while to sort through them all.  Do you have that list of your sister's friends I asked for?" 

 

"Yeah, I've got it right here."  Ruben took out a folded piece of paper from his coat pocket.  "I wish I could say it was up-to-date, but as I mentioned, we hadn't spoken for some time." 

 

"It's a start.  Thank you.  Mr. Cetera, would you mind terribly if I spoke to Agent Scully alone for just a moment?" 

 

Ruben looked at her with some surprise.  "If it's about my sister, I'd just as soon stay." 

 

"It's FBI-related, sir, and I'd prefer to err on the side of discretion given that it's not my department.   If Agent Scully sees fit to relay the conversation afterward, then I'd have no objection." 

 

Scully gripped the sides of her chair a bit tighter.   Here it comes, she thought.  He's been talking to Bartleby.  "It's fine," she said aloud to Ruben.   

 

Holloway started ushering Ruben out the door.  "Mary at the desk can set you up with coffee or a soda if you like.  This won't take long."  He shut the door behind Ruben and looked at Scully.   "Please don't repeat what I'm about to tell you." 

 

This was not at all what she'd been expecting.   Cautious, she said, "Tell me what?" 

 

"I can count on your discretion?" 

 

"Of course." 

 

He returned to his seat behind the desk and leaned back in it.  "Jack Milgram's outside having a smoke.   How well do you know him?" 

 

"I met him when you did.  I can't claim to know him at all." 

 

"I did a little checking.  Seems he has a bit of a reputation in the Bureau for being a hothead.  There was at least one lawsuit against him for unnecessary  force but the case was settled out-of-court, documents  sealed." 

 

"I don't know anything about that." 

 

"What's your read on him so far?" 

 

"He seems very determined to find the person who murdered his wife.  Beyond that, I can't say much.  He did stop me outside and say he wants more Bureau involvement on the case.  He has discovered an unsolved homicide from last month that he believes  might be connected." 

 

"The Sanchez case.  Yeah, we're looking into it but so far it looks like a dead end to me.  Tell you what.   I'm inclined to give him the information he wants and let him run with it.  At least that way I know what he's up to." 

 

"Pardon me for asking," Scully said, "but do you have  some reason to suspect Milgram in his wife's death?"


"Outside of the acrimonious divorce and some unsettled custody issues?  Turns out he was in Las Vegas last month.  Took a shuttle flight in and out the same day, and the motel records indicate his wife was here at the same time." 

 

"Did you ask him about it?" 

 

"Not yet.  I want to know the real reason he was here before I get his answer." 

 

"And why are you telling all this to me?"  He shrugged.  "Milgram seems to like you.  I figure he might say stuff to you that he wouldn't to me or my people, and I'm hoping that if you hear anything we can use, you'll let me know." 

 

Scully had a flash of Chief Blevins as he assigned her to the X-files.  "You're asking me to spy on him?" 

 

"No, nothing like that.  Just keep your eyes and ears open, okay?  We can ask Ruben back in now if you like."  


"Just a minute," Scully said as he got up to retrieve Ruben.  "There's something I need to discuss with you, too." 

 

"What's that?" he asked, just as there was a knock at the door.  "One second.  Yes?" 

 

A woman in uniform stuck her head in the room.   "Sheriff, there is an FBI agent named Fox Mulder here to see you." 

 

"FBI?"  He looked at Scully.  "You all are multiplying like rabbits.  What does he want?" 

 

"Says he's here about the Milgram case." 

 

"You know this guy?" Holloway asked Scully. 

 

"That's the matter I had wanted to discuss with you." 

 

"Well, I guess now all three of us can have a chat.   Send him in, Mary."  Mulder appeared a moment later. 

 

"Sheriff, thanks for seeing me.  Hey, Scully." 

 

"Wait just a second here."  Holloway's frown deepened.   "Who the heck are you again?" 

 

Mulder fished his ID out of his pocket.  "Special Agent Fox Mulder.  Scully and I used to work together." 

 

"Mary!" Holloway hollered, and she reappeared.  "Yes, sir?" 

 

"Get me the evidence box on the Milgram case.  Do it now, please." 

 

"Yes, sir." 

 

"Is there a problem?" Mulder asked Scully.  

 

"What's your interest in this case, Agent Mulder?" 

 

"I believe Samantha Milgram was my sister."  He glanced at Scully.  "Did you tell him anything?" 

 

"I was just about to fill him in." 

 

Holloway folded his arms. "Somebody start talking.  Now." 

 

"My younger sister Samantha was abducted from our family home at the age of eight in Chilmark, Massachusetts, November 27th, 1973.  The subsequent investigation turned up no viable suspects, and she's been officially missing ever since." 

 

"And you're saying our victim is the same Samantha?   Your missing sister?" 

 

"A DNA test seems to confirm it," Scully said. 

 

Holloway looked annoyed.  "You've been holding out on me, Agent Scully."  To Mulder, he said, "You're saying you've had no contact with your sister since 1973?" 

 

Mulder paused.  Scully knew this question was not the easiest to answer.  "I haven't found her yet, sir." 

 

Officer Mary returned with the box of evidence.   "Well, that's funny," Holloway said. 

 

"'Cause she sure seemed to know you."  He opened the box and tossed a plastic evidence bag onto his desk.  Inside was a picture of Mulder getting into a car back in D.C.. 

 

"What is this?" Mulder asked, picking up the bag. 

 

"Don't open that." 

 

"There are others in here.  Scully, look.  Where did you get these?" 

 

"They were found in the motel room with her, where she was murdered.  You may have been out looking for your sister, but it seems like she knew exactly where to find you." 


 

Chapter Five

 

"You must think all the neon out there has fried my brain."  Sheriff Holloway glared from Mulder to Scully and back again.  "Sure, we've got a couple dozen Elvis Presleys and Marilyn Monroe wannabes...hell, for a hundred bucks I bet you could find someone to impersonate your momma. But I am the genuine article, you got that?  I've been on the job twenty-two years now and I recognize a bullshit story when I hear one."

 

"It's not a story," Mulder said.   "She was abducted from our home November 27, 1973 at the age of eight and is still listed as a missing person to this day.  You can check that easily enough."

 

"And I surely will.  But here's the part I'm having trouble with: she goes missing at eight years old but somehow Agent Scully takes one look at our D.B. and recognizes her as your sister.  I don't even recognize myself in pictures from when I was eight.  Then instead of telling me about her epiphany, she runs a DNA test behind my back."

 

"I wanted to be sure.  As you yourself note, it's a rather incredulous coincidence."

 

"I'll say.  This woman had two brothers two thousand miles apart and you're cozy with the both of them.  You want to explain how you recognized a badly beaten woman as Samantha Mulder?"

 

It was the first time she'd heard the name out loud in years.  She felt suddenly lightheaded. "Well, sir, I..."

 

"We had a computerized rendering that showed what she would look like as an adult," Mulder cut in.

 

Holloway folded his arms.  "I'm getting out my hip boots and my shovel again."

 

The door opened and Ruben entered, followed quickly by Officer Mary.  "I'm sorry, sir, but he slipped by me."

 

"If he gets to stay, so do I," Ruben replied.  "I want to know what the hell is happening with this investigation."

 

"It's okay, Mary."

 

"Sir, I've got Jack Milgram outside too."

 

Holloway sighed and rubbed his head.  "Send him on in.  I'm going to have enough fibbies in here to start my own branch agency."

 

"Hey, what are these?"  Ruben picked up the evidence bag containing the photographs of Mulder.  "Wait a second.  She had pictures of you?"

 

"It's news to me," Mulder said as Milgram entered the crowded office.

 

He looked Mulder up and down.  "Who are you?"

 

"Fox Mulder, FBI," Mulder said, but did not bother to draw his ID.

 

"Fox Mulder.  I know that name.  Have we met?"

 

She watched as Mulder turned his profiler's gaze to the other man's narrowed eyes, pointed chin, and receding salt-and-pepper hairline.  If he noted, as she had, the pressed suit and freshly shined shoes, then she expected he would reach the same conclusion: Milgram couldn't be too distracted by his ex-wife's horrific death.

 

"I don't think so," Mulder said at length.

 

"Why did she have these pictures?"  Ruben was still trying to see through the sealed evidence bag.

 

Sheriff Holloway gestured toward Mulder.  "Any theories?"

 

"Honestly, I have none.  That top one is taken outside my apartment back in D.C., and the one underneath appears shot with a telephoto lens.  It seems as though someone may have had me under surveillance."

 

"You thinking P.I.?" Holloway asked.

 

Ruben looked up.  "She said she wanted to know more about her past.  She might have hired a private investigator."

 

Mulder shook his head.  "Possible, I guess, but it doesn't make a whole lot of sense.  She would have known my name and I'm not hard to find.  I've had the same address for the last ten years.  My mother's had the same address for the last twenty years."

 

"Fox Mulder," Milgram said.  "I've got it now.  About six years ago our office consulted on an investigation of a supposed vampire cult involved in fires out in the hills.  Not my case, but I read the report and your name was on it.  I remember Lou Kendrick talking afterward, and to hear him tell it, you were part of some monster-hunting unit back in Washington."

 

It wasn't a case she had worked on.  That she could still know this with such certainty surprised her, but this wasn't that vampire outbreak Chaney, Texas.  She tried to get Mulder to look at her but he avoided her eyes and then she knew.  This was one of the cases they never talked about, the ones he'd worked while she was gone.

 

He no doubt had dozens of such cases now. 

 

"I don't think I'd go so far as to call the X-files a unit," he said.

 

"Is that why you're here?  You're working this case?"

 

"He's very much not working this case," Holloway said.  "Look, I want everyone out.  I need to make a couple of calls."

 

"Sheriff, I wanted to talk to you about that other murder last month," Milgram said.

 

"Out."   Holloway pointed at the door.  "I want my office back."

 

Scully excused herself to the ladies' room, where she splashed cool water on her face.  She stared at her reflection while water dripped from her chin.  She'd lost hours this way back when she'd first returned, studying the strange woman in the mirror whose hair had grown longer and whose cheeks sagged with extra weight.  Slowly, she reached behind her head and fingered through the fine hairs until she reached the raised, hardened tissue at her neck.

 

After Ruskin Dam, she was sure she felt it smoking.  "I'm taking it out," she'd told Mulder.  "I can't live this way."

 

"You can't live without it."

 

They had turned her into a zombie, a walking GPS device and their own Red Queen.  They'd done so with Mulder's blessing.

 

"Did you know?" she'd asked Mulder.  "Did you know what it was when you gave it to me?"

 

"Of course not."

 

"We don't know what else it can do then, do we? I read classified documents.  I have security clearance.  I carry a loaded gun for Christ's sake!"

 

She wondered now if that was when he'd decided to cut her loose.  It was certainly the first time she'd really contemplated leaving.

 

Back outside, there were two long benches in the hall where the men waited.  Mulder sat on one while Ruben took the other; she could see Jack Milgram through the window, pacing with his cell phone and a cigarette.  Eventually she lowered herself next to Ruben.

 

"All these years I thought she was just like me," he said.  "Father who ran off.  Mother who couldn't give a damn."

 

From what little Scully knew of the Bill and Teena Mulder show, Ruben wasn't entirely off base.

 

Ruben glanced over at Mulder.  "I can remember my mother screaming at the DCS workers who took me away.  She chased them into the street wearing only her purple bathrobe, yelling that she'd kill them before she'd let them have her son.  Filthy kidnappers, she called them.  A year later she signed over her parental rights without even a fight.  She didn't even show up in court to say good-bye."

