Joining the Ranks I: Maliach Adom
by G. Harbowy grh@teatime.com

Disclaimer: The X-Files, its characters, trademarks, and locations are property of 1013 and Fox, and lots of other people who aren't me. They are used herein for entertainment value but not for profit. No infringement intended.

[note: David Duchovny has said that he will consider Mulder to be Jewish until informed otherwise. Like a growing number of fanfic writers, I consider Mulder to be Jewish, too. Additionally, I'm sure that the bureau doesn't let college kids intern in VCS, but if you can suspend disbelief enough to let Mulder pass the psych evaluations, I hope you'll suspend it a little more and grant Agent Fordham her resume. As for the title (Maliach Adom), no, it's not English, and yes, you'll understand it by the end of the story.]


June 21, 1996
J. Edgar Hoover Building
11:00 AM

I'd been in that elevator every day of my FBI career, since I started as a summer intern in college, but I'd never hit the button for the basement before. After all the rumors we'd heard about Agent Mulder and his paranormal interests, even when I was the copy girl for Violent Crimes, I wasn't exactly sure what I'd find when the doors opened. To my relief, it looked like every other floor in the Hoover Building. There was an open area with low-walled cubicles and the noise of chatter and ringing phones. But I knew that the office I wanted was down the file cabinet-lined hallway.

The door with Mulder's name plate on it was easy enough to find. I rapped gently, even though it was open and a light was on inside. Soon enough, the baritone voice I remembered invited me in.

"Agent Mulder?" I asked.

"Jenine?" he asked with disbelief, looking up from the open file on his desk. His reading glasses were on, which meant he was working hard. He squinted as his eyes refocused, and his normal monotone control returned. "Is it June already? I'm afraid I don't have any copies for you to make -- we have our own machine down here."

"No," I laughed. "I graduated a couple years ago. Now it's Agent Fordham, Linguistics Department."

Mulder's eyes softened into a smile. He stood from his work and came toward the door to shake my hand. "Congratulations, Agent Fordham. Have a seat. You must be the linguistics specialist I requested."

"Yes...I specialize in semitic languages. A long way from the copy room." I ran a hand nervously through my cropped black hair. "I'm sorry I never got down to visit you here. They keep me busy."

"And my reputation is nothing for a new agent to get associated with." He said it without expression, like it was something he told himself in the mirror. I could only shrug.

"Everyone from my intern days still treats me like a kid. Like I'm only good for copying and faxing. I was sure you'd be different, but I guess I didn't want to give you a chance to disappoint me."

The smile came back. "Fair enough. So, Fordham, you up for a challenge?"

"You look like you haven't slept in days. I've got a feeling I'd better be."

He went back to the file he'd been reading and picked up a page, handing it to me. "My partner, Agent Scully, will be back this afternoon with more to go on. But in the meantime, I've got a photocopy for you. Tell me what you make of this."

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"Well, it's right up my alley.. that's for sure." I turned the photo in and out of the light, hoping that by changing the angle I could make more sense of it, but it didn't help. "It's the Hebraic alphabet, but that alphabet, just like ours, is used for more than one language. I'd have to see more in context to determine whether the writing is actually Hebrew, or if it's Yiddish or Aramaic." It was a bad sample, with only two words on the page, one above the other, and none of the nikudot -- dots below and around the characters which signify vowels. The symbols weren't necessary, but they might have made things easier. The letters were huge and blurry, as if the page was a multi-generation copy of an enlarged copy.

"Yeah, I haven't seen these characters since my Bar Mitzvah, but I recognized them. You can't tell which language it is from this sample?"

I shook my head. "Unfortunately, no. They overlap some words, and this," I pointed to a set of three characters, " by coincidence is one of them. It could be a familiar form of the word 'father' in any of these languages. The writing is definately done by hand, by someone who probably studied calligraphy and writes with an appropriate type of pen, but you probably already knew that from the handwriting specialists. But people writing by hand will almost always write in cursive - it's a much freer-flowing form of the language than the print form used in books, and therefore faster and easier on the hand. I'm surprised that this is written in print. And without nikud it's much more difficult to discern the writer's level of grammar."

"Can you tell if it's from a religious text?" he asked. He'd come around behind me, and was looking at the page over my shoulder.

"Not from this copy - I'd have to see what kind of paper it's on. The ink looks too clear to be an antique, and there's no reason a modern book would be written by hand in this way. Unless it's some kind of parchment or award certificate. If it's Hebrew, a Jewish artifact like the scrolls of a Torah, are written on parchment made from the hides of kosher animals, but I can't make out much from this copy --it's been enlarged too far. Where's the original?"

"I can get you more of the text, but that's just the thing, Fordham. It's not exactly portable."

"What do you mean, it's not portable? Is the paper under glass somewhere?"

"I mean that it's not on paper. The original is a rock painting in Texas."

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12:45 PM

Agent Scully returned to the office after lunch, and we made our official aquaintance. She tucked her manila folder under her arm to shake my hand with a smile, then turned business again as she gave the envelope to her partner. She'd been out collecting more of the text, she said; a task made more frustrating than difficult by the long wait for the photographer to turn in his pictures and for the regional office to get around to sending them. It was another poor copy, a photocopy of a fax, looking as if it had been written in the hand of someone who didn't know the alphabet and was just copying the figures left-to-right. . .but at least the entire text was visible.

Looking around in vain for a clear spot, I managed to find a spare inch of desk and start poring over it, not even bothering to sit down. I'd only managed to get about halfway through the first paragraph before I was interrupted.

"Well?" Mulder asked, leaning over me, "Anything?"

"Give me a minute... I have to get a little further into the document before I can attempt to tell you what it says. It's definately Hebrew. You can tell from the verb conjugations. And possibly old. Hebrew as a language hasn't changed much in the last 4,000 years, but some of the words do become archaic, like this one --" I pointed to a set of three figures, the last two of which (right to left, that is) were the same. Scully came around to my other side and looked as well. "This is pronounced "leyvav". It means heart. But it hasn't been written that way in a long time - in modern or conversational hebrew, the word is 'leyv'."

"So it's an archaic site?" Scully asked, her brows furrowed in thought.

"Wait..." I traced down the page with my fingers, looking for distinguishing words, and felt triumphant when I found one. "No, it must be modern." I looked up at her. "This is the word for telephone. It's a new word, taken from the English, and pronounced just like the English. Even Agent Mulder's 'ancient astronaut' theories wouldn't account for its appearance in ancient Hebraic text."

"Maybe this'll reveal that the eleventh commandment was 'Thou shalt reach out and touch someone'," he suggested.

"Modern words can't appear in ancient texts, but the archaic forms could be used poetically in modern texts, the way English-speakers use 'thee' and 'thou'." Scully supplied.

"Possibly," I agreed. "But the more important question here is why someone in Texas would paint in Hebrew on a rock."

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We planned to work late that night, so I went back upstairs and finished up my current project so that I could focus my energy on the mysterious rock painting. The two agents downstairs also finished paperwork from their previous assignment. The rest of the day passed uneventfully for me as I transcribed in Hebrew script the phone call of the Israeli ambassador's aide, collected by wiretap and suspected of being involved in the assassination of the Prime Minister. At 5:00, when I'd usually fight subway traffic and leave for the day, I was finishing up the call and leaving notes for my replacement on the future translation of the conversation.

I packed up my briefcase and, instead of leaving the building, went back to the basement. They were waiting for me, and apparently had agreed to put the case on hold for a little while to grab some dinner and catch me up. I'd never gotten to know Mulder when I was an intern, but I'd had a respect for him, and it was increasing as I watched him as an equal. Agent Scully was just as serious, and just as dedicated. She was someone I'd want to get to know outside of work, but I knew not to push it -- I hadn't been with the Bureau all that long, but I'd been there long enough to make a rule for myself: not to get too close to people who have a job description which includes chasing armed suspects.

The two of them had an amazing rapport. I'd seen Mulder with co-workers and partners before, but he'd never seemed to warm to any of them so much. Then again, I don't think he'd been with the same partner for more than a couple years before, and that tends to foster closeness.

They'd both had longer days than I'd had, and ordered coffee with their meals. I'm not much of a coffee drinker, so I got my usual iced tea, unsweetened. They were telling me about the serial murder case they'd just come back from: the one whose paperwork they'd just finished in the office before dinner.

"I guess you don't see much of that type of thing in your department," Scully was saying to me, around a bite of club sandwich.

"Not usually," I agreed. "Decoding sometimes -- people often think that the older languages will make untranslatable code --or voice identification and wire surveillance and transcription. But nothing that's involved anything like that. . .nothing like the work field agents normally do. No travel. No guns. Just a cushy desk job that's a little hard on the eyes. Which brings me to ask something I've been wondering. Why me? You could have gotten anyone to interpret this writing for you. Why bring a linguist in on the case?"

"I'm sorry to start you with so little information," Mulder apologized. "We needed someone internal on this. Would you believe there aren't many Hebraic scholars out there with academy training? Now, this may be a little hard for you to swallow, but stick with me."

"Conspiracies?" Scully interjected. "Government coverups? Aliens?"

"Jewish aliens?" I added.

"Just stick with me," Mulder repeated, stealing a french fry off my plate. "And drink up. Your tea is getting watery."

"In 1946," he began, "in a small town in Texas, there was a man named Joe Cain who claimed he had psychic abilities. That he was posessed by a spirit which helped him to see future events. He did all the standard precognition stunts -- mailed himself envelopes containing his predictions, so that he could prove that they were pre-dated... had his statements notarized. But no one paid him any attention."

"I'm no psychologist, but I can recognize the classic Cassandra syndrome. The Greek seeress," I said, "who was cursed to know the future but to never be believed about it."

"Exactly. Except that when Cassandra was ignored, she didn't start disemboweling people. Our friend Joseph did. Finally, after he figured he'd been written off one time too many, he wrote his predictions as graffiti on the walls of buildings in the town. With the blood of his victims."

I looked down at my hands, spotted with tomato sauce, and found myself reaching for a napkin.

"That's charming. But, dare I ask, what does it have to do with the writing you showed me?"

"Small towns usually foster a lot of superstition and a lot of talk. The residents of this particular town think that Joseph has returned. Only this time, as the spirit. The site is classified, to discourage gawkers and copycats, but one of the locals discovered it, and the rumor spread faster than it could be contained."

"That still doesn't explain the use of Hebrew," Scully observed. "Was Joe Cain even Jewish?"

"Many of the Jews and other immigrants around the world wars had their names bastardized by the officials at Ellis Island. Kohain, a common jewish surname, became Cohen, Kahn, and conceivably Cain," I explained. "So it's a possibility. Besides, it's straight from the Old Testament, and that's about as Jewish as you can get. But we can't assume Cain was Jewish without some verification. After all, Jews don't corner the market on Hebrew speech and writing. Plenty of Gentiles living in Israel know it, too. What about the writer of our recent graffiti? Has he or she been identified yet?"

Mulder sighed. "Not yet, but I want to find him soon. Before he switches to a more... organic... source of ink."

"How soon do you think you can have it translated for us?" Scully asked.

"Tonight, without a doubt," I answered. "I was going to take it home and report back to you in the morning, but I think I can appreciate the urgency of the task. If I understand what you're saying, the next sample I get from you might not be so easy to read."

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"Dictation notes - Agent Jenine Fordham. The document is Hebrew print, written by hand, on a vertical rock face. The size of the lettering would indicate a brush, rather than a pen. Note that this Agent originally assumed the writing to have been enlarged on a photocopier: the figures are that thick, and the edges are that blurry. Letters vary too much from word to word for it to be a stencil. Nikudot around the letters are absent. Grammar seems good, but without vowels it's a lot harder to make grammatical errors. Document consists of three paragraphs, several sentences each. Modern punctuation, consisting of periods and commas. The most striking feature of the text itself, at first glance, is the inclusion of a mixture of archaic and new words. The ancient form of the word 'heart' is a stark contrast from the modern word 'telephone'. Writing seems to have been performed left-to-right, as if copying symbols without knowledge of their meaning.

"Paragraph one: 'I speak to you through the heart of another. You sought answers from your father, but you were too late. Your sister lives, but there are no answers for you at this time.

"Paragraph two: 'A telephone call will bring you news you want to hear. Do not go where the voice leads, or it shall be your doom.

"Paragraph three: 'Do not trust. Let the strength of your beliefs be your comfort. Punishment will be granted by higher hands. Truth will find you in its time.'

"Well...It's obviously a message to someone, and a fairly inspirational one. Sounds like whoever this is directed to will be in big trouble if they don't listen. I'm stunned by the poetry of the document, but even more surprised that it was written in a semi-public place without the author being observed --writing such metaphoric prose must have taken some time, and the lettering doesn't look rushed or impatient; there's not a single instance where the author got carried away and forgot to dip his brush. The paint is consistent and even. This, and the scribe-like left-to-right-seeming writing would suggest that whoever did the actual painting was just copying from a piece of paper, not creating the text himself."

I clicked off my dictation recorder and put it on the desk, pulling off my reading glasses with a sigh. The office light, which had seemed dim while I worked, now seemed too bright. I knew my eyes were tired, but I also knew how important this was. I picked up the recorder and folder. Time for another trip to the basement.

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9:13 PM

Mulder was out of the office, but Scully was seated at the table, flipping through a stack of copies. I didn't bother to knock before I entered.

"You look as worn out as I must look," I said by way of greeting.

She looked up from the pages with a weak smile. "Yeah. I feel it, too. But I think I'm gaining headway. These are old newspaper articles from the Lone Star Gazette. They follow the chronology of the incidents Mulder was telling us about, culminating in a Jewish burial for Cain in 1949."

I took a seat next to her and looked over her shoulder. "Looks like he was kind of a laughing-stock. They ran his predictions, but only so they could mock him." She nodded. "Any mention in these papers of anything coming true? Any followup?"

She shook her head. "Not a one. But then, given the fact that the townsfolk chose to ignore Cain in the first place, it's not too surprising. They probably didn't want to acknowledge that he'd been proven right."

"About the predictions," I started. "What kind were they? World events? Personal? Local?"

There was a shuffle at the door as Mulder entered, a sack from a local coffee shop in his hand. Scully looked at him as she spoke. "Personal, but vague. No names are mentioned, but the incidents referred to as the basis of the predictions were well known by the townsfolk. Cain seemed to be telling them the outcome of the popular rumors and gossip."

"I wouldn't like it if someone told me ahead of time how my life was going to be," Mulder said from the doorway. "Especially if I didn't like what I heard."

"But," I pressed, "do you think that the predictions were really so person-specific? Predictive strategies like astrology are vague that way -- the basic assumption is that everyone born in a certain month has traits in common, but all of the profiles are so imprecise that just about anyone can fit any of them."

"That may be the case. In these instances, though, people who read Cain's predictions all knew the one person they fit. Self-projection is the most logical and normal response to a prediction or astrological forecast, but to these people it was plainly obvious exactly whom and what Cain was referring to in his writings."

"Mulder," Scully protested, accepting a steaming paper cup from his bag, "this is all a little far-fetched. People project familiar explanations onto unfamiliar events all the time. That doesn't mean that it's a -- a prediction from a channeled spirit. It's just a common mechanism of human cognition."

