TITLE: "The Road Not Taken 5: Storm"
AUTHOR: deejay
CLASSIFICATION: T, R/A (Adventure, Romance/Angst)
RATING: NC-17, for sexual situations and adult language. This is an election year, so if reading this stuff will get you (or me) arrested or put on a political ad, go somewhere else. Also, if you're under 18, you probably shouldn't be reading this, either, so go do something healthy, like lurk in an AOL chatroom, or applying for a White House internship.:)
KEYWORDS: Slash story, Scully/Other.
SPOILERS: "War Of The Copraphages", "3"
SUMMARY: The fifth chapter in "The Road Not Taken" series. The shooting that brought Scully and Max together becomes part of an X File when it is linked to five Domestic murders. Mulder & Scully join forces with Max and her new partner, Mickey Kreutzmann, to find the key to this mystery, and Scully meets a new enemy that is determined to bring her down for her role in the demise of Special Agent Gordon Beauchamp.
TIMELINE: Pre-diagnosis Season 4. Takes place the second week of November 1996.
ARCHIVE: Submitted to Gossamer and xff. If you're at the controls of xff, PLEASE post to atxc. This story will be part of a trilogy submission to the Annex, probably sometime around the turn of the century. (Hang in there, 'tasha!<g>). All others, please ask me first, unless I submit it to you. If either case happens, please use only my _penname_.
FEEDBACK: Questions, comments, flames and fanmail to drjohn@wizvax.net. This story is open for discussion on atxc.
Dana Scully (and any Scullys that happen to get mentioned), Fox Mulder, Walter Skinner, Tom Colton, Bambi Berenbaum, Dr. Ivanov, and the poster boy for Black Lung Disease belong to Chris Carter, 10-13 Productions, and FoxTV. They aren't mine; if they were, it'd be _me_ going to conventions and making snide comments about fanfic. (Well, MSR fanfic, anyway...<g>) Rebecca Maxfield, Mickey Kreutzmann, Aaron Weeks, Merrill "The Bear" Reese, and all other characters in this story belong to Night Tripper Productions and the author, who _is_ me. If you steal these characters and you own a horse, better leave room for its head when you go to bed at night. Any resemblance to real-life people, in this world or the next one, is a complete surprise to me.
The following music has also been excerpted without permission (Remember, guys, I'm doing this for free, so suing me will get you nothing but bad publicity. I'm trying to give you good publicity, so cool your jets, 'kay?):
* Chris Isaak is a great songwriter and a pretty damn good guitar player, but all everyone remembers him for is the black-and-white video with the topless girl that Calvin Klein has been ripping off for its print ads. Don't follow fashion, and go get _San Francisco Days_, the title track of which is excerpted here.
* Speaking of guitar players, you can lay all the modern-day guitar gods end-to-end, and they _still_ won't be better than Jimi Hendrix! He wrote stunning music of his own, and took other people's music and made it better. "Crosstown Traffic" doesn't get played a lot, even on Classic Rock stations... which is too bad, because you don't hear kazoo much in rock music these days...
* You can argue about which period was the Beatles' best, and you'd probably be right, whichever age you pick. They're all so different, and all so good. "If I Fell" comes from the early years. I first heard it when I saw _A Hard Day's Night_, which has stayed on my Top 10 Films list for over twenty-five years. If you've never seen the movie, rent it and see where MTV got its inspiration.
Well, it took four stories and about 160 pages, but I _finally_ got around to doing a case story! Frankly, I'd been avoiding it, because I was more interested in the relationship aspects of Scully's life -- her developing romance with Max, her friendship with Mulder, and her interaction with Skinner, which has all the angst you can deadlift. Her relationship with her family will be one of the things I'll touch on in TRNT6. For now, here's a little idea I cooked up a year ago that was part of the original concept for TRNT. You'll excuse me if I close my eyes and cross my fingers while you read this. There are people who can write great case stories at the drop of a hat, and this is my first attempt, so we're breaking new ground again.
Oh, and for all the Shippers in the house? Go find an archive of stories about The Kiss In The Hall, because the pain continues. Sorry about that.
This one goes out to Saundra Mitchell -- my friend, collaborator, accidental beta reader, and fellow traveler in the Slash/NoRoMo Conspiracy. She makes my writing better because she's a hell of a writer herself, and she makes me laugh at least once a day. Rock on, girlfriend! You're the best... and all the _best_ people know it!:)
As usual, I've gone on long enough. So, as Mills Lane used to say before he moved on to People's Court Lite, or whatever his show's called... LET'S GET IT ON!

--------

"THE ROAD NOT TAKEN 5: STORM"
by deejay

<<TUESDAY MORNING>>

Mickey Kreutzmann stuck his fingers under his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "I'm getting bored, Leon."

Leon looked at the far end of Interrogation Room 2, arms folded, a large mass at rest. "Gee," he rumbled disinterestedly. "And I thought it was just me."

Mickey turned it up a notch. "You're right, Leon, it _is_ just you. _I'm_ getting bored because _you_ aren't helping this situation..."

"How many ways do you want me to say it," Leon said tiredly, massaging his forehead with a big beefy hand. "I did not kill Joey. I do not _know_ who killed Joey. And even if I _wanted_ to kill Joey, I was in Miami watching the Pats get their asses kicked when he got waxed. You want me to do it in Italian now?"

Mickey leaned forward. "You can do it in Flemmish, for all I care, Leon. Crap in any other language still smells like crap. You don't know _anything_ about this? You were Joey's best friend, Leon! Everybody we talked to said so! Wherever _you_ were, _he_ was! Wherever _he_ was, _you_ were..."

Leon paused his scalp massage; his hand stayed on his head and his eyes stayed closed. "And that makes us bosom buddies?"

Mickey spread his arms out. "Okay, how would _you_ describe it?"

Leon brought his hand off his forehead, holding the hand out like a traffic cop stopping an oncoming car. He opened his mouth, paused, and said, "You ever watch Cartoon Network?"

"Usually I just surf the home shopping channels," Mickey said dryly.

"I've seen it." Max leaned against the wall of Interview 2, hands in her pockets. She hadn't moved from that position since the interrogation started. She'd let Mickey take the lead, for his own professional growth, as well as for her own reasons. She hadn't had to save him or re-direct things once.

"Okay." Leon talked with his hands, which were large and scarred. "There's this pissed-off lookin' bulldog marchin' down the street, wearin' a torn-up sweater and a derby. This little white dog's runnin' alongside him, jumpin' over him, bouncin' in front'a him, talkin' a mile a minute like he just did a couple lines'a really good blow. And he's goin'..." His voice jumped half an octave and his eyes went wide. "'Whatta ya wanna do today, Spike? Whatta ya wanna do? You wanna dig fer bones, Spike? That'd be fun, wouldn't it? How 'bout we go chase cars? That'd be fun, wouldn't it, Spike? Huh? Huh? Huh?'" Leon put his arms on the table, reverting to his original rock-like demeanor. "Joey was the little white dog. Twenty-four seven, three-sixty-five."

"So he was annoying," Mickey snorted. "That's a reason for offing him?"

"I dunno, Mickey," Max said, almost approaching sympathy. "I know _I_ might think about getting my gun if _you_ were that much of a pain in the ass."

Leon gave Max a withering look. "Yeah, right. Joey annoyed me so much, I developed the power to be in two places at once so I could kill him _and_ watch Dan Marino carve the Pats' secondary like Thanksgiving turkey. Whatever you're paying the guy who writes your jokes, you're gettin' robbed."

Mickey made a helpless gesture. "Leon, all we've got is your word and a ticket stub. Two days since the game. You could have gotten that stub from anywhere."

Leon smirked. "How 'bout a _plane_ ticket stub? Delta Airlines, First Class, round trip from Boston to Miami. No, I don't remember the flight numbers. Ticket's in my other suit if you wanna check."

"Count on it," Mickey shot back.

"Why'd you fly commercial, Mickey," Max asked. "Tommy C's Gulfstream break a rubber band, or something?"

"Mister Cellini doesn't let the help borrow his baby," Leon said derisively. "An' even if he did, we couldn't have used it anyway. He's been down in Cozumel since Thursday, catchin' marlin and soakin' up sun."

"He must think a lot of you guys," Max observed. "Giving you First Class tickets and all."

"He gave _nobody_ First Class. Winston'n'me, the seats in Tourist don't match up with our dainty little bodies. We upgraded to First, paid the difference ourselves."

"What kind of plastic you put it on," Mickey asked sharply.

Leon shook his head. "Don't carry plastic. Too many ways it can get fucked up. I paid cash. So did Winston."

"Receipt?"

Leon shrugged. "Girl behind the counter was swamped. I gave her a break an' didn't ask for one. 'Sides, what am I gonna do, deduct the trip as a business expense?"

Max pushed herself off the wall and walked toward the desk where Mickey and Leon sat. Max thought they looked like a Before and After picture, because they both wore the same color scheme: All Black, right down to the shirts and ties. She knew it was a signature with Mickey, but with Leon, it had to be a vain attempt to look slim. Max mentally shook her head. *That's like putting vertical stripes on Government Center.* "Okay, Leon, you sold us. You didn't kill Joey, and you don't know who did..."

"_Finally_," Leon said, putting his hands on the armrests to push himself out of the chair.

Max held up a hand. "But maybe you can still help us out here." Leon froze in mid-rise, sighed, and sat back down as Max went on. "I mean, you gotta have some insight into _why_ Joey got it..."

Leon gave Max a hooded stare. "I don't get paid for my insight."

"That doesn't stop you from thinking," Max said evenly, sitting on the edge of the desk. "Maybe some other crew's trying to send Tommy C a message..."

Leon made a sound that might have been laughter. "Anyone tries to give Mister Cellini a message, it gets stamped 'Return To Sender'. Hard." He shook his head. "Ain't nobody sendin' us nuthin'."

"Okay, so it's not professional," Mickey chimed in, picking up Max' thread. "How about personal? Joey piss anybody off lately? He have a beef with anyone...?"

Exasperated, Leon barked, "Joey had a beef with the _world_! With his old lady, with his girlfriend, with the mailman, with the bartender who Joey thought was short-pouring him, with any chick on the street who blew him off when he thought he was bein' charming! Joey had a hard-on for anyone who he thought was giving him shit!" He shrugged again. "Maybe he stuck it someplace he wasn't supposed to, and got it handed to him!"

Mickey looked up at Max, who was still looking down at Leon. "Interesting choice of words."

The door flew open, banging against the wall and startling both detectives. Max turned to see three men standing in the doorway. One was their commander, Aaron Weeks, and he didn't look happy. The second was Grant Mullin, a Middlesex County Assistant DA Max knew only by reputation. The third was Andy Funigello, the hard-charging commander of the Organized Crime Unit. *Fuck!*

Funigello wasted no time with niceties. "Out," he said peremptorily, striding to the middle of Interview 2.

Mickey turned round in his chair, a disbelieving look on his face. "Say again?"

"You heard me," the slick-haired Gangbuster said, making a gesture like an umpire calling Mo Vaughan out at the plate. "Everybody out of the pool. This interview is over."

Max' blood was boiling. "Now wait just a fucking..."

Weeks interposed himself between Max and Funigello. "We'll discuss this outside, Detectives. Pack it up." Max & Mickey started to speak at once. The lean, graying mixed-race man cut their objections off with a razor-sharp look. "Now."

Leon wasn't smiling, but the look in his eyes broadcast pure merriment. He started to get up again. "Look, if you girls wanna talk amongst yourselves..."

Funigello stabbed a finger at Leon. "Sit," he snapped. "We'll get to _you_ in a minute!" Leon gave him a look that would have turned lesser men to stone before he eased himself back down into the chair. Funigello turned to Max & Mickey and pointed towards the door. "You heard the man."

The looks Max & Mickey gave him were anything but neutral. They passed a glance between themselves and then stormed out the door, Mickey grabbing up the case file before he got up.

As soon as the door closed behind them all, Mullin started in. "As of now," the balding pinstriped lawyer informed them, "this case is under the auspices of OCU."

"What-"

Mullin kept on rolling. "Excuse me, but this is not a point for debate, Detective Maxfield. This comes from On High. That's Command and the Middlesex DA's office to you."

"A 'why' would be nice," Mickey said, dripping a pool of sarcasm.

"Hey, you don't _rate_..." Funigello began.

Mullin ignored him. "One, OCU believes there's enough evidence to indicate Joseph Colarito's death was related to Cellini activities, possibly as a precursor to a gang war. My office agrees with that assessment. Two, your investigation -- specifically, the interview you were conducting -- could jeapordize our ongoing investigation of the Cellini organization. Three, even if there _wasn't_ enough evidence to think Colarito was hit, the fact that he was a Cellini soldier allows OCU to take charge. Your involvement is over. End of story. End of argument." He held out a hand. "Case file."

Max & Mickey shot imploring looks at Weeks; the mixed-race man nodded, doing a poor job of hiding his feelings about this turn of events. "Go on, you two," he said quietly. "In my office."

The detectives passed another disgusted glance. Max sighed loudly and turned on her heel. Mickey slapped the case file into Mullin's hand and started to follow. Funigello followed Mickey. "Yo! What'd you get out of Leon?"

Mickey didn't even slow down. "Noise and frustration. Says he's clueless about it."

Funigello caught up with Mickey and grabbed his arm. "That's not good enough, Detective," he said menacingly.

Mickey stopped, looking at the hand squeezing his bicep. He briefly considered turning into the hold and re-arranging the shorter man's lungs. Instead, he gave Funigello a smile that said he relished any upcoming confrontation. "He said Dexter Gordon was the greatest tenor sax player who ever lived. I'm a Coltrane man myself, so we agreed to disagree."

Funigello's mouth curled into a snarl. "Don't give _me_ that shit, De-"

Max stuck her face between him and Mickey. "Hey," she said pointedly. "We did not get anything out of him. You want to go fishing? Bait your own hook. Now, kindly unhand my partner."

Funigello went beet-red. He was about to snap Max' head off when Mullin stepped up and touched his shoulder. Funigello glared at him for a moment, and then took a deep breath. He morphed his snarl into a smirk and let go of Mickey's arm. Mickey brushed off his sleeve and continued on to Weeks' office. Max traded hard looks with Funigello before she followed.

Funigello watched her go. *Why do the worst bitches have the best asses?* "That little cunt's lucky I've got a sense of humor," he said quietly, smirk firmly in place. It faded quickly when Weeks stepped in front of him.

"You want to speak with my people," Weeks told him, eyes blazing. "You keep your hands to yourself and a civil tongue in your head. Is that clear?"

"Look, Ron..."

That was as far as Funigello got. "Is. That. Clear?"

Funigello opened his mouth, then looked to Mullin for support. The ADA just shrugged; he wasn't having any. Funigello turned back to Weeks and nodded, palms out. "Sure, Ron. Whatever you say."

Weeks glowered at Funigello, debating whether to tell him (*For the fiftieth time...*) that his first name was Aaron. Deciding that was as hopeless as Funigello himself, Weeks spun around and marched into his office, closing the door behind him. Mickey was in one of the two chairs in front of Weeks' desk, while Max had her usual perch on the edge of one of the file cabinets. Weeks rubbed the back of his neck with his right hand, shoulders leaning against the door's frosted glass window. "It started out as a nice day," he said to no-one in particular.

"This can't suck enough, Loot," Max said bitterly.

"Doesn't give you leeway to get in Fun With Jell-O's face, Max," Weeks told her without rancor. "He still outranks you, and he could still have you written up."

"He's an all-World asshole," Max retorted.

"I'm aware, Max. I'm aware." Weeks walked behind his desk and sat in the high-backed grey swivel chair. "I'm also aware that Mullin is right: OCU's mission statement lets them pull moves like this, and the DA always backs them up, even if there's only a scintilla of a chance it could lead them closer to Tommy C." He smiled thinly. "Besides, it's partially your fault. You had me call the Gangbusters when you saw who the vic was."

Max tried to stare a hole in the floor. "Serves me right for following procedure."

"This doesn't have to be a mob hit, boss," Mickey complained. "The perp could just be some psycho."

Weeks gave Mickey a pitying look. "Your perp is _definitely_ a psycho, Kreutzmann. Normal people don't use human flesh when they want to whittle." Max snickered, in spite of herself. Mickey looked sheepish, saying nothing as Weeks went on. "But even if Joey Colarito fell foul of some Hannibal Lecter wannabe, there's still enough room for OCU to take control."

Max looked up at the dropped ceiling and made a loud, inarticulate sound of frustration. Weeks almost chuckled, running thumb and forefinger over his full moustache. "Anyway," he went on, "be happy Elliott Less decided to play King Of The Mountain. You two have bigger fish to fillet."

Max' ears pricked up. "Like what?"

Weeks pulled a file folder out of his 'In' tray. "You know how you've been saying Domestics have been way out of line?" Max nodded quickly. The increase in domestic-related murders had been her pet hobbyhorse for over a month. "Well, I ran the numbers over the weekend, and you were right. The overall Domestics rate is up 13 percent over this time last year, and 30 percent over '95's fourth quarter."

"Maybe the rate of men leaving their underwear on the floor's gone up, too," Mickey put in, trying to lighten the mood.

Either Weeks didn't hear the joke or he was ignoring it. "This is men killing women we're talking about. The rate of women killing men is about the same, maybe even a few points lower." He offered the folder to Max, who got up to take it. "So, curious bastard that I am, I had Evidence Control look over what we had on Domestics over the past 60 days. One of the probationers came up with that."

Max opened the file and scanned the top page. It was a list of serial numbers and the case files they were attached to. Six pairs of numbers were highlighted out of a set of 52. The third case file stopped Max dead in her tracks.

"Hohhhhhleeeee shihhhht," Max singsonged. *Scully, the sonofabitch just won't die...*

<<WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON>>

Scully was only half-listening as Skinner ran down the case file. She couldn't take her eyes off the picture of Joel Roberge lying on the floor of the Old Wing of Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, his checked shirt soaked with blood, his face at peace.

"...someone in Boston PD Evidence Control found the weapons' serial numbers on an NCIC Hot Sheet. They were part of a hijacked arms shipment that was bound for a gun dealer in South Carolina last August. It's a general purchase made every fiscal quarter, but the time and route of the delivery is always changed, and is _supposed_ to be a secret."

"What does ATF have to say?" Mulder was trying not to fidget. He planned to hook up with the Lone Gunmen and go to a Capitals game at USAir Arena that night, and getting to Landover at Rush Hour was definitely not half the fun.

Skinner answered without looking at the case file. The Assistant Director had studied it before summoning them to his office. "Because of the paramilitary nature of the hijacking, ATF concluded it was carried out by a militia group. Their investigation was ongoing when the Boston field office contacted us about this matter."

Scully's eyes flicked up to meet Skinner's. *The Boston field office...* "Militia groups aren't limited to Michigan and Wyoming," she said. "In fact, a group would have to be either inexperienced or suicidal to mount an operation like this in their own backyard."

Skinner nodded. "ATF has re-focused their investigation onto known groups in the Atlantic Coast region. The field office is assisting their efforts, looking into any possible involvement by established groups within the New England area, as well as the possibile creation of a new group, or splinter group."

"So why do they need us," Mulder wanted to know. "Surely the Boston office has the manpower to handle that kind of task."

Skinner took a second to answer. "The interim SAC felt your team was best suited to investigate the anomalies in this case."

"Anomalies?"

"All six cases were domestic in nature -- a husband murdering, or attempting to murder his estranged wife. All six cases ended with the death of the perpetrator. And except for the weapons, there are no obvious links between the perpetrators. Different ages, races, upbringings, educations, professions. No history of violence, domestic or otherwise. And no links to any known militia groups. Two of the six men were in the military, but different services and different conflicts."

Mulder wore that faraway look he got when presented with a puzzle. "Military alumni associations?"

Skinner shook his head. "They usually stay within one service, or one conflict. Plus these men were support personnel, not combatants. The first man on your list was a catapult operator on the USS Saratoga during the Gulf War; the last man worked in Army Intelligence at the Pentagon during Vietnam." Skinner picked up a pen off his blotter and started tapping it idly. "But even if they _did_ meet at some point, that doesn't explain the link with the other four men."

Scully was thinking about the incident at the Museum of Fine Arts. *'Incident'. Talk about an ineffectual word! On the first day of my vacation, I stop a murder attempt with the help of a Boston Homicide detective. That detective becomes my lover -- my _lesbian_ lover -- by the end of the day. A week later we find out from one of Boston's larger organized crime figures that the man we shot was in the process of being mobbed up...*

She gave the list of weapons a quick once-over. "All the weapons used were high-caliber, military-style weapons. All except the .38 used in the museum incident."

"That weapon wasn't part of the shipment itself," Skinner told her. "It belonged to a security guard named George Sidaris, a retired police officer from Richmond, Virginia. The .38 was his service revolver, and he was using it as a hideout weapon when the shipment was hijacked. He was killed along with the driver. The hijackers took their weapons and ammunition, in addition to the shipment."

"Waste not, want not," Mulder mused.

Scully ignored him. "Sir, do you think the request for our services is linked to my role in OPC's investigation of SAC Beauchamp?" When Skinner hesitated, Scully added, "I've briefed Agent Mulder on the particulars."

Skinner nodded, emitting a barely-audible sigh. "The only questionable aspect of the request was that it specifically called for you to report to Boston alone, and that Agent Mulder's presence was not required." A faint smirk flashed across Skinner's face. "I explained to Special Agent Renko that you were a package deal, and that Agent Mulder could find some way to make himself useful."

Mulder trotted out his patented Smirk. "Thank you for the vote of confidence, sir."

"I wouldn't be too quick to smile, Agent Mulder." He looked at Scully. "Charles Renko has been Gordon Beauchamp's #2 man since Beauchamp became Special Agent-In-Charge. Before that, they were partners for thirteen years. I have a feeling the welcome you receive will be less than cordial."

*Wonderful.* Scully's headache was getting worse.

Skinner leaned back in his chair. "If it's any consolation, Agents, you won't be working directly under the Boston office. You'll be part of a special detail organized by Boston PD's Homicide unit."

Scully fought to keep her mask on. The thought of seeing Max again, and so soon, pleased and excited her. But could they work together? Yes, their sudden partnership at the MFA had gone as well as could be expected: They had stopped Joel Roberge from murdering his estranged wife Louise, killing Joel in the process. But this would be an actual, structured case. *We love each other, but we're very different people. Can we work together without people finding out about us? And what will working together _do_ to us?*

Skinner straightened up, his tone indicating the meeting was wrapping up. "In any case, you have your marching orders, and Special Agent Renko expects you to report to him by this evening." Mulder barely suppressed a groan; he'd have to eat the cost of his ticket, since there was no time to pass it off to Frohike and company. "If you do run into any roadblocks," Skinner went on, "let me know and I'll do my best to knock them over." Mulder & Scully nodded and were getting up when Skinner added, "Agent Scully, if you could stay behind a moment."

They gave Skinner a mild look of surprise, then Mulder gave Scully the same look. Scully was back to expressionless, having guessed what Skinner wanted to talk about. "See you downstairs," she murmured, her tone assuring Mulder everything was under control.

Mulder was still uncertain, and nearly said something to that effect. Instead he nodded to her, nodded to Skinner, and headed for the door as Scully sat back down. Scully & Skinner watched Mulder go, neither of them speaking as he closed the door behind him.

As soon as the door clicked shut, Skinner leaned forward again, crossing his arms on his desk. His tone-of-voice went from businesslike to borderline-personal, with a side order of reluctance. "I thought you should be aware of the current status of OPC's investigation of Gordon Beauchamp."

Scully's brow furrowed at the word 'current'. She had given her deposition to the Office of Professional Conduct over two weeks before, and had heard nothing since. "I was under the impression the investigation was complete."

Skinner sighed. "The _investigation_ is complete. However, the disciplinary phase is on hold, pending an inquiry into Agent Moncrief's investigative tactics."

Scully's left eyebrow nearly disappeared into her hairline. Brian Moncrief was an OPC mole assigned to the Boston office. He was acting as Beauchamp's personal assistant when the Special Agent-in-Charge ordered him to conduct covert surveillance on Scully. "Are they suggesting Agent Moncrief acted improperly?"

Skinner locked his fingers and addressed his blotter. "Agent Beauchamp's attorneys contend Moncrief's report was driven by feelings of revenge, stemming from being sexually rejected by Beauchamp."

Scully's eyes went wide. "He's claiming Agent Moncrief _came on_ to him?"

Skinner nodded. "Not once, but on several occasions. The attorneys say Beauchamp never reported this because he didn't want to endanger Agent Moncrief's career. Needless to say, there were no witnesses to these events, but the attorneys say this is common in most cases of sexual harrassment."

Scully was astounded. "What about the harassment complaints against Beauchamp? They were the reason OPC placed Moncrief in the Boston office..."

"The attorneys maintain those allegations are false, and Agent Moncrief developed bogus evidence to advance a liberal, homosexual-friendly agenda by a group of unnamed individuals in the Bureau."

Scully's face flushed red with anger. "That's utterly absurd."

Skinner unlocked his hands long enough to make a helpless gesture. "I agree, as does Bob Britton at OPC. However, Beauchamp has enough support in the upper echelon of the Bureau to put any disciplinary action on the back burner while the allegations against Agent Moncrief are investigated."

Scully closed her eyes and shook her head. *The Old Boy Network strikes again.* That night in the parking garage, Moncrief intimated he had faced allegations about his sexual orientation once before. *Someone must have found out about that, and gave it to Beauchamp for his defense.* "What does Agent Beauchamp have to say about ordering Agent Moncrief to keep me under surveillance?"

"Beauchamp's attorneys claim he never gave the order. That it's a blatant lie by Moncrief to manufacture an overt act that would get Beauchamp cashiered. Furthermore, they claim your deposition contains the words of either an unwitting accomplice..." Skinner looked like he had an incredibly bad taste in his mouth. "...or a fellow member of the conspiracy."

Scully had to bear down hard to stay expressionless. "He's claiming I'm gay, too?"

Skinner kept it in Automaton mode, but he was patently livid about the situation. "His attorneys haven't said that in so many words. However, they _are_ questioning the timing of your appearance in the Boston area."

*Control, Dana, control...* "What about the timing of Joel Roberge's attack on his wife? Did I have something to do with that, as well?"

Skinner's smile was rubber-band tight. "Beauchamp's attorneys have all the bases covered. If you _were_ part of the conspiracy, you would have done your best to entrap their client in some way, and the incident was an unforeseen circumstance that worked in your favor. If you _weren't_ Moncrief's accomplice, then Moncrief used the incident as an excuse to mount a lie bigger than the lies perpetrated by a handful of bitter ex-employees."

Scully's smirk was small, mostly because of the fear that hung over her. "That's a bit of a stretch."

"No argument from me," Skinner said quickly. "But as I said, Beauchamp has enough support to give these theories a closer look."

Scully looked over Skinner's shoulder at the gathering darkness. "Unbelievable," she muttered.

Skinner's eyes were back on his blotter. "I just felt you should be aware of the present situation. Allegations like these can make life in the Bureau... difficult." He lifted his gaze to her. "Some people will assume the worst. Even in the face of the facts."

Scully kept her voice level, which was a bigger job than keeping her poker face. "The facts are, sir, that anyone presented with these allegations should consider their source. Gordon Beauchamp's feelings toward non-white-males in the Bureau -- and women in particular -- are well documented. And if anyone decides sexual orientation is more important than credibility, then they are just as vile as Agent Beauchamp, and should be ranked in the same class."

Skinner had a good poker face, too, and he needed it now. He had expected outrage from Scully, and that's what he got. But the wording of her last statement took him by surprise. It was _too_ down the middle, too much of a "non-denial denial." Several questions came to Skinner's mind, but they never got as far as his mouth. "As I said, I just wanted you to know the current state of play." He stood. "If there are any further developments in the case, I'll be sure to pass them on to you."

Scully nodded as she rose. "I appreciate that, sir."

Skinner nodded. The questions hovered in front of him. "That's all, Agent Scully."

"Thank you, sir," she said, nodding in deference. She did not look at him as she went out, closing the door behind her. Skinner stared at the door, lost in thought, until he realized he hadn't moved for over a minute. He sat down and tried to focus on his paperwork. He was not successful.

<<WEDNESDAY EVENING>>

"So, Scully," Mulder murmured, leaning over so he could speak into her ear. "You think this is a tactic to break our will?"

Scully smiled faintly, glancing over at Special Agent Tom Deerfield sitting at the workstation. He was giving Mulder a disapproving glare over a dog-eared copy of U.S. News & World Report; when he noticed Scully was looking at him, he extended the disapproval to include her, then went back to his reading.

A red light blinked steadily over the mahogany double doors next to the workstation. It was blinking when Deerfield led them into the outer office of the Boston Special Agent-In-Charge. Deerfield took one look at the light and ordered Mulder & Scully to take a seat. That was 20 minutes ago.

Mulder & Scully had not expected a reception like this. In fact, they hadn't expected a reception at all, and were prepared to go through the normal drill once the USAir shuttle landed at Logan International Airport: Scully would sort out the rental car while Mulder checked the usual suspect motels. Instead, Deerfield had met them at the gate and bundled them into a double-parked Crown Victoria, which drove them directly to the Boston field office. The painfully-serious, military-cut young agent was impervious to all conversational gambits, including those about the case; his replies ranged from a monosyllabic grunt to a sentence Scully had come to think of as Deerfield's mantra: "Special Agent Renko will speak to you about that." Deerfield was positively gabby compared to Agent Ken Duguay, the equally-young, equally-trimmed blond agent who drove the unmarked Ford. Except for a few hushed exchanges with Deerfield, he never spoke a word.

Scully looked down at the month-old copy of Time in her lap. She looked furtively at her watch. 9:43. Scully had tried to call Max on the way to National Airport; whoever answered her extension said she was down on the firing range. Scully had planned to call again after they touched down, but current circumstances made that impossible.

The red light stopped blinking. Deerfield immediately picked up the extension and dialed a three-digit number. He spoke quietly into the phone, eyes on Mulder & Scully all the time. After a moment, he said, "Yes sir," hung up, and stood up. "Special Agent Renko will see you now," he told them. His tone was akin to a royal courtier announcing that the King would grant them an audience, and they should be extremely grateful. Deerfield held the door for them. He wore the same hostile look he'd given them before.

The office was gloomily lit, so area was hard to judge, but it was obvious the room was twice the size of Skinner's office. It was definitely more luxurious: Wall sconces gave off a glow not half as bright as the one coming from the two expensive table lamps sitting on opposite ends of the executive-size desk at the far end of the room. The Back Bay blinked at the office from the other side of the floor-to-ceiling windows.

Special Agent Charles Renko was scribbling hastily on a gray legal pad with a gold Cross pen when Mulder & Scully walked in. He offered up a quick smile. "Please have a seat," he said, pointing with his pen at the short-backed chairs in front of the desk. "I'll be with you in a moment."

Mulder & Scully exchanged a look after they sat down. "Ouch," Mulder mouthed. Scully wasn't surprised that the chairs had minimal padding. This had been Gordon Beauchamp's office, and it would be right in character for Beauchamp to get an edge on anyone he met with by making them uncomfortable before the first word was spoken. She looked Renko over as he wrote. He was the same age as Beauchamp, but the similarities ended there. While Beauchamp's face reminded you of a well-used hatchet, Renko's was the unlined face of a choirboy. He wore his clothes well, his gray-to-almost-white hair was professionally styled, and his tie was a bright red paisley. He was the Good Cop to Beauchamp's Bad Cop.

Renko wrote in silence for another minute before he put his pen down and looked up at Mulder & Scully. "Welcome to Boston." His smile didn't seem forced, but it also didn't touch his eyes. "I must say I expected you earlier, though. Was there a problem getting transportation?"

Mulder willed himself to sit still. "Rush Hour traffic in the District made us miss the earliest-available plane."

"We have the same problem here," Renko said off-handedly. "Still, I've no doubt you'll rebound from this poor start."

Scully could feel Mulder's spine going rigid. "We'll certainly do our best, sir," she said neutrally.

"I'm sure you will, Agent Scully. We prize results in this office." Renko gave Mulder a smile that had all the warmth of a creamsicle. "Your supervisor feels you have many outstanding qualities, Agent Mulder. Even though I assured Assistant Director Skinner that only Agent Scully's presence was required, he seemed to feel your expertise was necessary to the conclusion of this case." He leaned back, elbows on armrests, and tented his fingers. "I must say I'm puzzled by that. These are simple domestic homicides we're dealing with, not little green men from Mars." Deerfield laughed at his own joke.

Mulder didn't even smile, opting for the expressionless pose Scully had taken. "I'll try to live up to AD Skinner's faith in me. Sir."

Renko stopped laughing, though his smile remained. "In any case, it's probably a good thing you're both here. Between our normal duties and our involvement with ATF on their militia group investigation, my office doesn't have the manpower to help the Boston Police Department clean up an investigation they themselves botched."

Scully's voice was flat as a pancake. "You feel they should have seen the connection to these murders before?"

Renko looked puzzled. "I would have thought that was obvious, Agent Scully. There were aspects to these cases their Homicide unit should have discovered before we were forced to make it our problem." He held his hands palms up for a moment, then put them back on his chest. "Please don't misunderstand. I'm sure Boston PD is just as dedicated to protecting the public as the Bureau. Unfortunately, like most local police departments, their knowledge and methods are not as... complete as they could be. I'm sure you'll be able to work around that, though."

It was typical Bureau thinking: The Local Yokels couldn't find their butts with both hands and a compass. It still stung Scully to the core. "We'll be sure to do that, sir," she assured him.

"Fine." His tone turned apologetic. "Now, I'm afraid you'll have to get all your transportation from the PD. My motor pool was overtaxed _before_ ATF came to town. Also, our policy here prohibits agents from renting automobiles unless all other official avenues are closed. That means if all of the PD's units are in use or on fire, you can rent a car. This city also has a marvelous public transportation system, so taxicabs will not be necessary unless it's an absolute, demonstrable emergency. Understood?"

