Title: Trinity
Author: XF-Stew
Classification: XA
Rating: R -- for language
Spoilers: Fourth Season
Keywords: A different kind of post-Gesthemane story
Summary: With the death of her partner, Scully takes over the reorganized X-Files Division with the aid of a NEW partner. But is Fox Mulder really dead? Scully thinks so. Will she learn the truth?

Disclaimer: Standard disclaimer is in full effect. Mulder, Scully, Skinner, Maggie Scully, the Lone Gunmen, and (of course) the Cancerman all belong to Chris Carter and 1013. No infringement is intended.


TRINITY
by XF-Stew
xfstew@yahoo.com

~~~~~~~~~~~

J. Edgar Hoover Building
Basement
Wednesday, May 28, 1997

Dana Scully sat quietly in the basement office she once shared with Fox Mulder. Her eyes were glazed, unfocused. She dimly heard the sound of distant air conditioners roaring to life. Roaring to life to keep the federal employees of the FBI cool in the early-spring heat. It was just another day for them. For everyone else, it was just another day of paperwork and trips to the coffeepot and office gossip. For Dana Scully it was the first day of a new life. A life without Fox Mulder.

Slowly, mechanically, she turned her head to look at the "I WANT TO BELIEVE" poster adorning the wall. In fact, the poster was the first thing she noticed when she opened the door four years ago.

The X-Files had been her life since that day. Not that life with Mulder had been a bowl of cherries. There were plenty of hard times. Times where their lives were in danger. In fact, their lives had been in danger since that very first day.

<*"Nobody here but the FBI's most unwanted."*>

Tears filled her eyes at the memory. He spoke those words in gentle mockery. Poking fun at her presence, her intrusion upon his sacred quest. But last night, she had thrown them right back at him. She affirmed the fact that he was, indeed, unwanted. And stupid. And a gullible fool.

Well, he'd shown her, hadn't he. He'd shown her how much those words injured him. She'd baited him, told him he believed in the biggest of lies. Told him that they'd given her cancer to make him believe that lie. Why had she told him that? After holding her tongue so many times, why couldn't she have held it then? She'd played on the single most defining feature of Fox Mulder's character: guilt. She'd pushed that one lethal button, and now he was gone. Dead by his own hand. And it was her fault.

<What kind of a 'partner' does something like that? What kind of a friend? Only a completely insensitive one.>

She'd known Mulder was on shaky ground. Hell, his lost weekend in Massachusetts proved that. He'd held a gun to his head then as well. That night, she'd been supportive, but last night, when he desperately needed that same support, she'd failed him. She, his best friend, had gone ahead and pushed him right off the narrow line he'd been walking.

<I told him everything he believed in was a lie. That he'd been duped and made to look like a fool.>

Her eyes welled up with tears. She had tried so hard to keep them back during the meeting she'd just left. She'd quickly slipped away from the boardroom, knowing that they all wished to corner her, question her further, offer her their insincere condolences. She needed to escape, to be alone. She needed a quiet place to mourn the death of her best friend.

Now, here in the basement office where they'd worked together for so many years, she let it out. She lowered her head to the desk, buried her face in her arms, and burst into tears. Huge, heart-wrenching sobs escaped her throat as her body shook and shuddered in grief. On and on she cried, unaware of the dampening papers under her head.

Some time later she stopped crying and dozed, her head still laying on the wet, paper-strewn blotter.

************

She awoke abruptly, suddenly aware of a presence in the room. She lifted her tear-streaked face from the safety and darkness of her folded arms to see Walter Skinner standing in the doorway.

"Sir." she said, acknowledging him. She strove to regain some semblance of composure.

"Agent Scully," he replied with a nod.

"How long have you been standing there, sir?"

He shrugged, slightly cocking his head to one side as he entered the room. He thrust his hands into his pockets as he approached the desk. He stood there, silent for a moment, obviously struggling for the right words. He took in her teary eyes and red nose; this was not going to be easy.

"Agent Scully, I am truly sorry about the loss of Agent Mulder. He was a fine agent, and a good man. A man of unbending beliefs. We didn't always see eye-to-eye, and sometimes he made me want to pull out my few remaining hairs. However, I respected his integrity and his unflagging determination. He will be sorely missed in this division."

Scully tried hard to listen to his words, but her mind kept wandering away from the conversation. It was like he was speaking from the other side of a thick barrier. She knew it was one she herself had erected, and she strove to break it down. When Skinner's last words finally sunk in, she frowned, confused.

"Sir? This *division*? I had assumed with Agent Mulder's death, the X-Files Division would be terminated."

"It will be reorganized, Agent Scully, but not terminated."

Dumbfounded, Scully stared, open-mouthed, at the poster on the wall behind her superior. Then, rising to her feet, she suddenly flew into a rage.

"WHAT! For years, Mulder and I worked under the threat of this division's closure. It was the one card those bastards played every time we got close to something *they* didn't want let out of the bag. Evil little boys with their Goddamned secrets! They make me fucking sick!" She suddenly realized she was screaming, and using words that would make a sailor blush.

She took a deep breath, lowered her voice, and narrowed her eyes. "Now, when they finally have just what they want, when they finally get rid of the biggest thorn in their side, they keep the X-Files open." She eyed Skinner warily, "For what? So they can manipulate and control it? Use it as a puppet for their little games, their shady machinations? Do they want to use the X-Files as a tool, a tool which will unfailingly support their blatant lies and insidious half-truths? Is that what you're going to let them do to our work? Is it? Tell me if that's the future of the X-Files, sir. And tell me the truth, goddamnit!"

"Agent Scully," he said into her red, breathless face. "I remind you to watch your tone with me. I thought perhaps you would be pleased by the fact that Agent Mulder will leave the Bureau with something of a legacy. Mulder did a lot of good work, Agent Scully. I had tremendous respect for him and for his passion. Although he allowed himself to be sidetracked by his all-encompassing fascination with UFO-related phenomena, he was also an extremely intelligent, highly-effective field agent."

"Nobody knows that better than I do, sir."

"I realize that, Agent Scully."

"Oh, you realize that, do you? Yeah, you don't realize shit, *sir*!" She spat the words into his face. "Mulder and I went through hell for four years! We faced things most people could never even imagine! We looked into the very heart of evil, sir, and lived through it. And now...to die like this..." she trailed off, her anger dissipating as quickly as it had come. Her eyes once again filled with tears, but she would not spill those tears in front of Walter Skinner.

He looked at her, his face neutral, but she could see the tension building behind his eyes. "Agent Scully, I understand you're under a great deal of stress. The loss of a partner is one of the most traumatic experiences in our line of work. In light of that, I'm going to forget what you just said to me. In fact, I'm going to forget this entire conversation ever took place, and I advise you to do the same. Take some time off, Scully. I don't want to see you here again until this time next week."

Scully opened her mouth.

"I'm not giving you a suggestion, Agent Scully. This is a direct order coming from your immediate superior. I'll expect you back next Wednesday, a week from today."

With that he turned and left the office.

Scully listened to his footsteps recede down the corridor. She heard the chime of the elevator's bell as it reached the cold, dark basement. Faintly, she heard it close with Walter Skinner inside. It was only then that she let out the breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding. Struggling to remain calm, she picked up her briefcase, got her coat from off of its hook, and left the office herself. She locked the door that bore his name, as well as her own, and left the building.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dana Scully's Apartment
Thursday, May 29, 1997

She slept fitfully that night. When she awoke, Scully instantly regretted the four stiff scotches she had consumed the night before. She rarely drank, but that night she wanted something to dampen the pain. The guilt. The feeling that she was lost, alone without him, without her partner. Now, her mouth was dry and her tongue was thick. She'd made a promise to herself last night. There would be no more crying, no more snivelling, no more gut-wrenching sobs. Her breakdown in the office was the only one she'd allow herself. She would shed no more tears for her dead partner. Scully drank a glass of water before picking up the phone. She slowly dialed the familiar number and was both soothed and apprehensive as her mother answered.

"Hello?"

"Mom, it's me."

"Hello honey." Margaret Scully said cheerfully. "How are you today?"

"Mom." Dana said coolly. "I have to tell you something. Can I come over?"

"Sure honey." Mrs. Scully said carefully. With some kind of 'mother's sixth sense', Maggie knew something was wrong with her daughter. Tentatively, she asked, "Is everything okay?"

"I'm afraid not, Mom, but I have to see you in person to tell you this."

"Okay Dana, I'll be waiting."

"Sorry Mom..." she whispered.

"What? Sorry? About what Dana?"

But Scully didn't hear her mother. She'd already hung up, leaving Maggie staring worriedly at the buzzing receiver in her hand.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Scully House

Maggie answered the door, wondering why her daughter was knocking instead of just entering, as she usually did.

When she saw her daughter on the front porch, eyes red from fitful sleep, face devoid of makeup, hair in an uneven ponytail, Maggie stepped out and took her daughter's hands in her own. Scully stared down at the hands, refusing to meet her mother's eyes.

"What's the matter Dana?" her mother said gently.

"Oh Mom, I'm so sorry!"

"Sorry for what honey? I don't understand?"

Scully regained the composure she had momentarily lost, then looked up and locked eyes with her mother. Her face was blank as a slate, her voice cool. "Mom, Mulder is dead."

Of all the things she thought her daughter might have come to tell her, she never expected this. Maybe they'd had a fight, or had been suspended again, or perhaps he had 'ditched' her once more (as Dana sometimes put it), but not this.

"No," she gasped, covering her mouth with one hand.

"Yes Mom. He died late Wednesday night of a self-inflicted gunshot wound." Dana paused, looking into the bushes. "I'm sorry Mom."

Maggie's arms instinctively flew around her daughter, and she began to stroke Dana's hair with one hand. Dana wrapped her arms around her mother, drawing from the older woman's strength. They stood like that for a long time.

Gingerly, she pulled away and held Dana by the shoulders. Dana lowered her eyes, staring at the cement underfoot. Maggie bent down, forcing her daughter into eye contact.

"Let's go inside." she suggested. She took hold of Dana's small hand and gently led her inside the large house.

The old familiar smells distinct to her mother's house assaulted her senses, and Scully allowed herself, for the first time since yesterday morning, a small sense of relief. The house had always been a haven for her. She felt at ease here, nothing bad could happen in this warm, safe place.

But something bad *was* going to happen. She was going to discuss with her mother the fact that Fox Mulder had committed suicide. This was news she knew would deeply disturb her mother's Catholic soul.

Mulder would never come over here for Sunday dinner again, as he used to occasionally do. Never light up the room with his disarming grin and witty repartee. Never chat with her mother on the phone for a few minutes before handing the receiver over to Dana. Never be around to spout wild theories and implausible hypotheses about the death of Elvis, paranormal phenomena, or extraterrestrial biological entities.

She thought about the relationship between her mother and her partner. Over the past few years, they had formed some kind of strange bond that made Dana simply shake her head in wonder. She never would have expected the two of them to ever become so close. They were so completely different, but perhaps that was the very thing that drew them together. Dana thought it was possible that Maggie provided the openness, warmth and comfort Mulder lacked in his relationship with his own mother. She knew they had become very close during her abduction. Afterwards, whenever her mother called, she always inquired as to how 'Fox' was doing.

<"Not Fox, Mom, *Mulder*.">

"What happened, Dana?" Maggie asked, bringing Dana abruptly back to the matter at hand.

"Mulder...he...he killed himself last night with his service weapon. He shot himself in the head, mother." Dana's voice was steady, almost mechanical, as though she was discussing a case, or an autopsy she had performed. In this same mechanical, emotionless voice, she stated, "It's my fault. I pushed him over the edge."

Maggie blinked. "No, honey. That can't be right." She wanted so badly to embrace her tension-ridden daughter again, but kept herself in check, knowing it was not the right thing to do yet. Dana had more to tell her. Swallowing hard, she asked, "Why do you think that, Dana?"

"I said something stupid and extremely inconsiderate, and it was apparently the straw that broke the camel's back."

"What did you say to him?"

Dana drew a long breath, prepared to go into lecture mode. "I told him that UFO's and alien abductions are all a fabrication, a lie proported by...never mind that. I told him he believed in the biggest of lies, that his whole mission in life was based upon an intricate confabulation, a web of lies spun for people like himself to believe. And I...I told him that our enemies had given me cancer so that he would maintain his unwavering belief in alien abductions and the existence of extraterrestrial life."

Margaret stiffened slightly. "Is that true?"

"I think it is Mom. I met a man who told me its true, and I believe him. He had no reason to lie to me about it."

<Unless he knew you'd tell Fox that, and knew what that would do to him.> Margaret thought.

"Mom, It was a completely thoughtless, stupid statement to make to a man like Mulder. I knew he was walking on thin ice. It was just a few weeks ago that he took that trip to New England. Mom, he almost killed himself then, too." Dana was intentionally obscure with the details of this trip, and about the government machinations that worked against them. She had to be careful what she told her mother about their work...*their work*! It was no longer *their work*. She was alone now. "I should have known better than to taunt him like that. I was angry. Sometimes his stubbornness just drives me...to say things I regret. Why couldn't I have held it back? I should have been able to hold it back."

Maggie could not watch her daughter do this to herself. "Dana, no matter what you said, no matter what you did, Fox was a man who has *always* walked on thin ice. He had his demons, Dana, as do you. People have to deal with their own demons. Some do it by sharing with others, some seek professional therapy, but many keep the demons bottled up inside. You know how much pressure was building up in Fox's bottle. You did not set him off, honey. His was a self-implosion. It is cruel to say, but you were not responsible for his actions. I can only hope that God can forgive him, and that he can forgive himself."

"Forgive himself?"

"I think you know what I mean."

Despite her cool exterior, Dana could barely understand the English language at the moment, let alone find hidden meanings buried within her mother's words. But she let it go, content to be here, with her mother, the only one who might possibly make her feel like a human being again. She hugged her mother for a long time, and allowed Maggie to rub her gently on the back, knowing her mother needed this as much as she did.

They sat on the couch and drank hot tea, not speaking for long periods. Each was lost in her own thoughts and memories, comforted by the other's mere presence. Maggie asked Dana if she wanted to stay for the night, but she declined, enticing as the offer was. She told her mother she had to go home tonight. She needed to be alone for awhile.

Reluctantly, Margaret Scully hugged her only daughter on the doorstep as she turned to leave.

"Thank you Mom." Dana said, forcing a toothless smile to her lips. "I love you."

"I know that Dana, and I love you too."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dana Scully's Apartment
Friday, May 30, 1997

Caroline Mulder called her at noon. Mrs. Mulder told her that her son's body was to be cremated that afternoon, but that there would be a memorial service at Arlington on Monday if she'd like to attend. There was a coolness in the woman's voice, but Scully hadn't spoken with her enough to know if it was her natural tone, or one of controlled anger.

Dana gave Mrs. Mulder her condolences, but wasn't sure what else to say to the woman. Mulder and his mother had a different kind of relationship than she had with her own. They weren't openly affectionate, but Mulder obviously had deep feelings for her. Scully remembered the time when Caroline suffered a stroke. Mulder was devastated, which was natural for a child when tragedy strikes a parent, but his was something even more. Mulder felt guilty even about his mother's condition, something he was by no means responsible for. Scully had the nagging feeling it went deeper than that. Mulder felt guilty because he thought his mother was going to die before he reunited her with her daughter, Samantha. He never gave up the hope that his sister was still alive, and Scully suddenly came to the realization that, in Fox Mulder's somewhat skewed perception, he could win Caroline's love back by finding Samantha and finally bringing her home to their mother.

"Are you going to come on Monday?" Caroline was saying. The question brought Scully out of her reverie.

"Of course, Mrs. Mulder."

"Then...do you think...do you think that you could possibly speak on Fox's behalf?"

Dana was stunned. Give the eulogy at Fox Mulder's funeral? She didn't even want to think about it. However, under the cool voice of Caroline Mulder Dana thought she heard a plea. The woman could not bring herself to speak. So she was asking her son's closest colleague and quite probably his closest friend to do it for her.

Scully summoned her courage. "Yes, I would be honored, Mrs. Mulder."

The voice on the other end was a whisper, "Thank you." Scully heard the relief in Mrs. Mulder's voice.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Unknown Location
Sunday, June 1, 1997

The man shook his head in an effort to clear away the fog, but it was no use. He knew he was laying in a strange bed, and a distant light was streaming in from somewhere, somewhere far away. Reluctantly, he lay back down and drifted once more into the fog.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Arlington National Cemetery
Monday, June 2, 1997

"I could stand before you today and say many things about Fox Mulder. That he was passionate. That he was dedicated. That he was relentless. These things would all be true. But I have not come here today to speak only of these things. I have come here to speak not just of Fox Mulder, my co-worker, but of Mulder, my friend. The two are irrevocably bound together, and through our work, I found the best friend I have ever had."

"Hmmm, Fox Mulder," She gave a small smile. "I called him Fox only once over all the time I knew him. It is strange that after his death I would say this name more than I ever did during his lifetime.

"As clearly as I see you all sitting before me, I remember the day I met Mulder. As I entered the basement office I now know so well, he turned away from what I later found to be one of his favorite pastimes: preparing a slide show presentation for me. It was clear during that first encounter that Mulder was wary of my presence. I'd heard he was a man of unique intellect. That he was an independent loner, a solitary genius, content in his basement office with his personal obsession: The X-Files. Others scoffed at him, at his work, and as a result he insulated himself with cutting remarks and biting sacasm. He made it a point to laugh at those who laughed at him.

"Over time, I experienced many things with Mulder. Things others would not believe, things I had trouble believing myself. But if there was one thing I always had faith in, it was my partner, Fox Mulder. We didn't always see things the same way, but nonetheless, I always respected his unflagging determination and his unfailing faith in extreme possibilities. His dedication to what he deeply believed drew me even closer to him.

"Over the years, our professional partnership expanded into something even deeper: personal loyalty and absolute trust. I trusted Mulder with my life, and I believe he did the same. As time went on, I came to realize that this was something infinitely special. Trust, to Mulder, was a precious commodity, one which he rarely bestowed upon others."

She took a deep breath, "Last week, I betrayed that trust. I stood in front of my partner, my best friend, and told him he had dedicated his life to a false dream, a fabrication built to epic proportions inside his own mind. I told him that his inherent paranoia was a construct of his own imagination. That he was simply a marionette on the strings of a master puppeteer.

"There are few things I regret in my life, but my actions last week leave me with a deep sense of compunction. I can only say now what I should have said to him then. I am sorry. Truly sorry."

She paused, fighting to maintain her composure. Her eyes panned the crowd, not really seeing them. She saw only the small urn, sitting on a pedestal to her right. She fought to keep her voice from wavering as she continued:

"Fox Mulder was a man of deep convictions, of fierce loyalties, and of uncompromising character. Some may have mocked my partner, deriding his theories as flights of fancy. These are the people who never knew him. they never saw the integrity, the determination, the sharp intelligence so often used to make fascinating leaps of logic. They never knew the man who committed his life to a search for the truth. I knew him, and I loved him. He was my partner, my friend, and, in a very special way, a member of my family. I will miss you, Fox Mulder, and as I walk through this life, I will remember you always."

Scully stepped away from the podium erected at the small graveside service. Her hands were empty, and she grasped her elbows with them as she walked back to her seat. On her right sat her mother, clutching a handkerchief. On her left was Caroline Mulder.

Mrs. Mulder reached over and touched her arm. Scully glanced over at the woman, who had tears coursing down her face.

"Thank you." she whispered. Scully smiled sympathetically at her former partner's mother and put her own small hand over the one resting on her arm.

"No, thank you." Scully replied, looking her in the eye and forcing a thin smile to her lips.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Unknown Location
Tuesday, June 3, 1997

The man looked around the room, still trying to shake off the fog. Everything shimmered and danced in front of his bleary eyes. He was incapable of any sort of focus. His head spun like a wild merry-go-round, out of control. He began to feel nauseous.

A small man entered the room, and a taller man with unkempt blond hair followed. He couldn't make out their faces, and their voices seemed far away.

"He's still out of it." The short man said in a gravely voice.

"Its going to take awhile, he told me it wouldn't completely leave his system for 10 days." The long-haired man replied.

"I'm not worried about the time he'll be out. It's when he comes back...that's what worries me."

The younger man nodded. They checked the man's IV, pulled the thin blanket up to his chest, and left the room.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

J. Edgar Hoover Building
Wednesday, June 4, 1997
10:30 am

Dana Scully walked into the basement office, and the ghost of Fox Mulder followed her. He peered over her shoulder as she made the coffee. He sat across from her as she slumped into the chair at her desk. She felt his gaze on her as her eyes wandered around the office. They rested on one of his favorite toys; the slide projector. She stood and walked over to it, touching the dusty plastic surface with her fingertips. She pulled down the screen along the wall and turned the machine on. Still inside were the slides he had shown her of the "alien" once buried in the Yukon ice of northern Canada. She turned the blasted machine off and wandered over to the file cabinets. She pulled out the third drawer and ran her fingers over the folders inside until she found the one she was seeking.

*Samantha Mulder* the label read.

She opened it and once again laid eyes on the now-familiar picture of a young girl in a bathing suit. She sat on the diving board at a city pool and smiled unabashedly into the camera. Scully ran her fingers over the girl's innocent face. Lost in her reverie, Scully was startled by a tentative knock on the office door, which, as usual, was standing open.

In the darkened doorway stood a tall young woman with wire-rimmed glasses. She was well-dressed in a dark suit and although Scully couldn't see her face well in the shadows, she looked lost, as though perhaps she had taken a wrong turn in the hallway. Not that there were any other offices in the basement.

"Can I help you?" Scully asked.

"Yes, my name is Megan Largo, I'm looking for Special Agent Scully. Is that you?" She had a pleasant voice, but there was a strange cadence to her speech, a careful, precise enunciation which nagged at Scully as familiar, but which she couldn't immediately place.

"I'm Scully."

There was silence for a moment. Scully broke it.

"Are you filling in for Tommy today?" Tommy DeVries was an intern who often brought inter-office messages down and delivered the daily mail.

"Tommy?"

"From the mailroom?" Scully added to clarify.

The girl expelled her breath in a small snort, then gave a wry smile. "No. I should have been clearer. I'm Special Agent Largo. I've been assigned to assist you in the reorganization of the X-Files."

She paused, gauging the smaller woman's reaction. She appeared stunned, and certainly was not pleased by the news.

"Judging from your reaction," Largo continued, "I'm guessing that you haven't yet been informed of this development?"

Scully returned the file to the cabinet with shaky fingers. She tried to control the rage that flew through her body. She forced herself to gently close the drawer instead of slamming it, as she really, really wanted to do. She then turned back to the young woman, who still stood in the shadows of the doorway, and calmly said, "Come in, Agent Largo."

The tall woman stepped tentatively into the room, aware that she was the interloper, the intruder. Scully took the opportunity to size up the woman.

She was extremely young-looking, which explained why she originally thought Largo was an intern. Off-hand, Scully would have put her age at no more than 22. She had a dark olive complexion, but her eyes were sea-green, instead of the brown one would expect of a person with her skin tone. She was tall, about 5'9" by Sculy's estimate. Her hair was dark brown, just this side of black, but was peppered with sun-bleached streaks of a lighter shade. The woman's somewhat incongruous features made Scully assume her to be the product of some type of odd ethnic mix. She was of medium build, with an athletic gracefulness that indicated co-ordination and strength beneath her frame. The white blouse she wore under her black suit accentuated the healthy color of her dark skin, but hung somewhat loosely about the neck, suggesting that perhaps the woman had lost some weight recently. Adding further proof to this was her gaunt face, which looked a little thinner than Scully figured was probably normal for her. The most disturbing feature on the young woman's face was her right eye. Under the silver-rimmed glasses she wore was a dark smudge, the remnants of a black eye. In addition to this, the white of that eye was almost completely red. Disconcerting as this was, Scully tried not to stare at it.

"It's nice to meet you, Agent Largo." Scully forced a smile. "No, I wasn't aware of your assignment to this division, but then, I've just returned from a short leave."

"Yes." Largo said, nodding slightly. "I am sorry about the loss of your partner, Agent Mulder. His name used to come up often when I was at the Academy. From what I heard, he was quite impressive, had a knack for behavioral psychology and criminal profiling."

<So--she's taking the diplomatic approach.> Scully thought, <Not going to call him "Spooky" right to my face.>

"Yes...he did have quite a reputation."

"He will be impossible to replace."

Scully jerked her head up at the young agent's words. They locked eyes, and Scully shivered involuntarily. The woman's brutal honesty and admittal of her inability to compare with Mulder hit Scully hard. She wanted to hate the girl, and she sure as hell didn't trust her. There was no doubt in her mind Largo was a pawn of the Consortium. She was part of the mop-up crew charged to 'sanitize' her department. But the woman's almond-shaped eyes were so candid, so open. She was either earnest in her words, or else she was a very convincing liar.

Just then the phone rang.

"Scully." she said into the receiver.

"Agent Scully, this is Kimberly." Kim was AD Skinner's assistant. "The Assistant Director would like to see you in his office immediately."

"Thank you Kimberly, I'm on my way now."

Scully replaced the receiver and stood. She held a piece of paper in her hand, using it as a prop to avoid eye contact with Largo. This whole situation was making her very uncomfortable. Rarely did anyone except Mulder, occasionally Skinner, and herself enter the office. Largo was trespassing, and she, Scully, was going to have to leave her there alone. A voice in the back of her head told her to make Largo come with her, or to send her on an errand and lock the door behind her. But no, she couldn't do that. It was far too obvious, and would let Largo know her own doubts and fears. Better to let the girl roam down here, thinking Scully was oblivious to her actual purpose.

"I've been called to a meeting with Assistant Director Skinner. If you like, you're welcome to stay down here."

"Agent Scully, I understand that this is difficult for you. Believe me, I *do* understand. If you would prefer I leave, I will. I'm sure you would like to take care of some details here without my presence." She indicated Mulder's messy desk with a small jerk of her head. "Why don't I just leave you for today, give you some time. I'll be back tomorrow morning, and we can start this whole thing over. Okay?"

Scully thought this over for a second, then nodded. It was definitely unexpected. "Yes, I think that's an excellent idea."

Largo turned to go. Scully called out to her.

"And Largo...I'm sorry I thought you were from the mailroom."

The woman smiled briefly, showing a set of brilliantly white teeth. "No problem Scully, I get that kind of thing all the time."

With that she turned and walked out the door.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

AD Skinner's office
11:15 am

Skinner rose to his feet as Scully entered the office.

"Good Morning, Agent Scully. Take a seat." He gestured to the chair opposite his desk. "I trust you're feeling somewhat better than when we last spoke."

"Somewhat." Scully answered tersely.

"Agent Scully, I called you in here today to discuss the reorganization of the X-Files Division. I would like to officially state that you have been selected as the new head of the division."

"Thank you, sir." She nodded her head in acceptance of her new status.

"I also need to define the new range of cases which will be directed to your office. You will still investigate cases involving unexplained phenomena, including cases linked to possible psychic or paranormal occurrences. However, you will not be asked to investigate unconfirmed sightings of unidentified flying objects or possible alien abductions. I do not expect to find you involved with any such cases. Occasionally, you will be called in on cases which may have a link to your past work. Note, however, that this will not include any UFO-related cases. Regional agents may request your presence in any unsolved case surrounded by bizarre or unexplained events or actions. This includes unsolved murder cases, kidnappings, mutilations, et cetera. Is this clear, Agent Scully?"

Again she nodded, "Yes, sir."

"You will also be assigned a new partner."

"Yes, I know that, sir."

Skinner paused. "You know?"

"Yes, I just met my new *partner*, sir. She stopped by my office just before you called." Scully's face remained placid, no small feat, considering the anger which was seething inside her.

"I see." He sat back in his chair. "I apologize, Agent Scully. Agent Largo wasn't due to arrive here until tomorrow. I didn't realize she would be so...eager...to begin work."

"Oh, she seems eager enough, sir." Scully said wryly. "I just didn't know the Bureau was immune to child labor laws."

"Agent Scully, I really don't need to hear this from you. It is true that Agent Largo is young, and she looks even younger than she actually is, but I don't think you realize how hard I had to fight to get her assigned to your division."

"What?! You're responsible for her presence! You were the one who appointed an *adolescent* to one of the most difficult and dangerous assignments within the Bureau? And by the way, when did the Bureau begin to partner women together, sir?"

"I realize this is a highly unusual situation, Agent Scully, but I felt you would be much better off with Agent Largo than with any of the male candidates eligible. Megan Largo may not have many years under her belt, but I assure you she is an extremely competent field agent with an outstanding intelligence to match. She's very perceptive and has an incredible presence in the interrogation room. You should have seen the list they submitted to me, Scully. Full of has-beens, greenhorns, and burn-outs. Consider yourself fortunate I was able to get her on that list. I had to pull every string I had to get her past *them* and on to you. It wasn't easy." He lowered his voice and leaned over the desk. "I know you think she's one of their puppets," he whispered through clenched teeth, "but she's not. I know that for a fact."

"With all due respect, sir, sometimes your decisions are not completely your own. I realize that."

After a long moment, he nodded. "Yes, you're right in that assessment, Scully. But this time, you're going to have to trust me."

"Yes, I do have to trust you, sir. I have no choice. I appreciate the fact that I have been allowed to remain with the X-Files instead of being transferred back to Quantico, or being forced to go on leave. In regards to Agent Largo, time will tell, sir."

"Yes, I suppose it will." He pushed a thin folder across the desk. "Here's Largo's personnel file. I would recommend a close reading. You may find it interesting. If you have no further questions, Agent Scully, you are dismissed."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Basement
12:30 pm

Scully ate her lunch while reading the personnel file on her new "partner". She sifted through the short stack of papers, reports, and evaluations trying to get a sense of just exactly who this mysterious young woman was.

Megan Winuna Largo: Born: 4/28/71 in Mankato, Minnesota.

<So, she's 26-years-old. Sure doesn't look it.> Scully thought, <And what kind of name is 'Winuna' anyway?>

Mother: Mary Wicanhpi Largo (maiden name: Little Bear) Born: 10/2/50 Died: 9/23/79.

Father: Patrick James Largo Born: 7/8/49 Died: 5/13/85

Immediate Family: *Michael Largo (Brother) Born: 4/28/71 Currently resides in Redwood Falls, MN. *Joseph Little Bear: (Maternal Grandfather) Born: 12/5/21 Currently resides in Redwood Falls, MN.

Ethnic Background: American Indian and Caucasian.

<Well, that explains the strange middle name.>

Scully continued reading the file, hoping to gain a little insight on Largo's character:

Megan Largo graduated from Cannon High School in St. Paul, MN in 1987, when she was 16. She went on to the University of Minnesota, majoring in History and Criminology, and receiving her Bachelor's Degrees in 1990, at age 19. In addition, she participated in inter-collegiate athletics as a member of the University's softball team. Upon graduation, Largo proceeded to graduate school at Northwestern, where she received a Master's Degree in Criminology *and* a Ph.D. in History. She received these degrees in 1993, at age 22.

Scully was impressed. Largo was some kind of a whiz kid. She turned the page. Here was a short statement regarding a trip to the USSR made by a group of promising young musicians. Largo was a part of this group, but was mysteriously sent home three weeks into the trip. The statement, given by the group's director, read:

"Megan Largo has been asked (by myself) to leave the Soviet

Union and return to the United States. This decision was

made as a result of Ms. Largo's grossly improper conduct

during her stay in St. Petersburg, Kiev, and especially

in Moscow. Repeatedly, Ms. Largo refused to follow rules established in our Ambassadorship Program's handbook, and

is therefore being sent back to Minneapolis on TWA Flight 795.

Ms. Largo will be foregoing membership in our group, and

will not accompany us on any future trips abroad.

Signed, Albert F. Fredrickson, Director."

Scully frowned at the piece of paper. What the hell did Largo do to get kicked out of the Soviet Union? Smoke dope? Make subversive statements regarding Communism? She shrugged and moved on. The rest of the file held official Bureau documents regarding Largo's tenure in the FBI.

She placed high in her class at Quantico, and upon graduation was assigned to the office in Portland, Oregon, where she worked for three years with a man named Benjamin Campbell. Campbell, a young African-American man, was only two years older than Largo. From what Scully could glean from the file, this pairing was intentional. Largo and Campbell often worked in co-operation with the DEA, their youthful looks allowing them to pose as college students in order to set up large drug purchases.

This past February, the two agents were working one of these such cases, trying to expose a meth lab run by a group that was suspected of dropping LSD into a professor's coffee, effectively killing him. According to the official report in Largo's file, the agents were driving from Eugene to Portland along the I-5 freeway. Just outside of town, Largo lost control of the vehicle, a 1968 VW Bus, and drove off the road at approximately 65 miles-per-hour. A single-car accident. Campbell died of a massive heart attack en route to the hospital. Largo spent two weeks in Sacred Heart Hospital in Eugene. She suffered from major head trauma, a broken clavicle, retinal damage to the right eye, and LSD poisoning.

Scully rubbed her eyes. LSD poisoning was a rare occurrence, but nonetheless a very dangerous one. Often, the victim suffered powerful hallucinations and possible seizures. In its aftermath, LSD poisoning could lead to permanent neural damage or deep psychosis. Violent flashback episodes were common, and were sometimes severe to the point of physiological non-functioning. Some victims developed paranoid schizophrenia after ingesting a sufficiently large dosage. If they even lived. Many died of massive heart failure due to the extreme adrenaline rush that accompanies the hallucinations. This was probably the fate of Benjamin Campbell and the college professor who's death brought the two to Eugene in the first place. Scully took a deep breath and continued reading the report.

A container of bottled water found near the car was identified as the source of the LSD the agents ingested. In her statement, Largo said she often kept a bottle in the car, and they both drank from it shortly before the accident.

Largo briefly returned to work six weeks after the accident. Her second day back, however, she was suspended for assaulting a co-worker, and was placed on indefinite leave. Scully raised her eyebrow at this and read the official report on the incident. In Largo's statement, she claimed:

 "Special Agent Robert Lynch made ungentlemanly remarks

concerning a less-than-professional relationship between

my former partner and myself. I became angry and told

him I didn't appreciate his comments. He replied with

abusive language, repeatedly using offensive slang terms

for female anatomy. I lost my temper and struck him on

the temple with a large paperweight from my desk. I

apologize to the Bureau for my inappropriate behavior,

however, I will not be forthcoming with an apology to

Agent Lynch."

Scully smiled at the thought of Largo whacking some guy upside the head with a paperweight because he called her a "cunt". She's been tempted to do something similar on many occasions over the years, but had never acted on the impulse. There were written as well as unwritten rules about such conduct. Then she remembered the time Mulder decked Skinner a few years ago. He'd been disoriented because of ingesting LSD as well, though Mulder had received a much lower dosage that had Largo. The thought of Mulder broke her concentration, and it was some time before she could pull her eyes off the "I WANT TO BELIEVE" poster on the wall to look at the file once more.

When she did, she read that Largo had been placed on indefinite leave in mid-April, and hadn't worked actively for the Bureau since. This was her first assignment since coming back. No wonder Skinner had been able to get her on the list of possible replacements for Mulder. She was definitely on shaky ground with the Bureau.

Scully shook her head, her anger with the Assistant Director beginning to return. She remembered the words he had uttered just a few hours ago.

"You should have seen the list they submitted to me. Full of has-beens, greenhorns, and burn-outs..."

<Thanks a lot, Skinner> she thought, <Instead of a burn-out, I get a flashback-prone psychotic who looks like she's 20 and has a boat load of emotional baggage. Just what I need in my life right now.>

She sat for a moment, utterly still. Then she slowly turned her head back to the poster on the wall. It would be so easy to give in, especially now. Just go on medical leave and forget all of this. Mulder was gone. This was *his* life, not hers.

No, that wasn't true. Maybe it was that way once, but not now, not anymore. It was her life as well, wasn't it? Mulder's legacy to her: inheritance of the X-Files. In her mind she pictured a fat, greasy, cigar-chomping lawyer sitting at the head of a long table. He cleared his throat and in a raspy voice declared, "Mr. Spooky bequeaths the X-Files to Mrs. Spooky."

And along with the X-Files, she now had a partner who could very possibly be prone to violent hallucinogenic flashbacks, rendering anything she wrote in a report as suspect in regard to credibility. Largo was going to have to prove herself, not just to Scully, but to the entire Bureau. Of course, it was indeed possible that Largo would never experience a flashback episode. And until she did have an adverse physiological reaction to the event, the Bureau had to treat her like any other agent.

<But if she does flip out, especially if she hits another agent again, her career is over.>

Scully closed the folder and slumped back in her chair.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Unknown Location
Thursday June 5, 1997
9:00 am

He was groggy, but, for the first time in days, he felt lucid. He sat up in the bed and winced as a rush of light-headed giddiness soared through his body. Reaching an arm out, he steadied himself by touching the smooth, cold cement wall. When the dizziness passed, he opened his eyes and saw an IV running into the back of his right hand.

Confused, he gazed around the room, searching for familiarity. The room's lone door opened and a small middle-aged man with glasses came through it and toward him. The man looked vaguely familiar.

<I know him,> he thought, <but I can't *remember* him.>

"Hey there, old man!" the short man said, grinning. "Looks like you finally decided to rejoin us in the land of the living."

"Who...who are you?" he croaked, his throat painfully dry.

"Its me Mulder, your old pal Frohike."

"Fro-what-ie?"

"Frohike." the man repeated, and handed Mulder a glass of water. "Drink this slowly or else you'll erp it back up, which is a sight I'm not particularly anxious to see."

Mulder drank, making himself take small sips. After several, he said, "I know you, don't I?"

"Course ya do, Mulder. You just don't remember right now. Your memory will come back in a couple of days. It's one of the side effects of the drug."

"Drug?"

"Duh...the drug we gave you so you could pretend to be dead. Pretty powerful stuff, it pretty nearly did the job for real."

"I pretended to be dead?"

"Yeah, but as Miracle Max would say: 'You were only *mostly* dead.' Oh man, we pulled off one of the greatest clandestine operations of all-time." The man was grinning like an idiot. "I still can't believe it worked, even Scully bought it!"

"Scully?" Mulder asked, genuinely puzzled by the name. "Who's he?"

"HE! Oh, that's a good one, Mulder!" Frohike snorted laughter. "*HE* is only the most utterly divine presence on this great planet. *HE* is the hottest thing to hit the spy game since Mata Hari. *HE* is the one who sets my pants on fucking fire!"

"So...you're gay?" Mulder asked tentatively, his brow creased in puzzlement.

Frohike burst out in a whole new set of chortles, tears streaming down his stubble face. When he regained control he replied, "No, Mulder. Scully is your partner, and she is female. Oh," he rolled his eyes, "is she female! Red hair like liquid fire..."

"Enough already," Mulder cut him off, shaking his head.

Just then Langley and Byers entered the room, both grinning happily as they slapped a bewildered Mulder on the back and welcomed him once more to the land of the living.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

J. Edgar Hoover Building
Thursday June 5, 1997
9:15 am

Megan Largo rapped on the open door to the X-Files Division's basement office. Normally, she came to work no later than 8:00 am, but intentionally made herself delay this morning. She wanted to make sure Scully was already in the office before she arrived.

Scully looked up at the knock. "Come in, Agent Largo."

"Good morning."

Largo looked around the office for a moment. She noticed Scully had cleaned off the messy desk and was now seated behind it. She had removed Fox Mulder's nameplate from the front of the desk, but had not replaced it with one of her own. The "I WANT TO BELIEVE" poster still hung just over Scully's left shoulder.

Scully waved her hand toward a drafting table that sat back in the corner of the office, facing the wall. "You're welcome to take that area over there."

Largo nodded and placed her attach‚ case on the table's surface. There was an awkward silence between the two agents. Finally, Largo asked,

"So, Agent Scully, how would you like to proceed?"

"First of all, I think you should acquaint yourself with this department's history. You are welcome to review any files here. We have yet to be assigned any new cases, and I'm just finishing some paperwork left from...before."

"Certainly." Largo gave a small smile, which was not returned. Undaunted, Largo sat down, swiveled her chair around to face the elder agent, and said, "Agent Scully, I am aware of the fact that you are uncomfortable with my presence here so soon after...after your last partner. I cannot do anything about that. I only hope that I will be able to prove my worth to you over time."

"I hope so too."

With that, Largo stood and walked over to the battered gray filing cabinet. She opened the top drawer and flipped through the files inside. She tried to get a sense of exactly what kind of cases were handled in this division. She ran her fingers across red tabs reading, "Vampirism", "Visionary Encounters With The Dead", and "Witchcraft." The witchcraft file was unusually thick. Interesting. She kept flipping through; "Phrenology", "Psychic Photography", "Psychic Healing".

She pulled out some particularly interesting files (like they weren't all pretty weird), and moved down to the next drawer. Here the files were labeled by name. She scanned the filed idly, not really looking for anything. Suddenly, she stopped. Went back. "Dana Scully" the label read. In fact, there were two files bearing the name. With a sidelong glance at Scully, who was bent over the desk, filling out forms, she pulled the files from the drawer and added them to her growing pile. Although Scully had been given Largo's personnel file to review, she had not been able to get any more information on her new partner other than what Skinner outlined in her briefing. She was interested in the small red-haired woman with eyes of steel.

As she looked through the cabinet, Largo noticed that there were no files dealing with anything remotely resembling unidentified flying objects, alien abductions, or extraterrestrial biological entities. She wondered if Scully had taken them out, or if they had been removed by others during Scully's leave. After picking up a few more files, Largo returned to the table and began reading.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Lone Gunmen HQ
12:00 pm

Mulder took a much needed shower and ate some soup. Now he sat, fresh and clean, in a large, dark room filled with a truckload of crap. The walls were lined with computer equipment and electronic recording devices. Tables were filled with miscellaneous junk; photos, newspapers, transistors, and unidentifiable paraphernalia. Mulder raised his eyebrows at the clutter.

"Okay," Langley began, drawing a deep breath, "so here's how we did it. You called us a week ago Wednesday, whining and crying and saying how Scully thought UFO's were faked by the shadow government and that they gave her cancer so that you would believe in them."

"Scully has cancer?" Mulder interrupted.

"Yeah, and its terminal."

"My partner's going to die?" Mulder asked, astonished by the news. He didn't even remember Scully at the moment, but the news upset him deeply.

"Maybe, maybe not. A large part of why you did this was so she wouldn't."

"Wait a minute." Mulder held up a hand. "How does my pretending to die cure someone of cancer?"

Frohike turned to Byers and Langley, "Maybe we should wait till his memory comes back. It'll be easier that way."

"Too late, guys," Mulder said, "I'm curious now. I've got to know. I promise to shut up and let you tell the rest of the story."

"Okay then," Langley picked up the story once more, "so you call us saying you have to fake your own death. It was the only way to end this mess and allow them to cure Scully. You said this new development was going to end Bureau support for the X-Files, and your search for your sister."

Mulder wanted to interrupt. What was this about his sister? But he held his tongue, remembering his promise to keep quiet.

"You said Scully would never get the cure you knew *They* had if you were alive. So, we put our heads together and came up with a plan."

"A dangerous one." Byers added, picking up the tale. "It involved an extensive amount of cosmetics, some bovine blood, and an experimental drug known as KCP."

"Knocks you on your ass," Frohike interjected, "as you can attest to."

Mulder just nodded, becoming engrossed in the tale.

Byers continued. "Injecting you, doing the make-up, getting the splatter pattern right; that was the easy part. The hard part came after you were 'dead.'"

"Yeah," Langley interrupted, "for one, we needed to get Scully to see the body in the apartment, *not* in the morgue."

"So, we worked our magic on the phone lines *and* intercepted the police band frequency near your apartment. The police believed they were talking to a dispatcher, when they were really getting through to Langley out in the van. Frohike posed as the doctor. He pronounced you dead. Using a voice diffuser, we called Scully down to I.D. your body, praying she wouldn't get too close."

"Yes," Frohike smiled wolfishly, "the lovely doctor has quite a little head on those shoulders. She sees enough dead bodies to know the real McCoy."

"Well, Mulder," Byers said, looking into his eyes, "judging from the speed with which she left the building, she was convinced. And pretty upset. She bought it, though, and that was step one. Frohike, who stayed out of sight during Scully's visit, reappeared and told the cops he was calling the ME to take the body away."

"Let me guess," Mulder interrupted, "*you* were the ME."

"Of course." Byers grinned boyishly, his small face all aglow. "We even managed to get you a real death certificate, it's on file and everything. Scully was sent on leave, so she never even got a sniff of the morgue. Now, all existing paperwork says that you were cremated, placed in an urn, given a lovely funeral at Arlington, and right now you're probably sitting on your mother's mantle back on the Vineyard."

"My mother...ahh." Mulder dropped his head into his hands.

The Lone Gunmen were silent. they exchanged furtive glances, each uncomfortable with their friend's grief.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

J Edgar Hoover Building
12:50 pm

Scully looked up from her paperwork as her stomach rumbled for the third time. Largo had been quietly reading files all morning. She seemed engrossed, and had been glued to her seat since sitting down there over three hours ago.

"Largo?"

"Yeah?" She looked up, somewhat surprised that Scully was instigating a conversation. The woman hadn't said a word all morning. It was unnerving, but had allowed her to read through nearly all the files in her pile. She was fascinated by them, and, for the first time, was very excited to have been assigned to this division.

"You want to get some lunch?"

"Yeah, sure."

"Want to head up to the cafeteria?"

Largo paused, her brow wrinkling momentarily. "No, I would rather go somewhere outside the building today." She looked Scully in the eye. "Maybe somewhere with outdoor tables."

"Um, okay."

<What the hell is she up to?> Scully wondered as she locked the door behind them.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

El Toro Loco
1:15 pm

The women ordered salads and sat in uncomfortable silence. Since Scully was playing it stoic, Largo decided to break the ice.

"Your work is fascinating. It's nothing like the rumors I'd heard at the Academy."

"Rumors?"

"That you guys chased ghosts and UFO's and weren't expected to have any rational explanations or justifications to back up your unfounded claims."

Scully's eyes bore into the younger woman's.

Largo's eyes widened, "Hey, those are their words, not mine. I've always been interested in what could not be unexplained. Maybe it's part of my ancestral mysticism."

"Huh?"

"You know the stereotypes. Indians who sit in a sweat lodge all day meditating, waiting for the Great Spirit to speak to them. Mother Earth, Father Sun, all that jazz."

"So, *are* you a mystic?"

She shrugged. "Maybe. I believe God and the Wakantanka (Wah-KAWN-tawn-KA), the Great Spirit, are one in the same. They are both the life-force, the one who leads us in the circle that is our life. But I don't claim to understand everything that may occur within that circle. Events may take place which defy our scientific explanations. Perhaps this is because they are metaphysical, or perhaps our science has not yet evolved to the level at which we can explain these things."

Largo's slight accent, which lent an odd rhythm to her words, was slightly hypnotic. Her voice was pleasant, soothing. It brought to Scully's mind an image of Albert Hosteen, the Navajo code-talker who helped decipher the DAT tape in New Mexico.

She smiled wanly, "I too believe in science. Many of our cases, while outwardly appearing to be mysterious or paranormal, actually have simple scientific explanations."

"I saw evidence of that in your reports."

"Meanwhile, other cases remain, in my mind, unsolved."

"Unsolved meaning that you could find no scientific basis for what occurred?"

"Yes. Agent Mulder, on the other hand, did not believe that science could explain all of the events we witnessed or investigated."

"Mulder was a mystic?"

"Definitely."

"And he believed his sister was abducted by aliens, didn't he?"

She nodded slightly, not sure how to take that last comment. Was it a jab at Mulder, or a simple question to clarify the issue. Scully wasn't sure.

Lunch arrived, interrupting their conversation. After a few minutes, Scully said,

"I read your personnel file yesterday."

"And?"

"And I have a couple of questions."

"Shoot."

"What made you strike Agent Lynch?"

Largo thought about it for a minute. "I guess I just snapped, my anger over many things came out in aggression against Lynch. I should have expected something like that from him. Lynch was an asshole, and was always making inappropriate remarks. My partner and I were close. We had to be in order to do what we did. We worked undercover quite often, and it's hard to pretend you are someone else for so long. I hated it. After awhile I developed a fear of becoming the person I was always pretending to be." She paused, staring out at a small group of bushes to her right. "Ben was my best friend. Losing him was very hard." She swallowed, "My time spent in the hospital was difficult as well. I wouldn't eat or drink anything, afraid it may have been tampered with. I had an IV feeding me the entire time I was there, and I was even suspicious of that. More than once, I ripped it out.

"After they released me, my brother Michael came out to stay with me for a week. His presence helped, but I still remained extremely paranoid. When Michael had to leave, an old family friend came to stay with me for awhile. He and my father were good friends, they served together in Vietnam. In fact, after my father's death, I went to live with he and his wife. He was working in Minneapolis at that time." Largo smiled at the memory of this man. "He put up with me for a short time, then decided to whip my ass back into shape. He told me that if I was going to spend the rest of my life sitting in the house eating nothing but pre-packaged bagels and canned tuna, I might as well die now and save him a lot of grief. He made me realize I was being a coward, hiding from the world. I needed to regain control, to take my life back. The greatest retribution would be to return to my life, to prove that they could not defeat me."

"He sounds like quite a man."

"He is." Largo tore her eyes away from the bushes and looked at Scully. She smiled and matter-of-factly said, "You should know that by now. I mean, he is your boss."

Momentarily struck dumb, Scullly's jaw nearly dropped. Then, it all became clear.

<"You're going to have to trust me on this one, Agent Scully.">

"Walter Skinner was your father's best friend?"

"Of course."

"And now he's your boss?"

"Yep."

For the first time that day, Scully smiled at Largo. Largo returned it with a crooked grin of her own.

"So, any other startling revelations you want to share, Largo?"

"Can't think of any off-hand." She replied through a mouthful of salad.

They continued to eat for a few minutes, each lost in her own thoughts. Then, Scully asked,

"What was the deal with Russia?"

"Huh?"

"You got sent home from Russia in 1987."

Largo gave her the crooked grin again. "Ah, that. Well, I play the piano a little, have since I was a kid. I was 16 and had just finished high school when I was asked to join a group of young musicians on a concert tour in the Soviet Union. I was going through a particularly rebellious stage. Wasn't adolescence the best?" She asked sarcastically.

Scully thought back to her teenage years and her own personal rebellions.

"What happened?"

"Oh, several things. First off, Fredrickson, the uptight director, caught me bumming smokes off the bellhop. He wanted to send me home then, but a call to good old Uncle Walt convinced him to let me stay. A week later, we had a concert in Moscow. I was supposed to play a Beethoven piece. It was the same depressing Beethoven piece I had played for the past two weeks in Petersburg and Kiev. Fredrickson was all over me, too. Watching me like a hawk with his beady little eyes. I guess it was just like with Agent Lynch. I snapped."

"You didn't hit Fredrickson with a paperweight, did you?"

"Naw, I wasn't that violent, then." Largo grinned a little. "I sat down at the piano and played the first thing that popped into my head, which was 'Light My Fire' by The Doors. I got about halfway into 'Riders On The Storm' before Freddie literally pulled me away from the piano and sent me packing."

"So you were sent to Russia to play chamber music, but instead opted for sixties psychedelic rock?"

Largo scratched her chin, pretending to think deeply about it. "I would say that's a pretty accurate assessment of the situation."

"You're something else, Largo."

The young woman shrugged her shoulders as if to say 'no big deal'.

Scully met her eyes. "So how come you wanted to eat outside?"

"Too many ears around the building. My relationship with Skinner is not common knowledge, but I felt you should know. I'm just not sure that basement office isn't wired. Same with the cafeteria."

Scully slowly shook her head. "Don't you think that's a little paranoid?"

The woman just shrugged once more. "You know what they say: Just because your paranoid--"

"Doesn't mean they're not out to get you." Scully finished, rolling her eyes a little.

They finished their lunch and returned to the basement. That afternoon, Largo felt some of the tension which had shrouded the office that morning begin to abate.

They resumed their positions, with Scully finishing paperwork while Largo acquainted herself with the X-Files.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Lone Gunman Headquarters
Saturday June 7, 1997

Mulder held a picture of a small red-haired woman in his hand. It had been taken in the office in which he was now standing, and the woman looked very professional in her business suit, which was covered by a smart black trenchcoat. She had a wry expression on her face, as though someone had just told her something that only a fool would believe.

He was beginning to remember. He knew who she was now, and he already missed her. If only he could have told her how much she meant to him. She was his best friend, his only friend. The Gunmen were friends, he supposed, but not like her. She was the only one he put his faith in, the only one he truly trusted. What was this doing to her? He rubbed his thumb across the surface of the photograph, wishing he could see her just one more time, knowing it was impossible. After all, he was dead, wasn't he? A tear slipped out of his eye and rolled slowly down his cheek.

<Scully.>

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

J. Edgar Hoover Building
Monday, June 9, 1997
10:05 am

Scully and Largo spent the morning as they had spent Thursday and Friday. Scully finished a massive amount of paperwork while Largo attacked the files in the cabinet. Scully was again impressed; the woman had nearly read them all, asking intelligent questions every now and again. She was just beginning to understand how Largo managed to get her Ph.D. at such a young age. Her brain was like a sponge, and she absorbed it in a cool, methodical way. Never looking shocked, never clicking her tongue in disgust or disbelief. It was a little scary, because it reminded her too much of Mulder.

She looked over at her new partner, who was bouncing her right leg up and down with the ball of her foot. In addition, she tapped her long fingers silently on the desk. It was as if she was a bundle of energy. She couldn't sit still.

"Largo?"

"Yeah?" She looked up, light reflecting off her silver glasses.

"You a little wired today?"

She stopped bouncing her leg for a minute, then started again, as if she couldn't help it. She pointed to her coffee cup.

"Too much caffeine makes me nervous." She joked.

"What's wrong, don't you like my coffee?"

"I prefer Sanka, its naturally decaffeinated." Largo smiled. "Just kidding, I hate that decaf crap. I am a little wired though. Its time to start doing something other than sit down here reading files. Besides, I'm almost done with them."

"I noticed that. You must be related to Evelyn Wood."

"Ha, not remotely. I just skipped all the medical babble. Without that, reading the files goes pretty fast." Largo grinned a little mischievously, knowing that Scully was the one who wrote all the 'medical babble.'

Scully was about to retort with a quick barb of her own when the phone rang, startling them both.

"Scully."

"Agent Scully, this is Kimberly. The Assistant Director would like to see you and Agent Largo in his office at 11:00."

"Sure thing, thank you Kimberly."

Scully hung up and looked over at Largo. The silence stretched. It was a battle of wills, and Largo lost.

"Who was it?!" she asked anxiously, eyes wide.

"Looks like you're going to get out of here sooner than you think, Largo. Skinner wants to see us at 11:00."

Largo checked her watch, "Great, its only 10:15!" she said in exasperation.

"Relax Largo, don't have an aneurysm."

"Easy for you to say. What am I going to do until 11:00?"

"You could answer a question for me."

"Okay."

"What the hell happened to your eye?"

"Would you believe its a really bad case of pink-eye?"

"No."

"Didn't think so." She chuckled to herself, "You've been pretty polite not to mention it until now. Just last night some old fart in the grocery store asked me if I went a few rounds with Holyfield."

"So what happened, did Lynch pay you back for the paperweight incident?"

"Nothing so dramatic. I originally injured it in the car accident. Hit it on the steering wheel. Repeatedly, I think. I was lucky I hit my eye socket and not my nose. Now that would have been a helluva bloody mess."

"Didn't you have an airbag?"

Largo snorted, "We were undercover, remember? I was driving a 1968 VW Bus."

"But that was in February, right? So shouldn't it have healed by now?"

"Yeah. But I had some retina damage. Couldn't see very well for awhile. I had surgery on it about four weeks ago, and there was some hemorrhaging into the white of my eye. They told me it will probably be like this for another month or so. Gradually, it will become white again."

"Take off your glasses and come here." Scully said.

Largo put her glasses down on the drafting table and wheeled her chair closer to where Scully sat. She turned on the hanging lamp and shined it in Largo's face.

"Professional curiosity." Scully explained.

She studied the tissue surrounding the cornea, not looking for anything in particular, but she had never seen hemorrhaging of this magnitude in the eye before. It was one of those things she rarely saw in her patients. The dead didn't often bleed into the eyes.

She looked closer at the cornea, noticing the light green of Largo's iris. Suddenly, the green turned into a bright blue, then washed quickly back into green. Scully gasped, and Largo pulled away.

"What?" she asked, puzzled.

"Your eye...it turned blue."

Largo gave Scully a strange look. Scully recognized the look all too well. It was the same look she gave Mulder whenever he said something particularly outrageous. Largo thought she was bonkers.

"Have your eyes ever done that before?"

"Since I have no idea what you're talking about, I'm going to have to say no. You've got a great bedside manner, Doc Scully. No wonder you went into pathology."

"At lease my patients don't complain as much as you do."

Largo snorted, "Yeah, and you can't accuse them of malingering either."

Even Scully had to laugh at that.

Largo looked at her watch. "Hey, look, it's 10:50 already! Can we go now?"

"Sure."

As they rode the elevator up to Skinner's office, Scully thought about the color change in the young woman's eyes. It was rare, but there were people who's eyes did spontaneously change color. It was even possible that Largo was unaware of the condition. She decided to let it go for now. The young woman's energy was infectious, and she found herself also looking forward to the new assignment.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Walter Skinner stood as they entered his office.

"Agent Scully, Agent Largo, please have a seat."

They sat in comfortable chairs facing the Assistant Director's desk.

"I have an assignment for the two of you." He pushed a manila folder across the desk. Scully reached for it and began to scan the pages inside. "Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Three murders occurring over the past month. All victims female, from 25-32 years of age. Each woman was attacked in her home, tied to her bed, beaten viciously, then had her throat cut."

"Any signs of sexual abuse?" Scully asked.

Skinner shook his head, then produced a tape recorder from behind his desk. "This was recorded on June 2nd." He pushed the 'play' button.

"9-1-1 Milwaukee. Please state the nature of the emergency."

"Someone's killing her!" A woman's voice gasped, her breath ragged.

"Where, ma'am?"

"I don't know! I don't know where she lives. Her name is Lucy Bryant. Hurry, you've got to stop it!"

"Your name please, ma'am."

CLICK.

Skinner frowned at the tape for a minute, then shut the machine off. "Two similar calls were made on the evenings of May 10th and May 22nd. Those were the nights when Ellen Macy and Louise Fellner were killed. Same MO. Milwaukee PD is assuming its the same perpetrator. When police arrived at the scene the women were dead. The ME estimated a time of death, and believes the calls took place at or just before the time these women were attacked. Little or no incriminating evidence was left at the crime scene. Police are baffled, and they've asked for our assistance."

Scully spoke, "What did the trace on the 9-1-1 calls turn up?"

"Pay phones."

Largo ventured a question, "Scattered, or in the same vicinity, sir?"

"Two within the same block. One about five miles away."

"Did they run a voice-pattern analysis?"

Skinner nodded, "Its the same caller. I've informed the Milwaukee PD that you will be arriving within the next few days. That is all, you are dismissed."

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Basement
12:30 pm

Scully hung up the phone. She turned to Largo, who was reading the file on their new case.

"We leave tomorrow at 11:00 am"

"I'll be there." She answered distractedly.

"I'm going to grab some lunch, but I have an appointment at 2:30 this afternoon, so I'll be leaving for the day. Lock up when you take off, okay?"

"Sure thing." Largo replied, her eyes never leaving the file on the table.

"And Largo?"

The young woman finally looked up, her eyes somewhat bleary.

"Knock off early today. Rest those eyes, they've been stuck in too many files lately, and we've got a full day ahead of us tomorrow."

"Okay Mom." Actually she was a little touched by Scully's concern.

"See you."

"Um-hum." Her face was once again in the file.

Scully left.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

St. Johns Hospital
Washington DC
3:10 pm

Dana Scully sat idly flipping through magazines in the Radiation Treatment Center at St. Johns Hospital. They always ran late, and one of these days Dana would just start showing up an hour after her scheduled appointment time. But then, she knew Murphy's Law would kick in and that would be the one day they would be running on time.

After an eternity she heard the burly nurse call, "Dana Scully?" She rose to follow the woman down the hall.

After the usual preliminaries were taken care of (BP taken, blood drawn, etc.) she sat in a hospital gown and waited for Dr. Coen.

"Hello Dana, how are we doing today?"

She hated patronization, but tolerated it here. "Fine Dr. Coen."

"I have your bloodwork from last week here, and it looks pretty good. No further metastasis, whites and reds are fine. How is your energy level?"

"About the same. Not like it was before all this, but I'm managing."

"Staying away from undue stress?"

She winced involuntarily, but Coen was still looking at the charts and didn't notice.

"I'm trying to."

"Okay Dana, you ready?"

"As I'll ever be."

He led her down another hallway and through a door to the familiar room where she received her treatments.

"We're going to change your levels a bit today, Dana. Your reaction may be somewhat stronger. I'd advise you to take it easy tonight."

She nodded, and hopped up on the table. She lay still as they put the clear mask over her face and prepared her for treatment. She closed her eyes, oblivious to the tears which slowly slipped out the corners.

When it was over, Coen led her back to his office. She expected him to leave while she dressed and prepared to make her own exit, but the man stayed in the room. Coen pulled a small key from his pocket and unlocked a cabinet. He grabbed a metal box from inside and placed it on the counter.

"I'm going to five you an injection, Dana. Its just a small anti-nauseant. I'm a little worried about the change we made in your dosage." He filled the syringe and dabbed alcohol on her shoulder.

"Ready?"

She nodded, and he gave her the shot.

Dr. Coen replaced the metal box and relocked the cabinet.

"Good-bye Dana." He said, nodding with finality.

"Bye Dr. Coen." She got dressed and left the room.

Scully walked back out to the reception area. She was about to push through the frosted glass door when she suddenly felt light-headed. She brought a hand to her forehead and groped blindly with the other, searching for a chair. Finding one, she plopped down into it. A wave of nausea washed through her and she bit her lower lip, waiting for it to pass. She was used to the nauseous feeling, but had never experienced it so soon after a treatment. She usually didn't feel like vomiting until later that night, when she was safely ensconced in her apartment. Besides, Coen said he'd given her an anti-nauseant.

Her head swimming, she glanced at her wristwatch. It took a moment to focus on the dial. 4:40 pm. Surely her treatment hadn't taken an hour and a half, had it? She was usually there no longer than 40 minutes.

"Ms. Scully," the nurse said, laying a hand on her shoulder, "are you okay?"

Taking a deep breath, Scully looked up at her. "I'm fine." she replied. Another lie. One more link in the 'I'm fine' lie-chain she had been constructing over the years. Usually it was Mulder she told this lie to, today it was an unknown nurse. "I just need to sit for a moment."

The nurse nodded and retreated back to her station.

Twenty minutes later Scully still sat there, head in her hands. She pulled out her cell phone and slowly, methodically dialed her mother's number.

"This is Margaret Scully. I'm not in right now, but leave a message and I'll get back to you."

<Damn.>

BEEP.

"Mom...its me...are you there? Please be there, Mom." She paused, fighting the blackness that threatened to engulf her. She was almost certain she was going to pass out. Still no answer on the phone. Dana hit the disconnect button and sat, struggling to remain conscious as she tried to think of what to do.

It hit her. But no, she really, really didn't want to do that. Another wave of nausea tore through her, almost sending her over the edge. That did it, she had no choice. She brought the phone back up to her face and hit 'Memory 2' with a shaking finger. It was a number she had just entered into the phone this morning.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Megan Largo's Apartment
5:15 pm

After work, Largo changed into jeans and a plain white t-shirt. Now, she was sitting in the middle of a messy living room surrounded by stereo components. She stared blankly at the manual in her lap. She rubbed her tired eyes.

<Great. I could lecture for three hours on the mitigating factors leading to World War One, the Rosenburg Trial, or the fine art of criminal interrogation, but I can't figure out a fucking stereo system to save my life.>

She's been in DC less than a week, and most of her stuff had just arrived Saturday afternoon. Unopened boxes lined every wall. She'd unpacked the essentials and didn't really mind the clutter, but the stereo was vital. She wouldn't last long without music, and her old clock-radio just wasn't cutting it.

A high trilling noise startled her. What the hell was that? She stood and followed the noise to her jacket pocket. Ah-ha. It was her cell phone, ringing for the first time. She and Ben had almost never carried them, being as they were supposed to be working undercover, the phones were a little out of place. Instead, she had carried a simple black pager.

"Um, Largo." she answered hesitantly, still not certain someone hadn't dialed a wrong number.

"Largo...its Scully."

"Scully? Are you okay? You don't sound too good."

"I...um...I need to ask you for a favor." The voice was just above a whisper.

"No problem Scully. What do you need?"

"I need you to come to St. Johns Hospital, the Radiation Treatment Center."

"You hang on, Scully, I'll be right there."

Largo hung up. She grabbed her keys, badge, and gun, and ran out the door.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

St. Johns Hospital
5:35 pm

Largo jogged through the hallways, searching frantically for any sign of the Radiation Treatment Center. She finally found it and pulled on the frosted glass door, only to find it locked. She knocked loudly on the door. A passing nurse called out to her.

"I'm sorry miss, but they close at 5:30."

"I'm looking for a woman, Short, white, with red hair? Probably wearing a black business suit?"

"Sorry." the nurse said, and continued down the hall.

Largo rubbed the back of her neck with one hand while scanning the hallways for Scully. She spotted a women's restroom and ventured a quick peek inside.

"Scully?"

A soft voice from deep inside replied, "I'm here."

Largo sighed with relief and stepped into the bathroom. She saw Scully leaning heavily against the counter. She looked awful. Her eyes were glazed, unfocused. Her skin was deathly pale, and dark circles hung like crescent moons under her washed-out blue eyes.

Largo put on hand on the small woman's back, putting the other on her elbow to steady her.

Scully leaned against her for a moment, then suddenly her body tensed, and she ran quickly through a stall door. Largo heard retching sounds. She followed the small woman into the stall. She looked awful, barely able to hold herself above the toilet. Largo bent down and held her head as Scully emptied the contents of her stomach. Breathing heavily, she groaned tiredly.

"Its okay Scully, its okay. I've got you." She rubbed the smaller woman's back soothingly. It was then that she realized just how thin Scully was. Largo felt her sharp shoulder blades and the ridges of bony vertebrae under her fingertips.

A few minutes later Largo lifted Scully to her feet and guided them back to the sink. She wet a paper towel and washed Scully's face, which was damp with perspiration.

"Come on, Scully, let's go."

Swaying slightly, Scully allowed Largo to lead her out the door, into the elevator, and out of St. Johns Hospital. Scully leaned on the car as Largo unlocked the doors, then she gently guided her into the passenger seat.

By the time she got behind the wheel, her partner's eyes were closed. Largo adjusted the other seat so it would recline slightly, fastened Scully's seatbelt as well as her own, and pulled the car out of the parking garage.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Back at her building, Largo half-carried Scully up the stairs and into her apartment. She was badly disoriented, and had trouble just keeping her eyes open, let alone focused on anything.

<What could have done this to her?> Megan wondered. <Is cancer therapy really like this? This can't happen to her every time, or she'd have had someone there with her.>

Megan Largo's mother died of breast cancer when she and her brother were eight, but she was too young to remember if her mother had received radiation treatment. One thing she know for sure though: Scully was in bad shape.

She led the small woman into the back bedroom, careful not to let her trip on any of the unpacked boxes strewn about. She sat Scully on the bed, one hand on her shoulder to steady the swaying woman. With her other hand, she opened a drawer and pulled out a large t-shirt and some old shorts.

"Scully, you hear me?"

Scully made a small noise at the back of her throat. "Yeah."

"Here's some clothes for you to change to. You're going to take a nap now, okay?"

She held out the clothes. As Scully made no motion to grab for them, she bent down and removed Scully's shoes and jacket, hoping it would give her the hint. It did, and Dana reached out for the small bundle.

Largo went to the kitchen to get a glass of water. She took her time, giving Scully some privacy. When she returned, Scully had donned the outfit and was already curled up under the sheets. Megan set the glass of water on the bedside table, picked up Scully's clothes, and tiptoed out, quietly shutting the door behind her.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Greyhound Bus #1017
5:58 pm

He said his good-byes to The Gunmen at the office and took a cab to the bus station. He sat looking out the window as the country rolled by. Mulder thought about his life, the life he'd recently reacquired when the powerful drug finally left his system. He thought about his childhood. He had been a happy child, generally content with his life...until that evening so long ago. The nightmare of that evening continued to haunt him to this day. It was always with him, teasing him in the back of his mind like a stray hair down your collar. And just when he thought the mightmare could grow no worse, his partner, his best friend was abducted. Three months of hell. Not knowing whether she was dead or alive. It was Samantha all over again.

He buried his face in his hands.

Mulder shook his head, as if he could rid himself of the memories. It was no use, they continued to flow across his tired brain. His father, bleeding to death in his arms. Krychek, that bastard. Scully shooting him--not to wound him, but to save him from himself. New Mexico. The boxcar. Albert Hosteen. This last thought brought a fleeting smile to his face. It didn't last long.

Melissa Scully. Oh, that one hurt. Not because it hurt him, but because it hurt her. Dana Scully, the most important person in his life was befallen by tragedy because of him and his damned X-Files. The woman he'd do anything for, the only one he trusted. The person he had died for.

But had he died for her? Was this the only solution to his mass of problems? Once again, self-doubt crept in, seeking a hold on his fragile psyche. Scully believed Michael Kritchgau, believed the lies he told her. The night he died he decided to kill two birds with one stone. By faking his own death he could possibly save Dana Scully's life, and he could continue his search for the truth. He knew that without Scully's suppoort in his quest for evidence of extraterrestrial life, he would lose the X-Files. Scully was his only ally, and without her behind him, the Bureau would never continue approval of UFO-related investigations.

Yes, he had died for Scully, but he also died for *her*. For Samantha. For his search to find her, and find out who, or what, had stolen her away from him that summer evening so long ago.

He stared out the window, watching the rolling hills and open plains float by. A tear slipped down his face and rolled off his chin, unnoticed.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Megan Largo's Apartment
6:43 pm

Largo sat on the bench before a baby grand piano and quietly plunked out a melody with one hand. She often did this when she needed to think. Her hands automatically moving over the familiar keys while her mind turned over a problem. The problem tonight was clear: what should she do about Dana Scully?

She was obviously ill, whether it be from her radiation treatment or something else. Should she take Scully back to the hospital? No. If Scully wanted to be there she never would have called. Skinner? No...for obvious reasons. Megan didn't want to run to him with every problem, and she was certain Scully didn't want her boss to know how sick she really was. There were 14 Scullys in the phone book, and Megan was not about to dial up a bunch of strangers on the off-chance one of them was related to Dana. So she decided to wait it out. Let her sleep. Perhaps this wasn't so abnormal for a person in her condition...

The problem was solved by the high trilling of what Largo now recognized as a cell phone. It came from Scully's jacket pocket this time.

"Dana Scully's phone."

There was a pause. Then, "This is Margaret Scully, Dana's mother. Who is this?"

"This is Megan Largo, I'm an associate of...Dana's."

"Dana left a strange message on my machine today. I'm just wondering if she's okay. Where is she?"

"Everything is fine, Mrs. Scully. Dana wasn't feeling well after her doctor's appointment. I picked her up and brought her here. She fell asleep in the car. I don't know where she lives, so I brought her to my apartment."

"She was too tired to tell you her own address?"

"Uh...yes. Actually, Mrs. Scully, I think it would be best if you came her to see her. You know more about her condition than I."

"Yes, I'm on my way."

Largo gave her directions, and Margaret Scully was off like a shot.