I took a deep breath, and held out the translation. "And I think we're about to see it in action."

Mulder scanned it quickly, then handed it to Scully, who also read the document in one sweep.

"Is this a literal translation?" Mulder asked me.

"Not completely. The author took liberties with metaphor and use of archaic words, so I made the extension of those metaphors in the first paragraph. Today and tomorrow become present and future. It's all in my notes -- you're both free to listen to the tape."

He nodded slowly, and pointed over Scully's shoulder to the first sentence of paragraph three. "Is there another reasonable interpretation of this passage?"

"Mulder," Scully interjected. He waved her to silence as he stared at the page.

"There are probably several. In the original, it's just 'no trust'. Probably the only place in the document with shoddy grammar. I interpreted it as 'Do not trust', since the document is in future tense, and seems to be directed at an individual, but it could easily be --"

"'Trust No One'."

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At around 10:00, we all agreed we were just running around in circles, and decided to go home and sleep on it. I asked to be dropped off at the subway station (I know better than to roam even the respectable parts of DC after dark), but when Mulder discovered that I lived in his general direction, he insisted on giving me a ride.

"At least if I mug you, you'll be able to identify me in a line-up."

I had been looking forward to the chance to catch up with Mulder, but once I was out of the building and could talk about non-work things, I found I was just too tired to make the effort for idle conversation. Mulder drove a more conservative car than I would have guessed -- a 4-door Ford. It contained the standard factory-installed stereo, and more importantly, had manual door locks and windows as opposed to the electric, driver-controlled kind. My survival skills told me to look for these features when getting into a car with a strange man, and Agent Mulder (fond of him as I was) certainly qualified as strange.

"Whatcha thinking?" he asked suddenly, as he steered onto Constitution Avenue.

"Power door locks," I answered.

"And they say I'm strange."

June 22
8:30 AM

When I arrived to work the next morning, there was an envelope on my desk. I opened it to reveal a plane ticket to Dallas/Fort Worth. I'd had plans for the day, not the least of which was a project handed down from my supervisor. I'd assumed that my role in the case was over once I turned in my notes on the translation. It hadn't occured to me that I'd be travelling out with them. Without even depositing my briefcase, I proceeded downstairs, trying to keep my jaw from tightening.

"Good morning, Fordham. I hope your bags are packed. Our flight leaves at noon."

"Actually, Agent Mulder," I answered, "I wasn't informed of this trip till just now. I guess I expected a little more notice. Why didn't you call me?"

"I'm sorry, Jenine," he said in a voice that almost sounded sincere. "I just got the tickets about half an hour ago. You'd already left home, and I don't have your cellular number. This is a very different world than your department upstairs. You've joined the ranks of the mobile Field Agent, and we don't usually have the time to make plans. You'll get used to it as we go. Why don't you make the necessary arrangements and be back here at 11:00?"

I left the dimly lit office, still a little miffed, and went out to see Lorraine about requisitioning a car. It would be faster to drive home to Falls Church and back than to wait for the subway and connecting train both ways. If Mulder had been able to give me some notice, I could at least have driven into work. I glanced at the form in front of me. Was "going home to pack" an acceptable reason to need to borrow a car? I opted for "assignment-related." Lorraine smiled as she looked over the form, and handed me a set of keys.

"You're working with Mulder on this one?" she asked conversationally. At my nod, she added, "Then you're probably going home to pack."

It made me feel a little better that he had a reputation for pulling this kind of stunt on new partners. A little, but not much.

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10:45 AM

After running home and packing a bag, I returned to my office to tell my supervisor where I'd be going. I packed both my cell phone and my beeper, and made sure to bring along my ID -- I'd never been on an assignment out of the building, so I was accustomed to leaving it in my desk and just taking along the clip badge I had to wear at work. Almost as an afterthought, I slipped a Hebrew dictionary and a grammar text into my bag. There are two schools of thought to translating, and I usually follow the school that says go with the gut feeling about the meaning and context of the words, but it doesn't hurt to be prepared.

I managed to get downstairs a few minutes before eleven. Mulder looked up from a magazine as I slumped into an empty chair with a sigh.

"You're early," he said.

"Habit," I answered, and we both lapsed into silence. He flipped pages in his magazine (Fortean Times, I noticed), and I squinted at the articles and photos lining the walls.

"Hi," Scully said from the doorway with a grin. She wore a perfectly tailored navy suit, and had a garment bag over one shoulder. It looked like Mulder had her cellular number. "Try to keep the noise down in here."

I sighed. She seemed to be a good enough person -- there was no sense in taking it out on her when it was Mulder I was frustrated with. Complaining wouldn't do any good either, so I knew I had to snap out of my mood.

"I guess I'm just tense," I said, to shrug off my silence. "You probably shouldn't have saddled yourselves with someone so green. I'm bound to be more of a burden than anything else."

"On the contrary," Scully said, putting her bag down, "you've already been an invaluable help."

"I asked Skinner for the best," Mulder added, "and he gave us you. Green or not, your record of innovation and brilliance speaks for itself. I'm sure you'll adapt quickly to the needs of fieldwork."

"I hope so. Just go easy on me, okay?"

The flight was calm, and I managed to nap through most of it. By the time I was fully awake, we were on the ground in Texas and checking into our hotel. Scully and I got adjoining rooms, and Mulder was right across the hall. I knew from processing travel requisitions in Violent Crimes that it was against policy for two agents to share a hotel room. This was apparently so that a superior couldn't force another agent to share a room or a bed -- a preventative measure against sexual harrassment.

Any desire the other agents might have had for a shower or some time to unpack was overrun by my eagerness to get out to the site. I had my supplies ready in the old cloth satchel I'd used in college, and was pacing the floor while Scully double-checked her map. Reports were waiting for us from an archaeologist from a local university. The writing was apparently fresh. Almost all the pieces were in place -- now we were just missing the writer.

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3:30 PM

I wasn't used to the dry heat of Texas, and found myself wishing I'd taken time to change into more casual clothing. All the walking over rocks probably wouldn't end up doing my heels much of a favor, either. At least I'd remembered my sunglasses. Though my eyes had the double protection of the lenses and the car's tinted windows, the sun's glare was still making me squint.

We reached a hastily erected gate to meet a slight man in khaki pants and a white polo shirt, a clearance badge attached to his collar. I craned my neck to try to distinguish the rock with the writing from the rest of the cliffs, but I realized it wasn't likely to be within visual range. Mulder rolled down his window as the man approached.

"Alan Dale, " he said with a charismatic smile. "I'm the archaeologist on the case. I've got your badges right here," he said, handing them through the window. "You're Feds, so I'm sure you know the rules. Wear them above the waist and keep them in plain view at all times. This finding is classified, as you probably know. Now, if you don't mind letting me in, I'll direct you to the site."

He came around to the back door, opened it, and got in. The gate was opened for us, and Dale directed Mulder down the road to a dusty turnoff. The impromptu road was barely visible. Tracks of only 3 or 4 vehicles seemed to have graced the path before us.

We pulled over and stopped next to one of those vehicles. It was a black luxury sedan with government plates. I'd seen many of them at the Hoover Building, but I'd never gotten such a shudder down my spine from the sight of one before. It reminded me that the writing wasn't just an interesting poem, and that my work here was critical.

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3:40 PM

Translation in hand, I approached the rock face. The first thing to strike me was the sheer height of it. Cognitively, I had known it would have to be tall to fit that much writing, but it hadn't occurred to me how tall it would be.

"This should be easy," Mulder muttered. "We run a list of everyone in the area with stilts."

Men in dark suits and darker sunglasses stood at the periphery of the scene. I was aware of the three of them watching us, but none of them spoke. I was suddenly glad of the extra copies of the translation that I had hidden in unlikely places. These men seemed to be a part of that shady side of the government that's pretty good at making sure news they don't like doesn't hang around long enough for other people to hear it.

Mulder conversed with Alan quietly about the site -- how it was found, if any tracks led to or from it. There had been nothing, which wasn't suprising considering the force of the wind and its ability to move sand around to cover tracks. But no spills of paint were found around the one large slab, and no unintended dribbles decorated the rock face. I just stood and stared.

"Anyone dusted this thing for prints yet?" Mulder asked.

Dale nodded. "This morning. We should have word by suppertime."

"How about hair and fiber?" I asked. Dale looked bewildered.

"I have no idea about any of that stuff," he said, "but while I was here, no one did anything but dust it."

"What's the clearance level for the translation? Who can I show it to?" I asked. Mulder's breaking the silence had drawn me out from my awe and back into critical thinking.

"You're the linguist? Well, it's above me. I'm just a doctoral student. All the school could dig up to come out here at such short notice, forgive the pun. The guy in charge here is Bill Shear. Don't know if he's military or what. I guess it'd be best to give it to him first. I know they're pretty impatient for it. He's around here somewhere. That red truck is his."

I gestured discreetly toward the men in the dark suits. "How about the peanut gallery over there?"
"Dunno. Shear's bowing and scraping to 'em, but I haven't seen them do anything 'cept sweat." He squinted up at the sun and shook his head. "And to think I left Minnesota for this."
I touched the lowest level of text, tracing the word 'emet' with one latex-gloved finger. Truth. Then I turned to Mulder.
"We're gonna need a sample of the paint, and a close examination to see if any bristles or other fibers were left behind in it. There are no drips -- a minute examination will show if a fan was used to dry the ink. Check for prints and fibers all over the rock face. He had to have leaned against something while writing, and if we're lucky, he brushed at least once against the wet paint. The sand drift will have obscured any footprints, but maybe he dropped something that a sift-through will find." I turned back to the writing, but caught Mulder nodding in my peripheral vision.
"That's why we have you along," he murmured.

We walked back to Scully and Dale, who'd been joined by a bulky man in short sleeves and a blue tie.

"Special Agent Bill Shear," the man said, holding out his hand to Mulder, then me. "Sorry I missed your arrival. I was checking out the surrounding rocks, to see if any of the rest of them had artwork, too. This is the only one I've found. Any idea what it means?"

I reached into my bag and pulled out the translation. Shear studied it in silence for a few moments. Then ignored me and Scully to address the man in the group. "Weird," he said. "Personally, I've never seen a case like this. That's why I requested you, Agent Mulder. For your rate of closure on strange cases. A dead guy writing graffiti is beyond my experience."

"Do you really think it's the dead guy who's doing the writing?" Mulder asked.

"No, of course not," Shear answered. "But you'd be amazed how many of the locals do."

"Is there anyone still around who knew Joseph Cain?"

"Yeah. I've got the names and addresses right here." He tore a page out of his little notebook and handed it to Mulder.

I ran down my laundry list of forensics, to find that Shear had already ordered most of the tests I wanted. Results could be expected later that evening. I nodded with satisfaction.

Mulder looked up from the list in his hand. "Well, let's go into town, then." He started to remove his clip badge and hand it to Shear, but the older man put his hand up.

"No, you might as well hold on to those. If we get something, you'll be coming back out here, anyway."

Mulder shrugged and pocketed the badge, then led the way back to the rented car.

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Ruth Silverman was the first person on the list, so we arbitrarily picked her as the first person to visit. A distinguished-looking woman in her early 70's, Mrs. Silverman didn't seem at all surprised to see us, and invited us in without question.

"I've been waiting," she said by way of explanation. "Waiting for Joseph to come back. He always said he would. And now the writing has started again."

"Mrs Silverman, how did Joseph Cain die?" I began.

The woman shrugged. "How do any of us die?" she asked cryptically.

The three of us exchanged a glance. This was going to be an uphill battle. I waited for Mulder or Scully to jump in and redirect the interview, but they both waited coolly for me to continue. Thanks, guys, I thought, then turned my attention back to Mrs. Silverman.

"What I mean is," I clarified, "are you sure that he is dead? That he's writing from beyond the grave instead of from beyond the city limits."

She smiled wryly. "I attended the funeral myself. It was 1949. Automobiles were common here, but traffic lights weren't. Joe and another man collided on a Sunday drive. Both of them died on the scene, but Joe gasped out that it wasn't right. It wasn't his time yet. And that he'd be back."

Mulder leaned forward. "Do you think he's come back?"

She leaned toward him, lowering her voice to a conspiratorial whisper.

"I know he has. In body or in spirit, it's all the same. Joe Cain is back, and if we ignore him this time, woe be unto us."

The other three interviews were similarly uninformative. We had four people who believed a dead man had come back to life, but no other avenues to explore. All we could do was wait for the forensic reports to come in. The inaction was frustrating, but as much as we wracked our brains for other possible leads, there were none to be found. But then, how could you have leads without a crime? One count of vandalism of government property didn't warrant a linguist, a forensic pathologist and a psychological profiler.

As a next course of action, I suggested a trip to Joe Cain's last known whereabouts: his grave. I was curious to see if all the speculation about his return had left it intact.

------------------------------------------------------------------

Beth Israel Memorial Garden

Joe Cain's grave didn't appear to have been disturbed. The grass grew out of it, as it had for nearly fifty years, and the brass plaque set in the ground looked like it hadn't moved an inch. Cain's placement in a Jewish cemetary seemed to remove all doubt of his religion, but it only served to confuse me more. The dead wandering the earth in search of resolution isn't a Jewish idea. It surprised me that our mysterious vandal was counting on people's willingness to accept that this man would do something that his belief system just plain didn't account for.

The tombstone carried the dates 1917-1949. I made a note of it, in case it would be important later. And because I didn't know what else to do.

"We could exhume him," Mulder suggested. "We could get DNA tests run to make sure that it's really Cain in there."

"There's no reason to," I argued. "Even if we assume Cain is alive, he's practically a hundred years old by now. How could he have the agility to get up that high to do the writing? And why would he have waited this long?"

Mulder looked back at the grave again, and sighed. "I don't know. I just want to find an answer. Let's go back to the hotel and out of this heat. We're not getting anywhere out here. At least back in the rooms we can write up what we have so far, and think this thing out."

------------------------------------------------------------------

Dana dove for the bathtub as soon as we returned to the hotel, but I opted to just change clothes. I had a feeling we might be going back out in the heat, and I didn't want to have to get used to it all over again. I was much more comfortable in lightweight slacks and a short-sleeved white blouse, and was going over my notes again when the knock came to my outside door.

"Who is it," I called.

"It's Mulder. Can I come in?"

I turned the bolt and opened the door. "Hi there, stranger."

A grin briefly crossed his face as he entered, but it settled back into a purposeful expression. He sat tensely in one of the room's two chairs. I perched on the end of the bed and waited for him to speak his mind.

"You know about the things that have happened to me. You must. They're fodder for the gossip mill. I know it gets around."

"You mean your sister?" I asked. "I assumed that you'd identify with the translation. In fact, I'm surprised you haven't mentioned it before now," I said.

"It's been on my mind," he admitted. "But one thing I've gotten better about over the years is being less single-minded about these things. Scully's gotten me to widen my sights a little. I even accept, once in a while, that some events -- not many, but some --may have non-paranormal explanations. So while I've been thinking about it, I'm well aware of the phenomenon of projection that we discussed before we left, and I'm not taking it too personally."