It wasn't just Mulder's butt that was getting sore. "Sir, if I may-

Renko acted like no-one had spoken. "Also, while you are supposed to be working as a separate unit, I believe in keeping on top of all operations happening in my sphere. Therefore, I will require daily progress reports from you." His smile faded like it was on a dimmer switch. "I prefer these be done in person, preferably much earlier than the current hour."

Mulder cleared his throat. "With respect... sir... our activities in the field may make personal sit-reps difficult. Especially when we won't be in control of our transportation..." Scully looked at Mulder out of the corner of her eye. He could have been the Lincoln Memorial, he sat so still. She heard the nuance in that measured, dead-fish tone, though. Mulder was furious, but was damned if he'd show it.

Renko looked perplexed again. "I was under the impression you were a man of many talents, Agent Mulder. I'm quite sure you could apply those talents to _taking_ control of your transportation. After all, we are doing the police department a favor. Surely they could return that favor by delivering you to your assigned appointments -- in this case, to this office at..." He glanced at his watch, a digital model with a large face. "...6pm at the latest. Every day." He gave Mulder a fatherly smile. "Do you think you can accomplish that, Agent Mulder?"

Mulder looked right through him. "I'll do my level best. Sir."

"Excellent," Renko said, quite pleased that the problem was solved. "Now, if you'll please wait outside, I wish to speak with Agent Scully on another matter." Mulder was about to object, but Renko cut him off at the pass. "_Now_, if you please, Agent Mulder."

Mulder looked over at Scully. She nodded towards the door. *Go ahead. I'll be okay.* Mulder considered a second, then nodded curtly to Renko and got up. He resisted the childish urge to slam the door behind him as he walked out of the office.

Renko stared at the closed door for a moment before he re-focused on Scully. He still had a slight smile on his face, but there was a look in his eyes Scully couldn't identify. "This is not my office," he said quietly.

"I'm aware of that, sir," Scully said. She felt like she was sitting on a marble slab, her butt and back hurt that badly.

"Are you, now?" Renko pushed himself out of his chair, buttoning his jacket as he stood. "Are you also aware that interim SACs must use the office of the agent they're replacing, regardless of whether the circumstances are temporary or permanent?"

"No, sir," Scully allowed, not reacting to the cracks that were beginning to show in Renko's veneer.

Renko walked around the desk and leaned on the front edge, looking down on Scully with arms folded. His tone remained the same, but a closer look at his eyes let Scully identify what was in them: Pure, undiluted hatred. "But you _do_ understand how, depending on the circumstances..." He made an offhand gesture. "...say, if the interim SAC was a close friend of the man he was replacing..." His smile widened for a brief moment. "You could understand how that kind of situation could be somewhat... _disquieting_..."

"Sir," Scully said, as professionally as possible. "I feel this conversation is inappropriate..."

"Do you know what _I_ find inappropriate, Agent Scully?" Scully started to get up. "_Please_ sit down."

Scully froze, hands on the armrests. You could have twanged Renko's smile, it was so tight. He had obviously wanted to scream those last three words. *Never show fear to a growling dog,* Scully told herself. She slowly came to her feet, hands at her sides, making no move to leave.

Renko squinted at her. "Are you hard of hearing, Agent Scully?"

Scully's face was a stone vizard, unmoving, unreadable. "No, sir. My hearing is perfect. You were saying something about inappropriate behavior?"

Renko's eyes flicked towards the door, obviously calculating possibilities. His smile had completely disappeared. Scully shifted her stance as casually as she could. *Watch his hands.* Finally Renko spoke, his tone conversational, his eyes no less dangerous. "A man who has given the better part of his life to this country is sitting in his house in Manchester, unsure of whether he is going to have a job tomorrow. All because of a growing list of untruths -- most of them told by people who are not even on the government payroll, all of them exaggerated by a man with a grudge and an agenda." He put his hands on the desk behind him. "_That_ is what I find inappropriate."

Scully nodded, as if she understood completely. "So you're saying every accusation made against Special Agent Beauchamp is a lie."

Renko addressed the ceiling. "I am saying that some people have no concept of _real_ leadership. That there are still some people who believe the Old School is still the best place to learn how to do one's job. The Old School was not out of style as far as Gordon Beauchamp was concerned." Renko turned his smile on and off, like he controlled it with a lightswitch. "Some past employees simply could not adjust."

Scully was able to hold back a Mulder Smirk, but she couldn't stop her eyebrow from shooting up. "Does the Old School teach someone to order covert surveillance on members of his own organization?"

Renko's smile didn't go away this time. "It does if he feels that person may be engaged in untoward, illegal, damaging, or embarrassing activities."

Scully forced herself to maintain eye contact. "Such as?"

Renko shrugged. "Oh, I wouldn't know, Agent Scully. It doesn't matter, in any case, since that order was never given." Renko feigned confusion. "Hadn't you considered that Agent Moncrief might have been misleading you? Or had a game plan separate from his assignment?"

Scully didn't blink. "I don't believe Agent Moncrief has any reason to lie."

Renko's expression set records for pomposity. "_Everyone_ has a reason to lie, Agent Scully."

The Smirk Scully was repressing tugged at the corner of her mouth. "I'll be sure to keep that in mind, sir. Is there anything else?"

Renko seemed to freeze. When he spoke again, his voice was a shade darker. "Despite your partner's presence, Agent Scully, I am considering this to be _your_ case. Its success -- or failure -- rides on your shoulders. I'd be sure to keep _that_ in mind, if I were you." Beat. "That's all, Agent Scully."

Scully nearly said "Thank you, sir," but managed to head off the reflex. Instead she gave him a slight nod and walked out of the office. She could feel his eyes on her back as she went through the door.

Mulder and Deerfield were in their former positions when Scully came out of the office. There was a metal briefcase on the desk now. Deerfield opened it as he stood. Mulder stood too, starting towards Scully. "Now then, Agents," Deerfield said officiously. "If you'll step over here and surrender your cell phones."

Mulder's head snapped around. "Pardon me?"

Deerfield took two cellular phones and two pagers out of the briefcase and laid them on the desk. He opened one of the file drawers and started rummaging through it. "Field office policy states all visiting agents will use _our_ communications equipment while operating within our area of influence. These phones are locked into the local network. It saves the Bureau money, and allows us to stay in contact with you at all times. The pagers are a necessary backup, in case you're on the phone when we need you-Ah, here it is." He pulled what looked like a release form out of the drawer and put it next to the briefcase. Then he held out his hand. "Your cell phones. Please."

Mulder gave Scully a disbelieving look. Scully wasn't sure if he was going to burst out laughing or burst into flame. Mulder walked over to the workstation and put his hands on the desk, his face inches away from Deerfield's. Mulder's tone was casual, but there wasn't a trace of humor. "You can have my cell phone when you can pry it out of my cold, dead fingers."

Deerfield started to speak, but something in Mulder's eyes made him close his mouth. He glanced at the double doors. "I'm following procedure, Agent Mulder," he said, trying to sound reasonable.

"And so you have." Mulder took out a pen and made a few alterations on the release form. Deerfield looked mortified at Mulder's corrections. Mulder signed the form, picked up one pager and pocketed the other. Scully walked up to the desk and signed the form without comment. She took the other pager from Mulder and fell in step with him as he started towards the elevators.

Deerfield hastily packed the cell phones back in the briefcase. "The office doesn't have _your_ cell phone numbers, Agent Mulder."

"Dial 411," Mulder said over his shoulder. "Come on, Scully, let's get to the hotel."

Deerfield closed the case and went after them. "Actually, Agents, I'm supposed to _take you_ to your hotel."

Mulder looked remarkably weary as he turned around. "Deerfield, don't take this the wrong way, but..."

Deerfield walked up to him. "Agent Mulder, I'm _already_ going to take it in the shorts for your refusal to surrender your equipment. I'd really appreciate it if you'd let me follow the rest of my orders. I don't want my hide to be any more tan than it's going to be tomorrow morning." He stepped around Mulder, brushing his shoulder ever so slightly, and pressed the 'Down' button.

Mulder glanced at him for a moment before he looked at Scully, a pleased Smirk on his face. For the benefit of what was left of Agent Deerfield's ego, Scully stayed deadpan. There was enough laughter in her eyes. *If they were trying to break our will, they failed miserably.*

<<WEDNESDAY NIGHT>>

Scully was trying to decide whether her blue suit was wrinkled enough to steam when there was a knock on her door. "Scully, it's me."

"One second, Mulder." She decided it was still serviceable, hung it with her gray suit and her maroon jacket, and reached over to open the door.

Mulder walked in, tie at half mast, suit jacket unbuttoned. He looked over the non-descript hotel room, hands in his pockets. "Really coming up in the world, aren't we?"

Scully closed the closet door. "Don't ever say they don't treat you right in this town. What did Skinner say?"

There was a round table and four swivel chairs by the window, but Mulder sat on one of the two double beds out of habit. "Renko's already making noise about us. We refuse to follow standard protocol. We reject his theories on the case out of hand. We are generally disrespectful to field office personnel." His Smirk had no starch in it. "He also says you have a real problem with authority."

Scully sat on the other bed and kicked off her shoes. "Oh, I'm nothing but trouble." She looked at her watch. "Renko must have called Skinner as soon as I left the room."

Mulder nodded, his elbows on his knees. "Called him at home, in fact. The AD is not a happy camper."

"With us or with Renko?"

"Renko. Skinner says proceed as normal, and he'll catch what flak he can." He ran a hand through his unruly hair. "However, I did get the impression he would get uncommonly stressed if this went on for any length of time. He also wants your side of your 1-on-1 with Renko."

Scully groaned. "Now?"

Mulder shook his head. "He said call him early tomorrow." Scully groaned again. *Early for Skinner is thirty seconds after the cock crows.* A dull ache was forming behind her eyebrows. She massaged them with thumb and forefinger. Mulder looked around the room again. "Did you get Max?"

Scully shook her head, still trying to rub the pain away. "Missed her by fifteen minutes. Called her apartment and left a message." Scully sighed heavily, leaning back on one elbow. "Mulder, I'm sorry I got you involved in all this."

Mulder frowned. "In all what?"

Scully stopped rubbing her eyebrows and looked up at the ceiling. "If everything with Beauchamp hadn't happened, I doubt Renko would have requested us. He's obviously going to make things as difficult as possible, and if the case doesn't get solved, he's going to make sure the Bureau comes down hard."

Mulder gave her a mid-range Smirk. "Hey, I told you I hate it when you have more fun than I do." He turned serious. "Besides, Beauchamp only happened because you chose to go to the MFA that day. If you hadn't done that, Louise Roberge would be dead. And you wouldn't have met Max. And I wouldn't get to meet her so soon."

The mention of Max made Scully's headache ease. "This is true," she allowed. She brought her head up and gave Mulder an appraising look. "Are you still okay about this? About me and Max, I mean."

Mulder looked down at the carpet. "Scully, you've had to sacrifice a lot working with me. It's hurt you personally, it hasn't helped you professionally, and you haven't had much of a life since you came down to the basement four years ago..."

Scully did a head shrug. "That assumes I had a life to begin with."

Mulder paused before he said, "You had Jack Willis." He regretted it before Scully sighed. "I'm sorry," he said quickly. "That was out-of-line."

Scully waved him off. "It's all right. I'm not mad." She sighed again. "I used to think about Jack a lot. About what we had before..." She shook her head quickly, banishing the memory of their last time together. "And when I look at it honestly, the best thing I can say about our relationship was... we didn't crowd each other? I didn't ask anything of _him_, he didn't ask anything of _me_, we could date other people if we wanted to..." She thought some more. "And that was okay, because that was the way I wanted it at the time." Beat. "But if I were presented with the same situation today, I'd run a mile, no matter how I felt about the person."

"Monogamy's a good thing, especially nowadays," Mulder allowed. "How's that going to work on a long-distance basis, though?"

"I don't know," Scully said honestly. "But I'm going to do whatever it takes to _make_ it work." She looked at Mulder, as solemn as a soloist in a church choir. "I love her, Mulder. I'm not going to mess that up."

"I know you're not." He was smiling, not Smirking. "What I'm trying to say is... I _am_ okay about it... but it doesn't matter whether I am or not. Scully, your happiness is a hell of a lot more important than my comfort zone. But more than that? You shouldn't have to live life like I do." His smile dimmed a little. "I'm an island by choice. You've had that life thrust upon you. And I've always felt bad about that."

"I could have requested a transfer if I didn't want to deal with it any more."

It was Mulder's turn to look tentative. "Why didn't you? Most people would have cut and run a long time ago."

Scully cocked her head back, left eyebrow held high. "_I_ am not most people."

Mulder laughed quietly. "No. You're not."

Scully smiled, but did not laugh. "I haven't run because I owe you a lot. Not just because you saved my life, or that your fight has become my fight... or that you've become one of the best friends I've ever had..." Mulder's smile stretched a little wider. He bobbed his head in acceptance of the compliment. "All that would be true. But above all that... This is going to sound terrible..."

Mulder leaned back, mirroring her position. "Try me."

Scully considered. "The fact is... I wouldn't be the agent I am now _without_ the last four years. Yes, it's been hard." She laughed once, without humor. *That's a major understatement. Losing three months of my life. Losing Melissa...* She shook her head again, dismissing those thoughts. "But after this... I know I can do _anything_. And I have you to thank for that."

"The power was always in you, Dorothy," Mulder said lightly.

Scully did her best deadpan. "Yes, but would I have found that out if the house hadn't landed in Oz?"

There was no answer for that, so Mulder just laughed. *Besides, what I owe you, I can never repay. Though I'll do my best to try...*

They would have shared smiles and silence for some time if the phone hadn't rang. Mulder looked at it, the Smirk returning. "Exit Mulder," he said, getting up. "Stage Right."

Scully moved over to the phone, watching him as he walked out. "Sleep well, Mulder."

He gave her an over-the-shoulder Smirk. "Tell her I said hi."

Scully waited until the door closed before she picked up. "Scully."

"Music to my ears." Max. A very tired Max.

A gentle radiance lit off in Scully's stomach. "You're a hard woman to get a hold of."

"Never thought I'd hear you say _that_," Max cracked, despite her obvious fatigue. "Today has been a total clusterfuck. Phone calls all morning. Meetings with the brass all afternoon. Then I had to work on a goddamn _presentation_ for three fucking hours. I haven't done a presentation since BU! I only got to play with my new toy for an hour or so."

Scully sat with her back against the headboard, her legs straight out in front of her. "Which toy is that?"

"Loot's laid down the law: I carry a 9-mill like everyone else. I've got 60 days to qualify, or he sends me out on the street with a slingshot and a bag of rocks. Today was my first day."

Scully winced. The Colt Python Max carried was her father's service revolver. That carrying it meant a lot to Max went without saying. "What did you get?"

She could hear Max smile. "Sig Sauer. It came highly recommended."

*My gun.* Scully wondered if using the same weapon as your lover could be defined as 'too cute.' "How'd you do?"

"I can hit the broad side of a barn, as long as the barn doesn't duck behind a tree." She paused. "Hey. I dialed a local number just now."

Scully Smirked. "You _must_ be beat if you only figured that out now."

"I just got a second wind." Max was fully alert. "Where the hell are you?"

"Believe it or not, the Back Bay Hilton..."

"No shit!"

"No shit. We checked in a little while ago."

Max let out a loud war whoop. Then she said, "Whoa. What's this 'we' crap, white girl?"

"Mulder's here, too. He says hi, by the way."

"You're _both_... What, ET double-park the Mothership on Boston Common?"

"A little more earthbound than that," Scully said. A slight sense of apprehension came over her. "It involves Joel Roberge."

Max gasped. "_You're_ the heavy hitters the Feebies are giving us?!"

"Afraid so," Scully said, ignoring the pejorative.

Max was silent. Then she said, "Woof!"

"At least." Max didn't say anything. "You see the problem."

"Welllllllllllllll..." Max was as tentative as Scully had ever heard her. "It's not like we haven't worked together before..."

"Max, it's not the same thing. This is an actual _case_, with checks and balances and people looking over our shoulders. Plus we have a revenge factor to deal with..."


Scully gave Max a quick overview of her meeting with Renko, as well as a rundown on what was happening with Beauchamp and Moncrief. When she was finished, Max was fuming. "I want to slap people who say the Patriarchy is a Liberal myth." Scully heard a muffled thump. *Max must have hit the couch.* "SHIT!" More thumps. "Goddamn desk-riding, no-nothing, limp-dick mother_fuckers_..."

"I know," Scully said quickly. "I agree. But there's nothing we can do about that now. And who told me you can't cry about things you can't change?"

"You've got too good a memory," Max grumbled. Silence. "There is _one_ thing we can do, though..."

"I'm listening."

"We can put this fucking case _down_. Make those pinstriped shitheels eat a crowburger with fries. That'd improve _my_ outlook on life. How 'bout you?"

Scully laughed. *You are the greatest.* "Definitely."

"Okay," Max said, resolve coursing through her voice. "Okay. We handle this like any other problem. We think it through. We talk it out. We work _together_. Agree when we can, compromise when we have to. Deal?"

"Deal," Scully said firmly.

Max sighed. "Scully, I'm glad it's you and Mulder helping on this. The local Feebies act like we're retards with guns. This case is _already_ a hairball, and we haven't even gotten off the ground!"

Scully pushed her hair out of her eyes. "We looked over the case file on the flight up. It's a puzzle, alright."

"More like a Rubric's Cube." She sighed again. "Fuck it. We'll go at it fresh tomorrow. Loot wants us all to meet at start of shift. That's 8am."

"We'll be there."

"Cool." The smile came back in her voice. "Did you get the same room as last time?"

Scully felt herself blush. "Two floors down, other side of the building. The view's not very good."

"Such a shame." Pause. "Is Mulder there right now?"

"He headed off to bed when you called."

Beat. Beat. Beat. "What are you wearing?"

*Oh my...* "Maroon skirt, white top."

"Shoes?"

"Stockings." The room was getting very warm. "I'm sitting on the bed."

"Mmmmmmm... Can I call you back in ten minutes? I still smell like cordite, and I want to be clean before this conversation continues."

"I'll be right here."

"So near, yet so far."

<<TWELVE MINUTES LATER>>

Scully picked up on the fourth ring. "Hello," she said hurriedly.

"You sound out of breath," Max said impishly. "Did you start without me?"

"No," Scully answered, the smile in her voice obvious. "Ran in from the bathroom. I was just toweling off when you called."

"You showered, too?"

"Well, if you could, it was the least I could do."

Max nestled back into the pillows. "If I was there, I'd help you dry your hair."

Scully's quiet laugh was deep in her throat. "If you were here, we'd still be in the shower, risking life and limb."

"What a way to go," Max giggled. "Next time we ought to try a bath. Smaller risk of head injuries."

"Bigger risk of drowning."

"Nah." Her giggle upgraded to a laugh. "Though my downstairs neighbors might think Cambridge got hit by a tidal wave."

Scully had the giggles now. "'Honey, the building's struck an iceberg!'"

"'Women and dance bands first!'" The laughter felt so good. A happy glow suffused Max. "Have I ever told you how much I love your voice?"

"Really?" Scully sounded astonished.

"Swear to God. I hear you on the phone, or you come up behind me and say something, and I just swoooooooon..."

"I think you've got a better voice than I do."

"No!"

"Yes. My voice is flat. It can't carry a tune in a bucket. _Your_ voice has got this wonderful, smoky quality, like... I don't know _what_ it's like..."

Max dropped her voice as low as it would go. "You mean like this?"

"Talk normal, you goof," Scully laughed. "Your regular voice is enough to make me have to change my underwear."

"Are you _wearing_ underwear?"

"What do _you_ think?"

*Oh, baby.* "Will you please go to bed with me?"

"Gladly." Max heard a rustle of covers. "Mmmmm. I love clean sheets."

Max hummed. "You're so warm."

Scully gasped. "Can you feel me? I swear I can feel you."

"Power of positive thinking."

"More like wishful thinking." She let out a low growl. "Wish I was there."

"Isn't that supposed to be 'Wish you were _here_?'"

"Uh unh. Wish I was _there_."

"Tomorrow night, baby. Just you and me, and the rest of the world can go to hell."

"It can go to hell right now." Her voice became a murmur. "Please kiss me."

"C'mere." Max opened her mouth and closed her eyes. Her tongue tingled, twitched, like it was dancing with a like member. They both moaned. Max' hand was moving down her stomach in slow circles. "Oh damnit, Scully, I want you so bahhhhhd!"

"I'm yours, Max," Scully said, her voice hoarse. "All yours."

"I'm kissing my way down your neck..."

"I'm liking that a lot..."

"Licking your collarbone... Stroking your tits..." Max swallowed once, twice. "Sucking a nipple..."

"Ohhhhhhhh..."

Max worked her lips and tongue, eyes still closed, easily calling up the sensation of Scully's bullet-hard cap between her lips. "I love your breasts," she whispered. "I want to wake up with your tit in my mouth..."

"Oh God yes..."

"I'm touching you... Rubbing your clit with my fingers..."

"Ahhhhhhhh... Love your touch..."

"I love _you_."

"I love you, too." Scully's breathing was ragged. "Nice slow circles..."

"There's an idea... Oooh! A very _gooooood_ idea."

Happy noises came down the line, and then Scully's words came in a rush. "I want you inside me."

Max' voice shook. "Me too you."

"How many...?"

"Let's start with... two."

"Okay...Mmmmmmohhhhhhhhyeah..."

"Oh, that is _so_ nice... Ohhh, you've got nice thumbs..."

"Slowwwwwwwwww," Scully moaned.

"You too... Make this... last..."

"That... was my plan..."

"Hehehe... Mmm! Oh!" The stars behind Max' eyelids were unusually bright. "You want another?"

"Oh please... Oh, yes.... You get one, toooooooo..."

"Ooooooh, thank you... Oh, right there! _Right_ fucking there, yes _ma'am_... Little faster..."

"Yehhhsss... Oh damn, that's great... Oh, fuck me, Max..."

"You fuck me back," Max hissed.

The line was filled with only guttural sounds now. Max' fingers were soaked. She could swear she heard Scully's fingers sliding in and out. "When I get you alone, I'm gonna lick you til you _scream_..."

"Oh my..."

"Drink every drop... Make you cum so hard, you'll think you're in an earthquake...."

"Oh, honey, I wish I could taste you..."

Max felt herself smile. "You could lick my hand tomorrow..."

Scully was either giggling or panting. "T-t-too obvious..."

Their laughter did nothing to slow down their actions. Max was biting her lip hard enough to cause pain. "Scully," Max moaned. "Put one in my ass."

Only the slightest pause. "Here..."

Max used the pillow to hold the phone in place. Her moan turned to a groan, then into a small howl as she slid her middle finger inside. "Oh, yehhhhhhhhhhhsssss..."

"Give... give me one, too..."

"Y-you sure?"

"Uh hunh..."

Max could hardly breathe. "Okay..."

"Uhhhhnnnnnnh!!!!"

"Just relax..."

Scully sounded strangled. "So tight..."

"You don't have to-"

"No! No! It's all right... Oh, it's so all right..."

"Yes, yes, yes," Max breathed in time with her thrusts. She could feel her fingers touching each other.

Scully's voice started rising. "So close..."

Max doubled her pace. "Please, please let me cum with you!"

"Gahhhhd... Kiss meeeee!"

Max opened her mouth as wide as she could, aching for the flavor of Scully as their moans got louder and louder until they were yelling unintelligibly down the line, writhing like landed marlins, fingers pistoning and stimulating, bedspreads being kicked off, revealing them both as they went off the same peak.

They came down like leaves in autumn, fluttering slowly to the earth as their breathing came back to normal. Scully was able to speak first. "Oh yes... Yes, please hold me."

Max' eyes flew open. "How did you know...?"

"I... I could feel your arms going around me."

Max laugh was very weak. "What did you say about telekinesis?"

"What did _you_ say about wishful thinking?"

"I said _positive_ thinking. _You_ said wishful thinking."

"Sorry... Kind of lost track of things..."

"One can only wonder why." Her laugh was getting stronger. Scully joined in blissfully. "Thank Christ you can laugh in bed."

"Doesn't it feel good?"

"Mmmmmmmmm. _You_ feel good."

"So do you." Beat. "I can't wait to see you."

"Too bad the next time has to be in a meeting," Max groused.

"I know." The imp crawled into Scully's voice. "Just remember, the best thing to do when giving a speech is to imagine your audience completely naked."

"Oh, _great_! Now I'm gonna sound like Porky Pig! Thanks a whole bunch, girl!"

They laughed a little more. "Go to sleep, honey. We've got a long day tomorrow."

"Got that right." Max paused. "Can you stay tomorrow night?"

"If I do the early morning subway thing, I can."

"I can live with that." Another pause. "I love you."

No pause. "I love you, too. Sleep tight."

"You too."

<<THURSDAY MORNING -- START OF SHIFT>>>

The gray-haired man looked impassively at Mulder & Scully as they sprinted towards him. He had decorations on his blue dress uniform, silver eagles on his shirt lapels, gold braid on the brim of his cap. He made no move to hold the doors, which closed in their faces as they reached the elevator.

"I'm not making any friends in this town at all," Mulder remarked.

Scully looked hectically at her watch. "Homicide's on the second floor. Let's walk." The stairs were to the left of the elevator. She started up without waiting for Mulder.

Traffic on the stairs was fast and heavy. Mulder had to hustle to keep up with Scully, who was practically in the back of the person in front of her. She had been going full-bore since she banged on his door at 6am, dressed and ready for breakfast. Mulder had tried joking and teasing to lighten her mood, but a stern stare over half a grapefruit put an end to that strategy. She was on the phone with Skinner for most of breakfast, and the conversation hadn't helped her disposition.

Homicide's squadroom hadn't changed in the month since Scully had spent a long afternoon in Interview 1, reviewing and re-reviewing the MFA shooting with multiple groups of people. The long high-ceilinged chamber was still an antiseptic green, off-white cartoon-decorated PCs offering sharp contrast to the film-noir gray steel desks they sat on. Neither Max or Weeks was in evidence when Mulder & Scully came into the room. Two detectives stood by the desk nearest the entrance, discussing the contents of a notebook. One was freshly-showered with every hair in place, while the other looked like an unmade bed. *Day Shift and Night Shift,* Mulder decided. "Excuse me," he said, stepping towards them. "We're looking for Lieutenant Weeks."

Day Shift looked up at them curiously, while Night Shift kept staring at the notebook. "He's in a meeting right now," Day Shift informed them. "Can I help you?"

Mulder pulled out his ID; Scully did likewise. "Actually, we're the people he's supposed to be meeting with. Agents Mulder and Scully, FBI."

Day Shift's expression closed down. Night Shift looked at them without bringing his head up. "Lieutenant's in Conference Room 2. Fourth floor."

"Thanks," Mulder said pleasantly, ignoring the usual bad vibes. Scully was already out the door by the time Mulder turned to go.

"Hold the elevator, please," she called out, running down the hall. Whoever was in the elevator either hadn't heard or didn't care, because the doors closed before she got there. Scully raised a fist like she was going to hit the doors, but she just sighed hard and dropped her hand to her side.

Mulder jogged up to her. "Think we're still asleep, and this is a Work Dream?"

Scully moved quickly towards the stairs. "If it was, we'd be in our underwear."

"My Work Dreams are better than your Work Dreams."

Scully didn't have time to give him a dirty look.

The fourth floor was more sedate, with the feeling of a recently-refurbished management suite. The walls were off-white with brown wood paneling on the wainscoting. A black plastic, white-lettered sign directed visitors to the various conference rooms and offices. The door to Conference Room 2 was across from the stairs. Scully pulled up in front of the door. She had been running hard to make the meeting on time; now that she was here, she felt almost paralyzed.

Mulder stepped up beside her, observing her expression, sensing the panic. "Scully." She reacted so slowly, he thought she might not have heard him; he was going to repeat her name when her head snapped round to face him. "It'll be okay," he assured her quietly.

Scully started to speak, then just smiled and nodded, grateful for the support. She straightened her suit jacket, knocked twice, and opened the door.

Con 2 was done up in the same style as the hallway. It was a windowless room with a whiteboard and projection screen on one end and an overhead imaging system mounted on the ceiling. Legal pads and pencils had been placed in front of every chair around the long conference table that bisected the room. A stack of six file folders sat in front of him. Coffee and donuts were laid out on a table at the other end of the room, perpetuating the legendary police archetype; a man Scully didn't recognize was pouring himself a cup. Max was over by the screen, going over handwritten notes with a woman sitting at a computer terminal. Weeks sat on the other side of the table, sipping on a cup of his own. Scully made sure to focus on him. "Lieutenant Weeks?"

Weeks smiled as he rose. "Agent Scully, please come in. It's good to see you again."

Scully gave him a professional smile as they shook hands. "Good to see you too, Lieutenant. This is my partner, Fox Mulder."

Mulder offered his hand. "Lieutenant."

Weeks' grip was firm but not crushing. "Agent Mulder," he said formally. The other man came over, sipping some coffee. His tall, lanky body and monochromatic wardrobe made Mulder think of a praying mantis in mourning. "This is Detective Michael Kreutzmann, one of the officers you'll be working with."

"Charmed," Mickey said. He was shaking hands with Mulder but speaking to Scully.

Max came over to Weeks. Scully was extremely glad the table was between them, because Max looked good enough to devour. She was wearing all Earth tones: Light brown tweed jacket, dark brown blouse, khaki slacks, brown boots. She'd also spent time on her hair, something Scully knew she hated doing every day. Max held a hand out to Scully. Her smile was the kind you gave to a colleague, or a casual acquaintance -- friendly, but no more. "How you doing, Scully?"

"Good, Max," Scully managed to say in a normal tone. "Yourself?" Until that moment, she never knew how frustrating a handshake could be.

Max shrugged. "Can't complain. Wouldn't help, anyway." Scully thought she'd have to force herself to let go. Fortunately, Max let go first and moved to shake Mulder's hand. "I've heard a lot about you, Agent Mulder."

Mulder gave her a Level 3 Smirk. "Well, either all of it's true or none of it's true."

Max gave him a smile and a chuckle. "I'll remember that."

Weeks resumed his seat, causing everyone else to sit down. "I must say, Agent Scully, I was surprised when Max told me you and your partner were going to be working with us. I thought we were going to have to deal with the local office on this." His tone clearly said he'd been unhappy with the prospect.

"The field office is working with ATF on their original militia-group theory," Scully explained. "Our assignment is to find a connection from the other end, by examining the murders themselves."

Weeks picked up a pencil and started twirling it like a baton with his fingers. "A fresh perspective couldn't hurt. I know I'm stumped." He gave the pencil one more revolution until the point was on the pad. "Well, you are here and we are here, so let's get started. All yours, Max."

Max nodded, picking up a small stack of papers as she stood. Scully thought she saw Max' hands tremble. "Okay. I know you've both studied the case file. But just so we're all on the same page, I'd like to go over the highlights of each incident before we start breaking everything down."

"Sounds good," Mulder said. Scully nodded, already holding a pencil.

Max gave them a little smile, then nodded to the computer tech. "Mickey, could you get the light?" Mickey got up and walked over to a row of switches by the door. It took him two tries, but he finally killed the lights nearest the projection screen, leaving everyone with enough light to make notes.

The PowerPoint presentation was short on frills, long on information. Max ran through the cases with an ease that belied her nervousness. Max could be gregarious to a fault, but formal public speaking was not her strong suit. She had never worked with PowerPoint before, and would have preferred to keep that record intact, but the Captain had insisted she use it. ("We've got to show these people we're not some podunk PD still living in the Stone Age," he'd harrumphed.) The Information Services tech -- a bright young civilian named Bonnie -- had been extremely helpful, so the presentation was not the problem. The problem was giving it to a group of people that included the new-found love of her life, and not being able to acknowledge it. Mulder may have been in on the secret, but no-one else in the room was, or would be any time soon. *These are not ideal working conditions,* Max thought unhappily.

After Max finished the last case, the tech put up a multi-column screen, with the perpetrators listed in the far left column. Max addressed the screen. "When we discovered the weapons connection, we looked for any other correlation between the perps. We checked families, places of birth, ethnic background, religious affiliation, educations, occupations, social organizations, military service, and arrest record, if any. No matches for all six, and what few matches we _do_ have are sketchy. Two guys were in the military, but different services and wars. Two others went to UMASS-Boston, but twelve years apart."

She nodded to Bonnie. "So, having gotten nowhere with the perps, we decided to take a look at the victims." The tech put up a screen like the first one, only it listed the names of six women. "We kept the same general parameters -- personal, educational, social. Same results, pretty much. A couple of BU grads, but years' difference. Two secretaries, but different businesses, different parts of the city. All of them work out, none at the same place."

Max sighed, turning to face her audience. "So we were back at square one. All weapons used were part of that hijacked shipment, and all the shooters are dead." She took a deep breath, averting her eyes from Scully. "But I couldn't sleep last night, so I looked over the files again. And while this may not be a connection, exactly, it is a factor we might want to consider."

"What's that, Max," Weeks asked, sounding surprised.

Max signaled the tech, who brought up the screen they were working on when Mulder & Scully walked in. "All the incidents occurred in public places. _Very_ public places: The MFA. Faneuil Hall Marketplace. Copley Square at lunch hour. A Mexican restaurant on Newbury Street. A department store in Cambridge. The lobby of the Orpheum Theatre..."

"Crime happens in the open, too," Mickey put in.

Weeks nodded in agreement. "And it's not like husbands haven't taken out their wives in public before, Max."