 

Scully turned her head slowly to meet his eyes. He looked sad as he leaned back against the wall.


"No one has spent twenty-six years looking for me."

 

*******

 

Dottie knew better than to meet Old Smokey out of plain sight, so she had asked him via voicemail to show up at the Plain Hills Mall food court at high noon. She brought her gun, a Wendy's chocolate Frostie and a manila folder with a dead woman in it.

 

At twelve exactly, she spotted him across the room.  He paused and kind of narrowed his eyes at her as if trying to decide if she was worth the trouble.  She waited him out and eventually he wound his way through the tables to join her.  "Mr. Jameson," she said, "thanks for coming."

 

"Clearly private investigation doesn't pay as well as it used to, if this is your preferred venue for a business lunch."

 

A toddler streaked by, his face covered in ketchup. "I don't expect we'll be here long," Dottie said.

 

"Your message said it was urgent."  His glance around the noisy atrium suggested he no longer believed her.

 

"I may have a lead on your wife."

 

"Oh?"  He eyed the folder.  "Well, I appreciate your efforts on my behalf I'm afraid any additional information won't be necessary.  Stephanie's come home, you see, last night.  She's apologized for worrying me and said she just needed some private time to herself.  I've accepted her tale as is and I'm not looking to disprove it, if that's why we're here."

 

"She came home?  And you didn't mention this before?"

 

He took out a cigarette and tapped it on the cheap plastic table. "It was late last night.  I was prepared to call today when I found your message on my answering service." 

 

"Does the name Samantha Milgram mean anything to you?"

 

"No," he said without blinking.  "Should it?"

 

She slid the envelope across to him.  "She turned up bludgeoned to death three nights ago at the Mayfield inn.  So far there are no leads on her killer."

 

"Tragic," he replied, but made no move to open the envelope.

 

She gestured at it with her chin.  "You should take a look.  Might jog your memory."

 

He left the unlit cigarette dangling from his mouth as he extracted the photo of Samantha Milgram.  She watched him closely but he just flicked over the image, apparently unmoved.  "This is what you're calling urgent?"

 

"You have to admit the resemblance."

 

"I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about.  I see half of a bruised and swollen face with beginning signs of decomposition."  He tossed it back at her.

 

Dot's heart started to hammer and her mouth went dry.  You dirty bastard, she thought.  You think you can just jet in here and use our city as a human garbage dump. 

 

"It's her, isn't it?" She was pleased when her fingers didn't shake as she collected the photo. "That's your wife."

 

"On the contrary, you told me yourself she's been identified as Samantha Milgram.  My wife is at home with our children in Connecticut."

 

"You'll understand why I might have trouble believing that statement."

 

He set the cigarette lengthwise across the top of his pack and took out his cell phone.  "I thought you might want some proof, so I took this little home movie this morning at breakfast."

 

He called up the clip and handed the phone across to her.  She watched the shaky footage, which showed the woman from the photographs wearing a paisley print summer top.  She sat at a large wooden table with a boy of about six next to her. 

 

"Mom, can we go swimming after this?" he asked over his cereal bowl.

 

"Don't talk with your mouth full."  Stephanie/Samantha handed him a napkin.

 

"Please, mom?"

 

"Smile, darling."  Old Smokey's voice came from off screen.  "We're so glad to have you back."

 

The woman forced a thin smile for the camera and then abruptly pushed her chair back.  The shot cut out as she left the table.

 

"So you see?" Jameson told her.  "Alive and well."

 

"This could have been shot at any time."

 

He took the phone from her hands and hit a few buttons.  "Not the recording date.  Seven-oh-six this morning."

 

Okay, so he's got you there, she told herself.  Damn him if he wasn't giving her a faint smile.  He put the cigarette back in his mouth and the pack back into his coat pocket.

 

"So you'll understand why I won't be needing any more of your services," he said.  "Though I'd be happy to pick up any expenses you've incurred on my behalf."  He withdrew his wallet and counted out a thousand dollars, which he put down squarely over the picture of Samantha Milgram's blooded face.  "I expect this should cover it," he said as he stood to leave.

 

Dot didn't touch the money.  "Seven-oh-six this morning, huh?  That must have been right before you went to the airport."

 

"I beg your pardon?"  He already had his lighter out and poised.

 

"It's noon now, three PM back in Connecticut.  Factor in travel time and to ensure being on time for this meeting, you must have hopped a plane pretty much immediately after filming that tender family moment."

 

"Is there a point to all this?"

 

"I'm wondering why you didn't just call."

 

"You said it was urgent."

 

"Yeah, and you believed me.  Despite the fact that your family was back together again.  It's an awful long flight to take just so you could fire me.  You sure you don't want to take a look at this picture again?" 

 

"Thank you, no.  We're done here."

 

As he stalked away, Dottie collected the money and the photograph.  Then she pulled out her cell phone.  "He's leaving now," she told Scotty when he answered.  "Headed toward the west exit.  Make sure you follow him."

 

"I'm on it."

 

"Keep your distance on this one, okay?  I'd rather lose him than lose you."

 

******

 

Mulder found Scully back by the soda machine, in the process of finishing a phone call.  "Getting the races from your bookie?" he asked as she snapped her cell closed.

 

"Calling the SAC to let him know I'll be here another few days."

 

"Unofficial capacity.  That can eat into your vacation time in a hurry."

 

"I have it to give."

 

He fed quarters into the Coke machine.  "Two years and two thousand miles between us and I can still screw with your private time.  Sorry about that, Scully."

 

"I called you in," she said.  "Not the other way around.  I'd be here with or without you, Mulder."

 

His Coke dropped with a thud.  "Point taken.  He seems nice, by the way.  Ruben."

 

"He is nice."

 

"I just said as much.  Did you expect me to disapprove?"

 

"I wasn't expecting you would ever have occasion to meet."

 

He cracked open the tin can; his soda let out a long hiss and he felt the years evaporate away.  Here she was, dressed in a dark suit and arguing with him in a government hallway again.

 

"I wondered," he said before taking a sip, "I wondered when you left if you ever planned on coming back.  I guess there I have my answer."

 

"I hardly think you get to lodge a protest when you all but showed me the door.  ‘It's too dangerous, Scully.  The X-files clubhouse only holds two members.  Have a nice life, Scully.'"

 

"Hey, they made it crystal clear they were going to keep coming after you, and you made it equally apparent that you were content to let them.  They treated you like a glorified lab rat and I was the one who got to watch the experiments.  There was no other way to make it stop, Scully.  The only way to win their game is not to play."

 

She walked away from him, shaking her head.  "I can't believe you're really this naïve, not after all these years."

 

"It's been two years without incident, right?  I'd call that a success."

 

"And yet here we are again," she replied as she turned around to face him.  "The man I'm involved with just happens to have a murdered sister who appears also to have been your sister.  Oh, and she was married to a senior FBI agent.  Doesn't this strike you as just a little more than coincidental?  Ten miles, two thousand miles – it makes no difference."

 

"Wait a second."  He glanced behind him at the empty hall.  "You're saying you think it's a setup?  That Milgram's involved?"

 

"I'm saying I'm still a lab rat.  The only difference is that you're not here to watch."

 

"That's not fair."

 

"Is it? I have a tracking device in my neck!  Or had you forgotten that part?"

 

He drew up short. If she was the rat, he was the lab assistant to that little experiment.  Samantha or Scully.  Scully or Samantha.  Someone always was making him choose, and he picked the same one every single time, with predictable results:  you can save her but you can't have her back.

 

"You didn't set me free, Mulder."  She looked older, tired.  "You just cut me out of the loop."

 

"Yeah, well."  He felt old now too.  "If it makes you feel any better I cut myself out of the loop too."  He leaned against the dull gray wall and stared up at the cardboard ceiling.

 

"Diana still has the X-files?"  Her tone was polite, almost disinterested.

 

He rolled his head to look at her.  "We still work for the same institution, Scully.  Don't tell me you didn't already know the answer to that."

 

"I knew," she admitted, taking a step closer to him but not looking him in the eyes.

 

"Must have made you happy."

 

"Happy?" she echoed as though she'd never heard of such a thing.  "Of course I'm not happy.  The answers I want are still in those files somewhere, and at least if you were investigating, I'd know that someone was trying to find the truth."

 

"You don't think Agent Fowley–"

 

"Oh, please. Spare me the ‘Agent Fowley' nonsense.  I know you and she are...whatever it is you're calling it.  Personally involved."

 

"What?"  He pushed off from the wall, genuinely shocked.

 

"You can't believe how badly people wanted me to know.  I practically got a singing interoffice telegram.  But I can't say it came as a particular surprise.  Diana Fowley showed up with a very short agenda, to claim both you and the X-files, and from where things stand, it seems like she is two for two."

 

"It's more complicated than that," he said, and Scully gave a derisive snort.

 

"Two years without incident.  Your words, not mine.  How many days did we ever manage to go between DOD strip searches, NSA kidnappings, and insubordination hearings?"

 

"She's made some progress."  He struggled to come up with specifics.

 

Scully lifted her chin and raised her eyebrows.  "Oh?"

 

"She helped me found the X-files," he said finally.  "You can't really think she's on their side."

 

Some sympathy returned to her eyes.  "I don't know, Mulder.  All I can say is that it doesn't seem like she was ever really on yours."

 

"Am I interrupting something?"  They both turned to find Ruben Cetera at the end of the hall.

 

Scully cleared her throat.  "No, of course not."

 

"Milgram wants to talk to Mulder.  He says your secret is out."

 

Scully glanced up at him.  "He knows?"

 

"I didn't say anything to him."

 

Ruben held up his hands.  "Don't look at me.  The guy's been outside smoking and talking on his cell phone the entire time you two were back here...doing whatever it is you were doing."

 

"Just catching up," Mulder said easily as he breezed past Scully.  He drained his Coke, crushed the can one-handed, and tossed it back over his shoulder, sinking it into the garbage on the first try.  "Still got it," he said, facing backward to look at Scully.

 

He caught just a hint of a smile on her face as he turned around again.

 

"There he is."  Jack Milgram pointed from across the room.  "You were holding out me, my man.  Forget all that spooks and goblins shit, you're the Fox Mulder who wowed BSU back in the day.  Monty Props, Calvin Banks ­– you trained under Bill Patterson and then caught the crazy SOB himself.  We need you on this case."

 

"I don't think..."

 

"Too late.  I already have the wheels in motion.  Sheriff won't be able to say no."

 

"Watch me."  Sheriff Holloway emerged from his office, looking grim.  "Your story checks out," he told Mulder.  "But I can't have you on this case, not in any official capacity."

 

"I wouldn't expect otherwise."

 

"Holloway, I don't think you know what you've got here.  Mulder is a primo profiler.  He's helped catch some of the countries most dangerous killers, almost single-handedly in some cases.  He could be a real resource to you."

 

"I'm going to need all of you.  Not to help run this case but to start telling me the truth, and I mean all of it.  None of this makes sense. I've got a victim found savagely beaten inside one of our more seedy motels, and she turns out to be a family woman with two small kids at home."  He glared at Milgram.  "What the hell is she doing here alone?"

 

"I've been asking myself that same question," Milgram replied. 

 

"And you two."  Holloway looked from Mulder to Ruben.  "I don't pretend to understand the family dynamics going on, but I'm going to need a crash course.  What happened to your sister back in the seventies, how she came to end up adopted, and why poking around in her past might have gotten her killed."