I nodded.

"I just," he continued, "I just wanted to make sure you knew about all that. Knew the connection was there. You know. . .just in case."

"Do you think it's personal?" I asked.

He shrugged. "I don't want to. I don't want to keep risking life and limb chasing ghosts with no answers. These people say "Samantha" and I wet myself in my eagerness to step into their next trap. When she comes back, she'll come back, no matter what I do. I'm finally beginning to realize that I've worked too hard to get where I am to take the chance of losing it all for a wild grasp at revenge."

"But it's tempting," I supplied. He sat in silence for a moment before nodding.

"You have no idea, Fordham. No idea."

I was itching to touch him, to try to comfort him. But he was so far away, even though he was physically just inches from me, that I wasn't sure I'd be able to reach him from where I sat.

"Thinking about power door locks again, Jenine?" he asked softly.

I shook my head. Thinking I want to hug you, chase your demons away, I thought, but I wasn't going to say it out loud. Instead I reached across that wide barrier and let my fingertips brush against his with a faint butterfly touch. Then, so as not to seem a threat to his personal space, I backed up on the bed and let his barrier resume its place.

"About not personalizing the translation, Mulder. It's good advice whether that thing is written for you or not. We're just here to find out who wrote the graffiti and why. Scully and I will try our best not to let you get sidetracked from that, but you've got to work at it too."

"I know," he nodded. "So far I haven't received any strange phone calls. We'll take this as it comes."

A double knock, and the connecting door opened. Scully peeked in. Her gaze took in Mulder's presence before she entered, and as she crossed the room I saw that she was clad in a white blouse and gray pants, but hadn't put on shoes yet. She took a seat on the bed, an equal distance from both me and her partner. Her hair was still a little wet, and she rubbed distractedly at the ends with the flimsy hotel towel.

"This case doesn't add up. Is it just me?" she asked us.

Mulder shook his head. "I think it's strange too. That they'd call us all the way out here and then have us sit around on our asses."

"How did you get this case, Mulder? Official or unofficial channels?"

"As official as it gets: Skinner handed it down to me. I requested a linguist, which he didn't seem to expect, but he had no problems assigning one... and here we are."

"Some college kid is handing out security badges. There's a suspect but no crime. There's nothing beyond forensics here. They're just matching prints and fibers. They don't need a translation, and they don't need us. I just don't like it. What are we doing here? What's to investigate?"

The three of us pondered that question in silence, but were interrupted by the ringing of a phone.

Scully flipped her handset closed with a sigh. "Well, that was Bill Shear. There were no prints on the rock, and one bristle which can be tracked down to about a thousand retail chains. The fiber check you requested hasn't come back yet. He wants us to come back out to the site to meet with him. He didn't seem to have much to say, or any new leads. I don't know what he thinks we're going to do out there."

I shrugged. "It beats sitting around here, I guess."

The three of us stood. Mulder padded across the hall to get his things. I went about searching for my shoes, to find that they'd somehow gotten kicked under the dresser. I had to admit to myself that the quandary of the displaced shoes seemed far more mysterious than the case we'd been called out to investigate. Scully returned to my room in moments, her hair up in a twist to hide its unprofessional dampness. Mulder reappeared as I was shrugging into my blazer, and the three of us hit the road.

Mulder found his way back to the site by memory, I was impressed to notice. The fax copy of the local map sat unused on the dashboard. He brought the car to a halt next to Shear's truck, and we filed out. The Agent in Charge was waiting for us this time, and approached rapidly.

"There's been another rash of vandalism," he explained as he neared. "This one's just over the border into the next town. You were already on your way here, so I figured we'd all check it out together."

------------------------------------------------------------------

7:00 PM

"Just around the corner there," Shear directed, one thick finger pointing the way as Mulder maneuvered the car around the bend and to a stop. Sure enough, the side of a residential building was graced with red Hebrew script letters, each about 8 inches tall. I quickly scanned the graffiti and sighed.

"How trite," I mumbled.

"The rest of us can't read Hebrew, Fordham," Mulder chastised. "What does it say?"

"Only the oldest, most cliche vandalism in the book. It says, 'I was here'."

He seemed stunned into silence for a moment.

"An appropriate message, though, considering the circumstances," Scully commented.

"The other writing was in print. This is in script. It's in a different color, and it's not prophetic," I said. "I think I can call it a copycat without fear of sticking my neck out."

Shear got on the phone and dispached officers to talk to the people around the building, in hopes that someone had seen our vandal in action. Meanwhile, the four of us continued on to the next block, where more writing had been spotted.

"Number 914," Shear supplied, scanning the doorways and soon pointing off to the right. The writing was more clearly visible than the worn digits, and I began to read it even before we pulled into a convenient space in front of the entrance.

I hopped out as soon as Mulder stopped the car. Striding over to the building, I snapped on a glove and reached out to brush the paint. It was fresh enough that I could smell the lingering odor, but it was dry to the touch. Black ink, print writing. This was the real thing. I stepped back and read the three lines of text. After I'd gone through it once, I switched the subject-verb arrangement in my head so that I could read it out loud to the other agents.

"It says, 'I have returned. A strong earthquake will shake this town tonight. It will bring down this building without harming any others. Heed this warning or eight will die.' "

We all exchanged glances before Mulder looked pointedly at me. "Well, Agent Fordham? This is your show. What do we do?"

"We evacuate, of course," I answered. Scully took my elbow and led me apart a little ways.

"Come on," she protested quietly. "You're almost as bad as he is. You can't really think that some ghost with knowledge of geological events is actually writing this stuff. It's probably just a more informed copycat than the one a block over."

"No, I don't think this was written by a ghost," I explained. "But last time around, Cain got violent because he wasn't listened to. Even if this isn't an accurate prediction, we've got to break the cycle by heeding it. If it's a hoax, there's a strong chance that there's a bomb in the building to make it look like the prediction comes true. And if it's not a hoax, maybe whoever's doing this in Cain's name will feel placated by the fact that he was believed, and we'll have saved some lives in the bargain."

Scully sighed, her eyes softening. She glanced at Mulder and Shear, who were both standing with their arms folded.

"Okay," she whispered. "I can see the logic in that. I take it back -- you're not as bad as Mulder after all." I was treated to a quick grin before she raised her voice to include the other two agents. "You heard Agent Fordham. We evacuate."

------------------------------------------------------------------

We stuck around to watch the evacuation, on the off chance that any of our skills might be needed to assist the effort. It took a long time to convince the tenants of the urgency of leaving their homes, and a longer time for Shear to convince Mulder that there was no way he was calling out the bomb squad. Scully offered to go door-to-door to help people pack their overnight bags. I snuck yet another glance at my watch. An hour had already passed, and the sky was beginning to darken.

As the local police were herding the last of the bewildered residents out of the apartment building, and safely down the block, the glass casings on the streetlights started to rattle.

I'd never been through an earthquake before, but this one seemed milder than the shaking on a subway car. Glass rattled, things shook, but no tremors cracked the sidewalk or collapsed bridges. The only thing that suffered, sure enough, was the building with the writing on it. It seemed almost to fold neatly in on itself, collapsing straight down with a surprising lack of flying debris.

Everyone stood and stared as the rattling died away. Scully turned slowly to meet my gaze, then her partners', her mouth agape. Turned away from me as she was, I could barely hear her whisper with astonishment:

"Un-fucking-believable."

Time began to speed up to its normal pace. The tenants began screaming adamantly at the police, who tried desperately to calm them. The three of us stayed on the periphery, staring at the pile of rubble where the apartment building had stood.

One uniformed officer broke from the crowd to approach Shear. Reaching his goal, the man began speaking into the AIC's ear. Shear turned to us, beckoning us over to his car.

"There's been another vandalism. Just came across the radio. These things are popping up like the plague."

"Where is it?" Mulder asked.

"At the university. You go on ahead, and call me when you find out what it says."

"What are you going to do?"

The bulky man sighed, a combination of irritation and defeat. "Call the bomb squad."

------------------------------------------------------------------

The biggest difference between this writing and the last two was that it was on the ground. The white pavement in front of the university's main gate had been decorated with one line of the familiar black print letters. Again, I scanned it once before translating it aloud.

"The telephone call will happen," I read, "but you can never go home again."

I looked at Mulder. His jaw was clenched.

"It can't," Scully said. "It can't have anything to do with you, Mulder. No matter who's writing this crap, they don't know you."

The tall agent only walked back toward the car. Scully called Shear to update him, and then she and I joined her sullen partner for the drive back to the hotel.

------------------------------------------------------------------

10:00 PM

It was a little late to be having dinner, but with all the excitement, we'd forgotten to eat. The restaurant in the hotel seemed like the best bet. We were all tired: it had been a long day, and tomorrow didn't promise to be any shorter.

We agreed tacitly to eat in silence. Mulder was much too shaken by the latest graffiti, and Scully by the fallen building. Me? I was just plain shaken. I didn't understand any aspect of the writing --the Hebrew, the ghost, nor the predictions. Banishing it all from my thoughts, I was content to let my mind wander to other things, like the cryptic grin Scully had flashed at me earlier in the evening.

By the time we'd finished eating, I felt almost human enough to resume thinking about the case. The other two agents looked similarly revived. Over coffee (tea for me) and a slice of cheesecake with three forks, we began to put together the facts we'd gathered during the day.

"Let's start with the easy stuff. What do we know?" I asked.

"We know that someone's writing Hebrew on outdoor surfaces," Scully volunteered.

"We know that one writing predicted an event that happened. Whether through an earthquake or some other mechanism, that building did collapse," Mulder added.

"What about the pattern of sites?" Scully asked. "It can't be random."

I put down my fork and rummaged in the backpack next to my chair. Flipping through the pages of field notes and translations, I found my copy of the map with the directions to the rock site on it. I spread it out on the table, and leaned back down for a pen. I came up with an orange hi-lighter. It would have to do.

Mulder reached his hand out for the marker, and I gave it to him. He made three dots on the map: one at the rock site, one at the approximate location of the apartment building, and one right about where the university was. The dots formed a distorted triangle, the way almost any three dots would when connected. It didn't look like a symbol or general direction could be decyphered from the pattern.

Mulder capped the pen and returned it to me. "It was a good try, Scully. Do you have any other ideas?"

"Wait," I said, trying to put words around my percolating thought. "Assuming the sites aren't random. . .if there's no pattern in the layout, maybe there's one in the meaning. This is supposedly revolving around Joe Cain. Well, what significance do all these landmarks have for him?"

We changed into more comfortable clothes and met in Scully's room. The Lone Star Gazette clippings that she'd been looking through in Washington were spread out on the small table. Mulder and I pulled up chairs and started leafing through the copies, waiting for Dana to finish in the bathroom. She came out in a gray t-shirt and sweatpants, closing the door on her suit, whose hanger dangled from the shower rod. It figured that someone who looked as impeccable in the field as she did would know to let the steam of her shower un-wrinkle her clothes. Someone should let Mulder in on the secret, I thought.

Scully sat on the bed. Mulder handed her a small pile --about half of his stack -- and we flipped pages in silence.

"Oh, God," Scully gasped. We turned to look at her.

"You've hit it, Jenine. That's the connection." She turned her page around to show it to us. The article was accompanied by a picture of a man standing next to a big rock. "Joseph Cain, age 20, discovers fossil in local park."

Mulder and I dug faster through our pages. He pulled one out, scrutinizing the photo. "Joseph Cain, age 24, to wed Sonya Goldman, age 21. At home address: 914 Fourth Avenue," he read.

We exchanged glances. "That was the building that collapsed tonight, wasn't it," I asked. Mulder nodded slowly.

"I found the third one," Scully announced. "Joseph Cain, age 28, hired as assistant professor of Hebraic Studies. At the university."

We grinned.

"Every four years, then," I said. "So let's find out where Joey was at age 32."

"That's the easy one," Mulder said, and held up a page. It was Cain's obituary.

------------------------------------------------------------------

Beth Israel Memorial Garden

It seemed like hours passed while we waited on the dark lane inside the cemetary, a discreet distance in from the gates. Mulder had turned off the engine to preserve silence, and even in the dark of night the heat was hardly bearable. Little or no crossbreeze came through the open windows. I fanned myself with a page of Lone Star Gazette and kept my weary eyes on the entrance.

"There," Scully said, pointing. Sure enough, a black luxury sedan rolled to a stop not far from the gate. Its lights were out as it approached, as if to advertise the shady business of the figures within.

Two men in suits stepped out of the back of the car and into the illumination of the streetlights, one whose skin was so black that he was barely distinct from the shadows of the gate columns. Mulder hissed an inward breath. It was evident that he knew the man.

The two consulted, heads bowed close. One took a can of paint from the trunk of the car, while the other stood watch. Scully and I jumped when Mulder's phone rang, but he didn't. He seemed to be expecting it.

"Mulder," he said softly into the receiver.

I leaned forward from the backseat, closer to the back of his head, trying to catch the other side of the conversation through the tinny reception of the phone. Mulder noticed me doing so and leaned back to accomodate me.

"I'm prepared to offer you a deal, Mr. Mulder," the voice rasped.

"Talk," he said.

"Your sister's return in exchange for your resignation from the bureau. Take some time off. Enjoy yourself. Be a family."

"Prove to me that you know where she is," Mulder requested calmly. His hand clenched on the steering wheel to belie his calm front.

The voice laughed. "I'm afraid you'll just have to trust me."

"I know what happens to people who trust you, you black-lunged bastard. What will you do to her if I don't accept?"

"Do to her? Nothing, of course. She will remain as safe and hidden as she's always been. You, on the other hand, will not be so fortunate."

"Yeah, what else is new," he muttered under his breath before continuing into the phone. "I seem to think that threatening a federal agent is a prosecutable offense," Mulder chatted conversationally.

Looking over at the two figures, I saw one still bent near the ground, and the other with a hand to his ear.

The voice on the phone sighed loudly. "Trust me. I'm offering you a gift, here. Take your sister and go home while you still can."

Mulder removed his hand from the steering wheel and placed it in Scully's, squeezing hard. "I trust no one. And I can never go home again."

He punched 'END' and folded the phone, leaning back in his seat with a labored sigh. Scully still held his hand, and I reached up to his tense shoulders.

"You done good," she whispered to him. "Now let's go nail them."

"Wait," I said, looking meaningfully out the window as Scully's glance turned to me. The two men were consulting again. The dark man opened the trunk and stood aside. As his partner leaned in to deposit the paint can, we could clearly see the face in the light of the dim bulb: it was unmistakably Alan Dale. Not just a stooge scraped up by the University at the last minute, but another conspirator. Their voices drifted to us in the still air.

"Did he get the call?" Dale asked softly.

"Yes," the black man responded, "and he answered just as we anticipated." He gave a careful glance around before continuing, "Our work here is done."

The black car was driving off. Mulder retrieved the site clearance badge from his pocket and examined the backing in the dim moonlight. I peered over his shoulder. Sure enough, a small listening device was embedded in the clip. He grunted, returning the thing to his pocket. I expected him to be more upset than that at the prospect of being bugged. Scully and I both looked at him questioningly, but he kept his silence.