Max held up a hand. "Sure. At the wives' jobs, at their offices, in parking lots, that kind of thing. Not in front of God and everybody in broad daylight. And the hubbys who kill their wives at work are usually the batterers, the restraining-order types. Joel Roberge had a restraining order against him, but not for domestic violence. There's no history of spousal abuse in _any_ of these cases..."

"No _reported_ abuse," Scully said, somewhat reluctantly. "Most domestic violence goes _un_reported, either by the victims or by their families and friends."

"But if someone gets _killed_, the truth usually comes out after the fact," Max countered. "A friend, a relative, a co-worker, _someone_ gets the guilts and says, 'If only I'd _done_ something, _said_ something, yadda yadda yadda...' It happens. I've seen it. And there's nothing like that here."

"So, what?" Mickey had an elbow on the table and his head in his hand. "The He-Man Women-Haters Club's cross-breeding with the Mafia?"

Max didn't hesitate. "If Wiseguys got hit like this, we'd have Fun With Jell-O and the Gangbusters hanging from the ceiling, swearing someone was sending somebody a message."

Scully didn't say anything, but her expression showed she was torn; she didn't like arguing with Max, and knew her hypothesis was based on professional experience, but the scenario just didn't ring true.

Max couldn't read minds, but she could read faces. Weeks and Mickey wore the same dubious expression, while Mulder sat stone-faced. "Look," she said, "I _know_ it's a reach. But the only other explanation is that six guys from six different parts of Greater Boston -- most of whom wouldn't know where to get a hot gun if their lives depended on it -- went to the same gun dealer that bought guns from the same hijacked shipment, which makes the dealer dirty, as well." She shook her head firmly. "That's wayyyyy too much coincidence for _my_ low-fat diet."

Scully had scribbled a few notes on her legal pad. "Were all the couples divorced, or in the midst of divorce, when the shootings happened?"

Max consulted her notes, irritation itching at her. It sounded like Scully was trying to change the subject, and that rankled, no matter what they'd agreed on the night before. "One divorce, finalized eight months before the shooting. Three couples going through the process..." Her eyes flicked up to Scully. "Joel and Louise was one of them..." Scully nodded. Max went back to her notes. "One was in the fourth month of a legal separation, and the last couple was in counseling."

Scully's eyes flicked up from her own notes. "But they hadn't talked to lawyers yet?"

"No," Max said patiently, "but you don't ask an umpire for help unless the game's turned lousy." Max and Richard had gone through three months of counseling before they gave up and filed papers. Max stayed in bed for two days after she signed.

Scully looked at Weeks and Mickey. "We ought to see what the counselor has to say. Maybe he or she knows something the relatives don't." She looked over her shoulder at Mulder. "Also see if any of the killers was getting private counseling."

Mulder looked distracted, as usual, but nodded. "Okay, I'll buy that," Max said grudgingly. *Agree when we can, compromise when we have to...*

Mulder spoke up for the first time. "Do you have autopsy reports on the shooters?"

Max looked confused. "The perps? I suppose so. It's procedure. But their deaths were pretty cut-and-dried, Agent Mulder. Two were cut down by cops, three if you count me and Scully. Two ate their guns after the murder. One burned to death after his Porsche was T-boned by a bus while escaping..."

Mulder raised his hand to stop her. "Actually, I'm more interested in what might have happened to them prior to the last day of their lives."

Scully's eyebrow lifted off. "Are you saying their actions may have been _physiologically_ driven?"

"Talk about a reach," Max chimed in, her doubt undisguised.

Mulder didn't bat an eye. "Your reach should exceed your grasp."

Max gave Mulder a look Scully knew all too well. It was the look local cops and field-office personnel gave him when he introduced a line of investigation that made no earthly sense. "Ohhhhhhhhhkay," Max replied. "The Whiner... Doctor Weinglass, medical examiner, would have all that."

Mulder nodded. "Any of the bodies still on hand?"

Max laughed once, idly wondering what planet this polite, well-dressed man came from. "Three went into the ground over the last couple of months. Joel was buried week before last, and there wasn't enough left of the stunt driver to take home in a doggie bag. The last guy..." She glanced at her notes. "...a Louis Satterlee, retired Army colonel. He was one who took himself out, late last Thursday night. He might still be on ice."

Mulder looked at Scully. "Would you please...?"

Scully sighed, her eyes on her notes. "It's why I get paid the big money."

"If you're gonna deal with the Whiner, you'll earn it," Mickey said as an aside.

His comment got smiles from the rest of the room. Weeks' smile was the smallest. He pulled a file out of the stack and handed it across to Scully. "Anything else, Max?" Max shook her head, resuming her seat. "Well, this has been a wonderfully bonding experience. But we're not going to put this down unless we knock on some doors. Command, the DA, the mayor's office, they all want this closed soonest, with a minimum of pub. You've got theories, follow them, but don't get locked into anything. There's a reason why this happened, and it may be one we've talked about." He gave Max a look that wasn't censuring, but wasn't apologetic, either. "But it may _not_. Whatever, if you need something from anyone in the department, tell 'em the request comes from the top. If they don't believe you, call me, and I'll make sure it _does_ come from the top." Weeks addressed Mulder & Scully. "Now, I know you two came as a package. However, I want all parts of this group to have the benefit of both perspectives. Therefore, I'm splitting up the existing teams." He looked around, not waiting for an objection. "Anyone have a problem with keeping the pairings boy-girl boy-girl?"

Mulder grinned at Max. "I know I don't." His tone was a little more than friendly. Max came close to replicating a Mulder Smirk.

"No problem here," Mickey added. He'd been with the squad long enough to know it wouldn't matter if he had a problem or not; what Weeks wanted, Weeks got. Scully just shook her head, relieved the decision had been made for her. For once, she was sorry she hadn't worn heels. *I'm going to look like a midget next to Mickey.*

"Excellent," Weeks beamed. He picked up the remaining file folders and laid them out side-by-side. "Five more cases. Who does what?"

Max took a quick look at the files and grabbed the middle one -- the Roberge file. She glanced at Scully, waving a hand over the remaining files. "Pick two." Scully dropped her gaze quickly down to the table. After a moment's consideration, she took a folder from each end. Mulder picked up the last two files.

Weeks stood. So did everyone else. "The brass is riding me like a racehorse, people. Help me keep them happy. Keep me informed, keep each other informed, and keep turning the stones, regardless of the hour. Overtime budget's been approved -- get it while it's hot, get it while it's buttered. Any developments, good or bad, call me immediately. Otherwise, we meet here every morning, same bat time, same bat channel. Questions?" There were none. Weeks put his hands on his hips. "Work it."

<<LATER THAT MORNING>>

"You two don't mind if I stand over here, do you?"

"Don't be bashful, Detective Kreutzmann," Weinglass chided, pulling on a pair of long black gloves. "Step up. You might learn something." His tone made it clear he doubted that would happen.

Mickey leaned against a long counter at the far end of the room, striving to look nonchalant. "I don't need to find out what my food looks like after I've eaten it. I spent four years at Holy Cross learning that lesson."

Weinglass rolled his eyes at Scully. "Detectives can be so infantile."

Scully had already masked up, so she couldn't have smiled at Weinglass if she wanted to. Which she didn't. She examined the body in front of them with clinical detachment. Colonel Louis Satterlee, US Army (Ret.), was in marvelous condition for his age: Tight muscletone, flat stomach, good leg-muscle definition. *Stairmaster? No, he'd run. Might even have done a marathon or two. He was in shape for it...* If it weren't for the fist-sized exit wound on the back of his skull, Scully would have been hard pressed to explain why the West Point graduate wasn't still up and around.

"I honestly don't see why you have to re-examine these cases, Dr. Scully," Weinglass complained. He had refused to address her as 'Agent Scully' from the moment he found out she was a fellow pathologist. "I've been at this job 22 years, and I haven't botched a post yet."

"No-one's accusing you of that, Dr. Weinglass," Scully assured him again. "I'm afraid my partner is rather adamant about confirming whether something may have physically occurred to these men that caused their behavior, and their deaths. And he insists I be as thorough as possible." *Blame It On My Partner.* Mulder & Scully had used each other as excuses for so long, neither of them gave it a second thought.

"You want to know what caused their deaths, Dr. Scully?" Weinglass picked up a scalpel and idly tapped the exit wound. "Lead poisoning." He dropped the scalpel. "Except for the one who shuffled off while doing a poor imitation of Steve McQueen." He pulled on a mask, tugging the straps until they lay comfortably. "What caused their _behavior_ was an inability to control their private lives. Just like most of the poor former souls who roll through my door." He nodded at Satterlee's corpse. "You want blood and tissue from this one, too?"

Scully nodded, already tired of this terminally-crusty man. "Plus any anomalies we may discover. Northeastern Medical will provide the courier."

"They'd better not bill me," he grumbled. "That camera over there _should_ be loaded. Why don't you play shutterbug. My assistant called in sick. Again." Scully picked up the Polaroid camera, automatically checking the flash attachment. Weinglass' eyes flared when she pulled out her pocket Dictaphone. "My office will give you a transcript of the post."

Scully switched on the recorder and put it on a high stool next to the table. "Turnaround time on this case is very short," she said, giving him both barrels of The Ice Queen. "Shall we proceed?"

Weinglass gave a world-weary sigh, turned on the water jets and flicked a switch on the microphone hanging above the table. "Eleven-eleven-ninety six, 9:24am. Subject is a 62 year-old male Caucasian..."

--------

"I'm sorry," Leslie Davenport, Ph.D repeated. "But I'm afraid my hands are tied on this matter."

"I don't see why," Max insisted. "Your patient is dead. Privilege isn't an issue."

"Would that were true." The bespectacled psychiatrist made a helpless gesture from behind his antique mahogany desk. The desk took up a third of the small wood-paneled room he used as an office. "My patient may be dead, but there is the question of his family to consider. They may not want details of his sessions to emerge..."

Max wanted to leap over the desk and throttle the self-possession out of this man. "Doctor, the man _has_ no family. He stopped having a family when he blew Doreen O'Connor's brains all over Copley Square..."

Davenport held up a finger. "On the contrary," he corrected her. "Michael Ceterski's mother is alive and well and living the life of a retired middle school principal in Yuma, Arizona. Michael was devoted to her. I met her at the funeral, in fact. She was quite distraught, as you can imagine..."

"Excuse me," Mulder cut in, his brow furrowed. "You went to your patient's funeral?"

Davenport gave Mulder an enigmatic smile. "I counseled Michael for over two years. I'd like to think we became friends."

"Okay," Max said carefully. "What can you tell us about your _friend_?"

Davenport chuckled, his hands on his sweater-covered belly. "I'm sorry, Detective. I know you have a job to do, and are trying to do it without sullying my oath. Michael was my friend, true, but first and foremost, he was my patient. And I cannot -- and will not -- betray the trust a patient invests in me. Even from the grave."

"Doctor, we're not the tabloids," Max said, her desperation bubbling over. "I assure you anything you tell us will remain in confidence..."

Davenport shook his head, his expression implacable. "You can make all the assuring noises you wish, Detective Maxfield. But unless you can produce a legal release from Michael Ceterski's family, I refuse to give up the right of Privilege."

Max was close to exploding. She was about to threaten Davenport with arrest as a material witness when Mulder spoke up. "We understand your position on discussing past and present patients, Dr. Davenport," he said reasonably. "However, I'm wondering what your position is on _hypothetical_ patients."

Davenport regarded Mulder with mild interest. "I'm listening."

Mulder paused, his mind racing. "A patient is divorced from his second wife. His first wife has been dead for some years. A significant amount of time passes after the divorce..."

"How significant," Davenport asked.

Mulder gave him a weak smile. "Less than a year." He looked around the room, his hand following his gaze. What wall space that wasn't covered with overloaded bookcases was inundated with diplomas, plaques and pictures. "Eight months, for the sake of argument."

Davenport's smile was thin as a sheet of paper. His salt-and-pepper hair was very curly, long in the back, and badly in need of cutting. "For the sake of argument. Though you must admit, Agent Mulder, that's not really a very long time."

Mulder nodded, conceding the point. "A moment in the grand universal scheme. But an eternity for someone who's in love. Or whose love has been rejected."

Condescension seemed to come easy for Davenport. "I wouldn't listen to talk radio so much, Agent Mulder. It's not helping your view of the human condition."

Mulder let that pass. "Would a patient like that develop enough rage to commit murder?"

Davenport considered the air in front of him. "It's not out of the question. Though he could develop any number of emotions in that time."

"Like what," Max wanted to know.

Davenport didn't look at her. "Sorrow, for one. If, as you say, this was the patient's second marriage, and the patient had been alone for some time prior to this marriage, it's more than likely that the patient believed he would never be alone again. He would be partners once again. If that partnership is taken away unexpectedly, and nothing can be done to recoup that, the patient could turn inward, not lash outward."

"What would destroy a partnership like that," Mulder asked impassively.

Davenport started scanning his desk. Between notepads, pens, pictures, a small ship's clock and a Gateway PC, the tabletop was very crowded. "It is a clichŽ, but it is possible to love too much." His gaze landed on a picture in a gold frame for a moment, then looked at the two people sitting across from him. "It would not be unheard of for the patient, now part of a pair once again, to do everything to make sure his partner was happy and content. But while it does take maintenance to make a successful relationship, it is possible to work _too_ hard. Stay _too_ close. Without space, a person can suffocate."

"So good intentions can be just as damaging as bad ones," Max offered.

Davenport looked at her like the class dunce had just figured out the answer to the problem. "They can, indeed."

"The rejection of those kind of intentions could be doubly damaging, though, couldn't they?"

Davenport held his palms together, as if in prayer. "It is possible. Depending on how a patient channeled that rejection."

"If the patient channeled that rejection successfully, and did nothing for a long period of time..." Mulder began.

"How long?"

Mulder knew he was being played with, but went on anyway. "Possibly eight months?"

Davenport smiled, firm in the knowledge that he was in control. "Very well. Your question was...?"

Mulder looked him right in the eye. "What would cause the patient to abandon this process and take sudden, violent action?"

Davenport seemed to think a moment, then shook his head. "It would be difficult to form an analysis without more facts. The patient's actions could stem from a single, seemingly-innocuous incident, to a deep-seeded sense of betrayal that could no longer be denied. Of course, you would have to speak with someone who knew the patient intimately to divine that."

Max' voice was hard as a rock, and almost as flat. "Like his psychiatrist?"

Davenport did an exaggerated double take. "Well, that would be one course you could pursue." He shook his head. "Mind you, I don't know any psychiatrist who would discuss his patients' mental condition, even though the patient was no longer with us." He was the picture of artlessness. "I know _I_ wouldn't."

--------

Of all the buzzwords that floated through the 90's, Scully hated "wellness" the most. She thought it was a Boomer-inspired piece of nonsense that cheapened the cause of medicine; it offered up visions of Nehru-jacketed 'healers' that worshipped crystals and savored herbal tea. The woman behind the main desk of the Somerville Wellness Clinic was anything but a holistic hippie, but she wasn't much of a help, either.

"I don't care if you're trying to solve the murder of Martin Luther King," she said sharply. "I cannot give out that information."

"We're not asking to look at your patients' secret journals," Mickey said evenly. "We just want to speak with whoever handled the counseling of George and Anna Pelc."

The hard-eyed woman whose nametag identified her as "Melanie Radcliffe --Assistant Administrator" held her pose : Arms folded, chin cocked, mouth set. "We do not release the names of our staff to _anyone_," she repeated. "Nor do we release any information about their treatment of patients. That is our policy."

"We are not just _anyone_, Ms. Radcliffe..."

"That's right," Radcliffe agreed snippily. "_You_ are the people who are supposed to protect and serve us poor downtrodden citizens." She flicked her eyes at Scully. "_She_ is the people who keep us poor downtrodden citizens safe from terrorists and revolutionaries. And my question to you both is this: What have you done for _me_ lately?"

Kreutzmann felt stupid smiling in the face of this abuse. "A little cooperation goes a long way, Ms. Radcliffe..."

"Is that so?" The frizzy-haired matron pointed towards the front door. "You know those people who accosted you on the way in here?" She gave Scully a hard look. "The ones who gave you those leaflets you dumped in my waiting-room trashcan? Those are the fabulous folks from Operation Rescue -- you know, the happy people who chain themselves to the entrances of abortion clinics? Put clinic employees' faces on 'Wanted' posters? Applaud the killing of doctors serving their patients' needs? Their primary target is the Planned Parenthood office four doors down. We do not do abortions here; however, we _do_ have two OB-GYNs on staff, both part-time volunteers. So the protesters waylay every single woman who comes through our door, just to make sure Planned Parenthood isn't outsourcing some of its workload." She re-focused her wrath on Mickey. "The number of complaints I have made to the police is getting close to three figures. The number of times you have done anything about this ongoing harassment is still sitting on zero." She smiled. It was not a nice smile. "So you'll excuse me if I'm not brimming with the spirit of cooperation."

Mickey was starting to steam. "I see you're the Assistant Administrator. May we speak with the _Chief_ Administrator?"

"Certainly," Radcliffe said bitterly. "Get in your car, go to Logan Airport, and catch the next plane to Maui. That's where she's spending her honeymoon. If you'd rather wait, she should be back in, oh..." She glanced at her watch. "...eleven days." Her smile didn't get any nicer.

Mickey gave her an equally unfriendly grin. He stepped up to the desk and leaned his elbows on the counter. "Here's how our relationship is going to work," he said quietly. "I take my federal friend and leave this happy place. I come back with a warrant the size of the Hancock Tower, ordering you to surrender every single piece of paperwork anyone has done in the history of this establishment. I will need to do this because you will not tell me who this mystery doctor is, or what he's done, or who he's done it _to_, because that is your policy. So, to redeem myself in the eyes of my superiors -- who frown upon detectives being rebuffed by mere office staff -- I have to be meticulous as hell and examine anything Doctor X may have written, dictated, touched, seen, smelled, or tasted."

Radcliffe looked like the top of her head was going to pop off. Mickey continued as if she wasn't even there. "When I finally find the information I need, we will return this truckload of files and dump them _right_ _here_..." He rapped his knuckles twice on the counter. "...because the Boston Police Department does a lot for its citizens, but it doesn't do windows, and it doesn't file any paperwork other than its own." He leaned forward a little. Radcliffe automatically leaned back; she was shorter than Scully, so Mickey towered over her. "Which means the task of putting everything back in its proper place... will be _yours_." He flashed his grin again. "Now. Do we want to go through all that, or do we want to be best friends?"

Radcliffe breathed through her nose. She appeared to be grinding her teeth. "Are you always this delightful, Detective Kreutzmann?"

"You should see me when the moon is full. I come all undone." Mickey's smile didn't dim one watt.

Radcliffe shot daggers out her eyes at Mickey for another few seconds, then bent over and opened up a king-size Rolodex. She gave the cards a short spin, thumbed through a few, pulled one out and showed it to Mickey. When Mickey reached for it, she pulled it away. "Look," she said tersely. "Don't touch."

Scully stepped forward and jotted down the doctor's name and phone number. "What does the blue dot mean," Mickey wanted to know.

Radcliffe's voice was deadly quiet. "He's a part-time volunteer," she explained, her fingertips white as she clutched the card. "Three afternoons a week. No, I don't have his schedule."

Scully wrote that down, too. "Is this number home or work?"

"I believe he works out of his home." Radcliffe said, biting off the words.

Mickey noted the three-digit exchange. *Brookline.* "May we use your phone," he asked politely.

The multi-buttoned phone bleated an electronic ring. "It's out of order," Radcliffe dead panned. She picked up the phone. "Somerville Wellness Clinic, this is Melanie. How may I help you?"

Mickey smiled and started for the door. Scully whispered "Thank you," to Radcliffe and followed, pulling out her cell phone and dialing the number on her notepad.

Mickey held the door for Scully. "Maybe I should have said 'Please.'"

Scully gave him the look she saved for when Mulder was being immature. She listened as they came down the stairs, ignoring the leaflet-waving people rushing towards them. "Voicemail," she muttered. *Doesn't anyone answer their phone any more?*


Indian Summer was holding on by its fingernails in Massachusetts; the temperature was in the low 40s, and any snow that had fallen was long gone. It made the Wayland neighborhood look drab and cheerless, matching Max' mood perfectly as she came back down the blacktop walkway. "Well," she finally said, "that was a bit of fun."

Mulder walked next to her. "It's not your fault."

Max pushed her open trenchcoat behind her and stuffed her hands in her pants pockets. "Sure sounded like it to me." The screamout she'd received >from Louise Roberge's sister still rang quite loudly.

"They're grieving."

Max stopped at the foot of the walkway and turned on Mulder. "And that makes _no_ fucking sense at all! The guy molests his daughter, tries to kill her mother, and they're _crying_ about the man?! If _my_ husband ever messed with my daughter, he'd be a notch on my gun, no questions asked!"

"Different people, different ways," Mulder told her, ignoring the dichotomy she'd just presented. "How many cases have you handled where the murderer is crying for the person he killed?"

Max looked up at the battleship-gray sky. "More than a few."

"All right, then..."

"But this isn't the same thing," Max insisted. "A murder was _prevented_! And the villain was the one who went down! I mean, I understand why Louise is still tranked up a month later. I can even understand why her daughter swallowed a fistful of those tranks and tried to punch her own ticket. But it sounded back there like they were _mourning_ for Joel." She started for the car again. "He lost all his mourning privileges, in my humble opinion."

Mulder walked after her. "Sixteen years is a long time, Max. Some things don't just disappear, no matter what happens."

"I guess," Max said, still not convinced.

"Besides," Mulder reasoned, "they're angry at the media, not at you."

"How you figure _that_?" Max looked both ways before crossing the street.

"If the marriage was breaking up because Joel was having sex with his daughter, the family was probably keeping the details very quiet. This case was all over the front page and on every TV station. And they didn't leave one detail out, did they?"

Max was searching for her keys. "Nope," she said morosely. The news report Scully & Max had watched that first night only touched on the details; other stations were not so circumspect, and the Herald had used Judy Roberge's suicide attempt as inspiration for a 5-part series on incest. It was almost enough to make Max buy a bird, so she'd need something to line the cage.

"This all would have come out whether you'd stopped Joel or not." Mulder walked around to the passenger side. "Springer and Geraldo aside, most people like to keep their private lives private."

"Ain't that the truth." Max got behind the wheel and slammed the door, leaning over to unlock Mulder's side. She sighed as he got in. "Think the girl's getting help?"

Mulder put on his seat belt and tried to get comfortable. Max needed the bench seat close to the dashboard in order to drive, which did not mesh well with Mulder's long legs. "One would hope. If Judy attempted suicide, she'd probably need to receive counseling to avoid prosecution. Looks like the family's trying to shove everything under the rug, though."

"Great." Max pressed her eyes with the heels of her hands. "Look, this next place is out on the South Shore. That's a ways from here. Want to catch some lunch before we head out?"

Mulder waved at the street. "You're the driver."

Max held the steering wheel but didn't start the engine. "Well, this vehicle belongs to the City of Boston. That means a city employee has to drive."

Mulder looked over at her. "I understand."

Max paused. "I hate to drive."

A Smirk started to form. "I hate riding shotgun."

Max turned her head towards him. "You break it, you bought it," she warned after a few moments.

"If that's the case," Mulder returned, "someone owes the city a lot of money."

Max broke up as she popped her belt. The three-year-old unmarked Caprice had seen more than its share of Bondo. Mulder scooted behind the wheel and adjusted the seat as Max got out and walked around the front of the car.

<<LUNCHTIME>>

Scully's eyebrow stayed cocked from the moment Mickey ordered it until the waitress went away. "A Fribble?"

Mickey cocked an eyebrow of his own. "Greatest milkshake on the planet. Don't knock it til you've tried it."

"I'm not. I'm just amazed anyone could buy any food product that sounds like an indiscreet bodily function."

"It's just Stupid-Name Marketing," Mickey maintained. "American as Chicken McNuggets." He pointed a finger at her, assuming a mock-accusing tone. "Are you now or have you ever ordered a Choco Taco? Biggie Fries? A Whopper Junior, with extra cheese?"

Scully shook her head. "I'm sorry, Mickey, but _none_ of those match up to the inanity of 'Fribble'. It sounds like you should excuse yourself after you order one."

Mickey waved her off, putting his napkin in his lap. "Ahh, you're an out-of-towner. If you grew up here, you could order Fribbles, frappes, and bottles of pop without a second thought." He changed from light to earnest. "Hey, I'm sorry. I didn't ask you if this place was okay for lunch. You federal types must be used to better."

Scully laughed softly, looking around the cheerful-with-extreme-prejudice restaurant, the hubbub barely drowning out the drone of Route 1. "Compared to some of the greasy spoons Mulder and I have had to stomach, this is a 4-star bistro. It's fine, don't worry."

Mickey looked relieved. "I should have gone somewhere else, anyway. I could use the change-of-pace. Max and I have been doing Friendly's for the last ten days. It's the only place we seem to agree on for lunch."

--------

"I haven't been to Friendly's in years," Mulder said, adding sugar to his coffee.

Max took a sip of iced tea. "Oh yeah! Scully said you used to live here."

"Chilmark, out on the Vineyard. Never had the pleasure of living in the city. My dad used to bring me into town to see the Sox, though."

Max perked up at the mention of her beloved Red Sox. "When was the last time you saw a game?"

Mulder's grin was beyond boyish. "1975."

She smiled wide. "A classic year. Who'd they play?"

Mulder ducked his head. "You'll hit me."

Max frowned, but still smiled. "No, I won't."

"The Reds."

Max blinked. "The R-"

"Pudge hit a homer off Pat Darcy in the bottom of the twelfth."

If Max' jaw had dropped any farther, it would have broken the table. "You were at Game Six?!"

"Twelve rows back from the visitors' bullpen." Mulder could almost hear the cheers, smell the popcorn, see Carlton Fisk wave the game-winning dinger around the foul pole. "Greatest World Series game ever played."

Max leaned back with her arms folded, looking at Mulder with evident respect. "Well, color me _impressed_!"

Mulder Smirked. "What color _is_ that, anyway?"

"Green." Her look turned speculative. "You want to talk sports... or do you wanna _talk_?"

The Smirk shut down almost immediately. He took a breath and said, "Talk, I think."

Max nodded. She had been expecting him to say something, ask something, do something all morning. It had kept her on tenterhooks. Now that the discussion was finally about to begin, she was one step away from taking flight. She took another sip to steady herself. "So," she said in a softer tone. "Am I what you expected?"

Mulder looked at her quizzically. "What was I supposed to expect?"

Max shrugged. "Oh, you know. The ass-kicking, man-hating, bull-moose diesel dyke that lured your partner into a life of unholy carnality."

Mulder wasn't remotely fazed. "I just figured you saved the motorcycle jacket and hobnailed boots for weekends."

The Framingham Friendly's was packed and noisy, but Max' unbridled laughter was loud enough to make people in adjoining booths glance at her as she banged the table with her hand. Mulder smiled wanly at the spectators. "Okay," she wheezed, when she gained enough control. "We can get along." Their orders arrived. Max had almost caught her breath, but she waited until the waitress left before she said, "I assume you have questions."

Mulder looked at his chicken sandwich. It had seemed like a good choice when he ordered it. "A few." *More like a thousand...*

Max poured steak sauce on her burger. "Fire away."

Mulder nodded, but didn't start. He wasn't scared, but the moment was more than a little intimidating. Mulder hadn't expected Max to be a "diesel dyke" (*Scully would have run like hell before the first kiss was even attempted...*), but he had always been under the impression that beautiful lesbians only lived in his video collection. Max wasn't centerfold-beautiful by any means, but there was a quality about her that could definitely turn a head or two. *It's in her eyes, her smile,* he decided. *Just like Scully.*

Mulder decided to start small. "Scully says you're a second-generation cop."

Max nodded, swallowing. "Only one in the brood. We got a doctor, an architect, a high school football coach, and your classic suburban soccer mom. Me? I wanted to wear blue for a living."

"Was your dad Plainclothes, too?"

Max shook her head. "Uniform. Worked the streets eighteen years, then was a Desk Sergeant. 34 years total, with a pension and a hearty handshake."

"He must have been proud when you made Detective," he observed.

Max smiled into her burger. "That he was."

"And you've been on the force how long?"

"Eight years. I got drafted as a decoy for Vice my second year. The shift commander liked how I handled myself, made the transfer permanent five months later."

"Not bad," Mulder observed.

Max looked depressed for a moment. "Well, I love it, it's my life. But if I had my druthers, I druther have waited a couple years more before it happened."

"Resentment?" Mulder's tone said he knew it wasn't much of a guess.

Max took a ferocious bite out of her burger. She nodded as she chewed. "Part of it was me coming in too fast, part of it was I replaced a cop who'd been at the same desk since LBJ was President..." She sighed. "And part of it was the age-old problem." She hunched her shoulders and put on a gruff voice. "'No Girls Allowed In The Treehouse.'"

Mulder ate some coleslaw. It was a little too bland for his taste, so he added some pepper. "And you've been in Homicide...?"

"Three years next February."

"It looks like you thrive in it." *_God_, that sounds feeble!*

Max picked up her glass and toasted the air. "'When they care enough to send the very best.' That's what my partner says."

"Mickey? Is that his name?"

Max looked confused, then abashed. "Oh! Sorry. No, not Mickey. The Bear... Merrill Reese. _He's_ my partner." She put the glass down, going from embarrassed to pensive. "Well, he's my _ex_-partner, actually, but I'd like to wait til he makes it official before I call him that."

"Is he retiring?"

Max made a face. "That's the less-attractive option. The better one, which he'll probably take, is promotion and a desk job. He got wounded in the line of duty back in September. The brass told him he's only got two ways to go when he leaves the hospital: Up or Out."

"I'm sorry." Mulder didn't know what he'd do if he ever lost Scully that way. *Or any way.*

Max forked some french fries, dipped them in steak sauce, and ate them. "It could be worse," she said, still chewing. "Mickey's cool. He's gonna be all right." She washed the fries down with some water. "He doesn't ask stupid questions. He knows enough movie trivia to keep a stakeout tolerable." She smiled. "And he likes to drive."

"Important qualities in a peace officer," Mulder declared, trying to look serious.

"Yes, they are." She still smiled, but she was giving Mulder that ruminating look again. "You're not asking the questions you _want_ to ask."

Mulder hedged. "Like...?"

Max waved her empty fork around. "Oh, like... 'Why Scully?'"

*She's very good.* Mulder nodded in compliance. "Okay. Why Scully?"

Max considered her own question. "Because... I had to? I mean, I was just walking through the MFA, chilling out on my day off, when I get to my favorite picture in the museum, this great Renoir of the Seine... And there she was. And I..." The words left her. Mulder waited, hands folded on the table, knowing more would come. They did, in softer tones again. "I've only been in one other relationship before this. No intermediate stops. No one-nighters. I don't go to museums to cruise." She shook her head, addressing the space between them. "I was just... _petrified_. If she hadn't been so locked into the painting, and had seen me before I said anything, I'd have turned into the Roadrunner." She flattened out her free hand and shot it off to one side, like a cartoon character making tracks before the anvil hits the highway. Mulder chuckled; Max didn't. "But I had to speak to her. I _had_ to." She looked up, amazement in her eyes, searching for words again. "I would have been happy just to get the time of day. I _never_ expected..." She looked off at the other side of the restaurant, shaking her head at all of it.

"She loves you, you know," Mulder said quietly.

Max laughed softly, still looking off. "Ain't _that_ a kick in the ass," she said, more to herself than him.

Mulder's gaze was very intent. "How do you feel about that?"

Max pondered a little. "Like I won Lotto? Like someone died and left me my own personal diamond mine? Like the Goddess came down from Heaven and said, 'You've been a good little biped, here's a present?'" Mulder said nothing. Her expression solidified. "You're afraid I'll hurt her."

"No," Mulder said quickly. *Not any more.* "But I am afraid she _will_ be hurt."

Max stirred the remains of her iced tea with her straw. "You're talking about her family."

"Has she told you anything about them?"

"Enough to know it's gonna be a hard sell," she admitted.

Mulder nodded. "Yes."

"Well..." She licked her lips. "I guess they're just gonna have to get used to having me around." Max looked up at Mulder. Her eyes were dark with seriousness. "I've been waiting all my life for her, Mulder," she said simply. "Words haven't been invented to describe how much I love her. And I will wade through blood, shit, fire, famine, plague, pestilence... and the IRS... if that's what it takes to keep her." She drained her glass, sucking the last bits of condensation out with her straw. "Any more questions?"

"Yeah." He smiled. "Want to split a sundae?"

--------

"...I'm never home, she's on the road. Neither of us wants children. Both of us get long glowing messages on our voicemail. And the reunions are truly spectacular. It's the perfect anti-marriage."

Scully tried not to ruin Mickey's twisted domestic fantasy. *Everyone's allowed to be in love,* she reminded herself. "Well, she's local. That helps, I guess. It sounds like you were lucky to even meet her in the first place."

Mickey's smile oozed self-congratulation. "Never waited by a stage door before. Hell, I just wanted to tell her I'd enjoyed her routine. If I'd known she was going to say anything other than 'Buzz off,' I would've dressed better."

Scully sucked some Fribble through her straw; she had ordered it against her better judgment. It was chocolate, and it was terrific. *But then, is there such a thing as _bad_ chocolate?* "Doesn't being engaged to a stand-up comic automatically put you in her routine?"

Mickey didn't seem bothered. "Great. I'll become a famous invisible man, like Steadman or Fang." He drank some water. "Hey, you known Max long?"

Alarm bells didn't go off, but Scully did become guarded. "About a month. Why?"

"You know if she's going out with someone?"

Scully forced herself to be off-hand. "Why? You interested?"

Mickey waved both arms, laughing. "_God_, no! I mean, don't get me wrong, we get along and all. She's a great partner, she's teaching me new stuff every day, but... well, even if I _wasn't_ attached, I wouldn't want Max to be my partner twenty-four seven, you know?"