~~~~~~~~~~~

8:00 pm

Largo let Margaret Scully into the apartment and quickly led her down the hall to her bedroom.

Maggie sat down on the edge of the bed and smoothed the hair back from her daughter's pale face. Largo stood in the doorway, then exited and shut the door, feeling like an intruder during this private moment. Megan had no family, save her grandfather and twin brother Michael. Her grandfather was an Elder, a respected man within the Mdewakanton tribe of the Dakota people. She and her grandfather had never been very close. Joseph Little Bear was something of a traditionalist. He felt it was the responsibility of all Indian people to keep their culture alive. Megan chose to walk a different path, however. Though she was proud of her Native American heritage, she had to stay true to herself, and she chose mainstream American culture over a life on the reservation.

Her brother Michael leaned more toward the philosophy of their grandfather. Michael and Megan had always been close, as twins usually are, but they had very different personalities. Michael was quiet and basically a contented person, while Megan was outspoken, opinionated, and always questioning the world around her. The old family joke from when they were children was that Michael had inherited all the Indian genes while Megan was 100% Wasicun (wash-EE-choon), or white.

Now, Megan only remembered her mother in a vague way, and still had strong feelings about the death of her father. Consequently, family scenes often made her feel awkward and uncomfortable. She was unsure of how family members were supposed to act with each other.

Maggie emerged from the room, her eyes red from tears. Largo rocked back and forth on her heels, not sure of what to say.

"Would you like some tea, Mrs. Scully?"

"Yes, that would be nice."

There was silence as Largo filled the kettle. She could feel the woman's eyes on her...it made the hairs on the back of her neck stand up.

"You said your name was Megan, is that correct?"

"Yes...Megan Largo."

"And you work at the Hoover Building too?"

Ah-ha. Now it dawned on her. Mrs. Scully thought she was some sort of counterpart to Tommy, the mail-room intern. The woman had no idea why her daughter had called Megan. She set the kettle on the burner and turned on the gas range.

"Yes, Mrs. Scully. I work with...Dana. In fact, I've been assigned to assist her as a junior partner in the X-Files Division."

Margaret's breath caught in her throat. Her eyes widened in surprise. There was another long silence.

"How old are you, Megan?"

"I'm twenty-six."

"And how long have you been an FBI agent?"

"A little over three years now."

"Where did you work before coming to Washington?"

"Mostly in Portland, Oregon."

"H-m-m."

"Any more questions, Mrs. Scully?"

"Yes."

"Well, shoot."

She reached out and tenderly placed her palm alongside Megan Largo's face.

"What happened to your eye?"

**************

10:25 pm

She wasn't sure if she was dreaming or awake, but a hand gently shook her shoulder. Scully opened her eyes and slowly focused on the outline of her mother's form in the darkness.

"Dana? Are you awake honey?"

Groggy, unsure of her surroundings, she replied, "Mom?"

"Yes, its me."

"Mom, where am I?"

"You're at Megan's house."

"Megan? Megan who?"

"Your partner Dana, remember? Megan Largo?"

"But Mulder's my partner, Mom."

"I know honey, I know." She reached out to brush Dana's hair from her face. She continued to stroke her daughter's hair, a gesture of reassurance.

"I'm so tired, Mom."

"Then sleep, honey."

"Will you stay with me?"

"Of course I will."

Dana closed her eyes and let the rhythm of her mother's touch across her forehead lull her back to sleep.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Tuesday
9:15 am

Largo called to cancel their tickets for today's flight to Milwaukee and made tentative reservations on a 12:00 pm flight leaving on Wednesday. Then she called Skinner's office, leaving a message to inform him of their delay. She simply stated that Agent Scully hadn't been feeling well, thus delaying their arrival in Milwaukee by a day.

Margaret Scully was in the kitchen making French toast. Megan enjoyed the older woman's company, and was glad she was there. Last night they had talked of many things, usually with Mrs. Scully doing the questioning and Largo being put on the spot. If Megan had known more about mothers, she would have realized this was the oldest trick in the book: ask nosy questions until the victim finally tells you to butt out, which she will never do because it is impolite. And Megan Largo was nothing if not polite, especially to her new partner's mother.

"So," Mrs. Scully had asked that night, sipping orange tea, "where do you get your accent from?"

"Accent? You mean a Midwestern accent?"

"No, I mean you talk funny. You stress different words in the sentences. You speak differently than most people I know."

"Oh, I guess so. It must be the Dakota influence, I guess."

"You're from the Dakotas?"

Largo smiled softly. "In a way. I'm not from the Dakota states. I'm originally from Minnesota, but I am Dakota. My mother was Native American. They are part of what most...uh, whites call Sioux. We don't use that term though, its origins are derogatory. I grew up bilingual, but spoke a lot of Dakota when I was young. It probably warped my English a little."

"I think it sounds lovely. But you're a long way from home, aren't you?"

She shrugged. "Well, a long way from Minnesota. My mother was Indian, yes, but my father was white, and Irish to boot."

Maggie smiled, then stopped short. "You said you mother *was* Indian, what happened to her?"

"She passed away when we were eight." Inwardly, Largo prayed Mrs. Scully wouldn't ask how her mother died.

"We?"

"I guess that came out sounding strange. I have a twin brother, and *we* were eight when she died."

"I'm sorry."

Largo shrugged, "It was a long time ago."

"And where does you father live now?"

Silence.

"My father...he is also dead."

"Oh."

"Yes, he was shot by an intruder in our home in St. Paul. That, too, was a long time ago." She said this with finality, giving Maggie the hint that this topic was off the discussion table.

Mrs. Scully let her eyes wander around the cluttered living room.

Largo noticed and said, "I'm sorry it is so messy, I just received my things this weekend and haven't had a chance to unpack much yet."

Maggie fixed her eyes on the immaculate black piano near the windows. "I see you've set up the important things." She gestured to the piano. "Do you play?"

Megan grinned broadly, glad for the change of subject. "Yes, I do."

"Play something for me."

"Anything in particular?"

"Oh, you take requests, do you?"

"Of course. I used to play at a piano bar when I was in college. It was an interesting take on the work-study program, but the money got me through school. What do you want to hear?"

"Hmmm, do you know any Sinatra? Or is he too old for someone your age."

Megan touched her chest with a palm, as though wounded by the mere thought. "I live for Sinatra." She stated proudly.

Softly, careful not to wake the sleeping Scully, Largo began to play "Strangers In The Night."

To Maggie's surprise, She softly sang along with the song. She had a smooth, silky alto, a beautiful voice. When she sang, she lost the odd rhythm of speech which made her voice so unmistakable.

When the song ended, Megan launched into, "I've Got You Under My Skin." Maggie sat back on the couch and let the music flow over her. After a few more unaccompanied songs she dozed off, and Largo covered her with a blanket from the back of the couch.

***********

Now, they sat at the small kitchen table eating French toast and drinking strong coffee. Dana was still asleep in the bedroom. Megan questioned Mrs. Scully about her daughter, knowing this was the only way she would ever find out much about her partner's cancer. She sure as hill wasn't going to ask Scully about it, figuring she'd just get the ice-cold stare that the small woman could give. For such a diminutive woman, Scully was infinitely strong, and strong-willed as well. Megan had instantly seen the power behind Scully's frame, both physical, mental, and emotional. She was a formidable woman, and Largo already respected her very much.

Maggie willingly filled her in on Dana's condition, realizing the young woman needed to know in the event another such emergency. Initially, she had been shocked when the young woman claimed she was Dana's new partner. Dana hadn't mentioned it, and it seemed so sudden. It was too soon after losing Fox, which was probably the very reason Dana hadn't told her. However, after finding out a little about the girl, Margaret felt something toward her. Though she was a little uneasy, she had answered her prying questions, and was hard not to like.

<Besides,> Maggie thought, <anyone who could play like that...> She remembered Megan's long thin fingers gliding gracefully across the piano keys the night before. <And that voice...>

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Megan Largo's Apartment
3:15 pm

Scully awoke to the soft sounds of music. It was faint, and she lay quietly, listening to the light melody. It was a familiar song, one she knew, but couldn't place yet. She concentrated on the music, and suddenly heard a woman's voice accompanying the piano. It was lovely, and Scully momentarily thought she was hearing a CD. Then she realized that wasn't right. The song was "Walking In Memphis", by Marc Cohn, and he certainly didn't sound anything like this.

She opened her eyes and frowned, this was not her bedroom. She was in a strange bed wearing a huge t-shirt and baggy shorts. There was a small, lithe gray cat striped with black laying over her chest. The cat didn't stir even when she did. She reached down to pet the trusting cat for a moment, and it leaned into her hand affectionately.

She stood and tentatively pulled the door open further. The cat stood and stretched, then quickly trotted out the door to lead her out of the room. She followed the cat down the hallway and toward the sound of the music. Scully peered around a corner, and what she saw in the front room surprised her. Megan Largo sat behind a large black piano, eyes closed, softly singing along with the music. On the couch, facing the piano, sat her mother. She was smiling at the young woman as she was serenaded.

Unobserved, Scully watched the pair as the tune changed. Largo began to play another tune, one she didn't recognize. It was a haunting, bluesy song, and Largo sang with emotion.

The music stopped suddenly as Largo looked up at her.

"Well, look what the cat dragged in." Largo smiled, showing a mouthful of white teeth. It was the first full smile Scully had seen from the young woman, and it lit up her face. She peered over the piano and, to the cat, said, "What happened Lenny, did you give Sleeping Beauty a kiss to revive her?"

The cat just looked up at her with a bored expression that was the sole possession of the feline species.

"Dana." Maggie stood and hugged her daughter fiercely.

"Mom, what are you doing here?"

"I got worried when I heard your message. I called your cellular and met your new partner."

"Oh, yeah. Sorry I didn't tell you." She looked apologetically at her mother, then at Largo, who had risen and come closer to where they stood.

"How are you feeling, Scully?"

"Much better. In fact, I feel great. Very rested."

"You should be, you nearly slept the clock around."

"What!?"

Largo looked at her watch, "Yeah Scully, its 3:30 in the afternoon. Tuesday afternoon."

"But...we have to go to Milwaukee today. How could you let me just sleep like that, Largo? Now we missed our flight."

"Relax Scully. There will always be another passage to the thriving metropolis of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I canceled our tickets and booked us on the noon flight leaving tomorrow. That's if you're up to it."

"Skinner?"

"Called him too, said you weren't feeling well." She spread her hands out in front of her, "No problem." She paused for a moment. "Are you okay, Scully?"

She was a little touched by the concern in Largo's warm voice.

"Yes, I *really* do feel better. But...where are my clothes?" She tugged a little at the huge waist of the shorts. "I'm falling out of these."

Largo shot a quick glance over to Mrs. Scully, who was still appraising her daughter.

<I guess she doesn't remember yesterday too well yet.>

"Your clothes are a little worse for wear, but I can find something that will fit you better, come on." Largo walked back to the bedroom, not wanting to state in front of Mrs. Scully that there was a fair amount of vomit residue on her daughter's well-tailored black suit.

"H-m-m. What do I have to fit a five-foot tall woman?" She put a hand to her chin, as if in the midst of deep thought processes.

"Save it, Largo." Scully said wryly.

They shared a short laugh, and Megan was relieved to see Scully feeling better.

"I took your clothes to the dry cleaners. Here, you can probably fit into this."

She handed Scully a smaller t-shirt, a gray sweatshirt with 'Minnesota Athletics' written across the chest, and some black sweatpants.

"These are the smallest ones I have, maybe you can roll them up or something."

"It'll be fine, Largo. And thank you. I don't know why that happened, why my reaction was so strong, but I appreciate your help...and your discretion."

Largo nodded, "It's nothing."

Scully looked up to meet her eyes. "No, its not nothing, its something, something very important. You helped me out when I really needed it. Thank you."

"Enough already. I have been sufficiently thanked. You're welcome. You want to take a shower?"

"Definitely."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

After her shower, Scully ate some soup and a tuna sandwich.

"Hey Largo," she called, "is this canned tuna?"

Largo smiled from behind her own sandwich. "Yeah, but be careful of the apple juice, it was sitting unattended in my car while I went to the bank, but I'm forcing myself to drink it as therapy."

Scully took a long swallow of juice. She smacked her lips thoughtfully. "Seems okay to me."

"Well, I'm glad one of us can joke about it."

Scully gave her a toothless but genuine smile as her mother looked on, puzzled by the exchange.

************

An hour later, Scully and her mother prepared to leave. In the doorway Largo asked, "Are you sure you'll be okay to travel tomorrow? We could probably wait another day."

"Largo, I'm fine. Besides, if we wait another day there's a good chance you will simply explode, and I wouldn't want to be the one responsible for that."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah."

"Really, I'm fine. I feel better today than I have in weeks."

"Meet you at Dulles at 11:00, then?"

"Yep."

"Bye Scully. Goodbye Mrs. Scully, it was nice to meet you."

To Largo's complete surprise, Maggie Scully walked up and embraced her, hugging the tall woman firmly. Dana saw the shocked expression on Largo's face and stifled a small giggle.

When she finally pulled away, Maggie said, "Thank you for everything Megan. I'll be seeing you soon." She turned to leave.

Scully stood on her tiptoes to get closer to Largo's ear. "That means she likes you." she said softly.

"Oh." Largo still looked shocked, then her face lit up with a wide smile, her eyes crinkling happily.

"Bye Largo, and thanks again."

Largo waved the compliment away and closed the door behind them.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Milwaukee Police HQ
Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Wednesday June 11, 1997
3:35 CDT

Agents Largo and Scully met with Detective Adam Wright. He was more than a little surprised to discover the FBI had sent two female agents out on a murder investigation.

"Detective Wright," Scully asked, "what was the time frame on the 9-1-1 calls?"

"One at 6:45 pm, the others around 10:00 pm."

"And were police dispatched immediately?"

"As soon as a residence ID could be made on the victim. Milwaukee is a large city, Agent Scully, and there are many Bryants, Macys, and Fellners. Police were dispatched within an hour."

"I see." Scully said as she flipped through the autopsy photographs. The victims were all badly beaten, but, as Skinner had said back in Washington, there were no signs of sexual abuse. That was mildly unusual, not completely rare, though. The victims were found fully clothed, and the ME's report stated the belief that the victims were most probably beaten with the fists. The wounds were not consistent with any type of heavy blunt object. Each victim had her throat cut. Fingerprints found at the scene were consistent with those of the victim or others known to the victim. Relatives, friends, and significant others were questioned, but none were suspected.

"Have you found anything linking the women?" Largo asked.

"Not yet, so if there is a tie-in, it isn't something obvious."

The agents exchanged a glance. Scully saw the questioning look in Largo's eye and nodded slightly at her. Largo took this as the permission she had been seeking.

"Can we take a look at the area where the phone calls were made?" she asked.

"Certainly. I'll copy the addresses for you and have a man lead you there."

"Thank you, Detective Wright."