 

Mulder looked at Scully.  "I might have some ideas," he said, "but it would help if I knew a little more about the circumstances of her death."

 

"See?" Milgram pointed again.  "Let the man work.  He can solve this case."

 

"What is it you want to know?" Holloway asked.

 

"Reports from the scene.  Pictures, that sort of thing. I'd like if I could visit the motel room itself."

 

"Out of the question.  But I'll see what we can do on those reports.  Maybe.  No promises, and absolutely nothing leaves the premises."

 

"Fine by me," Mulder said, holding up his hands.  "I just want to help."

 

"Right now you can help by staying out of my way – all of you.  I'll call you if I need you." 

 

After the Sheriff left, Mulder crossed to where Scully and Ruben were standing.  "Any way you can get me a look at the body?"

 

Scully looked pained.  "Maybe.  The M.E. has been surprisingly cooperative so far but he's running out of patience and I don't blame him.  He's going to catch hell from Holloway over the PCR test I asked him to run."

 

"Ask anyway, will you?  I owe you one."

 

"I'll make the call and plead your case.  I think his curiosity might be strong enough to make it happen.  Let me see what I can do."

 

"I want to go too," Ruben interjected, and Scully looked surprised.

 

"You've seen her," she said.  "There have been no new developments."

 

"That's not true.  Now I know who she is."


 

Chapter Six

 

Scully couldn't think of a good excuse not to include him, so Ruben rode with her to the morgue.  She was having trouble recalling how they had first met.

 

You think it's a setup? Mulder had asked.  The question would not leave her alone.

 

The car was an oven, stinking of baked plastic and leather.  Scully grasped the burning wheel gingerly as Ruben tilted the air vents toward his face.  He seemed larger somehow and she wished she hadn't let him come along.  Heat prickled the back of her neck; her mouth was dry.

 

Ruben uncapped a half-empty water bottle and drank it down.  "Thanks for letting me tag along," he said, tapping the bottle against his knee.  "With Milgram sniffing around and now Mulder involved, I just don't want to get shut out.  She belonged to me too, you know."

 

But he didn't sound as sure anymore.  

 

"I was just thinking of our first case together," she said, glad for the dark glasses that shielded her eyes.  Her voice sounded high and thin.  "How we met."

 

"Oh? What brought that to mind?"

 

The air seemed to shimmer off the road in front of her.  She felt momentarily light-headed.  "I wondered when you caught the case," she said as she fumbled blindly with an air conditioning vent.  "It was after I was on board, right?"

 

"I guess.   I don't really remember the specifics."  He turned to look out at the passing buildings.  "Pawn shop, fast food, strip joint – all of them no doubt have slots inside.  I can't imagine raising my kids in this city, I don't care how far outside the strip you get."

 

"Do you remember who approached you about the case?"

 

"What?  No, it was pegged as a loser from the start.  No one else wanted it, so of course it ended up on my desk."

 

What she knew now, but not back then, was that Ruben had a reputation for taking long-odds cases.   "So it wasn't a special request?" 

 

He gave a short, humorless laugh.  "They wait until I get up to go to the bathroom and then stick the files on my chair.  If you call that special..."

 

"So you're saying anyone could have put it there."

 

"Dana, what's the problem here?  Who cares how I ended up on the case?"

 

God help her if they had sacrificed a ten-year-old boy so she could have a love life.  She gripped the wheel tightly and tried not to be sick.  Leave one Mulder, she thought, and they send you another.  Right down to the same goddamned sister.

 

"Dana?  You okay? You look a little pale."

 

She pulled the car to the side of the road and buried her head in her hands, sunglasses falling aside as she took deep breaths to quell the nausea.

 

"Honey, are you ok?"  Ruben's hand was heavy and hot on her shoulder.  "What's wrong?"

 

"Your sister had a metal implant in her sinus cavity."  She sat up and pointed to her cheekbone.  "Here.  It was likely placed surgically sometime during her childhood abduction, by whom and for what eventual purpose we don't know, but if it's the same as the others then it had the ability to control both her mind and her body.  To make her...do things against her will."

 

"What are you talking about, an implanted chip?”

 

“We took X-rays of her body.  I saw it myself.”

 

His fingers bit into her shoulder. “Stop it.  You're not making sense.   You need some air."  He reached over and turned the car back on again, renewing the cold blast of air conditioning.  "Maybe you should see a doctor."

 

"No, you need to listen.  I realize what I'm telling you sounds fantastic and unimaginable, but it's the truth and you need to hear it.  Annie...Samantha...she was taken for covert scientific testing with the direct knowledge, if not outright cooperation, of members of the United States government."

 

"Dana, you're scaring me, honey."  He was still trying to feel her forehead for fever.  "You're not thinking straight.  We need to get to you a hospital."

 

"I don't need a hospital."  She swatted his hand away.  "I'm fine.  I'm trying to explain why your sister's murder is even more extraordinary than you realize.  That chip is a tracking device.  The men behind it, even if they aren't responsible for her death, may well show up to dispose of the evidence."

 

"Implants?  Abductions and secret government testing?  The next thing you'll be telling me is that a UFO came down and took her to Mars."

 

Scully was silent.

 

"Aliens?" he asked with disbelief.  "You're seriously kidding me."

 

"Mulder has a theory..."

 

"Aw, Dana, come on.  Cut this shit out, okay?  I really don't need it right now.  I've seen what was done to Annie, and that's the work of man, not ET."

 

She screwed her eyes shut and leaned against the headrest, trying to remember how it felt to be on the other side.  "I didn't believe it either," she said.  "Until it happened to me."

 

He said nothing but she felt him go completely still.  She waited through a long, agonizing silence until she couldn't take it anymore and opened her eyes again.  Ruben had his back pressed against the car door and was staring at her like she was a stranger.

 

"I don't remember any of it," she said softly.  "But I was missing for three months back in 1994.  Someone dropped me off at a hospital, where I was unconscious for several more days.  The case remains open and unsolved.  But several months later, I discovered a microchip implanted near my brainstem." 

 

She reached around to touch the scar.

 

"Why didn't you take it out?" Ruben asked.

 

"I did take it out.  I nearly died."

 

"The cancer?" he whispered, and she nodded.

 

"The cancer went into remission immediately after the chip was reimplanted."

 

Ruben's shoulders slumped but he remained as far from her as possible.   He looked almost as unhappy as he had the night they got the phone call saying Annie was dead.

 

"I don't know what I'm supposed to make of all of this.  What you're telling me, it sounds insane.  But I know you.  You're about the least crazy person I've ever met.  I'm starting to wonder if maybe I'm the one having hallucinations."

 

"I wish it weren't true.  I wish I didn't have to tell you."

 

"I wish you'd told me sooner."

 

"I left the X-files, which I thought was part of their goal.  I guess I hoped I was off the grid, that it wouldn't matter anymore.  You know what it's like to start over.  You've said yourself how sometimes all a person needs is one new chance."

 

"From parents who beat you!  From a life in poverty or drug addiction!  I never said anything about this."  He rubbed his head as though it hurt.  "This chip," he said without looking at her.  "You said it can make you do things..."

 

She hesitated.  "Once, yes.  But not in many years.  Not since I've known you."

 

"I want to drive," he said, getting out of the car.

 

Tears welled up in her eyes, blurring her sight.  She jumped as he jerked her door open.

 

"Get out."

 

"Ruben, please.  I'm sorry about all of this."

 

"I don't know how much of this to believe, but you clearly believe it, and that's scary enough for me.  If you’ve got some computer chip implanted in your neck that makes you do crazy things, I do not want you driving.  Get out."

 

He moved aside so she could exit.  Thankfully, her legs held up. "I never meant to hurt you," she said.

 

"You never meant me to find out.  That's not the same thing at all."  He brushed past her and took over the driver's seat, slamming the door.  For a moment, she thought he might drive off without her, but he sat hunched at the wheel, fuming while the car idled.

 

Slowly, she crossed and got in on the other side.  "I'm sorry," she said again.

 

"I wanted to build a life with you.  Now I'm not even sure who you are."

 

"We never talked about that," she protested weakly, but knew it was unfair.  She'd known full well where Ruben's heart and mind were headed, and she'd allowed him to believe enough for the both of them.

 

Ruben drove with controlled precision, hardly sparing her a glance.  She fished her sunglasses from the floor and put them on again.

 

Mulder had obviously beaten them to the morgue, and he leaned against the metal railing, squinting in the sun.  It was such a familiar picture for her that she almost felt relief. With Mulder, she was normal again. You can do this, she said.  Just keep breathing.

 

They got out of the car, and Mulder righted himself.  "You guys stop to hit the slots on the way over?" he asked.

 

"Sorry we're late," Ruben said shortly as he stalked into the building.

 

Mulder raised his eyebrows in surprise and pointed at the door.  "Um, do we have a problem?"

 

"I told him about the chip," she replied wearily.

 

Mulder did a double take and took a step closer. "Hers, or...?"

 

"Both."  She steeled herself.  "Don't worry about it, all right?  He'll come around.  It's just a lot to swallow right now."

 

Mulder made no effort to move inside.  "So you never told him.  Not about the X-files, not about what happened to you, none of it."  He let out a low whistle.  "No wonder he's pissed."

 

"I was protecting him."

 

"Protecting him? Oh, that's classic."  Mulder turned his head and grinned without humor.  "Classic Scully.  I hear there's a river in Egypt they're thinking of renaming after you.  Don't pretend as though you lied for him."

 

"I didn't lie!"

 

Mulder talk over her as though she hadn't spoken. "If you don't mention it, it never happened, right?"

 

"You're one to talk."

 

"What's that supposed to mean?"

 

"You kept me on a strict need-to-know basis, Mulder.  My X-files intel had black lines through everything you thought was beyond or beneath me."

 

"I don't know what you're talking about."

 

His sister was cold and dead not fifty yards away.  "Forget it.  We can talk about this later."  She tried to walk past him, but he blocked her path.

 

"No, I want to know, because from my perspective, the only time I stopped telling you things is when you didn't care to listen."

 

"It doesn't matter anymore."

 

"It matters to me," he said more softly.  "I want to know.  Is that why you left?"

 

She couldn't see his eyes behind his sunglasses.  "You already know why I left."

 

"You...I..." He broke off and looked at the ground.  "I know why you left," he admitted finally.  "What I'm asking is...why didn't you ever look back?"

 

The question hit her square in the gut.  She pursed her lips, shook her head slightly.  "What was I supposed to do?  Stand around and watch you work the X-files?  You didn't want me there."

 

"I didn't want you to leave."

 

"You had a funny way of showing it.  Even now, there's something you're not telling me."

 

"You keep saying that, but I have yet to hear any examples."

 

The hot sun was making it hard to think.  "Well, for one thing, apparently you were out in L.A. investigating possible vampire-related arson while I was missing six years ago.  We covered all the cases you worked while I was gone and somehow that one never came up.  Doesn't sound all that earth-shattering, but now I'm left to wonder why you left that case out."

 

He didn't blink. "That's it?  That's all you've got?  One case from six years ago?"

 

"You wanted examples.  Here's another one: you're not all that surprised to be here.  I've been watching you, Mulder.  The specifics of this case are shocking to you but there's a...a kind of blunted affect here that is uncharacteristic.  I'd been attributing your emotional fatigue to all those false leads you've chased over the years, saying to myself that maybe you couldn't quite believe this is for real, but now I'm not so sure."