"That's a good thought," Scully answered, dreading the direction of this conversation. She decided to take hold of it. "What makes you think she's going out with someone?"

The waitress dropped the check on the way by. "Thank you," she called over her shoulder.

Mickey examined the check as he spoke. "Well, look, don't tell her I told you, but... She's been in this all-star funk the last couple of weeks, right? Not with me so much, but I could see it with other people. Cops, perps, even Boss Weeks. You don't mind if we do Dutch, do you?" Scully nodded, annoyed at the aside. She took the check and calculated her half of lunch and tip. "Anyway," Mickey continued, "Monday morning she comes in..." He laughed again. "And she's not dancing on the tables singing 'Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah,' but if bluebirds had started landing on her shoulder, I wouldn't have been surprised."

Scully kept a straight face, but inside she was divided between singing and terror. She rejoiced at Max' jubilant demeanor, but cringed at the fact Mickey had picked up on it. "Maybe she just had a good weekend." *God knows we both did.*

Mickey shook his head. "Unh unh. No way. That's what _she_ said, but I've gotta think a guy was involved."

Scully's back muscles stopped bunching at the word 'guy'. She reached for her wallet. "She's single too, Mickey. She's entitled." She adopted an advising tone of voice. "And she's also entitled to her privacy. If she wants to tell you about it, I'm sure she will." *Dana, you are a manipulative minx,* she scolded herself, laughing internally in spite of her relatively dishonest stratagem.

"Yeah, I suppose." He paused, then made a disgusted face. "Yuck."

Scully looked surprised. "What?"

"Good thing I'm finished. I just lost my appetite."

"Thinking about the autopsy again," she asked sympathetically.

"Naw. Thinking about Monday."

"Why?"

"We got first call out of the box. Some sawed-off little Wiseguy got turned into julienne fries. Pretty it was _not_."

Scully could hear her pulse pound. "Sawed-off little wiseguy...?"

Mickey nodded, putting a ten on the table. "Foot soldier in the Cellini organization. They're the local branch of The Outfit. Guy was short _before_ they started cutting stuff off. You want to make it a ten-spot a piece? That's just about twenty percent."

Scully just nodded. Her appetite had vanished, too.

--------

Max was halfway to the car when she stopped. Mulder was trailing, and nearly ran into her. "What," he asked.

Max turned around, a shy smile on her face. "I almost forgot." She got up on tiptoe and kissed Mulder lightly on the lips.

Mulder looked like someone had hit him in the face with a fish. "What-"

"That's for saving Scully's life." She grabbed his hand and squeezed it once. "Do it a lot."

Mulder grinned. "Well, if that's the going reward..." He leaned down and kissed her back. She was beaming as he straightened up. "Shall we go?"

Max waved at the Caprice. "You're the driver," she said playfully.

They were only five minutes away from the Mass Pike. The gray Mystique maintained a four-car cushion all the way through the tollbooth and onto the highway. The man behind the wheel was about to follow them onto Route 128, congratulating himself on a textbook tail-job, when his carphone rang. The orders were terse, the explanation shocking. A UPS 26-wheeler commented on the Mystique's abrupt course change with an angry blast of its air-horn.

<<THURSDAY AFTERNOON>>

Scully tapped her temple with her finger. "Think anyone's home?"

"With a set-up like this," Mickey said, pressing the buzzer again, "it probably takes a minute for Jeeves to answer the bell."

Mickey looked over the steering wheel at the tall iron gates, the electronic keypad, the state-of-the-art surveillance cameras, the black metal sign welded to the gate that said 'COF -- Private' in bright red letters. The directions in Jeffrey Shultz' Dayrunner had brought them to this rolling hill country two miles north of Ashby. They appeared below the note 'COF, 8pm', written in Shultz' seismograph-like script; after that, the initials and time appeared once a week for six months, with no amendments.

The buzzer was part of a small black speaker mounted on a pole next to the keypad. Mickey had tried various combinations of buzzes -- Shave and a Haircut, the Mexican Hat Dance -- and was halfway through the first chorus of the Macarena when a metallic voice came out of the speaker. "Can I help you," it barked.

Mickey almost ordered a Whopper Junior with extra cheese, but decided the person on the other end wouldn't appreciate the joke. "Yes," he said. "You can lower the drawbridge and let us in."

"This is private property, sir," the speaker informed him. "I'm afraid you'll have to turn around."

Sighing, Mickey showed his badge to the camera. "I'm afraid _you're_ mistaken. _This_ is police business. Open 'em up." The speaker went silent and stayed silent. "Someone's talking to someone," Mickey singsonged.

"Mm hm." Scully had been less than talkative since Mickey told her about Max' first case of the week. She hadn't decided on an emotion yet; Shock, Anger, and Relief were all in the running.

The speaker crackled to life again. Even through the static, Scully could tell a new person had come to the intercom. "Once again, this is private property. Unless you have a warrant, there is no compunction on our part to open these gates. We have our rights, and we will exercise them. Good day." There was a blast of static and nothing more.

Scully got out and walked around the back of the car. Mickey watched her in the rear view mirror, trying to fathom her hardened expression. *What the fuck, over?* His curiosity turned to consternation when Scully walked up to the speaker, pressed the white button and held it.

"I don't think deafening them is the way to go," Mickey said, trying to sound helpful.

Scully ignored him, counting to herself. She was up to 'twenty-three-one-thousand' when the last voice came back on the line. "I will not repeat myself..."

"Fine," Scully said sharply. "Neither will I." She pulled out her ID and showed it to the camera. "You've seen _his_ badge. Now see _mine_. Detective Kreutzmann and I are here for the same reason. My presence makes it a _federal_ reason. We appreciate you have your rights, sir, but we have a job to do. Part of that job is asking you questions about a man who came to this address over a period of several months. Now, we can do this one of two ways: You open the gates, we come in and ask our questions, and we go away. _Or_ you keep the gates shut, we go away _mad_, and come back with the most generally-written warrant we can find. And if we discover so much as a dishonest-looking _twig_, or a car that's even remotely _warm_, we will roll the whole lot of you down to the nearest jail and ask our questions there." *And if that doesn't work,* she wanted to say, *I'll get on my cell phone and call up more black helicopters than you can shake a stick at!* She pocketed her ID, staring defiantly at the camera. "It's your call, sir."

No answer came from the intercom. Scully was about to give up when the gates opened with a quiet hum. "Thank you," she said, too enraged to Smirk. She walked round the front of the car and got back in, taking a deep breath as she slammed the door and settled herself.

Mickey gave her a cautious glance as he put the Caprice in gear. "You sure you've only known Max a month?"

--------

Its incorporated name was the South Shore Women's Center, but it was known -- for better or worse -- as The House. The sprawling white Victorian farmhouse sat on top of a hill overlooking the ocean, unmindful of the elements the Atlantic threw at the New England coast most months of the year. The ocean view was almost hypnotic, and many new residents spent their first few days staring at the sea, sitting either at one of the many tall windows or on the porch that belted the building. Elizabeth Sansome took great comfort from the ocean, which was why her office had one window facing it. She took solace in it now as she spoke to Mulder & Max, holding a mug of tea with both hands.

"I'm not sure I'm ever going to understand it," The House's Head Facilitator said, her voice empty of emotion. "I said it to the police then, and I still believe it: If anyone was going to kill Evelyn, it wasn't going to be Scott."

"Why do you say that," Mulder asked.

The long-legged psychiatrist sat slumped in her chair behind her desk, face free of makeup, head sinking inside a huge brown cardigan. "Scott Harland was capable of many things: Holding down a position at his father's brokerage house; racing vintage cars on weekends; convincing young girls that looks equaled depth-of-personality. Murder was not on that list of capabilities."

Max sat in the chair nearest the window. "What about abuse? I guess he was capable of that."

"Actually, no," Sansome corrected Max, turning to her. "Evelyn took great pains to say Scott never laid a hand on her... in _any_ sense of the word. Evelyn _was_ in an abusive relationship, and had been for many years. But not with Scott."

"So who," Mulder asked, pretty sure he knew the answer.

Sansome focused on the Homer print mounted on the wall by the door. "Evelyn came from a family that dates back to... well, if not the Mayflower, than the Revolution. She was the last of seven children, and the only daughter. Her mother came from the school of parentage that boys did what they wanted, but girls did what they were told. Victoria Stansfield ruled her daughter with an iron hand, running every aspect of her life. If clitoridectomies weren't illegal in this country, I'm certain she would have made Evelyn undergo the procedure." Sansome shuddered. She didn't notice Max did, too. "Even the _appearance_ of disobedience was met with the severest punishment."

"No teenage rebellion allowed, huh," Max managed to say.

Sansome shook her head. "Evelyn fell in love with a boy during her sophomore year at Brown. She told her mother as an expression of happiness, not an act of defiance. Victoria came to the school that afternoon, beat her daughter in front of her roommates, and took her home immediately. The roommates called the police, but the authorities in the Hamptons were less than cooperative. Evelyn contacted the boyfriend at home, and received another beating for it. Two weeks later, the boy withdrew from school and the family re-located, destination unknown."

Max blinked in surprise. "The mother bought off the whole family?"

"All Evelyn knew was one minute they were living in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and the next the phone was disconnected." She moved on while Mulder & Max exchanged slightly stunned looks. "Evelyn was officially withdrawn from Brown shortly afterwards. Victoria informed Evelyn that her education would be completed at a private finishing school in Connecticut. Upon graduation, she would marry Scott Harland, become a socialite like her mother, and produce a line of heirs to the throne." Sansome's expression went beyond distaste.

"An arranged marriage," Mulder put in.

Sansome nodded. "Evelyn & Scott were friends, and had been since childhood, but were never close, certainly not close enough to consider marriage if the choice was their own."

"I thought boys could do what they liked in this world," Max interjected.

"In this case, Scott had lost that privilege. He had been thrown out of one Ivy League college and two prep schools. His expulsion from Dartmouth followed his arrest for Possession with Intent to Sell. His parents got him out of that, as usual, but told him he _would_ settle down or be cut off completely. Part of settling down involved marrying a suitable girl." Her smile reeked of bitterness. "The union of two of New England's largest fortunes made Evelyn a suitable girl."

"She couldn't leave? Go out on her own?" Max' tone was incredulous.

Sansome was plainly trying not to talk down to Max. "In order to go out, Detective Maxfield, one has to know how to open the door. Evelyn's college sweetheart was showing her how to operate the lock; he was removed from the picture, along with her resolve to defy her mother."

"What brought that resolve back," Mulder asked.

Sansome's face clouded over. "Virginia, Evelyn's only child, died of leukemia in July. Her mother's reaction was to make it clear that she _would_ have another grandchild by that time next year. Evelyn had gone through two miscarriages, and Virginia was six weeks premature. Her death, coupled with her mother's proclamation, was the girder that broke the camel's back."

"How'd Mommy Dearest take that?"

Sansome smiled at Max' question. "Victoria came to the Center the day Scott was served with papers, demanding to see Evelyn. When I refused to produce her, Victoria slapped me. I slapped her back, hard, took her by the collar, and walked her out, kicking and threatening all the way. When I let her go, she attacked me again. I gave her a pretty good right to the jaw, chucked her in the back of the limo, and told the driver to get off my property."

Max whistled. "You go, girl," she said softly.

Mulder was hard pressed not to smile himself. "Considering her past solutions to problems, I'm surprised this place is still standing."

Sansome was smirking now. "When Victoria came in, we were videotaping a group session for an outreach program I'm developing. The volunteer doing the taping is a cameraperson for WBZ. She let her instincts take over and followed us out to the car. Both of Victoria's attacks are recorded for the ages, with multiple copies. When her lawyer tried to get the tape excluded because it was prejudicial, the judge laughed. Victoria was a wonderful shade of purple when she left the courtroom, and I haven't heard from her since."

The three shared a moment of satisfaction before Mulder went back to his notes. "On the day of the murder, Evelyn was going to meet with a Jennifer Smith..."

Sansome's smile disappeared. "One of her ex-roommates. Jen referred her to me." She took a sip of tea. "I was supposed to be there, too."

Mulder & Max knew that; it was in the report. Out of habit, Max asked, "Why weren't you?"

Sansome turned back to the sea. "I have to work as hard on fundraising as I do on healing. A group of potential supporters were visiting The House that day. It came up at the last minute, so Evelyn went alone." She stared silently out the window. Mulder & Max gave her space. Her voice was empty when she spoke again. "If I'd been there..."

"It still would have happened," Max said gently. "And you might be dead, too."

Feeling a little foolish, Mulder said, "You're experiencing Survivor's Guilt, Dr. Sansome."

Sansome didn't look at either of them. "I _am_ aware of these things, detectives," she said without rancor. "And that awareness does no damn good at all."

Mickey couldn't get over how much Stafford Priest looked like G. Gordon Liddy. "Oh, _that_ Circle Of Fire!"

Priest's expression was calm, but the look in his flinty eyes said he did not appreciate Mickey's impertinence. Priest sat on a steel folding chair at one end of the pre-fab metal building that served as administrative office and meeting hall. It was one of three buildings Scully & Mickey found at the top of the tree-lined driveway. The other two were a double-wide trailer with a satellite dish, and the ruins of a burned-out ski lodge. "So you're familiar with us."

"Oh yeah," Mickey said, his impudence not waning in the least. "One of the local TV stations did a piece on you guys last fall. Stunning journalistic work. Was the reporter a member, by any chance?"

Priest crossed his arms. They bulged inside the forest-green windbreaker with the Circle's three-letter logo; it sat where a breast pocket would have been. "That report effectively doubled our membership, Detective Kreutzmann. The reporter won two local Emmys this year, and he's in the running for a network position. Before that broadcast, and his subsequent entrance into the Circle, he was a second-line reporter who was on his way back to Albany. He's just one of many members whose lives and careers have taken a turn for the better since joining us, but I consider him to be a prime example of what the Circle can do for the man inside a man."

"Amazing what can happen if you combine the Promise Keepers with Iron John," Mickey said dryly.

Priest's eyes flared. "The Promise Keepers are a bunch of Scripture-spouting hypocrites."

Mickey flashed a smile. "My point exactly."

Priest's assistant, a long-haired powerlifter who was only introduced as Cedric, stood against the far wall with his arms folded. He seemed to growl. Mickey gave him his 'Feel free to make something of it' smile. Scully jumped in before the interview deteriorated any more. "Was that report the reason Jeffrey Shultz joined the Circle of Fire?"

Priest never took his eyes off of Mickey. "If it was, he would have joined a lot sooner. And if he had, I know things would have been a lot different for him."

"How do you mean?"

Priest and Mickey eyefucked each other for a few more seconds before Priest looked at Scully. "We have our share of members who came into the Circle with marriages that were dead or dying. I don't have exact figures, but I'll bet my pension that almost all those marriages are thriving again." He acted like he knew Scully & Mickey didn't understand, but would try to explain anyway. "The Circle puts its members in touch with the fire that is inside _all_ men... the fire that helped Man conquer nature, make countries, build empires..." He held a finger in the air. "...and, above all, make the sacrifices necessary to provide for the needs of his family." He looked back at Mickey. "That fire has been smothered in many men, Detective Kreutzmann. The Promise Keepers don't care about that fire. They only care about building up church attendance and keeping women in line."

"And you don't?"

Priest took a deep breath. "We're not a religious organization, Detective. Our members can stick pins in voodoo dolls and worship velvet Elvis paintings, for all I care. The Circle doesn't believe in the subjugation of women, either. We believe women can and should be equal partners. But 'equal partners' does _not_ mean one partner is _more_ equal because of gender, or because of past injustices against members of a specific gender. 'Equal' means working on the same level. 'Partners' means working _together_. Teamwork is a concept that can apply to all walks of life, and that definitely includes marriage."

Scully saw the G. Gordon Liddy resemblance early on, but had decided Priest looked more like someone she vaguely knew in Anti-Terrorism -- a man named Michaud, an explosives expert who had recently been promoted to SAC. "What if someone doesn't want to be part of the team any more," she asked, making sure the question was antagonism-free.

Priest's eyes snapped back to Scully. "If someone can live with the knowledge that they are destroying a greater whole, and are not willing to do the work necessary to keep that bond strong, then they are free to do what they like."

"Is that an official position," Mickey asked casually. "Or a personal one?"

Priest sighed, closing his eyes. "Our mission statement does _not_ include murdering people, Detective. Least of all your family. We teach our members to _prize_ their families, not purge them. Being successful in family life is a major part of being successful in professional life. Corporations send us people who've lost their edge, in _everything_. They don't do it because we're a bunch of misogynists, Detectives. They do it because we get _results_. In the last six months, two stock traders and a corporate attorney pulled their careers off the scrap heap after coming to us. Their marriages, too."

"What did Jeffrey Shultz have to say about the state of _his_ family life?"

"I'm sure I wouldn't know, Miss Scully," Priest said simply.

"You said his marriage was in trouble," Mickey put in.

Priest shrugged. "A logical assumption, given how he ended it."

"And he said _nothing_ about it," Scully said, not holding back her skepticism. "Not to you, not to anyone here..."

"Yeah, you know," Mickey said lightly. "Maybe just in passing, during a lull in drum practice?"

Scully shot Mickey a look that would have withered Mulder. Priest surprised Mickey by displaying a slowly-spreading grin. "Even if he did, I couldn't tell you."

"'Couldn't'? Did I hear you say 'couldn't'?," Mickey said, challenge in his voice.

Priest's smile stayed put. "Just so."

Mickey leaned down, hands on his knees. "Don't let your last name fool you, my friend," he said in a confiding tone. "Your group may have a remarkably rationalized reason for being, but it's not big enough for you to hide behind it and call it Privilege."

Priest's smile broadcast contempt on all channels. "The Circle is covered by the same principles of confidentiality enjoyed by self-help groups thruought the nation. That is the position of our attorney, and he would _love_ to prove it in court. I'd love it, too. The publicity would be just what we need, whether we win or lose."

"Your attorney a member, too?"

Priest looked happy as a clam in mud. "He's won his last six court cases."

"You're dreaming," Mickey said after a moment, hoping he sounded surer than he felt.

Priest's voice took on a silken quality. "Dreams can come true if you work hard enough." He looked past Mickey at Scully. "The door you used to enter this building also makes a fine exit. If you come back again, bring a warrant that holds a lakeful of water. Good day."

--------

Mulder & Max were wrapping up their interview when a commotion started outside Sansome's office door. "Sir," a woman's voice called out shrilly. "You can't just..."

The door sailed open, the knob just stopping short of hitting the wall. The man who walked into the room was dressed in winter sheriff's gear, his olive-green pants matching his nylon down jacket and Smoky Bear hat. "Liz," he said earnestly, "Can we talk?"

Sansome shot out of her chair, rage burning out her eyes. "Emmitt, Goddamnit, you can _not_ just barge into my office whenever you feel like it!"

Not the least bit embarrassed, the sheriff unzipped his jacket and stuffed his hands in his pockets. A black nametag that said 'Goldsmith' was pinned on his shirt under a gaudy nickel-plated badge. "Liz, I have the right to go anywhere I damn well please, especially if someone is making difficulties for my department. Which you are." He gave Mulder & Max a passing glance. "Sorry, folks. Police business. I'm afraid you'll have to leave."

Max' eyes were dead. "I don't think so."

Goldsmith looked down at Max. "'Scuse me, would you repeat that? I'm a little slow today."

His deadpan look and Bronson-like vocal style was supposed to inspire fear. It inspired Max to laugh, but she held it back. "Just today?"

Goldsmith did not see the humor. He pulled his jacket open a little further and walked up to Max. "Ma'am, do you see this badge?"

Max' eyes went wide. She got up slowly and put her face half an inch from the king-sized buzzer. "Wowwwwwwww," she said after staring intently at it for a good five seconds. She reached into her jacket and pulled out her gold shield. "It's almost as pretty as mine."

Mulder was on his feet, doing his worst not to Smirk. "I know _I'm_ envious," he said, producing his ID. "_My_ badge isn't even as big as my card."

Goldsmith's jaw flapped in shock, then snapped shut in anger. He spun around to face Sansome. "You called _them_, too?"

"They're here for something else, Emmitt," Sansome said in exasperation. She had almost laughed at the sight of her least favorite person being professionally outweighed, but the moment had passed. "It's not _always_ about you."

"This isn't about _me_, Goddamnit," Goldsmith snapped. "This is about _you_ making false reports to the state police about one of my officers!"

Sansome wasn't backing down. "Well, complaining to the Board of Selectmen didn't seem to help! And it _wasn't_ a false report! Your deputy _was_ harassing one of my residents..."

"Aww, bullshit! He just _likes_ her, and is trying to be _friends_! Dave Desmond's a good Christian and a fine officer, Liz. He doesn't want _sex_. He just wants simple everyday _conversation_! Shit, you'd think the boy was _stalking_ her, for Chrissake..."

"One more time, Emmitt," Sansome shouted. "Julia Sommer barely got out of her marriage alive! The woman was abused daily for most of her life, first by her father and then by her husband! She's lucky she can _function_, let alone talk..."

"Hey, if she wasn't living on a steady diet of 'All men are pigs'..."

Sansome rode right over him. "I told you this, you laughed it off, and your testosterone-based deputy wouldn't back off. The girl barely comes out of her room now, and three months of hard work is down the drain! I took steps to protect my patient. That's my _right_..."

"It is _not_ your right to file a false report against a police officer," Goldsmith snarled. "And if I hear from Dickey Caffey about this again, I swear to God I will bust _you_ for Harassment! That's not a threat! That's a bankable promise!" He turned away from her and stabbed a finger at Max. "_You_ are out of your jurisdiction." The finger moved to Mulder. "_You_ have to tell me when you're operating in my area." He addressed them both, not waiting for answers. "I don't give a shit if you _are_ a Fed, or whether _you_ got a gold dee-tec-uh-tives badge, or whether _both_ of you wear blue leotards with big red S's on the front; you screw up in my town, I'll show you how difficult life can get." He stormed out the door. "We talked, Liz," he called over his shoulder.

Mulder listened to the echo of Goldsmith's boots as they marched back down the hall. "I bet he's fun at parties."

Max didn't comment. Sansome was looking at her solicitously. "Is something wrong, Detective?"

Max stared at the space where Goldsmith had been. She looked like she'd seen a ghost. "What was that name he mentioned?"

Sansome looked surprised. "Uhh, Caffey. Sergeant Richard Caffey. He's from the local State Police barracks. He handled my complaint." Her expression turned rueful. "Now I know _how_ he handled it."

Max looked lost in space. After a moment she shook hands with Sansome. "Thank you for your time, Doctor," she said, sounding formal and hollow at the same time. "If we have any further questions, we'll be contacting you." She turned on her heel and walked out of the office without waiting for Mulder.

Mulder stared after her, totally lost at the sudden change in his new partner's disposition. Remembering Sansome, he turned to the nonplussed psychiatrist and shook her hand, too. "She's very mercurial," he said, for lack of anything else, and went after his new partner.

Mulder found Max standing by the car, hands in the pockets of her raincoat, staring out at the sea. "Hell of a view," she said flatly as he came up to her.

Mulder hadn't known Max long, but guessed that she didn't get rattled often. "You okay?"

"Oh yeah. Fabulous. Couldn't be better." Her voice was still empty of tone.

Max hadn't looked at Mulder yet. He stepped in front of her view. "What happened in there?"

Her gaze didn't move; it was aimed at Mulder's conservatively-striped tie, though it was not focused on it by any means. "He made sergeant before me," she said in a musing tone.

It was Mulder's turn to look nonplussed. "Who?"

"The state cop Goldsmith and Sansome brought up."

"You know him?"

Max laughed quietly. "I ought to," she said at last. "I slept with him for three years."

<<LATE THURSDAY AFTERNOON>>

The drive back to Boston was short on conversation, empty of banter. Max stared out the window while Mulder re-acquainted himself with the kamikaze tendencies of Greater Boston motorists. Scully had told Mulder that Max had been married, but he knew that previous heterosexual marriage was not uncommon among gays and lesbians, so Mulder hadn't considered it to be a factor. *So much for _that_ idea. He's not part of _our_ case, at least, that's one blessing. On the other hand, to have him appear now, while Max is working on a case _with Scully_...* Mulder's mind boggled, a condition usually brought on by low-flying spacecraft.

The plan made after the morning meeting was both groups would compare notes at the end of the day; they would decide whether there was more to do that night, as well as agree on the most salient points to present to Weeks the following morning. Mulder & Max found Scully & Mickey in the middle of the squadroom, talking quietly with two other detectives. One of them was the Day Shift man Mulder had spoken to that morning. None of them looked happy, Scully looking the most disturbed.

"You guys getting a pool going or something," Max asked as they walked up to the group.

Mickey was going through a set of crime-scene photos. "Just looking at dirty pictures."

Max introduced Mulder to the other two detectives. Day Shift was Bob MacKechnie, while his partner was Dave Hegeman. Although Hegeman had a full head of sandy blond hair, he was definitely the senior member of the partnership. His double-breasted suit showed minute signs of wear, and he looked like a victim of chronic fatigue syndrome. Mulder nodded to them both. "What's wrong," he asked Scully.

Scully nodded towards a point behind Mulder's right shoulder. "Plenty."

Mulder & Max turned to look. The door to Weeks' office was closed, but the blinds were open, and the vehemence of the argument inside could be heard, if not the words themselves. Renko was pacing back and forth in front of Weeks' desk, holding forth with championship bluster. Weeks was seated, but the police lieutenant's ire could be felt from where Mulder was standing. He spotted Deerfield in one corner of the office, standing against the wall. He was not paying attention to the argument, and he looked shell-shocked.

"What's he doing here," Mulder wondered.

"Marking territory," Hegeman muttered.

Max turned back to the group of detectives. "Somebody want to clue us in?"

MacKechnie nodded at the pictures. Max took them from Mickey. "Street person found our latest statistic inside a dumpster behind a grocery store in the Fenway. No wallet, no money, no watch or rings. The Unis that caught the call figured mugging gone wrong. We show up, Dave recognizes the vic."

Max glanced up from the photos of the beaten man. "Friend of yours, Davey?"

"Not hardly. Just remembered his face, not his name." Hegeman nodded at the closeup on top of the stack. "He was part of the Bureau detail when Fleet Bank on Boylston got held up last May."

Max' eyes popped. "He's a Feebie?"

"Yes indeed. Young kid, only been with the Feds about a year and a half."

Mulder took the closeup from Max. He looked up at Scully in mild shock. The beating had been pretty decent, but there was more than enough unscarred flesh to identify Deerfield's mostly-silent partner, Special Agent Ken Duguay.

"When did he die," Mulder croaked.

"He was still pretty fresh by the time the Whiner got to him," MacKechnie said. "Best guess is within twelve hours. We're waiting on the official word." He kept his voice casual and his gaze away from Max. "Was he a friend of yours?"

Mulder shook his head, staring at the photo again. "We only met him last night. He was one of the agents that picked us up at the airport. The other one's in your lieutenant's office."

Hegeman picked up a can of Dr. Pepper off the desk behind him. "Duguay seem like a nice guy?"

Mulder looked up, frowning. "Didn't get a chance to find out. He only spoke to his partner, never to us."

Hegeman nodded, swallowing a sip of soda. "When was the last time you saw him," MacKechnie asked, still keeping it nonchalant.

Mulder thought about it. "Well, he drove us to..." He looked at Scully. "No, he _didn't_ drive us to the hotel, did he? Deerfield did that himself." Scully nodded, still quite unhappy.

"He say where his partner was?"

Mulder remembered now. "I asked him about it. He said Duguay had a date."

"How about who he had it _with_? Girlfriend, blind date..."

Mulder shook his head, annoyance scratching at him. "It was a _very_ quiet ride. Deerfield and I didn't hit it off. In retrospect, I'm surprised he told us anything at all."

MacKechnie & Hegeman shared a quick look. Max caught it, along with the subtext of their questions, but held back her comments for now. She knew Bob & Dave had to ask them, and would have asked them herself if she was in their position. But it still didn't sit well. Not at all.

Scully took the photos; she'd seen them before, but wanted another look. She also wanted to change the subject; Mulder had just answered the same questions she had finished answering when Mulder & Max walked in. "What was the cause of death?"

"Gunshot wounds," Hegeman answered. "Small caliber, probably a .32. Two in the chest, one in the back of the head."

"Coup de Gras?" Max looked seriously skeptical. "Muggers don't do shit like that."

"They might if they were pissed enough," MacKechnie said blandly. "The vic didn't go down easy: Bruised elbows, broken knuckles, skin under the fingernails. He might have been ahead on points when he got popped. Besides, the _Unis_ said it was a mugging. They were wrong, as usual."

"What makes you say that," Scully asked.

"Blood at the scene was minimal. Not even enough for the beating, let alone the bullet wounds. No drag marks, either. He got sent off somewhere else, then was dumped."

"Plus some of his injuries came from a blunt instrument," Hegeman put in. "Could have been a tire iron, but Whiner's figuring a baton, like the expandable ones federal marshals carry. Your muggers prefer straight-edge weapons, like shivs or switches; they inspire obedience faster than a sap or a baseball bat."

"Guns work faster than knives," Mulder said, trying to make sense of it. "If he had a gun, why didn't he use that first?"

Hegeman shrugged. "Maybe he likes beating the shit out of his victims, and the gun's a backup in case he tabs a karate expert. Who knows?"

"Better put out an APB for four guys in white jumpsuits and bowler hats," Mickey commented.

"Not funny, Mickey," Max admonished, seeing the worried look in Scully's eyes as she leafed through the pictures.

"Undertaker's on the right track," MacKechnie told her, referring to Mickey by his squadroom nickname. "Duguay's injuries say he was thrashed by more than one guy. If the wallet wasn't missing, I'd say it was a gay-bashing, seeing as it's the Fenway and all."

"Bashers don't kill," Mickey objected. "At least not with guns."

"Bashers don't dump bodies, either," Max said ruefully. "They'd have to touch the guy with something other than their fists."

Weeks' door flew open, the doorknob slamming against the glass hard enough to wonder about breakage. Renko stormed out, spitting fire and ill will. He stopped dead when he saw Mulder & Scully. Mulder thought he saw uncertainty on Renko's face, but it was quickly replaced by an angry glare. Renko looked around the squadroom, his gaze falling on the empty space of Interview 1. He marched towards them, pointing to the windowed interrogation room. "In there," he said sharply, mostly to Scully. "Now." He walked past without waiting for either agent to follow.

Mulder & Scully exchanged looks and sighs. Scully started for Interview 1, but Mulder held back. Deerfield was heading for the exit, walking straight but looking like someone who had witnessed a terrible highway accident. Mulder went over to him. "I'm sorry," he said quietly.

Deerfield didn't stop or look at him, but he did slow down. "I am too," Deerfield said, his voice sounding a little too normal.

*Shock,* Mulder decided. "Was he working on anything that might have caused this?"

Deerfield seemed to think about the question. "He said he was having equipment problems..."

"Agent Mulder!" Mulder looked. Renko was standing in the doorway of the interrogation room, hands on hips. "When I _say_ 'Now', I _mean_ 'Now'!" His tone softened minimally. "Deerfield, my orders haven't changed. Go home." Renko turned and walked into Interview 1 without waiting for an answer.

Deerfield nodded, not looking at anyone. Mulder left him and walked quickly towards the interrogation room. Renko was drawing the blinds. *He doesn't _look_ like the rubber-hose type,* Mulder said to himself. *If he is, it'll be two against one.*

Max gave him a questioning look as he went by. "Need help," she asked out the side of her mouth.

Mulder kept walking. "Watch the show," he said softly.

Max nodded, waiting until Mulder was inside Interview 1 before she buttonholed Mickey and headed for the observation booth.

Scully was sitting on the detective side of the table when Mulder came in. Renko faced the institutional-green wall, arms folded so tight that his knuckles were white. "Close the door," Renko ordered. Mulder complied. "Agent Mulder, do you carry a hideout weapon?"

Mulder frowned. "No."

"Agent Scully? Same question?"

"No sir," she said without inflection.

Renko kept his back to them. "Agent Mulder, will you please pull up your pantlegs?"

"Excuse me?" Mulder shot Scully a bewildered look. *He's not suggesting...* Scully didn't look back. She was watching Renko the way a zoologist observes a rare form of poisonous snake.

Renko turned around, arms still folded. "Reaction time is very important when I ask for something, Agent Mulder, and I dislike repeating myself. Once again: Will you please pull up your pantlegs?"

Mulder locked eyes with Renko for a moment, then walked over Scully and put his left foot on the chair next to her. He pulled the pantleg up to his knee, held the pose, put his foot on the floor and repeated the procedure with his right leg.

Renko's expression stayed stone-like. "Agent Scully?"

Scully didn't move. *Enough is enough.* "Are we to understand we are _suspects_ in Agent Duguay's death?"

"You are two of the last people to see him alive," Renko said, without a hint of apology.

Mulder's anger was starting to flare. "And our motive?"

"Is _my_ problem," Renko told him placidly. "Not yours."

Scully was getting that 'Twilight Zone' feeling again. "Sir, with respect..."

Renko looked away from her. "That'll be a change," he said to neither of them.

Scully bit back a comment. "If Agent Mulder or myself _did_ murder Agent Duguay, do you think we would be stupid enough to use a service weapon? Or carry the murder weapon with us? In the company of Boston Homicide detectives?"

"I don't know _how_ stupid you are, Agent Scully." Renko's voice was steel wrapped in silk. "You just ignored a direct order. You've gone out of your way to be difficult from the moment I set eyes on you. You allowed your partner to brazenly disobey field office protocol. None of those actions speaks to your intelligence quotient, to my mind."

"My partner makes his own decisions," Scully said evenly. "As it happens, he made a decision I wholeheartedly agree with."

Renko regarded her with undisguised loathing. "Is that so."