The middle-aged detective scratched the back of his head as they left his office. Women Fibbies? A midget and a kid? <Why did they even bother?> he wondered.

~~~~~~~~~~

Corner of 5th and Vine
Milwaukee, WI
4:15 pm

"650-2216, this is it." Scully stated, scanning the area, not sure what she was looking for.

Largo slowly turned in a circle. Through dark sunglasses, she saw three apartment buildings, a corner grocery, a small gas station, the ever-present corner bar.

"And the other booth?" she asked.

"It should be about a block north." Scully answered. They walked the block and found the other pay phone.

They had already checked out the third number. Its phone was a few miles away.

"I'm thinking she lives around here. Maybe she was away from her home when she made the third call."

Scully nodded. "You want to do a door-to-door?"

"What do you think?"

"Milwaukee PD probably already has. Most likely, they had the same idea."

"Right." Largo began walking south, back toward the first phone. After going about 50 yards, she stopped, looking up at the five story apartment building in front of her. 'Pinewood Apts' the banner above the lobby read. In a second story window there was a large neon sign reading "Miller High Life." Above it and to the left was another neon, this one picturing a hand. Underneath the glowing yellow hand were the words "Palm Readings, Tarot Cards" in bright blue.

Scully came up behind her. "I don't know what we're looking for here, Largo. Let's get something to eat and we can talk strategy."

"First, can we go up to that apartment?" She jerked her head toward the third-story window.

"You mean that one?" Scully pointed a finger at the sign.

"Yeah."

Scully examined the sign carefully, then eyed the young woman. She fought the urge to roll her eyes. <She's young, humor her.>

"Okay." she reluctantly agreed.

They climbed the stairs and entered the building. Riding up in the elevator, Scully became caught up in the fact that what they were doing was so...Mulderesque. They reached the door, upon which was a small white card that mirrored the neon sign in the window. Written under the logo was: Readings by Kelly Green. Scully raised a skeptic eyebrow as Largo knocked firmly.

A thin woman with short, dark hair answered. She was around 30 years-old, somewhere between their heights, and wore a baggy green sweater with a long cotton skirt.

They flipped out their badges and Scully said, "Ms. Green? I'm Special Agent Dana Scully, and this is Agent Megan Largo, we're with the FBI."

The woman inhaled sharply, her eyes widening. She looked like a deer caught in headlights.

"We'd just like to ask you a few questions if we could."

"Uh...sure." She peered nervously around the hallway. "Come in."

She turned, and they followed her down the short hallway. Scully leaned toward Largo and whispered, "This is your show kid, you take it from here."

Largo nodded somberly. They sat on the couch facing Ms. Green.

"Ms. Green," Largo said, smiling slightly to put the woman at ease. "you do palm and Tarot card readings, yes?"

"Yes, yes I do."

"Do you find a lot of business in this neighborhood?"

The woman lifted her shoulders non-commitally. "I get by. Milwaukee is a very spiritual town."

Largo's eyes crinkled as she smiled. "Yeah, I bet there's more than just one kind of 'spirit' that flies around here."

Much to Scully's surprise, Kelly Green laughed out loud. "Oh yes, it's the beer that makes Milwaukee famous."

Scully got it then. She wanted to smack herself on the forehead. She hadn't given Largo enough credit. The kid was pretty smooth, breaking the ice with Green like that. Soon the two were chatting away, sharing some kind of Midwestern inside joke that flew right past Scully. After a few minutes of what appeared to be mindless chit-chat, Largo returned to the subject of fortune-telling.

"So, Kelly. May I call you Kelly?"

The woman nodded.

"So, Kelly, just how much can you tell about a person by reading their palm?"

"Since ancient times many have believed that a person's character and their destiny can be determined by examining the palms of their hands. The shape of the hand as well as the lines upon it are taken into consideration. It is also believed that the lines on a person's palm change over time, corresponding with important life decisions and events which may alter their future."

"So no one's destiny is set?"

"Not ultimately set, but the lines on the palm can tell much about a person's immediate future. Here," she gestured with her fingers, "let me take a look at your hands, Agent Largo."

Largo placed her long, thin hands into the woman's, palms up. She studied them for a minute, turning them over, tracing the lines with her fingers.

"Overall, you are intuitive, gentle, artistic. A strange combination for a federal agent." She smiled. "Your fingers are rather conical, suggesting an intellectual frame of mind, yet you are not afraid to trust your instincts. Your life line is deep, which suggests vitality of the spirit, but I see you've had pain in your recent past. The line of fate, here," she traced a vertical line down Largo's left palm, "tells me that you have a good amount of luck on your side."

She gently closed Largo's palms and pushed them back toward her. "That's all you get for free."

Largo chuckled softly. "That's pretty good."

The woman turned her gaze. "Agent Scully?"

Scully's eyes widened; she had been content as a casual observer and had no desire to become an active participant in this little charade. One look at Largo, however, made her remember her words in the hallway. It was Largo's show, so she'd better play along.

Reluctantly, Scully held out her hands. Kelly took them and repeated the process of studying them. Scully glanced at Largo out of the corner of her eye, but the dark young woman was staring intently at Kelly Green's face, her lips slightly pursed.

Finished with her examination, Green seemed to laugh to herself. "You are certainly different from your partner, Agent Scully."

"Oh really?"

"I'll tell you what I see. Your fingers are very smooth, suggesting a keen, alert mind. Yet your fingertips are flat. This indicated a rational, realistic outlook on the world. You are a skeptic, right?"

Scully's eyebrow shot up. Largo nearly laughed out loud.

"For your size, your thumbs are long, suggesting you are a high-achiever and a very confident person. Now, let me look at the lines again." She stared down at Scully's left hand.

"Agent Scully, are you ill?"

Scully jerked her hands away as if Green's touch scalded her. She was speechless, stunned.

"Scully," Largo croaked, laying a hand on her arm. Scully shrugged it off and began to rise.

"Agent Scully, wait. I didn't mean to alarm you. But your lifeline is somewhat shallow. This does not necessarily mean an early death, I believe it is more indicative of an illness. But it is puzzling, because the line is long. It is my opinion that this indicates your illness is temporary. Let me take a closer look."

Reluctantly, Scully sat down and obediently held out her hands.

"You are a strong woman, Agent Scully. Logical and practical. Your line of fate is similar to Agent Largo's, which means you are also very lucky, though you may not believe so at the moment. Your strength and your luck are instrumental in recovery from your illness."

She gave Scully her hands back. Scully sat there, staring at them. Largo, noticing that her partner had just gone mute, decided now was the time to resume questioning.

"Thank you for the demonstration Ms. Green. It was very...informative. I do have a few questions of a different nature, however. We're investigating a series of murders which have taken place in the Milwaukee area over the past few weeks. We believe the victims all have a tie to this neighborhood. I was wondering if you have a client by the name of Lucy Bryant?"

Green was quiet for a moment, her face blank. Then she wrinkled her face in concentration. "I'd have to check my records."

"Could you please? Could you also check them for Ellen Macy and Louise Fellner?"

"The names aren't familiar, but I'll check."

She left the room. Largo turned. "Scully, are you okay?"

"I'm fine Largo." She replied tersely.

End of conversation.

When Green returned she said, "No, I've never done readings for those women."

"Are most of your clients female, Kelly?"

"As a matter of fact, yes, they are. Why?"

"Just curious."

Largo stood, and Scully followed. They shook hands with Kelly Green.

"Thank you for your time, Kelly. If you run across any of those names in old files or anything, would you please call us. Here's my card." She handed Green a freshly-minted business card. "You can reach us at the cellular number."

They left the apartment. As they boarded the elevator, a male voice yelled, "Wait!"

Largo put a hand out to stop the closing doors. A tall blond man in his late twenties ran to the elevator.

"Thanks," he panted.

"No problem." Largo replied, smiling at the man.

"You two live here? New to the building?"

"No, just visiting a friend."

"Kelly?"

"Um, yes."

"How do you know Kelly?"

Scully began to wonder if they had just boarded the slowest elevator on the face of the earth. And to top the ride off, Largo was allowing a stranger to flirt with her during this slow descent into hell.

"We, um, we go way back. Palm reader's convention, you know."

Scully rolled her eyes. Finally the bell rang, signaling the end of their long, long sixty foot journey. She quickly exited, Largo at her heels.

"Well, if you're ever here in Milwaukee again and want to see the town, let me know. I'm in 318. Name's John Thorton."

"Will do, John." Largo said with a cheesy grin. As he left the lobby, she leaned toward Scully. "God," she groaned.

"Well, if you didn't like it, you shouldn't have encouraged him!"

Largo opened her mouth, feigning shock. "Moi?"

"Yes you." Scully teased, feeling some of the tension from the 'palm reading' leave her.

"Let's grab some grub, Scully. I'm starving."

"Me too."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Country Kitchen
Milwaukee, WI
6:05 pm

"When I was in high school, we used to hang out in one of these. We called it *The Bitchin Kitchen*."

"How interesting, and where did you grow up, Dogpatch?"

"No," Largo replied, taking a large swig of Sprite, "Mankato."

"O-o-h, a big city girl."

Largo's eyes glazed over in a parody of nostalgia. "You just don't know what you missed out on. Six months of winter, bugs galore in the summer. Mosquitoes so big you need a transfusion after a trip to the lake. A-a-h-h, fond childhood memories."

"So tell me, Agent Largo," Scully said, bringing the girl back to the present while dipping a French fry in ketchup, "what did we learn during our interview of Kelly Green which justified the use of taxpayer money on our salaries this afternoon?"

"Wow, such biting sarcasm. You know, Scully, I could swear you just took a shot at me."

"I've been known to shoot my partners before."

"So I've heard."

Scully ate another fry. What was with her tonight? Usually, she never touched French fries. They were greasy and oozed cholesterol. But the fries smelled so good when they walked into the diner, and besides, she was absolutely starving. She hadn't had an appetite like this in weeks, maybe months.

"Well, Agent Scully, I believe I learned a few things."

"Such as?"

"For one, that woman's name is not *Kelly Green*."

Scully frowned down into her plate, "What do you mean?"

"Oh come on Scully! Kelly Green? Its not a name, its a color; its one of those joke names, like Seymour Butz, Ima Hogg, or Ben Dover."

"How about Yura Dork?"

"I've never heard of that one."

"It's not a name, its a description of you."

"Ha-ha. Stop, you're killing me." Then, seriously, she added "But I can tell you that woman's name is not Kelly Green."

"Is that a fact?"

"You can look it up. In fact, I will. I'll run her through the computer tomorrow. Bet you twenty bucks she is not who she says she is."

"Okay, so what else did you *learn*?"

"She knew those women."

Scully looked up and met her gaze. "How do you know that?"

"I saw it in her eyes."

"What are you talking about?"

"Her manner, the way her face went blank when I said the name. But mostly she told me with her eyes."

"I didn't see anything in her eyes."

"You weren't looking at them."

Scully took a long look at the woman sitting across from her. The mercurial young woman was a riddle in herself. "Let me see if I have this straight." she said, going into lecture mode. "We arrived in Milwaukee at approximately 2:00 this afternoon. We talked to Detective Wright, and by about 4:00 we decided to take a look at the pay phones. You saw a sign in a window and decided to speak with its owner. You then made small talk for a half hour and by 6:00 pm decided that the one person you interviewed, in a block containing more than two hundred occupants, was the link between three murder victims. Is that an accurate recounting of today's events?"

Largo made a big show of considering it, looking hard at the wood duck painting framed above Scully's head as her forehead wrinkled.

"Yeah, that's pretty much it."

"Is this your standard procedure for a murder investigation? Interview one person at random, jump to a quick conclusion, then search for evidence to support it? Is that how it works?"

Silence.

"How many murder investigations have you worked, Agent Largo?"

"In this manner? None."

"What do you mean, *in this manner?*"

"Okay, I rarely got all dressed up to talk to police detectives and interview nice people in their homes! I'd say about 80% of my cases involved undercover work. Do you know what its like being UC, Scully? Around a bunch of pot-smoking, mainlining deadbeats selling poison to school children? Killing them? Killing college professors because they gave them an 'F' on the midterm? No, I didn't get to flash a badge in someone's face and say 'tell me the truth or I'll shove my Sig up your nose!' I had to glean information out of them in any underhanded way I could. I had to do it to solve cases. I had to do it to stay alive! I'll admit, I haven't interviewed a ton of respectable people. In fact, it was a nice change to get to do it today. But I can tell you one thing, Scully. I know when someone's trying to hide something. Unfortunately, the one time it was most important that I see, I wasn't paying attention, and it cost my part..."

She stopped, out of breath and suddenly aware of what she was about to say. She closed her eyes and strove to regain control. In a much lower voice, she continued,

"I'm sorry. I got carried away. Please forgive me. But listen, Scully, I may not be the smartest or the most experienced agent in the Bureau, not by a long shot, but there is one thing I am very good at, and that is questioning witnesses and interrogating suspects. I can't tell you why, but when they talk to me I pick things up from them. And I can tell you that Kelly Green knew those women."

Scully was silent for a second, digesting Largo's words. Then, in a soft voice, she said, "Because you saw it in her eyes."

"Windows to the soul, Doc."

"I suppose she made the 9-1-1 calls too?"

Largo took a bite of her club sandwich. "That has yet to be proven."

Scully carefully studied the dark woman. She decided to try to lighten the mood. She smiled, "I thought you said you weren't a mystic."

Largo shrugged. "Nothing mystical about knowing when someone's telling you a big fat lie."

"So, can you always tell if someone's lying?"

"You have to be looking for the lie in order to see it. Sometimes it happens, sometimes not. Most of the time they let me see it."

"With their eyes?"

Largo nodded. "With their eyes."

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Holiday Inn Milwaukee, Room 316
Thursday June 12, 1997
1:25 am

The bedside phone rang. She sat up and flipped on the bedside lamp.

"Scully."

"Agent Scully, this is Detective Wright. We've got another call."

"Have you ID'd the house?"

"We just dispatched. I'm headed over now."

He gave her directions to Elaine Mercer's apartment building and hung up. Scully rose quickly and rapped on the adjoining door. Within seconds Largo appeared in flannel pants and a t-shirt, her red eye open only to half-mast.

"Get dressed Largo. We've got another one."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Elderwood Apartments #10
1:54 am

Scully spotted Detective Wright amidst a swarm of uniformed officers. As she approached she caught a fleeting glimpse of the ME huddled over a still form in the bedroom.

"Agent Scully, glad you made it so quick. 9-1-1 got the call a little before 1:00 am, and we were able to make a quick ID on the residence. The MO appears to be the same. She was tied to the bed and beaten, then her throat was cut. Her bedclothes are slightly ripped along a few seams, but otherwise intact."

"Did neighbors report hearing anything?"

"No, she was gagged, and apparently there were no loud crashes."

"Signs of struggle?" Largo asked, scanning the room from behind her glasses.

"Not many. A bedside lamp fell, but did not shatter."

He led them into the bedroom. The ME still stood over the body, taking photographs. Scully went over to question him while Largo and Wright surveyed the room. It was clear that there was little resistance to the attack. There were no scattered books, overturned tables, broken knickknacks. A fingerprint team was in the process of dusting. Largo walked out of the room and to the front door. Wright followed her.

"What are you looking for?"

"Signs of forced entry."

"And?"

"Lock looks clean, nothing forced. Looks like she let him in, which is consistent with the lack of disarray in the bedroom."

"Its also consistent with the other cases."

Largo nodded, frowning in concentration.

Wright spoke, "If you're thinking what I'm thinking, we got an assailant known to all the women, or possibly a delivery man. Date rape?"

Largo slowly shook her head. "No signs of sexual abuse."

"Hell, I don't know." Wright said, frustrated.

Scully returned. "The ME says she's been dead 45 minutes to an hour fifteen. That puts time of death between 12:45 and 1:15."

"Where was the call received from, Detective Wright?" asked Largo.

"Another pay phone. This one at a bar called the Wild Badger."

She nodded somberly. "And that's on the corner of 5th and Vine, correct?"

Wright looked at the carpet for a moment, then nodded.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Holiday Inn Milwaukee, Room 517
3:45 am

Largo set the laptop on the round wooden table in her room and dialed up the Bureau's mainframe. Scully had opted to assist Dr. Stephenson, the ME, on the autopsy.

For a half hour she tried to find just one small scrap of information on Kelly Green...and failed. Milwaukee PD had nothing on her. She held no credit cards, no mortgage title, nothing that would verify her mere existence. Largo had no Social Security number for her. A DMV check yielded nothing, not even an ID card. This meant one of two things. Kelly Green had some obscure form of personal identification, or Kelly Green was not a real person. As much as Scully was going to resist the idea, Largo knew she had to make another trip to Green's apartment.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

4:50 am

Scully returned, looking tired and frustrated. The autopsy revealed nothing new. The death of Elaine Mercer was consistent with those of Bryant, Macy and Fellner. Now, all Dana Scully wanted to do was take a shower and catch a nap.

Largo, however, heard her key in the lock and came through the adjoining doors, which they kept open.

"Anything?"

Scully sighed wearily, "Not much. Some alcohol in her system, blood-alcohol level at .06. I'm going to clean up and catch an hour or two of sleep. Why don't we meet at nine to start the day?"

"Okay, but first I have to tell you that I checked out Kelly Green. There's nothing on her, Scully. There is one Kelly Green in the Milwaukee area, and she's 12-years-old. Our Kelly, the palm reader, doesn't exist."

"All right, how do you want to proceed with this?"

Largo was surprised. She expected anger, an icy stare, or the patronizing attitude she'd received last night. Not acceptance.

"I want to talk to her again."

"Okay, but I won't be able to go with you. I've made plans to review the forensic evidence with the ME, Stephenson, tomorrow morning. After that I thought we should interview family members and friends."

"That's no problem, and Scully?"

"Yes?"

"Thank you. I appreciate your acceptance of my theory, and it is just that: a theory. If it doesn't pan out tomorrow I promise you won't hear another word about Kelly Green."

"Its a deal." Scully gave her a thin, tired smile. "Goodnight kid."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Pinewood Apts. #315
11:05 am

A very nervous-looking Kelly Green answered Largo's knock. She about jumped out of her skin after setting eyes upon the tall, dark woman. Largo wore the least-intimidating outfit she had brought, tan trousers, blouse, and an olive-colored jacket that brought out the green in her eyes. She usually stuck with navy, gray and black, which was more in sync with the male-dominated profession in which she worked. Today, however, she wanted the woman to feel at ease with her, so she chose a more feminine outfit. She was well aware that most people would be a little uncomfortable with not one, but two in-home visits from federal agents.

The harmless routine wasn't working, however. Kelly Green seemed petrified.

"Ms. Green. I'm sorry to intrude, but I was wondering if I could ask you a few more questions concerning our investigation."

"Um...okay, but I have a client coming by at noon."

"I'll be gone long before then." Largo assured her.

She once again sat on the couch, facing Kelly Green.

"Do you know why I'm here?" Largo asked.

Green's eyes widened and she opened her mouth, then snapped it shut. She thought for a moment.

"You want another reading? Maybe the Tarot this time?"

"I'm afraid not. I'm afraid we had another incident last night. And we still believe there is a link to this neighborhood. I need to ask you where you were last night."

Green looked stricken. "Am I under suspicion in the crime?"

"No, of course not, but we're questioning everyone in the neighborhood." Largo was a smooth liar, one skill she had honed to perfection while pretending to be a dope-smoking college student.

"I spent some time with a friend."

"Could I get your friend's name?"

"Ethan. Ethan Chamberlain."

"Does Mr. Chamberlain live here in the neighborhood?"

"No, its a few miles away. Off of 15th."

"Further up Vine Street?"

She nodded.

"Do you have a telephone, Kelly?"

"Of course." She tried to look confused by the question. Largo just looked blandly at her.

"May I use it?"

"Certainly."

They walked to the kitchen and Largo picked up the receiver. This charade was mainly a ploy to verify that Green did indeed have a phone. She dialed Scully's cell number, turning to make sure Green had left the room.

"Scully."

Largo's voice was barely above a whisper. "Hey Scully, its me. Do you have some paper there? Good, will you jot this number down: 786-0402. And Scully, have Wright run an address check on Ethan Chamberlain. Lives somewhere near 15th and Vine."

"Will do. Why the cloak and dagger?"

"I'm in Green's kitchen."

"You coming back here after?"

"Yes, should be there by 1:00."

"Okay, bye." Scully hung up.

She returned to the front room, where Kelly Green sat nervously wringing her hands.

"I apologize if my presence here has made you nervous or uncomfortable, Kelly. We just need to double-check with everyone in the neighborhood."

That quelled a small fraction of her tension, but not much.

"I have one more question. Do you know a woman by the name of Elaine Mercer?"

Green looked up to meet Largo's eyes. Her face suddenly went slack, the tension oozing away, replaced by a trance-like stare.

"Tell me the truth." Largo whispered calmly.

With tremendous effort, Green broke her eyes away. She was confused, a little disoriented. What the hell had just happened? In her mind an image surfaced, one of the federal agent's eyes darkening from sea-green to dark brown, the color of her own eyes. She shook her head, trying to clear it.

"I...I don't know anyone by that name."

"All right."

She walked Largo to the door, glad to be rid of the tall woman with the strange eyes. And that red one--it was starting to creep her out a little. She shut the door on Largo's retreating form and leaned against it, sighing heavily.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Largo walked down the hall toward the elevator, mentally kicking herself. <You always have to push it.> She should have known better. Especially with her right eye still all red from the surgery, it was distracting. It made her less effective.

She reached into her right jacket pocket and felt her spirits lift as she pulled out the microcassette recorder and hit the 'Stop' button. Smiling, she replaced it, patting the pocket cheerfully.

As she reached the elevator she noticed a familiar from, backpack slung over one shoulder. He was nicely dressed in slacks and a dress shirt. He looked up at her approach. It was John Thornton.

"Well hello! Do you take this elevator often?" he asked.

"I bought the season pass, figured I might as well get my money's worth."

"You know, I never caught your name yesterday."

"Megan Largo." She held out a hand, and he shook it, smiling warmly.

"So, Ms. Largo, are you really a palm reader?"

"What makes you think I'm not?"

"I don't know a whole lot of palm readers, but I don't think they usually wear business suits."

"Maybe I'm with the Psychic Friends Network. At $3.95 a minute they must be rolling in the dough."

He squinted one eye, considering her. "You just don't look like a psychic to me."

She chuckled softly, but there was a hint of irony behind it. "You caught me, I'm not a palm reader."

The elevator arrived and they boarded.

"So, what do you do?"

"I'm a federal investigator."

Thornton blinked, surprised.

"You investigating Kelly? Think she's running a scam?"

"No, just some routine questions about a case." Her eyes told him to drop the subject.

"So, Federal Agent Largo, have you had lunch yet?"

It was her turn to squint at him. "You ask that to all the women you meet on the elevator, Mr. Thornton?"

He smiled, "Call me John, and no, I don't usually pick up on unknown women I meet in elevators. Especially ones who might be packing heat."

The corners of her mouth turned up slightly. She was enjoying the easy banter they had going.

"Sure you don't." She was going to lunch anyway, so why not have some company. She wasn't afraid of the stranger; she wasn't afraid of many men. And besides, she *was* packing heat. She looked at her watch. "I've got 45 minutes. Where do you want to go?"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Milwaukee Medical Examiner's office
12:15 pm

The forensic evidence was getting them nowhere. Whoever this guy was, he was covering his tracks. The fact that there was no evidence of sexual abuse made Scully consider the possibility that the assailant may be a woman. If so, she was very strong, perhaps mentally unbalanced, perhaps a jealous or even a jilted lover. She'd worked one case where a lesbian woman had beaten her former lover to death, and that one was not pretty. Death was never pretty. It proved, however, that this could be done if the woman had sufficient strength.

Perhaps the assailant was a man who had no interest in the women sexually. Maybe he was homosexual...no...

Scully's phone rang, interrupting her thoughts. It was Wright.

"We've got an address on Ethan Chamberlain. 1726 Webster Ave. Its off of 15th and Vine, like you said."

"Refresh my memory, Detective Wright, is that near one of the pay phones used for a 9-1-1 call?"

"Yep. Its a corner booth. 1726 is about three houses down from it."

The missing link...or coincidence? And who was Ethan Chamberlain? Largo hadn't mentioned his relevance, but she'd called from Green's, so Scully had to assume she'd gotten the name from her.

"Detective Wright, do you have bank records for the victims?"

"I can get them for you. It'll take a little time, though."

"Could you please? I think we're getting close."

"To the killer?"

"To the caller."

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Royal Cafe
12:30 pm

They conversed amiably while eating sandwiches. Largo found the man pleasant, non-threatening, and generally easy-going. He was a little over six feet tall, with dark blonde hair and gentle good looks. She noticed him taking surreptitious glances at her every now and again.

"You can go ahead and ask."

"Ask what?"

"What bad guy I had to manhandle to get this nasty-looking eye."

He smiled guiltily, "Yeah, I was kind of curious, but I didn't know if you were sensitive about it."

She shook her head. "Not anymore. Well, not too much. I've gotten used to it. I messed it up in a car accident, then had surgery to repair the damage. It really looks much worse than it feels."

"I'm glad to hear that."

"So, what do you do, John?"

John Thornton was a graduate student in Economics at UW-Milwaukee, which wasn't far from the Pinewood Apts. He talked a little about his life, growing up in Green Bay, and all that, when Megan absently looked at her watch.

"Shit!"

"What is it?"

"Its 1:15. I have to go. I have to meet my partner."

"The redhead is your partner?"

"Yes."

"Isn't she kind of small for an FBI agent?"

Largo smiled, standing up. "She's a lot tougher than she looks."

They said their good-byes, and Thornton made her promise to say hello if she visited the building again.

<Damn> she thought, <if Scully finds out about this, she'll deep-freeze me with one of those looks!>

~~~~~~~~~~~

Milwaukee Police HQ
1:35 pm

"I'm glad you could finally make it, Agent Largo." Scully said with an irritated look.

"Sorry, I got hung up. So, what have you got?"

"I think we're starting to make some headway. The address you gave us for Ethan Chamberlain is very close to the phone used to call in the Macy murder. Who is Chamberlain, anyway?"

"He's Kelly Green's *friend*. She claimed she was with him last night, which may or may not be true. I'm guessing its not."

"His proximity to the booth may be coincidence."

Largo nodded, conceding the point.

"Detective Wright and I have been interviewing Mercer's immediate family, and her sister Denise said Elaine had a date last night."

"With who?"

"She doesn't know. Wasn't given a name. But Elaine mentioned on the phone that she'd been seeing someone for a week or so, and was having dinner with him that night."

"She didn't tell her sister his name? That's a little odd. Do we know where they went?"

"No. And no one else has mentioned the guy. Although it turns out that Louise Fellner also had been seeing someone new just before her death. No name on that guy either. It seems Fellner was a pretty private person. Few close friends in town, she'd just moved here from Kansas City. Her mother, also from KC, told us about the guy, though she'd never met him.

"She get a name?"

Scully shook her head, "No last name, but she thinks the first name was James or Joe. She can't be certain."

"H-m-m. And Fellner was the first victim?"

Scully nodded, exhaling heavily. "I'm getting sucked into your addiction to Kelly Green, though. I'm having Wright get bank records for all the victims. We might be able to see if they actually were clients of Green's. If they wrote personal checks to her, they'll show up."

"Thanks Scully. I may have a quicker way we can find out if she made the calls, though." She reached into her pocket and withdrew the small tape recorder. "Maybe voice-print will turn up something on this."

"Good thinking, Largo."

"Just using the old bean."

~~~~~~~~~~~~

5:20 pm

They spent the afternoon interviewing grieving relatives and choked-up friends of Elaine Mercer. None had knowledge of a new boyfriend, or of trips to a palm reader. Yes, Elaine had dabbled in New Age mysticism a little, but never mentioned a Tarot or palm reading.

Later, outside the room, Largo said, "Maybe they didn't want their friends to know they believed in that kind of stuff."

"I don't know. I think most women, unlike us, tell their friends about things like that. Especially these types of fortune-telling experiences. But, Largo, I think we need to concentrate our energies on other areas of investigation, at least until we get the voice-print analysis back. We're spitting in the wind if we assume the victims knew Green before we have any solid evidence."

"She looked like hell this morning, Scully. Like she'd had a rough night, little sleep."

Scully gave her a knowing look. "Maybe she'd had a rough night with Ethan Chamberlain, not with her conscience."

Largo frowned, a finger on her chin. "It didn't look much like post-coital euphoria to me."

"Let it go for now. Wright said we'll have the voice-print and bank statements first thing in the morning. If nothing else, we could talk to families of the other victims again and ask about Green."

"Let's get the bank records first." Scully could sense Largo's reluctance to speak with the families of three victims after the afternoon they'd already had. Talking to bereaved family members was the worst part of their jobs.

"Okay," Largo said, taking a deep breath, "who's next on the list?"

"Leslie Dornbecker, a friend of Mercer's from college. They remained somewhat close."

They steeled themselves for another emotional interview. Scully turned the knob and they re-entered the room.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Holiday Inn Milwaukee #516
8:40 pm

They finished the interviews around 7:00 and found a place to eat. Scully had been ravenous again. She was pleased by her new-found appetite. In the last few weeks, she'd begun to see the outline of her ribs quite clearly when she looked in the mirror. Her face had grown steadily gaunter over the past months, and she'd been losing physical strength as well. She came home exhausted every evening, too tired to go work out or even take a run. Mulder's death hit her harder than she cared to admit, and she barely ate anything in the week following his suicide. She knew she was paler than usual too, and she found her clothes had grown looser.

Today, however, despite the lack of sleep from the previous night, she felt fairly good. Emotionally exhausted, for sure; interviewing the deceased's friends and family was always very hard, and it took all of her strength not to break down herself. She knew the pain they were feeling. After Melissa's death...no, best not to go down that road. She pushed the thought of her lost sister aside.

Instead, she thought of her recent resurgence in vitality. It began yesterday morning, when they left for Milwaukee. Maybe there was something in the air up here. If nothing else, recent events had helped take her mind off of Mulder. She missed him immensely, and it was so very difficult to investigate this case without him. The problem was, Largo was acting a little too much like Mulder. Jumping to the conclusion that Kelly Green, the palm reader, psychically knew about the deaths of those women because she saw it in their hands...

There was a knock on the frame of their adjoining doors. The door was already open, but Largo waited a second before peeking around the corner. She was wearing a t-shirt, mesh shorts, and running shoes. She hadn't worn her glasses that day, deciding she was ready to try contact lenses again now that her eye was healing. Scully noticed, however, that the red eye wasn't open as wide as the other, and remembered this from the previous evening as a sign of fatigue. The effect was quite possibly the result of muscle or nerve damage from her car accident. But it was disconcerting to see this odd mar on the woman's otherwise youthful and attractive face.

"I'm going running."

"Are you sure? You look a little tired to me." <Understatement of the year>.

"I...I need to." Her voice was a little shaky, or was she just worn out?

"You okay?"

She stiffened slightly. "I'm fine, Scully." she said, her voice much stronger this time.

<Yeah, I've heard that one before> Scully thought, remembering her own long chain of "I'm fine" lies.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

11:05 pm

They left the adjoining doors ajar, and Scully was awakened by the sound of a lock clicking back into place. Then she heard footsteps retreating down the hall.

Absently, she thought, <Mulder's going for another midnight stroll> and rolled over. She was back asleep within seconds.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

12:21 pm

The faint ringing of a telephone awakened her. Scully sat up. No, it wasn't her phone. It continued with no answer. She got up and walked through to the other room, suddenly remembering it was not Mulder's, but Megan Largo's.

"Largo, your phone?" she called out.

The room was empty. She picked up the receiver.

"Hello."

"Hello...Meg?" The voice was male and fairly young.

"No, this is Dana Scully, her partner."

"Oh, did I dial the wrong room? I'm sorry." The voice held the same odd rhythm of speech Largo's did.

"No, this is her room, I'm next door. She's not here though."

"This is her brother, Michael Largo. Is she out working on something right now?"

"No, actually I don't know where she is. I heard her leave the room a little while ago."

"I'm sorry to disturb you, but I usually call at this time because I know she'll be in. Proved me wrong this time though."

"Its not a problem. I'll leave a note saying you called."

"There's no emergency, just seeing how she's doing on the first case back. It was nice talking to you, Agent Scully. I hope very much to meet you in person someday."

"Likewise. Good-bye Michael."

She hung up. What the hell? They'd gotten about three hours of sleep last night. Largo was obviously tired, so where was she? Scully threw on some jeans and put a sweatshirt over her pyjama top. Instinctively, she grabbed her gun and the key, then left the room.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Scully walked into the lobby and up to the night clerk at the desk.

"Excuse me, have you seen a tall, dark woman walk through here, maybe wearing glasses?"

The clerk lifted an eyebrow and pointed his pen toward the lounge.

Suddenly, Scully became aware of the faint sounds of a piano coming from the seedy lounge. She followed her ears into the large, mostly empty room and spotted a big black piano in the back corner. Megan Largo sat behind it, eyes closed, playing a soft, slow melody. Scully recognized it as "Crazy", an old song by Patsy Cline.

Quietly, she went up to the bartender, who stood polishing glasses and wiping counters.

"That woman," she said, "how long has he been here?"

"Little over an hour."

"She been drinking?"

"Nope. We get drunk Indians in here every once in awhile, but she ain't one of em."

Scully frowned at his racial stereotype/ethnic slur.

"Uh...you a friend of her's?"

"Yes." she said pointedly.

He looked a little ashamed. Trying to make up for it, he said, "She's good. Could play professionally. Great voice too."

Scully lifted an eyebrow. "She sang?"

"Quietly. All sad songs. But," he said, shrugging his shoulders, "you see 'em all in a place like this. Get you anything?"

She shook her head. Scully sat on a barstool and watched Largo play. There was soft light coming from behind her back, and when she lifted her head up, eyes still closed, Scully saw the tears on her face.

Scully sat through a haunting piano version of the Beatles' "Strawberry Fields Forever", Tori Amos's "Cornflake Girl", and something she thought might be from Lenny Kravitz. There was no break between songs, one simply glided easily into another.

<So, this is how Largo deals with it. I guess she's human after all.>

Now the tired young woman at the bench paused. She still hadn't looked up to notice her new audience. She rubbed her eyes and bent down to play again. Scully was a little surprised by her complete engrossment in the music. It was as if the world beyond the black and white keys didn't exist.

This time, Largo sang with a sweet, sad voice:

"A long, long time ago, I can still remember,
How that music used to make me smile.
And I knew if I had my chance,
That I could make those people dance,
And maybe they'd be happy for awhile."

Scully closed her own eyes, letting the words and music flow over her. She knew the song, it was "American Pie." One of her favorites from the past.

"But February made me shiver,
With every paper I'd deliver.
Bad news on the doorstep.
I couldn't take one more step."

She found an emotion welling up from deep within her heart. Pain. Sorrow. Loss. Her face grew worm and her head heavy. Tears stung her eyes. She fought them back with a growing pain behind her eyes.

"I can't remember if I cried,
When I read about his widowed bride.
But something touched me deep inside.
The day the music died."

Her father, Captain William Scully. Melissa. Mulder. They all had come and gone, leaving her behind. A lone tear escaped from the corner of her left eye. The tempo of the song was picking up.

"Did you write the book of love,
And do you have faith in God above?
If the Bible tells you so.
Do you believe in rock and roll?
Can music save your mortal soul?"

She remembered her mother's dinner party. Her conversation with Father O'Meara. Had she deserted God? Had he diserted her? No, never. Her faith in Him was strong. It was her faith in the Church which was lacking.

"When the jester sang for the King and Queen,
In a coat he borrowed from James Dean,
And a voice that came from you and me.
Oh and while the King was looking down,
The jester stole his thorny crown."

The pain and weight of these last months came crashing down around her. Gerald Schnauz, Ed Jerse, Penny Northern. The Cancer. Mulder! It all came back to Mulder. Even the pain and emotional trauma of the radiation treatments paled in comparison to the loss of her partner. Everything was different now. Why had he left her?

<Why, Mulder, why? I needed you, Mulder. I need you right now; your strength, your friendship, your humor, your support. You deserted me again, you bastard.>

"We all got up to dance,
But we never got the chance."

The tempo had risen to a feverish pace, and Largo sang louder, her face and voice both full of emotion. The tears on her face now mirrored by Scully's own.

"And as the flames climbed high into the night,
To light the sacrificial rite,
I saw Satan laughing with delight.
The day the music died."

The music slowed, becoming a slow lament once again:

"I met a girl who sang the blues,
And I asked her for some happy news,
But she just smiled and turned away."

He was gone, but perhaps she would see him soon. And Melissa, and her father. They would be together again, of that she was certain.

"And the three men I admire most,
The Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost,
They caught the last train for the coast,
The day the music died."

But until that day came, she would continue to fight. For herself, for people like Elaine Mercer and the others. Fight so that others didn't meet their end in that way. Fight to stop the evil that lived, both inside her body and outside in the world around her. It was all she knew how to do.

"They were singing: Bye-bye Miss American Pie.
Drove my Chevy to the levee,
But the levee was dry.
Them good old boys are drinking whiskey and rye,
And singing this'll be the day that I die.
This'll be the day that I die."

Scully stood as the song neared it's conclusion, and now was just behind the young woman. She reached out a hand and laid it gently on Largo's shoulder.

"Hi Scully," she said quietly, still facing the keys.

Scully squeezed her shoulder, then sat down next to her on the piano bench, her arm resting in the center of Largo's back. She rubbed it soothingly.

"I guess you know my secret now." Largo said, wiping tears form her eyes. "I'm a sucker for other people's personal grief."

"Listen to me, Meg." She began in a soft tone, "What we did today, talking to Mercer's family and friends...its not easy. It hurts us all. It hurt me too. But we have to get past the pain of the past. Its our job to end that pain, to stop it from spreading to other families like the Mercers.

"Why Scully? Why do we do this to each other? Strangers, even people we know, walk into other people's homes and kill them. It happened to those four women. It happened to my..." She broke off, suddenly aware of what she was saying, and of who she was saying it to.

Scully continued to apply gentle pressure, comforting the young agent. "It happened to you...to your father."

She winced, but nodded, eyes fresh with new tears. In a very small voice she said, "It happened to you, too, didn't it."

Scully nodded, fighting her own tears.

"I'm sorry Scully. I didn't want you to see me upset."

"There's no need to apologize." She swallowed, considering her next words. "We're partners now. We're here for each other. I know you're tough. Anyone who's been through what you have has to be."

The younger woman looked up, finally meeting Scully's eyes.

"I feel the same of you. Reading those files..." There was no need to finish the sentence.

Scully gave her a small smile, "Besides, now we're even. You rescued me from the hospital, now I'm pulling you out of this sleazy bar."

Suddenly, Largo looked stricken. "I'm not drunk, Scully."

"I know that. But you need to get some sleep. Your eye is almost completely shut."

Largo lowered her head. "I know. Its ugly, isn't it?"

"It gives you character."

"Yeah, with the kind of character it gives me, I could get a job as a bouncer in a biker bar."

"There's that sense of humor. I knew it was still in there somewhere."

They were silent for a moment, each lost in her own thoughts.

"Thank you Scully."

"Don't mention it."

They left the bar and took the elevator to their rooms. Each slept without incident for the rest of the night.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

8:05 am

Scully had a hard time equating the woman who stood before her with the teary-eyed, broken-hearted child of the previous night. This morning, she was the consummate professional, dressed in a tailored gray blazer over a white shell and black pants. Scully secretly envied the fact that Largo never had to wear heels, as she did. A woman who stood at 5'9" had the luxury of sensible shoes, and Largo wore a comfortable-looking pair of black lace-ups. Both eyes appeared to be functioning normally again, and the dark circles under them were gone as well. This woman exuded an air of assurance and self-confidence. "Ready?"

Scully finished applying her lipstick. She wore a burgundy suit complete with a skirt, and three-inch heels, but despite the shoes, she felt ready to take on the world today.

"Let's hit it."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Milwaukee Police HQ
8:25 am

Detective Wright was all smiles as they walked into his office that morning.

"Agents Largo and Scully, how nice to see you this morning."

They exchanged a glance. "What makes you so chipper today, Wright?" Largo asked.

He held up a thin handful of papers. "Perhaps my good humor will rub off a little after you read these juicy tidbits."

Scully raised an eyebrow at the detective's unusually good mood. <Juicy tidbits?> She grabbed the papers from him and began to read.

"Looks like we got a fairly good voice-print match." she said, "The fact that the recorder was in your pocket, and the background noise level lowers the accuracy, but there's an 81 percent probability that the 9-1-1 calls were made by one of the speakers on the tape. A 1.5 percent chance they were made by the other. That must be you, Largo. You have a very distinctive speech pattern."

"Guess I better stop making those prank phone calls to Skinner's office."

"Wright looked quizzically at the women.

"Okay, " Largo said, putting a finger to her chin, as she thought aloud. "so Kelly Green is *probably* our caller. That's not going to stand up by itself. We need something to substantiate it. And even if it is her, that still leaves much up in the air. How did she get the information? Does she know the assailant? And what about Ethan Chamberlain? Could he possibly be the perpetrator, with his girlfriend giving him away in a last ditch bout with conscience?"

Wright answered. "I sent a man over to Chamberlain's yesterday. He's clean. Says he was at a bar with some friends Wednesday night. They stayed till last call at 2:00 am. It checked out."

"H-m-m. Green told me she was with Chamberlain that night."

Scully gave her a wry look. "Looks like she told you another big, fat lie."

Largo turned up one corner of her mouth to form a lopsided grin. "I know."

Scully rolled her eyes. <And they say *I'm* enigmatic!>

She then turned to Wright. "Do you have the bank records as well, Detective Wright?"

"Sure do, but there's no Kelly Green on anyone's statements."

"May I see them?"

He handed her the printouts. Scully scanned them, not sure what she was looking for, when all at once she found it.

"Here we go, in Lucy Bryant's records and Elaine Mercer's. Both have multiple listings for a Jason Wands. Did you check this out?"

Wright nodded. "We ran Jason Wands through DMV; came up empty. After that we went to the bank, there we were told Jason Wands wasn't a person, it was a small business account. The owner's name was Lisa McCoy. Address was a phony. DMV had nothing on her."

"That's okay Detective Wright. We don't need verification. We know who the Jason Wands account belongs to, don't we Largo?"

The corner of Largo's mouth turned up again. "Sure we do...Kelly Green."

"How?" Wright asked, puzzled.

Scully explained, "In the Tarot, there are four suits: Cups, Wands, Swords, and Pentacles. On many Tarot decks, the suit of Wands is represented by the journey of Jason and the Argonauts in search of the Golden Fleece. And our friend Kelly Green is a Tarot card reader as well as a palmist."

Wright nodded. "Pretty good."

"Well they don't call us the FBI for nothing. Come on Largo, we're going to see your buddy again."

Largo snickered at Wright's bewildered expression and followed her fearless leader out the door.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Pinewood Apts. #315 10:15 am

Scully rapped sharply on the door and waited impatiently. After three knockings, the door was opened by Kelly Green, who looked like a small forest creature caught in a set of rapidly approaching headlights.

"Ms. Green," Scully said, using The Voice Of Authority she'd learned at Quantico and perfected throughout her years on the field. "We'd like to speak with you for a moment."

Green stood there, frozen, the fright still evident on her face.

Largo touched Scully's arm, a signal that she wanted a crack at Green.

"Kelly, could we talk to you one more time? We believe you can help us with our investigation."

Green snapped out of her trance. She glared up at Largo, her expression changing from fright to anger. "You lied to me, Agent Largo. You told me you were questioning everyone in the building, but no one around here except John has ever heard of you."

<John?> Scully thought, a little confused.

"So, what do you want with me?" Green finished.

"We want to come in and talk to you, Kelly." Largo looked down into the woman's eyes, "You see, we know that you've lied to us as well. You've been making anonymous calls to 9-1-1 that are virtually simultaneous with the murders of four Milwaukee women. Women you denied knowing, but in fact are clients of yours, aren't they Kelly?"

Green was silent.

Scully picked up, "I'm sure you'd rather finish this conversation outside the range of your neighbors ears, so why don't we go inside."

She stepped forward, forcing Green to decide whether to stop her or not. She didn't, and once down the hall the agents stopped abruptly, surprised at what they saw.

Scully locked eyes with Green. "Planning a little trip, Ms. Green? Or a permanent vacation?"

"Yes, I'm moving."

"And what brought on this sudden urge for a change of scenery?"

Green shrugged, trying to remain non-chalant. "Milwaukee's getting old, its time to move on."

"But I thought is was such a 'spiritual' town." Scully's words dripped sarcasm.

"I just don't like to stay in one place for too long, that's all."

"Is that really the reason, Ms. Green? Or is it because you're about to be connected to a series of murders taking place here?"

"But I'm not connected to them! I don't know who's killing them!"

"You did make the calls to 9-1-1 though, didn't you?"

Green bit her lower lip and studied her hands. When she looked up, there were tears in her eyes. "Yes," she said in a small voice.

Scully met her gaze. "If you're not connected to the perpetrator, how did you know those women were going to be killed?"

"They were clients of mine." Green admitted. "I did readings for them about every two weeks. Ellen Macy had been coming to me for three months. She was so nice, such a beautiful person."

The agents were silent, allowing Green to go at her own pace.

"I've done readings for about three years, and nothing like this has ever happened to me. I moved to Milwaukee because...I needed to leave some things behind me. I needed a fresh start after..." She left the sentence incomplete. Scully and Largo both realized there was much she wasn't saying. She really wasn't 'Kelly Green', and she was frightened of the federal agents, frightened of discovery. They both saw this and let it go for now, concentrating instead on the immediate matter; the case.

Gently, Largo prodded her with a question. "How did you know they were going to die, Kelly?"

"Their lifelines were getting shallower each time I saw them. That's not all; you can't tell someone's certain to die just by looking at a lifeline." She gave Scully a tentative glance. "I actually saw it. I would be going about my business, maybe watching t.v., cooking dinner, reading a book, when all of a sudden I saw it. A vivid mental picture. It was like a waking dream or a vision."

Largo again, "Why didn't you call from your house, Kelly?"

"Because I know they tape those calls, and I couldn't risk it."

"Risk what?"

"Discovery. I'm afraid of the attention it would draw, I can't afford that kind of attention. I was afraid, Agent Largo, but I couldn't just sit and let it happen. I ran to a pay phone, a different one each time. I was hoping the police could stop it from happening."

Scully spoke, "So you're saying you had a psychic vision of the murders?" She wore her skeptical look.

"Yes."

Largo led the woman to her chair, them sat opposite her. "Did you see the perpetrator in your visions?"

Green shook her head. "No, I only see them, the victims, and the pain they are in. I know he's going to kill them. And I think it's a him, but I'm not entirely certain. But these dreams, they don't give me enough time. They happen right when its going on."

"Is there anyone you can think of who has seen you with these women, or knows they come to you for readings?"

"I don't know. Maybe people in the building. They guy at the front desk. Their families might know they came to me, but for many people, a reading is a very private thing. Most of my clients don't tell other people for fear that they'll be laughed at, or thought of as some kind of a nutcase." She paused, and the silence drew out between the women. "Maybe he doesn't meet them through me. Maybe they are tied together in some other way."

Scully shook her head, lips pursed. "I don't think so, Ms. Green. We've looked hard for connections, and you're it."

They questioned Green about the people she knew. Was there anyone in her building who might have also known the victims. She couldn't say. The asked her about Ethan Chamberlain, about her other clients, about anything that could be a possible connection between herself and the victims. They came up with nothing.

At about 12:30, Largo suggested she get some lunch for them while Scully continued to interview Green. She used the opportunity to call Wright at the station and get approval for another door-to-door questioning of the Pinewood tenants. Wright told her he'd organize it, and they could expect officers by late afternoon.

As she returned from the deli, she saw the now-familiar form of John Thornton emerging from the elevator. Largo had hoped to avoid him today, but it wasn't to be. He stood in front of the elevator, blocking her path.

"Well, if it isn't Special Agent Megan Largo. You promised you'd let me know if you'd be back here." He looked a little wounded.

"Hello John. I'm sorry, but I'm here on business."

"Who you investigating?"

"Sorry," she said in what she thought of as her *Official FBI Voice*, "but I can't say. Goodbye John."

"Wait. Can I take you to dinner sometime, maybe later tonight?"

"Again, I'm sorry, but I'll probably be working late into the night. Besides, I don't think its a good idea."

"Why not?" He was beginning to sound a little tense, and the smile had faded from his face.

She sighed, becoming impatient. She and Scully were finally making headway in this case, and she didn't want to think about anything else at the moment. There was no time for anything else. The man was becoming tedious.

"Listen John, I'm not really interested. I'm only in Milwaukee for a short time, and this is a business trip. It was nice to meet you and I enjoyed lunch yesterday, but I must go. Please let me by."

His eyes glittered

<Tensely, or maniacally?> She suddenly wondered.

"And what if I don't?"

"I've got a bigger gun than you do, and mine's much more dangerous." She stated matter-of-factly. She gently pushed him aside with one arm, and avoided eye contact as she boarded the elevator, hitting the '3' button. As the door closed she heard Thornton mutter. She wasn't sure what he said, but it sounded like,

"You're just like all the rest."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"You've got a weird neighbor." Largo said, setting the white bags on the kitchen table.

Green shrugged. "Who doesn't? Which one was it?"

"John Thornton."

Scully blinked. There was that name again. "Who?"

Largo turned to her, "Remember the guy from the elevator the other day?"

"The tall blonde?"

"He's not that tall."

"Everyone's tall to me, Largo."

"Heh, guess you're right. Anyway, I pissed him off because I didn't want to go out to dinner with him. I *am* a little busy."

Scully frowned. "Why would he be upset because some woman he talked to on one elevator ride wouldn't go out with him?"

<Uh-oh. Busted.>

"Well...um...I went to lunch with him yesterday." She said, suddenly becoming very busy with unwrapping sandwiches and scooping cole slaw. Scully's eyes widened. "You what?!"

"Well, he talked to me in the elevator again yesterday--"

"Does the man *live* in the elevator?" she interrupted.

Largo ignored her. "And I was going to eat before I met you back at the station. He asked if I was hungry. I told the truth. We ate. End of story. But I should add that I saved the taxpayers six bucks."

Scully just gave Largo her skeptical look, the really big one that she usually saved for people who claimed to have been abducted by aliens. Then she softened, remembering her own "fall from grace" a few months ago when she'd spent a very interesting evening with Ed Jerse in Philadelphia. At least Largo hadn't stopped off at a seedy tattoo parlor to mark the moment. <Or had she?>

Kelly Green spoke up. "Don't worry, John's harmless. He lives down the hall. He's one of the few neighbors I actually talk to. One of the few who doesn't believe in extensive body piercing."

"I'm not worried. I told him to leave me alone."

The skeptical look was back on her partner's face. "Just what exactly did you say to scare him off?"

Largo gave Scully the lopsided little smile. "I told him my gun was bigger than his."

They all laughed, and the tension eased a little.