"Looks like it's time to see what warning your not-so-spectral friend left us," I suggested.

The three of us neared the writing. Black, neat letters adorned the white pavement.

"Todah," I read aloud. "It says, 'Thank you. Thank you for believing me. You have saved yourself from more than you can understand'."

------------------------------------------------------------------

June 23
2:03 AM

"That man who seemed to be made of shadow," Mulder explained. "He's a contact of mine. He warns me sometimes. I guess he couldn't contact me directly, so he created this ruse to bring me out here and tell me not to believe the call. He's got a high enough position in the government to set things up with Skinner to get us out here. Dale, the men watching at the site, Shear telling us to hold onto the badges. . it all fits into the plot. Plots, really," he corrected himself, staring into space. "Plots within plots like rings in a spider's web."

"It fits my theory that the writing was copied by someone who didn't know the language," I commented. "We could clearly see the paper he was referring to as he was painting."

Scully stifled a yawn with the back of her hand.

"Jet lag?" Mulder asked with a wry grin.

"Mulder, my body thinks it's three in the morning, and it's been up since six yesterday. You're starting to wax poetic, which means that you aren't going to be awake much longer either, and Fordham here is slowly sinking into the sunset."

"I resemble that remark," I said with a yawn of my own.

"You're a field agent now, Fordham," Mulder said. "You've got to start drinking coffee and wiping your nose on your sleeve like the rest of us."

Scully shook her head. She stood, grabbing Mulder by the arm, and motioned for me to come around to his other side. Together, we eased him across the hall and onto the sofa in his room.

"Why don't we put him in bed?" I asked Scully, but she just shook her head.

"He sleeps better this way," she said by way of explanation. I decided not to think about the implications of that remark. Instead, I helped her pull a blanket from the bed and drape it over Mulder's already dozing form.

We shut off the lights on our way out.

"What now?" I asked Scully as she keyed us back into her room.

"Now," she answered, "we get some sleep. In the morning --hopefully well after sunrise -- we'll pack, fax our reports in to Shear, and catch a flight home. Then we'll file more reports with Skinner and anyone else who might want a copy. We'll say that the vandal was a male of indeterminate height, weight, and race, who drove an unidentifiable car with unregistered plates. We'll wait for forensics to recover the remains of the explosive device from the basement of the apartment building, but mention that we have no doubt that one will be found."

"It sounds simple," I said. "Are you sure there won't be any more messages?"

"The warning was delivered and heeded. Thank you means goodbye. I'd say our work here is done."

She ran a thin hand through her hair. "And I'm done, too. Goodnight, Jenine. In case I don't get a chance to tell you later, it's really been a pleasure working with you."

I smiled a real grin of elation and stopped in the middle of our adjoining doorway. "Thank you, Dana. That means a lot to me. I've enjoyed working with you, too."

I extended my hand to shake hers, but she brought me into a hug instead. Then she pulled away, leaving one hand on my shoulder long enough to pair the touch with another gorgeous smile.

"Goodnight," she whispered, and the door closed in front of me.

------------------------------------------------------------------

June 23
3:43 PM

I was back in my familiar office, looking over my report, when I got the call from Mulder.

"I wanted to apologize for this assignment, Fordham," he said.

"Apologize why, Agent Mulder? I don't understand."

"Last night, while we were scratching our asses in Texas, a shipment of classified materials -- what's believed to be salvaged UFO parts from crash sightings on the twentieth -- made its way from Maine to South Carolina aboard a Western Union armored truck. This whole assignment, this whole trip -- the warnings and counter warnings --it was all a ruse to get me out of the way of this transport mission so that I couldn't interfere. A ruse so elaborate that I think even Shakespeare would have been impressed."

"I think you give yourself too much credit, Mulder. Who would have the power to go above the FBI in setting up a bogus field assignment?" I asked.

"The same people who would slant the writing so that it pointed to me. The same people who blew up a building so that I'd turn down a phone call. They were all in on it together. They didn't have my sister, they just wanted the writing to point to something that would keep my attention."

He paused. "I know how bizarre this must sound to you, Fordham. But you gotta believe me. These people. There's nothing they're not capable of. And now they've wasted our time, and yours, on this. . ."

"Maliach adom," I supplied.

"And that would be. . .?" Mulder asked.

"A red herring."

------------------------------------------------------------------

August 18, 1996
J. Edgar Hoover Building

A knock at the open door startled me, and I looked up from the computer screen to see Dana Scully framed in my doorway. I smiled and swiveled my chair toward her. I hadn't seen her since our return to Washington, though we'd read each other's field reports on the case.

"Agent Scully. What's up?"

She entered the office and perched on the back of the second chair. "Got any plans for the weekend?" she asked.

I had thought this was an official visit, so I was rather surprised at the question. I had to shrug. "Not that I know of. Why?"

"I was thinking about going rollerblading in the park on Saturday. Want to come?" She flashed a confident smile at me.

I was speechless, and could only nod. I had thought about Scully a lot, but not really about why she and I hadn't seen each other since we'd come back from Texas. She was busy on her cases, and I was busy on mine, and I supposed that working together once didn't make much of an impression on her. After all, she'd been in the Bureau longer than I had, and had probably worked with dozens of agents at some time or another. Our case, I assumed, had been nothing but one in a long string of reports, and I hadn't hoped to see her again.

Well, it didn't matter now. What mattered was that this gorgeous, professional, no-nonsense, not-a-hair-out-of-place woman wanted to be my friend. And I wanted her to, but I was afraid. How could I possibly live up to that? And what about my oath to keep my distance from people with dangerous jobs?

I stopped myself mid-thought. Guess what, kid, I told myself, that's you now. You've joined the ranks. And you'd better say something to this woman quick before she takes your dumb stare as rejection and never asks you again.

"It sounds great," I finally said, "but I have to admit I'm curious as to why you'd ask."

Her smile changed to a lopsided grin. "You're the only female agent who's ever worked with us without turning the case into an excuse to try to get Mulder into bed, and to use me to do it. I respect you for that, and for your excellent field work, and respect doesn't come easy for me. You're bright, you're genuine, and you're worth getting to know.

"I also know," she continued, "that you live alone, eat alone, and habitually work late. You need a social life, Fordham, and so do I. So let's work on it together."

Her grin was contagious, and I found myself sharing it. Before I could reply, she stood, smoothing her skirt.

"Saturday, then. I'll call you in the morning."

And with one last glance back, she was gone. But this time, I knew I'd be seeing her again soon. I could hardly wait.

 


 

Joining the Ranks II: Truth and Dare
by G. Harbowy grh@teatime.com

"The X-Files" and all characters therein are the property of 1013 Productions, Chris Carter, FOX network, and lots of other people who aren't me. I'm borrowing the characters for fun, not profit, and will return them intact. "Jenine Fordham" is the creation of this author. Again, I seriously doubt that the Bureau accepts summer interns into Violent Crimes, but we suspend enough disbelief for this show that another little tidbit won't hurt.

This story is part two of "Joining the Ranks". If you haven't read that part one (Maliach Adom), this story won't make much sense. If you have objections to non-heterosexual relations, this story won't interest you much. Nothing serious happens here - no X-File, and no relationship stuff between anyone. THIS IS NOT A SLASH STORY. Just conversation and development, a little frustration, and good legal fun. Minor spoilers for "Syzygy". Rated PG. for realistic language.


That Friday, 3:30 PM
J. Edgar Hoover Building

"So, what do you know about Agent Fordham?"

Mulder looked up from his desk, eyes refocusing. It was an odd question for his partner to ask after doing field work with another agent. If anything, she normally would have asked him beforehand, to learn the credentials of a new associate.

"What?" he asked.

"Agent Fordham," Scully repeated. "You mentioned you knew her in Violent Crimes?"

"Yeah. She, uh, did photocopying and stuff. She was in college, a summer intern." Mulder swiveled his chair around to better search the eyes of his partner. "Why do you ask?"

Scully shrugged, turned her attention back to the pen she was twirling between her fingers. "Oh, no reason. I was just making idle conversation."

"No, no. You had a reason. Do you think she was part of the dark forces on that case?"

Dana sighed. "Nothing like that, Mulder. Besides, her fear was far too genuine. No, I think she's good people; I just wanted to get some background on her to satisfy my curiosity."

Mulder nodded. He suspected he was getting a feel for Scully's curiosity, but wanted to fight it a little to see what she'd do. "Well, why don't we finish up these expense vouchers, and I'll appease your curiosity over dinner. I still haven't done any food shopping since we got back from New Jersey last weekend, and I was planning to go out tonight anyway. In return for saving me from my kitchen, I'll tell you anything you want to know."

At a little before 5:00, Scully noticed her partner get up and start rummaging through the file cabinet nearest his desk. After cracking open several manila folders and peering inside, he seemed to find the one he was searching for. Withdrawing his prize from the drawer, he stood and began to peruse it. Finally, as Scully's patience was beginning to wear thin, he extracted a single sheet and handed it to her.

Letter of Recommendation, she read silently. In the year that I have known Ms Fordham, she has shown herself to be equal to any task both in innovation and in motivation. Jenine shows an uncommon zeal for learning, and a strong creative streak, which would be assets in any course of study, and are evident in her desire to follow a path of training which is unavailable at her current university. Ms Fordham's only weakness is her relentlessness at the tasks she sets for herself -- she will not settle for a project that is only half-way done. Jenine Fordham will undoubtedly distinguish herself as a great asset to any university she chooses. Sincerely, Special Agent Fox Mulder, FBI Violent Crimes Division February 15, 1990.

Dana brushed a stray lock of hair behind her ear and looked up from the page.

"I'm impressed, Mulder. This is quite a glowing review."

The man shrugged. "She deserved it. You saw how she was on this case, how her mind snapped through the laundry list of forensics, how she was two steps ahead of us when it came to putting the details together. She's always been on-the-ball like that. I worked with her for four summers, and even though we couldn't let her do much, she'd know from year to year when a procedure or form had been changed."

"I didn't realize you knew her so well," Scully commented, one eyebrow arching slightly.

"Oh, I didn't. I didn't know anyone well over there. But it was a hostile environment, and she was distinctly un-hostile toward me. I wouldn't say she looked up to me, or had an adolescent crush on me, or anything like that. I'd say that she tried as hard as she could to be on equal terms with everyone, and I'm the one she came closest to succeeding with."

Dana stood to hand the page back, trying to get a glimpse of the rest of the folder's contents as she did so. "Is that her personnel file?" she asked. "How did you get a copy of that, you weasel?"

Mulder moved dexterously to continue shielding it from her view. "I shouldn't have to remind you, Agent Scully, that these files are strictly confidential."

She snatched it from his hand, a little too easily. Scully laid the pages out on the desk, and Mulder came around behind to look over her shoulder.

"Look -- she was born in 1971, Mulder." Scully craned her neck back to look up at her partner with a grin. "She's a baby. She acts much older. Let's see... 5-foot-three, black hair, blue eyes... I know all that... Major depressive disorder? It must be well under control. Oh, here it is: 50 milligrams of Zoloft per day. 'Known to travel under the alias D. Taggart, the name of the strong-willed female protagonist from Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" '. Ooh, a literary alias. I'm even more impressed."

"So you still haven't told me, Scully. What's the interest?"

"Oh, didn't I mention? We're getting together this weekend."

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Food For Thought Restaurant
Dupont Circle, DC.

"Getting together, Scully? I thought you didn't want to have a life."

The red-haired agent speared a cherry tomato out of her salad. "Maybe I changed my mind." She popped the red fruit into her mouth. He was silent while she chewed it, hoping she'd elaborate. And she did.

"I miss having friends, Mulder. I was never that close with my sister, but at least when she was around I could have a little bit of a social life. I haven't gone on a date in years, and I think I owe it to myself to have some fun once in a while. I've decided that I'm not going to waste my life being married to my job."

"Sure," Mulder agreed, biting down on a nun joke that his Catholic partner probably wouldn't appreciate. "But why Fordham?"

"Why can't I -- ?" she snapped, then sighed and continued. "She's sweet, we seem to have things in common. I just plain like her. I mean, I like you, too, but we spend so much time together at work and in the field that I want to have other people to spend time with too. Sometimes, when I leave work, I want to leave it at the office. Seeing you socially at those times can just remind me of the piles of paperwork waiting on my desk."

"Yeah," he said with a grin. "I can't stand you, either." His smile softened back into a serious expression.

"I understand wanting to have friends, Scully. You don't have to defend that to me. I was just wondering if there was something special about Fordham, or if you'd decided to get to know the first new person to come along."

"It's her, Mulder. She's special. You said it yourself."

"But why wait two months to get around to it? What was stopping you from getting a life in June?"

"I was nervous. I'm okay at small talk, but not so good at making friends. It took me that long to work up the nerve, and to find an excuse to get together. To decide that inviting her over out-of-the-blue was an acceptable thing to do."

"So... what are you going to do together?" he asked.

"Well," she said, folding her arms on the table, "tomorrow's plan is rollerblading in the park. Afterwards, if all goes well, I'll try to convince her to come back to my place for dinner and maybe a movie."

"Sounds like a hot date," he observed jokingly. His grin froze, and then crumbled when he saw the look in her eyes. It was a guarded look, as if her defenses had just kicked in and put walls back up between them. "What is it, Scully?"

She looked away, out the window. "I've told you too much already, Mulder. We've got a good relationship in the office, but I work hard to keep my private life, well, private. There are some things that co-workers just aren't meant to know about each other."

"I'm hurt, Scully, that you'd think you had to hide anything from me. With how close we are --"

"Mulder," she retorted, with fire in her eyes, "just because you know my address and you know my family, don't assume you know everything about me. Some things," she repeated, "are just plain no-one's business."

"You're saying it's a date, Scully. You're practically screaming at me that you have a date with this woman. Otherwise you wouldn't be so defensive about it. It's okay, I've seen you checking out women before; I had a hunch that you were bi. I even did a little research, and dug up some pictures of you --" He paused. I dare you to deny it, Dana Scully. I just dare you.

"That stupid march," she groaned. "Why did I let them talk me into taking my shirt off?" She recalled the exact photo he was talking about. Dana, in a line with five other shirtless women, grinning foolishly as they walked arm in arm behind a gay pride banner, across the University of Maryland campus. Just her luck that one of the women was dating a photographer, and the picture (sans names) made it into one of Washington's seedier newspapers. No one she knew had seen it at the time, and it hadn't been mentioned when she joined the Bureau... but she should have known that Mulder had the kind of connections to dig up the damned thing. Frohike had probably paid well for a copy of it, too.

"I'm sure you were far from the only closeted woman with a 4.0 and nice lingerie who felt like doing something out of character for a change. That's what college is for -- getting away from your parents and exploring your wilder nature. Being reckless and getting photographed without worrying about its impact on your later career. You were young and stupid. It happens to the best of us."

Young and stupid indeed. "Damn you, Mulder. How long have you known about this?"