"Sir, Agent Mulder and I work as a team," she explained, trying not to sound like Stafford Priest. "Part of that teamwork is maintaining the ability to contact each other at a moment's notice. We did not know anything about the equipment Agent Deerfield offered us..."

"Is that why neither of you are wearing the pagers you signed out," Renko said, the edge in his voice sharpening.

"I didn't wear mine because I forgot it," Scully said off-handedly.

Mulder leaned his butt against the edge of the desk. Renko's head swiveled to face him. "And you, Agent Mulder?"

"Oh, I didn't forget it," he said, insolence lining his answer. "I just didn't want to wear it."

Scully's eyes closed. Renko's eyes narrowed. "May I ask why?"

"Because it wasn't _necessary_ to be in constant contact with the field office. It was necessary to be in constant contact with my _partner_, and the detective she was working with. That contact was already established with the phones we brought with us. The pagers were superfluous. If you _did_ need to get in touch with us, our cell phone numbers are on file. It takes maybe three keystrokes to punch those files up. And if _you_ couldn't do it, I'm sure you have assistants who could."

Renko's smile looked off-kilter. "I'd be careful about my demeanor, if I were you, Agent Mulder. You have kept yourselves out of contact at a time when you could be seen as legitimate murder suspects..."

"Legitimate in whose mind," Mulder challenged. "Yours?"

Renko's chest was starting to heave. "You are speaking to your superior, Agent Mulder."

Mulder pushed off the desk, his blood pumping. "No, sir. Merely an officer of higher rank." Mulder walked slowly towards Renko, who seemed glued to the wall. "Our _superior_ is Assistant Director Walter Skinner at the Hoover Building in Washington DC. He is aware of our so-called 'protocol breaches'. He is also aware of your passive-aggressive attempts to hinder our investigation, _and_ your hostility towards Agent Scully and her role in Gordon Beauchamp's ongoing demise. All of which I'm sure he'll factor into your insinuation that we were involved in the brutal murder of a federal agent." Mulder stopped in front of Renko. He dropped his voice to an almost conversational level. "If there's anyone in this room who should watch their step, I'd say it's you. Sir."

When Renko finally spoke, his voice was so soft that Scully had to lean forward to hear him. "Agent Mulder, I am going to make it my personal mission to see that you, and Agent Scully, are hung so far out to dry, I'll need the Hubbell telescope to watch you flapping in the breeze." He swallowed. His eyes reminded Mulder of a wild horse. "And if it comes out that either or both of you _did_ have a hand in Agent Duguay's death? Don't fear the law, or any penalties it might inflict." His nose almost touched Mulder's as he leaned forward. "Fear _me_, Agent Mulder. Fear _me_, without a doubt." He held Mulder's glare before sliding past him. Scully expected Renko to slam the door behind him. Instead, he left it wide open, striding out without looking back.

Mulder put his head down, looking at the spot where Renko had been standing. "Go ahead," he said listlessly. "Chew me out."

Scully shook her head slowly. "Sometimes, diplomacy is totally futile." Mulder smiled gratefully at her over his shoulder. She sighed. "I don't think we can count on Skinner holding up against blatant insubordination and personal insults, though. We'd better wrap this up quickly, Mulder, or that man is going to move the field office to Salem so he can burn us at the stake."

Mulder Smirked at Scully's navy-blue suit. "A scarlet letter would go great with that outfit."

Scully smiled faintly. "It'd look terrible on yours. And _your_ 'A' would stand for something entirely different."


<<EARLY THURSDAY EVENING>>

The first thing Scully said when Max opened the door was, "Is there anything to drink?"

Max watched her as she stalked into the apartment. "Soft or hard?"

Scully took off her trenchcoat, patently furious. "Hard. _Very_ hard."

Max gently took the coat before Scully could throw it across the livingroom. "Franjelico?"

"Double."

Max whistled. Scully liked her drinks relatively weak, and usually had no more than two. Max started towards the kitchen. "Shit, what _else_ happened?"

"They searched our hotel rooms."

Max spun around. "Say _what_?"

Scully nodded, brushing past Max as she walked into the kitchen. Max followed her. "You heard right. Went through the drawers, the beds, the cabinets, our bags, our _clothes_. They looked through my _underwear_, for God's sake!"

Max was aghast. "Who did this?" *MacKechnie, I swear to God...*

Scully pulled out a kitchen chair and sat down hard. "The field office. I guess Renko was able to spare a few men from the militia hunt." She hit the table with the flat of her hand. "They managed to leave _every_ _one_ of my suits in a pile on the floor! The hotel farms out its dry-cleaning, so I'm in these clothes til tomorrow, at least!"

Max winced. She'd done more than a few searches where she'd been casual about other people's belongings. *At least none of my guys did this. I'd hate to have to shoot a coworker...* "How'd they get the warrant," Max wanted to know. "This is straight murder! The FBI can't..."

"The manager said the agents showed him a piece of paper, but he didn't look at it closely," Scully said bitterly. "He was too busy opening up our rooms before the Agent in charge started yelling at him again." Scully looked out the airshaft as she pictured the manager, a nice enough middle-aged man who looked like he wanted to crawl under his desk in the face of Mulder's wrath.

"They had to have been bluffing," Max declared. "Feebies don't handle domestic murder cases, so a judge wouldn't give them a warrant. At least, not one that would stand up. It's a bogus search..."

"Goddamnit, Max, that's not the point!" Max flinched at Scully's roar. "They're accusing us of _murder_! Of the murder of a fellow federal agent! I don't know whether Renko really believes we did it, or he's just using this as another way to get to me! Either way, I don't _care_!"

Max blew out a breath and went over to the cupboard and pulled out two lowball glasses and the oddly-shaped bottle that held her favorite liqueur. "What does Mulder have to say?"

Scully drummed her fingers on the table. "Nothing printable. He was raving to Skinner when I left."

Max poured out two large shots of the almond liquid. *Hell, after this news, _I_ need a double!* "Well, if Skinner is anything like Weeks, the Feebies better have Renko's DNA on file. They'll need it to identify the remains."

She brought Scully's glass over and put it down on the table. Scully picked it up. Max clinked her glass with Scully's. Max drank. Scully didn't. "That's not all I'm angry about."

"What else?"

Scully gave Max a sidelong look. "Mickey told me about Joey."

Max looked at her, then closed her eyes. *Fucked up, Maxie.* "He did, did he?"

Scully's gaze turned fully on Max. For once, it was not a pretty sight. "We spoke every night before I came up here, and spoke again after I arrived. I'll admit that mentioning this during our _last_ conversation would have been mood-destroying, to say the least. But why didn't I hear it from you _before_ that? Or before I heard it from your partner?"

Max' head pointed towards the floor, eyes still closed. "Because I didn't have all the facts."

Scully's nostrils flared. "He was dead and you were out of danger. Those are all the facts _I_ needed..."

Max' eyes opened. "Well, that wasn't enough for _me_."

Scully put her glass down hard. "Damn you, Max! You _knew_ how worried I was over this..."

Max' head came up fast. "Yes! I knew! So excuse me if I didn't want to give you something _else_ to dream about!"

"_What_ else?!"

"I'll be glad to tell you if you'll get off my fucking neck, all right?!"

Scully held up both hands. "Talk," she said quickly. "I'm listening."

Max' teeth were clenched behind her lips. She walked away from Scully, taking a big sip of her drink. Scully watched her move, aware of how angry she was and not caring at all. "You know Joey's dead," Max finally said. She turned back to Scully. "But you don't know _how_ he died."

"Mickey said he'd been cut up..."

Max laughed darkly. "Mickey has a great talent for understatement." She leaned against the sink. "He wasn't just _cut up_, Scully. He was _tortured_. Whiner figures whoever used him for a doll worked on him for at least a day, maybe two. Sliced, diced, whipped, burned, broken. He was castrated. He..." She stopped, remembering Joey's face when Nicholas took the hood off Joey's head. Remembering the duct tape, and what it kept inside Joey's mouth. Max took a quick sip to drown the nausea and put the glass on the counter next to the sink. Scully was usually pale. Now she was white as a sheet. "Joey's dead," Max continued. "Fine. Good. More beer for us. And it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy." She took another sip. "But if he died that way because of me..."

Scully looked at Max like she was speaking in tongues. "What are you talking about?"

Max looked back at her. "Remember what Cellini said that night, when he told Joey to step off of me? 'There is more than one way to skin a cat?'"

"Max, you don't know that's why he..."

"That's right, Scully! I _don't_ know that's why he died!" She grabbed her glass, pushed off the sink and walked over to the table. "For all I know, Joey swung both ways on the Bat Rope, and found the male equivalent of a Black Widow spider. For all I know, he went home with someone who's read too many Thomas Harris novels." She sat down in the chair next to Scully's. "But if Joey _did_ die because he was going to settle things between us, I need to _know_ that, if it's going to sit on my conscience for however long it takes to forget it."

Scully took several deep breaths. The thought of Joey killing Max, and Cellini's mild allusion to what else Joey would have wanted to do ("Joseph is somewhat... demanding of women."), made her physically sick. "Did you discover anything that would make you think that's what happened?"

Max shook her head. "We'd only been working it about a day and a half, and we had less than zilch. It was Three Monkeys time: Nobody _knew_ nothing, nobody _saw_ nothing, nobody was _saying_ nothing. 'Omerta' to the tenth power. Joey hadn't been home for a week. His wife said that wasn't unusual for him, so she didn't worry about it. She also wasn't real broken up about him being gone for good. His best friend... Remember Leon, that mountain you faced down?" Scully nodded, repressing a shudder at the image of Leon's face in the T-sight of her Sig. "He pled Clueless, too. We were working on him when Fun With Jell-O and the DA pulled the plug."

"Why'd they do that," Scully wondered.

Max looked down at the table. "Maybe they thought I was gonna tank the case."

"What?!"

Max waved her glass around as she shrugged. "Hey, I'm surprised I'm not a _suspect_. They knew I had motive, or at least enough motive to make me look decent."

Scully's anger was flaring again. "That's ludicrous!"

"You don't know the full story," Max maintained.

"Then tell me!" Scully had tried not to shout.

Max looked down at her glass, silent. She shook her head slowly. "Y'know, sometimes I'm too good a Do Be for my own good?" She looked up at Scully. "I told Weeks about what happened in the garage." She laughed quietly. "Bear told me not to. He said nothing good would come of it." She made a noncommittal gesture with her free hand. "But the rule is you report _any_ contact with Organized Crime members. _Anything_, even if you stand behind John Gotti's second cousin while he buys a pack of gum at Store 24. You do _not_ want that rule biting you in the butt. Anyway, I figured they might hear about it from your people when Moncrief did his little dance on Beach Nut." She ran a hand through her hair. "So I tell Loot. He has to tell the Captain." She drained her glass. Her smile contained no mirth whatsoever. "And the next thing I know, I've got Paddock and IAD on one side swearing they _knew_ I was in bed with Cellini, Funigello and the Gangbusters on the other side making stupid plans to _get me_ in bed with Cellini! Get him to talk about Joel Roberge on _tape_! I would have laughed if it wasn't so sad!"

Scully's jaw was hanging free. "Why didn't you call me about this?!"

Max couldn't look at her. "I was waiting for _you_ to call _me_, remember?" Before Scully could say anything, Max added, "As it turned out, you backed me up anyway."

Scully's head was spinning. "How?"

"OCU had a bug in the limo. They've got tape of our whole conversation with Tommy C. It matched up with a deposition you gave on Beauchamp's covert job on you. If you remember, part of your testimony included a blow-by-blow of what we talked about with Tommy."

*Thank you, God, for making me thorough. Skinner would have told me this, so Moncrief must have gotten the deposition to the DA. One more favor I owe him,* Scully thought, remembering his role in covering up Scully's relationship with Max. "And they couldn't get anything on Cellini from that?"

Max looked supremely disgruntled. "You remember Cellini. He never got out of the hypothetical. Or, at least, not far enough so he could get nailed on being in bed with Joel. That's the difference between him and other bosses: He's a lawyer, and he never forgets that."

"So what happened?"

Max shrugged. "Nothing, as it turned out. Three days later the Captain calls me in, says I'm in the clear, and Fun With Jell-O's not going to try and play me with Cellini because he'd be too suspicious." Her lip curled into a snarl. "Paddock was there, too. Said I'd just fuck it up anyway. If we'd been alone, I'd have kicked the shit out of him! Son of a bitch went through my bank records, my phone records, talked with everyone I've ever worked with, asking if they thought I ever tanked a case that was Mob-related..." She smiled a small smile, giggled once. "The Bear clocked him a good one with his cast. Popped three stitches throwing that fat bastard out of the hospital room."

Scully took Max' hand. "Max, deposition or no deposition, you _should_ have called me."

Max shook her head. "I was afraid."

Scully had a minor Roger Rabbit Moment. "Afraid? You?"

Max nodded. "I was afraid if you got involved, Paddock might start asking questions about us. Start asking questions about _you_. And that might rebound on you with the Bureau. And even if it didn't... it might have been enough to scare you away..."

Scully squeezed Max' hand hard. "Max, look at me." Max did. "We are not You and Me. We are _Us_. We work _together_ on these things..."

"But we _weren't_ together," Max whispered, her eyes filling up. "There _was_ no Us. Not then! There was You who wasn't sure, and Me who was doing a lot of wishing and hoping! And I didn't want..."

Scully got up and pulled Max into her arms, holding her while she cried. "It's okay," she said softly, stroking Max' hair. "It's alright. It's over. You got through it. _We_ got through it."

"Maybe," Max said into Scully's chest, trying to pull herself together. "The other shoe hasn't dropped yet."

Scully rested her chin on Max' shoulder. "Do you really think they'll make you a suspect?"

Max shook her head. "Whiner's guesstimate on when Joey's pain started coincides with Chris & Neesie coming up the aisle." She laughed once, putting on the voice of a thug. "I got a air-tight alibi."

Scully chuckled. She kissed the top of Max' head. "So what are you worried about?"

Max looked up at her with bright red eyes. "What if Cellini did have Joey killed because of me... and he calls me on it?"

Scully went cold. "Would he do that?" *Lord, Dana, ask _another_ stupid question!*

Max wiped her eyes. "Well, if he does, I'm going to do one of two things...."

"And those are?"

Max sniffed. She picked a napkin off the stack in the middle of the table and blew her nose. "I'm going to join the TAC Squad, so I can learn how to shoot someone from a very long way away. I will _not_ be beholden to pond scum like Tommy Cellini."

Scully wanted to laugh, but it wasn't funny at all. "And the second thing?"

Max tossed the balled-up napkin in the wastebasket. She gave Scully a sidelong look. "Book us two seats on the Space Shuttle?"

Now Scully laughed. "I hate to fly. Always have."

"Troublemaker."

"Look who's talking." They went into each other's arms again. "Max, I pray that it doesn't happen. But if it does, please don't go it alone, and _please_ don't keep me out of the loop. We work _together_ on it. Okay?"

Max nodded, flooded with relief. "Together." Pause. "Forever."

Scully hugged her harder. "I'm sorry I yelled at you."

Max massaged Scully's back. "Hey, you had the right. I should have told you about Joey."

"Yes. You should have." She kissed Max' cheek. "But I understand why you didn't."

Max growled into Scully's collarbone. "I don't want to think about any of this. I had a lousy afternoon, and pissing you off didn't make it any better."

Scully frowned again. "Mulder was that much of a pain, huh?" *Mulder, if you gave her the 3rd Degree...*

Max shook her head. "Mulder wasn't the problem. _He_ was terrific. I could ride with him every day."

Scully's frown eased as she took on a Mulder Smirk. "Then this was _obviously_ your first day as his partner."

That broke them up again. Max looked up at Scully, putting them forehead to forehead. "I'll tell you about it, but after I do, would you please distract me? I'd kinda like that."

Scully cocked an eyebrow at her. "Soft or hard?"

Max thought a moment. "Soft." She smiled. "For now, anyway."

Scully stroked Max' cheek. "I can do that."

<<THURSDAY NIGHT -- BOSTON>>

*It could be worse,* Mulder decided. *Boston could be having a blizzard, and I could be walking into the wind.* He hunched his shoulders a little further as another gust blew up his back. It was not a night for man or beasts used to creature comforts, so the absence of personal transportation should have kept Mulder firmly planted in his hotel. Unfortunately, his room was still a semi-shambles, every piece of equipment in the hotel fitness center had a half-hour wait, and drinking in one of the Hilton's two bars would lead to no good end.

Mulder needed vicarious entertainment, Stat. His Playstation was back in DC; AOL's Boston modems were terminally busy; the Bruins had the night off and the Celtics were on the road; and watching Renko get chased down by a flock of M1 tanks seemed out of the question. So that meant movies. The problem _there_ was there was nothing worthwhile on either the cable or pay-TV channels. (*Why do they _bother_ making soft-core porn films,* Mulder wondered again.) The theater complex the concierge had directed him to was close to a subway stop, but Mulder still had to walk a few blocks. It was a two-story affair attached to a hotel/office block/strip mall/parking garage. It had all the glamor of a high-rise Hardees. Mulder was just across from it when his cell phone went off. *Could it be _good_ news, for once?* He ducked under the overhang of a nondescript sub shop and pressed the 'Talk' button. "Mulder."

Skinner's first words were, "Renko's sticking by the search."

*No news is good news.* "I don't believe it," Mulder seethed.

"He maintains it's important to eliminate you and Agent Scully as suspects," Skinner told him, Automaton Mode fully in place. "He says OPC would do the same thing, and his people are merely saving them legwork."

"He could have saved our personal effects some wear-and-tear by waiting for the coroner. Agent Duguay was killed between 6 and 8 this morning; Scully and I were having breakfast in the hotel restaurant from 6:20 on. I've got the receipt. How were we supposed to kill Duguay, dump him over a mile from our hotel -- without transportation -- get back, get cleaned up, and be having juice, milk and Trix twenty minutes later? The timeline doesn't work."

Skinner sighed. "Agent Duguay's personal vehicle was found in the hotel garage. The lab found no traces of blood, and no prints other than his. Agent Renko insists that doesn't mean you didn't use the car to move Duguay to where he was found. He also cites several examples where the coroner was off on time-of-death by over two hours."

It was Mulder's turn to sigh. "Did he say anything about what Duguay might have been doing when he got killed? Or about the warrant his search party showed the manager?"

"Renko says whatever Duguay was doing was on personal time. I don't believe it, but I've got nothing to back that feeling up. Yet."

Mulder Smirked in spite of his anger. *There are times when you piss me off righteously, Mister Assistant Director. And there are times when I really wish we could be drinking buddies.*

"He also says the manager must have been mistaken or flustered," Skinner continued, "because there _was_ no warrant. Renko pointed out that OPC would not have needed a warrant to search your belongings while you were on Bureau business."

"Sounds like our interim SAC has a few issues with OPC." Mulder looked at his watch. Ten minutes til the screening began. He moved out of the doorway and started across the street.

"He'd better resolve them in short order," Skinner returned. "Bob Britton's flying back from a family reunion to handle this matter personally. He should be in the area by tomorrow morning." He sighed again, his tone edging towards the personal. "I know this is an annoyance, Agent Mulder, but both you and Agent Scully must be prepared to answer any questions he may have."

*Ain't we got fun.* "I'll be sure to bring the receipt," Mulder said dryly. "Scully and I have an eight-o'clock meeting at police headquarters. If Britton can link up with us there, we could save everyone a lot of time."

"I'll let him know," Skinner assured him. His voice turned mildly quizzical. "Where are you? You sound like you're in a wind tunnel."

Mulder went up the stairs of the two-level parking garage two at a time. "Just taking my thoughts for a stroll, sir."

"Don't lose them anywhere, Agent Mulder," Skinner advised, professional again. "This may indeed be a vindictive action by SAC Renko. But until that's determined, these are still serious charges, and must be treated accordingly."

Mulder came out onto the roof of the garage. The theater was on the other side of the expanse of cars. Mulder headed towards it. "Believe me, sir, we are both taking these charges _very_ seriously."

"I have no doubt, Agent Mulder." Skinner said quietly. "Enjoy your walk." Click.

Mulder turned the phone off and on, listened for a dialtone, and pressed Scully's memory button. A cheery voice came on the line: "Welcome to AT&T Wireless Service. The cellular customer is either unavailable or out of range..."

Mulder looked at his cell phone. *Scully turned off her phone?* Then his mind clicked on why she would do something totally foreign to him. He looked up at the clouds as he put the phone away. "And how do you feel about that, Mr. Mulder," he said aloud as he entered a glass enclosure that shielded a pair of escalators from the elements. The 'Down' escalator was working, but the 'Up' escalator was not. Mulder groaned and started trudging up the stairs.

For the three days prior to this assignment, Mulder & Scully had done nothing except sit around the basement, catch up on paperwork, eat Chinese take-out, and re-hash some of their ongoing debates: Whether it mattered if Clinton was lying about Paula Jones; whether it was better to eat in a diner or a McDonald's; whether paper-training a puppy with the National Enquirer should be considered cruelty to animals. Simple, innocuous stuff. But even in these small things, Mulder could see the change in Scully. To others it may have seemed like all was normal, but Mulder saw the difference.

Mulder had always hated Scully's 'Ice Queen' nickname; she was never the liquid-oxygen-cool, emotion-free technician she was made out to be. On the other hand, Scully was no longer the fresh-faced, naive straight-arrow who had been sent down to the basement to debunk his work. She had loosened up a lot, in many ways: Her thinking had become more flexible, more open to possibilities rooted in anything other than demonstrable scientific fact. She had also developed a subtle sense of humor that could still catch Mulder unawares. But Scully had also hardened in the last few years; part of it was the rigors of the job, part of it was her own personal tragedies. And that saddened Mulder when he thought about it. Scully didn't deserve the grief she carried, the pain they shared. And Mulder gave himself the lion's share of the blame for the load she bore.

In the space of a month, Scully had come alive again. Everything about her was noticeably brighter -- noticeable to him, anyway. There was less of the weight of the world in the way she carried herself. She seemed younger, though she could hardly be described as 'old'. She smiled more -- not bright toothy grins, which had always been all too rare, but smiles with more warmth, less irony. And all of it could be attributed to Max. She was happy. Mulder was happy _for_ her. He'd said so, and he meant it.

*So why am I feeling like a 5-year old who's been told there's no Santa Claus?*

Was it jealousy? Mulder shook his head. In order to be jealous of Max, she'd have to be a threat to him, or to any thoughts he might have of having a relationship with Scully. He'd fantasized about Scully more than once at the beginning of their partnership, when they were more adversaries than colleagues. Later, he'd considered what a relationship with Scully would be like, mostly because everyone in the Bureau seemed convinced they were involved already. (*Thank you, Tom Colton. Hope it's cozy in South Dakota...*) It certainly would have been easy enough; they spent almost all their time together, and anything could happen on the road. It might have been fun. It might even have been free of the endemic problems in his previous relationships. Scully wasn't his ex-wife. She wasn't Diana Fowley. She _definitely_ wasn't Phoebe Green...

But it hadn't happened. First, because they were partners. Then because they were friends. If anything, Mulder decided, their alliance was now closer to the kind shared by brother and sister: They were two different people, sure in their own identities, at odds with each other more often than not; but when the hammer came down, they had each other's back, one defending the other by any means necessary. In many ways, Scully had replaced Samantha. God knows he felt as protective of her. And there was no need to protect Scully from Max. Mulder would have liked the diminutive Homicide detective whether she was involved with Scully or not. Max was a prize: Funny, smart, attractive, not too enamored of authority figures, definitely as much in love with Scully as Scully was with her. Even in the professional atmosphere of the morning meeting, Mulder could see them together...

*Envy.*

The realization stopped Mulder in mid-march. For as far back as he could remember, he had told himself that he neither wanted or needed a relationship (*I'm an island by choice...*), not only because it would interfere with his quest for the truth, but because every relationship he'd ever entered had ended in disaster. His last non-virtual sexual encounter had been with a vampire during a Malibu Canyon brushfire. (*How dysfunctional is _that_?*) Mulder had been alone so long, he wasn't sure he even _remembered_ how to start a non-work-related conversation with a woman. He was technically on a case when he'd met Bambi Berenbaum, but a lot more was on his mind than killer cockroaches from outer space. He'd sounded like a brain-dead fool when he tried to chat her up, and he wound up getting aced out by a wheelchair-bound scientist with a fondness for 'Planet Of The Apes.'

Now Scully had what Mulder said he didn't want. Mulder saw his reflection in the plastic covering a movie poster as he came off the escalator. *You are jealous of Scully,* he told himself. *And it is your own damn fault.*

Mulder sighed as he entered the theater. He'd seen this film seven times, and planned to buy the video when it was released. He disagreed with a lot of its methodology, and its rhetoric was somewhere between a mediocre comic book and a World War 2 propaganda film. But it was still a hell of a good ride, and if anything was going to turn Mulder's mind off, this was it.

"Can I help you," the fresh-faced teenager behind the glass asked, her smile automatic.

Mulder fished out his wallet. "One for 'Independence Day.'"

<<THURSDAY NIGHT -- CAMBRIDGE>>

Max' refrigerator wasn't empty by any means, but it wasn't a pretty story: The bread was stale, the sandwich meats were gelatinous, the contents of the mayonnaise jar qualified as a high school science project, and the freezer looked like a miniature for a remake of 'Scott Of The Antarctic'. The only palatable things left were two bottles of Sea Dog Blueberry Wheat Ale, which Scully & Max drank while they listened to 10,000 Maniacs and waited for Domino's to deliver. Scully rubbed Max' back while she told him about her ex-husband appearing in her life for the first time in over two years.

"I haven't seen him since we had to sign a paper terminating the lease to our apartment," she told her. "We haven't spoken in... oh shit, I can't _remember_ when. I mean, I knew he was _alive_, I hadn't forgotten he existed. But hearing his name today, while I'm handling _this_ case, just... _jarred_ me."

Scully worked on a kink in Max' left shoulder, a thought starting to nag at her. "You don't think he's involved in this, do you?"

Max shook her head emphatically. "No way. Different case altogether. Sansome was just trying to get some kind of official action against that sheriff's deputy." She snorted. "That sheriff's a _real_ piece of work! Give him a southern accent and he could be in a sequel to 'Macon County Line.'"

"Fun guy, huh?" Scully knew the reason most Bureau personnel felt all local law enforcement were idiots: There was always someone out there perpetuating the stereotype.

"Barrel of laughs. Goldsmith's got to be appointed instead of elected. He's got all the charm of a Rottweiler on crack."

The thought wouldn't go away until Scully addressed it. She stopped rubbing Max' back and turned her so they faced each other. "Max," Scully said softly. "Did Richard abuse you?"

Max looked shocked, then chagrined. "Oh, shit! I'm sorry. No, no, I wasn't saying _that_. No, we fought, all right, and it got nasty towards the end, I mean _really_ nasty." She shook her head. "But he never hit me." A bitter half-smile tugged at her mouth. "Probably because he knew all bets were off after that, and I was a better shot than him."

Scully stroked Max' cheek. "So what's the problem?"

Max took hold of Scully's hand. "It's no dance in the woods to walk through a bushel of imploded marriages when you've had one yourself." She squeezed Scully's hand. Scully squeezed back. "And even though I _know_ Richard wouldn't have done what these men did... there's still that annoying little voice that says...'There but for the grace of the Goddess go I?'"

"It's just transference," Scully said softly. "You're putting yourself in the victim's place..."

Max squeezed her eyes shut. "I _know_ this. All I'm saying is... Richard wouldn't have done it... but I'm kinda surprised he didn't."

This startled Scully. "Why?"

Max dropped Scully's hand. "Well shit, girl! How hard do think it is to have the woman you pledged your life to tell you you're not attractive to her, and never were?"

Scully winced at the pain that must have caused, for Max and for Richard. For once, she followed a Mulder instinct, and went for humor. "With any luck, I'll never know."

Max slapped Scully's shoulder, but she did smile. "Why, you, I oughta..." They locked eyes as they laughed, then Max grabbed the back of Scully's neck and pulled her in for a long, deep kiss. Max started to lean Scully back against the couch cushions when the doorbell jarred the moment.

They both groaned. "Timing is everything," Scully muttered.

Max got a strange look on her face. "What time have you got?"

Scully looked at her watch. "7:26."

Max growled as she reluctantly rolled off of Scully. "I'm _never_ gonna get a free pizza."

They ate one piece each before it was decided dinner was over and the games could begin.

Max had to undress Scully carefully, as her outfit had to last one more day. It was excruciating for both of them, but somehow they held it together until everything was hung up or put away and Scully stood on the bedroom rug, stark naked. Max had changed into a T-shirt and jeans before Scully arrived, so undressing Max took little time and less care. They fell onto the bed, mouths locked, hands trying to be everywhere at once. Time stopped and the world was dismissed for the evening as Natalie Merchant gave way to Chris Isaak:

"I still love you
  I still want you
  I still need you
  Don't hang up and say good-bye..."

Their first orgasms were hand delivered, with little finesse and lightning-fast resolution. Being separated by a conference table had been more agonizing than being separated by hundreds of miles. They needed relief. They needed each other. They needed to give each other relief, and the previous evening's phone sex had been as frustrating as it had been satisfying. They needed to be body to body, flesh to flesh, loving the other in every way possible. They moaned into each other's mouths as fingers and thumbs teased, rubbed, pushed and pistoned. Max sobbed as Scully brought her over the brink, Scully holding her tight as her own finish came hard on Max' heels.

"Oh, please," Max cried. "Oh, please..."

"I've got you," Scully hissed. "I've got you..."

It became a ballet. As soon as they had subsided, Scully pushed Max onto her back and slid her mouth down the tight body that had bedeviled her concentration since they parted that morning. She licked the sheen of sweat that was already coming from Max' pores, kneaded the muscles in Max' arms as she suckled her lover. The salt of Max' sweat and the sweet of her juice quenched a thirst Scully had fought all day. She savored every sigh, every gasp, every buck she could incite out of her lover as she licked and sucked Max' engorged clit. Max ran her fingers through Scully's hair, up and down her own body, dizzily thinking this must be what was like to be on fire. Scully shook with joy as Max called out her name at the point of no return, lapping up the torrent as Max thrashed on top of the down quilt. Scully didn't want to stop, not ever, and would have kept going if Max hadn't murmured, "Wait... Please..."

Scully kissed Max' clit once, twice. "I need more," Scully croaked, hardly able to recognize her own voice.

"Then come up here," Max panted.

Scully groaned, but climbed slowly up the bed, loving every touch. When they were face to face again, Max rolled Scully on her back and crawled down her body until they were in 69.

"Am I crushing you?"

"Yes. Please don't stop."

Max' question was slurred with desire. Scully's reply was almost breathless; she emphasized it by hugging Max' back harder, pressing their bodies tighter together. Even if she'd left it on, Scully couldn't have heard her cell phone ring if she wanted to. And she definitely did not want to. *How did I ever live without this,* Scully wondered dimly as she started to lick Max again.

Scully thought she might die from the pressure, and was sure she would die when Max slid her tongue deep inside. Scully mirrored the movement, the quaking of Max' body becoming her own as she felt the fire start to build again. She was deep in the rapture when Max' mouth left her and she started to pull herself up.

"What...?" Scully began.

"Don't stop," Max rasped, searching for balance as she positioned herself over Scully's face. Bewildered, Scully kept on licking as Max settled. Scully's confusion deepened when Max took hold of her wrists and leaned down again, placing Scully's hands on her own mound. "Play with yourself," Max said huskily. "Show me what you did last night."

Scully hesitated, but just barely. The thought of masturbating herself while her lover sat on her face seemed unbelievably wanton. But she could not deny Max anything, in or out of bed. She settled in without another thought, one hand massaging her button while the other slipped two fingers inside herself.

"Oh yes," Max keened. "Oh, just like that. Make yourself feel gooooooooood." She leaned down and ran her hands over Scully's body and up her own once again, utterly carefree. She had to force herself to keep her eyes open so she could watch Scully, but her lover was showing incredible coordination, her hands pleasuring herself while her mouth made exquisite love to Max' pussy. Max' leg muscles liquified as she came up on the peak again.

As she went over, hands holding tight to her breasts, she heard Scully's muffled cry, "Gonna cum..."

"Oh, gotta see..." Max dropped on top of Scully, pushing the juice-slick hands away and replacing them with her hungry mouth. The renewed pressure, the renewed pleasure, it was all too much. It was the 4th of July behind Scully's eyelids as Max brought her off, her tongue sliding from hole to hole as it lapped every drop of Scully up, her hands tight on Scully's butt, pulling her as close as she could as Scully bucked like a bronco.

They laid unmoving for minutes after it was over, the breath knocked out and the strength long gone; neither of them even had the strength to talk. Eventually, Max became aware of another need. *Oh, no! Not yet, you don't.* She moved in slower-than-slow-motion, turning around so she could crawl up Scully's body again. Max was ready for a kiss or seven, and was sure Scully was too. She stopped short; Scully's mouth was open, her eyes closed, her breathing shallow. She was fast asleep.

Max laughed, willing herself to do it quietly. She brushed a loose bang out of Scully's eyes, watching her. *I'm never gonna go to Vegas, ever. I could _never_ get this lucky twice.* Max felt her own fatigue wash over her again. She shifted herself so her body was by Scully's side and her head was above Scully's chest. Snuggling close, Max gently took a nipple in her mouth, put her head against Scully's breast, and closed her eyes.

<<FRIDAY MORNING>>

"Sorry, sorry," Scully said hurriedly as she bustled into Con2. She had a large manila envelope under one arm. "I had to pick up the results on our subjects."

"No problem," Weeks assured her. "Mickey was just regaling us on your field trip to Ashby. Grab a cup and join in."

Scully nodded, intensely grateful the coffee-and-donuts spread was as extensive as it had been the day before; the breakfast options in Max' fridge were just as minuscule as the dinner possibilities.