 

Guilt flashed across his features and she knew she'd hit her mark.

 

"Tell me," she said.

 

The door opened and Ruben reappeared; neither Mulder nor Scully turned to look at him.  "Are you two coming or not?  The M.E. is getting impatient."

 

"I *never* expected this," Mulder said to her.  "If you believe nothing else, believe that much."

 

He walked up the stairs and caught the door from Ruben.  The two men vanished inside into the dark hall, leaving her frying alone in the parking lot.

 

*****

 

His earliest memory of Samantha was not her birth.  It was five months later, when she got him in trouble on a snowy afternoon.   The ancient heating system in the house was working overtime, radiators huffing like steam engines and old pipes clanging from inside the walls. 

 

Mulder loved the noise so much he'd answered it by hitting his toy mallet against the hollow metal radiator.  Bang!  Clang! 

 

His new baby sister squalled from the next room.

 

"Fox!"  His mother had hollered, startling him so much he fell forward and burned his hand on the sizzling pipe.  "What did I tell you about keeping quiet?  You woke the baby!"

 

He hadn't seen how she could hold him responsible and not the radiator, but he got his bottom swatted and was kept in his room for the remainder of the day, left with only the drifting snow to amuse himself.  He'd snuck out while his mother prepared dinner and found Samantha lying in her crib, gumming one end of a rattle.

 

"You're a good for nothing SOB," he'd told her, because this was what his father called the ball players on the radio when he was angry.

 

Samantha had waved the rattle at him and gurgled.

 

He'd reached in through the slats, intent on pinching her fat leg – hard – but she'd dropped the rattle and grabbed his hand.

 

He still remembered how small her fingers had looked and the sharp pinch of her tiny nails.

 

The dead woman in the morgue looked nothing like that baby, nothing like the little girl from his past.  He had imagined many different endings for her but none such as this.  However much he'd loved her, someone had hated her more.  Mulder counted at least ten separate blows.

 

"You can cover her up again," he told Bartleby.

 

The M.E. raised the sheet and peered at Mulder over the rims of his glasses.  "Agent Scully said you've been looking for her for more than twenty years.  I'm sorry for the ugly conclusion."

 

"Thanks."   One of her hands had not made it back under the sheet.  Mulder remembered how she'd felt, slipping through his grasp that last night in the diner. 

 

"Can I ask you about the chip?" Bartleby asked, and Mulder saw Ruben tense.

 

"I'm afraid I don't have many answers," Mulder replied.  "Where did you find it?"

 

Bartleby lowered the sheet again and indicated the left cheek, just below her eye.  "I've done close to a thousand autopsies and I've never seen anything like it, but Agent Scully had seen it before.  She's the one who suggested we look."

 

"She was abducted as a child and we've seen similar implants in other abduction survivors," Mulder explained.

 

"You think there's a connection to her murder?"

 

"No," Mulder said grimly. 

 

"How can you be so sure?" Ruben asked, accusation tingeing his voice.

 

"Because they would have taken the chip with them."  He nodded to Bartleby.  "Can you remove it and give it to me or Agent Scully?"

 

"I don't know.  This is an open investigation..."

 

"The people who put the chip there are going to come back for it sooner or later," Mulder told him.  "Trust me when I say that you are safer with it off the premises."

 

Bartleby looked surprised and turned to Scully, who nodded ever so slightly.  "It's true," she said. "We've seen it happen before – fires, break-ins – evidence is damaged or disappears.  Removing the implant probably gives us the best chance of preserving the remaining findings for eventual prosecution."

 

"I'll see what I can do," Bartleby said.

 

"She used to cut herself," Ruben said in a rush.  "Back in high school.  Not very often and when I found out, I made her promise to stop.  Is there any chance she could have put the metal chip in there herself?"

 

"Given its placement?" Bartleby answered.  "Not a chance."

 

 Outside, the heat was like a wall.  Mulder tugged at his tie as Ruben jangled the car keys.  "My parents are flying in," he said.  "I've got to meet them at the airport."

 

It wasn't clear whether he meant to include Scully, and she didn't get a chance to ask because a rented black sedan pulled up next to them.  The window rolled down to reveal Jack Milgram.  "You all ran off without me," he said.

 

"I just wanted to see the body," answered Mulder.

 

Milgram seemed totally uninterested in the response.  "I don't care what Holloway says.  I'm going over to get a look at that motel.  You want in?"

 

"I've got to go," Ruben repeated.

 

"I'll come with you,” Scully said.

 

"No," he said sharply.  "Mulder can give you a lift, right?"

 

Mulder nodded.  "Sure, but..."

 

"I'll see you later then."  Ruben walked off without another glance.

 

Milgram gunned his motor.  "So, how about it?  We can show Holloway how the big boys play."

 

"We'll follow you," Mulder said.

 

"Suit yourself."  The tinted window rolled up again and Milgram did a quick turn in the parking lot.

 

"Looks like it's you and me," Mulder said to Scully.  "Just like old times."

 

She did not smile but followed him to the car.  Inside, he cranked up the A/C and took off his tie.  Scully was silent, her attention focused somewhere far beyond the confines of their rented sedan.  Mulder had a fair guess as to what was on her mind.

 

"If you want, I can try to talk to him," he said at length.  "I always make you look sane by comparison."

 

"No." 

 

"He'll get over it."

 

She shook her head and leaned against the seat.  "I'm not sure he will.  I’m not sure I want him to."

 

"Aw, come on.  You two crazy kids can work this out."

 

"Mulder, if this was some set-up, then either Ruben is being used to keep an eye on me or vice-versa.  Either way, the romance loses a certain something."

 

Romance, he thought, was about the last thing he’d expected her to find when she’d fled to Utah. By the time she had left, neither one of them had been on a date in years. As far as he was concerned, he still hadn’t.

 

The roar of the air conditioning filled the cabin.  Mulder kept his eyes on the road as he made his confession.

 

"I slept with a witness."

 

This got her attention, and she sat up to look at him.

 

"Back in L.A. six years ago, on the arson case that I did not tell you about.  Her name was Kristin and she was beautiful and lonely and I thought I could help her.  She told me she wanted to die.  I didn't take her seriously enough because she was true to her word: the case ended with her setting herself on fire."

 

"That's awful."

 

"I didn't want you to know."

 

"Mulder, if she was suicidal, that wasn't your fault."

 

He shook his head.  "No, that's not it.  At first, that's what I told myself, that I didn't want anyone else knowing how badly I had fucked up.  It took me a long time to realize the real reason I never said anything.  You would have known.  You can see it in my notes."

 

He glanced at her, and her expression was kind, questioning.  "What?" she asked.

 

"That I wanted to die too.”

 

Maybe now she would finally understand why he had not wanted to sign up for another tour. Both of them had barely made it out alive the first time.

 

"I'm sorry," she said eventually.  "I’m sorry that I never knew how difficult that time was for you."

 

"I didn't want you to know."

 

She leaned back in her seat.  "Yes, exactly." 

 

They arrived at the motel and Mulder steered the car into the parking lot.  "There's Milgram on the end," he said.  "The room must be down here."  He took the slot next to Milgram's rental.

 

They got out and Mulder surveyed the concrete jungle.  The Mayfield motel probably dated back to the 1960s and hadn't seen much love since then.  There were white stucco patches on the orange walls; the chain link fence around the small pool had several holes in it.  Inside, a faded beach ball floated alone in the water.

 

Milgram had inexplicably parked next to the dumpster, which stunk of baked garbage.  "Nice place," Mulder said as Scully waved flies from her face.

 

"I think we're looking for the second floor."

 

Mulder followed her to the crumbling staircase.  Paint peeled away from the metal rail.  "Milgram must have really stuck it to her in the divorce if this was the best she could afford."

 

At the top, they looked around but didn't see the man in question.  "I believe it's room 222," Scully said.

 

"There you are."  Milgram stuck his head around the corner.  "You two drive like my Aunt Sally.  Come on, the room is back this way."

 

They joined him on the far side of the motel, where the murder scene was not hard to spot.  It had been sealed up with yellow crime scene tape.  Mulder paused and looked over the railing at the narrow alley below.  "I suppose it's possible for someone to get up here if they were motivated enough, but most likely they'd have to use the same stairs we did.  She was out of the way back here.  You have to pass two dozen other rooms, so clearly the killer had a specific target in mind."

 

Milgram had his hands cupped around his head as he tried to see through a crack in the drapes.  "Can't see a God-damned thing.  You want to have a look-see?" he asked as he straightened up.

 

"We can't break the tape," Scully said.

 

"She's right,” Mulder said.  “We can't compromise the investigation.  We disrupt the scene and any evidence becomes tainted.  You know that."

 

"This investigation is already tainted.  There's another victim, same MO, happened about a month ago.  Holloway won't even give it a look."

 

"What was your wife doing here in Vegas?" Mulder asked him.  "Do you know?"

 

"I wish to hell I did.  Lately when we talked, all we did was fight, so I didn't do much prying into her business.  My lawyer said it was just best to follow the custody orders with a minimum fuss if I wanted to get them changed."

 

"Why were you trying for custody?"

"Samantha had always been a great mother, don't get me wrong.  But lately, she was slipping.  She'd be late picking them up.  They'd come home with dirty clothes.  Sam seemed distracted, and once I smelled liquor on her breath.  I thought maybe she had a new romance going on but the kids said no, they hadn't seen a man hanging around the house.  I'm thankful enough for that.  Whatever was going on with her, she didn't parade it in front of them."

 

Mulder bent to examine the lock on the door.  "Doesn't seem obviously tampered with," he said.

 

"A chimp with an Amex card could pick that puppy in ten seconds."

 

"Do you have a recent picture of her?" Mulder asked as he stood up.

 

"Recent?  Yeah, maybe."  He pulled out his wallet.  "Here, this one is from two years ago.  Our last family portrait."

 

"Thanks."  He meant to just give it a quick glance, but instead, he drew up short with the snapshot in his hands.  The familiar face he’d grown to accept as hers smiled out at him from a happier time.  Milgram had his arm around her shoulder, and the kids snuggled between them. Mulder knew better than most that pictures could lie – he had a shot just like this one of the four of them on their old patio, his parents sharing a half-embrace and matching contented smiles. But still it was strange to see her as she had been, alive and happy, part of a new family of her own making. 

 

He started toward the front office back around the building.  Scully and Milgram followed.

 

A young West Indian man was sitting behind the desk in front of a small fan.  He barely looked up from his Tom Clancy novel as they entered.  "Twenty-nine dollars a night," he mumbled.  "No personal checks without two forms of ID."

 

"How's this?" Mulder asked, holding his FBI identification right under the guy’s nose.

 

He sat up straight in a hurry.  "What seems to be the problem, sir?"

 

"We're investigating the murder that took place here a few days ago."

 

"Oh, that,” he said, making an unpleasant face. “I wasn't here that night, but I had seen the lady on many occasions before."

 

Mulder exchanged a glance with Scully, who also seemed surprised by this information.  "Really?  This lady?"  He offered up the picture.

 

"Yes, that is her.  Is this her family?  I didn't realize she had children.  Such a terrible tragedy.  She seemed like such a nice lady.  We don't get too many nice ladies who stay here."

 

"How often was she here?"

 

He shrugged.  "At least six times in the past four months that I am aware of.  Always on the weekend before this time.  This time she checked in on a Tuesday."