~~~~~~~~~~~

3:45 pm

The uniformed officers Wright ordered had arrived, and they began a door-to-door questioning of the residents of Pinewood. Scully and Largo joined in the questioning at first. Many of the residents were unavailable, and the agents decided to wait until about 7:00 pm, when everyone would have returned from work, to finish the job themselves.

They went back to Kelly Green's apartment. She had been restless throughout the afternoon, and both women felt it was important to remain in close proximity to her. With events heating up, Scully was afraid Green's life might be in danger. If the assailant found out about her...well, whatever it was that was allowing her knowledge of the crimes, then she needed someone with her.

They talked privately, and Largo told Scully she wanted to hook back up to the Bureau's computer and try once again to find out who Green was.

"Its possible," she said, "that whoever she's hiding from, whoever caused her to give up her old life and move around so much, has a connection to the case. We just need to find out who she *was*."

Scully agreed, and volunteered to stay with Green while Largo returned to the hotel to hook up with the Bureau's mainframe.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Largo donned a pair of Ray-Bans, her only concession to the fact that she was still sensitive about her eye, and exited the Pinewood Apartment building. She patted her pockets in search of the keys and pulled them out of her jacket.

She buckled her seat belt and started the engine of the Ford Taurus rental. Her thoughts were solely on the puzzle before them. She thought of the mysterious Kelly Green, and who might be using her as a conduit for a city-wide killing spree. As she pulled out of the parking lot, she didn't notice the small blue Datsun behind her.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Pinewood Apts. #315 5:19 pm

Scully sat with a fidgety Kelly Green. She wasn't sure how to ease the woman's tension, and she didn't want to directly question her about her background, knowing it would create distance between them. Right now, she had to get closer to Green, not drive a wedge between them. So she asked Green about Ethan Chamberlain, and they talked pleasantly about him; how they met, what he did, that sort of mindless thing. Scully listened patiently, a familiar tension inside her, though her expression remained cool and placid. She recognized the tension inside her body, it was the feeling she got when she and Mulder were getting close. Something was going to happen, and the adrenaline from this knowledge coursed through Dana Scully's body.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Holiday Inn Milwaukee #517 5:45 pm

Megan Largo quickly slid the electronic key in the slot and entered her hotel room. She threw her briefcase and gray jacket in the bed, then flipped on the laptop computer. She tapped her fingers anxiously on the table as she waited for the connection. There had to be something on Green in here. Largo remembered her saying she'd lived in Illinois before coming to Wisconsin. Maybe missing persons in Illinois, or the DMV--

Her thoughts were interrupted by a knock on the door.

"Scully?" she called.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Pinewood Apts #315 5:45 pm

They'd exhausted all of Scully's possible topics of conversation, and Green was getting fidgety again.

"So," Scully said, reaching for anything that could make Green relax, "what's with this John Thornton guy?"

"He's just a neighbor. Actually, he's pretty friendly. He stops by every couple of nights, just to talk. I tell him about my life, he tells by about his, or, rather, his lack of one."

"I'm surprised. A good-looking guy like that must have women calling him all the time." she replied absently, already bored with the conversation.

"Oh, he doesn't have a girlfriend. He's dated some women recently, but he told me none of them were working out. I probably shouldn't tell you this, a complete stranger, but he has a little problem. He told me about it one night. He came by, and he'd had way too much to drink. I don't think he even remembers talking to me that night."

"What did he tell you?" Scully asked, scanning the room for something interesting to stare at for awhile. She was really sick of small talk.

"That he's impotent."

Scully stiffened. She frowned. There was a long, drawn-out silence.

"What?" Green asked, puzzled by the agent's reaction.

But Scully was gone, lost in a mental review of the evidence. John Thornton lives here, hangs around during the day. He'd dated recently, but they just "didn't work out". Maybe he's lonely, he tries to hit on a stranger, maybe one of the many women who come to the building to have their fortunes read. The victims, severely beaten, show no signs of sexual abuse. Rejection. He proves to them that he doesn't need sex, he doesn't need them. He can dominate them without sex. And now, its payback time for John Thornton.

Scully stood, her blue eyes wide.

"What?" Kelly Green asked again.

"Largo!" Scully exclaimed, and ran out the door, searching for one of the uniformed officers knocking on doors throughout the building.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Holiday Inn Milwaukee #517 5:50 pm

"Scully?"

A small, almost whispered voice said, "Yes," and Largo turned from her work to the door. Lost in her thoughts, she neglected to look through the peephole and simply pulled the handle to let her partner in.

She opened the door a few inches, and it suddenly flew open, hitting her hard on the side of the head, knocking her against the wall.

"What the--"

John Thornton stormed in, wearing black leather gloves.

"Hello, Special Agent Largo. I was hoping you'd show me that gun of yours now."

As he was speaking, she reached for it, but he quickly drew back his arm and punched her squarely in her already damaged right eye. Megan saw stars as the blow carried her head into the wall again. She kicked out a foot and connected with Thornton's shin, making him hiss.

"You fucking bitch!"

She reached again for the gun in the clip at the small of her back, but Thornton threw his body against her's, ramming her once again into the wall. He covered her mouth with his hand. He drew a hunting knife out of its sheath and held it up for her to see. Her eyes widened, panicked.

"See this? If you make any noise, even a sound, I'll cut your fucking throat out."

He loosened his hand from her mouth. Megan remained silent. She bled from the nose and from the corner of her right eye.

Thornton spun her around and removed the Sig Sauer from her belt clip. "Nice gun," he said, "but it'll make too much noise in a place like this. As much as I'd love to shove this up your holy twat and blow you away, I think we'll play it a little differently. He threw her toward the bed.

Instinctively, she grabbed her briefcase from where it sat on the bedspread and swung it at him. It smacked him upside the head, and the corner caught his cheek.

He put a hand up and touched the blood which began to run down his face.

"Oh, you're a feisty little bitch, aren't you. Think you're better than me, think I can't do the job, right? Well, I'll show you what a real man can do, you fucking cunt!"

Largo barely heard the words, her panic deepening. Adrenaline coursed through her as she desperately fought to defend herself.

She held on to the briefcase, using it as a barrier between herself and the madman. Her head was spinning, it hurt so badly from its repeated connection with the wall.

Thornton sprung and tackled her, briefcase and all. They landed on the bed, her beneath him. He grabbed the briefcase and tried to fling it away. In doing so, he lost his hold on the knife, and both objects went sailing toward the window.

"No problem, bitch. I can do the job on you bare-handed." With that, he punched her again, this blow landing on her temple and right ear as she turned her head. She managed to free an arm and jabbed it hard into his side.

He grunted and the pressure eased a little as he tried to regain his breath. Megan brought her leg up between his knees and drove it into his groin.

"H-m-m-p-h." he groaned, rolling to his side and curling up. He gagged and vomited on the floor.

Though she was now free of his grasp, Megan could barely move. Her vision was blurring and her head was heavy. It seemed so dark in the room. She twisted to get up off the bed, but fell to the floor instead. Dizzy, she managed to get to her feet and stagger around the room, searching for her gun. In the distance, she heard a trilling sound, but in the state she was in could not recognize the noise. What was it?

She was hit from behind, throwing her into the wooden table with a loud crash. The computer was thrown across the surface. She grabbed it and spun, flinging it wildly in the general direction of where she expected his head might be.

Somehow, through the grace of God, it connected, and she heard him curse at her again. She was unaware of language now though, and was functioning purely on instinct. She ran toward the door, only to be tripped from behind. Thornton held her ankles, both of them sprawled along the length of the carpet. She kicked at him, but he quickly moved up her body until he had her arms pinned behind her. He pulled her up, grinning at her yelp of pain as her shoulders were twisted unnaturally in their sockets. He threw her back on the bed.

"You FBI bitches are tough. But you're still just a weak little woman."

Instinctively, Megan brought her head up and butted Thornton. She heard a sharp, satisfying crunch and was dimly aware she had broken his nose with her forehead.

He yelled, and grabbed the telephone, which still sat on the nighttable by the bed. He picked it up and slammed it into the right side of her head. Finally, her body went still. He leaned over her bleeding body, panting, a smile forming on his lips. Then he stood, looking for the hunting knife to finish the job. He found it and knelt over the FBI bitch's still form once more, the excitement and thrill of killing sending a jolt of electricity through his body. What a rush.

Suddenly, there were footsteps in the hall. He looked up as the door was thrown open and a small red-haired woman ran in, followed by a two large uniformed cops.

"Freeze!" she yelled, "FBI!"

Thornton froze momentarily, then grabbed Largo by the neck and swiftly slid behind her, using her body for a shield. He held the knife near her throat.

"Put the knife down!" Scully yelled. "Believe me, I'll do it."

"So will I."

Largo's eyelids fluttered, but she kept her body still. She stared across the room at Scully, only making out the fuzziest outline of the small woman's form.

"Drop your gun bitch, or she dies!" Thornton spat.

In one final lucid moment, Largo brought her arm quickly up and drove the elbow backwards into Thornton's crotch once more. The knife fell away, but he brought his own arm up to smash Largo across the face once more before Scully shot him through the chest.

Scully ran to the bed, and knelt beside the once again still form of Megan Largo. She checked for a pulse and found it strong. Scully looked down at her new partner's battered and bleeding face. It tore at her heart. Tears sprang to her eyes, and she reached down to push the hair back from Largo's brown face.

Largo stirred, and her eyelids fluttered.

"U-n-n-h."

"S-s-h-h-h. Its okay Meg, everything's okay."

In a weak voice, Largo said, "Scully?"

"Yeah, its me. There's an ambulance on its way, Largo, you're going to be just fine."

"Okay." She opened her left eye to look at Scully. The right was already swollen shut. "Scully?"

"Yes?"

"Thanks." she whispered, and closed her eye again.

"Don't mention it, partner." Scully whispered back, and stroked the young woman's dark hair as she fell back into unconsciousness.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Milwaukee General Hospital Saturday June 14, 1997 12:23 am

Megan Largo awoke in a private room. A small bedside lamp was on, and sleeping in the guest chair was her partner, Dana Scully, dressed in blue medical scrubs.

She touched a hand to her head, and it squished in a little. It didn't hurt too bad, so they must have given her some pretty heavy drugs. Her right eye was still swollen shut, and a mostly-melted ice pack lay over it.

She tried to sit up a little further in the tilted bed, but the movement brought a sharp pain ripping through her head. Those drugs weren't so good after all. She moaned, and leaned back against the pillow.

Scully awoke at the sound. "Hey there, kid."

Largo rolled her still swollen head to the left. "Hi, Scully," she whispered hoarsely. "Are you my doctor?"

Scully nodded.

Largo closed her eyes and sighed, "Then I guess I must be dead." she said with resignation.

Scully smiled, then clapped a hand over her mouth to stifle a laugh. "I guess that's what it means."

"Scully? What happened?"

"John Thornton attacked you in the hotel room. You remember anything about that?"

"I remember answering the door. I thought it was you, but I didn't check through the spyhole. It was stupid of me. That's standard, even a newbie at the Academy knows to always check before opening the door."

"What else do you remember?"

"He kept calling me names, and saying I was just like all the rest of them. That I was a pathetic woman who thought she was better than him. I guess I really pissed him off with that 'gun' comment."

Scully explained how she made the connection between the victims and Thornton, and how she'd rushed back to the hotel hoping to warn Largo about him, only to find she was nearly too late.

"What about Kelly Green?"

"By the time I went back to her apartment, which was about 10:00 pm, she was gone. She packed up her car and took off, leaving most of her stuff behind. Whoever she's running from, they've got her scared to death."

"She's probably in Iowa by now. And she's probably not 'Kelly Green' anymore. Mabye now she's Snow White or Indigo Blue or some damn thing."

"That's secondary now. We found what we were after. Now, we've got a report to write and plenty of paperwork waiting for us back in DC."

"Is Thornton still alive?"

"No. His lung was punctured, and he died en route to the hospital."

"Oh."

"Are you okay, Largo?"

"I don't know. I think so. I made some mistakes. Learned some lessons." She paused, then sighed, "And I think I'm going to have a black eye forever. What's the damage, Scully?"

"Luckily, the retina didn't detatch again. You won't need another surgery, but it doesn't have a lot of aesthetic beauty right now."

"I know, I know. It'll be three days before I can even open it again."

"Better invest in a new pair of sunglasses."

"I think I'll just get stock in Ray-Ban."

"As for the rest of your body, you've suffered another major concussion, but no internal injuries. CAT scan turned up okay. You look like hell, but no broken bones."

"What do you mean, 'I look like hell?' Is that a medical term, Doctor Scully?"

Scully just smiled enigmatically.

Largo continued, "So not only is my doctor a pathologist, she's a comedienne as well!"

"Don't you ever run out of flippant remarks? God, sometimes I could swear you're related to Mulder."

"He was like that too, huh?"

"Yeah, especially when he was in the hospital, like you are now. He wasn't the best patient in the world. Unfortunately, he was a frequent admittee."

"Well, I'll try not to follow too closely in his footsteps." She paused, taking a long look at her worn-out companion. "You miss him plenty, don't you?"

"Of course I do, he was my partner."

"And he was your friend."

Scully nodded, her eyes welling.

"Well, this sure wouldn't have happened to him. He probably wasn't John Thornton's type."

The remark made Scully smile a little, which was exactly it's intent.

"Look on the bright side, Largo. You cracked the case."

"Sure, and I also cracked my head."

Scully carefully ruffled her disheveled hair and smiled down at her new partner.

THE END

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

TO BE CONTINUED IN 'TRINITY 2--REVELATIONS'

Feedback to: xfstew@yahoo.com

 


 

Title: Trinity II-Revelations
Author: XF Stew
Classification: SA (Story, Angst)
Rating: R (For language, violence, and adult subject matter)
Spoilers: Fourth Season (Post-Gesthemane); Squeeze/Tooms
Keywords: Features Megan Largo; Mulder/Scully UST
Summary: Scully and her new partner, Megan Largo, investigate a case involving liver extraction in Bend, Oregon. Mulder is out there, but can they find him?
Disclaimer: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Mulder, Scully, Skinner, et.al. are not mine, they belong to the gray-haired surfer boy with gleaming white choppers (aka Chris Carter). I am borrowing the finest of Chris's creations for non-commercial use. Please don't prosecute me, Chris!


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Trinity II- Revelations
by XF Stew
(xfstew@yahoo.com)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The odd assortment of men clad in dark business suits sat around a large circular table, incongruously situated in the middle of a dreary abandoned warehouse. The lack of strong lighting and their hushed tones gave the meeting an air of furtiveness. Curling fingers of smoke drifted to the ceiling, emanating from the lit ember of a dark-haired man whose face was set within a mass of deep lines. All attention, however, was not focused on him but on a short, round man with a peculiar voice who was obviously the leader as well as the moderator of the meeting.

"Our next order of business," the man with the peculiar voice said, "is Special Agent Dana Scully."

All was quiet for a moment as the men shifted their thoughts. They were a tight-lipped group, none speaking out of turn, none volunteering information unless directly ordered to do so. It was a necessity in their line of work, too much talk, and they'd be dead by morning.

The speaker nodded his head toward the Cigarette Smoking Man, who gave a tight smile and replied, "I believe the time has come to throw Agent Scully her bone." He paused, taking a deep drag on his Morley. "Although there were times we all believed hope was lost, in the end, Agent Scully has performed quite well for us. She has accomplished all we hoped she would. The X-Files are now of no threat to us, and, as a bonus, Fox Mulder has been eliminated in a harmless fashion. His suicide is a gift; it takes him out of the picture and virtually negates the possibility of his work being turned into a crusade. Thanks to Agent Scully, Mulder is once again the laughingstock of the FBI."

The Leader thought about that for a moment. "It seems logical. This was never about Agent Scully, and so I believe we can safely release our hold on her. She is a talented and valuable member of her organization, and I still hold onto the possibility that she man, one day, become approachable. Her experience and knowledge would make her highly useful in our own organization."

The Cigarette Smoking Man knew better, but knew it was safer not to voice his own opinion. He'd seen Dana Scully in action and knew where her loyalties lay. Although he tried very hard to repress all personal emotions, he actually liked Agent Scully, and he did not enjoy the physical and emotional anguish she'd been made to endure over the past months. He had particularly enjoyed hearing Alex Krycek's account of how Scully had shot Mulder in the shoulder to prevent him from framing himself for his father's murder. Any woman who could do that was okay in his book.

The dark man smiled at the mental picture the scene gave him, momentarily losing track of the conversation going on around him. But he was abruptly brought out of his reverie by the strange voice of The Leader directed at him.

"As for our next item for discussion, who the fuck is Megan Largo?"

The Cancer Man's eyebrows almost...almost...shot up in surprise. The Leader rarely used profanity, and when he did it meant he was very, very upset.

Waiting a second to collect himself, the smoker took another drag and replied, "Special Agent Largo is the new agent assigned to the X-Files Division."

"And you approved her for this position?"

"Through Blevins, yes, I did. You see, Agent Largo is a very young, very impulsive agent who has recently experienced an episode of LSD poisoning combined with the loss of her partner, to whom she was very close. Her mental stability has been in question ever since. In her previous work with the Bureau, Agent Largo worked with the DEA on drug related crimes, and has literally no experience in dealing with the sort of events and crimes she will see working on X-Files cases. Overall, it is my opinion that Agent Largo is merely a timebomb waiting to explode...or perhaps I should say...implode.

"How deeply did you research her background?"

"We took the usual steps."

"You seem to have by-passed some very important information."

The Cigarette Smoking Man halted in mid-puff. He waited for The Leader to continue.

The man picked up a piece of paper and began scanning it, reading an occasional passage.

"Megan W. Largo, orphaned at the age of 14. Legal guardianship went to Joseph Little Bear, maternal grandfather. However, she attended a Minneapolis high school, even though her grandfather lived in Mankato, as city nearly 100 miles away." He looked up from the paper to lock eyes with the Cancer Man. "Do you know what her address was?" The question was rhetorical. "1725 Elm Street."

The CSM waited, knowing this was leading somewhere he didn't want it to go.

"Do you know who also resided at 1725 Elm Street from 1980 until 1989?"

The silence stretched.

"No? It was the residence of Walter and Sharon Skinner."

The Smoking Man felt his stomach drop. <Very unexpected. So Skinner is up to tricks, is he? What did he think he was doing? Walter Skinner is walking a thin enough line without pushing my boundaries even further.>

"Did you also know that Megan Largo received her Ph. D. at the age of 22?"

"Yes, I'm aware of Agent Largo's high intelligence."

"Which makes me wonder why a person who wrote a Master's Thesis on 'The Validity of the Occult in Middle America' and other papers dealing with parapsychological phenomena was assigned to a division we want to die."

His stomach dropped a littler further.

"Did you also know that someone tried to access information on a certain woman named Kelly Green?"

A small amount of perspiration formed on his forehead.

"And the trace showed that person to be Special Agent Megan Largo? Were you aware of all this?"

His stomach was down somewhere around his ankles now. Lucky he usually smoked his lunch, food would have a long way to go today. Outwardly, he showed no signs of distress. He simply lit another cigarette and said,

"And what harm resulted?"

"Luckily, none. Agent Largo was attacked and nearly killed by a serial murderer, which I believe distracted her somewhat."

"You see, a timebomb."

"The mere fact she got close to Green worries me. As well as the fact that Scully saw Green."

"Scully has never seen her before. She only saw shadows that night, and she'd received a blow to the head."

"Kelly Green isn't due back for another...appointment for six months, but I think we should bring her in for awhile. Keep her out of sight. Now, back to Agent Largo..."

The Smoking Man took a puff. "Perhaps I should have given Agent Largo more credit, but I still believe that despite her extreme intelligence, she can do us no harm."

"The idea was to innocuously destroy the credibility of the X-Files by assigning incompetents to Scully."

"Without the investigations into 'our areas', the X-Files do us no harm. Whether they remain open or shut, we are now beyond Scully and Largo's prying eyes. Let them look for satanic cults and genetic mutants. We have what we wanted. We have autonomy and privacy."

The Leader was silent for a moment, with a nod, he agreed with his chain-smoking compatriot. "So be it, for now." He said, and stood to leave.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

J. Edgar Hoover Building
Basement Office
Wednesday June 18, 1997
8:00 am

For the first time, Megan Largo simply opened the door and entered the basement office. No tentative knock, no nervous flutter in her stomach. She strode into the office with a familiar, confident step.

Dana Scully looked up, and her jaw literally dropped. When she recovered the ability to speak, she said, "What the hell are you doing here, Largo?"

"I'm here to work."

Scully frowned and gave Largo a very displeased look. "I thought I told you not to come back until Friday."

Largo merely shrugged as she dropped her briefcase on the drafting table, which had earlier been designated as 'her area'.

When Scully realized she was going to get no reply, she continued, "Acting as your doctor, I specifically told you not to come back to work until Friday."

Largo looked at Scully from behind silver-rimmed glasses with darkly tinted lenses. They were obviously prescription, and obviously there to hide something nasty. Combined with her tailored black suit, the glasses made her look more some kind of underworld figure rather than an FBI Agent.

Again she shrugged as she replied, "I got a second opinion."

"Oh, really? From whom?"

"From me."

"Largo, you're not even steady on your feet." This observation was indeed true. Megan Largo looked slightly drunk as she hesitantly paced the small room. Her eyes were still somewhat glassy, and it took her a few moments to completely focus on an object. "In fact, I'm surprised you were even able to drive here safely."

"I took the Metro. And I'm fine." Her voice was a little slurred.

"Ha!"

"Listen, I'm coming back to work today. Now you can either accept that or we can fight about it all day."

Scully sighed, it was obvious her new partner had a healthy share of stubbornness.

"Sure, fine, whatever. But before you do anything let me take a look at you."

Obediently, Largo removed her glasses and walked over to Scully's desk. Scully tried hard not to show any outward sign of distress, but every time she looked at Megan Largo's face it nearly broke her heart. The right side of Largo's face was a dark flush of cuts and bruises. Her eye, a mass of whorling purple and black, was only halfway open, and the sclera, or "white" of her eye was completely red. Her iris, normally a rich sea-green, was muddied from the hemorrhaging as well.

"It's not so bad." Scully said in an effort to make her partner feel better.

Largo threw her head back and laughed aloud. It wasn't an entirely joyous sound. Pain and cynicism were intermingled there.

"Liar," she replied, then said, "it's okay, Scully. I've accepted the fact that I just might look like this for the rest of my adult life." She shrugged at the small joke. This was the third time Largo had injured the eye; it had been angry and red for over four months. The black eye, however, was fresh, her old one having faded over the past months.

"Well, keep icing at least three times a day. How does your head feel?"

"It's okay. Much better than before."

"Now who's the liar?"

"Okay, I'm not 100%, and it takes a little time to see stuff clearly, but I *am* ready to return to work." Actually, she didn't feel well at all. She was still unsteady from the deep concussion she'd suffered and felt like she'd just exited the teacup ride at Disneyland. However, she needed to get back to work. She was going crazy sitting at home thinking about her stupidity in regard to John Thornton.

Scully just shook her head, ready to change the subject, "I've got an autopsy consult this morning, I'll be leaving shortly. I need your official statement regarding events in Milwaukee for the report. Feel free to look through the 'IN' basket. You might come across something worth a closer look."

"Actually, I think I've already found something worth investigating." Largo exhaled, knowing Scully wasn't going to like what she had to say. "I want to find out more about Kelly Green," she stated.

Scully's jaw dropped again. It took her a few moments to respond. When she did, her reply came out in fits and starts. "Largo, the case is over. Kelly Green is no longer our concern. As long as she wasn't connected to the Milwaukee murders, we don't have any reason to look for her."

"It is possible that she was connected to the crimes."

Scully shook her head and gave Largo an icy stare. "Forget it Largo, it really doesn't matter anymore."

"It doesn't matter? What are you talking about? We have a woman who was repeatedly experienced psychic visions of murders as they were in progress!"

"Don't start with me on this psychic vision bullshit! I took it from Mulder for four years, but I'm not going to take it from you!"

Megan Largo's face was battered, but her gaze was stony. She met Scully's eyes and held them. "Okay Scully, I'll level with you. I know I'm not on par with Agent Mulder, in fact, I'm nothing like your former partner--"

<That's where you're wrong, Agent Largo. You're TOO much like him sometimes.> "--and I can't expect to receive the suspension of disbelief you and others were willing to afford him, but I think we need to look for this woman. I think Kelly Green needs our protection."

Scully stared her down, her anger rising slightly. "From whom?"

Largo lowered her voice, it came out just above a whisper. "From *Them*."

Scully was silent. Her icy-stare bored holes into her young partner's distorted face, but the young woman refused to back down. Then she turned and took a long look at the poster on the wall, waiting for her anger to dissipate. After a long time she turned back to Largo and said, "Fine."

And with that she left for her consult.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

11:18 am

Scully left for her autopsy consult at 11:00, so Largo was alone when the Assistant Director walked into the office. She looked up from her paperwork as she heard his approaching footsteps. Although she'd returned from Milwaukee on Monday, she hadn't yet seen Skinner. He'd been out of town until late last night.

"Good morning, Agent Largo." He said with a tight voice and clenched jaw.

"G'Morning, sir." She stood as he neared, grateful the new glasses hid a good percentage of her facial damage.

Skinner put his hands on his hips and stared at her for a long moment, then reached out and gently pulled the dark glasses from behind her ears and off her nose. He folded them and placed them carefully on the desk. Then he looked once again at her dark olive complexion, now marred with deep green, purple, and black.

"Oh, Meg," he whispered, suddenly overcome with emotion.

Largo looked down as her chin began to quiver and tears welled up in her eyes. Skinner reached out a finger to lift her face back up. Their eyes met for a long second, then he pulled her into a tight, protective embrace.

She laid her head on his shoulder and silently cried against his shirt. "I'm sorry," she whispered close to his ear.

He stroked the young woman's dark hair reassuringly, not sure if he was reassuring her or himself. "Sshhh. It's okay Meg." He held her close. "It's okay."

Walter Skinner held the strong, proud woman he loved so much, who was the closest he'd ever have to a daughter of his own. As he did this he remembered his promise to her father, Patrick Largo, his closest friend until he was shot dead in his home over 12 years ago. Walt promised Patrick Largo he'd watch out for his impulsive, headstrong daughter Megan. He said he'd protect Meg from things like this, and from herself; from her own fierce intelligence and accompanying impetuosity. But he had failed.

When he received the call from Agent Scully early Saturday morning, the call telling him Meg had been attacked in her hotel room by a man who'd killed four Milwaukee women, Walter felt his stomach drop to his knees. Simultaneously, his heart leapt painfully into his throat.

<No-no-no-no-no-no.> It was a litany in his head, allowing no coherent thought to enter for a long time.

Since the first day he'd lain eyes on her, he'd felt a strange bond growing between them. There was something special about this girl. He couldn't put his finger on it, but the deep friendship between them had sprung from their initial meeting. He remembered that first day very clearly in his mind.

He and Sharon drove to Mankato from Minneapolis, where he'd recently been assigned ASAC of the regional office. They spent the weekend Skinner's his best friend from the Corps, Patrick Largo, and his young family. Patrick's wife, Mary Largo, was a Dakota Indian. The woman was surrounded by an air of cool calmness, a sense of serenity, as though she knew the secrets of the universe--and they were inside her own soul. Mary Largo was a proud, honest woman who dedicated heart and soul to her family. Their twins, Michael and Megan, were beautiful children, each unique, yet very close in that odd way that twins often are. Mary made sure her children spoke both their parents' languages fluently, and were aware of the customs and traditions of each as well.

Fourteen months after that first meeting, Mary Largo would be dead of breast cancer. But while she was alive, she lived her life to the fullest.

Walter and Sharon had been at the Largo house for about an hour when a 7-year-old girl with long, dark hair and light green eyes came up and tapped him firmly on the knee. She wore faded blue overalls and dirty white Keds.

"Yes?"

"So are you really an FBI man?" The girl asked, squinting at him curiously.

"Yes, I am."

"My dad said your name was J. Edgar Junior." She stated firmly.

Walter's eyes widened as he looked at his friend across the room. Patrick Largo just smiled and spread his hands, palms up.

"Truth hurts, Walt."

"So," the girl continued, ignoring her father's interruption, "does that mean *you* like to wear ladies' dresses too?"

Everyone in the room burst out laughing, except for little Megan, who was waiting patiently for an answer. When none came, she continued the conversation herself.

"I want to know cause I want to be an FBI guy too. But not if I have to wear dresses like J. Edgar Senior." She scrunched up her tiny face in distaste, "I hate them."

The adults laughed again, but Megan Largo was dead serious. At the age of seven, she had made her career choice. And here she stood today, face battered and beaten, eye red and swollen, her pride a little wounded, but far from destroyed. She still hated to wear dresses, and was subsequently relieved when her "Uncle Walt" told informed her that it wasn't a pre-requisite for the job. "Not everyone's like J. Edgar Senior," he'd said to the small child by his side. Now, Skinner held her tight against his chest, wishing he never had to let her go.

Eventually, however, Largo's quiet tears subsided and she pulled away a little. He brought Scully's chair over to her table and they both sat, facing the other. He reached out a hand and tentatively touched the side of her face. It hurt so much to see the bruises. Knowing that some unknown man had beaten this beautiful young woman. Since Sharon's death, over a year ago, Megan had been the most important woman in his life. He couldn't bear to see her in pain, and once again he tortured himself with self-doubt over his decision to assign her to this division. In his weakness and excitement over the opportunity to help her out of her situation and have her close to him in Washington, he hadn't given ample consideration to the danger he was putting her in. Walter Skinner's heart now sat like a stone in his chest.

She allowed his gentle touch, but shut her eyes in anguish. "I'm sorry, Uncle Walt. I know you're mad at me for being so stupid, but--"

"No, Meg," he interrupted, "it's my fault. I never should have assigned you to this division."

She stiffened, pulling away from his hand. "What? Don't even say something like that. This is the best assignment I've ever had. Already, I love this job, and every night I thank God for my luck at landing this position."

"But Meg, you almost--"

It was her turn to interrupt, and when she did she fought desperately to keep the post-concussion slurring out of her voice. "Yeah, I know. I almost got myself killed. But I didn't. I survived so that I could learn the lesson. It makes me stronger for the future. You, Walt, must learn lessons too, but only the correct ones. You were right in assigning me to the X-Files. Pulling me out of here would be wrong. It is not the lesson."

"What is the lesson then, Meg?"

"That you have to let me go. You have to let me do these things, even though your heart wants me far away from them. That is the lesson."

He looked her in the eye. "My opinion differs considerably."

"I know it does, but you have to let me do this. You know in your heart that I can, just as you know that Scully can. You want to protect me, and I understand that feeling. I love you for it, Uncle Walt, but you have to let me do this. I know it's hard to sit here and look at my wretched face right now and not regret your decision, but look into my heart...and know that this is where I belong."

He leaned over and gently kissed her on the left cheek. "I know. But sometimes it's so hard to see, so hard to know I'm responsible for putting you in this situation. I love you, Meg. Know that."

"Always," she replied with a smile.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

12:15 pm

Dana Scully sat morosely in her office, eyes wavering between the "I WANT TO BELIEVE" poster on the wall and a 'University of Minnesota' coffee mug sitting empty on the drafting table.

The poster was Mulder, the cup was Largo, and she was...where? She didn't know. In fact, Dana Scully felt like she didn't know a hell of a lot anymore. Oh, she knew she was a highly-intelligent woman. An excellent pathologist and criminal investigator. She knew how well she did her job. But beyond that...what? Everything inside her was a jumble of unidentified emotions, half-formed thoughts, and (deep beneath) an all-encompassing fear. Fear of death.

It was strange, her fear of death. Sometimes it wasn't fear at all. The thought of physical death, of joining missed loved ones like her father, Melissa, Mulder <gulp>, even old Clyde Bruckman, (the crusty old psychic she'd formed a peculiar bond with over the course of a week in St. Paul) gave her a wonderful sense of peace.

But, then, doubt would creep in, and with it the knowledge that her's wasn't going to be a 'natural' death, but one induced by unknown decision-makers who lurked in shadows and, quite possibly, chain-smoked Morley cigarettes. That's what ate at her. The fact that her time here was not yet meant to be over. And, although she knew in her mind she should be preparing to join those on the other side of the curtain, her heart kept her tied here. She was consumed with matters of the here and now. Consumed with the X-Files, with the search for the truth, and with those around her.

She felt torn between two people. One living and one dead. Was acceptance of Megan Largo a betrayal of Fox Mulder? Would he have approved of Largo? Perhaps. Would he have trusted her? Never after a mere week of working with her.

<Face it, Dana,> the logical, rational part of her mind told her, <you really don't know anything about this kid. That's what she is, too: a kid. Sure, she's sharp as a tack and has excellent instincts, but she's impulsive as hell, and sometimes so infuriating! Hell, she almost got herself killed in Milwaukee.>

And then, a kinder, deeper part of her mind said, <But I *like* her. She's intelligent, funny, unique. So far we've worked fairly well together. And she handled that situation at St. John's like a pro.>

The logical, skeptical Scully interrupted, <Yeah, but do you *trust* her like you trusted Mulder?>

Not by a long shot.

But time would tell. Perhaps it would work out with Largo. She still wasn't too sure how well a female-female partnership would work. There were so many police officers, suspects, and witnesses who gave no credibility to two women agents.

But Megan Largo was a different kind of woman. She seemed to cut through people's crap like a hot knife through butter. Hell, Scully knew the same could be said of her. She knew she had a steeliness inside of her. And she knew what many of the agents on higher floors in the Hoover Building called her.

Ice Queen, Doctor Freeze, Mrs. Spooky, The Blue-Eyed Bitch.

She didn't really care. All she cared about was her effectiveness, her clearance rate, her search for the truth.

<Could Largo become a legitimate part of that search? Or was she sent?>

This was a thought that chilled her to the bone. Because if Largo was playing some sort of elaborate game, she was awfully damned good at it.

She decided the only course of action was to hang, in limbo, and wait to see how it panned out. As partners, it would be impossible to keep secrets from her for long. Although downplaying important information...or even a trap, a set-up...no. She just wasn't that type. Unlike Mulder, who'd had a lifetime to hone his paranoia into a finely-tuned weapon, she was newer to this game of cat-and-mouse. She'd play it by instinct for now. If you can't trust your instincts...

<You'll be dead soon.> The evil part of her mind finished as Largo walked in the door with their lunch.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

2:30 pm

Scully looked up from the report she was typing. "Want a ride home, Largo?"

Largo gave Scully a narrow look, "It's only 2:30."

"I have a doctor's appointment at three, then I'm headed home. If you don't mind waiting, I can drop you off after. It's better than riding the Metro, and I don't want to leave you here alone."

"I'll be fine, Dr. Scully." She tried to keep the slur out of her tired voice. Truth was that her head, neck, and shoulders were painfully sore, and she really wanted nothing more than to fall asleep on her couch at home. But something inside had made her come to work today. She had to prove that she could, that she was, indeed, in control of her life.

"Still," Scully replied with a concerned look, "I want to keep an eye on you today."

Largo gave in. "Okay, let's go."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

St. John's Hospital
Radiation Treatment Center
3:15 pm

Largo and Scully sat reading magazines as they waited. At least Scully read, Largo mostly just flipped pages and looked at the pictures. Her eyes refusing to focus on the fine print of the articles. A large line caught her eye and she nudged her partner with an elbow and held up a copy of *Reader's Digest*. She tapped one brown finger on a yellow-inked headline reading: "Can We Trust The FBI?"

Scully lifted an eyebrow and they shared a glance. Neither of them was really sure of the answer to that question. Scully then heard the sound of her name being called by the gravely-voiced nurse.

"Good Luck," Largo called as Scully rose and followed the nurse down the hall.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Good afternoon, Dana." Dr. Coen said as he entered the office.

"Dr. Coen." She nodded in greeting.

Coen listened to Scully breathe, took her blood pressure again, and made notes on his clipboard. Same old routine. Then he picked up a large, thin folder and extracted two sheets of x-ray film. He put them on the light box and flipped a switch.

Dana slid off the examination table and came closer to where he stood. Coen put a hand to his chin as he studied the photos. They were cranial x-rays. One showing a bright mass in the center of the forehead, in the upper sinus region. The other had no such lesion.

"Tell me what you see here, Dr. Scully."

She was surprised by his use of her title. Coen almost invariable called her Dana, making sure she remembered her place as a patient in this facility. Actually, she hadn't even known if Coen realized she was a doctor herself.

She stepped forward and tapped the x-ray on the right with the back of a fingernail. "I recognize this film as mine. Lord knows I've seen it enough." She moved her finger to the other slide. "I'm assuming, by size, that this is a woman's head, and it appears to be clear. Maybe one of your other patients with no tumor?"

Coen took the film on the left and slid it under the one on the right. Scully's eyes widened as she realized the cranium shots were identical. These were of the same head--hers.

Her eyebrows knitted in a frown. "I don't understand. Was this taken before my diagnosis?"

"No," Coen replied, "It was taken on Monday."

Scully said nothing, she was struck dumb as she stared incredulously at Coen. He continued to talk, but it was as if the doctor was speaking in tongues. She barely heard a work of what he was now saying. A short litany ran through her mind.

<It's gone, it's gone, it's gone...>

"Dana?"

She blinked, and there were tears in her bright blue eyes.

"Dana, you do not have cancer."

Scully choked on the saliva in her mouth. When she finally found her voice it was barely a whisper. "How is that possible?"

"Unfortunately, it was a misdiagnosis. You had a small tissue mass along your naso-pherengial sinus cavity. However, it was non-cancerous, and it has recently dissipated."

Scully was speechless as the news sank in. No cancer. It was all a mistake. The longer she thought the deeper her thinking became.

<And they discover it now? Weeks after Mulder's death? Right after my big speech about how UFO-related phenomena are a huge load of bullshit? It's almost like my reward...Oh my God, what have They done?>

Coen barely had time to grab the small, kidney-shaped basin before Scully emptied the contents of her stomach into it.

Her head was spinning. <Was it possible? Could They have set the whole thing up? Subjected me to the emotional heartache of facing death to drive a wedge between Mulder and myself? And the physical symptoms? How did they do that? Strong Nauseants, maybe something like Methyltrexate? An additive to my water supply, like They'd done to Mulder?>

Coen was now giving her a stern look. Now that he could see she was in deep thought his whole demeanor changed. "Dana, I know this is shocking news. I would prefer you were happy at this time instead of ponderous. I think you should accept the situation without asking too many questions. I would also like to inform you now that this will be our last meeting, your last appointment. I will no longer be your physician, your oncologist, or have any further contact with you."

Coen's speech left Scully in utter shock. She'd never heard a doctor, a colleague, speak like this. <God Coen, what do They have on you?> It was obviously something big. The course They'd forced him to take was the equivalent of professional suicide--that is, if it was ever to be discovered. Which, of course, it would not. The only question was if Coen would be able to live with himself.