Scully put a bear claw on a paper plate and poured artificial cream into her coffee while Mickey picked up where he left off. "The Circle is officially incorporated with the state, so this isn't a hobby for Priest. Grant Mullin insists this group is _not_ protected by any kind of confidentiality laws; it's not AA, or any _recognized_ self-help group." He looked discouraged. "However, if you press him, he'll say a court fight depends on which judge we pull. Like always. And Priest made it clear that if we make any more moves on him, he'll sic his attack lawyer on us. He practically wet himself over the idea."

Weeks looked at Scully as she came over to the table. "What's your assessment of this, Agent Scully?"

Scully put her cup and plate on the table and sat down next to Mickey. Mulder sat next to Max on the other side of the table, in acknowledgment of the new teams. From the state of his plate, Mulder must have plowed through three donuts and was working on a fourth. Max gave Scully a quick wink; she returned it with a slight smile. She was glad she'd had to run up four flights again, because it gave her an excuse to blush. "Of the Circle itself, it's not that uncommon. Groups like this have been appearing on the radical side of the men's movement for the last few years. The tenets they set themselves by go back to the early 1900's."

"What do men _need_ a movement for," Max muttered into her cup.

Mickey's mouth twitched at the corners. "Self-defense?"

Max lazily rubbed her left eye with a middle finger; Scully just ignored him. "As for Priest himself, he was adamant from the first that he did not want us around. I think the only reason he answered any questions at all was so he could demonstrate that he cooperated with us, at least technically. Mickey's right when he says Priest is more than eager to bring his lawyer into the proceedings. As far as he's concerned, a legal battle will bring free publicity and a larger membership." She brought her cup to her lips. "If he's got something to hide, it doesn't make sense that he'd want the media sniffing around his group."

"Maybe what he's hiding is buried really deep," Mulder commented.

Scully shook her head as she swallowed. "I think it's just governmental xenophobia, Mulder. He sounds like one of those land-rights people in Wyoming. He was declaring his legal rights as soon as we identified ourselves, and that included the right not to cooperate."

"Funny he doesn't like the government," Mickey said. "He was part of it for long enough."

"Really?"

"That's what we were talking about when you came in," Max told her.

Mickey consulted his notes again. "Uncle Sugar signed Priest's paychecks >from '69 to '88. Retired from the Marines as a full colonel." Scully wasn't very surprised. *He had the look.* "From '88 til last year, he worked for something called Alliance Consulting in Langley, Virginia."

Scully glanced at Mulder. He looked almost pleased. "Lot of interesting companies in Langley," he said off-handedly.

Max picked up on the allusion. "What, you saying this guy was CIA?"

"If he was," Scully said, still looking at Mulder, "it wouldn't be in any official records."

Mulder put on the first Smirk of the morning. "Maybe the gnomes of Zurich could do a little research for us."

"The _who_," Mickey asked, incredulous.

"Private joke," Scully answered, smiling inwardly at the image of the Lone Gunmen in lederhosen.

"These are things we _don't_ know," Weeks said, bringing the meeting back to order. "Let's focus on what we _do_ know. Agent Scully, since you took the time to get those reports, why don't you tell us what they say."

Scully unclasped the manila envelope and pulled out several sets of papers. "The post on Louis Satterlee revealed nothing obvious that would have caused his behavior. I would have liked to examine his brain for tumors or anomalies, but since he blew most of his brainpan out in his last action on Earth, that was impossible." She glanced through the papers quickly, confirming her first impression. "Because Scott Harland's body was, for all intents and purposes, cremated, we were only able to get workups for four of the five other suspects. There _are_ similarities between these four and Satterlee, but I'd be hard-pressed to say they point to them turning into murderers."

Mulder leaned forward. "What kind of similarities?"

"All five subjects had extreme levels of adrenaline in their systems -- not surprising, considering what they'd done prior to their deaths. All five tox screens show evidence of crudocyclin -- that's a natural mood elevator, like St. John's Wart."

"Crudo-_what_," asked Mickey.

Max was taking notes. "Can you get it over the counter?"

Scully answered both questions. "Crudocyclin. It's marketed as Right Cycle, distributed by a mail-order company in South Dakota called RightWay. You'll see their commercials if you watch a lot of late-night television. The company and the drug are less than two years old. According to the techs at Northeastern, there have been no complaints lodged against RightWay, about this drug or anything else."

"Something else for the gnomes to check out," Mulder murmured, making his own notes.

Scully nodded slightly, still focused on her papers. "All five subjects also had extremely high levels of blood sugar..."

"The Twinkie Defense rides again," Mickey groaned.

"Not in this case. These levels don't match up with the stomach contents of any of our subjects. Louis Satterlee's stomach was practically empty when he died."

"Diabetes," Max suggested.

"No evidence of it in Satterlee's organs," Scully told her. "Nothing in the samples from the other subjects, either."

"Could it be a... what do you call it?" Weeks snapped his fingers, trying to come up with the word. "A _by-product_ of that drug they were taking?"

Scully considered. "Possibly, but I doubt it."

Mulder had that far-off look again. "Could it be a trace element of something else?"

Scully's expression had a healthy dose of skepticism. "Of what? The tox screen came up negative for anything other than crudocyclin, and I think we would have heard of anything like these murders attached to the drug."

Mulder was unfazed. "Maybe it's been found to be a good masking agent for whatever else these men were taking. The blood sugar levels could be a waste product they couldn't deal with."

Mickey was looking at Mulder over the top of his glasses. "You could paint cathedral ceilings with that much reach."

Max was just as disbelieving. "Which 'they' are we talking about?"

Mulder turned his head to her. "Whoever got these men on those mood elevators, for one."

"Mulder," Scully sighed, "nobody had to _get them_ on this drug. It's not prescription. All they had to do to get a bottle of the stuff was dial 1-800-whatever..."

"Which would give anyone with access to RightWay's database the ability to find susceptible subjects for any kind of project. I mean, _all five_ of these men taking the same mail-order mood elevator? Enough to show up on the tox screen? _That's_ a little too much coincidence for _my_ diet."

Max looked the pile of donut crumbs on Mulder's plate. "Since when do _you_ diet?"

"We're getting off-track here," Weeks announced, irritation starting to show. "If we can find out more about this company, fine, but it doesn't seem like a high priority at this point." He looked back at Scully & Mickey. "What else did you two do yesterday besides look at bodies and get yelled at by ex-Jarheads?"

Scully sipped her coffee while Mickey fielded that question. "We tried to get info on George & Anna Pelc's marriage counselor..."

Weeks glowered at the young detective. "'Tried?'"

"Well, we got _some_ info," Mickey amended quickly. "He's a psychiatrist, a volunteer at the Somerville Wellness Clinic. I got the idea they get a lot of their help donated. We found out _who_ he is, and where he does his primary voodoo, but the Clinic won't release any records without a warrant. I talked to Mullin about that, too. He says you need a boatload of reasons to get a judge to look past Privilege, and we don't have enough right now. Dana put in three calls to Dr. Davenport, but the guy's hiding behind voicem-"

"Whoa, whoa, whoa," Max jumped in. "What's this guy's name?"

Mickey stumbled, his train of thought broken. "Davenport," Scully answered, opening her own notebook. "Dr. Leslie Davenport."

"Yeah," Mickey said, finally catching up. "Got an office at his home in Brookline."

Mulder & Max looked at each other. "Pretty nice home, too," Max dead panned.

A glint of triumph flickered in Mulder's eyes. "Nice _neighborhood_. The house was a little small for me. I never liked the Cape design..."

"Would you like to share the joke with the rest of the class," Weeks said quietly.

Max leaned past Mulder to address the rest of the group. "Dr. Leslie Davenport spent the last two years shrinking the head of our first perp, Michael Ceterski. He even went to the man's funeral."

Scully's mouth formed into a small 'O'. Mickey leaned back in his chair. "Houston," he intoned, "we have a clue."

The multi-buttoned phone at the end of the table bleated. Weeks snatched up the receiver. "Lieutenant Weeks." He listened for a moment. "Hold on." He pressed a button and put the receiver down. "Go ahead, Davey."

Hegeman's voice was extremely tinny as it came through the phone's speaker. "Ken Duguay checked into the Back Bay Hilton a little after nine last night. Put it on Visa. The desk clerk remembered him because he had two aluminum attachŽ cases with him, like sample cases. No regular luggage."

"Downtown hotel's pretty pricey for a shack-up," Mickey offered.

"He lived by himself in an apartment in Dorchester," Hegeman's voice came back. "If he had something going on, he didn't need a hotel room to do it in."

"Did you get a look at the room," Weeks wanted to know.

Hegeman's disgust came through clearly. "Yeah, but CSU's not gonna get anything out of it. The Feebies left a pretty big mess."

"What?!"

"The manager says J. Edgar's finest went through Duguay's room after they tossed our new best friends' stuff. The doorframe still has crime-scene tape on it. They towed his car, too."

Weeks glared down the table at Mulder & Scully. "Do you know anything about this?"

Mulder was not pleased to be the bearer of this news. "Not about Duguay having a room of his own. AD Skinner told me the car had been examined by the lab. Results came up negative for blood, and no prints other than Duguay's."

"I would have liked _our_ forensics people to tell me that." Weeks' blood was boiling. "That's two screwed-up crime scenes for the price of one!"

"Davey," Max called down the table, "did you find out _anything_ about the car?"

"We've got a call in to the night attendant. He's a college student, a Junior at Emerson, so he's probably in movement class or something. The day attendant says he came on at five-thirty, and he didn't see the car until the Feebies towed it out of there."

"Maybe it went in and out before the guy got to work," Mickey suggested.

"Uh unh," Hegeman answered. "The Hilton's garage is closed from Midnight to 6, with big metal gates sealing off entrance and exit. The gates are computer-controlled and time-stamped. According to the Hilton's records, the gates closed at 12:02 and didn't open until 5:59 yesterday morning."

"What's your thinking, Mickey," Weeks asked.

Scully could hear the shrug in Mickey's voice. "Whoever waxed Duguay _could_ have got him out a service entrance. There's a loading dock in the back of the hotel that takes deliveries 24 hours, but it's pretty busy after 6. If Whiner's right about time of death, they had to have done him somewhere else. No blood or blood trails in Duguay's room."

"We'll let Luminol decide that," Weeks said peremptorily. Under ultraviolet light, Luminol could make even scrupulously-cleaned blood residue show up like magic. "Have CSU work the room anyway. Even if all we get is lots of Bureau fingerprints, it'll still give me ammunition when I file a formal complaint. And work the night staff harder. _Someone_ had to see this guy leave with someone else."

"You got it, Loot," Hegeman said promptly. The connection clicked off.

Weeks took a sip of coffee, making a face after he swallowed. No-one liked cold coffee, and cold squadroom coffee was even worse. "All right, he's got _his_ marching orders. Here are _yours_: Mickey, Agent Scully, this latest connection may be enough to get a warrant for those records. Try Judge Bruniger; he's usually law enforcement-friendly after he's had his morning Irish Coffee. Max, Agent Mulder, go back and lean on the head-shrinker some more. Make him aware that the shit is at waist-level and rising fast. Also, see if those gnomes you mentioned can shed a little light on this low-rent puppet show." He stood, causing everyone else to stand. His anger was visible, but controlled. "I want results, people. There is precious little clarity in any of this. Lack of clarity messes up my digestion, and I want to eat more for lunch than warm milk and Zantac. Go fetch." He marched out of the room, tossing his cup in a wastebasket without looking. The cup was half-full, and some coffee splashed on the wall.

Mickey shook his head, his eyes on the door Weeks had slammed. "I hope they've got bomb shelters at Feebie World Headquarters."

Max looked between Mulder & Scully. "What do you think?"

Scully shook her head. "We're as deep in the dark as you. Maybe more."

"Equipment," Mulder mused, not looking at either of them.

Max looked at him quizzically. "Say what?"

Mulder shoved his hands in his pockets. "Deerfield told me Duguay was having problems with his 'equipment'. Duguay carried two metal attachŽ cases up to his room. That was all the luggage he had." He looked at Scully. "Where have we seen cases like that lately?"

Scully thought a moment. Her jaw fell. "The field office." Her eyes met Mulder's. "Surveillance equipment."

"Yup," Mulder nodded.

"_Shihhhhhht_," Max breathed.

Mickey looked truly confused. "They _bugged_ you guys? Why?"

"It's a long story, bubba," Max told him.

Mickey crossed his arms. "I _love_ long stories. They pass the time oh so well."

"I'll tell it to you on the way to the courthouse, Mickey," Scully said over her shoulder. *Most of it, anyway.* She looked back at Mulder & Max. "This is not good," she said softly.

Mulder shook his head in agreement. "If Duguay paid for the room himself, he probably signed out the surveillance equipment, too. Which gives Renko deniability."

"How nice for him," Max said disgustedly, trying not to look at Scully.

Mulder looked between the two women. "Duguay was having equipment problems, though -- maybe some bad bugs, maybe interference from another broadcast source. He might not have gotten anything at all."

Scully & Max had the same thought: *Let's hope not.*

<<FRIDAY AFTERNOON>>

"It's a trick question!"

"I promise you, it's not."

Mickey squinted across the car at Scully. "John Wayne and Red Buttons never did _one_ movie together, let alone _two_! That's like saying Sylvester Stallone and Woody Allen did two films together..."

"Or Clark Gable and Don Rickles, for that matter," Scully said lightly.

"'Run Silent, Run Deep,'" Mickey shot back. "1958! I'm a professional, Dana, don't try this at home!"

Scully smiled in the gathering dusk. "If you're a professional, you should know this one, too. 'Hatari' -- one of Howard Hawks' last films, by the way -- and 'The Longest Day', both released in 1962..."

"'The Longest Day,'" Mickey hooted. "That wasn't a movie! That was a photo-op for the Screen Actor's Guild! You could have had Bela Lugosi, Steve Reeves and Wallace Beery in that film and you wouldn't remember it, because everybody and his second cousin was in the cast, and they all got _maybe_ five minutes of screen time..."

"They were in two scenes together," Scully informed him, enjoying herself for the first time that day. She'd stumped Mulder with this question during one of their longer stakeouts, and was pleased it had worked for her again. "Wayne was the leader of the paratroopers, and Buttons was a soldier who survived a massacre when his chute got caught on a church steeple."

Mickey was almost speechless. "How do you _know_ this?"

Scully's smile went nostalgic, living the memory for a moment. "When you're in a military family, watching John Wayne films is mandatory. Whenever one came on TV, or if one was being shown on the base, _everyone_ watched." She chuckled softly, recalling 12-year old Billy's truly terrible imitation of the Duke. *We laughed every time, but we always applauded...*

Mickey sat silent, trying to fume. It was hard. He liked teaming with Scully, though it had taken some getting used to. Scully and Max were like night and day, personally and professionally. He'd had to adjust to working to a different rhythm; in musical terms, Max' attitude was snarling rock & roll, while Scully's was... *Well, what? Classical? The way she put the Whiner in his place the other morning was classic, all right! If she ever shows up at Happy Hour, she'll get a few free beers!* Weinglass was respected, as well as feared. if you wanted your autopsy results before Doomsday, you did not give the Whiner any shit. Mickey Kreutzmann would take a smart woman over an airheaded sex goddess nine times out of ten, and Dana Scully was _definitely_ smart. Sexy, too, in a medium cool sort of way... but that sheen would wear off in a hurry if she kept kicking his ass at movie trivia!

*Let's _see_ how well she knows the Duke's films!* "Okay. Name the star of the 70's TV cop show that played opposite Wayne in one of his many World War 2 epics. Name the movie _and__... for five extra bonus points... name the female lead and the two films _she_ did with Wayne."

Scully was glad it was getting dark; Mickey wouldn't be able to see how smug her smile was becoming. "Martin Milner, who looked about twelve years old at the time. The movie was 'Operation Pacific'. The female lead was Patricia Neal, who was also Wayne's love interest in 'In Harm's Way.'" She grinned across at Mickey. "I'm a Navy brat, Mickey. Don't try this at home."

Mickey pursed his lips and considered several comments. Deciding all of them would be interpreted as sour grapes, he just turned on the car radio and muttered, "Let's see if there's any more news on the standoff."

Scully nodded, soaking in her small victory for the moment. The day had not gone well. Judge Bruniger was in bed with the flu, which left them to face Judge Francine Lovell, who Mickey referred to -- with no little venom -- as 'Portia Turbo'. Lovell had sent Scully & Mickey packing halfway through their warrant request, saying that Davenport's involvement with two murderers was still coincidence. She based this on the fact that he'd seen Ceterski in private practice and the Pelcs as a clinic volunteer. "Put your perps on the _same_ couch, detectives," she'd boomed. "_Then_ maybe I'll call your suspect Svengali."

They had even less luck getting warrants for a further search of the Circle of Fire's facility. Ashby was out of Boston PD's jurisdiction, and the captain of the local state police barracks said he "had better things to do than roust one of our local organizations just because _you're_ suspicious! Bring me something I can take to _my_ judges without getting my head handed to me on a silver salver." Mulder had enlisted the "gnomes" after that defeat, but they had yet to get back to him. On top of that, Mulder & Scully wasted half an hour after the meeting waiting for AD Britton, who never appeared. Mulder had called Skinner to confirm Britton's travel plans, but his secretary said Skinner was "in transit" himself...

"Here it is," Mickey said, bringing Scully out of her reverie. She looked down at the AM-FM radio in the dashboard, and the practiced baritone that came out of it:

"...top story, two federal agencies have surrounded the southeastern Vermont encampment of a New England militia group. With more on the incident, here's NewsRadio 68's Jeff McCartney."


The report was obviously done on cell phone. It didn't break up too badly, but there was enough static to make the report sound like a wartime broadcast. "Mark, elements of the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms have laid siege to the Owens County compound of the Sons And Daughters of Liberty. The FBI and ATF had attempted to serve the SADL with a search warrant early this morning, when shots were fired by a sentry at the entrance to the group's compound. No-one was killed in the exchange of gunfire, but one ATF agent suffered a gunshot wound to the leg. He was airlifted to Bennington General Hospital, and is reported to be in stable condition. It is rumored that an SADL member was also wounded in the exchange, but that is unconfirmed. The standoff is in its seventh hour, and shows no signs of breaking any time soon. In a press conference at the federal agencies' command center, FBI Special Agent-in-Charge Charles Renko said the SADL were considered to be suspects in the hijacking of an arms shipment in South Carolina, as well as in the robberies of two banks in New Hampshire. According to ATF officials, the Sons And Daughters of Liberty was formed in 1995, in reaction to the arrest of Oklahoma City bomber..."

"Fahhhhhhbewluhhhs," Mickey drawled, flicking the radio off. "Those who don't remember history are doomed to repeat it. And those who don't remember _recent_ history should be slapped upside the head." He looked apologetically at Scully. "Sorry. That's your people I'm insulting."

"Go ahead," Scully assured him. "Insult. In this case, I couldn't agree more." *Was Renko living in a cave when Waco happened? If this goes wrong, they'll throw him out on his ear. What kind of game is he playing?* She glanced over at the blue Caprice parked down the street on the other side, wondering if Mulder & Max were listening to the same report.

They weren't. In fact, they had only talked about the stakeout once, and that was earlier in the day. They'd played rock & roll trivia for the first hour of the surveillance, and talked baseball the rest of the time. But now there was a lull as the fourth hour rolled in. Max was lounging as low as she could go and still see Davenport's darkened house, the sole of her boot braced against the dashboard; Mulder sat behind the wheel, head in one hand with the elbow against the window, the other hand idly fingering the cell phone in his lap.

Max noted the action. "You keep doing that, you'll go blind."

Mulder chuckled, wondering if there was any coffee left in the thermos. "Old Wives' tale. Playing with your cell phone doesn't stunt your growth, either."

Max pointed a crooked finger at him. "Don't go there."

"Sorry," Mulder said, looking as penitent as possible. "I'd hate for you to think I'm selling you short."

"Gosh," Max said sardonically, "I've never heard _that one_ before." She gave Mulder a Cheshire Cat smile. "You know one of the nice things about being height-challenged, Mulder? It's real easy to kick guys in the balls when they get out of line."

Mulder cleared his throat. "Height? What height? Size doesn't matter..."

Max took the last Dunkin Munchkin. "Spoken like an American male." Mulder had no comeback for that, so he just laughed.

They hadn't talked about it, but Mulder & Max were both surprised at how well they had fallen into a comfortable work pattern. They didn't step on each other's questions during an interview. The conversations had been amiable, the banter quite natural. Mulder knew they were trying to get along because of Scully, but their rapport was not artificial, and had developed without much work on either part. In a way, it was comforting to Mulder that Scully had found someone who took as much pride in being a smartass as he did.

For Max' part, she had fiercely hoped they could learn to coexist. She knew Mulder played a big part in Scully's life, so if she and Scully were going to be long-term, it would make things a hell of a lot easier if Max and Mulder were friendly -- or, at least, cordial. Max was still leery about Mulder's theories on the case, but otherwise, they'd worked swimmingly together. It made her laugh that both of them decided to bust Goldsmith's chops. *I'm glad we're not _permanent_ partners,* Max thought wryly. *Loot'd have us in his office every other day.*

Mulder's cell phone chirped. He snatched it out of his lap and hit 'Talk.' "Mulder."

"I'd like to order a pizza to go," Frohike's voice had a faraway, speaker-phone quality. "And no anchovies."

"You're out of our delivery area," Mulder returned. "What took you so long?"

"Great research takes time," Frohike said amiably. "You want fast, go to one of those quick-lube places that gets you in and out in thirty minutes or less."

"I doubt hacking into government databases is part of their service list."

"Then don't bitch up."

"Boys," Mulder sighed, "do you have anything, or did you just call to abuse me?"

"Who says we can't do both?" Langly called out, farther from the speakerphone than Frohike.

Byers jumped in before Mulder could retort. "RightWay has a strong odor of legitimacy. It's a shoestring operation run by two people who were middle-management types at GNC Corporate. Seed money for the company came from Pettit Wells Partners, a venture-capital outfit in San Jose. No links to anything illegal, immoral or governmental. Nothing iffy about RightWay's bank accounts, either, if you don't count their dwindling balance. If they don't find more market-share by this time next year, the company is food for worms."

"Thank you, Louis Rukeyser," Mulder said dryly. "What else?"

Langly took up the story. "Your guy Davenport doesn't show up in any major medical employment database before 1987. He's got tax records, but they only go back nine years. UCLA Medical says he got his Ph.D. in 1971. That's a hell of a gap on a resume."

Mulder sat up straight, interested now. "Where did he first appear?"

"He joined the psychiatric staff of a VA hospital in Roanoke, March 1987. Stayed there four years, then went into private practice -- first in Virginia, then in Massachusetts. He's from Mass originally. Born somewhere called Newburyport, got his Bachelors at BC and his Masters at Brandeis. He's got a little money in savings and CDs, but he ain't rich. No big surprise. He got divorced three years ago, and if his financial records are straight up, he got hosed in the settlement."

*Well, well, well...* "Does he show up anywhere in our illustrious government?"

"No..." Mulder could hear Frohike smile. "But Stafford Priest does."

"We _knew_ this already," Mulder said pointedly.

"We knew he was an ex-Marine," Byers corrected him. "We _didn't_ know he spent a few summers frolicking with the intelligence community."

Mulder's jaw dropped. "Why didn't you tell me this earlier?"

Frohike was unruffled. "Saving the best for last. Right before Priest left Mother Green the Killing Machine, he was attached to the Defense Department's Special Projects division. That's bureaucracy-speak for their Dirty Tricks people, with heavy connections to a three-letter agency we all know and loathe. Records say he worked exclusively on a project code-named Auto Shop from '84 to '86. The roof caved in when we tried to access info on the project itself. Encryption code from Hell. We had to bail out before they traced back to us."

Mulder's eyes nearly lit up the car, they gleamed so bright. "Don't you hate it when government agencies get sensitive?"

"Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke," Langly said sagely.

"At least we got _something_ on Priest," Byers put in. "Alliance Consulting's database has a frighteningly thick firewall. We'll keep on it, but it'll take some time to burrow in."

"Take your time," Mulder told them. "You've given us a good place to start."

"Sorry we couldn't get more, Mulder." Frohike sounded more annoyed than apologetic. "Our kung fu is the best, but this operation's got Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude van Damme sitting on the doorstep."

"You're still _my_ Ultimate Fighting Champions," Mulder assured him. "Many thanks, gentlemen. Put it on my tab, will you?"

Langly sounded mildly surly. "Next time you bail on us, Mulder, make the effort and get us the ticket. We could have made a little money."

Mulder Smirked outrageously. "On a Caps game? You'd be lucky to get enough for beer and popcorn."

Mulder rang off and was about to fill Max in when Scully's voice filled the car. "Mulder, this may be him."

Max straightened up immediately. Mulder checked his side-view mirror. Dusk was giving way to dark, but there was enough light left to identify the red Miata coming up the street. "The doctor is in," he said, the adrenaline already kicking in.

Max picked up the mic. "We got him. Everybody slouch." Mulder & Max started to slide down the seat when movement from the house caught their eye. The garage door was opening. "So much for getting him while he opened the door by hand."

"Let's hope he waits to close it til he gets out of the car," Mulder said, the steering wheel poking his chest as Davenport drove past and turned into his driveway.

Max keyed the mic again. "Time to rock, kiddies. If we get inside, wait five minutes, and then knock _real_ loud."

"Affirmative," Scully said. Then she said, "Safety first."

The tone was neutral, but the words were not, for Mulder and Max. Max replaced the mic and undid her holster clip. She looked over as Mulder unclipped his Sig, watching the Miata's brake lights brighten the garage interior. Max' smile was nervous, despite her best efforts. "Hell of a first date, huh?"

"Second date," Mulder said, tossing her a taut Smirk. "We went out yesterday, remember?"

"This is true." She let out a breath. "Let's go to the show."

Mulder & Max rolled out of the Caprice and walked towards the house, both of them trying not to run. They didn't want to panic Davenport, but they didn't want the garage door closing in their faces, either. Davenport was locking up his car when they came up the driveway. "Doctor Davenport," Mulder called out.

Davenport looked up. His expression was neutral, and he held his position, but Mulder thought he could see Davenport tense up. "Detectives," he said in colorless greeting. "I thought you'd asked all your questions."

"We find new ones every day, Doctor," Max said, unconsciously shaking out her hands. "We have a few more for you, if you have a minute."

Davenport straightened up and faced them. He held his keys in his left hand. "Actually, I only have a _few_ minutes," he told them. "I have a talk to give tonight, and they're not feeding me. Would you mind if I fixed dinner during the interrogation?"

"We're not here to _interrogate_ you, Doctor," Mulder began.

Davenport brought out his condescending smile. "'Interrogation' is another word for 'questioning', Mr. Mulder. You're here to _question_ me, therefore you are here to _interrogate_ me."

"You learn something new every day," Max said flatly. "Could we continue the word game inside, please? You can answer us between bites."

Davenport smiled thinly at her. "I'm sorry. I'm forgetting my manners." He turned around and walked toward the door at the back of the garage. "Won't you come in," he said over his shoulder, sticking a key in the door's dead-bolt lock. He pressed a white button next to the door as he went in. The garage door started noisily down, making Max start. Mulder didn't start, but he did look out at the street. He wished he could see Scully's car. He stepped inside the house as the garage door clattered to a close.

Davenport was putting a Budget Gourmet into a cupboard-mounted microwave when Mulder came into the kitchen. The woodwork and countertops were apple-green, the refrigerator and stove beige, the dishwasher white with black trim, the tiles black-and-white. There were no dishes or glasses in the sink, which went with the general air of anal-retentive spotlessness.

Max leaned against the sink, watching Davenport's every move. The psychiatrist went back to the refrigerator and pulled out a bottle of Grolsch. *Figures,* she thought to herself. Max believed the only reason anyone drank Grolsch at all was because of the bottle, with the intricate resealable cap that made the beer so expensive. *If Grolsch imported unfiltered squirrel piss direct from Amsterdam's biggest park, people would still buy it because the bottle would make them look continental.* A quick peek in the freezer showed several more bottles of Grolsch, but not much else.

Mulder noticed that, too. "This is a nice house," Mulder said, looking around the kitchen like a potential buyer.

"It suits my purposes," Davenport said quietly. He opened the crisper drawer and took out a large Ziploc bag filled with peeled carrot sticks. He closed the drawer and the refrigerator and went to the cupboard next to the sink.

Mulder stood at the counter opposite Max. "I'd think it'd be pretty simple for one person to run."

Davenport pulled a chipped white bowl out of the cupboard and poured some carrot sticks into it. "I seem to be able to keep everything ship-shape and Bristol fashion, as you can see."

"Be easier with two, though, wouldn't it," Mulder said innocently, looking at Max. *Just follow along,* his look said. Max was still watching Davenport, but saw Mulder's look out of the corner of her eye. She nodded slightly, wondering where he was going with this line of conversation.

Davenport resealed the Ziploc bag and laid it on the counter. "It _would_ help in the division of labor," he allowed. "But, in the final analysis, no-one really _needs_ another person."

Mulder nodded sympathetically. "I know what you mean," he said. "I think if _everyone_ who ever got divorced realized that, breaking up a marriage would be a lot less painful." He cocked his head. "You _are_ divorced, aren't you, Doctor Davenport?"

Davenport had his back to Mulder, but Max could see him clearly. His face was expressionless, but he held a carrot stick in mid-air; he was about to bring it up to his mouth when Mulder asked the question. "As a matter of fact, I am," Davenport said after a moment, completing the motion and biting the stick in half.

*Oh ho,* thought Max. "Still tough, though," she said thoughtfully. "No matter how good the realization may be."

"Oh, I don't know, Max," Mulder said, leaning casually on the counter behind him. "I know that when _my_ wife left me, my life really _began_. My career took off, I started meeting new people... and I didn't have to _placate_ anyone, you know? Or be something someone _else_ wanted me to be? I could just be _me_."

Max seemed to think about that. "You got a point."

Mulder waved an arm at the kitchen. "Come on, admit it. When Richard left, didn't things get _better_ for you?"

Max crossed her arms. "Now that you mention it, life did seem to get a little..." She shrugged. "I don't know. Free-er? Brighter?"

"There," Mulder said, pointing at her. "See what I mean?" He turned to Davenport. "Doctor, when _your_ wife left you, didn't you feel..."

"My wife did _not_ leave me." His voice was soft, but his words were hard, and his eyes were bright with anger.

Mulder cocked his head again. "No?"

Davenport was breathing deeply, obviously trying to calm himself. "_No_." Another deep breath. "We reached a mutual agreement. It was entirely amicable."

Mulder smiled indulgently. "I know a lot of divorced people who say that."

Davenport seemed to be clenching his teeth. "In this case, it happens to be the truth." He put a point on his statement by crunching another carrot stick.

Max turned to face Davenport again, left elbow still leaning on the sink. "I guess that just goes to show some old sayings have a grain of truth in them, Mulder."

"Which old sayings, Max," Mulder asked easily, still locked in a staredown with Davenport.

"Well, I was thinking of 'Those who can't do, teach.'"

"And that means, precisely, what," Davenport asked quietly, not letting Mulder's gaze go.

"Well, I think it's interesting that you can't seem to keep your _own_ marriage together, but you tell other people what they should do about _theirs_."

"May I ask what you're talking about?"

"You're a volunteer counselor at Somerville Wellness Clinic. One of the couples you counseled was George and Anna Pelc. George Pelc put six holes in his wife in the middle of the Music department at the Coop." Max shook her head, feigning total befuddlement. "Just like your _friend_, Michael Ceterski."

Davenport angled his face so he could look between Mulder & Max. "If you knew anything about my profession, or about those individual situations, you'd know they were _entirely_ different."

Max shrugged. "Doesn't seem very different to me. Husband kills wife, husband is killed himself by police..."

"The _difference_, Detective Maxfield," Davenport said in a lecturing tone, "is in time and attitude. Specifically, time with _me_, and attitude towards their respective marriages. Michael Ceterski was a long-term client as well as a friend, and genuinely wanted to reconcile with Doreen O'Connor. George and Anna Pelc were in counseling for only three weeks, and those three sessions were as unproductive as any I've ever conducted. Neither of them was willing to do the work needed to reclaim their union. You can hardly put their deaths at my feet."

Max straightened up, hardening her tone. "Can we put Joel Roberge's death there?"

Davenport looked directly at Max now. He looked genuinely puzzled. "I'm sorry?"

"Joel Roberge. He was killed in the Museum of Fine Arts while attempting to murder _his_ wife. We believe that attempt is linked to these murders, and three others."

Davenport shook his head, the curls on the back of his head shaking with him. "I have no idea what you're talking..."

"Don't bullshit me, doc," Max said sharply, going for the bluff. "We _can_ subpoena all your records -- here, at the clinic, and anywhere else you hang your shingle. All we need is permission from the immediate families. And when they find out their loved ones' deaths might have been _caused_ by you, they'll sign on the dotted line faster than you can say 'malpractice!'"

"I have nothing to hide, Detective Maxfield," Davenport replied, his face a mask of control.

"Oh, I see," Max returned. "So if I were to look in your appointment books, I'd see no mention of Joel Roberge."

"That is correct," Davenport said immediately.

"Or Jeffrey Shultz?"

"No." He reached for the Grolsch bottle.

"Louis Satterlee? Scott Harland?"

"No, and no." He uncapped the bottle.

"How about Project Auto Shop," Mulder said quickly.

Davenport's swiveled to face Mulder; the movement was very deliberate. The psychiatrist's mask stayed in place, but Mulder could see recognition in his eyes -- that, and something else. (*Fear? Surprise? Ruthless efficiency?*) Max saw the change in Davenport's eyes, too, but she didn't try to figure it out. She was too busy wondering what the hell Mulder was talking about _now_.