 

"Did you see her with anyone else?"  Mulder wanted to know.  "Maybe a man?"

 

"No, she was always alone that I could see.  No one ever checked in with her."

 

"Okay, thank you."  Mulder took the photo and handed it back to Milgram.

 

"I had no idea she was coming here so often," he said.  "Explains why she was tired and distracted, if she was coming out here all the time.  Maybe it wasn’t a new man...maybe she had a gambling problem."

 

Mulder noticed Scully was staring out the glass door at the cars parked across the street.  He walked over and joined her.  "What do you see?"

 

"There's someone in that red Honda," she said.  "A woman, I think.  She's been watching us."

 

Mulder caught a glimpse of blonde hair.  "Kind of warm to be sitting around in your car just for the fun of it," he murmured.

 

"Precisely what I was thinking.  I'll run the plates."

 

Mulder's cell phone rang and he pulled it out.  "Mulder."

 

"Agent Mulder, this is Holloway.  If you still want to see that crime scene information, I have it pulled together for you."

 

"I'm on my way."

 

****

 

Scully brought their dinner fare, sandwiches and sodas, to the small, airless room where Mulder sat with the crime scene reports and photos.  "How's it going?" she asked as she squeezed her way in next to him.

 

He sat back and rubbed his face with both hands.  “I’m still not sure what to think.  It’s like déjà vu all over again, right?  Here we are – you, me...and her.”  He gestured at the ugly pictures in front of him and sat back with a sigh.  “You must have thought you were truly rid of me by now, but two thousand miles just wasn’t enough.”

 

“I wasn’t trying to be rid of you,” she said quietly, her gaze downcast.

 

He nodded, not quite believing her.  “I let myself imagine it sometimes – finding the answers at last, that perhaps it was possible to get back to the original sin and nail the person responsible for all of it.  Then maybe I could have called you up, ‘hey, Scully, olly olly oxen free, it’s safe to come home now.’”  He ducked his head and murmured the last of it. “All is forgiven.”

 

“Mulder,” she said, “you don’t need my forgiveness.”

 

“Maybe not.”  His gaze flicked over the photographs again and then back to Scully.  “But you’re the one who’s here.”

 

She reached out to take his hand, and he laced their fingers together, extending the caress.  She had been round and soft when they’d met; he had trouble conjuring her image from back then, but he always knew the feel of her. The cancer had winnowed her down to the bone, her hands cold and small, but then like a fairy tale she’d come alive again, and he had hardly dared to touch her for fear of breaking the spell.

 

They took everything he wanted, so he’d been careful not to want her too much.

 

He rubbed the tender flesh at the base of her thumb, and she pulled away with an audible sigh.  “Have you...have you found any leads?”

 

 

"I was just about to cue up the security camera footage from the motel parking lot.  Based on our experience this afternoon, I don't have a lot of confidence in the quality."

 

"Milgram is outside spitting bullets that he's not allowed in here to your secret clubhouse."

 

"Not my call," Mulder said before biting into his turkey sandwich.  "Can't say I'm disappointed though.  How Samantha ended up married to that prick is beyond me."

 

"Holloway likes him for the murder," she said as she opened her Diet Coke, and Mulder stopped chewing.

 

"Yeah?" he asked around a mouthful of turkey.

 

"He pretty much came right out and told me."

 

"Makes a certain amount of sense, but I would think his alibi would have been easy to check."

 

"There must be some question about it because Holloway hasn't cleared him yet." She picked up the nearest picture, which showed a blood-streaked bathroom.  "Do you have any theories?"

 

"It's so messy," he said, rooting around for more photographs.  "Forget the Consortium crew, I'd be hard pressed to say Milgram is responsible for this.  It seems like the killer probably took her by surprise, possibly in the bathroom, but she managed to get past him somehow to the bedroom.  He had the advantage of a weapon and the fact that she didn't know he was coming and still he lost control of the situation, at least for a time.  That says amateur to me."

 

"Crime of passion," she said.

 

He nodded.  "Yes, but they didn't recover a murder weapon and there's nothing obvious missing from the room.  That suggests premeditation."  He picked up a picture of Samantha's crumpled body.  "Whoever did this kept hitting her long after she was down.  It's as if he wasn't satisfied with killing her; he wanted to expunge her very existence."

 

"If it's an inexperienced killer, maybe he's on the tape."

 

Mulder picked up the VCR remote.  "We can hope.  But Holloway's been over this one and he didn't pick up anything.  From the notes, I gather she's on the tape right around the two a.m. mark, but unaccompanied and no signs of anyone following her."

 

As Mulder had predicted, the parking lot footage was grainy and degraded.  While the sun was still up, they had a good view of people coming and going, but as the light faded, so did their ability to make out much detail.  "This is practically useless," he muttered.

 

Something about the tape was bothering Scully but she couldn't quite figure out what it was.  The shots of the cars reminded her of the red Honda.  "It was a private investigator who was watching us from the car today," she said.  "I ran the plates and the Honda came back registered to Dorothy Carson, Inc. She runs a PI agency here in the city."

 

"So she may not have been watching us."

 

Scully smiled.  "More likely we were walk-ons in some suburban marital drama."

 

"Hey, look.  I think that's her."  Mulder rewound the tape.  "See?  Walking across the parking lot with the big white purse."

 

Sure enough, Scully could just make out Samantha Milgram crossing the parking lot on foot.  She went to the stairs and presumably up to her room.  "I don't see anyone else around."

 

"Me either."

 

"Is this the last time she's on the tape?"

 

"Let me check."  He shifted through the files, looking for the notes. 

 

Scully watched the screen and tried again to figure out what was bothering her about the shot.  "At least we know she was still alive at two a.m..  But you would think she'd have to have been followed.  Either that or the killer was already lying in wait."

 

"Well, keep in mind our view is cut off there on the left side.  The camera doesn't capture everything.  Hey, wait a second.  Wait just a second."

 

"What?"

 

"Take a look at this and tell me what you see."  He handed her a page of the report.

 

"It's an inventory of the room's contents."  She scanned it again.  "What am I looking for?"

 

Mulder was rewinding the tape again.  He halted it on an image of Samantha in the parking lot.  "That," he said, pointing at the white purse.  "It's not on the list."

 

"You're right," she said, checking again.  "The killer took it with him.  But I see they did find a purse here, a black one.  So whatever was in that bag, it may not have been the usual wallet and keys."

 

Mulder let the tape play again, tapping the remote against his chin as he watched Samantha disappear from view once more.  "I wish we could follow her right off the screen."

 

She jerked her head up and looked at the TV.  "Off the screen,” she repeated. “Mulder, look."

 

"Hmm?"

 

"Do you realize the camera captures every car in the parking lot except for one?"

 

"Yeah, the one near the dumpster."

 

"The one Milgram used today."

 

He sat up, sober at the news.  "Could be a coincidence."

 

"Or a habit."

 

A sharp knock at the door made them both jump.   Holloway stuck his head in, not looking pleased.  "I know I've made jokes, but this time I've really had it.  You people won't stop until you've got the whole damned FBI in on this case."

 

"What are you talking about?" Mulder asked.  "I didn't call anyone else.  Go speak to Agent Milgram."

 

"I would, but she's asking for you."

 

"She?"

 

"Agent Diana Fowley."

 



 

Chapter Seven

 

 

She wondered if his parents had known how appropriate the name was when they picked it out: Fox. He had that gorgeous pelt of brown hair, eyes with flecks of gold ­- a natural beauty so familiar that you forgot he was not domesticated.

 

“Why are you here?” he asked, indeed looking as though he might bite her.  For her part, Scully seemed unsurprised at Diana’s abrupt appearance.

 

“Looks like an X-Files reunion,” Diana replied.  “Guess my invitation must have been lost in the mail.”  The air was hot and still in the little room; she had once again squeezed herself into an office only big enough for the two of them.

 

“You were specifically not invited as I recall,” Mulder said, “and this is not an X-file.”

 

“Really.” He started gathering up the photographs from the table, but not quickly enough that she couldn’t snatch one. “That’s an interesting assessment considering that this face graces at least a half a dozen files in my office.”

 

Mulder rose up to take the picture from her, and she didn’t bother to fight him.  Here he was trying to piece together what had happened, no doubt pursuing the killer, when of course it hardly mattered who had done it.  The whole thing was going to hell and there was nothing anyone could do to stop it now.

 

“Is she really dead this time?” Diana asked.  “Because I know there has been some question in the past.”

 

Scully frowned at her.  “I was present at the autopsy myself,” she said.

 

Of course she was.  Diana repressed a sigh. “I can gather why Mulder dropped everything to be here,” she said, “but what precisely is your interest in this case?”

 

Scully folded her arms across her chest. “It’s personal.” 

 

Diana gave a tight smile and looked at Mulder.  “Where have I heard that one before?”

 

“You can feel free to leave,” he replied.  “And then you don’t have to hear it again.”

 

“This case…” she began, and he cut her off.

 

“Is not yours.”

 

“Nor yours,” she countered.

 

“Actually, that’s not true.  Sheriff Holloway has asked me to consult.”  There was an angry glint in his eye, mixed with satisfaction.  His presence was not at her discretion this time.


“I thought you said this wasn’t an X-file.”

 

“Well, I’m not assigned to the X-files these days, now am I?”

 

She flushed a bit because Scully was watching.  She still maintained that Scully was the more dangerous one, although no one else ever seemed to believe her.  Mulder saw only what he wanted to see; Scully, if she bothered to look, always saw the truth.  “Okay, I’ll go,” Diana said softly, looking at Mulder.  “If you’ll come with me.” 

 

He shook his head.  “No way.”

 

“You said yourself this isn’t an X-file.  Let the Sheriff handle it…”

 

“If you’ve read my files, then you know why I can’t do that.” 

 

He was still clutching the brutal pictures protectively, as if she might try to take them away, as she had taken everything else.  She had seen enough of them to know: there was nothing in the X-files that ever would have predicted this. “Fox, if it’s really her…”

 

“It’s her,” he said tightly, and held the photos a little closer to his chest.  “Scully ran a DNA test.”

 

“DNA can lie.”

 

He glanced at Scully, ready to take whatever cue she cared to offer. Diana looked from one to the other, and she finally understood why this time was different: this time, Scully believed, too. 

 

Someone, she thought, better start answering her phone calls.

 

***

Summer in Kirkland, Connecticut was very different from Las Vegas.  It was lush green trees and thick, muggy air, perfumed with cut grass and the acrid smoke from a distant barbecue. Scotty was slouched low in the driver’s seat of his cheap, rented sedan, aware how conspicuous he must be on an otherwise empty road, even as night crept into the sky.  The houses were big and set far in from the street; money bought you distance from your neighbors.

 

It had been easy enough to trail Mr. Jameson back here; Old Smokey rode in first class and wouldn’t be bothered by the riffraff back in coach.  No, he was too busy drinking scotch and jonesing for his next nicotine hit.  They’d barely been off the plane two minutes before he was outside puffing away.

 

But it was one thing to follow him amid the throngs of passengers at Bradley International and quite another to be sitting out in the open on the wide boulevard, in a neighborhood where not even a blade of grass was out of place.  He trained his binoculars again at the house in the distance. The lights were on, but the blinds were drawn.  Every so often, he saw a shadowy figure cross in front of the windows.  If he wanted to confirm that Stephanie Jameson was in there, he would need a closer look.