Scully couldn't allow herself to think about Coen anymore. She shook her head, trying to clear it. As the silence stretched between them Scully came to realize how completely she and Mulder had been duped. They'd set the whole thing up. Made her believe she had cancer to distract them, to distance them from each other. Then They'd baited her into confessing to Mulder her belief that They'd given her the disease so he would believe in their web of lies. Thus, knowing Mulder's fragile state of mind, he'd taken his own life, ridding Them of a painful thorn in Their side.

She felt so used, like a pawn in Their hideous game. In a daze, she hopped off the table. Coen left the room without another word, and she dressed. She walked back out to the lobby and saw Megan Largo's battered face, looking somewhat incongruous with her tailored black suit and white shirt. She stood at Scully's approach, her eyes foggy for a moment as she focused them on the smaller woman.

"Scully, what's wrong?"

"Nothing."

Largo bent her head to meet Scully's eyes. Her look was one of deep concern. "Tell me," she prodded.

Scully looked at her stonily. "I don't have cancer."

"You're in remission?" Largo's voice was hopeful, but her joyful expression faded as she got a better look at Scully's own.

"I never had it. I was misdiagnosed."

The confusion was evident on Largo's weary face. "But...you had all the symptoms, and they gave you radiation therapy."

"Which is probably what made me physically ill, but I do not have cancer. I'm going to verify it tomorrow with another doctor, but I know what they'll say. That I have no sign of any cancerous material in my brain, or anywhere else."

"I don't think I understand."

"It's a long story, and I don't want to talk about it right now. Suffice it to say I was duped into thinking I was going to die, only to find out it was all just a part of Their plan."

"Plan?"

"Never mind, let's go."

Largo strove to keep her voice from slurring, but was only partially successful. "Does this have anything to do with Mulder?"

Scully's eyes were narrow as she shot Largo a look that could freeze a penguin. The only thing that saved Largo was her somewhat dazed and drugged condition. Actually, the dazed and drugged condition was probably the only reason she'd asked such a question.

"It has everything to do with Mulder. Now, will you just shut up?"

"Okay." Largo replied simply as she followed Scully to her car.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Scully took Largo back to her apartment, where they were greeted affectionately by Lenny, the small gray and black cat. Largo sat down heavily on the couch, fulfilling one of her most recent dreams. She rested her head against the back cushion and closed her eyes in exhaustion, allowing Scully to push her into a prone position while lifting her feet so that she was stretched out on the couch. Largo drifted quickly into sleep until she was jolted awake you the feeling of intense cold against the side of her face.

She opened her good eye and saw a fuzzy figure with a copper halo, which slowly melted into a coherent picture of her partner, Dana Scully, who was gently holding a cloth covered icebag against her face.

"Payback is a bitch, Largo."

"This is payback? For what?"

"For coming to work today, you idiot."

"Oh, yeah." Largo said wearily.

Most of the ice within the blue rubber bag sat in her right eye socket, but Scully made sure she covered Largo's temple as well. The temple had been hit hard by a flying telephone, directed at Largo by John Thornton's hand. Scully was fairly certain Largo's deep concussion was mainly a result of this blow, although her partner also said she had hit the back of her head against the wall many times. Apparently, Thornton had thrown her backwards more than once. The very thought made Scully wince, regretting the fact that she hadn't watched her young partner's back more closely. If only she'd caught on sooner...

"So, Scully, what are you going to do to pay me back for tomorrow when I show up at work?"

"Christ Largo, you just won't quit, will you?"

"Nope. I still have to find out about Kelly Green."

A look of anger crossed Scully's face, then left as quickly as it had come. "Listen to me Largo. If They are involved, then Kelly Green is gone. You'll never find a trace of her. Give it up. We have a full schedule with the work assigned to us without pursuing our own agendas. You're going to have to realize that not every case ends up tied neatly together. There are sometimes loose ends we never come to understand."

Largo was silent, processing what her older, more experienced partner had just told her.

"Okay Scully." She sighed in resignation. "I understand. I'll stop harping on the Kelly Green thing."

With that Largo re-closed her eyes and drifted back to sleep, oblivious to the cold icepack on her face. When she woke, Scully was gone and the apartment was dark. She sat pensive on the couch, wondering about her partner's 'misdiagnosis'. God, what kind of emotional torture had the woman endured? She'd lost her sister to violence not even two years ago. Her old partner had taken his own life, and she had thought she was dying of cancer.

<My Lord,> Largo thought. <How strong can one person be?>

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dana Scully's Apartment
7:02 pm

Scully sat on the couch, a bowl of pasta salad in her lap, barely touched. She stared unseeing at the television, where a CNN anchor was telling her about yet another brushfire in Northern California. Her face was a blank, her mind numb.

She pulled her eyes from the flashing light of the television and looked out the window at a large elm tree across the street. She had no idea how long she stared at it before she began to cry, but when she did, it was with huge gulps and heart-wrenching sobs. God, she hated crying, but she had to. Her heart was breaking.

A lie. A hoax. It was all just a game to Them. All they cared about was the outcome. Fox Mulder's death was only one cog in their giant mechanism. But the worst part was how they had manipulated her into killing him. She killed him not with a physical weapon, but with words. Like that bastard Jose Chung said, "Mere words."

Well they weren't mere words, they were the ultimate betrayal. And she'd been driven to it by Them. She felt so used, so stupid for...

<For what? For believing in x-rays and doctors and the entire field of health medicine? For believing in the people we trust most?>

There was a knock on the door, but she ignored it. She waited for the visitor to leave, But instead heard her mother's voice call out, "Dana? Are you home? I hear the television."

Dana quickly rose and walked over to the door, relief washing through her at the sound of her mother's voice. She threw the door open and stepped out and into her mother's arms, hugging her tightly."

"Dana!" Maggie said, surprised, "What's wrong? Dana, are you crying?"

"Mom," she choked, "I don't have cancer."

"What!? Dana, what are you talking about?"

"I went to see Dr. Coen today and he told me I was misdiagnosed." Scully held her mother tightly as she sobbed into her shoulder. Maggie herself was in shock, but walked her daughter back into the apartment, where they sat on the couch. Maggie held Dana's hands and stroked the back of one with her thumb.

"Dana, this makes no sense. You obviously are sick. If you don't have cancer, what's been happening to you?"

Rare tears flowed freely down Scully's face as she told her mother a version of the truth which would still make sense. She said that a group withing the government who were probably responsible for her abduction were also responsible for this. It was all an elaborate conspiracy to break up the X-Files Division.

Margaret Scully's anger rose with each sentence her daughter spoke. Why did Dana insist on pursuing the X-Files if it was so dangerous. She knew Dana didn't believe in most of the types of things her work was associated with, so why didn't she request a transfer to a more 'normal' area? Why did her daughter insist on risking her life, being pursued by psychos and killers, and being manipulated by secret groups? She thought it once had been about Fox Mulder, Dana's best friend and possibly (in Margaret's mind) more. Now that Fox was dead, why did Dana insist on staying with the X-Files? She couldn't understand it, but knew better than to raise the subject with her daughter.

Instead, she comforted her daughter, cradling her in her arms and rocking her slowly, just as she had done when Dana hurt herself as a child, which was a frequent occurrence. As the youngest and most aggressive of the Scully children, Dana always had to prove herself to all the older kids on the Navy bases. As a result, she took dares and foolish chances with her safety. With a sigh, Maggie suddenly knew the answer to her own question. Why did Dana stay with the X-Files? Because she still had things to prove to the big kids. But today, finding herself the butt of their cruel joke once more, she needed her mother's comfort and compassion. Which Margaret willingly gave.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The days flew by and quickly turned into weeks. Largo's health steadily improved, and by late July, they'd successfully cleared four cases out of the five they were assigned. One involved a phony faith healer from the Ozarks who was bilking the small-town citizens of an Oklahoma county out of thousands. Another dealt with a Sasquatch sighting in Southern Idaho, which turned out to be a bear who'd escaped from a Wyoming zoo six months before. Apparently, he found Idaho much tastier, and had killed two people from the small town of Elba, Idaho.

Scully remembered walking in on a phone conversation Largo was having in her room during that trip. They always had adjoining rooms when they traveled, and almost always kept the door between rooms open. Largo motioned her in and resumed her conversation. Scully assumed Largo was speaking to her brother, Michael, as she joked about how the two of them were looking for Chewbacca in the forests of Idaho. Smiling at her, Largo said 'Chewie' must have come to Elba looking for Napoleon.

When they'd finally found the bear's lair in the foothills and had him safely tranquilized, Scully and Largo looked at each other, both with the same thought.

Scully vocalized it, "I guess he met his Waterloo."

They both cracked up, at ease with each other, and happy to have safely concluded their investigation.

The strange thing was that when they worked in their DC office, Scully and Largo worked separately as much as they worked together. Scully was often called as an autopsy consultant, either in the DC area or out at Quantico. Largo, on the other hand, was often called in and briefed on VCS or even local PD cases and asked to question suspects. During her years in Portland, she had developed a reputation as a first-class interrogator. Her interviews were often long and sometimes, Scully was told, they strayed onto strange tangents. But Largo was considered to be one of the most effective interviewers in the Bureau. She was often able to draw an accurate conclusion from small bits of information gleaned from her subject, if not obtain a full-fledged confession.

Dana Scully was curious about her partner's unique aptitude, and soon grew anxious to see Largo perform one of these interviews. She'd realized early on that her new partner was highly intelligent and had excellent powers of deduction. However, the young woman remained somewhat mysterious.

At first, Scully wrote it off to Largo's eclectic cultural background and philosophies. Lately, though, she had been coming to realize that the young woman was just...quirky. Not the way Mulder was (although the man certainly had more than his fair share of eccentricities). It was as if Largo fought some kind of internal battle with herself, as though caught between two worlds. Sometimes cool and extremely professional, at other times she seemed no more than a large child. Largo had a penchant for engaging in extremely inane conversations.

Once, out of the blue, she looked up from her paperwork and asked Scully a question. "If you could be any kind of circus performer, what would you want to be?"

It was an interesting, if completely inane question, and they spent the next fifteen minutes analyzing Scully's answer, which was a bearded lady.

Another time, Largo put a hand to her chin and said that she had recently realized that most people she knew could be classified by five different personality types. Each type corresponding to a character from 'Scooby-Doo'.

"So," Scully retorted, "Who am I?"

Largo narrowed her eyes in thought and put a finger to her lips. "Physically, you're a Daphne, but inside...100% Velma."

Only later, upon reflection, did Scully realize that many of these conversations, after twists and turns and leading questions on Largo's part, turned into philosophical discussions which revealed much about her, Scully's, personal belief system, and even her personality. She later concluded that this was Megan Largo's roundabout way of getting to know her. Scully knew she was very guarded, and a hard person to really know. Being an FBI agent, this was not unusual, and in actuality, she preferred it this way. She felt she was safer if she kept her distance. It was something similar to the clinical detachment she acquired in her work in forensic pathology. She was unaware of the fact that it was also her way of keeping everyone at arm's length--never letting them inside the circle of her life.

Fox Mulder had broken through those barriers she had constructed, finding the warm, caring person behind the cool exterior. The emotional anguish she was suffering as a result of Mulder's suicide was the consequence of letting down those walls. When Megan Largo stepped into the basement and boldly announced she was to be her new partner, Scully vowed never to let this woman get that close. It would hurt too much to lose another. She didn't need that kind of pain again, in fact she wasn't sure she could handle that kind of pain again.

And yet here Largo was, young, fresh-faced, funny, and keenly intelligent. With her dark skin, bright green eyes, and brilliantly white teeth, Largo was impossible not to like. True, she was odd. She was impulsive. She made mistakes.

<John Thornton, for example.> Scully's logical mind readily supplied.

But Largo was an intriguing individual. She enjoyed working with her and she enjoyed her amiable company. And now Scully wanted to see her do what everyone was saying she did best.

She got her chance on a Friday afternoon in July. She was almost finished typing her notes from the morning autopsy she'd completed when Largo announced she was leaving for an interview in Alexandria. Scully quickly finished her work, then left for Alexandria Police Headquarters about twenty minutes behind her partner.

****************

Alexandria Police Department HQ Alexandria, VA Friday July 25, 1997 1:45 pm

Largo sat at a dirty white table across from a small, clean-shaven man in a faded yellow t-shirt and black jeans. The man chain-smoked, but Largo sat back in her chair, elbow resting on the arm, two fingers pressed against her lips. She seemed oblivious to the clouds of smoke gathering above their heads in the poorly-ventilated room.

The man's name was Christopher Millgrove, and he was the number one suspect in a serial child-molestation investigation the Alexandria PD had been working for six months.

The perpetrator in the crimes apparently picked up young boys as they walked home from elementary school. He took them right off the street and left them there when he was finished. He didn't kill them, he didn't beat them, but he used them. According to the young victims (only five were willing to speak of the incident. Who know how many others hadn't come forward, hadn't spoken to their parents?) they were grabbed, taken into the privacy of the thick bushes, and forced to perform fellatio on the man. None could describe his face. Some claimed he wore a ski mask, one said he was clean shaven, while two insisted he had a beard and mustache.

The detective in charge of the case, Anthony Randolph, was sure Millgrove was their perp. He had tried everything legal to pin Millgrove down, to finger him as their man, but had thus far been unsuccessful. Millgrove was like a shadow. He threw off car tails like an old professional. He entered crowded restaurants and never emerged. But Tony Randolph was positive this man, who drove a 'Tim's Famous Ice Cream' goody-wagon, was the perpetrator of these crimes. All circumstantial evidence pointed to him, and Tony knew it in his gut. They'd had absolutely nothing concrete until last night, when a nine-year-old boy immediately picked Christopher Millgrove out of a police line-up.

One of the other detectives in his precinct had told him about an FBI agent he'd worked with the week before. He'd watched closely as the quiet young woman in a serious blue business suit made a street hardened gangbanger melt into tears right in Room 3. The punk blubbered away under this woman's slow, methodical interrogation. His colleague told Randolph that if he needed a hell of an interrogation, he needed to call Megan Largo over at the Bureau.

If there was one thing Tony needed now, it was a hell of an interrogation.

Now, as Largo calmly sat across from Millgrove, he began to wonder what all the fuss was. She didn't appear to be doing anything unusual, and she certainly didn't have Millgrove blubbering. When he'd first seen the woman, he was surprised by how young she looked. Seen on the streets of the city, he would have guessed she was a Georgetown undergrad or someone of comparable age. She was attractive, however, with a beautiful dark complexion offset by light green eyes. The right one looked a little bloodshot, but combined with the odd way the woman talked, Tony had only one word to describe her: exotic.

He watched as Largo asked Millgrove the standard questions, getting him to account for his whereabouts on certain days, at certain times. Since he drove a neighborhood ice-cream truck, he was often in close proximity to grade schools and small children, yet parents rarely could remember exactly what time of day they heard the familiar nursery-rhyme music foreshadowing a visit by the ice-cream man. Things like that varied from day to day, especially if the driver intentionally made this so.

Largo then surprised the handful of cops who stood behind the two-way mirror, looking and listening through the recorder to their taped conversation. She began asking Millgrove about his family, his mother and father, any siblings. She asked him where he grew up, and what it was like there. In essence, she wanted Millgrove to tell her his life story. All the while she looked deeply into his chocolate-brown eyes, still sitting back, a hand to her chin as though she was hearing the most fascinating story in the world.

Tony was beginning to think Largo was not an investigator, but a shrink, when he turned to see a small, red-haired woman enter the room.

When Scully walked in, the detectives courteously made a place for her in front of the glass. Many of them recognized her from autopsies she'd performed in their county morgue. She watched and listened intently as Largo proceeded with her interview. They discussed Millgrove's mother. Scully was a little surprised at the flow of their conversation. Largo asked personal questions that didn't appear to have any relevance to the case at hand. She was even more surprised by the honesty in Millgrove's replies. It appeared that Millgrove's mother worked nights as a cocktail waitress, and was a rather passive woman. Millgrove's father was often unemployed or unemployable. His father was definitely the dominant parent, and Largo heard Millgrove speak of him with both fear and awe, as though he both hated and greatly wanted to emulate the man.

She then asked Millgrove if he had any pets as a child.

"I had a dog once."

Largo leaned forward, putting her left elbow on the table and propping her head up with her left fist. Her right hand drifted down to paper coffee cup in front of her and she traced the rim with a thin finger. Millgrove stared intently at a silver ring Largo wore on her thumb, and watched the ring spin round and round the top of the cup.

Largo smiled inwardly. This was going very well.

"Tell me about your dog."

"His name was Buddy. He was a retriever, dark brown."

"How old were you when you first got Buddy?"

"Eight."

"What do you remember most about him?" Largo looked into Millgrove's eyes.

The suspect met hers, and his became hard as rocks. "That my father blew a hole in his stomach with a brand-new shotgun he got when I was twelve."

"Was you father drinking?"

The reply was angrily torn from his dry lips. "Yes!" He spat. "My father was shit-faced most of the day and halfway through the night. Especially at night!"

Scully now watched as Largo's eyes darkened into brown pools which matched Christopher Millgrove's perfectly. She never blinked as she asked, "But could he still get it up?"

Shocked not only by Largo's eyes, but by her question, Scully felt her own blue eyes widen and her jaw drop slightly.

In the room, Millgrove was speechless as their eyes remained locked. Slowly, a tear began to trail down his cheek. He was oblivious as it rolled off his chin and stained his shirt.

"Always." He whispered, still held by the woman's gaze.

"Chris, " she said gently, "I'm very sorry for what he did to you, and what he did to Buddy. Right now I'm going to have to ask you to do a very difficult thing. Are you ready to hear it, Chris?"

"Okay." He said faintly as a remote part of his brain screamed for him not to do this. She knew! Of course, she knew everything he had done, but no one else would know unless he said it out loud.

<And that's what she wants!>

But that part of Christopher Millgrove's mind was being overwhelmed by the pain, the humiliation, and the guilt he felt. This woman felt his pain, and she still talked to him like he was a real person. Instinctively, he knew he would tell her anything she wanted to know, just as long as he could look onto those eyes forever.

"Chris--I need you to tell me how you approached the kids."

"What kids?" he said distractedly, so intense was his gaze.

"I think you know which kids I mean. Are you going to make me say their names, Chris? I really don't want to have to say their names."

"No, no--you don't have to. I know what kids." And he proceeded to tell Megan Largo all about how he followed the children, how he wore a fake mustache to work sometimes so they wouldn't recognize him when he took them. How he loved the little children, and how he wanted them to love him. He would never hurt them, the way his dad had hurt him, he just wanted to be with them for a little while.

When he finally wound down, answering all of Largo's questions, she gratefully thanked him. Then she said, "I want you to know, Chris, that we cannot allow you to play with the children anymore."

"But I love them." There was a sad plea in his voice.

A lone tear now slipped out the corner of Largo's eye, but it went ignored. "You're going to be seen by the police, and by some doctors. Chris, I want you to remember that the doctors are trying to help you, and although you might not want their help, or think you need it, you must remember that everyone gets confused sometimes, and we all need to rely on other people to help pull us out of that confusion.

Millgrove's voice was nearly a whimper. "Agent Largo?"

"Yes Chris?"

"Am I going to jail now?"

Largo took a moment before she answered. "Yes, you are."

"Will you come and visit me, Agent Largo?"

"Although you may want me to right now, in a few minutes you will change you mind. You will probably hate me for the rest of your life, Chris." She said this with the certainty of experience.

Millgrove drew in a sharp breath. "Never."

"Goodbye, Chris." Largo closed her eyes for a few long seconds, breaking eye contact with Millgrove. Scully watched as the small man shook his head as though confused, not sure where he was. Then he looked at the dirty walls and the mirror, which reflected his own unsure image. Then he looked at Largo, who had opened her eyes and once again leaned back in the chair, elbows on the armrest, fingers on her lips. Her eyes had quickly faded to the sea-green of her natural iris color.

Millstone looked at her in confusion, as she stood and crossed the room. As she put her hand on the door, Millgrove suddenly screamed. "YOU BITCH!"

He put his hands to his head in rage. "YOU FUCKING DYKE BITCH!"

Largo quickly opened the door, stepped through, and closed it just before a loud thud came from the other side. Millgrove had run headlong into the door in an effort to attack Largo.

Megan Largo non-chalantly threw the bolt on the door and entered the observation room. She spotted Scully and went to stand by her, both of them watching Christopher Millgrove bang on the door and kick it with his old hiking boots. He screamed a steady stream of unrepeatable phrases as he pounded.

"He's got the mouth of a truck driver." Largo deadpanned.

Despite the tension of the recent interview, Scully had trouble holding back a snort. "I didn't know that stereotype applied to ice cream truck drivers as well."

Largo smiled softly at her partner, but her eyes still held the trauma of the ordeal in the interrogation room. The screaming stopped and the agents turned in unison back to the lone figure in front of the glass.

Millgrove slumped against the door and slid slowly down to the floor. There he began to cry.

Scully hated the sight of men crying. For some reason, it was more powerful for her to hear the pitiful sounds of a man's tortured anguish. She touched Largo's arm, and the taller woman immediately bent, lowering her ear down close to Scully's mouth.

"We need to talk." Scully announced, and left the room.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

J. Edgar Hoover Building
Basement office
4:30 pm

Largo led the way into their office and Scully quickly shut the door behind her, ensuring privacy for their conversation.

She waited patiently for Scully to begin, leaning back against the file cabinet, arms crossed in front of her as Scully paced the room.

"How did you do that?"

"Do what?"

"Goddamnit Largo, don't play dumb with me! Maybe those detectives didn't notice your little parlor trick, but I sure as hell did!"

Largo said nothing, she simply watched Scully pace.

"What's wrong Largo, cat got your tongue?"

Largo stayed quiet a moment longer, then said, "No, I can talk. In fact, I've been talking to a suspect all afternoon. In fact, in case you failed to notice, Agent Scully, I drug a confession out of him. That's one less sick man off the streets. And if I'm not mistaken, that's the whole purpose of our job, is it not? So I'm not really sure what you're all upset about."

Scully stopped pacing, suddenly aware that, to Largo, she looked incredibly angry. What she really was confused. She didn't understand how Largo got Millgrove, a man who'd successfully evaded arrest for six months, to spill his guts like that during a routine round of questioning. Scully was now getting a strong hunch it had something to do with the freaky way her eyes changed color. Was Largo hypnotizing them? Was it some kind of cheap parlor trick that worked with the simple-minded? Suddenly, she had a vivid flash of Mulder pointing his gun right at her head, directed to do so by Robert Modell, 'The Pusher'. She shivered, and became even more determined to get a straight answer out of Megan Largo, even if they had to stay there all night.

"Largo, I'm not mad, I'm not angry, but I just need to know how you got to Millgrove like that."

Largo shrugged. "I looked at his eyes."

"Yeah, I noticed that." Scully replied sarcastically. "But when you did, your eyes darkened to match his."

"So I've been told."

"How do you do that?"

Largo waited a long time before answering. This time it was she who stared long and hard at the "I WANT TO BELIEVE" poster still hanging on the wall.

"I really don't know. I'm going to be honest with you, Scully. And even so, I'm not sure you'll believe me. You're so damned skeptical that I doubt it." Largo took a deep breath and ran a hand through her bangs. "When I interview someone, or even just talk to them, I almost always make eye contact. Most people do. That's just plain, old surface eye contact. But then, I can often make a deeper kind of contact with people through their eyes. All I usually have to do is concentrate."

"What do you mean?"

"A lot of the time, when I'm making the deep contact, I can tell the course a person's mind is headed. I can tell if they are lying to me or trying to hide something. They send out some kind of strange signal, and a red flag goes up in my own mind."

"Are you trying to tell me you can read people's minds?"

"To a certain extent, yes, but only if conditions are right. It's kind of a hit and miss type of thing, but sometimes I talk to a person and I know what I need to say to draw more information out of the person. One question leads me to another until...bingo"

"Like Millgrove and his pet dog, Buddy?"

"Exactly."

Scully chewed on that for awhile. She wasn't ready to swallow this story, not yet. True, Largo's intuition and perception had astounded them all this afternoon, but Dana Scully wasn't about to let one interrogation shake the faith she put in the laws of science and nature. However, the true investigator (and scientist) gathers as much information about the unknown as possible, so she continued,

"Does this work on everyone?"

"Ha! Obviously not. Here's an example: John Thornton. Here's another: Kelly Green. Oh, wait, here's another: the fucking dopehead who spiked my water in Eugene."

"I get the point."

"You see, I work best in a controlled setting, like the interrogation room. I ask questions and wait for the answers. I have the upper hand, and it's easy for the interviewee to get distracted. Sometimes they get so caught up in their web of lies and telling their story that they don't notice my eyes changing and my--probing.

"Sometimes I can do it outside of that controlled setting. I was doing pretty well at Kelly Green's house, but the redness in my eye made it very hard. I find that my little 'talent' works best when both my eyes are clear. So now, with the redness fading, I'm doing very well in the interrogation room again. Also, if I'm not concentrating on making the deep contact, I get nothing. It's kind of like a fishing trip. You have to put your line in the water in order to catch anything."

"So you're aware of the fact that you're eyes change their color."

"Yes. I've seen my reflection in mirrors just after breaking contact. And I've gotten busted--gotten caught by people before. If I don't plan it carefully and wait for the right moment, I lose. Game over."

"How did you know Millgrove was going to react like that when you...broke contact?"

"Most the perps do. Once contact is broken and they realize they've just calmly spilled their guts, they go berserker. I think somewhere, down in their subconscious, they know what happened. I'm not proud of doing it, Scully. Sometimes I feel like *I'm* the rapist. Only I'm raping their minds. I'm making them give me something they don't want to. It's not like just seeing a lie they've told, which isn't really very intrusive, its making them spill out their innermost secrets and sick, hidden desires. And the thing is, while we're connected, they seem to almost *want* to do it. I just talk to them until I figure out what buttons I need to push, then hit 'em and most of them start to sing."

"But not all."

"Not all," Largo agreed, "a lot of it depends on a person's mental fortitude. Simpler people are--well, simpler."

Scully thought a moment, suddenly realizing something. "You tried it on me once."

"I remember that, and I'm sorry. Sometimes, its almost an involuntary reaction. It was hard because you were looking so closely at my eye."

"So, if you would have really done it then, would I have been like Millgrove, screaming 'you fucking dyke bitch' and all that?"

Scully's words were meant half in question, half in jest at Millgrove's earlier outrageous reaction to Largo's interrogation, but Largo flinched a little, almost imperceptibly, when Scully said them.

She recovered quickly, however, and replied, "Probably not. In fact, I do it every now and again with people who are close to me. We can get the gist of what the other is feeling, and basically send messages to each other. My brother and I can do it, and..." she trailed off, as though saying more than she intended. "Never mind. The short of it is that it *can* be a good thing, something that brings me closer to people in my life. But I have to be making eye contact. And also, with strangers, I usually have to try and draw it out of them. People are like wells, Scully. The top is murky and gives nothing away, but beneath it's sweet and clear. Some wells are harder to access than others."

<And yours, Dana Scully?> Largo thought, <Hell, you'd have to dig nearly all the way to China to cut through your dark barriers.>

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dana Scully's Apartment Tuesday, August 5 11:30 pm

Scully was restless. She paced her apartment drinking hot tea at 11:30 at night. Normally, she would be in bed hours before. One of the effects of her battle with cancer had been decreased energy. In the last few weeks, however, she'd been feeling somewhat better and certainly less lethargic at nights.

Without really thinking about it, she dressed in jeans and a gray Terrapins sweatshirt, snatched her keys from the kitchen table, and went for a drive.

She drove the streets aimlessly, her mind filled with thoughts of Fox Mulder, and of the 'cancer' she thought she had. To Dana, the subjects were not really separate. She truly did believe this was a deliberate situation, not the result of random chance. The longer she worked in the X-Files Division, the less she believed in coincidence, especially when it involved she and Mulder. But her biggest question was WHY? She admitted she didn't completely understand why. She knew it was effective in driving a wedge between them, and it led to Mulder's death, but could They have used it as such a tool? It seemed to leave a lot up to chance. A bullet in the back of the head was more Their style when They wanted to get rid of someone. Perhaps, like Michael Kritchgau said, it was to make Mulder believe in the elaborate confabulation of alien abductions and UFO-related phenomena. But how did that explain the Allentown women, all dead of the same disease. Surely they weren't *all* given cancer by a covert sect of the government to make one man believe in a massive mistruth. Or were they? Were those women all merely pawns in the secret game *They* were playing? It seemed too insidious to even contemplate.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the sharp trilling of the cell phone. Instinctively, when grabbing her keys--she'd also picked up her gun and cellular.

"Scully," she said into the instrument, curious at who would need her at this late hour.

"Agent Scully, this is Assistant Director Skinner."

As soon as she hung up the phone, Scully hit 'Memory 2' on her phone, only to hear a recorded message saying that the number she was trying to reach was currently inaccessible. Damnit, Largo had her phone turned off.