He grinned. "I did some checking when we got back from Comity. You were being so catty about Detective White, I had to know why. Face it, Scully, you took every opportunity to look her up and down, and every once in a while you'd forget to scowl while you did it. Then the two of you went off together in the car... maybe I've just watched too many back-shelf movies, but something told me you weren't as straight as you act."

Eight months. He had known about this since January and hadn't told her that he knew. She tried to think back to the last half-year of his sarcastic comments and find a hint of the knowledge in his words, but she just didn't have that kind of cataloguing memory. And that those circumstances had tipped him off could only be attributed to his overactive imagination. It had been such a weird few days that nothing they'd done could be taken seriously. It seemed a good argument to defend herself with now.

"But none of us were acting normal on that case," she protested in her defense. She should have known he'd set her up, though. It was the lead-in he was waiting for, and he jumped at it.

"Yes, but everyone's actions were just repressed character traits coming to the surface. No one did anything they weren't already predisposed to do." He stopped short, his grin of triumph melting into concern, and looked in her eyes. His hand tentatively reached out toward her arm.

"You're not too mad at me, are you, Dana? I need to know."

Dana? "No, Mulder," she sighed. "It was going to come out sooner or later, and I had decided not to lie to you when it did. Maybe coming to Dupont Circle for dinner tonight was a dead giveaway, too. I guess I wanted you to know, even though I didn't want to have to tell you."

"How did you know about Jenine?" he asked. She replied with a sly little smile.

"I didn't. Not at first, anyway. When she pulled that satchel out at the hotel, I noticed a small pink triangle pin on the strap. I don't think she saw me noticing it. It looked like the kind of thing that's been on there since college, and she's just forgotten to take it off. But, I don't think she knows about me. Hopefully, though, if things go well, she will soon enough."

"Sounds like someone's got a crush," he teased.

"I've been catching myself dressing better, in case I see her in the halls. I start to dial her number and stop with one digit left... what would I say? 'Hi, I can't stop thinking about you'? I think about her all the time. I feel like I'm back in high school -- like I'm obsessed with her. She's the only woman I've ever met who's so brilliant and sweet and beautiful. I'm just praying that it works. That she likes me, too."

"How could anyone not like you, Scully? You're an angel. You're all those things you described her as. Maybe you haven't noticed, but she really took to you on that case. I don't think you have anything to worry about."

His words reminded Scully of the tactile memory she'd been pushing down for months: the sweet hug she and Jenine had shared in the doorway of their adjoining hotel rooms; how soft and warm the other woman had felt in her arms, and how careful she'd been to make sure the embrace hadn't lasted a suspiciously long time. She hadn't wanted to let go. If tomorrow night went well, maybe next time she wouldn't have to.

They were both through with dinner, Mulder noticed, so he signaled for the check. "Just one more question," he said.

"No, Mulder. You can't watch."

 


 

Joining the Ranks III: Saturday in the Park with Dana
by G. Harbowy grh@teatime.com

[Standard disclaimer: I don't own 'em. I don't profit from 'em. I may own Agent Fordham, but I don't profit from her, either. Non-heterosexual content ahead: if this bothers you, turn back now. This is the sequel to _Truth and Dare_ which is the sequel to _Maliach Adom_ ; or in other words, part 3 of the "Joining the Ranks" series. You should probably have read those first. This is not an X-File, unless you consider Scully getting a life to be more mysterious and less probable than silicon-based volcano organisms and giant sewer worms. More X-Files will follow in future installments.]

[Content disclaimer: A season 1 spoiler, and a very small season 3 spoiler: if you blink, you'll miss it. Rated R for adult situations. I've read stories in which Scully has a one-night-stand with a woman, or is part of a threesome, but there's a lack of stories in which she has a serious relationship with one, and that's what I'm trying to develop in this series.

Part 3 is NC-17 for "icky grown-up stuff". It's not necessary to the plot of the rest of the piece, so if you want to skip over it, you won't miss anything. Just like a real woman-woman first date, there's lots of talking. I'm not writing this for the sex, after all -- I'm writing it for the plot development, and the sex is just something my proofreader insisted on :) Please e-mail me with comments!]

Thanks to all my editors, especially Mel O. who gave me daily feedback, months and months ago.


Saturday morning

Jenine hung up the living room phone and ran back to the bedroom to survey the clothes she'd laid out. Dana Scully was officially on her way over. Dropping the wet towel over the bedroom doorknob, the small, black-haired woman put on her spandex, followed by her jogging bra and t-shirt. She combed through her hair with her fingers once, glad of the short cut and how quickly it dried. Inspecting her face in the mirror again, she decided that the thin line of pencil on each eyelid was enough, especially since she was planning to sweat.

It was wonderful, she thought, that women could be vulnerable and sweaty together without being sexual, the way a man and woman couldn't. Not that she would *mind* getting sexual with Dana Scully, but she was sure the older woman wasn't interested in anything more than clean, platonic friendship. Besides, it looked like her partner had already staked out a claim on her, from the way he unconsciously put a hand to her elbow or the small of her back whenever they walked. Jenine grimaced at the sexist thought, but had to acknowledge its validity. Mulder had won Jenine's hard-earned respect, and if getting closer to his partner was one of his goals, she wasn't about to put herself in a position to interfere.

One last survey through the apartment to make sure everything was in order. Jenine's chronic neatness demanded that it be that way. Since she so rarely had company, she wanted to make sure everything was especially perfect. She had never seen Dana's home, but she assumed that the other woman kept house as immaculately as she kept her clothing and hair, and wanted very much to be perceived the same way.

Jenine glanced again at the digital watch she wore for exercising. Dana wouldn't be arriving for another twenty minutes, if traffic was good. She should have arranged to take the Metro and meet her somewhere; but no, her proud vanity wanted to have Dana in her home, even if it was only for a moment. Wanted an excuse to invite her in afterwards. Wanted to get to know her better than any conversation two people skating at high speeds could manage to maintain.

Dana pulled off the Beltway onto Route 66. Maybe not the most direct way to get there, Jenine had said, but certainly the easiest. Her hands were trembling slightly, but she tried to tell herself that she just hadn't had enough for breakfast. She'd ask Jenine for some juice or something before they got rolling.

Jenine's directions were easy enough to follow, and Scully soon found herself in the parking lot of an attractive apartment building. She maneuvered her car to one of the yellow-curbed visitor spaces, grabbed her hip pouch, and jogged lightly toward the front door.

The black-haired woman had been waiting so intently for the doorbell that the sound of it startled her. She jumped up with barely contained excitement to admit her guest.

"Dana. Hi!" she said, opening the door. Jenine moved back from the doorway to let the other woman in. Scully stopped just inside the door, looking around the way everyone did in an unfamiliar place. Jenine took the opportunity to close the door, turning the deadbolt out of habit.

"Well?" Jenine asked. "Do you like it?"

"Yeah," Dana answered. "It's very nice. It's very you. Somehow, I just knew you'd be a neat freak." She smiled to soften the comment, and was rewarded with an answering grin. She looked a lot different in exercise clothes, Jenine thought. Softer, more vulnerable, and less the no-nonsense Agent. She'd even smiled!

"Can I get you something to drink? Did you have breakfast?"

"A glass of juice would be great," Scully said, grateful that she didn't have to bring it up and sound like a mooch. She sat on the beige sofa and watched Jenine through the kitchen pass-through. When the other woman returned to the living room, Dana unconsciously scooted over to make room for her on the ample couch, and accepted the tall glass with a nod. Jenine had poured one for herself, as well.

"Where do you want to go?" Jenine asked. "You volunteered to drive all the way out here; did you want to go to one of the parks on my side of the Potomac?"

"I usually skate in either Rock Creek in D.C., or Sligo Creek in Maryland. I'd be glad to try out a new park. I actually didn't have one in mind." I came out here because I wanted to see where you live, Scully added silently. Even though she didn't say the thought out loud, she felt a flush creeping over her face. She looked down into her juice, waiting for the embarrassment to go away. It was much easier to feel in control while wearing a business suit than it was in sweats.

Jenine stood suddenly and rummaged in one of her bookshelves, returning with a spiral-bound map. She opened it and set it on Dana's lap with a flourish. They pored over it together, both using the excuse to sit close, and finally decided to go with Rock Creek after all.

"If," Jenine said with uncertainty, "you don't mind driving all that way, and then all the way back here." She could always take the subway home, but she decided not to mention the option.

Dana brushed off the concern with a wave of her hand. "It'll be fun to share my park with someone. You can bring a change of clothes if you want, and we can go back to my place to shower afterwards." Together. Maybe. Better lose that train of thought, Dana, or you'll be blushing again.

Jenine smiled. "That sounds good. Come into the bedroom with me while I throw some things together."

They stood, and Jenine led the way down the hall and through the open door. There wasn't a chair, so Dana perched on the end of the bed and looked around.

It was a larger room than the apartment seemed to be able to accommodate. The walls were painted powder blue, and some framed prints hung on them. The curtains on the one window were mostly peach, but with flecks of the same blue as the walls. A small stereo system sat on the shelf at the head of the queen-sized bed, with one speaker on each end. Jenine followed Dana's glance and smiled shyly.

"Surround sound," she explained. "Or at least my pathetic attempt at it. When I can't sleep, I put on some meditation music, or ocean waves. The stereo effect is great -- very relaxing."

Scully nodded. Maybe some day she'd experience it for herself. Clamping down on that thought, she looked over the rest of the room.

The bed and dressers were part of a set -- that kind of bed with the wooden frame and built-in night-tables. The dressertops were draped neatly with silk scarves, and further adorned by a picture frame here and there. A collection of crystals spilled deliberately out of a seashell-shaped bowl on the taller of the two dressers. It smacked more of creativity than of disorder; a carefully arranged display. Dana had no doubt that Jenine knew all the different stones by name.

One of the night-tables had an open cabinet that had been converted into a low bookshelf, and housed several well-worn paperbacks. Most were fiction or science fiction, some were research, and a couple were unmistakably women-oriented one-handed reading.

She had to squint to make out the names of the cassette tapes in their holder on the opposite wall, but what she did see compounded with the books to confirm her theories about Jenine's orientation. Indigo Girls, Sophie B. Hawkins, and other lesbian and bi musicians were among the many artists featured on the tape rack.

Jenine caught her reading the titles. "I have eclectic tastes," she explained with a shy smile, zipping up her purple duffel bag. "Ready to go? You can grab a tape for the car, if you want."

Scully stood and strolled to the rack. Her selection was important: it would be Jenine's first clue that something other than platonic interest might be going on in Dana's mind. She perused the collection for a moment, her fingers pausing over Suzanne Vega. Might not be obvious enough. What the hell, she thought. I want to listen to it.

She pulled the tape out and handed it to Jenine. "Great lesbians in rock," Dana said.

"Collect the whole set," Jenine added, and they both laughed. This was going to be a great day.

------------------------------------------------------------------

The teenage boy on the bicycle couldn't help but notice the two women on skates up ahead. They were both small and petite, wearing tight pants and long t-shirts. The one with the red hair laughed at something the other said, throwing her head back far enough that he thought she might lose her balance. She took the black-haired woman's hand, and the two zoomed on ahead of him, around the bend in the trail.

When he got around the corner, he didn't see them in front of him anymore. The boy puzzled at that for a moment, before registering two petite forms on a bench as he whizzed by. That's what happens when you go too fast, he thought. You have to stop and catch your breath more often. Feeling smug about the steadiness of his pace, he pedaled ahead into the sun-dappled woods.

Jenine lifted her shirt to wipe the sheen of moisture from her face, and sat back on the bench with a sigh.

"That feels good," she breathed. Dana nodded, leaning forward and bracing her elbows on her spread knees.

"I'm about ready to head back if you are," Jenine added, noticing that her skating partner was having trouble catching her breath. Dana just nodded again, but didn't move for a few minutes. They rested in silence, the sound of their labored breathing mixing with the birdsong and the rustle of the trees. Finally, the red-head stood, stepping carefully back onto the paved path. Jenine joined her. Holding hands like it was the most natural thing in the world, they started a more leisurely glide back the way they came.

Jenine tried to pause and think back to when their hands had first joined. Maybe it had been when Dana stumbled over a piece of stray gravel and she had reached out to steady the other woman. Maybe it had been earlier, or later. It felt good, and right, and Jenine wasn't about to complain, but it *was* a little confusing. After all, Dana was straight, wasn't she? And she had no idea about Jenine's sexuality, did she? The books and the tapes might have given it away to someone who knew what she was looking for, but she didn't dare hope that Dana was looking.

The trip back along the path seemed much longer than the path out, maybe because she hadn't been thinking about the distance before. Scully's breathing was labored, and every once in a while, Jenine would notice her slowing her strides a little. She glanced over questioningly, but Scully made no mention or sign of a desire to slow down or rest. At the next bench, the black-haired woman pulled her skating partner to a halt.

"Are you okay, Dana?"

Scully looked away for a moment -- just long enough that Jenine knew she was about to lie. "I'm fine."

"I'm not Mulder," Jenine reminded her, squeezing her hands for emphasis. "You can show me that you're human without being afraid that it'll change my opinion of you."

Dana sat heavily on the wooden bench; Jenine perched quietly beside her. The red-head made a careful study of the wood grain with her fingernail before finally answering in a quieter, subdued voice.

"I'm just out of breath. When I invited you skating, I didn't think you actually skated, or that you'd accept. I didn't realize how out-of-practice I was. I'm afraid I embarrassed myself with my offer. .. .I'm trying, but I just can't keep up your pace."

Jenine let out a breath that she hadn't realized she was holding. "Silly woman," she admonished. "You're the doctor. You think I'd know what to do if you passed out on me? All you had to do was ask me to slow down."

Scully shrugged, still looking away. "I know, but. . .I try so hard at work to be unshakable that it's second nature. I forget how to be honest about myself."

Jenine took her hand consciously this time. "It's okay to tell me how you feel, what you need. I'm not the enemy, and I'm not the competition. I'm not going to think less of you for getting tired. We can sit here as long as you want. Just tell me when you're ready to go." The compassion was rewarded with a warm smile.

"I'm ready now," she answered, pulling herself to her feet. "I'm okay. Besides, the longer I delay this, the longer I have to wait for a shower."

------------------------------------------------------------------

Jenine stepped into Dana's apartment, conscious of mirroring the red-head's actions in her own home earlier that morning. "This is beautiful," she said.

Dana smiled, pleased. "Feel free to look around," she said. "I'll just dig up some towels for us."

Jenine wandered over to the music collection. You could always tell a lot about a person by what they listened to. Scully, for example, had a good sampling of classical and new age music, and lots of female vocalists. Catherine Moon, Ani DiFranco, Melissa Etheridge. . . She was starting to see a pattern here, which surprised her because it was the same pattern that could be seen in her own music collection.

"Anything you want to listen to?" Dana asked, re-entering the room.

"You've got such good taste in music," Jenine answered, shaking her head. "I just can't decide."

Scully smiled and picked a disc off the rack. Jenine didn't see what it was until after the machine whirred to life, and the strains of Enya filled the room. Classic seduction music, Scully thought, then took a deep breath. If she didn't want to shower alone, this was the time to act.