 

Dottie would kill him if she knew what he was up to, but she was also the one who had taught him the PI motto: pictures or it didn’t happen.  So he took up his camera and exited the car as quietly as possible.  He jogged up the long, sloping drive and slipped in close to the bushes near the house.  Heart pounding, he waited for any sign that he might have been seen.  None came.  There was only the persistent hum of bugs buzzing in the trees.

 

Feeling emboldened, he started a stealth circle around toward the back of the house, looking for any window that was open or uncovered.  In the back, at the kitchen, he found one, but it was too high off the ground to be able to see in with any degree of value.  He squinted around in the dark, looking for something to stand on, and discovered a grouping of large decorative stones.  The smallest was light enough to move, so he carried it close to the window and stood on top.

 

His eyes went wide at the sight of her, alive and moving around.  In his car, she was dead with half her face gone, but this woman was whole flesh and blood, her hair pinned off her neck and curling from the summer swelter.  He raised his camera and took a few quick shots of her as she wiped down the counter.  Maybe Old Smokey had been telling the truth all along.

 

He lowered the camera and studied the woman again – she looked tired, maybe, but she was unharmed and at ease in her ornate kitchen.  Dottie could feel free to spend his money without guilt.

 

As he went to snap a few more pictures, he smelled it: cigarette smoke wafting heavy from behind him.  Scotty turned around slowly and found Mr. Jameson standing there, still dressed in his dark suit, cigarette in his hand and a sardonic smile on his lips.  “Turns out the slogan is false advertising,” he said as he tapped his ash to the ground.  “It seems that what happens in Vegas does not always stay there.”

 

“I can explain,” Scotty said.  Dottie was going to fucking murder him for getting caught like this.

 

Mr. Jameson waved him off.  “I’m not interested in your explanations,” he said.  He unbuttoned his suit coat with his free hand, and Scotty caught the glint of a gun at his hip.

 

“Listen, I’m sorry,” Scotty said.  “This was a mistake – a misunderstanding.  I’ll just get out of here, and you don’t have to worry about anything.”

 

There was that smile again.  “Oh, I never worry.”

 

The back door opened and the rear porch light flicked on; there she was, like an angel in the night.  Scotty felt relief as she looked at him with curious eyes. “What’s this?”

 

“A loose end,” he said, taking a puff.  When she didn’t reply, he added, “From Las Vegas.”

 

This bit made her shudder, and the fear crept into Scotty’s belly again, dark and low. “Well, be quick about it,” she said as she turned to leave.  “It’s time to put the kids to bed.”

 

The screen door banged shut behind her.

 

***

It was late when Scully got back to the hotel, night but never dark, not with the strip lighting up the sky like the Fourth of July.  She cut the engine in the parking lot but did not get out of the car, even as the air-conditioning faded away.  It was Mulder’s car; he’d said he would find his own way home from the police station, where she had left him still poring over crime scene photos.  She reached down and grabbed the handle to adjust the seat back to what she always thought of as the Mulder position – click, just like that – and her feet no longer reached the pedals.  This, she thought wearily, was an excellent metaphor for their relationship: so familiar and yet unable to share the same perspective.

 

She rested her head against the seat and pulled out her phone, debating whether to make the call.  Some things it was possibly better not to know.  Maybe it was Mulder’s reappearance or the old X-Files paranoia kicking in, but she found herself hitting the speed dial.  Her assistant, Maureen Robbins, answered before the second ring had finished.  “Hello?”

 

“Maureen, it’s Dana.  I’m sorry to bother you after hours.”

 

“No bother at all.  Are you still in Nevada?”

 

“Yes, and I’m not sure how long I’ll be.  Listen, I need a favor.  Do you remember an unsolved homicide from around two years ago – the victim was a boy of about ten?”

 

“Of course.  I think everyone remembers that case.  Don’t tell me you have a lead?”

 

“No, I…I don’t think so.”  She rubbed the back of her neck where a knot of tension was starting to form.  “I’d like you to get the file, I mean the physical folder, and send it to the lab for fingerprinting.”

 

There was a pause on the other end.  “You want me to have your file fingerprinted?”

 

“Yes, please, as soon as possible.”  She squeezed her eyes shut.  “And have them start the search with the government databases.”

 

“Will do.”

 

Scully snapped the phone closed with one hand.  There was no reason left that she shouldn’t go inside, so she abandoned the car in favor of the climate-controlled marble hotel lobby.  At the room, took a deep breath before sliding her keycard into the lock.  It was dark and cool on the other side, and she felt around until she found the light for entryway.  Only then did she see Ruben’s eyes, shining like a cat’s from the bedroom.  “You’re back,” he remarked from his place on the bed.

 

As her eyes adjusted to the dim light, she could see he was lying on top of the bedspread, fully clothed.  “Did your parents arrive?”

 

He made no effort to turn on more lights.  “Yeah, they’re two floors down, probably wondering how the hell everything turned out like this.  Of course, they don’t know the half of it, right?”

 

She bowed her head and said nothing.

 

“Did you find anything out at the hotel?” he asked eventually.  “Any leads?  A trail of Reese’s pieces, perhaps? I seem to remember that is the preferred sustenance of extraterrestrials.”

 

“Actually, it’s quite possible this case has nothing to do with the X-Files after all,” she said, although she could not quite make herself believe it.  “Sheriff Holloway is still most interested in Jack Milgram.”

 

“And Mulder?” he said, a hard edge in his voice.  “What does he think?”

 

“He actually seems to agree.”

 

“What about...what about the computer chip?  The one you found inside her?”

 

She rocked back on one heel, considering how to answer, when of course it wasn’t a simple computer chip at all.   “We don’t know at this point.”

 

“If you don’t know, then who does?”

 

She chuffed a humorless laugh.  “I spent years trying to answer that question.”

 

He sat up suddenly, blinking owlishly at her in the half-light.  “I want to see it.”

 

“Wh-what?”

 

“The chip, the one you say you have, I want to see it.”

 

Her hand went automatically to the back of her neck. “It’s not visible.”

 

“There must be something,” he said with determination.  He had risen from the bed and come to stand over her. “Some sort of sign or mark.”

 

A way he might have known.  She swallowed with difficulty, and he tugged her to the bathroom, turning on the bright overhead lights.  It was her turn to blink under the glare. She saw the grim set of his mouth, those lips that used to whisper naughty words in her ear in the middle of the night, and she knew it would not matter what he found.  His breath was ragged and overly loud in the small, hard room as he clawed through her hair to get to her neck.  “Where is it?  Here?”

 

Her shoulders sagged as she relented, and she bent her head so he could see.  Mulder’s words came back to her – don’t pretend you lied for him – and she squeezed her eyes shut to block them out. 

 

Ruben’s fingertips probed at her neck until he located the scar.  “Jesus,” he muttered when he felt the metal lodged beneath the surface.  He jerked away as if she burned like the fires from Ruskin Dam.

 

She turned slowly and regarded him.  “I’m sorry,” she said again, although with less feeling this time.  She was tired of apologizing for things that were not her fault.

 

“Why the hell didn’t you tell me about this?”

 

Beyond him, in the expanse of mirrors, she could see his broad shoulders and the dark hair at his nape, just beginning to curl.  Once, she had teased her fingers there while they kissed and reminded him to get a haircut.  She drew a deep breath and met his gaze in full.  “What words would you suggest I should have used?  You have the proof in front of you now and you can scarcely still believe it.”

 

In that moment, she might have been Mulder, sitting on the motel floor next to the flickering candles and telling a ghost story about a little girl who vanished in the night.  She had believed his pain but not the rest of it, and she’d paid dearly for her willful disregard.

 

Ruben turned away and braced himself on the porcelain sink.  “When you said it has the power to make you do things, what did you mean?”

 

She sighed. “Once, I went to sleep in my own bed and woke up later in a hospital, being treated for smoke inhalation and second-degree burns.”

 

“Your hands,” he said, meeting her eyes in the mirror. “The scars.”

 

She held them out in front of her and looked at the faded scars, the ones he had never bothered to ask about before.  She had gone from one man who could not let go of the past to another who refused to acknowledge it.  “Various methods of investigation confirmed I had driven myself to the site of the fire, but I have no memory of any of it.”

 

“Sounds like a mental breakdown, a fugue state,” he said, and she flinched at his tone.  “Not a mind-controlling, extraterrestrial microchip.”

 

“I would usually agree with you.”  She dropped her gaze.  “Except I could feel it from the inside.”  She could almost conjure up the strange tingling even now, like it had been waiting for her to pay attention again.  “And there were others there, at the fire – people who had the same kind of chips.”

 

“Others like Annie, you mean.”

 

She nodded, and he turned around, looking sad and defeated.  “I’m sorry,” she said, meaning it a little bit more this time.  This sort of knowledge was its own kind of chip, and he would never be able to remove his now.

 

He looked her up and down, much the way he had on the day they’d met, but there was no warmth left in his gaze. “I would have taken it out,” he said flatly.  “No matter what the consequences.”

 

It was easy for him to be this certain. He had not felt death stalking him like a shadow.  She had watched the cancer metastasize so far it had started eating up those around her.  Mulder, drilling holes in his head, trying to race her to the grave. “It’s complicated,” she muttered, folding her arms.

 

Ruben shook his head.  “Better to die as yourself,” he said, “then to walk around never knowing who you are.”

 

***

Dottie glanced in the bedroom at her sleeping son for the fifth time in two hours.  Benji was just as she had left him, sprawled atop his Spiderman sheets, with his fuzzed head and lanky boy limbs.  He wasn’t the one she was really worried about, but he was the one she could find. 

 

She looked again at the cell phone in her hand, as if maybe somehow she had missed a call, but it was still silent.  She had left him multiple messages already and it was not like Scotty to be out-of-touch, especially while working the job.  Normally he couldn’t wait to take her calls.

 

One day, you’ll go out with me, he liked to say, and then, oh, you’ll be so sorry you wasted all this time saying no.

 

I can never go out with you, she always replied.  Dottie and Scotty?  We’d sound like cartoon animals from some kid’s book.

 

I’d be an animal with you any day.

 

She bit her lip and took her phone to the window, trapping it against the glass with her hand. She had taken him on, technically handy but green as could be, and trained him up right as a PI.  He’s smart and resourceful, she reminded herself as she scanned the darkness for any sign of life, as though he might come walking up her path as usual.

 

How stupid she had been to let him tail Mr. Jameson.  They had Old Smokey’s money, and his wife was apparently alive and well, if the video could be believed.  The lookalike dead woman was the city’s problem, not hers. 

 

She had built a successful business out of knowing where the boundaries lay; she could track a cheating spouse but she couldn’t save the marriage, and no one but no one could save Samantha Milgram now.  

 

She hit the speed dial button with her thumb, and a few moments later, Scotty’s voicemail kicked in.  “It’s been more than twelve hours now,” she said.  “If I don’t hear from you by morning, I’m taking everything to the cops.”

 

Her hand shook a little as she closed the phone.  The cops would probably laugh her off the premises.  What evidence did she have?  We had this client who was by all appearances innocent, but we followed him anyway, and now Scotty is missing. Please help.

 

She scrubbed her face with both hands.  Please, she thought. Help.

 

***

It was after midnight but she knew he would be awake when she called.  “It’s me,” she said, because he was still the one person on earth she could say this to, caller ID be damned.

 

“Hey, Scully.  You’re up past your bedtime.” He sounded tired and a bit odd.