<Well, Agent Largo, I guess you're getting a surprise visitor.> She thought as she headed for the Interstate. She was five minutes from Megan Largo's apartment.

~~~~~~~~~~~

12:55 am

She heard a loud buzz, which jolted her from sleep. She glanced to her left, reassured to find everything okay. She got up and threw on a t-shirt and flannel pyjama bottoms. Quickly, Megan Largo jogged to the intercom in the front hall.

"Hello?" She whispered into the small metal box.

"Largo, it's Scully. Buzz me up." The commanding tone in Scully's voice told Largo something important was up. She pressed the button releasing the security door and opened her own to allow her partner inside.

Scully entered with her work face on. She quickly walked in and headed for the front room. Largo followed, silent.

"Why did you turn your phone off?"

Largo read Scully's expression. She was displeased, but not angry. She was also distracted, and it was obvious something larger than the cell phone issue was bothering her.

"Sorry. Forgot to recharge my spare battery. It's dead for the night." Largo said truthfully in a hushed tone.

Scully didn't bother to, and didn't take note of Largo's low voice. "I just got a call from Skinner," she took a deep breath. "Did you read the X-File on Eugene Victor Tooms?"

Largo's face scrunched up in thought, then relaxed as she remembered. "The liver-eating stretchy guy?"

Scully nodded. "They've got a similar case out in Bend, Oregon. Liver extracted, apparently no tools were used."

"He tore out the liver with bare hands?" Largo's look was incredulous. "My God."

"Yeah, no shit. We're going to your old stomping grounds first thing tomorrow. I just wanted to tell you to meet me at the office at 6:00 am. I need to brief you before the flight to Portland, which is scheduled for 9:25 am."

Largo nodded, her attention now completely focused on the case before them. She barely heard the door to the back bedroom open. A woman in her late twenties with dark blonde hair rubbed her eyes as she padded into the room.

"What's going on Meg?" The woman asked, looking sleepily from Largo to the small red-haired woman sitting on the couch. When she seemed to finally focus on Scully her expression was a little sad, a little regretful.

Scully was surprised by the woman's unexpected entrance. She was attractive, tanned, and graceful in the same athletic way Megan Largo was. The woman wore a black t-shirt and mesh shorts which Scully recognized as the same ones Largo loaned to her after the fateful incident at St. John's Hospital last month. She had bright blue eyes and a small nose. A light bulb went off in Scully's head as she suddenly realized what was going on. She turned her gaze back to Largo, who met it without hesitation or apparent shame. Then Largo turned to the other woman.

"Jolyn, this is my partner at the Bureau, Dana Scully. Scully, this is Jolyn Parker."

The woman nodded in greeting and sat on the arm of an old recliner. She looked a little uncomfortable, but was trying to hide it behind non-chalance.

"It's nice to meet you, Jolyn." Scully said, still more than a little shocked by all the evening's unsuspected events.

"Nice to meet you, too. Meg speaks of you often. Says you're her doctor as well as her partner."

Scully forced a smile and a joke. "If I'm her doctor, she's in bad shape. I'm a pathologist."

<How am I doing this?> Scully wondered. <I'm sitting in Largo's living room making small talk with a woman who's apparently her girlfriend. Oh My God, maybe it's a dream. Maybe this is all a dream and I'm really in my bed asleep-->

Her thoughts were interrupted by Parker's reply. She was looking at Largo. "She's not in too bad of shape, now." She turned back to Scully. "And if you're the one who took care of her after the Milwaukee incident, I've got to thank you."

Scully was a little embarrassed at that remark, but not as much as her partner apparently was.

"Okay, okay," Largo said, shaking her head. "Jo, we have a case to get to first thing in the morning."

Parker took the hint. She stood. "It was nice to meet you, Agent Scully. Goodnight." With that she returned to the bedroom.

Abruptly, Scully stood, wanting to leave the apartment as soon as possible. Largo quickly put a hand on her arm, halting her march to the front door.

"Scully," she began, looking the older woman in the eyes, "I'm not letting you leave like this."

"What do you mean?" Scully asked, wanting nothing more than to leave just like this.

"I mean you're obviously upset. Come back in and sit down." When they were both seated on the couch, Largo continued. "I realize you're probably surprised by what you've seen here tonight."

"No, I'm okay with it." All Scully really wanted to do was bolt out of the room and forget this ever happened. Somehow. As soon as she said those words, though, she realized they weren't true. She was utterly shocked by the fact that she had no inkling, no idea at all that Megan Largo might be gay. Both she and that woman, Jolyn, she didn't look anything like what Scully had come to believe lesbian women looked like. Jolyn was a good-looking woman (as was her partner), and she had the air of a professional person...neither woman looked masculine or 'butch'.

Largo's eyes narrowed. "You're okay with it?" She repeated, snorting a little. "Yeah, right. I've seen that look in a person's eyes enough to know you're upset. Without using any 'parlor tricks'." Largo looked away, battling something within herself. Then she reached out and touched Scully's forearm. She felt the shiver under her touch and knew Scully was fighting the urge to flinch.

"All I can do is explain my situation to you, and hope that you'll come to...understand it. Perhaps respect it. Maybe just realize that this is who I am, and it has nothing to do with our working relationship."

Scully looked confused, as though poised to ask a question, so Largo allowed her time to compose herself and her thoughts.

"I guess I just...I got the impression you had a thing with your former partner, Campbell. And then John Thornton...I guess I assumed you were uh...heterosexual."

Largo gave a nod. "Okay, that's a place to start." She took a deep breath. "Ben and I were close as partners, and at one time we came *very* close to getting involved, but didn't. I don't know if it was out of obligation to the Bureau, or if we were scared of what might happen. I loved Ben, I truly did, but I couldn't risk losing his friendship if things didn't work out. That's all I'm going to say about Ben. I still can't talk about it much.

"John Thornton was a man I allowed to flirt with me on an elevator and buy me lunch one afternoon. Agreed, the lunch thing was pretty stupid--but I was caught off-guard by the fact he was even interested. With my nasty-looking eye, it had been months since anyone had shown anything but shock and revulsion when looking at me. I guess I was flattered he wanted to take me out. That's all."

She paused and took a few deep breaths, fighting to keep her eyes dry and her voice even. "There's no easy way to say this, so I'm just going to say it plain. I'm bisexual. It's not common knowledge, and at this point I'm not prepared to make it that. It's not that I'm afraid of scorn or ashamed of anything I've done. It's because I work for the Bureau. It's a little too close to the military for me, and I don't want to jeopardize my potential career even more than I already have.

"I've known Jo since college. We both studied history there, and have been close friends ever since. We've just recently become involved. She's a professor at George Washington University. When I moved to DC, and in particular after the Milwaukee incident, things changed between us."

"Largo," Scully's voice was a little hoarse, "you don't have to explain to me."

"I'm doing it because I owe it to you, Scully. As my partner and as my friend. I probably should have told you before, but I didn't see any reason to. I guess the reason would have been to avoid a situation like this one. I'm sorry, Scully. I never would want to upset you, and I can see that I have."

"No, no...it's just a surprise. I never thought about...about you being..."

Largo smiled a little. "It's okay, Scully. Hey, I've got to catch some Z's, and you probably should too." They stood and went to the door. Largo opened it for her partner. "We can talk about this in the morning if you want to. If not, that's okay too."

Scully turned to meet the taller woman's clear green eyes, completely clear for the first time in months. There was still a small smudge underneath the eye, but that would soon fade if Largo took care of it properly. Scully was beginning to regain her normal cool composure as the information began to sink in.

"You still icing that eye?" The doctor in her asked.

"Twice a day, Doc."

Scully nodded, "Good. Meet you at six then?"

Largo nodded. "You got it. Goodnight Scully."

"Night." Scully mumbled distractedly, and headed down the hall in something of a daze.

Largo closed the door and turned the bolt. She took a deep breath and ran a hand through her bangs. She couldn't predict how Scully would react in the morning, after she'd had time to think about this new development, but there was nothing more she could do about it tonight. She turned out the lights and felt her way to the bedroom.

"Megan?" Jolyn Parker softly called out into the darkness of the room. She could see the outline of Largo's back, but not her face.

"Yeah?"

"I'm sorry."

"Don't be."

"I wasn't thinking. I thought you were on the phone or watching the TV. I didn't know she was out there."

"Jo, you don't need to apologize."

They were silent for a moment as Largo sat down on the bed.

"Meg?"

"Yeah?"

"You okay?"

"Sure." Largo's tone was light.

"Don't lie to me, Megan Largo." Parker said sternly.

Largo laughed wearily, "I thought *I* was the one who was supposed to know when someone's lying."

Jolyn ignored the comment. "Come here Meg."

Largo leaned into Jo's arms, which pulled her into a tight embrace. She rocked Largo gently and kissed her softly on the forehead. Megan let go of the tears she'd been holding inside during her partner's visit. Silently she wept as her friend rocked her within the circle of her strong arms.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

J Edgar Hoover Building
Wednesday August 6, 1997
5:45 am

Largo unlocked the office and walked inside. The outside of the door held slats for two nameplates. Her name had recently replaced Fox Mulder's. She pursed her lips, wondering a little. She was somewhat nervous, afraid her name wouldn't adorn the door for much longer. It was possible Scully could ask for her to be transferred. She frowned at the thought as butterflies flew through her stomach. She busied nervous hands by making a half-pot of coffee, enough to tide them over before their departure for Dulles.

When she heard Scully's approach, Largo was re-reading the file on Eugene Tooms. She wanted all details of the case fresh in her mind.

She heard Scully pause at the open door. She held her breath, eyes still on a picture of a young man with short brown hair and a neutral, almost placid expression.

Then, she heard Scully's footsteps resume.

"Good morning, Largo."

Largo looked up and smiled at her partner from behind silver wirerims. "Morning Scully. Sleep well?" It was a leading question and they both knew it.

"Not really. A lot on my mind." Scully sat down at her desk. When she exited Megan Largo's apartment the night before she was in shock. She didn't really understand why. The logical part of her maid told her that of all the weird shit she'd seen, this was nothing in comparison. But the other part still refused to take the news in. It was so unexpected. Scully prided herself on being a crack investigator, only to realize she'd spent a month sitting next to a woman hiding an enormous secret, and she was oblivious to it the entire time. Was Largo that smooth, that good at hiding her life away? Or hadn't she been paying attention?

It wasn't that Scully was homophobic, although a large part of her family was extremely so. But she'd spent little time around gays, lesbians, or bisexuals. Her experience with them was very limited. Sure, she'd noticed a woman at the Academy who always checked her out from across the cafeteria, but she was secure enough in her own sexuality not to be offended by it. She'd never been propositioned. Although she and Mulder had run across diverse people in their investigations, she'd never had a personal friendship or even a work relationship with one.

To her, it was one more thing that made Megan Largo so...different. They already had their cultural differences as well as philosophical ones. Now there was a whole new problem to deal with.

<Is Largo worth it?> She asked herself the night before, wide awake in her bed, staring at the ceiling. The instantaneous reply was <Yes. Definitely.>

Largo was still the same person. But the important thing was that she was a valuable asset to the X-Files Division. With her--skill--her dedication, and her intelligence, Largo was far superior to any agent *They* would replace her with. Skinner seemed to have worked some kink of minor miracle getting Largo past Them and on to her. She couldn't turn her back on that just because the woman was bisexual. Put in those terms, Scully chided herself for even making it into an issue. True, it would take some getting used to, and she didn't want Largo to have to hide this from her. It was probably hard enough living the way she was without having to avoid the topic with the few people who knew. No--she couldn't pretend the previous evening's events never happened. if Largo respected her enough to tell her the truth, then she had to try to respect Largo's lifestyle. Still, it did make her somewhat uncomfortable right now.

Though they both tried to play it off, Scully could sense the nervous tension in the small office.

She'd just admitted she hadn't slept much last night, and Largo nodded pensively. She removed her glasses and placed them on the table in front of her. Then rolled her chair closer to where Scully sat behind her desk.

"So, is it the case, or something else?"

Scully looked at the poster on the wall. She took a moment to collect her thoughts. Finally, she replied, "A little of both. This case is...well, the Tooms incident was a very traumatic ordeal. If this killer is anything like Eugene Tooms, we've got our hands full. It was one of the most terrifying cases I've ever dealt with." She paused and darted a glance at Largo, who's eyes were fixed on her face. She quickly pulled her own eyes back to the picture of a flying saucer on the wall. "But that wasn't all that kept me up. I'll openly admit I was surprised and a little shocked by last night's--revelations. When I got home I thought about it, and realized the source of my shock was in the fact that we've worked together, side-by-side, for over a month now...and I had no idea about any of this."

"Scully--"

She held up a small hand. "Wait, let me finish." Scully now turned to meet Largo's sad gaze. "I'm trying to realize that you're the same person that I knew yesterday, but the message is just taking awhile to get through. This is not going to be an issue between us. It's not going to effect our work, which is really the only thing that matters. And on the personal side, I don't want you to feel you have to hide this from me. I don't want you to feel you can't talk about yourself or your relationship. And I also want to say that I'm not going to create any problems for you within the Bureau."

"I appriciate that Scully." Largo took a deep breath, trying to control her wavering voice. She rarely cried, but it seemed like lately she'd been a regular Niagara Falls, bursting into childish tears in front of others. Skinner was one thing, Jolyn another, but crying twice in front of Dana Scully just wouldn't do. She would not allow it to happen. And there was no reason to. She should be happy with her partner's speech; with the fact that Scully still wanted to work with her. And that Scully didn't want to just forget about what happened last night. That was what touched her most. She admired and respected Scully, and although she usually gave little merit to most people's opinions, she desperately wanted Scully to approve of her. She took a deep breath and forced herself to continue.

"I could tell by the look on you face last night you've never known a bisexual person. I want you to be as comfortable as possible with our working relationship, so I'd like you to ask questions if you have them...and I know you do have them."

Scully broke eye contact and focused on her blotter. She did have questions, many of them, but some she would never have the courage to ask. Scully did not believe in the concept of bisexuality. A person was either gay or straight, and dating members of both sexes seemed...very distasteful, very wrong. How could a person waver between attraction to males and females? In the past, she felt people who called themselves 'bisexual' either had voracious sexual appetites, or were confused about their sexual identity. But then, she'd never really known a bisexual person, only theorized about them. Megan Largo did not seem the least bit confused about her sexual identity. In the end, she decided to ask only the innocuous, general information-type questions she had.

"How long have you two been seeing each other?"

Largo was pleased by this first question. It dealt with her on a personal level, rather than a theoretical question on the concept of same-sex relationships.

"Jo and I have been together about a month now. We began really seeing each other after the Milwaukee trip."

"But you've known each other from before, right?"

Largo realized what Scully's concern was. She was afraid Largo was hopping into the sack with someone she barely knew. After all, she'd only been in DC a week before Milwaukee and the John Thornton-Kelly Green fiasco. Scully was checking to see if her partner was promiscuous, a 'slut'. However, she was doing it in a very polite way.

Largo smiled. "Yes, I've known her since my second year at Minnesota. We both were college athletes. Jolyn was a swimmer. I, of course, was in softball. We also had a lot of classes together. You see, Jo majored in History like I did. We were merely good friends, and kept in touch through grad school. I used to call her every couple of weeks when I was assigned to the Portland office. She knew about Ben, about our accident, and...what happened in the aftermath." She was referring to her own personal paranoia and retreat from society. "It wasn't until last month that we became involved." Largo studied her hands. "She's been one of my closest friends for years, and there was always something between us. Something down below the surface. I guess I only just realized what it was."

"And what was it?"

Largo forced herself to meet Scully's eyes. It took every ounce of courage and willpower she had.

"Love," she replied softly.

Scully put a finger to her lips, wondering at exactly how difficult this was for her partner. She thought for a moment, then asked, "Does Skinner know?"

"Yes. He's known for awhile now. I told him when I was in grad school at Northwestern. I was in a serious relationship with a woman then, and I told both he and Sharon. That was one of the hardest things I ever did in my life."

"I can imagine." Scully replied, picturing some warped version of the long-ago meeting in her mind. Skinner with more hair, Largo looking even younger. Her eyes defiant as his raged.

"What happened?"

"To that relationship? My...partner moved to Australia to study marine biology. We were heading in separate directions." She shrugged and stuck her lower lip out a little, an off-hand gesture. "It happens sometimes. People just drift apart."

"Did Ben Campbell know?"

Without hesitation Largo nodded, painful though the subject was. "Yes."

Scully sat back to think about that. Campbell knew she'd been with women, and yet she spoke as if they were very close partners and friends. It was beginning to seem to Scully that Megan Largo had a huge impact on everyone around her. She couldn't say if it had something to do with Largo's uncanny ability to get inside people's heads, or if it was a natural side-effect of her unique personality and good-looks. Scully had to admit that the...'skill' Largo had bothered her. She couldn't make sense of the spontaneous change in eye color paired with the sudden leaps in insight Largo showed when locking eyes with another person. It came off as some sort of mind-reading trick, but Scully didn't believe in psychic phenomena, and so she put Largo's strange ability down as extremely sensitive intuitive skills. Largo wasn't reading minds, she was leading her interviewees to places where small hints were dropped, mistakes made. Through these small bits of information, Largo made a larger whole. The eye color thing was a parlor trick.

But, in actuality, that part of Largo should be bothering Scully much more than this part. Dana knew that, and she tried to sort it out quickly in her mind. After all, they had a case to work on, and Scully wanted as few distractions as possible. However, it wasn't something she could table; it would have to be dealt with.

"Scully?" Largo asked, interrupting her thoughts. "Anything else?"

Scully shook her head, trying to clear it in order to concentrate on the issue at hand. "Not now, but I'm reserving the right to ask later."

Largo nodded, "As well you should."

"Right now I think we need to discuss what we know of the case. When we get to Bend we can take a close look at the forensic evidence to see if this case is indeed related to Tooms, or if we've got some kind of copycat on our hands."

Scully spent the next hour briefing Largo on what she knew of the current case, which chiefly consisted of everything Skinner told her the night before. Then she reviewed the case of Eugene Tooms, a genetic mutant with the ability to contort and elongate his body to fit into tiny spaces. He often entered rooms through ventilation ducts or squeezed between security bars. Mulder even suspected he once attempted to enter a house through the upstairs john.

Once inside, Tooms quickly and efficiently killed his victim, then removed the liver using his bare hands. What he actually did with the livers was never proven, but Scully and Mulder theorized that Tooms needed five human livers to provide him sustenance during his 'hibernation' period of thirty years. During this period, Tooms apparently slept in a nest he created for himself in the basement of his Baltimore apartment. When he awoke every thirty years, he showed no signs of advanced aging. All in all, Eugene Tooms was one of the most dangerous criminals they had come across. The mere suggestion that there might be another person like Tooms out there somewhere sent shivers down Scully's spine. She received a vivid mental image of Tooms coming out of the heating duct in her bathroom as she scrambled back across the hardwood floors of her apartment, desperate to reach her gun. She was lucky Mulder had shown up when he had--or else...

She shook her head to push the thought away. "Our flight to Portland leaves at 9:20. We'd better get going."

They packed the old Tooms files in briefcases and left the office. Largo spoke up. "Want to take my car, or are you going alone?"

Since they were both going to the same place, it seemed pointless for them both to drive out and pay long-term parking.

Scully didn't even hesitate. "Sure, let me grab by stuff."

She had parked next to Largo's black Toyota Corolla. At 6:00 am, the Hoover Building wasn't too full. Now, at 7:50, the parking lot was nearly jammed.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

12:38 pm PDT

The agents used the flight to Portland to review police reports faxed to their office by the Deschutes County Sheriff's Office. The information was meager, and they expected to be fully briefed upon their arrival in Bend, Oregon.

The rental agency, much to Megan Largo's pleasure, gave them a brand-spanking new Ford Explorer for their four hour drive to Bend, and Largo nearly pleaded to drive the sport-utility. Scully gladly let her, ready for a long nap. Riding in a car had a calming, lulling effect on her and she was definitely in need of a power nap before their meeting with the Deschutes County Sheriff.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Oregon Highway 26
3:10 pm

Scully twitched, causing her to rap her temple smartly against the window of the car. Rubbing the side of her head, she glanced over at Megan Largo, who bobbed her head up and down while tapping her fingers on the steering wheel, keeping the beat of a song playing on the radio. Scully had occasionally awakened to hear Largo quietly singing with the modern music coming from the station, but had let her partner's pleasant voice lull her back to sleep on these occasions. Now that she was ready to stay awake, she listened along. The song was unfamiliar, but the rhythm was fast, and driven by a strong acoustic guitar. It was catchy, and every now and then Largo quietly sang a line along with the woman on the radio.

"Canine, feline, Jekyll and Hyde, Wear your fake fur on the inside."

Largo continued to drum her fingers on the wheel, smiling, oblivious to the fact that she was being watched. Scully was again amazed by how the young woman could tune out the rest of the world, focusing her mind, body, and soul on a piece of music.

"I see a change Would do you good. A change would do you good."

"What's this song?"

Largo jumped a little in her seat, startled. Then she smiled out of the side of her mouth.

"It's by Sheryl Crow. I think its called 'Change.'"

Scully nodded her head in acknowledgment. "I like it," she stated, "kinda catchy."

"Yep," Largo replied, and turned up the volume now that her passenger was awake.

They sat listening, Scully her usual stoic self, while Largo continued her occasional vocal accompaniment.

"Chasing dragons with plastic swords..."

Scully grunted a little at that. Though most the lyrics had no coherent continuity, this line struck her. It seemed a perfect metaphor for the work she'd done with Mulder. Working so hard to bring the truth to light, only to have all their hard-sought answers and conclusions quashed by unknown, unseen forces more powerful then themselves. Sometimes being a government employee really sucked.

"Hello, its me I'm not at home. If you'd like to reach me Leave me alone."

She was starting to get into it, and when Largo snuck a glance over at her passenger, she was tapping her fingers against the side of her leg. Largo grinned broadly.

"Good tune," she said as the song faded, replaced by Third Eye Blind singing 'Semi-Charmed Life', another one Meg liked, but she opted to turn the radio down again.

"Hey Scully," she called out, "I think they say your name in that song."

Scully frowned, then gave her partner a curious look. "I didn't hear her say anything remotely resembling 'Dana.'"

Largo clicked her tongue. "Not 'Dana'...'Scully.'"

"Oh, really?" she replied drolly.

"I swear, it sounded like 'Scully and angel on the kitchen floor,' or something like that. I never really picked up on it before, but--"

"But now you're convinced I know Sheryl Crow, the rock singer, and she liked me so much she put my name in one of her songs? Largo, most of those lines were nonsense anyway. For example: 'Scully and angel on the kitchen floor.' What the hell is that supposed to mean anyway?"

Largo shrugged. "Damned if I know. So?"

"So, what?"

"Do you know Sheryl Crow?"

Scully leveled her gaze and gave Largo an incredulous look. "No. What makes you think that I, a federal agent with no life outside of my work, would know a famous singer?" God, sometimes talking to Megan Largo was infuriating. They had the stupidest conversations. Well, at least the conversations weren't centered around EBE's, UFO's, or other strange things with shortened into initialized phrases, like they'd been with Mulder.

"I thought you might know her because your name's in her song."

"It is not! You misheard it!"

"It is! I'll bet you a lunch."

"Largo, why are you obsessing over this?"

She shrugged, eyes still on the winding road ahead. "I just heard Sheryl Crow's a UFO freak, that's all."

Scully desperately wanted to roll her eyes and groan. Apparently, this was going to be just like the old conversations with Mulder.

"A UFO freak?"

"Yeah, she wrote some songs mentioning Roswell, and I think she did one for the soundtrack of that tv show. You know, the one on that cheesy Fox network where the people look for aliens and UFO's."

"Oh yeah, that one. I never watched it. It hit a little too close to home."

Largo shifted a little in her seat. "While we're on the subject--I know its, like, taboo or something--but I have to ask you...Do you believe in UFO's? Visitors from other planets? Extraterrestrial Biological Entities?"

Scully sighed, rubbing her forehead. She could feel a headache coming on. It was inevitable, Largo questioning her about their work from the past, but she hadn't prepared a special speech for the occasion, as she usually did when anticipating a difficult question. She was about to rattle off her standard answer about the physics of space travel, the distances involved, and the massive amount of energy it would take to propel a spacecraft across galaxies.

She opened her mouth to speak, but stopped as a sudden question popped into her weary mind. Instead, she asked,

"Do you?"

Largo smirked and grunted a little. "Well, I don't know about little green men and all that, but I really liked 'ALF.'"

Scully gave a small smile. "Yes, 'ALF' was a landmark in the situation comedy genre, but Mulder insisted they were gray."

"Huh?"

"They weren't 'little green men,' they were gray. He used to make fun of other agents who scoffed at his theories by making up stories about gray 'Reticulans' until they just shook their heads and walked away. They never seemed to understand that was exactly what he wanted--for them to walk away and leave us alone."

"Sounds like old Mulder had a few tricks up his sleeve."

"Ha! A few, that's an understatement." Scully smiled at the memories of her former partner and his manipulative little ways of clearing a path between themselves and the subjects of their investigations. Mulder was a genius. Maybe a little warped, a little misunderstood, and certainly full of his own self-imposed angst, but he was still a genius. She had understood that from the outset, from their very first case together. In fact, they weren't for from the site of that first case now.

She forced her mind away from thoughts of Mulder, for they usually ended up with her fighting back tears.

Instead, she questioned the young woman beside her. "So you don't believe?"

"I didn't say that."

"So what *are* you saying?"

Largo sat quietly for a moment, composing her next words. Her eyes were still on the road ahead, which probably made it easier to speak them.

"I think its incredibly pompous of human beings to believe they are the only sentient creatures in the universe. To believe that we are the only intelligent people in existence...its ridiculous. I don't believe that God would have created all of these worlds and only populated one of them. When I look up at the stars at night, I see only an exponentially small fraction of all the worlds that are out there.

"However, whether those beings have found a way to visit other planets...that's an entirely different question. And the question which must preceded it is this: What gives them the desire to even consider it? Western thinking has progress as its core ideal. The Western World feels that if we are not learning new things, not exploring new avenues and new ideas, not pushing the boundaries of our world ever further, we will stagnate and die."

Largo paused, glancing over at Scully with raised eyebrows, as if seeking agreement or disapproval on the subject. When Scully nodded, Largo took it as acknowledgment to proceed. She quickly turned her eyes back to the road and continued.

"This is not so of all cultures. Speaking from the one I know the most about, I can tell you that most Native American cultures were not driven to explore the unknown in search of ultimate truths, or even for societal advancement. They were, are, a contented people. They felt the Wakantanka, the Great Spirit, created a circle within which they would live. It was by no means a stagnant culture, as some Western scholars proclaim, but one with roots deep in tradition and stability instead of progression and change. Perhaps other cultures on other worlds are more like them than like us."

"Us?" Scully asked, cocking an eyebrow at Largo's inclusion of herself in the 'Western' group.

Largo smiled a little sheepishly. "Well, I am half Wasicun (Wash-EE-choon), you know. But I didn't mean categorize people, to break them down into groups. I'm just speaking of fundamental cultural differences in regards to their world view. I think that we can only overcome these differences by emphasizing the commonalties among us all. The Dakota have a saying that I'm particularly fond of. 'Mitakuye Owas'in' (Me-TA-koo-yea O-WASS-een)."

"And that means?"

"We are all related."

Scully chewed on that for a second. "Mitakuye Owas'in," she repeated, trying to get the pronunciation right. "I like that. So maybe you and I are distant cousins?"

Largo smiled, showing her white teeth. "You've got it."

"So is that the extent of your opinion on extraterrestrial life? Maybe they just don't want to come and meet us?"

Another smile. "No, actually there's more. If, somehow, life forms from other planets had the resources to create a spacecraft that might visit Earth, I don't think they'd kidnap people and treat them like medical specimens."

Scully shivered involuntarily, but said, "Go on,"

"So, while I believe in the *possibility* of alien abductions, I don't see them as a realistic form of contact with human beings."

"How do *you* believe they would contact us? Hypothetically, of course."

"Of course. I believe contact would be friendly, because another part of my theory is that any species advanced enough to have worked together to create something as innovative and technologically sophisticated as a spacecraft capable of what we're suggesting, would have had to have put their heads together. They'd have to have shown a spirit of co-operation unprecedented on *this* planet. I believe they would live in harmony with each other and with their planet; thereby, they would expect a harmonious meeting with people of other worlds. I believe the only hostility present would be from us."

"Why?"

"Because we are afraid. We are a violent and war-like people. We distrust each other. How can we expect to trust those who man not even look or act or speak like us, when we don't even trust the guy down the block. Hell, even today, many people instantly hate others whose skin color is different from their own. I know that from personal experience."

"Its hard to argue with that while I'm sitting here with a gun strapped to my hip."

Largo gave a sad look. "We serve and protect. Unfortunately, it is a necessary profession. Perhaps, when we can learn to get along with each other, then we will be ready to make the scientific and technological strides necessary for our own deep space travel."

"So, to sum it all up for you, Agent Largo, you believe in the 'E.T.' kind of alien rather than the 'War Of The Worlds' type."

Largo pursed her lips, considering it. "Yeah, I guess so."

"So what do you call that, the 'Phone Home Theory'."

Largo laughed out loud. Again she smiled at Scully, and this time Scully finally identified the curiously joyful expression on Largo's face. It was the look of a person content with the world and with their place in it.

It was the look of a person in love.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Deschutes County Sheriff's Dept.
Bend, Oregon
5:36 pm

Scully and Largo were cordially met by Deschutes County Sheriff Fred Hinds, who quickly replayed the history of the investigation for the agents.

"Ten days ago the body of Ernest Bevans was found in her house on Pilot Road. Bevans lived alone in a small trailer. He was a big, gregarious fellow. Generally well-liked, except if you got on his bad side."

"Temper?" Largo asked.

"Well, Ernie had a long fuse, but when he reached the end of it, look out."

"So you knew him personally?"

"Sure, most everyone knew Ernie. He's one of those UFO freaks--what's their name...MUFON? Yeah, I think that's it."

Scully's eyebrows shot up at this. Warning bells went off in her head, but when she spoke, her voice was cool and even. "Do you have a MUFON Organization here in Bend, Sheriff?"

Hinds smiled ruefully, "Yeah. They hang out down by McCade Air Force Base and tell abduction stories. Usually end up rip-roaring drunk as they watch the skies, insisting they've seen UFO's take off and land at McCade."

This was floating into dangerous territory, a fact which did not escape Largo's notice. She quickly put them back on track by asking about the other, more recent victim.

"Harry Weinburg." The sheriff responded, "Older guy, kept to himself. Lived all alone up halfway to Sunriver, that's a resort town. We get a lot of traffic to and from year round. Anyway, Harry lived off the highway a bit, almost like a hermit. Agoraphobia, I'd say. He locked his house down tight both night and day. He was found yesterday. Inside the house, near the bathroom. Missing his liver. All windows and doors still locked. No prints, no signs of forced entry."

Scully looked down at the report, "And Warner was found yesterday?"

"Yes, but apparently he died some time before. We haven't autopsied the body yet. Portland office told us to wait for you, Dr. Scully."

"What about the local media?"

"You mean, do they know the details? No, only that two murders have occurred. We've been tight-lipped on the details, so only a few know about the missing livers."

"Good." Scully said, nodding in approval. "I think I should get to that autopsy as soon as possible. Largo, why don't you check out the backgrounds of the victims."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Three Sisters Motor Lodge
Bend, Oregon
8:50 pm

Scully and Largo checked into their adjoining rooms. Largo dropped her luggage and two bags of hot Chinese take-out on the bed. She knocked on the adjoining door, which was promptly opened by her partner.

They ate straight from the containers as they briefed each other on their findings. Scully spoke first, sometimes through a mouthful of chow mien. "Weinburg's been dead for about three weeks."

"How fun for you. And now you're eating. I'd be hurling for a week after something like that."

"I'm a pathologist, Largo, I don't 'hurl' at work." She paused. "At least, not anymore."

Largo smiled at Scully's concession to her humanity.

"Anyway, it was very similar to the autopsies of Tooms's victims. I didn't find any evidence of cutting tools used, so there's a possibility human hands tore the liver from the body."

Largo nearly choked on her fried rice. "Maybe *I* should have gone first, while we were eating."

"Squeamish, Agent Largo?" Scully kidded.

"No, no, please go on." But Scully could swear Largo's face was a small shade paler.

"It was difficult to find trace evidence, considering the rate of decomposition in an un-air conditioned house in August, so I cannot determine whether Weinburg died where he was found, or if he was moved. But I can say he died of blood loss due to removal of the liver. He received only a minor blow to the head, probably not even enough to knock him out."

"Are you going to do a Toxicology scan on him?"

"Yes, but results probably won't come back for a couple of days. We aren't exactly in the hub of civilization."

"Bend is a beautiful town, Scully, and it's grown enormously in the last few years. Unfortunately."

"Why do you say that?"

"Look at the beauty that surrounds us here, Scully. The mountains. Mt. Bachelor, the Three Sisters, Three Fingered Jack, you can see them all from most places in this city. But at this rate, in ten years you'll look up at the hills, and all you'll see is summer homes and tract housing. I know that progress is inevitable, but it's hard to watch a place like this become the victim of it."

Scully thought about that for a minute. "So, you're an Indian after all."

Largo gave a small almost sad smile. "Yes, and it's not always easy to live between the two worlds."

Scully took a chance. "You live between a lot of worlds, don't you?"

Largo looked away from her, then nodded. "Yes, I do. And like I said, it's not always easy."

"Largo, I want you to know I'm here for you if you want to talk about anything. Also, I'm very glad this is in the open between us. Isn't it hard to hide your life away like you do?"

"Yes." Largo said in a small voice. "I felt like I was lying to you every time we talked about anything personal. You asked me once if I was seeing anyone, and I lied to you. I hated doing that Scully."

Scully bent her head to meet Largo's eyes. "Just don't do it anymore."

Largo smiled, but still kept her eyes focused on the floral print of the bedspread. "Thanks, Scully. And...Scully?"

"Yes?"

"Well, this is a little embarrassing, but I really appreciate everything you've done for me. The way you're always fussing over me, making me take care of myself and eat right and the way you put make-up over my black eye so it didn't look so bad when I went to dinner with Skinner. All those things have meant a lot to me, Scully. And now with this...I really appreciate your friendship as well as your partnership."

Scully was speechless, so little did she expect Largo's sudden declaration. She'd never been one for voicing her emotions, and so she felt a little awkward as Largo did it.

"Largo, I have a small confession to make. When you first stepped into the office I instantly promised myself I would hate you. I tried very hard to do just that. But as time went on I found out just how hard it was to do that. I want to let you know that I'm very glad you were the one assigned to the X-Files. I didn't think I'd be able to work with anyone else after Mulder. But now, I guess I can, and it's because you've been great. And I think it's working out fairly well, don't you?"

Largo's voice was stronger and much lighter. "You bet!"

"And one other thing."

"What's that?"

"I can tell the look of a person in love, and Largo, you've got that look. I wish you all the best."

Largo grinned, giving Scully a flash of her white teeth. "Thanks, Scully. That means a lot to me. Tell me if this is too weird, but I'd really like you to come to dinner when we get back. That way you can really meet Jo. Actually, I think the two of you would get along well, you'll probably get along better with her than with me."

"Why do you say that?" Scully asked, slightly nervous at the thought of spending an evening with two women whom she knew to be lovers.

"Well," Largo replied, "you're both so damned fascinated with dead people. Yours are on metal slabs, hers are in dusty old books."

"Wait a second, aren't you a doctor of history yourself?"

"Ha-ha! I study twentieth-century culture, she studies medieval history, folks who've long been a'mouldering in the grave."

"Speaking of graves, and of those recently in them, what did you find out about Weinburg and Bevans?"

"As Sheriff Hinds said, Bevans was well-known and well-liked about town. He was a foreman for a small construction outfit here in town. The officer I worked with, Janell, said the only people Bevans showed open disregard for were his ex-wife, her mother, and the quote: 'goddamned, bleeding-heart, pinko-faggot MUFON freaks.'"

"I take it there was a history between them?"

"Yeah, the MUFON people had a 'UFO-spotting' party one night, things got a little out of hand, and they tore up one of his sites. He confronted the self-proclaimed leader of the group, a guy named Robert Martinez, and was told, in no uncertain terms, to go fuck himself."

"I take it that was another direct quote?"

"Gotta love the local color. Anyway, there's some bad blood, but I'm not convinced the incidents are related. If I killed everyone who told me to fuck off, there'd be a lot fewer people around. Also, the police seem more convinced it's either a newcomer to town, or someone passing through."

"No one in a small, or even medium-sized town wants to believe it's one of their own."

"True, but then there's the case of Harry Weinburg. Age 66, he's never held a job during his years in Bend, Janell said Weinburg was independently wealthy and lived like a hermit up in the hills toward Sunriver. Now, you're telling me Weinburg was the first victim, since he was killed about three weeks ago."

Scully nodded, wondering where Largo was headed.

"Weinburg's last visit to town, the last reported sighting of him was about a month ago. He was a crotchety old man, and had a reputation among the locals because of his reclusive lifestyle. Several people reported seeing him during his visit, and many of these people said he was arguing with someone at the time. Apparently, the people of Bend don't miss his company when he's up at his home. I know your man Tooms picked victims seemingly at random, but maybe this guy, or girl, or whoever, is more selective, maybe it's someone who done 'em wrong."

"I don't know, but the scariest part of the search for Tooms was that we never knew where he would strike next, or when."

"So we look into the meager leads we have and wait for tragedy to strike again?"

"We have to hope we can find something before that happens."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

11:21 pm

Scully tossed and turned in her hotel bed. MUFON. Why did there have to be MUFON's here? It hurt bad enough when Mulder popped up in her random thoughts, all she needed was another reminder of the fact she still missed him so damned badly. It hadn't anything to do with the investigative abilities of Megan Largo. The woman was sharp and intuitive, but no one could replace Mulder, on the job or in her heart. He had undoubtedly been her best friend. Although they were complete opposites, they complemented each other perfectly, and something about Fox Mulder had touched her deeply, breaking through her heavy walls and finding it's way inside. The ache, the pain of losing him was almost physical, and although she rarely showed any outward sign of emotion when his name was mentioned, she still felt the ache down deep in her bones. There was no one she wanted to share the news of her returned health with more than Fox Mulder, who was the one person she could never tell. She hoped, wherever he was now, that he knew, and although the news held mixed emotions for her, she hoped he had forgiven her.

She rolled over once again, becoming twisted in the sheets, trying to will her body to sleep despite the many thoughts and concerns racing through her brain.

<Shut down> She commanded, <Leave it for tonight, please!>

But it was a long time before her weary mind obeyed.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Deschutes County Sheriff's Office
Thursday August 7, 1997
8:50 am

The two agents met once again with Sheriff Fred Hinds and Deputy Tim Janell. Scully relayed the autopsy findings to the men, while they gave the agents a complete run-down on everyone they'd interviewed concerning the murders. Most interviews were with people who'd seen the victims just prior to their deaths, and they shed little light on the case. No one had seen either with a stranger. No suspicious-looking characters lurking in their bushes.

Scully wanted to take another look at Ernest Bevans' trailer and Harry Weinburg's house. She took a fingerprinting kit along with her, just in case she might find an elongated fingerprint that was by-passed by the local police. She also wanted to check *all* possible points of entry. She hadn't voiced her concerns about a Tooms-like killer to the Deschutes County cops. In true Scully-like fashion, she didn't want to needlessly alarm them until she had hard evidence, only then would she tell the story of the genetic mutant who survived on the nutrients contained in the human liver.

Largo spent the morning reviewing transcripts of interviews conducted by the Bend PD and the Deschutes County Sheriff's Office, in case something jumped out at her that may have escaped the officers' notice. From these, she decided to pay a visit to Marge Flanders, formerly Marge Bevans, and a man named Joe Morgan (not the famous Cincinnati Reds' second-baseman, she was assured by a smiling Tim Janell). Morgan ran a tavern frequented by Ernest Bevans. At the last minute, she added Rob Martinez to the list, then scratched it off and, instead, approached the Sheriff.

"Sheriff Hinds, do you think it would be possible to compile a list of the MUFON members? I think it may be beneficial to speak with a few other than Martinez."

"You want second-hand accounts of the bad blood between the two?"

"Yes. I'm thinking that may give me a better picture of their relationship. I'm also going to ask Marge Flanders about the feud as well."

"I'll see if I can get you a list."

Twenty minutes later, when Deputy Janell brought Largo the compiled roster, she asked him if he knew who had just recently joined the group. Janell wasn't sure of them all, but he knew of three on the list who'd signed on within the last six months.

"Matt and Lucy Staples are new, I think, and Jim Edwards is an older man, long-time resident who said he saw a UFO last April. This guy," he pointed to a name on the bottom of the list, "Nick Charles, I think he's real new here. Don't know him, but a friend of a friend mentioned his name once. Kind of reclusive himself, he lives in a cabin a few miles out of town. My friend said he was supposed to be some kind of expert on UFO's. Probably another crazy, most of them are."

"Thanks, Deputy Janell, I'll go visit them this afternoon."

"You need an escort out there?" Janell asked, somewhat hopefully.

"No, that's okay." Largo replied, oblivious to the tone in the young officer's voice. Her head was still buried in the pages he had brought. "I can find them."

She called Scully, who was still at Weinburg's house, and told her of her new plans.

"Be careful, Largo." Scully warned. "We have explicit instructions *not* to pursue any UFO-related cases."

"This is a tangent on a legitimate case, Scully. I'm not looking for a close encounter, I'm looking for a liver-munching mutant, aren't I?"

"H-m-m. Possibly. I haven't come up with anything conclusive yet. No new prints here, at least so far. I'm still checking."

"Call me when you get back to the station, okay?"

"Sure thing. Be careful, Largo."

"You know me, Scully, caution is my middle name."

"Yeah, that's what I'm afraid of." She replied sarcastically.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

12:15 pm

Her interview with Joe Morgan, the tavern owner, yielded nothing new, so Megan Largo scanned her short list, and after a quick look at her map, found the nearest address.

She pulled into Marge Flanders' gravel driveway and walked quickly to the door, hoping against hope the woman at least had a fan inside her small, run-down tract home. The temperature had hit 95 degrees, and Largo was ready to melt inside her black pants and gray jacket. She could feel the shirt beneath it sticking to her back as she knocked sharply on the hot metal door.

It was answered by a large, overweight, white woman with mousy brown hair permed into something Largo thought resembled an Afro. She was middle-aged, somewhere in her fifties, and wore a powder blue polyester pantsuit over a loud floral print shirt.

"What the hell do you want?" The fat woman barked in a deep voice clouded by many years use of unfiltered cigarettes. "I don't wanna be a Jehovah's Witness and I don't wanna buy no goddamned encyclopedias! Now for Christ's sake will you leave me the hell alone."

Largo lifted an eyebrow at the tirade, but kept the neutral expression on her face. "I'm afraid I can't do that, Ms. Flanders." She pulled out her badge and flipped it open. "I'm Special Agent Megan Largo with the FBI. I'm looking into the death of Ernest Bevans, your ex-husband."

"You're goddamned right, my ex-husband. I thank the Lord God every day I'm not still married to the asshole."

"Yes, I noticed you've mention the Lord many times already, Ms. Flanders. I need to ask you a few questions in regard to our investigation."

"Jesus H. Christ! The cops were already here twice last week! I divorced Ernie six years ago, and if I was going to kill the bastard, I'd have done it long before now, you can bet your sweet young ass on that, missy.

Largo kept her face placid as she replied, "Yes, I'm sure you would have. Actually, I need to ask you about your ex-husband's relationship with a man named Rob Martinez--"

Flanders cut her off, "What! You mean the fucker had a relationship with a man as well as being a genuine, A-One asshole to me? You telling me that while I lived out in that hell-hole of a trailer he had, cooking his meals and doing his goddamned laundry, he was playing 'hide the salami' with some Spic?"

"No, no, no, Ms. Flanders. I guess I was unclear. It has been reported that your ex-husband and Mr. Martinez were on bad terms. Some say they had something of a feud. I'm not implying that they had a sexual relationship."

"Well, butter wouldn't melt in your mouth, would it Pocahontas? You're just as cool as could be, with all your roundabout ways of saying Ernie wasn't no homo."

For all the coolness Flanders was lauding on Megan Largo, she was beginning to lose it. She felt a drop of perspiration slowly roll down her back, and the tension between them rose a notch.

"Ms. Flanders, do you know anything about the occurrences between your husband and Rob Martinez?"

"I have no idea who the fuck Rob Martinez is and I don't give a rat's ass. Anything else?"

"When was the last time you spoke to Mr. Bevans, ma'am?"

"I saw him about three months ago at the IGA. Goddamned bastard just pushed his grocery cart right by me like I was thin fucking air."

<Can't say I blame him.> Largo thought, <Imagine being saddled to this bitch for years.>

"You got anymore questions for me, Miss FBI?"

Largo smiled sweetly at the woman. "No, I guess I was wrong."

"What you mean?"

"I thought maybe if I waited around long enough, you'd say one thing that wasn't tainted by foul language or blatant racial slurs. But I was wrong." Largo shrugged her shoulders, "What could I expect from a white-trash, hillbilly cracker woman anyway? Thanks for your time, Ms. Flanders. Maybe we'll get a chance to chat again sometime."

Largo stepped off the porch and headed for the Explorer. She ignored the inflammatory tirade directed at her retreating back as she went, whistling a short, upbeat Mozart piece her mother had taught her to play as a child.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

1:02 pm

Scully left Harry Weinburg's warm house with the officer who had escorted her there. She was hot and she was hungry. She and the officer, who's name was Marvin Jones, stopped to get sandwiches, and returned to the Sheriff's office.

After her lunch, Scully met up with Sheriff Hinds and asked him about the results on Ernest Bevans' toxicological tests.

"Uh, I'm sorry, Agent Scully, but we didn't run a tox scan on Ernie."

"Why not?"

"Agent Scully, we haven't had a murder here in two years. Our medical examiner died last spring, and the new one is fresh out of school. I think, in the excitement, he forgot to run the tox tests."

Scully couldn't believe it. Now Bevans was embalmed and in the ground. The only way to run a scan on him now was to exhume the body and content themselves with tissue samples. Why bother? She'd have to be content with the results on Weinburg's body, if they ever arrived. She didn't expect them until the next day at the earliest, and, if she was unlucky, not until Monday.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

2:25 pm

Largo once again consulted her list and map, but instead of going a few miles over to the Staples' house, she decided she needed some time to cool off, both physically and mentally. She cranked the air conditioner and the stereo and drove across town to Nick Charles' hillside cabin.

Twenty minutes later, after successfully navigating the winding road that led to Charles' place, she was in a much better mood. Listening to music almost always picked her up, but the Dairy Queen dipped cone she'd stopped for on the way over probably hadn't hurt.

Upon hearing that Nick Charles (who, curiously enough, shared his name with one of Largo's favorite fiction detectives, a creation of Dashiell Hammett) was reclusive, Largo figured that meant he didn't work. And she was right. She spotted him clearing brush about a hundred feet from his house. The man heard her approach, and was pulling off work gloves as he made his way back toward the house. He wore no shirt on this hot day, and Largo could see the strong muscles lining the man's lean body. He was a little over six feet tall with sandy brown hair and a slightly darker beard and mustache.

"Can I help you?" He asked in a flat, quiet voice.

"Nick Charles?"

His face grew a little wary and he crinkled up his dark eyes just a bit. "Depends on who's asking."

Largo fished out her badge once again and held it up. "Special Agent Megan Largo with the FBI."

She patted her pockets to find a business card, but came up empty. Damn, she always forgot to bring cards along.

Charles swallowed hard but kept his poker face. "Are you with the office up in Portland?"

It was a curious question, and seemed very important to Charles. Something in her gut told Largo to play it out.

"Yes, I am." She lied smoothly. "My partner and I are in town investigating a couple of local murders. I just wanted to ask you a few questions about a man named Rob Martinez. Do you know Mr. Martinez, sir?"

"Yes, yes I do." Charles scratched the back of his head and said, "Would you like to come inside, Agent Largo? It's cool in there and I've got iced tea in the fridge."

"Thank you, Mr. Charles."

The lean man led the way inside, where an air conditioner hummed. Largo nearly sighed with relief. <Some Dakota I am.> She thought, grateful she wasn't born in the 1800's.

Charles excused himself to clean up as Largo waited patiently on the couch, sipping tea and enjoying the coolness. She began to scan the room, looking for the usual bric-a-brac most people collected. Memorabilia, pictures, etc...but in Nick Charles' house the shelves held only books. Most related to UFO's or were alien abduction testimonials, but others varied from psychology textbooks to the Baseball Encyclopedia. She spotted a six string guitar and wondered idly if Nick Charles played.

As if on cue, he came back into the room, his light brown hair darker now after the quick shower. He wore jeans and a t-shirt and smelled faintly of Old Spice.