The microwave's alarm sounded. It was quite piercing. As the tone rang out, Davenport took a long pull on the bottle. Then he said, "I'm sorry, Agent Mulder. I'm afraid I can't help you." He put the bottle down, picked up the bag of carrots and went over to the microwave.

"It's only a matter of time before we find out everything, Doctor," Mulder said soothingly, automatically playing Good Cop to Max' Bad Cop. "Nothing stays buried forever."

"A great boon to gravediggers everywhere," Davenport said dryly. He opened the micro's door, pulled out the Budget Gourmet, laid it on the counter, and moved over to the refrigerator. He opened it with one hand while holding the carrots in the other.

"Come on, Davenport," Max said harshly, hoping she sounded like she was on the same page with Mulder. "You can talk to us, or you can talk to the US Attorney. Project Auto Shop."

"What's there to talk about, Detective?" Davenport's voice echoed in the poorly-provisioned refrigerator. He opened the crisper drawer. "Didn't you ever take Auto Shop?" He put the bag in the crisper. He grabbed something else, closed the drawer and slammed the door. Mulder & Max went for their guns.

"Don't," Davenport warned. The matte-finished Beretta was already trained on them. Mulder & Max froze. "Hands at your sides," he ordered. They obeyed, moving in slow motion. He waggled the weapon. "Move to the center of the room. Side by side, please."

Mulder & Max looked at each other, then slowly did as they were told. Somewhere a clock chimed eight bells. Mulder vaguely remembered a ship's clock on the table in the living room. Max didn't hear it; she was too busy trying to breathe regularly. The tableau held. After an eternity or so, Davenport took two steps back, reached out with his free hand and picked a cordless phone off a wall mount next to the door to the garage. He pushed the 'Talk' button and punched in a phone number, eyes on his targets all the time.

Out of the corner of his eye, Mulder could see the black coffee maker on the counter he'd been leaning on. *If I can grab the pot and get it within ducking distance of him, maybe Max could get off a shot. He looks at the clock on the micro, I could do it. Got to watch his eyes...*

Max wasn't watching Davenport's eyes; she was gauging the distance between herself and Davenport. *He's got a big belly, but stick legs. I roll at him hard, I might knock him over. Maybe give Mulder a chance to throw down on him. _Wow_, that muzzle looks big...*

"Put him on, please," Davenport said into the phone. He waited. A slight smile crossed his face. "Why don't you pass the time by playing a nice game of Solitaire?"

*Great,* Mulder thought distractedly. *Where's Sinatra when I really need him?*

Davenport listened, nodded. "Target Alpha. ASAP. All angels will participate. Purge the area." He swallowed. "This will be my last broadcast." He listened, smiled. "The honor was mine." He turned the phone off and laid it on the counter. His hand never shook, his weapon never wavered. Mulder knew the moment had passed. He hoped Davenport was a good shot.

Davenport cocked his head. "This is all _your_ fault, you know," he told them, calm as you please. "There was so much more work to be done. They didn't _have_ to die now."

"They still don't," Mulder said, surprised at how flat his voice was. *Damnit, Scully, if I could only tell you how sorry I am...*

"You don't have to do this," Max said, sounding awfully reasonable. "It doesn't have to end this way." *Oh God, Scully, I love you so much...*

Davenport swallowed again, cocking the hammer. "I'm afraid it does."

--------

Scully had waited long enough. "Let's go."

"We still have a minute..." Mickey began.

"My watch is fast," Scully said curtly, opening the door. "Let's go."

Mickey sighed and got out of the car. He had to jog to catch up with Scully, who was halfway across the street already. He was just about to ask Scully where the fire was when a gunshot cracked through the night air. Scully & Mickey exchanged horrified looks and broke into a run, drawing their sidearms as they went. They bounded up to the front door and threw their shoulders against it. The door didn't budge. They were going to hit it again when Mickey noticed the electronic lock. *Buzzer system. We need a battering ram to get past this!*

Scully saw it a second later. "Around the back," she shouted. She went left towards the driveway, Mickey went right for the fence. One of them would get to the back of the house sooner. Scully's mind moved faster than her feet. *One shot. That means one of them is still alive. Got to get there before he shoots again. Dear Lord, please don't let it be too late...*

Scully found a slate pathway that led around the house. She ran along it and kicked an old gate open, heedless of danger. The backyard was overgrown, the lawn badly in need of a mowing. There were bright lights on next to the back door. *Kitchen.* She charged up the steps, threw back the storm door, and shot out the deadbolt. Scully threw the door open and lunged into the room, eyes wild, weapon searching.

Mulder was sprawled in one of the kitchen chairs, breathing like a winded racehorse. Max was bent over the sink, drinking from the tap with her hand. A red-and-pink spray decorated the door at the far end of the kitchen. Dr. Lindsey Davenport, UCLA Class of '71, was splayed out on the black-and-white tile floor, a red stain spreading from the back of his head, a Beretta jammed in his mouth.

Max looked up at Scully. She was gray as a ghost, and her voice a croak. "How was _your_ day?"

<<FRIDAY EVENING>>

The doors in Davenport's house were too narrow for a gurney, so Weinglass' helpers had to carry the psychiatrist's bodybag out to the meat wagon. Max walked out of the kitchen rather than watch the process. Scully watched her go, then looked at Mulder. She nodded imperceptibly at where Max went; Mulder blinked slowly in acknowledgement. Scully brushed his elbow with her fingers and went out the same way.

Max was standing in the middle of the office when Scully came in. "You okay," Scully asked softly.

Max looked out the window at the gathering crowd. Part of the street was roped off with two Uniforms keeping gawkers back. She shrugged. "I'm alive. He's not. I _guess_ that means I'm okay."

Scully stood close to her. "Don't be flip." *If it was you in that bag...*

Blue bubble lights swiveled on two units, giving the Brookline neighborhood a slow-motion disco effect. "If I'm not flip," Max finally said, her voice shaking, "I'm _gonna_ flip."

Scully reached out and took Max' hand. Max squeezed it hard, eyes closed. Scully squeezed back. Both of them needed a long hug and a good cry, but this was going to have to do for now. They dropped the grip when Mulder and Mickey came into the room. "What a fucking mess," Mickey said to the room.

"Very succinct analysis, Detective Kreutzmann," Max said flatly.

"Maybe we can find out something on Davenport's hard drive," Scully said, trying to sound positive. A search of the office had found a large collection of Zip discs, but the few files Scully checked looked like simple patient records. There were no paper copies anywhere in the house, and the list of files on the drive numbered in the high hundreds. The drive and the discs were on their way to headquarters in the back of CSU's van.

"We'd better get Loot to crack the whip on our computer geeks," Max declared. "Otherwise, the shit is just going to sit in Evidence Control until Monday."

"What we _need_ to do is find out who Davenport called," Mulder said, knowing he was stating the obvious. They'd tried the Redial function twice on the cordless phone, but there was no answer either time.

"NYNEX is slow with comeback on most days," Max sighed. "Friday night after five o'clock? We'll be lucky to get the doc's LUDs before the middle of next week."

Mickey took off his glasses and cleaned the lenses with the fat end of his tie. "Did this asshole say _anything_ before he pulled the trigger?"

Max ran a hand through her hair. "He asked me if I ever took Auto Shop."

Scully frowned. "What?"

"The gnomes finally got back to me," Mulder explained. "Priest did some time with Defense on a project code-named Auto Shop. It could be linked to the Intelligence community. The boys tried to get in-depth info on it, but security protocol bit back hard. Davenport isn't listed in the government's database, but I _know_ he was part of it. I saw it in his eyes when I asked him about it."

"I doubt you'll see much in those eyes now," Max said diffidently.

"If it was a black operation, _I_ doubt we'll get anyone official to cooperate willingly," Scully told Mulder.

"Tell me something I don't know," Mulder said glumly.

Mickey cast his eyes around the room. *My hometown library didn't have this many books.* "'Auto Shop'! What a dumb code name!"

Mulder walked over to Davenport's desk. He surveyed the confusion made when CSU moved the flatscreen monitor onto the desk so they could take the hard drive. "Target Alpha's pretty bad, too. We still have to figure that one out, though. And soon."

Max blinked. "Actually, it makes sense."

Scully looked at her. "What does?"

"Davenport asked me if I'd taken Auto Shop." She held a finger in the air. "Test question: What do you learn in Auto Shop?"

Mickey was still surveying the office. "How to keep your Gremlin on the road."

"How to be a _mechanic_. What's another name for 'assassin?'"

Mickey stopped dead. "Oh _shit_."

"Right," Max said, the energy back in her voice. "That's what we've been dealing with here. A bunch of little mechanics going out and fixing their wives for good."

Mulder picked up the thread. "That fits in with something he said on the phone. That line about a nice game of Solitaire..."

Max nodded rapidly. "'The Manchurian Candidate.' The key phrase that sent Lawrence Harvey off to kill something..."

"This sounds great, guys," Scully interrupted. "But it doesn't get us any closer to finding out who's going to get killed _now_. Or to a _real_ link between Davenport and Priest."

"Maybe _that_ doesn't."

Scully and Max turned to look. Mickey took a picture off the wall and showed it to them. It was a vacation picture taken on the dock of someplace tropical. Two men in Hawaiian shirts and shorts were standing between a sizable marlin, which hung glassy-eyed from a hook out of the frame. The men's legs and arms were frighteningly white. The man on the left was Davenport, smiling stiffly for the camera. The man on the right, beaming like a man who'd conquered nature, was Stafford Priest.

Mickey tapped Priest's image with a finger, grinning like a wolf. "A picture says a thousand words."

Max' smile was almost as ferocious. "If it looks like a link and smells like a link..."

"Max."

They looked over at Mulder. He was ashen, staring at something on the desk like it was going to bite him. "What is it, Mulder," Scully asked.

Mulder picked up a gold picture frame and turned it to face the rest of the room. Max stepped forward to get a better look. Her jaw went slack. "Fuhhhhck," she whispered.

It was a wedding picture, taken at a lavish-looking reception. Davenport was sitting at a circular table, dressed in a designer tuxedo, clinking champagne glasses with his bride. Like most brides who have survived the ceremony, Elizabeth Sansome looked blissfully happy.

<<FRIDAY NIGHT>>

Scully's temper was long lost. "Officer Desmond, for the last time..."

The deputy sheriff was impervious to her rage. "For the last time, Mizz Scully, I don't care _who_ you work for! I cannot, and _will_ not, 'mobilize every unit I have' without Sheriff Goldsmith's authorization! I don't care if you've got Moammar Khadaffy and the Islamic Jihad, armed with laser weapons and parachuting on top of you!"

"Let me speak to Sheriff Goldsmith," Scully demanded.

"Sorry, ma'am," Desmond replied. "He's out on a call. Won't be back tonight, I believe."

"Can't you reach him on the radio, at least?!"

"What do you think I was doing while you were on Hold, Mizz Scully? I explained the situation. I relayed your request. He said 'No.' My work here is done."

Scully clenched her teeth so hard, they hurt. "People may _die_ if you don't do this!"

"Well, ma'am," Desmond said laconically. "If they are _killed_ when they die, you call us. Because that's a _crime_. When you have a _crime_, we will respond accordingly. Until that point, there is nothing we can do. Those are the Sheriff's exact words. Oh, and he wanted to give you and your friends a message."

"And that is?"

"'You play in _my_ backyard, you play by _my_ rules.' Have a good evening, Mizz Scully." Click.

Scully stared fiercely at her cell phone. The flashing blue light on top of the dashboard was getting more and more annoying. Mickey watched her out of the corner of his eye. "Don't throw it out the window," he suggested. "We may need it later."

Scully blew breath out her nostrils, turned the phone off and on again, and pressed Mulder's memory button. A few seconds later, she heard Max say, "Agent Mulder's line."

Even in crisis, Scully could feel a distant glow when she heard Max. "Max, it's me. We're getting no help from Goldsmith. He told whoever's on duty we get nothing until there's an actual crime committed. The man I talked to wouldn't budge."

"Isn't _that_ special?" Max' anger came through clearly. "_Our_ luck was a little better, but not much. Loot's got a call in to the State Police. It may just be a few units that respond, but that's more guns than we have now. _When_ they'll get there, we don't know. It's Friday night, and there's your usual amount of fenderbenders and road rage. We couldn't get anyone at your field office, period. I mean _no-one_, just voicemail."

"There's supposed to be a duty officer on the phone 24 hours a day," Scully objected.

"Maybe the Feebies are cutting costs, or everyone's out chasing militiamen. Don't ask me... Wait a minute, Mulder wants to talk to you."

A short pause, then, "Scully, I finally got to Skinner. He's in Vermont at the militia encampment. AD Britton's with him."

"That explains why Britton stood us up," Scully said, watching cars pass by her window. She hadn't looked at the speedometer since she saw it go over 75. "What's Skinner doing there, though?"

In the other car, Mulder drove with one hand while talking with another. Max sat straight in her seat, one hand on the grip above the door while the other idly clutched her seat belt. "I didn't get an explanation from him," Mulder told Scully. "I told him what we know. He's whistling up a Quick Response Team, but the nearest one he can get to us is in New York. The local team is somewhere in the trees around the militia camp. It'll take less time to have the New York group fly out of Teterboro than to get the locals back to Boston."

"How long?"

"Hour, hour and a half. There'll be a helicopter waiting for them when they touch down at Logan."

"Let's hope they get a tailwind." Mulder heard Scully suck in a breath. "Are you driving?"

"Yes."

"Put the phone down and put both hands on the wheel. You nearly clipped a minivan just now."

Mulder could Smirk in the face of danger. "Yes, mom." He cut the connection and put the phone on the bench seat. A huge Buick Elektra waited til the last second to pull aside for Mulder. The driver flipped him off as they sailed past. "You like Westerns, Max?"

Max stared straight ahead, amazed at how badly a functional adult could drive. "Spaghetti Westerns. I could watch Sergio Leone for hours."

"'Stage Coach.' John Wayne's first big film. Every other Western is based on it. The stage coach is flying across Monument Valley, surrounded by Apaches. No-one's got any ammo left, and it looks like there's no hope. Suddenly the cavalry comes out of the horizon and drives the Indians off." He smiled at her, hoping his bravado was holding up. "We're the cavalry, Max."

Max didn't change expression. "Yeah," she said tightly. "Well, in Spaghetti Westerns, the cavalry doesn't show up until the credits are rolling and everyone's dead. Get this thing out of second gear, will ya?"

--------

They hadn't gotten on the highway until after 6 o'clock, but it was the beginning of the weekend, so there were more cars to get through than usual. Once they got off the Southeast Expressway, it was plain (if harrowing) sailing over two-lane roads until Mulder fishtailed onto The House's long and winding driveway. When they broke out of the trees and came up to the farmhouse, a red-and-white police car sat in the parking circle, its powerful engine still running. The word SHERIFF was written in bold red letters on both sides of the converted Crown Victoria.

"Goldsmith's out on a call, all right," Scully said as she got out of the car. A loud and raucous argument could be heard inside, even with all the doors and windows closed in The House and a bitter wind blowing in from the bay. A look inside the living room saw Goldsmith and Sansome engaged in a shouting match, while two of Sansome's staff looked on nervously. A wood fire was burning in the fireplace behind them.

"Fuck this noise," Max muttered. The four went up the stairs and walked inside, Max in the lead.

"All right, _fine_!" Goldsmith was sounding unhinged as they walked into the living room. "You wanna sue to get me fired?! Fucking _sue_! Two can play at _that_ game! I'll sue the fucking town council for wrongful dismissal, and I'll sue _you_ for mental cruelty, sexual harassment, and whatever _else_ a lawyer'll boil you in oil for! I'll fucking _own_ you, you castrating piece of..."

"I can see how that'd be attractive," Sansome shot back, apparently unintimidated. "The only way you could _get_ a woman is if you owned her!"

Goldsmith pointed at her. "That's it! Turn around and put your hands behind your back!"

Sansome looked flabbergasted. "You can't arrest me!"

Goldsmith grabbed her arm. "I can do whatever the fuck I want, lady! _I'm_ the one with the badge!"

"Guess you lose."

Goldsmith whirled around. "What the fuck-"

Max was an inch away from him, her eyes bulging. Mulder, Scully and Mickey stood in a line right behind her. "We got _four_ badges," she said darkly. "You got _one_. You _lose_, Sparky. Now let her go while I still have a lousy memory."

Goldsmith went with his first instinct: He pushed Max away, hard, with both hands. "_Fuck_ you, bitch! Get the hell out of here before I arrest the _bunch'a_ you!"

It was a mistake. Goldsmith turned back to Sansome, spun her around roughly, and reached back for his handcuffs. He heard a familiar 'snik' just as something cold and hard went around his right wrist. Goldsmith took in breath to speak when his legs were cut out from under him and he slammed face-first onto the beige pile carpeting. He roared in pain as his left arm was pulled back and the other handcuff was attached.

"What the fuck do you think you're doing," he yelled. Panic was crowding out his anger. He'd never been arrested in his life, and the feeling of being handcuffed was not pleasant. Mulder & Scully were more shocked than Goldsmith, Sansome didn't know whether to laugh or cry, and her assistants were absolutely frozen in terror. Mickey was the calmest one in the room. He looked down at the handcuffed sheriff with an expression that clearly said, *Brother, you asked for it.*

Max squatted over Goldsmith as she took his weapon out of its holster. *.44 long-barrel. Why am I not surprised?* "Assaulting a police officer," she hissed into his ear. "In front of _witnesses_. You know what kind of time that gets you, Emmitt? _Hard_ time. Just how late _were_ you to the meeting where the Goddess was handing out free brains?"

A spit bubble was forming at the edge of Goldsmith's mouth. "I am gonna make you payYOW!"

Max held Goldsmith by the hair. "Shut... the fuck... up." She pushed his head back down on the carpet. "Show it to her, Mulder."

Mulder stepped forward and pulled Davenport's wedding picture out of his inside coat pocket. He handed it to Sansome. "Doctor, who is the man in this photo?"

Sansome's expression went from fear to confusion. "That's Louis. Louis Davis. My ex-husband."

*Louis Davis. Leslie Davenport. He must have had monograms, or something...* "When did you see him last?"

Sansome thought about it. "Not since we divorced a few years ago. He has a private practice in Virginia."

"You didn't know he had re-located to the Boston area," Scully asked.

Sansome looked shocked. "He did?" She looked at Mulder. "Where did you get this picture?"

"From his office, Doctor," Mulder said, looking pained. "I'm afraid he's dead."

Sansome went blank. "Dead?"

Mulder nodded. "We also believe he was involved in the murder of Evelyn Harland, and in the murders of five other women."

Sansome did a double-take. "The murd-..." She seemed to process the information, then shook her head firmly. "No. No, that's impossible. Scott Harland murdered Evelyn. Louis didn't even _know_ her..."

"We believe your ex-husband knew Scott Harland," Scully told her. "At this point, we're not sure how. But we do believe he had a hand in Evelyn Harland's murder."

"That is ridiculous," Sansome maintained. "Louis literally couldn't hurt a _fly_! He could _talk_ a person to death, but that's about all."

"Give thanks for small favors," Max murmured. Then every light in the house went out.


A shrill set of screams came from the third floor. Mulder & Scully started towards the door. "It's all right," Sansome said commandingly. She turned to the shorter of her subordinates. "Ginny, would you take care of her?"

"Sure, Elizabeth," the dark-haired woman said, running out of the room.

Sansome smiled at the nervous agents. "One of my residents. Julia has the lights on in her room all night. We're trying to work with her on that..."

Max was on her feet. "Doctor, do you have a phone I can use?"

Sansome pointed to a door on the other side of the hallway. "My assistant's office. Dial 9." Max walked out of the room without another word. Sansome turned back to Mulder. "What makes you think Louis is involved in these murders?"

"It's rather difficult to explain, Doctor," Scully told her. "Tell me, do you know a man named Stafford Priest?"

Sansome's face went hard. "Louis' Marine friend. He used to come to the hospital where we worked. That's where I met Louis. Stafford and I never got along. How _Louis_ got along with him, I have no idea. You never met two more different men in your entire..."

Max marched back into the room. "Mulder, you still have the keys?"

Mulder looked at her. "Yes."

Max went up to her usual partner. "Mickey, take Mulder out to the cars and get the stuff from both trunks. All you can carry. Mulder, you'll find a fanny pack in _our_ trunk. Bring that, too." She nodded at Goldsmith. "Get the shotgun from Joyboy's ride, while you're at it. We'll probably need it."

"What's going on," Scully wanted to know.

"The phones are dead."

"I hate it when that happens," Mickey groaned. Mulder was already at the front door. Mickey jogged after him.

"Will SOMEBODY tell me what the fuck is going on," Goldsmith screamed.

"My sentiments exactly," Sansome said, her voice a little less calm than it was.

Scully went to her. "Doctor, does this house have a basement? Somewhere you and your residents can hide?"

"Hide? Hide from _whom_," Sansome demanded.

"Ma'am," Max said, her voice broadcasting command, "we have no time for long explanations and in-depth analysis. If this place has a basement, a root cellar, a _bomb_ shelter, I suggest you get your people in it. Right now."

Sansome opened her mouth, then closed it and turned to her remaining staffer. "Kathy, get everyone downstairs. Do it gently if you can, but keep it calm whatever you do. And get the candles out of the kitchen. It'll be pitch black down there."

Kathy was older and shorter than Sansome, and she looked very uncertain. "What do I tell the girls if they ask what's going on?"

"Tell them we're going to tell ghost stories to each other," Sansome snapped. "_Go_, Kathy! _Now_!"

"Going, going," Kathy said, running out of the room. After a moment, Sansome went out to help her.

"Heh-LOHHHHHH," Goldsmith called. "Is anybody LISTENING TO ME?"

Max walked over and squatted down in front of him. "You listen to _me_, Testosterone For Brains," she said quietly. "In a few minutes, some people are going to come up the driveway. These people will be bound and determined to come in here and kill every single Christian soul they find. That means you too, badge or no badge..."

"You're crazy," Goldsmith barked.

Max ignored him. "Now, if I had my way, you'd stay right where you are until I could get the state cops to haul your worthless carcass away. But we may need another shooter, and I don't need your death on my conscience if you get tagged by a stray round. With me so far? Nod if you are." Goldsmith looked up at Max like she was speaking Martian, but he nodded. "Good. Now, I'm going to uncuff you, and I'm going to give you your weapon back." She stuck her finger in Goldsmith's face. "But if you pull your suburban supercop routine just _once_, I _swear_ I will cut you off at the knees. Deal?"

Goldsmith goggled at her for a moment, then nodded. Max got up and stepped over him, fished in her pockets for her keys. Scully heard heard people coming down the steps, some of them crying, one of them talking non-stop. Sansome, Ginny and Kathy could be heard talking soothingly to the residents. Scully stepped next to Max. "If this goes wrong..."

Max finally found her key. "The only way this goes wrong is if they _nuke_ us," she said firmly. "They shall not pass."

"What if they _do_ nuke us," Scully said, almost serious. She didn't know what Priest was capable of.

Max looked up at her. She licked her lips. "Then we go out in _style_." *And we go out together,* she didn't say. She glanced down at Goldsmith. He was looking at the wall away from them, muttering to himself. Max leaned in and kissed Scully hard.

Scully pressed her hands to Max' cheeks, eyes squeezed shut. She thought she'd lost Max earlier today. Now she might lose her again. *Lord,* Scully prayed, *it's Your will. But if You have to take someone tonight, please take us both, if it means we save these people.*

The door banged open, breaking their clinch. Mulder & Mickey staggered in, already armored up, both carrying shotguns and Kevlar vests. Mickey had Goldsmith's riot gun as well as his own; a large purple fanny pack dangled from one of Mulder's hands. "We've only got four vests, Max," Mickey called out.

Max looked down at Goldsmith, shucking out of her raincoat and jacket. Scully did the same. "See what happens when you're not prepared," Max scolded him. Goldsmith growled audibly.

Scully went over to Mulder and took a vest while Max squatted down and uncuffed Goldsmith. He got to his feet, rubbing his wrists. Max held out his pistol butt-first. "_Behave_," she said, as if to a small dog that was thinking about chewing the furniture.

Goldsmith snatched the weapon away, biting back a salvo of profanity. "How many we up against?"

"You'll know when we know."

Goldsmith wanted to rip this midget bitch's head off. Instead he holstered his Magnum and held out a hand to Mickey. Mickey tossed Goldsmith his shotgun; Goldsmith caught it with one hand. Max stepped to Mickey and got a vest of her own, as well as the fanny pack. She unzipped it and pulled out a matte-black Sig Sauer. She jacked one in the chamber, flipped on the safety, and put it in the waistband of her jeans. *Peace through superior firepower,* she told herself, quickly transferring speedloads from her jacket to her vest pockets.

Sansome came back into the room. "Everyone's downstairs, but I don't know how long I can keep them there."

Mulder braced the shotgun up against his crotch while he transferred shotgun shells and ammo clips to his pockets. *Hope the safety catch is on,* he Smirked to himself. "Doctor, do you have a weapon in this house?"

Sansome thought about it. "We have some softball bats in the barn. They're aluminum, but..."

Mulder picked up the shotgun, nearly stumbling. He was accustomed to the lighter assault rifles the Bureau used on major raids. "I'm talking about a handgun, a rifle, something like that."

Sansome looked truly appalled. "I've got four residents with a history of suicide. Do you think I'd keep a _gun_ here?"

Max kneeled down and pulled her hideout piece out of her boot. She walked over and handed it to Sansome. "Like a camera," she advised her. "Just aim and shoot."

Sansome held the small revolver away from her. "I can't..."

Max got right in her face. "Doctor, these people may get by us. If they do, you are the last line of defense. You want to help your patients recover? First, they have to _live_."

"Smiles, everyone," Mickey called. Everyone looked out the window. Headlights could be seen coming through the trees.

Scully touched Sansome's arm. "Go. Lock the door. Don't open it for anyone but us." *Assuming we're around to knock...*

Sansome tried to speak, looked out the window, tried to speak again, then ran out of the room. The five law enforcement officers spread themselves out along the living room windows as five vehicles came out of the trees. They were all American-made -- three of them massive Sport Utility Vehicles, the other two sports cars. The Firebird in the lead had its windows open, despite the cold, filling the air with laughing psychedelic rock:

"I'm not the only soul Accused of hit-and-run Tire tracks all across your back, ha ha! I can see you had _your_ fun..."

"I will _never_ listen to Hendrix again," Mickey dead panned.

"We don't pull this off," Mulder said, just as flat, "you won't get the chance to boycott him." He wished they could douse the fire, but there wasn't time. *Besides, with the power out, that's the only heat source we have.*

Goldsmith's mouth worked. His Smokey Bear hat was on the window seat. He picked it up and put it on, making sure it was parade-ground straight.

"Hell of a time to make a fashion statement," Mickey commented, eyeing the sheriff carefully.

Goldsmith ignored him. He zipped up his jacket, picked up his shotgun, and walked towards the door.

Max grabbed his arm while he went past. "Where the fuck-"

Goldsmith slammed his rifle butt into Max' chest, knocking her flat. He brought the shotgun up fast, pointing it at the other three people. No-one moved a muscle. Goldsmith breathed through his nose. "This is _my_ town," he whispered. "I am the _sheriff_." He breathed some more. "_I_ will handle this." He backed out of the room, making sure everyone saw the business end of his weapon as he went. Then he opened the door and walked out onto the porch.

Mulder couldn't help himself. "Darn fool kid."

Max struggled to her feet. "Cover him," she wheezed. "The office. We need a crossfire!" Mickey ran out of the room. Scully hung back, looking Max over worriedly. Max waved her off. "I'm okay. Go."

Scully looked at her, looked at Mulder. *The two most important people in my life. Lord, please keep them safe.* She drew her Sig, nodded to them both, and went after Mickey.

The vehicles broke out of the single-file formation and split into a horizontal line, flooding The House with light. The white paint shone back at them, almost blinding. Goldsmith squinted, but he didn't shield his eyes. He watched the cars pull up to the house, then he jacked a shell into the chamber dramatically. "All right," he yelled. "That's _it_! Everyone step out of your vehicles slowly and keep your hands where I can see them..."

The Firebird's passenger side door opened. Cedric stepped out holding something that looked like a piccolo case with pistol grips. It was a Close Assault Weapons System -- basically a souped-up shotgun. He fired before Goldsmith could bring his weapon to bear. The sheriff slammed against the wall, leaving a trail of blood from the fist-sized wound as he slid to the wooden floor.

Acting as one, Mulder & Max shattered the windows in front of them. Mulder shouldered his shotgun and fired, exploding the windshield of a Ford Expedition. Someone screamed. Max loosed two rounds. Cedric's face disappeared. The battle was on.

Men boiled out of cars and trucks, all of them armed with rifles, shotguns, or high-caliber pistols. Priest rolled out of the other side of the Firebird and loosed off several rounds from what looked like an AK-47. Mulder & Max ducked behind the walls nearest to them, barely missing the fusillade. Scully & Mickey broke their windows now, firing at any movement. Mickey took down a burly bearded man dressed entirely in cammo; his M-16 went flying. Scully aimed for Priest, but he ducked behind his car door. The bullet shattered the driver's-side window and whistled off into the night.

The defenders actually had the advantage for a moment. The attackers' vehicles were perpendicular to the house; they made great spotlights but lousy cover. Mulder & Mickey alternated shotgun blasts, keeping the attackers' heads down while Scully & Max tried to pick off a body here and there. Goldsmith's cruiser and the two unmarked police vehicles were parked parallel to the house, one behind the other. They made great cover. Priest directed his men towards them. "Spread out," Priest ordered. "Keep low!"

Max peeped around the windowframe. "How many you figure," she said raggedly.

Mulder did some peeping of his own. "I make twelve, maybe thirteen. That are still up and running." He could see someone sitting in the passenger seat of the Expedition, head lolling.

"Good," she cracked, ducking back as another spray hit the building. "We got 'em outnumbered." She reached around and fired two rounds. Mulder let loose another blast. One man went down screaming. *One for the price of three. Gotta do better than that...*

They didn't have time to do better, because the attackers got into place and fired as one, raking the windows and walls. Mulder & Max dropped to the floor; Scully dove behind a large gray office chair, and Mickey made himself very small in a corner by the far wall. Glass and wood flew everywhere, showering all of them. "Goddamnit," Mickey snarled, covering his face with his arms. "This is _not_ _funny_!"

Priest could be heard screaming orders again. Mulder peeked over the sill in time to see two men peel off towards the right side of the house. "They're going around the back," he yelled.

"I got 'em," Mickey shouted back. *It's hero time!* Throwing caution into the garbage, he bolted out of the room, just missing getting ventilated by a stream of fire from Priest's machine gun. Scully got up on her knees and fired blindly, keeping others from shooting at Mickey, too.

Mickey found The House's expansive kitchen without much trouble. He nearly tripped over an overturned chair as he crossed the floor. Shadows ran through the back yard toward the kitchen door. Covering the remaining space with two long strides, he planted himself and fired two blasts through the window of the door. Two faces appeared in the blast before they were thrown onto their backs, their chests exploded.

"Thank you for playing," Mickey crowed, totally pumped. *Mama, we are gonna _win_!* Those were his last two shells. He was reaching into the pocket of his vest, barely registering a low beating sound, when two more shadows came charging around from the opposite side of the house. To his credit, Mickey didn't panic; he dropped the shotgun and drew his Glock-9. *No way. No _way_,* his mind howled at the interlopers. He fit the Glock into a two-handed grip and fired.

Scully had gone through two clips and was inserting her last into the Sig, her back against the wall. She threw a glance at the other room. Mulder fired one round, dropped the shotgun, and drew his own automatic. Max was pulling the slide back on her own Sig. Her father's .357 lay on the floor at her feet. *She's out of speedloads.* Doom pressed down on her head. *We're running out of time...*

Seven attackers were left at the front of the house. They might be running out of ammunition, too, but it didn't seem like it. Priest was at their center. He shouted more orders, made hand gestures. Scully only heard one word: "NOW!" At that order, two men charged around either side of the cover vehicles and leaped towards the porch railing while the other three sent an eruption of cover fire towards the defenders. Bullets whistling past her head, Scully ducked down and fired, only half-aiming. It was enough; her bullet laced into a Yuppie-looking guy's stomach, sending him down shrieking in agony, his AR-15 clattering on the porch. Mulder & Max both shot the other kamikaze in the chest. His beretta fired two reflex rounds. Max flew onto her back, her Sig flying towards the fireplace.

"MAX," Scully screamed. She ran from the office and dove into the living room, landing next to her lover. Max' eyes were closed, her breathing shallow. Scully ran her hands over Max' chest, looking frantically for wounds. She could swear she could hear her own pulse throb, fast and deep and pounding. "Max?" No answer. "_Max_?"

"SCULLY," Mulder bellowed, "GET ON THE WINDOW!"

Scully looked at him with savage fury, then grabbed her gun and rolled over to the window. Only one thought went through her mind: *They will _pay_.*

"How many rounds do you have," Mulder said, firing at a head.

Scully swallowed, breathed, tried to get under control. "Nine. I'm on my last clip."

Mulder reached into his vest and tossed a clip at her. She caught it without thinking. "One for both of us," he told her. Scully nodded, then looked back at Max. She was still breathing, but she hadn't moved. "Scully," Mulder said harshly, "you can't help her if we _don't_ _hold_ _on_!"

It all happened so fast.

The trees went blue with flashing light as three Massachusetts State Police cars roared up the drive. The pounding of Scully's pulse turned into something more recognizable as a large black helicopter flew over the front of the house. Priest fired up at it, making the pilot jerk away. The police cars pulled up in a line, discharging two troopers from each. Priest and his four survivors fired at the cars, shattering the windows and taking out two headlights. Mulder & Scully reached around the windows and fired. Mulder's shot ricocheted off Goldsmith's cruiser, but Scully performed a perfect head shot, splattering the man to Priest's right.