 

“Mulder, where are you? You’re not still at the police station are you?”  She felt a prick of conscience at leaving him alone in the windowless room with close-up photographs of his dead sister.

 

“No, I’m poolside.”  There was a pause as he took a drink of something.  “Ten years of sitting around by myself in different hotel rooms kind of takes the shine off the experience – besides, I couldn’t sleep.”

 

She looked around at her hotel room, empty now that Ruben had left.  I got a room for myself three floors down, near my parents, he had said, suitcase in hand, and then left without saying good-bye.  “I can’t sleep either,” she admitted, tucking her hair behind her ear.

 

“Then Dana Scully, come on down,” he replied with such false cheer that she almost smiled.  “I saved you a cabana boy.”

 

She hung up the phone and considered her wardrobe options, which were few.  She finally swapped her pajamas for the long black knit skirt she had worn on the plane and a blue T-shirt, which she pulled on without any bra – one of the benefits to being small-framed.  She decided there was nothing to be done at this hour about her messy hair, which had frizzed and dried so many times throughout the day that it now curled at her shoulders in abstract copper waves.  She took her wallet and her keys, and she went, as she used to do so often, in search of Mulder.

 

She found him as promised near the pool, surrounded by potted tropical plants and the scent of chlorine.  The place was totally deserted, with only the in-ground pool lights to show her the way. He was spread on a lounge chair in the shadows, a good distance from the water’s edge, wearing a plain white undershirt and expensive charcoal trousers.  His feet were bare and his dress-shirt hung on the chair next to him.  In his hands was some sort of red slushy mixed drink.  “What is that?” she asked as she eyed it.

 

His brow wrinkled as he studied the glass.  “Something sunny.  A sunfire? Sunset in your mouth?  I don’t know, Scully.  At this point, I just go back into the bar, show the man my glass and say ‘one more of these.’  You want me to get you one?” 

 

“No, thank you. You can’t name it, let alone tell me what’s in it.  I can find my own.”  She went back in and ordered a gin and tonic with lime.  It was cold and slightly bitter – perfect for a hot night with an ex-partner.

 

“Classic, tasteful,” he said when he saw her selection.  “Just what I would expect from you.”

 

She took the lounge chair next to him, slipping off her sandals as she did so.  “One of these days, Mulder, I will manage to surprise you.”

 

“You already have,” he said, his head lolling as he looked at her, “a thousand times over.  Just look at us here now, like this.  I couldn’t believe it when you called.  Makes sense, though, I guess, that after everything, it would be you who found her.”

 

“I didn’t find her.  It was coincidence, a happenstance; I was merely along for the ride.”

 

He gave her an appraising look.  “And yet you’re still here. I can’t figure out whether that’s for him, or for me.”

 

She pursed her lips in a frown.  “It’s for me.  You always forget your answers are my answers too.”

 

“No.” He closed his eyes and rubbed his head.  “I didn’t forget.”  She sipped her drink, ice clinking in the glass, and he gave her an appraising look.  “It’s the middle of the night out here, Scully. He won’t be missing you?”  He forced out the name. “Ruben.”

 

“No,” she said, cracking a cube with her teeth. “I think it’s safe to say he is definitely not missing me.  Unless, I guess…”  She shook her head as she broke off.

 

“What?” said Mulder, sounding genuinely interested.

 

She sighed.  “If anything, I guess maybe he’s missing the person he thought I was.”

 

He gave her a near smile.  “You seem exactly the same to me.” She looked at him skeptically, and his smile broadened.  “It’s true.  I think you are categorically incapable of being anyone other than yourself.  It used to drive me crazy, trying to get you to change, to see the world from my perspective, but right now, it’s actually kind of a relief.”

 

They were quiet for a long moment.  “So what are we drinking to?” she asked eventually.

 

He considered. “Reunions,” he said, stretching his glass out to hers.

 

“Right.”  She gave it a reluctant clink.  “How is Diana doing?” she asked, and he gave a low chuckle, shaking his head.

 

“I did not ask her here.”

 

“I don’t care if you did,” she replied, her cheeks warming at the lie.

 

Mulder laughed toward the sky.  “She still makes you crazy, doesn’t she?”

 

“No, she makes me suspicious,” Scully returned. “She makes you crazy.”  The alcohol was starting to warm in her veins.

 

He sobered and set his drink to the side.  “You might not be entirely wrong about that.”

 

“Is that why…” She hesitated and looked at her glass.  “Is that why you’re not back with the X-Files?”

 

“I’m a consulting member,” he said in such a way that she wondered how often he was really consulted.  He gave her a sideways glance, the blue light from the pool flickering over his face. “I have to say that I’m impressed with your restraint in this whole situation, Scully.  This is the part where you get to tell me ‘I told you so,’ and yet you seem completely disinclined to say it.”

 

“Mulder, whatever you think about Diana…”

 

He shook his head impatiently.  “Not about Diana.  About…about this, about Samantha.”  He closed his eyes for a moment, and she held her breath, the way she had that first time he had talked about it during the stormy night in Oregon.  “Whoever did this to her – and let’s face it, it seems likely it was her husband – it has nothing to do with alien abduction or government testing. No, this was pure, spiteful anger that only an intimate human connection can create. I was always looking for a grand conspiracy and you kept trying to tell me the answer was probably much simpler.  Who knows why she was taken or by whom, and does it even matter anymore? This is a routine homicide that certainly does not require the attention of four federal agents.”

 

 Her heart hurt for him.  “Mulder.”  She waited until he looked at her.  “I can tell you this much -- there is nothing routine about losing a sister.”

 

Tears shone in his eyes, and his mouth twitched as he held them back.  He stretched a hand across to her, and she wiped her own eyes once before taking it.  His grip was warm and strong, just as she remembered, so when he tugged lightly, she moved to sit in the lounge chair by his hip.  His lashes were lowered, as if he could not bear to look at her. “This is never what I wanted,” she whispered as she placed a hand on the side of his face.  “I hope you believe that.”

 

Instead of replying, he drew her down to lie on top of him, her cheek to his chest.  She resisted for only a moment before nestling close to his heartbeat, closing her eyes and breathing in his familiar scent.  She held him as he stroked her hair.  Despite their prickly history, or maybe because of it, physical comfort had always been easy for them; trouble only appeared when they started talking.  He was as long and lean as ever, solid and warm as they held each other in the shadows.  The years fell away and she relaxed for the first time in days. 

 

She was drifting, listening to the faint lapping of the pool and the steady beat of life inside Mulder, when his hand slipped through her hair to her nape.  Her breath caught as his long fingers stroked the tender skin at the back of her neck.  It was the second such examination she’d had that evening, but this one was gentle and exploratory.

 

“Do you know what it’s like to remember everything?” he murmured against the top of her head. He continued on before she could answer. “Well, I’ll tell you: it’s hell.  You get stuck in time with no way to move on.  Every minute of every bad decision gets replayed for you, over and over, but the outcome is always the same.”

 

He was still touching her, fingertips sliding back and forth over her neck, grazing but not lingering by the scar.  As always, she was his opposite: she could never seem to remember what was important.

 

“I just wonder sometimes what might be different,” he said, “if we hadn’t been interrupted.”  His voice dropped lower.  “You know, that night in my hallway.”

 

Her face warmed as she realized why his touch felt so different from Ruben’s earlier prodding.  Mulder wasn’t looking for the chip at all.  He was reminiscing about an entirely different hurt, a tiny sting that had started a wound so deep they were still barely stitched up all these years later.

 

“With the bee,” he clarified, and she pulled away a bit, her hair falling into her face as she looked at his lap.

 

“Yes, I know.  I remember.”  Some bits got stuck for her too, apparently.

 

“Do you?” he said wonderingly. “I was never sure.”

 

“Mulder, you wanted me gone,” she reminded him, but her voice was soft and intimate in the dark.  For some reason, she could not stop touching his bare arm.

 

“No,” he said as he tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. “No, I wanted you to stay.  But I needed you to be safe.  Those two things were just incompatible.”  He cupped the side of her face.  “It turns out I was right, though, in what I said that night…I don’t know how to do the job without you.  It’s the one thing I didn’t count on.”

 

“I…I don’t believe that.”  She couldn’t think straight when he was stroking her cheek with his thumb.

 

He smiled at her objection.  “How can I be sure I’m right if you’re not there to tell me I’m wrong?”  She gave a pained smile in answer, and his thumb moved to find it, touching her lips lightly.  She pulled away, but he shifted to sit up with her, his head bowed low so they were nearly nose-to-nose.  “I meant all of it, you know,” he murmured near her ear.  “I still do.”

 

“Mulder, no.  You can’t. It’s been years.” 

 

“Scully,” he said, the word a tender endearment, and she felt the pull of his body, drawing her  like gravity.  He held her face in his hands again.  “You forget. Years mean nothing to me.”

 

She tried to shake her head but he held her steady.  “No.” She could barely get the word out before he was kissing her, closing the narrow gap with a sudden surge.

 

He did not move at first, simply held his mouth warm and full against hers, her surprised gasp trapped between them.  Then his thumb caressed her cheekbone and her eyes fluttered closed.  He was right – time did not matter. It felt inevitable and complete, like a missing piece restored. 

 

His mouth moved gently over hers at first, as if waiting for her to pull away, but instead she angled her head so they could kiss more completely. His breathing changed, deepening as she relaxed into it.  She rested her hand against the base of his neck, stroking her fingertips at the back of his hairline.  He responded in kind, his thumb massaging along her nape until he found the tiny raised bump where the chip lay. He gave it a tender rub, apologetic and affectionate, and her mouth parted with a half-sob.

 

He made some sort of desperate noise in response and gathered her even closer.  At the full body contact, her nipples pricked up through her T-shirt, and she opened her mouth all the way to invite him in.  He accepted, and for several moments she knew nothing but his tongue and his hands, stroking and caressing her everywhere at once. The kiss grew deeper, hotter, and their surroundings faded away.

 

Only when he started scooting backwards with her, urging her down on top of him, did some shred of sanity return.  She pulled her mouth from his, breathless and swollen.  “We can’t.”  It was just one more impossibility between them.

 

Mulder lay back without her, but he was never one to give up easily.  He took his hand on a slow tour of her face and neck, sliding down, down to the front of her shirt, where his fingers came to stroke her breastbone.  “You know, Scully, I think maybe you missed me – just a little bit.”  He sounded strangely tentative, as though she might deny it.

 

 “I should go.”

 

“No, stay.”

 

She swallowed back sudden tears and shook her head.  If he had said that two years ago...

 

“Stay,” he repeated urgently, his fingers curling around her knee through her skirt.

 

She pressed her palms to her flushed face.  “I can’t.”  But when she tried to leave, he stopped her – not with his hands but with words.

 

“I’d met her before.”

 

She halted and shifted to look at his face.  His gaze was trained on the waving palms over their heads.  “What?”

 

“The part I never told you.  I’d met her before. Samantha – Annie, maybe, I guess – the woman in the morgue. I met her a few years ago and I didn’t tell you.”  He risked a glance at her.  “At least I think it was her.  She was with the Cigarette Smoking Man, so who really knows what was going on.”

 

“When was this?”

 

He shifted to lie on his side, head propped up on one hand.  “I guess about three years ago now,” he said, his voice hushed.  He was not looking at her.  “It was…it was when you were dying.”

 

Her heart lurched at the words and she lay down next to him on the chaise, mirroring his position so they were not quite touching.  “Why didn’t you say anything?” she asked quietly.