Jenine stood in the middle of the living room, suddenly aware of all the luscious curves of Dana Scully that she'd been trying so hard to ignore all day. The music, the hand-holding. . . it was all starting to add up to a thought, percolating in Jenine's mind; a thought that was just too pleasant to possibly be true.

Scully took a step toward Fordham and wrapped her arms around her in a tight embrace. "I had a lot of fun skating with you," she said into the other woman's ear.

Jenine found her arms wrapping around Dana as well. This felt too good. Ignoring the sweat and how grungy she knew her clammy skin must feel under Scully's hands, this felt too good. Too good to be true.

Jenine pulled back to look in Dana's eyes. "I get the feeling you're trying to tell me something," she whispered with a grin.

Dana swallowed hard. She let her hands wander down to Jenine's hips. "Yes. I'm, um, trying to tell you that. . . I don't like showering alone."

Two pairs of blue eyes met, sparkled, drew closer. Two sets of ruby lips brushed, joined, opened. Two soft tongues battled to explore. Two soft voices melted in a sigh.

It had started as a gentle hug between two friends, Jenine thought, but she was struggling to figure out how things had gone so quickly from there to this gorgeous woman nibbling her neck and earlobe. Jenine closed her eyes, moaning softly deep in her throat.

Dana was spurred on by the happy little noises. Her hands ceased their caressing motion on Jenine's hips, instead blindly searching for the hem of her shirt, pulling it up and over her head in one fluid motion. She stepped away with the shirt, drinking in the sight before her.

Jenine's head was still thrown back; eyes closed, glossy lips parted to allow her quickened, shallow breath. Cleavage glistened above a white sports bra with paintbrush slashes of pink, purple, and blue. The sight of the tantalizing stretch of midriff below made Dana's lips tingle; she imagined kissing her way down the bare expanse of stomach to the mysteries that lay beyond. The purple spandex showed every inch and curve of the woman's lower body, a teasing hint of how the underlying flesh would appear when it was finally bare and open to her eager examination.

Jenine's flesh still tingled hotly. It took her a moment to realize that Dana was no longer touching her. Her eyes opened slowly to see Scully grinning, hugging the removed shirt to her body.

"Um. . ." Jenine started, then cleared her throat and started again. "Shower?"

"Actually," Dana purred, "I'd prefer to draw us a nice, hot bath."

"I didn't peg you as the bath type," Jenine remarked, regaining her voice. "But, then, I guess I've read you wrong on a couple of counts."

The sultry look vanished; the practical Scully was in front of her again. "Do you want to talk about this before we get carried away?"

"No," Jenine replied with uncommon candor. "I want you to take me right here and not respect me in the morning. But I think we've got better odds of a repeat performance the other way."

"Come on, then." Dana took her softly by the hand and led her to the bathroom. Jenine perched on the pink fuzzy toilet cover, head still spinning. She had hoped, of course, but not really expected, and the newly revealed truth about Dana Scully was going to take a few long moments to adjust to before she could figure out how to react. She watched Dana fiddle expertly with the faucet knobs, pour in bath salts, and test the water as it filled the old-fashioned tub. She turned the faucet off, then stood; extended a hand, which Jenine took. They were standing before each other again.

No time like the present, Jenine thought, and pulled the tight bra up and off. Dana, pretending her eyes weren't glued to the other's breasts, removed her own shirt and bra. In unison, each removed her own pants and socks, peeking only furtively at the body now bared before her. Dana motioned Jenine into the foamy water, then joined her seated guest.

Jenine took the washcloth from the tub ledge. Soaking it, she began caressing Dana's arms with the rough cloth. She would have washed her own body, but Dana had just laid herself bare in more ways than one. Continuing the physical contact would let the other woman know that she needed some time to think, without that time being construed as rejection. Busying her hands seemed to make it easier to think, and thus to speak. Then again, maybe it just provided distraction from those bottomless eyes. Sure, she was taken off-guard, but rejection of so incredible an offer was not in her plans.

"I surprised you, I guess," Dana said, her soft voice echoing off the green and black tile.

"I had no idea," Jenine answered. "How did you know about me?"

"A summation of lots of little hints that didn't mean anything till I put them together. Beginning with your total lack of physical interest in Mulder and culminating in Pat Califia on your bookshelf."

Dana flipped her hair onto her shoulder and turned around -- Jenine read the unspoken request and gladly began stroking her back. It would be easier to talk this way, Dana knew, without that tantalizing flesh to distract her. Besides, it had been a very long time since anyone had volunteered to scrub her body; the cloth (and the warmth of the hand under it. . .but don't think about that yet, Dana) felt wonderful. A long sigh escaped her as months of tension drained away.

"Been a while?" Jenine teased. She dropped the cloth into the water, instead kneading and rubbing the creamy neck and shoulders. Dana leaned back into the massage.

"Not for lack of opportunity. I've put my life on hold the past couple of years. I'm so busy with work, going away all the time. I never felt I could find someone who understood in more than a patronizing kind of way. I didn't think it was fair to have a relationship I couldn't devote time to. And I didn't want casual flings. As a result, my poor back hasn't been rubbed in over a year."

"I understand," Jenine said. "It's hard enough for someone with a desk job, but I know what the field agents go through. Someone on the outside would have to be a saint to be tolerant of your schedule; forget about them trying to understand. It's bad enough being a woman in the Boys' Club. Most of them only see us as their secretaries or as holes with legs. Even the good ones treat us like children."

"I had a relationship with one of my instructors at the Academy," Scully confided, "and I ended up having to work twice as hard for respect because of it. I couldn't wish that on anyone else, so for the two-plus years I taught there, I kept my eyes down and was very careful not to get too friendly with my students. It became habit, I guess. And how about you? How have you found your solace in the Bureau?"

Jenine shrugged, a motion that Dana felt in the rippling of the water. "I haven't. I've been so intent on doing my job that I haven't had time to make friends, and I've been closeted to protect my reputation. Personally, I don't care if word gets out now, but I did worry at first about the possibility of homophobia in my department. I didn't want to be on the shit-list when assignments were handed out. As you said, keeping my head down came to be a habit. So, to answer your question, I haven't had a date since college. Two years."

"I hope you don't mind me asking, but have you ever dated men?"

"Once or twice. I stopped when I realized it wasn't fulfilling. These days, though, nothing's been fulfilling. Without putting personal ads in my memos, I didn't know how to meet someone who could understand the kind of job I have, and the fact that sometimes I can't talk about what I do at work. I'd given up on trying to have a relationship with those kinds of constraints."

"So had I. I don't have the time to devote to it. Lately I'm away so much, the only people I see anymore are witnesses, suspects, and corpses."

"And Mulder," Jenine supplied.

"And Mulder," she acknowledged, shaking her head with a sigh. Those hands felt heavenly, kneading away her tension. It was hard to concentrate on thinking about Mulder and danger and work in the midst of such attention. She realized, though, that Jenine was probably waiting for confirmation that the two of them weren't involved before she stepped in.

"I love him dearly, which he knows even though I could never tell him so. And I know he'd do anything for me -- including drop his pants --if I asked him to. But most of the time, he's so wrapped up in himself and his work that he doesn't realize any of the rest of us exist. You knew him in Violent Crimes, so I'm sure you know how many women throw themselves at him on a regular basis, but poor Mulder's so consumed by his quest for Truth, Justice, and Aliens that he doesn't even see them. If I'm going to give myself to someone, I need something in return. That's why it would never work: I've long accepted the fact that he just doesn't have it to give. So while I appreciate his charm and good looks with the best of 'em, I'm just not interested."

"You've had to defend him a lot, because of the nature of your work. I know how the Bureau operates. If you got involved with him, and it became common knowledge, much of your credibility as his partner would go down the drain."

Scully nodded. "These hick sheriffs are the worst. It's hard enough to convince them that I'm a qualified agent with a brain as it is. If Mulder and I shared a hotel room, there'd be no talking to them. That's become equally obvious over the years. No, Mulder and I have a great working relationship and a great friendship. But we'll never be more." She thought she felt Jenine melt in relief, but couldn't be sure.

"And us?" Jenine ventured, wrapping her arms around the fragile shoulders in an embrace; whispering through the damp tendrils to the dainty ear. "Will we be more?"

Dana leaned back into her arms. "I hope so."

Jenine was silent. It was what she wanted to hear so badly that having it confirmed knocked her speechless. "I bet you say that to all the girls," she teased to cover her nervousness.

"I won't deny that I've occasionally had sex on the first date. I won't deny that I've had experience with women, though it has been a while. But, I feel something very special for you, something I think is mutual; and I hope that we can explore it as far as it will go, without worrying about the Bureau or anyone else's opinions on the matter."

"I'm ready to be out if you are," Jenine answered. "I've just been waiting for the right person to come along."

They spoke for what seemed to be hours; sharing thoughts, experiences, desires. Washing each other's bodies and hair with barely remembered tenderness. Finally, all the bubbles were gone from the cooling water. Dana, ever the doctor, remarked on how Jenine was starting to shiver.

Toweling off was as much of an adventure as washing, and more intimate. The gentle discussion and embraces in the tub had increased familiarity and eased shyness of each other's bodies. The close drying of Jenine's body revealed to Dana a shaved pubic region and a lavender triangle tattooed on her hip; a similar inspection of Dana brought an appendectomy scar and a small mark at the base of the neck to Jenine's questing fingertips.

It wasn't quite dark outside when they were done, but between the skating and the long conversation, much of the day had passed. A mutual decision was made to delay dinner, in favor of other forms of nourishment long overdue.

"Are you sure?" Jenine asked. "It *is* only our first date, after all."

Dana Scully let her terrycloth robe drop from one shoulder as she lounged in the bedroom doorway. She gave Jenine the best come-hither look she could muster. It was all the answer she needed.

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[note: This section contains detailed descriptions of safe sex between women. It contains no relevant plot information, so if you don't want to know the sordid details, skip on to part four. I deliberately chose to have them use barriers, even though this is a fantasy world where good guys don't get STD's, because of the pathetic lack of lesbian safer-sex out there, both in fiction and in practice. Maybe if enough people write it, and it sounds hot enough, more people will do it. That said, on with the story...]

It started with an embrace, just as it had earlier in the afternoon. The difference was that this time, both expected what came next. The gentle meeting of lips soon intensified, driven by hunger and desire. Jenine parted her lips; met Dana's soft tongue with her own. She could feel the hands brushing down her sides, leaving trails of fire, stopping to cup her ass firmly before wandering up her back. She brought her own fingers into action. Cupping a heavy breast with one hand and snaking the other up to bury her fingers in the thick coppery hair; pulling the other's head closer with feverish intensity, as if swallowing her whole would keep the sensations alive forever.

They fell back on the bed. Towels and robes were soon discarded, giving hands more territory to explore. Dana certainly had a natural redhead's creamy pale complexion, lightly dotted with freckles. Jenine sipped at her skin, tasting her neck and breasts before returning to the full, hungry lips.

Their legs entwined. Dana pushed her thigh against Jenine's smooth mound, delighting in the gasp and moan her action produced. Jenine's hips thrust toward her involuntarily. Dana, picking up the rhythm, joined with small nudges against and into the growing wetness at her thigh. Her strong hands clasped Jenine's sweet ass, rolling the other woman on top of her.

Jenine wasn't sure she was ready to climax yet, but the delicious friction against her clit and the mouth sucking roughly at her neck were driving her over the edge, giving her little choice. Her gasps grew louder and more ragged, though she struggled to hold back.

"Yes," Dana breathed against her neck. "Let it go."

At that urging, the floodgates opened. Jenine's gasps turned into loud moans and sighs as she pressed herself harder and more furiously onto the woman below her. Dana's whispers spurred her on until Jenine tensed, panting, feeling nothing but the warm flesh below her and the spasms of her own body.

After the stars faded from her blurred vision and she regained control of her limbs, Jenine sank back on the bed into Dana's tender embrace. She lifted her lips to Dana's ear, kissing and nibbling gently.

"Oh, God, Dana," she whispered breathlessly. "I've never come that way before."

Scully laughed, a deep throaty sound. It turned to a gasp as fingers closed around her nipple, pinching and teasing it to full hardness. Jenine apparently didn't need much time to recuperate. Moving down, she took the nipple in her mouth, swirling her tongue around it as her hand began the same teasing treatment on the other breast. Dana tasted clean, and a little salty. Perfect. Jenine's tongue explored all the folds of the crinkly hardness, then pulled back to lap gentle circles around the heaving breast.

Her hand left the other breast to trace a tingling path down to the creamy thigh. Dana opened her legs -- an unspoken invitation to continue inward. Jenine hesitated.

We haven't talked about disease, or set any ground rules, Jenine thought, and I really should use a glove; just as Dana yanked open the night-table drawer and pulled out such an item. Trust a pathologist to have gloves nearby. "Thank you," she whispered. "I was just about to ask." Snapping the latex onto her left hand, Jenine resumed her feather-light caress.

Jenine could see the sweet nectar of Dana's excitement between the parted nether lips. She wanted desperately to taste it, to bury her face in the slick flesh and drink in the scent of her lover, but she restrained herself. They hadn't talked about disease and, though it was so very tempting, if they were going to be safe with hands, tongues were certainly out of the question for now. Besides, she rationalized, it gave her something to fantasize about until next time.

Jenine moved to the foot of the bed, spreading Dana's legs wider. Her practiced mouth trailed licks and kisses along the inner thighs.

Sheer heaven, Dana thought with a little moan. Then she felt the touch on her outer lips. Tracing gently like a tongue would. But she could clearly feel Jenine's mouth planting a love-bite on her inner thigh. It must be a gloved finger tracing her labia, brushing, stroking. Slipping inside to feel her heat before finally whispering over the tiny attention-starved clit. Two fingers slid inside her, thrusting gently. She knew it was a thumb on her clit, slick with her own heat, but it felt so wet, so much like a lapping tongue. And those fingers, rhythmically pushing ever deeper, ever harder until the tingling sensation became overwhelming and she floated up, up the crest of her shuddering, clenching climax. . .

And back down to earth; to her sweaty, panting body and her lover's sweet lips and tender embrace.

"That was amazing," she gasped. Jenine, propped up on one elbow, smiled down at her.

"You're beautiful, Dana. And even more beautiful when you come."

She stripped off the used glove, then took the still-trembling woman into her arms with a gentle kiss to her forehead.

Dana snuggled in closer and sighed contentedly. It had never felt so right.

Jenine tightened her grip on the woman in her arms and sighed contentedly. It had never felt so right.

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". . .And this is me with my sister," Dana said, smoothing the page in the photo album. "You would have liked her. In fact, in some ways you remind me of her."

"How?" Jenine asked, peering closer at the picture. The two pre-teen girls were standing at a pier, in front of a large boat, arms around each other by duress. Both squinted into the sun. They matched in all respects, from the long, braided red hair to the exasperated expression on their faces. It was clear that this was far from the first photo of the day.

"She enjoyed collecting crystals, like you do. Except I get the feeling that yours are more for display. She was very much into all that strange New Age stuff. Things like channeling and crystal healing and karma. Stuff even Mulder scoffs at." She leaned into Jenine's shoulder with a sigh. "It's hard to believe that two people with such different belief systems could have come through the same home and the same schools."