Priest and his last three men moved between the cars, trying to find cover from the new threat. The troopers hid behind their car doors, firing through open windows. Priest took a round in the arm; he roared in pain, but didn't go down. He fired back at the police, holding the AK with one hand. A trooper did a spastic dance and dropped like an unstrung marionette. Movement came from Mulder's left. He nearly fired, but something made him hold back. Two men in FBI night gear charged up to the remains of Max' unmarked car and screamed at Priest and his partners. Priest and another man spun around firing, while the other two attackers opened up on the police. The four men went down in a hail of gunfire, some from the police, some from the two members of the late-arriving Quick Response Team.

"Cease fire," someone from the police side yelled. Gunshots still rang in Mulder's ears. He slumped against the glass-covered window seat, totally drained. *Give me UFOs and multi-national conspiracies any old day.*

Scully dropped her weapon and crawled back to Max, her eyes wide. Max' eyes were still closed, her breathing still shallow. "Max," Scully said, trying to control her voice. "Honey?" Her fingers fluttered over Max' face. Her voice got small and strangled. "Baby, _please_ talk to me."

Ever so slightly, Max opened her eyes. A smile flickered at the edge of her mouth. Her lips moved, but Scully couldn't hear what Max said. She leaned down, putting her ear next to Max' mouth. "What?"

"I said," Max whispered haltingly, smiling a little more, "that Kevlar... is a many-splendored thing." She seemed to laugh, then she grimaced. "Oh _shit_, my ribs hurt."

Scully stroked Max' face, her eyes filling up. "Just lie still, baby," she rasped. "It's over. The cavalry got here in time."

Max smiled a little more. "Cavalry." Mulder walked over and knelt down next to Max. She looked up at him. "Are the credits rolling?"

Mulder Smirked down on her. "Can't be," he said. "We're still alive."

Max chuckled, then grimaced. She squeezed Scully's hand. Her voice was getting stronger. "I like him," Max said. "He's silly."

Scully's eyebrow could shoot up in any situation. "That's a double-edged sword." Max started to get up on her elbows. Scully put a hand on her shoulder. "Lie back..."

"Mm mm," Max said, shaking her head. Her movements were very deliberate. "The heroes always _walk_ out at the end of the picture."

The door was kicked open, making them all jump. Two QRT members ducked in, M-16s at the ready as they cleared the room. Scully quickly wiped her eyes. Mulder held up his hands. "Easy," he said firmly. "Agents Mulder and Scully, FBI. We've got a police officer down here."

The first agent straightened up, lowering his weapon. Under his Kevlar helmet, he looked about fourteen years old. "Agent Steve Krauss, QRT New York. Is there anyone else in the house?"

"The residents are locked in the basement," Scully answered. She nodded down at Max. "This woman needs medical attention."

Krauss spoke into his headset. "The house is clear. Everyone in." More people were coming up the stairs. Krauss strode up to the group, still glassy-eyed from the adrenaline. "Paramedics are coming," he told Max. "Hang in there." He looked up at Scully. "Which way to the basement?"

Remembering her last words to Sansome, Scully stood. "Follow me." *No need for anyone else to get shot...*

Max was in a sitting position when three state troopers strode in, still holding their sidearms. "Who's in charge here," the biggest one asked. He had sergeant's stripes on his shoulder.

Mulder shrugged. "I guess I am. Agent Mulder, FBI."

The trooper walked up to Mulder, but was looking down at Max. He was a head taller than Mulder, and looked like he fed on raw meat and birch trees. "What do you say, you little shit," he said, no heat in his voice.

Max glanced at the dying fire. *Goddess, you have a truly twisted sense of humor.* "How you doing, Richard?"

Mulder tried to hide his surprise. Sergeant Richard Caffey didn't notice. "Can't complain," he shrugged. His brown mustache was professionally trimmed, setting off his firm mouth well. "_You_ look like you could complain a little."

Max gave him a shrug of her own. It hurt. "Hey, if the asshole had used Cop Killer rounds instead of hollow-points, I'd be fucking up this nice rug. Help me up, will you?" Richard and Mulder both leaned down and took an arm, easing her to her feet. Max sucked in breath, but did not complain.

Richard looked over at Mulder. "We were only told there might be a dangerous situation here. We didn't know we were gonna run into a full-bore firefight. Who the hell were these people? The Symbionese Liberation Army?"

Mulder looked around the bullet-pocked building. "More like the Men's Liberation Army," he murmured.

Richard gave him an appraising stare. "You always did have interesting friends," he told Max.

Max tried not to laugh too hard. "If it's not interesting..."

"Max?"

Max stopped in mid-quote; they all turned. Scully was in the doorway, eyes red. Dread rolled over Max. "What...?"

Scully was very hoarse. "It's Mickey."

Max' mind went blank. She stood there with her jaw flapping, then pushed past Richard and ran out of the room, Scully right behind her.

Two QRT members and one trooper were in the kitchen when Max got there. They were trying to keep out of the blood, but the floor was drenched with it. The kitchen door was open; several bodies lay in the dead grass. Max stood over Mickey, his arms and legs splayed out at crazy angles, his neck a crimson mess. The detached voice that talked to Max at crime scenes was droning in her head. *Carotid artery. One, maybe two hits, maybe even a tap on the spinal cord. Express Mail, fast and painless...*

"Shut the fuck up," she whispered.

The trooper heard her. "What was that, ma'am?"

Max didn't hear him. She squatted down next to Mickey, a yawning emptiness growing in her stomach. Mickey's expression showed no fear, no pain. His eyes were flat and lifeless. They didn't look like his eyes. She reached under his glasses and closed them with her fingertips. *Game over,* the detached voice said. *Drive home safely.*

That was the last straw. The sorrow took hold of her, bringing up a torrent of tears. She felt hands on her. She would have shrugged them off, but they were Scully's hands. Scully eased her up and brought Max into her arms. Max cried hard, her ribs on fire with pain, her soul curled up in a tight little ball. She wanted to scream it, but she could only think it: *Why? _Why_?*

Scully held her close, fighting back her own tears. "Come on, Max," she said soothingly. "Let's go outside."

Max allowed herself to be led out of the room, oblivious to anything but her sadness. Mulder and Richard stood against the wall, giving them room to pass. Richard started to reach out to Max, but pulled back at the last second. Feeling ineffectual as hell, he watched his ex-wife go out into the night.

<<SATURDAY AFTERNOON>>

The House looked almost pretty in the daytime, even as far away as it was. A little more Indian Summer had broken through, giving the news reporter a fine sunny backdrop.

"...The real reason why the Circle of Fire mounted this brutal assault on the South Shore Women's Center may never be known, as all the members of the group were killed in the shoot-out with law enforcement. Officials are counting twenty-one dead, including two Massachusetts State Police troopers and a Boston Homicide detective -- 30 year-old Michael Kreutzmann of Brighton. However, the targets of this vicious attack -- the staff and residents of the South Shore Women's Center -- are all alive and unhurt, thanks to quick thinking and teamwork on the part of police, and the FBI..."

Max turned the TV off with the remote control. Stretching hurt, but not as much. Demerol made everything feel better. *Well, almost everything.* Mulder & Scully sat in the visitors' chairs next to Max' bed. They'd been able to get a change of clothes and a shower, but they hadn't slept much, and it showed. Max looked glumly at them. "Killed in a shoot-out with law enforcement. Where have I read that before?"

Mulder essayed a Smirk, but it was weak. "Might have been in a case file somewhere."

Max leaned back into the pillows. "They got it wrong. They didn't say anything about Priest and Davenport... or Davis, or whatever his name is."

"We still haven't found hard evidence of the link," Scully said quietly. "The files on Davenport's computer are typical patient files -- case histories, write-ups of sessions, that kind of thing. No mentions of the Circle at all, at least not so far." She glanced at Mulder. "Our sources haven't been able to find a trace of a Louis Davis _anywhere_. Not even in the VA hospital's records."

"We might be able to find out more about where Davenport got some of his subjects," Mulder piped up. "According to his appointment book, Davenport did volunteer psychiatric work at two other free clinics in the Boston area. If we cross-matched his patient files, we might be able to solve these murders. Maybe others."

"The brass sounds like they want to put it all behind us," Max said morosely.

Mulder & Scully looked at each other. "That'll happen, Max," Scully said neutrally.

Earlier in the day, Max watched a press conference led by the captain, some heavy hitters from the Mayor's office, and someone from the FBI field office Max didn't recognize. Charles Renko was nowhere in sight. The captain summed it up for all the officials when he lauded "the actions of the fine men and women who brought this unsavory situation to an end." Mulder & Scully listened to the press conference on the way back to the hospital. As governmental whitewashes go, Mulder rated it a 6: "Easy to swallow, but no melody."

Max stared at the blank TV screen. "Somebody has to pay. For Mickey. For all of it."

Mulder looked down at the floor. "Depending on your theological point of view, they're paying right now."

The door opened and a bald man with glasses walked in. He had an aura of command Max could feel from across the room. Mulder & Scully got to their feet immediately. "Agents," the man said tersely, "You don't look much the worse for wear."

"We were just lucky _enough_, sir," Mulder said. "QRT had great timing."

"So I see." He turned towards Max. "This is Detective Maxfield?"

Scully looked impassive, but she was noticeably pale. She indicated Max with a nod. "Yes, sir. Umm, Max, this is our superior, AD Skinner..."

The bald man stepped towards the bed. "Walter Skinner, Detective Maxfield."

*Sacred shit!* Max felt like she'd swallowed a watermelon whole. "Sir," she said, clearing her throat. "You'll excuse me if I don't get up."

Skinner waved her back down. "Don't even bother _sitting_ up, Detective. You've earned your rest."

Max did a head-shrug. "I got good help, sir."

Skinner stood at Parade Rest by the bed. "I've just finished a long talk with _your_ superior, Lieutenant Weeks. He had some very complimentary things to say about you."

*Loot must not have gotten much sleep last night, either,* Max didn't say. "I'm pleased to hear that, sir."

"He also said your partner is to be buried with full honors, including the Medal of Valor," Skinner added, his tone a little softer.

*Won't bring him back, though...* Max let out a little sigh. "He earned it. Sir."

Skinner nodded, looking mildly uncomfortable. "Agents," he said, not looking at Mulder & Scully, "a word outside, please?"

"Yes, sir," Scully said, sharing a look with Mulder.

They filed out of the room as Skinner backed away, still looking at Max, remembering Scully in a hospital bed in Washington almost two weeks before, concussed and in a neck brace, still disoriented from her accident. (*'Max,' she'd said. 'Is Max all right?' Urgent, bordering on terrified...*) Skinner had a lot of things he wanted to know, and a lot of things he didn't. For lack of anything else to say, he simply nodded and said, "Detective."

Max nodded back, as respectful as a headful of tranquilizers would allow her. "Sir." She blew out a breath as soon as Skinner closed the door.

Mulder & Scully were waiting outside. A short man with longish brown hair and aviator glasses stood with them. "Agents," Skinner said. "I believe you know AD Britton."

"We just met, Walt," Britton told him. He smiled briefly at Scully. "And got re-acquainted."

Scully didn't smile, but she did nod. "Sir," she said to Skinner, "We want the situation with Agent Duguay to be resolved, but couldn't this wait..."

Skinner cut her off. "The situation _has_ been resolved, Agent Scully, at least as far as you and Agent Mulder are concerned. You've both been officially cleared in Agent Duguay's death."

Mulder & Scully shared a look of relief. "I imagine SAC Renko's not pleased with that decision," Mulder declared.

"Chuck Renko's got more pressing matters on his mind," Britton said earnestly. "Like what he's going to do with his free time after we get done with him."

Scully's brow furrowed. "Excuse me?"

Skinner looked down the hall. "It's been determined Special Agent Renko put both of you under unauthorized covert surveillance. He had listening devices put in both your rooms, and had you followed during the first part of this case."

Mulder felt heat rise in his neck. "We guessed about the bugs. We didn't know about the tails."

Scully held herself still. *Did he listen to the tapes? Did anyone?* "How did this come out? As far as we could tell, Renko kept himself at a remove."

"That he did," Britton confirmed. "Didn't put anything on paper, either. You'd think he would've learned from his buddy's mistakes. We wouldn't have known about it at all if Duguay's partner hadn't contacted me."

Mulder had to fight down a Roger Rabbit Moment. "Deerfield told you about it?"

Britton nodded. "He and Duguay came out of the Academy together. He couldn't handle his friend dying for such a bad reason."

"And that reason was what," Scully asked, her jaw hanging free.

Britton smiled at her apologetically. "Renko was Gordon Beauchamp's partner before Beauchamp got promoted to SAC. He honestly felt you were part of a conspiracy to oust Beauchamp, and wanted to get evidence of that conspiracy. That was why he asked for you, and _only_ you, on this case. Even if he couldn't use it officially, he could leak the information to Beauchamp's lawyers, and they could use it as part of a civil suit against the Bureau."

"So much for that idea," Mulder said, Smirking unashamedly.

"And it didn't pan out anyway," Britton nodded. "Duguay must have screwed up the install on his infinity bugs, because there was nothing on the surveillance tapes but ground hum." Scully took as deep a breath as she could without being noticeable. "To his credit, Beauchamp's sticking with his former partner. In exchange for leniency on Renko, Beauchamp's dropping the complaint against Brian Moncrief, and is accepting early retirement on half-pension. He's also shitcanning a plan to Gary Aldrich the Bureau and write a tell-all book. The Director's pleased about that last little item. Beauchamp's been with the Bureau almost thirty years, and he knows where a lot of bodies are buried."

"What about Renko," Scully wanted to know.

"Six months suspension, followed by reduction in grade and re-assignment." Britton grinned like a winner. "I hear Salt Lake City's beautiful in the spring."

"That's all he gets," Mulder asked, surprised. "I would have thought trying to frame the militia would have gotten him nailed to the cross."

"Actually, the arrest attempt was legitimate," Skinner put in. "ATF had received information that the SADL had robbed two banks to raise funds to buy weapons -- the weapons stolen from the South Carolina arms dealer. The seller held back a handful of assault rifles and handguns, but sold the rest to the SADL."

"Stafford Priest," Scully said.

Skinner nodded. "It seems he served with the SADL's commanding officer in Vietnam. We found some of the shipment in a basement vault at the Circle's headquarters. We also found an area that might have been used for a lab of some kind, but it had been cleaned out."

Mulder's ears pinned back. "The lab was more important than the weapons. Sir, this has to prove Davenport's link with Priest."

Skinner shook his head. "All you have is a phone call, Agent Mulder. The doctor's LUDs do show a call to the Circle's compound, but anyone who took that call is dead now. As is Davenport."

"Sir..."

Skinner wasn't gentle about cutting him off. "Agent Mulder, Boston PD says this case has been put down. And unless something truly earth-shaking is found in Davenport's records, I'm inclined to agree. Barring that occurrence, I'll expect your reports on my desk by the close of business Monday." He gave them both a look that might have been fatherly. "Get some rest." He turned on his heel and walked down the hall. Britton nodded to them and followed.

Mulder watched them go, trying to calm down. "Ever feel like you're running in place?"

Scully rubbed her eyes with her right hand. "Most days."

He stuffed his hands in his pockets. "There's got to be a soda machine _somewhere_ in this hospital. You want anything?"

"Something sweet. Thanks." She watched Mulder stalk off, feeling his frustration, then stepped back into Max' room.

Max was lying back again, looking out the window. The hospital was close to the shore, and you could see the ocean if you knew where to look. "How's life in the outside world," Max said quietly.

Scully came over and sat in the chair next to the bed. "We're off the hook. We didn't kill Ken Duguay."

A faint smile crossed Max' lips. "I could have told them that."

Scully smiled herself. "You might be accused of bias."

Max feigned mild offense. "Bias, hell. I'm the Murder Police. I _know_ these things."

Scully laughed softly, but not long. Max hadn't looked at her yet. Scully took her hand. "Are you okay?"

Max' voice was utterly lifeless. "Are you sure you wanna be hanging around me?"

Scully was shocked to her toes. "What?"

Max still didn't look at her. "Mickey's dead. Bear's got to take a desk job. Last night was the third time in a month where we've been someplace where death was a possibility..."

Scully's eyes were wide as saucers. "What are you talking about?"

"That shrink I had to see after we stopped Joel... She asked if I thought violence gravitated towards me." Her shoulders moved slightly, not quite a shrug. "I'm beginning to wonder if she's right."

Scully wanted to shake sense back into Max. Instead, she squeezed her hand and spoke gently. "Max, _you_ didn't kill Mickey. _You_ didn't shoot the Bear. You had no control over anything that happened..."

Max squeezed her eyes shut, her mouth in a grimace. "I don't _know_ that!"

"Max, don't talk crazy," Scully demanded, letting her anger go now. "You're feeling guilty because of Mickey. I understand that. But he died trying to save the lives of others! And he made his own choice! You didn't send him to the back of the house! As cold as it sounds, we are in a violent profession. Sometimes, people get killed. Don't try and use that to drive a wedge between us!"

Max turned to Scully, eyes red. "I would die if I ever lost you. I would cease to exist." She sniffled, swallowed. "But if I ever lost you because I put you in a situation I couldn't control..."

"Any situation I'm in, I'm there because I _choose_ to be there," Scully said, knowing that was an outrageous lie. "And if we use our heads, we can _get out_ of any situation, in one piece. Together."

Max searched her face. "You're not scared of what might happen? Not even a little?"

Scully pushed the chair as close to the bed as she could. "Max, my life was on autopilot before I met you. I didn't _live_, I _existed_. I _survived_." She put her hand on Max' cheek. Max leaned into it, her lip quivering. "You're part of me now. The world hasn't made anything scary enough to change that."

Max' voice was husky with emotion. "What good deed did I do to deserve you?"

Scully had to blink to clear the mist from her vision. "You said 'Hello.'"

Tears ran down Max' face as she shut her eyes. "I love you so much, Dana Scully," she whispered.

Scully leaned forward so they touched foreheads. "I love you, too, Becca Maxfield."

They held each other as best they could over the hospital bed's railing, breaking away only when Mulder knocked softly on the door.

<<ONE WEEK LATER>>

Max had wanted to be a pallbearer at Mickey's funeral, but her ribs were still painful then, and she knew the chances of her dropping the casket were better than even. So she sat in the front row with his mother, sisters, and girlfriend; Mulder & Scully had wanted to be there, too, but were barely in the office half a day before they were sent out on another case. Max had held it together, even through the endless series of toasts at the Pouring after the funeral. Then she went home and cried her eyes out. She spent two hours on the phone with Rose, and then Scully called from somewhere in Nebraska. Scully was beat from traveling; as was usually the case, the place they were sent was nowhere near civilization, and they hadn't found a motel with two vacanct rooms until just before 11. But she talked with Max for an hour-and-a-half, and at the end they both felt a little better.

On the fifth day of her week-long enforced medical leave, Max was bouncing off the walls of her apartment, so she went in to get her paycheck. She got good words from the boys, supportive noises from Weeks, and a quick introduction to Bridgit Benedetto, Mickey's replacement. Max knew the model-thin North End native by reputation; B-Squared had been making a name for herself in Sex Crimes, tracking down rapists and pedophiles. Two weeks before, she had helped Vice shut down a teenage prostitution ring in Roxbury, and the transfer to Homicide was her reward. Bridgit was a natural actress; she could pass for a surly adolescent runaway or a naive college freshperson, but she was no babe in the woods when it came to the job. Even so, Max was glad to see Loot had paired her with Hegeman, who was senior Murder Police now that Bear was going off the job. Max was going through her mail and phone messages when the call came in.

"Take the Green Line to Park Street," the voice said without introduction. "Go down to the center platform of the Red Line, face the Outbound side, and wait. Half an hour."

*Male, maybe mid-30s, a little accent. Do I know him?* "Look, I'm in a meaningful relationship," she said, trying to sound like she was joking. "I'm not looking for any blind dates..."

"Just do it if you want to find out about Joey." That stopped Max' sense of humor in its tracks. "Half an hour. Come alone, and make sure you're not followed." Click. Max was out of the building in a few minutes, but with people stopping to offer condolences and support, it seemed like an hour.

It wasn't near Rush Hour yet, but Park Street Station was already buzzing with that Friday, first-day-of-the-weekend spirit. The first major cold snap had arrived Wednesday, so everyone was down-jacketed and scarfed within an inch of their lives, most of them complaining about the bitter temperatures. Max shook her head at all of it. *You'd think these people had forgotten what part of the country they live in.* Not that she liked Winter; she just accepted it as part of the price you pay for living at the hub of the Universe.

Max walked behind the crowd that moved from the Green Line to the Red Line, which ran one floor below. Going from the Green Line to the Red Line was like transferring from a biplane to a starship; the Green Line was still a trolley line, no matter how up-to-date the trolley may have been, while the Red Line was a silver subway of the modern era. What the Red Line lacked in romanticism, it made up for in seating capacity, which was why Max preferred it. She would have walked from police headquarters, but time was not on her side, and the man on the other end of the phone had been very specific about her mode of transport.

Max went over the call again as she went down the stairs to the platform. It had come in after she walked into the squadroom. Someone knew she was there, or had been waiting for her to get back to work. *Was he following me? Had he been calling? No weird messages in my 'In' box...*

Max reached the bottom of the stairs and turned to face Outbound. *And the $64,000 question: Is this a set-up?* The crowd ahead of her was two-deep and bustling. She stood a step behind it, in case someone had an idea about making her a tragic accident. She kept her bomber jacket unzipped, her hands in the pockets. Her left hand held a Mace dispenser, while her right wrist rested against an Exact-O knife. If this was a trap, someone was going to get hurt besides her.

"How you doin', Detective?"

Max looked casually to her right. Even with the ambient noise, she should have heard as big a package as Leon pull up next to her. "I'm doing, Leon. You live in Cambridge, too?"

Leon stood with his hands in the pockets of his black duster, looking over the heads of the people in front of him. "Were you followed?"

She cocked her head. "That didn't sound like you on the phone."

"It wasn't. Were you followed?"

"Oh yeah," Max said off-handedly. "TAC Squad's all on the Inbound side. They always had a lousy sense of direction."

Leon sighed heavily. "Don't practice your material on me, Detective. I'm just a messenger, and we didn't _have_ to give this to you."

Max gave him a friendly smile. "We don't have to have this discussion _here_, either. We can have it down at headquarters, after I bust you for withholding information about a crime. Maybe Aiding and Abetting, maybe even pulling down the job _yourself_..."

"My lawyer'll have me out in five minutes," Leon said blandly. "Andy Funigello will hammer you for pissing on his turf. And you won't be able to give him anything substantial, because you didn't have time to trace the call, and you're not wired." He smiled down at her. "Are you?"

Max held the stare for a few moments before she sighed and looked at the people ahead of her. "It's your meeting. Talk to me."

Leon nodded and resumed staring over the crowd. "Mr. Cellini wants you to know you still don't owe him anything."

"Which means what?"

"Joey didn't get offed because of you."

The platform was pretty warm, but Max felt very cold. "So you _did_ do him."

Leon shook his head. "_We_ didn't. Someone else was nice enough to handle that."

"Who?"

He shook his head again. "Sorry. Not part of the message."

Max looked up at the peeling ceiling. "I figure an Asian crew. The castration thing. It's very big with gangs from 'Nam."

Leon smile was chock-full of irony. "They don't talk a lot when they get busted, either. Kinda like us."

Max figured that was as good as she was going to get. "Okay. Why'd he have to die, if not because of me?"

Leon took a hand out of his pocket and made an uncertain gesture. "Well, you get a _little_ credit. He was off the beam after you two danced. Beating on hookers, slappin' around customers, snapping out at any little thing. He fucked up one shop guy in Charlestown so bad, the poor son of a bitch nearly died. He was only three days past on the vig. Mr. Cellini brought Joey in after that. They had a scream-out, and Joey hit him."

Max' eyes nearly flew out of her face. "He _hit_ him?"

Leon nodded, still amazed two weeks later. "Broke his nose. Winston woulda stomped Joey flat if he hadn't thrown down on him with that Dirty Harry piece'a his." Leon chuckled. "You shoulda heard him after we left the garage. He bitched about losing his old .44 more than he did about almost gettin' greased by Mr. Cellini. Why he didn't wax Winston _and_ the Boss, I don't know. Anyway, he ran." He shrugged. "We found him."

*And that was that.* "And Tommy C doesn't want anything out of me."

"Nope."

Max turned to face Leon, thumb on the trigger of the small canister. "Why?"

Leon shook his head yet again. "Not part of the message."

Max let her frustration answer that. "Come on, Leon! Pretend you have free will! Why isn't Tommy C calling me on this?"

Leon looked at the people on the opposite platform before he said, "'Cause he knows he's not gonna get anything out of you."

"Why," Max persisted.

Leon turned to face Max. *This must be what it looks like when the Sphinx wants to face the sun,* she thought. "I've been with Mr. Cellini twenty years, Detective," Leon said quietly. "Ever since I got chucked outta high school for slugging my football coach, and my dad got me a job runnin' errands. I've seen a lot of bad cops. I _know_ a lot of bad cops. You wanna know something? We don't _make_ cops bad. A bad cop is a bad cop _already_. He's just waiting for a taste to come along. An' if he comes to us, then he ain't just bad, he's desperate." He shrugged. "You ain't desperate."

"And I'm not a bad cop," Max said, more a statement than a question.

Leon shook his head. "You're a _tough_ cop," he said. "That's something we don't fuck with. Unless it's absolutely necessary." A whistling, roaring sound started coming from the tunnel to their right. The train was approaching the station. "Gonna bust me?"

Max didn't even crack a smile. "Not _today_."

Leon cracked one. "Have a good one, Detective." The train pulled to a stop, the doors directly in front of him. Leon moved with the crowd onto the silver subway, disembarking passengers giving him a wide berth. Max watched him go. Leon didn't get a seat, grabbing onto one of the overhead support poles with one of his big beefy hands. He smiled out at her, pointed his thumb and forefinger like a gun, and dropped the hammer as the train started to move.

"Max? _Max_?"

Max snapped out of her thoughts, sort of. "Huh?"

Scully looked over at her from the passenger side of the Beretta, eyebrow held high. "Would you like the light in _another_ shade of green?"

Max looked up at the traffic light just as the car behind her beeped its horn. "Sorry," she said haltingly, moving into the intersection. "Mind fart."

"One more day, honey," Scully said, giving Max' leg a squeeze. "Back at work the day after tomorrow."

"Thank God." Max took the first left, driving up a narrow street with cars on both sides. "Hope we can find a parking space."

"Now, whose birthday is it again?"

"Jane, my big sister," Max said. "37 as of yesterday. Tis the season to have birthdays. Randy turned 39 the week before you and I met. We've been busting on him about how some countries call it the beginning of his 40th year. Needless to say, he wasn't pleased."

"Cruel," Scully remarked.

"We kid because we love. Here we go."

Max pulled into a slot next to a two-story house with pale yellow paint and dirty white trim. Snow was piled in the yard, but the driveway and path were both shoveled. A covered porch was bordered by a thin iron railing. Cars sat end-to-end in the driveway from the edge of the street to the one-car garage that sat separate from the house at the back of the back yard. Max pointed at the Chrysler minivan at the end of the driveway. "That's Janie's ride. If they ever need a poster girl for soccer moms, she's gonna get the gig."

Scully's breath fogged up the window as she examined the house. "It looks like home," she said plainly.

"Three bedrooms, one-and-a-half baths, five kids. The Brady Bunch, it was _not_." Max' grin was almost childlike. "But it had its moments." She killed the engine and pulled the wrapped box -- a set of martini glasses -- out of the backseat. "Come on, we're late."

They locked up the Beretta and stepped over the snow piles onto the cleared sidewalk. It was the only part of the sidewalk on the whole street that was cleared and salted. Max opened the gate for Scully and walked quickly up the path. The Beatles filtered through the door and down the path, Lennon and McCartney's harmonies warming the chill November air.

"If I trust in you
 Oh please, don't run and hide
 If I love you, too
 Oh please, don't hurt my pride
 Like her
 'Cause I couldn't stand the pain..."

Just before they reached the steps, Scully stopped. Max paused on the second step and looked back. Scully was expressionless, but her eyes were not. She wasn't this nervous the first time she went to bed with Max. Her legs felt like they were encased in blocks of ice, and she couldn't stop holding her breath.

Max stepped back down and held out a hand. "I love you," she said tenderly. "So will they."

Scully took Max' hand and squeezed it, exhaling. "I love you, too."

"Then come on, girl. We're still late." They went up the stairs together, Max opening the door without knocking. "Okay, you mokes," she yelled into the crowded living room. "Nobody move! This is a bust!"

"Aunt Becky," two kid-sized voices piped like steamboats. Two equally blonde, equally gorgeous little girls ran at Max like charging bulls and hugged her midsection ferociously. They were in stocking feet and both wore tie-dyed t-shirts that hung below their knees.

"Easy, rugrats, easy," Max laughed. Max quickly handed the box off to Scully and hugged them back. "I'm still wounded in action!"

Each girl took Max by a hand and pulled. "Come see! Come see," one insisted, more hopping than walking.

"Mommy's getting _presents_," the other one informed her excitedly, wonder oozing from every pore.

"That's a coincidence," Max said, allowing herself to be dragged.

Scully followed behind, unable to do anything but laugh. The living room could have been large, but it was jammed with three generations of family, all surrounding a well-dressed woman in a brown reclining chair. She looked like Max, if Max wore her hair long and curly. "Oh boy," she said brightly. "More loot!"

"You're way too mercenary, Janie," Max said, winking at her older sister. She exchanged kisses, hugs and greetings with various relatives and in-laws. A gray-haired woman in a gray sweater and jeans broke out of the group, shooed the girls gently away, and hugged Max gently. "Hi, Mom," Max said, burying her face in the woman's shoulder.

"I thought you'd _never_ get here," the woman said kindly. She was a head taller than Max, but other than that, the resemblance was strong. "We've almost opened all the presents."

"Don't worry, I'll make up for it." Max bugged out her eyes. "Ooooooooh! Ahhhhhhhh!"

The room broke up, the girls giggling loudest of all. The woman slapped her arm lightly. "Sassbox," she said, smiling too. She looked past Max at Dana and held out a hand. "Hi. I'm Paula Maxfield, Rebecca's mom."

*Now I know how Melissa's boyfriends felt when she brought them home to meet Dad.* "Dana Scully," Scully said, squeezing Paula's hand. "I'm so happy to meet you."

"Likewise." Paula's handshake was firm, the smile warm and real. "Can I take your coat?"

"One second, Mom," Max said, taking Scully by the other hand and leading her to the middle of the room. "Let there be a hush upon the land!" The room piped down. Max stood arm-to-arm with Scully, their fingers interlocked. "Everybody?" She looked up at Scully, proud and happy and deeply in love. "This is Dana."

<<FIVE DAYS EARLIER>>

"No-one else knows about this." It was not a question.

"No, sir."

"There are no copies of this tape." Neither was that.

"No, sir." The man just looked at him. "No, sir," he said, a little more firmly. He didn't know anyone who liked the man, but everyone he knew feared him. Forget what the man had done, or was rumored to have done. His cold eyes and emotionless voice were enough to make you want to please this man by any means necessary. The eyes were worse than usual today; he could see Duguay's last expression in them.

The man seemed to accept the affirmation. "And the data?"

"Being evaluated now. Records were retrieved from both sites. Early assessments say they refined some of Auto Shop's accomplishments, but was unable to adapt the self-destruct..."

"The records' removal will not be traced?"

He'd practiced answers to all potential questions, so he wouldn't stumble. Stumbling in front of this man was an unpardonable sign of weakness. "The Ashby site is clean. We have all hardware and software. Our operative in the police department's computer analysis division was able to erase all files from Davis' hard drive, and replace backup discs with blanks. No-one should ask any questions."

"I would hope not," the man said, examining the cassette he held by thumb and forefinger.

His visitor noticed this. "Sir, doesn't this tape help us? The information on it could wreck Agent Scully's career. If Agent Mulder is to be controlled..."

The man cut him off with a look. "Then it is _not_ through Agent Scully. Not in that fashion. An _overt_ threat towards her would bring out the protective instinct in Mulder. He could lash out at us. Steps would have to be taken." His stare made his visitor shiver. "That is something I do _not_ want. Do I make myself clear?"

"Y-yes, sir," his visitor stammered, fear and self-protection overtaking vanity. "I'm sorry, sir."

The man looked back at the tape. "Thank you, Deerfield. That will be all."

"Thank you, sir," Deerfield nodded, grateful for the dismissal. He walked stiffly out of the office, feeling a strong need for a hot shower.

The man waited for the door to close before he slipped the tape into the Sony player in the top drawer of his desk, pushing the 'Rewind' and 'Erase' buttons at the same time. Even though he had no interest in the sordid details, the revelation about Agent Scully's sexual orientation was a surprise; he'd studied her profile before she was assigned to the X Files, and she had shown no inclination towards any sort of deviant behavior. He would make sure this new development was not added to the profile; someone in the group might get the same idea Deerfield started to voice. *Nothing must interfere with the work,* he thought. *And petty blackmail scenarios can undermine everything I've accomplished. And everything I'm _going_ to accomplish.*

*Besides,* he thought, smiling faintly to himself, *she deserves to have _some_ pleasure in the time she has left.* The data on what happened if the chip was removed from a subject's neck was quite time-specific. He lit a Morley as he watched the wheels in the recorder spin.

<<PAUSE>>

Dana Scully will return in...

"THE ROAD NOT TAKEN 6: TYPHOON"

Be there. Aloha. Questions, comments, flames and fanmail to drjohn@wizvax.net.