 

“I couldn’t.  Not at the time.”  Their eyes met in shared memory.  She had been trapped in the hospital bed, disappearing into her bones, while he walked around as a dead man.

 

He closed his eyes, looking pained.  “The Smoking Man, he set up this meeting late at night, in a deserted diner.  I waited an hour for him to show and figured it was some trap, or joke, I don’t know…but then his car pulled up, and there she was.”

 
She tried to imagine the moment.  What was it like to suddenly get everything you’d ever wanted? “Did you talk to her?”

 

He nodded.  “For a few minutes.  She cried.  She said the Smoker was nice to her. She…” He broke off and swallowed.  “She called him her father.”

 

“Oh, Mulder.”  She reached for his hand and took it between both of hers.

 

He drew a shuddering breath.  “I guess maybe it’s possible, right?  All we’d need is his DNA to confirm.  I don’t know if it even matters anymore.”

 

She stroked his hand.  “What happened?  That night in the diner?”

 

“I asked her to come with me to see Mom, but she refused. She said she needed time.”  Scully could see even now that he didn’t understand this argument; they’d lost so many years already.  “I didn’t know what else to say.”  He shook his head, not looking at her again. “So I let her go.  I let her go off with him.”

 

She held her breath.  This part seemed incredible.  “You didn’t try to follow?”

 

“Scully.”  His hand tightened on hers.  “I couldn’t. I knew if I did that I would never see you again.”

 

She remembered that time, when every good-bye had felt like the last because he was dead and she was nearly so, but selfishly she kept waiting for him to walk through the door again. And of course, he always did. He had loved her best then, because she was almost gone, and Fox Mulder was an expert in loving people who weren’t around.

 

A half-sob, half-laugh escaped her as she curled into him, overwhelmed at the craziness of the whole situation.  “Oops,” she said through the sudden tears.

 

He rubbed his hand over her head. “What?” he asked.

 

She rolled away again and regarded him with wet eyes. “I’m sorry. It’s just...how awkward for you then that I lived.”

 

He blew out an amused breath but shook his head.  “No, never. I could never be sorry for that.”  He was looking at her the way he had back then, his gaze full of tenderness and care, so when he reached around to hug her, she went willingly.  He smelled like cotton and a faint mixture of sweat and sweet, fruity alcohol. “You gave me hope,” he said as he rubbed her back in slow, smooth strokes.

 

She had known this already on one level. If Scully could return from the great beyond, then Samantha might have been close behind.  “I guess I should apologize once more,” she sniffed against him, “because it didn’t work out.”

 

“But it did.”  He tilted her chin up so he could see her face.  “Here you are again.”

 

She fought back the emotion welling inside her.  “You might have been right, Mulder,” she whispered tightly.  “I might have missed you a little bit.”

 

He murmured her name against her cheek and then they were kissing again.  She had wanted this once so badly, back when she was healthy at last and it seemed like all those cheek and forehead kisses might blossom into something more.  But as she had advanced, Mulder had withdrawn, and she wondered now if maybe this was why.  There had to be a reason he had never told her about his visit to the diner.

 

Now he was the only Mulder left, and he was kissing her like she was the same, like they were the last two people on earth.  Their legs mingled, their bodies pressed tight together in the narrow confines of the chaise.  She felt the gin in her veins and his tongue in her mouth, the combination making her hot and dizzy.  He stroked her bare arm, her hip, urging her closer and closer until she was practically astride him.  His hips set a rhythm that she followed with her tongue, tasting every inch of him until he was moaning into her mouth. 

 

It was crazy to be doing this now, with him, outside a very nice hotel in a very naughty town, but they’d had years of reckless behavior together in the shadows.  There were no flashlights this time, but she felt him hard like a bar against her stomach and it made her desperate with need.  He wanted her.  Just her.  He wasn’t trying to make her quit or get her to stay.  They were not partners, not anything to each other anymore officially, and yet she had made him hot, hard, like a brand against her quivering belly.

 

She gasped when he pulled her fully over him.  This was the part where she should object.  He was kissing her neck, rubbing his prickly cheek against her tender skin.  She parted her lips to say no even as she held his head closer.  But then she felt his hot breath at her breast and bit back a cry as his teeth gently closed over her nipple through the thin material of her T-shirt.  He nipped and licked and finally sucked her in, fabric and all, until she had to brace herself on either side of his head and hold back sobs of pleasure.

 

She pressed her lower body downward on him, desperate for more contact, and his cock actually jumped in his pants to meet her.  She felt his hands moving lower even as his mouth was busy at her breasts.  He clawed up the front of her long skirt until it was free from between them, leaving only her underwear and his pants as a barrier.  “Mulder…”  It was both a warning and a plea.  “We…we can’t...”

 

He arched his hips in answer, and she sucked in a quick breath.  “Just this much,” he said against her neck.  “We can have this much.”

 

His hands were under her skirt, roaming over her bottom, but not forcing her down.  He was letting her decide.  She squeezed her eyes shut and pressed her flushed face into his fragrant neck.  She felt his pulse and smelled his hot, salty skin.  Just this much, she thought, sinking down.  The universe fucking owed them. His breathing deepened in frank arousal as she began a slow rock atop him.

 

It was dark and quiet but still a public space.  Anyone could happen by and find them grinding against one another, but she found she did not care.  They’d been bugged and taped and tracked so many times that she had long ago abandoned the notion of any real privacy.  He gripped the back of her neck and the chip tingled beneath her skin.

 

Soon it wasn’t enough. Tears of sheer need filled her eyes as their rubbing grew more frantic.  He was inside her underwear now, his fingertips curling down close to the swollen spot between her legs.  He would know she wanted it as bad as he did.  She felt the rough slide of the cotton trousers, his zipper taut over his full erection.  “Jesus,” he said as she licked the base of his neck.

 

They had come this far and might never be here again; she was not about to turn back now.  She raised up enough to reach between their bodies for the button on his pants.  His head tilted back in agony as her fingers brushed him through the fabric. It was so quiet that she heard his zipper go down.  By the time she had worked him free through his boxers, he was holding his teeth flat against her collarbone in sheer desperation.  She curled like a comma over him so she could claim her reward.  He was hot and heavy, pulsing in her hand as she stroked him.

 

Her skirt was providing their only privacy.  There was no way she could climb off him now. His eyes were shut, his jaw slack as she kept up her caresses. “Mulder,” she breathed against his cheek.

 

He could only grunt an answer.

 

“Mulder, I need your help,” she said. She rubbed him between her legs to show him the idea.  Her underwear was still in the way, and she only had so many hands.

 

“Fuck,” he muttered.  He pressed open-mouthed kisses to her cheek as he reached between them to tug her panties aside.

 

She found the right angle and pushed downward to bring him inside.  He let out a long hiss as his arms closed around her.  She bowed her head to find his mouth and they kissed openly for several long moments, not otherwise moving.  Her body stretched and spasmed, welcoming him deeper, and it felt so good that she lost the fine control to keep kissing him.  She held her face against his as she began to shift her hips slowly up and down.

 

He groaned into her ear and reached under her skirt again to hold her backside firmly against him.  They mated as quietly as they could but there was no time for slow and sweet.  She picked up the pace, rocking frantically as he bucked up into her, the chaise jumping with every thrust of his hips.  The friction bruised her swollen clit, and she dropped her forehead to his shoulder so she could moan in the private shadow of his neck.  Together they had always been one person.

 

Usually she had to give herself permission for orgasm, to consciously let go so it could happen, but this one was coming whether she wanted it or not.  She arched rigid under its power and opened her mouth on his shoulder in a silent, endless scream.  He called her name hoarsely and then came with a huge gasp of air, as though rising from the ocean.

 

She lay on top of him in a boneless, sweaty heap.  Under her skirt, they were still joined.  Mulder’s chest heaved beneath her with deep, unsteady breaths, and she felt him nudging her cheek with his nose.  She shifted a bit so that their eyes could meet.  “Scully,” he said as he hugged her close.  “I’ve missed you too.”

 

Later in the deserted lobby, they said nothing to each other as they waited for the elevator.  Once inside, however, he reached to hold her hand.  She looked down at their interlaced fingers and remembered Melissa’s advice from many years ago: You want to find a guy who will hold your hand after he fucks you.

 

The thought that she had indeed just fucked Mulder made her want to yank her hand back, but the memory of Melissa reminded her of why she was here, and more importantly, why he was. 

 

She left her hand in his.

 



Chapter Eight

 

She did not protest when Mulder led her all the way to his room.  Her other choice was the half-empty suite she’d shared with Ruben, the place where he had told her he did not know her anymore. Mulder would know her anywhere, so she lay down with him in the dark, on top of the covers because she told herself it was just for a few minutes.

 

Mulder put his hands beneath his head and looked at the ceiling.  “I had convinced myself that you were happy out here.”

 

She curled near him, her cheek on her arm.  “Define happy,” she replied.

 

He snorted.  “You are asking the wrong person.” He hesitated a moment and then felt around in the dark until he found her free hand again.  He drew it onto his chest, over his heart, and then covered it with his own.

 

She felt the smooth rise and fall of his ribs under her palm, the rhythm so familiar even after all this time. She closed her eyes, and finally, she slept.

 

When she awoke to the gray light of dawn, she was wearing Mulder as a blanket, his arm snug around her waist and his nose tucked against her neck.  The air conditioning kept the room cool, almost chilly, so she supposed it was natural they would huddle together for warmth.  There always had to be a reason, something beyond a simple desire to touch one another.

 

They must have stored up a hundred reasons for the sex by now; if sex were the true antidote to death, they ought to have started fucking somewhere around day three of their relationship.  The problem would have been knowing where to stop.

 

She bit her lip as she extricated herself from under Mulder’s arm.  He muttered something unintelligible and rubbed his face in her hair.  She paused to give him an affectionate pat before sliding quietly off the bed.  Her clothes were wrinkled and smelled like him, like her, and what they’d done together.  She finger-combed her hair, tucking it behind her ears.  She was glad it was dark enough that she could not see the mirror. She found her keys and wallet on the dresser and slipped back into her sandals, sparing one last glance at his sleeping form before exiting the room.

 

At the elevator, the doors slid open to reveal Diana Fowley, dressed in Lycra and apparently returning from the gym.  Her ponytail twitched as she gave Scully an appraising look. “You’re up awfully early,” she said.  “Either that or very late.”

 

She got out of the elevator and Scully reached for the doors to keep it in place.  “If you’ll excuse me,” Scully said as she moved past her to get in.

 

It was Diana’s turn to grab the doors.  “I heard Holloway is going to bring Milgram in for an interview.  We may all be able to go home by lunchtime tomorrow.”

 

Scully pressed the button for her floor and folded her arms.  “Feel free to book your flight now.”

 

Diana looked her up and down.  “You’ve been away too long,” she said, “if you’ve already forgotten – Mulder only wants what he can’t have.”

 

She stepped back into the hall and allowed the doors to close at last, leaving Scully alone with her reflection on the other side.

 

***

 

Mulder sent his sexed-up pants for dry cleaning, leaving him with one remaining option.  Clearly, he should have brought more clothes, but he had not bothered to stop for anything once he’d received her first phone call. He had been waiting years for the opportunity to drop everything and come.

 

He was not surprised to wake up alone in his hotel room.  He’d learned well enough by now – he could have Scully but he could never keep her.  But in the daylight, their encounter by the po