"Catholic school, Dana?" Jenine gently teased.

"Of course," she answered, too absorbed in the photo and the memories to catch the sarcasm. Her finger traced idly over the picture as she continued. "Sometimes as many as three different schools in a year, depending on where our father was stationed. But Missy never had trouble making friends. Oh, here's Daddy, in his uniform. A very commanding presence, as you can see. He wouldn't have approved of us. But, then, I never felt like he approved of anything I did. I always tried so hard to please him, but he was never one to hand out praise. It wasn't till he died that I realized he really was proud of me in his own stoic way."

"You said your father used to read _Moby Dick_ to you?" Jenine asked. Dana nodded, still looking at the photo.

"Then he must have read you my favorite line from Moby Dick."

"The one about hell and apple dumplings?" Dana asked.

"No, the one that goes, 'There is no place like a bed for confidential disclosures between friends.'"

A sad smile hovered at the corners of Dana's mouth. "You're saying that as long as I'm happy, he'd have approved?"

"I don't think anyone can answer that but you. Though I would point you to my second-favorite line from Moby Dick: 'How is it that we still refuse to be comforted for those who we nevertheless maintain are dwelling in unspeakable bliss?'"

"Now you're saying that I should stop worrying about him and what he would think." She chewed her lip, thinking and staring off into space. Jenine trailed a gentle finger down her lover's jaw. Abruptly, she turned back to Dana's album. The soul searching and doubt could wait.

"This is your sister as an adult?" Jenine asked.

"Yes. She was certainly beautiful. Tall and skinny with hair that fell naturally into perfect waves."

"Actually, Dana. . .I think you're much more attractive."

"Really?" she asked, years of self-doubt evident in her eyes.

"Really," Jenine confirmed. "Your hair is beautiful and thick, and you're just curvy enough that I don't get poked by your hipbones. And we're the same height, so we can kiss standing up. You're perfect."

Dana flushed a pale pink, but couldn't hide her grin.

"And are these your brothers?" Jenine pointed to the picture on the opposite page. Two boys squinting into the sun, just as the girls had been. Dana's eyes refocused, returning to the present.

"Yup. Charles and Bill. Both married now. In fact, I babysit for Bill and his wife every so often, so you'll have to amend your list of lifeforms I come in contact with: witnesses, suspects, corpses, and five-year-olds."

Jenine shuddered. "Which is worse, the five-year-olds or the corpses?"

Dana laughed. A real laugh. "Well, the five-year-olds are cuter, but the corpses don't insist on watching the same movie fifteen times a day. . .so I'd say it's a toss-up."

"I remember when my cousin was at that stage. It was 'Pinocchio'. I hated it. As soon as it finished, he'd insist on starting it again. He's about ten now, though, so I'm out of the loop. What's the current five-year-old favorite?"

"'Babe'. Followed closely by 'Free Willy'. If I never see another whale again. . ."

Her rant was cut short by the ringing of the phone. Dana sat up straight with a jerk, pulling the sheet over her bare breasts out of habit and startling Jenine, who bolted upright also. Dana reached over and picked up the extension on the nighttable.

"Scully," she answered, suddenly no-nonsense. Jenine strained to see the clock while Scully listened to the voice on the other end of the phone. It was only about 8:30 -- much earlier than she'd expected, considering the full day they'd had.

"I'd rather. . .No, it's just. . .I really don't. . .okay. Yes. No, but. . .Are you sure? Okay." She returned the phone to its cradle and slumped back against the headboard. Her arms snaked around the black-haired woman's neck as she pulled her in for a long kiss, then leaned back again with a sigh.

"Speaking of five-year-olds. . ."

"Who was on the phone, Dana?"

"Mulder." She sighed again. "He wants to bring some files over. I told him no, but he wouldn't listen."

"Does he know I'm here?"

"Yes, and he knows we haven't had dinner. He says he's bringing take-out with him. If you really mind, we can sneak out before he gets here."

"No, I don't mind. I like him. I just wonder if it'll be a little awkward, with me here. I mean, because of this afternoon, and also because of the classified nature of your work."

Dana closed the photo album and put it aside. She stood and rummaged through her dresser for clothing. "No," she said as she dressed, "the work isn't something to concern yourself about. You're so brilliant that we'd be lucky to have you around to add your input. The issue is whether you feel comfortable around Mulder." She shrugged into black spandex and an oversized Navy sweatshirt. She still looked as gorgeous as she had fresh from the tub. Even more so, perhaps, with that post-coital glow lingering about her face.

"I feel fine around Mulder," Jenine insisted. "But I'll feel a lot better around him if you show me where we threw my change of clothes."

Dana looked at her for a long moment, and her face slowly melted into a smile.

"What?" Jenine asked, drawing the sheet up over her breasts self-consciously.

"You're beautiful, Jenine. I just can't believe there's a naked woman in my bed."

"Just wait till Mulder leaves, and I'll prove it to you again," she offered with a grin, standing and stretching. Scully sighed and turned back to the mirror, watching the woman's reflection as she attempted to tame her tangles with a hairbrush. She watched Jenine's graceful form bending down to her backpack and extracting leggings, a long skirt, and a lightweight oversized sweater. Finally deciding to use their remaining few minutes of privacy on something more constructive, Dana gathered her hair into a disheveled ponytail and took the now-dressed woman in her arms. They embraced for a long moment, swaying gently as if dancing.

"I'm so glad we did this," Dana whispered.

"Thank you for inviting me," Jenine answered, and tenderly kissed Dana's neck just as the doorbell rang.

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"Who is it?" Dana called through the door.

"Room service," the male voice answered. Scully smiled at Jenine and undid the lock, allowing Mulder entrance. He carried a bag full of fragrant boxes, which he busily began arranging on the dining room table as Scully closed the door behind him. After he was done setting out the food, he moved to the kitchen cabinets for plates.

He hadn't hugged Scully, or kissed her cheek in greeting, but still somehow he acted, Jenine noted, as if he owned the place. She felt suddenly uncomfortable and out-of-place. This man was more at home in her lover's apartment than she was. Of course, it was only her first visit. She wondered vaguely if he was showing off with his knowledge of where Scully kept her dishes, using it to maintain his claim on his partner and show Jenine that he had been there first. Jenine decided smugly that a little posturing on his part could be easily ignored; after all, she was the one who had been chosen to share Dana's bed.

Mulder returned to the table with plates, silverware, and glasses full of ice. The two women stood silently, watching as he played host. Then, when the table was set and the boxes opened, the tall man gestured the women to their seats with a flourish, holding out their chairs for them.

"What's the occasion, Mulder?" Scully asked, helping herself to the contents of one box. Spicy Indian dishes of noodles and curries made Jenine realize how long it had been since she'd eaten, and how much exercise seh'd had over the course of the long day.

"Your happiness," Mulder answered. "If I didn't know better, I'd say the two of you were glowing."

"Must be a side-effect of the radiation you exposed me to in that last case," she retorted with a lopsided grin. She handed the carton to Jenine, her fingers lingering on the other woman's for a moment.

"No, I don't think so," he answered. "Unless it's contagious. Because Agent Fordham here seems to be glowing, too, and she was not along on our trip."

"Happiness is highly contagious, Mulder," Jenine said, spooning noodles onto her own plate. "Watch out -- you might be next."

His smile turned to a telling grin. "Now there's an idea." He turned to his partner. "Hey, Scully, can I be next?"

She leaned closer to him, lips glazed from the oils of the food. "In your dreams, het boy."

He leaned back with a smug expression, enjoying the look of satiety on her face. It wasn't something he often got a chance to see, and he was glad she'd allowed him to come over and observe her in her bliss.

"So, what's this case, Mulder?" Jenine asked. "And what makes it so important?"

"An animal rescue shelter in New Mexico is experiencing strange phenomena. Animals left in the outdoor pens overnight are found mutilated in the morning, but the cages are still securely locked."

"Where in New Mexico would this be?"

"Right outside of Roswell."

"Of course," Scully muttered.

"And you think. . .what?" Fordham asked. Scully observed the black-haired woman with a sidelong glance. Her transformation was amazing. She'd just been giggling and blushing, and now with the slightest mention of a case, the stern mask of deep concentration had descended over her. Dana thought that if she stood and stripped in front of the woman now, Jenine would merely observe silently and jot down notes.

"I don't know how much you know about UFO lore, Fordham," Mulder started.

"Enough to know that 99% of it is fake and the rest is fabricated."

Scully stifled a giggle behind her hand, earning a dirty look from Mulder and a mischievous wink from Fordham.

"Why do you say that?" Mulder asked her, leaning forward.

Jenine sighed. "Take Roswell, for example. This craft supposedly falls to earth, breaking apart into thin metallic pieces on impact, right?" At his nod, she continued, "These pieces could be bent, twisted, crushed, and burned by any conceivable means, yet would not break. Is that correct?"

"Yes," he agreed.

She grinned a deceptively naive grin, concluding triumphantly, "So tell me, Agent Mulder: if this metal was unbreakable, how did it fracture into collectable, conveniently small pieces?"

He stared at her, speechless. Dana was now all-out laughing, a sound which Mulder rarely heard. It was almost worth the humiliation that had spawned it.

"It's conceivable that the impact with our atmosphere created sufficient energy to --"

"To make a sufficient bullshit excuse," she finished for him. She settled back in her chair and crossed her arms. "I don't buy it."

"Is this your feeling about all UFO experiences?" he asked.

"I find enough inconsistencies in the accounts to destroy their credibility, yes."

"Based on the laws of physics?" he asked, with a glance to his partner.

"Based on the contradictions inherent in each independent case. I don't doubt an indestructable material can be developed with sufficient technology. I just don't know how an indestructable material can break."

"What about abduction experiences?" he asked, eyes shining dangerously.

Dana cleared her throat and stood. "I'm gonna make some tea."

"Well," Jenine started, watching her lover cross to the sink, "it's obvious that these people have been through something. But I don't know what, and neither do they. I'm more inclined to believe in clandestine terrestrial activity."

"How would that account for people's recollections of being levitated out of their houses, though?" he asked.

"Psychotropic drugs," she answered with a shrug. "They see the creatures by the bed, and the next thing they know, they're floating. Seems to me a nice valium cocktail could do that."

"Interesting," Mulder conceded with a glance to the kitchen. Scully had turned the water on to fill the kettle, and possibly to block out the conversation at the table. Jenine leaned forward suddenly, putting her hand over Mulder's to get his attention.

"Why does this bother her?" she whispered.

He leaned his head close to hers, eyes still on the woman at the sink. "Ask me again sometime," he answered, his lips hardly moving.

Jenine sat back slowly, her mind suddenly in overdrive. Mulder thought that if he listened hard enough, he might actually be able to hear the gears turn. He stood suddenly, joining his partner at the sink. She watched them for a moment, then wandered out to the sofa, facing away from the kitchen, to give them some privacy. Presumably, Mulder was telling Scully about Jenine's curiosity, but for all she knew he might just be helping her with the teacups.

After only a couple minutes, Dana emerged with two cups. She handed one to Jenine and sat next to her, leaning her head contentedly on the other woman's shoulder.

"Hi," Jenine ventured.

"Hi," Dana answered, kissing Jenine's cheek softly. "Mulder just asked me if he should hang around, or if we want to kick him out. Personally, I'm perfectly content just being in the room with you; I don't mind if he stays or goes. But it's up to you."

"I'm enjoying the conversation," Jenine said. "He can stay. I think he's just here to check me out and make sure I'm good for you."

"Well, of course I am," Mulder said, entering from the kitchen. "What else would a friend do but bring dinner to two women who've been so sexually repressed for so many years that it's doubtful they'd take a calorie break of their own recognizance."

He carried his own cup and a teapot, which he carefully set on the low glass table. He took the chair, to more easily face the couple on the sofa. They held hands, and were still grinning like fools, but weren't as demonstrative as he'd feared they might be. He didn't know what the sight of the two women kissing would do to him. Besides send him home to his video collection in a hurry.

He opened his mouth to speak, but instead just closed it again and gazed at them a moment longer. To make small talk would ruin the moment. To actually share his feelings and tell Dana how happy he was for her would not only be out of character, it would be downright uncomfortable.

"You know what?" he finally asked. "I'm pretty much talked out. But I would like to accept your invitation to stay a little longer. Mind if I pop in a movie?"

Scully smiled. "That would be nice, Mulder. Thank you."

Half an hour into "The Exorcist", Mulder happened to glance over toward the couch. Jenine was curled up in the corner, Dana's head resting peacefully in her lap. One of Fordham's hands was resting on Scully's hair, as if she'd fallen asleep in the act of stroking the auburn tresses.

He discovered a crocheted afghan in his partner's linen closet, and gently covered the sleeping pair. Then with a final tender smile, he slipped out the door, leaving them alone with their newfound joy.

 


 

Joining the Ranks IV: Sunday in the Rain
by G. Harbowy grh@teatime.com

Disclaimer: X-Files and all characters therein belong to Chris Carter and 1013 Productions and lots of other people who aren't me. Jenine Fordham belongs to me, but I'm not making any money from her, either. This story is part four of Joining The Ranks. You might want to read parts 1-3 first, or this might not make as much sense. If you're offended by lesbian content, you may not wish to read this story, though nothing graphic happens in this installment.

Thanks to my wonderful group of beta-readers and editors, Emu and several other great women, many of whom can be found on the GAEB.


At some point, we must have gotten up and moved to the bedroom, but I don't remember it. We're curled up together on top of the comforter, tangled in my grandmother's afghan. I vaguely recall Mulder draping us with it as he left, but I have no memory of bringing it to bed.

My arm is stiff where she's lying on it, and my legs are sore from yesterday's skating. There's nothing I'd rather do right now than stretch. So I do.

In the past, sleeping with men, I always felt obligated to lie still, not fidgeting or stretching, as though my bed and I had become a means to an end; an inconvenience once that need had been met. Sex had always been a complex dance of glances and movements, and my role in the morning was simply to wave goodbye.

I feel none of that pretense with Jenine. I want to stretch, and I do. It amazes me that the simple instinct to listen to my body could have become such a struggle. Something deep, I think, has clicked into place with the acknowledgement that there is no such struggle now.

I extend my legs, feeling the tendons and muscles burn their complaint. I scrunch and relax my toes, then slowly rotate my ankles. My elbow cracks satisfyingly when I finally straighten it. Jenine shifts lightly; she rolls over, taking the blanket with her, but does not wake.

I glance over my shoulder at the clock on the nightstand. The luminous red numbers report a much later time than I would have expected, considering how dark it is in the room. I gradually become aware of the explanation: the rain pattering gently on the window. Extending my awareness I can hear the splash of the occasional car as it disturbs shallow puddles on the road.

I shift again, curling up closer to Jenine and stealing a corner of blanket for myself. I'd forgotten what sharing a bed is like -- the give and take of pillows and coverings, the hesitation to shift for fear of disturbing the other's rest. But now, propped up on one elbow and running my fingers through the soft hairs at the base of her neck, I think that it's something I can learn. Something I want to learn.