"Okay, Agent Largo," the man said calmly, "what can I tell you about Rob Martinez?"

"How long have you known him?"

"I moved here a couple of months ago, and I met Rob in the first few weeks I was in town. So--probably since the middle of June."

"So you're new in town, huh? Where did you move here from?"

For a split second Charles looked like something caught in the headlights, and Largo immediately caught it. <Another secret past...interesting> She made a mental note as she waited for a reply.

"M-Muncie, Indiana."

"I think I've been there once. Hey, what's the name of that University there?"

<Oh, you're going to have to do better than that, Largo.> Charles thought, as he easily replied, "Ball State."

"Oh yeah, did you go there?"

"No, I went to Indiana, up in Bloomington."

"Sorry to get sidetracked, Mr. Charles. What I really need to ask is if you know anything about a man named Ernest Bevans?"

Charles smiled wryly. "You mean about Rob and Bevans, right?"

"Yes," She replied, returning the smile, "that's where I was going eventually."

"Well it's no secret Rob wasn't too fond of the guy. I guess Bevans got all bent when the guys messed with one of his construction sites. Rob told me they paid for the damages, but Bevans wouldn't let it die. He was bound and determined to break up the MUFON group by having Rob arrested." Charles shrugged. "I guess nothing happened, but a lot of people in our group didn't like Bevans. As for me, I never met the man."

Largo studied the man's gentle face as he talked. Was there something faintly familiar about him? Has she seen him before? No, even though the Muncie thing was a lie, she didn't think she knew this man. Maybe she'd seen his face on the most recent 'Ten Most Wanted' list, and decided to take a closer look at it tonight at the hotel.

"Did either of the men threaten each other?"

Charles shook his head. "Not that I know of, but then, I'm new to the group and still considered something of an outsider. There's a core group, a nucleus of sorts. Long-time members. They might know."

"But will they volunteer that information to me, a federal agent?" largo asked with a sardonic smile.

Charles smiled back innocently, "You're right, of course." And he knew she was. For being such a young agent, he couldn't fault her logic in selecting someone like him to question, even though she was scaring him to death.

Largo got the impression he was playing dumb with her now. She decided to change the subject. "So, Mr. Charles, I've heard you're some kind of UFO expert. What exactly does a UFO expert know?"

<Oh, shit.> Nick Charles thought, and despite the coolness provided by the A/C, Nick felt a drop of perspiration roll down his back.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Laverne's Bar and Grill
6:15 pm

Scully and Largo met up for dinner. Scully reviewed her new findings for her young partner, including the lack of toxicology information on Ernest Bevans.

"What was that doctor's name?" Largo asked suddenly.

"Who, the medical examiner? I don't know. Why?"

"I want to see if he's on my MUFON list."

"Largo," Scully chided, "We have virtually nothing linking the Mutual UFO Network to these homicides."

"Still, it can't hurt, and we have nothing more to go on, do we? Besides, I met Nick Charles today and something didn't sit right. He's just...I don't know, but there's something about him. He lied to me today when I asked him where he was from, and he seemed a little uncomfortable during the entire interview."

"Well, you said he was a loner, kind of reclusive. Those types of people don't like any company, let alone the sight of a federal agent on their doorstep."

"It's not that. I got the feeling he was trying to hide something. But I couldn't tell for sure."

"What, didn't you 'look into his eyes'?" Scully's tone was almost mocking.

Lost in her thoughts, Largo was oblivious to it. "No, I was getting bad vibes about doing that. It didn't feel right, and I follow my gut when that happens."

"Well, anyway, what did you learn from him?"

Largo gave Scully a rundown on their conversation, and on her meetings with Joe Morgan and the Staples. She took a drink of Sprite.

"What about Marge Flanders?" Scully asked.

Megan largo's hand went immediately to her mouth, intercepting a spray of Sprite that was headed out her nose and mouth and directly at her partner sitting across the table. Largo held up a napkin as she was wracked with coughs.

Scully blinked at her, "Are you okay?"

Largo nodded, her face a deep reddish-brown as she coughed. When she recovered she gave Scully the news, "Marge Flanders is trailer-trash. She's a nasty, old, mean-spirited hag who's so fat she sweats gravy and bears a striking resemblance to Krusty the Clown. You get the picture?"

"At this, Scully almost had her own spit scene, but fortunately her Diet Coke found it's way down the right path. "Not much help, huh?"

"Scully, she called me Pocahontas."

"Ouch."

"No shit. Everybody knows I prefer 'Sacajawea'."

Scully shook her head. "You're something else, Largo."

Largo just shrugged and ate the last bites of her chicken Caesar salad. Scully finished her own meal, her chest heaving with silent laughter as she muttered, "...sweats gravy."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Three Sisters Motor Lodge
Friday, August 8, 1997
8:30 am

Largo stepped through the adjoining door to Dana Scully's hotel room with a small sack full of bagels. The agents ate in virtual silence, each consumed with their own thoughts on the case. Neither was sure how to proceed for the day. They'd reviewed all available evidence and had come up with nothing. They still awaited the toxicological report on Weinburg, but Scully wasn't hopeful. Tooms didn't use any kind of drug, she simply overpowered his victim with incredible strength, probably given to him by the previous livers he'd consumed.

<Tooms.> She thought, <How would we find Eugene Tooms if he were living here in Bend? If a Tooms-like killer has just emerged from hibernation, then we're looking at someone new to town. Tooms was a strange character, so maybe we need to look at the oddballs in town. And what about Largo's man Nick Charles? He's new, supposedly reclusive, and she thought he acted strangely.>

Her thoughts were interrupted as Largo stood and walked to the window. On her way she bumped a small table, and Scully's handbag fell, upside-down, to the floor.

"Oh Scully, I'm sorry!" She said as she bent to retrieve some of the items. Scully stood to help her, and saw Largo hunkering down, a small picture in her hand. The brown woman's eyes crinkled up as she stared at the black-and-white photo, which had come loose from Scully's wallet. Scully stopped and watched Largo watch the picture.

After about ten seconds of silence in the room, Megan Largo asked, "Who is this?" She turned the photo toward her partner.

Scully took the picture from her hand. It was a rare shot, taken by a police photographer, of a well-dressed man smiling broadly while scratching the back of his head. She'd liked it so much she trimmed it down and carried it in her wallet as a reminder of how beautiful the man could look when he smiled.

Her voice was flat, a monotone. "It's Mulder."

"That's what I thought."

"Didn't you ever see him?"

"Once, and very briefly. Actually, I saw the both of you...at Sharon Skinner's funeral. I saw you from a distance, but remembered you better because of your red hair." Scully suddenly remembered the funeral, and seeing a dark-skinned young man and woman sitting next to Walter Skinner at the graveside service. She had held Skinner's hand during the service, even though the man seemed as solid as ever. She'd assumed they were a couple, and were obviously close to the Skinners. Largo and her brother had both worn sunglasses to shade their eyes and hide the tears on that bright spring day over a year ago. Scully had wondered who they were, but both had disappeared soon after the service was over.

Apparently Largo had seen she and Mulder as well, but also hadn't remembered them too well.

"Why are you so interested in his picture?"

Largo was silent for a moment, as if struggling internally. Confused described the look well.

"Scully," she said finally. "I think we need to pay another visit to Nick Charles."

Scully was a bit thrown by the apparent change of topics. But, having had the same thought cross her own mind, she agreed.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

9:45 am

Scully called Sheriff Hinds to tell him of their morning plans as Largo drove the winding road leading to Nick Charles small cabin in the hills. She spoke little during the drive, and instead bit her bottom lip incessantly, second-guessing herself one moment, completely confused the next. Was she right? If she was, was she doing the right thing now? Most of all, what were the chances of something like this?

"Largo, what are you so freaked out about?"

Largo looked over at her with wide eyes. "What makes you say that?"

Scully gave her a look. "You're usually cool as a cucumber, Largo, but I think if you bite your lip anymore, it's going to bleed and I'll have to administer even more first aid on you. Do you really want that?"

Scully's tone was light, and Largo realized she was trying to draw her out of this anxious state. She took a deep breath and tried to relax her shoulders, which helped a little. She only did it for Scully's benefit, because inside her stomach was still in knots.

<Maybe it's nothing. Maybe I'm wrong.> She told herself, knowing she was not.

They pulled up the drive to Nick Charles's wooden lodge and Largo gave the horn a little toot, but didn't get out. Scully unfastened her seatbelt and opened the door, but then felt a restraining hand on her left arm. The grip was like a vise. She looked over at Largo, not understanding.

Megan Largo's almond-shaped green eyes were open to full capacity. "Wait a second."

Scully pulled her arm out of Largo's grip and looked up, she saw the door open and a tall, lean man with sandy hair, and a full mustache and beard walk out. The covered porch kept his face mostly in shadows, but as Scully stepped out of the Explorer, she got a better look at the man.

And stopped dead in her tracks.

The man stood frozen on the porch. He looked utterly stunned. Quietly, Largo exited the truck and walked around to stand next to her partner. Scully didn't even seem aware of her existence, she saw only the man. Largo had her answer, so she stepped away.

Scully took a step forward. "M-Mulder?" She said in a small wavering voice.

The man wet his lips, his throat seemed incredibly dry. Somehow, through the act of a Deity he claimed not to believe in, he managed to speak. "Scully."

He stepped out into the sunlight, and Dana Scully laid eyes on a ghost. Slowly, she approached him, and as she did so he began to smile softly.

"Scully, I never thought I'd see you again. It's been so hard, Scully, it was so hard not to tell you. You see, the Gunmen helped me--"

But he never finished his sentence. Dana Scully had drawn her right arm back with all the force her 5'2" frame could muster and punched him in the gut as hard as she possibly could.

Mulder immediately fell to his knees, grasping his solar plexus with both arms. He gagged and gasped for air. Megan Largo looked on from a stand of trees nearby. She didn't blame her partner one bit for her strong reaction. Mulder hadn't seen the emotional pain the woman had been put through over the last two months. For God's sake, she thought she had driven the man to suicide.

Scully leaned over the downed man. "GODDAMN YOU, MULDER! WHAT THE HELL DID YOU THINK YOU WERE DOING?"

Mulder gasped again and tried to speak, his words coming only in short bursts. "I...Scully, I wanted...(gasp)...them to save you. You were...(gasp)...dying because of me."

"So you caused me even more pain by faking your own death?"

"It was...(gasp)...the only way."

"You don't get it, do you Mulder? Don't you understand I would rather have died of cancer than lose you?"

Mulder looked up at her. The pain in her eyes told him the truth behind her words.

"Oh, Scully. I never meant to hurt you."

She looked at him sadly, her anger dissipating. "You never do, Mulder. You never do." She reached a hand down, and he took it. When he stood, they embraced, Scully's head resting comfortably under his chin. And Fox Mulder knew he was where he belonged.

Megan Largo looked away. She walked further into the woods, giving the two some time together. That's what she would have wanted if it had been Ben Campbell. <But then, Ben never would have hid in a mountain cabin, letting me think he was dead.>

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

10:30 am

Inside the cabin, which Scully found out actually belonged to a relative of Byers, Mulder told her the story of his death and rebirth. She still wasn't happy with him, but the shock of finding him alive was still with her, and occasionally she reached out an arm to touch him, reassuring herself of his presence, and this not a dream.

She was still in a semi-daze when he finished his story, telling her of his arrival in Bend, and of his association with MUFON. Regardless of what she said, he knew what he saw as a 12-year-old boy. Samantha floated out of that window and into the bright lights of an alien spacecraft, and no Scully-logic was going to change his mind about that. He'd been hanging out with the MUFON people because of their reports about unidentified flying objects near McCade Air Force Base. A base which didn't appear on any US Government maps.

Scully just nodded. She'd heard all of this before, and in her state of shock, she wondered if she was simply having a severe episode of deja vu.

Then Mulder asked about herself, about the X-Files, and about her health.

She noted his asking about his beloved X-Files first, and appeased him by telling him about her meeting with Section Chief Blevins and his cronies, and about the subsequent reorganization of the Division with her as Head Agent and Megan Largo under her supervision.

Mulder frowned at this and they both suddenly scanned the room, as if previously unaware of Largo's absence.

Scully went on to tell him about her sudden, mysterious reaction after one radiation treatment, then about her meeting with Coen.

"Misdiagnosis?" Mulder narrowed his eyes suspiciously.

"Yes, Mulder, misdiagnosis. I know that's a cover. And I know they were giving me something probably similar to methyltrexate, a drug whose side effects include fatigue, nausea, and, in some, depression. In high enough doses, it can simulate all of the symptoms I was experiencing. It also dries the sinus cavities out, and I believe this is what caused the nosebleeds.

"Now, Mulder, I know this is huge. It's something that took me a long time to deal with. The fact that they used me as a patsy was very difficult to deal with, but I've realized that I need to go on with my life. I can't sit and dwell on it. In part, that's something I learned from Megan Largo."

Mulder's eyes again narrowed. "Yes, what's with this new partner of yours, anyway. She's just a kid."

Scully shot an angry look at him. "Largo's an excellent agent. Don't you start in on her. I know she looks young, but she's more than I could have ever hoped for, after..."

"Scully, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to rag on your new partner. I guess I just didn't expect it. I guess I never thought about you with someone else."

"I never had either, Mulder, but it's working out well so far. If it wasn't for her sharp eyes and memory, I'd never have found you."

"Well, Scully, I think after today, you should just forget about me."

"WHAT!" Her Irish temper flared. "Mulder, what are you talking about? You're going back to Washington, back to your old life. I'm not going to let you sit out here in the middle of nowhere and waste away getting drunk and watching UFO's with the rest of that group of yours!"

"Scully, what makes you think I can go back to my old life?"

"We'll make it happen. Mulder, I don't have cancer anymore. You SAID that was why you faked your death, so why can't we go back to our lives again?"

"They'll find another way to make us suffer, Scully."

"I don't think so, Mulder. The X-Files doesn't cover UFO-related phenomena anymore. Since Largo's come to work with me, I haven't even sniffed the remnants of the Cancer Man in the hallways, let alone seen him."

"If UFOs and alien abductions are out of the picture, why would I want to go back?"

Scully stared at Mulder with eyes of steel. "I knew it wasn't about me. It's the same old thing, isn't it, Mulder? You didn't fake suicide to save me. You did it because I lost your pet project for you, didn't you? You knew that once I was completely convinced UFO-related incidents were all hoaxes proported by the shadow government; you know then that the X-Files, as you knew them, were over. That's really it, isn't it, Mulder? You gave up on your work with the Bureau and your partnership with me so you could pursue this crap on your own, didn't you."

Mulder looked away, caught between anger and shame. She was partially right, but she was wrong too. He simply accomplished two missions with one act. She just didn't understand.

"Scully, I did do it for you...and for myself as well. I still need to find her Scully. She's still alive, I know it, and she's still out there, somewhere."

"And you think you have a better chance of finding her from here?" She glanced over at the PC in the corner. "You think you can use the Internet to find a person They've been hiding from you for over twenty years?"

"I don't know, Scully. But I have to try. There was nothing left for me in the Bureau."

"That's right, Mulder. Nothing...except for me."

"That's not fair Scully!"

"You're right, it's not fair of me to think that maybe we were more than partners, that after all we'd been through, maybe we were friends as well. No, I should never have thought that."

"Scully," Mulder said in a quiet voice as his eyes filled with tears, "you are my best friend."

"You were mine too, Mulder. But then you 'died', and I was devastated. So you'll have to forgive me for being upset by the fact that you left me, AGAIN, to go look for lights in the sky. But this time, you didn't just run off. This time I thought you were dead. Mulder, I saw your body on the floor. I was so upset I had to leave. I didn't even look more than once. I thought *I* was going to die, die from the grief, from the sorrow of losing you."

The tears flowed freely down Mulder's face and into his unfamiliar, color-treated beard as he looked down at his hands in shame. "Scully, I'm so sorry. Please forgive me."

The tone in his voice nearly broke her heart, and she felt tears in her own eyes. "It's going to take some time, Mulder. But for now, I can only say how glad I am you *are* alive."

Mulder leaned over and pulled Scully to his chest. He held her for a long time, so happy to feel her. He bent and put his cheek down on the top of her head. He inhaled and smelled the faint, sweet scent of strawberries he associated with only one person: his best friend, Dana Scully.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

10:55 am

Largo, gratefully, had left her jacket in the car. The temperature was once again high, about 98 degrees, she estimated. Bend was also situated up high among the Cascade mountain range, and they were nearly a mile high. She'd dressed more casually today, and, luckily, had worn black leather hiking boots which matched her black cotton slacks. She almost hadn't, because they had thick heels, when she wore them she neared six feet in height. Although she liked this, because it put her at eye-level with most men, it emphasized the height differential between herself and her more diminutive partner.

Now, however, traipsing among the blackberries bushes and scrubbrush, she was glad she had dressed down. Her t-shirt still clung to her back as she walked, but she had always enjoyed exploring new places. As children, she and Michael had spent many summer days wandering aimlessly around small trails on Redwood reservation. Their grandfather used to tell them stories of children who walked into the woods and didn't return for ten years, but they were never scared. As long as they had each other, the twins were fearless.

Today, Megan wished her brother could be here with her. He would have enjoyed the state of Oregon, with it's high deserts, lush valleys, and beautiful Pacific Ocean. But she knew her brother would never leave Minnesota. His life was there, on the res, with his new wife, whom they both had known since childhood. Megan knew her grandfather was pleased that Michael had chosen to marry a Dakota woman. She also knew that Joseph Little Bear, or Mahtodan (Ma-TOW-dawn) as he was called, held out little of the same hope for her. Her grandfather had once confronted her on the subject of her lifestyle, although she had never told him, and she doubted that Michael had. He just knew. Actually, she realized that old Mahtodan had probably pulled the same trick on her that she did to others. He just looked into her eyes and saw it. Joseph Little Bear was much better at 'it' than she, and she figured she probably received the talent from him. He was considered a powerful Pejutawicasta (Pay-ZHOO-ta-wee-CHA-shta), or Medicine Man.

She pushed a small pine branch out of her way and proceeded along a small, barely traceable path leading into a clearing. Lost in her thoughts, Largo didn't see or smell the body until she was halfway into the clearing.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

'Nick Charles' Mountain Cabin
11:55 am

There was a knock at the door, and Mulder knew who it was. The 'new partner'. <She's probably some spy, sent by Them> he thought with disdain as he answered the door.

Largo came in, a little dirty and disheveled. "I'm sorry to interrupt," she said truthfully, "but there's a dead body in the woods about two miles up."

Mulder's eyes went wide, and he stepped aside as Largo entered. She wiped her sweaty brow with the sleeve of her now-dirty t-shirt (she'd come down the hill quickly, and caught a few branches in the face in her haste) as she headed for the telephone. She picked it up and was ready to dial when Scully spoke,

"Largo, what are you talking about?"

Largo replaced the receiver and quickly gave her partner a rundown. Fresh in her mind was a vivid mental picture of the picked-over flesh and bones she'd seen in the clearing.

A swarm of ants, beetles, spiders, and maggots had covered the decaying remains of a naked body. There was virtually nothing left of the face, and she had seen the shiny white bone of a tibia. The flesh was also gone from the victim's right arm, which lay askew from the body. Only one putrid eyeball remained within the skull, and looking at it had nearly driven over the edge. But she fought back the urge to vomit and had tried her cellphone, only to find herself out of range. The surrounding trees made the call impossible. So she'd quickly run back down to the cabin and the mystery man inside it with her red-headed partner.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

12:45 pm

Sheriff Hinds arrived with Officer Janell and a few others in tow. Hinds assured them the medical examiner was on his way with the wagon which would transport the body to the morgue. They all started up the trail together, but were soon stopped by Hinds.

"Why is he going with us?" He asked Scully, pointing a finger at Mulder.

Mulder and Scully stared at each other, both momentarily speechless. Largo spoke for them. "Sheriff, we believe Mr. Charles may be able to identify the body. We'll keep him away until he is needed."

Mulder was a little disgruntled at being relegated to civilian status by Scully's new *partner*, but kept his grumbles to himself.

"But isn't he a natural suspect?" Hinds asked, confused.

<Bet your ass he is, Hinds.> Largo thought grimly.

Instead she said, "We have nothing linking Mr. Charles to the crime at this time, Sheriff." She hated treating local law enforcement like idiots, but considering the fact that Mulder and Scully had both gone suddenly mute, she was given little choice.

Once at the site, Scully and Largo each pulled on latex gloves as the Deschutes County Sheriff's Department got sick in the bushes. As they were doing so, Mulder took the opportunity to hunker down beside them.

"What do you think, Scully?" He asked, ignoring the look Largo shot him. She felt he should be staying away, he wasn't an official member of the investigative team, plus she was pissed off at what he'd done to Dana Scully. He had two strikes against him, and he had just looked at a borderline pitch on the outside corner.

Scully gave the body a quick once-over. "It's hard to tell in these conditions. The decomposition is going to make it hard to estimate cause of death or give an accurate time of death. Right now I can't tell if it's been one week or three."

"Scully," Largo said, grabbing her attention. She held a hand over the right lower abdomen area of the body. It was swarming with flies and maggots. "Does this area look as though it's been exposed for longer?"

Scully made a displeased face. "Hard to say for sure, but it certainly had drawn a higher concentration of maggots, which means it has been exposed a long time."

A look of confusion crossed Mulder's face, and Scully explained, "What hasn't been made public knowledge is that these cases involve an M.O. similar to that of Eugene Victor Tooms."

The women watched the color drain from Mulder's face. "No."

"I'm afraid so. Right now we're not sure if we've got coincidence, a copycat, or another person like Tooms."

Mulder digested this as the Sheriff returned to the scene. "So, Charles, you know who this was?"

Mulder shook his head. "Never seen 'em before, but then, I'm not sure if I would recognized the person if I did know them."

Scully stood and spoke to the Sheriff. "I'd like to get the body to the morgue as soon as possible. Let's get the stretcher set up and take him down. As I'm working on the autopsy, maybe your department can try to determine who this is."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

2:05 pm

Largo went through missing persons reports with Tim Janell while Scully did the autopsy on the new body. She definitely did not envy her partner's job, and was glad to be far from the morgue. Finding it was bad enough for her. She was a little disgruntled, however, by Fox Mulder's insistence upon hanging out in the morgue's waiting room for Scully to finish. It wasn't anything personal, but the cops were asking her the questions they should have been asking him. "Why was he still there?", "What was his involvement with this case?", "Is he hot for the red-head?" All the questions were putting a little extra pressure on her, pressure that was unneeded at this time. She had enough on her mind already without having to deal with Mulder's presence and the questions that arose from it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

3:35 pm

She entered the morgue where Scully was still working. Missing persons had turned up nothing, but Scully had given her a call on her cell.

As she passed Mulder, they exchanged rather cold looks. She pulled the door to the morgue open and stepped inside.

Scully leaned over the body, now clear of insects. Largo stepped over to the counter and picked up a jar of Vicks' Vapo-Rub. She smeared a dab of it under each nostril and approached the body.

"Well," Scully said, "we've got ourselves a John Doe."

"There are three males on the missing persons list, but all three have been there for at least a month. How fresh is this?"

"Pretty. I can't make a definitive decision, but I'd say he's been dead no longer than four days."

"Four days!" Largo's eyebrows shot up and she looked Scully in the eyes. Seriously, she said, "This doesn't look too good for your buddy Mulder."

"What!"

"Scully," Largo explained, "the body was found in a clearing on his property. The police are going to suspect him, even if we know better."

"*I* know better, Largo, but do you?"

"Scully, that's not fair. I don't even know the guy. But he is FBI, and if you say it's not possible, then it's not possible."

"It's not possible."

"Okay. So, what did John Doe die of?"

"Also undetermined. I can only tell what he didn't die of. He didn't die of a gunshot, of asphyxiation, of drowning, its probable he didn't die of a knife wound..."

"I get the picture. What about the ribcage area?" Largo asked, moving on to a new subject.

"The liver is gone, but that doesn't mean much. Most of the large intestine on the right side, the pancreas, spleen, and half of the stomach is gone as well."

"Bite or teeth marks?"

"None."

"Damn. We're no closer to a solution."

"I don't know, Largo. Forensic evidence hasn't been helpful so far. Maybe we need to be a little more resourceful in our detective work."

Largo nodded. "We should take a look at our murder locations. Maybe we can put someone in or around all three sites."

"Let's talk it over with Mulder, see what he thinks." With that, she took off her protective eyewear and walked out of the morgue. Reluctantly, Megan Largo followed.

Mulder sat patiently in the waiting area, slowly filling a paper cup with sunflower seed shells. At Scully's approach he stood, hands on hips as he bent his head closer to hers. Largo stood outside their two-person circle, her irritation rising another notch.

When Scully finished giving him a rundown on the autopsy results, he said, "I think you need to take a close look at each of the murder sites. Maybe you can find someone who has a connection to each."

Largo threw up her hands and rolled her eyes. "My God! What a great idea. I with I could have thought of that!" She stormed down the hall and out of the morgue area, leaving Mulder and Scully alone.

"What's her problem?" Mulder asked, a note of disdain in his voice.

Scully still watched the bay doors swing slightly from Largo's fiery exit. "It's been a long day for her. And she had a similar suggestion earlier."

"Humph. Kind of overreacting, don't you think? Anyway, I think if you concen--"

Scully interrupted, "No, Mulder, I don't think she overreacted. In fact, now that I think about it, she's entirely right. Megan Largo is my partner. She and I are working together to solve this case. You--well, here in Bend, Oregon you're 'Nick Charles', but in actuality, you're a dead man." And with that, Dana Scully walked down the hall, following her partner's path to the exit.

"Scully, wait! Don't leave me here."

Scully quickly spun on a heel. "Leave you, Mulder? Leave you? I have NEVER left you in the four years we worked together. You, on the other hand, ditched me at every opportunity you could find. You left me high and dry, holding the bag, expecting me to cover for you while you were off chasing God-knows-what. And that, Mulder, is something Largo has never done. She has always respected me as a person and as a capable field agent. Excuse me, Mulder, I need to meet with my partner."

She spun once more, lab coat swirling around her legs. She was gone like the wind, leaving an open-mouthed Fox Mulder standing shocked and alone in a county morgue.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Scully found Largo calmly speaking with Deputy Janell. They were standing in front of a large map of Deschutes County which was tacked to the wall. She was now wearing a large navy-blue t-shirt with a gold-star over the right breast around which read 'Deschutes County Sheriff's Department'. Janell had dug it out of a desk drawer to replace the dirty white one she'd worn during her trek through the hills.

Janell stuck a red tack in the map, saying, "And here's where Charles lives." Largo stood slightly behind him with one arm crossed in front of her, the other propped under her chin. Scully approached the pair.

"Largo, I need to talk to you."

The two women walked into the empty interrogation room and shut the door behind them. Unlike the room in Alexandria, this had no two-way mirrors, no hidden tape recorders or microphones.

"Largo, I owe you an apology."

The tall, dark woman looked away. She twisted the hem of her t-shirt between nervous fingers. "You don't need to apologize. I'm the one who should be sorry. I shouldn't have said that. It was rude and sarcastic and uncalled for."

Scully shook her head. "You only said it because I treated you like crap back there. It was hard not to fall back into my old patterns with Mulder. He used to be head of the Division, you know, and--"

"And he turned his back on everything in his life by pretending to have shot himself in the head. Then he made you come down and identify his 'dead' body. I'm having a bit of difficulty dealing with a person who could do that to his partner, Scully. And quite possibly the most difficult part is this: for what? Why didn't he tell you? Why fake your own death? So you can move to Oregon and join MUFON? Either that man is a completely self-absorbed asshole, or I'm missing a vital piece of information here!"

The women stared at each other, Largo almost out of breath from her tirade, Scully emotionally exhausted. She felt trapped. Trapped between feelings, between logic and emotion, between her old partner and her new one.

Dana Scully was a strong woman, and Largo thought her more akin to a piece of iron than the delicate flower she outwardly appeared to be. So when she saw the hint of tears well up in the small woman's eyes, she instantly felt her heart ache with regret.

She stepped closer to Scully and put a hand on her shoulder. "Scully, I'm so sorry. God, I wasn't thinking, I'm acting like an idiot today."

Scully looked down, fighting for control. "It's just that I feel caught in the middle, Largo. There's him, and then there's you--"

"And never the twain shall meet?" Largo laughed gently, a peace offering. "It doesn't have to be like that, Scully." Hard as it was to say the words, she continued. "I don't dislike him. Hell, I don't even know him. I'm upset by what he put you through, and by the fact that he's been hanging out here all day. The locals are asking me why, and I have to lie to them. I don't like being put in that position, Scully. I believe his unofficial presence could jeopardize our investigation. he's either got to come clean, or stay completely out of this."

Scully thought that over. "Yes, you're right. However, I'm not sure what he's going to do. I mentioned his coming back to DC and he didn't seem excited by the prospect."

"Well, besides you, what's back there for him?"

"The X-Files are still back there. If Skinner found out he was alive, he'd re-assign Mulder as head of the Division in a heartbeat."

Largo frowned a little, nonplused by the idea of Mulder as her superior. That is, if she'd even still be there. This job, the job she loved, might only be a memory if that happened. Still, she vowed to stay neutral on the subject of Mulder's return.

So she said, "Who knows what will happen. Right now we need to focus on finding this guy. If Mulder wants to help, I think that would be great, but we've got to go through official channels."

"Agreed."

"Okay then, why don't you talk to him, see what he wants to do." She checked her watch. It was after 5:00. "Maybe you two should have dinner and discuss it, after you shower, of course."

"What, are you saying I smell?"

"No, but I don't care for your new perfume, 'eau de decomposition'."

Scully smiled at that, a sight Largo was happy to see.

"I'm staying here for awhile, then I'll get Janell to drop me at the motel. See you there later."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Blue Moon Restaurant
6:25 pm

Mulder and Scully ate in nervous silence, each uncomfortable with their current situation. Mulder was still a little shaken by Scully's angry words in the morgue, which was unusual for him. Most times he didn't really let the emotions of other people bother him. So focused upon his own goals and ideas was he that others' didn't seem to matter all that much. However, Scully's outburst had broken through and sat very heavily on his chest. He had never realized the full extent of the pain he had caused her by his actions. He hadn't thought she would blame herself for his 'suicide', and he hadn't thought she'd be carrying such a heavy burden of guilt with her.

Scully picked at her grilled chicken, pushing it back and forth across the plate without eating much of it. Occasionally she glanced up at Mulder, but when he turned to meet her gaze she quickly looked down at her plate. It wasn't normal for her to be like this, not meeting a problem head on, but the day's events had taken a huge toll on her. It was no wonder she'd been acting irrationally.

Mulder broke the uncomfortable silence. "Scully, you really are looking so much better. I'm so glad to see you healthy again."

She was surprised by the sort-of compliment. Mulder rarely directly commented on her physical appearance. But she was pleased by the statement and thanked him warmly.

He went on to ask about her mother, Skinner, and what had happened to his apartment.

Scully leveled her gaze as she told him. "You're apartment is in much the same condition you left it in, Mulder. Your mother has made rent payments, but so far has refused to go there herself."

Mulder had no reply for this, his face a blank mask.

"And what do you think she will do when she sees you alive?" Scully asked.

"Probably slap me across the face again. That is, if I ever do see her again. It's quite possible I'll remain Nick Charles for the rest of my life. "

"That's what we really need to talk about."

"I figured."

"I spoke with Largo, and we agreed we would like your help on the case, but only if you help us as Fox Mulder. You would have to go through official channels, notify Skinner of the fact you are alive, and be reinstated as a field agent."

Mulder scratched his chin. "Tall order for a dead man, Scully. And if I won't?"

"Then go back home and get out your night-vision goggles, because you'll have plenty of time to look for lights in the sky."

"So you'll accept me as Mulder, but not as Nick Charles?"

She nodded. "That's the way it would have to be."

"Why?"

Scully pursed her lips, giving him one of her looks. "Because Nick Charles is probably the Deschutes County Sheriff's number one suspect in this case. Also, because it's not fair of you to make us lie to the locals about you."

"You mean Largo doesn't like it."

"Neither of us likes it, Mulder. True, I've lied for you more times than I can count, but this is different. This is putting extraneous pressure on us while we need to be focusing entirely on the case."

Mulder ate the last piece of his steak. He chewed for a long time before finally swallowing. He took a sip of his draft beer and said, "I'll need some time to think it over, Scully."

"You can think about it tonight and give me your answer in the morning. Fair?"

"Fair."

They finished eating and left the restaurant. Scully drove Mulder home in virtual silence.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Three Sisters Motor Lodge
6:25 pm

Largo closed the motel room door behind her and sprawled out on the bed, exhausted from the day's events. She stared up at the cracks in the plaster ceiling, morosely contemplating both the present and the future. She sighed and reached for the telephone, hoping to reach the one person who could pull her out of her funk.

Jolyn Parker's phone rang four times, then the answering machine kicked in. Largo hung up, frustrated. Suddenly she had an idea and dialed her own home number. She got four rings there as well, then heard her own voice telling her to leave a message.

"Jo, are you there? It's me and I really--"

There was a loud click and a low, anxious voice said, "Meg?"

"It's so nice to hear someone say my first name. Sometimes I forget I have one. How are you, Jo?"

"Lonely. I miss you, Megan."

"I miss you too. What did you do today, Jo?"

"Same thing I've done every weekday for the last month. Research. Did you really call me up just to ask about the Acquitaine Witch Hunts of 1523?"

"Actually, yes. I've had a really strange day, and right now I would love it if you told me about something incredibly banal and uninteresting that happened to you today."

"What was so strange about your day?"

"You first. Please, Jo, I just need to hear you talk for awhile."

"Okay, I got to the library at nine or so, and grabbed some documents on film. I went to take a look at them, but was pissed off to see Dave Garcia sitting at my favorite microfiche reader. The nerve of that guy! He knows *I* sit there every day. The chair is perfectly molded to fit *my* ass, not Dave Garcia's."

Laying alone on her motel bed, Largo grinned. "Dave Garcia, huh? Any relation to Andy?"

"Ha! Maybe Jerry, but definitely not Andy. Anyway, later he asks me if he can borrow one of my highlighters, and the bastard never gave it back!"

"Pisser."

"You know it! Oh, here's something else. I came over here after the library, about five, and what do I see? You know those cheese flavored Goldfish things you always eat half a bowl of and let the rest sit for a week before throwing them out?"

"Well...I wouldn't say a week--"

"Meg, your housekeeping skills are a little lacking."

Pointedly, Largo said, "The story?"

"Oh yeah, well I came in today and Lenny was eating those crusty, stale old crackers you probably left out on Tuesday."

"Hey, the cat has good taste."

"Ten minutes later he threw them up. Like you said, he has good taste. He's getting to be a pig. He eats everything I put in his bowl every day, plus has a little 'happy hour' nosh in the afternoon."

Largo glanced at her watch, did the quick math. "So, Jolyn, have you been feeding my cat for five hours? Why are you still there?"

There was silence on the other end of the line for a moment. Then, in a smaller voice, Jo replied, "I miss you so much when you're away, Meg. This is the first time you caught me, but sometimes I stay here at nights. I wear your pj's and sleep in your bed and sometimes I sit at your piano. It makes me feel like maybe you aren't so far away."

Largo felt a tear slip out the corner of her left eye. She let it roll down to her ear untouched. "I love you, Jo."

"I love you too, Meg. Come back soon."

"I'm trying, but we're getting nowhere right now. Well, I guess that's not true. This has been a day full of strange revelations."

"What do you mean?"

"I found two dead men today."

"That's horrible."

"Well, one was dead, the other was only pretending."

"I'm not following."

"Remember Scully, my partner?"

"Of course, the red-head. She's beautiful."

"Watch it, babe. That's my partner you're talking about! Besides, I heard you were taken."

"Just because I can't go fishing doesn't mean I can't look at the lake, does it?"

Largo made it a point to ignore this. "Any way...Scully's old partner supposedly died in May, a suicide. But today we found him alive and well and living in Bend, Oregon. That bastard Mulder took a powder and let her think he was dead, let her think she'd driven him to it, actually."

"Did you say Mulder, as in Fox Mulder?"

Largo's reply was tentative. "You know him?"

"We've spoken on the phone. Occasionally, he used to call for information."

"Information?"

"On witches, witchcraft, mediumism. Once he asked me about all the possible significances of a pentacle. He was a little strange, but generally pleasant, and definitely interested in anything I could give him. I read about his death in the paper, but didn't know Scully was his partner."

This was getting too weird. Mulder even knew her girlfriend! Was there no place safe from him? No place in her life he couldn't insinuate himself into?

"Meg? What's wrong?"

"Nothing. It's just that Mulder's presence is stirring things up a little. I think it's whacking Scully out bigtime."

"And?"

"And...I'm happy the man's not dead, but it changes my whole situation."

"Now I see. Meg, you've got to keep things in perspective. Don't get too upset right now. You've got to wait and see how it pans out. For now, I guess the three of you have to pick yourselves up and work together to solve those murders. But you won't be of any use if you get distracted by the other stuff."

"You're right."

"Of course I am. Now, enough about that." Jo's voice dropped to a low, seductive whisper. "What are you wearing?"

They both laughed, said their good-byes, and hung up. Largo felt much better, refreshed and revitalized. She also felt very positive and confident they would find a solution to the case before them. Whistling happily, she undressed and showered, washing this day out of her pores and off her skin. She felt that something big was just around the corner, and with her instinctive curiosity was eager to find out what it was.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Saturday August 9, 1997
7:25 am

The night had been a fitful one for Scully. She'd always been so logical, so practical, she prided herself on showing no emotion throughout the ups and downs of her professional, as well as personal life.

<Who am I kidding?> She asked herself, looking at her reflection in the mirror. <This *is* my personal life.>

True, her job had long ago consumed almost all aspects of her life. She had few close friends, no romantic involvements, and the only people she truly felt close to were her mother and Mulder. One of those relationships had been ripped away on an early morning in May. Now he was back, unexpectedly back, and trying to deal with this was almost as hard as it had been to deal with his 'death'.

She wavered between contempt for his insensitivity and complete forgiveness. She wanted to slap him and she wanted to throw her arms around him and squeeze him tight. She thought about the hospital in Allentown, where she'd initially gone for cancer treatments with the infamous Dr. Scanlon. Mulder had been so warm and supportive. She remembered the smile and the glow in his hazel eyes when she told him she was going to fight for her life; when she told him she still had so much to prove. He'd pulled her into a tight embrace, and she'd heard the beating of his heart underneath his sweater. In that moment, it was almost as if they were one.

But in the following weeks he'd grown so distant, so...irrational, even for Mulder. He'd snapped at her when she told him about seeing the apparition in the bathroom during what she called the 'She Is Me' case back in D.C. And what was he thinking during that 'lost weekend' in Massachusetts? For God's sake, he let that sadist psychiatrist give him animal tranquilizers and drill a hole in his head! And for what? To possibly recapture memories of Samantha's abduction. She remembered the fear she felt seeing him hold the gun to his throat. It was worse than the apprehension felt when he turned the gun on her. No matter what his state of mind, Scully was confident Mulder would never shoot her. Shoot himself--now that was another matter entirely. That was also why it hadn't been difficult to believe he'd actually done it only a week later.

Could she work with him again? And what about her current situation? What about Megan Largo, the mercurial, energetic, somewhat mysterious young woman with the strange talent for 'seeing a lie'? Largo was a good partner, and over the course of the last few months Scully felt they'd established a bond. Did she trust Largo? Yes. Did she understand her? No way.

One of the biggest questions of all was this: could Largo and Mulder work together? She wasn't sure about that one. She could sense the tension between them, she'd have to be blind not to see the way Mulder resented the girl. He probably believed what she originally had, that Largo had been sent by Them to destroy the remnants of the X-Files Division. It would take time for him to trust her.

As for Largo, Scully knew she was nervous. Early on, she realized how much Largo loved her work in the basement. Now, the young woman was in jeopardy of losing her position and being reassigned to another area.

Scully was startled out of her trance by a tentative knock on the doorframe. As if on cue, Megan Largo stood there, a cardboard tray of hot drinks from a place called 'Coffee People' in hand. The worried expression in the dark young woman's clear green eyes made Scully blink.

"Scully, are you okay? I didn't mean to frighten you, but you've been staring in that mirror for five minutes now."

"I'm fine."

Largo wore her hiking boots, blue jeans, and a large, pale yellow t-shirt. "Sure you are." She said, a little sarcastically. "You look tired. Here," she held our a tall paper cup, "this'll pick you up. Double latte, your fave."

Scully took a sip, looking Largo up and down. "Largo, why are you dressed like that?" She herself wore pumps, black trousers, and a sea-green blazer over a shell. Standard FBI agent apparel.

"Well, I've got an idea for today, but maybe I should hold off on it until we hear from Mulder."

"So what's your theory?"

"I wasn't sure if you wanted to hear it before we talked to Mulder. If he's joining us and has other ideas then we'll probably--"

Scully cut her off. "Largo, I want you to tell me your idea. Even if he decides to do this with us, we are exploring all avenues of investigation. We're all working to solve this, it isn't going to be Mulder calling all the shots."

"Okay. Come into my room."

Scully followed Largo through the connecting door and into a room that mirrored her own. On the wooden table sat a map of Bend. Three red dots marked sites where bodies had been found. Largo picked up the red felt marker and connected the dots, creating a triangle.

"I think we've been looking at this case from the wrong angle. We've tried to establish a connection between the victims through people they know. But what did you tell me about Tooms? That he selected his victims at random. If this killer is indeed, like Tooms, he or she may do the same. Maybe I'm wrong, but liver-eating mutants who take 30 year naps probably don't make a lot of active social connections.

"So what I'm thinking is that our killer's 'lair' is somewhere in this vicinity." She tapped the red triangle with a brown finger. "He's found victims while out prowling, possibly near his home. If you were to drive this area, it would take you twenty minutes on the twisting highways and over winding hills, but the area is actually quite small, only about ten square miles."

"So what's your plan?"

"Scour the area. See who lives up in those hills. Maybe more Harry Weinburgs, maybe more Fox Mulders, but I think someone up there is a Eugene Tooms."

"We have absolutely no forensic evidence to lend plausibility to the hypothesis of a Tooms-like killer."

Largo shrugged, "Nor anything to disprove it."

There was a knock on the door. The women turned in unison, then looked at each other.

"Who is it?" Scully called.

A low, even voice on the other side replied, "The FBI's most unwanted."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"So, Mulder, have you come to a decision?" Scully asked, crossing her arms over her chest.

"Yes," Mulder said, seating himself in one of the room's chairs. Scully took the other while Largo sat on the bed she'd recently made. He let the silence stretch out for a moment, then said, "I've decided to rejoin the Bureau. I called Skinner this morning."

"What did you tell him?" Scully interjected.

"The same story I'm going to tell everyone. It'll be the 'official version'. I told Skinner I'd received word from an informant that someone would try to kill me and that I wasn't safe as long as I was alive. My only recourse was to fake my own death in order to remain alive. I told him that the threat has passed and I now feel comfortable returning to my life."

"You think he believed it?"

Mulder eyed her carefully. He and Skinner shared secrets Scully may never know. The AD definitely suspected more than what he was told, but understood the importance of a reliable 'official version', and would duly note Mulder's story as thus for the record.

Megan Largo also know much about Walter Skinner's depth of understanding. She knew of the stormy past between Walt and his most effective, and most aggravating agent. Largo knew Skinner would accept Mulder's official story for the paperwork, but would expect only the truth from her.

Mulder gazed at his blue-eyed partner. "I believe so. He agreed to emergency reinstatement, and placed a call to the Sheriff's office vouching for me. I don't have any credentials right now, but as long as I stick with you I should be fine."

"Welcome back to the land of the living Mulder...again."

"Thanks. I've been thinking about this case, and I think we'd be wrong to assume the killer is a normal human being. I think we have another Tooms on our hands, one who recently awoke from hibernation with a healthy appetite. Now--"

"Mulder," Scully interrupted, "we've had similar thoughts." She glanced at Largo, who still sat on the bed. Meg smiled slightly as their eyes met. "Come look at the map here. We believe the perpetrator's nest is probably somewhere within this area." She tapped the red triangle with a fingernail.

"Scully. I'm a little surprised at your...open-mindedness...in considering this avenue of investigation."

"I've seen Eugene Tooms in action, Mulder. From close range. If there's any possibility there's another creature like him out there, we need to find out. We need to check it out in order to eliminate the very possibility."

"I agree." Mulder said with a nod. He too had dressed in outdoor apparel, anticipating a day of trekking through the woods.

Scully looked down at her clothes and said, "I'm going to change. you two play nice while I'm gone." She returned to her room, closing the door between the two motel rooms. Mulder and Largo were alone.

"Well Mulder," Largo began, "it's nice to finally meet you. I've heard a lot about you from--"

"Oh really?" He interrupted, "That's strange, because I've heard almost nothing about you. Tell me about yourself, Agent Largo."

It was a lie. As soon as Scully'd dropped him off last night he called The Gunmen to fill them in and get a background check on Megan Largo. He'd spent an hour pouring over it early this morning. However, he couldn't let her know that, and besides, her small talk would fill the empty air between them until Scully's return.

"You haven't, have you? That surprises me, Mulder. I thought you'd be on the phone to your little hacker buddies, having them run right out to get the scoop on me.

Mulder sat stonefaced. So she knew about The Gunmen, did she? What else did she know? And who did she know? And did she smell like smoke after meetings with them?

"Well, their picture wasn't complete. I know you're half-native American. What tribe?"

"I'm Dakota. The common name, the one you probably know us by, is Sioux, but please don't call me that."

"Why not?"

"It's a bastardization of an Ojibway word meaning 'snake in the grass'. It's an offensive term, and it's not our real name."

"Did you speak the Dakota language as a child? Is that why you talk funny?"

"I don't talk funny."

"Yes you do, it's very precise, as though you're concentrating on every word. And you emphasize different syllables than Scully and I do when we talk."

"Okay, I admit it, I have an accent."

"It's not a bad thing. It's actually very pleasant."

"Pleasant?"

"You have a nice voice."

"Thank you, Mulder."

"Largo, how old are you?"

Largo threw back her head and laughed. "Surely your little cheat sheet must have told you that."

"I wasn't sure if it was a misprint. Your whole file is confusing. I thought maybe it was inaccurate."

"It's probably correct, but unique. I'm twenty-six. Graduated college at 19, grad school at 22. Went to the Academy, and was assigned to Portland just after my twenty-third birthday."

"So, you some kind of genius?"

"No, just very good at integrating information. I associate many things with many things, if that makes sense."

Mulder thought for a moment. "You were in a drug-related car accident last winter. Have you suffered ill effects from it?"

Largo's face turned serious. "I'll be suffering ill effects from it for the rest of my life."

"I'm sorry, what I meant to ask is if you have residual imaging episodes?"

"Flashbacks? No, at least so far I haven't." She thumped the nightstand beside her. "Knock wood."

Mulder forced a smile. "Okay, here's another. Who did you live with between 1985 and 1987, during the time you attended Cannon High School in Minneapolis?"

Largo looked him steadily in the eyes. He was a sharp one, this man Mulder. "Walter and Sharon Skinner."

Mulder swallowed reflexively.

<Skinner?...Skinner?>

He didn't know what to say to that. It changed everything, and pulled some details into a much sharper focus.

"So is Skinner like your godfather or something?"

"Something like that. You'd better be careful...if you're not nice to me, he might send someone out to break your kneecaps."

"As long as he gives me a good spaghetti dinner beforehand, and lots of wine."

The smiled at the small joke, and a tiny bit of the tension between them eased. Scully re-entered the room and caught them smiling.

"Well," she said, hiding her surprise, "if this isn't a Kodak moment."

Largo stood up and stretched. "Yeah, and don't worry, *we've* decided to let you play with us Scully." She said with an ironic laugh. She walked over to her bag and picked up a gray baseball cap with a black Velcro strap on the back. "But only if you wear this." She held the cap out to Scully, who looked at it skeptically.

"What's this for?"

"Scully, it's going to be 98 degrees out there and we'll be outside all day."

Scully turned a wicked eye on the younger woman. "Largo, are you calling me a paleface?"

Largo laughed again, a rich velvety sound. "If the shoe fits!"

Even Mulder had to smile a little at the easy humor between the two women. He could see that Scully and her new 'partner' had formed a bond.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

8:37 am

The agents stopped by the Sheriff's office to pick up walkie-talkies and, hopefully, Deputy Tim Janell. That had been Scully's idea.

"We can cover more ground if we split into two groups, but I don't want anyone alone. Janell knows the territory, he'll be useful."

"And he likes you, Largo." Mulder added. If you'd have told him to jump in the river all he'd have asked is 'which one?'."

Largo replied with a nervous laugh and shot a glance at Scully from behind the wheel. She'd automatically jumped into the driver's seat back at the motel, and Scully noticed the way Mulder had relegated himself to the backseat without comment.

<This is going to be interesting.> She thought, watching the scenery fly by.

Janell wasn't at the station, this being Saturday morning, but Sheriff Hinds placed a call to his home. He hung up and said, "He'll be here in twenty minutes."

Mulder grinned lewdly at Largo, who responded with a crooked little half-smile.

<This is *definitely* going to be interesting.> Scully thought once more.

Once Tim Janell arrived, the foursome wasted little time in heading out to the area triangulated on their map. They briefed Janell in the car.

The young deputy wore jeans and a shirt exactly like the one he'd given Largo the day before. He also wore a look of utter confusion.

"So you think this is related to your Baltimore case? You really think there's a liver-eating serial killer in Bend?"

"Yes." Mulder said seriously. "I know it's hard to swallow, but if we have another Tooms on our hands, this could be extremely dangerous. We want to prepare you for what you might find."

"And this person can contort his body and fit into tiny spaces?"

"Yes." Mulder said again.

Janell looked into the rearview mirror, hoping to catch Agent Largo's eye. Surely *she* didn't believe in this nonsense as well. But when she did glance back and caught Janell's stare, he could read the serious expression in her eyes.

He took a deep breath and asked, "How dangerous is this guy?"

Scully took up. "Our killer may posses incredible strength, especially if he's just fed. We're going on the assumption that John Doe was also a victim, and he died within the last five days. From the Tooms pattern, this makes the perpetrator very strong and very dangerous. Make sure your gun is handy, and don't go anywhere alone. You and Largo are going to stick together, Mulder and I will do the same. If you run into anything suspicious, and I mean anything, hail us immediately with your location."

Mulder handed Janell a copy of the map, with a blow-up of the area they were searching. "I'm sure you're more familiar with this area than we are, but we've divided the acreage into sections for efficiency. I want us to stay fairly close together, so you and Largo will scout Area 1 while Scully and I explore Area 2. When you've thoroughly searched an Area, let us know you've finished and will be moving on."

Janell's face showed his disbelief. "You guys are dead serious about this, aren't you?"

Mulder looked him in the eye. "Yes, we are, and you'd do best to become so too. Eugene Victor Tooms was one of the most dangerous and frightening killers our century has ever known. If he's got a long-lost relative out here, we've *got* to find him, or else you'll be having the same problem here in 30 years."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

9:45 am

They parked the Explorer not far from Mulder's cabin. Largo and Mulder pulled on small backpacks filled with bottled water and dried fruit they'd found at a small grocery up the highway. Scully pulled out a bottle of sunblock and rubbed it liberally over her arms, face and neck.

As Largo walked by she leaned over and whispered, "Paleface!" near Scully's ear. She laughed as she kept on walking, not giving the red-head a chance to reply. Over her shoulder, she called, "And don't forget to wear the hat!"

Scully was still shaking her head as Mulder walked up beside her. They began walking into the woods.

"You and Largo get along well, don't you?" He asked.

Scully searched his face for signs of jealousy or anger, but saw none. It was an honest question, and not one she'd expected from him. Since finding him, she'd noticed a change in Mulder. He seemed more attentive, more concerned with her as a person, not just as a fellow agent. For a long time, she'd been considering him her best friend, but was just now realizing how little they really knew about each other. They rarely used to talk about their personal lives, or about the things *normal* people talk about. Their conversations almost always revolved around either (a) a large-scale government conspiracy, (b) Samantha's abduction, (c) Goddamned UFO's, or (d) a far-fetched theory involving paranormal occurrences and numerous dead bodies.

Now, Mulder seemed a little different. Maybe it was just that they'd spent nearly three months apart, where they used to see each other so often they'd developed something of a routine with the other. Whatever the case, he honestly seemed interested in her, her well-being, and her partnership with Megan Largo.

He'd just asked her if they got along well. "Yes we do." She replied, "Largo is a good partner. Sometimes she has crazy ideas, just like you do." Scully watched a smile break over his face. "But we're doing okay. At first, I never thought I'd be able to work with anyone else, Mulder. I knew I wouldn't be able to trust anyone like I trust you."

"Do you trust Largo?"

She thought about that for a moment. Slowly, she began, "At first, I thought she was a spy. I was certain she was sent by Them to finish off the X-Files. On our first case, it was out in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Largo showed me some things I never expected out of her. She's very bright, very perceptive, and a little *out there.*"

"Like someone you know?"

She gave him a look. "Not *that* out there, Mulder. Also, Largo's parents are both dead, have been for over ten years. Skinner was her father's best friend, and he sort of looked after her when her dad died. I have come to trust Walter Skinner, not as completely as I trust you, but I know he does everything in his power to help us. I think assigning Largo to the X-Files was one of those things he was able to do to help."

"Isn't that like throwing your daughter into the lion's den?"

"Possibly. She made certain mistakes in Milwaukee that nearly got her killed."

"I noticed small scars on the side of her face."

"She was lucky. She was attacked by our perpetrator in her hotel room. Among other things, the guy hit her across the face with the telephone."

"Ouch."

"You should have seen her a month ago. Not a pretty sight. It scared me, too."

"Ah, getting a bit of that protective feeling, Agent Scully?"

She looked a little ashamed as she walked. "I guess I can't get quite so mad at you anymore. Now I know how you feel. But that still doesn't make it right, so don't ever do it again." She punctuated her words by elbowing him in the ribs.

He pretended to be wounded. "Ouch! Hey, I think I need a doctor. You know of any good ones?"

She gave him another of her patented Scully-looks, and another jab in the ribs for good measure.

Mulder got out the map and a compass. "I think we should be coming up on a small dirt road. Where there's a road, there's a house."

"Oh, is that how it works? Road equals house, hmm?"

"Trust me, Scully. Besides, I cheated. This morning Hinds told me there was a small deserted cabin up this road. See, he even marked some of them on the map."

They trudged up the dusty dirt road, sweating in the already hot sun. Bend was a high-altitude city, it was about a mile over sea-level, and the hiking and talking was leaving both agents a little winded.

They approached the cabin and knocked on the old wooden door. Scully slightly behind Mulder with a hand on her gun..

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

10:20 am

Largo and Janell trekked along. Their site was further than Mulder and Scully's, and was up on higher ground.

"Agent Largo, do you actually believe this killer is a human mutant who eats livers and has been alive for over a hundred years?"

"It's very possible, Janell."

"You can call me Tim."

Largo hesitated. "Okay, Tim. I know this is difficult for you to believe, but our division handles cases...outside the mainstream. I'm rather new to it, but Mulder and Scully have seen things you and I only have nightmares about."

"I have another question. Why was Agent Mulder hiding out here in Bend under an alias?"

She hated to lie, even though she'd always done it quite smoothly. "Agent Mulder's life had been threatened back in DC. The threat was substantial enough for him to retreat for awhile."

"So why was he hanging out with the MUFON guys?"

Largo considered the question, sifting through possible answers in her head. They varied between outright truth (Mulder was fascinated with UFO-related phenomena) and an utter lie (he was under the influence of powerful hallucinogenic drugs). In the end, she said, "I honestly don't know. This is my first experience with Agent Mulder. I've never worked with him before."

"He sounds kind of like a crackpot."

Largo laughed at that. "From what Scully's told me, that seems to be a popular way to describe him. But from what I know of him, he's one of the best agents in the Bureau. He's a legend in the VCS, best known for his criminal profiling."

Janell shrugged, "If you say so."

They approached a small oak cabin, run-down from years of disuse. Largo made a circuit around the house while Janell peered in a window. Nothing appeared out of the ordinary. The place looked deserted. They stepped to the door and knocked. Largo kept her right hand on her hip, only a short distance to the gun holstered at the small of her back.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Mulder knocked again. Still no response. "Is anyone there?" He yelled through the door. "We are federal agents seeking permission to enter the premises. If you do not respond, we will enter in order to establish whether this house is occupied."

They waited five more seconds. Nothing. Mulder pushed the door open and they entered. The cabin was bare.

Scully looked up. Large holes allowed the hot summer sun to shine down on them in patches. She removed her sunglasses and took a closer look around. Mulder cautiously walked into the back room, searching for a dark, damp place that could be formed into a nest.

After ten minutes of searching they gave up. Mulder took a black pen out of his pocket and colored in the area they'd searched. It was only a small fraction of the whole, but it made him feel as thought they were making progress.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Janell knocked on the door. "Hello? Anyone here? Deschutes County Sheriff's Office."

They waited and heard nothing. Janell looked to Largo, who called, "this is a federal agent. I am entering the premises to establish if it is occupied."

She placed a hand on the knob and turned it. She pushed and the door slowly opened on loud creaky hinges. Largo took her sunglasses off and placed them in the pocket of her t-shirt. She drew her gun and motioned for Janell to do the same. They entered, only to find the place dusty and unoccupied by humans. There was, however, a small family of raccoons living in the fireplace, and they heard the squeaking and scurrying of mice in the room's silence.

They spent a few minutes looking around Scully had described Tooms's nest to Largo, but she was still a little uncertain of what she was looking for. Scully had assured her she'd know it if she saw it.

But nothing was our of the ordinary here. It was just a run-down shack with an old bed and a moldy couch. Janell rejoined her, and they were about to walk out when Largo turned once more to study the house. Straight back was a small kitchen area. She approached it, looking down at the floor. On the wooden boards were two black marks leading back toward the old refrigerator. She bent and ran a finger across one of the marks. Janell bent beside her.

"What is it?"

Largo said nothing, but stepped over three feet and ran two fingers across the wood there. Her fingers came away covered with dust. Janell got the idea and traced the black mark with his own finger. It came away relatively clean.

"Let's pull out the fridge." Largo suggested.

They did so, and discovered a circular opening in the wall. It was large enough for a person to fit through. It didn't lead outside, but instead it appeared to lead to the large woodbox she'd seen when she cased the house before entering. She pulled out a flashlight and stuck it inside. Chunks of wood had been nailed to the side of the box as makeshift steps. She stuck her head in further and looked down to see a small tunnel leading back under the house.

Largo pulled her head back into the main part of the house and quickly yanked the backpack off her shoulders. "I'm going down there," she stated to an open-mouthed Tim Janell.

"No way, Agent Largo. Mulder said to radio him if we found anything. That's what we should do."

"Go ahead. But it could be anything. Some moonshiner's old still, a mushroom bed, anything. We can call them, but I just want to give it a once-over first, make sure it's not a red herring."

Janell was torn. Mulder had given him explicit orders, but Largo was here with him now. And, God, she was so hot! With her dark skin, lean body, those eyes and that butterscotch voice that make his knees weak. He was hoping to maybe score a dinner date with her before she left.

"Okay, Agent Largo, but if you're gone more than five minutes, I'm calling Agent Mulder."

"It's a deal."

Largo carefully climbed down the wooden steps, then pulled the flashlight out of her pocket. The air was different down here. A little musty, it smelled strange. Involuntarily, she shivered. Although she'd been roasting all morning she now felt as though she were standing in a meat locker. She knew it shouldn't be much cooler than it was above the ground, but she couldn't shake the goosebumps.

She felt weird, almost scared. It was as though she could sense a palpable evil in the air. Largo shook her head, determined not to let her imagination get the best of her.

In the house, Janell nervously fumbled with the radio. Hell, he'd never handled a murder before. He'd never even met an FBI agent before this week. He gave people tickets for drunk driving and hunting out of season. The worst he'd done was clean up a few traffic accidents. This was cold-blooded murder, and these Fibbies were insisting it wasn't some ordinary killer, but an inhuman freak of nature. And he'd let Largo go down there alone! Stupid! He smacked himself in the forehead and bit his lip. Should he follow her? Make sure she was okay? As much as he'd love to come to her rescue like a knight in shining armor, he'd sensed how strong the female FBI agent was and instinctively knew she was quite capable of taking care of herself.

She'd been gone only three minutes, but Janell had a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach. He depressed the speaker button and hailed Mulder and Scully.

"Mulder." Came the reply, through a hazy burst of low static.

"Agent Mulder, this is Deputy Janell. Agent Largo and I have come across a cabin in the northwest corner of Area 2. There's a hole behind the refrigerator that leads to a tunnel."

Again a sputter of static. "Listen Janell. Whatever you do, *don't* go down there. Wait for us to arrive before you proceed."

"Uh, Agent Largo is already down there, sir."

"WHAT!! Get her out of there now!"

"Okay sir."

"We're on our way. I think we're about five or ten minutes run. We'll be there soon. Call Largo back, Janell."

Tim Janell put the radio down. he stuck his head through the hole and yelled. "Agent Largo! Hey, Largo...Agent Mulder says to come back up and wait for him."

He heard footsteps below. A distant voice said, "What?"

Janell shouted louder. "Mulder says come back up!"

"I'm fine." Came the faint reply from below.

Janell turned back to the radio. "Agent Mulder, she says she'd fine down there."

There were short bursts of static coming through his receiver now, then a commanding female voice came loudly through the speaker. "TELL AGENT LARGO TO GET HER SKINNY ASS OUT OF THERE *NOW*!!!"

Meekly, Janell replied, "Okay."

He leaned over again. Nearly screaming, he said, "Hey, Agent Largo!"

"What!?" It still seemed very distant.

"Agent Scully said to get your skinny ass back up here now."

Silence. Then, "Okay, I'm coming."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Largo had walked back beneath the house. This was obviously some kind of old-style cellar, and someone had kept years worth of newspapers stacked down here, along with a few magazines. An old army cot hung low on one wall.

She told Janell she was coming back up, but surely it wouldn't hurt to go look at the cot. If it was US Army, it might say the year it was manufactured on one end, as many of them did.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Mulder and Scully jogged through the woods. Mulder held the compass, and they headed directly for the northwest corner of Area 2. Scully scanned the treeline for any sign of an old wooden cabin.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Agent Largo! You're making me awfully nervous." Janell yelled down through the hole in the wall. And nervous he was. Twice he'd considered drawing his gun and heading down himself, but Mulder's order had stayed him. A County Sheriff's Deputy did not ignore the order of an FBI agent, even if other agents did. Even though the federals probably thought he was a pie-eating hick who raised chickens out on his momma's farm, he'd worked for Sheriff Hinds for two years and knew a little about following orders and maintaining discipline.

"Just a minute, Tim."

She was trying to distract him by using his first name. It wasn't going to work though. Janell pulled out his gun, stuck his foot through the hole and onto the first wooden step.

He reached the bottom and looked around. There was little light down here, and Largo had the only flashlight. he felt his way around till he found the tunnel.

"Agent Largo? Megan?" He called tentatively out into the darkness.

Suddenly a flashlight beam was in his eyes, and a displeased Meg Largo said, "Janell! What are you doing down here?"

"That's what I been asking you for the last ten minutes!"

"Come on. Help me move this cot."

"Why?"

"I want to see how old it is, and if there's anything behind it."

"I really think we should wait for Mulder and Scully."

"Come on, Tim," she said, walking toward the wall. Reluctantly, the young deputy followed. They each took an end and lifted the cot from it's hook on the wall. What they saw behind it made Largo's jaw drop as Janell emitted a small sound of surprise.

"What the hell?" He asked, turning to Largo. Her eyes were wide with curiosity and wonder as she approached yet another hole. This one was lined with torn up strips of newspaper and a clear, wet, viscous fluid. It smelled vile.

"Definitely not papier-mƒch‚." Largo whispered, her eyes roaming along the walls of the hole. Past the wooden boards, the nest was lined with brick. Someone had spent a long time building this sanctuary, and whoever it was had been very good. It hadn't been discovered in at least 30 years.

"Can we go back up now, Meg?"

Largo noted his switch to her first name. It was why she had avoided using his, that is, until she started trying to manipulate him by using it. She'd opened the can of worms herself. Right now, however, she didn't really care. She had other things on her mind, and the nest in front of her was fascinating.

"Okay, let's go. We can wait for the Dynamic Duo upstairs."

She turned back from the lair to follow Janell back through the tunnel. She took two steps before a strong hand lunged out from the hole and grabbed her ankle. Largo fell to the floor, banging her chin on the dirt floor. She saw stars as her teeth clicked together and she dropped the flashlight. Janell turned, but could see little, he knew only that Largo was on the ground, grunting and struggling. he grabbed for the flashlight and shined it back toward the hole. Largo lay on her side, twisting and kicking at something which held her ankle tightly. He refocused the light to see a naked woman's upper torso coming out of the nest. The woman was covered in the same yellow, gelatinous substance that lined the hole in the wall, and her eyes glowed an evil orange. Her face was sharp and predatory. She panted roughly as she pulled Largo's leg slowly back toward her nest.

Janell vaguely heard footsteps thundering above him. He stood frozen in horror until Largo's voice ripped through the chamber.

"FOR CHRIST'S SAKE JANELL, SHOOT THE DAMNED THING!!"

Janell fumbled for his gun as Largo fought to reach her own. He dropped the weapon, and the creature pulled Largo closer to the hole. She felt herself being yanked across the floor and kicked our harder with her free leg, but the creature's grip was incredibly powerful. She felt as though her ankle was caught in a vise. It was painful. The slime-covered, naked woman pulled her lower leg through the wall and into the nest. It reached out to grab her other ankle, and Largo kicked fiercely, connecting with the woman's jaw, but the blow had little effect. She twisted her arm beneath her, trying to reach for her gun. Finally she had it, and at the same time heard a familiar voice yell her name from outside the tunnel.

She chambered a round in her gun as the creature pulled her entire lower body into the hold. She was now bent backwards at the waist, but leveled her gun and fired again and again into the woman's upper body. Largo heard shots not just from her own Sig, but from everywhere around her. She felt a bullet whiz by her skull. Someone back there wasn't a very good shot.

The pressure around her leg eased, and she quickly scooted away as the firing around her died, leaving only the strong smell of burnt cordite in the air. She lay there on the dirty wooden boards, panting, spent from the adrenaline rush. Largo closed her eyes and covered them with dirty palms, one hand still clenching the hot Sig Sauer.

"Jesus Christ Largo!" She heard Scully shout from directly above her. "Can't you listen to me just one fucking time?!"

"I was leaving, Scully, I swear." She replied, "but then this thing grabbed me." She kept the heels of her palms pressed to her eyes. "And do you kiss your mother with that mouth, Dana Scully?"

Mulder snorted laughter. Scully shot him a dirty look.

"My mother is used to it, she married a sailor." She said, and the three agents all shared a nervous laugh.

All, except for Deputy Tim Janell, that is. Janell stood, still frozen to the same spot.

Largo stood and shook out her sore ankle. She approached Janell and laid a hand on his shoulder. "Tim," she said softly, "are you okay?"

Janell pulled his gaze from the bullet-riddled body of the naked woman to the concerned face of Megan Largo. He looked her directly in the eyes, which were on the same level as his. Suddenly, he turned and embraced her. He held the startled Meg Largo tightly for a few seconds, then turned and headed out of the tunnel. The agents heard his steps on the wooden stairs as he returned to the safety of the daylight.

Mulder stepped up to her side. "I guess that means he's glad you're still alive."

"Yeah." Largo said, still stunned by the hug.

He bent his head closer to her ear. "And he still thinks you're hot."

She stuck an elbow in his ribs and clicked her tongue. They looked back to the body in the entrance to the nest, where Scully was giving it a once-over. She pulled out her cellphone and was glad to find herself in range of the Sheriff's Office. She gave Sheriff Hinds their approximate location, and hung up.

"Christ, Largo! You're bleeding." She said, stepping up to the young woman. Blood was trickling down her dark, dirt-streaked face.

Largo put a hand to her forehead. It came away very red. Exploring it further, she discovered the source: a gash one inch above her right eye.

"Okay," she said evenly, "who's the crappy shot in this outfit?"

She looked up to see Mulder and Scully each pointing a finger at the other.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Deschutes County Sheriff's Department
Saturday, August 9, 1997
1:50 pm

Upon arrival at the Sheriff's Office/County Morgue, Scully had carefully cleaned Largo's head wound, using eleven small stitches to close it.

"Geez, Scully," Largo complained, "what's taking so long? I'm not one of your patients. Your not re-stitching a Y-incision, you know. Besides, it hurts like hell."

"Oh, I guess I could have given you a topical. But I decided to do it this way might teach you a little lesson. It serves you right."

"I see. I *deserved* to almost get my brains blown out my someone on my own side."

"No, but you *deserve* a big slap upside the head for going down there without us."

"It's over, Scully. Let's not relive it, please."

"Sometimes you make me want to scream, Largo."

"Yeah, well, I love you too."

Mulder and Largo now sat in the morgue waiting room, a place familiar to them both. They all had showered and redressed. Now they were waiting for Scully to finish her autopsy. Neither had seen Tim Janell since returning to the city. Largo figured he was probably somewhere all whacked out about choking under pressure...and about seeing a naked woman covered in her own bile trying to kill an FBI agent with bare hands.

Scully now came out of the examination room, her hair tied tightly in a small ponytail, her small frame clad in blue scrubs.

She sighed wearily, "I can't say with certainty until we get blood and tissue samples analyzed, but I'd say this woman was related to Eugene Tooms."

Mulder bent and asked, "Did you order DNA testing?"

"Of course. We have to know for sure, don't we?"

Largo looked seriously at the pair. "They were related. They were twins."

Mulder and Scully wore identical frowns. It was Scully who voiced their concern. "How do you know that?"

"I just know. DNA testing will confirm it."

"But Eugene Tooms's birth certificate doesn't mention he was a twin."

"Maybe in turn-of-the-century Baltimore they didn't give that information on certificates."

"Then how do you know?" Mulder asked.

"Call it a hunch. Sometimes we can tell about each other."

With that enigmatic statement, she walked out of the morgue and into the nearby break room for a cup of coffee.

"What's that all about?" Mulder said with a puzzled look on his face.

Scully kept her eyes on the dark young woman on the other side of the glass window. "Largo's a twin. I've read of studies where twins could sense other sets of twins. Of course, there were just as many studies refuting those results. That's research for you."

Mulder put a hand on his chin. "She's a twin, huh. Fascinating, for a psychologist that is."

"Oh, is that what you are? I thought you were a 'UFO Expert'."

"That's just my dayjob. My real interest is in psychology."

That made Scully's lips quirk a little. Mulder was the king of irony; she was happy to have him back.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

McMenamins Moose Horn Pub
6:15 pm

The three agent spent most the afternoon making various phone calls and looking through the county library's birth records trying to find a Tooms. Finally a woman with Baltimore's Vital Records Dept. came up with a viable possibility. Frances Victoria Tooms was born on the same date as Eugene Victor Tooms, in the same hospital, mother listed as the same. Father unknown. At the time, the woman explained to Mulder, Maryland birth certificates did not list whether a birth was single or multiple.

As they grew hungry, and a little drained from the day's activities, Largo announced she was buying dinner at the Moose Horn.

"I know it sounds backwoods, but it's a McMenamins, and they've got the best microbrews in the country.

"Largo," Scully said in her schoolteacher voice, "I don't drink beer."

"Tonight you do. Besides, you'll like this one, and we all look like we could use one."

"You a big drinker, Largo?" Mulder asked, looking for any crack in the girl's armor, any weak link at all.

"Mulder, I'm half-Indian and half-Irish. In regards to alcohol, that's a deadly combination. I drink sparingly. You?"

"He's a lightweight." Scully answered for him, and ignored his protest.

They chose a corner table away from most the other customers and ordered a round. Mulder asked Largo to recommend a beer for him. She quickly told the waiter he wanted 'The Terminator', and ordered two pints of something called 'Ruby' for Scully and herself. The waiter stood there, looking a little uncomfortable. Largo rolled her eyes, knowing what he wanted. She pulled her driver's license out of her wallet and showed it to him. Mulder and Scully shared an amused glance.

"You get carded a lot, don't you, Largo?" Mulder asked.

She only grumbled in response.

When the brews arrived, Mulder stared in shock as the waiter set down a thick, dark glass of stoudt in front of him. He could swear a pencil would stand up straight in the dark, foamy liquid.

"Drink up, Mulder." Largo teased. "Real men like to drink stuff called 'Terminator', don't they? Besides, I think you'll like it."

To his surprise, he did. It looked like diahhrea, but it was rich and malty and hit the spot after a long, hot day like this.

Largo took a large swig of her drink, and encouraged Scully to do the same. Scully held up the glass, examining the contents as if she was looking at an alien embryo instead of a glass of beer.

"What is it?" She asked hesitantly.

The concoction was a dark pink, the color of grapefruit juice. Scully held it to her nose and sniffed. It smelled a little fruity.

"It's a raspberry-flavored beer. A 'girly-beer', but really good."

Scully sipped, expecting the bitter, nasty flavor she associated with every other beer she'd consumed over the course of her life. She was pleased to find the drink tasted as good as it smelled. It was light and had a hint of raspberries beneath the surface.

She lifted her eyebrows and nodded in approval. "Surprisingly delicious."

"Yep. So what's up with the Tooms twins?" Largo asked, taking another swig of her drink.

Mulder responded to the question. "Well, it seems old Mrs. Tooms was carrying quite a load back in the spring of 1903. Apparently, she gave birth to little Eugene Victor and the adorable Francis Victoria, both of whom grew up to consume the livers of their fellow man, a practice long ago banned in the great state of Maryland. Frances, however, must have been close to capture in the early 1950's or so, because that's when the Oregon murders began. Portland reported a trio of murders in 1951, and Bend had a trio in 1974, and now these."

"But her cycle is different than her brother's was." Scully stated.

"Yes," Mulder replied, "And so was her appetite. It appears that Frances only slept 23 years between cycles, and only needed three human livers to sustain her."

"I have an idea about that." Largo interjected. "Even thougth Gene and Frannie were twins, it is possible that they each had their own unique metabolism and, therefore, feeding cycle. Frances was very different from Eugene. She didn't work, as he did. She didn't collect momentos, or trophies, which her brother also did. In addition, she didn't need five livers, she needed only three. Just because people are twins doesn't mean they do the same things, or enjoy the same things. This is especially true of fraternal twins, since they are not monozygotic. You may agree with me, Scully, when I say we don't have enough information on these types of mutations to predict behaviors or cycles for this particular species. Just because Eugene had a 30-year cycle doesn't mean his sister had to."

"I agree, we don't know enough about them. And hopefully we will never need to. Monsters like that," she shivered a little, "I hope we never see another." She sipped her beer as they sat in silence for a moment.

"I see it this way," Largo resumed, "we all may eat breakfast at 8:00 am, but Mulder, you may want to eat lunch at noon, I may want to eat at eleven thirty, and Scully may not be hungry until two in the afternoon."

Their food arrived, interrupting the rather unpleasant conversation, which didn't resume until after almost everything had disappeared.

"This place is great," Mulder announced, "we need one in DC."

"Unfortunately it's only an Oregon thing." Largo replied. "Makes me sure to hit one every time I'm out here."

They ordered another round of beers and drank them slowly while finalizing their plans for the next day.

"So, Mulder, are you coming back to Washington with us?" Scully asked, her blue eyes boring into him like laser beams. He looked back steadily. His own eyes were full of warmth and affection.

"Do you think they'll let me check three bags?"

Scully broke out into a huge smile, and Mulder got a glimpse of the full-wattage beauty his partner could radiate when she allowed herself happiness. Mulder couldn't help but return it. Politely, Largo excused herself, allowing them time to speak alone.

"So," she asked across the table, "what do you think of Largo?'

Tough question, but he decided to be honest with her. "She's okay. Better than I expected. But I don't trust her, Scully."

"I didn't expect you to after two days."

"Still, I'm not sure if I'll ever be able to. Plus, I'm selfish. I want you all to myself."

He reached across the table and place a hand on her arm. She wasn't sure if it was a freindly gesture...or more.

"She'll grow on you."

"She already has, a little. Yesterday, I couldn't stand the sight of her. Today, I tried to save her life. That's a hell of a step forward."

Scully placed her free hand on top of his. She wasn't about to mention how he almost killed her in the process. She looked at the placement and angle of the gash on Largo's forehead and had come to the conclusion Mulder had been the lousy shot.

Instead, she said, "Just make sure not to take two steps back."

"I'll try." He said, smirking slightly. He felt closer to her right now than he had since the hospital in Allentown. At the memory he shivered involuntarily.

"What's wrong."

"Just bad memories...of Allentown. Scully, I'm so glad about the cancer. It's so great to see you healthy and eating again. I was so afraid, Scully. Afraid I was going to lose you."

"You're not going to lose me, Mulder. But I'm tempted to tie one of those kiddie leashes around your wrist for awhile. That should keep you close."

"I'll be as close as you want me to be."

Scully blinked, stunned, but hiding it well. Was Mulder coming on to her? It had been a long time since anyone had, (Ed Jerse excepted, but he had been under the influence of ergot poisoning) and she'd just about forgotten the entire process involved in flirting. Was Mulder flirting with her now? Or was he just showing his emotions, showing how much he'd missed her, his close friend, over their long separation.

She dropped the issue as Largo returned, and Mulder took his hand out of Scully's grasp. She felt bereft without it, as though missing some vital thing inside.

"So, Mulder," Largo said, trying hard to be cheerful, "you're coming with us tomorrow, right?"

"Looks that way."

"Glad to have you, but it looks like there's a small problem getting home." She turned to lok at Scully. "Jo's car broke down, so she taxied to Dulles and borrowed mine. She's going to pick up our merry band tomorrow evening when we get in."

"No problem." Scully replied with a shrug.

Largo smiled a little nervously. "Yeah, no problem."

"Who's Jo?" Mulder asked, studying the women across the table.

Scully remained silent, allowing Largo to answer.

"Jolyn Parker is a friend of mine. We did our undergraduate work together at Minnesota."

"Is that the same Jolyn Parker who teaches at George Washington?"

A tight smile from Largo. "Same one."

"I know her."

Scully's eyes widened in surprise. "What?"

"Her speciality is in miedevil history, and she does a lot of research on the history of the occult. I used to call and ask her questions that came up on cases."

"Well, that's great." Largo said, somehow managing to keep every trace of sarcasm out of her voice.

They finished their beers and Largo took care of the check. They returned to the motel, and Mulder took off to pack his things. In order to catch their 10:00 am flight to DC, they'd have to leave Bend at five in the morning.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sunday, August 10, 1997
Flight 317 to Dulles International Airport
5:16 EDT

The flight was only a quarter full, allowing the sleep-deprived federal agents to stretch out along the rows. Mulder and Scully slept across from each other while Largo mapped behind Scully.

Scully awoke as her position grew uncomfortable. She rolled from her back to her side and was about to drift back to sleep when she heard a low moan from behind her. She sat up and heard it again, this time it sounded almost like a word. She looked over at Mulder, who slept peacefully with the aid of a CD player, the headphones of which sat round his ears.

Scully twisted her body around and looked back at the sleeping form of Megan Largo, who lay facing her in a semi-fetal postition. Largo's face contorted into a painful expression as she cried out again and whispered,

"Hiya. Sichaya wowinihan"

"Largo," Scully whispered over the seat. Nothing. She twitched in her sleep but did not awaken. "Hey Largo, wake up."

A little louder, Largo said, "Omakiya ye. Omakiya! Imayakiza ye!"

Scully looked around, but none of the other passengers were stirring. She quickly stepped around the seat and reached over, laying her hand on Largo's upper arm. The girl flinched and tried to throw it off.

Louder still, Largo said, "Hiya! Sichaya! Sichaya!"

Then she bolted upright and stared at Scully with wild eyes. She'd been crying in her sleep, and another tear slipped down her face as she glanced about her, disoriented. Her breathing was ragged.

"Tukted unyepi he?" She asked, still confused.

"Largo, Meg, are you okay?"

"Taku akipa?"

"In English, Meg, in English."

Largo blinked rapidly and bent over, putting her head in her hands. Scully put a soothing hand on her back.

"It's alright, Meg."

"Scully?" Largo asked, head still in her hands.

"It's me."

"I'm sorry, Scully."

"There's no need to apologize."

"I had a bad dream."

"I could tell. Was it about yesterday?"

Under Scully's fingers, the young woman tensed. Slowly, she nodded.

"You were talking in your sleep. You spoke in Dakota."

Largo looked up at her with sad eyes.

"It's happened before," Scully continued, "sometimes I hear you at night. Is it bad?"

Largo stayed silent, but another tear slipped out of her eye and her chin began to quiver, giving Scully the answer. She pulled the younger woman close. Largo let herself be comforted for a moment, then pulled away.

"I'm okay, Scully. Thanks for waking me up."

"Do you want to talk about it?"

Largo looked away. "No."

"Okay," Scully said, not surprised, "but remember, you always can. We should be landing in less than an hour. Can I sit by you till we get there?"

"Of course," Largo answered, knowing Scully was only doing it for her benefit.

She didn't want to talk about her dream, however. In part, she'd lied to Scully. The dream had been about what had happened the day before, but the events were twisted.

In Largo's dream, Fox Mulder had been covered in yellow bile. His face wore an expression of pure evil as he reached out of the newspaper-lined nest and grabbed Dana Scully by the ankle. He was pulling her small body into the den. Largo herself had stood nearby, unable to move, able only to scream in horror at the sight.

She shivered in her seat, and looked away from the cool, composed woman sitting beside her. She did not know what the future held for them, but she knew the significance of her dream, and prayed that the fulfillment of it was not to be.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dulles International Airport
6:02 pm EDT
Gate 62

As they exited the plane, Largo and Scully spotted Jolyn Parker at the same time. She leaned against a metal railing wearing a yellow cotton sundress over a white t-shirt. A leather purse was slung over one shoulder and her dark blonde hair hung in loose waves over her shoulders and down her back.

Scully felt like she was seeing the woman for the first time. This was an attractive, intelligent-looking woman, with long legs and an air of laid-back, easy confidence. She was tall, but still maybe an inch shorter than Largo, and looked fit.

She spotted them and waved, smiling broadly. That is, until she saw the bandage on Largo's forehead.

"What happened to you?" She asked, reaching up to touch the bandage.

"Just a scratch," Largo replied easily, giving Jolyn a brief, friendly hug.

Jo gave her something of a look, she'd heard the 'just a scratch' story before. It ranked right up there with, 'the guy hit me once or twice' story she heard when Meg returned from Milwaukee.

Largo re-introduced Scully, then said, "And this is Fox Mulder. Mulder, this is Jolyn Parker."

Mulder stepped up and looked Jolyn in the eye as he shook her hand. Scully saw the sparkle in his eyes, and suddenly realized who Jo Parker looked like. Detective Angela White of Comity, New Hampshire. Her shoulders dropped a little as she realized what was about to happen.

They took the escalator downstairs to baggage claim, Mulder chatting amiably with Jo, asking her about her research and her new classes, which would be starting soon.

As she answered innocently in her low, throaty voice Scully's heart sank a little more. Same old Mulder, same old type. Largo saw the look on the red-head's face and nudged her with an elbow.

"What's up, Scully?"

Scully couldn't believe Largo was oblivious to Mulder's advances on Jolyn. However, she appeared to be.

"Nothing," Scully replied, and forced a smile.

Largo frowned in confusion, then gave it up. She was happy to be back in DC, back in the same city as Jo. She missed Jo terribly on road trips, but wasn't upset by the fact that Mulder was hogging her company. She knew Mulder found Jo attractive, but was confident enough in their relationship not to care.

Jolyn waited as the agents retrieved their luggage. Largo saw one of her bags cruise by and stepped up to grab it. While she was gone, Mulder turned again to Jo.

"So, Ms. Parker,"

"You can call me Jolyn, or Jo."

He smiled. "Okay, Jo. Have you found yourself a nice young professor to marry?"

Scully had to look away so Mulder wouldn't catch her snort of laughter. Luckily, there was plenty of background noise in the baggage claim area.

"No, Agent Mulder, I'm not married," Jo said with a little smile. She had been trying to avoid direct eye contact with Mulder, hoping he'd get the hint that she wasn't interested.

"And why is that?"

This time she looked him directly in the eye. Pointedly, she said, "Because I've never met a man I've ever wanted to marry." That was a pretty big hint, she thought it would suffice.

Unfortunately ofr her, he'd been out of the dating game almost as long as Scully, and wasn't as perceptive as he used to be when it came to women. He looked at Scully, who was giving him one of her nasty looks, and decided to clam up for a few minutes.

Largo returned with the remainder of the bags. She smiled over at Jo. "Ready to go?"

"Definitely," Jo replied, and led the way to the car.

They were just rolling out of the parking lot when Mulder's stomach rumbled loudly. Scully rolled her eyes.

"I forgot about the bottomless pit," she said to him.

"Yeah, I'm starving. You want to stop and eat? It's on me."

Largo looked over at Jo, who shrugged, eyes on the road. Meg wanted to get home, but thought it would be a peace offering to let Mulder have his way.

"Sure, Mulder. Where do you want to go?"

They pulled into a Denny's and were shown to a table. Scully pulled Mulder into the booth with her, making sure he didn't plant his butt next to Jolyn.

"You sure know where to take a carful of women, Mulder. How did you know Denny's is my favorite?" She asked sarcastically.

"Years of experience, Scully." With that, he turned back to Jolyn and asked where she was from.

Largo excused herself to use the telephone. She called to inform Skinner's office they were back in town.

Jo patiently answered Mulder's questions for about five minutes, then excused herself as well. As she headed for the ladies' room, Scully turned to Mulder.

"Will you stop doing that?"

He looked at her innocently. "Doing what?"

"Flirting with her."

"I'm not."

"You are."

"Even if I was, why shouldn't I?"

"Because...she's not interested."

"How do you know that, Scully. I don't get the impression the two of you are close."

"We're not, but I know. She's seeing someone."

"Really?"

"Really."

"Who?"

Pause. "I don't know."

"Yes you do, I can tell by the look on your face."

"Mulder, will you please just stop it!"

"Well, maybe she'll be wooed by my charms and throw the other guy over for me." He smiled charmingly.

"I don't think so, Mulder."

God, he was so infuriating! Just last night she thought he might have feelings for her, and now, here he was, coming on to *another* tall blonde.

"You know who she's seeing, why won't you tell me?"

"Because it's not up to me to tell."

That stopped him. His look went from confused to blank. His smile faded as his face went slack.

"She's dating Skinner, isn't she? Largo knows Skinner and she probably introduced them and, even though he's old enough to be her father, he's seeing her and--"

"She's not seeing Skinner! God, Mulder, you're so dense! She's seeing Largo! They practically live together. Now, will you please stop it before your new partner catches on and *really* starts to hate you."

Mulder's jaw dropped. He started to speak, but nothing came out. He gaped, tried to speak again. Nothing.

Scully almost laughed, but saw Largo coming back to the table from the phone booth in the lobby, and nudged him in the ribs instead. "Pull yourself together," she whispered.

Largo sat down across the table from them. "Well, I left a message with Skinner's office. He'll probably call us in for a meeting tomorr--What's the matter, Mulder? You look like you've seen a ghost."

She cocked her head, still looking at him. Her eyes darted over to Scully, who sat there looking guilty.

Largo's shoulders sagged as she now turned her whole head toward Scully. "You told him."

"I...um...yes." She admitted. "I'm sorry, Largo."

"You don't need to be sorry. I don't expect you to have to keep my secrets. You shouldn't have to worry about that."

"But, I, well, It's just that he kept flirting with Jolyn."

"I was not!" He said through his semi-daze.

"Shut up! You were too. Then we argued and--"

"Scully," Largo said calmly, "you don't have to explain. I would have told him anyway, that's if we do end up working together."

Mulder now focused on Largo. "So, you're a lesbian?"

"I'm not a lesbian, but Jo is, so you can just surrender the fantasy, Mulder."

"Actually, it calls to mind a whole new fantasy."

"You're sick."

He shrugged. "So, if you're not a lesbian, then you're bisexual?"

"Yes. I've had relationships with both men and women. Not at the same time, of course." She smiled, already beginning to recover her good humor.

"Wow!"

"Surprised?"

"Hell, yes!"

Jolyn returned to the table, and Mulder dropped almost altogether out of the conversation. Largo asked about her cat, and Jo shared the story of the Goldfish crackers with Mulder and Scully.

Jo noticed Mulder's retreat since her trip to the restroom, and got a chance to give Meg a questioning look. When Largo smiled impishly, she realized what had happened.

Mulder bolted his food, ready to leave ASAP. The women, however, took their time eating, almost as if they'd made some kind of silent agreement to move very slowly, they enjoyed watching him squirm.

They finally left the landmark of American cuisine that is Denny's, and Jo dropped Scully off at her car. Mulder also got out, but Scully stopped him.

"Mulder, Largo lives about a mile from your apartment. You should have them drop you off."

"But--"

"No buts, there's no reason for me to drive fifteen minutes out of my way just to drop you off."

"Yeah, Mulder, get back in the car." Largo teased him mercilessly, laughing at his discomfort.

"Gee Scully, and I thought you missed me." He whispered near her ear.

"I did, and I thought maybe things had changed between us. Changed for the better. But after tonight, I can see I was wrong." She turned and walked to her car, throwing her garment bag in the backseat. "Good-bye Mulder. See you tomorrow morning."

Mulder didn't know what to say, so he simply turned and got into the backseat of the Corolla. As they drove away, he watched Scully watch them. He strained his eyes to see the shock of red hair, until it was just a pinpoint in the distance.

Largo turned around in her seat. Quietly, she said, "Did you screw up again, Mulder?" It was a serious question, there was no hint of sarcasm or jest in her voice.

He continued to stare out the window. "I think I did. I think I screwed up really bad."

He thought again about his partner, Dana Scully, and felt an unfamiliar tightening in his chest. Did Scully have feelings for him? Did he have feelings for her? Last night he had thought so, but tonight he had messed up.

Jo pulled the car to the curb and let Mulder out. Largo helped him carry his bags upstairs.

"Mulder, I think you've got some thinking to do tonight?"

He eyed her narrowly, not sure what she was referring to. "Thinking?"

"About what you're feeling, and who you're having feelings about."

"What do you mean?"

"Think about it, Mulder. Everyone deserves to find love, and I've watched you and Scully over the last few days. I don't know how the two of you were before, but I do know that look when I see it."

"What look?"

"The look you had last night at the Pub. You care for her."

"Of course I care for her."

"Does it go further than that, Mulder? That's what you have to think about. See you tomorrow, Mulder."

She walked down the hall and out of the building. She climbed back into the car and looked at Jo.

Jo smiled, "You playing matchmaker, Meg?"

She rolled her eyes. "I must be insane, but yes."

Jo reached over and grabbed her hand, entwining their fingers. "You're something, Meg. I love you"

Largo beamed at her, and stroked the back of her hand with a thumb, holding tightly to Jo's hand the entire way home.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Mulder stood in the hallway of his apartment building. He looked around. Same crack in the ceiling, same hole in the plaster to the left of the doorknob. He took a deep breath and stuck his key in the lock. Same old key, same old lock.

He pushed the door open and looked around, ready to face the wild disarray of an ex-crime scene. He'd seen the damage hordes of police officers and ambulance drivers left in their wake. He'd been told his mother had refused to come here.

He flipped on the light and looked inside. He blinked. Mulder stepped back and looked at the door again. Yes, this was Apt. 42. It was his. He went into the clean hallway and then walked to the clean living room and saw the freshly-cut flowers sitting in a vase on his desk by the window. He turned and saw an immaculately clean kitchen behind him.

Not sure what to think, he walked over to the desk, and saw a white envelope on the table.

'FOX' was written across the top in a feminine script.

He picked up the envelope and read the note inside.

     "Fox--I am overjoyed to hear of your 'return'. I've missed you so much over the last few months. You are like another son to me, Fox, and I want you to know I'll always be here for you.

     I thought it would be nice for you to come home to a nice, clean apartment. As payment, I will expect your presence on Tuesday night at my house. Six o'clock. Bring your appetite, and bring my daughter.

     Love, Margaret Scully

Mulder carried the note with him to the couch, where he re-read it through tears that rolled freely down his face.

<Yes, Mrs. Scully, I'll definitely bring your daughter.>

He smiled through his tears, feeling suddenly optimistic about the future, a rare feeling for him, but one he'd been feeling more often these days.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

J. Edgar Hoover Building
Walter Skinner's Office
Monday, August 11, 1997
11:27 am

"Agent Mulder," AD Walter Skinner said, standing to shake the man's hand, "it's good to see you're not dead."

"Yes, well, so am I, sir."

"Please have a seat. Agents Scully and Largo." He nodded in greeting and motioned them to seats as well. Scully noticed there were three chairs in front of his desk this morning instead of the usual two.

"I've had a couple of days to think of what should be done with the X-Files Division." He paused and put two fingers to his lips. "Agent Mulder, I hope you realize that your...resurrection has caused quite a stir in some circles I'm vaguely aware of."

He was referring, of course, to the Consortium. Mulder nodded.

"However, this decision is of my own accord."

Megan Largo looked at the AD, her boss, her 'foster-father'. What would his decision be? He held her entire future in her hands. It was possible she could be reassigned, sent to Denver, to Montana, to Tucson, Arizona. Just as she was finding a long-awaited happiness in her personal life, it could all be torn away in one sentence from this man's mouth.

Fox Mulder looked at the AD. The man had been one of his closest allies for years. Would Skinner continue to support him, even now, even after he'd faked his death to the entire world? Technically, he'd been gone without official leave for almost three months. Would he give back the X-Files? Would he allow Mulder to do what They feared most? Would Skinner let things go back to the way they were? Would he let Mulder work with the one person he trusted, or would he keep the mole in place? He waited to hear the man's answer.

Dana Scully also looked at the AD. She had absolutely no idea what the man would decide to do. She'd spent half the night thinking about it, the other half thinking about Fox Mulder. Would she come out of this meeting as a member of the X-Files Division, or its Lead Agent? Would she continue to work with Meg Largo? With Fox Mulder? With both? She didn't want to lose either Mulder or Largo. In personality, they were completely different, in their theories, uncannily similar in many ways. She was now at the point where she needed them both, and the very thought of losing the partnership of one made her chest tighten in fear. She waited, outwardly calm and collected, for the Assistant Director's final decision.

Skinner took a deep breath and began to speak. "Agent Scully, I have decided that your position will change slightly within the Division. You will become the Lead Agent in Charge of Forensics for the X-Files Division."

"Yes, sir." She said calmly, although she was stunned almost beyond belief.

"Agent Mulder, you will return to work on the X-Files, and your position will be Lead Investigative Agent for the X-Files Division."

"Yes, sir."

"As I'm sure the two of you are aware, this is a departure from the previous structure of the Division. I have decided it was counterproductive to have two agents who have been in charge of deciding what constituted viable investigations work with only one in charge. I believe you both should decide what to investigate. You may handle this responsibility any way you choose, be it 'taking turns' or 'paper, rock, scissors', I don't care. Just make it work. I believe this is a fair decision, and it is the one I am standing behind."

Mulder and Scully nodded in unison.

"Agent Largo, I have enjoyed having you serve with the X-Files Division. You and Agent Scully had an incredible solve rate, especially taking into consideration the number of confessions you wrenched from VCS and local PD suspects."

"Thank you, sir." Largo said in her velvety smooth voice. But inside her heart sank. It wasn't looking good, not with an intro like that. She fought, successfully, to keep her face neutral as she waited for the AD to continue.

"That is why I believe, Agent Largo, that you are too valuable to lose hold of. You will remain with the X-Files Division in the same position you filled before this meeting. You are a Special Agent, subject to the will and orders of your immediate superiors, Agents Mulder and Scully. You will also continue to be called upon for interview consults with the VCS and, when possible, will make yourself available when needed by local PD as well."

"Thank you, sir."

She released a breath she swore she'd been holding for five minutes. Relief washed through her body. She could stay in Washington, stay with the job she loved dearly, with Scully, and, most of all, with Jolyn Parker.

"Now," Skinner continued, "I feel the need to remind you all of the basic policies concerning your Division." He focused his gaze on Mulder. "You are free to investigate any cases you choose, pending approval. However, you are *not* to investigate any cases involving UFO-related phenomena, alien abductions, or the legitimacy of alien autopsies. In short, you are not to investigate anything that may have to do with the existence of extraterrestrial life. Understood?"

Though it tore at his heart, Mulder looked the AD straight in the eye and said, "Understood, sir."

"Agent Scully, you will also continue to be called on for autopsy consults, and Agent Mulder, you may be called on to assist the VCS on criminal profiles. Is this understood?"

In unison, the pair nodded.

"Now, if, by chance, something crosses my desk which fits the unique aptitudes of one or more of you agents, you may be called on to assist agents in progress on these cases."

The agents glanced quickly at each other, not certain what Skinner was talking about. But he was their superior, and his word was law in their Division, so they all nodded.

"There's just one more thing. I realize the basement office is rather small for three people. Tonight a construction crew is coming out to tear out the north wall. This will double the size of the office and give you more manoeverability. Please clear the north wall this afternoon in preparation.

"Yes, sir!" Scully said, her tone betraying her excitement at the increase in office space. She'd get to keep her long-awaited desk!

"That will be all. You are excused."

The three agents stood and shook hands with the Assistant Director. Largo took up the rear of the line, and as she touched Skinner's hand she leaned in to whisper,

"Thank you Uncle Walt."

"You're welcome, Meg. Tell me, have I learned the lesson?"

Largo flashed a quick grin. She touched the bandage on her head and said, "Definitely."

Skinner returned her smile for a split second, then resumed his usual stoicism.

The agents left the office and returned to the basement. They spent the rest of the day doing paperwork on the Bend case and clearing the north wall. Although all was not harmonious between the trio, they were all in a good mood on that afternoon. Mulder offered to take Scully to lunch, and as they were leaving, he glanced back at Largo over his shoulder and gave her a knowing wink. She grinned in return and gave him the thumb and forefinger o-kay sign.

After they left, she turned back and looked around the office. She nodded her head and smiled at the room. The "I WANT TO BELIEVE" poster still hung on the north wall. It was the only thing still there. Largo grinned at it, then spread her arms and looked up at the pipes lining the ceiling.

"Y-E-E-S-S-S!!!" She said loudly into the darkness and shadows that surrounded her.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

THE END...for now