Her hair fascinates me. It's so black. Lots of people look like they have black hair from a distance, but upon close inspection, it's just very dark brown. Hers is really black. Black as night. Black as coal. It's a color I could never manage -- my skin is too fair --but the slight olive tint to her complexion is a perfect complement. She looks Mediterranean. For all I know, she may be. I'm looking forward to a reciprocal guided tour through her photo album.

I snake my arm around her and pull her close. She moans gently, mumbling nonsense words that might make perfect sense in a language unknown to me. She shifts, rolls toward me, and peeks at me through half-opened eyes.

"I thought I'd been dreaming," she whispers.

"Dreaming what?" I ask.

"Everything," she answers. "Yesterday. Last night. Your arms around me. But I'm here, so it must all be real."

"It's real," I assure her.

"Good," she answers with a smile, extending her arms to me.

I fit easily into the curve of her arm. Her thin fingers trace circles on my shoulder, easing me back toward a restful sleep. She's cleansed me, purified the room with her presence. I can't imagine ever having a nightmare in this bed again; not when I can smell her on the sheets and see her sleeping form inside my eyelids.

I'm just about to doze off when I feel the weight shift on the mattress. She gets up and pads lightly toward the bathroom. The light flicks on, illuminating the hallway. I hear the creak of the faucet and soft rush of water in the sink. I pull myself out of bed and follow the sound of the water, running my tongue along my teeth and realizing that curry is not nearly as pleasant in the morning.

She's just found the toothpaste as I enter, and I join her in the ritual. She rinses her mouth a final time, watches me as I finish. I'm self- conscious about spitting the line of white foam into the basin, but she doesn't seem to react. After what we shared last night -- the extent to which I let myself lose control --spitting is trivial.

"Bath?" I ask.

"Shower," she answers decisively. "I've got an idea of how long we might spend in the tub, and I'm hungry."

She grins impishly at me, and I sigh inwardly. Some sixth sense tells me that this grin is going to be my weak spot, and that she already knows it.

"Shower it is," I agree, moving to turn the light on in the little stall in the corner.

I never use my shower stall. Mostly because I prefer to lounge in the tub, playing with bubbles and watching my toes wrinkle; shaving my legs without getting water in my eyes. In fact, the deep, old-fashioned tub was one of the deciding factors when I got this apartment. I guess for some people washing is merely a necessary chore, but for me it's always been one of the few times I can relax without interruption.

The stall has no windows, just a single dim bulb. If I leave the frosted glass door open, I flood the bathroom, but if I close it, I feel cut off from the rest of the apartment -- unable to hear or react to anything that might be out of place. It's a learned paranoia, and I will admit freely to having learned it. Not from Mulder, but from college, where a common prank was the removal of the victim's clothes from the bathroom.

Of course, the only prankster now in my apartment is the one who wants to share the stall with me. Nor do I plan on shaving this morning. So it takes little persuasion to get me to lean into the tiled compartment and turn the faucets to a comfortable shade of warm.

Jenine has found clean towels under the sink, and lays them out on the counter. We strip, and she joins me under the running water, where we manage to wash with minimal distraction.

Once we are clean and dry, we wander out to the living room. The mess isn't as bad as I had expected. I forgot that I had taken care of the dishes last night while Mulder drilled Jenine on her alien abduction beliefs. The only thing remaining is the teapot on the table -- he even put the cups in the sink before he left.

I rinse out the teapot and put the kettle on. Jenine pulls out a chair, the same one she sat in last night, and watches me.

"Anything I can do?" she offers.

"You could put on some music," I answer. I'm rewarded with strains of Vivaldi as I slice bagels and put them in the toaster oven. She returns to the chair. She's put on her long sweater from last night, but I don't think she's wearing anything else. I'm in my white terrycloth robe, and I know I'm not wearing anything else. I'm hoping for a repeat performance after breakfast.

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A repeat performance isn't exactly what I get. A walk is. She comes up with the crazy idea of going for a walk in the rain. I'm enjoying the radiance of her presence, so I agree. Besides, I'm fairly sure the silly grin hasn't worn off my face yet -- I'm bound to be a little unpredictable.

We take turns holding the umbrella, sometimes sharing the burden of it as an excuse to have our fingers touch. I am comfortable with her. I enjoy her. But I don't know if I'm ready to have the rest of the world know it yet. This feeling of satiety is too new, too special. I want to covet her a while longer.

We reach the coffee shop on the corner and I duck in, pulling her along with me. Jenine's not the only one who can be silly and spontaneous, after all. I buy a large hot chocolate with whipped cream and take it to the counter in front of the window, where we sit on high stools and take turns sipping at the drink while watching traffic go by.

I spend so much time away from home that no one knows me here in my neighborhood. The anonymity feels like safety. Acting out of character feels like safety, too. I can't imagine Skinner, or even my best friend Ellen, walking by and recognizing me.

Jenine looks out the window, watching the rain. I watch her. I'm fascinated by her delicate hands, remembering in my skin the incredible talents they possess. Her eyelashes are long, like a little girl's. Her face is smooth and unblemished. Her lips and cheeks are flushed a deep pink from the warmth of the cocoa. I want her.

She turns to me, conscious of my gaze, and grins.

"Ain't ya never seen a woman before?" she asks gently.

"Not one like you," I answer.

Her cheeks are suddenly a darker shade of rose. I doubt it's from the drink.

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Back home again, we sit curled together on the sofa, watching the rain. I ask her what her plans are for the day. She sighs against my shoulder.

"I should really get home at some point," she says, "but I just don't want to move."

"I could put a few things together and --" The end of the sentence tapers off in my throat. This is where I'm used to becoming the subdued doormat; holding my lover's coat for him and waving goodbye from the window. It's still new to me, this idea that it doesn't have to be that way. Society has trained me, but maybe not as thoroughly as I would have thought.

"I'd like that," she answers softly, smoothly, cutting off my internal soliloquy of doubt.

I wrap my arms tighter around her. It's so soothing to just snuggle with someone, listening to the music of the rain. It feels like one of those stylized photographs where the background is black and white, but the foreground is retouched in vivid color. That's the only way to describe how sensitized I am to every new sensation: the warm shift of her body against me, the soft caress of her breath on my cheek, the perfect fit of holding a hand as small as mine. Her presence is such a comfort that I feel myself lulled toward sleep, until she moves and her warmth is stolen from me.

"We should go before the roads get any worse," she says, and I know she's right. I extend my arms to her. She takes my hands and pulls me up, but doesn't let go once I'm standing. I let her lead me to my bedroom, where I select a black pants suit from the closet and its accompaniments from the dresser drawers. She takes the clothing from me, hanging the suit in the garment bag on the back of my door. I pack the shoes and underthings in the bag, stop in the bathroom for my toiletries, and I'm ready.

We both put our bags in the trunk of the car. I ease us out onto the slick D.C. streets. Getting out of my neighborhood is the easy part. It's much more difficult to merge onto the highway, where an accident up ahead has left my point of entry at a stand-still.

"You're quiet," Jenine observes.

"Just thinking," I say.

"What about?"

"You," I answer honestly. "I'm wondering if you'll volunteer your photo album to me."

She sighs. "I know I don't talk much about my family. Can you accept that it's because I want to seem exotic and mysterious?"

I laugh at that. "For now," I answer. Her hand squeezes my leg, and I spare a moment to glance at her.

"Bad coming-out experience?" I ask. She's said she doesn't want to talk about it, but I feel obligated to give it a shot.

"To say the least," she answers.

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A break appears in the traffic and I make a run for it, hoping my tires will hold out another season instead of turning the two of us into a highway statistic. Once we move past the accident, the road clears out, and it's a quick jaunt southward on the Beltway to Jenine's exit.

I mostly remember the way, but she helps me find some of the turns. I finally pull into the same parking spot I occupied yesterday, shaking my head a little at the thought of all that has happened since then. Thinking about my nervousness at entering her apartment; her world. I had been so afraid of rejection or, worse, of making a fool of myself and never knowing that I had a chance.

I free our bags from the trunk and follow her to the door of the building. It's like the one I live in - the lobby door is unlocked, admitting anyone. Unlike Mulder's building, where the locked door and intercom system are supposed to give the residents the illusion of safety.

I follow still, as she strides purposefully down the hall, passing the stairwell which I know leads to her door. We stop in a small alcove off the main lobby, where she inserts a key in one of many identical slots, pulling out envelopes and glancing through them.

"Just bills," she shrugs, closing the box and leading me back toward the more familiar route upstairs. We stop at number 202, and she unlocks both bolts, entering and holding the door open for me. She then shuts it and turns the locks.

I'm much more comfortable than I was the last time I was here. I don't feel self conscious about taking off my shoes and curling up on her couch while she takes my raincoat and disappears down the hall.

She returns with a thin black book and hands it to me silently. When I take it from her, she sits beside me, turned toward me so that her knee brushes my thigh.

I open the book. It's not as much a photo album as it is a scrapbook. The pages are rough, handmade paper, with little black adhesive points holding down the corners of the photographs. Newspaper articles and other loose items are pressed between some of the pages.

The first picture is of a much younger Jenine. The girl smiling at the camera has an elfin face and long straight black hair. She sits astride a large stone dinosaur - I recognize it as the sculpture in front of the Smithsonian museum downtown. She can't be more than seven or eight years old.

"You grew up here," I say.

She nods. "Except for college, I've lived in this area all my life."

I ponder what it must be like to grow up in one place, without being shuttled around the country. I can't even picture it.

Directly below that picture is a photo of the same dinosaur, now being ridden by a boy of about nine or ten. His features match hers exactly; his short hair and extra height are the only differences to strike me upon first glance.

"Your brother?" I ask.

"Zach," she answers. "He's a year older. He lives down in Warrenton. He's a programmer with one of those big computer companies. We try to keep in touch, but sometimes life gets in the way."

Her voice fades out toward the end of the sentence, and I know this page of the guided tour is done. I turn the page, pausing a moment to feel the thick, rough paper between my fingertips. The photo I'm greeted with shows a man who could be a Marine and a woman who could be a schoolteacher.

"Close," she confirms when I voice this. "My father works for the government. Just like everyone else's father around here. Actually, we had kind of an unspoken code in school: if Dad works for "A Government Agency", it's NSA. "The Federal Government" was FBI, and "I don't know -- he doesn't talk about it" was CIA. This was back when the CIA wouldn't even confirm that they had offices in the area. The sign on the highway said that the turn-off led to the Langly Public Library."

"So which was your dad with?"

"None of the above, actually. Department of Defense. His office is in the Pentagon. Obviously, I've never visited him at work."

"How about Mom?"

"Mom is a professor in the Behavioral Sciences department at George Washington. She wields the whip over a bunch of wanna-be therapists. That's how I learned lay-psychology -- I used to hang out in her office after school and read her textbooks."

"And how did psychology lead to linguistics?" I ask, continuing my string of leading questions.

"Quite naturally," she responds. "Linguistics looks at how the brain processes language... and it was the neuropsychology that always interested me most. It was also a way to get out of Virginia," she adds wryly.

The next few pages paint a portrait of Jenine as a teenager, moving steadily toward womanhood. Her hair makes the gradual climb to the short-cropped length she wears today. Her makeup goes through a similar progression: in high school it's thick black eyeliner and bronze lipstick -- an expected companion for the abundance of black clothing and rebellious postures. The friends from one page seem to repeat on the next, over the years.

One photo particularly strikes me. The label below it marks her as being seventeen. She's posing before an ivy-covered wall, probably on the GW campus. She's wearing a black t-shirt with an olive fatigue shirt over it like a jacket, and threadbare jeans with gaping holes in the knees. Her hair comes straight down to her shoulders, and she's wearing exaggerated makeup. Her arm is around another girl her age, similarly dressed. They're both smiling a defiant, fuck-the-world smile. A smile I didn't learn till college; till I marched topless down the streets of D.C. hoping to piss off the moral majority.

She notices that I've stopped at that picture.

"Yes," she says. "Exactly what you're thinking."

It startles me. The photo has sent me miles away, and it's disorienting to try to remember the leaping-off point for the tangent my thoughts have taken. The photo. The defiant smile. The two girls.

"She was your first," I say. It's not a question. Jenine nods.

"Did you love her?" I ask.

"I thought so," she answers quietly, snuggling in at my side.

I turn the page.

The next picture to catch my eye is her graduation photo. The stunning young woman in white, with makeup and hair looking professionally styled, is a departure from the girl I've been looking at. She looks more like the Jenine I know -- leaving adolescence and rebellion behind. I voice this, and she laughs.

"Oh, Dana... My rebellion had only just begun."

Taped to the next page is a folded piece of paper. With her encouraging nod, I open it, to reveal a letter offering her a summer job at Quantico, upon her father's recommendation. Behind it is the record of her acceptance, as well as her first paycheck stub.

The next photo is of a tight lipped family with thin smiles, sitting around a well-stocked dinner table. The label under the photo says "Thanksgiving Dinner," but no one looks very thankful. It's followed by a shot of the outside of a house, first close-up and then from farther down the road. Then there's a stylized drawing of a woman's cheek with a tear sliding down it, reflecting a pale mirror image of the same house.

"You came out," I say.

"Yes. And they wanted me to stay out."

"You were kicked out of the house?" I ask incredulously.

"These things happen," she says. "Even though people think it's just fiction. I thought they'd love me for who I am. I was wrong."

I release the book and take her hand, squeezing it in support. Her eyes are dry, though mine are stinging with empathic tears.

"I packed up the car and drove back to school," she continues, "then made arrangements as soon as I could to move out of state. I changed majors from psych to linguistics, which wasn't offered at JMU, to force myself to leave. I would have accepted a transfer to Israel, but looking forward to my summer at the Bureau was all that was keeping me going. I didn't want to give up the job. So I compromised and went up to Boston, which was far enough away from home, and I lived in the Academy dorms during vacations."

"Your father could have ruined you," I say.

She shrugs. "He could have. But he didn't. In fact, he didn't say a word about it. He can hold a grudge, but he's not the type to get vindictive. I got to keep the job, and when I got out of school, the bureau asked me to join full-time. I still owe it all to Dad, even though I never got a chance to thank him."

"He's passed away?"

"No. I just don't think I'd be welcome. Zach has told me that they've practically removed every trace of my existence from their lives. Believe it or not, Virginia is still very much the South, and lots of old fashioned bigots appear where you'd least expect them to."

"So they still live in the area?"

"In the same house. I was nervous at first about moving back here --that I'd run into them at the store, at the movies... but I haven't seen them since that Thanksgiving, Freshman year."

I shake my head, putting down the book and pulling her close. She fights at first, then accepts my embrace, snaking her arms tightly around my back.

"Did you like me better when I was mysterious and exotic?" she asks.

"I like knowing I'm important enough to open up to," I answer. She snuggles in closer and sighs.

"Have you told your family?" she asks.

"I never had a reason to," I say, gently stroking her beautiful hair. "Not until now."

She parts from me and stands, holding out her hand. I take it and let her lead me into her bedroom, where we make sweet and gentle love to the music of the rain.

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